CHICAGO – The issue of gender identity, especially for those who are born with a vagueness as to what to call themselves between/beyond boy and girl, has come front and center in the U.S., both with the legalization of gay marriage and the callous repudiation of identity by trying to pass laws dismissing it (the North Carolina “bathroom” laws). The performance companies of The Living Canvas and Nothing Without a Company is currently staging “[Trans]formation,” which presents gender identity art by six performers, who perform most of the play in the nude.
Blu-ray Review: Unnecessary ‘Men in Black 3’ Bolstered by Brilliant Ensemble
CHICAGO – 2012 contained three great Tommy Lee Jones performances, and one of them was delivered by Josh Brolin. Whereas Jones himself was flat-out brilliant in “Hope Springs” and “Lincoln,” he was assigned the thankless task of playing second (or third) banana to the wisecracking, increasingly Bugs Bunny-like Will Smith in Barry Sonnenfeld’s wholly unnecessary third installment in the “Men in Black” franchise.
“Men in Black 3,” released a decade after the failed “Men in Black 2” and fifteen years after the original (and inimitable) smash hit, offers the latest proof that no franchise is considered dead. The fat lady had already sung a litany of operettas over “MIB”’s corpse, but Hollywood remains tone deaf. It’s little wonder why the film wasn’t the massive hit some executives had expected. Fifteen years is an awful long time for fans to wait for a decent follow-up, and Smith is nowhere near as big a star as he used to be.
Blu-ray Rating: 3.5/5.0
Aside from one throwaway line in which a little girl mistakes Smith for the president, the first act of “Men in Black 3” is devoid of big laughs. Revisiting the secret headquarters of the black-suited, alien-policing squad is a curious experience. Sonnenfeld’s understanding of comic timing doesn’t appear to have evolved since the 1990s, which isn’t surprising since his last good film was “Men in Black.” The gags are broad and the once sparkling chemistry between Agent J (Smith) and Agent K (Jones) falls flat. No longer a plucky underdog, Smith comes off as annoyingly cocky, while Jones is humorlessly surly. It isn’t until J is forced to go back in time to save K’s life that the film finally comes to vibrantly entertaining life. Enter Brolin, Jones’ sublime co-star in “No Country For Old Men,” who plays the young K with such remarkably accurate mannerisms that it’s flat-out eerie. Just like Joseph Gordon-Levitt’s channeling of Bruce Willis in “Looper,” Brolin’s performance transcends mere impersonation. He captures the unpredictable verbal patterns, sharply sardonic wit and restrained yet marvelously expressive nuances that make Jones such a mesmerizing performer. It’s one of the loveliest tributes I’ve ever seen an actor give to one of his fellow peers. Only when Brolin is onscreen does the film recapture some of the wit and charm that made the original “MIB” such an irresistible crowd-pleaser. As in “Ghostbusters,” the creatures are secondary to the human relationships.
Men in Black 3 was released on Blu-ray and DVD on November 30th, 2012.
Photo credit: Sony Pictures Home Entertainment
The change of setting also does wonders for the filmmakers’ waning imagination, laying the groundwork for some inspired gags involving J’s encounters with racist cops and smug hippies. An unrecognizable Bill Hader earns some of the film’s biggest laughs as an MIB agent who detests his assigned role as Andy Warhol. The wonderful character actor Michael Stuhlbarg also steals scenes as a childlike alien with piercing eyes that see every event that could possibly occur in the very recent future. That makes life rather exhausting, but at least it allows him to pre-screen hotly anticipated sports games. Jemaine Clement of “Flight of the Conchords” doesn’t have much to do as the gruesome villain (he’s nowhere near as fun as Vincent D’Onofrio’s woefully uncomfortable bug), but he does manage to have his own share of fun by mimicking Tim Curry. The final twist aims directly for the waterworks, and though it’s beautifully acted by Smith and Brolin, it doesn’t make very much sense at all (why wouldn’t J know the identity of the Colonel?). Regardless, the sweetly playful spirit of the film’s last two-thirds is utterly infectious and marks a welcome return to form for Sonnenfeld. I’m eager to see what he does next, just as long as it’s not “Men in Black 4.”
“Men in Black 3” is presented in 1080p High Definition (with a 1.85:1 aspect ratio), accompanied by English, French and Spanish audio tracks and includes Blu-ray, DVD and UltraViolet copies of the film (a 3D Blu-ray combo pack is also available). There’s no extra on the disc as cool as the editing workshop on the original “Men in Black” DVD, which allowed viewers to cut their own versions of scenes. Among the standard array of special features is some diverting effects breakdowns with insightful commentary from Ken Ralston and Jay Redd (it’s startling to see just how much effort went into making Cape Canaveral look exactly as it did in 1969).