Jacqueline Monahan's Movie Reviews
- Category: Jacqueline Monahan
- Published on 11 June 2011
- Written by Jacqueline Monahan
Las Vegas Round The Clock
Jacqueline Monahan is an educator for the GEAR UP program at UNLV.
She is also an entertainment reporter for Lasvegasroundtheclock.com
Nostalgic and entertaining are two words that leap to mind in attempting to describe Super 8, the long-awaited effort by director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg. Two more words are clever and calculated.
What makes the film appeal to a multi-generational audience is its ability to relate to kids – it’s about a group of middle school friends on a film shoot using the titular medium – and its ability to relate to boomers – it’s set in pre-smartphone 1979. With built-in recognition like that, it’s hard not to be drawn into the story.
Teens and younger kids will relate to the antics, tribulations and exploits of the adolescent film crew led by Charles Kaznyk (Riley Griffiths) He also fulfills the role of “fat kid.” Seems every group has to have one, but at least Charles gets to be the brains of the organization.
The heart is Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) whose mother was recently killed in a steel mill accident. His widowed father, Jackson, (Kyle Chandler) is also the town’s Deputy Sheriff, and a shattered and distant figure in Joe’s life.
Fortunately, Joe has the support of his group of friends (and Charles’ film crew) fellow middle school students Cary (Ryan Lee) who’s also fascinated by fire and explosives, Preston (Zach Mills) the cautious one of the group, and Martin (Gabriel Basso) the well-meaning, nerdy straight guy. The gang is joined by Alice Dainard (Elle Fanning) also the female lead in Charles’ zombie film.
Joe is smitten with Alice. He’s the film crew’s makeup guy and has to work on her face, which gives him plenty of time to gaze at her adoringly. Charles has a crush on her, too, so there’s that dynamic in addition to the camaraderie of the guys.
Alice’s father Louis (Ron Eldard) works in the steel mill and inadvertently set into motion the chain of events that ended with the accidental death of Joe’s mother. Although Alice and Joe get past this fact quickly, their fathers do not, so there’s that dynamic as well.
Small town life in fictional Lillian, Ohio seems idyllic with its neighborhoods of middle class single family homes. Charles’ film crew convenes for a night shoot at a train station and catches some unexpected footage during an explosive train crash. When the film (shot in super 8, natch) is developed, they find out just how explosive.
The ensuing invasion of Air Force personnel and the mysterious involvement of a local biology teacher (Glynn Turman) combined with a spate of disappearing dogs spur the kids to do a little investigating of their own. Here’s where the David and Goliath aspect kicks in, with the youngsters squaring off and outsmarting the military because they are more understanding, enlightened, even heroic. Only they can transcend scientists, soldiers, authority figures and parents to get the job done. Even Joe’s dad, Lillian’s Deputy Sheriff must fight the repressive, top secret, might-makes-right military in his role as protector of the town and especially, his son.
The kids are the story here, and their dialogue is packed with so much targeted, precocious witticisms that few in the audience stop being humored or charmed long enough to question the rapid-fire, never-miss repartee. There’s a little too much casual profanity for the era, and Abrams is careful to juxtapose the film crew’s budding proficiency with youthful sensibilities. For example, Charles will toss off a very grownup pronouncement about a technical aspect of his equipment while licorice sticks are being exchanged.
Competent performances flow from Elle Fanning (following closely in big sister Dakota’s footsteps), Joel Courtney and Riley Griffiths. Ryan Lee provides great comic relief as a young pyromaniac. Perhaps the most recognizable actor here is Kyle Chandler, who looks tired and pissed off for most of the film, along with the other important father figure played by Ron Eldard.
Writer/director J.J. Abrams (Star Trek) the special effects, especially in the beginning have the power to cause you to involuntarily jerk out of your seat. Steven Spielberg produced and influenced the film, chock full of so much Americana that the mayhem becomes almost secondary. They don’t really want us to stare at the mysterious military secret too long anyway, when there are quaint, outdated cultural icons such as Walkman personal stereos, Farrah-feathered hair, and Dodge sports cars that all seem to have a pointy, dangerous aura about them.
Maybe the idea is that if we’re surrounded by so much recognition and shared experience it will become the spoonful of sugar that makes the suspension of disbelief go down.
Whether it does or not is entirely up to the viewer, but it’s an entertaining ride in some vintage cars and one very questionable train.