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: TRAINWRECK and ALOHA

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TRAINWRECK (2015)

Trainwreck is a bit of a return to form for director Judd Apatow, who hasn’t made a really funny movie since Knocked Up. Film tells the story of Amy (Amy Schumer, who also wrote) a party girl who uses her wild ways to avoid getting truly close to anyone. That is until a writing assignment (Why do all these movies feature lead’s who work for magazines?) introduces her to dorky sports doctor Aaron Conners (Bill Hader). Now faced with possible true love, will Amy’s self destructive behavior ruin the best thing that’s ever happened to her?

Obviously, a big factor in why this routinely plotted romantic comedy works is it’s feisty, funny leading lady and the cast she is surrounded with. Schumer’s script is also legitimately funny and not only has some laugh out loud moments, but has some actual wit behind the more vulgar humor…a condom story Amy tells at a baby shower is particularly hysterical. She and Bill Hader have an off-beat chemistry and helps keep us engaged even as the move is about 15 minutes too long and gets a bit too sentimental for it’s own good. Also stars Brie Larson, Colin Quinn, Tilda Swinton and some surprisingly funny appearances by WWE Superstar John Cena, as a muscle-head Amy’s dating and a scene stealing LeBron James as himself.

3 star rating

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ALOHA (2015)

Written and directed by Cameron Crowe, who has given us more than one classic, this flick has quite an engaging cast and might have been a good movie, if it ever decided what it was about. Is it about military contractor Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) helping billionaire entrepreneur Carson Welch (Bill Murray) get his communications satellite in orbit?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to uncover what’s in the satellite’s secret payload?…Is it about Gilcrest trying to win back former flame Tracy (Rachel McAdams) who’s in a troubled marriage?…Is it about Gilcrest falling in love with the military aide (Emma Stone) acting as his Hawaiian liaison?…or is it about Gilcrest discovering the daughter (Danielle Rose Russell) he never knew he had?…we don’t know and neither does the movie! Add in some rambling dialogue sequences that go on and go nowhere and you have a waste of 105 minutes and a very solid cast…not to mention beautiful Hawaiian locations. Also stars, Alec Baldwin and Danny McBride as military officers. An oddly schizophrenic screenplay and very haphazard direction from a filmmaker who can direct stuff like this in his sleep…and maybe this time he did!

2 star rating

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 -MonsterZero NJ
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