Super 8 Review

In my opinion, films involve a large degree of fun.  Whether I am thinking about them, discussing them, writing about them, watching them or even making them, films bring much enjoyment.  J.J. Abrams must have the same opinion on film because his new film, Super 8, captures this perfectly.  Super 8 not only captures the excitement in making a film, but proves to be the most fun I have had watching a film in a long time.

Super 8 follows a group of kids in a small town in Ohio as they try to film a zombie film for a festival.  As they are filming, they witness a train crash.  The train was carrying something dangerous in one of its compartments, which has now escaped into the town.  As the kids try to finish their film, the Air Force, family feuds and the thing from the train descend upon the town.

Super 8 is directed and written by J.J. Abrams (Star Trek).  You can tell that this was a passion project for J.J.  Much has been made of whether this is a tribute/homage or ripoff in the disguise of an homage of Spielberg films, but this really is something from J.J.'s heart.  For example, the kids at the center of the film are not just ripoffs from the numerous kid stars of other Spielberg films, they are embodiments of J.J.'s childhood and love for cinema. There is actually a lot of love for film in large display here.  This is more of a love letter to the entire concept of filmmaking rather than an homage to one director's filmography.  That is a very ambitious concept but J.J. pulls it off.  Upon watching this film, I was reminded of my past experiences of filming movies with friends and immediately wanted to pick up a video camera again.

Before getting into more of the good I should probably point out the negative aspects of the film.  In terms of J.J.'s direction (and Larry Fong's cinematography), his signature lens flare were used to an obnoxious extent.  In Star Trek, the lens flare brought you into the film and actually fit the setting of space.  In Super 8, they had no purpose except to throw you out of the scene out of annoyance.  J.J.'s script also had many issues.  There are a few really cheesy lines sprinkled throughout the film.  I became really worried with the opening lines of the film (where a character actually tells you what two characters that we don't know yet what they are feeling and why just to get the plot moving).  The final problem with the script is the development of the adult characters.  I was fine with Noah Ememrich's character being a one note villain, but the character development for Kyle Chandler's character and Ron Eldard's character is excruciating.  The two characters have a very distinct relationship and that relationship takes a complete 180 near the end of the film just because one of the characters said one word to the other.  It just wasn't believable.

Luckily, Abrams pulled off the child characters perfectly.  The dialogue between them is snappy and unique.  I may not have been alive in the 1970's (which is when this film takes place), but the way the kids interacted and the setting they inhabit (the art directors deserve major credit for the way they put together the kids' rooms that not only reminded me of myself as a kid but were filled with cool easter eggs on the walls) seemed to be true to that era.

The true revelation of the film, though, is the child acting.  The child actors actually steal the show form the adults (which has the great, but wasted in this film, Kyle Chandler among them).  I was stunned to learn after the film that Joel Courtney (the film's lead) had no acting experience before his film.  He acted like a veteran of his craft.  Instead of hamming it up (which most child actors tend to do), Courtney led the film with a subtle intensity and a performance that was faithful to a child of that age.  The true star of the film though was Elle Fanning.  Fanning plays the love interest to Courtney's character and could have been just that.  However, she brings a much needed toughness to the role and she actually has what might be two of the best acted scenes of the year.  The first is when she is actually asked to act in the movie the kids are creating.  The kids are blown away by her performance and so are we.  The second is when she reveals her family's history with Courtney's character.  It is your typical crying scene but Fanning beings a subtlety to it that will stun you.  The two standouts of the supporting cast are Riley Griffiths (another first time actor) as the director and Ryan Lee as the kid who likes explosives.  Griffiths is the one actor in the film that is required to have chemistry with everyone.  That is a tough job but he pulls it off fantastically.  Lee is given the best material and he plays it well with energy galore.

The thing in the train compartment will probably be the most talked about aspect of the film by the general audience.  If you are seeing the film to find out that mystery, you are seeing it for the wrong reasons (This film is one to see to remind yourself of what it feels like to be a kid again).  However, I will say that the reveal is nothing special.  There is nothing distinctive about the creature.  The visual effects for the creature (and throughout the film) are pretty good, but the sound design for it is impressive and Oscar-worthy.

Super 8 may not be the masterpiece some were expecting, but I guarantee you it is a blast to watch.


Episode 18: X-Men: First Class Review

In this episode I review the latest addition to the X-Men franchise, and it is definitely a return to form for Professor X and company.

Two updates:

1. You can now find The Lord of the Films Podcast and all other film and television content at

2. The Lord of the Films Podcast will cease to air live until further notice.  The show will now continue in a prerecorded format.

X-Men: First Class Review

Upon seeing X-Men: First Class, there will be some discussion on whether the film is a reboot, a prequel or something else entirely.  No matter what you consider it, you can also call it a success.  This film is a great summer blockbuster.

X-Men: First Class takes place in the 1960s (although the first few sequences take place in the 1940s) and charts the friendship between Charles Xavier (James McAvoy) and Erik Lensherr (Michael Fassbender) until their inevitable falling out.  Involved in this, is a man known as Sebastian Shaw (Kevin Bacon) who plots to have humanity destroy itself with a nuclear war.

X-Men: First Class is directed by Matthew Vaughn (Kick-Ass) who also wrote the script with help from Ashley Edward Miller, Zack Stentz, Jane Goldman, Sheldon Turner and Bryan Singer (in a return to the franchise he helped to start).  It is a surprise to say that this team has pulled off a success despite such a tumultuous production.  Vaughn's direction is superb, and he looks like he is well on his way to being one of the best directors in the business.   This film and Kick-Ass makes two critical hits in a row.  Some may say that the amount of different tones this story hits (and it does hit many), is a fault of the film that should be credited to Vaughn.  However, none of these different tones betrays the story the film is trying to tell and actually creates an atmosphere where you don't know what is going to happen next.  Vaughn created a similar atmosphere with Kick-Ass and was one of the reasons that that film and this film are so good.  A good example of how great Vaughn's direction is in this film is in one of the early scenes of the film.  This certain scene sets up an exchange between two of the characters in a small room.  The camera shows only three sides of the room until the end of the scene.  The reveal of what is on the fourth wall is both shocking and perfect for the atmosphere of that scene.  Any other director would not have even thought of approaching the scene the way Vaughn did.  It is great for this franchise that they have someone as talented as Vaughn at the helm.

The script is good but there are some problems with it such as that there are many cheesy lines and some of the characters are under written.  However, what many people will be talking about is how the script deals with the fact that this film is a prequel in a franchise.  The way it decided to ignore the other films in the franchise is both a blessing and a curse.  By forgetting the other films, this one has a unique style very similar to a James Bond film (and much lighter in tone).  This gives the franchise a huge breath of fresh air that is very welcome.  On the other hand, if you just think about any of the other films in context with this one, some of the events and characterizations of this film are just irritating.  For example, the development of the friendship between Charles and Erik in this film contradicts a scene in X-Men: The Last Stand (most specifically the first scene in that film).  Now the viewer has to choose which film is correct and therefore, makes one of those films a lesser film.  This could all have been prevented if they considered this film a reboot but certain scenes in this film reveal that this film is actually connected to all of the other films in the series.

The acting was pretty good in this film.  I first have to mention the amazing chemistry between James McAvoy and Michael Fassbender.  This chemistry is as much a part of the success of this film as Matthew Vaughn's direction of the film.  By themselves, these two actors are also pretty good leads for the film.  McAvoy doesn't get many juicy moments in the film, but he takes what he can get and makes it work.  He definitely proves he can carry a blockbuster film.  Fassbender got the more flashy role of the two, and for the most part, he owns it.  The only compliment i can give is that he definitely reminds me of Daniel Craig as James Bond.  He has such a fiery passion throughout the film and he would be a perfect James Bond.  My only complaint about Fassbender is that his accent was all over the place in this film (especially during the beach scenes where his Irish accent comes out even though he is playing a Polish Jew).  Kevin Bacon is great as the villain.  He probably has the cheesiest role in the cast but he eats it up.  Bacon knows completely what type of film he is in and the film is better for that.  Jennifer Lawrence was fine as Mystique but the writing let her down a lot.  She had to play an angst-ridden teen one minute and the cool sister-like figure the next.  January Jones didn't have much acting to do as Emma Frost but she did look good in her outfits (or should I say lack of outfits).  Rose Byrne had a very cliche love interest role as a CIA agent, but her acting ability allowed her to rise up to one of the standouts of the supporting cast.  Byrne is one of the best young actresses in the business right now and I hope she can get better roles in the future.  Nicholas Hoult has the same problems as Jennifer Lawrence (a very inconsistently written character) but like her, he did the best he could.  There was nothing else of note from the rest of the minor actors except to say that some of them got really annoying (such as Caleb Landry Jones).

The behind the camera aspects of the film were a mixed bag.  The editing was kind of all over the place at the beginning but as the film settled in, the editing did too.  The film became less confusing as it went on which has to be a credit to the editing (because the film was still jumping from character to character and location to location).  The cinematography was very similar to Kick-Ass (which was unique in that film but not so much after seeing it twice).  Although one of the highlights in the film was the cinematography in one of the opening sequences in a Nazi Officer's office.  The visual effects were very bad for a big budgeted film such as this although it did help to create the 1960s atmosphere it was trying to create.  The standouts of the visual aspects of the film were the art direction and (especially) the costume design.  The film perfectly captures the 60s vibe through these two aspects.  You not only want to wear the costumes on display here, but they also stay true to that time and to the X-Men franchise.  The only thing worth mentioning about the aural aspects of the film is the score which is your average summer film score but is perfectly integrated into the film.

While there are some problems with continuity, dialogue and character writing, X-Men: First Class is definitely a big return for the X-Men franchise.


Kung Fu Panda 2

I am a 20 year old male.  This would make me the perfect demographic for a raunchy comedy (such as The Hangover: Part II which I did like).  Nevertheless, Kung Fu Panda 2 was the best sequel released during the past week.  This is how amazing this film really is; a film that can be enjoyed by any age or gender.

Kung Fu Panda 2 follows Po (Jack Black) and the Furious Five (Angelina Jolie, Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross) as try to defeat an even more dangerous threat.  A threat that might destroy kung-fu: An evil peacock (Gary Oldman) has discovered gunpowder.

Jennifer Yuh Nelson (surprisingly her first directing gig) is the director of the film while Jonathan Aibel and Glenn Berger return from the first film for writing duty.  A major compliment to this creative team is that this (and not The Hangover: Part II) is the only film that deserves to have a "part 2" added to its title.  This is a film that not only expands on minor aspects of the first film (such as the joke about Po's father being a goose) but does justice to the first film while still being its own entity.  It is truly a perfect sequel, which (if you look back at the history of animated sequels) is a rare thing to witness.  The greatest accomplishments by this creative team (most specifically Jennifer Yuh Nelson) are the action scenes.  These action scenes are some of the best you will see in any film or year (animated or live-action).  They are perfectly timed, choreographed spectacularly, and visually stunning (the escape from the falling tower and a fight between our heroes and group of battle ships near the end are of particular note).  My only complaint with the film is that the film goes at a no break speed for the half of the first film.  The pace doesn't allow the audience to take the film completely in and some quieter moments are greatly missed.  Luckily, the second half of the film slows down to a much better pace.  Some others may complain about some of the potty humor and child orientated jokes as being negative aspect of the film.  I think they are missing the point that the main audience of this film are children.  They should be happy with the fact this film tries to cater to all age groups (there is a great family story, breathtaking action sequences, some melodramatically sweet moments, and a few funny moments).

The voice cast is amazing for this film and even better than the work that was done in the first film (which is surprising me because Ian McShane does not return for this film).  Jack Black continues to do the best work of his acting career with his work as Po.  He is perfect as the fish out of water and the role does wonders for him by toning down his sometimes annoying antics.  It would be better if Jackie Chan, Seth Rogen, Lucy Liu and David Cross could get more speaking time as members of the Furious Five, but Angelina Jolie deserving gets the most speaking time of this group of characters.  Dustin Hoffman continues to surprise as Master Shifu.  You would think they could have done better with casting the voice of a sage-like role, but Hoffman continues to prove he was the perfect choice.  The real highlight of the cast, however, is Gary Oldman as Lord Shen as he once again proves why he is referred to as a chameleon actor.  His voice is almost recognizable as the deranged peacock.  I have to give major props to Oldman for making me forget the void left by Ian McShane.  Oldman not only fills it, but might have pulled off better villain than McShane.  It was also fun to stay for the credits and realize who some of the smaller roles were voiced by.  I didn't even realize Danny McBride was in the film until the film had ended.

The behind the camera aspects of the film were mostly good.  The editing was phenomenal and I really liked the transitions between the 2D animation in the flashbacks to the 3D animation in the present day scenes.  The cinematography was pretty good (especially during the action scenes) but the film (like the first one) could have done without the slow motion scenes.  The aural aspects of the film left much to be desired.  The sound designers tended to overdue it with the sound effects and mix with this film.  I could have done without the overly loud yelling during the slow motion scenes.

Kung Fu Panda 2 was a film that quickly put some doubts in my mind (would ever slow down to let me take the whole film in?  was it possible to replace a presence as big as Ian McShane's?) but by the end left me more than satisfied.  In a world where animated sequels fail to live up to the quality of their predecessors, this film is the exception.  I can't wait for the third installment (and if the final scene indicates anything, there will be).


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