Tag Archives: Star Wars

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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Force Friday Podcast: THE EWOK ADVENTURES

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Join Frank and filmmaker Derek Wayne Johnson as they discuss BOTH of the Ewok films that are seminal films from their childhood. Don’t forget to purchase Derek’s film, JOHN G. AVILDSEN KING OF THE UNDERDOGS from retailers everywhere!

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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.

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What began with Weng Weng: An Interview with Andrew Leavold by Kent Hill

When Shakespeare wrote about all the world being a stage, and all the people in it being merely players with their entrances and exits, he was on to something. But it is the line: and one man in his time plays many parts that brings to mind the life and now the burgeoning cinema of Andrew Leavold.

Here is a man for whom movies are a great passion, a grand obsession, and they have been the catalyst for the direction in which he has moved through his life. Beginning with his own video store, Andrew filled the shelves with everything from the opulent and the uniquely obscure. For the better part of two decades he brought awareness and ultimately his love for film to the renting public – but the times, as they are bound to do, started a changin’. The landscape of delivering entertainment to the masses forced the then proprietor of Trash Video to reassess.

Fortunately by the time the demise of the video store descended, Andrew had already encountered the thing that would prove to be the gateway to the next phase in the evolution of him realizing his dream. That ‘thing’ would appear in the form of a little man the world, up until that point, knew simply as Weng Weng; a pint-sized Filipino actor that had been propelled into recognition as Agent 00 in a film called For Y’ur Height Only.

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Andrew’s fascination with the tiny action man would see him embark on a seven year odyssey, returning multiple times to the Philippines in search of Weng Weng and the story surrounding his life and cinematic career. All of this became the basis of the incredible documentary which still continues to evolve; its release bringing to light more and more stories about this petite performer seemingly enshrouded by magic and myth. But The Search for Weng Weng (the film) is only a piece of the adventure. There is now a book, the print companion to the documentary in which Leavold extends and expands upon all he has and continues to unearth.

What I took away from our conversation is that the spark that fuels the fire which burns within us, inspires us, drives us toward that which we seek to achieve can come, at the best of times, from the most unlikely of places. For Andrew, a mysterious video tape catapulted him from one dream to the next, now, he is the filmmaker he thought he would never become. It was a privilege to talk with him and I sincerely hope you will check out The Search for Weng Weng, the book and the film and help Andy continue his work, keeping the dream alive.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Andrew Leavold.

Me

 

To get your hands of the book and the film please visit:

https://www.facebook.com/TheSearchForWengWeng

https://www.facebook.com/andrew.leavold

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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