DOCTOR STRANGE. I find it hard to get excited about a new Marvel movie and I find it equally hard to leave the theater dissatisfied. Strange's success comes when it delves deep into the weirdness of its source comic and puts its special effects motor into high gear. It doesn't break any new ground — formulas exist because they work, after all — but it makes enough of an effort to live up to its title character's name to feel fresh.
Benedict Cumberbatch taps into his Sherlockian quirk for Doctor Stephen Strange, a cocksure neurosurgeon whose brilliance has brought him fame, glory and plenty of discretionary cash. His watch collection shows he hasn't earned his reputation purely on charity — he turns down cases he knows are impossible or too mundane to bolster his prominence.
On a rainy evening drive to give a prestigious keynote address, Strange launches his Lamborghini off a several-hundred-foot embankment (don't text and drive), barely surviving and losing use of his career-making hands.
Here Strange follows the Iron Man-esque hero's journey: the crestfallen rich man. Strange spends years in rehab and seeking cutting-edge surgery, only to find failure and a taste of his own medicine, being turned down by doctors unwilling to take on his lost cause. When he hears of a mysterious Kathmandu temple, Strange spends his last dime traveling there to learn its secrets.
Too much of the film is Strange's backstory, and the sheer level of his cockiness seems irredeemable. In particular, ex-girlfriend and fellow neurosurgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams) possesses patience with Strange's arrogance that elicits sympathy.
We get a taste of the bizarre when Strange finally meets The Ancient One (an unsurprisingly bald Tilda Swinton), who sends him on a psychedelic trip around the sun. "Forget everything you think you know," he's told, and thus the tuning in, turning on and dropping out begins. Far too much of the movie is aphorisms — murky, say-nothing, pseudo-philosophy.
And Doctor Strange relies on a strange mashup of cultural icons — chakras, Eastern motifs, contemporary cities, European churches, Strange's own Anton-Lavey-esque look — that feels a little dated. I don't know enough about Eastern religion and philosophy to identify all the problematic elements in Doctor Strange's throwback to '60s-era Orientalism. I'll go ahead and assume they're rife. That there's only one Asian character in the whole thing is unsurprising.
But Doctor Strange does excel when it leaves its earthly confines, not trying to explain the magic (or are they superpowers?!) that inhabits the film's universe, instead diving into an MC Escher-esque New York City or a bizarre, blacklight poster-worthy alternate dimension.
The film's strongest action comes in the finale, which turns the city-destructing trope of the superhero battle on its head. It's legitimately fun to see a movie employ big budget special effects wizardry in the service of strangeness. PG13. 120m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
HACKSAW RIDGE gets right to the point. From the opening shot, the horror of the battlefield is at once lamented by a pious narrator and exalted with slow motion carnage.
Then we're transported to small-town Virginia, where Desmond Doss (Andrew Garfield) has been raised by an exasperated mother and a violent, drunk father who has been scarred by his experiences on French battlefields during World War I. A young man, Desmond has resolved not to hurt living things, a conviction strengthened by his father's wartime experiences as well as a hinted-at confrontation in their past. It's here that Hacksaw Ridge shows its greatest promise, in the juxtaposition of that crushing trauma of the battlefield and the devastation it reaps at home for generations after the war is over.
America is well into the World War II when Desmond's brother enlists and, much to their father's dismay, Desmond does, too.
Of course, his conscientious objector status, devotion to his Bible, and refusal to go through rifle training don't sit well at boot camp. After surviving a series of humiliations, beatings and a court martial, Desmond and his company are off to Okinawa, where the battle against the Japanese army is in full conflagration. As the American and Japanese forces push back and forth across the island, Desmond, an unarmed medic, applies tourniquets and morphine without hesitation, singlehandedly rescuing 75 wounded soldiers from the battlefield.
Desmond's fight to be accepted by his comrades, to be able to show his love of god and country without firing a bullet, makes for a compelling story. Garfield plays him with heartfelt quirkiness but Mel Gibson (yes, that Mel Gibson, directing), seems comfortable letting Desmond's convictions feel like a quirk.
To Gibson's credit, he never makes the war seem fun exactly. It's a loud, cluttered, disgusting and scary two hours. The battle is immaculately crafted, technically, but silliness and enormous plot holes creep in. Discrepancies between the film's telling and the real details of Doss' story don't help the film make it's case — as unclear as that case remains.
The gore is exhausting and it's hard to argue that Gibson's depictions of war are "unflinching" rather than gleeful. There are simply too many slow motion close-ups of machine guns pumping rounds into flaming Japanese soldiers to believe Gibson is glorifying the pacifism of the film's ostensible hero.
Viewers will probably leave the theater with their beliefs on the justice of war intact, even reaffirmed. But it's hard to see why some reviewers are hailing Hacksaw Ridge as proudly anti-war. Whether Gibson has shared his motivations for telling Doss' tale, I'm not sure, but the ending is an unambiguous justification of war as a means to an end.
Hacksaw Ridge ends abruptly with real-life footage of Doss and his company talking about his bravery on Okinawa. His courage is unassailable. But how did Doss adjust to post-war life? What did he make of his Medal of Honor, the first awarded to a conscientious objector? What became of his family? What did he think about the fact that the Japanese soldiers he also rescued "didn't make it," as one of the film's characters ominously states? Rather than explore the complexities of one of the bravest people in one of the most fascinating stories in a war full of them, Hacksaw Ridge lets the carnage speak, not Desmond Doss. R. 131m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
— Grant Scott-Goforth
For showtimes, see the Journal's listings at www.northcoastjournal.com or call: Broadway Cinema 443-3456; Fortuna Theatre 725-2121; Mill Creek Cinema 839-3456; Minor Theatre 822-3456; Richards' Goat Miniplex 630-5000.
ARRIVAL. After an alien craft shows up on Earth, a linguist (Amy Adams), a mathematician (Jeremy Renner) and an Army colonel try to decipher its intentions and avoid global war. PG13. 116m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK.
ALMOST CHRISTMAS. A family fights its way through the holidays after the mother's death. Starring Kimberly Elise, Omar Epps and Danny Glover. PG13. 112m. BROADWAY.
CASABLANCA (1942). The beginning of a beautiful friendship. Starring Humphrey Bogart, Ingrid Bergman and Claude Rains. PG. 102m. BROADWAY.
THE LOVE WITCH. Arcata-filmed retro comedy-horror with a witch looking for love in all the wrong potions. PG13. 120m. MINOR.
MAN CALLED OVE. A joyless curmudgeon is dragged back into life by the new family next door. PG13. 116m. MINOR.
MARY JANE: A MUSICAL POTUMENTARY. The big-screen version of the Dell'Arte musical. Starring Joan Schirle, Zuzka Sabata and a host of locals. NR. 112m. MINOR.
SHUT IN. Naomi Watts stars as a child psychologist trapped in a New England snowstorm and trying to save a young boy. PG13. 91m. MINOR.
THE ACCOUNTANT. Ben Affleck stars as a bookkeeping savant pursued by good and bad guys. It's popcorn fare, but executed with care and precision for a dark, stylish, compelling and even funny movie. R. 128m. BROADWAY, MILL CREEK, MINOR.
BOO! A MADEA HALLOWEEN. Tyler Perry is back in the wig and glasses as Madea, chaperoning teens and spoofing horror movies. PG13. 103m. BROADWAY.
THE DRESSMAKER. A woman with style, a past and some grudges (Kate Winslet) returns to her backwater home in Australia with transformative couture skills. With Liam Hemsworth and Judy Davis. R. 119m. MINOR.
HOWL'S MOVING CASTLE. A cursed young woman must get the immature owner of a wandering castle to wizard up and break the spell in this animated Hayao Miyazaki movie. PG. 119m. MINOR.
INFERNO. Well-crafted good-looking entertainment from the power-duo of Tom Hanks — returning as Biblical puzzle solver Robert Langdon — and director Ron Howard. R. 163m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
JACK REACHER: NEVER GO BACK. Tom Cruise clenches his jaw again as the hero from Lee Childs' series, this time in defense of an old colleague (Cobie Smulders) accused of treason. PG13. 118m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
MISS PEREGRINE'S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN. Eva Green stars as headmistress in Tim Burton's adaptation of the book about children with magical powers. PG13. 127m. BROADWAY.
TROLLS. The fluffy-haired toys of yesteryear return in retail-friendly colors and CG animation, singing and saving their village from troll-eating baddies. With Anna Kendrick and Justin Timberlake. R. 83m. BROADWAY, FORTUNA, MILL CREEK.
— Jennifer Fumiko Cahill