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: Richard III

Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.

 

Richard IIIRichard III (1995) – Rated R

One-Line Review: Watch this outstanding movie now – the DVD is out of print.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule.”

This version of Richard III is my favorite cinematic adaptation of the Bard. The alternate reality director Richard Loncraine creates for Richard III is inventive and fun. It was nominated, with good reason, for Oscars in the art direction and costuming categories. There is a wonderfully visual artistic sequence that I don’t want to spoil, save to say that Captain America appropriated it to good effect.

Ian McKellan gives a bravura, impish performance as the titular monarch. Even with later signature roles such as Gandalf and Magneto and a wonderful turn in Apt Pupil, I think this is his best performance. McKellan dominates every scene and single-handedly carries the film. He doesn’t need to though as he is supported by a stellar cast.

The cast is simply amazing. On the distaff side, Richard III stars Annette Bening, Kristin Scott Thomas, and the always wonderful Maggie Smith in juicy roles. Robert Downey Jr. is Lord Rivers and a veritable who’s who of British character actors are in support (Jim Broadbent, Nigel Hawthorne, John Wood, Edward Hardwicke, and even comedian Tim McInnerny as Catesby).

People Watch: Look for a young (okay, younger) Jim Carter as Lord William Hastings though you will recognize him as Mr. Carson in Downton Abbey.

 

A Late Iron Man 3 Review

Iron Man 3

First, I have to stress how grateful I am for this, the age of the comic book movie. I grew up with the TV series, The Incredible Hulk, being the pinnacle of what could be achieved with the Marvel Universe. The new integrated Marvel movies are simply wonderful.

Still I have to rag on Iron Man 3. Iron Man 3 is fun if you check your brain at the door and it suffers unfairly for being the first after Whedon’s masterpiece, The Avengers but it is a pretty awful sequel.

My wife is an accountant and a darn fine one if I may say so. I value the profession but I have rarely seen a movie that smacks more of being made by bean counters than Iron Man 3.

A child factors majorly into the picture, presumably to show that Disney touch. He is a decent enough child actor but it smacks of trying to capture the youth market. As usual there is plenty of product placement throughout the film.

Obviously, comic book movies tend to skew heavily male. To combat this, Pepper Potts’ (Gwyneth Paltrow) role has been considerably beefed up in Iron Man 3. This is a very good decision and has a nice payoff towards the end of the film but I think the decision was made demographically and not say, thematically.

For the nerds, we have a wonderful after-credits sequence with a surprise guest star. For the hardcore Iron Man nerds, we have a look at a large number of alternate Iron Man suits, including one that looks like the Hulkbuster.

Iron Man 3 has one of the stupidest plots ever. You have not one, not two, not three, but four separate characters at four separate times placed in, as Dr. Evil would say, unnecessarily slow dipping mechanisms. Yes, the good guys get captured at a near constant rate and the villains keep them alive to explain their evil plans. Don’t worry though one of the major villains kills a minor villain to presumably show that they are evil. This is unbelievably lazy screenwriting.

There are three scantily clad young ladies, I.e. eye candy, that are not apparently evil yet are strangely in a position to know all about the evil plot without doing anything (as is a fourth character but no spoilers). The entire last act makes absolutely no sense but, again, no spoilers. Let’s just say that there is almost no aspect of the chief villain’s plot that makes a lick of sense.

The only redeeming qualities are the cast and some nice action sequences. Robert Downey Jr. spends a lot of time out of the armor. As in Avengers, Paltrow spends a lot of time barefoot so she doesn’t tower over Downey yet she wears high heels in the presence of Rebecca Hall to assert her dominance. Fun but dumb is okay for summer I suppose.

Iron Man 2 – Marvel Superhero week

This is Marvel Superhero week – why? Because even though I am almost 50, I still love comic books. Iron Man 2 is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Iron Man 2 (2010) – Rated PG-13 for sequences of intense sci-fi action and violence, and some language.

Wealthy inventor Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) — aka Iron Man — resists calls by the American government to hand over his technology. Meanwhile, Ivan Vanko (Mickey Rourke) has constructed his own miniaturized arc reactor, causing all kinds of problems for our superhero. Sam Rockwell, Gwyneth Paltrow, Scarlett Johansson, Don Cheadle and Samuel L. Jackson co-star in director Jon Favreaus sequel based on Marvel comic book characters.

I loved the first Iron Man movie. I loved the handling (and updating) of the origin story as well as leaving enough room for the emergence of a good villain to quickly be trounced but mostly I loved it as a wonderful vehicle for Robert Downey Jr. and his quirky acting style.

Robert Downey Jr. does get to shine here as well but more attention is paid to the other characters (as compared to Iron Man which was basically a one-man show). Gwyneth Paltrow and Jon Favreau return as Pepper Potts and Happy Hogan and are given more substantial roles. Paul Bettany again voices Jarvis.

For some reason Terence Howard was not asked back to play Lt. Col. James Rhodes. Instead he was replaced by Don Cheadle (who I have loved since he played Mouse in The Devil in a Blue Dress). The first line Don utters is “Look I am here, its me, deal with it, lets move on” which is a very humorous response to the whole replacement fiasco.

To more closely tie-in The Avengers event in May 2012, Samuel L. Jackson reprises his role as Nick Fury as does Clark Gregg as Agent Coulson. Scarlett Johansson plays a kick-butt Natalie Rushman AKA Natalia Romanoff AKA…

Everyone performs well and it is nice to see so many Marvel heroes onscreen (Iron Man, War Machine, Nick Fury, Black Widow) and allusions to several others (Black Panther, Captain America, Thor). The post-credit sequence remains intact.

Having said that, director Jon Favreau has tried to pack way too much into the movie much like Sam Raimi did on Spider-Man 3 (though it does not experience anywhere near that level of failure). The main plot deals with Whiplash trying to take revenge on Tony Stark but there are separate subplots involving a Senate sub-committee, SHIELD, Rhodey, blood poisoning, Justin Hammer, Natalie Rushman, and more.

I suspect that Marvel pushed Favreau to do too much with this film. The result is that while the film is quite enjoyable, it seems to come across more as a series of requisite scenes than as a whole story. While disjointed, it is still very shiny and fun.

People Watch: Look for the standard Stan Lee cameo as well as Christiane Amanpour, Larry Ellison and DJ AM Adam Goldstein playing themselves.

Shakespeare week – Richard III

This is Shakespeare week on Instant Netflix. Another inventive adaptation of the Bard is Richard III by Richard Loncraine. Richard III is currently available on instant Netflix.

WATCH: Richard III (1995) – Rated R for violence and sexuality.

“Ian McKellen stars in the title role in this visually inventive adaptation of Shakespeares classic drama, which is set in 1930s England after a civil war has torn the country apart and left the people under fascist rule. Richard plots against his brother, Edward (John Wood), in his quest to usurp the throne, and will stop at nothing in pursuit of his goal. The film received Oscar nominations for art direction and costume design.”

“I that am rudely stamped, deformed, unfinished, sent before my time into this breathing world…”

For all the inventiveness of Romeo + Juliet, Richard Loncraine got there a year earlier with Richard III. Richard III begins with a teletype machine hammering out a message about the war and segues into a 1930s style war room and from there… well lets just say that that would be a visual spoiler only a few minutes into the film. Seriously though even if you do not choose to watch the film, watching the first three minutes will give you a wonderful idea of its chutzpah.

Star Ian McKellan co-wrote the screenplay with director Richard Loncraine. While they have rewritten Shakespeare, fear not – The House of York speech and much of the original dialogue remains intact.

Ian McKellan is absolutely stunning as Richard. This should come as no surprise to those who have seen him steal every scene as Magneto in the first three X-Men movies or again every scene as Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings trilogy. This is practically a one-man show (as Richard III often is) and McKellan is riveting, repeatedly breaking the fourth wall to speak directly to the camera.

McKellan is ably supported by John Wood as King Edward IV, Jim Carter as Hastings, and Nigel Hawthorne as Clarence. Jim Broadbent is very impressive as Buckingham. Robert Downey Jr. acquits himself well as Rivers but his recent performances have been more nuanced than this.

On the distaff side, Annette Bening makes quite a good American Queen Elizabeth but Kristin Scott Thomas has the juicier role as the cursed Lady Anne, a year before Kristin earned an Oscar nomination for The English Patient. She even gets to spit on Ian. It is of course a given that Maggie Smith is compelling as the Duchess of York.

While it did not win any Oscars, it was nominated for both Best Costume Design (Shuna Harwood) and Best Art Direction – Set Decoration (Tony Burrough). It lost both to Restoration. The set design, costuming and even the choice of setting in Richard III are fabulous as each descends into darkness and severity as Richard comes ever closer to his goal of the throne.

While there are a few niggling plot holes, due to Shakespeare and streamlining in equal measure, the film overall is quite wonderful and definitely a showcase for Ian McKellan.

People Watch: Look for Black Adder ninny Tim McInnerny as a very serious Catesby and The Wire star Dominic West (James McNulty) in his feature film debut as the Earl of Richmond.