Avengers Age of Ultron

Well I’ve been lucky enough to see Avengers: Age of Ultron twice now (3D in the double feature and a 2D 9:15 am showing with my wonderful wife) so I suppose I should write about it.

Avengers Age of Ultron

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Rated PG-13

When Tony Stark and Bruce Banner try to jump-start a dormant peacekeeping program called Ultron, things go horribly wrong and it’s up to Earth’s Mightiest Heroes to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.”

Avengers: Age of Ultron is magnificent. I’ve seen it twice in the theaters and am likely to watch it again. I also look forward to buying it on Blu-Ray. I will say that 3D did not add anything to the movie for me so I’d recommend against the extra charge. I saw a preview for Jurassic World in 3D and that looks like the 3D may be worthwhile.

That said, Age of Ultron is way too much. The CGI is seriously overwhelming. Whedon wanted a lot of the action to be freeflowing but I prefer setpieces properly designed where you can always tell what is happening (think Raiders of the Lost Ark). The CGI setpieces do showcase all of the team’s abilities and appearances but there is a serious case of information overload and in 3D, it is so much worse.

As a comic book fan, I love getting to see all the characters I grew up with appear on the big screen. Unfortunately the screenplay packs in so many, there is no room to breathe. We get The Hulk, Iron Man, Captain America, Hawkeye, Thor, and Black Widow all returning from Avengers. We also get Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, Ultron, Baron Strucker, and Vision new to the movie series. Also appearing are War Machine from Iron Man, Heimdall and Erik Selvig from Thor, Nick Fury and Maria Hill from S.H.I.E.L.D., and Peggy Carter and The Falcon from Captain America.

Since Vibranium figures prominently in the plot, Ulysses Klaue is introduced, played by Andy Serkis in a rare non-CGI appearance. I expect this is supposed to set up the future Black Panther movie. There was even a scene with Loki that got cut and of course a character not mentioned in the end credits scene.

Another nitpick, and it is a nitpick, is that the dream sequences seem poorly handled, especially the ones involving Thor. Several things are given hasty or even no explanation. One would think that that wouldn’t happen in a two hour and twenty minute movie but Whedon just stuffs and stuffs and stuffs until the movie is bursting.

Now back to the original verdict. Age of Ultron is marvelous. All the characters are given good character beats. Hawkeye who had the worst storyline in Avengers gets the best one here. We had a great Hulk vs. Thor battle last time so here we get a great Hulk vs. Iron Man (in Hulkbuster armor!) battle.

The battles are frantic and packed with state of the art CGI. They are a lot of fun if a little hard to follow. The humor in the script is great, including a nice running gag at Captain America’s expense. This is definitely a Joss Whedon film and I look forward to what he does next (sadly he’s done with this series).

If you like Marvel’s cinematic universe, you’ll like this film. Go see it and you only need to stay for the first post-credit sequence. There isn’t a second one as in the first movie. Joss felt that he could not top the shawarma scene.

Watch the Bard Week – Much Ado About Nothing

We love our local Montford Park Players. They put on Shakespeare in the park every weekend from May through September. Jason Williams’ marvelous production of The Merchant of Venice just ended its four week run and this weekend starts Ken Knight’s Love’s Labour’s Lost, which he is presenting as an 80s John Hughes movie. If you are ever in Asheville, you would be remiss if you did not attend.

Much Ado About NothingMuch Ado About Nothing (2013) – Rated PG-13

“A modern retelling of Shakespeare’s classic comedy about two pairs of lovers with different takes on romance and a way with words.”

One Line Review: Enjoyable but for fans of the Whedonverse or Shakespeare only.

We also caught Joss Whedon’s Much Ado About Nothing in its short run. We found it quite enjoyable but a little on the slight side. He did a wonderful job with a twelve-day shoot in his backyard. The black and white cinematography is excellent.

It was really nice to see Whedon’s supporting players Alexis Denisof and Amy Acker get starring roles and I found them delightful. Clark Gregg was wonderful as Leonato. Strangely the biggest name in the cast, Nathan Fillion, severely underplayed the role of Dogberry. Our local actor Matt Tavener did a better job on Montford’s last go around of Much Ado.

I am making this week – Watch the Bard, with several tempting offerings on instant Netflix.

 

The Avengers – Great Superhero Movie or Greatest Superhero Movie

The above picture is for my youngest daughter. She even named her cat Loki (after the Norse god though – not the comic book character).

I am a sucker for comic book movies. I see every comic book movie I can and I enjoy myself whether they are good (The Avengers), bad (Green Lantern), or even downright ugly (Ghost Rider: Spirit of Vengeance – worst movie I’ve seen at the theater this year but thanks to Netflix not the worst movie of the year). My wife and I went to see The Avengers again last night and I’ll probably see it a third time because my older daughter has yet to catch it.

I loved comic books as a pre-teen (my favorite was Tomb of Dracula) and then rediscovered them when I went away to college (and then stopped for a couple decades and now pick up the occasional graphic novel). It was in college that I discovered that it wasn’t so much the character but the writer that made the difference. This applies to movies as well – when I was a child, I looked forward to any movie starring my favorite actors. As an adult, I look forward to movies from my favorite directors much more than actors.

If you haven’t yet caught The Avengers, it is just as awesome as most people say it is. All of the wonderful Marvel movies have paid off in a great magnum opus. Comic book fans will delight in seeing their favorite heroes square off against one another before tackling the villains.

The only review point I disagree with is that they finally got the Hulk right. I thought Edward Norton’s Hulk/Banner was great. It is just that in The Avengers, the best laughs are from the Hulk. Also being an ensemble cast, the Hulk is not overused.

I hope The Avengers finally gives Joss Whedon the carte blanche that fanboys know he already deserves. As usual Joss’ strength is with ensemble casts and he is great at giving each character a unique voice. I dearly hope that he is onboard for the already greenlit sequel.

I am very much looking forward to The Amazing Spider-Man and The Dark Knight Rises later this summer. The first trailer for The Amazing Spider-Man looked awful but the latest trailer looks much better. I will miss Sam Raimi though.

I have no doubt that The Dark Knight Rises will be a good film. Christopher Nolan has not made a bad movie yet and they range from interesting (Batman Begins, Inception, Insomnia) to masterpieces (The Dark Knight, Memento, The Prestige).

TV Vampires – Horror Movie Month

Okay perhaps I’ve misnamed Horror Movie Month as my first topic is TV series. For non-anthology horror TV series, Buffy the Vampire Slayer is easily the best on instant Netflix.

Buffy the Vampire Slayer (1997-2002) – Rated TV-PG

Despite her deep desire to live a normal life, tough-as-nails teenager Buffy Summers (Sarah Michelle Gellar) fulfills her mystical calling to protect humankind from all sorts of supernatural creatures, including vampires, demons and werewolves. Blending fantasy, drama and comedy, Joss Wheadon’s cult favorite surrounds its brave heroine with trusted allies like Willow (Alyson Hannigan), Xander (Nicholas Brendon) and Giles (Anthony Head).

This show, while an obvious pick, is quite a rarity. It is a TV show based on a movie where the TV series is awesome and the movie wasn’t very good. The ensemble cast is excellent and almost all of the episodes are quite good with a few amazing ones such as the musical Once More with Feeling from Season 6.

In fact the only problem with the show was that apparently the network insisted that monster deaths occur in every episode which undercut a few of the more “serious” episodes. Witty and inventive from the first episode, Buffy only deepens in emotional intensity with each season.

All of the Buffy episodes are available on instant Netflix as are all the episodes of the spinoff series Angel. Angel is enjoyable but is not the classic that Buffy is. All the season ending episodes of Buffy are epic conflicts but Angel’s episodes are often indistinguishable from each other. Angel’s ensemble cast is good but not nearly as good the Buffy ensemble.

Set in an old mansion off the coast of Maine, this cult classic television series follows the bizarre exploits of the Collins family, who cross paths with ghosts, werewolves, witches and other supernatural beings over the course of several centuries. Originally conceived as a moody melodrama, this groundbreaking gothic soap found success following the introduction of tormented vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid).

Dark Shadows (1966-1971) – The original Dark Shadows has 160 episodes available on instant play. The series ran for far longer than that but this will give you a sampling of the show. Jonathan Frid is a lot of fun as the vampire Barnabas Collins but the show itself does not hold up very well and, being a soap opera, moves at a glacial pace.

The 1991 remake, Dark Shadows: The Revival Series is also available on instant Netflix. It only runs 12 episodes and I haven’t had the opportunity to watch it but as I’d never heard of it until now, I’m pretty doubtful of its quality. Tim Burton’s movie version should be out next year with the quirky Johnny Depp as Barnabas and Burton’s films are always visually stunning.

My oft-recommended Kolchak the Night Stalker is also still available (and still campy as ever).

Marvel Comics – Marvel Superhero week

This is Marvel Superhero week. There are a number of Marvel motion comics available on instant Netflix. These motion comics use the actual comic panels from the comics and minimally animate them and provide professional voice-acting. It all creates a very nice effect.

WATCH: Iron Man: Extremis (2010) – Rated TV-MA

The famed Marvel Comics superhero continues his epic animated adventures in the 21st century by taking on his old foe Mallen, who’s gotten his hands on a nanotechnology serum called Extremis that transforms humans into deadly super-soldiers.

WATCH: Spider-Woman: Agent of SWORD (2009) – Rated TV-MA

After an incident in her childhood, Jessica Drew is fated to become a full-blown superhero in this animated action series. Allied with the S.W.O.R.D. counterintelligence agency, the female Spidey defends Earth from multiple alien threats.

WATCH: Astonishing X-Men: Gifted (2009) – Rated TV-MA

From Joss Whedon and John Cassaday comes a new vision of the X-Men, propelling the often-conflicted, mutant superheroes into the 21st century. This animated feature brings the comic books alive with stunning graphics and dynamic voice actors. Cyclops and Emma Frost seek to reform the X-Men with a vigorous clarity of purpose, but when a “cure” for mutants is discovered, their plan is threatened, and ferocious enemies test them to their limits.

I have recommended all of these as WATCH simply because you should see how these are done. The main drawback is that these are stupidly broken up into “episodes” which really hurts their watchability.¬† Probably the easiest to get into would be Astonishing X-Men by Joss Whedon and Spider-Woman is the hardest as it takes place during the recent Skrull invasion storyline.

Please do not mistake these for the animated X-Men, Iron Man, Avengers, and Spider-Man series (all of which are also available on instant Netflix). Every word in the motion comics is taken from the comics themselves. These are certainly not for everyone because they are basically someone reading a comic to you while you watch but they are interesting.

Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog – The Doctor is Out week

In honor of my sudden illness this past weekend, this week is The Doctor is Out week. In this case The Doctor is Out..of his mind! Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Dr. Horribles Sing-Along Blog (2008) – NR – Not Rated.

“When he’s not busy breaking the law or trying to get close to his secret crush, Penny (Felicia Day), supervillain wannabe Dr. Horrible (Neil Patrick Harris) boasts about his exploits via his Internet video blog and dreams of defeating his nemesis, Captain Hammer (Nathan Fillion). Conceived during the 2008 Hollywood writers strike, Joss Whedons quirky musical comedy originally debuted as an online miniseries.”

“Its curtains for you Dr. Horrible. Lacy, gently wafting curtains.”

Okay I have to admit to having drunk the Whedon-flavored kool-aid. In my opinion he created two of the best TV series ever made (Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly) and two flawed ones that I enjoyed (Angel & Dollhouse). He also wrote one of the best animated movies ever (Toy Story) and made one of my very favorite science fiction films (Serenity).

Joss Whedon made this with many of his friends and family during the writers strike. It was originally viewable as three webisodes. Despite never having a traditional broadcast, Time magazine named it the 4th best TV show of 2008.

Dr. Horrible is played to absolute perfection by Neil Patrick Harris. He auditioned for the role of Simon Tam in Firefly but did not get it. I have never seen Doogie Howser but I enjoyed him in Starship Troopers and Undercover Brother. His performance is quite nuanced.

Our hero, the pompous Captain Hammer, is played by Nathan Fillion. He is charming as always, has good comic timing, and works well with Neil.

Nathan Fillion starred in Firefly for Joss Whedon and when that was cancelled, Whedon put him in the seventh season of Buffy. Whedon did much the same thing for Firefly star Gina Torres, casting her in Angel.

Our love interest is the delightful Felicia Day, star and creator of The Guild. She was originally one of the Slayerettes in the seventh season of Buffy. I think she is my new favorite actress and I hope she gets bigger parts.

The only other star of note is Simon Helberg, who appears briefly as Moist. He is currently playing Howard Wolowitz in The Big Bang Theory.

The writing is superb and the framing device of this being the video blog of Dr. Horrible plays out great.

This short show (43 minutes total for all three acts) is absolutely hysterical and has great musical numbers (though not quite as good as those in Buffy the Musical). I highly recommend this show. I would actually go so far as to call this a classic and I will have to buy the DVD at some point.

People Watch: Jed Whedon appears as part of the Bad Horse chorus and frequent Joss Whedon collaborator Marti Noxon appears as a newswoman. Joss Whedon himself appears as the fist of Captain Hammer (when he punches the device on top of the van).