REVIEW: DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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DOCTOR STRANGE (2016)

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Doctor Strange is the latest film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the latest character of theirs to be adapted for film. The story tells of brilliant neurosurgeon Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) whose career comes to a shocking halt when a car accident destroys the nerves in his hands. He tries every medical solution possible, until he learns of a man (Benjamin Bratt) who overcame his paralysis using the mystic arts in a place called Kamar-Taj. Traveling there, Strange is reluctantly taken in by a sorcerer named Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) who studies under The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). In a short time, Strange shows great mastering of the mystic arts and not a moment too soon as a former follower of The Ancient One, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) has stolen a spell which can open up a portal to let a great evil into the world.

Doctor Strange isn’t a bad movie, but it is a rather mediocre entry in the Marvel film series as directed by Sinister’s Scott Derrickson. Derrickson directs from a script and story by he, Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill and is never able to give it that sense of fun or excitement that has made this Marvel series such a consistent success. The film is rather moderately paced and seems far longer than the 115 minute runtime. It’s not a boring film, but it just it never really gets exciting and the action seems very by-the-numbers and repetitive. The FX sequences have a very heavy Inception-esque feel and overuses certain imagery to the point of redundancy. Only so many times you can watch buildings morph and multiply before it stops impressing. Derrickson also doesn’t seem to have the deftness to mix in the trademark humor that these films have and a lot of the attempts at such humor come across as awkward or simply fall flat. There are some interesting visuals and while repetitive, the FX are orchestrated quite excellently, but the film never really feels like part of the universe it’s supposed to and we never really endear to Strange much like we did Tony Stark, Thor or Steve Rodgers. He’s just not that interesting. Ironically, while Dr. Strange may be one of the weaker heroes in the canon, Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius is one of the stronger villains and we actually wish he had more screen time as this is a Stephen Strange origin story and much of the film focuses on him, leaving Kaecilius to sporadic appearances.

As we are on the subject of the cast, sadly this is one of few times it could be said that the versatile Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t quite seem right for a role. His Stephen Strange is kind of a dull hero and his transformation from arrogant surgeon to gallant sorcerer, is not nearly as impressive as, say, Thor’s transformation from arrogant prince to champion of the universe in that film. His attempts at humor mostly fall flat both in the writing and in Cumberbatch’s delivery. He just didn’t seem as comfortable with the one liners as he was with all the mystical mumbo-jumbo. Chiwetel Ejiofor was noble and a bit more endearing as Mordo. He was charming and likable and charm was something Strange was lacking. Swinton certainly fits the role of The Ancient One, who, if knowledge serves, was male in the comics. She is mystical and exudes power and wisdom and works well as the Master Po (Google it, kids) of the Marvel Universe. Mads Mikkelsen is a bit stronger villain than we’ve seen in this film series and had a sense of menace and power that the actor conveyed well. Too bad his screen time is limited as we could have used a bit more time to really get to know Kaecilius. Rounding out is Rachel McAdams, who is spunky and fiery as Strange’s ex-grilfriend and a doctor in her own right. Again, limited screen time hinders a likable character who isn’t given all that much to do.

After delivering so many entertaining and fun flicks…with some spot-on casting to boot…Marvel was due to stumble a bit and this unimpressive flick isn’t nearly bad enough to do the series any real harm. Derrickson has a strong visual style and made this a bit grittier than some of the previous flicks, but wasn’t able to give it a sense of fun, or excitement. His attempts at humor never really hit the mark and the action seemed very routine despite being surrounded by a lot of overactive visual effects. Cumberbatch didn’t seem to fit quite right, either, as hero Strange, who was never charming or endearing enough to really warm up to. We did get a strong villain, but lack of screen time didn’t help there either. A mediocre entry in an otherwise fairly solid series of movies. Not quite as disappointing as the schizophrenic Iron Man 3. Obviously, stay during the credits for two additional sequences.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 and 1/2 Doctors.

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BARE BONES: THE MARTIAN

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THE MARTIAN (2015)

The Martian is a fun and suspenseful sci-fi adventure directed by Ridley Scott from Drew (The Cabin In The Woods) Goddard’s screenplay, based on Andy Weir’s book. It tells the story of astronaut Mark Watney who, while on a manned mission to Mars, is left behind after being lost in a storm and thought dead. Now Watney must find some way to let NASA know he’s alive and then survive till help comes…which would be long after his food supply runs out.

This is a very well crafted and really entertaining survival story of one man’s determination to overcome the impossible…living on a lifeless planet. There are some fun and clever ways Watney uses his knowledge as a botanist and astronaut to grow food, elongate the use of crucial equipment and communicate with Earth. Damon is great as the ever chipper Watney, who refuses to give up even when his food supply is damaged. Meanwhile on Earth it’s a race against time to try to figure out a rescue before Watney’s time runs out. If the film has any flaw is that as a crowd pleaser, we do feel manipulated when things go right…and wrong…at exactly a crucial time to elicit an emotional response or suspense…though it works more often than not. That and even at 141 minutes, it seems like certain things are rushed to keep the film at a reasonable length. The film does jump ahead a lot.

Overall, this is a very enjoyable flick with a totally engaging hero played by Matt Damon. It’s fast moving and cleverly written with just the right amount of sentiment. Damon is supported by great cast including Jessica Chastain, Sean Bean, Jeff Daniels, Kate Mara, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Kristen Wiig, Ant-Man’s Michael Peña and The Winter Soldier’s Sebastian Stan. Recommended!

-MonsterZero NJ

three and one half stars rating

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REVIEW: SERENITY (2005)

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SERENITY (2005)

“I aim to misbehave!”- Malcolm Reynolds

The story of Joss Whedon’s cult classic series Firefly and it’s not only premature demise but, large and loyal fan following is stuff of legend at this point but, at least fans got some closure when Whedon convinced Universal Pictures to transfer the adventures of Captain Malcolm Reynolds (Nathan Fillion) and the crew of the Serenity to feature film. It’s mediocre box office performance sadly spelled doom for any further adventures but, at least this theatrical ‘final episode’ gave fans some closure and was a fitting goodbye… and a damn good movie too!

The flick starts off with Capt. Reynolds deciding to put the psychic talents of mentally unbalanced teen River Tam (Summer Glau) to use in a routine payroll heist against the wishes of her doctor brother, Simon (Sean Maher). The simple theft goes awry when a horde of cannibalistic Reavers attacks and they barely escape. Simon vows to finally leave Serenity with his sister but, when River receives a subliminal message in a bar and decimates the occupants with an outburst of martial arts, Malcolm decides his charges should stay and the crew need to determine what just happened and why. And they may get more answers then they bargained for, as a mysterious and lethal assassin (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is in hot pursuit of River and this take’s Serenity’s crew to the most dangerous parts of the galaxy to finally find the answers to what lurks inside River’s head that the Alliance is so afraid of… and afraid is exactly what they should all be.

Obviously to really enjoy this flick you should be familiar with writer/director Joss Whedon’s endearing and eccentric crew and their previous adventures but, there is enough info to make it enjoyably watchable to those uninitiated to this sadly short-lived saga. Whedon has always had a gift for charmingly eclectic characters and ensembles and that goes a long way here to bringing us a very endearing bunch of outlaws to root for and giving these characters some nicely unexpected layers. We also get a very unique villain in the ‘Operative’, a man who seems part samurai, part philosopher and part cold-blooded killer. He truly believes his ruthless acts are for a greater good and has a disturbingly business-like approach to killing. The contrast is Malcolm, who appears like a man out for himself  but, has a lot bigger heart then he let’s on and is far more willing to sacrifice himself for others then he’ll ever admit. There is plenty of action to put our beloved characters in and Whedon gives us some nice suspense and energy to those sequences but, never let’s them overshadow the important stuff. We even get a really good look at the Reaver’s and finally get to see them in gruesome action only hinted at in the show’s scant 14 episodes. Whedon handles a big budget, feature movie like a pro, giving it a very fast pace but, not sacrificing character or story development in the process. His choice as writer/ director of the mega-hit The Avengers is no surprise to those familiar with his work. This is a quality sci-fi flick that not only gives us an intriguing story and multi-layered characters but, the explosions and laser fire that post Star Wars science fiction is expected to deliver. There’s some crisp cinematography by Jack Green that takes Firefly’s look to the big screen nicely with a very effective score by David Newman to properly accent Whedon’s action packed adventure. Overall a very underrated genre flick.

The cast is simply great. All our regulars are back with Fillion leading the pack as the hard-nosed outlaw with a hidden heart, Malcolm Reynolds. He can be both cold-blooded and warm-hearted almost in the same beat and just when you think you’ve figured him out, he surprises you. A tribute to Whedon’s writing and Fillion’s underrated acting. Ejiofor is simply a very unique and original villain. He makes his ‘Operative’ very charming but, like a serpent, that charm is only to lure you in for the fatal strike. He is completely convinced his cause is just, yet, is not just a brainwashed tool. There is an intelligence and a surprising lack of malice with his actions which oddly makes him scarier. And the actor carries this off very well. The rest of the cast are delightful as they were on the show and they translate their character dynamics to the big screen without missing a beat since we last saw them… and make them accessible to those who are just getting to know them. Glau, Maher, Adam Baldwin, Alan Tudyk, Jewel Staite, Gina Torres, Ron Glass and Morena Baccarin all do good work in taking Whedon’s characters from script to screen for one final adventure.

Overall, I love this flick. As a fan of Firefly it both gives closure to those who enjoyed the series and yet still makes us sad that this was the last appearance of the Serenity crew, fan fiction and comic adaptations aside. It is a well made, well written movie that gives us all the action and adventure we want but, adds an intelligent story and a heart as well. It’s a perfect example of why the series is so rabidly loved by it’s cult following of fans and a sad testament to a series that was never given a proper chance. Also stars David Krumholtz as ‘Mr. Universe’.

PERSONAL NOTE:  I want to be honest and admit that I am a perfect example of how Fox’s seemingly intentional mishandling of this show worked. Despite being a big fan of Whedon’s Buffy The Vampire Slayer series, I was not impressed with the first few episodes (which Fox aired out of order thus omitting crucial character development) and passed on the rest. It was only till a friend lent me the DVD box set which feature all the episodes and in the order intended, that I became a full fledge ‘Brown Coat’ and joined the ranks of it’s loyal fan base. Also, my only disappointment with Serenity is Whedon not finding a way to bring oddball bounty hunter Jubal Early (Richard Brooks) back one last time. Loved that character from my favorite episode Objects In Space.

3 and 1/2 fireflies.

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