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Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) — All The Eye-Popping Spectacle You Want, No Strings Attached

But of course this is a Marvel Studios film, and ALL strings are attached, but does Avengers: Age of Ultron surpass the original? Luke Miksa reviews:

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Avengers: Age of Ultron is a movie that genuinely needs no introduction. If you are not familiar with billionaire philanthropist Tony Stark (aka Iron Man, Robert Downey Jr.), Asgardian prince Thor (Chris Hemsworth), or time-displaced World War II super-soldier Steve Rogers (aka Captain America, Chris Evans), then perhaps you have been in suspended animation the last eight years. Avengers: Age of Ultron is the sequel to the 2012 superhero team-up film The Avengers and the 11th film in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe. This time, the Avengers must again team up to fight a power of their own creation, the sentient artificial intelligence known as Ultron (James Spader), a being with the intent of cleansing the world of humanity.

The boys are back (plus a girl or two, I guess).

The boys are back (plus a girl or two, I guess).

The movie opens right in the thick of The Avengers raiding the Hydra base of Baron von Strucker to regain the sceptre seen in previous films. Director/screenwriter Joss Whedon doesn’t bother with building up the opening — we have seen this before — so jumping straight into the action from the get-go is the perfect way to establish what this movie is all about: all action, all the time. This opening scene in particular features a wonderful long tracking shot following all the characters battling the Hydra army, with many insta-iconic imagery coming from just this single scene; welcome back, everyone!

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The Best Films of 2014

Luke Miksa's: The Negative Space Bar

It’s time to list my favourite films from 2014, a year that was… actually not quite as disappointing as previous years. 2014 was a year where a larger than usual percentage of blockbusters were above average, and some were even great! Of course, it wasn’t all terrific, but I definitely enjoyed more movies than I hated this year, and that makes me one happy film-going guy!

Obvious caveat: I’m a human, and being a human means that I can’t see every movie, so this list features only movies I saw last year. If I saw Whiplash, maybe Whiplash would be on this list. Same goes for Boyhood and Under the Skin. I did see Birdman (it was great), but Birdman didn’t come out in Australia until 2015, so it saw the bin on a technicality.

You got really close: Captain America: The Winter Soldier, The LEGO Movie, Jodorowsky’s Dune, The Skeleton Twins, 22 Jump Street, The Grand Budapest Hotel, Blue Ruin.

Let’s start at 10 with a controversial choice:

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10. They Came Together

The funniest comedy of the year. Director David Wain‘s style is not for everybody, but this was undoubtedly the one movie that made me laugh more than any other. The joke-per-minute ratio is outstanding, but They Came Together makes the cut for being a hilariously clever spoof of the romantic comedy genre. While I was certainly a fan of how much fun 22 Jump Street had with subverting cinematic tropes (Plainview Red Herrings is my favourite gag of the year), and 22 Jump Street was close to taking this spot, but I give the nod to They Came Together simply for the audacity to be as silly as it is.

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9. John Wick

May I follow up a controversial choice with another? On paper, John Wick does not deserve to be on any ‘Best Of’ lists. The logline basically reads, ‘Top hitman Keanu Reeves comes out of retirement to avenge the death of his beloved dog.’ That is a silly premise, but the film is so visually kinetic and self-aware that it was a pure, genuine joy to watch. Against the grain of similar films of previous years, the action is grounded in reality, featuring a lot of close-quarters combat (so many head-shots!), mixed martial arts, and inventive gunplay. First time director Chad Stahelski — a former stunt-man by trade — successfully transforms Keanu Reeves a legitimate badass for the first time in his career, and man, it’s a thing of beauty.

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MIFF 2014 Review: Oculus (2014) — The Evil Antique That Doesn’t Deliver in Horror Fizzer

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The psychological horror film Oculus tells two parallel stories: The first is set in 2002, where a family move into a new house with new furnishings; including an ornate, antique mirror. Slowly the demonic mirror starts to take a mental toll on the parents (Rory Cochrane and Katee Sackhoff), leading to the deaths of both, with the 10-year old Tim accused of the heinous murders. 11 years later, Tim (Brenton Thwaites) is released from psychiatric care, convinced that the mirror played no part in what happened to his parents. Little does he know that his older sister Kaylie (Karen Gillan) has spent the past decade researching the mirror, waiting for her brother’s return so that she can finally destroy it and redeem her family’s legacy.

"I need the optometrist, first thing in the morning."

“I need the optometrist, first thing in the morning.”

Oculus is based on the 2006 short film Oculus: Chapter 3 – The Man With the Plan, which is also the brainchild of writer/director Mike Flanagan. I haven’t seen the short, but I can only imagine that the premise of Oculus works so much better as a short than a feature. The movie isn’t bad, it just doesn’t have enough substance, scares, or relatable characters. I found all the 2002 scenes to be better than the 2013 ones; the 2002 storyline has a solid structure and some genuinely gruesome moments, but when the plot switches to 2013, I feel that the tone becomes almost farcical. Because the two stories are being told simultaneously, whenever I start to feel an attachment to the 2002 plot, we cut back to 2013, which drops whatever tension was developed the prior tale.

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MIFF 2014 Review: Life After Beth (2014) — Disappointing Zom-Com That Lacks Bite

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Life After Beth opens with Zach (Dane DeHaan) mourning the recent death of his girlfriend Beth (Aubrey Plaza). He takes solace in the companionship of Beth’s parents (John C. Reilly and Molly Shannon), until they suddenly break contact with the confused Zach. While desperately attempting to re-ignite contact, he realises that Beth has mysteriously reappeared and her parents have been hiding her. Zach takes this opportunity to re-establish their romantic relationship, but over time the resurrected Beth begins to grow increasingly aggressive and unpredictable, and a level of physical decomposition begins to set in. But Zach soon realises that his zombie girlfriend is not alone as more and more of the undead begin to appear in town.

Somebody's cranky...

Somebody’s cranky…

From first-time writer/director Jeff Baena, Life After Beth suffers from a lack of inspiration. It fails as a zombie film, it fails as a comedy, and it fails as a relationship film; but it’s not terrible — it’s just unbelievably mediocre. After the gimmick of ‘zombie girlfriend’ is played out after the first 30 minutes, the movie plods along without any major developments until it ultimately fizzles out at the climax. It’s an idea that would have worked in a smaller time-frame, but the feature-length hurts it.

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MIFF 2014 Review: The One I Love (2014) — The High-Concept Brain Pretzel That is Best Left to Discover

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The One I Love is the directorial debut of Charlie McDowell, from a script by Justin Lader. Mark Duplass and Elisabeth Moss star as a couple in a relationship crisis. They begin the film with marriage counsellor Ted Danson, who suggests a weekend at a secluded resort to try to mend their broken connection. Once at the resort, they encounter a strange occurrence that shakes their marriage to the core, but is there more than meets the eye?

This will be hard to discuss, because if I were to describe the film in any detail it will be a major spoiler for what can be considered the film’s twist. I strongly feel that going into this film with a blank canvas and no prior knowledge will enhance the experience considerably. Prepare to read one of my shortest, vaguest reviews ever!

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MIFF 2014 Review: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon (2013) — Mike Myers Presents Talent Agent, Womaniser, Buddhist.

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Shep Gordon is a Hollywood icon, he’s just one you’ve never heard of. The manager of an eclectic range of musicians and actors such as Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, and Groucho Marx, Gordon is the focus of Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the directorial debut of Mike Myers (Austin Powers, Shrek).

The cute couple.

The cute couple.

Gordon has lived a crazy, whirlwind life: a young man who happened to break into the music industry by a happenstance encounter with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. This encounter led to a meeting with the band Alice Cooper, with the struggling musicians instantly taking him on as their manager. Through savvy business sense and networking, Gordon took Alice Cooper from obscurity to the shock-rockers that the music world was craving. His success with Cooper led to successful partnerships with a wide range of acts such as Luther Vandross, Blondie, and Teddy Pendergrass. Gordon will also go on to create one of the first independent film studios, and is also credited with creating the ‘celebrity chef’ concept, which is now a billion dollar industry.
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