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Doctor Not Too Terribly Strange

Doctor Strange, Gimme Danger, and more hitting movie theaters

Doctor Strange: Watch in awe as Master of the Mystic Arts Benedict Cumberbatch squares the circle!
Doctor Strange: Watch in awe as Master of the Mystic Arts Benedict Cumberbatch squares the circle!

On the wall of my office is a framed, tiny sketch of the Marvel comic book superhero Doctor Strange, drawn by Gene Colan the year before he died. My brother bought it for me at Comic-Con; we had been fans of Colan's work on the character in the '70s. Strange was an oddball superhero; whereas most of them punched people or fired energy beams or whatnot, he cast spells. He talked in high-flown language about the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto, or the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. His enemies were odd, too: other-dimensional beings who posed existential threats to humanity. He was kind of like a priest going up against devils: most of the world would never even perceive, let alone appreciate, his struggles.

There's some trace of that character in Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, certainly the priestly part. But the high-flown language is gone: Benedict Cumberbatch plays Strange much the way Robert Downey, Dr. plays Tony Stark: quippy, arrogant, irreverent, and sporting carefully groomed facial hair.

While he still casts spells, they're mostly in the service of hand-to-hand combat. Sigh. It's a little dispiriting to watch the Marvel Machine grind the curious (read: interesting) edges off its characters, but it's not like they're about to risk DC-style charges of humorlessness.

Movie

Hacksaw Ridge **

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Director Mel Gibson’s first film since 2006’s <em>Apocalypto</em> is visceral proof that the years haven’t done much to change him, at least as a filmmaker. He still loves outliers isolated by their beliefs, in this case a real-life Seventh-Day Adventist named Desmond Doss who wants to serve his country but won’t carry a gun. (The conviction turns out to be as much promise as principle, a fact Gibson would have done well to make clear sooner in the story.) He still knows how to deliver uplift after breaking the viewer down with sorrow and horror. (In this capacity, Hugo Weaving very nearly steals the film as a ruined veteran of the Great War.) And to paraphrase <em>A Christmas Story</em>, he still works in blood and guts the way other artists might work in oils or clay. When your protagonist is a World War II medic during the campaign to take Okinawa, you can make a poetry of corpses (and near-corpses) without swerving from the cause of realism. (The controlled chaos of battle, however, is another matter.) Star Andew Garfield’s slight frame holds up remarkably well under the weight of scorn, abuse, misunderstanding, judgment, and oh yes, bodies.

Find showtimes

Moving on (the '70s were a long time ago) ... Mel Gibson is back in the director's chair for the WWII film Hacksaw Ridge, still doing what Mel Gibson does: carnage and uplift. At least he's good at it.

Movie

King Cobra **

thumbnail

A lurid dimestore novel come to life. Also a nearly perfectly orchestrated murder thriller set in the time after the internet made pornography — in this case, the gay variety — widely available, but before it made it free. Though based on a true story, it’s presented with none of a docudrama’s ragged, lumpy oddity: the narrative is on the lean side, but as taut and burnished as the bodies it depicts. And while the characters may be types, they’re excellent examples of those types. Christian Slater’s lonely, leering producer mourns the years he spent in a closet, and grooms gorgeous twink Garrett Clayton for stardom — exploiting the same youth he lusts after. Meanwhile, James Franco’s muscled-up, rage-addled Daddy figure can’t bear to fail his own beautiful boy-toy (Keegan Allen), not after what Stepdad did to the kid way back when. But when love, money, damage, and ambition get mixed, can violence be far behind? Director Justin Kelly makes the most of his talented and committed cast, mostly by managing the mood (alternately fabulous and sad) and staying out of their way.

Find showtimes

I didn't watch a lot of '80s thrillers — you know, the ones with salacious titles like Forbidden Desires and sexy VHS covers at your local video store. But watching the gay-porn murder-thriller King Cobra, I felt like the best of them must have been like this. Liked it much better than I anticipated.

My colleague, Scott Marks, had a rougher time of it this week. The Stooges doc Gimme Danger reminded him of the good old days of blistering punk, but he wound up as one of only three critics to post a negative review for Moonlight. The poor guy just can't let issues trump aesthetics. And while he managed to dodge the documentary relating to the on-air suicide of Christine Chubbock, he couldn't dodge the drama of Christine. He liked it about as much as he thought he would.

Neither of us made the screening of the toy-based animated film Trolls, which is getting much better reviews than I anticipated. Who knew?

Me, I'm holding out for the Micronauts film. Baron Karza!

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Doctor Strange: Watch in awe as Master of the Mystic Arts Benedict Cumberbatch squares the circle!
Doctor Strange: Watch in awe as Master of the Mystic Arts Benedict Cumberbatch squares the circle!

On the wall of my office is a framed, tiny sketch of the Marvel comic book superhero Doctor Strange, drawn by Gene Colan the year before he died. My brother bought it for me at Comic-Con; we had been fans of Colan's work on the character in the '70s. Strange was an oddball superhero; whereas most of them punched people or fired energy beams or whatnot, he cast spells. He talked in high-flown language about the All-Seeing Eye of Agamotto, or the Crimson Bands of Cyttorak. His enemies were odd, too: other-dimensional beings who posed existential threats to humanity. He was kind of like a priest going up against devils: most of the world would never even perceive, let alone appreciate, his struggles.

There's some trace of that character in Scott Derrickson's Doctor Strange, certainly the priestly part. But the high-flown language is gone: Benedict Cumberbatch plays Strange much the way Robert Downey, Dr. plays Tony Stark: quippy, arrogant, irreverent, and sporting carefully groomed facial hair.

While he still casts spells, they're mostly in the service of hand-to-hand combat. Sigh. It's a little dispiriting to watch the Marvel Machine grind the curious (read: interesting) edges off its characters, but it's not like they're about to risk DC-style charges of humorlessness.

Movie

Hacksaw Ridge **

thumbnail

Director Mel Gibson’s first film since 2006’s <em>Apocalypto</em> is visceral proof that the years haven’t done much to change him, at least as a filmmaker. He still loves outliers isolated by their beliefs, in this case a real-life Seventh-Day Adventist named Desmond Doss who wants to serve his country but won’t carry a gun. (The conviction turns out to be as much promise as principle, a fact Gibson would have done well to make clear sooner in the story.) He still knows how to deliver uplift after breaking the viewer down with sorrow and horror. (In this capacity, Hugo Weaving very nearly steals the film as a ruined veteran of the Great War.) And to paraphrase <em>A Christmas Story</em>, he still works in blood and guts the way other artists might work in oils or clay. When your protagonist is a World War II medic during the campaign to take Okinawa, you can make a poetry of corpses (and near-corpses) without swerving from the cause of realism. (The controlled chaos of battle, however, is another matter.) Star Andew Garfield’s slight frame holds up remarkably well under the weight of scorn, abuse, misunderstanding, judgment, and oh yes, bodies.

Find showtimes

Moving on (the '70s were a long time ago) ... Mel Gibson is back in the director's chair for the WWII film Hacksaw Ridge, still doing what Mel Gibson does: carnage and uplift. At least he's good at it.

Movie

King Cobra **

thumbnail

A lurid dimestore novel come to life. Also a nearly perfectly orchestrated murder thriller set in the time after the internet made pornography — in this case, the gay variety — widely available, but before it made it free. Though based on a true story, it’s presented with none of a docudrama’s ragged, lumpy oddity: the narrative is on the lean side, but as taut and burnished as the bodies it depicts. And while the characters may be types, they’re excellent examples of those types. Christian Slater’s lonely, leering producer mourns the years he spent in a closet, and grooms gorgeous twink Garrett Clayton for stardom — exploiting the same youth he lusts after. Meanwhile, James Franco’s muscled-up, rage-addled Daddy figure can’t bear to fail his own beautiful boy-toy (Keegan Allen), not after what Stepdad did to the kid way back when. But when love, money, damage, and ambition get mixed, can violence be far behind? Director Justin Kelly makes the most of his talented and committed cast, mostly by managing the mood (alternately fabulous and sad) and staying out of their way.

Find showtimes

I didn't watch a lot of '80s thrillers — you know, the ones with salacious titles like Forbidden Desires and sexy VHS covers at your local video store. But watching the gay-porn murder-thriller King Cobra, I felt like the best of them must have been like this. Liked it much better than I anticipated.

My colleague, Scott Marks, had a rougher time of it this week. The Stooges doc Gimme Danger reminded him of the good old days of blistering punk, but he wound up as one of only three critics to post a negative review for Moonlight. The poor guy just can't let issues trump aesthetics. And while he managed to dodge the documentary relating to the on-air suicide of Christine Chubbock, he couldn't dodge the drama of Christine. He liked it about as much as he thought he would.

Neither of us made the screening of the toy-based animated film Trolls, which is getting much better reviews than I anticipated. Who knew?

Me, I'm holding out for the Micronauts film. Baron Karza!

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