DOCTOR STRANGE IN THE MULTIVERSE OF MADNESS: 3 ½ STARS
The “Doctor Strange” movies are the most trippy in the Marvel Cinematic Universe. The mystical superhero’s introduction – 2016’s “Doctor Strange” – was a kaleidoscopic jumble of images and ideas. The new movie, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” starring Benedict Cumberbatch and now in theaters, takes it up a notch. With a visual style that suggests MC Escher on an acid trip, it’s a mind-blowing ride that will make your eyes spin.
The action begins in the universe of Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) with the introduction of America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), a teenager able to navigate the multiverse and access portals to alternate realities. In search of her parents, she has explored 73 universes, each with their own unique rules, while being pursued by a demon who wants to steal her powers.
It’s not witchcraft, Strange said. As old Blue Eyes once sang, it’s witchcraft, so who better to consult than Wanda (Elizabeth Olsen), a former Avenger and powerful practitioner of witchcraft?
He seeks guidance that will help him save America, but instead he is sent on a wild and dangerous journey through a series of alternate realities to battle a power that threatens to subjugate the entire multiverse.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” begins with a bang. A loud and proud action scene kicks things off with an over-the-top HP Lovecraft creature terrorizing Chavez. It sets the wild and wacky tone that applies to most of the image. A mix of action, horror, and comic book comedy, it harkens back to the sweet spot that made director Sam Raimi’s “Evil Dead” movies so successful. Raimi brings a kind of anarchy that other carefully vetted Marvel movies lack, and when it’s fun, it’s really fun. There’s even a battle of the bands in a musical showdown that’s both ridiculous and awesome.
But there’s a lot more to the story than interdimensional shenanigans.
At its heart, “Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” isn’t a story of magic, it’s a tale about the things we do for love. Whether it’s Wanda’s search for family, deftly brought to life by Olsen’s poignant performance, or Strange’s attraction to Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), this story has a strong, beating heart.
Unfortunately, it also has a bumpy and uneven script. As it heads into Marvel’s friendly climax, it falters as the action gets muddled and the script begins to sew up any loose ends across the universes.
“Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness” lacks the clout of “Everything Everywhere All At Once,” another recent examination of the multiverse, but despite its irregularities, it’s a good and sometimes bloody moment in cinema.
PEACE THROUGH CHOCOLATE: 3 STARS
It should come as no surprise that a movie called “Peace by Chocolate” is sickeningly sweet. The true story-based story of refugees from the Syrian Civil War settling in a small town in Nova Scotia unfolds in broad strokes but, despite its wintry Antigonish setting, is a warm film.
When we first meet Syrian-born Tareq Hadhad (Ayham Abu Ammar), his dreams of becoming a doctor are shattered by war in his home country. Her family’s chocolate factory has been destroyed and the family is forced to flee. Tareq moves to Nova Scotia to start over, while a visa is prepared to bring his parents, his father Issam (Hatem Ali) and his mother (Yara Sabri) from Lebanon.
Welcomed by the locals, Tareq settled in, but longed to move to Toronto to study medicine. However, when the family chocolate business takes off in Antigonish, Tareq is torn between his dreams and his family duties. “I didn’t have superheroes growing up in Syria,” he says. “I had doctors. They save lives. They command respect. They don’t make candy.
“Peace by Chocolate” tackles big topics. There’s refugee displacement, racism and aspiration, but despite some tension in the storytelling, it tends to lean into the feel-good aspects of the story. The reliance on sweet aspects sucks away some of the tale’s inherent gravitas.
That said, “Peace by Chocolate,” despite its very specific characters and setting, is a universal, overlooked story about chasing your dreams and overcoming adversity. At this level, it works because of the likable performances that draw the audience into the situation. It’s a shameless, feel-good movie, one that focuses as much on the family’s triumphs as it does their tribulations.
“Peace by Chocolate” may not be as complex as the delicious chocolate Issam makes, but it has its pleasures.
OPERATION MINCEMEAT: 3 ½ STARS
Based on a World War II British deception operation to cover up the Allied invasion of Sicily in 1943, “Operation Mincemeat,” now playing in theaters and moving to Netflix May 11, is an entertaining tale of a little-known plan to break Hitler’s hold on Europe.
Based on historical documents, the film details a plan so far-fetched it seems to spring from the fanciful mind of a screenwriter. That the plan was, in part, hatched by a young Ian Fleming (Johnny Flynn), who would later go on to create the extravagant series of James Bond spy novels, seems like another rush of the imagination, but even this fulfillment is based on facts.
The plan, dubbed Operation Mincemeat, involved tricking Hitler into believing that the Allies planned to invade Greece, not Sicily. But how to get out?
QC-became-Lt.-Cmdr. Ewen Montagu (Colin Firth) and MI5 agent Charles Cholmondeley (Matthew Macfadyen) stage a daring disinformation scheme to land a dead man off the coast of Spain, where the Nazi spy chain begins. In the pockets of the corpse’s uniform are “wallet trash” – fake love letters, military IDs, etc. – and in this case, “classified” military correspondence indicating that the Allies were about to invade Greece. If this information falls into the hands of the Germans and distracts them, it will allow a full-scale Allied invasion of Sicily.
“Operation Mincemeat” is a spirited recreation of the meticulous planning that was put in place to fool the Führer. Director John Madden finds suspense, espionage and even romance in the situation. The first two elements work well, creating forward momentum that builds excitement as race time passes. The romance between Montagu and Jean Leslie, played by Kelly Macdonald, is less compelling and feels stuck.
The better are the comedic aspects. While some of the dead man dealings evoke memories of “Weekend at Bernie’s,” most of the laughs come from the absurdity of the situation and feel organic to the story.
A welcome addition to the stranger-than-fiction genre, “Operation Mincemeat” is a well-appointed, well-crafted period piece that eschews the stoicism of other wartime spy thrillers.
MEMORY: 2 STARS
The release of “Memory,” a new action movie from Liam Neeson, now in theaters, marks the star’s 14th anniversary as an action star. 2008’s “Taken” kicked off the “special skill set” phase of his career, usually playing tough guys who work their way through one last job.
“Memory” continues the actor’s unbroken streak of shoot ’em ups, but with a different twist. He still has a special set of skills, which he deploys to deadly effect, but this time there’s a countdown.
Neeson is Alex Lewis, a hit man who takes pride in the precision of his work. It’s brutally effective, but lately there have been slip-ups. Nothing major, but his memory isn’t what it used to be and the quality of his work suffers.
As his memory fades, Lewis finds himself in the crosshairs of FBI agent Vincent Serra (Guy Pearce, who starred in “Memento,” one of the best memory thrillers ever made) and Mexican intelligence. . Worse still, when he turns down a job from ruthless human trafficking boss Davana Sealman (Monica Bellucci) to kill a child, she swears to kill him. “I did crazy things,” he says. “But you never hurt children.”
To stay alive and help bring Sealman to justice, he must piece together the shattered pieces of his memory. “We all have to die,” he said. “What’s important is what you do before you leave.”
Directed by veteran James Bond filmmaker Martin Campbell, “Memory” is a well-constructed thriller, but it has a generic, workman-like feel. The characters feel like they’ve been cut and pasted from other better films, leaving the viewer with a sense of deja vu. We went there, we did it and despite the level of performance from a cast of old pros, the film is sunk by a laborious script.
The story of a man trying to undo the hurt he’s done in his life as his memory fades is compelling, but sadly, in the end, “Memory” is a forgettable action movie.