1997 Movie Review: MEN IN BLACK, 1997 (Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones)


Movie Reviews

Directed by Barry Sonnefeld
Starring: Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Laura Flynn Boyle, Rip Torn, Vincent D’Onfrio
Review by Andrew Kosarko


In the 1950s a super-secret government agency was formed to monitor and police the activities of extraterrestrial aliens on the planet Earth. Some 40 years later a founding father of the agency, Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), finds himself with a new smart-mouthed partner fresh from the NYPD who is soon dubbed Agent Jay (Will Smith). Their first mission is to save the Earth from destruction by a giant insectlike alien (Vincent D’Onfrio) that, incidentally, drives an exterminator’s truck. Armed with their matching Ray-Bans, skinny ties, and space-age weapons that Jay barely understands–he calls the Neuralyzer the “flashy thing”–the new duo begin another average day of fighting intergalactic terrorists.

OSCAR Winner for Best Makeup

OSCAR Nominee for Best Art Direction and Best Music


It’s funny. It’s fun. It’s entertaining. It’s engrossing. What else can you ask for? Oh, Will Smith? Yup, this movie hits the mark across the board.

The Story: The story follows the induction of Agent Jay into the MIB agency. Not only does this give us a background of the agency, but it also gives us an “everyman voice” throughout the film that makes for some great comedy. Will Smith is the guy that says what everyone is thinking, and is still able to twist it to make it funny. He’s teamed with the rough seasoned veteran Agent Kay, who’s on his way out. This perspective really opens up the world and gives us two very contrasting takes on this journey while one character struggles to understand it all, the other is trying to forget it. The story is perfectly structured to involve some minor characters but never getting off base of training Jay and uncovering the mystery of an intergalactic terrorist bug who plans on stealing a precious galaxy from earth (condensed into the size of a marble) which, in turn, puts the aliens trying to keep their enemies from controlling that galaxy, in the position to destroy earth to save themselves. Say what you will, it is an original take on the “destroy the world” problem.

Acting: Not a bad hat in the bunch. There’s things in Hollywood called bank-able elements. AKA, something that is guaranteed to make money for the studio. The actor that will define my generation is Will Smith. You put him in a movie, and you have a hit. Smith really doesn’t get the acclaim he deserves. Sure, he’s no Gary Oldman or Johnny Depp where as he doesn’t dissapear into his roles, but Smith can carry a scene like no other. No other actor in recent memory has been as consistently funny as Smith has. He brings his A-game to everything he does and I have never seen a film where he disappointed me. Tommy Lee Jones, while I have a personal disdain for the man, does a solid job as well. The real “chameleon” of the movie is Vincent D’Onfrio. He is almost unrecognizable once he becomes “the bug.” Granted, there’s a heavy makeup job involved, but the walk of an alien uncomfortable in human skim, persona and voice changes, he really does an incredible job.

Directing: Sonnenfeld is known for more kooky, campy humor, and while that is an element in this film, it never overshadows the narrative. Which is important. Substance over style has always been my favorite approach. There are really no “flat” scenes in the film, and everyone of them keeps you hooked and intrigued.

Cinematography: It works just fine, don’t get me wrong, but there’s really nothing amazing to say about it. It’s just….shot like a movie. Can’t really compliment or condemn it.Production Design: Somehow, there’s this weird off-beat characteristic to the production design, and yet you can’t put your finger on it. I mean, it’s realistic, and yet otherworldly. At times it’s a bit too colorful and leans toward this teal blue color, but overall what matters is that it’s effective. Editing: From what I can gather, it’s effective. It’s not special by any means, but the pacing is there and the emotional resonance is intact in every scene, which is an editor’s two main concerns.

Score: Danny Elfman’s last hurrah if you ask me. His scores following this were on a continual down slide and got worse and worse following this. But this score is solid. It captures the tone of the film, gives it some identity and intensifies the emotional underscores.

Special Effects: This is one of those films that really hits that middle mark in terms of it’s visual effects. Which, in my humble opinion, is right where it needs to be. It’s not overly obvious that it’s CGI, and at the same time it’s not so realistic that it’s not realistic (fif that makes any sense?). It just works. Much like Jurassic park, there’s a blend of the digital composition and live action animatronics which really helps make this world believable.

In closing: I suggest this movie for anyone. It walks the line of being a family movie with some choice language and occasional violence, but is still fun none the less. Guaranteed entertainment.This film won Best Director and Best Cinematography, and was nominated for five other categories. The screenwriter was nominated, and rightly so. Taken from a short story that first appeared in the Saturday Evening Post in 1933 by Maurice Walsh, Green Rushes, Frank Nugent was able to weave a story rich in subtext and conflict.

The collector’s edition of the DVD includes an interview with Maureen O’Hara where she reminisces about filming The Quiet Man, and is well worth watching.




Happy Birthday: Tommy Lee Jones

tommyleejones.jpgTommy Lee Jones

Born: September 15, 1946 in San Saba, Texas, USA

[on how he learned to direct] I’ve worked with more than 50 directors and I’ve paid attention since day one. That’s pretty much been my education, apart from studying art history and shooting with my own cameras. I’ve seen 50 different sets of mistakes and 50 different ways of achieving. You just leave the bad part out.

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Movie Review: CRIMINAL, 2016. Starring: Ryan Reynolds, Kevin Costner

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criminal.jpgCRIMINAL (USA 2015) ***
Directed by Ariel Vromen

Starring: Kevin Costner, Ryan Reynolds, Gal Gadot, Tommy Lee Jones, Gary Oldman, Michael Pitt

Action films about the lead character with the past erased make good money at the box office. Examples are THE BOURNE IDENTITY, Liam Neeson’s UNKNOWN and last week’s recently released HARDCORE HENRY. CRIMINAL though not identical in concept, plays along the same lines with the lead character having to piece together a new identity.

Based on a script by Douglas Cook and David Weisberg, the film takes the amnesia plot up a few notches. It is an international story dealing with Americans, British, Russians and a Dutchman. The film contains countless London sights in the first 15 minutes, making audiences wonder if the London Tourist Board is subsidizing this film. There are shots of Bank Tube Station, the Thames, Albert Hall, the docklands, Big Ben and the Overground Tube to make the film look more modern.

The film opens with a chase involving CIA agent Ben Pope (Ryan Reynolds). Pope is caught half way through his assignment and killed. His brain needs to be implanted into someone else for the mission to be completed successfully. Or the world will be destroyed. It really does not matter how ridiculous the plot is as director Ariel Vromen (THE ICEMAN) has proven that he can make anything credible and exciting. So, a wanted imprisoned criminal Jericho Stewart (Kevin Costner in super-gruff mode) with zero conscience but meets the surgical criteria is implanted with Pope’s memories by Dr. Frank (Tommy Lee Jones) under command of no-nonsense British chief Quaker Wells (Gary Oldman).

For an action thriller drama, the action segments are handled efficiently, particularly the car chase involving the British police car pile up n the highway and the brief underwater scenes.

The film is aided with an impressive cast that includes no less than the new Wonder Woman, French actress Gal Gadot as Pope’s wife, Brit Oldman and Americans Costner., Jones, Reynolds and the long time unseen Michael Pitt as the Dutchman.

Though I do enjoy a bit of violence in movies, I am not one to condone it. CRIMINAL is exceptionally violent, evident in scenes like the electric torture at the film’s start, the bloodied photo of one of Jericho’s victims the brain surgery and the segment where Jericho beats a number of people up to get food and nab a van. Tools used in fights also include a hammer.

Though there is ample opportunity for the script to moralize, the script thankfully stays aways from it. Jericho is a man with no conscience, a killing machine who is given a chance to have feelings after being implanted with Pope’s memories. Once Jericho begins to feel, he is torn for example between saving one life – Pope’s daughter against sacrificing hers to save many, many more. The main villain has the purpose of creating a software wormhole i order to destroy all the governments in the world as he believes every government is corrupt and that conglomerates rule the world all for money. There is some truth in the villain’s way of thinking and the script leaves it for the audience to debate the issue in their own minds.

CRIMINAL is a good action drama, a good blend between drama and action with not too much ridiculous discontinuous action scenes as in recent films like BATMAN V SUPERMAN and HARDCORE HENRY. For this reason alone, CRIMINAL is a compelling and rather entertaining time-waster.


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