Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

Luce (2019)

Julius Onah has a lot to say. He stepped onstage just before Luce, his third feature as director, screened as the Opening Night film at this year’s Independent Film Festival Boston. Typically a pre-movie appearance from an auteur amounts to a wave, a bow, a “thanks for coming out!” or, at worst, a visible hostage situation at the hands of a ruthless moderator. Onah, in the span of what seemed like less than a minute, reflected on Luce‘s premiere at Sundance and his hopes for the conversations the film will continue to spur; he referred to the movie theater as “his church”; he drew parallels from the film to his own life experience, having emigrated to the U.S. from Nigeria when he was ten; and he even snuck in a playful dig at IFFBoston, noting that he’d submitted several short films for consideration years ago, all of which were rejected.

His film is similarly assertive of numerous ideas without ever being overly verbose. Luce Edgar (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) is a star high school student in Arlington, Virginia who spent the first seven years of his life surrounded by the violence of war-torn Eritrea. His adoption by a white upper-class American couple (Naomi Watts and Tim Roth) meant a new start, though it also meant a long period of adjustment and self-reconciliation. When his stern (some would say “bitchy”) teacher Ms. Wilson (Octavia Spencer) reads an unsettling essay by Luce and finds illegal fireworks in his locker, the question arises as to whether that period of self-reconciliation is actually still underway. Is Luce the model young American everyone makes him out to be? Or is there a darker side within him, manifesting itself as a sociopathic danger to others?

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The Black Stallion (1979)

The Black Stallion is very much a film of two halves. You could enter the film at the midpoint and still enjoy the back 50% as a self-contained story. Similarly, you could just watch the first chunk and then turn it off feeling surprisingly satisfied. Viewed as a whole, though, Stallion serves as a personality quiz centered around whichever half you ultimately prefer. Think Full Metal Jacket or King Kong, which not only bring characters through two vastly different settings but seemingly bring them through different genres of film as well. It’s possible to enjoy the whole film in each of these instances, but by design one segment probably connects with you more powerfully than the other.

The first half of Stallion introduces young Alec Ramsey (Kelly Reno) and the eponymous Black Stallion aboard an unnamed vessel floating in the Mediterranean. Alec, poking around as his father gambles with the foreign seamen, sees the wild horse tied and locked into one of the holds of the ship by its owners. He’s enraptured by it. When the ship crashes and Alec’s father is killed, the stallion saves Alec from death and the pair wash up on a picturesque island. This half of the film is highly meditative and yet highly tactile, focused both on sweeping vistas and on visual symbolism. Aside from a near-monologue delivered by Alec’s father, there’s virtually no dialogue in this entire stretch of The Black Stallion. We’re given no information regarding who Alec and his father actually are, why they’re on this ship, where they’re going. Even the sinking of the ship simply happens, reasons unexplained.

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Film & TV News: March 13

News

  • Fresh off his Oscar win, Leonardo DiCaprio has joined J.J. Abrams in seeking the rights to Killers of the Flower Moon, a tale of the early days of the FBI. This sounds right up DiCaprio’s alley but decidedly not up J.J.’s, which actually makes it more exciting. Of all the zillion things you can do after directing a Star Wars movie, moving out of your comfort zone is definitely one of the more rare options. Let’s hope these guys go for it.
  • In what might be the most surprising news of the week, Amazon has announced a new Tick series (live-action) to be helmed by Wally Pfister, Christopher Nolan’s old cinematographer and director of the much-maligned Transcendence. Cool?
  • Speaking of Nolan, his upcoming Dunkirk is allegedly casting relative unknown Fionn Whitehead in a leading role. Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, and Mark Rylance are already on board in other roles, and you can bet your ass Michael Caine will be making his way in there too.
  • David Fincher’s Netflix series Mindhunter has cast Fringe‘s Anna Torv and Fight Club‘s Holt McCallany in leading roles. The problem is that Fincher will be executive producing and directing the first episode while Scott Buck – of Dexter “fame” (sigh) – will technically be showrunner. Here’s to second chances, right?

Continue reading Film & TV News: March 13

Cloverfield (2008)

Apart from an apparent drive to write about movies with single-word titles beginning with “C” — Christine, Constantine, Calvary, Coma, etc. — we were also given another reason to revisit Cloverfield in the form of a surprise pseudo-sequel, that being the upcoming 10 Cloverfield Lane. Lane was announced out of the blue last week by J.J. Abrams and Co., having already been completed and somehow kept under wraps until a mere two months before release. Impressive marketing strategies aside, the film actually looks pretty interesting. Here’s that trailer:

Cool, right? It seems like the kind of thing that just happens to take place in the world of Cloverfield, but might really be a self-contained story that could conceivably exist without the other movie. Judging from that brief look, the only thing that links the two films is the alien invasion itself, not the human characters nor the location nor any of the events of the first film. There’s no way to be certain of that, of course, but the good thing is we don’t have to wait long to find out. Presumably, this is more of a psychological thriller than Cloverfield, and presumably future sequels could follow the same format and use only the alien invasion as the linking factor. This, of course, results in the hilarious romantic comedy Clove at First Sight and the franchise crossover Angels in the Cloverfield.

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Film & TV News: January 18

News

  • The great Alan Rickman passed away last week after a battle with cancer. We’ll be watching Die Hard in his honor, marathoning Harry Potter, and recommending is writer/director efforts The Winter Guest and A Little Chaos to anyone who’ll listen.
  • HBO has reportedly halted production on Westworld, the Jonathan Nolan-helmed series adaptation of Michael Crichton’s seminal original film. That’s the latest in a long string of mysterious production shakeups at HBO, but it’s hard to get too rattled about it considering nearly everything they put out is of impeccable quality.
  • A lightsaber with a crossguard hilt will apparently crop up in Star Wars Rebels, and it’s possible (although highly unlikely) that Supreme Leader Snoke will make an appearance as well. I’m all for bringing elements of The Force Awakens into the earlier-set parts of the Star Wars saga, but the lightsaber concept alone kind of makes Kylo Ren’s iconic weapon a little less special. I hope I eat those words.
  • Can we talk about the impressive unveiling of 10 Cloverfield Lane? Consider how impossible it is to keep anything a secret these days. Consider how we only have to wait two months for the film, rather than two years. Consider how J.J. Abrams must have known that the Force Awakens marketing blitz would effectively serve as its own smokescreen, press outlets wrongly assuming that J.J. wouldn’t dare think of multitasking with a Star Wars film at stake (even if T.J. Miller sniped it). Trailer below.

Continue reading Film & TV News: January 18

Tangerine (2015)

We’ve all been there before: it’s Christmas Eve and you’ve just been released from jail to discover your pimp has been cheating on you so you flip out and hunt him down. It’s a pretty universal conundrum. That was what Pilgrim’s Progress was about, right? Or doesn’t Plato have some allegorical yarn about emerging from a darkened prison, reaching upward toward the light, finally beginning to perceive the true form of reality, and then bitch-slapping your pimp? The Parable of the Donut Shop, I think. Basic universal plots like Rags to Riches, Voyage and Return, The Quest, and Christmas Eve Pimp Hunting have a certain inherent comfort to them because we’ve all been there before.

Tangerine is fresh, though, even if you somehow don’t have a real-life parallel to the above scenario. I’d love to tell you that the freshest thing about it is the story, and admittedly broad aspects of it are rare in modern multiplexes. The primary cast members are transgender and transsexual individuals, led by Kitana Kiki Rodriguez (as Sin-Dee Rella, the newly-freed pimp-hunter) and Mya Taylor (as Alexandra, the Sundance Kid to Sin-Dee’s Butch Cassidy); the film is rounded out by Karren Karagulian’s Razmik, a cabbie with a penchant for rolling the streets where working girls Sin-Dee and Alexandra “ply their trade”. These aren’t your typical heroes, and that sentiment has little to do with their sexuality or gender. These people are the kinds of people that mothers-in-law everywhere are disgusted by, because the activities they engage in seem supremely self-serving, petty, deviant, etc. Indeed, Razmik’s mother-in-law makes all of this explicit when she shows up and harshly disapproves of what she sees.

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Film & TV News: November 23

News

  • Stephen Colbert and J.J. Abrams turned out in force (get it?) this past Saturday for the Montclair Film Festival kickoff fundraiser and buddy-buddy interview. Highlights included an audience prizewinner bluntly inquiring as to how many Ewoks J.J. could take in a fight, Colbert springing J.J.’s acting reel from Six Degrees of Separation on him, and the pair peering up into the fourth tier where I was seated and making remarks like “you’re in low orbit” and “my neck hurts”.
  • Kenneth Branagh will be directing and starring in the long-in-the-works Murder on the Orient Express remake, which hopefully will be so many zillion times better than Shadow Recruit.
  • Ready to feel old? Toy Story turned 20 years old yesterday. Yep. Thankfully, if you want to feel young again, you can just rewatch Toy Story.

Continue reading Film & TV News: November 23

Face Off: James Bond and Star Wars

Motion State Face Offs pit two films, franchises, or television series against each another for no reason other than because we can.

Every single time a Star Wars movie comes to theaters, a James Bond adventure always accompanies it within a year of release. That’s a weird bit of trivia, no? Two of the most gigantic franchises of all time, both in popularity and in cold hard box-office revenue, and the jaunts through a galaxy far, far away are always paired with some good old British womanizing. I smell a conspiracy. Maybe old Bond is just insecure about his lack of Force-wielding prowess and feels the need to release a movie every time a new Star Wars flick hits cinemas.

Regardless, it gives us an opportunity — nay, begs us — to revisit those years and the state of the respective franchises. With the trend continuing this year upon the release of Spectre and The Force Awakens, let’s zip back almost four decades ago to the beginning of the phenomenon.

The Spy Who Loved Me (1977) and A New Hope (1977)

SHLM and NH

A brief look at the weekly box office number-ones throughout 1977 betrays what you’d expect: Star Wars absolutely dominated, reclaiming the top spot again and again weeks after the original release. Great films like SorcererBobby Deerfield, and Cross of Iron have since been relegated to obscurity in the looming shadow of A New Hope. And The Spy Who Loved Me? It’s not even in the Top 10 highest-grossing Bond films (and yet Octopussy is, somehow).

And still The Spy Who Loved Me is one of the better entires in the long-standing franchise, certainly one of the better outings for Roger Moore’s 007. After the idiocy of Live and Let Die and the beautiful weirdness of The Man with the Golden Gun, Moore’s Bond got relatively straightforward in a collaboration with the Russians against the maniacal Karl Stromberg and his trusty metal-toothed henchman. It seemed like Moore’s Bond was finally coming into his own, like the franchise was on its feet again after a long string of so-so spy shindigs. To this day it’s one of the most revered Moore outings.

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Film & TV News: October 20

News

  • The final trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens dropped last night (below). There are a lot of other news items to get to, so we won’t dwell on this single point.
  • The trailer for the new J.J. Abrams flick also went up (below), and it looks pretty good!
  • Disney just released a special sneak peek at a new Marvel movie or something, seemingly a crossover between Guardians of the Galaxy and Blade Runner, with Harrison Ford and everything. See below.

Continue reading Film & TV News: October 20

Regarding Henry (1991)

The upcoming Star Wars movie won’t mark the first time Harrison Ford and J.J. Abrams have crossed paths. As the 1980s became the 1990s and Harrison Ford traded in Han Solo, Deckard and Indy for a string of lawyers, doctors, politicians and playboys, the young writer Jeffrey Abrams was just getting his start. His first singlehanded script was Regarding Henry, a story about a heart-of-ice lawyer who is irrevocably changed by a horrific accident, and he scored big time with Ford and director Mike Nichols coming on board to bring his script to the screen.

Thankfully, even though Ford’s ’80s history is repeating itself with returns to Star Wars, Blade Runner and possibly Indiana Jones, Abrams has matured out of his Regarding Henry self and doesn’t appear to be looking back. A solid cast and crew does not a solid movie make, and Henry is far more by-the-numbers than you might expect from the Ford/Nichols/Abrams triumvirate. There must have been something in the water in Hollywood in the ’90s, as Henry takes a prominent station in the decade’s prized Overly-Emotional Tearjerker Oscar-Bait category.

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