NEW THIS WEEK:
-- ADD TIME TRAVEL TO THE DUTIES OF THOSE SPACE ALIEN WRANGLERS AGENTS J AND K IN THIS SLOW-TO-GET-ROLLING NEW CHAPTER:
"MEN IN BLACK 3" PG-13 -- If they have the patience to get through a draggy first act, high-schoolers and particularly college kids and even parents will get a mild kick out of "Men in Black 3." It's OK for most middle-schoolers, too, but some of the humor may get past them. (It follows "Men in Black 2," 2002, and "Men in Black," 1997, both PG-13s). Director Barry Sonnenfeld keeps the ironic, no-nonsense tone of the franchise going, even in 3-D. Agents J (Will Smith) and K (Tommy Lee Jones) are back in their black suits and skinny ties, still busy keeping space aliens living incognito (except for those who can see them) under control. And they're still bickering over why K is so secretive. (The answer revealed at the end is a contrived anticlimax.) In a prologue, the homicidal alien Boris the Animal (Jemaine Clement of the hit cable show "The Flight of the Conchords") escapes from prison on the moon. He's very creepy, with his camera-lens eyes and the lethal mini-alien living inside his hand. He impales his guards in the forehead with what look like high-tech sharks' teeth. Boris heads to Earth to kill Agent K, who put him in prison decades earlier. Unaware of the situation, J and K attend a colleague's funeral. The next day Agent J awakes in a near-future in which K has been dead for many years and was never his partner. J travels back in time to the 1960s and meets up with K's younger self (embodied to perfection by Josh Brolin) so they can kill Boris and allow Agent K to survive. The film gets clever and most interesting when J and K-the-Younger team up in the drolly depicted 1960s. It turns out artist Andy Warhol's legendary "Factory" was a great place for alien beings to mingle.
THE BOTTOM LINE: When Boris escapes from prison, his murders are not bloody, but quite graphic for a PG-13. The film includes mild sexual innuendo, when Boris kisses the alien woman who helps him escape, and sends his tongue down her throat. J has to jump head-first off the Chrysler building to do his time travel, but it's amusing rather than scary. The dialogue includes occasional midrange profanity and a Viagra joke.
-- JACK BLACK GIVES A REMARKABLE PERFORMANCE IN THIS QUIRKY FILM BASED ON A TRUE STORY:
"BERNIE" PG-13, Limited Release -- For high-schoolers intrigued by character studies and dark comedy, "Bernie" is an offbeat film experience worth having. And the terrific central performance by Jack Black, nuanced and far outside his comic comfort zone, will be a revelation. The film is OK for many middle-schoolers, too, but its secondary themes dealing with whispered homophobia may be a little too mature for them. Director Richard Linklater and co-screenwriter Skip Hollandsworth based their film on a Texas Monthly magazine story from 1998. "Bernie" tracks how a sweet assistant funeral director in a small east Texas town became a confessed murderer. Bernie Tiede (Black) is a perfectionist at preparing his corpses, and a comfort to their families. He directs and stars in community theater and school shows and is everyone's friend. His life changes, however, when he endears himself to the rich, newly widowed Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine, who's scary good). Bad-tempered, suspicious and just plain mean, Marjorie puts Bernie in her will, but also bosses and belittles him mercilessly. One day he snaps and shoots her dead with her own little .22 rifle. The body is eventually discovered and Bernie confesses, but the townsfolk refuse to believe he did anything wrong. The cocky local DA (Matthew McConaughey) intends to convict him anyway. Many supporting characters are real locals used in documentary-style interviews.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The murder of Mrs. Nugent by Bernie is not graphic or bloody. The script includes occasional strong language and mild homophobic slurs. There are no sexual situations in the film.
-- A WINKING COMEDY SET IN VICTORIAN ENGLAND, ABOUT BONE-HEADED MALE DOCTORS TREATING WOMEN FOR SO-CALLED 'HYSTERIA,' AND INADVERTANTLY INVENTING A POPULAR SEX TOY:
"HYSTERIA" R, Limited Release -- A perfect film to discuss in college-level courses on human sexuality or feminist history, "Hysteria" is a low-key comedy with mildly serious overtones geared to college-age filmgoers and older. Many, if not most, parents won't find it appropriate for under-17s. "Hysteria" is a bit too pleased with its own knowingness, but still mildly entertaining. Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) is a young, progressive physician in 1880s' London who keeps getting fired for lecturing his superiors about germs, which they don't yet accept as real. He finally lands a job in the private practice of Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), who treats women for "hysteria," a supposed disorder of the uterus. He uses a procedure related to a gynecological exam, in which he causes patients to have orgasms. His waiting room is full of repeat visitors. The film notes that "nice" women in Victorian England were not expected to enjoy sex. Young Dr. Granville does so many treatments that his hand gets sore, so he and an inventor friend (Rupert Everett) come up with an electrically powered device that is the ancestor of the vibrator. Granville also has an enlightening relationship with Dr. Dalrymple's older daughter Charlotte (Maggie Gyllenhaal), who runs a clinic for the poor, campaigns for women's rights, and thinks her father's a dolt.
THE BOTTOM LINE: The movie includes numerous scenes in which female patients are "treated" for their supposed "hysteria," and although they're completely dressed and also covered with a kind of drapery, it is very clear what's happening. The doctors always remain serious and are never sexually involved. The rest of the film is not R-ish at all, with some drinking and mild, briefly implied violence.
(c) 2012, Washington Post Writers Group.