Mini Reviews: Doctor Strange, Deepwater Horizon, Kubo And The Two Strings

Well, there was a monumental flub at the Oscars ceremony just over a week ago: I wasn’t invited. I know right! (The organizers obviously read my blog and know that I don’t like travelling. Yes, yes, that must be it.)

Last year I watched part of the show, but that was only because I was up all night with a streaming cold. This year I went to bed, knowing full well there wouldn’t be any nice surprises. Sigh. #OscarsSoDull.

But I don’t want to write about the awards and their tedious machinations and untrammelled sexism/ageism. Instead, I’m going to concentrate on the fact that some of the films I’ve got the most enjoyment from over the last few years have tended to be nominated in the technical categories.

Out of this year’s crop of visual effects nominees, I’d seen Rogue One and eventual winner The Jungle Book, but it was time to check out the other contenders…

Doctor Strange 

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A bunch of baddies led by Mads Mikkelson rip some pages out of a book and chuck it on the floor, so Smug Superior Being Tilda Swinton goes all Inception on them. Meanwhile, Doctor Strange, an arrogant surgeon with a good grasp of popular culture, has a horror car crash and damages his hands.

When he goes to Smug Being for a cure we swap medical blah blah for spatial paradoxes and continuum probabilities. The Avengers may protect us from physical perils, but Smug’s Sorcerers, including Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), guard against mystical threats.

Smug doesn’t want to train Strange because she fears he may fall to the dark side like Mads and start damaging library books, but po-faced Mordo vouches for him. Cumberbatch and Ejiofor score some very actorly shouting matches, but poor Mads and Strange’s GF Rachel McAdams appear to have settled for the more thankless Marvel roles.

At least we don’t get the usual metal-clanging-against-metal final showdown that superhero movies usually give us. Instead, Strange and the crew do some Parkour and freerunning over buildings and stairways that move and shift like Hogwarts on acid.

Anyway, thanks Doctor – I made it through a Marvel thingy without resorting to the headache pills.

Deepwater Horizon

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In Peter Berg’s re-staging of the 2010 offshore rig disaster, early scenes set electronics technician Mark Wahlberg up as a family man married to Kate Hudson, who will be pulling worried-wife-on-the-phone duties.

There’s a scene where their cutesy movie daughter demonstrates her school project (“My daddy’s job”) on deepwater drilling (which goes right over my head because these things always do), and then we’re off to the rig.

Once the predictable one-liners and jokey banter have been mined to completion, we get a highly volatile situation onboard the rig where wild-eyed BP exec John Malkovich is riding roughshod over Transocean employees, including Wahlberg and Kurt Russel. If you’ve ever seen the SNL sketch of Kylo Ren as an Undercover Boss – it’s that kind of atmosphere.

Once the first thing goes wrong on the rig it seems to start a chain reaction and from there the action doesn’t let up. This is devastating movie mayhem that makes Titanic and every other disaster movie look tame. Berg lets the explosions do the talking, at the expense of both characterization, and the sentimentality and jingoism that I expected.

Watching Horizon, I got the impression the explosion occurred because Malkovich was a money-hungry %$&*. “We just the help ya’ll hire to drill a hole”, grumbles Russell. The reality was more complex, but the movie does its best to serve as a tribute to survivors and those that lost their lives.

Kubo and the Two Strings 

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Kubo is the latest stop-motion from Laika studios, the same people behind The Boxtrolls and Coraline. This latest offering got a major thumbs up from all quarters, and was hailed as the animation movie of the year.

Set in ancient Japan, young Kubo (voiced by Art Parkinson – Rickon in Game of Thrones) lives in a cave with his ailing mother. No ordinary boy, he is a one-eyed storyteller who can bring his origami figures to life. He uses his magical gifts to entertain local villagers, but he must be home before it gets dark.

This is because his grandfather and wicked aunts (who dwell in some kind of cold spiritual realm) plan to steal his other eye. When Kubo stays out one night, the aunts appear, and his mother uses the last of her magic to spirit him away.

Charlize Theron voices Kubo’s monkey-guardian in the kind of bored, superior tone she might use for press interviews, while Matthew McConaughey plays a dopey samurai-figure cursed to live as a beetle. Ralph Fiennes resurrects the ghost of Voldemort for the Moon King, and Rooney Mara memorably lends her voice to the fluttering Dementor-like aunts.

Kubo definitely has atmosphere to spare and a beautiful soundtrack, but I could see the plot surprises coming. I have to acknowledge the painstaking work that goes into creating something like this, but I know the child me would have been bored, and far less reverential.

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