Category Archives: Movies

Watching DOCTOR STRANGE

drstrangemovie

I’ve been looking forward to this one, and I was not disappointed, even though they did NOT use the odd variation of my Doctor Strange logo that appeared with a lot of the publicity images in the actual film, but went instead with the ever boring Trajan font with a gold metallic Photoshop effect. It’s the one on many of the newest movie images. Sigh.

When I first discovered Marvel comics in the early 1960s, I loved the original Doctor Strange stories by Steve Ditko and Stan Lee. I was already a fan of magic and fantasy, and this was the biggest use of it in comics at the time. Ditko’s visuals were mind-bending and wonderful in every way. Lee’s dialogue was corny, with some silly made-up magic words and names, but heartfelt all the same.

The movie, in my view, takes the best of the original ideas and builds on them in many ways, with respect, intelligence and even some humor. It puts the characters in a believable present without taking away what I liked about them in the comics. Yes, there are some obvious changes that some have found troubling—The Ancient One, Strange’s teacher being played by Tilda Swinton rather than an Asian actor being the main one I’ve heard about—but I thought she did an excellent job. Benedict Cumberbatch was superb in the title role. All the actors were great. The only role I found predictable and kind of one-note was that of the main villain Kaecilius, a former student of The Ancient One who has rebelled and stolen a spell to bring the Dreaded Dormammu and his dark world to Earth, or rather, Earth to it.

The effects and visual look of this movie are truly mind-boggling. Many had a sort of mad clockwork approach that I first remember seeing in some of the Harry Potter films, but taking that idea to artist M.C. Escher impossibilities and beyond. Even the little things like makeup that mimics very real scars was impressive.

Some of the Marvel films I’ve seen, like the first Avengers one, were too much all-out action and fighting. I thought this was a better balance of story and action, character moments and violence. Many times in the film I had feelings of “yes, that was done right.” Never did I feel bored. You can’t ask for more than that in a film of this type, I think.

Highly recommended.

Watching THE PEANUTS MOVIE (2015)

ThePeanutsMovieWe watched this on Amazon Prime last night and enjoyed it. From stills I’d seen I thought the digital animation might bother me, but it worked okay for the most part. There are some disconnects between the very Schulz-like black lines on the faces and the more sculpted body shapes and hair. Occasionally I found myself looking at that rather than enjoying the story, particularly when things went a bit weird, as in one scene where Schroeder’s eyebrows went over his hair, but mostly I got used to the look pretty quickly and I feel it does capture the Schulz characters at least as well as the old hand-drawn animated features on TV. The digital animation gets into some very detailed backgrounds and landscapes at times that seem too three dimensional and precise, as when Snoopy in his flying doghouse is dogfighting with the Red Baron over Paris, but in all it was visually fun.

The story is well done, a collection of short episodes and gags combined into scenes of varying lengths, but none longer than about five minutes, I think. This helps preserve the flavor of the original comic strip more than some of the later TV cartoons, and much like the original “Charlie Brown Christmas” one. There is some development to the story as it goes along as well, but it’s light enough to work in this format. There are changes from the strip that make sense in a movie, such as having Peppermint Patty and Marcie in the same school and class as Charlie Brown and his gang. And there are two major plot elements that are new or carried much further than the strip, depending on how you look at it: love interests for Snoopy (a female pilot) and Charlie Brown (the little red-haired girl). I found both charming and in a way kind of satisfying.

Charlie Brown and Snoopy get the most screen time. Many of the regulars are here, but Linus gets less screen time than you might expect compared to his large role in the strip, and Lucy is also somewhat sidelined. In all, it was fun and well worth watching right through to the end credits. And Charles Schulz’s line drawings of the characters do make appearances at times throughout, just to remind the viewer of where this all came from, a nice touch.

Recommended.

Watching THE HOBBIT, THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES

HobbitArmiesIf I was required to pick one book from the thousands in my home and the thousands more I’ve read as my favorite of all time, it would be “The Hobbit” by J.R.R. Tolkien. It’s been so since I first read it around age twelve, and I’ve reread it dozens of times since. While I did not initially warm to Peter Jackson’s version of “The Lord of the Rings,” I came around to it and now like it a lot, so of course seeing all three Hobbit films was a must. Having found a place in my head for Jackson’s version of Tolkien, I was able to enjoy and appreciate his version of “The Hobbit,” even though there’s so much in it that’s not in the book. A lot of that is, I think, a matter of creating a blockbuster action film, but even more, of introducing things he and his writing team wanted to see more of and more about.

It reminds me of fan fiction in a way, like “wouldn’t it be cool if, amid the madness, a dwarf and an elf-maiden fell in love,” or “what if the orcs had giant digging worms like the Sandworms in Dune,” or “let’s see the battle between the wizards and The Necromancer.” Some of these ideas are easier to go along with than others, I admit I liked the last one. Even Tolkien himself did some tinkering with his story after the first edition saw print to deepen the connections to “Lord of the Rings,” as evidenced in his introductory note in my edition from the 1960s. And of course it was a given that Peter Jackson’s version would have lots of action and lots of fighting, especially in this last film. It’s surprisingly non-gory action, but still very violent, and strays far from Tolkien, even when it’s kind of cool, as in the feats of Legolas, who of course isn’t in Tolkien’s “Hobbit” at all.

Despite all that extra stuff, the main points of the book are covered pretty well, I thought. And Peter Jackson’s version of Middle Earth is, in my view, a pretty cool place to visit, even if it’s not that much like Tolkien’s. Looking at my well-worn copy of the book, the one with Tolkien’s actual signature tucked into the flap, I see that the  Battle of the Five Armies is covered in one chapter of twelve pages. It’s about half the film. I did appreciate the many character moments in the film, even some of the ones not in the book, and could have done without so much fighting, but maybe that’s just me. In all, I enjoyed this and all the Jackson films. I think I liked the Hobbit ones less than the LOTR ones, but I did like them. It’s not something I would bring a kid to, let them read the book, and find the films later would be my plan, but I don’t have kids of my own, so I’m not sure how realistic that is.

The end of the film is not as satisfying as the end of the LOTR films, because Jackson has spent so much time connecting his Hobbit to those films, and as viewers, we know there’s lots more trouble coming for Bilbo and the Hobbits, so that’s a little disappointing, but I suppose if you wanted to watch them all in chronological order, it makes sense. I know I’ll go back to the book again, and find more enjoyment in that in the long run, but the things accomplished in the films will also stick with me.

Recommended.

Watching GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY

GuardiansGalaxyPoster

Image © Marvel.

When I was young, and an avid science fiction and fantasy reader, I searched long and hard for anything on the large or small screens that gave me the same kind of fun as what I was reading. That changed with “200l: A Space Odyssey” and even moreso with “Star Wars.” Having seen this summer action adventure fantasy today, I can report that it delivers the fun. It doesn’t break any new ground, but it’s quite entertaining. I have to admit I’ve never read any of the comics it’s based on. I did read the early adventures of the character Star-Lord, but the version here is later and a lot different, as far as I remember. The other “heroes” were all new to me. I did enjoy seeing Thanos, one of Marvel’s best villains, well-handled here, as I’d bet his creator Jim Starlin did. For once the credits were generous, giving Jim and others creator credit, and listing many other comics creators too. Nice to see that. Of course, Stan Lee had his cameo as well.

The plot of the film is not particularly important or memorable. The interactions among the characters, in both serious and funny moments, was well handled and fun to watch. The effects were epic, but not particularly better than other recent action movies. At least there weren’t so many things going on at once most of the time, so I found things easier to follow than in other recent films. Yes, it’s full of action, but there are plenty of quieter moments, a good balance. No one character stood out for me as a favorite, but as a group, the leads were all fine. I was not as taken with Rocket, the CGI raccoon as some may have been, but he and Groot, the plant man, were well-crafted and played. In fact, at times I found them more convincing than Zoe Saldana as Gamora, who I didn’t feel was as believable in the quieter scenes. Chris Pratt as Star-Lord hit all the right notes for me, a good blend of funny and heroic while still being kind of a jerk.

In short, well worth seeing and recommended.

Watching FROZEN

Frozen

Image © Disney.

I hadn’t planned on seeing this in a theater, hadn’t read anything about it, but we’re visiting Ellen’s sister Ann’s family, and they invited us to go see it. I went in with no expectations, except that it’s a Disney animated feature, and I enjoyed the film a lot. Despite the Disney name, like “Brave” it feels more Pixar than Disney, perhaps at least in part because of Pixar’s John Lassiter directing. The story is only vaguely familiar, being “inspired” by the story “The Snow Queen” by Hans Christian Anderson. All they’ve really taken is the idea of a powerful and heartless queen of ice and snow. The rest of the film is new, and while it is a familiar Disney approach with two princess sisters, two handsome young men, a loveable animal companion (above) and comic figure (also above), there are enough new twists and turns to make it seem fresh. The animation is wonderful, my only complaint is that the young women have the extremely large eyes of manga characters, much larger than the men, something I found tended to distract me from the storytelling. There is magnificent animation and artwork based around snow and ice, lots of action (perhaps a little too much at times, but that’s the way films are these days), a good dose of humor, and fine characters that “act” convincingly. All well done, and the film is preceded by a new Mickey Mouse cartoon short that is truly an amazing blend of the oldest Mickey cartoons and new digital animation. I won’t spoil it by explaining.

Recommended.