Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

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Tim Burton makes misfits feel at ease at ‘Miss Peregrine’s’

Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children
Starring Asa Butterfield, Eva Green, Ella Purnell & Samuel L. Jackson
Directed by Tim Burton
PG-13

The teenage years can be rough, making kids feel like outsiders, outcasts, oddballs. Wouldn’t it be awesome if there were a place young misfits could feel welcome, safe, protected, understood—and important?

And no, I’m not talking about the chess club.

In Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children, director Tim Burton creates just such a place—or, more specifically, brings it spectacularly to life from Ransom Riggs’ 2011 young adult novel, a sprawling tall tale of mystery, monsters, a young boy on a tick-tocking, time-looping quest to discover his past, and some very, very peculiar kids.

“Did you ever feel like nothing you do matters?” asks teenage Jake (Asa Butterfield) in the opening scene as a crab scuttles across a footprint on a Florida beach seconds before a wave washes it away. Soon enough Jake himself will be swept across the water on a journey to a magical place that previously existed only in his imagination, fueled by colorful bedtime stories of his beloved grandfather (Terence Stamp), where he’ll find out just how needed he can be.

Visiting a remote, mist-shrouded island off the coast of Wales with his father (Chris O’Dowd), Jake discovers a decrepit old mansion bombed to rubble by German air raids in World War II. But stumbling into a “time loop” leads him back to 1943, just before the raids—when Miss Peregrine, her home and all the “peculiar children” were in full swing.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDRENThere’s lovely, lighter-than-air Emma (Ella Purnell), who must use steampunk-ish lead boots and rope tethers to keep her from floating away. Hot-handed Olive (Lauren McCrostie) can set things ablaze with a simple touch. Millard (Cameron King), an invisible boy, likes to run around naked—not that you’d notice. Tiny Bronwyn (Pixie Davies) has the strength of a brute. Whenever Hugh (Milo Parker) opens his mouth, bees that live in his stomach come swarming out. Sweet-looking Claire (Raffiella Chapman) has a nasty surprise underneath the blonde curls of her hair. Enoch (Finlay MacMillan) has a creepy power to animate inanimate objects—including the dead.

The faces of two “twin cousins” are always covered, in spooky white hoods with holes for their eyes and mouths—for a reason not revealed until close to the end of the movie.

MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN

Eva Green plays Miss Peregrine.

And as the exotic, pipe-smoking Miss Peregrine, Eva Green (Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale) superbly channels her character’s enchanted mission with steely British resolve and flinty maternal focus. She can also morph into a bird, a fleet, regal peregrine falcon. How cool is that?!

Samuel L. Jackson is the evil Mr. Barron—no actor mixes campy humor and genuine menace with such unsettling ease or malevolent charm. There’s Allison Janney and Judi Dench. There’s danger, derring-do, adventure, excitement, laughter, young love and a couple of gross-out creature-feature moments that might be too much for little eyes.

But mostly, there’s director Tim Burton’s thematic signature, everywhere. Burton has always had a thing for outsiders and outliers, misfits like Pee-Wee Herman, Sweeny Todd, Beetlejuice and Willy Wonka, and for classic Hollywood quirk. The topiaries in Miss Peregrine’s courtyard—an elephant, a dinosaur, a centaur—look like they could have been the whimsical snip-snip artistry of Edward Scissorhands. And one major scene is a huge nod—an homage, certainly—to the cheesy highlight of a specific 1960s movie (with stop-motion effects by the late special-effects guru Ray Harryhausen) that Burton has admitted is one of his all-time favorites.

Burton even slips into the action for a super-quick, gob-smacked cameo. Blink and you’ll miss him!

So outsiders, outcasts and oddballs everywhere, of all ages, let your freak flag fly—courtesy of Miss Peregrine, and Tim Burton!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

 

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Jungle Swinger

New ‘Tarzan’ a rollicking tale of adventure, romance and eye candy

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The Legend of Tarzan

Starring Alexander Skarsgård, Margot Robbie, Christoph Waltz & Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by David Yates

PG-13

You probably know Tarzan, one way or another. Edgar Rice Burroughs launched the “ape man” into popular culture in magazines and novels in the early 1900s. Several other actors had already portrayed him before former Olympic swimmer Johnny Weissmuller put on a loincloth and grunted his way though the 1930s and ’40s for a dozen films, which ran endlessly on TV in the following decades.

Ron Ely and others played him on television. Walt Disney turned him into a cartoon. And there were other Tarzans, too, in some 200 movies and TV shows between 1918 and today.

Now the original “Lord of the Apes” returns to the big screen in a sumptuous, sprawling epic that blends his backstory with a rollicking new tale of adventure, romance and enough eye candy to attract audiences of all sorts.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Christoph Waltz again makes a dandy villain.

Swedish-born actor Alexander Skarsgård (from TV’s True Blood series) stars as British nobleman John Clayton, raised as a feral child by mighty apes of the African Congo after the deaths of his parents. Now an adult for years resettled in his ancestral home with his beautiful wife Jane (Margot Robbie), he’s lured back to the Dark Continent by a plot of deception involving slavery, revenge, railroads, diamond mines and a corrupt Belgian megalomaniac (Christoph Waltz).

Director David Yates, who made his bones with all four movies of the Harry Potter franchise, works with all the tools in his impressive kit—and what must have been every nickel of his mega-budget. The visuals are grand: mist-shrouded mountain passes, jungles with impenetrable foliage; armies of Congolese warriors; fearsome gorillas; a stampeding herd of hundreds of wildebeest. Even though most of the film was reportedly shot on soundstages and sets in England, you’d never know it: When the action shifts to Africa, you’re transported there, too.

Margo Robbie

Margo Robbie

Margot Robbie is terrific as Jane, who was raised in the jungle, as well, the daughter of a missionary teacher. A real spitfire of spunk and spirit, she’s so much more than a “damsel in distress.” Samuel L. Jackson plays George Washington Williams, an American envoy to Britain who accompanies Tarzan and Jane on their return trip to Africa. He’s got a backstory of his own, and though he may not be in prime shape to keep up with Tarzan step for step, he comes in pretty handy with a gun.

Waltz, as usual, makes a dandy villain, and Djimon Hounson (from Gladiator and Guardians of the Galaxy) has a necessary, if somewhat nasty, role as a tribal leader looking to stage a major grudge match.

LEGEND OF TARZAN

Ladies will swoon—as Jane does—when Skarsgård initially reveals his sexy, sculpted torso, in a flashback scene that recalls their first steamy jungle encounter. And moviegoers in general will thrill when Tarzan finally gets around to doing what he does best: working those jungle vines, baby!

Late in the movie, we get to hear the iconic Tarzan yell, rolling across the miles—he’s coming. “Tarzan,” says Waltz’s character, relishing the moment, knowing the man he’s been trying to catch is close. “It sounded different than I thought…better.”

Different, and better, like this movie. After years of musty, rusty so-so and too-many Tarzans, now there’s a new, sexy big-screen Lord of the Apes—and he’s swinging again.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super-Stuffed

New ‘Avengers’ is full of most everything—including itself

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Avengers: Age of Ultron

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson & Jeremy Renner

Directed by Josh Whedon

PG-13

Summer is when Hollywood rolls out its big guns, and this star-packed, superhero-stuffed eruption certainly starts things off with a bang.

The second movie in Marvel’s Avengers franchise, it’s full of just about everything, including itself. It’s got all six of the do-gooders from the first movie, plus a couple of newbies. It’s dense with character backstories, relationship dramas and plot points that zip and zing in every direction, including forward—to more movies to come—and backward, riffing on things that happened in previous ones. It begins with one extended mega-wallop of a fight, a castle siege in a snowy forest, and ends with an even larger one, on a crumbling island city in the sky. And it crams even more in between, including a dyna-whopper that rips up most of Manhattan.

I imagine insurance premiums for the Avengers are through the roof.

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James Spader provides the voice of Ultron.

Iron Man/Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk/Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) and the Black Widow/Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) band together again, this time to fight an evil, smack-talking robot, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), who quotes the Bible and sings a ditty from Pinocchio as he goes about his mission of global annihilation.

Two new characters, the genetically altered twins Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), also come aboard—but only after playing freaky and fast for the other team first. Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Stellan Skarsgård, Anthony Mackie and Cobie Smulders return for cameos. Look—there’s Andy Serkis, who played Gollum in Lord of the Rings! Paul Bettany, previously unseen as the voice of Tony Stark’s computer system, Jarvis, materializes anew as a floating, red-faced uber-android named Vision.

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Paul Bettany

If you’re a Marvelite, you’ll probably be in fan-gasm heaven. Otherwise, you might find the constant, crashing swirl and whirl of imagery and the barrage of inside references overwhelming and exhausting.

The cast is top-notch, and returning writer-director Josh Whedon packs the script and the screen with cleverness as well as ka-pow. But even at a lengthy 141 minutes, things still feel jammed and crammed. All the busy CGI huffing and puffing make the quieter moments stand out even more, like a scene in which the other Avengers, a bit tipsy after a party, humorously try (unsuccessfully) to lift Thor’s hammer from a coffee table, or the romantic subplot between Natasha Romanoff and Bruce Banner, in which she reveals a deep secret about her past and he painfully admits why his raging alter ego makes him less than ideal as a boyfriend.

It’s all part of the Marvel long game, a studiously crafted, mega-million-dollar maneuver in which comic-book characters are morphed from page to screen, connected, separated, then re-combined in various combos for a seemingly endless chain of box-office catnip. Coming up: Ant Man on July 15, a new Captain America next summer, the third Thor plus Dr. Strange in 2017 and another Avengers in 2018.

“Someone’s been playing an intricate game and made pawns of all of us,” muses Thor as Ultron draws to a close. True that, in more ways than one.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Super(cool) Spies

‘Kingsman’ makes other spy flicks look old, slow and tame

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Kingsman: The Secret Service

Starring Colin Firth, Taron Egerton, Samuel L. Jackson & Michael Caine

Directed by Matthew Vaughn

R

Move over, James Bond—or get blown off the road. Some new supercool spy guys—and gals—have just laid claim to the multiplex, and they make just about everything that came before them look old, slow, tame and even lazy.

Kingsman: The Secret Service, based on a 2012 Marvel Comics-distributed series, takes the spy game to wildly adventurous, dizzily fun-tastic new heights of both homage and spoofery. Colin Firth, the Oscar-winning British actor best known for his roles in dignified historical dramas (The Kings Speech; A Single Man; Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy) makes his smashing “action-lead” debut as Harry Hart, the top agent in this international intelligence agency of high-ranking, impeccably dressed, lethally trained gents organized in the mid-1850s as a latter-day Knights of the Round Table to “preserve peace and protect life.”

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Taron Egerton & Colin Firth

Newcomer Taron Egerton is “Eggsy” Unwin, the streetwise London lad whose fate leads him into the ranks of the Kingsman elite. And Samuel L. Jackson plays, well, basically Samuel L. Jackson, as an evil, lisp-y philanthropist billionaire whose altruistic façade hides a super-sinister plan of global domination.

Michael Caine is aboard as the Kingsmen’s top dog; Mark Strong has a key role as his senior officer; and Algerian-born dancer Sofia Boutella makes a memorable impression as the high-hopping villainess Gazelle, who slices and dices foes to ribbons with her razor-sharp prosthetic feet. Mark “Luke Skywalker” Hamill—of Stars Wars fame—plays a college professor appearance is a bit of an inside joke that will delight readers of the comic book, which featured a character with the actor’s name.

The action is frenetic, super-stylized and sometimes gleefully hyper-violent. During fight scenes and other adrenaline-pumping moments, director Matthew Vaughn (Snatch; Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels) and cinematographer George Richmond keep the camera moving, zooming, sweeping, bobbing and weaving, then speeding up and slowing down the film to increase the visual intensity.

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Sofia Boutella & Samuel L. Jackson

The fan-boy comic-book crowd will lap it up, but mainstream audiences will find plenty to like about Kingsman, too—its nonstop plot is full of cheeky British humor, meta spy-movie satire, and jabs at politics, government, celebrities and everyone’s greed for the latest with-it technology. But be warned: It definitely earns its R rating—especially in its final moments, when it dives into a particularly randy joke. It may be just to cap off its playful naughtiness with a real zinger, or perhaps it’s seeking something more profound, a profane parody statement about how spy movies have always “debased” their female characters.

KSS_JB_D69_06371_rgbSpy movies have also always been about gadgets and secret-agent do-daddery, and here Kingsman goes all-out: Bulletproof umbrellas, exploding cigarette lighters, shiv-toed shoes, holographic eyeglasses, lethal fountain pens, electrocution signet rings. And the suits! When it comes to fashion, the Kingsmen are the coolest cats around—and, in one of the most extensive merchandise marketing tie-ins of any movie ever, almost anything you see onscreen (suits, ties, shoes and—yes—umbrellas) can be purchased in special Kingsman product lines.

See the movie, buy the suit—and get me one of those indestructible umbrellas!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Of Man & Machines

He’s a little bit human, a lot of ’bot—and all cop

Robocop_2014Robocop

Bluray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

A rockin’, sockin’ remake of the ’80s sci-fi cult classic about a Detroit policeman transformed into a crime-fighting cyborg, this updated tale of men, machines, capitalism and corruption in high places stars Joel Kinnaman, Gary Oldman, Michael Keaton, Abbie Cornish, Jackie Haley and Samuel L. Jackson, and comes packaged with nearly an hour of bonus content, including featurettes on the movie’s arsenal of heavy weaponry and the special effects behind the high-tech Robocop suit.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Time Jumper

Marvel’s red, white & blue WWII hero confronts contemporary enemies

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Captain America: The Winter Soldier

Starring Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Robert Redford and Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by Anthony Russo and Joe Russo

PG-13, 135 min.

 

Thawed out from his Rip Van Winkle-like cryogenic hibernation, experimentally enhanced WWII U.S. Army super-soldier Capt. Steve Rogers—a.k.a. Captain America (Chris Evans)—now adjusts to the modern world. His Nazi-hunting days are behind him, but he’s still serving his country on missions for S.H.I.E.L.D, the global protection conglomerate, with his sexy crime-fighting partner the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), a former Soviet agent.

But maybe Cap’s not so free of his past, after all. A legendary, near-indestructible assassin rumored to be almost 100 years old, with a Hannibal Lector-like muzzle on his mouth and a gleaming robotic arm, is out to get him. And he smells a rat inside his own organization; could the high-ranking S.H.I.E.L.D. operative Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford), now running the World Security Council, have anything to do with it? Paranoia is everywhere. “Don’t trust anybody,” his wounded leader, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), warns him.

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Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury.

A brawny blockbuster-formula movie with the brains of an espionage thriller, Captain America: The Winter Soldier recalls vintage ’70s spy romps but resonates with contemporary issues about military might, black-ops government conspiracies, historical cover-ups, war, peace and privacy in this digital era.

Sibling directors Anthony and Joe Russo stage the action with gusto and a real sense of the changing scale and proportion needed for fight sequences that take place in a variety of settings, ranging from the claustrophobic confines of a crowded elevator to the expanses of a colossal cargo ship, and eventually taking flight into the sky itself.

Savvy fans who keep up with the Marvel Comics universe will enjoy watching for the obligatory cameo from founder Stan Lee, and staying for the after-credits surprises—both of them—about where the ever-expanding franchise will go next.

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“How do we know the good guys from the bad guys?” the Cap’s new ally, Sam Wilson/The Falcon (Anthony Mackie), asks in the middle of one particularly rousing, action-y moment. It’s a good question, then and now. Who can you trust?

At least in this movie, you can always trust the guy with the shield and the star—the guy who says, “The price of freedom is high, it always has been.” He’s been one of the good guys for a long time.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Of Men and Machines

Rebooted robot tale is more recycled than refreshed

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RoboCop

Starring Joel Kinnaman, Michael Keaton, Gary Oldman & Samuel L. Jackson

Directed by José Padilha

PG-13, 117 min.

He’s a little bit human, a lot of machine—and a total throwback to 1987, when the original RoboCop first clicked, whirred and blasted onto the big screen as an R-rated whammy of speculative, satirical sci-fi about crime and justice, corruption, corporate greed, the media, and what might happen if we ever let computers do the thinking for us.

This tamer, toned-down PG-13 remake follows the basic plot of the original, with a few tweaks. Here it’s 2028, and Joel Kinnaman (from TV’s The Killing) plays Detroit police officer Alex Murphy, whose remaining body parts are implanted into a rock-’em, sock-’em exoskeleton after a dangerous undercover mission goes awry.

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The newly reconstituted “robocop” (Joel Kinnaman) with the doc who put him back together (Gary Oldman)

But Murphy’s high-tech reconstruction is underwritten by a mega-corporation with motives that aren’t exactly medical—and a billion-dollar stake in “privatizing” crime control.

Michael Keaton is the corporation’s smarmy CEO. The always-dependable Gary Oldman brings subtle shadings of conflicted genius to his role as the researcher/physician/surgeon who integrates man with machine. Jack Earle Haley makes a dandy, devious foil as a robot trainer. Samuel L. Jackson pops in and out as a one-man Greek chorus, a TV talk-show host stumping for bots to do all the dirty work for police officers and soldiers.

Back in 1987, that concept seemed a lot more far-off futuristic than it does today, when robots and robotic processes have already taken over all sorts of jobs once done by humans, and drone airplanes are doing widespread military surveillance—and more lethal tasks—as well as operations for police, firefighters and reporters.

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Jack Earle Haley (right) is a devious robot trainer.

This RoboCop isn’t a total clunker. It looks cool and sleek, and Brazilian director José Padilha, making his first English-language film, keeps things moving at a lively action-movie clip. But after 25-plus years, too much of this rebooted robot tale just feels recycled instead of refreshed, especially compared to the visceral, original kick of its groundbreaking ’80s predecessor.

I do have to give some props to the rockin’ soundtrack, however. Any movie that works in Frank Sinatra’s “Fly Me to the Moon,” orchestrates a shootout to the loony ’70s hit “Hocus Pocus” by the Dutch group Focus, and rolls end credits to the Clash’s cover of “I Fought the Law” gets at least one pop-cultural attaboy from me.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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