Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

“CAPTAIN MARVEL” Review (✫✫)

SOURCE: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Not so Marvelous. 

Trolls ruin everything. First, they have to assault Black Panther with a plethora of negative Rotten Tomatoes reviews just because it’s Marvel’s first predominately Black superhero movie. Now the trolls attack yet again by swarming the internet forums with degrading attacks towards Captain Marvel – only this time it’s because a woman is leading the charge.

The really pathetic part is that the trolls’ extraneous hatred for this movie is completely unnecessary. There’s plenty to dislike here in Captain Marvel, and none of it has to do with her being a woman.

In this prequel to all of the 20-plus movies in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Captain Marvel follows Veers (Brie Larson), a Kree alien who has the power to harness and project solar energy. She and her Kree kind are at war with a race of shape-shifting aliens called the Skrulls, but in the midst of one of their battles, Veers is left stranded on a strange planet called “Earth.” It’s then that she starts to see flashbacks to a life she doesn’t remember.

Now Veers has to retrace her steps to learn where she really came from and become the hero she was destined to be: Captain Marvel.

Like with any other Marvel movie, Captain Marvel has mesmerizing visual effects – equal parts spectacular, breathtaking and stunning all at once. Whether its Veers taking on a horde of Skrull soldiers or flying high through the sky in an epic and explosive space fight, Captain Marvel’s fight sequences are dizzying, high-octane and exciting. It’s no secret that Marvel films are a dominating force at the box office. Captain Marvel continues to reinforce the reasons why.

The film also has an irresistible sense of style and a really nice throwback to 90’s nostalgia. There was one fight sequence in particular where No Doubt’s “Just A Girl” was playing, and the moment was so self-aware and infectious that I couldn’t help but grin from ear-to-ear.

All the same, there is much that doesn’t work with Captain Marvel. Take the film’s lead as one example. Now don’t get me wrong, I love Brie Larson. She was mesmerizing in her Oscar-winning performance for Room, and she was a spit-firing force in Trainwreck and Free Fire. But her natural charisma and charm are essentially non-existent here, her blank face looking so dull and clueless that she looks like she’s searching for the cue cards for her next line.

Part of that problem is the material she’s provided to work with. While amnesia narratives play a relevant role in other superhero movies (see the X-Men and Captain America movies), Captain Marvel’s feels forced and unnecessary – like the filmmakers needed to differentiate between the usual superhero riff-raff and tried to switch things up. I appreciate them trying something different, but the amnesia plotline just inhibits Larson’s talents as an actress. Instead of letting loose with her personality and having fun, Larson just looks confused and out of place – as if she wandered onto the wrong set and the camera just kept on rolling.

Then there’s the film’s politics. Yes, dear reader: Captain Marvel possesses a political message. And before you ask, no, it’s not about feminism, but instead about immigration. And to be fair here, I have no problem with political themes being used in a superhero movie. In fact, plenty of movies in the MCU have had political undertones in them prior to Captain Marvel. Iron Man possessed a message on international terrorism and war profiteering. The Captain America movies covered the birth, evolution, and eventually the loss of the American dream. And do we even need to cover Avengers: Infinity War and Thanos’ obsessions with overpopulation and scarcity of resources?

Time and time again, Marvel has demonstrated that it can integrate political conversations fluidly into a high-stakes action blockbuster. If you really want to get into it, Thor: Ragnarok and Black Panther also carried themes about immigration – and they carried them well. But Captain Marvel feels way too forced. Instead of just focusing on being a powerful superheroine anthem for today’s female generation, it has to throw in an extra political philosophy in there just for good measure. Movies aren’t good just because they have generic messages in them. Like any other great picture, it has to be done well. And in the case of Captain Marvel, it’s distracted, unfocused, and way too on-the-nose to take seriously.

Keep in mind that I do not dislike Captain Marvel because it’s Marvel’s first prominent superheroine movie. In fact, I’m frustrated that the internet trolls have poisoned this movie’s dialogue so much to the point that whoever voices their disapproval are instantly written off as misogynists instead of those who simply have a differing opinion. The demographics do not affect a movie’s quality, and liking and disliking a film solely because of who is in the lead has always been wrong and divisive.

The movies should be allowed to succeed – and fail – based on their own merits. Captain Marvel certainly has no issues performing the latter.

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“CAPTAIN AMERICA: THE WINTER SOLDIER” Review (✫✫✫)


Patriotism replaced with fast-paced spy action and conspiracy.

In his review for the Toronto Sun, writer Jim Slotek says that “Captain America: The Winter Soldier is actually a Jason Bourne film masquerading as a superhero movie.” Right there is your first problem. Captain America is not Jason Bourne. He does not need to be Jason Bourne. Captain America is Captain America. He has his own arc, history, complexions, motivations, and conflicts that make him a fascinating character in his own right. He is as noble as he is heroic, and in just the two appearances he’s had in the MCU so far, he’s already cemented himself as an icon and staple in this expanding universe.

Tonally, there’s a severe shift in between The First Avenger and The Winter Soldier. Captain America: The First Avenger was exciting, old-fashioned, comic-book fun, and had the look, feel, and nostalgia of those 1940’s pulp magazines. The Winter Soldier, in comparison, feels like a dark, gritty espionage thriller, and our hero wears a red, white, and blue costume instead of the atypical black motorcycle jacket and jeans. This time around, Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans) isn’t fighting Nazi-clad super soldiers or aliens from outer space. This time, Cap is after the Winter Soldier, a expert assassin who has a metal arm and has been operating for decades under the world’s nose. When one of Cap’s closest friends gets caught in the crossfire, Cap goes on the hunt for the Winter Soldier, along with an underlying conspiracy that he’s quickly unraveling.

The script is easily the best thing about Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Screenwriters Marcus Freely and Warren McAllen, who also penned the first Captain America movie as well as Thor: The Dark World, have made an incredibly thoughtful and politically-driven film, a story that, if put into book format, would arguably be more compelling than the movie is. Without giving too much away, Cap gets stuck into a position that pits him both against his own country and against his enemies, making him question himself and the ideals that he’s been fighting for all along. Is America the same country he knew during World War II? Is there any more life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness in the American dream? Is the American dream even alive any more? All of these questions are what drives the story and its characters forward, and sets up a very hard-hitting, close-to-home conflict with our favorite Captain. This is a movie that has severe repercussions towards the future of the MCU, and the twists are so hard-hitting that they surprised me, even with the ones that I was expecting.

The plot is sound and strong for the purposes of the film. But the problem doesn’t exist in the screenplay, it exists in how it’s handled. Directors Anthony and Joe Russo, whose last film credit before this was 2006’s You, Me and Dupree, didn’t see a superhero story in Captain America: The Winter Soldier. They saw a political thriller, and they decided to live up to that in every way that they could.

Take, for instance, the choreography and the motion of the action in the film. It is straight up Jason Bourne. In Captain America: The First Avenger, the action was unique, creative, and dynamic, with Cap flipping around with his shield and beating up HYDRA soldiers in classic, swashbuckling fashion, making it fun and refreshing escapism from all of the action fanfares we’ve gotten throughout the years. Here, the action feels like a retread. We’ve seen this sort of lightning-quick, fast-paced fighting in virtually every action thriller, from James Bond all the way to Mission Impossible. Why should The Winter Soldier feel any more special?

The thing that makes Captain America unique, especially in The First Avenger, is his patriotic loyalty and his unwavering sense of justice. He looks out for the little guy. He cares about such things as self-respect and manners. He won’t throw a punch unless he has to. At heart, he is this small, skimpy, honest, good-hearted kid from Brooklyn, and this is the kid that Dr. Erskine saw in the first Captain America. Here, he’s in full hero mode as he kicks, punches, tackles, slams, and throws shields at all of the bad guys, and brings everything down all around him, including buildings, bridges, and S.H.I.E.L.D. helicarriers.

Tell me, where is the patriotism? Where is the nobility? Where is the sense of joy and adventure in this movie? In its two hour runtime, we don’t get a strong sense of these things that make Captain America who he is. What we get instead is quickly-edited action, punctuated in between moments of heavy exposition and backstory, which always feels like its building up to something big, but never really pays off.

I say this again: Captain America is not an action hero! He is not Jason Bourne, or Ethan Hunt, or James Bond, or John McClane. He is Steve Rogers, and he builds this identity of Captain America to protect those who can’t protect themselves. But The Winter Soldier does not focus on the theme of protection, unlike The First Avenger. Instead, it chooses to focus on distrust and political paranoia. In doing that, it takes away something very important from Captain America: his sense of character.

As it stands, Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a good movie and not a great one. It’s serviceable in what it needs to do, and not much else. Instead of likening to Cap’s sense of bravery and heroism, we instead look to his aggression and fighting. In doing that, we lose a part of him that we wish we had back. In this day and age, dry, drab, joyless action movies are Hollywood’s currency, and all of the world is buying. The deeper we sink into this culture of entertainment and violence, the more we need our favorite Captain to stand above it. 

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“THE HATEFUL EIGHT” Review (✫✫✫)

Quentin Tarantino sticking up his bloodied middle finger. 

You could not have picked a better title for The Hateful Eight if you had a team of eight Quentin Tarantinos working on the script. It’s simple, straightforward, and to the point: you take away everything you need to know about it, just like Tarantino’s writing. There’s eight killers, they’re all hateful, and they blow each other up in bloody, gory Tarantino-esque fashion. Whether you’d like that sort of thing depends on if you like Tarantino. I do, and I had just as much a blast watching this movie as Tarantino did writing it.

As already mentioned, The Hateful Eight pits eight character’s wits and murderous instincts against each other, all with unique names that accurately reflect their histories and personalities. They include The Bounty Hunter (Samuel L. Jackson), the Hangman (Kurt Russell), the Sheriff (Walton Goggins), the Mexican (Demian Bichir), the Little Man (Tim Roth), the Cow Puncher (Michael Madsen), the Confederate (Bruce Dern), and the Prisoner (Jennifer Jason Leigh), the last of which the plot more or less focuses around. Trapped in a cabin during a harsh winter storm, these eight killers need to keep their wits intact so that they don’t start murdering each other.

This being a Tarantino movie, however, that obviously doesn’t work out very well.

For a lack of a better word, Quentin Tarantino went through hell to get this movie made. First, his script got leaked a few months before he was supposed to start production. Then, he decided to turn his screenplay into a book. When he finally resolved to make it a feature film, he received threats from police officers for participating in a Black Lives Matter protest in New York. Oh, and he had to battle being released in the same month as Star Wars: The Force Awakens. It has not been an easy year for Quentin Tarantino.

With that in mind, I appreciate that Tarantino is still able to make a quality film up to his standards, despite everything he’s been through this year. What is it you love most about Tarantino’s movies? The performances? The dialogue? The characters? The dark humor? The grit? The violence? The shock value? The Hateful Eight has all of that just as much as Inglorious Basterds, Django Unchained, and Pulp Fiction does. To classify it as a western or a comedy or a mystery doesn’t do it justice. Tarantino movies are almost a genre all their own.

That much is how The Hateful Eight is similar to its counterparts. The differences lie in its mystery element, in the characters trying to find the one person slowly, yet violently, killing off everyone else in the cabin. That being confined to eight people makes it difficult to keep this a mystery, as we already know more or less who the “good” guys are, if such a thing can exist in this movie. Regardless, it’s fun to hypothesize and figure the plot out, as there is the added element of mystery that gives The Hateful Eight a sense of intrigue over Tarantino’s other pictures.

As always, the make-it or break-it element comes down to Tarantino’s almost insane obsession with on-screen violence. At times, it gives it that extra shock value that is so ridiculous, you can’t help but laugh about it. At other times, it’s just sick, and it makes you want to throw up the more you think about it. That’s what happened with me and Django Unchained after watching too many nut shots for my own comfort. The Hateful Eight is just as guilty for being violent as Tarantino’s other motion pictures, and while it doesn’t get away with all of its violence (such as the uncomfortable nut shots), it’s still smart enough to survive beyond its onslaught of blood, guts, beatings, bruisings, stabbings, and gore that’s enough to fill up The Shining’s elevator lobby.

Do you like Quentin Tarantino? If the answer is yes, then you will want to see The Hateful Eight. If no, then you definitely don’t want to find yourself alone in this cabin with these eight murderous psychopaths.

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“KINGSMAN: THE SECRET SERVICE” Review (✫✫)

The name’s Eggsy. Agent Eggsy. 

For any of you who are planning on going into the moviemaking business, always keep one thing in mind: your audience. While most of them might be fairly desensitized and will enjoy senseless amounts of gore and violence, one or two of your audience members might not enjoy it as much, and indeed, might be so revolted by it that it affects their view of the whole picture. Does it really ruin all of the fun for everyone if you just tone down the blood and gore one or two notches? Just a few scenes can ruin a whole movie for your viewer, just like it did with me.

I know, I know, the movie probably wasn’t made for me since I’m being Mr. poopy pants by saying “ew” to blood. Can you blame me though? The MPAA rated Kingsman: The Secret Service R for “sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content.” They didn’t indicate how disturbing it was, or even how frequent and over-the-top it was either. Adding the word “intense” to any of the film’s rating descriptors would not have been inaccurate.

The plot is based on a Mark Millar comic series The Secret Service. A young man named Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is a troublemaking rebel who steals cars and gets into fights when his mother’s jerk of a boyfriend isn’t beating him up. His many delinquencies land him in jail, where he is told he’s going to spend the next 18 years of his life.

Yes, I know his name is Eggsy. Go ahead and laugh. I’ll give you a minute.

Eventually, he is freed by Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a tailor who has a thing for good manners and tall pints. What Eggsy doesn’t know is that Hart isn’t really a tailor at all: he’s a british spy, working for a secret service called “The Kingsman”, the same service Eggsy’s father worked with before he died saving Harry’s life. Now feeling a need to repay Eggsy’s father, Harry gives Eggsy a chance to become a Kingsman himself: to change his destiny and become the “gentleman” his father always wanted him to be.

The film is written and directed by Matthew Vaughn. If you know anything about Vaughn, its that his films have a very strong reception to his core audience, which I guess is… who, exactly? Masochists? His films have received an equal amount of both support and controversy in the past, including among them Kick-Ass and X-men: First Class. I myself am not a fan of him. Kick-Ass was a morally degenerate and violent escapade even worse than this movie, including horrific scenes of torture and child violence. First Class on the whole wasn’t controversial as it was incoherent, ignoring the rest of the series canon like it was a reboot instead of the self-purported prequel it was selling itself as.

But I don’t look at the director as much as I look at the film itself. What was this movie trying to be? An action-comedy. Did it succeed in that? On the whole, yes. Kingsman: The Secret Service is a humorous and stylish escapade with cartoonish violence and action equivalent to that of a Mortal Kombat video game. It had two goals here: being funny and exciting. It fulfilled both.

There was a lot I liked here with Kingsman. First off, the film was casted well. Egerton’s spunky rebellious attitude clashes well with Firth’s firm sense of structure and order, and makes for some good scenes with strong comedic dialogue in them. Mark Strong is a solid supporting character here, serving here as an adept tech assistant instead of the usual villainous roles that he does in his movies. Samuel L. Jackson was perhaps the funniest as the film’s main antagonist. In a career where Jackson spitballs lines of dialogue like bullets in films like Jungle Fever, Pulp Fiction and The Avengers, it’s both unexpected and refreshing to see him here talking with a lisp and with a sour distaste for blood. What kind of baddie doesn’t like to look at blood and give lengthy villainous monologues?

The action, while preposterous, is both stylish and exciting. Characters punch, stab, flip, grab, kick, and shoot each other in skillfully choreographed positions and movements, taking each other out in uniquely different styles that I haven’t seen before. Imagine a cross between the usual James Bond martial-arts fighting with the gunplay you’d see in a Die Hard movie. That’s the type of combat you see in Kingsman: The Secret Service, and its a rare visual treat that got me really engaged into some of the movie’s greater fighting sequences.

All in all, I was really enjoying Kingsman: The Secret Service until it got into the third act. Then it took a nosedive straight into the pavement.

I’ll try as hard as I can to describe this without giving many spoilers. In one scene, a church congregation starts slaughtering each other after the pastor delivers an incredibly racist and prejudiced sermon that I think is supposed to resemble the ramblings of Fred Phelps from the Westboro Baptist Church. This is one of the more violent and disturbing sequences in the movie, with neck snapping and people stabbings and body contortions into convoluted shapes that I didn’t even think was possible for a dead human being. The scene, while stylish and entertaining, was also equally disturbing and out of place. I laughed out loud, but I didn’t know if it was out of enjoyment or shock.

Another scene involved a mother stabbing a door in a Jack Torrance-Shining style, trying to kill her one-year-old crying daughter. That one was too much for me. I don’t like seeing child violence or distress in movies. Unless you’re having it in there to make a point about parentage or childhood trauma, scenes like that aren’t ever necessary to a movie.

Overall, we have a really cohesive film that on the whole works really well. What backfired was simply one or two scenes that severely clashed with the film’s overall vision, moments that took me out of the fun I was having to make me insanely sickened and disgusted at what was going on the screen.

The last out-of-place scene was one where a woman was asking Eggsy for anal sex. I think that’s a metaphor for something.

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“THE AVENGERS” Review (✫✫✫✫)

The ultimate example of comic-book superhero movies. 

I remember opening a comic book for the first time in my life when I was just a small kid. The small pamphlet fascinated me: by just a flip of a page, an entirely different world was created. A world where normal people gained super powers, wore red capes and tights, fought evil wherever it may exist, and made the world a safer place by the end of the day. In a small, poor neighborhood town where I was the only white kid in a predominantly Latino school building, it provided me a sense of relief and sanction from much bullying and torment I experienced from the other school children back in the day. It provided me freedom from the accursed world I lived in: it provided me a means of escape.

And now here I am, 15 years later, watching a live-action re-enactment of the world I discovered and loved all those many years ago. The Avengers is masterfully fantastic. It is an epic superhero tale, portraying the never-ending conflict of good and evil. It is an action movie with surprising finesse, switching from scenes of explosive energy and action to other scenes with insight, humor, and heartfelt emotion. It is a faithful re-production of multiple universes we have come to love in the past four years, and re-adapts them faithfully and full of energy in this film. But the core of this film’s success is this: that the film’s story and themes are emotional, honest, and truthful, and fleshes out its heroes to make them what they are: humans. All fighting for very human, realistic, and understandable reasons.

If you’ve seen the previous Marvel entries, you already know what this movie is about. The Avengers is a group of superheroes brought together to fight the battles that human beings never could.  Who are these heroes?  You would know most of them.

Tony Stark “Iron Man” (Robert Downey Jr): A billionaire playboy/philanthropist that has a genius-level-intellect that has allowed him to build and fight in a suit of armor.

Bruce Banner “Hulk” (Mark Ruffalo): A scientist exposed to gamma radiation, who turns into a giant, brutish beast with monstrous strength when he becomes angry.

Natasha Romanoff “Black Widow” (Scarlett Johansson): An agile and intelligent spy that is more skilled and capable than most other men.

Clint Barton “Hawkeye” (Jeremy Renner): A masterful marksman who can aim and shoot with his bow and various arrows in a matter of milliseconds.

Thor (Chris Hemsworth): The Norse God of thunder who can manipulate lightning with the power of his mighty hammer, Mjolnir.

Steve Rogers “Captain America” (Chris Evans): A super soldier frozen through time who can beat criminals to a pulp, as well as wielding a shield cast in a rare metal called “vibranium”.

You’ve seen these heroes before, most of them in their own respective movies.  All with their own stories, origins, conflicts, and themes that were explored along with their respective characters. My original worry with this film was, despite the huge expectations people were having, I was afraid this movie would let people down. It does, after all, have a lot on its plate: adapting over six superheroes into one action-packed movie is no easy task. We have Batman Forever and Spiderman 3 as evidence of that, where they had trouble of adapting even four super-powered beings to the big screen.

This film, though, has surprising finesse. Writer-director Joss Whedon adapts these characters with such child-like love and faithfulness, I feel their themes and stories from their previous films carry over to this film with them. It doesn’t feel like an adaptation, or an act of cruel financial commercialism. It lives up to the hype. The characters in this film live and breathe their uniqueness we have come to know and love from the previous Marvel movies. We feel Iron Man’s sarcasm and big ego, Thor’s sense of responsibility and brotherhood, Banner’s fear, frustration, and anger, and Steve’s sense of honor, patriotism, loss, and duty. Through the film’s dialogue and references to prior films, we sense Whedon’s pure intentions underneath the action, and we respect it. We realize he isn’t making just another action movie; he is making a superhero movie.  One with upmost faithfulness and loyalty to its own universes.

Impressive also, are the actors, but I don’t need to tell you that. We’ve seen them in prior films, so we already know they are good. I will comment then, on something we haven’t seen yet: their chemistry with each other. My word. This is what makes the Avengers, The Avengers. The actor’s chemistry with each other is spot-on, and in-tune. Whether it is a scene involving humorous, sarcastic dialogue, or another scene with painful realism and emotional truth to it, there is reality being shown in every single shot when an actor is with another Avenger on-screen. I can’t accurately describe it to you and do it justice. You need to see the film to understand their relationship with each other.

People are also wondering, of course, if the visual side of the film delivers. The answer is yes, but it isn’t just because it looks great; it is because of how they handled the great visuals they had for this picture. Too many times are we given films that have great visual CGI and explosions to overwhelm the audience with, but we have no suspense, excitement, or surprise to go along with it. It doesn’t make for an entertaining film. All that is left is a predictable action film that’s empty amidst the flat storytelling and redundant action sequences that just shows one explosion after another.

The Avengers isn’t like that. It doesn’t use its action as an excuse to fall flat and give up on entertaining its audience. Its excitement is relentless. Its suspense builds, and builds, and builds until we can take it no longer.  We scramble in our seat as we attentively watch what will happen next for our heroes.

This is the kind of excitement we need in superhero movies: the kind that is reminiscent of those kids watching Saturday morning cartoons, the ones that have you sitting on the edge of your seat with your bowl of “Captain Crunch” in order to see if your favorite hero does, in fact, save the day. It is this suspense and tension that builds The Avengers to incredible cinematic heights, and makes for some truly entertaining, memorable, and iconic moments in the picture.

The Avengers is the ultimate example of a comic book superhero movie. Whedon has a great subject to play with, sure. But his film is a great one not because he solely depends on the idea to be successful. This film is a success because he treats it the way it is supposed to be treated: as an exciting action-blockbuster that retains humanity to its characters, spirit to its humor, and excitement in its own story. I know somewhere in this world, some little ten-year old kid will watch this movie, and will one day be inspired to make his own superhero movie. It’s kind of depressing, though. It doesn’t really get much better than this.

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