Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Posted on May 3, 2022 at 11:27 am

B
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for frightening images, action, intense sequences of violence, and some language
Profanity: Some strong language, s-word
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drugged drinks
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, scary monsters, zombie, disturbing and grisly images
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: May 6, 2022

Copyright Disney 2022
The year of the multi-verses continues with the latest Marvel entry, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness,” directed by master of horror Sam Raimi (and with a special cameo by Raimi’s favorite actor, Bruce Campbell). As the MCU continues to evolve and expand, this movie builds not just on all of the Marvel movies that have come before. There are references to Thanos turning half the population to dust and to the most recent Spider-Man movie (where Strange played a key role). It also helps a lot to have seen the television series “Wandavision,” with Elizabeth Olsen as the Scarlet Witch, a sometime Avenger with, even by Avenger standards, extraordinary powers. She can create almost anything and in that series, her response to the tragic loss of her love, Vision, was to create an entire world, in part inspired by the videos of American television series she saw as a child in fictional Communist Bloc country Sokovia, where she and Vision lived in sit-com suburbia.

It begins in medias res, a battle with a very big monster who seems to be made of electrified spaghetti. There is a teenage girl and a choice, something that would destroy her but save the world, at least until the next monster. Doctor Strange, the famously hyper-rational, often arrogant surgeon-turned sorcerer with the greying temples and magical cloak, has to decide. What will he do? What should he do?

He makes a choice and then he wakes up. It was a dream. Or maybe it was not. He will learn that it was a peak into the multiverse, the parallel versions of our world we got a glimpse of in “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” when two other Spider-Mans (Spider-Men?) and a handful of their villains joined together in our world. There is a way to physically enter the other verses and there is a way to “dream-walk,” to inhabit another verse’s version of you and substitute your thoughts and emotions. And that teenager, America Chavez (a terrifically natural Xochitl Gomez of “The Babysitter’s Club”) shows up with the key to some of that verse-hopping.

Strange seeks out Wanda to ask for her help. They walk through her peaceful grove of apple blossoms and he tells her they smell “real.” She assures him they are, that she is done with world-building. The meaning of “real” is a theme of the film as the different versions of the characters in the multi-verses present different ideas of reality, including free food and a verse where everyone is paint, plus some surprising switches in roles, personalities, hair color and style (Strange with a ponytail?), and destinies. And there are monsters, including a very cool one that looks like a gigantic corrugated octopus with a head that’s one enormous eyeball, like a spider-y band member from The Residents.

That’s as spoiler-y as I want to get. So I will stick to some general comments. Cumberbatch makes Strange vivid, layered, even a little bit vulnerable, and the interactions with the woman he loves, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) and America have a nice symmetry that helps us see Strange work through his options, both for fighting the villain and for moving forward in his own life. The visual design is wonderfully imaginative, each verse filled with enthralling details. The action scenes are well staged, Raimi brings a tingly horror twinge to the mood, and Danny Elfman’s music is everything you want a superhero soundtrack to be. It feels good to be back in the IMAX MCU.

What keeps it under the level of the best of these films, though, is what has been an increasing issue in superhero movies. The powers are not clearly defined, so the stakes are not clearly defined. It is not enough to say it’s about the fate of the world or even the fate of America (the person, though of course the country, too). It feels like too many times that we’ve been told that someone has ultimate power, and then someone comes along with more ultimate power. (I did think it was very funny when we saw the Infinity Stones carelessly tossed into a low-level bureaucrat’s desk drawer in the “Loki” series.) I’m not saying every superhero has to be Superman, with his abilities and vulnerability clearly defined. But this film’s search for two artifacts as the keys to resolving the conflict are a distraction from the level of mythic existential conflict this movie tries for. It is a particularly weak moment when Strange, whose power comes from intensive training, resorts to the old “just figure out how to use your power in the next nano-second.” The special effects are state-of-the-art but there’s only so much they can do with characters who just shoot electricity at each other.

NOTE: Stay all the way to the end of the credits for two extra scenes.

Parents should know that this is at the upper edge of a PG-13 with some strong language (s-words) and extensive comic book/fantasy peril and violence with some disturbing and graphic images, including a disintegrating zombie. Characters are drugged.

Family discussion: Is it ever right to sacrifice one person to save many? (Look up “The Trolly Problem.”) What does it mean to always want to be the one holding the knife?

If you like this, try: “Spider-Man: No Way Home,” “Everything Everywhere All at Once,” and “Another Earth”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Fantasy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Series/Sequel Superhero

The Bad Guys

Posted on April 21, 2022 at 5:36 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Kindergarten - 3rd Grade
MPAA Rating: Rated.PG for action and rude humor
Profanity: Some schoolyard language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended cartoon action-style law enforcement peril and violence
Diversity Issues: A metaphorical theme of the movie
Date Released to Theaters: April 22, 2022

Copyright 2022 Universal
“The Bad Guys,” based on the popular series of graphic novels by Aaron Blabey, is an adorable animated film about guys who are not as bad as they think. They are seen as the scariest animals on earth, but even when they are committing crimes, they do not realize that they have good qualities, too. They are loyal friends, for example, and honest some of the time. We first see Wolf (Sam Rockwell) and Snake (Mark Maron) in a diner, where Wolf not only celebrates Snake’s birthday but even when there’s no one to pay for the meal, they make sure to pay for it anyway.

And then they rob the bank across the street. Okay, they’re bad. That could be, though, because they are just behaving the way people expect. Wolves, sharks, snakes, tarantulas, and piranhas have bad reputations. So they’re just living up or rather down to what the humans around them expect.

Adults watching with their children may notice the resemblance to some very adults-only movies, the first scene a tip of the cinematic chapeau to “Pulp Fiction,” not just the diner setting but the rhythm of the dialogue and the editing. Like the “Sesame Street” versions of adult content, it is there to entertain the grown-ups, but it is also there because even toned-down, it is fun to watch.

“The Bad Guys” has the fun of another genre kids do not often see, the heist film, with all kinds of problem-solving, setbacks, and teamwork. In addition to Wolf, the cool, Danny Ocean planner-type, and Snake, an escape artist, the gang also includes, of course, a tech whiz, Awkwafina as Tarantula, and eight legs come in very handy working on keyboards. Shark (Craig Robinson) is the master of disguise. And Piranha (Anthony Ramos) is the muscle. (The movie characters wisely have more diversity than the books.) The voice talent is superb. Not all actors can do voice work. It makes sense; they’re used to being able to rely on their faces and bodies to express emotion. But Sam Rockwell gives one of his all-time best performances as Wolf, perfectly matching the cool sophistication of the character and his moments of doubt and vulnerability. The animation is outstanding, stylish and dynamic when it needs to be, touches of anime, especially with the police officer voiced by Alex Borstein, and a bit of a hand-drawn feel to prevent CGI over-perfection.

There are some fun surprises and twists along the way and of course some lessons on the satisfactions of being a good guy. But not too good; we want to leave room for some sequels.

Parents should know that while it is all done with humor, this is a movie about characters who commit crimes, mostly theft. There are some chases and some cartoon-style peril and a mind-control machine, but no one gets hurt. The movie also includes some rude humor and schoolyard language.

Family discussion: What makes someone bad or good? Why is it hard for the bad guys to consider others’ rights and feelings? Which is your favorite bad guy character and why?

If you like this, try: the book and its sequels and “Zootopia”

Related Tags:

 

Animation Based on a book Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Talking animals

Morbius

Posted on March 31, 2022 at 11:57 am

C-
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for some frightening images, intense sequences of violence, and brief Strong language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Mind and body-altering medication
Violence/ Scariness: Extended comic-book/fantasy peril and violence, vampires, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 31, 2022
Copyright 2022 Sony

More like “Bore”-bius, amirite?

Sorry, couldn’t help it. I don’t know if it was the absence of Marvel MCU mastermind Kevin Feige (this movie comes from Sony, which has the rights to Spider-Man and the characters from his comics) or if they’re just digging down so deep into the MCU to find new IP, I mean new characters to develop and have run out of all the good ones, or both. But whatever the reason, “Morbius,” with Jared Leto is something no superhero movie should ever be — dull. The action scenes are poorly staged and the special effects are awful. Plus, it spends much too much time on the origin story somehow without ever making us connect to the title character.

Leto plays Michael Morbius, an only-in-comics character who is severely disabled and a genius. And, of course, something of a renegade. He is so dazzlingly brilliant that he is the youngest scientist ever to win a Nobel Prize, but such a rapscallion that he waits until he is wearing white tie at the ceremony to tell the King of Sweden he is turning it down. He is in a furious race against time to find a cure for his debilitating genetic disorder. The funding for his rogue lab comes from the childhood friend played as an adult by Matt Smith (“Dr. Who,” “The Crown”). They met in a residential treatment facility run by kind-hearted doctor Emil Nikols (Jared Harris). When they first meet, young Michael dubs the new arrival Milo, though his name is Lucien, to indicate that he is just another in an endless line of young patients who die so quickly it is not worth learning their names. Nevertheless, they become friends and he continues to be known as Milo.

Their shared problem is some blood-related thing, so Morbius comes up with the idea that one way to cure it could be to combine his DNA with the DNA of the only animal that lives solely on blood, the vampire bat. What could go wrong?

This experiment is unethical, illegal, and extremely expensive. So, with Milo footing the bill, Morbius and his beautiful colleague Dr. Martine Bancroft (Adria Arjona) try the DNA mixture out on a cargo ship in international waters. Think of it as his version of a radioactive spider bite except that (1) he does it on purpose and (2) vampire bats have qualities that are generally considered to be problematic, starting with an unquenchable thirst for blood.

So Morbius is an anti-hero, which means we have to have an all-out bad guy so he will be not so bad by comparison. The film expects us, like the FBI agents played by woefully underused Tyrese Gibson and Al Madrigal that the first few murders did not matter because the people killed were not good guys, and it is only when a nice single mom gets all of the blood sucked out of her that we should care about who did it. Michael feels bad about what he did and is a scientist and wants to stop even worse things from happening, so we’re supposed to be on his side. The scientific discovery he should be focusing on is how much crime a white guy in a hoodie can get away with.

Even those who come to superhero movies just for the fights and special effects will be disappointed. The CGI is primarily used to make the faces of the two vampires go back and forth from skeletal to normal, plus some meaningless dust trails that their superpowers somehow manifest. Many scenes have drab lighting that for want of a less vampiric word, sucks the life out of the story. Matt Smith is a brief bright spot but Leto spends most of his time trying to look soulful. He says that despite the poor reviews, he’s committed to a sequel. Please, no MORE-bious.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for extra scenes.

Parents should know that this film has extended comic-book style peril and violence, including vampires, with some graphic and disturbing images. Characters use mind- and body-altering medication and strong language.

Family discussion: Why did Milo/Lucien and Michael respond to the treatment differently? Why did Michael reject the Nobel?

If you like this, try: The Spider-Man movies

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Scene After the Credits Superhero

The Lost City

Posted on March 24, 2022 at 5:49 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence and some bloody images, suggestive material, partial nudity and language
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and violence, leeches, chases, explosions, guns, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: March 25, 2022

Copyright 2022 Paramount
Let’s get the obvious question out of the way first thing. Yes, “The Lost City” is a lot like “Romancing the Stone,” the 1984 action/comedy/romance movie starring Kathleen Turner, Michael Douglas, and Danny DeVito. Both movies are opposites-don’t-attract-and-then-do stories about shy, bookish-but-beautiful stay-at-home romance novelists who end up on wild jungle adventures with handsome men who are not entirely heroic. Both feature colorful third leads and bad guys scary enough to make the moments of peril exciting.

And that’s a pretty great combination, isn’t it? Especially with four delectable stars at the top of the game: Oscar-winners Sandra Bullock and Brad Pitt plus Channing Tatum and Daniel Radcliffe. Do not listen to those who say that Bullock does not look like a 57-year-old. She looks like a radiantly gorgeous 57-year-old who is completely believable playing someone 20 years younger opposite a leading man who is in reality 14 years younger.

Bullock plays Loretta Sage, a widow still struggling with grief over the loss of her husband and dissatisfaction at her redirection from unsuccessful scholar of ancient civilizations to very successful author of bodice-ripper novels about a pair of very sexy Indian Jones-style adventuresome anthropologists.

Loretta’s purple prose and knowledge of the details of runes and ruins are just one reason for the books’ popularity. The other reason is the handsome, hunky, Fabio-like cover model, Alan (Tatum). He has the broad shoulders, easy charm and flowing locks the fans love. (When I say “has,” I do not necessarily mean growing from his scalp, more like, in his closet to be applied as needed.) He also has something of a crush on Loretta, though he may be confusing both of them for the characters she imagined.

Loretta, who describes herself as a “sabiosexual” (one who is attracted to intellect), thinks of Alan as a brainless pretty boy. She might be a bit jealous of his effortless appeal. She reluctantly agrees to a joint appearance to promote her new book. It does not go well. And then, as she is leaving, she gets into the wrong car and finds herself seated before a lovely array of cheeses and cold meats and an impeccably dressed billionaire who has the most indispensable of all powerful villains, a British accent. He has a clue to a lost treasure, he wants Loretta to translate it, and he won’t take no for an answer.

And so, Loretta is off to the jungle (it was filmed in the Dominican Republic), and Alan, possibly confusing himself with the hero he portrays, goes off to rescue her, with the help of his meditation teacher, a former Navy SEAL played by Brad Pitt, who is as usual the MVP as he is wherever we are lucky enough to see him. This takes nothing away from Bullock and Tatum, who are enormous fun to watch. They have great chemistry and are clearly having a blast. It’s just that Pitt is even more fun. They all get strong support from the rest of the cast, especially Da’Vine Joy Randolph as Loretta’s publisher/publicist and Patti Harrison as the social media liaison. Directors Aaron Nee and Adam Nee keep things moving so the various plot holes fly by without disrupting the popcorn pleasure of seeing Bullock get over her inhibitions and assumptions, Tatum dance, and Pitt be cool in this highly entertaining story.

NOTE: Stay for a post-credit scene.

Parents should know that this movie has extended peril and action with guns, chases, and explosions, and many characters are injured and killed. A character has to take off his clothes to have leeches removed from his body and we see some nudity. Characters use strong language and drink alcohol.

Family discussion: What do Loretta and Alan have in common? What surprised them about each other? Why does Fairfax only want what is impossible to get?

If you like this, try: “Romancing the Stone”

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Comedy movie review Movies -- format Movies -- Reviews Romance Scene After the Credits

Uncharted

Posted on February 17, 2022 at 5:28 pm

B +
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for violence/action and language
Profanity: Strong language, several s-words
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol, scenes in a bar
Violence/ Scariness: Extended action/video-game style violence, many characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: None
Date Released to Theaters: February 18, 2022
Date Released to DVD: May 9, 2022

Copyright 2022 Sony
Uncharted” is most likely exactly as good as you hope it will be, and I say that as someone who hoped it was going to be a chases and stunts movie that was fun to watch. It achieves the primary goal of based-on-a-video-game movies, which is that the non-stunts parts like storyline and character don’t get in the way of the stunts parts, which are the reason we are there. There is just enough story and character to add enough emotion to the stunts to take the place of the engagement we feel when we are controlling part of the game.

It helps a lot that the two characters we are supposed to root for and identify with are played by Mark Wahlberg as Sully and Tom Holland as Nate, who bring their established star quality and connection to the audience to fill out the thinly drawn characters they are playing. Holland really takes over as a full-on action hero, even more than he is able to in the Spider-Man movies because there is no mask; he has to act his way through all of the action scenes and did I mention that the stunts are truly wild?

“Uncharted” begins with a “Fast and Furious”-level action scene that is absolutely bonkers. Huge chained-together cargo bundles are hanging out of a plane and Nate is hanging from one of them by a foot caught in the strap until he isn’t, and falls or jumps from one bundle to the other as bad guys are shooting at him and, yes, a fire-engine red sports car comes driving out of the cargo hold, which, let me remind you, is still in the back of a plane that is in the actual, okay green-screen but it looks actual, sky.

It’s the classic MacGuffin: lost pirate treasure. We don’t need to know anything else. We’re on board. Literally; pirate ships are involved and made to do things their builders could never have anticipated. There are objects that must be retrieved in order to find and access it. And there are people who team up and sometimes un-team up and sometimes fight each other to get it. That’s the storyline.

But mostly, there are some wild stunts, on land, water, and in the air. There are nods to (barely disguising lifts from) Indiana Jones, the “Fast and Furious” and “National Treasure” and “Pirates of the Caribbean” series, but hey, this is a movie where the heroes are thieves, so steal from the best. There are villains, meaning people who also want the treasure and are willing to take more extreme measure to get it. There is something between retaliation and revenge, the oldest of them all: “You killed my brother.”

The little hints of plot, motivation, and character never get in the way of the stunts, which are a hoot.

Parents should know that this movie has a lot of carnage for a PG-13, with video-game-like peril, injuries, and deaths. Many minor characters are killed without blood or consequences. Characters use strong language (many s-words) and drink, with scenes in bars.

Family discussion: How did Sully and Nate decide who they would trust? How did that change? How were their reasons for finding the treasure different?

If you like this, try: The Indiana Jones and “Fast and Furious” and “National Treasure” movies

Related Tags:

 

Action/Adventure Based on a video game DVD/Blu-Ray movie review Movies -- format Scene After the Credits
THE MOVIE MOM® is a registered trademark of Nell Minow. Use of the mark without express consent from Nell Minow constitutes trademark infringement and unfair competition in violation of federal and state laws. All material © Nell Minow 1995-2022, all rights reserved, and no use or republication is permitted without explicit permission. This site hosts Nell Minow’s Movie Mom® archive, with material that originally appeared on Yahoo! Movies, Beliefnet, and other sources. Much of her new material can be found at Rogerebert.com, Huffington Post, and WheretoWatch. Her books include The Movie Mom’s Guide to Family Movies and 101 Must-See Movie Moments, and she can be heard each week on radio stations across the country.

Website Designed by Max LaZebnik