Review: Doctor Strange (USA 2016)

Not to damn Doctor Strange with faint praise, but the film definitely reaches the upper echelons of Marvel movies, hitting that entertaining and workmanlike sweet spot while not quite ever achieving cinematic brilliance. Doctor Strange is, as has been widely commented on, far more visually arresting than most Marvel films, building on the visual creativity of Inception without that film’s deadly dullness.

And the cast is all game and on target, from the playful Tilda Swinton to the spot-on Benedict Cumberbatch as the titular doctor, though Chiwetel Ejiofor and Mads Mikkelsen are largely wasted in one-note roles. The adapters also do a good job tinkering with Lee and Ditko’s original conception of the character, keeping what works and altering what does not (Mordo in particular is similar in name only). That said, like the similarly fun but disposable Guardians of the Galaxy, I don’t see Doctor Strange ever becoming a perennial – the plot is too predictable, the hero’s journey too by the numbers, and the characters too flat to make this a classic.

2 1/2 out of 4 stars (Good).

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Let Sleeping Corpses Lie (Spain/Italy 1974)

This Spanish/Italian co-production is surprisingly smart for its era, mingling straight-up Romero-esque zombie action with the anti-authoritarian paranoia and ecological concerns of The Crazies or Grapes of Death. Continue reading

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Review: Daguerreotype (Japan/France 2017)

Kiyoshi Kurosawa’s latest horror film represents a major change in at least one respect. Filming in French, with a non-Japanese cast, takes Kurosawa out of his comfort zone, but he demonstrates that his touch with mood and actors remains constant in any language. And in Daguerreotype, Kurosawa avails himself of some of the best talent France has to offer, including Tahar Rahim (A Prophet), Olivier Gourmet (The Son) and Mathieu Amalric (A Christmas Tale, Quantum of Solace). Continue reading

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Blade of the Immortal (Japan 2017)

Takashi Miike’s Blade of the Immortal is an adaptation of the long-running (30 volumes) and extremely popular supernatural samurai manga about an immortal ronin named Manji. I never made it past the first volume of the series, but it’s easy to see how difficult a task it was to take the convoluted and drawn-out events of that series and compresses them into a dense two and a half hours. While coherent for those not familiar with the manga (unlike, say the Attack on Titan films), the film is littered with shorthand political machinations and the stubs of characters whose importance is undercut by limited screen time. Despite those limitations, Miike manages to seed striking images and themes into his ultraviolence, turning the source material into a vehicle for his filmic obsessions. Continue reading

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Trick ‘R Treat (USA/Canada 2007)

Trick ‘R Treat is a interesting recent take on the ’60s and ’80s phenomenon of the horror anthology film with some good points to recommend it.  I enjoyed the novelty of an anthology that carefully weaved the threads of its different stories into contemporaneous and occasionally overlapping narratives set on the same night in the same town, and Dylan Baker is always welcome fun (Anna Paquin? Not so much.). Continue reading

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Review: The Rift (aka Endless Descent) (Spain/USA 1990)

I was poking around in Amazon Prime the other day when I came across a movie I’d never heard of, The Rift. Cause for excitement? Not necessarily, low budget underwater monster flicks are not uncommon, and rarely entertaining enough to justify the time. But what caught my eye was one name in the credits  – Spanish director Juan Piquer Simon! Continue reading

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Review: Helter Skelter (Japan 2012)

Based on a manga by enfant terrible Kyoko Okazaki, this collaboration between photographer-turned-director Mika Ninagawa and controversial idol/actress Erica Sawajiri is a fascinating bit of Cronenbergian body horror set in the world of fashion and plastic surgery. Continue reading

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Review: The Throne (South Korea 2015)

The Throne is a perfect example of turgid, by-the-numbers Korean historical drama. This looong story of about a medieval king who infamously locked his son in a rice chest for 8 days until he died is full of weeping and tearful emotion, full of pretty costumes, and utterly lacking in narrative propulsion. Continue reading

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Review: Death Warrior aka Olum Savascisi (Turkey 1984)

I’ve seen a lot of crazy old Turkish genre movies over the years, ranging from the relatively well-crafted and genuinely enjoyable Kilink and Tarkan films to bananas mindbenders like Turkish Superman and 3 Dev Adam, in which Turkish El Santo and Turkish Captain America team up to take out evil Turkish Spiderman. Hell, I’ve sat through the entire Onar Films back catalog put out by Bill Barounis back in the day, and screened unsubtitled bootlegs with live translations from very patient friend-of-CSB Mehmet. So when I say Death Warrior (screened last night at the new Brooklyn Alamo) is the most incoherently gonzo Turkish movie I’ve seen yet, I know of what I speak. Continue reading

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Review: Reign of Assassins aka Jian Yu (Taiwan/China/Hong Kong 2010)

Reign of Assassins is one of the best wu xia films of the past decade, marrying old school pleasures with comic book aesthetics and inventive action instead of relying on the grim seriousness mandated by the Hero model. Characterization is often a weak point in the genre but director Su Chao-pin turns it into a strength, casting a combination of reliable warhorses and talented new faces who imbue even minor parts with dignity and depth. Continue reading

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