March 11, 2012 (DVD)
Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney in 'Super 8'

My love for J.J. Abrams made me want to see Super 8, and the casting of Kyle Chandler, coupled with a story about kids and a super-secret “creature”, cemented that desire. Even when critics lamented its less-than-satisfactory “reveal” I still knew the movie would be for me. Later, when a teen girl’s Facebook post summed up her viewing as “two hours that I’ll never get back,” I only questioned my interest for just one moment. But then my disappointment in Cowboys & Aliens caused me to take a step back and truly ponder if Super 8 might not fail me, too. But I couldn’t let go of the fact that this was a movie about young teens who encounter some sort of unexplained phenomenon; E.T. holds a tight grip on my heart, after all. And so, even though I know there will never be another E.T., I finally rented Super 8 and gave it an honest chance. My conclusion? AWESOME. Awesome in every way that I wanted it to be.

Super 8 is a fun movie. It’s meant to be a FUN movie! The story follows a group of young teenagers in 1979 as they shoot their own Super 8 movie (about zombies, no less!) and in the process witness a train derailment that sets loose a “monster.” But this isn’t some benign extra-terrestrial. It’s vicious and on a rampage, so the majority of the film involves military maneuvers to capture the creature and contain the situation while keeping the small-town folk in the dark. Yet another reason I equated the movie to E.T.; the similarities are also very evident in tone and cinematography. But none of that is what makes Super 8 so cool. It’s the kids that make the movie awesome. It’s the fact that they spend the entire time running around screaming, as you might expect, but also that they decide to run toward the danger because they’re fearless and they desperately want to solve the mystery of what exactly is going on. Super 8 shows kids as kids truly are: inquisitive, unrelenting, creative, and yes, fearless. It’s one of the most natural portrayals of teens I’ve seen in a very long time, and the things that usually bother me in other films (specifically, profanity and crude dialogue) just didn’t seem to faze me as much because I remember being these kids! Everything about their behavior was completely accurate and totally unforced. Especially engaging are young Elle Fanning and Joel Courtney, whose characters begin to forge a sweet little romance in the midst of the chaos. The movie also features a great undertone about the struggles of single fathers to connect with their children, as well as beautiful moments of honesty between young male friends. There is heart in this movie, even as I found actual scream-out-loud moments that made me laugh at myself. All of these things make Super 8 incredibly fun to watch.

Topping off everything else, I think the ending might have been the very best part of the film. I don’t mean the conclusion of the story – that was a bit melodramatic, actually – but rather, the closing credits. As the credits roll we are treated to the full and complete 8mm movie that the kids were filming… the complete ZOMBIE movie. And it’s awesome in every possible way. Seeing that, after all that had gone before… how could I not love Super 8?

movie still via IMDB


February 14, 2012 (DVD)
Cowboys & Aliens

I wanted to love Cowboys & Aliens. The casting alone made me want to love it, and Jon Favreau‘s involvement made me just as excited. It should have been a slam dunk. How then could it have gone so very wrong? My parents watched the movie a few weeks before me, and my mom told me it was awful. Still I believed, determined to see it for no other reason than Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig. In a western! The aliens premise was odd, yes, but I was certain that could never derail such a promising project. I was certain it would add a quirky little element to a fine western. … I should have listened to my mother. The aliens storyline is exactly what killed this film. I could never decide if it was supposed to be goofy fun or witty drama or just plain tongue-in-cheek. I spent the entire movie wondering how I was supposed to feel about it. As the closing credits rolled I was still unsure how I was supposed to feel about it. All I really knew for sure is that the movie came across as so much wasted talent in such a stupid story. And that made me very sad.

Cowboys & Aliens suffered from a ridiculous alien plot. If that particular story had been better, the movie would not be such a disappointment. If I had made the film, I would’ve put a lot of TNT’s Falling Skies into Cowboys & Aliens, making the outer space enemies much more terrifying rather than played for disgusting effect. I would’ve given Ford and Craig more to do than just battle aliens. Two hours of watching them run around with wide eyes and shooting at grotesque creatures just isn’t a full use of their talents. The best parts of the movie came when they got to play off each other instead of fight off attackers. But those best parts were few and far between, leaving me thoroughly unsatisfied with the movie.

I did love one thing: the performances of the cast. Or rather, the performances of the male cast. Ford was wonderfully grizzly and Craig was beautiful and steely, and the supporting players of Clancy Brown (always fantastic), Sam Rockwell (surprisingly meek), and even Walton Goggins as a nutty dimwit were all pitch-perfect. But then came Olivia Wilde. At first she seemed to have no purpose and was simply meant to bring some kind of softness to the dusty Old West town, but then she was revealed as a major element to the story. I almost laughed out loud at the ridiculousness of it all. Even as a “key player”, Wilde had a non-role. Which she played beautifully… as a non-actor. Her entire appearance in the film seemed like nothing more than window dressing, and she was as stiff as I’ve ever seen an actress play in a film. Simply put, I longed for her to disappear from the time she first arrived. And come to think of it, that’s pretty much how I felt about the whole “aliens” portion of the movie. I’m looking for a do-over now. Harrison Ford and Daniel Craig deserve so much better.

movie still via Rotten Tomatoes


February 10, 2012 ~ Cinemark Allen 16 ~ Allen, Texas

through 3D lenses :: 'Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace'It was never my intent to see the Star Wars movies in 3D, and most especially not The Phantom Menace which lives in my mind as the least of the films in the saga. But when the first boy brought it up and assumed that I would certainly accompany him… well, there’s no saying “No” to that. Thankfully, there are good elements to this first episode, not the least of which is Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor playing Jedi Knights. That alone is worth the (crazy expensive) price of admission.

Was the film better in 3D? No. But I did find moments of joy throughout, including the richness of detail that does make a movie more visually stunning when viewed in 3D. It wasn’t any more impressive in the cinema, though, than it is in Blu-Ray on a large television screen. It’s just, well, bigger. The one thing we did look forward to seeing in the 3D format was the pod race; unfortunately, it wasn’t as impressive as we would have liked. I wish George Lucas had turned it into a more personal experience, wherein we could have been in little Anakin’s seat and viewed the entire race from his perspective. I really wanted the stomach-lurching experience that three-dimensions ought to offer, and the pod race would have been the perfect vehicle for it (pun intended). Instead, the sequence was simply another cool ride with a little more depth of scenery. And that just seemed like a missed opportunity.

Still, the joy of seeing Star Wars isn’t really in the viewing itself. It never has been. The joy of these movies is in the sharing of the experience, and that made watching this first episode in 3D worth its admission. The first boy was four-years-old when this first film was released, and it was his first introduction to the saga that I have loved since my own childhood. The Phantom Menace is made for the young kids, not for us older ones, and I was reminded of that as we listened to a roomful of children watching the movie for the first time ever. They were mesmerized and joyous and just as captivated as we all were when we saw our first Star Wars films. There’s nothing like that experience, and hearing the kids around me in the audience reminded me just how precious is this movie saga. As adults, we complain at the changes that are made as Lucas continually tweaks and “updates” the films, but those complaints come because the memories are so dear to us. The reality is that my nephews may have never seen any of the Star Wars films had Phantom not been made. They don’t care as much for the original trilogy because those films look dated and had little of the technological wizardry that is so commonplace for them. No amount of defense on my part will ever convince the boys otherwise. So I’ve learned to accept whatever changes come along, like them or not, and be happy that new generations are given the opportunity to experience these beloved films on the big screen. Even with complete redo’s, that really is the only true way to appreciate Star Wars.

Now, bring on the Clones!

K2 in Darth Maul 3D glassesthis girl and her favorite Jedi

from the weekend :: Ka-Ciao! (Summer Film Series – Vol. 9, No. 3 :: CARS 2)

June 24, 2011 ~ Studio Movie Grill ~ Plano, Texas

This past Friday I joined my sister’s family for an opening day viewing of Cars 2, something that had been planned for months by their NASCAR-lovin’ selves. The first film is one of their very favorites, and the last boy tends to quote Lightning McQueen a lot, but I’ve never been as much a fan of that film beyond the simple fact that Pixar films are always enjoyable and visually stunning. The race car aspect though? Meh. So I was thankful that I could join their crew for this sequel because I knew my viewing experience would be made so much better by hearing the boy’s commentary throughout the film. Or at least that’s what I thought. Turns out, I loved the film more than any of them! It was far better than the first one — for me, at least — and my experience was heightened by sitting next to the first boy rather than his younger brother. Which just goes to show that nothing is certain in art or life.

I planned to take several photos before and after the movie, but the boys just weren’t having it. The Pickle was almost cranky the whole day, so I only managed a few. But I think I have enough to tell the story. The boys and their parents arrived at the cinema more than an hour before showtime, so they were able to secure the first spots in line. Such a long wait is not agreeable to the last boy, but he managed to endure with the help of Angry Birds — or, as he calls it, “Frustrated Birds”, because “angry” is not a nice thing to be. … During the movie, K2 and I laughed at pretty much every scene — and most of all when Mater gained the power to change his appearance by voice command and turned himself from a tow truck to a monster truck to a taco truck. We couldn’t stop giggling! I was sitting too far away from the other boy to hear his comments throughout the film, but I did notice him during the opening title sequence. When the original Cars graphic appeared onscreen, Pickle’s hand flew into the air displaying the number two. And as that number appeared on the movie screen, he shouted out, “Two!” It was a terrific way to start the show!
passing time with Angry Birds

an afternoon viewing with family

You'd think the movie didn't delight these guys, but the truth is they knew I was taking a photo. Plus, I think this occurred during closing credits (which were kinda boring).

Studio Movie Grill

Cars 2 poster

Summer Film Series – Vol. 9, No. 1 :: X-MEN: FIRST CLASS

June 8, 2011 ~ Movies 14 ~ McKinney, Texas

X-Men: First Class

Since my very first introduction to the X-Men universe — way back in 2000 when my pal Nate began to school me on the back stories of mutants featured (and not featured) in the first movie of the current franchise — I have been completely hooked on the series. I’m not a comic book girl, but I absolutely adore the films and continue to find them enjoyable on every subsequent viewing. I even love Wolverine (Origins), because I enjoy seeing so many beloved faces show up in it, though in the final summation it’s a pretty awful film. What kept me engaged through all of the X-Men films thus far was the character of Logan/Wolverine as played by Hugh Jackman. But when word came down that this latest installment would go all the way back to the very beginning, to the friendship origins of Professor X and Magneto, I was more intrigued than ever. My love of Wolverine was as much a love of Jackman as it was the character, but my love of the X-Men story is completely wrapped up in Xavier and Erik. Their enduring relationship has always intrigued me. Making that relationship the basis of an entire film and setting it during a period when they were actually allies sparked a brand new interest in me unlike any I’d had before. And then the casting was revealed… and I knew I’d love First Class even if it stunk to high heaven.

The story of X-Men: First Class mostly takes place in the early 1960s, which alone makes for very cool imagery. Charles Xavier, played wonderfully by James McAvoy, is not yet the professor but is fully aware of the power his telepathic abilities have given him. When he is approached by a government agency to use those abilities in military efforts, he begins to grow toward the Professor X that we will eventually come to know. By contrast, Erik Lehnsherr, who is not yet known as Magneto, is using his abilities to manipulate metals for the sole purpose of revenge upon a doctor who traumatized him in childhood. It is Xavier who rescues Erik from certain destruction and convinces him to join forces with the U.S. government to aid military efforts in Cuba. The great climactic moments involve a band of young mutants working together to prevent the Soviet Union from placing nuclear missiles in Cuba (a historic moment known to us as the Cuban Missile Crisis). It is during this event that the characters begin the transition into their future selves, choosing sides among the two leading men. What X-Men: First Class does is present the beginnings of the characters we came to know in their later years while also setting itself in position for many more stories of the younger mutants. And it is this set-up that excites me the most.

As Xavier, McAvoy is fantastic and truly nods toward the Patrick Stewart personification we have come to love, but the movie really belongs to Michael Fassbender as Erik/Magneto. Fassbender is engaging on all levels, from steely resolve to sarcastic humor to outright sex appeal, and the character of Magneto was never so vivid. (Bless Ian McKellen and his strong portrayal of Magneto in later years, but he just doesn’t offer as many levels of nuance as Fassbender managed to bring to the younger version.) Magneto simply has the better story overall. His journey is one of emotion and learning to control it. And it is that journey which brings such life to this new film, to the point where the entire franchise could focus solely on Magneto’s early adulthood and be better than any other film thus far. Fassbender is just that good in the role. Which is exactly why I never wanted First Class to end.

The moment the credits began to roll at the end of the film I found myself unable to rise from my seat. I was so captivated by Fassbender, so completely thrilled by the giant moments that had come during the climax of the film, and so charmed at the thought of seeing these same actors reprise their roles in more Origins films, that I simply did not want the experience to end. I stayed through the closing credits, caught up in the soundtrack that had not even registered in my ears during the film, and I kept smiling a ridiculously goofy smile over what I’d just experienced. For me, First Class redefined the term “feel-good movie.” It really isn’t a feel-good movie, but it made me feel good. I felt good about the prospect of more. I absolutely hope there is more of this particular setup. Or rather, I just hope there is more McAvoy and Fassbender in these roles. They are perfect together.

That’s not to say that X-Men: First Class is a perfect film, of course. There are actors who just don’t belong in the movie, if you ask me. January Jones, for instance, showed absolutely no talent for doing anything beyond the sulky facial expressions she uses on Mad Men, and her entire role as Emma Frost seemed to exist for no other reason than lying around in as little clothing as possible. Once again I wondered just why this woman gets cast in anything, for she simply is not a good actress! Her character really had little purpose other than being someone for fanboys to ogle. Any other actress could have played her and created an actual character with depth. Instead, we were subjected to Jones, who brought nothing at all to the movie. On the other hand, I truly enjoyed Jennifer Lawrence as Mystique. I had never been a fan of the shape-shifter in any previous film, and I never, ever understood her attachment to Magneto, so it was a real treat to see the origin of the character in this film. And Lawrence’s emotive abilities brought depth to her in a way that Jones failed to do for Frost. In fact, it was Lawrence’s portrayal that made me rethink Mystique and come to love her fully by the end. Of all the relationships that surface in First Class, it’s the one with Magneto and Mystique that thrilled me the most. It is that relationship I want to explore further.

I can safely say that X-Men: First Class is my favorite of the franchise now. It’s the one I want to watch again and again, and it’s the one that brings the most emotional depth. My immediate reaction upon leaving the cinema was, “It will be hard for other summer films to top this one.” I still feel that way weeks later. This one crawled beneath my skin. It charmed me and thrilled me and made me ask for more-more-more. That’s all I ever want in a summer film, and I’m so happy that it was delivered to me by the mutants!
image from 20th Century Fox, linked to source


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