Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role of Dr. Strange
The Doctor is in
The Marvel movie universe enjoys a fun and entertaining expansion with Doctor Strange, which stars Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role of a brilliant, idiosyncratic neurosurgeon desperate to regain his acumen after surviving a near-fatal car wreck.
To this end, Stephen Strange – yes, his name really is Strange – journeys to Nepal, where the requisite ingredients of a superhero movie kick in.
Strange’s therapy and training, a combination of Eastern philosophy, martial arts and CGI special effects, is supervised by the Ancient One (a bald but classy Tilda Swinton), with assistance from Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong). Even though Strange is the titular hero, Ejiofor and Wong manage to elevate their roles above mere sidekicks.
Strange immediately proves adept at hocus-pocus, which allows director/screenwriter Scott Derrickson to cruise through the obligatory origin-movie exposition with speed and clarity.
The resident villain is Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, once a student of the Ancient One’s and now bent on altering time and space to suit his own nefarious ends. Mikkelsen too gets a fair amount of screen time to establish his character and, perhaps more importantly, have some fun.
There’s not much for Rachel McAdams to do, playing Strange’s colleague and former (and likely future) romantic interest, but she’s a good sport. Michael Stahlberg, also playing a Strange colleague, and Benjamin Bratt barely register. Still, it doesn’t hurt an actor’s career to be affiliated with a big-buck franchise.
There is, of course, the obligatory cameo by Marvel Comics founder Stan Lee (here glimpsed on a bus), as well as end-credit bits that hint at future adventures to come. If that weren’t enough, the end credits also announce “Doctor Strange will return” – and you can bet he’ll be interacting with other Marvel heroes.
For those who possibly feared that it might end up like The Smurfs or Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Trolls is a sweet surprise, an eager-to-please animated feature that does just that – for audiences of all ages.
Inspired by the popular line of dolls created by Thomas Dam, the film’s storyline is simplicity itself. Years before, the perennially happy and cheerful Trolls fled their captors, the dreaded Bergen, a miserable and misshapen beings convinced true happiness can only be attained by eating Trolls.
Now, the wicked Bergen “Chef” (voiced by Christine Baranski) has found their hiding place and whisked several away to certain digestion, inspiring Princess Poppy (voiced by Anna Kendrick) and reluctant hero Branch (voiced by Justin Timberlake) to embark on a desperate rescue mission.
As plots go, Trolls’ is less important than the impish, bubbly sensibilities in which it’s conveyed, which also incorporates nice messages about loyalty, friendship and encouragement without sacrificing the comedy.
Kids will enjoy the colorful, splashy animation (even better in 3-D) and upbeat musical numbers, while their elders will enjoy the jokes and pop-culture references (including a classic bit on Simon and Garfunkel’s “The Sounds of Silence”). Director Mike Mitchell (of Shrek Forever After and Alvin and the Chipmunks: Chipwrecked) and co-director Walt Dohrn (making his feature debut) and keep things light, energetic and constantly on the move – all the better to keep the intended audience from getting restless.
There’s also an enthusiastic and formidable voice-over cast, with fun contributions from Zooey Deschanel, Russell Brand, Gwen Stefani, Jeffrey Tambor, John Cleese, Christopher Mintz-Plasse and especially Baranski, having a high old time voicing what is essentially the film’s resident Cruella deVil.
Trolls has been expertly assembled and promoted to appeal to the widest possible audience, and it would be no surprise if we’re seeing more Trolls on the big screen in the near future.
Appearances deceptive in The Handmaiden
Based on Sarah Waters’ 2002 best-seller Fingersmith, Park Chan-wook’s The Handmaiden (originally titled Ahgaasi) finds the acclaimed filmmaker in an expansive yet intimate, and frequently self-indulgent mood.
That said, the proceedings – divided into three chapters – demand a degree of self-indulgence on the part of its maker(s), as the story itself indulges in various dramatic, sometimes melodramatic, twists throughout. It’s both a grand facade and a grand charade, set against the backdrop of Japan’s occupation of Korea in the first half of the twentieth century.
Kim Tae-ri plays Sook-hee, a deceptively demure and waif-like con artist who becomes the handmaiden to Lady Hideko (Kim Min-hee), an elegant young heiress who, like so many of the wealthy and affluent, seems to float through life in a dreamy daze, uncaring of the political and social turmoil simmering around her. It is here that Park indulges in stylish satire of upper-crust decadence with a basis in history.
The film’s second chapter offers much of the same information as the first, although from a different perspective that doesn’t so much clarify things as further complicate them, as well as changing (in some cases greatly) the motivations of the characters. It’s also kinkier, more intense, and succeeds in throwing the viewer off-balance – as well as interested enough to see what happens next.
The third chapter ties things together, in mostly satisfying fashion, with Sook-hee and Hideko taking their relationship, which is not at all what it initially seemed, to its ultimate conclusion, as well as taking Fujiwara (Ha Jung-woo), initially seeming to be the master manipulator, to his ultimate conclusion – which offers a vivid reminder that, yes, Park is the man who directed Oldboy (2003). Pushing the envelope is nothing new to him. Indeed, he seems to savor it, as The Handmaiden succeeds in demonstrating. It’s not a perfect film but it’s a fabulous curio. (In Japanese and Korean with English subtitles)
The Handmaiden opens Friday
Mark Burger can be heard Friday mornings on the “Two Guys Named Chris” radio show on Rock-92 (92.3 FM). Copyright 2016, Mark Burger