AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON (2015)

May 17, 2015

Avengers Ultron Greetings again from the darkness. Joss Whedon returns as writer/director for the sequel to his 2012 blockbuster The Avengers, and this time he juggles an exceptionally large, diverse and talented group of characters and actors who are not only involved in good versus evil, but also in the battle for screen time.

There is no shortage of write-ups from film critics and fanboys who have analyzed every aspect of the movie from every possible angle, and while I admit to taking that same approach to most movies, there is something about the Marvel franchise that cause me to flip off the film critic part of my brain and just sit back and enjoy. And enjoy I do. The characters are fun and interesting and the action is at times breath-taking.

Since there are, by my count, at least 23 actors who deserve mention, it makes little sense for me to list them here. It is worth noting that the key actors all reprise their roles as Avengers, and many of those in supporting roles are back as well. This time there are also many significant newcomers, and those include “The Twins” – Aaron Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and Elizabeth Olsen as Scarlet Witch. Other newbies include Linda Cardellini (“Mad Men”,” Bloodline”) as Hawkeye’s wife, Claudia Kim as Dr Helen Cho, Thomas Kretschmann as Strucker, and Andy Serkis as Ulysses Klaue. Though each is a nice addition, it’s the stellar voice work of James Spader as Ultron that really makes this movie click. Somehow Mr. Spader manages to convey a powerful presence despite maintaining a (mostly) even keel throughout. It’s masterful voice acting.

Missing this time out are Pepper Potts and Loki, though we hardly notice thanks to the first look at Vision (Paul Bettany) and Thanos (Josh Brolin) … plus the unveiling of Iron Man’s Hulkbuster armor. If you thought the first Avengers movie made it difficult to keep up with the characters, this one will have your head spinning. It’s probably the only quibble I have with it … character overload at the expense of character development. The Hawkeye family farm represents a meager attempt to have this group of superheroes set in a “normal” environment, but it just doesn’t quite work. The Avengers are at their best while snipping at each other or saving the planet … fortunately the movie offers plenty of the latter.

watch the trailer:

 


PACIFIC RIM (2013)

July 15, 2013

pacific rim1 Greetings again from the darkness. Plain and simple … this is not my kind of movie. I fully understand there exists many movie-goers who are thrilled that director Guillermo del Toro‘s latest has finally hit theatres, but I really struggled with this mash-up of Transformers, Battleship and Godzilla, as well as what I believe to be a new world record for noise level. That being said, I do have some positive comments to make.

The technological aspects of the movie are exceptional. It has a unique look with some of the best CGI ever seen. There is no shortage of action, which is typically good for an action movie … but here, it seemed that one monster vs robot fight led right into the next one, and the next. The cast is very talented and represent some of the most entertaining shows on TV: “Sons of Anarchy”, “True Blood”, “Homeland”, “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia” and “Justified”. The downside is many of them don’t seem overly excited to be spouting some of the worst dialogue of the year.

pacific rim4 The basic story is a war between mankind and the Kaiju – monsters from another world. World leaders work together to develop the Jaeger program … fighting robots co-piloted by two people who are drift-compatible (a kind of mind meld that let’s them fight as one). After years of struggling against the Kaiju, the world leaders decide instead to build a security wall around the main cities. Clearly they had not seen World War Z or read any of the “fence” stories from the US/Mexico border. No surprise, but the robots have to be reactivated for the climactic battle scene.

pacific rim3 Iris Elba runs the Jaeger program and commands the pilots that include Charlie Hunnam, Rinko Kikuchi, Max Martini, and Robert Kazinski. Hunnam is battling inner demons after the death of his brother (Diego Klattenhoff). For some reason, Hunnam plays his part with an overdose of bland. He seems to have been cast for his effectiveness in his shirtless scenes. Martini and Kazinski stand out here, probably because competition is so uninspired … oh and they have a dog. Ms. Kikuchi seems to be under the impression that her scenes were rehearsals as she can’t quite hash out a consistent approach (translated: she is painful to watch). The usually great Elba alternates between a mumbled whisper and a full-out yell … neither working too well. His “canceling the apocalypse” speech seems to be right out of Independence Day.

pacific rim2 The comedy relief is provided by the shared scenes of Charlie Day and del Toro favorite Ron Perlman. Day is at his screechiest and Perlman at his most flamboyant, but it’s not enough of the story to salvage much hope. Instead we get an endless number of hand-to-hand combat scenes  the Jaeger and Kaiju. And they mostly all look the same fight: waist deep in water while its dark and rainy. Unless they happen to be completely underwater, where it’s even darker.

For all the negatives tossed out here, it must be ended with the reminder that the movie is a technical marvel to look at. I much prefer del Toro in the Pan’s Labyrinth mode, and I would even prefer the old Japanese Godzilla monster-fests to this, but he has raised the bar for robotic and monster CGI. Maybe that’s enough for your eyes and ears.

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are fan of CGI and prefer your movies BIG and LOUD!

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you don’t have ear protection

watch the trailer:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ef6vQBGqLW8

 

 


THOR

May 18, 2011

 Greetings again from the darkness. Upfront admission: I am not a Thor comic book expert. Many people are and I fully appreciate their take on this film will be much different from mine. I can only judge this movie on the basic background knowledge I have and the final product on the screen.

Let’s start with the good stuff. Chris Hemsworth makes a terrific Thor. If I had his looks and build, I would certainly consider myself a Nordic God. Heck, I might even carry around a giant hammer just for fun! Thor, son of Odin, is all set to be named King of Asgard until his quick temper and love of battle cause a break in the peace accord with the Frost Giants. His dad, Odin, played by Sir Anthony Hopkins is none too pleased with his hot-headed son. Not only does he renege on the promise to name him King, but he strips his power and casts him down to Earth … specifically New Mexico. For some reason, all alien portals lead to New Mexico. You can tell it’s a been a bad day for Thor because he lands in the middle of nowhere and is promptly run over by a science lab van driven by Natalie Portman.

 Other good stuff: Idris Elba as Heimdall, the gatekeeper, is excellent; there is a cameo by Jeremy Renner as Hawkeye – a teaser for The Avengers movie next year; Jaimie Alexander shows some chops as Sif; Clark Gregg is back as Agent Coulson; some of the special effects are pretty cool … the Frost Giants are very detailed and The Destroyer looks like Iron Man on metallic steroids; and lastly, Kat Dennings has a couple of sharp lines as Portman’s assistant. Ms. Dennings was superb in Nick and Norah’s Infinite Playlist.

 OK, the not so good stuff: I am beginning to despise 3-D (it adds nothing, while diminishing the brightness of colors); Jotunheim (land of the Frost Giants) is plain, gray and boring; Natalie Portman, fresh off an Oscar is just terrible as an astro-physicist with a teenager-style crush on Thor; Tom Hiddleston as Loki is one of the weakest villains I have ever seen in a super-hero/comic book movie; Rene Russo must not have read the script prior to accepting her role – she has about 3 lines and is totally wasted.

Despite the weaknesses, I found the movie to be entertaining enough thanks to the scenes with Thor and Odin. The ambitious son being shown tough love by his father is a missing element in much of society today. Guess it takes a Nordic God to show us how. The scenes with Portman are painful to watch, but I believe there is enough to keep the comic book fans, and just about anyone else, entertained.

Directed by Kenneth Branagh, who is best known for his Shakespeare and stage work, the movie does have a little different look and feel from the average superhero movie. Still, I wouldn’t put it in the class of Batman, Spider-man, or Iron Man. We do get the expected Stan Lee cameo and the end-of-the-credits appearance of Samuel L Jackson. Up next, Captain America but for now, it’s Hammer time!

SEE THIS MOVIE IF: you are a fan of Thor comic books OR you just want to see what a shirtless Nordic God would look like OR you want to see a challenge to Elisabeth Shue in The Saint as the most miscast scientist (Ms. Portman)

SKIP THIS MOVIE IF: you prefer the dialogue and story to make sense OR you prefer to remember Natalie Portman as the fine actress she was in Black Swan.