Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

The Doctor Is In

Benedict Cumberbatch makes big-screen magic in ‘Doctor Strange’

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Doctor Strange
Starring Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton & Chiwetel Ejiofor
Directed by Scott Derrickson
PG-13

I never really got Doctor Strange. A neurosurgeon who became a sorcerer, he just didn’t capture my youthful imagination—or my comic-book coinage—the way other superheroes did. Spider-Man was a zippy, zappy teenager. Thor was a god. The Silver Surfer was a surfer…and silver!

Doctor Strange was some older, kinda creepy grown-up dude with a moustache, a soul patch and a big red cape, who always looked like he had a swirl of mist coming out of his hands.

Well, after seeing him portrayed on the big screen, I clearly underestimated—or just plain overlooked—the guy. But I’m certainly a believer now.

The newest entry in the long line of Marvel Comics superhero sagas, the new Doctor Strange introduces Oscar-nominated Benedict Cumberbatch as the arrogant, self-centered and wildly successful brain surgeon whose career is shattered—along with his million-dollar hands—when his Lamborghini crashes off a curvy California roadway one rainy night.

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The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) gives Dr. Steven Strange an astral wallop.

Seeking “alternative healing” when all traditional efforts fail, Strange ends up at Kathmandu and the foothills of the Himalayas, where he meets the supreme sorcerer known as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). She shows him how “to reorient the spirit to better heal the body,” among other things—which include indoctrinating him into her secret society of wizard warriors, who’ve learned to harness and master all sorts of powerful secrets about space, time, consciousness, physics and matter.

The sorcerers, Strange also learns, are around to protect the Earth from dark forces of the cosmos who would do it harm—especially one particularly nasty malevolent entity and his zealots who want to conquer the planet.

null“I came here to heal my hands,” protests Strange, “not to fight in some mystical war.” But that’s exactly what happens—this is, after all, a Marvel movie. But it’s a doozy, and director Scott Derrickson—who cut his teeth on horror flicks like Sinister, Deliver Us From Evil and The Exorcism of Emily Rose—delivers a rollicking adventure with crisp wit, strong characters and visually impressive razzle-dazzle. I don’t usually recommend spending any extra dollars to see a movie in 3D or IMAX, but this one was made for both of those formats, and it’s definitely well worth the splurge—especially for a couple of eyeball-popping, jaw-dropping, kaleidoscopic, head-tripping sequences that beg to be seen on the biggest screen possible.

Rachel McAdams is Dr. Christine Palmer, Strange's former surgical colleague—and former lover.

Rachel McAdams is Dr. Christine Palmer, Strange’s former colleague—and former lover.

Cumberbatch, beloved as TV’s Sherlock and lauded for the mojo he’s brought to movies including The Imitation Game, 12 Years a Slave and Star Trek Into Darkness, steps into the role of Strange like he’s been waiting for it all his life. Chiwetel Ejiofor is Mordo, one of the masters in service to the Ancient One; Mads Mikkelson plays the traitorous Kaecilius, whose theft of a sacred text threatens to doom the planet. Rachel McAdams, strong and sassy as Strange’s surgical colleague and former lover Christine Palmer, could have used a few more scenes. But in a movie this packed with things to appreciate, it’s hard to complain—and I get the feeling she’ll have more time to shine later.

And Strange’s Cloak of Levitation is the most badass superhero cape ever. It’s got his back, in more ways than one.

The bonus-scene teaser during the final credits is a nod to the doctor’s appearance in the upcoming Avengers: Infinity War (2018). Clearly, Doctor Strange has taken his place in the Marvel pantheon. Welcome aboard, doc—I’ll definitely see you at our next appointment!

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Mob Mentality

Johnny Depp is riveting as Boston crime kingpin Whitey Bulger

WBL207_003.tifBlack Mass

Starring Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton and Benedict Cumberbatch

Directed by Scott Cooper

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In the crime underworld, there’s nothing lower than a rat—a snitch, a two-timer, an informer who sells his soul to save his skin.

Early in this powerful screen adaptation of the 2001 book by Boston Globe reporters Dick Lehr and Gerard O’Neill, Irish-American hood “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp) meets with FBI agent John Connelly (Joel Edgerton), who wants Bulger’s help in reeling in some even bigger fish—the Italian Mafia.

Connelly asks Bulger to become an informant. Bulger recoils. “Do you know what I do to rats?” he hisses.

BLACK MASS

Joel Edgerton (left) and Johnny Depp

The audience doesn’t, but we’ll soon find out. And if it’s anything like we just saw Bulger do to a guy who displeased him with some sloppy snack-food etiquette, we can guess it’ll be ugly, brutal and swift.

In Boston crime lore, James “Whitey” Bulger was a legend, a local neighborhood kid who became a fearsome underworld kingpin. A career criminal, he was a stone-cold killer who kept his South Boston crew, the Winter Hill Gang, busy with murder, extortion and drug dealing. But he could also be kind to old ladies, a loving father and a doting son.

Black Mass begins in 1975, and shows how Bulger did, indeed, become an informant, creating an unholy alliance that—ironically—expanded his criminal reign by giving him “protection,” and drawing agent Connelly dangerously deep into Bulger’s world. It also complicated things for Connelly’s childhood friend, the Massachusetts state senator (Benedict Cumberbatch) who happened to be Bulger’s younger brother.

Gangsters and crime movies are Hollywood staples, and there are characters and scenes in Black Mass that may indeed remind you of things that came before: The Godfather, Goodfellas, The Departed. But this gangster flick has something unique: Johnny Depp as one of modern history’s most infamous mobsters, reminding us how great he can be when he digs deep into a serious role.

Burying the memories of some of his broader, more flamboyant performances (Capt. Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka, Edward Scissorhands, Tonto) behind piercing blue contact lenses, a yellowed front tooth, an artificially receding hairline and subtle facial prosthetics, he hones in and practically disappears into the part of the notorious, psychopathic crime boss. You get chills whenever he’s onscreen, especially in close-up, when his eyes can become as cold and menacing as any weapon.

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Dakota Johnson

The cast—which also includes Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Peter Saarsgard, Jesse Pelmons, Rory Cochrane, Corey Stoll, Julianne Nicholson and Adam Scott—is uniformly strong. The stark, sophisticated cinematography, by master lensman Masonobu Takayanagi (Silver Linings Playbook, The Grey, Warrior) basks in the bleak ’70 and ’80s grunge of the film’s Beantown settings and evokes the amoral chill of its tale. The set design captures all the details of the era, from the big American Fords, Lincolns, Dodges, Buicks and Chevys—the rides of choice of the mobsters—to the reel-to-reel recorders used by the Feds. Director Scott Cooper, who previously steered Jeff Bridges in Crazy Heart (2009), meticulously juggles the players and pieces of the sprawling, intense, character-driven story that sweeps across a full decade, with a postscript in 1995.

“Southie kids, we went straight from playing cops and robbers on the playground to doin’ it for real on the streets,” says one Bulger’s henchmen on the trajectory that led his boss and associates from tough childhoods in South Boston into careers of crime. That may not have turned out to be the best life choice, but it sure had the makings of one heck of a fine gangster movie, rats and all.

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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Go, Bilbo, Go

Everyone’s favorite hobbit is halfway home

The Hobbit_The Desolation of Smaug

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Blu-ray Combo Pack $35.95/DVD $28.98 (Warner Bros. Home Entertainment)

Lord of the Rings fans, you’re halfway there: This sprawling sci-fi spectacle marks the midpoint of the cinematic trilogy based on the enduring fantasy novel by J.R.R. Tolkien in which hobbit protagonist Bilbo Baggins traverses Middle Earth on an epic quest laden with many dangers—and a gazillion special effects. The all-star international cast features Martin Freeman, Benedict Cumberbatch, Evangeline Lilly and Orlando Bloom, and bonus content includes several behind-the-scenes production documentaries hosted by director Peter Jackson, and a music video for Ed Sheeran’s “I See Fire,” the movie’s theme song.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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Trials & Triumph

Terrific cast, searing true story in Oscar-winning ‘Slave’

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12 Years a Slave

Blu-ray $39.99, DVD $29.98 (20th Century Fox Home Entertainment)

 

With its Oscar for Best Picture capping off a run as one of the most celebrated films of 2013, director Steve McQueen’s epic adaptation of a true American slave’s odyssey is often difficult to watch, but becomes something triumphant to behold. The all-star cast (which includes Michael Fassbender, Brad Pitt, Benedict Cumberbatch, Sarah Paulson, Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti) is anchored by the riveting powerhouse performances of Chiwetel Ejiofor as Solomon Northup, a free black man kidnapped and sold into slavery, and Lupita Nyong’o, who received the Academy Award for Supporting Actress as Patsy, a fellow captive. Extras include several behind-the-scene features, including Ejiofor reading passages from Northup’s autobiography, on which the movie was based.

 

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

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