Out on Friday 28 October
The trippiest MCU movie yet. A Korean horror with brains, guts and heart. Werner Herzog’s exploration of the computer world. Raymond Briggs’s classic graphic novel brought to screen.
Yes, here's this week's new releases. Click on for our reviews of Doctor Strange, Train to Busan, Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World, Starfish, Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies, Ethel & Ernest, After Love, Into the Inferno, Burn Burn Burn, NG83: When We Were B Boys, Boyz N the Hood, The Comedian’s Guide to Survival, and Let's Be Evil.
For the best movie reviews, subscribe to Total Film (opens in new tab).
“Who are you in this vast multi-verse, Mr. Strange?” asks Tilda Swinton’s guru The Ancient One. Arrogant, ambitious, egotistical and downright rude, Doctor – as he keeps reminding anyone who’ll listen – Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is straight out of the Marvel playboy playbook. Like Iron Man (opens in new tab)’s Tony Stark before him, this brilliant neurosurgeon wallows in luxury (watches, sports cars, flash pads). You just know he’s going to be taken down a peg or two.
Strange’s journey along the path of enlightenment is a typically quicksilver affair: funny, thrilling and engrossing, it sprinkles some fresh ingredients into the MCU pot to ensure this doesn’t feel like just another spandex saga. It introduces the title character just in time to take his place in 2018’s Avengers: Infinity War (opens in new tab). On this showing, he’s a welcome addition to the universe.
Directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister (opens in new tab)), Doctor Strange is typical of a Kevin Feige-produced Marvel movie, almost seamlessly introducing the protagonist as if he’s an old friend. An origin story crafted with the minimum of fuss (or background), it briskly establishes Strange’s aloof disposition. And it doesn’t take long before the moment that will change his life: a violent car crash leaving him unable to use to the most vital tools of his trade, his hands.
Cruelly rejecting the help of friend/lover/fellow medic, Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), Strange is willing to try any form of advanced surgery that might repair his crippled digits – which ultimately leads him to Kathmandu, Nepal. There he meets Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), a straight-laced pupil to Swinton’s teacher who, it transpires, has the ability to access powers beyond our earthly realm.
If The Avengers’ brief is to fight physical enemies, we’re told, these sorcerers protect the world against mystic threats. Operating from several sanctums across the globe, they can leap between realities and dimensions, portal-hopping to present-day London and New York in an instant. There’s something quite arresting about seeing these warriors running through the streets of Westminster as passers-by gawp.
While Strange learns to tap into these energies and tinker with time (one scene, as he plays back-and-forth with the eating of an apple, is particularly neat), he remains desperate to find the key to healing his hands – still scarred and shaky from surgery. Meantime, he must confront Kaecilius (Mads Mikkelsen), a former pupil to The Ancient One who opens the film by stealing pages from her sacred texts pertaining to eternal life.
This pre-credits sequence leaves viewers with a teaser for what Doctor Strange has in store visually: a battle between The Ancient One and Kaecilius staged on ever-shifting buildings that seem to fold into each other, Inception (opens in new tab)-style. Flaunting hugely impressive CGI, these kaleidoscopic effects really set the tone for Marvel’s trippiest movie yet. Certainly, Derrickson and his designers live up to the surreal landscapes showcased in the original Steve Ditko-created comics.
True, there’s a nagging feeling that Doctor Strange is picking up on all-too-familiar tropes seen in everything from Star Wars (mentor/pupil complexities) to The Matrix (opens in new tab) (alternate realities) to even Groundhog Day, albeit without Bill Murray. But Derrickson and his co-writers Jon Spaihts and C. Robert Cargill manage to conjure up enough originality – in spite of the inevitable showdown on which the fate of the world hangs.
Wisely, the script comes lightened with humour to puncture any lingering pomposity. In truth, not all of it works; references to Adele, Eminem and Beyoncé feel forced. But there are some nice gags too – from Strange’s misbehaving Cloak of Levitation to the trailer-teased moment when Mordo hands Strange a card with the mysterious-sounding ‘Shamballa’ on it. “It’s the wifi password,” he explains. “We’re not savages.”
With the cast led by the British trio of Cumberbatch, Ejiofor and Swinton – not forgetting Benedict Wong, who plays The Ancient One’s guardian of the sacred texts – it’s pleasing to see a Marvel movie that feels so homegrown. Cumberbatch may have played the genius before – Sherlock, Stephen Hawking, Alan Turing – but he seasons Strange with just the right amount of arrogance to ensure we don’t immediately fall for his charms.
Sadly, McAdams is left with the thankless girlfriend role, though she’s game enough to ensure it never become a major weak spot. Derrickson has a riot, meanwhile, filling the screen with some seriously psychedelic visuals. From references to Aldous Huxley’s The Doors Of Perception to the sight of Strange with hands growing out of his fingers, this might just be the MFO – Most Far Out – MCU movie yet.
THE VERDICT: Cumberbatch fits Dr. Strange like a pair of snap-tight surgical gloves, in yet another MCU triumph. Beautifully designed, brilliantly executed.
Director: Scott Derrickson; Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams; Theatrical release: October 25, 2016
Train to Busan
The film World War Z (opens in new tab) should have been, this Korean outbreak horror from writer/director Yeon Sang-ho starts slow but ends up an absolute blast. When distant dad Gong Yoo, sad-eyed daughter Kim Soo-an, and a lively supporting cast board the eponymous engine – along with some of the infected – the jeopardy levels ramp up from underwhelming to unbearable.
The clicky-limbed ‘zombies’ are almost comic on their own, but when they join forces to create an inhuman chain they’re formidable, and the film has much to say about the necessity of sticking together to survive. Gong’s ruthless capitalist is an “expert at leaving useless people behind” according to expectant father (and ethical centre) Ma Dong-seok, and as our heroes Die Hard (opens in new tab) their way through carriages of shuffling corpses, they find that scheming humans pose as much danger as the undead.
Tense, tender and thrilling, it’s a wonderful script crafted with sincerity and cock-eyed charm. Indeed, not since Shaun (opens in new tab) or Dawn (opens in new tab) (2004) has a zombie film mixed horror, comedy and character work so well. The excitement comes not from SFX or shock tactics, but from the fact that you really care what happens.
THE VERDICT: More multilayered Stephen King epic than raw Romero, Train to Busan bowls you over with brains, guts and heart.
Director: Yeon Sang-ho; Starring: Gong Yoo, Kim Su-an, Jung Yu-mi, Ma Dong-seok, Choi Woo-shi; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Lo and Behold, Reveries of the Connected World
The web is full of weird wonders, but it takes a special filmmaker to excavate poignancy from its hidden depths. A veteran cinematic explorer with a passion for human ecstasies and extremes, Werner Herzog proves the right guide here, training his wryly incisive eye on the interface between humanity and an invention that has transformed lives.
After a visit to the web’s birthplace stokes feelings of dread and reverence, Herzog’s calmingly quizzical voice excels in interviews, where he gets techies to ponder AI romanticism, hackers to confess all, and web casualties to share. What could have been a freak show turns poetic and compassionate under his beady watch as he ponders what the future holds for a net-based world.
Anxiety, awe and uncertainty overshadow his far-reaching predictions. But even at his most out-there, Herzog’s sense of human connectivity holds firm.
THE VERDICT: Herzog reaches parts of the web other filmmakers wouldn’t think to poke in this diligent, droll docu-browse.
Director: Werner Herzog; Starring: Lawrence Krauss, Kevin Mitnick, Elon Musk, Sebastian Thrun, Lucianne Walkowicz; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Between its potent leads, measured direction and harrowing true-life origins, Bill Clark’s heart-rending indie drama wreaks havoc on the emotions with care and control. Tom Riley and Downton’s Joanne Froggatt give it their all as Tom and Nicola Ray, Midlands parents whose idyllic life is blindsided when Tom contracts sepsis.
As Tom’s limbs and lower face are removed, Clark doesn’t stint from showing Tom and his family’s pains. But he sidelines sensationalism for a sensitive study of the personal and political traumas of Tom’s illness, anchoring a tough issue in raw human intimacy and intensity.
Director: Bill Clark; Starring: Joanne Froggatt, Tom Riley, Michele Dotrice, Phoebe Nicholls; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Attack of the Lederhosen Zombies
After chewing up scouts, Nazis, strippers, beavers, ninjas and Cockneys, the zom-com takes a bite out of men in leather shorts. Three snowboarders get stranded in an après-ski tavern just as an unscrupulous businessman crams toxic waste into a snow machine, triggering a zombie apocalypse.
Just as daft as it sounds but not half as bad, this Alpine splatter-fest works surprisingly well thanks to the old-school FX, the creative death scenes, and a vein of self-awareness that never gets too smug. But for all its dumb fun, this genre has reached the bottom of the mountain.
Director: Dominik Harti; Starring: Laurie Calvert, Gabriela Marcinkova, Margarete Tiessel, Oscar Giese; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Ethel & Ernest
This charming, very English animation completely captures both the look and the spirit of Raymond Briggs’ funny, poignant graphic novel about his working-class parents’ life in a London reshaped by 20th Century tumult.
The storytelling can feel a bit plodding, but Jim Broadbent’s exuberant Ernest and Brenda Blethyn’s timid, upwardly mobile Ethel give the marriage a touching intimacy and warmth
Director: Roger Mainwood; Starring: Jim Broadbent, Pam Ferris, Brenda Blethyn; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
After 15 years, Boris (Cedric Kahn) and Marie (Bérénice Bejo), the parents of twin daughters, are breaking up. It’s an acrimonious split: Boris is refusing to leave the flat until receiving his share of its value.
Joachim Lafosse’s drama is an unsentimentally observed, credibly acted study of a marriage turned sour, in which a dance sequence involving the whole family movingly conveys a former shared happiness.
Director: Joachim Lafosse; Starring: Bérénice Bejo Cédric Kahn; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Into the Inferno
This Netflix doc is getting a limited release, and its staggering volcanic footage deserves big-screen attention. Werner Herzog teams with volcanologist Clive Oppenheimer to look at explosive peaks around the world.
The visuals will leave you agog – but as with much of Herzog’s doc work, it’s the people he meets along the way that fascinate most, even if nature is indifferent to them.
Director: Werner Herzog; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Burn Burn Burn
Laura Carmichael swaps Downton for a free-wheeling road movie that sees her and Chloe Pirrie embarking on an ashes-sprinkling odyssey at the behest of a deceased friend.
Predictable mishaps ensue, punctuated by the occasional familiar face (Alice Lowe, Alison Steadman), and catty beyond-the-grave vids from the deceased Dan (Jack Farthing) that make you wonder if he was worth the trouble.
Director: Chanya Button; Starring: Laura Carmicheal, Chloe Pirrie, Alison Steadman; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
NG83: When We Were B Boys
If Shane Meadows had made Breakdance: The Movie, it might’ve looked like this amusing account of how Nottingham rivals The Assassinators and Rock City Crew busted out the big moves.
The cutting lacks punch but the protagonists are vividly drawn, from beatboxer Barry to Dancing Danny, the 42-year-old still under his mum’s thumb. Poignant ending, too.
Directors: Claude Knight, Luke Scott, Sam Derby-Cooper; Starring: Annie McDevitt, Tommy Thomas, Karl Russell, Danny Hayles, Barry Shephard; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Boyz N the Hood
The youngest-ever Best Director nominee, John Singleton was only 23 when he made this urgent state-of-the-nation drama. But his skill with the camera, handling of actors, and raw dialogue suggests a seasoned pro.
Despite being just six-and-a-half years older than on-screen son Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne excels as the voice of sanity in this tragic saga, while Ice Cube sears the screen.
Director: John Singleton; Starring: Cuba Gooding Jr., Laurence Fishburne, Angela Bassett, Ice Cube, Morris Chestnut; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
The Comedian’s Guide to Survival
The Inbetweeners’ James Buckley plays real-life comedian James Mullinger in this (fictionalised) tale of career crisis. For a film so concerned with the secrets of great comedy, laughs are disappointingly lowbrow.
Still, balancing selfishness with self-deprecation, Buckley makes for a pitiful but ultimately likeable lead, well-supported by co-stars and cameos.
Director: Mark Murphy; Starring: James Buckley, Paul Kaye, MyAnna Buring, Tim McInnerny, Neil Stuke, Omid Djalili, Gilbert Gottfried, Jimmy Carr; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016
Let’s Be Evil
Techno-fear looms large in Let’s Be Evil, a play on Google slogan ‘Don’t Be Evil’. Directed by Martin Owen, it follows Jenny (Elizabeth Morris) as she looks after kids in a learning facility only visible through augmented-reality glasses.
This unreliable reality suits horror, especially when the kids take control. Yet there’s no mystery: just people looking scared until a twist that isn’t worth waiting for.
Director: Martin Owen; Starring: Kara Tointon, Jamie Bernadette, Isabelle Allen; Theatrical release: October 28, 2016