Super 8

From the 90-degree temperatures that have made Columbus a sweltering place in the last week or so, I think it is safe to say that it is summer.  So, Kish and I decided we should dip our toes in the summer movie season, and tonight we went to Super 8.  It was a wise decision.

Super 8 is a great summer movie.  It draws deeply on the strong Hollywood tradition of youngster “coming of age” movies.  Think of E.T., and Stand By Me, and you will get a sense of the arc of the storyline.  The movie is set in 1979 — and in Ohio! — where a gang of nerdy young boys who are filming a Super 8 movie about zombies end up enmeshed in a much bigger story than they expected.  The hero, who is dealing with tragedy in his own life, grows up quickly as he is faced with great challenges, and along the way the dialogue between the kids crackles, there are a number of humorous moments, and terrific recreations of the 1970s clothing styles, hairstyles, and lifestyles bring back lots of memories.  Couple that with some very moving set pieces — a scene where the young male and female leads inadvertently watch some home movies left Kish in tears — as well as action, sci-fi, an alien, a military cover-up, and just the right amount of computer-generated special effects, and you’ve got all of the elements that anyone could want in a summer blockbuster.

Director J.J. Abrams seems to have his hand on the pulse on America in the same way that Steven Spielberg did during his heyday.  Abrams gets wonderful performances from his two leads — Joel Courtney as the growing-up-before-our-eyes Joe Lamb, and Elle Fanning in a stunning tour de force as Alice Dainard — but the rest of the young cast members are quite good, too.  (I particularly liked Ryan Lee as firecracker-obsessed Cary, a pitch-perfect ’70s kid.)  They also are tremendously believable as the wisecracking young gang that is struggling to grow up while also still reveling in simple childlike pursuits, like lighting firecrackers, building models, and trying to make Super 8 movies. The adult actors are all good, but the kids really steal the show.

If you go to this movie — and I highly recommend you do — be sure you stay for the screening of the finished Super 8 movies that runs during the credits.  It is a classic in its own right.

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Explaining The Housing Market Doldrums

Yesterday I heard a segment of NPR’s Talk of the Nation that discussed the housing market in America.  The host and his guests discussed how housing prices may have bottomed out, how buying a home is cheaper than renting in some areas, how buying a home and making those monthly mortgage payments is a good step toward financial discipline and accumulation of personal wealth, and other factors that weigh in favor of buying a house.  They seemed mystified about why American consumers aren’t flooding into realtor offices to snap up homes at bargain basement prices.

I don’t think there should be much mystery about why the housing market is in the doldrums, however.  In my view, it is almost completely attributable to a lack of confidence and optimism about the future.  Many people in America have been deeply rattled by the economic turmoil of the past few years.  They’ve seen friends thrown out of work and bright young college graduates unable to find a job.  They’ve seen the value of their 401(k) portfolio on a roller-coaster ride and, if they are an existing homeowner, they’ve seen the value of their home fall with the bursting of the housing bubble.  What’s more, over the past few years they’ve heard assurances from economists and politicians about an economic recovery and confident predictions of dropping unemployment rates and robust economic growth, and those bullish assurances and predictions have consistently proven to be unfounded.

The old saying “once bitten, twice shy” applies here.  Americans don’t want to bet right now on economic growth; they understand that we teetering on the brink of dropping into another recessionary period.  They just want to hang on to their jobs, hunker down, and wait until things improve in the real world and not just in some academic’s econometric models.  Signing your name on a 30-year mortgage is a really big step.  Why would you want to do it if you don’t have any confidence that you will keep your job and that better economic days lie ahead?