Movie Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

ageofultron_posterCan you ever really have too much of a good thing? Joss Whedon is back with everyone’s favorite group of heroes, more crowd pleasing comic humor, and even more expensive looking special effects. Avengers: Age of Ultron loses none of the momentum built up from previous Marvel movies, but isn’t nearly as polished as Whedon’s previous superhero team-up.

Avengers: Age of Ultron finds Cap, Tony, and the rest of the gang fighting an enemy of their own making- or at least Tony and Dr. Banner’s making. After a raid of a still standing Hydra headquarters Tony finds himself in possession of the missing piece of a peace keeping artificially intelligent program that he and Banner have been working on. Initial tests prove unsuccessful, but while the team is enjoying some R&R the program- named Ultron- becomes self aware and begins to construct himself from spare parts in Tony’s workshop. Using the internet to come to the conclusion that humanity is doomed and in need of extinction Ultron (voiced by James Spader) constructs an army of robots to carry out his plan.  (more…)


Movie Review: The Avengers (2012)


This movie is awesome! There you go that’s really all I have to say- but at the risk of wasting space with just a short sentence I’ll indulge further. THE AVENGERS isn’t just the best action movie of the year- so far- it’s better than all of the previous Marvel superhero movies released to date. So good in fact that it almost seems pointless to make any sequels to the previous films or spinoff hero films because people will probably just wish the rest of the Avengers showed up and wrecked shop. It’s also safe to say that I think Joss Whedon should be tapped to direct every superhero movie from here on out- maybe even every action movie from here on out. So hopefully his schedule is clear.

By now everyone is likely aware the film combines the heroes from previous Marvel films to form what are known as The Avengers. Thor’s brother Loki has conspired to bring an army, the Chitauri, to Earth in hopes of ruling the planet with the help of a cube of energy, the Tesseract, which opens a portal that summons the army from another world into ours. It’s up to S.H.I.E.L.D. to assemble a handful of heroes- Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, Black Widow, Captain America and The Hulk to stop the threat from taking over the world.

Enough of that though, I’d rather just take time to go on and on about how awesome it was to see each of these heroes working together in all their unique ways. Each character is introduced perfectly, with the exception of Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) who comes and goes here and there till the end when he has a bigger role. The film doesn’t lean on any one of the characters specifically and instead does something even better by showing them together as a group as much as possible. What’s even better than that is showing them at odds with each other which makes them uniting to fight Loki and the Chitauri even more satisfying.

THE AVENGERS is extremely action packed and when it’s not its laugh out loud funny. The script is incredibly smart and clever in the set up for action but also with very funny jokes. During the action there are also moments of snarky comments from none other than Robert Downey Jr. as Iron Man while he’s taking out enemies or funny physical gags- the best involving The Hulk and his massive physical presence and brutal strength. The relationships between the characters build so well that their chemistry by the end is incredible which is remarkable in and of itself with the star power involved and the amount of screen time it takes to get each character time to shine.

The special effects are top notch- providing several money shots within the action scenes themselves and often blending seamlessly with the environments. Good special effects being key for a movie with such fantastic ideas and out of this world characters, but the entire movie plays out like what a child would vision in their head while playing with their action figures, except maybe even more imaginative. Even the more intimate of action set pieces have elements of pure adrenaline and excitement- which comes across in large part due to how connected we are to the characters which is just another way to praise Whedon and company for how well everything is fleshed out.

We couldn’t have asked for a better cast- even if most were obligated to reprise their roles based on their previous appearances. Downey is hysterical as always as the billionaire playboy, Tony Stark/Iron Man; Evans is phenomenal once again as the soldier with a heart of gold, Steve Rogers/Captain America. I guess the only real question mark for me was bringing in Mark Ruffalo to play Bruce Banner/Hulk- but my worries were needless because his turn as the green beast with serious anger management issues was my favorite use of the character in film yet and his green Mr. Hyde side gets plenty of applause inducing moments.

I’d hate to sound overzealous, but the truth be told at the moment I can’t think of a single aspect of the film I didn’t like. I also hesitate to call it perfect because in all honesty I don’t believe in calling any film perfect. THE AVENGERS though is one of those exceptions I believe is rating proof as one I can give my full approval and not feel bad about it. Even as long as the film is it moves like a freight train and is always fun and exciting to watch. I fully expect the film to play extraordinarily well on multiple viewings even once it is released for home video consumption.

On spectacle alone THE AVENGERS would have my full recommendation, but as a whole the film is a smart, funny, exciting and even dramatically engaging summer blockbuster- and one of the best in recent years. Anchored by an all-star cast that turn in fantastic work, amazing special effects and a script that is paced perfectly allowing for a long but always exciting runtime t and when it was over I was ready to plant myself in my seat and watch again. THE AVENGERS is a midyear marvel that is one of the brightest shining stars of an already promising year of cinematic adventures.

Rating: 10/10

10 Costume Ideas For Halloween 2011

Halloween is eerily close and if you like me wait till last minute to make plans for Halloween parties or just staying home to pass out candy then you also do not have a costume prepared. For those of us that thrive on last minute decisions the following list are ideas from recent movies to dress up as when you go out boozin or just to impress the trick or treaters when they ring the doorbell.

The Driver (Drive) – This costume sort of double dips because even if you haven’t seen DRIVE you can just say well I’m Ryan Gosling, however, the scorpion jacket might throw more than a few people off. Please try to refrain from random acts of violence and pulling off getaway drives if you get lost in playing this character, there’s no happy ending likely to come out of it.

Alien-wolf-gorilla-motherf*cker (Attack The Block) – Haven’t seen ATTACK THE BLOCK yet? What are you waiting for it’s currently available on DVD and Blu-Ray. If someone can replicate the stark black alien with glowing teeth costume they would automatically win any costume contest I was judging, unless of course the competition was a hot girl dressed as a nudist or should I say undressed. In my head though I’d be commending you on a job well done for the badass alien costume.

Kidnapping Ape (30 Minutes Or Less) – If you’re feeling lazy, like I usually do then you can always just run to the nearest costume store and pick up these simple masks that I’ve seen almost everywhere. You won’t win any points for originality but if you go the extra mile and have someone next to you with a FAKE bomb strapped to your chest I will give you kudos- and enjoy reading about it in the news on November 1st.

Captain America/Thor – I’m sure these will be popular amongst the kids this year with the release of their respective movies- that and the wave of Optimus Prime costumes. However, you might be able to woo a few of the ladies by dressing up as these costumed heroes…don’t be surprised if they are mistakenly calling you Chris on both accounts though.

Bridesmaid (Bridesmaids) – Can’t make a list of costumes without a suggestion for the ladies (or certain dudes that might be into this). I’m sure most ladies have a dress they were forced to wear to a friend’s wedding or a prom or anything that might require such an outfit, if not then get a hold of a cheap one, get some pink spray-paint and you’re good to go….brides you know you needed to reason to break out your dress again and what’s scarier to dudes than marriage- am I right?

Demented Ballerina (Black Swan) – Another for the ladies- you can let your imagination take over on this one but what better way to say “I’m crazy” than to dress in a tutu and glue black feathers all over your body. Also if you decide to bring in your beat girlfriend on this the Halloween after party should be a lot of fun.

Kevin James (Zookeper/The Dilemma) – Here’s an easy one for the husky fellas. Bonus, if you work for a zoo then it’s even easier. I find James to be pretty funny on King of Queens but his movie career is far from inspiring if not downright scary. Plus, there’s a fantasy element to this costume too, it gives you the allusion that despite being unfunny in movies you will always be cast with a significant other that is way out of your league.

Tranny (The Hangover Part II) – Here’s an idea for both them men and women and inappropriate to boot. Most joke stores are likely to have fake boobs for the guys to pull this off and ladies- well you may have to browse shelves at less than reputable places to find a prosthetic part of the male anatomy to complete the ensemble. This idea counteracts the number of people dressing as other members of THE HANGOVER entourage and anyone dressed as Stu might either be strangely attracted to you or try to avoid you like the plague- either way your costume will get some attention.

Red Skull (Captain America: The First Avenger) – The good news here is that even if people don’t know who Red Skull is, the actual makeup for this can double as a man with his skin peeled off his body. Once you bust out your incredibly fake German accent and start talking about genocide I think people will get there’s a deeper point to the costume and they’ll either ask who you are or assume you’re a skinless Hitler.

Old Woman/Darth Maul Demon (Insidious) – Here’s another idea you may end up having to explain to people. INSIDIOUS may have been one of the more successful horror releases this year but I still think people will not immediately understand what costume you’re trying to pull off. If I saw someone at the bar dressed as the old woman ghost I would put in a request to leave that bar that’s for sure. Also, it is your duty to sneak into every single picture someone takes that night- if you’ve seen the movie, you’ll understand. The problem with dressing as the demon is people will probably mistake you for the badass Sith from STAR WARS, which is not a bad thing in and of itself- he was the best part of THE PHANTOM MENACE.

Strip To Script: Comic Book Heroes On The Big Screen

The summer of 2011 marks a big time of year for the superhero movies that will be bursting through theater speakers to fans all over the world. Each of these superhero characters were born on the pages of comic books and not with the camera. Each year the superhero movies draw large crowds and I’ve always wondered if every single person in the theater is turning out because they read the comics as kids or adults, they were dragged by a fan or if they like me are mostly associated out of context and have a natural curiosity. I didn’t take a poll on this subject, my curiosity is the inner workings of my mind as I’m a product of a sole interest in the visual are of movies, even though I’ve enjoyed the occasional comic here and there.

I’ve sat and thought about all the comics I’ve read in my life and I can really only think of a few. Yet, I find myself liking if not loving a lot of the comic based movies that get released. I love Batman and I get asked all the time what my thoughts on who the villains should be in the upcoming movies when they get made and I’m always going back to the ones I grew up with in the original Batman movies like Catwoman, Bane, Two Face, The Riddler and of course The Joker. Everyone once in a while I absorb information from articles I read or videogames where characters I was previously unfamiliar with are discussed and my memory bank grows a little bit. I often wonder if not being well versed in the source material makes me a less discerning viewer of the films and I would agree if someone said my opinion isn’t fully valid, but only to a small extent. I may not know all the characters and backgrounds but I am able to learn and can make distinctions of their ability to work on film, even if that distinction is not always going to be gospel. I am a member of a specific audience demographic that will see just about anything if it looks agreeable enough up to and including superhero movies that I may not have a thorough frame of reference on. Comic book aficionados may face palm whenever someone like me tries to talk about a comic book universe, but that doesn’t make my opinion any less valuable to someone who might have the same mindset as me.

As I mentioned, I’ve read only a few comic books in my life that include Batman, maybe one or two Spiderman stories and the entire series that makes up the Watchmen graphic novel. I would never even pretend to come off as knowing even slightly more than any random fan about any comic book character. The information I’ve retained over the years comes almost entirely from pop culture information that includes movies, video games and just random information I’ve picked up from friends and people I’ve had conversations with; none of this qualifies me as an expert in anything comic book related. So why is it that these comic book movies appeal to someone like me?

When directors approach the comic book stories they always begin with the origin story. If they were looking to appeal ONLY to the comic book lovers there would be nearly no point in pandering to the uninitiated. As a fan of movies and the possibility of grand special effects along with a hero’s journey, these superhero movies appeal to me a great deal. The opposite end of the spectrum is if the movies appeal to me, why don’t I feel the need to seek out the comic books that they originate from? I wish the answer was complex and controversial, but the fact of the matter is that I don’t actively avoid comic books; the plain boring truth is I just don’t rush out to get them. Movies have always been my escape and the most attractive form of entertainment. Reading always stimulated my imagination, being able to visualize the words on paper, but movies push things a little further by showing you the potential of one’s imagination. All forms of entertainment that includes books, movies and even radio serve as outlets of imagination and have always inspired me to explore my own thoughts and ideas; the choice from there is the medium that fits my personality.

As a kid movies completely captured my imagination. The technology involved and the way they made me feel when one connected with me emotionally or perfectly portrayed how fun going to the movies could be. My allegiance to movies is traced back to those days as a kid, cherishing those moments in the movie theater and waiting in excitement for the next trip to the theater. Reading also has a special place in my heart since I can create the printed world in my own head and in a sense direct the events with my own visual style. Comic books combine the print aspect with the visuals the book represents, giving one a little less control over the images your imagination would conjure up. Movies being my first love (entertainment wise that is) has remained so over the years, because I can connect with it more than I can in the time it takes me to read a book. I am not a fast reader; therefore, it takes me a little longer than most to read a book from cover to cover. Time consumption also factors into my love for movies over books; I can absorb the story told in a movie in the span of an hour and a half or more where a book could take me day, weeks or even a month to find the time to finish from beginning to end. In a world where most people are strapped for time between work, family and any other hobbies that take up time, sometimes finding hours of spare time to read is scarce. I do read books; it just takes a very determined mindset in order to do so.

Comic books are tricky for me. Comic books tend to be much shorter than a full on book, therefore take far less of a time commitment, yet I’ve read far more books than I’ve taken for comic books. If I were to be handed a comic book, I would easily sit down and read it and not feel guilty about what I could have gotten done in that amount of time. Over the years the comic book community to me is a very small but dedicated group of people that are very passionate and loyal to the work they read on a regular basis. In my opinion they are the people that have migrated to that medium in the same way that I migrated primarily to movies. However, more often than not the comic book readers probably love going to the movies just as much as any other person, which mirrors my attitude where if I’m given a comic book I’ll read it and I’ll either enjoy it or not. I’ve never felt the pressure that I must like a movie because that’s the popular consensus or hate a movie because people say that I should. Yet when it comes to comic books, because I am so out of my element in that community I wouldn’t be able to decipher quality from complete crap and the comic book fans would tear any opinion I had either way apart with due precision. Do people that enjoy movies as a secondary source of entertainment feel the same kind of scrutiny if they love or hate a movie?

This argument merges into the point of this piece because of the sheer amount of superhero movies exploding into theaters this summer. Each of them being heroes that I have not read a single comic of, yet will likely see and weigh an opinion on once I do, but without the comic book reference. This is topical because comic book lovers often read movie reviews like anyone else and will weigh their opinions of people’s knowledge of the character to their enjoyment of a movie about a character they were not previously connected to. If I liked a movie like THOR but didn’t read the comic and had critiques of something that a comic lover might have really enjoyed, does that mean that I might have liked it if I had read the comic, or had more bad things to say if it didn’t live up to a comic I might love and then hate how the movie represents it. I won’t lie, the argument I am presenting even gives me a headache.

The first movie I ever saw that was based on a comic book character was Tim Burton’s BATMAN. For the longest time that was one of my all time favorite superhero movies. Nowadays, superhero movies are frequent and thus audiences have much more to choose from. BATMAN BEGINS stole the thrown from BATMAN for me when it was released and then THE DARK KNIGHT came along and the changing of the guard continued. I’ve also enjoyed the likes of films like SPIDERMAN, IRON MAN, KICK ASS, THOR and most recently loved X-MEN: FIRST CLASS. Many of the universes certain characters inhabit have not clicked with me and I had no previous knowledge of, even just listening to friends talk about them. With THOR, the name and the hammer were the only recognizable characteristics and I know absolutely nothing regarding the mythology behind GREEN LANTERN. The upcoming CAPTAIN AMERICA film is another character I have little back story on beyond name and look of the costume. So for me the business behind comic book movies relies heavily on appealing to non-comic book readers and possible even converting those people in order to get them to KEEP coming back for sequels and/or prequels.

The question studios face with these movies is how do they make these superheroes appeal to people that may be looking for more realism than fantasy in their theater escapades. When I see a trailer for a superhero movie I do not always worry if the character’s background will connect with me; I can make the distinction of rather or not I like the mythology once I watch the movie. What I look for is a movie that at least looks like it will be fun, interesting and with enough substance that I will feel the need to see it opening weekend. If it goes down a path that resembles darker grittier tones like THE DARK KNIGHT it has more chances of getting that opening day ticket, but fun absurd superhero movies are not a deal breaker. I am a lover of gorgeous special effects, so when I see a trailer that shows me great special effects, I may not always see it with urgency, but I WILL see it at some point or another. Non-stop action is not always a must, and with the first film in a superhero franchise I expect that there will be a certain amount of character development, but that’s not a free pass to skimp on decent action here and there and a satisfying finale. People that read the comics already have the benefit of all the different character development stories and variety of action beats; the initiated don’t and studios know this so they can’t always please both the readers and the people going in blind.

My biggest problem with some transitions from the illustrated pages to the big screen is dialogue that doesn’t find my ears well. This is a personal preference and in no way reflects all moviegoers, but certain cheesy dialogue just doesn’t appeal to me. I love cheesy dialogue in certain movies, but it has a penchant for making me cringe as well. One example is a line from SPIDERMAN in which the Green Goblin is flying off after a battle with Spiderman and shouts “I’ll get you next time Spiderman,” followed by an over-the-top villainous laugh. In the right movie I’d be ok with that type of delivery, in that one though, I cringed; I can already hear the keyboards furiously typing to refute and berate my dismissal of such a line.

Comic book movies don’t always have to be superheroes though; SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD and 30 DAYS OF NIGHT for example. Of course, we’ve seen what ended up happening with the minimal theatrical success Edgar Wright enjoyed with his effort. SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD was a film I really loved but for whatever reason the idea just didn’t click with mainstream audiences. Was it because of the marketing? Was it because it wasn’t a superhero movie? Whatever the reason, it was a film that I feel had a wider appeal than any sales numbers reflected. The ratio of heroic movies to not so heroic movies is generally lopsided as is the box office.

It might seem pointless to state at this juncture but the point of this isn’t merely to force my views on anyone or even to make an overall point to begin with but just as a means to spark the debate. A debate as to rather or not reading the comic book of a character in a movie we are going to see heightens the experience hinders it or has no effect. My personal belief is that as long as the filmmakers deliver a fun well rounded movie, the source material is inconsequential. The argument then is that in the process filmmakers can betray the source material and alienate the comic fans. As I’m not a comic book reader I cannot comment on any film that has stayed true and complimented its source material, but I have heard opinions of movies that actually improved the source material (i.e. KICK ASS).

Over the next few years as these films continue to vary in quality and ticket sales it’s likely we will continue to see more and more hit theaters especially with THE AVENGERS being set up with a series of films (IRON MAN, THE INCREDIBLE HULK, THOR etc.). It will be interesting to see if attendance increases or decreases with the barrage of films as audiences either embrace or shun the efforts of Hollywood. With the sheer number over the course of the last few years the Hollywood machine appears focused on an unending assault of films based on previous works, board games and comics. On principle alone it is quite disheartening to see such a lack in creativity with the films begin churned out to make a quick buck instead of throwing money behind high concept original works, even if they don’t all succeed. Realistically the gamble would be equal on both sides since original movies like AVATAR and INCEPTION broke bank at the box office. Not everything is going to be a homerun, but at least with original movies the pitches are random enough to surprise us instead of hurling fastball after fastball till it becomes predictable and boring until one comes along every once in a while with a little extra zip to it.

What are your thoughts on this subject? What are your favorite comic book movies? Least favorite? What are some you’d like to see get made? What are ones that should never get adapted?

Movie Review: Thor (2011)

THOR opens in theaters all over the country not with a whimper but with a roaring boom of thunder. Okay, maybe not the roaring boom that jolts you out of a deep sleep in the middle the night when you’re dreaming of steamy nights with exotic supermodels, but still that cackle of thunder that might catch you by surprise and pucker your cheeks a bit. Marvel Studios has delivered a superhero movie that people of all ages can have a good time with. I do not believe that THOR is on the same level of satisfying entertainment that IRON MAN is on, but it’s also not that far beneath it either.

Chris Hemsworth stars as Thor, a powerful but arrogant warrior of Asgard who is next in line to inhabit the throne to become king after his father, Odin (Anthony Hopkins). When Thor goes against his father’s wishes and begins an act of war against, Jotunheim, the home of the Frost Giants, Odin is forced to strip Thor of his powers and banish him to Earth. Once there he is immediately on a crash course with Jane (Natalie Portman), who has been working her whole life to expose the existence of portals to new worlds. After Thor is banished, Odin falls ill and Thor’s brother, Loki assumes command of Asgard. Loki, always jealous of Odin’s favoritism of Thor looks to makes his banishment permanent so that he cannot become king of Asgard.

Wanna know how much I knew about the character of Thor before heading into the theater? Aside from the whole god of thunder and the fact that he wields a mighty hammer, I knew zilch. I come from the side of the audience where my feet are not firmly placed in the lore of Thor. I have to say that knowing almost nothing about the character or the comic did not hinder my ability to enjoy the movie. I didn’t view THOR as an unforgettable blockbuster by any stretch of the imagination, but it is a ton of fun.

THOR is has that same sense of light hearted comedy that was present in a similar film known as IRON MAN. I happen to think that IRON MAN’s script and directing were much sharper than THOR, but that’s not to say that either of those things was horrid in THOR. The fact of the matter is that THOR looks good, it’s funny, the action is adequate but interesting enough the action and CG imagery were my least favorite aspects of the movie. The action is fun and the special effects look great, I just didn’t find much weight behind them. I preferred almost everything involving Thor’s time on Earth as a mere human with no powers, interacting with people as though he were still powerful, then dealing with the fact that he is not infinitely strong and other aspects of human drama.

One of my other problems with some of today’s modern superhero movies that don’t involve Batman are some of the dialogue. IRON MAN wasn’t a huge offender, but a movie like SPIDERMAN had that overly cheesy and maniacal villain with dialogue like, “I’ll get you next time Spiderman” followed by that terrible over the top villain laugh that’s suited for something out of an Austin Powers movie. THOR’s level of cheese wasn’t unbearable, in fact it often made it sort of charming, but the character’s style of talking on Asgard was suitable for a Renaissance fair and there’s a reason you won’t catch me dead at one of those.

THOR definitely has an impressive cast that’s lead by Chris Hemsworth. I was worried at the beginning because the Asgard dialogue was not jiving with me but it grew on me after a while. Anthony Hopkins is good as usual, Kat Dennings is good as the comic relief and Stellan Skarsgard is ok and I even kind of enjoyed Natalie Portman putting on her head over heels bumbling teenage crush hat. Won’t lie that I was a little disappointed there wasn’t an obligatory lesbian scene or a ballet dance to be found but not every movie can be BLACK SWAN. Tom Hiddleston gave the weakest performance for me; he was good as the quiet and passive brother that was still visibly upset by Thor’s favoritism and arrogance but as he went more over the top and maniacal it started wearing me down.

All the Avenger’s heroes have had their character tie in thrown in here and there and it’s no different here. It’s not near as heavy handed here, the Thor spoiler at the end of IRON MAN 2 is pasted in here and there’s a brief reference to Tony Stark and yes Jeremy Renner is tossed in there as Hawkeye as well. Then of course there’s the end credit spoiler/reveal and it might come as no surprise since I haven’t read any of the comics that end credit scene meant absolutely nothing to me. One thing is for sure, when THE AVENGERS is finally in theaters at least maybe we’ll be done with these.

Admittedly, the abundance of superhero movies is getting a little out of hand. I didn’t know anything about Thor as a character but I was really looking forward to the movie and while I didn’t love it at much as IRON MAN I still had a lot of fun with it. I found Thor’s integration into the real world as believable as it could be and I was quite impressed with the drama involved with sibling rivalries and struggling to find yourself. THOR is a thundering good time with lots of impressive and colorful special effects that is thoroughly entertaining from beginning to end. One thing is for certain, I can’t wait to see how a mix of Tony Stark and Thor is going to turn out on the big screen. That alone should make for some good cinematic thunder and lightning.