Archive for Samuel L. Jackson

Review: Kong: Skull Island

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 12, 2017 by Tom Austin-Morgan

This is now the umpteenth version of the King Kong story, coming some seven years after the horribly boring Peter Jackson version. None of the previous films have managed to hold a candle to the brilliance of the original 1933 version, so how do you go about retelling this tired old story yet again? Set it during the Vietnam War and throw A-list film stars in it of course!

Kong Skull Island isn’t really retelling the tried and tested version of the King Kong mythology, it’s actually trying to do something a little different. Plus, it’s already a part of the upcoming monster-movie mashup series that includes 2014’s Godzilla reboot.

For starters, the 1970s makes sense as the most recent decade for the discovering the giant ape. It’s mentioned in the dialogue that there is a mythical island in the Pacific that is difficult to access due to unique weather systems that surround it, meaning the only way to really tell if it’s there is from satellite surveillance, something the US has and the Russians are developing, so it’s another race in the Cold War, akin to the arms race, the space race and the race to get the first man on the Moon.

Also, different from previous versions, this is the biggest and scariest Kong so far and apparently he’s still growing! It turns out that Kong is all that stands between us and a load of reptilian monster that want to wipe out humankind. (See how they might pit Kong against Godzilla in a future film?!) So, rather than dinosaur this time round there are a plethora of mega-fauna roaming ‘Skull Island’ that have had managed to grow so large thanks to the island’s ecosystem and their low levels of exposure to humans, presumably.

There’s the standard rag-tag band of adventurers, scientists and soldiers who all have their own agendas. The latter group has been plucked straight from the end of the Vietnam War under the command of Samuel L. Jackson’s character who basically doesn’t want the war to stop. The scientists are led by John Goodman’s character who managed to sneak in this last expedition under the guise of finding fuel but who seems to know a bit more about the islands inhabitants than he’s letting on, Brie Larson’s character is a photographer along for the thrill of shooting never-before-seen landscapes after being disillusioned with the way the War had unfolded. And Tom Hiddleston is there as a former SAS tracker. Cue lots of paranoia and scheming.

 Essentially, Sam Jackson plays a typical Sam Jackson character (even down to the point that he repeats a line word for word that he said in Jurassic Park), Tom Hiddleston plays a typical Tom Hiddleston character suave and threatening, in a slightly unbelievable way), Kong is Kong (can’t help but save the girl)and John C. Reilly plays everything for laughs as usual.

The elements of Kong: Skull Island that are really cool and different are the creature designs, how cine-literate it is (with references to films from The Deer Hunter and Apocalypse Now to Cannibal Holocaust – really!) and the fact that during one fight scene Kong is given a weapon to use! He was also never caught and showcased in New York.

Above all else it was a whole load of fun, I can’t wait to see Kong go toe to toe with Godzilla and a host of other Kaiju in future films! One of the rumours going round is that the relationship between the Japanese and American characters from the very beginning of he movie will mirror the way these two titans will get along in the next film. I for one can’t wait to see that match-up and what villainous Kaiju will force them into an alliance.

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 4, 2015 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Age of Ultron

Earth’s Mightiest Heroes return to battle a foe of their own making in the latest Marvel behemoth to hit the big screen.

Avengers: Age of Ultron is a whirlwind of action from start to finish with a massive cast of characters from virtually all the previous films. So much so, that the story is propelled forwards at break-neck speed to cover the developments in everyone’s lives while also introducing new characters as well as set up the plot.

Sounds like a bit of a mess? It is a bit. Unless you’re a comic book aficionado it is becoming more and more difficult to keep up with who everyone is. Especially as there are so many cast members that enough time cannot be afforded to build them up enough to make them 3D.

The most obvious examples of this are ‘the Maximoff twins’, Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver (though only known by the names Wanda and Pietro – Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson, respectively). They are new characters, but their origins were actually revealed at the end of Captain America: Winter Soldier. Also, James Rhodes/War Machine and Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Don Cheadle and Anthony Mackie), although big characters in the Iron Man films and Winter Soldier, are marginalised to the point where The Falcon isn’t even referred to by name.

Credit where credit’s due, though, director Joss Whedon does a stellar job with the over-stuffed hand he has been dealt by the Marvel Cinematic Universe. He starts the film in the middle of a big action set-piece where we get to see all the Avengers from the first movie doing their thing side-by-side, evoking the big splash pages from the comics.

He then does a balancing act of slowing down to find some human interaction between certain characters, fleshing them out more, namely the scientist bromance between Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) and Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr) and the burgeoning relationship between Banner and Natalia Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). Also, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) has a massive expansion of character in Age of Ultron, he’s always been a B-list Avenger but finally gets a chance to shine here.

There are some stunning visual effects in this film, as we’ve come to expect, but the slower moments between the characters are needed, not just for a chance to breathe, but to showcase Whedon’s knack for writing great, naturalistic and witty dialogue. Some of the standout lines include Hawkeye proclaiming that his role in these apocalyptic battles is ludicrous, bearing in mind his weapon is a bow and arrow. His wife (yep, he’s a secret family man) saying “I totally support your avenging” and The Vision (Paul Bettany – who is a welcome return to the screen in physical form) riffing with Thor (Chris Hemsworth) about the balance of Mjolnir (yes, The Vision can weald Thor’s hammer).

James Spader voices the titular villain, Ultron, with real menace but, as with most Marvel villains, is a bit two-dimensional and is easily dealt with in the end. There is a cameo from Andy Serkis as a South African arms dealer, Ulysses Klaue, who will eventually link Black Panther to the Avengers’ roster, as well as the mention of Wakanda. But this is a digression.

It is clear that Whedon knows his stuff when it comes to these films. He knows what the fans want to see and how to write snappy dialogue as well as handle massive effects shots. The problem is, that there are almost too many characters to fit into one movie and after the addition of move characters in the coming years before the next Avengers film, Infinity War in 2018-9, has been split into two parts. However, the end of Age of Ultron introduces the idea that certain characters can be written in and out to solve this problem, something Marvel will, surely, have to think about. Bearing in mind that people coming out of the cinema today couldn’t remember the red bloke’s (The Vision) name or who that purple guy at the end is.

It’s a bit of a mess, but Whedon is the only man who could have made sense of it all, despite the fact it felt like Marvel’s marketing department were insisting on certain shots or the inclusion of certain scenes. If you’ve never seen any of the previous films you won’t have a clue what’s going on. The Marvel films are starting to get further away from stand-alone as they go. But, if you’re a fan of the comics you’ll enjoy it quite a bit. Can too much of a good thing be bad for you?

Review: Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on March 29, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Captain-America-Winter-Soldier

The Marvel machine continues on its march towards the second Avengers film by revisiting The First Avenger; Captain America.

We pick up with Captain Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) years after the events of Avengers Assemble where he is fully integrated into S.H.I.E.L.D. but is beginning to have some doubts about working with such a paranoid organisation and longs to be back in the army following orders rather than keeping secrets or having secrets kept from him. Deep down, though, he knows that there’s nothing else he can do and that he is needed. However, that feeling isn’t necessarily share with some of the top brass in S.H.I.E.L.D.

More screen time is given to Samuel L. Jackson’s Nick Fury, the director of S.H.I.E.L.D. who, until now, has cropped up here and there to give guidance to superheroes having a crisis of faith. He has been the orchestrator, but we haven’t seen him in arse-kicking action. Until now A plot has been hatched for his assassination during which his car is attacked and we see how Fury reacts when put under pressure, aided by S.H.I.E.L.D.’s technology.

During this scene the Winter Soldier makes his first appearance, a masked man with a metal arm and a proficiency with firearms. He also proves to be quite the match for The Cap too, he’s also super humanly strong with an arm that is even stronger. But the biggest revelation comes later when The Winter Soldier’s mask is knocked off. and throws Cap into a deeper moral quandary.

The Black Widow, Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johnansson), has more screen time than in previous Marvel movies to date. But in a less arse-kicking way. We see a more emotionally compromised Romanoff who has found out the organisation responsible for her second chance at life have been lying to her all along and something wicked has been growing for a long time within its structure.

In fact, Captain American: The Winter Soldier is as much of a political spy thriller as a comic book movie can be. There are some great action set pieces but quite a bit of the film features Rogers and Romanoff de-costumed, in the same way The Dark Knight Rises and Iron Man 3 have done recently with their protagonists. The pair are on the run as Robert Redford’s Alexander Pierce, the head of S.H.I.E.L.D., has put a bounty out on them. This is a film about spying and counter-spying with a comic book twist.

There are so many special appearances in this film from big names like Redford and Jenny Agutter to bit-players from the previous films including Cobie Smulders as Agent Hill, who had a really small part, Maximiliano Hernández as Agent Sitwell, Gary Shandling, the corrupt senator from Iron Man 2 and many more including Toby Jones as the disembodied Arnim Zola. A couple of notable newcomers include Emily VanCamp, who looks to be set up to be a major player in future films and Anthony Mackie who starts off as an ex-soldier who befriends Steve Rogers, but ends up being a new hero in the same vein as Hawkeye, called Falcon. He is the standout character in the film and needed more screen time than he was given.

This is the strongest of the phase 2 Marvel films so far and any completest will be more than happy with it and there are more than enough easter egg moments to keep you looking deeply into the background as well as on the story. However, if you’re a newcomer to the franchise there may be a little too much going on that you need to understand first in order to understand all that’s going on. The obligatory mid and post-credit scenes set up a few new characters for the upcoming Avengers: Age of Ultron film coming out next year. Roll on 2015, the verdict is still well and truly out on the upcoming Guardians of the Galaxy. You’ll read it here first… I’m sure!

Review: Robocop

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on February 15, 2014 by Tom Austin-Morgan

Robocop

The latest is the slew of Hollywood remakes hit the screen recently. This time, Tinsel Town have decided to reboot the Robocop franchise, the question is; is it too soon?

My answer is ‘no’. The original 1987 movie is an absolute classic whose sequels really drove the franchise into the ground, but the special effects are quite dated and the amount of splatter and gore is typical Paul Verhoeven excess; a reflexion of the time it was made.

Also, real-world technology is catching up to what was portrayed in the 80’s version, for example, prosthetic limbs are being produced with mechanical and computerised parts. Add to this the debate about drones being used, not just in armed conflicts around the world but also, by companies like Amazon to deliver goods straight to your door. So now is the perfect time to reanimate the Robocop name.

This time round Alex Murphy (Joel Kinnaman) isn’t blown to pieces by a psychotic criminal overlord (’cause, let’s face it, there was no way 1980’s Murphy was being put back together again, especially if you’ve seen the director’s cut!), he is the victim of a car bomb that doesn’t quite kill him. Admittedly, this is put there by the henchmen of a criminal overlord who Murphy and his partner, Jack Lewis (Michael K. Williams), have been bothering.

What happens around the rebuilding of Murphy into Robocop is a lot of politically motivated opinion polls and testing by a company called Omnicorp (never trust a company named Omnicorp!). Omnicorp have contracts with the military, providing them with drones which are being used in countries around the world where the U.S. army would otherwise be risking their lives. They are looking to expand their contracts into the law enforcement agencies in America, but have come across opposition from the government and the people. So, the head of Omnicorp, Raymond Sellars (Michael Keaton) and his scientific researcher, Dr Dennett Norton (Gary Oldman), come up with the idea of putting a man in the machine, therefore winning trust back from the American public so they can get their products on the street as well as those lucrative contracts.

From here on in we see the heartbreak of the Murphy family through Abbie Cornish’s Clara Murphy, whose decision it is to try to save her husband, not knowing that he will be the property of Omnicorp. We also see how badly Sellars wants the Robocop scheme to work and how much Norton’s research means to him, as he battles with his morals and the promise of unlimited funding.

In fact, Dennett Norton’s moral quandary is the focal point of the film with Oldman really portraying a man torn by ambition and integrity. His performance pulls the audience in and he becomes the character you empathise with. More so that Murphy, even, especially as Kinnaman mumbles his lines and broods a lot, even before his accident. After he becomes Robocop, he is being controlled to the point of complete obedience, which makes it difficult for an audience to get behind him, despite the injustices being made against him.

All of these main plot points, including the first and last scenes of the film, are framed by Samuel L. Jackson’s right-wing TV presenter, Pat Novak. Whose bias for Omnicorp is crystal clear and more than a little hypocritical in places. This is clearly a satire on right leaning U.S. news outlets like Fox News and presenters like Rush Limbaugh.

All this talk of politics makes the film sound more like a dramatic thriller than a sci-fi action romp. But there are action scenes aplenty, the special effects look great, as does the Robocop armour, especially the leg holster! but, truly, the meat of the film is the corporate scenes with people arguing about the morals versus the profits. If there are going to be sequels, these won’t have to focus quite so much on this side, freeing up the plot for more in the way of traditional action film set pieces. But, this is yet to be announced.

Robocop is  a different film from its predecessors, it is an update that works well – perhaps better than the original – it focusses more on the corporate side of things but still manages to fit in a decent amount of action. One criticism is that it could have easily been a 15 instead of a 12A without the box office being affected, the original was an 18 and still produced massively popular kids merchandise. But, such is the way with big budget films now; they have to appeal to the largest audience possible, which is a shame. But this version of Robocop shouldn’t be looked down upon for this reason only.

Your move.

Review: Avengers Assemble

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on May 6, 2012 by Tom Austin-Morgan

This film has been hotly anticipated for the last four years after Sam Jackson appeared at the end of the trailers of Iron Man introducing himself as Nick Fury, Director of S.H.I.E.L.D., and letting the cat out of the bag about The Avengers project. Over the next four years we’ve had our introductions with all the highly volatile individuals who would later be forced into fighting together to save the world: Iron Man, The Black Widow, The Hulk, Thor, Hawkeye and Captain America.

There was a genuine sense that this film could have been hugely over-hyped and all the superstar egos could have clashed on set as opposed to gelled, destroying the film entirely. No one could say that they envied whoever had the task of directing this epic superhero movie. But Joss Whedon was the man  appointed to helm this ambitious project and he has certainly exceeded expectations.

As he has proved with his previous work his scripts crackle with a kineticism and wit rarely seen by writers of standard Hollywood blockbusters, and this film is far from standard. First off Loki, the god of mischief (Tom Hiddleston) and Thor’s brother is back from the void and he’s really angry! He steals the Tesseract from S.H.I.E.L.D. and takes off with it and some staff members including Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and Sevlig (Stellen Skarsgård), who both return to reprise their roles from Thor. This forces Fury into action assembling the rag-tag band of misfits and egotists who will form the last line of defence for a world now forced into a war it surely cannot win.

The way in which they bring the characters together is really well written, as otherwise it could have felt quite contrived; luckily for Whedon each character has already been fully fleshed out before in  at least one film where they are the star. So no tedious re-treading of back stories means that he catapults us straight into the action. But after the initial good feelings at getting the team together tensions soon arise between the heroes; this soon culminates – under the control of Loki – in the fractures splitting the team apart. The result of which sees Bruce Banner losing it and turning into the “giant green rage monster” and having a fist fight with Thor (Chris Hemsworth), who is the only one among the cast who is close to powerful enough to match the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). This rivalry carries on throughout the film and provides a few really funny moments.

The interplay between the characters at this point is ludicrously strong and only a script written by such a massive fan could possibly have held all these megastars together. Personally I expected Downey Jnr to run away with his scenes and be the stand out star of the piece, but everyone has equal amounts of screen time and equal parts drama and snappy one-liners. In fact the one person I had expected to find uninteresting became the star thanks to the script and some mighty fine acting.

After Marvel signed Mark Ruffalo up to play Bruce Banner and “the other guy”, Edward Norton railed against the studios claiming that they went for a cheaper actor rather than the official story stating that they felt Norton wouldn’t want to work in an ensemble cast, and I felt for him; he had made the Banner/Hulk character his own and I really enjoyed The Incredible Hulk. But Ruffalo really stepped into the shoes of the character and gave a fantastic performance as the weary, reclusive scientist who had mastered his control of the monster inside. The scenes between Ruffalo and Downey Jnr really rattle along as the two characters connect over a shared passion for science. He is also both vulnerable and threatening at the same time, a trick that is not easy to pull off, and when he becomes the Hulk he causes non-stop carnage as well as providing at lease two moments of  genuinely hilarious, belly laugh moments of slapstick comedy. One of these, that took me completely by surprise, was his confrontation with Loki, where he cuts the villain’s diatribe short by picking him up and swinging him around like a rag doll into the ceiling and the floor before wandering off retorting “Puny god”!

Contrastingly, I felt that both Captain America and Hawkeye were utilised far less than they could have been and were just there for window dressing purposes.

Another character I felt came alive much more than in her previous film outing was Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) who displayed a much more vulnerable side as well as the kick-ass martial artist from Iron Man 2; she also proves herself as an adept interrogator in a couple of key scenes, most notably against Loki where she double-bluffs him into telling her his plans for dividing the team. A scene in which Whedon manages to get the Chaucerian expletive ‘quim’ past the sensors, which is to be applauded. As far as I can remember this was the only swear word in the film and would have gone over the heads of most, he didn’t even cave into the half swearing that other films have stooped to in the past and proves that you don’t need to swear to make a script engaging.

There was a point in the final battle where the spectre of Transformers style CG confusingness could have set in, but Whedon stepped up to the mark once again and managed to make an apocalyptic battle for the end of the Earth into something easy to follow. In fact some of the best shots were used in these final minutes. There is one ‘continuous shot’ that tracks around the streets of New York showing off each character fighting the aliens who are terrorising the city after the Tesseract opens a portal to the dimension Loki appeared from at the beginning of the film. One other shot that really impressed me was from inside a car that was flipped onto its roof. The camera was stationary in the centre of the car looking through the windscreen as the car was rolled; the thing that really stuck out in this blink-and-you-miss-it shot was the fact that it was real, unlike a lot of the stunts in these kinds of films, but it didn’t look out-of-place in amongst all the CG effects shots. Another example of good directing with an eye for visual effects.

After a four-year wait Avengers Assemble lives up to and exceeds expectations and finally put Joss Whedon on the map as a top class director, hopefully we’ll get to see more of him in the years to come as he truly deserves recognition. This is a must-see blockbuster in a sea of utter tosh that is saturating the multiplexes at the moment.

Review: Captain America: The First Avenger

Posted in Film with tags , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , on August 14, 2011 by Tom Austin-Morgan

‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is the final installment of introductions to the characters appearing in ‘The Avengers’ next Summer. Chris Evans, whose last superhero role was as The Human Torch in the ‘Fantastic 4’ movies (also a Marvel comic adaptation), takes to another famous spandex-clad role as the red-white-and-blue-est good guy this side of DC’s Superman.

Steve Rogers is a small, thin, asthmatic, weedy kid who wants to join the army to fight the Nazis as he dislikes bullying (’cause that’s what the Nazis were, right?!). After being turned down time and again at various recruiting stations he is spotted by a German doctor, Dr Abraham Erskine (Stanley Tucci), who signs him up for an experimental project which might see him signed up and on the front line.

During training he stands out, much to the disapproval of Colonel Chester Phillips (Tommy Lee Jones), by displaying less-than-adequate physical ability. But his ability to think outside of the box, as well as selflessness, bravery, determination and his sense of right and wrong mark him out to be selected for a revolutionary scientific procedure to produce the perfect soldier to uphold America’s ideals.

The experiment succeeds, and a German spy steals some of the serum that has affected Rogers’ genetic make-up and kills Dr Erskine in the process. Rogers chases the spy down and takes back the serum. This is the first scene where he uses his new-found strength and provides a couple of slap-stick moments as he is finding his feet, being that he is a couple of feet taller and wider, and immeasurably stronger than before. It also sees him wielding a taxi door as a makeshift shield in the iconic pose of Captain America.

Despite all this, Colonel Phillips still denies him the chance to fight on the front line; instead he becomes the face of U.S. propaganda against the Nazis at home, performing in theatres in the garish Captain America suit from the comics and the awful 1990 film. While all this is happening an SS officer, Johann Schmidt (Hugo Weaving), has found a religious artefact called the Tesseract which Schmidt describes as “the jewel of Odin’s treasure room”, linking it in with the Thor storyline. He and his assistant, Dr Arnim Zola (Toby Jones), decide to distance themselves from the Nazi party. Their scientific division, HYDRA, starts focusing its research into producing the ultimate weapon using the power of the Tesseract.

While on a tour of the forces, Rogers gets a fleeting chance to show exactly what he’s made of when he realises his brother has been captured by HYDRA, so he commandeers a plane with the help of love interest and  stiff-upper-lipped Peggy Carter (Hayley Atwell) and Howard Stark (Dominic Cooper), Tony Stark’s dad, and parachutes behind enemy lines.

Rogers infiltrates the base, rescues the captured soldiers and brings them all back to the U.S. base after coming face-to-face with Schmidt, who reveals himself to be the Red Skull, the original experimental soldier created by Dr Erskine. Rogers is hailed a hero and is welcomed into the army by Colonel Phillips and straight into the role of Captain in his own elite division; talk about a backtrack!

Thus ensues a long montage of this group of soldiers fighting all across Europe against HYDRA’ s (not the Nazis) super-weaponary; his suit has now become a little more military-issue and less star-spangled, though the colours are still red, white and blue. This ends with what seems to be the final battle where our heroes infiltrate the mountain hideout of HYDRA in the biggest underground warehouse in cinematic history (it has a runway for the biggest bomber you’re ever imagined that has to be 5 miles long – it is ridiculous)! The sequence ends in a chase after the plane as it is taking off, a fight in a part of the plane with six HYDRA soldiers around massive bombs and then yet another fight – this time to the death with the Red Skull, who was planning to destroy America (not any of the other allied countries as we have been miraculously edited out of World War II by Hollywood).

Rogers cannot turn the plane from its course so ditches it somewhere in the freezing waters around the North Pole. He wakes up in a suspicious room somewhere in his native New York; when he realises he is being lied to he escapes and breaks out into modern-day New York where he is quickly apprehended by Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and inducted into the Avenger programme whereupon the film ends. Talk about an anti-climax.

But then this is, as I said at the beginning of the article, an introduction to a character who will be expanded upon in ‘The Avengers’. But it would have been interesting to see how Steve Rogers adapts to his modern surroundings and what the impact of his situation has on his psyche. Somehow I get the feeling we will find out about this in ‘The Avengers’.

That movie aside, ‘Captain America: The First Avenger’ is an interesting film. Its visuals are pretty good and the casting is top-notch; it far outstrips the rubbish 1990 straight-to-release outing. The supporting cast was outstanding; Toby Jones, Stanley Tucci and Tommy Lee Jones especially seem to relish the roles they are given by really hamming it up. Hayley Atwell however, was no good at all. A bit of a charisma vacuum really.  Hugo Weaving was brooding and sinister as the Red Skull, though quite why his head turned red, his hair fell out and his nose dropped off were never truly addressed other than his inner faults manifested themselves. This still doesn’t explain why Captain America didn’t have some sort of physical defect to do with being good, like an enormous chest to support his big heart or something. Chris Evans loves these kind of over-the-top roles and dials the cheesy lines up to 11.

I found the CG a little distressing at the start of the film where Chris Evans’ head is placed on top of a skinny man’s body. But probably because I know what he looks like in real proportions. The Red Skull effects, on the other hand, are flawless. But the big gripe I have with the film as a whole is the ending; it is far too abrupt and anti-climactic, though I do realise that it is merely an introduction to a character. I think the director, Joe Johnson, handled it well given that Captain America is a bit of a cartoon and previous outings have been panned. Now we just have to wait for ‘The Avengers’ next year, though if you stay ’til the end you get a teaser trailer for said film.