Avengers back in action

With Avengers: Age of Ultron, filmmwaker Joss Whedon and Marvel Studios have succeeded in making what will certainly be one of the year’s blockbuster hits. But they haven’t improved upon the first Avengers (2012). All big-buck flash and panache aside, the new film too often feels like a retread – and rather a cluttered one, at that.

Die-hard Marvel mavens, however, are unlikely to care. Yet with the growing abundance of Marvel movies – the Fantastic Four reboot is due this summer, Spider-Man is being rebooted (again), sequels to Captain America, Thor and X-Men are underway – the marketplace has become saturated and the novelty dissipated.

Like its predecessor, Age of Ultron assembles an all-star cast for its all-star line-up of Marvel Comics characters: Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark/Iron Man, Chris Evans as Steve Rogers/Captain America, Mark Ruffalo as Bruce Banner/The Hulk, Scarlett Johansson as Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner as Clint Rhodes/ Hawkeye and Samuel L. Jackson as Nick Fury, delivering his “save-the-world” pep-talk for the umpteenth time.

Of course, the matter of the day will be to save the day, so the Avengers again unite to defeat a common foe, the titular Ultron, a Tony Stark experiment gone wrong. James Spader has fun voicing the metallic monster, but essentially Ultron is just a special effect, a big robot – backed by a legion of lookalike robots. The outcome is hardly in doubt, and the major characters essentially emerge unscathed. (Then again, in comic-book movies, death isn’t always the final curtain.)

Elizabeth Olsen (Wanda Maximoff/Scarlet Witch) and Aaron Taylor-John (Pietro Maximoff/Quicksilver) are new to the fold, while previous Marvel veterans Don Cheadle, Anthony Mackie, Stellan Skarsgard, Hayley Atwell and Cobie Smulders are on and off in quick succession – and, rest assured, Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee contributes his obligatory cameo.

Whereas the first Avengers gave each character something to do, this one struggles to that end. Characters appear to be grappling with the same issues as the earlier movie – or in their own movies. Tony Stark still wrestles with his conscience, Bruce Banner wrestles with his temper, Thor wrestles with his hammer (and, occasionally, his longer-than-ever blonde locks), and so on.

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t boring, and the special effects are expectedly solid (given the film’s reported $250 million budget, they’d better be!), yet the film lacks the all-important element of surprise. The Avengers are up to their old tricks … the same old tricks as before. !

5 to 7 doesn’t add up

From the outset, screenwriter Victor Levin’s directorial debut 5 to 7 is entrenched in Woody Allen territory. Brian (Anton Yelchin), the protagonist and narrator, lives in New York City. He’s a struggling writer, he’s neurotic, he’s Jewish. (Passover and matzoh are topics of conversation).

He meets Arielle (Berenice Marlohe), an alluring Frenchwoman and fellow cigarette smoker, and a relationship soon blossoms, this despite she’s nearly a decade older and – here’s the kicker – married with two children. But her diplomat husband (Lambert Wilson) has a mistress of his own (Olivia Thirlby), and readily acquiesces to the adulterous liaisons – even going too far to invite Brian over for a celebrity dinner at his and Arielle’s elegant home.

The only rule is that Brian and Arielle must meet between the hours of 5 p.m. and 7 p.m. It’s all very civilized, despite understandable trepidation from Brian’s parents (Glenn Close and Frank Langella).

When Brian’s literary career begins to ascend, however, he demands a more serious commitment from Arielle, which dooms their relationship and, indeed, dooms the film as a whole. What might have been a passable romantic-comedy trifle veers quickly from bittersweet to maudlin, rendering the film forgettable and even pretentious.

The cast, which includes Eric Stoltz in a one-scene cameo, is personable enough, with Langella the standout, seasoning his imperious demeanor with droll humor and a genuine concern for his son’s romantic welfare. !

White God: Every dog’s day

Allegory is paramount in Kornel Mundruczo’s awardwinning White God (Feher Isten), a parable about dehumanization and rebellion.

Talented newcomer Zsofia Psotta plays Lili, a lonely teenager sent to live with her father (Sandor Zsoter), who remains acutely bitter over the divorce. He refuses to pay the tax fee to keep her dog Hagen, opting instead to leave the animal on the side of the road – much to his daughter’s anger and frustration.

Hagen’s journey, which takes the beast through some very dark territory – animal lovers are hereby forewarned – clearly mirrors the plight of the displaced, the forgotten, the unwanted. The dog becomes stronger but also more savage. When the world bites, Hagen now bites back.

Lili, surrounded by uncaring, tyrannical adults who demand obedience and conformity, likewise undergoes a coming of age (of sorts), gleaning a much more cynical view of the world around her – one that seems to have forgotten love and loyalty. White God may not be subtle, but it’s nevertheless quite effective in conveying its point.

The camerawork and editing, particularly in those sequences involving the dogs, are remarkable. Even when the narrative grows a little heavy, particularly in the latter stages, one cannot help but be impressed by the sheer scope and drive that Mundruczo sustains. (In Hungarian with English subtitles) !

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