Film Review: MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL (MIB: INTERNATIONAL) (USA 2019) ***

Men in Black: International Poster
Trailer

The Men in Black have always protected the Earth from the scum of the universe. In this new adventure, they tackle their biggest threat to date: a mole in the Men in Black organization.

Director:

F. Gary Gray

The fourth of the franchise and a spinoff rather than a sequel, loosely based on the Malibu/Marvel comics of the same name by Lowell Cunningham, the series sees the cool black guy persona replaced by a cool black young female (Will Smith replaced by Tessa Thompson), teaming up with a handsome white guy played by Chris Hemsworth.  The tactic works.  Thompson and Hemsworth pair very well together.

The film begins with a family scene as if to ensure that all sci-fi films now have a more personal and family touch.  The recent two super hero action films followed suit as in DARK PHONIX with the super hero first scene in a car as a little girl with her family and in the family picnic scene in AVENGERS ENDGAME.  Molly is a little girl who witnesses men in black in action from her bedroom window while helping an alien at the same time escape.  It takes Molly a lifetime before she finds the MIB organization.  Infiltrating into the headquarters, she convinces the head, Agent O (Emma Thompson reprising her role) into recruiting her.  She teams up with Agent H (Hemsworth) to save the world from the scum of the universe, MIB-style.

The film clearly aims at style.  When asked the reasons to wanting to join the MIB organization, Molly responds among other reasons that she looks good in black, the comment also echoed by Agent O.  The fights are also stylized, the most impressive of all being the one where Molly battles Riza (Rebecca Ferguson), an intergalactic arms dealer who also has three arms. Gray’s (STRAIGHT OUTTA COMPTON. THE FATE OF THE FURIOUS) film trudges along  too slowly for an action flick, which also seems derive too much off the KINGSMAN and other sci-fi movies.

The plot adds in a thinking element.  The MIB organization has a mole.  Though it is not difficult to guess who the mole is, the plot (this one) often runs too complicated and is too fast to follow.  

The film is shot in exotic locations like London, Marrakesh, New York City and Italy, as the titles proudly announce.  The coolness of the locations is reflected in several very cool scenes the best of which is the dance floor scene with the alien Twins (performed by Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, well renowned dancers from France aka Les Twins) a shape-shifting alien un-killable duo who appear a number of times in the story doing their moves.  All the MIB agents can do is look and stare.

Has the MEN IN BLACK franchise run out of steam?  Quite a few people think so from the well below 50% approval rating on Rotten Tomatoes at the current wiring of this review.  But not for want of trying.  Despite the film containing the new MIB U.K. branch, more hilarious and imaginative alien creatures, politically correct updates and exotic location settings, MIB: INTERNATIONAL has regrettably only achieved minimal results.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=qOdWVqhDOj8

Film Review: CREED II (USA 2018)

Creed II Poster
Trailer

Under the tutelage of Rocky Balboa, light heavyweight contender Adonis Creed faces off against Viktor Drago, the son of Ivan Drago.

Director:

Steven Caple Jr.

Writers:

Cheo Hodari Coker (story by), Ryan Coogler (characters) | 4 more credits »

How time flies.  Before one knows it, CREED II, the sequel to 2015 CREED is now the 8th instalment of the ROCKIE franchise.  All of the films feature Sylvester Stallone who also co-wrote CREED II.  CREED II is not as good as CREED I primarily because ideas are running out – after all it is the 8th film.

The film follows Adonis Creed (Michael B. Jordan) training in order to defeat the son of Ivan Drago, the powerful athlete who killed his father in the ring more than 33 years prior.

It was in 1985 that the Soviet boxer Ivan Drago (Dolph Lundgren) killed former heavyweight boxing champion Apollo Creed during an exhibition fight in Las Vegas.  That same year, Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) defeated Ivan Drago in a boxing match on Christmas Day in the Soviet Union. Thirty-three years later, Apollo Creed’s son Adonis (Michael B. Jordan), with Rocky’s training and guidance, seeks to avenge his father’s death by fighting Drago’s son Viktor (Florian Munteanu) while at the same time, Ivan hopes to reclaim his honour through Viktor.  Stallone plays again Robert “Rocky” Balboa, Sr., the two-time world heavyweight champion and Apollo’s rival-turned-friend who becomes Adonis’ trainer and mentor.  He still owns and operates his Italian restaurant in Philadelphia.

The script surprisingly is sympathetic towards the villain Viktor and his over-unforgiving father Ivan.  During a few points in the film, one actually wishes Viktor would win the fight.  Adonis is comes across (unintentionally) as a spoilt celebrity.  Viktor is shown in the script to be a victim of family circumstances that he cannot escape from.  A similar situation was tapped in Steve McQueen’s WIDOWS where the Colin Farrell character is tied in to his family’s reputation.  Both wish to be out.  This is the only positive difference in the ROCKY films.  On the negative, Stallone ups the melodrama several notches.  Adonis’s girlfriend Bianca Thompson (Tessa Thompson) is suffering from hearing loss.  Rocky Balboa has not seen his son and granddaughter for years and finally gets to reconcile (sob-sob!) at the end of the film.  Rocky visits his late wife Adrian’s grave and speaks to her.  Adonis visits his late father’s grave and talks to him too.  It is this melodrama that kills the movie.  

A neat touch is the appearance at the final fight of Viktor’s mother (played with icy coolness by Brigitte Nielsen) who had deserted the family. 

It is clear that Viktor is the bigger and better fighter, so it is a hard task to make Adonis a credible foe that can beat Viktor.  The script devotes the usually hard training sessions (devised by Rocky that Adonis undergoes – like pulling trucks, turning tires and running in the ht desert).

The climax of the film is understandably the heavyweight championship bout between Adonis and Viktor,  executed with all its expected gore and brutal violence.  The fight begins during the last 15 minutes of the movie.

All that can be done with CREED II is to use the recycled formula of what worked in the past.  The result is a lacklustre over melodramatic film with a few good fighting sequences.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cPNVNqn4T9I

Film Review: SORRY TO BOTHER YOU (USA 2018) ***

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Sorry to Bother You Poster
Trailer

In an alternate present-day version of Oakland, telemarketer Cassius Green discovers a magical key to professional success, propelling him into a macabre universe.

Director:

Boots Riley

Writer:

Boots Riley

 

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU are the words one often hears on the telephone when called by an annoying telemarketer.  Cassius Green (Lakeith Stanfiled) has just landed the job as one after an interview where he is discovered for bringing in fake trophies and prizes.  He is told that one only needs to read and come to work with a smiling face to get a job.  But one has to stick to the script (STTS), the most important motto and one that is pinned everywhere in notices around the office cubicles.

The film is set in an alternate present-day version of Oakland, where Cassius is having a rough life—living in his uncle’s garage with his girlfriend, Detroit (Tessa Thompson) and struggling to find a job.  Strapped for cash and desperate, he lands a position as a telemarketer, but has difficulty getting people to listen to him—until he discovers a magical key (introduced to him by a fellow telemarketer played by Danny Glover) to customers’ attention: using his “white voice”.   David Cross does Cassius’ white voice.  Cash quickly rises to the top of the telemarketing hierarchy, but risks losing sight of his morals as he achieves greater and greater success.

Things get crazier when Squeeze (Steven Yeun) organizes a strike.  But Cassius is singled out to become a power seller.  He gets to meet the big guy, Steve Lift (Armie Hammer) and begins working in a stranger environment when the film becomes weirder and weirder as a satire.  Nods are given to the George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” where Boxer the horse is a hard, tireless worker but eventually turned into glue when unable to work any longer.

SORRY TO BOTHER YOU is a complex satire that obviously had a lot of work put into it.  When Cassius gets to work in his cubicle reading his script to a customer in a home, Cassius literally drops into the homes and catches them in odd positions including making love. 

The film contains no real insightful message of things that people do not already know.  Besides having really impressive sets and art direction, and really hard effort put, the film is a mixed mess.  One has to complement the superb coordination of work by the set and art director and writer/director Boots Riley.  Riley follows the company’s motto of sticking to his script though diverting into surrealism as much as opportunities arise.  One thing to be learnt from this effort is that there need be some order in the creation of a satire on disorder.

For all that has been described this overlong feeling film running at 105 minutes feels really boring for the first 30 minutes or so, as Riley sets up the stage for his satire.  His film then kicks into action and pretty crazy action at that.

Though Riley’s SORRY TO BOTHER YOU might be a textbook example of maximum effort and minimum results, one cannot help but give the man (who is supposed to be an activist, musician and artist) credit for trying.  It is this trying and effort that gives his film the most pleasure.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J_5cO6RU3nw

 

 

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Film Review: ANNIHILATION (USA 2018) ***1/2

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Annihilation Poster
Trailer

A biologist signs up for a dangerous, secret expedition where the laws of nature don’t apply.

Director:

Alex Garland

Writers:

Alex Garland (written for the screen by), Jeff VanderMeer (based on the novel by)

 

Alex Garland is known for his sci-fi scripts that have gone on to make memorable films like THE BEACH, 28 DAYS LATER, SUNSHINE, my favourite NEVER LET ME GO and EX MACHINA which he also directed.  The latter brought him prominence and the chance to make his first big budget $55 million Hollywood movie.  But the film was shelved 2 years ago after production was completed when Paramount was unsure what to do with the film after test audiences found it too ‘intellectual’.

By intellectual is meant ‘hard to follow’ and ‘difficult to make sense’.  Based on Jeff VanderMeer’s award-winning novel, (supposedly the first of a trilogy) the film is filled with stunning visuals, scientific propositions and biological concepts of human and alien integration.  The fact that plants can transform to another different type means that the idea of DNA integration is not that far-fetched.

The story can be simplified in a few lines.  A biologist’s husband (Oscar Isaac) disappears while on a mission.  He reappears suddenly out of the blue and begins going into convulsions as if possessed by aliens.  Lena (Natalie Portman) puts her name forward for an expedition into an environmental disaster zone, but does not find what she is expecting.  The expedition team is made up of herself,  the biologist, a psychologist (Jennifer Jason Leigh),  an anthropologist, a surveyor and a linguist (Gina Rodriguez, Tuva Novotny and Tessa Thompson). 

Garland directs his film as a horror sci-fi.  At times, ANNIHILATION plays like a cross between ARRIVAL and ALIEN.  The horror scenes are particularly gory, Garland going all out to scare his audience.  The best segment in the film is the one where a member of the previous crew gets his stomach cut open with a short, sharp knife to reveal his insides being occupied by some alien parasite.  The scene ends up with a joke that had the entire audience laughing out loud in a second right after being grossed out to death.  I cannot recall what was the joke but the change in mood shows Garland’s skill at playing with the audience’s emotions.

ANNIHILATION also marks a solid female film with a female heroine and a full female team saving the world.

It s true that the film becomes intellectual (there is even a debate on self-destruction vs. suicide) especially when the audience is expected to interpret the goings-on and what is happening with regards to the transformation of the expedition team.  It is clear that only Janet survives on the inset (as she confesses to her interrogator (Benedict Wong) that the rest of her team are no more.  Still, ANNIHILATION is suspenseful, scary and tense despite its relatively slow pacing.  An additional bonus is the trippy visuals (the film perhaps being the perfect one to watch while on a brownie) and gorgeous photography, courtesy of D.P. Rob Hardy.

ANNIHILATION opens in Canada and the U.S. and internationally on Netflix after a few weeks.  But this is a film that should be seen on the big screen but being on Netflix, would reach a larger audience, as Garland admitted.

Trailer: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=89OP78l9oF0

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Happy Birthday: Tessa Thompson

tessathompson.jpgTessa Thompson

Born: October 3, 1983 in Los Angeles, California, USA

Got “discovered” as a child walking down Hollywood Blvd. with her father.

Grand-daughter of actor/musician Bobby Ramos, one of the first Mexican Americans to have his own television show (“Latin Cruise” for KTLA).

 

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