Expectations weren’t high for Men in Black 3 when it was released in May. First, the film had suffered multiple delays due to script concerns expressed by Will Smith. It required several rewrites before everyone was satisfied. Second, it was leaked that the film would be operating in the dicey time travel arena, with Smith’s character J having to stop an assassination plot against K (Tommy Lee Jones) set in New York during 1969. Finally, it had been a decade since MIB 2 and 15 years after the original. Despite the return of Barry Sonnenfeld and Steven Spielberg to their director and executive producer duties, there was considerable doubt the series could revisit its glory years.
But Men in Black 3, which will be released on DVD (Sony) Friday, proved the rare sequel that was every bit as good as the original, indeed better than the second installment. The chemistry was tweaked, thanks to Josh Brolin’s fine performance as a younger version of K. Rather than try a straight mimic version, Brolin nicely parodied Jones’ terse speech patterns and stiff (for the part) body language. His portrait of an uptight, youthful white authority figure trying to cope with a loose, hip black kid worked to perfection. The interaction between Smith and Brolin was so strong it enabled them to zip through the time travel nonsense, and make their search for aliens in a much earlier age credible.
The late ’60s scenario also allowed screenwriter Etan Cohen and his collaborators to explore character areas either ignored or briefly covered in previous MIB films. These included the dynamics of race, with Smith operating in a much less sophisticated era than before, and his family background. The flashback scenario eventually filled in missing parts of both J and K’s background. It also revealed how they met, and the circumstances of K’s early involvement with the alien-fighting agency.
Men In Black 3 vastly exceeded fiscal predictions. It opened at $189.9 million, and enjoyed the biggest worldwide IMAX Memorial Day weekend in history. It has earned more than $624 million worldwide, and is the franchise’s highest grossing film. It ranks seventh among 2012 films in earnings, prompting both Smith and Jones to say they would consider doing a fourth version. While that may be one too many, anyone who missed the film should definitely get the DVD. There are multiple packages available, from a single-disc to a three-disc gift set loaded with extras.
Perry Mason: The Eighth Season, Vol. 1 (Paramount)
This four-disc set contains 15 episodes from the first half of the 1964-65 season. The show was nearing the end of its run, and one of its key characters was in poor health. Character actor Ray Collins (Lt. Arthur Tragg) only appeared in a handful of shows. He was suffering from emphysema and died in July. The program was pretty much out of creative steam at this point, though Raymond Burr, Barbara Hale, William Talman and William Hopper continued to do their best with scripts and scenarios that seldom varied by edict of series creator Earle Stanley Gardner. One key episode is “The Case of the Bullied Bowler,” with a pre-Mannix Mike Connors sitting in for the ill Burr as attorney Joe Kelly. Otherwise, it’s a must purchase for series fans, but otherwise not essential.
The Portrait of a Lady (Shout! Factory, Available on Blu-Ray Dec. 11)
Nashville’s Nicole Kidman was outstanding in Jane Campion’s 1996 adaptation of The Portrait of A Lady. While based on Henry James’ classic novel, it wasn’t quite an exact reproduction. But it mirrored the basic story of a young American woman desiring freedom and self-expression (as well as sexual satisfaction) in an era when females were expected to be mostly docile and quiet. Kidman portrayed Isabel Archer, who made the grave mistake of trusting Madame Merle (Barbara Hershey). Merle teamed with Gilbert Osmond (John Malkovich) to grossly betray Archer once they discover she’s inherited a large amount of money.
Campion acknowledged the difficulty of accurately getting James’ complicated and extremely sensual (especially for the 19th century) work on screen, and some critics complained the film lacked the novel’s power or pathos. But all the main actors and some of the supporting cast (Sir John Gielgud, Shelley Winters, Christian Bale) were excellent. Hershey received a Best Supporting Actress Oscar nomination. The Blu-ray version includes the documentary “Portrait: Jane Campion and the Portrait of a Lady,” along with other bonus content.
The Hi-Lo Country (Shout! Factor, Dec. 18 DVD release)
Other than Clint Eastwood’s Unforgiven and Robert Duval’s TV production Open Range, westerns haven’t fared very well lately with contemporary audiences. But those who savor the form never miss one, and 1998’s The Hi-Lo Country was excellent. It was a modern (post-World War II) epic that spotlighted the efforts of Big Boy (Woody Harrelson) and Pete (Billy Crudup) to free their hometown of Hi-Lo, New Mexico from the grip of corporate cattle rancher Jim Ed Love (Sam Elliot). That’s played out against the backdrop of Big Boy’s affair with Mona (Patricia Arquette), the wife of Love’s foreman, who Pete has also loved for years. How that rivalry affects their quest against Love is a key part of the drama, plus the good/evil confrontation and climax that’s at the heart of any good western.