Doctor Strange

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwitel Ejiofor
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”)
Written by: Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”), Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and C. Robert Cargill (“Sinister”)

At 14 movies in, Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe is humming along rather well. After two lackluster releases in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man” in 2015, the studio stormed back this year with the certifiably-fantastic “Captain America: Civil War” and vanquished its longtime rival DC Comics in the battle for critical acclaim, because no one really liked “Batman v. Superman” or “Suicide Squad” all that much, volume of Harley Quinn Halloween costumes notwithstanding.

Anyway, here we are at “Doctor Strange,” Marvel’s latest effort in its (so-far) successful attempt to expand their theatrical bench using superheroes not quite as known to the general public. Doctor Strange, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, is quickly explained as a mustachioed sorcerer with a high-collared cape and a giant amulet around his neck. Hardly Halloween costume material.

We begin quickly with a look at Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hot-shot, egotistical surgeon bearing more than a passing resemblance to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark whose career is put in jeopardy after a high-speed, distracted driving Lamborghini crash leaves him without the use of his hands. After exhausting the limits of medical science and the patience of his on-again/off-again girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams), Strange travels to Nepal to solicit help from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who isn’t some sort of faith healer but a sorcerer supreme. She offers to teach him the ways of sorcery to win back the ability to use his hands—oh, and maybe fight in an impending magical war, to boot.

The film seems to know it has a lot of ground to cover to get Strange from surgeon to sorcerer, and as a result the first half of “Doctor Strange” at times feels equal parts plodding and hasty. This is, after all, another origin story, and this far in, the setup portions of these films start to feel longer and longer. The movie perks up, though, when it finally gives way to a special effects bonanza, starting with a sentient cape reminiscent of Aladdin’s magic carpet and continuing on to a kaleidoscopic, geometric rearranging of the New York City skyline and a climax that plays with the passage of time in clever, head-tripping ways. Even as the most self-contained Marvel movie since “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Doctor Strange” is careful to toss in references to the Avengers, its own Infinity Stone, and the assurance that, of course, Doctor Strange will return.

Sinister

October 12, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Ethan Hawke, Juliet Rylance, James Ransone
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”)
Written by: Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and C. Robert Cargill (debut)

While horror movies are traditionally lowbrow affairs, at the very least they usually can be counted on to offer up a somewhat interesting puzzle to go along with the cheapo scares and gallons of blood. Whether it’s finding out the killer is actually the main character’s long-lost brother or that the evil spirit inhabiting the creepy kid can be sent packing back to Hell with the right incantation, the saving grace of most horror movies is the “aha!” moment. Whether it’s clever or makes your eyes roll is another story. But then there are horror movies that run in a straight line from A to B, climaxing without any real revelation or explanation. Disappointingly, “Sinister” falls into this trap.

The film stars Ethan Hawke as Ellison Oswalt, a true-crime author in search of his next hit. Without their knowledge, Ellison moves his family into the house where the grisly murder he’s researching took place. Four members of the previous family were hanged from a broken tree in the backyard and their youngest daughter has gone missing. Almost immediately, some spooky sounds draw Ellison into the attic, leading to the discovery of a box filled with innocently-labeled Super 8 film rolls and an ancient projector. Noticing the box wasn’t among the evidence the police collected after the crime, Ellison spools up the first reel and discovers the backyard hanging captured on film. The rest of the box reveals film of more murders, each one featuring a shadowy specter lurking in the background.

Further investigation identifies the ghoul as Mr. Boogie, perhaps better known as Bagul, a demon who feeds on the souls of children and can venture out of his realm via images of himself – in this case the Super 8 films. As Ellison watches more of the reels, Mr. Boogie ramps up the torment, throwing everything from scorpions to snakes to zombie-faced kids in an effort to get him to…do something, I guess.

Once “Sinister” identifies the threat as a demon with no regard for the limitations of the physical world, the rest of the film becomes a giant shrug. Seemingly half-hearted red herrings are sprinkled along the way, like a confrontational sheriff (former presidential candidate Fred Dalton Thompson) and a weirdo demon expert (Vincent D’Onofrio). Would either of them have something to do with Mr. Boogie? Is one of them Mr. Boogie in disguise? Nope, sorry everyone. Mr. Boogie is just an unstoppable demon bent on following an oddly specific ritual before he kills. All that’s left is to try and figure out is exactly how Ethan Hawke is going to die.