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Capsule reviews: `Super 8,' `The Trip'

The Associated Press, Wednesday, June 8, 2011, 9:00am (PDT)

"Judy Moody and the NOT Bummer Summer" — Here's the kindest thing we can say: The kids sure do work awfully hard. They mug and they mope. They run around and jump up and down. They throw themselves headlong into pratfalls and vomit gags with equal elan. If only the material were worthy of such dedication. Instead, director John Schultz's adaptation of the popular children's book series by Megan McDonald is a shrill, shallow cacophony of individual antic moments without much narrative momentum. Little kids — we're talking really little kids — might find it a pleasant diversion, with all that perky noise and incessant motion. For everyone else, it'll be death. Australian newcomer Jordana Beatty stars as the title character, a young girl in idyllic suburbia who's psyched to share the summer with her closest friends. But then, one by one, they get dragged away to more exotic destinations. So she's left with her younger brother, Stink (Parris Mosteller), and their Aunt Opal (Heather Graham), whom they've never met. But hey, what do you know? Aunt Opal is one of those wacky aunts, the kind who like to do art projects in the middle of the living room and make elaborate feasts that destroy the kitchen. The kind you only see in movies. PG for some mild rude humor and language. 91 minutes. One star out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"Super 8" — This is the rarest of things this time of year: a summer blockbuster that's completely earnest and irony-free, not filled with cheeky pop-culture references or cheesy product placement. The effects, while spectacular, also happen to be germane to the plot, and they have an intimate, tactile quality, rather than seeming too glossy or removed from reality. So all you're left with is ... story. And strong performances. And well-developed characters. And a believable emotional arc. And genuine thrills. And that's apropos, given that it's a love letter to the man who skillfully wove together all those elements in inventing the modern blockbuster. J.J. Abrams has crafted a loving, meticulously detailed homage to Steven Spielberg, who's one of the film's producers — specifically, the director's work from the late 1970s and early `80s — but it never feels like a rip-off, and it certainly never lapses into parody. As writer and director, Abrams effectively conveys a mood — a mixture of innocence, fear and ultimately hope — that Spielberg managed to create again and again. He also captures a familiar sense of childhood loneliness — a need to escape and belong — and the adventures that can spring from that yearning. And the kids at the center of this small-town, sci-fi thriller (Joel Courtney, Riley Griffiths and Elle Fanning), many of whom had never appeared in a feature film before, are total naturals and bounce off each other with effortless, goofy humor. PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action and violence, language and some drug use. 112 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— Christy Lemire, AP Movie Critic

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"The Trip" — Director Michael Winterbottom's travel chronicle mostly delights as the filmmaker follows Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon on a restaurant-review trek. It's a continuation of the riffing Coogan and Brydon did on their real personas in Winterbottom's "Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story" as the two friends prattle, trade insults, do hilarious impersonations and generally try to one-up each other. The result is occasionally repetitive and borders on tiresome now and then. Yet Coogan and Brydon have such rapport that it's easy to digest their brand of affectionate chatter laced with mildly mean-spirited ribbing. Playing a loose version of himself, Coogan takes an assignment to review restaurants in a resort area of rural northwest England, bringing along pal Brydon. The meals themselves, and particularly Coogan and Brydon's reactions to the delicacies they consume, drag on a bit. The film often is at its best when the two are on the move, passing the driving time with hysterically funny re-imaginings of Hollywood costume-drama dialogue or speculating about the Brits who came before them while visiting historical landmarks. Winterbottom punctuates their trip with gorgeous shots of the rolling countryside. Not rated but contains adult themes and some sexual content. 111 minutes. Three stars out of four.

— David Germain, AP Movie Writer

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