MEN IN BLACK III. Ever since Independence Day (1996), Will Smith has been the go-to sci-fi guy, and the Men in Black franchise has been a nice breather from watching him and everyone else in the genre frown through bleak, post-apocalyptic wastelands or high-tech moral dilemmas. MIB movies are slick, wholesome odes to B-movies and rubber monsters -- quick and clever summer movie material if ever there was.
Men in Black III feels like a good yet incomplete draft. It has the polished visuals we've come to expect, but the writing is a little weak. In the first two films, Smith and Tommy Lee Jones had charming chemistry -- Smith working his goofy swagger while Jones was all stone-faced efficiency. That spark has dimmed a bit this time around. As Agent J, Smith struggles to communicate with his partner K (Jones), like a tourist trying to get a Buckingham Palace guard to crack a smile. Jones is really doing an extended cameo here, as most of the film is spent time-traveling back to 1969.
Smith has better luck bonding with the young K, played by Josh Brolin, who manages to capture Jones' trademark cadence and wiry energy while adding a little warmth. Emma Thompson is fun as O, but her flashback counterpart (Alice Eve) is a bit dull -- more '60s flight attendant than intergalactic secret agent.
The plot is nothing to write your home planet about, but does that really matter? After all, Smith does trash talk enormous, slimy creatures, and there are plenty of chases and laser shoot-em-ups to keep things moving along. The villain is sufficiently disgusting, and the time travel plot yields some fun 3D shots from the ledge of the Chrysler building, plus a few historical/cultural laughs. PG13. 107m.
--Jennifer Fumiko Cahill
THE BEST EXOTIC MARIGOLD HOTEL. I was the only one in the theater without gray hair. Maybe not the only one, but I was definitely outnumbered, which was disheartening. I had been really excited to see The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel, but I was obviously not the target demographic for director John Madden (Shakespeare in Love).
Fortunately, I didn't have much time to be mired in my pathetic nerdery, since the film gets off to a very quick start. It follows the eye-opening and life-changing adventures of seven British retirees staying at the falsely advertised Best Exotic Marigold Hotel in India. Though the characters each have different reasons for the voyage, they share a common need for meaningful companionship.
The vibrantly unfamiliar setting deserves a lot of credit for the film's beauty and energy. Buzzing with people and action, it creates a great contrast with the boredom of the main characters. Madden uses this backdrop well, employing long, lingering shots of characters amid the colorful chaos and cacophony of India.
Every moment of this film is hilarious and endearing without being trite or overly wholesome. This is a difficult balance to find, but Madden has help from an unbelievably talented cast: Judi Dench (Shakespeare in Love), Maggie Smith (Downton Abbey), Bill Nighy (Love Actually) and Dev Patel (Slumdog Millionaire), to name a few. They lend the film subtlety, keeping it from teetering over the edge into maudlin dreck. Though most of the storylines are fairly predictable, the actors make each scene unique. Don't let the age of the cast deter you; the film is less about old age and more about living a life worth living. And that is ageless. PG13. 124m.
CHERNOBYL DIARIES. There's something about the concept of a 20-something, co-ed Eurotrip that Hollywood cannot get enough of, regardless of whether the audience has had its fill. (This was a box office bomb over the long weekend.) It's a premise almost as lazy as natural disasters or nuclear fallout. Now, screenwriters Oren Peli (Paranormal Activity) and Shane and Carey Van Dyke (Mega Python vs. Gatoroid -- yes, that's a real thing) have found a way to combine the two shaky premises into one supremely horrible concept.
Chernobyl Diaries is Bradley Parker's directorial debut. Let's hope it gets better from here. You really don't have to add much to the reality of a nuclear disaster to make it scary, so putting faceless, blurry monsters in the forefront is truly pointless. When you use nuclear disaster as a plot point, there's very little separating you from a Godzilla-style sci-fi; this must have been obvious to Parker, as he litters the film with overzealous attempts at suspense. The moments of silence followed by sudden commotion are so incessant they become desensitizing, boring and, finally, almost humorous.
The only truly eerie moments are in the dim and desolate shots of the abandoned city Pripyat, home to the former workers of the Chernobyl nuclear facility. The slow panning shots of the decrepit village, complete with abandoned fair rides and obsolete Soviet propaganda, are a bit spine-tingling. These brief hair-raising moments are immediately interrupted by the loud stupidity of the main characters (What was that noise? I don't know, but you should yell and point your flashlight at it.) The end comes as a sweet relief, not because of a sense of closure, but because bearing another minute would have been excruciating. R. 88m.
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN. Kristen Stewart (Twilight) stars as the eponymous fairy tale heroine with Charlize Theron as the wicked queen in this brutal, visually ambitious reimagining of the classic Brothers Grimm story. PG13. 127m.
Keyser Soze! The Arcata Theatre Lounge heads into June with The Usual Suspects (1995), Bryan Singer's taut jigsaw puzzle of a neo-noir, starring Gabriel Byrne, Stephen Baldwin, Kevin Spacey and Benicio del Toro in one of his best roles. R. 106m. Friday at 9 p.m. In my previous career as a video store clerk, two clips were guaranteed to attract a crowd around the store's big screen: Michael Jackson's mind-blowing 1983 performance of "Billie Jean" at Motown 25, and the climactic tournament scene in The Karate Kid (1984). See it on the big screen Sunday at 6 p.m. Next Wednesday's Sci-Fi Pint and Pizza night gets a little hairy with a pair of werewolf B-movies: Moon of the Wolf (1972) and Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory (1962).
THE AVENGERS. Director Joss Whedon infuses this superhero all-star team with wit and humor without skimping on the thrills. PG13. 142m.
BATTLESHIP. It's the grid-based guessing game you remember, plus aliens, e'splosions and Rihanna! PG13. 131m.
CHIMPANZEE. Hackneyed Disney doc narrated by Tim Allen. G. 78m.
DARK SHADOWS. Johnny Depp and Tim Burton used to have something, didn't they? Not so much in this adaptation of a 1960s soap opera. PG13. 113m.
THE DICTATOR. Brilliant comedic provocateur Sacha Baron Cohen (Borat) is off his game as a down-and-out Middle Eastern despot. R. 83m.
THE HUNGER GAMES. In a dystopian future state, teenagers get conscripted into a televised death match. PG. 142m.
THE PIRATES! BAND OF MISFITS. Stop-motion comedy from Aardman Studios is fun but doesn't quite live up to the magic of Wallace & Gromit. PG. 88m.
WHAT TO EXPECT WHEN YOU'RE EXPECTING. Five interconnected couples make babies and have gag-me-cute rom-com problems. PG13. 110m.