J. J. Abrams

Star Wars

This may come as a surprise to you (if, say, you haven’t gone online, spoken to an acquaintance or left the comfy confines of the rock you live under for several days), but another intrepid soul has claimed to have the keys to J.J. Abrams‘s mystery box. The secrets held inside? Significant story chunks from Star Wars: Episode VII. Earlier today, we referred to this leak as “ridiculous-sounding plot details,” and that’s just about as accurate as accurate could be. But for the sake of blindly trudging into the unknown, let’s take a look at these ridiculous details anyway. Also, if any of this turns out to be legit, it will count as a SPOILER, but it’ll really only spoil the first five minutes or so. Maybe 10.

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Star-Wars-7-X-Wing

Yet again, J.J. Abrams is wagging the dog by sharing something official in the wake of a great rumor being spread. Although I doubt that this reveal of an X-Wing fighter built for Star Wars: Episode VII is truly in response to ridiculous-sounding plot details leaked over the weekend, it’s otherwise a nice diversion. The video below isn’t just a first look at a vehicle for advance marketing sake; it’s the latest and final piece of promotion for the Force for Change charity drive for UNICEF run via Omaze. Recall in the past we shared the video introducing a new non-CG character. Now Abrams is back to show us something a lot more familiar just days before the effort ends. Force for Change is kind of like a Kickstarter campaign but since Disney doesn’t need money to make a Star Wars movie, your pledges go to a better cause than a film production. Yet there are still similar incentives (and raffle prizes) here, such as exclusive apparel, a Chewbacca bust and private advance screenings of Episode VII, plus the best of all: a chance to win a trip to the set and actually get to appear in the movie. Watch Abrams tell you about Force for Change while you gaze upon the beautiful but beat-up X-Wing below.

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Dawn of the Planet of the Apes Reeves

When some actors and directors promote an adaptation or remake they’ll pretend they’ve always been fans of the original movie or the comic. You can generally tell when they’re lying, trying to pander to fans. Thankfully, real die-hard fans often get to be a part of properties that actually mean something to them. Dawn of the Planet of the Apes director, Matt Reeves, is one of those people. Like most kids growing up in the ’80s, the New York-born filmmaker gravitated toward E.T., Close Encounters, and Star Wars. For Reeves, though, those films never held a candle to Planet of the Apes. “That was my obsession. That was my Star Wars,” he tells us over the phone, counting the hours until the film opens this Friday. When it comes to the Apes franchise the original film and, the strangest of the series, Beneath the Planet of the Apes, are his favorites — Reeves is still shaken by the image of the mutated humans removing their faces in the latter film. He also has a deep fondness for the television series which only lasted, to his surprise, three months back in 1974. “I thought for sure it was on for years because it took up so much of my childhood. I had dolls, the records, and these comic books. I was so obsessed with that world.”

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Mr Petrified Forrest

This is another edition of Short Starts, where we present a weekly short film(s) from the start of a filmmaker or actor’s career. Various things can happen to a famous director’s student films. Mostly they wind up hidden from us, sometimes permanently in the case of something intentionally destroyed, other times simply held from being uploaded to YouTube or another video site. It’s not often that a currently successful filmmaker is proud of his or her schoolwork, no matter how much money, passion and talent he or she put into it. That’s a shame, because a lot of these pre-professional shorts (and occasional features) aren’t that bad. Many have won awards, deservedly so. Others helped the student get a foot in the door, which obviously means there was promise there. In very, very rare circumstances, a student film will get distribution, possibly in an altered form. That was the case for Matt Reeves, director of the new sequel Dawn of the Planet of the Apes as well as Cloverfield and Let Me In. Reeves attended the University of Southern California, where he made an award-winning short film titled Mr. Petrified Forrest during the 1991-1992 year. Other now-prominent people who worked on it include J.J. Abrams, who co-produced and composed the scored under the name Jeffrey Abrams and also created a plane crash scene (on his parents’ lawn) that looks like a Max Fischer production of the Lost pilot. Regular Abrams collaborators Bryan Burk and Greg Grunberg were also producers, the latter […]

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Pip Andersen and Crystal Clarke for Star Wars 7

Misdirection. It’s the classic technique of going “HEY LOOK OVER THERE” while secretly preparing an elaborate magic trick and/or hiding the garbage bags containing your neighbor’s corpse. But misdirection isn’t just used by magician serial killers anymore. Now, even the folks at LucasFilm have employed this tried-and-true method in the latest casting development for Star Wars: Episode VII. Yesterday, the company put out a press release announcing to the world that the long process of holding open casting calls and scouring through millions of young actors mesmerized by the words “Star” and Wars” has paid off. Officially joining the cast are two unknowns: Crystal Clarke and Pip Andersen. Clarke, an American acting student, will make her feature debut in next year’s The Moon and the Sun, the I-desperately-hope-it’s-true story of King Louis XIV, and how his “quest for immortality leads him to capture and steal a mermaid’s life force.” Fingers crossed on that one. Andersen, on the other hand, was a competitor on MTV’s Ultimate Parkour Challenge. Less impressive, but for all we know Ultimate Parkour Challenge had an episode where the contestants had to reenact scenes from the original Star Wars films while also flipping between a series of really tall dumpsters. So Disney stood up and shouted, “Look! Look at these ridiculously good-looking young people! Watch as they do parkour!” (And yes, the press release did link to a Sony ad where Andersen wears a Spider-Man outfit under his clothes and does backflips in and out of various buildings.) And […]

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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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Star Wars

Yesterday’s official announcement that J.J. Abrams’ Star Wars: Episode VII is set to hit theaters on December 18, 2015 was a long time coming – after months of chatter (not all of it especially heartening), it was high time that Disney and Lucasfilm gave us something official and tangible to chew on. A release date! Line up now! Or probably don’t because that’s actually insane. But like the announcement of any highly anticipated release date, the news that the newest Star Wars will arrive just in time for the 2015 holiday season comes complete with plenty of analysis. Why now? Why then? Why? Here’s your short answer – December 2015 is when the film needs to be ready (at least financially speaking), it’s a target date the film’s creative team thinks they can hit, and it’s perfectly poised to pull in lots of holiday dollars. That’s it – timing and money. In fact, that’s what most release date setting consists of, finding a spot for a film that will guarantee a finished product and the chance to make some return. But that doesn’t mean we can’t just overanalyze this thing to high heaven in the meantime. After all, December 2015 is a long, long way away. (It’s practically in its own galaxy.)

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If you’re reading this, chances are pretty high that you’ve got some vested interest in Star Wars. And if that’s the case, than you must have seen the same thing I did this weekend: Chiwetel Ejiofor‘s face plastered across every film news site in the known universe, with the words Star Wars: Episode VII following shortly after. The anticipation swells as you think of Ejiofor and Star Wars as a perfect match; he’s got talent and charisma galore, and Serenity proves he’s no stranger to the space opera action adventure. His name even sounds a little like “Chewie.” That’s got to mean something. And then you actually read beyond the words “Chiwetel Ejiofor” and “Star Wars” and that giddy excitement transforms back into the same dull Star Wars-less banality of everyday life. Here’s the connection The Times discovered between Ejiofor and Episode VII director J. J. Abrams. “The British actor Chiwetel Ejiofor, front-runner in this year’s Oscar race, is sitting in the lobby of J. J. Abrams’ office.” Then, when prodded about Ejiofor’s office-lobby involvement, Abrams drops this juicy morsel: “I can’t discuss casting. But he’s a very talented gentleman.”

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cornish monsters

After the terribly disappointing Star Trek Into Darkness, there may be hope for the next installment in the very good possibility that Joe Cornish will direct Star Trek 3. Yesterday, Deadline exclusively reported the rumor, whatever that really means, and ever since I’ve been trying to imagine what this development could mean. A lot of fans of both Cornish and Trek have been debating the pros and cons of the pairing. Cornish is too inexperienced as a director, some say. He shouldn’t waste his time with a franchise threequel, others argue. Well, I am optimistic for a few reasons. One is that we’ll probably get more Simon Pegg‘s Scotty, because Cornish and Pegg go way back — he helmed behind-the-scenes docs for Pegg and Edgar Wright films and also scripted The Adventures of Tintin, which featured voice work from the actor. And maybe he could find a role for Pegg’s buddy Nick Frost, who acted in Cornish’s sole feature directorial effort, Attack the Block. Mostly, though, it could be a lighter, more humorous episode. Not just if that reunion happened, but because of the Star Trek stuff Cornish has done in the past. Namely the TNG parody from The Adam and Joe Show that you can watch after the jump.

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S5

Not content to unleash his powers of secrecy simply on cinephiles alone, J.J. Abrams has now unveiled his latest Mystery Box-influenced work, a book entitled “S.” that he conceived of and that was penned by author Doug Dorst. The book has been the subject of speculation for months now and, back in August, we examined some of the hints that Abrams, Dorst, and company had been dropping about the upcoming release – a book so secretive that they refused to release even a cover image of the book. At the time, we bemoaned the adherence to keeping things veiled, but with the book finally hitting shelves, it’s become much more clear why we couldn’t even see so much as a cover. Perhaps the Mystery Box can still work in exciting ways, at least when it means that fans of the multi-hyphenate’s work can unbox the damn thing in the comfort of their own homes. So what’s inside “S.”? A lot. No, literally. As was promised months ago by the book’s publishers, “at the core of this multilayered literary puzzle of love and adventure is a book of mysterious provenance. In the margins, another tale unfolds—through the hand-scribbled notes, questions, and confrontations of two readers. Between the pages, online, and in the real world, you’ll find evidence of their interaction, ephemera that bring this tale vividly to life.” Just how much ephemera is actually crammed inside? Whole bunches! Postcards and notes and maps and decoders and more postcards and notes, the thing is stuffed with, well, stuff. No wonder this thing needs […]

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Letting go of a loved one is tough, but it’s something we all must do at some point. And George Lucas is no different. He and his son, the twenty year-old Jett Lucas, recently went through a similar experience, of a father releasing his child into the world to grow and develop on its own, without that constant parental influence. The child in question, of course, isn’t Jett Lucas. It’s Star Wars: Episode VII. The younger Lucas described his father as keeping a close eye on his beloved franchise, “as any parent watching their kid going to college would.” But the Star Wars creator seems to have had a tough time staying away, and has, as it turns out, been exerting far more influence over Episode VII than previously thought. Jett Lucas (in an interview with Flicks and the City) had this to say: “He’s constantly talking to J.J. [Abrams]. Obviously J.J. was handpicked. He [Lucas] is there to guide, whenever, he’ll help where he can.” As well, the elder Lucas had actually begun work on Episode VII a year before the franchise was sold to Disney, and has created a set of “guidelines” that Abrams and the rest of the new blood will be following. With luck, it’s the Lucas responsible for the original Star Wars (and not the one responsible for the prequel trilogy) that’s currently helicopter-parenting a few feet above Episode VII.

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S.

Writer/director/producer/star of Six Degrees of Separation/professional liar J.J. Abrams gave us a tiny little peek inside his self-proclaimed “mystery box” yesterday with the release of whatever the hell is going on in this teaser trailer. Speculation, of course, ran rampant. Was it a new television show? A new film? Absolutely nothing at all, just Abrams having a bit of fun with everyone while he should be working on the next Star Wars film? It could be anything! Anything! What we forgot to consider, however, was that it could be anything. Like a book. Like a book Abrams has been planning alongside author Doug Dorst for whole years now, and one that already has a fall release date. Leave it to the good people over at Bleeding Cool to begin to unravel the mystery of a new Abrams venture that’s been so boxed up (you know, mystery-style) that we nearly forgot all about it. The BC crew did some digging, eventually landing on a promotional postcard for “S.,” as shared by The Huffington Post back in May, one that used a font very similar to the one that appears at the end of the so-called “Stranger” teaser. But wait! There’s more! Just what the hell is “S.” about? And what does Abrams himself have to say about it? We just so happen to know, because we have our own letter from Abrams on the subject.

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jjabramsstartrek2

Look, I don’t know who J.J. Abrams thinks he is, but he could at least throw us a bone and give us the name of his upcoming project with Bad Robot. Not everything has to be a crazy mystery, buddy. The newly released teaser trailer, entitled only “Stranger,” offers no details about Abrams’ next venture – aside from the fact that it’s black and white, features a lot of water and a man with a sewn-up mouth, and it definitely isn’t Star Wars: Episode VII. At this point, it’s not even clear if the project is a movie or TV show. The narrator’s voice, as well as the man featured in the trailer are both unrecognizable, which seems to be a conscious choice (Abrams!!). And no, skimming IMDb and looking at his list of upcoming projects will not help. I tried that. Watch “Stranger” (whatever it may be) after the break.

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nicholas-cage-superman-lives

Few franchises have crashed and burned as spectacularly as the Superman films, which reached their nadir with 1987’s fourth installment, The Quest for Peace, which grossed barely a tenth the box office of Richard Donner’s classic origin story a decade earlier. SUPERMAN’S DIMINISHING RETURNS Superman (1978) $134M Superman II (1980) $108M Superman III (1983) $60M Superman IV: The Quest for Peace (1987) $15M With Tim Burton’s dark, gritty Batman demolishing box office records in 1989, Warner Bros. had no reason to think audiences would respond to the brighter, more colorful Man of Steel mythos – at least, not until 1992, when DC Comics’ bestselling “The Death and Return of Superman” cycle put The Daily Planet’s most famous reporter back on the front page. In the comics (later turned into a 2007 animated film, Superman: Doomsday), Superman is killed by a creature called Doomsday, before being resurrected after a three-month publishing hiatus which became a publicity magnet. Deciding that the death-and-rebirth story merited a movie, Warner placed a full-page ad in the trade press announcing a working-titled Superman: The New Movie, with Batman producer Jon Peters at the wheel, and screenwriter Jonathan Lemkin (Lethal Weapon 4, Devil’s Advocate, Demolition Man), at the typewriter.

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Alex Kurtzman and Roberto Orci

Alex Kurtzman and Bob Orci are probably two of the busiest screenwriters working today. It seems like every month we hear of a new project they’re scripting, developing, or what have you (a look at their current IMDb pages includes listings for upcoming projects, from The Amazing Spider-Man 2 to that Van Helsing reboot). Their schedules have certainly stopped me from interviewing them in the past, and when their names are appearing on four high-profile films in the span of a single year, you can see why scheduling would be a bit of a problem. Now the pair has two projects coming out only weeks apart, with Star Trek Into Darkness and Now You See Me both arriving this spring. Now You See Me has a chance of being a sleeper success, while Into Darkness already opened to impressive numbers this past weekend. It’s been four years since their Trek reboot, and ever since then there’s been plenty of rumors over what exactly J.J. Abrams was hiding in his mystery box. With the film finally out, we spoke with screenwriters/producers about what that box contained in a SPOILER-filled discussion:

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Abrams and Giacchino Star Trek Score

Whether or not you’re a fan of Star Trek Into Darkness, you should take a look at the latest SoundWorks Collection shorts on the music of the film. Michael Coleman visited the 20th Century Fox Newman Scoring Stage to document some of the recording of the Star Trek sequel’s score. While there he interviewed Tim Simonec, the conductor and orchestror, while also getting some footage of director J.J. Abrams and composer Michael Giacchino overlooking the sessions. Also named in the video is co-producer Michelle Rejwan as the orchestra plays “Happy Birthday” in her honor (at least I think it’s in her honor since the camera is turned toward her). Behind the scenes stuff like this is always neat, and here Simonec explains some of what’s different about the Into Darkness score compared to the previous Star Trek movie’s music. For one thing this has more synth less choir. I also just like watching all the professional musicians. It’s easy to forget about all that talent while watching a movie, especially when you wind up nitpicking at the writing and directing. While Giacchino’s compositions themselves may be criticized, there’s absolutely no digging at the people on the strings and horns and percussion. Their performance of the score is objectively perfect, as that job always has to be. Watch the brief video after the jump.

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Star Trek Into Darkness

After four years of waiting and anticipation, geek honcho J.J. Abrams has finally given us the sequel to his 2009 box office and critical hit. And it is … serviceable. Abrams’ new movie is as sleek and shiny as his first Star Trek picture but lacking much of its charm. The novelty of seeing these characters coming together is gone, the villain is lackluster in bizarre ways, and the high-flying pacing is absent, making many of the film’s logic gaps even more head-scratching. And there are indeed some real head-scratchers. Choosing emotion and spectacle over logic can work, and it does in the last Trek outing and the first half of Star Trek Into Darkness, but this time around Abrams and his screenwriting team can’t gloss over all the leaps in logic and other narrative problems. What starts off as another thrilling Abrams movie ends up turning into a mess by the end. Here are some (spoiler-y) questions which arise out of that mess:

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Star-Trek-Into-Darkness-trio

It’s hard to watch Star Trek Into Darkness and not think about Star Wars. Yes, J.J. Abrams is directing Episode VII and so we have that knowledge on the brain going into this. Maybe we’re even on the lookout for clues hinting at what we should expect from his take on that galaxy. This isn’t the first time the Trek franchise has had to try and prove itself in the shadow of George Lucas’s own series. Even though it originated with a TV show in the 1960s, Trek‘s cinematic resurrection a decade later was in part allowed by and somewhat influenced by the success and quality of the first Star Wars. But even regardless of the fact that Abrams is following the latest Trek with the next Wars, I often otherwise felt like I was watching one of the latter while sitting through Into Darkness. Before getting into the evidence that Abrams is a clear fan of Lucasfilm works (and not just Star Wars) and likes to sample from them, let’s take a moment to think about what all his call back references and allusions to both Wars and Trek might mean for Episode VII. Will there be too much winking and fan-service, unhidden Easter eggs and inside jokes and maybe even outright recycling the way Into Darkness is with certain prior Trek installments? Could Episode VII have a number of allusions to Trek the way Into Darkness pays obvious homage to Wars? Rather than creating new worlds of his […]

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commentary-startrek

The reboot of Star Trek in 2009 was a risky move for Paramount. However, it paid off, reinvigorating the franchise that had died with the poorly performing film Star Trek: Nemesis in 2002. J.J. Abrams’ Star Trek became one of the biggest hits of that summer and introduced a whole new generation to the classic franchise. Abrams was not a Star Trek fan before working on the film (and arguably even less of one after making the movie), but that didn’t stop him and his production team from making a solid science fiction update. Throughout the commentary with his writers and producers, recorded only a month after Star Trek came out in 2009, it’s clear that the Star Wars films had a greater impact on the production team’s childhood. Maybe the search for a Luke Skywalker in the character of James T. Kirk was what made the film work so well.

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STID Pine

Turns out, all of that Khan mumbo jumbo has just been some super-clever misdirection on the part of Paramount and J.J. Abrams, as this new series of Star Trek Into Darkness character posters reveals the film’s true nemesis – wind! Big, gusty, blowing wind! Somebody, put a goddamn helmet on! We are, of course, kidding (or are we?), but this batch of posters certainly puts wind power front and center, and with the highly anticipated sequel just about a month away from release, there’s little else to talk about beyond the silly stuff and our excitement over the new feature. Check out the rest of the new Star Trek Into Darkness character posters, including Benedict Cumberbatch as whoever, Zachary Quinto as Spock, and Zoe Saldana as Uhura.

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