Doctor Strange Review

Damn it, I thought I had finished with these back in the summer. But no, now that Marvel and DC are releasing several movies per year, they have to stretch them out well past the usual release days. Marvel started their Phase Three earlier this year with Civil War, and now the second in the series is out in cinemas.

Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Tilda Swinton and Mads Mikkelsen and is directed by Scott Derrickson. The film follows Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch), a brilliant neurosurgeon. After a car accident leaves him without the use of his hands, he trains in the mystic arts to try and heal himself.

The acting and cast range from being passable to looking incredibly bored. I wasn’t a fan of Cumberbatch’s casting as Strange, but he was fine , nothing too terrible about him. Tilda Swinton looks uninterested most of the time, not displaying any emotion throughout the film. Mads Mikkelsen is woefully underused, and is reduced to spouting nonsense in his scenes. Like most Marvel villains, he isn’t as interesting as he could have been. The best character is probably Rachel McAdams as Strange’s half-love interest. While it’s generic to see the only lady Strange interacts with reduced to the love interest, she manages to rise above the typecasting.

The special effects featured heavily in the promotion, and if you’re just wanting to go to the cinema for some pretty visuals, then Doctor Strange is a good choice. Due to the mystic arts, the world starts to fold in on itself and creates kaleidoscopic patterns across the screen. It’s very much like the city sequences in Inception or Paprika, but on a much larger scale. There is even a homage to Inception later on during a fight in a hallway, where the world keeps rotating, making the characters continually fall over and slide around.

The action scenes though leave a lot to be desired. Throughout the film we see students at the monastery that Strange visits practising kung fu, and even Strange starts fight training later on, but when it actually gets to the fisticuffs, it’s less Crouching Tiger and more Taken 3. The camera shakes around and cuts to odd angles, before showing us a pile of bodies on the floor. It gets even worse when the characters start using their powers. While they look good (the film does use CGI well), most of them are just a maelstrom of particle effects. They clog up the screen with so much visual pizzazz that we miss all the interesting parts. The final action scene though, when Strange and his teammates start using a more complex series of spells (and some ones that I won’t say here for the sake of spoilers), they do make the finale a visual delight.

Apart from the visuals though, there is not much going on underneath. The story is the same bog-standard origin that they’ve been recycling since the original Iron Man all the way back in 2008.You can pretty much guess how most of the film is going to play out, until the final third when things start to get a little meta. The third act seems to get going before the second act is even over, which signals a problem with how the film has been edited. The film doesn’t telegraph how much time has passed, it almost looks like Strange has become a master magician within the space of a week. The jokes as well are rather poor. Cumberbatch is the main deliverer of them, but they really don’t fit with his character. It would have been better to keep Strange as the stoic, mystery man that the trailers made him appear to be rather than popping out jokes now and again.

In the end, apart from some of the trippy visuals and the new character, Doctor Strange really has nothing new to show for itself. I guess if you’re heavily invested in the series you’ll have already seen it or be making plans, but for others, just leave it be.

Score: 6/10 Some cool visuals now and again don’t carry an entire film.

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The Last Witch Hunter Review

Actor pet project films are always interesting to watch. Vin Diesel, being a large Dungeons and Dragons player, talked with screen-writers to try and get a big-budget adaptation of his favourite past-time into theatres, and finally, after three years, they made it. Does Diesel’s passion for table-top role playing games come through in the film?

The Last Witch Hunter stars Vin Diesel, Rose Leslie, Elijah Wood and Michael Caine and is directed by Breck Eisner. the story follows Kaulder (Diesel) an immortal witch hunter who works for the secret society The Axe and Cross, to defend the human world against those in the Witching World who would attempt to destroy it.

The film starts with a very Dungeons and Dragons style battle set in the Dark Ages, as Kaulder and other hunters attempt to rid the world of the Witch Queen. It’s a fun opening, full of swords, bows and arrows and magic spells and it also shows us what Vin Diesel looks like with a full head of hair. This Dark Ages setting though is soon dropped, with the Witch Queen’s apparent death and Kaulder being cursed with immortality, so the film transports us to modern day New York, where Kaulder is still fighting to keep the worlds of witches and humans separate. It’s similar to Men In Black or R.I.P.D. in terms of a two-world story but it never comes anywhere close to being as good as those two.

The acting is really quite poor. Vin Diesel is playing the same character as always, but the main problem is that he seems to be trying to blend all his words together. It sounds like he’s gargling gravel, without hardly any sounds being recognisable as words. Michael Caine and Elijah Wood seem to be retreading their roles of Alfred and Frodo from Batman and LOTR respectively, but both look bored to be in The Last Witch Hunter. Caine especially, who speaks in a monotone voice and doesn’t change his facial expression once in the film.

The story, despite a few good moments of lore-building, is very undercooked. Even with all the lore that the story tries to cram into the film, none of its engaging. I fell asleep for a good five minutes in the middle of the film and when I woke up I didn’t care if I had missed anything important. The problem I can trace it all back to is Vin Diesel’s character Kaulder being an immortal warrior. The film tries to play Kaulder off as the best fighter in the world (much like another Vin Diesel character, Riddick), but that doesn’t make him empathetic.

The best heroes are ones where we can see they are in peril. Characters like John McClane (except in Die Hard 5) or any one of Jackie Chan’s characters, we empathise with them because we can sense the danger they are in. Even Wolverine in the X-Men series, despite being immortal there is always at least one character who can best him in each film. Kaulder on the other hand, is always on top of the situation and never seems to have any trouble taking down wave after wave of enemies. Even though the film tries to de-power him in the final act, the stakes never feel high enough that we think Kaulder will lose.

All in all, The Last Witch Hunter had the crux of a good, if overused idea at its heart. But a weak script, abysmal acting and an un-sympathetic main character make it one of the most boring to watch. I would give the film a lower score, but it doesn’t actively offend me. It’s just tedious.

Score: 2/10 Vin Diesel can do better than this.

Song Of The Sea Review

Song Of The Sea has been gaining traction in the past few months. Originally being shown at the Toronto Film Festival in 2014 and then being nominated for Best Animation at the 2014 Academy Awards, it has only started its public cinema run in the UK. Does it live up to the hype?

Song Of The Sea is directed by Tomm Moore and stars David Rawle, Brendan Gleeson, Fionnula Flannagan, and Lisa Hannigan. The story follows Ben (Rawle) and his mute sister Saorise as they go on a mystical adventure filled with Irish folklore creatures in a bid to find out what happened to their mother, who disappeared the night Saorise was born.

Song Of The Sea deserves its nomination for Best Animation at the Oscars. The 2D animation is striking and beautiful with subtle hints of Studio Ghibli’s more esoteric works, the cartoon designs from The Legend Of Zelda and the cutout silhouettes from Wes Anderson’s films. It can’t be stated enough that the film is mesmerising and I can’t think of an animated film so recently that the animation on its own blew me away.

The story is heavily rooted within Irish folklore with selkies, fairies, giants, and the odd animal deity coming in and out of the film to either help or hinder our protagonists. This is where the animation shines, giving us these fantastical creatures that wouldn’t look anywhere near as good if it was all CGI. Even the homes and houses of these creatures such as the selkie underwater neighbourhood or the owl house that features later on in the film are lovingly put together with some standout scenes and sets.

Even so, the story is a very clichéd and overdone one; a story of young child going off on an adventure and trying to find an absent parent. It is a story that Studio Ghibli has been doing variations on for a while, but here in Song Of The Sea it is beautifully told and has several emotional punches. There was around three times where I welled up due to the story and portrayal of the characters with the last ten minutes serving a real emotional blow that is sure not to leave a dry eye in the cinema. It is a story that everyone can relate to, whatever age they are.

The film is full of great Irish actors. Brendan Gleeson and Fionnula Flanagan are both excellent in their dual roles, playing both the father and grandmother of Ben and Saorise as well as the films interpretations of the Ancient Irish folk heroes. Two small roles for the Irish comics Pat Shortt and Jon Kenny as two parts of a trio of musical playing fairies are fun to watch and to listen to. But the greatest praise must go to David Rawle for his portrayal of the young boy Ben. For a young actor it is a challenge to carry nearly a whole film on his own, but Rawle manages to do it with a sincere and heartfelt portrayal of an older brother trying to help his younger sister.

The score, created by Bruno Koulais and Kila (with many songs being sung by the voice cast as well), is near constantly played throughout the film, but it never gets old or repetitive. Apart from the odd verse nearly all of the songs are sung in Irish which adds to the ethereal quality of the film. The best song though is the lullaby rendition of the main theme that plays over the credits. It is well worth staying through the credits just to hear this amazing song which is sung by the French singer Nolwenn Leroy.

In summary, Song Of The Sea is a great-animated feature, beautifully crafted and heartfelt in its story and characters. This is definitely not one to miss.

Score: 10/10 Destined for classic status.