Who's In It: Joel Courtney, Elle Fanning, Ryan Lee, Zach Mills, Riley Griffiths, Gabriel Basso, Kyle Chandler, Ron Eldard
The Basics: In small-town Ohio, 1979, six kids witness a horrific train accident while shooting a homemade zombie movie. Turns out the train is military and carrying something classified, angry and determined to escape. As the town turns upside-down and the kids confront the scary secret, they--nope, that's all you get. The trailers have done an admirable job of keeping this movie's mysteries to itself instead of bonking you over the head with them just to lure you into the theater. I'm not going to wreck it. It's the most satisfying summer movie so far this year. But go see it now before someone else ruins it for you.
What's The Deal: This is not a Steven Spielberg film but you'd be forgiven for thinking you'd been actually transported back to 1979 when he was at the height of his coolness powers. So yeah, complain about that if you want, that writer-director J.J. Abrams is simply ripping off the master of kids-plus-aliens-plus-adventure-plus-awe. Or you could think of it in musical terms. Great new pop songs are never truly "original." They tie together strands of existing material, figure out a way to recycle a classic sound, beloved hook or chord progression, remix it into a new shape and thrill you all over again. And that's this movie. Unlike other old ideas in new packages, it flying-bikes its way over the stunted-growth trap that too often leaves you stuck in the guilty zone of the "guilty pleasure" summer movie. Instead it takes you on a trip to childhood excitement and, when it's time to leave, is mature enough to know it.
Give The Casting Director A Raise: It stars Elle Fanning and a bunch of other child actors you've never heard of, and that's great. They smartly decided to mostly go with newcomers and/or under-the-radar kids and wound up creating an ensemble of teenage gawkiness every bit as natural and unforced as Henry Thomas and his E.T. pals or, more recently, the high schoolers of Freaks and Geeks. The work together like a gang of neighborhood kids who've actually known each other all their lives instead of a competing squad of tween narcissists.
Period Detail Nerds Can Exhale: Nearly everything on screen is exactly as it was in 1979 (save for some forgivable gun-jumping about Rubik's Cube and the Walkman, neither of which came along in the U.S. until 1980) and, along with the smart direction and other impeccable production details, leaves you feeling like you're in the hands of people you can really trust.
Don't Jump Up And Leave When The Credits Start To Crawl: There's more to see at the end. So sit still.