Betsy Sharkey's film pick of the week: 'Super 8'
Writer-director J.J. Abrams has a way of meshing sci-fi with ordinary people to create extraordinary entertainment, which he’s done extremely well in “Lost” and in 2009’s explosive “Star Trek.” He goes with adolescent charm in his latest, “Super 8,” which lands a group of small-town preteens in the middle of crises both major -– a military coverup of an alien life force on the loose-- and minor –- who will win the affections of Alice, played by Elle Fanning, who once again shows she has all the acting chops of her talented older sister, Dakota. (For early Elle at her best, pick up 2004's "The Door in the Floor" on DVD. The actress, only 5 when it was filmed, is mesmerizing. And it has the added treat of an exceptional performance from Jeff Bridges.)
The “caught on tape” element drives the action and helps the kids unlock the mystery, set in 1979 during a time of such electronic innocence that it makes the film feel like a slice of nostalgic heaven. Friendships are face-to-face, not Facebook. In this movie-within-a-movie, Joe (Joel Courtney) mans the Super 8 and his best friend, Charles (Riley Griffiths), is the director. But there is friction on the set as Abrams has something to say about an early auteur with a cinematic vision.
Kyle Chandler’s single dad, a local cop trying to outwit the military bad boys and keep up with Joe, brings an earthy, ordinary-guy appeal and grown-up problems. Ron Eldard as Alice's deadbeat dad helps keep the tension tight. It might be easy to take a pass on this as just another kid’s movie. It’s more. “Super 8” is smartly satisfying, super no matter your age.
-- Betsy Sharkey
Photo: From left, Kyle Chandler, Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Ron Eldard in J.J. Abrams' sci-fi drama, "Super 8." Credit: Francois Duhamel/Courtesy of Paramount Pictures/MCT