Jaleel White plays a teacher in 'Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer'

*Although not touted as one of the summer’s big blockbusters, “Super 8,” directed by J.J. Abrams and produced by Steven Spielberg, has all the bells and whistles-and then some.

It has some mind-blowing special effects, an endearing story of puppy love and likeable characters, which is very hard to find in many films these days. It also has Kyle Chandler.

Most folks know Chandler from “Friday Night Lights” but I remember him from the remarkable TV series, “Early Edition.” In that, his best friend was a black blind woman, Shanesia Davis-Williams. When Chandler’s character on the show thought he was going to die, he left Williams his business.

Not that I have to be sold, but Chandler is very excited about “Super 8” and considered it a “no-brainer” when offered the part.

“I’m very fortunate to be a part of this group of folks,” he says. “The movie has a little bit of everything. It’s visually stunning. It’s got hearts, it’s got soul, it’s got these transitioning characters, there’s mystery, there’s scary parts, there’s adventure and just a non-stop train ride that keeps moving faster and faster.”

Last but not least, it has a black key player, although he has little screen time. Glynn Turman plays Dr. Woodward, a teacher and scientist who sets his students on a fact-finding, and eventually, rescue mission.

Pulling out all the stops, Paramount Pictures and Twitter will have a June 9th nationwide sneak preview showing of “Super 8” for 1-day only. To promote the sneak preview, the companies have designated the hashtag #Super8Secret which allows Twitter’s global user base a direct link to buy tickets to advanced previews. At select participating theaters, Super 8 Sneak Preview moviegoers will be treated to a free popcorn (with a concession purchase) at each sneak preview show.

One of the most memorable characters on TV is Steve Urkel (Jaleel White), the iconic geek on ABC’s long running sitcom, “Family Matters.” A bonanza week for blacks in film, White is also a teacher on the big screen. This is not any ordinary teacher, however. The teacher in “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” plays the banjo.

“The toughest thing was playing the banjo,” White recalls. “That’s me, that’s not some other black guy in there. That’s me playing the banjo and I had never played the banjo before. It’s really hard…Steve Martin is like one of my heroes now. I had no idea I would be following in his footstep.”

Thrilled to be a part of the “Judy Moody,” project, White extols the movie’s merits.

“Kids acting like kids is something we don’t quite see any more. I have to give Smokewood Entertainment a lot of credit. I hear major complaints out there that studios really don’t care right now because they’re still making money with the lack of originality. Everything feels like a sequel, a prequel, a comic book or whatever. And you have to support companies like Smokewood that go and make something that feels like it has a pulse, which probably what I’m most proud of with this film. There’s no super, uber special effects and John (Schultz) has clearly done more of those in his past. However, this was a simple, straight forward story about the last day of school and what do we do thereafter and that’s surprisingly still relatable, you know.”

The Film Strip asked the author of the Judy Moody books Megan McDonald and the film’s star, Jordana Beatty (Judy Moody), what were some of the challenges they faced filming.

“Having to cut my hair and riding the roller coaster,” Beatty giggled. “Jordana was definitely afraid of it and they were thinking about putting a stunt double in it, but the stunt double cried and went home,” McDonald laughed. Also the film’s screenwriter, McDonald says the whole ride has been amazing. “I think one of the most appealing things about Judy Moody is that it really is the kids who love the books. When I wrote the first book, I didn’t even imagine it would be a series. So that very first book was kind of this grassroots movement where one child would tell another kind of thing. Pretty soon five or six kids in a class were all reading the books.

“In those early years I had so many teachers come up to me and say, ‘We never heard of Judy Moody and then one day we looked up and our whole class was reading these books and the kids were talking about it and saying, Oh Mrs. so and so, you have to read this book.’ So that to me was probably the highest compliment ever that the kids themselves found their way to the books. So when it came to the film, I felt like probably more important than any thing to me was making a film that is really for the kids and not trying to put in the kind of humor that appeal to adults that kids don’t even get. I think grown-ups are still gonna love it and its plenty for them, but I really wanted it to feel like kids could connect with Judy and see themselves in her and her friends.”

Marie Moore reports on film and TV from her New York City base. Contact her at [email protected].