Film Review: The Avengers: Age of Ultron (dir by Joss Whedon)


AGU

In some ways, I think I may be both the worst and the best possible person to review the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, largely because I’ve seen all the films but I don’t know much about the comics on which they are based. As a result, I can judge each film solely by what is on screen but, at the same time, I know that there are a lot of references that go straight over my head. For instance, when we saw Avengers: Age of Ultron earlier tonight, I had to get my boyfriend to explain to me why certain members of the audience got so excited when Iron Man mentioned an African country called Wakanda. But what’s important is that I would have still enjoyed Age of Ultron even if I had never known why Wakanda was important. The MCU has, so far, managed to maintain a balance between keeping the Marvel fans happy while also remaining accessible to viewers like me. The MCU has created its own separate reality, one that even someone like me can feel comfortable exploring and reviewing.

However, before I get around to giving you my feelings on Age of Ultron, let’s be honest about something.

There are a lot of critics out there who have been waiting for a chance to attack the latest installment of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Some of them have disliked the MCU since the very first Iron Man film. They have been lone voices in the wilderness, arguing that the entire franchise is overrated and, in some cases, creatively destructive. Much like the Old Testament prophets, they continue to warn of the future while other filmgoers ignore the pillar of fire forming over the nearest theater. And then there are other critics who have praised previous MCU efforts but have never really been comfortable about it. These are the critics who resent having to write positively about a mere genre film. These are the critics who still haven’t gotten over just how good Guardians of the Galaxy truly was. They have been waiting for an MCU misfire so that they can do their penance for suggesting that Robert Downey, Jr. deserved Oscar consideration for Iron Man 3.

avengers-age-of-ultron-trailer-hulkbuster

These critics are going to watch The Avengers: Age of Ultron and they are going to pounce. They are going to point out that Age of Ultron puts too much emphasis on action over nuance and, as impressive as the CGI may be, it’s impossible to deny that Age of Ultron almost robotically follows the classic action movie formula. They’ll point out that none of The Avengers really develop as characters over the course of the film. Depending on how they’ve felt about the MCU up to this point, some of them will point out that Age of Ultron feels a bit like a step backwards. It doesn’t have the political subtext of Iron Man 3 or Captain America: The Winter Soldier. It lacks the satiric edge of Guardians of the Galaxy. And, ultimately, it’s just not as much fun as the first Avengers film.

And they won’t necessarily be wrong. I mean, let’s be honest. I write this as someone who has enjoyed (and, in some cases, loved) the previous MCU films. Avengers: Age of Ultron is not going to be remembered as one of the best of the MCU films. This is a flawed film that never reaches the heights of the original Avengers. All of the criticisms listed above are perfectly valid.

But, with all that in mind, I still enjoyed Avengers: Age of Ultron and I happily recommend it without a bit of hesitation.

film-review-avengers-age-of-ultron

Age of Ultron opens with the Avengers attacking a HYDRA base and we quickly discover that the Avengers are exactly the same as we remembered them. Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.) is cocky, self-destructive, and torn by guilt over his past as a weapons manufacturer. Captain America (Chris Evans) is earnest and idealistic. Thor (Chris Hemsworth) is … well, he’s a God. Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is scared of what he becomes when he transforms into the Hulk. Clint Barton (Jeremy Renner) is still shooting arrows and feeling out-of-place. Natasha (Scarlett Johansson) is still flirty, enigmatic, and apparently in love with Bruce Banner.

ultron

One of the reoccurring themes of the MCU is that whenever Iron Man tries to make the world a better place, he instead ends up nearly destroying it. His latest attempt leads him to create Ultron (voiced quite chillingly by James Spader), a robot who has Tony’s personality and who has decided that the only way to bring about “peace in our time” is to destroy all of humanity. Ultron’s motives are as close as this film gets to any sort of thematic subtext. Ultron stands in for every ideology that would take away a person’s individual freedom in the name of the greater good. Age of Ultron doesn’t explore this subtext as much as I would have liked it to but, at the same time, I appreciated that it was at least there. That’s more than you can say for a film like Man of Steel.

Ultron is not the only new character to show up. Andy Serkis has a small role as a character that will undoubtedly be a villain in a future MCU film. After voicing JARVIS in several films, Paul Bettany finally gets to actually appear onscreen. I can’t talk too much about his character without spoiling the film but Bettany makes good use of his limited screen time.

And then there’s Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Elizabeth Olsen. Previously, they played lovers in Godzilla. In Age of Ultron, they play siblings who just seem like lovers. Taylor-Johnson is Pietro, who can move at super speeds. Elizabeth Olsen is Wanda, whose powers are a bit less defined but mostly seem to consist of being able to do whatever the script needs her to do at the time. (As the film explains it, “He’s fast, she’s strange.”) In the past, I’ve had mixed feeling about Taylor-Johnson. I thought he was brilliant in Nowhere Boy and Anna Karenina but, in other films, I found him to be excessively mannered and a little dull. But, in the role of Pietro, Taylor-Johnson really shines, achieving a good balance of arrogance and vulnerability. As for Elizabeth Olsen, she is perfectly cast as the angry but sensitive Wanda. At the very least, Age of Ultron better serves both of them than they were served by Godzilla.

avengers-ultron-trailer2

(Add to that, Wanda and I share similar tastes in fashion, which will make it easy for me to dress up as her for Halloween.)

Director Joss Whedon does a good job with the film’s many battle scenes, especially the final one. And, as someone who hated the mindless destruction of Man of Steel, I appreciated that, as characters, the Avengers spent as much time trying to protect innocent bystanders as they did battling Ultron and his henchrobots. At the same time, it was hard not to feel that the film’s emphasis on action did sacrifice some of the character moments that have made other MCU films so memorable. Early on in the film, there’s a great scene where the Avengers simply hang out at a party. They dance, they dink, they laugh, and eventually, they all take turns attempting to pick up Thor’s hammer. It’s a fun scene because it brings these heroes back down to Earth and, for a few minutes, we get to relate to them in the way that we would relate to our best friends. Age of Ultron could have used more scenes like that.

lots-of-new-avengers-age-of-ultron-character-details

That said, the cast of Age of Ultron provides enough old fashioned movie star charisma that they overcome the script’s shallow characterization. In many ways, it’s like one of the old Frank Sinatra rat pack movies, where you forgive a lot because you enjoy hanging out with the cast. They’re just fun to watch. Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Evans, Chris Hemsworth, Scarlett Johansson, Jeremy Renner, and Mark Ruffalo; at this point they are so identified with these characters that the actors and their roles might as well be interchangeable.

(And, at this point, if it were revealed the Robert Downey, Jr. owned a suit of armor, would you really be surprised?)

Ultimately, Age of Ultron feels a lot like one of the less acclaimed James Bond films. It’s flawed, it’s imperfect, but fans of the franchise will find a lot to enjoy. Much as you wouldn’t introduce someone to James Bond by showing him Moonraker, you probably wouldn’t want to introduce someone to the MCU by showing him or her Age of Ultron. If, somehow, you’ve managed to exist without ever seeing any other MCU films, then Age of Ultron will leave you confused and wondering what the big deal is. But, if you’re already a fan of the franchise, you’ll find a lot to enjoy here.

And, flaws and all, you’ll walk out of the theater looking forward to the next installment.

the-avengers-2-age-of-ultron-cast-photos

Video: Pacific Rim End Titles


443322587_640

There’s nothing spoilerish in this video that has joined the End Titles sequence of Marvel’s The Avengers as a favorite of mine. Who said end titles for a film has to be the usual text scrawl we’ve been getting for decades. I’m not saying that every film should follow the digital effects used to make the end titles for Pacific Rim and The Avengers, but for summer blockbusters and epic holiday films this is a route that may just become the norm.

The end titles was created by the folks over at Imaginary Forces and all credit goes to these digital artists who made what was already an awesome and fun film even more.

Lisa Marie Picks The 50 Best Films of The Past 3 Years


Black-Swan_400

As of this month, I have been reviewing films here at the Shattered Lens for 3 years.  In honor of that anniversary, I thought I’d post my picks for the 50 best films that have been released in the U.S. since 2010.

Without further ado, here’s the list!

  1. Black Swan (directed by Darren Aronofsky)
  2. Exit Through The Gift Shop (directed by Banksy)
  3. Hanna (directed by Joe Wright)
  4. Fish Tank (directed by Andrea Arnold)
  5. Higher Ground (directed by Vera Farmiga)
  6. Shame (directed by Steve McQueen)
  7. Anna Karenina (directed by Joe Wright)
  8. The Cabin In The Woods (directed by Drew Goddard)
  9. 127 Hours (directed by Danny Boyle)
  10. Somewhere (directed by Sofia Coppola)
  11. Life of Pi (directed by Ang Lee)
  12. Hugo (directed by Martin Scorsese)
  13. Inception (directed by Christopher Nolan)
  14. Animal Kingdom (directed by David Michod)
  15. Winter’s Bone (directed by Debra Granik)
  16. The Artist (directed by Michel Hazanavicius)
  17. The Guard (directed by John Michael McDonagh)
  18. Bernie (directed by Richard Linklater)
  19. The King’s Speech (directed by Tom Hooper)
  20. Bridesmaids (directed by Paul Feig)
  21. Tinker, Tailor, Soldier, Spy (directed by Thomas Alfredson)
  22. Django Unchained (directed by Quentin Tarantino)
  23. Never Let Me Go (directed by Mark Romanek)
  24. Toy Story 3 (directed by Lee Unkrich)
  25. The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo (directed by Niels Arden Oplev)
  26. Young Adult (directed by Jason Reitman)
  27. Sucker Punch (directed by Zack Snyder)
  28. The Master (directed by Paul Thomas Anderson)
  29. Incendies (directed by Denis Villeneuve)
  30. Melancholia (directed by Lars Von Trier)
  31. Super (directed by James Gunn)
  32. Silver Linings Playbook (directed by David O. Russell)
  33. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World (directed by Edgar Wright)
  34. The Last Exorcism (directed by Daniel Stamm)
  35. Skyfall (directed by Sam Mendes)
  36. Easy A (directed by Will Gluck)
  37. Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows Parts 1 and 2 (directed by David Yates)
  38. The Avengers (directed by Joss Whedon)
  39. How To Train Your Dragon (directed by Chris Sanders and Dean DeBois)
  40. Win Win (directed by Thomas McCarthy)
  41. Les Miserables (directed by Tom Hooper)
  42. Take This Waltz (directed by Sarah Polley)
  43. Cave of Forgotten Dreams (directed by Werner Herzog)
  44. Rust and Bone (directed by Jacques Audiard)
  45. Cosmopolis (directed by David Cronenberg)
  46. Ruby Sparks (directed by Jonathan Dayton and Valarie Faris)
  47. Brave (directed by Mark Andrews and Brenda Chapman)
  48. Martha Marcy May Marlene (directed by Sean Durkin)
  49. Jane Eyre (directed by Cary Fukunaga)
  50. Damsels in Distress (directed by Whit Stillman)

What If Lisa Marie Determined The Oscar Nominees…


With the Oscar nominations due to be announced this week, now seems like a good time to indulge in something I like to call “If Lisa Marie Had All The Power.”  Listed below are my personal Oscar nominations.  Please note that these are not the films that I necessarily think will be nominated.  The fact of the matter is that the many of them will not.  Instead, these are the films that would be nominated if I was solely responsible for deciding the nominees this year.  Winners are listed in bold.

For those who are interested, you can check out my picks for 2010 by clicking on this sentence.

Meanwhile, my picks for last year can be seen by clicking on this sentence.

Best Picture

Best Picture

Anna Karenina

The Avengers

Bernie

The Cabin In The Woods

Django Unchained

Les Miserables

Life of Pi

The Master

Silver Linings Playbook

Skyfall

Ang Lee

Best Director

Drew Goddard for The Cabin In The Woods

Ang Lee for Life of Pi

Richard Linklater for Bernie

Quinton Tarantino for Django Unchained

Joe Wright for Anna Karenina

master-trailer-joaquin-phoenix

Best Actor

Jack Black in Bernie

Bradley Cooper in Silver Linings Playbook

Daniel Day-Lewis in Lincoln

Matthew McConaughey in Killer Joe.

Joaquin Phoenix in The Master

michelle-williams-take-this-waltz-trailer

Best Actress

Marion Cotillard in Rust and Bone

Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress

Kiera Knightley in Anna Karenina

Jennifer Lawrence in Silver Linings Playbook

Michelle Williams in Take This Waltz

django-jackson

Best Supporting Actor

Robert De Niro in Silver Linings Playbook

Philip Seymour Hoffman in The Master

Samuel L. Jackson in Django Unchained

Sam Rockwell in Seven Psychopaths

Christoph Waltz in Django Unchained

Zoe-Kazan-in-Ruby-Sparks-e1348740167495

Best Supporting Actress

Rebecca De Mornay in Mother’s Day

Dame Judi Dench in Skyfall

Anne Hathaway in Les Miserables

Zoe Kazan in Ruby Sparks

Sarah Silverman in Take This Waltz

cabininthewoods_4

Best Original Screenplay

The Cabin In The Woods

Django Unchained

The Master

Ruby Sparks

Take This Waltz

Bernie Bearing Gifts

Best Adapted Screenplay

Anna Karenina

Argo

Bernie

Life of Pi

Silver Linings Playbook

"BRAVE"

Best Feature-Length Animated Film

Brave

Frankenweenie

Paranorman

Pirates!  Band of Misfits

Wreck-It Ralph

rustboen21

Best Foreign Language Film

Barbara

Headhunters

The Raid: Redemption

A Royal Affair

Rust and Bone

Ai Weiwei never sorry film

Best Documentary Feature

Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry

The Central Park Five

First Position

The Queen of Versailles

2016: Obama’s America

brave_movie--300x300

Best Original Score

Beasts of the Southern Wild

Brave

The Dark Knight Rises

For Greater Glory

The Master

the-raid-redemption-trailer_450x254

Best Original Song

“For You” from Act of Valor

“Yo No Se” from Casa De Mi Padre

“The Sambola! International Dance Craze” from Damsels in Distress

“Ancora Qui” from Django Unchained

“Abraham’s Daughter” from The Hunger Games

“The Baddest Man Alive” from The Man With The Iron Fists

“Razor’s Out” from The Raid: Redemption

“Big Machine” from Safety Not Guaranteed

“Skyfall” from Skyfall

“Anything Made Out of Paper” from West of Memphis

Les Miserables 

Best Sound Editing

Chronicle

The Dark Knight Rises

End of Watch

Les Miserables

Skyfall

Les Miserables2

Best Sound Mixing

Chronicle

End of Watch

Killing Them Softly

Les Miserables

Skyfall

Anna Karenina

Best Art Direction

Anna Karenina

The Avengers

The Cabin In The Woods

Cosmopolis

Les Miserables

Skyfall

Best Cinematography

The Hobbit

Lawless

Life of Pi

Moonrise Kingdom

Skyfall

looper

Best Makeup

The Hobbit

The Hunger Games

Les Miserables

Lincoln

Looper

wesandersonmoonrisekingdom

Best Costume Design

Anna Karenina

Django Unchained

The Hunger Games

Lincoln

Moonrise Kingdom

django-unchained-2

Best Film Editing

Anna Karenina

The Cabin In The Woods

Django Unchained

The Master

Silent House

Life of Pi

Best Visual Effects

The Avengers

The Dark Knight Rises

Life of Pi

Looper

Men In Black 3

List of Films By Number of Nominations

8 Nominations — Django Unchained

7 Nominations — Anna Karenina

6 Nominations — Les Miserables, Life of Pi, The Master, Skyfall

5 Nominations — The Cabin In The Woods, Silver Linings Playbook

4 Nominations — Bernie

3 Nominations — The Avengers, The Dark Knight Rises, The Hobbit, The Hunger Games, Lincoln, Take This Waltz

2 Nominations — Brave, Chronicle, Damsels in Distress, End of Watch, Moonrise Kingdom, The Raid: Redemption, Ruby Sparks, Rust and Bone

1 Nomination —Act of Valor, Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, Argo, Barbara,  Beasts of the Southern Wild, Casa De Mi Padre, The Central Park Five, Cosmopolis, First Position, For Greater Glory, Frankenweenie, Headhunters, Killer Joe, Killing Them Softly, Lawless, Looper, The Man With The Iron Fists, Men In Black 3, Mother’s Day, The Pirates! Band of Misfits , The Queen of Versailles, A Royal Affair, Safety Not Guaranteed, Seven Psychopaths, Silent House, 2016: Obama’s America, West of Memphis, Wreck-It Ralph

List of Films By Oscars Won

2 Oscars — Anna Karenina, Brave, Django Unchained, Les Miserables, Life of Pi

1 Oscar — Ai Wei Wei: Never Sorry, Bernie, The Cabin In the Woods, Looper, The Master, Moonrise Kingdom, The Raid: Redemption, Ruby Sparks, Rust and Bone, Skyfall, Take This Waltz

Lisa Marie Picks The Best 26 Films of 2012


Anna Karenina Movie

Without further ado, here are my picks for the 26 best films of 2012!

  1. Anna Karenina
  2. The Cabin In The Woods
  3. Life of Pi
  4. Bernie
  5. Django Unchained
  6. The Master
  7. Silver Linings Playbook
  8. Skyfall
  9. The Avengers
  10. Les Miserables
  11. Take This Waltz
  12. Rust and Bone
  13. Cosmopolis
  14. Ruby Sparks
  15. Brave
  16. Damsels in Distress
  17. The Hobbit
  18. Lincoln
  19. Argo
  20. Looper
  21. Moonrise Kingdom
  22. The Hunger Games
  23. Sinister
  24. Silent House
  25. Mother’s Day
  26. The House AT The End of the Street

House-at-the-End-of-the-Street

12 Random Things That I Am Thankful For In 2012


So many things to be thankful for!

Today is the day that I (and perhaps a few others) look over the past year and ask myself, “What am I thankful for?”  I am happy to say that I have a lot to be thankful for right now.  I’m thankful for my family, for my friends, for my readers, and for my love.

Believe it or not, I’m even thankful that I’m now 27 years old!  When my family gathered together earlier today, I actually got to hang out with the grown ups!  Seriously, being an adult was a lot more fun than I was expecting.

Traditionally, Thanksgiving is also the day when I do a post entitled “10 Things That I Am Thankful For.”  So, here we go.  As I stated previously, I’m thankful for a lot of things in 2012.  Here, in no specific order, is twelve of them:

1) I’m thankful that The Cabin In The Woods and Sinister reminded me of why I love horror films in the first place.

2) I’m thankful for the Snarkalecs on twitter, the best group of people that a girl could hope to watch a SyFy movie with.

3) I’m thankful that this current season of Survivor is one of the best yet.

4) I’m thankful that someday, when I do have a daughter, I’ll be able to watch films like Brave and The Hunger Games with her.

5) I’m thankful that Richard Linklater directed Bernie and let the true citizens of Texas speak for themselves.

6) I’m thankful that Sarah Polley wrote and directed Take This Waltz.

7) I’m thankful for the TCMParty on twitter, the best group of people that a girl could hope to watch a classic film on TCM with.

8) I’m thankful that the final season of The Office is turning out to be a good one.

9) I’m thankful that Skyfall reminded us of why we all love James Bond in the first place.

10) I’m thankful that Branded eventually ended.  Seriously, I was worried that film was never going to come to a close.

11) I’m thankful that The Avengers turned out to be a lot more fun than even I was expecting.

12) I’m thankful that even a generally disappointing film year can still see the release of films like Life of Pi and The Master.

What do you think, Trailer Kitties?

Don’t worry, kitties!  Lisa Marie’s Favorite Grindhouse and Exploitation Film Trailers will return next week!

Happy Thanksgiving!

It’s Time For The Annual Self-Important Post About The Year In Film So Far


For the entire past week, something has been nagging at me.  I knew that there was something that I needed to do but I couldn’t remember what it was.  Earlier today, however, I was reading the latest critical blathering about the state of cinema over at AwardsDaily.  As usual, that site’s editors were whining about the fact that the Social Network didn’t win best picture and also the fact that my generation is apparently the “WORST.  GENERATION.  EVER” and blah blah blah. 

Fortunately, however, reading that  post reminded me of what I had forgotten: We are now at the halfway mark as far as 2012 is concerned.  This is the time of year that self-important film critics (both online and elsewhere) tell their readers what type of year it’s been so far. 

So, without further ado — what type of year has 2012 been so far?

(By the way, you can also check out my thoughts from July of 2011 and July 2010 as well.)

(Also, please understand that the act of me posting this in no way guarantees that I won’t change my mind several times within the next hour.)

Best Film Of The Year (So Far): Cabin In The Woods. Compared to both 2010 and 2011, this has been a pretty slow year so far.  There really hasn’t been a Hanna or an Exit Through The Gift Shop type of film so far.  Instead, there’s been a handful of nice surprises, quite a few pleasant but somewhat forgettable films, and then quite a few films that i wish were forgettable.  Cabin In The Woods, however, was a nice little valentine to horror fans like me and it’s a film that actually gets even better with repeat viewings.  Runners up include Bernie, Damsels in Distress, Brave, The Hunger Games, Safety Not Guaranteed, Moonrise Kingdom, For Greater Glory, Jeff, Who Lives At Home, and the Avengers.

Best Male Performance Of The Year (So Far): Jack Black in Bernie.  Runners up include Andrew Garfield in The Amazing Spider-Man and Jason Segal in Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Female Performance of the Year (So Far): Jennifer Lawrence in The Hunger Games.  Seriously, just try to imagine that film with someone else in the lead role.  Runners up include Susan Sarandon in Jeff, Who Lives At Home, Aubrey Plaza in Safety Not Guaranteed, and Greta Gerwig in Damsels in Distress.

Best Voice-Over Performance Of The Year (So Far): Kelly MacDonald in Brave.

Best Ending Of The Year (So Far): A 3-way tie between The Cabin In The Woods, Safety Not Guaranteed, and Jeff, Who Lives At Home.

Best Horror Film Of The Year (So Far): The Cabin In The Woods

Most Underrated Film Of The Year (So Far): The Five-Year Engagement, a sweet and funny movie that was just a tad bit too long.

Best Bad Film of the Year: Battleship.  Yes, the movie represented some of the worst impulses of big-budget filmmaking but I had a lot of fun watching it and Alexander Skarsgard was to die for in that white Navy uniform.

Worst Film Of The Year (So Far): The Wicker Tree.  I could make an argument for both Rock of Ages and The Devil Inside here but no…just no.  As the Trash Film Guru put it, “BURN THE WICKER TREE!”

Biggest Example Of A Missed Opportunity For This Year (So Far): Seeking a Friend For The End of the World.  A great performance from Steve Carrel can’t save a film that has no idea what it wants to be.

The Get Over It Already Award For The First Half of 2012: The Devil Inside, for being the most tedious example of a “found footage” horror film yet.  Coming in second: Rock of Ages, for reminding me that my parents had terrible taste in music.

The Trailer That Has Most Outgrown Its Welcome: The Perks of Being a Wall Flower.  “Be aggressive…passive aggressive…” Okay, shut up, already.

The Cameron/Fincher Bandwagon Trophy (Awarded To The Upcoming Film That, Regardless Of Quality, Will Probably Be So Violently Embraced By People Online That You’ll Be Putting Your Life In Danger If You Dare Offer Up The Slightest Amount Of Criticism): The Dark Knight Rises

The Ebert Award (Awarded to the upcoming film that will probably get  positive reviews based on the film’s political context as opposed to the film itself): Zero Dark Thirty

The Sasha Award (Awarded To The Film That I Am Predicting Will Be The Most Overrated Of The Year): Lincoln.

The Roland Emmerich/Rod Lurie Award For The Film That I’m Predicting Will Be The Worst Of 2012: Honestly, it’s really hard to imagine a worse film than The Wicker Tree (though, to be honest, Rock of Ages comes pretty close). 

Films I’m Looking Forward To Seeing In The Future (An incomplete list): On The Road, Lawless, The Dark Knight Rises, Cosmopolis, Django Unchained, The Hobbit, The Great Gatsby, and especially The Master and Joe Wright’s Anna Karenina.

And there you have it.  2012 hasn’t been a great year so far but there’s still a lot of time left.

Unless, of course, the Mayans were correct.