Monday, November 14, 2016

Popcorn For One: Reviews of DOCTOR STRANGE and ARRIVAL


I think I’m getting into a bad habit again.  Back when I was in New York I’d pretty regularly spend hours on a day off going to several movies back-to-back.  Most Manhattan theaters were turning into multiplexes in the ‘80s and it was pretty easy to move from one film into another, especially if several were getting out at the same time. I have not done it in years, but find that it’s still pretty easy to get away with.  Of course, I have a feeling that the theater staff would be more likely to question a few teenagers they saw trying that, while they wouldn’t consider the senior citizen wandering the lobby to be much of a problem.  Anyway, onto the movies.

As you can imagine, if you regularly read this blog (when I remember it’s here) or actually know me, I’ve been eagerly awaiting the new Doctor Strange film from Marvel for the past few months.  Benedict Cumberbatch was perfect as Doctor Stephen Strange, a famous, if egotistical, surgeon who has little use for anyone or anything unless it reflects well on himself.  About the only person who actually likes him is fellow doctor, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), who may have been his lover at one point prior to the film’s opening scenes. After a tragic car accident causes Strange to lose the use of his hands as a surgeon he goes out of his way to alienate everyone else, including Christine, as he continues in a downward spiral.  One day he happens to hear of another man who seemingly recovered from physical injuries that should have been impossible to overcome.  The only thing this man will tell him is that he should seek Kathmandu, in Nepal. Narrowly escaping a vicious beating by local thugs thanks to the intervention of the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetelu Umeadi Ejiofor), Strange is led to his destination.  There he meets the order’s master, The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, in a role portrayed as a male in the comics since his introduction), who finds him wanting so has him cast out.  It is again Mordo who comes to his defense allowing Strange another chance.

It is unclear how long Stephen is undergoing training in the mystic arts, but one assumes it is months, if not years.  When an earlier apprentice of the Ancient One, Kaecilius (a very intense and menacing, Mads Mekkelsen) steals a spell that will allow him to contact the ruler of the Dark Dimension, Dormammu, thereby giving this being access to Earth which he wishes to conquer and merge with his own worlds.

I’m not going to give anything else away, since most of the above you can get from the trailers that have been coming out since Comic-Con this past summer.  Needless to say the film was everything I could have wanted and I even sprung for the extra four bucks to see it in 3-D, which I generally pass on but would recommend for this film.  I’m not sure how the interdimensional travels of the good Doctor work in 2-D and I think you would miss out on just how impressive the city twisting battles (reminiscent in a way of INCEPTION) appear.  Nicely acted, with just perhaps a little too much humor for the character as fans know him.  Of course, you expect that from the Marvel films we’ve already seen so it should come as no surprise.  Some of the jokes work better than others, and those featuring the Cloak of Levitation are priceless.

There is one comment seemingly tossed off by one character towards the end of the film that should get the attention of folks already familiar with the MCU’s workings, plus it adds to one of the post credit scenes (there are two of them, so be patient) in setting up future events featuring Strange. 
 
It was nice to give my eyes a rest, as the 3-D glasses still bother me a bit as I have to put them on over my regular eyeglasses, as my next choice was ARRIVAL.  I had to admit that the trailers for the film really didn’t do much for me, but several online reviewers spoke so highly of the film that I decided to give it a chance.  I’m so happy that I did as I think this film is the best film I have seen so far this year.  Not only are Amy Adams and Jeremy Renner (perhaps best known to many of you as Hawkeye from the Avengers films) excellent, but supporting actors Forest Whitaker and Michael Stuhlbarg are also quite good in their roles. 

Adams portrays Dr. Louise Banks a linguist called in by the U.S. military to help decipher the language of an alien race who have suddenly appeared in twelve different areas of the world.  Renner is a physicist and mathematician also enlisted in an attempt at understanding the technology the aliens have used to travel from wherever they call home. 

I can’t really say much more without ruining the story and how the relationships develop in the film. If you go in expecting dazzling special effects or space battles I think you might be disappointed. Think more along the lines of the film CONTACT with Jodi Foster or some parts of Spielberg’s CLOSE ENCOUNTERS OF THE THIRD KIND.   Just keep in mind that the trailers you have seen for the film barely give you an idea of what to expect.  This is a movie that will have you thinking after it ends and is one of the few SF films I have seen where many in the audience were applauding at the end.  I expect and hope that there will be some Oscar consideration for this film.  Amy Adams was absolutely wonderful and you forget how good Renner can be in a serious non-action role.  Do yourself a favor and see this movie.

Three trailers for upcoming films caught my attention.  I already was excited for both ROGUE ONE and GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY, Vol. 2, but VALERIAN AND THE CITY OF A THOUSAND PLANETS really caught me by surprise.  I don’t recall hearing of the film prior to seeing a trailer on YouTube, but have seen some pages of the French graphic novel on which it is based.  This is from Luc Besson, who directed and co-wrote FIFTH ELEMENT, so you know he can do visually stunning stuff.  I may add this to my list of films ‘to see’ next year.

Next up, expect my review of ROGUE ONE: A Star Wars Story in the later part of December.  Of course, I might actually write something about comics before that, but I’m not promising anything.
 

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