BARE BONES: SUPER 8 (2011)

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SUPER 8 (2011)

Super 8 is J.J. Abrams’ homage to the 80s coming of age genre flicks like E.T., Stand By Me and The 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.

 

-MonsterZero NJ

3 star rating

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HORROR YOU MIGHT HAVE MISSED: GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

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GOOSEBUMPS (2015)

(Clicking the highlighted links brings you to corresponding reviews and articles here at The Movie Madhouse!)

When his mother (Amy Ryan) accepts a vice principal job in Madison, Delaware, high schooler Zach (Dylan Minnette) is forced to move there with her from New York. He finds he has a reclusive and unfriendly neighbor Mr. Shivers (Jack Black) with a pretty teenage daughter named Hannah (Odeya Rush). When sneaking into Shivers’ house one night to check up on Hannah, who he feels is being imprisoned there against her will, he finds out that Shivers is actually famed horror author R.L. Stine. Zach also discovers that opening Stine’s original, locked manuscripts actually releases the creatures within into the real world. With evil ventriloquist dummy Slappy (also voiced by Black) accidentally released, the diabolical doll unlocks all the rest of the monsters into the streets of the unsuspecting town. Now Zach, Stine, Hannah and Zach’s new buddy Champ (Ryan Lee), have to somehow find a way to get all the monsters back in the books…books that Slappy is gleefully burning.

Goosebumps is a clever and fun family horror from director Rob Letterman from a script by Darren Lemke based on Scott Alexander and Larry Karaszewski’s story. It amusingly combines not only a number of Stine’s ghoulish creations, but involves the author himself in the mix. It’s never really scary, but it is a lot of fun, especially a scene involving lawn gnomes which evokes some of the best bits in Gremlins. The characters are all likable and while the scenario is played fairly seriously, there is a lot of humor added to the mix as our heroes battle a wide assortment of Stine’s creatures running rampant on this small Delaware town. To a degree it’s nothing new. We have seen creatures come to life from the written page before, but it is an entertaining movie with it’s heart in the right place and fans of Stine’s tales should enjoy the parade of his characters marched out across the screen. If there is any fault with that, it is that only a few of them get any more than a few moments of screen time with Slappy being the main villain with a few secondaries like a werewolf and a giant praying mantis. On a production level, while the CGI can be weak at times, Letterman has a nice visual eye, especially scenes set in an abandoned amusement park, and it is all photographed well by Javier Aguirresarobe. There is also a buoyant and spooky score by legendary composer Danny Elfman, which adds nicely to the atmosphere of spooky fun.

The cast all have a firm grasp of the nature of the material. Black is amusing as the reclusive and egotistic Stine and also gives voice to the villainous Slappy and the mischievous Invisible Boy. The young cast shine as Minnette, Rush and Lee all provide their high school stereotypes well, as the new boy in town, the adventurous girl and the eccentric sidekick respectively. They are all quite charming with Ryan Lee showing a flair for comedy and Minnette and Rush having nice chemistry together. It’s an example of a solid cast making the material work very well.

I had fun with this. It’s not a classic and I’m not all that familiar with Stine’s stories, but it was entertaining in the style of something like the 80s classic Monster Squad. It has some shaky CGI, but the characters it represenst do have some life and personality and the human characters are quite endearing, as is the cast. A fun night on the couch and something kids and Stine fans will probably have a good time with.

-MonsterZero NJ

Rated 3 (out of 4) Slappys.

Columbia Pictures' "Goosebumps," starring Jack Black.

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