Tag Archives: The Force Awakens

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.

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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.

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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.”

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.”

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Just wild about Larry: An Interview with Steve Mitchell by Kent Hill

Steve Mitchell has been on quite a ride. Having begun in the world of comics, he has the distinction of inking the very first book by a guy you might have heard of . . . Frank Miller. But being in New York with all his friends heading west, Steve, after forging an impressive beginning to his career, took a phone call one night from his another friend and filmmaker Jim Wynorski. Jim wanted an opinion on an idea that, if he could make it work, they might be able to get the picture made. From that conversation a film would be born. It was the cult classic Chopping Mall.

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So like Horatio Alger before him, he went west and continued writing for both the worlds of film and television. The fateful moment would come one day while looking over the credits of the legendary maverick auteur, Larry Cohen, on IMDB.  Astounded by the length and breadth of Cohen’s career, Steve saw an opportunity to possibly make a documentary that would chronicle the life and exploits of the successful filmmaker.

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After receiving a blessing from the man (Larry) himself, Steve set about the mammoth undertaking of  not only pulling together the interviews with Cohen’s many collaborators, all of the footage of his many works , but also the financing to bring these and the countless other elements together to form KING COHEN: The Wild World of Filmmaker Larry Cohen.

This truly insightful and utterly entertaining look at the, thus far continuing, career of Cohen is the passion project of a man with whom I share a kinship. Not only for the stories behind the men who make the movies, but also how the films we know and love were pieced together with money, dreams, light, shadow and the technical tools which help capture and refine the many wondrous adventures we as cinema goers have been relishing since our very first experiences.

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KING COHEN is a great film made by a really great guy, and it is my hope, as it is Steve’s hope, that you enjoy the story of Larry Cohen, but also come away from watching the film wishing to then seek out and discover the movies contained within that you may have only experienced for the first time as part of the documentary. The films of the filmmaker that inspired Steve’s film in the first place. (that’s a lot films)

Enjoy…

It’s good to be the King: An interview with Larry Cohen by Kent Hill

There is a quote attributed to Robert Rodriguez (another independent maverick filmmaker) that states:

“If you are doing it because you love it you can succeed because you will work harder than anyone else around you, take on challenges no one else would dare take, and come up with methods no one else would discover, especially when their prime drive is fame and fortune. All that will follow later if you really love what you do. Because the work will speak for itself.”

It is the always interesting, ever-changing, always inventive, ever professional life and work of Larry Cohen that really personifies the above quotation. King Cohen has been out there in one form or another in an impressive career spanning multiple decades. He has been the director of cult classics; he has been the writer of hot scripts that have incited Hollywood bidding wars. His work has been remade, imitated, venerated.

These are the hallmarks of a man and his movies whose personal voice rings out loud and clear, high above the commercial ocean of mainstream cinema that carries, beneath its shiny surface, schools of biodegradable blockbusters that are usually forgotten about only moments after having left the cinema.

This is not true of the films of Larry Cohen. For his work is the stuff (pardon the pun) that came before, the stuff the imitators latch on to, the stuff from which remakes and re-imaginations are conceived. This is the fate of the masters. The innovators come and bring forth art through trial and error. They are followed by the masters who take the lessons learned from the innovators and make them, shape them by sheer force of will. But, then there comes the imitators who stand on the shoulders of these giants and take home the glory.

Still, when there is an artist that is in equal parts innovator and master; this causes the imitators to stand baffled.

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Rather than accepting my humble oration, I urge you to seek out Steve Mitchell’s most excellent documentary KING COHEN. Watch it, marvel, rejoice, and remember that there are great filmmakers out there. They may not be coming soon to a theatre near you, but they did once, and their work still stands, silently, waiting to be discovered.

Until you get to see KING COHEN please, feel free to bask in my little chat with the king himself, Larry Cohen, a gentleman of many parts, many stories and of course . . . many movies.

Ladies and Gentlemen . . . Larry Cohen.

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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.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Review by Kent Hill

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So another December has come and with it comes another Star Wars movie. The reviews begin. Kevin Smith raves about it, calling it Empire Strikes Back great. In his brief thoughts following the premiere which he attended, Smith makes mention of what are really the highlights. This is an excellent chapter in the Star Wars saga. There are great tie-ins which link this film to those that have come before. Vader is badass in this movie and then there is the ending . . . that ending.

Now, unlike the case of The Force Awakens, this film has not enjoyed a triumphant reception. Those that have distaste for it are talking sooner rather than later. Before seeing the film today, I took note of some of the positive/negative stances. One thing I marked was a comment regarding the resurrection of a certain character from the original trilogy. I will not spoil this for anyone, but the review to which I refer, made the statement that the arrival of this character on screen (with the help of effects, cause he bought the farm a while ago) was something that took them out of the movie. I am going to take arms against this statement (which you may read more about if you wish here: http://geektyrant.com/news/review-disney-and-lucasfilm-play-it-safe-with-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story). Me personally, and I am referring to the pair of instances which the technology is used in the film, I feel this is one of the better examples of this type of effect used thus far in movies and remind the learned gentlemen for the prosecution of the creepy, expressionless faux-young Jeff Bridges in the lamentable Tron sequel as a better example of something that disconnects one from a film.

Still, what about the film itself? Is it Empire Strikes Good? I read Harry Knowles’ review this morning too. He though, has a tendency to gush, going so far as to list the things that he liked best. You need to be wary when film writers take such actions. The reason being? There was stuff they didn’t like in between those things they did.

Rogue One is the story of the story before the Star Wars we all grew up with – and I refer to those of us who grew up before they started using the “Episode” system. It finds the brains behind that moon that is no moon but a space station, living out his life in peace and harmony with his family. Then the empire shows up and ruins everything, as it is their want to do. From this pastoral opening we following our heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she is recruited by the rebels (they are rebels aren’t they?) to track down Forest Whitaker, because rumour has it, that he has received word from Jyn’s dad, Mads Mikkelsen, about a super-weapon the empire is about to unleash.

So the Star Wars story moves along, and at times it is a slow boil. There is a good comradery among the cast, along with levity and heavy-handedness in equal measure. There are also lots of droids and aliens, which are always fun to hang out with in a time of great tyranny. This film paints the best portrait of the galaxy far, far away in the wake of the rise of the empire as we know it. It’s a grimy hit-run-hide type of universe, where heroes are few and all hope seems lost.

But wait, maybe not. Though the rebellion has its own dark undercurrent of distrust and personal agenda, we find out (what those of us who are children of Star Wars already know) there is a weakness to this battle station. It soon falls to the good guys to decide what they are going to do with this intel.

When faced with a planet killer, some guys run and some guys stay. The guys that stay join with our ragtag band of heroes on their veritable suicide mission. Their objective: to retrieve the plans of the Death Star in order to exploit the flaw in its design.

This is when Rogue One finds its wings, and all of a sudden I found myself in a film that felt more like a Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens did.

The final act of the film is bold, brilliant. At one point I think I heard Sam Elliot’s voice from The Big Lebowski in my head saying: “I didn’t like seeing Donnie go.” I was looking for shots from the trailers that I liked, but I found them to be absent from school today. I thought it was a good ending which brought to mind the old chestnut: those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. I also read in those reviews from earlier today, that the characters were thinly drawn. This would imply they are like most characters in modern movies, which is to say you don’t really give a shit whether they live or die. But I cared, not for all concerned, but for some. When things finally went south, I can genuinely say I was moved by their passing.

So, is Vader badass? Yes. That’s all I’m going to say on that score.

The film looks beautiful, though please again be wary, especially when reviewers make mention of this early in their critique. Praise for the photography and locations are often code for: it looked good, but that’s all it did.

The score by Giacchino is sombre and at times melancholic, but it lifts, and there is a nice peppering of Williams which will make you smile as ever.

And thus we come to that ending. Go see it. Go see it. The best thing about the ending is you can go home and watch the story continue, unlike last year’s Star Wars where we’ll have to wait a while yet to find out what Luke is going to say, or not say, or just keep on glaring, or fart , or something like that.

Did this dude in the audience like Rogue One? He did, he did indeed. He will be going again, that is a given. The cast and crew, all involved, have made a good Star Wars movie. It’s not Empire Strikes Good, but filmmaker Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider, Don’t Kill It), whom I interviewed recently, said it best. During our chat we talked about Spielberg and Mike’s love of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He (Mike) considers this the perfect film. He caught lightning in a bottle, and I’m paraphrasing Mike here, but Mike went on to say that as talented as Spielberg is, he doubts he could ever duplicate something like Raiders. The same could be said of this, the third coming of Star Wars. I watched it begin in the 70’s, I was there for explosive hype of The Phantom Menace. I was there last year when the force decided to wake up again.

My point is this. The lightning has already been caught. It was captured a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. They will never be able to recapture that lightning, but so far the Star Wars we are getting is calling down the thunder and Rogue One roars across the sky. It reminds us, yet again, of that brilliant lightning that brightened our world a long time ago…

GO SEE IT!

PTS Presents NICK AND FRANK’S BEST OF 2015

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We returned to form with our first new recording together since the newest addition to Nick’s family, and the STAR WARS overload that Frank has been overwhelmed by.  We go over our top ten films of the year, top five directors, actors, actresses, supporting actors, supporting actresses, screenplays, cinematographers, score, ensemble and television shows.  We were both very excited to do this, and we hope you enjoy!