Tagged: Rachel McAdams

Box Office Democracy: Doctor Strange

I assume at some point in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’re going to come across a threat that unites every character in one movie to fight against it in some budget-busting assembly of talent. I am starting to dread this moment because between Tony Stark, Peter Quill, Scott Lang, and now Stephen Strange, I can’t imagine anything could ever get done between giving all four of them chances to show how little they care about anything that happens in favor of getting in some quip or another. Ironic detachment has become the house style in the MCU, and I’m not sure why Doctor Strange was my breaking point but it was. I’m sick of people saving the world by not caring about it.

It’s not that Benedict Cumberbatch is the problem with Doctor Strange. I found him surprisingly acceptable playing a native New Yorker. He isn’t bad at doing pithy dialogue and this might be projection on my part because he’s English but he’s masterful at appearing above it all. He does a good job climbing over the mountain of unlikability the script puts in his path. Honestly, I’m not sure at what part of “arrogant doctor crashes his supercar while rejecting pleas from sick people to get help” is supposed to make us think he’s a good guy, but his subsequent petulant rejection of all of the advice of his doctors so he can regain the use of his hands so he can go back to being a jerk of a surgeon doesn’t do it either. Stephen Strange is an unlikable crater in the middle of Doctor Strange, but Benedict Cumberbatch is just reading the words off the page.

I don’t like Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. I don’t like that she’s playing an Asian man and even though they go out of the way to say she’s Celtic, there’s nothing she does in the entire film that isn’t out of the mystical Asian man playbook. I think it’s cowardly that Marvel changed the character from Tibetan so that they could have an easier time accessing the Chinese film market. All the talk of censorship I’ve seen in media these past few years— we get actual government intervention in a movie, and so few people seem to notice.

The rest of the cast is great. Chiwitel Ejiofor is too good an actor for the small part this movie asks of him. He wrestles with his morality over the course of this film and you can see the conflict on his face and in his posture in a way you just don’t see in genre films. He’s deserving of more, and I trust if we get a sequel we’ll get more of him. Benedict Wong is also excellent in a small part. He has a great physicality in a movie dominated by bodies skinnier than a life dedicated to martial arts would suggest. He is the focus for much of the humor in the second act and he carries it well. Mads Mikkelsen wouldn’t have been my first choice for a magical martial arts bad guy but I’m thrilled to have been proven wrong. Because of the magic roots (and the liberal use of stunt doubles) it’s not like he has to carry any of the difficult work himself, and it gives us a gifted actor skilled at playing menaces to carry the heavy weight a villain must shoulder in a superhero film. The best part of the entire film is a quick comedic exchange between Cumberbatch and Mikkelsen, and I’m not sure anyone but Mikkelsen could have made it work.

The story is as predictably lifeless as one would expect from a superhero origin story these days. Bad thing happens, person gets extraordinary power, some sort of betrayal requires that power to be directed against evil, and then there’s a new status quo. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times now and there’s nothing new or exciting about the way it’s written up here. The been-there-done-that feeling also extends to the special effects. I’ve read rave reviews of the visual effects and while they’re nice, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen in Inception or The Matrix franchise. While they’ve turned those visual concepts up to 11 this time out it didn’t particularly impress me; I’m not looking for more and bigger with effects as much as I am smarter and more effective. Doctor Strange looks like someone put a kaleidoscope in front of the projector after it had already been shot rather than having a coherent design.

It must seem like I didn’t like Doctor Strange and that honestly isn’t true. Marvel Studios has gotten very good at making these films and it’s almost impossible to sit through one and not be entertained. I’m just starting to see the strings a little more, the same old things, and the clichés that dominate these movies particularly the origin stories. I had a good time watching the movie but it’s not fresh like Iron Man was; it feels more like watching a movie where a police officer has only one day until retirement. Perhaps as we get in to a round of sequels we’ll see a lot less of this, but until then I’m going to be writing a lot more reviews complaining about a movie that’s honestly above average.

John Ostrander: Spotlighted

John Ostrander: Spotlighted


Having missed it in the theater, I finally caught this year’s Oscar winner for Best Picture, Spotlight, on Blu-Ray. I thought it was mighty impressive, deserving of all the kudos and awards it has gotten.

Directed and co-written by Tom McCarthy and starring Michael Keaton (having a brilliant career renaissance), Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams, Liev Schreiber, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and a whole slew of really good actors, it tells the account of the breaking of the pederast priests story in the Boston Archdiocese by the Spotlight investigative team of the Boston Globe. The four journalists working for Spotlight are long form investigators who can work on a story over a long period of time, sometimes years.

The movie is both riveting and appalling, making clear how the Roman Catholic hierarchy in Boston – and elsewhere – covered up the sexual abuse of children. It’s a scandal that continues to rock the RC church on a world-wide basis. It’s not only a RC problem, as Josh Duggar proved; fundamentalists also get in on the “action”.

The movie is “entertaining” in that it tells an important story and tells it well. There are comparisons to All The President’s Men, the movie about the breaking of the Watergate scandal by the Washington Post that lead to the impeachment of Richard Nixon and these comparisons are apt; Spotlight even has a sort of Deep Throat character who we hear on the phone but never see.

One of the important points hammered home is the importance of newspapers in our Body Politic, which is worrisome since newspapers are a dying breed. It takes time and money to do this kind of investigation and I’m not sure who is willing to commit to that kind of investment any more. Staffs get cut; there’s just not enough revenue coming in to support it in such a case. Investigative journalism may be seen as a luxury by cash-strapped publishers and their boards.

Is investigative journalism important? Yes. You can trace the history and importance of it back through the “muckrakers” of Teddy Roosevelt’s time. The admirable Doris Kearns Goodwin (my favorite living history writer), in her most recent book The Bully Pulpit: Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and the Golden Age of Journalism, shows – among other things – the rise of McClure’s Magazine at the turn of the last century and how its groundbreaking use of long-form investigative journalism helped usher in the Progressive Era. It is a fascinating and scary read; it has too many echoes with today.

We don’t have this kind of investigative work as much these days. The Internet is great for opinion but opinions are like assholes – everybody has one and, sooner or later, everybody is one. Investigations such as shown in Spotlight rely on facts, facts that are meticulously and painstakingly gathered and checked. The goal is to get the story right and get the right story. As the movie shows, the story wasn’t just about the child abuse in the Catholic Church but how the hierarchy knew about it and covered it up.

Why is that important? This is a Newsweek report from this last February: “During a presentation for newly appointed bishops, French Monsignor Tony Anatrella said they don’t have a duty to report abuse because it should be the responsibility of victims and their families to go to the police.”

The movie tells us, in title cards at the end, that the Boston Globe published 600 articles on the topic and that pederast priests and brothers have been found in many cities, not only in this country but around the world. It was hard to read that list and not feel a little sick.

Finding the story, getting it right, and getting it out there is more important than ever in this election year. Politicians know that they can blatantly lie and get away with it. What they say hits the front page; the correction (if any) comes on page three. Perhaps a lot of people these days just don’t care; they know what they think and don’t need no stinkin’ facts.

They’re wrong. The Body Politic needs to know those stinkin’ facts. The movie, Spotlight, shows how hard it is to get them and the impact they can have. We need to know the story that the facts tell even if it makes us uncomfortable. The scary question is – how much longer will we be able to get them?