3 1/2 stars
By David Vicari
It’s the summer of 1979 and a group of adolescent friends are making a horror movie using a super 8 camera. While filming one night, they witness a train crash. Almost instantly, the military shows up to collect the train’s cargo. One problem: Something alive on the train has escaped into the small town. Super 8 is like a visit to Steven Spielberg summer movie past. Spielberg is a producer on this film, which has elements of his executive produced Gremlins (1984) and The Goonies (1985), as well as his directorial efforts E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial (1982) and Close Encounters of the Third Kind (1977), and all of these films, with the exception of Close Encounters, were summer releases. Super 8 is also a homage to the science fiction monster movies of the 1950s. Even with all these borrowed elements, however, Super 8 is its own entity, actually working on deeper levels than some of the films that inspired it. The two main kids are played by Joel Courtney and Elle Fanning, and they are quite good, as are the rest of the kids even though they are regulated to the superficially precocious “movie” kids category. The monster isn’t shown until the last few reels and that is unheard of in this day and age of in-your-face effects and short attention spans. Keeping it off screen pays off, generating fear of the unknown, and besides, when the digital creature finally is seen, it’s a pretty cool design. Super 8 is written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Mission: Impossible III, the Star Trek reboot), and it appears that when he’s not directing a movie based on an old television series he hits the bulls-eye. This is everything a summer movie should be.
Tree of Life4 starsBy David Vicari
Watching Terrance Malick’s The Tree of Life is like sitting in a quiet room and observing its interesting architecture as well as all the paintings hanging on the walls. It massages the mind as well as the soul.
The movie is not an easy one to describe. It’s dreams, thoughts and remembrances all rolled into a beautiful collage. The main thread here, somewhat following “The Book of Job”, is of a disillusioned man, named Jack (Sean Penn), looking back on his life, remembering his childhood in the 1950s, his loving, spirited mother (Jessica Chastain) and his stern disciplinarian of a father (Brad Pitt).
Now, The Tree of Life is more than a family drama. Writer and director Malick has much more on his mind. His film ponders the existence of God and of the soul. In fact, in a daring move, and through stunning visuals, Malick retraces the creation of the universe, the Earth, and the beginning of life on our planet. This is as ambitious and bold as Stanley Kubrick’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968), yet Tree of Life is deeply emotional and not cold and clinical like Kubrick’s film.
Hunter McCracken, as the young Jack, is the emotional core here, and he carries the weight of the film effortlessly. Chastain’s ethereal beauty and strong performance radiates a warmness rarely seen on screen. Pitt adds much complexity to a character that could have easily been one-note. And Penn, delivering very little dialogue, gives an effectively restrained performance.
This is only Malick’s fifth directorial effort in nearly 40 years, but if you are familiar with his work you know it’s about quality and not quantity. He wrote and directed the often imitated Badlands in 1973, then Days of Heaven in 1978, but it wasn’t until 1998 that he made another film, The Thin Red Line. The New World followed in 2005 and now The Tree of Life. I’m a fan and I think all of his movies are great works of art, but I think The Tree of Life may very well be his best.
Cars 23 StarsBy David Vicari
Since the original Cars is one of those movies that more people seem to like than love, a movie that’s good but not on the level of Pixar classics like the Toy Story trilogy or Up, it seemed a little odd at first that Pixar would make a sequel. But Cars 2 is a fun, entertaining film that will please kids and grown-ups alike. The sequel changes main characters. The original film’s hero, Lightning McQueen (voiced by Owen Wilson) is relegated to a supporting role here, as the focus shifts to his tow truck sidekick Mater (voiced by Larry the Cable Guy). While tagging along with McQueen to a global grand prix, Mater is mistaken for a spy and ends up caught in the world of espionage. While the film has its share of laughs as well as an exciting climax, the animation is the real star of the show. Exotic backdrops like Tokyo, Paris, London, and Italy are vividly and beautifully brought to life. There is also a terrific Toy Story short attached to the beginning of the film. It may not be a classic, but Cars 2 is worth a look. Pixar’s still batting 1,000.
Green Lantern1 1/2 starsBy David Vicari
Yes, Green Lantern is one of the biggest Hollywood productions to shoot in our great state of Louisiana. And yes, it is exciting to see familiar locations on screen, or even getting a glimpse of your own house in a shot. But is this movie adaptation of the DC Comics superhero any good? Unfortunately, Green Lantern is a joyless film, and poorly constructed to boot. Hot shot jet pilot Hal Jordan (the generally charming Ryan Reynolds) is given a ring containing super powers to him by a dying alien (Temuera Morrison). Concentrating hard enough, Hal can use the ring to conjure up weapons and shields and whatnot to help him in battle. You see, Hal is now a member of the Green Lanterns—an intergalactic corps of peacekeepers. Even though the Earth is threatened by an evil, giant calamari with the face of The Tall Man from the Phantasm movies, it never feels like anything is at stake. Green Lantern fails because the main character has no convincing inner conflict, the sub-villain (Peter Sarsgaad) is a shrieking wimp, there is no chemistry between Reynolds and fetching leading lady Blake Lively, and action scenes happen at random with no suspense or build up to speak of. I don’t know much about the Green Lantern comic, so I have no idea if this movie, by hack action director Martin Campbell (Casino Royale, Vertical Limit) is a faithful interpretation. If it is, however, then maybe some comic books shouldn’t be make into movies. I mean, the scene where Hal conjures up a gigantic Hot Wheels toy race track to save a falling helicopter is just, well, stupid.
The Art of Getting By2 starsBy Fritz Esker
The Art of Getting By is a generic piece of indie fare that tells the story of a privileged Manhattan high school student (Freddie Highmore) who can’t motivate himself to do anything, including school work or work of any kind. Yes, he’s still young and young people often behave in silly, self-important ways, but asking an audience to care about such a character is a tall order. The character would need to be funny, charismatic, placed into a particularly interesting situation, or playing off more dynamic characters to provoke interest.
Sadly, The Art of Getting By provides none of the above. The story focuses mainly on Highmore’s romance with a girl in his class (Emma Roberts). The problem here is that Roberts has no real goals or character traits, she exists in the film only to get Highmore’s character to change. She’s more of a plot device than an actual human being.
As a result, The Art of Getting By is the kind of movie that lasts only 85 minutes but still feels padded.