Monday, May 05, 2008

just a sample

I am told by a reliable source (my mom) that, not so very long ago, Harrison Ford visited a bar my hometown of Windsor, Ontario where a friend of our family was waitering. The story goes that this waiter chum approached the table and Harrison "Han Solo" Ford said, "You can ask me one question." I'd like to think that if I was the server, I would have been nonchalant enough to say, "OK. What would you like to drink?" But really... if Indiana fuckin' Jones said that to me? I'd be caught off guard and bumble around accordingly.

Hypothetically, my hypothetical reaction could be attributed to the fact that Ford is an icon of the silver screen, an indelible hero figure to guys like me who were cinematically weaned on the films of George Lucas and Steven Spielberg. I suspect, however, that such a statement could be uttered by any celebrity and throw a person off. "You can ask me one question." It's an unnerving thing to say.

Knowing that such an encounter could occur at any moment, though, I have prepared a list of questions for potential run-ins with famous people. Par example: "Samuel L. Jackson, do you ever sleep?" Maybe it's just my imagination, but it seems like Jackson is in every movie I've seen in the last decade. In 2006, he appeared in four films, two of which had the word "snake" in their titles. He is also credited as the narrator of a television special and Bob Saget's straight-to-video "Farce of the Penguins" that same year. Dude, I get tired after watching six movies, let alone making them.

Practice must indeed make perfect, because two of Jackson's strongest performances are in recent films: Resurrecting the Champ (2007), co-starring Josh Hartnett, and director Renny Harlin's Cleaner (also '07). These small scale productions likely slipped under most people's radars; I, myself, had not heard of either one until I stumbled upon them in a stack of DVDs I received from a pirate friend of mine. Diamonds in the rough.

Cleaner
Any time you see Sam Jackson's name attached to a Renny Harlin project, you're in for a treat. Now, Cleaner is certainly muted in tone when compared with previous Harlin/Jackson collaborations like Deep Blue Sea and The Long Kiss Goodnight, but what it lacks in over-the-top action, it makes up for in taut, suspenseful storytelling. Oh, and Luis Guzman is in it, too!!

Jackson plays Tom Carver, a former cop who now runs a business dedicated to cleaning the gory remnants of crime scenes. He finds himself embroiled in conspiracy when he discovers that his latest job was orchestrated to cover up a murder. Elements of this mystery begin to intersect with controversial events that led to the end of Carver's career as a police officer, and he wrestles with the moral repercussions of hiding evidence in order to ensure his daughter's safety and protect his own reputation.

The "King of Cool" delivers a subtle performance in this film, free of the "motherfucking" rants that typify so many of his roles. Jackson conveys as much about his character's emotional baggage through his physicality and weighted movement of his eyes as George Clooney does in Michael Clayton. Clayton is, by far, a better movie, one with much more substance, but Cleaner offers a plot that is easier to follow after a couple of beers, and an intriguing glimpse into a world not often depicted on screen.

what you might like: While the story is not one of ground breaking originality, it is extremely interesting to embark on a journey with a character who cleans crime scenes. The detailed depiction of this job is eye-opening and somewhat new to cinema (the only other film I can think of that deals with the subject is the comparatively "artsy" Curdled). Jackson is fantastic. Oh, and Luis Guzman is in it, too!!

what you might not like: The plot is formulaic enough that if you don't know who the baddie is early on, you are likely to have a sneaking suspicion that turns out to be correct.

what you might consider: Either way, at an economical running time of 88 minutes, this film is not a waste of an evening. Quality acting and a respectable mystery combine to make this movie worthwhile.

Resurrecting the Champ

This film resurrects the wig Jackson wore in 2001's The Caveman's Valentine; fortunately, it resists further comparison.
"Based on a true story, that was based on a lie," this film tells the story of a struggling reporter (Hartnett) who thinks he has struck story-telling gold when he discovers a homeless man who coulda been a contender. Jackson plays "Champ," a down and out hobo who may or may not have been a one-time boxing legend who almost made the big time. The reporter's career is dependent upon the success of his latest article, and issues surrounding the authenticity of the Champ's identity threaten to ruin the newspaperman's future.

Jackson's performance in this film is more flamboyant than in Cleaner, but it is no less realistic. If you have ever had a significant encounter with the homeless, you will not question the authenticity of Samuel L.'s portrayal of a man of the streets... let alone one who has taken a few blows to the head. The film's budget doesn't allow for seamless make-up effects, but I forget about the artificial scars as soon as Jackson starts to speak.

what you might like: You can watch this film with your girlfriend or boyfriend. It's not a sports movie, nor is it a chick flick. The honest emotions portrayed in Resurrecting the Champ are universal.

what you might not like: This is a movie that wears its themes on its sleeve. It is obviously about father/son relationships and is likely to make fathers and sons watching together feel uncomfortable.

what you might consider: Hartnett and Jackson both prove their acting abilities. This film may manipulate the heart strings, but it is not a sappy mess. It's type of movie that I like to celebrate: one that will appeal to a greater audience than it will ever receive. Resurrecting the Champ is well worth the price of a rental.

note:
The success of The Incredibles (2004) enabled Jackson to surpass Harrison Ford as the actor whose movies have grossed the most money in the world - in excess of $3 billion. (January 2005).

1 comment:

CS said...

I was rewatching a bit of "Patriot Games" on television this weekend and was shock to see Sam Jackson in it. I think he deserves the Christopher Walkin award for hardest working actor alive. LOL. I'll have to keep an eye out for "The Cleaner" and "Resurrecting the Champ".