Review: Doctor Strange

10643689501470780548050 It’s hard, currently, to walk into a Marvel Studios movie and not have that up-surging hint of pure excitement, that childlike feeling of anticipation as you know you are about to see an intellectual property (maybe even one that you relate to, inherently or otherwise) treated with the utmost grace and ability that large-scale filmmaking has to offer. This is no different in director Scott Derrickson’s interpretation of Doctor Strange, where an amazing cast led by Benedict Cumberbatch in the title role brings one of Marvel’s lesser known but greatly powered heroes to live action in a stunning and wondrous way. In fact, it is the sense of awe and grandeur that Doctor Strange inflicts that makes it so impactful, by ways of the introduction of magic and the deep mystery of the beyond, the film props itself up immediately as one of the best Marvel productions to date.

This film suffers some of the same indignities that the Marvel formula provides, namely a rushed prologue and shortened character development. However, these are largely sidestepped by the structure Derrickson lays throughout the movie: by taking advantage of the very tropes a character such as “Doctor Strange” is inundated with, the movie leads the audience to clever assumptions about characters, supplanting concrete descriptions with vague but informative notions. He lets the audience do the work he could have done with more run time.

The supporting cast is nothing short of fantastic, usually the case with films from Marvel Studios but especially so here. Chiwetel Ejiofor puts in a contrasting performance to Cumberbatch’s aloof Strange, a stoic and severe reminder of the variety of personalities at play in the movie as “Mordo”. Benedict Wong, easily enough as the character “Wong”, offers up a sort of characterization of Mordo’s severity, one that serves as both beloved guide and unintended comic relief throughout the movie. The only real disappointment is Rachel McAdams in the extremely forgettable position of lead love interest in a Marvel Studios movie as “Christine Palmer” a character that connects Strange’s old life to his new one and fulfills little purpose other than that.

The real high casting points in this film are the triumvirate of players at the top: Cumberbatch as “Doctor Strange”, Tilda Swinton as “The Ancient One” and Mads Mikkelsen as “Kaecilius”. Cumberbatch exceeds in his portrayal of Strange, he has always done well with the “brash American” characters and that skill is honed to a fine point here: at times sarcastic and playful, severe and enraged, the range he displays is wonderful. Swinton excels as she always does, donning an intriguingly androgynous form for “The Ancient One” and thoroughly accomplishing the effect that she knows much, much more than Strange or even the audience does. Mikkelsen takes a stereotypically underdeveloped Marvel villain and makes up for what the script lacks in with the pure intensity of his performance.

However, if there is one reason to see this movie, it is for its visual splendor. From beginning to end the movie is packed with stunning cinematography. Cinematographer Ben Davis adds to the feel he honed in Guardians of the Galaxy with a foreboding sense of forever. Anywhere from the “mirror dimension” to “The Dark Dimension”, the level and layout of the CGI work create mind-blowingly powerful landscapes and scenes. The very addition of something as illogical as magic to the Marvel universe opens up a plethora of visual options as the film takes on an almost kaleidoscopic nature, transcending normal visual cues for something altogether new for audiences.

Ultimately, Doctor Strange is a treat for the viewer in many ways: superb acting, the impact of an interesting yet underutilized character, a classic formula whose faults are for a bit lifted, but probably most of all Doctor Strange will owe its success to the rich visual thematics it has been imbued with by director Scott Derrickson. Between his delicate handling of a premise that could easily have jumped the shark and the impeccable acting chops of Benedict Cumberbatch, perhaps the most polished Marvel Studios movie yet was made, and it is a joy to behold.

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Review: Black Mass

LJrpO When you are heading in to see Black Mass, it must be kept in mind, what you are about to witness is a group of actors not only playing out a drama, but also practicing their craft to perfection. In Scott Cooper’s exploration into the life and criminal career of Boston mob boss Whitey Bulger, he constructs a stage on which the players of this film don’t just portray their characters, they become them in what is a masterpiece of character study. Throughout Black Mass, despite shortcomings in writing and pacing, the acting is what shines through in a truly memorable experience.

The true powerhouse performances come from Johnny Depp as Bulger, Joel Edgerton as his South Boston childhood friend made adult accomplice John Connolly, and his brother Billy, played in a masterful turn by Benedict Cumberbatch. Throughout Bulger’s story, a criminal expansion across three decades that finds him continually descending into a darker and more intense version of himself, these three absolutely shine. This cadre interacts in such a way that the nature of the people they represent as well as how they coexist in their insulated criminal community comes to life on the screen. Very quickly into the movie, the viewer is drawn into these characters.

Johnny Depp must be given the most praise, however, this is truly a pinnacle moment for him despite his stellar career. Not since Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas or Blow have we seen him so fully inhabit a person as he does Whitey Bulger. A dark but extremely intriguing figure whose intensity is fully embodied by Depp in every scene. While Depp has been guilty in the past of expanding his characters in a bombastic nature, here he condenses his performance to a fine, gritty, dark point. Depp has had a turn as a mobster in Public Enemies, but this role extends beyond the characteristics of a simpler mob drama into such a masterful interpretation that he draws the viewer into this desire to figure out Bulger’s impenetrable psyche.

However, Depp doesn’t excel alone, Joel Edgerton serves as a crucial lynchpin to the film. His descent from respectable FBI recruit to Bulger’s stooge is captured perfectly, all things being equal, this should propel Edgerton to a household name. One would expect a struggle between his duties as a law enforcer and his history with Bulger, but what really shines in Edgerton’s performance is the way he acts out the unwavering loyalty John Connolly felt towards Bulger. Connolly becomes enraptured in the cult of personality surrounding Bulger, an act the viewer quickly becomes complicit in.

While the acting is truly where the bulk of the enjoyment of this movie is derived from, I would be remiss if I did not mention the incredible cinematography. Masanobu Takayanagi gives us his best, the grittiness he infused into Warrior combines with the gloominess of his work in The Grey to create a truly memorable viewing experience. Presenting contrasting visions of a dreary South Boston and a vivacious South Beach, Takayanagi allows the vibrancy of the characters to be accentuated by their environment. He infuses the scenes in South Boston with the visceral feel of a grimy boot being dragged across your face, a palpable feeling that is forced upon the viewer.

While this movie is packed full of absurdly high-quality acting, it does have its flaws. Cooper’s pacing is a little off, and while it must be incredibly difficult to capture the thirty year creation of a criminal enterprise in two hours, the audience is left a little confused by the end of it all. Great periods of time pass with little information given, some passages of time are noted by year and some are just implied. This waters down the narrative and confuses the plot of an otherwise fantastic film. The quality of the acting made this much more bearable for me, but it might be a detail that will ruffle your feathers.

The only other complaint I can muster is that I am left wanting more. I want more of the remarkable interaction between Depp and Cumberbatch, I want a deeper understanding of Whitey Bulger, but most of all I want further collaboration between all the luminaries in this film. Really, every actor was at their best in what is a crash course in how to embody a character. From Kevin Bacon as FBI Special Agent Charles McGuire to Julianne Nicholson as Connolly’s wife Marianne, the performances are extraordinary. Even Adam Scott, someone usually pigeonholed to comedic roles, gives a stirring portrayal of agent Robert Fitzpatrick. Each actor participates in this magic, and while the top three billed clearly do the heavy lifting, the ensemble cast makes the movie a well-rounded acting clinic. You should make time to see this movie, its powerhouse performances are something you should not deprive yourself.

[easyreview title= "Review of Black Mass" cat1title="Bart's Rating" cat1detail="Overall Review" cat1rating="4.5" overall= false]