Men in Black 3

Will Smith, arguably the most bankable Hollywood star in the business, returns from a near 4-year absence with Men in Black 3.  For the life of me I can’t figure out why.  This franchise began 15 years ago to huge success, but the last time we saw the duo of Agents J and K was back in Summer 2002… ten years ago.  And it was a very disappointing outing at that.  With Smith needing an established franchise to return to, the filmmakers attempt to breathe fresh air into a musty framework.  In many respects Men in Black 3 actually delivers some old school action-comedy hijinks, but generally speaking the film fails to match the energy and wit of the first installment.

Smith again plays Agent J ridding the Earth of violent extra terrestrials alongside his aging partner K (Tommy Lee Jones).  K is even more dry, stoic, and blunt than usual.  Something seems to be eating away at him and he harnesses his internal fear from J, until one morning K disappears from existence.  J can’t find him at MIB headquarters and no one seems to have any recollection that he’s been alive during the last 40 years.

Perplexed by K’s literal erasing, J discovers the malevolent plot of a one-armed alien bug named Boris (Jemaine Clement) that was captured and locked up on a lunar prison by K.  Somehow, Boris managed to escape prison, make his way to Earth, and then travel back in time to 1969 and murder K before Boris could be incarcerated.  Not only that, but this altering of time also prevents K from ever having launched an alien shielding force field around the globe that prevents otherworldly invasions.

As the bug clans enter Earth’s atmosphere for a full-scale assault to annihilate the planet, J must travel back in time to 1969 to stop Boris from altering the future and preventing K’s murder.  J teams up with the 27-year-old Agent K played by Josh Brolin, sporting a spot-on impersonation of Jones, and livening up an otherwise forgettable sequel.

Although the plot wreaks of ‘Back to the Future Part II‘ syndrome, Men in Black 3 has matured in comparison to Men in Black II.  Smith mounts the film on his shoulders and treks through some messy writing to find occasional inspired moments of humor—which for the most part surprised me.  After reading of the numerous production issues on this project, I expected nothing from this third outing.  However, I have to say this return to old school cheesy action and plotting was a bit refreshing.  Will Smith returns to a genre that suits him well and it is a great deal of fun to have him back steering a blockbuster film.

It is Brolin, however, that steals the show and makes the mediocrity of the film worth enduring.  Where Jones seems to be phoning in his 15 minutes of screen time, just as he phoned in the last installment, Brolin actually gives 110 percent and provides the audience a window into Agent K’s heart that has been sealed shut since Jones reprised his role ten years ago.  Men in Black 3 also has a ball poking fun at the 1960s and Will Smith’s character in that time period.  Does it go for broke?  No.  But Men in Black 3 is a marginally enjoyable diversion for brisk silly escapist entertainment.  You won’t love it, you won’t hate it.  And you’ll probably forget it before you can even find your neuralizer.


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Rating: 4.0/5 (2 votes cast)

True Grit (2010)

The Coen Brothers have been on a winning streak for quite some time.  Now the raves have been spooling over their remake of the John Wayne classic True Grit and I haven’t the faintest idea why—other than the fact that they are the Coen Brothers.  Not to say this is a particularly bad movie by any means, but it practically left my mind about as quickly as it entered it.

Set in the 1880s, willful 14-year-old girl Matty Ross (Hailee Steinfeld) hires the wild one-eyed sheriff Rooster Cogburn (Jeff Bridges) to track down her father’s murderer, Tom Chaney (Josh Brolin) en route through Indian territory.  Texas Ranger LeBoeuf (Matt Damon) joins Matty and Rooster for the manhunt.  LeBoeuf wants Chaney to hang in Texas for crimes committed in the state.  Matty wants to see him at the end of the noose for her father’s murder.  Let the trademark Coen banter ensue, as True Grit quickly evolves from its revenge western saga shell into a full blown comedy.

Yes, that’s right.  True Grit is not the movie being advertised in TV spots.  What we really have here is a witty, dialogue-driven comedy with sprinkles of violence.  Very reminiscent of the Coen’s Fargo, I ate up the back-and-forth between Damon, Bridges, and Steinfeld.  Steinfeld especially carries her own here, and I see Oscar smiling down on her fondly in the future.  Much has been said about Bridges in the title role, and I have to say his interpretation of Cogburn is a puzzling one.  His drawl becomes so mumbled and distorting that I had trouble sorting through his words.  I think he finds the heart of the character, but I didn’t find his performance all that engaging.  For me, the movie was really the Steinfeld show.

All of this admiration for the writing and comedy leaves me wondering where the ‘grit’ went.  I enjoyed the Coen Brothers lighting a signature spark here, but I left True Grit craving for a little more drama—something eventful perhaps.  The Coens grace us with a parody of a Western, and while the comedy no doubt worked out well, I felt like the movie came to a close in a bit of an incomplete fashion.  Of course it ends in a shootout of good guys and bad guys, but there’s little intensity or excitement in the pursuit.  Even Josh Brolin’s mug doesn’t make an appearance until the final ten minutes or so.  True Grit is a well-made, well-written film that left a void unfulfilled.

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Rating: 4.0/5 (3 votes cast)