Review: ‘The Avengers: Age of Ultron’ (Rise of Robo-Spader and the Wondrous Twins)

Exhausting in the best way – like seeing everything in one day on a two-park ticket to an Orlando resort.

Following a tip from Director Coulson (Clark Gregg) on “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.” (not actually in the film, but hey, “it’s all connected”), the Avengers catch up to Hydra scientist Baron Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) and capture Loki’s missing scepter, aka The Glowstick of Destiny. The only survivors of Strucker’s experiments to enhance humans are the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen); to quote Maria Hill (Cobie Smulders): “He’s fast and she’s weird.” Realizing that the scepter isn’t supernatural but technological, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) convinces Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) to use it to jumpstart a dormant A.I. program called Ultron, designed to create “a shield around the world.” The experiment works…all too well, as Ultron (James Spader) comes to life as Stark’s android doppelgänger opposite, escaping into the internet after an attack attempt on our heroes. Recruiting the Maximoff twins with promises of destroying the Avengers and particularly Tony Stark for causing collateral damage, Ultron has far dire plans in mind: destroying all humanity.

Writer/director/producer Joss Whedon looked like he’d been run over after finishing this film, and it’s no wonder: it took a lot to top the last outing of The Avengers. Age of Ultron tops the original in every way, from camaraderie and humorous team interaction to pure superhero bliss…and yet, somehow it felt like less. The problem may be one of timing; this Avengers sequel wasn’t really competing with its predecessor so much as it was trying to top Captain America: The Winter Soldier, a film so good it made Age of Ultron feel like a step backwards – if only slightly. You’ll get your money’s worth here, folks, so don’t be shy.
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Review: ‘Furious 7′ (Long. Slow. Meaningful. Looks. And vehicular warfare.)

You will believe a digital actor can digitally act.

After the crew of Dominic Toretto (Vin Diesel) put Dracula…sorry, Owen Shaw (Luke Evans) into the hospital at the end of Fast & Furious 6, his brother Deckard (Jason Statham) vows revenge! Enduring a couple of sneak attacks with varied results, Dom goes on the offensive but is intercepted by Mr. Nobody (Kurt Russell), an American shadow operative who offers to help locate Deckard so that Dom can put a whooppin’ on him. One catch: the operative needs Dom and his team to recover a mobile audio/video hacking/tracking system called God’s Eye (tech stolen from Bruce Wayne, no doubt). What makes no sense is why they’re stealing a McGuffin to find the bad guy – to KILL the aforementioned bad guy – because that SAME bad guy keeps showing up everywhere they go!

From the opening scene, you know how ridiculous it’s all going to be…and fans of this series won’t care because of all the fun to be had. It’s a modern Mad Max with every James Bond Q-branch auto gadget spread out over an entire movie. Jason Statham wallows in being the bad guy and looks great doing it. The story even manages to surprise along the way, taking a few old tropes and tossing them out the driver’s side window. In fact, you might even say Vin Diesel has managed to find a way to combine the too-serious space bounty hunter franchise Pitch Black action with Car Wars – and theater popcorn sales will never be the same.
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Review: ‘Matt Mercury – Plot of the Galactic Mastermind’ (the future…the way it used to be)

Where overly heroic heroes and needlessly futuristic gadgets always save the day. Well, okay, mostly.

After rescuing the last survivor of an alien race of weapon-making molten men, Captain Matt Mercury (Matt Lavine) of the Rocket Rangers learns that Earth is in danger of being stolen away by the evil mutant super-genius Professor Brainwave (Bill Hughes), the once-human servant of the Galactic Mastermind! With his valiant crew members including snarky Sparx McCoy (Lauren Galley) and underappreciated Jinky the Robot (voice of Heidi Hughes), Matt must save the day…as long as his involvement with old flame Mulkress Dunner (Chantal Nicole) doesn’t distract him more than repeatedly than finding milk in his tea. Will Matt succeed? Will the Earth be returned? What’s with the robot lima beans? Rip open a Rocket Bar and sing along with the Rocket Rangers until the day is saved!

Where Spaceballs spoofed modern space fantasy adventure, Matt Mercury skewers classic sci-fi serials with hairy rubber aliens, hand-painted lasers beams, and actual model miniatures of locations and spacecraft. Sure, they had to incorporate a lot of green screens to pull this off on a small budget, but it lovingly reflects the look and feel of everything up to the original “Star Trek” series, wallowing in the absurdity instead of just playing it straight. While comparible to the understated, overacted brilliance of The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra, genre fans will find plenty of familiar tropes and more than a few Easter-egg absurdities for sharp-eyed viewers – not to mention those wonderfully quotable one-liners!
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Review: ‘It Follows’ (a throwback with a clever take on corrupting the innocent)

Pat Benetar was right, but what ELSE are you going to use as a weapon?

Jay (Maika Monroe) is a pretty young woman residing in Detroit dating a mysterious new local guy named Hugh (Jake Weary). On the night after they have sex for the first time, Hugh knocks her out, binds her to a chair, and says he’s “helping her.” Something is coming for Jay because she had sex with Hugh, and it will kill her if it can reach her – unless she has sex with someone else to pass the curse along. Here’s the kicker: if she fails to do this before it succeeds, the thing comes back to stalk and kill the one who passed it on. It can look like anyone dead or alive, presumably something disturbing, but it never runs…and it never stops.

Stop worrying about what will happen if you watch forbidden video tapes or play with witch boards; this film is all about doing it and paying for it…forever. With a surprisingly competent cast of young actors, It Follows manages an incredible amount of creep on a small budget with a high concept. This isn’t to say it’s all perfect, but for all its flaws, it’s both memorable and controversial, inspiring the kind of water cooler horror-fan talk that the The Ring managed to generate before it was diluted with all the sequels. Like all good first films, no explanation is given for how this thing got started, but that doesn’t stop our cast of potential victims from trying and failing spectacularly to survive.
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Review: ‘Edge of Tomorrow’ (the action-packed sci-fi blockbuster you didn’t watch)

Smug Cruise, stupid Cruise, needy Cruise, awesome Cruise.

Cage (Tom Cruise) is a military media liaison covering an alien invasion of Earth and helping to recruit soldiers to the cause…mostly to avoid being shipped off to battle himself. On the eve of a desperate push against enemy forces in central Europe, Cage is told he’s going to be covering the battle – not where he wants to be – and attempts to influence a British General to get out of it. Faster than can you say “Yes, Drill Sargent,” Cage awakens stripped of rank, inducted into a frontline squad, and quickly on a beachhead alongside allied forces getting slaughtered. An instant before she’s killed, he spies a hero of the war named Rita (Emily Blunt) before dying himself in a shower of alien blood…before waking up again stripped of rank and inducted into a frontline squad. Did he dream the future, or is something else going on?

It would be easy to call this Groundhog Day meets Independence Day, and that’s a very apt description. What sets this story apart is the attention to detail and the actors themselves. In a film where the same characters die many times over while learning new things each time it happens, this would be an editor’s nightmare – or the coolest thing ever. It must have been amazing to see this film come together with so much information and plot poured in. There are rules, of course; like many of the best time travel films, hard limits like causality, time of travel, and keep these stories tight. Edge of Tomorrow is exactly the kick-ass, intellectual, science-fiction story everyone says they wish was made more often…and yet it was panned.
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Review: ‘Divergent’ (dystopia-ish faction-y grrl power)

It feels like The Hunger Games light, but it’s better than the screen-version of The Mortal Instruments.

In a futuristic, post-something-or-another world that looks like Chicago-After-People, skyscrapers that are two-centuries old inexplicably don’t fall down to crush the Five Factions: Abnegation, the selfless; Amity, the peaceful; Candor, the honest; Dauntless, the brave; and Erudite, the intellectual. Citizens are given an aptitude test at the age of sixteen in the form of a dreamlike simulation to help them determine where they belong. They may choose to stay where they were born or move to another faction, but if they fail to measure up, they become “factionless,” vagrants condemned to the city ruins (nice, huh?) Beatrice “Tris” Prior’s (Shailene Woodley) aptitude test flags her as “divergent,” capable of being in several factions – a frowned-upon condition that jeopardizes the entire system. When she chooses Dauntless over her birthplace of Abnegation, she’s launched on a journey that puts herself, her family, and the entire 23rd century in danger before Buck Rogers can get back to save it.

The Walled City formerly known as Chicago has some issues, mostly the future-tech and weird secrecy. Sorry; this world couldn’t survive even a decade like this (let alone two-hundred years), but it does make for an interesting backdrop for our heroine to be brave and such. Of course, there’s a conspiracy afoot, and Tris is right in the middle of it trying to survive, excel, and find her place in Neo-Chicago. What’s weird is that Tris always seems to be in danger of something, but everyone outside of her little circle (read: the extras in the background) all seem kind of oblivious to what’s going on in a way that undermines suspension of disbelief. Pay attention, guys; the caterers will still be there after the scene.
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Review: ‘Project Almanac’ (decent found-footage time travel flick)

Pretty good, but a little tweaking here and there might have made it great.

David (Jonny Weston) is a high school senior science nerd who dreams of getting into MIT. With the help of his sister and two best buds, he gets admitted – but with a scholarship too small to cover his expenses. Having little choice other than to change his life plans or his mother selling their house, David and his sibling raid the attic for ideas before finding an old video camera. The ten-year old footage of the day his dad passed away also shows his eighth birthday party…and his eighteen year old self walking through the frame.

A late-January film like this has a lot going against it: found footage, time travel, produced by Michael Bay – and don’t get me started on product placement (mobile cameras, game consoles, concert venues – oh, it’s MTV Films, too). To the film’s credit, it’s a self-aware time travel flick, citing everything from Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure to Looper, even a “Doctor Who” reference. The science of the time travel technology is certainly part of the story, including the rules. Apparently, your past self cannot observe your in-the-flesh future self for too long in close proximity (this bit of rules-lawyering is shaky) or else you may wink out of existence (yep, even a Time Cop reference). The entire story attaches itself to the idea that observation of future events changes it, yet it conveniently sorts that out when it benefits the plot. Still, for a self-aware time travel flick, it does hit all the right pop-culture tropes and has fun with the idea.
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