Screen Gems via Everett Collection
J.J. Abrams brought Star Trek back to the screen in 2009 with suprising success, but Star Trek: Into Darkness was a disappointment earlier this year, leaving the fate of the series up in the air. Now, while Abrams is off to work on Star Wars: Episode VII, director Joe Cornish might be taking over the franchise. Sounds like good news, as Cornish is funny, smart, and has a good eye for sci-fi and action. Cornish certainly has limited experience making his own films, but Attack the Block was an assured and cohesive debut. Cornish has a long history of collaborating with director Edgar Wright, who has similarly risen from independent filmmaker to venerated action mastermind. And both directors are collaborating on the script for Marvel's Ant-Man, which Wright will be directing.
Working on a large studio project doesn't have to be the same shallow "sellout" move anymore. It's possible to be a unique filmmaker who makes one of the most popular movies on the planet and follows it up with something small and personal. (Just ask Joss Whedon.) However, Cornish is so under the radar even some die-hard Trekkies might not know exactly what he can bring to the table. So here are six good reasons why Cornish might be just what the Trek franchise needs to close out its trilogy:
1. He can work with a team. One of the key parts of Trek is the unit. Despite the "Red Shirt" trope, all of the main cast members should be indispensible, and if they're absent, that should be felt. One of the major failings of STID was the lack of collaboration and teamwork — Scotty disappeared for the first 7/8ths of the movie, and nobody noticed. But Cornish was able to take a collection of anonymous kids all dressed in near-identical hoodies distinct and memorable. He'll certainly be able to work wonders with famous characters like Bones or Chekov.
2. Humor that doesn't come at the characters' expense. Surprisingly, in the journey from Star Trek to Into Darkness, the character humor that initially seemed good-hearted started to evaporate and instead be replaced by an overall dourness only lightened when turning Kirk into a horny fratboy for a few minutes to ogle some female Star Fleet officer.
3. Aliens! Abrams and Co. have rarely deployed non-humanoid aliens. In Trek's television history, budgetary concerns stopped a full exploration of extraterrestrial life forms. But Abrams hasn't been shy about destroying buildings and cityscapes in explosive climaxes for both of his films, so why not juice up the adversaries? Cornish has proven himself adept at both action and creature design, and with a tiny budget managed to create two distinct types of aliens and stage dozens of attacks and setpieces around them.
4. Heroes that want to be heroes. When aliens invade their South London housing complex, the kids inside don't cower, they immediately rise to the challenge of protecting (and, okay, of having fun attacking) their home by killing the intruders. Moses, the lead kid and the protagonist of the movie, is never wrestling with the decision of whether or not to help with the defense. He's a true heroic character.
5. Female characters that don't feel extraneous. In Attack the Block, Sam isn't the protagonist, but she's the character that leads the audience into the story. That could have easily been a male character, but Cornish saw that he was building a world around this Despite that calculation, Sam never feels like she's useless or out of place like Carol Marcus in Into Darkness.
6. Diversity. At its heart, Trek is a series that celebrates boundry-pushing diversity of every type, not just romantic. It might not shock us any more when Uhura kisses Kirk (or Spock), but that doesn't mean stop there. Attack the Block is a celebration of poor London kids that rarely get depicted as much more than thugs, and tells a story where they singlehandedly save their own neighborhood. That lines up with the best of Trek, where expectations are flipped and accepted ideologies questioned.
While J.J. Abrams deserves a lot of credit for convincing audiences to pay attention to Star Trek again, his attentions will likely be better spent with Star Wars (the series he admitted he's always preferred), and Joe Cornish might make a lot more sense for the new Star Trek. Now there's just a late in the game Damon Lindelof rewrite to worry about. If only Cornish was also working on the screenplay.
She's a hip-hoppin' be-boppin' mean ol' nanny who whips a mean stew and your butt for not doing your homework—and now she's back! Alas we don't speak of the Mrs. Doubtfire sequel but rather that of Big Momma a.k.a. FBI Agent Malcolm Turner (Martin Lawrence). Agent Warner has cut ties with the FBI at the behest of Sherry (Nia Long)—who as you no doubt recall is the granddaughter of the real Big Momma—since she's pregnant with Malcolm's baby. But wouldn't you know that he gets sucked back in after a former colleague is killed. Posing as Big Momma he's hired as a nanny to a suburban family the deadbeat dad of which is involved in the murder and a crime plot. She does it all—cooks cleans dances and even runs down bad guys but it's a race against time to stop the potential national security crisis. That is a race against the film's (mercifully) short running time. Although Lawrence's resume includes some of the dregs of comedy it's hard to argue that he is truly blessed when it comes to physical comedy and comedic timing. He continues both trends here this time without the help of the breakthrough actors of the past two years Paul Giamatti and Terrence Howard who yes both starred in the first Big Momma's House. That means Lawrence's urban mania is truly on its own and absurd and juvenile as the film may be even film snobs can't hold back a few laughs at his Big Momma outlandishness. Longreturns for no more than a select few scenes and to provide a minor conflict in the story. The notable newcomer is CSI's Emily Procter as the sterile mother who hires Big Momma. She does a serviceable job as a suburban Petite Momma. Might she be the next Giamatti or Howard to bolt to bigger and better things in time for the next sequel? No.
Big Momma's House 2 is right up director John Whitesell's alley. He's the guy behind such misses—though not necessarily financially—as Malibu's Most Wanted and See Spot Run and he's right at home here. Whitesell doesn't hold back in (literally and figuratively) pulling the robe off Big Momma but he clearly knows that nothing is to interrupt Lawrence's antics not even the thin story line. Aside from that he knows quite well how to execute thinly veiled rip-offs of the aforementioned Mrs. Doubtfire as well as countless other hidden-motive comedies (i.e. Kindergarten Cop Houseguest et al). Because while the main guise is the Big Momma fat suit Whitesell parades the film about as a feel-good/family flick.
Based on H.G. "Buzz" Bissinger's bestselling book of the same name Friday Night Lights tells the true story of the dusty West Texas town of Odessa where nothing much happens until September rolls around. That's when the town's 20 000 or so denizens pour into Ratliff Stadium the country's biggest high school football field every Friday night to watch the Permian Panthers Odessa's "boys in black " take to the field. All the town's hope and dreams are pinned on the padded shoulders of these young gridiron heroes--including insecure quarterback Mike Winchell (Lucas Black); cocky self-assured running back Boobie Miles (Derek Luke); headstrong self-destructive tailback Don Billingsley (Garrett Hedlund) who must contend with an overbearing abusive dad (Tim McGraw--yes that Tim McGraw the country singer); and the team's spiritual leader middle linebacker Ivory Christian (newcomer Lee Jackson). The Panthers begin their season with one thing on their minds--winning their fifth straight championship for the first time in the team's 30-year history--but for their coach Gary Gaines (Billy Bob Thornton) it also means instilling a love and joy of the game in the boys' hearts amidst tremendous pressures and expectations. Easier said than done.
There isn't a false note in any of the performances and no one falls back on clichéd versions of their characters as is so easy to do in rah-rah sports movies. Thornton does a particularly good job as Gaines keeping you guessing whether he's going to be a hardass insensitive to his players' emotional needs (like so many movie football coaches before him) or if he truly means to coach his boys in a fair and decent way. Gaines too has to deal with his own pressures especially from the townsfolk who are likely to string him up if the team loses the championship. As for Gaines' players Black (the oh-so-serious kid from Thornton's Sling Blade) is all grown up and buffed out and still very serious. It works for the young actor though as the beleaguered Winchell struggles with the love-hate relationship he has with his chosen sport. Other standouts include Luke (Antwone Fisher) as the star player Boobie whose cocksureness leads him to an injury; Hedlund as the volatile Billingsley trying desperately to please his father; and McGraw making his film debut as the father a former Permian Panther champion who sure hasn't given up his competitive spirit basically beating it into his son. First Faith Hill (McGraw's real-life wife) in The Stepford Wives and now McGraw--who knew country singers could act?
From All the Right Moves to Varsity Blues to Remember the Titans Friday Night Lights unfortunately doesn't completely distinguish itself from the pack of football movies before it--like those this is all about how the young players--be they underdogs second-string nobodies or stars--rising above the mounting pressure and playing the best they can bless their hearts. Still there's no question the sports genre--particularly football--always gets the juices pumping with FNL being no exception. It might have something to do with our sick fascination with watching bone-crunching hits and body-punishing tackles. It's dangerous out there for these guys; no other sport (besides maybe hockey) can elicit such wince-inducing emotion and actor/director Peter Berg (The Rundown) exploits that. Obviously influenced by Oliver Stone's Any Given Sunday Berg effectively paints his own gritty documentary-style picture of the competitive sport without relying on too many trite gushy over-the-top moments. And to give it credit the film does not necessarily have a feel-good "let's win one for the Gipper" ending; it is based on a true story after all and as we know real life isn't all sunshine and roses especially in the bloodthirsty world of Texas high school football.