Movie Sneaks: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ looks tasty, but summer’s movie buffet is overflowing

Sneaks Betsy Essay
Ian McKellen in “Mr. Holmes.”
(Giles Keyte, Roadside Attractions)
Los Angeles Times Film Critic

The movie site Fandango recently checked in with its massive audience base to see what the summer’s most anticipated film might be. It probably won’t be a surprise that the winner was “Avengers: Age of Ultron,” coming to thousands of theaters in just a few days.

Marvel’s super-sized sequel to its 2012 mega-hit “Avengers” brings back the cast fans have grown to love, including Robert Downey Jr. reprising his wry Tony Stark and metal-fisted Iron Man; Chris Evans returning as the red, white and true blue Steve Rogers, a.k.a. Captain America; our favorite Black Widow, Scarlett Johansson; and the best Hulk ever with Mark Ruffalo bursting through the cliches as well as the seams. And though there’s no guarantee until we sample the goods, having James Spader as the voice of Ultron seems inspired.

FULL COVERAGE: Summer Movie Sneaks

And that’s just the appetizer. The multiplexes are poised to feed our insatiable appetite for big summer movies, and I would encourage you to pick and choose from the blockbuster buffet, including June’s “Jurassic World,” with Chris Pratt and Bryce Dallas Howard caught up in a new nightmarish dino dream, or July’s “Terminator Genisys,” with Emilia Clarke stepping in to play Sarah Connor and Arnold Schwarzenegger being “back” and being old as an aging Terminator. And “Ant-Man” with Paul Rudd might well be a hoot (let’s hope not laughable in a “Green Hornet” way).


The menu is packed with so many tempting morsels that box-office pundits are predicting feast versus last year’s famine — adjusted for inflation, it was the lowest summer take since 1992.

But like anything you put in your system, balance is key. It’s why I am recommending a summer diet revamp — one that provides lots of gain with no pain. Promise. Basically reducing some of those Imax portions and replacing them with a better mix of movies will actually make the summer’s entertainment fare more fulfilling.

Milk Duds and popcorn definitely have their place. But consider going light before you go dark.

Every summer, or most of them, has that one big comedy surprise like “The 40-Year-Old Virgin,” “The Devil Wears Prada,” “Midnight in Paris,” or that bachelor party that brought one good and two bad “Hangovers” and other off-color but amusing “Superbad” fare.


Judd Apatow, arguably the headwaters for what has become an R-rated comedy stream, is back in the game with comic Amy Schumer as the star of “Trainwreck.” I hope the title isn’t an indication....

But summer 2015 is jammed with all manner of comedy. The sheer numbers of A-listers going for laughs are impressive.

Case in point is “Ricki and the Flash.” This mix of humor, drama and music must make your must-see list. Written by Diablo Cody, who stirred things up a few years ago with the dicey family dynamics of teen pregnancy in “Juno,” “Ricki” catches up with Meryl Streep’s guitar player later in life trying to make a world of mistakes right. Jonathan Demme directs, and with those ingredients in place, it is hard to imagine things going wrong.

Streep and “Ricki” have a lot of company. Bradley Cooper as a military contractor and Emma Stone, his Air Force watchdog (a pair of prior Oscar nominees), team for Cameron Crowe’s “Aloha.” Hot on their heels is Oscar winner Reese Witherspoon, teaming with Sofia Vergara in “Hot Pursuit.” One is a drug dealer’s widow, the other her bungling cop/protector; guess which actress wears the uniform.

You can find “Bridesmaids’” Kristen Wiig going small in “Welcome to Me,” a little indie with grand ambitions, taking a few well-placed shots at reality TV.

One of the hottest tickets this summer is comedy courtesy of TV — “Entourage” the movie. The whole lovable, hateable gang on the popular HBO series is out to upend Hollywood on the big screen. Can’t wait.

A word of caution — an overload of comedy isn’t any better than binging on action/sci-fi.

So move onto some meatier stuff. There is a savory stew of documentaries, many with a distinctive Hollywood flavor, including “I Am Big Bird: The Caroll Spinney Story,” on big yellow’s puppeteer; “Dark Star: H.R. Giger’s World,” which should introduce a broader audience to the Swiss surrealist best known for the fearsome creature in Ridley Scott’s “Alien"; there’s “Winning: The Racing Life of Paul Newman,” “Live From New York,” exposing some of the less-than-funny inside conflicts at NBC’s long-running “Saturday Night Live,” and “One Cut, One Life,” with documentary filmmaker Ed Pincus, know for his personal storytelling approach, turning the camera on himself (with the help of co-director Lucia Small) after being diagnosed with a terminal illness..


Or you might be more in the mood to sample the literary classics. “Far From the Madding Crowd” stars Carey Mulligan, Tom Sturridge, Matthias Schoenaerts and Michael Sheen, and a reimagined “Madame Bovary” features Mia Wasikowska and Ezra Miller.

“5 Flights Up,” based on the novel “Heroic Measures,” finds Diane Keaton and Morgan Freeman as a long-married couple working through the realities of aging, dealing with a dying dog and the sale of their New York apartment, the only nest egg they have.

Of the dramas offered this summer there are two I admit top my ticket wish list. First is “Mr. Holmes,” starring Ian McKellen and Laura Linney, taking on the famed Sherlock in old age. Later in the summer is the boxing biopic “Southpaw,” with Antoine Fuqua directing Jake Gyllenhaal as Billy Hope, a boxer who hit the heights, then the ropes and had to fight his way back.

A confession — my own craving this summer is not “Avengers” but “The End of the Tour.” The story is about one of my favorite troubled literary geniuses — David Foster Wallace. Everything about the project is tantalizing.

It catches the brilliant novelist early on, before depression had completely undone him, during a five-day interview conducted by Rolling Stone reporter David Lipsky, who is played by the always adroit Jesse Eisenberg. Jason Segel will portray the late writer, a risky bid that could well be a game changer for an actor we associate with uncomplicated romantic comedies like “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” or the embarrassing “Sex Tape.”

Bottom line, opting for a balanced movie diet this summer will be worth it. No need to pass on “Ant-Man,” in which Paul Rudd might be stinging. But find room on your plate for the likes of Segel going serious. He might be stunning.

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