Avengers: Age of Ultron (Joss Whedon, 2015)

In Avengers: Age of Ultron, James Spader voices the eponymous villain, an entity of artificial intelligence that can inhabit seemingly any mechanical host around the world that it sees fit; break one body and you’ll just find him in an ever bigger one. Ultron is the superhero film embodiment of the ghost in the machine. Age of Ultron’s writer-director Joss Whedon, meanwhile, is the human in the too-often homogeneous Marvel machine, packing his second Avengers film with wit, pathos (as a result of characters’ palpable emotional vulnerability), and some actual thematic thrust regarding the concepts of invincibility, the transient state of human existence, and America’s knack for trying to prevent conflicts that haven’t even started with methods that doom people anyway. The symphony of destruction works because this blockbuster behemoth has an actual soul…

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Life in a Fishbowl (Baldvin Zophoníasson, 2014)

Icelandic ensemble drama Life in a Fishbowl follows three wildly different people, whose lives (and double lives) intersect in strange ways, exploring the roots of the country’s economic collapse in 2008. There’s a former athlete-turned-international-banker (Kristjansson), a famous author (Bachmann) haunted by addictions and past tragedies, and a debt-ridden young pre-school teacher (Hilmar) moonlighting as a prostitute in order to make ends meet and provide for her daughter…

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Blackhat (Michael Mann, 2015)

Cyber terrorism thriller Blackhat sees director Michael Mann continuing to explore themes found in his earlier works like Heat and Thief, but with a firm foot in the stylistic experimentation that has characterised his 21st century output to date.

Those with little tolerance for CollateralPublic Enemies, and, especially, Miami Vice may find little to latch on to here, but those enamoured or, at least, fascinated by his increasingly impressionistic and abstract use of digital in approaching action film scenarios will be rewarded. He’s even thrown in a couple of cheeky self-citations for the super-fans to get a kick out of – see Chris Hemsworth’s lauded hacker Nick Hathaway quoting one of Manhunter’s best remembered lines…

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Monsters: Dark Continent (Tom Green, 2014)

In the vein of the genre switch-up between Alien and AliensMonsters sequel Dark Continent is an action-orientated take on the setup of the more modest original, with road trip leanings swapped for a bigger scope, explosions and fire-power…

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Kingsman: The Secret Service (Matthew Vaughn, 2014)

Reuniting the director, chief screenwriter and source material scribe of Kick-Ass (Matthew Vaughn, Jane Goldman and Mark Millar respectively), Kingsman: The Secret Service is similarly concerned with cartoonish hyper-violence and lame shock tactic vulgarity. It too has the sense of humour of the stereotypical straight teenage male, and also takes the form of a boneheaded “subversion” of a beloved action subgenre (superheroes last time, spy fiction this time). It’s largely insufferable…

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Mortdecai (David Koepp, 2015)

This piece was originally published at Sound On Sight, which is no longer active. The below is an edit from 7 May 2018.

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Seemingly late in the game of David Koepp’s Mortdecai, the eponymous character (played by Johnny Depp) asks his wife, “Are you quite finished with your barrage of insults?” It’s an apt question for the film itself, a cataclysmically unfunny, unbelievably tedious disaster of baffling misjudgments and multiple career lows that feels as long as Shoah, and only a little less harrowing. No such luck, though, as the film goes on for another 25 minutes. It then ends on people about to throw up. Also apt. Continue reading Mortdecai (David Koepp, 2015)

Writing by Josh Slater-Williams