Film Review: Super 8

Super 8 is the best blockbuster of the year so far. J.J. Abrams homage to producer Steven Spielberg is utterly charming.

Charles enlists the help of his friends, including Joe Lamb, to shoot a short movie. Hoping to enter the film into a competition, Charles seeks production values. Shooting a scene at night, the young teens witness a terrifying train crash. Following this, mysterious incidents take place in the town, as Joe and friends try to investigate what has occurred…

Super 8 is a fantastically well constructed film. Like the best blockbuster movies, Abram’s film effectively combines action-adventure, comedy and science fiction. These elements work well together; Super 8 has the ability to shift between comedy and tension seamlessly.

The film displays some sentimentalism. This is not particularly surprising, given Spielberg’s involvement. Moreover, these moments are well executed and are in keeping with the overall feel of the film. The sentimentalism never really veers into cheese territory.

The sense of mystery works well in Super 8. The contents of the train is not revealed initially, leading the main characters and the viewers to question the army’s involvement as well as the strange occurrences. It is a significant way into the film before more details are revealed, which keeps viewers guessing as to if or how the supernatural comes into play.

The influence of Spielberg’s films from the 1970s and 1980s is made very apparent in Super 8. The mystery over the cause of events is reminiscent of Close Encounters of the Third Kind. The camaraderie of the group of kids harks back to E.T. and the Spielberg-produced The Goonies. The references are visual as well as thematic, with the running in the train crash sequence harking back to an infamous Raiders of the Lost Ark scene. Furthermore, the references to George A. Romero are a nice touch. Abrams pays homage to his influences in the best possible way; overtly and slightly in awe, but blended seamlessly into the action.

The effects used in the film are first rate. Super 8 has a polished overall look, again harking back to Spielberg’s earlier blockbusters. The sound is suitably consuming. Michael Giacchino’s score is apt, although a section sounds very similar to Danny Elfman’s Nightmare Before Christmas theme.

The comedy in the film is effective thanks to Abrams’ script and the very natural interaction of the young teens. Performances are great all round, with Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning and Riley Griffiths standing out in particular. Kyle Chandler, meanwhile, looks every inch the late-1970s dad as Jackson Lamb.

Abrams’ film is highly recommended, and will likely be remembered as one of the year’s best movies. Super 8 is simply a delight.

Film Review: Africa United

If you can handle the doses of saccharine, Africa United is an enjoyable feel-good film. While the narrative is fairly run of the mill, Africa United distinguishes itself from many others films from the continent by being light-hearted and incredibly positive.

Fabrice dreams of becoming a footballing superstar. When he is spotted by a FIFA scout, the teenager, with his young manager Dudu and Dudu’s little sister Beatrice, embark on an incredible journey from their home in Rwanda to South Africa for the World Cup finals…

At heart, the film is about the friendship between the young group. This is constantly reiterated throughout Africa United, with the friends frequently referring to themselves as a ‘team’. Of course, this is in keeping with the football theme. There are numerous references particularly to the English Premiership in the film. Viewers should have at least a basic awareness of football in order to appreciate a number of the jokes.

The narrative is straightforward, combining elements of the road trip movie with the childish camaraderie of films like The Goonies. At times the dialogue sticks, with some of the sentimental moments feeling more like children’s television than a feature film. Nevertheless, this does not detract too much from the overall enjoyment of Africa United.

The main characters in Africa United follow certain archetypes. Dudu is the leader; his enthusiasm really carries the group at times. The story seems particularly coming of age for Fabrice, who learns to follow his dream and stand up to his mother. Foreman George, meanwhile, seems built in the mould of the scarred soldier. It will come as no great surprise that each of the characters develop throughout their journey.

The best parts of the film are Dudu’s story telling sequences. They are a joy to watch, combining a variety of different effects to produce memorable animated scenes. The story telling in these sequences is also enjoyable, as Dudu narrates a fantastical version of their journey.

Sanyu Joanita Kintu is adorable as Beatrice. Yves Dusenge seems well cast in his role as Foreman George; he reflects the pensiveness required of the character. The group has great chemistry, particularly Eriya Ndayambaje as Dudu and Roger Nsengiyumva as his best friend Fabrice.

Bernie Gardner’s music seems the perfect accompaniment for the on-screen action. The original music reflects the vibrancy of the visuals. Director Debs Gardner-Paterson does a decent job in this her feature-length debut.

Africa United is an uplifting film that should be received well by all audiences, but especially by children. Given that a portion of the proceeds goes to charity, the film deserves to do well.

Africa United is being screened at the British Film Institute’s London Film Festival in October 2010.