It looks like we have a set of new agents donning the black suits this time around.
Seems Thor and Valkyrie are doing a side gig for the Men In Black. There’s no Agent K or Agent J to save the world from otherworldly dangers. We now have Agent H and Agent M to take up the mantle of protecting the world. The trailer also shows us that the MIB is a global organization and no more New York as the stomping ground, but we also have London and it’s branch of the MIB.
Men In Black International was a sequel that didn’t garner too much excitement when first announced, but as the cast was finalized and announced the excitement began to rise. And it is quite a cast when one really looks at it: Chris Hemsworth, Tessa Thompson, Liam Neeson, Emma Thompson, Kumail Nanjiani, Rafe Spall and Rebecca Ferguson.
Men In Black International will be out June 14, 2019. A release date with enough time between it and the juggernaut that will be Avengers: Endgame.
I heard so many negative things about Steven Spielberg’s latest film, The BFG, that I was really expecting it to be terrible. When it came out this summer, a lot of critics seemed to take an almost perverse delight in talking about its flaws and some people actually seemed to be thrilled over the fact that it flopped at the box office.
And I have to admit that the commercials that I had seen didn’t really fill me with much desire to actually sit through the movie. Mark Rylance looked vaguely grotesque as the giant. Add to that, I spent several months convinced that BFG stood for “Big Fucking Giant.” Once I was reminded that he was actually a Big Friendly Giant, I was kinda like, “But wouldn’t my way be more fun?”
But anyway, I finally watched The BFG last night and it’s actually not terrible. Don’t get me wrong. It’s not great. In many ways, this movie is Spielberg at his most sentimental. Imagine if every triumphant musical cue in Lincoln was stretched out for two hours and you might have an idea as to how he approaches The BFG. At times, I had a hard time following the film’s storyline, largely because the pacing was totally off. As a director, Spielberg never seems to be quite sure if he’s making a film exclusively for kids or if he’s trying to make a film that adults can appreciate with their children. It’s a tonal mess.
And yet, for all those weaknesses, The BFG has enough sweet moments that it feels a little bit churlish to be too critical of it. Spielberg’s heart seems to be in the right place, even if he is struggling to figure out how to express himself. As I watched the film, I felt bad about being so dismissive of what I had seen of Rylance’s performance in the commercials leading up the actual film. Rylance gives a heartfelt and warm performance, playing a giant who, because he is so nice, is bullied by even bigger giants.
As I said, I struggled to follow the film’s story. I knew that BFG had been forced to abduct an orphan named Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) because she saw him and he couldn’t risk her accidentally revealing his existence to the rest of the world. I also understood that BFG also had protect her from the other giants because the last child he befriended was eaten by those other giants. But then there was all this stuff about dream time and eventually, Queen Elizabeth II showed up and declared war on the evil giants and I was just so confused. For once, Spielberg’s skills as a story-teller fail him. It’s hard to believe that they same director who did the simple and economical Duel also did The BFG.
To be honest, the folks at Pixar, with their trademark mix of sentiment and subversion, would have been the ideal team to take on The BFG. Spielberg’s instincts are so resolutely mainstream that he doesn’t seem to understand how to best approach some of the story’s more “out there” elements. But that said, The BFG isn’t terrible. Mark Rylance does a really good job as the giant and, as you would expect from any Spielberg film, the film is undeniably visually impressive.
The Big Short is a film that is so critically acclaimed and that has been so passionately embraced by those who enjoyed it that it’s a bit intimidating to admit that it really didn’t do much for me. (It’s even more intimidating for me to admit that I nearly included it on my list of the 16 worst films of 2015.) It’s a big, angry movie and, even though it’s not really that good, it definitely taps into the zeitgeist. It captures the anger, the frustration, and the fears that people (including me) are feeling right now. It didn’t do much for me but I can understand why others have so passionately embraced it.
As for the film itself, it’s about the housing collapse and the financial crisis of 2008. The main characters are all people who realized that the economy was about to collapse and who managed to make a profit off of the crisis. For the most part, everyone gets at least two scenes where they get to rail about how angry they are that they’re making a profit off of other people’s misery. However, they all still collect their money at the end of the film.
For the most part, our main characters are the type of quirky eccentrics who always tend to pop up in ensemble films like this. They’re all played by recognizable actors and they all have an identifiable trait or two so we can keep them straight. For instance, Christian Bale has trouble relating to people socially, plays drums, and looks like he probably has terrible body odor. Steve Carell has a bad haircut and spends a lot of time yelling at people. He’s also haunted by the suicide of his brother and he’s married to Marisa Tomei but she only gets to appear in two scenes and doesn’t really do much because this is a film about menfolk, dagnabit. (I love Steve Carell but this is probably the least interesting performance that he’s ever given.) John Magaro and Finn Wittrock are two young investors and they especially get upset when they realize that the economy is about to collapse. Their mentor is played by Brad Pitt. Since this is an important film, Brad Pitt plays his role with his important actor beard.
And then there’s Ryan Gosling. Gosling plays a trader and he also narrates the film. And really, Gosling probably gives the best performance in the film, perhaps because his character is the only one who is actually allowed to enjoy making money. I think we’re supposed to be outraged when he brags about making money while people lose their houses but Gosling’s so charismatic and the character is so cheerful that it’s hard to dislike him.
(Of course, listening to Gosling’s narration, it’s impossible not to be reminded of The Wolf of Wall Street. And it’s appropriate because The Big Short is kind of like The Wolf of Wall Street for people who don’t want to have to deal with ambiguity or nuance.)
The film has gotten a lot of attention for Adam McKay’s direction, which is flashy and always watchable but, at the same time, also rather shallow. For the most part, McKay’s directorial tricks only served to remind me of other movies. The narration, of course, made me think about The Wolf of Wall Street. The scenes where characters look straight at the camera and say, “This isn’t the way it really happened,” only reminded me of how much more effective it was when the same thing happened in Michael Winterbottom’s 24 Hour Party People.
And then there’s the celebrity cameos. These are the scenes where a special guest celebrity is brought on screen to explain to us how Wall Street actually works. The first time, it’s Margot Robbie in a bubble bath and it works well because it admits the debt that The Big Short owes to Wolf of Wall Street. (Plus, it ends with Robbie telling the viewers to “fuck off,” which is probably what I would do if a huge group of strangers interrupted my bubble bath.) If McKay had limited himself to just doing it once, it would have been brilliant. But McKay drags out three more celebs and, with repeated use, the technique gets less and less interesting.
But I guess it’s debatable whether any of that matters. The Big Short taps into the way people are feeling now. It’s a zeitgeist film. People are rightfully angry and The Big Short is all about that anger. A decade from now, it’ll probably be as forgotten as Gabriel Over The White House. But for now, it’s definitely the film of the moment.
This week leading up to the Christmas weekend has surely been quite a busy one for film fans everywhere. Earlier in the week we got to see the new trailer for The Dark Knight Rises (and to a lesser extent the trailer for Wrath of the Titans). That was soon followed a day later by the first teaser trailer for Peter Jackson’s upcoming return to the world of Middle-Earth with The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey. Now we reach the triumvirate of awesome film trailers for the week with the release of the first official trailer for Ridley Scott’s return to the film franchise which made him a household name and helped redefined sci-fi (especially of the horror variety) films.
The trailer for Prometheus looks beautiful especially when viewed on 720p/1080p HD. It still doesn’t explain just exactly what the plot of the film is, but it does show some interesting imagery which harkens back to the original Alien from 1979. We even get to see a glimpse of the pilot chair where the “space jockey” sits and the very ship itself found by Ripley and the crew of the Nostromo from the first film. Even the trailer pays major homage to the original film by slowly revealing the film’s title one section at a time.
Scott has been saying that Prometheus is not a prequel to Alien and that it’s a film that could stand on it’s own without people needing to see the films in the franchise. So far, we haven’t glimpsed any of the typical xenomorphswhich defines the franchise. Time to see if they make an appearance when the film finally comes out on June 8. 2012.
The 13 Assassins are a group of samurai who are gathered together to assassinate a sociopathic nobleman in 19th Century Japan. As directed by Takashi Miike, this is a visually stunning film full of nonstop, brutal action and Miike powerfully contrasts the old school honor of the 13 Assassins with the soulless evil of their target.
There are some films that simply have to be seen to believed and Bunraku is one of those films. In the aftermath of a global war, guns have been outlawed but this attempt at social engineering has just resulted in greater societal collapse. Nicola (Ron Perlman) is the most powerful man on the East Coast but he lives life in paranoid seclusion and instead sends out nine assassins to enforce his will (his main assassin being Killer No. 2, played by a super stylish Kevin McKidd). Two strangers ( a drifter played by Josh Hartnett and a samurai played by Gackt) arrive in town and, with the help of a bartender played by Woody Harrelson, they team up to destroy the nine assassins and ultimately Nicola himself. Bunraku, which comes complete with an ominous narrator and sets that look like they belong in a Lars Von Trier film, is a glorious and fast-paced triumph of style over substance, an exciting and fun celebration of the grindhouse films of the past. With the exception of a miscast Demi Moore (playing Perlman’s mistress), the film is very well-acted but it’s completely stolen and dominated by Kevin McKidd, who can poke me with his sword any time he wants.
3) The Double Hour (dir. by Giuseppe Capotondi)
It took The Double Hour about two years to make it over here from Italy and when it did finally play in American arthouse theaters, it really didn’t get as much attention as it deserved. That’s a shame because the Double Hour is a pretty entertaining mystery-thriller that’s full of twists and turns and which features an excellent performance by Kseniya Rappoport as an enigmatic hotel maid. It hasn’t been released on region 1 DVD or blu-ray yet but apparently, there’s some interest in doing an American remake which will probably suck.
Jig is a documentary that follows several competitors at the 40th Irish Dancing World Championships held in Glasgow in 2010. I always try to be honest about my personal biases and I have to admit that one reason why I absolutely loved this film is because I not only love to dance but I love Irish stepdancing in specific and, as much as I love ballet, stepdance will always hold a special place in my heart. I’m not quite sure how to put it into words other then to say that it just makes me incredibly happy as both a participant and a watcher. For me, Jig captured that joy as well as showing just how much dedication and sacrifice it takes to truly become proficient at it. This film — much like Black Swan — made me dance.
I’ll never forget going to the Cinemark West Plano and seeing Meek’s Cutoff last May. The theater was nearly deserted except for me, Jeff, an elderly couple, and two women who were, in their appearance and manner, almost stereotypically upper middle class suburban. As the film’s frustratingly ambiguous conclusion played out on-screen and the end credits started to roll, one of the women angrily exclaimed, “WHAT!? Well, that won’t win any Academy Awards!” In many ways, Meek’s Cutoff is a frustrating film. Based on a true story, it follows a group of 19th century settlers as they try to cross the Oregon Trail while following a guide (Bruce Greenwood) who might be totally incompetent. Plotwise, not much happens: the settlers kidnap an Indian and demand that he lead them to water, Michelle Williams plays a settler who doubts that any of the men in the party know what they’re doing, and everyone continues to keep moving in search of … something. The film is, at times, really frustrating and I think it’s been overrated by most critics but, at the same time, it remains an oddly fascinating meditation on life and fate. Add to that, both Greenwood and Williams give good performances and the film’s cinematography is hauntingly beautiful and desolate at the same time.
Of Gods and Men is a quietly powerful and visually stunning French film that’s based on the true story of 7 Trappist monks who were kidnapped from their monastery and murdered by muslim rebels during the Algerian Civil War. The film imagines the final days of the monks and attempts to answer the question of why they didn’t flee their monastery when they had the opportunity to do so, but instead remained and chose to accept their fate as martyrs. This meditative film also features excellent performances from Lambert Wilson and Michael Lonsdale and avoids the trap of both easy idealization and easy villainy.
This is another one of those films that was dismissed by almost every critic except for Roger Ebert and you know what? For once, I’m going to agree with Roger. I absolutely loved One Day and I think that all the haters out there need to take a chance on romance and stop coasting on the easy cynicism. One Day follows the love affair of a writer (Anne Hathaway) and a TV personality (Jim Sturgess), visiting them repeatedly on the same day over the course of 20 years. The film starts with them as college students having a wonderfully awkward one night stand and it ends with Sturgess and their son walking up a beautiful green hill and it made me cry and cry. Hathaway and Sturgess have a wonderful chemistry together and the film also features some good supporting performances from Patricia Clarkson (as Sturgess’ dying mother) and Rafe Spall (bringing humanity to the thankless role of being the “other guy.”) This is one of the most deliriously romantic films that I’ve ever seen and I loved it. So there.
8 ) There Be Dragons (dir. by Roland Joffe)
There Be Dragons came out in May and it didn’t get much respect from the critics. I’ve also read that it was considered to be a box office failure, which is odd because I seem to remember that it was actually in theaters for quite some time. Anyway, There Be Dragons is an oddly old-fashioned war epic that attempts to mix the fictional story of a Spanish revolutionary (played by Wes Bentley) with an admiring biopic of the founder of Orpus Dei, St. Josemarie Escriva (played by Charlie Cox). The two stories never really seem mix and instead, they just coexist uncomfortably beside each other. It doesn’t help that Wes Bentley gives one of the worst performance of 2011. On the plus side, Charlie Cox gives a good and believable performance as Escriva and the film looks great. The film is so sincere in its desire to make the world a better place that its hard not to regret that it doesn’t succeed.
Earlier today, I saw Roland Emmerich’s new film Anonymous and wow. I don’t even know where to begin with just how thoroughly bad a film Anonymous is. Yes, I know that this film has gotten good reviews from mainstream sellouts critics like Roger Ebert. And yes, I heard the old people sitting behind me and Jeff in the theater going, “So, do you think Shakespeare really wrote those plays?” after the movie ended. I’m aware of all of that and yet, I can only say one thing in response: Anonymous is the worst film of 2011 so far.
In its clumsy and rather smug way, Anonymous attempts to convince us that the plays of William Shakespeare were actually written by a boring nobleman named Edward De Vere (Rhys Ifans, giving a very boring performance). De Vere, you see, is obsessed with writing but as a member of a noble family, he cannot publicly do anything as lowbrow as publish his plays himself. So, he pays playwright Ben Johnson (Sebastian Armesto) to take credit for the plays. However, Johnson has moral qualms about taking credit for another man’s work. However, Johnson’s sleazy (and, the film suggest, sociopathic) friend Will Shakespeare (Rafe Spall, who at least appears to be enjoying himself in the role) has no such qualms and, after murdering Christopher Marlowe, Will is soon the most celebrated “writer” in England. Meanwhile, Queen Elizabeth I (Vanessa Redgrave, giving a performance so terrible that you know she’ll probably get an Oscar for it) is growing senile and De Vere starts to realize that he can use his literary talents to attempt to determine who will sit on the English throne after Elizabeth dies.
However, before we can even start in on that plot, we have to sit through the film’s opening sequence. Taking place in the modern day, we watch as actor Derek Jacobi (and not Malcolm McDowell, I’m sad to say) delivers a lecture on why he thinks that Shakespeare didn’t write a word. His argument basically comes down to the fact that Shakespeare was “the son of a glovemaker” and therefore, how could he have become the world’s greatest writer? How could he have written about royalty when he himself was a commoner who didn’t go to a prestigious university? How could he have been a genius when we know so little about his life? And blah blah blah. I understand that Jacobi actually frequently gives lectures like the one we hear in this film and I, for one, will make sure never to attend one because, quite frankly, Jacobi comes across like something of a pompous ass here. It doesn’t help that Emmerich films Jacobi’s lecture in much the same way he filmed the world falling apart in 2012. Seriously, a boring old man ranting on a stage is still a boring old man regardless of how many times the camera zooms into his boring, old face.
This introductory lecture pretty much sets the tone for the entire film to follow and, by screwing this up, Emmerich pretty much screw up everything that follows. However, Jacobi is not entirely blameless for the film’s failure. Number one, he delivers the lecture with all the righteous fury of someone talking about something … well, something more relevent than whether Edward De Vere wrote Shakespeare’s plays. Secondly, Jacobi comes across as if he’s sincerely convinced that he’s telling me something that I haven’t already heard from a high school English teacher, a college creative writing instructor, and a drama professor. Seriously, guys — the whole idea that some people claim Shakespeare was a fraud is not that mind-blowing. Thirdly, and most importantly, Jacobi’s main argument seems to primarily be an elitist one. Shakespeare is not “one of us” so therefore, Shakespeare must be a fraud. In short, Derek Jacobi comes across as a snob, a bore, and an upper-class twit. He’s the type of blowhard that you secretly dread will end up moving in next door to you. I can imagine him now coming over and saying, “Hi, my name’s Derek Jacobi. Might I borrow some salt and while you get it, I’ll explain why I hate glovemakers so.”
Both the film and Sir Derek George Jacobi reveal next to no regard for the wonders of imagination when they argue that Shakespeare couldn’t have written about royalty because he himself was not of royal blood. But, I wonder — how hard is it to write about royalty, really? Is Hamlet really a play about a prince or is it a play about a man who is struggling to maintain his idealism in an increasingly harsh world? Is Henry V really about royalty or is it about a formerly irresponsible boy who is being forced to grow up? To take Jacobi’s argument to its logical conclusion, why could Shakespeare not write about royalty but apparently De Vere could write about gravediggers and loan sharks?
The answer to that question is not to be found in Ifans’ glum, humorless performance. As played by Rhys Ifans, Edward De Vere is a blank slate who seems to be incapable of the joy and the love of life that is apparent in some of the plays that Jacobi credits him with. The film’s version of Edward De Vere doesn’t seem to be capable of telling a good joke, let alone writing one. Yet, we are to believe that he is the author of Much Ado About Nothing? It’s enough to make you wonder if anyone involved in this film has ever bothered to read Shakespeare or do they just use his work (and a wikipedia-level understanding of British history) as a roadmap for their own conspiracy theories?
Once you get past the whole Shakespeare-as-fraud thing, it’s a bit difficult to really talk about the plot of Anonymous because there really isn’t much of a plot. There’s a lot of people plotting things and there’s a lot of scenes of distinguished looking men standing in ornate waiting rooms and either whispering or yelling about who deserves to succeed Elizabeth as ruler. I’m an unapologetic history nerd and I usually love all the soap opera theatrics of British royalty (both past and present) so I should have taken to these scenes like a cat pouncing on a bird but I didn’t. All of the palace intrigue left me cold and bored, largely because it all just felt as if they were being randomly dropped in from other, better films about the Elizabethan era. The plot of Anonymous doesn’t so much unfold as it just shows up uninvited and then refuses to go home.
Storywise, Anonymous tells us the following (and yes, these are spoilers):
1) Queen Elizabeth, the so-called “virgin” queen, was apparently something of a slut and had a countless amount of illegitimate children who apparently all ended up living next door to each other as if they were all in the cast of some sort of renaissance sitcom. “This week on Tyler Perry’s Meet the Tudors…”
2) Her first bastard son was none other than Edward De Vere who several years later — unaware of his true parentage — would become Elizabeth’s lover and would end up impregnating Elizabeth with the Earl of Southampton. The Earl of Southampton would eventually grow up to become De Vere’s ward though he would never realize that he was also De Vere’s son and half-brother. (And all together now: Ewwwwww!)
3) The Earl of Southampton would then go onto to become an ally of the Earl of Essex, yet another one of Elizabeth’s unacknowledged sons and when Essex would attempt to claim his right to succeed to the English throne, De Vere would attempt to aid in his efforts by writing Richard III.
4) Oh, and finally, William Shakespeare personally murdered playwright Christopher Marlowe. In real-life, Marlowe was murdered in 1593. The film takes place in 1598 so I’m guessing that either the filmmakers are just stupid or else they “embellished” the story in order to give us another reason to hate Shakespeare. However, seeing as how Emmerich and Rhys Ifan and Derek Jacobi have been out there bragging about how authentic and scrupulous this film is, it’s hard to really forgive the “whole embellishment” argument when they’re essentially accusing Shakespeare of committing a very real crime against a very real contemporary. It’s especially odd that the film pretty much drops the whole Shakespeare-as-murderer subplot right after bringing it up. It’s hard not to feel that the filmmakers assumed that nobody would either bother or be smart enough to catch them on this.
Needless to say, this material is all so melodramatic and over-the-top that it should have been great fun, a so-bad-its-good masterpiece of bad dialogue and tacky costumes. Well, the film is full of bad dialogue and the costumes are tacky but yet, the film itself is never any fun. The film’s sin isn’t that it’s ludicrous. No, this film commits the sin of taking itself far too seriously. This is a film that has fallen in love with its own delusions of adequacy. In short, this is a film directed by Roland Emmerich.
Indeed, there’s many reasons why Anonymous fails as a film. John Orloff’s screenplay is ludicrous, the film’s premise is never as interesting as it should be, the film’s version of 16th Century London is so obviously CGI that it resembles nothing less than a commercial for Grand Theft Auto: The Elizabethan Age, and the film is full of overdone performances. (Vanessa Redgrave might get an Oscar nomination for her performance here but seriously, she’s beyond terrible.) Ultimately, however, all of the blame must be given to Roland Emmerich. As a director, he is just so damn literal-minded that he doesn’t seem to be capable of understanding just how stupid this movie truly is. At first this film might seem like a change of pace for Emmerich but after watching just a few minutes, it quickly becomes apparent that we’re dealing with the same idiot who had arctic wolves running around New York City in The Day After Tomorrow.
I’ve seen a few interviews with Emmerich in which he has said that the question of Shakespeare’s authorship is something that “many people don’t want to discuss.” If I remember correctly, he said the same thing about the Mayan prophecy that the world would end in 2012 and I wouldn’t be surprised if he trotted out that line in regards to climate change back when he did Day After Tomorrow. Sadly, what Roland Emmerich doesn’t seem to get is that people are willing to discuss all of those topics. They just don’t want to discuss them with him.