Doctor Strange entertains

Hi guys,

I gotta be honest here… i’m getting a little burned out on Marvel movies.  Not so much comic book movies in general (despite my less than glowing reviews of BvS & Suicide Squad), but the Marvel Cinematic Universe specifically.  They’ve done a damn fine job so far creating inter-connecting, but independent stories featuring rich characters, storylines and histories from the extensive Marvel Comics universe, BUT…

It’s becoming harder and harder to ignore, as the movie-going audience, the big old gaping hole in that continuity.  Which is this:  how is every MCU film not an Avengers movie?  They’re trying here and there.  Thor and the Hulk were not in Captain America: Civil War for pretty good reasons, but where was the gang during the Winter Soldier? Where was Captain America when killer elves were wreaking havoc in London in Thor: Dark World? You could go on and on.  Even the trailer for the new Spider-man looks like it has been marketed as Spider-man: Ironman’s Protege.  Not necessarily a bad thing, again, up until now, but totally unsustainable.  By the time Infinity Wars rolls around, everyone but Howard the Duck, Dazzler & Squirrel Girl are going to be out there jockeying for screen time.  It’ll be too much.

I could be wrong about Howard the Duck.  He might show up too, to kick Thanos in the shins or something. Maybe accost him with harsh language.

Anyway, I’m gonna let that thread go… I already discussed it at some length in my Captain America: Civil War review.  No need to flog that dead horse here.

That being said, Doctor Strange does a pretty good job of side-stepping this continuity quagmire by keeping the primary action beats in parallel universes.  And in that endeavor brings to the MCU the most impressive visuals we’ve seen to date.  DS falls into the same basic tropes most, if not all, the Marvel films do… unworthy protagonist becomes superhero and then earns it after-the-fact.  Ironman, Spider-man, Ant-man, Guardians of the Galaxy, even Captain America and Thor to a certain extent.  Doctor Strange is no different, but it looks so goddamn cool, you forgive it.  The introduction of magic into the MCU is a major step is de-grounding the films from reality.  Which I would argue is a good thing.  Grounding X-Men is what kept X-Men from being truly great films.  There was nothing grounded about Donner’s Superman and that still continues to hold a special place in all comic book film-loving nerds’ hearts.  Because they said, fuck it.  And made a comic book movie starring Superman.  It wasn’t gritty and the costume remained silly and ridiculous.  And it worked.

Doctor Strange’s visual storytelling is definitely its strongpoint.  You probably saw in the trailers, the Inception-like cityscapes folding in on themselves, only now with characters running across them, interacting, fighting.  I saw it in 3D and it looks nothing short of stunning.  Add to that several triumphs of less-awesome visual storytelling, like a magical cape with a mind of its own, magical spells that manifest themselves as CG visual treats, and one of the highlights of the film – a scene where doctor Jonathan Strange must assist a colleague performing surgery on an injured and dying Doctor Strange, from the astral plane.  It’s a visually inventive scene and entertaining as hell.  I almost forgot Jonathan Strange’s introduction to the multiverse near the beginning of the film.  A visual feast most would compare to the end of 2001: a Space Odyssey… and yet comparing these two scenes in DS and 2001 is like comparing Jurassic Park to the Dinosaurs TV show.  Sorry, Mr. Kubrick, I love your films but FX have come along way since 1968.  And before any purists get all on my nuts about it, yes the end of 2001 looks great.  But it looks like the greatest Mac OS screensaver ever put to film, okay?

A note about Benedict Cumberbatch… I think there was maybe one film in 2016 he wasn’t in, but I cannot for the life of me think of what that may have been.  He’s basically in everything.  And for good reason.  His range and watchability are pretty damn unparalleled.  For someone with such an odd and distinctive face, he really disappears into his roles.

Doctor Strange toes some storytelling and character cliches, but the visual storytelling and shear scope of the film help elevator it from 3rd rate dreck like Suicide Squad, but also ticks off the standard comic book film boxes enough to keep it from being exceptional in any way except visually.  I smiled through the whole thing.  In a couple years I probably won’t remember much at all.  It reminded me more of Ant-man than any other Marvel film actually.  I enjoyed the hell out of it in the moment, but it’s lasting impact is minimal at best.

Yes, there is a mid-credits sequence where Doctor Strange has a chat with Thor, during which they basically say, “let’s become Goose and Maverick, but like… without either of us dying is a fiery crash.” We’ll see how that goes, or even if it goes.  So far, advance word on Thor: Ragnorak has not mentioned Doctor Strange at all.

If you’re a diehard Marvel fan who eagerly awaits each film at every Phase, continuity issues be damned, Doctor Strange should satisfy and excite on a level somewhere between Iron Man 3 and Ant-man.  Everyone else, I would say see it in 3D at the nearest state-of-the-art theater and you probably won’t leave feeling ripped off.  I wish the same could be said for Passengers.   Holy shit, foreshadow much?


p.s. I almost forgot the mention the end of Doctor Strange.  It’s a clever bit of plotting.  How does the hero, even a magic-wielding wizard of a hero defeat a character who is, essentially, an incorporeal god?  The answer to that is simple within the context of the film and makes for a great visual gag to cap off the film.  The only problem with it is that it doesn’t hold up under further scrutiny.  I don’t want to give it away, but I will use a metaphor to describe it.  The ending is like the hero took the villain in a headlock and made him promise to stop being a dick before he’ll let him go.  But you know, on a much grander scale.

p.p.s.  Yes, i know… that was a simile, not a metaphor.  Shut up before I put you in a headlock.


Suicide Squad. I mean, Jesus.

Hey guys,

Do me a favor.  Go back and read my review of Batman v Superman.  Okay, fresh in your mind?  Now, apply it all to Suicide Squad.

End of review.

Okay, so there is a bit more to it than that, but it’s pretty eerie how terrible Suicide Squad is, in so many of the same way BvS is.  The plot is threadbare and confusing. The characters are poorly motivated.  Neither film feels like the vision of a single Director, but rather a mish-mash of indigestible garbage cobbled together from focus groups and studio notes. If that’s not a red flag signaling studio interference on a franchise scale, I don’t know what is.  If you’re plugged into the popular culture of modern Hollywood filmmaking at all, you’re aware that Suicide Squad went through major reshoots after the director, in this case David Ayer, turned in his cut to the studio.  Rarely is this ever a good sign, and even more rare when the film in question turns out even remotely watchable.  I think World War Z is the only case in recent memory whereas reported reshoots didn’t totally sink a film.  The climax of that one isn’t flashy, but it’s mostly satisfying.  Oh wait, Rogue One.  Forgot about that one.  Lots of reshoots, re-edits, etc., turned out pretty damn good.  I’ll have a review of that up sometime soon.

Okay, reel in that tangent.  Back to David Ayer.  This is a filmmaker who wrote the first The Fast & The Furious.  He wrote Training Day.  He wrote Dark Blue, an obscure and endlessly entertaining yarn about modern gunslingers in the LAPD starring Kurt fucking Russell.  Ayer also wrote and directed Street Kings, an underrated gem about police corruption in which Keanu Reeves actually emotes.  He wrote and directed the absolutely fantastic End of Watch, another LA cop film. And he wrote and directed Fury, a WWII film that mostly takes place in a tank.  You see what I’m getting at?  This guy can do gritty, testosterone-driven ensemble pieces.  Which is probably why Warner Brothers/DC hired him for Suicide Squad in the first place.  What doesn’t make any goddamn sense is why, with that track record, they wouldn’t just step off and say, “You got this, Dave.” More on this in a minute.

Suicide Squad is a mess.  To the point where scene to scene progressions don’t make any sense.  You sit there thinking, “wait just a gd minute… how did all these characters get from point A to point B anyway?” The plot is a circular turd of a tale whereas the quote/unquote protagonist created the very threat she then assembles the team to combat.  Much like the problematic Avengers: Age of Ultron, it’s hard to root for the good guys when the good guys are directly responsible for the bad guys in the first place. Unless that’s the whole damn point and believe me, when it comes to Suicide Squad, there is no discernible point.

Will Smith tries.  Almost succeeds.  How he manages to be watchable in this dreck is a true testament to the Fresh Prince’s on-screen charisma.  Other reviewers out there also lauded Margot Robbie’s turn as Harley Quinn, but frankly I found her irritating.  I hear there are to be spinoff films starring her as Quinn and I wish her luck, but I have little interest in anything focusing on Harley Quinn as a main protagonist.  Even if it involves heavy doses of the Joker.  Speaking of which…

If you go into Suicide Squad thinking the Joker is the main antagonist, as the trailers quite dishonestly lead you to believe, you’ll be sorely disappointed.  He’s in it, sure.  For like two seconds as part of Harley Quinn’s back story.  Her and Deadshot (Will Smith) get some flashbacks to flesh out their characters.  Nobody else does.  Anyway, what can you say about Jared Leto’s Joker?  Remember when you first saw Heath Ledger in The Dark Knight? Remember that feeling you had like you were witnessing the first true iteration of the Clown Prince of Crime in the way he was always intended?  The way he captured the dichotomy of intensely cool calculations, fierce intelligence, coupled with pants-shitting insanity?  The feeling he might literally explode at any minute, he’s that goddamn crazy? Totally buying that some rando dude with a painted face and no gadgets was somehow not only equal to Batman, but in some ways superior?  Leto’s version is nothing like that. He bugs his eyes out, he laughs and such, he sounds like someone mixed Caesar Romero and Heather Ledger’s performances into a derivative crap-fest. Also, Hollywood Studio types and casting agents, I’m going to let you in on a little secret, when you cast an actor who looks like a fart would knock him off his feet, physical intimidation and an imposing personality become impossible.  I’m looking at you, Tom “Jack Reacher” Cruise.

I’d love to see a David Ayer Director’s Cut.  I don’t think it’ll ever see the light of day.  I don’t think Warner Brothers would allow it.  But man, i bet it’s a hell of a lot better than the garbage they released in theaters.  You have to wonder why studios hire auteur type filmmakers for these big budget tent pole films if they’re just gonna tie their hands behind their backs and make a movie by committee.  As I wrote earlier, David Ayer has a history of making exactly this kind of film and making them stinking well.  Why not let him make it? Lack of conviction?  Lack of courage?  A fundamental misunderstanding of what movie-going audiences are looking for?  Or, more likely, a ploy to get butts in the seats and a blatant disregard for final quality knowing they’ll make back their entire production and marketing budgets in a week oversees.  Cynical, but probably true.  Just look at recent history.  Josh Trank makes the fantastic Chronicle on an indie film budget, gets hired for what is supposed to be the definitive Fantastic Four film.  Look how that turned out.  Ever see Monsters? An excellent independent genre film by Gareth Edwards.  He went on to direct the flat and tone deaf Godzilla remake.  Of course, he totally shit all over my theory when they released Rogue One, also directed by Edwards.  And as long as we’re touching on Star Wars… awhile back, Colin Trevorrow made a little gem called Safety Not Guaranteed and then gets hired to make Jurassic World, which played like a bigger budgeted (if that’s even possible) remake of Jurassic Park.  Totally homogenized and forgettable in every way (even though it made a bejillion dollars and I normally love Chris Pratt).  Not a good sign for Star Wars Episode VIII, but at least Ryan Johnson is responsible for the screenplay.  Speaking of which, how about the guy who made fucking Brick getting hired to write Episode VIII and write & direct Episode IX.  We’ll have to wait and see if Disney can pull their heads out of their asses long enough to let the man who created Looper give us what we can only hope is a truly original Star Wars film we’ve all been waiting for.  I think we can all agree that The Force Awakens felt far too familiar.

Okay, got off topic there for a bit.  Let’s just cut to the chase.  I am having a hard time finding any reason for anybody outside of diehard DC fans to sit through Suicide Squad. It sucks.



JASON BO(u)R(n)E. See what I did there?

Hi guys,

Let’s get right to it, shall we?  Jason Bourne is dull.  It’s a total retread of everything that has come before.  There’s nothing new, no reason for it even to exist.  Except the studio was annoyed that the Jeremy Renner spinoff, The Bourne Legacy was received with little more than a collective, “eh” from audiences.  The most recent entry has a lot of Matt Damon walking away from the camera & disappearing into crowds, a car chase through crowded streets and a fight or two.  Culminates in a face to face with the aging big bad, in this case Tommy Lee Jones and essentially asking, “What gives, shitbird?” Only this time, the answer is contrived hokum and adds nothing to the mythology of the character.  In fact, pretty much undercuts the gravity of his plight completely.  I’m going to sum up the plot and would be point of the film in a single declarative sentence…

Ready?  Major Spoiler Alert.












Still with me?  Okay.

David Webb’s father created Treadstone, offered up his son as the ideal candidate, realized what a colossal fucking mistake that was, reneged, got killed as a result which is blamed on terrorists and Webb volunteers out of vengeance and becomes Jason Bourne.

Who. Fucking. Cares.

The major revelation closing out the original trilogy: David Webb’s life wasn’t stolen from him, HE VOLUNTEERED, was a goddamn doozy.  Why retcon that?  It’s tantamount to midichlorians.  Friggin’ midichlorians.  Just painful.

That annoying blonde from 10 Things I Hate About You is still around, still looking like Jessie Plemons (who kinda looks like Matt Damon – whoa), still kinda sorta of helping Bourne although in this one, she’s the entire reason he resurfaces and gets discovered.  She should have just STFU.

The other character addition is Alicia Vikander, who made some waves awhile back in the excellent, Ex Machina, in a role I still can’t really define.  She’s in charge of something, wants to be in charge of more, speaks with the strangest monotone accent this side of Nicolas “Put The Bunny Back in the Box” Cage in Con Air and does something at some point I don’t recall.  I’m no expert, but I’m guessing the CIA doesn’t allow people in their 20’s in positions of power.  Just a hunch.

Anyway, there was that scene in the trailer where he punches that guy.  That was okay. If you’re jonesing for more Bourne, rewatch the first 3.  They said everything that needed saying.  The latest is merely an echo.



I Ain’t Afraid of No Ghost is a Double Negative

Howdy Guys,

I saw the Ghostbusters reboot awhile back and I’m finally getting around to writing up some thoughts on it.  Everyone knows the “controversy” surrounding this particular remake, which is all the rage in Hollywood these days (and has been for a while now).  Now I’m not automatically opposed to remakes in every instance.  If someone has something new to bring to a story that’s already been told, if effects weren’t up to the task in the original or if the filmmakers clearly dropped the ball the first time around, then a remake can be a wonderful movie-going experience.  Sadly, these days the norm is to take everything that worked in the original, remove it, sometimes replace it with substandard material (usually not replace at all, just leave a weird void) and try to market it as a brilliant new approach.  This rarely works.  Dawn of the Dead is one of the few remakes I can think of off the top of my head that took a story everyone loved, took it in a new direction and created a reboot that faithful fans of the original could embrace and enjoy for completely different reasons.  Oh Zack Snyder, what in the unholy fuck happened to you anyway?

Here are a few others:  The Fly, Ocean’s Eleven, Cape Fear, The Thing (Carpenter’s film, NOT the 2014 turd), This doesn’t include the American remakes of foreign films like The Departed, The Ring, The Magnificent Seven (the 1960 film, NOT the 2016 version — this is getting confusing, Hollywood, please just stop) which were all successes in their own rights.

Naturally, Ghostbusters (2016) is not a success story.  And after all the debate, reviews, discussion and rationalizations, the reason is simply this:  Ghostbusters (1984) was a goddamn masterpiece.  There is no defendable reason to reboot it other than to turn a sure thing profit.  We all know the film business is a business, but come on.  TV is doing pretty effin’ good these days doing all kinds of interesting and original shit.  Stranger Things anyone?  Oh hell, but then Westworld on HBO is pretty stinking good.  Case in point of retooling a story to tell something wholly original.  Now I’m just talking in circles.

Okay, anyway, consider this exchange in an elevator:

RAY:  You know, it just occurred to me, we haven’t had a completely successful test of this equipment.

EGON:  I blame myself.

PETER:  So do I.

RAY:  No sense worrying about it now.

PETER:  Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator on his back.

RAY:  Yep. Let’s get ready. Switch me on!
EGON charges RAY’s proton pack, then backs away

I would argue that, “Why worry? Each of us is wearing an unlicensed nuclear accelerator in his back.” is not only the best, funniest line in the movie, but a microcosm of why the film works in the first place.  4 bumbling scientists completely over their heads and succeeding anyway, against insurmountable odds.  And when you have the perfect cast of some of the funniest comedic actors of our time in those roles bouncing dialogue off each other like a fine-tuned humor machine… well, you’ve seen it, you know.

Now this:

Cabbie (Dan Akroyd cameo):  … I ain’t afraid of no ghosts!

Erin: That’s a double negative.  It means you are afraid of ghosts.

Pretty good line actually (I actually can’t remember if it made it into the final film – I remember it in the trailers, but now don’t recall).  Observational humor poking fun at a trope from the original.  But herein lies the problem with Ghostbusters (2016) and perhaps Paul Feig movies in general.  He relies on what I’m coining here as Expositional Humor far too much.  What I mean is that the humor is found in explaining the joke.  Homer Simpson set the stage years ago with, “It’s funny because it’s true.” Kristin Wiig and Melissa McCarthy are masters of this comedic style and there are many a laugh to be had in the Ghostbusters remake.  But very little of it is memorable.  It’s a bland dinner at a restaurant you didn’t really mind, but wouldn’t recommend to friends.  Bridesmaids and The Heat are two occurrences where the cleverness of the screenplay and the progression of the plot are inherently funny and don’t rely on the droll explanation of every joke.  Unfortunately, Ghostbusters (2016), for the most part, does not fit this mold at all.  There’s very little situational or character-based humor.  Everything feels like a gag or gimmick. I say very little because there is one glowing reason to pay money to see this film and that is Kate McKinnon.  By the time I write this the world is already well on the way to recognizing the comedic gifts this woman possesses.  First as the funniest cast member on SNL and now in her ever-expanding film career.  Every time she’s in a scene it comes alive.  Was she worth the price of admission?  I don’t know.  Maybe.  Certainly worth a rental.

I will also mention that the “plot” of Ghostbusters (2016) is thin.  Like so thin it’s nearly transparent.  I’m not gonna bother getting into it, it doesn’t matter.  Caddyshack proves you don’t need a coherent plot to be a comedy masterpiece.

There was one chance for this remake to succeed.  And that is if the 2016 film was a direct sequel to Ghostbusters and Ghostbusters 2.  The first act of the new film even set it up. The new cast is let in on a secret – the Mayor of New York and his staff know that ghosts are real and have been covertly covering it up for years, and even offer to pay the new Ghostbusters to keep up the good work on the condition that they do not reveal what they know publicly.  Now how would the Mayor’s office know about ghosts unless the 80’s films had actually happened within the new film’s historical continuity?  That would have been awesome.  But sadly, it’s almost like they lost the nerve at the last-minute and decided to go to some length establishing that this was not a sequel, but a remake in every sense of the word.  Going so far as to give ever-increasingly distracting cameos to the original cast (minus Rick Moranis).  They even shoehorn Bill Murray into the narrative as a supernatural debunker who eventually receives his comeuppance.  It’s as lame as it sounds.

The new Ghostbusters is not as godawful as some reviewers would have you believe.  And there are quite a few laughs in there.  But it’s a losing battle when your source material is this rich.  Like Wesley Snipe’s title character said in one of the first truly great comic book films since Donner’s Superman, “Some motherfuckers are always trying to ice skate uphill.”

– cohan

It’s Been Awhile

Hey guys,

I realize quite some time has gone by since my last post.  What can I say?  Life.  In the time since my last review, I have seen a few movies I shall be reviewing henceforth.  Goes back a bit to some slightly older stuff, but I’m gonna write them up anyway.  Because why not?  In short order you’ll be seeing reviews for Ghostbusters (meh), Suicide Squad (ugh), Jason Bourne (why?), Doctor Strange (zang), Arrival (wow), Rogue One (yay) and most recently, Passengers (huh?).

Okay then.  Stay tuned.

– cohan