A decade-long gap between sequels could leave a franchise stale but in the case of Men in Black 3 it's the launch pad for an unexpectedly great blockbuster. The kooky antics of Agent J (Will Smith) and Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones) don't stray far from their 1997 and 2002 adventures but without a bombardment of follow-ups to keep the series in mind the wonderfully weird sensibilities of Men in Black feel fresh Smith's natural charisma once again on full display. Barry Sonnenfeld returns for the threequel another space alien romp with a time travel twist — which turns out to be Pandora's Box for the director's deranged imagination.
As time passed in the real world so did it for the timeline in the world of Men in Black. Picking up ten years after MIB 2 J and K are continuing to protect the Earth from alien threats and enforce the law on those who live incognito. While dealing with their own personal issues — K is at his all-time crabbiest for seemingly no reason — the suited duo encounter an old enemy Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement) a prickly assassin seeking revenge on K who blew his arm off back in the '60s. Their street fight is more of a warning; Boris' real plan is to head back in time to save his arm and kill off K. He's successful prompting J to take his own leap through the time-space continuum — and team up with a younger K (Josh Brolin) to put an end to Boris plans for world domination.
Men in Black 3 is the Will Smith show. Splitting his time between the brick personalities of Jones and Brolin's K Smith struts his stuff with all the fast-talking comedic style that made him a star in yesteryears. In present day he's still the laid back normal guy in a world of oddities — J raises an eyebrow as new head honcho O (Emma Thompson) delivers a eulogy in a screeching alien tongue but coming up with real world explanations for flying saucer crashes comes a little easier. But back in 1969 he's an even bigger fish out water. Surprisingly director Barry Sonnenfeld and writer Etan Cohen dabble in the inherent issues that would spring up if a black gentlemen decked out in a slick suit paraded around New York in the late '60s. A star of Smith's caliber may stray away from that type of racy humor but the hook of Men in Black 3 is the actor's readiness for anything. He turns J's jokey anachronisms into genuine laughs and doesn't mind letting the special effect artists stretch him into an unrecognizable Twizzler for the movie's epic time jump sequence.
Unlike other summer blockbusters Men in Black 3 is light on the action Sonnenfeld utilizing his effects budget and dazzling creature work (by the legendary Rick Baker) to push the comedy forward. J's fight with an oversized extraterrestrial fish won't keep you on the edge of your seat but his slapstick escape and the marine animal's eventual demise are genuinely amusing. Sonnenfeld carries over the twisted sensibilities he displayed in small screen work like Pushing Daisies favoring bizarre banter and elaborating on the kookiness of the alien underworld than battle scenes. MIB3's chase scene is passable but the movie in its prime when Smith is sparring with Brolin and newcomer Michael Stuhlbarg who steals the show as a being capable of seeing the future. His twitchy character keeps Smith and the audience on their toes.
Men in Black 3 digs up nostalgia I wasn't aware I had. Smith's the golden boy of summer and even with modern ingenuity keeping it fresh — Sonnenfeld uses the mandatory 3D to full and fun effect — there's an element to the film that feels plucked from another era. The movie is economical and slight with plenty of lapses in logic that will provoke head scratching on the walk out of the theater but it's also perfectly executed. After ten years of cinematic neutralizing the folks behind Men in Black haven't forgotten what made the first movie work so well. After al these years Smith continues to make the goofy plot wild spectacle and crazed alien antics look good.
Theatrics slapstick and cheer are cinematic qualities you rarely find outside the realm of animation. Disney perfected it with their pantheon of cartoon classics mixing music humor spectacle and light-hearted drama that swept up children while still capturing the imaginations and hearts of their parents. But these days even reinterpretations of fairy tales get the gritty make-over leaving little room for silliness and unfiltered glee. Emerging through that dark cloud is Mirror Mirror a film that achieves every bit of imagination crafted by its two-dimensional predecessors and then some. Under the eye of master visualist Tarsem Singh (The Fall Immortals) Mirror Mirror's heightened realism imbues it with the power to pull off anything — and the movie never skimps on the anything.
Like its animated counterparts Mirror Mirror stays faithful to its source material but twists it just enough to feel unique. When Snow White (Lily Collins) was a little girl her father the King ventured into a nearby dark forest to do battle with an evil creature and was never seen or heard from again. The kingdom was inherited by The Queen (Julia Roberts) Snow's evil stepmother and the fair-skinned beauty lived locked up in the castle until her 18th birthday. Grown up and tired of her wicked parental substitute White sneaks out of the castle to the village for the first time. There she witnesses the economic horrors The Queen has imposed upon the people of her land all to fuel her expensive beautification. Along the way Snow also meets Prince Alcott (Armie Hammer) who is suffering from his own money troubles — mainly being robbed by a band of stilt-wearing dwarves. When the Queen catches wind of the secret excursion she casts Snow out of the castle to be murdered by her assistant Brighton (Nathan Lane).
Fairy tales take flack for rejecting the idea of women being capable but even with its flighty presentation and dedication to the old school Disney method Mirror Mirror empowers its Snow White in a genuine way thanks to Collins' snappy charming performance. After being set free by Brighton Snow crosses paths with the thieving dwarves and quickly takes a role on their pilfering team (which she helps turn in to a Robin Hooding business). Tarsem wisely mines a spectrum of personalities out of the seven dwarves instead of simply playing them for one note comedy. Sure there's plenty of slapstick and pun humor (purposefully and wonderfully corny) but each member of the septet stands out as a warm compassionate companion to Snow even in the fantasy world.
Mirror Mirror is richly designed and executed in true Tarsem-fashion with breathtaking costumes (everything from ball gowns to the dwarf expando-stilts to ridiculous pirate ship hats with working canons) whimsical sets and a pitch-perfect score by Disney-mainstay Alan Menken. The world is a storybook and even its monsters look like illustrations rather than photo-real creations. But what makes it all click is the actors. Collins holds her own against the legendary Julia Roberts who relishes in the fun she's having playing someone despicable. She delivers every word with playful bite and her rapport with Lane is off-the-wall fun. Armie Hammer riffs on his own Prince Charming physique as Alcott. The only real misgiving of the film is the undercooked relationship between him and Snow. We know they'll get together but the journey's half the fun and Mirror Mirror serves that portion undercooked.
Children will swoon for Mirror Mirror but there's plenty here for adults — dialogue peppered with sharp wisecracks and a visual style ripped from an elegant tapestry. The movie wears its heart on its sleeve and rarely do we get a picture where both the heart and the sleeve feel truly magical.
Salt the propulsive new thriller from Phillip Noyce (Clear and Present Danger Patriot Games) has been dubbed “Bourne with boobs ” but that label isn’t entirely accurate. In the role of Evelyn Salt a CIA staffer hunted by her own agency after a Russian defector fingers her in a plot to murder Russia’s president Angelina Jolie keeps her two most potent weapons holstered hidden under pantsuits and trenchcoats and the various other components of a super-spy wardrobe that proudly emphasizes function over flash.
But flash is one thing Salt never lacks for. Its breathless cat-and-mouse game hits full-throttle almost from the outset when a former KGB officer named Orlov (Daniel Olbrychski) stumbles into a CIA interrogation room and begins spilling details of a vast conspiracy. Back in the ‘70s hardline elements of the Soviet regime launched an ambitious new front in the Cold War flooding the western world with orphans trained to infiltrate the security complexes of their adopted homelands and wait patiently — decades if necessary — for the order to initiate a series of assassinations intended to trigger a devastating nuclear clash between the superpowers from which the treacherous Reds would emerge triumphant.
The Soviet Union may have long ago collapsed (or did it? Hmmm...) but its army of brainwashed killer orphan spies remains in place and if this crazy Orlov fellow is to be believed they stand poised to reignite the Cold War. It’s a preposterous — even idiotic — scheme but no more so than any of our government’s various harebrained proposals to kill Castro back in the ‘60s. As such the CIA treats it with grave seriousness even the part that that pegs Salt who just happens to be a Russian-born orphan herself as a key player in the conspiracy.
Salt bristles at the accusation but suspecting a set-up she opts to flee rather than face interrogation from her bosses Winter (Liev Schreiber) and Peabody (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A former field agent she’s been confined to a desk job since a clandestine operation in North Korea went south leaving her with a nasty shiner and a rather unremarkable German boyfriend (now her unremarkable German husband). She’s clearly kept up her training during while cubicle-bound however and in a blaze of resourceful thinking and devastating Parkour Fu she fends off a dozen or so agents of questionable competence and takes to the streets where she sets about to clear her name and unravel the Commie orphan conspiracy before the authorities can catch up with her. That is if she isn’t a part of the conspiracy.
The premise which aims to resurrect Cold War tensions and graft them onto a modern-day spy thriller is absurdly clever — and cleverly absurd. But Kurt Wimmer’s screenplay isn’t satisfied with the merely clever and absurd — it must be mind-blowing. Salt is one of those thrillers that ladles out its backstory slowly and in tiny portions every once in a while dropping a revelatory bombshell that effectively blows the lid off everything that happened beforehand. No one is who they seem and every action every gesture no matter how seemingly trivial is imbued with some kind of grand significance. The effect of piling on one insane twist after another has the effect of gradually diluting the narrative. When anything is possible nothing really matters.
But spy thrillers by definition trade in the preposterous and the principal function of the summer blockbuster is to entertain. In that regard Salt more than fulfills its charge. Noyce wisely keeps the story moving at pace that allows little time for asking uncomfortable questions or poking holes in the film’s frail plot. And he has an able partner in the infinitely versatile Jolie who having already exhibited formidable action-hero chops in Wanted and the Tomb Raider films proves remarkably adept at the spy game as well.
It’s well-known that Jolie wasn’t the first choice to star in Salt joining the project only after Tom Cruise dropped out citing the story’s growing similarities to the Mission: Impossible films. But she’s more than just a capable replacement; she’s a welcome upgrade over Cruise not least because she’s over a decade younger (and a few inches taller) than her predecessor. Should Brad Bird require a pinch-hitter for Ethan Hunt he knows where to look.
Top Story: Suge Knight Back in the Hoosegow
Rap mogul and founder of Death Row Records Marion "Suge" Knight was sent back to prison for 10 months Thursday for punching a parking attendant at a Hollywood nightclub, Reuters reports. The Compton-born record executive was arrested after the incident, which happened last month outside the White Lotus Club, a celebrity hangout frequented by the likes of Hugh Hefner, Jennifer Garner, Jewel and Jessica Simpson. The arrest was the second parole violation for Knight. He was paroled from prison in 2001 for an earlier assault conviction and arrested in December 2002 for associating with reputed gang members, but was cleared of most of the allegations against him and ordered to perform community service plus 61 days in jail. In fact, jail may be the safest place for the music exec. According to a Los Angeles Times report, Knight may be the ultimate target of a series of gang slayings that killed four people close to him: "Word on the street is there's a hit out on Suge Knight," said Det. Michael Caouette of the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department.
Queen Latifah Gets Breast Reduction
It's not your imagination. Rapper turned actress Queen Latifah tells USA Today that she had breast reduction surgery in April and went from "well over an E cup" to a double D. The 33-year-old Oscar nominee says she also lost 25 to 30 pounds in the past year through exercise and eating right. But Latifah said back pain forced her to consider surgery. "It took a year and a half to make that decision. It wasn't for confidence or image. I'm the anti-Hollywood girl." Latifah has become a spokeswoman for a new line of undergarments called Curvation.
Jam Master Jay Reportedly Feared for His Life
Ronald Washington, a lifelong friend of Jason Mizell, who was shot and killed at a recording studio in Queens, N.Y., last year, told police the Run-DMC rapper was carrying a .45-caliber handgun and feared for his life the night of his murder, CNN reports. Washington, who is currently detained on armed robbery charges in New York, did not disclose why Mizell, also known as Jam Master Jay, feared for his life that night, but his lawyer, Dana Grossblatt, said he has shared the reason with police. She also said Washington described to police and named the two men he claims he saw heading inside the studio minutes before he says he heard the gunshots that killed the rapper. Neither police nor prosecutors have named any suspects in the case or have stated a motive for the killing.
French Actress Marie Trintignant Dies
French actress Marie Trintignant died Friday in a French hospital, a day after she was flown back from Lithuania in a coma after sustaining severe head injuries following a violent incident with her boyfriend, Reuters reports. Trintignant's family has filed a complaint in a Paris court against her partner, Bertrand Cantat, the frontman for the French rock band Noir Desir, alleging premeditated grievous bodily harm and failure to help a person at risk. The 39-year-old singer was admitted early Sunday for alcohol poisoning and a suspected overdose of medicine or drugs soon after Trintignant was rushed to the same hospital in a coma with severe cerebral hemorrhaging. He appeared in court in the Lithuanian capital Vilnius Thursday and was placed under formal arrest for two weeks while police investigate.
Garner Stays With Alias Through 2008
Actress Jennifer Garner is finalizing a new deal that will keep her on the ABC drama Alias through the 2007-08 season. According to The Hollywood Reporter, Garner, who won her second straight Emmy nomination for her role as undercover agent Sydney Bristow, is expected to receive a substantial raise. Under the new pact, Garner's salary will go from about $40,000 an episode to about $150,000 an episode. Alias is returning for a third season in the fall on ABC.
Dave Matthews, Mos Def Named for Shortlist Music Prize
Dave Matthews, Mos Def, Tom Waits, Tori Amos, Perry Farrell and the Neptunes will serve as judges for the 2003 Shortlist Music Prize, which honors the year's most creative and adventurous albums. According to The Associated Press, other judges include Chris Martin, Flea, Pete Yorn, Erykah Badu, Spike Jonze and Cameron Crowe. Music industry veterans Greg Spotts and Tom Sarig created the prize in 2001; past winners include N*E*R*D and Sigur Ros. The Shortlist Organization said this week a list of about 100 nominees will be released in late August with 10 finalists named in mid-September. The prize will end with a multi-artist Los Angeles concert in October with the winner receiving a $5,000 cash prize.
Ringling Bros. Accused of Animal Cruelty
Ringling Bros. and Barnum & Bailey Circus, the nation's largest circus, will have to defend itself against charges that it mistreats elephants that perform under the big tent, the AP reports. The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, the Animal Welfare Institute, The Fund for Animals and Tom Rider, a former Ringling Bros. elephant trainer filed the suit in 2000, claiming circus employees routinely beat the elephants with sharp bull hooks, keep elephants in chains for long periods of time and forcibly remove baby elephants from their mothers before they are properly weaned. A federal judge Wednesday declined to dismiss a lawsuit because Asian elephants are considered an endangered species under federal law.
Role Call: Verbinski and Cage in Weather, Dead of Night Gets Remade
Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl director Gore Verbinski and actor Nicolas Cage are in negotiations to star in and direct, respectively, The Weather Man for Sony Pictures Entertainment. The project is about a divorced Chicago weatherman up for a new job on a network morning show in New York who must first make peace with his e