Movie reviews: Can mighty Marvel alumni work magic on 'Men in Black'?
MEN IN BLACK: INTERNATIONAL: 3 STARS
This week “The Avengers,” well, at least one of them, aren’t saving the world. Instead Thor portrayer Chris Hemsworth sets his sights a little lower, breathing new life into the flailing “Men in Black” franchise. Twenty-two years after the original hit film and a few years after a cancelled third sequel he’s joined by Marvel Universe citizens, “Avengers: Endgame’s” Tessa Thompson and “Iron Man” writers Matt Holloway and Art Marcum. The question is: Can the mighty Marvel alumni bring some of their magic to a different universe?
This reboot keeps the basics of the franchise. There are still loads of chatty aliens, Emma Thompson returns and the Men in Black remain a nattily dressed but top-secret organization that monitors and polices alien activity on Earth. They’ve managed to stay undercover for decades by the use of a neuralyzer, a device that erases the memories of those who witness their efforts to keep the world safe from alien attack. It’s a failsafe but in at least one case it isn’t entirely effective. In a flashback we see a family, including a young girl named Molly (Mandeiya Flory), neuralyzed after an incident.
Cut to present day. Now grown up, Molly (now played by (Thompson) is about to realize her life-long dream, to become part of the best kept secret in the universe. “It took me 20 years to find you” she says to Agent O (Emma Thompson), head of MIB's U.S. branch. “I found you, which makes me perfect for this job.” Dubbed Agent M, she is assigned to the U.K. branch, headed by High T (Liam Neeson) and teamed with Agent H (Hemsworth). Her mission is to root out the biggest MIB threat yet, a mole in the organization. “We are the Men in Black,” says Agent H, “errr, the men and Women in Black.”
Unless there is a mass neuralization of audiences “Men in Black: International” will not make us forget the charms of the first “MIB” film. Director F. Gary Gray’s take on the film delivers actors with sparkling chemistry—Hemsworth and Thompson first lit up the screen in 2017’s “Thor: Ragnarok” and continue to do so here—who elevate an otherwise unremarkable reboot of a well-loved franchise.
It has the earmarks of the original but, aside from Kumail Nanjiani as a tiny Marvin the Martian-esque alien named Pawny, there is nothing extra special about the extraterrestrials. For a movie about the “scum of the universe,” that seems like a missed opportunity. Nanjiani provides some much need comic relief in the film’s last section, but where is the creativity in the creature design?
Having said all that, despite the predictability of the plot, the chemistry on display makes “Men in Black: International” a fun, lightweight romp.
LATE NIGHT: 4 STARS
Anyone who has read Bill Carter’s behind-the-scenes-tell-all “The War for Late Night: When Leno Went Early and Television Went Crazy” already knows that the happy, smiling faces you see on your television after midnight aren’t always happy or smiling. That premise is the starting point for “Late Night,” a new comedy written by and starring Mindy Kaling.
Emma Thompson is Katherine Newbury, star of the long-running “Tonight with Katherine Newbury,” a once powerful nighttime chat show. Now the cracks are showing. Ratings are falling off, her all-male writing staff are out of touch and worse, the show feels old-fashioned compared to the competition. While the Jimmys—Kimmel and Fallon—are doing stunts, Newbury features Doris Kearns Goodwin, author of “Team of Rivals: The Political Genius of Abraham Lincoln,” and signs off with the decidedly unhip, “That’s our show everyone. I hope I earned the privilege of your time.”
Facing cancellation—" The show is irrelevant,” says network head honcho Caroline Morton (Amy Ryan). “The ratings reflect that.”—Newbury is pressured into hiring Molly Patel (Kaling), a TV newbie whose only job experience comes from working in quality control at a chemical plant. She soon discovers the dangerous chemicals she worked with at the plant have nothing on her new toxic work situation. “You’re hired. If it doesn’t work out, which it probably won’t, you’ll be gone.” The other writers consider her unqualified, a “diversity hire,” and don’t even give her a chair in the writer’s room.
Still, Molly, who honed her comedy chops telling jokes on the loudspeaker at her former job, perseveres. Sitting on an overturned trash can (still no chair), she eagerly suggests ways to make the show better, to make her comedy idol more appealing to a younger audience. “I will not be marginalized by the white fist of oppression that prevails around here,” she says.
Her “never give up” mantra doesn’t play well with the boys’ club, particularly head monologue writer Tom (Reid Scott), but, after a rocky start—"Don't take this the wrong way,” Newbury says to Molly, “but your earnestness can be very hard to be around.”—the new writer’s spirit gradually wins over the host. “I need you, Molly, to help me change this show.”
Molly may help “shake some dust off the [fictional] show” but “Late Night” doesn’t exactly do a deep clean on its genre. The movie is basically a romcom about platonic female relationships. The plotline may be predictable, never zigging or zagging too far off the straight line starting with Molly’s outsider status and ending with the warm embrace of those who once shunned her, but sharp writing and engaging performances from Kaling, Thompson and John Lithgow as Newbury’s ailing husband, keep it on track.
It is a showcase for Thompson’s ability to elevate any movie she appears in—she puts a nice spin on Newbury’s “The Devil Wears Prada” persona—and for Kaling’s sensibility both as a writer and performer. Together they guarantee “Late Night” is more than a “Working Girl” update.
THERE ARE NO FAKES: 4 STARS
Norval Morrisseau was once called “the Picasso of the North.” The Anishinaabe artist was a stylist whose unique vision created a new kind of visual storytelling. His bright colours and bold illustration brought traditional Indigenous stories to life in a way that made him famous and today he thought of as the grandfather of contemporary First Nations art in Canada.
A new documentary, “There Are No Fakes” from director Jamie Kastner, starts with the purchase of a $20,000 Morrisseau called “The Spirit Energy of Mother Earth.” Barenaked Ladies member and art collector Kevin Hearn purchased the painting in 2005, the same year the artist established a foundation to catalogue and authenticate all legitimate copies of his work. The painting hung on Hearn’s wall for five years until he loaned it to the Art Gallery of Ontario for public display. When the AGO raised doubts about the painting’s legitimacy, it was taken down. When Hearn questioned the dealer he bought the forgery from he was met with the phrase that gives the film its name, “There are no fakes.” Except there are. Possibly thousands of them.
The lawsuit Hearn filed against the dealer provides Kastner with the bedrock of the story. The film’s first half introduces a cast of characters worthy of any story of intrigue. From angry art dealers and Morrisseau’s earnest apprentice to lawyers under siege and an out-of-pocket Barenaked Lady, “There Are No Fakes” examines the murky world of high-stakes art.
It’s in the movie’s second half that Kastner, through his investigative work, uncovers the sordid story behind the underground trafficking of fake Morrisseau art. It’s a journey that veers away from the tony galleries of Toronto’s Yorkville neighborhood to Thunder Bay, Ont., and shocking revelations involving sex, drugs and exploitation.
“There Are No Fakes” is more than a simple procedural. Kastner carefully lays out the story, finding the rich corners in the personalities of his subject before slowing the film’s pace and tone for the explosive final disclosures. What begins as a document of a court case and its countersuits turns into something more important, more vital, as it underlines how Indigenous artists, even world-famous ones, have been exploited.
WATERGATE: 4 ½ STARS
An epic new documentary from director Charles Ferguson takes four hours to carefully detail the events of a story many of us think we already know. Titled “Watergate: Or, How We Learned to Stop an Out-of-Control President,” it’s a detailed history lesson of ethical and moral violations that come with a cautionary message.
If the name Richard M. Nixon doesn’t immediately conjure up images of an uncomfortable-looking man unconvincingly telling the American public, “I am not a crook," or you haven’t seen “All the President’s Men,” or read the books or watched or any of the myriad documentaries on Watergate, the bare bones: In 1972, five men with cameras and wiretap equipment broke into the Democratic National Committee headquarters at the Watergate office complex in Washington, D.C.. They were quickly arrested (after being spotted by the night watch security guards) and the scandal, fuelled by secretly recorded tapes from the White House, a botched cover-up, a cast of very colourful characters and a president with a loose respect for doing the right thing, touched the upper echelons of the American power structure. It’s a tale of hush money, bulging briefcases of evidence and obstruction of justice that lead to 41 people convictions and “Tricky Dick” Nixon becoming the first President in American history to resign on the night of August 8, 1974.
Watergate lived at the very centre of political and pop culture, making front-page news for months and dominating news reports. As such there is a great deal of documentation for Ferguson to cull. And cull he does. Hours of 1970s news footage—mixed with new interviews and some re-enactments based on the infamous Watergate tapes—form the doc’s backbone. This rich tapestry of material painstakingly weaves together the story, what superstar reporter Bob Woodward (who, with Carl Bernstein broke the story) calls the five wars of Watergate, “the war against the anti-war movement, the news media, against justice, against the Democrats and then the war against history.”
It is a long, complex story, presented in two parts with an intermission, rife with historical nuance and detail but beyond the history lesson is the above-mentioned cautionary message. In politically provocative times, the film reminds us of the old chestnut that history often repeats. Or, as House Judiciary Member James Mann says near the end of the film, “If there be no accountability another president will feel free to do as he chooses. But the next time may be no watchmen in the night.”