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Super 8 is sensational and fun

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"Super 8"

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Super 8, written and directed by J.J. Abrams (Lost, Star Trek), is the kind of movie that reviewers and audiences long for – a five-star film that so captures your imagination, has a story line so interesting and characters so compelling, that you cannot wait to see it again.

Super 8 chronicles the adventures of four teenage boys who are making a zombie movie. The main character, Joe Lamb (played with sensitivity and verve by newcomer Joel Courtney) has recently lost his mother in a work-related accident. His father (played by Friday Night Light’s Kyle Chandler) is the town’s deputy sheriff. His best friend Charles is the pudgy fledgling film maker, who convinces the cute girl in their science class to join their film. And that cute girl, Alice, is played by Elle Fanning, whose Dad seems to be the town screw up.

These characters’ lives all intersect one fateful night when the teens sneak out at midnight to film their zombie movie at the local train station. They witness a spectacular train crash that sparks a series of mysterious disappearances in their small town. First, all the dogs run off and are found in towns miles away. Then, the electricity begins to fail in spurts and then in waves. Neighbors are literally plucked out of their cars and sucked out of their homes by a large, unseen something.

Abrams manages to brilliantly capture the cinematic excitement and wonder that we all felt when we saw Star Wars and Raiders of the Lost Ark, both of which belong to the era in which Super 8 takes place. The film pays homage to both of those classic films, as well as Close Encounters of the Third Kind, District 9, and the iconic 1952 Cecil B. DeMille film, The Greatest Show on Earth, whose plot also pivots on the derailment of a train.

Abrams has slyly captured the essence of the late 1970s with carefully placed snippets of pop music, iconic cars, bell bottom pants, and the awkward adolescent flavor of confusion and independence that goes with the early years of high school.

And he puts his special effects toolbox from Lost to good use in this film, giving Super 8 an incredible panache of suspense and mystery, complete with shaking bushes and Jurassic Park-like sound effects. There are scary parts, but not so scary that the film becomes a thriller, or a gore fest. There are portions of the film that could and will be deemed science fiction, but it’s not a sci-fi film. And there is a love story, more than one actually, with dynamics between the main players becoming complicated in a very good and layered way. The plot twists keep you guessing and the film maker’s imaginative use of shadows and light make for a mystery that more than satisfies.

The film offers much homage to Steven Spielberg whom Abrams has named as mentor as well as muse. And Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment produced this film. Yet Abrams has found a way to make this film his own. His characters are wee bit less innocent, less campy, more earnest and realistic than in Spielberg’s action films, which spin closer to old-time Saturday matinee reels.

Five out of five stars. Super 8 is rated PG-13 and has loud, momentarily frightening, special effects. However, Abrams makes sure the frightening parts stay on the right side of mystery, and so this film is safe for anyone over age 12. A uniquely entertaining film, with surprisingly deep ethical values and compelling performances, that will have people standing in line to see it again.

Super 8 is playing locally at the Fairfield Cinemas at Bullard Square, the Regal Cinemas in Stratford, and also at the Bowtie Cinemas in Trumbull. The film is also being shown in IMAX theatres.

Other film reviews you may enjoy:

X-Men: First Class - best for fans of the series and of Jennifer Lawrence.

Thor- A lot of action, and Natalie Portman, make this film tolerable, but just barely.

Last Night– playing in limited release in theatres now, this film stars Kiera Knightly and Sam Worthington. A great flick. And a good date movie.

The King’s Speech- outstanding performances by Colin Firth, Geoffrey Rush and Helena Bonham-Carter make this unusual, but powerful film, well worth seeing. I predicted that it had a high probability to sweep the Oscars, with Firth a shoe-in for Best Actor. It was gratifying to see him win it.

The Black Swan- Natalie Portman won the Golden Globe and the Academy Award for Best Actress in her performance in this film and she deserved it.

Winter’s Bone- an astonishing performance by Jennifer Lawrence, for which she has received an Academy award nomination. Lawrence is set to star in The Hunger Game films.

Tangled- great Disney flick, full of fun and action; good for the whole family. Available for rental at your local Connecticut Redbox.

The Infidel – a hilarious offering from last year’s Tribeca Film Festival, available now for rental or instant download on Netflix.

Win Win – Giamatti is wonderful in this film, now available on DVD.

Never Say Never – Justin Bieber, his rise to teen stardom and his dedicated fans. An interesting documentary and concert flick, fun and entertaining.

Love & Other Drugs- best for older teens and adults. Rated R for a reason. Anne Hathaway and Jake Gyllenhaal are naked for most of the film.

Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows- a real treat for HP fans

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