2017 Alliance Francaise French Film Festival

Bonjour Perth! The 28th annual French Film Festival is in town for the next few weeks screening at Cinema Paradiso, Luna on SX and The Windsor. We sampled a few of the films on offer.

Tomorrow

Riding on a crest of environmental documentaries comes Tomorrow: a passionate, yet humble look at the positivity global contamination can bring.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½
Zachary Cruz-Tan

03 March - AFF Tomorrow
You know how the Western genre has become so saturated that, to stand out, it has to come with unique selling points? Like, look – it’s cowboys and aliens! The Environmental Documentary has more or less reached a similar crisis, with each new film threatening to re-tread what the other has said. It’s no longer enough to complain about fossil fuel emissions and global warming – a new angle is required.

Tomorrow provides that angle. Helmed by Mélanie Laurent and her filmmaking comrades, this immensely informative documentary shifts our attention from a dying Earth to a world that can be rightfully repaired and re-energised through solidarity, networking, and positive thinking. It’s great that more households are converting to solar power, but is that enough? Tomorrow posits broader change, change that is already happening in towns and cities throughout the globe. Urban families are micro-farming. Counties have introduced self-contained currencies to benefit small businesses. Schools in Finland place education ahead of status, and their children are better for it.

All this is meant to be encouraging instead of disheartening, and it is. Tomorrow makes me want to convert my backyard into a vegetable garden. It makes the microcosm I live in seem unclean and harmful, and that I should do something to purify it. Leo DiCaprio’s Before the Flood told us what the billionaires are doing. Tomorrow is a bit different – it’s about you and me, and the good we can do from the ground up.


Planetarium

Rebecca Zlotowski’s supernatural period drama offers a wonderful respite for insomniacs.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Rhys Graeme-Drury

03 March - AFF Planetarium
Planetarium follows two American sisters who are believed to possess the supernatural ability to communicate with ghosts. Laura (Natalie Portman) and Kate (Lily-Rose Depp) Barlow, cross paths with André Korben (Emmanuel Salinger), an eccentric French filmmaker, while performing their travelling séance roadshow in pre-WWII Paris. Captivated by their ethereal connections, Korben invites the girls to live with him while they produce a movie centred on their show, but his interest soon transforms into something a little stranger and disconcerting.

Much like the séances it depicts, Planetarium is a vague and obscure dreamlike ritual that disentangles itself from the anchor of time, stretching two hours into what feels like a bottomless eternity. Maybe this elongated, formless structure is intentional; it could mirror Laura and Kate’s ambling and directionless lives or – at a stretch – the lingering limbo of European geopolitics on the eve of war.

Whatever director Rebecca Zlotowski was aiming for with Planetarium, I don’t feel like much of it congealed into a cohesive whole. There is a collection of interesting ideas here; the middle act transforms into a strange pseudo-sexual experience with Korben supposedly navigating beyond the veil to meet with his deceased wife while using Kate as a vessel.

But a lot of these ideas hang in isolation, disconnected from other ideas that waft gently in and out of the film. It certainly doesn’t help that both Portman and Depp are so reserved in their performances; distanced from genuine warmth or deep emotion. We could have had something special on our hands, if only the rest of the film was as captivating as the production and costume design.


In Bed with Victoria

A quirky concept tackled in a completely mundane way.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Cody Fullbrook

03 March - AFF Victoria
Struggling to raise two daughters while being embroiled in two court cases, one of which involves exposing her own personal life, Victoria Spick (Virginie Efira) is attempting to juggle her personal and professional life.

What could have been a humorous and completely original film about an attempted murder case with the only witnesses being a dog and monkey – which actually does happen – In Bed With Victoria wastes too much time on romantic storylines, tarot readings and other things I’ve now instantly forgotten.

Like all films focusing on lawyers, the most interesting and intense moments are the court scenes, and although rarer than I would have liked, they show the same clinical function and form that I’ve come to appreciate.  Even when it’s just a friend of Victoria’s defending her in court against allegations of colluding with a witness, the delivery is passionate yet sensible. An appropriately slow scene with Victoria enduring the end of her case after overdosing on drugs shows exactly what In Bed With Victoria should have simply been about. A stressed woman handling a peculiar court case.  Nothing more.

Though tolerable with a few funny lines, In Bed With Victoria’s characters and storylines are far too basic and plodding for me to think about recommending it to anyone.


Images courtesy of the Alliance Francaise French Film Festival 

In Perth from March 15 to April 5: https://www.affrenchfilmfestival.org 

Movie Review – A Few Less Men

This Aussie comedy sequel no one asked for may be flogging a dead corpse, but surprisingly it isn’t quite dead on arrival. Only just, though.

⭐ ⭐ ½
Corey Hogan 

Immediately following David’s (Xavier Samuel) farcical wedding (the events of A Few Best Men), his honeymoon plans are put on hold when his drunken friend Luke topples off a cliff and is crushed to death by a rock. David and his remaining friends, Tom (Kris Marshall) and Graham (Kevin Bishop), board a plane to return Luke’s body to England, but things naturally go awry when Graham accidentally causes the plane to crash land in the middle of rural Western Australia. The boys must now find their way to Perth carrying the corpse, depending on the colourful characters of the outback they come across, before missing Luke’s funeral and facing the wrath of his violent cousin Henry (Ryan Corr).

Australian cinema has become a truly respectable entity, especially these past few years, consistently releasing content that rivals the best of Hollywood’s recent offerings. And yet, every once in a while, there still seems to be an incessant need to drop all standards and fart out a mindless, lowbrow raunchy comedy to appease the masses. Why a sequel to 2011’s A Few Best Men was thought necessary is perplexing, given its forgettable critical reception and lukewarm box office takings.

On the bright side, A Few Less Men is definitely an improvement on its predecessor. It’s still completely braindead, of course, but in shaking off the single setting and ensemble nonsense of the first film, it finds firmer ground as a ridiculous road trip, focusing on the mismatched dynamic of its three leads – now essentially Australia/England’s Hangover trio. Each has a more clearly defined role in the group – the straight man (David), the sex-obsessive (Tom), the moron (Graham) – so each bounces off the other and gives a neater flow to their reactions in the many zany situations they find themselves in.

The plot of Dean Craig’s script (who also wrote Death at a Funeral) is essentially an afterthought; all that really matters here is what ludicrous character the boys will be forced to seek the help of, or what is going to go wrong for the boys next. The supporting cast are clearly having a ball with their eccentric weirdos – Chloe Hurst’s horny backpacker, Lynette Curran’s 70-year-old sexual deviant, and Shane Jacobson’s Norman Bates-esque crossdresser all raise amusing hell for our trio. But it all becomes a bit too repetitive, fizzling out and becoming tiresome as the frequent finding and losing Luke’s body out of stupidity becomes numbing. And despite a well-intentioned emotional scene near the end, it’s impossible to become invested or feel anything in a story so relentlessly silly.

It’s a scrappy affair, but raunchy comedy aficionados should be satisfied enough with all the corpse boners, granny shagging, pants shitting and penis-shaped coffins. It’s unlikely to win any AACTAs, but there are enough cheap laughs to make for a modestly amusing, switch-off-your brain time. Maybe just down a few beers first.

A Few Less Men is available in Australian cinemas from March 9 

Image courtesy of StudioCanal

Movie Review – Jasper Jones

Jasper Jones is certainly one of the stronger Australian films that we’ve seen in recent years, but it falls just short of achieving the status of beloved classic.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ½  
Cherie Wheeler

Appearances: we’re all very quick to judge one another by what we see on the outside, and how this fits in with society’s expectations, but what really goes on behind closed doors can be a very different story.

It’s these sorts of prejudices and secrets that fuel the story of new Australian film Jasper Jones – based on the 2009 novel of the same name by Craig Silvey. Set in the 1960’s in a fictional, rural Western Australian town, Jasper Jones follows 14-year-old Charlie Bucktin (Levi Miller), who inadvertently becomes tangled up in the town mystery surrounding the disappearance of Laura Wishart. The finger is immediately pointed at mixed race outcast Jasper Jones (Aaron L. McGrath), who enlists Charlie’s help to prove what really happened to the beautiful girl next door, but the deeper Charlie digs, the darker the truths he uncovers. This all becomes further complicated by Laura’s younger sister and object of Charlie’s affections Eliza (Angourie Rice), Charlie’s overprotective mother (Toni Collette) and dangerous town hermit Mad Jack Lionel (Hugo Weaving).

In trying to cover so many storylines – often shifting in tone from light and humorous, to foreboding and thrilling – Jasper Jones does become an uneven viewing experience at times. It explores almost every possible theme associated with a small Australian town in the 1960’s, from the Vietnam War to the corruption of those with power, and this often detracts from the core conflict. For me, the enigma of Jasper Jones is the most intriguing and engaging part of the story, so I found deviations to frivolous scenes such as a community cricket game to be enjoyable, yet slightly annoying distractions. Additionally, drawn out moments of Charlie considering all the clues bring the pacing of the film to a grinding halt.

Similar to Fences, I think more could have been done to fully transform this narrative for the screen. As an example (mild spoiler alert), when Jasper first approaches Charlie for help, we’re provided long takes of the pair skulking throughout the town, with a voice over from Levi Miller expressing Charlie’s uncertainty and rationale behind following Jasper – someone he barely even knows. There’s a lot of telling and not a lot of showing going on, and I feel these scenes would have had far more impact and would have been far more credible if the audience had already been introduced to Jasper and how he is perceived by both Charlie and the rest of the town.

Having said all that, this doesn’t mean that director Rachel Perkins (Bran Nue Dae) has done poorly. On the contrary, there are some outstanding dramatic scenes sprinkled throughout the film that allow the all-star cast to shine. Hugo Weaving and Aaron L. McGrath steal the show in an intensely moving confrontation, while Susan Prior, who plays the mother of Laura and Eliza Wishart, packs a real emotional gut-punch during a crucial moment. Toni Collette is on fire from start to finish with her usual authenticity and sincerity, and Levi Miller (Peter Pan, Red Dog) and Angourie Rice (These Final Hours, The Nice Guys) are often left to carry the weight of the film and do so satisfactorily.

Backing up the high calibre performances is stunning production design that brings the era to life most convincingly, and the gorgeous cinematography really shows it off. Overall, Jasper Jones is a welcome addition to the repertoire of Australian film, but it’s not quite the absolute knock-out I was hoping for.

Jasper Jones is available in Australian cinemas from March 2nd 

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

The Marriage Between Video And Stage

Cody Fullbrook 

For you fellow Australians who call Perth home, you may have attended some shows at this year’s Fringe Festival in which numerous venues across the city annually host performers from all over Australia and beyond. What surprised me above all else, excluding the price of the food, were how many shows used advertising videos that cycled through social media, with shows themselves implementing video into their acts.

Over the last few years there has been a noticeable increase in pairing video and stage.  But, why?  Or should I be asking, why not? It’s an important question to ask.

With our ever-growing technology, it would be unwise not to tap into its potential to improve a show’s entertainment quality, but also to reach a larger audience. Comedians like Louis C.K. and Australia’s own Tom Gleeson have sold their stand-up specials online, where customers may download the video recording for a surprisingly cheap cost, compared to seeing them live.

Netflix has a sizeable selection of stand-up comedy, and even musicals like Oklahoma and Shrek The Musical can be bought on YouTube. Most interesting of all were the recent productions of Peter Pan and Grease which were performed as stage musicals, but filmed live and immediately sent to broadcast television.

Everyone is on YouTube now. Audiences and even other artists seem to look down on performers with virtually no social media presence, and for those that do have one, the rapid style of online marketing can gradually bleed into their act’s presentation. Why shouldn’t the viewers want to see video cutaways during a live stand up show?  It’s not only what they’ve grown up to expect, but it’s how they learned the show existed at all.

The Perth Fringe festival had key examples of shows that utilised projectors, such as John Robertson: The Dark Room, Sonny Yang VS Fringe and Chase. Even larger artists like Bill Bailey and Wayne Brady have used screens to add to their performances.

There isn’t a marriage between stage and video so much as a shotgun wedding.  Many artists seem obligated to use video, not because it’s a necessary and desired addition, but because they know that watching someone on stage doesn’t draw as many people nowadays. Everyone is on their phone, constantly barraged with fast advertisements and cutaways. All art must adapt or perish.

In a few years, we may look at implementing video into stage shows the same way we currently view lighting designs. Expected and essential. A simple static shot of a specific terrain can instantly set the scene for a play. Comedians can use visual aids to assist their jokes. Even circuses can project episodes of The Simpsons if we get bored of watching someone twirl fire for 20 minutes.

Rooftop Movies – Program 3

Chantal Victor

Summer is always the best time of year in Perth and with all the heat, visits to the beach and backyard BBQ’s also comes the outdoor cinema experience. Rooftop Movies in Northbridge offers the perfect set up for everything from that first Tinder date to a night out with your mates. So, grab a drink and a pizza and enjoy the city skyline before you settle onto a comfy beanbag for your movie of choice.

The team at Rooftop have created the ultimate program for those wanting to catch all the latest blockbusters like Rogue One and Passengers, but if you feel like a cult classic, don’t worry -they’ve got you covered; The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert and Mighty Ducks are all on the agenda as well.

Program 3 runs until February 5, but don’t fret, a new program will be announced on their website on January 24: https://www.rooftopmovies.com.au/program/

For your chance to get free tickets to Program 3, check out our Facebook page: www.facebook.com/hookedonfilm 

Image courtesy of Rooftop Movies & Sebastian Photography 

Movie Review – Bad Santa 2

Hoe Hoe Hoe. Bad Santa is back in town and as per usual, he’s up to his old bag of tricks.

⭐ ½
Josip Knezevic


Billy Bob Thornton returns as our favourite cynical Santa Claus with his trusty elf conspirator Marcus (Tony Cox). As per usual, Marcus has another job that requires the expertise of Thornton’s safe cracking abilities, but this time around it involves working with a blast from the past. Kathy Bates joins the case as Willie Sokes’ mother, Sunny Soke, and together the trio are back to their old hijinks. With cameos from the first movie popping up here and there, it seems Bad Santa 2 is keen to continue carrying the proverbial torch that lit up so many offensive barriers in the original.

Having watched the original after seeing this sequel, it’s safe to say that fans of the first will love the second. In fact, one can even say the new film takes things to the next level, with even more of an emphasis on brutally crass jokes. If only the same could be said for the quality of these jokes.

Thornton is captivating in this role as he truly embodies Willie’s dispirited nature and cynicism. You can’t help but love seeing him berate everyone around him and expose the stupidity of others. It’s this black comedy that makes the Bad Santa series somewhat unique, but its downfall is its simple-minded storyline.

Too many idiotic scenes attempt crude humour purely for the purpose of being crude. There are moments when our nympho Santa really hits the nail on the head with a certain comeback or a particular punchline, but these are few and far between. With nothing else for the film to fall back on, there’s not a lot here to like.

As we often see with comedy sequels, Bad Santa 2 is simply a lesson of history repeating itself. Yes, it will please those who enjoyed the original, but that’s not saying much.

Bad Santa 2 is available in Australian cinemas from November 24

Image courtesy of Madman Entertainment

Movie Review – The Light Between Oceans

The austere beauty of the visuals and the quiet strength of the performances are at times overwhelmed by the predictable melodrama at the centre of the film.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Charlie Lewis

With his rugged jawline and haunted, piercing eyes, Michael Fassbender was born to be filmed looking pensively out to sea. It is a talent that Derek Cianfrance’s sweeping tear jerker The Light Between Oceans (based on M.L Stedman’s novel) regularly calls upon.

Fassbender plays Tom Sherbourne, a WWI veteran who takes a job as a lighthouse keeper on Janus Rock off the coast of Western Australia. The purposeful solitude of this role is all he wants after the horrors of the Western Front. When he is forced to talk to other people, he is terse and quiet, until the person he’s talking to is Isabel (Alicia Vikander), a local girl who punctures Sherbourne’s world like a sunbeam through overcast skies. The pair eventually marry and after their initial idyll, fate imposes more hardship and loss on two people who have had enough of both to fill several lifetimes.

The early sequences in The Light Between Oceans are lyrical and affecting, particularly as Tom and Isabel fall for one another; their chemistry glows against the perpetual gloom of the island’s austere terrain. Tom’s self-loathing survivor’s guilt and Isabel’s determination to create something better for them drive the most consequential moments of the film.

But as the misfortune and cruelty pile up, the film severs the connection between us and the characters. They gradually cease being the recognisable humans we fell in love with, and become silent targets for punishment. By the time the film snaps back into focus, the damage is done. The distancing is furthered by the casting. I welcome the peppering of Australian character actors (Garry McDonald, Jack Thompson, Bryan Brown) and I understand, without approving of, the decision to cast three non-Australian’s in the biggest roles, but the combination is distracting.

Still, for all its broad melodrama and unmistakable Oscar bait tendencies, The Light between Oceans delivers stirring imagery and giddy yet understated romance early on.

The Light Between Oceans is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of eOne Films 

Interview: Michael Caton-Jones – British Film Festival

Rhys Graeme-Drury

They say variety is the spice of life – an oft-repeated adage that Scottish filmmaker Michael Caton-Jones has found to be self-evident over a directorial career stretching nearly three decades.

Having worked with the likes of Bruce Willis, Michael J Fox, Robert De Niro and even a young Leonardo DiCaprio, Caton-Jones knows how to handle larger than life personalities on set, but his more recent work sees him finding pleasure in the finer details of indie filmmaking.

His latest project is Urban Hymn, an uplifting story about a young offender who finds a way out of her less than privileged upbringing through song. With the help of a dedicated and inspirational social worker, it’s a stirring film that is contrasted against the bleak backdrop of the 2011 London riots.

Ahead of its Australian premiere at the BBC First British Film Festival this month, I got the chance to sit down and chat with Caton-Jones about the differences between the Hollywood high life and roughing it on the streets of London for his latest micro budget project.

RGD: How did you first become involved with Urban Hymn? What was it about Nick Moorcroft’s original screenplay that perked your interest?

MCJ: Over the years I’ve come to realise that it’s not subject matter, but specific elements of filmmaking that jump out at you when reading through a script. I’d been looking to shoot something low budget in Britain for a while, as well as something that had strong female characters at the forefront. I grew up in Scotland surrounded by strong female characters and I’ve always viewed women that way.

I was also interested in something that used a lot of music, which I felt presented this great technical challenge that ultimately was an opportunity to show the transcendental power of music. If you have a favourite song or a song that reminds you of a time and a place, it’s has a kind of power. I was interested in making a film that explored that.

And, of course, the social side of it was important. We used to make social realist films in Britain all the time. It’s a style of film that I used to like watching and I see no reason why you can’t be entertained and take in a serious subject at the same time. It was a whole bunch of reasons that came together when I read the script, making it a fairly easy choice for me.

RGD: How does the filmmaking process on a smaller film like Urban Hymn compare with something on the other end of the spectrum, like The Jackal for example?

MCJ: They’re just different beasts. It’s essentially the same job; you have a story and a camera and some actors. The difference is the amount of money you have to achieve something. The more money you have, the more concern there is about the film being commercially acceptable. The film might be easy to sell but it might not be very good, if you know what I mean.

When you’ve got no money, the pressures are different. They’re things like not getting the actor you want or the set how you’d like. It just means you have to think you’re way out of trouble rather than buy you’re way out of trouble.

RGD: Do you have a preference? It sounds like one affords you a greater sense of freedom…

MCJ: Absolutely. As a director, I prefer having the freedom to discover what the film is, rather than being concerned about how it’ll make the money back. You don’t get paid as much and you can’t do as much – but it’s more satisfying in many ways. You can either sprint it or go for the marathon – they’re just different.

RGD: Urban Hymn uses the 2011 London riots as both a catalyst and a backdrop for its uplifting story – why do you think this is an event that is only now being tackled in TV and film?

MCJ: I suspect it takes time to process. To come to terms with what happened and what it means. Britain is still very classist. It’s a class-based society. The simple fact is that it’s much easier to find money to make something like Downton Abbey than it is to make something set on the street where everyone wears hoodies. Only one of those is an acceptable commercial reality to the rest of the world. Sorry for being so cynical! But there isn’t any money in riots.

RGD: Integral to the success of the film is Letitia Wright’s performance as Jaime – was the process of casting Jaime a challenge on Urban Hymn?

MCJ: Casting is 80% of the film. You have to work very hard if you get it wrong; you’re always papering over the cracks.

In the case of Letitia, she originally read for the role of Leanne. I thought to myself at the time “Wow, you’re pretty good” and put her in my back pocket for later. We kept auditioning for Jaime until we met Isabella Laughland and felt she worked well as Leanne. So we flipped the two and it worked out. They got on extremely well. Letitia actually started staying with Isabella during the shoot so they were like best mates by the end, much like the film.

Their dynamic really comes across in the movie. Casting the right people does half the work for you. There are a hundred different ways of standing opposite someone that you’re very friendly with that we, as human beings, can see but not necessarily articulate. It wouldn’t communicate as well had we gotten the casting wrong.

RGD: What does the future hold for you as a filmmaker – what can we expect coming over the horizon?

MCJ: I’m in New York at the moment. I’m just about to start on this low-budget thing that hasn’t been announced yet – so I can’t tell you very much about it! We’re still in the casting process.

Looking ahead, I’m just going to continue to look for projects that interest me. Something with character and emotion. If I can keep making things that are interesting, I’ll be happy.

Urban Hymn is screening throughout Luna’s cinemas at the BBC First British Film Festival in Perth 

Image courtesy of Vendetta Films

Movie Review – American Honey

Possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Corey Hogan

Teenager Star (Sasha Lane) seems to have very little in her impoverished life, as evident when we meet her scrounging around for food in dumpsters to feed the kids of the white trash family she squats with. So when she happens upon a group of energetic and similarly proletarian teens, and is propositioned by their flirtatious leader Jake (Shia LaBeouf) to join them as they travel across Midwest America, there’s nothing to lose. She enters a world of homeless but happy kids doing everything they can to survive while still partying as hard as possible along the way. An explosion of highs and lows, mixed with the emotions and impulses of growing up await Star on the open road.

It’s difficult to pinpoint what kind of a film Andrea Arnold’s (Fish Tank, Wuthering Heights) American Honey is, since it’s really more of an experience; a kinetic painting of youth enthusiastically splashed against a canvas of economic disparity. Though the odd bit of traditional storytelling peeks around the corner here and there, with a sort-of romance between its two somewhat star crossed leads, most sense of a narrative structure is completely AWOL. This is a montage of raw moments, a haze of hormonal feelings pulsating in and out to the throbbing rhythm of its pop and rap soundtrack. Coming of age may be nothing new, but Arnold’s vision of it is unique, vibrant, hypnotic and infectiously optimistic.

Working in her standard 4:3 aspect ratio combined with guerrilla handheld cameras, Arnold keeps things at an incredibly intimate and private scope, really giving the illusion that we’re with the kids in their impetuous travels. We’re granted a contrasting look at the opposing ends of America’s class scale, which speaks wonders but never passes judgement; both the rich and the poor are shown to be capable of equal virtue and malice. Most refreshing is its portrayal of a generation too often partnered with cynicism; these are simply young people making the most out of life that they can with an inspiring amount of ambition and idealism.

Andrea Arnold supposedly stumbled upon Sasha Lane at a beach while on spring break, and her idea to have her film led by someone unfamiliar with acting is a hugely effective one. It doesn’t feel like acting really – Lane just is Star, going with the flow and simply being a teenage girl as life washes over her. On the other hand, we’ve all been aware of Shia LaBeouf for quite some time, which is where he defies all expectations, giving what is likely his best performance. He’s unlike he’s ever been before here – a shaggy, complex bundle of messy energy tied up in a rat tail – and it’s abundantly clear that he’s having much more fun here than he did in any studio film.

An intensely visceral and gleeful juncture of growing up in poverty, American Honey is possibly the most poignant American road movie since Easy Rider.

American Honey is available in Australian cinemas from November 3

Image courtesy of Universal Pictures

Movie Review – Doctor Strange

Just when everyone thought superhero movies were getting dull, Scott Derrickson brings us Doctor Strange.

⭐ ⭐ ⭐ ⭐
Zachary Cruz-Tan

Every time a superhero film is announced I heave a sigh of dismay, and yet I keep walking out of Marvel movies filled with the same delight I used to experience as a kid slumped in front of the television watching action cartoons. Marvel have found that key formula; that fountain of youth to keep their movies eternally fresh. In a time when terrorism is omnipresent, presidential candidates are bigger than rock stars, and DC Comics would rather feature grumpy old ranchers protecting their cows instead of true heroes, Marvel rightfully remembers that superheroes are supposed to save people, and enjoy doing it.

Doctor Strange is a superhero movie that returns the Marvel Cinematic Universe to its cheerful beginnings. The core story regarding The Avengers has become very sombre – Iron Man and Captain America are about one wrong look away from tearing each other’s heads off. Doctor Strange shuts all that noise out and plays its own game, which comes with its own rules and consequences, and my word, it’s something else.

As a visual feast for our poor eyes, this is perhaps the greatest of all the Marvel movies. Things happen here that my most deluded fantasies could not conjure, and there is a final showdown along the streets of Hong Kong that plays with the logical parameters of time and space in a way that makes the best Star Trek episodes look frightfully linear. I’ve seen computer graphics employed masterfully in great films before, but the effects in Doctor Strange take the rules of our world and bend them out of reality. It’s what we all want good CGI to do: help the filmmakers tell a story, not tell it for them.

As a superhero concept, Doctor Strange is a success. How could it not be? Here is a character who has lived on paper (and on some TV screens) since the 1960s. He should know his way around a 120-minute movie by now. And while his destiny – unknowing everyman becomes messianic saviour because he is essentially the Chosen One – borrows heavily from many older heroic tales, Benedict Cumberbatch balances the surprise of learning about his fate and the well-worn experience required to battle demonic apparitions in the Dark Dimension with as much stoic panache as humanly possible.

As a movie that tells an unfolding narrative, however, Doctor Strange is a little less impressive. Strange basically follows in the footsteps of every arrogant jerk turned likeable pal, with Nick Marshall (Mel Gibson) from What Women Want and Bruce Nolan (Jim Carrey) from Bruce Almighty serving as likely role models. Even his transformation via magical intervention is repeated. The rest resembles Star Wars outfitted with the folding buildings from Inception, or rather what Star Wars will become before the end of 2019. It all still works, though. I just wish the parallels were a little more askew.

Nevertheless, Doctor Strange is pulsating proof that Marvel seldom steps wrong and that their grip on their comic properties is so sure-footed they’ve managed to wait eight years before radically shifting the dynamics of their franchise. While DC is fumbling just to stand, Marvel keeps us guessing, keeps us satisfied, and ensures our astral projections remain spiritually aligned.

Doctor Strange is available in Australian cinemas from October 27

Image courtesy of Walt Disney Studios Motion Pictures