Monday, November 28, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - December

In November I went to see Doctor Strange, and it was everything I didn't know how to hope it would be! A wonderful surprise, and a fun and original origin film from Marvel. And then in an unexpected turn of events, I also went to see Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them with some friends. And I thoroughly enjoyed it, in spite of a handful of less-than-great aspects. I said in November that I didn't want to invest in a new long series, but I'm afraid I might have done accidentally.

And now -- December. The end of 2016! So tell me, what is your favorite film of the year so far? And are there any movies releasing in December that you think might displace it?

Here's what's interesting me...


La La Land
Dec 8th; PG-13
Honestly, all I need to know concerning this film is that it's from Damien Chazelle, the writer and director of Whiplash. And, equally as honestly, if I didn't know it was from him, and watched this trailer, then THAT would be all I need to know. So, at this point, I already know too much. I even know that it stars Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone. I have a lot of questions, like is it a legit musical, or is the "musical" moments just fantasy? Or daydreams? Cause you know -- La La Land. And there's some weird stuff going on in the trailer, but I kinda want it all to be real. But anyway, that doesn't really effect that fact that I want to see this movie! It looks so beautiful, in every sense of the word. I seriously doubt this could be anything but excellent.




Rogue One: A Star Wars Story
Dec 15th; PG-13
It's hard to put my finger on what exactly excites me about this movie. First, it's Star Wars, so I have to see it. There's no way I won't. But also, it's a smaller scale story. It's not about the Jedi, with their chosen ones and prophesies and such, it's just average people caught up in the rebellion. It's a neat opportunity to be different. Like, they go undercover in the Death Star, so is it going to be more of a spy film? A Mission: Impossible kind of thing? And then there's the cast. I've always liked Felicity Jones, so I'm ready to love her character, and I can already feel a little crush developing on Diego Luna's character, just from the trailer. (I just realized I've seen him before, in Elysium! He was the dude with the pigtails. No wonder I like him.) There's also Mads Mikkelsen, and Forest Whitaker, and Alan Tudyk voicing the robot! And then, there's the look of it. I mean, good grief, you could play the trailer, pause it anywhere randomly, have it printed and it'd be the most gorgeous piece of art. If the entire movie looks like that, I might be so distracted that I don't even notice the story. And that seems like that is the only thing that's up in the air right now. But seriously, if Episode 7 could be so fantastic just by copying Episode 4's plot, there's not much to be worried about. All they have to do is come up with something original that fits inside the preexisting narrative, and I'm there. Well, I'm there anyway, but there you go.




Assassin's Creed
Dec 20th; PG-13
NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! Ahem. So, I'm not a big video game person, and the only reason I even knew about this movie is because everyone else does. My brother has lots to say on the subject of this movie, but for me, it boils down to this: It's an action movie, so is the story there, and, are the visuals there? From the trailer the story is ambiguous. That could be a good thing, if they're just trying to not reveal too much, or it could simply mean the story is not there. Same thing with the visuals. It seems to promise good things, but if what we see here is the very best they have, the movie won't be able to stand on visuals alone. Personally, I'd really like it to end up on the positive side. I like Michael Fassbender, he can handle action well, and the sci-fi side of it is interesting to me. But honestly, it'd be the bigger surprise if it wound up being truly good.




Passengers
Dec 20th; PG-13
From the moment I saw that Chris Pratt and Jennifer Lawrence were going to star in a space sci-fi movie together I was on board. And, well, I still am, but my expectations have slowly been diminishing since the original announcement. Like, I'm all for a little romance with my sci-fi, but this is more "a little sci-fi with the romance." The only news I've seen concerning the film is about the sex scene. Not a great sign, even if it is PG-13. And something I'd opt to cut out completely -- I like the actors too much. Maybe it'll surprise me and wind up being a great sci-fi story as well after all, but I'm not confident. The premise is very neat, and the look of it is great -- just my kind of thing. I love how as the trailer goes on they slowly morph from clean and pristine to panicked and dirty. It one of those times where I'll just have to wait and see, but man, I'm really hoping here.




Sing
Dec 20th; PG
This animated movie as about a singing competition with animals, and is stuffed full of big names. Too full, I think. I saw a couple different trailers for this, and the one I have here made me pretty interested to see the movie, but the other one tried very hard to cancel that out. The first trailer gave the impression that the movie was focusing mainly on one story -- that of the kid gorilla voiced by Taron Egerton -- and letting all the other characters be more in the background. But it's clear now that all the characters will be basically equal. It's a kid's version of Love Actually with animals! So now I bet that a lot less than average effort is going to be put into each story. It's a kid's movie, so for them that hardly matters, but for me the only appeal left is hearing the actors sing. And we don't even get to see them sing.




Silence
Dec 22nd; R
The latest from Martin Scorsese is based on a novel, and about two missionaries -- Andrew Garfield and Adam Driver -- who go dangerously and illegally into Japan in search of one of their own, Liam Neeson. It's getting a bit of Oscar talk, and looks serious and intense but also highly artistic, and I just hope that it isn't only existing to be Oscar bait, but actually existing to tell its story. It's definitely a different story that we haven't seen before, and I'd love to see it find success if it's as good as it looks even without the help of the Academy.




A Monster Calls
Dec 22nd; PG-13
A fantasy coming of age story that has Felicity Jones, Toby Kebbell, Liam Neeson and Sigourney Weaver surrounding the newcomer in the lead. From the trailer, this doesn't look super interesting to me, though it does look neat and uniquely dark for a movie where the lead is twelve years old. The critics seem to think it's worth our time, so I'll definitely be keeping an eye on it.




Paterson
Dec 27th; R
Just this trailer leaves me feeling so relaxed and happy. I love the tone. And it's got Adam Driver in it, and that's pretty much all I need to know! Definitely need to see this one. It's limited release only leaves the question of "when?"



Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them

Some Spoilers.

In this Harry Potter spin-off, it's still the wizarding world, but there's a distinct lack of grade school kids. Instead we have Newt Scamander () an animal-loving wizard and writer visiting the good old US of A in all its 1920-something splendor. When his packed belongings make a run for it, he teams up with a spunky wizard investigator Tina Goldstein (), her mind-reading sister Queenie () and a Muggle-- er, excuse me, Nomaj -- Jacob Kowalski () a regular chap who chose a bad time to apply for a loan for a dream bakery.

No offense Harry, but I liked this guy more than I ever liked you after, like, five minutes.

As I've said, I'm not a huge Harry Potter fan. From my perspective the stories have their fair share of flaws, but are enjoyable, mostly on the merit of the expansive and creative world they inhabit. And it was exactly that that piqued my interest with this new series set in the same world. It's an opportunity to explore more of the world outside of Hogwarts -- in a vintage era no less -- featuring fantastic creatures. I figured I'd watch it someday like I did Potter, but wound up seeing in theaters after all, and, here I am.

The movie is almost exactly what I expected out of it, and while that means there were plenty of flaws and moments that were significantly less than excellent, it also means that what I hoped to get out of it was delivered on. Though the plot doesn't move out of NYC, The time-change and the jump across the pond was plenty of expansion. I thought that the late twenties was an excellent era to mix with the magic and fantasy too. And the introduction to some of the magical beasts was a neat aspect. I hope it was only an introduction though, and that they'll expand significantly as the story moves along.

The CGI effects were pretty and had some neat ideas to portray, but was spotty in the execution.

There's also a plot line that is disconnected from creatures though, in which a villain feigning to be good () enlists a troubled and abused teen () to exploit his adoptive mother's () work as an anti-witch zealot to find a magic child who possesses a huge and dangerous power. The slight connection with that and Newt's escapades to recollect his collection of creatures is that he had once found child like that before. It is a little jarring to jump between this serious and maturely-themed plot, and the one that mostly involves the constant chasing of a slippery hedgehog that looks like a platypus and has an affinity for shiny things. There was too much of that silliness, and it works even less in movies where the characters adults than it does when with little kids. I much preferred the times when the tone landed at a middle ground between the two.

The element that both gave me the most satisfaction and left me wanting to see more was the characters. If there's going to be four more movies of this, I would actually happily sit through them all, as long as the characters stay this good. Newt was the standout. Eddie Redmayne is quite the talented character actor, and Mr. Scamander is a very specifically characterized character. Socially awkward and awkwardly charming, he's completely unaffected and uncaring at how he's viewed. He's also very still and doesn't express much, but I found him easy to read and to understand; perhaps because there's no excess to him, so every movement's expression is clear.

Similarities between him and the 11th Doctor are apparent, but I also saw a lot of Endeavour Morse in him, which won me over fast.

All four of the film's circle group of heroes were excellently characterized. They give the sense of their being stereotypes the impression they leave is so strong, but they're not. And they all work together nicely with potential and chemistry. The one problem I had concerning then is unfortunately pretty significant -- that the romance is forced. Extremely, in the case of Newt and Tina. There was no call for that last scene with them. They didn't know each other long enough for that level of drama. And if they're going to have four more films together it's not like they're pressed for time. Just watch them have to backtrack later because the romance is moving too fast.

With Queenie and Mr. Kowalski it was much less forced, but still didn't have any significant substance behind it. But it was cute, so -- more forgivable. The plotting in general was more just simply creative than smart and thoughtful. Motivations in general are ambiguous. And I found myself predicting a lot -- even two of the film's biggest twists. In one case the movie was projecting against it too much, and in the other case, not enough.

Here's to no changes where it was good, and lots of improving where it wasn't!

The whys and the hows of the plot could use some serious improvement, and I honestly expect it will improve with more films. This one, as the first in a new series spent its efforts in establishing the nature of the world around it, and the characters it wants us to care for. It is far from perfect, and far from converting me into a Potterhead, but I must say, after so many franchises that have struggled and then faded away unresolved, it's refreshing to have one come that we can count on. Maybe we can't count on it being exceptional or groundbreaking, but we can count on it being fun and engaging and seeing through to a set conclusion. That, plus scifi/fantasy imagination, a retro setting and some worthy heroes, and it's hard to go too far wrong.

Monday, November 21, 2016

Independence Day: Resurgence

Twenty years ago, aliens attacked the Earth and the people of Earth joined forces, fought back, and won. Now, there's a cool new trend going around known as "reboot sequels," and so the aliens attacked again. And this time, everyone loses.

Every picture of Jeff just looks like varying stages of intense regret that he's involved in this film...

I went in with such low expectations. I tried to set them lower than they'd need to be... it wasn't far enough. Sadly, this film is even worse than I expected with a grand total of zero redeeming factors. I thought at least would be one, but he's just not into the role, and that makes his presence more painful than singularly entertaining. Characters are usually my back-up redeeming factors, but actually none here fit the bill. was probably closest since I forgot she was in the movie at all, but in the end all she did was make me want to watch The Guest again. was the main character I guess, but he accomplished absolutely nothing.

There were just too many characters, what with the returning, aging cast, and new younger, cuter, less talented additions. The movie's focus was stretched so thinly over all those people that I wanted to send it on a very long holiday to Rivendell, poor thing. I'm pretty sure the only person who didn't return was Will Smith. (By the way, canon for Will Smith's character's death NOT accepted.) And I would say that half the characters were so useless they should have been cut out entirely, but the real truth is that every character was useless and deserving of being cut. Along with the whole movie.

Favorite moment: The Burj diving headfirst into the Thames.

The movie starts out horribly boringly as it tries to introduce the parallel earth that is utilizing the left-behind alien technology. That could have been the neatest part of the film, but instead the opportunity was wasted, and we had to deal with that near-disaster-on-the-moon-base opening -- the camp high point. And the lady President who was an actual idiot. The plot is just nothing but trite and uninspired nonsense. The good news is that it gets better as it goes along. The bad news is that's probably just by comparison of the beginning, which is bad, but has no aliens to distract us.

The alien stuff, of course, just goes over the top in an attempt to expand and improve on the original. And yes, the animation and CGI effects are better than the original's, but that was twenty years ago -- you don't get points for that. In the end I was just reminded of a lot of things. Weirdly, Clash of the Titans with that final battle, and Ender's Game. They weren't even evoking memories of good movies! The only positive that comes to mind is at least there was very little in it that I full-on hated. It's all garbage, but it never offended me. I'd rather be offended at something though, and have a little to love -- or at least like -- as well, instead of this lukewarm participation trophy drivel.

You didn't try at all!

Try -- and make a bad movie if it goes that way, but at least then you can get some respect for trying. Resurgence never made an effort at all. It's a bunch of nothing overfilled with nothing characters standing around looking bored in front of a cold, dead, overblown CGI backdrop. There were occasional moments where I saw glimpses of potential for something that could have been neat, but that's not even near close enough for cigars. And thanks to movie politics, none were smoked. That would have just been insulting.

Tuesday, November 15, 2016

Equals

Some mild spoilers.

In this cold, pristine future, people are emotionally stunted on purpose. At conception the babies DNA is damaged to remove those emotions and human desires that are so inconvenient and dangerous. And thus they grow up smoothly into good workers and passive citizens. Except, occasionally they get the emotions back. This is considered a disease called SOS (Switched On Syndrome). The search is on for a cure, but until then, it's a fatal disease -- because once the "sick" reach a certain point they are locked up and encouraged to commit suicide.

Good grief I love science fiction.

Silas () is an average citizen, with a good job as a concept artist with the space program. (It's a scientifically advanced futuristic society -- of course there's a space program!) But, worried after he has nightmare, he goes for a check-up, and is diagnosed with SOS, stage 1. Now socially pitied and politely outcast he is slowly and unwillingly overcome with feeling. Soon he notices a girl who he has always worked with, but sees differently now. Nia () seems to have SOS too, but she hides it better than he. A forbidden romance blooms.

At that point all the neat science fiction stuff is exhausted. The world is a lot like Gattaca, with the hard, clean, cold look and the genetic "enhancements," mixed with the ideology of The Giver. It's a world that allows this romance to thrive, and once the romance gets going it takes over, and the setting just becomes a background. I'm not against romance in sci-fi -- in fact I'm a fan of it, but the level of intense focus it gets here is less my thing. It wasn't so much about characters getting to know each other and falling in love so much as it was two characters discovering sensuality together. There was a lot of physical romance, but practically none that was intellectual.

This is the kind of stuff I'd rather assume takes place rather than have to watch 10-15 minutes of.

Nicholas Hoult I usually enjoy, and did here too. Early in the movie when he was being emotionless and robotic, I had a difficulty getting immersed. I was hyper aware of it all being a production, with actors acting. I only got pulled in once he is diagnosed -- because of the way aloof-Silas is affected by the bad news. It was subtle, and rang true. It always surprises me when I enjoy Kristen Stewart, but it happens more often than not. This is not my favorite movie with her, but she is well-cast in this part. Her stony gaze that visibly hides something boiling underneath is used to great effect here. Nia and Silas spend too much time cuddling and not enough time developing character, but they start off well enough that they're a worthy investment anyway.

In supporting roles are and . They both have smaller roles than you'd really expect out of people of their acting caliber, but hey, I'm not complaining. They weren't there enough to overshadow the youngsters, but also expanded the cast well so that the roles they took wouldn't be forgettable. Jacki Weaver is a master, and I'm always pleased to see Guy Pearce appear in movies.

They definitely helped enhance the movie. Lent it credibility.

The biggest source of disappointment for me with Equals was that the world was too small. A bigger budget, or more effort put into expanding the world to outside the city would have been appreciated by me. I wanted to see the contrast of that, the primitive red chaos with the pristine blue order, but the only glimpse we get of the outer world is in a piece of art. Near the end the story seemed to begin stalling for time anyway, and I'd have loved to have seen that time devoted to an anti-climax that features world-building again. Oh well.

One of the coolest things about the movie was the coloring. White and grey lit cool blue, with significant highlights of warm oranges and reds. And the warm colors seemed to signify or symbolize emotion. I believe it's introduced when we first notice signs of feeling in Nia, and later it is used more and more when characters give over to their emotions. That was fun to notice. Also style-wise, cinematography: I liked the close-up method, with the constant adjusting of focus and framing. Otherwise the filming was artsy and complementary to the cold world too, with modern framing and contrasts. But the handheld was often used with the elegant full shots too, and the shaking was distracting and out of place next to the modern architecture and just-so staging.

Like our heroes are out of place in their world... but in a bad way.

Things got dodgy there for a while and I worried that was wasting my time on another indie film that gets carried away from itself in directionless artistic endeavors, but in the end it was appropriately satisfying, and appropriately ambiguous. It's not particularly big, nor particularly meaningful, but Equals keeps its eye on what it wants to be -- a quietly passionate forbidden romance set against a cold scifi world -- and manages to stick with it til the end.

Friday, November 11, 2016

Love & Friendship

Spoiler-free!

Love & Friendship is a Jane Austen adaptation, and a first of its kind, though we'd all thought that every Jane Austen had already been adapted at least twice. This adapts a book of hers that is written in the form of letters, something that Austen did with Sense and Sensibility too, before rewriting it into what it is today. If I were her, it would have been done for the purpose of figuring out the story in a simple format before I put all the effort into writing them complexly, but I really don't know what her motivations were. Sadly, this story never became a novel, and as such was never touched by filmmakers. Until now.

, (right) as Lady Susan, and as Mrs. Johnson, her friend and confidant-in-crime.

Unfortunately I can see why this was the first attempt at an adaptation. I haven't read the book, but from this film it is evident that the source is very limiting; it is obviously an adaptation of information rather than an adaptation of character and feeling. Austen is hard to get right in film, especially to the approval of fans like me, but most of them do understand that it's not about what happens, but about how the characters respond, and how their relationships with others work and develop. The inner working of human character comes first, and what happens is only a result of that. But I think because this film was adapted from information being shared, the inner thoughts of the characters, and their personal experience of the plot's circumstances was almost entirely absent, even though you would expect it from a film. It's not as if the film tries to limit itself; I just don't think it was creatively done enough to change the format of the story from secondhand information to firsthand experience.

as Catherine Vernon, and her (handsome and unattached) brother Reginald DeCourcy -- .

Instead of seeing things happen, we are told about things that have happened. The majority of scenes take place after an event that is important to the plot, where characters stand around and discuss said event. The event itself is rarely a scene; occasionally we get to see it play out in part, but it is invariably explained to a character whether we see it or not. This makes for a lot of scenes that don't have anything happen in them. The progression of location and action of the scenes goes something like this: Arriving at a house; sitting in a room; walking in the garden; sitting in a room; walking to a room and sitting; walking in the street; arriving at a house; sitting in room; standing in a room. It gets very boring very fast. There's one short scene with dancing, but no dialogue. Question: can it really be considered a Jane Austen adaptation if there's no dialogue with the dancing?

My instinct says it cannot be so!

All the scenes are very disjointed too, as if the filmmakers were actually trying to avoid the interesting stuff and only show us the in between. What about a dinner scene? Or a whole sequence at the dance? Why must everything be talked about in nondescript locations? Perhaps it was because Jane never gave locations, and they just plain weren't creative enough to think of any on their own. I'm not one for being super creative with Austen's work when everything you need is already there, but that is not the case here. These filmmakers needed to pull together and actually finish the story before they adapted it! This is a rare case where things needed to be changed. And that makes an interesting prospect; what if this story were adapted to film multiple times, and each time the filmmakers wrote the basic story into a totally unique framework? Each film would be so different! I'd love to see that. Unfortunately it's unlikely to happen now.

as Sir James Martin was very good. Inside the right film he could have been excellent.

The critics adored this film, and I'm still scratching my head over that, but it is true that the movie is not all bad. All those sitting rooms and front porches are lovely. The costumes are legitimately good, an earlier fashion from your average Austen that we don't see much of. The characters are interesting (credit: Miss Austen) and the acting is fine. Kate Beckinsale leads as Lady Susan, the title lady of the book. She is good, handling Austen's wit well but not exceptionally. The supporting cast, in my opinion, should have been more than a supporting cast. It seemed to me that Lady Susan's daughter was the heroine of the story, but we really only get to see her when she's around her mother. If her story had been followed we could have got all the development of the story, but instead she was practically ignored and the ending, which was hers, felt very abrupt and extremely unsatisfying. It felt as if nothing had been overcome, and I wanted to identify with the character, but with how little we get to know her, it was impossible.

as Frederica. I enjoyed her the most.

But I meant to be giving out what praise is due this picture. It had nice lighting and coloring, so the frames weren't as terrible boring to look at as they might have been. I got the distinct feeling though, that once the camera found a nice shot it was afraid to move again. It was pretty, but it was also very static. And that brought down the script too. That was one of the best parts, because it's what came most directly from Austen, but was only occasionally used to full advantage. Watch the trailer and you will every instance that I refer to. Most of the time, the wit and the punchlines were simply breezed over and instantly forgotten. I'm no filmmaker, but I'm pretty sure that if the shots and the staging had been composed around the comedy to enhance it, it would have had a much better effect. No matter how great your script and no matter how great your actors, if you just have them sit still in a room, point a camera at them and have them say their lines, credit to them and to the script will not be done.

It's really unfortunate that so little effort could result in so little and still get all the praise this film has received.

For some reason professional critics loved this movie. Maybe they thought it was being artistic. It did have a very distinct, lightly charming tone to it -- that did no more to enhance the film than the pretty chair covers did. And maybe writer/director thought he was being artistic too. Or maybe he just thought he could get away with this underwhelming amount of effort. In a way, he did. But he also didn't, because this movie is no good. For dedicated fans of Austen and/or period dramas, it may be worth a look provided the price is cheap, but for me, even though I saw it for free, the most I got out of it was a longing for a good adaptation -- and I could have got that easily enough just from reading the book.

Saturday, November 5, 2016

Doctor Strange

Spoilers are marked.

Marvel's latest origin film stars the unstoppable as Doctor Stephen Strange, a highly skilled, highly sought-after, highly rich and highly pompous neurosurgeon. On top of his game and on top of the world, Strange's great life is obliterated in a single devastating moment. And while on a desperate journey to find healing, he finds so much more when he finds a mystic known as the Ancient One () who expands his worldview -- and simultaneously the MCU -- into the vast realm of magic.

And I do mean vast.

Marvel it may be, but Marvel it certainly doesn't feel. Doctor Strange take a giant leap into the unexplored, leaving behind practically everything we know about the universe. It's very much its own movie; just as much as, say, Iron Man was, only Iron Man had the advantage of no canon to dictate to it. Strange is in such a different place from other Marvel flicks that it was free to do new things and set up its own world, and it takes great advantage of that.

There are three very small references that tie it to the preceding Marvel films, and besides that, my brain was having a hard time accepting it as being from Marvel at all. And I still like Marvel-y Marvel films, but it's great to know that the box can -- and has been -- broken out of. It's only the similar on a very base level in the story; the skeleton of a superhero origin. How it builds on that is, appropriately, all by its own rules.

Ugh, this photo! I never thought I would fall in love with Marvel cinematography in this way...

The first thing I noticed about it was the tone. And not that it's actually darker than other serious superheroes, but at the same time, it is. Literally. The color palette is dark, brown and muted with highlights of neon. The lighting is beautiful and minimal, with lots of silhouetting and scenes that seem barely lit at all, but are done expertly, to create and enhance an edgy darkness. Unexpectedly, handheld cameras are often used, which lends the film some earthy grit; a great counterbalance for the trippy, spacey psychedelics that pop up. The contrast of the shiny, crisp and sparkling magic with the deeply sturdy and grounded feel of the physical world is excellent. I applaud the filmmakers for going in that direction.

Director and co-writer is known for horror films, and while there's nothing very scary about Doctor Strange, the style translates very well. (That also accounts for an incredibly decent jump scare in the movie!) Writing is the one place where I wished for more. It's really not a negative because I know there will be more later in sequel films, but for now, the world isn't as explored as it should be. It's not overloaded, which is great, but I did feel slightly pandered to occasionally. I could have handled more, but the film needed to be accessible to even casual fans, and I think it hit the optimal middle ground. And I firmly believe that the film will improve in retrospect, once even more development is added to the characters and their worlds.

Fine actor makes for excellent character!

Segue: Characters! To be perfectly candid, I expected to not really care for Benedict Cumberbatch and his character in this film. Not that I don't like him or think him a bad actor, I had just seen too much of him recently. And I was feeling cynical and thinking he was probably only cast in the part because he looked like the character and was the hot new thing who everyone wants in their movie. But no -- he was excellently cast, and gives a practically mesmerizing performance as Stephen. There's lots of drama to handle, and he never takes it too far over the top where we viewers are unwilling to follow. The character arc is handled expertly; at first he's very reminiscent of Sherlock, which wasn't a great start for me with my cynicism, but that only made his elegant transition into zen and gentlemanly hero even more impressive. Also, he is a master at making his hands shake!

Basically, I liked her because of the two character's relationship.

as Christine, his ex and fellow doctor... I'm just not a fan of McAdams, so I can't help but think that almost anyone could have played the part, but she didn't annoy me nearly as bad as she has in other movies. I enjoy her more when she plays dislikeable characters, and Christine splits the line. She's complicated and her role as romantic interest stands on shaky ground, which is interesting. What won me over was the inscription on the watch she gave Stephen, and how much he values it.

. We all know he's great, but I admit I didn't know what his purpose was for a while, plot-wise. I liked his character, but wondered where he was headed. In the moment, it seemed like a negative, but his arc does complete to perfect satisfaction, so that everything about him makes sense. Now I'm eagerly anticipating more from him. On that note, the one thing I think maybe should have been done differently: the end credit scene was important to the closure of his arc -- too important, I think, to be left as the end-credit scene. Though I don't know where it should have gone... just know that I strongly recommend sticking around for it!

Great stuff from these two.

Tilda Swinton I enjoyed immensely! She held my attention so well, and was so fully immersed in her role -- a unique, thought-provoking, and moving character. She was a pleasure. Ejiofor's fellow cast mate from The Martian, , was there, mostly for comic relief, and handled it splendidly. as the villain is perhaps slightly on the forgettable side -- another in a long line -- but it was appropriate that he just serve his purpose and then disappear; his villainy came before Stephen entered the life, and the story is told from Stephen's eyes. And Mikkelsen's performance was good and convincing. It worked.

The vagueness and mystery worked for him.

Like with the colors (dark, highlighted with neon) and the tone, (earthy, highlighted with dazzling psychedelics) this movie's comedy is an occasional extreme highlight; it's silly. And this is something that I honestly don't know what to think about. On one hand, it's a little jarring when the movie is so beautiful and muted and serious, and then all of a sudden has cute comic relief out from left field. On the other, it's not like it was shoehorned in; the story almost required it in some places. And it was genuinely funny. Sometimes a joke would come across so awkwardly, but then another layer would be added that made it funny again. There was also a little subtle humor that I appreciated more initially.

Maybe it's not a hundred percent my cup of tea, but I do think it works. It's odd -- it's Strange! -- but it's right. I may vaguely wonder if the goofy comedy was a self-conscious apology for making such a wacky story take itself so seriously, but deep down I think I understand that if the story had taken itself seriously without those highlights, I wouldn't have been able to be as invested in the seriousness. Instead, every time the silliness pulled me out of the movie's depths, I was even more eager to plunge back in. And it helped me to accept the inherent silliness in the plot. Like the scene on the balcony of the hospital, which was such a beautiful, beautiful scene -- visually and emotionally -- but there was a silliness to it too -- a silliness that by that point I had fully embraced.

This is just crazy.

Two more things that just impressed the stuffing right out of me: (this paragraph gets a little spoilery!) In the climax, I was absolutely flabbergasted and amazed to find that it rode on smarts instead of action! Almost unheard of for Marvel movie, but there you have it. And even more unheard of, collateral damage? Destruction? Zero. Zero! There was no destruction in the end. But it was just as involving -- if not more -- as any superhero flick with destruction. I loved that. I am so impressed and happy at that clever change-up. (End Spoilers)

I started out this review thinking this film was excellent -- technically exceptional, and practically flawless, and not quite my kind of movie. It made me laugh, it made me think, it made me grin gleefully at the screen and feel the heartbreak of its characters alike, but I was sure I wouldn't fall in love with it until after a sequel, like it has been with so many other Marvel films. But, as I wrote about the few flaws they morphed into praiseworthy aspects, and as I wrote about all the little moments I expected to someday treasure, I found myself treasuring them already.

And eager for more magic from Marvel!

This was not a story that I was determined to love because of a certain character or actor or story line that I was biased towards. Doctor Strange is wholly new, and I knew it would need time. It snuck up on me, with its subtly welcoming heart, cool beauty, and jarring highlights of total craziness, and has since sunk right into my heart. I was going to quote the movie and say "Doctor Strange, 'time will tell how much I love you,'" but... it already has.

Tuesday, November 1, 2016

Upcoming Movie Roundup - November

In October I went to the movies! I saw The Magnificent Seven, which was a nice wrap-up for the summer, and now it's November already and the season of Oscar hopefuls is starting! Lots of movies this month, and lots that look really good! Which ones have your attention?


Doctor Strange
Nov 3rd; PG-13
Benedict Cumberbatch takes his turn as Marvel hero as the Marvel universe officially expands into the realm of magic. I'm expecting good things. This movie doesn't have the kind of hype that surrounds some Marvel films like sequels and team-ups, but I always look forward to the introduction films and what they'll bring to the table that's new. And Doctor Strange more than most seems to be coming from its own place and is (as of yet) unconnected with the rest of Marvel. The trailers look good and promise plenty of weirdness, and Cumberbatch appears to be in fine form as the new hero. He's joined by Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Mads Mikkelsen and Rachel McAdams, and positive reviews are already flooding in. I have no doubt this movie will be good; it's just a matter of how good at this point. I hope it'll be spectacular, but even if it isn't, it should certainly be a worthy addition all the same -- and a definite must-see!




Loving
Nov 3rd; PG-13
My favorite director returns again with a second film for 2016! Well, I just said it, so it must be true; Jeff Nichols is my favorite director. So far he's been batting a thousand, with four beautifully brilliant and strikingly different films under his belt, and everything seems to indicate that Loving will be right at home along with them. It stars Joel Edgerton and Ruth Negga as the historic interracial couple Richard and Mildred Loving who fought the system over their marriage in the 60's. Nichols' staple, Michael Shannon is there also, and Nick Kroll and Marton Csokas. Normally, I have diminished interest in based-on-true-story films, especially if they're straight dramas, so I can see this being my least favorite from Nichols, but even if that's the case, it's still just as likely to be as beautifully and excellently made.




Arrival
Nov 10th; PG-13
Did I just watch a trailer for a political alien movie? At the very least Arrival seems to be exploring the realistic technical aspects of a hypothetical alien contact. Maybe like in the way The Martian did for surviving on a different planet. How would the government react? Who would be brought in to handle things? What kind of obstacles would need to be overcome and how would it be done? And then of course you throw in the question of whether the alien's intentions are good or bad, and you have a pretty neat idea for a movie! And based on the early reviews, they've pulled it off. Amy Adams stars -- who I'm currently feeling "meh" towards, but I know she capable of good things -- along with Jeremy Renner (always a plus) and Forest Whitaker. I'm always down for sci-fi, but I really want this one to be as great as it wants and appears to be.




Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them
Nov 17th; PG-13
Okay, I'm not much of a Harry Potter fan. Never read them; watched the films through and enjoyed them. Just so you know where I'm coming from here. This new spin-off does look like fun; set in the same universe, but apparently very separate from Harry's adventures. Eddie Redmayne is being all quirky and odd and is using magic a lot in the trailer which is great, and I like the tone of the trailer too. Mature, like the later Potter films, but also very focused on being fun. I heard it's the beginning of a new Potter-World series, and I just hope it doesn't turn into eight more movies. The idea of investing in a whole new string of films isn't appealing to me at my level of interest, but if this movie delivers and can stand on it's own, I'd be happy to watch it!




Manchester by the Sea
Nov 17th (limited); R
I don't have much to say about this one. It's rating will keep me out of the theaters for it even if I were that interested anyway. But I just really love all that all the critically acclaimed film are coming out now, and the critics are gushing over this one. So I thought the trailer was worth sharing.




Nocturnal Animals
Nov 17th (limited); R
Now this is the kind of character I'd really love to see Amy Adams play. Dark, and possibly sinister. And man, this film has a cast! There's also Jake Gyllenhaal, Michael Shannon, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, Isla Fisher (Amy's look-alike!), Armie Hammer, and Laura Linney! The movie will probably have to be cut before I'll watch it, but it looks like my kind of film. Moody, mysterious and noir-ish. It's based on a book, so I'll have to look into that too.




Bleed For This
Nov 17th; R
Miles Teller bulks up to star in this based-on-a-true-story sports drama as a boxer who works through a devastating injury from a car crash to be able to fight again. Aaron Eckhart costars as his trainer. Sports movies aren't typically my things, but fighting sports do have an edge over other kinds. I would probably be very interested in this if it weren't for the rating, and how it comes through in the trailer -- that is, unnecessarily. These are the earmarks of a movie that is only decent, because not enough effort and devotion was put into making it great.




The Take (Bastille Day)
Nov 17th (limited); R
Idris Elba. Richard Madden. British action movie. Enough said, I think! This doesn't look like a huge caliber action film or anything, but it's the sort of movie that I'd want to watch no matter how bad it is and then live with the regret if I must. Another iffy rating, but I'll be keeping an eye out.




Rules Don't Apply
Nov 22nd; PG-13
I liked Alden Ehrenreich in Hail, Caesar! so much that I might be interested in this movie even if he wasn't the new Han Solo, but honestly this movie's plot looks like garbage. As another pilot of the Millennium Falcon would say. Here he co-stars with Lily Collins while she plays a aspiring actress in 1950's Hollywood. Romance and drama ensues.




Lion
Nov 24th (limited); NR
Probably won't be able to make it to the level of Slumdog Millionaire, which it will probably be compared to considering the drama and Dev Patel in the lead, but it sure is an interesting original idea for a story! An Indian boy lost as a kid is adopted by an Australian couple, and 25 years later, he sets out on the nearly impossible task of finding his home and family again.