Doctor Strange (2016) Review

Director: Scott Derrickson

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Does 2016’s Doctor Strange do enough to set it apart from the rest of its superhero film peers? Well, it’s not the best of its kind, but it has an identity of its own, which makes it feel like more than just another product off the Marvel assembly line. Okay, that was a low blow, but Doctor Strange is certainly more enjoyable than not. After an egotistical and ambitious surgeon (Benedict Cumberbatch) is wounded in a car accident, he travels to Nepal for healing, only to learn the mind-bending superpowers of a group of warriors protecting Earth from interdimensional threats.

Of course, the primary reason to watch this flick is for its oft-trippy visuals. The big set-pieces are filled with positively psychedelic special effects that occasionally resemble something out of Inception (2010) or 2001: A Space Odyssey (1968) on steroids. It’s a feast for the eyes, even if the action scenes still often boil down to people punching each other repeatedly.

Despite all of the spectacle, Doctor Strange is still a commercial product. It follows the traditional superhero origin story formula fairly closely and, although the main character is a bit of an asshole at first, he’s not that much of an asshole. Moments of comedy and drama (which are admittedly effective) seem to be added to the mix with cold calculation. The stakes of the action sequences are also sometimes a bit on the murky side.

One’s enjoyment of the highly efficient action-adventure film Doctor Strange will come down to what they want to get out of the picture. If you want action scenes driven by great special effects that haven’t been fully seen before on the screen or if you want to see an arrogant man of science get in touch with his spiritual side, you’ll probably like this picture. As a whole, I can’t say that it goes above and beyond the call of duty, but it’s still a fun superhero movie. It’s not as mind-melting or surreal as something along the lines of Un Chien Andalou (1929), but I still have to give some props to a big-budget blockbuster for attempting something similar.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

The Adventures of Tintin (2011) Review

Director: Steven Spielberg

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Comedy, Kids & Family

Runtime: 107 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Being an American, I wasn’t all that familiar with the character of Belgian comic hero Tintin growing up (although I do remember watching the cartoon series The Adventures of Tintin on television). I’m grateful for director Steven Spielberg for largely introducing audiences in the United States to the world of Tintin with the 2011 animated motion picture The Adventures of Tintin. Blending three of the classic Tintin stories (The Crab with the Golden Claws, The Secret of the Unicorn, and Red Rackham’s Treasure) together, the plot involves intrepid reporter Tintin (Jamie Bell) and his dog, Snowy, going on an adventure after purchasing a model ship that everybody wants to have a part of. Okay, after using the word “Tintin” approximately 10,000 times over the course of one paragraph, let’s get on with the review.

After directing the Indiana Jones flicks, Steven Spielberg was a perfect choice to helm an entry into the almost equally pulpy Tintin franchise. Many (but not all) of the beloved characters from the comics make an appearance here, and there are several visual references to other Tintin adventures. As much as I loved the film overall, I am a bit disappointed with its depiction of Captain Haddock (Andy Serkis). He shows a bit too much of his buffoonish side here, and not quite enough of his badass personality. All of the other characters seem to be on-point, though.

For this feature, the action in the comics was taken and pumped up to an eye-popping extreme. The film’s manic action sequences are astounding, featuring camerawork and choreography that would be near-impossible to pull off in a live-action movie. From a pirate battle to a wild chase through the streets of a Moroccan city, the big set-pieces really bring out the viewer’s inner child. Also worthy of mention are John Williams’ lively musical score and the fantastic opening credits scene.

The Adventures of Tintin is definitely one of my favorite animated movies of all time, and, as far as action-adventure pictures go, it’s up there, too. It has both the lovable characters and the jaw-dropping action scenes that those sort of features need to succeed. It’s terrific entertainment for most ages (there is some blood in one scene, after a man is shot) that’s bound to encourage viewers to learn more about the Tintin universe. Let’s hope that that sequel gets made!

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker (2019) Review

Director: J.J. Abrams

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Fantasy, Science-Fiction

Runtime: 141 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

The finale of Star Wars: Episode VI – Return of the Jedi (1983) will always be my preferred ending to the Star Wars saga. Everything that came after 1983 is basically non-canon in my book. Entertaining, imagination-capturing, and fun to discuss? Definitely…but not canon. The movie concluding the “sequel trilogy” or “Disney trilogy” of the Star Wars franchise is Star Wars: Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker, and your opinion of it will probably depend on if you accept it into your “headcanon” or not. Anyway, the plot’s about a certain villain from the series mysteriously returning and orchestrating a plot to turn Rey (Daisy Ridley) to the Dark Side of the Force, while conquering the galaxy in the process. You know the deal.

Doing lots of damage control as a result of Star Wars: Episode VIII – The Last Jedi (2017), this feature crams a ton of content into its nearly two-and-a-half-hour runtime. Fortunately, it’s the characters that come through to save the picture’s neck. Whether they be new or old, cute or badass, the characters mostly nail it. This is The Rise of Skywalker‘s biggest strength, even if the events that take place in the film don’t always make sense. Watching so many fan-favorites or to-be-fan-favorites working together to keep the movie afloat left me feeling ecstatic at times. The action is exciting (if ludicrously over-the-top at times…but I suppose that’s just part of the fun) and John Williams’ musical score is right on the bull’s-eye.

As I mentioned in the above paragraph, not every narrative choice pays off (how exactly does the primary villain of the picture, who we’ve seen before, return to the stage?). Due to this trilogy’s filmmakers not having an overarching plan, the flick sometimes feels rushed or sloppy. The primary reason I don’t accept these new films into my “headcanon” is the undoing of the ending of the aforementioned Return of the Jedi. This is a sore spot for many Star Wars fans, and I can’t blame them for being “salty” over it. Still, if you consider this trilogy to be some sort of alternate timeline or “what-if?” story taking place after the conclusion of the original three movies, it’s quite rousing.

I’m going to go out on a limb here, and say that The Rise of Skywalker is just about as good a finale for the sequel trilogy as was possible after The Last Jedi largely tore apart the “mystery boxes” established in Star Wars: Episode VII – The Force Awakens (2015) (and after the passing of Carrie Fisher, who played Princess Leia). It also works very well as a standalone sci-fi/action-adventure tale. However, how is it as an ending of the entire Star Wars saga, as was started all the way back in 1977? Let’s just say that Return of the Jedi will always be my official conclusion of the story.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Charge of the Light Brigade (1936) Review

Director: Michael Curtiz

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Romance, War

Runtime: 115 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

It seems to me that 1936’s The Charge of the Light Brigade set out to be the biggest, most exciting, most epic-scale war/action-adventure picture made up to that point in time. It’s about a romantic triangle set amidst the chaos of unrest in British-occupied India and, later, the Crimean War. This was one of nine movies where Errol Flynn (playing Geoffrey Vickers here) and Olivia de Havilland (as Elsa Campbell) played love interests.

First and foremost, it should be pointed out that the dazzling action scenes found here might be the best in movie history up to the point of its initial release (“Here’s your action!” Errol Flynn says as one battle breaks out, almost as if he’s addressing the audience). Well, the hyper-realistic combat scenes in All Quiet on the Western Front (1930), released six years earlier, might top it, but The Charge of the Light Brigade puts up one Hell of a fight to outdo it. However, it definitely needs to be said that about twenty-five horses were killed or had to be put down due to the trip-wires used to make them fall over when “shot” (in addition, at least one human stuntman died during filming). It also appears that an actual leopard or two were shot and killed during a hunt sequence set in India. This senseless slaughter led to the Congress of the United States passing laws to protect animals on film sets.

The music in this feature, composed by Mex Steiner, is one of its highlights. The same cannot be said of the romantic triangle that takes up a significant portion of the runtime. It’s pretty mind-numbing stuff, and there are a couple of other dialogue-heavy scenes not related to the love story that slow down the pace a tad. When it comes to historical accuracy, it’s best to just shut your brain off while watching The Charge of the Light Brigade, because this movie strays from the facts innumerable times. This doesn’t bother me as much as the animal killings, though.

It’s hard not to feel a little guilty watching this flick for that reason. The battles are stupendous, but the wanton cruelty to creatures here is impossible to ignore (supposedly, star Errol Flynn almost killed director Michael Curtiz over the treatment of the horses). I would normally call the romance in a war film like this to a subplot, but, here, it almost feels like the A-story. These flaws mean that The Charge of Light Brigade is an overall slightly above average picture. If you can stomach the carnage during the action sequences, it might be worth a watch.

My rating is 6 outta 10.

Legionnaire (1998) Review

Director: Peter MacDonald

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, War

Runtime: 99 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

It may have the mandatory close-up of Jean-Claude Van Damme’s ass, but Legionnaire is not your typical movie to feature the Muscles from Brussels. I sure don’t recall seeing any roundhouse kicks. Anyway, this film is about French boxer Alain Lefevre (Jean-Claude Van Damme) joining the French Foreign Legion in the 1920s to avoid the mob. He, of course, ends up serving in the Rif War in Morocco. It’s not the most original tale, but it’s a well-told story that kept my attention.

While primarily a war/action-adventure flick, Legionnaire features a satisfactory dramatic core. Jean-Claude Van Damme has an underappreciated knack for picking projects with nifty, simple, yet effective, emotional hooks. The characters here are mostly clear and easy to root for. The musical score by John Altman works well, and there’s only a minimum of romance.

All of those components are fine and dandy…but how’s the action? If you’re just here for the combat, then you probably won’t leave disappointed. The film’s action sequences, mainly battles between the French Foreign Legion and Moroccan rebels, are truly excellent. This picture was directed by Peter MacDonald, who also helmed Rambo III (1988), and his scenes of physicality here are almost as impressive as the ones in that Rambo flick. Van Damme is definitely in action hero mode here, but he’s not really an obnoxiously unrealistic one-man army.

On the flip side, Legionnaire is home to some of the most clich├ęd dialogue in movie history. If an original script is one of the primary things you look for in a film, please skip this one. However, if all you’re looking for is a war picture with reasonable drama and spectacular action set-pieces, Legionnaire is more-than-worth looking into. It’s much more epic in scope than your average JCVD feature and feels more grounded in reality. I like it quite a bit.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

The Real Glory (1939) Review

Director: Henry Hathaway

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, War

Runtime: 96 minutes

MPAA Rating: Not Rated

IMDb Page

One of my favorite movies of Gary Cooper’s career is this now-largely-forgotten film set during the Moro Rebellion in the early 1900s. In 1906, a team of American soldiers, including Bill Canavan (Gary Cooper), Terence McCool (David Niven), and “Swede” Larsen (Broderick Crawford), is deployed to a remote Filipino village to train the locals to defend themselves from Moro marauders (the Philippines were a U.S. colony at the time). Don’t let this picture’s obscure status dissuade you…it’s thoroughly satisfying.

The Real Glory has well-defined characters and, at times, has a palpable sense of desperation as the protagonists find themselves on the ropes against their foes lurking in the Filipino jungle. Yes, there is some silly romance that reduces our heroes to children, but it’s not as distracting it is in some other films. This movie embodies the Wilsonian spirit of the United States using its might to democratize the nations of the globe and empower the downtrodden.

On the action front, most of the fireworks are saved for the grand finale, but there are some bits of action here and there prior to it. The final battle gets pretty over-the-top at times (you won’t believe what the bad guys do with the bending palm trees!), but it’s all part of the fun. People checking this flick out just for the heroic stuff probably won’t leave disappointed. The feature is also a bit more violent than your typical 1939 movie.

The hidden gem The Real Glory was rereleased in theaters after the United States entered World War II (retitled “A Yank in the Philippines“), but the War Department recommended that the film be withdrawn, since the Moros were now U.S. allies in the ongoing conflict against the Japanese. Keep your eyes peeled for Vladimir Sokoloff (who played the “Old Man” of the village in The Magnificent Seven [1960]) as the Datu, the representative to the American armed forces of the Moro community in the besieged town. So, you may not have heard of this action-adventure/war tale before, but I certainly give it a hearty recommendation.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Force 10 from Navarone (1978) Review

Director: Guy Hamilton

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Thriller, War

Runtime: 118 minutes (standard version), 126 minutes (restored version)

MPAA Rating: PG

IMDb Page

Seventeen years after the release of the World War II action-adventure masterwork The Guns of Navarone (1961), a sequel to it was sent to theaters. Don’t get your hopes up too much, though, as it’s nothing to write home about. Shortly after the special forces mission in the first film, Mallory (Robert Shaw, played by Gregory Peck in the original) and Miller (Edward Fox, played by David Niven in the original) are assigned to a new Allied commando team to go on a raid into Nazi-occupied Yugoslavia during the Second World War. It’s not terrible, but should it have been made in the first place?

Let’s start with the positives, shall we? The musical score by Ron Goodwin is pretty good, and the cast is pretty starry. I mean, in addition to the aforementioned Robert Shaw and Edward Fox, we’ve got Harrison Ford (as Barnsby), Carl Weathers (as Weaver), Franco Nero (as Lescovar), Barbara Bach (as Maritza), Richard Kiel (as Drazak), and Michael Byrne (as Schroeder). There’s plenty of action scenes, although none of them rise to the level of outstanding.

The mission that the commandos are sent on here is a bit less clear for a notable portion of the movie than it is in The Guns of Navarone. In that picture, the objective was simple to describe: blow up the Nazi cannons. Here, I feel like I can’t really go into detail without delving into spoiler territory. Also, the initial special forces team seems a bit large, with some of them not even being given names (the end credits have four dudes listed simply as “Force Ten Team”). This is a far cry from the original, where all the heroes were given ample screentime to flesh out their characters. Force 10 from Navarone also sheds much of the moral complexity of the original in favor of standard war flick “thrills.”

It’s not a trainwreck, but this sequel can’t live up to the original. The truth is that it’s just not that exciting or dramatically involving. It had some potential (just think of the cast listed above in one movie together!), but, at the end of the day, it’s a pretty typical entry into the men-on-a-mission subgenre. It’s watchable as a stand-alone action-thriller…just don’t compare it to the immortal The Guns of Navarone.

My rating is 6 outta 10.