Tag Archive: JJ Abrams


Clover-1In January of this year, a trailer dropped seemingly out of nowhere bearing the name 10 Cloverfield Lane. A Bad Robot Production with a title bearing the moniker ‘Cloverfield’ was something to take note of, as after years of speculation it seemed we were going to receive something akin to a Cloverfield sequel. Hiding behind a certain Star Wars, J.J. Abrams managed to shepherd this project in plain sight, and was quick to establish that this was not a straight sequel, more a spiritual sequel that would keep the Cloverfield brand alive through an anthology series. It is an inspired idea, allow a certain brand awareness to create Science Fiction projects that allow promising new talents a shot at something well within the public’s attention. Hopefully it is the start of many similar projects, as 10 Cloverfield Lane declares itself to be a thrilling début for its young director, Dan Trachtenberg.

After a fight with her fiancée, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead) leaves her home in New Orleans, very much aiming to get as far away from her problems as possible. However, as she is driving through rural Louisiana, she is involved in a car crash and wakes up to find herself in an underground bunker. She is approached by a man called Howard (John Goodman) who informs her that there has been an attack of unknown origin on the surface, rendering the outside world as a dangerous, poisonous landscape. With seemingly no choice but to stay in the bunker, along with another inhabitant Emmett (John Clover-2Gallagher, Jr.), Michelle has to decide whether Howard is worth trusting, if something more sinister is at play, and find out whether or not something has actually happened on the surface.

It is best for one to know straight off that this Cloverfield has nothing to do with Matt Reeves’ found-footage monster movie from 2008. While this film does deal with the idea of monsters, it is not quite in the literal sense as Reeves’ 9/11 paranoia driven monster movie, rather more about what monstrous acts can be capable of. It retains a certain sense of paranoia, but in a more pared-down thriller scenario,set predominantly in one location with only three characters involved in the proceedings. It allows for 10 Cloverfield Lane to be a more character driven piece, enabling Trachtenberg to demonstrate strength in crafting tension and with working with actors.

The three players involved all turn in well judged performances, never being too overtly dramatic and grounding the proceedings very well. Gallagher Jr provides a refreshing levity, but the film belongs to both John Good man and Mary Elizabeth Winstead. Winstead is our guide throughout most of the proceedings, and she is put through the Clover-3wringer on many occasions, and she does well to earn our sympathy and empathy as a young woman thrown into many an unpredictable and volatile situation. Goodman is the best he has been in years, evoking both sympathy and menace often at the same time to provide a character who remains mysterious and treacherous throughout.

Much of 10 Cloverfield Lane rides on Trachtenberg’s skill at handling a chamber piece, aided by a screenplay which places character over spectacle, for the most part anyway. The final act requires something of a leap of faith, and while it proves to be quite cathartic in the grand scheme of the narrative, it ultimately isn’t as controlled or as sophisticated as what has come before. It segues into another genre not quite as smoothly as it would like, leading to a pay-off that feels strangely uninspired when compared to the superior and tightly wound proceedings of the first two thirds. Clover-4

Dan Trachtenberg, a man who only really had a strong Portal inspired short film under his belt, uses this opportunity to truly showcase his confidence as a film-maker, and particularly a strength with actors as well as high concepts. Even if the more grandiose finale is the weak-point of the proceedings, he still demonstrates a strong handling of visuals and character focus. Whatever he decides to do in the future, it will undoubtedly be a point of interest for myself and many others, as he exhibits traits that could well mark him as, dare I say it, the next Abrams.

4/5- This spiritual sequel carves out its own identity as a taut exercise in suspense and character, marking Trachtenberg as a talent to watch. 

Disclaimer: I will do my best to avoid major spoiler details, but this review will discuss certain plot points. To enjoy The Force Awakens in its fullest, I suggest you stay spoiler free, and avoid this review for the time being (feel free to skip for the verdict). But do promise to come back once you’ve seen it. StarWars-1

‘This will begin to make things right.’
These are the first words uttered in the seventh instalment of the Star Wars franchise. Uttered by Max Von Sydow’s Jakku Elder as he hands a vital piece of information to top resistance pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), setting the plot in motion and taking the next step to restoring balance to a Galaxy now beseeched by the threat of the First Order, who have risen from the ashes of the Empire. It is also something of a meta comment. The Force Awakens marks the first instalment following the much disdained prequel trilogy, a trio of films that very much lost devotees of the Original Trilogy. Star Wars remains beloved, but there was a certain pressure on JJ Abrams, despite the almost guaranteed monetary success. How does one re-stall faith in a franchise that has let its fan-base down so many times before? The answer, it would seem, is simple: just give them what they want.

30 years after the Empire has fallen, Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill) is missing and in his absence the First Order has risen and has become a significant threat to the New Republic. General Leia Organa (Carrie Fisher) leads a Resistance against the new threat, who are strong with the Dark Side, what with the sinister Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) in their ranks. When a disillusioned Stormtrooper (John Boyega) breaks away from his ranks, he sets out on an adventure with scavenger Rey (Daisy Ridley) one which will throw them into the fight for peace in the Galaxy and change their destinies forever.

Straight off the bat, it must be said that the narrative offers little in the way of surprises. The film is quick to set down a letter of intent, throwing set pieces left right and centre, all the while playing like a ‘best of Star Wars’ reel. Many of the beats of the plot are almost exactly the same as that of A New Hope, from plans hidden in a StarWars-2droid, to a young hero on a desert planet, to a huge weapon capable of destroying an entire planet. While it certainly allows for the nostalgia to flow, in a similar way to the intoxicating pleasures of Jurassic World, there is no escaping the feeling that this is somewhat a little lazy in regards to how the story-telling can develop within the Star Wars universe.

The nostalgia factor is one that is certainly forgiveable for the first time back in a world where the Original Trilogy exists. There is a great thrill in seeing the original cast members return, and while the beats and winks to the Wars past do threaten to grate, they are simply placed with the intention of ensuring that this feels like the Star Wars from ones youth. The 40’s serial that inspired George Lucas are similarly evoked, if only because Abrams is evoking Lucas’ film-making style rather than drawing directly upon more varied titles. This is a Star Wars made by a man who loves Star Wars movies, and that energy is infectious and helps drive the film with a rollicking pace that often forgets to stop and take a breath. Abrams, while more than adept at constructing wonderful action set-pieces, seem almost too concerned with having as many as he can leading to action beats which are never slack, but not always all that inspired (I’m looking at you Rathtars).

Nonetheless, Abrams is an assured visual director, but I think perhaps his greatest strength is within casting, something which Lucas truly lacked within the prequel trilogy. The combination of bringing back both the original cast and introducing new characters to the Star Wars universe is perhaps the hardest trick that Abrams has had to pull StarWars-3here. After effectively rebooting a whole cast of Star Trek characters however, this almost seems easy. The main focus on particularly Harrison Ford’s Han Solo allows the film to combine the old and new very effectively, as Ford provides an engaged performance, while the new characters prove just as engaging and as endearing as old favourites.

The new hero of this trilogy looks set to be Daisy Ridley’s Rey. While her initial line readings approach prequel levels of wooden-ness, she quickly settles into her role once she is paired with the charismatic Boyega as conflcited Stormtrooper Finn. Her characterisation is what is impressive, with Rey providing fans with a new poster figure, giving young girls a Luke all their own, while giving female fans a hero they have been waiting for for quite sometime. Boyega shows great potential and incredible screen presence as Finn, demonstrating why he will have a successful career far and beyond even the likes of Star Wars. Oscar Isaac exudes his usual charm and bravado in a role which lacks the complexity of both Rey and Finn’s arcs, but none the less is a role which utilises the strengths of dashing good looks and unwavering likeability as a star.

Where the film truly excels is in developing a new antagonist for the Star Wars universe, one who manages to use the looming shadow of Darth Vader to his advantage. Kylo Ren is one of the more complex, intriguing and fierce characters that this series has produced. Attempting to hold the visage of Vader, Ren’s struggle to truly attain the dark side is what tears him up inside, a wonderful reversal on the struggle we have usually seen within this franchise; the light is what he must refuse, not the darkness. Adam Driver plays him StarWars-4with a ferocity that is at once menacing and like  teenage tantrum at the same time. He relishes the complexities of the character and truly comes out as the more defining character of this sequel trilogy thus far.

The Telegraph’s Robbie Collins once described JJ Abrams as less an auteur and more an upholsterer, and its kinda easy to see his point. Abrams is a Fanboy director whose filmography thus far has been entirely about revamping existing properties (M:I3, Star Trek) or crafting love letters for his heroes (Super 8). Here, he combines those two facets, facets which are undoubtedly strengths. He has a very keen awareness of what it is that people love above certain properties, even if his Trek films owe more to Lucas than they do Trek-lore. Star Wars needed to return with a bang, Abrams delivers an atomic bomb. Its over-whelming, its emotional, familiar, and feels like the Star Wars we grew up with. Leaving as many question open as he answers, Abrams has set the course for a bright future for the franchise. He has more than begun to make things right.

4/5- Stuffed with action and driven by familiar plot devices, The Force Awakens delivers the Star Wars film fans have been craving for. A rollicking start for a new generation.

 

StarTrek-1Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams did quite a remarkable thing; he made Star Trek cool again. After the mis-fire that was Star Trek: Nemesis, it seemed that Gene Roddenberry’s vast and unique universe had lost all resonance and relevance on the big screen. Thankfully, that was not the case, as Abram’s reboot of the franchise rejuvenated the series with a jolt of adrenalin straight to the warp core. While many considered Star Trek to be a world where you were only welcome if you were well versed in Klingon, Abrams opened the door to the mainstream and delivered one of the most exciting space-action spectacles of the past decade. The pressure certainly was on for the inevitable follow up. There was the question as to whether this new alternative timeline (wonderfully established by wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-space-logic) would hark back to the previous entries more measured and philosophical themes, or if it would continue pretty much in the same vein as before; fast, exciting, relentless, but still with the characters at its heart. I can tell you now that it has gone for the latter. Faster, faster, faster is the name of the game, making for yet again another piece of super kinetic and thoroughly exciting action cinema from the man whose next foray is into a galaxy far, far, away.

Fresh from a skirmish with a primitive alien species, the crew of the Enterprise is called back to Starfleet when a terrorist attack in London requires immediate action. The man behind the attack, the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who once was a member of Starfleet, becomes the target of a galaxy wide manhunt. When a further attack by Harrison raises the personal stakes for one James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), the Captain of the Enterprise takes it upon himself to send his crew out alone to catch the fugitive. It is a mission thwart with danger and the risk of Intergalactic War with the fearsome Klingons. However, as Kirk, Spock (Zachery Quinto) and crew pursue, they soon begin to realize that they are  involved in a much larger conspiracy, and that John Harrison is not all that he seems to be. StarTrek-2

The beauty of operating within a new alternative timeline is that Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) have the freedom to work within familiar territory and have the capacity to revise certain aspects and play with audience and fan expectation. There is plenty here that evokes memories of past Trek adventures (one in particular), but does so as to construct an air of familiarity before pulling the rug from under your feet. It makes for a very exciting, emotionally engaging and unpredictable experience as a spectator and as a fan. Some references to the franchise’s past are more subtle than others, but there is certainly enough to fuel the fan-boy spirit and turn you into a shrieking mess of delight (new look Klingons, Come On!), making it rather hard for you to keep your critical head on.

While the catering to the fans is well and truly present (and maybe not quite as necessary as the writer’s seem to think), the action sequences do more than enough to cater to the uninitiated. And boy, do they come at you fast. The film is positively unrelenting in its pacing. There is not much room to breath as Abrams delivers exhilarating action by the photon load. His signature lens flare style once again adds a visceral element to the space environments and makes the action much more dazzling, frantic but never incomprehensible. After an Indiana Jones-esque opening, the film delivers chases,  phaser shoot-outs, fist fights, space-jumps, space-ship skirmishes, and even a chase at warp speed. The invention and the impeccable mounting of these sequences are second to none and keep you on the edge of your seat, ensuring you stay on board the roller-coaster by quite simply never giving you a moments chance to step off. At is essence it is a pared down revenge flick that bursts with momentum and purpose, not so much boldly going as just simply going; as quick and as action-paced as it can.

MILD SPOILERS AFOOT.
YE HATH BEEN WARNED.

StarTrek-3The pacing does work against the film’s finale however. Due to the film’s relentlessness, when it does finally come to a halt it feels rather abrupt and rushed in order to make sure the film doesn’t run over a comfortable 2 hours 1o. It smacks of compromise and there is not a great sense of closure, with the script lazily recycling the ending of the previous installment almost beat for beat. If at least five minutes had been given to allow the audience to reach a suitable pace and to catch their breath before wrapping up proceedings, it would allow the ending to be much more measured and not as sudden, unfortunately that is not the case. However, it does certainly leave you wanting more, as Into Darkness was a ride that I was in no hurry to get off from.

One of the most successful components of the reboot was the pitch-perfect cast led by Pine and Quinto, and once again the cast proves to be one of the film’s stronger aspects. More time is given to the bro-mance between Kirk and Spock, and it does well to emotionally resonate in pivotal moments. The film deals quite heavily with the theme of morality and the acceptance of death as an inevitability. While this theme is generally well balanced and played particularly well by Pine and Quinto, it has perhaps come at too early a time in this franchise. These characters are still young and fresh, these themes should not really play until a later date, but it does certainly allow the title to live up to its name. A lot of the supporting characters get lost in the mix with most of the attention given to the inter-play between Kirk and Spock. Simon Pegg’s Scotty has quite a pivotal role, and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is utilized much more as Spock’s girlfriend, amounting to some enjoyable comic beats. Many of the other characters get lost in the mix but are all still given their moments to shine.

Now on to the villain of the piece. I will not divulge much in regards to the nature of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, although the twist is one of Abrams more unsurprising reveals of his career. In regards to Cumberbatch’s performance; the boy has done good. He is cold, detached and quite stoic; equally mysterious, compelling, and down-right terrifying. It is a shame then that he is not quite given justice with the amount of screen-time that he has, nor in the dialogue he is given. Much of his dialogue is driven by heavy exposition, which even for an actor of Cumberbatch’s caliber, can be quite hard to deliver while still forming a layered and StarTrek-4motivated performance. Yet he delivers where it counts, proving to be surprisingly intimidating in his physical presence and strength. Some fans may not be pleased, but Cumberbatch proves to be a domineering presence in bigger budget fair. And long may he continue to do so.

Into Darkness perhaps does not have the same effect the reboot had back in 2009, it isn’t quite as fresh this time around and the script is not as balanced to allow enough time to be shared amongst the characters. But the style and energy is firmly in place, and it is just too darn exciting to truly allow anything to bother you too much. Perhaps as I reflect over time I might happen upon more factors that bother me (as has happened with Iron Man 3) but at this current moment in time, Star Trek Into Darkness stands above Iron Man 3. The action is not as strong as some of the spectacle in Iron Man, but its balance of character and break-neck pace push it above Shane Black’s still very impressive Summer blockbuster. Although it is unlikely that J.J. Abrams will return to the Captain’s Chair, he has left the franchise in a safe and promising place, although I do think it might be time to slow the pace down somewhat and bring back some of the wonder of exploration that Star Trek inhabited under the caring eyes of Gene Roddenberry.  An adrenalin shot of a movie whose positives outweigh the effect of it faults. There may not be a lot of logic in that, but who cares when it is this much fun.

4/5- Exciting to say the least; Into Darkness is a non-stop relentless ride to the outer limits and back; filled with dazzling action, stirring emotion and of course, plenty of lens flare. Abram’s phasers are certainly set to stun.