Tag Archive: JJ Abrams


Review by C.J. Bunce

So often big budget dramas dressed in sci-fi dress rise up the box office rankings, you might miss the best films, the ones that don’t need the big budgets or major stars, the refreshing sleepers that surprise you.  One of those great surprises was Midnight Special, which I reviewed here at borg back in 2016.  The next spectacular science fiction work is even better–The Vast of Night–the brainchild of writer-director-producer-editor Andrew Patterson (who is billed under multiple names), now streaming on Amazon Prime.  Could this freshman filmmaker be the next J.J. Abrams, John Carpenter, or Steven Spielberg?  Think Super 8, The Fog, and Close Encounters of the Third Kind, in a setting like American Graffiti and The Outsiders, with stunning cinematography, superb dialogue in a tightly written script, and a fresh and eerie use of sound.  If you missed this Amazon Studios arrival earlier this summer, you’re in for a treat of 1950s teenage sleuths, a radio station, and strange goings about town: An ambitious film that comes pretty close to perfect science fiction in the classic tradition of The Twilight Zone, The War of the Worlds, and the short stories of Philip K. Dick.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With the much anticipated ninth episode Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker here at last, writer/director J.J. Abrams has succeeded again at managing a major film franchise challenge and making the best of it.  With Star Trek in 2009, he took a waning property and shot new life into it, but came up short four years later when he tried again and delivered Star Trek Into Darkness, heavily milking the nostalgia of the fan base with its retread of Star Trek: The Wrath of Khan.  In 2015 Abrams was handed the keys to the other big space franchise, where he revitalized a left-for-dead movie saga and delivered Star Wars: The Force Awakens, notable for the introduction of Daisy Ridley’s curious and mysterious desert scavenger Rey, arguably one of the most fleshed out characters in the entire franchise with this final installment.  Fortunately Abrams’s return to Star Wars will likely net better results for its fanbase with a movie that rises to become the best in the final trilogy, or at least as good as his The Force Awakens.  Is this still George Lucas’s Star Wars?  No, but that just shows the power and unique status of the original trilogy–even Lucas couldn’t capture the magic again with his prequels.  The Rise of Skywalker is the kind of movie that could be judged on its merits as a J.J. Abrams movie and separately as a Star Wars sequel.  Whether you as a viewer like this installment or not will depend on your own expectations.

Abrams may be at his best, with his unique style, lens flares and all, when he gives fans what they want.  Abram’s success this holiday season is a bit of a salvage effort, bringing Rey back as the focal hero/heroine of the story, incorporating some of the saga’s best “Jedi being Jedi” sequences, and tapping into the nostalgia for the 1977 original in bite-sized bits instead of leaning on it like he did so unapologetically with Star Trek Into Darkness.  If only Abrams had made all three Star Wars films, this third chapter could have been much tighter, and the whole trilogy would likely be better received by most of the fanbase.  As a viewer if you don’t (or can’t) just sit back and enjoy the cameo performances, throwbacks, and Easter eggs, you’ll get the feeling that using two directors instead of one over the three films is the crux of any problems in The Rise of Skywalker.  Upon its release, the previous installment The Last Jedi felt like it belonged to an entirely different story than The Force Awakens.  Plot threads created by Abrams were summarily abandoned.  Key characters were eliminated without explanation.  New plot threads came from out of nowhere.  In short, the director-flipping was the big mistake from a storytelling perspective.  Abrams has the extensive portfolio behind him to demonstrate he would have been the right choice to direct all three films.  So this time Abrams had a greater task than ever before, because he was stuck making major course corrections, all to get this tale back on track, re-focused again on Rey.  The necessary patchwork aside, The Rise of Skywalker will go down as one of Abrams’ best works.

Will Star Wars, or more specifically, the Skywalker saga with this three-part conclusion, endure the test of time?  If audiences continue to believe in its value as entertainment, there is no reason why studios can’t keep going back to this material repeatedly–think Shakespeare’s plays, Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes, Shelley’s Frankenstein, Dickens’s Ebenezer ScroogeRecall how even more recent stories like the Terminator, Predator, and Halloween (and Star Trek) film series have continued to make sequels and wholesale reboots, disregarding a film that doesn’t do as well and continuing like it was never made.  There’s no reason that can’t happen someday with Star Wars.  So those fans who still want to see the Expanded Universe on the big screen–the complexities and triumphs of both Timothy Zahn’s sequel trilogy and Dark Horse Comics’ many stories like Dark Empire that did so much more with heroes Luke and Leia–just wait.  Someday the right new visionary will step in and make it happen, but fans will need to accept new actors as their heroes, just like we saw with the latest Star Trek trilogy.

Want to dig in further?  Spoilers follow.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

With costumes designed by Anna B. Sheppard, the designer for Schindler’s List, Band of Brothers, Inglourious Basterds, and Captain America: The First Avenger, you know your World War II movie is in good hands.

The first ninety minutes of Overlord is the stuff of the classic World War II movie.  Think Guns of Navarone or Von Ryan’s Express or a later film, Force 10 From Navarone.  It’s also modern in the way of Inglourious Basterds, but that movie if it had been filmed by John Carpenter, complete with special effects from The Thing and action from They Live.  It also co-stars Kurt Russell’s son Wyatt Russell (also Goldie Hawn’s son) as the tough and confident Corporal Ford, a John Wayne role like he plays like he’s been making movies for 40 years.  If that isn’t enough to go out and get your hands on Overlord, I don’t know what you could want.

It begins with a paratrooper drop, filmed believably, like Memphis Belle, but with the action of Edge of Tomorrow.  The first 40 minutes follows British actor Jovan Adepo as American soldier Private Boyce, a nice, naïve kid drafted recently and dropped into harm’s way behind enemy lines in France the day before D-Day.  Like Starship Troopers and Edge of Tomorrow, this is 100% authentic war, look and feel, and we follow Ford and boyce and their squad from the air on down to the gates of a town where they hide out and plan to blow up a German radio tower.  Despite J.J. Abrams producing this film and hints to the contrary, don’t expect aliens or zombies–this is not a secret Cloverfield 4.  What Boyce, Ford, & Co. find is a lab beneath the tower where the Germans are conducting experiments on the local French villagers and their own men.  It’s here where the story takes a turn for the weird.

The first 90 minutes are brilliant, face-paced, heart-pounding, nail-biting stuff.  Young director Julius Avery and writer Billy Ray pursue the lore of the German experiments toward a the creation of a “superman” or “super soldier” and what that might be like.  To their credit, they approach this like the Korean series Kingdom, which looked to a virus as the creation of a village of zombie-like villagers.  Here Avery and Ray look to twisted science as well, but they add in a bit of a fountain of youth element as part of the creation of these soldiers.  Spoiler:  They don’t all turn out exactly as planned by the Germans.

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The end is near.  At Star Wars Celebration in Chicago today, director J.J. Abrams and Lucasfilm president Kathleen Kennedy revealed the title and first teaser for Star Wars Episode IX in a panel hosted by late night TV host Stephen Colbert.  The past returns in Star Wars: The Rise of Skywalker, confirming for many that Abrams is taking a turn from Star Wars: The Last Jedi, including literally mending some of the changes from occurred in that episode of the Star Wars saga.

And this last chapter in the Skywalker family story has plenty of surprises, even in a short teaser.

Check it out, and the seven notable moments we see:

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While moviegoers are awaiting the new trailer for DC Entertainment’s Aquaman coming this weekend from San Diego Comic-Con, studios have slipped in a few other film trailers you may want to check out:

Godzilla: King of the Monsters stars Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown in the next installment of the franchise.

Welcome to Marwen is a Robert Zemeckis drama featuring Steve Carell as a post-trauma victim who uses action figures to re-create his lost world.

Patient Zero stars Doctor Who’s Matt Smith and Game of Thrones’ Natalie Dormer with the irrepressible Stanley Tucci.

And Overlord appears to be J.J. Abrams’ attempt to mash-up an M. Night Shyamalan horror thriller with Quentin Tarentino’s over-the-top World War II action flick Inglourious Basterds.

Check them all out:

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Speaking of Mark Hamill’s performance in this year’s December release Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said this past week, “I think we are all going to be very upset if he does not win an Oscar.”  It’s a great thought, and certainly hits on what must be a significant role in this year’s eagerly awaited Episode XIII.  But it’s pretty unlikely if the ghost of Oscars past has anything to say about it.  This year is like most years when it comes to Academy Award nominations.  Dramas monopolize the nominee categories yet again.  When a genre is represented–also as usual–the representations are dramas in genre dress (like Passengers).  The usual representation of biopics (like Jackie), movies about Hollywood (like La La Land) and historical dramas (like Hacksaw Ridge) are back as well, sure to take home some of the coveted trophies tonight.  But nine nominees for best picture and no Midnight Special?

The best animated film category provides a little relief, with Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia as nominees.  Oscar winner Colleen Atwood is back as a costume design nominee with one of the year’s fantasy releases, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which also garnered a nod for production design.  But why Fantastic Beasts?  Compare Atwood’s reserved designs for Fantastic Beasts with her elaborate designs for The Huntsman: Winter’s War.  Alas, Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s landmark costume designs for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were completely ignored, as were the hundreds of new, stunning, alien wardrobe designs and Starfleet retro-design uniforms created by Sanja Milkovic Hays for Star Trek Beyond.

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As usual you need to look for the technical categories for the genre works.  Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad, along with A Man Called Ove are the makeup and hairstyling contenders.  Considering the fifty unique makeups designed for Star Trek Beyond in the franchise’s fiftieth year, this would be a triumph for the franchise.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story landed multiple nominations this year, including a deserved nod for sound mixing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Star Trek Beyond is available this month on Digital HD, Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D and DVD.  Consistent with the trend in big franchise releases, Star Trek Beyond is available in a variety of formats.  Fortunately one version makes the selection easy: Target has included an entire bonus disc of behind the scenes content in one its Blu-ray/DVD/Digital HD combo edition.  The bonus disc accompanying the Blu-ray combo has so much interesting content you’ll want this edition for your Star Trek collection, but unfortunately 3D fans will also need to pick up the 3D Blu-ray separately, a failing of this type of scattered release.

The bonus disc includes more than 45 minutes of extra content, the best taking us into the workrooms for the prop and costume departments at Paramount.  “The Battle of Yorktown” shows how Lin and production crew created the action scenes involving the movie’s climax at the Yorktown space station.  “Properly Outfitted” gives great insight, including visuals, of concept artwork and prop design, including original series inspiration for the new phaser rifles and John Eaves designs.  “Set Phasers to Stunning” joins costume designer Sanja Milkovic Hays, who was also designer for Star Trek Insurrection, as she discusses the movie’s incredible variety and expanse of alien fashion and updates to Starfleet garb.  “Spliced” takes us through the editing process, “Beats and Shouting” provides a discussion with composer Michael Giacchino and his son, “Small World” provides a great look at the very classic feeling introduction of the film and a new alien race, and “Visually Effective” takes us through the work behind the show’s special effects creations.

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The behind the scenes extras that are included with the other versions also feature great content that illustrates the care and attention taken by this production team to improve upon past Star Trek films.  Where the extras are deficient is with the deleted scenes.  Included are only two, and they are so brief and irrelevant that you’re left thinking there must be more to be released later.  The gag reel, however, is full of fun, showing the camaraderie of the crew, including Zoe Saldana (Uhura) cutting a scene short to chide Chris Pine (Kirk) for sliding too far into a William Shatner impression.

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Rogue One gif image

By now everyone who has ever been a Star Wars fan must be excited for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  Other than its odd title (why not just go with Rogue One?), last week’s trailer cinched it.  Finally, an exciting Star Wars story is on our way steeped in that gritty detail and aura that made all our jaws drop back for the first time back in 1977.  Check out that trailer if you missed it last week here at borg.com.

Then we caught wind of another trailer Monday.  We won’t trick you into thinking it’s a Lucasfilm trailer.  It’s not.  But it plays into all sorts of pop culture fun, especially if you’re a Star Trek fan and you’re a fan of J.J. Abrams’ direction of the first two Star Trek reboot films and Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  If you don’t know it already, Abrams is a fan of The Beastie Boys, and he used the band’s song “Sabotage” to show just how cocky and cool his young Jim Kirk was in Star Trek (2009).

Vader in Rogue One

Abrams even used “Sabotage” as the background music for his first trailer for Star Trek Beyond, released near the premiere of Star Trek: The Force Awakens back in December 2015.  Here is that trailer if you missed it:

We’ll stop for a second for anyone who hasn’t seen Star Trek Beyond, this summer’s biggest blockbuster so far Spoilers ahead, so consider yourself warned.  But if you choose to read on be prepared for what we think is one of the best fan-edited trailers on the Web.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Chances are you skipped 10 Cloverfield Lane when it hit theaters this March 11.  It was one of those movies with a cryptic trailer.  In a world where trailers typically give too much away, this one left you thinking John Goodman was some kind of rescuer of two others in a dystopian underground quonset hut.  But once you’ve seen it, you realize you were better off not having an explanation.  Why?  Spoilers.  10 Cloverfield Lane is now available on Blu-ray, pay cable and streaming services.

It’s the ultimate horror story.  A woman, played by fan favorite Mary Elizabeth Winstead in a smart and resourceful role, wrecks her car and awakens tied to a post in an underground bunker with two men.  The older man, played expertly by John Goodman in a performance that would have garnered him an Oscar nod a decade ago (think Kathy Bates in Misery), claims that the outside world is gone, victim to a chemical attack.  Maybe it’s the Russians.  Maybe it’s aliens.  Maybe he’s a psycho.  Or maybe its zombies.  But we know the movie has the word Cloverfield in the title and is produced by J.J. Abrams, so what’s really going on here?  Does it have anything at all to do with J.J. Abrams’s 2008 monster movie Cloverfield or not?  Is there some sci-fi element lurking around the next corner?  Or is it just a street address, much like Abrams includes the name Kelvin in all his movies?

All will be revealed in time.

Winstead Cloverfield Lane

10 Cloverfield Lane is an expertly paced mystery, plunging you into the question “what genre is this movie?”  It’s that question that will keep you on the edge of your seat until the very last scene.  Fans of M. Night Shyamalan movies will fit right in here, and at times you get the feeling that Shyamalan is somewhere behind the scenes.  When is the revelation coming?  Who is telling the truth?

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Finn lightsaber

When it comes to Star Wars, the red carpet rolls out.  For Star Wars: The Force Awakens, that means every IMAX theater in the country–including those tied to museums, will pull their other films to make room for the next episode.  So for at least four weeks beginning December 18, 2015, Star Wars have all the North American IMAX screens and most of the foreign screens all to itself, about 400 U.S. and 400 other screens worldwide.  Only The Hobbit trilogy films had a similar exclusivity arrangement.

Abrams has said one sequence was filmed with IMAX cameras, so don’t expect Episode VII to be entirely in full IMAX mode.  Luckily, if you’re among the three people out there who aren’t Star Wars fans, the IMAX exclusive shouldn’t impact other genre films of the season–SPECTRE, the next James Bond flick, will likely have completed its run in theaters by then.

New SW teaser with Daisy - Rey and BB-8

We also have a quick clip that was released via Instagram today showing a surprising image–John Bodega’s Finn, revealed in earlier trailers as a Stormtrooper who wrecks his TIE Fighter, is wielding a lightsaber in the same dark and blue lit location as Adam Driver’s Darth Vader-inspired Kylo Renn–the villain with the unique hilted-blade saber.

Don’t blink–or you may miss this brief clip, also featuring a new shot of Daisy Ridley’s Rey and the nifty new non-CGI droid BB-8.  Here’s the clip:

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