Suggested Audio Jukebox ♬
 Skee-Lo I Wish
 LL Cool J I’m Bad
 Public Enemy Fight The Power
 Spencer Davis Group I’m a Man
 Kool & The Gang Jungle Boogie
 Randy Crawford Street Life
 Isaac Hayes Shaft
 Kool Moe Dee Wild Wild West
 Run DMC Run’s House
Oh, I’m sorry, did I break your concentration? My humble apologies but, before I commence gobbling the girth of undoubtedly the coolest cat on the planet or any orbiting stars, it seems only civil that we tackle the elephant in the room. That Skee-Lo chap doesn’t want for much does he? Let’s take a look at his wish list shall we? He wishes he was a little bit taller (six-foot-nine to be precise), wishes he was a baller, that he had a girl who looked good, not to mention a rabbit in a hat with a bat, a 1964 Chevrolet Impala, and for everyday to be a Friday so he could exceed the highway speed limit in said lowrider. Anything else you’re hankering after Skee-Lo? How about the moon on a stick or a pie in the sky just to really push the boat out? You don’t see the rest of us making such ludicrous demands do you? But no it’s all about you isn’t it?
Okay so now that I’ve got that out of my system, let’s get down to beeswax and the real reason we’re here. You see, unlike Skee-Lo, my wish list is actually pretty modest. Indeed, it comprises but a single desire. Admittedly it’s a fairly audacious one and the chances of it ever being realized are slim to the power of Jim, but my father always taught me to dream big and it doesn’t get much more stupendous than this believe me. Please allow me to pose you a question. If you could be one person in the world other than yourself, regardless of stature, then who would you opt for? Whose loafers or heels would fit the snuggest? For me there could only ever be one answer as the man I’m about to wax lyrical about doesn’t just possess a slither of cool, he damn well epitomizes that shit. That’s right, if there are any genies tuning in right now, then you’d better get to work as I wish, I wish I was Samuel L. Jackson.
If you’ve read any of my countless appraisals for Quentin Tarantino’s work, then you should already be aware of the lofty regard I hold this enigmatic man mountain in as his mere presence in a film can cast the swing vote as far as I’m concerned. Thus the goal of this exercise is to elaborate further on why I believe there is no more magnificent a creature roaming the earth right now. But before delving any deeper, I guess we should get any formalities out-of-the-way and, for anyone who has spent the past thirty years on a far distant colony without any creature comforts whatsoever, here’s the brief lowdown. Samuel Leroy Jackson was born in Washington D.C. in 1948 and it wasn’t long before he embraced his passion for performance. As a child, he played both the French horn and trumpet in the school orchestra and this helped take his mind off his stutter, which was pretty severe at this point.
Initially looking to pursue a degree in marine biology, this all changed when he attended Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia and enrolled to an extracurricular acting class to assist him with public speaking. Before too long, he had found his true vocation and, after graduating in 1972, co-founded a local theatre group and began to make in-roads to the film industry. During the seventies he appeared in minor roles in a number of films, perhaps most notably James Glickenhaus’s fondly remembered exploitation flick The Exterminator where he popped up in a blink and you’ll undoubtedly miss it extra role. However, while it wasn’t easy for an aspiring black actor to make his mark at the time, Jackson had the bit between his teeth and wasn’t about to give up without a damn good fight.
Moreover, his speech problems began to improve markedly as he soon sussed out how to, in his own words, “pretend to be other people who didn’t stutter”. The word motherfucker bailed him out here and provided the ideal bridge when he found himself at a loss for words. Anyhoots, he carried on plugging away with precious little luck and the eighties were a decidedly lean spell with regards to bankable opportunities. That is until Georgia’s finest Spike Lee threw him a bone and cast him in his grossly overlooked 1988 musical drama School Daze. While the role was relatively minor, the pair hit it off in no time, and it would be the first of a number of occasions the two would work together. Meanwhile, he also landed a walk-on part in John Landis’s Coming To America in the same year and, while only on-screen for a few fleeting moments, the scene in question where he attempted to hold up a fast food restaurant happened to be one of its most memorable.
By the following year, Lee called upon his services once more, this time offering him the slightly more meaty part of local radio disc jockey Mister Señor Love Daddy in the magnificent Do The Right Thing. Focusing on a single day in the Bedford-Stuyvesant district, Brooklyn amidst sweltering conditions, it focused on the simmering racial tensions between residents of all different ethnicities and did so quite brilliantly. While Jackson spent his time cooped up in his booth, watching on in dismay while the locals gradually came to blows and attempting to raise their flagging spirits through the medium of music, there could be no denying his natural charisma and the work soon started coming in from all angles. This included popping up in Harold Becker’s Sea of Love, William Peter Blatty’s The Exorcist III, and most notably Martin Scorcese’s Goodfellas where he played the gloriously named Stacks Edwards.
Meanwhile, Mo Better Blues saw him pairing up a third time with Lee in 1990 although it wouldn’t be until a year later, again under the same director, when he made his most significant impression to date on this particular avid film buff. Jungle Fever charted the trajectory of black American architect Flipper and Italian administrator Angie, twentysomething lovers from completely different sides of the racial divide. As Flipper’s crack-addled cross-to-bear brother Gator, Jackson was simply off the chain. Twitching and tweaking his way through numerous excruciating run-ins with his exasperated sibling, he nailed the role hard and stole every last scene that he weaseled his way into. It helped that I knew only too well of Gator’s type but it was more than simple familiarity that made his turn so unforgettable. You see, it showed just how diverse an actor he was, and also how he made the absolute über-most of any opportunity that came his way.
My view was evidently shared by the powers that be and things really started to take off for this bright new star from that point forward. 1992 saw a particular flourish with heftier roles in Roger Donaldson’s White Sands alongside the likes of Willem Dafoe, Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio and Mickey Rourke, and Phillip Noyce’s Patriot Games where Jackson shared the screen with none other than Harrison Ford. Suddenly he was becoming hot property and I could harp on until the cow’s graze about the work that fell in his lap as a result, including Steven Spielberg’s Jurassic Park no less. However, for me, 1993 was all about…wait for it…Loaded Weapon 1.
Gene Quintano’s harebrained spoof paired him up with Emilio Estevez and took many a sly dig at the plethora of buddy cop movies doing the rounds at the time. While not necessarily well received by the critics, the chemistry between the two leads was unmistakable and the sight of Jackson sitting on the latrine with his trousers around his ankles while explaining to his paranoid partner that he was simply “taking a shit” will be with me until my sarcophagus closes. More critically, it highlighted just how funny a motherfucker he was, and also that he had absolutely no qualms about slipping on the clown shoes and sending himself up for shits and giggles.
Perhaps his most significant breakout role was as Big Don in Tony Scott’s modern noir classic True Romance, famously penned by man of the hour Tarantino. It’s all ultimately about those six degrees of separation and, by making himself pretty much indispensable to The Big T, the true defining moment in his career finally arrived. I’ve always been something of a fast food whore and, after a long day venting one’s furious anger, it’s grand just to slum it and sink those toothstones into a nice tasty burger. Must I even say more? You’re darn tooting I must as, the last dozen or so times I checked, movies don’t come any more iconic or dripping with Ice Man cool than Pulp motherfucking Fiction. Boyee!
“DON’T BE TELLIN’ ME ABOUT FOOT MASSAGES. I’M THE FOOT FUCKIN’ MASTER”
John Travolta’s career was all but dead and buried by 1995. However his turn as hot-shot hitman Vincent Vega offered him a spring-board straight back into the major league. While his performance was 100% spot-on, it unquestionably benefitted from sharing the screen with Jackson and the pair batted it back and forth like a pair of old golf buddies. But, for all Vincent’s verve, it was Jules Winnfield who left the real lasting impression and it’s hard to know where to start when earmarking highlights. Granted, the script was utter plutonium, but you still need a mouth to fit all those words into and they couldn’t have been more custom-made for Jackson’s fearsome flappers. Whether kicking back with and shooting the shit or delivering biblical verse in a tongue so lashing that it almost warranted its own credit, this cat was so far on point that we could but watch on in wide-eyed awe.
Hell it even earned him a Best Supporting Actor nomination at the 67th Academy Awards, ultimately losing out to Martin Landau’s very best (and admittedly sublime) Bela Lugosi impression. I still remember the moment when his name wasn’t called as though it were just yesterday and, if looks could talk, then Jackson’s would have said something along the lines of “well ain’t that a motherfucker”. You’re damn right he was a tad and a half pissed and with excellent reason too as it was yet another example of a promising African-American actor being passed over by Oscar and he really couldn’t have done any more if he’d tried. However, it also spoke volumes for his character as, where others may put on their fake smiles and act all dignified, his balls were itching goddamnit and he was bloody well gonna scratch ’em, camera or no camera.
“EVERYBODY KNOWS, WHEN YOU MAKE AN ASSUMPTION, YOU MAKE AN ASS OUT OF YOU AND UMPTION”
After putting in another scintillating shift as downtrodden private detective Mitch Henessey in Renny Harlin’s explosive thriller The Long Kiss Goodnight in 1996, he reunited with Tarantino a second time and, while gun runner Ordell Robbie was far more leisurely a customer, Jackson’s performance for the criminally unsung Jackie Brown was no less masterful. Ordell was the epitome of smiling assassin, all “we cool” on one hand and “we certainly not cool” on the other. So laid back that Quentin could have moulded a bobsled around him, the Kangol wearing, pony-tail rocking, ball sack smooth bad guy of the piece was impossible not to warm to, even though we spent the whole time with a gun pressed up against his dick.
Again it was A-games all round and the comparably legendary Pam Grier gave possibly her career best turn as the foxy brown titular bunny trying to keep his raggedy ass in check. This is where he excels as we had every reason to wish him stone dead but still couldn’t bring ourselves to release that safety. So Tarantino knew how to bring the best out of his main man then? Not in dispute although Samuel Leroy Jackson’s finest just so happens to surface by default. The pair have hooked up on other occasions since yielding similarly sublime results and I’ll get to them in due course but not before filling in those gaps as it was safe to say that this dude was the hottest shit in the Hollywood litter tray and every motherfucker wanted to taste his burger.
Numerous high-profile outings followed and the one common thread between Sphere, The Negotiator, Deep Blue Sea, Rules of Engagement, and Changing Lanes was that Sam was pitch perfect in all of them. Meanwhile, as Robert Carlyle’s jive talking foil Elmo McElroy in The 51st State, he even bust out his sporran and rocked a kilt like his grandfather’s name was Hamish McTavish. Let’s not harass the haggis, a full-blown Scottish accent was never necessitated, but a movie that offered little more than lightweight entertainment on paper was raised a good notch or three just by letting this fine fellow exercise his bagpipes. I swear he did enough to justify honorary jock status.
“YOU KNOW ME. IT’S MY DUTY TO PLEASE THAT BOOTY”
2000 turned out to be a pivotal year and for two completely unrelated reasons. Firstly, he landed the leading role that any black man with a pulse would donate their left spud for, that being the king of all Johns, S-H-A-F-T. John Singleton’s crowd-pleasing crime caper showed that he was more than capable of running this show solo and provided the ideal platform for him to propel himself into the real money. Secondly, he dabbled with a little light superhero shenanigans for M. Night Shyamalan’s Unbreakable alongside the impervious Bruce Willis. Preacher Elijah Price was the man with the theory but also far less than honorable intentions. Jackson demonstrated this light and shade exquisitely and I reckon it was about this time that Marvel Studios began to sit up and take some serious notice.
This could only mean that the force was with him right? Correctamundo once more my peanut-headed friends and, with George Lucas himself polishing him up a saber, we just knew that Jar Jar Binks was going to be a laughing-stock. Mace Windu was one of the best things about Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones no question and, as Agent Augustus Gibbons in Rob Cohen’s xXx the same year, Vin had no choice but to top up his diesel. Both roles ended up repeat performances and the next few years became somewhat fuzzy for this fanboy as it was hard to find a big-budget blockbuster that he didn’t cram his beautiful brown head into. Lest we not forget his voice loan for the likes of Pixar’s The Incredibles and Rockstar Games’ record-breaking crime pays masterpiece Grand Theft Auto: San Andreas as they certainly weren’t phoned in either.
“ENOUGH IS ENOUGH! I HAVE HAD IT WITH THESE MOTHERFUCKING SNAKES ON THIS MOTHERFUCKING PLANE!”
Then 2006 happened and anyone embarking on a long haul flight around that time would have been well within their rights insisting a Samuel L. Jackson on board. I’ve got four words for you – Snakes on a Plane. Fuck it, why not make it the half-dozen – Motherfucking Snakes on a Motherfucking Plane as Neville Flynn would so eloquently put it. Now let’s be frank shall we? Hands aloft if you expected this to be one of those “so bad it’s good” affairs? Well we can all use those hands to direct us to the nearest emergency exit as David R. Ellis’s film was easily one of the year’s highlights. Let’s do the math. Snakes + Plane + Sam Jackson = Trouble. Was Neville Flynn prepared for the eventuality of said bother? Was he fuck, Neville orchestrated that shit like the charmer that he quite clearly stated he was.
Les Mayfield’s choice to wire his diodes to Jim’s dad, Eugene Levy’s for 2005 comedy thriller The Man was a stroke of genius but no more so than Craig Brewer’s decision to cast him as drifting bluesman cum personal pastor Lazarus for the brilliant Black Snake Moan in 2006. Indeed this turned out to be one of his most magnanimous appearances to date and in a film so understated that many have not yet had the pleasure. I’ve got a little tip for you – get to know. Meanwhile, I simply have to spare some column space for Mikael Håfström’s 1408 as it was no coincidence that this was the best received Stephen King adaptation for a number of years and, while only on-screen fleetingly, the dubious Gerald Olin made one helluva lasting impression.
Someone give this man a Stetson please. Fret not those dainty little domes as QT already did. Django Unchained marked the visionary’s first foray into wild west territory and Jackson saddled up in a second. To be honest, “house nigger” Stephen was more the stay at home type of cowboy and more than content to crack the whip for his white-devil master and commander Calvin Candie. This was yet another masterstroke as Jackson would have been totally unrecognizable if it weren’t for the fact that he’s totally recognizable. Snivelling wretch Stephen was the scum in the very clay of Candie’s rancorous confectionary store and positively oozing caucasian from his noxious pores like a crushed Kinder egg. That is to say he was white to the marrow.
Predictably Django caused an almighty stir on its release and was heavily criticized for its “overuse” of the dreaded N-word. One of its many detractors was none other than Jackson’s boy Spike Lee. While Lee was quite entitled to his opinion (no matter how overcooked it might have been on this occasion), it was of great dismay to me watching one of my personal heroes’ knees jerking towards another. That said, I was particularly impressed by Jackson’s refusal to jump the sinking ship and instead remain neutral with both parties. Quentin may not be at the top of Spike’s Christmas list anymore but, with a proven negotiator like Sam close by, this mild verbal sparring thankfully turned out to be a storm in a teacup.
“MOVE A LITTLE SUDDEN OR A LITTLE STRANGE, YOU GON’ GET A BULLET. NOT A WARNING, NOT A QUESTION, A BULLET.”
Nowhere in the rules of the West does it state that it can only be won once and, in 2015, Tarantino had those saddles blazing once again. The Hateful Eight was a far more intimate affair and Jackson’s part alongside an A-List cast to die twice for afforded us ample time to stare into the whites of his eyes. In close quarters throughout, Major Marquis Warren was there or thereabouts the whole time and delivered the kind of mesmerizing monologues that only his old pal could write for him. Hilariously the N-bomb was tossed about even more flagrantly here and Sam must’ve been responsible for around half of that count.
I’m shamefully out of synch with Marvel, thus mention of Nick Fury will remain a mere tip of the eye patch. What can I say? I’m too old for this shit. I’m sure Sam wouldn’t hold it against me as long as I solemnly vow to view Avengers Assemble and all subsidiaries by the close of business 2016. I could sit here teaching y’all to suck eggs or I could deviate to Matthew Vaughn’s lesser known Kingsman: The Secret Service and pimp out Valentine instead. Given that I’ve always rooted for the underdog, my advice is to watch this movie as it’s white-hot. Needless to say, Jackson supplies the black velvet and one day I swear he’ll suss out a way to be anything other than illustrious.
So there you have it my featherless friends. Should there be an affable genie inside this thing (and not your cranky Andrew Divoff type), then I know what I’ll be rubbing him out for. Should you peruse this tribute Sam and I’ve absolutely no doubt you will as all ten of your slender digits live on the pulse, then take this as one helluva dick tug as I could just as easily have opted for infinite riches, nine lives, or a third testicle but that was never likely to happen with your comfy loafers waiting by the door. Thus I wish, I wish I was Samuel L. Jackson and all that is left now is to cash in my chips and start saving the universe. Apologies but I may have missed your embittered battle-cry in all this hero-worship. Say it again Sam.
“AND THAT’S THE TRIPLE TRUTH RUTH!”
Truly, Really, Clearly, Sincerely,
Richard Charles Stevens
Keeper of the Crimson Quill
Copyright: Grueheads Films 2016