Weekend Roundup: Somewhere and Super 8

You can call it the ‘Elle Fanning movie weekend’ 😀 I had never seen her in anything, and suddenly within one weekend, I saw two movies starring Dakota’s 13-year-old little sister. I didn’t think I’d have time to see two movies this weekend given how busy things got, but we had to watch Somewhere as we actually got it last weekend from Netflix! I really should’ve just returned it when we couldn’t watch it last week 😦

Somewhere (2010)

I think the more fitting title for this is Nowhere. The fourth feature film from Sofia Coppola promises much but delivers little. The movie centers on a 30-something Hollywood star Johnny Marco who seemingly has everything a man could want: girls, money, fast cars, etc. I mean the guy lives at the Chateau Marmont Hotel for crying out loud. But despite his fame and fortune, he is disillusioned with his career, it’s not until his young daughter’s visit that he’s compelled to rethink what he’s done with his life.

Coppola illustrates Johnny’s boredom over and over again in almost mind-numbing repetition, just like the intro with Johnny driving his black Ferrari as fast as he could in a loop five times before he finally stops and still bored out of his wits. He falls asleep watching two blond twins pole-dancing in his hotel room, and he even dozes off right in the middle of sex!

The reason I rented this is because I like Lost in Translation, though it’s quite a polarizing film as I know a few of my friends hated it. So I came in with a moderate expectation that I’d at least appreciate it even if I may not thoroughly enjoy it. Boy, was I wrong. Stephen Dorff ain’t no Bill Murray, whose screen charisma can lift and spice up Coppola’s low key, almost lethargic style. There’s nothing wrong with being minimalistic if the director can tackle it properly, but I don’t think this movie has a compelling story — nor performance — to justify it. Speaking of minimalistic, not only is there no editor in this movie, there don’t seem to be a hairstylist either judging from Dorff’s hairstyle (or lack thereof).

Speaking of performances, Stephen Dorff looks believably weary and lonely, but I don’t really buy him as this big movie star. I mean, yes I get it that he’s desensitized to life’s pleasures, hence his bored look throughout the film, but I’d think he’d at least appear charismatic in front of the public so we see the duality of his persona. But no, there’s none of that movie star’s charm present at all, whether he’s in Hollywood, Italy or whatever.

Elle Fanning on the other hand, is quite memorable as Johnny’s 11-year-old daughter. But the series of activities they spend together fail to really engage not because of lack of chemistry, but because Coppola’s lack of direction. As for the denouement, well, there really isn’t one… and boy do I feel cheated as I really was expecting a big payoff to make the whole thing worthwhile!

It really leaves me scratching my head how in the world does this movie win the Golden Lion award at Venice Film Festival… is it because she’s a Coppola?? My friend Ted tweeted me saying that perhaps Sofia is a one-hit wonder? Well, I haven’t seen her two other movies yet, but I don’t think I care to find out.

1.5 out of 5 reels

Super 8 (2011)

I put this as one of my anticipated films this year for pure nostalgia reasons. The trailer reminded me a lot of Steven Spielberg’s ET which was such a timeless tearjerker. This time, Spielberg served as producer with J.J. Abrams at the helm based on his own script. The result? Super 8 is pretty much ET/The Goonies meets Cloverfield (at least judging by the trailers as I haven’t seen that movie).

Kids often get top billing in Spielberg’s movies, and this time it’s no different. Set in the Summer of 1979, a group of Junior High friends witness a mysterious train crash right in the middle of shooting a film with their Super 8 camera. That massive accident sets off a myriad of strange happenings that rock their idyllic small town that prompt the kids to investigate the freaky phenomenon.

Abrams took some time to get us invested in the characters before the main event arrives. Joe Lamb has just lost his mother four months prior and his detached dad Jackson wants him to attend camp for the Summer. But Joe would rather help his friend Charles make his zombie thriller movie for a film festival. The friendship between these kids feels natural and engaging, and once again Elle Fanning makes an impression as Alice, the object of Joe and Charles’ affection. It’s right in the middle of an important emotional scene with Alice when suddenly a car drives onto the track as the train approaches, and kaboom!! The train crash itself is nothing short of spectacular, and Abrams did a good job in keeping us in suspense as to what that creature is on board the train.

The movie works on many levels, for sure it’s technically proficient. The retro look and feel of the movie really takes you back in time, and the special effects enhances the story instead of overwhelming it. The acting is notable, especially the young ‘uns 15-year-old Joel Courtney and 13-year-old Fanning who are the heart of the film. Kyle Chandler is good though he generally relegated to second banana status and wasn’t really given much to do. Joe’s friends are quite an entertaining bunch, though they’re too foul-mouthed for my liking.

The third act get to be too much though, I had just read this insightful commentary on Castor’s blog about the ‘more’ philosophy of JJ Abrams. It sure seems like Abrams likes to ‘pile on the peril’ as I call it, not to mention those pesky lens flares, he’s definitely obsessed with them! There are giant loopholes in the plot as big as the monster in question, but in the end it doesn’t derail the movie. Perhaps I’m more forgiving on that front because I feel the ending is quite satisfying. It has the earnestness and warm, fuzzy feeling that’d probably turn off cynical moviegoers, but I kind of expect that considering this is a throwback to Spielberg’s classics. It’s also worth staying for the end credits, man these kids are really talented, Charles is basically a young Spielberg in the making.

I don’t think the re-watchability factor is all that great though. I’d rather watch Abrams’ previous movie Star Trek several times over than seeing this again. But I’d say it’s worth seeing in the cinema, especially if you’re a big fan of Spielberg and Abrams’ work.

Three and a half stars out of Five
3.5 out of 5 reels

So what movie(s) did you watch this weekend? If you have seen either one of these, do let me know what you think in the comments.