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In weeks leading up to the release of Super 8, the film came up in conversation with several friends. And in almost every instance, the person I was talking to said something along the lines of, “It looks interesting, but I have no idea what it’s about.” And while this is certainly a valid comment, I couldn’t help but think, “Yeah, but isn’t that the point?” The film’s cryptic marketing campaign teased the film just enough for audiences to know that some crazy stuff was going down, but it also kept most of the plot turns under wraps. And amid complaints that a lot of film trailers today give away “too much” of the film, this seemed like the perfect antidote. Yet now that a film was playing it coy, it seemed like people didn’t feel invested.
But if you ask me, it’s best to go into this film knowing very little about it, like I did. All you really need to know is that Super 8 takes place in the late 1970′s, and it’s about a group of friends who are making a zombie movie. While they’re making it, they witness a train crash, and after the accident, a plethora of strange events start taking place in their small Ohio town. One of the boys, Joe (Joel Courtney), is the son of the town’s deputy sheriff, Jackson (Friday Night Light‘s Kyle Chandler), who inherits the job of keeping the town calm during the aftermath of the accident.
Of course, there is much more to the story than that, but at its heart, Super 8, is a really fun adventure movie. In a lot of ways, it harkens back to the films of Steven Spielberg (who is an executive producer here) from the 1970′s, such as E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and it has a wonderful twinge of nostalgia to it. But while it’s easy to draw parallels to other movies (the Stand By Me comparisons are also inevitable), director J.J. Abrams does a great job of balancing his obvious love for “retro” films with a thoroughly modern, FX-driven approach to the movie. Super 8 is bound to please both adults who remember the movies from the era that it references, and also older kids and teens who can identify with the film’s main characters.
Super 8 works quite effectively as an action blockbuster (for example, the train crash sequence near the beginning of the film is full of eye-popping, elegantly choreographed explosions), but I don’t think it would have worked nearly as well as a film if it weren’t for the strength of its two young leads. Courtney adds heaps of warmth (and disarmingly expressive, saucer-like eyes) to his quietly brave protagonist, Joe. He makes it easy to connect emotionally to a character that could seem distant because of his back story, and thanks to Courtney’s assured screen presence, it’s not a stretch to believe Joe as a hero. And Elle Fanning takes a step out from her usual waifish roles to play the outwardly bold but emotionally skittish love interest, Alice. Fanning is obviously the most experienced of the kids in the cast, and while that does show to an extent, she also becomes surprisingly believable as “one of the boys”. She and Courtney (in his first on-screen acting performance, by the way) also have a lovely chemistry that makes their romance sweet rather than sickly.
I’m always looking for movies that are just a blast to watch, and though they’re surprisingly hard to find, Super 8 is definitely one of them. Abrams (who also wrote the film) sets up each of the kids in a way that makes you care about them, and even amidst all the craziness that takes place in the movie, those characters never lose their sense of fun. Of course, you could pick the movie apart and argue that the children react to traumatic events in an unrealistic way, but that’s obviously the point. And for the type of film that Super 8 is, I’d much rather see the kids still cracking wise and bickering amidst the action, rather than getting relegated to plot propellers.
Because I cared so much about the characters, I found myself very emotionally invested in their plight. Joe and Alice share a couple of very tender, emotionally honest moments, and I found myself tearing up on two or three occasions during the film. I can’t say this about many films, but over the course of Super 8 I literally laughed, and I literally cried. Maybe it’s my own nostalgia for childhood (not that I’m very far beyond it), or the values of friendship, loss, and loving movies that the film celebrates, but Super 8 packs a surprising emotional punch.
According to Entertainment Weekly, the trend of duelling movie projects continues, and their newest subject is Jeff Buckley.
Gossip Girl star Penn Badgley has reportedly signed on to play the late musician in the film Greetings from Tim Buckley, which is slated to start filming in August. The film will focus on Buckley’s life in 1991, which came well before the release of his lone studio album, Grace, in 1994, and his eventual drowning in 1997. Focusing on the early stages of his career, the film will depict Buckley’s performance at a tribute concert for his late father, Tim, who died of a drug overdose at the age of 28.
A second Buckley-centric project, based on the biography Dream Brother, is also in the works, but has yet to find a star.
It hardly seems coincidental that after years of rumours about a Buckley biopic, there are now two projects gearing up to start production. We’ve seen the same phenomenon recently with the two Snow White films slated for 2012 release (along with a spat of other fairytale updates), and 2005 saw the release of two Truman Capote biopics (Capote and Infamous).
Though I’m not sold on Badgley as the star (I have nothing against the guy, I just don’t really see much similarity between him and Buckley), I like the approach of covering only a small part of a musician’s life in a biopic. It’s a tactic that worked well in last year’s Nowhere Boy (which covering the formation of The Beatles during John Lennon’s teenage years), and it could perhaps work in Greetings from Tim Buckley‘s favour.
Over a year ago, I shared my choices for “8 Biopics That Need to Be Made“. In there, I suggested that James Franco would make a fitting Jeff Buckley. I still think he’d be a good choice, but as well as being a bit on the older side now (At 31, Franco is now slightly older than Buckley was when he died), I feel like Franco’s growing superstardom might be a bit incongruous with Buckley’s much more low-key persona. My current pick for the role is Reeve Carney (who is currently starring in the ill-fated Spider-Man musical). He’s a lot younger, has proven to be a good singer, and looks strikingly like Buckley at some angles. I haven’t seen him in anything, so I can’t vouch for his acting, but he seems like he has the right balance of charisma and enigma. I also think Rocket Science’s Reece Thompson could make for a more interesting, less “suave” Buckley than Badgley.
And then there’s the question as to whether we really need a Buckley biopic (let alone two). He is an amazing musician, but his following is still somewhat limited. A lot of people have never even heard of him, and while these films would almost certainly introduce him to a wider audience, they also run the risk of cashing in on his early death.
My dad has a pretty neat vinyl record collection in our basement. I’ve always been interested in it, and I was first introduced to artists like Queen, The Beatles, and Elton John thanks to him playing their albums in the house when I was a kid. Not everything in there is to my taste (why is there so much Barbara Streisand?), but there’s also some great stuff. And I know there are probably tons of albums in there that I’d love, but just have never listened to before. So I’ve decided to educate myself a little bit, musically, and listen to “new” albums. Today’s selections are all by artists that I’m familiar with, but I’m not especially well-versed in any of them, and I’ve never listened to these albums in their entirety before.
Billy Joel – The Stranger (1977)
In retrospect, The Stranger could almost play like a greatest hits album. Most of Joel’s most famous songs – “Just the Way You Are”, “She’s Always a Women”, “Vienna”, and “Only the Good Die Young” – can all be found here. However, even though I was already very familiar with almost half of the songs on here, The Stranger was a bit of a revelation to me on first listen. Before this, I’d usually listened to Joel in single-song servings at weddings and in movies. To me, he’d been a singer who sang pretty songs. But when I listened to The Stranger as a whole, it all came together and seemed artistic in a way that his work never has to me before.
I wouldn’t have necessarily thought that the rollicking “Only the Good Die Young” and the winsome “She’s Always a Woman” had much in common, but somehow it makes perfect sense when they play back-to-back on Side B here. And “Vienna” – a song I’ve loved for a while now – feels like a beautiful, weary sigh at the beginning of the album’s second side. Meanwhile, The Stranger‘s opening track, “Movin’ Out (Anthony’s Song)”, has lovely lyrics about casting aside society’s expectations, and that theme permeates the whole album.
The message and melodies of the album feel thoroughly modern, but there’s also more than a hint of retro fun (so many saxophone solos!) Despite a couple of songs that fall on the questionable side of schmaltz (“Scenes from an Italian Restaurant”, and yes, “Just the Way You Are”), this album is just an amazing example of pop songwriting at its best. No one does it like Joel, and I understand that more than ever now.
The Allman Brothers Band – Brothers and Sisters (1973)
Even though I don’t listen to that much of it, I really enjoy southern rock. And The Allman Brothers Band has always appealed to me, even though, again, I’m not especially well-versed in their music. But it seems like I got a pretty good formal introduction with Brothers and Sisters. Full of traditional roots influences, this album blends folk and rock in a really satisfying way. The standout track for me was “Southbound”, which is probably the most concise, accessible song on the album. I love the vocals on that track. As well, “Ramblin’ Man” showcases the band’s flawless melodies while simulataneously paying homage to their influences and influencing generations to come.
However, I wasn’t as enchanted by the album’s second side. Since I’m usually not a big fan of long, jammy instrumental songs, “Come and Go Blues” lost me a little bit. It seems like the band traded their gritty vocals for instrumental jams on the back half, which will suit some fans perfectly, but it didn’t sit as well with me. Overall, though, the Allman Brothers create a pretty euphoric offering of southern rock on Brothers and Sisters.
Tom Waits – Blue Valentine (1978)
It’s pretty easy to see why Tom Waits is a polarizing artist. That voice is certainly not for everyone (I’ve spent years debating whether or not I like it), and he often fuses his songs with more experimental jazz elements. And while I mostly like Mule Variations, Waits is not an artist that I’ve actively sought out much over the years. But I decided to give Blue Valentine a shot. Admittedly, it was mostly because of the title (I guess I was expecting some kind of aural link to the Ryan Gosling film?) and the strangely attractive photos of a young Waits on the sleeve. But I’m glad I did give it s listen, because it’s a very interesting album.
It opens with Waits crooning the star-crossed ballad “Somewhere” from Westside Story (a la Johnny Rotten’s “My Way”?), but then quickly cuts to the chase. The album alternates evenly between fairly straight-forward blues tracks and more challenging jazz-influenced songs, and to be honest, I much prefer the former. Tracks like “Postcard from a Hooker in Minneapolis”, “Wrong Side of the Road”, the title track, and especially the slow-burning “$29.00″ showcase his voice so much better, in my opinion; His voice sounds gruff and sexy in all the right ways when he keeps things simple. (Wow, apparently I’m just perving out on Tom Waits today).
Objectively, the experimentalism is interesting (though the less accessible tracks might take a few listens to get used to), and I don’t really consider the mix of styles a weakness of the album (in fact, it’s probably a strength) – it’s just a matter of personal opinion. However, “A Sweet Little Bullet from a Pretty Blue Gun” is a lively, more uptempo track that hits perfectly. The bass line is creates a sultry undercurrent, and Waits’ voice weaves perfectly with the horns. Blue Valentine is an ambitious, wonderfully atmospheric album. It’s one that I’ll definitely come back to in the future, because it seems like there’s so much more to discover here.
Sadly, I don’t live in Europe, so I won’t be seeing Ryan Adams live this summer. (Please do a North American tour soon!) But I couldn’t help but smile when I saw this pop up on my Twitter feed. Laura Marling has said in several interviews that Ryan Adams was a huge influence on her, and I remember Adams posted on his Facebook page last summer about how much he loved her new album. It’s always nice to see two musicians with such a respect for each other (especially when they’re both musicians I like), and it’s cool that they get to play together. Now, if only I lived in Amsterdam…
Here’s the next instalment of my Summer Movie Preview. It’s the same format as the one I did for May, except I’m adding my own synopses, rather than the studio ones. I just found that most of the “official” synopses were too long, and in some cases, it seemed like they gave away too much of the movie.
There are actually some pretty good looking releases coming out in June. Is it just me, or is 2011 shaping up to be a good summer movie season? So much was made about last summer’s atrocious offerings, but there have already been several well-reviewed blockbusters (Bridesmaids, Fast Five, Thor), and with promising-looking fare like X-Men, Super 8, and Crazy Stupid Love coming up, I’m actually pretty happy with how the summer is shaping up!
= Possible awards contender
= Times Like Those pick
= Probable cash cow
= Indie with breakthrough potential
= Looks like a turd
Starring: Michael Sheen, Maria Bello, Kyle Gallner
Director: Shawn Ku
Synopsis: Sheen and Bello play a married couple with a rocky relationship. This tenuous bond is then tested to the extreme following a traumatic event involving their teenage son.
My Take: This isn’t going to be a major release, but I always like to highlight the work of Michael Sheen, who manages to be everywhere (even in Tron!) but still remains woefully underrated. This bleak-sounding drama got fairly strong reviews out of TIFF, and Sheen earned praise from many critics. (Limited release)
Starring: Ewan McGregor, Christopher Plummer, Melanie Laurent
Director: Mike Mills
Synopsis: McGregor plays the son of Plummer and must deal with his father’s revelations that he is gay and battling cancer.
My Take: The trailer is utterly charming, and hopefully the rest of the film will live up to it. Plummer could be the first Oscar contender of the year, but he’ll have to sustain the momentum for quite a while. I’m also interested to see McGregor in a mature character study like this – I think he has the low-key charm to pull it off. (Limited release)
Starring: Craig Roberts, Sally Hawkins, Paddy Considine
Director: Richard Ayoade
Synopsis: 15-year-old Oliver tries to lose his virginity before his next birthday, and also chase away his mom’s ex-boyfriend.
My Take: This quirky-looking British comedy is by first-time director Ayoade (better known as an actor on the UK series The IT Crowd), but it already has some nice buzz around it. The young star, Craig Roberts (who already made his debut to American audiences this year in Jane Eyre) is getting good reviews, and Sally Hawkins is a welcome addition to any movie. (Limited release)
X-Men: First Class
Starring: James McAvoy, Michael Fassbender, Jennifer Lawrence, Nicholas Hoult, January Jones, Rose Byrne, Kevin Bacon, Zoe Kravitz, Caleb Landry Jones, Lucas Till, Oliver Platt
Director: Matthew Vaughn
Synopsis: Before they were Professor X and Megneto, Charles Xavier and Erik Lensherr were two really good-looking, totally not-bald guys who weren’t always trying to kill each other. And X-Men: First Class tells the origin story of the X-Men mutants set against a Cold War backdrop.
My Take: If you’re bored by all of the human-interest indie movies coming out this work, don’t worry! No summer week at the theatre would be complete without a new blow-shit-up blockbuster. This one just happens to look better than most of them, because it’s got a kick-ass (pun intended) cast. The trailers look pretty good, and I appreciate the retro-type vibe they’re going for. This is probably the only superhero movie of the year that I’m excited for.
Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
(I refuse to provide a picture, because all of them were too annoying.)
Starring: Jordana Beatty, Heather Graham, Parris Mosteller
Director: John Schultz
Synopsis: It’s like Bezus and Ramona, but without Selena Gomez.
My Take: This movie was clearly not made for my demographic. But just from the poster, I’m going to wager that it’s not particularly well-made, even for what it’s trying to be.
Starring: Kyle Chandler, Elle Fanning, Joel Courtney, AJ Michalka, Noah Emmerich
Director: J.J. Abrams
Synopsis: A small town is shaken up by mysterious happenings following a nearby train crash.
My Take: I’m not really into the stereotypical “nerd” culture (I don’t read comic books or watch Doctor Who or any Joss Whedon shows, etc.) but J.J. Abrams is the one man who can bring out some of my truly geeky tendencies. So naturally, I was intrigued by the secretive film project that he planned to follow-up Star Trek. I still don’t really know what it’s about (and I think that’s a good thing), but it looks pretty awesome, in an E.T. kind of way. Elle Fanning is one of my favourite young actresses, and I will watch Coach Taylor Kyle Chandler in anything. Probably my most anticipated film of the summer.
The Art of Getting By
Starring: Freddie Highmore, Emma Roberts, Michael Angarano, Elizabeth Reaser, Alicia Silverstone
Director: Gavin Wiesen
Synopsis: Misanthropic teenager George (Highmore) falls for his unlikely friend, Sally (Roberts).
My Take: This is the kind of movie that I tend to love, but somehow the idea of the story didn’t really appeal to me. (Maybe I didn’t buy Highmore as some kind of misunderstood poet-y type? I dunno.) But after watching the trailer, I am kind of excited. It does look a little clichéd, but in a very sweet way.
Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard, Mark Strong
Director: Martin Campbell
Synopsis: Pilot Hal Jordan (Reynolds) finds a ring that grants him super powers, but also the responsibility of keeping order in the universe.
My Take: This might be an irrational reaction, but I was kind of mad when I heard that Peter Sarsgaard was going to be in this movie. The filmmakers completely wasted his talent in a ho-hum role in Knight & Day, and I fear the same will happen here. I like Reynolds, and Campbell directed the hell out of Casino Royale, but I am not excited at all for this.
Mr. Popper’s Penguins
Starring: Jim Carrey, Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury, Phillip Baker Hall
Director: Mark Waters
Synopsis: Based on the popular children’s book, Mr. Popper’s Penguins tells the story of a businessman who must care for six penguins.
My Take: Wait, this is a real thing?
Starring: Cameron Diaz, Justin Timberlake, Jason Segel
Director: Jake Kasdan
Synopsis: A rebellious teacher reeks havoc in a middle school, and some romantic stuff probably ensues.
My Take: The premise couldn’t be less inspired, but the trailer seemed charming enough. Diaz can be good at screwy kinds of roles like this, and it’s nice to still see her getting lead roles. As well, Timberlake is proving to be a charismatic actor, and Jason Segel always brings the perfect balance of warmth and zaniness to his work. I’m mostly interested in this movie for him.
Starring: Owen Wilson, Larry the Cable Guy, Michael Caine, Cheech Marin, Jason Isaacs, Bonnie Hunt
Director: John Lasseter, Brad Lewis
Synopsis: Cars abroad!
My Take: I didn’t care for the first one, and I can’t see how a second instalment is necessary.
Transformers: Dark of the Moon
Starring: Shia LaBouef, Rosie Huntington-Whiteley, Tyrese Gibson, Josh Duhamel, John Malkovich
Director: Michael Bay
Synopsis: I’m just going to paste the studio synopsis, because it literally makes no sense to me (and, sadly, I’ve seen both of the previous films):
“The Autobots learn of a Cybertronian spacecraft hidden on the Moon, and race against the Decepticons to reach it and to learn its secrets”
My Take: There’s something about the Transformers franchise that makes me optimistic with each new instalment, as ridiculous as that always proves to be. I didn’t think the first film was very good, and the second one was literally one of the worst, most incomprehensible films of recent memory. I think I may have slipped into a comatose state while watching it. Yet I can’t help but be a little bit hopeful for this. I think it’s because of the potential that the series has. Michael Bay knows how to create a spectacle. Now, if only he knew how to create a spectacle that didn’t involve indecipherable extreme close-ups on action, editing that caters exclusively to the ADD set, shameless objectification of women, and arguably racist stereotypes. Who knows – maybe this will be the one. (Also, LaBouef has gone on record saying he had some problems with the second film, and he claims that the script for Dark Side of the Moon is the best of the series yet. Take from that what you will.)