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David Poland

By David Poland poland@moviecitynews.com

WTF? Lord/Miller Latest Disney Victims?

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Every time it begins to look like Disney is about to cross the bridge to figuring out how to avoid a Sophomore Slump in its all-mega-movie universe, another kick in the balls…

Here is what I know about Chris Miller and Phil Lord… they have directed four movies… all but the one sequel was underestimated by its distributor before release… they are four for four… as relatively young veterans in this business (42), they still connect to young people and they have a sense of how to connect with adults as well.

Here is what I know about Disney: they would rather put out pre-chewed mediocrity than to take risks with their extremely valuable IP and have fired a slew of interesting directors to maintain that safety.

Kathy Kennedy is a powerhouse. She has kept many of the biggest, most important, beloved trains on the tracks for decades. She is also 64. She has had her moments of zen. Munich, The Diving Bell & the Butterfly, and Persepolis appear back-to-back-to-back on her page… so she is not just Spielberg and she is not only mainstream. She has more in her game than that. But is she playing not to lose instead of playing to win?

Disney is more important than their box office success right now. Other studios are chasing their model, but they have limited success because there is no better IP than Marvel-Lucasfilm-Pixar-Disney Animation. Universal has been #2 in Magic-IP-Land lately because of Jurassic Park-Illumination. But studios have proven they can live off one great piece of IP for a long time. Sony was driven by Spider-Man for years… Paramount is now Transformers with bouts of Mission: Impossible and Star Trek (and Brad Pitt’s Plan B, the promise of which helped keep Brad Grey in the job for extra years until its recent move to Annapurna)… WB and Potter (which DC is starting to look like it will replace).

When these key pieces of IP end or fade, it is a seismic event and people who seemed invincible lose their jobs. At studios that don’t have the stability of a reliable franchise or two, turmoil always seems to be rising (bosses are like my mother, they’re never satisfied).

This is not to mock the IP urge. It is real. It is not new. And it makes sense for an ongoing business, which, like it or not, studios are.

Disney is the leader in integrating women and people of color into the directing chairs amongst major studios. I have meant to write about this before, in a positive piece about Disney, with shame cast upon other majors.

Patty Jenkins made Wonder Woman after they fired Michelle MacLaren. So WB got there first. But now… Ava Duvernay, Niki Caro, Anna Boden and Jennifer Lee all have movies in 2018 or 2019. Add more diversity with Ryan Coogler and Black Panther. And remember that Disney also puts out one-third to one-half the number of films that other majors release in a year.

So Disney is not The Evil Monolith. They are not completely inflexible. They don’t just hire for mediocrity.

Still… Niki Caro hasn’t made it into production on her Mulan. When she pushes her (appropriate) agenda of equality and sensitivity and female empowerment, we’ll see how that plays. This is the same Disney that is making Aladdin with a director (Guy Ritchie) who tip-toes near the “isn’t that funny” notion of bloke-y racism in all his films.

Anna Boden with her directing partner Ryan Fleck is on Captain Marvel, under protection of Marvel Studios. And though Marvel pushed out Edgar Wright, they did replace him with another iconoclastic director who made a very good, off-brand Marvel film (that still feels a bit like what we would have expected from Edgar, oddly).

Marvel also seems to be pushing the off-brand side movies hard with Thor: Ragnarok, which with Taika Waititi, a Maori Ashkenazi, who seems to be making the first Marvel film bending a core Avengers character into an off-brand story and style. It seems that Marvel also allowed Coogler all the rope he could have asked for in making Black Panther off-brand and distinctive.

Pixar is John Lasseter and will be John Lasseter until John Lasseter leaves… probably on a gurney, decades from now. He is the 9 Old Men of now. A couple of those nine in John is also running Disney Animation.

But Lucasfilm… Two mediocre Star Wars films so far. We all hope and expect that Rian Johnson will raise the bar in December. But as the film is in the Core 9, we should also expect that Rian’s brilliance will show in the margins, more than in the center, where the next director (back to JJ-level mediocrity) has already taken the baton for #9.

Of the two 3.0 Star Wars films that have been released, we already know that Rogue One was “saved” by Tony Gilroy… shot in some part by Tony Gilroy, even though Gareth Edwards was given the full credit.

Thing about Young Han is… Wonder Woman. Guardians of the Galaxy. Dr. Strange. Ant-Man.

IP Machine Shops are figuring out that the way to keep the engine running is to have some bits that aren’t 100% canon. Loosen up, people.

Star Wars is a mature bit of IP. Its power is remarkable. But everything can be killed by misguided, well-intended management.

The laugher of the week was that Book of Henry could get Colin Trevorrow dumped from Star Wars IX. The opposite is true. He knows how to get in line and do what the bosses want, as he did for Frank Marshall (aka Kathy Kennedy’s husband and long-time producing partner) and that is what Kathy Kennedy appears to expect from her Lucasfilm directors.

Unlike others sucked into the Disney machinery, Phil Lord & Chris Miller have other places to be. They are not only good at what they do, they are amongst the leaders of their generation of creative players. As writers, producers and directors, they have risen above the fray in almost everything they have done over the last decade, even when the projects have failed.

Lord & Miller are not Spielberg. They are not the top flight of making visual feasts. But they have an uncanny feeling for the nerve. They are not the first to rise and like everyone else, they will stall at some point. But I would count on them getting back up and working through the problems. Their ego does not demand fealty. They want to collaborate.

This brings me to the people who probably feel the most screwed over this week… the actors that Phil & Chris brought on to Young Han. Alden Ehrenreich has been though a LOT in his young career. And he will be fine. But do you think Donald Glover and Thandie Newton and Phoebe Waller-Bridge came on a movie like this without a lot of faith in what the directors were doing? And Bradford Young, who can (deservedly) write his own ticket these days?

It’s become a big, ugly cliché, but this is why we can’t have nice things.

What the Lucasfilm Team is forgetting is that no matter how off-brand Lord & Miller’s movie would have been – and they shot eighty percent of it already, for cripe’s sakes… how off could it have been? – it was the movie that people under 50 were most looking forward to… and many of us over 50.

It would have to be bad, not non-canon, to disappoint. After all, we have indulged mediocre canon so far in this adventure. Really mediocre. And it hasn’t killed the brand. But a big part of the illusion that we should all stay excited is the idea that there is ambition in these films. And today, that illusion died a little bit more.

R.I.P.

22 Responses to “WTF? Lord/Miller Latest Disney Victims?”

  1. Js partisan says:

    Once again, Bob fucking Iger likes to think, that he knows Star Wars better than fucking George Lucas. The same goes with Kasdan. This shit screams those two, putting Kennedy in an uncomfortable position. This takes the shine off the whole thing, and Feige must have Siri counting down the days for him. Once Kevin does it. It will get interesting.

  2. djiggs says:

    My question is how does it get to the point that 80% of production is done before the directors are fired. Was it just the need to get the next Star Wars film on the assembly line to meet yearly demand for May 2018 launch? How are the differences in the film’s tone between the directors and Kennedy/Kasdan not reconciled during preproduction?

  3. Monco says:

    Protect the cannon? The Force Awakens is an utter piece of shit that essentially destroys everything Lucas built. The near unanimous critcial acclaim for that film was a joke. While Miller and Lord are overrated, Kennedy/Kasdan don’t get the benefit of the doubt after the crap they have churned out. That crap certainly has made the shareholders happy though.

  4. Mark says:

    Star Wars without Lucas is like The Beatles without Lennon, McCartney, Starr and Harrison. Utterly pointless. Why Kennedy is spending the twilight of her career churning out bad fan films is beyond me.

  5. GdB says:

    Amen, Mark. Amen.

    JS, I get the Iger hate, by why Kasdan? Empire is a great script and so is Raiders. Silverado is a fantastic Western. Why is he now SW persona non grata in your view? For going along with TFA? That I can understand.

  6. Ryan says:

    So, to just make sure I have this correct and we’re all on the same page:

    We’re having a ‘who has the better judgment/writing skills/overall talent?’ competition, and the starters on team A are the guy who wrote Raiders, Empire, Jedi, Body Heat, Silverado and The Big Chill; plus-one of the most successful producers in film history judging by grosses/output, including the Back to the Future franchise, and a majority of the output of the one of the best living/all-time directors;

    vs.

    the guys who wrote/produced/directed two 21 Jump Street Movies, The Lego Movie and Cloudy With A Chance of Meatballs. We’ll add in a semi-successful unique tv show on Fox.

    Yeah, I can see how this whole thing is a toss-up in the eyes of some people.

  7. PTA Fluffer says:

    Grown men with four features under their belt should know how socks are to be folded.

  8. Js partisan says:

    I fucking love Kasdan, but he isnt Star Wars. Acting like he is Star Wars is fucking annoying. If you are wondering who is Star Wars right now? The Wolf, is Star Wars right now.

    Two worn out boomers, should fucking retire already, and leave sock folding to slightly younger people.

  9. Night Owl says:

    So Hollywood Reporter says it’s Ron Howard. Fine. So the film will be mild and probably fine. A *shrug*. I guess after Rush lost money, In the Heart of the Sea was a disasterous bomb, and Inferno badly underperformed this is what he has to resort too? Clean up man on a highly troubled project with an awkward as hell press tour? As a fan of his earlier work I’m honestly sad to hear it.

  10. Mostly Lurking says:

    Word on the street is that with Howard on board, the part of young Lando will now be played by Franklin.

  11. Popem says:

    If Ron Howard is taking over, does that mean Alden will be pushed aside for Ron’s brother, Clint? If so, shut up and take my money!

  12. Glamourboy says:

    What does Dave mean when he says that Alden Ehrenreich has been though a LOT in his young career?

  13. ADFan says:

    Jeremy Jahns pointed out on Movie Talk that fans project what they love about Han Solo onto him. So it’s pretentious of Kasdan to tell us what Han Solo is supposed to be. No one ever asked what Han Solo’s real name is.

  14. palmtree says:

    Isn’t resume comparing beside the point? The question isn’t who has had a better career but who can take this franchise to new and exciting places.

    Hell, Clint Eastwood has made some pretty great westerns, but does that make him good for the Han Solo movie?

  15. Bitplaya says:

    The Lucas Arts statement on Deadline sounds like they haven’t shot the script yet. How much is this an editing gig or is it a total reshoot?

  16. Breedlove says:

    I’m curious what is off-brand about the new Thor movie. Trailer looked like more of the same to me, pretty similar to Avengers or previous Thor movies in terms of tone and look.

  17. Night Owl says:

    Glamourboy I have no idea what he means. Sure everything Ehrenreich has been in so far has flopped but he wasn’t the lead in any of it. No blame is on him. I imagine there’s a story behind that comment?

    Seems like a nice kid so I do hope the Han Solo thing turns out at least OK for him. Appearances in the new movies have been a net positive for all the actors so far but he’s in a really really tough position. But given the disastrous production even if it sucks he shouldn’t take the blame.

  18. Dr Wally Rises says:

    Backlash be damned, both Force Awakens AND Rogue One were and are FANTASTIC movies, and the two best blockbusters of the decade so far. That we’re relegating these two outstanding entertainments to the rank of bland mediocrity at a time when Pirates 5, The Mummy, Transformers 5 etc. are in theatres is madness.

    Stop rewriting history.

  19. jspartisan says:

    TFA is wonderful, that other one? It helped Felicity Jones get a pretty nice house! It is definitely better than those movies, but most movies are better than those movies.

    Breedlove, I know of a Breedlove family, and they have 18 kids. Seriously. 18. They may be on 19. Nevertheless, Thor looks nothing like the other Thor films. Let alone other Marvel films. It’s definitely in that quirky MSCU part of the canon, which is why so many people are looking forward to it.

  20. Movieman says:

    Hope the stink doesn’t rub off on Ehrenreich.
    He’s deserved to be The Next Big Thing for awhile now.

  21. Glamourboy says:

    Let’s see….he was cast in a big role for Hail Caesar and got great reviews. He had a small-ish role in Blue Jasmine that got great reviews…He won the lead in Warren Beatty’s movie that bombed (but it wasn’t blamed on him)…and now he’s cast as Han Solo…I think he’s been pretty damn fortunate.

  22. Night Owl says:

    I really liked Force Awakens and loved Rogue One so I guess it does feel odd to second guess Lucasfilm at this point. However both movies had issues so I guess I can’t help but think at some point the good will not outweigh the not so good. Audiences are settling in to new Star Wars, some love it all, some dislike it all, many were split but Lucasfilm had financial and critical success 2 for 2 so don’t expect any drastic rethinks in anything other than hiring practices.

    I think if (big if) Han Solo comes in drastically under Rogue One’s numbers….and I mean drastically like under $850 worldwide then yes, I think maybe they’ll have a look at wider creative options but unless that happens? This is new Star Wars. End of story.

    But does this mess delay announcements of the next anthology movies everyone expects at D23?

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