Men in Black III and Moonrise Kingdom

Men in Black III reenlists the talents of
Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones, of course—Smith with his urban
sizzle, Jones with his craggy codger sorrow—and it’s good to have
them back, togged out in their black suits and shades and riding
herd over America’s vast alien-creature community. But what really
energizes this third installment of the franchise—lifting it into
the orbit of the 1997 Men in Black, and vaporizing
whatever memories might remain of that film’s piddling 2002
sequel—are a pair of smart new additions to the MIB canon.
One of these is time travel—always good for an entertaining
brain-stretch; the other, quite wonderfully, is Josh Brolin, who
plays a younger incarnation of Jones, and seems to have inhaled the
older actor’s grumpy essence and to be exuding it through his
pores. It’s a flawless comic performance.

The movie opens with a terrific action sequence—a jailbreak at a
maximum-security prison on the moon, where a fearsome “Boglodite”
named Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement, of The Flight of the
) is busting out after 40 years in solitary. Boris
was apprehended by the MIB—by Agent K, in fact—during the 1969
moon-rocket launch at Cape Canaveral. In the course of being
collared, he lost most of one arm, and he’s been plotting payback
ever since. Free at last, he returns to Earth to locate a
little-known time portal (in a Manhattan electronics shop run by
the superbly droll Michael Chernus) and jump back to 1969 to
terminate the troublesome K. Agent J, with the help of a
dreamy-eyed alien named Griffin (Michael Stuhlbarg, of
Boardwalk Empire), who perceives time in every possible
permutation, follows Boris into the past in an effort to thwart his

Director Barry Sonnenfeld and screenwriter Etan Cohen have a lot
of fun with the ’60s here, repurposing Andy Warhol, making resonant
use of Status Quo and the Velvet Underground, and playing the
primitive technology and racial bigotry of the period for fresh
laughs. Sonnenfeld, on his third tour of MIB duty,
continues to inflect the abundant action with humor (especially in
such unlikely settings as a bowling alley and a Chinese
restaurant); and makeup ace Rick Baker has concocted another herd
of memorable extraterrestrial oddities.

I suppose it would be possible to object to the movie’s sweetly
sentimental ending, or to find the final burst of action
over-extended (it’s still a bravura set piece). And it has to be
said that the film’s 3D conversion, although startlingly effective
in a couple of shots, is largely pointless—the movie would play
just as effectively without it. If these are lapses, though, they
barely register. MIB III is a reinvigorated continuation
of a unique sci-fi series, and a happy demonstration that it’s
still not played out.    

Moonrise Kingdom

Wes Anderson’s Moonrise Kingdom, which opened the
Cannes Film Festival last week, is a movie whose pleasures are
largely formal. Anderson acolytes will welcome another
demonstration of his deadpan visual strategies—the locked-down
shots facing off on split screens, the camera panning slowly past a
series of rooms to introduce some of the characters—and his
detached narrative style (the film’s young-love story is precisely
observed without ever stooping to sweep us up in its adolescent
emotions). Those who find the director’s work flawed by
preciousness, however, may grow impatient well before the movie
reaches the 90-minute mark.

The picture’s supporting cast is heavy with stars, but the lead
characters are played by two first-time screen actors. Kara Hayward
is 12-year-old Suzy Bishop, resident with her family in a big house
on New Penzance Island, off the coast of New England. Suzy is a
rebel with a precocious fondness for heavy eye shadow and imported
Françoise Hardy records. She’s alienated from her parents (Bill
Murray and Frances McDormand) and her little brothers, and she
can’t wait to grow up and be gone. “I want to have adventures and
stuff,” she says.

Suzy has been corresponding by letter—we’re in 1965 here—with
12-year-old Sam Shakusky, a fellow outcast who’s on the island with
his scout troop, led by Scout Master Ward (Edward Norton). Sam and
Suzy met a year earlier during a church performance of Benjamin
Britten’s musical play, Noye’s Fludde. (Britten’s music is
a steady presence throughout the film.) Now, Sam, an orphan, has
been disowned by his foster father, and soon a social-services
martinet (Tilda Swinton) will be on her way to the island to
reclaim him as a ward of the state. Fed up, Sam and Suzy decide to
run away (well, as far away as you can run on an island). Setting
out on an old Indian trail across New Penzance—Sam with his tent
pack and coonskin hat, Suzy with her kitten and her fantasy books
and battery-operated record player—they eventually come to an
idyllic cove, where they make camp and declare their mutual love.
They also gingerly approach the issue of physical intimacy. (“You
can touch my chest,” Suzy says. “I think they’re gonna grow more.”)
For the most part, though, an air of innocent devotion

There are some arrestingly conceived shots—a scout tree house
wobbling high atop a skinny, limbless tree; a cluster of costumed
kids quietly playing flutes on a church staircase. And the dialogue
(by Anderson and co-screenwriter Roman Coppola) is full of small
surprises. (“I always wish I were an orphan,” Suzy says.
“Most of my favorite characters are.”)

But some of the movie’s secondary characters don’t add up to
much: Bruce Willis, as the island police chief, who’s having a
chaste affair with Suzy’s mom, mopes and sighs and not much else;
and Murray, as the abstractly unhappy dad, never comes into focus.
The movie’s tight design is impressive, but it works against the
turbulent pre-teen feelings it seeks to convey. As well-made as the
film is, its carefully arms-length approach to the story seems
affected; and despite the best efforts of its young leads, it’s
never very affecting. 

Kurt Loder is a writer living in New York. His third book, a
collection of film reviews called The
Good, the Bad and the Godawful
, is now available. Follow him on
Twitter at kurt_loder.