FILM: A Generic Buddy Comedy, Covered With Familiar Green Slime in

FILM: A Generic Buddy Comedy, Covered With Familiar Green Slime in "The Watch"

FILM: A Generic Buddy Comedy, Covered With Familiar Green Slime in "The Watch"

Four goofy buddies get together to save the world from aliens, monsters, and ghosts — there may even be green or pink slime involved.

Sound familiar?

Newly released film “The Watch” directed by SNL and Lonely Island veteran Akiva Schaffer and written by “Superbad” duo Seth Rogen and Evan Goldberg takes more than a page from its predecessors, most notably “Ghostbusters.”

“The Watch” stars Ben Stiller, Vince Vaughn, Jonah Hill, and Richard Ayoade as citizen volunteers, who initially band together to solve a violent murder, and also get some quality ‘bro’ time away from their families.

It turns out that not all is well in their quiet suburban enclave, and they quickly discover the existence of aliens and their dastardly plot to destroy planet Earth.

Oh, and there’s some extraneous family/personal stuff, too (you know, the people the dudes are trying to get away from).

Evan (Ben Stiller), the ring leader/worrywart, is consumed by his wife’s desire to get pregnant and his own infertility. Bob (Vince Vaughn) battles a 16-year old daughter and primary parenting responsibilities. Franklin (Jonah Hill) grapples with social-anxiety disorder and extreme violent tendencies. And finally, Jamarcus (Richard Ayoade), a foreign loner with a pension for lonely housewives and random fellatio rounds out the squad.

The movie is ably acted by talented comedic performers. Vaughn is his usual bumbling, over-the-top self. His spiel has a certain kind of charm, but one wonders how much longer he can continue to play the same frat-boy-foaming-at-the-mouth bit.  Interestingly enough, it was a nice twist to have him play this character as the protective parent of a teenage girl.

Ultimately, a handful of laugh out loud moments and a fun, recognizable cast were not enough to take over a weak story line, tired alien-gags, and the undeniable “Ghostbusters”—but worse—comparison.

There are a couple of really interesting aspects of current events that play a role in how one perceives this movie.

First, this film was initially called “The Neighborhood Watch” and focused more on the group’s efforts to play the part of vigilante cops. When Trayvon Martin was shot in Florida by a man claiming to be doing his part as an unofficial neighborhood guard—the film’s producers and studio had to make substantial changes to the film. It was renamed “The Watch,” and re-edited to focus more on the “aliens destroying the world” plot, and less on the antics of the group doling out their own justice.

The second related event is the recent mass shooting in Aurora, CO. Jonah Hill is a hilarious performer—but his character of Franklin is exactly the type of firearm-hoarding, police-reject, borderline-madman that routinely commit unimaginable atrocities.

Normally, “it’s funny, ‘cause its true,” but in this case, it was a little more upsetting, than funny.

Overall Grade: B-

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“The Watch” is now playing in theaters everywhere. Click here for theaters and showtimes.


Ruby Sparks

The Charming and Sometimes Entertaining “Ruby Sparks” Never Completely Ignites

Ruby Sparks

In “Ruby Sparks,” Calvin Weir-Fields (Paul Dano) had the misfortune of being a child prodigy. At a tender young age, he published a towering work of fiction akin to “Catcher in the Rye,” and ever since then, he has had to grapple with crippling writer’s block, social anxiety and girls who only want to sleep with him because they read his book in high school (poor Calvin!).

His therapist (Elliot Gould) ostensibly commands a handsome fee for telling him what every writer already knows about writer’s block — just start writing!

And so he does. He conjures up Ruby Sparks (Zoe Kazan) an apparition of a girl he saw in his dream. She’s manic, she’s pixie, she’s a painter who loves to cook and ride her bike. She’s everything an intellectual hipster could want, and more. Calvin continues punching out his story, until one day Ruby appears in the flesh and bangs.

Ruby SparksCalvin shares his incredible discovery -- and newfound power -- with his brother (and only friend).

His brother (Chris Messina) has some of the funniest lines in the movie discussing the differences between men and women.  He forces Calvin to join him at the gym, informing him, “this is how we’re going to get you to look like a man.” Another highlight includes this bit about his wife in which his brother explains, “Women are fucked up, man. Like Susie, sometimes she’s mean, like really mean. For no reason.”

As Calvin’s brother continues to hilariously and haphazardly explain the mysteries of women, Calvin discovers he has the ability to control Ruby with the stroke of a key.

Instead of being a good guy, or a good boyfriend, his instincts as a good writer take over and he begins to edit. He makes her speak French, become clingy, and then less so…. And you might have guessed that each change brings with it unintended and disastrous consequences.

Ultimately, he reveals his terrible writer’s secret and sets Ruby free. The last 30 minutes of the film are excruciating ones. The ending is simply terrible.

What was once subtle, light, rom-com fare suddenly switches to a melodramatic, over-the-top, hysterical tone. The abrupt shift is perhaps best represented by the fact that earlier in the film, when he forces Ruby to speak French as an experiment, she merrily continues cooking muttering “n'est–ce pas” and “oiu”. But in the conclusion, when he commands her to fluency, all of the sudden she is suddenly conscience of the weird thing she’s doing and freaks out. Why not before?

Until the ending, which unfortunately closed out the movie in a negative and ineffective way, I kind of enjoyed the film.

Paul Dano finally looks like an adult (mazel tov, Paul!). Zoe Kazan was pleasant as Ruby, and is also responsible for executive producing and writing the script.

Jonathan Dayton and Valerie Faris, formally of “Little Miss Sunshine” fame, directed the film. Lastly, the supporting cast is excellent with Annette Benning and Antonio Banderas as lovable hippie parents.

The aforementioned Chris Messina was hilarious—and Steve Coogan as Calvin’s lecherous big-time writer mentor was pitch perfect (just looking at Coogan’s face is enough to make me laugh).

“Ruby Sparks” joins films like “Stranger than Fiction” and “Safety Not Guaranteed” in the sci-fi rom-com realm.

Apart from the ending, another huge problem I had with the movie was the fact that Ruby’s existence is never explained—not even hinted at. It feels like a gaping hole—and just made me want to watch both of the films mentioned above that accomplish Ruby Spark’s goal way more effectively.

Overall Grade: C

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“Ruby Sparks” opens today in select theaters. Click here for theaters and showtimes.


Film: To Woody Allen, With Disappointment

To Rome With Love” is Woody Allen's latest love letter to the great cities of Europe. Unfortunately, his previous efforts in “Vicky Cristina Barcelona” and “Midnight In Paris” were much more successful than his Italian attempt.

“To Rome With Love” is a film that encompasses four distinct, unrelated and unfinished stories. This first storyline is about a young newlywed Italian couple, who come to the big city for their honeymoon. Through mishap and misunderstanding, they are separated, and their newly forged bonds of marriage are tested by a “prostituto" in a hot red dress (Penelope Cruz).

Roberto Begnini is cast in the second story as the unsuspecting everyday guy, whose life is turned upside down by hilariously undeserved fame.

This story—at times amusing, mostly because of Begnini’s physical comedic skills—felt mostly like overkill of Allen’s random thoughts on fame.

Then there’s the blond American tourist (Allison Pill), wearing her 21st century Annie Hall slouchy suspenders look, meets a beautiful, but Communist!, Italian union organizer. They become engaged, and her parents (played by Allen himself and Judy Davis) fly over to meet the in-laws. A bizarre plot line ensues having to do with singing opera music in the shower. I found this story to be the least amusing.

Lastly, there’s the story of the aging architect (Alec Baldwin) who has gone back to visit his old student haunts. As he wanders down the cobble stone streets, he meets a young architect student (Jesse Eisenberg). Here Allen brings in a swirl of fantasy and surrealism as it becomes clear that the student is meant to represent Baldwin’s character as a young man. The elder coaches the younger through the tempestuous waters of cheating on his stalwart, espresso-making girlfriend (Greta Gerwig) with her dramatic and bi-curious best friend (Ellen Page).

The movie had its moments, and from a less accomplished writer and director I might have thought more of the film. But from Woody Allen, who brilliantly crafts movies that read like love stories to some of the greatest cities in the world, this was clearly a sub-standard addition to his catalogue.

On the other hand, from someone who produces as many films as he does—it makes sense they’re all not created equal.

Arividerchi, Roma. I’m hoping Allen picks a new city and a better script for his next venture.

Overall Grade: C

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To Rome, With Love opens today in theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.


FILM: "How To Survive a Plague" at SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival

Act Up, Fight Back, Fight AIDS! – and though the fight isn’t over, gay and social justice activists have succeeded in turning AIDS from a sure death sentence to a manageable condition. Their story is one of unimaginable odds, frightening mortality, innovation and sheer will power.

Director/Producer David France's film, “How To Survive A Plague,” tells the story of two coalitions: ACT UP & TAG (Treatment Action Group).  AIDS patients, family members and friends—despite having no scientific training, infiltrated the pharmaceutical industry and helped identify promising new drugs, moving them from experimental trials to patients in record time. They realized early on that they would have to save themselves and that no one else would do it for them. This daunting and hurtful realization, as a result of virulent homophobia, ended up galvanizing the community and bringing power to the people.

The story is told through tons of archival footage of meetings, hearings, protests and parties. Spliced with modern day interviews of movement leaders and survivors, there’s a nice contrast between the desperate intensity of 1987-1996 compared to the relaxed contentment of having a long life in the 21st century.

The drugs they pushed into existence, now known as “combination therapy,” are so overwhelmingly successful that the effects of treatment are now known as the “Lazarus Effect.”  They’ve saved people on the brink of death in just a matter of days, and have saved over 6 million lives worldwide.

Although their courage is inspirational, the long, borderline boring, uninterrupted stretches of archival footage without narration went on much too long.

Grade: B


FILM: “PLIMPTON! Starring George Plimpton As Himself”at SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival

What if you could play in a pro NFL game one day, and photograph exotic animals on Safari the next? How about performing in a flying trapeze act, and the next day yachting with the Kennedys? And so goes the charmed life of writer/editor, man about town, bon vivant, and (according to his Wikipedia page) “gamesman” – George Plimpton.

Directed by Tom Bean, “PLIMPTON!” is a documentary celebrating the life and times of George Plimpton. Born into privileged 1930s Manhattan society, he did the standard stints at Exeter, Harvard, and Cambridge. From there, he founded and then edited the groundbreaking literary journal, The Paris Review.

Handsome, dashing, smart and smarmy—Plimpton was the proto-typical “all the guys want to be, all the girls want to be with” guy. Hugh Hefner and George Clooney don’t have anything on Plimpton.

Plimpton continued his literary celebrity by advancing the genre of “New Journalism.” Joining writers like Hunter S. Thompson and Gay Talese, Plimpton wrote about his first hand experiences with adventures of all sorts. He played football for the Detroit Lions, percussion for the New York Philharmonic, and pitched in major league baseball games.

Although he was this larger than life celebrity figure, who basically had the coolest job on the planet, much of the film is spent with friends and family lamenting the fact that he wasn’t taken more seriously as a writer. This notion was very annoying — as was much of the narration, which was done in Plimpton's recorded voice.

For an American who grew up in New York, he had that kind of affected aristocratic lilt that calls to mind Madonna's faux British accent.

Ultimately, his smug self-deprecation about how pro-football players are (shocker!) better at football than him eventually became irritating and off-putting.

Grade: C-


FILM: “Under African Skies” at SILVERDOCS Documentary Film Festival

These are the days of miracle and wonder, indeed. “Under African Skies” is a joyful and exuberant documentary which celebrates the 25th anniversary of Paul Simon’s universally acclaimed album, "Graceland."

Graceland, an instant international cultural milestone, was remarkable for its masterful fusion of American and African pop music. Not only is there the excellent (nay, amazing!) music to celebrate, but also the personal and political triumphs of the black majority in South Africa.

25 years ago, amidst full-scale Apartheid and international calls for boycott, Simon went to the country to expose their beautiful rhythms and harmonies to the world.

The film follows Simon back to South Africa where he reunites with the original band to celebrate their anniversary.  As they prepare for a reunion concert, band members Simon and a host of today’s living music geniuses (Paul McCartney, David Byrne and Quincy Jones among them) look back on the turbulent times in which the album was conceived.

The insidiousness and the scope of the nauseating racism of the Apartheid regime is perhaps best captured when one band member relates that before Simon hugged him on stage in 1987, he had never touched a white man before.

Good tunes is good tunes—and the power of music to bring people together has been proven over and over again. “Under African Skies” is a nice reminder.


FILM: “Rock of Ages” Proves To Be a Campy 80s Journey That Goes On and On and On…

Rock of Ages” is the new musical comedy extravaganza from “Hairspray” director and “Chicago” choreographer Adam Shankman. Though the trailer definitely looked suspect, I’m a fan of both of his previous films, and so I held out hope that “Rock of Ages” would be worth the time. It wasn’t.

The film features an all-star cast that includes Tom Cruise, Alec Baldwin, Catherine Zeta-Jones, MaryJ. Blige and Russell Brand, all of whom—throughout the movie—shake their big hair and writhe snakeskin covered hips to the classic rock hits.

Sometimes the hits are arranged as a mashup (like Jukebox Love/I Love Rock & Roll), or sometimes star Julianne Hough or newcomer Diego Boneta simply belt out the time-worn ballads. It’s apparent that serious efforts were taken to update and enliven hair rock of the late 80’s. Unfortunately it was not successful.

Hough stars as fresh-faced, recent L.A. transplant Sherri hoping to make it big in the City of Angels.

She falls in line with the hard rocking crew at famed Sunset Strip bar, “The Bourbon” where Alec Baldwin and Russell Brand, who shoot off one-liners, guiding younger generations of rockers, and defending their hard partying, eardrum splitting ways, act as proprietors of the establishment.

Among the efforts to update the material and imbue a sense of self-awareness, Baldwin and Brand are eventually led to declare their love for one another.

I thought that twist was actually quite funny, and both actors deliver their lines well—however, I just couldn’t get over how upset “Jack Donaghy” would be at Baldwin’s ragged long locks.

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The star of The Bourbon is “rock god” Stacy Jaxx (Tom Cruise). I will admit that a personal distaste for Cruise (he’s just so creepy!) certainly colored my opinion of the film.

And I wasn’t wrong, Cruise is certainly in all his creepy glory in this film—half naked, sexed out, always drunk, and with a cracked-out kind of intensity that was very off-putting.

Catherine Zeta-Jones plays his one-time hook up and now current nemesis, as she attempts to shut down The Bourbon and everything it stands for. Though normally very good, she also hit a weird, over-the-top kind of intensity that just didn’t work.

Sherri has her ups and downs—falls in love, gets betrayed, has a weird sojourn at a strip club run by Mary J. Blige—and ultimately returns triumphantly to the Bourbon to live out her dreams on stage.

My advice is to avoid this studio-manufactured gimmick.

You’d probably have more fun going out to a bar and waiting till the inevitable moment at the end of the night when the DJ plays “Don’t Stop Believing” and everyone belts their hearts out.

Overall Grade: D+

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“Rock of Ages” opens today in movie theaters everywhere, click here for theaters and showtimes.


FILM: How “Lola Versus” Tackles the Crazy Adventure Called Life

Upon exiting the theater, I heard a lot of talk about clichés and conventions. Yes, there were elements of “Lola Versus” — the bold, new romantic comedy written and directed by filmmaking duo Daryl Wein and Zoe Lister-Jones — that were a little cliché.  Yet clichés exist for their kernels of truth, and at least from the worldview of this 25 year-old newly single author—there was a whole lot of truth there.

I have the sense that I am exactly the target audience studio executives envisioned when this film got the green light.  For example, the line “I’m slutty, but I’m still a good person!” is not only funny, but adequately expresses a sentiment common amongst young women. I happened to relate to material, but from the mixed reviews and mutterings from the critics at the screening, many were not as charmed as I. Consider your self duly warned.

As someone with an obsessive love of film, too much time on my hands, and an active Netflix account, I was already familiar with Wein and Lister-Jones’ previous work. To get a taste of their charming and nuanced explorations into modern relationships, I’d suggest checking out their previous film efforts, “Breaking Upwards” and “Arranged,” both are currently streaming on Netflix.

Lola (Greta Gerwig) begins her 29th year with a marriage proposal from Luke (Joel Kinnaman), a hot, straight painter who loves to cook (a.k.a. the Holy Grail).  On Cloud 9 and planning a Mexican destination wedding, her life is thrust into upheaval when he suddenly has second thoughts.

Add in a wisecracking best friend played by Lister-Jones, a “friend, but could he be more?” played by Hamish Linklater, and a ensemble cast rounded out with Lola’s delightfully kooky parents (Debra Winger and Bill Pullman), and you have the makings of your traditional rom-com.

The story may be conventional, but it’s the introspective and unique details that make the film worthwhile. Carefully crafted moments that felt like shining a light into the “secret lives of girls” are what really make this film work:

- Eating straight-smoked salmon outside of the deli cause you’re craving salt. Check.

- Calling your platonic guy friend who you suspects likes you, cause you’re feeling lonely. Been there.

- Dreading every new sexual encounter because of the potential diseases and unwanted pregnancy scares it brings. Uh, duh.

“Lola Versus” is charming, funny, well-acted, and yes, relatable—but it’s not the best film I’ve ever seen, nor even the best romantic comedy, but you could do worse than to spend your time with Lister-Jones’ witty lines and Gerwig’s poignant performance.

Plus, there’s a sex scene that will never make you think of Ani DiFranco in the same way again.

Overall Grade: B

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"Lola Versus” is now playing in select theaters, click here for theaters and showtimes.


FILM: The Transformative Power of Friendship and Humor in “The Intouchables”

The Intouchables” is something of a phenomenon in its native country. Smashing box office records in France and across Europe, this truly touching film made me laugh, cry, think about the meaning of life, and develop a pretty huge crush on French film star, Omar Sy.

But, with sudden popularity comes the army of detractors proclaiming that it surely can’t be as good as the misguided French think it is. And so recently, accusations of racism and conventionality have been bandied about the American press — and they completely and utterly miss the point!

Yes, “The Intouchables” is about a white man and a black man. Yes, the black man is employed by the white man as a health care aide. But this is not a film about exploitation, or any other racist literary tropes. This film, first and foremost, is about the transformative nature of friendship — and perhaps even more so — the healing power of laughter.

I’d like to give credit to one of the best opening credit sequences I’ve seen in a while: We’re put right into the action, with Driss (Omar Sy) driving Philippe (Francois Cluzet) through the streets of Paris. Amid confrontations with the police, and an excellent Earth, Wind, & Fire sing-a-long, we see the joy both men experience in each other’s company.

Plus, as far as I’m concerned, any movie that begins with “September” by Earth Wind & Fire automatically gets bonus points.

So how did a wealthy, paraplegic member of the French elite come to be friends with a Senegalese immigrant (and, at times, petty thief)?

While Philippe is conducting interviews for his new live-in caretaker, Driss shows up to get his form signed so that he is eligible for government benefits. After all, the other candidates turn out to be total dweebs (as well as some shameless flirting with Philippe’s assistant), Driss is offered the position.

When Philippe’s family and friends protest his hiring choice and deride Driss as “a street-thug with no pity,” Philippe insists that it’s the exact thing he wants: No pity.

The ensuing clash of cultures, hilarious misunderstandings and the broadening worldviews of both Philippe and Driss make the film not only touching, but extremely fun to watch.

They share passions (Driss loves 70s funk and disco music), hopes and dreams — and both are ultimately made better men for their association.

“The Intouchables” is mostly based on a true story, with the exception that the caretaker was an Algerian-Muslim man.

The choice to alter his heritage in the film by directors, Olivier Nakache and Eric Toledano, was done solely out of the belief that French film star Omar Sy was destined for this part.

Nakache and Toledano not only made a beautiful film, but the right casting decision.

Sy is fantastic: Funny, breezy, charming, emotive and, did I mention handsome? He’s even gone on to win a Cesar (French version of the Oscars) for the role.

Despite some backlash about the racial and socio-economic differences between the two men—this is not a story in the vein of such caricaturized racial tellings like “The Help” or “Uncle Tom’s Cabin.”

This is a story about the stuff that makes life worth living – fancy bathtubs, funny jokes, shameless flirting, good tunes and good friends.

Overall Grade: A
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“The Intouchables” is now playing in select theaters, click here for theaters and showtimes.


Hysteria

FILM: Comedy Meets Sex-Ed In Tanya Wexler’s Amusing “Hysteria”

Hysteria

The mostly true story of the invention of the vibrator, starring Maggie Gyllenhaal and Hugh Dancy, is a pleasant romp through Victorian gynecology and sexual mores.

It has a few laughs, many cringes, and generally affirms the notion that no matter how bad things are today, they are most certainly better than in the late 1800s. Or are they?

In different times, different words with different meanings have been used to describe the word hysteria: “uppity," or "too opinionated" and “harsh,” as my step-grandfather admonished me with 10 years ago.

In the case of Director Tanya Wexler's  latest film, hysteria is the general hopes, dreams, and desires of women outside of darning socks, bearing children, and pretending to be sexually satisfied by their marriage.

The cure for hysteria? Why a hysterical paroxysm of course; otherwise known as a good old-fashioned orgasm.

The medical profession in England is on the brink of modernity when we meet Dr. Mortimer Granville (Hugh Dancy) preaching hand-washing, clean bandages, and germ "theory."

After being rejected by the medical establishment, he finds employment in the posh offices of Dr. Dalrymple (Jonathan Pryce), London’s premiere women’s physician.

HysteriaDr. Dalrymple patiently listens to the troubles of the upper-crust ladies, and then applies his patent treatment: vaginal massage to the point of orgasm. Afterwards, the ladies feel better. Imagine that?!

He shows Mortimer the ropes and the methods of his practice, and makes an introduction to his two daughters.

The eldest is Charlotte, played wonderfully by Maggie Gyllenhaal in a role that seems tailor-made for her. Charlotte is a feminist, suffragette, burgeoning social worker, and all-around rabble-rouser, who clashes with her father and Mortimer on the ridiculousness of the “hysteria” diagnosis.

One of the most interesting aspects of "Hysteria" is how female sexuality was regarded at a time when medicine and science were rapidly modernizing. At one point, Dr. Dalrymple explains that everyone knows women can’t experience sexual pleasure without penetration, so they didn’t regard the “treatment” as having anything to do with sex.

And after months of painful hand cramps, Mortimer, with help from childhood friend, the eccentric playboy and electricity aficionado Edmund (Rupert Everett), develops the world’s first motorized vibrator.

For all the fascinating subject matter, the plot was a little thin and conventional at times. This is a movie more about the topic, than about story or character development.

Maggie Gyllenhaal's “radical” character becomes a focal point for the debate on whether “hysteria” is a clinical condition, or just the normal state of woman-hood.

And predictably,  she and Mortimer’s fiery exchanges eventually turn into fiery passion (i.e. chaste Victorian smooching).

I had the opportunity to interview director Tanya Wexler on the phone after I attended a screening. What struck me the most about our conversation was that the film was originally intended to simply be a straight-up comedy about the invention of the vibrator.Hysteria

Today’s current political and social landscape certainly gives the movie a more serious edge, and begs questions about how much progress we’ve made, and is it enough?

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Hysteria opens today in  select theaters everywhere, click here  for theaters and showtimes.


FILM: Joss Whedon’s Sharp Dialogue and Solid Performances Save the Day in Marvel’s 'The Avengers'

Marvel’s "The Avengers," written and directed by Joss Whedon, is kind of begrudgingly good. Not good in the sense of having a clear and defined antagonist or rational plot points—but made almost enjoyable by the committed performances of some of our favorite actors (Mark Ruffalo fans stand up!) as well as smart, snappy dialogue courtesy of the “Buffy” and “Firefly” creator himself.

I was apprehensive about reviewing this movie, since my last experience with cinematic comic-book cardboard candy (“Captain America: The First Avenger”) was so awful.

However, Whedon may prove to be the greatest hero of them all for breathing life into this somewhat stale genre.

Characters from across the Marvel universe come together to save the world from an unlikely combo of aliens and Norse demi-god, Loki (Tom Hiddleston).

Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) marshals all of our favorites for the defense: Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Bruce Banner/The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), and Captain American himself, Steve Rodgers (Chris Evans). The group is rounded out by Scarlett Johansson’s martial arts mercenary Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow, Jeremy Renner’s bow-and-arrow expert Clint Barton/Hawkeye, and Colbie Smulders (Robin, of “How I Met Your Mother” fame) as S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill.

The performances are compelling, and the group dynamic is infectious. The characters we’re so familiar with really come to life with Whedon’s script. Even Captain America, who I thought couldn’t be any duller, was fun to watch.

Lost in a cloud of twee pop culture references that obviously fly over his head, Whedon cleverly ends the running gag with a character mentioning “Wizard of Oz’s” “flying monkeys.” Finally, something he gets!

Though pleasantly surprised, there were still some elements of the film that just didn’t work. Our heroes spend an awful lot of time fighting with each other, though it’s clear they all have the same goals and common enemies.  These fight scenes—especially an extended scene where Thor, Iron Man, & Captain America fight each other, while Loki watches—felt like a waste to me.

Additionally, much of the movie is spent with the characters fretting over Bruce Banner’s destructive alter ego (he’s gone over a year without an “incident” in this film). Is he going to lose his temper? Does he put them all at risk? It’s explicitly explained multiple times that he cannot control what he does when he’s The Hulk.

Scarlett Johansson’s even gets quite the workout defending herself from his smashing fists. Yet in the final battle sequence, Banner curiously displays control over his reckless alter ego as he fights alongside the team at will.

The Avengers Film GradeDespite a handful of critiques, this was the most fun I’ve had watching a comic book adaptation in quite some time.

With some of today’s best actors embodying the most iconic characters of the 20th century, all while delivering perfectly-timed comedic zingers, “Marvel’s The Avengers” has made me reconsider what I thought was once a lost-cause genre.

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The Avengers opens today in theaters everywhere, click here  for theaters and showtimes.