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Films I Neglected To Review: ''No Time For Love, Doctor Strange"
by Peter Sobczynski

Please enjoy short reviews of ''Doctor Strange'' and ''Dog Eat Dog.''

The latest installment in the ever-expanding and seemingly never-ending Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as Stephen Strange, a brilliant but arrogant New York surgeon who is involved with a horrific car accident that leaves his treasured hands incapable of properly wielding a scalpel. After plunging into self-pity and alienating everyone around him, he learns of a place in a remote area of Nepal that might help him regain the full use of his hands. Under the tutelage of a sage known only as The Ancient One (played, oddly enough, by Tilda Swinton) and chief pupil Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), Strange learns that the universe actually consists of an infinite array alternate dimensions and is taught how to control their powers and pass through them at will. Good timing because another former student of the Ancient One (Mads Mikkelesen) has stolen some pages from an ancient and forbidden book and plans to utilize the ritual that they detail in order to align with uber-evil Dormammu, the Master of the Dark, to control the forces of space and time and destroy our world in the process. Naturally, Strange wants nothing to do with this but, in a move that may startle you, he eventually learns to put his ego aside in order to fight for the greater good, not to mention for a new and potentially lucrative film franchise.

No doubt buoyed by the recent successes of ''Guardians of the Galaxy'' and ''Ant-Man,'' ''Doctor Strange'' is Marvel’s newest attempt to turn one of their second-tier titles into a top-line film franchise and the results are of the decidedly mixed variety. On the one hand, the film is reasonably ambitious in its scope, some of the visual flourishes are of a decidedly trippy nature that sets it apart from most of the current superhero sagas and Cumberbatch is reasonably entertaining as the sardonic title character. On the other hand, said character is not particularly interesting or engaging, the villain is a forgettable bore and the storyline is just another variation of the typical origin story before arriving at a climax in which most viewers will be hard-pressed to understand what is going on at any given moment. The film also offers viewers the dubious spectacle of bringing in top-flight actors like Swinton, Ejiofor and Rachel McAdams (as Strange’s once and presumably future love) and then fails to given them real parts to play or memorable dialogue to deliver--McAdams gets the shortest stick of the bunch as the film basically all but forgets about her during its final third. Even the initially eye-popping visuals become markedly less interesting as things progress as they begin borrowing more and more concepts from films like ''Contact'' and ''Inception.'' Although the film as a whole is ultimately not worth watching (not like that is going to stop anyone), the concept of ''Doctor Strange'' contains enough promise to suggest that a second film--one not tied down with the laborious set-up process--might potentially be worth a look if placed in the right hands.

Even moviegoers with a finely tuned auteurist radar would be hard-pressed to watch the super-lurid crime drama Dog Eat Dog and come up with anything that would suggest that it was the work of director Paul Schrader. Based on a novel by criminal-turned-author Eddie Bunker, it tells the story of three recently paroled friends and career criminals--Troy (Nicolas Cage), Diesel (Christopher Matthew Cook) and the appropriately-named Mad Dog (Willem Dafoe)--looking for that elusive big score that will set them up for life. Such a job comes along when a Cleveland crime boss (played by Schrader himself) hires them to kidnap a baby belonging to someone who owes him a lot of money. In theory, the plan seems solid enough--no one gets hurt and everyone gets paid off enough to start new lives for themselves. In practice, however, things quickly go sideways in the goriest manner possible and the three friends are stuck in a situation where they may be forced to betray each other in order to have even a slim chance for survival.

Rather than attempt to transcend the parameters of genre storytelling, as he did when he transformed such pulp horror properties as ''Cat People'' and ''Dominion'' into arty meditations on such weighty conceits as sex, death and religion, Schrader has elected here to wallow in the seedy pleasures provided by screenwriter Matthew Wilder by approaching the violent and profane material with a suitably excessive visual style that takes the moments of gaudy flash that he intermittently displayed in ''The Canyons'' to jaw-dropping extremes, especially in an eye-popping opening sequence in which Mad Dog goes off in gruesome fashion on his girlfriend and her daughter that looks and feels as if it came straight out of ''Natural Born Killers,'' Although the rest of the film never quite lives up to the sheer audacity of that opening, Schrader nevertheless manages to find a balance between presenting his cracked version of the post-Tarantino crime film in all its ironic and casually amoral glory and his own recurring theme of deeply flawed people trying to transcend their brutal existences in order to find something resembling grace, only to have it all fall apart in an orgy of violence. Admittedly, many viewers may be put off by the sheer strangeness of the entire enterprise, especially those in the mood for a more conventional crime film, but those who manage to stick it out will be rewarded with the sight of one of our most intriguing filmmakers doing something decidedly new and different and a final scene from Nicolas Cage that is so deliriously demented that it deserves to be see by one and all, and not just as part of a YouTube clip reel,


link directly to this feature at http://www.efilmcritic.com/feature.php?feature=4007
originally posted: 11/05/16 03:48:47
last updated: 11/06/16 04:39:17
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