Following are Susan Granger's reviews of the latest movies in area theaters:
"MARVEL'S THE AVENGERS"
Marvel Studios has been preparing audiences for this thrilling, collaborative action-adventure for the past few years, beginning with "Iron Man" and continuing with its sequel, plus "The Incredible Hulk," "Thor" and "Captain America: The First Avenger."
Global annihilation is imminent when Thor's brazen, bitter brother, Loki (Tom Hiddleston), arrives on Earth from Asgard and swipes the energy-packed Tesseract, an all-powerful Cosmic Cube, discovered on the ocean's bottom in "Captain America," through which he can summon intergalactic alien invaders. That's why eye-patched Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) overrules his colleagues in the international peace-keeping agency known as S.H.I.E.L.D, and summons the disparate yet similarly egocentric, spandex-clad superheroes to a summit aboard his enormous airship.
Snarky playboy billionaire Tony Stark/Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.) immediately spars with the earnest, no-nonsense World War II hero Steve Rogers/Captain America (Chris Evans), along with the straight-laced, imperious, hammer-wielding Nordic god Thor (Chris Hemsworth). Fury's sultry, covert operative Natasha Romanoff/Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) has a vested interest in breaking Loki's spell on her archer/assassin ally, Clint Barton/Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner), while world-weary scientist Bruce Banner/Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), tracking the Cube's radiation, struggles to control the curse of his terrible temper.
Based on the series created by Stan Lee (who does a cameo in the climactic chaos) and Jack Kelly, it was scripted by Zak Penn and re-written by director Joss Whedon ("The Cabin in the Woods," television's "Buffy: The Vampire Slayer"), combining sly, snappy dialogue with an awesome special-effects, particularly in the massive battle in midtown Manhattan. Seamus McGarvey's cinematography is superb, along with Alan Silvestri's score.
Plus there's Gwyneth Paltrow as Pepper Potts, Stellan Skarsgard as Professor Erik Selvig, Paul Bettany as Jarvis with Clark Gregg and Cobie Smulders as Agents Phil Colson and Maria Hill. In post-production, it was digitally converted to 3D and re-mastered for IMAX 3D.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Marvel's The Avengers" is an amusing, entertaining 9 -- for those eagerly anticipating the familiarly iconic, comic-book-based superstar line-up. And remember to stay through the credits.
Continuing the Walt Disney Studios tradition of live-action wildlife films, dating back to 1948, this documentary explores the intricate social structure of a tribe of about 35 simians living deep in the Tai rainforest on Africa's Ivory Coast and their daily struggle for survival in their natural environment.
The familial story revolves around an adorable youngster named Oscar, whose playful curiosity and enthusiasm for discovery reflect his instinctive intelligence and ingenuity, as his mother, Isha, and white-bearded alpha male leader, Freddy, teach him how to navigate his animal habitat, foraging for food. Oscar learns how to weave a treetop nest out of flexible branches, how to pull a honeycomb from a bee's nest, and how to make tools, using sticks to stab ants and rocks to crack open nuts, with grooming as an essential social behavior that bonds one animal to another.
Territorial conflict arises in a grove of fruit trees when Oscar's family is violently confronted by a rival band of chimps, aggressively led by a sinister alpha male named Scar. Orphaned, Oscar is bewildered and alone, fending for himself, until an unexpected parental figure steps into his life and changes it forever.
Directed by Alastair Fothergill ("African Cats," "Earth") and Mark Linfield ("Earth"), this feature contains an awesome assemblage of remarkable photography, painstakingly gathered over a period of four years with the cooperation of Jane Goodall's famous institute. Scenes of carnage and the pursuit of a high-perching colobus monkey are unfocused and fleeting, primarily referencing rustling leaves, so parents need not worry about traumatizing tykes in the audience.
Problem is, Tim Allen's banal, cloyingly cute narration, which anthropomorphizes the primates, unnecessarily creating some into protagonists and others into villains. While Jared Diamond's "The Third Chimpanzee" noted that the DNA of humans and chimps is about 98 percent biologically similar, nevertheless chimpanzees are not human and heavy-handedly presenting them with humanoid personality traits is deceiving.
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "Chimpanzee" is a heart-warming, family-friendly 7, delivering an inspirational message about the inherent ecological danger in poaching and deforestation.
Set on the cobbled streets of Baltimore in 1849, it begins as unappreciated, penniless Poe (goateed John Cusack) begs his newspaper editor (Kevin McNally) to publish more of his poetry, only to be rebuffed and told that the public far prefers the sensationalism of his macabre stories. That coincides with a bewildering police case in which two women are found dead in room in which the door and windows are locked. Discovering a window with a hidden spring, Police Detective Emmett Fields (Luke Evans) recalls a similar device in Poe's "The Murders in the Rue Morgue," leading him to suspect that mercurial, misanthropic Poe might be the killer, particularly when the next victim is Poe's rival, the critic Griswold (John Warnaby).
But when other clues point, not to Poe, but to someone familiar with his writing, Fields enlists Poe's help in tracking down the killer when the beautiful, blonde heiress Emily Hamilton (Alice Eve), whom Poe wants to marry, is kidnapped from a costume ball hosted by her cantankerous father, Col. Hamilton (Brendan Gleeson), who loathes Poe. Tenaciously following grisly clues planted on more ghoulish corpses, evoking "The Pit and the Pendulum," "The Cask of Amontillado," "The Mask of the Red Death," "The Premature Burial" and "The Tell-Tale Heart," among others, they eventually track down the deranged, demented murderer.
The somber, sinister, often incoherent script by Ben Livingston and Hannah Shakespeare is filled with anachronistic dialogue and preposterous inaccuracies, including the fact that the term "serial killer" wasn't devised until nearly 130 years later. Shot in Serbia and Hungary and feverishly directed by James McTeigue ("V for Vendetta"), it's a bizarrely boring whodunit, despite wild-eyed John Cusack's caustic histrionics. If you're a mystery aficionado, I'd recommend renting Roger Corman's eight, low-budget, nightmarish Edgar Allen Poe adaptations (1960-1964).
On the Granger Movie Gauge of 1 to 10, "The Raven" is a ridiculous, tedious 3 -- "nevermore"!