One of the hardest things to find to recommend to people are films that impart genuinely good messages or role models for girls. One of my best friends is raising a daughter who is an engaged film fan, and it was a real treat to be able to invite them to the "Mockingjay" premiere recently. For the most part, though, it doesn't feel like Hollywood has them in mind when its creating most of the big genre fare that's released each year, and finding something that I can pass along can sometimes feel like an exercise in futility.
When Angelina Jolie got the job directing "Unbroken," the new film about Louie Zamperini and his WWII experience, she immediately started hiring the very best people she could possibly hire. Roger Deakins is her photographer. The score is by Alexandre Desplat. William Goldenberg and Tim Squyres cut it. Designed by Jon Hutman. And the list of screenwriters who share final credit for adapting the book by Laura "Seabiscuit" Hillenbrand? Amazing. A murderer's row. Joel and Ethan Coen. Richard LaGravenese. William Nicholson. Nuclear force talent.
Here's where I tell you that I have not read Hillenbrand's book, nor was I especially familiar with Zamperini's story before I sat down in the theater yesterday. Anything I write, I'm writing about the film and the way his story is presented here, not about the real guy, who evidently touched a lot of lives. I want to be clear about that because it always feels like a tricky line to walk when you're talking about based-on-a-true-story movies. When I look at the collaborators that Jolie put together or I read any interview she's given about the film, her passion for the material is clear, and she seems to genuinely adore Zamperini. No doubt about it.
We recently brought a new editor-in-chief in here at Hitfix, and when we were talking in our first meeting, I mentioned the idea of doing more short-form blogging. He responded immediately, and I gave him examples of things that were worth discussing , but that aren't really enough for a longer article.
One of those examples was something I meant to write up the next day, and I forgot completely until "American Sniper" showed up in the stack of screeners I've got here at the house. I immediately put the movie on and then fast-forwarded through the film to find the scene that totally took me out of the movie when I saw it at AFI Fest.
My first review for a Peter Jackson film about Middle-Earth was published on December 13, 2001. I was a wee bit enthusiastic.
There was a moment during the opening act of Jackson's latest film, "The Hobbit: The Battle Of The Five Armies," where I just sat dumbfounded by how effortless Jackson makes it look as he summons up whole worlds with millions of moving parts. My kids are being spoiled by the sheer density of the fantasy world that Jackson and his collaborators summoned up, and with this final chapter in this latest trilogy, he not only marries this to the earlier "Rings" films, but he also brings together in a way that makes all three of the Hobbit films feel more cohesive.
Earlier tonight, I mentioned that I was going to put on "The Overnighters," one of the films I still hadn't seen from the stack of screeners that's been sent to me, and while I'm not sure I'm ready to write a full review of it right this minute, I wanted to tell you to try to see it the way I did.
It's a documentary by Jesse Moss, and it's a sledgehammer. The thing is, I had no idea what I was putting into the player. All I knew was "It's a documentary," and so as I was sitting here, watching the movie unfold, the surprise impact of it came from the fact that the film doesn't really tell you upfront what it is. The story is not immediately apparent. And by the time you realize what film you're watching, you're almost at the end.
It's around 10:00 on Sunday night. I had the boys for the weekend, and we had a pretty great double-feature of Christmas-related films on Saturday night, then played a whole bunch of different games. Allen's "Minecraft" crazy at the moment, and there's something fun about losing a few hours with him, building things, letting him be the boss.
I had to drop them off early today, though, so I could make it to the 3:00 screening of Angelina Jolie's "Unbroken." This is the last theatrical screening I'll be able to make before I have to vote next Sunday at the annual LAFCA meeting where we pick our awards for the year. This is only my second year in the Los Angeles Film Critics Association, and I take it seriously. I've got a small mountain of screeners I'm taking with me when I leave tomorrow afternoon for London.
Ridley Scott has never been one to limit himself to dreaming small, and considering how powerful his best work has been, I wouldn't want him to suddenly change the way he does things. That ambition has led to some truly great movies, and I'm sure he's got at least one more great movie in the tank. He does not seem to be showing any signs of flagging energy, and considering he didn't really establish himself as a commercial filmmaker until he was 40, there's always something about him that feels like he's making up for lost time, like he's hungry, even now, even at this point in his considerable career.
So here's the thing.
When I first joined HitFix, back before there was such a thing, when it was a small group of us meeting to discuss what it might be, I had one request based on my experience at Ain't It Cool News.
I wanted an easy to use blog software. I wanted to be able to post short thoughts and long articles alike. I wanted it to be very easy to embed images and links and very easy to post something fast. Ten mirnutes, idea to publish. Twitter is a very specific short form sort of platform. You have to be able to publish an idea in 140 characters. No cheating.
Why do so many people think Benedict Cumberbatch is in "Star Wars"?
I know he's omnipresent in pop culture right now, and I know he worked with JJ Abrams, but at no point has anyone reported that Cumberbatch is part of the new movies, so I find it really confusing when people angrily insist that he has to be the person narrating the first trailer for "Star Wars: The Force Awakens."
For the record, that is Andy Serkis you hear in the trailer. I was able to verify this, although I was not able to uncover any further information about the role he plays. Here's what I do know, though. He's playing a pivotal role in the film, although he will not have a lot of screen time.
That's right, folks.
A year from now, "Star Wars: The Force Awakens" will be omnipresent, but for now, it's still a closely-guarded secret, and Disney decided today to lift the veil for the first time with a trailer that introduces us to plenty of new faces, and we'll have a discussion about it as soon as I've had a chance to watch it 300 times in a row.
Watch the trailer above so you can play along!
Okay... so I caught a little more sleep, then I watched the trailer a few more times, and my first thought is that there's something quietly revolutionary about having the first new face we see from this first new "Star Wars" film be that of John Boyega. And the second new face is Daisy Ridley? Yeah, I think I like this new world order for "Star Wars" right away.
If I was a betting man, I'd say that's Max Von Sydow we're hearing in voice-over. I'm also pretty sure that's Oscar Isaac piloting one of those X-wings.
By far, the most amazing thing about the trailer is that final shot of the Falcon swooping around. What makes it work is that the rest of the trailer focuses on the new. I'll be honest... I thought we were going to get something much more traditionally focused on the returning cast, using clips from other films, with maybe just a few little bits of new footage. Instead, the entire emphasis here is on the new except for that last shot, and that's exciting. There's a confidence to that which gives me some real hope that this is going to be way more than just an exercise in commercial nostalgia.