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Doctor Strange Review

Doctor Strange Review

Marvel movies almost always are fun, exciting ventures and their plots have just enough sciency stuff to stimulate the mind, as long as we don't prod too deep.  Doctor Strange has all of the fun and an extra shot of humor, but what sets it apart--and makes it fresh and interesting, even to hardcore Marvel veterans--is the foray into Eastern mysticism and its confluence of mind, body, and spirit.

Still, as a newby to the character, I afraid I'd soon be lost in the lore.  The filmmakers take care of us.  First, it's an origin story, and Director Scott Derrickson presents exposition as complement to action so we are entertained as we learn.  Second, so we can cut right to the story, he typecast the ensemble: Need an arrogant hero?  Here's Benedict Cumberbatch.  How about a bad guy?  That's easy, Mads Mikkelsen.  OK, here's a stumper--a strange, ethereal, and unique Sorceress Supreme, AKA The Ancient One.  Tilda Swinton.  Damn, you're good!  It must be said that some fanboy purists wanted an old Asian man in that last role, as it was in the comics, but I contend that any movie is better with Tilda Swinton.

The story opens, establishing Dr. Stephen Strange (BC) as the world's pre-eminent neurosurgeon, and he knows it.  Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), brainy and effervescent, loves him in spite of that.  One night, on the way to a speaking engagement his speeding car crashes and his hands, the tools of his trade, are crushed beyond reclamation.  Devastated, he spends his grand wealth, hoping for a miracle.  During rehab, Strange learns of a seemingly impossible cure.  The desperate Strange will try anything, so he spends his last dollars on a pilgrimage of sorts to Nepal, where a Samurai-like warrior, Baron Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), delivers him to the Ancient One.  AO is no doctor, though, and this is no hospital, but rather a training center that teaches students to overcome the ills of the body with the mind and, as added perks, they develop martial arts and magical skills--and humility.

Once healed of both mangled hands and over-inflated ego, Strange's goal is to return to his medical practice, but the Ancient One and Baron Mordo see in him the ally they need to face down their Machiavellian nemesis Kaecilius (MM) and his minions.  These bad guys and girl are in the service of a super being of truly Lovecraftian proportions and origins, and when they show up Strange learns he has gifts he never imagined.  Heroics, plot twists, and skullduggery ensue, leading to a satisfactory conclusion (be sure to stay through the credits for not one but two tantalizing epilogues).

One of the strengths of this film is the cast, and as if the aforementioned actors weren't enough, Michael Stuhlbarg as rival surgeon Nick West, Benedict Wong as the Sanctum Sanctorum librarian, and Benjamin Bratt in a small but important cameo round out an ensemble that seems to truly enjoy their work.  The special effects are Inception-like and the big baddie brings with him a color scheme straight out of Peter Max, all of which gives a very trippy feel to the film.  Usually, a script written by committee is a bad sign, but Jon Spaihts and his four elves cobbled out 115 minutes of almost seamless enjoyment, with one qualifier: time-bending is part of the story, and one plays with time at his own peril--there is one big coulda, woulda, shoulda and several small ones therein; we'll leave it to the viewer to identify them.  All in all, though, Doctor Strange is time well-spent.

8 out of 10


Some may dismiss Arrival as another "aliens--friend or foe?" film. That would be a mistake. As Denis Villeneuve (Sicario) directs Eric Heisserer's and Ted Chiang's screenplay, Arrival is an intricately woven web that captures us emotionally and intellectually, and its killer payoff ending makes the viewer reevaluate everything that transpired before. That ending also elevates it from a good drama to the upper echelon of its genre, alongside films like The Day the Earth Stood Still and Close Encounters of the Third Kind. And like the best science fiction, it addresses the human condition and critical events of the day; in this case, the importance of surmounting nationalist and cultural barriers to face problems that affect humanity.
Amy Adams is Louise Banks, a world-renowned linguist haunted by the death of her daughter. One day, on her way to teach a class, she finds the campus in chaos. Military jets fly overhead; news stations broadcast the arrival of a 1,500-foot tall alien craft, hovering above the ground at twelve random locations around the globe. In short order, Col. Weber (Forest Whitaker) shows up to recruit her to lead a linguistics team in learning the purpose of the aliens. On the way, she meets Ian Donnelly (Jeremy Renner), charged with heading the scientific part of the team. They, along with a group of military men get right to work, entering the craft on what seems to be an impossible task, a task that gains urgency as Chinese Gen. Chiang (Tzi Ma) is moving in favor of a military option, and CIA operative Halpern (Michael Stuhlbarg) is not about to let anyone else get the upper hand. The slim hope for the team is an emotional connection Louise seems to have developed with the aliens.
To say more would be to say too much, so we will only add that Arrival's deliberate pace is offset by the intellectual stimulation of the plot and the satisfaction of wonderfully synergistic filmmaking--Villeneuve is emerging as one of the great working directors. The story provoked the most post-film discussion and speculation our group has enjoyed in a while, and the performances, as one would expect, are uniformly excellent. But, this is Amy Adams' movie. Adams, possibly the best current actress never to have won an Oscar (though five times nominated), gives an understated performance that hits all the right emotional notes. In this year of so many great female performances, it may not pay off on the awards circuit, but it should not be missed.
8.5 out of 10
FilmZ and Guy S. Malone, Researcher
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