Tag Archives: George Lucas

JJ Abrams’ STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS

There are three types of people. Those who have an undying love for anything and everything Star Wars, those who have a legitimate beef with the unintentional ramifications that Star Wars brought to the fertile era of 70s cinema, and then there are the overly pompous people who parade around “liking” the original trilogy yet scoffing at minute aspects of THE FORCE AWAKENS. The third type of person is a fictitious amalgam of what people loathe about other people.

What JJ Abrams, Lawrence Kasdan, and Kathleen Kennedy did with the seventh entry into the Star Wars saga was establish a whole new world of Star Wars films. Some arguments against TFA are understandable, but after decades Abrams was able to construct, shoot, and assemble a film that looks and feels like it belongs, wholeheartedly, in the saga canon. Ultimately the job of directing a Star Wars film isn’t that sexy, their artistic freedom is monitored, but it’s up to that person to hit the marks that George Lucas set with the first film, and JJ Abrams achieves that in a way makes it hard to think anyone else could do a better job.

THE FORCE AWAKENS follows a template, just like THE PHANTOM MENACE before it. It’s A NEW HOPE but in a different era with some of the same characters. Anyone who walked into the film expecting something other than a Star Wars Saga film would be better off searching the deep web for some obscure Russian film from the 1970s that they can discuss in a vapid and obtuse way. Star Wars is Star Wars is Star Wars. There’s the light side. There is the dark side. There are TIE fighters and X-Wings, and there are space aliens that make witty zingers. Oh yeah, and there’s a Death Star.

Abrams assembles a diverse cast that is inspired organically. There wasn’t a mission to check boxes of ethnicity or gender. He found the right people that were born to play that part. The new cast is simpatico with returning cast members of Mark Hamill in his ultra brief turn, Carrie Fisher in what is now a very bittersweet performance, and of course Harrison Ford as the ultimate space cowboy.

Ford brings everything as he has to his final turn as his seminal character in a career stocked to the brim with so many memorable characters and franchises. With help from Abrams and Kasdan’s script, Ford takes on the Obi-Wan esque role. Ford is perfect. He’s funny, he’s smarmy, he’s hopeful, and he’s everything you’d want Han Solo to be all these years later and more. For those who fall into the first group of people, watching Han Solo die is one of the most heartbreaking moments in cinema history. Ford’s build up; his gruffness wrapped in his sentiment and nostalgia completely sells his demise in the most beautifully tragic way possible. It’s near maddening that Ford wasn’t nominated for Best Supporting Actor.

There is a mixture of practical effects and CGI, much like the prequels. And then there’s BB-8. The new fan favorite that is an encompassment of R2-D2’s sassy personality and an ultra cute design and color scheme. It’s rather impressive how instantly beloved and welcomed BB-8 was, and after seeing the film, it’s incredibly hard not to fall hard for that little whirling dervish of love.

The picture excels on nearly every level, and if it weren’t so quickly followed up by the excellent ROGUE ONE, there wouldn’t be as much shelf wear on the film. The film is vibrant as it is dreary. Abrams not only acknowledges the prequels, he embraces the aesthetic. He mixes the original trilogy with the prequel trilogy to create his own, and predominantly new world of Star Wars. The film isn’t without some minor hiccups and narrative issues, but this isn’t the new film by Martin Scorsese. It’s Star Wars.

Star Wars saga films are built on nostalgia. Star Wars is nostalgia for many. And while Lucas isn’t part of the Star Wars universe moving forward, Abrams has more than proved himself as a worthy supplement. He’s inherited the mantle of Lucas, and he’s helped construct the joy of Star Wars for generations to come. What’s so ironic are those who hold such an obnoxious contempt for Lucas, yet are rabid for the new dawn of Star Wars. Those who consistently beat the drum of talking in circles to those who are as like(narrow)minded as them, that will bend over backwards to suck any joy they can out of anyone who praises Lucas. You know, the guy who created everything in the first place. Leave George Lucas alone, without him you’d have nothing to complain about and would have saved a lot of money.

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Weaving with Magic: An Interview with Ellis Flyte by Kent Hill

Really awesome it is to interview people who have been a part of the cinematic high water marks of one’s life. But this one was special. Several weeks back my beloved wife, Jennifer, was looking at pictures online from the MoPOP (The Museum of Popular Culture): Jim Henson exhibit. She, as am I, is a fan of the worlds created by Henson and particularly thrilled at seeing Sarah’s ball gown from Labyrinth. She said I needed to track down the costume designer and interview her. So I did. Easier said than done right? Well yeah. I admit, I have had ridiculous luck since joining the crew at podcastingthemsofly.com when it has come to tracking down industry professionals for a chat. During the construction of my anthology trilogy Straight to Video, I had prided myself on getting a hold of filmmakers, some of whom I knew, but many I didn’t. Following that, and in starting my on modest publishing business, I tried to keep the magic going – hoping to secure forewords from filmmakers who were willing to read friend’s books and write introductions for them.

I was so happy to do it this time for my wife, who, while she has tastes that differ from mine, we certainly share a bunch of common cinematic favorites of which Labyrinth is one.

So I am proud to present this brief insight into the life of Ellis Flyte, costume designer on Labyrinth and also part of the creative team that brought us that other Henson spectacular, The Dark Crystal. From humble beginnings, she worked in theater and television but also enjoyed success as a fashion designer in demand. Then there came her work with the Henson Company; on two of its crowning glories. She was also, for a time, married to Henson’s son Brian.

Ellis was very generous to lend some of her time to answer a handful of questions on her contribution to a remarkable film.

So through dangers untold, and hardships unnumbered, I have fought my way here to the castle beyond the Goblin City to present to you, ladies and gentlemen . . . Ellis Flyte.

 

KH: Could you tell us a little of your origins?

EF: In brief, I am Scottish and as a youth spent a lot of time making clothes out of rugs and similar strange fabrics to everyone’s amusement, but primarily wanted to be a ballet dancer. Following a very severe accident I completed my exams at school and left to London to study fashion instead.

KH: What were your creative aspirations? Was working in the fashion industry or film always your dream?

EF: My first employment during college evenings was in theatre in the costume department which I thoroughly enjoyed. Both fashion and costume would be the two key passions for most of my life, and I worked in many great theatres, contemporary dance studios and television. However I was to become more celebrated in those years as a fashion designer, working from my living room in South London, and selling through Liberty and Browns and Harvey Nichols. Later on in my career I would also design and dress actors, singers and celebrity as well as my collections. Both are really all-consuming creative lifestyles with very little time off but you love it so I have no problems with this!

KH: How did you come to work for the Henson Company?  It must have been so incredible to work with Jim Henson; he seems to have been such a vital spark, a creative genius?

EF: I had taken a television job which was coming to an end and I saw an advert to work in film, so I went along for an interview. You can imagine how astonished I was to be asked if I had ever worked on puppets. My first job was as an assistant to Polly Smith, working on the extraordinary “Dark Crystal”. This was of course a Jim Henson film and also the concept of Brian Froud, where I and a large team of the best artists and technicians worked together in various departments creating the special effects vital to the end result. Long hours but so much fun. We shot the film at Elstree.

Following the release of Dark Crystal six of us were asked to design the “Dark Crystal fashion collection” of gowns based on the movie characters which turned into another totally new and exciting project! So as you can see I had already met the genius Jim Henson and loved working in their company!

KH: Tell us about your experience on the production of Labyrinth? Sarah’s masquerade dress in Labyrinth, indeed all the costumes you did, were based on concepts created by you along with Brian Froud?

EF: Labyrinth was considerably later and a joy to be chosen for the position! Yes it is a Jim Henson film and once again the Conceptual Designer was Brian Froud.

He brought to me many sketches of costumes from which my job would be to create and realise the ideas and also introduce new detail or interpretation. My first responsibility would be to David Bowie and to Jennifer Connelly, and then to the surreal costume ball. It has to be said that I employed a large team of people from  pattern cutters and sewing technicians, screen print and dye specialists, special effect creators, jewellery designers and make-up and hair stylists, amongst others, and it is due to their continued hard work, originality and independent skills that we came to the finished product!

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KH: Did the final costumes mirror the concept drawings or we’re the altered as filming commenced, and material did you use? The dress now seems yellowed in photos from the MoPOP exhibit,  is that purely due to age or was that the way it was lit during filming to lend it the ethereal quality of the sequence?

EF: Sarah’s ball gown took a lot of sampling and camera tests to achieve! We wanted her to look like an otherworldly princess and very different to the others at the ball. The ethereal effect was achieved by many secret devices including layers of lace, lame and rainbow paper, spray paint and broken jewels, and then the entire ballroom garments were distressed to look as if they had been dancing forever! Hemlines were broken down and dust was sprayed into the creases – the masks also present a sinister look to the event don’t they? The fabric choice for the ladies was chosen to give depth and colour and also for movement as you say, although of course all dresses were crinoline underneath.

KH: What was your favourite costume to design and which costumes were the most challenging to not only create but to realize in a finished garment?

EF: The ballroom sequence was a terrific challenge but I really enjoyed all of it, my two favourite costumes in that sequence were probably those for Jennifer and David’s jewelled velvet tail coat. The trickiest pieces were most of David’s as they were designed to be highly original and didn’t always transfer from sketch to actual garment! A leather jacket with a special effect finish was particularly tricky but we got there in the end! Plus we had a load of laughs with the stretch trousers over various cod-pieces. We also tried many different hair styles and make-up effects before Jim and Brian made their final selection! To realise the characters and then have the creative freedom to add or expand my ideas is a costume designers dream and when it works it is really wonderful! It was a huge task to put it all together plus detail of jewellery, accessories and hair pieces but I loved the way it was shot.

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KH: Labyrinth is a treasured film of my youth. Looking back at the film and the experience, how do you see the work and the film today?

EF: I think Labyrinth was ahead of its time as was Dark Crystal.

KH: What aspects of costume design do you enjoy the most and do you feel that costume design is an underrated element in films, attaining the recognition it deserves?

EF: To design costume there are so many dynamics – you have to enjoy the ability to multi-task!

You must understand the person you are dressing and their bodies, their favourite parts and their insecurities so that you can give your personal touch and increase their confidence and happiness and never disturb their performance. Also it is important to know how and where to shop for everything from highly individual/ period costume /unusual accessories/ to ordinary base cloth! And then to know how to work many different effects from any base or other fabrics and add the knowledge of what works on-screen in terms of colours, textures and finishes. I enjoy all of this, regardless of the project, and I have been lucky enough to have worked on many very different projects! Each one is challenging in a different way and a lot of research is required before you start. I do think costume is valued especially when it is well done! It is as important as the script or storyline and should help to identify a character, whatever the circumstances. It is now beginning to receive the acclaim it deserves.

KH: Have you ever been approached or would you consider putting out a book of your work?

EF: The book – that seems to be a constant question. I have had several magazine features but not yet a book on my fashion and film work.

 

There you have it. I was just as surprised to get in touch with Ellis as I was to have her participate in this interview, so, I send a big thank you.

I would like to add that the questions for Ellis were prepared by my wife and I was thrilled at her response to the answers. This one’s for you baby and I am here always…

…should you need us.

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Ron Howard’s Willow


Who doesn’t love Ron Howard’s Willow? Hopefully nobody, because it’s a brilliant fantasy classic that’s aged like the finest wine. From a story by George Lucas (vague Ewok vibes abound), it’s just a rollicking picture, oriented towards the little ones whose sense of wonder hasn’t dimmed, yet eager to include a very real sense of danger and darkness, the perfect recipe to make a film like this noteworthy and nostalgic. In a village inhabited solely by dwarf-like creatures, a secret has been unearthed by the family of young would-be sorcerer Willow Ufgood (Warwick Davis). In their little Hobbitsville of a town on the edge of a vast fantastical realm, a human infant has floated down river like Moses, a special child with the power to defeat a nefariously evil witch (Jean Smart) who has terrorized the land for ages. After the baby attracts danger to their village, the council gives Willow the task of bringing the child out into the world so it can fulfill it’s potential and bring goodness back to the realm. So begins a dazzling big budget journey into the heart of sword and sorcery darkness, a well woven blend of humour, heart and magic that is never short of thrills or visual splendour. Val Kilmer steals the show as rambunctious Madmartigan, a fiercely funny rogue of a warrior who protects and guides Willow through a harsh, threatening world, while Kevin Pollak and Rick Overton score comic relief points as two pint size little pixie things with vaguely European accents, which they use to hurl many a colourful insult in Kilmer’s general direction. Val’s real life wife Joanne Whalley plays sultry Sorshia, daughter to the villainous queen and badass beautiful warrior princess with dark sex appeal for days. There’s just so much to love about this film, from the wildly boisterous score by James Horner that gets our pulses up, the gorgeous production design and attention to detail, the story itself full of wondrous magic and peril, to the reliance on practical effects as per the times. It’s adorable that the filmmakers went out of their way to cast hordes of actual little people as opposed to relying on camera trickery, right down to Willow’s tiny, impossibly cute dwarf children. Highlights I will always remember from this one are the impressively staged sled race down a snowy peak using shields as careening vehicles and the surprisingly gory attack from giant worm/gorilla hybrid creatures that seriously disturbed seven year old Nate for years after. You simply can’t go wrong with this one. 

-Nate Hill

WRONG: DULL ISLAND

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He’s bigger, he’s better and he’s back. He’s King Kong, and this time he is not going to be dragged off Skull Island and taken back to civilization to be paraded around till he takes exception to being someone’s meal ticket, breaks loose his chains and starts a city smashing rampage which ends with a barrage of bullets and a long fall to the asphalt below.

No folks, this time round Kong, now the size of a mountain, is hanging out and keeping the peace on his island. That is until and group of curious humans, led by an alleged Bear Grylls, Tom Hiddleston, Oscar winner Brie Larson who shifts between looking wide-eyed at things and taking photos, John Goodman who knows the truth is out there and Samuel L. Jackson. When you absolutely, positively have to kill every monkey in the room – accept no substitute. This group headlines a cast of who-gives-a-shit characters on a trip to Skull Island where everything is big. Even the ants apparently, but that’s a set piece too far.

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The journey to the island is mandatory – montage and music stuff. Then we break through the perpetual storm clouds and have ourselves a bit of an Avatar moment as the crew marvel at the grandeur and beauty of this lost wilderness. Then Kong shows up and goes apeshit. He smashes up the Apocalypse Now homage and then walks off to enjoy a little calamari, ’cause they just don’t make bananas that big. So,  with the cast all over the place, Tom and snap-happy Brie and their group are headed from the rendezvous point, Sam and John and that guy who played Private Wilson in Tigerland, plus the other soldiers are off to get some more guns to aid in Sam’s desire to turn the King into fried funky monkey meat.

There’s a giant spider that should make Jon Peters happy. There’s the Watcher in the Water moment. The Soldier who writes to his son bites it, or gets bitten by something unusual, but we don’t get the exposition till we meet up with John C. Reilly looking like his character Gershon Gruen from The Extra Man, minus the collection of souvenirs and the no-testicle high voice. This guy though gives the film a pulse. Oh, and he was the pilot from the beginning, SPOILER! He’s been hanging out on the island with the tribe that speech forgot, waiting to come in and add some much needed comic relief. Turns out there are huge nasties that you can call whatever you want under the ground that Kong has kept from emerging to prominence and getting there own spin-off movie.

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This task used to be in the hands of more Kongs, but there is a ‘big one’ of these things that lay waste to them. Now Kong is the only one left who can keep cool, sit tight and keep the creatures in there holes. Of course this film falls into the cash-cow category. They brought back Godzilla, now they make a Kong that’s to scale, in order for the pair to have a decent scrap. But sadly it is a joyless ride. Predictable, laughable, with (and I’m quoting a prior review I’ve read) cardboard cut-out characters that are simply there to fill in the time between Kong and his monster-bashing bits. Heck my son started talking at least 45 minutes out from the end. This tells me that he is board out of his mind and I was with him. But I tried to hang on. I did not fall asleep like I did after the first fifteen minutes of the Conan remake. I have since completely avoided the try-again versions of Clash of the Titans, RoboCop, Ben Hur, Point Break, Total Recall as so on and so forth.

There is a line from James Ivory’s Surviving Picasso in which Anthony Hopkins, as the title character, refers to the methods of artists who have found fame and fortune. He says they make themselves little cake-molds and bake cakes, one after the other, all the same. He then  stresses to Natascha McElhone’s Francoise, not to become your own connoisseur. This is extremely relevant and typical of the modern Hollywood. There is little to no attempt at originality, and if there is, it takes place within a film that fits into the friendly confines of a pre-branded property.

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But the big ape lives and walks off into the center of his jungle home. He survives his encounter with dim-witted humanity, only to go off and fortify himself for the coming sequels and, quick note on cinematography, Larry Fong gets to send a love letter to his buddy Zack Snyder with a little samurai sword in green smoke action. We have reached that point in the history of the movies dear readers, in which the dead horse has been flogged so often that they have been whipping the bones. Soon all that will be left is the dust of said bones under foot. What are we to expect then? I’m reminded of one of Kevin Costner’s lines from his summation speech in JFK, “perhaps it will become a generational thing.” Ten years goes by  and it’ll be, “Well, time to drag a King Kong movie out again.”

Sam Jackson buys the farm much like he does in Deep Blue Sea, swiftly and unexpected, at least for him. I’m starting to believe Hollywood is looking at us the same way. Here we stand, full of confidence, about to witness triumph in whatever form it may appear. Then it becomes like the lead up to the first ever screening of the Phantom Menace. The audience was cheering, poised, ready for the planets to align in complete and utter harmony. The Fox logo. The Lucasfilm logo. A long time ago, in a galaxy far far away. Star Wars. If you watch the documentary The People Vs. George Lucas, one interviewees describes this as perhaps one the greatest moments in cinema history, then, then the film started.

I think it is a frequent occurrence today. There is so much pomp and pageantry surrounding these tent-pole movies that more often than not bad, because to achieve the same level as the hype generated is near impossible. Mind you, there are a few that defy this convention but they are few and far between.

So my favorite Kong is still the one I grew up with, the John Guillermin 1976 version.

People tell me they hate that one too. But to each his own. Kong will most likely be back in a decade after this lot. He’ll be half the size of the planet, ripped and ready to rumble against the Independence Day giant aliens when they decide to return to the best place in the universe, Planet Earth: home and the re-imagination of the adaptation of the sequel of the remake.

He’ll take a huge crap in his mighty hand and fling it at them. Oh if only…

The Dude in the Audience

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Remembering Flight of the Navigator with Randal Kleiser by Kent Hill

I was still a boy, and there was no such thing as a multiplex in sight the night I saw Flight of the Navigator.

I remember what was then the Russell Street theatre. A relatively new cinema built as its aged counterpart, The Strand, had slipped into disrepair. I remember the smell of the new carpet mixing with the popcorn, how the place always seemed packed, as two lines of movie-goers had to snake around both sides of the block to line up.

But it was a quiet Friday night when I went with my Mum to see Randal Kleiser’s new movie. From the poster, which was all you had to go on back in those days, it looked like one heck of a ride. Another boy meets an alien movie in the wake of the monumental achievement that was E.T. But let’s not descend into comparisons,  such is the way of the industry. Like Dante’s Explorers, Flight of the Navigator is an ingenious blending of many great elements. It begins as a movie about a family, about two brothers. Then we fall into a time travel story that sees our hero transported eight years into a future where he is presumed to be dead. This is further compounded by the fact that he has not aged a day. Thus the testing begins, a search for the heart of the mystery. The testing reveals the hero’s head is filled alien information and that he had been selected as a specimen to study on a far-flung planet in a distant galaxy. The boy is then taken by NASA scientists to be scrutinized further. This is where the boy meets alien story begins and our hero takes off inside a spacecraft in an adventure, not only to help the alien return home, but to once more, travel back in time and get home himself.

That’s a fairly vague overview I know. But I always take into account that there may yet be someone out there that has not seen the movie. That being the chase, I have no desire to spoil it for them.

After I saw the movie I wanted to write Randal Kleiser a letter, which I did, telling him what a marvelous movie I thought he’d made. I did not know where to send it, so my Dad looked up the address of Walt Disney Pictures and we mailed it together.

I know now Mr. Kleiser never got my letter, because thirty years later I got to call him on the phone and tell him just that – what a marvelous movie I thought and still think Flight of the Navigator is.

I hope you’ll enjoy our interview  you dumb dork! Buttface! Scuz-bucket! Ha-ha!

P.S. –

If you would like further information on the Nina Foch DVD or course please follow this link: http://www.ninafochproject.com/

STAR WARS POWERCAST EPISODE III

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ATTENTION SPOILERS.  SPOILERS.  SPOILERS.  Frank and Tim FINALLY did another STAR WARS podcast.  This time we speak about the new standalone film, ROGUE ONE: A STAR WARS STORY.  We dive in deep about the emotional impact, the cinematic influences, and where Disney takes the STAR WARS brand from here!