Tag Archives: John Williams

It’s time to see The Last Jedi . . . again: A Review by Kent Hill

I am stunned. I am still. I am at a loss for words. I have just come from seeing The Last Jedi, and really all can muster is . . . it is a miracle.

I am going to try and avoid spoilers but I may fail, so, if you haven’t seen the movie stop reading now.

lastjedi17

A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away, I was young and Star Wars was new. I don’t think I came out of that dark room in which I saw the first film, and the person that did – he certainly wasn’t the same kid who walked in. A long time have I watched, looking away, to the future, to the horizon, watching, what we who were there from the beginning will come to remember as, the saga of the Skywalkers.

I had read other reviews, seen teasers and trailers. The clever thing is though . . . this movie doesn’t go the way you think. Throw all the theories out of the window, forget all you know – or think you know. Breathe, just breathe. Now, sit back and watch The Last Jedi.

last-jedi-luke-lightsaber

We begin in a fury, in the heat of battle. Good versus evil, a staple of the Star Wars movies. Then it goes wrong and the good guys will lose. Because, as you’ll discover, this time round, it isn’t about winning and losing. It’s about existing. It’s a beautiful sentiment at the heart of this picture. Saving, indeed savoring, the things we love the most.

After all, what have we all been doing since 1977. Savoring this thing we love right? Mr. Johnson captured that so well. In fact, when it was all over, Bill Pullman’s line from Independence Day popped into my head, “He did it – the sonofabitch did it.”

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-000025

Abrams had the easy assignment if you think about it. He had to wake the force up. That’s not hard when you’ve got legions of fans awaiting to listen. The hard task is the difficult second album – trying like hell to be the one that strikes back. And, for my money, for this trilogy, for this time round – this is the new Empire Strikes Back. It can’t be the original – nothing will top that, but TLJ stands shoulder to shoulder with it.

landscape-1509112223-luke-skywalker-this-is-not-going-to-go-the-way-you-think-star-wars-the-last-jedi-trailer

I think I have remarked a number of times to friends and family about what I thought the first words might have been out of Luke’s mouth back where Mr. Abrams left us in 2015. What he does retort with is better than a line or a speech, and it’s one of many moments of levity that the movie needed. I heard the voice of Irvin Kershner in my mind, talking about injecting humor into Empire. He was right then, as Mr. Johnson was right now. It is all about balance – the dark rises and the light to meet it.

leia-poe

Two reviews I read prior to going in brought up two interesting points. One which I thought was kinda confirmed, whilst the other was dispelled. The first was that TLJ was almost like Empire in reverse. I found this to be, for me, delightfully true, and I’m surprised at how well that formula worked. Where Abrams was criticized for leaning to heavily on the crutch of A New Hope, Johnson seems to have avoided the problem by simply changing direction, which he does quite often. Be prepared.

Abrams surprisingly followed this theory to success with the first of the new Star Trek films, however grossly ignoring it for his own sequel. But it is well, not only if he stepped away from the director’s chair for fear of this, but that fresh eyes often make all the difference. I enjoyed Looper, but when they said that guy is going to not only write but direct Episode VIII, I was like half interested, half fearful.

45e55b_e19b8e0d44e046c798091435487695d9~mv2

But we shouldn’t fear, should we. Fear leads to anger, anger leads to hate and hate leads to suffering.

Another element I like about TLJ is the fact that, more so than The Force Awakens, this felt like not only handing over the torch, but just throwing it away. I love how in the backgrounds of these movies we see the remnants of Star Wars past. From Rey’s junkyard home, to Luke’s X-Wing beneath the waters surrounding his fortress of solitude – even in Rogue One there is that giant fallen statue of a Jedi; the only true way to keep something going in this life is to keep it fresh and expose it to constant reinvention.

There’s lots of fun new creatures. LOVE THOSE PORGS! There’s some fun new locales. Mr. Williams musical voice sings a few new tunes and lovingly reminds us of a few old ones. The action is breathless, the reversals effective and plentiful. There are great revelations and many new questions.

Oh Look. You see what’s happened? I started off wanting to write a review and here I now find the need to be silent again. There is nothing I can tell you that you should ultimately listen to, except this: I have never seen a more beautiful journey that does as each new day does for us all; beginning and ending, staring off to the horizon, watching the rising and or setting of that bright sphere at the center of our galaxy.

When I was younger than I am now, I felt like Luke Skywalker, gazing off into those twin suns and longing for the next day, for the journey ahead. It is fitting then that TLJ comes now, and I am a much older man. You’ll know the moment when it comes. The twin suns will set and maybe, just maybe, your heart will swell as mine does even now, and I am at a loss for words. TLJ has touched me in a way I’ve not experienced in the cinema for a while now – and I am the better for it.

The-Last-Jedi-Landscape-Poster-

So if you have seen the movie, I hope you enjoyed it – were thrilled by it. For those of you for whom this is their first Star Wars experience, rejoice, there’s more out there to discover – more still to come. For those who haven’t seen it – man, get away from this screen and get down to your local theatre real quick – what’s the matter with you?

It is fitting that the last line belongs to a certain character, and speaking of said line, it echoes my sentiments exactly:

In The Last Jedi, “We have everything we need – right here.”

Star-Wars-The-Last-Jedi-Behind-The-Scenes-0975-2

Hollywood’s best-kept Secret: An Interview with Scott Windhauser by Kent Hill

40485_460984635750_8149153_n.jpg

Scott Windhauser might seem to have simply fallen out of the clear blue sky recently. Truth is, he has been in the game for quite some time. He worked his way up through the ranks, paying his dues, making connections – but all the while, working quietly on his own scripts.

The turning point came when he wrote a screenplay. You know the one, the kind of script that gets you noticed, that gets them to return your phone calls, that’s peaks the interest of the movie gods. Now I’m not going to spoil it here, you’ll have to have a listen, but the premise was really cool stuff.

Tsunami-LA

But, as things often happen in Hollywood, another picture, that took place in a similar setting, came out around the same time and the backers started backing away. It’s times like these that separate the men from boys. It’s like Michael Douglas’s line in The Ghost and The Darkness, “Everyone has a plan until they’ve been hit. Well my friend, you’ve just been hit. The getting up is up to you.”

17103771_10154862063580751_5664093707011040784_n

Scott did a little better than just getting back on his feet. He went back to the forge and starting producing a veritable war chest of material, most of which is on its way to release as we speak. There’s some that Scott has also directed like Dead Trigger starring Dolph Lundgren as well as Cops and Robbers with Tom Berenger and Michael Jai White. Then there’s the Rob Cohen(The Fast and The Furious, XXX) directed Hurricane Heist (or Category 5 as some of the advertising is calling it) and Tsunami L.A., along with numerous other projects big and small in the works as well as on the way either this or next year.

Scott Windhauser folks. His is a name you may not have heard, but the times they are a changin’. He fought his way through the minefields of La La Land, he’s given a script a ‘Nic-polish’ (have a listen, all shall be revealed), he has even bumped into John Williams, the man who wrote the cinematic themes of our youth.

13124999_10153956773200751_1985102907925933838_n

This all adds up to a great interview folks, so please, press play and learn about the man who is quickly becoming a name to take notice of.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Scott Windhauser.

(The Password to watch ‘DEAD TRIGGER’ trailer below is: zombie)

One Composer against the Armada: An Interview with Craig Safan by Kent Hill

The film scores that permeated my youth seemed for the longest time to be written mostly by two guys – John Williams and James Horner. Though, while this pair were both loud and prolific – they weren’t the only composers in town.

I come from a time of cinema obsession where the score and the images were indeed one. I cannot imagine the films of that period without their score nor can I hear the scores and not see the images.

Other dominant composers of the period were Bill Conti, Basil Poledouris, Trevor Jones and a man named Craig Safan. To talk about Craig is to talk about The Last Starfighter, for The Last Starfighter was one of the most important films of my formative years, and its score continues to echo through the speakers of my car stereo as I drive off to face the grind daily (or to battle evil in another dimension).

As much as I could have gushed about all the nuances in the Starfighter score for the duration of our chat, it is proper to acknowledge to he (Craig) has written many a great score for both film and television alike. With scores for Remo Williams, The Legend of Billie Jean, Stand and Deliver as well as the small screen’s Amazing Stories and his long run on Cheers. Craig has even scored a video game, and it was cool to hear how the gig for Leisure Suit Larry came is way.

At the end of our chat I told Craig I constantly listen to his Starfighter score in the car. He asked if at anytime did the car convert to a spacecraft and fly me off to join the Star League? There have been days where I wish that had been the case. Though whenever that music is playing there always seems to be a chance that I may yet get my recruitment papers at last, take flight, and go get me a Gun-Star. But till then, have a listen to the extraordinary gentlemen whose music continues to live on in the glorious films of our last golden age.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . I give you . . . Craig Safan.

15262307405_85a5098e5f_o

STAR WARS: EPISODE IV: A NEW HOPE – A REVIEW BY J.D. LAFRANCE

open-uri20150608-27674-lashgn_719bef9d

For many of my generation, the first Star Wars film (1977) was a defining moment of our childhood and so I always look back at it in a nostalgic way. I had the action figures, the coloring book, the calendar, the t-shirt, and so on – all part of the vast merchandising that helped build the George Lucas empire. But as a kid I wasn’t thinking about that – I loved the film and wanted to have everything associated with it, including the comic books and the novelization. The Star Wars I love is the original incarnation unmolested by Lucas’ awkward revisionist CGI makeover. The Star Wars I know and love has Han Solo (Harrison Ford) firing first. The film has been analyzed and written about extensively so I can only look at it from my perspective and offer various observations that always stick out in my mind whenever I watch it.

One of the reasons Star Wars works so well is because of a solid combination of engaging storytelling and groundbreaking (for its time) special effects. The coming-of-age story is as old as the hills and I’m sure that is part of the film’s appeal – its comforting familiarity. Young Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) leaves behind his life on a small, insignificant planet and becomes involved in an intergalactic civil war that involves rescuing a princess from the clutches of an evil empire. In the process, he grows up and becomes a man.

I still get goosebumps when I see that opening text, “A long time ago. In a galaxy far, far away…” And then, John Williams’ rousing score kicks in with a sudden blast from the horn section and we’re on our way. We get that iconic shot of the small Rebel Alliance spacecraft being pursued by an Empire Star Destroyer so massive it takes up at least three-quarters of the screen as it rumbles into view. We soon meet two of the film’s most endearing characters – C-3PO (Anthony Daniels) and R2-D2 (Kenny Baker), droids that have a sometimes slapstick-y love/hate relationship a la Laurel and Hardy. 3PO is the eternal pessimist as evident from his declaration early on, “We’re doomed.” Of course, this is as the Empire prepares to board the Rebel spacecraft. 3PO and R2 play well off each other – the former whines about danger and complains about the conditions of Tatooine (the planet they escape to), while the latter clearly has a purpose, a mission that he must complete with or without his long-time companion. They bicker like an old married couple and even on his own, 3PO still bitches about R2.

Has there ever been a cooler introduction for a villain than the one for Darth Vader (David Prowse)? Having boarded the Rebel ship by force, he emerges from the smoke to survey the damage done. We immediately hear his ominous breathing, that unsettling raspy respirator sound – awesome! We soon hear James Earl Jones’ booming, authoritative voice (later on the voice of CNN no less!) which, coupled with David Prowse’s intimidating physical presence and the brilliantly black armor, creates an instantly memorable bad guy, a real force of evil. Lucas constantly reminds us what a badass Vader is in scenes like the one where he deals with one of his officers who dares to scoff at the power of the Force compared to the power of Empire’s new battle station, The Death Star. Vader warns him, “Don’t be too proud of this technological terror you’ve constructed. The ability to destroy a planet is insignificant next to the power of the Force.”

Unconvinced, the guy foolishly insults Vader’s “sad devotion to that ancient religion,” and, in response, the Dark Lord merely raises a hand and chokes the man from afar. Vader coolly and ominously replies, “I find your lack of faith disturbing.” Now, how badass is that? It takes Peter Cushing’s bureaucrat Grand Moff Tarkin to step in and call Vader off. As evil as Vader is, Tarkin is on a whole other level. He destroys a planet populated by millions of innocent people just to make a point and teach Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) a lesson. How nasty is that? Vader just chokes a few guys which pales in comparison to what Tarkin does.

I always found it fascinating how the Jawas are basically the used car salesmen of the galaxy and they even try to pawn off a faulty droid to Luke and his Uncle Owen (Phil Brown). Mark Hamill’s take on Luke is right on the money, playing the character as a teenager on the verge of becoming a young man – someone who would rather pick up power converters over at Toschi Station than haggle over the price of droids with Jawas. His uncle sees right through Luke and chastises him, “You can waste time with your friends when your chores are done.” This little moment is one of the reasons why Star Wars appealed to a younger generation – they could relate to Luke’s disinterest in chores and his frustration of being stuck on his uncle’s farm. Who would rather hang out with their friends than get stuck doing boring chores?

This is further reinforced in the scene where Luke talks to Aunt Beru (Shelagh Fraser) and Uncle Owen about transmitting his application to the Academy sooner rather than later but his uncle wants him to stick around for the harvest and another year. After Luke goes off in defeat, his aunt says, “Luke’s just not a farmer, Owen. He has too much of his father in him,” to which Owen replies, “That’s what I’m afraid of.” This conversation cleverly hints at earth-shattering revelations that come in the next film in the series, The Empire Strikes Back (1980). I just want to say how much I love the little moments of domesticity that Lucas shows here with Luke having a meal with his aunt and uncle or another scene where we see Aunt Beru (who I was always struck by what a kind face she has and what a gentle person she appears to be) preparing some sort of meal. It humanizes these people in a short amount of time so that we care about what happens to them later on.

What I also like about the story is that Lucas makes it personal for Luke. His only reason for staying was to help out his aunt and uncle but when they are killed by Imperial Stormtroopers, his life as a farmboy dies that day. He’s got nothing left to lose and his innocence has been taken away from him forever. Lucas makes sure that we understand just how horrible the Empire is with a lingering shot of the aunt and uncle’s still smoking, charred skeletons, which was pretty shocking to me when I first saw the film at a very young, impressionable age. This scene ups the stakes and reinforces just how ruthless the Empire is and how personal it has gotten for Luke.

The casting of Alec Guinness as Jedi master Obi-Wan Kenobi was genius on Lucas’ part. With his classic British accent, he gives his dialogue a classy spin, perfect for the expositional dialogue his character imparts throughout the film. For example, early on he explains the nature of the Force to Luke: “The Force is what gives a Jedi his powers. It’s an energy field created by all living things. It surrounds us, it penetrates us, it binds the galaxy together.” What a great way to describe the Force – it’s succinct and doesn’t give too much away, just enough to let our imagination fill in the rest.

One of the most memorable scenes in Star Wars takes place in the Cantina at Mos Eisley (a place that Obi-Wan warns Luke is a “wretched hive of scum and villainy.”), a bar where all sorts of strange and unusual creatures hang out. Of course, the purpose of this sequence is for Luke and Ben to meet and hire Han Solo and Chewbacca (Peter Mayhew) to rescue Leia, but it is also a fantastic showcase for a memorable collection of exotic-looking alien creatures. There’s one that looks a little like Cousin It from The Addams Family, one that looks like the Wolfman, one that kinda looks like a devil with two horns sprouting out of the top of his head, and so on. The diversity of these creatures is so fascinating that I just like rewatching this sequence to check out all of the various creatures. This sequence has gone on to inspire several other films, including Nightbreed (1990), Serenity (2005), and Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008). The aliens in Star Wars don’t look cute and cuddly but strange and dangerous. Lucas reinforces this by having Luke bullied by two lowlifes until Obi-Wan steps in with his mad lightsaber skills.

How cool is Han Solo? We meet him haggling with Obi-Wan over the price of taking them to Alderaan and Han tries to impress his prospective clients with the speed and reputation of his spacecraft the Millennium Falcon. However, after their meeting, Han runs into Greedo, a bounty hunter collecting a sizable debt that the smuggler owes notorious gangster Jabba the Hutt. Han acts cool and casual, keeping Greedo talking while he quietly unholsters his gun and blasts the bounty hunter before he can shoot him. How badass is Han? Harrison Ford plays it so well – all cool and accommodating to Greedo so that he has time to get the drop on him. It’s this scene that establishes Ford’s character – is he a bad guy or a good guy? You’re never really sure until the end of the film and this is due in large part to Ford’s performance as a cocky smuggler who only looks out for himself.

I also like Han’s simple philosophy, like when he scoffs at the notion of the Force: “Hokey religions and ancient weapons are no match for a good blaster at your side … I’ve flown from one side of the galaxy to the other. I’ve seen a lot of strange stuff but never seen anything to make me believe there’s one all powerful force controlling everything. There’s no mystical energy field controls my destiny. It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.” He provides a lot of the film’s moments of humor, like when Luke tries to convince him to rescue Leia by appealing to his greed, or his constant bickering with her. As he tells Luke at one point, “Wonderful girl. Either I’m gonna kill her or I’m beginning to like her.” Han and Leia end up bantering like a couple in a vintage screwball comedy and this is carried over to an even more memorable degree in The Empire Strikes Back.

Another exciting scene is the one where our heroes escape the Death Star while Han and Luke man the Falcon’s laser cannons. Lucas uses editing and Williams’ stirring score to make this scene even more dynamic. It’s a nice warm-up for the climactic sequence where a squadron of Rebel Alliance X-Wing fighters launch an attack on the Death Star. Not only do the Rebels have to worry about the Imperial TIE Fighters, but also the battle station’s laser cannons. Also adding urgency to the assault is the ever-looming threat of the Death Star on the verge of eradicating the Rebel base located on the moon of Yavin. Luke finally gets to show off his piloting skills while many of his comrades are blown up. It doesn’t hurt that he’s aided by Obi-Wan’s disembodied voice and the Force. The use of models in this sequence gives it a more tangible quality, a realness that is missing from most CGI-heavy science fiction films nowadays. This sequence gets even more exciting when Luke and the surviving Rebel X-Wings descend into the trenches of the Death Star to bomb its weak spot. Lucas is able to convey a real sense of speed and urgency that is thrilling, especially when the Millennium Falcon comes from out of nowhere to give Luke the opportunity to destroy the Death Star.

Some feel that Star Wars looks dated and I would agree but for me that is a large part of its appeal, sideburns and all. Watching it instantly takes me back to when I first saw it and the rush of excitement and wonder that I felt as it unspooled before my eyes. It is one of those pivotal moviegoing experiences that I have never forgotten. While I think that The Empire Strikes Back is the better film in terms of story, pacing, characterization, action, etc., Star Wars is the film I enjoy watching the most for all of the reasons stated above. I think that a review in the now-defunct Sci-Universe magazine sums it up best: “even today, would-be sci-fi franchise-builders haven’t learned the lessons about what made Star Wars a cinematic landmark; compelling, but flawed, characters and attention to the smallest pieces of minutiae.”