Posts Tagged ‘rachel mcadams’


I’ll say this much — Marvel Studios’ latest mega-blockbuster, Doctor Strange, certainly is an amazing feast for the eyes. From the amazing opening fight sequence to the trippy other-dimensional mystical mindscapes peppered throughout the film, director Scott Derrickson (who also co-wrote the script along with John Spaihts and the erudite-sounding C. Robert Cargill) pulls out all the stops to “wow” you and succeeds in his goal admirably. In fact, if there’s ever been a flick that you need to see in 3-DD, Imax, and all that shit, it’s this one.

Here’s the rub, though : if you’ve seen all, some, or even just one of Marvel’s other cinematic products, then you really don’t “need” to see this thing at all.


By all rights, of course, this movie (which only came out two weeks ago, but I’m slapping my “Late To The Party” header on it anyway since most people see these on opening weekend and I didn’t get a chance to catch it until last night) sounded like it might represent the best chance for the so-called MCU to break from its well-established (and, admittedly, quite financially successful) mold : the character of Stephen Strange himself, a semi-tragic figure brought low by his own hubris when the wealthy and arrogant neurosurgeon’s reckless driving leads to a car accident that renders his hands useless and sets him off on a quest to heal himself by mystical means, is arguably the purest distillation of the type of “morality play” his creator, Steve Ditko (sorry, Stan, I don’t care what the studio bosses say, you don’t get any credit for this one from me) excelled at during his 1960s Marvel period, and his signature psychedelic visual style is well-represented in the work of Derrickson’s CGI crew, but there’s definitely quite a bit lost in the translation from newsprint to celluloid here. I’ll grant you that this film isn’t nearly the glorified paean to war and militarism that the Avengers and Captain America flicks are, but in just about every other respect it follows the worn and tired formula of its stablemates downright slavishly : morally and ethically dubious protagonist (in this case Benedict Cumberbatch’s Strange) goes through a long-form origin story that results in him becoming a marginally better person after attaining super-powers at the feet of a more experienced master (Tilda Swinton’s Ancient One);  he accrues a comic-relief sidekick (Benedict Wong’s — well, Wong), as well as one who might be a potential future rival (Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo), along the way; principal bad guy (Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius) is a former pupil of aforementioned master gone rogue; main bad guy (Dormammu) is a computer-generated special effect; nominal love interest (Amy McAdams’ Christine Palmer) is essentially treated like a doormat but sticks by her guy anyway; you know the drill. In fact, you know it by heart at this point.

All of which means that a darn fine cast is wasted on this lifeless, assembly-line drivel (hell, you can even set your watch by the intervals between jokes — which largely fall flat this time out — in these things). Cumberbatch essentially plays Strange as Tony Stark in a magic red cloak;  Ejiofor buries his not-inconsiderable talents under a mask of dour, one-dimensional earnestness; McAdams suffers through her lines as surely as her character suffers through life as a plot device for her male counterpart; Swinton (whose casting was controversial among stodgy and conservative comics fans due to the fact that the “real” Ancient One is both Asian and male) shows some heart but the damn thing is that her role would be better served if she were more distant and blase a la David Carridine; Mikkelsen seems like a low-rent stand-in for Tom Hiddleston’s Loki; yadda, yadda, etc., etc.


In many ways, in fact, the creative bankruptcy of Marvel Studios has never been made more plain than it is here — after all, if they can take a fundamentally different premise than that which we see in their other films and still turn it into big-budget, dime-a-dozen, interchangeable cinematic fare, then it becomes depressingly clear that not only are they not interested in trying anything fundamentally different, they more than likely simply don’t even know how to at this point.

Not that audiences seem to care, mind you. “More of the same” still sells, and unless and until one of these things tanks at the box office, nothing’s gonna change, and the “Big-Budget-TV-Movie” ethos that permeates the MCU will hold firm. When it comes to the bottom line, that makes plenty of sense — but sooner or later familiarity breeds contempt, and when the bottom finally falls out on the super-hero craze, I predict it’s gonna fall out hard. As in, end-of-disco hard. People aren’t just gonna stop seeing this stuff, they’re gonna be too embarrassed to admit they ever even liked it. And when that day comes, whether it’s in one year or ten, Marvel will have only themselves to blame. They crank out enough films to be able to do something at least a little bit adventurous and “outside the box” once in awhile. They can afford to throw some shit at the wall and see what sticks. But they don’t. Won’t. Can’t. And now it’s gotten to the point where I’m a whole lot less lonely than I used to be when it comes to griping about the utter sameness of their films. The chorus of groaners is still small, true, but it’s getting louder. And larger. And sooner or later, the powers that be might want to pay attention.


They’d better start paying attention to the wretched politics of their films, as well. Women are props consigned to do little beyond making the men around them more caring and more human. Racial and ethnic minorities are consigned to “second-fiddle” roles. Gays and lesbians simply don’t exist. Might always makes right. And, perhaps most troublesome in the “Age Of Trump,” rich people — even the most noxious, self-centered, asinine, egomaniacal ones — are worthy of being granted super-powers and become better people once they attain those powers. Why they’re not called to the carpet more often for these clear, present, and nauseating themes remains a mystery to me, but whenever I bitch about ’em, the most common whitewashing excuse I hear from folks — even he most purportedly “liberal” viewers — is that I’m “overthinking” things. Well, I call bullshit on that. Tony Stark — and now Stephen Strange — have gone a long way toward normalizing this idea that overtly asshole-ish, obscenely wealthy narcissists can be heroes, and look where that’s gotten us.

Am I blaming Marvel, then, for the rise of our Pussy-Grabber-In-Chief? No (although it’s worth pointing out that Marvel CEO Ike Perlmutter was a major Trump donor and supporter), but in much the same way that Rosemary’s Baby and The Exorcist (whose author, William Peter Blatty, was a psychological warfare operative in Vietnam) preceded the ludicrous “Satanic Panic” that followed in their wake about a decade later, and the spate of ‘Nam flicks in the 1980s that were, at least on a surface level, critical of that war helped numb audiences to the notion of endless, un-winnable conflicts that would start up again in earnest with “Gulf War I” in 1990 and continue, on and off, for the next three decades, these flicks do their part to contribute to the cultural zeitgeist that makes certain once-unpalatable notions in the real world very palatable indeed.  In that respect, then, Marvel movies may be graduating from being simply dull and predictable to being downright dangerous. I hope, of course, that this is just pure batshit paranoia on my part — I fear, however, that it’s anything but.



Occasionally, a critic — even one of the strictly amateur variety such as myself — is compelled to offer an opinion that makes them feel like a bit of an asshole. Maybe there’s a flick you didn’t care too much for, but you’ve gotten to know one or more of the principles involved in its production either via social media or, in rare instances, the real, actual world, and they seem like genuinely nice folks who you’d hate to piss off. This has happened to me more than once and I take no particular joy and/or pride in it, trust me. Or maybe there’s a new film out from a director whose work you genuinely admire but his or her latest project just isn’t up to snuff. This is much more common, and you can generally let it roll like water off your back. Or perhaps there’s a movie making the rounds that’s so well-regarded among everyone else that your own negative review on it will mark you as something of a pariah among the rest of the “critical class.” This, frankly, shouldn’t bug you in the least.

These scenarios can all be dealt with to one degree or another and needn’t leave a stain on your conscience for very long, but damn — once in the deepest, bluest of moons, you don’t just offer an opinion that makes you feel like “a bit of an asshole,” but like a major asshole. Today, I’m sorry to say, is just such a day.


Director Tom McCarthy’s Spotlight was the surprise winner of the “Best Picture” award for 2015 at the most recent Oscars ceremony, and is certainly an important, topical, and highly accurate procedural story that’s well worth seeing — even though I didn’t see it myself until well after it took home the biggest prize the Academy can bestow on a film (I saw it this afternoon, to be specific, at the neighborhood discount theater). So it’s not that I didn’t like the flick — please don’t get me wrong. But I’m kinda glad that I waited to see it “on the cheap,” and to be honest, I probably could have kept waiting until it hit DVD or even Netflix. That’s because my first thought upon leaving the theater was — well, why don’t we just save that for the end, since it’s what made me feel like a, as I described it, “major asshole.” Which plenty of folks will say I am anyway, but still —

The “pluses” on offer here are many, of course, but most fall squarely on the shoulders of the cast. Michael Keaton plays Boston Globe editor Walter “Robby” Robinson, who’s been tasked by his new boss, Marty Baron (portrayed by Liev Schreiber) with digging into the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal with a bit more vigor than the paper has in the past. Grinding the shoe leather in a concerted effort to break the story wide open are the ace reporters of his “Spotlight” unit (hence the title and all) Mike Rezendes (Mark Ruffalo), Sacha Pfeiffer (Rachel McAdams), and Matt Carroll (Brian d’Arcy James), who are all given various opportunities to shine throughout the course of the film and duly make the most of them, particularly Ruffalo. Overseeing matters is John Slattery as legendary newsman Ben Bradlee, Jr., and a trio of lawyers played by Stanley Tucci, Billy Crudup, and Jamey Sheridan each impact the case, for good or ill, from their respective positions. It’s a superb group of actors that’s been assembled here, and McCarthy is to be credited for getting terrific work out of each and every one of them.


What I’m not prepared to give him credit for, though, is having any discernible directorial style to speak of (even the tired and overused faux- “guerrilla filmmaking” or “street level” tropes would have been preferable to the dull, “point-and-shoot” approach that he takes throughout here), nor for mining any of the quite obviously rich human tragedy that underpins this frankly ground-shaking series of events for dramatic effect. We only see a couple of victims for a very short time, only meet one of the accused priests (who’s both disturbingly confessional and even more disturbingly obtuse) for about two minutes tops, and the rest of the flick is just pure nuts-and-bolts newspaper work that McCarthy and co-screenwriter Josh Singer  are serving up. It does an okay job with that material, sure, but it’s not going to make you forget All The President’s Men or anything — what’s really remarkable, though (and I don’t mean that in a complimentary sense) is how it’s pretty darn hard to feel a genuine sense of emotional detachment from a film about one of the most wealthy and powerful organizations in the world covering up for a bunch of friggin’ child molesters within its own ranks, yet somehow Spotlight manages to pull it off. I’d be tempted to call it a perverse sort of miracle, even, but the Catholic church might be tempted to take credit for it, so I won’t. Towards the end they attempt to imbue each of the reporters and editors with a bit of a personal connection to the story they’ve spent, by then, literally months working on, but it’s a case of “too little, too late,” and it both feels forced and falls flat.


And so we’ve arrived at the “why I feel like an asshole” moment that I started talking about roughly 800 words back. And it all comes down to that thought in my head as I left the theater. I’ll give you the exact words that ran through my mind in a moment, but the reason I hated myself for even thinking them is because the Catholic clergy sex abuse scandal is an absolutely devastating story whose size and scope is almost beyond comprehension at this point. It’s a genuine worldwide epidemic that has destroyed countless lives when its victims turned to drugs, alcohol, or even suicide to either mask or end their suffering. It’s been going on for God only knows how long, it continues to go on to this day, and even after paying out who knows how many millions (not nearly enough, if you ask me) of dollars in settlements, the same church leaders who spent the better part of their lives and careers sweeping it under the rug still don’t seem to grasp why it’s such a big deal. I might be a major asshole, but these guys are unconscionably major assholes.

So, yeah — this is a story that needed to be told. And I’m glad it was. And no one should ever forget it. The victims deserve not just financial settlements or some vague and amorphous sense of “closure,” but outright fucking justice, and the perpetrators and their enablers deserve to be dealt with not just by their fictitious God, but by real, human courts of law and penal systems. The work that the Boston Globe did to report on this epic tragedy in important. The work that Tom McCarthy and his cast and crew did it translating that story into film is important. But — and it’s a big but — that nagging thought I had as the credits rolled on Spotlight, and that I’ve had ever since, is (insert sarcastic drumroll if you must) : “this felt like a made-for-TV ‘Movie of the Week’ with an overqualified cast.”

I wisely ditched out on the Catholic church (and all religion) in my mind and heart when I was about six years old and physically as soon as I flew my parents’ coop, but some remnant of good, old-fashioned “Catholic Guilt” must still be lingering in the dark corners of my subconscious because I feel like I should burn in a Hell that I don’t even believe exists just for thinking that. But my conscience would bother me even more if I expressed anything other than my absolute, honest assessment of this — or, heck, any — film to my readers, so there you have it.

It’s never come up before on this blog, but your humble host absolutely loves Woody Allen. I never miss his one of his films and usually try to make it a point to go out and catch them on opening weekend. Sure, it’s been something of a bumpier ride lately, as his international travelogue has been going on for the better part of a decade now and there will probably always be something intrinsically off about a Woody Allen movie that doesn’t take place in New York, but what the hell — his extended sojourn abroad has produced at least one genuine classic in Match Point, and that makes clunkers like Scoop and pointless dead-enders like Vicky Cristina Barcelona worth it to devotees of the maestro and his work. Mostly what we’ve gotten are middling efforts like You Will Meet A Tall Dark Stranger and Cassandra’s Dream (which was nowhere near as bad as everyone says, but does prove that Allen has trouble writing anything other than well-educated, economically-upper-crust characters — still, he gave it a shot), but I’m pleased to say that his latest, Midnight In Paris, is a definite gem — an earnest, if flawed, love letter to a magical place and times gone by that nevertheless keeps its footing in reality, it’s a celebration of both Paris as it was, and of the city, and life in general (warts and all), as it is today.

And in a way, it pains me to say this because I absolutely despise Owen Wilson. I mean, with a passion, His whole shtick is just so fucking tedious in the extreme that the idea of his playing Woody’s latest younger-version-of-himself stand-in grated on my nerves before I even saw the film. Okay, Owen, you’ve got messy hair and a goofy nose. Get the fuck over yourself already.

Still, this is such a charming little flick that even Wilson can’t ruin it. It’s a little bit light on substance, to be sure, and Rachel McAdams’ Inez character is two-dimensional in the extreme, but sometimes you just get taken in by a clever premise and all you can do it sit back and enjoy the ride.

And the premise for Midnight In Paris is, indeed, clever in the extreme. Wilson portrays Hollywood hack screenwriter Gil Pender, who’s understandably dissatisfied with the Tinseltown rat race and has gone to Paris with his fiancee, the aforementioned Inez, and her overbearing wealthy parents. Inez is such a superficial harpy that you honesty wonder what Gil ever saw in the spoiled little bitch in the first place, and her mom and dad are even worse. Their whole life apparently revolves around planning an elaborate wedding and buying a house, but the more he’s sucked into vacuous, empty world of Inez’s pedestrian dreams, the more he finds himself taken with the City of Lights, and who can really blame the guy?

One evening Gil decides to cut things short after dinner with Inez and her friends Carol (Nina Arianda) and Paul (Michael Sheen, turning in a deliciously OTT performance as an overbearing know-it-all,pretentious college professor — nobody writes a more entertaining asshole than Woody Allen, and his last several films have sorely lacked this key ingredient, so it’s nice to see he hasn’t lost his touch), and decides to stroll home alone while they go out dancing. While sitting on some church steps and taking in the night, though, something remarkable happens — an old Peugeot cab emerges from nowhere , its drunken occupants invite Gil inside for a ride, and soon, for reasons never made in the least bit clear and that don’t really matter much anyway,  he’s hob-nobbing with a veritable who’s-who of the literary and artistic world in 1920s Paris. They’re all here, folks — F. Scott and Zelda Fitzgerald, Pablo Picasso, Ernest Hemingway, Gertrude Stein, Salvador Dali, Cole Porter, you name it.

Yeah, I know, I wouldn’t want to come back either, but as the sun rises in the morning Gil finds himself back in the dreary confines of his well-to-do-but-empty existence. The next night, though, the cab is back, and in fact it returns each subsequent evening at the stroke of midnight. Soon Gil is best pals with all the artistic intelligentsia of the time (and it must be said the casting for all these roles is extraordinary, with special mention going to Kathy Bates as Stein, Adrien Brody as Dali and Corey Stall as Hemingway, who tear into their roles with absolute relish to one degree or another), his novel is finally coming together, and he’s falling in love with a young lady named Adriana (given that she’s played by Marion Cotillard can you really blame him?) who’s also being pursued by both Picasso and Hemingway. We get more cameos from the likes of Man Ray, Alice B. Toklas, Josephine Baker, and Djuana Barnes, to name-drop just a few more, and by this point you’re either taken with the movie’s admittedly less-than-subtle spell, or you’re just not human.

Still, this being a Woody Allen film and all, no paradise can last forever, and just as he’s falling for Adriana, the time travel thing kicks into high gear and sends them both back even further, to 1890s Paris and the Belle Epoque, and Adriana must choose between  with her newfound love or remaining in Paris’ most legendary era ever.

And therein lies the rub — Midnight In Paris is cautious about its own romanticism, and Allen admits that his legendary taste for the nostalgic is a dead end in its own right, if a most pleasant and endearing one. The past ain’t worth a fuck if we get lost in it rather than taking whatever lessons it has to offer and applying them to our lives in the present. Will Gil be sucked in completely, or will he do the right thing, painful as it may be, and return home while he still can?

Look, you probably already know the answer to this, but I won’t soil it completely just on principle. Suffice to say that Gil’s decision is one which will surprise no one, and will lead to resolution that wraps up all loose ends a little too quickly and a little tidily, but that rings true despite its flaws. Which is rather reflective of the film itself, it must be said — hardly perfect, maybe a little bit over-indulgent (the cameo by France’s First Lady, Carla Bruni, as a museum tour guide particularly makes no real sense), and all a bit too neat, but enchantingly perfect in its own way nevertheless.

By the time the film ends with Paris in the rain (of course), you’ll have been subjected to every romanticized cliche about the city, both present and past, you could possibly imagine — but rather than feeling pandered or condescended to, you’ll be smiling all the way home.

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Hollywood's Best Offering Of 2009?

Here at TFG your humble host doesn’t venture into contemporary mainstream Hollywood studio fare too often, but once in awhile they manage to get something so right that one can’t help but take notice. Such is the case with “State Of Play,” the new film from director Kevin (“The Last King Of Scotland”) MacDonald based on Paul Abbott’s highly-regarded BBC miniseries of the same name.

As a fan of the original, I regarded this new “Americanized” version with the requisite amount of trepidation one would expect, but walked away from the film not only pleasantly surprised, but downright enthusiastic. While it’s true that the only thing British about this version is Helen Mirren, the film nonetheless retains the essential character of its source material and shows that an adaptation can remain faithful to its roots without becoming a soulless husk of overly-literal fealty a la Zack Synder’s “Watchmen.”

Russell Crowe stars as Cal McAffrey, a grizzled veteran reporter for the fictional Washington Globe newspaper who has literally seen and heard it all before a thousand times over, yet conveys the sense that, while certainly a cynic, he’s just too damn busy —and devoted to his craft—to become as bitter as he’s perhaps got reason to be. Crowe gets to the meat of what makes this guy tick from the word go and delivers a finely nuanced and refreshingly understated performance. Ben Affleck is his old college roommate who’s gone and gotten himself elected to Congress after a stint in the army during the first Gulf War and retains some sense, so it seems, of honor and duty to country, but when a young staffer with whom he’s been having an affair either commits suicide or is murdered, his squeaky-clean image comes crashing down and his struggle to spin events to his ultimate advantage is one of the cornerstones of the film. Affleck doesn’t do much beyond play a cardboard cut-out in a suit, but then that’s all he’s ever done, and in this film that’s really all that’s required of him.

Cal must walk a tightrope between covering the story and remaining true to his friend, and the underlying tension between doing what’s right as a journalist and what’s right as a human being is his central character dilemma—it also doesn’t help matters much that Cal is in love with his buddy’s wife (played by Robin Wright Penn), has an old-school hardnosed editor breathing down his neck(the aforementioned Mirren) while simultaneously putting hers on the line for him with the paper’s unseen new Murdoch-esque owners, and is saddled with shepherding along a young assistant working on the story who comes from the blogosphere and represents the new wave of instantaneous, poorly-researched “journalism” that’s fast taking over from Cal’s paper-and-ink dinosaur.

As the story plays out, we come to see that Affleck’s congressman is the pointman in a series of Capitol Hill investigations into a Blackwater-type private paramilitary corporation, and that all may not be what it seems with his deceased young paramour. It’s a heady mix of intrigue, scandal, and greed that  your viewer really can’t say too much more about without spilling the beans, suffice to say that just when you think you’ve got the thing figured out, new twists arise to leave you freshly bewildered all over again, and even devotees of the original, who know how it’s all going to end, will find themselves enraptured by the terse, economic way in which director MacDonald contracts six hours of material down to just over two without missing a beat and without selling short the richly-textured layers of plots and subplots that gained Abbott’s TV version such near-universal accolades. Besides, with some new issues brought into the fold such as the examination of the role of private mercenaries—err, “contractors”—in America’s military operations and the rise of emerging media at the expense of the old, there are plenty of intricacies here for audiences both old and new to consider.

The end result is a classic jourmalistic thriller in the style of “All The President’s Men,” one where even if you know the outcome already—and in fairness most of the audience won’t—getting there is such a such an enjoyable experience that you won’t want to miss the ride.