Samuel L. Jackson

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors (2019 Edition)

Back in October 2017 I posted about which actors I’ve watched the most films from. Two years later, I thought it’d be fun to revisit that and see what might have changed. I get these stats from Letterboxd where I have a pro account. I love the stats Letterboxd can give you as it’s not just your yearly film-watching stats, but also there’s stats that take into account every film you’ve ever watched.

First thing I noticed that’s changed over the past two years is the amount of films I must’ve watched in general and it’s made getting a spot on my top 20 list quite competitive. In 2017 my most watched actor (Samuel L. Jackson) had 35 film to his name and the least watched actors (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Rachel Weisz) each had 19 films to their name. That’s changed a lot in just over two years and now my most watched actor (still Samuel L. Jackson) has 43 films to his name, while my least watched actors (Rachel Weisz, Jim Broadbent and Maggie Smith) each have 24 to their name. I think this is partly down to how last year I watched 365 different films – don’t ask me how I did it, I’m not sure but I’m definitely not putting that kind of pressure on myself again – plus, you know two years going by means there’s a lot of time to watch films from a variety of actors.

I’m happy to see over the past couple of years that there’s more female actors making into my top twenty most watched actors list. Keira Knightley (whose films I’ve watched a lot of this year) and Maggie Smith have joined Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Also got two more black actors here with Idris Elba (who has actually made my most watched actors list two out of the past three years I’ve had Letterboxd and he’s comfortably going to be on it again this year) and Denzel Washington.

It would obviously be nice if more women and people of couple made my top twenty most watched actors of all time but baby steps. I know for a fact there’s some actors like Anna Kendrick, Anthony Mackie, Dwayne Johnson and Emma Thompson that are just missing out on a spot. Still, based on a quick scan of Letterboxd, at the moment it’s more likely that a white woman will get a spot on my most watched actors list than any other person. This is obviously down to my taste in films, and what films are available to me in the cinema or via Netflix of similar, but it reinforces the fact I still want to broaden my film watching horizons.

Though saying that, I do watch more films not in the English language and more independent films and more films made by women each year. I think the problem is that historically I didn’t have the statistics to look at (I got Letterboxd in 2016) so there was over 20 years of film watching where I watched what I wanted without any real thought about who was in it bar whether or not I liked the actors. And that’s fine because for most of those 20 years I was a child/teenager where I just watched what I liked and what was available without a care in the world.

I know making my film viewing more diverse will take time and that’s OK. I still watch what I want to watch, whether that’s because it’s got a certain actor in it I like, or the trailer looks good, or it’s a genre I like, without feeling pressured that I should be watching highbrow films that are from a certain niche area.

In short – watching diverse films with diverse talent is a good thing that I want to continue doing, but this revisit to these stats two years on shows me that making a big dent in this will take time. But I have my whole life to watch as many films as I like with many different people starring in them, so while I will probably continue to check in on these stats every couple of years to see how things stand, I won’t stress about it too much.

My final thought about looking at my top twenty most watched actors list today is; it does make me smile that in two years I’ve only watched one more Bruce Willis film since 2017 (I told you I wasn’t a fan of his) but he’s still got quite a comfortable spot there.

REVIEW: Spider-Man: Far from Home (2019)

Following the events of Avengers: Endgame Peter Parker (Tom Holland) just wants to put aside being Spider-Man for a bit and have fun with his friends on a school trip across Europe. But when elemental creatures appear, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) comes to Peter for help and introduces him to new superhero Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal).

Spider-Man: Far from Home is so much fun, but it also manages to handle some emotional beats while adding a whole new dimension to the MCU. Following on from Endgame, Far from Home touches on some of the logistical issues that would come with half of the world’s population returning after five years. People’s homes have been sold to someone else, people’s younger siblings are now older than them, and naturally people have missed a good chunk of what’s happened with their friends and families while they’ve been gone.

It’s the emotional fallout though for Peter Parker that really adds to the pressure he’s feeling. He lost is father-figure and mentor and feels like he has huge shoes to fill while still wanting to live a normal life. A scene where Peter and Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) reminisce about Tony Stark and how they are, or are not, coping without him is a wonderful scene that highlights how Far from Home balances the fantastic with the personal.

Far from Home, like Spider-Man: Homecoming, is a teen high school comedy with all the good and bad things that can come with that. There are some cheesy jokes that don’t land or carry on too long, but then there’s also some hilarious moments as the young cast really do feel like a bunch of friends. MJ (Zendaya) has a larger role in this film as she’s sarcastic and funny but thoughtful as she tries to learn to let people be close to her. The teacher Mr. Harrington (Martin Starr) is a standout though and just about everything out of his mouth is hilarious.

Mysterio is an enigma and a character that is very difficult to talk about without going into spoiler territory. Gyllenhaal does a great job of playing the different layers of the character though, and midway through the film there’s a scene where he goes all out with a monologue and it’s magnificent.

The special effects are great too but there’s one sequence that will be talked about as a standout in the MCU for years as all of Peter Parker’s fears come to life. That whole sequence is awe-inspiring as it is so well put together and fits into both the story of the film and Peter’s emotional journey perfectly.

Spider-Man: Far from Home is funny, thrilling and spectacular. The first act isn’t as solid as the latter two as it retreads old ground seen in the previous Spider-Man film, but when the story shifts and certain things are revealed, it becomes something completely thrilling and innovative. Both post-credit scenes are some of the most important and game-changing in the MCU. Spider-Man: Far from Home is a satisfying end to Phase Three of the MCU, and where Phase Four is heading is anyone’s guess. 4/5.

REVIEW: Unicorn Store (2017)

Kit (Brie Larson) is trying, and in her eyes failing, to be an adult. Her passion for art and glitter is almost snuffed out as she gets a temp job and feels her parents are constantly comparing her to more successful people her age. But then she receives a mysterious invitation to The Store, where she meets The Salesman (Samuel L. Jackson) who gives her the chance to fulfil her childhood dreams.

Brie Larson’s directorial debut is assured, colourful and magical. From the very first scene, the way characters faces are framed give you no choice but to experience with them what they’re feeling. The use of colour and glitter throughout is wonderful and Kit’s wardrobe is just the right blend of childish and mature.

Because that’s where Kit is stuck. She’s an artist with dreams of magic and colour but the “real world” doesn’t see the value in such things. She’s a twenty-something that’s now having her coming-of-age story as she goes through that dilemma a lot of young people have – should she try and be a “proper grown up” or should she still try and follow her dreams, even if they seem out there.

The script is funny and genuine and it’s due to both the script and Larson’s performance that Kit never becomes unlikeable. She’s strong-willed and sometimes selfish, but she also apologies when she has a temper-tantrum and is friendly and kind. Kit can come across very naïve, firstly because of the promises the Salesman makes are truly fantastical, but also due to her low self-esteem and the fact she’s never been in the workplace before she can’t figure out if her boss is harassing her or not. A simple yet brilliant moment was when Virgil (Mamoudou Athie), a hardware store worker who Kit pays to help her achieve her dream, states that what her boss is doing is wrong. Virgil and Kit’s friendship is so sweet, and their conflict comes from Kit being obsessed with the seemingly impossible, and not appreciating what she has in her family and friends.

Kit is a messy human who’s trying to figure out what she wants from life, and when life gets hard, she reverts to chasing the dreams of her childhood. But it’s seeing how she starts to understand who she is and what she wants that’s truly touching.

The basis of Unicorn Store’s story is weird but the themes it has, figuring out who you are, learning to love oneself and let yourself be loved, keeping the sense of wonder in the world, are universal. Unicorn Store is whimsical and heartfelt and just delightful. It’s a proper laugh-out-loud funny film but then it will also make you cry a lot too. It’s sweet and touching without ever being cringey and Larson really captures all the different sides of someone who is trying to figure themselves out and to be OK with who they are. 5/5.

REVIEW: Captain America: The Winter Soldier (2014)

My original Captain America: The Winter Soldier review from April 2014 is here.

Steve Rogers (Chris Evans) is attempting to make a life for himself, working for Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and SHIELD when an assassin from history known only as the Winter Soldier (Sebastian Stan) resurfaces.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is a brilliant film. It combines spy thriller with superheroes who are really down to earth characters, so well that it almost goes beyond being a “simple” comic book movie. The superheroes here are all very human, and besides Steve Rogers himself who’s pretty strong but still human, they are all people who get hurt and bleed.

Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) is a spy who’s used to showing people what they want to see, so her developing friendship with Steve is quite special. They are almost moral opposites in how they see the world, but they find a common ground and seeing them work together is great. Sam Wilson (Anthony Mackie) is a brilliant character, he’s a soldier like Steve but he’s never been a part of SHIELD so is someone Steve can talk to and trust. Because that’s the thing with SHIELD, it’s a super-secret organisation where everyone has their own agendas, you can never be sure who to trust.

Secretary to the World Security Council Alexander Pierce (Robert Redford) is new character who personifies SHEILD’s shady agenda. He’s an old friend of Fury’s but being at the top of the SHIELD hierarchy means he definitely knows more than he lets on. Captain America: The Winter Soldier presents the idea of an organisation with almost limitless control thanks to its surveillance and ability to act outside of the law – this is political thriller territory and it handles it all incredibly well.

The fight scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier thrilling and generally well-shot. There’s a lot of hand to hand combat sequences and while there is quick editing and a variety of shot types, there’s moments where the camera tracks whoever’s fighting or there’s a wide-shot, so you can actually see the actors go at it and it makes the whole thing feel more real and tense.

There’s so many stand-out scenes in Captain America: The Winter Soldier but one of my favourites is the attack on Nick Fury’s car and subsequent car chase. Not only does it show off SHIELD’s technology and what a badass Fury is, but it’s tense and exciting and you get worried because Nick Fury is not a man who’s supposed to be able to get hurt.

I can’t not talk about the Winter Soldier. He’s one of the most ruthless yet interesting villains in the MCU. The music when he’s on screen, ‘The Winter Soldier’ composed by Henry Jackman, is haunting as well. It has this low bass rumble and these mechanical sounds that are almost like screams, you can imagine this is what the Winter Soldier hears in his head. It’s a great piece of music and the whole score is one of the most memorable from the MCU.

Captain America: The Winter Soldier is magnificent. It’s got the usual spectacle but with its characters who are so relatable and human, it makes it a superhero film for the ages. 5/5.

REVIEW: The Avengers (2012)

When Loki (Tom Hiddleston) arrives on Earth with plans to enslave humanity, Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) attempts to bring together a team of volatile people, Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), the Hulk (Mark Rufalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), who have the potential to be heroes.

The Avengers is a payoff for forward planning and investing in your characters. It’s hard to believe it now but The Avengers was a bit of a risky move. Yes, there were five films setting up these characters and all previous films were generally well-received and made a lot of money, but that was no guarantee that The Avengers would be a good movie that could balance its large cast of characters, each with their own extensive backstory and big personalities. Luckily, The Avengers managed to do just that.

The Avengers has spectacular set pieces with each action or fight sequence almost better than the last. There is a lot of conflict in this film, whether it’s the heroes against the villains or even the heroes amongst themselves. These are larger than life characters and they do clash, but that makes the moments when they come together as a team all that more satisfying.

The Avengers could have very easily been the Tony Stark Show thanks to him not only being a character we’ve seen the most but also because of Downey Jr’s natural charisma. However, thanks to a clever script that’s not the case. Each character gets their moment in the spotlight, secondary characters like Agent Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders) and Agent Phil Coulson (Clark Gregg) even get a moment of badassery. The script also allows time for these characters to grow while still having a firm understanding each of their motivations.

One of the highest compliments I can give The Avengers is that it feels like a comic book brought to life. The witty one-liners characters have, the way the script drops titbits of characters history or motivations with ease, and how vibrant and exciting it is. There’s a tracking shot, in the final battle, that’s almost lifted from the pages of a comic book with the way the camera moves from one character to another as they fight as a unit.

The Avengers is great because no matter the number of explosions and fights, it never forgets the characters humanity. There’s a real threat from Loki’s actions, as well as from the fact both the heroes and the audience are not sure they can trust Nick Fury and SHIELD. The Avengers is fast-paced, thrilling and funny. Seeing these characters together on screen is a joy, especially as the whole cast give great performances and all have brilliant chemistry with one another. It is one of the best superhero films, and Marvel Studios should be admired for successfully creating a cinematic universe, that so many other studios have been attempting to emulate ever since. 5/5.

REVIEW: Iron Man 2 (2010)

With the whole world knowing he’s Iron Man, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) has to deal with problems from all sides – his rapidly declining health, the US Government wanting to take his suit away from him, and vengeful Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) who has connections to his father.

Iron Man 2 is action-packed and a lot of fun. The sequence in Monte Carlo where the suitcase armour is introduced is one of the best moments in the whole film. The fact it speeds along with an action-packed plot means that it’s sometimes easy to miss why Tony is acting the way he is and making some unconventional decisions, until characters explicitly point it out.

Tony is dying and he, in his own chaotic way, is trying to make sure his affairs are in order. That his company will be taken care of if the form of Pepper Potts (Gwyneth Paltrow) and that his legacy of the Iron Man suits will continue thanks to his friend Lt. Col. James ‘Rhodey’ Rhodes (Don Cheadle). Tony is his usual narcissist-self but cranked up to eleven – it’s as if his thought process is, he must protect his company and friends, but if he makes sure no one likes him, they won’t miss him when he’s gone.

Ivan Vanko is not much of a villain, or at least you don’t get to see him that much to become engaged with him. He’s smart like Tony but never really feels like a big threat when they come face to face, especially in the final showdown. Rival businessman, Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell) on the other hand, is cringey and offers a different kind of threat to Tony. While he may not have the brains of Tony Stark, he has just as many resources and seeing him team up with Vanko offers unexpected though often funny results. Got to give a special mention to Rockwell’s performance as Hammer, he looks like he’s having loads of fun being a weaselly and almost incompetent businessman.

While Iron Man 2 is a fun film, it does feel like a stepping stone to when this universe comes together for the Avengers. There’s more from Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg) and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and there’s the introduction of Agent Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) who, you’ll know if you’re savvy with your comic book knowledge.

Iron Man 2 might not be the best of the MCU, but it’s got some of the most interesting moments when it comes to Tony Stark and the people he cares about. 3/5.

Thoughts on… My Most Watched Actors

I have a Letterboxd account and it’s pretty great. Letterboxd is the movie version of Goodreads so you can log what you watch, write reviews, make lists and follow different users. If you get a Pro account (which is only $19 a year which is about £15 and I think that’s pretty good value to be honest) you get to see what your various movie-related stats are each year you log films and overall on all the films you’ve ever marked as watched.

I’ve been looking at which actors I’ve watched the most overall and there’s some interesting things there but it does make me want to try and change some of my viewing habits.

Out of my top twenty most watched actors, just two of them are women – Rachel Weisz and Scarlett Johansson. Scarlett Johansson was someone I was surprised to be there as she’s not one of my favourite actors nor someone who I’d go to see a film just because they’re in it. Her being in the Marvel Cinematic Universe certainly helped give her a boost and for a younger actor (she’s 32) she’s been in the business for a while and has an eclectic filmography. Rachel Weisz is a new addition because I have been watching more of her filmography recently, trying to get her (and more women in general) into my top twenty. In comparison to Johansson, Weisz is an actor who I love and will seek out films just because she’s in them but she usually stars in dramas or films that aren’t so mainstream hence while she is someone I do really like, her filmography isn’t always to my taste. (more…)