Samuel L. Jackson

  • Movie Review: The Spirit (2008)


    The Spirit (2008)The Spirit (2008)

    Starring Gabriel Macht, Eva Mendes, Samuel L. Jackson, Scarlett Johansson, Louis Lombardi, Jaime King, Paz Vega, Sarah Paulson, Stana Katic and Kevin Arnold’s dad.

    Directed by Frank Miller.

    Confession time: I have never read Will Eisner’s The Spirit.

    I’m glad I got that off my chest, even though my Geek Cred may have taken a bit of a hit, especially with my Comic Book Geek brethren. I should point out, however, that I don’t consider my dearth of experience with the character (and Eisner’s work in general) a drawback when it comes to the Frank Miller-directed film version of The Spirit. In fact, my nigh-complete ignorance of The Spirit and his exploits gives me a singular advantage over True Fans: I didn’t just watch a character near and dear to my heart ruined on the big screen. 1That will have to wait until Captain America: The First Avenger premieres in 2010.

    As a non-Spirit-fan, I actually had high hopes for Frank Miller’s film. I enjoyed the visual style, characters and story of Sin City (which Miller wrote and co-directed) as well as the spectacle that was 300 (directed by Zack Snyder, but based on a Miller graphic novel), so I expected that unleashing Miller’s style on The Spirit would be a lot of fun.

    Visually, I was not disappointed. The Spirit has a very similar look to Sin City: mostly dark with (sometimes shocking) splashes of rich, vibrant color, the end result is something that looks like it jumped straight off the pages of a gritty graphic novel. 2Such as, say, Sin City. Every frame is a treat for the eyes, masterfully assembled with strategically-placed, high-contrast elements that bring an almost surreal sense of depth to two dimensions.

    And then they had to go and screw up the whole beautiful tapestry by adding characters and a plot.

    Gabriel Macht as The Spirit is…forgettable. There’s not really a whole lot going on behind the domino mask that’s going to leave much of an impression. He performs a running monologue in gravelly tones 3As an aside, it was one of these monologues that really drove home just how discombobulated The Spirit is. Here’s our hero, walking through the muck after an encounter with The Octopus, looking … Continue reading and occasionally drops a line that was good enough to make it into the trailer, but beyond that…well, I guess he looks okay without a shirt on, but that’s not really a big selling point for me.

    Eva Mendes as Sand Serif is pretty much the same as Eva Mendes as every other hot dame she’s played: a whole lot of eye candy that turns out to be nothing but empty calories. 4See also: Ghost Rider. The woman looks good, and the high-contrast visual style accentuates every curve of her body. Unfortunately, Sand Serif is a speaking role, and that’s where the whole thing falls apart.

    I’d expect a wooden performance from Eva Mendes, but I hold Scarlett Johansson to a higher standard, which made her wooden performance all the more disappointing, especially since she wasn’t given anywhere near the camera-fondling Miller gave Mendes (and Paz Vega, whose part and costume were both quite small). Johansson, as Silken Floss, has the unfortunate distinction of sharing nearly every scene she’s in with one Samuel L. Jackson, and perhaps that’s why she comes across as a little stiff.

    Time for another confession: Samuel L. Jackson is pretty much the only reason I ventured out at 10:30pm on Christmas to see The Spirit. I have a lot of respect for Mr. Jackson because he will agree to do a role just because it sounds like fun; 5See also: Snakes on a Plane. and it’s not difficult to see that Sam Jackson is having all kinds of fun playing The Octopus. But I’m not sure Frank Miller told Samuel L. Jackson what kind of movie he was making. This may have something to do with the fact that I suspect Frank Miller did not know what kind of movie he was making. Based solely on The Octopus, I would classify The Spirit as camp, approaching pure farce; and if that’s what the movie was supposed to be I wouldn’t have a problem with the over-the-top campiness of Jackson’s performance.

    Except that Samuel L. Jackson is the only person gobbling up scenes like a starving man at the Hometown Buffet. To make matters worse, The Octopus goes through more wardrobe changes than Reese Witherspoon in Legally Blonde 3: I Can’t Believe They’re Still Making Sequels to Legally Blonde. The Octopus is first a pimp, then (for no apparent reason) a samurai, then a doctor/scientist, then (again, for no reason) a monocle-wearing Nazi General, then a pimp with a smaller hat than the first pimp. His on-screen antics elicited various audience members to blurt out on not one, not two, but three separate occasions, “What the [expletive]?” It’s fun to watch the man enjoy himself, but at some point you can’t help but wonder if he realizes that there are people making a movie around him.

    And then there’s Morgenstern, the rookie cop played by Stana Katic. For reasons known only to…well, hell, probably no one, she speaks at roughly twice the volume of everyone around her. After the first two lines, I was reminded of Steve Carell’s character in Anchorman, who blurted out “Loud noises!” and “I love lamp!”, but at least he had an excuse for yelling: everyone else was, too.

    Add characters that seem relatively normal (Ellen Dolan, played by Sarah Paulson, possibly the only truly sane person in the entire film) and those that are never really explained (Lorelei, played by Jaime King, some sort of Death-spirit who may or may not be entirely a figment of The Spirit’s imagination), and those that are just plain bizarre (Logos, Pathos, Ethos and many more, all played by Louis Lombardi), a hopping foot-head (that’s not a typo) and a scene that gives new mean to the term “rib-sticking”, and The Spirit is a giant mess that just can’t decide what it’s supposed to be. All kinds of nice to look at, but that’s about it.

    1 That will have to wait until Captain America: The First Avenger premieres in 2010.
    2 Such as, say, Sin City.
    3 As an aside, it was one of these monologues that really drove home just how discombobulated The Spirit is. Here’s our hero, walking through the muck after an encounter with The Octopus, looking stern while his inner voice complains about the bitter cold wind of the city stinging his face…and around him snow drifts gently to the ground, not even the slightest breeze disturbing the flakes as they fall.
    4 See also: Ghost Rider.
    5 See also: Snakes on a Plane.
  • Movie Review: Snakes on a Plane


    Snakes on a PlaneSnakes on a Plane (2006)

    Starring Samuel L. Jackson, Julianna Margulies, Nathan Phillips, Rachel Blanchard, Flex Alexander, Keith Dallas, Lin Shaye, Bruce James, Sunny Mabrey, Casey Dubois, Daniel Hogarth, Gerard Plunkett, Terry Chen, Elsa Pataky, Bobby Cannavale, David Koechner, Todd Louiso, Bryan Lawson and Fat Albert.

    Directed by David R. Ellis.

    Normally, I watch movies to escape reality. The characters and situations captured in celluloid are larger than life and fantastical, far removed from the people and events that I encounter on a daily basis. Snakes on a Plane, however, is different. As outlandish as it may seem, I found the movie to be a chilling reflection of a terrifying incident from my own past.

    I don’t recall who first discovered that the ceiling in my parents’ basement had become home to a number of snakes, but some of my memories of removing those snakes are quite vivid. The serpentine squatters ranged in length from ten inches to nearly three feet and we extracted a total of twenty-four of them from various hidey-holes above our heads.

    Though he is not an FBI agent, my father—like Agent Neville Flynn (Samuel L. Jackson)—quickly took control of the situation, directing the removal process and even constructing extraction tools designed specifically to reach into the nook and crannies in which the vipers hid and retrieve them with minimal risk to life and limb.

    The serpents in Snakes on a Plane are certainly more aggressive than those we evicted from the basement ceiling, not to mention more numerous and in most cases considerably larger. Another significant difference between the movie and my real-life experience (apart from the obvious lack of a plane in the latter) is the amount of profanity uttered by Samuel L. Jackson. Seriously, my father could show him a thing or two about the effective use of colorful metaphor in problem resolution.

    Uncanny similarity to my own life aside, Snakes on a Plane is a fun movie.Unless you’re the guy behind me who, as the end credits began to roll, complained to his enthusiastic friend that it was “retarded.” It had everything I expected (snakes, plane, Samuel L. Jackson, profanity, and ass-kicking) and a little bit more (Mile-High Club, yappy dog, perturbed Brit and SnakeVision™).

    The story (yes, there’s a story) concerns Agent Neville Flynn attempting to escort Sean Jones (Nathan Phillips) from Hawaii to Los Angeles. Sean is a vital witness against crime lord Eddie Kim (Bryan Lawson), who arranges to have a large number of snakes released on Pacific Flight 121 in order to cause a fatal crash into the Pacific Ocean. It’s not the most direct method of eliminating a witness, but Eddie definitely gets points for creativity.

    Once released, the snakes are attracted to the pheremone-laced leis each passenger received when boarding the flight. The first kill (speaking of leis) occurs in one of the lavatories, where an amorous couple’s coupling is cut short by a slithering voyeur who drops in through the smoke detector. The flight attendants are serious when they warn against tampering with those, and the penalty on Pacific Flight 121 is death.

    The snakes continue to kill people in a variety of clever, amusing and visually-disturbing ways.Actually, there are only two ways the snakes kill, aren’t there? They either use their strong coils to squeeze the life out of their unfortunate prey or—more commonly—strike with their fangs, pumping neurotoxins into the victim’s blood. The clever, amusing and visually-disturbing bit is where the snakes choose to bite their victims. To make matters worse, the slithering serpents slip into the plane’s electrical systems and cause all sorts of trouble with the avionics. Bad is being on a plane with snakes. Worse is being on a crashing plane with snakes.

    Once Agent Flynn gets wind of the problem, the asp-kicking commencesYeah, I went there.. Flynn’s initial weapon of choice is his handy taser, which he wields with all the flair and style you might expect from a Jedi Knight brandishing a lightsaber. The taser is soon replaced with a broken bottle, a makeshift flamethrower, a spear gun and eventually a semi-automatic pistol as Flynn makes it perfectly clear that he is not at all happy that the aircraft has been overrun with reptiles.

    Snakes on a Plane is cheesy, but it’s big budget cheesy, like gourmet Velveeta. It’s a lot of fun to watch, doesn’t take itself too seriously, and delivers exactly what the title promises. On the entirely arbitrary, unpatented, untrademarked 27-point KJToo rating system, I give Snakes on a Plane a very respectable 22.

    Samuel L. Jackson: 8 – “You either want to see that, or you don’t.” Jackson has a great attitude about this movie, and he plays exactly the character I wanted him to. The only reason he doesn’t get the full nine points is that he let that punk-ass hip-hop star (Flex Alexander) get the drop on him.

    Snakes (on a motherf***ing plane): 7 – For the most part, I thought the snakes looked pretty darn good except for a few scenes where some of them were clearly computer-generated. Also, I wasn’t always clear on their motivations. Sure, they were attracted to the pheremones in the leis, but I just wasn’t feeling it. They did manage to startle me a couple of times, though, so I won’t ding them too much.

    Audience Participation: 7 – Normally, the only thing I want to hear out of the audience is nothing. Tonight, however, I was surprised to find that I was clapping and cheering right along with the other moviegoers when the title appeared on the screen, and then again when Samuel L. Jackson appeared, and then again when we caught our first glimpse of the snakes. There were a few occasions when the audience was a little too enthusiastic, though, and I missed a few lines of dialogue that were buried beneath the cheering.