Tag Archives: Samuel L. Jackson

Top 100 Films #29 – Do the Right Thing (1989)

 

034-do-the-right-thing-theredlist#29. Do the Right Thing (1989)
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Starring: Spike Lee, Danny Aiello, Ruby Dee, Ossie Davis, Samuel L. Jackson, Giancarlo Esposito, Bill Nunn, John Turturro, Richard Edson

Spike Lee’s seminal film about race relations is one of the greatest of its kind, serving as a stylish, intelligent, and poignant snapshot of New York in the late 1980’s.  Do the Right Thing is one of the most memorable films I’ve ever seen, largely in part to its soundtrack, quirky characters, and arresting finale, and was the film that made me a fan of rap group Public Enemy.  The film follows an ensemble cast living in Brooklyn on one of the hottest days of the summer – Mookie (Spike Lee) is a pizza delivery man working for Sal (Danny Aiello)’s pizza shop, where his sons Pino (John Turturro) and Vito (Richard Edson) also work. Pino and Mookie bicker incessantly, and it’s made clear that Pino does not respect the largely black population of the neighbourhood. Also featured are Radio Raheem (Bill Nunn), who carries a boombox and constantly plays Public Enemy, Da Mayor (Ossie Davis), a local drunk trying to win the affections of a middle aged woman named Mother Sister (Ruby Dee), and Buggin’ Out (Giancarlo Esposito), a young man who protests Sal’s pizzeria for not embracing black culture. Together, this diverse cast of complex and compelling characters help to create one of the most important films of the 1980’s, if not of all time.  Do the Right Thing is at its very best when the characters start to come together and interact with each other, with director Spike Lee’s cameras merely serving as a fly on the wall.  Though it is the hottest day of the year and tensions are high, the interactions between characters feel established and well-worn, which is important and eventually leads to the film’s climactic breaking point.  Mookie and Sal’s (Pino and Vito included) story is the most compelling – largely because it’s given the most time and attention – but is made even better when characters like Radio Raheem and Buggin’ Out inject themselves into their scenes, if only for a moment.  Spike Lee’s filmmaking throughout is frantic and incredibly stylish, using loud music, narration in the form of a radio broadcast, and a constantly moving camera to add some flare to the already frantically-paced film.  Lee’s script establishes no characters as heroes and villains, instead letting their actions and words speak for them.  The most powerful moments of Do the Right Thing are not outright explained by the writer-director, instead it’s entirely up to viewers to decide motivations and reasoning – one of the reasons Lee’s movie still resonates today.  Do the Right Thing is a stylish, frenetic, and intelligent masterpiece about race relations that still feels relevant today – it deserves every bit of praise ever leveled at it.

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Top 100 Films #59 – Pulp Fiction (1994)

 

ffc39ebe6c87b384c277ca8ce3a63ba4#59. Pulp Fiction (1994)
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: John Travolta, Samuel L. Jackson, Uma Thurman, Harvey Keitel, Tim Roth, Amanda Plummer, Bruce Willis, Quentin Tarantino, Ving Rhames, Eric Stoltz, Christopher Walken

Pulp Fiction is a film that needs no introduction to anybody who even remotely cares about movies.  Quentin Tarantino’s revolutionary 1994 film changed the way people look at films and their structure, at least in terms of mainstream motion pictures. Pulp Fiction weaves multiple boundary-pushing narratives together into one of the most entertaining, remarkable tapestries ever put to celluloid, with stories that saw hit-men Jules (Samuel L. Jackson) and Vincent (John Travolta) collecting a mysterious golden briefcase, having the interior of their car cleaned after an unfortunate accident, and being held at gunpoint in a local diner.  Another saw a boxer named Butch (Bruce Willis) throwing a fixed fight and fleeing the city, only to encounter Marsellus Wallace (Ving Rhames), the man he double-crossed, in a bizarre torture/sex dungeon.  Tarantino’s film was a massive financial and critical success, being nominated for several Academy Awards like Best Picture, Best Director (Tarantino), Best Actor (John Travolta), Best Supporting Actor (Samuel L. Jackson), but only won the award for Best Screenplay (Tarantino) – which it undoubtedly deserved. Tarantino’s screenplay is one of the greatest of the 1990’s, combining gut-busting humor, raw violence, satisfying character arcs, and Tarantino’s unique brand of bizarreness into one beautiful package.  Quentin Tarantino’s direction of Pulp Fiction is another element that cannot be understated – using high energy techniques, great music, and paying homage to some of his favorite cult films of yesteryear, every frame of the film has been carefully constructed and labored over.  The ensemble cast of the film features more than a few memorable performances, from John Travolta’s reluctant swagger, to Samuel L. Jackson questioning his faith and the world around him, and even Uma Thurman’s cool, sexy Mia Wallace.  It’s nearly impossible to argue that Pulp Fiction is not a masterpiece – even if you’re not a fan of the works of Tarantino, there’s something here for nearly everybody. While Ben-Hur is the film that hooked me on movies, Pulp Fiction is the work that made me appreciate how they were constructed, and made me dig far deeper into the rabbit hole than I had ever expected.  It’s been a lifelong favorite of mine and no doubt to millions of others.

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Black Directors Feature #8 – Menace II Society (1993)

MPW-26165Menace II Society (1993)
Directed by: Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes
Written by: Tyger Williams (Based on a story by: Allen Hughes, Albert Hughes, Tyger Williams)
Starring: Tyrin Turner, Jada Pinkett, Larenz Tate, Samuel L. Jackson, MC Eiht, Glenn Plummer

Following the enormous success of John Singleton’s hit Boyz n the Hood, films set in South Central Los Angeles were going for a dime a dozen, and the hood drama was becoming all the rage in early 1990’s North America.  In 1993 – just two years following that hit – the Hughes Brothers, Allen and Albert, made their high profile directorial debuts with the surprise hit Menace II Society.  The film takes a great deal of thematic and stylistic inspiration from the aforementioned Boyz n the Hood, which was the case for a great deal of films of the time.  The twin brothers capitalized on its success the same way Gordon Parks Jr. did with Super Fly after his father’s hit Shaft was met with such widespread acclaim.  The pre-production and casting phase of the movie went through various stars before shooting could begin, with hugely popular rappers MC Ren of N.W.A. fame and Tupac Shakur both attached to the project at some point.  Tupac’s involvement is perhaps most notorious, as it resulted in a lawsuit after the hip hop star assaulted one of the film’s directors following a series of arguments about the religious views of one of the film’s primary characters.  The film stars future big names like Jada Pinkett, Samuel L. Jackson, and Larenz Tate.  Shot on a budget of only $3.5 million, Menace II Society was a modest hit at the box office, raking in a very impressive $30 million and ensuring that Allen and Albert would find Hollywood careers soon after. Menace II Society was made with positive reviews upon its release, helping the small production slide into a more mainstream audience.  The film was noted for its gritty portrayal of young black Americans in South Central, holding no punches when it came to the violent content displayed on-screen.  It received an award at the 1993 Independent Spirit Awards, and was regarded by many critics as one of the better films to see a release that year.  The Hughes Brothers have continued to work in Hollywood since their successful debut, directing hits like Dead Presidents, From Hell, and most recently The Book of Eli.  In 2013, Allen Hughes would make his solo directorial debut with Broken City, temporarily leaving Albert to work on projects of his own.

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Tyrin Turner (Caine) and Larenz Tate (O-Dog) in 1993’s Menace II Society.

We follow young Caine Lawson (Tyrin Turner) as he struggles with living life in South Central as a young, underprivileged man of color.  Caine’s father was killed in a drug deal, and his mother is currently a heroin addict.  The young man has grown up with his grandparents, who are proud of what he has accomplished despite everything.  What they don’t yet know is that Caine is a drug dealer himself, and associates himself with a group of young gangbangers.  After being an accessory in a brutal convenience store shooting that his friend Kevin (or O-Dog) (Larenz Tate) triggered, Caine’s life as a young dealer will never again be the same.  After being carjacked and seeing a friend killed, Caine, O-Dog, and A-Wax (MC Eiht) track down the murderers and kill them, furthering the cycle of violence.  Caine and O-Dog are soon recruited by a local thug named Chauncy (Clifton Powell) for more petty crimes, but are arrested after the police are tipped off about their activities.  Caine is suspected by the police for taking part in the convenience store killings, but the evidence is too shaky to prosecute the young man.  Soon after being released, Caine finds out a fling of his has resulted in a pregnancy, and his partnership with Chauncey quickly begins to deteriorate after aggressive behaviour from both parties.  Will Caine and his friends be able to escape from the hood lifestyle that has claimed the lives of so many of their peers, or will the cycle of violence make its way back to them?  Find out in The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society.

There’s a lot to admire about The Hughes Brothers’ debut feature, especially because of its status as a first-time project from both men.  Menace II Society feels incredibly competent in the way it’s directed, with its camera never stopping for too long, and instead constantly moving and jumping around as Caine’s situation gets more and more dire.  The editing and cinematography are two more elements to be appreciated, especially because of the relatively low budget of the film.  South Central feels hot and grimy during the movie’s many daytime scenes, with its night scenes giving a sense of dread and mystery lying in the darkness of the hood.  The very large problem with Menace II Society comes in the form of its script, which is far too problematic for this to be a “good” film in my books. Where Boyz n the Hood realistically portrays young people in desperate situations doing desperate things, Menace instead opts for a great deal of incredibly violent sequences that don’t do anything to further the stakes at hand.  There’s absolutely nothing subtle about any moment found in Menace II Society – in fact, I’m not even sure if the film would know the definition of the word.  The characters suffer greatly from poor writing, with not a single character except for Caine’s grandparents and lover being sympathetic in any way. When the violence erupts on screen, you feel absolutely nothing for these young men. There’s no sense of hatred, despair, or empathy – instead, even the most brutal moments are met with a shrug of the shoulders and the hope that maybe the next scene will be more impactful.  But that next impactful scene never comes.  The performances found in the film are surprisingly good, especially given the material they’re left to work with.  The standout performance comes from Larenz Tate, who plays O-Dog.  Tate’s young character is truly despicable in almost every scene of Menace II Society, never making a single good or unselfish decision in his actions.  He views violence as an afterthought, and never seems to hesitate when acting out violently.  Tate’s performance is delightfully fun to watch, despite the very clearly horrific things he’s doing.  Samuel L. Jackson’s brief showing is also a delight, but is ruined by more senseless and emotionless violence found in the film’s screenplay.

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Larenz Tate as O-Dog in The Hughes Brothers’ Menace II Society.

Menace II Society is an ambitious and incredibly well-made directorial debut from two men who clearly have great chemistry together when working behind a camera.  Unfortunately, it learns nothing from its admiration of Boyz n the Hood, and instead uses the opportunity to festishize hood violence.  The film’s script is a tragedy, as it eclipses some very good performances from a talented young cast, and a well-made picture on most technical levels.  If you’re looking for a highly dumbed-down version of Boyz n the Hood, this one may just be up your alley!  If you’re looking for something a little more substantial and meaningful, especially in the realm of African American filmmakers, then I would steer clear.  Menace II Society is not recommended.

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End of Year 2015 – Best Films of 2015 (#10-#6)

chi-raq10. Chi-Raq
Directed by: Spike Lee
Written by: Spike Lee
Starring: Nick Cannon, Wesley Snipes, Teyonah Parris, Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Hudson, Angela Bassett, John Cusack, D.B. Sweeney, Dave Chappelle

The funniest movie I saw all year came from the brilliant mind of controversial filmmaker Spike Lee, director of the race relations masterpiece Do the Right Thing.  Lee’s new film Chi-Raq sees the filmmaker going into uncharted territory, as it’s something of a musical, a comedy, and a satire all wrapped into one sweet package.  Chi-Raq is based on the classic Greek story of Lysistrata, which sees a group of women withholding sex from their mates in order to bring two warring factions to negotiate a peace treaty with each other.  The film sees a great deal of parallels with the story of Lysistrata, but applying it to modern day Chicago.  Chicago is seen through Spike Lee’s camera as a dangerous, but wonderful city, where young African American men and women essentially risk death on a daily basis just because they live in gang populated areas.  After the unexpected death of a young neighborhood girl, a troupe of ambitious and frustrated women young and old come together and solve the gang problem themselves, through the power of their sex appeal  The film is incredibly funny in all of its biting satire, incredibly relevant in the modern age of the Black Lives Matter campaign, as well as the ever-rising number of police shootings in the United States.  The entire cast of Chi-Raq plays outside of their comfort zone throughout the film, and what results is a film the likes of which I’ve never seen before.  Ignore the haters of all things Spike Lee and Chi-Raq, watch this film for yourself and enjoy it for its relevant satire, hilarious performances, and terrific musical numbers.  Chi-Raq is a near-masterpiece, and will hopefully elevate Spike Lee into a territory he hasn’t been in over a decade.


the-hateful-eight-still-19. The Hateful Eight
Directed by: Quentin Tarantino
Written by: Quentin Tarantino
Starring: Samuel L. Jackson, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Kurt Russell, Demian Bichir, Walton Goggins, Tim Roth, Bruce Dern, Michael Madsen, James Parks, Channing Tatum

A film that parallels Spike Lee’s Chi-Raq is many surprising ways in its dealings with hatred and race relations.  Quentin Tarantino’s highly entertaining – if overlong – The Hateful Eight may not reinvent the wheel, but I don’t think that was ever Tarantino’s mission for a film of this scale.  The incredible score by Ennio Morricone backs up one of the funniest, most charming, and surprisingly mean-spirited movies of the year, and there’s never a dull moment even in the film’s bloated runtime.  Leading the pack with incredibly entertaining performances are Kurt Russell and Samuel L. Jackson, but the real standout performance for me was that of Jennifer Jason Leigh’s.  Leigh’s character is dirty, loud, obnoxious, and pathetic all at the same time, never quite showing upfront the level of desperation her character is feeling until the very last moments of the film.  Character actors like Tim Roth, Michael Madsen, Demian Bichir, and James Parks all have some really fun and juicy roles that they bite into seemingly without hesitation.  None of this would have been possible if not for Tarantino’s epic-length – but small and personal scope – script for The Hateful Eight.  His trademark pitch black sense of humor is in the forefront at all times, but so are his occasionally insightful comments on society at large and the hatred, lies, and bigotry we tend to spew in our worst moments as people.  Tarantino seems like he had a lot to say through The Hateful Eight, and while it may not reach the highs of films like Inglourious Basterds or Pulp Fiction, it still manages to soar in its own right.  The Hateful Eight is a great, albeit dark, time for all moviegoers, and I can’t see how somebody couldn’t find something in this film to connect to.  


room8. Room
Directed by: Lenny Abrahamson
Written by: Emma Donoghue
Starring: Brie Larson, Jacob Tremblay, Joan Allen, William H. Macy, Tom McCamus, Sean Bridgers

Room is the little Irish-Canadian co-production that could.  Lenny Abrahamson’s film, based on the novel of the same name by Emma Donoghue, is an intensely personal and emotional film that takes a look at some serious issues.  Explored in Room are themes of mental illness, namely post traumatic stress disorder, clinical depression, and anxiety.  Starring the lovely Brie Larson and young star Jacob Tremblay, Room is a film that sounds good on paper, and looks even better when you see it actually come alive before your eyes.  I like to compare it in tone and themes to 2012’s Beasts of the Southern Wild, although that film is a little lighter than Abrahamson’s adaptation of Room.  Brie Larson gives one of the most powerful and moving performances of the year, playing a traumatized mother who is willing to do anything to save the lives of her and her son.  Larson’s character is constantly conflicted and hurt by the things she’s experienced, and we as the audience can feel every bit of her pain.  Backing up Larson’s terrific performances is Jacob Tremblay in what I would say is without a doubt one of the best child performances in recent memory.  Tremblay’s sense of wonderment seen in the first half of the film, and then subsequent acclimatization to the world around him in the second half are both incredibly believable and compelling.  One of my favorite parts of Room is something I haven’t seen talked about very often, and that would be the set design of the titular Room.  Although it’s revealed that Larson and her son are living in what amounts to a garden shed, Room feels sprawling in some moments, and we often see it through the eyes of a child.  Room looks both large and small, and it’s a technical achievement by both the set design team as well as the director and cinematographer.  While Room may not be the easiest watch of the year, it holds two of the most interesting performances of 2015, and has a great deal to say about mental illness.  It’s a crowd-pleaser that doubles as a genuinely great film, I can easily recommend it to anybody.


2015-07-30-09_46_02-spotlight-trailer-1-2015-mark-ruffalo-michael-keaton-movie-hd-youtube7. Spotlight
Directed by: Tom McCarthy
Written by: Tom McCarthy, Josh Singer
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, Stanley Tucci, John Slattery, Billy Crudup, Jamey Sheridan

Spotlight is a film I knew very little about when I went into it, and when the credits rolled I was very happy for that fact.  Tom McCarthy’s most ambitious project yet is also his most successful in terms of blending terrific performances, a tight script, and unblinking direction into one amazing package.  The film takes a look at the Boston Globe’s early 2000’s investigation of the molestation taking place within the Catholic church, and the “spotlight” team responsible for bringing them to justice.  McCarthy’s direction is incredibly fluid throughout the film, giving us up-close looks at both intimate moments between the journalists, and incredibly thrilling breaks in the case and new developments.  Leading the cast are the crew of Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, and Liev Schreiber, all of whom give some of the absolute best performances of their careers in Spotlight.  Keaton is every bit as strong as he was in last year’s Birdman, but is unfortunately overshadowed by a typically great performance from the very talented Ruffalo, who I hope to see pick up yet another Academy Award nomination for his performance in the film.  McAdams is solid in the film too, and is usually a strong talent as long as the writing is strong as well, which is definitely the case with Spotlight.  McCarthy’s script is quite possibly the most impressive thing about Spotlight, covering a great deal of information, investigating countless characters including church heads, victims, priests, journalists, etc., and yet McCarthy’s screenplay never stops to breathe for too long.  Even though this is essentially a film about journalists conducting what may seem a mundane investigation, Spotlight is one of the most riveting films I’ve seen.  It’s heartbreaking, satisfying, and incredibly compelling in every single moment, and I sincerely hope it picks up some big time nominations this award season.


maxresdefault (1)6. Creed
Directed by: Ryan Coogler
Written by: Ryan Coogler, Aaron Covington
Starring: Michael B. Jordan, Sylvester Stallone, Tessa Thompson, Phylicia Rashad, Tony Bellew

Another massive sleeper hit that exceeded everybody’s expectations, Ryan Coogler’s followup to his debut feature Fruitvale Station has proven to be both a critical and box office sensation.  Creed follows the early career of Adonis (or Donnie) Creed, estranged son of former boxing World Champion Apollo Creed.  Adonis teams up with another former World Champion, in the form of “The Italian Stallion” Rocky Balboa, who hasn’t trained since his one-off fight with former champion Mason Dixon back in 2006.  Together, Balboa and the young Creed look to overcome all odds and elevate the second-generation star to heights even Rocky hasn’t seen, but it won’t be an easy journey for either of them.  There are far too many great elements of Creed to focus on, from his incredibly energetic direction style, the quick and effortless pacing of the script, and the terrific performances from both Michael B. Jordan and Sylvester Stallone.  Stallone gives the performance of his career in Creed, reminding the audience exactly why they fell in love with Rocky Balboa in the first place, but elevating the stakes to new heights.  Stallone swings for the fences in every single scene he’s in, and manages to steal the show every single time.  He single-handedly proved all of his critics wrong in just one performance, and I hope he’ll be able to do it again in the film’s sequel.  Young Michael B. Jordan gives a terrifically physical and emotional performance through the film, always hesitant to acknowledge his roots and the influence his father had on the sport of boxing.  When he’s in the ring, he’s entirely believable as the young Donnie Creed, and is featured in some of the absolute best fight scenes in the entire franchise.  On top of some great performances, highly energetic direction, and a surprisingly subtle script, Creed’s soundtrack will be stuck in your head for days and days.  The new pieces of score are hard-hitting and work perfectly, the re-appropriated pieces from the original film’s soundtrack don’t stick out awkwardly, and the many hip-hop tracks featured throughout had me dancing in my seat more than once.  Forget everything you think you know about the Rocky franchise, and see Creed as soon as possible.


Part 1 (#20-#16) can be viewed here
Part 2 (#15-#11) can be viewed here

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