Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
Palo Alto bleeds aimlessness in a lot of good ways. In the tradition of Dazed and Confused and The Last Picture Show, Gia Coppola's directorial debut lands us knee deep in the ennui of a self-contained society of small town teens, daring us to dive right into a neon cesspool vacant of hope or self-actualization. Keeping in step with the mentioned films, Palo Alto is far less interested in telling a story than it is in painting a picture. The spectacle that results is beautiful, piercing, and — quite definitely — Coppolian. But it hits some difficulty when it tries to move beyond its frame.
Adapted from the short stories of at-least-he's-always-interesting James Franco (who is featured in the movie as a sneakily lecherous soccer coach), Palo Alto tags us to the corroded souls of a gaggle of misguided high schoolers in suburban Central California. Emma Roberts is the ostensible lead; her April is a sullen young woman whose chief character trait is sympathetic disillusionment. Her paths cross here and there with Mr. B (Franco) and likewise wayfaring classmate Teddy (Jack Kilmer — son of Val, who has a brief part in the film as the space cadet stepfather to Roberts), who is lightyears away from appreciating the gravity in his drunk driving episode and subsequent community service.
Tribeca Film via Everett Collection
The highlight of the bunch is Teddy's pal Fred, a compulsively obnoxious clown who The Naked Brothers Band's Nat Wolff stuffs with palpable agony and confusion. Buried inside of him, April, Teddy, and the scattered secondary players who work to identify the core of the proper main character — Palo Alto itself — lives our story, never progressing in any direction thereon out. The film is a snapshot of the pangs, frustrations, misgivings, malfeasances, and so on of the kids, adults, and neighborhood in question. In this form, it glows.
But Palo Alto tries to drive its story forward, yanking April, Teddy, and Fred out from the stronghold of their communal desperation and throwing them into the beyond. It's this forward motion that brings our attention to the delicate seams of the film, its unpreparedness in handling the story as much more than a lasting glimpse. We feel the elements slipping away from Coppola as she attempts to set them on a motive course for the first time in the third act, and so we have a tough time staying adhered as we once were to the characters — the falter is doubled by the fact that this emancipation comes at the intended peak of their emotional journeys.
Although the film might leave off dabbling in undeveloped turns — feeling frayed, uneven, and incomplete (I suppose it's hard to insist that such qualities are inappropriate for the story at hand) — it spends the lion's share of its time in a remarkable establishment: a portrait as lifelike as it is dreamy and as funny as it is haunting. It might lose its balance when it grabs for agency, but it offers an image very much worthy of our eyes.
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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.