Wednesday, 26 October 2016

A New Doctor McDreamy is in Town

A former neurosurgeon embarks on a journey of healing only to be drawn into the world of the mystic arts.

This 60s cult figure, on the periphery of the Marvel Comics Universe for over 50 years finally comes to prosperity. Directed by Scott Derrickson , Doctor Strange is typical of a Kevin Feige-produce Marvel movie. It introduces the title character just in time to take his place in the 2018's Avengers: Infinity War. On this showing, he's a welcome addition to the Universe. 

With the cast led by the British trio of Cumberbatch, Ejiofor and Swinton - not forgetting Benedict Wong, who plays The Ancient One's guardian of the sacred texts - it's pleasing to see a Marvel movie that feels so homegrown. Here are these terrific dramatic actors, playing comic book characters in a film, the majority of whose audience members may never have seen them before. Benedict Cumberbatch may have played the genius before - Sherlock, Stephen Hawking or Alan Turing - but he seasons Strange with just the right amount of arrogance to ensure we don't immediately fall for his charms. He emphatically stresses the title character's arrogance, impatience and sense of superiority to perfection. His genius pairs him as something of a blood brother to Tony Stark. 

It's the very fact of this deeply insecure and wildly overcompensating character's determination to prove himself that makes Doctor Strange one of Marvel's most satisfying entry and also a throwback to M. Shyamalan's soul-searching identity crisis epic Unbreakable. The character is literally fighting for his life and Benedict Cumberbatch captures both his humbling process and the subsequent regain of confidence. Sadly, Rachel MacAdams is left with the thankless girlfriend role. In fact, much like Natalie Portman before her, she's terribly underused and her character lacks any real substance. Though she's effective enough to ensure it never becomes a major weak spot. 

Yes, this new instalment shares the same look, feel and fancy corporate shine as the rest of Marvel's expanding Avengers franchise but it also has its own freshness and originality. Flaunting hugely impressive CGI, these kaleidoscope effects really sets the tone for MArvel's trippiest movie yet. The Pre-credits sequence leaves viewers with a teaser for what the rest of the film has in store visually, Inception-style. Determined to beat Christopher Nolan at his own game when it comes to folding and bending famous cityscapes to mesmerising effects. The battle scenes are amazing. Firstly, due to this bending universe and secondly since his enemies are martial experts with post-"Matrix" abilities, Strange has to be creative; conjuring shields (my inner nerd wants a Cap/Strange shield battle so badly) and teleportation portals from the plain air.  Such scenes may be good for spectacle but Doctor Strange's most fascinating battle is within himself, as he fights to regain the use of his hands and later to overcome everything he has learned. 

The never ending roots coming from the mind-expanding branch of Eastern mythology is different enough to establish a solid ground, alongside the blockbusters already established. If like me you had to lie over "absolutely loving" a young wizard just to be like any other children back in the days, this new film will make you wish you were seven years old, all over again. This New Age realm of magic and sorcery because let's face it, who needs a wand anymore? Finally, much to his credit Scott Derrickson (Deliver Us from Evil, Sinister) navigates through the different zones with a fair degree of actual coherence and delivers the entire package with obvious ease and even some flair.

Overall, introducing spells and sorcery into the MCU is Marvel's riskiest movie to date, but the gamble pays off. This movie is a confident step into new territories and expands, even more, the shared universe. It's an engaging, smartly cast and kaleidoscopic eye-popping addition to the studios.

Saturday, 22 October 2016

Movie Vs. Book: The Girl on The Train

A divorcee becomes entangled in a missing person investigation that promises to send shock waves throughout her life.

The Girl on the Train is an adaptation of Paula Hawkins' prismatic 2015 bestseller and it is at heart a murder mystery, yet in many ways that is the film's most routine aspect. The story is promising and has resemblances to Alfred Hitchcock, Patrick Hamilton or also something of Agatha Christie's detective story 4:50 From Paddington. What makes a good movie adaptation of a book succeed? The quality of the source material matters, of course, but it's hardly a guarantee. A lot of great novels have curled up and died on screen and some forgettable ones have been pulled through. The practise of referring to grown women as girls continue... here is the one on the train, as opposed to the gone one or the one with the dragon tattoo. Readers of the book were treated to amusingly precise descriptions of Rachel's daily, boozy transit. The film not only ditches these good, shabby detail but shifts the whole business to upstate New-York, to give it scenic benefits to and to associate itself with the cool suburban created by David Fincher in Gone Girl

Paula Hawkins' madly popular novel has a terrific main character on the page and the fact that she's still terrific on screen is a reason alone to see it. Rachel, the main narrator, hits a new high in unreliability. For one thing, she's mostly drunk throughout most of the story, so her memories are not to be trusted - not even is she sure if what she remembers really happened; and for another, her whole life has become a lie. Emily Blunt who portrays Rachel brilliantly in the movie plays half her scenes as she's holding back tears (or screams, who knows...). She's a mesmerising actress who's been in need of a role like this one. It should, at last, elevate her star power. She manages to pull off a perilously effective performance and plays Rachel with a cold that makes it look as if her facial features are slowly coming apart. We can't help but root for her, even when she's a drunken destroyer with borderline personality disorder. At one point she stands in a bathroom, smearing the mirror with lipstick, letting out the rage she feels at her ex, and it is a cathartic moment and uncomfortable moment. 

As a novel, The Girl on the Train is told by a series of unreliable narrators and that's part of its post-Gone Girl feature. In the movie, the unreliability factor plays differently. It comes down to images shown and we, therefore, believe it, but the things we've been shown may not, in fact, have happened. Did I loose you...? Right. Though it is not all that different from what the book did, it can be unsettling at some point. Moreover, the narrative is carefully split between three women whose lives interlink tragically. Indeed, everyone in this film is connected, to the point that the movie has a turbulently incestuous small-town-soap-opera quality. It's a structural movie that carries ideology and a sense of women being forced to live divided lives. 

Nonetheless, there's a strong feminist-inflected suggestion that Rachel, Megan, and Anna are different sides of a singular shared experience, their dreams memories and voices intermingling in a patchwork of female rage, like a silent scream. Scrambling a story is easy, but it's done here to right perfection, with suspenseful effect. 

Overall, to the adventurous cinematography, to an expressive score and an oddly sympathetic script, this cinematic train is rolling.

Sunday, 9 October 2016

Miss Peregrine's School for Gifted Youngster

When Jacob discovers clues to a mystery that stretches across time, he finds Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. But the danger deepens after he gets to know the residents and learns about their special powers.

Filmgoers have endured such a punishing amount of Young Adult adaptations this past decade, this is not fair. If you've ever wondered what Tim Burton's X-Men would look like, here's your chance. For not only does this film come from Fox: the studio that owns Marvel's mighty mutants and is written by Jane Goldman who was responsible for one of the best film in the franchise. 

Characters are dark, they're wickedly funny, they're twisted and they're right up Burton's Beetlejuice Boulevard. Unfortunately, the children I was the most intrigued by were the ones with the least screen time and that was disappointing. Moreover, my major issue with this film is the main character, not Asa Butterfield himself, but Jake. He's mostly boring, he spends the entire film walking around asking questions and waiting someone will explain something to him. THANK GOD, then, for the wonderful Eva Green. Don't be fooled, she doesn't show up for the first half hour and then flips in and out but when she is on-screen, it's a delight. Riggs may have imagined her, but she has clearly become a Burton creation. 

Tim Burton is a director I miss, he made some films that I loved, some I liked and others... The script is the secret ingredient that makes the movie such an appropriate fit for Burton's peculiar sensibility. This movie is everything of all the great Tim Burton's flair: amazing production design, brilliant visuals, everything sounds and looks amazing. Though, I do want to manage expectations. The plot is extremely predictable and the third act's action set-pieces seem to go on forever. This is the director in reserved mode, he's holding back and only goes full Burton in the character's establishment. 

Perhaps it's a little bit too familiar for those of you who've been following Burton since the beginning as he repeats more than he innovates this time around. However, for younger audiences, the film makes a terrific introduction to his forever-Halloween-aesthetic.

Overall, this film is never as dark, funny nor peculiar as you'd expect from Tim Burton. I hope producers know that not every film needs to grow up into a franchise, sometimes it's best to let them live in their own isolated world.

Wednesday, 5 October 2016

The Remake of A Remake in The West

Seven gunmen in the old west gradually come together to help a poor village against savage thieves.

The Magnificent Seven is directed by Antoine Fuqua and stars Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Vincent D'Onofrio; Ethan Hawke and a tonne of other badasses. It's the remake of a remake of a remake even though it's kind of a retelling, that is something we've seen before. The basic storylines are fairly timeless like every great story is. There are even a tonnes of other movies especially Westerns that have a very similar feel as this one. Best example, Clint Eastwood has been in movies with the same plot quite a few times. 

Denzel Washington is teaming up with Fuqua for the third time. Here he plays, essentially, the part of Yul Brynner in John Sturges' movie and Takashi Shimura in the sublime 7th Samurai by Kurosawa - which is no problem when your name is Denzel Washington and you have the experience authority and charisma. He owns the film. This man is a complete legend and it was amazing to see him reunited with Ethan Hawke on screen again. Hawke's character being also very interesting, as he has conflicted feelings, he feels the need to help these people but he also has a past with Washington's character and starts to feel unsure about himself. Add Chris Pratt and his eternal charming asshole and you get a bunch of likeable and entertaining characters. Even Vincent D'Onofrio is surprisingly (for me) good in this film.

I love Antoine Fuqua as a director, I find him very versatile and effective, going from Training Day to Shooter, to two of my favourite movies of the past two years: The Equalizer and Southpaw. He really can do any genre and proves that again this time by making a very fun Western. In fact, this film is extremely well shot. With Leone-style horses galloping across widescreen plains in clouds of dust. But don't be fooled, this film hurts with guns, knives, arrows, cannons, dynamite and machine guns. Finally, this film is also a Western with political intent. The gang includes an Irishman, a Mexican, a Native American and a Korean as Fuqua, both addresses Hollywood's diversity issue and sends Donald Trump a message that America was built upon the immigrant spirit. 

Overall, The Magnificent Seven is a straight up popcorn entertainment, don't go to this movie expecting anything else. It was also fun to see a standard Western again, with duels stand-off. This movie is a remake that actually delivers.