Dr. Strange (PG-13)

The highly anticipated newest addition to the Marvel universe, Dr. Strange (starring Benjamin Cumberbatch), has arrived!  I must say, I like this movie.  This may come as a surprise to those of you who are regulars.  You know this is so very NOT my favorite genre of film, by any measure.  I am unfamiliar with these characters, but I feel as though this works in my favor because I was able to go in with absolutely no expectations.

This movie was perfectly cast. Cumberbatch hit every note relaying Dr. Strange’s intelligence, egotism and sense of humor.  You will root for Strange to learn the power of humility following his fall from grace, because despite being extremely arrogant Strange manages to remain quite likable.  Chiwetel Ejiofor as Mordo and Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One did great jobs in their roles.  It is always a pleasure to see each of them.  These three actors together make a powerful team and their skill and efforts were not at all lost in all of the costumes, makeup and effects.  Rachel McAdams did a lovely job as Strange’s love interest and colleague, Catherine, although I may be biased because she will always be Allie from the Notebook to me.

The writing was quite good, overall. I never felt like I was being told a story, as the majority of what needed to be relayed was acted out, instead of narrated.  The dialogue was witty, humorous and informative.  The story line was well focused, never becoming confusing or muddled.  Most impressively, there wasn’t an obvious sequel set up (a practice which I always find obnoxiously condescending).  One feels as though the next chapter could go in many different directions.  There is no obvious next episode.

You can almost feel the fun director Scott Derrickson had making this movie, along with the cast and crew.  Nothing about it feels forced.  Despite how technical it is, it is effortless in its delivery.

The special effects, of course, were fantastic. You will feel like you are locked into some crazy dream once you begin to watch super beings bending matter, time and space around the world.  It is very cool.  This is the first time that I did not watch a movie in 3D that I truly wish I had.  I’m sure it is incredible and I highly recommend it.  I’d imagine it would be worth the extra cost as the visual entertainment in this film is superior.

Now let’s talk about the ending, shall we? No spoilers here, but I thought it was kind of silly; but I’ll allow it since the rest of the movie was so entertaining.  And even the silliness here is lighthearted, fun, and it made sense (kind of), so it is somewhat forgivable.

Dr. Strange earned 8 bloops out of 10. It is a good movie that was made to be seen in a theater at least once for the spectacular visual effects work alone.  The acting, which is usually difficult or nearly impossible to gage in this genre of movie, is more than solid.  I would even watch it again under the right circumstances.  It is a fun, visual feast that shouldn’t be missed.

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Hacksaw Ridge (R)

 

Directed by Mel Gibson and based on a real-life superhero’s true story, Hacksaw Ridge tells the tale of Desmond T. Doss, a WWII American Army Medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa.  Refusing to train in the use of, handle or carry a firearm of any sort, Doss went on to become the first Conscientious Objector in American history to be awarded the Medal of Honor for bravery in a battle.  Oh… and he is a Seventh Day Adventist who would like Saturdays off to observe the Sabbath.  Oh… and he wants to become an Army medic directly so he can go about the business of saving lives instead of taking lives.

This movie takes quite a while to “get started,” with the first half playing like many, many movies made before. We are introduced to Doss’ childhood, which despite including his abusive, alcoholic father, looks quite idyllic.  Doss gets older.  Boy meets girl. Boy falls in love with girl.  Boy goes off to war.  Although billed as a drama/romance, this could have been the beginning of any movie that could have gone in any number of directions from this point.

Naturally, this refusal to carry a firearm during a war causes quite a stir in the ranks. This portion of the movie was also very cookie cutter, boilerplate, standard…  Boy refuses to carry firearm.  Boy is put on trial.  Boy is triumphant over the United States Army and allowed to serve in WWII firearm free.  Boy goes off to war.  Again.  Even the eleventh hour save that we all knew was coming (or the movie would have been over before he becomes a hero) seemed sort of lackluster, not because it was not done well, but because it feels as though it has been done to death.

The introduction to the infantry rifle company to which Doss was assigned is pretty standard; a room full of men making fast introductions; doing and saying things to make themselves memorable so that when they are being maimed and killed later we will be connected to them and feel something for them. This is where the movie shows promise because these scenes are successfully executed and you will remember the characters, if not by name then by face.  None were physically similar, and Sergeant Howell (played by Vince Vaughn, who provides some much needed comic relief before the bloody battles begin) helps us to remember each one in his own special way.

Where this movie shines brilliantly is during the battle scenes. Mel Gibson knows about action and it shows.  You have rarely seen war depicted so graphically and brutally with the blowing up, out and/or away of body parts.  There was enough light so you could actually tell who was killing who (always a problem for me personally during battles.  Everyone gets all muddled up in chaos and it is usually too dark and/or smoky to make out much of anything).  There was some spectacular special and visual effects work done here.

Hacksaw Ridge earned 7 bloops out of 10 overall. Because of its historical content it is a good movie worth seeing.  It earned 6 bloops out of 10 for the run-of-the-mill “romance” (not bad, but it could have been better) and 8 bloops out of 10 for the “drama” (because it features great battles that should not be missed and the end of the movie was great).  If you absolutely love war movies, you may like this one more than I did.

I’m happy Mr. Gibson is back, and if you’re a fan who would like to see more of him, stream Blood Father (2016).  It’s an entertaining flick.  Sort of like Taken, but the daughter is not so innocent and the father is not such a “good guy.”

Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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Oscar reviews:

Hidden Figures
Fences
Moonlight
Hell or High Water
Loving
La La Land
Lion
Manchester by the Sea
Arrival
Nocturnal Animals
Captain Fantastic
Elle
Jackie
Florence Foster Jenkins
I Am Not Your Negro

A Man Called Ove (PG-13)

Believe it or not, despite what we have all been taught, “coming of age” is not an experience which is exclusive to teenagers. We are constantly changing and growing and coming into whatever age we are approaching; and if we are fortunate, we reach “old age.”  The changes do not seem as dramatic as those occurring during those teenage years, but change is occurring, nonetheless.  As daunting and tumultuous as the move from adolescence to adulthood may be, of all the stages of life, the approach into old age may arguably be the “scariest.”  It is a time when we have lost many friends and family, including spouses and even children, to death and/or disease.  We may have to move out of our lifetime home.  Our bodies are changing – and not budding in the way of a teenager’s – we are deteriorating.  Our position in our family and in the world may change.  We may be set in our ways, and the world around us probably seems to be quickly and constantly changing, or so one could imagine.

Based on Fredrik Backman’s international best-selling novel, A Man Called Ove is more than simply the tale of another grumpy, bitter old man finding a reason to smile again.  Ove is a senior citizen who is having a helluva hard time letting go of the past and moving forward.  He visits his wife’s grave regularly with the promise of joining her soon.  With the help of some new, youthful, energetic neighbors, Ove begrudgingly gets help moving forward from his past and into his future.

Ove tries to kill himself no fewer than 4 times and during some of these suicide attempts he reminisces about the major events of his life. Through these flashbacks we see that Ove has seen his share of heartache and we learn how he arrived at his current state of desperation.  I enjoy this format of storytelling very much when it is done well; and here, it truly is done well.

I am not very familiar with Swedish actors (to say the least), but Rolf Lassgård is superb as Ove.  He plays the old man so well you would never guess he is actually much younger than the character.  Every member of the supporting cast does a solid job.

Problems with the movie occur with the writing and the editing. The end of the movie gets a bit boilerplate in that you can sort of predict what will happen, although it may not happen the way you think.  It ran a bit long and could have benefitted from a small cut of about 10 minutes near the end.  And some of the subtitles (Swedish/Persian with English subtitles) could have been better paced for more impact.  For example, there were times when a joke was good, but the subtitles had the set up and the punch line together in a frame when they could have and should have been separate.  I won’t beat Hannes Holm (the writer) up too badly about it though.  This is a man who had me laughing out loud during suicide scenes!  That is not an easy feat to pull off.  (Although, I must say, most audience members didn’t seem to find the humor in it.  There was only one other guy laughing out loud with me.  Considering the audience (No disrespect intended, but I was at the Paris Theater with the blue-haired crowd) I would not take their inability to find the humor or not finding it as humorous as I as a reflection on the writer’s writing or the actor’s acting.

A Man Called Ove earned 8.5 out of 10 bloops. It is a great movie that shouldn’t be missed.   Go out and support it if you like, or catch it streaming when you can.  It will make you reflect on your own life today and your legacy when you are gone, in a positive way. After seeing this movie I look forward to reading Fredrik Backman’s book, more work from Hannes Holm and more acting from Rolf Lassgård.

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Bloops:

1   =   worst ever, avoid at all cost
2   =   very bad, forget about it!
3   =   poor movie, not recommended
4   =   not good, even for free – NO!
5   =   so-so, worth it if you don’t have to pay
6   =   not bad, could have been better
7   =   good movie, worth seeing
8   =   great movie, don’t miss it!
9   =   excellent movie, a must see!
10 =   a masterpiece, go see it now!

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I Am Not Your Negro