Doctor Strange

By: Kevin Jordan

Starring Bunsonburner Cucumberpatch.

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If you are a fan of BBC’s Sherlock and haven’t laughed like a hyena lately, check out the ways people have gotten his name wrong (intentionally and unintentionally).  What I love is that everybody knows who we’re talking about – as is mentioned several times in that link – and you probably read right past me referring to just ‘him’ without a second thought.  That’s the power of Bartleby Scratchanitch and might be why he’s been cast in seemingly every movie for the past five years.  And not just random movies for paychecks either.  He’s starred in The Hobbit trilogy, Star Trek: Into Darkness, several prestige films, cameoed in TV shows and other movies, was nominated for best actor as Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, given us possibly the best Sherlock Holmes portrayal in history, and now is playing a prominent superhero in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) – Doctor Strange.  He’s like Nicholas Cage, but getting roles that Cage can’t even sniff at any more (also, Shaggypants is a much better actor).

If he hadn’t already played Sherlock, I would have been skeptical of Bishandchips being cast as a super hero.  As it is, casting him as an acerbic, arrogant, superhero who has to learn some humility is pretty much par for his course, especially since Robert Downey Jr. is already Iron Man.  Much like Ant-Man and Guardians of the Galaxy, Doctor Strange is another unknown Marvel property that exceeds expectations partly because of superb casting.  In addition to Biddlebosh, Doctor Strange features Tilda Swinton, Mads Mikkelsen, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Rachel McAdams.  Wait…that can’t be right – they got four Oscar nominated actors and a James Bond villain in this movie?  Holy $#%^.  Also, they were all really, really good.

(Very mild SPOILERS ahead.)

Perhaps the trickiest component of the film was giving the audience a character with an origin story that seems far more suited to a Harry Potter movie than an MCU film.  In a nutshell, Strange is a surgeon who loses his livelihood after a car accident maims his hands.  In desperation, he goes to Nepal to track down some magicians after Benjamin Bratt explains how they helped him heal from paralysis.  Yes, that Benjamin Bratt.  Strange learns magic, is taught about the infinite universes (multiverse) by The Ancient One (Swinton), and trains with Mordo (Ejiofor) in a Hogwarts-like setting.  Except without all the dragons and elves.  But, there is a lot of hand waving and library scenes.  And magical circles and teleportation.  If not Potter, then at least The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.  Huh….Cage…anyway.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Dumbledore looks weird bald.

Strange learns that this group is charged with keeping the Earth safe from a world-eating cloud monster (Dormamu) from another universe and Kaecilius (Mikkelsen) is trying to help Dormamu eat the Earth by destroying the three buildings on Earth that keep him at bay.  I know, I know – it sounds ridiculous and it is.  But it also works within the context of this film, as well as the MCU.  And because this movie is following a classic playbook (the hero’s journey), Strange rejects the quest at first (he just wants to heal his hands), then reluctantly agrees to fight for the cause.  I’m not saying it’s a great plot.  In fact, there are plenty of faulty pieces that would have been much more glaring if the other components of the movie didn’t make up for it.  For all you pouty DC fans, a couple of examples are Strange’s cape is very inconsistent (it’s alive…or something, and protects him…sometimes), the mirror universe seems to be there strictly for Inception-y special effects (they can bend buildings in there), and why doesn’t Kaecilius steal some other powerful artifacts and books in addition to the two pages from one book he steals at the beginning of the movie?  I mean they’re literally just sitting out in the open.  There, happy now?

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

In the mirror universe, Leonardo DiCaprio is still dreaming.

Even though they left some things underdeveloped and even though making the noob fight the most powerful and dangerous entity in all the universes seems a tad clichéd, the movie is still immensely entertaining.  Like all MCU movies, the comedic relief hits every mark, things introduced early on have importance later in the movie, the romantic subplot between Strange and Dr. Christine Palmer (McAdams) doesn’t feel trite, the chemistry between Strange and Mordo is great, and Swinton crushes every scene she’s in, even when she’s fight-acting.  I didn’t know she could do that.  The movie even manages to include a “crossing the streams moment” that works on multiple levels.  Yes, it’s a deus ex machina, but Marvel manages to make it fun instead of eye-rolling.

And she didn't even say hi-yah.

And she didn’t even say hi-yah.

So, what do I think of it overall?  Well, I can’t just completely dismiss those earlier complaints.  But, with a cast including Bumpysplash and a summer filled with middling popcorn flicks, we’ve been looking forward to this movie for months, so it automatically gets a little slack.  Not to mention expectations were high because Marvel hasn’t whiffed on any of their films since The Incredible Hulk.  But most importantly, Barslap Cooneylatch was so good and fun that the movie could have been much worse and I still would have forgiven it.  Luckily, it wasn’t.

Rating: Don’t ask for any money back, and thanks to Binneyloon Crazypants for having such an awesome name (and being a great sport about it).

The Infiltrator

By: Kevin Jordan

Tension and Diane Kruger.

INFILTRATOR art sm

If you are aware that The Infiltrator is a movie that exists, then you must watch a lot of television, are Bryan Cranston’s biggest fan, or you really like movie trailers.  Also, you aren’t playing Pokemon Go because those people aren’t even aware that I’m standing right behind them making faces.  I found about The Infiltrator a couple of weeks ago and when I saw that the screening was the day before the Ghostbusters reboot, I decided to see it if for no other reason than being the complete opposite of Ghostbusters.  Also, I like Diane Kruger (who stars alongside Cranston).

The Infiltrator is a story related to Pablo Escobar, a man that I know the following things about:  he was a drug lord…?  That’s it, and it’s a question because I wasn’t even sure of the accuracy of that one piece of knowledge.  As it turns out, Escobar was a Colombian drug lord whose cartel operated during the 1970’s and 1980’s, with Escobar being hunted down and killed in 1993.  That’s not a spoiler for the film because the film isn’t actually about Escobar.  The film features a U.S. Customs agent named Robert Mazur (Cranston) who goes undercover as a money launderer to infiltrate Escobar’s network and take out some, if not all, of the cartels infrastructure and power figures.  (SPOILER ALERT – the following sentence reveals the fate of Mazur – END SPOILER ALERT) The film is based on the autobiography of Mazur (Mazur is also an executive producer), who, surprisingly, still has a functioning heart and brain and body parts.  I have no idea how that’s possible considering the people that were arrested should be out of prison by now and they don’t seem the forgiving type.

So, that’s the movie and I’d say it’s pretty good, but not great.  The obvious strength of this movie is in the cast, all of whom were nothing short of brilliant (kudos to director Brad Furman for maximizing the talent).  Cranston was as good as we’ve come to expect now that Walter White is safely in the upper echelon of fictitious characters.  His Mazur is a perfect balance of a guy who is confident and very good at his job, but also seemingly out of his depth at times throughout the operation.  His relationships with his partner, Emir Abreu (John Leguizamo), wife Ev (Juliet Aubrey), boss Bonni Tischler (Amy Ryan), fake fiancée and fellow agent Kathy Ertz (Kruger), and Escobar’s right hand man Roberto Alcaino (Benjamin Bratt) form the meat of this film and each is developed and executed with precision and care.  If you have any trouble believing these relationships, then you are the most cynical person in the theater and I’m in the theater.

There's a theft going on.

There’s a theft going on.

As good as Cranston is, Kruger and Leguizamo steal the scenes they are in.  As Mazur’s pretend fiancée, Kathy must play the part of rich socialite and convince all of these dangerous people that she is no kind of threat.  This is also her first undercover job, which makes Mazur more anxious because he is a bit of a control freak, but she performs flawlessly.  So flawlessly, in fact, that her guilt at being asked to betray Alcaino and his wife Gloria (Elena Anaya), is palpable.  On the flip side, Leguizamo is convincing the low-level thugs that he is also a low-level thug.  At one point, Mazur asks why Abreu does this job and Abreu is clear that he does it for fun.  And, clearly, he is enjoying the job.  But, even he has limits and you will see it on his face at times.  If there’s a downside it’s that Leguizamo and Kruger could have used more screen time, though I’m not sure this particular screenplay could have supported that.  Either way, bravo to those two.

The one thing that keeps this movie from being great is that the story is a little dry and it doesn’t delve into Escobar at all.  This also serves to confuse the audience (or maybe just me) a little as Alcaino appears to be the top of the cartel.  Even though they tell you his name, there was a small portion of the movie where I wondered if he was actually Escobar.  It doesn’t help that the entire plot revolves around the money laundering and not the drugs, so people are naturally going to be a little bored.  People do crazy things on drugs, but short of swimming in a building filled with cash, people just hold or look at money.

Even with a finance-based story, there is a very good buildup of tension throughout the film.  As I mentioned, the actors do a great job of portraying different emotions and fear is prominent among them.  Not knowing this story at all really helps because you have no idea who is going to make it through this operation, (SPOILER ALERT – see previous spoiler alert – END SPOILER ALERT) title character notwithstanding, and you will want the good guys to make it.  Too many movies display a complete lack of ability to build tension, so finding a good one like The Infiltrator is enough to forgive any small shortcomings.

We missed you Ben.

We missed you Ben.

Generally, I tend to like movies that teach me something interesting about history.  In this case, I learned about operation C-Chase (which is the plot of the movie), that Customs has undercover agents (for most of the movie I wondered why this wasn’t a DEA operation), that Benjamin Bratt is still a working actor (and still good at it), and that Olympia Dukakis (playing Mazur’s aunt) is still a living human (she’s 85!!).  Most importantly, I learned I want to see Kruger and Leguizamo in more movies.  They’re really good.

Rating: Ask for fifty cents back.  That’s how close it was to being great.