Thursday, November 10, 2016

Moonlight and Doctor Strange

                         The Varying Difficulties of Being “Strange”

                                                     Reviews by Ken Burke

Take care, curious readers, for plot spoilers gallop rampantly throughout the Two Guys’ insightful reviews.  Therefore, be warned, beware, and read on when you’re ready to be transported to … wherever we end up.  Please protect your eyes from the dazzling brilliance.
                                                  Moonlight (Barry Jenkins)
This story of a young boy in Miami is initially about how he has inklings he’s gay, then as he grows into his teenage and young adult years that’s no longer a question, although this film’s not focused on sexual acts or much discussion of sexual identity; instead, it’s a tender, honest look at how a person tries to remain sane even when everything seems stacked against him.
What Happens: This film is presented in 3 chapters beginning with “i: Little,” the nickname for our protagonist, Chiron (Alex Hibbert), a 10-year-old-boy called this because of his smallish-size and recessive-personality, not helped at all by already having questions about his sexual identity which doesn’t endear him to other kids, although Kevin (Jaden Piner) tries to be friendly and helpful.  When we first meet this troubled child he’s being chased by others his age—with no good intentions—until he finds refuge in an unlocked, boarded-up apartment which he’s able to secure against his tormentors who respond by throwing rocks through the 2nd-story-windows.  Suddenly, he’s saved by the imposing man we saw in the opening scene—Juan (Mahershala Ali), a Cuban-turned-drug dealer in this much-less-than-picturesque-Miami-neighborhood—which set the cinematic tone with its extreme-wide-screen-format that can give a powerful sense of a closeup on a character’s face (a tactic used frequently here) because the rest of the shot can be somewhat lost, in soft focus or unimportant background details while the striking facial-image commands our attention, made even more immediate when it remains an anchor-point of visual stability as the camera swirls around the character.  Little won’t say anything to Juan, so the concerned man takes him home where his girlfriend, Teresa (Janelle Monáe), gives Little some dinner, then lets him spend the night with them.  Next day, the kid finally admits where he lives, but when Juan takes him there his mother, Paula (Naomie Harris), hardly says a word to the man, saving her harsh talk later for her delinquent son.  She’s no paragon of motherhood, though, with most of her attention given to drug use and the man who shares her apartment, although Little has little to say to either one of them.  

 The boy begins spending more time with Teresa and Juan (one night he asks what a “faggot” is, leading to sensitive talk from these adults who both condemn the use of the word as well as try to encourage Little to accept himself as gay—if that’s his reality—although he’s barely old enough to really know what that means), with the man taking him to the beach one day in a scene that’s been described as being like a baptism.  This “ceremony” is an occasion of visual delight for us from an unexpected-perspective, as the camera bobs just below or above the surface of the water while Little finds his stroke, just as there are other uncommon aspects of this film, like the dialogue dropping out during Paula’s tirades toward Little as it’s clear we don’t need to hear the specifics of what she’s saying to understand the gulf it’s creating even as a marvelous spectrum of low-key-colors brings some vibrancy into the dark shots and hostile attitudes of this difficult home.  This section ends on a bleak note at Juan’s place another night, though, when Little verifies that this semi-father-figure’s the dealer selling crack to his mother, then he just silently leaves with Juan's face showing the misery he feels over his further contributions to this troubled boy’s distraught life.

 After what seems to be a scene transition with a fuzzy shot of a blue light flashing 3 times, the real change comes via a new graphic, “ii: Chiron,” which leads us into Moonlight’s next section where we jump ahead to our troubled-protagonist’s (now equally-well-played by Ashton Sanders) high-school-years as his miserable harassment continues, especially by bully-leader Terrel (Patrick Decile), although Kevin (now Jharrel Jerome) remains as a friend, bragging about how he’s serving after-school-detention because he was caught getting a blow-job from a female classmate in the stairwell.  Things also continue to be terrible at home where Mom’s increasingly strung-out, demands the money she knows Chiron’s gotten from Teresa (he still spends a lot of time with her, although Juan’s no longer around—a summary I’ve read of this plot says he’s now dead, but I can’t say I got that from any of the dialogue cues) just as Mom does everything else she can to raise a little cash for her habit (including selling herself, as well as anything they might have of value such as their TV set).  In frustration one night, Chiron rides a bus to the beach to get away from all his troubles when Kevin wanders up; alone in plain sight they share a joint, then a kiss (that Kevin initiates), then a hand-job for Chiron from Kevin.  Just as Chiron’s now hopeful that something good will emerge in his life, the next day at school Terrel intimidates Kevin into punching his friend which Kevin does in fear of becoming the victim himself.  After Chiron keeps standing back up rather than staying down as Kevin begs him to do, Terrel and his thugs stomp Chiron until running away as a security guard rushes over.  Despite his face being bloodily-battered, Chiron refuses to divulge the names of his attackers; he simply goes home to bathe his face in ice-water.  The next day, however, he storms back into the school (shown in long, tension-building-tracking-shots as he walks), goes up behind Terrel, picks up an empty chair, bashes it over his adversary, continues attacking him until Chiron’s held back, then taken away by the police with Kevin watching in stunned silence.

 For the final chapter of this film the implied scene change comes with a red light flashing 4 times, but the actual shift comes to us with a now-familiar-graphic; this time it says “iii: Black,” which takes us to 10 years later with yet another excellent actor—Trevante Rhodes—playing Chiron (this section’s title is from the nickname Kevin kept using for his close friend in the previous episode), who’s now quite-buffed-up (seemingly from lifting weights while in prison; we don’t assume that Terrel was killed but there must have been some serious charges after the attack), apparently has taken on Juan’s old occupation, wears removable gold teeth (just like his mentor), and seems to be driving Juan’s actual Chevy Impala.  He’s now living in Atlanta, sometimes visits his mother (either there or somewhere else in Georgia—Jenkins isn’t that keen on providing a lot of connective details but rather requires you to invest yourself more into the immediate moments of his narrative, with the fill-in-plot-points left to your assumptions) who’s in long-term-rehab; she’s looking for forgiveness, he’s not that keen on giving it but tries to understand the hell she was also going through when he was younger.  Then Chiron gets a surprise call one night from a likewise-older-Kevin (André Holland), still back in the old neighborhood but now working as a diner cook (a skill he picked up while in prison himself, with the crime not specified).  Chiron drives down to visit; business is slow that night so the 2 men are able to talk quite a bit around Kevin’s 1-man-duties as cook, waiter, and cashier—that is, once Chiron gets past his initial hesitation, having not seen Kevin at all since that fateful day back in high school.

 As their conversation warms up (aided by a couple of bottles of wine Kevin brings to the table), Kevin notes he has a baby girl by a woman they both used to know (seemingly he doesn’t live with her), then invites Chiron to stay the night at his apartment.  As the film ends, it's clear that the long-dormant-friendship between these 2, who truly love each other, begins to reassert itself with a shot of them sitting on Kevin’s couch, leaning slightly together as we leave them through a fade-out.

So What? Now that Nate Parker’s completely-different-film (review in our October 27, 2016 posting) that uses the same title as that of D.W. Griffith’s (1915) infamous-classic, The Birth of a Nation, has failed to live up to the great buzz it generated last winter when it was the big hit of the Sundance Film Festival—grossing a measly 15 million in domestic dollars (U.S.-Canada) after a month in release—partly due to resurrected-rape-allegations against Parker from back in his undergrad days (he was eventually cleared but controversy from the situation continues to haunt him, as explored in my earlier review); partly due to criticisms about both his skill as a director and his fabrication of the history he bases his film on; partly—I’m sure—due to the topic of an 1831 slave rebellion where dozens of Whites were killed not being the sort of content easily sold to today’s movie audiences in this hostile political climate we’ve endured for far too long (hopefully to ease up now the long-fought-battle for the U.S. Presidency is thankfully over, although with Donald Trump as the victor I cautiously await to see if he can repudiate his offensive campaign rhetoric), Moonlight emerges as a strong contender to help try to put the OscarsSoWhite controversy from 2015 somewhat to rest because with the critical acclaim this film’s generated (Rotten Tomatoes has 98% positive reviews, Metacritic's average score is 99%; more details in the Related Links section much farther below), Jenkins’ triumph should be in contention for several awards or it could become the inciting-incident for even more harsh protests than plagued last year’s Oscars if it doesn’t achieve such recognition.  
 Based on Tarell Alvin McCraney's unproduced-play, In Moonlight Black Boys Look Blue (roughly 2006, it seems), with both playwright and filmmaker surprisingly from the same Liberty Square public-housing-complex in Miami’s Liberty City neighborhood, they found great incentive to work together to get this project out to the public although it was in pre-production and financing-limbo from early 2013 until late 2015; the final version was shot in a manner that reflects the resulting tight budget of the production, with the opening section offering the look of mid-definition-video at times, then becoming more fine-grained in sophistication as the film moves into its final segment, reflecting the arc of the story as Chiron evolves from put-upon “Little” to self-determined “Black,” even as his life has been put through enormous challenges before he’s even reached the age of 30.

 Whether you’re willing to see this extraordinary film about a young Black man who’s troubled about his emerging sexual interests (even though he’s not alone in his neighborhood in being curious about his body; even during the “Little” segment there’s a scene after a dance class where he’s encouraged into a room by Kevin as all the boys show their penises to each other [but not to us, although the adult concepts, the implications of sexual conduct—including a dream where Chiron sees Kevin having sex with a girlfriend—the drug use, etc. are enough to easily earn this film an R rating for simply presenting the reality that a lot of inner-city-folks face on a daily basis], but if actual homosexual romance scenes make you squirm don’t be too concerned because there’s only 1 of them here, presented very subtly even though it’s clear what’s going on between the 2 attracted teens)as Chiron’s growing up in a brutal-environment where the best role models he can find are a drug dealer and his girlfriendmay depend on how tolerant you are about a life situation that likely doesn’t resemble what's lived by the usual arthouse moviegoer (which is the type of venue where Moonlight’s likely been playing for the last 3 weeks, in a mere 83 theaters so 
far, grossing just under $3 million domestically [its most likely source of revenue, given the long-standing-assumption that this kind of film doesn’t play well in the overseas markets, especially when compared to a more-accessible-blockbuster-contender like Doctor Strange, to be reviewed below]).  The acting quality here is all first-rate (especially Harris, who could easily be a strong contender for the Best Supporting Actress Oscar, depending on how her competition proves out over the next couple of months); when these superb performances are added to the emotionally-charged-story of this boy’s constant alienation even when he tries desperately to find some solace in his harsh existence we get a compelling look at unwarranted human misery, even as the deft articulation of all this through restrained scenes, revelatory dialogue, and striking cinematography (both my wife, Nina, and other reviewers have also noted the high quality of the mesmerizing soundtrack, which is an aspect of cinema that I must admit I just don’t notice enough when I’m taken in as much as I am by story structure, acting, and visuals, which are about all I can keep up with when watching this film while also furiously taking notes in the darkness so as to be able to write these reviews because most of what I’ve seen would evaporate by the next day if I tried to rely solely on memory) easily marks Moonlight as one of the great cinematic highlights of 2016 so far.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: In this filmbased on Jenkins’ life growing up in such a rough community with such an abusive mother coupled with McCraney’s play that speaks to his own difficult times in that same Miami neighborhood as a young gay man not accepted by his peerswe have found something that has firmly grabbed critical attention (although not connected with a large audience yet, which I can only hope will happen in the upcoming weeks), offering awards voters in various honoring groups later this year and early next an opportunity to praise a production that matches its honest explorations of a child’s undeserved-trauma in navigating his way through endless burdens with filmmaking of a seemingly-casual-but-searing-ability to cut to the heart of such difficulty, laying bare the general horrors that anyone who’s ever been put in the position of despised-outcast can feel a connection with as well as speaking to the specifics of an individual situation of isolation, made relatable even to those of us who understand Chiron’s situation only from a standpoint of abstract empathy rather than direct involvement.  It’s a subtly-powerful-experience, well worth the praise it’s garnered so far, but as our just-finished (in more ways than one, in my opinion) Presidential election has shown, success in the “polls” (in this case, critical consensus) doesn’t always translate into success with the actual voters (especially where films are concerned, if they don’t make enough of an impact at the box-office [just as other voters—of the political sort—want promises of success in their bank accounts, whether these promises are likely to have substance or not]) so we’ll just have to wait and see how this all comes together when Oscar and other groups' nomination ballots are mailed out in the coming weeks.

 As I bring my comments on Moonlight to a close I’m in the usual position of trying to conjure up an appropriate Musical Metaphor to speak in the form of another medium to something notable I experienced in watching the cinematic subject under review here.  Some of you might feel I should have used “Moonlight Feels Right” (from the 1976 album of the same name) by the group called Starbuck because of its use of lyrical imagery about “I’ll take you on a trip beside the ocean […] play[ing] the radio on southern stations […] 'Cause me and moon are itchin’ to play […] The moon’ll send you on your way” (so if that’s your preference here’s a version of it illustrated with nice photos of sunsets and night shots, or if you’d prefer just a video of the band in performance [along with some lovely moon pictures] here's that), my preference is to stick with a song that works very effectively in the film’s soundtrack, Barbara Lewis’ “Hello, Stranger” (from the 1963 album of the same name) either at where you get the dual pleasure of seeing Barbara in performance along with lyrics subtitles in Portuguese or at which is just the aural version of the original recording.  In the film this pops up as Chiron’s on his way to finally reconnect with Kevin after their long hiatus, but to me it also speaks to Chiron’s life as he’s finally found some peace with himself, even though it’s come about only through the teen-torture that drove him to violently attack his high-school-tormentor, followed by who-knows-what in his prison years.  He’s been a stranger to himself most of his life, so he could easily be saying internally “It seems so good to see you back again How long has it been? It seems like a mighty long time [… but if this more-secure-Chiron’s] not gonna stay Please don’t tease me like you did before Because I still love you so [, my lost man].”  Seemingly, he’s found himself and Kevin after lots of lost years, which I can only hope will be his fate, just as I hope you'll eventually find this glorious (but hard to watch) film on your own.
                                          Doctor Strange (Scott Derrickson)
A brilliant but egotistical neurosurgeon loses command of his hands in a car crash so he goes to Nepal seeking non-Western answers to his dilemma; instead he trains to be a sorcerer, a warrior of the magical arts, because his mentor reveals that some rogue trainees of hers are in league with an evil extra-dimensional being who's intent on absorbing Earth into his realm.
What Happens: (I’ll be recounting this movie’s events not completely in strict-screening-chronology but in line with the context of those events for [relative] brevity and clarity.)  Eons ago in a part of the multiverse of existences beyond our awareness, Dormammu (portrayed—with a nice touch of irony—in a digitized, transformed manner by Benedict Cumberbatch), an evil being from the Dark Dimension where time doesn’t exist (so that all who inhabit this strange zone can live forever), set his sights on absorbing our planet into his realm, only to be held at bay by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) who’s been secretly drawing power from the Dark Dimension herself for a vastly-extended-lifetime in order to prevent this intended intrusion, which she’s done with the aid of other highly-evolved-sorcerers like herself through the spells cast on 3 buildings—Sanctums—in New York City, London, and Hong Kong.  With all this as background to actually be revealed as the movie evolves, we begin in the sort-of-androgynous-Ancient One’s secret headquarters of Kamar-Taj in Kathmandu, Nepal where her rebellious protégé, Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), and his rogue henchmen kill the librarian keeper of her ancient texts in order to steal the pages from a book about a ritual that will allow Dormammu to enter our space because Kaecilius is infatuated with the desire for eternal life.  Meanwhile, back in Manhattan, we have Dr. Stephen Strange (also Cumberbatch), a brilliant, rich, groundbreaking, photographic-memory-enhanced neurosurgeon (as we meet him he’s successfully removing a bullet from the skull of a man wrongly-assumed to be brain-dead) who’s also a conceited asshole, even to co-worker/ex-girlfriend Dr. Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams). However, one night while speeding his sports car to an important event he’s distracted while texting (That's a warning, kids!), has a terrible crash, then loses himself to despair when his hands are no longer functional for operations because of extensive nerve damage, so his career seems doomed.

 In the process of unsuccessful therapy, though, he learns of Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt), a paraplegic who mysteriously regained mobility, so when Strange tracks him down he’s given the information that ultimately leads to Kamar-Taj.  (Pangborn attempted to be a disciple of the Ancient One but settled for drawing off his own font of mystic energy that keeps his body whole again.)

 Strange at first maintains his arrogant dismissals of anything that he doesn’t consider hard science (this mystic wants him to “reorient the spirit to heal the body”) but then he changes his tune when the Ancient One shows him the existence of the astral plane (where only his essence exists rather than his physical form), other realities (such as the Mirror Dimension) where space and/or time may exist in manners that defy our understanding of physics (which gets us into visuals that are even more extreme in their defiance of how we've come to comprehend 3-dimensional-space and gravity than what we've seen illustrated in Inception [Christopher Nolan, 2010]), as well as convincing him of the power of magic as a parallel force for protecting our planet against attacks that are usually dealt with in extensively-physical-ways by guardians like the Avengers (we’ll get back to that during the final credits).  Once convinced of all of these other realms of existence, Dr. Strange wants to be trained in their powers but the Ancient One initially rejects him because of his ego, alarmingly like that of Kaecilius, but then she relents, turning him over to Karl Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) for training because they feel they may need what they perceive as his innate abilities to master this magic in their coming conflict with Dormammu (shades of Yoda and Obi-Wan Kinobi recognizing the innate strength of The Force in Luke Skywalker, but given that Doctor Strange has been inhabiting various Marvel Comics since 1963 I’ll just accept this as coincidence between related fantasy storylines rather than a rip-off).  Strange is a quick learner, worrisome to Mordo and new librarian Wong (Benedict Wong) because he’s pushing boundaries that they feel should be sacrosanct.  His desire to once again be in command of his future (with the assumption that learning enough of this magic will restore full power to his hands, as with Pangborn’s recovery), becomes useful, though, when his use of the powerful amulet, the Eye of Agamotto, and his wormhole-creating Fling Ring, land him in London as a counterattack against Kaecilius’ gang; he holds them off, with the active aid of the seemingly-self-aware Cloak of Levitation, until Mordo and the Ancient One arrive to help him.

 During the ensuring combat, the London Sanctum is neutralized, Kaecilius escapes after both sowing discord with these other sorcerers about the Ancient One’s use of Dark Dimension power (although he yearns for it himself, angry that “time kills everything”) and then mortally wounding her; she tells Strange that she violated the intended natural order to offer needed protection to our planet, feels that her death is now appropriate, essentially turns over her position of Sorcerer Supreme to her newest acolyte (reminiscent of Obi-Wan and Luke again), then dies, even after Strange whisks her to NYC for help from the long-unseen Dr. Palmer (who left Strange in disgust because of his insulting attitudes toward her, even after she’d been instrumental in his initial recovery).  Strange is then off to Hong Kong with Mordo and Wong, only to find that Kaecilius has already defeated the Sanctum there so Dormammu’s in the process of taking over our realm.  After some combat in which Wong’s killed, Strange uses his amulet to reverse time, restoring Wong and halting the incursion of the Dark Dimension (this bit reminds me of Kal-El’s reverse-rotation of Earth to turn back time and revive Lois Lane in Superman [Richard Donner, 1978]) but his spell becomes held in neutral by Kaecilus so Strange goes directly to Domammu where he creates a time loop (now we’re into shadings of Groundhog Day [Harold Ramis, 1993]) where the more powerful being keeps killing him only to have the situation repeated endlessly until, in frustration, he agrees to Strange’s bargain of breaking the spell in return for Domammu giving up on absorbing Earth; as he leaves, though, he takes Kaecilus and his goons with him, for an eternal existence that Strange implies will be as bad as what Robert Langdon just told us about Dante’s Inferno (Ron Howard; review in our November 3, 2016 posting).  
 With the crisis resolved, Mordo stalks off, disgusted with how Strange and the Ancient One violated the forces of nature, Strange returns his amulet (Wong says its an Infinity Stone—a powerful object that’s part of the greater Marvel Cinematic Universe of endless movies, giving them a sense of their interconnected comic-book-heritage) to Kamar-Taj then settles in as the NYC Sanctum keeper.  As the credits roll, we get 2 more scenes that set us up for further sequels: (1) Strange and Thor discuss allowing Loki to come to Earth as the Asgardians search for missing Odin, (2) Mordo takes Pangborn’s mystical power away, angry that Earth has “too many sorcerers.

So What? Unlike 
with the superheroes that I've always considered the prime players in the DC Comics multiverse—at least the ones I had the closest connections to back in the 1960s-to-mid-‘70s when I would frequently invest in their exploits (Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, Wonder Woman, the Flash, and other original members of the Justice League of America)—or even those few from over in Marvel’s territory that I occasionally paid some attention to (Thor, Spider-Man, the Incredible Hulk, even once in a while the Fantastic Four or the Silver Surfer), I know virtually nothing about Doctor Strange, except for his basic existence (which doesn’t amount to much because I didn’t even realize that his surname is actually “Strange”), so I’ve come to this character with almost as blank a slate as I had for (to me) the completely-unknown Guardians of the Galaxy (James Gunn, 2014; review in our August 7, 2014 posting).  What I can say about this type of movie, though, is it falls squarely into what I’ve taught in my Film and American Society class as a subgenre of Fantasy, which I call Myth as Reality, where it joins a lot of Disney classics whose plots depend on witches and fairies, tales where the protagonists at least seem to have divine origins (Wonder Woman, Thor), and narratives rooted in sorcery and other non-physics-based-phenomena (easily the various Lord of the Rings and Harry Potter adventures but also the Star Wars galaxy’s Force, despite George Lucas’ scriptwriters’ attempts at explaining this universal energy field as being something other than the Hindu/Transcendalist conception of the Oversoul, as well as the Green Lantern Corps in that there’s no way you can describe what’s they are in scientific terms).

 For the record I also include in this Fantasy genre the subgroup of Science Fantasy where attempts to justify a superhero’s powers lead to a quasi-rational-explanation (Superman—from another galaxy; Spider-Man, the Flash, etc., transformed by exposure to radiation, chemicals, etc.; X-Men—mutants with astounding powers that defy all laws of physics) that still fails to move these movies into the related realm of true Science-Fiction that deals with space exploration, viable aliens, etc.

 Sometimes, though, the Myth as Reality and the Science Fantasy folks find themselves in a situation of co-existence (as in the current Marvel Avengers movies and the upcoming Justice League releases from DC/Warner Bros.), with everyone just having to accept that their various supernatural characteristics constitute similar-but-separate-aspects in their various comics or cinematic universes (which also include ordinary—but still extraordinaryhumans with some notable form of technological support, such as Batman, Iron Man, Ant-Man, Green Arrow, Hawkeye, etc.), so it shouldn’t be too “strange” within these particular Fantasy contexts for pure sorcerers (who survive with their wits, spells, various mystical objects, and Force-like sources of external power rather than some innate or transformed biology) to also join in with these other types of superheroes to either confront planetary-threats or become such themselves (although it wouldn’t likely be as acceptable for a costumed, radiation-mutated wallcrawler to show up in either the Hobbit or Hogwarts stories; it just depends on what sort of context has been established as to how far you can go in continuing to push its boundaries).  As that inter-final-credits-scene from Doctor Strange showed us, we can sometime in the near future expect to see such an amalgamation of the magical and the mythical when this powerful sorcerer joins forces with the Thunder God in the upcoming (intended for November 3, 2017 release) Thor: Ragnarok (Taika Waititi), along with a representative from the Science Fantasy subgenre, the Hulk, who should provide an interesting pairing with these other 2 manipulators of the physical world.  Exactly how much we’ll see of Doctor Strange in what’s structured as a Thor story we won’t know for about a year, but I guess anything can now happen in the interconnected Marvel Cinematic Universe, especially after we found most of the Avengers (along with other ultimate warriors who hadn’t previously joined that group) in the last Captain America movie, … Civil War (Joe and Anthony Russo; review in our May 13, 2016 posting).  No matter how much he interacts with Thor, though, we can count on Dr. Strange to be back in his own sequel, based on the great financial success of this debut-intro to this fascinating character.

Bottom Line 
Final Comments: In a mere 2 weeks of its release in various markets (some only just debuting the movie last weekend) we find that this version of the unique lifestory of 
Doctor Strange has already grossed $332 million worldwide with about $91.3 million of that from domestic theaters ($44.5 million came from China, the primary reason why the character of the Ancient One was changed from being an old Tibetan man so as to not offend this vast, lucrative market where anything that praises Tibet can lead to repercussions, although the filmmakers also noted that they didn’t want to perpetuate the Asian stereotypes seen in both this character and Wong in the original comics, which we can only hope is as sincere as their need to not alienate potential ticket-buyers [or government censors] in the world’s largest movie market, now that they’re open to capitalist subversion on their screens).  It’s also played well with the critical community, racking up a highly-commendable 90% of positive reviews at Rotten Tomatoes, a more likely (but still high for them) 72% score at Metacritic.  How well this rendition of a long-known, seemingly-beloved Marvel character plays with those much more invested in him than me, I can’t say, but with the immense talent of Cumberbatch in the lead role I couldn’t help but be intrigued with Dr. Strange, although 
I’ll have to agree with my insightful-wife, Nina, that his semi-love-interest (about whom he obviously still holds stronger feelings than he wants to let on, based on his attachment to a broken watch which we finally find out was a gift from Dr. Palmer) isn’t given nearly as meaty a role, so that even such a talent as McAdams comes off flat with the limited range of responses that she’s allowed to explore.  
But, then, that seems to be a problem for such girlfriends in all MCU movies so far, according to this analysis for U.K.’s The Guardian, despite the stellar track record for these cinematic superhero stories, where they’re now 14 for 14 in terms of solid critical and audience response, making it all the more clear why Disney was wise to add them to their already-huge-media-empire, where maybe they could violate my earlier-stated-boundaries by having Doctor Strange traverse space and time to meet up with Luke Skywalker in these new Star Wars episodes—don’t count on it, but then I never counted on a real-estate-blowhard/reality-TV-huckster becoming President of the United States either*; you should never assume the impossible where pitching a far-fetched-idea to the American public is concerned, no matter what the likely (dire?) consequences may be, as the eager buyers are always ready to pounce at any opportunity.

*Maybe a look back at a 2-minute-summary of how this seemingly-eternal-campaign evolved over the last couple of years can help explain how we collectively arrived at such an unexpected result.  I’m still too much in shock (and preoccupied with exploring Vancouver, B.C. real estate) to yet make any sense of it, but maybe you can do it.

 While Nina and I didn’t see Doctor Strange in 
3-D I can imagine that the couple of bucks in extra ticket expense might actually be worth it this time because at least with some of the shifting scenery in the Mirror Dimension scenes it seems like this would be spectacular with extra-added-depth, although I can’t tell if the whole experience would likewise benefit from 
such enhancement.  Overall, for a detail-packed-origin-story this introduction to Doctor Strange works very well (sadly for me, better than the same attempt with Green Lantern [Martin Campbell, 2011], in which a personal-favorite-character with a very thick backstory also had to be explained in the process of thwarting an Earth-endangering-villain, but it all proved to be more complexity than most moviegoers could tolerate) at the distracting-entertainment-level that it’s aimed at (which may give me good reason to attempt to go lose myself in it again rather than having to watch/read endless rehashes of this now-done-but-woebegone-election or—even worse—see press conferences with our “astute” President-Elect Trump [oh, well, I endured over 25 years of Nixon, Reagan, and the Bushes, so I guess I should be used to such insanity by now; at least the stock market seems to have recovered from its anticipated drop on election night so I don’t have to immediately start planning to climb a wall into Mexico to find a place I can afford to live]).  The production values in Doctor Strange are high, Cumberbatch and Swinton add class to a bunch of comic-book-magic-mumbo-jumbo, and the idea there may be other realities out there to explore rather than the one we’ll be enduring for the next 4 years is somewhat comforting at this point.  

 Rather than perpetuating this ennui about the Presidential election any further, I think maybe it’s best that I just wrap it all up with this movie’s Musical Metaphor which seems to me to be well-addressed by the Electric Light Orchestra’s “Strange Magic” (from their 1975 Face the Music album) at where you’ll find poor video quality but a solid account of the audio, even though the song’s almost all chorus rather than much in the way of lyrics yet the lines about “sailing softly through the sun in a broken stone age dawn [… while] walking meadows in my mind, making waves across my time” offer about as much sense as anything you’ll see in this weirdly-effective-movie's exploration of concepts far beyond normal comprehension.

 With that, I’ll bid adieu until next time, pondering whether Doctor Strange wasn’t able to prevent us from being swallowed up into the Dark Dimension after all, but if that did happen at least it came after the sweet victory of the Chicago Cubs in the World Series after waiting 108 years since the last time that they won this honor, so I still have something to celebrate.  For now, though, I’ll turn my thoughts to another city, where the isle of Manhattan gives its name to a cocktail that might help put my troubled mind at ease (not sure what I can do for Nina at this point, who’s literally sick to her stomach, possibly from these unexpected voting results—with little helpful change in the Congressional-landscape either) at least until the specifics are in place for CA to join other U.S. states in the legal use of recreational-marijuana as I drift back once again to thoughts of what we experienced at the Desert Trip music festival (wishing we could put our happy nights there into an endless time loop), as I try to become "Comfortably Numb" with Roger Waters (from the 1979 Pink Floyd The Wall album) while waiting until the 2018 election cycle to see if all these "Trump-eters" actually followed The Who’s directive of "Won't Get Fooled Again" (from the 1971 Who’s Next album) or will they just be waiting, along with Neil Young and me, to see what happens "After the Gold Rush" (from the 1970 album of the same name) when we’ll be looking for “a new home in the sun.”  All of these videos were recorded on the nights of the 2nd weekend—October 14-16, 2016 (you can get my full account of the Trip in the October 27, 2016
Two Guys' posting)—of that monumental event, which will remain much more memorable for us than November 8, 2016’s election returns that I’ll have to hope will someday produce something better than we’re imagining right now, although it may take the combined forces of Doctor Strange, Spider-Man, the Avengers, and the Guardians of the Galaxy to help that come to pass or they’ll at least give us a reason to keep going to our moviehouses to lose ourselves in their various counter-realities as we await the emerge of some better Ancient One to again bring light into our darkness.
Related Links Which You Might Find Interesting:
We encourage you to visit the summaries of Two Guys reviews for our past posts.*  Overall notations for this blog—including Internet formatting craziness beyond our control—may be found at our Two Guys in the Dark homepage If you’d like to Like us on Facebook please visit our Facebook page. We appreciate your support whenever and however you can offer it!

*We’re sorry to say that a Google software glitch causes every Two Guys in the Dark posting prior to August 26, 2016 to have an inaccurate (dead) link to the Summary page, but there are too many of them to go back and fix them all.  From 8/26/16 on this link is accurate, with hopefully not too much confusion caused by this latest stupid snafu from the Alphabet overlords’ programming problems.

Here’s more information about Moonlight: (25:20 interview with screenwriter-director Barry Jenkins, original playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney, and many of the actors from the film: Mahershala Ali, Janelle Monáe, Naomie Harris, André Holland, Trevante Rhodes, Alex Hibbert, and Ashton Sanders)

Here’s more information about Doctor Strange:

For those of you who might be like me and not have much background knowledge about Dr. Strange, here are some helpful links (in ascending order of length, so you can gauge how much interest you really have in this topic): (Who Is Doctor Strange? [5:32]), (The Insane History of Doctor Strange [7:55]), (Top 10 Incredible Doctor Strange Facts [11:36], (101 Facts About Doctor Strange [28:48])

Please note that to Post a Comment below about our reviews you need to have either a Google account (which you can easily get at if you need to sign up) or other sign-in identification from the pull-down menu below before you preview or post.

If you’d rather contact Ken directly rather than leaving a comment here please use my new email at  Thanks.

By the way, if you’re ever at The Hotel California knock on my door—but you know what the check out policy is so be prepared to stay for awhile. Ken

P.S.  Just to show that I haven’t fully flushed Texas out of my system here’s an alternative destination for you, Home in a Texas Bar, with Gary P. Nunn and Jerry Jeff Walker.


  1. Moonlight seems to have benefited from their Best Picture loss / win in my area. Only the art house Bijou was showing it, and then just once a night. Now it is mainstream accessible although clearly not meat and potatoes for most Texas filmgoers. I found the low res shots distracting but they seemed to focus on the kid's vertigo like confusion at stressful times. Overall an interesting film, clearly realistic for the time periods and still better (in my mind) than La La Land. Lion would have been my choice but as everyone seems to be saying these days, it is what it is...

    1. Hi rj, My apologies that it took so long for your comments to get posted but I just inadvertently came across them in the Moderation folder while looking for something else. I wasn't ready to go with Moonlight for Best Picture either (although I was happy enough for about a minute with La La Land's victory, given that my real favorite, Fences wasn't the winner), but it's not a bad choice (#5 for me for the year, with the others noted above, along with Nocturnal Animals and Hell or High Water higher on my list), although I don't know how well it'll be remembered over the coming years. Ken

  2. Moonlight is nothing else than a trash movie used to reinforce the rhetoric message about the black people.
    As usual they have the worst mother, they use drugs, they spoke bad... And now they are also gay!
    The movie in it self is very bad made, actors and their role who suddenly disappearing, a normal guy (the protagonist) who has been bitten because is supposed to be strange but he doesn't appear like that, never.
    Just a wrong message to release among youngsters.
    They got the Oscar? Guess why!

  3. Hi TreSeiNove, Obviously our opinions on Moonlight are very different. Sorry that you found it so offensive but I did not. Thanks, though, for reading my review and for leaving your comment. Ken