- The Lunch with Alison Willmore, Film Critic for BuzzFeed
- The Lunch with Matt and Tom Berninger of ‘Mistaken for Strangers’
- The Lunch, with Anne Thompson, Journalist and Author of ‘The $11-Billion Year’
- The Lunch with Chad Hartigan, Dir. of ‘This is Martin Bonner’
- The Lunch: Todd Sklar & Alex Rennie of ‘Awful Nice’
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Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson
First seen in the Marvel movie-verse as a post-credit moment in “Iron Man,” Samuel L. Jackson’s eyepatch-wearing, glowering super-super-secret agent Nick Fury has become a common thread in the later films — and steps up to the front in “The Avengers.” We spoke with Jackson in L.A. if he knew all of this was going to happen, the best part of working with writer-director Joss Whedon and if he is, as his co-stars suggest, scarier before lunch than after …
MSN Movies: This character has gone from this little post-credit “Yes!” moment to being this huge presence in these films and in this shared universe. Did you know it was going to be like that from the jump?
Samuel L. Jackson: I didn’t know it, but I kind of felt something positive was going to happen through all this after the great response we got to the little tag ending of “Iron Man,” and all of a sudden I pop up in the next one with Natasha, who enhances my presence. Hopefully being the ligament that ties all these different films kind of mentioning “The Avengers” initiative all the time. Mentioning and hinting at kicking somebody out of “The Avengers” initiative wasn’t even in at a certain point, so people kind of go, “What’s he talking about?” Finally you get to a place where you see what Nick Fury has been trying to do.
You have this film where you have CGI, huge green people throwing cars around …
He’s not real?
“… I do not merely feel tired after relaying the convoluted and cluttered outline of “Iron Man 2″; I feel bored, which is pretty much how I felt while watching it. Downey is as charming as ever, which is to say very charming indeed. But nothing in “Iron Man 2″ comes close to the clarity and genius of “Iron Man,” in which an actor who had publicly atoned for his personal mistakes was playing a superhero publicly atoning for his personal mistakes. Screenwriter Justin Theroux has more than 40 years of comic-book mythology to draw on for his film, but it also occasionally seems as if he felt he had to draw on every one of them. We get in-jokes and brief character moments designed to appeal to comic-book fans in the name of building a shared continuity of Marvel movies. But they not only make the film feel even more rushed and perfunctory, but also come across as a little bit of a cheat, as if Marvel were stealing from “Iron Man 2″ in the name of building up future projects like “Thor,” “Captain America,” “The Avengers” and more.
What damages “Iron Man 2″ is not its creaky plot devices (although, at one point, Samuel L. Jackson shows up with a literal footlocker full of backstory) or its comic-book tropes and trappings of adventure and costumed action (although, as Downey and Cheadle, two Oscar nominees, stand at one point in their powered exoskeletons trying to have a conversation, all I could think was, “This is so undignified”). It’s the fact that great-to-good comic book-style movies like “The Dark Knight,” “Spider-Man 2,” “The Incredibles” and, yes, even “Iron Man” are interested and invested in clear, coherent and competent storytelling, while bad-to-bland comic-book-style movies like “Spider-Man 3,” “Batman & Robin” and, yes, “Iron Man 2″ are interested and invested in throwing characters on-screen and nodding to comics history so that comic book readers can use their normally useless storehouse of information about these mythologies to play connect-the-dots. “Iron Man 2″ devotes so much time preaching to the choir that the uninitiated don’t have a prayer. The first “Iron Man” zipped across the zeitgeist as swiftly and speedily as its hero, propelled by clean, classic action filmmaking and Downey’s charisma. This sequel’s cursed with such a meandering flight path made of twists and turns that it runs out of gas and plummets to Earth hard. “Iron Man” earned both millions of dollars and much mainstream affection; “Iron Man 2″ feels like a brassy, bloated moneymaker it’s hard to like.”
If you’re a movie person — and, really, if you think you’re not, you still are — you have movies you go to in times of sickly need with such regularity that they might as well be stored, metaphorically, beside the blankets and the thermometers and the aspirin so they can easily be located when you get sick. I have a friend who swears by the Underworld films when she’s unwell, and another who busts out any Austen adaptation as a vital part of the home healing process; we all have movies we treat as cinematic chicken soup, high on comfort, low on nutrition and fiber. This weekend, after a bunch of traveling, I was hit with some kind of virus that’s still lingering as I write this — sore throat, body aches, throbbing head, what-have-you — and I found myself hydrating and blanket-swaddled and watching The Incredibles.
Released in 2004, Brad Bird’s computer-animated family fantasy manages to be cutting edge in terms of its animation and post-modern spin on superhero pop culture, but it’s also comfortingly retro (for lack of a better word) in how it references everything from Jack Kirby and Stan Lee comic-book concepts to ’60s Bond film designs. But while The Incredibles looks great, and is amazingly clever, that’s just the icing on the cake; like most Pixar films, the technical majesty involved in The Incredibles is carefully draped over an iron-strong foundation of amazingly well-structured story. (People always think the Pixar films are amazing because of their computer animation, but the real Pixar secret is storytelling so superb that you could tell the tale with sock-puppets and it would still have you captivated.)
I hesitate to recap the story of The Incredibles, if only because you’ve probably seen it; at the same time, there’s a chance that you’ve avoided it because it looks like a kid’s movie or a comic-book movie and you have an irrational knee-jerk reaction against kid’s movies and comic-book movies, in which case you’re kinda denying yourself a very real pleasure. In a retro-futuristic world where superheroes are real — but driven underground by legal coasts and liabilities from the property damage induced in their derring-do — Robert Parr (Craig T. Nelson) works as a cube-drone in an insurance company. Bob used to be costumed crime-fighter Mr. Incredible — super-strong, super-tough, super-cool — but his adventuring days fighting crime alongside compatriots like Frozone (Samuel L. Jackson) and Elastigirl (Holly Hunter) are over. Bob got out of the game, got married — his wife Helen is his old costumed comrade Elastigirl — and tries to be a good husband and father to his kids Violet, Dash and Jack-Jack, even if he occasionally breaks the rules to do a little off-the-books crime-fighting. But trouble’s coming, even if Bob doesn’t know it. …
And that summary doesn’t delve into the film’s nicely-tuned structure, or talk about the perfection of the vocal performances, or the meticulously timed comedy in the film, or the expertly-drawn characters and impressively real family dynamics between the four lead characters. The Incredibles also has a nice, subtle message to it — that great abilities have to be used for the greater good, not squandered on petty vanities or minor tasks — that sits just under the glee and exuberance of the movie. The Incredibles is one of those movies — those rare movies — so good that you can forget how good it is while you’re watching it and just enjoy it for the pure pleasure it is.
Writer-director Brad Bird went on to salvage Ratatouille for Pixar, and he’s working on a live-action film about the 1906 San Francisco earthquake, which I very much look forward to, but somewhere deep down I hope that Bird at some point gets inspired to go back to the world of The Incredibles. I know, I know — in an entertainment landscape where tedious, unwanted sequels like Without a Paddle 2 and The Pink Panther 2 clog DVD shelves and theaters, why would you want a talented filmmaker like Bird to go back to territory he’s already explored? The long answer would involve articulating my belief that Bird’s so talented, smart and smooth that if he did make an Incredibles sequel, he’d only go back because he wanted to, because he had a story to tell, because he had something new he wanted to say; the short answer is because it would be awesome. Next week I’ll be at the Sundance Film Festival– hopefully without this cold/flu/whatever — taking on a steady diet of angst, apprehension and anomie mixed with dire documentaries and edgy experiments, but this week, sickly and pasty and wrapped up in a fleece, The Incredibles was a welcome reminder of how a movie that’s far better than you’d think can make things better than they are.
This week’s Rocchi’s Retro Rental springs from two seemingly-unrelated events — a trip to Vegas, and The Oscars. Wandering around Sin City for a friend’s sister’s wedding, the reality of modern gambling — with Star Wars slot machines and low-stakes poker rooms jammed with tank-top clad, sandal-wearing crowds — came alive for me. On Sunday, a wacky semi-musical-number from the Oscars with John C. Reilly made me think back to one of Reilly’s earliest, and best, lead roles.
The writing and directorial debut of Paul Thomas Anderson (Magnolia, Boogie Nights), Hard Eight doesn’t have the epic sweep and scope of Anderson’s other films; it’s smaller, intimate. It opens as a young man, John (Reilly) sits flat busted in front of a coffee shop — and an older man, Sydney (Phillip Baker Hall) invites John to come inside for some coffee and a cigarette. Sydney asks John about who he is and why he’s there: John’s broke, after ill-advisedly trying to win the $6,000 required for his other’s funeral. Sydney’s response to that flat statement is unexpected: “I think that’s very honorable.” Sydney asks John if he’d like to come with him, learn the way of the gambler: “You won’t win $6,000, John. But I can teach you how to play long enough and hard enough to get a free meal, a free room.”
We jump forward in time, to find John and Sydney making a living in Reno. John’s followed Sydney’s tutelage to the letter — part of the pleasure of Hard Eight is seeing the rumpled-yet-righteous Hall play a professional gambler passing on his skill, like Obi-Wan Kenobi with narrow lapels — but a cocktail waitress named Clementine (Gwyneth Paltrow) and a small-time hood named Jimmy (Samuel L. Jackson) both enter, and disturb, the smooth ebb and flow of John and Sydney’s life.
When everything in life goes right, it’s often just the set-up for when everything goes wrong, and this is what happens in Hard Eight — circumstances shift as randomly, and decisively, as a roll of the dice. But long before he stumbled into being an accidental comedian — with cameos as sasquatch and supporting roles as a race car driver and silly Oscar musical numbers — Reilly got where he was by being a hell of an actor; Hard Eight is the proof. Opposite him, Phillip Baker Hall — perhaps best known as the library cop on Seinfeld, in the same sad way many primarily recognize Marlon Brando mostly as ‘Superman’s Dad’ — brings a weary gravitas to his part, even as (or, rather, especially as) Clementine lashes out at the world and Jimmy puts Sydney and John’s modest, hard-earned life under attack.
Hard Eight isn’t as big as Anderson’s other films — that, in many ways, it what makes it so damned good, as some scenes unfold with the simplicity of a stage play and others unfurl with graceful, energetic camerawork that still always keeps the focus on character. The scene where Sydney takes on a yahoo in an acid-wash jean jacket at the craps table — a nearly-unrecognizable Phillip Seymour Hoffman, chewing scenery to dust — is a minor masterwork demonstrating character struggle through seemingly-unrelated action; more importantly, it’s funny as hell while still mourning the loss of a ‘gentleman’s gambler’ culture that may never have even existed to begin with.
Hard Eight on DVD is loaded with extras — from Sundance Institute work-in-progress scenes to Anderson’s frank commentary about the fights surrounding his first film’s release and his battles with the studio. But DVD extras are just that — extra. Hard Eight’s real pleasure comes as it gives Reilly and Hall truly great roles to demonstrate their talent — and Paltrow and Jackson truly different roles that demonstrate how good they are outside of our narrow normal vision of their skill. Most of the time, going to the movies is a gamble, and in a season that’s already given us expensive dreck like Ghost Rider and The Number 23, Hard Eight is a nice reminder of how rare — and satisfying — it can be when betting on a seemingly-small movie can deliver an unexpectedly satisfying payoff.