Dr Strange in the Multiverse of Madness


Viewed – 17 May 2022 Cinema

It would be remiss of me not to say I’m kind of burnt out on these comic book movies. How many have there been now? Yet the quality is (mostly) always so high they’re an easy option when there’s not much else to watch. This sequel has Dr Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) finding his dreams invaded by a young girl called America Charvez, who it transpires can jump between other universes. When demons come chasing her though to claim her power, Strange has to step in to prevent a multiverse catastrophe.

Directed by Sam Raimi (Spider-Man, Evil Dead) this is energetic and chock full of imagination and at times jaw-dropping CGI. However, with its reliance on having a good knowledge of previous movies in the MCU, including TV show WandaVision, with its references and plot elements – this is not a movie for newcomers. Also America, a likeable new character felt under-developed. That being said the various set-pieces impress, mostly down to Raimi’s flamboyant style that he’s always been known for. He brings not only super-hero spectacle, but also his outlandish brand of horror, and it works. A stand-out Elizabeth Olsen also brings us a malevolent Wanda / Scarlett Witch more ferocious than we’ve ever seen before. Lastly, Cumberbatch is again great in his role and remains one of the most nuanced Marvel characters we’ve had.

Fans of MCU and Dr Strange will eat this up. It’s a great deal of fun. The plot is a bit simplistic and it’s too reliant on what came before. I also thought they could have gone much further with the multiverse concept than they do … but overall it was hard not to enjoy this.

Verdict: Good+

Licorice Pizza


Viewed – 15 May 2022 online rental

This got quite a bit of buzz towards the end of last year and from director Paul Thomas Anderson (Boogie Nights, There Will Be Blood) and a setting of seventies America and young love, this sounded right up my alley. Gary is a child actor who becomes infatuated with an older woman, Alana who begins working at his school. With no end of confidence and charm he befriends her and soon brings her into his rather chaotic life.

This authentic recreation of seventies America is given a unique spin due to lead characters having an age gap. You could say it’s a unconventional love story. However as Gary leads Alana from one scheme to the next, for me he began to come off as a bit of an obnoxious dreamer. Alana fairs slightly better, seeming more level-headed and mature, even if she kept coming back to this guy. It made me think of La La Land at times with its pairing similarly not meant to be. However due to the movie jumping randomly from different events, such as Gary walking by a water bed shop, and next thing he’s staring up a water bed business (how’s he managed this, how’s he know anything about water beds?) …I began to feel a tad frustrated. Doesn’t help that none of his schemes are particularly engaging.

What the movie lacks in plot, it makes up for in two solid performances, especially singer turned actor Alana Haim (of the band ‘Haim’). I really liked her and she has many of the movie’s best scenes. There’s also two weird cameos, one by Sean Penn as a rather eccentric actor, and another by Bradley Cooper as one of Barbara Streisand’s husbands(?). Both of which come across like they’re in the wrong movie. Anderson’s direction is decent and atmospheric though, and the movie is often beautifully shot. However for a seventies set story, the music is mostly forgettable (apart from one scene using Bowie’s Life On Mars). Overall an interesting yet ultimately uninvolving comedy-drama that’s not as great as it thinks it is.

Verdict: Good

Skinny Tiger, Fatty Dragon


Viewed – 07 May 2022 Blu-ray

Asian Cinema Season

Generally, you can’t go wrong with a movie starring veteran action star Sammo Hung. He grew up with Jackie Chan, and although he has remained in Chan’s shadow, mostly due to not making his name in America – his movies and his Kung fu skills are clearly on the same level. This 1990 buddy cop movie has never had much fanfare outside its native Hong Kong, and after watching it … I’m surprised.

This is top-drawer Sammo Hung with some fun comedy and several quality Kung Fu fights. The plot is rather none-sensical though, serving more as an excuse from Hung and Karl Mak’s often funny squabbling banter. Karl Mak is comes across a tad misogynistic but still entertains, and proves a capable fighter in his own right. However as a vehicle for Hung, this showcases his comedy skills equally with his fighting, this time doing a spot-on Bruce Lee impression throughout – which I’d have liked a bit of explanation for, but it’s never explored.

Direction by kung Fu veteran Lau Kar-wing is decent with the fights well framed and delivered with often clever camera work (especially during the climactic warehouse scene). I’d say if you enjoy Hong Kong action cinema, this is one of the more immediate fun ones, with the action spread throughout the movie (not just at the end) with entertaining characters and decent comedy. Just a shame about that er… plot.

This new release from Eureka Classics boasts decent image quality. Not incredibly sharp but clear and detailed enough. The soundtrack offers up original Cantonese mono, or 5.1 DTS HD Master Audio English dub. Although this isn’t a showcase for your surround system. Dialogue is clear though and the English dub is surprisingly good. There are two audio commentaries, the first from Asian film expert Frank Djeng and martial artist / actor Robert “Bobby” Samuels. The second has action cinema experts Mike Leeder & Arne Venema. Then there’s a collector’s booklet featuring an essay by James Oliver. Add to this interviews with crew and stunt co-ordinators. There is also a second disk covering the career of stuntman Mark Houghton. No interview or anything with Sammo himself though seems a strange oversight.

Verdict:

(the movie) Good+

(the Blu-ray) Recommended

The Batman


Viewed – 30 April online rental

This long running franchise has always been one of my favourite series of movies, and the character remains probably my go-to comic book hero. So when I heard they were rebooting the franchise once again, I was curious / nervous where they could possibly take this character. Turns out director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield, War for the Planet of the Apes) was an assured choice for this new era. Twilight’s Robert Pattinson takes on the role of Bruce Wayne / Batman who we hear has already been at the caped vigilante ‘game’ for over a year. A series of murders of political figures have started occurring in Gotham City. The killer, calling himself The Ridler leaves cryptic clues for the police and especially Batman to follow in a race against time as the bodies pile up. Embroiled in proceedings is small-time burglar Selena Kyle / Catwoman (Zoe Kravitz), as well as local mobster The Penguin.

Reeves’ direction is suitably moody and highly atmospheric. I especially liked how he brought back Gotham as an eerie character in itself, something Tim Burton presented so well back in the day but Christopher Nolan mostly did away with in place of realism. This rendition of Batman successfully marries both the Gothic fantasy of Burton whilst retaining some of the grit of Nolan … and it works. Wayne / Batman is this time portrayed very much as a human being, capable of injury and mistakes and letting his emotions get the better of him. In this respect Pattinson is excellent – delivering a complex, damaged portrayal whilst still looking an absolute badass in the costume. I’d have like a bit more of him as Bruce Wayne though. Another surprise was Zoe Kravitz, an actress I only know as being the daughter of rocker Lennie Kravitz, but her portrayal is possibly the most complex and interesting version of Catwoman for years. Support from Jeffrey Wright as (inevitably) Commissioner Gordon and John Turturro as mob boss Falcone both bring plenty of personality also. A barely recognisable Colin Farrell is also decent as Penguin even if his character is kind of a side note. That just leaves The Ridler then, and with this role Paul Dano (There Will Be Blood) is chilling and malevolent – even if he’s no Heath Ledger (although his grand-scheme bares similarities).

I had a great time with this. It was a bit long, and may have benefited from some scenes being trimmed down, but I can’t say I ever got bored. Pattinson turned out to be a great choice and I am eager to see what more he can do with the character. The story was gripping, with an intricate plot that bared resemblance to the Zodiac murders whilst also echoing the Saw movies. This was also different enough to stand on its own yet retains enough of the mood and aesthetic to still very much be a Batman movie. What more could you ask for?

Verdict: Recommended

Moonfall


Viewed – 26 April 2022 online rental

Now I can certainly enjoy a disaster movie. Earlier in the year the Leonardo DiCaprio vehicle Don’t Look Up proved a unique take on the subject, so upon hearing one of the genres go-to directors, Roland Emmerich (Independence Day) was returning, I thought this could by good. Starring The Conjuring’s Patrick Wilson as a former astronaut and Halle Berry as a Nasa executive, this sets up the idea of what would happen if the moon suddenly changed its orbit of Earth and started headed for a collision?

You might be thinking Deep Impact or Armageddon and you’d be right. Despite its concept this felt incredibly familiar. Wilson is fine in his role as is Berry, supported by a likeable John Bradley (Game of Thrones) as a nerdy conspiracy theorist. However everyone else is incredibly wooden. The young actor playing Wilson’s rebellious son is just awful, with very robotic line delivery. Same can be said for Berry’s military officer ex husband. As the impending doom worsens, it’s clear the money was mostly spent on the effects, as this is where Director Emmerich’s movies have faired the best and this is no exception. At times they are impressive and effective, even if there’s also a few obvious green screen moments that look really fake.

The last half hour or so of the movie got a lot more interesting as it’s revealed just what is happening to the moon, and despite some plot revelations that are quite bonkers and a bit too familiar … I did feel there was a decent sci-fi story buried under the mediocrity. The movie just lacked polish, its script felt rushed (the world falls into chaos from just an internet post??) and the casting was lacking. Overall, not much to recommend here.

Verdict: Poor