Hot Take: Doctor Strange (2016)

This month saw the release of yet another installment of the Marvel cinematic world – Doctor Strange.

Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange."

Benedict Cumberbatch is Doctor Strange.”

If I am to be honest, my ever expanding cinematic wish list did not include this title, but lo and behold, I found myself on a Saturday morning in a 3D IMAX theater on opening weekend. Go figure.

Brushing my initial ambivalence aside, I must admit that the end product turned out to be a pleasant surprise. Doctor Strange manages to take some very obscure concepts (at least by comic – to screen standards) and turn them into an accessible and cinematically stunning action adventure film. It is a rare moment when I recommend watching a film in 3D, but if you hadn’t seen this in this format, you did miss some pretty awesome sequences, that if nothing else, would leave your head spinning.

One thing that Doctor Strange and most of these Marvel films have going for them is the ability to draw top-notch talent. Sure, there is a part of your brain that chuckles at the thought of “thespians” like Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swindow, et al, donning goofy costumes and running down the streets, but you know what? Talent is talent and ultimately they all acquit themselves well enough, enough so that I was thoroughly entertained, whether the beat was dramatic or lighter in tone. Not much else one can ask for.

Another item worth noting is that the film felt a lot brisker than its 115 minute run time would suggest. I really felt like once the opening sequence launched, we were taken straight into the story with a few (if any) loose ends bogging the story down. Me likey.

If there was a negative point for me to make about Doctor Strange is that while it was a solid film, at the end of the day it is more or less “forgettable” in the pantheon of all the characters that we have seen on the screen to date (a result of genre sensory overload, perhaps?). That said, I suspect this is to be expected since the character is not one that I can ever claim to have known about until news broke about the development of the movie. My guess is that like always, we will have to take a “wait and see” approach in determining how seamlessly this chapter slides into the world of Nordic mythology, American Idealism and a huge green fella.

What Are They Playing At? Fox and the Fantastic Four

First off, hope everyone is having a happy Friday. Maybe the weekend means you will be headed to the cinema, maybe not. If it is the former, chances are it will not be to see the latest “reboot” of the Fantastic Four cinematic franchise. Not only do you have these kind of tweets floating around ….

trank

 (in case it is not clear, this is the director of the film)

… but early reports clearly show that the box office receipts are going to be anything but fantastic. Which begs me to ask, “Why is Fox continuing to do this?”

I guess I could go into detail about the dubious history of this Marvel-sourced property, but it’s been a long week so I will just point you in this direction.

f4

So even if the constant reboots/re-imaginings are simply for the reason of keeping the Fantastic Four a 20th Century Fox property, what is the end game here? The results since Fox has owned the rights have been mediocre at best. Why not produce a quality product and really invest in the storytelling, much in the way they have gone all-in with the X-Men universe? Maybe I am showing my source material naïveté here, but I am simply flummoxed and left with more questions than answers, as is evident.

Then the thought comes to me, maybe Fox is thinking long term and pulling a Sony Pictures and what they did with Spider-Man – after what many considered a recent and unnecessary reboot, the execs did the math and realized it was not worthwhile to keep the property. What DID make sense in this case was to cut their loses, turn good ole Spidey back over to a now very solvent Marvel Studios, and cash the check.

If Fox is attempting to make a similar play in seeking a cost-justified reason to dump the Fantastic Four franchise, they are going about it in a very curious way. Because as the poor reviews keep coming in and the box office tanks, there is a great deal of damage done to the Fantastic Four brand, which I would guess devalues it and ultimately places Marvel in the catbird’s seat, allowing them to reacquire the rights at a cost that will not allow Fox to recoup their loses. And then there is this. A curious business indeed.

I have been talking about this situation in personal correspondence with friends, family and my friends over at Super Hero Movie Talk. It has made for a very lively discussion. Now I am turning it over to you all – what do you think?

 

Home Viewing – Thor: The Dark World (2013)

First things first – I admit, I have yet to see any of the Thor films at the cinema. No real explanation, it just is. When I do eventually catch them, however, I must admit that I quite enjoy them; Tony Stark sums up perfectly my sentiments in this clip:

I think because of the world (that of Nordic gods) they inhabit, reaching overtly theatrical heights is no major surprise. It is a tone set in motion by “Shakespearean auteur” Kenneth Branagh in the first Thor feature. In Thor: The Dark World, we are again thrust into both worlds (Earth and Asgard).

I will spare a detailed run down of the film’s events, but just know that there is a lot of plot and subplot going on.

In the end I have to admit, I was satisfactorily entertained. It is clear that the actors are comfortable with each other, as exhibited in their banter and exchange of dialogue. This rapport brings a levity that makes this comic book adaptation all the more enjoyable.

Or perhaps, just perhaps, my enjoyment of Thor has something to do with the fact that as a ‘standalone’ franchise in the larger Marvel MCU, I had set the bar of expectation pretty low. And I don’t mean it as slight. The ingredients for a well made motion picture are there: the high theater (that straddles the line of  camp) combined with very capable talent yield positive results.

For me, the standout performance is Tom Hiddleston as the ‘villain’ Loki; there is another diabolical villain in the form of Christopher Eccleston – he’s quite fine too – but I digress. Serious when he needs to be and mischievous and plotting all other times, Hiddleston seems to be having a wonderful time in the role. And that makes US have a good time, too. It will be sad that we will not be seeing him for a while. At least that frees up the actor to entertain us in other films.

2013_thor_2_the_dark_world-wide
In the end, does this mean I will be seeing the third installment in the theaters? I have no idea at this point; but I am confident that regardless of the platform I choose to consume it in, Thor 3 will be a film to watch.

My rating: ILC heartILC heartILC heartILC heart halfish out of five hearts.

 

Monday Poll: Avengers Edition

Well we all know what this week has in store … time to ASSEMBLE!

When I went online with the prospect of purchasing my ticket, my head began to spin with the various options that lay before me.

It got me wondering, how everyone else is planning on seeing The Avengers this weekend (or next, like me); so please respond to the poll below and be sure to comment!

How do you plan on seeing "The Avengers."

View Results

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Weekend Two-fer (Friends With Benefits and Captain America: the First Avenger)

Warning: Reviews may contain spoilers

Today I have decided to give you a two for one deal. I saw Friends With Benefits a couple of weeks ago, but was saving the review for its official release. My delay in putting the finishing touches on it lead to the decision to combine the review with Captain America: The First Avenger which I saw on Sunday.


Captain America: The First Avenger

For the uninitiated, as the title states, Captain America is the first Avenger. In sort of a movie flashback, we see how Steve Rodgers, the 4F candidate becomes America’s “supersoldier.” During his latest attempt to enlist in the Army, he catches the attention of German scientist Dr. Erksine and eventually becomes part of the secret Army program that transforms him into our superhero.

At the same time we have the parallel story of the Red Skull (Hugo Weaving) who in a spilt from the Nazi regime takes the special weapons division of the Reich (Hydra) and suits it for his own evil purpose. You can guess what his ultimate objective is.

The convergent protagonist/antagonist stories lead a race against time for our heroes to save the world from a seemingly unstoppable force of evil.

Overall I thought the film was very enjoyable; one reason is the cast. In previous films, Chris Evans has always come off as being a bit of a flashy young hot shot. In Captain America, he plays the role of Steve Rodgers pretty straight and does a good job of it. Hugo Weaving is well, Hugo Weaving – no one does sly villainy quite the way he does. Tommy Lee Jones has many laughs in his role of the gruff, curmudgeonly army officer. I could go on and on but I think you get the point. It similar movies that are brimming with acting talent, it is very easy to get lost in the star count, but in Captain America, there is a very good balance. I must credit the direct Joe Johnston, who was able to get these performances out of his cast.

It would be foolish of me not to mention my favorite part of the film – the visual elements – set design, cinematography, costumers and makeup. I LOVE the vintage look and feel of the picture. I did feel like the production adequately evoked the spirit and look of the WWII era.

Nowadays, most pictures seem to run a minimum of 120 minutes, which can help or hurt a film. At 125 minutes, Captain America passes by at a solid pace and did not lead to much clock-watching on my part. That said a little more could have been to tighten up the story it did feel like some scenes were in just for the sake of it. But that is a minor quibble at best. Actually I have one more quibble – the fact (yet again) that the 3D did nothing to enhance my cinematic experience.

In the end, there is not much that could be done to ruin this film (for me). It is definitely a movie where I must simply take it for what it is – a decent comic book story, pretty well acted.

It is important to note that in the Marvel universe, this is the final film that will introduce us to the principle Avengers. We will next see Captain America and company in the $300million spectacle The Avengers set for release in May 2012.

HINT – stay for the ENTIRE credits and then some.


Friends With Benefits

This Mila Kunis-Justin Timberlake starrer began a little shaky for me but at its conclusion, I must admit that I actually enjoyed it. I do not know why it pains me to say something like this, but funny is funny and this film had me laughing quite a few times. Granted it is not “This generation’s When Harry Met Sally” as I have seen it described in some promotional materials, but it was a light-heartedly entertaining movie.

As for the plot, it is pretty straightforward:

  • Boy meets girl
  • Boy + girl Become Friends
  • In a moment of madness/passion whatever, boy + girl decide to hook up – the caveat being that as long as the sex is emotionless and they keep it apart from their friendship. Do you think that is going to work?

This of course s a slight variation on the When Harry Met Sally story in which the theme was that men and women CAN’T be friends because of the sex getting in the way. This film also has the misfortune of following the relatively poorly received No Strings.

This similarity is unfortunate because in spite of the oft-told theme, I was quite amused by this film. The leads obviously have chemistry especially as the movie moved along. The film’s saving grace for was courtesy of the wonderful supporting players, including Patricia Clarkson, Richard Jenkins and Woody Harrelson.

What seemed not to work for me however are elements of the film that you could tell were placed in the film for the sole purpose of getting a laugh. I speak particularly of the “film within a film” – its purpose is   to serve as a device by which we not only get cameos from the likes of Jason Segal and Rashida Jones, but is a send up of Hollywood’s bland treatment of film romance and New York City. The delivery ended up being a bit “blah” for my tastes.

Also someone who loves playing “I know that location” when watching films set in NYC, one thing that got to me was the jumping around between midtown, downtown and all around town in a relatively short period of time. If only it were that easy.

In conclusion, while not up there in my all time favorite rom-coms, I must admit that Friends With Benefits was definitely a pleasant surprise.

I would recommend this movie for: A girls’ night/date night out or in (home viewing).