Thursday, 30 April 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

When Tony Stark tries to jumpstart a dormant peacekeeping program, things go awry and it is up to the Avengers to stop the villainous Ultron from enacting his terrible plans.


Marvel's Avengers Assemble hit theaters in 2012 and it was an instant success. Joss Whedon had delivered everything we wanted: charm, action and heart. The film is ranking now in the three highest grossing film of all time after Titanic and Avatar. Kevin Feige and his associates have built a cinematic empire quite unprecedented in Hollywood history, a genuine solar system. In fact, since the first Avengers movie we've seen Iron Man, Captain America, Thor on their own; now we have the chance to see them interact once more and how they have changed, how their world have changed through those films which is something very unique to Marvel in movie business. Age of Ultron is picking up where last year's Captain America: The Winter Soldier left off. The film actually dives right into the action as the team has already been assembled, we get straight to the things that matter and skip the hour long "assembling" part of the first movie. It helps that characters wear these roles as comfortably as second skin. The film benefits also from this much more global scale, compared to its predecessor. We needed new locations, as the majority of superhero movies are set in New-York, it became a little cliché and repetitive to see another tall skyline with a fight happening on top of it. Age of Ultron provides just that. Our heroes visit Europe, Asia and Africa as Ultron goes global in attempt to wipe out mankind. The opening sequence is an incredible piece of action filmmaking, staged as a single shot that shows all Whedon's brilliance.


These characters are the most important thing. This film allows us to a deeper understanding of the characters and to emotionally connect with them in ways we never did before. There are material for humour and conflict as they pair up some characters in unexpected ways. Furthermore Humanity is found in each hero, in more intimate and building-characters moment that had distinguished the first Iron Man and Captain America. We knew very little about Black Widow's back story, we heard some interesting hints at her past in The Avengers though. This is a character who's back story would translate very well onto the big screen due to her espionage narrative, plus she's a spy and spy have secrets. She also becomes the "Hulk whisperer". The intuitive tenderness with which she deals with the troubled and introspective Dr. Bruce Banner, played greatly again by Mark Ruffalo, is turning into a sweet love affair which gives the tender core of the movie and the most moving scenes. Clint Barton/Hawkeye checks in after spending most of the first movie as a mind controlled puppet. This film defines him as a person and as an Avenger as well, he's not only a cool guy with a bow and arrow. Distance from his usual family drama allows Hemsworth's Thor to shine a little more than last time. Steve Rogers/Captain America is once again a solid reminder of wartime values. While Stark's self doubt journey he took in Iron Man 3 is still evident and his obsession to create a perfect piece to protect the earth is still alive. Robert Downey Jr. is pure gold as Tony Stark and his differences with Captain America provides most of the comic relief, as well as the serious differences in their philosophy is where the real depth can be found. 


Genetically enhanced twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff: she of blazing psychic powers and he of blinding speed; allow Whedon to flex his visual imagination in ways that the first movie never hinted at. Elizabeth Olsen and Aaron Taylor-Johnson each are pretty good in roles that are far more critical to the story than one might assume for new characters hanging around, they're very wounded and serious characters. Their addition as Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver are fine but Quicksilver is not that entertaining, he was much better in X-Men: Days of Future Past. Moreover it's great that they figured out a way to get flesh and blood Paul Bettany as Vision in the franchise. It is a very welcomed addition to the team that comes in the form of an android and it can be hoped, if not assumed, that this most interesting character will play an even more important role in the final two Avengers installments. Vision works brilliantly and Paul Bettany completely earns the promotion from his previous JARVIS voice-over work. 

  
Marvel succeeded in the top priority of introducing a worthy opponent for its superheroes. Ultron is a cool and sophisticated creation, what he lacks - of course - is a heart; which is what makes him such an imposing villain. He's a much serious threat than Loki was and this time the team is in serious danger. He's finally the villain you'd expect to go up against the world's mightiest heroes (beside Thanos obviously). It seems that he could actually do some damage even if he's ultimately just a robot. The movie's visual effects wizards have a grand and fantastic time with Ultron but James Spader has an even grander one giving voice to the machine. He embraces his character completely. Spader is a fantastic piece of cast and exactly the guy for the job. I'm over the moon with this choice! Ultron even made it to the top three all time villains in the Marvel Universe, being a major nemesis of the Avengers for decades in comics. However Ultron is not just this insane deadly cold killing machine, he's much more than a cold cyborg attempting to eradicate human life out of general indifference towards it. He has a point, and equally important he has personality. In his brilliant performance James Spader goes beyond reading Whedon's words, channelling Stark and Whedon's own personality - their not mass murdering robot (thank God!) - but the wit, sense of humour, his unexpected goofiness and thoughts on some humanity failure are definitely Whedon playing to his strength. Nonetheless his creation and how we get to him being so bad feels a little bit rushed. Something should have happened to get us to this point which leads me to highlight that Whedon's original cut for the movie was over three hours long and that the Avengers blu-ray will have an extended cut as well as an alternate ending which is awesome; but I do feel like there are a lot of things removed from the original cut to get it back down to two and a half hour. When we get back to the whole team after their second meeting with Ultron we are suddenly watching just a handful of scared people in a jet acting all too human.


In fact, characters are all richer now that we know them better, keeping humanity of these mighty heroes on the foreground. While the movie comes back to action it stays even more engaging this time around, precisely because they have given us another reason to care. The city-destroying final confrontation has become a bit of a classic but Whedon does it so well and with such joy that you can't blame him for it. His script is a thing of wonder, jam-packed with great lines. Humour always played a large role in Marvel productions and in Age of Ultron comedy lands and draws big laughs that don't interfere with the intensity of the epic super-heroism action. From the first shot to the last there's barely a break and quieter emotional moments don't feel forced.  It is filled with incredible action sequences all of which are beautifully shot by Ben Davis, who directed photography on last year's gorgeous Guardians of the Galaxy. The cgi is actually amazing as there's not one shot that seems fake, you know it is computer but it doesn't affect you're appreciation of the movie. In MCU all movies have to tied up together in some way and so - and it's my only issue with the movie - there are certain scenes throughout the film that are needed to help explain things that happened previously or even things that are going to happen in up coming movies such as when Thor visits this cave. It doesn't really fit this film, but makes sense for what is coming up in Thor: Ragnarok (2017). Marvel have to continue to rely on unique writers and directors to keep its movies from turning into repetition. Guardians of the Galaxy wasn't a hit because people knew the characters, it was a hit because it was filled with Nicole Perlman and James Gunn's voices. 


Age of Ultron brings a lot of questions meaning : what's next? Why did they do this or that? What's their relationship now? But also more important themes as whether a superhero is useful or destructive and what it truly means to be one? What it means to be a team or responsible for your actions? It brings a more profound discussion. This film exudes the love of comics. It takes some shadowy side roads but ends up mostly along the main highway to deliver what the audience wants, as any significant deviation from the source material is taken as a personal betrayal by the hardest-core geeks. It further increases intrigue with the post credit scene - that I won't spoil - and anticipation for Avengers: Infinity War Part I & II  already scheduled for release in May 2018 and 2019, respectively. Finally Age of Ultron gives us that most destructive of all universal forces: man's own best intentions. 


Overall, the greatest success of Age of Ultron is its ability to recapture elements that made the first film enjoyable without walking along on already beaten path. Indeed, the story has grown in size and complexity as characters and action are handled very well. The film evolves towards a more refined but not less fun storytelling while Marvel's magic is once again on full display in a hilarious, darker, emotional, thrilling and undeniably epic superhero experience. Unlike its title character, Age of Ultron most definitely has soul. 

P.S: Please actually go see it in theater, don't watch it on streaming. Go to the movie and experience it on a big screen like it should be, and if you don't want to go to the theater wait for the blu-ray! Support those guys because they're making something special, they're creating magic and amazing entertainment.

Sunday, 12 April 2015

Lost River

A single mother is swept into a dark underworld, while her teenage son discovers a road that leads him to a secret underwater town.


Lost River marks the directorial and writing debut of Ryan Gosling and stars Christina Hendricks, Iain De Caestecker, Matt Smith and Ben Mendelsohn. This is one of the weirdest film I've ever experienced in my life. It's introduced as a Fantasy but some aspect of this film such as the setting: this fictional Detroit feels so real. This movie doesn't make any sens; for the most part it is not cohesive, the narrative structure is flawed and broken but the images, the cinematography and the score are all great and thoughts provoking. In fact, a lot of shots in Lost River are pure ART. You can also tell that Ryan Gosling takes some elements from people he's worked with before. There's definitely some Nicolas Winding Refn and Dereck Cianfrance in that movie. Mostly people are going to be divided: some may say that it is an horrible film, some others that it is a masterpiece. It's audacious, violent and different, very different. Indeed, there's a scene where an animal is tortured for no particular reason, I couldn't stand that scene, I don't want to see that, I felt that this scene was really unnecessary. Finally Lost River as a whole doesn't work at all in my opinion, you take a very good artist, with great ideas and throw them all together into one movie but here it doesn't mash. 


Overall Ryan Gosling didn't do the conventional safe thing and went for style over substance.

Saturday, 4 April 2015

Furious 7

Deckard Shaw seeks revenge against Dominic Toretto and his family for the death of his brother.


You know what's more surprising than there's seven of these? The fact that they got better! Especially the last two movies, which are both very well directed action movies. Here James Wan - well known for The Conjuring and the Insidious films - is taking over the direction. I was truly excited for Furious 7 and it is actually a lot of fun: it is a big unrealistic good time with cars flying out of air planes using parachutes, explosions, fist fights and there are all great things! However a part of me has to sit back but I came to the conclusion that some movies aren't meant for that, some films are just meant to be awesomely dumb. This film knows it doesn't make sense at all, we watch it just to have a good time and not to be the most realistic movie in a franchise and it does that very well because every time something happened I was like "that's not possible", while simultaneously I stepped aside and was like "who cares, that's so cool!". I was so pleased with the car chase scenes in particular. James Wan was able to get some more intense camera angles. Moreover, the production had to face a major problem when Paul Walker tragically past away, everyone was really sadden by that, myself included; which may explain why the plots seem very confused and different. It's almost like two very different movies in one. And YES! It is painfully obvious when cgi Paul Walker is around, you can just tell and it makes it a little bit awkward. Still I can't, in good conscience, say too many negative things about that because it's unfortunate but unavoidable. Most of the fans are going to be satisfied with this film. It is a fitting send off for Paul Walker character. In fact the final scenes, when Paul Walker longtime colleagues say their farewells while he still appears on screen with them, is genuinely moving. Once again they handled that the best way they could. They really think through it, found the best way to do this movie in a respectful way while dealing with this tragedy.


Furious 7 incorporates a lot of the things that people liked about the franchise before it was taken to a whole new direction: particularly showing these drag races that they did in the first movie. Fans come to see a red sport car (one so expensive only seven were made) be stolen from a billionaire penthouse in Abu Dhabi; to watch it burst through his windows, fly through the air and crash into not one but two skyscrapers. Anyone who can buy that bit of computer-generated thing should have no trouble believing Paul Walker is in this movie from the start to finish. There are a little too much heavy weaponry for my taste. Like Dom, I prefer fist-cuffs and car chasing, to apocalyptic explosions. It's a typical 90's action movie, not only because of the action in it but the dialogues! If the movie was actually made in the 90's, where it belongs Arnold Schwarzenegger would be in this film. Finally, this film is not as well formed as the physique of Dwayne Johnson, who gave this ensemble a much needed charisma boost when he signed on in episode 5. He has a likable presence as an actor and he made them way better than they could have been; but I was disappointed because he's barely in this one. He's got a short but cool scene at the beginning and at the end but that's it. Plus, Jason Statham as a villain is a fantastic idea, but he's too underutilised in this movie as well. He shows up only to cause problems while the bigger picture is happening and then he's gone. Apparently it's no longer enough that turbo-boosted muscle cars drive really, really fast. Now they also have to fly. 


Overall Furious 7 is both a stupidly entertaining and amazingly ridiculous movie. But most importantly it is a perfectly fitting send off for Paul Walker character.

Thursday, 2 April 2015

Cinderella

When her father unexpectedly passes away, young Ella finds herself at the mercy of her cruel stepmother and her daughters. Never one to give up hope, Ella's fortunes begin to change after meeting a dashing stranger. 



The question is: Do we really need another live adaptation of this tale while we can watch the original animated still? In fact, Cinderella is another live action telling of the well known tale of Cinderella brought to us this time by Sir Kenneth Branagh. This movie is exactly what you remember the story being. Though it shows more of her parents and her relationship with her father especially. This film is in no way like Snow White and the Huntsman or Maleficent: updating tales in an edgy and darker way for the 2015 young generation. It's actually good. There's no big surprises, it's the old good and kind Cinderella we all knew before just told in the best and most grounded way it could, while still maintaining the Disney Magic of the original. However, it drags on a little bit at the beginning but they're settling and building characters so I can understand that. Still some of the characters are a little cartoony at times, such as the two step-sisters, which can make the movie awkward for grown ups. Children are going to love it but from time to time it is quite uncomfortable. However, the movie does a good job showing that she is the best person ever in the worst possible situation, living with the worst people ever. As I said before, it's an accurate representation of the tale I (and most people) grew up with and now it's another live action movie and it is what it is, but there's not much twists and turns. Moreover, Cinderella brings back the traditional Disney experience and I liked that it actually took me back and prove that they still can create Magic. Indeed, shots all look great and performances are functional: Lily James is good and Cate Blanchett is also great in the evil step mother role. This movie teach things like in the Classic Cinderella story, it's about accepting a person for who they are and not because of some title or a whole bunch of riches and objects that they own which is a pretty good message for children. It maintains that message and tells it in a respectable way. Finally, children will love this movie but adults can actually come and have a good time as it's not too childish and there are a lot of emotion towards the end that doesn't feel phony or superficial. 


Overall, nothing is new or ground breaking in this film but you don't need it to be. It will bring the tale to a new generation in a very good way.