Directed by J.J. Abrams
Distributed by Paramount Pictures Home Entertainment
Set in 1979, Super 8 tells the story of youngster Joe Lamb (Courtney) and what happens when a movie shoot with his childhood friends goes horribly wrong under the most unimaginable circumstances in the small town of Lillian, Ohio. A few months after Joe’s lost his mother to a horrific work-related accident, he uses a new movie being directed his best friend, Charles (Griffiths), as a creative outlet to push through the pain. Charles, being the mastermind of the project, is under a lot of pressure to finish his zombie opus in hopes to enter it in a film festival on time. Joe is the make-up artist, and being the artsy one of the group, he spends a lot of time creating some spectacular movie monster models that he displays proudly in his room (something that no doubt will make any horror geek out there proud to see being celebrated).
Rounding out the young filmmaking group in Super 8 are Cary (Lee), the special effects guy who also has a penchant for making homemade explosives from fireworks; lead actor Martin (Basso), who’s definitely no good to anyone when he’s under pressure; and cameraman Preston (Mills), who is the wise-cracking jokester of the group.
Since Charles needs a girl to play one of the lead roles (“to give the movie depth” he smartly acknowledges), Alice (Fanning) comes on board, which pleases Joe since he’s been crushing on her for a while even though she comes from the wrong side of the tracks (don’t they all?). Charles has put together a pivotal scene for his zombie film, and so the gang sneaks out to a remote train depot at midnight when they’ll have the place all to themselves to shoot their movie. As they’re readying themselves to shoot, an unscheduled train can be seen heading their way down the tracks. Charles sees this as a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity (he’ll get “production value” after all) – and they hurriedly get ready for their big moment.
But what is meant to be an emotional moment for the youngsters’ film turns into an action-packed moment of insanity and wreckage in Super 8– as the train derails, it unleashes holy hell all around the small Midwestern town and provides a truly jaw-dropping train crash sequence that was definitely one of the most impressive “blockbuster” moments of this past summer. Adding insult to injury, not only is there an insane amount of wreckage and fires to contend with around the town of Lillian, but something very large and very angry has fought its way out of one of the boxcars, and it’s not happy.
Soon after the melee dies down in Super 8, the kids realize that they’re in danger of being discovered by the military (led by the mysterious Nelec, played by Emmerich), who mysteriously appear out of thin air and are hot on their tracks right after the crash takes place so they hightail it home and make a pact to never speak about the incident again.
As we all know, that’s rarely how these things work out in movies, and soon Joe, who saw what caused the train crash to happen, begins to theorize that perhaps there’s more going on than just a simple train crash and starts digging for more answers. But his friends don’t share his enthusiasm, and his father, Sheriff’s Deputy Jackson Lamb (Chandler), has more on his plate than he knows how to deal with as mysterious occurrences begin happening around the sleepy town of Lillian and his boss goes missing one night, leaving Joe to find answers on his own.
To go on any further into the story of Super 8 would definitely give away too many spoilers and ruin the experience for those of you who haven’t seen the movie yet, but suffice to say we find out more about the alien and the Air Force’s intentions toward said alien, and our human characters all grow a little in return.
As someone who grew up during the 1980s, Super 8 is very much a like taking a 111-minute nostalgic trip down memory lane hearkening back to some of my most favorite times at the theater as a kid. My first Spielberg movie in the theaters was E.T., and since then the iconic writer/director/producer has been responsible for keeping me entertained almost on a yearly basis from 1981 through 1995- whether it was while he was in the producer’s seat or taking the reins as director. Here he plays the former role and acts as a mentor of sorts to writer/director Abrams, who steps up to direct his third feature film, and while he does attain some spectacular visual feats, I don’t feel that Super 8 delivers a truly “mint” cinematic experience overall.
Sure, Super 8 is definitely like a big gooey slice of nostalgia pie for genre fans around my age, but nostalgia is not enough to completely save Super 8 from feeling like a movie we’ve seen so many times before. Being produced under the Amblin Entertainment umbrella, there’s no doubt that Abrams was influenced by his heavyweight producer’s previous works, but my issue is that he never takes a step forward to make his own indelible mark with this kind of storytelling in Super 8.
The reason movies like E.T., Jurassic Park or Raiders of the Lost Ark still remain undeniable classics to this day is because they dared to tell stories with a new twist and give audiences a reason to cheer, and with Super 8 I walked away enjoying myself but felt no lasting impressions with the story overall. Sure, the train crash sequence is marvelous to watch, but that moment isn’t enough for me to fall head over heels in love with Super 8.
What I did enjoy the most about Super 8 was the talented cast of players Abrams assembled, which was led by newcomer Joel Courtney. Courtney, who’s never acted in anything professionally before, is a breath of fresh air in the age of “Disney Kids” and demonstrates he’s a natural in front of the camera. Fanning proves that her older sister isn’t the only one in the family with some acting chops and gives a performance that I feel is award-worthy and I hope that people will remember now that awards season is starting to gear up. Chandler (who’s by far one of my favorite television actors of all time) also delivers a strong and stoic performance as a grief-stricken Deputy who must find a way to save his small town, and the rest of the kid leads prove here that they are just as talented as their older, more experienced peers in Super 8.
The Blu-ray quality of Super 8 looks and sounds nothing short of amazing and is definitely the way the movie should be experienced at home. The colors pop, the sound design is flawless and everything about this presentation of Super 8 feels pristine. In terms of supplemental material, the Super 8 Blu-ray is stuffed to the gills and then some. Not only does the Blu-ray include a DVD copy and a digital copy (score!), but it also presents over two hours of bonus materials that should no doubt please the superfans and casual viewers alike.
There are eight behind-the-scenes featurettes for Super 8, and I really enjoyed all of them, especially “The Dream Behind Super 8” mini-doc which explores Abrams’ own love for making Super 8 films as a kid and how that led to his friendships (and eventual working relationships) with fellow filmmakers Matt Reeves (Let Me In) and Bryan Burk (Super 8 producer) and how his first job working for Steven Spielberg at age 14 served as inspiration for the story behind this film as well. “Dream” also features some really engaging interviews with Reeves, Spielberg and Burk and shows off several Super 8 movies made by various members of the production team from yesteryear. Really fun, geeky stuff that was incredibly insightful and entertaining.
The commentary track with Abrams, Burk and cinematographer Larry Fong (who also has a knack for magic tricks- check out the “Do You Believe in Magic?” featurette to see many of Fong’s tricks) is also chock-full of insightful stuff although I admittedly turned it off about 20 minutes in because I was starting to miss out on some of what was going on in the actual film. The “Deconstructing the Train Crash” doc is really amazing stuff fans won’t want to miss checking out, and the deleted scenes are fun to watch but really wouldn’t have added much to Super 8, which is generally the case with deleted scenes anyway.
There’s no doubt that the fans who fell in love with Super 8 in theaters this past summer will definitely want to pick up the Blu-ray edition of the flick when it hits shelves everywhere next week. For those of you who may have been on the fence about Super 8 (like this writer) or may not have seen the movie during its theatrical run, the overall Blu-ray presentation of the film (which is like a giant love letter to filmmaking as a whole) is some stellar stuff and is definitely worth checking out once it streets. While Super 8 hasn’t done anything to necessarily raise the bar of genre filmmaking as a whole, it’s still an entertaining ride with a good heart at its core, making it a welcome addition to the Amblin Entertainment stable, and the Blu-ray definitely made me appreciate Abrams work (even if it’s not his strongest) even more so the second time around.
Blu-ray Special Features
-The Dream Behind Super 8
-The Search for New Faces
-Meet Joel Courtney
-Rediscovering Steel Town
-The Visitor Lives
-Scoring Super 8
-Do You Believe in Magic?
-The 8mm Revolution
DVD Special Features
3 1/2 out of 5
4 1/2 out of 5
IAMX’s Alive in New Light Review – A Dark, Hypnotic, and Stunning Musical Endeavor
Recording eight albums is an achievement no matter the artist, group, or band. This is especially true for Chris Corner’s IAMX, his solo project after the trip hop group Sneaker Pimps, which has enchanted listeners since 2004’s Kiss + Swallow with its dark electronic aesthetic. There’s something fascinating about the music Corner puts out as IAMX. Perhaps it’s the underlying melancholy that seems to pervade the music, almost certainly a result of the musician’s battle with depression and chronic insomnia [Source]. Perhaps it’s the unexpected melodies that reveal themselves with each new measure. Whatever it is, IAMX’s music is a constant delight.
On Alive in New Light, Corner reveals that his eighth album was a product he created as a way of “…breaking free from demons that have long plagued him,” per an official press release. Strangely enough, this uplifting attitude may easily be overlooked but repeat listens unveil a sense of hope and wonder that are simply breathtaking. The title track echoes with almost angelic choir pads that positively shine as Corner exultingly cries in a shimmering falsetto, “I’m alive in new light!” This comes after the Depeche Mode-esque “Stardust”, which offers the first collaboration with Kat Von D, whose pure voice is a beautiful addition to the pulsating track.
The third track, “Break The Chains”, has an opening that immediately called to mind Birds of Tokyo’s “Discoloured”, which is meant as a compliment. It’s followed by the Nine Inch Nails influenced “Body Politics”, which meshes Corner’s crooning vocals with a 90’s industrial backdrop. “Exit” has an almost sinister progression lurking in the background that builds to an aggressive, in-your-face third act. The cinematic Middle Eastern flairs of “Stalker” mutate effortlessly into a heartbeat pulse that features back-and-forth vocals between Corner and Von D. The haunted circus vibe that permeates through “Big Man” is mirrored by its playful gothic aura, ghostly “oohs” and “aahs” sprinkled carefully here and there.
While the album has been a delight up to this point, it’s the final two tracks that took my breath away and left me stunned. “Mile Deep Hollow” builds layer after layer while Corner passionately cries out, “So thank you/you need to know/that you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow/and I love you/you brought me home/because you dragged me out/of a mile deep hollow.” The way the song’s melodies back these wonderfully uplifting lyrics feels grand and epic, as though a journey is coming to an end, which is where “The Power and the Glory” comes in. Far more subdued, it’s a beautiful song that feels almost like a religious experience, a hymn of a soul that is desperate to claw its way to salvation and escape a life of pain and darkness.
What makes Alive in New Light so wonderful is how much there is to experience. I got the album and listened to it no less than five times in a row without pause. I simply couldn’t turn it off because each return revealed something new in the music. Corner also makes fantastic use of Von D’s vocals, carefully placing them so as to make them a treat and not a commonplace certainty.
While some may be disappointed that there are only nine tracks, each of the songs is carefully and meticulously crafted to be as powerful and meaningful as possible. It really is a stunning accomplishment and I’m nothing short of blown away by how masterfully Alive in New Light plays out.
IAMX’s Alive in New Light is a triumph of music. Full of beauty and confidence, it doesn’t forget the foundation that fans have come to know and love for over a decade but instead embraces that comfortable darkness with open arms. Corner states that this album was a way to break free from his demons. It certainly feels like he’s made peace with them.
The Hatred Review – A History Lesson Dug Up From The Depths Of Hell
Starring Zelda Adams, Lulu Adams, John Law
Directed by John Law
I don’t know about the scholastic interests the masses had (or have) that read all of the killer nuggets that get cranked out on this site, but when I was an academic turd, one of my true passions was history, and it was one of the only subjects that managed to hold my interest, and when the opportunity arose to check out John Law’s ultra-nightmarish feature, The Hatred – I was ready to crack the books once again.
The setting is the Blackfoot Territory in the late 1800s, and the pains of a lengthy conflict have taken their toll on the remaining soldiers as food has become scarce, and the film picks up with soldiers on the march in the brutal cold and snow covered mountainside. In tow is a P.O.W. (Law), and the decision is made by the soldiers to execute him in earnest instead of having to shorten their rations by feeding him, so he is then hung (pretty harshly done), and left to rot as the uniformed men trudge along. A short time later the group encounters a small family on the fringes of the territory, and when the demands for food are rebuked, the slaughter is on and the only survivor is a young girl (Adams) who prays to an oblivious god that she can one day reap the seeds of revenge upon those who’ve murdered her family. We all know that there are usually two sides to any story, and when the good ear isn’t listening, the evil one turns its direction towards those who need it most, and that’s when the Devil obliges.
The answer to the young girl’s prayers comes in the resurrection of the prisoner that was hung a short time ago, and he has been dubbed “Vengeance” – together their goal will be achieved by harshly dishing out some retribution, and the way it’s presented is drawn-out, almost like you’re strapped into the front-row pew of a hellfire-cathedral and force-fed the sermon of an evil voice from the South side of the tracks. It’s vicious and beautiful all at once, Law’s direction gives this visually-striking presentation all the bells and whistles to please even the harshest of critics (hell, you’re reading the words of one right now). The performances, while a bit stoic in nature, still convey that overall perception of a wrong that demands to be righted, no matter how morally mishandled it might be. Overall, I can absolutely recommend The Hatred for not only those wanting a period-piece with ferocious-artistry, but for others who continue to pray with no response, and are curious to see what the other side can offer.
The Hatred is a visually-appealing look into the eyes of animus, and all of the beauty of returning the harm to those who have awarded it to others.
Before We Vanish Review – A Quirky and Original Take on Alien Invasions
Starring Masami Nagasawa, Ryûhei Matsuda, Hiroki Hasegawa
Written by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
Directed by Kiyoshi Kurosawa
During the J-horror rampage of the late 90’s and early 2000’s, Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s Kairo (aka Pulse). A dark, depressing, and morose tale of ghosts that use the internet to spread across the world, the film’s almost suffocatingly gloomy atmosphere pervaded across every frame of the film. Because of my love of this film, I was eager to see the director’s upcoming movie Sanpo Suru Shinryakusha (aka Before We Vanish), which follows three aliens who recently arrived on Earth and are preparing to bring about an alien invasion that will wipe humanity from the face of the planet. Imagine my surprise when the film turned out to be barely a horror title but was instead a quirky and surreal dramedy that tugged at my heartstrings.
Admittedly, I was thrown completely for a loop as the film begins with a scene that feels perfectly at home in a horror film. Akira (Tsunematsu), a teenage girl, goes home and we enter moments later to blood splashed on the walls and floor and bodies strewn about. However, the disturbing visuals are spun around as the young girl walks down a highway, her clothes and face streaked with blood, Yusuke Hayashi’s music taking on a lighthearted, almost jaunty attitude. From there, we learn of the other two aliens (yes, she’s an alien and it’s not a secret or a twist, so no spoilers there): Amano (Takasugi), who is a young man that convinces a sleazy reporter, Sakurai (Hasegawa), of his true form and tasks Sakurai with being his guide, and Shinji (Matsuda), the estranged husband of Narumi (Nagasawa).
What sets these aliens, and their mission, apart from other invasion thrillers is their means of gathering information. They’re not interested in meeting leaders nor do they capture people for nefarious experimentations. Rather, they steal “concepts” from the minds of people, such as “family”, “possession”, or “pest”. Once these concepts are taken, the victim no longer has that value in their mind, freed from its constraints.
While this may seem like a form of brainwashing, Kurosawa instead plays with the idea that maybe knowing too much is what holds us back from true happiness. A man obsessed with staking claim to his family home learns to see the world outside of its walls when “possession” is no longer a part of his life. A touchy boss enters a state of child-like glee after “work” has been taken. That being said, there are other victims who are left as little more than husks.
Overly long at 130 minutes, the film does take its time showing the differences between the aliens and their individual behaviors. Amano and Akira are casually ruthless, willing to do whatever it takes to send a beacon to begin the alien invasion, no matter how many must die along the way, while Shinji is the curious and almost open-minded one, whose personal journey finds him at one point asking a priest to envision and describe “love”, a concept that is so individualistic and personal that it can’t be taken, much less fathomed, by this alien being. While many of these scenes are necessary, they could have easily been edited down to shave 10-15 minutes, making the film flow a bit more smoothly.
While the film begins on a dark note, there is a scene in the third act that is so pure and moving that tears immediately filled my eyes and I choked up a little. It’s a moment of both sacrifice and understanding, one that brings a recurring thread in the story full circle.
With every passing minute, Before We Vanish makes it clear that it’s much more horror-adjacent than horror. An alien invasion thriller with ultimate stakes, it will certainly have appeal to genre fans. That being said, those who go in expecting action, violence, and terror will certainly be disappointed. But those whose mind is a bit more open to a wider range of possibilities will find a delightful story that attempts to find out what it means to be human, even if we have to learn the lesson from an alien.
Before We Vanish is a beautiful, wonderful tale that explores what it means to be human when faced with the threat of extinction.
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