NEW ARRIVALS FOR THE BIG & LITTLE SCREEN
By Robin E. Simmons
Check out these diverse titles to engage, divert or delight on a hot summer’s night.
MEN IN BLACK III
Barry Sonnenfeld’s third film as an MIB director looks great and starts with all kinds of promise. But this hugely bloated and rather convoluted but clever time-travel, creature-feature, bromance comedy finally sputters to an end.
Will Smith, arguably the most popular movie star in the world, hasn’t made a move in over four years. But with his face on the poster — even with the dismal fail of MIB II, audiences will show up for this lavish light show about a guy who travels back to 1969 in order to save his pal and, oh yes, the future of the world. The complex plot is set in motion with the escape of the exceedingly dangerous prisoner Boris the Animal from a lunar prison. Seems he’s still peeved about losing his arm in a fight with Agent K and plans to travel back in time and kill K before that can happen. Got that? OK, so J’s mission is to go back in time to stop that and save thus K’s life.
This is a far better movie than BATTLESHIP, but that’s not a very high bar. However, what makes this movie worth seeing is the hysterical, spot-on performance of Josh Brolin as the young, taciturn, granite-faced Agent K (Tommy Lee Jones). This guy is great. I found it hard to believe Brolin was doing Jones’ voice and that it was not dubbed by Jones himself.
It’s been 15 years since the original and ten years since the ill-fated sequel. There’s still a bit of life in the series, but there was no compelling need to make this movie. Rick Baker out does himself in the variety of alien creature designs. But it’s Brolin who makes the trip to the theater worth it.
SUMMER WITH MONICA
Highly regarded Swedish director Ingmar Bergman’s 1953 breakthrough film about an idyllic and dramatic summer shared by two teen lovers is a beautiful romantic tragedy. Harriet Anderson is beguiling and seductive as the earthy Monika, a young woman who longs to get away from bleak, cold, industrial Stockholm. Lars Ekborg is her more restrained, responsible lover.
But when summer’s over, Monika’s pregnancy creates a new reality that must be faced back in dreary Stockholm. The pristine, velvety black and white transfer on this hi-def disc is as seductive as young Anderson. Criterion. Blu-ray.
THE WOMAN IN BLACK
The big news here is that Daniel Radcliffe stars in his first adult role and successfully sheds his Harry Potter persona. This atmospheric gothic horror set in a remote Victorian village isolated by high tides, is full of mild shocks and great production values. Radcliffe’s Arthur Kipps, a widower, father and attorney on the brink of losing his job, must confront a vengeful ghost believed to be responsible for killing many of the fearful villager’s children. This richly visualized feature works mainly because Radcliffe makes it real even though the horror is muted. It’s nice the see the Hammer imprint back on the screen. Blu-ray.
THE SECRET WORLD OF ARRIETTY
From Studio Ghibli comes this beautiful adaptation based on Mary Norton’s beloved “The Borrowers” novels. With all the computer based, photo-realistic 3D animation that abounds, it’s refreshing to see mostly hand-drawn art on the screen. There’s something personal and intimate about it that can be achieved with no other technique. The story again brings the very tiny – are they even three inches tall? – “people” who live under the floorboards of a suburban garden home in contact with full-size humans. In this case, “borrower” Arrietty, 14, and the full-size but frail, visiting Shawn, 11, forge a secret friendship that if found out, threatens the very existence of Arrietty and her family. The impressionistic world of the story is wonderfully detailed and brilliantly hued – reason enough to enter this enchanting world that is enchanting eye candy for the whole family. Disney. Blu-ray.
PEARLS OF THE CZECH NEW WAVE
For the serious foreign film buff, this wickedly fearless six movie collection features some of the more courageous Czech filmmakers who dared to make subversive and critical films about a repressive political regime. The included films are: CAPRICIOUS SUMMER, Jiri Menzel’s lovely film about three middle aged men whose mellow summer is interrupted by a circus perfomer and his beautiful assistant; Jaromil Jires’ THE JOKE is about friendship, betrayal and revenge over the repercussions of a political joke; Evald Schorm’s scathing picture of alienation and moral corruption in RETURN OF THE PRODIGAL SON; Vera Chytilova’s anarchic feminist farce DAISIES and Jan Nemec’s A REPORT ON THE PARTY AND GUESTS is a surreal fable about oppression and conformity. The final film is PEARLS OF THE DEEP. It’s an five-party anthology that’s based on stories by legendary writer Bohumil Hrabal. It reveals the breadth and expression of the Czech New Wave movement’s directors. The films in this collection were all made between 1966 and 1969. Eclipse films is a Criterion division that features lost, forgotten or overshadowed classics. DVD.
Listen for my weekly movie news on Michael Knight’s KNWZ 94.3 Friday am show.