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Tue12102019

Last updateTue, 18 Sep 2018 1pm

Men in Black: International, the fourth film in the MIB franchise, is the second-worst of the group, after Men in Black II. The original and Men in Black 3 were good; International, meanwhile, is a wasted opportunity—an admirable attempt to restart things that doesn’t hit all its marks.

Replacing Will Smith, Tommy Lee Jones and Josh Brolin are Chris Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson, as agents H and M. H is the bold, brash, super-hot dude of MIB; he saved the world years ago, with Agent High T (Liam Neeson) of the London MIB branch, from an evil alien force called the Hive.

M is the latest recruit, having found MIB’s secret headquarters after years of searching. As a child, M witnessed an alien encounter (and saw her parents getting their minds erased), starting a curiosity fire that doesn’t get put out until Agent O (Emma Thompson) gives her a chance to basically save the world as a probationary agent.

Tessa Thompson is great in anything she does, and she is great here. She brings a fun energy to the role, with a slight wiseass edge. Hemsworth is a performer who seems to like himself a little too much, yet he still manages to be likable. The two make a good pair, as they did in Thor: Ragnarok.

While it is fun to see Hemsworth and Tessa Thompson onscreen together again, the screenplay they’re following is a bit baffling. Matt Holloway and Art Marcum, two of the many writers on the original Iron Man, take a hack at sending the duo on a global adventure. The globetrotting, which includes Paris, Italy and Marrakesh, lacks a true sense of purpose—which is surprising, since the characters are trying to save the world.

After a fairly strong start, the action, presented by director F. Gary Gray (Straight Outta Compton), devolves into sloppy boredom. With each passing location, it seems as if the movie is directionless, merely picking new locales and switching up the scenery to disguise the fact that it is actually going nowhere.

A “mole in MIB” subplot doesn’t help matters much, with villain’s identity being ultra-guessable. A finale in Paris (after opening in Paris) offers few surprises and no thrills. The movie ends with a big old “Huh?”

The special effects are pretty good, with a few new aliens, most notably a little one named Pawny (the voice of Kumail Nanjiani), adding sporadic fun. I also got a kick out of a mini-alien posing as a beard on some dude’s face.

F. Gary Gray has another sequel on his resume, that being the lousy Be Cool, a sequel to Barry Sonnenfeld’s Get Shorty. Sonnenfeld, of course, directed the other three MIB films. Conclusion: F. Gary Gray needs to cease and desist directing sequels to Barry Sonnenfeld films.

This project was originally supposed to be a crossover with the Jonah Hill 21 Jump Street franchise. I’m guessing Warner Bros. soured on the notion of turning MIB into a joke, figuring they could reboot and regenerate revenue on the franchise while staying within its own established universe. Given Gray’s failed film, they figured wrong. No doubt: A Men In Black comedy with Channing Tatum and Jonah Hill would’ve been automatic box-office gold. This one is a dud.

The Godzilla film sort of sucked. The X-Men are bombing … and now this. This summer-movie season so far has been a cruel, unforgiving place for big movie franchises.

Men in Black: International is playing at theaters across the valley, in a variety of formats.

Published in Reviews

Writer-director Noah Baumbach delivers his best movie yet with The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected), his latest story of family dysfunction—which serves as yet another reminder that Adam Sandler can be a knockout actor when he puts his mind to it.

Sandler plays Danny, older brother to Matthew (Ben Stiller), father to Eliza (Grace Van Patten) and son of Harold (Dustin Hoffman). Danny is going through hard times, separating from his wife as Eliza prepares for college. His only option is to live with his dad and stepmom (Emma Thompson), a move that drudges up a lot of past difficulties.

When Matthew comes to town—looking to sell his parents’ house, much to the chagrin of Danny—tensions grow. Yet despite the tension, there’s a hilarious way in which this family communicates. Even when things get bad, their warmth and desire for better times with each other shine through.

While Sandler gets some good laughs (especially when he’s allowed to rage, Sandler-style), quieter moments put him in legitimate contention for an Oscar. As for frequent Baumbach collaborator Stiller, this happens to be his best dramatic performance as well. (A public speaking meltdown by Matthew constitutes the most impressive moment in the film.) Hoffman, who has played the father of both Sandler and Stiller before (Sandler in The Cobbler, and Stiller in the Focker movies), hasn’t had a chance to shine like this in a long while. Like Gene Hackman as the unreliable patriarch in The Royal Tenenbaums, he owns his every scene.

This is one of the year’s funniest—and best acted—movies, and a fabulous reunion for Stiller and Sandler, more than 20 years after they shared the screen in Happy Gilmore.

The Meyerowitz Stories (New and Selected) is now streaming on Netflix.

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Bradley Cooper goes all-in for Burnt, in which he plays a chef psychotically determined to get his third Michelin star.

Too bad it’s in service of a character who’s a totally unlikable prick.

After going sober for more than two years and shucking a million oysters as penance for his previous bad behavior, Adam Jones (Cooper) heads to Paris, intent upon regaining his status as a legendary chef and attaining that hallowed “third star” status.

He starts his quest by terrorizing restaurant owner Tony (Daniel Brühl), a friend turned enemy who had a crush on him but now hates him. Jones sets up a scenario with a food critic (Uma Thurman) that would probably get most people arrested for fraud, but in the movies, it gets him control of a kitchen.

Jones stocks his kitchen with a motley crew of cooks, including Michel (Omar Sy), a fellow chef he double-crossed years earlier by setting rats loose in his new restaurant; and David (Sam Keeley) a young up-and-comer who idolizes Jones and allows him to stay at his apartment.

Best among his recruits would be Helene (the always-interesting Sienna Miller), another hotshot chef who Jones intimidates and basically forces to work with him. Admittedly, it’s cool to see Cooper and Miller re-team after American Sniper. Their natural chemistry is one of the better things about the movie.

What doesn’t work is the dour tone and Jones’ nastiness, ultimately leading to a film that is a task to watch. Director John Wells (August: Osage County) finds little moments of humor in the story that wind up being quite refreshing. The film’s tone, however, is all over the place. One second, it’s a kitchen comedy; the next, it’s an ineffective story about some asshole’s struggle with sobriety. It never comes together as a whole.

Wells does a decent job of capturing the intensity of a high-octane kitchen (although, oddly, there is very little focus on the actual food they are serving). The cast is convincing (Cooper boasts some decent knife dexterity) as cooks, and the kitchen scenes crackle with life. Outside of the kitchen … not so much.

Clichés abound as Jones is terrorized by drug dealers seeking past debts, as well as cross-town chefs looking to end his quest. A scene in which Jones falls off the wagon is overwrought, as is his meeting with a past junkie girlfriend. Simply put, the story of Adam Jones has been told before, just with less garlic and scallops.

Cooper tries his best, as he always does. The man put on a lot of muscle weight for American Sniper; here, he speaks some fluent French and is quite believable as a world-famous chef. Miller is good as the chef who will, undoubtedly, become Jones’ love interest. The problem here is that her character is far more interesting than Jones. Burnt would’ve been better had it been her story, with Jones as a supporting player. A full movie of Jones proves to be a tad much.

Brühl delivers another decent performance in a movie that doesn’t quite deserve it. Emma Thompson she seems too young for her role as a matronly investor representative who tests Jones’ blood for chemicals while doling out advice.

Burnt was a passion project for Cooper, and he definitely puts a lot of passion into it. But his film, in the end, is ruined by too much seasoning and a host of bad ingredients, resulting in something with a bad taste.

Burnt is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews

A Walk in the Woods spends very little time in the woods. The film does, however, spend plenty of time in remote hotels, laundry facilities, rental-car parking lots, diners and homes.

The project that would become A Walk in the Woods has bounced for nearly 20 years, and at one point was being positioned as a reunion movie for Robert Redford and Paul Newman. That might’ve been very cool. Seeing Newman and Redford onscreen together again would’ve earned a lot of goodwill from audiences, even if the characters they played were a bit tacky.

Instead, we get Redford following up some great performances (All Is Lost, Captain America: The Winter Soldier) with perhaps his worst performance, as he spends a 104-minute slog swapping bad dialogue with a croaky Nick Nolte in full clown mode.

Redford plays Bill Bryson, the real writer who penned the book upon which the film is based. While taking a walk during a funeral, he spies the Appalachian Trail. After a few hours on Google, he decides he’s going to do the 2,000-mile hike, much to the chagrin of his wife (Emma Thompson), who insists he gets a hiking partner.

Bryson finds a partner in Stephen Katz (Nolte), a friend with whom he had a falling out years ago—who now very much wants to go hiking with him for no real explainable reason. The two set out on the trail, and we soon learn the chemistry between Redford and Nolte is nonexistent. They just look and feel weird together, and while that’s intended to be funny, it winds up being unsettling and odd.

What constitutes humor in this film? At one point, Bryson and Katz are sleeping in their tents when a couple of big bears wander into their camp. Bryson hears their approach, and the first thing he does is yell to Katz—probably not a good idea, since bears have these things called ears. Bryson happens to have a bear-attack handbook nearby, and he coaches Nolte to stand up in his tent and yell a lot. The bears see a couple of tents jumping around, and they decide they don’t like that sort of thing before scampering off. Ha ha ha ha ha!

First off, possible bear attacks aren’t funny. They are scary. I’m good with a scene in which two guys manage to get hungry bears out of their camp, but I’m not good with a scene that feels like it should be in a Disney Channel sitcom. Watching Redford and Nolte behaving like asses while bears roar in disapproval is as weak as it gets.

It seems the main direction given to Redford was: “Do your best surprised and confused look!” He spends half the film looking ridiculous while doing things like falling down and getting stuck in the mud. Meanwhile, Nolte is asked to stuff pancakes in his face and help an overweight woman who gets her panties stuck in a washing machine. It’s downright embarrassing.

The movie is directed in a rather pedestrian way by Ken Kwapis, the maker of such landmark films as The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants and Dunston Checks In. Directors who were slated to helm the project over the years included Richard Linklater (Boyhood, School of Rock) and Larry Charles (Borat). Something interesting would’ve probably been delivered by either of those guys. Instead, Kwapis made something akin to a “Let’s go camping!” episode of Full House.

In the end, this movie isn’t really about hiking the Appalachian Trail. It’s about trying to hike the Appalachian Trail and getting into wacky hijinks along the way. A better title would’ve been A Walk Into a Laundromat to Mess With Some Large Lady’s Underwear After Eating a Bunch of Pancakes While Mugging for the Camera a Whole Lot … and Then Maybe We’ll Actually Hike In the Woods for, Like, Ten Minutes.

A Walk in the Woods is playing at theaters across the valley.

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Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this obviously whitewashed look at Disney’s attempt to get the movie rights to her book.

We all know that Disney succeeded, but many don’t know that Travers was quite the holdout. The movie splits time between the Disney/Travers business and Travers’ childhood, where we find out that much of Mary Poppins was based on her troubled father (Colin Farrell) and actual nanny.

B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are wonderful as the Sherman brothers, who made Mary a musical, much to the chagrin of Travers. The movie takes a lot of artistic license with the situation; even though Travers is depicted as difficult, she was far more adversarial in real life, and never approved of the movie. (Those animated penguins!)

Still, the film is much fun to watch, with Hanks and Thompson making it all very worthwhile and heartwarming. Shockingly, Thompson was super-snubbed when it came time to hand out Oscar nominations, as was Hanks. In fact, only Thomas Newman’s score received an Oscar nom from this film.

Special Features: Some deleted scenes are of interest, especially one between Hanks and Thompson when Travers has decided to leave without giving approval of the film adaptation. There’s also a cute scene of the real Richard Sherman leading the cast in a round of “Let’s Go Fly a Kite.” Still, this package is a bit lacking. 

Published in DVDs/Home Viewing

Tom Hanks and Emma Thompson are charming as Walt Disney and Mary Poppins author P.L. Travers in this obviously whitewashed look at Disney’s effort to get Travers’ approval to make a movie out of her book. Of course, most of us know he succeeded, but many don’t know that Travers was quite the holdout.

The movie splits time between the Disney/Travers business and Travers’ childhood, where we find out that much of Mary Poppins was based on her troubled father (Colin Farrell) and actual nanny. B.J. Novak and Jason Schwartzman are wonderful as the Sherman brothers, who made Mary into a musical, much to the chagrin of Travers.

The movie takes a lot of artistic license with the situation. Even though Travers is depicted as difficult here, she was far more adversarial in real life—and never approved of the movie. (Those animated penguins!) Still, the film is fun to watch, with Hanks and Thompson making it all very worthwhile and heartwarming.

Saving Mr. Banks is playing at theaters across the valley.

Published in Reviews