Men in Black II (PG)
Lost in La Mancha (15)
Time of Favor (12)
Friday 02 August 2002
Given that it's been five years since the first Men in Black movie, you'd have thought its creators might have found the time to put a little spin on the hip, flip aliens-ahoy funkiness of the original – some new jokes, perhaps, or an interesting kink in the relationship between Messrs Smith and Jones. But no: this sequel is the cheapest and laziest of knock-offs, and disgraces itself further by tarnishing any pleasant memories of the earlier film. Quite what the film's director Barry Sonnenfeld thinks he's up to is anyone's guess, but he surely could have twigged from the response to Wild Wild West that steamrollering audiences with zany special effects is no substitute for wit and drama.
This time round in Men in Black II, Agent Jay (Will Smith) has to "de-neuralize" Agent Kay (Tommy Lee Jones), who now works at the post office and has no recollection of his previous life monitoring alien activity on earth. Apparently, Kay is required by MIB because he's the only man equipped with the knowledge to thwart an old enemy, Serleena, from enslaving the planet. Or something. That this unfriendly alien is played by Lara Flynn Boyle in vampish black may divert the eye for about 30 seconds (she first appears in the guise of a lingerie model), but then she simply camps it up Cruella de Vil-style and shows off a mouthful of revolting snake tongues. Frank the Pug, a comedy alien dog repeated from the original, gets a few laughs trying to commend itself as Jay's new partner, while Jones underplays in his patented laconic style.
Other than that, it's a tumultuous bore. And don't take my word for it. I saw MIIB in a Leicester Square cinema crammed with people desperate to be entertained, and the only sound you could hear was popcorn being crunched. We'd all been neuralized.
Lost in La Mancha is a cautionary tale about the minefield that is moviemaking. In June 2000 Keith Fulton and Louis Pepe were invited by the director Terry Gilliam to join him on his long-cherished project The Man Who Killed Don Quixote and record an intimate, access-all-areas account of how a "major motion picture" gets off the ground. In normal circumstances this film would have been an extra on the DVD, a neat behind-the-scenes package of interviews and insights into the "creative process". But the circumstances here were anything but normal, and talk of jinx was already in the air – Orson Welles had fruitlessly tinkered with the Quixote story for years, and Gilliam himself knew from The Adventures of Baron Munchausen how epics can flop. Working with a budget (about $32m) that allowed no margin for error, he and his crew soon ran into trouble.
Out filming in the Spanish desert on day one, the noise of F-16 fighter aircrafts from the nearby Nato airbase shatters the calm. Then a flash flood turns the set into a quagmire and damages equipment. Worst of all, the 70-year-old actor Jean Rochefort, who plays Quixote, is suddenly taken ill. By the end of the week the film has been hit with everything bar a plague of locusts.
One wonders how Gilliam's crew put up with Fulton and Pepe recording every step on the way to catastrophe, though their boss seems to have taken a commendably philosophical approach: at least somebody was getting a film out of it.
All that's missing from Lost in La Mancha is a villain. How much juicier if the film's collapse were down to Hollywood hubris rather than that impersonal agency known as bad luck.
Only masochists should book for Platform, an inexpressibly tedious two-and-a-half-hour ramble through changing times (1979-1990) in the life of a performing troupe in the remote Chinese province of Shanxi. The film's director, Jia Zhang-ke, having debuted with the scratchy, hand-held style of Xiao Wu, here goes to the other extreme with wide shots and long shots that seem to linger for an eternity. The narrative, built mainly around troupe member Cui Minliang (Wang Hong-Wei), is so desultory and unfocused one can barely make sense of it, and the sound recording is about as soothing as a motorway being built through your living-room. Hard to imagine, in short, how this film could be more of a trial. Hard, but not impossible: when first shown on the festival circuit, its running time was 40 minutes longer.
The Israeli film Time of Favor promises rather more than it delivers. Menachem (Aki Avni) is the leader of a religious army corps on which the fanatical Rabbi Meltzer has been increasingly influential; it's bad enough that Menachem is in love with the Rabbi's daughter, Michal, worse still that she's being groomed for A-grade Torah scholar and Menachem's best friend Pini. The writer-director, Joseph Cedar, seems to be investigating the perils of Middle-Eastern idealism, a subject you couldn't fault for topicality, but then swerves away into a pedestrian thriller-cum-romance, with Mossad assuming the role of the cavalry. The conclusion is as lame a cop-out as you'll see all year.
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