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Volume 2, Number 8
August, 1997

You Gotta See This Men in Black/Face-Off
By Tony Han

 I had promised myself that I would return to more cultural films when summer rolled around. I mean, I enjoy a long-haired film as much as the next movie fanatic. However, these two action films were too hard to resist reviewing. I mean, the summers are definitely known for their mega-bucks rollercoaster rides. Action films CAN be a cultural experience as well, anyway: It's our culture, not some foreign one. So, I hope you're ready for an addition to your American cultural literacy. Though the summer blockbusters were actually ushered in with Con-Air, Men in Black and Face-Off are definitely the heavy hitters for the season. Perhaps the most anticipated of summer hits, both films are hosted by the biggest stars and puppeteered by fairly impressive directors. Rollercoaster perhaps isn't the most accurate word to use with these films, it's more like masquerade.
 STATE TO BE IN TO ENJOY THE WILL SMITH/TOMMY LEE JONES DUO: Mildly buzzed. Sonnenfeld is to be credited for the direction of the Men in Black, a movie about alien immigrants. Well, I mean aliens whose place of origin is light-years rather than a few miles. Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith play Earth's intergalactic INS, making sure that our Visitors stay anonymous and behave themselves. There's actually another plot that's more climatic, some alien that's threatening to blow up the Earth unless they get their toys back, but it's not very relevant. I'm sitting there watching the end of the Earth and couldn't really care. That's how much of an effect that the real plot has. The real fun is mostly wrapped up in Smith and Jones, who play very well off of eachother. Jones places the older, more experienced, straight-faced Texan. Smith counters with his young upstart image, playing a new inductee via the New York police force. With powerful characters such as Jones and Smith, it's not suprising that the film is very dialogue and skit driven.
 Maybe a few days before I saw MiB, I had rented the Tim Burton disappointment, Mars Attacks! and was disappointed. Much of the criticism of this movie revolved around the fact that Burton was aiming to producing a campy movie, but missed the mark. MiB is much closer to a campy alien movie than Mars Attacks! A friend of mine pointed out that MiB, as well as Mars Attacks!, attempts to return to more of a 50's version of what an alien was, less sophistocated and serious than other science fiction movies made in recent years. Special effects are up to snuff, but the aliens are goofier and less threatening than Predator or Alien. The most interesting reference is made by Tommy Lee Jones' character. "It's like Casablanca, but without the Nazis". Well, who are the Nazis then? MiB's view of aliens is as black and white as Casablanca. The bad aliens are giant cockroaches and the good aliens are cute. MiB, with much simpler elements and concepts, is much more fun and campier, making it a good buy in terms of seeing it on silver screens.
 STATE TO BE IN TO WATCH JOHN TRAVOLTA MILK HIS FAST FADING COOL LOOK: Drunk. Director John Woo is still working on some basic elements that were his strength in Hong Kong but his bane in America: Sentimentality and dis-continuity. He's improving to some degree, but it still shows. Face-Off stars John Travolta as a devoted Federal agent who captures his arch-nemesis played by Nicolas Cage. After the arrest, Travolta is forced to wear the face of Cage, literally, in order to stop a plot to blow up Los Angeles. Well, Cage takes on Travolta's un-occupied face and takes over Travolta's life. This plot allows much parodying and self-deprecation, which is some of the most amusing moments of the film. The action is fast-paced and acrobatic. John Woo's patented action is still present with an insane amount of bullets whizzing about, actors leaping around and camera angles and speeds that savors the action. As previously mentioned, Woo's sentimentally become tiresome very quickly, but look beyond these moments and focus on the pulse-pounding energy. That's all that Woo promises and he delivers quite well.
 Face-Off, for this reviewer, is more than another action film. This film is the second collaboration between Woo and Travolta, Woo's third American film, and Cage's second action film. What does all of this math mean? This history? Well, it's the next generation of actioneers growing; directors and actors. Speaking of both Face-Off and Men in Black, though Will Smith has been in several action films already, he himself is still young and showing much promise in action, comedy, and drama. Travolta's enjoying his re-emergence as a major name. And Nicolas Cage is adding to his portfolio which already contains comedy and drama. John Woo the director is attempting to refine his style for an American audience. All of these factors show signs or hopes of a brighter future for action films. It's about time that Stallone and Swartzenegger retires. Their characters are becoming more and more tiresome. There's new blood in the hood.
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