Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

TIFF: Unicorn Store

Full disclosure: I own a unicorn named Mindy. She’s magical. She’s a goddamned magical creature. She’s also inflatable but don’t you DARE call her a pool toy. You can, however, call her the centre of attention, which is exactly what she was when I threw a goddamned magical unicorn party earlier this summer. I sent unicorn invitations. I had unicorn party hats, a unicorn pinata, and unicorn names for all the guests. I even made a unicorn cake. No, that’s not true. I actually made TWO unicorn cakes because Sean smashed the first one about 30 seconds after I finished it. And when you throw a unicorn party, people bring you unicorn presents, which is why I own unicorn slippers and a unicorn tape dispenser named Stuart and briefly had unicorn-coloured hair. This either makes me uniquely qualified to review this film, or I should recuse myself for the glaring conflict of interest.

I’m not actually obsessed with unicorns, but you know who is? Kit. Kit (Brie Larson) has literally been obsessed with unicorns her whole entire life. And after painting yet 422-logan.jpganother unicorn-as-self-portrait, she’s unceremoniously flunked out of art school and returns home to mope in her parents’ basement (Joan Cusack, Bradley Whitford). In an effort to Not Be A Disappointment to them, she takes an uninspired job with a temp agency and just when it seems the world might be ready to beat the whimsy right out of her, the universe sends her a pop-up store that only sells unicorns, and only to her, run by a tinsel-afroed Samuel L. Jackson, of naturally. Turns out that owning a unicorn is something you have to earn, so Kit sets about getting her life unicorn-ready, and that’s going to take some major changes. But is unicorn ownership really the cure to what ails a directionless, fully grown woman who seems stuck in a perpetual unicorn phase? Isn’t there more to life than glitter and rainbows?

Samantha McIntyre’s script is winkingly funny. For some odd reason neither Sean nor I had gone into this expecting it to be funny, and yet the audience was in stitches. McIntyre has a very quirky style that endeared itself to me immediately. She creates sparks in the smallest little details. I also have to send a shout-out to costumer Mirren Gordon-Crozier who must have combed the known universe to find THE most fanciful pieces of clothing ever produced. Kit wears her personality on her body. Her shirt collection is all blue skies and rainbows. It reminded me of Kimmy Schmidt in that way, who is always seen in sunshine yellows and bright fuchsias. Their clothing is a reflection of who they are. That said, it might be Samuel L. Jackson’s suits that make the biggest and brightest wardrobe impression in this movie.

But the real rock star here is Brie Larson, who makes her directorial debut. She’s just finding her voice as a director so her style isn’t quite as quirky as the tone of the movie, but considering how much it shifts around, I think she handles it well, and I already can’t wait to see what other stories she’ll tell. She assembles a really great cast who are a lot of fun to watch. Cusack and Whitford are everyone’s embarrassing parents, and Mamoudou Athie as The Guy Who Will Build a Unicorn Stable Even Though He’s Not A Carpenter is a particular stand-out.

I really enjoyed Unicorn Store; it’s a sweet reminder that growing up doesn’t necessarily mean giving up on childhood dreams. Underneath the glitter there’s a message about conformity and how women are told to pull away from “girlish” things in order to fall into one of two male-approved categories: the drab, grim businesswoman, or the oversexualized dreamgirl. Anything seen as overtly feminine is assumed to be less serious, and even women themselves can internalize this notion. Not Kit. Brie Larson flexes her comedic chops by playing her as earnest but not naive. In a world where every man’s inner child is constantly catered to with movies about super heroes, robots, pirates, and zombies, this one, finally, is just for us.

 

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Contract Negotiations

The rich and famous are rich and famous for a reason – their unreasonable demands. Turns out actors are not immune. The following are actual clauses found in movie contracts.

Samuel L. Jackson has it in his contract that he gets a break during filming to play golf twice a week. Priorities!

The late Garry Marshall was so close to Hector Elizondo that he put a clause in his contracts stipulating that the actor was guaranteed a role in all Marshall films. Elizondo never knew about the clause but obviously benefitted, appearing in all of Marshall’s films, up until the director’s death last year.

Steve McQueen had a crazy grudge against Paul Newman. When the two starred in The poster_0Towering Inferno in 1974, McQueen demanded that he not only have top billing, but also the exact same pay as Newman—and the EXACT SAME number of lines, which seems like a pretty shitty way to write a script. The two fought it out about the top billing and eventually producers settled on a compromise for the poster: McQueen’s name is first, but Newman’s name, while second, is slightly higher up. Also the picture of McQueen is on the left, but Newman’s picture is again slightly higher up. This coined the term ‘diagonal billing’ because you know movie stars have egos and this shit definitely has come up again.

While working on (the now defunct) Eloise in Paris in 2010, Uma Thurman insisted on receiving heavy discounts if she decided to buy any clothes and\or wigs used during the shoot. Also, “no other cast member [may] receive more favorable dressing rooms.”

Roger Moore asked for and received “unlimited” Montecristo cigars on his James Bond films – I mean, what better way to get into character?

Will Ferrell, who takes pride in being an ass, demanded the following:

1 Electric three-wheel mobility scooter
1 headset microphone (Janet Jackson style)
1 flight of stairs on wheels
1 fake tree on wheels
1 rainbow (can be painted on canvas) on wheels
Guinness beer
Smart Water or Fiji Water
Coke, Diet Coke, 7Up
Raw roasted almonds
Protein bars: Peanut butter chocolate Zone Bars, Peanut Butter Power Bars

Just the necessities, obviously!

Will Smith had a two-and-a-half million dollar trailer built for himself. His contract makes sure the trailer has a spot on every movie set. It sits on 22 wheels, has 14 televisions, and $30,000 worth of leather upholstery. It has a full kitchen with over $$100,000 worth of granite countertops. It has sliding doors like the Star Trek Enterprise, which lead to a wardrobe room. It has pistons that allow it to transform to have a second story, which houses a screening room for watching dailies. There’s a shower in a $25,000 bathroom that has a magic glass door, which can go between opaque and transparent with the push of a button. Sean and I saw this monstrosity on the streets of Manhattan while he was filming MIB3, and you bet the locals were complaining about its size and its generally fucking up traffic, and blocking out sunlight in the surrounding apartments.  Charming?

Lindsey Lohan, known for being oh-so modest, demanded a private jet with a hairstylist, a makeup artist, and a manicurist onboard. She also insisted on a 1-year Russian visa, a Ritz-Carlton penthouse suite, and a meeting with President Vladimir Putin, and that was just to appear on a talk show. I think she may be overestimated her cachet.

While filming Gravity in Surrey, George Clooney insisted on a custom-made beach hut complete with hot tub, private landscaped garden, and basketball court built next to his trailer. He let production pick up the £100,000 tab while making $20M for the movie. Life is fair!

Tom Cruise’s “thing” is as weird as he is: thongs. He’s got thongs written into every contract – up to 50 of them per movie since he only wears them once. He feels they’re imperative for shooting action scenes, keeping him loose and unrestricted. I have a feeling that my underwear is not what’s holding me back. I also doubt the thongs are helping him out all that much, but it’s a nice justification for your fetish, isn’t it?

But just to leave you with something positive, not all contract riders are inspired by selfish greed. Robin Williams always wrote in his contract that on every film he made, production had to hire a certain number of homeless people and put them to work. Remember that next time you watch one of his old gems.

Kong: (Bored Out of My) Skull Island

There are so many interesting components to this film that I find it unnatural and surprising how much it still sucked.

Basically: John Goodman convinces some government types that there’s this mysterious, vaguely-skull shaped island and the USA needs to LOCK THAT SHIT DOWN, like, be the first to “conquer” it and claim it as their own. So he hires crack photographer Brie Larson (for some reason), and master tracker Tom Hiddleston (for some reason) to accompany MV5BYzU4Y2VjN2ItZDA4Yy00MTBkLWI0ZGMtODcwZWY5ZDJlYTg1XkEyXkFqcGdeQXVyNjEwNTM2Mzc@._V1_SY1000_CR0,0,1500,1000_AL_him and the army led by Sam Jackson to the island that everyone knows is a no good, horrible, very bad idea. You may have noticed that the only thing more useless on this trip than the photographer is the tracker, except the little surprise that John Goodman has been keeping under his hat is: fuck surveying the island, he’s there to bring down the GIANT FUCKING BEAST, Y’ALL! Daaaaamn.

Except fuck you, John Goodman. King Kong is the least of your worries if you’re playing tourist on Skull Island. There’s much MUCH worse. But even though there’s a bevy of monsters and a bunch of a-list actors, none of them are remotely interesting. So that’s too bad. The movie is over-cast, and I’m not sure that I’ve ever said that before. But it’s just too crowded with famous faces and not one of them has a damn thing to do. And if any of them got any ideas about doing some acting or even just reciting a line that wasn’t entirely forgettable\unnecessary, Samuel L. Jackson was there to be a vacuum of talent, where his overacting is wildly disproportionate to the entire tone of the movie, thus hogging 110% of our energy, attention, and frankly, consternation, sucking up literally any sparks that anyone else was throwing off.

The only thing that I even wanted to like was Kong himself, but the movie couldn’t keep his size straight and that made me dizzy with rage (as did Brie Larson’s amazing, never ending roll of film). Kong is supposed to be big, and he is, but how big? Director Jordan Vogt-Roberts hopes you never ask that question, because he certain hasn’t. The answer is that it varies greatly from scene to scene and if you’re the kind of person who’s okay with glaring errors of continuity that don’t even take you seriously as a human being who can appreciate the difference between a station wagon, a sky-scraper, and a mid-range mountain.

Kong: Skull Island has an A-movie budget but a B-movie feel.

 

Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Despite never having read the book(s?) upon which this movie is based, it still felt all too familiar to me while watching Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Could it be that we’ve finally seen the bottom of Tim Burton’s bag of tricks, and now we’re just watching the shadow of his talent?

Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) keeps the wards in her charge safe by keeping them in a 24 hour time loop, the 24 hours before their beautiful home is to be bombed by the Nazis, circa 1943. Neither she nor her peculiar children age while in the time loop, but to step peregrins-gallery10outside of it would have time catching up to them in a hurry. Inside their cozy little loop, they can be as peculiar as they like without repercussion. Or they could until a peculiar gone rogue (Samuel L. Jackson) invents monsters to hunt them. That’s why Abe (Terence Stamp) chooses to live outside the loop – true he has to leave behind his love, but he keeps her and everyone else safe by hunting the monsters in turn. But in his old age, Abe meets an ugly demise and his eyeless body is discovered by his teenaged grandson, Jake (Asa Butterfield ), the only one suspicious enough (or peculiar enough?) to avenge his grandfather’s death.

Once Jake discovers the time loop and the peculiars, Tim Burton is in his element. He’s excellent at creating worlds, giving them texture and meaning and magic, and populating them with loads and loads of white people. Oh, haven’t you heard? Tim Burton’s a racist now. Well, not so much “now” as always, it’s just that only now are we really paying attention. Tim Burton is visionary; he can conjure ghosts in cheap suits, demon barbers and talking caterpillars – but cast a person of colour as one of his peculiars? That would just be weird. That is too much of a stretch of Burton’s imagination.

If it was just the Peculiar Children who suffer from his pale proclivities, we might forgive him, but a cursory glance over his IMDB list has me horrified. Samuel L. Jackson is the firstperegrins-gallery9 black man he’s cast in a leading role EVER, and you know he’s playing a villain. Jackson aside, Tim Burton’s casting takes on a very pale shade of white. His sets may be designed in technicolour but Tim Burton himself only dreams in caucasian. And it’s not really Tim Burton’s fault. We’re the dummies who have accepted this unthinkingly for years. He’s had huge ensemble casts with not even a tan among them and I for one haven’t even thought to question it.

We’re awake now, though, and the cat’s not getting back into the bag, no matter how many claw marks Tim Burton accrues trying to stuff the fucker back in. His words, you see, have proven even more damning than his pasty casting choices. “Things either call for things, or they don’t” he’s said, meaning, if a script says “African American”, he’ll cast an African American. But if a script says “person”, Burton reads it as “white person.” And that’s exactly the kind of inherent bias we most especially have to watch for. White tends to be the default far too often in Hollywood (and in life). But audiences are not. Audiences are made up of real people, a whole rainbow’s worth. And in 2016, we demand to see that reflected on the screen.

Tim Burton is just another old white dude defending the old guard. He wants things to stay the same. Dude with scissors for hands? Sure. Obsessive candy man? Why not. Orphan in a rubber suit playing god? As long as he’s not black, have at it!

“I remember back when I was a child watching “The Brady Bunch”and they started to get all politically correct, like, OK, let’s have an Asian child and a black — I used to get more offended by that than just — I grew up watching blaxploitation movies, right? And I said, that’s great. I didn’t go like, OK, there should be more white people in these movies.”

-Tim Burton, ladies and gentelmen

Of course his ignorant comments have done nothing but confirm the need for the very thing he’s eschewing. The truth is, for as long as this white default exists, we need to fight it consciously by countering it at every turn. If a script doesn’t demand it, society should. There is no room for lazy racism like Burton’s in 2016; it’s time to stop casting movies like they’re segregated.

Never mind that Blaxploitation movies were born in response to systemic racism and preached empowerment. Let’s just take his statement for what it is: white privilege, white ignorance, and an embarrassing amount of #alllivesmatter racist thinking. Tim Burton needs to pull his white head out of his white ass, and we all need to hold him accountable. And maybe while he’s at it he might also make a movie not so nakedly derivative of his old work. 😉

The Legend of Tarzan

Say what?

I’ve seen dozens of Tarzan iterations over the years, but I was still confused trying to follow this one. What I think happens is that we start out meeting Tarzan as a gentleman in England, living as Lord Greystoke, the jungle far behind him. But then his government asks him to go back to the Congo to act as some sort of diplomat, and his beloved wife Jane follows him. Then we start with the flashbacks – to his infancy when his parents are lost and he becomes an adopted beast of the jungle, and also to his first wild meetings with Jane.

Things go badly for Lord Greystoke during his comeback tour. Evil Christoph Waltz is embroiled in slavery and blood diamonds, determined to make his 01-tarzan_w529_h352monarch extremely wealthy. To get to Tarzan, he of course kidnaps Jane. Christoph Waltz has played versions of the same character over and over since he won the Oscar for it in Inglorious Basterds. It doesn’t work here and hasn’t worked in a while, but he’ll keep getting typecast, and we’ll keep suffering. But there’s a trade-off: Samuel L. Jackson is our comic relief, and he’s almost too good at it, stealing scenes from Tarzan himself.

It seems like this Tarzan movie wants to modernize somewhat, with a social conscience, which is good, or at least would have been had Tarzan not been inevitably cast as the great white saviour, swinging from the trees.

It also wants to be a superhero movie with proper villains and ultimate fight sequences – but with Tarzan’s superpower and only weapon being his amazing 8-pack abs. People love to talk about those abs. Poor Alexander Skarsgard worked out 6-7 days a week for months while consuming 7000 calories a day, and then UPPED the workouts to  fourteen times a week while drastically cutting his caloric intake. Sounds brutal. I would be having veritable taco tarzan_1.jpghallucinations. But that’s 6 months or more perfecting his physique (and what was wrong with it to begin with, I wonder? He wasn’t exactly known for being a slouch), and maybe 10 days of memorizing his lines, and that’s “acting.” To be fair, Skarsgard isn’t really the problem here, but he’s also not much of a help. He’s surrounded by 2 Oscar winners and 2 more nominees. If Tarzan is the weak link in your Tarzan movie, your Tarzan movie’s got a problem. And as pretty as he looks, I did wonder how it was that Lord Greystoke, so long removed from the jungle, still had that amazing King of the Jungle body. Jane’s cooking must really suck. Were there even gyms in 1880s England?

I never stopped being frustrated by the hazy flashbacks – why does this feel like a sequel to a movie that was never made? And Skarsgard never found his footing. And Robbie remains a damsel, even though script writers covered their asses by pretending she was a little more feminist, the reality is that she spends most of the movie tied up. It’s too bad it’s not a better movie, but there’s never been a really good Tarzan movie, so why start now?

 

 

 

The Hateful Eight!!!!!!!!

Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) has a date with a hangman’s noose and bounty hunter hateful eight 3John Ruth, “The Hangman” (Kurt Russell), isn’t letting anyone stand in the way of his ten thousand dollar reward. Just to be safe, he’s got her chained to his wrist at all times and, to show her who’s boss, decks her any time she gives him any sass. Making their way through a blizzard, their stagecoach happens on a stranger stranded on the road: Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson). “Got room for one more?” asks Marquis.

So begins The Hateful Eight, the eighth film from Quentin Tarantino. As the storm intensifies, Marquis and The Hangman are forced to wait it out in a tiny lodge with six other strangers. (It’s unclear to me which of these 9 Tarantino is excluding from being “Hateful”). I won’t attempt to describe the story that Tarantino weaves any further. No one in Hollywood tells a story quite like Quentin and for me to try to summarize the chain of events that follows in Minnie’s Haberdashery just wouldn’t be right. It’s best just to watch and let it unfold.

If you’ve been following the drama surrounding the 8th film from Quentin Tarantino, you may hateful eightknow that Daisy, Marquis, and The Hangman almost didn’t get to meet in snowy Wyoming. After a draft of the Hateful Eight script leaked online in early 2014, Tarantino felt so wounded that he vowed not to continue with the project. He got over it quick though. His enthusiasm was renewed three months later after a live read with the cast in Los Angeles.

His enthusiasm is contagious. I was almost giddy with excitement through the opening chapters hateful eight 2of The Hateful Eight. It’s hard to tell quite where any Tarantino film is heading and the early scenes- with such wit, tension, and restraint- were full of promise. With each new character that he introduced, the more exciting and suspenseful the movie gets. Set in a confined space filled with people who can’t fully trust each other, The Hateful Eight is a welcome reminder of what it was like to see Resevoir Dogs for the first time. The first half is so deliberately paced that it’s tempting to think of it as the director’s most grown up film yet, tricking me into a false sense of security that left me completely unprepared for the second half.

Once the blood finally begins to spill, The Hateful Eight shows its true colours. By the end of its three-hour running time, Tarantino’s eighth film has revealed itself as his darkest, blood-thrstiest, meanest, nastiest and most pessimistic since Resevoir Dogs, a drastic shift from the tone of Inglorious Basterds and Django Unchained. I still count The Hateful Eight among the best of both Quentin’s filmography and of 2015. But the enthusiasm that I felt for the first half of the film was mostly gone by the time I left the theater. I left feeling a little disheartened and even a little guilty for the briliant bit of sadism that I participated in by watching it.

Have you seen The Hateful Eight yet? Does it rank among Tarantino’s harshest or am I just getting soft?

 

Mother and Child

Karen (Annette Bening) rehabs the elderly and infirm at work, and takes care of her failing mother at home. She’s angry, and bitter, and fails to connect with others.

Elizabeth (Naomi Watts) is a career-driven lawyer who prefers no-strings liaisons to real relationships and even her boss (Samuel L Jackson) know she’s no good for him but sleeps with movie-mother_and_child-stills-1910658435her anyway.

Karen gave birth to Elizabeth when she was 14 and was forced by her mother into giving her up for adoption. They don’t know each other, but Karen has spent her life wondering where her daughter is, and Elizabeth has spent hers leaving people before they can leave her.

Add to the mix: Lucy (Kerry Washington), a young woman who wants badly to be a mother but can’t have children. She’d like to adopt, but the young pregnant woman considering her has an awful lot of hoops for her candidates to jump through. Is it worth it?

This movie makes you wonder about motherhood. What is natural? What bond exists? Writer and director Rodrigo Garcia does a pretty adept job at picking at the scabs and plumbing brokenhero_EB20100519REVIEWS100519964AR hearts, but he’s a little too determined with wrapping things up neatly, a little too generous with personal growth. Producer Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu has his finger prints all over the darn thing too – provocative, with an emotional breadth and the courage to ask uncomfortable questions. Unfortunately, this movie doesn’t have the answers, or not the kind of answers that all women will respond to. What it does have are some pretty stellar performances by the trio of leading ladies. I have never been less annoyed with Watts, or more annoyed with Bening. It was pretty great, but truth be told, I’d rather be watching Philomena.

Kingsman: The Secret Service

It’s possible that director Matthew Vaughn cast Colin Firth just because the man looks damn finekingsman-the-secret-service-official-trailer-colin-firth-samuel-l-jackson1 in a suit. A whole clothing line was conceived for this film, which actually does hinge on refined bespoke menswear.

While in France, I saw this movie advertised as a cross between James Bond and Quentin Tarantino. Watching the film, the James Bond references slap you in the face – the martinis (gin, stirred for ten seconds while glancing at an unopened bottle of vermouth), the gadgets, the weaponized body parts! And while it’s not quite a spoof, it’s definitely subversive. Colin Firth is a Kingsman, one of many gentlemen spies who teach the uncouth of the world lessons in manners while being blood-Kingsmen2-645x370lustfully unmannered themselves. He will beat you to a pulp, but he will do so with his couture umbrella. Which is possibly where the Tarantino flavour seeps in – not just in the casting of Firth, who took home an Oscar for his portrayal of a King, but was sent by Vaughn to a gym for 6 months, equipped with a signet ring\hand grenade, and unleashed on the world as an action star to take notice of – but in Firth’s character itself, “tea and testosterone” they’re calling it, a razor-sharp dichotomy you won’t be able to take your eyes off of. Nor should you – Vaughn dives right into the action, and that’s where he stays.

gazelleIs this a good movie? Having just wrapped up Oscar season, it’s hard to say a resounding yes. But it IS an awful lot of fun. It’s gleefully violent, unapologetically politically incorrect, and often seems to make a joke out of itself (not all of them land but there was a lot of laughter from the surprisingly hearty Kanata audience). Sam Jackson as the supervillain, lisping away as he takes over the world, is brilliant. He and Firth are having fun. And the young street punk recruited by Firth – played by newcomer Taron Egerton – who must compete with more conventional types to win a kingsman-secret-service-stillspot on the elite spy team brings not only a nice juxtaposition but yet another excuse for non-stop action. Vaughn has plenty of other movies to his credit (Layer Cake and Kick Ass) but this is the one he was born to direct, finally melding gangsters with superheroes and coming up with something all his own.

This movie is definitely not fit for grandma, nor for gentlemen. It’s an energetic bloodbath. It’s exuberantly excessive in its ultraviolence, stylishly brutal, an extravagant killfest. And it’s a massacre to which you’ll enjoy having a front-row seat.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier

I liked but didn’t love Guardians of the Galaxy. Having complained in the review that I posted yesterday that I found it sometimes hard to follow, I starteed to worry that I was becoming a bit of a wet blanket. In hopes of repairing my image of being no fun at all, I am prepared to go all in in my support of Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

Captain America

I didn’t even like the first Captain American all that much. In fairness, I suspect I might have nodded off at one point. As far as I can remember, a scrawny Chris Evans gets an injection of something to become supersoldier Chris Evans so he can go overseas and fight with the Allies in World War II. IN the sequel, Captain America isn’t just super strong but has been cryogenically frozen so he can fight for SHIELD in Marvel’s version of the present.

It’s this fish out of water story that makes Winter Soldier such an improvement. And it’s not just played for laughs. Sure, there’s the usual confusion over the internet and modern music. But what does the iconic war hero Captain America think of how America fights its wars now? I won’t go so far as to call Winter Soldier The Thinking Man’s Superhero Movie or anything like that but like, Iron Man, it takes just enough from real life to make the world that Cap is trying to save more relatable than usual. In fact, this is probably the best Iron Manless Avengers movie so far.

The first half or so of The Winter Soldier almost feels like a thriller, with the action getting bigger and bigger until it becomes unmistakably Marvel. The action scenes are a step above most of the other movies in the Avengers series, although I did wish that the directors wouldn’t cut away so fast sometimes so we could see what’s going on. Chris Evans, who I thought was so boring in both the first Captain America and in The Avengers, has a lot more to work with this timepulls it Winter Soldieroff. Or maybe I have just started thinking of Evans differently after having seen and loved last year’s Snowpiercer. Anthony Mackie is a great addition as somebody named Falcon. And Samuel L. Jackson, in his sixth appearance as Nick Fury, finally has something to do. Early scenes where he clashes with Captain America over modern warfare are a big part of what makes it feel like something important is happening and it was refreshing to finally start to get an idea of who Fury is.

If you don’t think you’ll like Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I didn’t think I would either. Check it out. You might be pleasantly surprised.