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.
The Homesman (B). Westerns are such exotic creatures, I like to try to see them whenever a new one is released. Of course, they are frequently terrible, like the January Jones vehicle Sweetwater, but I admire directors who try to breathe life into this wheezy old genre. I assumed this one would be laughably bad from the capsule reviews I read: Hilary Swank (Million Dollar Baby) stars as Mary Bee Cuddy, a tough-as-nails farmer in the Nebraska Territory who agrees to transport three pioneer women back East because the three have gone stark raving mad from the tragedies and hardships of life on the frontier. It turned out to be not half bad. Tommy Lee Jones (Men in Black 3) directs and co-stars as a crusty old ne’er-do-well who agrees to help Cuddy attempt the six-week trek through dangerous and desolate Indian country. Swank gives a brave performance as a lonely 31-year-old spinster who gets told to her face, more than once, that she is a very plain-looking woman, and bossy to boot. It’s a pretty grim tale, with some moments of dark humor to lighten (?) the mood. I’d give it a higher grade but for a serious twist that seemed pretty unlikely to me. You’ll be impressed at how many famous actors Jones persuaded to be in his pic, including Meryl Streep (Hope Springs), John Lithgow (Interstellar), James Spader (Lincoln), Hailee Steinfeld (True Grit), and Miranda Otto (Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers). Meryl Streep’s daughter Grace Gummer (Frances Ha) plays one of the crazy women.
Lincoln (A-). I thoroughly enjoyed this two-and-a-half-hour movie about The Great Emancipator, who is played with panache by the great Daniel Day-Lewis (There Will Be Blood). As you’ve probably already read, the movie actually focuses on a very short period of time–a few weeks in January 1865, when the Civil War was close to being won and Lincoln decided to push for the congressional passage of the Thirteenth Amendment, which abolished slavery throughout the country. I had never imagined that the passage of the Thirteenth Amendment was a difficult feat, given that there were no congressmen from the Confederate states in Washington at the time, but apparently it was a very close-run thing. Anyway, despite the narrow focus, the film has an epic feel (no doubt thanks to director Steven Spielberg, Jaws). Lots of familiar faces turn up, such as Tommy Lee Jones (Hope Springs) as fiery abolitionist Thaddeus Stevens, Sally Field (Forrest Gump) as Abe’s difficult wife Mary, and a memorable James Spader (2 Days in the Valley) as one of three slimy fixers who are enlisted to help round up the requisite votes for the amendment’s passage. It may be a history lesson, but it goes down easy.