#010

Men In Black 2
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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The unofficial rule that the second film in a series has every reason to be better - unrestrained by exposition, a second chance to improve flaws, a hopefully bigger budget - failed to work to pass on the charm and fun of the first Men In Black film to its much-anticipated sequel.

Almost every “above the line” principle player - director Barry Sonnenfeld, stars Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith - seem to be going through the motions with MIB2, while the design and special effects teams have all the fun elaborating on the alien characters and sleekly camp settings. The story is a virtual re-write of the first film, with the roles reversed, Jones playing the new guy, Smith the grizzled veteran, and it’s just not enough.

The copious production featurettes that come with the package show plenty of happily employed tech people, including creature creator Rick Baker, gleefully explaining their work, while the stars themselves are curiously mute, Jones offering only the long-overdue revelation that he’s an essential straight man, devoid of a sense of humour. Sonnenfeld talks us through his “guide to comedy”, the gist of which is deadpan irony, a strenuous effort not to try to be funny. Alas, it worked all too well with MIB2.

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The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys
Columbia Tristar Home Entertainment DVD

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Everyone, including quite a few critics, wanted The Dangerous Lives of Altar Boys to succeed. Small but ambitious, with a great cast and the best of intentions, it was the kind of film - a coming of age story set in the emotional stewpot of 70s teens - that should have been a sleeper hit at best, a cult blockbuster at worst.

Watching the bonus material that comes with the DVD, including a Sundance Channel “anatomy of a scene” documentary, it quickly becomes obvious that the filmmakers, including director Peter Care and producer Jodie Foster, had a far looser grasp on their material than they knew. A production decision to rely on Todd McFarlane’s animated superhero segments to articulate the emotional lives of the supposedly inarticulate teenage characters seems desperate and unfortunate.

It’s a popular fallacy that movies and comic books share a common language of composition and movement, based mostly on the simple resemblance of comics to movie storyboards. Comics, especially the melodramatic musclehead nonsense that McFarlane specializes in, can’t hope to offer the emotional payoff of a well-modulated performance. For some reason, Care and his colleagues felt unsure about getting that much from their cast, which hints at an essential underestimation of young characters that probably doomed the film from the start.

click here for a longer review of this film

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The Thin Man
Warner Bros. DVD

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The first, and best, in the six-film Thin Man series is a masterpiece of art deco cinema; even Asta, the canine sidekick of Nick and Nora Charles, detective spouses, seems as witty and streamlined as a vintage New Yorker cartoon.

Starring William Powell and Myrna Loy as Nick and Nora, the film sizzles with the ripe innuendo of a pre-Production Code movie, as the routinely soused but unabashedly sexy couple trade one-liners, fuelled by an imprudent stream of martinis. The mystery itself is as conventional as Agatha Christie, but the script, and the performances of everyone from Powell and Loy to the mug’s gallery of character actors, is both stylish and priceless.

©2002 rick mcginnis all rights reserved.