Super 8

Paramount Pictures

Rated PG-13 for profanity, drug use and intense violence.

 

Shades of Spielberg Abound in Abram’s Creature Feature

Even Steven Spielberg would have a hard time making a movie that resembles one of his own creature features as much as Super 8 does. This reverential homage was directed by J.J. Abrams, a protégé who unabashedly laced the derivative production with a profusion of allusions to Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, E.T., Jaws, Jurassic Park, War of the Worlds, The Goonies and other offerings by his legendary mentor.

Among the myriad motifs revisited are such trademark Spielberg plot points as an attempted government cover-up of a burgeoning mystery, adolescents estranged from their parents and an anthropomorphic extra terrestrial. And many of his favorite technical devices are resurrected as well, like the employment of lens flares, foreboding flashlights and disorienting camera angles as stylistic flourishes.

Luckily, because the edge-of-the-seat thriller also happens to be absolutely absorbing from beginning to end, the viewer doesn’t really have the luxury of pausing to debate whether J.J.’s borrowing of ideas amounts to a rip-off or a tribute. Another plus is the convincing chemistry generated among the gifted ensemble of mostly-unknown actors assembled to execute the well-developed, character-driven script.

The story is set during the summer of ’79 in Lillian, Ohio, a generic midwestern metropolis ostensibly fashioned from the Hollywood template for small town America. Protagonist Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney) is still mourning the death of his mom who perished in an industrial accident just a few months earlier.

He resists the pressure being exerted by his Deputy Sheriff father (Kyle Chandler) to attend baseball camp. Joe prefers to stick around to help his pal, Charles (Riley Griffiths), finish shooting a zombie flick called The Case. The rest of the motley movie crew is rounded out by awkward Preston (Zach Mills), equally-geeky Martin (Gabriel Basso), pyromaniac Carey (Ryan Lee) and tomboy Alice (Elle Fanning), a beauty about to blossom right before the boys’ eyes.

The plot thickens when a passing freight train derails while they’re filming a love scene on the local station platform. As the children barely escape the conflagration with their lives, Charles inadvertently manages to capture some critical evidence with his camera.

Meanwhile, the citizenry is left rattled not only by the incident but by the bizarre occurrences which begin to plague their once-idyllic oasis. Soon, the military descends upon the town led by a conniving Air Force Colonel (Noah Emmerich) who eventually issues an evacuation order. That leaves it up to our resourceful youngsters to summon up the courage to save the day, which is a cinch, when you’re dealing with classic Spielberg shenanigans. Or should I say Abrams?

J.J.’s Close Encounter with E.T., Gremlins, Jaws and Jurassic Goonies!

It’s all in there.

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 112 Minutes.

 

Rejoice And Shout

Magnolia Pictures

Rated PG for mature themes and some smoking.

 

200-Year History of Gospel Music Celebrated in Sanctified Documentary

Half concert flick, half historical documentary, Rejoice And Shout is an unabashed celebration of glorious Gospel music. The picture traces the genre’s roots all the way back to when slaves first began mixing Christianity with African culture and their desire for salvation from their plight.

The film was directed by Don McGlynn (Dexter Gordon: More Than You Know), who unearthed a treasure trove of archival footage of legendary greats like Mahalia Jackson, The Clara Ward Singers, James Cleveland, The Dixie Hummingbirds and The Blind Boys of Alabama, touted here as the most successful Gospel group of all time. Plenty of their more contemporary counterparts such as Andrae Crouch, Yolanda Adams, Shirley Caesar and Mavis Staples also appear whether to sing and/or discuss the derivation of some of their favorite spirituals.

The movie’s most spellbinding moment arrives right after the opening credits when an adorable, 12-year-old member of The Selvy Family delivers a soul-stirring, a cappella rendition of “Amazing Grace” while sitting in a church pew surrounded by smiling relatives. Whether detailing the contributions of the late Thomas A. Dorsey, who composed over 40 Gospel standards, or how Edwin Hawkins wrote countless hits after recording his debut Oh Happy Day! album for $500, Rejoice And Shout offers an alternately informative and uplifting experience as likely to have you clapping your hands and stamping your feet as any sanctified Sunday morning service.

Can I get an Amen?

Excellent (4 stars).

Running time: 115 Minutes.

 

 

OPENING THIS WEEK

Kam’s Kapsules:

Weekly Previews That Make Choosing a Film Fun

 

For movies opening June 17, 2011

 

BIG BUDGET FILMS

 

Green Lantern (PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence). Ryan Reynolds stars as the title character in this action adventure based on the DC Comics series about a test pilot-turned-superhero and intergalactic leader of a brotherhood of warriors committed to world/universe peace. Supporting cast includes Blake Lively, Peter Sarsgaard and Mark Strong.

 

Mr. Popper’s Penguins (PG for rude humor and mild epithets). Jim Carrey stars in the screen adaptation of the beloved children’s novel of the same name about a clueless businessman who gets a big lesson about what really matters when his life is turned upside-down by the six penguins he inherits. With Carla Gugino, Angela Lansbury and Philip Baker Hall.

 

The Art Of Getting By (Unrated). Coming-of-age drama set in Manhattan about a depressed, prep school slacker (Freddie Highmore) whose pessimistic outlook on life finally brightens after he’s befriended by an equally jaded classmate (Emma Roberts). Ensemble includes Blair Underwood, Sasha Spielberg (daughter of Steven Spielberg and Kate Capshaw), Rita Wilson (wife of Tom Hanks), Sam Robards (son of Jason Robards and Lauren Bacall), Alicia Silverstone, Michael Angarano and Marcus Carl Franklin.

 

Battle For Brooklyn (Unrated). Eminent domain documentary about the seven-year legal fight led by resident David Goldstein against real estate developers determined to flatten his Prospect Heights neighborhood in order to build a stadium for the NBA’s New Jersey Nets.

 

Beginning Of The Great Revival (Unrated). Communist Party propaganda drama, unfolding in China over the course of most of the 20th Century, recounting the rise of the People’s Revolution and the subsequent reign of Chairman Mao (Ye Liu). Starring John Woo, Andy Lau, Daniel Wu and Wei Tang. (In Mandarin with subtitles)

 

Buck (Unrated). Cowboy biopic about the legendary Buck Brannaman, a horse whisperer famous across Big Sky Country for an unorthodox approach to breaking bucking broncos.

 

The Colors Of The Prism, The Mechanics Of Time (Unrated). Avant Garde Movement retrospective exploring the cultural contributions of such visionary American composers and choreographers as Philip Glass, Meredith Monk, Terry Riley, La Monte Young, Steve Reich, Pauline Oliveros and Gavin Bryars.

 

Jig (Unrated). Happy feet documentary highlighting the grueling training regimen of several entrants in preparation to compete in the 40th Annual Irish Dance World Championships staged in Glasgow, Scotland.

 

Kidnapped (Unrated). Grisly revenge thriller set in Madrid about a well-to-do family from an exclusive gated community that turns the tables on the trio of masked intruders (Guillermo Barrientos, Dritan Biba and Martijn Kuiper) who had taken them hostage in their own home. Cast includes Fernando Cayo, Cesar Diaz and Manuela Velles. (In Spanish with subtitles)

 

Page One: Inside The New York Times (R for profanity and sexual references). Fourth Estate documentary chronicling a year inside the pressroom of the proverbial paper of record.

 

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