Monday , October 15 2018

Fantasy meets tragedy in surreal ‘Monster Calls’ – Abrams sci-fi thriller renamed ‘2017 Cloverfield Movie’

This image released by Lucasfilm Ltd shows Felicity Jones as Jyn Erso in a scene from, ‘Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.’ (AP)

NEW YORK, Dec 9, (Agencies): A teenage boy’s struggle with his mother’s terminal illness takes a surreal turn when he finds comfort in a giant talking tree monster in the emotional fantasy drama “A Monster Calls.”

The film is already attracting awards buzz for its young Scottish star, Lewis MacDougall, who plays Conor, a quiet, artistic teenage boy who becomes a target for the school bully.

“I guess really I would use experiences in my own life to try and understand what Conor is feeling,” MacDougall, 14, told reporters at the New York premiere on Wednesday.

MacDougall has been nominated for two critics awards by US groups as well as a Spanish Feroz award.

The film, which also stars Liam Neeson, Sigourney Weaver and Felicity Jones, is adapted from the children’s book of the same name by Patrick Ness. Director J.A. Bayona incorporated watercolor animations to illustrate the stories of good and evil.

Paramount and J.J. Abrams’ Bad Robot Productions have moved back the science-fiction thriller “God Particle” eight months to Oct 27, 2017, and renamed it “2017 Cloverfield Movie.”

Paramount said Thursday that the Abrams-produced “2017 Cloverfield Movie” would be released in Imax. The story, set in the near future, centers on a team of astronauts on a space station making a terrifying discovery that challenges all they know about the fabric of reality, as they desperately fight for their survival.

Paramount and Abrams had announced last February that “God Particle” would be released on Feb 24, 2017. The studio said Thursday that “God Particle” had been “removed” from the schedule.

Nigerian-American filmmaker Julius Onah is directing and began shooting in June. David Oyelowo, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ziyi Zhang, Elizabeth Debicki, Daniel Bruhl and Chris O’Dowd are starring.

The studio and Bad Robot have been developing the project since 2012 but Thursday marked the first time that Paramount has said it would be part of the Cloverfield universe, launched in 2008 with the secrecy-shrouded found-footage monster movie “Cloverfield.”

Paramount-based Abrams was also a producer on this year’s “10 Cloverfield Lane,” which opened in March with Dan Trachtenberg directing. Abrams said “10 Cloverfield Lane” was a “spiritual successor” to the original “Cloverfield.”


“10 Cloverfield Lane” starred Mary Elizabeth Winstead as a woman who wakes up in an underground bunker after a car crash with two men who insist that the surface of the Earth has become uninhabitable. The movie was one of the few Paramount films this year to perform well, with a worldwide gross of more than $100 million on an $8 million budget.

“2017 Cloverfield Movie” will open against Lionsgate’s eighth “Saw” movie.

Paramount-based Abrams produces the “Mission: Impossible” and “Star Trek’ franchises for the studio. He also produced and directed the Disney smash “Star Wars: The Force Awakens.”


A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, there were more stories than those of the Skywalker family. That was the idea Disney was counting on when it purchased George Lucas’s empire Lucasfilm for $4 billion in 2012, and the rights to everything in the “Star Wars” universe. Sure, they’d continue chronicling the trajectory of the Skywalkers, but what else was out there?

It was 30-year Lucas veteran John Knoll who thought of telling the story of the rebels who stole the plans for the Death Star, only alluded to in the opening crawl of the original 1977 “Star Wars.” And with that, “Rogue One: A Star Wars Story” was born. It hits theaters next week, kicking off Lucasfilm and Disney’s spinoff gamble. There are already two more in the works, including a young Han Solo standalone for 2018. The plan is to release the spinoffs in the gap years between the next two installments of the main saga (Episode VIII comes out next December.).

If Marvel can have a universe, after all, why can’t Star Wars? The idea of “spinning off” Star Wars, though, has existed about as long as the idea of Star Wars, but three decades ago, that was more of a TV-special or straight-to-video proposition. Now, the spinoffs are as important as the main films and are being given the full blockbuster treatment — big budgets (reports say $200 million), burgeoning stars and hefty marketing expenses. Lucasfilm chief Kathleen Kennedy has promised that they’ll run the gamut in size, scope and genre, too.

For “Rogue One,” they chose British director Gareth Edwards, known for the indie “Monsters” and the 2014 “Godzilla” reboot. He lived and breathed “Star Wars” — a requirement for executives who want “caretakers” for the franchise.

Edwards’ film is set in a time of conflict and unrest, as the Empire grows and various rebel factions assemble in resistance, introducing a whole batch of new characters: The heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones); her scientist father, Galen (Mads Mikkelsen); a rebel spy, Cassian (Diego Luna) and his sarcastic droid K-2SO (Alan Tudyk); an extremist, Saw Gerrera (Forest Whitaker); and a pilot for the Empire, Bodhi Rook (Riz Ahmed).

Inspired by WWII classics like “The Guns of Navarone,” and shot by “Zero Dark Thirty” cinematographer Greig Fraser, “Rogue One” promises to be a grittier film, putting the war back in “Star Wars.”

“We tried to feel embedded like a real film crew in a war zone and give it that kind of flavor,” said Edwards, who was sometimes literally in the trenches with the cast.

Ben Mendelsohn, who plays Imperial Officer Orson Krennic, said it’s “pretty intense.”

“There is a lot of battle,” Mendelsohn said. “This is a tougher Star Wars film, in certain respects, than any of its predecessors.”

“The Force Awakens” and its $2 billion in worldwide earnings was always going to be a tough act to follow, but “Rogue One” has had a particularly bumpy ride — at least in the public imagination. There were rumors about expensive reshoots. The production had also hired veteran scribe Tony Gilroy, of “The Bourne Identity,” to help with the script, which didn’t assuage fears that there was something deeply wrong that needed “fixing.” While reshoots are a common practice for any blockbuster, it nonetheless made fans nervous. Would this be another underwhelming prequel situation? Or would they knock it out of the park as with “The Force Awakens” — a production that, even when Harrison Ford broke his leg on set, never seemed to exhibit any weaknesses.

Edwards said “Rogue One” “just grew.”

“We shot the movie in a very realistic way, a lot of handheld, a lot of documentary-style stuff,” he said. “We showed it to the studio and they were very supportive and they said ‘look, whatever you need to do just do it.’ The visual effects shots went from like 600 to 1,600, which was great for me. It felt like ‘this is exactly what it needs to be.’”

What that means for audiences is another thing. “Rogue One” is being treated with a secrecy similar to that of “The Force Awakens.” The cast has seen it, but few others will until the film’s premiere in Los Angeles on Dec. 10.

For Diego Luna, this is as it should be. Watching “The Force Awakens” and knowing precious little about it let him experience cinema as he did in childhood.

“You sat down and let the film happen to you and those answers come to you through the voice of a director — not through the voice of a blogger and a reviewer and then the trailer and then the song and the toy,” Luna said. “Because of the secrecy and because of all these filters, they’re managing to go back to that time where cinema happened inside of the cinema.”

Now, everyone is waiting to see how big of an appetite there will be for the spinoffs. “Rogue One” is tracking to open to over $130 million — the second-highest ever for December — but still a far cry from “The Force Awakens’” $248 million. And then there’s the question of how it will holdup.

“Obviously there’s a lot riding on this. But what does that mean?” Edwards wondered. “The riskiest thing you could do with Star Wars is not take a risk.”

Or, never tell a Star Wars fan the odds.


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