Familiar ‘Ultron,’ Classy ‘Crowd,’ Fascinating ‘Reno’






Contributing Writer



Thor, Iron Man and Captain America in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.” -  Photo courtesy of www.endzero.net
Thor, Iron Man and Captain America in “Avengers: Age of Ultron.”
– Photo courtesy of www.endzero.net

“Avengers: Age of Ultron”

The latest installment in the interlocking Marvel superhero saga is the second Avengers movie, “Age of Ultron” (wide release), which would represent the opening of the summer blockbuster season had “Furious 7” not beat it to the punch in April.

It is a critic-proof movie with a built-in audience of fans, who will lap up its bombastic comic-book action. But it is also formulaic, overlong and in the end rather boring.

The team of good guys — Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye, Black Widow — here take on a robot called Ultron, endowed with the most advanced artificial intelligence and determined to annihilate humanity in order to secure true peace on earth and pave the way for the next stage of evolution.  The Avengers aim to stop him, though he is assisted by two meta-humans, Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch, who use their powers in his service until they switch sides and join the battle against him.

Aficionados of the long-running comic book franchise will understand all of this, but even those who do not will probably eat up the prolonged action sequences that occur every 10 minutes or so and test the limits of current CGI technology.  But all the ruckus in the world cannot hide the fact that Ultron makes a pretty dull villain, despite James Spader’s deliciously sinister delivery of his lines.

On the other hand, the transitional sequences that try to humanize the heroes — domestic scenes, bickering, jocular macho posturing, even a hint of romance — are by-the-numbers affairs that accentuate the assembly-line quality of the picture.

The first “Avengers” movie was a superior example of this sort of fare.  By contrast “Ultron” is just more of the same, only not as good — a movie full of sound and fury that signifies very little except that Marvel knows what its audience wants and is happy to give it to them again and again.

“Far From the Madding Crowd”

Thomas Hardy gets Masterpiece Theatre treatment in Thomas Vinterberg’s adaptation of his 1874 novel “Far From the Madding Crowd” (Magnolia).  The elegant film is nearly an hour shorter than the last version — John Schlesinger’s 1967 epic — but it is reasonably faithful to the source.

Carey Mulligan strikes a rather modern pose of independence as Bathsheba Everdine, the young woman determined to succeed as mistress of the farm she has inherited from an uncle while being wooed by no fewer than three suitors — a rich neighbor, a dashing soldier and the handsome but humble shepherd who loved her even before she became a person of property.

The gorgeous widescreen images take full advantage of the Dorset locations, and while any movie can serve as little more than a Cliff’s Notes summary beside the original, this one at least does not disgrace its source.

In “Black Souls,” a family is divided over the question of returning to a glorious criminal  life. -  Photo courtesy of www.tiff.net
In “Black Souls,” a family is divided over the question of returning to a glorious criminal life.
– Photo courtesy of www.tiff.net

“Black Souls”

The ‘Ndrangheta, the Calabrian version of the Mafia, provides the backdrop for “Black Souls” (Angelika), a gloomily powerful tale of a family divided between those who want to revive its criminal glory and others who opt for a law-abiding life.

Essentially it is a study of three brothers. The oldest, tired of violence, prefers to tend to the family farm, while the two others seek to rejuvenate their traditional drug-smuggling operations.  The simmering conflict among them is forced to the surface when the peace-loving man’s volatile son opts to defy his father and join the family business, with tragic consequences.

Like “Man from Reno,” “Black Souls” closes on a very grim note.  But since it is presented in a more realistic context, it is even more potent.

Coming up this summer: a reboot of “Mad Max,” “Pitch Perfect 2” (May 15), a new version of “Poltergeist” (May 22), “Insidious: Chapter 3” (June 5), “Jurassic World” (June 12), “Ted 2” (June 26), “Terminator Genisys” and “Magic Mike XXL” (July 1), the origin story “Pan” (July 24), “Mission Impossible: Rogue Nation” and a revisiting of “National Lampoon’s Vacation” (July 31),  the reboot of “Fantastic Four” (August 7), an updating of “The Man from U.N.C.L.E.” (August 14), “Sinister 2” (August 21) and “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon: The Green Legend” (August 28). There will even be a few movies that are not sequels or remakes.  Check out “Love & Money,” about Brian Wilson and the Beach Boys (June 5), the teen dramedy “Me and Earl and the Dying Girl” (June 12) and “Mr. Holmes” (July 17), about Sherlock at 93.  All are sure to be excellent alternates to the big Hollywood releases.

“Man from Reno”

Dave Boyle’s “Man from Reno” (Angelika) is a true curiosity: a tale that gradually merges two initially separate mysteries, one centering on the disappearance of a handsome tourist in San Francisco and the other on the flight of an injured man from a hospital, into a single puzzle involving smuggling, identity theft, murder and detective fiction.  It also features a couple of investigators — a small-town sheriff and a Japanese author — who join forces to solve the case.

To make matters more disorienting, half of the film is in English and half is in Japanese.

The picture tries to follow the pattern of “The Usual Suspects,” piling up clues, characters and plot twists until it ties them all together at the end.  It would take a lot of post-screening reflection, though, to determine whether it explains every plot turn satisfactorily, and some viewers may be turned off by the very dark denouement.  But it certainly holds one’s attention for the duration.



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