Here's a look at the new movies I saw this week.
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejofor, Mads Mikkelsen, Rachel McAdams, and Tilda Swinton
Synopsis: By now we all have a pretty good idea of what it means to be part of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. What began with a simple movie — “Iron Man” in 2008 — has ballooned into a billion dollar Box Office industry each year. But that’s kept it interesting is the fact that each new hero feels unique, as does the world they inhabit. And that’s true of the latest Marvel film, “Dr. Strange.” Based on the comic book, and set up to be a part of the established cinematic universe, “Dr. Strange” manages to feel very different from what’s come before it. And that’s a good thing. With a strong cast and a film that explores different ideas, “Dr. Strange” is one of the best releases in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and might signal a slight shift in the focus, or at least open the door to something very different. Director Scott Derrickson, who co-wrote the screenplay, isn’t an obvious choice to helm a Marvel franchise. But when you watch this film and think about the world that it wants to create, the choice makes a lot of sense based on his previous films, many of which dealt with the supernatural. What makes “Dr. Strange” different from the rest of the cinematic universe that came before it is that it’s focus is on a supernatural, magic and spiritual realm. This isn’t the grounded world of scientific advancements, genetic mutations or whatever Thor is; this movie is aiming at something different. A large part of the film is not just the physical journey of Stephen Strange, but his spiritual journey. He is seeking healing, but what he gets is a chance to greater understand the universe. And that’s part of what makes this a fascinating journey. “Dr. Strange” also does a lot with its visual style. There’s plenty of special effects here, and that makes sense because of the kind of story the film tells. Dr. Strange and the Ancient One traffic in a different kind of world, and this film does a great job of capturing that in an interesting and appealing way. And the script injects a dose of humor, too, which helps keep the tone lighter and more engaging. The film is also blessed with some great performances from a deep cast. Much has been made about some of the casting decisions, which led to replacing traditionally Asian roles in the comic books with white actors. I can’t speak to that. But I will say the actors who were cast as part of the film sink into the roles. Cumberbatch is a gifted actor, and he plies those skills here as Strange. But he’s buoyed by a great supporting cast. I particularly enjoyed Swinton in a different kind of role as the Ancient One and Academy Award nominee Chiwetel Ejiofor, who plays Strange’s friend and fellow sorcerer Mordo. The ideological conflict that develops between the two as the film closes provides great fodder for the expansion of this world moving forward. McAdams is fine as Strange’s love interest, but sadly she’s not given enough of a character and a role here. Perhaps that can be expanded in future films, as that was one of the weaknesses of this film. Mikkelsen is great as a villain. While he doesn’t reach the chilling heights he has in projects like “Hannibal,” he works well as a foil to Cumberbatch and Swinton here. “Dr. Strange” is a different, engaging and fascinating film. I enjoyed the story, the characters and the world being built, as well as the engaging visual style. It’s a Marvel film that lives up to the hype.
Rating: PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence.
Verdict: Four stars out of four.
Starring: Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake, Zooey Deschanel, Jeffrey Tambor, Christine Baranski, and Christopher Mintz-Plasse
Synopsis: This one's for the kids... and the toy makers. I dare you to walk through Wal-Mart, Target or any other big retailer and not find some "Trolls" merchandise. But the thing is, this is a no-brainer idea. A great voice cast, bright colorful cartoon characters, and a rocking beat. What more do you need? In all seriousness, this is a pretty decent film for its style. It's not incredible, or incredibly deep, but it's fun. And it's fun in a way that works for the whole family, which is key for these kind of films. You could do a lot worse than spending a couple hours with Anna Kendrick, Justin Timberlake and the rest of this group. And I dare you to get through the movie without tapping your feet.
Rating: PG for some mild rude humor.
Verdict: Three stars out of four.
Friday, November 11 — "Arrival," "Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk," "Loving," "All Eyez On Me," "Shut-In," "Almost Christmas"
Friday, November 18 — "Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them," "Bleed For This," "Edge of Seventeen"
Wednesday, November 23 — "Allied," "Moana," "Rules Don't Apply," "Bad Santa 2"
Friday, November 25 — "Miss Sloane"