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.

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.

Halloween III: Season of the Witch (1982) Review

Director: Tommy Lee Wallace

Genre(s): Horror, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 98 minutes

MPAA Rating: R

IMDb Page

Halloween III: Season of the Witch is the only entry into the Halloween series (so far) to not feature Michael Myers as the villain. Instead, we have a plot about a doctor named Daniel Challis (Tom Atkins), who decides to investigate the murder of one of his patients, uncovering a homicidal conspiracy (no, you’re not getting any more information on the story than that). After Halloween II (1981), John Carpenter (who directed the first one) came to the conclusion that each new installment in the franchise should tell a completely new story, making it sort of an anthology. However, after Halloween III underperformed at the box office, Myers had to be brought back to the Halloween films.

There’s no way to get around saying it: Halloween III is one goofy movie. Sure, there are a few creepy moments, but the whole thing is increasingly far-fetched and impossible to take seriously. Fortunately for me, I enjoy my cinema both zany and serious, so this flick’s craziness doesn’t bother me. Yes, this is the Halloween movie that has the science-fiction elements. It almost feels like a This is Spinal Tap (1984)-esque parody at times.

Tom Atkins’ Dr. Challis is an amusing choice for a film hero. He’s an alcoholic who hits on every woman he comes across (except for his wife, Linda [Nancy Kyes], of course). Having a jerkass like this as the protagonist might sink a normal movie, but this picture is clearly in schlockapalooza territory. It only adds to the so-bad-it’s-good nature of most of the production. Oh, yeah…no review of this work would be complete without bringing up that devilishly catchy commercial jingle that’s constantly popping up (you know the one I’m talking about).

If you like kitsch, Halloween III is a fun interlude in the Michael Myers saga. It’s hard to believe it belongs to the same franchise as Halloween (1978). It’s definitely off-the-deep-end, but you just might enjoy the way this feature makes you throw your hands up in the air at its absurdity. If this doesn’t sound appealing to you, you’ll probably end up screaming “STOP IT!” at your television set for most of the movie.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Inception (2010) Review

Director: Christopher Nolan

Genre(s): Action, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 148 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Inception is a wildly intricate and imaginative film, but, as entertaining as it is, I can’t help but dwell on its lost potential in some regards. The story follows a team of mercenaries, led by Cobb (Leonardo DiCaprio), who have the ability to infiltrate people’s dreams to steal or implant ideas. For what it is, I think this is an exceptionally engaging motion picture, but I think it could’ve been something more.

In Inception, dreams are easily interpreted or explained away, almost to the point that the characters in the movie find them somewhat predictable. The scenes in the subconscious aren’t particularly surreal and there’s a noticeable lack of dream logic. This runs in the face of the dreams (or nightmares) people have in the real world, which are bizarre, unpredictable, scary, and unnerving. Maybe I’m asking for too much by wishing this was Un Chien Andalou: The Action Movie, but I think the filmmakers should’ve gone for something weirder, darker, and more unexpected.

Despite that flaw, this is still classy movie-making. The special effects are a sight to see, and the cast is all-star. A flick like this could’ve easily become hard to follow, but I think the script did a good job of communicating the complexities of dream heists and whatnot (even though I don’t think I caught every last detail). The feature has enough human drama to keep the audience’s attention in between big set pieces. Speaking of that, there are several action sequences and they’re mostly okay. They feel a little low-impact at times, but that hallway fist fight is a real knockout.

Blending sci-fi actioner with psychological thriller, Inception isn’t perfect, but it’s still a fun time at the movies. I do sort of wish it went off in a slightly different direction than what it did, but I try not to hold that against the picture too much. If you do choose to watch it, be prepared to pay close attention to its details, though.

My rating is 8 outta 10.

Venom (2018) Review

Director: Ruben Fleischer

Genre(s): Action, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 112 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Was this…was this supposed to be a comedy? I ask because I was laughing or on the verge of laughing for a significant part of the film’s runtime. In this origin story to one of Spider-Man’s most famous baddies, investigative journalist Eddie Brock (Tom Hardy) is infected by an extraterrestrial organism (named Venom, I guess) that gives him superhuman powers. As far as comic book villain backstories go, it isn’t Joker (2019), but it has a certain appeal.

Most of that appeal comes from its, uh, humor. The semi-parasitic alien Venom (voiced by Tom Hardy) provides many of the guffaws with his awkward, sudden lines of dialogue that only Brock can hear. Some of what he says sound like the filmmakers were trying to be funny…but, at other times, I wasn’t quite so sure. Nonetheless, laughing, in my book, is always a good reaction to a movie, whether it was provoked intentionally or not. Hardy commendably commits to the ridiculous material he’s given.

On the action front, things are generally well-done. Well, the fight scenes between computer-generated blob monsters weren’t really my cup of tea, but the other physicality-oriented sequences were satisfactorily explosive. The violence is fairly graphic at times for a PG-13-rated picture, but I guess the MPAA let them get away with certain images because of how far-fetched and absurd the whole thing is.

Do you like your comic book films nice and cheesy? Well, Venom is a flick you might want to look into. It’s never dull and works a fine balance between high-octane action and bizarre comedy. I’m sure it’s great for parties, if you want to play a game of Was-That-Intentionally-Or-Unintentionally-Funny? I would really like to know what the filmmakers were thinking for certain scenes of this movie.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom (2018) Review

Director: J.A. Bayona

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 128 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

Jurassic World (2015) brought new life to the series, but, by 2018’s Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom, it feels like the franchise is, once again, treading water. Fallen Kingdom is fine as cinematic junk food, but, if you’ve been expecting more than that, you might be disappointed. The plot is about a rescue effort to save cloned dinosaurs from the remains of the Jurassic World amusement park before a volcano on the island can go off. This is a flick that has me saying “It’s good, but…”

Okay, this is a pretty ridiculous movie, but, hey, it’s a summer blockbuster. What do you expect? The high-stakes action scenes are flashy, as we’ve come to expect, and there seems to be a bit more human-versus-human combat than in previous installments. Physical mayhem and special effects are the film’s specialties, and the attempts at infusing emotion into the story are generally effective.

This is not a simple retread of the events shown in Jurassic Park (1993) and Jurassic World. The plot has some similarities with The Lost World: Jurassic Park (1997), but I’d say that this one has its own identity (although there’s still a moment of déjà vu or two). Returning from previous pictures in the series are Jeff Goldblum as Dr. Ian Malcolm, but his appearance is little more than a cameo, and the musical theme from John Williams (although the score is done by Michael Giacchino), which is used quite sparingly here.

Fallen Kingdom has a couple of thought-provoking scenes, but it feels like the Jurassic Park franchise is out of gas, at least for the moment. This film is entertaining to watch, with its likeable characters and bad-guy-chomping dinosaurs, yet it doesn’t offer a whole lot more than that. I suppose that that’s okay (it’s just a movie, after all), so I’ll give it a passing score. Don’t expect greatness and you just might like it.

My rating is 7 outta 10.

Jurassic World (2015) Review

Director: Colin Trevorrow

Genre(s): Action, Adventure, Drama, Science-Fiction, Thriller

Runtime: 124 minutes

MPAA Rating: PG-13

IMDb Page

In 2015, a “soft reboot” of the Jurassic Park series was released, titled Jurassic World. Does it recapture the magic of the first one? Well, not quite, but it comes commendably close at times. The plot may sound familiar. On the ruins of the original dinosaur habitat from Jurassic Park (1993) a new amusement park is created, also built around cloned prehistoric creatures. However, trouble starts to brew when the scientists behind the wizardry create a brand-new, custom-built hybrid dinosaur called the indominus rex. Very few figurative points will be awarded for originality here, but the end result is still an engaging action-adventure picture.

In case you can’t tell from the plot description, this one is basically a souped-up remake of 1993’s Jurassic Park. It doesn’t have the timeless charm of that flick, but it does try to up the ante at every corner. In the end, it’s one big orgy of dinosaur-related violence that occasionally borders on the mean-spirited. Jurassic World is, at times, preposterous and not exactly unpredictable, yet it’s a slick, fast-paced corporate product that held my attention with ease.

I suppose the secret ingredient is the human element, which this film retains from the previous three movies in the franchise. Many have commented on the characters here being rather thin, but I found them satisfactorily fleshed out. Dinosaur carnage is always more involving when there are relatable human beings thrown into the mix. Also, more than any installment since the first, Jurassic World highlights mankind’s hubris, as he tries to control nature and play God. Michael Giacchino’s musical score frequently “quotes” the John Williams-written themes that have become famous.

There are a couple of new things here (I love the petting zoo with the baby herbivore dinos), but, overall, Jurassic World is just trying to top the first movie at its own game. More dinosaurs, more action, more characters, more special effects, etc. Still, it’s a swell popcorn-muncher, if that’s what you’re looking for. It has enough hard-hitting chaos and human drama to make it worth watching for fans of this sort of picture. I had a good time.

My rating is 7 outta 10.