Doctor Strange; Endless Poetry; The Young Offenders and more – review

Benedict Cumberbatch makes for an odd superhero in a feast of enjoyable claptrap, while Alejandro Jodorowsky offers exhausting yet exhilarating visions

“Strange” is not an adjective that slots very comfortably into the lexicon of Marvel movies. Bound by formula and conceived by committee, the comic brand’s steady supply of superhero spectacles may, in their best incarnations, merit the odd “fantastic” or “awesome” from generous fans — but strange, uncanny or unexpected they most certainly are not. And yet along comes Doctor Strange (Disney, 12), with its whoa-dude scramble of hallucinogenic imagery, a curiously aloof eponymous hero in the shape of Benedict Cumberbatch, and, just for the hell of it, Tilda Swinton as his invisibly ancient, shaven-headed mentor, spouting serene aphoristic wisdom and teaching teleportation. (OK, that’s just par for the Swinton course.) These aren’t exactly David Lynch levels of peculiarity, but it’s at least enough to merit the title Doctor Odd.

And it turns out the formula is better for a bit of curdling: this is Marvel’s spryest, most puckish big-screen outing to date, with a slightly daft sense of humour to match its daffy visuals. Narratively, it all feels a bit dashed-off. Cumberbatch is Stephen Strange, a preening New York super-surgeon who discovers literal magic in his moneyed fingertips after a career-ending accident; from then on, it’s all cod-mystic, higher-plane training in Kathmandu in pursuit of a villainous, immortality-seeking sorcerer (Mads Mikkelsen) with no particular urgency. Every detail of this claptrap plays as a mere excuse for horror-schooled director Scott Derrickson to try out another inspired effect or eye-crossing image, but his spirit of on-the-fly playfulness proves infectious. Disposable but disarming, Doctor Strange is blessed with about as much make-it-up-as-you-go-along spirit as any calculated corporate blockbuster can possibly forge.

As such, Doctor Strange shares at least one microstrand more of DNA than might have been expected with Endless Poetry (Curzon Artificial Eye, 15), the latest extravagant display of freaky ingenuity from veteran Chilean surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky. Following on from 2013’s The Dance of Reality, this one’s also in an autobiographical vein, wonkily tracing Jodorowsky’s bohemian awakening in Santiago and Paris in the 1950s. Needless to say, biopic form isn’t in the 88-year-old film-maker’s language: this is life revised as a dream, swirling and heaving with carnivalesque caricature, swarming skeletons and, yes, a fair bit of poetry. The title seems to wittily anticipate criticism, and not unreasonably so: Jodorowsky’s vision can be exhausting, but it’s exhilarating too.

The Young Offenders.
‘Perfectly gobby’: The Young Offenders. Photograph: PR Company Handout

Exuberant in a far scrappier way is The Young Offenders (Signature, 15), a rumbustious but essentially gold-hearted Irish crime caper that has proven something of a phenomenon on home turf. Viewed from a distance, it doesn’t seem quite so special, but its rattling charm still translates well – thanks in chief to a pair of sparkplug performances from young leads Alex Murphy and Chris Walley. They have perfectly gobby comic coordination as best friends Conor and Jock, whose uninspiring routine of fishmonger toil and bike theft is disrupted by the loftier criminal prospect of a multimillion-euro cocaine bust off Cork’s gusty shores. Much of the quippery is standard, but delivered in a pretty irresistible vernacular.

Former throwback horror specialist Ti West delves into a different well of genre nostalgia for In a Valley of Violence (Universal, 15), a notionally old-school western that walks the walk, talks the talk and yet never feels like more than a skilled impression, with sporadic digressions into jokier territory that don’t aid our investment in the material. Ethan Hawke, as a lone drifter running foul of a sleepy border town, slouches into this territory more comfortably than John Travolta’s opposing lawman; it’s a tremendous collie named Jumpy, however, that really seizes the camera.

‘Eye-opener’: the late Seijun Suzuki’s 1967 thriller, Branded to Kill
‘Eye-opener’: the late Seijun Suzuki’s 1967 thriller Branded to Kill Photograph: Nikkatsu/ Rex/ Shutterstock

You may as well treat yourself to the real thing. Arrow’s gleaming new Blu-ray update of John Ford’s My Darling Clementine (Arrow, U) emphasises just how lean and clean the 1946 classic is at a narrative and stylistic level too; its moral stakes stand as stark as its burnt black-and-white landscapes.

I felt a pang of guilt last week on reading a sheaf of impassioned obituaries for Japanese B-movie auteur Seijun Suzuki, who died at the age of 93 – for as much as he meant to many of my most esteemed colleagues, I had never seen one of his films. Luckily, came to the rescue, and with quite an eye-opener at that: a wild-hearted hitman thriller from 1967, equally in thrall to its own pulpy yakuza tradition and the contemporary free-jazz styling of Jean-Luc Godard, Branded to Kill is an immediately arresting introduction. Enjoy the ride first; mourn later.


Guy Lodge

The GuardianTramp

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