Avengers: Age of Ultron

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2015

Marvel Studios/Walt Disney Studios

Written and Directed by Joss Whedon

Produced by Kevin Feige

Based on “The Avengers” created by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby

The best recommendation I think I can give AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is that by the time the final credits were through rolling, my face hurt. But it was a good hurt. I’m being totally honest with you when I say that for about 85% of the movie I had the biggest grin on my face. The times I didn’t were during the appropriate and genuine moments of emotional crises suffered by the heroes. And those were welcome and necessary moments. Because Joss Whedon gets The Avengers. And he knows that without those scenes where they bicker, fight and squabble like a family, we won’t give a damn when they assemble to go into battle to save the world.

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And this time around, saving the world has a personal angle to it as Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is responsible for the menace threatening it. Yep, Tony’s been playing Dr. Frankenstein and has created an artificial intelligence named Ultron. Working in conjuction with Doc Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) Tony designed Ultron (James Spader) to be a worldwide defense program. It’s obvious to the rest of the team: Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans) Thor (Chris Hemsworth) The Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) that Tony is still feeling the PTS of the Chitauri Invasion of New York. It could well be that his manic desire to protect The Earth from future invasions may be clouding his judgment just a wee bit.

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Such an understatement. Ultron achieves sentience and sets out on his own agenda to save The Earth. An agenda he feels that can only be accomplished by eradicating humanity. Ultron recruits two “enhanced humans” to his cause. The twins Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda Maximoff/The Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen). Formerly experimental subjects of Baron Wolfgang von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann) they eagerly join with Ultron for reasons of their own that concern Tony Stark.

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That’s the bare bones of the plot and that’s really all you need to know. AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON is so much fun because it’s exactly what I look for in a superhero movie and Joss Whedon knows how to make one, that’s for sure. The action sequences are nothing less than spectacular and even though they’re extremely busy, it’s always very clear which Avenger is doing what and why. I especially liked the different and inventive ways Whedon came up with for Captain America and Thor to work together using their signature weapons of shield and hammer. Each and every one of the fight scenes is big enough to have easily been the conclusion of any other superhero movie. Trust me on this. Right from the raid on Strucker’s Hydra base that starts the movie, Whedon cranks it up to eleven and keeps it there for the entire running time.

But it’s not all wall to wall action. Whedon knows how to slow down the action to allow the human, emotional moments to take over and they’re just as suspenseful as the action sequences and in some cases, a complete and total surprise. There are revelations concerning Hawkeye, the Black Widow and The Hulk that I really didn’t see coming. And in the case of Hawkeye, those of you who like me, complained that he didn’t have enough to do in “The Avengers” will be delighted to hear that he gets more than enough to do this time around.

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James Spader as Ultron does some interesting things with his characterization that has subtle echoes of Downey’s characterization of Tony Stark which only makes sense to me. Chris Evans can no longer be billed: Chris Evans as Captain America. From now on he gets billed: Chris Evans is Captain America. While he still is presented as a man out of time, it’s his values and morals from that time that always gives the team its drive and sense of purpose. It provides a nice balance to Tony Stark’s Australia-sized ego and single-minded focus on what he thinks his best for the world.

As the new kids, Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen hold their own with the more experienced ensemble cast and carry their roles admirably. I really enjoyed Taylor-Johnson as Quicksilver and preferred him to the Quicksilver in the “Days of Future Past” X-Men movie. That version was too frivolous and smart-alecky for my taste while Taylor-Johnson had the intensity and pissed-off attitude I like in my Pietro.

It’s a big, complicated story with a lot of characters and a lot of cameos featuring faces you’ll recognize from the standalone movies featuring Thor, Iron Man and Captain America but you’ll never be lost or feel like the story doesn’t once know where it’s going. And the best thing about it is that it’s a superhero movie that makes you feel good. The Avengers never lose sight of the fact that they’re supposed to be the good guys and even when they stumble, they pick themselves up and jump right back into the fray. It’s downright refreshing to see superheroes who worry first about getting civilians out of harm’s way before going into combat with the bad guy (in a marvelous massive melee combat scene I’m convinced is a homage to the final shootout in Sam Peckinpah’s “The Wild Bunch”)

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AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON gave me the same feeling I had as a kid when I first discovered the comic book and I treasure that feeling. It shows that superhero movies can be visually eye-popping and have astoundingly jaw-dropping fights and still not lose sight of what makes these characters work: they are men and women of godlike power who truly care about protecting the world and the people who inhabit it.  By all means, go see it and have fun.

PG-13

141 Minutes

A Gathering Of Old Men

1987

Consolidated Productions/Jennie & Co.

Directed by Volker Schlondorff

Produced by Gower Frost

Screenplay by Charles Fuller

Based on the novel “A Gathering Of Old Men” by Ernest J. Gaines

It’s a boiling hot summer day in a Louisiana sugar cane field once upon a time in the 1970’s.  An overweight black man named Charlie runs for his life, yelling for help.  And with good reason.  There’s a white man pursuing him on a tractor with a shotgun.  In desperation Charlie runs into a house as he simply cannot run any more.  The white man gets off the tractor and strides toward the shack, shotgun at the ready and loudly proclaiming his intention to enter the house and kill Charlie.  A shotgun blast comes from the house, killing the white man.

The house is owned by Mathu (Lou Gossett, Jr.), an elderly black man who tells the younger one to make a run for it.  Since we’re not shown who fired from the house we don’t know if it was Mathu or Charlie who did the killing but it hardly matters.  As one of the characters says later on in the film; “Ain’t no colored ever kilt a white man in this parish and got away with it.” Even though it’s the 1970’s and still in the white-hot passion of the civil rights movement everybody who lives in the parish knows full well that things really haven’t changed all that much.  Somebody’s going to get lynched over this.

Mathu lives on land owned by the Marshall family and it’s Candy Marshall (Holly Hunter) who concocts a plan to save Mathu from certain arrest and the probable lynching: she sends out a call for all of Mathu’s equally elderly friends to fire off their shotguns and bring them along to Mathu’s house.  She also calls for her fiancé, journalist Lou Dimes (Will Patton) to come to Mathu’s house to document what happens next.  And it could get bloody.  The white man who was killed was a Cajun and his father Fix (Stocker Fontelieu) intends to see to it that the man who killed his son pays for it.

Stuck in the middle is Sheriff Mapes (Richard Widmark) who started the day intending to go fishing and certainly didn’t plan on having to deal with this mess. Because each one of Mathu’s seventeen friends proclaim loudly and with finality that they were the one that did the killing and here’s the just fired shotgun to back it up.  And each one of those seventeen friends have brought along more shotgun shells as they don’t intend to see their friend lynched.

A GATHERING OF OLD MEN is a movie that is so far under the radar it isn’t funny.  I remember seeing it on CBS just once way back in the 1980’s and I’ve never seen it aired again on network television.  Which is a shame because it’s a powerful piece of filmmaking with outstanding performances from Richard Widmark, Holly Hunter and a cast of classic black actors such as the late great Joe Seneca, Woody Strode, Tiger Haynes and Julius Harris.

It’s a story exploring the desire of black men in the twilight of their years having one final chance at regaining their manhood and standing up for themselves.  It gets even deeper into the various attitudes of the white characters who all have their own agendas regarding the black characters.  The Cajuns want blacks to “stay in their place” so that they have somebody to feel superior to.  The Marshall family are guilty of patronizing the blacks and believing they are superior to Cajuns which they despise for being “poor white trash”  The patronizing attitude of the Marshalls is brought out sharp and clear in a scene when Candy proudly proclaims that these are “her” blacks and they “need” her to protect them from “those” white people.

It’s a story that doesn’t pull any punches and there are some today who might be uncomfortable watching this movie.  Especially now in this era of the Obama presidency where many believe that racism doesn’t matter and that we all walk around holding hands and singing “We Are The World.”  A GATHERING OF OLD MEN is an engaging reminder that such is not so.  And it’s simply a damn fine piece of ensemble acting that can be enjoyed as such on those terms.  It’s available on DVD and well worth your time to track it down.  Enjoy

Better In The Dark #109

 

Episode 109: HAIL TO THE CHIN!–A BRUCE CAMPBELL CELEBRATION

The Summer of Great, Great Men Begins Here! Join Tom and Derrick as they spend the next three months celebrating some of the great, great men they admire, starting with a free-wheeling discussion about a man like no other (and a man who shares the same birthday as Tom…look, it was either Bruce or Uwe Boell, so shut up!), the Chin himself! The Guys Outta Brooklyn discuss Bruce’s entire career, dissecting all his hits on the big and small screen, and try to explain why Campbell deserves to be revered as a true genre movie icon. Plus Tom and Derrick discuss their recent travels to such places as Pulp Ark and Larry Fine’s Birthplace; somehow end up in a digression where they sing the praises of Doctor Who’s Rory; and manage to sing from memory the theme song for Jack of All Trades! It’s groovy, baby…so get to clicking!

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