Avengers: Age of Ultron

maxresdefault-1The blockbuster season is finally upon us with Joss Whedon’s much anticipated Avengers sequel kicking it off. It’s just a shame then that Age of Ultron is the first real disappointment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Age of Ultron catches up with the Avengers post Captain America 2 as they team up to bring down HYDRA in an incredible opening action sequence that tells us there’ll be no time wasted in getting the Avengers together this time round. Now that they’ve been fully established and brought together in the conclusion to Phase One, Avengers 2 feels much more free to explore the dynamics of individual characters and thankfully this means more time spent on Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner) Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), with emphasis on Hawkeye. Hawkeye’s character development is increased a huge amount and it’s a joy to see more focus on the characters who haven’t yet had their chance of a standalone adventure while Captain America, Iron Man and Thor steal all the slots.

Age of Ultron also boasts one of the most menacing MCU villains yet with the titular character. James Spader’s soothing voice is terrifyingly appropriate as the homicidal AI and his ability to be everywhere at once makes him a credible threat that can destroy the Avengers in a matter of seconds. Unfortunately he goes down the traditional villain routine of biding his time to make his victory all the more sweet but that’s to be expected.

We also get the arrival of two new team members for the Avengers in the form of twin mutants (or ‘enhanced’ as Captain America calls them due to Marvel Studios ban from the use of their own species name) Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) and Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson). And herein lies the first of Age of Ultron‘s problems.

Although it’s not really their fault, the fact that we have already had a glimpse of Evan Peters’ turn as Quicksilver (albeit a different incarnation of him) in last years X-Men: Days of Future Past made Taylor-Johnson’s appearance hard to digest. While Peters managed to become the highlight of DOFP in one simple yet brilliant sequence, Taylor-Johnson is scattered throughout Age of Ultron and yet still doesn’t manage to bring anything new to the superhero. Again, this is hardly Marvel Studios fault, but with the way they conclude Quicksilver’s involvement in the story, it almost feels as if they saw DOFP halfway through shooting and gave up trying.

This isn’t the only place where Age of Ultron slips up though. Unfortunately, thanks to Marvel releasing information incredibly early, its not too hard to find out that most of the main cast are signed up to pop into the rest of Marvels films up until around 2019 when Thanos is due to finally rear his big purple head in Infinity War parts 1 and 2. Thanks to this, Age of Ultron feels like it can’t take chances with the main cast lest it ruin Marvels big plan and more importantly, the casts contracts. And, knowing that Captain America: Civil War is just round the corner, at times turns Age of Ultron into a 140 minute teaser trailer for Captain America and Iron Man’s upcoming face-off.

All this would be fine and is almost expected by now, yet still Marvel can’t help but turn the final act of Age of Ultron into the usual big action packed mess of CGI destruction that, after 9 films has passed the point of comfortable viewing into just plain boredom. To discuss this more would be to add another page or two of ranting so I’ll instead suggest you read Andrew Jones’ article on the situation here as I can’t put it better myself really…

In the end Age of Ultron concludes the 2nd phase of what it appears will be a trilogy the same way that it began in Iron Man 3. With an interesting story that is eventually butchered with an infestation of CGI robots fucking shit up. One thing’s for sure, if you’re still with the MCU after Age of Ultron, chances are you’ll stick through to the end now. Here’s hoping Phase 3 brings better ideas and adds more risks. And if that doesn’t work maybe DC will have taken over by then…

3/5

A Tarantino Trawl: Pulp Fiction

This September it’ll be 5 years since I first saw the film that changed my life. I’ll always remember flicking through the channels late one night and happening upon Pulp Fiction just as it was starting on BBC1. Recalling my cousins suggestion that I should watch it after being rather unimpressed with Inglourious Basterds (My first Tarantino experience. More on that in a few weeks though) I decided to stay up till the early hours of Saturday morning just to watch it. And to this day it will be one of the greatest decisions I’ve ever made.

Pulp Fiction is a beautiful mess of a film. My first viewing confused me so much, what with Tarantino’s presentation of the jumbled up story-line. But I knew I’d just witnessed something special. From that day on I have and will always cite Pulp Fiction as my all time favourite film. Whilst I understand there are plenty of other films just as good and at times even better than it, there’ll never be another film that sits so close to my heart.

With a cast including John Travolta, Samuel L Jackson, Uma Thurman and Harvey Keitel, Tarantino’s mobster epic has enough to please anyone in its 153 minute run-time. Travolta and Jackson’s storyline of a day in the life of two gangsters is spliced perfectly within the story of Bruce Willis’ Butch Coolidge attempting to do over gangster boss Marsellus Wallace in a fixed boxing match.

Each mini story in Pulp Fiction weaves effortlessly between themselves and gives plenty of shocks as well as plenty of laughs. Most of this is of course due to Tarantino’s flawless script, but praise must also be given to the late Sally Menke for her fantastic work in the editing suite. Having already proven herself a worthy ally to Tarantino with Reservoir Dogs, Menke outdoes her last performance by pulling off the editing of Pulp Fiction. Imagining anyone else pulling off such a feat in the same way is near impossible.

I can’t end this review without mentioning one of the greatest moments of Pulp Fiction. Whilst there are plenty of moments and scenes which can be picked out of the film to be discussed at length easily enough, such as Samuel L Jackson’s ‘The path of the righteous Man’ Bible quote or John Travolta and Uma Thurman’s dance scene to Chuck Berry’s You Never Can Tell, the one stand out moment for me has got to be that of Christopher Walken’s scene. Tarantino gives us a fantastically written three page monologue in the form of a story about two men, the Korean war and a gold watch. And Walken gives an equally fantastic performance as he tells the story brilliantly. It’s not surprising that Tarantino decided to keep the camera on him during the whole speech. Walken demands your attention from beginning to end.

Pulp Fiction is a masterpiece in every way possible. Whilst it’s not a film that can be watched constantly over and over again, it IS a film that deserves to be seen once and revisited again and again from then on. After only five years since my initial viewing, it has become an old friend and whether I watch it a year later or ten years later, the experience will be nothing short of magnificent.

 

Next week I’ll be looking back at Jackie Brown so keep a lookout for that. As you’ve probably noticed, I’m not giving the films in this batch of reviews a mark out of 5 because I can tell you right now that each and every one of Tarantino’s directed films gets a 5 from me.

Park Chan-wook’s Vengeance Trilogy

Over the weekend I was lucky enough to go to a screening of The Vengeance Trilogy at the Prince Charles Cinema in Leicester Square. Director Park Chan-wook’s trilogy is made up of Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002), Oldboy (2003) and Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005) and although they aren’t connected through storyline they have similarities in the actors used as well as the themes. Having only seen Oldboy before I took this as an opportunity to try writing my first (of hopefully many) features on film series.

So without further ado, enjoy as I try to sum up 6 hours worth of film in one article.

Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance (2002)

The first in the Korean trilogy, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance tells the story of Ryu (Shin Ha-kyun), a young deaf mute who, after finding out he can’t donate one of his kidneys to his suffering sister, soon finds himself playing kidnapper to his ex boss, Dong-jin’s daughter in a bid to use the ransom to pay for a kidney on the black market. However after the plan goes awry, Dong-jin soon comes looking for revenge.

With slow but promising start, Sympathy for Mr. Vengeance begins to pick up pace after the first half hour with brutal violence and interesting scenery. However as hard as the film tries, it doesn’t quite grab as much attention that it clearly wants. With long, silent scenes which seem to take long breaks from the storyline for no apparent reason. The ambiguous ending is almost a sigh of relief after several suggestions that the credits will soon start rolling. Performance wise it’s nothing particularly brilliant. Shin Ha-kyun’s role of Ryu is perhaps the most interesting, but credit must also go to the young Bo-bae Han as Ryu’s child hostage, Yu Sun.

In all, it’s a satisfying revenge film with a couple of particularly pleasant scenes for gore lovers which with a more gripping storyline could have had real potential.

3/5

 

Oldboy (2003)

Perhaps the most well known of the trilogy, Oldboy really does live up to it’s hype. Chan-wooks strongest film in this trilogy is the one with the most interesting storyline as Oh Dae-su is kidnapped and locked away for 15 years before being released and given a phone and some money, but no explanation for his kidnapping. As Oh Dae-su is thrown back into the world with no family to go back to, he tries desperately to piece together what his captors motive is with the help of sushi chef Mi-do.

A Hollywood remake is already being planned for this surprise hit and it’s easy to see why. With an absolutely brilliant storyline filled with twists and turns and shocking revelations as well as a fantastic corridor fight scene it is easily one of the greatest thrillers of recent years. Choi Min-sik’s performance as Oh Dae-su is almost Oscar worthy and is an absolute treat to see on the big screen. With such a strong performance it’s almost satisfying to see that Min-sik has not turned his career down the usual Hollywood route, instead sticking to his roots in Korean film.

The climax will leave you completely dumbstruck and satisfied and if you don’t leave with the knowledge that you’ve watched something close to perfection then I strongly suggest you give this film another try. After my second viewing I had a rare occurrence where I had to bump up my original rating of the film but it’s a mistake I’m willing to admit to.

5/5

 

Sympathy for Lady Vengeance (2005)

After nearly two hours of Oldboy it was onto the third and final film of Chan-wook’s Vengeance trilogy, Sympathy for Lady Vengeance which was going to have to be almost as good as, if not on par with Oldboy, to keep this critic awake for another two hours at 4am. And it didn’t disappoint.

The final instalment centres around Lee Geum-ja, who upon being released thirteen years after being arrested for the murder of a young boy, decides to exact her revenge on the real killer whom she took the blame for. Of the whole trilogy Lady Vengeance is definitely the most beautifully shot of the three, with an opening of rich colours soon transforming into a more dull, serious tone as the story begins to descend into darker territories. The theme of kidnapping is used again and towards the latter half the plot soon deepens into something much more than just the revenge of Lee Geum-ja. To say any more would perhaps be giving away spoilers to a film which really deserves to be seen without any reveals. As the story moves on it seems to take its time only to be slightly let down by the climax which after such a build up is the only slight disappointment.

However all that aside it’s a worthy end to an interesting trilogy, keeping the theme of revenge and kidnapping strong in the storyline and with another great central performance, this time by Lee Young Ae as the troubled and determined Lee Geum-ja

4/5