Doctor Strange: Change the meds

Film Score: 2 out of 5 (Below Average)

In this new Disney-Marvel Expansion, prominent surgeon Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is struck by tragedy, leading a to a mystical journey from surgeon to ‘heroic’ magician. That journey felt like a 4 a.m. taxi ride on a Saturday night after one kebab too many.

Doctor Strange is part of Disney’s inevitable expansion of the Marvel Universe as it leads up to the Infinity War. The film feels like a rushed attempt to cash-in on acquired I.P., rather than a holistic introduction to a character unknown to many viewers unless they are Marvel readers.

I have no bias against Disney’s Marvel expansion, some of the Disney-Marvel films were great, particularly Guardians of the Galaxy. Having watched the Doctor Strange trailer, and seen the actors involved, my expectation was that Doctor Strange would mirror the wackiness and humour of Guardians of the Galaxy.

Doctor Strange’s persistent flaw is the aggressive urgency by which the plot develops. The film feels like a check-list of events, exposition and emotions which have been rushed through in competition with a deadline.

The most obvious example of Doctor Strange’s ridiculous pace is the romance element between title character Doctor Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) and colleague Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams).  It is clear from the first hospital scene that the pair have been romantically involved at some point, yet little reason is given to why the relationship failed. Following the film’s introduction, their romance seems to reappear and disappear at a whim, until Strange seemingly forgoes Christine to fight the villain Kaecilius (Mads Mikklesen).

The film is so eager to conclude the story that it veers between serious drama and slapstick humour, pushing the viewer between emotions and leaving them confused as to what they should feel at any given time. The scene where Doctor Strange is introduced to magic is the worst affected by the film’s rushed feel. Strange’s reality is shattered and I should have shared his sense of being overwhelmed by this new world. I spent the 2 minutes of that scene laughing out loud, to my realisation that I was one of the few laughing in the audience. This excessive alteration between comedy and drama blots out the genuine moments in the film, tinging Doctor Strange with a sense of melodrama.

The main cast are seasoned actors, particularly Mads Mikklesen (Kaecilius) who has been one of my favourite actors since watching The Hunt. The acting is great throughout but once again the plot weakens the film. Character development is very limited. Characters appear on cue, but no time is afforded to develop any emotional bond between them and the audience. When the film concluded, I had the same sense of investment in what had unfolded as when I half-heartedly watch a Sunday T.V show with my parents.

There were opportunities to develop the film’s characters further, some of the character’s past history and motivations are stated but not expanded upon. These omissions stem from what appears to be a lack of time. Doctor Strange is the character that lacks the most development, he comes across as a jerk who is too clever for his own good, refusing to accept any of the lessons afforded to him during his journey from surgeon to mage. The end attempts to show that Doctor Strange has become a hero, but it was missing a good twenty minutes showing the protagonist’s actual transition.

It is probable that the next cinematic appearance by the good Doctor Strange will humble him and expand on his past. However, Doctor Strange would have been better suited to the generous runtime of a Netflix series, allowing characters and the story to grow naturally.

Despite watching Doctor Strange in 2D the film’s special effects were impressive, but that is to be expected from a company with Disney’s financial stature.

The franchise awakens

Doctor Strange raises concerns for Disney’s second and far more recent I.P. acquisition, Star Wars.

I am a fan of the original films and I did enjoy The Force Awakens, although I did not dress up for my local premiere in Star Wars garb like the middle aged father, and his two embarrassed daughters, sitting next to me.  The next films in the Star Wars franchise are Rogue One and the Han Solo’s origins story.

The upcoming Star Wars spin-offs boast robust casts but I have my doubts. Rogue One is essentially a story with an ending that is already known to fans of the series. Moreover Han Solo is the fan favourite of the original films and will definitely reap a profit. I fear that for Star Wars, in comparison to how Marvel is faring under Disney, that the franchise is going to be exactly that, a franchise. Instead of Star Wars being a film series which at certain levels deals with matters such as morality and spirituality, it is going to become a conveyor belt of ever minor characters to a point of saturation.

In  Disney’s defence they are a major company and they need to maintain profit growth for shareholders. Yet I was hoping with Disney’s acquisition of the Star Wars title, that there would be spin-offs exploring deeper issues for the older Star Wars audience which has grown up with the original films and the prequels from the late 1970’s to the 2000’s. A potential subject for a more mature Star Wars film would be the fact that Republic’s Clone Army is a force of slaves. A film exploring this issue could cover many issues within our reality in a sci-fi setting, such as the loss of identity in warfare, freedom and destiny, and so forth.

When I left the screening of Doctor Strange, I did have a sense that Disney was basically selling the family silver, rather than taking risks. I hope that my opinion will be soon disproved.

Target audience: Younger teens and children.

By Saul Shimmin

For the trailer, see below:

 

 

 

Edge of Seventeen

Film score: 2.5 out of 5

The Edge of Seventeen realistically, albeit boringly, depicts the struggles of an unlucky high schooler, Nadine (Hailee Steinfeld). The movie starts with vigor as Nadine poignantly reveals how her hero, her dad (a fantastic Eric Keenleyside), made her life livable. However, just minutes after this, he tragically suffers a heart attack and dies. From there, the audience watches Nadine’s life unravel as her best-friend hooks up with her brother, her mom (Kyra Sedgwick) fails to be a competent parent, and her crush turns out to be the piece of trash.

Viewers expecting a teenage Rom-Com inspired by Emma Stone’s Easy A will be surprised/disappointed by a far more dramatic plot which bears a closer resemblance to Shailene Woodley’s The Fault in Our Stars. However, unlike these movies, The Edge of Seventeen bored me. I left the theater feeling let down. I turned to my dad and asked him what he thought. “Loved it. Every parent and their daughters need to see it.”

After a day of reflection, I still can’t say it was a fun movie to watch or even entertaining. At least, not for a 24-year-old male. I mean, it did have its moments: Every scene with Woody Harrelson, Nadine’s English teacher/mentor, was magic and the car-make-out/almost sex scene was cringe-worthy, but for all the right reasons. The actors were fantastic and the direction was commendable. I saw no issues in those departments.

My trouble with the movie arose from its story elements. The first two-thirds lacked dramatic momentum. The movie’s trailer reveals the bulk of the plot’s points and more importantly, its twists. Therefore, when Nadine learns that Nadine’s best friend, Krista (Haley Lu Richardson) is interested in her brother, Darian (Blake Jenner), the audience isn’t as shocked as Nadine because the trailer divulged this betrayal. However, this scene was one of the better scenes in the movie’s first half because when Nadine walks in on them, they aren’t having sex. Instead, Krista is giving Darian a hand-job. This might seem a crude element to highlight in a movie review, but its addition made the movie’s high school setting more realistic because teenage sexual encounters are awkward. Hardly ever, do they consist of the nude, moaning sex that most Hollywood studios demand in their movies.

Another let down in those first two-thirds is the things that rattled Nadine felt unimportant, and I found myself getting annoyed with Nadine. Her motivation was unclear, but my dad, my mom, and even my girlfriend, whoever I talked to about the movie, immediately understood Nadine and empathized with her. They all felt these were pertinent issues that need movies need to show and talk about. As my dad put it, “All teenagers and their parents need to see this movie so that they know that even when everything is going to shit and things keep going against you or your child, you’ll make it through, and the sun will eventually shine.”

Despite this one positive takeaway, The Edge of Seventeen is far too focused on a target demographic of mid-to-older teenage girls and indirectly, their parents, rather than having a broad appeal. The focus upon this demographic robs the protagonist of any empathy to viewers who outside this sizable niche. Moreover, the trailer bears a lot of blame for the underwhelming plot revelations because it divulges nearly all of its major turns.

By Hagood Grantham

Target Audience:  Older teenagers, adults, parents.

For trailer, see below:

 

 

Nocturnal Animals

Film score: 5 out of 5

Nocturnal Animals is a tale about art, reality, and regret. Susan (Amy Adams)  leads a lavish but hollow life with second husband Hutton (Armie Hammer). Susan receives a manuscript from her estranged ex-husband Edward (Jake Gyllenhaal). Spending the weekend alone and unable to sleep, Susan begins to reflect on her past choices as she falls ever deeper into Edward’s tale of tragedy, heartbreak and violence.

Tom Ford’s second film is a refreshing return to film noir, 1950’s Hollywood Thrillers and French New Wave Cinema, permeated by dashes of Hitchcock, Chabrol, Godard and other Cinematic masters.

Seamus McGarvey’s cinematography conjures an eerie and isolating Los Angeles, distant and cold, covered in rain or fog. The city’s ambience is mirrored in the commercial art scene in which Susan now works. Plunged into a wide depth of field, Susan seems lost in her life, constantly detached from a large and empty world. These scenes are contrasted by Susan’s memories of her first husband Edward and the imagined world of his new novel. Both of these words are intimate and colourful, boasting a broader range of colour and smaller frames, allowing characters to truly inhabit both spaces.

Ford’s direction and his writing hold together a narrative that flits between the past, the present and the sub-narrative of Edward’s novel. It would have been easy for the film to become a jarring experience, due to the repeated and sudden switches between all three worlds.  Yet Ford manages to pull it off, the differing depths of field, changing colour palettes, and particularly changes in Susan’s wardrobe, merges all three parts into a cohesive whole.

Praise is deserved for Ford’s and McGarvey’s effective use of soviet montage theory in switching between the novel and present day, the camera repeatedly cuts from Edward’s novel to Susan’s reaction to the unfolding events. This cutting between the sadness of Edward’s novel to Susan’s emotions causes the fictional world and reality to bleed over. By the end of the film, it is hard to say whether the events of the film actually happened, or that the audience has witnessed a dream within Susan’s fatigued mind as she regrets her past.

Amy Adams, Jake Gyllenhaal and Michael Shannon all excel in their roles. It is warming to see that all three actors, who are major stars, are still willing to make films that do not fit the standard box office formula.

Aaron Taylor-Johnson portrays Ray Marcus, the predatory villain of Edward’s novel who leads a small band of thugs. Taylor-Johnson’s depiction of Ray is excellent because the character is a pantomime villain, the audience is not allowed to understand Ray’s motivations or to empathize with him. Essentially Ray does what he does. It is a credit to Taylor-Johnson’s acting that this flaw in the character only appears some time after the film’s end. Throughout his appearance on the screen, Ray acts a centre of tension, he is completely unpredictable and sociopathic.

Ultimately I do not think that the film is a tale of indirect revenge. It seems to hold a deeper meaning about the sacrifices creative people undertake to succeed in their Art, and a commentary on the commercialization of Art in all its forms.

By Saul Shimmin

Target audience: Anyone looking for a good film that they will ponder for days.

For the trailer, see below: