Samuel L. Jackson: The Unbreakable Avenger

Warning: if for some strange reason you have yet to see Unbreakable you should before reading this, there are spoilers within.

When I saw that Bubbawheat was doing a blog-a-thon covering actors in comic book movies, I thought it was very appropriate. Now there generally is a delineation between comic book and superhero films, and there is value at looking at individual actors who have appeared in this kind of movie multiple times. However, one of these roles played by Samuel L. Jackson is in a film that toes the line very carefully.

Now, when referring specifically to the superhero film it’s especially interesting because we are currently immersed in a seeming golden age of the the Superhero film. There were occasional bursts of greatness, but now these kinds of tales are attracting not only the state of the art techniques, not only A-List actors, but also top directors and writers to the cause creating richer, more human stories, that are still filled with incredible spectacle. In short, we’re getting a much more complete film than we ever thought we were going to get from the genre.

However, being in the midst of such an age sometimes we don’t necessarily stop and look around to see how we’ve gotten to where we are. Looking at some actors who have participated in many of these films can start to show us some of the indicators of the rise of this subgenre.

The Avengers (2012, Marvel/Disney)

Samuel L. Jackson is a man who has been myriad films from record-setting blockbusters to small indies he believes in and wants to help out. Sam himself may have a type and a persona, however, he doesn’t allow that to pigeonhole the kind of film he does. It’s funny that I find myself writing about Sam Jackson again so soon after I named him 2012’s Entertainer of the Year, but a line I wrote in that post came back to me as I scanned the list of candidates for this blog-a-thon. With regards to his still-ongoing portrayal of Nick Fury in Marvel’s Phase One, I parallel it to Alan Rickman‘s work as Severus Snape.

Aside from the fact that Rickman appeared in one series, and Jackson’s portrayal of Fury is part of a universe of franchise films, there are really a few similarities of note. If you’re looking just at the film textually, and not inferring any pre-acquired information from the comic books, Fury’s presences in each film is a necessity, but it’s nebulous. We try, as we go from tale to tale, to ferret out his nature and his intentions. Ultimately we see his main desire in Phase One is the creating The Avengers. However, and there is some follow-through on this in The Avengers itself, being the head of an intelligence organization he does dabble in a gray area much of the time, and that was set-up bit by bit in the films leading up to The Avengers and expanded there. I can only imagine that as the Marvel films proliferate that his character will continue evolve and become richer.

Now, make no mistake about it Fury is most definitely on the right side of the divide. The other of his comic book film characters I am taking a closer look at is Elijah Price in M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable. Now, this character brings to mind another statement I made in writing about Jackson’s entertainer of the year award, in the four films I cited in that award (The Good Samaritan, Meeting Evil, Django Unchained and The Avengers) he was a protagonist in two and an antagonist in the other two. He usually splits that fairly. Now, Price’s confrontational and difficult demeanor is apparent throughout. The twist, when Shyamalan still did them, is that views himself as the super-villain in his delusional relationship with David Dunn (Bruce Willis).

Unbreakable (2000, New Line Cinema)

This was a film well ahead of its time. There are quite a few reflexive superhero tales around now from the well-known and well-done Kick-Ass, to lesser known ones of lesser quality. However, Unbreakable, about which sequel rumors persist to this day is the kind of film that really could, and still can, have a sequel blow up and be something far greater than the original.

I’m not a critic of Unbreakable. I do like it, however, it’s not a film that’s impeccably rendered like The Sixth Sense is, or even like Shyamalan’s earlier film Wide Awake is. Jackson is a self-proclaimed comic fan, Ubreakable was his first title in the milieu and his filmography since then bears that out.

As either the persistent, hovering-around-the-periphery lynchpin on the Marvel universe or the injury-riddled, megalomaniac always seeking the yin to his yang, Samuel L. Jackson has always had an aptitude for injecting superhero films with life, for creating layered characters with quite a few notes to them. As the subgenre progresses one can only imagine Jackson going along with it and adding his own unique flavor to the entries to come.

BAM Award Winners: Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

2015  Entertainer of the Year: Will Ferrell

Sometimes it’s next to impossible to pick this award and not confuse it with a Lifetime Achievement award. Though the main difference is, even though this is also a body-of-work trophy it’s awarded for a year’s work irrespective of the accomplishments made in prior years.

Yes, Will Ferrell has been at it longer than many of us care to realize right now and I’ve been a fan for quite some time and think he has had very few misses along the way. However, this year there was a lot of stuff, all throughout the year, and it was all hilarious; at least his involvement was.

I like to be inclusive of comedy, and horror, and any other genres the awards generally disregard, so those are just some reasons this funny man is honored this year. Now, for some more specifics about his 2015….

First, there was Get Hard, as with any projects he does with Adam McKay behind the scenes there is silliness and farce in equal measure. There’s much topical humor about the world of high finance aside from broad generalizations and stereotypes exploited for comedic value.

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A Deadly Adoption really should have sealed it any, but these awards are ones that kind of occur to me rather than being ones that I consciously plot more often than not. First, this film was a secret project. It was then a surprise announcement as a Lifetime Movie mocking Lifetime Movies, mysteriously pulled from its premiere then rescheduled. It then received a drubbing from those not prepared for the film’s tongue-so-firmly-planted-in-cheek. Will McKinley’s take on it echoes my sentiments on it perfectly. It’s very effective, funny when the absurdity hits you with its subtlety and marks the 2nd straight year a TV film has been included in the BAM Awards.

FerrellTakeTheField2

Ferrell Takes the Field is Ferrell taking his love of baseball to a hilarious extreme to help a charity, create a documentary and promote the MLB by making appearances at 10 positions in real Spring Training games. It aired on HBO and is well worth your time if you like him or baseball or both.

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Shortly after that I discovered that perhaps his most hilariously insane character Orson Welles caricature (my reading) Eric Jonrosh had The Spoils Before Dying on IFC. I was able to stream the first two so far. It doesn’t start as strongly as The Spoils of Babylon but he’s as funny as ever.

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Then came Daddy’s Home, a re-teaming with Mark Wahlberg and a return to more family-friendly fare where he’s more successful than most comedians.

The cherry on top of his 2015 was his unannounced return to SNL in a recent cold open as Dubya.

Clearly it was a great year for him, and one thing Wahlberg said in his junket/circuit interviews was true, to paraphrase he said “His comedy doesn’t come from a dark place, he just genuinely wants to me make people laugh,” and in 2015 he made me laugh quite a lot.

2014 Honoree

The Giver (2014, The Weinstein Company)

Brenton Thwaites

Oculus (2013, Relativity Media)

One of the awards in the universe of them that has always particularly bothered me are handed out at the ShoWest Convention. They are the Male and Female Star of Tomorrow. What bothers me is that usually when I see these winner announcements there is very little that the recipient has done to earn it. Seeing as how it is labeled as a “tomorrow” prize I can allow that to slide, but it gets my hackles up and gets me feeling like going on a good Dennis Green-style tirade. Even the BAFTA Rising Star Award to contrast usually has nominees who are a bit more accomplished. This roundabout lead-in is to explain the fact that at 25 years of age, yes, Brenton Thwaites is young but he had a breakout year unlike too many I’ve seen and I’ve missed one of his credited titles.

Early in 2014 he was one of four actors to give an absolutely tremendous performance in Oculus. Horror movies are both notoriously overlooked in terms of performance but also typically don’t even seem to care if there are good ones being turned in. His work as a young man who has just been released from psychiatric observation for a traumatic experience that lead to his conviction for the murder of his father is a tremendous part of the success of this film.

Then there is the small, yet significant role, that seems to need to factor into this award on an annual basis. He plays Prince Phillip in Maleficent. Now, one of the things that Maleficent did get right it is that the film was about Maleficent and Briar Rose almost exclusively, and similar to Sleeping Beauty (and other Disney tales) the prince is almost incidental, but he is cast well and carries himself quite regally.

Also in the summertime he was the face, the centerpiece of Jeff Bridges’ longtime-coming labor of love The Giver. Being the memorykeeper of his dystopian futuristic society he has to come off as the dreamer and a hero and does so in both calls to duty. He shares the screen with Jeff Bridges and Meryl Streep among others and does amazingly well in a film I thought to be highly underrated.

Lastly, there’s The Signal, which is far more than an “indie cred” project but a twist-heavy sci-fi tale that continuously wanders down the rabbit hole. Confused by his circumstances Thwaites’ character here is like a cross of his two other performances on the year and he has not only much dialogue to handle, but plenty of solo time in the early stages of act two where he excels.

It’s rare for a performer in one year to go from unknown to the reason to see a movie, but Thwaites certainly did that in 2014 in my estimation. If I were to place a bet on his future I would think it’s a sure thing but this award, unlike those others, is solely about the year you just had. Whereas, I had cause to nominate some actors twice like Tom Hardy, Thwaites certainly did threaten to earn individual nods, had a great year and established a cinematic presence one that I believe will both grow and linger for quite some time.

2013 James Franco

James Franco (People)

In what ended up being a prescient post I was assigned James Franco in a Facebook Actor Game. Basically I was assigned him by a friend and asked to categorize movies he’d been in. Here were my observations, both general and on one of his films of this year. In general:

In my first time playing I was assigned James Franco, which is a pretty interesting choice, and not just because he’s already in the running for Entertainer of the Year this year. So I figured I’d share my thoughts in something slightly larger than a Facebook post here. Also, if you’re so inclined you can like The Movie Rat’s Facebook page here.

And on the specific film from this year, This is the End:

It’s too early to tell if this film really is a game-changer, however, what can be said is that it’s a fantastically executed concept and uproariously funny. Crass and immature, yes, but funny too.

As it turns out it was a bit of a game-changer for James Franco, as opposed to a comedy trend (as of yet), because I saw a few other titles with him since then that sealed the deal.

Oz the Great and Powerful is no great shakes, but it wasn’t in my estimation a poor or disconnected Franco but rather a fairly flat film that he made a little more interesting and a less-than-admirable character.

This is the End (2013, Sony Pictures)

As for more specifics about his participation in This is the End, if it was the last film I’d seen him in this past year, I’m likely picking someone else as a winner. However, the fact that in the middle of the performances of his I saw is a hilarious send-up of how he’s perceived (being perhaps overly-intellectual and perhaps pretentious) while shouting down Danny McBride’s masturbatory habits is the jewel in the crown, for lack of a more humorous term.

Following that I saw Homefront. In Homefront he plays a character named Gator in what is essentially one of the more ideal Jason Statham vehicles yet devised. And while I’d fall short of calling his antagonistic turn there multi-faceted it is a bit more dimensional than most characters of that ilk are given the leeway to be. Franco’s handling of the character and the way he operates surely make Gator stand out more than he likely wold have in the hands of most other actors.

Spring Breakers (2013, A24)

Lastly, at least based on what I saw, there was Spring Breakers, now you’ll note I didn’t particularly care for that film. However, make no mistake about it that there are things about it that I appreciated, and had it not been for Franco as Alien I may not have even have had the desire to complete it because after a certain point he was all that tethered me to the narrative.

That just takes into account what I could see. Many other things Franco was involved in hit Netflix later in the year, or didn’t even get there by year’s end, and they are things I do want to see, like: Interior. Leather Bar., Lovelace, As I Lay Dying, Palo Alto and Child of God.

And that’s just film work. With Franco going to adapt classic works of literature like The Sound and the Fury, I’m more than a little curious about his fiction. All that and he’ll be back perhaps a bit more inspired of all this for the continuation of the Apes prequels. One way in which this award can be viewed as in a career-path altering one, at least in terms of perception. My first selection, the namesake, was a comeback; next a multiple hat-wearer; next a breakout star; next an established star with a varied year; here it’s more an established name elevating his standing in my eyes based on an incredible run, may it keep going.

2012 Samuel L. Jackson

Samuel L. Jackson

I think I did start to list potential candidates for this but then thought it’d take some of the drama out of it. Also, if you have to think too much about a body-of-work award like this one, it’s nearly invalidated.

So first there are honorable mentions…

I admit to being woefully ignorant about the oeuvre Joss Whedon before this year. I was not one of the legion following his TV series’. However, with the anticipation building towards The Avengers I saw Dr. Horrible and previously fell in love with The Cabin in the Woods.

Late in the year when this topic was bandied about Matthew McConaughey’s name was getting a lot of traction for roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Bernie. Also, Mud did well on the festival circuit and is an anticipated 2013 film for me. McConaughey’s year was astoundingly good.

So why not those two? Whedon lacked the spontaneity of some of my past choices. I know of him but not his work and was looking forward to the releases based on premise/buzz. McConaughey’s accolades though mostly genuine almost seem like mea culpas. For whatever reason, he’s got a bad rap. I’ve always liked his work. He hasn’t always been put in the best situations casting-wise (I like Contact but that comes to mind) but if anyone sees Frailty they’d be willing to give him a permanent seal of approval. I’d argue he’s always been underrated and never phoned anything in unlike some who reach tongue-in-cheek cult status, and this year he found dynamite parts and knocked them out of the park. Always felt he could, but was a closeted fan.

However, owing to the fact that last year’s winner had four roles of note and set sort of a precedent and also appeared in films I saw at different stages of the year, those things are some of, but not the only reasons, I choose Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson, of course, is part of the phenomenon that is The Avengers. To an extent Jackson’s work as Nick Fury is akin to Alan Rickman’s in the Harry Potter series. Jackson has been establishing Fury as the Marvel Universe built itself up on film. The culmination of the effort is the first Avengers film.

However, before and after that film in the year there were two indies that when combined with Django Unchained make him the clear choice.

Now, Meeting Evil and The Samaritan may not be the most universally embraceable films but I enjoyed both and he seemed to also. Sam Jackson has been quoted as saying that he sometimes bases decisions on roles by deciphering if he would’ve wanted to see these films when he was a kid. I think all his choices for 2012 pass that test with ease.

Last, but unquestionably not least, is his performance in Django Unchained. What he does there is nothing short of astounding especially when you consider his screen time. He plays older than he is, adopts new physicality, puts a slightly different spin on his usual tough-guy persona, and then, with impeccable timing and brilliant results, sends up the sidekick subservience that far too many African-American actors of the the past had to settle for.

However, when hearkening to the past in a different way, Jackson also took part in two films that could be classified as neo-noir and played both sides of the equation (protagonist and antagonist).

Smauel L. Jackson is the kind of actor who upon being involved in a project elevates it and has the potential to do something extraordinarily special. He did so in 2012 four times over. If that’s not entertainer of the year, I don’t know what is.

2011 Andy Serkis

Now, I know what you’re thinking but believe it or not this has very little to do with The Rise of the Planet of the Apes though I will get to that at some point.

Andy Serkis was the lead in the first qualified movie of 2011 an indie film called Sex & Drugs & Rock & Roll where he played Ian Drury a punk rock frontman and icon. The film covered a lot of time chronologically and he had a lot of character to play and was nearly honored by the BAM Awards with an acting nomination. It’s a film that makes some interesting creative decisions that is worth seeking out.

Next I saw him playing a completely different type of character entirely, as is par for the course it seems. He played Colleone in the British crime film Brighton Rock and every scene he had in it was just entrancing, he’s flamboyant and pure evil in it and it’s great to watch.

Not I will get to Planet of the Apes. I recognize and get a lot of the positive commentary Serkis received for that film. Whether or not motion capture work can and should be award fodder is a discussion for another time. He emotes for Caesar and makes him a character. In a film that could’ve used a bit more from the human cast he humanized the apes well.

What really seals it though is the fourth Serkis title I saw. When I went to see The Adventures of Tintin I saw his name in the credits and didn’t expect it. So I played a little game wherein I tried to figure out who he was. I had a guess but it wasn’t based on the fact that I knew it was him. It’s more like I know how versatile and impeccable he is.

The man truly is a chameleon and an entertainer to the core and more than deserves this honor.

2010 Chloë Grace Moretz

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A few years ago Robert Downey, Jr. was hot on the comeback trail and he could do no wrong. He made Iron Man much cooler than we ever thought it could be and he was side-splittingly funny in Tropic Thunder. Conversely I had been considering creating an Entertainer of the Year award for the BAMs. When those events converged I decided to both name the award after him and have him be the first recipient.

The only real qualification is that you need to have at least two participations (meaning they can be either two films in which you played the same function actor, writer, director, etc. or two functions in one film in which you excelled). Last year’s winner was Michael Keaton for starring in and directing The Merry Gentleman.

This year’s winner is a young lady who has burst on to the scene with three very memorable performances in three disparate films and is now one of the most sought after actors in film.

Chloë Grace Moretz I first saw as a girl who is literally too cool for school in Diary of a Wimpy Kid. She is the kind of character who while somewhat jaded doesn’t waste time trying to be someone she isn’t or impressing people who don’t matter.

Then, of course, there is her performance as Hit Girl. A turn that only just slightly missed multiple nominations. She literally is the whole reason Kick-Ass works, she floats through a bloodbath of her own creation with ease unlike we’ve seen since the Kill Bill series.

As if that wasn’t enough Miss Moretz also took on the role of the vampire in Let Me In, an American rendition of the neo-classic Swedish film Let the Right One In. While the script and director dictate a different direction for her character than previously indicated she still brings to the role incredible vulnerability, menace and a certain disarming innocence, which help make the film great.

For all those reasons she is Entertainer of the Year.

2009 Michael Keaton

Due to Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredibly entertaining performances in 2008 I decided to name an Entertainer of the Year Award in his honor. Naturally, he was the first winner. This year, at first, qualifiers for that award were few as qualification was stringent to be in keeping with the award’s namesake, meaning that a candidate needed two magnificent parts in films that both equally deserve recognition. Then upon further thought the “Entertainer of the Year” portion of the award’s title came to the forefront and the criteria changed slightly to two participations of equally great entertainment value and thus the award could be easily handed to Michael Keaton for his performance and his direction in The Merry Gentleman, for few had two acting roles that merited recognition on that level.

Keaton not only confidently directs a very adept cast but tells a tale visually with great cinematography. It is also a very different kind of tale which, consistently defies expectations. Unlike some actors-turned-directors the part he plays is not very large in terms of dialogue or very glamorous but it is a great part and he plays it astoundingly well. It is a departure from his usual affable persona. Also, unlike many actors-turned-directors he is unafraid to tell his story in pictures.

In an interview with Guardian he said “It’s great to make your own choices, but there’s a price to pay.” While more mainstream films and appeal have alluded him he found a film here he connected with on many levels. He has crafted a film onscreen and off it that is an embodiment of his statement that “You don’t want to lose your status, but I was never willing to preserve it by doing things I didn’t want to do.” Keaton may not be the name he once was in terms of box office figures but as an artist he has grown in leaps and bounds and this project is a testament to that and this critic hopes there are more on the way.

2008 Robert Downey, Jr.

What else can you say about a man who actually inspires an award to come into being? He literally could’ve swept the male acting categories in 2008 and there wasn’t much that he did that wasn’t awesome and he’s been on a pretty good streak since as well. The award is something that needed to happen and he gave it the push necessary.

2012 Robert Downey, Jr. Award for Entertainer of the Year

This award is one I will present annually to the actor, writer, director or any combination thereof who has in my estimation the best year. The only real criteria is that they have multiple credits. The credits can be two responsibilities on the same film or more than one film. The idea came to me based on Robert Downey, Jr.’s incredible 2008. He was the first winner and the name stuck.

I think I did start to list potential candidates for this but then thought it’d take some of the drama out of it. Also, if you have to think too much about a body-of-work award like this one, it’s nearly invalidated.

So first there are honorable mentions…

I admit to being woefully ignorant about the oeuvre Joss Whedon before this year. I was not one of the legion following his TV series’. However, with the anticipation building towards The Avengers I saw Dr. Horrible and previously fell in love with The Cabin in the Woods.

Late in the year when this topic was bandied about Matthew McConaughey’s name was getting a lot of traction for roles in Magic Mike, Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Bernie. Also, Mud did well on the festival circuit and is an anticipated 2013 film for me. McConaughey’s year was astoundingly good.

So why not those two? Whedon lacked the spontaneity of some of my past choices. I know of him but not his work and was looking forward to the releases based on premise/buzz. McConaughey’s accolades though mostly genuine almost seem like mea culpas. For whatever reason, he’s got a bad rap. I’ve always liked his work. He hasn’t always been put in the best situations casting-wise (I like Contact but that comes to mind) but if anyone sees Frailty they’d be willing to give him a permanent seal of approval. I’d argue he’s always been underrated and never phoned anything in unlike some who reach tongue-in-cheek cult status, and this year he found dynamite parts and knocked them out of the park. Always felt he could, but was a closeted fan.

However, owing to the fact that last year’s winner had four roles of note and set sort of a precedent and also appeared in films I saw at different stages of the year, those things are some of, but not the only reasons, I choose Samuel L. Jackson.

Jackson, of course, is part of the phenomenon that is The Avengers. To an extent Jackson’s work as Nick Fury is akin to Alan Rickman’s in the Harry Potter series. Jackson has been establishing Fury as the Marvel Universe built itself up on film. The culmination of the effort is the first Avengers film.

However, before and after that film in the year there were two indies that when combined with Django Unchained make him the clear choice.

Now, Meeting Evil and The Samaritan may not be the most universally embraceable films but I enjoyed both and he seemed to also. Sam Jackson has been quoted as saying that he sometimes bases decisions on roles by deciphering if he would’ve wanted to see these films when he was a kid. I think all his choices for 2012 pass that test with ease.

Last, but unquestionablty not least, is his performance in Django Unchained. What he does there is nothing short of astounding especially when you consider his screen time. He plays older than he is, adopts new physicality, puts a slightly different spin on his usual tough-guy persona, and then, with impeccable timing and brilliant results, sends up the sidekick subservience that far too many African-American actors of the the past had to settle for.

However, when hearkening to the past in a different way, Jackson also took part in two films that could be classified as neo-noir and played both sides of the equation (protagonist and antagonist).

Smauel L. Jackson is the kind of actor who upon being involved in a project elevates it and has the potential to do something extraordinarily special. He did so in 2012 four times over. If that’s not entertainer of the year, I don’t know what is.

The 5 Most Invalid Star Wars Complaints

With the recent release of Star Wars: Episode 1- The Phantom Menace in one additional D that has never before been seen there were bound to be many new articles that wrote upon the first film (chronologically) all over again.

Now, it’s been well-documented that fans and critics alike didn’t have much regard for Jake Lloyd’s interpretation of Anakin Skywalker and this was reiterated in the new articles. However, what struck me as a I read a new piece on old news was that, even in Episode One, much less the entire series, there are far more bothersome things that those of us who are fans can nitpick about. So, since fandom breeds nit-pickery whether one likes it or not, I have decided that there needs to be some priority set to this nitpicking. Namely, the focus will be on things ought not be nitpicked when you think about it.

I have asked Joey Esposito and Tom Sanford V to contribute their own lists as they are bigger die-hards than I, I’ll link to those when they’re up. I provide a sort of detached-weirdo perspective as the first time I truly saw the trilogy was in order in 2005 after I had seen Episode 3.

So enjoy (or become enraged by) my opinions below.

5. The Alternate Versions

This one is the last on my list because I agree with the fans right to complain about the alternate edits with new effects and the like with a caveat: namely, and this is a theme with me, if it really enrages you that much don’t buy them. I know I’m sticking with my DVDs for the time being. While I agree with the director’s right to change his film if he so pleases, I would prefer it if Lucas treated Star Wars like Spielberg treated E.T., meaning the original, unaltered version was always available and the new stuff was optional. I went to see the new E.T. but that was the only time, every other time the original has been just fine by me. So, yes, you have a right to complain about this switch, however, if you keep buying every release it’s falling on deaf ears. Therefore your options are one of two: hold out or get over it. None are great I grant you, but it’s the sad truth.

4. Midi-Chlorians

Here’s where my watching the series knowingly in chronological, so far as the narrative goes, order starts to factor in. This is one of the most over-debated and over-analyzed aspects of the entire saga. You can like or dislike it as you please, but I really don’t see the point in getting all up in arms about this point, when you have so many you could possibly choose from. Granted you implement things in the prequel trilogy that don’t follow through to the original and it removes an element of mystery but how much does it really detract? Furthermore, to parlay the filmmaker point above, it was introduced when the prequels were very much Lucas’s design, as concessions may have been made later on, so clearly he had it in mind. So it may not fit your vision but it fit his. Essentially, if one if offended by the very notion of the prequels they ought not waste time on this factoid. Conversely, if this is your biggest issue with the series that’s not so bad or you’ve blown it way out of proportion.

3. The Prequels In General

I alluded to this above but there are some who never got over the prequels happening in the first place. That’s fine. The original films are still there and if you watch those on an endless loop for all of eternity and never watch the prequels, would you still feel dirty knowing they exist? I wouldn’t. Now, even having seen the prequels first and then racing home to finish the series that night I won’t say the prequels are better, however, the concept was new to me when I first heard of it so I figured: “Why not watch it in order?” Today I think my appreciation for the saga and for prequels in general are heightened for it. Yes, I saw the prequels first, and yes, The Empire Strikes back is my favorite, and yes, The Phantom Menace is my least favorite, but in a lot of ways it functions like A New Hope does as a prelude to what’s to come.

2. Writing

People started to pile on to Lucas’ screenwriting seemingly only from 1999 to 2005 when seeing the new ones and then retroactively casting aspersions on his prior works. I can’t defend him in some areas but he knows his style and he jokes about being the “master of wooden dialogue.” He’s not Woody Allen or Joseph Mankiewicz or any of the greats, he knows that but he also typically writes his script in milieus he knows and where his style can flourish: Sci-Fi and adventure tales structured like serials, at least 10 films he had a hand in creating are in this vain (Star Wars and Indiana Jones) they emulate the style down to visual transitions and what I prefer to refer to as functional dialogue. However, suddenly when there are movies of his forthcoming some are not excited to see he is to be mocked and ridiculed? It’s exactly the same as what he’s always done. It worked then and it worked when the films rolled around again, the difference was in the receptiveness of the audience more so than the prowess of the artist.

1. Acting

Star Wars ain’t Shakespeare. Some actors will flail about. I don’t usually excuse actors I know to be talented from struggling with flat roles they seem uninterested in but it does happen. The fact of the matter is, I can ignore sub-par acting if I like the story enough. It will detract from it sure but rarely does it single-handedly ruin a film. Furthermore, as implied above, the saga might not embolden every actor. Sure, Harrison Ford did great things as Han, however, it’s right in his wheelhouse and his range is not the most vast to be honest. When dialogue has always been functional (I think we all know the story of the argument Ford and Lucas had on the set of the original about writing and saying things) and some actors can’t find themselves as well in that world, suddenly in the fourth film you’re going to pile on to a kid? I’m not going to say Jake Lloyd was the greatest thing since sliced bread but he did become the whipping boy for all that ailed The Phantom Menace in the eyes of many. Even I, who marginally liked the film, can pick many issues with that one and Lloyd is nowhere to be found on my list.

Essentially, due to fan outrage about the concept of the prequels existing and their dissatisfaction with the end result a child’s life was ruined, and yes I will go so far as to say potential was thwarted. You can’t tell me that Portman and Christiansen were always on point or that it ranks amongst Sam Jackson’s best works. As much as I’d like him you’d rattle off a bunch of Ewen MacGregor films before getting to the prequels. And if nothing else convinces you to absolve Jake Lloyd maybe this will: Did you like The Sixth Sense? I am assuming that you are a human being reading this and the answer is yes. Well, Haley Joel Osment is just one of those who auditioned for the role of Anakin but was not selected. So you can thank Jake Lloyd for The Sixth Sense if nothing else. Then feel free to troll on elsewhere, if you so please.

Review- The Avengers

So here it is at last, the convergence of all the Marvel has been working for with its recent films. It’s the make-your-head-explode conception sure to delight many a film geek and comic book nerd the world over. Surely almost any film would implode under these nearly insurmountable expectations and such deafening hype, right? Wrong.

What we turn to summer movie fare for are spectacles. It’s where we want the ultimate in escapism, and have been let down over and over again. The Avengers name is in some ways a meta-textual one as it avengers many of the over-hyped bombs of the past but it really does is delivered as expected and so much more.

The tale is a simple one wherein the Tesseract, a stone that is a source of renewable energy and power, has fallen into the hands of the megalomaniac Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Enter S.H.I.E.L.D., headed by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) who has had small appearances in the previous Marvel films building to this event, the assemblage of the Avengers, a superhero team to combat a super threat. The tale being rather straight-forward is a great thing here because it allows the film to do something these films don’t usually do: introduce and build the characters, create conflict and investment on behalf of the audience. In the end, you want the heroes to save the world, of course, but you also want for the heroes to succeed to avenge their enemies and vanquish their demons. A rare feat, and colossal when you consider how many characters this applies to.

The common thread that applies to all the characters and actors in this film is that even though they’ve all had their own film(s) none of them have been better in their given part than they are here. Which is slightly a contrarian thought because you’d think with less screen time each and so many characters it’d end up being insufficient and watered down, nothing could be further from the truth.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth), due to the fact that Loki is his brother, has the most invested in this cause. His entrance into the tale is spectacular and one of the many memorable moments this film offers.

Captain America (Chris Evans) is great here in many ways. Not only is he perhaps the most idealistic of the characters in the context of this story but he also has similar baggage to Thor in as much as he too is a bit displaced, Thor in place and Captain America in time. His moments come both in dialogue and in a few battles.

Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is back and better than ever. I’ll discuss Whedon’s writing and directing more later, but having Tony Stark be the one who is confrontational and snarky about the team is one of the film’s best touches. It gives him a journey as first he’s arrogant, the most informed on the dossier and then has to make it work with this crew because that’s the only way it’ll happen. I cannot describe his best moment as it’d be a massive spoiler if you’re one of the few who hasn’t seen it yet.

As for The Hulk, I did trudge through the previous two attempts to make his character work in a full-length motion picture. It didn’t work at all until now. This character was really the gamble, he’s a major “new addition” to characters who had recently gotten their own successful big screen ventures. They could’ve pulled someone else in but they went back to the the Hulk. This time it pays off big time. This is all thanks to both the way the character is written, again to not say too much, and also Mark Ruffalo’s tremendous performance.

Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) also makes a return after first appearing in Iron Man 2, however, here is where her character really develops and quite frankly she’s amazing in this. Not only in the fighting scenes but she’s also playing subtext and conveying emotion brilliantly. As the girl in the group she’s outnumbered but by no means outmatched.

Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) is an example of impeccable casting. Due to the way the film structures itself he suits the role perfectly well and does some pretty awesome jumping about and target shooting.

Every superhero film needs a villain and the best thing this film does is it has one and one only. We know who he is early and focus on him. He gets his thralls but is allowed to flex and posture and does his darndest to convince us that things won’t work out in the end. Tom Hiddleston far outdoes himself in this encore.

Joss Whedon is someone I’ll admit I didn’t know a lot about until very recently. I knew the name but I had not seen a lot of his work. However, in light of his role as co-writer and producer of The Cabin in the Woods I’ve started to see some more and I can say that his contributions to this film are massive. He clearly has immense respect for this material but also knows how to play with it. The respect is evident in that despite the fact that this film end with a massive, near-cataclysmic, jaw-dropping action sequence it takes the time to get these characters together see how they gel or create friction, sort through some of their baggage and get people moments that they earn.

The effects in the film are, of course, tremendous. I did happen to see the movie in 3D and I would say that it’s one you can enjoy just as much without it. The difference made is negligible.

So to those of us who wondered if a super-group superhero film could work, the answer is a resounding yes. Anticipation quenched and all we wonder now is where it’ll go from here.

10/10

Rewind Review- Iron Man 2 (2010)

As those who know me, and if such a person exists, cyberstalk me, know I created this blog after writing on another site, which shall remain nameless, for a while. The point is, I have material sitting around waiting to be re-used on occasion I will re-post them here. Some of those articles or reviews may have been extemporaneous at the time but are slightly random now, hence the new title and little intro, regardless enjoy!

Iron Man 2 is the kind of sequel that has a lot to live up to. It comes on the heels of the wildly successful, aesthetically and financially, film from last year. When seeing this film two things make you wonder: first, did it come too fast, and second, is Shakespeare wrong and is there really something in a name as merely calling the film ‘2’ seems uninspired. What you get in this film is not a bad product but an indifferent one, a film most deserving of the moniker of ‘meh.’

What this film does afford its leading players is a chance to strut their stuff, in spite of the built-in limitations of their characters. For example, Tony Stark, as portrayed by Robert Downey, Jr., didn’t get much deeper or more fully realized in this film but what the material did allow was for Downey to flaunt his considerable talents, both dramatic and comedic. Similarly, Sam Rockwell as Justin Hammer is hysterical and has his high point when be-bopping onto the stage at Stark Expo. He is quite good but he also is only ever established in this film as someone out to get Stark for business reasons. You get the impression there is more behind it but it’s never explored. Last but not least there’s Mickey Rourke who plays Ivan Vanko, again who does huge amounts with such limiting material. There is so much more to Ivan Vanko than the film lets on. However, all the film seeks is to establish what the motive is and not have us fully understand and feel said motive.

Much the same can be said of the all-star supporting cast which includes Gwyneth Paltrow, Don Cheadle, Scarlett Johanssen and Samuel L. Jackson. Each does what they can with minimally arcing storylines, none of which ever gets pronounced or explored enough to truly add significant depth to this film. The love interests are buried until the end, the running of Stark remains a buried but seemingly necessarily evil subplot. Even the political interventions and the possible proliferation of the Iron Man suit never seems like the stakes are high enough and doesn’t add to the tension like it should partially due to timing in the tale and partially due to execution.

Again not to say the film is uninteresting, poorly executed or not entertaining. It is well-done and interesting but not nearly as engaging and entertaining as it could be partially because the stakes seem lowered in this one and almost all subplots seem subjugated and nearly unnecessary encumbrances rather than necessary depth.

In the end, you walk out of this film just feeling like you watched another tale where a few key pieces were moved into place for the next film but you didn’t feel you learned too much about any of these people whom seemed much more alive the last time around.

Similarly, in a film where the stakes of all the ulterior storylines is lowered then it should come as no surprise that the climactic battle is somewhat anticlimactic. It is well-shot, edited and conceived but it’s just not terribly compelling and it could’ve been ratcheted up. The extra suits could’ve been disposed of quicker and it could’ve benefited from a villain monologue in that situation.

The CG in the film doesn’t particularly stand out in one way of another which is almost as high a compliment as you can pay a film in this day and age. So it definitely does not detract from the experience.

With all that said it does bear repeating that this is a good film. Based on its disparate elements it was, of course, not nearly as good as it could have been or as its predecessor. That being said it was well worth the watch and good escapist entertainment.

6/10

Mini-Review Round-Up April 2012

I had quite a review drought to end 2011 so I think the remedy for this kind of post would be to have the post be cumulative monthly. Therefore, after each qualifying film a short write-up will be added to the monthly post. The mini-reviews will be used to discuss Netflix and other home video screenings. Theatrical releases will get full reviews.

For a guide to what scores mean go here.

Meeting Evil

Samuel L. Jackson in Meeting Evil (Magnet Releasing)

Perhaps what’s most enjoyable about Meeting Evil is that it really plays with your expectations. It’s kind of a down the rabbit hole scenario wherein the protagonist (Luke Wilson) unwittingly gets himself further and further ensnared in a web of murder, duplicity and intrigue. Where we the audience come into play is that the film never cheats but has some really great twists along the way playing into one trope or another and then pulls a switch on us. It’s great stuff because what it does is keep you engaged and stays just a step or so ahead of you but you never feel bamboozled, for better or worse.

It’s also a film that allows its actors some room to play, Samuel L. Jackson in particular seems to truly relish this part and does great things in this film. Jackson is menacing, funny and truly a character in this tale, there’s a depth and intelligence to his madness. When all is said and done and you look back upon it you’ll see Luke Wilson does well too, faults you may find are more likely attributable to his character, but necessary for the story to function. The film also has a great sequence at a dilapidated farm house. It’s sequences like this and performances in small roles that can sometimes stick out most in a movie, granted the nature of the film makes it memorable regardless, but this sequence is where it shines. The performance in a small role of which I speak is that of Ryan Lee (Super 8) who has a brief but intense interaction with Jackson that stands out in similar fashion to Young Erik’s backstory in X-Men: First Class.

Meeting Evil
is a film that does not stand still for long and is memorable for it, and for refusing to be run-of-the-mill. It will be in limited release on May 4th and is available via Amazon, Vudu and iTunes streaming right now.

8/10

Ghoul

Nolan Gould in Ghoul (Chiller)

To start off with the positives on this film: Firstly, on a personal note, I was thrilled to discover I even get Chiller via my cable provider, as I had not in the past. Secondly, any time a fledgling network is branching out into original programming be they series or films I support that wholeheartedly. Thirdly, this is a very ambitious story, even more so when you consider it’s the first production you’re airing so that bodes well for the future, but sadly it feels like a bit of an over-reach here.

The main issues are with performance and adaptation. For the tale this film entails you need every single person in the cast to have serious chops and to fit the role to a tee and you don’t quite have the depth here. The only two noteworthy turns are Nolan Gould, best known as Luke on Modern Family, in the first truly dramatic piece I’ve seen him do and Trevor Harker, who shows the most promise in the young ensemble. With regards to the adaptation: First, the dialogue issues are rampant, and second, it seems like it might have been a bit slavish structurally and when telling a tale a bit more involved than most it makes the end seem rather abrupt and certain portions disjointed. It’s not an easy task, as there are a few pieces of commentary being attempted but all the more reason to do it properly. Few things are worse than well-intentioned commentary in an unfortunate vehicle.

I don’t know the source material but it seems as if they needed to get a bit creative in structuring and editing material, as well as streamlining events. This also throws the pace way off. There are some issues with production value like the not-quite-so-period costuming and the intolerable scoring.

While the film does end much stronger than it starts it’s still too much of a mess to be passable, however, I am looking forward to what else Chiller has to offer in the future.

4/10

7 Below

The Cast of 7 Below (Arc Entertainment)

There’s a bunch of random stuff that ends up at Redbox that never really gets on your Netflix radar so if you’re looking for a quick, cheap rental it’s a good resource to check every so often. Redbox also seems to be attracting, and placing in a more prominent way, some indie titles that are getting overlooked as other outlets balloon. That leads me to 7 Below. This is a horror film which boasts brief turns by both Val Kilmer, very brief, and Ving Rhames, not as brief, however, it’s carried mainly by its as of yet unknown cast. There’s a lack of focus in the early going with regards to the MacGuffin and a lack of detail and an air of mystery about everything. It’s a film that would be better served by not playing things so very close to the vest. There are some good and surprising twists to be had and the results of which I actually enjoy, but the whole film plods towards them such that I waited for them and expected them I just wasn’t sure quite what. It truly is a shame that certain aspects were quite predictable when others weren’t it just required a bit more fine-tuning to get just right.

5/10

Harley’s Hill

Kirstin Dorn in Harley's Hill (eKidsFilms)

Not to sound cute but, Harley’s Hill really is run-of-the-mill. It’s your standard low-rent family geared entertainment. In it you have a girl and a found horse and you can likely fill in the rest of the blanks yourself. What makes it even more standard is that from the adult ensemble has forgettable and at times regrettable performances while the few young performers are much better on the whole and do have their moments to shine. Most notable in the youth ensemble is Kirstin Dorn in the lead and main sidekick Lexi Di Benedetto, they are also well supported by very promising turns by Jacob Rodier and Elmo Riley. There are a few weak spots in the script but for the most part it sticks to its prefabricated plot fairly well. What is refreshing is that there are several passage of time montages, which although in need of tightening, allow the film to be more visual than anticipated. Typically, when a film is innocuous enough, as this one is, the line between a good rating and a bad one is very hazy. This film likely would’ve been for more enjoyable were I in the target demographic, however, seeing as I’m not and I found some issue with it I must give it:

5/10

With the caveat that I would recommend it if asked. It’s likely to be enjoyable for younger viewers and I did really enjoy the fact that it focuses on the equestrian discipline of dressage that you don’t see often on film.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life

Mira Sorvino, Maxwell Beer, Ryan Simpkins and Daniel Cosgrove in Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life (Phase 4 Films)

In the interest of full disclosure this film and the one added yesterday were really only viewed to start populating the Performance by Young Actress in a Leading Role field in the BAM Awards and thank goodness I felt compelled to do so. It wasn’t all at once, but boy was I in for a surprise when I started watching this film. Based in part on the some what mystical illustrations on the cover image, I was likely more wary of this rental than the former.

I was not only pleasantly surprised but rather blown away. I have not seen an independent family film of this quality since The Dust Factory, which I believe I only saw in 2005 when it was on DVD.

The title character is most definitely the lead in this film, and newcomer Maxwell Beer is outstanding in this part. Based on the nature of the story it’s quite possible that the shooting schedule was rather continuous, and it really shows as he especially grew as the movie progressed and it turns into a rather special performance. It gets better because not only does he pair very well with Ryan Simpkins but she is quite a scene stealer both comedically and dramatically, which I love, and her performance is very powerful.

For all its quirks, and it does have a few, this is a film that stays very grounded and rather real, it may seem as if it’s skewing outside of that realm but bear with it. It’s set in New York but uses the setting tremendously as the world of the story, as is that of the protagonist, is very insular. This is something I can relate to quite a bit, as big as New York is you can find your own little corner and tuck yourself away there, and that is part of its charm.

It also does things like building character so seamlessly such that its not rote and you don’t feel your attachment to these characters and their problems growing and it does.

I was moved greatly by it, probably even more so than by Fireflies in the Garden, whereas this film had zero casting stumbling blocks to overcome.

Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life is currently available from Amazon both on DVD and on Instant Video and Redbox. I highly recommend it.

10/10

Smitty

Brandon Tyler Russell in Smitty (Phase 4 Films)

My favorite film of this post (above) has the same distributor as this film, which just goes to show you that family-geared entertainment can really run the gamut quality-wise regardless of budget and production values. In fact, it also shares a cast member with the aforementioned film (Mira Sorvino), and while her part here is larger, it’s not quite up to par with her turn in Jeremy Fink, wherein she also played a mother albeit an eclectic one.

Comparisons aside, for they are ultimately irrelevant, Smitty stays middle-of-the-road at best and what’s frustrating is that it wouldn’t have taken much to make it pretty good. There’s a director who’s had notable works (The Sandlot, Radio Flyer [uncredited]) and an experienced, award-winning and -nominated cast members like Peter Fonda and Louis Gosset, Jr. but the script is tepid, standard and repetitive, and doesn’t give the actors a lot to work with. There are some curious structuring decisions, which doesn’t even include the “non-guffin” of the local hoods, who serve minimal purpose except to bloat running time and coax our protagonist into bad choices, dramatically as well as morally.

The film could be decent, fairly light family fare but as indicated above there are many missteps, and it also falls into the standard family film mold in this way: the young lead being the bright spot. Brandon Tyler Russell is raw, but quite convincing in his emotional moments and perhaps the most under-served by the script, in as much as many of his scenes are hard to believe textually much less when played. However, there is a lot of potential there and it’d be great to see him with better material supporting him.

5/10

Review- African Cats

African Cats (DisneyNature)

Ever since the inception of DisneyNature there has been a social awareness angle to all their nature documentaries due in part to the fact that during these films initial week of theatrical release a portion of the box office has gone support a wildlife conservation fund. This social awareness has in the previous three films crept into the narrative but this film avoids that self-conciousness, which is good. They’ve realized that almost any nature documentary has an environmental aspect now regardless of your conservationist and/or Global Climate Change stance, especially when you release the film on Earth Day.

What’s not as good is that cinematically it doesn’t stack up to prior installments. There are quite a few reasons for this.

It almost goes without saying that the cinematography in this film is great. If you’re making a nature doc and you don’t have at least a few breathtaking shots and a handful of “How’d you get that?” shots you haven’t really done your job. In some cases it could’ve been better in terms of working with the edit and clarifying action and sometimes shots were intimated at by narration that didn’t exist.

The only reason I bring the comparative aspect of it into play is that a) this is the same team that brought Earth to the screen and b) the films in this series regardless of director have shared some similar traits in construction.

One of the larger issues the film faces is balancing the amount of narration to include. It seems as if there was too much included and it makes me wonder is there was more written simply because they knew Samuel L. Jackson was going to be reading it. Many times in the film I mentally omitted extraneous portions of narration. Far too many times for it to not be bothersome.

Aside from the sheer amount of dialogue that was included there were scripting issues such as not naming any of Kali’s, a powerful lion, sons.

Perhaps this decision was made due to the fact that this is a film that was dealing both with cheetahs and lions and there were two rival factions of lions to include. The balancing act between the two, or three really, was quite precarious and the overlap was very minimal. This is unfortunate not only because the cheetah’s tale, which I found to be more interesting, got the short shrift.

This film is at times a moving an intimate portrait of wildlife on the African Savanna that only slightly miscalculated the use of some of its elements. It, while focusing on cats, did manage to include many other species that inhabit the area and convey information about their behavioral and migratory patterns.

African Cats is well worth viewing both for entertainment and altruistic purposes but it just falls short of maximizing its potential.

7/10