Lucasfilm In Disarray?

Something is not right with Lucasfilm. It can be seen by the behind-the-scenes drama going on with the film studio once owned by George Lucas before he sold it to The Walt Disney Company nearly a decade ago. Another sign is the lack of solid information about their upcoming films and TV shows.

Lucasfilm has been mired in controversy for several years despite its early Disney-era success of Star Wars: The Force Awakens and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story. What is often overlooked with the latter film is that it had significant re-shoots which ultimately made the film a success. After that dilemma followed the film studio.

There was the heated reaction to Star Wars: The Last Jedi which sharply split Star Wars fans. Then the saga of revolving directors plagued Solo: A Star Wars Story and Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker. With those two films the original directors were removed from the projects. Solo suffered greatly as the directors Phil Lord and Chris Miller were fired when filming was nearly complete and forced the film to be essentially redone from scratch.

Now that the final Sequel Saga Star Wars films have concluded nearly two years ago, there is little sign of new Star Wars films coming up. Of course, there are many Star Wars TV shows slated to stream on Disney+ and they are eagerly awaited. In fact, many rightly argue that the TV shows are what is keeping the franchise alive thanks to The Mandalorian, Star Wars: The Bad Batch and hopefully The Book of Boba Fett, which debuts next month.

The upcoming TV projects such as Obi-Wan Kenobi, the new season of The Mandalorian, Andor, and Ahsoka are eagerly anticipated, but we have little news about those shows. The recent Disney+ Day event which revealed many exciting Disney, Pixar and Marvel projects failed to deliver anything significant that was Star Wars related. Only a documentary about Boba Fett, cast interviews of the upcoming Willow TV show, and a sizzle reel for Obi-Wan Kenobi streamed on Disney+ while other studios rewareded subscribers with first looks at upcoming projects. What is confounding are rumors that there were Star Wars trailers and footage planned to be unveiled, but for some reason this did not happen. In the end, while the sneak peaks at other Disney properties were impressive, Star Wars looked threadbare on the streaming platform.

As for the films, there are more signs of trouble. The next Indiana Jones film was filmed and expected to come out next year, but has been bumped to 2023 with rumors of extensive re-shoots and revisions of the plot pending. This is alarming given the age of the film’s star Harrison Ford and declining interest in the film.

But the most disconcerting news came recently that director Patti Jenkins’ pet film project Rogue Squadron has been put on indefinite hold. Originally, the film was supposed to come out in 2023, but supposedly creative differences between the director and Lucasfilm derailed the project. Now, it is doubtful Rogue Squadron will ever be made. This is embarrassing for the film studio after all the hoopla they created last year when they released a video promoting Rogue Squadron that featured Patti Jenkins passionately talking about the film as she was shown next to a full-scale mock up of an X-Wing fighter. Talk about putting the cart before the horse!

That is not all, ballyhooed announcements of Star Wars films from director Rian Johnson and executive producers David Benioff and D.B. Weiss have led nowhere. What is next? Will the announced Kevin Feige-produced Star Wars film be shelved as well?

Many have pointed fingers and blame on Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy. She has proven to be a somewhat controversial film executive who has enraged some fans and members of the alt-right. Despite the overreaction from some, she should accept the blame for the issues with the directors and the delays these events are causing because it is damaging the brand of Lucasfilm and its properties.

Given the image of Lucasfilm being in disarray, several fans have called for Kathleen Kennedy to be replaced by someone else, such as Jon Favreau, the showrunner of The Mandalorian. However, news has come out that Disney extended Kennedy’s contract for another three years. Surely, this demonstrates that the Disney executives have faith in Kathleen Kennedy, but can she turn things around? What convinced Disney that she deserved to continue running Lucasfilm? We have to hope that Disney’s continued faith in Kennedy is warranted because Star Wars as a film property sorely needs a win and there isn’t anything on the horizon. More importantly, Lucasfilm and Kennedy have to prove to fans that they can still deliver quality films and TV shows and time is running short.

Tom Hanks Delivers The Emotional Core In The Post-Apocalyptic Film Finch

Finch, originally titled BIOS, is a post-apocalytpic film that was supposed to be released last year and is finally able on Apple TV+. The film is about a dying man (the title character Finch played byTom Hanks) in a barren world, who builds a robot to care for his dog after he dies.

Several years earlier in Finch, the Earth was devastated by a solar flare that shredded the ozone layer and blanketed the world with deadly ultraviolet radiation that killed most life. Finch Weinberg is a lonely robotics engineer in an abandoned and dust-covered St. Louis. He ventures out into the world with his UV suit just to scrounch for food and supplies for himself and his dog Goodyear (played by Seamus the dog). His only other companion is a small robot called Duey that has limited capabilities. Finch has a terminal illness (it’s not made clear in the film but it could be radiation poisoning or cancer) and wants Goodyear protected, so he builds an anthropomorphic robot that he names Jeff (Caleb Landry Jones).

Finch is not able to fully program Jeff because a devastating storm is approaching St. Louis that will last for weeks. The scientist already planned to move to the west coast of North America and so decides to head out early in his recreational vehicle with Goodyear and his two robots, even though Finch is not fully programmed. This means that as they set out on their road trip, Finch has to teach Jeff how to care for his dog and survive after he is gone. During their trip, the two grow a friendly bond as Jeff learns about humanity and experiencing life, while Finch has to trust that the robot will carry out his task. This is difficult for Finch because during his ordeal as a survivor he lost faith in others.

Directed by Miguel Sapochnik and written by Craig Luck and Ivor Powell, Finch is heartwarming film, though it does not have a deep plot. It has many aspects of post-apocalyptic and survival films like WALL-E and even Hanks’ own Cast Away. Still, the film knows just how to tug at the viewer’s heart and there are many moments in the film that require a box of tissues. One instance is the moment when Finch recalls how he came to adopt Goodyear, which led him to find a measure of atonement, culminating in the creation of Jeff.. The film has many beautiful and reflective moments of experiencing the simple joys in life that are buttressed by gorgeous cinematography by Jo Willems.

The dog Goodyear is not some kind of super smart animal with quirky personality traits that is seen in many dog-centric films and it’s clear to see how much Finch is attached to the animal. Be that as it may, being that the driving force is that Jeff must learn to care for Goodyear, the dog is not the main character. Those are Finch and Jeff. The robot is not fully developed emotionally and has an inquisitive nature that is humorous but never annoying, At the same time, this defect is a liability that could endanger his biological companions. However, Jeff has noble intentions and takes initiatives throughout the film that earns his creator’s trust and allows him to grow into the caretaker he was meant to be. The role was well performed and captured as the robot seems realistic thanks to his clumsy nature and a clunky look, which is how a cobbled-together robot would appear.

Of course, the main draw of the film is Tom Hanks, who proves once again why he is such a beloved acting icon. His heartfelt performance is the emotional core of the film. It is so easy to relate to Finch as Hanks injects a noble and gentle everyman demeanor. One cannot help but feel for him and his dog whenever he starts coughing blood or just see them playing a simple game of catch. Throughout the film Hanks delivers a quiet and thoughtful performance that helps keep the film grounded and endearing.

Some will argue that Finch may be emotionally manipulative and simplistic and that is a valid point. Given the film’s premise it can be easy to predict how the film will end up. However, in the end it works as it is easy to get emotionally invested in the characters and wonder what will come next for them. Just as important, despite its pathos, Finch never feels sentimental or cloy.

It is a bit of a shame Finch can only be seen on Apple TV+ since not many people have that streaming app. The film deserves to be seen in wider venues such as full theatrical releases and the powers that be should have waited a bit longer to do so. Hopefully, Finch may find an audience later on in additional venues because it is one of the better genre films for the year.

José Soto

A Look Back At Spider-Man 2

As the countdown continues for Spider-Man: No Way Home and we wait anxiously for the second trailer to drop (which will supposedly feature the return of Tobey Maguire as Spider-Man), it is time to take a look back at Sam Raimi’s Spider-Man 2. The second Spider-Man film is well loved for many reasons but one of the standouts was its villain Doctor Octopus (Alfred Molina), who will return in Spider-Man: No Way Home,

When Spider-Man 2 begins, we see that Peter Parker (Maguire) is still a lovable loser who is struggling desperately to balance his civilian life with his superhero antics as Spider-Man. Being the costumed adventurer is clearly interfering with his private life to the point that it gets him fired from a delivery person job, threatens his academic career in college and even late for his own birthday party. Peter is constantly broke and unhappy over how his responsibilities keep him from getting romantically involved with his friend Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She is now a successful model and Broadway actress and has feelings for Peter but his inability to admit their mutual feelings for one another keeps her away. Eventually she gets engaged even though she still loves Peter, which crushes him.

The dilemma of leading a double life eventually gets to Peter. He begins to lose his powers for pscyhosomatic reasons and he decides to give up his Spider-Man identity. While this decision brings him momentary happiness, the love of his life is still engaged to someone else, he is still struggling to make ends meet, crime and other mishaps in New York City continue, and a new supervillain soon enters his life.

Dr. Otto Octavius (Molina) is a brilliant nuclear scientist working for Oscorp, the company that Peter Parker’s best friend, Harry Osborn (James Franco), runs. Harry took over the company after his father, who was secretly the villainous Green Goblin in the first Spider-Man film, was killed in battle with Spider-Man. Dr. Octavius is working on a way to create fusion to supply a cheap energy source. During a live demonstration attended by Peter, Harry and Octavius’ wife Rosalie (Donna Murphy), the scientist unveils these robotic arms that he invented to help him handle hazardous materials in his fusion reactor project. He cybernetically attaches the arms to his spinal column to control them mentally. Dr. Octavius informs his audience that the arms have a form of artificial intelligence to help him but he maintains control with an inhibitor chip implanted on the arms.

Not long after the scientist begins his fusion demonstration, the experiment gets out of control because of an energy spike. The fusion reactor threatens everyone but Peter switches to his Spider-Man identity and shuts down the reactor. However, before he does this Rosalie is killed and Dr. Octavius is caught in an explosion that permamently fuses the arms to his spine and destroys the inhibitor chip. Later in a hospital, the AI took control of his robotic arms killed the doctors who attempted to remove them from Dr. Octravius. After he escaped from the hospital, it is clear that the AI took control of the scientist and goad him to rebuild the fusion reactor regardless of the danger. This leads “Doctor Octopus”, as the press dubbed him, to go on a criminal spree to get the funds and materials to complete his work, and in direct conflict with Spider-Man.

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Denis Villenueve’s Majestic Dune

Dune is a classic science fiction novel written by Frank Herbert in 1965 that tells the story of a young man in the far future who leads a desert planet people to freedom. It’s a very complicated tale that has a deep back story that has been difficult to translate to film due to its complexity. The first film adaptation directed by David Lynch in 1984 was met with a mixed reception. It was a lavish production that looked and felt like Dune, but also took liberties with the story and was edited and cut out much of Herbert’s vision. The Sci-Fi Channel released a mini-series in 2000 that was more faithful to the book and was longer than Lynch’s film, but was made on a limited TV budget that was sometimes evident with painted backgrounds and weird costumes. 

Denis Villenueve’s Dune is the latest adaption of this epic tale that takes place in the far future. Humanity has spread to the whole galaxy and is ruled by the Padisha Emperor, and that empire is controlled by an addictive substance known as spice that extends life, enables interstellar space travel, and allows some to see into the future. This precious resource is only found on one planet, Arrakis, also know as Dune, which is populated by a nomadic group of people known as the Fremen. They have a prophecy that a man from off world will lead them to glory and freedom. This man is young Paul Atreides (Timothée Chalamet), the son of Duke Leto Atreides (Oscar Isaac), who is gifted control of the planet by the emperor. This gift, however is a double edged sword, with plots against the Atreides hatched by the emperor and House Atreides’ sworn enemies, House Harkonnen. These machinations force Paul to embrace not just his future but the the destiny of the galaxy.

Villenueve’s take on the material is excellent and shows a great respect for the essence of the story. The movie has the best elements of previous adaptions, with the right look and feel of the 1984 film, along with the faithfulness of the mini-series. The new movie takes it time in telling the story which is the right way, since it is a deep and complex story of prescience, politics, and ecology to name a few things that make Dune a book that is still enjoyed and admired decades after its publication.  Paul’s frequent visions of his future with the Fremen and his future lover Chani (Zendaya) are shown in an interesting and mysterious way, and the appearance and mannerisms of the different factions of the Dune universe are also a highlight. From Mentats making calculations with their human computer minds to the emperor’s Sardarkaur troops speaking in a weird, guttural language, this feels like a different time and place, as it should since it takes place over 10,000 years into the future.

Paul’s journey from son of a Duke to the head of his family is done in a convincing way, with good performances from a great cast. Timothée Chalamet shows the conflicted nature of Paul, who can see his future and is reluctant to make it happen, yet feels obligated to continue his father’s work. Oscar Isaac, as his father Duke Leto, also does well as the heroic leader of House Atreides, who knows that the gift of Arrakis to his family is a trap, yet also feels the pull of duty to go forward in taking control of the spice while warning his son of what is to come. Paul’s mother, Lady Jessica is well portrayed by Rebecca Ferguson, who shows the agony of a mother giving her son over to a possible death at the hands of the Bene Gesserit Sisterhood, a group that has plans on genetically breeding a super human who can transcend time and space and see Paul as that potential being. The well-rounded cast includes other such names as Jason Momoa, Zendaya, Javier Bardem and Stellan Skarsgard as the Baron Harkonnen. All of which provide excellent interpretations of these iconic characters.

One issue I had with the movie, is that because of the strong focus on Paul Atreides and his mother, there are some characters that do not show up at all, such as Princess Irulan, Feyd Rathua Harkonnen, and Emperor Shaddam IV. These are important characters to the story, but due to the obvious time constraints in a two-and-a-half hour movie and the needs of a very complicated story, this is a consequence. Speaking of which, the title of the movie at the beginning says “Dune, Part 1”. Villenueve chose to make the movie based on the first half of the book. I think this was the only choice, since trying to cram the whole book into one film will lead to issues that can happen in film adaptations of books, where much of the plot can be lost or rushed. I would have liked to have seen perhaps a three-hour version, so that these missing characters could show up, and that the villainous Harkonnens could have more of the limelight. Having said that, it is still better to have a Dune film that lets the story unfold, which this one does. I have heard complaints about the ending of the movie, that it is supposedly abrupt, but I didn’t see it that way. It feels like a good ending point for that part of the journey, where Paul and Jessica embark on a new phase of their lives with the Fremen, and the Harkonnens still lurking as a major threat. Early indications are that the film is doing well and hopefully this will lead to the expected part 2 that will finish the tale of Paul Atreides’ rise to power, and the establishment of the legendary Dune universe.

C.S. Link

A Look Back At Spider-Man (2002)

Spider-Man film mania is reaching new levels of excitement with the upcoming Spider-Man: No Way Home and Venom: Let There Be Carnage, and the revelation that the latest Spider-Man film will introduce the previous cinematic universes of older Marvel films into the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). This was seen with appearances of the Spider-Man villains from the original Spidey films, which heralds many highly anticipated crossover events for future MCU films. With all this hoopla it is time to take a look at the original Spider-Man film trilogy that was directed by Sam Raimi from 2002 to 2007.

The very first film based on Marvel Comics’ most popular superhero, Spider-Man, helped usher in a new age of superhero films at the turn of the century that eventually changed the cinematic landscape.

For the longest time it seemed as if there never would be a live-action film about Spider-Man. Marvel Comics, then later Marvel Entertainment, had the hardest time properly adapting their properties into respectable films or TV shows. The best they achieved was The Incredible Hulk TV show from the ’70s. Then things turned around with the releases of Blade (1998) and X-Men (2000). With those film successes it was only natural for Marvel to turn to its flagship superhero.

Before Marvel was acquired by Disney, the film rights to their characters were sold to major and minor studios. This created a legal mess when it came to Spider-Man as it prevented a film from being produced. The best known effort was a film to be directed by James Cameron. Rumors had it that Leonardo DeCaprio was slated to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man, and the film would have deviated wildly from the famous comic book source. One of those changes was that instead of crafting web shooters, Spider-Man had the ability to shoot his own organic webbing. This turned out to be one change that survived in the eventual Spider-Man, released on May 3, 2002 and directed by Sam Raimi, known by fans for his Evil Dead and Darkman films.

Spider-Man is a largely faithful adaptation of the Marvel Comics story about Peter Parker (Tobey Maguire), a lonely and nerdy teenager in Queens, New York, who is bitten by a genetically altered spider during a class field trip at a laboratory. This updated the origin in that the spider was not radioactive as in the comics. During the ’60s radiation exposure was the cause du jour for how characters gained super powers. Of course, most people know better today that such exposure would have been fatal to living organisms such as humans!

Naturally, Peter developed spider-based powers because the venom from the spider’s bite changed his DNA. While he is elated with his new powers and physique he is pining for his next-door neighbor, Mary Jane Watson (Kirsten Dunst). She comes from a troubled home but hides her pain by exhibiting an outgoing and friendly demeanor. While the two seem attracted to each other she has a boyfriend with his own car. Being that he doesn’t have a lot of money, Peter decided to enter a wrestling exhibition to win money to buy a car.

He’s dropped off near the exhibition by his Uncle Ben (Cliff Robertson), who tried to counsel Peter about his growing pains, but the teenager disregarded him. For the wrestling match, Peter adopted a flashy costumed identity that covered most of his face and called himself the Human Spider. The announcer (Bruce Campbell in the first of many humorous cameos in these films) renamed him Spider-Man and watched in disbelief, along with the audience, as Peter took out his far larger opponent.

Looking for his reward, Peter is instead ripped off by the wrestling promoter, who refused to pay him over a technicality. After Peter left his office, the promoter is immediately robbed at gunpoint, and the robber was able to escape because Peter refused to stop him. This decision would later haunt him as the same robber killed Uncle Ben in a carjacking. Afterwards, Peter bitterly recalled his uncle’s message about “with great power comes great responsibility” and decided to use his powers for good as Spider-Man.

During Peter’s emotional journey, Spider-Man examined the story of Norman Osborn (Willem Dafoe), a billionaire industrialist and head of his company Oscorp. Facing competition and deadlines as a military contractor, Osborn subjected himself to an experimental chemical that enhanced his strength, durability and reflexes, but was driven insane. Peter and Osborn’s paths are intertwined as Peter’s friendship with Osborn’s son, Harry (James Franco), develops. Harry is also dating Mary Jane, but is aware of the mutual attraction Peter and Mary Jane have for each other. Meanwhile, Osborn adopted the armored identity of the criminal Green Goblin, and soon came into conflict with Spider-Man.

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