Meewella | Critic

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Tag: Samuel L. Jackson

QuickView: Kong: Skull Island (2017)

Kong: Skull Island poster

“Kong’s god on the island, but the devils live below us.”

Hank Marlow

An unexpected mash-up of Jurassic Park 3 and Apocalypse Now results in a brash big-budget B-movie but it does nothing for its titular character beyond scaling him up to 300 feet. We see Kong express both rage and protectiveness, but there is little nuance to the giant ape. Even Rampage imbued its giant ape with some depth, but here Kong is a force of nature reacting to human intrusion. Those humans are a diverse team of scientists and specialists escorted by soldiers fresh out of the Vietnam War, though there is no substance to the numerous nods to Apocalypse Now — it serves more as an in-joke. The audience perspective is that of Tom Hiddleston’s SAS-turned-tracker and Brie Larson’s photojournalist, both of whom treat Kong with the requisite awe and respect. The remaining characters serve largely as interchangeable fodder for the island’s creatures. I can’t recall seeing credits open with a concept artist but plainly Skull Island’s varied fauna owe a debt to Crash McCreery’s designs. The producers’ end goal is clearly next year’s Godzilla vs Kong and, based on the special effects in Skull Island, one can expect it to deliver on spectacle at the very least (and, likely, at most).


QuickView: Spider-Man: Far From Home (2019)

Spider-Man: Far From Home poster

“I think Nick Fury just hijacked our summer vacation.”

Peter Parker

With Avengers: Endgame the obvious culmination of Marvel’s epic decade-spanning story arc, it seemed a little odd that Phase 3 would actually conclude with a Spider-Man film, but it actually makes a lot of sense to address the aftermath of those momentous events in a smaller interstitial that shows life in the MCU goes on. The breezy globe-trotting harkens back to the lighter entertainment of the early MCU, at its strongest in the more personal stories of Peter’s pursuit of MJ and his struggle with the loss of his mentor. This is not to detract from Jake Gyllenhaal’s wonderfully charismatic Mysterio, who makes it believable that Peter would latch onto him as a surrogate for Stark. The early fights benefit from a smaller scale, particularly in Venice where we stick with Spider-man as he works damage control while a battle rages between Mysterio and an elemental in the background; by the time we reach London, the drone-filled conclusion is CGI bombast over careful choreography. All of which goes to show that there is plenty of space for purely entertaining outings with characters old and new in the MCU. From where its future depth will come remains to be seen.


QuickView: Incredibles 2 (2018)

Incredibles 2 poster

“Done properly, parenting is a heroic act… done properly.”

Edna Mode

In general, Pixar’s return to previous properties with increasing frequency has indicated a level of creative stagnation. Incredibles 2 marks a rare departure, a sequel that seamlessly continues from its predecessor with the same imagination, warmth and wit. This is no doubt due in large part to Brad Bird’s return for writing and directorial duties after a brief foray into live action (the excellent Ghost Protocol and the less successful Tomorrowland). It provides an experience like spending time with familiar friends, and ensures that the film’s heart remains its family-centric story — Elastigirl balances working motherhood with an inability to let go of home life, Mr Incredible struggles with a sense of emasculation in his new childcare role, the children feel restricted by the needs of their demanding younger sibling — rather than mutating into an overblown action film at the expense of character moments.


QuickView: Captain Marvel (2019)

Captain Marvel poster

“I have nothing to prove to you.”

Carol Danvers

Those words during a fight late in the film ring like a challenge to detractors who feel threatened by female-led blockbusters. What Captain Marvel ably proves is what most already knew — that the Marvel superhero formula works just as well with a female lead — making it maddening that it has taken until the penultimate film of the decade-long three-phase MCU project to release one. Unfortunately fatigue is setting in with that formula and, where Black Panther shook things up by raising the bar for social and cultural exploration in a comicbook movie, Captain Marvel is largely content to play it safe in a sea of 90s nostalgia. The musical choices from the era are notable, with female fronted acts like Garbage and No Doubt setting a fun and rebellious tone to match Danvers’ own. Brie Larsen is great, though hamstrung slightly by an origin story which has Danvers slowly piecing together her memories so that her personality does not really crystallise until late in the film. The classic superhero action is fun as ever despite virtually non-existent stakes once her incredible powers are fully unleashed.


The Hateful Eight (2015)

The Hateful 8director: Quentin Tarantino
writer: Quentin Tarantino
starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Kurt Russell, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Walton Goggins
running time: 187 mins
rating: 18

Bringing desperate men in alive,
is a good way to get yourself dead.

The Hateful Eight is two thirds tense talky thriller and one third traditional Tarantino bloodbath.

The plans of John “The Hangman” Ruth [Kurt Russell] to claim the bounty on his captive, Daisy Domergue [Jennifer Jason Leigh], are complicated by an approaching blizzard. Racing for shelter, their stagecoach picks up two men stuck on the road, Major Marquis Warren [Samuel L Jackson], another bounty hunter, and Chris Mannix [Walton Goggins], former rebel soldier and future sheriff. When they reach the cabin in which they plan to wait out the storm, the owners are gone and they find a shady collection of guests with whom they will be spending the night. It soon emerges that at least one of the men has designs on freeing Domergue before she hangs.

This is a film designed for those who wished the tense opening scene of Inglorious Basterds had continued for the entire film. This is similarly a script in which Tarantino expertly creates action sequences through dialogue alone. Dangerous characters circle one other, using careful questions to probe for weaknesses, taking cover behind lies and attacking with accusations. An unhurried Tarantino shows notable restraint in delivering a film where the first gunshot rings out over halfway through the film. This relies on a strong cast, comprising many Tarantino regulars and a few new faces. We know what to expect from those like Jackson, Tim Roth and Michael Madsen. Walton Goggins excels, bringing a more energetic version of his antagonist Boyd Crowder in Justified. Russell, an imposing physical presence, is given more to work with than in Death Proof and delivers, whilst Leigh delights in venomous delirium.

The camera work is beautiful, from the difficult white outdoor sequences to making sense of the cluttered interiors. The cabin feels at times expansive or claustrophobic as the scene requires. Of particularly note is a scene in which Daisy plays the guitar in the foreground whilst other characters interact at the far side of the room, with the camera panning and pulling focus between the two with expert precision that contemporary films rarely attempt.

Oswald Mowbray and Chris MannixThe “roadshow” version of the film is a true spectacle, projected in 70mm and showcasing Tarantino’s love of old Westerns as he indulges in wide, languid shots of sweeping vistas that are excised from the general release (its running time is shorter by twenty minutes). It would not be a classic Western without an Ennio Morricone score, of course, which is brought to the fore with an opening overture preceding the film.  It also brings a carefully timed interval punctuating the proceedings. Up to that point, the film’s tempo is impeccable, ratcheting tension while exploring the relationships between characters and, in particular, racism in the southern States following the loss of the civil war. The way in which characters voice their own racism — whether open or more insidious — and seek to exploit others’ racist beliefs is as much a commentary on modern America as a historic one.

Following the interval, the film becomes a familiarly loose Tarantino pastiche. Unfortunately Tarantino sometimes gets in his own way. This is immediately evident from an unnecessary voiceover explaining what could have been more effectively shown simply by returning to the previous scene from an alternate angle. The gore is by turns visceral and cartoonish, resulting in a somewhat inconsistent tone even within the more violent portions of the film. It would be easy to criticise the film for this late tonal shift and inconsistency but at this point Tarantino films are almost a genre unto themselves. Where in the past Tarantino paid homage to the films he loves, now he is almost doing the same to his own style of film-making. From that viewpoint, whilst not his finest, The Hateful Eight is a Tarantino film par excellence.

rating: 3.5/4

"A film is a petrified fountain of thought."

(CC) BY-NC 2003-2023 Priyan Meewella

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