Doctor Strange

Doctor Strange is a 2016 American superhero film directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson. The film was also co-written by C. Robert Cargill and Jon Spaihts. It is the fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, taking place around the same time as the preceding entry, Captain America: Civil War, and serves as the introduction of the character of the same name into the MCU. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt, Scott Adkins, Mads Mikkelsen, and Tilda Swinton.

Dr. Stephen Vincent Strange is a brilliant, supremely talented, intelligent, but arrogant neurosurgeon who looses the use of his hands in a car accident. His former lover and colleague Dr. Christine Palmer attempts to help him move on with his life. Strange instead seeks out experimental surgeries and procedures, which leads him to a paraplegic who mysteriously regained the use of his legs. Strange is further directed to Kamar-Tag, where he is taken in by The Masters of the Mystic Arts, led by a woman known as The Ancient One. Strange is trained in the mystical arts, learning to harness the power of the universe and transport himself along the astral plane, which connects this universe to the infinite number of universes in existence. Strange, after learning remarkably quickly and becoming The Ancient One’s most gifted student, comes into conflict with Kaecilius, a powerful former student of The Ancient One who wishes for eternal life by any means necessary.

Doctor Strange is Marvel Studios’ introduction to the mystical and magical, and it is aided talented direction from Scott Derrickson, known for films such as Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose. Given the mystical and reality-bending nature of the material, Derrickson was a good choice to lead a project like Doctor Strange, and it works well, thanks in major part to his abilities as a director.

The special effects featured in the film are, in my opinion, extremely well done. Bending the laws of time, physics, and nature, as well as transporting dimensions seem like difficult things to accurately portray on screen, even in 2016, but the visual effects of Doctor Strange netted the film an Academy Award nomination for best visual effects, a nomination that I find well-deserved.

In addition to good directing and very good visual effects, Doctor Strange also includes excellent acting from all involved. Benedict Cumberbatch is, as always, excellent. The character of Stephen Strange is, in fact, very similar, in my eyes, to Tony Stark as played by Robert Downey Jr, the man who arguably paved the way for Doctor Strange all the way back in the infancy of the MCU back in 2008. Strange is arrogant, brash, egotistical, but supremely intelligent, and Cumberbatch has made a career off of playing a very famous character of a similar nature; the character of Stephen Strange plays right into his strengths. My homie Mads Mikkelsen, although his part as Kaecilius is admittedly rather small, is great here. I have loved him as an actor since I first saw him as Le Chiffre in 2006’s Casino Royale and then again in the excellent television adaptation of Hannibal Lecter, Hannibal on NBC. Tilda Swinton is marvelous as The Ancient One, and Chiwetel Ejiofor is very good as Baron Mordo.

Doctor Strange also, as with most movies in the MCU, contains some funny and lighthearted moments. These comedic beats work very well, to the film’s advantage. The center of this comedy focuses on the character of Wong, ironically played by Benedict Wong.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is an excellent introduction of a little-known character into the MCU in a big way. With excellent acting, directing, and visual effects, the film takes a character who’s parody was probably more well-known than he was, and turned him into what I’m sure will continue to be an essential part of the MCU going forward.

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Rogue One: A Star Wars Story

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story is a 2016 science-fiction action-adventure film directed by Gareth Edwards and written by Chris Weltz and Tony Gilroy. It is the eighth film in the Star Wars franchise and the first film in the standalone Star Wars Anthology films. Rogue One stars Felicity Jones, Diego Luna, Ben Mendelson, Donnie Yen, Mads Mikkelsen, Alan Tudyk, Riz Ahmed, and Jiang Wen. Rogue One takes place in between Episode III: Revenge of the Sith and the original 1977 film.

Galen Erso, played by Mads Mikkelsen, is a former Imperial scientist on the run from the Empire. Galen and his family are located by his former superior, Orson Krennic. Galen’s wife is killed and he is captured. Galen’s young daughter Jyn is able to escape and is raised by an extremist Rebel and friend of Galen’s Saw Gerrera. Fifteen years later, a Imperial defector is captured by Gerrera. The defector was sent by Galen, now being forced to work on the Death Star project, to deliver a message to the Rebel forces revealing the superweapon’s weakness. Gerrera’s tactics and paranoia caused him to break off from the main Resistance faction. Jyn, played by Felicity Jones, is propositioned by the Rebels to approach Gerrera and validate the defector’s information.

Rogue One is based upon a throwaway line from A New Hope concerning Leia being given the Death Star plans by Rebel spies. That a film can be inspired by a single, seemingly unimportant line is impressive. Even more impressive, though, despite being only tangentially related to the overall saga of Star Wars, Rogue One manages to present the viewer with empathetic characters, a solid story, superb acting, and gorgeous action and stunning visual effects. Rogue One is a film worthy of the revitalized Star Wars brand, able to capture the spirit of the Original Trilogy with ease.

Felicity Jones, known for her award-winning performance in The Theory of Everything, once again showcases phenomenal skill. Jyn Erso is a very tough, smart, street-savvy individual made so by the difficult circumstances of her life and upbringing. Jones conveys all of the emotions that come as a byproduct of that upbringing very well. Mexican actor Diego Luna plays Rebel intelligence officer Cassian Andor with the same proficiency as his co-star. Ben Mendelson’s Krennic is intimidating, though shown to be extremely vulnerable, as he is merely a puppet for much powerful men than himself. Swedish actor Mads Mikkelsen does a good job portraying Galen Erso with the limited amount of screen time he has. Alan Tudyk voices K-2SO, a reprogrammed Imperial droid with no filter, saying whatever comes to his mind, and is the funniest and most quotable character in the entire movie.

The character that is sure to stick in everyone’s mind, though, is the blind warrior Chirrut Îmwe, played by Chinese actor Donnie Yen. Yen, one of Hong Kong’s top action stars and one of the highest-paid actors in Asia, is a master martial artist, well-versed in in Tai chi chuan, boxing, kickboxing, Jeet Kune Do, Hapkido, Taekwondo, karate, Muay Thai, wrestling, Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu, Judo, Wing Chun, and Wushu. He is known for portraying Ip Man, a grandmaster and trainer of Bruce Lee, in the 2008 biographical film of the same name. In addition to winning several real-life martial arts tournaments, Yen is also known for his top-notch fight choreography, which is most definitely on display here. Despite Rogue One being his first English-speaking role, Yen portrays his character effectively, his English, though understandably heavily-accented, very easy to understand. I personally hope that his fan-favorite role here lands the 54-year-old more high-profile Hollywood roles in the future.

Rogue One is stacked to the brim with amazing performances, but the most impressive one by far has to be the one who wasn’t actually there. Peter Cushing portrayed Tarkin, Darth Vader’s right-hand-man and a secondary antagonist in A New Hope. Cushing, who died in 1994, reprises his role as Tarkin from beyond the grave. Guy Henry, known for his role as Pius Thicknesse in the Harry Potter series, portrayed Tarkin during principal photography, while archived footage of the actor was used to digitally recreate Cushing’s face for the film, with very impressive results. As it was with The Force Awakens, the general CGI, as well as the practical effects of the film were also excellent.

Rogue One is not without a few shortcomings, however. Although I find the outline of the story itself to be interesting and very solid, the characters themselves appear to be inconsistent in their feelings and motivations. Jyn and Cassian, in particular, go from cynical and jaded to hopeful and content without a real reason for it. Rogue One is perhaps the most legitimately dire story in the entire franchise. Star Wars has always been about hope in times of darkness, and that is a major theme of Rogue One, but nothing in the character’s actions justify their frequent changes of heart other than the script needs them to, in my opinion. It is an admittedly major flaw, though certainly not a fatal one, in an otherwise great film.

Rogue One is an extremely solid start to the Anthology series of standalone spinoffs. Featuring a solid storyline, excellent acting from everyone involved, incredible action, and a sizable role featuring one of the most effective movie martial artists in the business, Rouge One is a great film that is unfortunately prevented from achieving the same overwhelming success as its predecessors because of a rather serious issue with character development. Nevertheless, I cannot wait to see what future Anthology projects will bring.

The Star Wars saga is set to continue with Episode VIII, written and directed by Looper craftsman Rian Johnson, and an untitled Han Solo Anthology film directed by the comedy masterminds Phil Lord and Chris Miller, the geniuses behind the 21 Jump Street parody/reboot films, The Lego Movie, and the hilarious Fox sitcom Brooklyn 9-9. The Han Solo film will star newcomer Alden Ehrenreich as Solo and Donald Glover as Lando Calrissian.