Films featuring
Samuel L. Jackson

Thor

I don’t know exactly where Thor rates on the pecking order of Marvel characters, but judging from the press coverage, few if any of the cast had heard of the comic book version of the Norse thunder god before they started working on this film. I suspect that, ten years ago, if you had told even the most ardent Thor-head that a movie version would star two Oscar-winning actors and would be the work of a director known for his Shakespearean films, that person would have backed away slowly and warily.

Fortunately, the top-notch talent in front of and behind the camera elevates the material well past what it rated in terms of cultural penetration before the film was announced. Kenneth Branagh may be slumming but he is not doing it grudgingly, not just cashing a check. Continue reading

The Avengers

I suspect that the Avengers exists as a comic book series because, despite their dominant position in that arena and broad portfolio of characters, only one, Spider-Man, really counts as an A-List superhero to the world beyond the fringes of comic book fandom. The rest of the major league franchises, Batman and Superman, belong to DC Comics.

Recent movies have changed that pecking order, but let’s face it: No one really gave a rat’s ass about Iron Man until Robert Downey, Jr. strapped on the suit and when most people hear “Incredible Hulk,” they think Bill Bixby and Lou Ferrigno before they think of Eric Bana, Edward Norton, or Mark Ruffalo.

Good thing no one told writer/director Joss Whedon. Continue reading

Captain America: The First Avenger

For moviegoers, the Marvel Comics universe has been hard to avoid these past few years. We’ve been treated to the excellent (Spider-Man 1 and 2), the pretty damn good (Iron Man), a nice try (The Incredible Hulk), and the god-awful (the Fantastic Four movies). Captain America: The First Avenger slides comfortably into Iron Man territory.

As comic book film-making goes, Captain America is everything it needs to be, with a likeable hero, the right tone, nice retro touches, and a straightforward story, briskly told. Continue reading

Die Hard: With a Vengeance

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It’s almost axiomatic that the third iteration of a movie franchise is when the sucking starts to begin, assuming that the first sequel didn’t already bring the suck to the table. The good news is that the third Die Hard movie, with John McTiernan back at the helm, manages to avoid this “curse of the third movie.” The bad news is that it doesn’t miss the mark by all that much. This is a Die Hard movie done mostly by the numbers and it’s only because of the sheer professionalism of the enterprise that they bring it off at all.

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The Incredibles

Who would have thought that the only thing that could bring down the great defenders of truth, justice and the American way would be that fiendish arch-nemesis known as the Trial Lawyer? Well, come to think about it, that’s really not news, is it?

I kid. I kid. Please don’t sue me.

The Incredibles, Brad Bird’s first feature for Pixar and Disney, was the sixth consecutive creative bulls-eye by that group since the release of Toy Story. Frankly, the team at Pixar is starting to make excellence seem almost boring. Who do these guys think they are, the New England Patriots?

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1408

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1408 seems to prove the existing axiom that, when adapting Stephen King to the screen, restraint trumps excess almost every time. The best adaptations of the author’s work, The Dead Zone, Stand By Me and The Shawshank Redemption, eschew raw grand guignol gore for the rich characterizations that exemplify King’s best writing. Ninety-percent of the disposable films bearing his name are guilty of the same crime, namely tossing overboard the elements that raise even mediocre King stories above the genre’s normally low standards.

1408

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Black Snake Moan

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You have to admit, the name alone sounds like a bad Japanese translation of a porn title, and if the premise doesn’t raise your eyebrows, then you probably don’t have eyebrows. Craig Brewer’s follow-up to Hustle and Flow is actually a remarkably warm-hearted tale of personal redemption for two lost souls who meet on a downward spiral for each.

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Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones

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After the bitter disappointment that was Episode I, Star Wars fans were understandably leery about the release of Episode II. The good news was that the second prequel was marked improvement over the first, but there was still enough wrong with the movie to have the faithful collectively pulling their hair out.

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Star Wars: Episode I – The Phantom Menace

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Having seen the original Star Wars films more times than I can count (and more times than any adult cares to admit), I so wanted to love this movie. I was mentally prepared to be swept back into a world I haven’t seen anew since I was 17. With the imagination behind the first trilogy re-invigorated by a long rest, and equipped with technology not even imagined in 1977, I expected an unequaled triumph of the imagination.

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Jurassic Park

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With computer generated special effects in movies about as common as dirt these days, it’s hard to imagine that it’s only been a little over a decade since CGI was the latest novelty. After early pioneering work in James Cameron‘s The Abyss and Terminator 2, CGI was ready for the big time. Jurassic Park was the first film to use computers as a major component of its special effects and to realistically simulate living creatures.

What’s sad to report is that after more than a decade, even with the massive improvements in computer power since 1993, there have been only a handful of movies to use CGI as effectively as Jurassic Park did. Almost anyone with a modicum of talent, a computer and a few thousand dollars in software to produce film quality CGI effects. However, the ability to create life-like critters like Jurassic Park‘s dinosaurs requires an eye for movement, form and mass that takes more than the latest software to develop. I think because the effects technicians behind Jurassic Park knew they were breaking new ground in technology, they were rigorously careful that their creations did not look fake.

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Star Wars: Episode III – Revenge of the Sith

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After the bitter disappointment of Episode I, The Phantom Menace, and the almost-but-not-quite-there glimpses of hope in Episode II, Attack of the Clones, the third time was finally the charm for Star Wars fans. They finally got the prequel they deserved with Episode III.

Despite the diminished expectations created by the first two prequels, the third installment still had a lot to live up to. This was the episode that would have to deliver all that the fans had been expecting from the sequels, namely the story about how Anakin Skywalker turned to evil and became Darth Vader and of the birth of the twins Luke and Leia who would be the heroes of the second, er, first, I mean, the other Star Wars trilogy.

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