Review of “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”

Grief can be debilitating. When my parents died less than 11 months apart, I tried to bury my feelings deep inside. I thought it would make it easier to deal with their loss if I chose to ignore the pain and remembered them as the invincible beings they were in the prime of their lives, not the sick and frail mortals they became. Unfortunately, grief is an emotion that always collects its bounty. I would lash out in anger at my coworkers for minor issues that weren’t worth the effort. I found everyday life to be unbearable at times. It wasn’t fair that everyone was going on like nothing happened and I was suffering this unimaginable and seemingly targeted loss of the two people who had been there all my life. Looking back, that mindset feels very immature and selfish. Most people will lose a close loved one eventually. None of us lives forever, including our parents. Neither were perfect, but they were my mom and dad, and that was good enough for me. I saw a professional, explained how I was feeling and got what I needed to balance my moods. I highly recommend contacting a mental health professional if you feel like your life is something you just get through. That got heavier than I meant it to. I said all that to say this, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is a comic book movie that looks at grief and the extremes someone might go to trying to minimize it. Even if it means taking another’s life and possibly destroying the multiverse.

Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is having a dream about a young woman being chased by a fiery demon through a weird other dimension. After attending the wedding of his former romantic partner Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). he sees this woman, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), being attacked by what looks like a giant octopus. With help from Wong (Benedict Wong), the two sorcerers defeat the creature. They learn America can open doorways to other dimensions but cannot control when it happens. Strong emotions like fear are frequently the trigger. Strange is told by America, his dream wasn’t a dream. She and another universe’s Doctor Strange were being chased by that demon as they tried to get the Book of Vishanti, a spell book that gives a sorcerer exactly what he needs to defeat an enemy. Wong realizes America is being chased by a powerful wielder of magic. Strange goes to Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen) for help protecting America and her power. Wanda reveals she’s the one trying to gain America’s power so she can go to another universe and be with her two boys, Billy and Tommy (Julian Hilliard and Jett Klyne), from the grief-induced fantasy world she created. Unable to defeat Wanda in her form as Scarlett Witch, America accidentally transports herself and Strange to Earth-838 where they hope to get help defeating Wanda from Strange’s old frenemy, Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), the Sorcerer Supreme in this alternate universe.

That’s just the beginning of the weirdness in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness.” It is a film that runs, including credits, just over two hours, but contains enough ideas and concepts to fill at least two movies. Director Sam Raimi, who came in when original director Scott Derrickson left due to creative differences, is no stranger to genre filmmaking. His “Evil Dead” films were low-budget gems, and his “Spider-Man” trilogy starring Tobey Maguire is credited with kicking off the bonanza of comic book films were in now. Raimi understands the need for spectacle and flash in genre films. Perhaps that gets in the way of storytelling in this film, along with numerous cameos and fan service, but the movie does deliver on thrills and pulls together various aspects of Marvel’s TV and cinematic properties. In other words, fans will love it, while critics will thumb their noses at “more of the same.”

The film is visually striking in all aspects. The special effects dazzle as well as confuse at times. The visualization of passing through numerous universes as is seen early in the film may bend one’s mind as we see a universe that is 2D animated, looks like a cubist painting, and is entirely underwater, among others. The concept of an infinite multiverse, where anything can and does happen, is the realm of quantum and theoretical physics. There is math to support the hypothesis, but there’s likely no way we’ll ever know in our lifetimes. That’s why imaginative filmmakers like Raimi show us what they might be like in the context of superheroes.

The numerous CGI battles in the film can get tedious. The audience knows Scarlett Witch will win until the film’s final showdown, but we must get there somehow. Fortunately, there is always something in these fights that makes them marginally interesting. We are introduced to the Illuminati, a kind of board of directors for the multiverse. The fight involving them is fun if predictable. There are cameos and dream casting that is done in this scene. I personally enjoyed seeing the return of some actors and the introduction of others. I’m not sure any of the Illuminati will be back for any future installments, so this may have to satisfy all those wanting appearances from characters introduced in other Marvel TV projects and the wishful thinking of the internet.

The performances from the main cast are strong and never disappoint. Benedict Cumberbatch is suave and cool as always. His easy style is a perfect fit for Doctor Strange. While he was a big part of “Avengers: Infinity War” and “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” I hope he gets more solo films as is teased in the mid-credits scene (there is a short post-credits scene that pays off a joke). Benedict Wong’s Wong is the perfect foil for Cumberbatch’s Strange. While their characters are frequently at odds, their chemistry, friendship and mutual respect is never in question. Wong deserves a bigger role, perhaps a solo film of his own, in the MCU. The addition of Xochitl Gomez as America Chavez is a breath of fresh air. As we get deeper into Phase Five of the MCU, we’re going to need the introduction of new characters, and Ms. Gomez fits right in with our established heroes. Her character is just mastering her powers, but her abilities could make for a powerful addition to Marvel’s stable of female and POC heroes.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” is rated PG-13 for intense sequences of violence and action, frightening images and some language. We see a version of Doctor Strange killed by a monster. A giant octopus-like creature is killed when its eyeball is pulled out with an improvised spear. A dead character is revived, and we see how decay has destroyed part of its body. Various evil spirits attack characters. Several heroes are killed in various graphic ways during one fight scene. Foul language is scattered and mild.

There is so much going on in “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” nothing gets the attention it needs to be fully fleshed out. However, what we do see and learn about the high strangeness of Marvel’s multiverse does open the door for all kinds of story and character offshoots. There are multiverses where Loki rules Midgard, Ultron wiped out humanity and Thanos’ snap wasn’t undone. We may get peaks at those other realities and the brave varieties of other heroes trying to save what little remains or undo the damage that’s been done. This more thorough introduction to the multiverse kicks the door wide open for more stories, more villains and more heroes. The possibilities are infinite.

“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” gets four stars out of five.

Follow, rate, review and download the podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or loath it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

Spoiler Free Review of “Spider-Man: No Way Home”

Secrets have a life of their own. That life usually resides in the mind of the secret keeper. It gets a bit more complicated if that secret can affect the lives of others. If you knew a friend was cheating on their partner and you chose to cover for them when asked, now that secret could damage the lives of three people. More if the cheater in question has children. Even secrets that are totally your own can have long tentacles that wrap around other people’s lives. If you’re addicted to drugs, alcohol, gambling, shopping or whatever, your secret could damage, ruin and destroy the lives of those around you and total strangers. The bigger the secret, the more carnage it can create. Imagine being Peter Parker and your secret is you’re Spider-Man. That secret has been spread all over the world and your Aunt May, your girlfriend MJ, your best friend Ned and others are being hounded by the press and curiosity seekers relentlessly. You’d do anything to make that harassment end…anything!

Peter Parker’s (Tom Holland) secret identity as Spider-Man has just been blown by dying declaration video from Mysterio (Jake Gyllenhaal) run on J. Jonah Jameson’s (J.K. Simmons) TheDailyBugle.net. Now, Peter, MJ (Zendaya), Ned (Jacob Batalon), and Aunt May (Marisa Tomei) are all being hauled into interrogation rooms and questioned by the Department of Damage Control. Even Happy Hogan (Jon Favreau) may be charged with crimes as Stark Industries technology was used in the attack on London. With helicopters and onlookers constantly trying to get a peek at Peter and his friends, the publicity causes MIT to reject all three of their applications. Desperate to undo the damage, Peter goes to Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), asking him to cast a spell that will make the world forget Peter Parker is Spider-Man. As Strange casts the spell, Peter asks if MJ can still know his secret, then Ned, and finally Aunt May. The changes in the spell cause it to run out of control, shattering the boundaries between the multiverses. Strange contains the spell and orders Peter to leave, his secret still out in the world. While going to meet with an MIT official about MJ and Ned’s applications, Peter is interrupted by an attack from Dr. Otto Octavius (Alfred Molina). When Octavius traps Peter and rips his mask off, he sees it’s not the Spider-Man he knows. Norman Osborn, aka Green Goblin (Willem Dafoe), then appears, but Peter and Octavius are transported to a dungeon under the Sanctum Santorum. Dr. Strange has captured Octavius and Dr. Curt Connors (Rhys Ifans) in his form as the Lizard. Both are villains of Spider-Man, but from alternate universes. Dr. Strange equips Peter with a gauntlet that will transport the other multiverse villains, Goblin, Max Dillon, aka Electro (Jamie Foxx), and Flint Marko, aka Sandman (Thomas Haden Church) to the dungeon and hold them until Strange can send them back where they belong.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is a reboot of sorts for the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It’s similar to the effect “Captain America: Civil War” had on the series as it shifts the dynamic of so many characters in the aftermath. While we only have two Avengers present in “…No Way Home,” the far-reaching consequences will be felt throughout the MCU. In that way, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is important within the structure of its shared universe. But it is also important for the character, as by the end of the film (no spoilers), Peter has a fresh start and is facing a future that is uncertain and uncharted (no pun about Holland’s upcoming videogame-inspired film intended). It’s also a very exciting and emotional film.

Tom Holland was the perfect choice to play Peter Parker/Spider-Man. I know he hasn’t found much success outside of his MCU character, but that’s more a reflection of the material he’s given, not his talent. Holland embodies all the character’s various personalities. From the wisecracking webhead to the polite and deferential high schooler, Holland makes the audience believe he is both Peter Parker and Spider-Man. I’m excited to see where Holland and the filmmakers take this character in the future as the multiverse opens enormous possibilities.

The rest of the cast is flawless, with special kudos going to Alfred Molina and Willem Dafoe. Both reprise their Sam Raimi “Spider-Man” trilogy roles 17 and 19 years later respectively. Dafoe is especially unhinged as the split personality of Green Goblin. His face undergoes changes when the evil persona takes over that are legitimately frightening. Jamie Foxx takes command as the de facto leader of the five alternate universe villains. He’s commanding and charismatic as Max Dillon, while also easily being knocked off his pedestal of self-importance. Rhys Ifans and Thomas Haden Church are mostly voice cast as their characters are entirely CG. Still, they do a fine job of conveying their megalomania and angry fear respectively.

The story of “…No Way Home” is fairly simple as Peter wants everyone to forget he’s Spider-Man. When he messes up the spell, he feels it’s his responsibility to correct the mistake. At every turn, Peter’s efforts to fix things blow up in his face, creating more damage he feels obligated to fix until Peter…gives up. It sounds more dire than it is, but it’s a learning experience for the character. He can’t fix everything simply because he’s Spider-Man. There are things out of his control, and he must learn to fix what he can and let everything else go. It’s a hard lesson that comes with enormous personal cost. While none of us is a superhero with a secret identity, it’s a lesson we must all learn for ourselves.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” is rated PG-13 for sequences of action/violence, some language and brief suggestive comments. The suggestive comments happen early and are so mild and nearly drowned out by overlapping dialog they would be easy to miss. There are some very intense fight scenes, especially at the end between Green Goblin and Peter. Minor facial injuries are shown. One character’s death is especially painful to watch. Peter loses control and nearly kills a villain. There is also a stabbing that isn’t shown but can be heard. Foul language is scattered and mild.

The emotional depth of “Spider-Man: No Way Home” is surprising for a comic book movie. There were moments I was deeply moved nearly to the point of tears. It also is a film that is frequently funny as well as genuinely thrilling at times. While the finale is jammed with sometimes confusing CGI action, and it doesn’t help that one of the villains can create sandstorms causing the images to look muddy, along with a rush to tie up loose ends, “Spider-Man: No Way Home” may rank close to “Spider-Man 2” as one of the best comic book movies of all time. It certainly didn’t feel like it’s runtime of almost two and a half hours (and you will need to sit through all of it to see a mid-credits scene featuring Eddie Brock/Venom and an end-credits scene that’s a teaser for “Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness”). Any film that can make me ignore a full bladder is quite the achievement.

“Spider-Man: No Way Home” gets five stars out of five.

Subscribe, rate, review and download my podcast Comedy Tragedy Marriage. Each week my wife and I take turns picking a movie to watch, watch it together, then discuss why we love it, like it or hate it. Find it wherever you get podcasts.

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan.

I’m Back with a Review of “The Courier”

Is it just me or is it weird doing normal-ish things? I add the “ish” due to wearing a mask when I’m inside a building or with a group (I have received both doses of Pfizer’s vaccine but I’m still wearing a mask), but I did something I hadn’t done since last September: I went to a movie at a theater. We are still in the time of the novel coronavirus as the theater I was in had a ground total of four people in it and the lobby was virtually deserted when I entered aside from a few workers and a couple of patrons. It felt both odd and good to be back in a theater again and I’m thankful I didn’t risk my health for a bad film.

It’s 1960, the Cold War is heating up and Greville Wynne (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a British businessman always looking for the possibility of new contacts leading to new business. He connects parts suppliers with factories and is pretty good at his job, even working in Eastern Bloc countries in the recent past. He enjoys glad-handing and drinking with this fellow businessmen at various bars and clubs. His wife Sheila (Jessie Buckley) is a stay-at-home mother, taking care of their young son Andrew (Keir Hills), but she doesn’t give Greville too long a leash as he has strayed in the past. In Moscow, after hearing a speech from Soviet leader Nikita Khrushchev, promising the nuclear destruction of the West, Colonel Oleg Penkovsky (Merab Ninidze), the head of the Soviet Committee for Scientific Research, gets an American student to deliver a message to the US embassy. That message gets to CIA officer Emily Donovan (Rachel Brosnahan) who sets up a meeting with her MI6 counterpart Dickie Franks (Angus Wright) looking for a way to tap into Penkovsky’s access to Soviet nuclear secrets. Sending an agent is deemed too risky, but a civilian with business ties to Eastern Bloc countries wouldn’t raise as much suspicion amongst the Soviet secret police, the KGB. Franks and Donovan set up a lunch meeting with Wynne and broach the subject without being too obvious they’re asking him to work undercover behind the Iron Curtain. Despite their subtlety, Wynne quickly figures out they’re asking him to spy. Initially hesitant and fearing for his safety as well as that of his family, Wynne agrees. Franks and Donovan assure Wynne the danger is minimal as he will be acting not as a spy, but as a courier for whatever secrets Penkovsky gives him.

“The Courier” is a tour de force acting performance from Benedict Cumberbatch. His work alone makes the film worth your time and money. Cumberbatch is both subtle and electric as the reluctant spy. The scene where he is asked to become an operative without directly being asked plays out entirely on his face. You can practically hear the gears in his brain grinding as he figures out he’s being approached to risk his life for his country and the world and how incredulous he considers the idea. Cumberbatch is always good but this performance should be considered for awards season next year. Likely it will be forgotten among all the films to come as the virus becomes less of a concern (get vaccinated everyone and don’t take medical advice from Joe Rogan) but I hope the studio makes a push to get him in consideration when the time comes.

The movie overall is pretty good but is mired in Cold War espionage conventions. The secret passing of small packages containing government secrets is done again and again. There’s not much discussion about the history of tensions between East and West, just that there are tensions. While someone my age is familiar with the Cold War, younger viewers will likely be befuddled about what’s going on.

All the supporting characters aren’t given much to do other than deliver exposition. Jessie Buckley is severely under utilized as Wynne’s wife. Her character is only properly used in a scene late in the film. Brosnahan and Wright don’t get much better treatment as they are used merely to drop in the “spy speak” along with their cohorts. Only Merab Ninidze as the provider of Soviet state secrets is given a meaty role as one might expect. Ninidze’s Penkovsky is a dreamer, hoping for a better life for his family when they eventually defect to America. Penkovsky is taking the bigger risk of two as he has seen first hand how traitors to the Soviet Union are dealt with.

That makes his and Wynne’s ultimate fates all the more crushing as the pair develop a friendship that goes beyond their mutual need of each other. The two men on opposite sides of the Iron Curtain find they are far more alike than their governments would like you to believe. Both are married with a small child (Penkovsky and his wife have a young girl), both hope for a world for their children better than the one in which they currently live, both men smoke and drink too much and enjoy the benefits of their work. They are practically the same person but for the governments under which they live.

“The Courier” is rated PG-13 for violence, partial nudity, brief strong language, and smoking throughout. The violence is limited to a scene of a person being shot in the head in front of a crowd (there’s no blood or gore) and scenes inside a Russian gulag. It’s the early 1960’s so smoking is as common as vodka. The nudity is of a male character who is stripped after being arrested. There is no frontal nudity. Foul language is scattered and mild.

“The Courier” is based on the true story of Greville Wynne and his work for MI6 and the CIA in providing early warning for Soviet missiles being installed in Cuba. Wynne spent 18 months in a Soviet prison before being released in exchange for a Russian spy held in the west. Documentary footage at the end of the film shows the real Wynne after he returned home. In this film he seemed chipper and happy, almost unfazed by his ordeal at the hands of the KGB. Perhaps it was the adrenaline of being reunited with his family that lifted his spirits. As shown in “The Courier,” Wynne had little hope of seeing freedom ever again. I hope we all get free from this virus and the damper it has put on our lives since early 2020. I think seeing someone who made a true sacrifice in an effort to save his family, his country and the world should put having to wear a mask and get a couple of vaccine injections into perspective.

“The Courier” get four stars out of five.

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Review of “Avengers: Infinity War”

Thanos (Josh Brolin) is on a quest to find all the Infinity Stones and put into motion his plan to kill off half the humanoid life in the universe. His plan is to end overpopulation and stretch available resources for the survivors improving the quality of life. His world of Titan suffered from overpopulation and a lack of resources destroying his home. One of the stones, the Tesseract, is in the possession of Loki (Tom Hiddleston) on the ship with the survivors from Asgard. Bruce Banner in the form of the Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) tries to stop him but fails and Heimdall (Idris Elba) opens a portal and sends Hulk to Earth where he crashes into the Sanctum Santorum of Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) who possesses the Time Stone. Dr. Strange opens a portal and gets in touch with Tony Stark (Robert Downey, Jr.) and he and Banner tell him about Thanos. Thanos sends his “children” to Earth to find the Stones that are on Earth while he heads to Knowhere to find another of the Stones and destroys the Asgardian ship as he leaves. An unconscious Thor (Chris Hemsworth) lands on the windshield of the Guardians of the Galaxy’s ship. When he regains consciousness he tells them about Thanos and learns Gamora (Zoe Saldana) is his adopted child. The Guardians split up in an effort to stop Thanos while Stark, Dr. Strange and Peter Parker (Tom Holland), a.k.a. Spider-Man, hitch a ride on one of Thanos’ henchmen’s ships heading off to Titan.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is a massive film running two and a half hours and featuring practically every main character from all 18 preceding movies. It doesn’t waste any time with unnecessary backstory as it expects you to bring some knowledge into the theater with you. This movie should be no one’s entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. You need to have done your homework before you sit down to watch. Some might consider that a weakness but I believe it is a tribute to the fans that have invested their time and money into a franchise that developed a vision over the course of the last decade. This is the prize for their loyalty and it is a very well-crafted prize at that.

There are moments that will take the audience aback in “Avengers: Infinity War.” There are surprising choices that fly in the face of conventional superhero filmmaking, including an ending that can only be considered a downer. Sniffles coming from some members of the audience I saw the film with are also an indication this isn’t your average special effects and spandex endeavor. There are universe-shaking events in the film. While I’m well aware we are getting a second film currently scheduled for release on May 3, 2019 that may completely undo everything that has happened in “Avengers: Infinity War” I don’t believe it will be a complete reset to where we were prior to this film.

There are some real-world practical reasons for this. First, actors are coming to the ends of their contracts. Chris Evans says the next movie will be his last for Marvel. The relentless passage of time means it’s getting harder to get in the kind of shape Chris Hemsworth and several other actors have transformed their bodies into for these movies. There are also the artistic desires of the actors to do something else that doesn’t require them to stand in front of a green screen for months at a time and pretend to fight giant alien monsters.

Then there’s the money. According to the website boxofficemojo.com, including “Avengers: Infinity War’s” opening weekend, the 19 Marvel Cinematic Universe films have a worldwide gross of over $15-billion. Actors may sign early contracts that pay fairly small amounts of money to start but as they sign new deals their paycheck demands get bigger. Walt Disney Studios, which owns Marvel, is willing to pay up to a point but they also know there are actors that would sell their souls to be in a successful franchise film. Eventually the established actors price themselves out of a job and since their characters often have multiple variations (like Captain America having been at least three different people in the comics) it is fairly simple to replace a highly paid actor for someone cheaper. All these reasons are why the Marvel Cinematic Universe prior to “Infinity War” will likely look different after the next film.

All of that may play a part in the behind-the-scenes drama but all the fans care about is the drama up on the screen and “Avengers: Infinity War” certainly has more than enough to keep them interested. Probably the most interesting character in the film is the Big Bad, Thanos himself. While his methods are clearly evil his motive is in a twisted way noble: He’s trying to improve the quality of life for everyone left alive if his plan is successful. He sees himself as brave for making the hard choice for every intelligent being in the universe. His own world wouldn’t listen when he suggested this plan and it is now a barren and lifeless wasteland. His methodology is to save the world you have to destroy it first. Of course those most affected by his plan, that is the half that will die, have no say in what happens to them. Thanos considers that fair since who lives and dies is decided by random chance. Your wealth and power or lack thereof isn’t a consideration. He sees himself as a universal savior with a mission so important he will not let anyone interfere. It is similar to an episode from the original run of “Star Trek.” The episode is called “The Conscience of the King” and tells the story of a colony facing starvation and the leader killing some of the colonists to save the rest. The main difference is not every world is facing the same problems as Titan and they don’t all need this drastic solution. It’s rare for a superhero movie to bring up such heady ideas and vexing moral dilemmas but “Avengers: Infinity War” does just that.

While all this might sound very dour the script written by Christopher Markus and Stephen McFeely has lots of lighter moments and jokes peppered through the first half. Everyone from Tony Stark to Dr. Strange to Mantis gets a chance to make the audience laugh. While not as joke-packed as “Thor: Ragnarok” or “Guardians of the Galaxy: Vol. 2,” “Avengers: Infinity War” still manages to find some lighter moments until the darker parts of the plot kick in.

And there is darkness in the film over and above Thanos’ plan to wipe out half the intelligent life in the universe. There are cruel choices some characters make that are mind-blowing in their effect. It is once again a wildly unconventional choice for a superhero film and Marvel should be commended for not sticking to the tried and true formula they’ve implemented since 2008’s “Iron Man.”

The main problem with the film is its sheer size. The story jumps from planet to planet and hero to hero very quickly. There are times when you’re not sure where you are in the story and what happened the last time you were with this particular group. There are multiple battles going on simultaneously so all the action tends to become muddled despite the various fights’ different locations. The CGI-heavy battles also make it difficult at times to tell what each character is doing, especially in hand-to-hand combat. A scene set in Scotland at night is particularly muddy. No event in the film really gets a chance to breathe despite its emotional heft or importance. These are minor complaints but they became more noticeable as the film went on.

“Avengers: Infinity War” is rated PG-13 for intense sci-fi violence, action throughout, language and some crude references. There are numerous battles on both large and small scales. We see a couple of characters impaled on various spear-type implements. A character is thrown from a cliff. Numerous monster-like creatures are killed in battle in various violent ways. Many of them are shown being cut in half by a protective energy shield. Several characters turn into dust. Foul language is scattered and mild.

Whether you like superhero movies or not you have to be impressed with the technical and logistical achievement of “Avengers: Infinity War.” The movie’s Wikipedia page lists approximately 50 actors with roles of various sizes, some of which could be considered walk-ons at best along with thousands of extras. There were filming locations in New York City, Atlanta, the Philippines, Scotland, and England. There were numerous visual effects houses used to bring Thanos, his children and all the other alien creatures to life and produce the environments where all the action takes place. The estimated production costs “Avengers: Infinity War” are estimated to be between $300-million and $400-million, likely making it the most expensive movie ever made. With all these moving parts and the enormous cost it’s a wonder it was released on time or ever got made at all. The fact that the film lives up to its enormous hype and is very entertaining and emotional affecting is nothing short of a miracle.

“Avengers: Infinity War” gets five stars.

While it is likely the Avengers will take the top spot at the box office for at least the next couple of weeks there will be three new movies hoping you are looking for something different this week. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Bad Samaritan—

Overboard—

Tully—

Listen to The Fractured Frame for the latest in movie, TV and streaming entertainment news. It’s available wherever you get podcasts. Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Thor: Ragnarok”

Thor Odinson (Chris Hemsworth) finally returns to Asgard after his quest to make sense of his dreams of Ragnarok, or the destruction of everything. When he arrives he sees Odin (Anthony Hopkins) but knows instantly it is actually Loki (Tom Hiddleston). Loki takes Thor to Earth where he left him but the retirement home has been torn down. Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) guides Thor and Loki to Norway where Odin is standing on a cliff looking over the ocean. He tells the two he is weak and can no longer hold back Hela (Cate Blanchett), the Goddess of Death. When she returns to Asgard she will become more powerful than even Thor. Hela appears and Thor tries to defeat her with his hammer but she catches and destroys it. Loki calls for the Bifrost Bridge but Hela also hops on and is able to knock both Thor and Loki out of the transport beam. Thor lands on a planet called Sakaar, is captured by Scrapper 142 (Tessa Thompson) and is brought to meet the leader named the Grandmaster (Jeff Goldblum). The Grandmaster runs gladiator fights to keep the masses entertained and the only way Thor can leave the planet is to fight and defeat the champion: It’s Hulk (Mark Ruffalo). His quinjet crashed on Sakaar two years earlier and he’s been in the Hulk form the whole time. When they meet in the arena the fight ends in a tie. Thor tries to convince Hulk to join him, find a way off Sakaar and return to Asgard to take on Hela. During his time on the planet, Thor learns that Scrapper 142 is the last surviving Valkyrie; a group of female warriors that fought for Odin in his war against Hela. Back on Asgard, Hela has made Skurge (Karl Urban) her executioner but he’s having second thoughts about working with the new queen. Heimdall (Idris Elba) has stolen the sword that opens the Bifrost Bridge and is trying to hide as many Asgardians as possible to keep them safe. Things are looking dark for the God of Thunder and the citizens of Asgard.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is a much more light-hearted and funny film than any other in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU). It never takes itself terribly seriously even though the events within the comic book story universe are very life and death. It makes for a film that is both funny and exciting in equal measure. It’s a rare feat for a movie to have laughs and action with one or the other not getting shortchanged in the process.

According to an interview director Taika Waititi did with MTV at Comic Con, about 80 percent of the dialog in the movie was improvised on set. This usually makes for a film that is choppy and disjointed with lots of quick edits so the best lines, along with the ones that move the story in the proper direction, wind up in the final cut. “Thor: Ragnarok” doesn’t have that feel. The director and stars must have been very comfortable with the story and confident in their improvisation abilities to come up with a funny movie and coherent narrative.

With a cast this large it’s difficult for a secondary character to stand out; but Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster certainly makes an impression. Charming, quirky and evil, the Grandmaster is a hedonistic dictator looking to be entertained at all times. He enjoys the blood sport that brings crowds to his arena and loves being the larger-than-life holographic ringmaster projected in the center of the ring, towering over his subjects. Goldblum’s non sequiturs often go unresolved and those that do are preceded by a fair bit of yammering. Those familiar with Goldblum and have seen his recent interviews will notice a similarity between his speaking style and that of the Grandmaster. It appears to be the perfect actor in the perfect role.

Cate Blanchett seems to be having the most fun in her role of Hela. Blanchett is at times smoldering, sarcastic, pitiful and vengeful. All of it makes sense and all of it is played with just the right intensity. She never chews the scenery so much for it to become camp despite gnawing on a few sets from time to time. Blanchett is measured in her excess and it makes for a particularly delicious villain.

The most of the rest of the cast turns in energetic and entertaining performances. Tom Hiddleston’s Loki is finally given a chance to do more than just be a hissing, snotty bad guy. Idris Elba’s Heimdall is allowed to be a proper hero. Tessa Thompson is an entertaining and worthy addition to the under-staffed stable of Marvel female heroes. If I have to take points off for any performance it is Mark Ruffalo’s Bruce Banner. Ruffalo’s Banner acts like a meth addict that needs a hit. While we only see the human version of the Hulk for a relatively brief amount of time, Banner is twitchy and frankly annoying. He complains about being freaked out and whines to Thor about being on an alien planet. It’s the one performance that feels like it was a decision made on set at the time of shooting and it was the wrong choice.

“Thor: Ragnarok” is rated PG-13 for brief suggestive material, action and intense sci-fi violence. The only thing suggestive I remember is a reference to an orgy on board one of the Grandmaster’s spaceships. There are numerous fights with scenes of soldiers and others stabbed and impaled by swords. There is very little blood. One character loses an eye. A giant wolf attacks and bites Hulk causing green blood to come out. Foul language is scattered and mild.

With films of this type the majority of the time everyone on screen is CGI. If you see a character thrown 100 feet through the air and crash into and through a brick wall you can be certain no actors or stunt people were harmed in the making of that scene. Much of “Thor: Ragnarok” has been created in the processors of computers. That makes the achievement of the film that much more impressive. Despite all the special effects, costumes, makeup and other worldly locales, “Thor: Ragnarok” still manages to be a superhero movie with a great deal of heart and humor that is dependent on the performances of very real and talented actors. Director Taika Waititi has pulled off a minor miracle and made a funny and entertaining film involving Thor. I wasn’t sure that could be done.

“Thor: Ragnarok” gets five stars.

This week there are a comedy sequel and a train of death coming to a movie screen near you. I’ll be seeing at least one of the following:

Daddy’s Home 2—

Murder on the Orient Express—

Listen to The Fractured Frame podcast for the latest movie news and more, follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman123@gmail.com.

Review of “Doctor Strange”

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon. He takes on cases that are difficult but he feels he can help the patient recover and live while turning down cases he is concerned might besmirch his perfect record. His former girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) is a trauma surgeon in the same hospital. While they are no longer in a relationship they are still friends. While driving to an awards banquet in his honor, Strange has a car crash that severely damages his hands. The nerve damage is so severe he can no longer operate. Strange is lost and searching for some kind of remedy while at the same time driving Christine away with his self-pity and lashing out. His physical therapist tells Strange about a former patient of his named Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who had a spinal cord injury that confined him to a wheelchair but had found a treatment that let him walk again. Finding Pangborn playing basketball with his friends, Strange begs to find out how he was cured. Pangborn tells him to go to Kamar-Taj in Tibet. As Strange is walking through the streets of Kathmandu asking people if they know where Kamar-Taj is, he is seen by Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor). Saving Strange from some street thugs looking to rob him, Mordo takes Strange to Kamar-Taj to meet The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a teacher of the mystic arts. Showing Strange there are other realities besides the one he knows, Strange begins to study and soon is able to cast spells that conjure shields and weapons as well as open portals that allow instant transportation to just about anywhere on the planet. The Ancient One also teaches Strange about the dangerous realms where creatures of great evil dwell and to avoid being seduced by their power. She tells him of one of her former students, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), who was tempted by a dark power and is trying to use a forbidden spell stolen from The Ancient One’s library to open our world up to being taken over by this evil creature. Kaecilius and his followers have attacked and destroyed one of the three sanctums that protect the Earth from threats of the metaphysical kind. It’s now up to Strange to use his newfound powers to protect the Earth from Kaecilius and a dark evil from another dimension.

“Doctor Strange” is a middling entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. It doesn’t have the emotional punch of “Captain America: The Winter Soldier” of even the first “Iron Man” film. It has some interesting ideas about realms beyond this universe and terrific performances from Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwetel Ejiofor and Benedict Wong. It also has some of the same problems as many other comic book movies.

My biggest issue with the movie is the miscast villain. Mads Mikkelsen is a great actor as he has shown in the TV show “Hannibal” and numerous movies. Kaecilius is a role that doesn’t allow Mikkelsen to use his great ability of quiet menace. Kaecilius is a flashy villain that casts spells and makes a big show of his power. While Mikkelsen does an admirable job of portraying Kaecilius as both thoughtful and ruthless, the part doesn’t match up to the actor’s strengths. Either the role needed to be written with less action, allowing Kaecilius’ acolytes to do all the fighting and running and he gets to be quiet and menacing, or another actor should have been cast. The part of the action villain doesn’t really fit Mikkelsen.

The story also lacks emotional heft. It never made me feel like the characters were the kinds of people that I was concerned for. At times, I wanted worse things to happen to Strange as after the accident he becomes even more self-obsessed and cruel, especially to Rachel McAdams’ Christine Palmer who shows him nothing but concern and compassion. I realize the character has to be portrayed as selfish in order for him to come around and be a hero but the script by director Scott Derrickson along with Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill does almost too good a job at making Strange a monster before putting him on the path or redemption.

Speaking of McAdams, she is criminally underused in the film. While her character, which shares the name of a comic book character known as the Night Nurse, might have a recurring role in future films, it will likely be either as a damsel in distress or as a love interest for the hero: In other words, more of the same for women in comic book movies. McAdams does a great job in the limited time she has on screen but both the actress and the character could have done a great deal more other than being a stereotypical doormat for Strange.

Aside from those problems, “Doctor Strange” is at times a visual acid trip. While I’ve never personally used a hallucinogen I can’t imagine the sights being much different than those when The Ancient One sends Strange on a quick journey into the multiverse. Between that and when Strange and Mordo battle Kaecilius and his followers in what looks to be a M. C. Escher-inspired New York landscape, “Doctor Strange” has some of the most inspired visuals of any MCU film. The non-acid trip parts of the movie look great too, including the car crash that ironically starts Doctor Strange on his journey and the introduction of the Cloak of Levitation which seems to have a personality that both matches and clashes with the wearer. There are some genuinely amazing sights to see in “Doctor Strange.”

I saw the IMAX 3D version and while the added dimension really never pops off the screen in an entertaining way, the larger format certainly made the movie feel more immersive. Still I don’t know if the added cost was worth it.

“Doctor Strange” is rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence. The violence is both fantastical and intense. Kaecilius and his followers conjure spears that look like glass. There is also a whip that is made of orange energy that looks like it burns. While it isn’t directly shown, one character is beheaded. Another character appears to lose an arm. There are numerous fights of both the magical and non-magical kind. Blood is minimal. The car crash, while clearly computer generated, might scare smaller children. Strange is shown being thrown around inside the car and his hands being crushed. Foul language is scattered and consists of words often heard on basic cable shows.

For all its mind-bending visuals and talk of the multiverse, “Doctor Strange” is a pretty conventional superhero origin story. Stephen Strange is a flawed character that needs something extraordinary to open his eyes to the world (and worlds) beyond his knowledge. Most who become super beings from relatively normal beginnings bring along some kind of flaw or issue that needs to receive an other worldly kick in the pants to straighten them out. Much like Tony Stark and Thor Odinson, Stephen Strange was presented with a problem he couldn’t fix and had to set aside his ego to become a better person. As superhero origin stories go “Doctor Strange” isn’t breaking any new ground. It also doesn’t give us an emotional connection to the characters that would set this film above the middle of the Marvel pack. It isn’t great but it is pretty good.

“Doctor Strange” gets four magical stars out of five.

This week, the holidays arrive early, the help arrives to find strangeness afoot and the aliens just arrive. I’ll see and review at least one of the following:

Almost Christmas—

Arrival—

Shut In—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and send emails to stanthemovieman@comcast.net.

Review of “The Imitation Game”

Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant mathematician who usually rubs people the wrong way due to his complete lack of social skills. When he’s called into the office of Cdr. Alastair Denniston (Charles Dance) to discuss working on a top secret project for the British Government during the Second World War, he nearly talks himself out of the interview. Eventually, Turing convinces Denniston that he’s the right man for the job and he’s introduced to the rest of the team who will try to devise a way to break the Nazi Enigma code machine. Turing immediately alienates the rest of the group and sets himself apart to work alone. The leader of the group, Hugh Alexander (Matthew Goode) files a formal complaint against Turing hoping to get him removed from the team. Turing writes a letter to Prime Minister Winston Churchill and is suddenly put in charge. Turing continues to be inapproachable and brusque with his co-workers while he builds a machine that he believes will be able to sort through the trillions of possible code combinations of Enigma. Deciding he needs more help, Turing puts a crossword puzzle in the local newspaper with a phone number to call for anyone who can solve it in less than 10 minutes. Several people succeed including Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), the only woman who responds, and they are invited to take a test. Giving the respondents another crossword to solve, this time in less than six minutes, Joan and another young man are the only ones who succeed and are then told about the top secret work they will be doing by Maj. Gen. Stewart Menzies (Mark Strong), a member of the British intelligence agency MI-6. Joan and Turing become friendly as she doesn’t attach any personal insult to his odd personality. Joan is able to show Turing that he needs to work with his team and that won’t happen unless they like him. Turing makes awkward gestures of friendship to the group which breaks the ice and leads the team to begin helping with the machine. Despite all the secrets with which they are dealing, Turing has the biggest secret of all: He’s a homosexual, which is illegal under British law, and that would get him banned from working on the project and sent to jail.

“The Imitation Game” is joyous and heartbreaking, thrilling and infuriating, funny and sad. Told in a series of flashbacks that look at Turing’s unhappy childhood, his work at the Bletchley Radio Factory that was a front for his secret military work and the period after the war when a burglary at his home started in motion the events that would lead to his pleading guilty to gross indecency and lead to his chemical castration, “The Imitation Game” is perhaps a perfect movie that I wish had ended differently. Not that the ending needs to be changed; it’s history that needs an overhaul. Turing is the father of modern computer science. His codebreaking machine is thought to be responsible for shortening the war in Europe by over two years and saving an estimated 14 million lives. His work is the basis for research into artificial intelligence. He should have won at least one Nobel Prize and been taught in high schools all over the world. Sadly that isn’t the case because of who he loved—other men. Turing is ultimately a tragic figure and the perfect subject of a movie. He knew both great triumphs and enormous tragedies and the prejudice of the time led to him taking his own life in 1954 at the age of 41.

Benedict Cumberbatch is my favorite to win the Best Actor Oscar. His portrayal of Turing is mesmerizing. When Turing is working out problems, either mathematical or personal, his thought process can be seen streaming across Cumberbatch’s face. His eyes dart from side to side yet never lock on anything as the biochemical computer in his skull races to find a solution. Cumberbatch is so good in this role it will be difficult for him to top it. Yet, I think he probably will as he is constantly full of surprises. The intensity and emotion of his work in the film is incredible. There’s very little left to be said.

I can see Keira Knightley being nominated for a Supporting Actress Oscar for her work as Joan Clarke. Knightley plays the part almost like Joan is Turing’s big sister. She understands his genius as she is nearly as smart as he is and his inability to behave normally. For both of them, being normal is highly overrated. Knightley’s role as Joan may be overemphasized when compared to the historical record; however, Joan in the film is the conduit by which Turing becomes something understandable. Turing is at first glance an unlikable character. While we know he’s a genius he knows it as well and he doesn’t mind reminding anyone who will listen how smart he is. Joan is able to soften Turing’s rough edges and show the audience the decent guy on the inside. Her guidance in the film leads to the breakthrough that made Turing’s machine work. Knightley brings her usual grace and poise to the role of Joan. She also adds a touch of fun as she gently prods Turing to be a more likable person.

The rest of the cast is also excellent with special mention to Mark Strong. Playing the MI-6 agent Stewart Menzies, Strong is especially sneaky and at times frightening. Strong’s performance gives the audience the impression he could make anyone disappear and there would be no questions which is perfect for a shadowy character in World War II. While Menzies at times uses questionable tactics, Strong is able to make these seem suave and mysterious. Charles Dance plays Cdr. Denniston as a no-nonsense military man with little time for Turing’s personality peccadillos. Once Turing is working at Bletchley Park, anytime Denniston is on screen usually means trouble. Dance plays the role as if he was a king and Turing was a peasant. That apparent desire to be the undisputed ruler of the Bletchley project means the two are going to clash and Dance is able to make the character both dislikable and sympathetic. While not on screen that much, Dance makes the most of his performance.

“The Imitation Game” is rated PG-13 for some sexual references, mature thematic material and historical smoking. There are a couple of dirty jokes told that leave out most of the dirty part. Concepts of homosexuality and its perception in British society at the time are a central theme. Several people are shown smoking cigarettes. There are no language issues.

It’s rare that a movie without spaceships, aliens, monsters and other flashy special effects grabs and holds my interest the way “The Imitation Game” did. It’s a story that, despite some historical inaccuracies, needs to be told to everyone. If you live in a free country, Alan Turing is probably at least partially responsible and this film about his life and contributions is a spectacular piece of work. SEE IT!!!

“The Imitation Game” gets five stars out of five.

Another historical figure gets the big screen treatment along with the third in a series of action films. I’ll see and review one of these, both of these or something else entirely. You never can tell as I’m unpredictable.

Selma—

Tak3n—

Follow me on Twitter @moviemanstan and email at stanthemovieman@comcast.net.