Beauty and the Beast: Old and new it stands out of time…

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Beauty and the Beast – 2017, 1991

Directors: Bill Condon (2017) and Gary Trousdale, Kirk Wise (1991)
Screenplay: Stephen Chbosky, Evan Spiliotopoulos (2017) and Linda Woolverton (1991) based on the story by Jeanne-Marie Leprince de Beaumont
Starring:  Emma Watson, Dan Stevens, Luke Evans, Kevin Kline, Josh Gad, Ewan McGregor, Stanley Tucci, Audra McDonald, Gugu Mbatha-Raw, Ian McKellen, Emma Thompson (2017) and Paige O’Hara, Robby Benson, Richard White, Jerry Orbach, David Ogden Stiers, Angela Lansbury, Rex Everhart, Jesse Corti (1991)

Disney has been remaking their animated classics for so long now, I can’t remember a time when they weren’t. I think it may have started with 101 Dalmatians but in all honesty most of them are not good enough for me to go back and research. Over the last few years, the most notable have been their attempts to put women on the screen as real life princesses or (in Angelina Jolie’s case) should have beens. The one that everyone will talk about and remember has just arrived.

Everyone’s real hero of the Harry Potter series, Hermione Granger (no one wants to imagine she really married the doof who shall not be named) is now as likely and deservedly remembered as Belle. Although not being considered a singer before being cast in this musical, Emma Watson creates her own version of the role that Paige O’Hara mastered a generation ago.

The question of whether the movie update is necessary is immaterial at this point. A more pointed question would involve a contemplation on whether or not live action should include as much if not more animation than the original animated film. I am not going to discuss that either, though. I am really just here to celebrate both films, since, miracle of miracles, they both turned out to be pretty great.

To do this, I am just going to discuss the elements of each film that stand out more for me than the other. At this point, can we really review a film that everyone will see and love…except for those who insist on pointing out flaws. Well, I will try, but it will all feel like quibbling when I throw criticism to the side and just say it is a classic despite them.

First thing is first. What parts of the new film are not as good?

  1. The first time we see Belle’s village: For a second, I got a sickening feeling. Everything seems so close and claustrophobic, it felt like I was watching the recent redo of The Smurfs. There is no feeling of span in the town and it feels like Belle is walking in a really tight circle. The empty bookstore feels bigger than the whole confines of the village.
  2. Jerry Orbach and Angela Lansbury as Lumiere and Mrs. Potts can’t be beat: It is a personal preference, as McGregor and Thompson do well in the same roles. To McGregor’s credit, he just moved forward with his much less distinctive voice and personality. While it isn’t as memorable, it works. Orbach completely mastered the role, though, making Lumiere seem older and more virile at once. Thompson is a blander version of a character one would normally consider to be quite bland. No one ever made us sit down, make ourselves comfortable and have some tea like Lansbury.
  3. The ballroom scene. Especially true after the remastered version of the original pumped it up about 200%, there is just no beating the myriad colors and sweeping grandeur of the original. It’s one of the great animated scenes in cinematic history.
  4. I just wish they would not have cast Stanley Tucci. It’s so tiring to see him in every movie, even when they give him bad teeth to inhabit.

So what was made better in the new film? Surprisingly, quite a lot.

  1. LeFou: Gad is an inspired casting choice. His nuanced performance works in every way possible. The original was barely a placeholder for Gaston, to the point where I wondered why he was even included in such a large musical number. This time around, the character is fully fleshed out, an improvement in every way. The only time it doesn’t fit is when the residual lines from the original make it necessary to have him be somewhat illiterate and ill-informed. It is quite likely the LeFou has read most of the same books as Belle.
  2. Maurice: Good Lord I hated Belle’s dad in the original. I would have thrown him in the loony bin or old folks home right off the bat if I had to listen to his babbling. Totally moronic and typical Disney Dad, with his head in the clouds while missing every possible thing on the ground. He even thinks she should hook up with Gaston. Kline presents a slightly preoccupied, but deeply saddened man. He is completely aware of his daughter and he wants to protect her from the horrors he’s experienced, while showing her the beauty he sees in life. It’s completely understandable how they could be related in this version of the tale. She enjoys the same things he does, with her own spin. Incredible that Disney finally gets a Dad right, for once.
  3. The night-time trip to Paris: This adds a completely new dimension to Belle, her father and heretofore absent mother. This scene has a great song (How Does a Moment Last Forever) and in its inclusion, we allow a moment of true bonding between Belle and the Beast. This is the kind of scene upon which romances are built and it makes what follows all the more meaningful.
  4. Letting Belle get plastered by the snowball: It was always a little weak to have Beast hoisted by his own petard in the original.

To delve any deeper, you really have to just accept the differences between these two as just trades for each medium. Human Again (from the restored version) is traded for Evermore. The wardrobe is now an opera singer instead of a maid. My eldest noticed that Philippe was a different sort of horse. The library is remarkable either way. Gaston is as delightfully deplorable now as he was in animated form. Alan Menken is a treasure. I don’t know how he keeps drawing classics from this well.

It would be unfair to not recognize Watson’s achievement. Paige O’Hara has created, in all truth, the best Disney Princess. Instantly memorable for her pluck and her voice, all other Princesses have yet to reach the bar she set. Watson wisely avoids the pitfall of trying to match O’Hara’s voice and instead applies her own spin on the character. The songs and her performance are equally good and entirely different. I found myself hearing her voice in my head for songs that I have heard for a quarter century with O’Hara’s. She’s elevated the live action princess role that Amy Adams created so effortlessly and placed her own stamp on cinematic history, between this and Potter.

Dan Stevens is a little old, even for a 27-year-old Watson, but the role works, especially if one considers the time passing under a spell. It’s close enough and not yet creepy. His voice in Evermore is remarkable and nearly worth the price of admission on its own.

Celebrate these films. They are gifts to humanity. There have always been beauties who were drawn to beasts that they had to learn to understand. There have always been beasts who are society’s winners that smart girls know to avoid, too. This film has brought hope to many a bookworm girl and boy that they will someday meet and learn to accept one another. And grow. Everyone wants to feel like they can do that.

Both films (***** out of *****)

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Bridget Jones’s Baby (**1/2) Just a little further…

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Bridget Jones’s Baby – 2016

Director Sharon Maguire
Screenplay Helen Fielding, Dan Mazer, Emma Thompson
Starring  Renée Zellweger, Colin Firth, Patrick Dempsey, Jim Broadbent, Gemma Jones, Emma Thompson

What the third film in the Bridget Jones saga has to accomplish is too much, and nothing at all. To shake the foundations of a cast of characters that was perfect in the first film, then just kind of there for the second film would be a betrayal to all that is holy in the world of romantic comedies.

What does one do when Hugh Grant doesn’t like the script for the third film? Replace him with a generic nice guy like poor Patrick Dempsey. Give him a moment or two to color outside of the lines, make him upstanding the rest of the time. Voila. The script writes itself…poorly.

The third film opens with a twist on the typical “alone and single” for her birthday theme. We get a rewind, find she’s not really miserable. She’s kind of thin and she’s got some new friends to go along with the old. The new friends are single and her age. The old are coupled up and are moving toward parenthood.

Bridget’s (Zellweger) successful, having a relatively good time drinking, carousing and hooking up with a random rich guy (Dempsey) at a weekend concert festival. She heads out before he can bring her breakfast and moves on with life…for a week. Then a tipsy hook up with Darcy (Firth) leads to…her leaving him a note in the morning.

Three months later. She’s pregnant. She finds a reason to tell each guy and not tell them about the other. Why is this? Wacky hijinks is why. And when they find out, more hijinks.

In many ways, the series has harkened back to romantic comedies of the ’50’s. If you add a bunch of foul language and change the morals to be in line with the liberal media of today, you’d have a perfect match. Sadly, this means it’s not that good either. The damn thing about it is the first film was perfect with most of the same players. Two important omissions, Richard Curtis and Andrew Davies, lead one to wonder how little import they had on story this time around.

It’s sad, because Bridget and Darcy deserve much better than to be flitting around in their 40’s trying to find themselves in each other’s arms. It could have been done better than the two films that followed that first classic. Audiences weren’t complaining much though. The film still made a metric ton of money. That each film has made less than the last should say something, but it didn’t say enough.

That there are some significantly funny moments in the film make it worth the watch, especially one has maintained an arms length fondness for the characters without being desirous of something more substantial. It is similarly refreshing to see a film where a child is talked to and about while still in the womb. You know, like a person should be considered.

Those moments aside, there are plenty more awkward moments that are supposed to play better than they do. Dempsey, poor Dempsey. He deserves better than to be a fill in. Thank goodness they are making Enchanted 2.

Ultimately this is the story about Bridget Jones and Mark Darcy. In that respect, it feels more stilted than ever. Someone took happily ever after and broke it up only so they could make a couple of sequels. If it were only possible to make a happily ever after sequel that didn’t involve the split ups.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Mary Poppins and Saving Mr. Banks

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Mary Poppins – 1964

Director James Stevenson
Starring Julie Andrews, Dick Van Dyke, David Tomlinson, Glynis Johns
Screenplay Bill Walsh and Don DaGradi based on the book by P.L. Travers

Saving Mr. Banks – 2013

Director John Lee Hancock
Starring Emma Thompson, Tom Hanks, Paul Giamatti, Jason Schwartzman, Bradley Whitford, Colin Farrell, B. J. Novak, Ruth Wilson
Screenplay Kelly Marcel, Sue Smith

I avoided watching Mary Poppins for years, in part because it was so often on in our house.   My sisters, a set of twins four years older than I, were always looking through TV Guide for showings of that, Sound of Music and other musicals and dropping suggestions for Mom and Dad to watch them on the house’s lone color television.  Throughout the years, I was able to catch the film in its entirety, but not ever in a single setting.  It didn’t help that Dick Van Dyke had perhaps the single worst English accent in recorded history.  I could not stand 5 seconds of his cloying attempt at low rent British.  Indeed, to this day, Van Dyke sets a standard for bad accents on film.  Even Costner did better in Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves.  And he didn’t even try.

That Van Dyke’s accent and somewhat daft character keeps Mary Poppins from being a perfect film is a given.  How much it detracts depends on:

  1. Whether it’s the accent or the actor that is wrong
  2. Whether his character was intended as just a really happy guy or kind of an idiot
  3. How much you think it matters to kids vs. adults

Dick Van Dyke was at the top of his game in the 1960’s.  In the midst of his classic television run with Carl Reiner and Mary Tyler Moore, Van Dyke had the physical comedy thing down pat.  He could also get a point or two across Andy Griffith-style.  It’s understandable that Disney would want to work with him.  It is equally understandable that Travers would think him all wrong for the role.  Just think what Guinness could have done as a Chimney Sweep with an imagination.  On the other hand, could Van Dyke have better succeeded had he just played an American?  It would have taken another line or two of dialogue at most and would have allowed a little more room to play the character straight.

That goofy accent, however, precludes playing Bert as a normal person, or even just a slightly obtuse Cockney.  Van Dyke blamed his accent teacher, who was Irish. So comically bad is his accent, they just go with screwball, at the cost of a real, understandable character.  Even the one scene where he “teaches” Mr. Banks the error of his ways is like something out of Awakenings.    The fog temporarily lifts, and we see someone who comes out of the dark, speaks cogently and then drifts away.  The rest of the time, watching Bert feels like watching something fly over the cuckoo’s nest.

Much like the stubborn millions that insist The Goonies is something other than an insult to every child’s intelligence, Van Dyke gets a pass for Bert.  Many have a warm spot in their hearts for this lovable goof.  Giving credit where it is due, Van Dyke did a good job singing and hoofing it.  It’s hard to imagine the rooftop dance scene without him.  It is very conceivable to imagine Mary Poppins having little room in her life for this Jar Jar Binks, even if she can appreciate the differences between he and Mr. Banks.  So can adults look past this character?  I couldn’t, even as a kid.  There was nothing to identify with.  My father was a serious man, who often told jokes.  To me, Bert seemed like a joke, with no capacity to be serious.  This did not improve when I finally watched the whole thing.

It’s a shame, too.  The rest of the movie borders on genius.  Andrews deserved her Oscar for her quick wit as much as her stellar singing voice.  Glynis Johns is brilliant as a apparently daft mother, Winifred.  It takes no more than 5 minutes to become convinced of her genius.  As a father now myself, I identify with Mr. Banks as Walt Disney does.  The music, as contorted as it makes things for Van Dyke, is classic.  Several of the songs, aside from that ridiculous Uncle Albert business, are memorable from first listen.

Speaking of Uncle Albert, the most interesting thing about that part of the film, which really has not aged well, is that the old goof is played by Ed Winn, who is primarily known as the father of Keenan.  The whole scene and Ed’s voice is so off-putting it gives me concern that children would ever be allowed to be alone with him.  It’s the voice and look that fills nightmares.

When one weighs the real negatives versus the positive, Mary Poppins is a good film, overall.  Just not the great one its been given credit for.  It does, however what it is supposed to do for most who see it.  It restores hope.

(**** out of *****)

Saving Mr. Banks is the kind of film that brings life to Mary Poppins the same way Hitchcock reintroduced the world to Psycho.  There is some magic in the air, but it’s partly dampened by Thompson’s portrayal of P.L. Travers.  She really puts the “ice” in nice.  There is a reason she’s such a sweet person, and that’s for us to figure out through a series of flashbacks.  The general story is Travers’ childhood spent with her very nice and attentive father (Farrell).  As we draw the curtain back, we discover more about her family.  The tension is unbearable even after the inspiration for her titular heroine arrives on the scene.

Back in the present of the 1960’s, Walt Disney (Hanks) is trying to woo Travers into signing over the film rights to her precious commodity.  He brings her to California in that very pursuit.  This part is first in the long line of made up stuff about the film.  In real life, she’d already signed over the rights to the film.  Notes from the consultations that took place during the visit are reasonably accurate, however.  This includes her objections to the hiring of Van Dyke, the use of animation and her perception that the harsher aspects of Poppins’ character were watered down.  The film does a decent job of showing Disney’s firmness on these points, but the order of the signing has a lot to do with his actions.  In this sequence, Disney seems much more bold.

One of the most genuine aspects of Saving Mr. Banks is the relationship between Travers and her driver, Ralph (Giamatti).  This is an easy sequence of interactions from two incredibly talented veteran actors just doing what they do.  I think the film would have been better had they handled it purely from that aspect and ditched Disney altogether.

This is not to say that it isn’t fun to watch the Disney studios in action during their heyday.  The architecture of the lot is a joy to behold.  There is a reason the world of entertainment went through Disney by then.

Saving Mr. Banks does not tread any new ground, but it doesn’t tread in maudlin territory either.  It’s accessible and it gives you a little in depth feeling for the spirit of the beloved film.  How much of it is true depends on your willingness to suspend disbelief.  The saddest thing about Travers life is not touched upon here, and with good reason.  Upon her death in 1996, Travers was given the following description, according to her grandkids.

Travers “…died loving no one and with no one loving her.”

I hope to God that’s not true.

(***1/2 out of ****)

 

Beautiful Creatures is a sterile experience

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Beautiful Creatures – 2013

Written and Directed by Richard LaGravenese
Starring Alden Ehrenreich, Alice Englert, Jeremy Irons, Viola Davis, Emmy Rossum, Thomas Mann, Emma Thompson
Based on the book by Kami Garcia and Margaret Stohl

First things first.  I hate the accent applied by Ehrenreich.  Normally bad accents don’t serve as much of a distraction, but this one sure does.  The actor is from Los Angeles, and not Gatlin, South Carolina.  Near as I can tell, his accent is from the belief that if you say anything fast enough, people will assume you know what you are doing.  The aggravation normally lessens as time goes on.  In this case, one could only imagine why the person wasn’t told to bag it and go with what got him the part.

Second is the story.  It’s a sped up version of Twilight.  I am sure it ran a little slower on the printed page, but it feels like we hit the end right about the time we find out that Lena (Englert) is a witch.  This is not just because it is predictable, we have several flash forwards, disguised as flashbacks to tell us what is bound to happen.  And then it just happens.

The South is reduced to a religious, ignorant and bigoted character with no room for nuance or differences.  The narrative even narrows the type of person down to ‘either too dumb to leave or too stuck to get away.’  There is another character, with panache and color.  They are, of course, witches and warlocks.  They have elegant clothes, nice decoration and a bigger vocabulary.

Even witches are divided into good and bad.  Who and why they split is not as relevant.  The important thing is that we know Lena is teetering on the precipice of good and bad and seemingly has to make a choice.  Is there a middle ground?  Not really.

As for acting talent, the script really does not need much.  Having Irons and Thompson present adds very little.  They are capable of great work, of course, but they can arrive for the paycheck as well as anyone.  They leave no real impression to the viewer who hasn’t seen them in something better.  Viola Davis does have some consistently effective moments in a pivotal role.  Her eyes are quite powerful, and they make up for a lot that isn’t present with the rest of the story.

As half of the featured couple, Englert is actually quite good in one of her first major roles.  She carries the relationship of Lena and Ethan, with Ehrenreich coming across as not much more than a horny rube who likes to cut covers off box and put them on a map.  There is a reason he does this, but it’s not all that poignant as it is goofy.

There is nothing all that bad about Beautiful Creatures.  The story is something one would expect from the teen genre from which it derives.  Whereas Twilight put its emphasis on hot romance, this film takes the story and makes it palatable for those who don’t want their kids to see a man’s bare chest before he turns into a Werewolf.  There is nothing here that is too offensive, but neither can we expect it to win any awards.  It’s from the familiar place of romance.  To quote Tracy Ullman: “They don’t know about us and they’ve never heard of love.”

But we have heard of this before.  Quite a few times.

(*** out of *****)

Men In Black III – Fun B.S.

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Men In Black III – 2012

Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jermaine Clement,, Michael Stuhlbarg, Alice Eve
Screenplay Etan Cohen

In watching the early trailers for Men In Back III, the most amazing site is the one sight that was not considered a special effect.  That sight was Josh Brolin doing a spot impression of Tommy Lee Jones’ Agent K.  Even looking at the picture above, it is quite plain that there are no attempts at changing the size or shape of Brolin’s face.  It was ball park, and Brolin’s voice acting brought it the rest of the way home.  This gets even better with the viewing of the film.  Given that an admission that he could not do an impression of Jones, he certainly did nail his “interpretation” of the iconic actor.  The most fascinating aspect of the film is any scene involving Brolin.  It’s really a shame and a pleasant surprise to be impatient to get the real thing off the screen so the interpreter can take his place.  This film would had less impact if we only had Jones to fall back on.

The time travel aspect, along with the 13 year gap between films is that we get to see a role reversal with Smith’s Agent J.  So long has we seen Smith as the hip part of any film, to see him as the curmudgeon is another gift.  His old man routine is about the closest thing the MIB series has ever come to subtle.  While he still will be doing the physical stuff for another decade or so, one can see a future for Smith without having to punch aliens in every film.

Another nice character for the film is the presence of Stuhlbarg as the multi-dimensional Griffin.  Playing his character somewhere between Robin Williams and Mr. Rogers, he truly gives one the feeling that he is looking everywhere all at once.  Every interaction with him is fun on a human as well as a sci-fi level.

The bad guy is played by Clement, most widely known for his performance in Flight of the Conchords.  The antagonists in MIB films suffer in that they are surrounded with so many other gruesome characters and big explosions, it really doesn’t matter what they do.  They are just part of the noise.  Let’s just say, for comparison’s sake, Clement’s Boris is somewhere behind D’Onofrio’s Edgar the Bug and way ahead of whatever Lara Flynn Boyle was.

Men In Black III is as close as Sonnenfeld has been to his Get ShortyMen In Back heyday.  The quirks expressed in the film are as fun as they are harmless.  Just when one feels that the action becomes too real, someone does something to throw off the tension but keep the interest.  This talent has been absent from his efforts for too long.

This talent is matched by the script work of Cohen.  The scope of his story added the interesting elements back to the story that were completely devoid in the second installment.  The characters are emotionally true to what they were in the original, while adding elements that fit perfectly within the foundation that has been laid.  There are situations that at one point seem incongruent (a black commander of Cape Canaveral in 1969?) that vault into something that makes a fair amount of sense in the great scheme of things.

Men In Black III, is a good film.  It has many moments of levity and humor that moves in all directions on the screen.  There are quips, puns, and pretty cool looking aliens.  There is not one ounces of tension, and the sentimentality is forced.  The leaps of logic matched by moments of genius.  All of this is bull crap, but much of it is fun.

(***1/2 out of *****)

CPE and Em (and El): You don’t have to save the world to be Brave

Brave – 2012

Directed by Mark Andrews, Brenda Chapman
Starring (voices) Kelly Macdonald, Billy Connolly, Emma Thompson, Craig Ferguson, Kevin McKidd, Robbie Coltrane, John Ratzenberger
Screenplay by Brenda Chapman, Mark Andrews, Steve Purcell, Irene Mecchi

Expectations for Pixar lowered significantly over the last year.  Cars 2 was the kind of film released when a company is out of ideas, and really just needs a break, like the kind Disney took after Robin Hood.  Luckily for Pixar, they were smart enough to start bringing on new talent years ago, like when they drafted Brad Bird to create The Incredibles and Ratatouille, and, more recently brought in Brenda Chapman while promoting Mark Andrews to bring us Brave.  Just in the nick of time.

To be sure, Brave is not a complete masterpiece.  It has remnants of other stories tattered throughout, and the first quarter of the film is more laborious than most Pixar films, outside of the Cars series.  What it has, though, is the strength of a story that is intelligently developed, good characters throughout and an avoidance of the tiresome evil villain.  In stark contrast to other Disney films featuring female heroines, there is a refreshing lack of stereotypical menace embodied in one, predictable character.

Essentially a morality tale, Brave finds a mother, Queen Elinor (Thompson) at odds with her daughter, Princess Merida (Macdonald).  The young one, bursting at the seams with boundless energy, is bridled by her more experienced mother.  She will not be contained for long, of course, and the choices she makes are intended to break her free.  Merida acquires her freedom, but it is not without cost.  Here we have a significant change of pace from female characters portrayed in animated features: a flaw in character.  So intent have filmmakers been over the years to portray female characters on  par with their counterparts, they have always placed them on a pedestal of virtue.  In this way, they rob the characters of their humanity, making them 2 dimensional and somewhat weaker, for their lack of an opportunity to develop and rise above self-imposed challenges.  Plenty of very good films have this safe quality.  Here is a good film that is smart enough to avoid it.

Merida’s actions place an undue burden on her mother, and together they must navigate this burden, through the fears of their fellow countrymen.  There is the perennial race against time, this assuaged through the lack of bumbling idiotic chases.  In the end, there are some pretty intense fight scenes, but they are handled quite effectively, ratcheting up the fear without the stain of gore.

By now, everyone expects visual perfection when they see a Pixar film.  Indeed, the opening frames alone are enough to make the original Toy Story look like Steamboat Willie.  The first time you see Merida’s hair, you will be wondering what indeed the fuss was about Sully from Monsters, Inc.

There is great comic relief in the form of Merida’s 3 younger brothers.  The potential suitors are a pleasant surprise as well, given that they are more than your typical doofy sons of Kings, but nowhere near Prince Charming.  Again, in a novel move for most animators, but a typical one for Pixar, these Princes are real characters with their own thoughts and motives, neither pure or evil.

Emma Thompson’s character benefits most once she loses her voice, so to speak, and Connolly’s King Fergus is exactly the right touch for a movie that features two powerful women personalities.  He is by no means a weak man.  Rather, he understands what his strengths are and when it is time to let your better half guide the boat, while not shirking the duty when it is your turn.

Like Disney’s great Mulan, time will be a friend to Brave.  Initial returns have been mixed on the film from people I know.  Even my first reaction to the film was that it was out of my comfort zone of acceptable women prototypes.  Given a few days to ponder, the movie is starting to win me over, like Ratatouille did, and the reverse of the effect that the first Cars movie had.  Merida is someone that all people could be inspired by, as her journey and her bravery is in something that everyone must battle at one time or another: themselves.
(****1/2 out of *****)

El’s Review: I liked the part when she turns back into a Mom.
(100 *’s out of *****) 

Emily’s review: I give brave five stars out of five because it did not have too much violence.  My least favorite part was when the boys were naked.  My favorite part was when Fergus said “I don’t want to get married.  I want to stay single and let my hair flow through the wind, shooting arrows into the sunset”  My favorite character was Merida.  My least favorite character was Mor’du, the bear.
(***** out of *****) 

Cool Papa E’s Men In Black Series Reviews

Men in Black III is upon us, and while after a not so successful run through last time, word has it, the delay was worth it.  As we await the Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin opus, lets go back in time and review what we have seen thus far.

Men In Black – 1997

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Tommy Lee Jones, Will Smith, Linda Fiorentino, Tony Shaloub, Vincent D’Onofrio, Rip Torn, Tim Blaney
Screenplay by  Ed Solomon based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham

Review: This is one of the best films of both of the careers of Smith and Jones, as well the 2nd best film of Sonnenfeld’s career (after Get Shorty, of course).  It flows so smoothly that you don’t come close to feeling the movie’s 98 minute running time.  It feels like a much shorter movie.

Each of the principals at the top of their form, there are no excesses, bad choices, or unfortunate decisions.  Will Smith’s talent for looking good, yet flawed has been approached only by Tom Cruise.  Smith, however, is completely at ease with his grouchy demeanor.

Fiorentino is wonderful as the damsel not quite in distress.  It was her conspicuous absence, as much as anything that made the second story seem so vacant.

D’Onofrio is an inspired choice as the bad bug, Edgar.  His investment in the character through his physical acting brings the best special effect.  It works so well, he actually loses his menace once he leaves the body.

If the movie, like the series has one flaw, it’s the feeling that there is nothing truly at stake.  It can be forgiven, since it is a comedy, after all.

An extra-half point for the near obliteration of Newton, played by the annoying David Cross.

(**** out of *****)

Best Sequence:  Agent J’s training sequence, both written and shooting.  Pulling the table and then shooting the 8-year-old girl with the Quantum Physics books in her hands is as inspired as any of the aliens the movie produces.

Worst Sequence: Smith’s pre-MIB wardrobe makes anyone living in the era feel very, very old.

 Men In Black II – 2002

Directed by Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Lara Flynn Boyle, Johnny Knoxville, Rosario Dawson, Tony Shaloub, Patrick Warburton, Rip Torn, Tim Blaney
Screenplay by Robert Gordon, Barry Fanaro based on the comic by Lowell Cunningham

Review: Seeing Patrick Warburton as Agent J’s partner at the start was a bad sign, and then, in the first few minutes, we see the Twin Towers.  We’d seen them in the first movie, too, but given the release date of July 3, 2002, this put the makers in the worst possible position.  This movie was doomed from the start.

Tommy Lee Jones looks old, too old to be kicking a Ballchinian in the upper region and land like that.  I won’t even go into whatever it is that Rip Torn is doing.  Will Smith puts his best effort into it, but he’s getting junk points for a bad team.  The team up of the two leads seems forced this time around and the chemistry is non-existent, just like the presence of the main antagonist, played by Lara Flynn Boyle.  Rosario Dawson is hard to remember, even shortly after watching the film.

One must place most of this at the feet of Sonnenfeld.  This film was in the middle of a really bad stretch, starting right after Men In Black with Wild Wild West, going on through Big Trouble and landing with a thud at RV.  What seemed magical early in his career is now redundant and strangely humorless.

An extra detracted half-point for the return of Newton, by the annoying David Cross.

It’s not a bad film, to be sure.  It just isn’t a good film.

(**1/2 out of *****)

Best Sequence: Seeing Smith’s Agent J trying to get to the point where he could prevent the launch by slowly, ever so slowly, jumping off of the large duct hose.

Worst Sequence: Almost everything with Frank the Pug, including the embarrassing “Who Let The Dogs Out” sequence which was about 6 years too late.  Michael Jackson as a wannabe agent is kind of smelly too.  The ads for Mountain Dew and and Burger King suck in a big way.  Really this list could go on a while.

Men-in-Black-3Men In Black III – 2012

Director Barry Sonnenfeld
Starring Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones, Josh Brolin, Emma Thompson, Jermaine Clement,, Michael Stuhlbarg
Screenplay Etan Cohen

Review: Click here

(***1/2 out of *****)alien-men-in-black-3  alien fish

Best Sequence: The scene in the “Asian” restaurant is pretty cool..  Strange enough, I loved that big fat dumb looking fish on the counter.  It doesn’t do much but sit there and say “Hey,” but it looks cool.  Rumor has it Sonnenfeld got the idea from an actual fish.  It’s the subtle joys that are the best.

Worst Sequence: Oh, one could take anything that happens in the last half hour.  As tight as those launches are, only about everything that happened would have derailed it.