Tag Archives: Tilda Swinton

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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Hooray for Hollywood

Coen Brothers deliver a splendid spoof of movies’ golden era

Hail, Caesar!

Starring Josh Brolin, George Clooney, Scarlett Johansson & Alden Ehrenreich

Directed by Ethan Coen and Joel Coen

PG-13

“People don’t want facts—they want to believe!” says Eddie Mannix (Josh Brolin), a 1950s Hollywood studio “fixer” in the new Coen Brothers comedy Hail Caesar!, a sprawling, star-studded spoof of the golden age of moviemaking.

Josh Brolin

Josh Brolin

What people believe, and what they make-believe, are the building blocks of Hollywood itself. And they’re certainly the cornerstones of the Coens’ lavish, multi-tiered parody that takes satirical shape around the production of a fictional studio’s major new movie, Hail, Caesar!, A Tale of the Christ, a Bible-based saga a la Ben-Hur, Spartacus and The Robe.

When the film’s lunkheaded leading man, Baird Whitlock (George Clooney), is kidnapped, Mannix has to find him and get the money-train movie back on track.

But in the meantime, he’s also got his hands full with other problems, and other films. His job is keeping the machinery of Capitol Pictures Studios whirling, keeping its numerous stars in line and out of trouble, and keeping the whiff of scandal away from prying gossip columnists, particularly twin sisters Thora and Thessily Thacker (Tilda Swinton).

Scarlett Johansson

The studio’s twice-divorced “innocent” aqua-starlet (Scarlett Johansson) is pregnant with an out-of-wedlock child. Capitol’s prissy British prestige-picture director (Ralph Fiennes) is at wit’s end trying to wrangle the company’s riding, roping singing cowboy (Alden Ehrenreich) into more refined roles. And a tap-dancing song-and-dance hotshot (Channing Tatum) glides across the set of a new musical, but his light-on-his-feet moves may be hiding heavier secrets.

Look: There’s Jonah Hill, Frances McDormand and the guy (Wayne Knight) who played Newman in Seinfeld! Even if you don’t know anything about Hollywood’s “Red Scare,” you’ll still get a chuckle out of a boatload of Commies bobbing off the California coastline. And Alden Ehrenreich’s young sodbuster charming his studio-arranged dinner date (Veronica Osorio) by twirling a strand of spaghetti like a lariat will rope your heart, too.

Channing Tatum

Channing Tatum

For many viewers, the quirky movies of writer-director Joel and Ethan Coen have always been a bit of an acquired taste. Sure, most everybody now falls in line to applaud the genius of Fargo, No Country For Old Men, True Grit, The Big Lebowski and O Brother, Where Art Thou. But where was the box-office love for The Hudsucker Proxy, Barton Fink, The Man Who Wasn’t There and Inside Llewyn Davis?

There may be more commercially successful filmmakers, more mainstream filmmakers or filmmakers who win more awards. But you’d be hard-pressed to find many filmmakers who love movies, and making movies, more than the Coens. And that love is evident in every carefully crafted frame of this gloriously goofy homage to the glory days of big studios, big stars and the big wheels that churned out the spectacles of Hollywood’s dream factory from a bygone era.

While Hail, Caesar! is looking backward with such comedic affection, however, it’s also making a sly, playfully subversive statement about our “need” for entertainment, the importance of escapism and how movies have always been—and hopefully will always be—a “potion of balm for the ache of all mankind.”

“What a waste of talent,” a woman behind me groused as the credits rolled, somehow disappointed. Not me, and not a chance. Strike up another win for the Coens, I say. I’m a believer. Hooray for Hollywood, and “Hail, Caesar!”

—Neil Pond, Parade Magazine

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A Great Escape

Wes Anderson’s latest romp is a quirky, colorful movie getaway

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

The Grand Budapest Hotel

Starring Ralph Fiennes, Tony Revolori and Willem Dafoe

Directed by Wes Anderson

R, 100 min.

 

With director Wes Anderson, you either “get him” and his oddball characters, quirky plots and distinctive, whimsical visual style, or you don’t. A whole lot of people do, however, in his movies including The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Moonrise Kingdom and The Royal Tenenbaums.

Now The Grand Budapest Hotel offers a bustling movie getaway most Wes Anderson fans will find irresistible.

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Tony Revolori & Saoirse Ronan

A wild romp set in a 1930s Eastern European mountain resort, it features a colorful assortment of players and a story within a story within a story that keeps burrowing deeper into its own silly seriousness. As with most Anderson projects, he works with cavernous open spaces as well as delicate, meticulously detailed miniatures.

His sights, like scenes carefully colored with pastel crayons from a storybook, are often sumptuous, and his actors move, and speak, with a clockwork cadence that adds to the sense of comedic orchestration.

The plot unfolds backwards, as unspooled by the owner of the hotel (F. Murray Abraham) to one of its guests (Jude Law), relating his beginnings as the establishment’s bellboy, Zero (played by newcomer Tony Revolori in his first starring role). Zero and his mentor, the hotel’s longtime, ladies-man concierge, the ultra-dapper Monsieur Gustave (Ralph Feinnes), become friends and co-conspirators in a spiraling, sprawling misadventure that includes a murder, a missing will, a purloined painting, an outlandish prison break, and the outbreak of something that resembles World War II.

Along the way, they encounter a spectrum of characters, played by actors including many who’ve cropped up in previous Anderson movies (Owen Wilson, Edward Norton, Jason Schwartzman, Bill Murray—who’s appeared in every Wes Anderson film—Adrien Brody, Jeff Goldblum, Willem Dafoe, Bob Balaban, Harvey Keitel), as well as Saoirse Ronan, Tilda Swinton and Tom Wilkinson.

Digital Fusion Image Library TIFF File

Bill Murray

Everyone seems to be having a big old time in the big old hotel, and everywhere else, and several scenes are real hoots, like the scampering prison escape—which feels like a live-action re-enactment of something from the stop-motion animation antics of The Fantastic Mr. Fox—and an extended sequence in which a secret cadre of other concierges drop everything to help one of their own out of a jam.

The story is based on a book by little-remembered Austrian novelist and playwright Stefan Sweig, who was actually one of Europe’s most popular writers of the 1920s and ’30s. Anderson gives Sweig an “inspired by” credit at the end of the film.

Anderson’s detractors often think his movies are contrived, pretentious, gimmicky, too indy/arty or simply not nearly as funny as Mr. Anderson must think they are. OK, fair enough. But if you’re looking for a kooky, slightly off-kilter stopover in a place that can offer you an exhilarating, completely unique experience like nothing else at the multiplex, then I recommend you check in for a couple of free-wheeling hours—at The Grand Budapest Hotel.

—Neil Pond, American Profile Magazine

 

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