Seconds into the film, “Avengers: Age of Ultron” is already overdoing it. It opens with an assault on a H.Y.D.R.A. base, and the team is kicking ass, but with the exception of a fantastic shot straight out of “Kung Fu Panda 2,” it’s underwhelming, a more elaborately choreographed and at the same time less thrilling version of the battle sequence at the end of “The Avengers.” The ‘bigger is better’ mentality is to be expected, but what isn’t expected, or appreciated, is the “Transformers”-like fixation it has with breaking stuff (as in entire cities) for no reason, and worse, there are no consequences for doing so. On top of that, writer/director Joss Whedon’s normally snappy dialogue is woefully lacking. Whedon has said that he’s walking away from the Marvel universe after this (Joe and Anthony Russo, who directed “Captain America: The Winter Soldier,” are taking the reins on the next two “Avengers” movies), and after seeing “Ultron,” it makes sense; from the looks of things, this movie killed him.
The fanboys were positively deafening when Marvel announced that Joss Whedon, creator of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” and “Angel,” would be directing “The Avengers.” One cartoonist even joked that Whedon would try to shoehorn a “Buffy”-esque analogy about the movie’s villain being more metaphorical than literal, and that the studio would fire him before he shot a single frame. What those people overlooked is that Whedon excels at writing for an ensemble cast, and that he has other voices in his dialogue bag besides snarky teen. If anything, he was an inspired choice to write and direct “The Avengers”; the only real strike against him getting the job was that his last feature film effort, the 2005 space western “Serenity,” tanked at the box office. And that movie did indeed tank, but it was also pretty awesome. Once people see “The Avengers,” all will be forgiven.
“Australia” feels like three movies rolled into one…three drawn-out movies rolled into one. The first movie involves a WWII-era widowed English aristocrat who inherits a small cattle ranch in the middle of the northern Australian bush (my wife refers to this part as “Out of Australia”). The second part involves the against-the-odds transport of said cattle to the coast in order to thwart the efforts of an opportunistic cattle baron (“Fly Away Cows”?). The final act is what happens to the aristocrat, the rancher she loves, and the mixed-race child she unofficially adopts once the Japanese forces arrive on their shores (“Pearl Harbor Down Under”). It’s all quite cute and wonderfully shot, but it’s not the home run that one might expect from Baz Luhrmann. He just can’t help himself with the teeth-gnashing villains, can he?
You’re a heartless, soulless bastard if you don’t like “August Rush.” The story of an orphan whose parents don’t even know he exists, who uses his natural gift for music to call his musician parents to him? That has “heart-warming tearjerker” written all over it, what’s wrong with you? For the record, there is nothing wrong with you. “August Rush” is brimming with potential – the lead, after all, is Freddie Highmore, the Cutest Kid on the Planet – but the movie is undone by a complete lack of confidence in the story they’re telling. I can’t remember the last time I saw a movie hedge its bets so frequently, and for no reason.
According to Wikipedia, it took almost two years to edit “The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford,” and it’s still two hours and 40 minutes long. This is 20 minutes shorter than writer/director Andrew Dominik’s original cut, but 40 minutes longer than it needs to be. Were it not anchored by two agreeable performances from Brad Pitt and Casey Affleck in the title roles, the movie would have been completely lost in a wash of chilly rural country sides and fish-eye lens shots.
Give Luc Besson credit for filling his animated/live action fantasy “Arthur and the Invisibles” with more imagination than you’ll find in most alleged children’s fare these days (ahem, “Happily N’Ever After”), which makes it such a pity that the movie gets completely lost in translation from French to English. (“Arthur et les Minimoys” is the original title) The American voice actors, even the good ones, never get a feel for the style or pacing of the source material, and the movie turns into a big race from one scene to the next.
“The Art of Getting By” is the kind of movie that only exists in the magical world of indie make-believe, where high school kids have little to no adult supervision and order drinks in bars without getting carded. It’s also a movie slightly out of time, the quirky love story complete with a hipster folk-riddled soundtrack that was in vogue three or four years ago. It has its good points, namely a unique protagonist and two likable actors at its core, but the story takes the easy way out far too often for the sake of striking a cool pose.
It’s clear what writer/director Nicholas Jarecki was trying to do with “Arbitrage”: he wanted to make a old-fashioned thriller about the guy who has everything but values nothing. It’s a very ‘80s mindset, and it’s fun to see people try to make movies that look like they could have come from another decade. Tony Gilroy did something similar with “Michael Clayton,” though that movie had some new ideas. “Arbitrage,” however, does not. You’ve seen this movie before, almost to the letter.
“Appaloosa” is the kind of movie that you’ll want to like more than you’ll actually like it. There is a certain charm in its deliberate pace at first – though the first ten minutes will lead you to believe this is the Western version of “Shoot ‘em Up” – but it is not long before deliberate turns into languid, and the story isn’t compelling enough to justify the pacing.
In 1994, Ron Howard was one movie away from director purgatory. No, you say, surely not the Oscar winning director of “A Beautiful Mind” and the man in charge of the sure-to-make-jillions “The Da Vinci Code.” Why, he’s a national treasure!
He’s a national treasure now. In 1994, he was the man who followed “Parenthood” and “Backdraft” with the ill-conceived Cruise/Kidman movie “Far and Away” and the god-awful “The Paper.” One more “Paper,” and he, not Rob Reiner, is directing “Alex and Emma.”