Lina Lamont

"What do you think I am, dumb or something?"

Archive for the tag “Samuel L. Jackson”

The Hateful Eight

In Quentin Tarantino’s latest ensemble piece, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh and his regular collaborator, Samuel L. Jackson, find themselves holed up in a room sheltering from a blizzard. The fact that one is a bounty hunter taking another across the frontier to a lucrative death is just one of the driving forces which propels the plot through trickery and falsehoods towards an inevitably bloody denouement.

Violent? Sure, but the hyperbolic gore is Tarantino’s stock-in-trade and doesn’t warrant discussion – the squeamish have long-known to avoid his films, and the fans know they will get what they paid for. The thing that may prove harder to swallow for some is the 3-hour running time and the initially talky exposition which, while throwing up some interestingly contemporary ideas about the meting out of justice and America’s fear of black people, at times feels a little indulgent and rambling.

However, as soon as we’re into that house, it’s a mesmerising game of Agatha Christie meets Reservoir Dogs, with Jackson playing the Hercule Poirot among a hugely entertaining cast which includes Dogs’ Tim Roth and Michael Madsen, and a stand-out performance by The Shield’s Walton Goggins. Leigh, the only woman of significance in the story, has been Oscar-nominated for her crazy-eyed routine, and it is indeed a delight to watch the 53-year old veteran chewing out lines and relishing her role.

As usual, it’s Tarantino’s film-geekery which provides the cinematic flourishes that deliver the film’s best elements. Eschewing the 21st century’s migration to digital, he shot this picture on good old-fashioned 70mm film, allowing for magnificent widescreen landscapes and a texture that contributes to beautiful moments where Ennio Morricone’s original score accompanies a horse-drawn carriage across snowy ground (Tarantino has used the 87-year old Italian’s previous compositions in five of his films, but this is his first to commission a newly scored soundtrack, and it’s magnificent). A self-confessed thief from “every movie ever made”, Tarantino shoots several scenes through darkened doorways evoking The Searchers, and gives his leading lady a Carrie moment.

The Hateful Eight doesn’t quite reach the heights of Once Upon A Time in the West but it brings the Spaghetti Western genre alive for a new wave of film aficionados – if they can just handle three hours away from their phones, they may be richly rewarded.

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Since the internet is hotting up about Kingsman and I never did put my view out there, it’s high time I cast my mind back several weeks to the evening I came out of the cinema feeling sullied and woefully disappointed.

It’s a great, if not novel, conceit. Eggsy is an unlikely lad (newishcomer Taron Egerton) who loses his dad in mysterious circumstances when he is small, and grows up on a London council estate with his long-suffering mum. Living in a bad scene (the mum takes on an abusive gangster boyfriend) but not hopeful about being able to change his lot, Eggsy’s evident streetsmarts and a longtime promise see him recruited to a shady, super-secret spy organisation by the impressive Harry Hart (Colin Firth, relishing the opportunity to play against type while retaining his cut-glass accent and sartorial prowess).

What follows is just as you’d hope and expect from the writer of Kick-Ass and the director of Layer Cake: an ordinary guy plays out our superhero fantasies as he avenges his father’s death and attempts to save the world from the despicable vagaries of an over-the-top Samuel L. Jackson. While Firth and his band of Arthurian goodies are Moore-era James Bond, the baddies are Tarantino circa Kill Bill in their flamboyance. It’s a perfectly enjoyable mash-up, with even Jackson bearable thanks mainly to an endearing speech impediment and a fantastic wardrobe of sneakers. Egerton acquits himself superbly against a cast that includes Michael Caine and Mark Strong, imbuing Eggsy with the right amount of cocky-geezer arrogance and something bordering on sympathy as he holds his own amongst a bunch of young toffs.

So far, so fun.

But just past the halfway mark, as I find myself contemplating a possible four stars and praise for screenwriter Goodman’s smart update on the well-trodden genre, Jackson’s evil machinations take over the plot and Vaughn’s movie loses it. A bloodbath in a church is foreshadowed uneasily as a grotesquerie of bigoted characters make us shift in our seats, but even the most objectionable factions of humanity don’t deserve the comeuppance that follows. There is something distinctly distasteful about watching Firth dispensing death in a scene which is over-shot, over-scored and over-hyped – intentionally hyperbolic perhaps, but such a misstep (the film plummeting to a conflicted two and a half stars) and so out of step with the film’s tone thus far, that it shifts the story into a whole other register.

From then on, Eggsy’s story is overpowered by super-villain nonsense of the Austin Powers kind, with an inevitably bombastic finale which will evoke either hysterical delight or grim-faced silence from viewers. And then – to top off the indignity – an appalling moment of misogyny which is no doubt designed to leave the principally young-male audience titillated and sated at the end of what is bound to have been a widely-considered “classic”.

So much potential. So much disappointment. So much box office.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 30th March 2014

Steve Rogers just wants to get the hang of modern living. Having been cryogenically frozen for nearly 70 years, he has missed the key cultural moments of the 20th century, so it’s both funny and rather sweet when he whips out his notebook to record “Marvin Gaye” in his list of must-learns (which inexplicably also includes “Tim Tams”).

But Rogers isn’t going to have time to listen to the purportedly seminal album any time soon, since his day-job is as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D, the force of avenging law enforcers tasked with saving the world from foes both foreign (here relics of the Cold War rear their heads) and allegedly friendly. By the time Captain America has been conscripted to fight the terror of an algorithm which predicts humanity’s no-hopers for preemptive extinction, he doesn’t know who to trust.

Fighting French baddies for once, the story kicks off with a ship hijacking but then wades into expositional waters. The excitement doesn’t really take off until Samuel L. Jackson’s agency director Nick Fury gets into a spot of car trouble and suddenly the film hurtles from set-piece to set-piece, in and around modern-day Washington DC. The action darts between fights and car chases, politically-concerned dialogue and franchise in-jokes.

The first Captain America movie digressed pleasantly from Marvel Comics’ usual reliance on CGI costuming and bombastic scenes of destruction by plucking the puny Rogers from World War II and making him into an old-fashioned superhero – all chiselled jaw and mid-century boyish charm. Thankfully the charm is intact in this follow-up (three years since the last film, though the Captain has appeared in crossover Marvel movies in the interim), particularly evident in his easy banter and almost-chemistry with Scarlett Johansson’s Agent Romanoff (nominally Black Widow, though not referred to as such in my hearing at least), who tries to fix him up on dates with girls from the office. Donning hi-tops and hoodies, with Rogers’ shield slung over his back, they make quite the fetching couple as they go on the run with new friend the Falcon (Anthony Mackie) watching their backs.

The casting is strong, with old-timers Robert Redford and Jenny Agutter lending gravitas, and while the story occasionally harks back to previous Captain America scenarios, newcomers will find much to enjoy. The Winter Soldier is a worthy addition to the stable and nicely positioned to leave die-hard fans hankering for 2016’s sequel.

Jurassic Park 3D

20 years after its initial release, some little capitalist up in Hollywood has thought to put Jurassic Park (the first one – the best one) into 3D, and yes, it’s totally worth seeing.

Good old Steven Spielberg. I rather think it’s a tribute to him and his decades of filmmaking prowess that this film doesn’t feel very dated, that the dinosaurs – part animatronic, part-SFX – are still genuinely frightening, and that you aren’t too distracted by remembering that, once upon a time, people thought Sam Neill was not only leading man material, but plausible as hot Laura Dern’s love interest.

A nostalgic wobble down memory lane is worth this two hours in the cinema, less because of the 3D (which is mostly fine, but debatably unnecessary) but more because of the delight to be had in seeing a lesser-known Samuel L. Jackson spouting lines like “Hold onto your butts” with one fag after another dangling from his lips. There’s Newman from Seinfeld causing all the trouble. The aforementioned Dern looking unbelievably young, commercialised and attractive with her bandy colt legs bookended by khaki shorts and tramping boots.

And of course there’s Jeff. Once upon a time Goldblum was very much the hunk, the ladies man, and here he is relieved of running-away-from-dinosaurs duty by getting injured early on and spending the rest of the movie lolling about with his shirt undone. Being tended to by a wizened old Dickie Attenborough. (Try as I might, I couldn’t quite see the young lad from Brighton Rock in the British actor’s face, but there is something satisfying about knowing the cinematic legend has such range.)

Probably my favourite revelation as a *cough* slightly more mature audience member, is that Bob Peck (who NONE of you will know unless you watched the old TV series Edge of Darkness yonks ago) has THE sexiest male legs I’ve seen in literally decades. Phwoar. Whatever became of Bob?

Of course, the one thing that has dated is the technology – my audience was rolling in the aisles as the young lass enthused over “the interactive CD-ROM!!” and the computer system that governs Jurassic Park, and thus its downfall, is inevitably hopelessly jurassic itself.

But overall, a revisit to the park that spawned a thousand theme-park rides is well worth the indignity of admitting you are old enough to have seen it in the cinema the first time round.

Django Unchained

This review first appeared in the Sunday Star-Times, 20th January 2013

It’s hard to believe the master of genre-bending hadn’t made one already, but Quentin Tarantino’s western has been worth waiting for.

Connoisseur of the in-joke, the Oscar-nominated writer/director has updated the 1966 “classic” Django, a true-school spaghetti western which starred Franco Nero (to whom he gives a cameo in this film, naturally). Taking the lead is Jamie Foxx (Collateral, Ray) as the eponymous freed slave who pairs up with smart-talking Dr Schultz on a quest to find his enslaved wife and free her from cruel, Francophile plantation owner Calvin J. Candie (a superb turn by Leonardo DiCaprio).

The story provides all the usual Tarantinesque tropes of whip-smart dialogue, bombastic gunplay and moments of outlandish hilarity (a troupe of Ku Klux Klan members griping about their unwieldy homemade hoods provides laugh-out-loud relief among scenes of bodies fighting, whipping or exploding). The accusations of uber-violence are unfounded, however, not least because all Tarantino’s films include violence (and a story about avenging slavery is hardly going to shy away from it) but moreover because the shootouts are so over-the-top and bloody, you can practically taste the corn syrup. Compared with Seven Psychopaths and even Gangster Squad, it is far less brutal.

Oscar winner for Inglourious Basterds, Christoph Waltz has been nominated again for his portrayal of the bounty hunter Schultz, and he steals every scene (particularly from the comparatively opaque Foxx), even when up against the feisty, dangerous, Uncle Tom of a manservant played by Samuel L. Jackson.

True to form, bursts of modern-day hip-hop infect a soundtrack that includes classical contributions from Ennio Morricone, as Tarantino crafts a beautifully photographed landscape to house his engaging story. Also predictably, he doesn’t know when to stop: following a natural lull towards the end, the director then appears as an Australian (!) in a distracting, tacked-on scene, forgiven only since it delivers us our happy ending.

Two different takes on unexpected parenthood

Mother and Child

The trailer for this latest Naomi Watts/Annette Bening/Samuel L. Jackson vehicle was, in my view, a mix of predictable, schmaltzy and yet strangely enticing.  And ultimately it proved to be all that and more.  This tale of interweaving lives (crafted by Rodrigo Garcia, the son of Colombian writer Gabriel Garcia Marquez) sees unexpectedly nuanced performances from the terrific Bening as an embittered woman who gave up her child at age 14 and Watts as the coldly independent lawyer whose inability to bond emotionally ultimately leads to heartbreak.  The third woman, whose story revolves around her desire to adopt a baby and the impact this has on her marriage, is played by Kerry Washington who bakes cupcakes for a living and often tends to overact, though granted she is dumped with some weak lines during the first half of the film.

Bringing up the male contingent, Jimmy Smits is notable as the even-tempered, slightly paunchy colleague whose attentions attempt to win over Bening’s prickly pear.  However, it’s shoutingly obvious that the female characters in this film are, without exception, unlikeable in some capacity, whereas the men are doting, patient and impossible to criticise.  (Even Washington’s husband doesn’t come off as annoying and whiny as she does, despite dipping out before the going gets tough.)  Meanwhile, Watts climbs the corporate ladder, onto the boss’s lap, and dabbles in home-wrecking, just for the hell of it.  Bening is distant from her own mother and mistreats her home-help (who are Hispanic and tolerant, just like Smit’s Paco).  Bening’s mother makes thoughtless comments.  Washington’s mother nags.  The pregnant teen is feisty and unendearing.  Only the nun smiles with any degree of warmth!

Despite all this however, I found the story engaging and the essence of the personal crises very affecting.  Audiences may consider it predictable or convenient in places, and there’s no disputing the strands are tied together at the end so we can leave the cinema feeling ever so slightly optimistic after two hours of angst.  Mother and Child will not be for everyone, and the trailer warned as much, but I’m glad I took a chance with it nonetheless.

 

Life As We Know It

The trailer seemed to give everything away (two people hate each other! are made Godparents! the kid’s parents die! they have to bring up the kid! together! will they fall in love??).  I wondered who the heck Josh Duhamel was anyway (it turns out he’s a soldier in Transformers 1 and 2) and I feared Katherine Heigl would fax in her Knocked Up performance here, and dish out another rom-com about unexpected parenthood foisted upon two incompatible singletons.

In fact, I was very pleasantly surprised.  The plot may not be quite paper thin, perhaps more the cardboard of the cake boxes Heigl’s character Holly packs her cupcakes in (as in Mother and Child – this shows she is at heart homely and maternal!).  But the performances, chemistry and comic timing of our romantic leads make for a fun couple of hours, with a witty script and overall likable characters in every scene.  Eschewing the screenwriter’s usual habit of making the interim boyfriend some sort of closet egomaniac or secret child-hater, Josh Lucas plays Doctor Sam, a worthy adversary to Duhamel’s bumbling but charismatic Messer.  The hodgepodge of well-meaning neighbours are hilarious, and new face Sarah Burns puts in a terrific performance as the child welfare officer whose impromptu visits provide the impetus for some of the slapstick.

But it is the family play-acting between Heigl, Duhamel and their onscreen daughter which seals the film’s realism, and gets us caring about their future.  A public row at a suburban street party, both characters oblivious to their painted animal faces as they deliver heartfelt lines, is a particular delight.  The film may be predictable, and as light as Holly’s baking, but it’s certainly just as delicious.

The Other Guys

The Other Guys

It’s interesting that my favourite Will Ferrell film is Stranger than Fiction, doubtless one of his more serious (well, certainly more deadpan) roles – and Mark Wahlberg, who I adore in anything, proved his dramatic chops in fare as varied as Boogie Nights and The Departed.  (Albeit with tongue wryly in cheek in both of those films.)

Here, the comedy genius and the stereotyped cop do a great job of playing “the other guys” – loser cops whose awkward partnering provides plenty of conflict as they seek to replace legendary police Danson and Highsmith (Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson, clearly having the time of their lives, and setting the tone of the film with an outstanding opening.)

Self-propelled on various missions, often without the blessing of their new-age, touchy-feely boss (a comforting return from Michael Keaton – man, since Christian Bale took over I can’t believe this guy was the first modern Batman!…) – police department accountant Gamble (Ferrell) and shamed officer Hoitz (Wahlberg), notorious for once shooting the city’s top baseball player, become embroiled in a kidnapping/corruption plot that could prove their making – if only they don’t mess it up.

Inititially, I feared that this latest Will Ferrell vehicle from the maker of Stepbrothers, Anchorman…, and Talledega Nights had all the markings of a film whose trailer feeds you all the funnies and leaves you feeling cheated.  But, no!  The Other Guys proves a welcome exception, a movie that can put its villain’s lottery money where its protagonist’s big mouth is.  It is replete with genuine belly laugh moments and plenty of opportunities for a quick wry smile as you listen carefully for the next subtle joke.  There are “ridiculous” set-pieces, and some paper-thin running gags, but the tone is infectious.  Notably, there are terrific supporting performances from Eva Mendes, personifying every guy’s dream wife, and Steve Coogan with his usual Englishness a perfect foil to the bombastic American nonsense.

Which isn’t to say it’s perfect.  There are patches where the audience comes up for air and has to go on a ridealong with the characters as they bounce from one plot point to the next.  However, afterward I racked my brain to recall the last comedy I would consider to be consistently hilarious all the way through.  (The Naked GunThis is Spinal Tap? right now I can’t think of any that are faultless.)  To that end, The Other Guys is definitely worth a trip to the cinema rather than a sneak down illegal download lane.  Detective Gamble would no doubt be pleased.

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