Doctor Strange

Posted on November 3, 2016 at 5:42 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sci-fi violence and action throughout, and an intense crash sequence
Profanity: Some strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Prolonged fantasy/superhero peril and violence, serious car accident, characters injured and killed, some disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters (Asian male character in the comics portrayed by a white actress)
Date Released to Theaters: November 4, 2016

Doctor_Strange_posterIf they ever give a Best Supporting Prop Oscar, it should go to Doctor Strange’s Cape of Levitation, the most endearing magical implement/sidekick since Sorceror Mickey’s brooms in “Fantasia.” And if they ever give out a Best Superhero Movie Producer and Sustainer of the MCU, the lifetime achievement version should go to Kevin Feige, who has once again figured out just the right balance between consistency and distinctiveness, between action and wit, and, perhaps the most difficult hurdle, between magic and superpowers. “Doctor Strange” has a superb cast, a witty script, and some knockout special effects.

Doctor (not Dr.) Strange is a brilliant neurosurgeon. He is also arrogant and obsessed with work with a biting, acerbic wit. If this sounds a bit Tony Stark-ish, you’re on the right track.

He is severely injured in a car accident.  (Distracted driving, kids, wait to send that text or review that CAT scan image until you have safely parked the car.)  His hands are shattered, with nerve damage and tremors, which will end his career as a surgeon.  The man who prided himself on being able to diagnose and cure the most hopeless cases cannot find a way to heal himself.

And then the man of rationality and science, with nothing more to lose, has to try something new. He hears of a man who found a miraculous cure in Nepal, so, despite his skepticism about “alternative” medicine, he goes there only to find that what is involved is an entirely “alternative” way of thinking about the world, the universe, and, perhaps most difficult, himself.

His sensei is known as The Ancient One (the white female Tilda Swinton as a character portrayed as an Asian male in the comics), an ageless and endlessly wise and powerful teacher who shows Strange that the reality he believes he understands and can control is one of many.  The Avengers protect the material world from threats, but The Ancient One and her accolytes protect us from magical threats. Is it indelicate to point out that the most severe threats are all coming from former students, a la Darth Vader and Kylo Ren, and Professor X’s former students, so maybe the best course is for The Ancient One to shut down the school entirely?  And follow her own advice that if you silence your ego your power will rise?

Oh, who cares. This is when we start to get the very cool special effects, with “Inception”-style planes folding over each other and M.C. Escher-style chases.  And you gotta love a neuro-surgeon turned wizard who throws down references to Bob Seger and Beyoncé and, in the big, big moment, finds a solution that is as clever as it is magical.

NOTE: Stay through the credits for TWO extra scenes, one at the very end.

Parents should know that this film includes intense fantasy and superhero action, peril, and violence, car accident, disturbing and graphic images, characters injured and killed, and brief strong language.

Family discussion: Why does Strange insist on being called “Doctor?” Why does The Ancient One first turn him down?

If you like this, try: the Steve Ditko-era comics, “Inception,” Cumberbatch’s “Sherlock” series, and the “Avengers” films

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Secret in Their Eyes

Posted on November 19, 2015 at 5:28 pm

Copyright 2015 STX Entertainment
Copyright 2015 STX Entertainment

A girl is murdered. That girl, that crime and the man who did it are seen very differently by different people, all of whom are in law enforcement and all who have sworn to devote their professional lives to justice in this dark thriller based on an Oscar-winning Argentinian film (“The Secret in Their Eyes“). Just as that film used a long-unsolved murder to explore the shifts of politics and culture over the decades, this version, from writer-director Billy Ray, sets the murder in the frantic realigning of priorities following the terrorist attacks of 9/11. For those who loved her, justice for the death of the girl is all that matters. For those working on anti-terrorism, though, the suspect may be of more use out in the world as an informant than in prison as a murderer.

The story takes us back and forth between the present day and the time of the murder, in 2001.  Claire (Nicole Kidman) is a District Attorney and Ray (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is an investigator newly assigned to the FBI’s anti-terrorism division.  There is an immediate charged connection between them, though Claire is more reserved. Ray works with Jess (Julia Roberts), who teases him about his evident interest in Claire.

Then there is the report of a death, a body in a dumpster. Ray and Jess arrive, alert, professional, but detached, snapping on their blue latex gloves and talking about a possible connection to their work because the body was found near the mosque they are investigating.

And then Ray sees the girl and has to tell Jess that everything she cared about in the world has been destroyed. The shot of Roberts’ face as she has to go from thinking she has been called to see a body to understanding that it, that she is the one particular individual who means the most to her, “the thing,” she says, “that made me me,” is shattering to see. For the rest of the film, the radiant presence we know so well is haggard, numb, broken.

In the present day, the murder has not been solved. Because the suspect was an informant from a mosque that could have been harboring terrorists, the case against him was not pursued, and he has disappeared. But Ray has never stopped looking for him. He went through 1906 photos a night, searching every white male in the FBI’s system, for 13 years. He thinks he has found him.

More successful in mood than plot, Ray uses this story to meditate on loss, hopelessness, and the gulf between law and justice. Each of the characters wants something different from this investigation. Jess wants what she thinks of as justice but what looks more like revenge. “Death penalty would be too good for him,” she says. Ray feels somehow responsible, because he could have been with Jess’ daughter the morning she was killed. Claire wants the law to be enforced. And she still feels a connection to Ray. As for the suspect — in his own way, he is as controlled by his obsessions as the others.

Parents should know that this film includes a brutal rape and murder (off-screen) and some violence, with some peril and some injuries and abuse. There is some strong language.

Family discussion: Do you agree with Morales’ decision on how to treat Marzin? Should Ray have told Claire how he felt?

If you like this, try: the original film, “The Secret in Their Eyes” and Ray’s earlier films, “Shattered Glass” and “Breach”

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Z for Zachariah

Posted on August 27, 2015 at 5:31 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for a scene of sexuality, partial nudity, and brief strong language
Profanity: Brief strong language
Alcohol/ Drugs: Alcohol
Violence/ Scariness: Apocalyptic themes, murder
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters (race, gender, faith)
Date Released to Theaters: August 28, 2015
Date Released to DVD: October 19, 2015
Amazon.com ASIN: B014DEGTEO

In 1959, a movie called The World, The Flesh And The Devil imagined a post-apocalyptic world with three surviving humans. In the words of the 1960’s television series, “The Mod Squad,” they could be described as “one black, one white, one blond.” Harry Belafonte, Mel Ferrer, and Inger Stevens played characters who might be the last people on earth but who still carried with them the fears, angers, and prejudices of the civilization now destroyed.

Fifty-five years later, “Z for Zachariah” is another post-apocalyptic story about a black man, a white man, and a beautiful younger woman who may be the only survivors following a catastrophic, toxic event that has poisoned the whole world, except, perhaps, for a tiny, edenic farm that appears to be free from deadly radiation. And once again, human frailty creates conflict at the most fundamental level. The themes of the 1959 film reflected post-WWII concerns like the atomic bomb and racial bigotry.

“Z for Zachariah” is based on the posthumously and pseudonymously published book, though there are significant changes.

Ann (Margo Robbie) lives on her family’s farm. She believes her family will return from their scouting expedition. And she believes that she and her dog and her farm were preserved by God. Periodically, she puts on protective gear to go into the deserted town and scavenge from the shelves of the stores. She grows food on the farm and visits the tiny church her father built to play the organ and worship.

Then John (Chiwetel Ejiofor) arrives. He is also wearing protective gear (it turns out he was one of the engineers who designed it), but foolishly removes it to bathe in a pond that has been contaminated. Ann rescues him and nurses him through radiation poisoning.

They are very different. John is a man of science and rationality. He sees that he can create hydropower through the waterfall, but only if he can use the wood from the walls of the church. Ann believes the church is what has kept her alive; John believes repurposing the planks will enable them to establish a sustainable source of food for…well, with a man and a woman, perhaps there will be more people to feed at some point. In the old world, they would never have met, and if they had, they would have had little to say to one another. But they understanding, respect, and affection are beginning to grow, and the need for connection and comfort is near desperate in both of them. And then Caleb (Chris Pine) — a character not in the book — arrives. He has something John cannot have, a community and cultural connection to Ann. He is young and handsome.

Like director Craig Zobel’s last film, “Compliance,” this is also a tense story of three people in an enclosed, isolated space finding their most profound values tested. Even in the most extreme circumstances imaginable, humans still struggle with morality, trust, honesty, power, forgiveness, and love. It is deceptively understated and quietly compelling.

Parents should know that this film features a disturbing apocalyptic setting, discussion of cataclysmic events, sexual references and situations with partial nudity, brief strong language, homicide.

Family discussion: What do Ann and John have in common? What do Ann and Caleb have in common? What happened when John and Caleb were together? What will happen next?

If you like this, try: “The World, the Flesh, and the Devil” and “On the Beach”

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Based on a book DVD/Blu-Ray Pick of the Week Science-Fiction
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Trailer: Secret in Their Eyes with Julia Roberts, Nicole Kidman, and Chiwetel Ejiofor

Posted on July 16, 2015 at 8:00 am

The Oscar winner for Best Foreign Language Film in 2010 was The Secret in Their Eyes (El Secreto de Sus Ojos), an Argentinian film that is part cold-case detective story about a missing, perhaps murdered, girl, part love story.

The remake stars Oscar-winners Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Nicole Kidman, written and directed by Billy Ray (“Shattered Glass”).

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Crime Remake Romance Trailers, Previews, and Clips

One-Line Movies With the Year’s Best Actors

Posted on December 2, 2013 at 3:59 pm

The actors who created some of this year’s most intriguing performances each appear in a eleven original (very) short films directed by Oscar-winning cinematographer Janusz Kaminski.  The one-line scripts are from the year’s best screenwriters, from Lake Bell of “In a World” to Sarah Polley of “Stories We Tell” and Seth Rogan and Evan Goldberg of “This is the End.”  Watch Oprah Winfrey, Michael B. Jordan, Bradley Cooper, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Robert Redford, Forest Whitaker, and more create a world in a moment.

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