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: SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE and SINISTER 2

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SCOUTS GUIDE TO THE ZOMBIE APOCALYPSE (2015)

Completely generic and predictable horror/comedy finds three nerdy boy scouts (Tye Sheridan, Logan Miller and Joey Morgan) teaming up with a stripper (Sarah Dumont) as they search for one’s sister (Halston Sage) during a zombie outbreak (does one town merit an apocalypse?).

There is literally nothing new or even remotely clever in this routine zombie comedy directed by Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones‘ Christopher B. Landon, who, for some reason, needed three co-writers to crank out a by-the-numbers flick with little or no inventiveness or originality. We get exactly what we’d expect…a lot of gore, even more vulgar toilet humor and the typical ‘nerd wins hot chick by battling evil’ scenario that has been done to death since the 80s. It’s not that the flick is ever really boring or badly made, it’s just that it is completely void of anything that might set it apart or deviate from the same formula, be it zombie comedy or ‘nerd becomes hero’ flick, that has become commonplace by now. Landon did a good job with Marked Ones and gave us a few scares and a second wind with a well worn franchise and formula. So, why he couldn’t do the same here is disappointing. The cast all have fun with the material, at least and feisty Sarah Dumont is notable as eye-candy and ass kicker. Also stars Krampus‘ David Koechner as a Dolly Parton obsessed scout leader.

-MonsterZero NJ

2 star rating

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SINISTER 2 (2015)

Sequel finds Deputy So and So (James Ransone) now having left the force and tracking various murder cases, linked to Bughuul, across the country. His search leads him to a secluded church and farmhouse where a mother, Courtney (Shannyn Sossamon) and her twin sons (Dartanian and Robert Daniel Sloan) are hiding out from an abusive spouse. Of course, this is a former crime site and Bughuul and his child minions have their sights set on one of the boys.

This awful sequel makes the big mistake of having the worst character from the first film be the lead here. Of course he’s called Deputy So and So, because Deputy Dewey was already taken. This weak flick is surprisingly written by original flick scribes, Scott Derrickson and C. Robert Cargill, though this time directed by Irish director Ciaran Foy. The original had it’s moments, but was a bit overrated, but this sequel is just boring, sluggishly paced and gives us nothing new or interesting about the thinly written, generic boogieman Bughuul. Most of the screen time is taken up by his creepy spirit children trying to coax one or the other of the boys to join them in murder and Deputy So and So being just as annoying as last time. It’s a snooze-fest with zero tension, suspense or legitimate scares. A complete waste of time and surely a disappointment for fans of the first flick.

-MonsterZero NJ

1 and 1-2 star rating

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REVIEW: DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

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DELIVER US FROM EVIL (2014)

Deliver Us From Evil is the latest film from Sinister director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote with Paul Harris Boardman based on the supposedly true experiences of New York Detective Ralph Sarchie and detailed in the book Beware The Night written by Sarchie and Lisa Collier Cool. The movie tells the story of Detective Sarchie (Eric Bana), a once Catholic cop who has lost his faith, and his partner Butler (Joel McHale) who are investigating a number of strange cases that all seem to be connected not only by some very bizarre and violent behavior but, by three Iraqi War vets Santoino (Sean Harris), Jimmy (Chris Coy) and Griggs (Scott Johnsen). The incidents all seem to involve some very unexplainable activity and key on something the three found when on maneuvers in Iraq. But, when a mysterious priest named Mendoza (Edgar Ramirez) shows up proclaiming there is something far more evil going on here then just the dark side of human nature, Det. Sarchie’s disbelief is put to the test… and further tested as his family’s lives may now be in danger when the demonic force takes notice of Sarchie’s investigations and follows him home. Can a NYC cop, with demons of his own, fight an evil of biblical proportions?

I am not a big fan of Derrickson’s overrated Sinister, though I did like his The Exorcism Of Emily Rose. And I did like this movie though, I was caught off-guard that, for the first two thirds, the film is played like a routine police thriller with some very supernatural elements mixed into it rather then a straight-up horror. As the film progresses and the investigation deepens, it is only then that it starts to resemble a horror film and becomes a full blown one in it’s last act. Derrickson gives us some creepy moments throughout but, doesn’t really deliver the real scares and chills till the entity goes on the attack and Sarchie and Mendoza bond to confront it. It’s a little jarring but, it does work overall. The film is involving and interesting when it’s not being spooky though it could have used a bit more intensity and atmosphere like it gives us in the final act and it is plagued by some very familiar elements that we’ve seen time and time again in possession themed movies. We get swarms of flies, flickering lights, scratching noises and oddly behaving children’s toys and it is these overused elements that hold the movie back somewhat from really chilling us. Whether this is really what happened to Sarchie and his family or not, we’ve seen it all before. Even as the entity targets his 6 year old daughter, it reminds us of countless other flicks. But, Derrickson’s direction is solid and he has a really effective visual style. He is also supported by a really good cast, who all shine here, and while the film does have yet another exorcism scene, the director manages to craft a really effective one that actually throws in a few new twists on another overly familiar trapping of this type of flick. Too bad he couldn’t have freshened up some of the other time-worn elements a bit more, then this film would have been a real goose bump inducing treat throughout and not just in it’s last act when things get really intense and spooky. Flick is also not above getting gruesome, which it does at times with some top notch gore FX.

But, getting back to the cast, everyone is strong across the board and that helps get past the familiarity of it all. Bana is exceptional as Sarchie and I’m not his biggest fan. He takes us from good New York cop, who sometimes sees too much of the dark side of human nature, to one who recognizes there is even darker forces out there and its willing to fight them. Edgar Mendoza is also exceptional as the very unconventional priest and demonologist who has some past demons of his own and he and Bana really work together well. They have a great onscreen chemistry and the two opposing characters support each other very effectively. I also loved Community’s Joel McHale as Sarchie’s tough, tattooed but, wise-cracking partner. These two really work well together and their bond comes across as authentic and McHale paints an endearing character who is a bit of a wise-ass but, also a badass when he needs to be. I hope this leads to McHale’s talent finally being recognized and getting more major movie roles. He is leading man material. Harris and Coy are very creepy as our possessed former soldiers. We only get to see Johnsen’s Griggs in flashback footage so, there isn’t much he is given to do. We also get a nice down-to-earth turn by Olivia Munn as Sarchie’s wife Jen and Lulu Wilson is cute and precocious as 6 year old daughter Christina. Rounding out is a very creepy Olivia Horton as Jane Crenna, another of the possessed who gets some of the film’s more unnerving scenes. A really top notch cast that help elevate this above the routine.

So, in conclusion, Deliver Us From Evil is a routine possession thriller merged with a routine cop thriller but, elevated by some really good performances from it’s cast and a director who effectively cranks up the juice in the final act and gives us a few chills in the meantime. The film is weighed down by some all too familiar elements that we’ve seen in countless possession themed films but, is effectively directed enough to entertain and chill us, so we can be a bit forgiving and have had a creepy good time by the time the credits roll. A good and sometimes very effective horror that could have been better but, considering the familiarity of the elements involved, is a lot better then one might expect.

3 stuffed owls.

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