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Rating History

Avengers: Age of Ultron
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

After successfully achieving (debatable) the gigantic feet of assembling a huge cast of mostly A-List movie stars and their characters, then connecting them all to their individual story lines from their previous films, Joss Weadon bring them all back, and more with Avengers: Age of Ultron. This movie is the epitome of hype. Hype that one film in two and a half hours cannot possible fulfill. However, it comes pretty darn close. Though I do have many gripes with this film, I will give credit where credit is due and say that this film brought it.

Obviously after the mega success of "The Avengers" many were probably wondering how they could top it. For me, in a large way, they actually did. Did it capture the same spirit of wonder that the first one did? No. It couldn't because the novelty is all but worn away. Again, for me, I was not the biggest fan of the first film. To this day I still find "Captain America: The Winter Soldier" to be by far the strongest Marvel film, with the Thor film being the weakest and "The Avengers" sitting somewhere in the middle. This one sits literally a tiny step above that. Its bigger, louder, faster paced, and jammed packed with even more characters.

The new characters surprisingly are fleshed out pretty well. Or as well as they can be. I really was impressed by the three new "main" Avengers, Scarlett Witch, Quicksilver, and The Vision. They all served a purpose and they all had their moments to kick some ass. Scarlett Witch for me was the standout of the new characters. Elizabeth Olsen is a fantastic young actress and I was glad to see that she was never wasted. She had a decent amount of the overall story arc dedicated to her and although she's not the most talkative of characters, Olsen sells the performance with her eyes and hands as she embraces her powers. Arron Taylor-Johnson was good as Quicksilver though only having about half as much to do as Olsen. His take on the character was good though I still don't think anyone has gotten the character of Quicksilver right. Paul Bettany was quite good as well for his limited screen time. I can see some getting put off by this character because its hard to tell what to make of it. It definitely adds more to the Sci-Fi fantasy aspects of the universe.

The original cast are all back and all once again have their moments balanced out nicely, though this time the shining light of the film was the one dead spot from the previous film which is Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye who absolutely crushes in this film. In a way the whole film is seen through his eyes. We learn so much about this character in this film that I would now love to see a stand alone Hawkeye film. Or at least one aside from the Avengers where he's a main cast member. I love the revelations about his life (or secret life) and I love how he plays so well off of the notion that he's simply a man amongst all these "Gods" and yet he is kind of the main facilitator that holds it all together. Very strong and entertaining performance from Renner as his character finally got its due credit.

Thor seemed to be the one short changed a little here having disappeared for a large chunk of the film without any real explanation for what he was off doing. Hemsworth is still pretty awesome and has some of the best and funniest scenes when he is there. Ruffalo's Hulk is a mixed bag this time. Doing more harm than good this time around for the most part, it begs the question of whether the Hulk is worth the trouble or not. There's a small if not forced "semi" romance going on between Banner and Widow that I don't fully understand or care for. The whole thing makes Widow look a little weak and vulnerable. Perhaps that's what they were going for, but for me, I just didn't care.

Captain America and Ironman are both kind of just going through the motions here once again without any new insight or depth. Sure Cap showed us a whole new side in Winter Soldier but here, its almost like he digressed a bit back into "The First Avenger" territory. He's just a do gooder against Stark's pompous arrogance and it feels old. I know its just beginning because "Civil War" hits theaters next Summer which will take that rivalry to a whole new level. As interesting as that sounds, here, in this movie, its just retreading ideology disputes from the last Avengers film. Those ideologies are interesting when put into context. The emphasis on waging war before it exists and man creating death by trying to preserve it, just all seems like it belongs in a different film.

I did really like how the entire film was not centered around Ironman for once and that the villain was an actual menacing threat. James Spader kills it as Ultron and really brought that character to life. It really could have been a train wreck having a giant robot walking around for an entire film, but Spader plays it collected and calculated as he does with everything but with also a surprising sense of humor that was welcome. Though Ultron's motives are pretty lame and that really hurts the story, it was still fun watching him go toe to toe with different Avengers. I still feel watching Captain America's actions scenes, preferably his fights are the best scenes and the best choreographed stunts in any of these films. Ironman flying around plugging away as his pulse blasts and maneuvering in ways that are so over the top just get's repetitive.

Thor swinging around his Hammer also get's old fast even though he utilizes it a bit differently in positive effect once or twice. Then there's Hulk. If there's any character in this series that went from one of the best to "I'm just sick of it" for me its Hulk. The film borders "Man of Steel" territory every time he Hulks out and destroys a city. I know they were trying to make us feel this as if to ask "How long will the world except this?", but man, overkill.

So there are issues with the film, but at least it doesn't spend a third of its running time with our main characters sitting in a giant helio carrier. This time The Avengers are out in full swing. We get to see them all working as a team in various new ways. We get to see them interact with one another about various issues. We learn more about what makes them who they are and what makes them tick (with the exception of Stark whose been fully developed for three films now). Even though some characters haven't changed a beat from the last one, characters like Hawkeye who got the shaft last time around get to shine. So its a fun ride with speed bumps along the way.

The running time was good, the pacing worked better, the editing and visuals were great, and the new characters were welcome. The script and story suffered greatly and the lack of depth to Cap and Stark hurt the film as well. There were a few action sequences that literally went on forever or that flat out didn't need to be there at all, but for the majority of the faults there was always positives. I am looking forward to seeing what the next class of Avengers will do. So, a tad better than the first, but still not hitting the mark perfectly for me.

Mad Max: Fury Road
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

There's not much to say about this film that hasn't already been said. Its amazing, full of exhilarating action scenes, and technically flawless. So, because these are all established facts, I'll look at aspects of the film that I think were more or less overlooked. What I'll get out of the way right now is that this film may be the coolest and most entertaining action movie that I've seen in a long time. In fact, its hard to really compare it to anything. I guess perhaps I had the type of sensation watching it that I had 16 years ago walking into The Matrix not knowing much about it. Not in the sense that the two movies are anything alike. But in the sense that I was seeing something I've never seen before. Something so technically sound and confident and also new, fresh, and ambigously stylistic.

No one on this earth knows how to flip a car like George Miller and its so amazing to see him back in this franchise. The production on this movie was a disaster going all the way back to the early 2000s. Mel Gibson was still attached, the cars (the actual ones we see in this film) were being built, and glimpses of the set were being occasionally thrown online (even though the internet wasn't exactly the 10 pics a minute medium it is now). Then in 2003 production stopped. Mel Gibson was dropped after his bizarre antics and the production budget appeared to be cut off. About 7 years later photos starting dropping once again online of the cars that had been built all those years prior and it appeared that production was back on this time allegedly with Heath Ledger being courted for the title role.

Obviously problems with budget arose again. This time believed to be more with the overall scale of the story Miller wanted to tell. Too much damn money for something fairly obscure to youngsters and overly ambitious by today's Hollywood standards. However, in 2012 it all came together. Tom Hardy came on board and the stage was set. The end result, thank God, was absolute insanity. This film extracts the insanity in all of us. Watching it makes you feel like you are going a little crazy. That's the way a film like this is supposed to be and this one never let's up.

The story is quite simple. Snatch and grab job by Furiosa of priceless wives of the might Immortan Joe and drive them......somewhere. Its not really all that important where they are going. Its how they get there. Charlize Theron is perfect as Furiosa, someone who I guess held a lot of weight in The Citadel before the movie kicks off. Most likely she was the head honcho driver for Joe. We see just how much ass she kicks from the get go. The movie takes a very odd direction within the first few minutes. Not in a bad way of course. Without spoiling it, Max is basically introduced, captured and sidelined all with in ten minutes. From there it becomes Furiosa's film. At least for the rest of the first act.

The look and feel of this film is incredible. When watching some of the scenes in The Citadel (a large city made up primarily of surrounding cliffs) its hard not to wonder how they pulled it off. The city looks real and lived in. Not like a Hollywood set, but like a real place. The attention to detail is incredible with things like a shrine of steering wheels and really bizarre elevator systems running throughout. The War Boys are the minions who make up a large portion of The Citadel's population. They look like something right out of The Road Warrior. They all apparently have a disease of some sort that makes them constantly need blood transfusions and since water is scarce, their body's have more or less adapted to dehydration. One War Boy in particular we get to know is Nux, played by a scene stealing Nicholas Hoult.

Nux is a man, but we look at him as a boy. I thought it a very great concept to write this character. For one, it gives us insight for once into the mind and ambitions of a henchman. All these films (and many others) have always had loads and loads of nameless henchmen, but here we get to journey with one throughout his struggle to find a purpose for his existence in the wasteland. Hoult really brings life to an otherwise expendable character type and in the process created my favorite character in the film. He's more or less the one to watch, route for, and it becomes fascinating watching his arc throughout the film.

Tom Hardy is pretty good as Max. I won't say great, but he was decent. My biggest problem with his version of Max is the fact that I see Tom Hardy, not Max Rockatansky. This is the fault of casting, not the actor himself. I think he is a terrific actor. The thing about Max is that he's Max. Mel Gibson was mostly unknown to the world upon release of Max Max. I truly believe the film would have benefitted from an unknown in the role. Oh and how about getting an actual Aussie? Because, you know, Max Rockatansky is Australian. Having said all this, it didn't really end up mattering all that much because Max is simply the catalyst in this film. We follow him and watch through his perspective for the most part, but he's not the main character, has absolutely nothing to do with the actual plot, and takes a back seat many times to Charlize Theron's Furiosa. In fact, most everyone in the film has no idea he is even part of the action and he's simply referred to as the "blood bank" by the War Boys early on.

That brings me to Furiosa. Could she possibly be ranked up there with Ripley and Sarah Conner? I'd like to hear a case against it, because she is pretty damn badass. Theron owns this movie in every way. She's got heart and her character feels emotion. Even through all her badassery she still maintains her feminine side. She's a lady and she respects greatly Immortan Joe's wives. She feels obligated and responsible for their safety and it makes the story so much more compelling. Especially for a Mad Max film. Let's face it, aside from part one, these films have had next to no depth.

The wives were also very good. Bringing in some actual character instead of simply scantily clad hotties, we learn what these girls want and believe therefore we actually care for them as Furiosa does and want them safe. Miller does such a great job of giving us these characters and in the midst of all this crazy action, get's us to know who they are and why they're important. That's not an easy thing to do. So with clear cut goals, we follow the characters on an amazing ride. Something so bizarre and so insane, that you walk out of the theater with a sense of wonder. The film is haunting, but not really dark. Its weird, but beautiful at the same time. It's full of mayhem, but also instills hope. Throughout all its barbaric tones, it manages to have more heart than most films made today and certainly more than most actions films. So, yes, the action scenes are brilliant, but its the film's heart and Miller's love of practical film making that are the big winners for me.

Love & Mercy
Love & Mercy (2015)
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

"Love & Mercy" is less a bionic than it is a true examination of a life time of mental illness. In this film, we are introduced to an already flourishing Beach Boys with their fandom at an all time high, leaving the band at this point to hit the daunting task of staying on par in order to keep relevant. We're shown through an opening mini montage that the band is already famous, so from there its off and running. I appreciated that about this film. Its not intended to be a biopic about how the Beach Boys came to be. Its center is more thoughtful and interesting than that.

I think these days its important to mix things up if you're planning on making a true and honest character piece about a famous person's life. "Love& Mercy" is that film. Its spends its full running time explaining to us, the audience who Brian Wilson is, why we should care, and what makes him not only interesting, but so important to music history. This film does what I to this day believe that "Walk the line" should have with telling the Johnny Cash story. It uses non-linear story telling to get the audience more invested in the presentation of the film, instead of simply hitting the bullet points of Brian Wilson's life. There are many open holes and unanswered questions come the end of the film. That's the beauty of it. Life doesn't work the way a movie usually displays it.

"Walk the line" faltered simply because it didn't want to confuse its audience or disrespect the subject matter, but what if that's what Cash would have wanted? He too was an open book and one large unanswered question. "Walk the line" was a watered down version of the actual events that he himself describes in his very own autobiography "Cash". So perhaps he would have wanted a more honest and brash depiction instead of the stiflingly boring "Walk the line". The reason I bring this up is to prove a point. Biopics are tricky. They can easily fall into fluff pieces with too much of the artists music in the background and not enough exposition of the reality of things in which case they can become self parodies.

"Love & Mercy" takes all the conventions of the usual biopic and flips it on its head. It tells two completely different stories in two completely different times in Brian Wilson's life. Its the juxtaposed story telling here that sets "Love & Mercy" apart from all the rest. One story being told in the mid 60s and the other in the late 80s. Two completely different narratives with completely different styles of film making. Paul Dano plays the young Wilson in the 60s as he struggles to exist with the other members of the band and battles the early stages of his illness. John Cusack plays the older Wilson having been babysat literally for most of his adult years by his shady therapist played by a very creepy Paul Giamatti.

The 60s scenes play out more of the traditional biopic style with us witnessing Wilson's genius as he writes and creates "Pet Sounds" which is believed by many to be one of the best albums of all time. Paul Dano is magnificent as a young Wilson obsessed with his music to the point where we wonder if he ever needed the Beach Boys. His mannerisms are amazing and his look really makes you feel the performance. The supporting cast of the other members are all really good as well and it was good to see that they were not shut out of the film and reduced to extras like all the members of The Doors in Oliver Stone's "The Doors".

The scenes in the 80s are more the after math of what we see from the 60s, plus a lot more that we apparently don't see. John Cusack, in his best performance in probably 20 years nails it as the already broken Wilson. Here he meets Melinda, played with poise and grace by Elizabeth Banks and we witness a real friendship start and blossom into an amazingly sweet and intense romance. Cusack really becomes the Wilson that we've seen in the more recent interviews with his high dose of meds making him dry mouthed and constantly licking his lips. Everything from the way he stands, walks, and flicks his finger tips, we really feel as we are watching Wilson and not Cusack, which I guess is the point. Elizabeth Banks surprises as many of the heavy scenes are carried by her as she watches Wilson unravel all over again. Its heartbreaking watching what Wilson went through at the same time infuriating watching how his therapist manipulated him for so many years. Giamatti was really fantastic. Its not easy to hate Giamatti, but here, you really really do.

I applaud this film for making something different. It has the courage to try and make us think of what happened between these two timelines. They never meet right in the middle, only mere suggestion of whats to come. The story telling is what really sells this picture. The acting is first rate and the writing is perfect. I'm not entirely sure if this type of film hits what the academy looks for when it comes to best picture, however, I'd like to think some consideration will be in order when it comes to the acting and perhaps the writing. Time will tell. Either way, this is a pretty great film. In addition, we are treated with the experience of watching how the album "Pet Sounds" was created and it is truly a joy to see how that happened.

Jurassic World
16 months ago via Rotten Tomatoes

Jurassic World came as a most pleasant surprise. I won't lie and say that I thought the trailers were all that great. They seemed to give away a lot of the plot and surprises and were very "sound bite" heavy. Once the reviews started coming out and they began releasing small clips of scenes I started to feel the nostalgia in the whole thing. You know that feeling you have as a child when you just can't sit still before a movie you really want to see? I was sort of like that going into this film. I couldn't wait for the trailers to stop and the movie to begin.

Now, I saw this in 3D, but aside from a couple of really nicely designed 3D sequences its not necessary to fork over the extra dough. However, I will say that this movie is so well lit and beautifully shot, that adding 3D does enhance the experience as simple viewing more so than most films. On a technical level I found this film to be handled professionally, intimately, and with large amounts of care. Unlike Jurassic Park 3 (which had no reason to exist) and to a lesser degree "The Lost World", Jurassic World cares about the original. Its stays in the same universe and without looking pushy or desperate, it pays homage and nods plenty at "Park" and its a joy to see.

The film stars Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard in the lead roles with a really nice supporting cast including Ty Simpkins and Nick Robinson as Howard's nephews lost in the park. Howard plays Claire almost the way John Hammond was originally intended to be played in the original film. In the book, Hammond is not to concerned about his grandchildren who show up on the island the same weekend he is giving it a test run with Grant and Satler. Here, Howard has the same plight, where her nephews are there to visit her on a really trying weekend for her career as it relates to the newly created "Indomonis Rex". Claire is hardly ever concerned about the welfare of the children, though throughout the course of the film, has a character arc which is nice. B.D. Wong, as Dr. Wu (a.k.a. the only returning cast member from the original) brings in a really nice little performance further exploring his D.N.A. splicing scientist and its nice to see him back on screen cooking up dinos in his lab again. Vincent D'Onofrio is always awesome and here, even though he's a complete one dimensional character, he makes it work as the company man in charge of a security contract. Jake Johnson steals every scene he's in as the main man in the control room. He's a naturally funny actor who appears in Trevorrow's first feature "Safety not gaurunteed".

Chris Pratt plays Owen Grady, an ex Navy Seal I guess, who for some reason has the ability to train Velociraptors. Cool concept and it actually does play out better than it sounds. Pratt is serviceable here playing a slightly more serious version of StarLord. He does carry a lot of the weight of the action and does that part really well. There are also really funny moments in this film as well. Its nice, because my worry going in was that there is no Ian Malcomb character to set the comedic relief. Though he is not in this film, there are plenty of colorful and funny characters that has some good moments.

Collin Trevorrow has really stepped up in creating something naturally organic as well as something close to the majestic tone of the original. It feels more like a direct sequel than a part 4, but then again, technically its the first one to actually take place on Isla Nublar since the original so I guess it is the next chapter in that story. The 2nd and 3rd films always felt like they belonged in a different series of films as the tone was off, the stories were weak, and they simply just had no reason to exist other than money. At least here, through all the turmoil and production hell this property went through in order to get a 4th made, they thought outside the box and crafted the right talent to create it. That's saying a lot. It could have easily fell into the same trap the other two did where for some lame reason people had to go back to the island and run from dinosaur.

Instead we finally get what we as children all envisioned while watching the first one which was a fully functional theme park and boy is it awesome. If only it were real. The sense of wonder is back! This film puts you there with the people and makes you want to go and experience it for yourself. And yes, there are some actual heart pumping scenes and it has great action. Though I would say that I was surprised as to how reserved this film actually was. It has everything to do with picking the right person to direct. The studio saw something in Trevorrow and it paid off. his subtleties are his secret. He's not Michael Bay throwing everything but his own feces at the screen. Instead, he takes his time and only crafts action set pieces that progress the story. It feels so much like the original in the sense that its an adventure and we feel that as we watch everything unfold. We are observers on this journey and no matter which characters they are showing, its all kept contained to a central story that never feels convoluted (even when it almost tries to be) and is always easy to follow.

I don't agree with some critics who brand it as a direct knock off of "Park" because its not. Sure there are familiar beats, scenes, and even lines, but its its own film. If it had come out 4 years after the original people wouldn't be saying that about it. It IS the sequel we all wanted, just not 22 years later. But hey, much better late than never in this case. In the ensconce of the brand, it makes perfect sense for the studio to go in the direction they did. It feels full circle to me at the same time feeling fresh.

One thing is for sure, this film earns its PG-13 rating. Its by far the bloodiest and most violent of all 4 films and some scenes are borderline brutal. However, these scenes are clearly not to simply exist to say "wow look at all the blood and gore". Instead, they up the intensity which this film has a ton of. Its literally a ride from beginning to end. One of the most fun times you'll have this summer at the movies. If you love and appreciate the original, its hard not to find something to like about this one. The visuals are great, the acting does the job right, and the new ideas really keep you invested. We also get to see the Ankylosaurus for the first time and its pretty cool watching it in action. Throw in a few character driven moments, a few sad and heartbreaking moments (I dare you not to cry at one particular scene involving a Apatosaurus), and tons of exciting ones, and you get the best possible sequel that probably could have came from this franchise. There's really no reason to even make another one, though I'm sure they will. So job well done by all involved. You did the franchise just and brought it back from extinction.

A Most Wanted Man
2 years ago via Rotten Tomatoes

On one hand I am glad to see PSH go out with a smaller, intriguing premise, espionage thriller type. On the other hand, I would have liked to have seen a real "tour de Force" performance out of him as well. Hey, since we do not know when we will die, all we can do is what is right in front of us, right? And this film did not disappoint. It was smart with clear direction while using a bit of misdirection at times. PSH was great as the chain-smoking, aging head of a small "in the shadows" German anti terrorist group stationed for the time being in Hamburg.

The supporting characters are good, with Willem Dafoe, as usual, stealing all his scenes pretty effortlessly. Robin Wright is terrific as the head of the American task force, who threaten to expose Bachmann's team's plans to bring in a suspected terrorist for interrogation to determine if he is actually a threat or not. The Americans are, of course, played as the shoot first ask questions later brut force element of the story. Rachel McAdams takes a real nice turn here as a young slick lawyer who's dedication to the Islamic immigrant get's her caught up in the middle of the search. PSH is the star and he shines with his mannerisms and his ability to be so believable as a real person and not some "dime-a-dozen" Bourne Identity super Wiz who sits in front of a giant digital map that can scale the earth and follow people as they move. No, this is small scale Anti Terrorist tactics where one most use their intellect instead of their technology and try to put what evidence they have to use to determine what is happening. For that I applaud it.

Its not an action film, nor is it a real drama. its clear as day Espionage. Nothing more, nothing less. It uses what it knows to put print to screen a smart, small, thought-provocking piece of cinema. Its not a perfect film. It lacks character development and blows it with an ending that literally feels like they ran out of time an money. However, for a small film released in the middle of summer, its a great ways to distance yourself from huge robots and space aliens if that's your prerogative.