Samuel L. Jackson

Freedomland (2006, Joe Roth)

I didn’t see Freedomland when it came out because I loved the novel and Richard Price adapting the novel or not, the movie’s cast and crew aren’t encouraging it. No movie directed by Joe Roth should inspire confidence, especially not one about racism. Freedomland is about racism. It’s about the really uncomfortable realities of racism. Not racist cops, but racist people. The film opens telling the viewer it takes place in 1999, which when the novel should have been adapted. Possibly even starring Samuel L. Jackson and Julianne Moore in the leads. Possibly with the entire supporting cast intact. But not with Joe Roth directing. Not directing it in Panavision aspect. Not with really slick photography from Anastas N. Michos and awful slick rapid fire editing from Nick Moore. Not with the James Newton Howard occasionally upbeat score. Not with sunny-time super-producer Scott Rudin apparently hunting down a Crash Oscar of his own. Because that Freedomland, this Freedomland, it refuses to call any white characters racist. It refuses to let the racist white cops be racist. It’s particularly mortifying and embarrassing because it’s all post-production neutering. It’s obviously shot Super 35 too, so they even cropped it to this nonsense.

Though someone tried hard to give Jackson as much slack as the frame would allow. Moore’s performance is an unsalvageable train wreck. Roth can’t direct actors, but Freedomland’s cast doesn’t need for direction. They need for some kind of honesty, which just isn’t present in the filmmaking. They need verisimilitude and Roth doesn’t want to acknowledge it. It’s about a black cop (Jackson) suspecting a white woman (Moore), who works exclusively with black people in the projects–specifically black children–is lying about a black guy kidnapping her son. The point of Freedomland is it can’t be more about race if it tried. And Roth and Rudin reduce the film to a ball-less Hallmark movie. It’s unclear how responsible Price is for it, because some of the responsibility is definitely on him. The post-production can be responsible for the atrocious, offensive editing of a riot scene, but the film gets to that riot scene because of Price’s script, because of how he handles the characters. Freedomland is half-assed filmmaking from people who know better. Even Roth should know better. It’s why he shoots it Super 35, so he doesn’t have to commit to anything while actually directing the actors.

Jackson tries. It’s a good part. It’s a poorly written part in what’s a disastrous film, but it’s a good part. And he does try hard. He does fall into a lot of his acting tropes and he never manages any chemistry with Moore, but it’s an admirable performance.

Edie Falco’s great. It’s embarrassing watching Moore opposite Falco. Her part’s terrible, even just going off the script, but she’s great. While Roth’s direction screws up a lot of the part, Price’s script isn’t there for the character.

Good support from William Forsythe. Moore-levels of train wreck from Ron Eldard as her racist cop brother. He and Moore don’t really have any scenes together, which is good because some kind of singularity would occur if they actually had to act at each other under Roth’s incompetent direction. Aunjanue Ellis’s fine. Lots to do in a lame part. She does what she can. Same goes for Clarke Peters and Anthony Mackie.

LaTonya Richardson Jackson stands out; she gets actual chemistry off Jackson, which no one else in the film gets. It’s hard not to assume its because they’re married off screen.

Freedomland is hard to watch and not for any of the reasons it should be hard to watch. It’s opportunistic, insincere and overproduced. If it were well-acted, well-directed, well-anything, it might be interesting as a failure. Instead, it’s even worth a footnote. Except as one of Jackson’s stronger performances. And as one of Moore’s worst.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by Joe Roth; screenplay by Richard Price, based on his novel; director of photography, Anastas N. Michos; edited by Nick Moore; music by James Newton Howard; production designer, David Wasco; produced by Scott Rudin; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Council), Julianne Moore (Brenda), Edie Falco (Karen), William Forsythe (Boyle), Ron Eldard (Danny Martin), Aunjanue Ellis (Felicia), Clarke Peters (Reverend Longway), Anthony Mackie (Billy), Domenick Lombardozzi (Sullivan), Fly Williams III (Rafik), Dorian Missick (Jason) and Peter Friedman (Lt. Gold).


Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015, Joss Whedon)

There are no leads in Avengers: Age of Ultron. It is a collection of poorly staged Bond movie action sequences featuring different people in costumes doing outrageous things but never having much consequence to their actions. There’s no time for consequence, not when director Whedon has to get to the next brand to showcase. Age of Ultron is a commercial for itself, for its various brands. Whedon happily turns everyone in the film into a caricature. I wonder if there are special Disney executive glasses to reveal the actors aren’t really saying their often lame dialogue, they’re really telling moms to buy two of the Falcon figure, one for Junior and one for your husband. Avengers: Obey Ultron is a better title anyway.

But it’s not a bad commercial. I mean, it’s not good, but it’s exceptional photography from Ben Davis. Davis saves this movie. He’s the only reason it’s tolerable. Whedon’s not good at the film. He tries a different, generic, accessible style for every set piece. He can’t do any of them, but Davis makes it work. Even when it’s outrageously stupid, Davis makes it work. Most of that outrageously stupid stuff comes in the middle section; it’s also when Age of Ultron gets better. Its cast can survive it being dumb. They’re already being poorly directed. Whedon does know what they should be doing though–the banter between Robert Downey Jr. and Chris Evans is initially lame, but they do build a chemistry, they do build a rapport. Age of Ultron is about a “team” but its actors are incredibly distant from one another. Whedon tries to stage group shots, but they’re painfully bad. No one has anything to say to one another.

Except for the two love stories. The very strange case of Mark Ruffalo, who has given up and doesn’t care who knows it, and Scarlett Johansson, who is bad in the film’s worst written role. And then Linda Cardellini as Jeremy Renner’s hidden bride. He didn’t tell the team! There’s a lot of team talk! Team, team, team! I even love typing the word team! Whedon’s got a very standard action story with the Ultron thing (an evil robot voiced by James Spader, who is awful in the film’s second worst written role), but then there’s the problem with the team! What problem with the team? The incredibly sketchily established problem with the team, because the team never really spends any real time together. Whedon’s got an idiotic present action for the film–a couple weeks at most, probably far less (no one ever sleeps in Age of Ultron because Toons don’t have to sleep)–and no time for actual character development. Instead, he tries to start straight at the second act of the subplots.

And, guess what, it’s bad. Just like the beginning and, unfortunately, end of the movie. Because, secretly, I really wanted to like this one. I thought it’d be funny. But this movie has a little kid living because a superhero died. Set to awful music from Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman. It’s laughable. It’s not effective because you can’t have effective with Toons. You sacrifice it for the spectacle.

Ultron has some spectacle. It’s kind of goofy and dumb, but it’s spectacle. It’s also terribly edited. Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek don’t appear to have many choices (actors often are strangely not available for two shots), but it’s still terrible editing. So it has terribly edited, goofy, dumb spectacle. It’s also got Paul Bettany playing a riff on Superman, channeling Christopher Reeve. It’s weird, it’s out of place, but it’s something actually special in the midst of all the goofy stuff.

Same goes for Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Sort of. Olsen turns out to be really good in a lame part. She has most of her scenes with Taylor-Johnson and basically carries him up to her level. Sure, she’s playing a caricature, but really dang well and they do get a better story line than most in the film.

Of the four leads, Chris Hemsworth is the most impressive. He has the worst part, the lamest subplot, yet it’s a movie star performance. You pay attention. Even when he gets the lamest action sequences too. Ultron is a bad commercial for Thor movies, except Hemsworth changes your mind. Least impressive is Ruffalo, who I mentioned had given up. His performance is silly, partially because Whedon plays the Hulk for laughs and cuteness (really), partially because it’s just a goofy part, and partially because Ruffalo is barely conscious. You fall asleep watching him.

The problem with the movie, besides being forty minutes too long because it’s all some nonsense about the safety of civilians, which is less about distinguishing itself from the superhero competition, and more about Disney declaring its concern for everyone. Because everyone can visit Disney World someday. You gotta stay bland.

There’s some really lazy acting from Robert Downey Jr. He does get better for long stretches, but he’s real lazy. Sam Jackson has more energy than him, because Jackson just does Julius. He does Disney Julius. And for a moment, Age of Ultron feels like something. It feels like the team has come together. Not the A Team, this team.

Team.

Only Whedon screws it all up. It’s hard to blame anyone else, but it’s a little strange because he does bring some passion to the film. It just isn’t any of the action set pieces. It’s none of the character stuff. It’s the iconic stuff. He really wants to be able to do the iconic stuff and it just doesn’t come off.

And James Spader is awful. He’s awful. So awful.

I think I’m going to go for a thousand words on Age of Ultron just because of Spader. Whedon wrote Spader’s part for David Spade and then cast Spader. It’s weird, but it should be true. It’s a goofy, comic part.

Anyway, Ultron’s occasionally enjoyable, but more often lame.

Bettany rules!

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Joss Whedon; screenplay by Whedon, based on the Marvel comics created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Jeffrey Ford and Lisa Lassek; music by Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Captain America), Robert Downey Jr. (Iron Man), Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Mark Ruffalo (Hulk), Scarlett Johansson (Black Widow), Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver), Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch), Paul Bettany (The Vision), Jeremy Renner (Hawkeye), James Spader (Ultron), Linda Cardellini (Laura Barton) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


RoboCop (2014, José Padilha)

RoboCop is terrible. It’s long, it’s poorly directed, it’s badly acted. One almost doesn’t want to acknowledge it because then it has to be discussed. At least in how it does contain some subjects ripe for discussion. Like how a badly doctored script can create frustration at missed potential. Missed potential, however, being a euphemism for “a little better than excruciatingly bad.”

Because RoboCop manages to outdo itself. It’s worse in its whole than in its parts, which is quite an accomplishment given the fractured script styles. The film is so disjointed, so cobbled together, it’s like no one bothered writing bridging scenes. Because it can’t be a stylistic choice of director Padilha; he’s got zero personality (unless he’s the unlikely reason for the film’s multiple Tron and Tron 2 nods). The action scenes in the film are exceptionally unimaginative. It’s like Padilha is directing video game cut scenes; he’s entirely divested in the film’s sets. Though a lot of it appears to be green screens, which doesn’t help any of the actors.

The film has a lot of actors I like. Michael Keaton, Michael Kenneth Williams, Jackie Earle Haley, Marianne Jean-Baptiste, Jennifer Ehle, Zach Grenier, Jay Baruchel. Yes, Jay Baruchel. With the exception of Ehle, all of them are terrible. The film’s script, as far as dialogue goes (because it does have better plotted sequences), is awful. All of it. There’s not a single good moment. It’s Keaton as Steve Jobs and they fumble it because the script with the political stuff doesn’t get to overshadow the script with the “man wakes up a robot cop” script. It’s like watching multiple television pilots, all shot with the same cast and the same bored director, cut together.

It’d be hilarious if there really was a tortured history to the RoboCop remake, full of reshoots and weird test screenings, but there isn’t (at least not according to IMDb). Someone intentionally made a movie this crappy. Here we go. Let’s do a synopsis.

Joel Kinnaman plays a Detroit cop, he talks like he thinks he’s Vin Diesel and struts like he thinks he’s Paul Walker. Yes, I just made that statement. I just referenced The Fast and the Furious and my unlikely familiarity with the franchise. Does Orson Welles get a lot of callouts? No. I just called out Fast and Furious. RoboCop: The New Movie has brought me to that low point. But RoboCop rides a lightcycle from Tron in this movie. How can anyone possibly take it seriously? It’s a guy in a rubber suit. The RoboCop suit is inept. It doesn’t just look like rubber, when Abbie Cornish hugs RoboCop (she’s his wife), her head leaves an impression on the rubber. It’s all so incredibly lazy.

Though if Luc Besson had made it with Bruce Willis as RoboCop, Gary Oldman playing his role with some enthusiasm and camp (it couldn’t be worse than his Robin Williams impression here), Milla Jovovich as Jackie Early Haley, Chris Tucker as Samuel L. Jackson (he’s awful), maybe Ian Holm as Williams (I’m starting to stretch) and Luke Perry as Keaton’s tech visionary… well, it’d be awesome. If Besson had turned a RoboCop remake into a Fifth Element rehash, it’d be awesome.

But RoboCop isn’t sort of a success where you can see the potential for more success. It’s a zero. Paul W.S. Anderson would’ve turned this thing down. It’s not even competent enough to be a Lifetime movie (and a Lifetime movie about a woman who signs away her husband’s rights so he can become a man-cop robot, but who the film treats like he’s not just a few chunks on the coroner’s table, except one hand so he can touch his family and really feel again, would be amazing).

Kinnaman and Cornish are terrible. Padilha’s direction of them is terrible, but their performances are terrible too. Kinnaman’s entirely miscast, entirely out of his depth. Cornish doesn’t have a good part, can’t even do the scenes she does get.

RoboCop is that wonderful, rare animal. It’s so commercial, it won’t try anything. It thinks doing Samuel L. Jackson as Bill O’Reilly as Samuel L. Jackson will be seen as edgy. It’s not even committed enough to try to be edgy.

I can’t even say I “hate watched” it; it’s immediately not worth any investment whatsoever.

Oh, and one more thing. Guns, guns, guns. Action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states can’t be action movies with questionable philosophies about fascist police states without loving guns. It’s true. You can do a war movie without loving guns and many have, but you can’t do a movie about “super cops” shooting up the bad guys without gun fetishization.

It’s a no brainer and Padilha drops the ball on it, just like everything else in the film.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by José Padilha; screenplay by Joshua Zetumer, Edward Neumeier and Michael Miner, based on the film written by Neumeier and Miner; director of photography, Lula Carvalho; edited by Peter McNulty and Daniel Rezende; music by Pedro Bromfman; production designer, Martin Whist; produced by Marc Abraham and Eric Newman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Joel Kinnaman (Alex Murphy), Gary Oldman (Dr. Dennett Norton), Michael Keaton (Raymond Sellars), Abbie Cornish (Clara Murphy), Jackie Earle Haley (Rick Mattox), Michael Kenneth Williams (Jack Lewis), Jennifer Ehle (Liz Kline), Jay Baruchel (Tom Pope), Marianne Jean-Baptiste (Chief Karen Dean), Zach Grenier (Senator Hubert Dreyfus), Aimee Garcia (Jae Kim), Douglas Urbanski (Mayor Durant) and Samuel L. Jackson (Pat Novak).


Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones (2002, George Lucas)

Attack of the Clones is bad. The beginning almost seems all right, with Ewan McGregor and new addition (and astoundingly terrible actor) Hayden Christensen on a mission. It plays like a thirty minute TV pilot slapped on the front of an otherwise tedious Star Wars entry. This time around, director Lucas is so lazy, he doesn’t even bother clearing out the discarded red herrings. They all just hang around, daring the viewer to stare into one and plunge into the abyss.

Lucas’s vision for the film is cheap and manipulative. Not just playing on viewer expectation, but on feigned sympathy. Lucas manipulates the viewer into accepting the cheapest, most exploitative narrative twists. Even though the film’s awful–the acting’s awful, the writing’s awful, David Tattersall’s photography’s awful, John Williams’s music is awful–Lucas’s vision for Clones is a success. He’s pandering. Lucas is acknowledging he’s no longer a defining vision in blockbuster movie-making (regardless of ILM’s involvement) and he’s showing he can do the same thing as all the other guys are doing.

Right down to Natalie Portman having her midriff exposed after a vicious attack from a giant bug. Strangely, Portman’s medical condition is never questioned. There’s no plot points about the giant bug talons injuring Portman or an infection. It’s just a ploy to get her suggestively clad.

It’s desperate. But it’s acceptable. It’s the new norm, the one Lucas didn’t do anything to create. But he can mimic it, he can mimic other styles–Lucas’s ability to adapt established film narrative approaches to new, entirely different material has always been one of his more uncanny skills. But there’s not a thing he cares about in the film. If it isn’t some new effects shot, it’s a direct response to some critical dig at the previous film in the series.

It’s petty. Lucas isn’t insane. He can tell Christensen is bad and has absolutely no chemistry with Portman, partially because he’s a stalker and a jerk. Lucas doesn’t like Christensen’s character and gives him nothing likable in return. Still, even though the script fails Christensen, he’s still an awful actor. Portman gets a lot of sympathy, just for what Lucas puts her through with Clones.

McGregor does better than his costars, but he still isn’t any good. Lucas is so particularly bad at directing his actors against the digital cast. Especially Sam Jackson, whose scenes with Yoda make one wonder if Lucas even told him where to look.

Temuera Morrison is bad too. Ditto Christopher Lee.

No one’s good in Clones. Lucas and co-screenwriter Jonathan Hales don’t even give Anthony Daniels anything to do it. Lucas has no enthusiasm for anything in the film. It’d be funny if the film weren’t so long.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Directed by George Lucas; screenplay by Lucas and Jonathan Hales, based on a story by Lucas; director of photography, David Tattersall; edited by Ben Burtt; music by John Williams; production designer, Gavin Bocquet; produced by Rick McCallum; released by 20th Century Fox.

Starring Ewan McGregor (Obi-Wan Kenobi), Natalie Portman (Padmé), Hayden Christensen (Anakin Skywalker), Frank Oz (Yoda), Ian McDiarmid (Supreme Chancellor Palpatine), Pernilla August (Shmi Skywalker), Ahmed Best (Jar Jar Binks), Oliver Ford Davies (Sio Bibble), Temuera Morrison (Jango Fett), Anthony Daniels (C-3PO), Silas Carson (Viceroy Nute Gunray), Kenny Baker (R2-D2) with Samuel L. Jackson (Mace Windu) and Christopher Lee (Count Dooku).


Patriot Games (1992, Phillip Noyce)

Patriot Games has a mess of a plot. After introducing Harrison Ford as the lead, it veers into this period where not only does Sean Bean–as Ford's nemesis–get more screen time, but also everyone in Bean's IRA off-shoot plot. It might work if fellow group members Patrick Bergin and Polly Walker had better written roles and gave better performances. Bean too is problematic, but he barely has any lines; he just sits around looking sullen, putting him ahead of Bergin and Walker.

Somewhat simultaneously, the script repeatedly puts Ford's wife (Anne Archer) and daughter (Thora Birch) in harm's way. Screenwriters W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart don't seem to understand they can only cry wolf so often, especially after laying on the fun family stuff. And Ford, Archer and Birch are a fun movie family, no doubt. The movie could probably even get away with more of it.

The film really gets started in the second hour, with Ford trying to catch Bean after spending forty minutes not wanting to return to the CIA to do that very thing. The procedural scenes are lacking because there's no resolve behind them, they feel forced. The action sequences, however, are all outstanding because director Noyce does a phenomenal job directing this film. Great editing from William Hoy and Neil Travis too.

There are some good supporting performances–Samuel L. Jackson, J.E. Freeman, Richard Harris–and Ford is outstanding. But some good acting and fine directing can't make up for the plotting; the plotting's atrocious.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Phillip Noyce; screenplay by W. Peter Iliff and Donald Stewart, based on the novel by Tom Clancy; director of photography, Donald McAlpine; edited by William Hoy and Neil Travis; music by James Horner; production designer, Joseph C. Nemec III; produced by Mace Neufeld and Robert Rehme; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Harrison Ford (Jack Ryan), Anne Archer (Cathy Ryan), Patrick Bergin (Kevin O’Donnell), Sean Bean (Sean Miller), Thora Birch (Sally Ryan), James Fox (Lord Holmes), Samuel L. Jackson (Robby), Polly Walker (Annette), J.E. Freeman (Marty Cantor), James Earl Jones (Admiral Greer) and Richard Harris (Paddy O’Neil).


Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014, Anthony Russo and Joe Russo)

Captain America: The Winter Soldier has a bunch of great, thoughtful scenes and many excellent–and some just better than normal–performances but it doesn’t add up to much. Those fine scenes don’t have enough separation from the very hurried plot to resonate on their own. What should be subplots turn out to be nothing but texture scenes or, more cynically, ones to tie into later big plot developments.

Directors Anthony Russo and Joe Russo do an adequate job with the film. Some of the action, particularly in the first half, is good. The big finale goes from way too hurried for the scenes with sidekicks Scarlett Johansson and Anthony Mackie to way too protracted with Chris Evans’s second big fight opposite Sebastian Stan. These scenes take place amid the film’s only enormous CGI sequence, which the directors don’t really know what to do with.

The acting is all good; even the weaker performances like Johansson’s are mostly all right. Evans and Mackie are fantastic. Screenwriters Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely don’t have an honest relationship between any of the characters–Evans and Johansson, Evans and Mackie, Samuel L. Jackson and Robert Redford–but the actors make it all work.

Though Redford does look a little lost. He doesn’t chew the scenery as much as the role requires.

Nice supporting work from Frank Grillo too.

The Winter Soldier stays engaging throughout–even during the bloated third act. The film’s already got the viewers invested in the characters.

It’s too bad though, it should’ve been better.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo; screenplay by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely, based on characters created by Joe Simon and Jack Kirby; director of photography, Trent Opaloch; edited by Jeffrey Ford; music by Henry Jackman; production designer, Peter Wenham; produced by Kevin Fiege; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Chris Evans (Steve Rogers/Captain America), Scarlett Johansson (Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow), Sebastian Stan (The Winter Soldier), Anthony Mackie (Sam Wilson/Falcon), Cobie Smulders (Agent Maria Hill), Frank Grillo (Brock Rumlow), Hayley Atwell (Peggy Carter), Toby Jones (Dr. Arnim Zola), Georges St-Pierre (Batroc), Robert Redford (Alexander Pierce) and Samuel L. Jackson (Nick Fury).


White Sands (1992, Roger Donaldson)

It’s not hard to identify the problem with White Sands. Daniel Pyne’s script is terrible. His characters often act without motivation and the double and triple crosses he writes into the plot never have any pay-off. It doesn’t help director Donaldson sees himself–and not incorrectly to a point–doing a desert noir in the vein of Touch of Evil. But Sands is too big for a desert noir and Donaldson doesn’t have any tricks, except good Panavision composition, once the desert element runs out.

There are a lot of good performances in the film–Donaldson casted a lot of fine character actors–but Willem Dafoe is an ineffective lead. A lot of that deficiency is the script’s fault, but Dafoe doesn’t bring any implied depth. It’s a casting misfire (bad guy Mickey Rourke, who’s quite good, would have been a better lead).

Samuel L. Jackson, M. Emmet Walsh, Miguel Sandoval, John P. Ryan and Fred Dalton Thompson all provide texture to the supporting cast. Walsh isn’t doing anything new and Jackson gets off to a rocky start, but they’re fine. The only other misfire is Maura Tierney, who’s absurd.

As Dafoe’s erstwhile romantic interest, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio is okay. If the script were better and gave her a real part (she doesn’t even show up until a half hour in), she’d do better.

There’s excellent photography from Peter Menzies Jr. and Patrick O’Hearn’s score often makes Sands seem like a better film.

With a rewrite, it would’ve been.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Donaldson; written by Daniel Pyne; director of photography, Peter Menzies Jr.; edited by Nicholas Beauman; music by Patrick O’Hearn; production designer, John Graysmark; produced by Scott Rudin and William Sackheim; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Willem Dafoe (Ray Dolezal), Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio (Lane Bodine), Mickey Rourke (Gorman Lennox), Samuel L. Jackson (Greg Meeker), Miguel Sandoval (FBI Agent Ruiz), M. Emmet Walsh (Bert Gibson), James Rebhorn (FBI Agent Flynn), John Lafayette (FBI Agent Demott), Maura Tierney (Noreen), Alexander Nicksay (Ben Dolezal), John P. Ryan (Arms Dealer), Fred Dalton Thompson (Arms Dealer) and Mimi Rogers (Molly Dolezal).


The Other Guys (2010, Adam McKay), the unrated version

The Other Guys ends with an animation explaining the financial bailout in terms of what it means to the average American (i.e. the viewer). It tangentially relates to the movie’s plot. It might be the “best” use of a mainstream film’s end credits ever. Someone will soon ruin it I’m sure.

Otherwise, The Other Guys is an amiable comedy. Will Ferrell is funny doing his regular thing, only this time in a new setting–though the New York cop movie setting is traditional, so they get to play with the genre a little. Mark Wahlberg is fantastic here, with a self-depreciating performance. Sure, he’s just doing his Departed role (there’s another great Departed reference here too) but it’s still funny. Similarly, Michael Keaton–in his first “big” live action movie in many years–is great. He’s doing a Keaton comedy performance, but it’s excellent. Steve Coogan’s good….

The surprise is Eva Mendes, who’s quite good. She’s really gotten better lately (she has one great scene where she can’t quite contain her laughter opposite Ferrell).

McKay’s direction mimics action movies, so he doesn’t have to do much special with it. It’s a wholly competent production; McKay’s greatest strength as a filmmaker isn’t his composition, which is fine. I mean, the choice of Ice-T as the film’s narrator would be the best thing about it if there weren’t so many other excellent choices.

The Other Guys is a self-aware, intelligently produced diversion.

I can’t believe it made any money.

2.5/4★★½

CREDITS

Directed by Adam McKay; written by McKay and Chris Henchy; director of photography, Oliver Wood; edited by Brent White; music by Jon Brion; production designer, Clayton Hartley; produced by Patrick Crowley, McKay, Will Ferrell and Jimmy Miller; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Will Ferrell (Detective Allen Gamble), Mark Wahlberg (Detective Terry Hoitz), Eva Mendes (Dr. Sheila Ramos Gamble), Dwayne Johnson (Detective Christopher Danson), Samuel L. Jackson (Detective PK Highsmith), Michael Keaton (Captain Gene Mauch), Steve Coogan (Sir David Ershon), Ray Stevenson (Roger Wesley), Rob Riggle (Detective Evan Martin), Damon Wayans Jr. (Detective Fosse), Michael Delaney (Bob Littleford), Zach Woods (Douglas), Lindsay Sloane (Francine), Rob Huebel (Officer Watts), Natalie Zea (Christinith) and Anne Heche (Pamela Boardman). Narrated by Ice-T.


Jurassic Park (1993, Steven Spielberg)

Two big things I noticed about Jurassic Park. First, it’s still a superior use of CG. It really shows how digital effects do not get better with technology or budget or whatever; being used by a good filmmaker makes all the difference.

And Spielberg does a fine job with Jurassic Park. It’s an incredibly impersonal film, which the second thing I noticed really showcases. Sam Neill’s protagonist is so shallow, even Bob Peck’s character—who gets no back story—comes off deeper. Some of the problem is with Neill’s performance. He can’t keep his American accent—in fact, at the beginning it seems like he’s supposed to be Australian, but then he starts suppressing it, only to then let it come through. Laura Dern’s character is even more shallow, but she manages to make the character work with her performance. Neill gets better towards the end, when he finally stops whining about not liking kids.

Once the film gets going, it has a fantastic pace. Spielberg’s direction is strongest here in that regard—he knows how to make the film work and does; he also knows how to get good performances out of almost all the cast. Neill isn’t really his fault.

Besides Peck, Jeff Goldblum, Martin Ferrero and Samuel L. Jackson are standouts. Richard Attenborough teeters between endearing and good. He sells his most important scene.

The John Williams score is excellent, the Dean Cundey photography is good (but not singular).

Jurassic Park’s a fine, pseudo-smart popcorn movie.

2/4★★

CREDITS

Directed by Steven Spielberg; screenplay by Michael Crichton and David Koepp, based on the novel by Crichton; director of photography, Dean Cundey; edited by Michael Kahn; music by John Williams; production designer, Rick Carter; produced by Kathleen Kennedy and Gerald R. Molen; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Sam Neill (Dr. Alan Grant), Laura Dern (Dr. Ellie Sattler), Jeff Goldblum (Dr. Ian Malcolm), Richard Attenborough (John Hammond), Bob Peck (Robert Muldoon), Martin Ferrero (Donald Gennaro), Joseph Mazzello (Tim Murphy), Ariana Richards (Lex Murphy), Samuel L. Jackson (Ray Arnold), B.D. Wong (Henry Wu) and Wayne Knight (Dennis Nedry).


Amos & Andrew (1993, E. Max Frye)

The problem with Amos & Andrew is the execution. Frye has a good concept—a black professional moves to an island community filled with guilty white liberals and suffers thanks to their community interest, finding he has more in common with a two bit criminal than his neighbors. And the stuff between Samuel L. Jackson and Nicolas Cage is occasionally quite good. Cage’s performance reminds why him no longer doing comedies is a loss. Jackson isn’t awful (his character is a stereotype—Frye never gives him anywhere near the depth of, say, Lionel Jefferson–but no telling if Jackson could handle it if he had).

Frye sets it up as a comedy of errors. Islanders Michael Lerner and Margaret Colin mistake Jackson for a thief (because he’s black). It gets worse when the dumb, racist white cops arrive (there’s an oxymoron). Oddly, the villain—Dabney Coleman’s politicking chief of police—is one of the few white characters who isn’t racist. He’s just an ass. And Frye gets points for not shying away from the bigotry. Lerner and Colin never get redeemed, even after he makes them primary supporting cast members.

Maybe with a different director—Frye has no sense of scale—it could have worked out. He shoots a major media event in a shoebox.

Lerner and Coleman are caricatures, but Colin’s got some good moments, as does I.M. Hobson. Giancarlo Esposito, Loretta Devine and Bob Balaban all do well in thankless roles.

Amos & Andrew is almost worth watching for Cage.

0/4ⓏⒺⓇⓄ

CREDITS

Written and directed by E. Max Frye; director of photography, Walt Lloyd; edited by Jane Kurson; music by Richard Gibbs; production designer, Patricia Norris; produced by Gary Goetzman; released by Columbia Pictures.

Starring Samuel L. Jackson (Andrew Sterling), Nicolas Cage (Amos Odell), Dabney Coleman (Chief of Police Cecil Tolliver), Michael Lerner (Phil Gillman), Margaret Colin (Judy Gillman), Brad Dourif (Officer Donnie Donaldson), Chelcie Ross (Deputy Earl), I.M. Hobson (Waldo Lake), Jeff Blumenkrantz (Ernie the Cameraman), Giancarlo Esposito (Reverend Fenton Brunch), Loretta Devine (Ula), Bob Balaban (Fink), Aimee Graham (Stacy) and Tracey Walter (Bloodhound Bob).


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