Monday, May 28, 2012

Men In Black 3

       If you're going to make a totally unnecessary 3rd film in a series, at least cast it well. "Men In Black" succeeds on the brilliant casting of Josh Brolin as a younger version of the Tommy Lee Jones character, Agent K. Mr. Brolin completely captures Mr. Jones's mannerism, vocal pattern and facial expressions. It's the best special effect in a movie full of them and the only one not CGI.

       Of course Will Smith is back as Agent J and he continues to be one of Hollywood's most engaging actors. There's not much effort here when you've done this twice before but he's still fun to watch and his chemistry with Mr. Brolin is terrific.  Tommy Lee Jones gets less screen time due to the plot but still has some good scenes bookmarking the film and is as gruff as ever.  Jemaine Clement plays the villain "Boris the Animal" but is buried under tons of makeup and CGI effects and replacing Rip Torn is Emma Thompson as Director O. A welcome addition is the wonderful actor Michael Stuhlbarg as an alien who can predict alternate futures.

        There's not much new to the "Men in Black" world but watching the film is like visiting an old friend and Rick Baker's old fashioned creature effects are still fun. Using time travel to journey back to 1969 is the clever twist and allows for some fun "period" humor but there is  a quick racial profiling scene that doesn't really work and seems uncomfortably out of place.

         "Men In Black 3" is simply a silly summer diversion quickly forgotten as we move to the next "summer blockbuster".

Thursday, May 17, 2012

The Dictator

       Be afraid. Be very afraid. Sasha Baron Cohen is back. After giving the world Ali G, Borat and Bruno, Mr Cohen adds Admiral General Aladeen to his rogue's gallery of outrageous characters. Mr. Cohen's brand of comedy is not for everyone but if you are a fan, you will definitely be amused by "The Dictator".

       There are plenty of sight gags and topical jokes abound. Many fall flat but others hit the mark and there are scenes that will have you laughing out loud as well as cringing at their offensiveness. The reason Mr. Cohen can get away with offensive material as well as the 911 references, is that, as with his other films, he makes it clear from the start that his character is an idiot and that he is clearly making fun of himself. Although the 911 reference does push the limit and while funny in the context of the film will certainly offend many.

       Aladeen's love interest is played by Anna Ferris, who for once is the "straight man" rather than the fool she has played in other films. And while she is the voice of reason here, she also gets some of the best lines. Also starring is Sir Ben Kingsley which at first is remarkable to consider. This is the man who played Gandhi but then again he also starred in "Sexy Beast" so playing the villain in "The Dictator" isn't such a stretch. When Aladeen is kidnapped and replaced by a body double,  Jason Mantzoukas, a character actor by trade, has his biggest role to date as Alladeen's conspirator in his plans to return to power.

       The "fish out of water" plot is not new but Mr. Cohen milks (literally at one point) plenty of laughs out of a powerful dictator working in a grocery co-op in Brooklyn. Many of the funniest bits you've already seen in the trailer or in the TV ads but some of them have had lines altered which makes me wonder if somebody lost their nerve. Mr. Cohen's "Borat" was truly an original. With "The Dictator", the joke's still funny but it's starting to wear thin.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Dark Shadows

           Johnny Depp's undead vampire has more life in him then this disappointing take on the late sixties TV show. While Mr. Depp is terrific, biting the scenery as Barnabas Collins, the rest of the cast suffer in very poorly underwritten roles. Director Tim Burton does a great job recreating the look and sounds of the early seventies (the musical choices, in particular, are pure pleasure) but he can only do so much with a top notch cast working with a weak script.

            The original show which ran from 1966 until 1971 was a daytime soap opera disguised as a Gothic horror story. It put a new twist on an old genre and was a cult sensation. The new film borrows the basic idea of the show but strives for a more comedic approach. Mr. Depp never plays a false note and gives a wonderful performance and of course, gets all the good lines. Michele Pfeiffer is wasted with nothing to do as the current matriarch of the Collins family. The same can be said for Helena Bonham Carter as the family's live-in psychiatrist. Her character is supposed to be treating young Mr. David Collins, who believes his mother haunts the mansion.  We never see them in scenes together and David himself has very little to do until the film's climax. Chloe Grace Moretz plays the teen daughter of Ms. Pfeiffer and while her role has more depth, it also has a twist that comes ridiculously out of nowhere. Johnny Lee Miller plays another Collins family looking as bored as the audience. At least Jackie Jackie Earle Haley has some fun as the boozy family caretaker.

           The best scenes are between Mr. Depp and Eva Green, who plays his adversary, Angelique. It is Angelique, a very wicked witch, who first turns Mr. Depp into a vampire and has him buried alive when he spurns her love. When he returns 200 years later to 1972, she has ruined his family by a series of curses and by becoming a successful business rival. Their renewed love/hate relationship adds a desperate spark of life to the film.

            Mr. Burton is famous for his unique visual style and storytelling but here he gets lazy using an idea from "Death Becomes Her" for a big scene involving Ms. Green and a final shot that we've all seen way too many times. Both he and Mr. Depp have shared their love of the old series and strive to do it justice in their own fashion but unlike Mr. Depp's character, the script should have remained dead and buried.

Wednesday, May 09, 2012

The Avengers

      Comic book geeks assemble. This is the superhero movie you've been waiting for. The good news is that even an average film fan will enjoy  "The Avengers". A long time in the making, Marvel's master plan was to release individual superhero films  to eventually come together in this super group made up of Nick Fury, Iron Man, The Mighty Thor, The Hulk, Captain America, The Black Widow and Hawkeye. Anyone familiar with these characters will undoubtedly have a great time for two and half hours. Everyone else can still enjoy the escapist good time the film provides. 

        Directed with love and written for the screen by Joss Whedon, the film brings every hero together to defeat a common foe, Loki (the Asgardian God of Mischief) first introduced in "Thor" and played by Tom Hiddleston. The film takes it 's time to get going as too much dialog sets up the master plot, presumably for the audience living under a rock. But once it kicks into high gear it never looks back and provides plenty of action and some great one liners (delivered in majority by Robert Downy Jr. as Iron Man/Tony Stark).

         The special effects range from good to great at various points in the film. Case in point, The CGI Hulk who seems to constantly be changing size and bulk. His human side, Bruce Banner is played by Mark Ruffalo and he  spends most of the film moping about and trying to contain "the other guy". The CGI destruction of Midtown Manhattan is very well done although why is it always Manhattan? The film is in 3-D and actually works well in the medium. The colors and details really "pop".

          Screen time is divided pretty evenly so everyone can get their action spotlight although Scarlett Johansson as The Black Widow, seems to have just a little bit more than everyone else. Although in her skintight suit, who can really complain? Male eye candy gets it's share in the presence of Chris Evans as Captain America and Chris Hemsworth as Thor. Also returning is superspy Nick Fury played by Samuel Jackson and master archer, Hawkeye played by Jeremy Renner (also first introduced in Thor).

           In between battling Loki and his Alien army, there are verbal and physical sparring matches among the group which humanize the comic characters as well as provide lots of entertainment. It's hard to walk out disappointed and the good news, of course, is  the table is set for the inevitable sequel with the very brief appearance of a major Marvel villain.