Rogue One: A Star Wars Story Movie Review

The 20th and just wrapped season of “South Park” essentially posited a theory that a lot of the love for last year’s Star Wars: The Force Awakens was due to our nostalgia goggles being tuned up to 11. In short, Trey Parker and Matt Stone came to the conclusion that Force really wasn’t very good. It was just that we were hungry for that feeling we had from Episodes IV-VI (I-III not so much).

Comedy Central’s show made their position clear through the ingenious creation of Member Berries, talking fruits who constantly reminded us of Star Wars characters and situations from decades ago. In other words, to Parker and Stone – The Force Awakens was partially just two hours of ” ‘Memba Han Solo?!?!?!” and ” ‘Memba R2D2?!?!?!”.

This is a feeling that many of the Star Wars legions of fans share in that Force was too much of a rehash of the beloved 1977 original. It’s fair criticism and somewhat true, but I personally felt it didn’t really take away from it being a very satisfying experience.

Another hallmark of South Park’s season (and the one before that) is that it’s been serialized into one long plot line over ten episodes. For 18 seasons, the show never did that. When we get to season 21, there are hints it could go back to the past as the finale was titled “The End of Serialization As We Know It”.

Why all the South Park talk? ‘Memba you’re supposed to be writing a review of the new Star Wars?!?!?! Well, I just love the show, but it also dovetails into Rogue One: A Star Wars Story, which marks the first interruption of this cherished franchise’s serialization. We have our inaugural spin-off in the series. The first without a Roman numeral episode behind the title. When Disney paid George Lucas billions of dollars to begin producing new titles, it was quickly revealed that we’d get individual stories without episode numbers involved about every other year.

Rogue One is the first and just as The Force Awakens had large expectations attached, so does this. It must simultaneously introduce new characters into that far, far away galaxy while feeding us those Member Berries. It must especially do so because the events in Rogue happen between Episode III (2005’s Revenge of the Sith) and IV (that first entry nearly forty years ago). This is when Darth Vader is alive and well and developing his Death Star to wreak havoc on the planetary system.

‘Memba Daddy issues?!?!?! They’re prevalent everywhere in this franchise and here too. Our central hero is Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones), whose scientist father (Mads Mikkelsen) was recruited against his will to develop that evil device Vader pines for. Jyn is separated from him as a child after being rescued from being taken by Imperial forces by Rebel leader Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker). Flash forward to Jyn as a young lady when she teams up with defected Imperial pilot Bodhi (Riz Ahmed) and Rebel fighter Cassian (Diego Luna) to find her long captured Pops and stop Vader’s destructive deeds. In true Star Wars fashion, there’s also sidekick droid K-2SO (voiced by Alan Tudyk) providing effective comic relief.

‘Memba strange looking CG effects that hindered the prequels?!?!?! I found them here, but explaining them in detail would move into spoiler territory. I’ll just say there’s one well-known returning character whose inclusion is badly hampered by what I’ll refer to as technical issues.

Gareth Edwards, who last directed 2014’s pretty cool Godzilla reboot, clearly has reverance for the world George Lucas created. Since the happenings here directly lead to what we saw in 1977, Edwards does an often remarkable job in getting the look down for what transitions into Luke, Leia, and Han. The final third of Rogue One is non-stop action and it’s well-developed and thrilling. There’s not a performance I can complain about (at least not the live-action ones) and particular stand-outs include Ben Mendelsohn, an Imperial baddie trying to impress Boss Vader and Donnie Yen as a blind warrior whose belief in the Force is quite strong.

Yet this end of serialization as we know it for Star Wars presented this critic with some perhaps unavoidable challenges. I found it tough to get as involved in the central characters knowing that this is a one off picture. The Force Awakens gave us newbies mixed with oldies where we know their saga will evolve and grow. That’s not the case here. Therefore it’s often the case in Rogue One that the most memorable moments involve Member Berries being served to us as opposed to enjoying what is new. ‘Memba that feeling of dread mixed with excitement hearing James Earl Jones voice one of the greatest villains in film history?!?!?! Of course you do. You loved it then and will love it again.

*** (out of four)


Star Wars: The Force Awakens Movie Review

When the famous line “A long time ago in a galaxy far, far away” appears and the Star Wars emblem rockets across the screen, it evokes a series of emotions that is familiar to any lover of the franchise. It changes from generation to generation but is likely strongest with those old enough to recall the first time seeing it in 1977 when the original premiered. The first Star Wars was a cultural phenomenon from the get go. It solidified what we now know as the modern blockbuster era. Its sequel The Empire Strikes Back improved upon it. Return of the Jedi ended the trilogy on a satisfactory if more uneven note. I was not alive in 1977 and I witnessed the series in a weekend of VHS viewing where I was captivated like legions of film lovers across the globe.

By the time George Lucas got around to making his prequel trilogy, I was age 19 at the time of The Phantom Menace. Like all other fans of what came before it, I anticipated Menace breathlessly and like many others, it was a letdown in many fashions. It didn’t really look like a Star Wars pic. More like a video game. In all honesty, the concept of watching the eventual Darth Vader as a precocious child wasn’t really necessary. Follow ups Attack of the Clones and Revenge of the Sith were improvements in some ways (especially Sith) yet still didn’t come close to matching the magic of the real trilogy (as I refer to it).

Therefore it was with a sense of major excitement mixed with some trepidation that I awaited Star Wars: The Force Awakens, episode VII of the franchise that picks up about 30 years after the events of Return of the Jedi. George Lucas sold the rights to Disney, who have grand Marvel style plans for the series. J.J. Abrams, who successfully reinvigorated the Star Trek flicks, is behind the camera. The beloved trio of Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill), Han Solo (Harrison Ford), and Princess (now General) Leia (Carrie Fisher) would return along with Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO. A new generation of heroes and villains would emerge. The three year wait is finally over and the question is ready to be answered: does Force have the force to bring Star Wars back in the good graces of those who cherish it? The answer is mostly an unqualified and resounding yes.

Episode VII informs us that Luke Skywalker has vanished and the evil First Order (spawned from Darth Vader’s galactic empire) has restored its dominance despite a resistance led by Leia. The Resistance is desperately attempting to obtain a map containing Luke’s whereabouts that is built into BB-8, a droid that is pretty adorable in a manner in which Jar Jar Binks sure wasn’t. One of the leaders of the movement is pilot Poe Dameron (Oscar Isaac), whose character doesn’t have much impact in these proceedings but likely will in future installments. He teams with Storm Trooper gone good Finn (John Boyega) on the mission to find Skywalker. And that BB-8 droid leads them to Rey (Daisy Ridley), a young girl who has a connection with The Force. Their union soon brings them to Han, Chewie, and the now relic called the Millennium Falcon to fight First Order Commander Kylo Ren (Adam Driver) and Supreme Leader Snoke (Andy Serkis).

As we’d expect, there are some revelations about who some of the characters actually are. I wouldn’t dream of spoiling them here. J.J. Abrams is keenly aware of our nostalgia goggles and he presents a vision that hearkens back to the original in both plot and tone. This is a plus. J.J. and his cowriters Lawrence Kasdan (who penned Empire and Jedi) and Michael Arndt are clearly cognizant of the expectation to start anew while rewarding what we adore about episodes IV-VI. There is much plot to roll out, but Awakens does so at a usually brisk pace throwing in the epic battles that look more like we wish for in any entry since 1983.

The John Williams score and special effects are, of course, top notch. Of the returnees, Mr. Ford is given the most material and provides Solo wisecracks and some emotion. Fisher acquits herself decently even though Leia is primarily relegated to the sidelines. As for Luke, the filmmakers have been careful to reveal nothing and neither will I. When it comes to the newcomers, we sense that Rey, Finn, and Poe will establish the new trio for the next few years. Here it is Rey that jumps out and much of that is due to a fine performance from Miss Ridley. Boyega’s Finn has his moments along with occasionally clunky dialogue. Driver is quite effective as Ren and we have a new villain whose motivations create an intriguing dynamic in this universe.

I would rank The Force Awakens as the third best pic in the series, after the first two (slightly above Jedi). Abrams and company accomplish something Lucas ultimately could not with episodes I-III. We care more about the actions transpiring here than with anything from 1999-2005. This is a franchise awakened in a way we have not seen in over 30 years. For those who might have had a bad feeling about this, fear not.

***1/2 (out of four)

Oscar Watch – Star Wars: The Force Awakens

This weekend, Star Wars: The Force Awakens looks poised and primed to demolish box office records. It’s sold $100 million in pre-sale tickets (a previously unimaginable figure). The Disney marketing machine has been in hyper drive. Hyperbole it is not to say this is the most eagerly anticipated picture of the 21st century.

Over the last few months, I’ve been writing my Oscar predictions and now it’s to the point where I’m doing weekly predictions as we draw closer to the actual nominations coming in January. Through it, Star Wars has hung out there like a giant question mark. If it got rave reviews, could it potentially become a player not just to smash records, but to enter the Oscar fray?

Today the landscape has become clearer as the review embargo has been lifted on the eve of its release. And the word that’s emerged is glowing like Luke Skywalker’s lightsaber. Based on 127 reviews so far, The Force Awakens stands at a magnificent 97% on Rotten Tomatoes. I’ll confess that I’m being careful not to read the reviews (I’ll be seeing it Sunday and my own review will be on the blog that day), but the consensus is undeniably that this is a welcome return to the most beloved franchise in history.

Does that mean The Force Awakens could become the first entry in the series to nab a Best Picture nomination since the original in 1977? Yes… it does. Is it guaranteed? No and my predictions on Friday likely won’t have it making the cut. However, as it premieres to what could be history making numbers and with critics on its side, the forces could align to include it and possibly J.J. Abrams in the directing race. Stay tuned…

Box Office Predictions: December 18-20

It’s a weekend that box office prognosticators like myself have been waiting for all year long! Yes, ladies and gentlemen, the fourth Alvin and the Chipmunks film has arrived!!!

OK… in all seriousness, you may have heard of the big picture arriving this weekend called Star Wars: The Force Awakens. The seventh episode of the beloved franchise has been breathlessly awaited and it stands a shot at breaking pretty much every box office record there is. I truly feel it could gross anywhere from $170-$275 million out of the gate so I basically split the difference. That means my prediction does have it devouring the all time opening weekend record posted by Jurassic World this summer. It is worth noting that other estimators are saying this will come under what Jurassic accomplished, but we shall see. You can read my detailed prediction post on it here:

Somewhat surprisingly, other studios are premiering new product in hopes of serving as counter programming to The Force. We have the aforementioned Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip and Tina Fey/Amy Poehler comedy Sisters. I look for them to have fairly soft openings and have a close competition for second place. On the bright side, both titles could continue to play well and experience small declines into further holiday weekends. My prediction posts on both of them can be found here:

As for holdovers, The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 will finally fall from its four week perch atop the charts. In the Heart of the Sea got off to a lackluster start (more on that below) and I actually expect it to drop farther percentage wise than The Good Dinosaur and Creed.

And with that, my top seven predictions for what could be a historic weekend:

  1. Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Predicted Gross: $234.7 million

2. Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip

Predicted Gross: $14.3 million

3. Sisters

Predicted Gross: $13.9 million

4. The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2

Predicted Gross: $7 million (representing a drop of 38%)

5. The Good Dinosaur

Predicted Gross: $6.8 million (representing a drop of 36%)

6. Creed

Predicted Gross: $6.3 million (representing a drop of 37%)

7. In the Heart of the Sea

Predicted Gross: $5.6 million (representing a drop of 49%)

Box Office Results: December 11-13

Ron Howard’s $100 million whale tale In the Heart of the Sea with Chris Hemsworth was crushed by a wave of audience ambivalence with a gross of just $11 million, well under my $18.4M estimate. The pic, which received mixed reviews, simply didn’t capture the attention of adventure fans who may be biding their time until this weekend.

That allowed The Hunger Games: Mockingjay Part 2 to stay #1 for the fourth weekend in a row with $11.3 million, just topping my $10.5M projection. The franchise finale has taken in $244 million.

Pixar’s disappointing The Good Dinosaur was third with $10.5 million, ahead of my $9.4M prediction for a total of $89 million. This is well below the standards of what its studio is accustomed to and it remains on track to be Pixar’s smallest earner. On the bright side for parent company Disney, they’ve got a pretty high profile release out this weekend…

Creed took fourth with $10.1 million, a bit higher than my $9.1M estimate for an overall tally of $79 million. This looks to be the first Rocky flick to top $100M since Rocky IV some thirty years ago.

Krampus was fifth in its second weekend with $8.4 million, topping my $7.3M projection. Its taken in a tidy $28 million at press time and is performing solidly for a relatively low budget horror comedy.

And that’ll do it for now, folks! Until next time… May The Force Be With You…

Star Wars: The Force Awakens Box Office Prediction

It is not only the most anticipated film of the year but probably of the 21st century. This is not hyperbole. 38 years after George Lucas changed the movie industry forever with Star Wars, the baton has been passed to J.J. Abrams with Star Wars: The Force Awakens, out December 18. We’ve seen over a decade pass since the unevenly received second trilogy that ran from 1999-2005. This marked the end of Mr. Lucas’s involvement in the franchise and the end of 20th Century Fox producing the entries (no iconic Fox music before “In a galaxy far, far away” may take a little getting used to).

Instead we have Disney taking over the most beloved franchise in silver screen history and we’ve repeatedly seen their brilliance at marketing blockbusters (think Marvel Cinematic Universe). The Force Awakens has been omnipresent for months and it’s ramped up to the point where every other commercial seems to be connected somehow to it. The official trailers and TV spots have been events. It’s sold $100 million dollars at press time in pre-sale tickets, which was previously an unimaginable haul. With all the exposure, the studio has done a truly remarkable job in keeping plot details under wraps.

We know this: original trilogy stars Mark Hamill, Harrison Ford, and Carrie Fisher return in the iconic roles of Luke Skywalker, Han Solo, and Princess Leia. A new generation makes up the supporting cast that includes John Boyega, Oscar Isaac, Daisy Ridley, Adam Driver, and Domhnall Gleeson. Oh and there’s Chewbacca, R2-D2, and C-3PO.

For those of us old enough to remember the breathless anticipation afforded to 1999’s Star Wars Episode 1: The Phantom Menace, it’s probably the only thing that compares in the past couple of decades. There are many hotly anticipated blockbusters but Star Wars is simply on a different planet.

So now the nine figure question: how much will The Force Awakens earn its opening weekend? How much is it capable of making? Will its debut set the all time record? Fascinating queries indeed, these are.

We begin with this: the current record holder came out just this summer when Jurassic World earned $208.8 million, which edged out previous champ The Avengers at $207 million. I’m sure Disney would love to get that record back that the dinosaurs took away in June. These are the only two pictures that have made over $200M out of the gate. Both were released in summer, as are seven of the all time top ten domestic premieres.

None came out in December and this is not an inconsequential point. In fact, the current highest December debut belongs to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. It made $84 million and that’s good for just the 57th largest opening ever. Truth be told, even massive blockbusters that open in December usually open smaller than they might in the summer. 2009’s Avatar began with $77 million before becoming the biggest stateside grosser ever. The reason is simple: Christmas time releases tend to play well over multiple weekends while similar summer titles make the bulk of their coin immediately.

Let’s dispatch with the glaringly obvious: The Force Awakens will obliterate the December record. At worst, it should double The Hobbit’s initial earnings. Frankly, guessing what Star Wars is capable of is a dicey proposition, but the low end of estimates is around $170-$175 million. If it managed that, it would sincerely be a fine start.

Yet there is a suspicion that Jurassic’s six month long record could be headed for extinction. The combo of Disney hype and a true love across all ages for the series has contributed to an Event Experience we rarely witness. What’s the highest it could go? Honestly, I don’t know. The figure of $300 million has been mentioned. That seems a bit crazy, but you just never know. There’s part of me that believes $275-$280 million might just be reachable and another that feels it could fall short of the record with around $185-$205 million.

What’s a box office predicting blogger to do? Split the difference. With this wide range of possibilities, I’ll project that Star Wars: The Force Awakens will achieve the best American opening ever and by a rather considerable margin. I’ll be one among many speculating over the next ten days before its debut, but my two cents is in, my friends. Let’s see what happens!

Star Wars: The Force Awakens opening weekend prediction: $234.7 million

For my Sisters prediction, click here:

For my Alvin and the Chipmunks: The Road Chip prediction, click here:

Star Wars Director Announced: The Force Is With J.J. Abrams

The search is over.

J.J. Abrams has been selected as the man to take over the Star Wars franchise and will direct the seventh film. The announcement, leaked moments ago, is a bit of a surprise. This is not because Abrams wasn’t seen as a natural choice, but because he claimed in an interview just a few weeks ago that he wouldn’t direct it. Apparently, Mr. Abrams had a change of heart.

If you don’t know Abrams by name, you probably know his work. The 46 year-old got his start as a screenwriter, with credits for such features as 1990’s Taking Care of Business, 1991’s Regarding Henry, and 1992’s Forever Young. 

It was television, though, that made Abrams a well-known commodity. He is the creator of shows as varied as “Felicity”, “Alias”, “Lost”, and “Fringe”. He directed episodes of those shows, including the brilliant “Lost” pilot.

His exposure gained through TV has led to a very successful career as a film director, starting with his selection to take over Tom Cruise’s franchise Mission: Impossible. He made his directorial debut with the series third installment in 2006.

The success of his debut led to Abrams taking over another franchise, Star Trek. In 2009, the reinvention of that renowned franchise was released to enormous critical and audience acclaim. The sequel, Star Trek Into Darkness, is set for release this summer.

In 2011, Abrams directed Super 8, another hit that is a clear homage to one of Abrams’ heroes, Steven Spielberg. It is no secret that another cinematic hero of Mr. Abrams is Mr. George Lucas.

When Disney acquired LucasFilm late last year, the rampant speculation began as to who would be tapped to direct Episode VII, the gold standard of movie franchises. I wrote two blog posts that put forth about 25-40 potential directors. We now have our answer. Abrams name came up immediately and seemed like an obvious choice, yet his own comments and the fact that he was still in production with the Star Trek sequel seemed to rule him out.

Not anymore. My take: Abrams is an inspired choice. He has already proven a terrific ability to take over a franchise with a rabid fan base (Trekkies) and please them, while bringing in a new audience. I’ve never considered myself anything close a Trekkie… but I thought 2009’s Star Trek was great. His love of science fiction is boundless, from Lost (which I consider to be possibly the greatest TV show ever) to Kirk and Spock to Super 8.

It is unknown at this time as to whether Abrams will direct the eighth and ninth features. His involvement in Star Wars may mean bad news for Trekkies and end his involvement in that franchise, though we don’t know yet.

From my perspective, any true movie lover has anticipated the idea of more Star Wars. The announcement of Abrams as director builds that anticipation to an even greater level.

UPDATED – Who Will Direct Star Wars – Episode VII?

All the way back on October 31st, I wrote a post very shortly after it was announced that Disney had acquired the right to LucasFilm and would be producing Episodes VII, VIII, and IX of Star Wars.

The announcement was a shock to the industry… more Star Wars movies!!! The deal led to immediate speculation on the director that would be chosen for the monumental task of restarting the franchise. In my late October blog post, I listed 20 potential directors that I felt were most likely to be offered the gig. That post can be found here:

Well, much has changed since then. Three of the directors I listed in my Top Ten have since announced that they will not be the director. They are:

My #9 pick – Sam Mendes, who most recently directed Skyfall, the 007 flick that just passed a billion dollars at the box office worldwide. He made it clear in a recent interview that he didn’t expect to be offered the job and likely wouldn’t direct it anyway. You never know, but Mendes seems out of the race.

My #5 pick – Guillermo Del Toro, the great visionary director of the Hellboy movies, Pan’s Labyrinth, and this summer’s Pacific Rim. Just yesterday, Del Toro confirmed that he received a call from Disney gauging his interest, but that his plate was too full for Star Wars.

And last, but certainly not least…

My #1 pick – Brad Bird, who earned two Animated Feature Oscars through his work with Pixar (also owned by Disney) for The Incredibles and Ratatouille. In 2011, Bird made his live-action debut with Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol where he reinvigorated that franchise. With his Disney ties and great results with Mission, Bird seemed like an obvious choice and my preferred choice. However, he has announced that he will not be the director and is focusing on other projects.

So… where does that leave us? I thought the director announcement might come before the close of 2012. With that not occurring, we’re left to wonder whether we’ll know by month’s end. It’s certainly possible.

With all the recent movement, I’ve decided to pare down my list of 20 Likely Directors to 10 Likely Directors. If you think I’d just move everyone up a slot with Bird, Del Toro, and Mendes out, you would be exactly wrong. There are actually two new names in my now Top 10 that weren’t in my Top 20 over two months ago. Others that were in the October Top 10 have dropped out and some who were between 10-20 have moved up in the Star Wars world. Without further adieu, my Top 10 Most Likely Directors for Star Wars: Episode VII:

10. Neil Blomkamp (Previous Ranking: #3)

Blomkamp made a huge splash with his directorial debut, the original and inventive District 9. He gets a much bigger budget with this year’s Elysium with Matt Damon and Jodie Foster. Blomkamp has shown immense talent with sci-fi, but I have a sneaking suspicion he may not be as highly rated as I once thought and he’s had several move ahead in my view. Also, Blomkamp writes all his own stuff and we don’t even know if he’d want to work off someone else’s screenplay.

9. Lee Unkrich (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

Unkrich simply wasn’t on my radar screen when I posted in October. He has co-directed a number of Pixar features and made his solo directing debut with 2010’s rapturously received Toy Story 3. With fellow Pixar alum Brad Bird out, might Disney turn to another one for this franchise? It seems feasible, even though having Star Wars as your first live-action movie is a pretty tall order.

8. Drew Goddard (Previous Ranking: #4)

Goddard has slipped a bit as well. His first feature, last year’s Cabin in the Woods, was a lot of fun and very well-directed. As I wrote about in October, it helps that he’s Joss Whedon’s right-hand man. Whedon, as you may know, happened to direct a little movie called The Avengers for Disney last year and that turned out about as well as humanly possible. His association with Whedon is a huge plus, but again I think there’s others that have moved ahead. Whedon, it should be noted, is all but out because he’ll be working on The Avengers sequel.

7. Joe Kosinki (Previous Ranking: Unranked)

Our second newbie to the list, Kasinki directed Disney’s 2010 film Tron: Legacy and it grossed over $400 million worldwide. His follow-up feature is this April’s sci-fi thriller Oblivion with Tom Cruise. If the word on Oblivion turns out positive, that combination coupled with Disney’s earlier success with him could make Kosinski a major contender.

6. David Yates (Previous Ranking: #12)

Yates seems like a natural choice: he directed the last four Harry Potter pictures to great acclaim and enormous box office results. He’s already proven he can successfully take a beloved franchise and keep it running with very positive results. Yates would probably rank higher here, but Warner Bros. is likely to offer him any project he desires to keep him with the company, included the eagerly-awaited Justice League movie.

5. Joe Johnston (Previous Ranking: #14)

This selection is beginning to make a lot more sense to me than in October. A veteran director, Johnston actually did the visual effects on the original Star Wars trilogy. He then moved on to direct high-profile features like Jumanji and Jurassic Park III. His connection with Disney is now strong after directing 2011’s Captain America: The First Avenger. 

4. Rupert Wyatt (Previous Ranking: #11)

Wyatt earned a lot of props with his directorial debut, 2011’s terrific Rise of the Planet of the Apes. Like Mr. Yates, Mr. Wyatt proved he could take over a well-known franchise and infuse it with energy. Wyatt was scheduled to direct the Apes sequel, but dropped out so he’s open for business right now.

3. Jon Favreau (Previous Ranking: #15)

Here’s another one who’s jumped way up. Favreau is the man responsible for starting the whole Avengers franchise after directing both Iron Man flicks to critical acclaim and huge box office. Disney reportedly loves working with him and his success with the Marvel franchise (which Disney owns) might get him the offer for this franchise.

2. Alfonso Cuaron (Previous Ranking: #2)

Cuaron is the only director to keep his previous ranking and for good reason. He’d be an inspired choice after directing the greatest Harry Potter film (Prisoner of Azkaban) and the amazingly directed Children of Men. This year, audiences will see Gravity, his sci-fi epic with George Clooney and Sandra Bullock. Cuaron has stayed conspicuously quiet and he certainly hasn’t ruled himself out, which makes this a real possibility.

But, at the end of the day, there’s got to be a number one pick and with my previous selection, Brad Bird, out of the running, the new #1 is….

1. Matthew Vaughn (Previous Ranking: #7)

Vaughn has jumped to #1 mostly because there’s a lot of rumors that he’s been offered the film. That news broke weeks ago and I wrote about it here:

The best news: if these rumors turn out true, Vaughn is a fine choice. Like some of my other top ten picks, he’s already proven he can restart a franchise to great results, after 2011’s X-Men: First Class. I still find it noteworthy that he dropped out of directing the sequel to X-Men. His name has been swirling around for some time now and he’s said nothing, which tells me he’s probably interested.

And that’s where we are today, my friends. We shall find out soon if any of these predictions have any merit. Stay tuned!

We May Already Know Who Is Directing Star Wars

From Aint it Cool news comes a breaking story via Collider, another reputable film site reporting that Matthew Vaughn may be in negotiations to direct Star Wars: Episode VII.

If you read my last blog post – – Vaughn ranked seventh in my Top 20 Predictions on who would direct the first of the next Star Wars trilogy.

No way to know yet if there’s any truth to this rumor – but it certainly seems feasible. Just recently, Vaughn dropped out of directing the sequel to X-Men: First Class. Could it be that he was already negotiating with Disney and LucasFilm? Seems within the realm of possibility.

I believe Vaughn would be a welcome and exciting choice for fans of the franchise. From England, Vaughn got his start as a producer on director Guy Ritchie’s films Lock, Stock, and Two Smoking Barrels, Snatch, and Swept Away. 

Unfortunately, I haven’t seen his first two directing gigs. In 2004, he made his debut with Layer Cake, starring a fairly unknown actor at the time by the name of Daniel Craig. It sounds like it’s more in the vein of Ritchie’s films and it did receive critical acclaim.

He followed with Stardust, a fantasy starring Robert De Niro, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Claire Danes. It didn’t perform too well at the U.S. box office, but it also received generally positive reviews. I need to see this one immediately.

In 2010, Vaughn released his third feature, Kick Ass, which I watched for the first time last week. I have no clue what took me so long to see it. It’s a damn good movie and a very clever take on the superhero origin story, filled with hilarious dialogue, over-the-top violence, and some of Nicolas Cage’s best work in a loooong time. It made enough money that a sequel is on its way, though Vaughn will not direct.

This all led to Vaughn directing his first HUGE Hollywood picture, 2011’s X-Men: First Class. After two disappointing entries in the X-Men franchise, 2006’s X-Men: Last Stand and 2009’s X-Men Origins: Wolverine, First Class was a hit with audiences and critics alike. And deservedly so. It’s a hell of a fun movie, with first-rate performances from Michael Fassbender and James McAvoy. And Kevin Bacon is the frickin bad guy! And much of the movie has an ultra-cool, Sean Connery-era Bond feel to it since its set in the 1960s.

Vaughn was an obvious enough choice to reach #7 on my predictions list and it would not surprise me if this rumor turns out true. I still believe my #1 and #2 choices (Brad Bird and Guillermo Del Toro) are very likely too, but the cat may already be out of the bag.

And one final note about Matthew Vaughn: he’s married to super model Claudia Schiffer! So if he doesn’t get the biggest franchise in film history, his home life is still pretty admirable.

Who Will Direct Star Wars – Episode VII?

With the shocking announcement yesterday that Disney had purchased LucasFilm and that Star Wars – Episode VII will be released in 2015 (presumably in May), attention today has focused on who Disney will tap to take over the most famous film franchise in history. Today’s post will focus on the 20 Directors who I believe stand the best chance of being offered to direct one of the most anticipated films of all time.

First, let’s do away with some names being mentioned who I don’t believe it will be. I think the likely scenario is Disney not picking a super famous director who’s been around for a long time. Don’t count on Steven Spielberg or Robert Zemeckis. JJ Abrams’ name has been mentioned and would be a great choice, but he’s got a lot of projects lined up (he’s finishing up the Star Trek sequel right now). Peter Jackson is busy with The Hobbit series. M. Night Shyamalan may have been considered during his peak (The Sixth Sense through Signs), but I don’t see it now. Sam Raimi (director of the Spiderman trilogy) is unlikely. Kathryn Bigelow is an Oscar-winner for The Hurt Locker, but don’t see it happening. No way on James Cameron – he’s a control freak who’s busy anyway on the Avatar sequels. Joss Whedon would be a natural choice, but he’ll be shooting his sequel to another Disney property, The Avengers, which also comes out summer 2015. Ben Affleck is the flavor of the year director right now, but he was rumored to have turned down Justice League (Warner Bros. huge Avengers type blockbuster coming in a couple of years) and I don’t see him taking on Star Wars. Bryan Singer directed the first two X-Men features, Superman Returns, and just signed yesterday to helm the X-Men: First Class sequel, so he’ll likely be tied up. Zack Snyder, director of 300, Watchmen, and the upcoming new Superman film Man of Steel, would be a polarizing choice and I’m doubtful. I just don’t see Ridley Scott being interested either. Christopher Nolan created perhaps the best trilogy in recent times with The Dark Knight series, but I don’t see him anxious to jump into another film franchise right away.

There are a number of other directors I could talk about, but let’s get into who I think may actually direct it. Here are 20 directors who I believe are strong possibilities. I will count down from 20th to 1st. The higher they’re ranked, the more real I believe their chances are. Provided are brief explanations as to why. (Note that under each director’s credits, I have not listed every single movie they directed in many cases)

20. Alex Proyas

Credits: The Crow (1994), Dark City (1998), I, Robot (2004), Knowing (2009)

Proyas is a director who specializes in sci-fi films. His Dark City is considered to be one of the most original films of its genre in recent years and he’s directed a major tent pole feature pretty successfully with I, Robot. It seems more likely that Disney will go with a younger director with a recent major critical and/or commercial hit, however, and Proyas has neither.

19. David Fincher

Credits: Alien 3 (1992), Seven (1995), The Game (1997), Fight Club (1999), Panic Room (2002), Zodiac (2007), The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (2008), The Social Network (2010), The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo (2011).

Fincher is one of the most acclaimed directors of the past 20 years and the announcement of him as director would be both surprising and tremendously exciting. I’m not sure if Disney would offer it to him and likely go with a newer director. And I’m not sure if Fincher would take it even if offered.

18. Gore Verbinski

Credits: Mouse Hunt (1997), The Ring (2002), Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003), Pirates of the Caribbean: Dead Man’s Chest (2006), Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (2007), The Lone Ranger (2013).

Verbinski has already proven he can handle a big Disney franchise with Pirates. I’m not too sure this would be a popular choice with the fans and would be generally be considered a very safe choice. Still – a possibility.

17. Edgar Wright

Credits: Shaun of the Dead (2004), Hot Fuzz (2007), Scott Pilgrim vs. the World (2010), Ant-Man (2015)

Wright would be considered quite a bold choice. Known mostly for his comedies, he has been tapped to helm the Disney/Marvel comic book adaptation Ant-Man, which is scheduled to premiere in 2015. Disney seemed confident enough to hire him for that, which could mean they’d offer him Star Wars and Ant-Man could go to someone else or wait a while. A dark horse choice that would make a lot of fans happy, I suspect.

16. Rian Johnson

Credits: Brick (2005), The Brothers Bloom (2009), Looper (2012)

Also would be considered a bold choice. This fall’s Looper got some of the best reviews for a sci-fi film in recent years and the guy is a heck of a director. Fans would likely respond favorably to this pick as well.

15. Jon Favreau

Credits: Elf (2003), Zathura (2005), Iron Man (2008), Iron Man 2 (2010), Cowboys and Aliens (2011)

Favreau certainly did well with the Iron Man franchise and he already has an established relationship with Disney. He’d be a rock solid choice, though many would see it as a pretty safe and slightly boring choice.

14. Joe Johnston

Credits: Honey, I Shrunk the Kids (1989), The Rocketeer (1991), Jumanji (1995), Jurassic Park III (2001), The Wolfman (2010), Captain America: The First Avenger (2011)

The oldest director on the list at age 62, Johnston actually did visual effects on the original Star Wars trilogy. He has a relationship with Disney, having directed Captain America last year. Like with Favreau, I think this would generally be seen as a safe and unexciting selection.

13. Matt Reeves

Credits: Cloverfield (2008), Let Men In (2010), Dawn of the Planet of the Apes (2014)

A JJ Abrams protege, Reeves would be considered quite a great choice. It could happen, but he just signed on to direct the Planet of the Apes sequel and there could be a genuine scheduling conflict.

12. David Yates

Credits: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (2007), Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince (2009), Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows – Parts I and II (2010 and 2011)

Yates very successfully directed the final four installments of the Potter franchise and has proven beyond a doubt that he can handle an already well-established film franchise. One possible hiccup: Yates is rumored to be the possible director for Justice League and there could be scheduling conflicts.

11. Rupert Wyatt

Credits: Rise of the Planet of the Apes (2011)

Wyatt received deserved critical acclaim for his very successful reboot of the Apes franchise last summer and he is certainly a possibility. Strangely, he was offered the chance to direct the Apes sequel but declined because he said he didn’t have proper time to prepare. But I would think Star Wars would be tough to resist.

10. Danny Boyle

Credits: Trainspotting (1996), The Beach (2000), 28 Days Later (2002), Millions (2004), Sunshine (2007), Slumdog Millionaire (2008), 127 Hours (2010)

Boyle is an Oscar-winning director who would be considered an incredibly bold choice. He’s certainly used to having creative control at this point in his career and he’s proved to be a master at several different genres. Disney could really make waves his fans with this announcement.

9. Sam Mendes

Credits: American Beauty (1999), Road to Perdition (2002), Jarhead (2005), Revolutionary Road (2008), Skyfall (2012)

Mendes is another Oscar-winning director who is not known for big-budget extravaganzas. That is, until a week from now, when the new Bond film Skyfall is released. It’s said to be one of the best 007 pictures ever and Mendes could get an offer for another beloved franchise.

8. Duncan Jones

Credits: Moon (2009), Source Code (2011)

Jones has directed two critically acclaimed sci-films and is considered a major up-and-comer in Hollywood. Plus, he’s David Bowie’s son! How cool is that??

7. Matthew Vaughn

Credits: Layer Cake (2004), Stardust (2007), Kick-Ass (2010), X-Men: First Class (2011)

Another hot director, he’s earned critical acclaim with his first features and got a chance to direct a tent pole franchise film with last year’s X-Men: First Class, to great acclaim and solid box office results.

6. Josh Trank

Credits: Chronicle (2012)

This year’s Chronicle was a surprise hit and a very original sci-fi feature. Upon that film’s release, he is now mentioned frequently as the next director to be offered a huge franchise. Doesn’t get any bigger than this one.

5. Guillermo Del Toro

Credits: Cronos (1993), Mimic (1997), The Devil’s Backbone (2001), Blade II (2002), Hellboy (2004), Pan’s Labyrinth (2006), Hellboy II: The Golden Army (2008), Pacific Rim (2013)
Del Toro is widely considered one of the most visionary sci-fi directors in the last two decades. Blade II is considered the best of the trilogy, his Hellboy were commercial and critical hits, and Pan’s Labyrinth is one of the most visually impressive features in recent memory. Next year’s Pacific Rim is a huge budget robots vs. monsters movie. Easily one of the most sought after directors in Hollywood, Del Toro may just have too much on his plate, but he may not be able to turn Star Wars down and he may very well get the offer.
4. Drew Goddard
Credits: The Cabin in the Woods (2012)
While Cabin was a critically acclaimed horror/comedy from earlier this year, you may be wondering why he’s this high on the list. The answer: he’s Joss Whedon’s right-hand man. Disney owns Marvel, who gave Whedon the chance to direct The Avengers. That turned out, uh, pretty well. Cabin showed Goddard has great directing chops and Whedon would likely jump on as executive producer with Goddard behind the camera.
3. Neil Blomkamp
Credits: District 9 (2009), Elysium (2013)
Blomkamp, a Peter Jackson protege, burst onto the sci-fi movie scene in a massive way with 2009’s District 9, a wildly original and impressive debut. His follow-up is next year’s Elysium, starring Matt Damon which is a big-budget sci-fi feature. If that is anywhere near the quality as his first feature, it is highly possible he gets the offer.
2. Alfonso Cuaron
Credits: A Little Princess (1995), Y Tu Mama Tambien (2001), Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban (2004), Children of Men (2006), Gravity (2013)
From his acclaimed childrens film Princess to the indie favorite Y Tu Mama Tambien to the absolutely incredibly directed futuristic thriller Children of Men, Cuaron is one of the most exciting directors in years. Even better, he directed Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, which is deservedly considered in many circles to be the greatest film in that franchise. Next year’s Gravity stars George Clooney and Sandra Bullock, is science fiction, and set in space. Good primer. It’s almost hard to imagine Cuaron not being offered Star Wars, unless Disney goes with my prediction for #1…
1. Brad Bird
Credits: The Iron Giant (1999), The Incredibles (2004), Ratatouille (2007), Mission Impossible: Ghost Protocol (2011)
He directed the acclaimed animated feature Iron Giant before moving on to Pixar to helm two of their most beloved films, The Incredibles and Ratatouille. Based on his animation background, as brilliant as it was, he was considered an odd choice to direct the fourth Mission: Impossible last year. He absolutely hit it out of the park, resulting in the highest grossing and critically praised film of the series. Based on his Pixar work, he already has a very well-established relationship with Disney. If I’m betting money today, Brad Bird will direct Star Wars – Episode VII.
Of course, we could see any of the other names I’ve mentioned. Or maybe even someone who comes out of nowhere. May 2015 is likely when we’ll see the famous scroll in theaters. Don’t be surprised, however, if the director is announced by the end of this year or very early next year, because shooting will likely begin next summer. 

Let The Mouse Be With You

I would be a bad, bad movie blogger if I didn’t put something about one of the biggest announcements in motion picture history that was made late this afternoon.

Linked below is a Variety story with the particulars and a Hollywood Reporter entry that specifies what this announcement might mean.

So what happened?

This afternoon, the Walt Disney Company announced that it had acquired LucasFilm for $4 billion dollars.

What has LucasFilm done? Well, there’s 1994’s little-seen Radioland Murders. And there’s the modest hit from this year Red Tails.

Oh yeah! There’s also the Star Wars franchise. And, in what’s been under reported so far, the Indiana Jones franchise.

George Lucas was the sole shareholder for LucasFilm, which he means he made a cool $4 billi with the stroke of a pen this afternoon.

This announcement literally came out of nowhere. No rumors that I had seen anywhere and I read movie news and rumors constantly. Disney quickly revealed in the announcement that Star Wars – Episode VII will be released in 2015 and episodes 8 and 9 will follow thereafter.

Yes, a new trilogy of Star Wars! Starting in two and a half years! George Lucas will not direct them, which is frankly more great news. I certainly fall in line with the commonly held opinion that episodes I, II, and III (1999’s Phantom Menace, 2002’s Attack of the Clones, and 2005’s Revenge of the Sith) were underwhelming. And that’s being pretty kind. For a quick refresher, the next Star Wars film (can’t believe I’m writing that) will take place after the events of 1983’s Return of the Jedi.

Will we see the characters of Luke Skywalker, Princess Leia, and Han Solo come back? Will it be all new characters? Who will be handed the enormous responsibility of directing it?

All I know is I’m pumped for it. A couple of years ago, Disney bought Marvel Films. To say they’ve had a good track record with their acquisition of that company would be the biggest understatement ever. Remember a little movie called The Avengers this summer?

Disney also owns Pixar. Uh, pretty good track record there.

With Disney owning the Star Wars franchise, it opens the very real possibility of audiences seeing the magic come back in the series…. something we hoped for so desperately thirteen years ago when Phantom Menace opened.

Expect stories soon about how Disney plans to reinvigorate Indiana Jones. But, for now, we know that land in a galaxy far, far away isn’t so far away.

My childhood memories of Star Wars always begins with that 20th Century Fox logo and its unmistakable theme. Now, we’ll see Sleeping Beauty’s castle. That’ll take a little getting used to, but if Disney handles this property the way they’ve handled other recent properties, we as an audience have a lot to look forward to!