Men in Black: International

Men in Black: International

By: Kevin Jordan

M is for mole.

For my wife, time travel in a movie kills that movie for her. I get it – time travel solves any problem, undoes any death or event, and, of course, comes with that pesky paradox (if you change the past, you erase the reason for going back to the past to make the change). Avengers: Endgame might be the best case way to deal with time travel and scores of movies are the worst way (I will go with Timecop). I do not have an issue with time travel in movies.

For me, a mole in the agency ruins a movie. The mole is a lazy plot devices that allows you to explain away almost anything. Need a bad guy to know where the heroes are or looking for the MacGuffin? The mole told them. Need the bad guys to always be one step ahead? The mole is helping them. Need to defeat something the agency is using? The mole did it. Need to find out if a spouse is cheating? Hire a private detective. The mole is for official use only.

My loathing of the mole all started with season two of 24. Season one of 24 is arguably one of the best seasons of television ever and is one of the very few instances where the mole subplot was handled beautifully. Season two, not so much. Then, season three commenced and gave us another mole and I quit watching the show mid-season. Since then, it seems like every movie and TV show involving secret agents or cops has a mole. Agents of Shield, Castle, The Blacklist, Casino Royale, every Mission: Impossible movie. It’s no wonder that Republicans buy the conspiracy-theory nonsense about the “deep state” when this is what they are being fed on TV (not really a surprise since they continue swallowing other bullshit from Fox ahem-News). See where I’m going with this?

Who do you think the mole is?

(SPOILER ALERT – Too late.)

Yes, MIB:I has a mole, but we’ll come back to that in a minute. MIB:I can be considered a bit of a reboot for the series (and it is also a sequel), but with the least amount of effort to distinguish itself from the previous three films. Basically, they changed the cast and called it a day. Not that that is necessarily a bad thing, but the film doesn’t even attempt to add any new elements beyond Chris Hemsworth (Agent H), Tessa Thompson (Agent M), and Liam Neeson (High T – yes, High T). Just because you have Thor, Valkyrie, and Ra’s al Goul, doesn’t mean you don’t have to try hard.

Molly is a young girl when she has her first run-in with an alien – a cute little blue stuffed animal-looking-thing that she helps escape the men in black that show up at her house to find it. For plot reasons, Molly isn’t neuralized along with her parents, even though Molly is looking at the neuralizer (albeit, from a distance, which is definitely lazy writing based on what we know from previous movies).  Flash-forward twenty years and we find that Molly interviewing with every spy agency in America because she’s spent two decades trying to fulfill her dream of joining the men in black. How the men in black haven’t discovered Molly’s search is a testament to how little the writers think of them and how obvious it is that neither of the two writers bothered to even watch the previous films (let alone read the comic books).

(Side note: as another example of laziness, the movie tells us the men in black have existed since at least Eiffel built his tower, which directly contradicts the origin story in the first MIB film.)

Good thing both of you are awesome or this movie would totally suck.

Finally, Molly tracks them down and attempts to sneak into MIB headquarters. She is immediately discovered and, with barely an objection by the head of MIB (Emma Thompson as Agent O), is taken on as a recruit and quickly earns probationary agent status and dubbed Agent M. For her first mission, she is sent to London to the international branch of MIB for reasons that are never shared with the audience (O cryptically just says she has a feeling M will be needed there).

There she meets Agent H, volunteering to help him escort a royal alien named Vungus (Kayvan Novak) for a night out on the town. When their night is interrupted by two aliens from the Hive (played by twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois), Vungus gives Molly an everlasting gobstopper that is also the most powerful gun in the universe (it’s fueled by a miniaturized blue giant star). For the rest of the film, M and H are pursued by the alien twins and another MIB agent (Agent C – played by Rafe Spall – believes M and H have gone rogue).  Throw in Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), an international arms dealer – who also happens to have three literal arms (GET IT!?!) – because the writers have definitely seen Mission: Impossible a thousand times.

Good thing she didn’t try to eat it before it transformed.

While the plot is incredibly lazy, yet somehow wildly over-complicated, the film is a fun watch. The big problem with MIB:I is (and here comes that big SPOILER) the opening scene telegraphs the mole. So, instead of fully enjoying the movie, part of your brain is sitting there waiting for the least surprising reveal in the history of film. And, since the reveal doesn’t happen until the very end of the film, you keep noticing how the script has to keep the men in black stupid in order to protect the reveal. Even after the reveal, the movie thumbs its ass at the audience when O tells M “I’ve suspected something wasn’t right with London Branch for quite some time.” Wait – so you sent a probie, alone, to another branch with no clear mission (at least that the audience was told of), hoping she would discover whatever it was you thought was amiss? Oh, if only Zed were still alive.

If you can ignore the hilariously stupid writing (and it gets no dumber and predictable than how H and M get out of a sure-death situation with Riza), you will enjoy really good performances from Hemsworth and Thompson, with an assist from Kumail Nanjiani (voicing a tiny little sidekick alien named Pawny). The three of them keep this movie from being the diaper blowout it was desperately trying to be.

Rating: Ask for all but two dollars back, because…damn.

Thor: Ragnarok

Thor: Ragnarok

By: Kevin Jordan

Party on.

Among other things, here’s what I said about Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol 2 – “It felt like two hours of dudes fucking around on a film set for two-plus hours and calling it a movie.”  Thor: Ragnarok is those same dudes throwing an epic party where everything goes off perfect and everyone talks about it for the rest of their lives.  Lucky for you, everyone is invited.

(Mild SPOILERS and I’m sorry for all of them.)

The film picks up two years after the events of Age of Ultron, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) dangling in a cage, then bantering with a fire demon.  This scene is extremely important in that it sets the tone of the movie at roughly a beer and a shot into the party.  Serious, semi-moody Thor is no more, replaced with a Thor who has obviously been hanging out with Star-Lord a lot.  Immediately following this scene is another in which Odin (Anthony Hopkins) is eating grapes while watching a revisionist version of Loki’s (Tom Hiddleston) death.  Since we all remember the end of Thor: The Dark World, we know that isn’t really Odin and Thor confronts him.  Like the opening scene, this one is all fun and giggles and the tone is now the same as you answering the door at the party and greeting the guy with the cooler full of Jell-O shots and he is Jeff Goldblum.

Fun Bobby is here!

In a movie bursting with great actors and brilliant performances, you can’t go wrong picking any of them.  For me, Goldblum as Grandmaster wins because the role fit him to a tee.  Grandmaster governs a planet that is one giant garbage dump (literally), running gladiatorial death games as the main entertainment.  Grandmaster is Dr. Malcolm, Jack Sparrow, and The Dude hitting a bong while hosting a game show.  Brilliant is almost an understatement in this case.

The rest of the movie is a series of those scenes featuring characters as awesome as Grandmaster.  It’s scene after scene of max fun, silliness, standout performances, and perfectly timed jokes.  And, it gets even better than that because this movie has a plot and also moves us much closer to Infinity War.  Ragnarok is a prophecy foretelling the destruction of Asgard, as Thor and Loki learn from the dying Odin.  They also learn they have an exiled sister, Hela (Cate Blanchett), the God of Death, who draws all of her power from Asgard.  Pretty ominous, right?  Don’t worry.  She is easily having as much fun in this movie as everyone else and Hela is weirdly endearing.  Anyway, she follows Thor and Loki in one of those rainbow teleporter tunnels and makes it to Asgard, while knocking Loki and Thor out prior to their arrival (that’s how they end up on the trash planet).  Unfortunately, Heimdall (Idris Elba) disappears with the big sword that works the teleporter, so she’s stuck in Asgard and can’t begin her conquest of the universe.  You might think the party just took a turn for the serious, but Blanchett is the one doing keg stands and kicking everyone’s ass at beer pong.

Best. Party. Ever.

That’s the crux of it and it’s so simple.  Thor must escape the garbage planet to stop Hela from going on a conquering spree.  Where it ties into the greater MCU narrative is in the supporting cast and where the movie ends up when the credits roll.  And what party isn’t complete without the main body of guests?  Since standalone Incredible Hulk movies have not gone well, and Ironman and Captain America got their buddy film, Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) returns after disappearing during the climactic battle against Ultron to form another Avengers buddy movie with Thor.  Since there is no way you haven’t seen a trailer for Ragnarok, you already know that Thor has to face off against Hulk in Grandmaster’s arena and it is you doing navel shots and everyone dancing to Love Shack (baby).

Dancing with you is Valkyrie (Tessa Thompson) who is as badass as anyone in the film in a fight and seems as if she’s been part of this franchise since Tony Stark blasted out of that cave so many years ago.  The chemistry she has with Hemsworth and Ruffalo defies belief and she damn well better be invited to the next party.  Behind you is Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), who didn’t stay at the party too long (one scene), but reminds you why he’s always invited.  His scene is more of a foreshadowing of things to come, but he gets to show off his power and match witticisms with Thor and Loki.  If Strange’s toying with Thor and Loki and casually dismissing them means anything it’s that he’s going to be pivotal when Thanos finally makes his move.  Finally, that’s Skurge (Karl Urban) over there in the corner, wanting to join the dance, but not sure how to.  He seems out of place and uncomfortable and nobody remembers inviting him.  He hangs out with Hela for survival purposes and is basically a lost puppy dog for most of the film, but damned if he doesn’t bring it when the life-sized Jenga challenges are thrown down.  Ok, I’m really stretching the analogy, so let’s wrap this party up.

Who wouldn’t do shots off that?

I’m not sure I’ve ever seen actors visibly having as much fun in a movie as in Ragnarok.  The ease in which these characters come to life in the most entertaining ways possible is astounding, even for such seasoned actors as these.  I especially loved unrestrained Hemsworth and Blanchett knocking their performances out of the park.  The movie pushes the boundaries of action-comedy to the brink of absurdity, but there’s just enough restraint to keep it from crossing the line.  Yeah, there are tiny moments of stupidity (they couldn’t resist a bad poop joke, Hulk somehow stays Hulk for two solid years, and Hulk even manages to speak in almost complete sentences now), but what epic party doesn’t include the guy puking in the bushes?  Everyone else helps puking guy to a bed to sleep it off, then they all sing 80s rock ballads until they’re hoarse.  By the end of the night, they all pass out together in one giant mass of bodies in the living room, waking up with all their clothes on and realizing, with a smile, that everyone is still just friends.  It’s the party of the year, friends.

Rating: Worth ten times (or more) what you’ll pay for it and you won’t stop talking about it for months.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War

By: Kevin Jordan

Read before you write.

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Following the screening of The Hunstman: Winter’s War was a Q&A session that I already wrote about.  In honor of that event, let’s do Q&A for this review.

Q: I heard a rumor that you and a couple friends are starting a podcast where you fix movies.  Is that true?

A: Indeed.  The idea sprung up prior to a screening of Batman v Superman, where my friend and I discussed how easy it would be to fix Man of Steel to make it, at the very least, not so dumb.

Q: So your first episode will be Man of Steel?

A: Nope.  We’re going with Snow White and the Huntsman, but we’ll be doing Man of Steel soon enough.

Q: I see what you did there.  You created an excuse to rewatch Snow White and the Huntsman so nobody would think you were weird for rewatching Snow White and the Huntsman.  There isn’t really a podcast, is there?

A: Yes, seriously, there is.

Q: Well…how about that?  So, what did you learn?

A: I learned that writers not writing for the Marvel Cinematic Universe don’t bother to read screenplays of predecessors to sequels or even watch the movies.

Q: Do tell.

A: Are you okay with SPOILERS?

Q: Absolutely.  Continue.

A: Ravenna (Charlize Theron) is trapped in the mirror and her sister inadvertently lets her out.

Q: Do you mean the same Ravenna that dies at the end of the first film?  The same woman who shrivels up into a desiccated corpse on the floor?  That Ravenna?

A: The very same.

Q: *Sigh*

A: I know.  There is no explanation whatsoever as to how she ended up in the mirror.  The fun part of that is during the Q&A, Theron said she didn’t think it was contrived how they brought Ravenna back to life.

Q: Isn’t that kind of the definition of contrived?

A: Yes, but if you read my full Q&A write-up, Theron more than made up for it.

Q: Fair enough.  What else didn’t they bother learning from the first film?

A: Remember the scene in the first film where Ravenna’s brother tells the Huntsman (Chris Hemsworth) how he killed the Huntsman’s wife?

Q: Not really.

A: Well, he did.  Anyway, not only is that retconned in the sequel, but she’s not even dead.  The queen’s sister, Freya (Emily Blunt), tricks him into thinking she’s dead.  Sure, he believes the lie for seven years, which covers the events of the first film, but doesn’t explain Ravenna’s brother reminiscing her death.

Q: Fair enough.  So, what’s this movie about, anyway?

A: It starts off pre-Snow White events, showing Ravenna killing one of her previous husbands/kings via chess board.  Freya…

Q: Wait – death by chess board?  Like, she murders him by hitting him with a chess board?  That’s oddly specific.

A: Actually, no.  She’s placed a spell on the game they are playing that literally kills him when she puts him in checkmate.  Stop interrupting.

Q: Sorry.

A: Anyway, Freya is there later and they discuss how Freya’s powers haven’t surfaced yet and how love sucks.  This was the strange way they segued into Freya’s lover allegedly burning their child to death, which causes Freya’s powers – control of all things ice and cold – to explode out of her.

Q: So she’s Elsa?  HAHAHAHA.

A: I didn’t even think of that.  Nice work.

Q: And was anyone in the theater surprised by the obvious – that it will be revealed Ravenna actually killed the baby?

A: Of course not.  She might as well have worn a sign admitting as much.

Q: You still haven’t told me what this movie’s about.

A: Good point.  Freya becomes the ice queen of the north and takes over kingdom after kingdom.  After each conquest, she takes all the captured children, raises them to be soldiers (referring to them as her huntsman) and tells them that her only rule is that love is forbidden.  Of course, her two best warriors – Sara (Jessica Chastain) and Eric (Hemsworth) – fall in love.  Freya finds out about it and tricks Eric into thinking Sara is dead and tricks Sara into thinking Eric abandons her after making the two of them fight other huntsman.  Seven years later, King William (Sam Claflin) asks Eric to recover the magic mirror before Freya gets it and take it to a special place where its power cannot be used.

Q: There seems to be a lot going on in that paragraph and none of it is the plot.  Why don’t you try again?

A: Brighton must stop Freya from invading Snow White’s kingdom.

Q: Better.  So, why does she need the mirror?  She’s a super powerful ice wizard and the only power the mirror has (that we know of) is the ability to pick People Magazine’s most beautiful woman.

A: I have no idea why she wants it.  It’s one of the most blatant MacGuffin’s in the history of cinema, but without it, they can’t shoehorn Ravenna back into the movie, which in turn allows them to redeem Freya at the end.

Q: Couldn’t they have just made Freya evil from start to finish?

A: This movie is from the same people who brought us Maleficent.

Q: Got it.  How about you wrap this up in the way I know you’re dying to use – how would you fix this movie?

A: It’s about time.  Here goes – I would remove the mirror altogether and go all in on an evil ice queen; no more of this garbage where the bad guy has to start off good or be misunderstood.  She’s an ICE QUEEN.  I’d have Eric and Sara learn about the fake-out at the end of the film.  That way, we can still have the betrayal moment in the woods, but it makes more sense.  And, instead of everyone chasing the Magic MacGuffin, let’s just have them defend the kingdom from the ICE QUEEN.  We conclude with the climactic fight scene where Sara learns of the fake-out and turns on Freya.  Maybe the two lovers die, maybe one of them dies, maybe neither of them dies, but they take down Freya and save the realm.

Q: Nice.  So, you must have hated this movie.

A: Actually, no.

Q: Wait – what?

A: If you can ignore all the side stories of this film and incongruity with the first film, it’s actually a decent fantasy quest movie, despite the MacGuffin.  The actors and characters are all good, comic relief was added to lighten the tone (and it worked very well), the visuals were splendid, and, overall, it was more entertaining than the first movie.

Q: It was Emily Blunt, wasn’t it?

A: I’ve got a podcast to go prep for.

Rating: Ask for half your money back.  At the very least, you’ll be glad Kristen Stewart doesn’t make an appearance.

The Huntsman: Winter’s War QA session

If you have been reading my reviews for a while, you know that I sometimes present my review in a Q&A format.  What you are about to read is not me pretending to interview another me or inventing an imaginary Q&A session with actors, but an honest, actual Q&A session with Jessica Chastain, Chris Hemsworth, and Charlize Theron and hosted by some guy whose name I forgot to write down.  While I won’t be presenting it as a straight Q&A (I have commentary of my own mixed in), I wanted you to know that I did not make up any of this.  This session followed an advanced screening of The Huntsman: Winter’s War and was shown live across the screens of about a dozen Alamo Drafthouses.

(Note: I will be paraphrasing all of the questions and answers as I did not record the session, but did take notes.  Also, I will be referring to the interviewer as Anonymous Guy or AG.  Sorry, AG.)

My immediate impression of this session was both disappointment and satisfaction.  It was disappointing because I assumed the audience was going to get to ask the actors some questions, even audience members in different states, but this did not happen.  I mean, it is 2016 and we all know how to use Skype.  Plus, isn’t that the point of having the session in an actual theater with actual human moviegoers?  Apparently not.  The host took one single question that was asked via Twitter and again, he could literal smell the breaths of people in the audience right in front of him.  I’ll give you one guess as to what that extremely predictable question was.  You are correct.

Twitter: What was your favorite scene in the movie?

Chastain: The scene where we all get caught up in the net.  It was very difficult to keep a straight face because the dwarves were improvising a lot and it was hilarious.

Theron: I was jealous of the other actors because they had many more scenes than me.  At one point, Emily (Blunt) got to ride in on a polar bear and I thought – where’s my animal mount?

I liked the answers, but when the interviewer moved on, I wondered the same thing you are now wondering – what was Hemsworth’s answer?  Unfortunately for Hemsworth and us, that wasn’t the only time the interviewer skipped/ignored him.  We’ll come back to this because this happened toward the end of the session.  Aside from that, the actors were surprisingly candid (Theron dropped an F-bomb at one point) and made the session worth listening to.

Here was the rest of the session (my comments italicized):

AG to Charlize: “This is the first time you’ve reprised a role.  How did you feel about it?”

Theron: “I was flattered, but had my reservations because my character died in the first film.  I was concerned that the way they brought her back would be contrived, but after reading the script I didn’t think it was contrived at all.  This was probably my greatest job because the other actors are so great.”

I love that she was worried about contrivances, but I have to disagree with her – it was very contrived.   You’ll just have to read my actual review for the explanation because I’m trying to keep this SPOILER free.

AG: Tell us about the training.

Chastain: The stunts were very challenging.  It was a lot of fun after doing all the depressing movies that I’ve done.  Also, Chris is obnoxiously tall and muscular.

The audience loved that last bit and Chris was very humble about it.  Not even a flex for all the ladies.

Theron on the chess scene: I don’t know anything about chess and we had to do many retakes.

AG to Theron: Why do you like “bad” roles?

Theron: You get to do stuff that you don’t get to do in contemporary films.

I think Theron is a great villain, but has yet to be given a truly well-written one to portray.

AG: Who was the most uncomfortable during the “hot tub” scene?

The hot tub scene features Chastain and Hemsworth in a hot springs making out.  The movie’s PG-13.  Sorry.

Theron: The director probably…”Jessica has amazing tits.”

I don’t remember what she said during the … for obvious reasons.  And yes, that is the one direct quote I’m giving because it was awesome.  Jessica turned a shade of red trademarked by Coca Cola and Theron continued to elaborate.  When AG tried to go to Hemsworth for the next question, Hemsworth (correctly) stated that the audience wanted to hear more about Jessica’s boobs.  I told you this session was worth staying for.

On the comedic scenes with Hemsworth, the ladies said he added more fun and humor and that they were allowed to inject their own humor.

This is always a question we want to know because some scenes just feel improvised.  It’s also where the blooper reels get their filler and, often, funniest stuff.

Theron on the costumes: Sets and costumes make it easier to perform because they help the actor get into character.  Of course, we women bitched to each other constantly about the weight of the dresses and having to walk up stairs in them for multiple takes.  The costume designer (Colleen Atwood) didn’t care because she’s been nominated for ten Oscars and “you’ll wear what I tell you to wear.”

I sympathize with the women because I think some of the dresses were solid metal.

The last question of the night, following the “most fun scene” question I already told you about, was what the actors were doing next.  I don’t remember what Chastain said and Theron said she is doing Fast and Furious 8, to which I shook my head.  Then AG thanked everybody and the actors and I sat there wondering how he could continue to skip Chris Hemsworth on these questions.  He’s sitting right next to you, AG and he’s not a small guy.

If I was rating this interview, I’d say it was worth your money unless you were only there for Hemsworth.  While the questions were predictable, they at least led to some interesting insight and fun answers and it was clear the actors enjoyed making the movie.  And, like I said, the candidness of Theron was something to behold; a refreshing reminder that these actors are red-blooded people just like us.  The only thing that could have made this session better, aside from some questions from the audience, was hearing what Emily Blunt thought of Chastain’s tits.  Apparently, they’re amazing.

In the Heart of the Sea

By: Kevin Jordan

Modernizing classics so your kids never have to read them in school.

in_the_heart_of_the_sea

Everybody past high school age can tell you their own personal horror story about trying to read a book written at least one hundred years ago.  For me, it was Charles Dickens.  I powered through A Tale of Two Cities, but it left a lasting mark on me as I played the worst third base of my life the week after finishing it.  But that was nothing compared to Great Expectations, a book that so thoroughly defeated me that, not only was I unable to finish it, but I was only able to read Goosebumps for the better part of a year.  It wasn’t until years later I had recovered enough to attempt reading another “classic,” this time The Portrait of Dorian Gray, by Oscar Wilde.  While I found it mind-numbingly boring and overly descriptive of settings, I was able to finish it without wanting to drown myself in a bowl of Lucky Charms.  The point I’m trying to make is that if someone ever tries to convince you to read a Jane Austen novel, run away.  That person does not have your best interests in mind.

Lucky for us, it’s 2015 and we’ve gotten pretty good and taking those old “classics” and retelling them in a language that doesn’t have to be written in cursive.  In other words, kids – when your teacher assigns you to read Moby Dick, head to the theaters for In the Heart of the Sea and thank your ancestors for inventing the talkies.

In the Heart of the Sea is the story of Moby Dick.  Well, actually it’s the story of the story that inspired Herman Melville to write Moby Dick.  Wait, scratch that.  It’s based on a book written in 2000 (In the Heart of the Sea, by Nathaniel Philbrick) about the sinking of a whaling ship called the Essex, and tells the story of a guy who survived the ordeal telling Melville the story so Melville can write his story.  Okay, here’s what really happens in the movie – Thor fights a whale.  Let’s move on.

Ben Whishaw plays Melville, who is looking for a complete accounting of the sinking of the Essex to use for his next novel.  He tracks down Thomas Nickerson (Brendan Gleeson), a survivor of the sinking and, with the help of Nickerson’s wife (Michelle Fairly) and a stack of money, coaxes the story out of Thomas.  As in Titanic, the film bounces us between the story and the storyteller and we get to watch each of them evolve simultaneously (Melville included).  As Thomas’ story unfolds, it becomes clear why he never wanted to talk about it and it’s not just because of the “demon whale” as one Spanish captain puts it.  I don’t want to spoil it for you, so let’s just say Tom Hanks’ character in Castaway had it easy in comparison to Thomas.

The cleverness of the film is that it tells us the story of Moby Dick without actually having to read to us Moby Dick.  Yes, it still takes place in the original time period, so it’s not like it’s subtle, and there is a giant white whale attacking a ship.  But the captain’s name isn’t Ahab, the first mate isn’t named Ishmael, and nobody is seeking revenge on a cetacean for taking their leg.  Instead, Captain Pollard (Benjamin Walker) and first mate Owen Chase (Chris Hemsworth) hate each other and just want to fill their ship with whale oil so they get back home and not have to look at each other’s exceptionally non-ugly faces.  But many of the elements from Moby Dick are in this film, including the lessons to be learned.

In short, I enjoyed this film because the original story of Moby Dick is a very good story, but I didn’t have to slog through the writing style of the 1850’s.  That’s not to say I don’t appreciate the works of authors like Twain, Shelley, or Verne, but having to actually read them is sometimes just short of torture.  So, let’s stop torturing our kids and maybe even spring for some popcorn.  Class dismissed.

Rating: Worth more than just your money if you take your kids to it.  When they inevitably are forced to read Moby Dick, they’ll be able to skim it and you will have saved them from being scarred for life.

(Editor’s note: I’m not actually condoning kids ignore their school assignments, but you have to admit – the language in those books is nearly a foreign language to today’s youth.)