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A few days ago, my colleague Owen Gleiberman wrote a scathing essay questioning whether Colin Trevorrow was the right choice to direct “Star Wars: Episode IX,” suggesting that the “Jurassic World” helmer’s in-between indie, “The Book of Henry,” is such an abomination we have reason to think he could ruin the franchise that has already weathered the likes of Gungans and Ewoks.
It was a tough essay, so much so that I genuinely feared Trevorrow’s job could be in danger. And then a funny thing happened. “Star Wars” producer Kathleen Kennedy fired the directors on a completely different “Star Wars” movie, axing Phil Lord and Christopher Miller from the Han Solo project. What!?!?
The universe needs directors like Lord and Miller more than ever these days — and not just the “Star Wars” universe, mind you, but the multiverse of cinematic storytelling in general. Lord and Miller represent that rarest of breeds: directors with a fresh and unique vision, backed by the nerve to stand up for what they believe in.
Just look at their track record: After starting their careers as TV writers (they created the MTV cartoon series “Clone High” and wrote for “How I Met Your Mother”), the duo made their feature directorial debut with “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs,” a wildly imaginative reinvention of a 32-page children’s book that heralded them as bold, outside-the-box comedy storytellers.
Then they made the jump to live-action, bringing their trademark brand of hip, pop-savvy self-awareness to the feature-length “21 Jump Street” remake. Few animation directors have survived the leap from animation to live-action (just consider the likes of “John Carter” and “Monster Trucks”), but Lord and Miller took to the new medium like naturals (technically, they had experience from their TV writing days — and I remember hearing stories that they’d actually taken a break from “Cloudy” to write an episode of “How I Met Your Mother” just so they wouldn’t lose their Writers Guild insurance benefits, but that’s another story about animators don’t enjoy the same protection in this industry).
“21 Jump Street” took the concept of a tired old ’80s TV show — two baby-faced cops go undercover as high-school students — and rebooted it with a playful twist, turning the ludicrous setup into one giant joke. Then came “The Lego Movie,” in which they cracked one of the weirdest assignments in 21st-century filmmaking — bring the popular line of kids toys to life — in a wholly original way, embracing the fact that Legos had spawned an almost cult-like sub-genre of fan films (to capitalize on the trend, the Lego company had even released a “MovieMaker Set” in 2000, complete with stop-motion camera and Steven Spielberg-styled minifigure) to make the ultimate wisecracking meta-movie.
After that string of successes, Lord and Miller had become two of the hottest names in town, able to pick their projects. But like so many directors of their generation — children of the ’70s whose love of cinema had been inspired by George Lucas’ game-changing space opera, what they wanted was to make a “Star Wars” movie. For a moment, that seemed possible, since the producers were hiring indie directors like Rian Johnson (“Brick”) and Gareth Edwards (“Monsters”) to helm these tentpoles.
On paper, Lord and Miller’s irreverent sensibility seemed like a perfect match for Han Solo, the franchise’s most sardonic character. One has to assume that it was precisely that take Kathy Kennedy and the “Star Wars” producers wanted when they hired the duo. But this is where modern critics, columnists and the fan community at large fail to understand a fundamental change that is happening at the blockbuster level in Hollywood: These directors are not being chosen to put their personal stamp on these movies. They are being hired to do the opposite, to suppress their identity and act grateful while the producers make all the key creative decisions.
Want to know why Trevorrow was picked to direct “Jurassic World” when his only previous credit was a nifty little sci-fi indie called “Safety Not Guaranteed”? It’s because he plays well with others, willing to follow exec producer Steven Spielberg’s lead when necessary. Going in to the assignment, Trevorrow had no experience directing complicated action sequences or overseeing massive-budget special effects. He didn’t need it, because those aspects of the movie were delegated to seasoned heads of department, while Trevorrow focused on what he does best: handling the interpersonal chemistry between the lead characters. (Personally, I hold Trevorrow responsible for the decision to film Bryce Dallas Howard running in high heels, but not the turducken-like gag where a giant CG monosaur rises up to swallow the pterodactyl that’s eating Bryce’s assistant. Surely someone else oversaw that nearly-all-digital sequence.)
Independent schlock producer Roger Corman memorably observed that in the post-“Jaws,” post-“Star Wars” era, the A movies have become the B movies, and the B movies have become the A movies — which is another way of saying that today, instead of taking risks on smart original movies for grown-up sensibilities (say, tony literary adaptations and films based on acclaimed Broadway plays), the studios are investing most of their resources into comic-book movies and the equivalent of cliffhanger serials (from Tarzan to Indiana Jones).
To Corman’s equation I would add the following corollary: On today’s tentpoles, the director’s job is to take orders, while producers and other pros are called in to oversee the complicated practical and CG sequences that ultimately define these movies. It’s an extension of the old second-unit model, wherein experienced stunt and action-scene professionals handled the logistics of car chases and exotic location work — except that now, such spectacular sequences are the most important part of effects-driven movies. Meanwhile, the one ingredient the producers can’t fake or figure out on their own is the human drama, which is the reason that directors of Sundance films keep getting handed huge Hollywood movies: to deliver the chemistry that will make audiences care about all those big set pieces.
How times have changed: In the 1980s, the only one who would make a movie like “Fantastic Four” was Corman, which he did for peanuts, whereas two years ago, Fox dumped more than $125 million into the same property. And the director they picked? Josh Trank, whose only previous feature had been the low-budget “Chronicle.” Let’s not forget that Trank ankled his own “Star Wars” spinoff, which I suspect had everything to do with realizing what happens when forced to relinquish control of a project in which he’s listed as the in-title-only director.
Back in the ’60s, a group of French critics writing for Cahiers du Cinéma coined what has come to be known as “the auteur theory,” a relatively quaint idea that the director (as opposed the screenwriter, star or some other creative contributor) is the “author” of a film. In the half-century since, critics everywhere have fallen for this fantastical notion that directors have creative autonomy over the movies they make — when in fact, as often as not, that simply isn’t the case.
The auteur theory makes for a convenient myth, of course, and one that lazy critics have long perpetuated, because it’s much to difficult to give credit where it’s due when confronted with the already-cooked soufflé of a finished movie. Critics aren’t allowed into the kitchen, after all, and though countless chefs (or heads of department, to clarify the metaphor) contribute to any given film production, it’s virtually impossible to identify who was really responsible for the choices that make the film what it is.
How much of “Citizen Kane’s” creative genius can be attributed to cinematographer Gregg Toland? Would “Jaws” or “Star Wars” have been even half as effective without composer John Williams? Did editor Ralph Rosenblum save “Annie Hall”? And most relevant to the discussion at hand: Is it correct to think of “Rebecca” as an Alfred Hitchcock movie (he directed it, after all), or does the result more thoroughly reflect the hand of producer David O. Selznick?
This is all complicated by the fact that an entire class of filmmakers — the so-called “film-school generation” — seized upon the auteur theory, turning it into something of a self-fulfilling prophecy, as the likes of Coppola, Scorsese, Spielberg, Lucas and so on left their signature on the movies they made. Meanwhile, the Cahiers critics (several of whom went on to become directors, among them Jean-Luc Godard and François Truffaut) were protected by a uniquely French copyright law dating back to the 18th century, known as the “droit d’auteur,” which entitled them to final cut (a privilege precious few Hollywood directors have).
But these remain the exception, not the rule. In the case of the “Jurassic Park” and “Star Wars” franchises, the director is decidedly not the auteur. To the extent that a single vision forms the creative identity of these films, it’s almost always the producer we should hold responsible. To understand that, we need only look back to the original “Star Wars” sequel, “The Empire Strikes Back,” a movie “directed” by Irvin Kershner, but every bit George Lucas’ brainchild (he reportedly hand-picked Kershner for his strength with character development). The same goes for Richard Marquand on “Return of the Jedi.”
This shouldn’t be a scandalous revelation. It just doesn’t fit with the self-aggrandizing narrative that many directors have chosen for themselves. Yes, the 1989 “Batman” is without question “a Tim Burton movie”: Burton has such an incredibly distinctive aesthetic, and the personality to push it through a system that’s virtually designed to thwart such originality. But when it comes to the incredibly successful “X-Men” franchise, there’s no question that producer (and “Superman” director) Richard Donner deserves as much credit as those first two films’ director, Bryan Singer. Simply put, that franchise owes its personality to both of their involvement.
But when it comes to “Jurassic World,” that movie probably wouldn’t look much different in the hands of someone other than Trevorrow. And the same can almost certainly be said for the “Star Wars” movie he’s been hired to direct, because in both cases, it’s the producers who are steering the ship. When the stakes are this high, it would be downright reckless to give complete autonomy to relatively unproven directors.
That’s increasingly the case in Hollywood these days. Director Dave Green (who’d made a tiny Amblin-style movie called “Earth to Echo”) went through it on a franchise project produced by Michael Bay. He was tapped to helm “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: Out of the Shadows,” only to discover that he had no autonomy. Granted, Green was still wet behind the ears and had no experience with a nine-digit budget or big union crew. But that wasn’t the job, because Bay never expected him to handle everything. Instead, the producer pulled in more experienced professionals to oversee much of the action and visual effects, while Green followed orders and worked his magic with the actors.
You can bet Tom Cruise’s paycheck that the same thing happened on “The Mummy,” in which Alex Kurtzman is listed as director, but the producer-star was reportedly calling most of the shots. How appropriate that a Universal monster movie reboot should be the victim of what amounts to a kind of creative Frankenstein effect.
Likewise, Marvel has had more success (both financially and artistically) forcing directors to conform to an inflexible set of aesthetic guidelines than it did when art-house “auteur” Ang Lee experimented with his own ideas on 2003’s “Hulk.” And though Mexican director Alfonso Cuarón is celebrated for the personal touch he brought to the Harry Potter franchise, it was relatively malleable British TV director David Yates whom writer-producer J.K. Rowling approved to direct four more films in the series.
So where does that leave us with “Star Wars”? On one hand, it’s perfectly understandable that the producers would want Trevorrow to direct Episode IX, since he’s already demonstrated his capacity to play along with the producers. Meanwhile, it’s disheartening — but not altogether surprising — that a directorial duo as gifted as Lord and Miller have been fired from the Han Solo film, since they’ve been known to fight for the creative integrity of their vision.
But it’s a loss to the “Star Wars” world, since Lord and Miller’s previous credits demonstrate the kind of unique take they might have brought to the franchise. Warner Bros. trusted the duo enough on “The Lego Movie” to let them poke fun at Batman — arguably the studio’s most precious IP, previously rendered oh-so-serious in the Christopher Nolan trilogy. Lord and Miller’s minifigure Dark Knight was a brooding egomaniac and the funniest thing about that film, so much so that Warners ran with it, producing a spinoff that stretched the joke to feature length.
Sony Pictures Animation (where Lord and Miller made “Cloudy with a Chance of Meatballs”) was similarly enthusiastic about their input on Spider-Man, greenlighting the pair’s high-attitude idea for an animated movie centered around Miles Morales, the Black Hispanic superhero who took over web-slinging duties after Peter Parker’s death. Though they’re not directing, the script is said to bear their fingerprints — which it seems is exactly what Kennedy and company don’t want on the Han Solo project.
With any luck, Lord and Miller will see the “Star Wars” setback as the opportunity that it is: Rather than being forced to color within the lines of a controlling producer’s vision, they can potentially explore the more individual (dare I say, “auteurist”?) instinct they so clearly possess on a less-protected property. Heck, maybe Sony’s Spider-Man project will be the one to benefit. Or perhaps they’ll be in the enviable position of pitching an original movie. Not all directors have such a strong or clear sense of vision that they can be trusted to exert it over a massive studio tentpole, but Lord and Miller are among the few actively reshaping the comedy landscape. Now is their moment, although as Han Solo would say, “Great, kid. Don’t get cocky.”
Related stories'Star Wars' Han Solo Spinoff: Lord & Miller Firing Is Latest in Long Line of Director Exits'Star Wars' Han Solo Spinoff: Lord & Miller Fired After Clashing With Kathleen Kennedy (Exclusive)'Star Wars' Han Solo Film Loses Directors Phil Lord and Christopher Miller »
- Peter Debruge
As the fifth Transformers movie hits theaters, we’re reminded of all the promising though not perfect films of the past that were far more deserving of sequels. The Man from U.N.C.L.E., John Carter, heck even King Arthur: Legend of the Sword established a fun universe. Another big example from the past few years is Warcraft. Filmmaker Duncan Jones poured his heart and soul into the adaptation of the popular video game franchise, but unfortunately audiences didn’t really show up. The pic scored a measly $47.3 million domestic, although it did gross $386 million … »
- Adam Chitwood
Mark Harrison May 25, 2017
The Pirates Of The Caribbean movies have not been easy films to make....
As Michael Bolton once belted out: “This is the tale of Captain Jack Sparrow.” The Pirates Of The Caribbean film was a surprise sleeper hit in 2003, astounding the higher-ups at Disney who had long been sceptical of how a pirate movie, based on a ride at Disneyland, would appeal to audiences.
Off the back of this success, the sequels only got more ambitious and expensive in scale, with their use of practical effects and convoluted character dynamics serving to complicate the adventure format, with mixed results. It shouldn't shock you then, to hear that each of the movies released so far had some serious behind-the-scenes battles to make them shipshape.
Five years ago this weekend Tim Burton’s updating of Dark Shadows, the gothic/horror-themed soap opera which ran from 1966 to 1971 on ABC and was a seminal influence on a generation of budding horror fans (including Burton), was released on American movie screens, one weekend after Marvel’s The Avengers was still dictating the imaginations (and the wallets) of moviegoers everywhere. Given Burton’s track record with horror comedies (Beetlejuice being the primary example) and collaborations with Johnny Depp (Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Edward Scissorhands), a surprisingly low number of ticket-buyers seemed ultimately to care—the movie, which cost $150 million to make, and undoubtedly a hefty chunk of change more than that to market, would earn back only slightly more than half of that in the United States, though its final take globally came in at around $235 million. There were a few takers among critics, notably »
- Dennis Cozzalio
Author: Dave Roper
Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 is garnering widespread, positive reviews ahead of its release at the end of this week, with one of its foremost qualities being lauded by critics is the rapport and camaraderie amongst this rag-tag bunch of misfits and outcasts.
Of course part of the appeal of Vol. 1 was the organic and believable way in which this crew was put together, uniting despite their differences, but maintaining character integrity along the way. It has resulted in this family of Guardians joining a long-running tradition of cinematic misfit crews, thrown together (often by adversity) but continuing to niggle and aggravate each other. So who are the other groups in this pantheon?
They were very much not the first to this particular party, but have done it about as well as anyone. The way in which the first film not only threw them together, »
- Dave Roper
Ben Robins on Guardians of the Galaxy and its exploitation influences…
Exploitation is a bit of a nasty word no matter the context, and in the movie world, it usually means something cheap and in many cases, derivative. It’s never properly been defined, and doing so here without page after page of background would prove tough, but the term, in a nutshell, is usually used to describe low-brow ‘B-movies’ that rip-off or ‘exploit’ mainstream heavy-hitters. After Steven Spielberg’s Jaws there was Michael Anderson’s Orca, and Joe Dante’s Piranha. After The Italian Job there was everything from Death Race 2000 to Vanishing Point (that was in itself, lovingly rejigged for Tarantino’s 2007 exploitation send-up Death Proof). They make just enough from the cult crowd but very rarely breach the dominant markets. Unless, of course, the film’s name is something stupid enough to go viral, like Sharknado. »
- Ben Robins
John Carter Cash is going to be a dad again!
“My wife Ana Cristina and I are so blessed to announce a new addition to our family,” says John, 47. “We are grateful to all of our friends and family for their continued support.”
Want all the latest pregnancy and birth announcements, plus celebrity mom blogs? Click here to get those and more in the People Babies newsletter.
Adds Ana, 31, “We are so thrilled »
- Jen Juneau
Anghus Houvouras on whether knowing too much about a film can ruin your enjoyment…
There are still people who decide what movie they’re going to see in the span of time it takes between arriving at the theater and purchasing a ticket. Carefree film fans who are somehow able to miss (or purposefully avoid) the commercials, trailers, and online ads that permeate the digital space. The criteria they use to select their weekly trip to the cinemas is in no way influenced in the multi-million dollar marketing machine constantly vying for our attention.
We have never known as much about movies and the industry that produces them as we do today. The digital age has given us a ridiculously voyeuristic look into the world of entertainment. From the moment a project is announced and stars are attached, the film is under a microscope being scrutinized for every choice made. »
- Anghus Houvouras
Ryan Lambie Apr 4, 2017
"We're not remaking, we're reimagining alongside you." That was how director Rupert Sanders pitched his live action version of the 90s manga and anime to a crowd of journalists, bloggers and anime fans at an event in Tokyo last year. Taking in a small exhibition of props, a Q&A, preview footage and pounding industrial live music, the event was, perhaps, an attempt to change the public discourse surrounding a controversial movie.
Aside from the inevitable suspicion surrounding a Hollywood version of a cult Japanese property, there was also the more damaging accusation of whitewashing. Scarlett Johansson was, after all, taking on the role »
Earlier this morning, Stx Entertainment released the second “teaser trailer” for their upcoming science fiction epic, Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. While it coins itself as a “teaser trailer” the fact that the film is coming out this July seems to indicate that this is likely a full-on trailer, and the content itself seems to support this idea.
This trailer brings an awful lot of content to the table. We get an action scene upfront, in true James Bond style, and then get into this gorgeous “city of a thousand planets.” This society lives in prosperous peace, but some unknown force threatens to tear it all down, and it’s up to Valerian and Laureline to keep that from happening.
There is no shortage of spectacle here in this trailer. If you’re a fan of science fiction, world building, and gorgeous visuals, this may very well »
- Joseph Medina
Very rarely does it seem like Hollywood is content with sticking the landing for an ambitious, big budget film and simply walking away. If a film catches on and a sequel isn’t being made, there’s a whole lot of money being left on the table. As such, regardless of whether or not we know if a film will ultimately be successful, filmmakers are often already doing prep work on potential sequels. For studios, it’s another means to make money, but for creatives, it’s an opportunity to delve deeper into a fun world they’ve created.
Filmmaker Luc Besson is someone who has had a chance to create numerous stylized and fun worlds, and the latest of them comes in the form of Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets. Already a teaser has hit the web, and there’s a full trailer on the way. »
- Joseph Medina
With an amazing opening weekend of $350 million, Beauty and the Beast is now in line to possibly pass up the $1 billion dollar range when it's all said and done. This classic tale of an enchanted castle even went on to domestically beat out the live action debut of DC's trinity in Batman V Superman. There is no doubt that Disney has found it's groove in terms of how to produce successful films that are appealing to multiple audiences. For example Cinderella, Maleficent, The Jungle Book and now Beauty and the Beast have a special place in a lot of people's hearts who grew up with their beloved characters. Now with children of their own, Disney's brand of story telling is passed on to the next generation. With this kind of success, could this spin off a sequel?
- Emmanuel Gomez
When you think of a comic shop or a card store, you might think of the fans who shop there or the folks who run it and how they are so passionate about the things they love. Retail shops like these are always the epicenter for focused geek authenticity.
And when you think of Las Vegas, you might think of gambling, or partying, or glitzy entertainment. Vegas isn’t about deep or thoughtful enthusiasm about your passions, it’s about giving vihttp://www.comicmix.com/?p=109466&preview=truesitors a license to be enjoy the moment, and to be both indulgent and shallow without any guilt.
So it’s incongruous, in many ways, that over 400 of the nation’s card/comic shops attend the Gama trade show this past week in Las Vegas. For more than 20 years this event has helped connect, educate and motivate hobby stores. The Expo focuses on card games (Magic: The Gathering, »
- Ed Catto
Things started off so well on Chicago Med Season 2 Episode 14.
Well, for the audience anyway. A massive pileup and a shortage of both personnel and supplies sucked for the residents of #OneChicago. Unfortunately for everyone, things went downhill from there.
Don't get me wrong, there was a lot to love about "Cold Front." Getting the docs out into the city and working on scene was excellent. The cases were connected and strong. But then the entire Ed team seemed to suffer from collective stupidity.
Excuse me while I vent; I'll get to raving about everything that was great in just a minute.
In a blizzard situation, with a mass casualty event, I'm pretty sure you don't have to be Smarter Than A Fifth Grader to immediately start setting up a blood drive. I mean, these people all have had medical training, right?
The delay in organizing donors made the resolution »
- Elizabeth Harlow
Over the course of the Star Wars saga, viewers saw Princess Leia’s parents’ courtship, her eventual birth, her rise to power as a leader of the Rebel Alliance, and finally, in 2015’s The Force Awakens, her ascendence to General Leia Organa. Her character arc will continue in this year’s The Last Jedi, although exactly how remains unclear, given actress Carrie Fisher’s death in December. Disney has denied that it will be giving her the computer-animated uncanny valley treatment it employed in Rogue One.
Like all of the classic Star Wars characters, though, she remains both fascinating and mythic, and a new video exploring her “untold story” digs up a number of interesting details.
- Clayton Purdom
Day by day, we’re beginning to get a better sense of what to expect from Stranger Things season 2. There’s the Eggos, the ’80s references, along with a whole new breed of supernatural horror, which together form part of Matt and Ross Duffer’s strategy of balancing the old with the new.
Yes, as much as the Duffer Brothers and executive producer Shawn Levy would like to keep a lid on things, excitement for the show’s Halloween return has spread like wildfire since the unveiling of Sunday’s Super Bowl trailer, and already we’ve caught wind of some of the weird and wonderful fan theories to appear online. Behind the scenes, Levy and the Duffer Brothers will leverage directing duties between them, but that doesn’t mean the show’s creative trio can’t call on help from other filmmakers. Per EW, Rebecca Thomas (Electrick Children) has »
- Michael Briers
Simon Brew Jan 31, 2017
Live By Night is now a big flop, apparently. Sony is writing its film business down by $1bn. This is all headline news. But at what cost?
Last week, a story started doing the rounds that Ben Affleck’s latest directorial outing, Live By Night, has been a major financial failure for Warner Bros. The film, reported Variety, has left a $75m hole in Warner Bros’ pockets, off the back of less than chipper reviews and – more pertinently for Warner Bros – weak box office. The film cost $65m to make, with marketing and distribution costs on top. The current worldwide takings for Live By Night are sat at just shy of $20m, and thus the red ink.
It was disappointing, though, in the aftermath of that news to see it become almost widely-celebrated headline news, to the point where even the BBC knocked together a list of ‘costly film flops’. Ben Affleck, »
Hollywood hasn’t always played nice with some of its biggest franchises. Occasionally, you get some truly great ones that managed to maintain their integrity throughout the entire run, but more often in the industry, franchises are run hard into the ground. Before the age of cinematic universes, studios had a tendency to rely solely on the name recognition of their sequels, and this trend is what led to the downfall of some greats, including the Alien franchise.
The original film (directed by Ridley Scott) hit theaters in 1979, and went on to become a staple in the horror/sci-fi genre. 1986 saw the release of the more action-oriented sequel Aliens, which was directed by James Cameron. Since that point, the film franchise kind of went off the deep end. Alien 3 had all the best intentions, but ultimately fell short of expectations, and Alien: Resurrections..let’s pretend that never happened, »
- Joseph Medina
Jane Lynch has been tapped to play former U.S. Attorney General Janet Reno in Discovery Channel's upcoming FBI crime-drama Manifesto, from Lionsgate and Kevin Spacey and Dana Brunetti's Trigger Street Productions. The Knick alum Jeremy Bobb and Lynn Collins (John Carter) also have been cast in key roles. The series tells the story of how the FBI brought down Unabomber Ted Kaczynski (Paul Bettany), one of the most infamous criminal masterminds in the world. Production… »
After a year that felt longer than a marathon screening of the entire Star Wars prequel trilogy, 2016 is finally over. The heartbreak, headaches and downright hilarity of the year we would all like to forget, is now behind us.
Now, fear not! 2017 is here to save the day and it is absolutely packed full of all your favourite costumed crime-fighters. From Wall crawlers, to demigods, to eccentric spies, this year has it all. So, sit back, relax and let your friendly neighbourhood Thn talk you through what 2017 has in store. Check out our Comic Book Movie Preview!
First up is the highly anticipated Lego Movie spin-off, focusing on Will Arnett’s hilariously parodied version of Batman. While the idea was initially met with skepticism, trailers have so far indicated that this could be one of the caped crusaders greatest cinematic outings yet.
The film also boasts »
- Ben Read
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