Lots More to See Than ‘The Avengers’ This Weekend

Avengers: Age of Ultron isn’t just this weekend’s splashiest movie; it’s expected to be one of the biggest spring/summer blockbusters of all time. But don’t let the studio’s high hopes overshadow these worthy alternatives, both in theaters and in your living room.

 

Iris
This final film from legendary documentary maker Albert Maysles ( Gimme Shelter, Grey Gardens) is a love letter to style icon Iris Apfel, who at 93 still wows the fashion world with her distinctive looks. “Life is gray and dull and you might as well have a little fun when you dress,” says Apfel. This film, made over a four-year period, is as delightfully colorful as its subject.

 

Avengers: Age of Ultron
Captain America (Chris Evans) has been around since World War II. Tony “Iron Man” Stark (Robert Downey Jr.) is well into middle age. Those facts give an aarpish tinge to the latest all-star Marvel comics screen epic. The gang’s all here — including The Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Nick Fury ( Samuel L. Jackson) and Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) — to battle a disagreeable robot voiced by James Spader. If you missed the previous 10 Marvel flicks, you may be confused by the convoluted mythology here, but the plotline is hardy the main attraction; instead it’s all about the good guys kicking evil ro-butt.

 

Far from the Madding Crowd
Thomas Hardy’s 1874 novel about a plucky farmer (adorable Carey Mulligan) and the three men who woo her (a sheep farmer, a military man and a rich bachelor) gets its fourth screen incarnation. We’ll always be partial to John Schelsinger’s 1967 version, however, with Julie Christie in the lead role.

 

She’s Funny That Way
Writer-director Peter Bogdanovich’s first feature film in 14 years stars Owen Wilson as a married Broadway producer who gets involved with a prostitute (Imogen Poots) who’s also an aspiring actress — and has targeted a role in his latest play. Not only is the film a throwback to the director’s screwball comedies ( What's Up, Doc?, They All Laughed), but keep an eye peeled for two famous faces from Bogdanovich’s past: Cybill Shepherd ( The Last Picture Show) and Tatum O’Neal (Paper Moon). Jennifer Aniston costars as a shrink who gets mixed up in the high jinks.

 

New on DVD and Home Video

 

Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies
Now there’s a cheery title! But don’t be dissuaded by the subject matter of this three-part PBS series produced by Ken Burns, now on DVD and Blu-ray. Director Barak Goodman has created the definitive film about a disease that is actually thousands of diseases, and which touches virtually everyone. From the groundbreaking research of Dr. Sidney Farber in the 1940s to the latest breakthroughs in harnessing the human immune system to fight cancer, this binge-watching may actually be good for you.

 

The Gambler
Mark Wahlberg stars as a literature professor who, when it comes to games of chance, just doesn’t know when to fold ’em. He even borrows from his mother (Jessica Lange) to stay one step ahead of the crooks who are his creditors. James Caan starred in the 1974 original — still one of the laconic tough guy’s favorite roles.

 

Inherent Vice
David Thomas Anderson directs this adaptation of Thomas Pynchon’s novel starring Joaquin Phoenix as Doc Sportello, a droopy-eyed, drug-mellowed L.A. private eye probing the disappearance of an ex-girlfriend. Along for the ride is a cast of endearing weirdos played by Josh Brolin, Reese Witherspoon, Owen Wilson, Benicio Del Toro and, as the worst dentist since Little Shop of Horrors, Martin Short. (FULL REVIEW)

 

Last Days in Vietnam
If you were around that sad, fateful summer of 1975, you may think you know how the Vietnam War ended. As this Oscar-nominated documentary shows, we didn’t realize the half of it.

 

Paddington
At last, a family film that neither panders to kids’ baser instincts nor relies on winking pop references to appeal to adults! The story of the talking teddy bear found homeless at Paddington Station and adopted by a London family is as warm and fuzzy as Paddington himself. The great live-action cast includes Sally Hawkins and Nicole Kidman, but best of all is Hugh Bonneville — much funnier than his stiff demeanor as the Downton Abbey patriarch would lead you to expect.

 

Still out there in theaters:

The Age of Adaline
Never aging a day past 29 sounds like a pretty sweet deal — at first. But as Blake Lively’s titular character discovers, it also means watching everyone you love grow old — including your 80-something daughter (a radiant Ellen Burstyn) and that handsome hunk with whom you once had a thing (the ever-dashing Harrison Ford). If you still go all moony over the 1980 Christopher Reeve/Jane Seymour weepie Somewhere in Time, this lovers-separated-by-the-ages fantasy is for you.

Cheatin’
Renegade animator Bill Plympton has created a true toon for grownups — a darkly engaging fantasy about the wife of a helpless philanderer who finds a way to magically become each and every one her husband’s lovers. Opening in limited theaters and available this month on Video on Demand.

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Desert Dancer
The central characters (a band of dancers trying to defy the Iranian government’s ban on their art) are plenty young and pretty. But their true story — of ordinary people who consider artistic expression essential to their being — is timeless. The distractingly by-the-numbers storytelling is redeemed by several glorious interludes of exquisite dance.

Effie Gray
Writer-costar Emma Thompson ( Sense and Sensibility, Pride and Prejudice) has dipped into Britain’s bonneted past one time too many, producing this lifeless account of the loveless “marriage,” if you want to call it that, between Victorian artist John Ruskin (Greg Wise) and his decade-younger bride, Effie Gray (Dakota Fanning).  (FULL REVIEW)

Furious 7
“What’s that?! Sorry, you’re going to have to scream louder over all these revving engines!” Seriously, Vin Diesel: Put a muffler on it.

Little Boy
An appealing cast — including Tom Wilkinson, Kevin James and Emily Watson — enlivens this heartfelt story of a World War II-era child convinced he can magically bring his beloved dad back from the battlefield. A challenging subplot, in which the boy tries to befriend a Japanese-American man shunned by the town’s residents, lends Little Boy some welcome heft.

The Longest Ride
Superhunk Scott Eastwood ( Clint’s son) and superhottie Britt Robertson ( Under the Dome) costar in this latest weepie from the pen of Nicholas Sparks ( The Notebook). But for acting aficionados, Alan Alda (in a small but pivotal role) provides the real eye candy.

Maps to the Stars
Despite a great cast — including  Julianne Moore, John Cusack and Robert Pattinson — director David Cronenberg’s satire of Hollywood is as phony as the culture he attempts to skewer. ( FULL REVIEW)

Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2
Hey, look—it’s Kevin James on a Segway again. Ha!

The Water Diviner
First-time director Russell Crowe tackles one of World War I’s most consequential events: the Battle of Gallipoli in Turkey. Crowe also stars as an Australian farmer who travels to Turkey after the war to learn what became of his three sons, reportedly among the battle’s 150,000 casualties.

While We’re Young
A middle-aged documentary maker ( Ben Stiller) and his wife ( Naomi Watts) add some spark to their humdrum lives when they befriend a couple nearly half their age (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried). Bonus points for Charles Grodin as Stiller’s father, resplendent in a tux. (FULL REVIEW)

Also of Interest

 

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