“Men in Black III” (2012) Review

Films such as Men in Black III are rare these days. With Hollywood out remaking … I mean, reBOOTing every franchise of the last 50 years, when a film series like Men in Black stays quiet for over a decade, one can only assume Columbia couldn’t possibly work with the franchise in its current form any longer and we can all expect a reboot in 2014 starring Liam Neeson and Donald Glover.

Which would be awesome … so long as no one tells Michael Bay about it

But MIB III is the result of one of those uncommon instances where the conditions for a sequel were perfect. Will Smith’s been absent from the big screen for nearly four years. Tommy Lee Jones is suddenly relevant again after appearing in Captain America. Doctor Who is currently one of the biggest sci-fi shows on the planet, so aliens and time travel are hot topics. Punch that into the machine and POOF! we get MIB III – Smith and Jones reunite in another alien-fighting adventure … now with time travel!

Granted, it wouldn’t be the worst thing to ever ride on Doctor Who’s coattails.

The Men in Black movies have always been fun, exciting popcorn flicks and the third installment in the series is no different. Barry Sonnenfeld returns to direct and delivers the expected dose of action and comedy. As a sequel, MIB III is not necessary. There are no burning questions that the first two films left unanswered and it’s no dramatic conclusion to the MIB trilogy. It’s just there to entertain. Nothing more, nothing less.

The most serious the acting gets is when Will Smith
busts out the latest version of his “Aw, hell naw!” face.

While MIB III is certainly enjoyable, is it any good? Well … kind of. Jones and Smith once again give great performances as Agents K and J respectively and the dynamic between the two of them continues to be where these movies shine in comedic terms. Emma Thompson is believable stepping into the role of O, the new head of MIB. The gallery of aliens is as colourful as ever with several fan favourites returning as well as introduction of some interesting newcomers. The movie is also loaded with cameos from stars such as Will Arnett, that girl from the Pussycat Dolls, and Bill Hader with a hilariously ironic portrayal of Andy Warhol.

It’s Josh Brolin as young K who steals the show, however. Brolin does an impeccable Tommy Lee Jones impression and he truly disappears into the role. Even though Jones’ screentime is comparatively short, Brolin ensures you still feel K’s presence strongly throughout the film, even down to his witty arguments with J. Excellent casting, excellent performance.

Gold star for you!

Of course, MIB III is not without its flaws. The problem with the mindless fun of popcorn flicks is if you even think for a second about what you’re watching, you’ll realize it makes absolutely no sense. The truth is, MIB III is not a very well-written film. The premise itself is nothing beyond comprehension – J has to travel back to 1969 to stop a time-traveling alien named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) from killing a younger K and dooming planet Earth. But the time travel angle is where it all falls apart, leaving the otherwise basic story full of major plot holes and glaring inconsistencies.

Naturally, this raised a few questions for me…

If characters travel back in time, can they meet past versions of themselves or do they just take control of their bodies at that point in history? If K recruited J to MIB in the first movie, how is J still a member in the alternate timeline where K is dead? Is J’s trip to 1969 a temporal loop that was always in place? Minor spoiler: J’s plan in 1969 is to convince young K to kill the 1960s version of Boris to stop 2012 Boris from going back in time and killing K in the first place. But in doing so, future Boris wouldn’t be alive to go back in time meaning J wouldn’t have to go back in time either, so there would be no one there to tell young K to kill young Boris, which would make him both dead and not dead at the same time. Wouldn’t that make the whole thing a massive time paradox?

I get it, time travel isn’t real, so you can basically do whatever you like with it in fiction. But you have to establish rules and you have to be consistent with them. MIB III does neither. And this isn’t me overanalyzing things – the writing just feels lazy. The movie treats time travel as this smörgåsbord of convenient plot devices that are haphazardly employed to move the story along even if it means contradicting what the audience already knows. And the inevitable confusion that results is dismissed by the careless argument “because it’s time travel, dammit!”

I also didn’t care much for the villain Boris the Animal. He’s an interesting enough character on paper. He’s the last of a hostile alien race called the Boglodites, which are basically the MIB universe’s answer to Daleks (just in case you still weren’t convinced this movie is cashing in on Doctor Who’s popularity), and has a lot of cool powers, but he’s pretty weak in the long run. I love Flight of the Conchords and I love Jemaine, but this film isn’t his finest performance. Unfortunately, he chews the scenery throughout the entire film, which gets very annoying very quickly. He can’t take all the blame, however, for Boris isn’t a very well-written character. He’s shallow and over-the-top, his motivations are often unclear, and he’s slapped with this stupid gimmick where he freaks out every time someone calls him an animal. Who is this guy – John Merrick? Is “animal” some kind of racial slur on … Bogloditeland or whatever? What’s also very frustrating about Boris is that you never know how he figures things out. Even with J going back to the 60s and influencing the course of events, Boris always seems to be one step ahead of the protagonists, consistently arriving at the right place at the right time, and we have no idea why or how. Again, this isn’t Jemaine’s fault, but is once again chalked down to problems with the script.

Meanwhile, Bret McKenzie was winning Oscars.

Men in Black III is fun. The actors deliver solid performances for the most part and there are plenty of laughs, action, and special effects to be enjoyed. It’s everything you’d expect from a Men in Black film. But it’s a popcorn flick in its purest form. It’s riddled with continuity errors, gaping plot holes, and convenient devices that will drive you mad if you can’t turn off your brain. An overall decent movie that partially salvaged an overall flawed script.

And love it or hate it, I guarantee that god-awful Pitbull song will have you running from the theatre the second the credits roll.

I give it 3/5.


“The Dictator” (2012) Review

When discussing Sacha Baron Cohen’s latest film The Dictator, I am met with two temptations. The first is to compare this film to Baron Cohen’s other big screen excursions 2006’s Borat and 2009’s Brüno. I find this comparison to be a bit unfair because The Dictator is not a mockumentary like its predecessors, but the plot is fundamentally the same: a man from an Eastern nation travels to America and subjects the audience to a little over an hour of gags that poke fun the incompatibility of his culture with that of the US. Even Larry Charles, who directed both Borat and Brüno, returns for this film, so one can’t help but draw parallels. The second temptation is to review this film through a political lens. This, however, I will not do. Admiral General Aladeen (Baron Cohen), ruler of the fictional North African nation of Wadiya, has obvious allusions to politicians such as Muammar Gaddafi and Saddam Hussein and the film is clearly intended to be a political satire of these figures and their respective styles of governing, but it ultimately fails in this regard.

Nowadays, the terms “parody” and “satire” are often used interchangeably and The Dictator is yet another example of a confusion between the two. Parody is more or less mimicking an already existing source for the sake of humour. Think of Weird Al or the Airplane! movies. Satire, on the other hand, is humourous, but also carries some kind of message with it. The confusion comes from the fact that satire often uses parody to deliver this message, today’s most popular examples including The Daily Show and The Colbert Report. On its most essential level, however, satire is a critique that is meant to not only generate laughs, but also spark critical thought and discussion. Such a critique is largely absent from The Dictator. The film is rendered merely a goofy parody of modern dictators that doesn’t leave much room to talk about it in a political context. There are a couple of nuggets of true satire in the movie, such as Aladeen’s monologue about if America was a dictatorship, but for the most part, the only “message” The Dictator delivers is “Being an oppressive jerk is wrong … so don’t be one …”

Dictatorships are bad, m’kay?”

I know, you can’t slam a film for not generating intelligent discussion or else nothing would ever get made, but even as a comedy alone, The Dictator is generally ineffective. The characters are surreal, one-dimensional caricatures whose actions and humour surrounding those actions are very predictable. In this respect, I feel like the film goes for the easiest possible laugh every time. Aladeen is a dictator so all of his gags are about belittling other races and genders, constant references to how he’s friends with other dictators, and (when the writers can’t think of anything) replacing random words with throaty Arabic noises. The leading lady Zoey (Anna Faris) is super-liberal so all of her jokes have something so do with feminism or anti-capitalism or how she doesn’t shave. Oh, and the two of them clearly fall in love because they couldn’t possibly be more different. It gets old quickly and I swear more thought is put into an episode of Two and a Half Men.

There’s nothing quite like ending a rant about easy laughs with an easy laugh.

It’s in its characters where the film departs the most from Borat and Brüno. Yes, Borat often goes for obvious “backwards foreigner” jokes and Brüno for gay jokes, but the humour largely comes not from the jokes themselves, but the fact that they are inserted in real life situations, generating real reactions from real people. Because of this inherent realness, characters in both films must give off certain human qualities in order to be believable to both the people they encounter in the film and the audience. With this believability comes opportunity for sympathy, admiration, or even relatability from the audience, but that ship sails within the first 10 minutes of The Dictator.

Not pictured: a believability ship

While the acting is naturally over the top, it is satisfactory. Baron Cohen pulls off another solid performance and generates a number of laughs from his delivery alone. Anna Faris also does a decent job as well since parodies are within her comfort zone. In fact, the film features a few big-named actors such as John C. Reilly, Megan Fox, and … Ben Kingsley? Really? SIR BEN KINGSLEY?!?!? Unfortunately, Kingsley’s recent career can be best described as a tragic fall from grace. The man became known for his amazing performances in Schindler’s List, Twelfth Night, and Ghandi and next thing we know, he’s popping up in an endless string of notoriously bad films like The Love Guru, Thunderbirds, and stuff directed by Uwe Boll. I thought he either fired his agent or got his finances in order when he gave a redeeming performance in last year’s Hugo, but then I see him in THIS and am now convinced he’ll be in absolutely anything.

In fact, catch Ben this summer in a zombie flick I’m shooting
in my backyard on an iPhone.

The Dictator’s worst enemy, however, is its marketing. I’ll admit, I initially had high hopes after the red carpet publicity stunt where Baron Cohen showed up to the Oscars in character and spilled Kim Jong-il’s ashes on Ryan Seacrest. Little did I know that any subsequent publicity such as trailers and Baron Cohen’s talk show circuit would recycle virtually all the film’s decent jokes. While I found the The Dictator’s humour to be generally obvious and at times uncomfortably tasteless, some of it can be clever. But it’s simply not funny the second time around and cannot match the hilarious irony of the fact that they spoiled all the best jokes in the film in order to convince you to go see the film itself.

Overall, The Dictator is an unfunny, unintelligent film that sadly had the potential to be the opposite. It wants to be a satire, but comes off as a dull parody that opts for predictable jokes, shallow characters, and any remaining humour is spoiled by its marketing materials. At first I thought I had simply missed the point of the movie, but now I’m not sure if there was a point to miss.

I give this a 2/5.

PS. Those of you who actually do want to see a truly hilarious satire of dictatorships, check out 1940’s The Great Dictator, starring Charlie Chaplin.

“The Avengers” (2012) Review

Welcome to Frepow Films – the blog that reviews all the latest cinema has to offer under a name that could be mistaken for an IKEA product. We update every Wednesday evening to coincide with the exact point in the week you begin to lose motivation at work, school, hygiene, etc. and are begging for anything that will make time go faster until the weekend.

This guys knows what I’m talking about.

I think it’s appropriate that my first review be the film that kicked off the summer blockbuster season. While most people have already heard about how incredible The Avengers is, I dedicate this post to the five of you who haven’t. Along with many other filmgoers, my expectations for this movie were incredibly high. After all, this has been a project in the making for nearly half a decade and required five feature-length films to set up. The last thing in Hollywood to demand this much time and effort was Cher’s most recent cosmetic procedure (ZING!).

I’m happy to report that The Avengers does not disappoint. Joss Whedon (famous for Alien Resurrection, Titan A.E., and bunch of random shows about fireflies and trying to kill James Marsters) is extremely competent as writer and director and definitely did not shy away from the challenges this film posed, which primarily involved overlapping several strong leading characters and their respective storylines into one film. In this respect, a lot could’ve gone wrong, but The Avengers works. While I don’t believe that Whedon’s ability to write dialogue is anything to call home about, I must give the man props in two regards: he is an incredibly gifted storyteller and he knows his characters well.

For a film that features multiple characters with strong, distinct personalities, Whedon recognizes each character’s strengths and plays them up to a point where they compliment one another nicely. Everyone brings something unique to the table. Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) is slick and wise-cracking. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is aggressive and has a bit of a superiority complex. Captain America (Chris Evans) is the moral backbone of the group. And Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) is cynical and mild-mannered when he isn’t destroying things like cars, buildings, and Lou Ferrigno’s career.

You know you’re in trouble when Stan Lee looks more intimidating than you.

The plot of The Avengers is nothing new. Tom Hiddleston reprises his role of Loki and makes a deal with a hostile alien race called the Chitauri that involves an exchange of a cube of unlimited energy called the Tesseract for the chance to rule Earth. Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) assembles a team of superheroes called “the Avengers” to thwart this plan. Okay, when I describe it like that, it sounds pretty new, but the whole alien invasion/world domination thing has been done a million times. Where the story of The Avengers succeeds, however, is in its execution. Needless to say, the action scenes are breathtaking, but they are also used sparingly and compliment the main story rather than dominate it. The scenes in between the action are not simply throwaway filler, but are used to develop the characters further and explore all the possibilities of their dynamic. The Avengers is a film about its characters and great care is taken to maintain everything we already know and love about them, but also to test their limits in new ways. For example, we are shown a few scenes where Iron Man, who always seemed just a tad too comfortable in his previous films, breaks down, loses his cool, and becomes completely vulnerable. It’s fascinating to watch.

But not as fascinating as THIS! How is he even…?

The acting overall is superb with everyone disappearing into their respective roles. Mark Ruffalo does a great job stepping in as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, retaining the inherent tragedy of the character, but also having fun with him too. I thought Tom Hiddleston stole the show as Loki in Thor, but a lot of viewers found him a bit bland and predictable. Fortunately, The Avengers makes it cool to like Loki. The script gives him a lot more to do this time and the character really comes into his own. Most notably, he is far more menacing. A personal highlight for me was the scene where he is interrogated by the Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). It has a striking resemblance to when Clarice first meets Hannibal Lecter in The Silence of the Lambs and establishes the same type of intensity and creepiness. I guess I could complain a bit that Samuel L. Jackson basically plays himself in this film, but this criticism is moot. Short history lesson: when Marvel was revamping all of their famous characters for their “Ultimate” comicbook series, the new Nick Fury was actually based on Jackson. So basically, by playing Nick Fury, Jackson is also playing himself … who is Nick Fury.

It’s like Inception … if Inception could stare you into compliance.

I do, however, have a few minor complaints about The Avengers. I already hinted that I found the dialogue to be contrived at times, but the real weaknesses have to do with character development. While the film gives each character time to develop to a satisfactory point, the audience is left wanting more at times. This is mostly apparent in the characters of Black Widow and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). Implications about Widow’s past are frequently made and while this does add an enigmatic aspect to the character that we didn’t get in Iron Man 2, she’s still rather bland. Hawkeye, on the other hand, we know pretty much nothing about. He’s just kind of there. While this isn’t a big problem because these are both minor characters, the movie presents us with a couple of scenes intended to spark some type of emotion for these characters, but I simply didn’t know enough about them to care. I found the Chitauri to be somewhat underdeveloped as well, taking on more of a disposable henchmen role to Loki. I realize this could be intentional in order to build up the Chitauri for a more prominent role in a future film (minor spoiler – a mid-credits scene alludes to this), but judging this film alone, these characters fall short.

I also found that Captain America felt a bit out of place in this film. When held up next to Iron Man, Thor, and The Hulk, Cap’s superpowers pale in comparison. As a result, he isn’t given much to do. The comics compensated for this by establishing Cap as the driving moral force of the team and a master strategist. While the movie is consistent with his morality, the strategist aspect arrives very late in the film and does so rather abruptly and arbitrarily. It’s like one second, everyone’s arguing and the next, they’re all taking orders from Cap for no apparent reason. This was especially jarring considering Cap is the butt of several of the other characters’ jokes during the first and second acts. I haven’t seen such a sudden and seemingly random acquisition of power since high school student council elections.

Vote for me and every Friday becomes “Lumberjack Day”!

Overall, The Avengers is a fun, effective film that certainly lives up to its hype. The action is amazing, but not dominating over the real attraction – the characters. Check it out.

I give it 4/5.