Tag Archives: Billy Dee Williams

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER

Bringing the decade to a close were three important films. Two being those made by cinema’s most influential and important auteurs, Quentin Tarantino and Martin Scorsese, who with their respective films said farewell to their audience, their brand, and to cinema. The third film is by JJ Abrams who effortlessly accomplished the impossible; putting a capstone on a nine picture, decade spanning series that has brought unifying joy to billions around the globe as well as much unnecessary rancor and hostility that nearly imploded the franchise. Star Wars, without a doubt, is the most important film series cinema ever has or will offer.

With the final film in the Skywalker saga, Abrams delivered both nuance and fan service. Catering to the loyal and supportive fanbase for their years of dedication. With THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, he came in hot and heavy with the new components of the franchise that built upon the fertile foundation that the maker George Lucas had birthed. The story of Rey and Ben Solo are just a small cog in the juggernaut machine that is Star Wars.

Abrams took on an impossible task. How could he finish a trilogy that he started? Carrie Fisher had passed, and for the first time, a Star Wars film was made that took gigantic risks that caused much ado about nothing, especially with all the smug snarkiness that transpired after THE LAST JEDI, a film that was a catalyst with those pretending it was either the best or worst Star Wars film. A tribalist mentality formed around it, either you’re for it or against it.

So Abrams brought back Palpatine who is diabolical as ever and that old smoothy Lando, added Richard E. Grant as the Grand Moff Tarkin stand-in we deserve (all three are marvelously perfect) and regrounded the picture and series as a film for the fans made by the fans. THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a thrilling spectacle that builds upon the absolute best parts of Rian Johnson’s previous installment, and walks back some of the weaker parts, creating an exhilarating experience that will be wholly embraced by those who love everything Star Wars, and irritate those who prefer the franchise in an ala carte manner.

Fact of the matter is, THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is the best of the sequels, merging together both Abrams and Johnson’s vision into a film that brings equal parts laughter and tears, as well as surprises that are so nostalgic, the surrealism will not wear off quickly.

Film Twitter and Rotten Tomatoes be damned; THE RISE OF SKYWALKER is a prime example of the stark contrast between film goers and pompous critics who are more concerned with how witty they come off than actually enjoying a movie. What JJ Abrams has accomplished is not just his finest output to date, but his most important.

Long live the Force.

Paul Hirsch is here, the Force is with him by Kent Hill

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It is impossible to convey to those who weren’t there when STAR WARS was new – what it used to be like. For the third time since my existence began, I find myself faced with the end of yet another trilogy – the end of the Skywalker saga . . . ?

So it was with incredible nerves thundering tremulous throughout my body, that I sat down to talk with the man, and I want you to really think about this, who cut the scene in which Luke and Ben Kenobi discover the message hidden in R2. He cut Luke’s run, part of the final assault on the Death Star. He is even the man who suggested to George Lucas that Vader’s lightsaber be red and Obi-Wan’s be blue. As a STAR WARS fan . . . think about that. Think about the contributions of Paul Hirsch on the images that permeated our dreams and in some cases . . . shaped our destinies.

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On the eve of the Rise of Skywalker, it was a trip indeed to speak to and the read of the cinematic legacy of Mr. Hirsch. With his book A LONG TIME AGO IN A CUTTING ROOM FAR, FAR AWAY, Paul takes you back in time to a place when editors held the iconic images that flash before us on the silver screen…between their fingers.

My beloved Empire Strikes Back. Yes Paul came back for the sequel, but this is not merely an ode to the realm of Jedi’s and Rebels – it is a look inside the mind of a skilled craftsman of his art, and the journey which saw him mingle among the mighty company of the heavyweights of that last glorious era of Hollywood . . . the 70’s.

In a time when the men we would come to define as masters began their adventures in the screen trade: George Lucas, Steven Spielberg, Brian De Palma (with whom Paul cut frequently), Francis Coppola – oh, what a time. And it is not only the holy trilogy that has passed beneath the keen eyes of Hirsch – the work of other magnificent filmmakers like John Hughes, Joel Schumacher, George Romero,Herbert Ross, and Charles Shyer have all benefited from Paul’s expert touch.

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It took George’s clout to get him into Kubrick’s editing room. James Cameron boasted to him (referring to Titanic) that he made more money than the ‘WARS’ and didn’t have to make a sequel. He cringed at the idea of editing the helicopter sequence in Apocalypse Now for six months when Francis suggested it . . . yes folks . . . the cinema that has moved us to tears and had us on our feet cheering, has been before the eyes of my guest. And may the force be with him . . . always.

Ladies and Gentleman, please seek out the book, but until you do join me and Academy Award Winner . . . Paul Hirsch.

Meet-and-Greez by Kent Hill

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Daniel Roebuck’s directorial offering Getting Grace made me cry like a baby. The end result however, is that I was able to chat with one of the nicest dudes in Hollywood.

Now he’s back . . . and he’s in Star Wars. Well, a Star Wars video game, which isn’t bad either considering how much the line between video games and movies are blurring – the gaming experience having been elevated to its current status which is, quite simply, a little like an interactive story. But unlike the experience you have sitting down and watching a film – here you, are a part of the story.

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From the soulless killer, Samson Toulette, in Tim Hunter’s acclaimed dissection of 1980’s teen anguish, RIVER’S EDGE, to his latest role as the irascible four armed pilot Greez Dritus in the highly anticipated video game release, STAR WARS: JEDI FALLEN ORDER (available on PS4, Xbox One, and Microsoft Windows).

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EA and Respawn Entertainment’s STAR WARS JEDI: FALLEN ORDER has already garnered a great deal of interest and the excitement is building for its November 15th, 2019 release. In an interview with Entertainment Weekly, game director Stig Asmussen offered his thoughts on Roebuck’s character Greez, “He’s a member of a new species we’ve created. I don’t want to give away too much of his backstory, but like anybody you’re going to find during these dark times, he’s got demons. But he’s kind of like this loudmouthed little guy, he talks real big, he tells tall tales and most of the time they’re not true.”

Roebuck spent a few months working alongside of Cameron Monaghan, playing Cal, the young padawan and Debra Wilson who plays Cere in the game. “We had a wonderful camaraderie, the three of us,” said Roebuck. “Plus, we were performance directed by Tom Keegan who is truly a master director and always brings great insight into the process.” Keegan and Roebuck had worked together before on DEAD RISING 3.

During the performance capture process, the actors donned form fitting body suits covered with reflective balls and performed the game’s cinematic scenes in front of dozens of cameras. They also wore head gear fitted with cameras so that the animators could utilize the footage to animate the character’s facial features by directly correlating them to the actor’s reference video.

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STAR WARS JEDI FALLEN ORDER is on track to become one of the most successful video game releases of 2019. The game is one of a triumvirate of entertainment options being released by Lucasfilm LTD this fall. Its release coinciding with the original program from Disney +, THE MANDOLORIAN and STAR WARS: THE RISE OF SKYWALKER, out this Christmas.

Tim Burton’s BATMAN

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Frank is joined with filmmaker and recurring Podcasting Them Softly co-host, Derek Wayne Johnson to discuss one of their favorite films, Tim Burton’s BATMAN. Derek also speaks on his current projects in post-production, STALLONE: FRANK THAT IS and his documentary on the original ROCKY.

Tim Burton’s Batman

Tim Burton’s Batman has to be of one of the most unique caped crusader films ever made. One villain, where in every other outing there’s a handful. A Prince soundtrack. The craziest gothic production design this side of Fritz Lang’s Metropolis. It’s one of my least favourite in the string of cinematic Batman films, probably falling somewhere under Nolan’s efforts and Burton’s superior sequel Returns, but that doesn’t mean much because on it’s own terms, it’s really something special. The aesthetic employed here is important not just in comic book films but in the realm of special effects in general. Burton carefully composes a world that reminisces on the grainy Hammer horror movies of the 50’s and infuses that with the stark trench coat noir from 30’s gangster flicks. He’s a director who has always understood that atmosphere is key above most other things in a production and it’s thick as a fog bank here. Then there’s the casting of Michael Keaton, a physically unassuming choice for Batman who seized the moody aspects of the character and took them to new introspective heights, barely uttering three words as both Bruce and Bats. The hook of this film was obviously meant to be Jack Nicholson’s rowdy, boisterous Joker, so much so that he got billing above Keaton. In a subdued, musty Gotham city, he’s the one splash of psychotic colour that stands out, a relentlessly cartoonish yet very scary ignoramus who cements the aforementioned old school gangster vibe, especially in an origin prologue where he’s just Jack Nicholson sans makeup and fanfare, which is when we see some of his best work of the film no less. Kim Basinger feeds off of Bruce’s sullenness as Vicki Vale, a news reporter and obligatory love interest, but Basinger dodges the cliche a bit and simmers underneath the sex appeal, especially when she falls into the Joker’s clutches and we see past trauma burning in her eyes, whether it’s Vicki’s or Kim’s, we’ll probably never know. Robert Wuhl, Billy Dee Williams as a pre Two Face Harvey Dent, Pat Hingle, and Michael Gough all make vivid appearances, but I especially enjoyed Jack Palance as a nastily corrupt kingpin/politician who’s partly responsible for Nicholson’s epic caterpillar into sociopathic butterfly metamorphosis. The real star of the show here though is Gotham City itself, seemingly conjured up from the darkest shared dreams of Count Dracula and James Cagney. It’s a monumental achievement in set design that has influenced countless other projects since and serves as one of the textbook urban hellholes in cinema. This may not be my favourite Batman flick as it is for some, there’s a few things that stand out. The celebratory score by Danny Elfman, although brilliant in it’s own right, seems to clash a bit with the dingy, cobwebbed vibe of Gotham and I’m always curious how the atmosphere would have been if they went with something a bit darker. A minor quibble in an overall picture that’s a stroke of genius though. From that baroque Batmobile catching air through a giant waterfall to the inky black and deep purple silhouettes of Bats and Joker atop a cathedral loft, this film has since been engraved into legend and stands as one of the most iconic comic book flicks.

-Nate Hill

B Movie Glory: iMurders

iMurders. Just let that title sink in. It’s worse than it sounds. A movie about a series of murders related to an online internet chat room should at least have the trashy decency of something like Pulse or One Missed Call, but this thing plays like a soap opera that got cancelled after the pilot. Cheap, lazy and ridiculous, the only saving grace is the comforting presence of a few character actors to brighten your day. It’s a roundtable whodunit with a series of characters, all who might be the killer stalking them via ‘cutting edge’ technology that resembles nothing Apple has actually ever put out. There’s a tragic shooting from years before that has somehow spurred this lunatic to torment a MySpace group like this, but honestly it’s all a bunch of narrative mud. There’s a scandalous college professor (the great William Forsythe), Gabrielle Anwar (who honestly deserves better than this) as a girl with a few skeletons in her closet, a detective (Frank Grillo) with some personal ties to the case, and more. The one decent strand sees a mysterious psychiatrist (Charles Durning) interviewing a girl (Miranda Kwok), and the two appear to be in some weird other dimension, probably one where the horror films are better than stuff like this. Tony ‘Candyman’ Todd shows up as a sarcastic FBI agent. The whole thing has a silly Fisher Price feel to it and we never buy anything as legit, and even on the standards set by B Movies this is shameless, and that’s all I have to say. Oh and Billy Dee Williams is apparently in it too, but I’ll be fucked if I remember who he is.

-Nate Hill