June 10, 2011, - 5:42 pm

Wknd Box Office: Super 8, Tree of Life, Midnight in Paris

By Debbie Schlussel

I did not see “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer.”  Here are my reviews of the new movies which I did see and which debut today at theaters:

*  “Super 8“:  I absolutely loved the first half of this movie (and the kid actors in this, which is why I’m giving it a good rating).  It’s the second half–in which the U.S. Air Force are the evil bad guys who round up the population of a small town into a movie version of Gitmo–that was a mess and ridiculous.  I’ve grown tired of alien thrillers that suddenly turn into “America’s military is evil, oppresses extraterrestrial aliens, and causes them to hate us and attack and kill us.”  It was bad enough when they made this crap before 9/11.  But when they made it afterward–as symbolism and allegory of how we are supposedly to blame for Islamic terrorists hating us–it got absurd.  Come on, Hollywood, come up with a movie where it’s actually the aliens’ fault, not ours.

Several young boys in small town America are shooting a movie with a Super8 video camera.  It’s 1979, and the lead character is one of those boys, Joe Lamb, played by Joel Courtney.  His mother died, and his father–who is a deputy sheriff, wants him to give up his amateur movie hobby with his friends and go away to a summer camp for boys.  One night, the boy and his friends sneak out to the train station to film their movie, when they see a horrific train crash after their teacher has driven onto the tracks, head-on into the train.  It’s a spectacular scene, and probably the best use of special effects in the movie.  The camera is still rolling, while the crash happens.  They see their teacher, still alive in what remains of his truck, and he warns them to leave quickly and not to talk about what they saw.

Soon, airmen from the Air Force are on the scene, and the kids escape.  The airmen are trying to find out who was at the train station and witnessed the crash.  In the meantime, weird things are happening throughout the town.  Dogs and people go missing.  Buildings and cars are destroyed.  Washing machines and other appliances are flying around in the air.  And the Air Force sets fire to the land around the town, so it can evacuate the people and round them up onto a military base.  Also in the meantime, Joe develops feelings for Alice (played by the beautiful and far more talented Fanning sister actress, Elle Fanning), the boys’ friend and fellow actress in their Super 8 movie.

I’ve already given away enough, so I can’t say more about the plot.

What I liked about this movie:  the ’70s feel and the great acting by first-time actors who are just young kids, including the lead, Courtney, who was 14 at the time he filmed this.  It was a more idyllic time, when kids were more innocent and didn’t act and dress like sluts and gangstas. The camaraderie of the young boys in the movie (and their female friend, the lovely Elle Fanning) is great and fun to watch.  The kids are cute, and their interaction in this movie is reminiscent of the great boy buddy movies of the ’70s and ’80s, like “Stand By Me.”  The late ’70s setting, morals, dialogue, costumes, and technology props made me feel like I was watching a movie made when I was a kid and with nearly the same morals and character.

What I didn’t like:  this movie is aimed at kids and features kids in the lead roles, and yet the kids utter four-letter words.   Was this really necessary in a movie kids are going to see in droves?  No, it’s gratuitous.  The movie would have been just as good without it, just as most of those kid movies from the ’70s and ’80s were.   I also didn’t like the alien, which looks silly and unbelievable, kind of like the story.

And, per usual, the movie features your typical Hollywood race politics.  To use Black cultural critic David Ehrenstein’s term, this movie features the “magic Black friend”–in the form of the kids’ righteous professor/teacher, Dr. Woodward, who warns them about the evil Air Force men (including the stark White evil commanding officer) and who resists the Air Force’s attempts to get him to talk about the whereabouts of the alien.  He just so happens to be the only Black guy in town (until two Black guys are strategically juxtaposed as minions to the evil Air Force commander). The magic Black teacher is the one who tells the U.S. Air Force–in vain–that they should help the alien build his spaceship and leave.  But, instead, we are evil and force the alien to stay and undergo experiments.  Where’s PETA–People for the Ethical Treatment of Aliens–when you need ’em?

Still, I so much enjoyed the first half of the movie, as well as these cute and charming kids that lead the story, I’m still giving it a positive rating.  You will enjoy it, but for the silly ending, and it’s fine to take your kids to it, provided you promise to wash their mouths with soap if they copy the four-letter words in the dialogue.  And you can do as my late father used to always do with me at these movies:  tell your kids to ignore Hollywood’s anti-American, anti-military message, and tell them, in real life, it’s the aliens’–and the terrorists’–fault.  We did nothing to deserve this, unlike what writer/director J.J. Abrams and producer Steven Spielberg tell you.


Watch the trailer . . .

*  “Tree of Life“:  This is THE most pretentious movie I’ve ever seen.  Also the most boring and absurd.  I struggled to stay awake. How could 138 minutes seem like 138 days? So frickin’ loooooong. The best part was when the credits began rolling.  Couldn’t wait for this waste of time, hodgepodge of nothingness, artsy fartsy BS to end.

There is very little dialogue in this movie, and it goes in and out from scenes of people saying things in partial mish-mosh scenes to scenes of what seem like shoplifted National Geographic films just slopped on in the middle at several points.  The National Geographic Channel called, and they want their films of dinosaurs, rivers, planets, animals being born, sunflowers, and oceans back.

When a completely unrelated series of scenes of wildlife and nature were slapped in the middle of the movie along with computer generated dinosaurs, I laughed out loud.  But I was the only one.  Everyone else was eating up this crap as if the emperor with no clothing actually had something on.  He didn’t.  I passed a note to a fellow movie critic, on which I’d written “WTF?!”  It’s kind of my view of this movie.  Pretentious drivel starring Brad Pitt and Sean Penn clumsily edited and sewn together with an unrelated wildlife film from a boring museum.  Oh, and it’s anti-Christian.

The “story”–if you can call it that:  a mother in the late ’50s or early ’60s learns that one of her sons has died and she cries, with her husband (Brad Pitt) warding off sympathetic neighbors. Then, we see a scene of another son, now grown and in contemporary times, walking around his fancy modern home, then walking around his fancy modern office building, and then sitting in the office–sulking in each setting.  Then, we go back to Brad Pitt’s younger family walking around their house and going outside, playing the yard.  Then scenes of planets, nature, sunflowers, computer-generated dinosaurs, then scenes of the grown Sean Penn in his business suit on a beach, walking like a zombie and seeing his young mother also walking.  Oh, he also walks in his suit in a desert.

From the few disjointed, slapped-together scenes in which there is any dialogue, the story is that Brad Pitt is a mean, overbearing, abusive, religious Christian father (is there any other kind of religious Christian father in Hollywood’s eyes)?  His  young kids hate him and seek refuge with their naive, soft mother.  The father is a repeated failure who loses his job and patents he invented but can’t get approved in patent court.  Life is tough.  One of their sons dies–presumably in Vietnam, but it doesn’t say–and one grows up to be a confused, messed up Sean Penn.  The end, plus a lot of nature films mixed in.

A five-year-old on speed could have made a better movie (with apologies to five-year-olds and speed addicts).  “Tree of Life?”  More like, waste of life.


Watch the trailer

*  “Midnight in Paris“:  This is a Woody Allen movie.  And, if he’d stayed away from the several lines of dialogue, gratuitously  knocking conservatives, Republicans, and Tea Partiers, I would have no reservations about it.  But he put those in for a reason.  They were unnecessary and added nothing to the movie, other than to please the many liberals who flock to fund Woody Allen’s investment and pension fund by seeing his movies.  Still, I’d be lying if I didn’t admit that part of this movie are very, very funny and entertaining . . . like when pretentious, left-wing, artsy-fartsy, intellectuals are mocked–though without identifying their ideology or political party.

Owen Wilson plays a Hollywood screenwriter who is on vacation in Paris with his materialistic wife, Rachel McAdams.  They are tagging along with her gauche, materialistic parents who chose to take the vacation.    Wilson is working on a book about a man who works in a nostalgia shop (think “Brady Bunch” lunchboxes), but he won’t show it to anyone.  He longs for a life of art and writing, away from materialistic Hollywood.  His wife doesn’t.  They run into her married former college friend.  He’s the pretentious artsy lefty.  One night, at midnight, Wilson is sitting on a Paris street, when suddenly he is invited into an old fashioned car and transported to a bar in the early part of the 20th Century.  He meets all the famous authors and artists of the time:  F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway, Salvador Dali, etc.

The next day, back in contemporary times and the real world, Wilson realizes that he longs for another time, that he wished he lived in that era.  But when he goes back, a woman with whom he’s fallen in love says that she longed to live in an earlier era.  The issue is raised, regarding whether people who collect nostalgia or long to live in another time feel this way because they refuse to face their problems of the present time.

While Wilson is away every night back in the 1920s and ’30s, getting advice on his book, and dreaming of bedding the woman he’s fallen for there, his wife and her parents are getting suspicious that he’s cheating on her.

There was a lot of buzz about Carla Bruni, wife of French President Nicolas Sarkozy, having a role in this movie. But her role, as a tour guide, is paltry, and she still can’t act. Big whoop. Don’t believe the hype.

Can’t give away the whole movie because, without the pointed, brief, anti-conservative attacks, it was actually entertaining and elicits a few good laughs.  It’s typical of the better Woody Allen stuff, but not his best.


Watch the trailer . . .

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26 Responses

Hollywood won’t make movie showing Islam as the uber-villain.

Too many heads would roll. It all comes down to fear – and also a preference for the safe and the conventional.

NormanF on June 10, 2011 at 6:23 pm

The trailer for TREE OF LIFE seems like some sort of sequel to THE FOUNTAIN. Pretentious nature/the cosmos meets the human condition (though I founding THE FOUNTAIN intriguing on some level).

Mallick is a craftsman when it comes cinematography and when it comes to entertainment, he’s an utter bore. I think most folks realized that after The Thin Red Line, and if they didn’t after THE NEW WORLD…they must be “fans”.

Snoozefest on June 10, 2011 at 8:21 pm

Thank you, Debbie, for your excellent reviews. Like you, I enjoyed Midnight in Paris. I’m a fan of Woody Allen’s early films, but I admit that of his last fifteen movies, I’ve only liked one (Anything Else). This latest film was genuinely funny-–most notably, as you mentioned, the portrait of the pedantic Sorbonne professor. It also used surreal fantasy in an intellectually stimulating way (reminding me of his Purple Heart of Cairo). The jabs at military hawks (Iraq intervention was equivalent to “going down the rabbit hole”) and the Tea Partiers (“cryptic-fascist-airhead-zombies”) were absurd because they were so disconnected and blatant.

I also agree with your take of Super 8. A combination of fine acting by the children along with Spielberg’s customarily sophisticated production values made the first half of the film entertaining. By the second half it became evident that an outward appearance of innocent wholesomeness from the seventies was being used to package a lot of anti-conservative, anti-military sentiment. Marxist Rob Reiner used this same trick with his most recent movie Flipped, clothing a partisanly anti-conservative story in gooey, outwardly innocent fifties nostalgia. Also, in regard to your comment about the military and terrorists, the monster in Super 8, who was bullied until he became mean, could very well represent Islamic terrorists the way liberals view them. To a liberal, terrorists are like misunderstood children who are only wayward because they’ve been mistreated. If they are given love and compassion, they will surely come around. I noticed, BTW, the first shot of the film showed that the factory was “proudly owned by the employees”—a Marxist goal, of course. Details like this don’t just appear by accident.

I’m a fan of Terrence Mallick (who directed Tree of Life)
despite the fact that he’s admittedly slow, pretentious and liberal. Mallick has lots of WTF shots of animals and plants in The Thin Red Line and The New World also. It’s part of
his “auteur” style. I like your thumbnail analysis, Snoozefest, including your connection to The Fountain. Remember that liberals believe we will all be happy if we go back to a state of nature and then recognize that we’re simply a small part of the larger organic web–thus the shots of nature. That’s sort of what you said, but I wanted to say it, too.

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer, by the way, was very cute, similar in tone and charm to the appealing Romona and Beezus. It would have been even better, though, if only they hadn’t mentioned the rain forests in Borneo that needed saving from loggers. Guess they couldn’t help it or something.

Burke on June 10, 2011 at 9:34 pm

Ha, love the new rating system you have for Tree of Life, Debbie.

Also, “Oh, and it’s anti-Christian.” Well, then, how did it do so well at Cannes???

J. Lapin on June 10, 2011 at 10:09 pm

Why you be hatin’ on Glynn Turman? He is an excellent actor who often (though regrettably not always) plays strong, dignified roles, and well, let’s face it … the guy needed the work. As J.J. Abrams is obviously a 70s guy, maybe he cast Turman solely because he loved him in “Cooley High.” (You saw “Cooley High” didn’t you? Ah, life before rap music … good times, good times …)

Otherwise, yeah, I agree with you about “America is the root of all evil” propaganda. In some media mag, Abrams was directly asked about this, and he attempted to downplay the military bashing, claiming “he was just being faithful to the genre.” That’s what I can’t stand the most … if you are going to be a liberal America basher, why not just come out and admit that you are being a liberal America basher? Oh, that’s right, because it would depress the gate. So, he wants to promote his views, but not take a financial hit for them. So, he is out for the cash just like any other conservative capitalist pig. What a hypocritical sell-out. Reminds me of how the Dixie Chicks scrambled to make amends, but only after their record sales tanked.

G: I agree with you that Glynn Turman is an excellent actor. He was in the movie only very briefly, and, to me, that made it even more clear that he was cast because of race (but also b/c he’s a good actor–everyone’s acting in the movie was very good). I’d like to see more of him. This was a tiny bit part. He is only in three scenes and has about three lines in each one. I did not see “Cooley High,” but I will based on your recommendation. DS

Gerald on June 10, 2011 at 10:32 pm

Dont forget Debbie, that the military / government is often played as the bad guy in alien movies, remember Close Encounters and E.T.? I wouldnt take offense to what JJ Abrams does with Super 8, he is just adhering to tradition.

Besides, most of mainstream America today still loves the military, unlike back in the mid 70s.

Just movies on June 10, 2011 at 10:40 pm

I love the Lady Gagas! I have never seen an uglier woman in my life and she IS pretentious. The Ruth Buzzi look-a-like thinks she is so original but she’s a plagerist and bore. Transexuals are more beautiful that she is.

Woody Allen…such an utter scumscubber in real life but there is something about his movies that I love. If I were an actor, I’d never work for the mieskite but his movies (minus the hatred of Conservatives and anti-American snark) are wonderful.

“Interiors” is my favourite as are “Crimes and Misdemeanors” and “Manhattan Murder Mystery”.

I feel the need to say…”This weekend….TORRENT”! In honour of Rev Jacques! (Don’t ya just love when he says that?!)

Last weekend as I was able to see “Dangerous Liasions” again. Man, I love that movie! It knocks my socks of everytime I see it. Incredible!

Skunky on June 10, 2011 at 11:39 pm

I entirely agree. The US military as the evil foil is bizarrely overplayed. Spielberg has played this card for 2 decades now. It is time to give it up.

pat on June 11, 2011 at 1:29 am

    Americans – apart from radical haters of the country, have always respected the military.

    To a considerable extent, the anti-America hatred unleashed by the Vietnam War is still with us. And those who haven’t forgiven us for fighting in that conflict haven’t forgiven us for fighting the one with Islam.

    In neither case was it America’s fault – being on the right side.

    NormanF on June 12, 2011 at 4:46 am

LOL! Great rating for Tree of life.

Joe G on June 11, 2011 at 1:37 am

“You will enjoy it, but for the silly ending, and it’s fine to take your kids to it, provided you promise to wash their mouths with soap if they copy the four-letter words in the dialogue.”

BWAH – my Mom used to wash my mouth out with soap! Today she would be jailed for it.

Road Warrior on June 11, 2011 at 6:46 am

I enjoyed “Midnight in Paris.” It’s clearly a Woody Allen movie, Owen Wilson handling the Woody Allen part. Nothing earthshattering or new, but a funny, gentle movie. I said to my wife that it’s like a Tom Petty album: it sounds just like the last Tom Petty album . . . but that’s not a bad thing. Although an earlier commenter was correct that a couple of conservative bashing lines seemed out of place, I think you were too harsh in criticizing Allen for slamming conservatives. He really doesn’t. There was nothing wrong with the fiancee’s father’s character; he was a successful, pragmatic businessman, who didn’t like doing business with the French (who would?) and who gives Owen Wilson this wonderful “What planet are you from” stare when Wilson gives this long, dopey, liberal cliched speech. And whoever was Zelda Fitzgerald is a great, young actress.

gmartinz on June 11, 2011 at 1:28 pm

Debbie in “Judy Moody” the super friendly suburban grade school teacher is a Black man, too (Steve Urkel). That was absurd PC casting but at least they balanced it with Heather Graham as the half-dressed rocking aunt.

A1 on June 11, 2011 at 4:57 pm

Out of curiosity Debbie, why is it you tend to miss screenings of kid/family movies? Not that you consistently don’t screen them (TS3, KFP2, The Illusionist), but it seems that when you’re forced to miss a movie, it’s usually the family fare (Judy Moody, How To Train Your Dragon, Gnomeo) that falls by the wayside. Is so you can focus on more questionable movies and steer people from crap like Tree of Life, or just a weird coincidence?

R: Most of the kids’ movies have Saturday morning screenings. I cannot attend those because it would violate the Jewish Sabbath. And the ones that aren’t, I try to see, but sometimes I get tired of seeing so many movies in a week (or am too busy) and skip some kids’ ones. Mostly, though, it’s b/c they are on Saturday. I don’t see any of those. DS

Robert on June 11, 2011 at 4:59 pm

    Well, Debbie, that makes sense.

    “Judy Moody” was fine for children under 9. Unlike, say, SpongeBob Squarepants, it had nothing useful to keep adult minds occupied. Quite frankly, its manic intensity and mediocre acting (especially Heather Graham’s performance, which was phoned in from Borneo) was miserable in the extreme.

    It should be pointed out that I have every episode of MST3K available from Rhino, so I’m a FAN of bad movies. But there’s bad and then there’s a waste of budget and good production values. “Judy Moody” falls in the second category.

    Jaleel White was actually one of the few saving graces of this film. I’d like to see him in more stuff.

    Occam's Tool on June 13, 2011 at 3:12 pm

One can wonder if the day will ever come when reasonable, nearly non-political people will say; “…another liberal professor is the villain movie?!”

One can only wonder if it will ever happen.

P. Aaron on June 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm

    P., I hope we see lots of those, too.

    In fact, the only example of that I have ever seen was in Todd Solontz (sp?) “Storytelling”…in one of the vignettes.

    I’m a big fan of Todd’s films. He always shines the light on the worst part of people.

    Skunky on June 12, 2011 at 11:22 am

    One can wonder if the day will ever come when reasonable, nearly non-political people will say; “…another liberal professor is the villain movie?!”

    One can only wonder if it will ever happen.

    P. Aaron on June 11, 2011 at 11:28 pm


    Dear Mr. Aaron: I don’t know how common this is in film; I haven’t seen that many contemporary films, but in popular fiction, REALTORS are invariably EVIL!!!!

    Miranda Rose Smith on June 12, 2011 at 12:03 pm

For the first 2 films, DS critiqued them in such a way that an old song kept popping up in my noggin…

“It is the dawning of the Age of Aquarius…”

As for the Woody Allen flick – you’ve seen one…

I’ll stick with my whole whack of DVDs that I got from the Blockbuster Canada fire sale. (It’s still going on, eh?)

And, uh… TORRENT.

The Reverend Jacques on June 12, 2011 at 1:22 am

This is a Woody Allen movie. And, if he’d stayed away from the several lines of dialogue, gratuitously knocking conservatives, Republicans, and Tea Partiers, I would have no reservations about it.

Dear Debbie: I thought YOU hated the Tea Party Movement.

Miranda Rose Smith on June 12, 2011 at 11:57 am

    There are several good points about them. Conservatives can be pretentious, too.

    By the way, its not credited but the beautiful background scene in the “Midnight in Paris” poster is Vincent Van Gogh’s “Starry Night.”

    Always a wonderful and oft-imitated painting.

    NormanF on June 12, 2011 at 6:28 pm

I think most sci-fi movies regarding aliens and conspiracies cast governments and militaries as bad guys covering something up. And remember, all throughout Americas history, our military and govt has butchered thousands of Indians, infected minorities with diseases, and rounded up American citizens in camps during the 40s. Government is not our friend!

Viddy well! on June 12, 2011 at 10:14 pm


I am not going to put Jaleel White on the same level as Glynn Turman, but he is another guy who obviously needs the work, so it is hard to be mad at his getting the part. And “Steve Urkel”, primarily known from a long-running family sitcom as “a nice suburban elementary school teacher” is much less off-putting than Heather Graham (from “Boogie Nights”, “Austin Powers”, “The Hangover”, “Boogie Nights”, “Bowfinger”, “From Hell” and a bunch of other randy career choices) being cast in a family movie.

Gerald on June 13, 2011 at 9:52 am

There were no swearing in kids movies in the 80s? Where the hell did you get that info from? Never seen the Goonies, Monster Squad or Short Circuit?

Cap'n America on June 13, 2011 at 3:53 pm

I find this reviewer’s myopia and (frankly) idiocy absolutely stunning. She dismisses the entire film likely due to her finding that it is ‘anti-Christian’; on the contrary, as idiosyncratic as Mr. Malick’s beliefs and devices may appear and/or be, it is very much a Christian-compatible, if not outright Christian, film.

You were bored. That’s because your IQ is a single digit. What a laughable review.

Max Schwartz on June 30, 2011 at 10:38 pm

Just stumbled on here for film review …anywho, your photo looks an ad for an escort service. Conservative squawkers always have that porn look – one reason I love watching Fox.

JayB on July 16, 2011 at 6:26 pm

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