Doctor Strange Review

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A common argument about why Marvel’s movies are generally better than DC’s is that Marvel is less afraid to explore the more surreal side of comic books. Man of Steel was too moody and trying too hard to be realistic, but Marvel made a fun little movie where characters included a tree man and a talking raccoon. Now we have Marvel’s latest movie, Doctor Strange, where magic and warped Inception-esque cities abound, and it works pretty well.

The titular doctor, Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is involved in a car accident that leaves him unable to use his hands. When he learns of an ancient order that apparently healed a paraplegic, Strange goes to find that order and learn magic under the tutelage of The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Strange becomes skilled in the magical arts, and uses what he learns to battle the evil sorcerer Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen),who wants to bring forth the demon Dormammu.

The best thing about Doctor Strange is definitely its visuals; it’s a film that deserves to be seen in IMAX. Just the scene where Strange first meets the ancient one, and is taken through a metaphysical journey where his hands grow hands is worth the price of admission alone. The Marvel universe is meant to be a weird and wonderful place and now that it has sorcery at its disposal, it has a lot of fun with it.

As for the story itself, it is the typical superhero fare: character gets powers, learns how to use them, and there’s the big evil portal to the big evil dimension that we’ve seen in this year’s Ninja Turtles and Suicide Squad. Thankfully, it is kept entertaining and engaging by Cumberbatch’s performance. True, it does seem similar to his Sherlock, but it’s an interesting setting for a Sherlock-esque character to be in. Though Strange’s co-workers find him arrogant, he’s still a character the viewer enjoys spending time with.

Mads Mikkelsen has done a brilliant job playing Hannibal Lecter in the Hannibal TV series, and he does a good job with the villain of this film, even if the character himself isn’t really anything special. Swinton’s performance and character are more interesting, and has some good interactions with Cumberbatch.

Doctor Strange is another enjoyable entry into the Marvel canon, and one especially worth seeing in 3D.

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Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders Review

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May include spoilers

With a lot of Batman-related media of recent years being dark and serious in tone with a dark and serious Batman – the Chris Nolan movies, the Arkham games, Batman v Superman – it’s easy to forget the Dark Knight has seen brighter adaptations. Let’s face it, the 1966 Batman TV series is campy, but it’s still hilarious and enjoyable to watch even today. Therefore, an animated movie based on the show, with Adam West, Burt Ward and Julie Newmar reprising their respective roles as Batman, Robin and Catwoman, is more than welcome in this day and age, something to give us a break from the brooding Batman.

Joker (Jeff Bergman), Penguin (William Salvers), Riddler (Wally Wingert, reprising the role from the aforementioned Arkham games) and Catwoman reunite to seize a ray gun capable of duplicating anything, and Batman and Robin, as usual, have to stop them. There’s just one thing complicating matters – Catwoman has given Batman a serum that turns him evil, and using the ray, the now-criminal Batman uses clones of himself to take over Gotham City. This leaves Robin no choice but to team up with Catwoman in hopes of curing his old partner.

All the hallmarks of the 60’s TV show are here; Batman lectures Robin on the dangers of jaywalking, they scale the wall of a building, deathtraps and battles with onomatopoeia galore. It pays homage to other Batman media as well; not only is the intro a slew of classic comic covers with the movie’s versions of the characters, but the brainwashed Batman is a cute poke at the darker renditions of the character, even quoting the 1989 Batman movie and The Dark Knight Returns. Catwoman also makes fun of the ending of The Dark Knight Rises, but these pokes never feel mean-spirited. This is not asking to replace the more serious Batman but rather to co-exist with him.

What also makes the movie a joy to watch is its visuals; the animation is smooth and vibrant and the characters look pretty close to how they looked on the show (though Commissioner Gordon looks more like he does in the comics than he did on the show). It’s bright and colourful and eye-catching with even some nice details in the background, like the outfit Batman wore in his very first comics appearance in the Batcave. The final battle atop a blimp boasts some exquisite lighting. The voice acting is also top-notch, with West being as hilariously over-serious as he was in the live-action show, and is an utter hoot to listen to while evil. Ward and Newmar are great and Bergman, Salvers and Wingert do good impressions of Romero, Meredith and Gorshin.

It isn’t on the level of say, The Dark Knight, but it isn’t meant to be. Batman: Return of the Caped Crusaders is a tonne of fun with plenty of laughs and should be extremely enjoyable for Batman fans young and old. Hopefully the upcoming sequel will be as entertaining, but how can it not, when it has William Shatner playing Two-Face?

The Infiltrator Review

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Spoilers may follow

The Infiltrator is based on the true story of special agent Robert Mazur, adapting Mazur’s autobiography of the same name. It features Mazur (Bryan Cranston) going undercover as a businessman called “Bob Musella”, infiltrating Pablo Escobar’s massive drug cartel and uncovering a money laundering scheme. This line of work, of course, is not without its risks.

The story The Infiltrator tells is an interesting one, but one of the biggest draws to the movie is definitely Bryan Cranston. He was fantastic as Walter White and Dalton Trumbo, and so too is he as the titular infiltrator. Mazur may be on the opposite side of the law from Walter White, but Cranston’s Mazur still carries the menace and passion of Walter. An especially memorable scene that shows Cranston still knows how to be scary involves, of all things, an anniversary cake. The film is worth seeing for that alone. He does show moments of vulnerability and regret and really sells them, showing how truly frightening this type of work is.

The other actors are mostly fine; John Leguizamo being a good example, playing off Cranston well as his partner Emir Ebreu. However, the only actor who is really that memorable is Cranston himself. Most of the other figures in this film are either forgettable or underutilised.

A slow pace can work for a film like this; it helps build up the tension and gives the audience more time to dwell in the sordid world of drugs and money laundering. The pacing of The Infiltrator does mean tension is built and we stay in the dark world Mazur invades longer, but it also means the film does drag sometimes, and its two hour runtime is felt.

The Infiltrator is an entertaining and enjoyable film, but it can be easy to get lost on the plot and the only thing you’ll likely come away remembering is the performance of the title character.

Hell or High Water Review

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May include spoilers

In order to save his mother’s ranch so his sons can own it one day, Toby Howard (Chris Pine) teams up with his ex-con brother Tanner (Ben Foster) to pull off a series of bank robberies. As they commit these crimes, Texas ranger Marcus Hamilton (Jeff Bridges), near retirement, seeks to find them and bring them to justice, along with his partner, Alberto Parker (Gil Birmingham).

Hell or High Water is a fine film. It boasts good pacing, a wonderful atmosphere (an important conversation has no sound in the background aside from an oil drill), but the main reason it succeeds so well is through its characters and the actors who play them.

Bank robbers Toby and Tanner may be, but they were characters I wanted to watch. Pines and Foster play well off of each other, and I could listen to them chat to each other all day. Tanner gets more of a thrill from bank robberies than his brother, and you get a sense of that without the crime being glamorised. It is Toby, however, that is the focal point of the duo, and his story is developed well. He’s doing this for his ex-wife and sons, and while we only get one real scene with his ex-wife and one son, that scene is still well-acted and written.

Pine and Foster make a fine duo, and so too do Bridges and Birmingham, with the focal point of that twosome, Bridges, being an especially good standout. Hamilton refers to himself as a cowboy, and Bridges plays him as well as he did Rooster Cogburn. The interactions between Hamilton and Parker work as well as those between the Howard brothers, especially a humorous scene where they speak with a waitress. Eventually, these two duos must meet, and the two focal characters must have their own separate meeting, and the result is more than satisfying.

Indeed, Hell or High Water is very satisfying to watch, and I almost wish it had gone on a little longer so I could spend more time with the characters.

Don’t Breathe Review

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Spoilers may follow

Rocky (Jane Levy), along with Alex (Dylan Minnette) and Money (Daniel Zovatto), make money by breaking into people’s houses and stealing their goods. Hoping to get away from her squalid life and move to California with her sister, Rocky joins her two companions on another job: stealing money from a blind war veteran (Stephen Lang). As many precautions as they take, however, they were ill-prepared for how truly ruthless the Blind Man is. After Money is killed, Rocky and Alex have to find a way out of the Blind Man’s house.

The action of Don’t Breathe is confined mostly to a single building, and it asks us to care about the fates of burglars who are willing to urinate in the homes they invade. It does, however, make good use of its setting and its characters. The home the main characters are trying to escape is the appropriate setting for a story such as this; dingy and claustrophobic, and while there are places to hide, they won’t do you good for long. One truly believes it to be the domain of The Blind Man, one which he has total control over.

Although the main characters are criminals who fully intend to rob a blind man’s house, one really does want to see them get out of this. It is obvious from the start that Rocky is destined to be our “final girl”, but there is a good amount of tension about whether or not she’ll escape, especially when you find out what The Blind Man has planned for her (which you might find a little too disgusting, really). Though the game of cat-and-mouse (or cat-with-dog-and-mouse) does drag on a bit near the end (she escapes the house then gets taken back then escapes again), it is still mostly tense and exciting to watch.

Don’t Breathe is a thrilling little horror flick, worth watching if you want to get into the Halloween spirit a little early.

Sausage Party Review

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Spoilers may follow

Even before watching Sausage Party, a dark cloud looms over the film, one that might turn potential viewers away. The animation studio behind it, Nitrogen Studios, had apparently grossly mistreated its animators, forcing them to work unpaid overtime and threatening them with termination. Half of the animators even went uncredited. A disgusting thing to hear about, especially with the hard work that goes into animation.

Sausage Party, despite what went on behind the scenes, has an oddly interesting premise. Unbeknownst to the human race, the food products of a supermarket are sentient, and they believe the customers are gods who’ll take them to a utopia known as “The Great Beyond”. Frank the hot dog (Seth Rogen) and his hot dog bun girlfriend Brenda (Kristen Wiig) have been chosen by one of these “gods” but thanks to an incident involving a jar of honey mustard, they fall out of the shopping cart before they can be purchased. As the store closes, they try to find their way back to their own aisles, but during this journey, Frank learns the terrible truth about what humans really do to food.

Taking childish concepts and peeling them back to reveal darker implications has been done several times before, mostly by internet comedy, but it can still be interesting when done right. Everybody has seen advertisements where sentient food awaits being eaten, and everyone who has watched them has made jokes about why sentient food would want to die. Now, lo and behold, here is an entire movie exploring that joke and what it implies. As I have noted, the idea that the food wants to be purchased due to belief in a higher power is an interesting one, but the allegory that stems from this and dominates the film is still pretty obvious and heavy-handed.

Most people consider “adult cartoons” to be unending parades of swearing and bodily function jokes, even when we have shows like Bojack Horseman that actually do feel genuinely mature. Sausage Party, however, has the characters frequently curse like sailors, with not a second going by without the “f” word. That is utterly exhausting and distracting, but one use of audacity is actually amusing. The best character in the whole movie is an evil literal douche played by Nick Kroll, who drains the juices of other products like a vampire, and  at the end, controls a human by pulling his testicles. And yes, the rumours are true; the ending involves a food orgy that has to be seen to be believed. Still, in terms of movies about inanimate objects becoming rebellious, it isn’t as funny as Maximum Overdrive.

Sausage Party has some laughs here and there, and is worth a watch for curiousity’s sake, but it is still nothing more than average. As adult cartoons go, it’s better than, say, Warren United, but has really nothing that makes it stand out. And it’s a shame about its animators, too.

David Brent: Life on the Road Review

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Spoilers may follow

Fifteen years after the ending of The Office (the original UK version), former regional manager of Wernham Hogg David Brent (Ricky Gervais) now works as a sales rep selling toiletries. However, he decides to take some time off so he can travel with an updated version of his band Foregone Conclusion along with rapper Don Johnson (Doc Brown). His band, however, is not as successful as he hopes, due to Brent’s over-confident and unintentionally offensive nature.

Like The Office before it, David Brent: Life on the Road is set out like a pseudo-documentary, telling its story through interviews and narration. Yes, even the good old “Handbags and Gladrags” song does pop up in the film. It is a continuation of the series and not an adaptation like this year’s Dad’s Army was, yet I feel the same way about Brent that I did about Army; it’s a fine, amusing film, but there’s still the sense that it’s not as funny as its small-screen counterpart.

Don’t get me wrong, there’s still some laughs to be had here. Not big belly laughs, mind, just small chuckles. There is still some humour in how Brent bungles up songs meant to be large issues and the audience’s reactions to said songs. Despite what he says and does, Brent still manages to come off as slightly sympathetic so you still want to see where he ends up. However, there does still seem to be something missing, and the film feels a bit longer than ninety-six minutes. Some of the jokes, including one about pelicans, seem to overstay their welcome.

Gervais is still enjoyable to watch, as is Doc Brown, yet the two characters don’t really have that much chemistry together. Still, David Brent: On the Road is an alright film with some laughs, but you’d be better off just rewatching the series.