9. Big Hero 6 (Nov. 7)
Disney’s big animated film of the season is a Japanese animation-influenced tale of a boy and his comically inept friend the inflatable robot who form an adorable team of superheroes and save the world. The combo of humor and action looks reminiscent of The Incredibles.
Next year stands poised to break box office records. So many successful franchises have highly anticipated releases in 2015 that you may need to make a category in your budget just for tickets and concessions. It’s going to be huge, due not just to the franchises themselves, but the circumstances under which many of them have returned.
Expectations are high and, with this much competition, damn well better be met. Here’s our top 10 most anticipated movie releases coming in 2015.
Hugh Jackman has done a bang up job of building a career beyond his bread and butter role as X-Men’s Wolverine. Next year, he goes full bad guy in Joe Wright’s take on Neverland, Pan. A prequel to the classic we know, Pan will tell how the titular boy adventurer came to be. Tron: Legacy’s Garrett Hedlund will play an up-and-coming James Hook. It sounds like he may have a rival/mentor in Jackman’s Blackbeard.
In the above interview, actor Nonso Anozie tells about his experience working with Jackson, Hedlund, and Wright. He also offers some insight into his new character, Bishop.
Tabling for the moment how lackluster the prequel films were, recall both the anticipation leading up to The Phantom Menace and the sense of finality which accompanied Revenge of the Sith. For me, those two moments — waiting for the Episode I reel to roll and, six years later, contemplating that I was about to see a new Star Wars film for the last time — define the bittersweet agony of Star Wars fandom in the Lucas age.
For decades, Star Wars was three movies released years apart with contradictory spin-off stories scattered throughout an “Expanded Universe” of books, comics, and video games. When the prequels were announced, it gave fans a reason to live. I remember actually thinking, “Please God, let me make it to 2005 to see this thing through. Then I can die.”
Perhaps that heightened sense of anticipation, fostered by a long drought of new adventures, magnified the disappointment of the prequels. Maybe fans would have endured Episodes I through III with more grace if they knew they might someday get more.
That’s the point writer, director, and big-time Star Wars fan Kevin Smith makes in the above interview with IGN alongside friend and frequent co-star Jason Mewes. He points out the stark contrast in development between when Lucas owned Lucasfilm and the property now under Disney.
They got the right idea now. Instead of treating it like champagne – like, “We’re gonna bring it out once every hundred years, a new cask of Star Wars” – these [guys] are like, “We’re gonna milk it to death.”
Let’s say they make twenty, and ten of them are great, and five of them are okay, and five of them are dog shit. F— it dude, that’s twenty more Star Wars movies than we were ever going to have in this lifetime.
Some of the best Star Wars storytelling and cinematics have come out of video games like The Old Republic or The Force Unleashed which were not personally directed by Lucas. It stands to reason that similar success will eventually grace the screen among Disney’s many planned films in the franchise. With something new consistently on the horizon, the stakes for each installment will be lowered. That may enable us to enjoy them more.
Will the Justice League film be able to compete with The Avengers? That was the tagline for this post, inviting readers and contributors to debate whether DC or Marvel has created the more compelling fictional universe. The formally proposed question was:
Who will ultimately triumph in the superhero battles to define the genre? Does Marvel with Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the X-Men set the standard? Or does DC with Batman and Superman provide a better model for aspiring comic and superhero creators?
As a lifelong rabid fan of both Superman and Batman, I want those properties to succeed. However, if I am going to be objective about it, I have to concede that Marvel not only will win the battle to define the comic book film genre – they already have.
Some say imitation is the highest form of flattery. If we make our assessment based upon who imitates who, then Marvel leads the day. DC seeks desperately to clone the achievements of Disney’s Marvel Cinematic Universe. It can be seen in the rush to cram as many characters as possible into the forthcoming Batman vs. Superman, ramping up quickly toward the debut of the Justice League. Would DC be so eager were it not for the massive success of The Avengers? In a business where there’s one Deep Impact for every Armageddon, probably not.
This modern relationship is ironic considering that DC predates Marvel and retains the oldest characters with some of the most tried and true narrative conventions. Spider-Man creator Stan Lee has confessed that he was inspired by Superman. But today, the Man of Steel seems to follow where Lee’s creations lead.
A decent popcorn flick, Man of Steel was certainly the most entertaining Superman film in decades. But that’s not saying much. Once the comic book king of the silver screen, Superman graces scant few films on any “best of” list. Batman has fared much better, but has remained largely sequestered from other heroes. Particularly in Christopher Nolan’s Dark Knight trilogy, Batman works because he could be anybody.
We might be witnessing one of the most clever viral marketing schemes of all time. Could there be method behind the madness surrounding the casting of Star Wars Episode VII?
Lucasfilm, now a subsidiary of Disney, dropped their big casting announcement on Tuesday. Along with “the Big Three” of the original trilogy – Mark Hamill, Carrie Fisher, and Harrison Ford – the cast of new characters included several men and only one woman, the virtually unknown Daisy Ridley. By Wednesday, Movieplot was reporting on a wave of anti-patriarchal indignation rolling across social media. A sample:
Eliza Thompson at Cosmopolitan wrote:
There is absolutely no reason why there can’t be new characters added to account for the lack of women in the original trilogy and the newer trilogy.
Annalee Newitz at IO9 quite elegantly wrote:
Myths are powerful things, because we learn who we are by telling stories. When are we going to let little girls and kids of diverse races have fantasies as powerful as those given to white boys?
Here’s the rub. Wednesday also saw a second announcement from Lucasfilm indicating that a second female cast member was yet to be revealed. This proves noteworthy not just in light of the backlash over too few women in the cast, but because previous casting rumors indicated a very different direction than Daisy Ridley. The Huffington Post expounds:
Daisy Ridley appears to have nabbed the role that at one point had Lupita Nyong’o in talks with director J.J. Abrams, as she and Carrie Fisher are the only actresses announced for the movie. More recently, British newcomer Maisie Richardson-Sellers was also reportedly tied to the part, which was described as a “young black or mixed-race woman who may be a descendent of Jedi Knight Ben Kenobi.”
What if HuffPo has it wrong? What if the role Ridley secured was different than the one Nyong’o and Richardson-Sellers were considered for? With “Star Wars Day” approaching on May 4th, are we about to see confirmation of a young black woman in the next Star Wars?
If so, this could be one of the most brilliant viral marketing moves seen in a while. It would have been preconceived to exploit the knee-jerk reactions of progressive culture warriors. Intentionally release news of a male dominant cast. Get the headlines from the announcement. Foster buzz from social backlash. Then announce a black female cast member days later, on a Sunday no less, and dominate Monday with a fresh set of headlines. If someone’s doing this on purpose, they’re a Jedi master of earned media.
Director J.J. Abrams is well known for playing elaborate tricks on fans as part of his marketing of projects. Could he be the force binding this scheme together?
While growing up, I had the good fortune to live in two consecutive homes that were each a block away from their town’s respective libraries. From fourth grade through junior high, I had easy access to books, tapes, videos, and even video games available for check out. I spent a lot of time in the library, browsing and grazing, checking out volumes piled higher than I could ever read in the time allotted.
Among those many books were the Star Wars novels of Timothy Zahn. Now known as “the Thrawn trilogy,” they began with 1991′s Heir to the Empire. Set several years after Return of the Jedi, the Thrawn trilogy continued the adventures of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo as they fought the remnant of a collapsing Empire and confronted a new disturbance in the Force.
Zahn’s novels triggered an explosion of new Star Wars fiction spanning books, comics, video games, and more. In 1996, collaborators went so far as to develop a “movie without the movie” called Shadows of the Empire. The idea was to create merchandise around a story as if promoting a film. There was a Shadows novel, a video game, and even a fully orchestrated soundtrack for a film which was never actually produced. The story connected the events of The Empire Strikes Back with Return of the Jedi.
In later years, the timeline of this Expanded Universe became jam packed with stories detailing the fates of “the Big Three” along with their friends and offspring. Jacen and Jaina Solo, twin children of Han and Leia, joined their brother Anakin and their nephew Ben Skywalker on perilous and transformative adventures which spanned several stories across many mediums.
So when Disney acquired the Star Wars brand in 2012 and announced plans to produce Episodes VII, VIII, and IX set in a time period well covered by the Expanded Universe, obvious questions emerged. How would they work around the existing stories? How would they present the offspring of Luke, Han, and Leia? How would they tell consequential new stories without trampling upon established lore?
Lucasfilm has finally provided an answer, and it comes in the form of a soft-reboot. Precedent can be found (perhaps not coincidentally) in J.J. Abrams previous major sci-fi refurbish – Star Trek.
With Trek, Abrams and his writing team devised a way to have their cake and eat it too. They used the plot devices of time-travel and parallel universes to effectively reset the Star Trek universe, enabling future stories to take creative new directions without adhering religiously to established canon.
Corey Feldman just got awesome news – Richard Donner told us he’s making a sequel to “The Goonies” … and wants to bring back the entire cast.
Donner was signing autographs in Bev Hills when he dropped the bombshell … genuinely surprising our photog.
What Donner didn’t say … whether he’ll recast the main characters and bring in Corey, Josh Brolin, Sean Astin and Data for cameos, or if these guys will actually play the same roles 28 years later. A gnarly but interesting thought.
Goonies never say die!
But hold on before you go lining up to be the first to buy tickets. Donner has announced a Goonies sequel a number of times in the last decade. He said in 2010 that a sequel was a “definite thing,” while in 2007 and 2008 he mentioned a musical adaptation as an idea he was “fairly passionate” and “confident” about. Will this time be the charm for a sequel to The Goonies? We’ll just have to wait and see.
Director J.J. Abrams promised a new hope for the Star Wars franchise when tapped to continue the saga in next year’s Episode VII. That hope may have just faded like the cryptic spirit of Obi-Wan Kenobi.
Producers today announced that wayward Gungan klutz Jar Jar Binks will return to the series, playing “a significant role” in the 2015 release. This from the official Star Wars website:
Disney and Lucasfilm are excited to announce that Star Wars: Episode VII, directed by J.J. Abrams, will welcome the return of children’s favorite Jar Jar Binks…
“We think there’s more story to tell,” said Abrams. “His arc was never fully resolved in [Revenge of the Sith]. Every other major character either died, went into exile, or otherwise positioned for their role in the original trilogy.”
Since Jar Jar did not appear in George Lucas’ original films, the creative team behind Episode VII felt that an opportunity presented to reprise the character in a new setting.
“We understand that for many older fans who experienced the prequels in adulthood, Jar Jar wasn’t the most popular character,” confessed executive producer Kathleen Kennedy. “But kids liked him. They really did. And these films have always been directed primarily at a younger audience.”
Screenwriter Lawrence Kasdan, who returns to the series with a pedigree penning The Empire Strikes Back and Return of the Jedi, indicated that Jar Jar won’t be precisely the same Gungan we remember. “It’s been 50 years since last we saw him. Even a creature like Jar Jar matures in that amount of time. He has the same heart, but a little more grace and wisdom.”
So what do you think? Has the new trilogy just jumped the sarlacc?
As a Christian and a fan of Hollywood’s past biblical epics, I got excited upon viewing the first trailer for Darren Aronofsky’s Noah. The story of Noah and his ark has resonated through every culture of man, yet has never been the subject of a major Hollywood motion picture.
Alongside my enthusiasm, skepticism lurked. Modern Hollywood producing a biblical epic adhering to the written narrative and theological themes seemed unlikely given a culture increasingly opposed to the source material. That doubt grew with last month’s report that a disclaimer would be attached to the film’s marketing explaining that “artistic license has been taken.”
Any adaptation requires artistic license. Certainly, narratives were added to Cecil B. DeMille’s The Ten Commandments which fleshed out the characters and layered the world in which Moses lived. Adding Anne Baxter’s Nefretiri to spice things up between Moses and Rameses is one thing. But you don’t add or subtract commandments from the ten. In the case of Noah, the disclaimer added by Paramount addressed criticism from Christian groups who claim that the film deviates substantively from the biblical narrative.
A clue to Aronofsky’s approach emerged alongside reports that actress Emma Watson had become sick during production after the director banned bottled water from their location. Watson told Wonderland magazine that the ban comported with the “pro-environmental message” of the film. The Telegraph recalled that Aronofsky called Noah “the first environmentalist” in a 2011 interview.
Now we have begun to see clips from the film. The one above revealed Aronofsky’s revised reason for Noah to build an ark. “Our family has been chosen for a great task, to save the innocent… the animals,” Noah tells his family.
When one of his sons asks what makes the animals innocent, Noah’s daughter beats him to the punch: “Because they still live as they did in the Garden [of Eden].”
From this we may infer that God regards animals as morally superior to human beings. In the clip, Noah adds, “I guess we get to start over too,” as if the involvement of his family were an afterthought secondary to God’s purpose.
The Bible tells a different story. All creation shares the curse of sin, including animals. The flood surged as judgment against that sin, and Noah’s family was preserved in fulfillment of God’s covenant to provide salvation for mankind.
By turning the story of Noah into an environmental tale, Aronofsky has missed the point. Beyond artistic license, he seems to have defiled the story’s essence. Imagine a film about the terrorist attacks of 9/11 which portrayed the hijackers as Hindu, and you understand the difference between artistic license and fraud. If Aronofsky’s Noah ends up as divergent as the above clip, it will trivialize something sacred, the treasured relationship between God and mankind.
All week I’ve been seeing anti-Noah posts popping up on Facebook from Christian friends who are convinced that the not-yet-released Darren Aronofsky epic must be a liberal, secularist perversion of the biblical story, morphing Noah into a drunk and spouting an anti-human, pro-environmentalist message. Where’d the controversy come from? According to Jordan Hoffman at the Times of Israel, entertainment trade mag Variety needed to drum up readership on a slow news day:
A strange agenda group for “faith driven consumers” sent out a push-poll asking if people who hadn’t yet seen the film if they were “satisfied with a biblically themed film… which replaces the Bible’s core message with one created by Hollywood?”
In other words, a bunch of opt-in Christians were asked if they were ready to see what some scarf-wearing artiste from Jew York City had cooked up with his liberal and probably homosexual friends when, you know, they weren’t drinking blood and hoarding gold. Some 98% of respondents said that, no, they were not satisfied.
It would have been a nothing story had the press release not been picked up by Variety (one of the main entertainment trade publications) on a particularly slow news day. The Internet ran with headlines that basically read “98% of Christian audiences are enraged by ‘Noah!’” forcing Paramount, which has already had plenty of tsuris with this film, to issue an explanatory press release of their own.
The stereotypes Hoffman plays with in his commentary entertainingly highlight the unspoken rift between Jews and Christians when it comes to biblical epics. We, for the most part, stand back while Christians re-interpret our history, our people, our nation, and our sacred text in light of their own slightly Aryan (why are ancient Israelis consistently blue-eyed Brits?) Sunday School memories. This time, however, a Jewish writer/director has paired with a Jewish writer to bring a Torah story to the silver screen. That interpretation has caused Christian uproar, something the filmmakers prepared for when they sought out production partner Rob Moore, who is both a vice chair at Paramount and a devout Christian who supports the film.
The Fantastic Four returns to theaters in 2015 with a new and controversial cast. The New York Daily News reports:
Within minutes of the bombshell reports that Fox has found its titular superheroes in the Fantastic Four reboot, naysayers flamed on social media to pick apart the reported selections of actors Miles Teller (Mr. Fantastic), Kate Mara (Invisible Woman), Michael B. Jordan (Human Torch) and Jamie Bell (The Thing) .
Complaints ranged from the good points (Teller’s track record of one-liner spewing parts is a poor fit for the super-serious Reed Richards) to the bad (Mara isn’t blonde) to the ugly (Jordan is not Caucasian like the character in the comics).
The author leaves unclear what makes that last compliant “ugly.”
Changing the racial identity of an established character in order to cast the best actor for the job works in many situations. The Avengers‘ Nick Fury was Irish in the comics long before Samuel L. Jackson portrayed him onscreen.
The offbeat casting choices in Zack Synder’s Man of Steel worked despite diverging wildly from past iterations. Laurence Fishburne starred as Perry White. Photographer Jimmy Olsen became a Latina intern named Jenny. And red-head Amy Adams portrayed the traditionally brunette Lois Lane.
However, there are times when a character’s physical characteristics or racial identity serve a narrative purpose. When Idris Elba, a black actor, was cast as the Norse god Heimdall in Marvel Studios’ Thor, it seemed like a gratuitous bit of multiculturalism. Then again, the Marvel version of Asgardians prove more alien than divine, so perhaps racial diversity makes sense in that context.
But casting a black man to play Human Torch makes no sense whatsoever. The character’s given name is Johnny Storm, biological full-brother to sister Sue, the Invisible Woman played by the decisively Caucasian Kate Mara. Unless this turns out to be some kind of artsy color-blind thing like you might see in a stage play, the relationship between these characters which has been integral to past narratives will have to be changed.
Will one of them be adopted? Will they be related at all? I suppose it could be handled in any number of ways which would not necessarily throw off the story, but for what purpose? Why do this? The only answer I can come up with is gratuitous multiculturalism, which this black author regards as an insulting bit of pandering.
Gay at a time when homosexuality was a felony and Jewish in an era of “polite” antisemitism, one Liverpool lad broke into entertainment management at a time when the Anglo Lords in London ruled the biz. 50 years later the music world is only beginning to acknowledge that there’d be no Beatles without their manager, Brian Epstein.
This past weekend, Vivek Tiwary, the Gen-X producer that brought Green Day’s American Idiot to Broadway, spoke to an enthusiastic crowd at The Fest for Beatles Fans about his mission to bring Epstein’s little known story to life via a critically acclaimed graphic novel, The Fifth Beatle, released by Dark Horse Comics.
What I unearthed after much difficult research (there is a paltry amount of information readily available on Brian, which is part of why I want to bring his story to the world) was not just an inspirational business story and a blueprint for what I wanted to accomplish with my career, but also a very human story, as summarized above. It’s a story I could relate to—and wanted to relate to—on so many levels. Brian became my “historical mentor”, if you will. A person from whose history I’ve tried to learn from—both what to do and what NOT to do. Brian was certainly a flawed and imperfect hero, but a hero all the same.
Tiwary has drawn inspiration from Epstein’s trailblazing ingenuity, citing that without Epstein’s persistence, Ed Sullivan never would have brought The Beatles to America. “People scoffed when I brought Sean Combs to Broadway in A Raisin in the Sun because they didn’t believe that Broadway attracted a black audience. I told them that was ridiculous; if we gave them a product they wanted, they would come.” Like Epstein decades before, Tiwary’s was a winning gamble.
The internet balked at Ben Affleck as Batman. Wait ’til they get a load of this.
Jesse Eisenberg, perhaps best known for his portrayal of Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg in The Social Network, has been cast to play Lex Luthor in director Zack Snyder’s Batman vs. Superman. Rumored contenders had included Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston and Gladiator alum Joaquin Phoenix. However, the confirmed selection of Eisenberg suggests those men may have never been considered.
Eisenberg’s physique, age, and peculiar demeanor suggest Snyder will defy convention yet again. In Man of Steel, demure redhead Amy Adams was cast as dogged reporter Lois Lane. African-American actor Laurence Fishburne took on the role of Daily Planet editor Perry White. Most dramatically, Jimmy Olson became a Latina named Jenny. None of these casting choices were overstated upon execution. Each character took easily to their altered shell, proving that none were necessarily defined by physical characteristics.
Lex Luthor may prove different, however. With Eisenberg, Snyder would seem to be recasting Superman’s mortal nemesis as a young tech CEO in the Zuckerberg mold, a deep contrast to the crusty old versions we have seen onscreen before. It’s a bold choice, enhancing the ying/yang contrast between hero and villain. After all, you can’t get much less “man of steel” than Jesse Eisenberg.
Alongside the Eisenberg announcement, Warner Brothers confirmed that Jeremy Irons will join the cast as Alfred Pennyworth, butler and mentor to Affleck’s Bruce Wayne. With apologies to Michael Caine, that may make for the most intriguing portrayal of the character in history.
We will have to wait until next year to see how the production pans out. These offbeat casting choices may pay off in surprising ways.
1. There once was a black country blues guitarist named Arnold Schultz. Originally from Kentucky, Schultz was a travelling laborer who had a huge impact on American blues music during his short life.
2. Schultz taught this guy, Ike Everly, a unique thumb-picking guitar style native to Western Kentucky.
3. Ike Everly taught this style to his neighbor and fellow coal miner Merle Travis.
4. Ike Everly would bring his sons, Don and Phil, into the family band. They’d grow up to form the famous American music group, the Everly Brothers. The Everly Brothers would go on to influence many musicians, including the Beatles. It is said that the harmonies in one of the Beatles’ first hits, Please Please Me, were inspired by the fraternal duo.
5. Merle Travis would go on to become a famous country and western musician, popularizing that fingerpicking style his neighbor Ike Everly taught him so much that it became known as Travis Picking.
6. Travis Picking is the style of guitar playing featured in the latest Coen Brothers release, Inside Llewyn Davis.
So, as we remember the life and legacy of Phil Everly and the Everly Brothers
We should celebrate the gift of American music
Without which the Beatles would not have existed
And we’d be forced to jam to techno-pop
Instead of those awesome Hillbilly tunes.
Saving Mr. Banks opens nationwide today, and for the first time Disney has allowed an actor to portray Walt Disney. It’s the role of a lifetime, even for an iconic actor like Tom Hanks, and he told an audience at the Los Angeles Times’ Envelope Screening Series how he landed this plum part:
“I had all these people telling me that I was going to get a call from Bob Iger,” Hanks said. “And then one day the phone rang, and they said, ‘Yes, Bob Iger for Tom Hanks.’ And I said, ‘Yes, speaking. Go ahead and put him on.’ [And they said,] ‘One moment, please.’ ” [Hanks then hummed Iger's hold music: "Zip-a-Dee-Doo-Dah."]
After exchanging pleasantries, Hanks said, Iger’s pitch went something like this, taking on a mile-a-minute monotone:
“Oh, great. How are you, how are the kids, how’s lovely Rita? Give her my best, will you? … Hey, listen, Tom: If you could help us out here, we’ve got a tough position here. A movie came in based on Walt Disney — we didn’t develop it — and we feel as though we sort of have to make this thing. We can’t just let it go because somebody else would make it, and then what kind of schmucks are we that somebody else makes a Walt Disney movie? And if we just shut it down, then we’re going to come off as the evil version of Walt Disney, and we certainly don’t want that happening. So we’re in kind of a tough position here; we don’t know what really to do about it. It’s a lovely script, we’re all in favor, but if there’s any way at all you could just come in — it’d be nice if somebody famous played somebody famous. You know how that is. So if you’d take a look at it and just let me know if you’re interested in doing it, I’d really appreciate it.”
Hanks didn’t need much more convincing. “And that’s how I came to play Walt Disney,” he said.
But will the reboot turn out better than the awful, un-Godzilla-like 1998 treatment that starred Matthew Broderick?
The first teaser-trailer for 2014′s Godzilla is out. Take a look. You should take it full screen. Chromecast it if you’ve got it.
The teaser opens with a group of soldiers HALO leaping into a city that is already being ravaged by the beast. We get to fall along with the troops, then see fleeting glimpses of the wreckage on the ground, reactions from the puny humans in the city, and then the monster, shrouded in a massive cloud of dust and debris.
The teaser doesn’t show much of the legendary monster, whose name is an amalgamation of the Japanese words for “gorilla” and “whale,” but what is shown already looks far better than the villain from the 1998 version. That Godzilla was more of a leaned-forward speed-walking dinosaur-like creature than the upright plodding disaster of the Toho films. It neither moved nor felt very much like Godzilla.
The 2014 version appears to be standing upright in the sequence that leads up to the frame below. The sequence begins with a shot of Godzilla’s feet at ground level, tracks upward showing the spikes on his back, and around his neck to his head. And then we hear a bona fide Godzilla roar. This is no man in a rubber suit, and the cinematography that brings him to life is spectacular.
Godzilla’s cast looks decent. Hollywood notoriously lacks any original ideas these days, and returning to a giant monster that first leveled Tokyo in 1954 certainly doesn’t speak to the film industry’s originality now.
But still…it’s Godzilla. In 3D. And IMAX 3D. Movies just don’t get much bigger than that.
Godzilla destroys us all starting May 16, 2014.
Star Wars holds a sacrosanct place in my heart, as it does with so many among my generation. As we’ve grown up, its mythology has served as a ready reference, shaping our perception of the world. Good and evil, light and dark, rebel and tyrant – while its moral dichotomy may prove simplistic, the struggles in Star Wars nonetheless resonate with conflicts we face in real life.
Anything which has such influence over a child, sparking imagination, shaping morality, and stimulating aspiration, ascends to an object of reverence. It becomes something we carry around with us (some more literally than others) and cling to like a sacred idol. A kind of theology develops around it, with conflicting doctrines advanced by competing denominations of fandom. So it is with Star Wars. For that reason, any tinkering with the the saga’s mythology inevitably draws cries of heresy.
Betsy Woodruff of National Review went so far as to declare Star Wars dead, due in large part to the brand’s acquisition by mega-corporation Disney. Citing George Lucas’ own introspection regarding his Vader-like transformation from ragtag rebel of the film industry to head of his own corporate empire, and detailing her experience trying out for a role in director J.J. Abrams’ forthcoming Episode VII, Woodruff concludes:
Here’s why Star Wars is dead: First, because they made a huge mistake in not casting me. Second, because it’s no longer in the hands of a bunch of nerds in California and because it’s been entrusted instead to the kind of people who think eight-hour meet-and-greets are a good idea either as A) publicity stunts (or, giving them the presumption of good faith) B) a good way to determine who’s going to be the next Luke Skywalker. It’s because Star Wars — a story that’s profoundly anti-centralization, anti-bureaucracy, anti-depersonalization — is being micromanaged and scrutinized by nameless bureaucrats who think that people who’ve stood in line for five hours will be satisfied with being directed to a website. And it’s because a film enterprise that was initially about risk is now about bet-hedging. No one should need to be told that the seventh film in a franchise probably isn’t going to be super great. But, you know, just in case, consider yourself warned.
Consider me a fan of another denomination. While the next film in the franchise may indeed bomb, it won’t do so for the reasons Woodruff cites.
The Oscars won’t be given out until March, but Oscar season is already well underway as studio flacks hold parties and special screenings intended to sway voters. The leading contenders so far are:
10 and 9. American Hustle and The Wolf of Wall Street
Both films make the list solely because of the track record of their respective directors, David O. Russell (The Fighter, Silver Linings Playbook) and Martin Scorsese. Unlike all of the other movies on this list, these two haven’t been publicly shown yet. Scorsese is still editing his Leonardo DiCaprio-starring film about finance-industry debauchery and isn’t expected to be finished until the end of November.
Russell says his movie, which stars Christian Bale and Jennifer Lawrence in a drama about a 1970s political scam, is almost ready. American Hustle is due in theaters Dec. 18, Wolf a week later.
Likely Oscar nominations: Best Picture?
Ever since Disney acquired Lucasfilm just over a year ago and announced a new film trilogy, fans of the expanding Star Wars universe have sat on the edge of their seats awaiting a release date for Episode VII. Now we have a date – December 18, 2015, and the announcement became the talk of Hollywood last week.
The same day as the announcement, Disney CEO Bob Iger appeared on Blooomberg TV’s Street Smart to talk about Episode VII, as well as the increased presence that Star Wars will have at Disney’s various theme parks:
The only thing I can share which, actually I don’t think we’ve really talked about much, is that there is a fair amount development going on at Disney Imagineering right now to expand the Star Wars presence in California and in Orlando and eventually in other parks around the world… It’s probably likely that Star Wars will be more than in just our two domestic parks.
Iger made a similar (but more vague) statement back in May:
In addition to the Star Wars feature films that we’ve already talked about, we’re also working on opportunities for television and our parks. It’s still very early in the process.
What will this mean – individual attractions? Meet and greets? Or perhaps an entire Star Wars Land at the parks? (I’ve said for a while that a Star Wars land somewhere like Disney’s Hollywood Studios would generate far more excitement and interest than the Avatar Land in the works at Disney’s Animal Kingdom.) In March, the company surveyed guests at Disneyland to gauge their interest in a Star Wars land, and I wrote about swirling rumors back in June. The success of Star Tours 2.0 in the American parks, as well at Tokyo and Paris, along with the annual Star Wars Weekends in Orlando and Anaheim, suggest that the idea of a Star Wars land isn’t that great of a gamble.
Obviously, this situation continue to develop, but as both a Disney fan and a Star Wars fan, I’m excited at the idea that Disney Parks will see something in terms of an increased Star Wars presence. Stay tuned – as I learn more, I’ll pass it on here.
Who in their right mind thought Darren Aronofsky was the right director to helm a Biblical epic? I always enjoy a new Aronofsky movie, but I’m honestly waiting with glee for the stinktastic box office results on this one.
Maybe I’ll eventually put Noah in the Netflix queue for one of our “Must Have Cocktails for This One” movie nights.
WSJ sat down with The Wolf of Wall Street director Martin Scorsese, and stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Jonah Hill. Here’s something from the intro:
In theaters next month, the glitzy, audacious blockbuster is based on real-life rogue trader Jordan Belfort’s memoir of his 1990s pump-and-dump flameout, during which he launched the infamous Stratton Oakmont “boiler room” brokerage, inflicted over $200 million of losses on investors and sunk a 167-foot yacht—all on his way to a federal indictment for securities fraud and money laundering and 22 months in prison. (Belfort is currently working toward building a career as a motivational speaker and paying $110 million back to investors.) The film will be the fifth collaboration between Scorsese and DiCaprio, following Gangs of New York, The Departed, The Aviator and Shutter Island. And by all accounts, filming it was an act of deep mutual trust: their most adult, debauched project to date. “[Our relationship has] evolved in the sense that with every new picture, we get to know each other a little better, trust each other a little more and go a little further,” says Scorsese.
Shutter Island left me cold, just because of the theme, but The Departed is probably the best mobster movie of the Naughts. Really looking forward to this next flick.
Even as the follow-up to Man of Steel introduces Ben Affleck’s iteration of Batman to the rebooted DC Comics universe, the Dark Knight’s ally in the Gotham City police department, Commissioner Gordon, lands his own series on FOX. IGN reports:
The series will focus on a young Detective James Gordon and “the villains that made Gotham famous.” Bruno Heller (Rome, The Mentalist) is writing the Commissioner Gordon, which will presumably launch during the 2014-2015 TV season. Gotham will take place before Gordon meets Batman, who will not be a part of the series.
The news comes as Marvel’s Agents of S.H.E.I.L.D. premieres on ABC to rave reviews. Should we view this as the dawn of a new trend, superhero series without superheroes in them? Hopefully, the Gotham show proves to be more than a conceptual copycat.
Marvel Studios has done an incredible job managing its brand, maintaining an on-screen continuity which ties together its many separate franchises. In the wake of Marvel’s The Avengers’ tremendous box office success, it was apparent that Warner Bros. execs were eager to dust off the Justice League and get in on the superhero cash stream. The move to follow Man of Steel with a Batman/Superman team-up seems to indicate the studio’s desire to fast-track a DC Comics film dynasty to rival Marvel’s.
Over the years we’ve heard so many stories about the Beatles and just when it seems we’d heard it all, one woman who was involved with the band throughout their entire career is speaking out for the first time.
Beatles manager Brian Epstein hired an unassuming teenage girl from Liverpool to serve as the secretary to his musical charges, and Freda Kelly filled that role for the band’s entire career and even for a year after their 1970 breakup. She’s going public in a new documentary.
A film, titled “Good ol’ Freda,” was financed through crowd funding site Kickstarter, which raised almost $60,000 from 660 backers. McCartney even gave his blessing to the project, approving the licensing of four original Beatles songs – something that seldom happens in film – and audiences are able to visually feast on never-before-seen photographs.
Kelly basically gave away all her memorabilia (likely worth millions now) to desperate and devastated fans in 1974. She went above and beyond during her time to ensure that fans were given the real deal. That involved sneaking threads from McCartney’s shirts, arranging for hair snippets and making sure Starr really did sleep on a pillowcase before returning it to an overjoyed fan – but apparently she drew the line at fulfilling requests to send along fingernail clippings. So intent on being honest, the secretary once let go of a whole crew of assistants who were exposed for trying to pass off a girl’s hair for that of a Beatle.
Kelly opens up on plenty of topics in the documentary, holding back about very little. She additionally helped take care of Ringo Starr’s parents, a part of her job she remembers with great fondness in the film.
And as candid as Kelly became throughout the filming process, there was still one topic in particular that was off-limits.
“I asked if she dated any of the Beatles,” [director Ryan] White said. “And she stared me down in her charming way.”
Kelly does, however, confess to zipping her lips about such things as Lennon’s wandering eyes while married to college sweetheart, Cynthia Powell. Yet she had no qualms about putting the boys’ in their place when the occasion called for it.
The public will hear many of the tales in Good ol’ Freda for the first time when it opens – Kelly’s own daughter admits to not knowing “95 percent” of her mother’s stories.
Good ol’ Freda opens in select theaters today, and will release simultaneously via video on demand and iTunes. Here’s the trailer:
As summer trickles out with the usual hopeless Labor Day menu of schlock that should have gone straight to video, Hollywood takes its usual breather for a few weeks, but starting in October some of the year’s most keenly anticipated movies will begin to roll out. Here are five that look like major potential crowd-pleasers.
1. The Wolf of Wall Street (Nov. 15)
Leonardo DiCaprio is an overrated actor, but the principal reason he’s overrated is that he’s usually very good in Martin Scorsese films like this one (though he stumbles with other directors such as Quentin Tarantino and Clint Eastwood).
The movie sounds like a gleefully cynical, Goodfellas-like take on the booming 1990s financial industry, minus Oliver Stone’s groaning liberal cliches about corruption. Instead, the adaptation of a memoir by former stockbroker Jordan Belfort (an outsider who made it into one of America’s most exclusive clubs, much like Henry Hill in Goodfellas, before an equally spectacular downfall) is being billed as a boys-will-be-boys black-comedy spree.
Through Scorsese’s mischief-loving eyes, Wall Street will be shown in a state of ecstatic excess characterized by dwarf-tossing, coke-snorting and wanton sexual misbehavior. The movie sounds buzzy, funny, dark, rude and politically incorrect.