Review: In John Wick, Keanu Reeves is Back Up to Speed

The Matrix's Neo goes retro in this revenge drama about a retired hit man who wipes out dozens because some bad guys killed his dog

A cop knocks on the door of John Wick’s home late one night and can’t help noticing a few thugs mortally strewn across the living room floor. “You workin’ again?” he asks mildly. “No,” Wick replies, “I’m just sorting stuff out.” The cop smiles and says, “O.K., John, Good night.”

Five years ago, Wick (Keanu Reeves) was an expert hit man who often worked for the Russian mob boss Viggo Tarasov (Michael Nyqvist). He fell in love with Helen (Bridget Moynahan), got out of the game, had a few peaceful years, then nursed Helen through the long cancer siege that finally took her life. Her parting gift: a beagle named Daisy to keep John company. Then Viggo’s screw-up son Iosef (Alfie Allen) brought a half-dozen of his henchmen to Wick’s house, beat him up, stole his car and killed the dog. In a few moments Iosef’s pals were the dead mess the cop spotted. John Wick is officially unretired.

And Keanu Reeves is back as an action star in John Wick. At 50 — 20 years after Speed made him a top-billed glowering hunk, and more than a decade since he played Neo in the Matrix trilogy — he’s not the hot icon he used to be. His last film, 47 Ronin, was an expensive flop, and he recently complained that the major studios don’t want him. (“It sucks.”) He gets headlines only when strange women pull a Iosef and break into his home, as two did on separate occasions last month. But on screen he’s still the essence of Zen cool.

In 1960, French critic Michel Mourlet famously proclaimed that “Charlton Heston is an axiom,” meaning that Heston’s image and impact transcended the definition of movie performer. In that sense, Keanu Reeves is a koan: a paradox that confounds all reason. Within the narrow range of emotions he displays — mad Keanu, bad Keanu and of course Sad Keanu — Reeves does not exactly act; he just is. And in John Wick, where he plays a retro Neo in a crime drama with lots of martial arts and gun fu, that “is” is plenty.

Action heroes need only the flimsiest motivation to start killing people. In The Rover, Guy Pearce launched a vendetta to get his car back; in Seven Psychopaths, gangster Woody Harrelson just wanted to retrieve his beloved Shih Tzu. Wick director Chad Stahelski and producer David Leitch hand their hero the double loss of his car and his dog, which is more than enough incentive for him to wipe out about 70 bad guys, one at a time, across New Jersey and New York City. He’ll use a handgun at close range in a Manhattan night club, a rifle on a rooftop across from Iosef’s Brooklyn hideout. He applies his lethal hands and feet in judo, jujitsu, the Russian sport called Sambo and, in a fine tussle with Viggo’s most imposing henchman Avi (Dean Winters), a mixture of wrestling and strangling.

Stahelski, who performed Reeves’ fight scenes in the Matrix movies, and Leitch, who stunt-doubled for Brad Pitt in Fight Club and Mr. & Mrs. Smith, also served as action coordinators on The Hunger Games, The Bourne Legacy and Dracula Untold. Now in charge of a whole movie, they bring a sleek, chic gusto to the six or seven big action scenes, shooting the mayhem in longish takes rather than chopping it into short shots. Their work is not exactly edifying, but if you can forget the specter of North American gun carnage for a moment, you will acknowledge the movie’s violent artistry even as Viggo admires Wick’s. He calls him the Boogeyman, not because Wick is the monster from Russian legend but because “He’s the one you send to kill the f—in’ Boogeyman.”

So who’re you gonna call to kill Wick? Viggo has a couple of paid assassins in mind: the avuncular sniper Marcus (Willem Dafoe) and — simply because the filmmakers belatedly realized there were no living woman in Derek Kolstad’s script — the karate cutie Perkins (Adrianne Palicki). When they can’t finish the job, Viggo confronts Wick mano a mano, because intimate enemies should really settle things with fists, not guns.

The problem with this face-off is that Viggo is outmatched. Nyqvist, who played the crusading journalist in the Swedish Girl With the Dragon Tattoo trilogy, is solid but a little too genial as Wick’s looming adversary. It’s Alfie who triggered Wick’s revenge rage; Viggo is just the gruff dad trying to clean up his grown boy’s stupid spillages. The movie should have given its main villain a grander malevolence. — say, halfway through, Viggo tells Wick, “By the way, your wife’s cancer? I gave it to her.” (R-rated action films plant diseased thoughts like this in a viewer’s head.)

Quibbles aside, John Wick is the smartest display of the implacable but somehow ethical Reeves character since the 2008 Street Kings. It has vividly choreographed fights, a suave black suit for its hero to stalk in, swank homes and hotels to demolish, hoodlums who prove both the banality and the poor marksmanship of evil, and a hero with no greater moral purchase on our rooting interest than that he’s Keanu Reeves, and the bad guys killed his dog.

What else does a movie need? If you say complex human beings facing knotty moral dilemmas, you have mixed your media. You mean a Broadway play or a high-end cable series. Action movies are about movement, and John Wick pursues that goal with remorseless verve.

TIME movies

Laura Poitras on Her Edward Snowden Documentary: “I Was a Participant As Much As a Documentarian”

Laura Poitras, Johanna Hamilton
This April 16, 2014 photo shows Pulitzer Prize and Polk Award winner Laura Poitras in New York to promote her documentary film "1971," premiering Friday at the Tribeca Film Festival. (Photo by Charles Sykes/Invision/AP) Charles Sykes—Charles Sykes/Invision/AP

The Citizenfour documentarian on Edward Snowden and making a film amid breaking news

The revelation of the National Security Administration’s surveillance of U.S. citizens’ phone records was among the biggest news stories of 2013, and won a Pulitzer Prize for Public Service for the journalists at the Washington Post and The Guardian who covered it.

One of those journalists, Laura Poitras, has just released her documentary about the events surrounding the NSA revelations — and the contractor who leaked them to her. Citizenfour takes its title from the handle Edward Snowden used to communicate online with Poitras, communications Poitras reads aloud. The film leads to Hong Kong, where Poitras and two other journalists powwow with a vaguely shocked yet clear-headed Snowden, who’s decided to walk away from his life entirely; the degree of risk he’s undertaken is underlined more strongly by Citizenfour than in any other reporting to date.

Poitras has had a long career of documenting national security initiatives and their implications in documentary form; her last film, The Oath, dealt in part with a Yemeni man held in Guantánamo Bay. But Citizenfour is a uniquely gripping work for how it gets inside one of the biggest news stories of our time. Laura Poitras spoke to TIME this week.

TIME: Was it difficult to make a film that objectively depicted the events surrounding Snowden’s disclosures, given how enmeshed you were in the process? How did your roles as filmmaker and as journalist run up against one another?

Laura Poitras: I mean, in the process of working on this film, when I was in Hong Kong, I was wearing my documentary filmmaker hat — saying, ‘I am going to document what’s happening.’ This moment in journalism when I’m meeting a source for the first time, understanding who this person is — it’s a moment you usually never get to see. Usually a source doesn’t want to be identified or will come forward four decades later, like with Deep Throat. I knew this’d be something different. As we were sitting up and working on stories, I was the documentary fillmmmaker.

When I returned to Berlin, I realized it was important I report it out. I think a lot of people, there are a lot of really talented national security reporters who can do great work on documents in the public interest. Doing this was what I wanted to do — making a longform film that looked at the story from many angles — asking what it says about journalism, whistleblowers, and the government coming down on both in the context of post-9/11 America. I’m more interested in those broader issues than I am in breaking news.

It strikes me as difficult to release a documentary after the fact about a major news event that’s been widely covered, including by Glenn Greenwald, who’s a character in the film.

In the editing room, we realized a couple of things quickly. One was that I was a part of the story and it needed to be told from a subjective point of view. I was the narrator. I was a participant as much as a documentarian. Then we tell the story close to the protagonists. Snowden, Glenn, and [U.S. intelligence official-turned-whistleblower] William Binney. It’s through them we get a picture of the wider importance. We had more footage, more archival stuff. Then it becomes a chronicle of the leaks, which is interesting when it’s happening but not interesting in retrospect. There was a film about the Obama campaign – that was interesting when it was happening, but in retrospect…

We tried to make sure it was not caught up in breaking news but to say something that would still resonate in five and ten years. It’s a broader human story. Yes, it’s about the NSA, but it’s also about what would cause a person to risk everything.

What’s the process of coordinating coverage between multiple journalists? The film depicts Glenn Greenwald and Ewen MacAskill, both at that time of The Guardian, working together on the story, and they seemed to have different areas of interest. And you were working independently.

Glenn and Euan were both working for The Guardian. Glenn did the first story about Verizon and they worked together on the other stories. I came at it not attached to print journalism as much as I am to visual journalism. I didn’t have any need to break any particular stories but in documenting what I thought was an important journalistic encounter. For instance, if The Guardian had sent over another video camera I would have kicked them out and said “This is a source I’ve been working on.” In terms of working on the documents, it clearly required many people. It required a journalistic and editorial process. No one journalist was going to be able to report on this alone.

Do you feel Citizenfour presents an “unbiased” view of Snowden? Was that even your aim?

I guess I would say it’s told from a subjective point of view, which also doesn’t mean it’s not still journalism. There’s a lot of reporting where you read the word “I.” I don’t think because it’s a subjective telling of events, it ceases to be journalism. It is still journalism. But it’s clear that the person who’s narrating through the story is a participant. Have you read All the President’s Men recently? They use “Carl” and “Bob,” and they say “I.” This is not the first time a piece of nonfiction has been told from the point-of-view of the author.

Do you think getting access to potential sources, for you, has gotten easier since the events surrounding Snowden? The whole ordeal certainly raised your profile.

I think one of the messages of the film is that this is one of the most difficult times to do journalism. The government is coming down on whistleblowers and journalists. William Binney is in the film for that reason — he goes through the system and does it right, and the FBI raids his house because they think he’s the source for a New York Times story about wireless wiretapping. Journalism is under duress because of how the government can investigate who we’re talking to by our phone records.

It’s too soon to say, I used to be much more under the radar. My last film [The Oath] was filmed in Yemen, and I didn’t register as a journalist. I didn’t need a minder. Those days are behind me. But it’s too soon to say what the impact will be. No one from the U.S. government has contacted me, but I have heard things. In Germany, I’ve heard things. People are monitoring what I’m doing, and I guess that’s to be expected. I’m not sure what it means in terms of future reporting – this was a departure for me! I usually do longform visual journalism. I’ll keep making movies.

Was it difficult for you to shoot and then to assemble the film, given the degree to which the situation was constantly changing?

When I was working on the film I made about the Iraq occupation [My Country, My Country], the story was still changing constantly. The ethnic violence began while I was in the cutting room. A film changes with contemporary events. You have to pay attention to things but also block them out. A longform documentary has to withstand time, it can’t be too reactive to current events. I certainly felt I wasn’t going to rush the film for anyone — once it was done, it was clear I wanted to get it released. I didn’t want it to premiere and not have a distributor. We didn’t want a lag time, because I do feel the issues are important.

You’re in the U.S. at the moment, though you made Citizenfour in Germany to ensure a lack of government interference.

I edited the film in Berlin, and I went there before being contacted by Edward Snowden. I set up shop there because I was concerned about the film being taken at the border. Now that the film is done, I feel I have options. I feel I have incredible connections to Berlin. The woman who edited Citizenfour, I’d love to work with her again. But I still consider myself a New Yorker and I still have friends I’d like to see here. It’s all very new; we were editing until recently. I wouldn’t have felt comfortable editing this film in the U.S. The raw footage of the subpoenas felt real. It still feels real.

TIME movies

Watch a Supercut of Every Onscreen Death in the Star Wars Trilogy

Lasers and lightsabers galore!

A lot of people die in the original Star Wars trilogy — and not just people, but also droids, tauntauns, twi’leks, and hutts. This supercut from Digg of every onscreen death in A New Hope, The Emperor Strikes Back, and Return of the Jedi estimates the toll at just over 2 billion.

That said, slayings are refreshingly free of gore; rather than oozing blood, sparks fly and clouds of white smoke billow. Lightsabers swoop and planets explode. Backed by Girl Talk, the bursts of fire and neon light make for a borderline psychedelic viewing experience.

We’ve still got more than a year to wait for Star Wars: Episode VII, for which filming is currently underway. But hopefully this will tide fans over — for three minutes, at least.

TIME celebrities

Elisabeth Moss: My Cats Have Their Own IMDB Pages

The Listen Up Philip actress discusses Mad Men, breaking up, and getting career advice from Bryan Cranston

Elisabeth Moss stars in two films this year that grapple with rocky romantic relationships, each reaching a different conclusion about when it might be right to call it quits. The One I Love, released earlier this year, was a romantic comedy with a strange and unexpected sci-fi twist, but her new movie Listen Up Philip is deeply rooted in reality. In the film, Moss plays a photographer named Ashley who is tumultuously ending things with her writer boyfriend Philip (Jason Schwartzman).

For Moss, the roles weren’t necessarily connected, but there’s certainky a correlation between them. The actress, who wrapped the final season of Mad Men earlier this year and is currently shooting a new movie in Australia, has some experience with rocky breakups — she once referred to her short-lived marriage with comedian Fred Armisen as “traumatic.” Fortunately, Moss found some new companions on the set of Listen Up Philip and they don’t seem like the type to cause a fight. (They’re cats. Famous cats.)

TIME spoke with the actress about relationships, kittens and Bryan Cranston.

TIME: You two most recent films are about relationships. Was that a conscious choice on your part?

Elisabeth Moss: No, not at all. I don’t really make those kinds of choices. I just base things on what is a good script. It was totally circumstantial. And they were obviously very separate – they were months apart – and it was just a coincidence. I liked that they were so similar in the sense that they are about relationships, but that they have these different take on them and different endings. The female characters make very different choices in both movies. I thought that was interesting.

What interested you in Listen Up Philip specifically?

I just loved the script. Sometimes you do things based on character, sometimes you do it based on the overall script. This was a bit of both, but I loved the story and I wanted to be a part of it. I like the idea of telling a real story. So often I do things that are different than me and a stretch, or something that’s very foreign to my life and my experience. I thought this was interesting for me to do because it’s actually a real story that might have been true, that I might have experienced. Not necessarily being with such an asshole – but going through a breakup in your twenties in the summer in New York. That’s a very real thing because I’ve lived in New York for years now.

So are you channeling your own experiences with breakups?

I mean, in every role you channel the experiences that you’ve had. Even with something like Mad Men, you’ve been out of your element or you’ve been intimated or you’ve tried to do something that was scary for you. In everything you’re channeling experiences you’ve had. For me this was so much about the telling of the story of the breakup in New York, which is a very specific thing. The summer in the city is so great and so alive and there’s the heat and people and hanging outside and sitting in the park. That’s a very specific experience.

Do you think the film takes a stance on whether two artists can successfully be together?

That would be more of a question for [the director]. But I think people totally can. I don’t like the idea that two artists can’t exist in a relationship. I have seen so many great relationships that have two artists. The key is having respect for the other person’s art as well and there not being a competitive element to it. There being a sense of dependence in your partner’s art and there being a mutual respect for one another. But that’s true in any relationship. For me this movie was all about the relationship and [my character] finding her feet again. Her making the brave choice to develop her life again without Philip and recognizing that this person isn’t making her happy. It’s a hard decision to make.

You’ve been through a hard breakup publicly. Do you have any advice on how to move on with your life after that?

I don’t know that I have any good advice for anyone! People know what to do. I’m not a relationship guru or anything like that.

Speaking of relationships, is it true you adopted two kittens from the set of Listen Up Philip?

Yeah, I did. I took them home. We wanted this kitten for this one scene and our producer happened to find them on the street. She already had three cats, so I was like, “Well, I’ll take them and look after them, and I’ll either keep them or find a home for them.” And of course I ended up falling in love with them. It was a stupid thing to think I was going to take them home and not keep them.

There’s no way you weren’t going to keep those cats.

I know. I think I knew that, too. I just had to do it slowly and gradually. I had to trick myself into taking them.

Basically the only thing the press is saying about you right now is that you adopted these kittens.

I’m so thrilled. Every time someone writes about it, me and my mom and my brother, we send them to each other. I send the write ups to my publicist. We talk about popular the cats are and how difficult they’re going to be to deal with now that they’re so famous. You know they have IMDB pages?

They do?

I swear to God. They have individual IMDB pages. It’s hilarious. I’m very obsessed with them.

So do you actually pay attention to what’s being written about you in the press?

No. I get sent stuff, like official stuff. For instance, this article will be sent to me. Sometimes I read them and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I read them if I’m like, “Oh, what was that?” They always pick a headline that was one tiny thing that you said. And then that’s the headline, and the story is about something else. Sometimes if I see an interesting headline I’m like, “What did I say?” It’s one of those things where I tend to not read them because it’s hard for me. Hearing yourself talk about things is weird.

Do you feel like there are any misconceptions about you out there?

I don’t know. I know this is going to sound really Pollyanna, but I feel really fortunate. I feel that so far the work that I’ve done has been respected and liked. That’s all I really care about. For me, as long as people are liking the acting that I do, which is why I do this, that is the only thing that matters. People have been pretty nice.

Has your experience on Mad Men been limiting in any way as an actress?

It’s been nothing but great. It’s done nothing but open me up to new possibilities. People would kill to be on a show that good, and have a role like that. It’s given me so many opportunities throughout the years. It gave me my first Broadway play. I don’t know if I would have been considered for that if I didn’t have Mad Men. It’s opened so many doors for me. And it’s one those things where, if that’s all I did for seven seasons, that would have been great too. That’s more than a lot of people get. The great thing about television these days is it’s not a limiting thing anymore. We used to joke in the early days when it was more limited – now there’s so many great shows – that people would do television and then go to do something artistic during their hiatus. On Mad Men, we felt that this was the artistic thing we were doing. You don’t have to go outside and search for something else.

Was there a certain moment when you realized you were famous and there was no going back from that?

It’s been so gradual over the years, honestly. I still get surprised when I walk around and people recognize me. There wasn’t really any specific moment. The only thing I’ve noticed is that after every Mad Men season going back to New York, which is a place where you’re much more amongst the people and you’re more accessible, my visibility seemed to be a little higher every time. That was my gauge over the years.

Has any TV actors given you a good piece of advice on how to let go of playing Peggy for so long?

Actually, I went to see Bryan Cranston in his play that he won the Tony for last year. It was before we started filming season seven. I went backstage and spoke to him and he talked about how great it was to go through theater after leaving Breaking Bad. He said just challenge yourself and expand yourself as an actor. Do something completely different in a completely different medium. He said that was so helpful to him as an actor and it put that thought in my head. It’s part of the reason why I’m going and doing The Heidi Chronicles on Broadway next year. It’s because of speaking to him and seeing that was a great thing for him to do.

That’s a pretty good person to get advice from.

Yeah, it’s not bad. Basically I would do anything Bryan Cranston does.

TIME movies

‘Welcome to the Dollhouse’ Is Getting a Sequel, of Sorts

Director Todd Solondz attends the Film Society Of Lincoln Center 2014 Filmmaker In Residence Dinner at Indochine on June 24, 2014 in New York.
Director Todd Solondz attends the Film Society Of Lincoln Center 2014 Filmmaker In Residence Dinner at Indochine on June 24, 2014 in New York. Brad Barket—Getty Images

Director Todd Solondz is making a movie that revisits Dawn Wiener nearly 20 years after his first film was released

Welcome to the Dollhouse has been an indie film favorite since its 1995 release. Telling the story about the unpopular seventh-grader Dawn Wiener, played by Heather Matarazzo, the movie garnered critical raves and launched the career of director Todd Solondz.

Now, nearly 20 years later, Solondz is planning on revisiting her in an upcoming ensemble film called Wiener-Dog. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the new film will feature multiple stories and be thematically connected by a dachshund, with one of the stories focusing on Dawn. Powerhouse producer and TIME 100 alum Megan Ellison has already signed on to produce through her company Annapurna Pictures.

Sadly, THR adds that Matarazzo will not be returning to the role of Dawn, though fans could get a dream cast in the end as Gerta Gerwig and Julie Deply are in talks to star.


TIME movies

Joan Didion Documentary Reaches Funding Goal Within One Day

The American Theatre Wing's 2012 Annual Gala
Joan Didion attends The American Theatre Wing's 2012 Annual Gala at The Plaza Hotel on September 24, 2012 in New York City. Jemal Countess—Getty Images

“We’re making it because no one else, incredibly, has”

In the preface to Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Joan Didion’s collection of essays from the 1960s, the author speaks to her primary strength as a journalist. “My only advantage as a reporter is that I am so physically small, so temperamentally unobtrusive, and so neurotically inarticulate that people tend to forget that my presence runs counter to their best interests.” Perhaps some of her subjects would agree, but the vast majority of American readers and writers — including the people who give out the National Book Award and the National Medal of Arts and Humanities — would beg to differ. Joan Didion’s work has been squarely within our best interests for half a century. Now, her story will be shared in a documentary.

And it turns out that Kickstarter, the same platform that gave us such lowbrow projects as the infamous potato salad, can provide much more value than mayonnaise and Yukon Golds. The project reached its funding goal of $80,000 before the end of its first day and has already exceeded that amount by nearly $20,000. Its 1,500-and-counting backers will receive rewards like Didion’s recipe book, and, for the high-rollers, a pair from her famed collection of sunglasses.

Driven by Didion’s nephew, filmmaker Griffin Dunne, We Tell Ourselves Stories In Order to Live will weave together archival photographs, Didion’s words, and interviews with those who know her and whose work she’s inspired. It will cover both her writing career, which began as a staff writer at Vogue in the 1950s, and her personal life, which saw the devastating losses, in quick succession, of her husband and daughter.

Participating in the project, Didion has already allowed the team to capture nearly 60 hours of footage. She’ll also select the passages from her essays and novels to read aloud for the film. Between Didion’s involvement and the reverence Dunne has for his aunt, the film may be more a celebration than a balanced account.

But a celebration is most definitely due. And there’s at least one good reason to believe We Tell Ourselves Stories will neither sugarcoat nor edit out the unsavory bits: Didion’s already written it all down anyway. “Everything that has happened to Joan,” explains Dunne in the Kickstarter video, “Joan has written about.” Hopefully those experiences will resonate as strongly on the screen as they do on the page.

TIME movies

All Your Avengers: Age of Ultron Trailer Questions Answered

A very necessary guide to the unfamiliar voices, new faces, old tensions and that enormous Iron Man suit

As you’re likely aware at this point (and if not, surprise!), the trailer for Avengers: Age of Ultron leaked late last night, so Marvel—after blaming those no-good troublemakers at Hydra—decided to release the official version nearly a week ahead of schedule.

If you’ve watched the trailer, it’s a good bet that you have at least a few questions. We’ll do our best to answer them below:


Who’s that guy talking to us in the voiceover?

That would be the titular Ultron (James Spader, recently of The Blacklist), one of Marvel’s chief supervillains and a prime nemesis of the Avengers in the comics.

Wait, so it’s not the Mandarin?

No. Even though Spader is using the same creepy/menacing inflection that Ben Kingsley employed for the Mandarin in Iron Man 3, these are two entirely separate and distinct characters.

Okay, so back to Ultron. What’s his deal?

It’s not entirely clear from the trailer what Ultron’s goals are, though if he believes that “everyone screaming for mercy” is “beautiful,” it’s a safe bet that he probably wants what all supervillains want: the superheroes dead, lots of innocent people dead and, of course, world domination (of sorts). He also appears to not be a big fan of strings.


And I gather he’s that sort of Iron Man-looking figure who confronts the Avengers about 30 seconds into the trailer?

You got it. The trailer doesn’t explain how Ultron came to be, but according to Entertainment Weekly, he’s “the ultimate drone”—a creation of Tony Stark (Robert Downey Jr.), designed to essentially police the world as an omnipotent force — that’s a different take from the books, where he’s created by Hank Pym, a character that hasn’t made it to the Marvel Movie Universe yet. Ultron isn’t so much a physical being as a consciousness that can transfer itself from one automated form to another. To make matters worse, when Stark created Ultron, he infused the A.I. with elements (the worst ones) of his own personality. Needless to say, things don’t quite go as planned.


Why do all the Avengers look so unhappy at the start of the trailer?

Honestly, that’s probably footage from later in the movie after things have already gone south. No one said trailers have to go in order.

What’s up with Bruce Banner?

Of all the characters, Banner—better known to most as The Hulk—appears to be in the worst way. That’s not too surprising given that he’s the one who ends up turning into a giant green monster if his heart starts beating too quickly, but things appeared to be mostly under control by the end of the first Avengers film. Now Banner (Mark Ruffalo) is stumbling through snow-covered woods and touching hands with Natasha Romanoff aka Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson). For most people, the latter would be a good thing, but Banner has an obvious problem with getting too excited, even in a romantic way.


Who are the two kids with Ultron?

That’s brother-and-sister duo Pietro Maximoff, aka Quicksilver and Wanda Maximoff, aka Scarlet Witch. (You may recognize them from the end credits scene in Captain America: The Winter Soldier.)

So they’re bad too, huh?

Certainly looks that way at the moment. Whether that remains the case has yet to be seen.


What can they do?

Without giving too much away, the trailer makes it look like Quicksilver has some sort of super-speed and Scarlet Witch can do something not entirely dissimilar from Gambit’s manipulation of kinetic energy. Quicksilver also appeared in X-Men: Days of Future Past, but the two characters have some differences. (Marvel Studios doesn’t own the rights to the X-Men or Spider-Man franchises, leading to all sorts of weird discrepancies like this.)

What does Tony Stark mean when he says, “It’s the end. The end of the path I started us on?”

As mentioned above, Stark was the one responsible for creating Ultron. We saw in Iron Man 3 what a couple dozen automated Iron Man suits could do. Imagine that, but multiplied by an unknown and coupled with Ultron’s aim to wipe out humankind. Sure must look like the end.


And how about that enormous Iron Man-looking thing that the Hulk fights?

That’s the appropriately titled “Hulkbuster armor,” designed to enable the wearer to hold his own against the Hulk. We can’t know for sure, but it’s as good a bet as not that Tony Stark isn’t the one inside that armor. Or it is Stark, and he had to get his pal Bruce under control for some reason — one major Marvel comic book plot sees Stark deciding the Hulk is too dangerous to stay on Earth, so Stark banishes the green beast to his own unpopulated planet. We’ll have to wait and see on that one.


Why is Thor hoisting Tony Stark in the air by his neck at the 1:40 mark?

Could be one of any number of reasons. Thor and Stark have never gotten along particularly well, plus Stark is directly responsible for the rise of Ultron. Or it could be something else entirely. There have been rumors swirling that the next Captain America film will feature something like the Marvel comics’ Civil War series, which pitted superhero against superhero in a struggle over civil rights (more on that here). Clearly, the cracks are starting to show.


You mean like the broken Captain America shield?

You got it. Odds are that Cap won’t die in this film (Chris Evans is signed on for at least two more pictures), but Joss Whedon has proven himself willing to kill main characters if the circumstance require it.

So this is going to be a darker Avengers than the first one?

Well the first one wasn’t exactly cheery (what with an alien invasion of earth and the partial destruction of midtown Manhattan), but if you’re basing it on internal strife amongst the Avengers and a force that makes the group question its very nature, then yeah, this one looks like it’ll be pretty heavy.

When do we get to stop speculating and actually see this thing?

Avengers: Age of Ultron hits theaters on May 1, 2015.

TIME movies

Review: White Bird in a Blizzard: Snow Job for Shailene Woodley

Shailene Woodley and Shiloh Fernandez in White Bird in a Blizzard. 2014.
Shailene Woodley and Shiloh Fernandez in White Bird in a Blizzard. 2014. Magnolia Pictures

The Divergent star gives her all to this weird, affectless story of a blooming teenager in a festering family

Do actors ever say no to indie directors? Offered a role in a small movie based on a well-known novel, do they read the script before diving into what may be an empty pool? It’s nice that established and emerging stars agree to appear in ambitious low-budget films. Such pro-bono work gives the movie a higher profile and the actors a potentially more distinguished résumé. But what proved a brilliant career choice for, say, Matthew McConaughey — whose switch from major-studio romcoms to risky indies like Killer Joe, The Paperboy and Mud paid off with a Best Actor Oscar for Dallas Buyers Club — doesn’t necessarily benefit every mainstream name.

This week’s object lesson: Shailene Woodley in Gregg Araki’s White Bird in a Blizzard.

Following the lead of YA-movie star Kristen Stewart, who took a break during her Twilight films to play it serious, and often naked, in an adaptation of Jack Kerouac’s On the Road, Woodley lends her Divergent luster to an ’80s-set melodrama about growing up sexy. And yes, to the teen boys wondering, she has a few nude scenes and no regrets. “I felt great doing it,” she told E! Online. “I was not fully robed. And our bodies had no makeup. Who needs makeup? I’m only 22. My boobs are great. They don’t need any help.” Now that’s how to sell a movie.

Beyond the prurient, there’s not much of interest in this dour portrait of middle-class family values. In her midteens, Woodley’s Kat Connor is coming of age physically and sexually. This inevitable course of nature upsets her mother Eve (Eva Green), who feels her youthful allure evaporating as her daughter’s blooms. Trapped in a loveless marriage, Eve reads a sex manual in her bedroom while, downstairs, hubby Brock (Christopher Meloni) masturbates to a Hustler pictorial. That Kat is getting her jollies with Phil (Shiloh Fernandez), the prole stud next door, so infuriates Eve that she reveals herself to him in a sheer peignoir. Then she vanishes, leaving no trace for the town’s hunky Detective Theo Scieziesciez (Thomas Jane) to track down. Eve’s a gone girl. Where’d she go?

Once Eve loved her daughter; she called the eight-year-old Kat her “purr-fect kitty.” But now, with the girl providing unfair competition, and after cooking two decades of dinners for a man she hates, Eve is spiraling into Serial Mom derangement. “I want my f—in’ life back!” she screams just before she goes missing. Brock mopes around trying to tamp the volcano of anger at his wife’s contempt.

And Kat, trying to become her own person, can’t shake her parents’ influence even in her most intimate moments. Her beau Phil is “dull, stupid,” she says — “like my dad.” And when Phil deflowers her, Kat’s voice-over declares: “And like that, in a blink, my virginity disappeared. Just like my mother.” The movie, which hopscotches in time from Kat’s early youth to her post-mom college days at U.C. Berkeley, could be a modern gloss on The Graduate: the hot girl from suburban L.A. (also enrolled at Berkeley), her horny mother and the young man who accepts favors from both women. Go back further, and Blizzard has enough crazy-family material for a Greek tragedy, if Greek tragedies weren’t very good.

Two decades ago, Araki made a bunch of gay or bisexual movies — The Living End, Totally F***ed Up, The Doom Generation — that brought a perversely larkish lilt to the toxic stain of the AIDS generation. His Mysterious Skin, in 2004, managed to merge gay hustling with an alien-abduction plot. Blizzard, which Araki adapted from a novel by Laura Kasischke, lacks any major gay characters (until the end); so it must serve as a lavender look at the straight suburban world. And God, the view is so awful it’s almost amusing — at least for Araki.

Like Far from Heaven, Todd Haynes’ queer deconstruction of straight Hollywood melodramas from the ’50s, Blizzard lets art direction amplify (and sometimes substitute for) characterization. The Connor home is a living museum of ’80s kitsch, with the costumes coordinated to blend with the furnishings; the clothes really do match the drapes. The noirish lighting of the interiors contrasts with the whiteness of Kat’s nightmares of her mother buried alive in snow. And to show the psychological distance between characters, Araki plants actors at opposite ends of the wide screen. When Kat visits the detective in his man cave, they sit far apart on a curved couch long enough to be King Kong’s boomerang. Then they get this close for the sex scene.

Musing on her therapy visits to a sympathetic shrink (Angela Bassett, with nothing to do), Kat says, “I feel like an actress playing myself — a bad actress.” Woodley is quite a good actress, as she revealed in The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars and Divergent. Here too, she displays her gift for making wounded emotion visible: her face can sear as if sunburnt. But she’s better at playing the ordinary girl with heroic resolve than a teen so stunning she drives her aging mom bonkers.

The miscasting is especially severe with the 34-year-old Green in the role of Kat’s 42-year-old mother. Green, the siren of this year’s 300: Rise of an Empire and Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, regularly seduces viewers with her sexual fury, but she can’t persuade them that she’s a frump suffering from daughter envy.

For Woodley, White Bird in a Blizzard might prove a fun vacation from her Divergent series. But Green, offered an ill-fitting role in Araki’s affectless, ineffectual drama, should have said No thanks.

TIME movies

See Hobbit Characters Romp in ‘The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made’

How do Hobbit characters get to Middle-earth? They fly Air New Zealand, of course

Air New Zealand would like to welcome you to Middle-earth with what it very justly calls: The Most Epic Safety Video Ever Made.

A new flight-safety video from Air New Zealand — the “official airline of Middle-earth,” as the company puts it — heralds the upcoming release of the latest Hobbit movie with an elfin stewardess, an orc in an oxygen masks, and Elijah Wood, Peter Jackson and Richard Taylor as airline passengers.

In the four-minute video, two Hobbit superfans board an Air New Zealand flight and are flabbergasted to find that Wood, a.k.a. Frodo, is seated across the aisle. The surprise continues as an elfin stewardess opens the safety video in Middle-earth — that is, New Zealand.

The clip is a romp through the Tolkien universe: a giant helps Jackson put on his oxygen mask; a wizard astride an eagle explains the crash position; an elf presents a tiny life jacket for children or hobbits. And Wood, safely in the Shire, concludes the clip with warm wishes: “May your path always be guided by the light of the stars and may the future bestow upon you all the happiness and adventure our Middle Earth has to offer.”

The video is a follow-up the airline’s 2012 Middle Earth-themed video, An Unexpected Briefing. That golden-hued clip, in which the plane is full of well-armed but chummy Tolkien characters, has almost 12 million views on YouTube.

The third and last film in the Hobbit trilogy, The Hobbit: The Battle of Five Armies, opens in December.

Read next: Get Ready for Halloween With IKEA’s Spot-On Parody of The Shining

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