Archive for J.J. Abrams

The 2015 Bang, Marry, Kill Orgy: Rob Cohen, The Wachowski Siblings, George Miller, Tarsem Singh & J.J. Abrams.

Posted in Action, Action, Bang Marry Kill, Comedy, Comedy, Date Movies, Drama, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , on January 18, 2016 by notlaz

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To answer your last question, yes, the Dutch eat farts.

I did it last year, so in the spirit of not having anything better to do, here’s the 2015 Bang, Marry, Kill wrap-up.

BB-8 approves

BB-8 approves!

What? I reviewed 5-ish directors in 2015 for movieMixology’s Bang, Marry, Kill series. Each right before they released new movies into theaters, in a crass attempt to piggy-back site clicks off their hard work. All while I nurtured my alcohol addiction and lazily threw out dick jokes.

The tortured artists: Rob Cohen, The Wachowski Siblings, George Miller, Tarsem Singh and J.J. Abrams.

Their 2015 masterpieces: The Boy Next Door, Jupiter Ascending, Mad Max: Fury Road, Self/less and Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens.

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Star Wars – The Force Awakens: A Modern Version of What Fans Have Always Loved

Posted in 8, Action, New Releases, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , on December 25, 2015 by mducoing

SWTFA-IMDBSet to break every box office record that has ever existed in Hollywood, J.J. Abrams’ contribution to the Star Wars universe appears to be a gamble that has paid off in spades. An often stunning, fun, and deeply exhilarating film, Star Wars: The Force Awakens is likely as good as it gets in Star Wars, delivering much of the power of the original in a modern, yet somehow nostalgic, incarnation.

Premise: Thirty years after the defeat of the Empire, The First Order attempts to rule the galaxy. With the help of the Resistance, only a reluctant and unexpected group of heroes can stop them. Result: The Star Wars film we have been looking for.

Harnessing the power fanboys everywhere (their hopes, their fears, their terrifyingly obsessive attention to detail), Abrams has created a Star Wars film that is as close to the original in look, feel and result as the original. It is quirky and yet sophisticated, combining action and comedy with the grandeur of a galactic storyline much as the originals did.

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Bang, Marry, Kill: J.J. Abrams

Posted in Action, Action, Bang Marry Kill, Comedy, Comedy, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Uncategorized with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on December 14, 2015 by notlaz

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“Buy your tickets for Star Wars Episode 7 yet?”

“Nah, the prequels sucked, Laz.”

“That was different, man. J.J. Abrams is directing this one, not George Lucas. It’ll be good!”

“You sure? What was his last movie?” Continue reading

Star Trek – Into Darkness: Another Sci Fi Triumph

Posted in 9, Action, Ratings, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , on June 4, 2013 by mducoing

Star Trek - IDDirector J.J. Abrams has done it again.  After resurrecting the buried Sci Fi classic Star Trek film franchise with the 2009 reboot, Abrams has continued that momentum and, if possible, built on that success.  His latest film, Star Trek: Into Darkness, continues the epic adventures of the first but manages to thrill fans with deeper character development, a more terrifying villain and brilliant twists on the much storied Trek lore.

Premise: Kirk and company are thrust into battle with a new, more trying villain than ever before as Star Fleet is again in mortal danger. Result: Despite confronting a similar danger, the crew must respond in far more profound ways, giving the needed depth to characters we know and love.

The film begins en media res, with Kirk (Chris Pine) and Bones (Karl Urban) fleeing a temple on a distant, primitive world with frightening, painted inhabitants in hot pursuit. In tandem, Spock (Zachary Quinto), Uhura (Zoe Saldana), and Sulu (John Cho) attempt to salvage the planet and its inhabitants who are in imminent threat from being Vesuviused, as a monstrous volcano threatens cataclysmic destruction.

The true conflict, however, comes when their mission places lands Spock squarely in the belly of the volcano, accepting a death, that seems inevitable. As the only means to save Spock would be to reveal themselves to the planet’s aboriginal population, a direct violation of the Prime Directive, Kirk must break with Star Fleet’s most solemn vow or let Spock die.

The consequences of this mission are spectacular.  Kirk is eviscerated by a fuming Admiral Pike (Bruce Greenwood), who sense his arrogance is as bottomless as a Ferengi’s greed and ultimately Kirk is demoted. Kirk and Spock fall out as Kirk senses great betrayal despite having saved Spock.  Uhura and Spock become wrangled in one of the more humorous and horrifying couple fights in the galaxy.

What really rises from all this chaos is the emotional instability of a heroic but ultimately fragile crew.  Only months after Vulcan was destroyed (and almost the rest of Star Fleet), this crew is still reeling and although loyal, unsure of what this loyalty means, unsure of the depths of these relationships or the implications for their collective and individual character.  There is also the sense of balancing love and death, a sense that whatever emotion they may have is wrong or too painful to bear.

But there is little time for sessions on the couch as this crew is once again thrust into an unspeakable danger. This threat has taken the form of a terrorist lurking deep in the shadows that has targeted Star Fleet as part of an unknown plot.  This man, known by Star Fleet as John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), but whose true identity is far more terrifying, is no longer an external threat from some Romulan renegade, but an insider with the deepest level of security access and intimate knowledge.

The ensuing events will test the crew as never before, forcing an emotional catharsis that will consume them all.  This villain is a manipulative genius on his worst day and challenges the full crew (including Scotty (Simon Pegg) and Chekov (Anton Yelchin)) in ways not thought possible.  And the roles of Admiral Marcus (Peter Weller) and Carol (Alice Eve), serve to destabilize audience understanding of the plot, introducing twist after glorious twist.

Abrams is simply masterful in his construction of complex, deeply impactful scenes.  On the one hand, the action is non-stop, visually stunning and thoroughly thrilling.  Yet, he also masters the art of emotion both through dialogue and even through the film’s score, that allow his characters and on screen events to touch audiences.

There is one scene in particular, that introduces one of our villain’s unwitting accomplices that is simply morbid beauty, that visceral melancholy captured perfectly on screen.  It becomes a pleasure to watch and allow the film to pervade ones senses.

The film is ultimately deeper and more interesting than even its predecessor, now opening up these characters to truly great performances that these actors soundly deliver.  Pine continues to be a perfect Kirk, combining arrogance and gut and charm and brutal honesty into an unmistakable blend of character from which none can look away.

And his range, along with Quinto’s in a specific scene in this film, reach new heights of gut-wrenching emotion.  Both manage their on screen chemistry with undaunted professionalism, evolving their characters from spot-on parodies of the former great icons, to make them their own.

Saldana is radiant as Uhura, demonstrating an inner and outer strength combined with a brilliant elegance that keeps her firmly entrenched at the top.  And Pegg’s performance can only be described as another comedic triumph – perfect from the first scene to the last.

Greenwood and Weller both offer nuanced and deeply intriguing performances, even as neither is the center of the film; nevertheless, both portray characters that in any other film may have been.

Urban, Cho and Yelchin perform admirably; while Yelchin’s role is the least engaging of the group (by no fault of his own), Cho does offer us a rare glimpse into his true power in an interesting moment as he takes the helm of the Enterprise.

But it is Cumberbatch that steals the show among a cast of brilliant performers.  It is a testament to his inarguable talent that he produces each scene, each sentence, each word he utters with such mesmerizing distinction and complexity as to elevate his character to the heights it deserves.  Cumberbatch, for whatever his role may have been, gives us what a true villain should be – terrifying, haunting, and unforgettable.

Ultimately, the film is a brilliant display of what can be accomplished in Science Fiction.  It is a better film than the 2009 reboot, as it should have been.  It has thrilling action, breath-taking visuals, a complex, thoroughly enjoyable plot and myriad characters and performances that can’t be beaten.  And while Abrams will be turning the reigns over for the next film as he directs Episode Seven, the franchisee will march onward: perhaps, we hope, to a place no Star Trek film has gone before.

Rating: 9 – An expensive red wine and juicy steak that someone else is paying for and where you don’t have to put out 

Super 8: A Great Movie about Kids and the Challenges of Growing Up…Oh and I Think There Is an Alien in There Somewhere Too…Maybe

Posted in 7, Reviews, Sci Fi/ Fantasy, Thriller with tags , , , , , , , , on June 13, 2011 by mducoing

Super 8 is that strange hybrid of familiar films delivered in a beautiful and unforgettable way.  It shares elements from The Goonies, E.T., and Cloverfield, to name only a few; yet in the end, its greatest asset may be this ability to recall past classics rather than put forth anything new.

Premise: A group of friends in the summer of 1979 begin noticing strange happenings going after a mysterious train crash near their small town, and begin to investigate into the creepy phenomenon. Result: A movie about the human side of an eerie event that successfully connects to audiences on this level, while completely missing on its alien story.

J.J. Abrams directs an absolutely brilliant opening for Super 8; the cinematography is spot on throughout magically melding a classic, aged feel to stunning and modern visuals. The story begins with a whispered tragedy, the death of Mrs. Lamb: mill worker, wife of Deputy Jackson Lamb (Kyle Chandler) and mother to precocious son and movie geek, Joe Lamb (Joel Courtney). There is, of course, the unexplained allusion to the unkempt and abrupt Louis Dainard ( Ron Eldard) who is forcibly removed from the wake. But for whatever mystery the ethereal opening scenes grant, we are well aware that his mother’s passing has left not only a hole in young Joe’s heart, but an even greater abyss between himself and his father.

Months later we find that life in the sleepy town of Lillian, someplace in between every town and no place in particular, has continued on its merry way down the much beaten path to obscurity.  However, Joe and his band of pip-squeak movie aficionados want none of that, obsessed with contributing to a cinematic masterpiece, Charles’ (Riley Griffiths) zombie film.  Abrams, with the help of his stellar young cast, is able to connect with the audience and make them believe each one of these characters, each of whom has a distinct personality and point of interest.

Like The Goonies or Stand By Me, each of these young boys has a place in this story, impossible to substitute without diminishing the intended narrative: there is Charles who is the chubby, domineering director and creator of the film; Cary (Ryan Lee) who’s bizarre braces-dominated smiles can’t hide his somewhat terrifying penchant for pyromania; or Martin (Gabriel Basso) who’s whiney antics and Olympic-level projectile vomiting would give Linda Blair a run for her money. This storyline is deep and rich with intriguing and amusing characters all of whom are given sufficient back story or description to warrant our attention.  Add Alice (Elle Fanning) and the story grows in predictable complexity; a beautiful young girl with a brilliant and over-looked acting ability that is not only on-screen gold, but that which young boys’ dreams are made of.

Of course, all this humorous teen angst and confusion would have been quite enough, cushioned by an imaginative script and powerful, inspired direction.  But like a starving man hunched over an all-you-can-eat buffet, Abrams loses control of the rest of his film by trying to take on much more than advisable. The second half of this film (and likely the reason most audiences will show up to see the film in the first place) rests on an alien encounter and unfortunately is something of a mess, particularly visible in contrast to the elegant human story.

As the kids come together in the dead of night to film the climax of their zombie film, a mysterious midnight train approaches.  “Production value!” shouts Charles (an amusing running joke in the film) and initially the train’s presence is seen as a good omen.  Of course, that is until Joe sees the danger: a pickup truck hurtling towards the tracks appears to be careening out of control and into the train’s path.  In moments, the truck has collided head first with the train sending the locomotive into complete catastrophe; pieces of the train fly in every which direction in an apocalyptic visual event that leaves audiences to wonder if the Americans might be storming the beaches of Normandy.  Of course, our little protagonists, clearly sharing some genetic material with cats, escape virtually unscathed from the wreckage (another theme throughout this film), despite some frightfully close calls.

As the children flee the scene in Alice’s Father’s car (also amazingly unharmed) and only moments before an endless swarm of Air Force soldiers descend on the scene, it is clear that this is no normal train wreck.  Strange cubes sourced from the Tetris factory litter the wreckage and in another miracle, the driver of the truck, despite some obvious injuries, appears to be both alive and somewhat coherent (I don’t know much about driving into speeding trains, but this seems a bit far-fetched).  More bizarre is that the children know the man, “Old Man” Woodward (Glynn Turman), who apparently teaches at the local School.  He sternly warns them to flee and not tell anyone or else terrible things will happen to them and their families. 

The rest of the film is an elaborate bridge to nowhere.  There are many frightening scenes and the monster that has escaped from the wreckage appears terrible and mysterious.  We learn, however, the creature has been tortured by the military and that Dr. Woodward was purposely trying to derail the train to help the creature escape.  We learn about the cubes and the creature and its ability to project its thoughts through touch.  There are many interesting ideas that Abrams toys with but never develops, likely leaving audiences confused and betrayed.

As the film progresses, the alien storyline becomes nothing more than a means to an end.  The true story is about the children, about Joe and his Father, about Alice and her Father, about Alice and Joe, about Joe and Charles. It is about their growth, their maturation, their ability to overcome the true threats of emotional disconnection. And the rest of the film, the story of this creature, becomes only an “Insert Plot Here” storyline, where anything would do and it just so happened that Abrams pulled the world “Alien” out of a hat where “Vampire” or “Sea Creature” or “Talking Bear” might have served just as well. In fact, in many places the alien storyline is so neglected that it becomes silly and the eventual resolution is thoroughly unsatisfying. 

Fortunately, there is no secret that this plotline can be ignored in favor of the thoroughly interesting human story. Wonderful, nuanced performances from the each character in this film make Super 8 a thoroughly enjoyable experience and save it from the depths of disappointment.  Maybe next time Abrams will focus only on the kids and forget the alien.  I know we have.

 Rating: 7 – A refreshing Champagne that a cute bartender comp’d you!

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