Cinema or Cine-meh?

Sorting out the cine-junk so you don't have to!

‘Fast & Furious’ begins the franchise’s upward trend

fast-furious-originwal

Fast & Furious (2009)

Directed by Justin Lin

6.5/10  PG-13

The gang is back! Paul, Vin, Jordana, and Michelle are back for more high-speed hijinks in “Fast & Furious,” which brings the franchise back into mass market focus with more action and more fun. But you’ll have to get through the atrocious script first.

01Now, Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is an FBI agent in LA, trying to take down a notorious (and anonymous) heroin dealer. They don’t have a face, just a name: Campos. But the FBI is also after Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), who, with his crew of criminals (including his girlfriend Letty, played by Michelle Rodriguez), has been robbing tanker trucks full of fuel in high-speed takedowns. But O’Conner convinces his bosses to let Toretto help him take down Campos and his crew. Unfortunately, even together these two will be outnumbered and out-raced as they try to get enough evidence to arrest their guy.

“Fast & Furious” has enough going for it—high-octane action, a somewhat unpredictable plot, and a return of the family ensemble we loved in “The Fast and the Furious” eight years prior. It’s more of an action movie, as opposed to its predecessors, which could be considered racing movies. But it also has an action movie script. It tries to be sentimental, leading to disgraceful moments of faux-emotional interactions. “Furious 7,” with the emotionally-charged context fastfurious1surrounding its release, manages to be truly sentimental. “Fast & Furious” does not. It doesn’t help that Toretto, despite Vin Diesel’s own vibrant personality, still has a hard time showing genuine emotion in a way that looks legitimate. And Paul Walker still, at that time, was not a good actor in the traditional sense of the word. Repeated outtakes showing his inability to read his lines helps to show that. Also, has anyone seen “Vehicle 19”? Ouch. But he’s still one of my favorite actors. He’s the “fast” to Diesel’s “furious,” and they’re any director’s dream buddy action movie duo.

After the franchise stepped off the expected path for “2 Fast 2 Furious” and “Tokyo Drift,” it course-corrected and went back to its roots for “Fast & Furious,” which even sounds identical to the original. It learned that the franchise is nothing without its core ensemble, and we were thankful for the lesson learned.

‘Tokyo Drift’ takes ‘Fast and Furious’ down a different road

fast_and_the_furious_tokyo_drift_the_2006_1517_poster

Fast and Furious: Tokyo Drift (2006)

Directed by Justin Lin

6/10  PG-13

Where “2 Fast 2 Furious” faltered because of a lack of Vin Diesel and Michelle Rodriguez, “Tokyo Drift” is able to survive. With a new locale, cast of characters, and personality, “Tokyo Drift” was unlike any of the other “Fast and Furious” films. And that’s not necessarily a bad thing.fast-and-furious-3-tokyo-drift crew

When American teenager Sean Boswell (Lucas Black) gets into trouble for racing again, his mother sends him to Tokyo to live with his military dad (Brian Goodman) in the hopes that it’ll straighten him up. Well, it doesn’t. When he meets Twinkie (Shad Moss, or “Bow Wow”) and Han (Sung Kang), Sean gets involved in the Tokyo street racing scene, with an emphasis on drifting…which Sean knows nothing about. He’ll find a rival in D.K. (for “Drift King”…played by Brian Tee), who has connections to thugs in the city. But of course, they’ll also fight over a girl, Neela (Nathalie Kelly).

Lucas Black gives “Tokyo Drift” a humor that the other movies try and fail to deliver. In this role, perhaps the only of his that I’ve ever liked, he pulls it off (though he hardly passes as a high school student at 24). At times, though, Brian Tee and fast_and_furious_tokyo_drift_06Nathalie Kelly’s weird romantic triangle with Black can be unrealistic and distracting. But the introduction of Han, a laid back, lovable character who’d appear in three more “Fast” movies, makes up for all of that.

In a surprising change of events, the action in “Tokyo Drift” can be described as realistic. It keeps the over-the-top chases to a reasonable amount, giving us action only when it needs to while trying to focus a little bit more on the characters. But really, it’s the Tokyo locale we’re focused on. We’re just taking in the unique Japanese racing scene. That alone is enough to sustain us.

‘Pitch Perfect 2′ holds its own

Pitch-Perfect-2

Pitch Perfect 2 (2015)

Directed by Elizabeth Banks

7/10  PG-13

Who runs the box office? Girls. The Bellas are back and topping the weekend box office (racing past “Fury Road“)—but the big question is whether they’re better than they were when we last saw them three years ago. The girls haven’t lost their harmonic touch, but does “Pitch Perfect 2” do enough to set itself apart from the last?

After a disastrously revealing performance at Lincoln Center, the Barden Bellas—including Beca (Anna Kendrick), Fat Amy (Rebel Wilson) and Chloe (Brittany Snow)—are told they will not be able to perform again unless they win the world championships, which no American group has ever won. Their main competition, Das Singing Pitch Perfect 2Machine (led by Danish actress Birgitte Hjort Sørensen and German DJ Flula Borg), has been lighting up shows big and small on the live tour that should have been the Bellas’. And when Beca gets an internship at a recording studio working under a media mogul (Keegan Michael-Key), the realities of college graduation sets in. The Bellas’ chances look slim. But aca-newbie Emily (Hailee Steinfeld), a legacy (her mom, played by Katey Sagal, was also a Bella), puts a new spark in the group that helps them find their voice and gives them the best odds they’ll ever have.

After only a day, the almost universally agreed upon opinion is that “Pitch Perfect 2” fails to live up to its predecessor musically, but does offer more comedically than the first. I don’t know about that. I think there are enough inspired 1416508461_pitch-perfect-2-zoomperformances (some by the Bellas, some by Das Singing Machine, and some by…the Green Bay Packers?) to make this second effort worth your while. Is it a better, completely revamped version of three years ago? No. But it’s no worse, and you’ll see it anyway so why am I even writing this? Anyway, the humor is sometimes on point (a good deal thanks to Fat Amy), but too often insulting and/or unoriginal (mostly the product of the inappropriate broadcaster played by John Michael Higgins). It’s far from being the comedy of the year.

Despite having the same old story, “Pitch Perfect 2” brings on a new bright spot in Hailee Steinfeld. A real-life friend of Taylor Swift, the “True Grit” Oscar-nominee can sing as well as she can crack jokes. She fits right in. If “Pitch Perfect 3” rolls around in another few years, I expect she’ll be the Bella veteran. In smaller roles, Keegan Michael-Key and Christopher Cross are perfectly utilized. Too often, we see that sort of almost-cameo talent wasted. As FatTrailer-Pitch-Perfect-2-4 Amy, Rebel Wilson shows again that silly can still translate to funny. She’s a hoot. Reprising her role as broadcaster Gail, Elizabeth Banks (also making her feature length directorial debut) follows right behind costar Higgins with recycled, sad lines that don’t do much to put her in our good graces.

Even with a somewhat sluggish middle (the film clocks in at over two hours), “PP2” easily holds its own with the first. The old Bellas are just as good or better than they were three years ago, but it’s the new blood that makes “Pitch Perfect 2” a solid contender.

‘2 Fast 2 Furious’ is the franchise’s unfortunate worst

2 Fast 2 Furious itunes

2 Fast 2 Furious (2003)

Directed by John Singleton

5/10  PG-13

Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) takes his talents to South Beach in “2 Fast 2 Furious,” the ludicrous/Ludacris second installment in the “Fast and Furious” franchise. Despite the fact that he had his badge stripped in “The Fast and the Furious,” O’Conner is sent undercover to investigate a Miami thug named Carter Verone (Cole Hauser), who has been 2-fast-2-furious-2003-21-gexporting drugs (so says the synopsis…we never actually see any drugs). Agent Monica Funetes (Eva Mendes) has been deep undercover for months, living and sleeping with the enemy, but hasn’t gotten the evidence needed to put Verone away. O’Conner calls in a childhood friend and accomplished driver, Roman Pearce (Tyrese Gibson), to help him find compelling evidence to put Verone away. But in this cat and mouse game, it looks like Verone might have the upper paw.

In a 2003 interview with director John Singleton (yes, the special features on these “Fast and Furious Collection” Blu-rays are being utilized), the “Boyz n the Hood” auteur said that nearly 80% of the cast-members in “2 Fast 2 Furious” were first-timers. I believe it. The acting from most of the people involved would have been enough to turn me off the franchise altogether. And it still would, if I didn’t know of the promise that lay ahead. Only Walker, Gibson, and sometimes Ludacris (as street racing tycoon Tej) are even barely presentable actors. The rest—especially Hauser and James Remar, as an FBI agent—are hard to watch. It’s scary bad.

When “2 Fast 2 Furious” released, Walker called the action “unreal.” Like its predecessor, this sequel is full of unbelievable stunts that compromise realism for fun. I have no problem with that, if only they had kept it to the action. Instead, the 2_Fast_2_Furious_7suspension of disbelief bleeds into the plot, where police procedure is thrown out the window for the sake of the story. It’s like the worst of the “Lethal Weapon” movies. I expected this of the 90s, but it’s now the new millennium. I expected the filmmakers to work through the difficulties of the script, not just fly over any speedbumps with reckless abandon like their poorly written characters might do. Granted, “2 Fast 2 Furious” also falters in the absence of Vin Diesel, Michelle Rodriguez, and Jordana Brewster—what we would eventually come to know as the family. Only one scene, the cop chase to end all cop chases (but really, does Miami even have that many police cruisers?), lets “2 Fast 2 Furious” play in the same game as the others in the franchise. Otherwise, it was a blown casket.

‘The Fast and the Furious’ starts the franchise off with a heavy foot

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

The Fast and the Furious (2001)

Directed by Rob Cohen

6/10  PG-13

“Furious 7” might peel out of theaters as the third-highest grossing film of all time. But that is just the latest and greatest (according to IMDb and Rotten Tomatoes) in the fourteen-year franchise, which is one of today’s most universally successful. But it had to start somewhere. Back in 2001, “The Fast and the Furious” hit the streets and drove into our hearts, inviting us into its big family. Over the next few days, I’ll put all seven movies into perspective, ending with the The-Fast-and-the-Furious-2001hugely successful latest installment, and let you know where I think it stands.

Undercover cop Brian O’Conner (Paul Walker) is tasked with investigating the Los Angeles street racing epidemic, in which racers of all walks of life drag race for cash and pink slips. He befriends Dom Toretto (Vin Diesel), one of the most respected racers in the city, and his entourage—his sister, Mia (Jordana Brewster), his girlfriend, Letty (Michelle Rodriguez), and his crew (Chad Lindberg, Johnny Strong, and Matt Schulze)—to get an advantage and inform the authorities when they’re clear to come in and make arrests. But when Brian and Dom get roped up in a violent altercation with racing rival and gang leader Johnny Tran (Rick Yune), Brian will have a decision to make—help out the new family that has taken him under their wing, or rat them out while they’re at their most vulnerable.

Like most of the street cars in the film, the action of “The Fast and the Furious” seems to be super-charged…as if the whole film was hooked to tanks of NOS. At times, the stunts are preposterous. And throughout the years, they’ll only get the-fast-and-the-furious-243168lmore insane. But adrenaline junkies eat it up. “Visually, this movie is bitchin,” said a 29 year-old Paul Walker, just after “The Fast and the Furious” released. He was right. But what you hear coming from the characters’ mouths is less than desirable. The script is the lackluster product of a team of writers that includes David Ayer—this one is closer to “S.W.A.T.” than “Training Day,” unfortunately—as well as one writer who never wrote a screenplay before or after and another who has credits on every “Fast and Furious” movie besides “Tokyo Drift.” One thing they did do right was let “The Fast and the Furious” mirror the diversity of the street racing scene. We see racers from all walks of life. In the core cast alone are members of several races and nationalities. It’s one of the reasons the franchise has done so well. With racial minorities representing a quickly-growing percentage of moviegoers, the “Fast and Furious” movies benefit from having a cast member to represent nearly everyone. It’s refreshing.

That’s not to say that the cast is full of distinguished actors and actresses, however. I would even say that Paul Walker was The-Fast-and-the-Furiousnever a great actor. But he always possessed a remarkably transfixing likability. As Brian O’Conner, Walker is heroic and humble. It’s his role. Vin Diesel is obviously having a good time as Dom, but other than that not much can be said. In minor roles, the talent is non-existent. Thankfully, the most important thing in life will always be the people in this room, right here, right now. (I know I’m getting ahead of myself, but please tell me that reference didn’t go to waste.)

“The Fast and the Furious” is a thrilling start to a franchise that has always blended action with emotion. Granted, the dialogue is normally pretty flat. But the good intentions are there. This is a family, and we can see that. It translates clearly, no matter who you are. And that’s where the “Fast and Furious” movie excels.

‘Fury Road’ brings Mad Max back with reckless abandon…and it pays off

madmaxfuryroadposter

Mad Max: Fury Road (2015)

Directed by George Miller

8/10  R

When we last left Max Rockatansky in the barren wasteland of post-apocalyptic Australia, oil was in short supply. Now, so is water. Food. Ammunition. And, apparently, breast milk. And compared to the disintegrating and chaotic world he lives in, Mad Max (Tom Hardy) is the most reasonable thing around. Nuclear desolation left behind two-headed lizards and bald, mad-max-fury-road-3tumor-covered slave children known as the War Boys, who answer to one man—Immortan Joe (Hugh Keays-Byrne), a cult leader/god and ruler of the Citadel, a community lucky enough to be sitting atop a natural water source. The disastrous drought in “Rango” taught us “Whoever controls the water controls everything,” so Joe indiscriminately gives and retains water as he sees fit. Since he alone controls their water supply, he owns the people—some more literally than others. When Imperetor Furiosa (Charlize Theron) smuggles out five of Joe’s “breeders”—young girls he personally uses to repopulate the Citadel—Joe sends the whole brigade to bring back Furiosa and his invaluable property. Furiosa drives the war rig into an all-out dessert race war, with the help of tagalong Max and one War Boy, Nux (Nicholas Hoult), who finally recognizes his love of Joe for what it really is—false idolatry.

Writer/director George Miller famously helmed the original “Mad Max” movie 35 years ago, but he’s not the only one back for the fun this time around. Writer Nick Lathouris and 67-year-old character actor Keays-Byrne were both vital pieces in 1979’s “Mad Max” (Keays-Byrne played the creep-tastic Toecutter)mad-max-fury-road-4v, and their presence helps to legitimize “Fury Road” as a long-awaited sequel worth adding to the canon. It’s fitting to see Miller take the reins again. “Mad Max” is his baby. But I can’t help but notice something of a shift in tone. “Road Warrior” in 1981 (the almost-universally-agreed-upon best of the first trilogy) was kooky at times. Men wore leather, assless chaps and had names like The Humungus and Wez and Feral Kid. But “Fury Road” makes “Road Warrior” look downright childish. Old men covered in giant, repugnant tumors. Small boys with their faces painted like skeletons, speaking in tongues. Women hooked up to machines extracting their breast milk for mass consumption. “Fury Road” is in a league of its own. It’s the most eccentric movie I’ve seen in a while, totally weird and completely unashamed. But utterly unforgettable.

In “Fury Road,” acting is summed up with poignant one-liners and nervous glances into the distance. And a lot of punching and throwing and shooting. Tom Hardy is the ideal pick to play Max as an enigmatic anti-hero. He’s more than comfortable playing the action star (“The Dark Knight Rises”), but also the quiet, mysterious type (“The Drop”). And this is just the first of mad-max-fury-roadtwo summer movies starring Charlize Theron and Nicholas Hoult. I don’t have high hopes that their other, “Dark Places,” will live up to the monster expectations they set in this one.

A powerful drumline score by Junkie XL might be the most memorable thing about “Fury Road,” though. The whole time I’ve been writing this, it’s been pounding in my temple. And I love it. “Fury Road” is outrageously fun. For anyone who has seen the original films, “Fury Road” is a must. And for those of you who haven’t seen the first ones…please do. George Miller brings the franchise back with a roaring vengeance. “Fury Road” is a mind-blowing, big-budget extravaganza—a celebration of sorts for a classic franchise rebooted for a new generation. And the timing couldn’t be better (if you’re interested, you can read into the Mad Max-as-global-climate-change-warning argument here). What a lovely day.

‘Maggie’ is not the biting family drama it could have been

Maggie-Movie-Poster-641x950

Maggie (2015)

Directed by Henry Hobson

6.5/10  PG-13

I was hoping for a “Walking Dead” offseason zombie fix when I went to see “Maggie.” It didn’t quench that thirst. In a society oversaturated with zombie media, “Maggie” takes a new angle on the typical “turning” story. By focusing on the family dynamic of a young, infected girl (Abigail Breslin) and her loving parents (Arnold Schwarzenegger and Joely Richardson), “Maggie” attempts to find an emotional depth that others in this subgenre lack—treating the subject as a person with a maggie-movie-images-breslin-1024x682disease inside, not a disease with a person inside. Ultimately, though, “Maggie” fails to resonate on that deep level. A slow plot and an undeveloped script doomed the movie from early on.

When Maggie (Breslin) is bitten and infected, doctors send her home with strict instruction to her dad, Wade (Schwarzenegger), to take her to quarantine when she reaches the critical “turning” point. But horror stories from the infected say that quarantine is not the caring, curing solution that doctors and cops (like those played by J.D. Evermore and Wayne Pere) are making it out to be. So the infected try at all costs to avoid it. Maggie stepmom, Caroline (Richardson), knows that keeping Maggie around the house as she slowly turns (in several gross, creepy stages) is dangerous. But Wade is standing by her side at all costs to keep his girl safe.

As though filmed through a gray Instagram filter, “Maggie” looks bleak from the start. With a nondescript setting (presumably the not-so-distant future and somewhere near Kansas City), it keeps all of the focus on the family. But unfortunately, the characters are hardly more developed than the setting. Wade is some sort of farmer—or was, before maggie2the government told farmers to burn their crops in an attempt to stop the spread of the virus. We know very little about Maggie’s birth mother, or her stepmom for that matter. Or even about Maggie herself, besides an apparent boyfriend (Bryce Romero) who makes two brief appearances.

I’ve started a couple of screenplays in the past. They’re not much good. But sometimes, I’ll come across a scene in a movie where I can imagine myself handling the dialogue in the same way the filmmakers do. It’s either a sign that I’m an incredible writer worthy of Hollywood success, or, much more likely, that these screenwriters got lazy and did what an amateur might do. “Maggie” has a few of these scenes. They’re handled so poorly that it makes me think I could do better. Not out of a sense of overconfidence, either. It’s just not that good.

So without much help in the way of character development or dialogue, the movie relies laregely on its story…which has its own issues. For too much of the time, a strong score by David Wingo (“Take Shelter,” “Mud”) plays over otherwise quiet Maggie-1scenes of Maggie and her dad trading concerned faces. It takes expressive actors to pull that off, and our two leads aren’t cut out for it. This is Breslin’s own second-best zombie movie, after the hilarious “Zombieland” in 2009. But her peak may have still been as 10-year-old Oliver in “Little Miss Sunshine.” She’s only 18, so she still has time to grow, but right now Breslin isn’t much of a dramatic actress. Schwarzenegger, though he shows some dramatic acting chops I didn’t know he had, doesn’t reach the potential of his character. It takes a strong man to stand by an infected daughter like Wade does. Arnold has the muscles, but not quite the emotional range. And while the story has fleeting moments of suspense that keep it interesting, it’s too often bogged down by dull, lifeless scenes. I checked the time, twice. “Maggie” didn’t do enough to get me invested in the story. It tries too hard to obtain an emotional response and ends up falling short.

‘Small Time’ brings small-screen stars to film

Small-Time-2014-movie-poster

Small Time (2014)

Directed by Joel Surnow

7/10  R

There’s nothing small time about a movie where Christopher Meloni and Dean Norris bring their impressive television drama acumen to the big screen. Meloni has been busy in the three years since he left “Law & Order: SVU,” taking roles in “Man of Steel” and “42” (among others). Here, he crosses paths with Norris, known for his roles in “Breaking Bad” and the successful television adaptation of “Under the Dome.” But if you’ve seen these guys on TV, you know that even in their dramas they possess a unique knack for wit. That blend embodies the personality small-time-dean-norris-christopher-meloniof “Small Time,” the 2014 dramedy from director/writer Joel Surnow, co-creator of “24” and writer of each of its 195 episodes.

Al Klein (Meloni) and Ash Martini (Norris), the fittingly named co-owners of Diamonds Motors used car lot, run a moderately successful business for themselves. But that wasn’t always the case. After a rocky first few years of financial struggles, Klein’s wife Barbara (Bridget Moynahan) took their son Freddy (Devon Bostick) and left Al for a hedge fund yuppie (Xander Berkeley). Now, years later, Freddy is graduating high school. But against his mother and step-father’s wishes, he wants to bypass college to get real world experience…selling used cars with his dad. But the summer that they both dreamed of will quickly turn sour, as the Klein men realize that things turned out the way they did for a reason.

You just can’t hate Christopher Meloni. Maybe it was all of those years watching Elliot Stabler interrogate criminals 1397690417000-small-timewhile light-heartedly joking with his fellow officers, but something about the man screamed “normal.” “Small Time” is a simple, yet meticulous, examination of the father/son relationship. And Meloni sells it – almost as well as he sells cars. He and Norris are a winning pair. Their best bud chemistry is definitely present on-screen. Maybe two TV giants naturally had a better chance of working well together in a movie. Either way, I’m not complaining. “Small Time” is dramatic, but realistic. It doesn’t subscribe to many of the family drama standards. It stays subtle. That, in itself, is an art. But don’t get me wrong. “Small Time” is far from perfect. Simple and subtle could also be read as “boring” and “undersold.” The story is told well, but in the end it lacks heightened drama or serious laughs. It succeeds moderately well as a comedy and a drama, but it doesn’t excel at either. Maybe it played it too safe.

‘Age of Ultron’ is the Avengers movie we deserved

Avengers-Age-of-Ultron-2015-อเวนเจอร์ส-มหาศึกอัลตรอนถล่มโลก

Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015)

Directed by Joss Whedon

8/10  R

2012’s “The Avengers” had humility issues. It was bogged down by the script’s countless references to the characters’ individual escapades in previous Marvel movies. And writer/director Joss Whedon’s sore attempts at comedy tried too hard avengers-age-of-ultron-avengers-partyto make the blockbuster superhero romp something it wasn’t. This time around, the Avengers are more humble. So, too, it seems, is Whedon. And “Age of Ultron” soars because of it. It may be the most fun you’ve ever had at a superhero movie.

Our favorite assemblage of Marvel superheroes—Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.), the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Captain America (Chris Evans), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson), and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner)—are back again, this time to stop an evil AI creation, Ultron (voiced by James Spader), from destroying humanity and replacing it with machines. Ultron will have the help of twins with their own special powers (Quicksilver, played by Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Scarlet Witch, played by Elizabeth Olsen), but he’ll also assemble an army of robotic help. The stakes are higher than ever before, and the Avengers are facing a sort of crisis hr_avengers-_age_of_ultron_18of faith. Bad timing on their part.

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson in a small role this time) may have assembled the Avengers, but casting directors Sarah Finn and Reg Poerscout-Edgerton put together the real team of superheroes. “Age of Ultron” is nothing without its top-to-bottom stellar cast. Jeremy Renner finally gets the screen time he deserves, and the 2-time Oscar nominee gives a star effort. He’s the most relatable of the Avengers, the one with the most heart, but his first go-around didn’t give him the time to show it. Newcomers Olsen and Taylor-Johnson are welcome additions, in my opinion. Taylor Johnson’s Quicksilver is incredible fun, and—despite her shaky Slovenian accent—Olsen gives a great performance. Both are exponentially better than they were in last year’s “Godzilla” reboot. I was afraid that I would be distracted by Spader’s vocal cadence, but he excelled. He’s had recent practice in “The Blacklist,” I suppose. There’s not enough time in the world to talk about all of the cast members, but trust that this time around their chemistry is even stronger. This isn’t their first rodeo.

captain-america-age-of-ultron-snowWhedon’s script is much more enjoyable than his last attempt. Now, the lightly humorous banter comes naturally, not like a stand-up routine. And Tony Stark alludes to the New York plot of “The Avengers” one time to make a point, but never again mentions the past. In 2012, you had trouble getting full enjoyment from “The Avengers” without seeing every individual Marvel movie before it. To watch “Age of Ultron,” all you need it a basic understanding of what the Avengers are. With that, you’re set. The story is more to-the-point, but it’s also more interesting. This time around, the Avengers’ weakness is within them. The Scarlet Witch’s telepathic motives are to destroy the Avengers from the inside, so “Age of Ultron” is also more psychological than its rock-em-sock-em predecessor. But don’t get me wrong. It’s still an entertaining spectacle on several avengers-age-of-ultronlevels.

“Age of Ultron” also improves upon the already-incredible special effects of its predecessor. The Hulk has never looked better. Even interactions with him by other characters look realistic. The Avengers headquarters in itself is a work of art. And the final stand-off is (predictably) big-budget and full of excitement. “Age of Ultron” is one of the prettiest superhero movies of all time. And in my opinion, it’s the best Avenger movie—individual or collaborative—ever made. Formally usher in the summer movie season with the biggest event of this young year. Assemble!

‘The November Man’ shows that age does matter

the_november_man-poster

The November Man (2014)

Directed by Roger Donaldson

6/10  R

Gone are the days of action heroes under the age of 50, apparently. Not that I’m complaining. Pierce Brosnan’s suave, badass spy Devereaux (aka “The November Man”) gave me pleasant flashbacks to “GoldenEye.” Not that this sloppy, dumbed-down revenge thriller is anywhere near Bond-quality, but if you’re just looking for a few scenes of fun, high-octane action, it won’t be a total disappointment.

This is the paragraph where I normally tell you about the plot. But if I’m being honest, I’m not sure I could. A happilyNovember Man retired Devereaux, five years after a botched mission with fellow CIA agent Mason (Luke Bracey), runs into his old partner again…when Mason, working for their old boss, kills the mother of Deveraux’s child unknowingly. Mason lets him gets away, showing mercy for the man who saved his life five years ago. Bad news for him. Now, Deveraux has to die. But not before he comes after Mason and their boss (Bill Smitrovich), who turns out to be working with unexpected motives.

From the screenwriters of movies like “Predators” and “Oblivion” and director Roger Donaldson, who has nearly three decades of credits but nothing substantial (“Dante’s Peak,” “The Bank Job”), you may expect very little out of “The November Man.” That’s about all you get. The far-flung plot can be a head-scratcher, but it was based on a 1987 November Manspy novel by the late Bill Granger. So the material, at least originally, was worthy of the literary canon.

Speckled with age spots, Brosnan doesn’t have the energy he did playing James Bond. He can still shoot like the action hero he once was, but when you get him in hand-to-hand combat he looks uncomfortable. Still, if all you need is hallway-decent action, “The November Man” won’t let you down. Plus, the ending gives you that feeling that only comes from a shootout where the good guy wins out.