David’s Movie Journal 10/22/11

22 Oct

Super 8

Not all movies can fit snugly into one given genre. In fact, most are a mélange, with pieces of various species of film combined. J.J. Abrams’ Super 8 is a comedy, a family drama, a horror movie and a lot of other stuff. Mostly, however, it is two things. It is a coming of age tale and a monster movie.

If I were writing a straight-up review, I would not mention other reactions to the film. This, though, is more of a diary entry style feature and so I’m free to include it. Lots of people were disappointed by Super 8. They’re not wrong but I do happen to disagree with them intensely. I loved this film.

I will start my defense of it by conceding to the detractors their major point. As a monster movie, it’s not a complete success. The monster itself, once revealed, is less fearsome than hoped and the culmination of that side of the story isn’t totally satisfying. My argument is that that’s okay because that’s not the point. The film I watched was a coming of age story chiefly, set against a monster movie backdrop.

Abrams’ evocation of the lives of suburban boys is flawless. Their struggles, both the universal, hormonal ones and the more personal, familial and social ones, are painted with an assured ease. The kids in this movie are fantastically realized characters and I loved them as much as Abrams clearly does. The film works because the climax involving the alien isn’t about the alien at all. It’s about a man learning to be a dad, and a son learning to accept that man even though he sometimes falls short.

Tabloid

Errol Morris is an American. He was born and raised here and he lives here to this day. Sometimes I have to remind myself of that because his fascination with America – be it the political (The Fog of War), sensational (Mr. Death) or just plain weird (Fast, Cheap and Out of Control) aspects of the country – make it seem sometimes as if he’s an outsider peering in. His newest film, Tabloid, is perhaps the strongest example of these tendencies in Morris and, as a result, ranks among his weakest films.

First off, Tabloid is an absolute blast to watch. Morris is and has always been adept at keeping a story flying along at an exhilarating pace. And he’s one of the funniest documentarians of all time.  The story of Joyce McKinney, a woman who may have kidnapped and raped her Mormon boyfriend, is surprisingly ripe for comedy. Again, though, this is where Morris fails. It seems that he is only interested in this story as a source of laughs. Anytime he comes too close to providing any insight into McKinney, he pulls sharply back. The occasions that the film threatens to become an actual discussion about tabloid culture are sporadic at best. In fact, it seems as if that supposedly unifying theme was a lazy attempt to give the story he wanted to tell some kind of importance.

An off film for Errol Morris is still better than most. Compared against most of what’s out there, Tabloid is a very competent and enjoyable film. Compared to Morris’ impressive body of work, though, it’s a minor entry.

30 Minutes or Less

If you’re going to make an R-rated comedy about a man who has a bomb strapped to his chest by two sadistic idiots and is forced to rob a bank, you’d better make it a dark one. In fact, I would argue that such a movie already is dark, no matter how you treat it and, in order to not look foolish, you’d better treat it as such. If only the makers of 30 Minutes or Less had come to me first. I could have set them straight.

Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up to the equally disappointing Zombieland does, in fact, look quite foolish. It’s as if the film is fighting at every turn against the misanthropy that is inherent in its presence. Fleischer attempts to push the violence toward being cartoonish and only succeeds in making it look soft. As the director, he has no one to blame for the film’s prevailing weakness but himself. The performances are quite good. Jesse Eisenberg, Aziz Ansari and Fred Ward are all quality parts of the cast. And Michael Pena, who seems to keep getting better with everything he’s in, turns in his career best effort here. Danny McBride and Nick Swardson spend most of their screen time in what seems to be another movie altogether but I’ll lay the responsibility on Fleischer for that as well.

There’s a chunk of the film comprising the bank robbery itself and the shopping excursion for masks and toy guns leading up to it, in which the movie lives up to its promise. In this ten minutes or so, it is crass, violent and hilarious but mostly it is committed and uncompromised. Soon after, though, it goes back to being a PG-13 film with a bit more cursing.

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