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July 2011

Super Super 8

I've been waiting all summer for a really good movie, and the bucket o' nostalgia that is Super 8 finally delivered.

I was glad to see it with CultureGeek Jr., because this was a movie designed for an adolescent boy - and not the overgrown adolescent boys obsessed with sex and stupidity. The nostalgia of Super 8 doesn't just reside in being set in 1979, though the rock-bottom gas prices and newfangled Walkman provide a bit of wry amusement.

No, there is a nostalgia in this movie for the days when a group of young friends, disbelieved by the adults, try to save the town from the monster on the silver screen. There's a simplicity to the story that feels very old, like movies I enjoyed as a young girl.

All the young actors do a good job with their characters, who take a step away from Stock Character into actual people. I particularly give the writers kudos for the character of the Fat Kid. In most movies, particularly the classic The Goonies, the Fat Kid is essentially stupid, used for cheap comedy and cares for nothing but food. In this movie, the Fat Kid is the de facto leader of the gang, the director of the movie and has a crush on the girl. Bravo.

But the best acting chops go to young Joel Courtney as Lead Kid, and to Elle Fanning as the Girl In Question. Young Joe begins the movie with a dead mother. His grief, and that of his father (Kyle Chandler), are a palpable force throughout the movie - as is the secret his crush Alice carries. It would be easy to make the movie entirely about this unhappy past and its consequences, but instead it is a background to the monster loose in town.

Oh hush. It was in the trailers.

The monster and its secret are a bit of a letdown - J.J. Abrams reworking Cloverfield yet again, with a bit more Spielbergian moral ambivalence. But the movie rarely lags, and the few surprises are good ones. Cliche? Perhaps. Overwrought disaster-movie action? Probably. But it's still fun, and its target audiences are perfectly balanced: young kids who identify with the kids, and older Gen Xers who remember Walkmans.

CultureGeek Jr. called it "E.T. crossed with The Goonies." It occurred to me that for him, this kind of movie requires going back to the 1980s or earlier. There simply aren't a lot of good movies about kids facing down the monster anymore, not without waving a wand, at least. There's no magic here, no strange destiny held over your head since birth - just brains, guts and the imagination of a child, that most powerful force that we allow to vanish far too quickly.

I could see the twists coming a mile off, but it didn't stop me from enjoying the hell out of Super 8. Better yet, I watched my twelve-year-old son enjoy it, and was glad to see him watching ordinary kids do extraordinary things. Watch this movie with a kid... or at least try to remember what it was like to be a kid yourself.

Summertime... and the TV is boring

That's maybe a little strong. But wow, do I miss the networks... and who thought that was likely?

Rediscovering television after a three-week search for the Tivo zapper, I found myself with several episodes of In Plain Sight and Memphis Beat to watch... and not much else. Well, Falling Skies premiered, and while I didn't hate it, I felt no great urge to watch the second half of the pilot, much less continue the series.

So then In Plain Sight jumped the shark so spectacularly I want to cry. Not only has the snappy dialogue and fascinating drama disappeared, but Mary is pregnant. Wow, USA, it usually takes six or seven seasons to get to the Baby Trap, and this is only the fourth season. Once they fired the showrunner, this show officially ran out of ideas. And yet I keep watching, even as Mary's independent snark has turned to bitter bitchery, Marshall's character has become almost entirely sidelined and the best secondary characters are gone.

Now Mary's pregnant, because lead actress Mary McCormack is pregnant - the same mistake Bones made. Whatever happened to hiding behind the furniture? I miss the Hays Office. Showkilling babies, everywhere I turn.

Meanwhile, Memphis Beat is still moderately entertaining and a nice touch of nostalgia for me, an exiled Memphian. Jason Lee remains scruffily hot and a pleasant, low-key linchpin for his crew, which has been reduced by at least two (including my least favorite character). Alfre Woodard keeps the show anchored in sanity, but the mysteries are still pretty predictable and the good guys always win.

Both shows suffer from networks afraid of darkness. In Plain Sight's showrunner change came because they were in seriously dark territory and they wanted it light; Memphis Beat keeps skating close to darkness and then retreats to garden-variety police procedural.

That's all about to change.

Staring in the next couple of weeks: Alphas (SyFy's answer to Heroes), final seasons of The Closer and Rescue Me, and of course, Torchwood returns. It's worth getting Starz just for that. Oh, and some of you are watching True Blood. Summer is fun.