June 10, 2011. Guy Pictures: Movies Reviewed: Cell 213, X Men: First Class, Super 8.

Posted in 1970s, Action, Cultural Mining, Horror, Movies, Mystery, NXNE, Uncategorized, US by CulturalMining.com on June 20, 2011

Hi, this is Daniel Garber at the Movies, for culturalmining.com and CIUT 89.5 FM.

Well, after an intense two months of constant film festivals, I’m beginning to feel overloaded – too many good movies! Seriously, I’m overwhelmed by all these meaningful, artistic, serious, earnest movies. Movies with subtitles. Movies with experimental formats. Movies with subtle metaphors.

You know what? I just wanna see some crap! Some pointless, shallow entertainment, just 90 enjoyable minutes in the dark, with friends or lovers on one side, strangers on the other side.

They say Hollywood – as opposed to the fine cinema I’ve mainly been watching recently – is mainly aimed at 14-year-old boys. That’s where the big bucks are. Even if audiences are older, they don’t want to alienate the snot-nosed 14-year-olds, so they always aim for that happy medium.

So, with that in mind, I’m unleashing my 14-year-old brain to take a look at three new movies: guy movies.

X Men: First Class
Dir: Matthew Vaughan

I had high hopes for this one – an amazing cast, with great British movie actors like Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy; Canadian TV stars like January Jones; with a director who made one of my favourite movies last year – Kick-ass. I wouldn’t have gone otherwise – ever since X Men started devolving into those awful Michael Bay movies with 40-minute-long, endless battle scenes, basically just rockets flying back and forth in awful plasticky CGI — I’ve given up on the whole series. But this one is directed by Matthew Vaughan! So I was really getting into it. Also because it was a prequel (or Squeakquel, as the chipmunks have it), so they can bring in new blood.

OK, here’s the story. Eric, aka Magneto, is the concentration camp survivor who can move metal things around if he concentrates his mind and twists his hands just right; and his future colleague and frienemy, Prof. X, an upper-class British college student, are shown first as small children and then as grown ups, but not as the sage patriarchs in later movies. Eric wants to find the Kevin Bacon character, the cruel and evil Nazi commandant, who is now selling deals to the Soviets using his secret powers for his own selfish purposes.

As mutants, Eric and Prof. X eventually team up, playing their skills and knowledge against one another. The professor becomes an expert of Mutant Studies since he can pass for “normal”. They all end up at the CIA in a newly-minted, special unit – hence the title: First Class. And as this is a prequel, it’s set against the Cuban missile crisis. But this being a weirdly revisionist rework of history, it’s not really the Soviets vs the Americans, it’s the good mutants vs the evil mutants. The nuclear bombs, etc., are just a sidebar.

Anyway, there are a couple of cool characters but the whole movie was over CGI’d, annoying, fake looking, and with a very bad aesthetic, where the women all look like strippers, and the men like nerds. (14 year old audience – remember?). And it all devolved into the endless battle scene like in all the other X Men movies.

So, yeah, it kinda sucked.

Much more enjoyable was

Cell 213
Dir: Stephen Kay

Michael (Eric Balfour) is a young hotshot defense lawyer, known for stopping at nothing to get his clients off – even when they are serial killers. He’s so self-confident, he ducks into a washroom to have sex with a woman even on the way to the courtroom. He’s due for a big promotion at his law firm if he wins his case. But when he visits his client at the crumbly prison to tell him god news, something goes wrong. The prisoner tells him “he’s next!” – and soon he is locked up in the same prison — the notorious South River Pen – a hellish place with no chance for escape, run by a cruel, southern prison guard (Michael Rooker).

Something strange is going on there. He’s put in solitary, in the same room as his crazy, serial killer client — a room that might be haunted, perhaps by hell itself. In any case, it makes you go gradually wacky. To make matters worse, the smug, oleaginous warden (Bruce Greenwood) cruelly forces Michael – who has a deep phobia of dead bodies (can that be called a phobia? Sounds pretty normal to me) — in the hospital embalming wing. He constantly finds himself handling the dead, or even getting locked in the vaults with rotting dead bodies.

His only hope is that Audrey, the hardboiled but beautiful government inspector who is investigating strange deaths at South River, will get him out of that hell hole before he does something awful or something terrible happens to him. Will he become a mean inmate’s bitch? Or will he be consumed by horrible demons? Will he ever understand the strange writings on the wall? And will Audrey discover the secret of the deaths in Cell # 213?

OK – I have a thing about seeing movies with numbers in their titles; my theory is, they always suck. And what was this – a devil movie? A prison movie? A craziness movie? A haunting movie? Things is, I ate this one up. It didn’t matter that it’s total cheese, that the story doesn’t quite make sense or that the plot was messy. It was fun to watch, a bit scary, a bit gory, a bit funny, and it just pulls you along. It’s not boring at all. And none of those dreadful Saw-like ultra-extended torture porn scenes: gorno. And I really like all five of the main actors – they all rose above the very corny script. It’s nothing deep or crucial, but it’s a good popcorn movie for a Saturday night.

Finally, and best of all, is:

Super 8
Dir: J.J. Abrams

In this movie, the director and the producer, Steven Spielberg, seem to say, we know it’s aimed at 14 year old boys, so let’s make it about 14 year old boys…!

John Lamb (Joel Courtney, in his first role) lives in a rust belt city in Ohio in the late 70’s. His mother died in a steel mill accident just as the movie starts, and his dad, a cop, is giving him grief for making a super 8 zombie movie for a contest with a bunch of his friends and a tough but pretty girl Alice (Elle Fanning). But they carry on under director Charles (Riley Griffiths), a chubby neighbourhood kid.

But when they go to shoot a scene down by the railway tracks, they witness a horrible disaster, and run away just as the US Air Force comes swarming in. But they are warned by a school teacher never to tell anyone what happened – especially not he military – or they would all disappear.

Spooked by the whole thing, the kids go back to their normal lives, and continue to shoot their super 8 movie in the aftermath of the disaster. But gradually, following a series of strange happenings – dogs are running away, microwave ovens are disappearing, and cars are being crushed – John, his friends, and his dad sense that something big, and potentially terrible is happening. They have to think of a way to fight the growing disorder and panic, the secretive and dangerous military unit, and the mysterious third factor that seems to be behind it all but may have been recorded on their super 8 film stock.

This is a great movie, which tries and succeeds in capturing the feel of early Spielberg movies from the 70s and 80s, like ET, Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and The Goonies.

It’s scary, funny and interesting, and totally watchable by adults. I had a great time. The special effects are amazing, the story is exciting, the characters and the acting are all dead-on, and, surprisingly, the photography is amazing, as good as movies made in the 70’s. (Super 8 is not just a movie that takes place in the 70’s; it’s a movie that’s supposed to look like it was made in the 70’s. There’s a difference.) Although it was directed by JJ Abrams, who did things like the TV show Lost, it feels like it’s 75% Spielberg, 25% Abrams. The pacing, cliff hangers, cute kid jokes, and the innocent, lamb-like main character, John Lamb, are all totally Spielberg. And the cool special effects, the complicated character-relationships, the compelling story, and the way the scary characters look and behave are Abrams all over.

So, if you want to see a good old- fashioned movie, with both that late 70’s movie feel and the anti-nostalgia nostalgia it captures, Super 8 is the one you shouldn’t miss.

X Men: First Class is now playing, Super 8 and Cell 213 open today: check your local listings.

And be sure to check out NXNE, the indie extravaganza coming to Toronto next week, because it’s not just a music festival it’s also a music-movie festival. Go to nxne.com .

This is Daniel Garber at the Movies for CIUT 89.5 FM, and on my web site, Cultural Mining . com.

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