Saturday, April 23, 2016

Barbershop: The Next Cut, Criminal, The Jungle Book, The First Monday in May, The Syndrome, My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche)

Barbershop: The Next Cut

The Jungle Book
The First Monday in May

The Syndrome
My Big Night (Mi Gran Noche)

Capsule reviews on the week in film:

The latest “Barbershop” picture – unimaginatively subtitled “The Next Cut” – offers more in the way of camaraderie and general bonhomie than big laughs, though there are a few. With a cast this large and likable, there’s always enough happening to keep your attention. The standouts include Lamorne Morris as sweet and unhip Jerrod and an especially sexy Common as Jabari, whose girlfriend (Eve) thinks he’s messing around with larger-than-life Draya (Nicki Minaj). Ice Cube’s Calvin owns the shop, but Cedric the Entertainer owns the flick as the querulous coot Eddie. There is real pain behind the movie’s lamentation of the epidemic of gang violence plaguing Chicago, but it pushes the runtime about twenty minutes too far… Ariel Vromen’s “Criminal” is the latest in the seemingly infinite cataract of action thrillers that blur together and disappear from memory while you watch them. Its Rotten Tomatoes plot description – “The memories and skills of a CIA agent are implanted into the brain of a dangerous criminal in order to stop an international terrorist” – perfectly captures its genericalness. Gary Oldman and especially Tommy Lee Jones are wasted as, respectively, the bureau chief who orders the futuristic surgery and the doctor who performs it. Kevin Costner, who’s enjoying a renaissance of late, does what he can to convey the disorientation and dissonance of the patient, a brutal criminal named Jericho Stewart. But I dozed throughout “Criminal” – when I wasn’t turning my head away in revulsion – and five minutes later I’d forgotten it entirely… Jon Favreau’s crisp, great looking update of “The Jungle Book” kept my matinee audience packed with kids on the edges of their seats, scarcely a peep to be heard. Upon the exciting adventure of wolf-boy Mowgli (adequate newcomer Neel Sethi), his guardian panther Bagheera (voice of Ben Kingsley), and Shere Khan (voice of Idris Elba), the tiger who wants him dead, Favreau has sprinkled generous helpings of humor (mostly from Bill Murray as the friendly but lazy bear Baloo) while mostly eschewing cutesiness. I would have left a 15-minute detour to a monkey kingdom ruled by Christopher Walken’s gigantopithecus King Louie on the cutting room floor; it’s a drag on the otherwise aerodynamic pace. Still, this “Jungle Book” represents the state of the art in computer generated imagery (Scarlett Johansson’s serpent Kaa seems to cover half the jungle) while maintaining the primacy of the story and its human emotions… Andrew Rossi’s “The First Monday in May,” about the celeb-studded Met Ball – the annual party at which the Metropolitan Museum of New York’s costume department unveils its new can-you-top-this exhibition – is as glossy and unchallenging as a pictorial in Vogue. It only really comes to life – which it does, with a vengeance – when Anna Wintour appears. (I’m not a TV guy, but I’d binge-watch an AW reality show.) After such first-rate recent fashion films as “The September Issue” and “Diana Vreeland: The Eye Has to Travel,” this one feels especially underfed, a missed opportunity to plumb the politics of who gets in, who doesn’t, who sits where, with whom, and away from whom… Meryl Goldsmith’s documentary “The Syndrome” does well to shine a light on the falsity of the “Shaken Baby Syndrome,” a pernicious theory used in hundreds of prosecutions each year which holds – wrongly – that three particular physical indicia can only be caused by shaking (and not, for example, by the low-level falls to which infants are, obviously, prone). Moreover, shaking can cause the three indicia if and only if accompanied by neck trauma, which is nonexistent in almost all shaken baby cases. She also exposes an ignominious triumvirate of doctors who have made the syndrome a cottage industry, lining their pockets with expert witness fees and sales of products to D.A.’s and police departments. As a film, though, “The Syndrome” needs work: Goldsmith’s reporting lacks rigor; her narration careers from one unclear antecedent to the next; and the music is god-awful… Finally, the arthouse pick of the week: Álex de la Iglesia’s “My Big Night” (“Mi Gran Noche”), a Spanish farce about the October taping of a New Year’s Eve television extravaganza. Pepón Nieto plays Jose, a middle-aged schlub with acting aspirations who drops everything when hired as a fill-in extra. The guy who had been in his seat was killed when a crane fell on him after the crane operator was distracted by two chicas, one of whom had just blown the teen idol singer backstage while the other collected the sperm so they could blackmail him. The aging legend singer tries to blind his younger rival; the legend’s put-upon son hires a hit man to kill him; unionists outside the studio topple the production van; the lesbian couple inside it take turns barking orders at each other and getting hot; and Jose’s mother shows up carrying the large silver-plated crucifix she takes everywhere. All the while the P.A. hurls invective at the extras: “Laugh, you idiots!” “Clap, you motherfuckers! Hurt your hands!” Comedy is, on average, harder than drama, and farce may be the hardest form of comedy. Here’s one that zings from the outset with the manic, oh-fuck-it energy of a microphone cord you twirl playfully before losing control of it altogether. It's already available on Video on Demand.

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