A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
S1E2: Based on the first episode of HBO’s new drama Luck, I think it is no grand leap to assume that the show’s meager ratings will not be seeing a huge spike anytime soon. The subject matter, and the way it is delivered to audiences, is alienating to those not already well versed in the world of horserace gambling. As our TV editor, Kelsea Stahler, pointed out in her review of the pilot, Luck places a heavy focus on the emotionality inherent in horseracing—to the trainers, the jockeys, the gamblers, everybody. But interspersed are jargon-heavy conversations that act to further the plot and set us in a vividly realistic depiction of the scenery. To those of us who are complete strangers to the racetrack, these conversations do more harm than good.
But the second episode, while not completely free of this problem (I won’t exactly call it a flaw, because the show doesn’t seem at all oblivious to what it is doing), is a clear indicator of why HBO might have decided to pick up the series for a second season. We already guessed that Luck’s strongest selling point would be its cast. Film legends like Dustin Hoffman, Nick Nolte and Dennis Farina lead the list of players in this drama. And even if the premise doesn’t grip you inherently, they will. The cast—and the characters—are exemplary.
“Like the whole state economy, the track is desperate for new streams of revenue. The perfect f**king Trojan Horse.” – Ace
We see Hoffman’s Chester “Ace” Bernstein, just freed from a three-year stint in jail—all because he took the fall for his partner (the yet-unseen Michael Gambon)—getting readily back into the game. But as we learned in the pilot, Bernstein is not the man he used to be. His mind is going. His temper is unkempt. I predict a long, slow demolition of this character from the inside out. This week, Bernstein institutes a meeting with potential investors for his racetrack purchase—but his agitated demeanor is a deterrent to the men. Right by Ace’s side is the wide-eyed thug Gus (Farrina), whose experience with gambling is akin to that of the confused viewer I described above. Ep.2 Clip - Comprende? Although we haven’t seen Gus lose his cool just yet—he actually seems the kindest of the characters we’ve met so far—his one-off comment about plugging Ace’s betrayer Michael (Gambon) and Ace’s description of his assistant as “hot under the collar” might suggest a background in playing rough. It also might suggest a degree of projecting for Ace, whose collar is perpetually on fire. As the duo struggles to find its place back in the underworld, I find their scenes together to be delightfully classic. They’re an old school formula: Rocky and Mugsy. The small, shot-calling brains with the hot temper, and his mild-mannered, milder-minded muscle. A line of dialogue in the pilot makes the pairing really endearing: “I don’t trust anybody. Even myself,” says Bernstein, concluding to Gus: “You get a pass.” Unconditional (and unlikely) friendships amid worlds of deceit and corruption are terrific story devices. I’m looking forward to see how far this one takes us. “I appreciate the good fortune we’ve had, but ball-breaking over my wardrobe is not my idea of fun. And my mental adroitness is dulled by this constant negativity!” – Lonnie In the pilot, the band of Marcus (Kevin Dunn), Jerry (Jason Gedrick), Renzo (Ritchie Coster) and the Ringo the group, Lonnie (Ian Hart), were mostly just noise to wade through due to the heavy amount of technical chitchat about the gambling process. But the second episode boosted them up to a dynamic force, thrusting them at odds with one another due to divergent perspectives on how to handle their newfound riches. Marcus, the unofficial leader of the group and rejecter of all ideas not his own, insists that they all lay low with their intake for the time being, as not to attract any attention. The others succumb to various weaknesses. Jerry, apparently a gambling addict (there has to be at least one in a show like this) spends an inordinate amount of time losing at a poker table to a trash talking high roller. Lonnie lets two women get the better of him—they beat him senseless after he suggests that he’ll be cutting off ties (and funds). There’s something fantastically interesting about this aspect of the series: four men—not friends, not family, not coworkers…four men disconnected by everything except for their partnership in what might well prove to be a problematic financial deal—are bound to one another and forced to wade through the consequences together. Their actions affect each other (as Marcus chants throughout the episode), so they need to keep tabs on one another. When a badly injured Lonnie is delivered to the neighboring motel doors of Marcus and Renzo, the two anxiously take him into the room to tend to him. They’re all in this together, despite having absolutely no emotional connection to one another. Yet. Ep.2 Clip - Ready? “You know what breaking legs sounds like? Branches snapping…” – Walter
But the most wonderful part of the show, as we might have guessed from the first episode, is Nick Nolte’s Walter Smith. A pained, guilt-driven man whose heart bleeds endlessly. He loves horses. He can’t get over the murder of a prized racehorse who cost some business associates a good deal of money. And his heart bleeds (thought slightly less so) for young rider Rosie (Kerry Condon), whom he looks into helping out professionally after he refuses to let her handle the horse he most prizes presently. Smith is a man dipped in such a thick sap of sadness that every word he utters is so valuable. I cannot see this character getting boring, or alienating. He is pure, raw emotion, and his will be the journey—if only one rears—that keeps us adhered to the show cathartically. The remaining characters are interesting in their own right. Richard Kind plays Joey Rathburn, a version of his regular type amped up with more anxiety than he can handle. His business partner, trainer Turo Escalante (John Ortiz) is as hotheaded and distrustful as Bernstein is said to be. He chastises his good-natured jockey, the young Cajun boy Leon Micheaux (Tom Payne) for “flapping his mouth” about his horse’s ability. Escalante values the secrecy of his horse’s abilities in order to keep bets on and barters for him few and far between. When word gets out about the horse’s ability and a cowboy named Mulligan wagers a purchase, Escalante is furious—and Renzo, whose mission was to buy the horse himself, is let down. After the pilot, the second episode of Luck is a refreshing, deeply human piece of work that promises good things for the future of the show. What did you think of the episode? Are those of you with limited knowledge of the gambling world deterred by the show? How about those who know a lot about gambling—is the show getting it right? Let us know in the comments section, or on Twitter (@MichaelArbeiter).