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.
S10E8: I’ll admit, mine and Ryan Seacrest’s buildups to the first Hollywood week episode were a little over the top, but don’t even try and tell me you weren’t the least bit stoked. The first Hollywood episode always goes quickly; it’s the sudden death round. In case you’re an Idol newbie, the sudden death round entails 10 contestants taking the stage together, each singing a few bars of a song of their choice a capella, receiving no feedback and then either getting a thumbs up or a thumbs down. By the end of the episode half of the contestants are let go and this process was made difficult by the fact that this year the kinder, gentler Idol sent double the usual number of contestants to Hollywood. That’s funny, because I’m pretty sure they still only have 12 final spots. Why would they make their job so much more difficult?
That’s all folks; they continue or get cut loose. Unfortunately for us viewers that means the judges’ antics were kept in check this round, which left a few of our contestants to pick up the slack.
“This is where…the men from the boys and the women from the girls.” –JLo
Apparently Jennifer was so excited she forgot part of that sentence, but it’s definitely an exciting time. First up was Brett Lowenstien with the crazy red hair and the newfound self-esteem. Luckily for those of us who were fans from the start, Brett kept it going with a soulful rendition of “Let It Be.” Of course he got to continue and his surprisingly robust voice continued to wow the judges (and me).
Also making it through were a few of my other favorites; fifteen year old Thia Megia with a voice well beyond her years and Casey Abrams (who you may remember as Seth Rogen/Fraggle Rock guy) with voice that skirts a line between jazz and rock. These two and young Rachel Zavia from New York made it through with flying colors, though personally, I was underwhelmed by Zevia’s second audition. She simply didn’t have the strength and presence of the others, but we’ll see if that changes as Hollywood Week continues.
“Maybe people will look at me like I’m looking at these mountains.” –Victoria Huggins
I feel a little bad for this girl, because I feel like she was sort of set up. She’s an alright singer, but her chipmunk voice is frankly a little unpleasant to listen to; not to mention when she’s not singing she’s like a human girl version of SpongeBob Squarepants and I just can’t take it. Couple those winning factors with the girl’s fierce narcissism and her pageant style showboating onstage and we all knew she was going home. Even if she’s got the pipes, there is no way America would have gotten behind her.
“I don’t think there was much hope. You had to have a spectacular voice.” –Stormi Henley
Well, former Miss Teen USA Stormi Henley may not have a spectacular singing voice, but at least she’s got a good enough head on her shoulders to know when to call it a day and move on. She was one of four people who we’ve seen before in the audition round, but she was the only face who didn’t make. She was right though, her voice just wasn’t strong enough.
Those who were strong enough were Paris Tassin (who has a disabled daughter), James Durbin (whose tragic past was explained last night in San Francisco) and Lauren Alaina (who is doing Idol for her ill cousin). All three sang fairly well, though I’m not sure about Paris. She sang “My Heart Will Go On” (yes, really) and to be honest, it wasn’t the best we’ve heard. Meanwhile James hit his crazy high notes again, and while it’s impressive, it’s not exactly pleasant to listen to. The only person I’m getting behind here is Lauren, whose strong bluesy voice reminds me of early Kelly Clarkson, who if you remember correctly was the first ever Idol. This isn’t a prediction, but I’m just saying, it could happen.
“This is where it could all change or it could all stay the same.” – Chris Medina
The saintly Chris Medina came back to improve on his last performance, which was sweet but this one blew it out of the water. We didn’t really get a chance to see the pipes he was rocking, but this time around he proved that he needs to be here.
While some folks were choking under the pressure, three more favorites were hitting it out of the park. Fifteen year old Jacee Badeaux with the voice of an angel kept the magic going, Robbie Rosen from Long Island, New York made Steven break his vow of silence with an involuntary “Yaow!”, and Brit-turned-Texan Hollie Cavanaugh redeemed her so-so performance from the Austin auditions. Needless to say, these three will be returning next week.
“Isn’t it the saddest thing in the world?” –Casey Abrams
On the not-so-lucky side of things, we saw a slew of familiar faces get the boot. Steve Beguhn, the giant accountant with the voice I questioned during auditions didn’t improve on his original shot and was sent home. Also sent packing were Jaqueline Dupree whose voice was alright, but brought her uncle and Randy’s former football coach to tip the scales; Sarah Sellars whose voice was alright, but whose lips were of particular interest to Steven; and Heidi Kazaam who only made it because she was a hot belly dancer with a tiny, adequate voice.
“Are you just washed out emotionally because you’ve been here for 10 years?” –Nick Fink (to Ryan Seacrest)
Oh young love. Idol sure has a way of forcing into an awkward box. They paired exes Rob Bolin and Chelsee Oaks with the unrealistically cheery couple Nick Fink and Jaqueline Dunford when choosing where the contestants would bunk up in the hotel. Can you say cruel?
Both Rob and Chelsee are great singers so they made it through, which means Idol will just continue to put them in situations that make Rob uncomfortable, though Chelsee seems unaware of how awful this proximity is for her ex. This was all in good awkward fun, but the real fireworks flew when Nick and Jaqueline auditioned together in matching outfits and only one of them made it through. Nick’s small range and so-so voice were sent home while Jaqeuline made it through. Instead of, oh I don’t know, supporting his girl’s success, Nick went off the handle continuing to beg the judges and singing as he walked down the aisle before insulting Ryan with that quote about his emotional capacity. Dude, you suck. Truly. How about you stop whining and support your fucking girlfriend. Ass.
“How could this girl from the Bronx, the birthplace of hip hop, fall in love with a country singer?” –JLo
Of course this means that audience favorite Scott McCreery of the crazy deep country voice made it through despite recycling the same tune for audition number two. Also making it through on their old charms were Jackie Wilson (remember, she had the really old boyfriend?) and the babely Jerome Bell.
The Jersey Shore star-bra girl was back, this time dressed appropriately and tooting her own horn. Despite her personality flaws her range can’t really be denied. Jennifer questioned her personality, as did the rest of us, but she still made it through while the sweet kid from the Bronx, Travis Orlando, was sent home with his sweet, but smaller voice.
Lastly, before we move on and prep for next week, Idol gave us a little list of other names who made it through to the end (so your favorite may still make it!). Clint Gamboa, Julie Zorilla, Stefano Langone, and Emily Anne Reed from San Francisco will all be back as will Naima Adedapo and Mary DeWolf Swenson from Milwaukee, crazy Ashley Sullivan from New Jersey and the adorable Gutierrez brothers from the Los Angeles auditions.
Now that these folks have made it, things are only going to get crazier, more emotional, and more heartbreaking as we continue towards finally crowning the top 12.
From the moment Hailee Steinfeld enters the frame in Joel and Ethan Coen’s magnificent western True Grit an adaptation of Charles Portis’ 1968 novel (or re-adaptation — John Wayne's 1969 version got to it first) the film belongs to her. This is no easy feat especially for a 13-year-old actress making her feature-film debut but Steinfeld not only holds her own alongside such heavyweights as Jeff Bridges Matt Damon and Josh Brolin she often upstages them.
The film which is set in the 1870s stars Steinfeld as Mattie Ross a pigtailed 14-year-old sent to the frontier town of Fort Smith Arkansas to settle the affairs of her deceased father an honorable man murdered for two gold pieces by a monstrous simpleton named Tom Chaney (Brolin). Mattie also comes seeking justice: Chaney is still at large having escaped to the dangerous foreboding expanse of the Indian Territory and she intends to see to it that he is captured and brought to trial.
Frustrated by the local authorities’ ambivalence toward tracking down her father's killer Mattie turns to Rooster Cogburn (Bridges) a slovenly alcoholic U.S. Marshal renowned for his cruelty and itchy trigger finger. Were there a Miranda warning in 1870s Cogburn would have little use for it; chances are few of his perps would understand it through his grouchy guttural slur anyway.
Pleading to join their makeshift posse is LaBoeuf (Damon) a pompous upright and overly chatty Texas Ranger — the Good Cop to Cogburn’s Bad Cop — who covets Chaney’s Texas bounty which holds more value than his Arkansas bounty. Cogburn agrees reluctantly to take him on recognizing that Chaney now likely holed up with his criminal gang a vicious bunch headed by a spittle-spewing snaggletooth named Lucky Ned (Barry Pepper) is too formidable to approach alone. Cogburn and LaBoeuf are natural rivals and long rides on the trail of Chaney afford them ample time for dick-measuring contests which invariably necessitate the intervention of their teenage mother hen Mattie.
Mattie may be the most mature member of the posse but she is nonetheless still a child — eventually the job of exacting final vengeance must fall upon the men with guns. Here Mattie’s stout heart has an ennobling effect on Cogburn who after briefly giving up during a booze-fueled bout with self-doubt stiffens his resolve to see things through.
Compared to its predecessor the Coen Brothers’ version of True Grit is both funnier and less sentimental. There is little room for tenderness or romance on the Coens’ frontier but opportunities abound for the kind of black humor for which the writer-directors have become so famous. As in Fargo they have a great deal of fun with language; characters speak in a laughably rigid formalized manner almost Shakespearian in its tongue-twisting complexity. The film's ironic conceit that such codes thrive in a land ruled by violence and chaos is best illustrated in Mattie’s constant almost charmingly naive threats of legal action against her adversaries. They react to her threats with a kind of befuddled amusement; the phrase "I'll see you in court" is still several decades away from joining the popular lexicon.
Critics often bemoan the abundance of remakes in modern risk-averse Hollywood. A more productive strategy at least for the cause of quality filmmaking might be to properly exalt the better ones. This True Grit may be the best of them combining the look and feel of a classic western with a distinctly Coens brothers tone. And Ms. Steinfeld is nothing short of a revelation.
WHAT IT’S ABOUT?
Adapted by Bret Easton Ellis (Less Than Zero The Rules of Attraction American Psycho) from his own 1994 novel about the excesses of the rich and not-so-lucky in Hollywood circa 1983 this shallow film seems out of touch now in a time of economic turmoil — even if it is disguised as a period piece. Presented as a multi-story look at L.A. at its sordid best The Informers introduces us to a sleazy movie executive his estranged wife her poolboy lover a coked-out British punk rock star a fading newscaster a voyeuristic doorman a slimy ex-con and any number of beautiful vapid sexed-up twentysomethings who seem to spend their days either partying or snorting immune to any kind of social consciousness in an era marked by the dawn of the AIDS epidemic.
WHO’S IN IT?
The ensemble cast is split between older stars who’ve seen better days and a promising group of new talent unfortunately caught up in this mess. Billy Bob Thornton sleepwalks through the studio exec role while a pre-Wrestler Mickey Rourke (in a glorified cameo) shows us the kind of dreck he’s been stuck in the last few years as a tough ex-con who seems obsessed with someone called “the Indian.” Kim Basinger survives intact as a long-suffering Hollywood wife looking for a human connection from anyone who crosses her path while Winona Ryder projects just a shadow of her once-promising career as the aging newscaster. The late Brad Renfro who himself apparently fell victim to a drug-induced lifestyle is oddly touching as the peeping-tom doorman. Filling in the lost youth part of the equation are Jon Foster Amber Heard Austin Nichols Lou Taylor Pucci and amusing British star Mel Raido who do the best they can with their clothes on and off. Chris Isaak and Rhys Ifans also turn up in minor roles.
For what it’s worth The Informers has been handsomely shot and does capture emotional deadness well but unfortunately there’s nothing behind the façade of a group of characters we just don’t care about.
Ellis covered this all in Less Than Zero — same era same losers — so did we really need a LESS THAN Less Than Zero in 2009? It’s also a shame to see a fine group of actors so completely wasted both on screen and off.
BEST STONED-OUT LOSER SCENE:
The tenor of the whole film is summed up in the ice cube-filled bathtub sequence where a drunken almost catatonic British rocker proceeds to nearly kill himself trying to light a cigarette and answer a phone that NEVER stops ringing.
NETFLIX OR MULTIPLEX:
This movie may already be available on DVD before you finish reading this review.
There's nothing more annoying than watching a film and realizing you've already seen the best scenes in the trailer. Daryl Chase (Jones) is a stand-up banking professional who enjoys his fine Italian suits and his Perrier. But his world gets turned upside down when he's mistaken for a murderer and is forced to make a run for the border to hide from Mafia goons and government agents -- not to mention Freddy Tiffany (Eddie Griffin) a fast-talking hoodlum who's either trying to help him or turn him in. Makes little sense? Thought so.
No doubt Griffin's antics which are rehashed from his character on TV's "Malcolm & Eddie " are supposed to provide this dud's comedy relief -- à la Eddie Murphy -- to break up the shoot-'em-up action scenes. But his best lines are used in the trailers and by the time you hear Griffin reciting them up on the big screen all you can muster is a forced chuckle. Especially painful to watch is the scene where street-smart Freddy tries to teach uptown snob Daryl how to act "black."
There's only so much a director can do with a film that's troubled from the very beginning. Director George Gallo ("Trapped in Paradise") put together a film with an utterly confusing main story and subplots that lead to dead ends. It's hard to stay focused when characters flip-flop from being good guys to bad guys. Most of the confusion is cleared up at the very end of the film but by that time who cares?