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.
The first and most important thing you should know about Paramount Pictures’ Thor is that it’s not a laughably corny comic book adaptation. Though you might find it hokey to hear a bunch of muscled heroes talk like British royalty while walking around the American Southwest in LARP garb director Kenneth Branagh has condensed vast Marvel mythology to make an accessible straightforward fantasy epic. Like most films of its ilk I’ve got some issues with its internal logic aesthetic and dialogue but the flaws didn’t keep me from having fun with this extra dimensional adventure.
Taking notes from fellow Avenger Iron Man the story begins with an enthralling event that takes place in a remote desert but quickly jumps back in time to tell the prologue which introduces the audience to the shining kingdom of Asgard and its various champions. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) son of Odin is heir to the throne but is an arrogant overeager and ill-tempered rogue whose aggressive antics threaten a shaky truce between his people and the frost giants of Jotunheim one of the universe’s many realms. Odin (played with aristocratic boldness by Anthony Hopkins) enraged by his son’s blatant disregard of his orders to forgo an assault on their enemies after they attempt to reclaim a powerful artifact banishes the boy to a life among the mortals of Earth leaving Asgard defenseless against the treachery of Loki his mischievous “other son” who’s always felt inferior to Thor. Powerless and confused the disgraced Prince finds unlikely allies in a trio of scientists (Natalie Portman Stellan Skarsgard and Kat Dennings) who help him reclaim his former glory and defend our world from total destruction.
Individually the make-up visual effects CGI production design and art direction are all wondrous to behold but when fused together to create larger-than-life set pieces and action sequences the collaborative result is often unharmonious. I’m not knocking the 3D presentation; unlike 2010’s genre counterpart Clash of the Titans the filmmakers had plenty of time to perfect the third dimension and there are only a few moments that make the decision to convert look like it was a bad one. It’s the unavoidable overload of visual trickery that’s to blame for the frost giants’ icy weaponized constructs and other hybrids of the production looking noticeably artificial. Though there’s some imagery to nitpick the same can’t be said of Thor’s thunderous sound design which is amped with enough wattage to power The Avengers’ headquarters for a century.
Chock full of nods to the comics the screenplay is both a strength and weakness for the film. The story is well sequenced giving the audience enough time between action scenes to grasp the characters motivations and the plot but there are tangential narrative threads that disrupt the focus of the film. Chief amongst them is the frost giants’ fore mentioned relic which is given lots of attention in the first act but has little effect on the outcome. In addition I felt that S.H.I.E.L.D. was nearly irrelevant this time around; other than introducing Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye the secret security faction just gets in the way of the movie’s momentum.
While most of the comedy crashes and burns there are a few laughs to be found in the film. Most come from star Hemsworth’s charismatic portrayal of the God of Thunder. He plays up the stranger-in-a-strange-land aspect of the story with his cavalier but charming attitude and by breaking all rules of diner etiquette in a particularly funny scene with the scientists whose respective roles as love interest (Portman) friendly father figure (Skarsgaard) and POV character (Dennings) are ripped right out of a screenwriters handbook.
Though he handles the humorous moments without a problem Hemsworth struggles with some of the more dramatic scenes in the movie; the result of over-acting and too much time spent on the Australian soap opera Home and Away. Luckily he’s surrounded by a stellar supporting cast that fills the void. Most impressive is Tom Hiddleston who gives a truly humanistic performance as the jealous Loki. His arc steeped in Shakespearean tragedy (like Thor’s) drums up genuine sympathy that one rarely has for a comic book movie villain.
My grievances with the technical aspects of the production aside Branagh has succeeded in further exploring the Marvel Universe with a film that works both as a standalone superhero flick and as the next chapter in the story of The Avengers. Thor is very much a comic book film and doesn’t hide from the reputation that its predecessors have given the sub-genre or the tropes that define it. Balanced pretty evenly between “serious” and “silly ” its scope is large enough to please fans well versed in the source material but its tone is light enough to make it a mainstream hit.
Most recently, we've come to know Angelina Jolie as Chelsea Handler's main squeeze, but she's also one of the most fascinating actors and humanitarians the world has ever seen. I had the chance to go to Paris to attend the press junket for The Tourist, and I spoke with her about what it was like to film in Venice, working with Johnny Depp, and how she may or may not be similar to her character of Elise Clifton-Ward.
Q: You were one of the main reasons this film finally got made. Why did you want to do it?
Angelina: You know some of these will have a great intellectual answer and some of these are just... There was suddenly a window where Brad was doing Moneyball, and I asked if there was something shooting in a great location that’s a character I haven’t done before. Someone said there’s this project shooting in Paris and Venice, and I said "OK, now what?" It kind of started like that. But then I looked at it and thought, “well I don’t want to make the mistake of an American doing a European style film and it becoming too American.” I’ve always loved Florian’s work and I felt in very safe hands, and then Johnny was in, and it was this lovely project. But it was part of my desire to go to Venice.
Q: I read that this was your first time actually meeting Johnny when you sat down to talk about this project. What was your chemistry like on screen and working together?
A: I had never met Johnny but I liked his films. And I think you could tell by watching his films that he’s a very likable person. You assume he’s a nice guy. And he is. It was a pleasure. Brad had known him a little bit and said he was a great guy. We met in his office one day and talked mostly about kids and France. It was just easy to talk to him and we had fun together. We seemed to have a laugh quickly.
Q: How important was it to watch the original (Anthony Zimmer)?
A: We all made the decision to not watch it. We knew the original script was based loosely on it but Florian wrote the final final draft. It took steps and steps away from it and it got tailored to each different personality attached to it. There were a few big things that were adjusted more about emotional connection, not so much plots but there were some big sweeping things. It’s hard to describe. It’s not a remake.
Q: Can you talk about your lasting impressions of working in Venice?
A: Venice is just heaven to work in. For any of us to be stuck in for two months, Venice is pretty much at the top of the list. It was beautiful for the children. Funny in some ways… you go to work and you don’t know whether you’re stepping up into a boat or down into a boat depending on the tides. And then you drive your boat into some other place in the water. It was just odd to be in boats all the time. Loads of fun. Then we had dinners and halfway we had to get throw boots on because by the time you were done eating the water had risen so everyone walks home in their wellies.
Q: Johnny Depp's character respects that Elise is a "very grounded” person. Do you think you’re grounded in real life too?
A: I think that’s true. Especially in comparison to how I’ve been in my life, you become more and more grounded with children and the older you get. At the same time, I think being grounded allows you to be even more free. There’s a funny misconception about what it is to be grounded. When you’re younger and wild you don’t have as much control over life and you don’t have the ability to do things with as much bravery because you don’t understand it and when you’re older you can tackle bigger things and you can handle them. So I’m grounded but my children keep me in chaos like I’ve never been in. Things seem fuller but much more grounded.
Q: How do you balance your production schedule and your home life?
A: Well Brad and I have never worked at the same time. One good thing about being an actor is you work pretty solid when you work, you usually work 5 days a week and you only work for a few months and then you’re off at home for months. I’ve been fairly lucky as a mother with the amount of time I get to spend with my children. When I was filming and we were in production in the recent thing I did, Brad was at home with them everyday so he would take them to school. He’s an extremely hands on, wonderfully committed father. Sometimes it’s nice to have extra daddy time with them so it benefits in a different way.
Q: Can you talk about the wardrobe for The Tourist?
A: It was so much a character in the film. This film is… really what Florian and I discussed early on is something that is a pleasure and it was an escape into a lovely world how you wish Paris and Venice was. You wish everyone felt this elegant for a moment. So Coleen, she’s just extraordinary, I felt like I was back in one of these old time movies where they twist you around and add this and move this and build your wardrobe around your shoes, gloves, handbag, the thing in your hair -- they all match. It was fun the first two weeks, but I was glad to step away because it was a lot of maintenance.
Q: Did you watch old movies to prepare for filming?
A: We all did watch some of those old movies but then I found that we wanted to both get a sense of the old movies while still getting ready to make a modern one. Florian was good at this, guiding us. Especially my character -- she couldn’t be somebody pretending to be a certain way. It might feel too staged. We had to learn about that behavior but relax and forget. But we did watch To Catch a Thief... I have difficult sitting down and watching movies. Brad sat me down and we went through them for a few nights. They were fun, but I didn’t want to start mimicking a certain personality, and even those old films -- they’re very staged. I didn’t want to get into something where I couldn’t be organic.
Q: What’s your interpretation of the role you play in the film?
A: I think we made a decision that she wasn’t empowered. That’s something Florian and I discussed. We wanted it to be someone who was raised a certain way, to take care of themselves a certain way, and that’s who she was as opposed to some kind of vixen. She has a bit of a heart, so it doesn’t fall into some cold person.
Q: But she turns heads. We see several scenes where people just turn and look at her. When she goes on the train, she finds a guy who just stares at her. She’s very aware of her seductive ability. It’s almost fun for her. Do you identify with that at all?
A: That was mostly Florian instructing me on that. I’m not necessarily that person. I’m traditionally not that person.
Q: Did you ever feel any pressure working with Johnny Depp?
A: No I work with Brad, so I don’t think so. You know, Johnny is such an easy person to be with and work with. But I think we both wanted it to go well. It’s so odd, there’s these things about what you are in the press but at the end of the day, the big thing we did was we all got together, Brad and myself, him and Vanessa, our boys ended up playing video games all night while we drank wine and talked. It was just fun and lovely.
Q: Do you have any idea what you’re doing next?
A: No, I’m unemployed.