Tag Archives: J.J. Abrams

Monster Mash

There’s big trouble above and below in ’10 Cloverfield Lane’

10 Cloverfield Lane

Starring Mary Elizabeth Winstead, John Goodman & John Gallagher Jr.

Directed by Dan Trachtenberg

PG-13

Waking to consciousness after a car crash on dark highway, a young woman, Michelle (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), finds herself on a pallet in a leg brace, hooked up to an IV drip—and chained to the wall of a subterranean concrete bunker.

“Please let me go,” she fearfully, tearfully begs when she meets the man who brought her there as he delivers a tray of food. “There’s nowhere to go,” Howard (John Goodman) calmly tells her. “Everyone outside of here is dead.”

There’s been an attack, he explains, a big one—maybe chemical, maybe nuclear, maybe Russians, maybe Martians. “Luckily,” he reassures her, “I’m prepared.”

So begins 10 Cloverfield Lane, the “little” movie—with a small ensemble cast of three, filmed almost entirely in a tight, enclosed set—that comes with such big expectations. Beginning as a script called The Cellar, it later enlisted the writer-director of the critically lauded Whiplash, Damian Chazelle, to “whip” the screenplay into something with a bit more bite. When Midas-touch superstar producer J.J. Abrams came onboard, fresh off the blockbuster buzz of Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and changed the title, fans went crazy with frenzied speculation: How would this movie connect to Cloverfield, the 2008 surprise-hit monster-movie smash about an extraterrestrial attack, that he also produced?

Questions abound in (and about) 10 Cloverfield Lane, and if you want them answered, well—you’re just like the characters. And also like them, you’ll have to stick around to the end of the film, a terrifically tense, tightly wound underground psychological thriller that eventually explodes wildly, violently upward and outward.

10 CLOVERFIELD LANE

John Gallagher Jr., Mary Elizabeth Winstead & John Goodman share close quarters in ’10 Cloverfield Lane.’

Is Howard an overzealous doomsday prepper, a conspiracy-theorist nut-job, a grieving father, a U.S. Navy vet who went off the deep end, all of those, none of those, or something else entirely? Why was Michelle in such a hurry to leave town that night? And what about Emmett (John Gallagher Jr.), the other guy in the bunker? What are those noises? Cars? Helicopters? Spaceships? Is the air outside really as contaminated as Howard says?

The mysteries mount, the clues pile up, the screws turn tighter and tighter, the distrust deepens, and claustrophobia and paranoia permeate every frame. Debut feature director Dan Trachtenberg, working with cinematographer Joe Cutter and production designer Ramsey Avery, creates an underground mini-labyrinth that teems with the details of Howard’s scarily obsessive mind—like a show home stocked from the Armageddon bargain bin of Bed Bath & Beyond.

Howard, Emmett and Michelle eat meals, play old board games, work jigsaw puzzles and listen to classic rock on an old jukebox in an artificial, increasingly edgy loop of normal domestic life. Frankie Valli’s “Venus” and Tommy James’ “I Think We’re Alone Now” never sounded so ominous and foreboding.

When things really break loose, in the movie’s final sequence, fans of the original Cloverfield will finally be able see just how this movie connects to the previous one. And as the address in the title suggests, monsters can come in all shapes and sizes, in all kinds of places, above us, below us and even right beside us.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Not So Far, Far Away Anymore

‘Star Wars’ comes roaring and soaring back in ‘The Force Awakens’

Star Wars: The Force Awakens

Starring Daisy Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Issac

Directed by J.J. Abrams

PG-13

Deep into the most anticipated movie of the year, two central characters—one old, one new—are on a desperate mission and in a very tight spot.

“People are counting on us,” veteran smuggler Han Solo (Harrison Ford) growls. “The galaxy is counting on us.”

That pretty much sums up the lofty expectations placed on the movie, as well. The first new Star Wars film in nearly a decade, the seventh in the franchise, and the first since Disney bought the rights from founding father-director-creator George Lucas, it comes cloaked in secrecy and with a mothership of baggage. Diehard fans have been waiting for it for years. Speculation has been building for months. What will J.J. Abrams, the director of two Star Trek movies, bring to it—or do to it? It’s expected to be the biggest box-office moneymaker of the year, if not the decade, and maybe of all time.

So people—and perhaps the whole the galaxy—are indeed counting on this new Star Wars, and I don’t think they’ll be disappointed. It’s got everything any fan could want: powerful nostalgia, exciting new characters, rousing action, stirring emotion, spectacular scenery, eye-popping effects, and a plot that threads things that happened decades ago with things unfolding now—and points to things yet to come.

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

Harrison Ford as Han Solo

You probably already know that several iconic actors return. Harrison Ford’s Han Solo is still the coolest space cowboy of all time. Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) has become a general. And Jedi legend Luke Skywalker (Mark Hamill)…well, everybody spends most of the movie looking for Luke, and so will you.

You’ll delight in seeing some very familiar other things again—X-Wings and TIE Fighters, the Millennium Falcon, two particular droids, a tall, hirsute biped and one very special light saber, in particular. And you’ll hear a couple of familiar phrases, too.

And there are some very impressive newcomers, as well. British actress is Daisy Ridley is terrific as Rey, a spunky junk scavenger on a desert planet who becomes a major player on a much larger stage—and provides young female Star Wars fans a rockin’ role model the likes of which they’ve never had before. Newcomer John Boyega makes a fine leading man as Finn, a stormtrooper who defects when his conscience won’t let him continue to fight for a cause he knows is wrong. Oscar Issac plays Poe Dameron, the cocky top-gun pilot of the Resistance.

Oscar Issac is Resistance          pilot Poe Dameron

Adam Driver is Kylo Ren, a disciple of Darth Vader, whose formidable powers were shaped by a treacherous past. Domhnall Gleeson drips evil as the fascist intergalactic general Hux. Lupita Nyong’o is cool but completely unrecognizable as the alien proprietress of a way-out-there interplanetary saloon frequented by a spectrum of crazy cosmic characters.

And the new little bleeping, beeping, cooing, purring “snowman” of a robot, BB-8, is a real scene-stealer.

With composer John Williams’ spectacular, swelling orchestral score once again providing the soundtrack, Star Wars has come roaring and soaring back, a fabulous, bountiful, richly rewarding payoff for anyone who’s been waiting, patiently or otherwise. You’ll cheer, you’ll chuckle, you’ll gasp, you’ll be giddy and you’ll maybe—likely—even shed a tear, or possibly two.

And come next December, when Disney’s eighth installment, Rogue One, hits theaters, you’ll be back in the ticket line again—won’t you?

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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