2022 TV & Movie Reviews: Doctor Strange 2 / Heartstopper / Russian Doll

An unexpected winner here.

Doctor Strange and the Multiverse of Madness

The second Doctor Strange installment features some really incredible effects and some conceptually and visually inventive gags courtesy of Sam Raimi. He’s really winking at his Evil Dead trilogy – not only with all da zombies but with his wonderfully effective implementation of some of the same jarring quick edits from Evil Dead 1 & 2. The problem with this film lies solely with the story and characters. We get teased with these really neat visual sequences only to be completely yanked out of the moment in order to watch two actors, who probably have never even met before, have conversations on green screens in tiresome one-shots. And by conversations, I mean not conversations like you and I might have as human beings that roam the world, I mean conversations as in the most basic soap opera bullshit ever. Christ, I think Wanda and Strange only really say three actual things to each other over the course of the entire movie, yet they yammer on and on with each other to seemingly no end. I bet their back and forth expository diarrhea totals to at least a third of the entire movie. Heavens to Betsy!

But what went wrong? The trailers looked dope and a lot of Marvel shit has recently been getting better about that signature droning dialogue. Let’s first look at our protagonist, Doctor Strange. What have we got to work with, with a character like him? Well, he’s not particularly charismatic, he’s actually kind of a know-it-all, smug, dickface. He’s like an unfunny Tony Stark and the movie is desperately crying out for more laughs or even just a dash of fucking levity. It’s a superhero movie, it shouldn’t be as serious as what’s going on in the world. I mean, it’s almost impossible not to roll your eyes at how serious this movie takes itself. Is it the actors’ fault? Not really. Cumberbatch does a fine enough job, he’s always solid. Brilliant character actor Michael Stuhlbarg and Rachel McAdams aren’t really given too much to do, so even if they wanted to, they couldn’t really sink the ship. We get a John Kransinki cameo that’s aggressively mediocre, but the real standout here is Elizabeth Olsen, who almost sells the bullshit dialogue all the way through, especially towards the climax. You’re moved by her emotions but when you take a breath and think about her words – her poorly written, generic, overly sentimental string of letters, you quickly snap out of it. So, it’s def not Liz‘s fault.

Maybe to find out what went wrong, let’s look at a multiverse movie that did everything and I mean everything, right. Shit, “everything” is even in the title. Everything Everywhere All At Once, another movie about our infinite multiverse, does literally everything better than DRSTR2. It actually has a simple but compelling story as a base before any of the science-fiction elements get added. It’s funny, it’s inventive and unlike a lot of “great” movies, it’s an absolute joy to watch. And here’s the kicker, it has real, three-dimensional characters that an audience can grow to care about. It has actual dialogue, actual jokes, and not just Doctor Strange flying in to deliver some bullshit one-liner that’s only funny because it’s some mystical bad-ass superhero saying something a regular dude might say. Wow, hilarious bro. Slap that on a fucking t-shirt. Also, when a movie isn’t frantically running around trying to build a franchise for six other goddamn movies, it can instead focus on the individual film at hand and give us a unique, thrilling, singular vision. Movies made by committees often say nothing or so many things that they all cancel each other out to mean nothing. When you’re looking for the widest possible net for your audience, trying to please everyone, you end up with bland chicken. When you trust an artist to do something different, something that can standalone by itself, something that isn’t dependent on merchandising sales, you can end up with filet mignon. Doctor Strange 2 is like a shake n’ bake porkchop, serviceable for the most part but disappointing all the same. Grade: C+ (In Theaters)

Heartstopper (Season 1)

Not something I’d ever normally watch but holy shit you guys, I found myself quite comically hanging on the end of every episode. I finished this thing in like two days and was so completely charmed by and invested in all of the characters, not just the leads, and that’s something of a rarity for YA entertainment. It’s your not-so-classic nerd gay tween meets popular sports bi tween story, the nerd is out but the jock is still “figuring things out” and that’s where a lot of the tension/drama comes from. The jock’s friends are mostly homophobic assholes, to realistic differing degress, while the nerd’s friends are somewhat overly protective but genuinely good people. Heartstopper might deal in familiar tropes, one of the main reasons I would normally skip it, but it’s so well written that you forgive it. You know where it’s going, you just don’t know how it’s going to get there. It’s incredibly optimistc but never saccharine, it proves something doesn’t have to be cynical to be honest. It features an exceptionally talented young cast playing exceptionally well developed characters, even supporting characters are given as much dimension as the leads, which is NEVER the case in YA stuff. It certainly doesn’t re-invent the wheel as far as young adult fiction adaptations are concerned, but it definitely shows that a little more care and attention to detail in your narrative goes a long way. It’s also great that it exsits for LGBTQIA+ youth not only to see complex, non-stereotyped characters they can identify with but to know that universal queer coming-of-age problems are more commonplace than they might think. Running only eight 20-30 minute episodes and featuring a glorified cameo performance by British acting royalty Olivia Colman, as the jock kid’s mom, it’s something the whole family can enjoy and finish over the course of a slow weekend. Watch it with your gay teen today! Grade: A- (Netflix)

Russian Doll (Season 2)

Ooof, oh how the mighty have fallen. The first season, premiering three years ago in 2019, was easily one of the finest shows of that year. Taking the Groundhog Day premise and applying it to a chain-smoking, booze-addled, sarcastic-as-a-first-language New Yorker (brilliantly portrayed by the always underrated Natasha Lyonne) dying over and over and over again before she figures out what she needs to do to break the loop by running through a laundry list of comically enjoyable scenarios. With season 2, there’s a four year time jump, and Lyonne‘s character is more or less in a healthier head space. Something happens involving her mom’s Jew gold and she, instead of getting sucked into a repeating day time loop, gets sucked into a I’m-in-the-1980s-as-my-mom time loop. And then it goes into the Holocaust for a bit or something. Even with all this new shit, this season of Russian Doll seems way less frenetic than its 2019 season. There’s less jokes, the supporting characters aren’t as compelling even with (or maybe because of) more to do. It’s sporadically entertaining but often times more frustrating than interesting, especially when you consider how near flawless that first season was. It ultimately feels too long-winded for a season of television (even one as short as this) and might have been better as like a 90-minute Netflix movie. Kind of like what Deadwood did. Grade: C+ (Netflix)

Also Streaming and In Theaters…

TV

Ozark (Season 4, Part Two)Netflix

Pachinko (Season 1)AppleTV+

Severance (Season 1)AppleTV+

Tokyo Vice (Season 1)HBOMax

RuPaul’s Drag Race (Season 19)$19.99 Digital Purchase

Euphoria (Season 2)HBOMax

The Righteous Gemstones (Season 2)HBOMax

Bad VeganNetflix

Worst Roommate Ever (Season 1) Netflix

The Gilded Age (Season 1)HBOMax

Film

Nia DeCosta‘s Candyman on Amazon Prime

The Northman (B) – In Theaters

The Unbearable Weight of Massive Talent (B-) – In Theaters

Everything Everywhere All at Once (A-) – In Theaters

Candyman (B) – Amazon Prime

The Batman (C+) – HBOMax

Joachim Trier‘s The Worst Person in the World

X (B-) In Theaters and $19.99 rental on Amazon

CODA (C+) – AppleTV+

The Worst Person in the World (B+) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

Licorice Pizza (A) – $5.99 rental on Amazon

West Side Story (B) – HBOMax and Disney+

Ryusuke Hamaguchi‘s Drive My Car on HBOMax

Drive My Car (A) – HBOMax

The French Dispatch (C+) – HBOMax

Dune (B+) – HBOMax

The Last Duel (B) – HBOMax

Judas and the Black Messiah (B+) – HBOMax

Kitao Sakurai’s Bad Trip on Netflix

Bad Trip (C) – Netflix

The Power of the Dog (A-) – Netflix

Don’t Look Up (C-) – Netflix

Malcolm & Marie (C-) – Netflix

Home Sweet Home Alone (D) – Netflix and Disney+

Paul Verhoeven‘s Benedetta on Hulu

Pig (A-) – Hulu

Titane (B+) – Hulu

Flee (B) – Hulu

Nightmare Alley (D+) – Hulu and HBOMax

Benedetta (B+) – Hulu

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: