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Posts Tagged ‘Rachel McAdams’

Benedict Cumberbatch

Benedict Cumberbatch

“DOCTOR STRANGE” My rating: B-

115 minutes |MPAA rating: PG-13

At this stage of the game Marvel movies have fallen into a predictable pattern, especially the third-act city-leveling smackdown (it’s like it’s guaranteed in the Constitution or something).

About two years ago I decided I was over the whole superhero thing. Unless, of course, you can show me something new.

“Dr. Strange” takes me halfway there, giving us a spell-casting protagonist who has more in common with Harry Potter than your usual Spandexed bicep bulger.

It’s got a solid first hour in which our ego-driven hero (see “Iron Man”) recognizes  the errors of his ways and gets his head turned around.

And a second hour in which a lot of shit gets blown up.

The wild card here is Benedict Cumberbatch, PBS’s current Sherlock and an actor of such range and integrity that I’m willing to give a chance to just about any project to which he lends his name.

Dr. Stephen Strange (Cumberbatch) is a ground-breaking neurosurgeon. Even among his self-aggrandizing colleagues he’s noted as a self-serving asshole who peers down his aquiline nose at lesser mortals and lives the life of a solitary genius.  In the past he had a fling with surgeon Christine Palmer (Rachel McAdams), but his most enduring relationships are with his fancy sports car, plush apartment and his own self.

A highway accident leaves Strange with crushed paws. Unable to hold a scalpel, he sees  his life dripping away and goes on an international hunt for some sort of treatment that can reverse his physical infirmities.

Which is how he ends up in Katmandu in an esoteric school run by the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton, bald and looking like a visiting space alien).  The Ancient One and her lieutenant Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor) put our hero through a physical and mental marathon, breaking down his sense of self, opening him up to life on the astral plane, and filling his head — and the screenplay — with enough metaphysical mumbo jumbo to make Scientology seem a viable option.

 

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Jake Gyllenhaal in "Southpaw"

Jake Gyllenhaal in “Southpaw”

“SOUTHPAW”  My rating: B- 

123 minutes  | MPAA rating: R

Terrific acting and fight film cliches battle to a split decision in Antoine Fuqua’s “Southpaw,” yet further proof both of Jake Gyllenhaal’s awesome range and of the odds against making a truly original boxing picture.

Gyllenhaal is mesmerizing as Billy Hope, who turned a tormented childhood on the streets into a lucrative career as the light heavyweight champion of the world.

Billy is not a subtle fighter. Fueled by anger, he absorbs punch after punch until his opponent is worn out, then murders the bum. This strategy usually leaves him with a championship belt and a face like a raw Big Mac.

In contrast to his rage in the ring, Billy’s home life is actually kind of normal.  Yeah, he lives in a gated multimilliion-dollar compound outside NYC, but his relations with his wife Maureen (Rachel McAdams), whom he has

been with since his days in juvie, and their daughter Leila (Oona Laurence) are practically blissful.

But happy homes don’t make for dramatic movies. The screenplay by Kurt Sutter (creator of cable’s “Sons of Anarchy”) relies on over-the-top melodrama to remove McAdam’s Maureen from the scene, setting Billy on a downward spiral that will see him lose his boxing license, his title, his wealth and his mind.

Worse of all, he loses Leila to the child welfare folks.

Mostly “Southpaw” is about how — having been reduced to a lowly and primitive state –Billy slowly comes back. His Yoda in all this is Tick (Forest Whitaker), who used to train big-time boxers but now operates a rundown gym catering to at-risk kids.

Under Tick’s tutelage Billy learns to control his anger, employ defensive tactics (apparently for the first time), and develop the patience necessary both to win in the ring and earn the trust of a dubious family court judge.

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Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone

Bradley Cooper, Emma Stone

“ALOHA” My rating: C (Opens wide on June 5)

105 minutes | MPAA rating: PG-13

“Aloha” can mean either hello or goodbye. Thus it’s an appropriate title for a movie that doesn’t know if it’s coming or going.

That the latest from writer/director Cameron Crowe isn’t a total disaster can be credited to players whose charisma helps paper over the screaming holes and loopy notions marring the doddering screenplay.

These performers are just good enough to wrest a few memorable moments from the general chaos of an eccentric romantic comedy that isn’t particularly romantic or funny.

Brian Gilcrest (Bradley Cooper) is a near-legendary former Air Force officer who was deeply involved in the U.S. space program.  But after a long career decline and injuries incurred while a contractor in Afghanistan, he’s now a mere shadow of his former self.

He’s returned to his old stomping grounds in Hawaii as an employee of multi-billionaire Carson Welch (Bill Murray), who has invested heavily in a private rocket program and needs the blessing of native Hawaiian leaders to pave over some public relations potholes.

Brian’s assignment is too look up his old friend, the king of the nativist Nation of Hawaii (Dennis Bumpy Kanahele, playing himself), and secure said blessing.

Meanwhile Brian is torn between two women.  First there’s Tracy (Rachel McAdams), the love he unceremoniously dumped 13 years earlier. She’s now married to an Air Force Officer (John Krasinski) and the mother of two.

The arrival of her old flame — even in his semi-decrepit condition — exacerbates Tracy’s doubts about her marriage and a husband whose verbal communications are painfully  limited.

The other woman is Allison Ng (Emma Stone), a hotshot fighter pilot and one-quarter Hawaiian who is assigned as Brian’s military escort.  Allison starts out all spit and polish with a salute so sharp it snaps air molecules — but after a few days as Brian’s wingman  her military bearing turns all gee-whiz girly.

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Ben Affleck, Olga Kuylenko...falling in love in France

Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko…falling in love in France

“TO THE WONDER” My rating: C (Opens May 3 at the Tivoli)

112 minutes | MPAA rating: R

There’s a temptation to write off “To the Wonder” as a dead-on satiric parody of a Terrence Malick film.

Except that it is a Terrence Malick film.

And since I don’t think Malick is making fun of himself, we are left to struggle with just what  this admittedly talented but hugely exasperating filmmaker is up to.

Hell, maybe he’s just perverse.

“To the Wonder” embraces all the elements that irritated people with his previous film, “The Tree of Life” (which I count as one of the great movies of the last decade) and jettisons all the good stuff.

The film may be the ultimate statement in Malick’s war on narrative. It’s visually poetic, yeah — like an artsy fartsy TV commercial where you can never figure out what they’re selling — but also emotionally empty. I couldn’t shake the feeling that the movie is throwing a hearty “fuck you” into our faces.

I’m going to assume Malick is not just giving us the finger here, that he has attempted to make a real piece of art, and that he has failed.

Happens to everyone. Now how about a plot next time?

Here’s what we can say with certainty. “To the Wonder” is about an American man (Ben Affleck) who on a trip to France falls in love with a young woman (Olga Kurylenko) and brings her and her young daughter back to live with him in the U.S.

Except that he resides in a treeless, flat, irony-free tract-home subdivision outside Bartlesville, OK. It’s a neighborhood hemmed in on one side by high-tension power lines and on the other by an Interstate. There’s an oil well in the back yard.

Hmmmm…let’s see.  Paris…or Oklahoma?  Gosh, it’s such a tough call.

It’s enough to make you think this woman hasn’t got a brain in her head. (more…)

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“MIDNIGHT IN PARIS”  My rating: B

90 minutes | MPAA rating: 

Some films are lavish eight-course meals. Others are pastries.

“Midnight in Paris” is of the second variety, but since it was made by Woody Allen (one of his best efforts of recent years, in fact) and unfolds in the most evocative city on Earth, it’s a most satisfying pastry. Every bite provides a lovely escape. (more…)

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