Doctor Strange – Film Review

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The uniquely named Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is an all star neurosurgeon worthy of working with House MD. After a horrific car crash involving the vertical part of a cliff edge he loses use of his hands and his career is seemingly over. As he seeks to regain his digital dexterity Strange hears of a unique therapy in Nepal and spends the last of his wealth to travel there. After an initial rebuttal Strange is enrolled on a magical journey as he learns from the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), and Wong (Benedict Wong) about the art of sorcery and the multi-dimensional universe. Acupuncture eat your heart out! Naturally there is a big bad threatening the establishment Strange has only just discovered and so he must fight the evil Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen and his cheekbones) and a being of a much more threatening and less tangible nature. Space and time are bent to the sorcerers’ wills as they fight for what each thinks is right.

The huge success of this particular Marvel film is how free of the usual Marvel trappings it is. We are spared the overarching Avengers narrative, there are no CGI behemoths punching other CGI behemoths, and the story is compact enough to fit in one film. The Marvel Cinematic Universe can feel needlessly complicated and bloated so in comparison Doctor Strange is pleasantly lean. While there are nods to the wider franchise, and the obligatory mid-credits sequence, by and large Doctor Strange stands on its own two feet. There is nothing you need to know going in other than that you are going to have to try and dissociate Cumberbatch from the aloof, arrogant genius of Sherlock as he tackles the aloof, arrogant genius of Doctor Strange.

With its plot of multiple universes, time meddling, and magic Doctor Strange handles the fantasy well by simultaneously taking it absolutely seriously and being able to joke about it. The jokes are not as strong as they could be but the film is refreshingly lighthearted in amongst exposition about ancient texts and mirror worlds. That said the contractual Stan Lee cameo comes in the midst of an action set piece and his appearance completely took me out of the scene. Interrupting action for a quip by a random bystander isn’t always a wise move.

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Another niggle with the film is its limited female roles. Tilda Swinton’s part as the Ancient One puts her in a prominent role and easily adds an extra star to any review of the film. That she was cast in as a character originally destined for a man almost makes up for the whitewashing her casting brings. Swinton is the ultimate chameleon and manages to deliver wild exposition with calm certainty that allows you to almost believe it. Sadly Rachel McAdams as nurse and occasional love interest takes up the only other female position and is given little to do other than pine after Strange and clean his wounds when he deigns to drop through a portal and back into her life.

Where Strange really triumphs is in the visuals afforded by a plot filled with magicians who can bend space and time. The film takes Inception as a leaping off point and continues to meld the world beyond what we have seen before. Strange is without a doubt smarter than your average superhero adventure as it chooses a battle of logic for its final showdown and a totally unique fight scene in Hong Kong in which time flies every which way. Doctor Strange is a feast for the eyes and offers plenty of visual firsts.

With its cast Strange also excels. Cumberbatch may be the main draw but his Strange is relatively anonymous; it is the characters surrounding him that really stand out. Among the goodies we have the aforementioned Swinton who is ably flanked by indie British comedy legend Benedict Wong and Chiwetel Ejiofor, and actor with an inbuilt reserve of gravitas. Everybody’s favourite Scandinavian Mads Mikkelsen provides the slight accent needed to be the bad guy as he no doubt will in Rogue One later in the year. Mikkelsen is a class act able to bring depth to the typical role of bad guy out to destroy the world. With McAdams rounding out the cast in the smallest role Doctor Strange really does have the most overqualified cast.

Doctor Strange  is not going to be anybody’s favourite film, nor is it going to trouble any awards. What is is it a refreshingly different superhero film in a franchise where the films have started to blur. An enjoyable flight of fancy all the more enjoyable for its lack of ties to the wider Marvel universe. Sadly we know that will change before too long.

Doctor Strange is the best Marvel film for a long time as it allows us to forget what we have come to expect and shows us something new.

Men and Chicken – Film Review

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Mads Mikkelsen is a fine figure of a man and I am sure his cheekbones have been praised on these pages before now. As Hannibal he is the ultimate in suave as the serial killer who never dresses down or has a hair out of place. Let this film be a testament to his skills then as he takes on a role as a decidedly non-suave, crumpled, socially awkward, and just plain odd man.

Mikkelsen and David Dencik play a pair of half-brothers who discover upon their father’s death that he was not their real father. On a mission to find their real father and information about their respective mothers the pair travel to a remote Danish island and find far more than they bargained for. With their father confined to his bed the brothers have to instead spend time with a surprise new trio of half-brothers, each more bizarre than the last, and sleep in a house filled with chickens, pigs, sheep, a bull, and a lot of cheese.

During their stay the now five brother struggle for dominance and our original duo fight to discover just what is going on; what happened to their mothers and what secrets their father is keeping in the locked basement.

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Men & Chicken is a deliciously dark comedy surrounding five disturbed individuals trying to get along. Fans of Danish television will be delighted to see Mikkelsen alongside the likes of Søren Malling, Nikolaj Lie Kaas, Nicholas Bro, and Ole Thestrup in a feature far less serious than their usual fare. There are plenty of laughs to be had as the film is filled with slapstick violence alongside surprisingly dry humour. Eventually though certain strands of comedy wear a little thin and you fear what you might be forced to witness. Suffice it to say that the big reveal was actually more grim than I had anticipated.

This is my first experience of the work of writer and director Anders Thomas Jensen so I can’t compare it to his previous work but viewed in isolation this was a fun comedy, just not one I am likely to return to.

I admire the film’s tenacity but ultimately can’t fully get behind it. I feel like I should like it more that I did but there is a point at which bestiality and masturbation stops making me laugh. Spoilsport I know.

Men and Chicken screens again on the 10th and 18th and tickets are still available online.

The Salvation – Film Review

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The year is 1870-ish and after years of forging a new life in America with his brother our hero Jon (Mads “Cheekbones” Mikkelsen) is finally able to bring his wife and son over from his native Denmark. Before they even reach their new home Jon and his family find themselves in a carriage with the wrong type of men. They soon experience the sort of journey you dread when taking the night bus alone in London. His family having been severely wronged Jon takes his revenge on their assailants and things get steadily worse. Unfortunately one of the men Jon takes revenge on is the brother of the local gang leader Delarue (Jeffrey Dean Morgan) and so now it is up to Delarue and his gang (which distractingly includes Eric Cantona) to seek vengeance on Jon. Thus a vicious cycle of violence, brooding, and revenge continues.

It is clear that writer/director Kristian Levring has a love for classic westerns and wanted to make his own mark on the genrefrom a Danish point of view. Clint Eastwood minus fifty years wouldn’t look out of place in The Salvation with its gentle pace, stark landscape, and sparse dialogue and Mikkelsen is a fine substitute conveying all he needs to through a clenched jaw, narrowed eyes, and dramatic cheeks. The Salvation is precisely what a Western should be; it looks right, sounds right, and generally feels as it should do. Mikkelsen is a superb, captivating lead and Morgan gives his best villainous performance with relish and conviction. And yet…

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In giving us everything we have come to expect from a Western The Salvation has forgotten to give us anything new. This is anything but the reinvention of the Western and the only Danish influence to be found is in Mikkelsen’s accent. This doesn’t make the film bad necessarily just a little boring.

What threatens to brand the film as bad or ugly (aside from an unworkable mix of practical and CGI fire) is the lacklustre use of female characters. I realise the film is set in the Old West so scope for female roles is limited but having every woman as either a mute victim or a prostitute is taking it a bit too far. The two main victims female characters are Jon’s wife Marie (Nanna Øland Fabricius) and Delarue’s love interest/brother’s widow Madelaine (Eva Green). In the short period before becoming a victim to a heinous crime Marie barely says a word because she hasn’t learnt any English yet and while Madelaine gets a lot more screen time her dialogue is nil thanks to having had her tongue cut out in a previous incident of victimisation. Eva Green is a fine actress and her eyes can do as much acting as Mikkelsen’s cheekbones but there was no need to literally mute her.

The Salvation looks great and gives you what you expect with some added Mads Mikkelsen sprinkled on top. Overall though the film is unsatisfying with nothing new to bring to its genre and a frustrating use of female characters.

The Salvation is in UK cinemas now.