Director: Scott Derrickson
Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Tilda Swinton, Rachel McAdams, Benedict Wong, Mads Mikkelsen, Michael Stuhlbarg, Benjamin Bratt
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange, is a peculiar beast. It is simultaneously the boldest and most conservative Marvel film in some time, taking the franchise in an exciting new visual direction, while taking enormous steps back from the character and relationship complexity of some of Marvel’s more recent films in order to tell a routine origin story.
Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a brilliant, wealthy and arrogant neurosurgeon from New York whose life is turned upside down when a serious car accident leaves him with severe nerve damage in his hands, effectively ending his medical career. After exhausting all the options of western medicine, in desperation he heads to Kathmandu in search of a holy teacher who he has learned healed a man with a serious spinal injury. There he is met by the mysterious Mordo (Chiwetel Ejiofor), who takes him to Kamar-Taj, an ancient community of sorcerers under the leadership of the Supreme Sorcerer, known only as the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton). Continue reading
Director: Tom McCarthy
Starring: Michael Keaton, Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Brian d’Arcy James, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci
Revelations of child sexual abuse in the Catholic Church, and the institutional cover up which protected its perpetrators, have rocked communities all over the world. The effect has been particularly devastating in cities where the church and the wider community are almost inseparable. Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight takes its title from the small, four person investigative team at the Boston Globe who, in 2001, uncovered a scandal in the local archdiocese which started a snowball effect which would be felt around the globe and earned the newspaper a Pulitzer Prize.
The Boston Globe has a new editor, Marty Baron (Liev Schreiber). Baron has worked at the New York Times and the Miami Herald, so he has serious credibility. But he is Jewish, unmarried, and doesn’t even like baseball. In other words, he is not Boston. In his first meeting with the Globe staff he draws their attention to a small column buried deep in the paper about a local priest who has been convicted of child sex offences and decides that this will become the next target for the Spotlight team Continue reading
Director: Anton Corbijn
Starring: Philip Seymour Hoffman, Rachel McAdams, Grigoriy Dobrygin, Willem Dafoe, Nina Hoss, Robin Wright, Daniel Brühl
It is a bitter sweet time to be a film lover as new films from the late Philip Seymour Hoffman continue to hit the screen. The latest of them is Anton Corbijn’s slow burning spy thriller A Most Wanted Man.
With the 9/11 attacks having been planned from Hamburg, the German port city has become a key counterterrorist hub in the years since. There we meet the rumpled and weary Gunter Bachmann, head of a German counterterrorism unit. Constantly butting heads with Hamburg intelligence head Dieter Mohr who want to see more arrests, Gunter is interested in playing a longer game. As he explains, it is about using the minnow to catch the barracuda, and using the barracuda to catch the shark. Both have their sights set on Issa Karpov, a mysterious Chechen refugee with past militant links, who has arrived in Hamburg seeking to claim a multi-million Euro inheritance. For Dieter, Karpov is a prize, for Gunter he is a minnow with which he can catch the barracuda he his team has been tailing for years.
Being based on a John le Carré novel, A Most Wanted Man obviously does not deliver a spy thriller in the James Bond mould. There is a distinct lack of explosions, chases and action set pieces of any kind. Rather, this is classic espionage in a post-9/11 context. Corbijn’s film takes us into the morally dubious world of intelligence gathering where nothing is straight forward, nothing is black and white. We encounter rival agencies with rival motives, working together when it is convenient, and behind each other’s backs when that is. The result for the viewer is that we are left not just wondering who are the good guys and who are the bad guys, but whether there are good guys and bad guys at all.
This uncertainty about who to side with is reinforced by a structure which sees us move between apparent protagonists for much of the first half of the film. It takes a while for the film to settle into a fixed point of view. The ensemble cast features a number of Americans playing Germans, while impressive German actors like Nina Hoss and Daniel Brühl are reduced to minor roles. Of the Americans, some (Hoffman) do a more convincing job with their accent than others (McAdams).
Anton Corbijn, who came to feature filmmaking from music videos, is a very precise filmmaker, and in serving le Carré’s densely layered plot, he delivers a meticulously crafted film. With cinematography from Frenchman Benoît Delhomme, A Most Wanted Man is also a sharp looking film.
A subdued film that is at times quite slow, A Most Wanted Man is interesting without being truly compelling.
Review by Duncan McLean
Have you seen A Most Wanted Man? Leave a comment and let us know what you thought.
Director: Terrence Malick
Starring: Ben Affleck, Olga Kurylenko, Javier Bardem, Rachel McAdams
Terrence Malick is not your usual filmmaker. He was a philosophy student at Harvard who graduated summa cum laude before heading to Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar. He was teaching at Massachusetts Institute of Technology before deciding to enrol at the American Film Institute. Since then he has had an intriguing 40 year career as a director which has amazingly only resulted in six feature films. While he left academia a long time ago, that philosophical streak still exists in his work, and as he has grown older his films have become increasingly contemplative and esoteric.
His last film, The Tree of Life, divided critics and audiences alike with some declaring it the film of the year while others found it excessively self-indulgent and pretentious. His new picture, To the Wonder is a similar style of film to Tree of Life, though likely a step further away from the mainstream and less well executed.
As a filmmaker, Malick is growing increasingly disinterested in narrative. So while To the Wonder has a narrative of sorts it is not really the primary focus of the film. We meet two outsiders living in Oklahoma. Marina is a Ukranian single mother who has moved to America from Paris after falling in love with an American, Neil. Father Quintana is a Hispanic Catholic priest who moved to the area to minister. Both have been compelled to move their by love, but both now find themself feeling increasingly isolated and distant from that love. The picture contrasts Marina’s relationship difficulties with Quintana’s crisis of faith.
For this exploration of love in its different forms, Malick is more interested in evoking than describing. Instead of getting scenes, we simply glimpse moments. Instead of having passages of dialogue, we capture a sentence here or there. The prominence of the musical score over dialogue means the film can feel almost like a silent movie.
Like The Tree of Life, To the Wonder is a visual and aural experience with an ethereal quality. The cinematography of Emmanuel Lubezki, who has worked twice before with Malick, is breathtaking. Whether in the streets of Paris, the plains of Oklahoma or the humble homes of Bartlesville, Lubezki and Malick give us beautiful, emotive images. However unlike its predecessor, To the Wonder doesn’t have the substance to support its style. The combination of these stunning images, an expressive score, and a narration of philosophical whisperings in French and Spanish has led more than one critic to liken the film to a high end perfume commercial.
An impressive principal cast including Olga Kurylenko, Ben Affleck, Rachel McAdams and Javier Bardem suggests that the chance to work with Malick is obviously a draw card for actors. But don’t come expecting to see movie stars because Malick’s camera doesn’t treat them that way. Case in point is Ben Affleck, who despite being a big name star, constantly finds himself on the periphery of the frame, often with his head cut out of the picture. In the film’s first passages in Paris Affleck hardly says a word. We assume this is because his character doesn’t speak French, but then when the film migrates to America we still don’t hear from him.
To the Wonder has an impassioned spirituality. You can’t help but feel that there is an autobiographical element to Father Quintana’s longing to again experience the presence of Christ in the world around him. Unfortunately though, the film lacks clarity, with the vagueness of its events, characters and themes more likely to leave you scratching your head than deep in philosophical reflection.
Rating – ★★
Review by Duncan McLean