Written and Directed by: Joss Whedon Starring: Robert Downey Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Elizabeth Olsen, Aaron Taylor-Johnson Rated: PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and for some suggestive comments. At this point, Marvel Comics knows that people know about the Avengers. The newest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe doesn’t spend time establishing who everyone is with long backstories – we open with a fight sequence that gives each member of the team a chance to show off their abilities, then proceed directly onward with the story. If you haven’t seen any of the ten previous films and are willing to hold on for the ride, you can enjoy “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” but it’s going to make a lot more sense if you’ve seen at least a few. Wisely, Marvel has given the films their own continuity line – they take
Directed by: Daniel Espinosa Starring: Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, Gary Oldman, Joel Kinnaman Rated: R for violence, some disturbing images, language and a scene of sexuality “Child 44” is based on a novel by a British writer (Tom Rob Smith) and was adapted by an American (Richard Price) and directed by a Swede (Daniel Espinosa). It has that fatalism, that “well of course things are awful, that’s just life” despair that runs through so many Russian works of literature, art, and film. It makes it likely to be a challenging film for American audiences. This is the story of a government agent trying to stop a man who tortures and murders children – and all the challenges that agent faces because his government forbids him to say the deaths are murders. This is Stalin’s Russia, a communist utopia – and there are no murders in paradise, as one of the characters comments. Leo Demidov (Tom
Directed by: James Wan Starring: Vin Diesel, Paul Walker, Michelle Rodriguez, Jason Statham, Tyrese Gibson, Ludacris, Jordana Brewster, Dwayne Johnson Rated: PG-13 for prolonged frenetic sequences of violence, action and mayhem, suggestive content and brief strong language After six “Fast and Furious” movies, it seems almost redundant to review the newest one. The franchise has a very successful formula: fast cars, awesome action scenes, big brawls between huge muscular dudes, and ladies in bikinis. The filmmakers know their target audience and don’t waste time trying to make anything but huge action flicks. This is another solid entry in a solid series. If you like this kind of movie, you’ll like this one.
Directed by: Pierre Morel Starring: Sean Penn, Jasmin Trinca, Javier Bardem, Mark Rylance, Peter Franzen, Idris Elba Rated: R for strong violence, language and some sexuality When most folks think of Sean Penn, they think of his social activism, particularly about Haiti. When most folks think about international espionage thrillers, they think of exotic locations, beautiful people, various forms of combat, and a hero fighting against a big system of some kind. Take these two and mash them together, and you have “The Gunman,” starring Sean Penn: an activist film (although it’s about Congo, not Haiti) which is also a pretty solid international espionage flick. The story follows Penn’s character, Jim Terrier, who is the titular gunman, a sniper and general contractor for a private military company doing work in the Congo. After he assassinates a government official, he has to leave the continent and essentially go into hiding, abandoning his girlfriend Annie (Jasmine
Directed by: John Madden Starring: Dev Patel, Tina Desai, Shazad Latif, Maggie Smith, Judi Dench, Bill Nighy, Celia Imrie, Ronald Pickup, Diana Hardcastle Rated: PG for some language and suggestive comments Back in 2011, moviegoers were introduced to Sonny (Dev Patel), the relentlessly optimistic Indian man with his heart set on making The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel the ultimate retirement community, and an unlikely group of British retirees who wind up as his customers. The obstacles were formidable, but of course Sonny and the retirees were able to make everything work, and the film ended with them happily settling into the city of Jaipur, India. Now we are presented with “The Second Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” a sequel in which Sonny is determined to open a second hotel (since the first has only one remaining vacancy and is wildly successful). In many ways it’s more of the same, like any sequel, but it takes on
Directed by: Peter Jackson Starring: Ian McKellen, Martin Freeman, Richard Armitage, Ken Stott, Aidan Turner, Dean O’Gorman, Orlando Bloom, Evangeline Lilly, Lee Pace, Luke Evans Rated: PG-13 for extended sequences of intense fantasy action violence, and frightening images Peter Jackson appears to have finally run out of Hobbit. “The Battle of Five Armies” is the third and final film in his prequel trilogy, which uses J.R.R. Tolkiens’ book The Hobbit as a framework from which to hang a bunch of material from the appendices to The Lord of the Rings, along with a bunch of his own material. If you saw the previous films in the Hobbit trilogy, this one is essentially more of the same, just dialed up in intensity. There’s more fighting, more outside material, more fancy effects. If you like that sort of thing, it will deliver in spades. If Jackson’s style of adaptation makes you tear your hair, stay away. All
Directed by: Jean-Marc Vallée Starring: Reese Witherspoon, Laura Dern, Thomas Sadoski, Keen McRae Rated: R for sexual content, nudity, drug use, and language Cheryl Strayed is known on two axes: her popular advice column / essay column under the nom de plume “Sugar,” and her fiction writing under her own name. When her memoir “Wild” came out, she announced her identity to Sugar fans and put the column on hold to deal with the book. It’s understandable – “Wild” was a run-away success, with people like Oprah raving about it. Strayed knew it was a filmable book and sent a copy to Reese Witherspoon, who loved it and set about making the film happen. It’s a beautiful and moving film, full of lush wilderness and beautifully-shot but thoroughly un-beautiful itself squalor; of loving family interactions and screaming fights. The story is told through interwoven flashbacks as we follow Strayed on her 1,100 mile hike up
Directed by: Don Hall, Chris Williams Starring: Scott Adsit, Ryan Potter, Jamie Chung, Genesis Rodriguez, Damon Wayans Jr., T.J. Miller, Daniel Henney, Alan Tudyk, James Cromwell Rated: PG for action and peril, some rude humor, and thematic elements. There are a couple of primary themes in “Big Hero 6,” Disney’s latest CGI kids’ adventure movie, but it has a lot going on besides that. There’s action, adventure, a wonderfully diverse set of characters, and a handful of lessons kids and parents can take away with them to talk about later. Saying that a movie is for all ages is a little trite, but this one really is. Kids too young to deal with some cartoonish action and the idea of people dying are about the only ones who should sit this out. “Big Hero 6” focuses on young Hiro (Ryan Potter), a child prodigy with robotics who is failing to follow in his older brother
Directed by: Alexandre Aja Starring: Daniel Radcliffe, Juno Temple, Max Minghella, Joe Anderson Rated: R for sexual content, some graphic nudity, disturbing violence including a sexual assault, language and drug use Daniel Radcliffe is doing a good job of distancing himself from his Harry Potter days. In “Horns,” he plays an American man who finds himself acquiring strange powers after his community becomes convinced he murdered his girlfriend. Based on the book by Joe Hill, the film is a bit wobbly and inconsistent, but it’s worth seeing if you don’t mind its slide from dark comedy into visceral and violent horror. Merrin (Juno Temple) was everything to Ig (Radcliffe), and when she turns up dead and everyone assumes Ig did it, he’s heartbroken and angry. He wants to find the killer so he can avenge Merrin and clear his own name. This becomes a bit easier when he wakes up to find himself sprouting horns
The first warning sign “John Wick” gives us is that there was very, very little publicity about it. Your humble reviewer sees several movies a month, plus previews, and saw nary a single preview for Keanu Reeves’ latest vehicle. The second, of course, is that Reeves is in it. He’s not untalented, but he definitely has trouble picking quality movies on anything resembling a regular basis.
The two together should have been enough to warn even a person who enjoys bad movies for how bad they are to stay away. Sadly, it was not.