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.
Larry (not his real name) wanted $30 for a $10 ticket to "American Psycho." If you waited 15 minutes, you waited too long, because then Larry wanted $40 -- and got it, too. (Or so he thought.)
According to one overheard comment Friday night at the "Psycho"'s sold-out Sundance premiere at the Eccles Theatre, the 15-year-old and his underage posse were possibly the first scalpers in the history of Robert Redford's mountain paradise.
Such is life in this now (really) big little city.
The snow arrived about the same time the stars did this weekend -- as did the buzz, the crowds, Tammy Faye and the kids trying to price gouge morally offended indie film types. A rundown of the action:
KA-CHING! "Groove," a no-name indie about the rave-party scene, is living the Sundance dream -- snapped up today by Sony Pictures Classics. No word on the dollar amount. The flick, called a "low-budget 'Nashville' by the Sundance wags, premiered Friday under the festival's American Spectrum wing. A "Groove" party tonight was the place to be -- particularly after worked leaked out about the Sony buy. "Oh, my God," said film publicist Matthew Strauss, "it went through the roof." "Groove" is written-directed by veteran film editor Greg Harrison making his feature-length debut behind the camera.
BAD VIBES: This morning's press screening for "Psycho" was interrupted when a viewer lapsed into an apparent seizure with 10 minutes left in the picture. At first, fellow audience members thought the man was snoring. "Everybody felt bad people had started to laugh [at the seizure victim]," says Hollywood.com's Jim Bartoo. Paramedics were called, the man revived and escorted from the theater. The screening resumed.
HERE'S WHAT THE GUY MISSED: Ultra-violent "American Psycho" is sorta funny -- at least that was the buzz from audience types leaving Friday's mishap-free Eccles showing. "People were laughing until the last 15 minutes and then no one said anything," said 21-year-old San Francisco resident Maris Brenn-White, on her way out of the theater. Chimed in companion Andrew Harper, also 21: "Yeah, very strange, very strange ending. Not really sure what to make of it."
HERE'S WHAT TO MAKE OF IT: According to "Psycho" star Christian Bale, the thing is supposed to be mixed up. "It is a funny film but then it is also disturbing," the actor told Hollywood.com today, "and then toward the end it really sort of ceases being funny." Oh. (To read the Hollywood.com review, go to The Buzz.)
SO, WAS THE MOVIE WORTH $40? "I was supposed to pay $40, but the little kid didn't know how to do the math so I paid $30," proud ticket-holder Greg Robertson said Friday night.
UNLESS YOU NEED TO BOLT FROM THE THEATER: Ben Affleck turned out to tonight's premiere of "Committed" (an upcoming Miramax release as well as a Sundance dramatic competition entry) sans Matt Damon, but with a single crutch. The actor says he sprained his ankle playing basketball. "It kind of sucks," he told us. "Sundance is a real walking experience. ... [But] I guess sitting down to watch movies doesn't take too much mobility."
NO THUMB UP: So, we cornered one Roger Ebert exiting the "American Psycho" premiere. We locked eyes -- ours were saying, "Ooh, Roger Ebert what'd you think?"; his were saying, "Don't even ask." What can we say? We asked. He didn't tell. "You have to wait," the Great One said. "I don't review when I walk out of movies."
ROGER EBERT WON'T, BUT MATTHEW BRODERICK WILL: "'You Can Count on Me,' I saw," the "Ferris Bueller" icon said when prompted for an impromptu movie review by Hollywood.com this morning on Main Street. "It was great. ... Great performances, wonderful script, excellent."
ALL RIGHT, SO WE WERE HAD: Upon further review, "You Can Count on Me," which premiered Friday night at Sundance, is a family drama starring Laura Linney ("The Truman Show"), Jon Tenney (TV's "Get Real") and, um, Matthew Broderick.
THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN A SUNDANCE PARTY AND A SLAMDANCE PARTY: A Friday night Sundance bash sponsored by Entertainment Weekly featured a spectacular view of the mountains, really tasty mini-eclairs, delightful chicken things in peanut sauce, an open bar (up until about 11 p.m.) and a low-key vibe. Slamdance's Saturday night opening bash featured an OK view of the mountains, bowls of pretzels, a cash bar (unless you ordered vodka, which was free) and a happening buzz.
SPEAKING OF HAPPENING...: "The Eyes of Tammy Faye," a Sundance doc about ex-televangelist Tammy Faye (Bakker) Messner, is entertaining movie deals after its Friday premiere at the Yarrow Theatre brought its audience to its feet. "It's been a good day," co-director Randy Barbato told us. For Tammy Faye, it was a really good premiere. "After it ended, I walked up in front of the people, and I began to cry," a full mascaraed Tammy Faye said at the mega-loud Slamdance blowout. "... It was the most wonderful, warm moment I've ever experienced. And I'm so grateful."
SPEAKING OF ANOTHER HAPPENING: "A Galaxy Far, Far Away," an 80-minute Slamdance doc about "Star Wars" geeks on the eve of the premiere of "The Phantom Menace" played to a packed video lounge at the Treasure Mountain Inn tonight -- despite a wacky thermostat that made the screening room Africa hot and a wacky playback machine that cut out the video 10 times. Still, director Tariq Jalil was far from despondent later that night. He tells us the crowd of 100 to 200, with few exceptions, stayed with the flick throughout the entire ordeal. Always a good sign. So are the phone calls we hear the "Galaxy" team's been getting.
FIGHTIN' THE MAN: No fliers on fliers in Park City this January. Slamdance filmmaker Farhad Yawari was "very nearly arrested" on Friday over a handbill flap, festival co-founder Dan Mirvish tells Hollywood.com. It seems Yawari, who directed the short "Dolphins," was found in violation of the local's new anti-handbill-passing-out ordinance -- punishable by a $2,000 fine. "He wasn't happy about paying that, so that's why they were going to arrest him," Mirvish says. Slamdance officials say the new law is news to them -- they have yet to see it in writing. Says Mirvish: "Does it say [no fliers] on Main Street? Is it the whole town? Is it just Slamdance?" To be sure, other Slamdance filmmakers are taking it personally. Jali's "Galaxy" crew has seen roaming Park City bearing posterboard signs declaring: "We're not allowed to hand you a flier, so here's a sign."
MOST UBIQUITOUS FREEBIE IN PARK CITY: The snowflake button for "Snow Days," the buzz-a-rific American Spectrum comedy set to debut Sunday.
HOT TREND: Pregnancy. Actor/director Stanley Tucci had to skip the premiere of "Joe Gould's Secret" on Friday to go have a baby with his wife. Other with-child types here include filmmakers Stacy Cochran ("Drop Back Ten") and Mary Harron ("American Psycho").
THINGS WE SAW OTHER THAN "AMERICAN PSYCHO":
1. "Waking the Dead" (Sundance World Premiere) -- Director Keith Gordon's tale of a young couple whose future is cut down by a terrorist's bomb is hurt by slow pacing and an overindulgence in the sentimental. Billy Crudup and Jennifer Connelly star as complete opposites who fall in love during the tumultuous early 1970s. As bad luck would have it, Connelly's involvement in Latin American issues presumably leads to her death by car bomb. Years later, an older and politically suave Crudup is poised to make a run for Congress -- only to start having delusions of seeing Sarah in his everyday life. While it could prove commercially viable, "Waking the Dead" treads very little new ground. (Jim Bartoo)
2. "Just, Melvin" (Sundance Documentary Competition) -- With painstaking detail, director Ronald Whitney does an amazing job telling the story of his abusive grandfather, Melvin Just. A sexual predator of the worst kind, Melvin abused Whitney's mother, her sisters, their daughters and a whole host of other young children from his second marriage. "Just, Melvin" is receiving a tremendous amount of praise in Park City and deservedly so. (J.B.)
3. "Well-Founded Fear" (Sundance Documentary Competition) -- Shari Robertson and Michael Camerini's touching, disturbing behind-the-scenes look at the U.S. political asylum system is an extremely engaging piece that attempts to put a human face on the much-maligned Immigration and Naturalization Service. Through the stories and eyes of multiple applicants and INS officers, Robertson and Camerini give viewers a never-before-seen look at the actual interview process, as well as very candid conversations between officers and their supervisors. Often unsettlingly sad, "Well-Founded Fear" is summed up by one particularly kind officer who, after having to deny an applicant admission, is asked about his day: "Do I feel good? No. I feel like [crap]." (J.B.)
4. "The Small-Timers." (No Dance) -- This is an earnest doc about an independent film ("The Big Muddy") that didn't exactly go "Blair Witch" after its Park City premiere last year. As far as naval-gazing projects go, its heart is in the right place, even if its indie-worn message ("Make your movie -- no matter what!) is in the same old place. (Joal Ryan)
PREVIEW OF SUNDANCES TO COME? So, when everybody's trying to sell movies in Park City, the only way to distinguish yourself is to make a movie in Park City. The Brooklyn-based film crew for the in-the-works indie flick "The Battle for Breuklyn" was spotted doing just that the other day. Producer Liz Maddalone says the film's about a guy (natch) trying to make a movie called (natch) "The Battle for Breuklyn." (History note: That's the way the Dutch used to spell the name of the borough.). Anyway, the flick's a family affair -- one of Maddalone's brothers is the writer/director, another one's the camera guy. Almost eight years in the making, the project seems at the climax phase. Maddalone says the Park City shoot features the film's hero trying to drum up interest in his project. So does he get a deal? Says Maddalone: "You're gonna just have to watch to find out."
MOST HEARTWARMING MOMENT: An awestruck kid watching Hollywood.com-er Gerry Katzman interview two food-service workers at the Eccles Theatre: "Dude, Hollywood.com!"
SPOTTED: Supercouple Heather Graham and Edward Burns doing the press line at the "Committed" premiere; character actor Joe Bologna trying to do the press line at the "Committed" premiere; Kevin Smith ("Clerks") and Michael Nouri ("Flashdance") walking into the lobby at the "American Psycho" premiere; Peter Weller ("RoboCop") putting in appearance near Sundance headquarters at Shadow Ridge.
LOOKING AHEAD: The Ethan Hawke-led "Hamlet," the Neve Campbell-equipped "Panic" and the aforementioned "Snow Days" all get their first Sundance screenings Sunday. With additional reporting by Jim Bartoo and Gerry Katzman.