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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.


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.

Batman is not a Republican

I don’t like to talk about movies before they come out, but since The Dark Knight Rises is a sequel to a movie that I did see and that had the same political interpretations attached to it, let’s go for it.

Was The Dark Knight a commentary on the War on Terror? Obviously. But was it a commentary on the War on Terror? No.

Wait what? Exactly.

The Dark Knight was a commentary on the war of ideas, not just the obvious ones, like can I rendition a guy from another country or eavesdrop on cell phones. Like all the Nolan movies it was about the tug of war between those who are trying to destroy the city and those trying to hold it together.

The Dark Knight Rises is about the same thing.

I have seen essays pushing The Dark Knight as Bush boosterism. Bullshit. The Joker got to make his case and make a convincing case. His case, like Ra’s al Ghul’s case, like Bane’s case, is that Gotham didn’t deserve to survive. That Gotham was too rotten and didn’t have a single good thing in it. The only way to fix it was to destroy it.

Batman never denied Gotham’s problems. He denied that it was hopeless and he rejected the extremist solution of blowing it up. And he was willing to do anything to stop it. That’s what a vigilante does. He breaks the law for a greater good.

How does that line up with Democrats and Republicans? That’s subjective. Batman = Bush looks silly now that Bush is gone and we’re raiding other countries and killing terrorists with remote drones every month.

Remember Two Face? The great politician. The bridge between Batman and the Joker. Batman thought Dent would do his work, but Dent became like the Joker instead.

The twist is that Batman and the Joker are the same person. Batman has to break the rules to stop the Joker who doesn’t believe in rules. But break enough rules and there are fewer differences between Batman and the Joker except character. And the Joker kept trying to prove that character doesn’t matter. That one big decision and one bad day can break anyone.

Chaos and order.

Bane is Batman. He’s more Batman than Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker who wanted to clean up Gotham by destroying it. Bane wants to make Gotham a better place. He’s a vigilante like Batman. He’s making Gotham a better place by beating the hell out of the people he thinks make it a worse place. But like Ra’s al Ghul and the Joker he has the wrong prescription.

Bane, the Joker and Ra’s al Ghul are all one step over the line. They show what Batman can become.

Is Batman a Republican? Sure. He’s also a Democrat. And he’s none of those things. He’s the guy at the top who sees a problem and breaks the rules trying to fix it. He wants to bring back hope, but he does it by punching people in the face.

He’s a superhero.

In the Nolan movies Batman is always fighting villains who have a big picture. They have a vision of life and the world. But he doesn’t have those things. All he’s trying to do is hold on to one city.

Batman has no politics. He doesn’t care about abortion, oil drilling or gay marriage. He has no opinion on 99 out of 100 issues. When Ra’s al Ghul talks history or the Joker talks about foreign wars or Bane talks economic justice, Batman doesn’t care. Those things mean nothing to him. The Nolan Batman movies are about ideas, but Batman is a helpless player in their wars of ideas. He knows that he has to become larger than life, but unlike Ra’s al Ghul, the Joker or Bane, he doesn’t want to be more than human. He has to be more than human for the sake of his mission.

Gotham is Batman’s political agenda. It’s his only political agenda. And he’s fighting to protect it from men with big ideas who would tear it apart over those ideas.

Brave Bombs. Is Pixar Fading?

Brave didn’t “bomb bomb”, as Whoopi Goldberg would say, but it’s in fourth place after four weeks, completely crushed by Ice Age 4. It took in less money than Madagascar 4 and will likely pass Ratatouille, but not Wall-E. And if Brave doesn’t pass Ratatouille, it will be one of Pixar’s worst performing movies.

pixar lamp

Is it fair to call Brave a bomb? The movie is listed as having a 185 million dollar budget and has made 195 million domestic. Counting the movie theater share and promotional expenses, it may have actually bombed. The foreign box office will probably see to it that it doesn’t lose money, but Brave doesn’t seem all that popular overseas either.

Cars 2, released last year, was the worst performing Pixar movie in a while. It ranked so poorly that it was up there with early Pixar movies like A Bug’s Life and Toy Story. Brave looks like it underperformed almost as badly as Cars 2, which didn’t even make back its budget domestically.

The last Pixar movie to make back its budget in the domestic box office was Ratatouille and that was only because it spent only 150 million making the movie, instead of 200 million for Cars 2 and 185 million for Brave.

No original non-sequel Pixar movie has managed to break the 300 million dollar barrier since Finding Nemo. There is some good news. The Incredibles and Up both performed well. Much better than signature movies like Cars and Wall-E. But Cars and Wall-E are easy to merchandise. So is Monsters Inc, which is why Monsters University is getting made.

Pixar has become Disney. It’s looking at movies as vehicles for merchandising. Brave was its try at doing a Disney princess movie, which is a big part of the merchandising cash flow. Pixar has become so Disney that it did a Scottish Mulan. But Pixar is not very good at being Disney. It’s good at making idiosyncratic films Up. It did okay at merchandising with Monsters Inc and Toy Story, but the kind of calculation that resulted in Cars and Brave backfired.

Pixar still has some of its rep, but if it keeps doing merchandising cash-in movies like Cars and Brave, it won’t have it for long.

No the PC Isn’t Dead

It’s hip to kill things off and the PC has been killed off a lot of times. The new story is that the mobile star killed the Desktop PC. It didn’t. And it won’t be dead no matter how many stories run about the number of devices running iOS and Android.

The Desktop PC expanded into the dominant hardware platform and lives and dies by business usage. Businesses are not about to dead pchand iPads to their employees. Mobile devices are fine as point of sale and in any line of work where mobility helps. Park rangers, yes. Any business where you come in, sit at a desk and use a computer isn’t going to go mobile.

Workplace culture alone is a reason. Most companies don’t want employees randomly wandering around. Not unless there are customers in view.

Unless you can picture customer service, civil service and financial services going mobile, the Desktop PC isn’t dead. And that’s not all.

Any job that requires serious hardware, video editing, graphic design and audio processing is mostly going to stay with the PC. Mobile devices will go quad core and eight core, but programs get more resource hungry with each incarnation. Anything high-end will still need a desktop.

Gaming? Nope. PC Gaming is alive and well and mobile devices are never going to be able to do what PC games can. PC gaming graphics improve faster and consume more resources than its professional art and video pros. No matter how much mobile devices can do, the desktop PC will be able to do more, even with NVIDIA and Intel shifting resources to mobile device designs.

High-end mobile devices use more power. Even power saving chips still mean that any intensive applications are going to eat through power faster than trying to play three movies at the same time on your netbook.

The number of mobile devices will increase and the number of PC’s will drop. But there’s a hard limit to both and most people will eventually end up owning desktop computers, laptops, smartphones and a tablet. The PC isn’t being replaced, it’s becoming the core of a domestic cloud.

Mobile devices and game consoles can do some of what the Desktop PC does, but they can’t do all of it and they can’t do it better. Their advantage is that they free you from the chair and the desk.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter Bombed

Bad American movies can still expect to score abroad. That is unless they have the name of an American President in the title and their whole premise is, “Wouldn’t it be funny and cool if Lincoln killed vampires.” The answer is, no, not really. Maybe in a quick illustration like Benjamin Franklin shooting lighting from a kite or Teddy Roosevelt shooting Bigfoot, but not in a 100 million dollar movie intended for global distribution.

Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter bombed. It bombed at home. And it bombed abroad.Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter

Its domestic take of 34 million probably has to struggle to cover the promotionals. Its foreign take of 24 million might as well be zero. The Russians went to see it, because the director was one of their own. British audiences grudgingly showed up. And that’s it.

For a movie with a 100 million dollar budget, this is really bad news. It’s not that Abe the Vamp Slayer was a bad movie. It’s better than most of what’s thriving at the box office. But it was a one shot gimmick and audiences don’t like their time wasted by those. See Plane, Snakes On A, for other examples. If your gag is in the title, audiences assume you don’t have much else to offer. Usually they’re right.

Summer movies either target everyone or a narrow demographic. Say middle-aged women who want to see male strippers. It’s a narrow demo, but Magic Mike proves you can make money off them. Just as Ted proves you can make money off people who still think the creator of the Cleveland Show is funny. But what was the demo for Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter, a historical action film about vampire killing?

Bueller, Bueller? Well no one. Hipsters. People who like air conditioning in a theater.

Anyone who wanted a vampire killing movie probably didn’t want a historical Lincoln film. And Lincoln aficionados were not going to go see a movie about Lincoln as a vampire slayer.

Goofy concept movies about monster hunting work best as low budget indies which can saturate their demo. Abraham Lincoln Vampire Hunter was like making Jesus Christ Vampire Slayer on a 100 million dollar budget.

Recalling Total Recall Recalled

What if Total Recall got remade without all the Mars stuff, but more like Minority Report? If that’s something you wanted, here you go.

Yesterday I reviewed the reissue of Philip K. Dick’s novel In Milton Lumky Territory and noted how it was only around because of the fixation on Dick that literary Science Fiction has. But Hollywood has an even bigger fixation on Philip K. Dick and the remake of Total Recall proves it.

Most Science Fiction writers have trouble getting bestselling novels adapted. Clarke is the only one of the genre’s grandmasters who ever saw a legitimate version of his book go to film. Asimov had the name of his most famous gestating adaption ripped off for a Will Smith shitfest and Heinlein’s Starship Troopers got a big budget adaptation attacking him. (Then he got Spider Robinson doing the same thing to him in his reworking of a Heinlein trunk novel.)

But PK Dick, the Dude of Science Fiction writers, now has two movies based on a short short story that he once did. Total Recall 2 is obviously more based on Spielberg’s Minority Report movie. Between Blade Runner and Minority Report, movies based on Dick’s work have created the “look” of the future in movies.

Dick would have found it absurdly amusing that his throwaway stories created an entire cinematictotal recall boom. Total Recall based on “We Can Remember It for You Wholesale” couldn’t possibly adapt the original story in which a man goes looking for programmed fantasy only for the programmers to discover that the fantasies are true. Total Recall can’t actually end with the discovery that Doug saved the world from an alien invasion through his goodness. So it ends with the classic, “Shoot her, no shoot him” scenario that’s been sent up so many times it should be in orbit.

About the only thing that Hollywood took from Philip K. Dick was his paranoia. Not his sense of humor. Total Recall’s sense of humor was crude. Total Recall 2 looks humorless. Like Minority Report, it’s polished chrome paranoia, massive urban dystopias, flying cars, government surveillance, and nothing more.

Dick’s stories worked because they reached beyond the obvious structures. The police state, the machines and the spaceships, to get at something deeper and human. Blade Runner took a shot at doing that, but none of the other adaptations have. If the original Total Recall at least had a sense of the ridiculous, the new one is a sterile corporate product, as totalitarian as its landscape, as empty as the exercise of the action movie can be.

Philip K. Dick sought the spiritual in Science Fiction, but Hollywood gave his adaptations a success that depended on taking out the spiritual and leaving only the materialism of the action movie.

Hyde Park on Hudson, No, Just No

I know The King’s Speech made a ton of money. I know that Bill Murray harbors the idea that he can “act” in a way that doesn’t involve playing a morose middle-aged man. I know studio executives thought, “What if we did The King’s Speech but made it more American and had Bill Murray as FDR”. I know it because this happened.

Bill Murray worshipers think it’s great. It’s not. It’s stupid.

hyde park on hudson

hyde park on hudson trailer

FDR was not some free spirit who flew by the seat of his own pants. If you want to paint the British royal family as stuffy, fine. But FDR was a blue blood, he was at least as stuffy and stuffier because he was keeping up a pose. FDR and the King meeting each other were two members of their respective ruling classes, the scions of powerful families, hanging out together for publicity photos.

Bill Murray isn’t a bad choice for FDR, because FDR was kind of a bastard. He was Teddy Roosevelt if Teddy had been a manipulative sneak and a cheat with a mean streak a mile wide. Murray could have played that guy easily. But he’s not playing him.

He’s playing FDR as the Australian speech therapist in The King’s Speech. There to teach the king to loosen up and confront the crisis. It’s not just a cynical cash in. It’s a lie that’s as far from FDR’s real personality as possible.

FDR deserves better than to be the King’s speech therapist and Bill Murray deserves better than to play FDR as a goofier version of Geoffrey Rush’s character.

Prometheus Bombed

It’s not a good summer for bad SciFi. First Men in Black III went down, making this one of the few times that Will Smith wearing Prometheus film posterdark glasses and quipping couldn’t salvage an expensive blockbuster. Then Prometheus bombed.

Prometheus didn’t bomb as hard as it could have. It hit 110 million, which is pretty good, if your movie’s budget plus promotionals weren’t a lot higher than that. Foreign box office, as with most bad movies, is better than domestic, but less money from the foreign box office comes home. No one will invest this kind of money just for it to make 120 million or so at home and another 160-170 million abroad. It doesn’t pay.

FOX has to be pretty relieved that they didn’t give Ridley Scott the 260 million dollar budget he wanted. That would have racked up nearly as big a disaster as Warner Bros took with Scott’s Body of Lies. If Prometheus had bombed as completely as Body of Lies, Scott’s career would be in real trouble.

Most of the blame for Prometheus should go to Damon Lindelof, who has scripted two big budget movies and seen them both bomb. And there’s no question that Prometheus’ problem was script. No wonder Lindelof has been talking about going back to TV. He probably saw this coming with preview audiences.

Still there are other factors to blame for Prometheus’ failure. It wasn’t really a big budget summer movie and wasn’t positioned to compete in that element. No matter what the studio thought, Prometheus was better placed for a fall release where it could have hung around for a while.

Taken 2 Trailer and the Return of the Action Movie

Taken was a movie that came out of nowhere. The standard response to it was, “You’ve got to be kidding me”. Liam Neeson, the guy from a bunch of Oscar nominated movies, as an action hero? A plot this old?

But it worked. Now here comes Taken 2 with a trailer.

Taken 2 looks like it works too. It’s silly and ridiculous on one level. But on another level it’s Liam Taken 2 PosterNeeson as the new Harrison Ford and it’s the revival of an action movie that doesn’t rely on a bunch of conspicuous special effects.

The action movie never really died. Steven Spielberg buried Last Action Hero, the coda to the 80’s Action Movie, with Jurassic Park, the new CG fueled Jaws, that made the disaster/monster movie driven by CG into the new blockbuster again. Arnold was out, CG critters were in. (These days Spielberg oversees the attack on movies by producing Transformers.)

But the action movie kept coming back. Jackie Chan brought it back to America from Hong Kong. And English, French and Russian filmmakers have brought it back with Transporters, Wanted and Taken.

Taken 2 doesn’t rely on anything too elaborate. The family goes on vacation. The gang responsible for the last kidnapping looks to get revenge and the rest follows. It’s Frantic with a cold ruthless trained killer instead of a nervous tourist. And again it looks like it works. It’s a script from the guy who did the Transporter movies and the original Taken (not to mention the Karate Kid movies). And it’s directed by the weird French director of Transporter 3. There will be lots of running on roofs and lots of cold-blooded no-hesitation trigger pulls.

Sure it could be awful. 20 minutes of it could just be Liam Neeson hugging his family or Maggie Grace auditioning for American Idol, but it probably won’t be. Because it’s efficient. The Transporter movies were about a guy with no time to spare. Taken had that same sparse no-time-to-spare formula, counting down every second. Taken 2 promises the same thing.

The action movie isn’t quite back. For every Taken, there will be a dozen board games adapted into movies (Liam Neeson was in Battlefield) and comic book movie reboots. But like its hard-charging never-say-die protagonists, it also refuses to go away.

Judge Dredd looks Dreddful Again

judge dredd trailer

At least the Stallone Judge Dredd had its merits. It didn’t look like a B Movie and it made use of some of the Judge Dredd mythology. If they were to make a Judge Dredd movie, why not use use Judge Death and the dead judges for something more blockbustery. Or they could just make a Judge Dredd movie that plays like a lamer version of Robocop. That’s what the trailer for the new Judge Dredd suggests they did. You can’t judge a movie by its trailer… but maybe you can.

Now I’m not sure that you could even film Robocop, for the same reason that you can’t film The Punisher. The bleak tone, satire and judge-dredd-comic-book-movieultraviolence that works on the comic book page can look silly and over the top on the screen. Verhoeven made that kind of thing work with Robocop, he could probably handle Judge Dredd, but it would be redundant. Berg might be able to do it. But this is just lame.

This version. Well the cast looks anywhere from okay to good. Beyond that, there’s nothing interesting. And the movie looks like a B Movie from the late 90’s, complete with generic CG.

Is there any possible reason to have high expectations for this? Karl Urban and Lena Heady are in it. The rest of the cast isn’t bad either. But director Pete Travis’ previous work doesn’t have much to recommend it. The script is from Alex Garland, who wrote 28 Days Later, but also The Beach, Sunshine and a bunch of video games.

So file Judge Dredd under “Coulda Been Good”.

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