While ‘MiB: International’ disappoints, ‘Ma’ delights

By Tom Von Malder | Sep 09, 2019
Photo by: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson star in "Men in Black: International."

Owls Head — Men in Black: International (Sony, Blu-ray or standard DVD, PG-13, 114 min.). Call this “Men in Black: The Next Generation,” which is not a bad thing – I always love watching Chris Hemsworth do comedy – of itself, but the film relies less on humor and more on action, making it feel like a lesser entry in the now quartet of “Men in Black” films. This time around, there is no team of Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones leading the action; instead it is Hemsworth as a seasoned agent and Tessa Thompson as a probationary recruit.

The film opens in Paris 2016 with Hemsworth (Agent H) and Liam Neeson (future MiB London office head Agent High T) facing off against The Hive, a deadly menace threatening the Earth through a portal located near the Eiffel Tower. The film then shifts to 1996 Brooklyn and Molly Wright having her first alien encounter as a child. Motivated by that encounter – only her parents were subject to the memory-erasing Neuralyzer – Molly becomes determined to track down the Men in Black, hoping to become a member of the agency that keeps friendly aliens safe and hidden on Earth and battles unfriendly aliens. She is successful in her tracking effort and manages to convince Agent O (Emma Thompson, no relation), overall head of MiB, to make her a probational agent, Agent M.

Agent M is sent to London because Agent O feels something is wrong there. Once there, she is paired with Agent H to watch over Vungus (Kayvan Novak), a member of the Jababian royalty, as he visits a nightclub. Things go wrong, of course, leading Vungus to give Agent M a hidden, super-destructive weapon. Being used as assassins by The Hive are a Dyad duo played by Les Twins, the dance sensation twin brothers, Laurent and Larry Bougeois, who show off their dance skills in the nightclub.

Tessa Thompson, who also has been in both “Creed” films, and Hemsworth have acted before together, both in “Thor: Ragnarok” and “Avengers: Endgame” as Valkyrie and Thor, respectively. The film is directed by F. Gary Gray (“Law Abiding Citizen”) and has wonderful music by Danny Elfman and Chris Bacon.

The unexpected stuff – like the New York to London train transformation – works better than the humor this time. Arguably the funniest scene is when facing the alien assassins, Agents H and M keep pulling out bigger and bigger hidden weapons from their car. Along the way, the two agents pick up a miniature companion in Pawny (voiced and motion-capture by Kumail Nanjiani), who adopts Agent M as his new queen and have to deal with Agent H’s ex-girlfriend, arms dealer Riza Stavros (Rebecca Ferguson), whose liar on an island off Naples is very Bondian.

Extras are plentiful, although few stretch past six minutes. Blu-ray exclusives are nine deleted scenes (11:35), which includes Agent H telling home he got recruited, and two faux Alien Shopping Network TV ads (2:20), one for Alien-cestry.com and the other for the Neuralyzer. Best of the rest looks at the actions and stunts (5:43) and the gadgets, weapons and rides (4:20), showing some behind-the-scenes footage, plus a “Men in Black meet NBA” fun feature with NBA stars Chris Paul, Russell Westbrook and Anthony Davies as possible aliens (2:36). Other featurettes look at the new characters (7:04), expanding the film’s “universe” by going to new locations (5:57); the Les Twins dance scene (2:22; the twins danced for Beyonce’s tours for 6 years): and a recap of the three earlier films, hosted by Frank the Pug, who has a brief cameo early in this film (3:21). Frank the Pug and Pawny also do a Mystery Science Theater 3000 type commentary on a few scenes (5:36). Grade: film 2.75 stars; extras 3 stars

Rating guide: 5 stars = classic; 4 stars = excellent; 3 stars = good; 2 stars = fair; dog = skip it

Ma (Universal, Blu-ray or standard DVD, R, 99 min.). Going into it, I knew nothing about “Ma,” which really is the way to see the film, which proved an unexpected delight. Ultimately, it is a revenge film, but the first overt violence does not come until 70 minutes into the film. The film is from Blumhouse, the producers of “Get Out” and “Halloween.”

The film opens with Erica Thompson (Juliette Lewis of “Natural Born Killers,” “Cape Fear”) moving back to her Ohio hometown, along with her 16-year-old daughter Maggie (Diana Silvers of “Booksmart”) and their dog Louis, after her marriage has broken up. Her new job is as a waitress at the local casino, while Maggie is forced to start a new school on a Friday in February. Maggie falls in with some fellow students who like to do a lot of partying. They include Haley (McKaley Miller of TV’s “Heart of Dixie”), cute Andy Hawkins (Corey Fogelmanis of Disney’s “Girl Meets World”) to whom Maggie is attracted, Darrell (Dante Brown of TV’s “Lethal Weapon”) and Chaz (Gianni Paolo of TV’s “Power”).

Because all are underage, they hang out in the parking lot of the local liquor store, asking older passers-by to buy liquor for them. One day it is Sue Ann (Octavia Spencer of “The Help,” “The Shape of Water”) who walks by. She works at the nearby veterinarian’s office (Allison Janney plays Sue Ann’s often rebuking boss) and is walking a dog patient. Sue Ann initially refuses, until she notices the name Ben Hawkins on the side of Andy’s van. As we will see in five brief flashbacks, Sue Ann has a history with Ben Hawkins (Luke Evans of “Beauty and the Beast”), dating back to their high school years, when she was bullied by the popular crowd.

Soon, Sue Ann is the teenagers’ best friend, providing them the use of her basement for their drinking, which expands to parties involving dozens of other teens. When Darrell refers to her as “Ma,” she adopts that name and her main rule is that no one should go upstairs to the inside of her house.

The film turns creepy before it turns violent, as the grown-woman Sue Ann befriends these teenagers and even takes to stalking them, both in person and online. For example, she even leaves boxes of liquor next to Andy’s van in the school parking lot. (Not sure how she could get away with that in the climate of these days.)

The film, which turns really sick by the end, features lots of good old music – many of my favorite songs. Extras include an alternate ending (2 min.) that sets up a sequel; 12 deleted scenes (11:23) that provide a lot more background; a look at Spencer, who also was an executive producer, playing Sue Ann (2:50); and a look at director Tate Taylor (“The Girl on the Train”), who co-wrote the script with Scotty Landes, and the actors (3:53). Grade: film 3.25 stars; extras 2 stars

Into the Ashes (RLJE, Blu-ray or standard DVD, NR, 97 min.). Set in rural Alabama, the film is about the violent past catching up to Nick Brenner (Luke Grimes of TV’s “Yellowstone”), who has moved to a small town, married the local sheriff’s daughter (Marguerite Moreau as Tara Brenner) against her father’s (Robert Taylor of TV’s “Longmire” as Sheriff Frank Parson) wishes and settled into a quiet, home-owning life.

The film, which literally opens with someone burning something in an outside fire, continues to be literal and not very exciting. If anything, the film’s slow, meticulous, everyday life set-up is a bit boring. Taylor narrates as Parsons. Early on, Sloan (Frank Grillo of the “Captain America” films) is released from prison and sets on a search for Nick, part of his gang who got away while he had to do prison time. Helping Sloan, who shows his ease with violence quickly, are Charlie (David Cade) and Bruce (Scott Peat).

It takes the film 44 minutes to get to where we guessed it was going from the beginning. At that point, Nick, despite two bullet wounds, is trying to get back at Sloan and gang, with Parson always running a bit behind. Curiously, writer-director Aaron Harvey (“The Neighbor”) elects not to show most of the violence, until a late flashback during which everything is shown. The downbeat film has a strange structure that does not help it.

Extras include a making-of featurette (12:36), with Grimes and Grillo talking about their characters (Grillo says the original gang of three were hitmen for hire); and a look at shooting in Alabama (7:57). Grade: film 2 stars; extras 1.5 stars

Weird Science (1985, Arrow Blu-ray, PG-13, 94 and 97 min.). This was writer-director John Hughes’ follow-up to his successful “Sixteen Candles” and “The Breakfast Club,” both of which also starred Anthony Michael Hall, who here plays Gary Wallace, with big swirly hair. Hall also starred in “National Lampoon’s Vacation.” The film, basically a farce about teenage raging hormones, was a bit of a departure for Hughes with its science fiction elements. The plot is not at all realistic, but the film is sure a lot of fun.

Inspired by watching a couple of old “Frankenstein” films – Universal was the original distributor -- Gary and his best friend and co-nerd Wyatt Donnelly (Ilan Mitchell-Smith, who later appeared in TV’s “Superboy”) decide one day, while Wyatt’s parents are away for the weekend, to use Wyatt’s computing skills and computer to create the perfect woman. They scan into the computer magazine centerfolds and covers, body measurements and degree of smarts, before Wyatt hacks into a government computer for extra computing power and then lightning hits the house at just the right time. Then, just like in “Bride for Frankenstein,” their perfect woman appears (model Kelly LeBrock of “The Woman in Red”), even though the boys had only attached their connections to a doll toy. Despite the woman, whom they call Lisa, calling the boys her masters, she is almost motherly towards them, as she helps them overcome their shyness and awkwardness, especially around girls.

Although he really only has a couple of scenes, the late Bill Paxton is memorable as Wyatt’s older, military school, bully brother Chet, he of the short crew-top haircut. Paxton is very, very funny. One of the funniest scenes is when Lisa talks about the party she is going to throw for the boys with Gary’s parents. The two young heroes’ nemeses in the film are played by Robert Downey Jr. (Ian) and Robert Rusler (Max). One of the other most memorable things about the film is the theme song performed by Oingo Boingo and co-written by the group’s Danny Elfman (see “Men in Black: International” above), which served as an initial stepping stone to Elfman’s great subsequent career as a film score composer.

There are two versions of the film here. The three-minute longer versions adds two scenes: more of the two boys discussing horror movies; and a group of motorbike guys with Devo-like flowerpot hats arriving at the party. The two scenes (2:45) can also be watched separately. The other version is edited for TV and if one clicks on that, one can view side-by-side comparisons of how the censors dealt with various scenes (18:16). The Blu-ray comes with five new interviews, the best of which are with Craig Reardon, the makeup effects artist who worked on Chet’s transformation, who presents some sketches (19:38); and with composer Ira Newborn on his synth-heavy score (13:43). The other interviews are with Jackie Burch on the casting (6:03), who says Lisa was to have been played by Robin Wright, but when she bowed out it was between LeBrock and Sharon Stone; actor John Kapelos, who played Dino in the bar scene and appeared in the two previous Hughes’ films  (6:55) and he defines the Greek word “malaka” that he uses in the film; and editor Chris Lebenzon (10:46). There also is a very good featurette from 2008 on the film that features interviews with Hall and Kapelos (16:41.)

An image gallery includes poster and video art, production stills and the shooting script. First editions also come with an insert booklet, with two essays, "Electric Venus; or, How I Learned to Stop Caring and Love Weird Science" by Alexandra Heller-Nicholas, and "Pictures from a Magazine: Reflecting on E.C. Comics' Influence on Weird Science" by Amanda Reyes. The booklet also includes stills and technical information. Grade: film 3.5 stars; extras 4 stars

TV sets

As the new TV season nears – although these days it seems like nearly every month is a new season – companies issue box sets of the previous season of TV shows.

The Flash: The Complete Fifth Season (DC/Warner Bros., 4 Blu-ray or 5 standard DVDs, NR, 990 min.). This season was all about Barry Allen, aka The Flash (Grant Gustin of TV’s “Glee”), and his wife, Iris West (Candice Patton), dealing with the arrival from the future of their already grown, speedster daughter, Nora West-Allen (Jessica Parker Kennedy). Nora says that in the future, her father vanished and part of her traveling in time is to get to know him better, as well as preventing his disappearance. One wrinkle is that Nora apparently had problems with Iris as she grew up.

As Barry and Iris adjust to being parents. Team Flash has to battle DC super villain Cicada (Chris Klein), whose piece of meta-tech can remove meta-powers. Cicada also has parental issues as he became the guardian of his niece, who was injured when the debris from an explosion created the numerous meta-humans in star city. The season also has Caitlin Snow (Danielle Panabaker) try to reconnect with her Killer Frost alter ego, Cisco Ramon (Carlos Valdes) try dating and Ralph Dibney (Hartley Sawyer) become a better teammate as he learns to use his powers as Elongated Man.

The set includes all 22 episodes of season five plus the two bonus Elseworlds Crossover episodes from “Arrow” and “Supergirl.” There are 23 deleted scenes (32:36), including three from the Crossover (one with Clark Kent); a gag reel (8 min.) that is funny; and four featurettes. Exclusive to this set is the “Evolution of Killer Frost”, which compares the comic book version to the Earth One version, discusses her family issues and features executive producer Eric Wallace (11:31). The others are highlights from the 2018 San Diego Comic-Con panels that covers “The Flash,” “Supergirl,” “Arrow,” “Black Lightning” and “DC Legends of Tomorrow” and includes Gustin doing a “Flash slide” (61 min.); a look at “Villains” Modes of Persuasion” through Aristotle’s ideas of ethos, logos and pathos, including interviews with Robin Lord Taylor (The Penguin), Cory Michael Smith (Edward Nygma, The Riddler) and Ben McKenzie (James Gordon) as it is “Gotham” heavy (38:05); and a look at the making of the Elseworlds Crossover, with the showrunners from “The Flash,” “Arrow” and “Supergirl,” plus four recorded background segments of Elsewhere and imaginary stories in DC Comics through history, with writers and so on, including Geoff Johns (45 min.).

The Crossover begins with Arrow (Stephen Amell as Oliver Queen) and The Flash changing identities, which leads to some very funny situations. The reason for the switch was the use of a powerful magical book that we first see used to destroy Earth-90, one of the many alternate worlds, and then given to Arkham Asylum psychiatrist John Deegan, who rewrites history. Oliver and Barry use each other's abilities to travel to Earth-38 to get help from Kara Danvers/Supergirl (Melissa Benoist) and acquaint themselves with her cousin Clark Kent/Superman (Tyler Hoechlin) and Lois Lane (Elizabeth Tulloch). The Crossover also introduces Kate Kane (Ruby Rose) as CEO of Wayne Enterprises. Kate also is Batgirl, who is getting her own CW series starting this fall. Another iconic DC character that is introduced is The Monitor (LaMonica Garrett), who is the main reason “Arrow” will end with the upcoming eighth season. Grade: season 3.5 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Arrow: The Complete Seventh Season (DC/Warner Bros., 4 Blu-ray or five standard DVDs, NR, 990 min.). Season six ended with Oliver Queen (Stephen Amell) turning himself over to the FBI and revealing his identity as the Green Arrow to the public. This season opens with Oliver still in prison, already five months into his sentence and trying to keep a low profile to shorten his incarceration for the sake of his family. However, evil Ricardo Diaz (Kirk Acevedo) escapes bent on exacting revenge of Oliver, his wife Felicity Smoak (Emily Bett Rickards) and son William.

The season brought back fan favorite Colton Haynes as Roy Harper, but with a twist as this is the Roy of 20 years in the future, who is helping a grown-up William (Ben Lewis). The pair, guided by a puzzle message from Felicity return to Star City, where they discover Felicity and Oliver’s hidden daughter, Mia (Katharine McNamara of TV’s “Shadowhunters”). The future action consists of numerous flash-forwards during the season’s second half. Meanwhile, in the original timelines, Team Arrow has been shattered and a new Green Arrow is patrolling the city, one who turns out to be Oliver’s half-sister (Sea Shimooka as Emiko Queen). Once Oliver is released from prison, he and Team Arrow are deputized and begin working alongside the police, but it is a rocky relationship.

There are 10 deleted scenes (9:15), including one with Supergirl, but all the other extras are duplicates from “The Flash” collection, which is a real disappointment. They consist of the two other Crossover episodes, the best of the Comic-Con, a look at the making of the Crossover and a look at what makes the Arrowverse villains tick. See “The Flash” above for further details. Grade: season 3 stars; extras 3.25 stars

Seal Team: Season Two (CBS/Paramount, 5 DVDs, NR, 15 hours, 41 min.). The elite unit is led by Jason Hayes (David Boreanaz of TV’s “Bones,” “Angel”). Back home from deployment, Ray Perry (Neil Brown Jr.) is struggling with being on the outs with Hayes and Bravo Team as they head to the Gulf of Guinea to rescue American hostages after an oil platform has been taken over by armed Militants. Among the guest stars is C. Thomas Howell. Extras include a gag reel; deleted and extended scenes; and three featurettes: the cast and producers talking about the season; moving production to Puerto Rico; and a look at the show’s props with Leonard Hancock Jr. The extras total nearly an hour.

Hawaii Five-0: The Ninth Season (CBS/Paramount, 6 DVDs, NR, 17 hours, 53 min.). The season included the series’ 200th episode, which is the focus of one on the bonus featurettes. During the season, Detective Steve McGarrett (Alex O’Loughlin) must endure sensory deprivation torture to hunt down a friend’s killer. He also has to track down a dirty CIA agent, determine whether Adam Noshimuri (Ian Anthony Dale) killed his crime-boss sister, and open a bro-mantic restaurant with partner Danny “Danno” Williams (Scott Caan). There are guest appearances by a returning Joey Lawrence, Louis Gossett Jr., Duane “Dog” Chapman and Gladys Knight. Other bonus features include a gag reel, deleted and extended scenes, the cast, writers and producers looking back over the season, and executive producer Peter M. Lenkov and wine connoisseur/bon vivant Chi McBride (Capt. Lou Grover) discuss the script and creation of the Thanksgiving episode over dinner.

Homeland: The Complete Seventh Season (20th Century Fox, 3 DVDs, NR, 648 min.). In this, the next-to-last season, Carrie Mathison (Claire Danes) and Saul Berenson (Many Patinkin) have to decide who they can trust as they try to bring down a conspiracy. President Keane is under threat from forces outside of the government and within. Carrie has left her job in the White House and moved in with her sister Maggie, an uneasy situation. As a new task, Carrie tries to secure the release of the 200 members of the intelligence community who were arrested under President Keane's orders the previous season.

New Amsterdam: Season One (Universal, 6 DVDs, NR, 15 hours). Inspired by Bellevue, the oldest public hospital in America, the medical drama follows the brilliant. Charming Dr. Max Goodwin (Ryan Eggold of TV’s “The Blacklist”) as the new medical director, who sets out to shake up the bureaucracy and provide exceptional care. As he disrupts the status quo, Dr. Goodwin tries to breathe new life into the understaffed, underfunded and underappreciated hospital., which is the only one in the world capable of treating Ebola patients, prisoners from Rikers and the president of the United States under the same roof. The only bonus is deleted scenes.

Blue Bloods: The Ninth Season (CBS/Paramount, 5 DVDs, NR, 15 hours 23 min.). Following Jamie (Will Estes) and Eddie’s (Vanessa Ray) engagement in the previous season’s finale, the Reagan family questions the future of their partnership and Frank Reagan (Tom Selleck) considers whether it is appropriate for the couple to continue working together on the force. Meanwhile, Erin (Bridget Moynahan) is on tap for a promotion after her boss’ untimely death and Danny (Donnie Wahlberg) prepares to send his eldest son, Jack (Tony Terraciano) to college. The nearly one hour of bonus features includes deleted scenes; a gag reel; “The Story of the Reagans,” a look at the season; Abagail’s diary; “By the Book”; and two CBS Watch! Magazine Specials, one with Sami Gayle and the other with Estes, Moynahan, Ray and Wahlberg.

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