Movie Review: “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

Starring
Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany
Director
Joss Whedon

Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a Hydra base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.

Inside the aforementioned Hydra base is a gold mine of military weapons, both mechanical and human, created by Baron von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann). He’s used Loki’s scepter to give orphaned twins Pietro and Wanda Maximoff (Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen, respectively) superhuman powers, namely (and again, respectively) super speed and all sorts of telekinetic abilities. The Avengers do not get any of Hydra’s data, but they do acquire the scepter, and in studying it, Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) gets the brilliantly stupid idea to convert the scepter’s alien power source into an artificial intelligence that will work to achieve world peace, an idea he’s had for years but has never been able to perfect. This time, it works, and the new consciousness, which he had nicknamed Ultron (James Spader), has a plan for peace on Earth. Unfortunately, his plan involves the extinction of mankind.

Wanda can get people to see things, namely their worst fears. We see the nightmares of everyone she touches, except for Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), who goes on to do the most damage: he terrorizes a large city, the very thing he spent years of his life in exile in order to prevent. Of all the nightmares that the audience absolutely has to see, this is the one. Instead, we get Hulk’s reaction to his visions without context, which culminates in a ridiculous street fight between Hulk and Iron Man that does tens of billions of dollars’ worth of damage (though it admittedly has a good laugh halfway through). Everything about this is wrong, and the opposite of what Whedon normally stands for as a storyteller. Just one line explaining that Stark will pay for everything, or that the Avengers are losing the people’s trust, would do. We get neither.

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Movie Review: “Begin Again”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Keira Knightley, Hailee Steinfeld, Adam Levine, James Corden
Director
John Carney

It’s incredible what can be achieved when you combine music with film, and John Carney exploited that perfect pairing with his musical drama “Once.” It’s been eight years since the small indie walked away with an Academy Award for Best Original Song, and in that time, the Irish-born writer/director made a couple films in his native country that flew so far under the radar that they never saw release here. So while it may seem a tad desperate of Carney to mark his Hollywood debut with another music-driven relationship drama, he’s simply playing to his strengths. “Begin Again” doesn’t quite have the same magic of “Once,” but it’s a sweet and cuddly crowd-pleaser highlighted by a pair of great performances and some catchy tunes.

Mark Ruffalo stars as Dan Mulligan, a self-described “selfish, depressed prick” who’s just been fired from the very record label he helped found. While on a bender later that night, he stumbles into a bar hosting an open mic event and is immediately moved by an original song performed by Greta (Keira Knightley), a British singer-songwriter who’s just had an equally bad day after being dumped by her rock star boyfriend (Adam Levine) following his first taste of success. Determined to share Greta’s indisputable talent with the rest of the world, Dan convinces her to record an album with a live band in different locations across New York City in the hope that he can convince his former business partner (Mos Def) to sign Greta to their label and rescue his job.

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Movie Review: “Thanks for Sharing”

Starring
Mark Ruffalo, Tim Robbins, Josh Gad, Gwyneth Paltrow, Patrick Fugit, Alecia Moore, Joely Richardson
Director
Stuart Blumberg

Sex addiction is a tricky topic – some believe that it’s a genuine disease that deserves to be treated on the same level as drugs and alcohol, while others think it’s a convenient excuse for a certain type of behavior – which is probably why so few movies have been made on the subject. But whereas 2011’s “Shame” took a darker look at the effects of sex addiction, writer/director Stuart Blumberg’s “Thanks for Sharing” is more interested in the recovery phase. As a result, it’s bound to garner much less attention than the NC-17 rated Steve McQueen drama, and rightfully so, because this is pretty standard indie fare that’s only elevated by its ensemble cast.

The film follows the intersecting lives of three men in various stages of recovery. Eco-friendly businessman Adam (Mark Ruffalo) has been sober for five years, and when he finally jumps back into the dating pool at the behest of his sponsor Mike (Tim Robbins), he meets the beautiful Phoebe (Gwyneth Paltrow), who has obvious concerns about his “addiction.” Mike, meanwhile, is a 12-step guru who trusts so much in the program that he doesn’t believe his drug addict son Danny (Patrick Fugit) – who suddenly returns home one night after a years-long absence – could possibly get clean on his own. And lastly, there’s Neil (Josh Gad), a schlubby doctor who’s been court ordered to attend sex addiction meetings and assigned Adam as his sponsor. Neil is in denial about the whole thing, but when he gets fired from his job for secretly filming up his boss’ skirt, he decides to take the program more seriously with the help of a fellow sex addict named Dede (Alecia Moore, aka Pink).

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Movie Review: “Now You See Me”

Starring
Jesse Eisenberg, Woody Harrelson, Isla Fisher, Mark Ruffalo, Morgan Freeman, Michael Caine, Dave Franco
Director
Louis Leterrier

It takes balls of steel to write a film like “Now You See Me.” It’s the screenwriter declaring to the moviegoing public that he or she is smarter than they are, which motivates the audience to prove them wrong. Now, to be fair to the screenwriters of this particular film, anyone who says they figured out the ending before the Big Reveal just got lucky. At the same time, there are a lot of things about the movie that are a little…off, and not in a ‘this is a clue in disguise’ kind of way. The characters themselves tell you that you’re too close to see the big picture. As it turns out, the movie is the same way. It’s a thrill to watch while it’s happening, but take a step back when the credits roll, and it reveals itself to be a house of cards.

J. Daniel Atlas (Jesse Eisenberg), Henley Reeves (Isla Fisher), Merritt McKinney (Woody Harrelson) and Jack Wilder (Dave Franco) are talented illusionists with varying degrees of success – a couple of them are actually cons – when they receive a mysterious invitation to meet in an abandoned building. One year later, they are performing together in Las Vegas as the Four Horsemen, and they execute a dazzling stunt that involves robbing a bank halfway around the world. This, naturally, attracts the attention of both the FBI and Interpol, which leads to cynic Fed Dylan Rhodes (Mark Ruffalo) being teamed up with French desk jockey Alma Day (Melanie Laurent). Watching from the sidelines with bemusement is Thaddeus Bradley (Morgan Freeman), an illusionist who has made a career out of debunking other illusionists. Rhodes isn’t sure whether he is trustworthy or another piece in a larger puzzle.

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The Light from the TV Shows: A Chat with Kathleen Robertson (“Boss”)

Although I get plenty of opportunities to do in-person interviews when I’m out on the west coast for the Television Critics Association press tours, I very rarely get the chance while I’m here at Virginia, so when I was offered the chance to meet Kathleen Robertson for coffee, one of the stars of a show I already have a lot of love for (“Boss”), you can imagine that I didn’t have to think twice before answering, “Absolutely!” Indeed, I didn’t even blink an eye when it was casually mentioned that it might be nice if I managed to find a way to bring up Starz’s new app for Cox subscribers, Starz Play, because, what, like it’s such a bad thing to hype something that helps more people see some of my favorite series? (As you hopefully recall, I’m a big “Magic City” fan, too.) As I was assured in advance, Kathleen was a total sweetheart, and as we chatted over the course of a half-hour, the topics included the series that brought us together in the first place, of course, but also “Maniac Mansion,” “90210,” “Tin Man,” and even the hilarious-but-underrated IFC series, “The Business.” Read on…but don’t forget that the “Boss” Season 2 finale airs Friday night on Starz!

Bullz-Eye: So the second season of “Boss” is coming to a close…

Kathleen Robertson: Yep!

BE: Your character, Kitty O’Neill, had a decidedly different dynamic in Season 2 than she did in Season 1. How much forewarning did you have about how Kitty’s storyline was going to play out during this season? Did you know from the get-go, or was it only doled out to you on an episode-by-episode basis?

KR: I knew from the get-go. I sat down with the writers at the very beginning of the season, and they sort of explained to me what the storyline was for her. With the exception of the finale. They were very secretive about the finale, and I didn’t know what was going to happen until the week before we shot it and I read the script. Have you seen the finale?

BE: I have not yet.

KR: [Tries and fails to disguise her giddiness.] It’s so good. It’s so good. They kept saying to me all through the year, “Just be patient. Just be patient and wait for (episode)10.” I said, “What does that mean, though? Like, am I gonna get killed? What are you…what happens in 10?” “Just be patient.” And then they’d say, “10 is your episode, and you’re gonna be really happy with it.” So I was. And I am really happy with 10. It’s amazing.

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BE: 10 may be “your episode,” but it’s arguable that you’ve had a lot of episodes. Kitty’s evolved throughout the season, at least in a certain sense. At the same time, though, she also ends up making it pretty clear that she doesn’t really know who she is unless she has someone to serve.

KR: Yeah, that’s true.

BE: Did you see that as being a part of her character from the very beginning, or was that something you discovered as time went on?

KR: Well, with Season 1… [Hesitates.] Farhad (Safinia) said to me at the beginning of the series, “For Season 1, Kitty almost has a reverse arc.” She kind of starts here… [Holds hand up and then begins lowering it.] …and ends here. And it’s kind of like that in Season 2 as well, because from the moment we meet her in this season, she’s pregnant, she’s sort of deciding if she even wants to be in politics anymore…she’s deciding who she is. So the journey for her over Season 2 was a much more internal one, and it was much more a case of asking, “Who am I without my identity?” And for her, the identity isn’t just working for Kane. It’s being in this whole world that she’s sacrificed everything for. So she sort of flirts with the idea of trying to be an alternate Kitty throughout the season, and by the end… [Smiles knowingly.] When you see the finale, I think she ends up where she belongs.

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