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Category Archives: Movie Reviews

Interstellar Movie Review – The Best Science Fiction Movie of the Decade

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Christopher Nolan’s big movies are overstuffed, wobbling shopping carts full of stuff that are always about to topple over. The Hitchcock and Kubrick shots, the frantic editing, the acting that varies between overwrought and flat, the plots that make less sense the longer they go on, but they’re still incredible to watch.

Interstellar is just that. A barely coherent mashup of 2001 and Contact, it’s a glorious mess that gets worse as it goes  along, that, like most big Nolan movies could have been 40 minutes shorter, and that’s still the best science fiction movie of the decade.

In an age of CG cartoons, Nolan is still trying to make movies and it shows. Spaceships, robots and explosions are in every other movie, but Interstellar is actually based on a science fiction premise, instead of playing with scifi toys.

Interstellar self-consciously references 2001, but also humanizes it. Interstellar may be much looser and messier than anything Kubrick would have tolerated, but it also provides the audience with human stakes in its stories about multi-dimensional evolved humans, black holes and temporal variances.

It’s an optimistic movie about the importance of space travel and human potential. It’s a science fiction movie that is about the strangeness of the universe.

The plot of Interstellar is a train wreck, but Matthew McConaughey drags it along with him in overwrought scene after scene with extra ham on top. He embodies the passion of a messy project. His character and his performance is Interstellar’s rejection of abstract idealism in favor of specific human needs.

Michael Caine’s Professor Brand and Matt Damon’s Mann prove to be unreliable sociopaths whose speeches about the greater good cover for their selfishness. But Cooper’s selfishness is always front and center. He leaves his family behind, not to save the world, but because he loves the idea of flying a ship. And he wants to leave the mission to get back to his family. It’s his human needs that allow a transhuman future to connect to his world.

It’s a subversive message that challenges the authoritarianism of so many science fiction movies.

2001 showed people becoming inhuman. Interstellar humanizes even the robots whose design abandons the humanoid form, but whose personalities pick up human traits. Becoming less human isn’t the path to evolution. Embracing our humanity is. It’s a clunky message, but there have been worse messages in movies.

Interstellar is badly broken and yet its ambition and dysfunction is a breath of fresh air. It has little in common with the usual Marvel or Hasbro toy line movie. Instead it’s a science fiction movie about messed up people making mistakes in a universe with a limited tolerance for human error, but also a universe with amazing possibilities.

And that is what science fiction used to be before it became the background for brand merchandising movies.

Mortdecai and the Critical Backlash Mass

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Mortdecai didn’t deserve all the hate thrown at it when it came out. It’s not a great movie, but it wasn’t anywhere as bad as the reviews which told everyone it was the second coming of Hitler, instead of a modern Pink Panther caper that sucked a lot less than the Steve Martin Pink Panthers.

But Mortdecai fell victim to the critical backlash mass.

A successful actor or director becomes known for one gimmick. The gimmick is irritating, but initially it’s also entertaining. Like Johnny Depp doing a wacky character, Robin Williams going for cheap tears instead of laughs or George Lucas making CG Star Wars cartoons. Then the backlash builds with every movie until it blows.

And it blows all over a movie that might not even deserve it. Like the critical backlash mass building against Robin Williams over Patch Adams and exploding over Jakob the Liar. Or Johnny Depp in Mortdecai.

The hate had built up with the fourth Pirates movie that no one outside China wanted. It hissed to a boil with Dark Shadows and The Lone Ranger, both flopped, and then exploded in violent rage with Mortdecai.

Depp’s Charlie Mortdecai is the weakest part of the movie, but also the part that holds the rest of the movie together. The script isn’t great and the movie could have used a bigger and longer climax (one of the few movies these days that you can say that about), but most of the working parts were okay. Visually it looked good. The cast was good, especially Paul Bettany’s Jock. And most of the jokes worked okay if you like them big, goofy and obvious.

But all the parts rubbed up against Depp’s Mortdecai. And Depp wearing wacky outfits and makeup already rubbed too many critics raw. Imagine Mortdecai with Jim Carrey in the lead and it could have been even more annoying, but it wouldn’t have been showered with the same amount of critic rage. They reacted to Depp’s Mortdecai as an extension of every annoying mannered character from Willy Wonka to Sweeney Todd.

Mortdecai needed its own Peter Sellers. An actor who could just dive into the role sincerely, instead of prancing around with a mannered, “Look at me, I’m acting so goofy” air of an unfunny class clown in a high school production of Pirates of Penzance. Maybe Robert Downey Jr. could have done it. But Depp can just do exactly what he’s been doing since that long forgotten good Pirates of the Caribbean movie. It’s all he’s ever going to do now.

But Mortdecai was still fun. It wasn’t a great movie. Or an especially good one. It wasn’t even Hudson Hawk. But it was up there with a decent Moonlighting episode. What happened to it is the difference between viewing movies on their own or as part of a dynamic cultural dialogue. And that’s how critics, and everyone is a critic now, see them.

Mortdecai stopped being its own movie and became an extension of Depp’s other wacky movies and that became an extension of a trend in movies that had to be stamped out.

Depp recovered and went on working. Big actors are hard to take down. And Black Mass was just more of the same. And there’s an unfunny Depp video as Trump and another Pirates of the Caribbean sequel.

It’s the shakiest movies that are easiest to take down. Movies with no built in audience anyway. Like a caper about a wacky British art dealer and thief. Or a movie in which Adam Sandler plays a cobbler who can become other people. The stars go on, but the blowback destroys a smaller fun movie and the careers of smaller, maybe fun people.

Is anyone going to let David Koepp direct again? Would Tom McCarthy’s carer have survived if Spotlight hadn’t been in the can? Critics find a release in lashing out at annoying actors for being annoying, but the actors don’t go away, the people who took a risk and tried to make a different kind of movie and were lucky enough to get a major star to sign on, only to be wrecked by his backlash, who more often go away.

Amy Heckerling’s Vamps Movie – What Went Wrong

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It’s easy to tell a bad movie from a good movie, but sometimes it’s interesting to look at a movie that was almost good.

Everyone knows Clueless. Few ever saw Vamps even though it reteams Alicia Silverstone with director Amy Heckerling. Vamps’ elevator pitch was probably Clueless meets Sex in the City.

The setting may be Sex in the City, but the cultural commentary is Clueless. Vamps has a lot in common stylistically with the original Buffy movie which was fun in its own way. Its gags are a lot like the gags in the original Buffy flick, goofy and self-consciously over the top with a plot that has elements of Death Becomes Her.

Vamps is very much a 90s movie even though it was released in 2012. Even its desperate contemporary references, to the Patriot Act and the iPhone, feel barely post-90s. There’s actually a screenshot of Napster at one point. In 2012.

Its version of New York City seems to come from Friends. It exists in that universe in which the city was a guilt-free playground for wacky free spirits who walked around with their own laugh tracks. But Silverstone’s Goody shares Cher’s sweet nature and helpful ways and the movie even has a lot of the same charm as Clueless.

There are good performances here, including a surprisingly understated moving one from Richard Lewis. There’s also an over the top bad one from Sigourney Weaver. The special effects are bad, but there are lovely scenes of Goody seeing flashes of the old New York City across the new one.

This is a movie with gags and meditations about age. It has plenty of funny and touching moments. So what went wrong?

Vamps takes on aging the way that Clueless took on cliques. But not nearly as well. It almost worked. Vamps on one level offers a commentary about the social cost of aging and trying to look young. And on another, it’s a vampire spoof in which a modern Van Helsing uses bureaucracy to pursue vampires.

Both ideas have a lot of promise and they lift up the movie, but they never do the really hard thing, which is come together. Instead Heckerling sharply transitions from Wallace Shawn’s Van Helsing going from being ready to stake Goody to empathizing with her past tragedies. Awkward bridges like that show their stitching.

The funniest stuff in Vamps comes from the supporting cast of vampires, from Malcolm McDowell to Justin Kirk. It comes from Wallace Shawn’s hunt for them. The least funny stuff is at the center of the movie, Alicia Silverstone and Kyrsten Ritter in pink coffins. And so Vamps isn’t a particularly funny movie when they’re on screen.

Vamps could have been a biting commentary on aging and dating in New York City, but Heckerling doesn’t let it get anywhere near biting territory. It’s not just the coffins that are pink. Heckerling avoids sharp writing and conflict and darker emotions. Instead Vamps is a PG movie dressed in more adult clothing.

That leaves Vamps not funny enough to be the Arachnophobia or Buffy (the movie, not the show) that it could have been and not sharp enough to be the dark biting social critique that it could have been.

Unlike Loser, Heckerling doesn’t even manage to convincingly show the sweet good people at the center winning against evil. There may be blood and bodies, but no real evil in Vamps. Vamps has an emptiness at the center of it that it never fills. Neither do its protagonists.

Amy Heckerling brings her own obsessions with the younger man and older woman pairing to create some embarrassing scenes. The entire movie can be seen as a vehicle for letting Krysten Ritter’s 80s girl Stacey have a baby and a younger man. It doesn’t help that Ritter could also stand in for Amy Heckerling.

Clueless talked over teens, but it also talked to them. Vamps is full of rants about cell phones and instant messaging. Alicia Silverstone plays them as sweetly as she can, but it’s hard to disguise how different they are from Cher’s cultural critiques in Clueless. Clueless didn’t hate teens. Vamps sets out to alienate an audience it dislikes.

Retooled, Vamps could have played to teens. But Heckerling didn’t want to speak to them. She was talking to an older audience. An audience that might have been in their teens when it saw Clueless, but isn’t looking to go any deeper, just older. And that might have worked too. But there are other problems.

Amy Heckerling has gotten sloppy. Not a lot, but enough that some scenes don’t flow well and the pacing is off. It’s not punishing, but it weakens the movie and kills gags that might have worked. Heckerling’s brand of comedy depends on characters. The movie is weakest when Silverstone and Ritter can’t carry it.

And it’s Krysten Ritter that’s the problem.

Ritter is a good actress, but she’s not the best choice to play an innocent and naive 80s teen. Maybe she’s the worst choice. Her best moments are darker ones. Matching her with Silverstone’s blithe Goody doesn’t work. The two actresses don’t gel well. Ritter can’t breathe feeling into bland dialogue the way Alicia Silverstone does. It’s the nastier comebacks and scenes where she shines. A smarter movie would have played that in a Single White Female way. Vamps could done that, but then it would have been forced to take away Heckerling’s happy ending in which Ritter walks away with a younger man and a baby.

Amy Heckerling sacrificed Vamps to her idea of the happy ending.

You can read Vamps as a coda to Heckerling’s career. She’s been associated with teen movies and she’s tired of it. At the end, she doesn’t want to try and keep up with teen slang or understand why they text each other instead of talking. She wants her main character to walk away 40, but looking like 20, with a baby and a man half her age.

Audiences can swallow vampires, but some fantasies are too hard to accept.

A Veronica Mars Movie Review… and the Kickstarter Nostalgia Problem

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After Veronica Mars was cancelled, Rob Thomas tried to move the show forward with a proposed next season that had her in the FBI. It wasn’t perfect, but it was plausible. It might have even been interesting. And it would have moved Veronica forward.

But fans don’t fund Kickstarters to see a story move forward. They do it to get more of the same.

And that’s what Veronica Mars is. A hit of nostalgia. It’s not really a movie. More of an extended TV episode with a more famous cast and a few more expensive shots, mostly in New York.

Kirsten Bell tries her hardest and the old cast is good, but the story is lacking. The central mystery feels like a condensed version of the first few seasons with Logan as a murder suspect, a viciously hostile sheriff and a murder involving a rich girl.

There’s nothing new here. There’s nothing that even feels new. And it’s not nearly as good in backwash form.

The dialogue is sharp and funny, witty, knowing and clever in that self-referential way that caters to its fans. But the same can’t be said of the plot which is not only derivative, but gives you few reasons to care.

The movie relies on throwing in old characters and expecting the audience to care, but the murder mystery doesn’t matter, there’s no emotional hook except Logan’s legal problems and a secondary story involving Weevil’s shooting is awkward, as Veronica Mars’ attempts at social commentary usually were, and ends unfinished.

The movie is an excuse to put everything back the way it was and it’s unconvincing. Veronica Mars as an FBI agent was plausible. Veronica Mars as a corporate lawyer in New York isn’t. It’s there to set up a pointless choice that we know she will make between her life back in Neptune and filing legal documents.

It gives Veronica Mars a reason not to move on. And it convinces the audience that she wouldn’t.

Veronica Mars once felt new and fresh. It was sharp as a knife. Trying to recreate it in this way isn’t. It’s like a reunion tour for a group that rocked in the 70s. A few of the old standards with none of the old spirit.

There are other bad choices. A portion of the movie involving James Franco. Text messages appearing on the screen. A painfully long intro chock full of exposition that should have been relayed through the characters and has no reason for existing since anyone watching this probably already knows the bare premise of the show.

But they’re not the problem. The problem is that a show that was once fresh and new has become a nostalgia product. And maybe that’s what’s wrong with Kickstarter and with funding a movie through it.

Kickstarter allows people in their twenties and thirties to pay for more of the things they liked when growing up, whether it’s games or movies. But they don’t remember that what made them like those things was their newness. The way they rocked their world.

Veronica Mars, set around a reunion, is self-consciously a reunion. The old gang is back together. Everything is the way it was. Life hasn’t moved on. And it lets the people paying for more of the same pretend that life hasn’t moved on either.

As terrible as the Buffy season comics are, they are in their own awkward stupid way trying to move forward. Rob Thomas left to his own devices might have done that with Veronica Mars. Or he might have done it despite Kickstarter. But instead he gave the people what they paid for.

A ghost of what the show used to be.

Adult World – Movie Review

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Adult World is almost a movie about growing up, but it’s wedged in an indie land where growing up is something that other people do. Instead it clings to its precious indie cliches wasting two good performances on self-conscious cliches.

The trailer with its dynamic between Emma Roberts as a clueless aspiring young writer and John Cusack as a burned out poet would have made for a great movie, unfortunately that movie isn’t Adult World, which spends more time milking laughs and awkwardness out of Roberts’ job in an adult bookstore and her rooming with a transvestite.

Emma Roberts gives a great and very real performance as a ridiculous and very familiar character, the young poet with no clue, who is convinced of her own talent and is desperate to succeed. John Cusack’s grouchy Rat, a man whose glory days are in the past, is a good change of pace for the actor.

It’s not the actors who let down the movie, but the plot with its over-reliance on indie gimmicks, cliched teaching moments and characters and organic filler that lets the actors down.

Adult World would have been better off set on campus, instead indie cliches demand a goofy workplace and a story about growing up. Indie cliches also demand an outsider character to teach the white main character something about life and Adult World offers up a transvestite roommate. The plot that brings them together makes less sense than anything else in the movie, but the producers are just checking off an indie box.

Wacky old lady, check. Man-child boyfriend who could double for Jesse Eisenberg, check. And all that’s left is a movie that might have been good if it had grown up enough to break out of its indie shell.

Kick Ass 2 Movie Review

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Kick Ass did a good job of building a movie around seven issues of a comic book. It did it by fixing some of the holes and expanding the characters.

Kick Ass 2 tries to do the same thing, but it has one big problem. Chloe Moretz has grown up. Its solution is to stick in a Mean Girls plot that is completely out of place.

Every other second superhero movie follows the pattern of having the hero contemplate hanging up the cape. But there’s usually more at stake than date night.

The high school scenes in Kick Ass told us why someone might want to be a superhero. The high school scenes in Kick Ass 2 don’t tell us anything and belong in a completely different movie.

That’s not the only problem with Kick Ass 2. Moving the showdown from Times Square to a warehouse doesn’t do the ending any favors. Neither does cutting out the dark ending of the comic and trading it for an action movie shark finish and a neat escape.

Kick Ass 2 might have worked if it had stuck to that darker ending where the superheroes are arrested, Kick Ass is a wanted man after killing his nemesis and Hit Girl is on the way to prison. Instead there’s an uplifting moral about how everyone has a hero inside them.

The things that Kick Ass 2 does well are the same things that Kick Ass did well. It develops the villains and makes them a lot more interesting and entertaining than Millar managed to do. And Jim Carrey steals every scene he’s in as Captain Stars and Stripes, even if he’s unrecognizable and decided to take his name out of the credits.

What it fails at is developing the heroes. If Kick Ass 2 had done as much for the development of the heroes as it did in developing Chris and his relationship with his father’s bodyguard and the attention it lavished on Mother Russia, it would be a good movie.

But no such luck.

The heroes get scaled down to dumber costumes. And Insect Man is traded for a guy who is there for comic effect. Hit Girl’s big conflict is wanting to date and be a cheerleader.

Evil has a solid trajectory. Good doesn’t.

Kick Ass 2 thinks the villains are a lot more entertaining than the heroes. But a movie where the villains are solidly developed and the heroine is off doing Mean Girls doesn’t work. The movie straddles this disconnect by not going too dark. The Captain’s dog lives. Katie doesn’t get raped. Kids don’t get shot. And that takes the energy Kick Ass had off the table.

Kick Ass went places you didn’t expect. With Kick Ass 2 you know who’s going to get eaten by the shark long before it happens.

Kick Ass 2’s big mistake is that it gets too comfortable being a comedy that it doesn’t think too much about the superhero stuff. It goes for easy laughs by building up the villains and lowering the stakes. It forgets that there already was a superhero comedy and this isn’t it.

Kick Ass backed out of the some of the comic’s darker moments, but it was smarter about what it replaced them with. Kick Ass 2 has nothing to replace them with.

Man of Steel – Movie Review

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Despite its pedigree, Man of Steel has little in common with the Dark Knight movies. It’s really a Marvel movie wrapped in the pretentious seriousness of its Dark Knight cousin.

Man of Steel isn’t really Superman. The first hint of that comes from the title which carefully avoids the S Word. But it isn’t a Dark Knight realistic reworking either. Superman as we know him barely appears here. But in his place is a character who could just as easily be Marvel’s Superman. Swap out Superman for Thor and with a few minor modifications you could have exactly the same movie. And, Man of Steel even bears a suspicious resemblance to Marvel’s first Thor movie.

There’s hardly any Clark Kent here. Just the story of an itinerant superhero, a classier version of Will Smith’s Hancock, who occasionally saves people while fleeing his past and searching for his purpose. That’s a story alright. But it isn’t Superman.

And it’s barely a story.

Man of Steel avoids origin story drag by telling everything through a set of flashbacks. That only adds to the feeling that the entire movie is a set of montages. You could watch Man of Steel with the sound off and miss absolutely nothing because there is no plot development.

Clark Kent tours the world and punches aliens. Then he punches them some more. That’s the movie.

Man of Steel isn’t bad. It just lacks content. There’s nothing here you remember after walking out of the theater. And that makes it no different than most of the other 200 and 300 million dollar summer blockbusters. There are gorgeous scenes. Superman’s first flight is absolutely spectacular and the rendering of Krypton’s history in animated art deco chrome is amazingly beautiful and moving.

But that’s it.

From the first minutes of the extended opening sequence where Russell Crowe as Jor El does all the usual action hero stuff, somehow beating General Zod and his men in hand to hand combat despite being a scientist, you know exactly the kind of movie that Man of Steel will be. And it doesn’t disappoint by not disappointing.

Even the closest thing to a dramatic arc, Clark Kent learning to trust human beings, is barely there. His pivotal struggle consists of walking into a church and then answering his own question. Even Marvel movies have more plot content than that.

Zack Snyder can shoot beautiful scenes, but he has never learned to connect them into a movie. That worked in 300, but brought him down when he tried to tackle the complex interwoven narrative of Watchmen. And he doesn’t even try in Man of Steel. It’s Superman 300 without the Superman or the 300.

Henry Cavill makes a passable Superman because he doesn’t ever have to do anything except look determined. The movie brings in Russell Crowe and Kevin Costner to play Clark’s parents and both men turn in great performances. Meanwhile the pivotal role of General Zod is left to an actor with all the subtlety of a hammer.

If General Zod had been played by a better actor, Men of Steel might have been more watchable. Instead Michael Shannon’s Zod is demented, but lacks presence. He gets beaten up by Jor El in the beginning and then gets captured and he never seems like he has anything going for him except advanced technology.

The actual fights are the same generic things you see in every movie these days complete with useless military attacks and product placement brand names being smacked around. There are moments of potential, such as when Superman smashes into a fast food joint managed by a former classmate, but then it’s just as quickly brushed away reminding you that while Man of Steel may owe something to Superman II, it’s a much worse version of even that butchered movie.

Snyder and the Dark Knight gang try to inject gravitas into a video game movie. And all it does is make for some pretty and well acted cut scenes that amount to nothing. There is no conflict that matters. Pa Kent’s warnings are nothing but another flashback that is quickly disregarded. There is no evolution here, only forcible points in the script that follow a dramatic formula without ever caring about it.

Man of Steel might have been a great movie, but its only aspiration was to do a DC version of a Marvel action movie. And it barely succeeded at that.

Watching Movies: Steven Spielberg’s 1941

1941 is a six year old’s idea of a movie, all punchlines and no setups, a gargantuan Three Stooges skit that goes on for two hours of houses collapsing, things falling on people, people punching someone and accidentally punching someone else, vehicles ramming into each other and comic actors mugging for the camera for three seconds before the camera cuts to the next bang and swoosh.

Characters and story are left behind. Even the jokes rarely have setups. Most things just begin exploding, falling, collapsing or 1941_movieburning. The few setups for the gags involve girls and they’re just there to get the ball rolling on the Three Stooges routines. It’s too many gags and not enough story even for a cartoon. It’s way too much for a live action movie, especially one set around WWII.

1941 was a bad idea and in bad taste, beautifully photographed, framed and timed, but with no script to go with all that effort. There is the occasional funny moment during the extended dance sequence, but that, like the entire movie, goes on much too long and there is nothing to follow it up with.

Too adult for kids and too immature even for teenagers, 1941 is stuck just being dumb. It’s a manic sequence of gags, where every second another one is being thrown at the screen tiring you out in the first ten minutes. And there’s another 108 minutes to go. By the time an exhausted General Stillwell says “It’s going to be a long war”; it feels like it’s already been the longest movie ever.

1941 is repetitive. Its small repertoire of gags rolls on, getting bigger, but not any better. Things just happen because they’re supposed to. Bullets always hit gas tanks or live wires. A trip always leads to a dozen people falling over each other. A fight always leads to punches being thrown at the wrong people. Cars and planes always begin crashing into each or through buildings. Fires always start when you aren’t looking at them. A movie can get away with one or two of these but not the same few gags rolled out so many times that they’re stale 10 minutes in.

The story about a Japanese sub looking to redeem its honor by blowing up Hollywood colliding with domestic panic over a Japanese invasion has as much substance as the latest adventure of the Alfalfa Gang or the Three Stooges. It’s just there so that the insane machine can begin bopping people over the head or splattering them with paint or setting them on fire. Everyone is an idiot. Wally’s quest to dance with his girlfriend at the USO is the closest thing to a main story, but by the end he’s rattling on in a tank to the end of a pier to shoot at a sub, while leaving her behind for no other reason than that the next gag demands it. Just as his crew are throwing things at each other for no other reason.

Imagine a pie thrown in the face for 118 minutes and that’s 1941. Sometimes the pie is a little bigger. Sometimes it’s got motor oil inside. Sometimes it’s on fire. Sometimes there’s a naked girl in it. But it’s still the same pie for 118 minutes.

The Avengers movie review

The Avengers is big. Like the Transformers movies and Avatar it’s there to impress you with its size so you don’t think too much about its quality. When it comes to quality, The Avengers’ secret weapon is its writer and director, Joss Whedon. But Whedon does nothing for the plot of The Avengers which isn’t just cliches, but cliched cliches.

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If you’ve never seen a movie before then you might have no idea that when Loki lets himself get captured it’s all a setup for a rescue attack that will free him and seriously damage SHIELD’s carrier. And if you’ve never seen a movie before then you might not be able to guess that the Hulk will show up at the moment when he’s needed most.

Joss Whedon’s real contribution are the punchlines and snide remarks that everyone makes to each other in between the punches and explosions. The remarks, some of them clever, make The Avengers seem a little smarter than it is, but the movie isn’t smart, it’s just knowing which makes it Transformers with better dialogue. Chuckle at some of Tony Stark’s lines, delivered with perfect timing by Robert Downey Jr and you can almost overlook the horrifyingly long drawn out plot that feels even longer because you know what’s going to happen 5 minutes from now… and you still have to wait for the movie to get there on its own.

The Avengers is still fun and while Joss Whedon as director brings absolutely no visual style to the table, the movie could just as easily have been directed by anyone, he keeps an enormously long movie moving along pretty swiftly because there’s always something happening to hold your attention, either explosions, fights or smart remarks, and even if you don’t care about it two minutes later and can’t even remember what it was, you’re having fun or at least not being too bored at almost any given moment in the movie.

There may never be a Buffy movie, but The Avengers is the next best thing. Its cast talks and squabbles like the grown up Scooby Gang shooting lines at each other, getting into pointless fights, going off to pout and then teaming up to fight against a villain who talks just like them, but happens to be evil.

Joss Whedon had been doing these stories for almost ten years and it’s no wonder that he can do it smoothly enough in The Avengers where the Scooby Gang of Marvel superheroes is a good fit because getting into pointless fights with each and going off to sulk before becoming friends again is the Marvel dynamic and the teenage dynamic too.

But what made Buffy and Angel stand out is that they were more than just smart remarks, they were also full of smart plots and surprise twists. The shows tried to make what happened next into a surprise by going where you didn’t think they were going to go. Firefly didn’t last long, but it seemed to have that same quality too. And it’s a quality that The Avengers could have used, because no amount of witty lines can make a movie this predictable not be as stupid as it is.

The Avengers is fun in its own way. If you want to kill more hours than any other movie in theaters and don’t want anything except an amusement park ride of special effects, it’s the movie for you. Like so many blockbusters now, The Avengers is a giant live-action cartoon with human beings poking their heads out among the CG. But even though it brings together the cast from Iron Man, Captain America, Thor and the Hulk, it doesn’t have any of the weight and depth of those movies.

The brief scenes between Tony Stark and Pepper Potts are one of the few moments in The Avengers that remind you that these characters can be more than just action figures in a really big cartoon.

Men in Black 3 movie review

There are movies that are way off. Movies so bad that they never had a shot. And then there are the movies that were almost there, that needed just another few passes on the script, some more time in the editing room and a few more reshoots. Men in Black 3 may be one of those movies.

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Men in Black 3 isn’t bad. It has just enough of the elements from the first movie to remind you why the first Men in Black worked. But it doesn’t have enough them in the right proportions.

The Men in Black formula is simple enough. There’s the secret government agency with cool gadgets meets a multicultural New York where all the strangest people are actually from a galaxy far far away. There’s the buddy cop dynamic of Will Smith’s J and Tommy Lee Jones’ K that really makes the series work. And all of those things are there in Men in Black 3 but not in the right proportions.

Unlike Men in Black 2, Men in Black 3 has J and K together for the entire movie, though for most of it K is being played by Josh Brolin as K’s younger seventies self. And Brolin nails the Tommy Lee Jones imitation making him the best thing about the movie. It’s everything else that’s weak.

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones both show up, but that’s about all they do. Tommy Lee Jones gives a distracted and feeble performance in the few parts of the movie that he’s in. Will Smith isn’t capable of being low wattage, but he seems equally distracted as if MIB 3 is something he has to get through before doing something else. The dynamic is there, but it’s fainter and feebler. It’s as if too many of their scenes were early takes, rather than the best takes.

Then there’s the showpiece part of Men in Black 3. The MIB movies have always had big fights and splashy effects. The first one did it on a 90 million dollar budget, though it was the nineties. MIB 2 had more forgettable action scenes on a 140 million dollar budget. But MIB 3 is the worst of them on a 225 million dollar production budget, which couldn’t have all gone to Will Smith.

The aliens, the gadgets and the battles using the gadgets against the aliens are a big part of the Men in Black movies. They’re a smaller part of Men in Black 3. There are fewer aliens and fewer gadgets. The villain isn’t a giant bug, he’s a biker with built in goggles who shoots spiders out of his palms and in most scenes the spiders just look like darts. And Boris the Animal, unlike the MIB and MIB 2 villains never feels alien.

After an early fight in Chinatown that’s spectacular and in line with the old MIB movies, Men in Black 3 doesn’t have much to offer. Boris’ breakout is a cheesy cliche. The time travel repairman appears to be completely human. The alien invasion looks cheap and there’s no sense of urgency. And once in the 70’s, Men in Black 3 confines itself to the usual tired cliches of time travel movies. Between the fight scene in Chinatown and a showdown at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo moon launch, there’s not much there except the only cool gadget in the movie, the Monocycle.

But despite all those problems, Men in Black 3 does have a good story. Griffin is a charming character, even if his fake spirituality becomes a bit much and the ending ties the whole series and the J and K dynamic together with a paternalistic bow. The Mets scene and the launch at Cape Canaveral occasionally ground MIB 3 in somewhat approaching relevance and human emotion. Unfortunately they’re the exception, not the norm.

Men in Black 3 starts out assuming that you have seen all the previous movies and don’t need the introductions, the scenes that make this environment cool and give it texture. It assumes that what we really want is to explore the relationship between K and J. But MIB 3 shouldn’t have tried to trade off one for the other. And that is its big mistake.

Clearly MIB 3 had its problems. The production was shut down for a while and the script had too many writers, but never gelled into a true final product. There aren’t enough of the cool elements that people expected from this movie, the pacing rarely feels right and everyone seems a little bit tired. And all that is a shame because Men in Black 3 does have potential, it has a few wonderful moments and enough good work to make you see what it might have been.

Most people went in to Men in Black 3 expecting lots of aliens and gadgets in a New York City where all the weird people are really aliens. Instead they got a large dose of nostalgia, for the old MIB movies, the seventies and for Tommy Lee Jones. They got a story that was less about aliens and more about Will Smith’s J finding his father.

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