Graham Young and Roz Laws review the latest films.
Super 8 * * * *
Cert 12A, 111 mins
Lord Sugar would probably call it synergy – when two things come together to produce an effect greater than the sum of their parts.
Thus we have producer Steven Spielberg’s name heavily promoted in tandem with director JJ Abrams for the release of their new movie, Super 8.
But are two names really better than one?
And is Spielberg’s name in particular designed to a) give this greater box office clout than it would otherwise have or b) to stop us from thinking that JJ has ripped off the master?
The truth of the matter will depend on your age.
The Spielberg-Abrams crankshaft has certainly driven through an agreeably explosive blockbuster for teenagers everywhere to sink their teeth into.
While the rest of us will sit back ready to conclude that this is a good period adventure with affectionate nods to CB radio and Walkman portable cassette players as its anchors in time.
And one that might have been even better if the film didn’t sometimes appear to be heading in two directions at once.
A considerable part of the early story is about a bunch of kids trying to make a movie on old-fashioned Super 8 film – exactly how Spielberg himself up and running as a child without the need for a glorified polytechnic media degree.
The sense of wonder, children on bikes and so on is a perfect homage to Spielberg’s 1982 classic, ET; the frequent degree of mild swearing less so.
A scene where the youngsters rehearse the next part of their movie (seen in full during the end credits) is one of the best of the year.
Shot carefully in close up, it captures the excitement of youthful filmmaking in its purest form – and makes you wish you were a teenager again with all of today’s digital cameras, computers and software to play with.
Suddenly, the world changes thanks to an almighty collision between two forces in the film echoing a similar one behind the cameras, too.
Now we have more than a Spielberg movie in disguise. We also have the latest blockbuster from JJ Abrams all fired up, too.
The director of Mission: Impossible III and the reboot of Star Trek sets the action here in the industrial town of Lillian, Ohio, where fledgling director Charles (Riley Griffiths) is bossing around his friends on the set of their zombie film.
Classmate Alice (Elle Fanning) has been roped in to the action where leading man Martin (Gabriel Basso) is trying to remember his lines, Zach Mills is the sound man Preston, and Cary (Ryan Lee) is a special effects guru armed with fireworks and fake blood.
While fellow teenager Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) has lost his mother and her death has naturally strained his father and Deputy Sheriff Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler), the arrival of a monster in town soon concentrates everyone’s minds.
A heavy duty thrill ride which won’t seem out of place on the giant IMAX screen at Millennium Point, Super 8 is a smalltown feelgood drama crossed with a surprisingly muscular thriller – one underground scene even echoes the depths of Silence of the Lambs despite the 12A certificate.
But as the plot zigzags this way and that in a bid to service the special effects more than the true heart of the story, Super 8 lacks the emotive drive and sustained tension that could have made this a five-star critical smash. GY
Mr Popper's Penguins * *
Cert PG, 94 mins
The good news is that this film features half a dozen adorable penguins, one of the cutest creatures around.
The bad news is that it also stars Jim Carrey.
There are very few movies that I can tolerate him in, and this isn’t really one of them, though I have seen him be even more hyperactive, gurning and irritating.
He plays Tom Popper, a workaholic New York real estate wizard with the ability to persuade people to sell.
“I do deals like this in my sleep,” he says when asked to acquire Central Park’s famous Tavern on the Green restaurant from elderly Mrs Van Gundy (Angela Lansbury).
His British assistant Pippi (Ophelia Lovibond) has the linguistic quirk of carefully pronouncing lots of words beginning with P in every sentence, such as “Punctuality is a priority for this particular person”.
Popper sees more of her than his two children and his ex-wife Amanda (Carla Gugino). He lives alone in a very plush apartment, to which his late father, an explorer who was never there for him when he was a boy, sends the one thing he leaves him in his will – a live penguin.
Due to a misunderstanding, the Gentoo penguin is swiftly followed by five more, which quickly wreak havoc in his home. But they are a big hit with his children, and he grows rather attached to them, to the point where he doesn’t want zookeeper Clark Gregg to take them away.
So he takes them to play football in a snowy (and remarkably empty) Central Park, and watching them joyfully slide around the Guggenheim Museum is fun. Teaching them to dance, Happy Feet-style, may be an unrealistic step too far.
Inevitably his new friends will teach him sentimental lessons about the importance of family.
The CGI penguins are great to watch, except when they’re farting and defecating. We could really do without the scene where Popper toilet trains them.
I’d be generous and give it another star if you’re a child, as you’ll love the birds, especially when they poop.
It’s not an unwatchable film, it’s just that, like the flightless birds, it never manages to take off. RL
Captain America - The First Avenger * * * * *
Cert 12A, 124 minutes
Steven Spielberg hasn’t even bothered with making Super 8 in 3D. Good!
Now Joe Johnston, the director who followed in his footsteps with Jurassic Park III, will be wishing he hadn’t been asked to give Captain America extra dimensions either.
This is a wonderfully old fashioned thriller which plays out perfectly well in standard 2D, the format which customers themselves have been choosing most heavily after it opened without any regional previews at Cineworld Broad St.
Paying more money to risk a headache is an idea falling out of favour with many cinemagoers, who have preferred this summer’s Harry Potter in 2D, too.
Captain America opens with a snowbound scene and investigators digging into a crash site using laser technology.
But soon we are in New York at the height of World War Two, where the period American cityscapes are some of the best since Peter Jackson’s King Kong (2005) and Clint Eastwood’s Changeling (2008).
Steve Rogers (Fantastic Four's Chris Evans) might be a weed in the army trials, but he soon demonstrates how it can pay to be cleverer than your opponents.
When he’s then selected to be physically enhanced using new technology, the stage is set for a battle royal with Johan Schmidt (Hugo Weaving) and his evil plans for world domination.
The plot cranks up through the gears when Rogers becomes Captain America and Schmidt turns into his own alter ego, Red Skull.
But what keeps the whole film so well grounded – and of special interest for girls who might not think this will be for them – is a perfectly-executed performance by little known Londoner Hayley Atwell as Agent Carter.
Add 64-year-old Tommy Lee Jones storming through Col Chester Phillips’ lines as if he’s just walked off the set of The Fugitive in his Oscar-winning boots and Captain America is a match for Thor as another fine escapist movie from the Marvel Comics’ back catalogue.
Johnston hasn’t had the commercial success he has deserved for Rocketeer, Hidalgo and the boys’ own 1950s’ space race drama October Sky, but his continued reluctance to turn editing into a form of subliminal torture will please all mature cinemagoers here.
Right at the death of the end credits, there’s a trailer for The Avengers, out on May 4 next year from Firefly and Buffy TV director Joss Whedon.
Captain America (Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Nick Fury (Samuel L Jackson) and Lou Ferrigno as the voice of The Incredible Hulk will all feature in that one. GY