Super 8: A year or two back, I remember blanching when I read something, somewhere, that unblinkingly referred to J.J. Abrams as a member of the “hack pack”—that rotating series of Hollywood directors who seem to get offered every subpar franchise job out there, and many par jobs that they help turn into subpar ones, and whose primary point of reference seems to be other movies, specifically the blockbusters of the 70s and 80s that most of their movies fail to match. Seeing Abrams mentioned alongside the likes of Brett Ratner, Michael Bay, McG, and Stephen Sommers felt wrong to me. But thinking about it further, I guess it makes sense. Abrams may not be as frat-boy offensive or blindly incompetent as any of those filmmakers at their worst, but his career, thus far, has been more of a nerd-appreciator-engineer than full-fledged creator. He’s worked on a variety of TV shows, many of them good, and good in different ways, from the reflective-for-the-WB soap Felicity to the puzzle box Lost. But often Abrams himself doesn’t figure heavily into these shows after conceiving them; he directed a major wow of a Lost pilot, and was pretty much out of the picture by the second season or so.
By that point, he was off to the movies, but even there, he was more of a franchise caretaker: he made a strong Mission: Impossible III (although audiences, perhaps still smarting from Woo’s Mission: Impossible II or maybe just figuring they could get similar spy action on an Abrams TV show, stayed further away this time), and he rescued Star Trek from irrelevance (or at least unprofitability) by cannily youthifying and Star Warsing it up. That’s not a knock; I loved his Star Trek movie. And I’m excited for Super 8, his first technically-original movie as a writer-director. But even this project does look primarily like, nay, is designed specifically as… a fannish homage to blockbuster entertainments of the late 70s and early 80s, albeit one actually produced by Steven Spielberg himself.
The difference, though, is that I have the feeling Abrams admires more than Spielberg’s ability to make money and play an audience; maybe the amateur-filmmaking angle of Super 8 will lend it greater dimension than, say, the Spielberg-produced Spielberg knockoff Transformers. Abrams certainly has a better eye than any of the hackpackers save perhaps Bay (and Bay’s is tainted for obvious, American flag-shaped reasons), and more of a feel for likable and funny characters, which were at the core of his Star Trek redo. Maybe it’s his job to act as geek ambassador, to show the world that an abiding love for monster movies and early Spielberg need not be the path toward $200 million board-game adaptations. In other words: I hope this movie is more E.T./Close Encounters than fucking Goonies. I mean, whatever, The Goonies is fine, I enjoy it, but I feel like it’s one of those movies a lot of people who don’t know a lot about movies hold up as a so-totally-awesome I-love-the-80s example of what no one does right any more, when in fact a lot of those hack-pack pictures play like they were written and directed by the Goonies themselves.
The Trip: Man, Michael Winterbottom used to make movies all the time. He was like the poor, English man’s Steven Soderbergh! Back in the aughts, he was doing grim sci-fi and he was doing real-life political dramas and he was doing combination porn-concert movies! I guess his directorial average has yet to dip to less than a movie per year but 2010’s The Killer Inside Me was on the post-festival shelf for a bit, and The Trip, a reunion with Tristram Shandy star Steve Coogan, is really just a feature version of a bunch of TV episodes they made together. Fortunately (and perhaps only semi-factually), IMDB reports three Winterbottom movies on the docket for 2012. That’s more like it! Now if they’re horror, musical, and docudrama, we’ll really be cooking! In the meantime, The Trip looks funny. Coogan is often hilarious and Tristram Shandy was a pretty strong use of his prickly talents.
Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer: I don’t know anything about this movie except that it’s obviously based on some manner of junior-YA series; the poster looks, specifically, like something you’d get from a Scholastic book order in 1992; and Heather Graham is now old enough to play the Cool Aunt. Does Judy Moody know about her past as Rollergirl?!
TrollHunter: Here’s the bar for this faux-verite indie-genre import: suck less than Monsters. Boy, I wish Monsters didn’t kind of suck, but it did! Now I’m hungering for a funnier and/or scarier scrappy horror-thriller-monster-whatever. Although: I can tell you that if TrollHunter doesn’t do the trick, Attack the Block will. More on that when ScreenGems sets a release date.