My Weeks in Movies: May 20 – June 2

Real life priorities and a desire to revisit Star Trek: The Next Generation reduced my usual movie watching schedule, so I’ve combined two weeks’ worth of observations into a single post.

Johnny English Reborn (2011) Silliness! Sure, the idea of an eight-years-late sequel to a comedy that wasn’t well received to begin with is a great big pile of WTF, but consider two points: first, I’m one of the seven people who actually enjoyed Johnny English, and second (and more importantly), I’m a sucker for silly things happening to stupid people. Through it all, Rowan Atkinson does his best “act casual through ridiculous situations” schtick, which by now he’s got down pat. The actual jokes, I will not spoil them for you, so I will simply say I laughed loud and giggled often, which is all I ask of my broad spy parodies.

Dolphin Tale (2011) The schmaltz gets laid on extra thick in Dolphin Tale, especially with subplots involving a wounded vet, a hospital’s financial troubles, and a hurricane, among others (because a “save the dolphin” story wasn’t enough?). The decision to make this more of a kid flick by focusing on less on dolphin and more on the dolphin’s preteen pals leads the script into some unnecessary corners, too (mainly, some too-random bouts of slapstick and a go-nowhere summer school storyline). It’s too many asides in a movie that doesn’t need them. Director Charles Martin Smith (!) and a nice cast maintain a pleasant tone to the proceedings, but that only keeps the saccharine to bearable, instead of passable, levels. (It hits the target audience just fine, though: my daughter loved the whole thing.)

Inni (2011) Leave it to Sigur Rós to turn their second concert film into a work of experimental art. (For the record, I have not yet seen their first film, Heima.) Rather than offer a straight document of a live show, Inni places concert audio against a barrage of abstract visuals ranging from too-close shots of the band in extreme close-up (a drum pedal here, an earpiece there) to random found footage to near-formless patterns of light. All of this footage was filtered and grimed on the sort of dingy film stock straight out of David Lynch’s basement, then edited into an otherworldly collage straight out of Guy Maddin’s fever dreams. The result is beautiful, haunting, overwhelming, and somewhat impenetrable – just like the band’s music itself.

Battleship (2012) That’s twice this year I’ve thought “maybe this Taylor Kitsch movie isn’t as terrible as people say,” only to be proven very, very wrong. Battleship is a lousy movie, to be sure – there is only one decent sequence in the entire picture, an effective bit of naval warfare action that’s slickly made and legitimately thrilling, but as it’s dropped into the middle of the climax, it comes far too late to matter. The rest is an embarrassing pile of awfulness, and what’s odd is just how far the movie goes out of its way to become a sort of Michael Bay pastiche, as if the rep from Hasbro* pointed at Transformers 3 and told Peter Berg “I want more of that. You know, all of it. But more.” This is a checklist of Bay-isms: a camera that won’t stop swooping, hyperkinetic editing, random fits of slow motion, a thudding soundtrack, laughable dialogue, plotless action, gigantic logic gaps, jingoistic posturing, oversimplified characterizations, half-baked relationships and cheesy melodrama that desperately want to be deep storytelling, and, of course, pretty people who can’t act. This is the worst Michael Bay movie Michael Bay never made. And then this movie, this all-American, pro-military, pro-war macho-gasm, ends with “Fortunate Son” playing over the credits, because just when you thought it couldn’t possibly get that dumb and that clueless, it gets that dumb and that clueless.

Men in Black 3 (2012) Speaking of sequels nobody wanted… The thing about the Men in Black franchise is, these movies have great ideas but mediocre stories. That might pass for a television series, but not a feature film, where a certain scope, urgency, and “movie-ness” is required. Considering the emptiness of the non- “J gets recruited” parts of its plot, the first MiB would play better as a TV pilot; it succeeds entirely because of the newness of the bizarre universe it creates, and because of Will Smith’s reactions to that bizarreness. The second film had some fun exploring more of that universe, but it failed because the story wasn’t interesting enough, nor the jokes funny enough, to make up for the lack of newness. Now comes a long-belated third entry, the series reborn because, um… I’m not even sure the people who made Men in Black 3 can give a reason why they made Men in Black 3. The time travel set-up is a cheap out (just ask Austin Powers), and again there’s nothing happening here that’s really big enough to feel like anything more than a mid-season episode of a TV show (sure, they save the world, but, as always, meh). Fortunately, the comedy is solid enough to make the effort entertaining, if not exciting. Smith is in peak form, as is Josh Brolin, who does a mean Tommy Lee Jones and who shares Jones’ sense of dry comic timing. The script also tosses us some clever ideas – mainly those involving time manipulation, but also via some nifty alien design – that carried my interest through the iffier portions of the thin story. Those nuggets of inventiveness help make Men in Black 3 better than I expected, but the series has yet to produce a film that’s as good as its premise deserves.

*(Hasbro! Making movies! I hate everything.)

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