The Cure, Watchmen, and MIB International

Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in "Men in Black: International"
Image by Giles Keyte courtesy of Columbia Pictures via

Welcome to What’s the Buzz, where members of our staff provide you with recommendations on a weekly basis. This week’s entries come from: Cheryl Lee Latter, John Bernardy and Tim Fuglei.

Cheryl: Sydney Opera House is a most fitting location to revisit a record steeped in imagery of water, as The Cure recently live streamed the 30th anniversary concert for the album Disintegration. The famous Disintegration palette of sea green, deep blue, and coral pinks provided a beautiful backdrop for the show and set a calm environment in which to revisit this most personal of records.

Beginning the night on a lighter note were the B-sides and unreleased demos. Here is a little taster to prepare us for the emotional roller coaster that is the main set. Some of these songs in themselves could have easily fit onto the album. “That is why ‘Lovesong’ was a hit,” says Robert Smith of “2Late,” a jovial, poppy number that was the B-side of the single. The band seems happy to play it, full of light and energy. Don’t be scared of the dark stuff to come, it seems to say. You’re in good hands with us.

Another B-side, “Babble,” seems to be a precursor to the stifling night terrors that fully manifest in “Lullaby.” It may be possible to get together the 32 songs originally put forward for the record before it was whittled down to a tidy 12, and string them together into a narrative of their own.

Five minutes of staring at a dark stage were provided in order to prepare for the main event, a sense of excitement and apprehension in the air.

Disintegration originally came about from Smith’s depression of turning 30, and from the commercial turn the band had taken in the ’80s. He wanted to drag the music back to its Pornography roots and make clear to the world what The Cure was always about.

Beginning with “Plainsong,” and its anthemic cathedral notes is the perfect set-up for the record. It’s like beginning with a funeral, then working back through the life that brought you there.

“Lovesong,” a gift for Smith’s wife, is performed without irony or embarrassment these days. There is a confidence to the band now that lets them comfortably lay themselves open and show us the raw emotion inside, unashamed and unapologetic.

Each song sounds as flawless as the day it was made but now filled with a richness that only maturity can provide.

“Prayers For Rain” seems like a turning point in the set, as darkness seeps in further. The sadness and pain in the lyrics is set against an endless rhythmic dirge that feels like drowning. We drift on a sea of beautiful notes and hopeless tears. It feels like cold nights and stormy seas.

Smith’s voice is as strong as ever, as he swoops effortlessly from engaging intimate whispers of sadness and resignation to desperate shrieks of hopelessness and rage. The Cure’s strength has always been their belief in the band’s vision. Their individual personal self-doubts, depressions, and addictions are channeled into one pure, polished sound, always humble, sincere and open, speaking to the listener on a visceral level. This is music that gets into the blood and becomes part of who you are.

“I’ll pull out my heart and I’ll feed it to anyone,” sings Smith, and that’s exactly what Disintegration’s lyrics are made from, a cry to be seen and a rage against futility.

The concert was streamed live, making it an immersive and interactive experience for fans, many of whom originally listened to it alone in dark teenage bedrooms. Cure fandom has become a family, and this was a celebration of survival as well as music. Look how grown up we are now, it screams. The Disintegration songs, so filled with death and depression, now sound triumphant and empowered.

After the final notes of “Untitled” fade out, there is a sense of real ending, and wondering of how many times we’ll ever hear these songs live again.

After an energetic rendition of “Burn,” the final Cure song is a return to the beginning, and “Three Imaginary Boys,” which is turning 40 this year, just another reminder that this is a band that has been around for a lifetime and have more than earned their place in the Hall of Fame of our hearts.

The Cure have battled with us through decades of darkness, mental illness, substance abuse, and suicidal thoughts, and this concert celebrated 30 years of survival. Smith’s depression at turning 30 provided an outlet for the raw beauty that became this record. The band are now in their 60s and better than ever.

One last number, a cover of “Pirate Ship,” brings us back to the water imagery, and with that, The Cure sail off back into the red sunset, taking our tears with them.

John: In front of the deluge of podcasts exploring Watchmen, there’s Who Pods The Watchmen?, which is already making a case for being one of the best. If this is what we listeners have to look forward to, count me in.

This podcast is going to reference anything about Moore and Gibbons’ original series, as well as anything showrunner Damon Lindelof has ever done—and I’m sure it will spoil Lost for me along the way. You can tell the hosts respect Lindelof’s work and you can hear it in how they parallel the Guilty Remnant and religious cults with what they term “Rorschach Proud Boys” and even the Ozymandias-color schemed police force.

For merely covering the first teaser trailer’s scenes, they go deep. Almost-an-hour deep. The hosts make a strong case that “tick-tock”—which originally signified Cold War nuclear apocalypse—now signifies home-grown uprisings and that the themes of the original series are intact and updated with today’s fears, something I’m on record as agreeing with.

They hypothesize that the alt-right has misappropriated Rorschach’s “evidence” he sent to the media proving what Ozymandias had done at the end of Moore and Gibbons’ Watchmen #12. They ask if the police force is now hiding their identities to protect their loved ones from retribution. They ask if Ozymandias is living in an ostracized life now or if there were no repercussions for his previous actions. And they ask if the giant Doctor Manhattan statue is there to beckon their apathetic Superman to return.

The hosts also hypothesize what kind of characters the known cast will be playing. They’re happy to see Don Johnson poised for a reemergence, love Tim Blake Nelson in everything, and think Regina King’s character will be the one for us to want to follow.

They called out references to the Black Freighter comics from inside original Watchmen issues, and they say their podcasting agenda is to next cover the Watchmen comic issues. Which, if they go as in-depth as they did here, is music to my ears and a welcome refresher before HBO debuts the new series.

The actual podcast link is here:

Tim: At some recent point, the suits (not the spiffy black jobs; I’m referring to the ones at the studio) decided Men In Black, which seemed to limp to a conclusion in 2013 with its jumbled time travel-laced finale, could transcend “franchise” and go full-on “brand.” After scanning the hot young actor roster, they scooped up two of the hottest in Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, kept the baseline conceit of a wisecracking alien threat police force, then jettisoned earlier cast members and behind-the-camera talent with the hopes of revamping and timidly branching out in new directions.

We’ll have them run around Europe instead of New York! We’ll keep it familiar with lots of memory erasing jokes! If boffo box office is the result, we might well launch a whole Men In Blackverse! Will Smith be damned, they’ll get a theme park out of this sucker yet. Or will they? To begin with—and perhaps end with—the successful parts of Men In Black: International, the producers have assembled a marvelous cast, ready for the fun and games inherent in the concept and crowned with a pair who’ve come to have an easy buddy-movie chemistry that is as delightfully unexpected as it is effortlessly delightful.

Hemsworth and Thompson, seen recently playing off each other over in the Marvel franchise (theme park freshly announced this week), work the material like confident Hollywood stars of old. And make no mistake, with each successive role Thompson cements her place in the pantheon as A Movie Star: smart, beautiful and dripping with charisma. Hemsworth’s learned many important lessons about not taking himself too seriously over the course of the Thor/Avenger films and brings that self-deprecation/swagger mix right over to his new role as a way-too-good-looking yet oddly relatable doofus of an action hero.

His Agent H is the mildly rule-breaking super-agent who appears to have saved the world, perhaps more than once. She’s a brainy badass who didn’t quite get neuralized when she should have as a youth and has intrepidly tracked down the MIB outfit so she might join the ranks and learn the secrets of the universe as Agent M. A few plot machinations later plus a superspeed trans-Atlantic subway ride to London and they’ve found each other, a mysterious pair of deadly aliens (played by the highly talented dancing twins Laurent and Larry Bourgeois, put to good physical effect here if denied the opportunity to deliver much by way of dialogue) and schemes upon schemes spiked with a MacGuffin or two that ensure the leads will be quipping, shooting and flying across the screen as loudly as possible for the duration.

Kumail Nanjiani lends his likable deadpan voice talent to a pocket-sized alien who joins the team, while Emma Thompson and Liam Neeson fill in upper management roles and the likes of Rafe Spall and Rebecca Ferguson round things out. As noted before, great cast, solid chemistry—but what about everything else? Chemistry’s always been one of the foundational strengths of the Men In Black movies, replacing the original agents with this new lead pair proves Men In Black: International’s biggest win.

That said, scribes Matt Holloway and Art Markum (of Iron Man and Transformers: The Last Knight fame) have put together a fairly punchless script that apes the earlier films without ever finding a way to improve upon them, and often falls short of earlier standards, especially in the humor department. When only about half of Nanjiani’s one-liners land, you know he probably should have been writing his own dialogue. Tessa is earnest and charming, but she’s done no favors
by the screenplay, and Hemsworth’s character spouts Impish Rogue 101 asides throughout.

Besides the twin aliens, there really aren’t any of those “ooh, that’s cool” details that made the early MIB go rounds so fun. Director F. Gary Gray knows his action movie chops from the likes of The Italian Job and The Fate Of The Furious, but I defy you to find a particular action sequence that feels fresh. Events roll out at a predictable pace, sometimes feeling more like an algorithmic exercise than a story needing to be told. Ultimately there’s nothing hugely wrong with Men In Black: International, but there isn’t a boatload that goes amazingly right, either. If you’re expecting much more than movie stars strutting their charismatic stuff, you might want to stay home this weekend.


Tessa Thompson and Chris Hemsworth star in "Men in Black: International"

Those are our weekly recommendations. What would be yours? Let us know in the comments!

Written by TV Obsessive

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