Doctor Strange Review: Cosmic craziness


Director: Scott Derrickson

Writers: Scott Derrickson, C. Robert Cargill

Stars: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton

doctor_strange_new_poster


Release date: October 27th, 2016

Distributor: Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures

Country: USA 

Running time: 115 minutes


3½/5

Best part: The energetic performances.

Worst part: Another weak MCU villain.

Unquestionably, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is an unstoppable machine. Disney won big after purchasing the comic book/movie juggernaut. Since the series’ humble beginnings, with 2008’s Iron Man, Disney and co. have delivered mini-franchises, spin-offs and origin stories without quit.

Doctor Strange is the latest B/C-list character – following Iron Man, Ant-Man, the Guardians of the Galaxy etc. – to receive a breakout blockbuster. The opportunity gives Marvel characters new time in the spotlight. The franchise’s latest adventure delivers yet another major superhero origin. We meet egotistical neurosurgeon Dr. Steven Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) conducting a miracle procedure. The award-winning, super-rich professional places reputation ahead of connection. On his way to a presentation, Strange is mangled in a horrific car accident. Nerve damage prevents Dr. Strange from continuing his life’s work. He heads to Nepal, convinced the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and secret compound Kamar-Taj, can cure him. Whilst working alongside side-mentor Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Strange meets dark-magic-afflicted former student Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen).

After 14 installments, the MCU formula is more pronounced than ever. Almost all of them feature a cocky hero brought down by a tragic experience, re-building themselves with money and powers, encountering a plucky love interest, finding the villain/s responsible and destroying the world-ending/blue-beam-in-the-sky threat. Doctor Strange follows said template to the letter. In fact, this one cherry picks specific elements from each movie. Like Iron Man, the first third develops our lead character as being super smart and even more unlikable. He can do anything: pick and choose intricate surgeries, bound around with a boisterous smile, list every song and its history etc. Director and co-writer Scott Derrickson (Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil), along with fellow writer C. Robert Cargill, expertly depict his rise and fall via heart-wrenching, somber montage.

Doctor Strange‘s multitude of realms and abilities is overwhelming. Derrickson and co. continually transition between origin story tropes, training montages and exposition. They revel in trippy dream sequences and flashbacks. However, the astral plane/mirror dimension sequences are jaw-dropping. As Strange delves deeper, Derrickson provides more time-and-space-bending set-pieces. The prologue provides a kick-ass introduction to MCU’s cosmic ether. The Ancient One and Kaecilius fragment London streets. From MC Esher city sequences to impressive production design, the movie truly reaches for the stars. Its A-list cast give nuanced performances in out-there roles. Cumberbatch is a welcome addition, down-playing every note with verve. Swinton and Ejiofor are charming in valuable roles. However, Mikkelsen is the latest white, middle-aged character-actor portraying a forgettable MCU villain.

Doctor Strange is a hyperkinetic and enjoyable MCU extender. Derrickson wrangles a starry cast, falls into line and fits Jon Favreau’s breezy tone. It provides enough nuances to stand out from the pack. However, this franchise might just have peaked with Captain America: Civil War.

Verdict: Another enjoyable MCU instalment.

 

Hail, Caesar! Review: Ode to Old School


Directors: Joel & Ethan Coen

Writers: Joel & Ethan Coen

Stars: Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Alden Ehrenreich, Ralph Fiennes

hail-caesar-poster


Release date: February 25th, 2016

Distributor: Universal Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 106 minutes


 

3½/5

Review: Hail, Caesar!

Snowpiercer Review – Do the Locomotion!


Director: Bong Joon-ho

Writers: Bong Joon-ho, Kelly Masterson (screenplay), Jaques Lob, Benjamin Legrand, Jean-Marc Rochette (graphic novel)

Stars: Chris Evans, Kang-ho Song, Jamie Bell, Tilda Swinton

snowpiercer-poster


Release date: June 27th, 2014

Distributor: RADiUS-TWC 

Countries: South Korea, USA

Running time:  126 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: The alluring visuals.

Worst part: The heavy-handed final minute.

More often than not, Hollywood refuses to make the right choice. The big-name studios, pushing us into theatre, hire major players to stand in front of, and behind, the camera. However, forced to follow a formula, these studios end up bullying these people beyond belief. Unfortunately, foreign directors suffer the worst of this atrocious behaviour. Despite the critical acclaim, Korean directors including Park Chan-wook and Kim Jee-woon had to fight to keep their big-budget efforts alive.

Chris Evans & Jamie Bell.

Gracefully, without ruffling anyone’s feathers, one Korean export took it upon himself to make this year’s best action extravaganza. Bong Joon-ho (The Host) is yet another three-name filmmaker currently working under Tinseltown’s bright lights. His first Hollywood feature, Snowpiercer, looks like a tiresome and cliche-driven post-apocalyptic actioner. However, after entering the theatre, you’re taken on a revelatory journey unlike any other. This year, we’ve seen several blockbusters rise and fall quicker than expected. As Snowpiercer illustrates, the smallest projects are pulling people back into Hollywood’s firing line. Guided by stark visuals and touching moments, the narrative transitions instantly from obvious to transcendent. The premise, despite anchoring this enjoyable action-thriller, highlights its glaring agenda to an extraneous extent. Based on a French graphic novel, the story examines a desecrated Earth on the brink of oblivion. To combat global warming, the world’s governments banded together to release a specific chemical into the atmosphere. Sadly, because these forces ignored the signs, the chemical caused a destructive ice age. The world’s last-surviving citizens now live on a globetrotting train called, you guessed it, Snowpiercer. Developed by mysterious benefactor Wilfred (Ed Harris), the train divides its inhabitants to conserve the status quo.

Song Kang-ho & Go Ah-sung.

Ambitiously, Snowpiercer has several points to prove. With its angry side ever-so-slowly taking over, this daring and resonant sci-fi actioner utilises everything to its full potential. The narrative centres around a revolt, driven by the lower-class folks subjected to the train’s tail end. Covered in dirt and dour memories, leader Curtis Everett (Chris Evans), second-in-command Edgar (Jamie Bell), and age-old prophet Gilliam (John Hurt) empower their fellow “Freeloaders” with dignity and respect. The narrative, like the train itself, runs on the hopes and dreams of everyone involved. Following a hearty formula, Joon-ho’s most expansive effort yet is far more exhilarating and prescient than expected. Despite Bob and Harvey Weinstein’s controversial cuts, the movie flows naturally from one revelation and set-piece to another. Pointing at global warming, race relations, and social issues, Snowpiercer bolsters its agenda with profound motivations and charming surprises. Cleverly, its points are summed up by a witty speech about shoes and hats. As our crew shuffles through the train, the narrative conquers its momentous twists and turns before reaching the heartbreaking finale. From the opening frame, without derailing Joon-ho’s immaculate execution, the movie throws in clever intricacies designed to raise the stakes. Bullied by middle-class guards and arrogant socialites (led by Margaret Thatcher-esque ruler Mason (Tilda Swinton)), our lower-class warriors come off as empathetic more so than reckless. In fact, unlike most summer tentpoles, “F*ck yeah!” moments and emotional pay-offs come thick and fast throughout.

“You know what I hate about myself? I know what people taste like. I know babies taste the best.” (Curtis (Chris Evans), Snowpiercer).

Tilda Swinton.

Given free reign over everything, Joon-ho has taken several chances with this meaningful and touching post-apocalyptic bloodbath. Paying homage to his favourite directors and dystopian features, this foreign director delivers seminal references without catering to anyone else’s desires. Further more, this story swerves around several blockbuster cliches. Avoiding a massive scope, over-long set-pieces, and manipulative beats, Joon-ho’s style is of an entirely different species of filmmaking. Like the train’s never-fail, perpetual-motion engine, this auteur is a well-oiled machine keeping everything together. In particular, his visuals speak to critics, Korean film fans, and blockbuster nutcrackers. Within the first third, the grimy tail-end becomes a rage-fuelled character in itself. With small beds, tin cans, and gelatinous blobs coveting the screen, the opening scenes construct the vacuous hell-hole our heroes call home. Indelibly, it’s in the first act – after drug-addled engineer Namgoong Minsu (Song Kang-ho) and his psychic daughter Yona (Go Ah-sung) are recruited – that our characters discover the first-class passengers’ dastardly schemes. Righteously, our talented performers take control of this intensifying narrative. Handing the physical and dramatic aspects, Evans displays his polished skill-set throughout. In addition, Octavia Spencer, Bell, Harris, and Swinton anchor the film’s more impressionistic tangents in well-crafted roles.

Unsurprisingly, this project was met with questions from every studio executive it came across. The premise, attacking the first world’s obsession with celebrity and order, is as repulsive as the second act’s blood-stained axe-fights. However, resting on its writer/director’s strength and intelligence, the final product is more satisfying than most action flicks of its type. It  might even cause a revolt against the Transformers-hocking big-wigs in their ivory towers. Maybe. Hopefully.

Verdict: A sumptuous and potent post-apocalyptic thrill-ride.

Only Lovers Left Alive Review – Nasty Bites


Director: Jim Jarmusch 

Writer: Jim Jarmusch 

Stars: Tilda Swinton, Tom Hiddleston, Mia Wasikowska, John Hurt

Only-Lovers-Left-Alive-Australian-Poster-copy


 Release date: April 17th, 2014

Distributors: Sony Pictures Classics, Soda Pictures, Pandora Film Verleih

Countries: UK, Germany

Running time: 123 minutes


 

 

 

4/5

Best part: The eclectic performances.

Worst part: The wavering pace.

Here’s the thing about vampires: they suck! Admittedly, labelling a fictional entity like this is bashful and condescending. However, over the past few years, Hollywood has chewed up and spat out this bloodsucking creature. Though Twilight, Being Human, The Originals etc. don’t reach my demographic, they must be named and shamed for downplaying the vampire’s more dangerous and intelligent aspects. So who possibly can salvage the fanged beast? Thankfully, writer/director Jim Jarmusch (Dead Man, Ghost Dog) has taken the vampire lore back to its sickeningly dark beginnings. His latest feature, Only Lovers Left Alive, crafts an insightful and purposeful tale of two vampires on the edge of expiration.

Tilda Swinton & Tom Hiddleston.

In no way intended for the common target demographic, Only Lovers Left Alive  reinterprets vampiric mythology and human existence. Here, Jarmusch subjects fans and newcomers to a nightmarish and transcendent ordeal. Those who label themselves “Team Edward” or “Team Jacob” won’t, most likely, ever label themselves “Team Jarmusch”. Thankfully, the movie elevates itself beyond those dismal heights. In fact, Jarmusch, in any context, would hate for his efforts to be compared to anything related to pop-culture or escapism. Only Lovers Left Alive throws the severity of everything, including its threatening title, into question. From the opening frame, we are introduced to a twisted and delicious love story. Living a minimalist lifestyle in Tangier, vampiric temptress Eve (Tilda Swinton) exists in a lonely and pervasive society. Collecting blood samples from fellow bloodsucker Christopher Marlowe (John Hurt), Eve longs for a more distinctive and ambitious lifestyle. In the other side of the globe – Detroit, to be exact – Adam (Tom Hiddleston) is a lonely and sullen rock ‘n’ roll icon. Hiding in his dilapidated two-story abode, Adam’s long-term notoriety hurls him into cult-icon territory. Ordering charismatic servant Ian (Anton Yelchin) to do his bidding, Adam’s suicidal tendencies throw his ideologies into chaos. His life, distorted by Eve’s arrival, is further tested by Eve’s promiscuous and enthusiastic sister-in-law Ava (Mia Wasikowska).

Mia Wasikowska & Anton Yelchin.

Written and directed by Jarmusch, this established auteur’s latest effort is a kitsch, listless, and tempered examination of its peculiar characters. These vampiric characters exist in a nonsensical and churlish version of the 21st century. Looking through the hourglass, Jarmusch and his creations lurch artistically toward the impactful finale. Today, rushed pacing and established tonal shifts infect genre cinema. Fortunately, this poetic filmmaker goes above and beyond the norm. Dextrously, the devil (or Dracula, in this case) is in the details. The narrative comes together via a labyrinthine structure of idiosyncrasies, existential moments, and visceral flourishes. Adam and Eve – commenting on humanity’s desire for conflict, wealth, and power – look down upon the surrounding “zombies”. Limiting our race to this derogatory title, Jarmusch and his characters seemingly share the same consciousness. Despite its aimless structure, several gem-like surprises reside within witty lines, shocking twists, and gloriously thrilling montages. Delivering a momentous series of set pieces, the narrative places us in the same room as these terrifying nightwalkers. Waxing philosophical about history, mythology, literature, cantankerous human tendencies, and emotions, Adam and Eve’s journey becomes a saucy and concentrated concoction to be slowly sipped on like a Bloody Mary (a drink downed more than once by our protagonists).

“I just feel like all the sand is at the bottom of the hour glass or something.” (Adam (Tom Hiddleston), Only Lovers Left Alive).

John Hurt.

Delivering an Ann-Rice-like tinge, Jarmusch and his favourable cast relish in this genre’s more chilling and impressionistic conceits. Illuminating its characters’ stranglehold on pop-culture, Only Lovers Left Alive becomes as desirable and ambitious as Adam and Eve themselves. Throughout this tumultuous romantic-drama, these immortal beings deliberate on even their own artistic merits. However, delivering overbearing viewpoints on intrinsic topics, Jarmusch’s seminal words and ideas almost overpower his magnetic direction. His agenda, commenting on psychological and societal degradation, undermines this otherwise subtle and heart-wrenching character study. Fortunately, the talented and vivacious cast awaken these gritty, soulless figures. Swinton, once again, steps gracefully through this filmmaker’s universe. Her performance, defined by purposeful mannerisms and a silky-smooth voice, delves fang-first into the material. In addition, Hiddleston and Wasikowska deliver electrifying turns as the story’s more polarising characters. Graciously, Jarmusch’s visual style turns even the most dialogue driven scenes into sensory feasts. Dousing each frame in a pulsating colour palette, Yorick Le Saux’s cinematography lends inspired tones and patterns to this all-encompassing and alarming journey. In addition, with our scarred lovers obsessed with revelatory artistic endeavours, the movie’s bright, bold soundtrack/score delivers pleasurable interludes that breathe life into this meticulous creation.

Drifting beyond its glacial pace and stoic narrative, Only Lovers Left Alive elevates its vampiric characters above those of recent cinematic iterations. Fuelled by existential angst, scintillating romantic interludes, and Jarmusch’s sensuous visuals, this movie examines our infatuation with nostalgia, gothic fiction, and the First World order. Jarmusch, as valuable to the narrative as Hiddleston’s skinny physique, examines yet another genre and delivers an idiosyncratic, intensifying, and indulgent work of art. As expected, this indie darling becomes a vampiric love story with…bite.

Verdict: A moody and electrifying romantic-drama. 

The Grand Budapest Hotel Review – Wild, Wild Wes-tern


Director: Wes Anderson

Writer: Wes Anderson

Stars: Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori, Adrien Brody, Willem Dafoe

 


Release date: March 21st, 2014

Distributor: Fox Searchlight Pictures

Country: USA

Running time: 99 minutes


 

4½/5

Best part: Anderson’s direction.

Worst part: The unnecessary bookends.

Words like “hipster” and “pretentious” are thrown around far too often nowadays. Intended as insults, these words are too often taken out of context and placed into judgemental analyses. Unfortunately, these words are often directed toward writer/director Wes Anderson (The Royal Tenenbaums, Moonrise Kingdom). Sure, his style stands out from every other big-name filmmaker out there. But why should we criticise him for being different? This year, Anderson has pursued a new and improved form of critical and commercial acclaim.

Ralph Fiennes & Tony Revolori.

Simultaneously lampooning and embracing his distinctive style, Anderson’s new feature The Grand Budapest Hotel reaches out to newcomers and long-time fans. Here, this near-rabid fandom is what Anderson strives for. In  this delectable dramedy, his bold visuals, deadpan performances, and relevant themes are dissected and meticulously placed back together. To introduce readers to Anderson’s universe, I’ll describe this labyrinthine plot. In one timeline, a girl places a key on a statue before diving into a novel named ‘The Grand Budapest Hotel’. We are then introduced to the novel’s narratorial force. The author (Tom Wilkinson) describes one significant event in his tumultuous life. From there, we meet the author’s younger self (Jude Law) residing in 1968. Meeting the hotel’s elderly owner Zero Moustafa (F. Murray Abraham), the author enquires about Moustafa’s past. We then examine Moustafa’s younger self (Tony Revolori) whilst learning of the Hotel’s former glory back in 1932. This timeline, set in the fictional Eastern European country of Zubrowka, deals with countries and businesses during wartime. As a lobby boy, Moustafa becomes friends with the hotel’s favourable concierge Monsieur Gustave H. (Ralph Fiennes). Over the years, Gustave courts several rich, elderly women whom come for the hotel’s reputation and stay for his “exceptional service”.

Adrian Brody & Willem Dafoe.

Heartbroken over his lover Madame Céline Villeneuve Desgoffe-und-Taxis(Tilda Swinton)’s death, Gustave, after acquiring prized painting ‘Boy With Apple’, is pursued by her son Dmitri Desgoffe-und-Taxis (Adrien Brody), assassin J.G.Jopling (Willem Dafoe), Deputy Vilmos Kovacs (Jeff Goldblum), and Inspector Henckels (Edward Norton). Honestly, it’s difficult fitting this expansive, starry-eyed cast into this synopsis. In true Anderson fashion, commendable lead and character actors fill each role. Here, Anderson’s auteur status ascends to a notch above transcendent. Embracing narrative tropes and visual flourishes, Anderson takes full responsibility for each detail. Conquering screenwriting and directorial duties, this masterful dramedy icon embellishes what others fear. Idealistically, fun concepts are explored in this sprawling tale about hope, love, age, loss, and survival. The Grand Budapest Hotel, escaping Anderson’s conventional familial-drama confines, delivers an investigation into an entire country’s peculiar inhabitants. Despite including one-too-many timelines, Anderson’s deft touch and focused direction delivers an honest and fruitful idea of humanity’s lighter and darker shades. The author’s timeline fuses with Moustafa’s in a tricky yet purposeful fashion. As a showcase for renowned performers, The Grand Budapest Hotel is chock-a-block with impactful moments and hearty surprises. In fact, around every corner, characters, laugh-out-loud gags, and clues reside to bolster this quirky tale. In addition, the movie throws gunfights, murders, and tension into this whimsical concoction. Thankfully, the movie never becomes quirky for quirky’s sake. Gustave’s journey never becomes corny or materialistic. Instead, this harsh yet intelligent narrative explores Anderson’s most enigmatic ideas. 

“Keep your hands off my lobby boy!” (M. Gustave (Ralph Fiennes), The Grand Budapest Hotel).

Jude Law & Jason Schwartzman

Of course, generating fans the world over, Anderson’s signature visual style eclipses this narratorial thrust and opinionated viewpoints. Beyond being the all-knowing creator of prescient dollhouse-like universes, the mis-en-scene, from the ground upward, builds glorious interiors and kitsch exteriors. As Gustave compliments people on their artistic merits, we can see Anderson applauding his own identity and style. Here, his universe becomes more wondrous, idiosyncratic, and gargantuan than anything a modern blockbuster can, and would, deliver. As blockbusters for the indie crowd, Anderson’s features exclaim more than expected each time. Overcoming obvious and ill-conceived preconceptions, his attention to detail almost becomes a cure for a conquering bout of Hollywood-itis. Overcoming the cynicism, his near-symmetrical compositions, clashing colours, stylistic experiments, and blank-faced characters develop near-wordless conversations. Here, his glorious style interacts with over-arching messages. Paying homage to everyone from Ernst Lubitsch to The Marx Brothers, Anderson uses hallways, elevators, cramped spaces, and lobbies to accentuate the story’s manic energy. Fitting its entire cast onto a bevy of key hangars, the poster reveals only a fraction of the movie’s content. Despite the vagueness, these performers, whether they be new to or accustomed to Anderson’s flourishes, admirably reinforce this tale’s enthusiasm, vision, and ideology. Fiennes breaks from tradition to embody this unhinged and comedically-charged role. Tapping into his slapstick chops, the iconic British actor jumps into each scene with charm, maliciousness, and reverence. Newcomer Revolori is also a standout as Gustave’s naive and witty number-two. Bolstering their already esteemed reputations, supporting players like Norton, Goldblum, Brody, Saoirse Ronan, Bill Murray, and Harvey Keitel stand above this immensely talented ensemble.

Eclipsing Anderson’s best efforts, including Rushmore and The Fantastic Mr. Fox, The Grand Budapest Hotel is an effervescent and efficient love letter. In addition, it outright refuses to become a sorrowful apology to Anderson’s detractors or even average filmgoers. Anderson, now reaching critical and commercial acclaim, holds his head up higher than even the most respectful hotel staff member. Ideally, it’s worth making reservations for, and checking-in to, this hysterical and dexterous dramedy.

Verdict: Anderson’s most gleeful and nuanced effort yet.