Movie #73: Men In Black (1997)

Director: Barry Sonnenfeld

Starring: Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Vincent D’Onofrio, and Rip Torn

Academy Awards (1998):

Best Makeup: Rick Baker, David LeRoy

Academy Award Nominations:

Best Art Direction- Set Decoration: Bo Welch (art director), Cheryl Carasik (set director)

Best Music Original Musical or Comedy Score: Danny Elfman

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Fun.

Pure, precise, unapologetic fun.

That’s how I’d describe Men in Black.  NYPD officer James Edwards III (Smith) is recruited to a secret government agency known as the Men in Black by Agent K (Jones).  They investigate an alien bug who has taken the skin of farmer Edgar (D’Onofrio) to disguise his true form.  The bug wants to capture the Galaxy, an incredible source of energy his people will use to destroy the Arquillians, another alien race.

This film is pretty straightforward plot-wise.  At 98 minutes in length, Men in Black is to the point and very intentional with how the story progresses.  There isn’t a whole lot of cutesy fringe stuff that doesn’t contribute to the main story, primarily J’s integration to life as an M.I.B. agent.  There are numerous gags and an incredible amount of memorable one-liners, but they fit seamlessly into the film’s plot.

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Released in 1997, Men in Black works very well with the technological limitations that still existed.  Compared to today’s standards, the CGI in this film was both primitive not nearly as far-fetched.  Still, most of the special effects throughout the film are just believable enough to pass.  Also, they aren’t so blatantly fake or forced, which was more of a possibility at this time.

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The acting throughout the film was fantastic.  Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones play such contrasting characters that they work well as a team.  Agent J, the fast-talking, wise-cracking rookie who is disturbed and twitchy at times over his new world is a nice contrast with Agent K, the veteran who’s seen it all and isn’t phased by their challenges.   One of my favorite exchanges happens when they leave the morgue the first time:

Agent J: “Hey K, have you ever flashy-thinged me?”

Agent K: “No.”

J: “I ain’t playin’ with you K! Have you ever flashy-thinged me?”

K:”No.”

Smith’s wise-cracks and Jones’ overly dry sense of humor is just straight-up entertaining.

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Playing a character as strange as Edgar was no small task.  I think Vincent D’Onofrio gives one of the funniest performances of his career.  Though appearing as Edgar, albeit a decomposing Edgar, D’Onofrio pulls off the fish-out-of-water, or would that be alien-out-of-water, great.  His single-minded mentality of getting the Galaxy at whatever cost allowed for a lot of funny moments.

Tony Shalhoub’s one scene in this film was great.  I enjoyed both him and Frank the Pug’s scenes, and I was disappointed, though not surprised, that they had more time in Men in Black 2, a movie I felt was just made to make more money at the expense of writing a good story.  The second film used the elements that made this movie great, but they expanded them enough to where it did more harm than good.

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Men in Black is a highly entertaining, concise movie that benefited from strong lead chemistry and virtually no filler scenes and sub-plots.  Smith and Jones both work well together and play well off of each other.  I can watch this one every now and again, and though I know the movie backwards and forwards, I still find it fun to watch.

Though this film is considered a family movie, for me there was just enough foul language for me to say it’s almost a family movie, I’d wait until the kids are close to their teen years before letting them watch this movie.  The language was the only drawback for me.  Though it worked with the comedy, I felt it for the most part wasn’t necessary.  I don’t think the comedic effect would have been lost if they’d cut that stuff out.

My Rating: 4.5 out of 5 stars.

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Movie #72: United 93 (2006)

Director: Paul Greengrass

Starring: Ben Sinley, David Alan Basche, Ray Carleson, J.J. Johnson, Gary Commock, and Tobin Miller

Academy Award Nominations (2007)

Best Achievement in Directing: Paul Greengrass

Best Achievement in Editing:  Clare Douglas, Richard Pearson, Christopher Rouse

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The story of United Airlines flight 93: the fourth aircraft hi-jacked on September 11, 2001.

United 93 is a film that’s still very difficult for me to watch.  While today marks 12 years since the events portrayed in the film originally happened, and I find myself pondering how different life is now.  The events of September 11, 2001 changed how I, and many others, view the world, and a film like United 93 evokes all kinds of emotions to say the least.  I found myself reliving that day from the initial shock and disbelief to the uncertainty that an event like this creates.

Drawing from the firsthand accounts such as the phone calls to family members from passengers on the flight and the air traffic controllers, United 93 unfolds almost in real-time as the hijackings take place, and the unfortunate end to the four hijacked planes.

The film itself: the acting, cinematography and the sort, seems very raw.  It’s very real, and though some production liberties had to be taken (as with any film), this movie does a good job of plainly and simply presenting the facts as best they can.  The film drew praise from many of the passengers relatives, not to mention the critics as well.

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A number of actors portrayed themselves in this film.  Most notably was Ben Sliney, the FAA National Operations Manager, whose first day at that position was September 11, 2001.  The level of authenticity doesn’t get any higher than having those who were actually there.  Pilots and flight attendants were also used in this film.

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I remember seeing this film in the theaters, opening weekend I believe, and when the plane crashes at the end of the film, I’m glad Greengrass chose a black screen, no music, nothing.  Though it only lasted a few seconds, I think doing anything else in this situation with this type of film would only diminish it.  A simple epilogue seemed fitting as well.

Of the films dealing directly with 9/11, United 93 is the only one I’ve seen.  I’m sure World Trade Center was okay, but having big name actors in this type of film just doesn’t work for me.  That is one of the things that sets this film apart.  United 93 is a film I will watch every few years, though I imagine it will be difficult to watch every time.  I’m glad this film was made, and the way in which it was made probably does as great a justice for the victims as a film could do.

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My Rating; 5 out of 5 stars.