Friday, May 6

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness Review

Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness

Dir: Sam Raimi

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olsen, Benedict Wong, Rachel McAdams, Chiwetel Ejiofor, and Xochitl Gómez

2h 6m

The latest entry into the Marvel Cinematic Universe expands the possibilities of where these superhero films can go. With a multiverse in the narrative mix, we can have multiple Dr. Strange's or alternate worlds where events viewers have experienced alter enough to change familiarity. And, in the case of "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness," you can bring the creative genius of director Sam Raimi to incorporate his unique blend of cinematic madness into the mix. 

Madness is the best way to describe Raimi's return to the genre he had a hand in defining with films like "Darkman" and the original "Spider-Man" trilogy. The narrative is messy and convoluted from the start, with motions back to the Disney+ "WandaVision" series and the most recent "Spider-Man: No Way Home" film. But as the story settles into its multiverse theme, the exciting, exuberant style of Sam Raimi takes over, pushing the gore and horror elements about as far as any Marvel film has while also composing a frame of visuals that feels different for the Marvel cinematic style. It's refreshing watching the old tools used with new creative hands.

The film opens with alternate-universe Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) protecting a young girl with special powers named America Chavez (Xochitl Gómez) from a creature in pursuit. Things end badly, and America, who can jump from universe to universe but doesn't know how to control her power, escapes into the dimension with the familiar Stephen Strange. In this world, Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olsen), better known now as The Scarlett Witch, is still grieving the trauma of the reality she created, which ultimately came crumbling down, losing the family she so desperately wanted. America's abilities are powerful and feared, and Dr. Strange, along with ally Sorcerer Supreme Wong (Benedict Wong), are the only ones who can help her. The two travel through numerous alternate universes in hopes of finding a solution. 

Sam Raimi composes "Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" at breakneck speed, hardly allowing any time for the viewer to get comfortable with the story before introducing either an action sequence or more exposition to race to the finish line. Raimi assumes that if you are in the theater for this film, you have watched the prerequisite shows/movies to understand the aggressive plotting. While the story is chaotic, sometimes in disarray, it utilizes the strongest characters, Dr. Strange and the Scarlett Witch, to anchor the emotions. The emphasis here leaves a problem for the newest character America Chavez, played with confidence by Xochitl Gómez, who isn't provided with many opportunities to impose emotions into the story surrounding her. 

Raimi's unique vision and style is the real champion of the film. With influences from "The Evil Dead," "Army of Darkness," and "Drag Me To Hell," Raimi pushes the film into horror movie territory with his iconic zooms, sound clashes, and mischievous use of horror mixing humor that has defined many of his movies. It's a real treat to see the director back in the comic book movie chair. 

It helps that Benedict Cumberbatch is leading the charge as the charming yet arrogant Master of the Mystical Arts, Dr. Strange. Still, the shining star of this film belongs to Elizabeth Olsen playing the vengeance-fueled Scarlett Witch. Olsen embodies a wide range of emotions, anger and rage countered by fear and sorrow. At one moment, both the chaos-magic-wielding Scarlett Witch and homemaking-mom Wanda Maximoff encounter each other; the concluding interaction is a fascinating look at the evolution of this character and the emotions that compose her entire story. 

"Dr. Strange in the Multiverse of Madness" may not execute all of its narrative ambitions consistently, but that never keeps the film from being entertaining and a fast-paced experience. Raimi's style, restrained within the Marvel Universe, still adds humor, heart, and, surprisingly, hints of horror throughout, especially in the film's second half, which feels just a tiny step away from going into the director's full signature. Hopefully, Sam Raimi returns for more of these superhero adventures. 

Monte's Rating

3.50 out of 5.00

Monday, April 25

The Bad Guys Review

The Bad Guys

Dir: Pierre Perifel

Starring: Sam Rockwell, Zazie Beetz, Marc Maron, Awkwafina, Craig Robinson, Anthony Ramos, Richard Ayoade, Alex Borstein, and Lilly Singh

1h 40m

Director Pierre Perifel introduces the cartoon caper “The Bad Guys” with a breakneck scene involving all the familiar moves of some of the greatest heist films in cinematic history. A calculated setup involving complex schemes leads to a city-wide car chase. All the players are introduced in fun moments detailing their skillset; it’s fast-paced, humorous, and clever right out of the starting gates. The crew crazy enough to conduct this crime caper is a group of scary animals: a wolf, a snake, a piranha, a spider, and a shark.

Adapted from the acclaimed children’s graphic novel from author Aaron Blabey, “The Bad Guys” offers an impressive cast of voice actors and a clear understanding of why heist films are so appealing, even with a gang of the most often feared creatures in the animal kingdom as characters. While “The Bad Guys” often falls into familiar territory with its story motivations, especially for more mature movie fans who have connected with “Oceans 11” or “Despicable Me,” the pacing of the story has the energy to keep one entertained and comic book designs offer a refreshing animated look for these capering creatures. 

The cunning group of master thieves, led by the dashing Mr. Wolf (Sam Rockwell), are a notorious group of criminals known for hatching a perfect heist and, most frustrating for the city police chief, never getting caught. The most wanted band of bad guys also boasts the master-of-disguise Mr. Shark (Craig Robinson), the safecracking expert Mr. Snake (Marc Maron), the short-tempered “muscle” Mr. Piranha (Anthony Ramos), and the expert hacker Ms. Tarantula (Awkwafina). The crew is ready to score the biggest heist of their careers, but they are caught at their getaway, forcing Mr. Wolf to hatch a plan to save his crew from jail. The solution: The Bad Guys will turn into The Good Guys.

“The Bad Guys” begins in a diner, with Mr. Wolf and Mr. Snake bantering back and forth in a booth like two friends who have known each other for a long time. They leave their table en route to rob a bank across the street while the restaurant-goers cower in fear. In this opening scene, director Pierre Perifel establishes all the themes that the film uses for inspiration. Fast-talking bad guys with charming characteristics, frenzied car chases up, down, and all around the screen frame, and humor utilized within every dangerous scenario. The beginning moments of “The Bad Guys” establish an animated feature riffing on all the elements of beloved genre heist movies, and it accomplishes it with skill and entertainment.

Unfortunately, the promising introduction doesn’t continue farther than the halfway point of the film, which transitions into familiar trappings like introducing supplemental characters that feel unnecessary and a big bad with motivations that aren’t as interesting as watching the primary characters interact with each other. While the steam ultimately runs out of the narrative places this film can go, the characters are so enjoyable that the missteps don’t seem so noticeable when the Bad Guys are plotting a heist during a dance scene or mocking each other during a birthday party. 

“The Bad Guys” is an enjoyable romp with silly scenarios and slapstick comedy to keep the kids laughing and enough charming characters and ingenious designs to keep parents engaged. 

Monte’s Rating

3.25 out of 5.00

Friday, April 15

Emery's 2022 PFF & IHSFF Festival Recap – April 9th

 Coda’s ongoing coverage of the 2022 Phoenix Film Festival & International Horror Sci-Fi Film Festival. I'll be using these posts to recap the films I've experienced as part of these festivals.


By Emery Snyder - @leeroy711

18 ½ - Directed by Dan Mirvish


The year is 1974. Connie (Scream & Reacher’s Willa Fitzgerald) is a White House transcriber working for the Office of Management & Budget when she stumbles upon the only known recording of the missing 18 ½ minute gap of the Nixon Tapes. Afraid and conflicted, she enlists the help of Paul (FIRST COW’s John Magaro), a New York Times reporter.

I was surprised at how good this film was, as it was barely on my radar at all. And I’m quite glad I made it to the screening. The sound design, cinematography and costumes are so postmodern of the 1970’s New Hollywood movement that the film almost comes off as meta. With long scenes of intelligently written and well executed dialogue that remind me of the works of Buck Henry combined with the technical sight and sound reminiscent of Francis Ford Coppola’s THE CONVERSATION (and similar subject matter), this film was going for something very specific. And I think it nailed it.

Fitzgerald and Magaro are both fantastic here. Their chemistry exudes a very specific charm. But the film also boasts a great supporting cast. I always love it when Richard Kind shows up, but Richard Kind with an eyepatch is even better. And Vondie Curtis-Hall is one of those insanely reliable ‘I’ve seen him in tons of stuff but can’t quite name anything’ actors that has the ability to steal any scene at any given time. This flick even has an all-star cast of voice talents recreating the infamous recordings. Bruce Campbell, Ted Raimi and Jon Cryer all provide the film’s background soundtrack, so to speak.

Ultimately, this film is having a lot of fun with a subject matter that has turned out to be far more prescient in recent times. With the new reporting of the 7-hour gap in Trump’s cell records and “burner phones” being used during last year’s insurrection, I wonder what a movie with this type of energy will be like looking back at the end of our nation’s 45th Presidency. How long before we’re able to look back at today’s threats against democracy and rule of law with a whimsical quirk?... This is not a rhetorical question… I seriously need to mark it in my calendar and begin counting the days…

In summary, this a very clever and accomplished film that has a lot of fun with its material. I can see myself revisiting it in years to come.



HYPOCHONDRIAC – Directed by Addison Heimann


A young gay man’s life unravels as he begins losing control of his mind and body, all while the ghosts of his childhood trauma come back to haunt him.

Due to my own carelessness, this was the film that I ended up with when I lost my ticket to the much anticipated, MASSIVE TALENT screening… Honestly, I’m kind of glad. I was going to skip this film altogether. And I ended up completely loving it. And as it turned out to be my final screening of the festival, it was a great note to end on.

This was such an unsettling depiction of mental health issues. The director (present for the screening) stood up and told us before it started that it was based on his real mental breakdown. Then, as I recall, this was re-stated in one of the film’s opening title cards. What was to follow on the screen made these statements completely unnecessary. This film wears its heart on its sleeve so blatantly that it’s painfully obvious how deeply personal this story is to the storyteller. And this, is one of the most special and refreshing things that I can find in this medium that I love.

The characters here were well crafted and organic to the story’s setting. Our main, Will was portrayed phenomenally by Zach Villa. It’s his mental condition that is the film’s focal point and a large part of its success rests on his performance’s ability to switch in between hyper-expressive and subdued into concern as he internalizes his fears. The rest of the cast works well to either trigger or react to Will’s ever-changing condition while remaining careful not to steal the show. No, we the audience are here for Will. His headspace, and every beautiful and horrifying thing going on in it is ours to experience with him as this film crescendos into a kind of Cronenbergian mental body horror climax.

If this all sounds a bit too intense for you, I don’t blame you. But I also have to mention just how funny this film can be throughout. It’s actually hard to describe the overall tone of this film. It’s serious about a serious subject that you’re definitely supposed to be taking seriously. But it also has no problem taking breaks from time to time to snicker at itself or to just be goofy. I think this is a big part of why I felt it was so obviously personal to the filmmaker. Like an actual human, this film has tons of personality. And that personality is never afraid to splatter itself all over every inch of the frame.


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