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Kong: Skull Island – Review

13 Mar

I love monster movies. Like I really, really love monster movies, so the fact that Legendary is giving us a whole universe dedicated to giant monster brawls is almost too exciting. The first film in the MonsterVerse, Godzilla, came out in 2014, and despite some mixed reviews, I thought it was pretty badass. It did have some flaws, but when it got down to the monster mayhem, it really knew what it was doing. Now we have the second film, Kong: Skull Island, which introduces King Kong and the island to the universe. This beloved ape has been around since 1933, and it’s awesome to see that he has no intentions of giving up his big screen glory. This film is excessive, yes, but it’s also an extremely entertaining and action packed thrill ride.

William Randa (John Goodman) is a government official who has all the proof he needs to lead an expedition to an undiscovered island in the middle of the Pacific Ocean called Skill Island. After fighting for approval, he finally gets the go ahead and begins assembling his team. His first order of business is to find a tracker, which he finds with James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston), a former SAS captain that served in the Vietnam War. He also recruits the help of Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson) and his regiment, the Sky Devils, as a military escort. Photojournalist Mason Weaver (Brie Larson) also joins the expedition with hopes of uncovering some unknown government conspiracy. When the group finally gets to the island, it doesn’t take long for the protector of the realm, a 100 foot tall ape named Kong, to show up and defend his land. This attack splits the group in two, which forces them to work together and keep their eyes peeled for Kong and the other horrors that wait for them on the island.

I had such a blast with Kong: Skull Island, that I’m still getting excited thinking back on it. It’s exactly what I wanted from this movie, and based on what some other critics were saying, I was kind of worried I was going to be let down. One thing that’s worth noting that can be seen as a negative are some of the characters. Samuel L. Jackson’s Packard and John C. Reily’s Hank Marlow are two examples of well thought out and fully realized characters. I understand their motivations and they stand out amongst the rest. There are other side characters that also have large personalities that make them memorable, but there’s no real development with any of them. Tome Hiddleston and Brie Larson, however, seem to hardly be in character at all. They’re just the stereotypical heroes you would expect to see in this movie. They try to add a little back story to them, but that exposition doesn’t really help at all. They’re just there to save the day, and that’s about it.

The original King Kong has one of the most classic stories in the history of film, and no sequel or remake since then has been able to capture that same essence and feeling. Kong: Skull Island doesn’t even try, and it’s all the better for it. Sure, it has the same kind of set up with the characters being introduced and sailing to the island, and there are natives which are to be expected on Skull Island, but that’s where the similarities end. The story of this movie pretty much revolves around Hiddleston and company trying to stay alive and get to the rendezvous point on the other side of the island. This is really all I needed, but there’s a cool subplot added in with Jackson’s character that raises the stakes even more. I was so thrilled to see this movie not get bogged down in trying to be something more than it is. The plot was there to drive the movie forward, but it wasn’t so stale and uninteresting that I lost track of what I was really watching. This keeps the pace fast with the action always moving forward. It’s cool to say that I was never once bored watching this movie.

Let’s talk about the man of the hour though. Toby Kebbel is tasked with being a side character soldier, but also was the motion capture actor for Kong. This seems appropriate since he did the motion capture for Koba in the new Planet of the Apes movies. He really brings Kong to life in this movie, which is awesome, and the physicality of the role is not to be forgotten. Kong has major throw downs in this movie that will force any viewer to go into popcorn munching overdrive. This is where the movie really shines, and I appreciate the visuals that add to the excessiveness that I mentioned I loved so much. Sure, the close ups and the crazy compositions of Kong back lit by the sun may seem cheesy, but they’re really just too cool to look at, and provided some of my favorite parts of the movie.

Is Kong: Skull Island going to match the classic status that Merian C. Cooper and Ernest B. Schoedsack did with the original back in 1933? Of course not, but it does add a fulfilling new chapter to the MonsterVerse, and also was just a highly entertaining film. Once the characters get to the island, the action very rarely slows down and I found myself getting lost in the visuals of the island and the monster brawls that seemed larger than life happening before my very eyes. This isn’t a movie about characters nor does it have any important lessons to teach the viewer. This is about giant monsters throwing down for a couple of hours. In that way, it did not disappoint.

Final Grade: B+

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The Samaritan – Review

22 Mar

It’s totally cool to take certain plot devices, concepts, and styles from other movies of the past. Part of the fun of watching movies is seeing styles evolve over the years. I’ve noticed that I’ve been reviewing a lot of neo noir movies recently, and I’m continuing this streak with David Weaver’s 2012 film, The Samaritan. Now, when I say that it’s fine for film makers to borrow from other movies in order to tell their stories, I mean it. The Samaritan, on the other handis pretty much just a walking cliche. Still, for being a B-movie of no consequence, it was still pretty entertaining to watch.

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Foley (Samuel L. Jackson) is an expert grifter who’s just got finished serving a 25 year prison sentence for murdering his old partner. Upon his release, Foley is determined to give up his life of crime and find a more decent way of making a living; a decision that is both made up of overwhelming guilt and logic. While trying to create a better life for himself, he continues to be harassed by Ethan (Luke Kirby), his ex-partner’s son who wants him to be part of a grift on a crime lord Xavier (Tom Wilkinson), and a prostitute desperate for Foley’s affection, Iris (Ruth Negga). While Foley begins forming a relationship with Iris, Evan starts coming at him much harder with his million dollar plan, but it isn’t until Evan drops an earth shattering secret that Foley decides to drop his plan for a new life and dive head first into his last and most dangerous grift.

So, a criminal who has been to prison is trying to reform his life but once again, and unwillingly, gets sucked back into a life of crime. This is a story that’s been told over and over again. This isn’t a bad thing. It’s a classic tale that can be used time and again with different circumstances and events to make it still interesting. In this regard, The Samaritan sort of succeeds and sort of fails. It succeeds because there are a lot of twists, turns, and finely acted characters that kept my attention throughout most of the film. It fails because while there are a lot of different things layered on top of the classic crime tale, they are all pulled straight from other movies so that there’s nearly nothing new or original in the entire movie.

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The casting and performances of the actors is one of those things that really got me into the movie. Samuel L. Jackson gives an outstanding performance as Foley. The role seems to have been written just for him and he fits it like a glove. It was also cool to see Ruth Negga in a more dramatic role outside of her part in Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. and I thought she did a fine job as Iris. Luke Kirby and Tom Wilkinson ham up their villainous roles, as well, which makes them very easy to hate and it so much easier to root for Foley. This isn’t exactly a well written movie so it was good to see all of these fine actors really pull together and professionally handle some of the ridiculous dialogue and make the best out of what was given to them.

One of the main problems I have with The Samaritan is how long it takes to really get going. The real action and bulk of the story doesn’t start until after the half hour point, which means that there’s a lot of story crammed into a span of less then an hour. This made the first half of the movie feel really slow and the second half disjointed. Luckily, there are some pretty cool scenes throughout the movie and the climax was very satisfying to watch. It would have just been a much smoother ride had the movie been longer or if there wasn’t so many twists and turns mushed together in such a short time period.

The Samaritan isn’t a movie that I’m going to be talking about for the rest of my life, nor is it one that I’d put on again to watch anytime soon. There’s a lot of flaws with the movie but there are also some positive elements going for it that make it pretty entertaining. It’s a very simple movie that’s borrowed from films that have come before it to the point where it’s noticeable. Still, I can’t really say that this is a bad movie at all. It’s certainly an acceptable way to kill some time, but you really don’t need to go out searching for it.

The Hateful Eight – Review

14 Jan

When Quentin Tarantino released Reservoir Dogs in 1992, it was clear that he was to be destined for stardom, but it was Pulp Fiction that made him one of the most recognized and often most abrasive cinematic voices of our time. But that’s part of the fun of watching a new Tarantino movie. You really just never know what to expect. To be quite honest, I’ve been getting a little sick of all the Tarantino hype. This made me feel a little bit less than excited to see The Hateful Eight, but this film turned out to be a breath of fresh air. If Reservoir Dogs meets a spaghetti western, meets Agatha Christie doesn’t sound appealing, then I don’t know what would.

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On a snowy road in Wyoming, a bounty hunter named John “the Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) comes across Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson), another bounty hunter with more ruthless tactics. Warren joins Ruth and his bounty, Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh), in their carriage as they are both making their way to the town of Red Rock. They also pick up the future sheriff of Red Rock, Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins), but have to stop when a major blizzard forces them to take shelter in Minnie’s Haberdashery, which is actually a stagecoach lodge with a more than deceiving name. Things don’t seem right at Minnie’s Haberdashery, and it becomes clear that some of the other inhabitants are planning something sinister. Now it becomes a drawn out fight to stay alive and figure out who has something up their sleeves and why.

Let’s get the negatives out of the way first because The Hateful Eight is nowhere near a perfect movie and still doesn’t stack up with Tarantino’s earlier efforts. Is this movie a huge ego project for Tarantino? Yes it is. Pretty much everything has been since Pulp Fiction, but I’m not going to hold that against him because I enjoy a lot of his movies quite a bit. The Hateful Eight drags on and on in the first 45 minutes of its nearly three hour runtime with the kind of dialogue you’ve come to expect since the first scene of Inglourious Basterds, which I still think is his masterpiece. The only problem is that the dialogue is far too expository and nowhere near interesting enough. It’s pretty much just the characters in the stagecoach telling each other about their pasts so the audience knows how quirky they are. 45 minutes of that. My God, it was really killing me. Thankfully, things start getting a lot better when they get to the cabin.

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What made Inglourious Basterds such a cool movie was that it took the feel of classic war films and a comic book style of rules and mushed them to become one of my all time favorite movies. The main reason I like The Hateful Eight as much as I do is because of those same reasons. This movie takes a spaghetti western format and injects a classic murder mystery with the style that Tarantino is known for. Speaking of things this guy is known for, it’s really cool that the majority of this movie takes place in Minnie’s Haberdashery. Someone said before I saw this movie that it would work great as a stage play, and I couldn’t agree more. I love when movies feel like this, and it only makes me compare it more to Tarantino’s exceptional debut, Reservoir Dogs.

There’s also plenty of things in The Hateful Eight that I was not expecting, and that’s a good thing. Tarantino has made it quite clear that the shock value in his movies are there on purpose, and that’s part of the fun of watching his movies. While this movie does feel very self indulgent when it comes to the violence and shocking scenes, I still can’t deny that they weren’t effective. Also the cast of actors in this movie is one of the best of the year. Jennifer Jason Leigh was fantastic as Daisy Domergue and has earned herself an Academy Award nomination for her performance. I was also thrilled to see Walton Goggins, who is one of the most underrated actors out there, get a lot of time to shine at the forefront of the movie. Finally, this film has the best original score you’ll hear all year. It’s already won the Golden Globe, and if it doesn’t take home an Oscar for it, I’ll eat my elbow.

I’ve been really on the fence with Quentin Tarantino recently, and I still have my reservations about what’s to come. While that is said, I enjoyed The Hateful Eight far more than I thought I was. I still say that Tarantino just has to tone it down a little bit and not work to make another movie simply to show how awesome he is. A lot of people are saying that this is his worst movie, but they must have all forgotten Jackie Brown. While this isn’t as satisfying as some of his other work, I still can’t deny the fun that I had with it.

Fresh – Review

6 Feb

I remember sitting in my friend’s basement one night and we came across this movie playing on t.v. called Fresh. We had no idea what it was, but it seemed interesting enough. Little did we know that this movie was going to get seared into our minds and stick with us to this very day. There are plenty of movies that explore urban life, but none of them I think have come close to this debut film by Boaz Yakin. It’s gritty, emotional, and just really packs a punch that anyone who has seen this will agree exists.

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Fresh (Sean Nelson) is a 12 year old kid living the best way that he can on the streets. When he’s not in school, he can be seen running drugs for low level kingpins Corky (Ron Brice) and Esteban (Giancarlo Esposito). He can also be found in the park with his estranged father Sam (Samuel L. Jackson) who teaches his the strict rules of playing and mastering chess. Fresh is a smart kid, way too smart for the situation that he’s in, so when he witness a tragic shooting at the local basketball courts, Fresh begins concocting an elaborate game of “street chess” complete with his own human pawns, sacrifices, and ultimate victories. If he’s lucky, this will get him and his drug addicted sister (N’Bushe Wright) off the streets and safely hidden away.

This movie smacks you in the face harder than you could ever expect, but it also has a really intriguing story behind it. It’s not hard to find an urban movie about adults trying to survive, but finding one where it’s all seen through the eyes of a kid is much more impactful. Not only is he a kid, though, he’s a kid who’s way smarter than everybody else. It’s awesome seeing this kid stay one step ahead of the adults who are slowly but surely leading him to the grave. Then when you think of the movie as a real life game of chess, things get even more fun because you can sort of see the moves that he would be doing if it were on a board and he was in the park playing with his dad.

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Another really cool thing about Fresh is how immersed into the environment you can become. Every location is chosen to perfection to illustrate all the different aspects of life in the city, wether it’s in an upscale neighborhood, deserted landscapes, or the projects. As Fresh moves about the city, I felt like I was exploring different areas along with him to the point where the city almost becomes a character in the movie. When the environment in a movie can make you feel such emotion, it’s a clear sign that you’re watching a well made film, and Fresh is a perfect example.

One thing I will say about this movie is that it may not appeal to everyone. This isn’t a movie for the faint of heart, in fact the first time I saw Fresh I felt pretty uncomfortable myself. What this movie has to offer is, what I think, a very realistic look at some really terrible things. Yes, this movie is violent, but it isn’t violence for the sake of violence. It’s handled in a very matter of fact yet startling way, and that’s what really makes the film so powerful and memorable. When movies exaggerate, it’s easy to remember that you’re just watching a movie. When a movie takes steps to be as realistic as possible, it’s much easier to get completely sucked into what you’re watching.

Fresh is one of the most memorable movies I’ve seen, and I’m surprised it isn’t recognized as a modern day classic. When it was first released, it was met with critical acclaim across the board, but now it seems to have sunk back into obscurity. This is a fantastic movie with images and scenes that will not be forgotten, at least for a very long time. If you feel like you can handle some realistic depictions of terrible things, I’d check out Fresh as soon as possible.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier – Review

7 Apr

Captain America has been my favorite Avenger since, well, ever. His portrayal has been spot on in Captain America: The First Avenger and The Avengers, but I never really felt that they were using Cap in the ways that they could have been using him. The action scenes in The First Avenger felt chopped up and he didn’t have a whole lot to do in The Avengers, but that is no longer the case with Captain America: The Winter Soldier. This takes the universe that these Marvel movies have created and shakes it up in a way that hasn’t been seen yet, and makes me wonder what’s going to happen next for these heroes. It also happens to be my favorite stand alone Marvel movie yet.

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Now living in modern times, Captain America, aka Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is having a hard time adjusting to the culture, but may be having a harder time dealing with the ideologies and working of S.H.I.E.L.D. After a mission concerning hostages, Rogers begins to get suspicious of both Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlet Johansson) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson). Matters are made worse when a mysterious and deadly attack is made on S.H.E.I.L.D by the mysterious Winter Soldier, who is only the start of a much bigger plan concerning the collapse of the entire organization. Captain America, along with Black Widow and his newfound friend Sam Wilson/Falcon (Anthony Mackie), begins to fight their own war in Washington D.C, but their actions and the actions of their enemies may just destroy everything that they have been working for.

Out of every outing that a single Marvel hero has had, this is definitely the best one with the original Iron Man following close behind. This was everything that a Captain America movie should be and it was great to finally get to see him really kick ass. Words can’t describe how satisfying the noise is when he whacks or throws his shield at someone. Not only did the Captain have more to do, but so did Black Widow and Nick Fury. The addition of Falcon was also great, providing some awesome aerial action scenes. This was almost like a mini Avengers movie, and it definitely had the scale of one with things falling out of the sky, car chases throughout Washington, and reveals that will shake the core of the Marvel universe.

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The action in The Winter Soldier is really turned up from the first Captain America movie. I understand that the first one was an origin story and it was important to explain how Steve Rogers became Captain America, but like I said before, he’s my favorite Avenger and I’ve been really waiting to see just what he can do. I was disappointed at first with this movie because the first action sequence used that god awful shaky action cam. I didn’t want to stop watching but it was making me sick to my stomach, and I was worried that that was how the rest of the action sequences were going to be filmed. Luckily, I didn’t have a problem with any of the other ones. This movie is full of awesome action with some of the best special effects in a superhero movie that I’ve seen yet. At a point the action almost becomes non-stop, and I absolutely loved it.

This is really a movie that needs to be made at this point in time. The whole time, I felt like the story could be almost like a 1970s spy film, because of the themes of the government watching your every move. That being said, we are back in a time where that is a cause for concern, and I loved how this movie touched on that. There are times where Cap is saying that it isn’t freedom if we have a government looming over us and threatening us with violence as a way to keep the peace. We haven’t really moved forward in that department when it comes to freedom, and this was an interesting way to go about exploring that idea, through a superhero movie.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier not only shows how a Captain America movie should be made, but how an action packed Hollywood blockbuster should be made. There’s plenty of witty banter, action set pieces, and things blowing up but that doesn’t compromise the intelligence of the movie. That’s one of the best thing about these Marvel films: they’re never stupid. This is an excellent edition to the growing list of films in this superhero universe, and it made me even more excited for The Avenger: Age of Ultron.

Django Unchained – Review

1 Jan

Quentin Tarantino has made a name for himself as being one of the most bizarrely creative film makers of our age. His genre bending films have combined all sorts of styles from samurai films to war dramas, but all of them have what I like to call the Tarantino Twist. He takes the genres we all know so well and tun them on their heads to make them entirely his own. With Django Unchained, he takes on the spaghetti western.

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Django (Jamie Foxx) is a slave on his way to a plantation when all of a sudden he is saved by a wandering bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Together, the two become an infamous bounty hunting team, until Django once again focuses his gaze on his most important goal: finding his wife (Kerry Washington) and freeing her. Schultz finds her at one of the most known plantations in all the South run by Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio), and the two men hatch a plan to get onto his plantation and get her to safety.

From the get go, this feels like a Tarantino movie and I was immediately ready for the insanity that I knew I was about to experience. From beginning to end, Django Unchained rarely slows down. This doesn’t mean that it’s full of non stop violence and action, but the dialogue is just as intense as any of the bloody shoot outs. This is typical of any Tarantino movie, and I couldn’t help but get sucked into the thickly layered dialogue only to be shocked back into reality by a sudden explosion of gunfire.

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One thing I really need to point out is that this is a very long movie, and it really didn’t need to be. There is definitely a big story that Tarantino is trying to tell that takes place in one of the worst times of American history, but I’m surprised that it was stretched out so long. The last twenty minutes of the movie absolutely, positively did not need to be there. There were a couple different times where I said to myself, “This has to be the end of the movie.” I was wrong. It kept going and going, but these scenes that felt tacked on didn’t have the intensity that the rest of the movie had making it feel very unnecessary.

While this very long and unnecessary ending doesn’t feel too great, I can’t help but love this movie because of all that happens before it and the outstanding characters portrayed with out of this world performances. Jamie Foxx is adequate as Django, but nowhere near steals the show. Waltz shows once again that he is the master of line delivery making each of his lines sound important and necessary. DiCaprio is insanity incarnate as Calvin Candie and he plays it just as he should. Finally, Samuel L. Jackson will piss you off as a character, but you can’t help but dig the performance. The make up and physical acting he does is great.

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Django Unchained was everything I hoped it would be even though it doesn’t seem to end. The characters and dialogue are some of Tarantino’s best creations and the violence will have viewers laughing harder than they may have expected. While I don’t think it tops Inglourious Basterds, which I consider Tarantino’s masterpiece, I will say that it’s an exceptional piece of work by this now legendary writer/director. You definitely should not miss out on Django Unchained.