Wednesday, November 09, 2016

The Right Guys for the Jobs: Ouija: Origin of Evil & Doctor Strange

Eventually, I'll get around to writing up my Fantasia review of Mike Flanagan's Before I Wake from Fantasia (or not - at some point, I'm just going to have to establish a cut-off and punt what I haven't gotten around to), and it's interesting that he talked about it being part of a thematic trilogy with Absentia and Oculus in terms of dealing with loss, but I don't think he mentioned this one at all, even though it his a lot of the same targets. I don't necessarily find that odd; even if he approached it the same way, and even if making movies means that you must, inevitably, relinquish ownership of the thing that you made and poured yourself into, this was a work-for-hire job from the start, with an endpoint determined by the studio, even if they were apparently pretty good about letting him do his thing on his way there. Plus, co-star Kate Bosworth was shooting something in MTL and that focused things even more on the movie at hand.

Still, it was fun to see a guy I found to have a really interesting take on horror material since seeing his first feature get bigger things and also wind up working like crazy, with what looks like four movies on various platforms between this year and next. He's earned it.

So has Scott Derrickson, who caught my eye with The Exorcism of Emily Rose, which similarly isn't perfect, but at least shows a guy putting something besides jump scares into his horror movies, which isn't necessarily rare, but is appreciated. Song him get Doctor Strange was pretty exciting, especially given his professed fandom, and he made a pretty darn good movie. It's not his first shot at the big studio flick, since he directed Fox's remake of The Day the Earth Stood Still, but since I haven't seen that it was my first exposure to him having a few dozen million dollars of special effects budget, and it was kind of great that he used it to make the alternate dimensions he'd always kept hidden memorable.

Being able to pair these two movies in a part is a serendipitous result of being so far behind - I meant to have Ouija reviewed by Halloween, and didn't - but it feels kind of goods to have them paired on the blog today, as a reminder that sometimes, the guys with the right qualifications and Outlook are in fact chosen for a job, and I'm glad that Universal/Blumhouse and Disney/Marvel had people who felt this was important.

Ouija: Origin of Evil

* * * (out of four)
Seen 30 October 2016 in Somerville Theatre #4 (first-run, DCP)

Studios developing movies out of Hasbro's toy and game properties have come in for a fair amount of mockery, with "Ouija" basically dismissed enough that folks barely noticed it selling more than enough tickets to be counted as a success. Not the kind of success that has people clamoring for more, but where the studio figures they might as well do another. The surprising thing about this process is that someone got the idea of giving this movie based on a toy that lets one play at communicating with the dead to Mike Flanagan, who has done some pretty good work making horror stories along those lines, and turns in something that's actually pretty good.

Initially, that talking to the dead is being done by Alice Zander (Elizabeth Reaser), a recently-widowed fortune teller who does a decent cold reading but has her daughters Paulina (Annalise Basso) and Doris (Lulu Wilson) help out by hiding just or of sight and enhancing her seances with, shall we say, practical effects. As one might expect, Paulina is not terribly impressed when someone pulls out a Ouija board at a party, though she mentions it to her mother as something worth integrating into the performance. Unfortunately, the first time they use it, something starts getting weird with Doris, enough that Paulina is soon talking to her Catholic school's principal Father Hogan (Henry Thomas) about the strange things happening in her home.

Flanagan has spent much of his career building scary stories around loss and the yearning for loved ones no longer there - it's a central theme of Absentia, Oculus, and Before I Wake - and the loss of Alice's husband Roger hangs over the Zanders as they justify what they do as wanting to help others who are in pain. It turns out that Father Hogan is a widower himself, and the sparks between him and Alice are those of people who aren't really certain how to be alone in this way. It's material and atmosphere that he's grown skilled at cultivating, but it doesn't feel overly familiar: Flanagan and co-writer Jeff Howard make the early bits with the family of con artists fun, and then twist it in opposite ways simultaneously, to the point where later scenes can act as both confirmation and debunking of sorts at once.

Full review on EFC.

Doctor Strange

* * * ¼ (out of four)
Seen 6 November 2016 at Jordan's Furniture Reading (first-run, 3D laser-projected Imax)

Doctor Strange is not exactly one of Marvel's more obscure characters, but he is one that, for one reason or another, would often go a long time without having a book of his own. He's a way to draw trippy visuals that few other superheroes offer but sometimes a hard guy to connect with readers for an extended period. It's an impressive feat, then, that the guys charged with making a movie capture most of the good stuff without twisting things too terribly hard to make it work.

In this case, they start with the villain, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), busting into a strange library and stealing the pages from an ancient tome, escaping through a strange portal to New York City, followed by a martial artist with supernatural abilities. Elsewhere in the city, top neurosurgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) completes two cranial operations in rapid succession, one at the behest of ex-girlfriend Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). They may be his last, though, as a horrific auto accident damages his hands beyond repair - at least, until he's pointed at a strange monastery in Kathmandu, where he discovers a strange new world of magic, taught by a sorceress known as The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her lieutenants Modo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and Wong (Benedict Wong), though it's only a matter of time before Kaecilius figures out how to perform the ritual whose instructions he stole.

Mavel has received a certain amount of criticism in recent years for their movies having something of a house style - quippy and upbeat, though sometimes with an uneven balance between telling the story at hand and creating ties that will pay off down the road. Strange doesn't necessarily lend himself to that - when he gets laughs, it's often because the writers and artists exaggerate how he seems aloof and otherworldly next to Marvel's more grounded heroes - and even for those not familiar with that characterization, it's hard not to see how hard the filmmakers are trying to recapture the success of Iron Man, with the sarcastic hero who needs humbling and gains his powers as a side effect of combating a serious injury. It's almost desperate at moments, as Strange outright tells other characters that people find him funny.

Full review on EFC.

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