Doctor Strange: Cumberbatch enters the void for an eye-popping visual experience

Doctor Strange’s inspirations are clear. It’s hard not to think of Nolan’s Inception when seeing the kaleidoscopic reality-bending special effects, or of 2001’s ‘stargate’ sequence when Strange is flung through the multiverse by the endlessly watchable Tilda Swinton. Yet this film wears these inspirations on its sleeve and never presumes to completely rip off these ideas, and is made all the better for it.

Benedict Cumberbatch plays the eponymous main character, a dry, egotistical wonder surgeon who, after suffering permanent damage to his hands, embarks on a healing pilgrimage so he can go back to being a doctor again. Instead, he inevitably becomes Marvel’s next superhero, a Mr Miyagi of silly quips and air stencils, if you will.

The main selling point of Marvel’s films is the action sequences, and these certainly don’t disappoint. It’s so refreshing to see a large studio try something a little different for once, although the cinematic universe’s usual tropes are still present in some shape or form. The traditional apocalyptic blue light in the sky is replaced with a large ethereal face this time around, but it isn’t really much of an improvement.

One thing that Marvel can never seem to nail down properly is action comedy. The ‘funny’ scenes are always so detached from the action, and even when comedic elements are introduced, they are barely incorporated into the fighting. I don’t see why not; the films don’t exactly take themselves too seriously. There was an attempt in Strange, but one notable example involving the cape felt more like an outtake than actually part of the film.

Nonetheless, Doctor Strange is a very enjoyable film, with a very eye catching and sophisticated cast list and not a single weak performance.

7/10

Inferno: Thriller sequel that crashes and burns

Something always bothered me about the tin-foil-hatted way in which classic art and literature is made to be part of a super secret puzzle that only one person in the world can solve. The person in question happens to be Robert Langdon (Tom Hanks), who reprises his role as the ever-frowning symbologist in the third adaptation of the Dan Brown books of the same name. It seems to me that all the decrypting has taken its toll, as Hanks’ performance is extremely wooden throughout.

Langdon finds himself in hospital, experiencing flashbacks of apocalyptic events, when he is immediately flung into action after he is attacked in his room. He is saved by Sienna (Felicity Jones, of The Theory of Everything fame), and now must track down a deadly virus that threatens to wipe out half of civilisation.

Inferno starts off strong, with gorgeous helicopter shots that really show off the architecture of Florence, with a tingling soundtrack that sets the tone well. The opening scene ends with some convincing and graphic special effects which I was surprised to see in a 12A rated film. As soon as the tone shifts, Inferno becomes less than hot stuff. The editing in the hospital and flashback sequences was extremely eclectic and messy, and I couldn’t help noticing how bored Langdon looked, even after finding out about the deadly super virus. I did like the sound design, however, when even a glass being put down is amplified to ear-splitting levels. This is to give the audience a sense of what it’s like to suddenly wake up with a wound to your head – although I can’t vouch for my newly developed tinnitus.

Ben Foster plays the posthumous villain, billionaire Bertrand Zobrist, who subscribes to the notion that humanity must be culled in order to properly flourish. Apparently, he cares so much about killing people, that he lays a series of fiendish clues for someone else to do it, instead of pressing the button himself, thus eliminating the possibility of his plan failing. I guess he just wanted to add the extra variables in for fun, and then kill himself so that he can’t make sure his plan succeeds. There’s a moral subtext where Zobrist is convinced that he’s really committing genocide because he loves people so much, but it just comes off as unbelievable.

Soon, the heroes are jogging around Florence on another jumped up sightseeing tour, a formula that really doesn’t get better with age, and after the most anticlimactic “I can’t find a signal” moments in recent memory, I was left scratching my head. Not in confusion, but in bewilderment.

4/10

Rogue One: The Second Trailer

The second official trailer for the upcoming film Rogue One has been released today – here are my thoughts.

Rogue One looks to be set somewhere before or during A New Hope. From the beginning of the trailer, the tone is set for perhaps a grittier film than Star Wars fans are used to, and it seems to be running with the idea that the main character may simply be a cog in the machine, that is, of the rebellion against the Empire. Sadly, I don’t think that this is the direction that the film will go in; instead, I predict that the storyline will be more like a ‘zero to hero’ scenario, much like the rest of the franchise: Tried, true, and safe.

There are various cameos of recognisable characters and locations, which smacks of a fan service attitude. It’s almost certain there will be small references and tidbits to make the fans squeal. However, if it were to do this, a balance must be struck between nostalgia and bringing fresh ideas and storytelling to the table. There is also the issue of the many planned sequels and prequels: Will the film only exist to set up more films in the franchise, like a lot of films in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, or will it be a satisfying standalone film?

Cynicism aside, Rogue One  is visually the best Star Wars film to date, with impressive blends of practical effects and CGI. I hope that emphasis is put on the practical side as it was in The Force Awakens, because it makes for a much more believable and engaging world. The scrips is in capable hands, featuring strong acting talent in the form of Mads Mikkelsen as Galen and Felicity Jones as Jyn. Based on the trailer, I’m optimistic about this film.

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is in cinemas on December 16.

 

The Girl on the Train: a script most certainly on rails

The Girl on the Train is director Tate Taylor’s take on the novel of the same name, which tries desperately to be seen as smart, but fails miserably both technically and intellectually.

Rachael (Emily Blunt) is the obsessive ex-wife of Tom (Justin Theroux), who rides the train to New York and back every day, seemingly for the sole purpose of serving her Rear Window style voyeuristic tendencies. She then forcibly injects herself into the disappearance case of Megan (Haley Bennett) after witnessing suspicious behaviour while her train is passing Tom’s neighborhood.

The Girl on the Train begins on an incredibly weak note, containing a multitude of stale, tired movie tropes; flashbacks, strobe effect, voice-over and intertitles like “one month later”. In fact, the first fifteen minutes of the film are narrated to the audience. A lot of it could easily have been cut and instead shown visually, as most of the writing assumes the audience has the mental capacity of children. Exposition is rammed down the audience’s throat in a lazy, condescending way, and the characters are boring and unlikeable.

Girl plays into the ‘amnesia’ storyline, in which vital information is locked behind the main character’s inability to remember it. In this case, it is due to the protagonist’s coma-inducing alcoholism. In all honesty, I liked the notion of the main character being as dysfunctional as Rachel: a stalking, obsessed, and broken character. However, Blunt’s performance grated on me, and some of the low points of her acting are continually repeated in the form of more flashbacks and callbacks. What made her character interesting to me was lost at the hands of the film’s very one-dimensional antagonist during the climax, when some new points about her personality are revealed.

There are also flaws in the film’s logic. According to the script, the “intensely private” Megan enjoys nothing more than standing outside and kissing people in her underwear in plain view of anyone who cares to look. Are we also expected to believe that everyone that Rachel sees just happens to be standing outside or in front of a window at the exact moment the train passes by? The train itself is perhaps the slowest in existence, as the POV shots from the train windows track at a snails pace across the houses as the train passes by. The shots from inside the train show Tom’s house to be far closer than it actually is in the exterior shots, and Rachel makes the classic social faux pas of telling the person she suspects to be a cold-blooded murderer that she thinks so, which leads to a predictable conclusion.

The climax itself is executed poorly and embarrassingly, and is resolved very quickly and without consequence at all. In fact, its only purpose is to fill in the ‘missing piece’ in the protagonist’s memory and provide some sort of conclusion to the mystery that was present throughout the film. Having an antagonist, to me, only seemed like a means to an end, and didn’t impose any difference on the actual story. There doesn’t seem to be any legal repercussions for the climax at all, and the characters almost seem to be lauded by the police for what they did.

However, there are some redeeming qualities for this film, though they cannot hope to save the train wrecks that were the beginning and ending. One particular highlight for me was the soundtrack, moving from airy yet sinister grand piano to the dark drones signaling the arrival of the third act. There were also some moments where the acting shone through – though not many. Normally, I think Emily Blunt is a very capable actor (I loved her in Sicario), but in this case I think she was betrayed by the script. It doesnt matter how talented you are, if the dialogue is poorly written, it is impossible to sell your performance convincingly. The script certainly forgot about the ex’s new wife until her character became important to the story.

In conclusion, despite some good parts, the Girl on the Train is a totally unconvincing thriller that is laughably bad at building up any kind of stakes or tension at all. I would chalk up the failure of this film to the unimaginative and lazy way in which the production was handled, not to mention the weak editing and script.

3/10