Super 8 (2/25/12)

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I wanted to love Super 8, I really did. When I read that the film is essentially a love letter to all great 80s movies involving kids having adventures and monsters, I knew I needed to see it. When I finally saw it I was elated but ultimately left unfulfilled.

Super 8 is about a group of kids in the 80s that are filming their own zombie movie when a train derails and things start getting weird. We eventually learn the train contained pieces of an alien spaceship (and also the alien) and he just wants to go home. Although I realize that sounds a lot like the plot of E.T., E.T. himself was not 30 feet tall and grotesquely scary…Well, at least not on grotesque on purpose.

In fact, the alien in Super 8 reminds me a lot of the monster in another J.J. Abrams flick, Cloverfield and apparently there’s a reason for that. So we have an alien terrorizing this town and the military moving in to keep things under wraps and re-secure the alien. Meanwhile, the kids are formulating their own plan to save a friend of theirs and save the day. If it sounds familiar, it is but that is also on purpose and is meant to be part of the charm of Super 8. It’s almost like if the Goonies were helping E.T. while E.T. destroys stuff.

If you grew up watching Steven Spielberg’s movies from the 80s then Super 8 is worth seeing, but the movie is slightly lengthy at nearly two hours. I thought it could have been a bit more focused during the middle because the ending felt rushed. Overall, I enjoyed Super 8 but I had higher hopes for it. When someone tells you “J.J. Abrams basically made a Steven Spielberg movie from the 80s” you instantly fall in love with that idea and the film just didn’t deliver that magic to me. I still found it highly enjoyable, but not the classic that it could have been.

I give it 4 Argus cubes out of 5.

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Three Outlaw Samuari (2/24/12)

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Three Outlaw Samurai is, in many ways, like other samurai films from Japan. There is a heavy price for honor and doing right and the lead samurai are all expertly skilled and incredibly smart.

While Western cowboy movies tend to lift the story lines from a samurai movie (Fistful of Dollars is Yojimbo, Magnificent Seven is Seven Samurai) I do not believe Three Outlaw Samurai has ever been emulated exactly, but the core pieces of it are familiar.

A group of peasants kidnap a magistrate’s daughter in the hopes getting fair treatment. A wandering samurai (ronin) finds the peasants and decides to help them. The magistrate is none too pleased about the kidnapping and sends men to kill the villagers. Among them are two other samurai. All three samurai have different goals, but eventually they unite to right the wrongs of the corrupt magistrate.

The movie is quite enjoyable and I had fun imagining what a spaghetti Western version of it would be like and how would play the samurai and the magistrate. While this is a Criterion release, it is short on the usual abundance of special features but comes at a lower than usual price as well. The rest of the package for Three Outlaw Samurai is great, and the film looks wonderful and crisp, however.

I give it 4 kidnapping peasants out of 5.

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Five Easy Pieces (2/21/12)

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In his Great Movies write-up for Five Easy Pieces, Roger Ebert called it “the first Sundance film”. This was of course referring to the Sundance Film Festival, which did not begin for another eight years. What he meant by this was that Five Easy Pieces was a pioneering indie film.

Jack Nicholson plays Bobby Dupea, a musician working in an oil field, purposely making sure he does not live up to his potential. He is determined to be a mediocre outcast, but struggles to fit the role he wants for himself. Nicholson is divine as the lead role and despite his best efforts to make himself seem disagreeable, I found him to be identifiable and funny.

The story takes us with Bobby to visit his dying father back home. He travels with his girlfriend, whom he cannot seem to stand but keeps around as part of his facade. We discover he comes from a well off family and we also learn why Bobby wants so desperately to be his own man and disconnect from the bourgeois lifestyle. The film ends in a spectacular way that is perfect for the tone of the film.

After watching Five Easy Pieces I was surpised to learn it was nominated in four different categories for the 1971 Academy Awards, including best picture. I was not surprised because of the quality of the movie, but more so because I’m surprised audiences 40 years ago were very receptive to it.

The Criterion Collection has released Five Easy Pieces as part of their BBS Box Set. The set includes seven films from the BBS production company: Head, Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, Drive, He Said, A Safe Place, The Last Picture Show, and The King of Marvin Gardens. I would highly recommend it, Five Easy Pieces alone makes it a gem.

I give it 5 barking Nicholsons out of 5.

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Terri (2/18/12)

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Terri is a coming of age story about an overweight high school student. There isn’t much to the film other than what’s on the surface but it is fairly enjoyable. It’s the kind of indie drama/comedy we have come to expect; it doesn’t do anything groundbreaking but it’s solid.

The movie takes a snapshot of Terri’s life in a span of a week or two. We find out his uncle is ill and Terri takes care of him, his school life is hard, and he wears pajamas all the time. John C. Reilly plays the vice principal that also tries to help Terri out. The other characters are quirky and I found them all to be unlikeable. Terri eventually befriends a girl, who herself becomes an outcast after a sexual experience during class.

Terri (the character) is quiet but we can often tell what he is thinking and his motivation for doing things. He’s a nice kid that is just trying to get by. I never found anything to be particularly memorable about Terri but it was not a waste of time. If you’re like me and you’re a sucker for indie movies, it may be worth your time.

I give it 3 Creeds out of 5.

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