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Stars in their eyes

When the sky for the past couple of months has largely been the colour of gun-metal, it's common for older folk to plague the young 'uns with accounts of how the summers were all gloriously sunny years ago. Tales of the legendary scorcher of '76 and even the more recent sizzlers of '95 and '96 are guaranteed to irritate anyone under the age of 20 and, in many ways, the same principle applies to summer blockbusters.

With brain-dead franchises, sequels and aborted attempts to kickstart new franchises dominating these past five years at least, it's all too easy to pine for the days when film-makers weren't afraid to make standalone movies which adults, teens and children could enjoy.

Well, instead of talking nostalgically about such movies, why not take the opportunity to go and see one? Because that's exactly what Super 8 is.

With Mission: Impossible III and, particularly, his reboot of Star Trek, JJ Abrams showed that he could handle both pyrotechnics and the personal dynamics between characters and he proves himself yet again here with a delightful and nostalgic reminder that blockbusters weren't always about bluster and bombast.


In a nutshell, Super 8 is effectively a tribute to certain Steven Spielberg movies, and if the great man himself endorses the project by coming on board as executive producer then that's certainly good enough for me. More specifically, the movie shares major DNA with ET with a good smattering of Close Encounters of the Third Kind and a smidgen of The Goonies (based on a Spielberg story) thrown in for good measure.

Set in a small town in Ohio in 1979 -- a perfect period for a Spielberg-inspired adventure -- Super 8 follows a group of young teenagers as they set out to make a homemade zombie film using a Super 8 camera of the title.

We have the model-maker/animator Joe (Joel Courtney), who's recently lost his mother to an industrial accident and whose father Jack (Kyle Chandler) is the town sheriff. Movie-obsessed Charles (Riley Griffiths) is the director of the project while their lead actress Alice (Elle Fanning) has troubles of her own.

Filming a scene one night the group witness a train crash (a spectacular sequence, it has to be said), capture it on film and appear to see something not of this earth escape from the wreckage. They soon realise that something is not quite right, as all the town's dogs mysteriously disappear and the military arrives.

It's a classic set-up, giving us vulnerable but engaging heroes to root for and a villain to draw the boos and hisses in the shape of Noah Emmerich as the sinister Colonel Nelec.

Just as his idol did in Jaws, Abrams keeps his alien out of sight for most of the movie, letting the audience use their imagination and building up the tension in a masterful manner.

All in all, pretty super stuff. HHHHI

sarah's key Drama. Starring Kristen Scott-Thomas, Melusine Mayance. Directed by Gilles Paquet-Brenner. Cert 15A

The compliance of the French authorities with the Nazis in rounding up thousands of its Jewish citizens for deportation to the death camps is a disgrace which still rankles in the French psyche and forms the basis for Gilles Paquet-Brenner's adaptation of Tatiana de Rosnay's best-selling novel.

Opening in July 1942 with the infamous round-up of Paris's Jews, we're witness to a terrible ordeal as the Starzynski family are carted off to the hellish conditions of the Velodrome d'Hiver.

But they are without their toddler Michel, who's been hidden in a closet in their apartment by his older sister Sarah (Melusine Mayance).


The timeline shifts from the terrifyingly intense wartime scenes to the recent past, as American journalist Julia (Kristen Scott-Thomas) -- now resident in Paris -- investigates the horrors of the Velodrome and discovers an uncomfortable connection to her husband's family, prompting a search into what became of the Starzynskis.

The two-tier approach to telling the story doesn't quite balance out as the wartime scenes are harrowing enough by themselves and their impact feels diluted by the relatively mundane concerns of Julia and her family.

An unfortunate lurch into 'Weepie of the Week' territory in the final third all but scuppers the film, but the memory of those scenes set during the round-up linger long afterwards. HHHII

knuckle Documentary. Directed by Ian Palmer. Cert 15A

Filmed over 12 years, Ian Palmer's documentary on the savage bare-knuckle fights which are a regular feature of Traveller 'culture' raises several troubling questions. Chief among these is the nagging notion that Palmer is indulging in mere voyeurism.

At its core, though, Knuckle is boring: a relentless parade of shakily-filmed fist-fights interspersed with home videos of rival clans trash-talking at each other. Definitely one to duck. HHIII

also released this week Depending on your feelings towards Jim Carrey, Mr Popper's Penguins could be a new children's classic or an infuriatingly cloying tale of a businessman who discovers there's more to life than work when he inherits six troublesome penguins.