Tag: samuel l. jackson

Spider-Man: Far from Home


Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

If there was a “Spider-Man” picture that befits an overwhelming amount of special and visual effects, “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is it considering the fact that the main antagonist, Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal), specializes in creating the most convincing illusions. But those searching for a compelling and mature narrative should look elsewhere, especially since this chapter is right on the heels of a certain character’s death who was particularly close to Peter Parker/Spider-Man (Tom Holland). Instead, the material focuses on a more convenient route: Peter’s numerous struggles during a science trip across Europe to find the courage to tell MJ (Zendaya) he is interested in her romantically. An argument can be made that this installment, directed by Jon Watts, is a romantic comedy down to its marrow. Missed opportunities abound.

The school trip is forced and unfunny, interminable, a chore to sit through because the actors themselves look bored with what they’ve been handed. While Holland’s boyish charm is consistently on an eleven, matched by Zendaya’s effortless allure as the sarcastic romantic interest, even he is unable to save a tired screenplay from feeling fresh. There are two or three instances when Peter, finally, acknowledges the untimely death of the man he looked up to on several levels and these are the shining moments of the film because the emotions are raw, immediate. It feels right that the mourning must be purged somehow. On top of this, it shows that Holland is a dramatic performer first and foremost—that once he retires the Spider-Man suit, he can have a career with longevity. The writing is not equal to its lead’s obvious potential.

It is a shame, too, because the villain is still interesting this time around. In “Homecoming,” the audience is made to understand and empathize with the man behind the Vulture persona. Here, Mysterio has an excellent point when he claims that a person can be the smartest man or woman in the room but without flair or theatrics he or she is likely to be ignored. Qualifications and experience don’t matter next to someone else who is simply loud or obnoxious. If that isn’t a critique of our society in this day and age, I don’t know what is. This is a fascinating character because he desires what most people desire: to be seen, to be recognized, to be regarded as important. Gyllenhaal knows that he must ground a character whose actions may across as narcissistic and megalomaniacal.

The action sequences bored me. There is not a single one that pushed me to lean a little closer to the screen. Particularly uninspired is final showdown in London. Spider-Man finds himself attempting to destroy countless drones before any one of them gets a chance to shoot him. It is extremely frustrating to sit through because one gets the feeling that the screenwriters, Chris McKenna and Erik Sommers, have forgotten to show the viewers why the protagonist having to sift through hordes of small robots is actually interesting. There is fifteen to twenty minutes worth of acrobatics and every second feels empty. It is obvious, too, which shots are CGI. One isn’t required to try to be able to recognize them; maybe it’s because the filmmakers didn’t try either. I felt no weight or real danger during the action scenes. I looked at my watch twice.

Although not without its charms, it is clear “Spider-Man: Far from Home” is an inferior sequel. Just because Peter Parker is still a teenager does not mean that his story should remain light and silly. It can still offer funny moments of awkward teenagers simply trying to find themselves. And it should; it is highly appropriate in this version of Spider-Man. But the more daring and wiser choice would have been to tackle head-on the sadness our hero feels for losing a father-figure, a colleague, a mentor with whom he deeply respected. Learning to deal with loved ones who passed is a part of growing up, too.

Captain Marvel


Captain Marvel (2019)
★★★ / ★★★★

A third of the way through the picture, I couldn’t help but feel like an important ingredient is sorely lacking. The war between Kree and Skrulls is propelled with a high enough level of excitement, the special and visual effects are strong, and there is intrigue in how the events unfolding in 1995 may tie into Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) eventually putting together Earth’s mightiest superheroes. The problem becomes tantalizingly clear when the picture hits its first important dramatic note. Given Brie Larson’s track record of independent dramas, she is most powerful as a performer when the scene is quiet and the camera is still—almost the polar opposite of an action film.

This does not mean Larson does not belong in the picture. In fact, I enjoyed her interpretation of Captain Marvel, who comes to know herself as Vers, a soldier of the Kree Empire, but has fragmented human memories as Carol Danvers. Despite a potentially confusing exposition, Larson has a way of making us care for our heroine not just as a superhero but also as a woman who feels incomplete due to being in the dark when it comes to her very own identity. Notice that for the first forty minutes or so, it is a challenge to invest emotionally into the material because there are far too many attempts at making jokes but not enough convincing dramatic gravity. It would have been such a breath of fresh air if “Captain Marvel,” written for the screen by Anna Boden, Ryan Fleck, and Geneva Robertson-Dworet, had been a character drama first and an action picture second. Of course, this more inspired avenue would not rake in the big bucks.

Still, this Marvel outing is entertaining enough. I liked how chase scenes on Earth during the mid-90s are photographed and directed almost exactly as similar movies within the genre at the time—clichés included. There is a wonderful chemistry between Larson and Jackson which is necessary because their characters must forge a convincing friendship from the moment they meet at a payphone next to a Blockbuster video store until one of them must leave and travel to another galaxy. (The story’s timeline is about twenty to thirty five hours.) Danvers and Fury share a handful of amusing moments but not once do these come across as forced as bad buddy comedies.

Like many superhero films, this one, too, suffers from a lack of a strong villain with complex motivations. Observe that once Captain Marvel is able to reach her full potential, her enemies, including the main antagonist, are simply thrown about like rag dolls. Because they are no longer a threat, the bright colors, the bubbly soundtrack, and the acrobatics are reduced to an exercise of futility. I was bored by them and I was reminded of what I disliked immensely from “Wonder Woman”—we are handed action with not much context or purpose. It can feel like a waste of time.

Perhaps the most curious relationship is between Danvers and her best friend Maria Rambeau (Lashana Lynch). Both were Air Force pilots and their few but valuable interactions suggest a deep history. The two sitting down and having a conversation can be more entertaining than the big, loud, and ostentatious action pieces. The reason is because, with the former, we know precisely what is at stake. There are times when it is easy to forget that we love or admire our superheroes not because of what they can do but rather who they are despite their powers or abilities, when they are unmasked, vulnerable, one of us.

Glass


Glass (2019)
★★ / ★★★★

Although not short on ambition or ideas, it is a great frustration that M. Night’s Shyamalan’s “Glass” isn’t a stronger film. Part of the reason is for a closer of a trilogy (started by “Unbreakable” in 2000 and preceded by “Split” in 2017), the work is expository for the most part. Aside from an exciting opening minutes in which David Dunn (Bruce Willis), equipped with superhuman strength and psychic ability, is shown what he’s been up to, along with his now adult son (Spencer Treat Clark), since we last saw them, the material begins to move at a snail’s pace once the story shifts inside a psychiatric hospital. Initially curious, it gets duller by the minute. There is plenty of dialogue and monologuing, but these do not reveal anything particularly new or exciting.

The screenplay wishes to explore a grounded comic book universe which is full of potential because our culture now, especially the movies, is inundated with the commercialism of superheroes, products on a conveyor belt that we eat up right from the twenty-second teaser trailers. There is a stark difference between superhero pictures of today and superhero films before “Unbreakable” was released, for better or worse. This would have been a far more interesting avenue to drill into: 1) To show why relatively humble superhero movies should still be made despite the fact that several multimillion-dollar juggernauts are released annually and 2) To introduce an exciting discussion about superheroes in general and why they continue to be a staple in popular culture.

Instead, we get only crumbs of the more compelling themes until the third act—which does not work. We get the impression that the writer-director wishes so badly to surprise the viewer that the ideas that do end up on the platter are severely undercooked at best, thoroughly forced and unconvincing at its worst. Cue the flashbacks and would-be brilliant throwaway shots that the audience should have noticed all along. (I caught them all.) Perhaps it might have been better if the surprise is that there is no surprise, just a strong, well-ironed storytelling.

It is not entertaining enough—a head-scratcher because Shyamalan knows how to execute and shoot an action scene. For instance, When Dunn and The Beast, the latter being one of the twenty-four personalities (James McAvoy), must face-off in an abandoned factory, there is a real sense of excitement: the location is moody and dark, blows to the body are shown and actually felt due to the elevated sound effects, and stakes are high because we get the impression that the two are well-matched. Even when the action is shot in broad daylight, the director remains willing to play with the camera, showing us different perspectives of the sequence just because he can. The confidence is apparent when it comes to images. On paper, far less.

The title of the picture refers to Mr. Glass or Elijah Price (Samuel L. Jackson), a genius mass murderer born with osteogenesis imperfecta, a genetic disorder characterized by brittle bones, but we do not get enough moments with the character in order to have an appreciation of him. The charade of catatonia lasts for too long and it is quite boring. And when he does begin to speak, move around, and carry out his plans, not one thing he does is particularly clever or compelling—at least not one I wouldn’t have thought of doing myself. When the antagonist is this thinly drawn, it is without question that the screenplay requires further revisions. The work feels rushed.

The Hitman’s Bodyguard


The Hitman’s Bodyguard (2017)
★ / ★★★★

Considering the sheer talent and great comic timing of the leads, it is most disheartening that “The Hitman’s Bodyguard,” written by Tim O’Connor and directed by Patrick Hughes, is not a better movie. Instead of presenting us a breezy, balanced action-comedy, it is a limp death march, nearly absent of any big and lasting laughs, to the finish line—quite literal because the plot involves a bodyguard (Ryan Reynolds) escorting an assassin (Samuel L. Jackson) so that the latter can testify against a dictator (Gary Oldman) at the International Criminal Court. Naturally, the dictator’s goons attempt to prevent the bodyguard-hitman duo from reaching their destination.

One gets the impression the script is barebones. Casting a pair of charismatic motormouths as co-leads is a good decision because the two have different approaches to wring laughter out of the audience. But relying on the duo to ad lib in order to plug holes in the script is a critical misstep. Notice that as improvisation unfolds, we begin to lose sight of the characters. This strategy is executed too many times and so during the latter half, it is a challenge to care about the story and whether Bryce and Kincaid would make it to their destination. The picture does not seem to understand how buddy comedies work since it is all behavior, no substance.

Action sequences unfold in beautiful open spaces, particularly one in Amsterdam, but a film can have the most eye-catching shootouts but ultimately amount to nothing if everything else around it is a bore. Such is the case here. It does not help that the villain is stuck in a courthouse and not one of the hired guns is genuinely threatening or memorable. Imagine if there had been two minions who have equally recognizable faces as Reynolds as Jackson. Cast performers who do not typically appear in comedies but turning out to have comedic chops. Now, isn’t that more exciting, more creative, more inspired that what is shown here? It certainly would have surprised the audience.

There are romantic subplots forced into the plot which do not work on any level. Reynolds and Elodie Yung, an Interpol agent who happens to be Bryce’s ex-girlfriend, share desert-dry chemistry. There is not one instance in which the viewers recognize what they see in one another. On the other hand, Jackson and Salma Hayek, playing Kincaid’s wife, do share some chemistry, but the screenplay’s lack of substance reduces the relationship into an unfunny, tired caricature. The picture struggles to get basic emotions and relationships right.

“The Hitman’s Bodyguard” is a disastrous action-comedy because it lacks inspiration and imagination. Numerous awful comedies tend to have jokes on paper first and a semblance of story is built around them. Here, however, one gets a sneaky feeling that there is neither jokes nor story in the first place. It goes to show that just because the right actors are booked it may not necessarily translate, especially if there is nothing to support them. It is a waste of precious two hours that feels like four.

Kong: Skull Island


Kong: Skull Island (2017)
★★ / ★★★★

It probably would have been more appropriate for “Kong: Skull Island,” directed by Jordan Vogt-Roberts, to have been released in the middle of summer because, for better or worse, it embodies all elements of a blockbuster special and visual effects extravaganza including the sub-genre’s shortcoming: nice to look at but look closer and realize nothing much goes on inside. What results is a watchable action-fantasy, certain to entertain on late-night cable viewings, but it is not for viewers who demand creativity and intelligence alongside suspense and thrills.

Big names are cast in this monster film but the characters might as well have been played by unknowns because not one of the actors manages to inject something extra special to his or her performance. If less familiar performers had been cast instead, at least they would have benefited from the exposure. Instead, otherwise compelling actors familiar with the art of subtlety are reduced to playing extremes: Samuel L. Jackson as the villainous military man, Tom Hiddleston as the quiet hero hired for a job, Brie Larson as a photojournalist who finds humanity in a gargantuan gorilla, and John C. Reilly conveniently provides comic lines.

Just about everything is so expected, so familiar, that I found minimal excitement in a film that is supposed to balance wonder, horror, action, suspense, and eventual catharsis. I wished to know who the characters are outside of their occupations and what pushed them to partake in the mission. What makes he or she interesting other than being on survival mode? What makes he or she worth rooting for (or against) just because he or she means well (or the quite the opposite)? Clearly, these characters are one-dimensional. There is no excuse for a movie with a sizable budget to have a minuscule imagination. Look at how it portrays scientists. They are silent, cowering, often in the background.

For an island that is supposed to be undiscovered—being surrounded by perpetual storms helps—there is a lack of a sense of discovery outside encounters with massive creatures. At one point, the outsiders come across quiet indigenous people covered by paint and jewelry from head to toe. The picture dedicates not one scene in showing a new outsider attempting to make a connection with the curious human inhabitants. The story might have been set in the ‘70s but such is a mere ploy since it fails to capture the essence of that era. Notice that in movies released in the same time period, even in blockbuster films that happen to be set in a strange or new land, there is always an attempt to communicate, to connect, to find a commonality. Not here.

It excels in a few individual scenes, which usually last about five minutes, before forcing us to wait for the next action sequence. Perhaps most impressive is the graveyard scene. Notice how it builds atmosphere and mood. We are awestruck by the mighty skeletons; as the camera lingers on them, we try to imagine corpses that were once there. The yellow-orange dirt highlights the white bones’ surfaces—their cracks, crevices, and holes. All the while we know that something is going to happen soon. It becomes a matter of perfect timing. I felt elated when the execution got it exactly right. At that moment, I caught myself wishing that the entire material functioned on such a high level and on a consistent basis. There are stretches where neither the senses nor the mind is engaged.

“Kong: Skull Island” is not for audiences who demand more than two CGI characters duking it out during the final ten minutes. Steven Spielberg’s “Jurassic Park” got it right where this movie got it wrong. In the 1993 classic, there is dimension to the central characters, we get to know some of the creatures up close (sometimes a little too up close), it pushes us to experience a rollercoaster of emotions. It engages us intellectually. We grow to care deeply for our protagonists. Here, I did not care whether they would make it out of the island alive.

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children


Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children (2016)
★★ / ★★★★

Despite all the magic flaunted in “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children,” based on the novel by Ransom Riggs and directed by Tim Burton, why doesn’t it feel magical? Part of the answer is because it fails to choose a specific target audience. Too scary for younger children and not dark enough for pre-teens, it ends up somewhere between. What results is a watchable fantasy-adventure but far from a memorable one. It is without a doubt, however, that the material has the potential to become a series that can get better given a more detailed writing, more focused direction, and an approach that doesn’t hold back out of fear that the final product isn’t family-friendly enough.

Let us consider the title character played by Eva Green. The performer exudes the look of intrigue, perhaps even a sinister layer or two beneath those knowing dark eyes and curious smirk, but the writing has a frustrating habit of making Miss Peregrine friendlier just when we feel we are about to discover a surprising trait or perspective from her. As someone who has the power to control time, the children’s home and way of life perpetually stuck in 1943, Miss Peregrine is not convincing in her wisdom and role as protector of children born with abilities—such as being able to control fire, air, plants, and the like. The character is diluted when in fact the material demands that she be as extreme as possible since she anchors the strange universe we observe from the outside.

Another character, equally important, that is watered down, but in a different way, is Jake, the grandson of a man who used to live with Miss Peregrine and the peculiar children but, due to the Second World War, has since left the home and grown old. Portrayed by Asa Butterfield, he has the lanky body frame and awkward postures that fit well in this particular story but I did not feel a certain enthusiasm, a wondrous feeling, in the portrayal. Since Jake is our conduit to the magical world of time loops and bizarre abilities, Butterfield does not exude a sort of warm and inviting feeling. The Jake who becomes a leader during the final stretch of the film is most unconvincing; the evolution rings false.

In terms of its images, the special and visual effects impress. For instance, the look of so-called Hollowgasts with their gargantuan frames, eyeless heads, shark-like teeth, long tongues, and reptilian movements creep thoroughly and convincingly. Eyeless corpses we come across once in a while command a certain tragic lifelessness to them. (The Hollows love to eat eyes—especially those of children.) In addition, the look of the children’s home on the Welsh island in 1943 is colorful, bright, detailed, and inviting. If only the same adjectives could be used to describe each person who lives there. They are reduced to superficial traits.

Based on the screenplay by Jane Goldman, “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” has room for considerable improvement. Although far from an impressive start of a potential series, small but critical shifts in terms of mood, tone, characterization, and willingness to take risks might turn an otherwise forgettable material into a work with a specific voice and perspective about the current state of our world and ourselves. Looking at the big picture, the story is about “peculiars” or outcasts and their place, or lack thereof, in this world and this time period. This subject is ripe for social commentary.

The Hateful Eight


The Hateful Eight (2015)
★★★ / ★★★★

“The Hateful Eight,” written and directed by Quentin Tarantino, is not for the type of audience who would rather watch elaborate chase sequences or skyscrapers blow up every fifteen to twenty minutes—whether it is on mute or otherwise. It is, however, for the most part, for viewers who prefer to listen to extended dialogues as closely possible as lines uttered reveal—sometimes small, at times significant but almost always telling—traits of the individual, colorful characters that show up on screen.

The picture runs for about three hours and it is divided into six meticulously crafted chapters. After the fourth chapter, therein lies a sudden shift it tone and pacing—as if it were once a man in a drunken stupor suddenly jolting himself into full awareness and ready to sprint to the finish line. But one should not make the mistake of labeling the first four chapters as “boring.” Such a criticism, in this case, is most superficial—arguably to be an egregious error.

The first hour and a half is an exploration of who the characters are despite our first impressions. The more we get to know them, the likelier it is for us to care about what would happen to them eventually as the story drills deeper into the western mythos of justice, vengeance, and the roles people play as well as the archetypes fellowmen assign onto others in order to further define one’s self-perceived status. There is a level of intelligence, wit, and creative brazenness here that is not seen enough in movies of today.

As far as plot goes, it is very simple to follow. A man known around post-Civil War Wyoming as “The Hangman,” whose real name is John Ruth (Kurt Russell), has captured a murderous criminal named Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh). There is bounty of ten thousand dollars—dead or alive—on her head and John Ruth is escorting her to a place called Red Rock to collect the sizable reward. Some say it is far easier to kill the criminal—that way, there is no chance that she will end up killing her captor instead—but according to the stories, once one is captured by The Hangman, he or she must hang. Though their trajectory is clear as day, they are forced to take refuge in a haberdashery due to an approaching blizzard.

Listen to the dialogue closely as the characters talk about race, make jokes, and tell stories that may or may not be true. (The story of a man’s final wish is likely to leave the viewer stirred.) Under the same roof are highly dangerous folks with volatile personalities. This being a Tarantino film, we know already that somebody is going to go off eventually. Thus, suspense is embedded into the marrow of the situation. As the figures begin to question and challenge one another’s beliefs, opinions, and values, we attempt to guess which one will break first. I did not guess correctly who would go for his gun first—and I was most elated by such an unpredictability.

While a slew of criticisms are likely to label the picture as slow—which is not entirely without validity—some movies, like this one, demand that it be as slow as molasses. In my opinion, we are meant to be absorbed as fully as possible into this world. The more subsumed we are into its overall universe with respect to the varying perception of each character, the more we are able to recognize the criticism the writer-director wishes to make—sometimes inadvertently—about how we relate (or fail to relate) to one another today. Yes, it has something to do with race relations, too.

As I watched “The Hateful Eight,” filled with very strong performances particularly by Samuel L. Jackson, Walton Goggins and Jennifer Jason Leigh, I felt as though I was watching a work of a filmmaker who is not afraid to achieve his vision. Anybody is entitled to have their opinion of the film, but one cannot take away the fact that Tarantino made and presented his work the way he intended it to be. Others should aspire to follow.