Tag Archives: Star Wars

10 Most Anticipated Films of the Summer

The summer season is notorious for its blockbusters, both the good and the bad (often the bad). But smaller films that release between May and August should not be overlooked. As the best of Sundance start to trickle out and the best of Cannes sneak in later, summer often shapes up to be fun of all sizes. Here are our 10 most anticipated films of summer 2018:

10. Hotel Artemis

Global Road/Courtesy

Directed by: Drew Pearce
Written by: Drew Pearce
Starring: Jodie Foster, Sterling K. Brown, Sofia Boutella, Jeff Goldblum, Dave Bautista
Release Date: June 8, 2018

On concept alone, Hotel Artemis sounds like a blast: Jodie Foster plays a nurse who runs a secret hospital for criminals. It’s the kind of genre fare we need more of, and the film is stacked with brilliant actors to play these exaggerated parts. But the man behind the screenplay and behind the camera, Drew Pearce, has subtly built a strong resume, with writing credits on Iron Man 3 and Mission: Impossible – Rogue Nation — two fantastic genre films. If Pearce brings that level of wit and suspense to this film, we could be in for a hell of a time.

9. Leave No Trace

Bleecker Street/Courtesy

Directed by: Debra Granik
Written by: Debra Granik
Starring: Thomasin McKenzie, Ben Foster
Release Date: June 29, 2018

Debra Granik’s Winter’s Bone was the quiet film that snuck up on people. Not only was it a gripping showcase for the soon-to-be-star Jennifer Lawrence, but it displayed Granik’s immense writing and directing talents. Her next film, which already premiered at Sundance to rave reviews, is said to offer two outstanding performances from Ben Foster and primed-to-breakout Thomasin McKenzie, as well as more of Granik’s quiet power.

8. Eighth Grade

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Bo Burnham
Written by: Bo Burnham
Starring: Elsie Fisher, Josh Hamilton, Emily Robinson
Release Date: July 13, 2018

Bo Burnham is a comedian unlike any other. His wit is quick and awkward, and sometimes bracingly real. His directorial debut, Eighth Grade, which also premiered at Sundance, is a synthesis of those qualities, except through the eyes of an eighth grade girl. Few coming of age stories truly embrace the awkwardness of youth, and even fewer take on social media and the digital well, but reviews say that Burnham has something special that accomplishes both.

7. Incredibles 2

Pixar/Courtesy

Directed by: Brad Bird
Written by: Brad Bird
Starring: Craig T. Nelson, Holly Hunter, Samuel L. Jackson, Bob Odenkirk, Catherine Keener
Release Date: June 15, 2018

Even Pixar’s weaker efforts are mostly fun animated adventures, so any movie from the animation giant would make this list. But this is not just any movie, nor is it any Pixar movie. This is a movie 14 years in the making, a sequel to one of the most beloved animated films of all time and, truly, one of the best superhero movies of all time. And with Brad Bird back writing and directing, this family follow-up will surely hold onto the heart that made the first one so memorable.

6. BlacKkKlansman

David Lee/Focus Features/Courtesy

Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee, David Rabinowitz, Charlie Wachtel, Kevin Willmott
Starring: John David Washington, Adam Driver, Topher Grace, Laura Harrier, Corey Hawkins
Release Date: August 10, 2018

The basic story of BlacKkKlansman is harrowing: a young black police officer infiltrates the Ku Klux Klan. And there’s certainly no doubt that co-writer and director Spike Lee will not only hit hard on how sickening things were back then, but how sickening things still are now. The first footage, however, suggests that the film will actually be a buddy comedy of sorts. And after thinking about it for a moment, it makes complete sense. Lee’s comedy could easily convey the level of atrocious stupidity of the KKK while maintaining the seriousness of the impact of them. It’ll be a tight balancing act, but if Lee pulls it off — and we’ll see rather soon, as it premieres at Cannes — it’ll be a film to rally around.

5. Sorry to Bother You

Annapurna/Courtesy

Directed by: Boots Riley
Written by: Boots Riley
Starring: Lakeith Stanfield, Tessa Thompson, Armie Hammer, Terry Crews, Steven Yeun
Release Date: July 6, 2018

Bay Area activist-artist Boots Riley puts on the writer-director cap for the first time for Sorry to Bother You. The kind of perspective that Riley has offered in other forms of art is desperately needed in the film world, and it seems as though his directorial debut is making quite an impact even prior to its release. Sorry to Bother You already has fantastic reviews, having premiered at Sundance, and its trailer showcases a visual flare and energy that’re not quite like anything else out there. And with a brilliant cast, fronted by Lakeith Stanfield and Tessa Thompson, the film will not be one we forget any time soon.

4. Under the Silver Lake

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: David Robert Mitchell
Written by: David Robert Mitchell
Starring: Andrew Garfield, Riley Keough, Jimmi Simpson, Topher Grace
Release Date: June 22, 2018

David Robert Mitchell broke through with It Follows, a horror film already considered among the best of the 21st century in its genre. So, anything Mitchell did next would be something to seek out. What he’s cooked up, however, looks utterly enchanting. Under the Silver Lake, distributed by the powerhouse that is A24 and premiering soon at Cannes, seems to be a surrealist stoner noir, a subgenre that offers endless possibilities for a wild visual trip, led by a shaggy and paranoid performance from Andrew Garfield.

3. Mission: Impossible – Fallout

Paramount Pictures/Courtesy

Directed by: Christopher McQuarrie
Written by: Christopher McQuarrie
Starring: Tom Cruise, Rebecca Ferguson, Henry Cavill, Simon Pegg, Michelle Monaghan, Ving Rhames
Release Date: July 27, 2018

Ghost Protocol reinvigorated the franchise, but it was Rogue Nation that truly showed how high the series could climb. And, thanks to an absolute banger of a trailer, it seems that Rogue Nation writer-director Christopher McQuarrie has taken the franchise, and Tom Cruise, even higher with Mission: Impossible – Fallout. From the physical beast of Henry Cavill to the return of Rogue Nation standout Rebecca Ferguson to the mind boggling practical stunts of Tom Cruise (he’s actually flying that helicopter?!), Fallout is primed to be a spy thriller on par with the best of Bond and Bourne. And, if for nothing else, Fallout will also give us a glimpse at the infamous Cavill mustache we’ve all heard too much about.

2. Hereditary

A24/Courtesy

Directed by: Ari Aster
Written by: Ari Aster
Starring: Toni Collette, Alex Wolff, Gabriel Byrne, Milly Shapiro
Release Date: June 8, 2018

When reviews call Hereditary “a new generation’s The Exorcist” (Time Out) and describe it as “emotional terrorism” (The A.V. Club), it’s difficult not to start anticipating it. With Hereditary distributed by A24 and said to host a revelatory performance from Toni Collette, it’s impossible not to feel a paradoxical sense of need to see the film immediately, even if people who’ve seen it out of Sundance and South by Southwest say that it scarred them. This is the sick game that spectacular horror films can play, but we’re here for it.

1. Solo: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Directed by: Ron Howard
Written by: Lawrence Kasdan, Jon Kasdan
Starring: Alden Ehrenreich, Emilia Clarke, Donald Glover, Woody Harrelson, Thandie Newton
Release Date: May 25, 2018

Solo: A Star Wars Story may have gone through hell during production, enduring a director firing that has understandably left many rather nervous. But this is still Star Wars, folks. Movies are meant to take us to galaxies far, far away, and we don’t get that, on this scale, too often elsewhere. While the film was reshot under Ron Howard to a point where Lord and Miller didn’t even try for director credits, the trailers have been surprisingly exciting. Ehrenreich absolutely nails his comedic lines and at least looks the part in regard to the drama and action; anyone who’s seen Hail, Caesar! knows that this guy can act just fine. This backstory may not be entirely necessary, but it’s hard not to feel giddy seeing Han Solo and Lando Calrissian meet and fly the Falcon together, and it’s hard not to feel intrigued at the gritty underbelly that this film looks to explore. In fact, it’s that exact aspect that may be the most enticing part of the film. Oscar-nominated cinematographer Bradford Young (A Most Violent Year, Selma, Arrival) brings his trademark darkness to the film’s interiors and injects a stark beauty into each landscape. So, Solo: A Star Wars Story might be familiar company, but it’s unexplored territory.

 

Featured image via Annapurna/Pixar/A24/Lucasfilm.

March Madness of Movies: Introducing the Brackets

Now that it’s March and the NCAA will be hosting its annual March Madness tournament soon, we at MovieMinis thought to have our own tournaments, but, of course, with movies.

In the bracket style of March Madness, we will run through four different topics in what we’re calling the March Madness of Movies.

But rather than stick to general topics, such as Best Superhero Movie or Best Animated Movie, we wanted to get specific, to vote on aspects of film that could potentially make for a much more fascinating tournament.

The four topics we ended up on are:

  • Best A24 Films
  • Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century
  • Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century (cutoff at a $75 million production budget)
  • Best Cinematography Since 2010

In this write-up, we’re introducing the brackets, and in subsequent weeks, we will release the results of each round.

For each bracket, we laid out tons of potential contenders, and after a week of painful voting, we seeded each bracket. We must note that, in working through the seeding process, we were reminded of a terrible reality in the film industry.

In the potential contenders for Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century, with a cutoff at a $75 million production budget, there were only nine films directed by women, many of them with male co-directors. Only one ended up making our bracket, certainly not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. For perspective, there were literally hundreds directed by men, and the men were mostly white. This is a rampant problem in Hollywood. Women and people of color — and above all, women of color — are not only not given many chances, but when they are, failure, in any way, results in horribly unfair consequences; in essence, they’re less likely to get another chance than a white man is. This problem applies to cinematography too. In the potential contenders for that bracket, there was a proportionally similar compilation. While female cinematographers received votes, none made our bracket — again, not as a representation of talent, but as a magnification and emphasis of the problem. Hollywood must change, and part of that change comes from not ignoring the problem anymore. We need more big budget films directed by women and people of color, and we need more films, in general, lensed by women and people of color. We need women and people of color involved in every level of pre-production, production and post-production. For more statistics on female directors of big budget films, read Terry Huang’s piece on The Black List blog.

With that in mind, let’s move into how the brackets shaped up:

Best A24 Films

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Moonlight and Lady Bird earned #1 seeds. Joining them were The Florida Project and A Ghost Story. Those four films will face off against #8 seeds Green RoomMorris From AmericaDe Palma and Menashe.

The next set of top films, the #2 seeds, were Swiss Army Man20th Century WomenThe Lobster and Ex Machina, which will face off against #7 seeds The LoversWhile We’re YoungKrisha and Spring Breakers.

The #3 seeds were a mix of widely awarded films and incredibly acclaimed genre/indie pictures: LockeRoomThe Witch and Good Time. The #6 seeds that they’ll compete against leaned more toward the indie darling: The Spectacular NowThe Bling RingUnder the Skin and Enemy.

Finally, in the middle of the pack were #4 seeds American Honey, Obvious ChildA Most Violent Year and It Comes At Night, as well as #5 seeds AmyThe End of the TourThe Disaster Artist and The Killing of a Sacred Deer.

Best Superhero Villain of the 21st Century

This bracket is made up of four subcategories — MCU villains, DC villains, X-Men villains and villains from other properties — and we pulled eight contenders from each subcategory to compete. Instead of leaving them in their own sections, however, we then mixed them up and seeded from there. And we kept it to just eight per subcategory because it seemed more interesting than a likely lopsided MCU bunch had we not had that limit.

And this bracket is not just about performances. It’s about the villain, the character. That involves the writing and the directing of that character too.

With that said, the first three #1 seeds were rather simple to come to: Heath Ledger’s The Joker from The Dark Knight, Michael B. Jordan’s Erik Killmonger from Black Panther and Ian McKellen’s Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto from X-MenX2 and X-Men: The Last Stand

Perhaps surprisingly to some who dislike the character, our staff showed strong support for Tom Hardy’s Bane from The Dark Knight Rises, who took that final #1 seed.

Those four will take on #8 seeds Kevin Bacon’s Sebastian Shaw from X-Men: First Class, Ed Skrein’s Francis/Ajax from Deadpool, Mark Strong’s Frank D’Amico from Kickass and Kurt Russell’s Ego from Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2.

The #2 seeds went to Tom Hiddleston’s Loki from various MCU films, Alfred Molina’s Doc Ock from Spider-Man 2, the other Erik Lehnsherr/Magneto (played by Michael Fassbender) from the most recent X-Men trilogy and the second The Dark Knight inclusion, Aaron Eckhart’s Harvey Dent/Two Face.

The #7 seeds who will battle these four are Zach Galifianakis’ The Joker from The LEGO Batman Movie, Hugh Jackman’s X-24 from Logan, James Franco’s Harry Osborn/New Goblin from Spider-Man 3 and Michael Shannon’s General Zod from Man of Steel.

Two of the #3 seeds went to the last two Captain America films; Daniel Brühl’s Helmut Zemo from Civil War and Sebastian Stan’s The Winter Soldier (not Bucky Barnes) from The Winter Soldier. Liam Neeson’s Ra’s al Ghul from Batman Begins and Jason Lee’s Buddy Pine/Syndrome from The Incredibles earned the other two #3 seeds. 

Competing against them are #6 seeds James Cromwell’s Professor Robert Callaghan from Big Hero 6, Dane DeHaan’s Andrew Detmer from Chronicle, Peter Dinklage’s Bolivar Trask from X-Men: Days of Future Past and the Sentinels that Trask unleashed onto the X-Men, also from X-Men: Days of Future Past.

In the middle of the pack, earning #4 seeds, were Cillian Murphy’s Dr. Jonathan Crane/Scarecrow from the entire The Dark Knight trilogy, Willem Dafoe’s Norman Osborn/Green Goblin from Spider-Man, Samuel L. Jackson’s Mr. Glass from Unbreakable and Andy Serkis’ Ulysses Klaue from Avengers: Age of Ultron and Black Panther. They’ll match up against #5 seeds Hugo Weaving’s Johann Schmidt/Red Skull from Captain America: The First Avenger, Brian Cox’s Col. William Stryker from X2, Michael Keaton’s Adrian Toomes/Vulture from Spider-Man: Homecoming and Jesse Eisenberg’s Lex Luthor from Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice.

Best Big Budget Directing of the 21st Century

This bracket was split up into four different subcategories. Those were “Superhero Directing” (in the upper left), “Franchise Directing” (in the lower left), “Prestige/Original/Non-Studio Franchise Directing” (in the upper right) and “Animated Directing” (in the lower right). We took some liberties with this. Mad Max: Fury Road is a part of a franchise, but we concluded that it felt more in line with its current group than it would’ve among the franchise contenders.

In Superhero Directing:

Christopher Nolan easily earned a #1 seed; many even believe that he should’ve gotten an Oscar nomination for his efforts on The Dark Knight. He’ll face off against #8 seed Tim Miller for the subversive Deadpool.

Coming in behind Nolan in the #2 seed was Ryan Coogler for Black Panther, a cultural phenomenon that many believe could become the first superhero film nominated for Best Picture.

The #3 seed went to Joe Russo and Anthony Russo for Captain America: Civil War; the Russo brothers also placed in the #7 seed for Captain America: Civil War. James Gunn will take on the Civil War Russos with #6 seed Guardians of the Galaxy.

The middle match-up comes from 2017 films: the #4 seed James Mangold for Logan and the #5 seed Patty Jenkins for Wonder Woman.

In Franchise Directing:

Peter Jackson quite easily snagged the #1 seed for his directing job on The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. He’s the only Best Director winner out of five nominated efforts in this bracket. Facing of against him is #8 seed Martin Campbell for the first Daniel Craig James Bond film Casino Royale.

Sam Mendes, director of another Craig Bond film, Skyfall, made the bracket as the #6 seed. He’ll compete with #3 seed Matt Reeves for Dawn of the Planet of the Apes.

Like Bond, Matt Reeves made his subcategory twice, earning the #2 seed for War for the Planet of the Apes. He’ll take on our perhaps surprising Star Wars inclusion, #7 seed Gareth Edwards for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.

Finally, with some of the most acclaimed films of the subcategory, #4 seed Alfonso Cuarón for Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban will battle #5 seed Denis Villeneuve for Blade Runner 2049.

In Prestige/Original/Non-Franchise Studio Directing

David Fincher’s Zodiac has become regarded as on the best films, in general, of the 21st century, so he glided into a #1 seed pretty smoothly. But his contender is a tough one: #8 seed Alfonso Cuarón for landmark sci-fi film Children of Men.

George Miller earned the #2 seed for his masterful work on Mad Max: Fury Road, and will face of against legendary director and #7 seed Martin Scorsese for The Wolf of Wall Street.

Scorsese made this subcategory twice, taking the #3 seed for his directing job on The Aviator. His opponent is #6 seed Christopher Nolan for Dunkirk, who also made this subcategory twice, placing as the #4 seed for Inception. He’ll take on #5 seed Peter Jackson for King Kong.

In Animated Directing:

Quite predictably, Pixar dominated this bracket, with #1 seeds Pete Docter and Bob Peterson for Up, #2 seed Brad Bird for The Incredibles, #3 seed Lee Unkrich for Toy Story 3, #4 seed Andrew Stanton for WALL-E, #6 seeds Pete Docter and Ronnie del Carmen for Inside Out and #8 seeds Lee Unkrich and Adrian Molina for Coco.

But other animation directors made it through with their beloved films. Rounding out the eight were #5 seeds Dean DeBlois and Chris Sanders for How to Train Your Dragon, and #7 seeds Ron Clements, John Musker, Don Hall and Chris Williams for Disney’s Moana.

Best Cinematography Since 2010

Even with setting the parameter of cinematography since 2010, there were still an overwhelming number of potential contenders and our votes were widely varied, resulting in a bracket that truly represents a mix of our opinions.

The #1 seeds did stand out, however: Mihai Malaimare Jr.’s lensing of The Master, Andrew Droz Palermo’s work on A Ghost Story, Roger Deakins Oscar-winning efforts on Blade Runner 2049 and Hoyte van Hoytema’s unforgettable photography on Her.

In fact, both Deakins and van Hoytema made this bracket three times. Deakins also earned a #3 seed for Skyfall and a #6 seed for Sicario. van Hoytema’s other two were Christopher Nolan films, a #2 seed for Dunkirk and a #6 seed for Interstellar.

Bradford Young also made this bracket three times, taking a #2 seed for Arrival, a #7 seed for A Most Violent Year and a #8 seed for Mother of George.

But, of course, 3-time Oscar winner Emmanuel Lubezki placed more than everyone with four spots: a #2 seed for The Tree of Life, a #3 seed for Gravity, a #5 seed for The Revenant and a #7 seed for Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance).

The rest of the bracket is filled with stunning photography. Oscar winner Linus Sandgren earned a #2 seed for his work on La La Land. Other cinematographers of 2016 took spots as well, with James Laxton earning a #4 seed for Moonlight and Rodrigo Prieto earning a #4 seed for Silence.

Work from 2015 films rounded out the #3 seeds: Dick Pope for Mr. Turner and John Seale for Mad Max: Fury Road. The other #4 seeds were Luca Bigazzi for The Great Beauty and Bruno Delbonnel for Inside Llewyn Davis.

While Hoyte van Hoytema may have two Nolan films on this bracket, Nolan’s former cinematographer, Wally Pfister, earned a #5 for his Oscar-winning work on Inception. Rather recent photography also seeded #5: Rob Hardy for Annihilation and Sayombhu Mukdeeprom for Call Me by Your Name.

In fact, a couple of Roberts placed here. Robert D. Yeoman placed in the #6 seed for The Grand Budapest Hotel and the #7 seed for Moonrise Kingdom. Robert Richardson also seeded #6 for Django Unchained, while Robert Elswit was another Paul Thomas Anderson cinematographer to place, earning a #8 seed for Inherent Vice..

Finally, the last few contenders are #7 seed Masanobu Takayanagi for Hostiles, #8 seed Darius Khondji for The Lost City of Z and #8 seed Seamus McGarvey for Godzilla.

 

Follow along throughout March as we vote on these brackets and determine the best of each topic!

 

Featured image via Marvel Studios/Warner Bros./A24.

Ranking the Star Wars films

Star Wars films hold the top two spots for the biggest opening weekends at the box office, and are two of only four films to have crossed $200 million in their debuts. While it doesn’t hold the record for the largest worldwide gross, Star Wars: The Force Awakens easily stands with the largest domestic gross, nearing $1 billion, where Avatar is nearly $200 million less and only three other films have ever hit $600 million. And Star Wars: The Last Jedi will very easily join this group, perhaps even beating Avatar’s domestic gross, in due time.

The financial success of Star Wars today is a testament to the power it’s built since 1977. Star Wars films define an entire generation, and have worked their way into not only everyday popular culture, but culture in general in ways that few other pieces of art, in general, ever have. The original trilogy pushed so many of those ‘70s children to become the next great filmmakers, or storytellers of any kind, even defining much of the non-Star Wars art we see today.

To say that Star Wars is special is an incredible understatement. George Lucas’ little $11 million film channeled something in people across the world for decades and certainly many decades to come, something that we may not ever fully understand.

What’s intriguing, though, is that, in our opinion, out of the nine films of the Star Wars universe, only three are truly great films. Then, there are four varying types of good, and two we don’t like to talk about. There’s no doubting these films’ significance in culture — yes, even the bad ones — but taking an analytical deep dive into how they work as movies and how they compare to one another is absolutely fascinating, and will likely be entirely controversial. But here we are, ranking the Star Wars films from worst to best:

9. Star Wars: Attack of the Clones

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Well… what can we say about the worst Star Wars film and, honestly, one of the worst written (at least from a dialogue standpoint) big budget films? This is an actual line of dialogue in the film, played with utmost seriousness by Hayden Christensen’s Anakin to Natalie Portman’s Padme: “I don’t like sand. It’s coarse and rough and irritating and it gets everywhere.”

While Christensen gets a bad rapt for his performances in the last two prequel films, he’s not the main problem with Attack of the Clones. The issues really come from Lucas’ insistence to stay committed to (not great) CGI — instead of the practical effects that made the originals so memorable — and from his poor dialogue (not even the standout Ewan McGregor can make the dialogue sound believable) and overall plotting. While the film features some (necessary to stay awake) thrilling action sequences, Attack of the Clones is the closest thing to a total misfire within the Star Wars series.

— Levi Hill

8. Star Wars: The Phantom Menace

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

The prequels, as concepts, are brilliant, but Lucas’ elaboration on the concepts and his particular direction of the them are terrible. And Star Wars: The Phantom Menace, while not as terrible of a film as Attack of the Clones, represents the stink perhaps more potently.

The strange, boring political machinations embarrassingly bog down the plot. The performances of nearly every member are laughable, and even Liam Neeson and Ewan McGregor, who, based on acting alone, do a decent job, cannot make up for the horrific dialogue. Much of the Star Wars mythology is damaged by concepts such as midichlorians as well as the over-indulgence in the idea of fate, something that was handled so well in the original trilogy. The style of the worlds and the action is so over-the-top and negatively diverting to a point where features such as lightsaber battles feel like some kind of sick joke. The CGI, while revolutionary at the time for what it could accomplish, is overwhelming and poorly used. And the film is genuinely racist in the many characters who are clear and offensive stereotypes.

As said before, the basic story concept of the prequels is fantastic. But the execution is so botched, so damaging to the universe, so terrible on a technical level that it’s no use to even make the case for the concept.

— Kyle Kizu

7. Star Wars: Revenge of the Sith

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Say what you will about the prequels, but Revenge of the Sith is genuinely a good (not great) movie that gives some needed gravitas and weight to the prior two (near disastrous) additions to the Star Wars saga. Christensen is, thankfully, given his first chance to actually show off some depth as one of the most fascinating characters in Star Wars — Anakin Skywalker, aka Darth Vader and the father of Luke.

And dare I say, Ewan McGregor actually gives an awards worthy performance as the willing-to-do-good Obi-Wan Kenobi, who is also conflicted about is young padawan’s brewing dark side. The ending of Revenge of the Sith may be predictable — I mean, the first three films (or IV through VI) are where we’re headed — but that doesn’t mean the film is any less powerful when we see the final transformation of young Anakin Skywalker into Lord Vader.

— Levi Hill

6. Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, the first standalone film, perhaps had to take the same approach as Star Wars: The Force Awakens, grounding us in the familiar — the mission of the Rebels that kicks of the events of A New Hope — before taking us where we’ve never been.

And the film kicks off with a fascinating question of morality and cost that this type of story requires, as we’re introduced to Cassian (Diego Luna) murdering a fellow Rebel for the sake of the mission. In fact, all of the characters add dimensions to who the people of this universe can be. Jyn (Felicity Jones) is our first reluctant hero, hiding due to the pain of her childhood. Chirrut (Donnie Yen) takes the Force-as-religion concept to a whole new level. Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) offers another take on the defector narrative. And K-2SO (Alan Tudyk) continues to expand on why droids are the most hilarious characters in Star Wars.

Director Gareth Edwards does an admirable job in setting up these morally ambiguous characters; it truly does feel like fresh ground. And Edwards also directs the hell out of action sequences, imbuing them with a wartime grit due, in part, to Greig Fraser’s stunning cinematography

But the film ultimately only goes so far, and that’s not enough. Jyn’s character arc is handled very sloppily as the film flips between careful development of a reluctant hero and sudden moments of heroism. While plenty of the battle on Scarif is outstanding, much of the specific retrieval of the Death Star plans, in the interior tower, feels lazily conceived and lazily executed. Finally, the film is too often hampered by fan service. Fan service doesn’t necessarily mean bad, but it ends up being so when it takes away from the efficiency and effectiveness of the film, such as much of the Darth Vader work and plenty of references.

— Kyle Kizu

5. Return of the Jedi

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

There’s a darker, more thematically committed version of Return of the Jedi beneath the one we ended up getting. The confrontation between Luke, Darth Vader and Emperor Palpatine is fittingly epic and a gripping payoff to the buildup that the first two installments set forth. The clash of these characters in one room, battling it out both physically and mentally, indulging deeply in the classically simple light vs. dark conflict, is pulled off with grace (in the original version, not the special edition re-release) and gravitas.

The characters of Han and Leia are also given new ground to explore, some of the action sequences are the epitome of Star Wars entertainment and Endor is rendered a visually dynamic new world.

But Endor is also where Return of the Jedi falls. It’s been said a thousand times, but Ewoks had no place in this film, or at least how they’re depicted serves little purpose. Essentially, director Richard Marquand offers the most kid-friendly version of Star Wars, and the most silly version. It’s a happy, joyous ending to our characters’ journeys, which is a nice note in retrospect. But there’s no reason that that note could not have been reached by taking the opportunity to conclude this story a bit more seriously.

— Kyle Kizu

4. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

That Star Wars: The Force Awakens successfully revived such a monumental franchise buried in such monumental crap is an achievement in its own right, and genuinely a framework by which to judge the film. While the tone and story beats may feel familiar, they fluidly situate us into a galaxy decades removed with new types of characters. On closer inspection, JJ Abrams and co-writers Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt take an assured storytelling approach that, in its specifics, is rather different than the original Star Wars.

And those characters are exactly where The Force Awakens shines so brightly. Luke had stories of his parents that turned out to be lies. Rey has nothing, but Daisy Ridley gives her a lively vigor that so many can identify with and adore. Her performance is explorative and searching, and while her pain may be under the surface, we can detect it in her yearning for journey and purpose.

The defector origins of Finn (John Boyega) are an immensely fascinating starting point that immediately allow us to latch onto him, and Poe (Oscar Isaac) is truly the closest a Star Wars character has ever gotten to being as badass as Han Solo. Then there’s Kylo Ren (Adam Driver), who is, essentially, a successful version of the young, manipulable, emotional, light-dark conflicted character that failed so spectacularly with Anakin Skywalker. And the context of his parentage and mentor renders him one of the better villains in recent blockbusters.

Throw in an actually committed Harrison Ford, a quieter, more subtle, but equally as brilliant score by John Williams and some traditional, refined filmmaking, and Star Wars: The Force Awakens, despite its familiarities, is a welcome and entertaining entry that does work outside of itself that most of the other films didn’t have to.

— Kyle Kizu

3. Star Wars

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

There would be no Star Wars without the original, which is, arguably, the most purely entertaining film and the most memorable from start to finish. From Alec Guinness’ Oscar-nominated turn as the wise and monologue-heavy Obi-Wan Kenobi, to the star-making turn from Harrison Ford, to the sheer imagination on display (seriously, holy shit), Star Wars (now called A New Hope) is a landmark moment in cinema. Not only did it help create the blockbuster era we are still experiencing (remaining the largest and most successful film franchise in the world), but it proved to be a real turning moment in film, where the rules felt like they could once again be broken down and built up again. George Lucas created a storytelling (and marketing) titan, and we are all indebted to the first film in the series. In fact, it wasn’t until The Last Jedi that a film was as willing to match this original’s unbridled ambition.

— Levi Hill

2. The Empire Strikes Back

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

“No, I am your father!” declares Darth Vader in one of the most iconic of all cinematic moments, setting Empire Strikes Back as the standard bearer for the largest franchise in the world, but even more so as the de facto comparison that any sequel has to live up to. And not many do.

Both expanding on the Star Wars mythology and increasing the amount of spectacle, The Empire Strikes Back finds its true power in its intense focus on further developing the characters. We see Luke Skywalker struggle to find his place and temper his ambition. We see Han Solo become more than just a wisecracking sidekick and smuggler; we see him become a person who’s trying to do well for those he cares about. Then, Leia is given the required depth through her passion for the rebellion, her will to do well, even if challenging norms, all the while balancing her (odd, in hindsight) love triangle between Luke and Han.

While critically mixed during its day, The Empire Strikes Back stands rightfully at the top of most Star Wars rankings.

— Levi Hill

1. Star Wars: The Last Jedi

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Yes, it may be a tad premature to rank The Last Jedi, which just opened this past weekend, as the best Star Wars film yet. And, according to some fans, we may be crazy for even suggesting that this film is canonical. But here we are, with Star Wars: The Last Jedi easily topping our list.

What makes Episode VIII our pick as the best, though, is actually due to many of the reasons that other fans have written it off: that it breaks the rules, rewrites what “a Star Wars film” entails, puts an emphasis on humor and heartbreak and, ultimately, paints a political portrait that fits next to the anti-Vietnam/Nixon-era politics that George Lucas has said influenced the first film.

Because the film is still fresh in people’s minds and not-yet-seen for others, we’re going to keep plot details to a minimum. But essentially, much of the buildup from The Force Awakens veers into drastically different territory than what many expected. Yet, all decisions are in favor of the populist, “we the people” message Rian Johnson so thrillingly achieves with The Last Jedi. Even outside of just the message, though, The Last Jedi features some of the most engaging action sequences on the big screen, the most dynamic use of lightsabers and, for what it’s worth, the most badass final 45 minutes in a Star Wars film. For further elaboration on the film’s specific brilliance, read our full review.

Call us crazy, but yes, The Last Jedi is already the best Star Wars film.

— Levi Hill

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

‘Star Wars: The Last Jedi’ Review: A humanist, subversive, new kind of ‘Star Wars’ story

With Star Wars: The Force Awakens, the most signficant franchise in popular culture awoke from a deep slumber. However, it did so with a sense of familiarity that, while perhaps necessary, hurts the film in hindsight.

But Star Wars: The Last Jedi takes another necessary step, that of subversion of the very things that The Force Awakens hinged on. And in doing so, The Last Jedi breathes urgent purpose into the new trilogy, purpose it had yet to prove.

What’s immediately evident about The Last Jedi — through a nailbiter of an opening sequence, which includes an absolutely hysterical bit that tops Poe’s opening of “who talks first?” in The Force Awakens — is that this film is interested in people. While some large scale action films focus on the spectacle, writer-director Rian Johnson and cinematographer Steve Yedlin’s camera situates us with the fighting, the sacrificing and the dying that fuel those battles.

When it comes to his focus on our main characters, Johnson succeeds in giving them all heavy, deeply personal character arcs. Finn needs to learn how best to fight for the Resistance. Poe needs to learn leadership that thinks ahead of the enemy, that thinks of everyone that a potential failure in leadership might affect. And John Boyega and Oscar Isaac inject the same kind of charismatic vigor into their characters that made them so lovable in the first place.

But Johnson’s portrayal of Luke Skywalker, this mammoth figure in pop culture, is the film’s most dynamic feature. And that’s because Johnson takes him out of the familiar, out of what we know him to be. Essentially, Johnson dissects “the legend” of Luke Skywalker, questioning that title by focusing in on Kylo Ren’s turn to the dark side years prior while at Luke’s Jedi school. It gives Mark Hamill new space to explore, as a rehash of pure heroism would’ve failed to be profound, and Hamill offers up a hilarious, pained, tired and tender performance. Though the trilogy jumps decades, we still get to feel the weight of those decades because Hamill bares it tangibly and beautifully.

Johnson intertwines Luke’s arc with those of Rey and Kylo in a way that challenges Rey’s almost original-trilogy-Luke sense of purpose, and in a way that cuts straight to the heart of Kylo’s light-dark conflict. It’s a brilliant framework, as the film adds new layers to Kylo, not only in the context of his turn but in the context of his purpose moving forward. Adam Driver ingrains those emotions deep into his performance, rendering him as one of the more complex villains in large scale cinema.

The framework also places Rey at the forefront, mainly through her search for identity now that she’s been thrust into the world of the Force. The film’s answer is decidedly feminist, fitting into Johnson’s overall idea of who heroes are, and Daisy Ridley capitalizes on the material, delivering a performance that is, appropriately, searching, yet also gripping in its painful anger and raw vulnerability.

The film is truly an ensemble piece, even more so than most typical ensembles as there’s a sense of individualized growth within nearly every character. And the performances of the rest of the cast are wholly committed, including vibrant work by newcomer Kelly Marie Tran, a towering presence from Laura Dern and a brave turn by the late Carrie Fisher.

This is, however, where the film slightly falters, as it becomes, at times, too stuffed with so much character work happening at the same time and in different places, which impacts the film’s pacing. Certain moments, such as when the plot needs to catch up, happen too quickly or conveniently and other moments, such as those of thematic significance, feel a bit too drawn out. The film also has four acts, which is not unusual, but it requires an extremely careful sense of flow and progression, perhaps exemplified by The Dark Knight. And while the flow from the third act into the fourth isn’t terrible, it’s unbalanced.

But the film, despite its flaws, is genuinely stunning. Johnson choreographs action — both in space and on the ground — with such rhythmic intensity and fluidity, but also with an underlying grit informed by the film’s humanism. And the settings within which that action takes place are so singular and transfixing, often due to Rick Heinrich’s spellbinding production design and Steve Yedlin’s soaring and awe-striking cinematography, especially in his long shots. 

The story, while not perfectly executed, also holds beauty. As said before, this film is about people. And Johnson engages with the political, shedding light on the First Order’s impact on the poor and forgotten, on those that come from nothing but a little bit of hope. Fascinatingly enough, however, Johnson, while portraying the Resistance lovingly, doesn’t shy away from critiquing the larger notion of the “machine” of the Resistance.

But it’s those like Rose Tico (Marie Tran), someone who works alone in the dirty underbelly of a Resistance ship and is not really a part of any “machine,” who can embody a heroism in the face of tyranny that leaders of the Resistance have yet to fully understand. It’s heroes like Rey who can represent the greatest that hope can stand for.

In that sense, The Last Jedi is a new kind of Star Wars story. Along the way, the film challenges a lot of what we’re familiar with, especially in regard to the mythology of the universe. At points, the film almost feels satirical in how it critiques what we expect a Star Wars film to be.

Therein lies the film’s value. More of the same, especially in a wasteland of traditional, unengaging hero stories, would’ve been a shame. It was necessary for The Force Awakens, for that film to care about what we thought of it.

But The Last Jedi believes in a new kind of hero and, thus, a new kind of Star Wars.

Grade: A-

 

Featured image via Lucasfilm.

When Harry Met Movies: The immortal words of Marty McFly — Column

Back to the Future is a film I adore, and I distinctly remember watching it as a senior in high school, laughing along to the jokes, feeling the mental sizzle as iconic lines burned themselves into my memory and wondering why I hadn’t seen it sooner. Unlike many of the films I love, Back to the Future wasn’t something I was brought up on as a child, but something a close friend of mine introduced me to.

We met in the summer between fourth and fifth grade, at a tennis camp which neither of us enjoyed nor attended voluntarily — my parents’ last ditch attempt to inspire some degree of athleticism worthy of three prior generations of swimming, running, tennis ball thrashing Tunggals. The only thing tennis camp inspired was a great deal of sweat and indignation, intensified because I forgot my water bottle on the first day. Andrew gave me one of his.

Seven years later, I was backstage with my band about to perform “Johnny B. Goode” at a school concert. Sure, I had a sunburst-red Les Paul hanging from my shoulder, but I wasn’t Jimmy Page as much as I was Lawrence from School of Rock, before he puts on sunglasses and a cape. The pre-cape Lawrences of the world hardly introduce their bands before an audience, and I sure as hell didn’t know what to say.

“Say, ‘This is an oldie. Well, it’s an oldie where I come from,’” Andrew suggested, sensing my nerves, as friends do after years of classes, choir rehearsals and debate conventions. “You know, like Back to the Future.” It was a reference I didn’t get yet, but I knew that movie was famous enough that it might break the ice for the audience. So I said it, eschewing both Jimmy Page and Lawrence for Marty McFly, and tore into that immortal B flat blues riff.

Some time after, I finally got around to watching Back to the Future. Some time after that, I watched its sequel, the one where franchise-villain Biff Tannen becomes the rich tyrant of Hill Valley. Some time later, Biff Tannen was elected President, and the February after that, Andrew texted me about how jealous he was that Milo Yiannopoulos was going to speak on my campus. To quote Marty McFly, that was heavy.

Back to the Future is Andrew’s favorite film trilogy — not the original Star Wars movies, not The Lord of the Rings, not Toy Story. So it boggles my mind how he, or anyone, could see Biff Tannen as the hero of the story, let alone a valid presidential candidate. The writers of the films certainly don’t, admitting that Biff, who owns a casino, poses in front of a portrait of himself and seizes political power, was based on Donald Trump.

In a video essay about the career of George Lucas, Alejandro Villarreal edits together clips of Lucas’ own interviews to create a retrospective on the Star Wars creator. Lucas says “I only hope that those who have seen Star Wars recognize the Emperor when they see him.” I know for a fact that Andrew has seen Star Wars. We made a fan film for a school project once.

Finding that a friend I’ve known for so long differs from myself on such a basic level is difficult to process, but what’s even more frustrating is how film as a medium seems to betray its own limitations. Films are messages and lessons conveyed through good stories, humor, thrills and tears. Films are empathy machines, as Roger Ebert says, allowing us to see the world from another perspective, filtered through a camera lens. But what if the machine doesn’t work on everybody? What if the message is lost in the machinations of a plot, a good belly laugh or a well-timed scare?

I don’t have any answers, but if there’s a film out there that does, I’m all ears.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a bi-weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via Universal Pictures.

When Harry Met Movies: First Impressions — Column

This site lists me as Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic, but a more accurate title might be Executive Film Noob For Life. The Social Network is a film that I should probably watch instead of writing this column, while Seven Samurai and Mulholland Drive are films that I should watch before doing either of those things. I know that Citizen Kane is THE CITIZEN KANE of all films past, present and forthcoming, but don’t ask me to tell you why. I think it’s because there’s a snow globe of particular symbolic weight, but that’s the best I can do. Neither can I tell you anything about Fellini, other than that they’ve got great lunch specials and killer marinara.

In a vain attempt at regaining credibility — admitting that I haven’t seen The Social Network makes such a task more or less insurmountable — I’ll assure you that I can speak somewhat intelligibly about the beginnings of the French New Wave and Claude Chabrol’s La Beau Serge, but that’s only because I saw it for the first time two weeks ago in a film class. The week before that, I discovered Singin’ in the Rain and last Thursday I watched my first Alfred Hitchcock film (Rope).

The gaps in my knowledge of film might be many, but within them lies some degree of excitement — watching things for the first time is always special, particularly if it’s one of those (many) movies I should have seen by now. While everyone else gets to grin slightly at the familiar, decades-old dance numbers of Gene Kelly, I get to watch them with a wide, dumb smile. Similarly, there’s nothing like discovering and delighting in the macabre of Hitchcock, or the perennial freshness of the French New Wave. It’s like that scene from Wonder Woman, when Diana tries ice cream for the first time and tells the vendor that he should be proud of himself (Gene, Alfred, Claude, you all can take a bow).

I bet you wish you could remember the exact moments leading up to that first spoonful of ice cream, the unique joy during it and the “You should be proud of yourself!” after. I bet you wish you could recall the initiating thrills of Star Wars; what it was like to fall for a jump scare in Jaws — I certainly wish I did. Therein lies the upside to the admittedly wide gaps in my film knowledge. I get to preserve the memory of a first viewing more fully, to etch in my mind, in vivid detail, what it was like to fill those gaps.

Of course, not every movie goes down like a gob of Cherry Garcia, but even then, simply leaving the theater is an occasion to remember. The overwhelming relief that flooded me at the end of Transformers: The Last Knight (it was a press screening, so don’t get mad at me for paying for a ticket) is something I won’t want to forget anytime soon, especially since I suffered through its relentless quest of disorientation with one of my best friends from high school — fitting, since our years of secondary education and that franchise can be described with more or less the same words. Most recently, I’ll never forget the mad dash a friend and I made for a consolatory cup of ice cream after mother!, the way we both knew what we wanted as soon as we left the theater, and how I stumbled over my words as I ordered.

I’ve begun ranking movies as I see them, and recording where I saw them. If applicable, I write down the people I saw them with. Movies are an essential part of my life, and I want to remember, if not capture, the feeling of watching them for the first time. I have a lot to catch up on, but that’s not something to be ashamed of since there’s so much joy to be had in filling those gaps. It’s a task whose enormity does not preclude its own infinite capacity to delight, horrify or inspire.

‘When Harry Met Movies’ is a weekly column from Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic Harrison Tunggal about movies that shape us and why we love them.

 

Featured image via MGM.

2018 Oscar Predictions: Best Original Score

Best Original Score is a bit of a mix between celebrity status and merit. Sometimes the best score among the bunch is passed on for a more popular name, but the disparity, in that case, between the best and the winner isn’t massive.

It’s a bit easy to rule out Carter Burwell for his Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri score and John Williams for his eighth take on Star Wars. Neither won precursors and while there may be fans of Williams’ compositions, neither feel particularly memorable either.

This year, Hans Zimmer’s brutally intense Dunkirk score, one that almost feels like sound design (the supervising music editor was nominated in the Best Sound Editing category), or Jonny Greenwood’s classically inspired yet singularly beautifully work on Paul Thomas Anderson’s Phantom Thread seem like the two that most obviously deserve it.

However, both Zimmer and Greenwood will likely be passed over for Alexandre Desplat’s work on The Shape of Water. Not only did he win both the Golden Globe and the BAFTA, but he has also apparently been schmoozing in the time prior to voting, a tactic that has worked for other Oscar nominees this year. His score is undoubtedly beautiful, serves the film wondrously and is not the most heinous of the nominees to award. But it is unfortunate that more powerful scores will miss out.

If the Oscars were truly about the best of the year and not just the most popular or most campaigned, Daniel Hart’s A Ghost Story score would’ve been nominated.

The Nominees
Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Alexandre Desplat — The Shape of Water
Jonny Greenwood — Phantom Thread
John Williams — Star Wars: The Last Jedi
Carter Burwell — Three Billboards outside Ebbing, Missouri

Will win: Alexandre Desplat — The Shape of Water
Could win: Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Should win: Hans Zimmer — Dunkirk
Should’ve been nominated: Daniel Hart — A Ghost Story

 

Featured image via Fox Searchlight Pictures.

J.J. Abrams brought back to write and direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’

In a move that not many expected, but that seems as in line with Lucasfilm’s most recent decisions as any, J.J. Abrams, director of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, has been hired to direct the final installment of the new trilogy from a galaxy far, far away, announced via a press release on StarWars.com.

A week ago, Lucasfilm and previous director Colin Trevorrow parted ways. Trevorrow had been on the project for over two years and had written the screenplay with his writing partner Derek Connolly. But rumors began to surface, especially after the critical failure of Trevorrow’s The Book of Henry, that Trevorrow could be ousted. Last month, Jack Thorne, co-writer of the upcoming Julia Roberts, Owen Wilson and Jacob Tremblay film Wonder, was brought on to rewrite.

It seems as though the script will be overhauled, as Abrams has been tasked to write Star Wars: Episode IX with Academy Award-winning writer Chris Terrio. Terrio won the Oscar for the Ben Affleck-directed Argo, and has written scripts for Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice and the upcoming Justice League. Abrams co-wrote The Force Awakens with Lawrence Kasdan and Michael Arndt.

In the days after Trevorrow departed the ninth episode, fans and critics offered up potential replacements. The internet seemed to come to a consensus that they wanted Ava DuVernay, director of Selma13th and the upcoming Disney film A Wrinkle in Time. Rian Johnson, director of eighth episode Star Wars: The Last Jedi, popped up in serious rumors, so much so that the director ended up explicitly saying that he had no plans to return.

But it was likely that Abrams was already hired, or at least just had to sign on the dotted line, by the time Lucasfilm came out to announce Trevorrow’s exit. This will be Abrams’ first film since The Force Awakens and he will produce through his production company Bad Robot.

In the press release, Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy made this official statement:

“With The Force Awakens, J.J. delivered everything we could have possibly hoped for, and I am so excited that he is coming back to close out this trilogy.”

In an announcement on Twitter hours later, Lucasfilm has officially pushed back the release of the film from May 24, 2019, to December 20, 2019. The seemingly large script revision likely meant that production couldn’t start as early as Kennedy had hoped. Now, Abrams will have 27 months to complete the picture instead of 20 months, and the December release will fall in line with the releases of The Force Awakens and The Last Jedi. The film will now compete with the second weekend of Wonder Woman 2, which is set to release on December 13, 2019.

Featured image via Gage Skidmore.

Who should Lucasfilm hire to direct ‘Star Wars: Episode IX’?

With Colin Trevorrow exiting ‘Star Wars: Episode IX,’ who should Kathleen Kennedy and Lucasfilm hire to replace him? Our staff offers some suggestions:

Levi Hill (Deputy Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Rian Johnson

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

To me, this was a tough choice. Why? Because there are quite a few big-budgeted directors that I think could make one hell of a Star Wars movie. Take, for example, what Guillermo del Toro could do with a massive budget and the freedom of world-building that Star Wars has been able to conjure up. Yet del Toro is also an idiosyncratic director that, in my opinion, works best when working from his own deliciously imaginative script. Then, rumored directors or writers like Sam Esmail or Stephen Daldry wouldn’t be bad choices, with Esmail in particular being an intriguing prospect — due to his love for one of the greatest sci-fis of all time (Fritz Lang’s Metropolis) as well as showrunning for the smartest sci-fi (sort of) show on TV right now, Mr. Robot.

Also, who wouldn’t want to see Ava DuVernay follow up A Wrinkle in Time with the biggest franchise of all-time?

But all of that to me is superfluous, because as much as any of us want to see another director take on Star Wars, the answer is likely right in front of us — and it’s not a bad thing. Rian Johnson’s The Last Jedi hasn’t even been seen by the public yet (and anyone, probably), but the film has already generated an immense amount of buzz from its one unbelievably beautiful and rousing trailer. To be fair, anything Star Wars related will generate buzz, but I know I’m not the only fan with the belief that the Johnson directed film could end up being the best in the entire series. But most importantly, Rian is an auteur that Lucasfilm has seemingly had no problems with on or off set. There have been no rumors about temperamental producers, slow-paced editors or wayward actors. That alone proves that Rian is passing in flying colors and that, to me, means he is the right and only choice to finish this highly touted new trilogy.

Kate Halliwell (Editor-At-Large) — Mimi Leder

Sarah E. Freeman/Courtesy

I’m not going to waste my time complaining about how male directors like Colin Trevorrow continue to fail upward in Hollywood, managing to turn flops like whatever The Book of Henry was into massive blockbuster deals, while talented female directors go to movie jail after just one underperforming film.

Okay, actually… just a quick rant.

Television is full of incredible female directors right now, many of which started in film and had to transition to TV after being shut out of opportunities in Hollywood. Since the news about Trevorrow broke, names like Ava DuVernay, Mimi Leder, Michelle MacLaren, Lesli Linka Glatter, Reed Morano and many more have been bandied about online — but how reasonable is it to think that a female director may actually get this job?

For my money, I’d give the film to Mimi Leder in a heartbeat. Whether crafting incredible shots on HBO’s The Leftovers or directing high grossing blockbusters like her 1998 film Deep Impact, Leder has been one of Hollywood’s most reliable directors for decades.

But let’s be real — it’s a pipe dream. Would someone like Leder, MacLaren, Morano or Linka Glatter absolutely slay this job? Of course. Do they deserve it? Absolutely. Will they actually get it? Not on your life.

When the untitled Han Solo film went through a similar director swap just a few months ago, the studio turned to Ron Howard — basically the safest, least inspired choice in the book. Press releases concerning Trevorrow’s exit have cited irreconcilable differences with Kathleen Kennedy and other producers of the film. Obviously, these directors aren’t getting the opportunities to do what they want with their Star Wars movies, no matter how inspired (or not) their vision may be. So as much as I’d like to see a female director take on Episode IX and show all of Hollywood what they’re missing, I’m selfish enough to want to keep my favorite female directors where they have the freedom to do what they want. And, for the most part, that’s on TV.

From The Handmaid’s Tale to HBO’s new (and incredible) The Deuce to Homeland and Breaking Bad, these ladies have proven themselves incredibly valuable in helping create and maintain the peak TV era. While Leder and others are still making movies — Leder’s upcoming Ruth Bader Ginsberg biopic starring Felicity Jones is set for 2018 — it’s TV where they can really strut their stuff.

So I’m not getting my hopes up. Give it to Howard, or Rian Johnson, or whatever white man will make the studios happy, if you must. I’ll be hanging with my girls at home on Netflix, HBO, Hulu, Amazon and wherever else they can truly do their thing.

Harrison Tunggal (Associate Editor and Co-Chief Film Critic) — Patty Jenkins 

Gage Skidmore/Courtesy

Do fired Star Wars directors become Force ghosts? Is this gif, this gif or this gif a better representation of the current state of Lucasfilm? Regardless, the production company behind the galaxy from far, far away continues to lose directors like Anakin loses limbs. A tentpole film losing its helmer is nothing new though, and somewhat analogously, Wonder Woman lost its first director, Michelle MacLaren, because of her creative differences with Warner Brothers. As we all know, Patty Jenkins replaced MacLaren and delivered one of the best superhero films of all time, suggesting that Jenkins knows how to cooperate with the demands of a studio. Whether Jenkins’ sock-folding can live up to Kathleen Kennedy’s high standards remains to be seen, but Jenkins has demonstrated an aptitude for storytelling within the rigid confines of an established universe. Hiring Jenkins would also allow her to close a trilogy hinged on Rey, a move that could make Rey even more inspiring and iconic than she already was. Just imagine the “No Man’s Land” scene but with the Force-wielding awesomeness of Rey. I want that scene more than Luke wants his power converters. Additionally, choosing Jenkins is a choice predicated on the assumption that Star Wars: The Last Jedi will be a darker film, just like The Empire Strikes Back. With that in mind, what was Wonder Woman if not a film that lifted its titular heroine from the darkness of Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice? Jenkins’ Episode IX could do something similar, bringing Rey out of the darkness of The Last Jedi. If the tone of Wonder Woman was any indication, Jenkins can meld rollicking excitement and fun with darker moments of dramatic weight — if that doesn’t scream Star Wars, then I’m a trough of bantha fodder.

Kyle Kizu (Editorial Director) — Spike Jonze

aphrodite-in-nyc/Courtesy

I’m going to mutter the three words that doom anyone making a pitch for something/someone they know will likely fail to sell: Hear me out. If not for anything else, I’d want Lucasfilm to choose Spike Jonze simply because of the endless “wait, what the fu**?!” reactions on Twitter. But honestly, Jonze could do something wildly special with a Star Wars film. His four films are all intensely visual (as are all of his music videos) with Where the Wild Things Are showing that he can manage large scale CGI and Her displaying his absolutely masterful visual and stylistic rendering of setting (his Los Angeles is a quite distinct and singular futuristic vision). If he were to have the galaxy to play with, we could surely expect a captivating manifestation of bizarre — Star Wars needs bizarre — and utterly delightful imagination, the likes of which, after two merely decent visual Star Wars films, the franchise desperately needs. But visuals only matter so much and, thankfully, Jonze handles character with care and grace. With Her, the director offers one of the most tender, joyful and tragic character journeys of recent memory, and those three qualities are absolute must-haves when it comes to the final installment of any trilogy, let alone a Star Wars one. Jonze could dig deep into the vulnerable emotion of both the galactically massive, nearly 40 year journey of Luke, which might come to a close in Episode IX, as well as the intimate, explorative and raw discovery that is the journey of Rey unfolding before us. Now, the only thing that’s left to prove for Jonze is his ability to direct action, and I have an odd place in his career to point to. Spike Jonze has dabbled in feature films, music videos and documentaries. But he’s also directed skateboard videos. Yes, you read that right. Skateboard videos. And one particularly breathtaking shoot that handled intense choreography of action is the introduction to Fully Flared. Am I crazy? Maybe. But I think he could shoot the hell out of an explosive X-Wing dogfight and an epic lightsaber duel.

 

Do you agree with any of these choices? How would you have answered this week’s question? Sound off in the comments below.

Photos via aphrodite-in-nyc, Sarah E. Freeman and Gage Skidmore.

Feature image via Gage Skidmore.

Trial: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi ‘Star Wars’ standalone film

*Trials is a weekly series in which two writers tackle a proposed question or task. After they’ve written their opening statements, the writers will offer rebuttal arguments against the other’s and for their own, and a third writer will come in to make the verdict.*

This week’s task: Pitch the Obi-Wan Kenobi Star Wars standalone film.

Writers: Kyle Kizu and Harrison Tunggal
Judge: Levi Hill

Lucasfilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s pitch:

Fans have wanted a standalone Obi-Wan Kenobi film for years now. But the deep crave for one seems to always brush over one fact: it’s going to be incredibly difficult to pull off. Casting anyone other than Ewan McGregor would be a publicity nightmare, so let’s operate under the assumption that he’ll return for the role. And with McGregor aging 10+ years since the prequels, it’d be wildly difficult to sell Kenobi as younger than he is in The Phantom Menace. All of this means that the only period of time a film could work with is the roughly 20 years between Revenge of the Sith and A New Hope — most of which are spent on Tatooine.

The film would obviously be a contained one, and would be much more interesting if entirely on Tatooine. It doesn’t have to be a massive epic in the vein of The Force Awakens or Rogue One. In that light, and considering that, technically, Stephen Daldry isn’t officially signed on to direct just yet, I would shift to Their Finest’s Lone Scherfig. With her most recent film, Scherfig shows an adept ability at implying scale while remaining intimate, as Their Finest is relatively contained, but the sense of World War II is still deeply felt. That sensibility could translate to an Obi-Wan film in which the aura of the galactic struggles are still present amid a story bound to a single planet. And Scherfig also could nail Kenobi’s snark and humor, qualities very present in her film, specifically with Bill Nighy and Sam Claflin’s characters — two actors that could be brought in here.

As for the story, and the themes accompanying, I feel as though it’s necessary to maintain what is perhaps the heaviest influence on the franchise: the Empire as the Nazis. After the surfacing of neo-Nazis in the U.S., the film could prove profound in today’s age while also being loyal to the timeless, very Star Wars-esque good vs. evil story. Much of what Obi-Wan Kenobi would be doing on Tatooine is watching over and protecting a young Luke, but the story could also introduce problems of the Empire ravaging villages across the planet while Kenobi attempts to shelter women and children in a similar manner to the many heroes that helped people during the Holocaust. Think The Zookeeper’s Wife meets Schindler’s List meets Star Wars. And in Their Finest, Scherfig deals with the war in which Nazis took action, meaning she’ll be familiar with these ideas.

The film could almost be an underground story, featuring world-building of much more depth than A New Hope, really making Tatooine feel like a planet with a fully informed environmental/societal system of living — something that no Star Wars film has yet truly done.

Luke wouldn’t even really need to be in the film that much, functioning as merely a named presence — perhaps just “the boy” — which could make an ending in which Luke does appear, one in which Kenobi accidentally encounters him and is forced to introduce himself as “Ben,” incredibly exciting.

Harrison’s pitch:

Any Obi-Wan film without Ewan McGregor is bound to invite the ire of Star Wars fans across the galaxy. Likewise, such a film that isn’t titled High Ground: A Star Wars Story would be a massive missed opportunity. Thus, High Ground (okay, maybe a different title), starring Ewan McGregor, opens in the small town of Anchorhead, on the planet Tatooine. Fulcrum (John Cho) is a swashbuckling rebel spy going through a black market weapons deal, which is interrupted when Imperial forces descend on the town. Fulcrum is the sole rebel survivor, who is saved when the forces of Gallus the Hutt (voiced by Idris Elba) — larger than Jabba and capable of walking via robotic spider legs —  completely destroy the Imperial presence. However, Gallus takes Fulcrum hostage, and effectively seizes control of the town. Even though Anchorhead is safe from the Empire, it isn’t safe from Gallus, who begins extorting money from residents, brutalizing them in the process.

This is where we find Obi-Wan Kenobi, living a spartan lifestyle. He watches over young Luke Skywalker and the Lars homestead, while attempting (though failing) to communicate with the Force ghost of Qui-Gon Jinn (Liam Neeson). He just can’t tap into the Force like he could before, especially since he found out that Anakin lived on, and became Darth Vader. He is a man plagued by the specter of failure.

However, his life changes when he is approached by Fendis Beed (Élodie Yung), one of the most notorious bounty hunters in the galaxy, who is hired to save Fulcrum. Kenobi refuses, insisting on keeping a low profile. But when Gallus takes Owen Lars (Joel Edgerton) as ransom for not paying his dues, Kenobi joins Fendis to free Owen and Fulcrum. During the mission, Kenobi is torn between toppling the violent Hutt regime (and creating the power vacuum for an Imperial presence) and allowing Gallus to terrorize the people of Anchorhead. He ultimately embraces his heroic former self, and alongside Fendis, Fulcrum and Owen, he frees Anchorhead from the grasp of Gallus, drawing his lightsaber and using the Force for the first time in years.

Still, Kenobi’s heroic actions have allowed the Empire to settle in the nearby Mos Eisley without fear of Gallus’ forces, and for that, he can’t help but feel great guilt. In a moment of catharsis, he finally communes with Qui-Gon Jinn, who assures him that saving Anchorhead was the action of a true Jedi Master. Jinn tells Kenobi not to fear the looming presence of the Empire, as he will give him the training necessary to better protect Luke and to become the ultimate defender of Tatooine.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Kyle’s rebuttal:

Your story is fully fleshed out, as I expected. It’s engaging, action-packed and ripe for character exploration of Obi-Wan. It also brings in actors that I could only dream of in a Star Wars film. John Cho?! I’m in. However, I wish you went further with investigating the character of Obi-Wan. There’s so much moving in your pitch before we reach Obi-Wan that by the time we do, it almost feels like there’s not enough time for him specifically. The idea of him holding on to immense guilt is pitch perfect and necessary, especially after what he went through in the prequels. But I fear that, with the layered plot you set forth, we would only get the surface level of those emotional concerns, which leads me to my next problem.

While reading through your pitch, I was engaged, but I was questioning what might the value of this story be to the larger idea of Star Wars. I think that if you sell Obi-Wan’s character journey more thoroughly, we could feel this sense of history, fate and interpersonal relationships of Star Wars on a whole, which could make the moment when Obi-Wan sacrifices himself in A New Hope even more profound than it already is. But right now, I don’t really feel that when reading your pitch. You definitely have notions of it in there, but there’s more work to be done for it to be fully realized because, right now, I don’t know if this film would be, in the larger picture, as satisfying and valuable as it could be.

I feel as though my thematic concerns make up for the lack of plot, as plot can be built more easily around theme, while theme is more difficult to insert into an established plot. And with prevalent imagery akin to the Nazis, an evil force we’re beginning to struggle with again today, and a deeply intimate, contained and harrowing journey for Obi-Wan as well as for the people in crises at the hands of the Empire — at the hands of deranged nationalism — my idea for an Obi-Wan standalone film both works on its own terms while also contributing to the grander narrative of the universe.

Harrison’s rebuttal:

First and foremost, major props for suggesting a Star Wars film that functions as political allegory. Even more props for putting Lone Scherfig in the director’s chair. I thoroughly enjoyed her work in Their Finest, and I couldn’t agree more about her strengths — she can balance intimacy and scope like Anakin balances the Force. But for an Obi-Wan film, I don’t want an epic scope at all, implied or otherwise. An Obi-Wan film should be as intimate a character study as possible, and I think the scope that you implied would detract from that intimacy.

More specifically, I don’t think the Empire should figure heavily into another spinoff, since stormtroopers have been cannon fodder for Rogue One and (presumably) for the Han Solo film. Additionally, since the First Order is essentially a re-branded version of the Empire, we will have gotten seven total films that feature the Empire as the overarching antagonist. Many fans have complained that the Disney-era of Star Wars hasn’t dared to expand its universe, and making the Empire the antagonist of an Obi-Wan film would only further this problem. My film sidesteps this issue by making Gallus the Hutt and his army of scum and villainy the primary antagonists. Even though Gallus was inspired by the comic book character Grakkus, it would allow for the familiar iconography of the Hutts, while expanding the canon of the film universe.

Most importantly though, your film lacks emotional resonance. We know Obi-Wan is a hero, so I think a subversion of our expectations — a broken man who doesn’t believe in himself, and can’t even use the Force properly — is more interesting. My film ratchets up the emotional impact by having Obi-Wan reluctantly return to heroics, before finally communing with the Force through his contact with Qui-Gon Jinn. Qui-Gon represents the specter of failure that haunts Obi-Wan — he failed to save Qui-Gon, he failed to kill Anakin and he failed the entire Republic. Qui-Gon’s appearance to Obi-Wan to validate his actions and offer consolement would be one of the most emotional moments in all of Star Wars canon.

Ultimately, I believe that my film does more to expand the universe while offering emotional stakes that we haven’t seen fully realized since The Empire Strikes Back.

Lucafilm/Courtesy

Levi’s verdict:

First off, both ideas are perfect, and if there was a way to find a happy medium between the two, a balancing of the Force, let’s say, then I think all Star Wars fans would see a standalone masterpiece. However, as in most lightsaber duels, someone will inevitably win and the other ends up missing a limb, but able to fight another day. So let’s just hyperspeed into this thing, like the Millennium Falcon…

Thematically, reading Kyle’s pitch, it just felt right. The power of Star Wars movies, and really genre films at large for that matter, is their ability to have social commentary about political machinations. It’s not a hidden truth that the Empire is meant to represent the Nazis, and the Rebels are meant to represent anyone with the decency to stand up to them. Thus, having a film almost explicitly laying out that good vs. evil dichotomy, under those terms and having them stand in for today, is a brilliant move. Also, Lone Scherfig, while not an obvious choice, is literally a perfect choice. Their Finest balances humor, action and drama with the best of movies — all elements that have made Star Wars the most endearing franchise in the world.

With that being said, though, Harrison is my winner. The amount of Star Wars lore he’s able to fit into his pitch, along with the incredible casting (EWAN MCGREGOR, JOHN CHO, IDRIS ELBA AND ÉLODIE YUNG TOGETHER!!!), as well as having a perfect character arc for the one-and-only Obi-Wan just felt right. Both Kyle and Harrison were right in making the films have a more intimate scale, because truly, how many more Death Stars and countless Stormtroopers can we see destroyed before Star Wars finds something a tad more original. But where Kyle focused on the theme, and rightly pointed out Harry’s lack of theme and potentially too jam-packed story, I think Harry’s rebuttal ultimately was the deciding factor for me.

To see Obi-Wan struggle with a crippling inability to use the force and with the guilt of his (in)action only adds immense depth to his character. And assuming Star Wars: The Last Jedi shows an equally down-and-out Luke, there could be some interesting thematic parallels regarding the pressure of being the Jedi tasked with saving the Rebels and destroying the Empire. Or, if Rey does end up being a Kenobi, is she destined to follow in the same tracks as her ancestor?

Regardless of plot details for sight unseen films, Harrison’s Obi-Wan standalone is both an emotionally resonant tale of one of Star Wars most loved icons, as well as a perfect set-up for Rogue One and A New Hope.

Winner: Harrison Tunggal

 

Do you agree with Levi’s verdict? Sound off in the comments for which pitch you would’ve chosen, or if you have a pitch of your own.

Featured image via Lucasfilm

« Older Entries