So there I was at work the other day when I suddenly remembered that I haven’t updated this blog… …for months!
That’s what happens when I’m busy making a film of my own. It’s as time consuming as it is utterly exhausting, but now I’ve finished showing my underbelly and can return to my true love…pointing at everyone else’s.
“When we last left you…” I was in the middle of bending over backwards to recommend Australian films, and we still have one left to go. I haven’t lost sight of this, but I have something else to take care of first.
Remember this? Of all the posts in all the years in all the world, I had to almost miss 2015.
Fret not! I know it’s July, but I’m not going to miss my chance to unveil the perfectly titled ‘Fifteen of Fifteen’! It’s unconscionable!
I know that 2015 is well and truly in the rearview mirror at this point, but can we please just step into the DeLorean for a minute and take a trip back to when Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Jurassic World were dominating the box office while Mad Max: Fury Road, The Revenant, and Spotlight were emptying the Oscar shelves. Remember it now? Ok, good.
Let’s go over the rules again:
This is not strictly a list of my favourite films in 2015. What I’ve done here is try to cobble together a set of the best movies that the average film-goer, or even netflix buff, probably overlooked in a year full of anticipated blockbusters. If you happen to find yourself with “nothing to watch” one night and you feel a little adventurous, by all means pick one out and give it a try, or perhaps even make a selection from 2014 or 2013. I can’t guarantee that they’ll all be to your taste, but I will say that this is probably the best year I can remember for overlooked independents. There was so much great stuff that I almost wanted to increase the number.
BUT THAT WOULD RUIN THE “FIFTEEN OF FIFTEEN” title! …and we can’t do that.
So we begin, as always, at the bottom…
A fair few of you may actually have seen Crimson Peak. It had a decent run at the cinemas, but never really became the big hit that Guillermo Del Toro probably hoped it would be.
“In the aftermath of a family tragedy, an aspiring author is torn between love for her childhood friend and the temptation of a mysterious outsider. Trying to escape the ghosts of her past, she is swept away to a house that breathes, bleeds – and remembers.”
It’s not hard to see why people didn’t recommend this to their friends. The premise alone is labyrinthine and dense. The poster screams “horror”, but the summary reads like Russian literature. Then, to top it off, the reviews all had a sense of “meh” about them. The consensus seemed to be that the film was not scary. I agree. There’s a lot of eeriness, but never any paranormal toe-curling tension or even a single cheap jump-scare payoff.
All of this is ok, however, because the film is not meant to be scary. It’s pitched as a gothic romance, the keywords being “gothic” and “romance”. Balancing morbidity and love is tricky as hell, because you tend to alienate both halves of your audience. The women find it too frightening, gross, or unsettling while the men are bored out of their minds with the slow sappiness.
I found it enjoyable on both counts and, as far as demographics go, there’s one group that will adore every lavish second of it: Production Designers.
If you’re someone with a soft spot for fantastical costumes and architecture, eat your walking corpse’s heart out! Del Toro has brought you the ultimate in horror mansions, a house that oozes character, literally. Everything from the tap handles to the door latches has been designed to tell a story or evoke an emotion. The film is also gorgeously lit, with a bright and consistent contrasting colour palette of yellow, red, and green; representing life, love, and death.
The whole experience is a trip back to the classic ghost films of the 60’s, with candlesticks constantly illuminating dark hallways. The aim of the game here is not to let your imagination fill in the blanks, but rather to exhibit the imagination of the filmmaker. Guillermo Del Toro is one of the most brilliant visual minds working in cinema today, and he has some unbelievable things to show you if you’ll just open yourself up to it.
Like I said, a fair few of you may have seen Crimson Peak, but I have a sneaking suspicion that most of you skipped it. Just remember to manage your expectations. It will intrigue you, maybe even stun you, but not scare you. Relax and and soak in the exuberance.
Perhaps partially redundant, but here you go:
“Steve Jobs takes us behind the scenes of the digital revolution, to paint a portrait of the man at its epicentre. The story unfolds backstage at three iconic product launches, ending in 1998 with the unveiling of the iMac.”
Just like Crimson Peak, Steve Jobs was a film with a decent profile. It was written by wordsmith prodigy Aaron Sorkin, of The West Wing, and directed by Danny Boyle. Must have been a giant hit, right?
Made on a budget of $30 million, the film ultimately only scraped together $34 million from its entire theatrical run. While technically going into profit, it became known as one of the biggest flops of the year. With this much talent involved expectations were raised, but in hindsight it was always going to be a struggle to drag audiences back into the cinema for a Steve Jobs biopic…thanks to this little spoiler:
Out of the two competing exposes about the same man, the better one arrived late to the party and missed out as a result. Not only was Jobs the first to be released, but it made the same amount of money as Steve Jobs. Yet on account of having half the budget, it was a greater success. Are you confused yet?
Exactly! All you need to remember is to avoid Ashton Kutcher and you’ll be fine. In fact, this is a good general rule anyway!
The great advantage that the Sorkin script has is that it showcases Steve Jobs as a darker and more complex character. Steve was to loyalty what computer hardware…is to loyalty.
It’s clear that in his “post 90’s” stretch Aaron Sorkin has become more interested in flawed central characters that blur the line between hero and villain. If you’re someone who enjoyed the tone of Moneyball and The Social Network, in particular, then you you really shouldn’t miss this one.
The setup is also way more interesting. It presents the summation of Jobs’ life through three real-time product launches, each one an act in a three-part play. Through this prism we see the chasm between his relationship to the public and to the individual. We slalom through a landscape of broken friendships and partnerships, all within the confines of what is clearly a synthetically constructed narrative, and yet it never feels inorganic. Behold the gospel that is the Sorkin script.
Here’s one that I’m almost certain you haven’t seen. Lucky you!
“A documentary about the proposed 1998 Superman Lives feature film that would have starred Nicolas Cage.”
No, you’re not having a sudden onslaught of dyslexia. You read that correctly.
For almost two decades there’s been a rumour that Tim Burton was planning a Superman sequel that would star Nicolas Cage. No one was really sure how deep into development the project had gotten before fizzling out, but most assumed that it never escaped the scripting stage. Then this picture began circulating.
Clearly Superman Lives had made it all the way to casting and costume fitting, something which only raised more questions.
Documentary filmmaker and self proclaimed geek John Shnepp has decided to make the effort of investigating just how many relics and unrealised plans actually exist. The truth is so much more fleshed out than anyone ever thought. The Death of Superman Lives piles together every available scrap of information about what could have potentially been the most insane superhero movie ever made. Interviews, story plans, concept art, and even VFX test footage helps gather a complete picture of the train wreck cinema fiasco we all secretly wish would have happened.
To my surprise, 2015 turned out to be a great year for horror films. There are a total of five on this list, far more than most years. Not only are they fundamentally effective, they’re all wildly at odds with contemporary genre expectations.
Case in point: We Are Still Here.
“In the cold, wintery fields of New England, a lonely old house wakes up every thirty years – and demands a sacrifice.”
I’ve found it hard to pinpoint why I…kinda…like this film. I fully admit that it’s far from 100% successful, but there were key moments that stayed with me.
With a shockingly low budget, but fuelled by substantive inspiration, We Are Still Here is the kind of rough (and I do mean rough) diamond that many horror film fans will find themselves oddly charmed by. Every element of this film is underdeveloped, but it has a core vision. The creators have stated that they didn’t want to choose between ghouls or ghosts, and instead combined them. When faced with a cliche, their go-to strategy was to take the road less travelled. It may not have lead them to a home-run, but it certainly kept me watching.
Oh, you like horror films? In the inappropriate words of Bernie Goetz, “here’s another!”
“A family in 1630’s New England is torn apart by the forces of witchcraft, black magic and possession.”
The Witch is a cerebral horror film in the vain of The Shining and Rosemary’s Baby. It’s not a film you can ever relax into, and nor should you. It raises several questions and provides very few answers. This is not a date movie or a gorefest, and at times it will make you uncomfortable with its ongoing references to deviant themes and uncomfortable human behaviour. The very first sequence in the movie is intended to put you off and then dare you to sit through the rest. It’s no spoiler to say that the story isn’t headed to a good place.
I might struggle to recommend Australian films, but how about an American one with a New Zealander in it?
I’ve never seen Flight of the Conchords, but I have it on good authority that it’s very funny. One of its stars, Jemaine Clement, now comes to you as the oddly out of place lead in the indie comedy film People, Places, Things.
“Will Henry is a newly single graphic novelist balancing parenting his young twin daughters and a classroom full of students while exploring and navigating the rich complexities of new love and letting go of the woman who left him.”
This movie is essentially a deadpan juggling act. It’s always funny, but in a subtle way that consists of equal parts punch-lines and cringe moments. What’s endearing about it is how adoringly it treats its central character. Although Will is a buffoon in many ways and a hapless victim in others, he remains a consistently great father. He struggles to provide for his children financially, and so substitutes it by enriching their lives with immaterial happiness.
Will’s struggle is to endure a torrent of emotional hardships until something can give him a a slight hope of control. Even if that never happens, though, it’s fun to watch him grasping at straws.
Alright, you’re not happy with just a lead actor from New Zealand? Let’s step it up a notch.
“A young Scottish man travels across America in pursuit of the woman he loves, attracting the attention of an outlaw who is willing to serve as a guide.”
If this film proves anything, it’s that film is all about fakery. Here we have Kodi Smit-McPhee, who is Australian, playing a Scottish traveller. Meanwhile, Michael Fassbender, who is Irish, plays an American outlaw. One is helping the other traverse the American West, as represented by the New Zealand countryside.
Just about everything in Slow West is disingenuous, and yet if you didn’t know…you wouldn’t know. Best of all, it gives us a fresh take on westerns. You’ve never quite seen one like this. It’s uniquely bright, colourful, and stands in contrast to almost all of modern cinema by filming its subjects matter with entirely steady shots. At times it reminded me of the craft in a Cohen Brother film, particularly one like Fargo. There is very little movements in either the camerawork, action, or dialogue. The director, John Maclean, compensates for this with what I like to call “precision filmmaking”.
There is a golden rule in scriptwriting, which is to go from A to B as directly as possible without being boring and predictable. It’s a hard tightrope to walk, but the thing to avoid is unnecessary deviation from the story. Don’t let your main character go on a rant about something that isn’t germane to either a plot-strand or an underlying theme. It’s messy and distracting, so cut it out if you can’t justify it.
Of course, some filmmakers manage to break this rule and get away with it, to the frustration of others.
Slow West, in a very classically disciplined way, chains itself to minimalism at all times. Dialogue that would otherwise stretch on for paragraphs is condensed into a handful of words. Sometimes even one word, or a simple gesture, is enough.
None of that is to say, however, that Slow West doesn’t have several moments of fun. There are jokes, chases, shootouts, and subsequently a lot of both dark and funny deaths.
It feels very strange to be recommending a teen comedy. It’s not usually something I do, but The Duff left me feeling like is deserved some recognition.
“A high school senior instigates a social pecking order revolution after finding out that she has been labeled the DUFF – Designated Ugly Fat Friend – by her prettier, more popular counterparts.”
The whole conceit of this movie seems like a hard sell. You would be forgiven for suspecting it to be a mixture of Mean Girls clique-humour, rags-to-popular-riches Cinderella fantasy, and…every other cliche you can think of. Its setup also reeks of potential body shaming for young women. Something that I’m totally against, mind you! I value women for their personalities and don’t judge them by their looks or leer over them like some large drooling predator. Amirite, sistahs?
But if you ignore the premise, the characters, the poster, and the trailer…and just watch the movie…you’ll find that The Duff is actually a very sweet film. It’s easily as strong as Emma Stone’s compelling Easy A when it comes to issues of teenage female empowerment, and it’s just as funny, if not more.
I’ve always been a fan of Mae Whitman from when I first saw her in Scott Pilgrim vs. The World and The Perks of Being a Wallflower. She’s a perfect fit for this role. The chemistry between her and Robbie Amell is dynamite, and that’s the key to why it works. A romance comedy only succeeds if you can sense genuine harmony between two personalities, and in this case you’ll find yourself biting your nails in anticipation of the miss-matched couples hooking up correctly.
Yes! Now we’re getting into the really really good stuff. These next several movies are truly exquisite films whose tepid response is so unjustified that it’s criminal.
“A middle-aged couple’s career and marriage are overturned when a disarming young couple enters their lives.”
If you know my cinematic taste intimately (Ew! There’s got to be a better way to phrase that.), you’ll know that I’m an evolving fan of Noah Baumbach. He’s been an independent filmmaker since the 90’s, but only recently caught my attention with the lovely Frances Ha. His follow up is While We’re Young, a comical look at age-denial.
I’m particularly fond of this topic, as I’m already feeling old and I’m not even thirty yet. On the other hand…I’m almost thirty!
I don’t think it’s unusual to freak out a little every time you’re about to cross a decade threshold. It serves as a reminder of the clocks irreversible momentum. It’s not all about mortality, either. Eventually age has a way of pressuring you into abandoning a young persons lifestyle and “settling down”, whatever you perceive that to mean. Anyone with a burning, or even lukewarm, passion for reaching unfinished goals will find this a hard pill to swallow.
While We’re Young sees Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts come face to face with more impressive versions of their younger selves. It leads to an experimental maturity reboot that is utterly unpredictable in its outcome. A genuine crisis of the soul occurs, where the main characters have to decide whether they want to slip into the second half of their lives like it’s a soothing bath, or reject it as a constricting social construct.
This moment either has happened or will happen to all of us. Baumbach seems to be one of the only current artists willing to address it from every angle and with all the satire it deserves.
Is age really just a number? We’ll find out…
Is your Argentinian anthology film collection a little slim these days? Say no more!
“Six short stories about revenge.”
That’s about as concise of a setup as you could ask for. I have a special place in my heart for anthology films, and a special place within that special place for Wild Tales.
Anthology films succeed because of their internal diversity. With six stories available, you’re bound to like at least one or two of them. They vary in size and scope, but all centre around the bizarre outcomes of revenge.
What impressed me most was the high quality of this movie. I know that might sound damning with faint praise, as if I automatically assume that a film from Argentina should look like an outtake from The Blair Witch Project, but that’s not what I’m saying. There’s some serious money and talent involved here, with large scale VFX and crisp cinematography. Every smooth square inch of it gleams with wear-and-tear virginity, like a recently unboxed piece of expensive technology. Frankly, it impresses me to see this much attention being paid to such an indulgent entertainment piece. On top of that, the film made it into the Academy Award’s Best Foreign Language Film category. Not too shabby.
Those of you out there who struggle to draw pleasure from screen violence or don’t fancy revenge as sufficient character motivation might be tempted to skip this one. I suggest that you don’t. It’s very funny amidst its depravity. If you give it a chance, it will whisper sweet nothings to the lizard portion of your brain. You’ll find yourself coaxed into relating to these characters and their vitriolic decisions. It’s a scary thought, I know, but maybe…just maybe…there’s part of you that sympathises.
Ok fine, I will watch Flight of the Conchords, I promise. It’s hard not to when the people behind it made one of the funniest films of last year.
“A documentary team films the lives of a group of vampires for a few months. The vampires share a house in Wellington, New Zealand. Turns out vampires have their own domestic problems too.”
I want to immediately address the elephant in the room: Mockumentaries are all too common! Ever since This is Spinal Tap and The Office set the bar for hilarity and cringe by utilising a fake documentary format, we’ve seen dozens of these copycats. Borat, Bruno, Summer Heights High, Come Fly with Me, Parks and Recreation, Modern Family, Reno 911!, Trailer Park Boys, Kenny…the list goes on.
The only other category that could possibly compete with this level of abundance is that of vampire films. How many versions of Dracula have we had at this point? Twilight came, did its thing, and went. Then we even got Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Gee, thank you 20th Century Fox. I really needed to know what the emancipator of American slavery could do to the undead with an axe and a good swing.
All of this now leads up to the announcement that Jemaine Clement and Taika Watiti are making a mockumentary about vampires. You can imagine my reaction….
…and yet, it’s so good!
Right off the bat (pun inadvertently stumbled upon) we get references to everything from Nosferatu to Gary Oldman. The legends and myths around vampires are brought into the real world and played out like a reality show. It explores all the funny inconveniences and quirks that would inevitably follow a vampire lifestyle.
It’s great to finally see the vampire genre spoof itself. I’ve always been turned off by how seriously these creatures take themselves. ‘Oh, woe is me! I live forever but I have to drink blood and live at night.’ Yes, I get it. It’s a tortured existence. What I don’t understand is how you manage to style your hair so perfectly without a reflection.
Don’t you hate it when there’s hardly any size or font difference between the main star’s name and the film title? “Kevin Bacon Cop Car?” What the hell is that? Anyway…
“A small-town sheriff sets out to find the two kids who have taken his car on a joy ride.”
I really enjoyed this one. Like really enjoyed it! It’s very simple. The motivations are straight forward, the characters aren’t too complex, and the dialogue is straight to the point. Unlike most modern films, it has no problem putting children in mortal danger. It’s like a modern gritty reinvention of The Goonies, you could say.
Two children make the poor mistake of stealing a cop car, assuming that the worst they’ll get is a talking to from the police or their parents. Of course, it’s so much worse. The car belongs to Sherriff Kretzen, an upstanding policeman and part time drug dealing murderer. Kretzen’s entire double-life hangs in the balance and depends upon him retrieving the car before the children discover what’s really going on. And away we go…
Yay! Noah Baumbach returns again. I’m such a fan!
I know, you’re bored with all my adoration. If only I gave half a fuck. I don’t. He’s amazing!
“A lonely college freshman’s life is turned upside-down by her impetuous, adventurous stepsister-to-be.”
You might think that this film is similar to While We’re Young, but you’d be wrong. It starts off as a drama about a young girl trying to fit in at college, but takes a turn when Greta Gerwig’s character, Brooke, enters her life. Suddenly it becomes an increasingly frenetic screwball comedy, and here’s where I start my rant:
What ever happened to screwball comedies? There used to be a whole industry of writers being paid to pen high quality script about hilariously ever-escalating situations. Dramatic irony was the name of the game, where each character was misunderstanding each other and only the audience had a complete view of what was going on. This style of comedy was all the rage in the 30’s and 40’s, then made a bit of a comeback in the 70’s and 90’s. As I’m a child of the 90’s, these are some of my personally favourite examples:
Nowadays, though, comedies have been hijacked by the likes of Will Ferrel and Adam McKay. While some of their films (like Anchorman and Step Brothers) are very funny, they’re all about improvisation. It’s far less impressive when there’s no real script in place, and the director just lets funny people sputter in front of a camera until they have enough to edit together. That’s a pretty lazy way to make a comedy. Just make an episode of Whose Line is it Anyway, it’s cheaper.
What I want to see is a script that plays out like intricate mathematics. The setups and the payoffs are perfectly timed. The build up of complexities is externally chaotic, and yet there’s clearly always a captain at the helm.
Mistress America is one of these. The dialogue is smart, complicated, funny, and delivered at a crazy pace, similar to Gilmore Girls. As the plot progresses, it literally accumulates a motley crew of characters that don’t seem to know why they’re here or where they’re going. They just follow one another blindly, and I was happy to tag along as well.
Final two, and we’re back to warm nutritious horror!
“A young woman is followed by an unknown supernatural force after a sexual encounter.”
Upon first glance, the setup for It Follows seems very typical. In reality, this is one of the most perfectly conceived horror films I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s such a great idea!
The film posits an entity that follows you. Only you can see it. It never stops and never runs. It only ever walks at a slow constant pace. It always knows where you are, and is always walking in a straight line towards you. It will appear to you as a random person, sometimes as someone you know. When it reaches you…you die!
Now that is genius! The entire film becomes an excruciating exercise in paranoia. You’ll find yourself picking people out of a crowd and wondering “is that it?”. There are also additional rules which further complicate the main character’s dilemma. The only way to pass the follower to another person is to have sex. You will still be able to see the follower, but they will now be following your partner. However, if the follower kills that person, it immediately turns around and begins following you again. As you can imagine, this gives our central hero some mythological room within which she can strategize. Can she devise a plan to escape the inescapable? Oh the fun we’ll have!
No you don’t! Come back here!
I’ve run into a couple people recently who refuse to watch horror movies. Their excuse is “I get too scared”. That’s like avoiding roller coasters because they’re too exciting. That’s the whole point! A good horror film is an unbelievably refreshing experience. The best ones are all about editing and camera placement, rather than gore and creepy lighting.
If you’re more or less a horror virgin, then It Follows is a great first experience to have. It’s not too scary, merely confronting you with a terrifying notion that’s well explored. It will provide you with a prime example of what great horror cinema is all about: tension.
There are interesting additional flavours to this film. The director, David Robert Mitchell, decided to set it in no one consistent time period. The cars and sets look like something out of the 80’s, but the technology and clothing is far more modern. The soundtrack is created by Disasterpeace, who used a retro John Carpenter synth score that sounds like it belongs in a classic slasher.
I just absolutely loved the experience of watching this movie. I saw it at Cinema Nova, in an uncomfortable basement with a low ceiling and an annoying cement pillar protruding into my line of sight. Still, it didn’t matter. I was transfixed with what was on the screen, loving every second of it. The use of long takes and zoom lenses brought me right back to the films I saw on VHS as a kid.
Please watch this movie! It deserves you!
I thought It Follows was going to end up being my favourite film of 2015, but in the final days of December, Krampus arrived.
“A boy who has a bad Christmas ends up accidentally summoning a Christmas demon to his family home.”
Do you like Gremlins? How about Poltergeist? A Nightmare Before Christmas? Combine them all and you get Krampus. It’s written and directed by Michael Dogherty, who made one of my favourite films of the last decade: Trick r’ Treat.
If you liked Trick r’ Treat, then you’re in luck. Krampus is effectively an unrelated sequel. It features many of the same practical effects and clear nods to 80’s creature features like Pumpkinhead.
I wasn’t out of order when I mentioned A Nightmas Before Christmas, either. There is an entire section where the film turns into a stop-motion rendered animation. Like something right of of Tim Burton’s mind, it’s a beautiful piece of German expressionism and so appropriate to the spirit of the film!
Dogherty loves combining genres that aren’t normally combined. Here, he intentionally aims to mutate everything you’re told to love about Christmas into an unrelenting abomination. The spirit, people, decorations, traditions, and gifts are all perverted with no remorse.
It might just be one of my favourite Christmas films ever. I like it when filmmakers reveal the dark side of the holidays. Something about the absurd recipe of blood and eggnog makes for an interesting result. Lest we forget that Die Hard, Eyes Wide Shut, and Kiss Kiss Bang Bang are all technically Christmas films. They’re just not interested in pandering to holiday cheer.
For someone like myself, who hates this time of year profusely, it’s music to my ears. If Krampus is about anything, it’s about the falseness of Christmas. People spend time together, not because they want to, but because they feel they have to. It’s what you do! Well, bah humbug!
Tear it all down, with cannibal puppets and murdering gingerbread men!
Did anyone out there watch Welcome to Woop Woop?
You liar! I know you didn’t. First of all, it’s quite hard to find, and secondly…because no one in their right mind would sit through more than ten minutes of something like that. It’s barely a film, much less a good one. I, as it happens, am not in my right mind and have seen it twice.
Any proud Australian reading this should be seething at my disrespect by this point. How dare I claim that Australian films are below standard, and then put forth Welcome to Woop Woop as an example of what makes the grade? Well, I dare, I did, and I don’t care what you think.
Alright, fine, you may have a point. My whole argument is about Australian films being too Australian, so the natural retort is to ask for an example of the antithesis. What sort of films do I think Australia should be making? It’s easy for me to say that we need to be making good film, as opposed to just Australian films, but what constitutes a good film? Who decides what a good film is? What kind of films have both financial and critical success?
The complaint I hear most often is about money. “Australia doesn’t have the kind of money that America does, so we can’t make mega-blockbusters like they do”. But…who said anything about blockbusters? You know what Australia needs?…A Woody Allen!
You either know Woody Allen as a character, or as an artist. I temporarily titter at the former, but buckle with awe at the latter. You cannot be an independent film auteur without being highly literate in Allen’s back-catalogue. Since the early seventies, he’s made a movie a year, and some years two or even three. In the same vein as John Ford, he steams ahead with all the inhibition of an arctic icebreaker. Reviews and returns are equally poor deterrents, and he’s never been unable to make his next movie. How’s that possible, you ask? Doesn’t he have to lobby endlessly for grants, investments, and picture deals? Nope! Not when you’re Woody Allen, because Woody Allen…MAKES..GOOD..MOVIES.
Allen doesn’t make big movies or American movies. He writes simple scripts with good characters, typically a dose of witty humour, and insightful ideas. To date he’s written and directed 45 feature films. Here they are:
By the time you read this, however, it may very well be 46. That’s how rapidly he pumps them out. How does he do it? He keeps his budgets small!
Woody Allens films are low in scope, and therefore constitute a low risk investment. He has spent, in total, 613.9 million dollars on 45 films over the course of 50 years. That comes out to an average of 13.6 million per film. Collectively, they’ve grossed over 1.2 billion dollars internationally, raking in an average of 27.3 million each.
Basically it means that Allen’s movies typically pay out at twice their budget in a single theatrical run. Only in a handful of cases has this not been true. Over the years, he’s created a loyal fanbase that can be counted on to spread the word of a new release and line up for the next one. Actors who usually require multi-million dollar paycheques will all but waive their fee for a chance to work with Allen because of his iconic presence in American cinema.
The majority, if not all, of Allen’s signature talent lies in his writing. With a great script you can largely guarantee a decent return without wasting your money on pyrotechnics and green-screen. Films don’t have to be big to be successful. Just look at the Duplass brothers, for example!
You’ve never heard of the Duplass brothers? Alright, fine! Here we go…
Mark and Jay Duplass are herculean warriors in the fight against big budget movie domination. What they do isn’t low-budget, it’s no-budget.
Their early films were made for as little as $15,000 and ended up being selected for the Sundance film festival year after year. Later, they’ve gone on to produce fractionally larger projects with significantly more famous stars, like Jonah Hill and Kristen Wiig. Their formula is always the same; docu-drama style with an improvisational comedy tone. Their success is built on a solid understanding of character interaction. Watching the actors bounce off one another in a Duplass film gives me joy every time, and there’s always a great script underpinning it all. In fact, they’re not unlike Noah Baumbach in many respects.
Holy shit! Are you trying to make me tenderise a concrete wall with my forehead? Listen, folks, if this ‘blogger-bloggee’ thing is going to work then I need some commitment on your end. I didn’t make this thing so I could sit here and wax poetic about Transformer: Age of Extinction. Drive on past Village for once and take a trip to the Astor, or the Palace Kino, or Cinema Nova. Scroll deep into the cobwebbed independent film section of you Netflix, Torrent some obscure titles, or have a look at this year’s line up for the Melbourne Scandinavian Film Festival.
(Actually, that’s highly hypocritical on my part. I’ve never gone to the local Scandinavian film festival…and I’m Scandinavian.)
The point is…the point is…FUCK!!!
(Breathe in…breathe out.)
Well, since you’re wondering…
Noah Baumbach is a mumble-core filmmaker who primarily writes and directs comedy dramas, and they’re really good! Now, to be fair, I haven’t seen all of Baumbach’s films. Moreover, some of the ones I have seen did not rub me entirely the right way. His latest films are the ones I recommend.
Frances Ha, While We’re Young, and Mistress America work beautifully as a trilogy that’s unified by one theme…age.
Baumbach has provided us with three perfectly observed commentaries on the phenomenon of the quarter-life crisis and mid-life crisis. As someone about to go through that awkwardly stressful shift from your 20’s to your 30’s, I’m immensely grateful to see my own whirlpool of emotions represented on screen. If you feel at all unsure about your future or your path in life then you have to watch these!. It doesn’t matter if you’re a Vicenarian, a Tricenararian, or a Quadragenarian. Everyone will find something relatable amidst the “so true!” writing and lovably goofy characters.
Best of all, these films are made for a couple million dollars each. They borrow heavily from the Woody Allen business model, ‘low’ and steady wins the race.
Please, Australia, find your Noah Baumbach, find your Duplass Brothers, find your Woody Allen. He or she is out there somewhere. We may struggle to compete with America on a blockbuster level, but there’s no reason why we can’t punch above our weight in low budget independent films. Oh wait, I forgot…there is a reason…
Australian scripts blow! Either those who are in charge of selecting scripts have a poor eye for good content, or the industry is educating us incorrectly. As the recipient of an Australian comprehensive course in filmmaking, the second possibility scares me to death. Could it be true that we’re giving aspiring writers the wrong advise? I don’t think so.
My screenwriting lecturers were highly intelligent people with a broad understanding of both flashy and foundational storytelling. Though, they did inadvertently prove my point, about poor Aussie writing, by never ever using an Australian film as an example of premium craft…
…but they did mention this one…
One of my writing teachers once asked the class, as a whole, if we had seen Lantana. We shrugged unanimously, and subsequently crushed his spirits. That’s because Lantana was, according to him, that rarest of gifts…a great Australian script.
I never quite forgot how emphatically he had recommended the film, as if it was the only one that had managed to crawl through the perilous shrubbery of shoddy local moviemaking, only to be placed awkwardly on the corner of some forgotten dusty drama section at the local rental store. His pleading worked, but only after a five year delay when I randomly came across Lantana listed in Foxtel’s upcoming films section. I clocked the name and set it to record. Life had slowly, surely, and relentlessly made it’s point. This was a film I needed to see…
But of course, when it comes to Australian films, I’ve been burned before. I remember The Water Diviner like it’s a stubborn Vietnam War flashback. I feel a citrus-like cringe in the back corner of my jaw when I think about Mystery Road. Then, of course, there was Adore. Blimey!
No, no! I will judge, with a fucking microscope, whether Lantana is passable script or not. Don’t expect ‘good cop bad cop’ here, it’s all ‘bad cop’! Alone, in a dingy apartment with the cold steel of a gun grip resting in my palm, I will judge thee! Go on, Lantana, do your worst!
I’m just kidding…
…I watched it with my mum!
She liked it, but I really liked it. Before I get into why, here’s the plot…
“The relationships of four couples unravel after the discovery of a young woman’s body in Lantana bush in suburban Sydney.”
Lantana is the name of an Australian flower that grows in a complex bush formation. Not only does the film kick off with the body of a woman found in a Lantana bush, but the intertwining vines of the Lantana represents the intricate collisions of life and love that follow. So there’s you’re “Australianism”, one and done.
The important thing about Lantana is how incredibly well conceived and written it is. It never feels the need to push the tension into outright violent territory. Like complex clockwork, it keeps its ticking innards under the surface. There’s plenty of tension building up behind the curtain, and the audience is treated to the right amount at the right time. I genuinely had no idea where the story was going and, to a weary film buff, that’s better than sex.
We’re treated to reliably methodical performances from Anthony LaPaglia, Geoffrey Rush, and Barbara Hershey, as well as several others who hold their own within an intimidatingly talent-rich ensemble.
I’m grateful to Lantana for not pivoting to the Australian funding body’s idea of an “Aussie film”, nor shaving off its edges to try and imitate American genre fluff. This is a great and mature Australian film that Australians should be proud of, and deserves to be wedged into your DVD collection next to Paul Thomas Anderson’s Magnolia and Robert Altman’s Short Cuts; Small and effective, exactly as it should be.
Congratulations Australia, you got this one right!
We just had Australia day! Yay! Everyone had the day off work (except me, of course)! It hit 30 degrees at 4 in the afternoon. The barbecue was out in several backyards. Australians were eating meat pies, waving the union jack around, and relaxing! Munch, munch, mmmm!
It’s the day when half the country’s celebrating and the other half protests the celebration. Why? Well, a couple of hundred years ago white people arrived here and thought to themselves “yes, I think we’ll take this”. They then proceeded to flex their genocide muscles (which were well developed at this point) with the local “abodigitals”, and slowly turned the southern hemisphere as pale as a fresh pair of sneakers. Except…it turns out that a persecuted minority, much like an elephant, never forgets. Thus forth, we must uphold colonial traditions while simultaneously executing historical penance.
(For the record, I’m not comparing Aboriginal Australians to elephants, I’m merely injecting a childhood adage as a way to create levity.)
Whatever! I have no dog in this fight. I feel no more urge to celebrate Australia Day than I do to celebrate the 17th of May, the Norwegian national pride day.
However, since we’re busy thrashing around in a soup of guilt, let me share a confession of my own:
I moved to Australia six and a half years ago. My hope was to become a filmmaker or somehow make my way into the Australian film and entertainment industry. Every day I take an Australian train to an Australian university to learn about entertainment media from various Australian teachers. I sit in my Australian apartment, at my Australian desk, and do my Australian writing and drawing in the hot Australian night air. I go to Australian cinemas and eat Australian popcorn in a room full of fellow Australian movie-goers- and yet…
…I don’t watch Australian films!
Maybe not you specifically, Rose Byrne. But, then again, just because you’re in a movie doesn’t make it Australian. I’m talking about properly Aussie films. The ones made in Australia, with Australian money and Australian talent. They just…don’t matter to me.
Believe me when I say that I wish it wasn’t so. You have no idea how desperately I want to be digesting the nutrients of Australian movies. I want to absorb the culture through the lens. Goodness knows, I don’t feel connected to the country in most other way. I’m not someone who reads books or goes to concerts. I hate the nightlife in every country, and thus avoid it like the plague. Ain’t no bushwalker or rock climber either. Last, but not least, I’m most certainly not religious. I don’t see churches as umbilical cords to community…but the cinema? Now that’s a holy place! Talk about enlightenment and assimilation!
So why am I just watching everyone else’s movies? What’s wrong with the ones made right here? Well…if I’m to be brutally honest…they’re terrible!
Here’s me every time I’m forced to watch an Australian film:
That’s right, I look like a very bored sexiest man alive. My dreamy eyes glaze over. I twist my perfect jawline into a grimace. Jokes aside, it is something to be endured, not enjoyed.
I have my own feelings about why Aussie films, more often than not, are bilge. It’s because we focus so much on Australia! We love our own slang, our own food, our own sports, and we certainly love our very own red desert.
If there’s one thing Australia has a lot of, it’s nothing. Nothing but sand, nothing but dirt, nothing but wind, and apparently we’re proud of that.
I know what you’re thinking; “But…many of those are good films”. I agree that for a country with a limited backdrop and colour palette, we’ve managed to squeeze out many ingenious stories, but do we have to keep travelling to the outback? I can’t help feeling like that sponge has run dry. Every poster looks exactly the same, not to mention the films themselves! How can you expect to make any progress in an industry that actively shuns diversity?
Good films have good stories, period! It doesn’t matter where or when they take place, or how many marsupials are bouncing in the background. You should not start from your setting and work your way outwards. That’s like handcuffing a painter to a radiator and asking for a mural.
As for movies about Gallipoli and the maltreatment of native Australians…
(The opinions expressed in this GIF are Kate Winslet’s own and do not reflect the views of Cinema-Rant.)
Ok, that’s a bit intense. I don’t mean to imply that these stories aren’t worth telling, but come on- come on! British and French films aren’t inseparably married to the First World War, so why should ours be? Is every successful or award-winning American film about slavery, or The Civil War, World War II, Vietnam? Overwhelmingly, the answer is no. Don’t we have something worth contributing to world entertainment besides century-old instances of bloodshed? It’s such a depressing groove to be stuck in.
I realise that I sound like the furthest thing from a patriot at the moment (and for those who have experienced this particular rant of mine in person- a broken record), but isn’t a patriot someone who wants their nation to be better? I want Australia to be a place known for its crew, not just its cast. We pump out Oscar winning actors like it’s the better end of a dodgy political deal. Don’t try to tell me that we haven’t got the talent for original storytelling as well!
So with all that off my chest and ringing in your ears, I will now completely contradict everything I’ve just said.
Like an octopus in a jar, I’m going to contort myself and conform to the challenge around me. I will find, watch, and recommend three good Australian films. But wait! The hypocrisy goes deeper! The first film I’m recommending is set almost exclusively in the Australian outback.
I caught the last ten minutes of Welcome to Woop Woop on TV a month ago, and desperately yearned to watch the whole thing. I set out on an internet odyssey, eventually finding a crummy DVD-Rip that was stretched and poorly scanned. The colour correction, audio, and aspect ratios were all over the map…but it didn’t matter.
This movie is fucking unbelievable! It’s equally parts terrible, incomprehensible, disturbing, offensive, tantalising, hilarious, baffling, and brilliantly subversive. I feel like it’s the first Australian film that agrees with me. I don’t just mean that I like it, I literally mean that it agrees with me. The whole thing is like one big in-joke being played on Australian cinema…and you’re never really sure if you’re in on it or not. I’ll explain, but first- a plot synopsis…
“After a shady back ally deal ends in the death of two gangster rivals, an American bird smuggling con-artist (Teddy) must travel to the Australian outback and replace a rare breed of Bush Cockatoos. While there, he begins a sexual affair with an immature nymphomaniac hitchhiker, who then knocks him unconscious, “marries” him, and keeps him as her sex slave. When he awakens, Teddy finds himself in Woop Woop; an isolated town that doesn’t exist on any map, full of social outcasts.”
Upon hearing that synopsis, you might be tempted to think of similar movies like The Hills Have Eyes, Audition, or even the more recent Australian film The Loved Ones. Ok, look, I’m not going to try and pull the wool over your eyes. Welcome to Woop Woop is not a film that most of you will like. It merely struck a chord with me for the personal reasons I’ve just described. I’ll try to unpack it for you without spoiling it.
Woop Woop (an Australian slang term for “the middle of nowhere”) is presented to us as a microcosm of the worst of Australian culture. It’s full of racism, sexism, violence, fatty foods, animal cruelty, bewildering colloquialisms, and gutter humour. The fact that Teddy is an American is no accident, either. He represents other nationalities that see the Aussie tropes and go…
One of the most fascinating aspects of Woop Woop is the inhabitant’s obsession with musicals, particularly The Sound of Music. Regular as clockwork, the entire town sits and watches Rodgers and Hammerstein films (which they mispronounce as “Rodgerson Hammerstein”). A speaker system is set up that blasts tunes like “Climb Every Mountain” on a loop. One of the main characters even dresses in clothes made from yellow drapes.
This is so accurate it’s shocking.
Maybe it’s only my family, but there was a clear worshipping of The Sound of Music going on when I was growing up. Australians seem to be enamoured with artistic formality, presumably on account of our adoration of Britain, the motherland! We actually think of ourselves, on some level, as classy.
Australia can be a nation known for its class and fine taste (like France, Italy, and England), but not as long as we cloak ourselves in red dirt and leafless trees.
Little of what you see in Woop Woop bares any resemblance to my experiences while living in Australia. My friends and acquaintances here in Melbourne are sharp, capable, thoughtful people full of creativity, drive, style, and compassion. However, Woop Woop perfectly summarises what we put up on the silver screen. We present ourselves, through the arts, as a weirdly self-obsessive nation, romanticising our own grime and endlessly apologising for our history. Film crews drive for miles, until they’re a world away from a single living soul, and then roll the cameras- as if they’re now shooting the real Australia. If they ever do set their movies in the city (you know, the place where people actually live), scenes are conveniently shot in front of national monuments and tourist attractions, so that the government will hand over a nice fat grant. No wonder foreigners think of Australia as a shithole with a weird-looking opera house on one end.
The more I watch Welcome to Woop Woop, the more insightful it becomes. Cultural criticism is not the only thing it has to offer, though. There are plenty of good jokes, some of which are hidden in the background and wedged behind thick layer of innuendo. Smutty “wink-wink” puns rise to the surface from the most bizarre locations. Take this one for example, one of the best jokes I’ve seen in a movie ever:
Only Australians can take something as lovingly assembled as The Sound of Music and reduce it to…that. There’s your national pride! Stick that in your didgeridoo and smoke it!
(That was in no way meant to ridicule the didgeridoo, nor imply that it’s an illegitimate instrument.)
Woop Woop is not a movie to watch with your parents…or with your brain. It’s something that connect to you on primal level. It touches that part of your soul that cringes when you hear your own voice being played back to you on cassette. It’s the sound of your ancestors, the proud warriors of an ancient noble empire, saying “…seriously, dude?”. It’s perfect for Australia day! Have a good one, boofheads!
Why, hello! How nice it is to be back on the pages of Cinema-Rant again. I’ve been away for a long time, nigh on three months, but finally I have returned.
I know people were anxious for this blog to re-appear. I could sense it, as if millions of voices were crying out to me. For the last few months people have been talking about how hyped they are to see a new instalment. They were, naturally, worried that it wouldn’t deliver after having been away for a long time. There was a fear of too many childish jokes or boring explanations like some other posts have had. Basically the fans wanted a return to the original intentions. Of course, you’ll be happy to know that I’m bringing back all your favourite characters: a, b, c, d…the whole alphabet is back! But, there will of course be a few happy surprises. Some characters will have changed- in a good way, of course. Some will be edgier, some are bolder. The whole thing will, of course, be underscored with familiar themes. Finally, I’m making a decision to favour the practical whenever possible, with GIFs like this one…
…which I’ll use in order to hammer home the obvious jokes and spoon feed the audience. Let’s face it, anything else would just be impractical!
Oh, you want to talk about Star Wars? Well, ok, if that’s what happens to be on your mind, then I guess I can chat about it. I was going to talk about Alvin and the Chipmunks 4: The Road Chip, but let’s just do all the thing that you want to do.
I saw Star Wars: The Force Awakens several weeks ago, and there’s absolutely nothing interesting I can say about it. Everything I could possibly say has already been said. As a general rule, I try not to talk about big movies that everyone’s seen. Since The Force Awakens took over 1.5 billion dollars in three weeks, I’d say it qualifies…
…but then again…everyone’s talking about it! Even I’ve been talking about it ever since I saw it. I feel the urge to weigh in…but I can’t just give it a thumbs up or down. I need to write something more personal.
So, instead, I’m going to explain exactly why…
Until the very end of last year there were six Star Wars movies and I didn’t care about any of them. I didn’t hate them all, I just didn’t understand the obsession surrounding the franchise.
I remember seeing the original Star Wars (A New Hope) at a friend’s birthday party. They ordered pizza and pushed the mysterious VHS tape into the VCR without me having any idea what was going on. At the time I didn’t like pizza either, so it turned out to be a bummer of a party all-round. Wow, I was a grouchy kid, huh? Meh…hello world, I’m me, nice to meet you.
The next two hours I was subjected to a sappy mixture of soap opera tripe and goofy dad-jokes. I’m not even kidding, the first Star Wars is a terrible movie. It may very well be one of the worst scripts ever written. It’s like some fanboy finished reading Lord of the Rings and thought to himself “I can come up with names like that”. Everything about the original film that actually works is stolen from other, better, movies. Mostly it’s ripped right out of classic Japanese Samurai films like Yojimbo, Sonjuro, and Seven Samurai. Then George Lucas simply mixed that with a thick dose of Buck Rogers, while trying to outdo Tolkien in the “world creation” department. Boo! When your script reads like an index page you have failed at story telling!
Of course, I didn’t analyse it like that at the time. I just thought it was stupid. The ‘funny’ bits weren’t funny, the ‘tense’ bits weren’t tense. There was no ambiguity in the story, with good guys dressed in white and bad guys were dressed in black. The framing was flat and the camera hardly moved. Oh, and the script…by God, the script!
Exposition upon exposition! Nothing but dense explanatory dialogue and space-tech lingo so stupid that even Harrison Ford recalls telling Lucas “George, you can type this shit, but you can’t say it.”. It just went on and on and on…
I knew that it wasn’t the genre that kept me from liking it. I’d seen plenty-a-space movie and enjoyed them, including Starship Troopers, Independence Day, Armageddon, Lost in Space, Apollo 13, The Fifth Element, Starman, Alien, Aliens, Alien 3, and Alien Resurrection. Whatever else may be true about that list, they were all clearly better than this silly Star Wars thing.
What I hate the most is the lack of internal logic. If the Jedi can use the force to push and pull things around, including people, then why do they bother with lightsabers? Every lightsaber duel seems to go on forever until one character realises “hey…why don’t I just force-push this guy?”. Also, why are mortal enemies sticking to good form? If somebody pulls out a glowing red laser sword, I’m just shooting that dark-hole right in his sith-eating grin. Indiana Jones understood this, why couldn’t Luke Skywalker?
While we’re on it, I hate the force! What the hell is it? Obi-Wan Kenobi says that it “surrounds us and penetrates us” like some sort of mystical orgy. It allows people to move objects telekinetically, read people’s minds, sense when something in the plot has changed, and…my favourite…lets living characters have conversations with dead ones.
I’ll tell you what the force is; it’s convenient! George Lucas invented the force as a narrative crane that can lift him out of the corners he paints himself into. If he needs one character to defeat another at a specific moment…well, then that character just uses the force. Want to bring another popular character back from the dead? Well, we’ll just shove him back onto the set as a ghost! Easy peasy story squeazy.
The children around me, at this birthday party, went nuts for it. “R2D2’s my favourite character! He says so many funny things!”, “Chewbacca is hilarious!”, “Ah, the lightsabers are vrooming, that’s so cool!”. These guys were literally being entertained by shiny objects and beeping noises.
I like to think that, even as a ten year-old, I had a somewhat more sophisticated taste in movies than that. Probably not, though. It’s likely that I just wanted to hate what everyone else loved. Whichever it was, these movies weren’t for me. Maybe it’s because they were old. They looked old and they sounded old, but then this thing happened…
Ah, yes! Star Wars: Episode I: The Phantom Menace. In spite of the ominous foreshadowing fact that no film should have two colons in its title, Episode I was hyped beyond belief. Everyone expected it to be amazing, and you know what…? So did I.
I saw the posters, then the trailers, and had to admit that it looked like a huge improvement. Keep in mind that I was 10 years old at the time. CGI anything was dazzling to me, so the pod racing sequence blew my socks off. The lightsaber battles were ten times faster and far more elaborate. The dialogue? The characters? Still shit. Colourful fun that I enjoyed and then immediately forgot.
I had no interest in seeing Episodes II or III, but each time I was dragged into the cinema by some random friend waving a glow stick and making ‘vroom’ noises. How could anyone care about this stuff? It’s so dumb that it borders on offensive. Worst of all, people complained about the prequel trilogy like it was somehow out of step with the original Star Wars. No, it’s not! There are just more characters and digital effects, but it’s as much of a snooze as Episode IV was.
So now we’re caught in a time loop. It’s deja vu of our deja vu! There’s a new Star Wars movie in theatres, and of course everyone’s gagging for it. Here we go…
In anticipation of The Force Awakens, I went back and watched the entire original trilogy from start to finish; A New Hope, The Empire Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi.
Empire is clearly the best one, because George Lucas didn’t write or direct it. It’s darker, moodier, funnier, and even has the guts to mutilate its main character and freeze its comic-relief antihero in carbonite. It features the two best moments in any Star Wars film; Vader telling Luke “I’m your father!”, and Han Solo responding to Leia’s “I love you” with “…I know”.
Obviously George couldn’t stand for this. He had to make it boring and stupid again, and did so in the way that only he could. Return of the Jedi may not be as bad as A New Hope or Attack of the Clones, but it emulates them like a really good tribute-band. It starts off with the Empire creating…a new Death Star! Great. Thanks George, it’s nice to have your originality back. It wasn’t enough to copy everyone else’s ideas, now you’re copying your own. We get to witness the face-palming moment when a blind Han Solo accidentally kills the best Bounty Hunter in the galaxy, Boba Fett, by unintentionally knocking him into the Sarlacc pitt. Then the last straw is when we’re introduced to muppet characters, called Ewoks, and have to spend the whole last hour watching them bring down the supposedly insurmountable Empire. It’s…a horrifyingly bad movie, and set the scene perfectly for George’s next three films – which were, to put it kindly, more of the same.
So how the Hoth am I meant to enjoy Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens?
Oh, Yoda, you’re always so wise and green. If wipe all shitty Star Wars from my mind, I can, maybe enjoy the new one, I will.
As it turns out, I didn’t even have to do that. This man did it for me:
J. J. Abrams is today’s Steven Spielberg…other than the actual Steven Spielberg, that is. Is it wrong that I keep having to remind myself that he’s still alive and making movies?
No one but Abrams makes movies with the magical Spielberg touch anymore. He’s the only one who seems to be able to capture that sense of cinematic love that leaps off the screen and into your heart. It makes sense that the master himself is Abrams’ most significant influence, and it shows in his early work.
J.J. Abrams is a classic 90’s filmmaker. The 1990’s is, as you might suspect, my favourite filmmaking decade. Most film critics would point to the 70’s as the greatest decade in cinema on account of the American New Wave, but I disagree. See, those who were making films in the 90’s are the ones who grew up in the 70’s and 80’s. Ergo, you’re seeing a matured and considered selection from those earlier years. Think about Quentin Tarantino, Paul Thomas Anderson, David Fincher, Alexander Payne, Guillermo Del Toro, David O. Russell, Spike Jonze, The Coen Brothers, Richard Linklater, Robert Rodriguez, Kevin Smith, Gus Van Sant, Darren Arronofsky, Steven Soderbergh…and, of course, Christopher Nolan. They’re all filmmakers drawing upon the movies they watched while growing up.
Well, Jeffrey Jacob Abrams is the one who never got a shot; the runt who didn’t get the nipple. For his first 10 years out of College he worked devilishly hard as a writer and managed to sell a total of four film scripts. Of course, no one would give him a shot at directing, because he was just a little novice with some writing talent.
He eventually found his way into television, due to his parents being TV Producers, and began writing pilot scripts. He had a hit as co-creator with Felicity, Alias, and then finally Lost. As a show creator, you get the opportunity to direct the pilot of your show, and boy did Abrams grab that chance. I remember not liking Lost, but the pilot was great…until he crashed on that island.
Anyway- I don’t blame Abrams for making Felicity, Alias, or Lost; three shows that I don’t care about at all. It was all a journey of fate that would lead him to one day meet Tom Cruise.
Cruise watched Alias and immediately went about hiring Abrams as the director for Mission Impossible III. MI3 is the second best film of the series, and attracted a fresh new audience. Next in line was Star Trek, which desperately needed to be made lighter and sexier. J. J. reinvented Star Trek in a way that made my jaw drop. I could not believe how much I enjoyed “the voyages of the Starship Enterprise”. I became something resembling a Trekkie in about 2 hours. What the- ? How is that possible?
Then it all became clear…
J. J. Abrams is clearly fanatical about Spielberg. Super 8 was a direct homage to films like E.T. and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. Everything from the poster to the music score was pure tribute. Now I suddenly saw all the recognisable elements; the humour amidst the tragedy, the smokey lighting, the uplifting soundtrack…and best of all, a great story with enjoyable characters! Spielberg always loved exploring the relationship between parents and their children, especially the role of a father, and J.J. had been tuned into that all along…
Fast forward a couple of years, and Kathleen Kennedy (The producer of all Steven Spielberg films, who is now in charge of overseeing the next Star Wars Trilogy) announces that she’d handed J. J. Abrams the chance to write and direct Episode VII.
If memory serves correctly, the internet exploded with equal parts joy, fear, and anger. Some were simply not a fan of Star Trek or Super 8, while others didn’t like the idea of Abrams having the monopoly on both major space fantasy franchises. William Shatner called Abrams “a pig” for hogging all the “Star” films. That’s inappropriate! That’s not what pigs do, is it? Do they collect everything of a kind for themselves? I’d say a squirrel or a hamster is a better comparison.
When Disney originally announced that they’d bought LucasArts and were planning to make another Star Wars trilogy, I could barely hear it over my snoring, but this was different. I knew that when Abrams got the gig, it was Spielberg’s apprentice taking on the task. This is the chosen one, who was trained by the master himself.
Have you ever wondered what it would be like if Spielberg had directed A New Hope? Well, wonder no more. We have our answer…
Star Wars: Episode VII: The Force Awakens is a great film! I know that you already know that, but the fact that I’m saying it means more than you could possibly understand. Abrams has converted me; no mean feat. It’s like I’ve spent my whole life battling the light, and now finally I’ve seen the virtues in it.
Episode VII copies A New Hope almost beat-for-beat. The Empire, the Death Star, the meek orphan living on a desert planet- it’s all exactly the same…except it’s not. It’s better somehow.
The writing, the acting, the humour, the spectacle…it went from Hayden Christensen to Laurence Olivier. Suddenly I’m invested in the saga. Not only am I a Star Wars fan, I feel like it’s a shame that I haven’t been for all this time. I’m hoping, for my own sake, that Episode VIII doesn’t drag me back into the murky swamps of Dagobah.
J. J. Abrams will turn fifty years old in June, and he has arguably just become the world’s most successful director. The Force Awakens is well on its way to becoming the highest grossing film of all time. For the last forty years, that title has been swapped around by only three people; James Cameron, George Lucas, and Steven Spielberg. If Episode VII does as well as some are beginning to think that it will, then Abrams will become the fourth Jedi master. I cannot imagine a more fitting honour.
Whenever you next watch The Force Awakens, remember that it’s not just a Star Wars film…it’s a J. J. Abrams film.