Kevin Carr’s Weekly Report Card: June 10, 2011

This week, Fat Guy Kevin Carr relives his childhood by running around with a Super 8 film camera, trying to capture a train derailment on film. He deftly uses the cover of shooting a home movie with a bunch of local tweens who ride around on their bikes all day like some extras in a Spielberg film. However, when the cops come after him for suspicious behavior, he ducks into the local cinema to catch the live-action big screen adaptation of the Judy Moody books. This might not be helping his case.

Want to hear what Kevin has to say on the Fat Guys at the Movies podcast? Head here and listen as Kevin is joined in the Magical Studio in the Sky by Ryan Gallagher from CriterionCast.

Studio: Paramount

Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci -fi action and violence, language and some drug use

Starring: Elle Fanning, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard, Noah Emmerich and Gabriel Basso

Directed by: J.J. Abrams

What it’s about: In the summer of 1979, a group of thirteen-year-old kids are shooting an independent Super 8 film. However, while filming a scene at a train depot, they witness a train derailment, which unleashes something on the small town. While strange things start to happen in the following days and the military starts a cover-up, the kids start to do their own detective work.

What I liked: In a summer that is full of sequels, reboots and remakes, it’s nice to see a solid science fiction film come along that is an original story. That doesn’t mean that Super 8 is entirely unfamiliar, though. A large part of what makes this film work is the nostalgic feel it has. As a child of the 70s and 80s, I remember riding my bikes around town with my friends in 1979. I remember living on a steady dose of Amblin Entertainment in the theater. And Super 8 captures these feelings perfectly.

Strip everything else away, and you’ll find Super 8 to basically be a 1950s B-movie with great special effects and a lot of intensity. I’m also a fan of those throw-back movies, so this made the film that much more enjoyable.

Just as this film has a fresh story, it also is full of relative unknown actors. There are a few faces you might recognize, but it manages to tell a story and keep an audience’s interest without throwing someone like Brad Pitt or Julia Roberts in the mix. This bodes well for the movie, allowing the story and characters to stand on their own. Like director J.J. Abrams’ television work, he just does a fine job casting the film with fresh faces that will become stars soon enough.

As prominent as Abrams’ name is on the poster, producer Steven Spielberg’s is even more. In fact, these are the stars behind the movie, and Spielberg’s name is very important. Super 8 is old-school Spielberg, reminding me of E.T. and The Goonies, but with more explosions and better effects.

Super 8 isn’t perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot of fun. And it reminds us that these kinds of movies can still work. They’re not just an unrelateable byproduct of the 1980s.

Most of Super 8 is quite brilliant, but that doesn’t mean it’s not without its flaws. There are plenty of slow moments, most of them dealing with the story element of the main kid’s mother, who was killed in a factory accident four months earlier. (Don’t worry… this isn’t an Ebert-esque spoiler or anything. Like any good movie for a younger audience, it begins right off with the death of the mother.)

Pretty much any time the characters are chewing through dialogue about this tragedy, you can head out to the restroom or to the concession stand. Some might say that this story arc was left in as a mistake, leading to some very cheesy moments in the third act. I, however, think it was just Spielberg and Abrams’ effort to let the kids in the audience have a bathroom break.

Who is gonna like this movie: Anyone pre-disposed to like films from the Amblin Entertainment catalogue which features a lot of young teenagers riding their bikes.

Grade: A-

Studio: Relativity Media

Rated: PG for some mild rude humor and language

Starring: Heather Graham, Jaleel White, Preston Bailey, Cameron Boyce and Janet Varney

Directed by: John Schultz

What it’s about: When Judy Moody and her brother Stink are left at home for the summer with their Aunt Opal, they devise a way to get over the summertime blahs. Judy plans a summer of adventure, competing with her friends for thrill points throughout the warm months.

What I liked: Anyone who knows me knows that I am somewhat apologetic to kids’ movies. After all, I understand that if you’re ten years old, what you might be looking for in a film can be vastly different and ultimately unrelatable to anyone who’s gone through puberty.

This movie, which is based on a best-selling series of children’s books, is something that is geared towards a younger audience. Think of it as the film equivalent of drinking sugary soda through a Twizzler straw. It has that level of pop and fizz to it, and it’s likely going to make an adult feel a bit nauseous at times. But I have to admit that once I got acclimated to the film, it was actually kind of fun.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer reminds me of a high-energy, extremely colorful version of those live-action one-shot kids shows that aired on the weekend with Saturday morning cartoons. It’s goofy and silly and totally hyper-real. But like the Diary of a Wimpy Kid films, it’s kinda cute and has a certain amount of heart to it.

What I didn’t: Well, let’s face it, this movie plays like being in a room full of grade school kids who’ve had too much sugar. It’s extremely in-your-face, and the cinematography is full of crash zooms and whip pans that would make Paul Greengrass take some Dramamine. It’s definitely not for everyone, and its intense nature can certainly be off-putting. But like I said before, I’ve got hair on my chest, which makes it hard to get accustomed to (even though I was more interested in watching Heather Graham in her short shorts than most people in the theater).

Who is gonna like this movie: Kids, especially those who have read the Judy Moody books.

Grade: B-

Kevin Carr crawled from the primordial ooze in the early 1970s. He grew up watching movies to the point of irritation for his friends and was a font of useless movie knowledge until he decided to put that knowledge to good use. Now, Kevin is a nationally syndicated critic, heard on dozens of radio stations around the country, and his reviews appear in a variety of online outlets. Kevin is also a proud member of the Broadcast Film Critics Association (BFCA), the Online Film Critics Society (OFCS), and the Central Ohio Film Critics Association (COFCA).

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