Mystic Pizza…DOCTOR STRANGE Reviewed

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Doctor Strange. 2016. USA. Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt. Production Design by Charles Wood.  Art direction by Ray Chan. Costume Design by Alexandra Byrne. Special and Visual FX by… how long have you got? DP: Ben Davis. Edited by Sabrina Plisco, Wyatt Smith. Music by Michael Giacchino. Written by Scott Derrickson, Jon Spaihts, C. Robert Cargill… after the Steve Ditko comic character. Produced by Kevin Feige, etc. Directed by Scott Derrickson.

I haven’t gone to the cinema regularly for yonks… decades, in fact. Antiseptic “wheel ’em in, kick ’em out” multiplexes, uninspiring franchise fodder, seat kickers and sweet bag rustlers, exorbitant ticket prices and the fact that I’ve got all my favourite films on a shelf and a fuck off telly / sound system on which to experience them right here in the HOF… all of these factors have contributed to my poor cinema attendance record since the last Lucio Fulci double bill played out at the old Odeon on London Road in Liverpool (now yuppie apartments, I’m told.)

When the little Freudette started toddling around and seeking screen entertainment, Mrs F and I briefly ventured back into our local picture palaces to treat her to the likes of Wallace And Grommit: The Curse Of The Were-Rabbit, Curious George (“Curious Gudge” as she insisted on having it) and any amount of Disney / Pixar offerings. Now she has put such childish things behind her, the adolescent hormones are raging and it’s that guy from Sherlock who’s stoking the flames… yep, me daughter’s a total Cumberbitch!

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When she broached the subject of going to check him out in the latest Marvel Smasheroo, she wasn’t exactly pushing at a locked door, given my own fond boyhood memories of following the Doc’s astral escapades, as rendered by Jack Kirby and co, in the pages of Dez Skinn reprint comics such as Fantastic and Terrific.

So it was that I donned the cloak of levitation and we wafted over to that jewel in Nottingham’s cinema crown, the Savoy on Derby Road… by the jap’s eye of Agamotto and the thrice-dread dog poop scoop of Dormammu… wahay, we’re going to the pictures again for two 12a hours of “moderate fantasy violence” and “injury detail”!

The Savoy is a wonderful Old School cinema (and approximately 50% cheaper than an evening out at one of the big chains!) which continues to run current biggies and also hosts regular cult screenings by The Loft Movie Theatre. No seat kickers, thank fuck, though the World Sweet Packet Rustling Championship seemed to be taking place in the auditorium. The Freudette proved less impressed by this glimpse into the lost cinema going world of her mum and dad (who, after all, copped off during a screening of the awful Rutger Hauer picture Salute Of The Jugger) than by the prospect of Benedict besporting himself in mystic robes.

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And so to the film itself… Doctor Strange is a diverting big budget bash which won’t engage too many of your brain cells but certainly doesn’t dishonour my childhood memories of Steve Ditko’s creation. As played by Benedict C, he’s a skilled but arrogant surgeon who performs his operations to the sublime, silky funk accompaniment of Earth, Wind And Fire (hardly pikers themselves when it comes to pop culture mysticism.) Full marks for that, but scores of credibility points deducted when he crashes his car after using his mobile phone when driving (as only the scum of the Earth would do.) Seeking to repair his shattered hands, he makes for Tibet and is inducted into The Mystic Arts by The Ancient One, played by Tilda Swinton in a performance that seemed, for some reason, to set Mrs F’s teeth on edge (and she was in no way mollified when I pointed out that the baldy woman’s complete appellation in real life is apparently: “Katherine Matilda – Tilda – Swinton of Kimmerghame, a British actress, performance artist, model, and fashion muse.”)

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In place of the ectoplasm slinging duels to which I thrilled as a lad, you get loads of the CGI reality-scaping that’s been de rigeur since The Matrix, scads of Marvel in-jokes including the mandatory Stan Lee cameo, undeniably impressive outbreaks of big screen, Dolby-enhanced psychedelia (it’s impossible for me to come down too hard on any film which features The Pink Floyd’s Interstellar Overdrive in its soundtrack) and a climactic cosmic shoot out with Dormammu from The Dark Dimension that’s startlingly reminiscent of the conclusion to Lugi Cozzi’s completely bonkers and resolutely low budget The Black Cat / De Profondis (1989.)

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You bet there are going to be sequels and Avengers tie-ins, ad infinitum…

Befuddled by free-flowing hormones, ma fille scored this one 10/10. Despite my lingering suspicion that when it comes to Tibetan mystic proteges, Sharron Macready from The Champions would have kicked this Dr Strange’s ass from one end of the astral plane to another, plus reservations about BC’s variable accent (he’s more believable as a trans-dimensional trouble-shooter than he is as an American), I score it as a rare and reasonably enjoyable trip to the flicks…

… and I’ve honoured my pledge to Mrs F that, to avoid winding up our offspring, I would steadfastly refrain from referring to her screen heart-throb, at any point in this review, as Bendydick Cucumberpatch… oh, hang on… d’oh!

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Peter Hooten in the 1978 pilot for an abortive Doctor Strange TV series… wonder why that didn’t catch on?

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