Friday, January 6, 2012

Double Feature Review: Rififi and Super 8


Synopsis: A thief, recently released from prison, joins a pair of comrades in an attempt to pull one last heist.

The bad news first: In my personal experience, there's an odd flaw that happens in just about every heist movie. It's always interesting to see the way people put the scheme together, but once they actually start carrying out the heist the pace somehow slows down. It's especially the case in Rififi, where the theft is carried out in near-total silence with some aspects occurring in real time. It doesn't really detract from the story, and it isn't a bad scene (it's what many reviews praise the most about the film). But the meatiest parts of the movie are certainly the sections on either end of the heist sequence.

The other is more of a nitpick. Aside from providing one of the characters with a lounge singer girlfriend, the introduction of the "Rififi" song does little more than offer a musical interlude to the first act.

The good stuff: This isn't too well-known a movie. If it were, it would probably be more widely regarded as a classic piece of French cinema. As it stands, it's already regarded as a classic of the heist genre, with such an effective heist plan that the movie was initially banned in some countries since it was such an effective primer for how to pull off a robbery.

The real strength of the movie comes from the characters. A great deal of information comes from a few decisive pieces of dialogue or the way a shot is framed, and throughout the movie some more layers are added to each person. It makes the film all the more powerful on an emotional level in the second half, when everyone has to handle the aftermath of the heist.

It might be better to pop this in without reading the description on the Netflix envelope, at least if the one on the envelope I received is any indication. It essentially gave away the entire story up until the last 10 minutes or so. It's a testament to the story that it's still fascinating even when you watch it like this. I'll just say that it's a masterfully done plot where the heist is a focal point but not the conclusion of the film as is so often the case.

Verdict: If you're a fan of heist movies and haven't seen this, it's a can't miss. Even if you aren't, this should be a story that will fascinate you.

Super 8

A group of teenage filmmakers witnesses a military train wreck and strange things soon start happening in their town.

The bad news first: There's always a bit of a risk putting a bunch of young actors together, and some are more capable than others. Even for a sci-fi movie, there are places where a suspension of disbelief is required. The spectacular train wreck in the beginning breaks pretty much every rule of physics, and the driver of the truck that collides head-on with it somehow survives.

Another minor gripe is that there are a few parts of the story that seem kind of vestigial, such as the introduction of a love triangle that goes absolutely nowhere. There are also times when the exposition can be a little clunky, including a film reel that unravels much of the mystery in one go. And without spoiling too much, the mysterious creature in this seemed to be a bit too much of a throwback to Cloverfield. They probably could have come up with more of an original design.

The good stuff: This was promoted and largely reviewed as a bit of a throwback to the classic alien movies of the 80s, a la E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. At its best, Super 8 succeeds in doing this. Some reviews I've seen complain that the movie tries to emulate Steven Spielberg to such an extent that it loses its originality. This might be true at certain points, but it also has much darker elements than the Spielberg classics. Overall, parceling out the story is very good. In both the human stories and sci-fi element, most things are revealed at a pretty good pace, keeping you wondering about things that are introduced from the beginning.

Even if the characters are sometimes painted with a pretty broad brush, they're still pretty memorable. The narrative makes it clear that there aren't really any heroes or villains, just people doing what they think is right or needed. It certainly doesn't play out like the more cuddly alien dramas of yesteryear, but that lends the story some more realism.

Verdict: If you only have time to choose between this or a Spielberg classic, go with Spielberg. Otherwise, this is a fun sci-fi flick to check out.

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