Friday, May 1, 2015

Avengers: Age of Ultron

Robots and Revolution
Director: Josh Whedon

Cast: Robert Downey, Jr., Chris Hemsworth, Chris Evans, Scarlett Johansson, Mark Ruffalo, Jeremy Renner, James Spader, Don Cheadle, Samuel L. Jackson, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Elizabeth Olson, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Anthony Mackie, Idris Elba, Stellan Skarsgaard, Thomas Kretschmann, Andy Serkis and Stan Lee

Review by James Colt Harrison

With a cast larger than the population of Rhode Island, madcap director Josh Whedon’s bloated sci-fi adventure Avengers: Age of Ultron,---out of the pages of Marvel comics--- is out to set all sort of records at the box office this summer. How can it miss? It has almost every star in Hollywood (that’s an exaggeration, just like the film), the guidance of comic book guru Stan Lee (with fellow comic book creator Jack Kirby), the wild imaginations of Whedon, and the backings of the two greatest animation studios of the current creators working today. Throw in the dazzling camera work of Ben Davis, the Erector Set stylings of costume designer Alexandra Byrne, and the startling and stunning music by tunesmiths Danny Efman and BrianTyler, you can’t miss.

Starting with Tony Stark (Downey Jr.) trying to salvage the peacekeeping talks that previously went awry, the only way to save the world is for all the Super Heroes to band together as a team. Iron Man (Downey, Jr.), Thor (Hemsworth), Captain America (Evans), Black Widow (Johansson), The Incredible Hulk (Ruffalo), Hawkye (Renner) and War Machine (Cheadle) see the sense in that to combat the evil Ultron (voice of James Spader) and prevent him from destroying all humans as well as the earth. The team of heroes must stop Ultron in his tracks before he institutes his dastardly plans. Ultron turns out to be a very clever robot, much in the vein of HAL in Stanley Kubrick’s science-fiction classic 2001. Just as HAL’s voice was chilling in that long-ago film, Spader grabs the part by the throat and runs chills up and down your ultimately shivered spine. He steals the film without ever appearing in it!

The film is Whedon’s usual revved-up, hyper-active romp that will never make you take No-Doze to keep awake. The decibel level alone will shatter your eardrums as well as the batteries in your hearing aids if you wear them. Seemingly, the entire reason for this picture is action, action, action.  With apparently not much of an excuse, the heroes launch from one fight scene to another, each one more bone-crunching than the next. It’s a good thing they are Super Heroes or they would be demolished in a second if mere mortals. The ladies may find Hemsworth and Evans as chili-peppered catnip when they show off bodies that apparently were chiseled from some old Michelangelo statues in Carrere marble.

With some amusing wisecracks on the lips of the cast, we are projected across the world in a 3D tour of Africa and Asia. Yes, there are some funny lines as per the previous outings of this gang of do-gooders. And the spectacular scenery captured by Ben Davis’s cameras is eye-popping. The 3D process is unobtrusive, yet brings alive the three-dimensional objects the human eye sees naturally. It adds tremendously to the enjoyment of the picture.

The stars of the film are really the special effects people. Without them there would be no film to get excited about. Too numerous to mention, the various CGI companies and motion-capture people have outdone themselves on this bombastic film. The kids will love this movie and so will some of the big kids. There is not too much plot to confuse us, but there is plenty of action and explosions to distract us. It’s a wild ride through space and beyond!

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Sunday, April 26, 2015

“The Age of Adaline”

Immortal Life and Love
Director: Lee Toland Kreiger
Genre: Fantasy/ Romance/ Mystery
Studio: Lionsgate/ Warner Bros.
Running Time: 110 Minutes

Cast: Blake Lively, Harrison Ford, Michiel Huisman, Ellen Burstyn, Kathy Baker, Lynda Boyd, Amanda Crew

Review by James Colt Harrison

Blake Lively plays blonde and pretty Adaline Bowman, a woman who stops aging at 29 and lives through a century as a bright, young female in perfect health. Some people would welcome this condition, but Adaline is not too happy about it and feels she must keep it a secret.

Through some flashbacks it is revealed with some scientific hocus pocus she survived a severe car crash when struck by a bolt of lightning. This event, apparently, changed all her molecules and they stopped the aging process. Good in theory, but hardly based on any facts known at this time.

Shot mostly in photogenic San Francisco, the film follows Adaline’s paranoia about being ‘found-out.’ Every decade or so she changes identity, jobs and location in a mad quest to avoid detection and being treated like a circus freak. She avoids intimacy with any men, and her best friend is blind pianist Regan, played charmingly by Lynda Boyd. This is a convenient way of keeping her secret about not aging while her friend ages normally. Adaline also leans on her daughter for support. An interesting part of the film is to have the daughter age enough so that she looks like the mother and not Adaline! The beautiful actress-of-a-certain-age Ellen Burstyn is full of life and vigor and plays the daughter. The two women share the secret and are tender and sweet with each other. While Burstyn’s character pretends to be “just a friend,” she keeps the secret under wraps for her “mom.”

Caught off guard, Adaline meets smashingly handsome and rich Ellis Jones ( Dutch actor Michiel Huisman) at a charity event. He relentlessly pursues her and she gives him the brush-off. It’s at this point director Toland points the film toward being a romantic tear-jerker. Using restraint, it does not wallow in tears as some films are wont to do (see Scott Eastwood’s The Longest Ride).

Adaline can’t resist Ellis’ physical charms and agrees to meet his parents on a weekend jaunt. Kathy Baker ( 3 Emmy Awards for Picket Fences) plays mom and wordly Harrison Ford (Star Wars) turns out to be Ellis’ father. In an intriguing sequence of events, we learn it may not be the first time he has met Adaline. The Spoiler Alert is that we are not revealing anything at all about the movie.

A note on newcomer Michiel Huisman: He is familiar to audiences in the United States through his work on television and in some films. HBO’s Game Of Thrones has brought him instant recognition as the character Daario Naharis, and Orphan Black saw him play actress Tatiana Maslany’s old flame. He played opposite Emily Blunt in the 2009 The Young Victoria, was with Brad Pitt in World War Z in 2013, and romanced Reese Witherspoon along the trail in Wild in 2014. The Netherlands-born actor (July 18, 1981) started out as a musician and singer with his Dutch band Fontane. He gravitated toward Dutch films and soon made his way to some television films in England. He played famed ballet dancer Rudolph Nureyev in the 2009 Margot. He made his entry into American television with parts on the series Treme  (2010-2013), Nashville (2012-2014), and Orphan Black (2014-2015).  The Age of Adaline is his first leading man role in an American film.

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Friday, April 24, 2015

The Water Diviner

A Sensitive Crowe Touches Hearts
Director: Russell Crowe
Studio: Universal Studios/Warner Bros. Pictures

Cast: Russell Crowe, Jai Courtney, Olga Kurylenko, Ryan Corr, Yilmaz Erdogan, Cem Yilmaz, Dylan Georgiades, Dan Wyllie, Robert Mammone, Jacqueline McKenzie

Review by James Colt Harrison

Opening in its native Australia more than four months ago, The Water Diviner was eligible for the Australian Awards. It won Best Film, Best Supporting Actor (Yilmaz Erdogan), Best Costume Design (Tess Schofield), and was nominated for Best Actor (Crowe), Best Supporting Actress (Jacqueline McKenzie), Best Original Screenplay (Andrew Anastasios, Andrew Knight), Best Production Design (Christopher Kennedy), Best Editing (Matt Villa), and Best Visual Effects (David Booth, Prue Fletcher, Marc Varisco, Adam Paschke). It was embraced by the Australians, and it is now set to be admired by the rest of the world.

Making his directorial debut, actor and Oscar® winner Russell Crowe is a hero in his native Australia, and he’s a top world-wide star as well. Taking on this historical drama is a big task, and Crowe has handled it deftly and with a big dose of sensitivity.

Set in 1919 just after the end of World War I, Crowe plays a common farmer named Joshua Connor, who has a gift for “divining” water in dry areas, with a wife and three sons. Joshua raised the boys to be patriotic and good men who will do their part for their country. Five years previously to the beginning scenes, the boys—Arthur (Ryan Corr), Henry (Ben O’Toole) and Edward (James Fraser) left for the war in Gallipoli, Turkey and have not returned and are considered to be dead. Joshua’s wife (Jacqueline McKenzie) is wracked with grief and commits suicide, thus convincing Joshua to bring the boys’ bodies home to rest beside their mother. Ms. McKenzie is quite effective in her madness and sorrow and was nominated as Best Supporting Actress in the Australian Awards as she completely conveyed the grief of a mother who loses all her children. It’s a sad beginning, but it leads us to fleshing out the story and Joshua’s quest to find his boys, dead or alive.

Joshua makes a pilgrimage to Turkey to find his three sons and to learn their fate and determine if they are still alive. In stunning flashbacks to the war at Gallipoli in 1915 at various moments throughout the film, the audience may be horrified at the intensity of the scenes. Guns explode in your ear, soldiers are graphically shown being blown to bits, and bombs wipe out entire regiments. We know this was done to show the uselessness of war and the damage it does to young soldiers, but it may be a little too realistic for many moviegoers. In fact, the war scenes are so intense and graphic, they may be too frightening for youngsters.

Traveling to Constantinople (now Istanbul) must have been quite a trek in 1919 before the days of jet plane travel. It probably caused Joshua to sail for months to get from Australia to Turkey by ship. Weary, yet still retaining his innate gentleness, Joshua finds a family hotel that just happens to be run by the unbelievably gorgeous Muslim widow Ayshe (Russian-born Olga Kurylenko playing a Turk). She conveniently has a young son Orhan (Dylan Georgiades, whose name appears to be Irish-Greek) who immediately bonds with Crowe’s character. The boy is desperately looking for a daddy, and Joshua fills that role perfectly. The scenes between the two are touching and heartwarming. It also serves to bring Ayshe and Joshua together, although any relationship between them seemed tabu in that culture and times.

Although it is forbidden to visit the killing fields of Gallipoli, Joshua hires a fishing boat and swims ashore. There he meets Turkish military officer Major Hasan (the wonderful Turkish star Yilmaz Erdogan), affable Sgt. Jemal (Cim Yilmaz) and Australian officer Cyril Hughes (dashing newcomer Jai Courtney sporting an intense moustache). They are there to protect the site and recover casualties. They throw roadblocks in Joshua’s way, but it does not stop him from looking for his son’s bodies, if they are there. Special note must be made of actor Ryan Corr’s turn as Joshua’s oldest son Arthur. In flashbacks to the horror on the battlefield, Corr gives an absolutely heart-breaking performance when he must deal with his two brother’s fate in war.

The film is well-crafted and all the actors are excellent and effective, despite language differences. We hear Arabic, Turkish, English, Australian slang, and a touch of Greek, making the film truly international in flavor. Crowe gives one of his most subdued performances in recent years, yet he elicits sympathy from the audience by containing his grief inside but showing it through his expressive eyes.

Special mention must be made about cinematographer Andrew Lesnie (The Lord of the Rings). What he does with his color cameras shows a true artist at work. The scenes in all countries—whether they be on dry desert land, turquoise colored oceans, dense green forests or the fairy-tale minarets of Hagia Sophia mosque in Istanbul are exquisite. Lesnie’s camera work becomes part of the story and envelopes the viewer with its breathtaking artistry.

The picture is well worth seeing for those who are Crowe fans and who love re-living history.

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Monday, April 20, 2015

Fashion Trends Spring 2015: Black and White

ANGL, Blue Lagoon Maxi-Dress
Although there is nothing out of the ordinary about the combination of black and white, if anything it is a classic staple of everyone's wardrobe, what is new is the context. This spring there are new textures, new patterns and new silhouettes to the tried and true combo.

Styles for Less, Santorini Woven Palazzo Pants
Traditionally, black and white denotes elegance, simplicity, good taste, seriousness. You can't go wrong with black and white.  At the moment, it compliments and works with flirty shapes, youthful dresses, boho pants, and peasant blouses to stand out in a new way.

ANGL, Long Batwing Tie Dye Top

Urban Original, Wild Diva Lounge Two-Tone Lug Sole Open-Toe Heel

The gravitas of black and white on the fun, youthful pieces makes for a striking contrast and a surefire way to have your cake and eat it too.

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Thursday, April 16, 2015

The Longest Ride

Bulls and Brawn
Director: George Tillman, Jr.

Cast: Scott Eastwood, Britt Robertson, Alan Alda, Lolita Davidovich, Oona Chaplin, Jack Huston

Review by James Colt Harrison

Like father, like son so the saying goes. To prove that statement we have Scott Eastwood looking like an exact replica of his Oscar® winning father Clint Eastwood when he was young. Both are handsome, both are striking, and both are knockouts on the screen. A new generation has arrived, and Scott is fully equipped physically and professionally to take over the reigns of his well-loved father. All he has to do is ask.

The Longest Ride is adapted from a book by Nicholas Sparks, the great purveyor of weepies and woes by the gallon. There is no lack of that in this film. Add in the adventure, romance and rodeo action and you have more than two hours of entertainment pleasure. That is, if you go into throes of ecstasy at maudlin situations and tear-invoking scenes.

The tear-duct scenes are only part of the film, so don’t think it is all weeping. There are actually some fun scenes, some laughs (usually provided by scene-stealer Alan Alda) and certainly some thrills at the rodeo.

So where does the rodeo come into the story? Scott, as Luke Collins, is a championship bull rider on the world circuit. A head injury put him out of commission for awhile, but now he is trying to make a comeback. Mom Kate Collins (Lolita Davidovitch) is not happy with the situation because she wants Luke to come home after every ride in one piece. Mom’s who love their sons are like that.

Luke has his fans who scream and yell as he is getting tossed about by the bull like a rag-doll. He survives to great acclaim and the girl fans scream with delight. Among the fans is the most adorable and the prettiest of all of them---Sophie Danko, as played by beautiful newcomer Britt Robertson. Of course, she and Scott “meet cute.” They make for a very eye-pleasing couple; he’s handsome as can be and sweet-natured, and she’s gorgeous and smart and waiting for her internship in New York at an art gallery. Their lifestyles seem at odds with each other as they have nothing in common. Except sexual attraction. That’s enough for sparks to kindle.

On the way home from their first date they find a crashed car that has gone off the road. They act quickly and save an old man—Ira Levinson (Alan Alda) from certain death just moments before the car explodes into flames. Alda plays an old curmudgeon whose heydays were in the 1940s. The two youngsters become attached to him and his stories of his wife Ruth (Oona Chaplin). They find Ira and his stories enchanting. Alda, of course, has been in show business longer than the two lead actors’ ages combined. Having come to prominence in the TV hit show M*A*S*H decades ago, he knows every trick in the acting book to steal scenes right out from under Eastwood and Robertson. No matter---the kids are still cute and are a pleasure to see brightening the screen.

What would a romance be if there weren’t storm clouds every so often? The kids conflict over their opposite lifestyles. Sophie wants to go to New York and be in the Art World; Luke wants to remain on the rodeo circuit amongst the smelly bulls and dirt. She’s high-class and he’s just a regular guy. Can they ever agree? Lots of tears are shed—mostly by the audience--- and resolution to the problem is difficult. Women’s Liberation members would have a fit if Sophie decided to give up her plans and settle down to have babies with Luke. And men would look down on Luke if he traded in his tight jeans for a tuxedo and the fancy world of New York artists.

Nicholas Sparks has the talent to wring all emotions to their limits, and he stops at nothing to grab the audience by the tear ducts at every corner. This gives director George Tillman, Jr. ( Barbershop) the go ahead to put the lead actors in jeopardy every chance he gets. Both Eastwood and Robertson, in their first big leading roles, are attractive enough for the audience to look beyond the pathos and see young love blooming with joy, delight, wonder and awe. The two actors rise above Sparks’ doom and gloom tendencies and make us laugh, cry and jump for joy when things go right.

Both Eastwood and Robertson are destined to become major stars provided they are cast in the proper roles. 

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