There was nothing "strange" about what took the number one spot this weekend, but I’m not gonna sit here and Troll you. Let’s dive right in to Making Dollars and Sense at the Box Office, week 45! This past weekend was a much needed surge of positivity at the box office after the seemingly endless dry spell that was October. Here are Nerd Park's Zack Koop's thoughts on the latest Marvel Superhero film which took #1 movie in theatres this past weekend!
Surprising nobody, Disney and Marvel Studios have another blockbuster hit on their hand in “Doctor Strange”. Over the weekend Doctor Strange managed to pull 85 million domestically, bringing its total to over 325 million worldwide, dominantly setting it up on the top of this week’s box office. Doctor Strange stars Benedict Cumberbatch as the disgraced former surgeon, Doctor Stephen Strange, who after a freak accident turns to any medical outlet he can find to repair his severely damaged hands. After exhausting his funds and his outlets, he turns to eastern methods and discovers an amazing world of magical spells, alternate dimensions, and mystic artifacts.
Marvel’s formulaic approach to storytelling, particularly origin stories, is still prevalent. One might say it’s the “not everything works, not everything has to” method. Despite this, Scott Derrickson, the writer/director best known for his horror movies like Sinister and The Exorcism of Emily Rose, is able to inject a healthy dose of darkness into an otherwise light-hearted film. Visually, the film is spectacular. Whether it’s the spells, alternate dimensions, costumes, or the Doctor’s finely trimmed goatee, this film is a treat for the eyes, particularly in 3D. Honestly, this may be one of the few movies to release in the last few years that is arguably better in 3D than in standard 2D.
Doctor Strange marks the introduction of Benedict Cumberbatch into the Marvel Cinematic Universe, and his portrayal of the brilliant yet arrogant surgeon-turned sorcerer is one of the best in a Marvel film to date. His story is well executed, with themes of humility, acceptance, and optimism. Benedict is joined by Chiwetel Eijofor as Mordo, Rachel McAdams as Christine Palmer, Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One, and Mads Mikkelson as the villainous Kaecilius. Despite strong performances by all, the Marvel formula still involves underwhelming villains and love interests. Mads and Rachel seem like top-notch actors wasted on one-dimensional characters.
Although not without flaws, Doctor Strange is another exceptional entry into Marvel’s ever-growing list of hits. It gets bonus points for purposefully pushing diversity in its cast, where a British guy plays an American, a white woman plays an Asian man, a black man plays a white man, and an Asian man named Wong plays an Asian man named Wong.
Taking the number two spot this week was Dreamworks Animation’s Trolls with $46.5 million domestically, adding to its $104 million international cume, surpassing its $125 million budget and marking another win for Dreamworks. Anna Kendrick stars as Poppy, the leader of the trolls who want nothing more than to dance and sing and hug their way through existence. However, giant creatures called bergens have learned that they will only experience true happiness if they eat these adorable colorful trolls alive! The overall structure of the film is nothing new: it’s a buddy-journey film where two completely opposite characters are forced to work together for a common goal – but where Trolls succeeds is in the icing. The vocal cast is straight aces; Kendrick is wonderful as always, and Justin Timberlake plays Branch, a colorless grump of a troll who only tags along with Poppy on her journey to avoid getting hugged every half hour by all of the other trolls in the village. Then there’s Zooey Deschanel, Russel Brand, James Corden, Christopher Mintz-Plasse, Gwen Stefani, John Cleese, Jeffrey Tambor, and plenty more. On top of that cast, the music is a playlist mix of original bubblegum blasts and classic pop hits that will have you grinning, laughing, and dancing in your seat no matter who you are. And all of this is coated in some of the brightest, most colorful animation of the year to overload your senses – this movie is candy. Sure, it’s not Zootopia, Finding Dory, or Kubo and the Two Strings, and when Moana comes out in a couple weeks, I’m sure the sugar high from Trolls will have worn off, but I would be lying if I said I didn’t adore Trollsand have plans to see it again soon. Once that beat gets under your skin, there’s no stopping the feeling!
And changing subjects entirely for our number three film of the week is Hacksaw Ridge from director Mel Gibson. It is the story of Desmond T. Doss, a Seventh-Day Adventist medic in World War II who took the sixth commandment of “thou shall not kill” serious enough to never touch a gun. During his time in the war, he saved upwards of 75 to 100 lives and never fired a bullet or took a single life. The film itself is decent, with strong performances from Andrew Garfield, Hugo Weaving, and (oddly enough) Vince Vaughn, as well as the slew of actors playing soldiers. However, some of the writing felt a bit overdramatic and took itself a touch too seriously at times, despite also containing some powerful and moving moments. One could argue that the gore was excessive, but I’ve also heard arguments that it is a realistic depiction, and having never been in a war zone myself, I cannot comment, but I do know that seeing enough heads blown apart and limbs detached onscreen eventually becomes campy, and Hacksaw Ridge toed that line.
But the main thing I want to discuss is the fact that this film calls itself an anti-war film or a pacifist film. Yes, Doss was a conscientious objector who actively opposed violence, but he supported the war outright, and says so in the film when he discusses how he felt after the bombing at Pearl Harbor, how “everyone was fired up and ready to join” the army which is concerning, because even though he didn’t take a life, he supported the country that was taking lives and the war in which they did it. This is, of course, based on the real-life Doss who did these things and held these beliefs, so I’m not critiquing the man so much as I am submitting that this film should not be called an anti-war or pacifist film. War may not be glamorized, but it is treated like an unavoidable evil, and for a film that promotes non-violence in the name of Jesus Christ, it sure does a great job glamorizing the United States army, and dehumanizes and demonizes the Japanese army with horrific fervor. With that said, it was still incredibly refreshing to see someone pursue a path of non-violence onscreen with a conviction that honestly had me misty-eyed from time to time. Hacksaw Ridge is not a bad film, and I can certainly see some Oscar buzz for at least a performance or two, maybe some make-up and sound design, and possibly even a Best Director nomination for Gibson. And whether or not you agree with war or violence in any form, there is no denying that Desmond Doss risked his life to save many through non-violent means, and that is absolutely heroic.
Coming up this weekend, Arrival lands into theaters, starring Amy Adams, Jeremy Renner, and Forrest Whitaker, and directed by Dennis Villeneuve (known for last year’s Sicario, and the criminally underrated thriller Prisoners). Arrival seems simple enough on the surface: an alien ship shows up and nobody knows why, but early reviews have indicated that there are layers far beneath that cut to the core of humanity…but enough about that until next week when I assure you Matt will have MORE THAN ENOUGH to say about the film! We also see the release of Shut In, a thriller starring Naomi Watts, and lastly, yes, a Christmas movie called Almost Christmas, ambitiously opening a couple weeks before Thanksgiving even shows up hoping to carve a spot that we might still be digesting when the snow starts falling.
That’s all for this week! Special thanks and shout out to Zack for being our guest host in this week's #MakingDollarsandSense Vlog, and be sure to follow Nerd Park on YouTube, Soundcloud, and Facebook! Go see a movie or two and we’ll see you next time on Making Dollars and Sense!