Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Iron Man 2 (2010, Jon Favreau)

Even with its problems, Iron Man 2 is leagues better than the original.

There’s some awkward plotting to catch the viewer up with the characters and it all makes for a wonderfully boring superhero movie.

That open’s a showcase for Downey’s acting abilities, given he’s on a slow burn as everything around him explodes–for the first half, there’s not much Iron Man, but lots of villain stuff with Mickey Rourke and Sam Rockwell, plus the introduction of Scarlett Johansson and “return” of Don Cheadle.

And when it does finally catch fire–even with the more ludicrous plot elements–it’s fantastic. It’s a shame it ends when it does, since it introduces so much great material for the actors to work with.

As far as actors… Downey’s great, Rourke’s great… Rockwell’s a little toned down–he’s been a lot more dynamic in other stuff–and, finally, someone realized Downey and Gwyneth Paltrow do a great Nick and Nora together and let them.

Unfortunately, there are other actors. Cheadle’s okay. It’s never believable he and Downey are friends though (it wasn’t in the first one with Terrence Howard, so no biggie). Johansson’s infinitely bland, which is better than her normal awful (regardless of her acting, her fight scene has some great choreography). Samuel L. Jackson is a joke, one the filmmakers don’t seem to be in on.

It’s a lot of fun and it’s got some actual content, which really surprised me.

It’s a shame about John Debney’s laughable score though.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Jon Favreau; screenplay by Justin Theroux, based on the Marvel Comics character created by Stan Lee, Larry Lieber, Don Heck and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Matthew Libatique; edited by Richard Pearson and Dan Lebental; music by John Debney; production designer, J. Michael Riva; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Tony Stark), Gwyneth Paltrow (Pepper Potts), Mickey Rourke (Ivan Vanko), Don Cheadle (Rhodey), Scarlett Johansson (Natalie), Sam Rockwell (Justin Hammer), Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury), Clark Gregg (Agent Coulson), Garry Shandling (Senator Stern), Jon Favreau (Happy) and John Slattery (Howard Stark).


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The Spirit (2008, Frank Miller)

The Spirit is a disaster. It’s a complete disaster. But sometimes, it’s a wonderful one.

Frank Miller can’t write a movie, he can’t plot a movie–arguably, with the exception of his straight-on shots, he can sort of direct one–but it doesn’t matter. There’s no good reason anyone should have given Miller any kind of budget or creative control over a movie and Lionsgate, being Lionsgate, did and he created this mess.

There are good things about The Spirit. Actors. Two of them. Gabriel Macht and Sarah Paulson. Some of the very supporting supporting cast is all right. The majority of the performances are awful. They’re incompetent, but Miller can’t direct actors and he can’t cast them. He found two of the worst female actors he could and cast them in a movie together–who’s worse, Eva Mendes or Scarlett Johansson. I actually think it has to be Johansson, just because her scenes with Samuel L. Jackson make it look like he’s giving a decent performance (by comparison).

Miller apparently thought Jackson was a good choice for the outlandish villain, but Jackson gives the same performance–big shock–he’s been giving since Pulp Fiction. He does not, however, mention being black, which might be the reason he’s a little bit better than usual. With Johansson around–or Paz Vega or Stana Kelic–it’s impossible for Jackson to really seem all too terrible. There’s so much garbage acting, just the basic ability to deliver ones lines puts Jackson leagues ahead.

Dan Lauria is also terrible. Miller’s choices, however stupid, all make sense except Lauria. He should have chemistry with Paulson. He doesn’t. He should have chemistry with Macht. He doesn’t. Instead, he goes around being awful.

Miller’s style for the film occasionally betrays real storytelling sensibility. Not often, but occasionally; enough to keep the interest level up. But the thrill of The Saint is feeling Miller’s vibe–his idiotic vibe. I think he thinks he did a good job presenting Will Eisner’s character to modern audiences, but what he’s created is this amalgam fans won’t like and new audiences can’t connect with. By updating the original, he’s somehow dated it.

He did the whole green screen thing (like Sin City) and it frequently works. Letting Miller be stupid is at least interesting, whether it’s his composition or the way he utilizes color.

It’s too bad it’s not a particularly original film. It seems like a retread of Batman Forever, but with the Danny Elfman Batman music blaring. There are Pulp Fiction references, Superman references… all sorts of references. And they don’t work because Miller doesn’t understand he isn’t connecting with the audience. He probably even thought the audience was going to care about the characters.

Only Macht and Paulson make real people. Paulson because she can’t help acting well and Macht by accident (his frequent voice overs do him no favors). But their scenes together are fantastic, right from the start.

I suppose the movie moves pretty well too. It’s going to be one of the last vanity projects unproven filmmakers get, so it’s definitely worth looking at just from the historical perspective. Plus, it’s nowhere near as bad as I expected.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Frank Miller; screenplay by Miller, based on the comic book series by Will Eisner; director of photography, Bill Pope; edited by Gregory Nussbaum; music by David Newman; produced by Deborah Del Prete, Gigi Pritzker and Michael E. Uslan; released by Lionsgate.

Starring Gabriel Macht (The Spirit), Eva Mendes (Sand Saref), Sarah Paulson (Ellen), Dan Lauria (Dolan), Paz Vega (Plaster of Paris), Eric Balfour (Mahmoud), Jaime King (Lorelei), Scarlett Johansson (Silken Floss), Samuel L. Jackson (The Octopus) and Louis Lombardi (Phobos).


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Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith (2005, George Lucas)

This movie got good reviews, right? I mean, I know Episode I got good reviews, but this one did too, right? I suppose the CG is better than before–except for Yoda, who’s desperate for a good puppeteer–and the action sequences are a tad more engaging. The space battles, mostly. The actual lightsaber fight scenes are terrible. Lucas never establishes what makes a good… lightsaber-er. I mean, does one have to be a strong Jedi to do it or can a mediocre Jedi simply be good at it? The lightsaber fights aren’t much fun because it’s impossible to tell if the person winning is overcoming the odds or not.

But besides the improved CG, there’s absolutely nothing to recommend the movie. Even Ewan McGregor, who technically isn’t bad, doesn’t have any actual good scenes. Oh, I forgot about the backdrops–the composite backdrops, when Lucas sticks the actors in front of green screens and CG backdrops–are awful. They look worse than a matte painting in a Roger Corman movie.

Back to the acting–hopefully I’ll get around to script at some point, but it might be hard to muster the enthusiasm–Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith is a constant battle between Hayden Christensen and Natalie Portman for worst performance in a galaxy far, far away (and this one). While Christensen is abjectly terrible, Portman’s somehow even worse–it’s a shocking statement, but true. Maybe it’s because Christensen’s in a lot of the movie, so the viewer gets worn down. Portman’s only in a handful of scenes–which doesn’t make much sense in terms of Lucas’s “sweeping” narrative–and she’s like a infrequent, deep stab into the chest.

The supporting cast is no better. Ian McDiarmid’s awful, Samuel L. Jackson’s apparently turning in a comic performance. No one–not even George Lucas–could think Jackson was giving a good performance. Actually, I think Jimmy Smits might give one of the film’s better performances.

Too bad, I got to the script. It starts immediately, with a poorly written (and laugh-out loud funny) opening text crawl. Then there’s the coughing robot–not to mention all the other robots, besides R2-D2, speaking English. Why doesn’t R2 just speak English too? Lucas turns R2 into an action hero–only for a while, though a Gizmo arc from Gremlins 2 would have been amusing–and those scenes aren’t terrible. It’s at least cute. There’s a stupid Chewbacca cameo. Every cameo and reference is stupid, depending on the viewer’s regard for the old Star Wars movies, they’re even offensive. It’s like Lucas never watched the original trilogy (yes, even Jedi).

There’s more–much more–like how it seems like Lucas never auditioned Christensen with McGregor, since they have absolutely no chemistry. There’s Portman calling Christensen by the nickname he had in the first movie–you know, when he was a little kid. It’s as creepy as the Luke and Leia kiss (in hindsight). I don’t even want to talk about the Luke and Leia introduction–it’s one of the worst scenes I’ve ever seen. It’s got to be.

Revenge of the Sith is a piece of crap. It’s so unfunny, there’s not even a point in musing on what happened to Lucas. There’s a character named Darth Plagueis (yes, I did have to Google the spelling). You know, as in Darth Plague-is. A grown-up wrote that name down and thought it was good.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by George Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Roger Barton and Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu), Jimmy Smits (Senator Bail Organa), Frank Oz (Yoda), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Christopher Lee (Count Dooku) and Keisha Castle-Hughes (Her Royal Highness, The Elected Queen of Naboo).


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Resurrecting the Champ (2007, Rod Lurie)

The biggest problem with Resurrecting the Champ, besides Rod Lurie, is the Champ himself. Not Sam Jackson, who’s actually the least irritating he’s been since Loaded Weapon or so, but the character and his function in the film. At some point during the late second act, Champ is a decent movie about a guy growing up, realizing he’s got to take responsibility for his actions and realizing it isn’t going to be easy. If anyone can screw up an easy story like that one, it’s Rob Lurie, who demphasizes the finally (after the first ninety minutes) interesting relationship between estranged married couple Josh Hartnett and Kathryn Morris, who have a ludicrous backstory detailed in expository dialogue, but actually develop a rather tender relationship–albeit one centered around disappointment–by the last twenty minutes of the film. It’s a previously uninteresting aspect of the film made interesting, much like Hartnett’s actual journalistic pursuits. The scenes between him and Jackson, with the ominous something in their futures, are mostly okay. Boring, but okay. Jackson is doing an impression of an Oscar-hungry role here, shuffling around, not yelling, maybe not even swearing. The problem with his performance has little to do with the actual performance… he’s not believable as a former boxer. Especially not when there’s that constant, Lurie-friendly use of flashback. Lurie is the most overly melodramatic, goofily sentimental director working today–The Contender, The Last Castle, and now Resurrecting the Champ. He’s insincere, so much so, any viewer can tell.

None of these problems phase Hartnett, however, who turns in an excellent lead performance. Hartnett always shone in ensembles or as the sidekick, but Champ gives him a whole lot to do. The script’s obvious and mediocre, but Harnett’s acting is not. It might help Lurie managed to fill the cast with good actors (except Teri Hatcher, who under-stays her welcome by three seconds… any more and it’d have been intolerable). Except the film never works with it. Alan Alda is good as Hartnett’s boss and there’s some great stuff between them, but it’s hardly in there. Alda being the only one, besides Morris, who can tell Hartnett’s without content. By the end, filled with the lame friendship with Jackson and some convenient inner turmoil over his relationship with his father, Hartnett finally gets some really good scenes, those family scenes. Even if the kid playing he and Morris’s son is bland enough to be in a Mentos commercial.

As a visual director, Lurie actually isn’t terrible. There are some well-composed shots, maybe even thirty percent of them. Still, the film looks too crisp, like poorly lighted DV (did I mention Hatcher was terrible already?), and it’s real impersonal. The characters spend more time outside than they do in; the most effective scene at Hartnett and Morris’s house is in the backyard, when the age difference gets to play well into the story, instead of being vanity casting.

Lurie wrecks the film’s third act. The film’s actually in decent shape and he and the screenwriters go after it with a baseball bat. A lame voiceover (big shock from Lurie) almost undoes Harnett’s performance, but it can’t. It’s a great performance; it’s a shame it’s in such a lame film.

Oh, and the Peter Coyote scenes (Coyote’s in a ton of makeup) are great.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Rod Lurie; screenplay by Michael Bortman and Allison Burnett, from an article by J.R. Moehringer; director of photography, Adam Kane; edited by Sarah Boyd; music by Larry Groupe; production designer, Ken Rempel; produced by Brad Fischer, Marc Frydman, Mike Medavoy, Arnold Messer and Bob Yari; released by Yari Film Group.

Starring Josh Hartnett (Erik), Samuel L. Jackson (Champ), Kathryn Morris (Joyce), Alan Alda (Metz), David Paymer (Whitley), Rachel Nichols (Polly), Dakota Goyo (Teddy), Teri Hatcher (Flak), Ryan McDonald (Kenny), Harry J. Lennix (Satterfield Jr.) and Peter Coyote (Epstein).


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