Irvin Kershner

the Empire Strikes Back

The story typically goes something like this. In the 1960s, Hollywood had weathered an economic crisis but was losing an ongoing battle with television, so it turned to youth-oriented, smaller projects and gave unprecedented freedom to envelope-pushing directors who worshipped in the churches of Bergman, Kurosawa, Hawkes. Then Jaws (huge) and Star Wars (way huge) came along in the mid-late 70s, imbuing Hollywood with a renewed focus on entertainment spectacle that has, for the most part, dominated its practice since. George Lucas’s original Star Wars without doubt had a significant role in shifting the industrial history of Hollywood toward what we recognize today. It illustrated the lucrative possibilities of mass merchandising, helped elevate B-movie genre fare to A-movie status, and contributed to the now-entrenched thinking that informs our annual movie calendars: the notion that big, expensive fun belongs on our summer movie screens. Yet despite its arguably peerless impact on popular culture in 1977, Star Wars alone resides far more comfortably alongside the film school generation of New Hollywood than the blockbuster mentality it allegedly produced. Rather, it was the film’s 1980 sequel The Empire Strikes Back that made good the changes that have since come to dominate the logic of today’s Hollywood.

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Empires of the Deep trailer

Who’s been waiting all their lives to see a mash up of The Little Mermaid and Flash Gordon? All of us right? Or at least that’s what the makers of Empires of the Deep seem to be banking on with their undersea epic three years in the making. Per Twitch, this story of waterlogged lovers caught between feuding factions in an underwater kingdom has been in various stages of production since 2009 when Chinese real estate mogul and multi-millionaire Jon Jiang wrote the script and went looking for talent. He found it in star Monica Bellucci, but she quickly bailed. He found it in producer Irvin Kershner, but he came to his senses. He dropped the talent requirement and found director Pitof, but even he passed. It’s really time to sit down and rethink things when the director of Catwoman says “no thanks” to your script. But Jiang persevered and somehow nabbed a single recognizable name to anchor his cast and crew of otherwise unknowns. Olga Kurylenko joined director Michael French and the CGI charlatans wizards at E-Imagine Studio, and we now have our first real glimpse of the result. Check out the epic-ish trailer for Empires of the Deep below and see what $130m can buy when you have no goddamn clue what you’re doing.

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This post is probably not what you think. There are no LOLCats, no Rage Comic stick men bellowing about the superiority of The Dark Knight and Inception. It’s not really a love letter to modernity. But it’s also not Sight & Sound‘s decennial Top Ten List. That prestigious publication has done great work since even before polling critics in 1952 to name the best movies of all time. They’ve recreated the experiment every ten years since (with filmmakers included in 1992), and their 2012 list is due out soon. However, there is certainly overlap. The FSR poll includes only 37 critics (and 4 filmmakers), but we’re young and have moxy, and none of us were even asked by Sight & Sound for our considerable opinion. That’s what’s fascinating here. The films nominated by those invited by S&S have the air of critical and social importance to them. They are, almost all, serious works done by serious filmmakers attempting to make serious statements. This list, by contrast, is the temperature of the online movie community in regards to what movies are the “greatest.” The results might be what you expect. But probably not.

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The Week That Was

Another rousing week of film industry news, reviews and discussion have come and gone here at Film School Rejects. And as some of us look to relax for the weekend, you may be on the hunt for some of the best reads the web has to offer. Luckily, you’ve come to the right place. Because we’ve got most of them… So here we go again with another round of my favorite Saturday afternoon Sunday morning column, The Week That Was, a tribute to all of the best FSR content that you probably missed this week. And while we’d normally be angry that you missed so much of the good stuff, we’re willing to let it slide. But just this once. At least until next week…

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It’s understandable that movie fans are in a bit of an existential crisis – trying to decide whether to watch Airplane! in memory of Leslie Nielsen or to watch The Empire Strikes Back in memory of Irvin Kershner. That’s why we always keep two televisions handy at Reject HQ. It’s also understandable that your hand would race to the E-section of your alphabetized film collection after hearing the sad news about Kershner, but he had a handful of other great films that are worth celebrating. None are quite like Empire (in every way that can be read), but if you’re a fan, you owe it to yourself to peruse his other movies to find something new to love.

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It’s too early to call this a trend, but shortly after Brian Salisbury reviewed Flash Gordon uber producer Dino De Laurentis died. Last night on RejectRadio Neil Miller revealed to the world that he only just got around to watching The Empire Strikes Back a few days ago… and this morning we wake up to the news that the director behind that film, Irvin Kershner, has passed away at the age of 87. Having just posted a column about two new Charlie Chaplin releases on Blu-ray I can only pray The Little Tramp survives to the end of the week… Irvin Kershner, as you should very well know, was the man in the director’s chair on not only the best Star Wars film but also one of the greatest films period. The Empire Strikes Back is a fantastic work of action, drama, and darkness, and it was one of the first blockbusters to show that a popcorn film can be more than just brainless entertainment. His energetic but thoughtful direction (alongside a strong script from Leigh Brackett and Lawrence Kasdan) revealed our beloved Star Wars characters as more than just simple heroes and villains.

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Every so often, a film emerges from the fray to prove its popularity and warrant a sequel. More and more, franchises are planned out in advance, but when one film turns into a franchise, a cash register sound goes off in the ears of the studio. Even though the kid stays in the picture, sometimes the director does not. Maybe the director is done working with the material. Maybe the producers want a more seasoned hand. Maybe a simple schedule conflict keeps him or her out of the chair for the next round up. But the show must go on, so the producers find another director to fill the slot – a director who ostensibly inherits all the strengths and weaknesses of a franchise birthed by someone else. Cinematic sloppy seconds that could have easily turned into sloppy sequels if it weren’t for a steady, talented director guiding the ship. Here’s a list of the ten best.

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