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J.J. Abrams

Star Wars Episode VII: The Force Awakens (2015)

firefightDIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST: Daisy Ridley, John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Adam Driver, Harrison Ford, Carrie Fisher, Mark Hamill, Domhnall Gleeson, Lupita Nyong’o, Max von Sydow, Gwendoline Christie, Andy Serkis, Peter Mayhew, Anthony Daniels, Kenny Baker

REVIEW:

With 1977’s Star Wars (at the time simply titled “Star Wars”, later as Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope), writer-director George Lucas launched a pop culture phenomenon that has arguably never seen its equal (Harry Potter mania might be the closest runner-up), and 1980’s The Empire Strikes Back and 1983’s The Return of the Jedi only solidified its status.  It’s hard to overestimate Star Wars‘ influence on the filmmaking industry, whether bringing sci-fi into the mainstream, hearkening back to the old-fashioned adventures of Flash Gordon and the like, bringing about a virtual visual effects revolution, spawning countless imitators and direct and indirect descendants, spawning a massive merchandising blitz and copious tie-ins with novelizations, animated series, highly collectible action figures, “Expanded Universe” fanfiction that took on a life of its own, and launching Industrial Light & Magic and Lucasfilm.  One doesn’t have to be a Star Wars nerd to know phrases like “may the Force be with you” or know who Darth Vader is.  The long-gestating prequel trilogy, beginning in 1999, was anticipated with astronomical expectations no films could possibly have lived up to, and that and various questionable choices on Lucas’ part tainted the franchise for many fans, sparking a sometimes over-the-top fan backlash.  By his own admission, the vitriol from some disappointed fans turned Lucas off to all things Star Wars, and he eventually sold the property to Disney.  And now, a decade after the last of the prequels, the first Star Wars movie to have no involvement from George Lucas has brought the iconic text crawl across theater screens again.  Director J.J. Abrams (whose reboot of the Star Trek film series could be said to be a warm-up for this) makes his fanboy levels of love for Star Wars obvious (sometimes too obvious), but while an entertaining space fantasy adventure in keeping with the spirit of what Lucas originated, The Force Awakens falls somewhat short.  It’s better-crafted than the prequels, but lacks a certain spark that keeps it from ascending to the original trilogy’s iconic status.  Fans with open minds may find much to appreciate, but tempered expectations may lead to a more positive reaction. Continue reading

Star Trek: Into Darkness (2013)

enterprise crashDIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Simon Pegg, John Cho, Anton Yelchin, Benedict Cumberbatch, Alice Eve, Peter Weller, Bruce Greenwood, Leonard Nimoy

REVIEW:

Warning: While I will try to avoid outright “spoilers”, this review will discuss elements of the film’s plot.

Like Christopher Nolan’s Batman Begins, J.J. Abrams resurrected the floundering Star Trek film franchise with 2009’s simply-titled Star Trek, and now, after its critical and box office success, he has, by his own admission, sought to provide Star Trek’s answer to The Dark Knight, a sequel that is bigger, more epic, and goes to some darker, more surprising places. I’m not prepared to say he’s completely accomplished this task—Into Darkness pulls a punch where The Dark Knight had no such compunction—but what he has succeeded at is a second breakneck space high adventure that’s engaging and exciting, serves up plenty of action and tension, and is lighter on comedy and higher on drama. Continue reading

Star Trek (2009)

DIRECTOR: J.J. Abrams

CAST:

Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Karl Urban, Zoe Saldana, Eric Bana, Bruce Greenwood, Simon Pegg, Anton Yelchin, John Cho, Ben Cross, Winona Ryder, Chris Hemsworth, Jennifer Morrison, Faran Tahir, Leonard Nimoy

REVIEW:

For the first feature film Star Trek entry since 2002’s much-maligned box office flop Star Trek: Nemesis (giving an ignominious send-off to the Next Gen crew led by Patrick Stewart’s Captain Picard), J.J. Abrams (director of Cloverfield and creator of the Lost television series) and writers Roberto Orci and Alex Kurtzman (writers of 2007’s Transformers) have attempted to do much the same for Star Trek what Christopher Nolan did for Batman; mix things up and inject freshness in a way that the new film is not tied down to those that came before. While the simply-titled Star Trek is not quite as triumphant a success as The Dark Knight , in my opinion, Abrams and cast and crew have mostly succeeded at what they set out to do. Trekkies with open minds may find much to appreciate here, but be forewarned: this ain’t your Daddy’s Star Trek. Continue reading

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