Movie Review: Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is fantasy superhero film starring Benedict Cumberbatch as the title role. It is the latest movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the 14th of the franchise.

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The film opens in Kamar-Taj, a compound found in Kathmandu. Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen) and a group of his followers infiltrate the compound’s library and steals pages from one of the books. The group is forced to flee after encountering The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) in an attempt to take back the stolen pages.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is introduced as a stellar neurosurgeon with a spotless record. Immediately following a surgery, he is pulled aside by fellow surgeon and former lover Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) to address another patient who was considered brain dead by another doctor. Strange performs the surgery successfully, mildly rubbing it in his colleagues’ faces. After a car accident involving rain, high speeds, and distracted driving, Strange is left alive, but unable to steady his hands; effectively ending his career. He drives himself into debt to fix his hands and pushes away Christine, leaving him largely alone. During a physical therapy session, he is introduced to Jon Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a paraplegic that found his cure in Kamar-Taj. Strange spends the last of his money hoping to find the place, and is saved from a mugging by Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Mordo introduces Strange to The Ancient One, who introduces Strange to other dimensions. Strange humbles himself and begs to learn about the Mystic Arts.

Kaecilius and his zealots use the stolen pages to conjure a portal into the Dark Dimension. The dimension consists of a reality without time, and by extension, mortality. They plan to phase Earth into the Dark Dimension to prevent death.

Plot

This movie, similar to Guardians of the Galaxy, departs from the Earth-centered stories of the previous Marvel Cinematic Universe movies in favor of one that spans several dimensions. Settings bounce from New York, London, Hong Kong, and at least two dimensions, but are all streamlined to be more-or-less connected to Kamar-Taj. Despite this, I didn’t find the movie to be disjointed or lacking in explanation.

10/10

Characters

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The title character has the most deliberate character development, starting as a successful and very arrogant neurosurgeon. He initially views the injury to his hands as the loss of his life, being unable to perform the tasks that made him wealthy and famous. Using any means necessary to get back, he shows he’s not afraid to bend rules to get results. He eventually humbles himself when introduced to The Ancient One, but his stubbornness is still very present. Karl Mordo is largely a foil to Strange, abiding by a strict moral code and accepting his position in the world. Kaecilius, the antagonist, starts as a student of The Ancient One after losing his family. His ambition eventually makes him turn on The Ancient One and find the portal to the Dark Dimension to prevent the deaths of others. This in mind, Kaecilius can be interpreted as a tragic villain instead of the straightforward villains of previous MCU films.

10/10

Language

A lot of dialogue in the movie involves magical realms and medical terms, but the movie puts them in a context that will make it easy for any moviegoer to understand. In addition, the movie addresses and lampshades a mnemonic technique used by Stan Lee when designing characters and events. Alliterative names where a staple for the early Marvel characters, which include but are not limited to Bruce Banner, Reed Richards, Pepper Potts, Peter Parker, J. Jonah Jameson, and of course Stephen Strange.

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“Just rolls right off the tongue, doesn’t it?” – Stephen Strange to Wong (Benedict Wong)

9/10

Theme

The most prominent theme of the movie, which shows up several times in each act, is the balance of arrogance and humility. Stephen Strange is incredibly arrogant as a surgeon and has to humble himself before unlocking his potential in Kamar-Taj. Kaecilius becomes deluded once he’s introduced to the darker Mystic Arts and commits to something he believes is bigger than himself. The other primary theme is accepting (or not accepting) the world as it’s perceived and the power of belief. Strange initially rebuffs the idea of chakras and the power of belief, only for these things to be central to the plot later.

8/10

Music

Early in the movie, Dr. Stephen Strange plays some music when performing an important surgery, which seems to be common in doctor portrayals (though I can’t say for sure that’s what happens in real life). What makes this one particularly interesting is Strange’s personal challenge to name the song, artist, and year of release while he operates. This is brought up at least twice in the movie. In addition, a humorous exchange with Strange and Wong in the Kamar-Taj library occurs when they are introduced to each other. Wong is a mononym, which Strange tries to relate to at least half a dozen singers that also use mononyms. Among the names is Beyonce, which Wong doesn’t confirm to knowing. But in the following scene, it’s clear he knows who she is.

9/10

Spectacle

This movie was the most graphically ambitious film I’ve ever seen. Warping scenes and city backdrops puts universe-shaping film Inception to shame. While I normally don’t recommend that movies be watched in 3-D for extended periods of time, this movie practically begs for it to be viewed this way. The most important examples are the introduction to different dimensions that The Ancient Ones gives to Stephen Strange and the battle in New York with Kaecilius.

10/10

Star Power

Dr. Strange Clockwise from Top Left: Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Cumberbatch and Mads Mikkelsen Comic-Con 2016 Day 3 - July 23, 2016 – San Diego, CA Photograph by Matthias Clamer

Photograph by Matthias Clamer

Benedict Cumberbatch is the title character and known for a plethora of roles, most notably Sherlock Holmes and Smaug of The Hobbit films. Mads Mikkelsen, who plays the antagonist Kaecilius, is no stranger to villain roles, playing Hannibal Lecter in the TV show Hannibal and Le Chiffre in the James Bond film Casino Royale. Chiwetel Ejiofor is perhaps best known for his Oscar-nominated performance of Solomon Northrup in 12 Years a Slave. Rachel McAdams portrays Irene Adler in the Sherlock Holmes films alongside MCU alum Robert Downey Jr. and more recently was nominated for an Oscar in the movie Spotlight. Benedict Wong starred alongside Ejiofor in The Martian last year and has also starred in Prometheus. Finally, Tilda Swinton has perhaps the longest film career of the cast, starring in films since 1986.

10/10

Audience Demographic

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Fans of Benedict Cumberbatch seem to be flocking to this movie, citing his performances in previous fantasy films and TV shows. The comic book film community is also a set demographic, continuing to build as more movies come out.

9/10

Post Movie Thoughts

I feel that this movie definitely warrants a second viewing, if nothing else to try and catch all of the Marvel easter eggs sprinkled throughout the film as they’ve done with others. This film is very similar to Inception, one of my favorite films, in terms of world building and perception-bending, but has several years of development to improve on what they started. The tie-ins to the rest of the MCU comes in at the end of the film.

8/10

Source Material

The origin of Doctor Strange for the films is largely kept to the source material. Originally, The Ancient One is Tibetan and male in the comic books. In this film, The Ancient One is Celtic and female. Critics were quick to jump on the film for white-washing the character, a common occurrence in films as of late. However, the change was a little more complicated. International film releases hinge on the response for the Chinese market. China has a long-standing feud with Tibet, which would not bode well for the film’s box office returns. Tilda Swinton played the role with the intention of being androgynous, though she’s referred to with female pronouns. Other source material changes are in reference to Kaecilius’s original alliances, but for the sake of spoilers I can’t elaborate further.

7/10

Overall: 90/100

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Movie Review: The Girl On The Train

The Girl on the Train is a mystery thriller directed by Tate Taylor. The movie is an adaptation of the 2015 novel of the same name by Paula Hawkins. the_girl_on_the_train Rachel Watson (Emily Blunt) rides the train into town in the same section every day. While watching out the train window, she comes across a particular house with a loving couple. Enough times go by and she develops a story about their lives. Also nearby she sees her old house, where her ex-husband Tom (Justin Theroux) lives with his new wife and infant child. Rachel laments the breaking down of their marriage and the idea that someone else has taken her place. Rachel copes with this by drinking and living vicariously through the couple she sees from the train. She now lives with her roommate and landlord Cathy (Laura Prepon), who doesn’t like her drinking habits and urges her to get help before she loses her job or worse. Anna Watson (Rebecca Ferguson), Tom’s new wife, is a stay at home mother with a nanny to help her through the day-to-day tasks of caring for her child and maintaining the home. She originally got together with Tom behind Rachel’s back, but is occasionally frightened by Rachel contacting Tom several times a day and invading their home, including taking their child Evie from the house to the front yard. Megan Hipwell (Haley Bennet) is a nanny living down the street from Anna and Tom. She decides to quit her job as nanny suddenly, feeling that the profession is not what she had hoped it would be. She talks with her psychiatrist Dr. Abdic (Edgar Ramirez) about her home life and, on occasion, situations from her past. Her husband Scott (Luke Evans) usually spend their mornings on the patio within sight of the passing trains. On a particular Friday, Rachel watches from the train to find an unusual site, the woman she watches from the train is on her patio with someone who isn’t her husband. She is reminded of her husband’s infidelity and how it has now crept into her fantasy life. Her devastation is further fueled by alcohol as she decides to confront the woman. As the woman goes under a tunnel, Rachel calls out to her. Rachel wakes up the next morning with bruises and blood caked on her shirt, hands, and forehead. She can’t remember the events from last night. Cathy stops Rachel from coming in the house to tell her that the police are in the house. Detective Riley (Allison Janney) questions Rachel about Megan Hipwell, the woman on the patio Rachel idolized. Plot The plot of this movie is incredibly intricate. All of the main characters are very closely knit. It would be assumed that the movie would take time to develop those relationships, but instead speeds through them, leaving the audience to try and piece them together while the rest of the plot pushes forward. By the time the movie slows down, it’s the third act of the movie where everything is supposed to pay off. Most exposition seems to be brought up in short spurts before immediately moving on to the next character, leaving no time to it everything into context. 4/10 Characters rachel As I’ve mentioned before, the three main female characters have a good deal of depth to them. They’re all closely linked: Rachel watches Megan from the train and lost her husband to Anna; where Anna feels terrorized by Rachel and hired Megan as a nanny. While their relationship is made fairly clear at the start of the movie, many other aspects of their character is briefly touched on and not brought up again. Having the context from the novel helps, but if the audience has no point of reference, it leaves a lot of their characterization confusing and sometimes unnecessary. 6/10 Language Emily Blunt and Edgar Ramirez are the only actors with accents portrayed in the film, which is briefly touched on in the movie. Everyone else has an American accent and actually takes place in the New York area. While the psychiatrist Megan speaks to is supposed to be foreign, Rachel’s accent in the movie is not explained. All else is pretty standard for a police procedural and women who are at each other’s throats. 7/10 Theme As the title suggests, there are trains everywhere in this movie, moving from one place to the next and back again. Another prevalent theme is alcohol as a coping mechanism. Each of the main characters drink to become more comfortable with their situation. The theme is particularly aimed at Rachel, who at one point makes an attempt to stop drinking so she can remember the night Megan went missing. Finally, a theme I noticed with all of the main characters is transference, or projecting what that character wants onto someone else. 8/10 Music The score is composed by Danny Elfman. The music accentuates any moment of uncertainty or fear, but is low key enough that many moviegoers won’t notice the music influencing the scene. 8/10 Spectacle I feel that the movie was going to be this year’s Gone Girl in terms of a female-led thriller, but unfortunately the most intense moments of the movie fell short. Rachel’s breakdown at the start of the movie, while intending to be a heart-breaking kind of sad, ends up being unintentionally funny. The movie spills over into melodrama instead of being a compelling mystery. 4/10 Star Power the-girl-on-the-train-cast Emily Blunt is the draw here when it comes to casting. Haley Bennett, who is coming off the heels of The Magnificent Seven, maintains her presence in the movie theaters. Luke Evans, one of the three important male characters, is perhaps best recognized in The Hobbit film series and Dracula Untold. Justin Theroux’s involvement in this film isn’t typical of his previous filmography of comedies. But the performances of the actors and actresses are sub-par to what’s expected. 6/10 Audience Demographic The biggest pull to the movie are the people that read the book, perhaps to see the book acted in the visual medium instead of just in the readers’ heads. The next biggest pull are audiences that go to thrillers. With the movie coming off the very successful Gone Girl, many will think use that film as a bellwether for this one, with several points of view to advance the plot and a female-driven story. 7/10 Post-movie Thought The movie moves far too fast to gather a lot of interest for the characters. Even so much as a 15 or 20 minute extension of the movie would have allowed it to move at a reasonable pace to incorporate different events with all of the characters instead of just the focal character for that scene. 5/10 Source Material The movie was adapted from the novel by Paula Hawkins. The setting was changed from London to New York, which explains the American accents in the movie. However, it makes Rachel’s English accent stand out without any explanation. There are also a lot of points in the novel that make a revelation from the point of view of one of the characters, then follows it up with a reaction from a different main character. While the medium of film wouldn’t allow a smooth transition as reading it would, the film props up a scene and gives no follow up at all, leaving loose ends or unsatisfied subplots. 5/10 Overall: 60/100

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Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

 Another night has passed when you’re ultimately left to your own devices.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

You woke up this morning, despite what troubles you have.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

The pains of yesterday have not stopped you.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Physical ailments or mental illness plague your body and mind, yet you keep moving forward.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Yesterday left you with a heavy heart and blinding tears, but today starts with a lifted spirit and a clearer path.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

Today’s opportunities aren’t attached to the previous day’s burdens.

Smile, my boy. It’s sunrise.

The day is yours to conquer.

Rest in Peace, Robin Williams (July 21, 1951 – August 11, 2014)

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Movie Review: Suicide Squad

Suicide Squad is a “superhero” film and the third installment of the DC Extended Universe.

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In the wake of Batman v Superman, Amanda Waller (Viola Davis) proposes a covert team of meta-humans and people with specialized skills who have been locked up for serious crimes. Among them are sharp-shooter and assassin Deadshot (Will Smith), Bank thief Boomerang (Jai Courtney), Reptilian-like savage Killer Croc (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), former gang member El Diablo (Jay Hernandez), and psychiatrist-turned-criminal Harley Quinn (Margot Robbie). Waller keeps close tabs on these individuals as well as an archaeologist Dr. June Moone (Cara Delevigne), who became possessed by an ancient entity with powers including teleportation and energy manipulation. Dr. Moone is secured by Rick Flag (Joel Kinnamen) who eventually starts a relationship with her. Amanda Waller gets approval from the Pentagon after a brief exhibition of abilities. Shortly after, a calamity in Midway City forces the Pentagon and Waller to assemble her special team. After being briefed on the situation, the group is informed by Rick Flag that any deviation from the mission will result in an explosion from a chip installed in their necks. If the mission is a success, they get a lighter prison sentence. Any other result ends in their deaths. Deadshot refers to the group as a Suicide Squad. As they depart, Flag is joined by Katana (Karen Fukuhara) as an assistant to the mission and to keep the Suicide Squad on task. During this time, The Joker (Jared Leto) actively searches out Harley Quinn so they can be romantic partners in crime.

Plot

Introducing a lot of new characters for this movie, while necessary, hampered the pacing of the first act. Once the mission is stated, the main plot of the movie moves in a smooth, almost predictable manner. However, the secondary plot involving the Joker, is too spaced out and the scenes are very short, leaving a lot to be desired considering the amount of advertising of the character.

6/10

Characters

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Almost all of the members of the Suicide Squad have enough motivating interest to pay attention to them. Amanda Waller has a confidence and arrogance that doesn’t break at any point in the movie. Many of them are given enough backstory at the top of the first act, like Harley and Deadshot. Others are given more insight during the back half of the movie. Everyone else is either very straight-forward and don’t need further elaboration (like Killer Croc) or are not important enough to the plot. El Diablo is an interesting case, which hints at a few things at the start, elaborates in the second act, then has a build up with little payoff in the end. All that being said, the focus in terms of characters lie with Deadshot and Harley Quinn. The former has a daughter he wants to keep safe and financially stable, while the latter is almost bipolar (thematically, not clinically).

8/10

Language

There’s a lot of tie-in dialogue with this movie to the previous DCEU movies and easy to understand. My biggest complaint lies with Harley Quinn and her Brooklyn accent. In previous iterations of her character (the animated show and video games), she has a distinct accent, which is fine. The problem is Margot Robbie switches between having the accent and not. I tried to find a link to why this was happening, perhaps she only had the accent when she was with the Joker, but this is not the case. It may not be noticeable for an audience that isn’t looking out for it, but it was a bit annoying when I finally noticed it.

7/10

Theme

I suppose the main theme of the movie comes with the tagline “Worst Heroes Ever,” putting villains in a situation where they act against their self-interest. Another briefly touched on subject is the idea of redeeming yourself. Deadshot is trying to see his daughter again and actively wants custody of her, despite being a gun for hire. Katana has her own problems relating to her husband and maintaining a moral code. Finally, the subject I thought the most about was the relationship between Harley and Joker. At the top of the movie, one of the prison guards makes a pass at Harley, and she fires back, “I sleep how I want, however I want, and with who I want.” At first, it was an empowering message of her owning her sexuality, but makes a quick 180 when she’s shown with the Joker. For those familiar with the source material, Joker and Harley are cited as the DC villain power couple while at the same time being represented as a textbook (or I suppose technically comic book) case of an abusive and toxic relationship. The movie shows this in at least two flashbacks and a maybe, *maybe* justification for it. She is seen as being objectified, people watching her dress at the end of the first act. Her introducing music is “You Don’t Own Me,” originally performed by Lesley Gore in the 60s, which I thought was a nice touch implying Harley, in fact, doesn’t want to be objectified.

8/10

Music

There’s a lot of licensed music in this movie, at least twice as many songs as I was expecting. When first introduced, it was almost as if each character had a theme song. In addition, there was a good amount of scored music that hyped up the action scenes or made the dramatic scenes more sad. As I mentioned before, “You Don’t Own Me” plays while Harley is seen in prison. Song age ranges from “Fortunate Son” by CCR to “Heathens,” a recently released single by Twenty One Pilots.

10/10

Spectacle

There are a lot of special effects in this movie, and at times overly so. Many of the effects were made with 3-D in mind, which is personally irritating because of the inconvenience and potential effects of overexposure to 3-D movies.  During the final fight scene, dust clouds and smoke billow everywhere, detracting from the action of the characters on camera. Speaking of which, the characters are more or less in silhouette in the scene, making them even harder to distinguish. The plus sides involve Enchantress’s transformations, El Diablo in the back half of the movie, and the sharpshooting from Deadshot.

7/10

Star Power

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Cast choices were pretty good here. The obvious pulls for audiences are Will Smith, Oscar Award winner Viola Davis, and Margot Robbie. David Harbour, whom I know best from the HBO show The Newsroom, has only a few scenes throughout the film.

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I mean honestly, how many things can be stranger than supervillains?

Jared Leto also delivers a good performance for the amount of time he’s on screen. As a confirmed method actor, I can only imagine how he acted in between takes. Adam Beach, who plays Slipknot in the film, is largely underutilized for reasons that become apparent when you watch the movie. Overall, good casting choices.

8/10

Audience Demographic

DC comic book fans get a large benefit from knowing most of the characters coming into the film. As marketing started, it seemed to be a dramatic take on being desperate enough to hire supervillains to do good work. As time went on, they detracted from that and moved to EDM fever dreams, what with the amount of bright colors and candy in their posters, finally culminating in the poster at the top of the review which looks like some sort of Ed Hardy tattoo. Was this meant to bring in the tons of people who regularly shop at Hot Topic? They went from dark and dramatic to Deadpool levels of tongue-in-cheek representation.

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With…varying levels of success.

These movies, much like the Marvel superhero movies, more or less secure the comic book crowd but is all over the road with the rest of the audience it’s trying to take in.

6/10

Post-Movie Thoughts

I honestly didn’t hate the movie, I in fact enjoyed it. But the question remains if it’s enough to pull DC movies out of their rut to pull off things like Wonder Woman and Justice League down the road. While I know that Joker isn’t the point of the movie, there’s a lack of presence in context of Harley Quinn. The scenes are too few and far between. The mid-credits scene gives a bit of hope for the franchise’s future, so stick around a few minutes after the movie ends.

7/10

Continuity Nods

This movie does a lot to bring the loose ends of Batman v Superman closer together, directly referencing events in the movie and other goodies sprinkled throughout. For the fans of the animated show, a blink-and-you’ll miss it cameo of Harley Quinn’s original outfit is featured in the movie. For the fans of the comics, a lot of attention is brought to Harley Quinn and Deadshot, referencing their time together in the New 52 comic series. I think it’s too soon to say if an extended edition will elaborate on more characters or add context to certain scenes, but the heads of the DCEU need to take what they have with Suicide Squad and improve on it in the next year so Justice League doesn’t end up a disaster.

8/10

Overall: 75/100

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Movie Review: The BFG

The BFG is a fantasy-adventure film based off of the Roald Dahl book of the same name. The film is directed by Steven Spielberg.

The_BFG_poster

Sophie (Ruby Barnhill) roams the halls of the orphanage where she resides. After organizing the mail and fixing the clock, she settles in bed with the house cat. Moments after scaring away drunkards, Sophie witnesses a giant (Mark Rylance) skulking through the streets. Knowing he’s been found, he takes Sophie with him to his home. Sophie pleads that the giant not eat her, with the giant heartily assuring her he is not a giant that eats “human beans.” Instead he has a special diet that includes snozzcumbers, a smelly vegetable and frobscottle, a special soda with downward-moving bubbles. Sophie insists she will run away, but after a bad dream provided by the giant, she decides to stay for the time being. The following morning, a much larger giant named Bloodblotter (Bill Hader) identifies the other giant as Runt. Bloodblotter almost takes Sophie away, but is tricked by Runt. The giant is further tormented by a group of giants including Bonecruncher (Daniel Bacon), Gizzardgulper (Chris Gibbs), Manhugger (Adam Godley), Childchewer (Jonathan Holmes), Meatdripper, Maidmasher, and led by Fleshlumpeater (Jemaine Clement). Runt does everything in his power to prevent the other giants from finding Sophie so she won’t be eaten. Sophie, moved by Runt’s kindness and capturing dreams for others, instead calls him the Big Friendly Giant, or BFG.

Plot

The plot of the movie is incredibly straightforward to cater to the target audience: kids. The whole movie is just under 2 hours, and though it seems the movie could be shortened by 20 minutes, it’s moderately paced to keep everyone’s attention.

8/10

Characters

The BFG

Sophie’s character is revealed in two parts. Right at the beginning, she’s shown as a learned yet isolated girl with a sense of wonder. The BFG is also a loner in two respects: he’s committed to not eating children like his brethren and he’s the shortest of them by a considerable margin. He’s more intelligent than the other giants due to his interactions with regular people through the dreams he collects and gives to them. The other giants are all rather one-dimensional, with their characteristics limited to not liking vegetables nor being wet. In fact, the giants have distinctive names but are not on directly identified on screen enough times to keep track, save for Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater. Sophie briefly mentions the caretaker of the orphanage, whose shown twice in the film. She’s portrayed as, at best, absent-minded. Sophie insists that she’s also abusive, but the audience is left to just take her word for it. Without going too into detail for spoiling the second and third acts, the other humans portrayed in the film are all willing to accept the fact that giants are real without the least hint of skepticism. I’d like to see a bit of pushback from those humans and then be more willing to accept the fact when they see it for themselves.

7/10

Language

Perhaps my favorite part of this movie is it’s broken vocabulary. While Sophie and the other humans speak properly, the giants make use of several mispronounced or completely made up words. Expected grammatical errors like replacing “is” and “have” with “are” and “has” give the BFG a little bit of charm.

9/10

Theme

Both of the main characters feel like outsiders from the atmosphere they live in. Sophie’s insomnia and interest in reading makes her feel different in the orphanage where she resides, and the BFG’s want for intelligence and active interest in dreams make him very different from the other giants in Giant Country. These two outsiders stick together and accomplish something extraordinary. Also, while not blatant or in-your-face, the BFG insists on a vegetarian diet instead of his brethren, who only subsist on eating people, promoting a cruelty-free way of living. The film does go into a good detail about disappearances of people and the giants eating them, making for a dark tone for a film directed at kids.

8/10

Music

A Steven Spielberg film is usually complemented with a score by John Williams. This film is not an exception. The beautiful music pairs well with the fantastical scenery, particularly in Dream Country.

9/10

Spectacle

The film is largely composed through computer graphics, showing the giants in significant contrast to the actual humans in the film. There’s a brief compositing problem when Sophie and the BFG are in close proximity, like where Sophie stands on his shoulder and the camera focuses on their faces. Aside from that, the scenes are well-crafted. The closeness of British streets are made more apparent when the BFG sneaks through them in the first and second acts of the movie. Dream Country and the BFG’s workshop are the most colorful, each emotion of dream are given distinct colors. The facial movements of the giants were captured with mocap technology and closely reflects the actors portraying the characters.

9/10

Star Power

The BFG cast

I really enjoyed the performance of Mark Rylance, the actor playing the BFG. While several other recognizable stars are in this film, it mainly focuses on Rylance and Ruby Barnhill. Barnhill has been on TV before and this is her first feature film credit. Other actors include Bill Hader as one of the man-eating giants, Penelope Wilton, Rafe Spall, and Rebecca Hall as Mary.

7/10

Audience Demographic

The film is an adaptation from a book written in 1982 by Roald Dahl. Primary audiences are kids, being a Disney-produced film, and the adults who grew up reading the book. I myself read the book back in third grade. The movie will not reach everyone like most other Disney films, but garners enough nostalgic feelings to make for a successful weekend.

7/10

Post Movie Thought

The movie was a good amount of fun, but it wasn’t as climactic or satisfying as I expected it to be. It could be that I haven’t read the book in so long, but the excitement of the final act was overshadowed by how funny I found the toast at the end of the second act. The toast won’t be received as well by every audience as I received, and without giving away the context, I know not everyone finds that kind of humor funny.

6/10

Source Material

As I mentioned before, the movie is based off a 34-year old book meant for children. I’m please to see that most of the material of the novel is maintained in the book. Among the altered scenes are any with Sophie’s caretaker in the orphanage, named Mrs. Clonkers in the book. Her appearances are limited to a brief moment of her picking up magazines in a pile of mail and her silhouette looking in on the children after Sophie goes to bed. She’s mentioned once more by Sophie as a terrible person, but the audience is told this instead of being shown.  The ending is also altered from the book, which I didn’t remember until referencing it for this review. While the tone of both endings are positive, I prefer the movie’s ending to the book’s ending. Everything else is kept pretty well intact, the language, dark elements, and happy notes.

9/10

Overall: 79/100

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Movie Review: Finding Dory

Finding Dory is an animated film and sequel to the 2003 film Finding Nemo.

Finding_Dory

The film opens with a young Dory living with her mother and father (Diane Keaton and Eugene Levy, respectively). Dory struggles with her short-term memory loss and her parents trying their best to keep her safe. In an instant, Dory is carried away from her parents in an undertow current and spends her life looking for them. Dory (Ellen DeGeneres), now an adult, keeps swimming in the ocean asking for help, but almost immediately forgetting. She witnesses a boat driving by and runs into Marlin (Albert Brooks), who’s desperately looking for his son. Dory helps Marlin look for his son, forgetting she’s also looking for her family.

One year after meeting Marlin, Dory now lives with him and his son Nemo (Hayden Rolence). Dory attends Nemo’s school despite Marlin’s concern that she’ll wander off. Mr. Ray (Bob Peterson) takes everybody to the site of a stingray migration. While witnessing the migration, Dory comes across an undertow current and has an epiphany about her original home. She insists going to “the jewel of Morro Bay, California,” the only clue she remembers about her original home. Nemo wants to help Dory, knowing what it’s like to be separated from a parent, and Marlin reluctantly goes to make sure Dory stays focused.

Plot

The plot is very much straight-forward, it was just a matter of the twists and turns to get to the emotional moments that occur in just about every Pixar movie. Unlike the first movie, with the dangers of the open ocean, this film takes place in a marine-life sanctuary, a fragmented and relatively closed location. With the B-plot being much closer, figuratively and literally, to the main plot of Dory looking for her parents, it’s a lot easier to follow than shifting from one side of the ocean to the other.

8/10

Characters

Finding Dory Hank

Almost every character from the first film makes another appearance in the sequel, keeping their personalities and quirks. Among the new characters is Hank, voiced by Ed O’neill and my favorite new character. He’s very purpose-driven and a bit of a curmudgeon. There are also a pair of sea lions, Fluke and Rudder (Idris Elba and Dominic West, respectively) befriend Marlin and Nemo in the film. Bailey (Ty Burrell) is a beluga whale that’s convinced his echolocation abilities are no longer working. Destiny is a whale shark played by Kaitlin Olson and Dory’s best friend. Finally, there’s Dory’s parents, whose characteristics are sprinkled throughout the movie.

8/10

Language

There’s a good deal of discussion regarding underwater life, the most prominent being undertow currents (starting the plot of the whole movie) and migration patterns. What I like is the setting for all of this, being in a marine sanctuary/exhibit, the language is easy enough for kids to understand. Also, Dory shows off her multilingual skills by speaking whale with her friend Destiny.

9/10

Theme

Importance of family remains the primary element of the movie, though it shifts from importance of the kids to importance of parents. This inevitably broadens out to the necessity for friends, who ground the people they care about when they lose their way. The film touches on but doesn’t go into dramatic detail about human interference with wildlife. The intention of the marine sanctuary is to make every attempt to rehabilitate and return wildlife to the ocean, so the overall interference in that respect is helpful. In terms of direct  negative interference, there are two examples: one played for drama and the other for comedy. Dory gets tangled in plastic rings in the first act, while the other plays out like the preschool kids scene from Toy Story 3. Finally, the movie really drives the point of unrelenting hope. Dory, despite her mental disability, does not stop in the search for her parents.

Speaking of mental disability, I want to focus on that for a moment. While the idea of Dory’s short-term memory loss, or anterograde amnesia, is played for laughs, it’s one of several mental issues that many people struggle with on a daily basis. She isn’t shy about being disabled in this way, mentioning it in several scenes and almost always after introducing herself. What that does, however, is leave several well-meaning fish confused in terms of helping; they don’t know how to approach the idea of her mental disability. Marlin, in the first act of the movie, asked Dory to stay away from the class because he doesn’t want her seen as a burden to Nemo’s teacher. As with real life, mental disability isn’t totally understood and therefore mishandled. With giving a major character in a kid’s movie a disability, it may bring positive change to how mental disorders are recognized.

10/10

Music

Much of the music takes a similar tone from its predecessor, usually being very bubbly and melodic during travel scenes or turbulent during the more action-filled scenes. Louis Armstrong’s “What a Wonderful World” plays in the movie and Sia’s cover of “Unforgettable” plays during the credits.

8/10

Spectacle

The film maintains the many colors of different fish and other aquatic animals, but given the environment of an aquarium it didn’t seem as vibrant as it could have been. Hank’s ability to change colors makes for a fun element in the movie and was enjoyable without being overbearing or forced. And Dory as a little fish? Super adorable.

8/10

Star Power

Finding Dory Cast

As I mentioned earlier, most of the cast returns for their respective roles, though some appear briefly. Ellen DeGeneres is obviously the main attraction for the movie, with Albert Brooks reprising Marlin. Modern Family cast members Ed O’Neill and Ty Burrell as well as It’s Always Sunny in Philedelphia star Kaitlin Olson star as new characters. One cast member that I didn’t expect was Sigourney Weaver, acting as the narrator for the animal sanctuary. I was overall very satisfied with the new cast and the performances of the returning cast.

10/10

Audience Demographic

Pixar and Disney films in general have a wide range of audiences. The films are obviously directed at children, but also cater to the adults that end up bringing the kids to the movie. The film is also in an interesting position of being released 13 years after it’s predecessor, meaning children that watched Finding Nemo when it first came out are in their last year of high school or college aged. Most of them have the advantage of driving down to the movie theater and seeing it on their own accord.

9/10

Post-Movie Thought

There’s a minor plot point established in the first film that isn’t addressed in this one. When Dory first introduces herself to Marlin, she mentions her memory problem and makes it clear that it runs in her family. She questions where they are before promptly forgetting what was going on and asks Marlin if he needs help. While her questioning where her parents are is indicative of what she’s been doing up until that point, the fact that she mentions that memory loss runs in her family is never addressed. On the contrary, her parents struggle with giving her mnemonic devices so she can remember not to wander too far or swim into currents. Despite that moment, the film does make up for it by giving us a proper epilogue on another story element in the first movie, which I won’t spoil here. The trick is you have to be patient in finding out what it is.

7/10

Long-Awaited Sequels

Finding Dory came out a full thirteen years after Finding Nemo. That’s a long time between movies. It led me to question the state of the movie industry and the necessity for sequels. While a long period of time between movies can be a good thing in a meta sense (such as Toy Story 3, where the characters aged with the audience and was a big success), this movie doesn’t follow that formula, only taking place about one year from the conclusion of Nemo. While I found the movie to be a lot of fun and enjoyable, it didn’t seem like it was necessary to take so long between movies, if they planned on doing a sequel for that long.

6/10

Overall: 83/100

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Movie Review: Warcraft

Warcraft is a fantasy action movie based on the video game of the same name.

Warcraft Poster

After a brief introduction of a human fighting an orc, Durotan (Toby Kebbel) and his pregnant mate Draka (Anna Galvin) are preparing for an invasion. Several clans of orcs gather at a portal connecting their world, Draenor, and the new world of Azeroth. The orc warlock Gul’dan (Daniel Wu) gathers many of the orcs to conquer Azeroth to replace their dying world. Gul’dan activates the portal by siphoning the life out of caged slaves. After crossing the portal, Draka gives birth to a stillborn orc. Gul’dan, despite being upset that a pregnant warrior crossed in the first place, uses his dark magic to transfer the life force of a nearby deer to the baby.

Meanwhile, at the Dwarven kingdom of Ironforge, Sir Anduin Lothar (Travis Fimmel) receives a Boomstick, a firearm, from the Dwarf King Magni Bronzebeard (Michael Adamwaithe) before receiving news of human towns being raided. Anduin comes across a former Kirin mage named Khadgar (Ben Schnetzer) studying the dead bodies. Khadgar concludes that the villages were attacked with Fel, but refuses to elaborate. Anduin approaches the king of Stormwind, Llane Wrynn (Dominic Cooper) to deliver the news and permission to seek out The Guardian, a powerful mage possessing great knowledge and power to protect Azeroth. The Guardian, named Medivh (Ben Foster), describes that Fel is a dark magic that corrupts the user and pollutes where the magic was used. While investigating the Fel, Medivh and Anduin’s group is ambushed by orcs. Several men are killed before Medivh activates the Fel magic in the orcs to turn it against them. Among the surviving orcs is Durotan, who frees a half-orc slave following the battle. He witnesses the destructive power of the Fel and finds it too dangerous to be used by anyone.

The orc slave, Garona (Paula Patton), is captured by Khadgar and taken back to Stormwind. She reveals the origins of the orc presence and Gul’dan’s intent to eventually take over Azeroth. At the same time, Durotan consults his mate and second in command about leaving Gul’dan for the sake of orc longevity.

Plot

Many of the beats of the film were standard of an action/fantasy film. As such, the movie was largely predictable for most of the movie. Thankfully, a few unexpected events during the final act made it more enjoyable. However, given the opening scene and the legacy of Warcraft, the ending of the movie shouldn’t come as a big surprise.

6/10

Characters

Warcraft Characters

There are a lot of interesting characters in this movie. Development comes in a few spurts, with only a few characters at a time to avoid overwhelming the audience with exposition. However, there are a few things that are left to be desired. For example, Dwarves are introduced very early in the movie but have a much less interesting part in the long run of the movie, making only one or two additional appearances in the movie. Orcs and their culture get the spotlight, focusing on their traditions and personalities of at least 2 clans.

8/10

Language

Humans and orcs, the two primary races in the film, speak different languages. Fortunately, the only time this is an issue is when Durotan and Anduin’s forces meet in a canyon. Garona, spending most of her time as a slave, acquired several languages and conveniently translates for both groups in the second act of the film. Otherwise, orc language is automatically translated for the audience without the use of captions.

9/10

Theme

Family bonds are touched on for both factions of the movie. Anduin’s sister being the king’s wife and his son participating in the royal legion. Durotan has the responsibility of protecting his son and assuring his wife that he is doing the right thing. Both are also burdened with the responsibility of leadership; Anduin a commanding knight of the king’s legion and Durotan being the chieftain of the Frostwolf clan. Something unique to the orcs in the movie is the preservation of tradition. At many points in the film, particularly in the final act, orc culture is discussed, challenged, and ultimately retained. I found it particularly interesting, given that orcs aren’t a race that’s typically brought up as having a code of ethics.

8/10

Music

There isn’t any licensed popular music in this film. Instead, it was composed and presented as sweeping songs that reflect the world of Warcraft (no pun intended).

8/10

Spectacle

This has to be one of the most ambitious uses of CGI I’ve seen in movies. Almost all of the scenery feels authentic and part of the world, not something manufactured by computer. However, the lone scene that did not portray that was the very final scene. The background of the film seemed out of place, almost like it was a SyFy original movie graphic. This cleared up when the camera closed in on one or two particular characters, but that was half the scene. Also, though it doesn’t come up as often as you would think for a fantasy-based movie, some of the spellcasting doesn’t seem in place, either. When shown the glyphs for casting spells or glowing eyes of mages, my thought is that something slipped past the composite stage of post-production.

8/10

Star Power

Warcraft Cast

Less than half of the cast actually show their faces on screen, most of them playing orcs and therefore CGI. That being said, I liked a lot of the casting choices made. Travis Fimmel plays the human antagonist and is most recognizable from the TV series Vikings. Clancy Brown was also a cool choice as Blackhand. While playing Officer Hadley in The Shawshank Redemption, he also made a promising career in voice acting. Dominic Cooper and Ruth Negga are the king and queen of Stormwind, and have recently worked together on Marvel projects and AMC’s new show Preacher.

8/10

Audience Demographic

I was expecting a lot of mid-30s, early 40s men watching this movie, being based off a 20+ year old computer game. The demographic seems very limited despite games like World of Warcraft being accessible and played by several different age groups and both genders. I want to say that the recent trend of fantasy and action films would allow for a big audience, but the result was much less satisfying.

5/10

Post-movie Thought

While withholding spoilers, the end seemed like a big set-up for a potential movie franchise. There’s a lot to pull from, of course, but the idea that it wasn’t a stand-alone movie seemed off to me. Well, not so much that it wasn’t, but it was set up that it couldn’t.

5/10

Source Material

The movie is obviously based off the game series of the same name. There is a large world to pull from and many different stories and characters to focus on. I feel that they grabbed the right amount of characters and story line to make an good impression. But as I said earlier, the end of this movie seems to bank on a series being made, which doesn’t provide a lot of closure for the movie I paid to watch. There’s certainly a lot to explore, but without the closure it seems they could have taken an extra step but decided not to.

9/10

Overall: 74/100

 

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