They Are The Men in Black

What do you to stop your 13-year-old from playing video games? Put in Men in Black.

The sci-fi comedy premiered in 1997, along with one of the greatest duos of our time. An unlikely pair to some became a crowd favorite, so much so that a third sequel was made some 16 years later.

The tag team:

J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) make this movie. The know-it-all Smith and the seasoned Jones create an on-screen presence that’s hard to ignore. It’s one full of wit, sarcasm, and meanness, but of the best kind. Whether it’s the banter or the two men bullying Tony Shalhoub or a pug, they’re a perfect mix of rookie and veteran. The script and gestures are hysterical, and I just noticed Jay scratching his eyebrow with his middle finger for the first time this weekend. I always see something new.

Is there other life out there?

One of my favorite parts is the discovery phase. I love finding out there is a secret organization that manages the aliens on the planet. There aren’t a lot of aliens in this movie, but you know of bugs, the little worm guys in the break room, and the cute baby squid, to name a few. I remember seeing this movie as a kid and thinking, Wow… that would be a cool job. MIB made me question if we were alone in the universe.

Special effects don’t have to be over the top.

As we watched Friday, my son turned to me and asked, “Mom, how did they make that look so real?” The answer is a great movie crew and some CGI. The bad bug in this movie looks vicious, not cartoony. The spaceships don’t look fake or so unbelievable that you can tell a computer was used. The producers used real New York landmarks and celebrities, which adds something special. The effects aren’t so fast that you can’t keep up, and it’s a perfect mix of real and digital — certainly a lesson some directors should pay attention to now.

Take the time to rewatch.

I admit the sequels are not as good, as most sequels, but the series is super fun and entertaining. There are some light life lessons and touching moments, but overall Men in Black just takes you on an adventure without traveling too far from home.

Here are some of my favorite lines:

Beatrice: You here to make fun of me too?

Kay: No, ma’am. We at the FBI do not have a sense of humor we’re aware of. May we come in?

———–

Kay: All right… That’s confiscated. All of it. And I want you on the next transport off this rock or I’m gonna shoot you where it don’t grow back.

Jay: [shaken] Yeah and… and… and I’m gonna be back to talk about them Rolexes.

———–

Jay: [stepping on some cockroaches] Oh, I’m sorry. Was that your auntie? Then that must be your uncle over there!

———–

Jay: You know what they say. It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.

Kay: Try it.

———–

Kay: I don’t suppose you know what kind of alien life form leaves a green spectral trail and craves sugar water, do you?

Jay: Uh, wait, that was on Final Jeopardy! last night. Damn, Alex said…

And don’t forget the song!

Off the Charts: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air

Off The Charts Header

I was an avid TV-watcher as a kid.  Between Saturday morning cartoons, after-school afternoon shows, all-day Nickelodeon-a-thons, and NES my young life revolved around the Television.  Well that and action figures.

Despite all the TV-ing I did there was only ever ONE show I remember being excited about the premiere: The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Honestly I don’t know how I heard about it, what the promotion for the show was, and even if I was a huge Fresh Prince fan before the show (I knew several of the songs but I was deep into Guns N Roses love at this point…) but for some reason I have a distinct memory of my sister and I ending playing outside early (unheard of!) to run inside and crowd around the second TV in my parents’ room (sitting on a giant desk and occasionally requiring a SMACK on the side to work properly) to watch the very first episode.

As part of my 90s nostalgia I bought and re-watched the entire show from start to finish over the last couple of weeks.  There was a lot I’d forgotten, a lot that I remembered (and couldn’t WAIT to get to!), and some changing opinions on the show itself.  Here are my thoughts:

The show starts, as many shows do, with a cliché premise.  This one is “fish out of water.”  Will Smith, from West Philadelphia (born and raised), moves in with his rich relatives and their clash of cultures causes hilarity.  I remember as a kid only seeing the Will-side of things and reveling in his bucking of the establishment.  Watching as an adult I realize it’s more complex than that.  In the very first episode Uncle Phil (James Avery) sets Will straight, he might be a kid from the streets now, but being an adult on the streets isn’t appealing, Phil worked hard to get where he is and while Will’s revolutionary spirit is often the white hat of the show, you see the value of the Banks’ ethics too.  Similarly in another episode Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) comments that Will mocks him for being the “bourgie” guy he is, but in doing so he’s being as unaccepting of Carlton’s personality and much as he (Will) claims the Bel Air society is unaccepting of him.  It’s much deeper than just watching wild-Will run amok as I thought as a kid.

The show is full of lots of running themes; Will’s “look to camera,” cartoon effects, Jazz being thrown out.  A lot of common threads that are undoubtedly “Fresh Prince.”  It’s like watching live-action Looney Tunes in a way.  Even the serious moments I hated as a kid are effective now.  Try watching Will respond to his father leaving and not be affected!

The show also has some of the best bloopers I’ve ever seen.  The only unusual aspect of the show is the high number of clip shows they do.  Even in the early season.  I learned from audio commentaries on The Simpsons that this is something networks do to save money and this may be the case here.  It’s not a complaint as the clips are always the best of the show, just strange to have a second season clip show.

Another strange thing that hit me while watching it is how much has changed in the intervening time between the show’s original run and now.  The stars they mention who we lost way before their time (specifically Heavy D, Whitney Houston, and Michael Jackson), and the fickle nature of the trends as celebrities on the show who received raucous cheers who are now in the midst of relative obscurity.

My favorite aspect of the show is Jazz.  DJ Jazzy Jeff, in addition to being one hell of a DJ (a REAL DJ.  Ya know…with records…) is absolutely a riot every time he’s on screen.  You can tell he’s not a trained actor, but his part is so funny it doesn’t matter.

Here are some of my personal favorite moments:

If it’s been a while since you’ve visited Bel Air I say pick it up.  It’s one of the rare shows from the 90s that, while it does have its dated moments, is as funny now as when it was made.

Below is the REAL FULL theme song of the Fresh Prince.  As far as I know it never aired.  Only an extended version during the first two episodes.  It’s still missing two sections in the middle.  But to answer a long standing question, no the Prince didn’t take a cab from West Philly to Bel Air!

What I Learned from Independence Day

Inspiration hit again this weekend as I came across a movie I cannot resist watching: Independence Day. I have seen this movie dozens of times, and it gets better, and worse in some cases, every time.

I realized during this viewing that Independence Day was my first alien invasion film. It was my first “aliens are not our our friends and will kick our ass” Sci-Fi movie.

A lot of people may scoff because I had not yet seen classics like Alien, War of the Worlds, or Invasion of the Body Snatchers, but I loved slasher films and Pulp Fiction more than anything at that age. Independence Day actually inspired me to watch the other alien movies.

I remember seeing Independence Day and being mesmerized by the shots, the White House being destroyed, and it was during this movie I came to love Will Smith.

So, for a fun Sunday read, here’s what I learned and loved about Independence Day.

1. Special effects could look real. This movie sucked me in from the first strike to the final escape from the mothership. After the first assault, there was something so disturbing and admittedly cool the Statue of Liberty laying face down in the ocean. The effects were not over-the-top or goofy; they were almost too believable. I guess that’s what earned Independence Day an Oscar in 1997 for Best Effects, Visual Effects.

The Statue of Liberty lies face down in the ocean after the alien attack.
Photo courtesy of Pop Culture Ninja

2. Will Smith was awesome. I watched Fresh Prince with everyone else, but it wasn’t until this movie that I appreciated his smart/bad ass side. He punched an alien after taking it down and talked trash to it. You don’t get much cooler than that.

3. Bill Pullman is not a very good actor. No offense, I love him in this movie and While You Were Sleeping, but he forces emotion. The script was well written, but Pullman did not bring me to tears or make me pull for human survival. I love watching him, but I am convinced it’s his eyes and smile.

4. The world needs heroes. In this movie, there were regular people doing amazing things for survival. Who could forget Russell (Randy Quaid) telling his kids he loved them as he helped save the planet? Or Jasmine (Vivica Fox) trying to get her crew, including the First Lady, to safety? In an alien invasion, there are no super heroes, only real people.

5. Jeff Goldblum made being a computer geek cool. I wanted to block cell calls, decode weird signals, and help save the world. The Smith-Goldblum team was movie magic as they raced off to to the mothership.

6. Not all aliens are like E.T. These aliens were intelligent, huge, well defended, and not playing around. They were not cute, would use your body to take the planet, and they did not care. This movie showed with enough fire power, a city could be destroyed in a matter of minutes.

So, what do you think? Where does Independence Day rank on your list of Sci-Fi alien movies? It may not be a Sci-Fi/horror movie, but it’s a good action flick that makes you realize we’re not as tough as we think.