A and A's Movie A Day

Watching movies until we run out.

Movie 282 – Men in Black

Men in Black – December 7th, 2010

After the past two nights full of screeching metal and overwhelming effects and painful attempts at humor we decided to head in a slightly different direction tonight. Still got aliens, still got some action, still got a threat against the world as we know it. But the action is less explosive and the effects are less of an assault on the senses and the humor is actually funny.

Of course, this is largely a comedy movie. Sure, it’s science fiction action, but the vast majority of the movie is supposed to be funny. Everything’s played for laughs, from the aliens in disguise to the way the main characters deal with themselves and each other. About the only thing that isn’t flat out funny is the imminent destruction of Earth, but even that’s got jokes made about it. It’s all done for laughs, and it’s all done well.

This is the story of a mysterious agency that’s no longer overseen by the government. They deal with aliens. Specifically they keep track of aliens coming to, living on and leaving Earth, as well as any issues that might arise in relation to the aliens here. They’re secret and they keep it that way by erasing the memories of the people they deal with. They dress in black suits, they drive big cars and they have fancy guns and gizmos to keep things nice and civilized. And when one of them retires (and has his memory erased) they go looking for a new recruit. The movie is pretty much his orientation.

Enter James Edwards, a New York City Police detective who has a run-in with an alien and then with Agent K. Edwards gets recruited just in time for a big alien bug to kill some alien royalty and try to steal a galaxy. What’s great about this is that it really is just an orientation. Even though yes, it is dangerous and yes, it is a big deal, the rest of the agency treats it largely as just another day at the office. The tone here is so pitch perfect I don’t even know how to describe it. Tommy Lee Jones as K delivers every line with just the right combination of experience and humor without once making it seem like he’s milking a bit for humor’s sake. To look at him you’d think he’s the straight man, but he’s not. But then, Will Smith’s James (Agent J) isn’t the precisely straight man either, since he gets to crack smartass jokes all over the place. They play off each other and it works perfectly. They banter while they get shit done, with K leading the way and J making mistakes but catching on quickly, which is why they recruited him in the first place. At no point do you really think he can’t do the job. It’s just a steep learning curve.

Of course, while J and K are at the heart of the movie and they contribute a hell of a lot to the success of it all, there are some great secondary players too. Linda Fiorentino plays Dr. Laurel Weaver, a city coroner who apparently has had suspicions about aliens many times and had her memory wiped repeatedly. I love Weaver. She’s a fantastic character with a couple of snappy lines of her own. There’s Rip Torn as Zed (must be Canadian), the head of the agency who handles it all with gruff ease. And then there’s Vincent D’Onofrio as the bug who’s causing all the trouble. Now, he’s all but unrecognizable by the end of this movie and still I can’t see him on Law and Order: Criminal Intent without thinking that he’s wearing “an Edgar suit” as the bug does in this movie.

Combine everyone together with some great aliens and a plot that’s got just the right amount of doom so as to not overshadow the many humorous moments (and oh, there are so many) and you’ve got a really fun movie. It hits all the right notes for me. It’s certainly comfort viewing and it’s the source of more than a couple of references Andy and I make frequently. And you’ll notice that we’re not going to be reviewing the sequel tomorrow. This is because we don’t own it. This is intentional. I prefer to keep this one on its own. It was just right.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , | Leave a comment

Men in Black

December 7, 2010

Men in Black

Every once in a while a movie comes along that lives up to its own hype and marketing. I remember seeing the teaser for this movie about a year before the movie came out. It involved Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith shooting down a flying saucer while wearing snappy suits. The posters all featured the two of them in silhouette with their names in big block letter underneath. Mr. Jones. Mr. Smith. It was a catchy ad campaign that made me actually curious about the movie, and when I did see it I was delighted, because it’s a witty, fun, and entertaining. It has adventure, explosions, the threat of global destruction and a very snappy script.

I never read the comic books that this movie was based on, but I do enjoy the films of director Barry Sonnefeld. Both of the Adams Family movies are a lot of fun and Get Shorty is one of my favorites. (The inexplicably awful Wild Wild West didn’t come out until after this movie, so I stand by my assessment that Sonnefeld is a competent director with a knack for special effects, comedy and quick repartee. The movie itself is like a combination of The Adventures of Buckaroo Bonsai Across the Eighth Dimension and Ghostbusters. Which is high praise from me.

James Edwards is a sassy New York undercover cop (Will Smith in his Bad Boys persona) who gets caught up in something bigger than he could have expected when it turns out that a fugitive he ran down was actually an alien assassin sent to Earth on some kind of urgent mission. The laconic and deadpan Agent K recognises that Edwards has some extraordinary qualities and invites him to become an agent in a super-secret agency that monitors and regulates all extra-terrestrial activity on Earth. The Men in Black.

It’s amazing just how well this movie works, considering the built-by-committee method by which it was constructed. The production was plagued by last-minute re-writes as major plot points were in flux right up to post-production. It never should have worked, but it does.

Some of the credit has to go to Sonnefeld, who keeps the action going right along and seems to effortlessly blend comedy with adventure and science fiction. And some has to go to the wonderful performances of everybody involved. Tommy Lee Jones almost never cracks a smile throughout the entire film. His Agent K is a mentor to Smith’s Agent J and straight man for most of the great humor. Will Smith is his usual charismatic self, and is just fun to watch as he effortlessly adapts to a world of aliens and strangeness. Support is provided by Rip Torn as the unflappable Agent Zed, Vincent D’Onofrio as the evil bug in the Edgar suit and Linda Florentino as Laurel Weaver, the ME in the local morgue who keeps uncovering alien activity on Earth, only to be neuralized. There’s even a totally unrecognisable Tony Shalhoub as one of the aliens and a quick cameo by David Cross as a receptionist. Everybody in this movie is great.

As with many other favorite movies in our collection this movie is frequently referenced by us in our daily lives. We often imitate D’Onofrio’s demand for sugar. In water. Whenever we feel the need to clean in our apartment we tell each other to get a decorator in her because… Damn. As we were watching this tonight we were quoting lines ahead of the movie in anticipation, because it’s just so irresistibly well written. And because the delivery of the lines by the actors is so perfect.

I had a lot of fun watching this tonight. We do NOT own the lackluster sequel, which like Blues Brothers 2000 and Highlander II resides in the category of movies I refuse to acknowledge even exist. We’ll have to wait and see if the third film is any good at all.

December 7, 2010 Posted by | daily reviews | , , , , , | Leave a comment