Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

avengers-age-of-ultron-concept-computer-wallpaper-pictures-jpg Three years ago we got the culmination of so much with the release of The Avengers. Bringing together a group of unlikely characters from individual movies and slamming them together into one epic finale; and boy did it work. Fast forward to today and we are embarking on a similar path, but the stakes are a lot higher for many reasons. Can Avengers: Age of Ultron deliver on the promise of more teamwork, world building, and copious amounts of fun? The answer is a resounding yes and with plenty to spare. Avengers: Age of Ultron meets those challenges and creates some news and hurdles them as well. Director Joss Whedon leads an ensemble cast of superheroes through a film that pushes everyone to be better. Whedon, who cut his teeth in television, has come a long way from serialized vampire vs teen girl shows. However, leaning on his roots of juggling large casts has proven to be his greatest asset. Its nice to have the director of these films be the writer as well because we can compare them directly to one another. In this case, we can see Whedon’s writing and direction have gone from good to pretty damn great. Creating more cinematic shots of these inherently ultra-cinematic moments makes the film feel more grand and works for the spectacle that we have come to expect. Whedon has said that the making of this film almost killed him, but it seemed the stress was worth it. He has pushed his writing and direction to the limit and we benefit from that tremendously.

The film picks up pretty much from the bonus scene at the end of Captain America: The Winter Soldier. Relax, if you didn’t stay in your theater seats for the extra you will not be lost. We are immediately introduced to Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) as possible foils for The Avengers. They are “enhanced” and present a completely new set of challenges for our heroes. The entire team that we know from The Avengers: Captain America (Chris Evans), Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), and Thor (Chris Hemsworth) are all back in action from the onset of the film. We get an understanding that the team has been leading missions from Avengers Tower (formerly Stark Tower). The teamwork aspect of the film is a very real change. We see the crew play off of each other and are more assembled than ever before, well in most aspect. Due to his extreme hubris, Tony Stark decides that he will build an artificial intelligence named Ultron without consulting with the team. Tony sees this as a way to be a peace keeping force in the world to end the era of The Avengers. Things like this tend to go wrong, and so it is the same here. Ultron is “born” and immediately decids that he needs to destroy The Avengers for the sake of mankind.

The film goes the ways in which you might expect, sans one thing. The film takes an amazing tonal shift at one point and really gives the most character development we’ve seen in a comic book based film in quite some time. Drawing the audiences into a scenario of actually caring for and about something. While I am sure less mature viewers will deride this as the “boring parts.” What Whedon is able to create is a space for us to know the characters deeper. Its a wonderful bit of film making and makes the impact of events that much deeper.

The performances by all the principal actors is much the same as we’ve seen before. All very solid with Robert Downey Jr. leading the charge as the most seasoned actor. Chris Evans’s Captain America has really come into his own since his last solo film. He has truly embodied the character. The real stand out without a doubt is James Spader’s Ultron. While not a human character, the role of Ultron was motion captured from Spader himself. We get all the great mannerism of the man and it works so well. His voice gives a bit extra “superiority” complex to the character. Spader’s amazing performance shifts from the inquisitive to the mad in seconds, the emotional spectrum makes for a villain who is worth the team’s time and effort. Combined with Joss Whedon fantastic writing, Spader has a massive sandbox to play in and you won’t soon forget his impact in this ever expanding universe. Ultimately, Avengers: Age of Ultron is what we want in these films. Its a perfect balance between fun, action, and depth. A true step up from the first Avengers film in every single way.

[easyreview title= "Review of Avengers: Age of Ultron" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]

Review: Godzilla

Godzilla After a 16 year hiatus in U.S. theaters Godzilla returns to the silver screen bigger and louder then he's ever been. With its incredible CGI and fairly decent (if not cliched) story it definitely takes you on a ride. Whether or not you like that ride will depend on how patient of a person you are. It stumbles here and there but make no mistake, 60 years after it's original debut on the shores of Japan, Godzilla stakes its claim as the King of the Monsters. After a disaster at the nuclear power plant that he works in, Joe Brody (Bryan Cranston) is obsessed with finding out what really happened on that fateful day in 1999. 15 years later Ford (Aaron Taylor-Johnson), Joe's son and who has since joined the army, is called in to basically come and get his "crazy" father. We get the obligatory family dynamic rounded out by Elle Brody (Elizabeth Olson) and son Sam. After Ford realizes that his father isn't crazy he decides to join him on his quest. They eventually meet Dr. Serizawa (Ken Watanabe) and it really isn't difficult to figure out what happens from there.

As thin as the plot is, director Gareth Edwards and company somehow manage to make you care about these people as these scenes clearly show you why these characters are who they are. Cranston as usual, knocks his performance out of the park. Johnson does a decent enough job playing the stoic army vet and well, Olson really doesn't have much more to do other then give that thousand yard stare of her's. Still, she works with what she's given and isn't bad. Watanabe is just a doctor that's there to give sage advice when needed. Nothing more nothing less.

This is where the patience comes into play. Going to a movie called Godzilla you're expecting to see a giant monster tear up a city. Well, that does happen but it's a slow burn. I actually enjoyed the direction they took to get him on screen. When Godzilla finally arrives it's well worth the wait as it looks absolutely bad ass. You never see the creatures from their perspective. They're always shot from the human perspective which gives the monsters an incredible sense of scale. They're massive and completely unapologetic about destroying a city. They've got no grace, no regard for human life. They're basically Rick James saying "FUCK YO COUCH" as they annihilate Hawaii and San Francisco and I'm 100% ok with that. This however will be another topic of contention as well. We want to see giant monsters fight but the film tends to troll the audience. As soon as the proverbial feces is about to hit the fan there's a convenient cutaway to some human drama which I can probably guess a lot of audience members won't give a damn about. Trust me when the final reel hits and you've got your ringside seat. You'll be chanting "This is Awesome" like a WWE crowd.

The movie has its flaws and could stand to have a bit more Godzilla in it but I enjoyed the hell out of it. Even the music had a mix between that old school monster movie vibe and the basic horns and violins that every other action movie seems to have these days. The direction is very pretty, even when there's maximum destruction happening on screen. The acting is solid and the movie is just all around fun. I'm actually excited for a sequel which I'm sure is already in the pipeline.

[easyreview title= "Review of Godzilla" cat1title="Terrence's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="3.5" overall= false]

Review: Anna Karenina

Anna Karenina With seven previous movie and two television adaptations under its belt, Anna Karenina has been a massively popular story since it was written by Leo Tolstoy in 1877. The story of a woman in Russian high society who decides to risk it all for an affair with a younger man clearly resonates with audiences and its not hard to imagine why. Director Joe Wright takes aim at putting his very own spin on the story, and what a spin it is. Wright’s version of Anna Karenina is beautifully shot and the world he portrays is quite unique.

Our story begins with a woman, Anna (Keira Knightley) who is of high society in 19th century Russia. She has a son and is married to Alexi Karenin (Jude Law). Alexi is a staunch and rigid man who lacks any ounce of passion. Their marriage is one of societal pressure and convenience hardly of love. This seeds the ground for Anna to look elsewhere for someone who can match her passion. Anna isn’t necessarily unhappy but she certainly isn’t happy; just floating through life from one empty and mundane moment to the next. Things begin to change however when Anna leaves her husband and son behind in St. Petersburg to take a trip to Moscow. While in Moscow she meets the younger and dashing Count Vronsky (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). From their very first glance their fates are sealed. Interconnected for a lifetime whether they wanted to admit it or not, circumstances be damned. Vronsky feeling simply overwhelmed with passion for Anna pursues relentlessly. Anna withdraws and Vronsky pursues further. The classic cat and mouse game was broken of its cliche feeling by Anna being honest in her hesitation. She was certainly not staying away from Vronsky for affect. She knew their relationship would destroy them both, and the lives of her son and husband would also hang in the balance. Unfortunately, love and passion have a way of ruining best laid plans and the two engage in a steamy affair. They become the very hushed talk of St. Petersburg. The age old question of how far are you willing to go for love is the overarching message here. Is Anna and Vronsky’s relationship worth it? Passion versus stability. Love versus status.

One element that simply cannot be ignored in this version is the transition and stage presence. Director Joe Wright shows the audience that they are watching a play inside of a film. I wasn’t aware that the film would be shot like this and it was a pleasant surprise. All the scene changes were comprised of curtain raises, manual furniture moving, and camera manipulation. This was baffling at first but after a mere few minutes you will adjust. The scenes themselves were well shot and lit perfectly. The costumes were absolutely breathtaking. High society in 19th century Russia was extravagant and whoever created the costumes did an excellent job reaffirming that.

The acting in the film was astounding. I have really enjoyed Keira Knightley’s move into more serious and indie roles like this. As of late, her work on A Dangerous Method and now Anna Karenina shows that long have the days past of Knightly showing up in a vapid romantic comedy. Her ability to portray the tortured soul of a woman conflicted was fantastic. As her life shifted from pure passion into a social death spiral Knightly conveys the human transition wonderfully. Alongside her is her stoic husband Alexi Karenin played by Jude Law. While known as a Hollywood handsome man, here he is anything but. A cold man whose looks are purposefully dulled to emphasize Count Vronsky’s charm and good looks. Law presents a case for the effects of stoicism, able to stay calm and stay the course in the face of a crumbling marriage and societal respect. The mirror opposite of Law’s stoicism was Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s portrayal of Count Vronsky. The dashing cavalry man who steals the heart of Karenin’s wife is truly a likeable rogue. Taylor-Johnson makes Vronsky vulnerable, relatable, and in some ways a very sad character. He seems like a man who has everything that he wants but also he suffers from having no true agency. He is lead around by his mother and then by Anna. Rarely making true decisions for himself. Supporting roles of Anna’s brother (Matthew Macfayden) and his friend Konstantin Levin (Domhnall Gleeson) gave the film a level of comedy and sweetness. Especially Gleeson’s role of a man who refused to give up on love and his rejection of being apart of Russia’s high society.

In conclusion, a true gem right before Oscar season. Anna Karenina plays to every period piece strength and almost none of their weaknesses. Helmed by a director who knows the genre all too well and starring actors who have really come into their own over the last few years. Aaron Taylor-Johnson’s transition from a skinny crime fighter in Kick-Ass to a formidable drama star beginning with Albert Nobbs and now with Anna Karenina to Keira Knightley’s powerful performance I would not be surprised if Oscar nominations are laid at the feet of many people in this cast.

[easyreview title= "Review of Anna Karenina" cat1title="Jay's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]