Samuel L Jackson

December 1, 2015

Countdown to the Force Awakens (Episode III) – Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith

Exiting “Attack of the Clones” you might feel a little woozy and maybe even feel a little lost, and think to yourself, “is there any hope?” Well, as much as people might disagree with me, this entry in the “Star Wars” film universe if not only one of my favorites, but also one of the better shot, directed, and acting in the series as well. Let’s not stand on ceremony, let’s commence with 2005’s “Revenge of the Sith.”

“Sith” begins in the middle of a giant space battle with both Anakin Skywalker, now a full Jedi Knight, and his master, Obi-Wan Kenobi, hunting down General Grevious, the leader of the Droid Army who has kidnapped Chancellor Palpatine. After a daring rescue, Kenobi and Skywalker are met with a heroes welcome back on Coruscant.

The plot thickens as Anakin and Padme reunite and she reveals to him that she is pregnant, however visions of Padme dying during childbirth haunt Anakin who first seeks counsel with Jedi Master Yoda, and later with Palpatine who regales Skywalker with stories of the Dark Side of The Force and and Sith Lord named Darth Plagueis.

There is also worry within the Jedi ranks as Chancellor Palpatine looks to expand his power within the Senate. Many are worried they will need to remove the Chancellor after the Clone Wars has come to an end. Master Jedi Mace Windu and the Council decide that Anakin should keep tabs on Palpatine, who agrees with their plan, but remains conflicted on his loyalty to the Jedi, his friendship to Palpatine, and his worry for Padme.

As Kenobi dispatches of General Grievous on the planet Utapau, meanwhile on Coruscant, Palpatine reveals his true identity to Anakin as the Sith Lord, Dark Sidious, who promises that he can help Anakin save Padme.

After reporting his findings to Windu, a task force of Jedi, led by Windu, look to take Palpatine into custody and re-establish order. Arriving just in time, Skywalker tries to talk Windu into sparing the life of Palpatine, but before Windu can land the killing blow, Anakin cuts off Windu’s hand and allows Palpatine to land his own killing blow. Having saved the life of Palpatine, Skywalker pledges himself to the Chancellor and becomes his newest apprentice; Darth Vader.

It’s all downhill from here, as Jedi are wiped out with “Order 66,” Anakin kills what remains of the Trade Federation, and Obi-Wan and Anakin duel on the fiery planet of Mustafar. The 3rd act moves quick and ties up all loose ends and leads right into what we all know as “The Original Trilogy.”

THE BIG…..NOOOOOOOOO!!!!!

As much as people give shit to the prequels, this is by far the strongest of the three, and for me at least, my 2nd favorite film in the series. I love the way the tension builds and seeing the descent into darkness for Anakin Skywalker as he finally turns to the Dark Side and becomes Darth Vader is a highlight of just not these films, but the franchise as a whole.

There certainly seem to be things that George Lucas learned from his previous mistakes in Episode I and II, including;

1. Keeping the love story almost completely out. While we still know that Anakin and Padme love each other and they are about to have kids, that story is told with less dialogue, which helps moves the action along.

2. He let’s the actors act this time. While Natalie Portman was pretty much a disaster in this film, a select few actually improved the material they were given, namely Ewan McGregor and albeit some silly faces, Ian McDiarmid, gives a creepy performance as the manipulator of all the events in the prequels. And let me not forget Christopher Lee, who is, well, Christopher Lee.

3. I buy Hayden Christensen this time. Hey, I mean he’s acting isn’t the best, but it’s head and shoulders much better than his performance in “Attack of the Clones” and his scowling is in full effect as the Dark Lord of the Sith.

SILLY FACE…..ACTIVATE

All in all, there isn’t much I can tear apart in this film aside from some atrocious acting and of course the SFX porn that became a staple in the prequels, but honestly, “Revenge of the Sith” is entirely watchable and all together enjoyable. As someone who’s favorite in the franchise is “The Empire Strikes Back” this film does a great job of painting scenes that are full of darkness and impending doom, which for me, is when the series is at it’s best; dark and gloomy, with just enough light where you think there is hope; and that hope in the darkness for these prequels has to be “Revenge.”

Coming up next in Part IV will we go back in time, but fast-forwarding ahead about 20 years in “Star Wars” time with “A New Hope,” May the Force Be With You.

April 5, 2014

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

STAKES

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the first post-Avengers Marvel movie to give me and most other Marvel fans the one thing we’ve wanted.  The one thing Iron Man 3 squandered away for a punchline.  The one thing Thor: The Dark World got close to delivering but got handcuffed by Thor’s…well…immortality.  Captain America: The Winter Soldier finally gave me STAKES.  It finally provides the feeling of true peril and importance to the grand scheme of this carefully constructed Marvel cinematic universe.  People not only get hurt in this film, they get hurt bad.  They bleed, they suffer, they die.  And throughout the chaos, you finally get the sense that important sh%* is on the line.  AND THAT’S EXCLUDING THE WINTER SOLDIER PLOTLINE!

I’ve been on media blackout for this followup to Captain America: The First Avenger since I saw the face melting first trailer.  I did this because Marvel, god bless ’em, has a bad habit of revealing the best parts of their films in their commercials. (Not as bad as Sony’s Amazing Spider-Man 2 revealing EVERY part of their film in their 30+ commercials, but still.)  That first trailer gave me everything I needed to know about this film.  Since then, I’ve inadvertently overheard really positive stuff, going as far as to say, “It’s better than The Avengers”.  Well, I’m of the opinion that The Avengers is THE BEST superhero film ever made.  So, to even make a claim like that really raised my expectations for what I’d see.  I’m glad to report my expectations were met with ease.  Now, I’m not saying that Captain America: The Winter Soldier is better than The Avengers.  I mean, COME ON!  Need I remind you THIS happened?:

However, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is the most well structured, action packed, comic book fan friendly, solo hero film Marvel Studios has ever made.  
Now let me get my largest criticism out of the way, because I’m a comic book movie snob.  We snobs complain first and praise second.  This movie should NOT be subtitled The Winter Soldier.  It is not an entirely accurate description of the main crux of the film.  As awesome as the actual Winter Soldier is, and holy f%#king sh%* is he awesome in this, he is merely an instrument for the story’s true villain.  A more appropriate title might have been Captain America: Shield vs S.H.I.E.L.D. or Captain America: The Sins Of S.H.I.E.L.D. or Captain America: The Soldier Without A Country.  Okay that last one is a bit wordy.  My point is that the Strategic Homeland Intervention, Enforcement and Logistics Division is the beginning, middle and end of what this film is about.  It’s a story about Captain America finding his place in S.H.I.E.L.D. and S.H.I.E.L.D. realizing their place in the world.  The twists and turns that come with this journey are surprising, even with the film already being revealed to be a political thriller.  I mean, we heard that it would be, but did you actually think Marvel would have the balls to fully do so?  Well, they did.  The Winter Soldier himself does serve as a strong bridge into the next chapter of Steve Rogers’ story.  His presence somewhat mirrors that of Heath Ledger’s Joker in The Dark Knight.  He steps in, causes major damage, then steps out.  But his potential for the future is astronomical.  Winter Soldier could be Marvel’s first legitimately dangerous and morally complex villain/anti-hero since Loki.   That’s because the breadcrumbs for this character have been laid out so well and the dynamic between him and Captain America is so strong.
Sebastian Stan will be a household name after this film, but let me just put in my two cents before he is.  I now understand what Joe Johnston and Kevin Feige saw in Stan when they cast him in Captain America: The First Avenger.  Not only did he have to be able to hint at the potential dark nature of (SPOILER ALERT) Bucky Barnes in the first film.  We also had to buy into his friendship Steve.  And that was something Stan accomplished in a very short amount of screentime.  That chemistry and friendship set the foundation for this film’s largest emotional conflict.  Over time, Tom Hiddleston and Chris Hemsworth brought to life two characters audiences now love to see on screen together.  Sebastian Stan and Chris Evans have the potential to be a worthy successor to them. 
While Stan’s character has established chemistry with Evans, Anthony Mackie and Scarlett Johansson create new and equally rich chemistry with him here.  From his first line of dialogue, I knew Mackie understood and loved this world he now inhabits.  He isn’t just the plucky comic relief either.  It is very easy to fall into the trap of playing a comic book character instead of playing an actual character.  Mackie doesn’t fall for it.  He brings legitimacy and realism to the role of Sam Wilson.  You never doubt that he is a capable soldier and that he has deeper layers to him.  The kindred spirit relationship he shares with Steve works well.  Their connection felt even realer to me than Tony Stark and Rhodey’s.  And speaking of layers, it is now evident that Scarlett Johansson understands Black Widow inside and out.  Watching her play around with the subtle intricacies of Natasha Romanoff never gets old for me.  Since that scene in Avengers where she uses her weakness to play Loki, I revel in the moments I get to see ScarJo play this part.  I also love how this film doesn’t resort to the predictably forced romantic relationship motif.  Cap’ and Widow are friends.  Their relationship is as fraternal as Cap’s relationship was with Bucky.  Having it be this way makes it more meaningful in my opinion.  They can talk without the hesitance that comes with romantic entanglements.  Their bond was only shown briefly in the Avengers, but thankfully expanded on in this film.  
There is a scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier that I call “The Captain’s Orders Scene”.  You will know it when you see it.  On paper, it is a scene that probably shouldn’t work.  One might think it too corny or cliché.  Thoughts I used to have about Captain America as a comic book character in general.  However, Chris Evans has come into his own so much with Steve Rogers, I totally bought it.  I buy him and his entire wholesome, honest, righteous attitude.  And because I buy it, I accept it when other characters buy it too.  People are willing to fight and die for Cap’.  And if they let him down, they are genuinely upset that they did.  When Anthony Mackie’s character Sam Wilson says “I’m sorry Cap’.”, there isn’t one bit of cynicism behind his words.  Chris Evans made this concept work.  He made a grown man running around in a red, white and blue outfit spouting platitudes about freedom, justice and the American way friggin’ work…TODAY.  There was a time where Marvel was hesitant to even call their film Captain America due to their fear of how the title would be received in foreign markets.  Now I’m watching set videos from the Avengers: Age Of Ultron set in Seoul Korea where little Korean children are geeking out about that same Captain America running down their streets.  Chris Evans made that happen.  I was sorry to hear about Evans wanting to retire from acting.  It is going to be quite a task finding another actor who will be able to believably sell Captain America the same way he does.  
Dear Russo Brothers…I’m sorry I ever doubted your abilities to deliver an action spectacle befitting a superhero movie.  No, I’m serious.  The action scenes in The Winter Soldier are gonna surprise you.  They are gritty and bloody and brutally intense.  Hell, the street fight between Captain America and Winter Soldier is my second favorite one on one fight scene in a comic book movie.  (Spider-Man vs Doc Ock on the train is still my number one.)  In addition to their apparent mastery of action, the Russo’s do a great job filling out the film with great character moments.  No one feels superfluous and each character feels three dimensional.  A car ride conversation between Cap’ and Black Widow is as entertaining as a motorcycle vs Quinn Jet showdown.  Joe Johnston’s direction was perfect for the first film because of the era.  However, the Russo Brothers have figured out a solid blueprint for using this character in our time.  
To go on any further would be to spoil this movie more than I already have.  Needless to say, it earns its place as one of Marvel’s best and is deserving of all the praise it’s getting…um…except for that “Better Than The Avengers” praise.  I MEAN, COME ON!:
Say your pledge of allegiance…salute the flag…never get in an elevator with Steve Rogers…watch it…then tell me I’m wrong.  
December 18, 2012

Happy Holidays: Jackie Brown

Jackie Brown – Comeback

Pam Grier was a big star in the 1970s.  I mean she was Foxy Brown (the original Foxy Brown, not this one, even though this one did have something to do with the following film) and Coffy.  She was the epitome of “the baddest bitch” (and not this shit either).  Pardon my language, after dealing with Tarantino flicks for the past two weeks I finally feel like I’m getting into character.  The novice Tarantino head will consider either “Pulp Fiction” or “Inglorious Basterds” his masterpiece (for the record I have no issues whatsoever with either film, they are both fantastic in their own rights) but “Jackie Brown” from 1997 is by far Tarantino’s most accomplished effort and showed a master at work, in complete control of his cast and story while developing an alternate universe that paralleled, or maybe even intersected at times, his “Pulp”and “Reservoir Dog,” universe.

A comeback can come in many shapes and sizes.  For “Brown” this was a comeback of sorts for both Grier and Robert Forster (who was nominated for an Academy Award for his performance) and also Tarantino himself.  Between the time “Pulp Fiction” premiered in 1994 and the release of “Brown,” QT had hit some rough times.  Have you ever seen “Destiny Turns on the Radio“? And while “Four Rooms” was decent enough it was still a bomb.  Come 1997, he had a lot to prove, and by God, he proves it.

Like any great genre film, the plot is simple, yet complex.  We have an airline stewardess, played by Grier, who works for a small-time pimp and drug-runner named Ordell Robbie, played by Samuel L. Jackson (and for my money the best performance of his career).  Two ATF agents bust the stewardess and she heads to prison.  Enter the middle-age bail bondsman, who falls head over heels for our stewardess who has a plan to put an end to Robbie’s career.  We have twists, double and triple-crosses, and enough quirky characters and quotable lines to shake a stick, or an AK-47, at.  “Brown” is an exercise in blaxplotation for the mod-set.

What makes “Brown” special is the fact that normally when books are taken and transformed from the written word to the silver screen, it’s never done as good and you always hear the same comment, “the book was better.”  Well, when the author of said book that you are adapting says that this is his favorite adaptation of his work, you got something good.  “Brown” is based on Elmore Leonard’s novel “Rum Punch” from 1992.  You might remember another Leonard novel that was adapted shortly before “Brown,” which was “Get Shorty” from 1995, starring John Travolta, who was Vincent Vega in “Pulp Fiction.”  It’s the circle of life baby.

Overall, if you want the perfect Tarantino flick to check out during the holidays, or anytime for that matter, it has to be “Jackie Brown.”  While it might be the most unappreciated of his film repertoire, it’s an exercise in writing, acting, and direction at the genre’s best.

Fun Fact:  Have you ever payed close attention in “Pulp Fiction” to the music faintly played (between 2:30-2:35) in the hallway where Jules and Vincent are discussing foot massages?  That song is “Strawberry Letter 23” which you can also hear in this scene in “Jackie Brown.”

December 13, 2012

Happy Holidays: Pulp Fiction

Pulp Fiction – Coolest

Okay, you’re the new kid on the block, you just wowed people in Sundance and Cannes with “Reservoir Dogs,” you completed a script for “True Romance” and worked on a script with Oliver Stone for “Natural Born Killers.”  What do you do next if you’re Quentin Tarantino?  Well, you help resurrect John Travolta’s career, create a film that will change cinema forever, and turn Samuel L. Jackson into a Hollywood leading man (of sorts).  You simply create “Pulp Fiction,” for my money, the coolest film ever made.

To create the coolest film ever, you have to start with a cast, and “Fiction” gives a Woody Allen movie a run for its money cast-wise.  From Eric Stoltz, to Christopher Walken, and everyone in-between, you could say that everyone in this film gives the performances of their lives.  No one is mailing it in, and while some of the dialogue might come off a bit hokey and a little too noir-ish, the actors are giving it with conviction and believability.

To keep the cool factor going, you have to know you’re genre, and in Tarantino’s case, he uses every genre he’s ever loved and it shows.  You have blaxploitation, exploitation, french new wave, action, rape-revenge, buddy movie, the list can go on and on.  While you can call “Pulp” a drama film, I’d almost like to call it a homage to the essence of film.  It’s the best of what the genre can be in a tight 2 hour and 50 minute package.

As a side note, as much as people look into the film for it’s religious undertones, (Marcellus Wallace is the Devil, and Vincent and Jules are sent to get his soul back) get off of that already.  At the roots, “Pulp” is a grindhouse film at its best, and looking for deeper meaning in a grindhouse film is like looking for a virgin in the Catholic Church.  Get off your high horse cinephiles, for all we know it’s Wallace’s dirty laundry in the briefcase and it’s yellow because he pissed all over it.  Boom!  Mystery solved.

As for the plot of “Pulp” it goes a little like this.  Two hitman, Vincent and Jules, are sent by their boss, Marcellus Wallace, to procure a package from four men in an apartment.  Needless to say things get bloody, and both Vince and Jules need to lay low and dispose of a headless corpse in a trunk.  The plot moves to a series of vignettes that involve Vince, a boxer named Butch, played by Bruce Willis (I would also call this film a comeback of sorts for Willis as well) and a date with Vince and Wallace’s wife, Mia.  Needless to say, things don’t go so well with that either.  Moving along Butch pulls a fast one on Wallace when he doesn’t throw a boxing match in which Wallace loses a great deal of cash.  While Butch plots his escape from Los Angeles he gets sidetracked in the search for his missing gold watch.  Not to sound like a broken record but things turn sour for Vince, Butch, and Wallace himself.  Just like Tarantino’s previous outing, “Reservoir Dogs” the story is told in a non-linear fashion that keeps you guessing and even when characters meet their end you still end up seeing them again.

While many call “Pulp” the best film in Tarantino’s repertoire; it’s a tough call for me.  It’s groundbreaking in the development of indie cinema throughout the 1990s, and proved that good writing can be both dramatic, smart, cheesy, and funny as hell, but I’ll cover my favorite film of his in a future review.  Tarantino turned the mundane conversations of what they call Whoppers in Paris into high art and created a cultural zeitgeist.  He turned the inhuman into people that we can relate to, and while there is a good amount of violence in “Pulp” it never feels gory or overdone in a way that seems unneeded to move the story along.

You know how when you were a kid and you would tell someone “Hey, if you looked up the definition of stupid you’d find a picture of you next to it.”  Well, if you looked up coolest you would find a picture of Samuel L Jackson holding a 9mm with Tarantino standing behind him like a proud parent.

Fun Fact:  Recognize who played the waiter Buddy at Jack Rabbit Slims?  Well, that was Steve Buscemi, who played Mr. Pink in “Reservoir Dogs.”

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