Streaming Saturday: Super 8

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So what happens when you combine a Spielberg coming of age story with a JJ Abrams dimly-lit potboiler? You get “Stand By Me”…with explosions and pissed-off E.T.’s hungry for human flesh.

“Super 8” should be a great example of “you got your chocolate in my peanut butter” filmmaking. But ultimately, it separates into its component parts, the military conspiracy/Area 51 plot shoehorned into a genuinely touching coming of age story. It’s well worth your time though, as each element is expertly handled (except where they intersect). You care about Joe and Alice and the shit hand they’ve been dealt; saddled as they are with parents who are barely keeping it together (each in their own way). And the alien plotline is a slick treatment of the Area 51 myth. The casting is brilliant as well, using unknown (but quite talented) child actors who don’t get in the way of the story. Really, the only true misstep is saddling the plot with an early-80s setting. You can almost see the struggles between Spielberg and Abrams as they keep searching for contemporary analogues for modern conveniences (Didn’t everyone in ’83 have a walkie-talkie that magically worked with a large network of friends? And didn’t everyone have the ability to view videos no matter where they were?).

I know I’m not doing the best at selling this, but it’s because, with the creative pedigrees attached to “Super 8,” you expect something transcendent. But even if it’s not, it’s still solid entertainment and is one of those rare movies that will stick around in your streaming queue for more than one viewing.

The Threeway: Top 3 Spielberg Movies

Woops! Looks like the long weekend took more of my attention than I expected.

Don’t worry, dear readers, I thought of you fondly while I was lounging in the pool, being pummeled by my progeny, wondering if they would drown me.

Yet, I survived! And long enough to see Janie completely explode Adam’s head. Oh, what a glorious day.

Let’s see if I can’t add some fuel to the fire, get those embers flying, work Adam up into a firestorm that can only be doused by Richard Dreyfus’ ghost. Because, y’see, while I agree that Spielberg has been a prolific and entertaining movie-maker; I found myself hard pressed to find three movies to fill this list. “E.T.” is schmaltzy treacle. The Raiders series ground on far too long. “Jurassic Park” is nothing but “JAWS” with a T-Rex and less subtlety. Still. There are a few films where Spielberg manages to transcend and overcome his penchant for heavy-handedness.

3) “Saving Private Ryan” – This affected me deeply the first time I saw it; to the point where I wasn’t sure if I could watch the entire thing. It was gut wrenching and visceral and totally unlike the popcorn flicks that I associated with Spielberg. That said, I have watched it twice, and twice only, and I likely won’t watch it again. I’m OK with that – It’s one of the rawest portrayals of World War II that I have seen. When you strip the Hollywood out of war, it shouldn’t be something you casually queue up on a Sunday afternoon.

2) “Raiders of the Lost Ark” -By far one of the most iconic adventure movies of all time. It’s reverberated throughout pop culture to the point where cartoons like “My Little Pony” are riffing on it (I know you’ve been just waiting for me to name-drop the show, Adam. There you are). Harrison Ford is brilliant as the world-weary adventurer and brings to Indy more than just the swashbuckling tomb raider of the early pulp fiction cliffhangers. Ford and Spielberg infuse Indiana Jones with a modern cynicism that makes him resonate with the audience. While later movies stumbled (to the point where it was reported that Spielberg had made Indy 3 to apologize for “Temple of Doom”), “Raiders” simply owns the audience from the opening scenes and doesn’t let go until the opening of the Ark at the end.

1) “JAWS” – I absolutely love “JAWS.” I first saw it when I was about twelve and to say it affected me deeply is an understatement. I still hum “Farewell and Adieu” whenever I get on a boat. I still think twice about getting in the water after dark. “JAWS” didn’t just scare me. It terrified me. But it was so much more than the shark. Here were grown men, men like my father, confident and cocksure that they could outsmart a fish. Except they couldn’t. The happy ending was the very definition of a pyrrhic victory, to the point where I was certain Brody would never make it to shore.

And revisiting “JAWS” years later, I could see that the terror of the shark was more allegorical than anything else. This was a town on the brink of economic collapse. There wasn’t just fear of the water, there was fear that their livelihoods would be destroyed. That the shark’s impact would reverberate far onshore and take not just the lives of a few horny teenagers; but of an entire town. The hiring of Quint isn’t just the foolhardy bravado of men who believe that there is no creature they can’t overpower; it’s a desperate Hail Mary pass upon which every character’s fate rests. “JAWS” is inarguably Spielberg at his best.

Cult of Spielberg: Emancipating “Lincoln”

Let’s get something out of the way early here – I am a complete Spielberg fanatic. Movies like “E.T.,” “Jaws,” “Close Encounters” and “Raiders” are all on my list of “perfect movies” ever made. I honestly feel cheated every year that goes by without a film directed by him. The drought between “Munich” and last Winter’s one-two punch of “Adventure’s of Tintin” and “War Horse” was painful for me. (Editor’s note: I don’t think Spielberg actually directed “Crystal Skull.” I also don’t think he directed “Lost World” either, if you care.)

Shoe-in for an Oscar Nomination – Daniel Day Lewis IS Lincoln.

As such, news of new Spielberg movies touch me in a special place. Disney announced that new Spielberg Oscar-bait “Lincoln” will hit theaters on November 16 (November 9th if you are a fancy-pants in NY or LA). These are interesting dates because:

  1. Spielberg has stated that he didn’t want this movie to be fodder during the upcoming Presidential election. Last I looked, Lincoln wasn’t up for re-election, but whatever.
  2. The Nov 9 date puts it in Bond’s cross hairs as “Skyfall” opens the same day.
  3. Worse (box office-ly speaking) is that Nov 16 opens it against “Twilight.” That means I will live in a world where the opening of a new Spielberg movie will LOSE the opening weekend Box Office crown to glittery vampires.

Now… if there were only a movie where Lincoln dispatched vampires. Dare to dream…