Friday, January 27, 2017

Wonderwall: Weirdo Psychedelic Time Capsule

Written by Guillermo Cabrera Infante from a story by Gérard Brach and directed by Joe Massot, the 1968 film Wonderwall is about as psychedelic as it gets. Released a year after the Beatles’ Magical Mystery Tour film and using George Harrison as a composer, the movie wears its psychedelic credentials on its sleeve. A closeup of cells under a microscope in various Day-Glo colors sets the tone from the beginning. Soon after, we’re introduced to Jack MacGowran’s affable, bumbling scientist, the film’s protagonist.

You’d be forgiven if, like me, you roll your eyes at the choice of a scientist as a sort of avatar for the establishment, but, like me, you might be pleasantly surprised to learn that the objects of the scientist’s fascination, those people on the other side of his apartment that he can see through a hole in his wall, are actually drugged out dolts that really have no clue what they’re doing. But that revelation doesn’t come until we’re nearing the end and at first you might be screaming at the scientist through your TV that his curiosity is grossly misguided. “Expanding consciousness” is great, but the discoveries that come from science are much more important. Luckily, this is the message, but it’s a long time coming. First, the professor, that charming and affable sod is so unhip. He wants to be like the cool kids next door and pines over a beautiful, hip fashion model who seems to be the very embodiment of class and grace. MacGowran, a classically trained actor, deftly turns what was clearly written as a very one dimensional comic character into something resembling a real human being. He’s got a kind of rubbery quality about him, which made me wonder if his performance was perhaps an influence on Rowan Atkinson’s Mr. Bean character.

After the tone is set by footage of psychedelic cells underneath the scientist’s microscope, we go to his apartment, where, disturbed by the noise of music from the apartment next door, he throws a glass display of moth specimens at the wall. Not only does this create the hole in the wall from which the scientist first sees the naked model played by Jane Birkin that does strange things to his imagination, but the dead moths come to life, animated in colorful Disney-style cartoons. So, yeah, we know from there that we’re in for the kind of freewheeling experimentation that we’ve since come to associate with psychedelic films.

And no wonder the scientist falls instantly in love with the entrancing Jane Birkin. She typifies the kind of fragile strength men associated with someone liberated back then. Now we realize that this was still the projection of a male ideal, a virginal yet sensual woman who is both frail and tough at the same time. Birkin was good at this type, as is her daughter, the great Charlotte Gainsbourg, especially in the films of Lars von Trier. Director Joe Massot seems to be aware of these contradictions, however, as several times he photographs Birkin dancing with another model using nothing but closeups and medium shots of their legs, only tilting the camera to their faces once, and very briefly. Add to that the fact that Birkin’s character doesn’t have a line of dialogue and her photographer boyfriend is often seen talking about her and you get a strong sense that Massot was saying that the treatment of women in the counterculture, the perceived liberated youth, still had a long way to go in terms of gender equality. This was actually a very grave problem in the movement, as women were still seen as companions and muses, for the most part, rather than artists themselves. Thus, Birkin’s character is worshiped from afar by the scientist and treated poorly by her photographer boyfriend, but in both cases very highly objectified.

George Harrison’s music is top-notch, of course, and the Wonderwall soundtrack represents the first solo record by a member of the Beatles. Massot gave Harrison carte blanche and promised that any music he composed would be used in the film. No doubt this was highly enticing for the Beatle who was just now coming into his own as a songwriter and whose songs were vastly overshadowed by McCartney and Lennon. Harrison made it his mission to use the score as a way of introducing Indian music to the West. But besides that, there are a wide range of styles exhibited here. Expert banjo music and superb guitar work are highlights. The guitar is  vbn,somewhat heavier at times than most Beatles tunes.

Wonderwall is a very conceptually interesting movie, though even at a short 75 minutes in the director’s cut, it seems long and trudges along in parts. But the concept still holds. Imagination should be integrated into, not overtake one’s life. And this is where the scientist eventually finds himself, having been enriched by psychedelic culture but ultimately continuing with his research, which is far more important.

Friday, January 13, 2017

Postcards from the Edge: Family, Artifice, Style, Humor

Written by the late Carrie Fisher, 1990’s Postcards from the Edge is a fun take on a unique mother-daughter relationship. In an interview with the Columbus Dispatch in 2012, Fisher claimed that the movie wasn’t autobiographical, but at times it’s hard to separate the fictional story of a drug addict actress and her famous mother from the real-life, sometimes rocky relationship between Fisher and her mother, Debbie Reynolds.
Directed by Mike Nichols, the legendary director behind The Graduate, Postcards from the Edge is a fun dark comedy with a touch of drama. In other words, perfect material for the director. The acting is loaded with A-list talent and, as such, is superb. Some actors, like Gene Hackman and Richard Dreyfuss, seem to have believed in the material so much that they took what amounts to glorified cameos to be in the movie, despite being top draws at the time. Dennis Quaid is perfect as a sleazy sex-maniac producer. And Meryl Streep was born to play Suzanne Vale, the daughter of Shirley MacLaine’s Doris Mann. MacLaine is wonderful, of course and some of the best quips in a movie full of great verbal barbs are given to her.
The story is about artifice in nearly all of its forms, and how it gets in the way of real, honest human communication. On one level, we have the obvious artifice of Hollywood. Suzanne has sort of fallen from grace as a Hollywood starlet and is working on various low-budget movies. How much of this is to blame on her drug use isn’t made explicit, but we can guess that it probably had a lot to do with it.
But, of course, Suzanne and Doris’ performances extend far beyond the movie set. For them, everything, every moment around other people, but especially each other, is a performance. Boy, does MacLaine deserve a lot of credit for bringing nuance to such a self-involved character. So much of this material could have gone the way of caricature, and easily, if it hadn’t been for the strong writing and directing and acting. Perhaps the most revealing scene in the movie, save the mother and daughter’s final confrontation near the end of the movie, comes just after Suzanne has been released from rehab. Of course Doris puts together a lavish party with plenty of Hollywood types attending. The mother and daughter each take turns singing for the guests. It’s clear that both of the characters are most comfortable, most “themselves” when performing. And when they sing we see the vulnerability, the raw emotion and the heartache that both characters are full of come bubbling to the surface. Maybe “You Don’t Know Me” was a bit too on the nose for Suzanne’s song, but it’s thankfully one of the few very obvious parts of the movie.
After Suzanne overdoses and is (thankfully briefly) seen in rehab, the premise of the story kicks in: Suzanne wants to get back to work on a new film, but the production company’s insurance people won’t take the risk of having her on set unless she stays with a “responsible party,” and by that they mean a parent, and since her mother is the only one in town...well, you get the idea. Her mother is an alcoholic and part of the humor of the situation is that she’s hardly a “responsible party.”
Everything leads to the Big Confrontation, of course, the moment when both characters drop their sarcasm and humor and bon mots and really bare their souls to each other. This is necessary, of course, if their griping at each other throughout the movie is going to have any meaning. During this final scene, we have some of the most piercing lines. “You only remember the bad stuff, don’t you,” Doris says to Suzanne and, gee, what adult son or daughter can’t relate to the feeling that they’ve been way too hard on their parents? And Suzanne gets hers in too: “You want me to do well, just not better than you.” Well. Of course there’s a tearful reunion at the end and things get a bit overly-sentimental, but it’s touching in its way and we realize that stripped of all their defense mechanisms, there’s real, intense love between this mother and her daughter.

Saturday, December 24, 2016

Turkish Star Wars: What Madness is This?

Remember as you watch Turkish Star Wars that the only limitations in film are dictated by budget and imagination. Not that there’s a ton of imagination here, but the thing has gumption, at least. Actually, Turkish Star Wars is the unofficial, affectionate title given to a 1982 film called The Man Who Saved the World. Quite blunt, that title, like the rest of the movie, but it makes its point. And the Star Wars connection? A bunch of footage, mostly cribbed from the Death Star battle scene at the end of A New Hope, used without permission, of course, at the beginning and end of the film. In between is one of the weirdest, most convoluted, most fun movies you’re likely to see. With all of the wall-to-wall action in this thing, it’s certainly not boring.

The movie opens with a long voice-over. Part of it is as follows: “Going into space, the space age begins.” Well yes, that’s kind of how it works. The rest of the narration, as well as the plot, is just as blunt and the story makes no sense. Something, something, the earth is blown up but maybe not blown up and something that looks quite a bit like the Death Star protects it and a weirdo called the Wizard can’t get through the thing because it’s imbued with the power, literal power in this case, of the human brain and now he has to acquire a human brain of his own to absorb its power and...well, you get it. It’s hard to tell at first, but when they cut from the stolen Star Wars footage and we see a pilot in the cockpit, you finally figure out that the good guys are in the Tie Fighters and the bad guys are in the X-Wings. Everything is vague. Nothing makes sense. Life is meaningless. And that is, I think, the crux of the movie.

Cüneyt Arkin plays Murat. At least that’s his character’s name according to IMDB. I had no idea Arkin’s character even had a name. I just called him Hero Guy. Gee, but he has a beautiful helmet of hair. Maybe to protect that brain the Wizard wants to get his weirdo hands on? Hero Guy’s partner, Ali, is played by Aytekin Akkaya. He’s Hero Guy’s supposed heterosexual life partner, but the amount of hetero between them is questionable. I mean, Ali keeps talking about his prowess with women, but he never gets any. Near the beginning of the film, Ali tells Hero Guy that he can whistle a special kind of tune that will bring all the girls in the area running their way. And so he whistles, and it’s a weird and annoying thing, but instead of women, a bunch of men in skeleton pajamas come to attack them. Shit. Well, I guess even the best laid plans, eh? Further proof that Ali might not know what he’s doing with the ladies comes when the Wizard’s wife tries to seduce him, but he freaks out like a weirdo schoolboy. Nothing wrong with being gay, of course, and someone should let Hero Guy know that constantly complimenting his male companion’s looks, and fawning over his tales about the women in his life, is a clear sign that he’s in love with the guy.

This thing is wall to wall action and insane explosions. The editing is headachingly fast and weird psychedelic colors and no-budget animation are thrown in for good measure. Oddly, the filmmakers have no problem showing children getting killed and bloodied. There’s even a scene where the Wizard sucks blood from a kind of plastic silly straw out of the kids’ heads. It’s a weird juxtaposition with over the top Keystone Kops-type violence. But nothing, not even a consistent tone, is sacred here.

And what of our villain, the Wizard? Wearing a weird helmet that appears ribbed for her pleasure, he claims he has unlimited magical powers, but is constantly getting his ass handed to him. He needs a human brain, sure, but why not just use magic to get it? The guy’s either a fool or a terrible magician. Perhaps both. Probably both. And the monsters and such that are attacking the heroes? They’re wearing pajamas. I mean, that’s what it looks like. Or bear suits with the colors changed. Goddamn, this movie was a blast.

Hero Guy has a love interest! And she’s a woman! But she can’t talk. They just stare uncomfortably at each other for long periods of time. But then she can talk a little bit as the movie progresses because it turns out that she had taken a vow of silence to protect an ancient sword and a kind of shrunken grey brain in a box that Hero Guy has to retrieve in order to defeat the Wizard. She’s beautiful. And she’s really good at staring at Hero Guy as if she’s in love with him, even after she’s only known him for a few minutes.

Side note: did you know you can melt a magic sword and brain together in a vat of some sort and turn the concoction into magic gloves with which you can defeat your mortal enemies? You learned something today. You can thank me later.

Maybe I’m reaching a bit too much here, but the whole thing is kind of like a cutup experiment, the kind of thing advocated and practiced by William S. Burroughs and Brion Gysin, in which texts from different artists are combined with others to create a wholly original work. Do I think this was director Çetin Inanç’s intention? Uh, no. I think he just did what he needed to do to make his movie. Still, there is a sort of comment being made here on the sort of authorlessness of a work of art once it’s released and becomes a part of the public consciousness. I mean, Star Wars and the various films from which the movie’s soundtrack “borrows” were being bootlegged like crazy in Turkey anyway, and it’s not like George Lucas and company needed the income. So why not? Nobody’s going to confuse Star Wars and Turkish Star Wars. In the end, I don’t know, maybe the entire purpose of human existence is to make weird movies and expand our consciousness until we become interdimensional beings and merge with the Great Goo. It’s as reasonable an explanation as anything else.

Friday, December 16, 2016

Let's Have a...Blood Feast!

Hershell Gordon Lewis accidentally invented an entire film sub genre. He wanted to make a little cash, so he invented the “gore” movie. The first of these movies, Blood Feast was released in 1963 and it kinda sorta changed the entire direction of horror movies as they transitioned from the gothic and mad scientist flicks that had been popular since the beginning of film.

Starting with with nudie movies, Lewis moved into gore films when the nudie market became, uh, saturated. When the same thing happened with gore films in the early 70’s, he left moviemaking entirely. Over the years, while working in advertising and writing books on direct marketing, his reputation as an important cult filmmaker slowly grew and he finally returned to filmmaking in 2002. He died on September 26, 2016 at 90, having lived quite the varied life.

Mal Arnold plays the grey-haired killer in Blood Feast, the first of Lewis’s gore films. We open with Arnold, as Fuad Ramses, stabbing a woman in her bathtub. Yup, no ambiguity about who the killer is. And this is all before the opening credits. For his part, Arnold does a neat, though bad, Bela Lugosi imitation. He is, of course, a bad actor, but they all are, so at least the movie is consistent in that respect. Also, Ramses has so much product in his hair that it would take a hurricane to move it. And even then, who really knows.

Ramses’s plan is to resurrect the Egyptian goddess Ishtar through some weird ritual that involves ripping various innards from women and putting them into a pot and I guess adding seasoning before feeding the whole thing to a party of bourgeois white people. Ramses is also a writer, having published a book (self-published, one would assume) called “Ancient Weird Religions.” Hey, bud, maybe these religions are weird to you, but I’m sure it was pretty standard stuff at the time. Women send away to order the book and that’s how ol’ Ramses finds out their address. Why he doesn’t just kill random women, I’m not sure, but I guess they need to be into the whole “weird religion” thing for the ritual to work. Shit, I don’t know. Nothing makes sense anymore.

So, yeah, Fuad is a chef, but who to feed his meal to? Luckily, a woman is looking for a caterer for her daughter Suzette’s party. Also, Suzette (Connie Mason) is really into ancient Egyptian culture, of which Fuad is an expert in their cuisine. Also coincidentally, Suzette is dating detective Pete Thorton (William Kerwin), who is investigating the Fuad murders. Thorton is a bumbling idiot, which is why Fuad is able to get away with his killing spree for so long. I mean, the man is such a dolt that when he and Suzette are attending a lecture specifically on the ancient Egyptian practice of sacrificing people to Ishtar, he still doesn’t put it all together. When Pete finally grasps the obvious, bodies have been piling up all over town for days. Good for Fuad, bad for women who like keeping their tongues in their mouth.

Oh, man, the wonderfully bad acting and wonderfully silly plot make Blood Feast so much more hilarious than scary or cringe-worthy. I’m sure it was shocking enough in its day, but that’s the thing about being first: you get credit for innovation, but others come along and improve on your formula. Still, Blood Feast works as Z-grade comedy-horror. Even the actors seem to have trouble keeping a straight face. Connie Mason is probably the worst of the bunch, so in a bizarre sense she’s kind of the best. She sometimes even looks like she’s reading from cue cards, and hell, she might be. One of the funniest lines comes when an emergency room doctor tells Pete and his partner, “The face was hacked clear to the bone.” Whoa. Try not to be so technical, doc.

The movie was written by Allison Louise Downe, Lewis’s wife at the time. She also wrote other films for him, including the wonderfully titled She-Devils on Wheels. It’s sometimes hard to believe anyone wrote Blood Feast, the plot is so haphazard. Certainly the script they used is what’s known in the industry as a “first draft.” Anyway, the pacing isn’t bad. Things are occasionally kind of slow, but never plodding. At a little over an hour, the movie definitely doesn’t overstay its welcome.

In technical terms, the movie is actually...not bad. Sometimes the blood looks more or less a realistic dark red, but sometimes it’s pink. Probably this has more to do with a washed out print than anything else, but who knows. The direction is economical and there’s certainly nothing very pretty about the composition, though Lewis is okay at framing his shots. Sometimes there seems to be way too much head room, until a character stands up and the frame encompases the largest object in the room. Lewis uses inserts sparingly, but when needed for effect, such as in the stabbing scenes.

The main flaws, if you even want to call them that, are the bad acting and script, but the thing is competently shot, with actual thought going into shot choices and editing. The interesting thing about Hershell Gordon Lewis is that not only did he create an entire sub-genre, but he did it without a sense of passion for what he was doing. Gore movies were a business decision, a way to make money, and when the money stopped coming Lewis moved on from filmmaking completely. Lewis might not have considered himself an artist, but there’s something almost like art here.

Monday, November 28, 2016

The Amazing Transparent...Plot?

Well, yes, so of all the Invisible Man ripoffs, The Amazing Transparent Man of them. Directed by pulp-maestro Edgar G. Ulmer from a script by Jack Lewis and starring Douglas Kennedy, The Amazing Transparent Man has everything you want in a movie. Well, provided that what you want is a movie with disappearing gerbils, a lot of bad invisibility stunts, bad acting, and a silly plot. Well, that’s usually what I want out of a movie. But I don’t exactly have my finger on the pop culture pulse.

The Amazing Transparent Man was shot back to back with another very low budget flick called Beyond the Time Barrier. The total allotted time for both films was two weeks, with Time Barrier given top priority. So The Amazing Transparent Man might have been shot in less than a week, but a week at the most. The movie did come with a cool poster that the exhibiting theaters displayed: “WARNING! Joey Faust, escaped convict, the Amazing Transparent Man, has vowed to “appear” invisible IN PERSON at every performance of this picture in the theater.” Well, then. So there.

Douglas Kennedy, a prolific character actor, plays Joey Faust, a safecracker busted out of prison by one Major Paul Krenner (James Griffith) so that Krenner can get his evil German doctor to experiment on Faust, turning him invisible. And to what end? Well, ultimately Krenner wants to build an army of invisible men. But first, funding! So yeah, Joey the safecracker has to crack some safes while invisible.

Laura Matson (Marguerite Chapman) is the ostensible love interest. She taught me something important: If you’re attractive enough, you can get through a police barricade with the exact convict the cops are looking for simply by batting your eyes a little and saying that the fellow in your passenger seat is your husband and he’s drunk. Te-he. Nothing to worry about here, officer. Nothing at all.

Oh yeah, the German scientist. Of course he’s German, right? And the movie really veers into fucked up territory with the good German doctor when he admits to Faust that he escaped Germany after being forced to experiment on his own wife in a concentration camp. He didn’t know what he was doing at the time because all of the patients were underneath a hood. Still…

You know, Douglas Kennedy isn’t a bad actor, unlike most of his supporting cast. His character is just in the wrong movie. The fedora-wearing fella should be in a low-budget noir of some sort. He is, after all, a bargain, very bargain, Bogart.

As you might expect from a movie made in a week or less, everything is a bit sloppy and haphazard. The lab is so cheap looking, it’s hilarious. But it’s charming in a “my kid built this” kind of way. Also, it’s always nice to see a guinea pig make an appearance, no matter the movie. When the animal is made invisible by the German scientist as a means of convincing Faust that his technique works, the actors don’t do such a convincing job pretending to pet the thing. Also, yeah, the floating bags of money during the bank robbery scene are clearly, so clearly, held up with wire. Everything comes off as a sort of backyard home movie, which, I think, makes the movie all the more charming. Plus, everyone needs money. No shame in doing what you need to do to put food on the table.

Still, considering they probably only had one take for everything, the direction isn’t bad. The errors aren’t too glaring. The scenes have a little bit of coverage, mostly cutaways. Though, as you’d expect, master shots are used a lot. Probably the funniest cutaways come when Laura Matson is driving Faust around in her convertible, having a conversation with him while he’s invisible. Whenever Faust is talking, the camera cuts to an empty seat, with the scenery zooming by in the background, and a bad voice over. Excellent!

Hey, but the movie has a message! I guess. Something about nuclear experiments and the Cold War arms race and...well, if you’re into this thing for a message, you should probably pick a different flick.

Wednesday, November 16, 2016

Moon of the Wolf - Made for TV Werewolf Madness without a Werewolf

As a kid in the 80’s and early 90’s, I loved staying up with my mom and watching a silly made-for-TV movie. Moon of the Wolf was released in 1972, so I wouldn’t have seen this one. Probably would have scared me a bit, even though we don’t really see a werewolf until the final act of the movie. I got spooked easy after the sun went down.

David Janssen, who played Richard Kimble in The Fugitive, stars as the sheriff in a one-horse Louisiana town who has to solve a grisly murder. A wolfy murder? Anyway, a woman is dead and mauled and it looks like a dog did it. Luckily, Janssen is on the job and he’s ready to solve the case. He’s a hardscrabble fella with a scratchy voice, so you know he means business. Also, it’s very hot in Louisiana, so the good sheriff has to leave his shirt open so that he can air out his ample chest hair. I don’t have chest hair. Just a patch of the stuff in the middle of my titties. I sometimes wish I was more hairy, but then I wonder if I would just lose food in there and scratch at it a lot

Plenty of white people in this town. Except for a black housekeeper, of course. This was 1972, so I guess we couldn’t expect too much.

Bradford Dillman (awesome name!) plays Andrew Rodanthe. He’s rich. Like, crazy rich. And his family has basically run this sharecropping town since it was founded. Dillman looks like Anthony Perkins as Norman Bates, so we know who the bad guy is pretty much immediately. The movie tries to throw us off the trail by giving a sort of motivation for the murder to the town doctor, but we know what’s up. Norman Bates is a werewolf. Good. Let’s do this thing.

No. Not gonna happen. Not for a while, at least. We have to go through some relatively boring murder mystery stuff first. Don’t be fooled: This is mostly a run-of-the-mill TV mystery movie except that a werewolf in bad makeup shows up at the end. Not that I’m complaining. The slow pace gave me a chance to truly examine David Janssen’s chest hair and marvel that God allowed something that special to exist.

Oh yeah, Rodanthe has a sister. Why? No reason that I can tell, except that the good sheriff needs a love interest. Barbara Rush is pretty okay in the role, but there’s not much for her to do. Oh, except there’s this scene where she’s wearing a fancy dress and is gardening. The sheriff happens by and she invites him to have some lemonade. Luckily, there’s a table with some lemonade set up on the lawn of the Rodanthe estate. You see rich people do this all the time in movies. Was it really that tough to go inside for a drink? Why not drink from the hose? That’s what my brothers and I did when we were doing yard work for our parents. I’m sure it wasn’t as grueling as gardening in a fancy dress, but we got by, I suppose. I guess the servants put the table there? Do the poor bastards have to haul this table out to the yard whenever Ms. Rodanthe feels like doing some gardening? I guess they have to haul it back in, too? Strange, strange. Very complex, being rich. Anyway, they have some lemonade.

We do finally get to see a shadowy werewolf attack with about twenty minutes left in the movie. It’s better in the shadow, because we don’t have to see the awful werewolf makeup. The one deputy the sheriff has on staff gets killed, as well as a guy they’re holding in one of the jail cells. The guy’s body is mauled and mangled, but the doctor still checks his heartbeat with a stethoscope. No heartbeat? You sure he’s dead? Maybe check again. You never know about these things.

Then there’s a final werewolf attack where nothing much happens. A barn burns. Ms. Rodanthe shoots her brother to death. All very terrible stuff. Everyone’s sad and the movie’s over, and haven’t we really learned some quality lessons?

Thursday, November 10, 2016

The Wonderful Weird World of Doctor Strange

I love weird movies. Anything that takes me drastically out of my element. Throw in some bizarro mystical stuff and make it psychedelic and I’m doubly there. I’m not religious or likely to join a cult anytime soon, so it’s all fantasy to me.

So, Doctor Strange. Been waiting on this for a while. I’ve been following the comic relaunch since its first issue and I’m vaguely familiar with the mythology created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko in the mid-60’s. I was excited for the movie for the same reason I read the comics: I wanted to see some, ahem, strange things.

I don’t normally write about first-run stuff, preferring to see movies from my big puffy chair and take notes where I have light enough to see my writing. But another reason I don’t review these things is that, well, everyone else is. Who needs another asshole’s opinion? As of this writing, there’s three hundred critic’s reviews linked on IMDB. And I’ve read...well, a handful of them. Some of them, but certainly not all, have complained about the admittedly thin story but made the mistake of saying that there’s too much “style” and not enough “substance.” I saw this argument made recently in a review of another movie when I was reading a horror magazine that I subscribe to. The reviewer was comparing a new horror release to a giallo, the Italian pulp film genre that flourished in the 70’s. The reviewer used the exact expression “style over substance” and I almost threw the magazine against the wall. In giallo, just like Doctor Strange, style is substance. Story is a point of departure, not the point itself. This harkens back to the earliest days of film. A complex story was likely to bog down a silent movie. You watched for the photography, the acting, the emotional content.

So let’s talk first about the primary reason for seeing this movie, the marvelous visuals. I wouldn’t recommend watching Doctor Strange in 3D if you’re over 30. You will start bleeding from the eyes. Probably. It’s all just too intense. I don’t even watch regular superhero movies in 3D. This trippy shit would have been a bit too much. I saw the movie twice in two days in regular 2D, like we used to in the old days, and it impressed the hell out of me.

So the movie starts right off with a battle in the mirror universe, a realm that looks like our own except that objects can be manipulated with ease. Yes, the flattened, upside-down buildings will remind you of Inception and the action will remind you of The Matrix, but there’s definitely more to it than that. The filmmakers aren’t just ripping the whole Inception schtick off. The cracking of reality like glass, the buildings turning into clock gears, remind us always of the flick’s big theme: time.

The first half of the movie is darker in tone and in colors. Director Scott Derrickson came from horror, starting out with flicks like The Exorcism of Emily Rose, so I imagine he was most comfortable in this space. The darkness places a stark emphasis on Strange’s dark soul. He’s a great doctor who has helped a number of people, but he also chooses his cases based on the potential glory. He’s a very cruel man, though he doesn’t really mean to be. He’s full of humor, but there’s a bleakness about him. We can feel the cold underneath his warm smile. Overall, the colors seemed a bit darker than what I’m used to from Marvel movies, which I thought was nice.

At one point in the story, Doctor Strange’s guru, the Ancient One, played by the wonderful Tilda Swinton, says to him, “You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole.” Yes, and indeed, this is the very definition of a person before their first psychedelic experience. Afterward, well, with the touch of her hand, the Ancient One sends Strange travelling through the multiverse and we’re treated to one of two can’t miss sequences of the movie. Okay, so I’ve never had a psychedelic experience this intense, no matter what I took to assist me. Frankly, I don’t know how I’d handle it if I did. But the sequence is just wonderful. A YouTube reviewer complained that it went on forever, but, honestly, I wouldn’t mind if most of the movie consisted only of this psychedelic journey. Strange in the vacuum of space, where he encounters a butterfly. A tiny Dr. Strange being pushed through his own eye. The Dali-esque madness of each of his fingers forming hands that form their own hands’’s really a joy to watch and I couldn’t help but sit in awe and really appreciate how far FX work has come. There wasn’t much disbelief to suspend. I really felt like I was in this weird realm with the good doctor.

While the first trip to the astral plane isn’t exactly a heartwarming experience, the dark realm inhabited by Dormammu, the evil consumer of universes, is almost terrifying. Marvel has to keep things family friendly enough that it doesn’t tip all the way over into horror, but the hellscape that Strange is forced into borders on horror movie territory. It’s a bad dream, at least.

So now the Marvel movies have a multiverse. Good on them. We’ve had other realms before, but they were all within the same universe. Now things are literally limitless. Marvel has to be careful here, now that there are literally no boundaries. And it begs a question: once you’ve introduced literally limitless universes, where do you go next? The Marvel Cinematic Universe has been all about careful expansion, starting with relatively earth-bound stories like Iron Man and The Incredible Hulk and then moving onto Thor and Guardians of the Galaxy. Where to next? Where to, indeed.

The acting was fine. Exceptional in a few cases. Though he doesn’t quite nail the American accent (weird, too, because I seem to remember him being fine in Black Mass), Benedict Cumberbatch absolutely embodies Doctor Strange to the point where you simply couldn’t imagine anyone else in the role. I think this, not Sherlock Holmes, will be his most iconic role. As for the supporting players, Rachel McAdams doesn’t have a lot to do as Christine, Strange’s sort of romantic interest, but she’s quite charming nonetheless. Tilda Swinton does a great job with the sexually neutral and androgynous Ancient One. Mads Mikkelsen is a wonderful villain, and I suspect he always will be. Like McAdams, he doesn’t have a lot to do, but his darkly musical Danish accent can’t help but be enthralling. Chiwetel Ejiofor is a bit more than passable as Strange’s sort of sidekick whose major flaw is an unbending adherence to rules, to the detriment of the planet’s survival. He did seem to be channeling Morpheus from The Matrix a bit too much, though.

So yes, go see this movie. Go see it in the theaters. You know, a lot of people are lamenting that theaters almost exclusively play these very mainstream action and 3D-driven movies, but I think that’s okay. So the movie theater is going to be a place of spectacle now. No big deal. Home theaters are getting better and TV screens are as big as you like. No need to get off of your couch to see a cheaper genre movie or an arthouse flick. But, I don’t know, I’m from the home video generation anyway, and my family didn’t have a lot of money growing up, so we mostly only saw movies in the theaters on special occasions like birthdays. And they were always giant spectacles. In 1987, for my seventh birthday, I saw Masters of the Universe. Two years later, I saw Batman. I have no idea what I saw in 1988, but I’m sure it was some sort of giant action spectacle. Or maybe we went to Chuck E. Cheese. Either way, I’m sure I had a lot of fun.