Monday, August 22, 2011

Nostalgia's Revenge

Super 8(2011)
Directed By J. J. Abrams

The zombie film the kids were making before the train blew up had more going for it than anything that actually happens in "Super 8". "Mars Attacks" is retro sci-fi at full throttle, this film is a nostalgia trip for fans of classic Steven Spielberg films. "You've gotta put that scene in, so that later on the audience cares who get's eaten" a young director says to his crew, a lame brained excuse for the useless funeral prologue, melancholy lead and his forced star-crossed puppy wuv. When we finally see what all the fuss is about it's a beast with a tediously predictable origin (like something a unimaginative ten year old would come up with) and even worse it looks exactly like the beast from Cloverfield, just smaller and less intimidating. No effort seems to have gone into designing an original looking monster at all, which if there is a bare minimum I want out of a monster movie its just that.I enjoyed most of "Lost", "Fringe", and liked "Cloverfield", but "Star Trek" was awful and this even worse. The kids were lame except for the little pyro, the camaraderie and chemistry of kid team-ups like "Monster Squad", "The Goonies", and to a lesser extent Robert Rodriguez's wonky but still unique, "Spy Kids" series, is absent here, and the dead parent drama that is supposed to connect all the dramatic plots together, rings hollow and cloying like the even flatter and blander "Monsters".The train sequence is the only portion of the film that approaches genuine spectacle, the rest is just non-threatening and often barely palpable suspense. If you've forgotten what a good monster movie for the whole family can be re-watch "The Host".
Not to mention the great giant-fighting mockumentaries "Troll Hunter" and "Big Man Japan". The hype machine behind "Cloverfield" when all was said and done seemed appropriate, while in "Super 8" the mystery is a let down, because it's basically "Cloverfield" with some hallmark card and completely unearned "E.T." sentimentality, that doesn't promote the humanism (of the film's it apes) so much as justify the cynicism that leads audiences to "Rampage" and "The Human Centipede" to get their thrills.
"X-Men: First Class" and especially the surprising "Attack The Block" were retro, youthful, relevant, dramatic, had unique action set pieces, and didn't need to explain to us why we are supposed to be care about a character, it made us feel it.
Compare the openings sequences of these three films, and its easy to see why Super 8 goes so wrong. Its restrained tone of domestic does not sharpen or highlight the domestic drama its just hopelessly anchored by it. I was hoping the jolly fat kid would have been the lead, his crush on the lead actress could have been cute and offered opportunities for much needed lightness. Instead with the mop topped sad kid she gets to emote about dark secrets and second hand guilt. What an adventure. I never thought I would say this but Micheal Bay would have made this a film worth seeing, it might not be good, but it would at least be worth seeing.
"Super 8" is not worth seeing.

War Horse

13 Assassins(2010)
Directed By Takashi Miike

Takashi Miike is back in rare form. I was mildly amused by his Zebraman series and Yatterman and laughed out loud more than a few times during Detective Story, but Miike had been overdue for something truly grand, Sukiyaki Western Django's notwithstanding. He seems to have found a measure of cross-over success in that most quintesentially Japanese of genre's the Samurai film, relatively fresh territory for the workaholic auteur who cut his teeth on Yazuki and bleakly humored trangressive freakouts like Miike has. The film retains some of his usual genre distortions and deconstructions (like a gleefully nihilistic Robert Altman), specifically in the perverse Lord the assassins are retained to eliminate and his disdain for the samurai who serve him and their blind eyed obedience. He is a typical Miike character an aristocratic rapist, with a childlike fascination with violence, who asks in awe of the carnage around him "The age of war...was it always like this?" Paul Veerhoven's anti-military inter-galactic space war "Starship Troopers" is Miike's favorite film, and its influence shows in 13 Assasins as much as Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai, which have been mentioned repeatedly in multiple reviews. The final hour or so of this film is one continuous battle/fight/chase scene and it's a thing of cinematic joy to behold and really the main reason to see this film. And then to see it again, and again. There is no choppy CGI on display here just old fashioned martial arts mayhem and daring stuntcraft, explosive as the arterial spray of a kitana to the jugular vein. When it comes to action films they rarely get better than this.