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High on action, effects and excitement, "The Avengers" sequel delivers for movie lovers everywhere

Is it worth $10? Yes

How do you improve on the third highest-grossing movie of all time? Writer/director Joss Whedon made it perfectly clear: “Avengers: Age of Ultron” had to take the best moments of “The Avengers” (2012), which grossed $1.5 billion worldwide, and do something else with them. It’s as simple as that.

Yeah, real simple.

With an estimated $250 million budget, “Ultron” has more than 3,000 visual effects shots (the most ever for a Marvel Studios film, trumping the 2,750 of “Guardians of the Galaxy”), a layered story geared toward comic book geeks, and some splendid interplay between the characters. It is a worthy addition to the Marvel Cinematic Universe, which will not end until at least May 2019 when the Avengers reunite in “Avengers: Infinity War – Part II” (part one of “Infinity War” is set for a May 2018 release).

But let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Whedon knows what we want – Hulk smash action excitement! – and doesn’t hesitate to give it to us. The opening sequence set in snowy mountains is a barrage of high impact kills and death-defying risk, all so Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) can retrieve Loki’s scepter, which was stolen by Baron Von Strucker (Thomas Kretschmann), Quicksilver (Aaron Taylor-Johnson) and Scarlet Witch (Elizabeth Olsen) at the end of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” (2014). The mission is a success, but Tony is tiring of peril. With the help of Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), he plans to use the Baron’s advanced robotics equipment to create an “Ultron” device that would effectively “put a suit of armor around the world.” 

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Life experiences have no educational value, apparently

It never ceases to amaze me how some people seem to know the cost of everything but the value of nothing (to paraphrase Oscar Wilde). 

Take Principal Rochelle S. Marbury of the Abington, Pennsylvania, School District. Principal Marbury objected to parent Mike Rossi pulling his kids out of school for three days to watch him run the Boston Marathon. Although Rossi advised the school in advance of this absence, Principal Marbury bitch-slapped (figuratively) Rossi by informing him that his kids’ absence would count as “unexcused” and could lead to a referral to a so-called attendance officer (whoever that is) and notice of violation of school attendance law.

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Here's a nice change: A good comedy for men that's about weddings!

Gentlemen, I know what you’re thinking: Wedding movies are for the ladies. It’s the bride’s special day, her parents are usually the ones paying for it, and all you have to do is show up, preferably sober. The fun and adventurous story to be told around a man’s wedding day begins and ends with the bachelor party. Am I right? Well, if that’s what you think, then “The Wedding Ringer” will change your mind.

This is a man’s wedding movie, about all of the hang ups, insecurities, and troubles that a man goes through in preparation for the big day. In “The Wedding Ringer,” that man is Doug Harris (Josh Gad). Doug is engaged to the lovely Gretchen (Kaley Cuoco-Sweeting). She plans on having a big wedding with seven bridesmaids. This of course means that Doug has to provide seven groomsmen. His problem? He has no friends.

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Not intended to be an all-inclusive list — just a look ahead to the ten movies I’m most looking forward to this summer, divided into originals and sequels. Release dates in parenthesis. Enjoy!

Originals:

Tomorrowland (May 22)
With “The Incredibles” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” director Brad Bird has earned our trust. At first glance the trailer looks like another glossy sci-fi futuristic action adventure, but in Bird’s capable hands and with George Clooney leading the way this could be something truly special. And who knows? Something (or someone) from the movie could end up inside the Tomorrowland at Disney!

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The trailer has promise, but with M. Night Shyamalan we know better than to get excited

M.Night Shymalan has burned us so many times with twisted endings that we've become the sucker for continuing to have faith in him. After "The Sixth Sense" the gimmick has done nothing but wear thin, and by "The Village" you knew out of the gate what was going to happen. At first glance, "The Visit" looks creepy and has exciting mystery thriller written all over it. Also, I can't get that damn Buddy Holly song out of my head now (Thanks a lot, M.). I can't help but wonder, though, what will be the twist this time? Possessed grandparents, alien kids, bizarre death cult that worships Barney the dinosaur? With M. Night all are possible. And why can't kids just listen to their elders? Stay in your room after 9:30 pm. So what if Grandma is howling like an animal, naked, and scratching on the walls? If your grandparents tell you to get your ass in the oven and clean it, you move your butt, right? I swear... kids these days.

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Juliette Binoche and Kristen Stewart are superb in this thoughtful meta-drama

Is it worth $10? Yes

Whether she was starring in terrible vampire movies, sleeping with her “Snow White” director, pouting on the red carpet or just generally looking uncomfortable, the media and public have never had trouble finding reasons to pick on Kristen Stewart. To be frank, it was hard to find a reason to like her.

But if you kept a close eye on her performances alone and blocked out all the nonsense, she was effectively proving herself as an actress. She perfectly embodied indecisive teen angst opposite Jesse Eisenberg in “Adventureland,” was solid as Joan Jett in “The Runaways,” and offered sturdy support to Julianne Moore in “Still Alice.” Most triumphantly, she recently became the first American actress to win a Cesar Award (the French Oscars), honored for her supporting work in “Clouds of Sils Maria.”

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Smart Sci-Fi drama engages the brain with its story and clever twists

Is it worth $10? Yes

Modern cinema associates science fiction with outer space adventure ("Interstellar"), alien invasion ("Edge of Tomorrow"), and bleak visions of the future ("Chappie"). And on a bad day, we’re reminded of Eddie Murphy’s career-killing “Adventures of Pluto Nash” (2002). Only rarely do we get cerebral sci-fi, which engages us intellectually as it ponders the future in ways we rarely consider. Importantly, it also does so without explosions or aliens popping out of someone's stomach.

In 2013, "Her" examined the possibility of falling in love with artificial intelligence, but that intelligence was relegated to Scarlett Johansson's sultry voice as an operating system. "Ex Machina," which is set in the near future, extends that premise by providing a voice, face, and partial body to the android, and the results are fascinating. Here is a quiet film with grand ideas, superbly acted and executed by a first-time director with clear aplomb and conviction. This is a movie for smart people to see together then discuss over dinner afterward.

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Recent Articles

Avengers: Age of Ultron ***
High on action, effects and excitement, "The ...
Blu-Ray Pick of the Week: The Wedding Ringer
Here's a nice change: A good comedy for men ...
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Not intended to be an all-inclusive list — just a look ...
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Summer Movie Preview!

Not intended to be an all-inclusive list — just a look ahead to the ten movies I’m most looking forward to this summer, divided into originals and sequels. Release dates in parenthesis. Enjoy!

Originals:

Tomorrowland (May 22)
With “The Incredibles” and “Mission: Impossible — Ghost Protocol,” director Brad Bird has earned our trust. At first glance the trailer looks like another glossy sci-fi futuristic action adventure, but in Bird’s capable hands and with George Clooney leading the way this could be something truly special. And who knows? Something (or someone) from the movie could end up inside the Tomorrowland at Disney!

Read more
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