Super 8 is J.J. Abrams’ homage to the 80s coming of age genre flicks like E.T., Stand By Me andThe Monster Squad. While it is an entertaining homage, it isn’t an overwhelming one. Like all copies, there is something lacking in Super 8 that keeps it from joining the ranks of the original films it so lovingly tries to recreate. The film takes place in 1979 with young wannabe filmmaker Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) and his friends Charles (Riley Griffiths), Preston (Zach Mills), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee) and Alice (Elle Fanning) making a super 8 movie near a set of railroad tracks. They witness the crash of a mysterious train and soon find that it unleashed an extraterrestrial creature into their midst, one whom the government had imprisoned and wants back. The military now hunts the creature throughout their town, while the alien being is trying to find a way home…all with Joe and his friends caught in the middle.
Technically, Super 8 is an extremely well made movie as Abrams is one of the best technical directors out there. His script also has all the traditions and tropes present for this type of movie. The FX are state of the art, though FX do not a classic make. Sadly, Super 8 is not a classic, though it wants to be. The main characters are likable and have some emotional depth, while the military bad guys are appropriately slimy. They are proper representations of the types of characters we’ve seen before in those 80s classics, but none of them are particularly strong, or really stand out to any degree on their own. They serve their purpose in the story, but they are not memorable like E.T.’s Elliot or even Goonies’ Chunk. The alien creature is nicely designed, but ultimately just another generic monster. It’s never given a personality. The story of a group of young wannabe filmmakers coming up against an escaped extraterrestrial creature is functional enough, but we’ve seen it all before…the misunderstood creature, the bad guy military officer, the cop’s kid…and while that’s on purpose, it still feels more like an imitation than a recreation. Super 8 does entertain, but it doesn’t have the charm or that something special that made the films it honors the classics they are. This actually comes as a surprise as Abrams’ Star Trek reboot had all those things right. The characters were familiar, yet new, the story and feel were both classic Trek and yet refreshingly up to date. So why he didn’t accomplish the same here, is a bit of a mystery.
It’s still recommended as an entertaining popcorn flick, especially if you are a fan of the type of movies it evokes. It’s just sadly not as special as those films which it respectfully pays homage to. It’s heart is in the right place, it just needed a bit more of a soul. The solid cast also includes Kyle Chandler (Godzilla: King of the Monsters) as Joe’s Deputy Sheriff father and Noah Emmerich as the military bad guy Colonel Nelec.
Sequel to the 2014 film about one of Disney’s greatest villainesses finds Aurora (Elle Fanning) getting engaged to handsome Prince Phillip (Harris Dickinson) and her godmother Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) having none of it. Unknown to both Aurora and Maleficent, it’s all a ruse by Phillip’s mother, the scheming Queen Ingrith (Michelle Pfeiffer), to not only be rid of Maleficent, but all the creatures of fairy. Framed for bewitching the king and wounded, Maleficent is found by others of her kind and taken to their secret island hideaway. As she heals her wounds and gets to know her people, she plans to stop Ingrith and save the creatures of fae with her new army at her side.
Sequel is directed by Joachim Rønning (Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Men Tell No Tales) from a script by Micah Fitzerman-Blue, Linda Woolverton and Noah Harpster. It’s unremarkable story-wise and fairly by-the-numbers in execution, but does at least have a lot of fantasy images and creatures to keep one’s attention. There is also a fair share of action and an epic battle at it’s climax, with both Jolie and Pfeiffer chewing up the scenery appropriately. Maleficent is never actually evil at any point in the film…pissed off, yes, but evil, no…so the title is a bit misleading, unless it actually refers to Pfeiffer’s Queen Ingrith, who is the far more sinister of the two. Maybe Maleficent: The Pissed Off Anti-Hero was too awkward a title for the Disney promotional department. The film is competently made and colorful enough to be an amusing night on the couch, especially for it’s target audience, but a forgettable fantasy, overall. Strengths and weaknesses aside, the biggest disappointment here is in not letting Jolie really cut loose in a role she was born to play.
Barely coherent British film has Dr. Robert Laing (Tom Hiddleston) moving into a luxury high rise and discovering his neighbors are quite an eccentric bunch. The longer he lives there, the more decadent and out of control the activities get till it descends into a maelstrom of debauchery and even murder.
Written by Amy Jump, from J.G. Ballard’s novel and directed by Ben Wheatly, this flick starts out interesting and plummets quickly into pretentious nonsense quite early. There is a good cast, including Hiddleston, Luke Evans, Jeremy Irons and Sienna Miller, who try hard, but they are wasted on this boring and meandering mess whose story and point are lost in all the random violent and decadent behavior. A waste of time that thinks it’s far more important than it is.
THE NEON DEMON (2016)
Latest film by Nicolas Winding Refn (Drive) has sixteen year-old Jesse (Elle Fanning) going to Hollywood to become a model. She takes the modeling world by storm, but soon learns there is a dark side to her dream and there are those who will go to shocking lengths to keep the new competition from taking what’s theirs.
Obviously, the story concocted by Refn and co-written with Mary Laws and Polly Stenham is nothing new. We’ve seen the naive newcomer in the Hollywood jungle story numerous times. Neon Demon starts out intriguing, though and Refn’s visual style is hypnotic at times, but the film collapses under the weight of it’s own absurdity when it goes over the top to include necrophilia and cannibalism in it’s cautionary tale. The cast, that includes Fanning, Jena Malone and Keanu Reeves perform well, but the film just gets too weird…and gross…to maintain it’s dramatic grip.
It’s not bad enough that this flick is just really amateurishly made and acted… save for the always delightful Angus Scrimm… but, the fact that it has the audacity to rip-off The Shining, with it’s plot of a writer (Don Wood, who is awful.) and his wife (Christina Campanella) renting a room in small motel in Maine, so he can write, that turns out to be haunted, makes it all the worse. Produced and starring independent horror fixture Larry Fessenden who usually is involved with far better projects then this.
I’ve never been a big fan of Troma Entertainment’s bargain basement flicks and this comedy/horror/musical directed by Troma head Lloyd Kaufman won’t change my mind. This is an awful movie that tries so hard to be gross and offensive that it forgets to actually be witty or funny and at 103 minutes is also about 23 minutes too long. It’s sense of ‘humor’ hits the lowest level possible and crosses over to repulsive very quickly. I liked the first Toxic Avenger and the first Nuke’Em High but, after that any actual cleverness was traded for gross and stupid. Terrible.
Francis Ford Coppola has made some great movies early in his career and while we haven’t heard much from him in the last two decades, it still surprises that the man who directed The Godfather and Apocalypse Now could crank out an eccentric mess like Twixt. The film has a chubby and really out of shape Val Kilmer portraying down on his luck horror writer Hall Baltimore staying in a small town to promote his latest wash-out novel at the local hardware/book store. He get’s involved with an odd sheriff named LaGrange (Bruce Dern) who wants Baltimore to help him write a book about the strange murder of a young girl by stake through the heart… a murder LaGrange claims is the work of a group of vampires that live in a commune across the lake. But, the longer he stays, the more Baltimore is drawn into a dream-like world inhabited by a vampiric young girl (Elle Fanning) and Edgar Allen Poe (Ben Chaplin) and soon reality and dream begin to become intertwined. What this movie was about, only Coppola knows for sure. It barely is coherent and when it’s all over, you wonder what was it about or what was the whole point. The only real pluses are some very interesting visuals and Ben Chaplin making an exceptional Edgar Allen Poe even though I never understood the point of him being there. Weird and confusing and weirder still is Coppola casting Kilmer’s ex-wife Joanne Whalley as Baltimore’s nagging wife Denise.
I’ll start out by saying that I enjoyed Maleficent very much. It was very entertaining with Angelina Jolie knocking it out of the park in a role she seems born to play. Be warned it’s not the Maleficent we know from Disney’s Sleeping Beauty, but one portrayed more as a woman scorned and wronged, who must learn to let the warmth back into her heart after it’s turned cold by betrayal…not the traditional character we know, but very Disney nonetheless…and did I mention Jolie owns in the part?
Live action version tells of powerful but benevolent winged faerie, Maleficent (Angelina Jolie) who protects the fantasy realm of The Moors from the human kingdom and it’s ruler King Henry. As a little girl, Maleficent (Isobelle Molloy, Ella Purnell as a teen) has met a young peasant boy named Stefan (Michael Higgins) and as they grow up as friends, they fall in love. Stefan though, has his eyes on the castle and his ambitions gain him a favorable position with the king and thus he abandons Maleficent. Henry forces a confrontation with Maleficent and the faerie folk and when she defeats him, he declares any who shall bring him her head, shall be his heir. In an ultimate act of betrayal and to gain the heirless Monarch’s appointment as his successor, Stefan (now Sharlto Copley) drugs the forgiving faerie and after finding he doesn’t have the heart to kill her, cuts off her wings to fool Henry into thinking she is slain. Of course, this leads to the vengeful Maleficent returning to curse the first born daughter of now King Stefan that on her 16th birthday Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) will prick her finger and fall into a death-like sleep to only be awaked by true love’s kiss…something the hard-hearted Maleficent believes does not exist. As the powerful sorceress watches the angelic little girl grow up toward her cruel fate and receives love from a child that sees her as a faerie god mother, something starts to change in Maleficent making her wonder if perhaps this sweet child doesn’t deserve her wrath…but as Maleficent deals with her conflicting emotions, a vengeful Stefan plots to finish what he started all those years ago.
Linda Woolverton’s screenplay obviously not only presents the timeless classic of Sleeping Beauty from Maleficent’s point of view, but adds some twists as well, as we are shown a woman who is forced into her role as a villain by betrayal and is not beyond redemption. It makes Stefan the true villain of the piece as an ambitious and then vengeful man, who forces the powerful faerie’s hand. It makes Maleficent more of a tale of love, betrayal and redemption and depending on how much you are endeared to the evil Maleficent from Disney’s classic animated film, will determine how far you will go in enjoying this. Personally, I would like to have seen Jolie as the evil Maleficent for a bit longer then allotted here, but I overall enjoyed this new take and the new twists the story gives to a classic tale. The film is very well directed by SPFX man Robert Stromberg (who did FX work on Avatar and Oz The Great And Powerful) though I did feel he could have added a little more intensity here and there. For a first film and one with epic scope, he does well enough and delivers an entertaining family film that keeps the adults perhaps a bit more involved than the kids. The film is visually spectacular and the CGI creatures are beautifully designed and rendered, including the classic dragon that we don’t see enough of. There is also a nice score by James Newton Howard who, ironically, also did the score for Snow White And The Huntsman. Despite all the talent involved, the film belongs to star and producer Angelina Jolie who is simply perfect as the classic Disney character come to life, even with the modern changes.
Angelina Jolie is a performer sadly the subject of continual gossip more then recognized for the skilled actress that she is. No more proof then her performance here that perfectly walks the line of over-the-top scenery chewing, yet fills it with powerful emotional depth and never once slides into camp. She guides us from her majestic beginnings as a strong yet compassionate faerie to her slide into heartless villainy at the hands of Stefan’s betrayal and then her redemption back to someone the audience will be cheering for when all is said and done. My only gripe is her moments of true villainy are far too short and the scenes which we get to enjoy Jolie at her Joan Crawford best are sadly too few. I enjoyed every phase of the character’s progression, but when Jolie is bad, she is so damn good and there wasn’t enough of it. The supporting cast are fine. I actually though Copley was a little weak as Stefan, but not enough to do the film harm and he was dislikable which was the character’s job. Fanning is pretty and sweet and portrays the innocence of youth just fine. Sam Riley is lively as Diaval, Maleficent’s crow turned human assistant. He has a good rapport with Jolie though, he is upstaged by his CGI bird incarnation. There is also Brenton Thwaites as Phillip, who represents the possible true love’s kiss and he is perfectly suitable as the handsome boy that catches Aurora’s eye, but his role is small as he enters the film late. There are also numerous CGI fantasy supporting characters that are given some nice realism in the rendering. The young actors listed above that portray Maleficent and Stefan as children all do very well, as do Vivienne Jolie-Pitt and Eleanor Worthington Cox as young Aurora. The scene between Jolie and her daughter is magical and the obvious casting worked like a charm.
So, Maleficent gives a new spin on a classic character and as long as you’re open minded to the “real” story of Disney’s greatest villainess, you are in for an entertaining movie. Jolie owns the role and commands your attention whenever she is onscreen, which is most of the time, and she need only glare to portray the emotions going on inside her legendary character. Yes Jolie is that good and while there is some spectacular visuals, a lot of exciting action and a relatively fast pace at under 100 minutes to go along with her performance, it’s her show. While she already has an Oscar on her shelf, now she can claim to have out-acted Captain America, Spider-Man, The X-Men and Godzilla all in the same summer. Now THAT is an accomplishment!