Avengers: Age of Ultron- The Review 

Daddy, I’m bored“, moans a little voice a few seats away from me.
Clearly the noisy ankle-biter who’s assembled for this Sunday morning IMAX 3D screening of Avengers: Age of Ultron is not feeling the love for Joss Whedon’s sequel to his 2012 blockbuster Avengers Assemble.

Given the moments of exposition and downtime between literally blockbusting scenes, I can understand why a little fatigue has set in.
This might be a film for little kids but it’s also a movie for serious comic book fans who like substance and story with their explosions, something of a rarity in the age of Transformers.
Whedon is no stranger to keeping plenty of plates spinning, as he proved with Buffy all those years ago.

If Avengers Assemble involved his kitchen full of revolving crockery, then Age of Ultron is Whedon’s warehouse full of rotating dishes.

So, on top of Iron Man, Hulk, Thor, Captain America, Black Widow, Nick Fury, Maria Hill and Hawkeye, added to the mix are Scarlet Witch and her twin brother Quicksilver, as seen in Guardians of the Galaxy‘s closing credit cookie.

As a fan of The Avengers comics in the 1980s, I dreamed that one day we’d see Scarlet Witch and red faced android The Vision on the big screen.

Of course there’s a gulf between comics and movies, and seeing how well cast and crew bridged the gap was engaging to my 46 year old self and the 11 year old within.

By the end of the first act, Tony Stark’s Hulkbuster versus the green muscle mountain was enough of a finale for any movie.

The second act was a welcome spot of downtime as our heroes had a rest at a key character’s safe house.
Smartly giving franchise-carrying protagonists more of a backseat in favour of beloved secondary Avengers, writer/director Whedon helps flesh out his ensemble.
When the inevitable full-on, explosive finale occurs, there’s a sense of peril for those characters we previously knew little about.

Does it work?
Well, some of the effects are a little weak, and Ultron looks like a snarky Terminator on steroids – not sure about his metal lips – but it scarcely matters.

There’s so much to gawp at throughout, with moments to reflect on how daft the whole thing is if you think about it for a few seconds, some may leave the cinema elated and exhausted.

Performances are all great – Robert Downey Jnr, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Chris Hemsworth and Scarlett Johansson gel beautifully.

Series newcomers Elizabeth Olsen (Scarlet Witch) and Paul Bettany (now in Vision as well as sound having played Stark’s AI sidekick Jarvis since 2008) slot in perfectly, but Aaron Taylor Johnson’s Quicksilver was less engaging than the same character featured in X-Men: Days of Future Past.

However, the overlong running time could have been tightened up, without sacrificing any of the story or character development.

Given a shopping list of all the other Marvel Cinematic Universe franchises that needed setting up (Captain America: Civil War, Thor: Ragnarok and Avengers: Infinity War), Whedon does a fine job of ticking all the boxes, while keeping the viewer hooked.

Okay, it’s not a perfect film by any means, but while it lacks the freshness of movie one, and Tom Hiddleston’s superb villain Loki, there’s much to enjoy here.

It’s a good job there’s usually a three year gap between these huge Marvel epics, because it might take that long for my overloaded brain to recover.

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Dara O Briain: Crowd Tickler – The Gig Review 

Have you ever listened to a podcast at twice the speed? 
Fast, yet still intelligible, right?

Well that’s like watching a Dara O Briain gig, or at least one of his recent Crowd Tickler performances in Newcastle. 

When you travel 123 miles (one way) and book a hotel for a show, you want a performance to be good. Not that phoned-in nonsense i’ve seen from some comedians over the years. 

With 1,900 people in one venue, I imagine my wife and I weren’t the only ones who trekked to see the Mock the Week host in action. 

I’d interviewed Dara a couple of years ago about that maths strand he does on Dave; a highlight of my career. I’d also seen his stand-up show on TV and wondered whether he’d be as good in the flesh. 

Like a chunky Ferrari going flat out for the duration, he went from nought to hilarious in seconds. No support act. Just a lightning fast intro and the obligatory chat with the front row to get some comedy context for the rest of the gig. 

A bunch of robot technicians were like catnip to the Irish funnyman; his face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when Dara realised he had such rich material to work with. 

Powering through the first half, he fired off the essential observational gags that touch a chord with the masses (the sudden omnipresence of pulled pork in pubs and restaurants left me nodding), and by the interval I felt like I’d had my money’s worth. 

The second act was also side-splitting. A skit on pole dancers left me gasping for breath it was so well executed. 

Some say comedians are born not trained. Maybe so, but a smart brain, that comedic face and perfectly timed physical gags left me in no doubt that Dara is currently in the top five of UK stand ups. 

The man did not disappoint, working his derrière off throughout and yet remaining personable. Some comics drop F bombs like Tourettes-suffering bomber pilots with itchy trigger fingers. For me it compromises the integrity of a well written show, albeit with ad-libs. Dara kept it edgy but without sounding like a pre-bleeped pre-watershed show about Morse code. 

Seen after a bad week, O Briain did me a world of good. 

Would I see it again and travel 246 miles for the privilege? 

In a heartbeat. 
:: Dara O Briain: Crowd Tickler tour runs  until the end of May. 

Dara O Briain in Newcastle – The Review

Have you ever listened to a podcast at twice the speed? 

Fast, yet still intelligible, right?

Well that’s like watching a Dara O Briain gig, or at least his recent performance in Newcastle. 

When you travel 123 miles (one way) and book a hotel for a show, you want it to be good. Not that phoned-in nonsense we’ve seen from some comedians over the years. 

With 1,900 people in one venue, I imagine my wife and I weren’t the only ones who trekked to see the Mock the Week host in action. 

I’d interviewed him a couple of years ago about that maths show he does on Dave; it was one of the highlights of my journalistic career. I’d also seen his stand-up show on TV and wondered whether he’d be as good in the flesh. 

O Briain did not disappoint. Like a chunky Ferrari going flat out for the duration, he went from nought to hilarious in seconds. No support act. Just a lightning fast intro and the obligatory chat with the front row to get some comedy context. 

A bunch of robot technicians were like catnip to the Irish funnyman; his face lit up like a kid on Christmas morning when Dara realised he had such rich material to work with. 

Powering through the first half, he fired off the essential observational gags that touch a chord with the masses (the sudden omnipresence of pulled pork in pubs and restaurants left me nodding), and by the interval I felt like I’d had my money’s worth. 

The second act was also side-splitting. A skit on pole dancers left me gasping for breath it was so well executed. 

Some say comedians are born not trained. Maybe so, but a smart brain, that comedic face and some perfectly timed physical gags left me in no doubt that Dara is in the top five of stand ups at the moment. 

The man did not disappoint, working his derrière off throughout and yet remaining personable. Some comics drop F bombs like Tourettes-suffering bomber pilots with itchy trigger fingers. For me it compromises the integrity of a well written show, albeit with ad-libs. 

Dara O Briain kept it edgy but without sounding like a pre-bleeped pre-watershed show about Morse code. 

Seen after a dreadful week 

 , O Briain did me a world of good. 

Would I see it again and travel 246 miles for the privilege? 

In a heartbeat. 

John Wick – The Review

John Wick, the ‘new’ Keanu Reeves film, took ages to cross the Pond. After sitting through it, it’s a shame it bothered making the trip. 

Released in October 2014, UK cinemagoers finally get a chance to see what America raved about.

I was curious myself, especially as it was such a generic title for a revenge thriller.

Reeves plays the eponymous hero, a man in mourning following the death of his wife.

To his amazement, after she passes, a package arrives on Wick’s doorstep. It turns out to be the cutest puppy seen in an action film for many a moon.

However, when Wick incurs the wrath of Russian gangsters (including Game of Thrones’ Alfie Allen) at a gas station, he lives to pay the price when they break into his house, kill the dog and beat him up.

We soon discover Wick is a man with a special set of skills. Taking a sledgehammer to his concrete basement floor, he unearths a box full of guns and small arms.

The rest of the film seems like a relentless killing spree as Wick dispatches every bad guy that enters the frame.

The movie starts out to be a promising revenge thriller, and when that dog arrives it’s hard not to sympathise with our grieving hero.

Alas, as he sets out on a trail of revenge, credibility goes out of the window. Shooting people to a techno soundtrack might be your cup of tea, but for me it underlined how morally bankrupt this movie was.

Not even the ever-reliable Ian McShane could rescue it from a cesspit of despair. 

Yes, it might borrow heavily from eastern cinema classics such as City on Fire, but transplanted to the US, it just came across as crass and unoriginal.

It probably says a lot that the US Apple Store is screening it for 99 cents at the time of writing. If you happen to be in the States and rent it, you might feel short changed, even at that price.

Hipsters, Hip Hop and Hip Ops: While We’re Young-The Review

The first act of While We’re Young, the new movie from Noah Baumbach, rings so true, it was like having my head stuck in a bell tower with a group of over enthusiastic campanologists. 

In a week dominated by Cinderella, Fast and Furious 7 and a wealth of kids movies, it was a relief to find a low budget, New York-centric comedy drama aimed at people like me: middle aged lovers of film making, stuck in that dead space of wanting to be credible in a world which seems to worship the 10 second clip, three second sound bite or people famous for doing nothing. 

I’ve had a love-hate relationship with Ben Stiller for the past decade, bored by his average Joe schtick, and miffed by the fact people seem to find him hilarious in the Night at the Museum and Meet the Parents movies. However, my respect for him grew after making Walter Mitty, and that Bear Grylls survival show

If I met him down the pub I imagine we’d get on like a house on fire, talking movies and filmmaking and the whole thing about getting older. 

That certainly comes across in his latest  movie. Ben plays Josh, a documentary maker of integrity who’s spent eight years working on perhaps the dullest film ever. But he believes in it, and it has substance, even if few people will ever sit through it. 

So after Jamie (Adam Driver) and Darby (Amanda Seyfried), a couple of young film loving, ice cream-making hipsters, attend one of his lectures, Josh and his wife Cornelia (Naomi Watts) form an instant bond. 

Before long they are hanging out, swapping ideas and music; Cornelia is attending hip hop dance classes and Josh is dressing more like Jamie

Given the fact the fortysomethings feel alienated by all their friends with newborns and baby brain, it’s little wonder they gravitate toward the younger, more vital new mates. 

However, as the movie unfolds, it seems there’s more to Jamie than meets the eye, and the freshness gives way to a weak, overlong spiritual awakening, hippy dippy section, and a third act lecturing on the pros and cons of morality in film making. 

For its faults, this is an engaging diversion with a fine cast and a great soundtrack. Stiller is hugely likeable; Watts and Seyfried as compelling as ever and Driver plays it just right as the too-cool-for-school Jamie

I guessed our screening would have about 10 attendees, and wasn’t far off with 12. But it’s great to see an art house movie being shown at a multiplex as an alternative to the mainstream crowd pleasers. 

Oh, and in case you’re wondering, there’s no hip ops in the movie, but ’Hipsters, Hip Hop and  “rheumatism, rheumatism”’ wouldn’t have worked as well.