Three Late Reviews
Better late than never, I hope. These are still in theaters, and not nearing the ends of their runs.
I wasn't planning on seeing Men in Black 3, since I missed Men in Black and Men in Black 2. But I also missed the last showing of the film I wanted, and there was one more 3D shiwing of MIB3 that evening.
The premise of the Men in Black franchise is that aliens have been visiting Earth for a long time but—like the wizards in Harry Potter—they have to remain secret and not cause trouble. These rules are enforced by a secret agency of men in black called Men in Black.
This is camp and comedy, but it is also adventure with the necessary jeopardy—save a life, keep the Earth from being eaten, survive a jump off the Chrysler building—and a bit of human pathos to anchor the story and keep the deus-ex-machina element from breaking the whole thing. It's good lowbrow entertainment with inventive plot elements and visuals, as well as one or two digs at the pretentious and highbrow. It's the chocolate milk of cinema, tasty, a bit nutritious, and healthy in moderation.
Speaking of chocolate milk, there is a nice sippy-cup riff on chocolate milk in the story.
Don't bother with Men in Black 3 if you can't jump right into a science fiction world, if you can't stand camp, or if you idolize Any Warhol. Otherwise, have fun.
Comic book stories, especially superhero stories, must create exceptional dangers in order that a superhuman character must struggle in order to resolve the jeopardy. When five different heroes are involved, the danger must be even greater.
The writers of Marvel's The Avengers succeed quite nicely. Along the way, there are a a variety of superhero rescue stunts, character dilemmas, and neat tech concepts with lots of nice CGI. Also some "impossible physics" animation humor. But that's not what interests me about this film.
In recent years, superhero comics have gotten on various politically correct bandwagons. At least one established superhero came out as gay, for instance. So it's interesting that Captain America gets his stars and stripes back. Why? "Maybe we need a bit of old-fashioned America." When the Norse god Loki forces a crowd in Germany to kneel, an old man stands back up and likens him to Hitler. And when Loki proclaims himself a god, Captain America utters what must now be the most famous line in the movie: I know of only one God, and he doesn't dress like that. In today's Hollywood, a line like that is shocking, even scandalous. Maybe they thought that it's the only way to talk to the rubes who would come out to this movie.
Or maybe someone, at Marvel or at the studio, is trying to break with the new conventions and return to the old traditions. Is it sincere? How should I know? Will it last? That might depend on whether people continue to buy tickets for stories like this. Even if they think we are rubes for paying admission we should keep paying. They may be making fun of what they don't understand, but if our message gets out the joke's on the jokers. The message will only help our cause, sincere or not.
Putting For Greater Glory after Men in Black 3 and Marvel's The Avengers is like ending a rap concert with a madrigal and The Art of the Fugue. For Greater Glory is so different a film you wonder that they can both fit in a single category. It's real history (though dramatized, it takes minimal liberties); it's about real people and real politics, challenging the conventional notion of a happy ending; it presents the real rhetoric by which politicians justify oppressing their people.
By now most people have heard of the story: in the 1920's the newly established Socialist government of Mexico undertook to drive religion out of Mexico. And by 'religion' they meant Catholicism. Restrictions were imposed in succession, with resistance to each measure used to justify the next and more oppressive measure.
The plot is necessarily condensed; the story follows certain characters to provide dramatic continuity and personal interest, even though it lacks the time to develop all their stories fully.
This is not an easy story to like or enjoy. There are heroes, but the story asks us to understand the meaning of a happy ending on their terms. The ugliness of despotism and creeping totalitarianism is in no way uplifting. And a skilled performance by Peter O'Toole is squandered in his last scene.
Paradoxically, all but the last of these are strengths of the film, not weaknesses, created by the nature of the story and the nature of the struggle rather than by the makers of the film. They are an honesty which forces us to ask if our beliefs live up to their billing. And as a record of the history of oppression in the twentieth century, the film is a must-see for those who love their liberty and treasure their freedoms.
Seeing this movie will allow the filmmakers to move on to other projects. It will cast a vote for telling the truth about freedom and oppression. And it will make you part of questions that few of us can answer satisfactorily.