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“Men in Black 3” – An excessively late movie review

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I’ve always had something of a soft spot for Barry Sonnenfeld‘s “Men in Black” series of comic book adaptations.

There’s no unique thing which makes me enjoy them – there’s the glorious comic interplay between glib, quick-gabbing Will Smith and taciturn Tommy Lee Jones, the streamlined, retro-futuristic styling, the notion of a secret government body efficiently averting minor apocalypses every day and the genius invention that is Frank the Pug each contribute in different ways to my enjoyment of the series.

Plus, I love a good non sequitur and the first movie, particularly, is full of them.

I don’t suppose that anybody except the financial portfolio managers of messrs Smith, Sonnenfeld and Jones was desperately awaiting a third movie in the series, but 2012 saw a threequel in the form of “Men in Black 3” and I finally managed to catch up with it this weekend.  Having read some of the reviews from last summer for the film, I was expecting a very by-the-numbers effort which didn’t have anything to particularly distinguish it or build on the sterling work done by the first entry in the series, all the way back in 1997.

And you know what?  It’s actually fun.  Not a film which you’ll remember for more than ten minutes after seeing it, and probably not a film which you must own for posterity, but certainly an enjoyable sci-fi comedy which undoes some of the damage wrought by the noisy, scatter-shot second film (which had some fundamentally interesting sci-fi concepts rather obscured by some of the most distractingly terrible special effects that I can recall seeing in a major studio release).

"Quick - neuralyse them and make 'em forget part 2!"

“Quick – neuralyse them and make ’em forget part 2!”

This film feels a lot more stripped-down and rattles along at a refreshingly brisk pace (a swiftness emphasised by comparison to my afternoon’s viewing, a second trip to the cinema to see “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, which is still pretty but decidedly bum-numbing in its running time).  The jokes are swift and mostly on point, with character development revealed in mostly sideways observations rather than overwrought dramatic set-pieces and inventive action sequences liberally peppering the 107 minute running time.

The plot of this instalment of the now-venerable sci-fi franchise sees Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) wrenched apart by an alien antagonist, Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) who effortlessly escapes from a high security, orbital MIB prison and makes a concerted effort to rid the planet of galactic policeman K via the medium of time travel.  And it’s this wrinkle in the conventional formula of the film series which reveals one of the best aspects of “Men in Black 3”, Josh Brolin‘s wonderful performance as a younger incarnation of Agent K.

Once the plot requires Smith’s permanently bemused J to leap back to 1969 to undo Boris the Animal’s machinations and prevent a present day invasion of Earth by Boris’ species of homicidal extraterrestrial asset-strippers, the film steps up a gear and provides the viewer with a fine line in culture-clash comedy – the cumulative effect of this stretch of the movie is to cut-and-paste hip-hop elder statesman Smith into an episode of “Mad Men-era NYC, which works particularly well when J is pulled over by polite, professional abominably racist cops and given the once over.  It’s a sequence which might have sat oddly in what is otherwise a lightweight summer action sci-fi piece but it works really quite beautifully and in some ways harkens back to our introduction to Smith’s cocksure, authority-rebuffing young buck back in the 1997 original.

Culminating with an action sequence which happens in and around the launch of the Apollo 11 mission, “Men in Black 3” is really far more entertaining than you’ll perhaps expect that it to be.   It’s aided by a snappy script from Etan Cohen, an excellent acting ensemble (Alice Eve and Emma Thompson play younger and more mature incarnations of new MIB chief, Agent O, and Jemaine Clement is superb as louche alien assassin Boris, doing what my better half, Mrs Rolling Eyeballs, describes as an excellent Tim Curry impersonation) and some fun retrospective continuity wrangling which adds a new layer of poignancy to the overall “MiB” story which I really didn’t expect.

A should-rent title, then, if not quite a required purchase for your sci-fi Blu-Ray/DVD collection.

 

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2012 in review – Reeling in Films

As each year rolls to a close, I find myself desperately Googling lists of films which opened in the year in an effort to determine what I actually saw at the cinema.  You may encounter a similar situation – did I really enjoy that movie this year or did it come three years ago and I’ve only just caught up with it?

That said, I’m pretty sure that I can post a solid top five movies of the year – all of which are mostly perfectly defensible.  Ahem…

1) Brave

Women with bows and/or arrows - you couldn't avoid them in 2012 pop culture

Women with bows and/or arrows – you couldn’t avoid them in 2012 pop culture

I hated “Cars” so much that I purposefully avoided “Cars 2” when it opened last year.  I know people who loved both movies, but I’m firmly of the belief that I’ll only see it when it ends up free to watch on TV.  I’m happy to say that “Brave” reaffirmed my belief in Pixar’s storytelling abilities and seemed, at times, made for me.

Set in Scotland? Check.  Strong-willed heroine with character layers and imperfections?  Check.  Knockabout comedy and thrilling action sequences?  Oh yes.   Amazing voice cast? Emma Thompson, Kelly McDonald, Billy ConnollyCraig FergusonRobbie ColtraneJulie Walters – check-a-mundo.

And how bold of Pixar to essentially pull the rug from underneath you in the cinema and deliver a film which is quite different from the one advertised – there’s plentiful adventure to behold in this film but also a really interesting meditation on family and obligation which the trailers didn’t exactly shy away from but certainly managed to undersell.

My favourite Pixar movie is “Ratatouille” but this glorious adventure runs it a close second – if you didn’t get to see it in cinemas, I heartily recommend picking it up and wallowing in master storytellers weaving a brilliant yarn.  I’ve not loved an animated feature as much since “How To Train Your Dragon”, which is high praise indeed.

"Fanboys?  Let them eat Mjolnir!"

“Fanboys? Let them eat Mjolnir!”

2) “Avengers Assemble”

Joss Whedon – the vindication!  You may have seen this film once or twice.  I saw it three times theatrically, a couple of times since on Blu-Ray (full disclosure – I own two copies of it, as the UK release ditched various features and a Whedon commentary track).  The culmination of the first phase of Marvel’s Movie Take-Over didn’t disappoint, pitting the cast of bickering heroes against a galactic scale threat and finding a way, finally, to bring the Hulk to thrilling life via Mark Ruffalo and some absurdly brilliant CG wizardry.

Whedon’s voice remained undimmed by the demands of the multiple characters – much to the chagrin of his vocal detractors – and he managed to miraculously balance the demands of mythology, actor screen time, the expected summer movie explosions-per-second ratio and his own fan base to deliver a superhero smack down for the ages.  If you ever read comics as a kid, this movie was pitched directly at you and realised in vivid detail those action figure battles you sketched out at eight years old in the school playground.

Plus, you know, Shawarma.

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers...

Genre cannon fodder, meet your puppeteers…

3) “Cabin In The Woods”

It really is better if you know as little as possible about this film before you see it, such is its puppyish determination to take what you know and love about horror cinema and then twist it, delivering a glorious, genre-warping ride which celebrates the scare-flick even as it places some of its more objectionable stylistic tropes under an exacting microscope.

Best ending of the year?  Quite possibly.

4) “The Pirates! In An Adventure With Scientists”

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant...

More jokes per minute than any movie this year and most of them are brilliant…

The latest from Aardman Animation arrived in cinemas in the spring and departed with indecent haste, which says to me that a great many people didn’t get to enjoy this joke-stuffed, superbly inventive pirate adventure and that’s a great shame.  This is a hilarious movie, with fantastic performances from Hugh Grant, Martin Freeman and David Tennant, staggering levels of detail crammed into each gorgeous frame of this stop motion work of art and a really infectious sense of off-kilter humour – it is, in essence, a Monty Python movie for kids and if that doesn’t recommend it to you, I really don’t think that there’s any hope for you.

=5) “The Woman In Black”

What Harry Did Next

What Harry Did Next

A genuine breath of swampy, slightly decaying air, “The Woman In Black” capitalizes royally on our fear of creaking furniture in quiet old houses, of unexplainable noises late at night, of the thing that you glimpse for a second from the corner of your eye and delivers a bone-chilling, restrained journey into terror which eschews gore for melancholy, substitutes atmosphere for flashy jump scares and shows the idiots cranking out PG-13, pseudo ‘found footage’ schlock just how to genuinely unsettle an audience.

Daniel Radcliffe is superb in the lead as haunted young lawyer Arthur Kipps, wrestling bravely with events that he can never hope to understand and confirming that his will be a long and storied career if he continues to make smart choices like appearing in this film.  He’s already an audience identification figure for a generation of movie-goers and this film trades on that, using his iconic, essentially decent countenance to draw us into a Victorian milieu which is swiftly and convincingly drawn as a stultifying and closed-off nightmare – Kipps’ job-stipulated stay in a possibly haunted, rickety old mansion seems positively inviting by comparison.

More scares per minute than any other film in 2012?  I should say so.

=5) “Resident Evil: Retribution”

Evil goes virtual, more like...

Not so much a film as cinematic DLC. Yep, a bit of a tough sell…

Suck it haters!

 

In dispatches, I should also mention the likes of James Bond adventure, “Skyfall”, Christopher Nolan‘s audience dividing but audacious trilogy-capper, “The Dark Knight Rises“, Peter Jackson’s little movie that could, “The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey“, genius bare knuckle, sci-fi adaptation, “Dredd”, gleefully daffy TV remake “21 Jump Street”, putative epic sci-fantasy adventure “John Carter”, vamps versus werewolves franchise entry “Underworld: Awakening“, Ridley Scott‘s return to the “Alien” universe in “Prometheus”, addled fantasy revisionism “Snow White and the Huntsman“, mumble-core superhero fable, “Chronicle”  and Sony’s promising, web-slinging reboot, “The Amazing Spider-Man”.

And 2013 brings us a new “Star Trek”, “Elysium”, “Oblivion”, “Riddick”, “Iron Man 3”, “After Earth”, “Pacific Rim”, “Ender’s Game”, “Thor: The Dark World” and “The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug” from merely the Sci-Fi and Fantasy film spheres – there’s a huge movie at the multiplex seemingly every month and I’d guess that I’ll get to see a mere fraction of those titles at the movies next year.

Which is kind of where we came in, isn’t it?

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Trailered – “Men in Black 3”

Huzzah! Corporate logo abuse!

After dropping a teaser poster last week which most notably managed to melt your eyes as you viewed it,  Sony Pictures stepped up the hype today and released the first trailer for “Men in Black 3”.

And what do you know? It looks like a “Men in Black 3” trailer.

Yep, that looks like Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones alright...

We’ve got the retro-futuristic gadgets present and correct, the black suits running things and reliably unreliable CG effects interspersed with the Danny Elfman score.

Looks friendly.

We’ve got a smattering of aliens who’ve integrated themselves into the otherwise oblivious New York City, some business with time having been re-written, a new MiB high-up played by the peerless Emma Thompson and surprisingly few big action set-pieces popping-up (which I find quite a nice change, to be honest with you).

Emma Thompson classing up the joint...

One thing strikes me about this trailer – how

Picture. In. The. Attic.

Questionable moustache aside – I’m going to guess that Agent J was participating in “Movember” and never got around to taking his ‘tache off – he looks almost as young as he did in the first movie, which came out all the way back in 1997, when Chloe “Hit Girl” Moretz was born.

Dear Flying Spaghetti Monster, I feel old.

The plot – what I can out of it, at least – appears to revolve around Tommy Lee Jones’ character blinking out of existence and Will Smith’s sarcastic whipper-snapper having to find some way to head into the past to set things right.

But would it win a Gadget Show test?

I’m going to hope that the lack of laughs in this trailer speaks more to the series’ deadpan comic style rather than a wholesale lack of wit and I guess we’ll be able to find out how this threequel pans out in May 2012.

No, Will - don't jump off that big Eagle thing - I quite liked your trailer!

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