Spielberg Protege Makes Zombie Flick; Judy’s Cool Summer: Film

Kyle Chandler and Noah Emmerich in "Super 8," written and directed by J.J. Abrams. Photographer: Francois Duhamel/Paramount Pictures via Bloomberg

As a 15-year-old filmmaking prodigy, J.J. Abrams helped edit 8mm home movies that Steven Spielberg shot as a kid. Now they’re reuniting for -- surprise -- a film about a group of kids making a home movie.

“Super 8” is written and directed by Abrams and co-produced by Spielberg, whose influence on his protege is evident in almost every frame.

They share a fondness for small-town settings, aliens, cute children, starry skies, eerie lighting and dazzling special effects, all of which are on display in the film.

Abrams, co-creator of TV’s “Lost” and director of “Mission Impossible III” and “Star Trek,” has obviously learned a lot from Spielberg. Like most students, though, he’s not as skilled as the master.

“Super 8,” named for the kind of film the youngsters use, is clever and eye-catching. It’s also imitative and repetitive. It’s a good popcorn movie, but hardly merits the huge buildup it’s been getting.

The story takes place in an Ohio steel town in 1979, where chubby budding director Charles (Riley Griffiths) enlists schoolmates Joe (Joel Courtney), Martin (Gabriel Basso), Cary (Ryan Lee), Preston (Zach Mills) and Alice (Elle Fanning) to make a zombie movie.

Train Wreck

While shooting a scene next to the railroad tracks, they witness a horrific train crash and find their science teacher, Dr. Woodward (Glynn Turman), bleeding profusely at the wheel of his pickup. He warns the kids that if they say anything about the accident, their lives will be in danger.

Joe’s widower dad, a local deputy sheriff played by Kyle Chandler, tries to investigate but is blocked by an Air Force colonel (Noah Emmerich) whose forces take over the town. Meanwhile, dogs start to disappear, power outages spread and there are reports of attacks that may be connected to mysterious white cubes found at the train accident site.

To say much more would spoil the suspense. However, I would advise you to stick around for the credits, which feature amusing highlights of the home movie.

As in most early Spielberg films, acting is secondary to action and atmosphere. But Courtney and Fanning, Dakota’s younger sister, stand out in the youth ensemble and Ron Eldard, who plays Fanning’s guilt-ridden single dad, is the most notable adult.

“Super 8,” from Paramount Pictures, is playing across the U.S. Rating: ***

‘Judy Moody’

“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” chronicles the adventures of a spirited third-grader whose pursuit of a “mega-cool” vacation includes trying to find Bigfoot, watching a horror movie and tightrope-walking across a creek.

It’s a cartoonish version of Megan McDonald’s best-selling book series that’s strictly for little kids who will be amused by Judy’s hyperbolic descriptions and slapstick exploits.

After one of her best friends leaves for circus camp and another heads to Borneo for the summer, Judy’s parents go to California and leave her home with her annoying little brother Stink (Parris Mosteller) and their screwball Aunt Opal (Heather Graham).

Judy (Jordana Beatty) sets up a competition with her friends to compile “thrill points” for exciting activities. That’s pretty much it for the plot. The rest of John Schultz’s movie is a series of escapades, some of which involve a roller-coaster, an ice-cream truck and an elephant head.

“Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer,” from Relativity Media, is playing across the U.S. Rating: *1/2

What the Stars Mean:

****          Excellent
***           Good
**            Average
*             Poor
(No stars)    Worthless

(Rick Warner is the movie critic for Muse, the arts and leisure section of Bloomberg News. Opinions expressed are his own.)

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