Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Countdown to Avengers 3: Doctor Strange

Can you believe that we’re doing a third installment of Countdown to Avengers? It seems like it was only yesterday that we teamed up with Nerd Lunch and Cavalcade of Awesome to tackle all the Marvel Cinematic Universe (MCU) films (and then some) that lead up to The Avengers. Believe it or not, we’re back, and now we’ve got Jay from Life Vs. Film along for the ride as well.

Whereas that first series of ours was special, this one will be even more epic. It heralds the end - or, at least, the beginning of the end - of this current manifestation of the MCU. Infinity War releases in a matter of days so, without further adieu...2016’s Doctor Strange. Mandatory spoiler warning!

“...Bruce Banner, Stephen Strange, anyone who’s a threat to Hydra!” - Jasper Sitwell, Captain America: The Winter Soldier.

With this mention in an excellent installment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, the MCU's Doctor Strange was born. The character was and is exciting for me because he's among the crop of new Avengers (who doesn't want to see a New Avengers Movie featuring Ant-Man and The Wasp, Dr. Strange, Spider-Man, Black Panther, Captain Marvel, and others?). I also was (and am) a fan of Benedict Cumberbatch as Sherlock, so I was happy with the casting.

Paul Shipper via IMP Awards

Going into Doctor Strange, I thought quite a bit about the 2007 cartoon movie, Doctor Strange: The Sorcerer Supreme, which explored the character's origin story. That movie really showed me that a superhero's beginning could still be fun. Interestingly, something the live action film didn't touch on was the death of Strange's sister and how it affected him. Although I'm not sure if that's canon and it may have made the film too sad.

The plot in a nutshell: Cumberbatch's Strange is an arrogant and talented surgeon who loses his skills after a car accident essentially destroys his hands. He ultimately travels the globe and to Kamar-Taj to try to fix his hands. He winds up embroiled in a war of sorcery, however.

I do like what they tried to do with Chiwetel Ejiofor's Mordo vis-à-vis making him more of a heroic character, but ultimately he’s a villain and I think he’ll be the main antagonist in the sequel. Maybe they'll go with a sort of reluctant villain as opposed to a mustache twirling incarnation, but the post credits sequence would not suggest that. Put simply, he loses his mind. He just seems disillusioned and heartbroken the last time we see him in the main film, but then when we see him in the post credits scene he's essentially murderous and maniacal.

The film mostly delivered on Strange's potential. The movie in general may be a bit of a "style over substance" situation for me. It had a cool look (one of the Crown Jewels in the film has to be the sequence where The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) sends Strange on a trip through space, which is his first glimpse of magic in the film) but generic villains, for instance.

Like any MCU film, Strange is rife with connections to other Marvel films. There's a theory about the phone call Strange has just before his accident and the fact that the injuries listed might be mentions of other heroes, particularly Captain Marvel (I have a feeling this isn't the case, however). Wong mentions The Avengers and that's huge, of course. Towards the end Wong also mentions that The Eye of Agamotto is an Infinity Stone, which may be the biggest mention, particularly since Strange later meets Thor, who's been on a journey to find the stones. This scene where Strange meets Thor is great fun and would go on to become part of the immensely successful and popular Thor: Ragnarok. There was some speculation at one point that he would even join Thor and Hulk on the main adventure.

I'm really looking forward to Strange meeting the other Avengers. He wasn't in Civil War and he's only met Thor. We know via the trailers he meets Bruce Banner and Tony Stark and the three of them, along with Wong, gear up to fight someone. We see him interacting with Peter Parker (Spider-Man if you use his made-up name) and Star-Lord. It will be interesting if we get a Sherlock reference between Robert Downey Jr. and Benedict Cumberbatch. We see him being tortured a bit in the trailer and I wonder if that leads to a cool rescue mission on his behalf. See my comments below for some very spoilers thoughts on how Doctor Strange and elements from his films might factor into Infinity War and other MCU films.

Extra Thoughts from CT:

The first time I saw this movie, I came away not overly impressed. But a second viewing really turned it around for me. Not a character I ever connected much with when reading the comics, but one I still liked when he would guest star in books I read.

Strange was mentioned in a throwaway reference during Captain America: Winter Solider which in retrospect, now seems a little odd that a surgeon would be mentioned of all people. I mean, there might be famous surgeons out there, but when you list a set of random high profile people, I would guess a surgeon would not be on your list. Still, despite his arrogance, even then, Hydra had pegged him as a threat. They saw something in him that no one else did for a few years.

As we move closer to Avengers: Infinity War and the conclusion of this phase, we know that the Time stone will certainly play a role. Speculation has suggested we will see some major time travel as a part of the plot for these next Avengers movies. I have not delved into that territory more than what I just mentioned though. Still, it wouldn't surprise me. Time travel is a major plot device that has yet to really be explored in the MCU. Dr. Strange just barely scratched the surface of it.

Also worth noting that even though we see this movie set up plot points for eventual sequels, there is no confirmation of a Dr. Strange 2 yet. Which is surprising to me, but also puts Strange on the potential chopping block as a character to get killed. Personally, I hope not. I think a nice set of three or so Dr. Strange movies would be good. I would love for him to still be active when the FF characters get grafted in (I'm speaking very hopefully) and we see the Real Defenders in a movie together: Dr. Strange, Hulk and Silver Surfer (Namor being the other prominent member but who knows what's up with him).

Spoiler Thoughts:

The Time Stone might come into play in having something to do with Captain America. Also, and I thought this was confirmed, but I think Doctor Strange will wind up being another mentor for Peter in Spider-Man: Homecoming 2.

Friday, February 23, 2018

Favorite Scene Friday! Bullitt: Just Keep Driving

Steve McQueen is the actor-of-the-month over at the LAMB, so I'm taking a moment to celebrate one of the best moments from one of his less good movies. Bullitt isn't terrible, but if it wasn't for the central chase sequence I don't think many people would discuss it today, so you can be damn sure that's the scene in question this week.
Bullitt painting by Arthur Benjamins
If you're unfamiliar with the plot, I'll take a stab at it: Steve McQueen plays Lt. Frank Bullitt of the San Francisco Police Department. He is tasked with protecting a star witness over the weekend, but events occur that require said witness to be hidden somewhere, with only Frank and his team knowing the location. As such, a couple of men (seen in the clip, known to me as "Stern Face" and "Glasses") are sent to follow Frank to see where he goes, in the hope that it'll lead to the witness' whereabouts. This is what happens next:

I only really want to follow on that first segment as being the best scene, as the entire chase goes on for at least another 7 minutes, but for the sake of not depriving you here's the rest of it too:

OK, now you've got that out of your system (did you count the hub-caps? Go back and count the hub-caps) let's get back to that first segment. The key moment occurs at 2:14, when Frank, having quite easily slipped his tail, appears in their rear-view mirror, turning the tables and making the hunters the hunted. It's an ingenious and wonderful manoeuvre, and is filmed beautifully, with the camera in the back seat of the villains' car, the mirror nonchalantly positioned in the centre - because that's where it would be anyway, given we're looking out the windscreen with them for Frank's car - and then it just appears in the mirror, popping up and saying "Gotcha!". I think the zoom in goes a little too far to accentuate the reveal, but only a little.

The whole chase uses the streets and hills of San Francisco perfectly, weaving in and out of traffic, utilising the sharp right angle corners to crash and screech all over the road, all the while tormenting those roaring, guttural engines and trashing the chassis on the bumps. The entire scene has no dialogue, it's all about the concentrated expressions and wheelmanship on display.

I'd argue it amongst the best car chases of all time - I previously looked at another contender from The French Connection - but this might just beat it, at least in terms of longevity. I like the temporary satisfied smirk Glasses gives to Stern Face when he thinks they've gotten away, when Frank stopped to check a crashed motorcyclist was alright. I love the use of the mirror outside of the reveal too, allowing us to see the face of the driver and/or passenger as well as the road ahead, just perfect.

What's your favorite movie car chase?

Friday, February 2, 2018

Favorite Scene Friday! Groundhog Day: Déjà vu

Having finally featured Rick and Morty for Escape-athon last week, it seems we're going with a "I can't believe this hasn't been featured for FSF before!" trend. It's particularly surprising since we at one point did a series on scenes featuring Bill Murray, star of today's featured film. We actually have a good reason for not featuring Groundhog Day before, however...the last time the holiday fell on a Friday was all the way back in 2007, long before we started this blog.

Matt Ryan

Groundhog Day, the film about Phil Connors (Murray) reliving the titular holiday over and over in
Punxsutawney, Pennsylvania, is many things rolled up into a nice, neat package. It's an amazing Bill Murray showcase. It's a classic romantic high concept comedy. It popularized the time loop subgenre of science fiction that's been utilized in film and even in TV, as recently as Star Trek: Discovery. The film has really aged into a modern classic, going as far as spawning a Broadway play that Bill Murray famously saw two days in a row (it sadly didn't last).

Our scene this week is the first time Phil relives Groundhog Day. Murray's immediately and effortlessly a smug asshole, but Phil starts to get the sense of something wrong. He quickly goes to the window and sees the day unfolding just as it had the day before. I love that little bit of unsettling music that plays along with that.

Groundhog Day is pretty much wall-to-wall great actors/characters. "Porkchop" - played by Ken Hudson Campbell - is one such character. Billed as "Man in Hallway" his little scream when Phil pushes him up against the wall is perfect. His terrified expression when Phil finally walks away is great as well. This whole bit's great because Phil and the viewer really start to get a sense of the strangeness happening.

Even better than Porkchop, however, is Mrs. Lancaster, played by Angela Paton (sad to learn she just passed away in 2016). Her effortlessly charming "No, but I can check with the kitchen," is one of the best things in this scene.

With all that said, enjoy the scene. Looks like the next Friday Groundhog Day isn't until 2024.

What's your favorite scene from Groundhog Day?

What day would you love to relive over and over? 



Here's a little recommendation...I recently watched Happy Death Day - a horror version of Groundhog Day, essentially - and it was amazing. The horror genre works so well with the time loop premise so I wonder why it's not used more often. Check out the trailer below.