Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-PosterStarring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Samuel L. Jackson, Don Cheadle, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olsen, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Claudia Kim, Linda Cardellini, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis

Directed by Joss Whedon

Expectations: Superhero high.


Let’s just get it out of the way: Avengers: Age of Ultron is not as good as the first Avengers film. It simply does not deliver that same sense of fun comic book action, but the good thing to note is that Avengers: Age of Ultron doesn’t really attempt to hit those same notes. It’s fundamentally a different type of film; it’s much darker in tone, and its main purpose seems to be more about setting up future films in the series than telling its own interesting storyline. Part of my problem with Marvel’s Phase 2 films is that they were all fairly unrelated to one another, lacking in even the relatively sparse world-building that existed in the Phase 1 films. Consequently, Avengers: Age of Ultron bears the weight of tying everything together, and this makes it feel like more of a big puzzle piece than a coherent picture all its own.

This isn’t inherently a bad thing — in fact, these threads that lead directly towards Infinity Gauntlet (and less so towards Civil War) were among my favorite scenes in the film. I’ve been a supporter of Marvel’s unprecedented way of bringing comic book storytelling to the big screen, but the main fault in that method is that everything takes so long. The first hints of the Infinity Gems were probably six or seven years ago at this point, and that’s a crushingly long time to wait for something to develop. These are the times I wish I had no knowledge of these things, as then these moments would just be mere hints at something to come instead of ruthless teases. And to think we’re still three years away from actually seeing Thanos bring all the gems together and kick some major ass with them. Sigh.

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Quick Takes: The Dentist, The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself, Rise of the Legend

dentist_1The Dentist (1996)

Starring Corbin Bernsen, Linda Hoffman, Michael Stadvec, Ken Foree, Tony Noakes, Molly Hagan, Patty Toy, Jan Hoag, Virginya Keehne, Earl Boen, Christa Sauls, Mark Ruffalo, Lise Colleen Simms
Directed by Brian Yuzna

If there’s one thing that the majority of people hate, it’s going to the dentist. Now imagine visiting a dentist who just found out his wife is cheating on him, yanking away the last straw holding together his sanity. Sounds fun, right? Dr. Alan Feinstone has had a busy morning, so by the time he arrives at his office it’s a few hours late and the waiting room is full of eager patients. But he’s a professional, he can pull it together and get the job done. Or not. Feinstone’s lapse in sanity makes him kind of wig out when he’s looking at people’s teeth, seeing their mouths as festering maws of disease and decay in need of major restorative work. Corbin Bernsen is wonderfully deranged as Dr. Feingold, and the FX work induces so much intense mouth trauma that I felt like I was actually in the dentist’s chair myself. Especially effective are the large-scale models for the mouth interior closeups, allowing us to see every bursting root and tooth drilling in stunning detail. It’s not a perfect movie by any means, but it’s well worth a horror fan’s time.

dentist_2The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself (1998)
AKA The Dentist 2: You Know the Drill


Starring Corbin Bernsen, Jillian McWhirter, Jeff Doucette, Susanne Wright, Jim Antonio, Lee Dawson, Wendy Robie, Ralph P. Martin, Clint Howard, Linda Hoffman
Directed by Brian Yuzna

The Dentist 2: Brace Yourself has what is perhaps the greatest, most pun-tastic sequel title of all time. The film doesn’t quite live up to expectations this brings, but it’s still a great sequel to the original film. While it continues to present a similar “festering mouths of bad hygiene must be punished” structure, the sequel actually goes off in a different direction that changes the tone. In the original film, Dr. Feinstone was progressively more and more batshit crazy, but in the sequel he has moments where we can sense the man underneath the madness. There are shreds of regret and thoughtfulness that endear the character, making you actually kind of root for him in this one. It’s not as effective a horror movie, but it is a great sequel that explores what makes the character tick.

RiseOfTheLegendRise of the Legend [黃飛鴻之英雄有夢] (2014)

Starring Eddie Peng Yu-Yan, Sammo Hung, Wang Luo-Dan, Boran Jing Bo-Ran, AngelaBaby, Tony Leung Ka-Fai, Feng Jia-Yi, Byron Mann, Wong Cho-Lam, John Zhang Jin, Julius Brian Siswojo
Directed by Roy Chow Hin-Yeung

There’s a lot of modern filmmaking techniques (such as quite a bit of CG, some Matrix bullet time, etc.) that should make me not like Rise of the Legend, but damn if I didn’t enjoy the hell out of this movie. This is the first Wong Fei-Hung feature film since 1997’s Once Upon a Time in China and America, but you should really do your best to put Jet Li’s interpretation of the character out of your mind before beginning this film. This is not your standard Wong Fei-Hung, instead it’s like a prequel of sorts (in a different way than Iron Monkey), and this version of Wong Fei-Hung bears little resemblance to the folk hero we’ve come to know and love. Has Wong Fei-Hung ever decapitated a guy on-screen? Well… he does in Rise of the Legend (and it’s quite a stunning decap, too). The more recognizable character does eventually emerge in the third act, and with it my big goofy grin also came to the party. Even the Wong Fei-Hung song made an appearance! The action is fun to watch, with great choreography by Corey Yuen and some really incredible wirework in spots. It’s a very visually modern film, and parts of the fights are awkward because of this, but the choreography shines through to entertain handily. Eddie Peng is great as a young Wong Fei-Hung, and Sammo Hung is his stalwart, badass self as the villain. Tony Leung Ka-Fai (AKA Big Tony) also plays a wonderful Wong Kei-ying amidst a superbly well-cast film. If you dig Wong Fei-Hung, I say check it out!

The Avengers (2012)

Starring Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, Tom Hiddleston, Clark Gregg, Cobie Smulders, Stellan Skarsgård, Samuel L. Jackson, Gwyneth Paltrow, Paul Bettany, Alexis Denisof

Directed by Joss Whedon

Expectations: High. All of my childhood superhero fantasies are riding on this film.

As I noted above, I had huge expectations for The Avengers. Not because of a trailer; I didn’t watch any of them. Not because of the director, Joss Whedon; I’ve never seen a single thing he’s worked on. No, it’s all based on childhood comic reading, the combined strengths of the preceding films (even if some of them were less than stellar), and good ole gut instinct. The crazy amount of good buzz led me to believe that I wouldn’t be let down, but I’ve been burned so many times by buying into popular opinions and hype that I did my best to wall myself off from these types of influences. I know I’m late to the party with this review, but if you care about comic books in film then you simply must get out and see this sumbitch. Through the entire film I felt like a kid unleashed in a comic book store with a hundred-dollar bill; this was literally everything I could have ever wanted in an Avengers movie. The Avengers is the superhero film turned to eleven and freed of the cursed “origin story” shackles, and so for fans, this is exactly what you’re looking for.

The Avengers has a story, but it’s nothing more than a simple framework to allow the heroes to come together and kick ass. Because this is essentially the sixth film in a long-running series, the characters are all set up and ready to go; we only need to know the simple whys and hows of their current situations. I feel sorry for anyone that didn’t watch the previous films or read any Marvel comics in their youth, because The Avengers just drops you in mid-story and hopes you’re up to speed. This “assemble the team” section goes on a bit too long, but it perfectly sets up the characters as they will relate to one another in this film, as well as setting the stage for the action to come. But realistically, the story is just this: Loki has stolen the Cosmic Cube (here called the Tesseract, but I refuse to call it that!) and seeks to open a portal with it to unleash his space army. There’s not much else in the way of plot, besides the action and some good, if obvious, character development.

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Quick Takes: Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter, Red Riding Hood, Safe Men

Jesus Christ Vampire Hunter (2001)

Starring Phil Caracas, Murielle Varhelyi, Maria Moulton, Tim Devries, Ian Driscoll, Josh Grace, Tracy Lance, Glen Jones, Mike Funk
Directed by Lee Demarbre

This one’s not even close to being a B-Movie, it’s more like a D-Movie, but it does have its moments. Jesus on a moped, God speaking to his only begotten son through a bowl of ice cream and cherries, the arrival of Santo in a small aeroplane, etc. Santo gained some weight though, which might explain why he’s not driving that sporty convertible around any longer. There’s a lot of “kung fu” fight scenes and over every one, there’s an inane techno track that ruins any goodwill the scene itself might have had prior. Not that the fights are good. While watching I couldn’t imagine that these filmmakers would ever do anything else, so I was very surprised to learn that I had actually seen another of this dude’s movies, the 2009 horror movie Smash Cut. I liked that one pretty well, so I guess if your first feature looks like it was made by a no-talent hack, you can still grow into a passable filmmaker. Who knew?

Red Riding Hood (2011)
(No Stars)

Starring Amanda Seyfried, Virginia Madsen, Billy Burke, Julie Christie, Shiloh Fernandez, Gary Oldman, Max Irons, Michael Shanks, Christine Willes, Michael Hogan, Lukas Haas
Directed by Catherine Hardwicke

This movie is fucking awful in every imaginable way. No redeeming value whatsoever. Literally the equivalent of gouging out your own eyes, Red Riding Hood should be a shoe-in for every category of the 2011 Razzies.

Safe Men (1998)

Starring Sam Rockwell, Steve Zahn, Michael Lerner, Paul Giamatti, Michael Schmidt, Christina Kirk, Mark Ruffalo, Josh Pais, Harvey Fierstein
Directed by John Hamburg

Safe Men is a fair enough movie, but it could have been so much more. It’s basically a bunch of crime film clichés strung together in a wholly unbelievable way, which I’m OK with, but instead of providing lots of laughs and making itself stand out from the crowd, it flounders in mediocrity. At times it is amusing, with great supporting performances from Michael Lerner and Paul Giamatti, but mostly it is ho-hum. The music, while good, is often used poorly, sounding like they used what they could get instead of what worked with the scene. The Bar Mitzvah scene and the followup party are the film at its funniest, but because it’s so middle-of-the-road up to those points, many viewers may not make it that far.

Mini-Review: The Kids Are All Right (2010)

The Kids Are All Right (2010)

Starring Annette Bening, Julianne Moore, Mark Ruffalo, Mia Wasikowska, Josh Hutcherson, Yaya DaCosta, Eddie Hassell, Zosia Mamet, Kunal Sharma

Directed by Lisa Cholodenko

Expectations: None. This is one of those movies I’m curious about only because of hype.

The kids may be all right, but the parents need some help. When the curious kids of two lesbian mothers (Annette Bening & Julianne Moore) contact their sperm donor father, it widens the simmering rift between Bening and Moore and causes everyone involved to reevaluate. Some other stuff happens along the way too, but that’s basically it. Thankfully, The Kids Are All Right features some great, witty dialogue that livens up the entire process. The frank depictions and conversations surrounding sexuality were especially enjoyable, but your mileage may vary depending on your sensitivity to that kind of stuff.

The film is adequately filmed, but could have benefited from more two or three-person shots instead of featuring one person per shot (for no good reason) in a four-person conversation and then editing between them constantly. It wasn’t enough to completely throw me over the edge, but it did annoy. The performances from the entire cast are good, with special notices given to Mia Wasikowska, Annette Bening and Mark Ruffalo. I enjoyed The Kids Are All Right but I find the heaps of praise to be somewhat unwarranted. While it’s a good, competent movie, it’s nothing overly special that is deserving of all the Best Picture awards and nominations. I think a lot of people will find the film lacking the punch required to live up to that kind of hype, and that’s really a shame, because I think the film plays well without any expectations.

Overall, The Kids Are All Right is an enjoyable film that left me satisfied, even if the ending was a bit weak. The tone stays relatively light throughout, allowing the comedy and the drama to coexist well, making for a unique film that is sure to please many.

Shutter Island (2010)

Starring Leonardo DiCaprio, Ben Kingsley, Mark Ruffalo, Michelle Williams, Emily Mortimer, Max von Sydow, Jackie Earle Haley, Ted Levine, John Carroll Lynch, Elias Koteas, Patricia Clarkson

Directed by Martin Scorsese

Expectations: High.

Scorsese’s first film back after winning Best Picture and Director for The Departed is Shutter Island, an adaptation of Dennis Lehane’s novel of the same name. Much as I’d like not to say it, Scorsese’s best films are behind him but Shutter Island is still leagues better than your traditional mainstream fare. His last truly great film in my eyes was Kundun, a long 13 years ago, and while Shutter Island doesn’t even come close to its level, it shows that he still holds the power to make a good film.

The story follows Teddy Daniels, a U.S. Marshall from Boston played by Leonardo DiCaprio, and his partner (Mark Ruffalo) as they make their way to Ashecliff Hospital. Their case is to find Rachel Solando, a patient that somehow escaped from her cell and has gone missing. I will leave it at that as a good portion of the fun comes from unraveling the mystery.

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