Review of “Kong: Skull Island”

It’s 1973. An agreement to end the Vietnam War has been announced. Bill Randa (John Goodman) with the Monarch Project is trying to get a US Senator to approve an expedition to a previously unknown South Pacific island. Randa, and his assistant Houston Brooks (Corey Hawkins), sell the expedition as an opportunity to discover new resources and to get to it before the Soviets do. Reluctantly, the senator agrees to piggyback Randa’s project with a survey by Landsat to explore the island. Also going on the trip is a military escort led by Lt. Col. Preston Packard (Samuel L. Jackson). He and his men are fresh from Vietnam and are diverted from going home to go on the mission. Others in the group include a former British Special Forces soldier named James Conrad (Tom Hiddleston) to act as a tracker and hunter, and Mason Weaver (Brie Larson), a photojournalist that formerly worked in Vietnam. The island is surrounded by constant electrical storms that cut off communications with their base ship as they fly in on helicopters. To conduct the geological survey explosive charges are dropped from the helicopters and their vibrations through the ground are picked up by sensors. After a few charges are dropped the fleet of helicopters is attacked by a 100-foot tall gorilla. Swatting all of them out of the air and killing several soldiers and researchers, the survivors are split up and must survive in the jungle while dealing not only with the giant gorilla, but the massive insects and lizards that want to eat them for a snack. Conrad, Weaver and a few others run into a group of natives that live on the island as well as a WWII fighter pilot Hank Marlow (John C. Reilly) who was shot down by the Japanese. Marlow tells the group that the ape is named Kong by the locals and is treated like a god. He protects the natives from the other animals on the island that come from caverns underground. Lt. Col. Packard wants to kill Kong in retaliation for the deaths of his men and is willing to risk the lives of the other survivors to get the job done.

“Kong: Skull Island” is the second film in a series that plans on bringing giant monsters back to theatres over the next several years. The invasion of the giants began in 2014 with the “Godzilla” reboot and will culminate with a battle royale featuring Kong and Godzilla in 2020. In the interim we’ll see a second Godzilla film where he likely takes on other kaiju from his past including a giant moth and a three-headed monster. While fans of the Japanese “Godzilla” films weren’t thrilled about the latest reboot, the film made over half a billion dollars worldwide. Is the big, hairy ape reboot worth your hard earned money? Read on.

“Kong: Skull Island” delivers on the action front with several encounters between Kong and the numerous massive creatures on the island. We also get a very early look at Kong in a flashback that starts the film. While the CG is a bit flat at times (I saw the 2D version) the digital creations look amazing and the artists are able to keep Kong’s size consistent relative to his surroundings throughout the film. The other monsters on the island, including the big lizard that gives Kong the most trouble, are all creative inventions. Some are based on known animals while others are totally new. It was good to see some other creatures instead of the usual dinosaurs that are the bad guys on Kong’s home turf.

The various monsters are far more interesting than any of the people in “Kong: Skull Island.” Other than Samuel L. Jackson’s intense and insane Army man and John C. Reilly’s goofy marooned pilot, the characters are all pretty cookie cutter and interchangeable. Tom Hiddleston, Brie Larson, Corey Hawkins and John Goodman are largely wasted in clichéd and underwritten roles that are mostly good for exposition and little else. While each gets a brief moment when the character is spotlighted none of it is interesting enough to make the audience really care what happens to any of them. The supporting players are mostly used as monster kibble so don’t get too attached to anyone even if some of them are far more intriguing than the top-billed players.

What is far more interesting is the struggle Kong has to survive not only his natural enemies but the two-legged variety that shows up uninvited. The audience is meant to root for Kong against the island creatures and it isn’t hard to take his side against the humans. Jackson’s Packard is a seething hate machine that is looking for redemption after the feeling of betrayal by politicians in Vietnam. He wants to fight a war he can win and believes he is just the man to cut the massive ape down to size. The fact that Kong is the only thing keeping the giant lizards at bay and possibly spreading over the rest of the world isn’t enough for him to end his fight. He’s obsessed and won’t let common sense or the fate of the world deter him from winning this time. I’m sure there’s a political statement in this character somewhere but I was too interested in the outcome of the final battle to figure it out.

“Kong: Skull Island” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence/action and brief strong language. While most deaths aren’t shown we do see Kong smash several people with his paws. The lizard monster consumes a few people. One character dies when impaled through the mouth. We see various creatures burned and ripped apart. Several human characters are shown with blood from injuries. Kong is shown with a large gash on his arm. Kong and another monster are shown being shot by machine guns. Several creatures are shown being cut apart by a sword. One character is carried away by flying creatures and is shown getting an arm ripped off. Foul language is widely scattered but one “F-bomb” gets dropped.

The climactic battle between two massive creatures was surprisingly thrilling despite it being two monsters completely created in computers. Both Kong and the giant lizard are made with very robust personalities. While they are just pixels molded and shaped by various talented artists and engineers they are also extremely well made. I actually cared about how the battle would turn out even though I had a pretty good idea which beast would come out victorious. Even though the human characters are mostly bland and forgettable, “Kong: Skull Island” has monsters with far more personality and they make the movie entertaining. I think next time it would be a better movie if it just had the monsters and used the puny humans as just extras to be crushed under foot…or paw…or claw…or tentacle…or whatever.

“Kong: Skull Island” gets five stars for the monsters and the fights, not for the people.

P.S. There is a brief bonus scene at the end of the credits. It teases what’s to come but should you need to go pee or whatever and miss it, it won’t be a catastrophe.

This week at the local multiplex it’s a tale as old as time along with survival of the fittest. I’ll see at least one of the following:

Beauty and the Beast—

The Belko Experiment—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children”

Jake (Asa Butterfield) is a typical teenager living in Florida with his dad Frank (Chris O’Dowd) and mom Maryann (Kim Dickens). Jake feels unnoticed by his schoolmates and largely ignored by his family. The only person he feels really close to is his grandfather Abe (Terence Stamp). Jake gets a frantic phone call from Abe ranting about him being in danger and unable to protect himself without his gun. When Jake arrives, his grandfather’s house has been ransacked and Abe is lying in the woods behind his house with his eyes missing. Abe begs Jake to follow a map and go on a quest of some sort. Jake doesn’t understand and is so shocked he thinks he sees a giant monster wondering in the woods. Thinking he’s crazy, Jake sees Dr. Golan (Allison Janney), a psychiatrist, who suggests Jake and his father travel to the Welsh island where Abe lived for several years during WWII at a home for orphaned children. Abe had told stories about the incredible woman that ran the home and the unusual children that lived there. Arriving on the island, Jake explores the dilapidated home that was hit during a German bombing raid. There he finds old pictures of the former residents…then one is standing in front of him looking the same as in the picture. Freaking out, Jake runs away but knocks himself out. He awakens being carried across the shoulder of a six-year old girl. Set on the ground, Jake finds himself face to face with the children his grandfather had told him about. They lead him through a cave and he walks out into a completely different world. The bombed out house is good as new and he’s greeted at the door by Miss Peregrine (Eva Green) and is introduced to her group of peculiar children.

There is a great deal more to the story of “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” including time loops, 20-foot tall creatures with sharp, jagged teeth and tentacles emanating from their mouths and a group of people looking for eternal life that eat the eyeballs of “peculiars.” This group is led by Mr. Barron played by Samuel L. Jackson wearing a “Don King” fright wig and chewing enough scenery to require a dentist visit to remove the splinters from his gums. In the hands of Tim Burton, a director known for his films about outsiders looking for acceptance and his visual flare, the movie should have leapt off the screen and wowed us while also moving us to tears. It does neither.

The look of the film is not the problem. Burton and his talented effects crew have created a stunning visual world filled with oddities and surprises. From ornate lead shoes to topiary, there’s very little about “Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” that isn’t eye catching. Eva Green’s hairstyle, with whirls, odd points and a blue tint, manages to even provide some entertainment as I wondered how and why they made it look that way.

What comes up short is the emotion, the heart, the desire to feel anything about these children in their odd situation. The story is very predictable and feels like all the passion and energy was left on the pages of the graphic novel on which it is based. Other films based on books, like the “Harry Potter” and “Hunger Games” series, manage to convey the intensity of feeling the characters are experiencing and allowed the audience to feel it too. Perhaps the subject matter “Miss Peregrine’s…” was a bit too whimsical and light to translate from the page to the screen. In any case, the movie merely fills the eyes and not the soul.

It doesn’t help that Asa Butterfield either isn’t a very good actor or was horribly miscast. He looks confused through most of the movie and rarely expresses what appears to be the proper emotion. It’s almost like his response to events occurs half a second later than it should. Seen over and over again, this slight delay becomes increasingly obvious and annoying.

I could go on about the cast, giving each member either their props or comeuppance; however, the only person in this rather large assemblage of actors that really stands out is Samuel L. Jackson and it’s for all the wrong reasons. Jackson seems to be playing a slightly amped up version of himself we see in the Capital One credit card commercials. He’s showboating in a fairly small role to I suppose try and make the part bigger simply by making the character bigger. All he manages to do is stick out like a sore thumb and seem like the wrong actor for the part.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” is rated PG-13 for violence and peril and intense fantasy action. There are a couple of scenes showing a character with the eyes removed from the sockets. There is some scary long-legged monsters shown chasing after the children. One character takes hearts and implants them in both dead and inanimate objects, bringing them to life briefly. Some monsters are shot in the head with a crossbow. There is no foul language.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” isn’t a terrible movie. It just isn’t terribly memorable. It looks amazing and features some interesting ideas in regards to people with unique abilities. What it doesn’t do is really strike deep in the heart of the audience and make us care about what happens to the denizens of this peculiar world.

“Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children” gets three apathetic stars out of five.

Three new movies hope you feel anything but apathetic about seeing them in the theatre. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Birth of a Nation—

The Girl on the Train—

Middle School: The Worst Years of My Life—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan. Send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Reviews of “The Big Short” and “The Hateful Eight” 70mm Roadshow Version

The Big Short

Seeing the impending collapse of the housing market, hedge fund manager Michael Burry (Christian Bale) creates a fund that bets against the massive mortgage funds sold by the biggest banks called a credit default swap market. Believing they will rack up huge fees and never have to pay off his investment, many major banks agree to the fund. Meanwhile, investor Jared Vennett (Ryan Gosling) hears about Burry’s fund and begins finding his own investors for the credit swap market. A chance wrong number phone call catches the interest of stock trader Mark Baum (Steve Carell) and he invests millions with Vennett. Two young investors, Jamie Shipley and Charlie Geller (John Magaro and Finn Wittrock), see a prospectus for Vennett’s fund and approach friend and retired trader Ben Rickert (Brad Pitt) to help them get in on the growing market betting on the failure of mortgage funds. Through greed, manipulation and lax regulation, the American economy and millions of home owners, retirees and small investors were about to lose trillions of dollars while a select few were reaping huge profits from their misfortune.

“The Big Short” is not a film for someone with a short attention span. The labyrinthine collection of funds, abbreviations and acronyms for various packaged mortgage debt is dizzying but essential to having a grasp on what’s going on in the film and why it led to the meltdown of the world economy. Director/co-writer Adam McKay (best known for his work with Will Ferrell) and writer Charles Randolph have done their best to explain what happened in the simplest terms and using Margot Robbie, Anthony Bourdain and Selena Gomez as themselves explaining the more complicated concepts directly to the camera in ways the audience can understand. It is a brilliant way to take a hugely complex issue and turn it into somewhat understandable nuggets with humor and a fair amount of rage.

The main cast is broken up into three segments with Bale’s Burry starting things off by figuring out the mortgage market was a house of cards with a time bomb ticking away at its base. Gosling and Carell get involved once the debt market is opened. Magaro, Wittrock and Pitt bring up the rear. While the three groups never interact, they are all dancing in the same financial ballet. The entire cast is pretty brilliant with Gosling and Bale delivering standout performances. Gosling is a slimy Wall Street investor with a slick pitch, spray tan and an utter disdain for his assistants. He berates them when they say anything during his sales pitch. He’s the boss from Hell that still manages to inspire loyalty. Bale has probably the most difficult role as he plays Michael Burry as if he was on the autism spectrum. In the film, Burry displays obsessive behavior, often staying up for days at a time, working in his office with loud heavy metal music playing through speakers or in his earbuds. His ability to focus on the intricacies of subprime mortgages and wade through mountains of reports allows him to see what others cannot. Bale makes subtle decisions with the character that keep Burry from turning into some kind of “Rain Man” caricature. While Burry clearly is wired differently from most others he doesn’t come off as someone who is completely out of place.

If there is any part of “The Big Short” that struck me wrong it was Steve Carell’s Mark Baum. Due to a personal tragedy, Baum is a constant ball of anger and frustration who can’t keep his opinion to himself. He has an investment firm with three other people and works directly with one of the major banks. It seems unlikely he could keep any of these business arrangements considering how quickly he flies off the handle. Carell does the best he can with the part and despite my finding his character grating, Baum is still one of the more sympathetic figures in the movie as his frustration at the impending collapse is based on his revulsion at how the system is so thoroughly corrupt; however, that doesn’t stop him from profiting from the suffering of others. Carell is also wearing an odd wig that looks like it doesn’t quite fit. I found his hair to be a distraction.

“The Big Short” is rated R for pervasive language and some sexuality/nudity. There are two scenes involving strippers. Foul language is common throughout the film.

Much like a liquid medicine that has a flavor added so your first impression is pleasant then once you swallow the bitterness causes you to shiver, “The Big Short” wraps its message of utter contempt for the banking industry and those who oversee it in a humorous package. There are some decent laugh-out-loud moments in the film. Once you reach the end, that shiver begins to run down your back as you realize the sins of the late 1990’s and early 2000’s are probably being committed again as you read this. There’s a saying about learning from history otherwise we are doomed to repeat it, making “The Big Short” required viewing for anyone with a mortgage.

“The Big Short” gets four stars out of five.

The Hateful Eight

Eight people are waiting out a blizzard at a store/way station called Minnie’s Haberdashery in the mountains of Wyoming in the late 1800’s. John “The Hangman” Ruth (Kurt Russell) is a bounty hunter who has Daisy Domergue (Jennifer Jason Leigh) manacled to his wrist. She is on her way to Red Rock to be hanged. Major Marquis Warren (Samuel L. Jackson) is also a bounty hunter with three dead outlaws strapped to the top of a stagecoach he was sharing with Ruth and Domergue. Chris Mannix (Walton Goggins) was picked up walking through the snow by that same stage coach. He claims his horse broke its leg as he was riding to Red Rock to be sworn in as sheriff but both Ruth and Warren have their doubts about his story due to his family history. Arriving at the store to wait out the storm, they find Oswoldo Mobray (Tim Roth) who identifies himself as the hangman for the territory, Joe Gage (Michael Madsen), a cowboy on his way to visit his mother for the holidays, General Sanford Smithers (Bruce Dern), a Confederate general who is on his way to visit his son’s grave, and Bob (Demian Bichir), the Mexican handyman who is watching the store for the Minnie and her husband Sweet Dave while they go visit family on the other side of the mountain. Ruth is not the trusting type and suspects one or more of the people at the store are working with Daisy to kill him and set her free. Despite his reservations, Ruth enters an agreement with Warren working together to make sure Daisy meets her maker at the end of a rope.

I saw the much hyped 70mm version of Quentin Tarantino’s “The Hateful Eight.” The things you won’t get in the regular version that will play in most theatres is an overture before the film, some alternate versions of some scenes due to the way they will look on smaller screens and an intermission. What you may miss most is the intermission as even the shorter cut is still two hours and 47 minutes. “The Hateful Eight” is filled with beautiful scenery, long tracking shots of characters crossing the one large room in which most of the action takes place and buckets of blood with chunks of flesh added for realism. It is an orgy of set and costume design as well as special effects provided by Greg Nicotero, the man behind the zombies of “The Walking Dead.” And despite all the cursing and racial epithets, the script is something akin to poetry as Tarantino has structured each bit of dialog to be like a verse of a song, providing both information and entertainment. We learn a great deal about most of the characters in “The Hateful Eight” and often times we are taught in a humorous way. And, as with all Tarantino films, there are homages to the westerns of the past that shaped the director’s vision in his youth and, of course, he uses a soundtrack done by Ennio Morricone, the man behind the music for Spaghetti western auteur Sergio Leone. This is probably the most “Quentin Tarantino” movie the director has ever made. Why then was I not that impressed.

Probably the biggest issue was the length. At just over three hours (overture and intermission included), “The Hateful Eight” is a film that takes its sweet time getting moving. Early on we get long views of snow-covered mountains and trees. There is a shot of a statue depicting Christ on the cross that agonizingly slowly pulls out to show us a stagecoach approaching the camera (this includes the opening credits but it still felt leaden). Later, there long dialog scenes that last an eternity. While I praised the script earlier, there are a lot of scenes that are unnecessarily long with Tarantino showing off how he can make his characters say awful things to one another, so much so that after a while it fails to have much impact.

The ending of the film I also found disappointing. After investing one-eighth of a day in watching these characters dance around each other and then endure an orgy of blood and viscera, the movie staggers to a conclusion that fails to deliver any kind of meaningful emotional payoff. It lays there like a fish out of water, the life slowly oozing from it as it gasps for a last breath. Tarantino asks a great deal from his audience in “The Hateful Eight” and he puts on, for the most part, quite a show; however, when he should have put forth his best effort, he seems to have done just barely enough to get to the closing credits. It’s like being on a plane for 18 hours thinking when you land you’ll be on the other side of the world but finding out you’ve just been circling your home airport. You’ve spent an awfully long time traveling but discover it really wasn’t worth the trip.

“The Hateful Eight” is rated R for strong bloody violence, some graphic nudity, language and violent sexual content. It’s a Tarantino film so the bloody violence is a given. I won’t give specifics as not to spoil it for you but there are numerous shootings with various degrees of bloodiness and goriness. Some limbs get separated from bodies at times as well as one head. One character is punched numerous times producing a great deal of blood. There is a scene showing a naked man walking through snow and there is full frontal nudity. A sex act is shown and graphically described. Foul language is common.

Tarantino has been interviewed numerous times in the run-up to the release of “The Hateful Eight” and has described in glowing terms how much better film is than digital photography. In the past, Tarantino has called digital projection “TV in public.” Having seen this film in 70mm widescreen, I would point out to the director I could see the graininess of the film. The print I saw already had nicks and scratches in it during what was only its fifth screening. Using a lens that hasn’t been on a camera since Charlton Heston’s “Ben Hur” was filmed is great for nostalgia but doesn’t really do anything to advance the art of filmmaking.

Tarantino loves old movies so much he bought a theatre in Los Angeles, CA and programs only the films he thinks should be seen and remembered. That’s great if you’re a rich director and need a hobby. As a moviegoer, I want directors to push the envelope and use all the tools science and industry gives them to create images and stories I’ve never seen before. While “The Hateful Eight” is a beautifully shot and impeccably designed movie, it lacks an emotional connection that Tarantino should be a master at creating by now. His desire to show just how good of a moviemaker he is has gotten in the way of connecting his story to his audience. It was nice to look at but I didn’t want to live there.

“The Hateful Eight” gets three stars out of five.

No new movies are opening this week so it will be two weeks when I review my next film and that is the horror movie, “The Forest.”

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “Avengers: Age of Ultron”

While raiding a HYDRA base in the small eastern European country of Sokovia to retrieve Loki’s mind control scepter, the Avengers, Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.), Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner), Natasha Romanoff (Scarlett Johansson) and Dr. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) in the form of the Hulk, encounter the Maximoff twins Pietro (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen).  He possesses super speed while see can manipulate minds and emit energy pulses.  Their powers have been enhanced due to HYDRA experimentation that has killed all other test subjects.  The raid is ultimately successful and the scepter is recovered but Wanda plants the nightmarish image of all the Avengers dead in the mind of Stark.  This leads him to restart a program to create, in his words, a suit of armor around the world.  The Ultron program was stalled due to software issues but Tony believes he and Banner can use the mind-control stone in the scepter to rewrite the program and create an automated defense system.  Tony’s helpful computer program J.A.R.V.I.S. (voiced by Paul Bettany) continues working on various configurations of the program and it comes to life.  Confused, J.A.R.V.I.S. tries to aid Ultron (voiced by James Spader) in understanding his existence.  Ultron quickly overwhelms J.A.R.V.I.S. and takes control of Tony’s robotics lab, creating a rudimentary body for himself.  Ultron has misinterpreted Tony’s intensions and decides the only way to protect the Earth is to destroy all human life.  During a celebration party in the Avenger’s tower, Ultron makes his presence known and attacks the team but they are able to defeat him; however, the program of Ultron escapes into the Internet and finds facilities to create more versions of himself.  Ultron also approaches the Maximoff twins about helping him destroy the Avengers.  The pair has a particular hatred for Tony as their parents were killed by weapons from Stark Industries.  They agree to help and the three, along with several robots, head to the African nation of Wakanda to meet with arms dealer Ulysses Klaue (Andy Serkis) who possesses a huge amount of the super strong metal vibranium.  The Avengers show up as well and a major battle ensues.  Wanda is able to place spells on nearly all the Avengers and each is shown devastating images of either their past or their greatest fears.  Banner is transformed into an out of control Hulk causing him and Tony, in his Hulk-Buster armor, to battle and nearly destroy a Wakandan city.  The world is turning against them due to all the property damage they cause, the team is in shambles and questioning if they can still be an effective fighting force and if they can defeat Ultron.

If you see “Avengers:  Age of Ultron,” strap in and leave the large soft drink at the concessions stand as you are in for a 140 minute rollercoaster of action and special effects.  You may also want to bring ear plugs as the film is quite loud with all the metal clanking and various things exploding nearly all the time.  It is a visual spectacle that works well within the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU); however, if you are looking for meaning on a deeper level you may be disappointed.

The early trailers made it appear “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” would be a dark and serious affair.  That worry is unfounded as the trademark banter between the characters is fully on display even in more serious moments.  Each character has a chance to lighten the mood with the interplay between Stark and Rodgers delivering the most lighthearted moments.  Thor, Natasha, Barton and Banner also get opportunities to make the audience smile and chuckle.  Even the newly added Maximoff twins get a chance to throw off a quip.  It can’t be considered a full-on comedy but the film is much less dour than first looks suggested.

The quality of acting is about what you expect in any Marvel film but having Spader provide the voice of Ultron raises the quality of the villain’s performance.  James Spader gives Ultron a level of gravitas that might have been missing from another actor.  Ultron’s commanding baritone voice ringing with condescension, his ease in dancing verbal rings around Stark and the others and the cold calculation of his ultimate plan puts him head and shoulders above most other Marvel villains.  Plus, the robot Ultron is literally twice as tall as anyone on screen.  That physical dominance of the frame only adds to Spader’s voice acting.

The acting of Scarlett Johansson and Mark Ruffalo is put to the test in the film’s biggest flaw:  The will-they-won’t-they romance of Natasha and Banner.  While an unknown length of time has passed since “The Avengers,” the notion of these two becoming a couple seems a bit out of left field.  Perhaps this is writer/director Joss Whedon’s attempt to humanize these bigger than life characters.  Since we know very little of their lives outside of teaming up to fight a world-threatening evil, this might have been an effort to bring these demigods down to our level.  Quite frankly, it feels a bit tacked on.  Banner and Natasha are probably the two most dangerous members of the team.  She has been trained practically since birth to be an assassin and he fears he will hurt innocent people when he transforms into an out of control rage giant.  The two of them together strike me as a disaster waiting to happen.  It also doesn’t help that she was flirting with Rodgers in “Captain America:  The Winter Soldier” and in the comics has been romantically connected to him and Barton.  Of course, I don’t understand how anyone could turn down the affections of Natasha who is probably the sexiest woman in any of their lives, but that’s just me.  While the romance sections of the movie pay off by the film’s end, they tend to bring the story’s momentum to a halt.  They probably could have been incorporated in a different way to fit better within the narrative.

Then there’s the problem with all the Marvel movies and superhero films in general:  The concept of meaningful stakes for the characters.  So far, nearly every MCU film has followed a predictable pattern of a worldwide threat bringing out the hero or heroes, that threat nearly defeating the hero then with one final effort the hero wins.  Marvel has a slate of films mapped out over the next decade that involves these characters.  Since we know they will be around in 2018 for whatever sequel, where is the danger to the protagonist?  It simply isn’t there.  We know Iron Man, Captain America and the rest will live to fight another day since they have a contract calling for them to appear in however many more movies.  The only mystery is how the villain will be defeated and that’s not nearly as satisfying as truly being in doubt as to if the hero will survive the final attack.  This formula make get a shakeup in coming films as both Robert Downey, Jr. and Chris Evans are nearing the end of their contracts.  Also, the next Captain America film is based on the comic book storyline of a battle between factions within the superhero community where not everyone survives.  The fiscal realities of increasing star salaries and actors desire to work on different projects may be what puts some real threat into the evil plans of the villains.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi action, violence and destruction, and some suggestive comments.  There are fights throughout the film between robots and Avengers, Avengers and Avengers and Avengers and others who are not robots or Avengers.  It is all fairly mild as film violence goes.  There is very little blood and no gore unless you count the robot guts that are displayed when one is destroyed.  During the Hulk vs. Hulkbuster fight, a building under construction is demolished, some people in an elevator are nearly killed and the Hulkbuster suit has a piston-action fist that repeatedly punches the Hulk in the face.  All the suggestive comments are between Natasha and Banner except for one ancient reference by Stark during the scene where each Avenger tries to pick up Thor’s hammer.  Foul language is widely scattered, very mild and used as the set up for a running joke.

The weirdness of business agreements between companies is on full display in the film.  In the comics, the Maximoff twins are the children of main X-Men villain Magneto; however, since Marvel sold the movie rights for the X-Men and the use of the term mutant to Fox, their heritage could not be mentioned.  You might wonder how the characters could be used at all.  It comes down to the fact that the pair has been in both the X-Men and the Avengers so the lawyers decided both companies could use the characters.  Clear as mud, right?  Then, here comes Spider-Man who had been the cinematic property of Sony but can now appear in both Marvel and Sony movies.  It is enough to make one’s head spin; but if the complicated storylines of superhero movies don’t induce vertigo then legal issues between movie companies should be a piece of cake.  What does this have to do with whether “Avengers:  Age of Ultron” is worth your time and money?  Nothing, I just thought it was interesting.  Since most Marvel movies are critic proof, it really doesn’t matter what I think.  I will offer this one bit of advice:  Don’t pay for the 3D.  There is a few times it makes items on screen really pop out but most of the time it is hardly noticeable.  See the standard version and enjoy the ride with Earth’s Mightiest Heroes.  It isn’t art but it’s fun.

“Avengers:  Age of Ultron” gets five stars.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Just a couple of new films this week and both are comedies.  Maybe I’ll review one of them or maybe it’ll be another film.  Stay tuned.

D Train–

Hot Pursuit–

Review of “Kingsman: The Secret Service”

For weeks, the only thing anyone heard about as far as movies were concerned was “Fifty Shades of Grey” and how it would dominate (pardon the expression) the box office over Valentine’s weekend. It lived up to expectations tying up (again, pardon the expression) over $81-million in ticket sales. While the rest of the competition was mostly spanked (see apologies above) there was one new movie that managed to pull in a respectable amount of money despite lacking any whips, riding crops and blindfolds. “Kingsman: The Secret Service” is what I saw and I suggest you see it as well.

Gary “Eggsy” Unwin (Taron Egerton) is an intelligent young man who seems to be wasting his life with alcohol, drugs and petty crimes. He’s approached by a Harry Hart (Colin Firth), a dapper gentleman, who tells Eggsy he knew the boy’s deceased father. Hart is a member of a secret British intelligence organization called the Kingsmen. Hart, whose code name is Galahad, operates out of a tailor shop. While the average patron can be fitted for a custom-made suit, a Kingsman agent can access specialty weapons and an underground pneumatic transport system that goes directly to a villa in the English countryside, the headquarters of the Kingsmen. Galahad informs Eggsy his father was a Kingsman and died on a mission when Eggsy was a very young boy. Galahad encourages Eggsy to try out for a recent opening due to the death of an agent codenamed Lancelot. Lancelot died trying to rescue Professor James Arnold (Mark Hamill), an environmental and global warming expert who had been kidnapped by Richmond Valentine (Samuel L. Jackson) and his accomplice Gazelle (Sofia Boutella). Gazelle has prosthetic legs armed with razor sharp swords which she uses to kill Lancelot. Valentine, a tech billionaire, has been trying for years to get politicians to do something about carbon emissions without success. He has developed a new plan and approaches many celebrities and world leaders for their support, offering them deals they cannot refuse. For those who turn Valentine down, they are locked up in his mountain headquarters. While Valentine wants to save the planet, he doesn’t care how many billions of people have to die to make his plan succeed. Eggsy and several other young people are led through the many tests and trials to become a Kingsman by Agent Merlin (Mark Strong) while Galahad continues his investigation into Valentine’s plan.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” has a very light, jaunty feel to it. It doesn’t take itself seriously and is able to create both humor and excitement, often simultaneously. The film succeeds at being entertaining for several reasons. First, the story moves at a quick pace, rarely staying in the same place for very long. The filmmakers know the target audience doesn’t like taking the time for a huge amount of backstory so much of that is handled in a few sentences at appropriate times. This cuts down on long scenes of exposition and keeps the plot moving forward.

A second reason is the cast. A film like “Kingsman: The Secret Service” rarely has a group of actors with this many A-listers. Colin Firth, Samuel L. Jackson, Mark Strong, Michael Caine and Mark Hamill all in one film based on a comic book is not something one sees every weekend. The lesser known members of the cast, Taron Egerton, Sophie Cookson and Sofia Boutella, are a nice garnish to an already stellar mixture of actors. Everyone in the film is excellent and they all seem to be having a great time.

The script seems to have its tongue firmly planted in its cheek. The style and tone of the dialog, usually delivered in either an upper crust or working class British accent, just feels like fun. Even when the movie has its bloodier moments, and there are plenty, the script manages to keep things light. It also doesn’t mind taking a look at other films of the genre, including the granddaddy of them all the “Bond” series. Firth’s character makes reference to the darker tone of the most recent films and says he prefers the earlier incarnations of Bond. The movie seems to pay homage to those films with the number of gadgets a Kingsman has at his disposal. I won’t try to mention them all here but they run the gamut from classic (knife popping out of the toe of a shoe) to fantastic (a bulletproof umbrella with other built-in weapons). Some of these gadgets are more believable and hence more effective than others. Still, one must suspend some disbelief if the movie is to be enjoyed. The film uses technology heavily throughout the story including the main plan of the villain. The movie may actually depend too much on gadgets to keep the action moving. A spy movie should be mostly about the spy doing some spying. That isn’t so much the case here; however, this is a minor fault when compared to how entertaining the rest of the film is.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is rated R for sequences of strong violence, language and some sexual content. There are numerous violent and bloody deaths in the film including numerous head shots, limbs severed, a person cut in half down the middle and numerous images of heads exploding. Surprisingly, the exploding heads are handled in a rather tasteful way. There is very little gore and it mostly looks like colored smoke billowing up from the neck. There is an early passing reference to sex then late in the film we get a brief glimpse at a young woman’s backside with the understanding that anal sex is about to occur. Foul language is common throughout the film.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” is a spy film populated with very interesting characters including Samuel L. Jackson’s lisping villain and Sofia Boutella’s blade runner prosthetic wearing henchperson. It also features an exciting story, terrific action and likable characters about whom I wanted to know more. While it depends a bit too much on technology and not enough on the human aspect, there are still characters we root for and want to see triumph. It may never win any major awards or be considered a classic but it is a fun way to spend a couple of hours in a movie theatre without feeling like you need to take a shower afterwards.

“Kingsman: The Secret Service” gets five stars out of five.

This week, four new movies (assuming the expected snow melts in time for me to get out) vie for your entertainment dollars. I’ll see and review one of the following:

The DUFF—

Hot Tub Time Machine 2—

McFarland USA—

Still Alice—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.