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Movie Review: Doctor Strange IMAX 3D, or A Marvel Movie on Magic Mushrooms

"This anti-constipation spell isn't working!"

(I have a strict cinematic code, in that I do not watch converted 3D and IMAX releases that were not shot in native IMAX. Doctor Strange was neither shot in IMAX nor in 3D, but I've decided to make an exception, and I think my decision was worth it.)

Marvel Studios releases its most visually stunning spectacle yet in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). And of course, I don't mean "visually stunning" like "beautifully photographed vistas and sceneries", but rather "intense psychedelic head trip sequences". Think Marvel on acid. Or wait, I got a better one: Marvel movie on magic mushrooms. Four-hit alliteration combo.

Since Marvel is introducing the character of Doctor Strange in his eventual role in the Infinity War, it only makes sense that this will be an origin story. We start with surgeon supreme Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in his natural habitat–the hospital–where he shows off his skill with a scalpel. After an automobile accident renders his hands useless, he is forced to search for a cure to his nerve damage. Western medicine is unable to help him, but he learns of the curious case of Benjamin Bratt's character, who successfully recovered from paralysis thanks to the help of mystics from the East. He undergoes the voyage himself, ending up in the mountains of Nepal, and with the help of Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), gains access to Kamar-Taj, the mystical monastery in the mountains. Here he is trained by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), and with the help of the librarian Wong (Benedict Wong), Doctor Strange learns the magical arts of spell casting, astral projection, inter-dimensional travel, and control of time and space, among others. Everything he learns is put to the test when he confronts the rogue mystic Kaecillius (Mads Mikkelsen), with a final epic battle in Hong Kong against the Dormammu, a powerful being from the dark dimension.

"What do you mean I'm under a multi-picture contract?"

Doctor Strange feels very much in sync with the rest of the films in the MCU, and it has the same feel as the first Iron Man film in tackling the origin of the hero, with Cumberbatch and Wong's onscreen chemistry playing a big part in the film's use of humour to strengthen its comic book tone. This film's strongest suit is, of course, its visual effects and its mind-blowing action sequences, thanks to the real-life technical wizards at Industrial Light and Magic. It's like they all dropped acid and decided to take the space-shifting in Inception and the fifth dimension visuals of Interstellar and pushed the envelope by making it ten times more intense.

See? Psychedelia.

Some people are complaining about the villain Kaecillius, saying his character should've been fleshed out more, and that his lack of character arc is unbefitting someone who serves as the main antagonist to the Sorcerer Supreme. On one hand, I would tend to agree, but only because I see it as a waste of Mads Mikkelsen's acting ability, which director Scott Derrickson should have highlighted onscreen extensively. On the other hand, I see no real harm done, but only because in my opinion, the filmmakers set up Mordo's character arc brilliantly, making the viewer realise in the end that Chiwetel Ejiofor was the actual villain of this story all along.

Every superhero film needs a non-superhero character. For Iron Man, it's Pepper Potts; for Thor, it's Jane Foster; for Doctor Strange, it's Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). Their purpose, narratively speaking, is to provide the audience (who are made up of regular, non-superhero people) with someone they can relate to. Christine doesn't serve as Strange's love interest (although romantic tension and history are hinted at), and if viewers find very little with her they can relate to, it shouldn't matter. I think the character of Stephen Strange is who the viewers should be relating to, because he was just ordinary before he decided to take up the mantle of magic. Strange's journey should mirror our own, where we journey from having an inflated ego and a sense of self-importance to the realisation that we know nothing and that we are but a small speck in a vast multiverse.

"I. Want. To. Try. Peyote!"

But Doctor Strange will not go down in cinematic history as the film with the trippiest visuals ever made. I believe this film's contribution to cinema would be its use of magic, not just as a gimmick or some fictional device. The Harry Potter saga was rooted in magic, but only as an element of its fictional universe. Author J.K. Rowling didn't write it as something that she openly advocates and preaches; if anything, it was merely the backdrop of her idea for telling the story of a boy who turns out to be the chosen one. The Wachowski's The Matrix came close to introducing the concepts of high mysticism and new age spirituality to a modern audience desperately in need of a spiritual renaissance, but the problem with it was the science fiction backdrop of the story drowned out any of the messages the filmmakers wanted to send out. Enter now Doctor Strange in 2016, which is the first film I've encountered to actively preach the mystical side of science and spirituality, using actual concepts from Eastern philosophy. True, the space-shifting that's able to bend entire city blocks may be a bit too far out to be considered plausible by the average moviegoer who has never tried any psychedelic substance. But the concepts of energy, the multiverse, and the interconnectedness of all life have been known by sages and shamans for millenia, and it's only high time that Hollywood start making these ideas mainstream.

The Ancient One gives free out-of-body experiences.

Doctor Strange. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7.9/10
Fight sequences: +0.1
No Rachel McAdams nudity: -0.1
Wong's Beyoncé addiction: +0.1
Magical hand gestures: +0.1
Final rating: 8.1/10


Movie Review: Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children, or This May Be Tim Burton's First Superhero Movie

Twin children everywhere will probably dress up like the creepy twins this Halloween.

The title pretty much gives you the premise of the entire movie. It pretty much sounds like an institution, sort of like an orphanage, the wards of which are children with peculiarities, under the guardianship of a lady named Miss Peregrine. And although this very much sounds like the uncanny X-Men (replace "institution" with "school for the gifted", "peculiar children" with "mutants", and "Miss Peregrine" with "Professor Charles Xavier"), this is not a superhero movie.

First off, it's not based on a comic book by Marvel, but from a novel by author Ransom Riggs. Second, it's not science fiction, and neither is it fantasy, despite the fantastical elements of the story. The proper literary term for this is magical realism, a genre that Netflix has tried to force on their Pablo Escobar series Narcos.

Tim Burton is one of the few directors that can tackle magical realism quite effortlessly. It's like his default genre, the way the suspense thriller is Alfred Hitchcock's or the biopic is Ron Howard's. Visually, this film definitely has Burton's trademark look, accentuated by the excellent costume designs by his frequent collaborator Colleen Atwood. The bleak Welsh atmosphere captured perfectly by cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, who also did Inside Llewyn Davis, a film which also utilised the bleach-bypass look, which is a technique with film negatives, though I'm not sure if Delbonnel shot on video.

Would've been nice if one of them had the power to blow endless streams of marijuana smoke.

The strength of this film is not in its story. Although I haven't read the source material, I think the screen adaptation hasn't fully captured what the book has to offer. It's like somehow, you can feel that there's more to this story which the two-hour running time failed to translate. That said, the screenplay isn't bad. But it isn't great either. The actual strength of this Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children lies in the performances. Of course, I'm not talking about Asa Butterfield, who's already hit the awkward stage of his adolescence. With his gangly frame and commendable American accent, he just can't outshine the adults; none of the children can, actually, even with Ella Purnell's promising talent.

Samuel L. Jackson as the Barron might seem like his standard villain performance, but the fact that he never utters any curse word or profanity is a big achievement in itself. I was always half-expecting him to say something like "motherfucker", until I remembered that this was supposed to be a young adult film adapted from a young adult novel. Chris O'Dowd is brilliant as Jake's dad, playing the comic relief with just the right subtlety, and impressing Hollywood with his near-perfect American accent. And of course, Miss Eva Green as Miss Peregrine is splendid as always, and although she plays the title role, she is not the main protagonist in this film. Despite her screen time being comparatively limited, she manages to outshine everyone else here. The only one who could've upstaged her would be Dame Judi Dench as Miss Avocet, so it's probably a good thing that Dame Judi had way less screen time, and spent a significant part of that as a bird.

"Dame Judi ain't upstaging me."

Miss Peregrine's Home for Peculiar Children. USA/UK/Belgium. 2016.

Original rating: 7/10
Terence Stamp's short screen time: -0.1
Ella Purnell's pretty face: +0.1
Time travel element: +0.1
Enoch's power of necro-puppetry: +0.1
Emma's power to control air: +0.1
Jake's power to see the monsters: -0.1
Hugh's power of bees in his mouth: -0.1
Bronwyn's super strength: +0.1
Claire and the mouth behind her head: -0.1
Fiona's power to make things grow fast: +0.1
Horace's power to project his dreams from his eye: +0.1
Olive's pyrokinesis: +0.1
Millard's power of invisibility: +0.1
Twin gorgons: +0.1
Final rating: 7.6/10


Movie Review: The Magnificent Seven, or Seven Magnificent Things About This Film

Vincent D'Onofrio should count as two persons.

Before anything else, let me just say that this movie isn't an original. It's a remake. The original film of the same title was released in 1960, directed by John Sturges, and starred Hollywood powerhouse actors Yul Brynner, Steve McQueen, Charles Bronson, and James Coburn, among others. But that film was also a remake (a more precise term would be a "transposition") of the great Akira Kurosawa's Seven Samurai. So you could say this film is a remake of a remake.

Anyway, whether or not you're iffy about remakes, or if you lament the lack of original screenplays in Hollywood, here are seven magnificent reasons to go see this film.

1. It's a Western
Yes, Westerns are a western genre (See what I did there?). Well, not just the West in general, but America in particular, because it was only their country that had the westward expansion. But apart from cowboys and Indians, Westerns embody something much more than its geographical setting. Westerns take us back to the grit of the past, when social relationships were wilder, when death was an everyday occurrence, and when the line between banditry and chivalry was blurred at best.

See? Western.

2. Peter Sarsgaard is despicable
I first saw Peter Sarsgaard in An Education alongside Carey Mulligan. He comes off as a nice guy, with a sort of Paul Rudd vibe, so seeing him in a villainous role is a huge break from character. And no, he is not related to Stellan Skarsgård.

Great goatees always indicate villains.

3. Chris Pratt is funny
Chris Pratt never really broke away from the comedic mold he was known for in Parks and Recreation. Even after shedding some weight and buffing up for his roles in Guardians of the Galaxy and Jurassic World, his comedy chops still remained a part of his acting arsenal. In this film, he gets the funniest lines, making him the unofficial comic relief.

Chris Pratt, in his best "I'm-no-comic-relief" pose.

4. Denzel Washington is, well, Denzel
Don't get me wrong, Denzel Washington is the manliest of the Magnificent Seven. He is indeed the most alpha-male among the cast. My only problem? He's black. No, I'm not being racist. Hear me out. I just think it's not historically accurate. The movie has no date of reference, so let's peg it at sometime around the real-life Gunfight at the O.K. Corral, which was in 1881. Slavery officially ended in the United States after the Emancipation Proclamation in 22 September 1862. Chisolm, Denzel's character, wouldn't have been out of place then as a free man in the Wild West. But for him to lead five white men and a Native American? Highly unlikely. The African-American Civil Rights Movement went full swing in the 1960s, and before that, black people were segregated to the back of buses. What I'm saying is, if this film were historically accurate, Chisolm would've been lynched within the first fifteen minutes.

"I'm still pissed about his Oscar win for Training Day."

5. Antoine Fuqua is brilliant
Aside from directing both Ethan Hawke and Denzel Washington in Training Day, Antoine Fuqua also directed King Arthur, the period film which launched Clive Owen's Hollywood career. Like King Arthur, The Magnificent Seven is an ensemble film starring multiple cast members, and Fuqua seems to have action films like these covered. It's a wonder Disney hasn't asked him to direct a Marvel flick. He'd be great at it. Or maybe they already did, and he declined. Whatever.

"You know why Chisolm's black? That's right, motherfucker."

6. Haley Bennett is pretty... good
Yes, Haley Bennett is a good actress. But what I really want to say is, damn, she is really pretty. In the film, it's not that noticeable, because of the grit and grime from the dust of the wild west. But once I saw the real Haley Bennett, I was like, "Damn, what a beauty".

I mean, come on. Look at her.

7. Some characters died (Spoilers ahead)
So this is the story of seven men who risked their lives to thwart evil and save innocent lives. With such a noble premise as this, one should already expect that there will indeed be deaths, innocent or otherwise. Not all of the Magnificent Seven made it alive; that would be too implausible, too Hollywood. But not all of them died, either, which made it more realistic. Jack Horne (Vincent D'Onofrio) died like Boromir in The Fellowship of the Ring, shot with arrows. Goodnight Robicheaux (Ethan Hawke) and the Chinaman Billy Rocks (Byung-hun Lee) died in the sniper's nest up in the church steeple. And Josh Faraday (Chris Pratt) had the most magnificent death of them all: sacrificing himself to take out the big guns with a stick of dynamite. Among the seven, the last ones standing were Chisolm the negroe (Washington), Vasquez the Mexican (Manuel Garcia-Rulfo), and Red Harvest the Indian (Martin Sensmeier), which is probably a statement about how the ethnic minorities will be the last ones standing after a gunfight.

The boys doing the mandatory "Armageddon walk".

The Magnificent Seven. USA. 2016.

Original rating: 7/10
No Haley Bennett nudity: -0.1
Gunfights: +0.1
Vincent D'Onofrio's horse-bump: +0.1
Final rating: 7/10


Movie Review: The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years, or A Beatles Documentary For Millenials

Apple Corps via The Daily Mail
Sleepovers were probably awesome. 

Some of you may be wondering, "Do we really need a new Beatles documentary?" The answer is, well, it depends. If you're a millenial who only discovered the Beatles on Spotify, then yes, we do. If you're an old fan who was already alive when all four Beatles were, then yes, we do. Okay, so it doesn't really depend. The world does need a new Beatles documentary.

Eight Days a Week: The Touring Years is as the title suggests–a documentary about the touring years of the Beatles, from their early road struggles in Liverpool, England and Hamburg, Germany in 1960 up to their last live concert in Candlestick Park, San Francisco in 1966. As a treat, however, director Ron Howard threw in their gig at the rooftop of the Apple Corps. office in 1969 which, although not part of the touring years, was the Fab Four's final live performance.

Before they had moptops. Circa 1957.

For the new fans, they'll get to see footage of the Beatles in their prime, showing how John, Paul, George, and Ringo became the biggest band in the UK and how they seamlessly transitioned across the pond to become the biggest band in the English-speaking world. For old fans, especially the die-hard ones who've seen hours of Beatles videos before this, they'll get to see all-new never-before-seen footage of the Beatles, gathered from fans' home movies which were filmed during the actual tour dates.

The film features archive interviews from the late Messrs. Lennon and Harrison, as well as new interviews from Sir Paul McCartney (who doesn't seem to have aged well), and the great Ringo Starr (who seems to have looked cooler with age). Then there are also celebrity memoirs, recounting their fond and nostalgic memories of Beatlemania, including Elvis Costello, Eddie Izzard, Whoopi Goldberg, and Sigourney Weaver.

Back in their Cavern days.

Pretty noticeable was how cool the Beatles were. Aside from being very cheeky, especially in interviews, they seem to exude that happy-go-lucky attitude, making their performances seem like playtime, when in reality, that's one of the most gruelling tasks a human being can endure. They never do seem to take themselves seriously except when making music and writing songs. That's their craft, that's what they do best, and that's something they really take seriously.

The Beatles weren't really after the fame nor the prestige; these were just a by-product of their excellent music. Well, yes they did want to reach the "toppermost of the poppermost", but what they really wanted was to be the best in songwriting and music-making. They put premium on the music and the performances, and when all the screaming fans couldn't give them the best of what a live musical experience should be, they ditched that and concentrated on giving their best in the studio. After their retirement from live performances, the world didn't really mourn the loss of Beatles music, because their remaining years in Abbey Road gave us some of the best recorded albums in history, forever cementing their legacy in music history.

One of their last live gigs at Shea Stadium.

The Beatles: Eight Days a Week–The Touring Years. USA/UK. 2016.

Original rating: 8/10
The Cavern footage: +0.2
Not enough Cavern footage: -0.1
Not enough Hamburg footage: -0.1
Manila footage: +0.2
Not enough Manila footage: -0.1
The Beatles against segregation: +0.1
Final rating: 8.2/10


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