Category Archives: samuel l. jackson

The Avengers

Marvel’s The Avengers ~ I think I need to inform folks where I’m coming from on this one. One could say I’ve been waiting for this movie for over forty years easily. I learned to read on comic books, thanks to my cool big sister. First there was Batman, obviously influenced by the 1960s TV show, then I started reading my brother’s Flash and Justice League. I was solidly a DC Comics guy as you can see, and then I discovered the Avengers. It would be quite some time before I became a regular Marvel reader but I knew instantly this was a different kind of comic. Avengers became one of my favorite comics, even today. So much so did I love the Avengers that for almost a decade I regularly reviewed the title online. Yeah, I’m a hardcore Avenger-phile. This movie is a little kid’s dream come true.

In another sense, you could say I’ve been waiting for this movie realistically, and hopefully, since the end credits of Iron Man. Can I express my elation the first time I saw those few seconds when Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury wanted to talk to Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man about the ‘Avengers Initiative’? No, I can’t. I am as speechless now as I was in 2008.

Who would have thought Marvel Comics/Marvel Studios could have pulled this off? Not only have they created a cinematic continuity, a movie universe as tight and intriguing as their comics universe, they also changed the way we watch movies. Does anyone (at least anyone who knows) not stay until the final credits any more. This is something that John Hughes used to do for a gag. It’s something the James Bond films used to do to reveal the title of the next installment. Marvel has made it a genre-wide trick of the trade. You stay until the screen has no more light, period.

Speaking of James Bond, the other achievement Marvel has taken on is the building of a successful movie franchise – the Marvel Cinematic Universe, of which The Avengers is the seventh, or the sixth, depending on whether you count Ang Lee’s Hulk or not. I think all of this would have been impossible without Iron Man, and especially Robert Downey Jr. Downey is the secret weapon, the gateway drug, if you will. Without Downey, I doubt that this film would be as mainstream as it is. It’s not just comic book folks who are seeing this movie, it’s everybody. Comics aren’t just for nerds anymore, or at least comic book movies aren’t. This weekend’s box office, threatening to become the biggest opening ever, is proof of that.

Besides Downey as Iron Man, and Jackson as super spy Nick Fury, Chris Evans returns as the title role from Captain America The First Avenger, Chris Hemsworth as Thor, along with Oscar winner Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye from that same film, and Scarlet Johansson returns in her role as the Black Widow from Iron Man 2. Unfortunately, negotiations broke down with The Incredible Hulk‘s Ed Norton, so the role of Doctor Bruce Banner is more than adequately filled by Mark Ruffalo. As much as I like and liked Norton in the role, I like Ruffalo even more. This is a good thing.

Also returning from the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe flicks are Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson, Stellan Skarsgard as Erik Selvig from Thor, Gwenyth Paltrow as Pepper Potts and Paul Bettany as Jarvis in the Iron Man films, and of course the big bad, Thor’s brother Loki, as played by Tom Hiddleston. Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster from Thor is mentioned but unseen. Cobie Smoulders is the perfect Maria Hill and although uncredited and only doing one very funny and wonderful line of dialogue, Lou Ferrigno voices the completely CGI Hulk. It is a stellar cast, top notch all the way, and all of the primaries – the Avengers, Fury, Loki, and the rest shine like stars when on screen. All are skillfully performed.

If I had to find fault, if I absolutely had to find a flaw in the film (other than characters or storylines I would want to see) it would be the lack of character development. But even that’s not a flaw. The four majors have had at least one movie each to explore that before we got to this point. We get sweet spotlights on the two Avengers without movies, Hawkeye and the Black Widow, displaying their talents and personalities, and Nick Fury will have his own film upcoming for us to delve more into his character. So really, on that point I can’t complain. What is really great about this is all of them come to this film fully formed. Especially in the cases of Captain America and Thor, their movies were essentially origin stories, now, here in Avengers we get to see what they can really do. These are not flaws.

I will try not to give away plot points, or any of the Easter eggs found in the film, but I will give director and co-writer Joss Whedon and his co-writer Zak Penn all the props possible for creating what is, without a doubt, the best superhero movie ever made, period. Let’s see Whedon have a Wonder Woman script or a “Firefly” sequel turned down in Hollywood now. The man, to borrow the line from Titanic, is the king of the world today. Everything was perfect, from the characters to the dialogue, the special effects, the humor, right down to the two (count ’em, two) after-credits scenes, one of which will be having fanboys and girls squeeing with delight. Marvel’s The Avengers is awesome.

The little kid in me who was mesmerized by his first Avengers comic book more than forty years ago was spellbound in the theatre. From Project Pegasus to the Black Forest to the SHIELD Helicarrier to downtown Manhattan, the Avengers were truly Earth’s Mightiest Heroes on the big screen. The first confrontations between the heroes, and the heroes and the villains, are well done and believable, not just slugfest for the fun of slugfest. When Captain America confronts Loki in Germany, I had a lump in my throat, I was like, “It’s the real Captain America.” The scene is that good.

The special effects are stunning. I love the way Thor’s hammer always returns to him, and his effects are perfect. Cap’s superhero costume, which I initially thought would look silly works wonderfully. If there’s anything cooler than the SHIELD Helicarrier, it’s the battle on board the SHIELD Helicarrier. Non-believers will see why Hawkeye is one of the coolest Avengers. The interaction between the characters is priceless, and in the final battle, their teamwork whether all together or in smaller teams is right out of the comics. It’s beautiful.

I will probably see Marvel’s The Avengers again a few more times in the theatre before it comes to Blu-Ray and DVD. Yeah, it’s that good. The 3D effects are good, but let’s keep in mind it still looks amazing in 2D, so you don’t have to sell blood to see it. Highly recommended. A definite must see for comics and non-comics fans alike. This is the movie of 2012.

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Winnie the Pooh 2011

Winnie the Pooh ~ I saw this one not in the theaters, but as an added treat on the first night of my vacation onboard the Disney Dream, and let’s get real, nothing trumps seeing a Disney flick, like seeing a Disney flick on the Disney boat. They have built, on all their ships, beautiful old-fashioned movie theaters full of the glory of yesteryear where there are no bad seats and it feels like an event to see any film. Last year, seeing Old Dogs on board made the hell of that cinematic experience wonderful. Loews in Cherry Hill should take note. Atmosphere counts for a lot.

Unlike Old Dogs, I liked Winnie the Pooh quite a lot, mostly because Tigger is my favorite Disney character, I even liked The Tigger Movie, and that was pretty bad, although it was Gone with the Wind compared to Old Dogs. I love A.A. Milne’s characters, by Disney or otherwise, but have not been fond of newer versions of their adventures. This new animated film is respectful of the original The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh and is a proper next chapter.

There is a mix of both old and new voice cast, with Jim Cummings taking on both Tigger and Pooh as well as a few other additions like Craig Ferguson and John Cleese. Only one oddity sticks out and that’s Jack Boulter as Christopher Robin, and that’s only because it’s markedly different, not wrong. And also, just like a Marvel movie, you must wait through the credits to the very end. No, Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury doesn’t ask Tigger to join the Avengers (awww…) but it’s still well worth it.

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Quickies 1-8-2011

Me and Orson Welles ~ This is essentially about Orson Welles and the Mercury Theater’s production of Julius Caesar in 1937. An aggressive young high school kid and wannabe actor gets hired into the play and unfortunately involved in a romance with an older woman on set. Much like Orson Welles’ personality in real life, his character, so much larger than life, also takes over this kid’s story. Great stuff.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time ~ For a movie based on a limited graphics videogame from the early 1980s, this flick has a good premise, lots of potential, but little was aspired to. Some nice special effects, some interesting plot twists and frequent nice nods to the old Sinbad movies of the 1960s and 1970s, this is worth a watch if it’s on television. Good popcorn flick.

Whip It ~ Drew Barrymore’s direction of this film based on the book “Derby Girl” by Shauna Cross is very good. Great drama, great comedy, and all with a heart as well. It has the feel of a contemporary After School Special, and that’s a good thing. One of my favorite flicks of the year.

Formula 51 ~ This is mindless shoot-’em-up fun that is carried chiefly by the charisma of Samuel L. Jackson as chemist Elmo McElroy who has created a superdrug. Robert Carlyle from The Full Monty is also fun here as the Jackie Chan to Sam’s more talented Chris Tucker. Turn your mind off, put your feet up and enjoy an hour and a half of action thriller fun.

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Iron Man 2

Iron Man 2 ~ I’ve been waiting for this for a while now, and it finally opened, a bit late for the previews to have become annoying, and of course even more annoyingly, a week after it opened in the UK and Australia. I really have to wonder why the movie companies insist on staggered releases across the world when the internet exists. Don’t they know the flick has already been spoiled for American audiences?

Iron Man 2 picks up almost immediately as the first film ends, but not in the way one might think. From there it becomes a rollercoaster ride of subplots as if it doesn’t know what its real storyline is.

Of seeming highest priority of possible plots is Mickey Roarke’s Ivan Vanko who wants revenge on Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark for supposedly stealing his father’s design. There’s Tony’s new heart poisoning him just as he’s drinking himself to death and risking his life. There’s Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts (still the dumbest comic book name ever) trying to run Stark’s company and of course her non-romance with him that doesn’t exist in the comics. And the government, in the face of the strangely cast Garry Shandling, wants the Iron Man ‘weapon.’ Those are just the big ones.

Any one of these could have been the main story, and served it well on its own, but for some reason the script couldn’t make up its mind. Underneath the surface of this Iron Man is bubbling an Avengers prequel, and for those aware of what Avengers is, it is a major undercurrent of this film, perhaps moreso than anything to actually do with Iron Man.

Rumors from overseas seem to be right on this front, that this is more an Avengers movie than an Iron Man movie. Easter eggs abound everywhere, from Captain America’s shield to Thor’s hammer, to the outright appearances out of nowhere of Samuel L. Jackson’s ultra-cool Nick Fury to Scarlet Johansson’s ultra-hot Black Widow (although it’s notable her superheroine name is never mentioned). It makes you wonder why Marvel would risk the Iron Man sequel for a movie that’s not even written yet.

And there are still yet more subplots. They tried to squeeze Tony Stark’s problem with alcoholism in there. Don Cheadle, a great actor, but a poor substitute for Terrence Howard, puts on the War Machine armor. Sam Rockwell does an impressive Robert Downey Jr. impersonation, that I’m not sure is in homage or mocking his Stark, as a decisively younger Justin Hammer.

The big guns of this script are largely disappointments. Downey is simply over the top, as if he doesn’t care anymore. Paltrow struggles as if she doesn’t know what to do with herself on screen. Mickey Roarke is damn good and owns the film when he is onscreen, he’s just not there nearly enough. His character, a merging of two Iron Man foes from the comics, Whiplash and the Crimson Dynamo, had enough depth to carry the whole film – but the script would not let it happen.

I did enjoy the film, but that was as a hardcore comics fan. I think it might be too jumpy and frenetic for mainstream audiences, who will also be giving all those Avengers references blank stares. And speaking of Avengers – stay through the end of the credits, or you will regret it. Iron Man 2 is fun and action-packed, but it’s nowhere as good as the original.

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Inglourious Basterds

Inglourious Basterds ~ This may be just another bloody Quentin Tarantino flick or it may be his homage to World War II films and Spaghetti Westerns, but what it definitely is is a love letter from a movie lover to other movie lovers. Then again, most Tarantino films are that, but this is for real film lovers, not just grindhouse or martial arts movie lovers.

The cinematography, the scenery, the dialogue, the choreography, even and especially the music, touches the true movie lover in a way that the casual moviegoer just won’t appreciate. Everything is referential, from the character names, to the songs, to the conversations and set pieces. This is a brilliant film, if only for film buffs.

Regarding the spelling in the title, I think it’s just for copyright and trademark reasons. Perhaps it’s to differentiate it from the 1978 Italian film with Bo Svenson and Fred Williamson called Inglorious Bastards. Just for the record, this isn’t a remake or anything of the sort. The only thing these two flicks have in common, other than a similar title, is that they both take place behind enemy lines in WWII. Of the spelling, Tarantino says, “Here’s the thing. I’m never going to explain that. You do an artistic flourish like that, and to explain it would just take the piss out of it and invalidate the whole stroke in the first place.”

The plot, simple but presented in a complex way (this is a Tarantino film after all), revolves around the Basterds – Jewish-American soldiers killing Nazis in occupied France – blowing up a moviehouse in Paris where the Nazi High Command will be gathered for a very special movie premiere. And just for the record, don’t bring the kids. When I say killing I mean Tarantino-style killing. Not pretty.

Brad Pitt impressed me here and he doesn’t do that often. His southern accent and charm as Aldo Raine was haunting, almost as if he was channeling Andy Griffith in A Face in the Crowd. He’s just as charming and sociopathic as well. There’s just not enough of him in the film. Unfortunately Eli Roth channeling the Bowery Boys is as painful as Pitt is brilliant.

Other than Brad Pitt, the standout of the cast is Christoph Waltz as the villain Hans Landa. Both charismatic and chilling, he makes the most convincing and evil Nazi to make the screen since Ralph Fiennes’ Amon Goeth in Schindler’s List. He is a perfect villain. And Samuel L. Jackson’s brief narration was a fun surprise.

As many good things as I have to say about Inglourious Basterds, it’s not all good. Tarantino seems to be recycling jokes at some points, especially with the Little Man name bit that recalls Mr. Pink in Reservoir Dogs. His foot fetish also rears its ugly head but not as blatantly in previous films.

The inclusion of David Bowie’s “Cat People” (the film version) in a WWII movie seems intrusive, and perhaps not right any longer considering Quentin couldn’t get Nastassja Kinski for the role it references as he intended. Also Mike Myers’ cameo is bizarre. I really expected him to pull off his make-up and wig at any moment and yell, “Surprise! It’s me!”

Shosanna’s (played expertly by Melanie Laurent) story is much more compelling than that of the Basterds. It made me wonder if perhaps there should have been two different films here. There are certainly two different themes. If there were indeed problems with the length of the movie, as the rumors claim, maybe it should have been two films, much like Kill Bill.

All that said, I would definitely recommend Inglourious Basterds with the proviso that it’s a Qunetin Tarantino flick, so know what you’re going to see before you go. But do go.

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Quickies 4-3-2009

Prozac Nation ~ I’ve decided that Christina Ricci is best when she’s snarky and sarcastic. From The Addams Family to The Opposite of Sex to even Pumpkin, her best feature (although there are so many others) is her snarkiness. This film, sort of a Mommie Dearest meets Almost Famous based on the true story bestseller by Elizabeth Wurtzel (who incidentally thought this movie was horrible), is a bit depressing and you want to slap the heroine (more than once), but hang in there. The performances of Ricci, Jessica Lange and even Jason Biggs are worth it.

Tokyo Gore Police ~ This one is for fans of the gore genre only, and only in small doses. I give the trailer more stars than I would the movie – if any for the movie. Dazzlingly gory and imaginative special effects. Don’t eat before viewing. If you like Troma or J-horror, you’ll love this one.

Lakeview Terrace ~ Take Neighbors, mix well with Pacific Heights and add in Samuel L. Jackson and you’ll get this flick that never tries much harder than to be a 1970s ABC telemovie. Kim Darby would have been proud to have been in this back in the day. Entertaining if you’re not expecting to think much for a couple hours.

Zotz! ~ Bullet time decades before bullet time, and Disney-esque without being Disney, this black and white comedy from 1962 stars Tom Poston as a professor who finds an ancient magic coin that grants him super powers. Able to slow down time and point people into pain, he tries to sell his powers to the government and hilarity ensues. While it would greatly benefit from some idiotic canned 1970s sitcom laughter, it’s still great fun for the kids.

At the Earth’s Core ~ Sadly the only film adaptation of Edgar Rice Burroughs’ Pellucidar series is just an embarrassment. Doug McClure tries very hard despite more than half of his dialogue being the word “doc,” and of course Peter Cushing hands in his worst and most annoying performance ever. On the good side, Caroline Munro is as hot as ever, but she doesn’t have much to do here. Much of the magic of Pellucidar is missing, the ‘monsters’ look like rejects from the worst of the Gamera films and surely Burroughs is spinning in his grave. A travesty.

Nick Fury Is Back


For all the hardcore comic book fans and those movie viewers who stayed past the credits of last summer’s Marvel Comics superhero blockbuster Iron Man, Samuel L. Jackson stole the show with his minute and half as SHIELD Director Nick Fury. It was a dream role for Jackson as the Ultimate version of the character was in fact designed after his own image.

Fans panicked a month or so back when rumors indicated that Jackson would not be returning to this role, especially with the character’s integral status regarding current and future Marvel movie characters like Iron Man, the Hulk, Captain America and especially the Avengers, the last one being the subject of the above-mentioned film appearance of Fury.

The good news is that Variety reported yesterday that Jackson will officially be playing the Marvel Comics super spy in a total of nine films, including Iron Man 2 and The Avengers. Of course the inclusion of something called “The Shield” among those films seems to indicate that either the folks at Variety have a hearing problem or they’re using TV Guide‘s research people…

Frank Miller’s The Spirit


That’s right, this is Frank Miller’s The Spirit, not Will Eisner’s, that’s for damn sure. Frank Miller hates superheroes. I’ve said it before, and I’m pretty sure I’ll say it again. Frank Miller hates superheroes. If The Dark Knight Strikes Back is Exhibit A, then surely this film, 2008’s The Spirit is Exhibit B. I have read and heard that Eisner and Miller were great friends. I can only suppose that they fought before the former’s death because I think this interpretation of his hallmark character may well have him spinning in his grave. Frank Miller’s The Spirit is a hate mail for not just comic book fans but movie goers as well.

Was the Sin City sequel not ready for a Christmas release so the studio grabbed Frank Miller and forced him to rush this piece of crap into theatres? That’s my only guess, because it certainly looks more like Sin City than any possible version of the Spirit. Again I am pulled back to the Miller/Eisner friendship. What did they talk about? Surely not the Spirit because obviously Miller doesn’t have a clue what that’s about.

For those not in the know. The Spirit is an amazing comics character created by Will Eisner specifically for the newspapers, a stroke of brilliance at the time as it wasn’t a newspaper comic strip, but a weekly comic book insert that came in the Sunday paper. The Spirit stories were known for their imaginative and innovative graphic design and storytelling structure – decades ahead of anything that was going on in ‘real’ comic books of the time. Eisner was truly a genius ahead of his time, and one of the masters of the artform.

The character of the Spirit himself was ex-cop Denny Colt. Exposed to a weird chemical he appeared to be dead but was really in suspended animation when buried and written off as dead. Crawling out of the grave, donning a mask and using his now officially dead status as a cover, he became the Spirit and defended the people of Central City from all manner of villain, many of them female, and frequently rivaling the rogues galleries of Batman and Dick Tracy in their strangeness.

How Frank Miller took that and got this movie is something I will never understand. It reminds of “Smallville” in one way – some of the names are familiar but nothing else is. Frank Miller’s Spirit is super-powered where the original never was. He shares an origin with archenemy the Octopus in that a chemical exposure left them both with ridiculous Wolverine-like regenerative powers. They can’t die, and so engage in cartoon-like combat with anvils and infinite bullet holes. I think even Tex Avery would think these scenes overindulgent.

These aren’t the only differences. Most annoying that Miller’s Spirit is all in black, except for the red tie. The Spirit really doesn’t have a costume for heaven sakes, so why is it so hard to get it right? In the comics, simplicity itself, blue business suit, blue hat, blue gloves, blue mask, and red tie. Well, at least he got the tie right. This is a CGI motion capture film, you can’t tell me that blue wouldn’t work, or for that matter, look terrific. Is it really that hard? Comic book superheroes come in colors, for some reason Hollywood mutants forget that. Miller, having worked in the industry, should know better. But then again, it’s probably on purpose, he does hate superheroes, remember?

The casting is interesting. I liked Gabriel Macht in the title role, a lot. It’s a shame he couldn’t be the real Spirit because he would be terrific. Too bad Frank Miller has made it so no one will ever want to make another Spirit movie ever again, so bad the stigma will be from this. Dolan is miscast, and the women are all breathtakingly beautiful, if only on hand most of the time as sex objects. This is Frank Miller after all. Are we sure this isn’t the Sin City sequel? I know he hates superheroes, but I wonder what his problem with women is as well. Maybe he hates everything as everything gets the short end of the stick in this flick. Including Miller’s own cameo –P.U.

Louis Lombardi provides a bit of odd comic relief. Funny only if you are into S&M or the Three Stooges I suppose. He plays multiple clones who are henchmen to the Octopus, killed and mistreated left and right, and assures that Lombardi will never get a serious role again, much less any part of any “Sopranos” or “24” reunions. The clone names, printed on the fronts of their shirts, provide a bit of an inappropriate injoke that can distract from how bad this flick is.

Samuel L. Jackson as the Octopus is a curiosity when you consider, that in the comic book version, you never see the Octopus, never. It’s the trademark of the character. The question is not why was this done, but – can Samuel L. survive this? Can his career recover from this offensive cartoon of a movie? Over the top doesn’t cover the madness of his performance. I’m sure many directors will unfortunately think of his role as the Octopus when considering him for work and just take a pass. I love Sam, but he stepped in it this time.

Frank Miller hates superheroes, and he must really really hate the Spirit. Maybe he saw what a success The Dark Knight was and decided he had to kill this beast before it got too big, too popular. He had to drag comics back into the literary gutter where he thinks they belong. Well, Frank, after seeing your interpretation of the Spirit, all I can say, is “Good job.”

Shark Attack


Shark Attack ~ Seeking to cash in on the theatrical release of the clever horror flick Deep Blue Sea and the always bankable shark phenomenon, this 1999 made-for-TV rip-off doesn’t really have much going for it. Casper Van Dien is always at his best playing the same character he always plays, and the sharks are good, even when they don’t match the footage of the humans they are supposedly attacking. It’s a blatant steal from a much better movie. The only thing worth watching here is another brilliant performance from one of Hollywood’s most underrated character actors, Ernie Hudson. When are he and Samuel L. Jackson gonna make a movie together?

Black Snake Moan


How can you complain about any movie where Samuel L. Jackson gets to say “motherf*cker” at least once? Black Snake Moan, whose title is derived from the classic 1927 Blind Lemon Jefferson blues tune, is so much more than it at first seems. The pulp-like poster depicts a black man with a white woman on a chain and is sure to drive many folks up the wall with just that conjures an exploitation flick that probably should have double-billed with Grindhouse from earlier this year – but trust me the film is much deeper.

Writer/director Craig Brewer, late of Hustle & Flow, creates what can only be termed as a psychological Southern Gothic. Sam Jackson is a semi-religious bluesman whose wife has just left him after sleeping with his brother. Christina Ricci, needing a sandwich and badly bleached blonde, is an abused nymphomaniac with uncontrollable urges. Justin Timberlake, who continues to amaze each time I see him on the screen, is her boyfriend about to go off to war. There is also an impressive performance by Kim Richards as Ricci’s mother who has been scarily white trash-ed up for the role.

When Jackson finds Ricci on the side of the road, he decides he must save her from herself. A struggle and a friendship ensues which endears the viewer to these two seriously dysfunctional characters, which if not handled right could easily have filed this flick into the exploitation genre. I think it’s sad that it was marketed to that aim, because it really is an amazing film, working on many levels. This is a twisted and explicit must see, but a must see nevertheless. Oh, and of course, great soundtrack, Jackson himself on some tracks.