Avengers: Age of Ultron. (B+). This film is a fun, entertaining Summer action blockbuster film. It’s got all the usual characters—Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Iron Man (Robert Downy Jr.), Captain America (Chris Evans), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). And of course, there’s even some screentime for Nick Fury (Samuel Jackson). With all the characters, you almost wonder how writer Joss Whedon has time to develop the characters and the story. But Whedon is no newcomer to this. There’s time to develop a little backstory—particularly for Hawkeye and even time enough for a little budding romance. And there’s time to develop an action packed story arch with the unintended creation of Ultron—a super android (James Spader). By the end of the film we are introduced to a new superhero—Vision (Paul Bettany), who teams up with the good guys to help defeat Ultron and his army of super-being androids. There’s plenty of action in this film but I have to say that after a while some of the fight scenes in this film began to seem a little too similar to the fight scenes in the last Avengers film. I just hope that’s not a sign that the franchise is wearing thin. Certainly, there will be more to come. And you will want to stay for the credits so that you’ll get a glimpse of the next villain to do battle with the Avengers.
Ex Machina. A-.What does it mean to be sentient? I think, therefore, I am. These are questions that are central themes of this film. The film opens with Caleb (Domhnall Gleeson, known for playing Bill Weasley in the Harry Potter series) having won an special internship to work for the founder of the company he works for, which is a large internet company. Caleb is whisked off to a remote location, where the reclusive founder, Nathan (Oscar Isaac), reveals that he believes he has developed a sentient android. Caleb is tasked with testing the android to ascertain whether it is, in fact, sentient. For Caleb, this is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. The dynamics that follow between the very odd founder Nathan, Caleb, and the android are fascinating and surprising. No spoilers here. If you are a sci-fi fan, by all means, go see this film. I, for one, can imagine all sorts of awesome sequels and I do hope that there will be one. Performances by all the actors are terrific.
Jupiter Ascending. B. Okay, I’m a sci-fi geek. Let’s just get that out of the way to start with. That’s probably why I liked this film, while it has failed to draw in broader audiences. The film, the stars, and the story are not likely to win any awards or even nominations. However, the film does contain some pretty cool visual effects and some fun alien creatures. I saw it in 3-D on an IMAX screen, and I have to say that the 3-D effects were probably the best I’ve encountered to date.
The story-line generally involves a battle between three siblings from another part of the universe. The siblings are each angling for control over Earth. Balem Abrasax, played by Oscar-nominee Eddie Redmayne (My Week With Marilyn), has control of Earth when the film opens, but we learn that his control is threatened by the reincarnation of the siblings’ mother, Jupiter Jones (Mila Kunis, Oz the Great and Powerful) who would dispossess all of the siblings of their holdings were she to re-assume her position of power. Jupiter Jones, born on Earth, has no clue that she is reincarnated, leads a very ordinary life, and doesn’t quite believe in beings from outer space. The siblings send down teams of people to locate her and assassinate her or kidnap her and bring her to them. Caine Wise (Channing Tatum, 21 Jump Street) is a genetically engineered ex-military hunter who has fallen from grace. He is sent by one of the siblings to protect Jupiter Jones from assassination and he winds up taking on a little more than he was hired to do. While the story is a bit complex, the infighting between the siblings and their deceptions and underhandedness draw the viewer into the story. The film isn’t for everyone and it does have a little cheesiness here and there, but if you like science fiction films, you ought to check this one out.
Captain Phillips. A-. I never got around to seeing this film in the theaters last year, but it received nominations for Academy Awards, including Best Picture and Best Supporting Actor, so I figured I would see what the buzz was all about. Good grief, this was a surprisingly riveting movie. When it started and I realized that it was about the Somali pirates raids on U.S. ships off the coast of Africa, I tensed up, thinking that I probably wasn’t going to be all that enamored with the film. Wrong. The film draws you in as it sets up the scene for a raid of the US MV Maersk Alabama. This is the telling of the true story of the 2009 hijacking. Captain Richard Phillips is played by Tom Hanks. Hanks’ performance is so amazing that I totally got lost in the fact that it was Tom Hanks and I felt like I was right there with him during every tense moment. I am really surprised that he didn’t at least get a nomination for Best Actor out of this one. The story is a good one and with a good outcome. Even if this were fictionalized, the suspense of the story would make it a good movie to see, but knowing that it is based on true events makes it all the more incredible. I recommend this move whole-heartedly.
Retreat (B+). This was a riveting psychological thriller of a movie. Kate (Thandie Newton) and Martin (Cillian Murphy of Inception) head to a private island cottage in hopes of rekindling their marriage, which has suffered some very difficult times. After a couple of days on the island, Kate spots a stranger walking toward the cottage. Enter Jack (Jamie Bell of Billy Elliot). Jack is unconscious when then find him and has blood all over his face. When he finally comes to, he seems a little crazed and begins to explain that he is in the military and there’s an airborne virus crossing the globe and it’s killing everyone it comes in contact with. Kate and Martin are a bit skeptical, but what choice do they have but to follow Jack’s direction and seal up the cottage. They are especially unnerved by the fact that they cannot reach anyone on the short-wave radio. Events progress and things get really tense. I’m purposely vague here so I don’t give anything away. Let me just say that this was really a great rental, with a bit of a surprise ending. Performances by all three of the main characters are solid.
Bernie (B+). This movie has been out for quite some time and I kept hearing good things about it, so I decided to check it out. It’s still selling out! Let me say up front that I am not really a fan of Jack Black or the genre of movies that he is known for, but I have to say that he was quite good in this film. This story is based upon actual events in Carthage, Texas, and has appearances of many of the actual townspeople from Carthage. The main character is a man named Bernie Tiede (Jack Black), who is an assistant funeral director. Bernie moves to town and wins the hearts and souls of the townspeople, including rich widow Marjorie Nugent (Shirley MacLaine), which is amazing because nobody likes Marjorie. Bernie winds up killing Marjorie and is put on trial for the murder. You would expect the townspeople to turn on Bernie, but he is so beloved that the townspeople come to his aid. This is a black comedy and it has some hilarious lines in it, some of which appear to be impromptu commentary from actual residents of Carthage. If you don’t see this at the theater, by all means rent it. You won’t regret it.