• “Can it be done?” That was pretty much the question on everyones mind back in 2012. Josh Whedon's “The Avengers” hit theaters and against all odds he delivered a little miracle. Of course as they say, the rest is history. The question now is “Can he do it again?” Is this sequel, “Age of Ultron” just as fresh and surprising as its predecessor? Is this second Avengers movie another little miracle or is the formula losing a bit of its power? Let's put on our suits and masks and fly right into the review. 
    Trust me...
    Hydra is exposed! The remnants of S.H.I.E.L.D. and the Avengers crackdown on the last of their strongholds. After successfully ending the mission, Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) aka Iron Man finds a power source that could possibly fuel his Ultron (James Spader) project. Not realizing what he is meddling with, Stark unknowingly creates an artificial intelligence bent on the extinction of mankind. Now, as Ultron grows more powerful, The Avengers have to travel the globe and find a way to stop him before he can implement his “final solution”.
    You haven't
    It's incredible to see how the Marvel cinematic universe has grown and matured. Where does “Age of Ultron” fit into all of this? Well, if this were a TV show, one might say it was a so called filler episode, or better yet a bridge because it's clear from little pieces of dialog, situations and events that they are setting things up for very big things to come. Without this film there would be no natural way to go into the stories of “Civil War” and “The infinity War”.
    While this film is bigger in scope than its predecessor, It feels smaller, more intimate. We get to spend more time with the Avengers during their downtime. Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye is fleshed out considerably and he's definitely the heart of this movie. The rest of the cast is humanized as well. Just as the big action scenes are amazing, it is just as thrilling to see the cast in pain, struggling with their inner demons and the first hints of division between Captain America (Chris Evans) and Stark will be evident. Surprisingly enough it is James Spader and his portrayal of Ultron gives the film some levity. Not that he's a jokester but Spader performs his role with so much menace and sleaze that whenever he's on screen you can't help but smile. At first I had my hesitations about Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor-Johnson (Quicksilver) but they got into their roles as the movie progressed. Paul Bettany (Vision) is a thing of beauty though and I can't wait to see how his character will be fleshed out.
    Yes, this movie has some great characterization but this is The Avengers and not Downton Abby. The action set-pieces and visual effects are jaw dropping beautiful! It is almost unnecessary to discuss this but this one thing has to be said; If you think they hit their visual ceiling in the last Avengers movie, think again. There are some action scenes in Age of Ultron that will blow your mind! Brian Tyler and Danny Elfman's music score is great. Expanding on Alan Silvestri's main theme they create a fresh and epic sounding piece of work. If you listen carefully you can hear some familiar themes from earlier Marvel movies. Great cinematography too. It feels more grounded in reality this time around. This is so far the best looking and sounding Marvel movie to date.
    On paper these Avengers movies shouldn't even work! Yet somehow Whedon and Co. always find the perfect balance between over the top action and character development. Does “Age of Ultron” offer anything new? No, not really. It misses that element of surprise that the first one gave us. That doesn't matter though. It gives us the time to get into the action and meat of the story without having to introduce us to these characters. “Age of Ultron” is a fine film! In some ways much better than it's predecessor. It doesn't only expand The Avengers but the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe. See this one on a very big screen! Go see it now! Oh, and stay for the mid credits sequence.

  • Seldom have I encountered a movie that left me speechless, flabbergasted, dumbfounded or even sad. Yes, I'm talking about Brian Thompson's directorial debut called “The Extendables”. There is not much to say about this, so let's get into this thing.
    Yes, they use the actual light saber sound effects...
    Vardell Duseldorfer (Brian Thompson) is a has been. He was once Hollywood's biggest action star but after a couple of bad movies and decisions, he's pretty much a joke. To save what's left of his waning star he decides to direct a Sci-Fi action flick. Will he succeed to “extend” his dying career or is this the final nail in his coffin?
    When Kevin Sorbo gives the best performance, you know you´re in trouble!
    I like Brian Thompson, I really do. You might not know the name but you've definitely seen him. I loved it when he got his heart ripped out in "The Terminator", or how he went bowling with his friends in “Fright Night 2”, I absolutely adored him as the big bad in “The Order”. Next to Al Leong, Thompson is the quintessential goon/henchman/bad guy. 
    Pretty much the only action scene in the entire movie...sort of.
    The character of Vardell Duseldorfer is supposed to be a combination of Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude van Damme and Steven Seagal. One can assume, Thompson has seen all kinds of things happen on set with these men. This is pretty much his recollection of those experiences (mostly the worst). He wrote a story around it and tried to make a satire about film making, fame and its big stars attached to it. Yes, this isn't a spoof on The Expendables, in fact this isn't even an action film!
    Really, you shouldn´t have...
    One can can only wonder why this movie has been made. Was Thompson angry for not being asked to be in any of the Expendables movies? He does go out of his way to portray Duseldorfer as an incompetent fool. I don't know what he was trying to say with this. What I do know is that this is one of the worst things I've ever seen. The acting, screenplay, cinematography and visual effects are abysmal. The cameos are useless and this is ultimately a major wast of your time and money! This is barely a movie. Just avoid this.
  • It seems as if video game movies are cursed. Apart from being really bad or guilty pleasures, there hasn't really been a video game film that was actually any good. Now, Hollywood attempted to adapt the critically acclaimed fight game “Street Fighter II” not once but twice! Both times they failed miserably! Enter “Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist”. Does this independent movie have what it takes where the big studios failed? Let's take a look.
    Legends in the making
    “Assassin's Fist” chronicles Ryu (Mike Moh) and Ken's (Christian Howard) early days. We meet them as children and follow their training and trials in Japan as they try to master the mysterious power of hado. Parallel to their story we also follow Gouken (Akira Okieyama), Ken and Ryu's master as he reminisces about his past and the tragic fall from grace of his brother Gouki (Gaku Space). As the boys grow into teenagers there seems to be something “off” with Ryu. Things go wrong when a dark force from the past makes its return.
    2 brother and 1 girl...A drama in the making
    Started off as a short film by Joey Ansah and Christian Howard back in 2010. The overwhelming success of that short gave them the chance and the funds to adapt it into a 12 part web-series and a 2 hour film (As it was originally shot). For something that's based on a fight game it is surprisingly deep and character driven. The story is about friendship, brotherhood, honor and love. You really get to know the characters. The downside of that is that it tends to drag in its second act. So, is this a drama movie then? No. Don't worry, this film most definitely delivers on the fight and action scenes!
    You never forget your first Hadoken!
    See, the movie is superbly written by Ansah and Howard. They take their time for you to get into the characters, what makes them tick, their backgrounds, hopes and wishes. When they do fight, when they are in peril, you actually care for them! The fights are beautifully choreographed by Ansah (Matt Damon beat him up). He sprinkles the fights with the signature moves of the game without it becoming silly or too "video game-y". The performances are excellent with a standout performance by veteran actor Togo Igawa as Goutetsu, Gouken and Gouki's sensei. The cinematography by James Friendship is beautiful and the visual effects support the story rather well. The blu-ray "movie" version features an extra prologue. Now, I thought that this would be like an extra 2 minutes or something but it's actually quite lengthy and ends the movie on a cliffhanger! It's a sequence that gives somewhat of a closure to a character in the movie and is not seen in the web-series version. Also, be sure to stick around for the after credit sequence. You get a stinger that would make Marvel Studios proud.
    A darkness returns
    So, how is it possible then that the two big budget attempts failed? It's quite simple actually. Joey Ansah and Christian Howard know and love these characters; and their respective story lines. Above all, they respect the source material. This is why “Street Fighter: Assassin's Fist” is a triumph on many levels and as far as I'm concerned the only good and faithful (live-action) adaption of “Street Fighter”. So has the curse been broken then? Not entirely. The movie does have some pacing problems but apart from that, it is excellent. So, with a sequel coming up I'm more than certain that they'll break that curse and show the world that with care and passion you can make a great video game movie. This is a thing of beauty.

  • I remember how excited I was after I saw “Sin City” in 2005. I definitely wanted more of Robert Rodriquez' slick and stylized adaptation of Frank Miller's graphic Novels. After a lot of teasing and promises of a sequel my interest slowly faded away. Now, finally (and without much noise or excitement) the sequel “Sin City: A dame to kill for” opened in theaters. Does this film surpass its predecessor or is this simply a case of too little, too late? Let's find out shall we.
    Sin City...
    This time around we get four stories that serve as both prequel and sequel. In “Just another Saturday night”, Marv (Mickey Rourke) is out for justice after a couple of rich kids burn some wino's to death. In “A dame to kill for” we see Dwight (Josh Brolin) try to save Ava Lord (Eva Green) from an abusive husband. He gets more than he bargained for as thing go from bad to worse.
    A place of blood...
    We meet Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) in “The long bad night”. He's a cocky young gambler that has some unfinished business with Senator Roarke (Powers Boothe). In “Nancy's last dance” we follow Nancy Callahan's (Jessica Alba) descent into darkness as she drinks away the pain of losing her love, John Hartigan (Bruce Willis). She blames Senator Roarke for all of it and is out for his blood and revenge.
    A place of sex...
    Right from the beginning you get the sense that something is off with the “Sin City” sequel. It has the right look, sound and apart from a couple of necessary recasts, the right actors as well. So why didn't it sit right with me then? The stories perhaps? The ones newly written for the film are very, weak. Both “The long bad Night and “Nancy's last dance” ultimately go nowhere and fail to make an impact on any level. They build up, giving you the impression that there is an explosive end to them but both stories just fizzle out without any real resolve.
    And a place of violence...
    The two adapted stories fare a bit better but never reach the level of brilliance of its predecessor. The stories are just a little weaker and at times Rodriguez makes strange decisions that take you out of the movie. The film looks gorgeous though. It has a more streamlined and refined look to it. The acting is deliciously campy with a standout performance from Eva Green. Just as she pretty much saved “300: Rise of an Empire” the same could be said for this movie, albeit to a lesser extent. 
    This rotten town. It soils everybody.
    This film feels rushed, unfinished and ultimately without passion. It hits some right notes but it misses the impact and good writing that made the first film so enjoyable. Is it a bad film then? No, absolutely not. The performances are good and it looks great! It just misses that charm, that spark the first movie does have. I hope that Rodriguez is allowed to streamline and perhaps re-shoot and/or add to certain scenes and segments for the blu-ray release. Underneath all the confusion and strange directorial choices, there is a great movie waiting to bust out. For now, I can only recommend that you rent this one.

  • Even though I have love for the “Planet of the Apes” movies, I've never been the biggest fan that franchise. Yes, the 1968 original is a classic but its sequels are pretty silly. When the reboot, “Rise of the Planet of the Apes” hit theaters in 2011, I was pleasantly surprised. The film managed to create something fresh while still honoring what worked in the original films. It was much better than expected and left me wanting more. Now that the sequel is out, one wonders if it can recreate the magic of its predecessor. Let's find out!
    I was half expecting Will Smith to show up and do his crazy "Fred" rant.
    10 years after the events of “Rise”, mankind has fallen to the effects of the mysterious “simian flu”. During this time, Caesar (Andy Serkis) has founded a sort of ape colony; far away from the humans. When Malcolm (Jason Clarke) and his fellow humans stumble upon the ape settlement, Caesar allows them to work on a dam to give what's left of their city a little electricity. Disturbed by the respect Caesar gives to the humans, Koba (Toby Kebbell), the second in command has his own agenda and sabotages the truce. Now, Caesar and Malcolm must do everything in their power to avert a full out war between man and ape.
    Koba, the ape with an idea...
    I usually continue a review with what I didn't like about a movie or point out what was flawed (for me). In this instance though, I can't really come up with one thing that didn't work or something that was weak. What Matt Reeves and co. have created here is a thing of beauty and makes “Planet of the Apes” as a sci-fi franchise more than relevant again. Especially in this day and age where racism, class-ism and inequality are on the rise. That's the one thing I always appreciated of the “Planet” movies; they didn't shy away from commenting on what ever social issues were important at the time.
    ...Dreyfus, the man with a plan. See what I did there?
    Does that mean this is a movie pushing some sort of political agenda? Absolutely not. At its core this is a movie about family. It has more heart and depth than any other so called blockbuster I've seen this summer. This can be attributed to a great screenplay. It gives humans in the film a voice and real motivation. It expertly avoids that whole “Humans are evil, apes are good” thing. Both sides have their strengths and flaws. Yes, even the villains have valid reasons for doing what they think is best. Where the performances in “Rise” were excellent, “Dawn” brings it to a whole new level. Each and every ape has a distinct voice, face and personality. What Andy Serkis and the other actor playing the apes have achieved here must get some kind of acting recognition. Not once did I say, “Great 3D animation”. These were real, living and breathing characters to me.
    And the Oscar for best visual effects goes to...WETA Digital!
    This could not have been possible of course without the superb work of the people at WETA digital. There are things in this film I've never, ever seen. The visual effects are beautiful. I also love the movie score. Michael Giacchino while keeping his own voice music wise, gives a respectful nod here and there to Jerry Goldsmith's score to the original “Planet of the Apes”. He does it very clever and subtle indeed. I have nothing but praise to give this film. It hits all the right notes, It has heart, it has adventure, it has action and I just can't recommend it enough. Go see this film now!

  • Let me get right to the point, The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is not at all the train wreck I expected it to be. Is it a good movie then? Well, let's crawl our way into the review and find out; as I keep this one short and sweet.
    Life is good for Peter Parker (Andrew Garfield). He's graduating high school, has a wonderful girlfriend and he's very comfortable being the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man. Something is eating away at his conscience though, The promise he made to Gwen's Father. The promise not to get her involved in anything having to do with his alter-ego. He decides to break off the relationship. Meanwhile his old friend Harry Osborne (Dane DeHaan) shows up back in town and desperately needs Parker's help. Peter also solves some of the mystery of his parents death and an energetic fellow that calls himself Electro (Jamie Foxx) has a bone to pick with Spider-Man. While all of this is going on he tries to save his relationship with Gwen Stacy (Emma Stone) and makes some choices which will have devastating consequences.
    Ugh...Get a room will ya!
    This film is surprisingly light on an actual plot. It mostly consists of moments out of Parker's life, the choices he makes and all of it is wrapped around some action scenes. While these moments are well written, it has to be said that the script is all over the place. At one moment Spider-Man is acting all zany and fun and literally a minute later he's teary eyed and brooding. The whole tone of the film is like this. At times it even reaches Sam Raimi-like silliness and eye rolling moments of drama or forced romantics. As with the first movie, the weakest link are the villains. When it comes to their characterization, all logic is thrown out the window. Their fall from grace is comparable to that of Anakin Skywalker in Revenge of the Sith. It's so abrupt. The actual reasons for them becoming evil is almost insulting to the intelligence.
    The Founding fathers of the Sinister Six?
    Bad writing aside, the performances are stellar. With what little the actors have to work with, they get the maximum out of it. I was worried most about Jamie Foxx and Dane DeHaan. Foxx, sadly is not much in the film but when he´s on, he nails it. His Electro is somewhat of a tragic figure. While his motives for becoming evil are very simplistic, you can´t help but feel for him. DeHaan´s Green Goblin was the toughest sell. The first promotional images did not instill much hope but it turned out a lot better then I could have hoped for. DeHaan actually pulled it off. I have to admit seeing Spider-Man fight against The Green Goblin and one of comic book´s iconic moments play out on the big screen was quite exhilarating. When it comes to the VFX and action scenes, I have no problems with this movie. It´s a visual treat.
    A visual treat indeed!
    So, yes. The Amazing Spider-Man 2 is a good movie but if Sony wants their own (cinematic) comic book universe to survive, they can´t make these movies like this anymore. This would have worked in the late 90´s or early 2000´s. In this day and age of “The Dark Knight” and more recently “Captain America – The Winter Soldier” audiences expect more than pretty visuals alone. Those movies proof that you can have fantastical characters and situations and still tell an engaging and intelligent story. While this was good, they simply have to do better than this.

  • This film pretty much passed me by, stayed under my radar. All of sudden it was in theaters everywhere! Now, I'm a pretty big fan of the "Need for Speed" video game and I just had to see if the movie would do that title some justice. We all know how movies based on video games tend to be bad and/or fail; will this one break the "curse"? 
    Just like in the game!
    By day Tobey Marshall (Aaron Paul) is the respectable owner and mechanic of a car shop. At night he joins local street races. After a race with his old rival, Dino Brewster (Dominic Cooper) goes horribly wrong; Marshall gets framed for a death he did not cause. After 2 years, Marshall is a free man again. When he gets out of jail he is hellbent on avenging the death of his best friend. The only way to get to Dino is by joining the ”De Leon” an underground race organized by eccentric Internet personality called Monarch (Michael Keaton). With the help of his old crew, Marshall will not stop to clear his name and avenge his friend's death. 
    Tobey and his boys
    Let's get it right of the bat here, this film's biggest weakness is the story and its characters. They are as cliche as it gets. Aaron Paul is the strong silent type, in fact, at one point he even gets called just that! Dominic Purcell is one step away from twirling a mustache and to add insult to injury Scott Mescudi's character Benny is quite literally the token black guy and I'm not trying to be smart or funny either. It is clear they had action set pieces ready on paper and built a story around them. From the obligatory dramatic death scene to the forced romance; It's characters and story by numbers. The tone of the movie shifts rather dramatically as well. In one scene we see Marshall getting chased by Police and it's all “ fun and games”. In the next scene we seen him teary eyed, staring off into the distance.
    First I was like...
    Strangely enough though, director Scott Waugh makes it work. With what little the actors have to work with, Waugh gets the most out of them. You can see the actors had a blast and their enthusiasms and energy can be seen. Think of a Jackie Chan movie. They never have the best acting and stories but the enthusiasm explodes right of the screen. The film makers and actors believe 100 percent in their movie, it's exactly the same with “Need for Speed”. 
    ...but then I was like
    Aaron Paul is a great actor. We've seen what he's capable of (Breaking Bad, Smashed) but has never had to carry a movie. While this is an ensemble cast, he is at the center of it all and pulls it off quite nicely. With better material Aaron Paul could be a serious leading man in action or drama. The stand out performance was that of Micheal Keaton though. If people are wondering if he can step back in the role of “Beetlejuice” need not worry. His performance of wild eyed and loud Internet personality, Monarch convinces me that Keaton is more than ready. He's more than ready to step back into the spotlight. He turns every line, gesture and facial expression to gold. Whenever he's on screen it is just a pure delight.
    It's time for a Keatonaissance!
    Now, I've played some Need for Speed in my day and seeing some of the elements of the games making their way onto the big screen was quite cool to see. From the car chases, maps, vehicles to even the colored lighting of certain “race tracks” were things I recognized from the game.  The most surprising thing is that little to almost no CGI was used for the race and chase scenes. It was all good ol' fashioned stunt driving and it was very spectacular indeed. That last race scene had me sitting on the edge of my seat. It's there where the movie truly delivers on its promise.
    Real stunts and explosions!
    So, yes it is cliched. Yes, the characters are barely even real people but I'll be a son of a motherless goat if I said it wasn't a whole lot of fun. The stunts are breathtaking and the cinematography is gorgeous. Yes, It is an amusing film but for that video game movie “Curse” to be broken it has to do a lot better. Need for speed made some considerable cracks in that wall though. We're almost there. 

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