Men in Black 3, Hysteria, Chernobyl Diaries, Barrymore: reviews and previews
A surprisingly good sequel leads the new films this week, along with a Victorian era sex innovation and a creepy and tense horror film.
Here’s the list, a short one for a change
Men in Black III: 3 ½ stars
Chernobyl Diaries: 2 ½
Being Flynn: --
From Beneath: --
MEN IN BLACK 3: The first one, 15 years ago, was a hoot. The sequel five years later was a bore, partly because Tommy Lee Jones didn’t seem interested. Now Will Smith has convinced him to come back for another session, possibly with the pitch that he doesn’t have to stay very long.
A few scenes to re-activate their work as agents keeping extra-terrestrials under control in New York City, including a shoot-out in a Chinese restaurant that illegally serves alien fish, and Tommy is off the hook. Josh Brolin takes over. He plays a younger version of Tommy’s Agent K as the film travels back in time to 1969.
A super criminal, Boris the Animal (or “Just Boris!” as he repeatedly insists), has busted out of prison and is going back there to kill him. Will, as Agent J, goes back too, launching himself off the Chrysler building in a thrilling 3-D “time jump” to save his future partner. The film takes on some of the same giddy fun as Back to the Future, not surprising since both were made by Steven Spielberg’s production company. There are lots of clever contrasts between now and then, a big nod to the just-about-to-become “miracle” Mets, a funny visit to “The Factory” where Bill Hader does a perfect Andy Warhol, and a race to a deadline that climaxes at Cape Canaveral during the Apollo 11 moon launch. Very entertaining, especially Josh Brolin, who subtly and exactly channels Tommy’s every vocal and physical mannerism. (Scotiabank and many suburban theatres, two in IMAX as well as 3-D) 3 ½ out of 5
HYSTERIA: A pleasant-enough comedy marred by too much coyness and snickering about the world’s most popular sex toy. That would be the electric vibrator, invented back in Victorian England when, according to this film, almost half the women in London suffered from hysteria, aka “the plague of our time”. It was a catch-all diagnosis applied to a whole range of sexual anxieties and treated (at least by one doctor, played by Jonathan Pryce) with manipulation by hand to properly align the uterus(discreetly, of course, behind a small screen. These scenes are played for mild and sometimes silly laughs. Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) joins his practice after losing a hospital job, takes over much of the work and soon has a repetitive strain injury in his right wrist. Luckily he has a friend (Rupert Everett) who tinkers with electrical gadgets.
The movie fills out the tale with a love story: which of the doctor’s two daughters will young Mortimer end up with? The delicate, proper and pretty one (Felicity Jones) or the rebellious one (Maggie Gyllenhaal) who runs a struggling centre for “the less fortunate” and espouses “socialism.” Her fiery temperament gets her charged with assault and put on trial. Fold in more issues of women’s rights and modern medicine and you’ve got a busy film presented in fine British “masterpiece” style but a tad too twee for me. (5th Avenue, International Village) 3 out of 5
CHERNOBYL DIARIES: This horror movie is a positive surprise because it’s scary. Oren Peli, the creator of the Paranormal Activity movies, wrote this travel misadventure about six young people (four of them Americans) who take a nasty side trip on a tour of Europe. In Ukraine, they sign on with an operator of “extreme tourism” and illegally enter the abandoned city of Pripyat. That’s where the workers at the Chernobyl nuclear facility lived until the meltdown disaster.
After the expected picture taking and gawking at the silent apartment blocks things start happening. Their van is disabled. Their guide walks off in the dark and doesn’t return. Dogs chase them. A bear appears out of nowhere and shadowy figures seem to be moving in the distance. The film builds the tension nicely by making us wait silently before every next event. Our tourists spend a lot of time creeping or running down long halls and into dark rooms or ripping back curtains to see what’s behind making noises. Sure they do stupid things, but that’s not what’s most memorable. It’s their situation of helplessness which the film deftly develops. (International Village and many suburban theatres) 2 ½ out of 5
Three others I haven’t seen …
BEING FLYNN: This film got major attention from The New York Times and The Globe and Mail when it came out over two months ago. Now it limps in here without as much as a media preview and into only one theatre. What happened? It seems it never found much of an audience. (It didn’t make any money, you might say).
Robert De Niro and Paul Dano play father and son going through a difficult re-connection after 18 years of estrangement. The father imagines he’s a writer of a class with Mark Twain and J. D. Salinger. He’s also a self-destructive alcoholic and ends up on the street and in a homeless shelter where he finds his son is working. The son, also a would-be writer, is haunted by the question: will he turn out to be like his dad. True story; it’s from a memoir by Nick Flynn called Another Bullshit Night in Suck City. The film was praised for depicting real people although one reviewer called it “detached and morose.” Maybe that’s problem. At least you can watch two acting styles at play: scenery chewing vs underplaying. Can you image which is which? (Denman Theatre)
BARRYMORE: Another chance to study the craft of acting. In this one-man play filmed in a Toronto theatre, Christopher Plummer repeats the performance that won him a Tony, Broadway’s top award.
He plays John Barrymore, the distinguished movie actor of the 1930s, but by 1942 much-worn down by drink. He’s alone on stage ostensibly rehearsing Shakespeare’s Richard III. Instead he reminisces about his life, his family and the art of acting. Based on the play by William Luce, the film is directed by Erik Canuel (Good Cop, Bad Cop). It won a special jury prize for “Artistic Distinction” at a festival in California and, of course, Plummer this year won an Oscar for Beginners. (International Village)
FROM BENEATH: Want to catch something early? Without buzz or reviews to guide you? This locally-made independent film is getting a one-night-only premiere tonight (Friday May 25) at 8 at the DenmanTheatre. The cost is only $7.
It’s a horror/thriller written and directed by David Doucette about an ill-timed swim in a pond and a bite by a leech-like creature. This screening is to test it before an audience. Unlike with many of these efforts, distribution is lined up. Producer Ashley Morrison-Hamel says the world-wide rights have just been picked up by Maxim Media International which calls itself the largest world-wide distributor of independent horror and shock films. They’ll give it a limited theatrical release in the U.S., most likely in September, and then put it on Netflix and other video on demand platforms. You can watch a trailer at https://vimeo.com/41373661 and get more information at the film’s website: http://www.frombeneathfilm.com/index.html
NOTE: All images are movie stills provided by the producers and are therefore the exclusive property of their copyright owners.