‘Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness’ Review

The newest entry in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a messy film that is coated in the stylistic approach from Sam Raimi.

CREDIT: Disney

6.5/10

At this point in time, the Marvel Cinematic Universe is a well-established part of our lives as it has permeated the zeitgeist enough to stay for a decade and some change. Disney/Marvel has dominated the film industry with their expansive shared universe that now branches into their streaming service with shows like WandaVision and recently Moon Knight. To be honest, I am not the biggest fan of these films. Over the years, I have seen the films become more and more complacent with their formula. Even though I am not a big fan of these films, there is a good amount that I enjoy inside their 28 film catalog. Doctor Strange is one of those films, and I will go as far as to say it is in my top ten of the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Obviously, when word about the sequel was on its way I highly anticipated its release.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is directed by Sam Raimi from a script by Michael Waldron. Originally the sequel was going to be directed and co-written by Scott Derrickson who worked on the first film. Scott Derrickson left the project at the beginning of 2020 citing creative differences as the reason for his departure. The film stars Benedict Cumberbatch, Elizabeth Olson, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Benedict Wong, Xochitl Gomez, and Rachel McAdams. This time around, Doctor Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) must deal with the events of Spider-Man: No Way Home which gave the first taste of the vast multiverse making its way to Earth. Doctor Strange must embark on a journey with a new friend, America Chavez (Xochitl Gomez), who is being chased by demons that are ordered by Wanda Maximoff (Elizabeth Olson) or as known as Scarlett Witch. Doctor Strange must travel throughout the vast multiverse to find a way to save Chavez from the ruthlessness of Scarlett Witch as she searches for her lost children.

Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a stylistic spectacle brought to life by horror legend, Sam Raimi. The film excels in the visual department as it keeps the momentum of its visual effects while employing the stylized camera movements from Raimi’s arsenal. Danny Elfman provides one of the best scores to grace the comic book movie genre. I especially loved the use of it during a fight scene where literal musical notes are used as weapons. The film does well in bringing a new feel to a shared universe that has long felt stale. Sam Raimi’s visual aesthetic is at the forefront and for better or worse it helps keep the audience enthralled.

On the contrary, Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is far from perfect. The writing feels unbalanced as its first-half works better than the subpar second half of the film. Characters like America Chavez are one-dimensional and leave more to desire from their journey in the picture. The character of Scarlett Witch continues on with the various problems I found within her show, WandaVision. There is potential within the film that is pushed aside to settle with a clunky third act. Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness is a fun time at the cinema as we continue the journey of everyone’s favorite sorcerer. Even though it does not work most of the time, the Marvel machine does not stop as audiences patiently await the next installment in this vast universe.

Watch Doctor Strange in the Multiverse of Madness in theaters worldwide.

‘Vortex’ Review

Gaspar Noé’s heartbreaking look at aging is a painfully accurate film from his unique catalog.

CREDIT: Utopia

9.5/10

It is an understatement to say that I have been eagerly awaiting the release of the newest film from Gaspar Noé. If you have been keeping up with the site you can tell I wrote a whole retrospective series on the filmography of Gaspar Noé. It has all led up to this film and the upcoming US release of Lux Æterna. It is hard to discuss why I am so excited to watch a film about dementia. I promise you all, I am not a complete cynic to find enjoyment in watching incredibly depressing films. My maternal grandmother suffered from Dementia and Alzheimer’s disease, and since I was young I watched the decline of her brain to this terrible disease. I fear this disease so much because I have singlehandedly watched how it strips you of every inch of your agency. Therefore, it is easy to say that this film would hit close to home.

Vortex made its premiere out of competition at last year’s Cannes Film Festival. Gaspar Noé conceived this project after almost dying from a dangerous brain hemorrhage. The film is written and directed by French Argentine filmmaker Gaspar Noé. The film stars Dario Argento, Françoise Lebrun, and Alex Lutz as they portray an elderly couple who are facing the roughness of aging as their son maneuvers his problems too. The film is described by audiences, as the “tamest” of Gaspar Noé’s work while presenting the film in split-screen visual language.

In the story of Vortex, we follow an elderly couple who are only referred to by the names of him and her played respectively by Argento and Lebrun. Alex Lutz plays their son Stephane who is trying to find a solution to deal with his mother’s rapidly advancing dementia. Things are not easy for his father because he has heart-related health problems after suffering a stroke years ago. The mother is a psychiatrist and the father is a writer who is writing a book about films and dreams. Vortex’s story is one of aging, loneliness, and the fear of losing control.

Gaspar Noé reaches new heights in his new masterful work of art. The film works to break barriers within his expansive filmography, but it also excels in presenting one of the most intimate portrayals of dementia on film. Françoise Lebrun’s performance is masterfully heartbreaking as she pulls on every heartstring to convey the psyche of someone with this terrible disease. There is not a single moment where every stare does not effectively portray the loss of agency in Lebrun’s character. Dario Argento and Alex Lutz are not left behind in the shadows of Lebrun as they provide fantastic performances. Everyone in the film is working well together to turn in exemplary performances. The film’s visual language is stylistically exquisite with its use of split-screen as it effectively displays the disconnection from reality as our protagonists exist in the same space. Gaspar Noé undoubtedly crafts not just one of the greatest films in his catalog but of this year. 

The magic of Vortex is that it is not just a grim look at aging. The film is precise with tenderness and patience as it slowly uses its runtime to unravel its narrative. Its tracking shots linger longer than they need to as you consume the atmosphere in which the couple lives. Vortex manages to challenge conventional storytelling while delivering a film that speaks beyond its surface. A once-in-a-lifetime stylized work of art that could only be made by Noé. Everyone should be along for the ride of where Gaspar Noé will go after Vortex as he cements himself as the most versatile filmmaker working today.

Watch Vortex in theaters nationwide as it is being distributed by Utopia Movies.

‘Inbetween Girl’ Review

Mei Makino’s directorial debut is a splendid coming-of-age story that tackles the ups and downs of youth.

Courtesy of Utopia

6/10

The coming of age theme is definitely one of my favorites especially when they can do something different with it. There is something truly special about watching someone’s journey as they make a monumental change. We have seen some beautiful examples of coming-of-age films like Lady Bird, Boyhood, and a personal favorite, Real Women Have Curves. When I was approached to review this film, I was really interested in checking this out. Let’s say that Inbetween Girl was a pleasant surprise.

Inbetween Girl premiered at last year’s South By Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas. The film is the directorial debut of Mei Makino. The film stars Emma Galbraith, William Magnuson, Emily Garrett, Liz Waters, KaiChow Lau, Thanh Bui, Shanshan Jin, and Kelsey Buckley. The film won the Visons’ Audience Award. The film is now preparing for a VOD release by distributor Utopia.

In the film, we follow the journey of Angie (Emma Galbraith), a biracial Asian American living in Galveston, TX maneuvering the rough tides of adolescence. Angie is into film photography and attends soccer practice. She has a friend named Rebecca (Kelsey Buckley), who makes attending her catholic school easier. Then there is Liam (William Magnuson), he is the school dreamboat who is dating a young influencer at their school, Sheryl White (Emily Garrett). Liam ends up giving rides to Angie back home, but soon after they begin to have a secret affair. Angie begins a rocky love affair and embarks on a journey of self-discovery while maneuvering the effects of the divorce of her parents.

I found myself having a pleasant experience with Inbetween Girl. The film’s story grabs the viewer’s attention and allows us to care about Angie’s life. Yes, the overall love affair is pretty trivial and something that happens to pretty much any young person growing up. Mei Makino constructs a solid debut to her promising career as a storyteller. The visual language is not the most extravagant, but the locations allow for an interesting frame. The film meanders a bit in the first half but makes it up with its compelling story. The cast works well off each other, and their chemistry shines brightly throughout the runtime. Mei Makino balances well the themes of Inbetween Girl. Enough time is given to flesh out how Angie feels about her parents’ sudden divorce and her affair with Liam. When it’s time to conclude, Makino does a beautiful job of creating the necessary tender moments of the film’s resolution. I am on board with what Mei Makino brings to the screen next.

Watch Inbetween Girl when it hits VOD services on May 3rd.

Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘Climax’

Gaspar Noé’s Climax is a masterclass in the effectiveness of immersive storytelling.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

In 2018, the world was introduced to the newest film from Gaspar Noé, Climax. Every day I carry with me the regret of not watching it at my local cinema when I had the chance. I went on two occasions to the cinema when they were playing it. I could have called an Uber and spent the day at the cinema to catch a screening, but I was not in the best of financial situations then (even though I am still not). To this day, I have yet to experience a film from Gaspar Noé on the big screen. Well, I hope to change that soon with Vortex releasing in the United States on May 6th. I waited until the film hit video on demand, and I swear that I checked pretty much every day for a release date. I ended up purchasing the film which is something I usually never do with films I have never seen. I have said this a lot during this retrospective series but I honestly feel this way when I say that I had never seen such an immersive experience as Climax.

Climax is the sixth feature film written and directed by French Argentinian master filmmaker, Gaspar Noé. The film is made up of mostly dancers/non-professional actors except for Sofia Boutella and Souheila Yacoub. The film is notoriously known for not having a script but mostly a 3-page outline. Actors were given freedom with their characters to decide where to take their journey. The film premiered during the Director’s Fortnight section of the Cannes Film Festival in 2018.

In Climax, we follow a group of French dancers who are celebrating before heading out on a tour in the United States. The film is inspired by real events that happened during the 1990s in France. Everything is going well at the party at first but as the drinks settled the dancers realize that their sangria was spiked with something. As the LSD starts the settle and the fun goes out the window, the dancers begin a descent into hell. All control is lost as the nightmare begins at the party and our dancers face the ugliness hiding in their group.

Climax is a story of jealousy, envy, and fakeness found within works of art. You would think that this group would be a cohesive unit. They are supposed to trust each other yet once the drinks and drugs settle the true colors of each person begin to show. The cinematography is a thing of beauty as it indulges in the same stylistic lighting found in his last films, but the long takes truly create the immersive experience of the film. The choreography is stellar during the two big dance numbers. Gaspar Noé once again shows his genius in choosing the right musical pieces to accompany his films. Even though this is Noé’s most accessible film to date it still finds its way to being unconventional. The creativity and originality in the approach find a way to grab the audience until it finally let’s go in the last ten minutes of the film.

Before we continue, I want to bring up an incredible film essay by JessFlix where they discuss the immersive horror of Climax. Something I noticed while discussing this film in 2019 was the ease with people saying that the film has no story. I could not disagree more, Climax’s story is one of what happens when artists build something together just to watch their faults bring it tumbling down. Of course, he will perfect this narrative when it comes to his latest film, Lux Æterna. Gaspar Noé’s films seem to concentrate more on the experience but the story is just as important within the film. Something that always fascinates me is the way that Noé is easily able to create the atmosphere of his films. In Climax, his use of long takes and obscure musical choices create an anxiety-inducing experience once we reach the second half. Gaspar Noé creates a perfect example of heaven and hell. In the first half, everyone seems to be okay with each other, of course, there are massive amounts of gossip flowing around but they all seem to participate with each other in their common love, the art of dance. Once we make it to the halfway mark at 47 minutes hell truly starts to sink in. A child is neglected and later dies because of their mother’s neglect. What is seen as an overprotective brother begins to unravel his incestuous predatory feelings towards his sister. All hell breaks loose and we are living in a nightmare created by the flaws of each of these people. What is Gaspar Noé trying to say with all this? Just as easy as it is for humans to create something they can easily destroy it. I think anyone who has ever been involved in a group effort can vouch for that. In the end, we find out who spiked the sangria but the problems within the dance group were present there way before the sangria was made. If 2001: A Space Odyssey is the ultimate trip then Climax is the ultimate nightmare.

Gaspar Noé Retrospective: ‘Love’

Gaspar Noé’s erotic drama is one of visual mastery and captivating storytelling.

CREDIT: Les Cinémas de la Zone

Love is not just the first film I watched by Gaspar Noé but it is my favorite film of his. I would even go as far as to say that it is one of my favorite films of all time. I still remember my first time watching the film like it was yesterday. I was scrolling through Netflix and tried to find unconventional films about romance. I did not want a run-of-the-mill romantic comedy but instead a film that shows the ups and downs of love. During this time, I was also trying to watch as many films to inspire my approach to filmmaking. I researched a bit about the film and made the decision that I could not watch this film on my 42-inch tv with the audio blasting in my apartment. I sat down in front of my monitor, put on my headphones, and watched this film through my PS4. When I finished watching the film, I knew that I watched something truly special.

Love is Gaspar Noé’s fourth feature film that he originally intended to make after his feature film debut, I Stand Alone. The idea was originally pitched to Vincent Cassel and Monica Belluccia who were originally interested in making the film. Upon further reading of the script and the graphic amounts of sex needed for the film, they passed on it. Gaspar Noé was still eager to work with them thus Irreversible was born. Love is written and directed by Noé. The film premiered out of competition at the Cannes Film Festival in 3D.

In Love, we follow the tumultuous life of Murphy (Karl Glussman), an American film student studying in France who falls in love with a French art student named, Electra (Aomi Muyock). The couple’s romance turns hyper-sexual and both indulge in various drugs, which to be fair is not a surprise to find in a Gaspar Noé film. While exploring each other’s desires, Murphy asks Electra about her wildest sexual fantasy. Electra explains she has always wanted to have a three-way with another woman preferably a blonde skinny woman. Fast forward and the couple meets their neighbor, Omi (Klara Kristin), a young French woman who doesn’t have many connections to her family. After taking her out to eat, the two come back to Murphy’s apartment to smoke some weed and the three engage in Electra’s deepest sexual fantasy. That does not prove to be enough for Murphy as he grows an attraction to Omi, so while Electra is away with her mother he has sex with Omi again but this time the condom breaks. Omi who has a strong pro-life stance will not abort her baby. Murphy tells Electra about what happened, and their relationship deteriorates before his eyes driving Electra to go missing. Murphy worried sick about Electra who has suicidal tendencies begins to reminisce on their relationship and everything he will miss out on now that she is gone.

Love is handled with so much attention through the stylistic approach of Gaspar Noé. Every aspect of filmmaking works together to craft a realistic look of love and lust. Glussman and Muyock have an organic form of chemistry to themselves that attracts me every time they are on screen. Noé incorporates such atmospheric musical choices to create the atmosphere for a film buzzing with raw emotion. Every time I finish this film I find myself wanting to put it right back on.

I usually don’t pay much attention to internet chatter about Gaspar Noé’s films as some “hot takes” seem to miss the point entirely about what he is trying to say with his films. It is impossible to ignore the obvious complaint about this film. I mean it was the number one question throughout most of the press run for this film. Is Gaspar Noé’s Love pornography? No, pornography has one simple goal in mind. As Noé has stated before, in pornography the actresses don’t get pregnant or don’t subscribe to unconventional beauty standards but most importantly Love displays more beyond sex. Sex is a valuable aspect of the film and just as important as the emotions on display. Yes, there are moments that I can agree that Gaspar Noé included pretty much for the shock value, especially in 3D. Other than that, the sex between Murphy and Electra never feels unnecessary within the constraints of our narrative. Through their carnal love, we understand the extent of their relationship. It begins as lust, continues as infatuation, and ends in a painful heartbreak.

Something else can be found within Love that is present within the rest of Gaspar Noé’s filmography, his treatment of his male characters. Even though Electra is nowhere near being the perfect person especially after cheating on Murphy with her ex. Murphy is the one who is most examined in this film. He carries a feeling of ownership over his partner that calls back to Marcus in Irreversible. Murphy feels proud after breaking a glass over Electra’s ex’s head because he feels that he stood up for her. All he did was show everyone the level of his toxicity and embarrass her in the process. In a scene deemed controversial, the two invite a trans sex worker to have a three-way, but Murphy is visibly disgusted by the worker. This says more of the character rather than Gaspar Noé himself as some people believe the filmmaker has some homophobic tendencies in his films. Murphy is once again showcasing his ignorance, he tells Electra in the video store not to judge those involved in pornographic films because they are expressing their love freely. Yet, Murphy cannot hold that same opinion for the sex worker? He does not need to have sex with her but he invalidates her way of expressing love through her identity by showcasing his disgust toward her. Murphy is self-centered and in layman’s terms an asshole. He never once takes into consideration how Electra feels. If he was the perfect partner he believes he is at first, Murphy would have communicated way beforehand his attraction towards other women. Electra points out that Murphy could have a lot of freedom as long as he communicates what he wants. Murphy is another example of the flawed nature of the male characters found in Gaspar Noé’s films.

If you are interested in hearing a more in-depth thematic conversation about Love, please feel free to check out the episode I did with Alexandra Almeida on the film for my podcast, The Cinema Condition.