Super 8 [2011]


In a season of Superheroes, J.J Abrams (“Lost”, “Cloverfield”, “Star Trek”) gambles on an old school adventure flick, the kind Mr. Steven Spielberg used to make. It isn’t coincidential really, since everything about “Super 8” has Spielberg written all over it. If you’re wondering if it’s any good, I can put your mind at ease by telling you that it’s really good. It doesn’t surprise me one bit that the story takes place in 1979, way before the age of Facebook and Blackberry. That’s also the period in which Spielberg captured the hearts of millions with such films as “Close Encounters Of The Third Kind” and “E.T”. Abrams is obviously trying to match Spielberg here, but “Super 8” never feels like a ripoff. It does feel a bit old school though, and it might be interesting to see how today’s audience would react to such a film. All I can say is that I had a great time watching it, despite a few bumps along the way.

“Super 8” opens during a time when kids embarked on a journey to make home movies without the benefits of a digital camera. The setting is a steel-mill town in Ohio, and our hero is a boy named Joe whose mother recently died in a tragic accident. Filmmaking is his way of escapism, all the more so when his friends invite a girl from school (the talented Elle Fanning) to be their leading lady. The monster subplot kicks off during a shoot at a train station late one night, where the kids bear witness to a horrific train wreck (the best I’ve seen on film in a very long time). Later, you’ll see the same scene as recorded by the boys’s super 8 camera. Can you spot the monster?

I realise that “Super 8” might sound a bit cheesy or deja vu. That’s not entirely true however. Abrams might have put together riffs from genre movies he loves, but damn it, it works. The man’s a skillful storyteller (fans of “Lost” will most certainly agree) who knows how to keep his audience on the edge of their seats. That’s exactly what makes “Super 8” such a good film. And in case the ending fails to leave you entirely satisfied, make sure you stick around for a very funny short film entitled “The Case”. Michael Bay, I hope you’re watching.

Rating: 3/4

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Take Me Home Tonight [2011]


Topher Grace ditches the 70’s and joins this moderate comedy set in the 80’s as Matt Franlkin, an MIT graduate working at suncoast video while deciding what to do with his life. The answer? Party hard. In a Mercedes stolen by his best pal Barry (also the biggest doofus you’ll ever meet), Matt decides to go to a party hosted by his sister’s boyfriend, where he will eventually try to impress his highschool crush Tori (Teresa Palmer), now an investment banker, who’s impressed when Matt lies about being a rising star at Goldman Sachs. The movie, directed by Michael Dowse, is nothing more than a collection of vignettes, all taking place in one raucous night, one crazy party. Think “American Graffiti” meets “Dazed And Confused”. Yes it features the clothes, the hair, the music. But the laughs are nowhere to be seen. I can tell you this though: all the characters in “Take Me Home Tonight” are likable. There’s chemistry between them, and it’s crucial to make the relationship beween Matt and Tory work.  And I guess we can all agree that the 80’s were something special. Everyone remembers those days, even if you didn’t actually live through them. But all this charm is no match for the big question: why is this movie laugh free? There are other issues too. Whenever the script feels dull, the director turns to music. Of course it would be fine if it was a great cover…but not here. In “Take Me Home Tonight”, it only signals we’re heading into another one of those lame interludes filled with shots of people dancing and drinking booze. Not surprising really, since this movie has been sitting on the shelf for a while now (2007 to be more specific). Where’s John Hughes when you need him the most?

Rating: 2/4

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Henry's Crime [2010]


Keanu Reeves stars in this so so heist/comedy movie as an everyman who returns from his night job one morning, and agrees to join an acquaintance in a baseball game as a susbsitute for another guy. Tough luck. The game turns out to be nonexistent. Instead, poor Henry ends up the accidental wheelman in a bank robbery that lands him in prison, where he shares a cozy cell with a conman named Max (James Caan in a funny role). After his release three years later, Henry reasons that he might as well go out and rob the bank, tunneling in from the theatre next door. He recruits his former cell mate for help, and they insinuate themselves into the Chekhov production as they try to re-open the tunnel and rob the vault from underneath.

The Good: There’s pleasure to be found in the offbeatness of this comedy. It obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously, and everyone seems to be having a good time (especially Caan who is amusing for really not caring if he goes back to prison or not).

The Bad: Keanu Reeves’s dedicated underplaying of his role is part of a larger problem with the movie. It doesn’t really know when to play it serious and when not to. It sort of bounces back in forth, but never really succeeds in being any of the above. Plus, if the heist portion of the film had been any good, “Henry’s Crime” might have worked. But the whole robbery scenes are so lame and unconvincing, that I found myself bored out of my mind. No offense to the cast, as they give it their best.

The Verdict: James Caan aside (I love that guy), there’s not much to discuss here. It’s not really that bad, but it’s hopelessly mediocre and extremely dull at times. It might not be a bad idea to watch it on TV one night if there’s nothing else playing, but a good movie it is not.

Rating: 2/4

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Henry’s Crime [2010]


Keanu Reeves stars in this so so heist/comedy movie as an everyman who returns from his night job one morning, and agrees to join an acquaintance in a baseball game as a susbsitute for another guy. Tough luck. The game turns out to be nonexistent. Instead, poor Henry ends up the accidental wheelman in a bank robbery that lands him in prison, where he shares a cozy cell with a conman named Max (James Caan in a funny role). After his release three years later, Henry reasons that he might as well go out and rob the bank, tunneling in from the theatre next door. He recruits his former cell mate for help, and they insinuate themselves into the Chekhov production as they try to re-open the tunnel and rob the vault from underneath.

The Good: There’s pleasure to be found in the offbeatness of this comedy. It obviously doesn’t take itself too seriously, and everyone seems to be having a good time (especially Caan who is amusing for really not caring if he goes back to prison or not).

The Bad: Keanu Reeves’s dedicated underplaying of his role is part of a larger problem with the movie. It doesn’t really know when to play it serious and when not to. It sort of bounces back in forth, but never really succeeds in being any of the above. Plus, if the heist portion of the film had been any good, “Henry’s Crime” might have worked. But the whole robbery scenes are so lame and unconvincing, that I found myself bored out of my mind. No offense to the cast, as they give it their best.

The Verdict: James Caan aside (I love that guy), there’s not much to discuss here. It’s not really that bad, but it’s hopelessly mediocre and extremely dull at times. It might not be a bad idea to watch it on TV one night if there’s nothing else playing, but a good movie it is not.

Rating: 2/4

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Ferris Bueller's Day Off [1986]


If there ever was a case of truancy, this is it.  “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, from director John Hughes (“16 Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”) and starring Matthew Broderick, is probably the best “teen” film ever made. I first watched it some 10 years ago, but looking back at it today, I think it has lost none of its charm. And though essentially a comedy, the film cleverly shows the essence of life as a teenager, a time when you’re not too old to have a day off. Broderick plays Bueller, the most popular guy in school who decides to skip school one morning and spend the day touring around Chicago with his girlfriend, and best pal Cameron. You might think this is just another routine comedy, but truth be told, it’s much more than that. Cameron is probably the character most people identify with: uptight, confused, afraid to stand up to his parents. I think eveyone has a part of Cameron in them, while no one is ever really Ferris; he’s the guy that the Camerons of the world have to put up with: he gets away with everything (even the principal can’t seem to put his hands on him), has perfect grades, perfect family, and he’s always in a good mood. The best thing about him though is that he knows all of that, and he’s taking the day off to make it up to his best friend. As he so famously puts it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

With a great cast, memorable soundtrack, John Hughes’ wonderful script and direction, and impressive cinematography, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the greatest movies of the 80’s. It’s almost timeless, and I honestly can’t see too many things that would have prevented this from appearing fresh, even after all these years. A caller ID maybe?

Save Ferris!

Rating: 3.5/4

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Ferris Bueller’s Day Off [1986]


If there ever was a case of truancy, this is it.  “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”, from director John Hughes (“16 Candles”, “The Breakfast Club”) and starring Matthew Broderick, is probably the best “teen” film ever made. I first watched it some 10 years ago, but looking back at it today, I think it has lost none of its charm. And though essentially a comedy, the film cleverly shows the essence of life as a teenager, a time when you’re not too old to have a day off. Broderick plays Bueller, the most popular guy in school who decides to skip school one morning and spend the day touring around Chicago with his girlfriend, and best pal Cameron. You might think this is just another routine comedy, but truth be told, it’s much more than that. Cameron is probably the character most people identify with: uptight, confused, afraid to stand up to his parents. I think eveyone has a part of Cameron in them, while no one is ever really Ferris; he’s the guy that the Camerons of the world have to put up with: he gets away with everything (even the principal can’t seem to put his hands on him), has perfect grades, perfect family, and he’s always in a good mood. The best thing about him though is that he knows all of that, and he’s taking the day off to make it up to his best friend. As he so famously puts it: “Life moves pretty fast. If you don’t stop and look around once in a while, you could miss it”.

With a great cast, memorable soundtrack, John Hughes’ wonderful script and direction, and impressive cinematography, Ferris Bueller’s Day Off is one of the greatest movies of the 80’s. It’s almost timeless, and I honestly can’t see too many things that would have prevented this from appearing fresh, even after all these years. A caller ID maybe?

Save Ferris!

Rating: 3.5/4

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Kung Fu Panda 2 [2011]


I loved the first “Kung Fu Panda” movie, which introduced the unlikeliest of action heroes-a funny, overweight panda named Po (voiced by a fabulous Jack Black), in a fresh and hilarious underdog tale. Let’s put it this way: I think it’s the best animated film to come out of Dreamworks Studios. Period. With that in mind, I couldn’t wait to watch “Kung Fu Panda 2”, and while it lacks the freshness of its predecessor, it’s still quite good, a particular compliment at this point in the movie season, since most of the films playing right now are either bad or instantly forgettable. I think a big part of the first installment’s appeal was the delightful mentor-student relationship between Po and his Kung Fu master Shifu (a terrrific Dustin Hoffman). And of course there was the novelty of giving our hero the opportunity to fight alongside his favorite warriors, also known as the Furious Five. Unfortunately, Shifu doesn’t appear much in this sequel, with the emphasis this time around being on a power hungry enemy named Lord Shen (voiced with perfection by Gary Oldman), and a parallel story in which Po searches for his real parentage (if you recall, he was raised by a noodle shop owner named Mr. Ping, who also happens to be a goose!).

The result is a movie that is much darker in tone, but I think the folks at Dreamworks managed to pull it off. I, for one, was happy to go along for the ride, and at some point, I was even reminded of “The Empire Strikes Back”, which not only demanded that the audience recalls the events of the first film, but also took its story to a deeper level by involving our hero’s search for his true father. And by the finale, we understand that there’s still at least one more sequel to come. My seat is already reserved.

Rating: 3/4

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