Tag Archives: Benedict Cumberbatch

Thor: Ragnarok

NO HAMMER. NO PROBLEM. 

After being imprisoned by a fire demon, Thor (Chris Hemsworth) learns that Asgard is about to be destroyed and the one responsible will be his sister, Odin’s firstborn, Hela (Cate Blanchett). The third film in the franchise has Thor and Hulk (Mark Ruffalo) colliding on a faraway planet and then teaming up to save Asgard; this is what they were up to while Captain America and Tony Stark battled it out in Captain America: Civil War (2016). A completely bonkers Marvel film in 3D, the funniest one to date, with great tongue-in-cheek performances by Hemsworth, Ruffalo and especially Jeff Goldblum as the most Goldblum-esque of supervillains. Admirably colorful attempt to shake up the formula.

2017-U.S. 130 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Kevin Feige. Directed by Taika Waititi. Screenplay: Eric Pearson, Craig Kyle, Christopher Yost. Music: Mark Mothersbaugh. Cast: Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Tom Hiddleston (Loki), Cate Blanchett (Hela), Idris Elba, Jeff Goldblum, Tessa Thompson… Karl Urban, Mark Ruffalo, Anthony Hopkins, Ray Stevenson, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cameos: Sam Neill, Luke Hemsworth, Matt Damon, Stan Lee.

Last word: “I put together a sizzle reel, and that was basically… because there was no storyline, or anything… I don’t really know what I’m going for, so I’ll just get shots from movies I think are cool [laughs] and put together sort of a tone reel. For like, the energy and the colour and sort of what might look cool for this film that no one has any idea about a story for. And so, I did that, and I put ‘Immigrant Song over the top of it, and then played it for them. And they were like, ‘Oh that’s really cool. That’s a cool song. What’s that?’ I was like, [deadpan] ‘It’s ‘Immigrant Song’, Led Zeppelin, one of the most famous songs of all time.’ They were like, ‘Oh cool, never heard it before, very cool.'” (Waititi, Den of Geek)

 

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Zoolander 2

LONG TIME NO Z.

Former fashion icons Zoolander and Hansel (Ben Stiller, Owen Wilson) are reunited after many years to help Interpol find out who’s assassinating pop stars. This belated sequel does everything wrong, even though it closely imitates the original by adding an abundance of cameos and inventing another outlandish plot involving fashion super-villains. A frenzied adventure full of eye-candy, but everybody involved must have thought that Rome locations and funny costumes would be enough. It’s all noise and no laughs. 

2016-U.S. 101 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Ben Stiller. Cast: Ben Stiller (Derek Zoolander), Owen Wilson (Hansel McDonald), Will Ferrell (Jacobim Mugatu), Penélope Cruz, Kristen Wiig, Fred Armisen… Milla Jovovich, Billy Zane, Sting, Benedict Cumberbatch. Cameos: Jerry Stiller, Katy Perry, Neil deGrasse Tyson, Tommy Hilfiger, Naomi Campbell, Justin Bieber, Ariana Grande, John Malkovich, Kiefer Sutherland, Susan Boyle, MC Hammer, Anna Wintour, Mac Jacobs, Alexander Skarsgård, Kate Moss, Valentino, Willie Nelson, Susan Sarandon, Lewis Hamilton.

Trivia: Co-produced by Stiller.

Razzie: Worst Supporting Actress (Wiig).

 

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The War of Currents Roars Back to Life

In the clip above, a Google Talk from last November, author Graham Moore discusses his new novel “The Last Days of Night”, published in August. The book tells the real story of the “War of Currents”, a competition between Thomas Edison and George Westinghouse (which also involved Nikola Tesla) over which system of electric power transmission was right for the (lucrative) future. Part of the battle played out in the media and the invention of the electric chair became a subject of debate – several people had accidentally been killed by electricity, but was it possible to execute criminals with the new technology in a way that didn’t violate the part of the Eighth Amendment that banned “cruel and unusual punishment”?

Moore paints a vivid portrait of the late 1880s, the era when electricity was beginning to change the world. The power struggle over money and ego between Edison and Westinghouse makes it a thrilling read and there’s also a pleasant romance between a young lawyer working for Westinghouse and a stage actress who is drawn into the increasingly dangerous intrigues. Moore, who won an Oscar for writing The Imitation Game (2014), knows how to craft a book that’s made for Hollywood – and “The Last Days of Night” will in fact be a movie in the near future, with Moore as screenwriter. Imitation Game director Morten Tyldum will join him in this project and Eddie Redmayne has reportedly been cast in the lead as the attorney. I can’t wait for that.

Tesla’s odd, wild antics. The unpredictability of a dangerous new technology. The horrifying first execution involving an electric chair. The stubborn competition between two geniuses, the inventive Edison and the business-minded Westinghouse. No wonder that the film adaptation of “The Last Days of Night” finds competition already this year, in The Current War. Slated for a Christmas release, it is the Weinstein Company’s great hope for next year’s Oscars, with Benedict Cumberbatch as Edison, Michael Shannon as Westinghouse and Nicholas Hoult as Tesla. 

An electrifying real-life story, rarely explored in fiction. Not even really in Edison, the Man (1940), a biography starring Spencer Tracy. But I’m glad the time has come. If you really want to explore Edison in depth, PBS put together an impressive documentary in 2015. Watch the clip above.

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Doctor Strange

OPEN YOUR MIND. CHANGE YOUR REALITY. 

Brilliant but arrogant New York surgeon Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) has his hands destroyed in a car accident; out of desperation, he looks up a mystic (Tilda Swinton) in Nepal who opens his mind and gives him awe-inspiring abilities. Another Marvel hero gets his own movie, done in the same style as all the predecessors, with a generous sense of humor, impressive visual effects in 3D and great casting. Cumberbatch does for Strange what Robert Downey, Jr. did for Stark; in other words, he’s a lot of fun to watch. Entertaining and elaborate, even if most of the magical tricks come across as curiously uninvolving. 

2016-U.S. 115 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Scott Derrickson. Comic Book: Stan Lee, Steve Ditko. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Stephen Strange), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Karl Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), Mads Mikkelsen, Tilda Swinton, Benedict Wong… Benjamin Bratt. Cameos: Stan Lee, Chris Hemsworth.

Trivia: Cumberbatch also plays the evil entity Dormammu, created with motion-capture technology and having the star’s voice blended with that of another actor. At one point, Joaquin Phoenix was allegedly considered for the lead role.

 

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The Greatest Hits of 2017

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2017 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.

JANUARY:

* The Comedian – Robert De Niro gets a chance to redeem himself after appearing in far too many bad comedies. Directed by Taylor Hackford; Danny DeVito has a supporting part.

* Split – … and this is M. Night Shyamalan’s chance to redeem himself after far too many convoluted, bad horror movies. This one has James McAvoy as a kidnapper with 24 personalities.

* The Founder – Early reviews of this drama following the early days of McDonald’s say the movie may not be a masterpiece, but Michael Keaton is aces in the lead.

FEBRUARY:

* The Lego Batman Movie – Will this spin-off to The Lego Movie (2014) be as surprisingly enjoyable as the original? 

* Fifty Shades Darker – Will this sequel to Fifty Shades of Grey (2015) challenge its audience more than the original did? The trailer doesn’t look too promising. 

* John Wick: Chapter 2 – Keanu Reeves returns for more action. February really is a month for B-movie sequels.

* A Cure for Wellness – Gore Verbinski delivers a horror thriller, his first since The Ring (2002), and it is set in the Swiss Alps. 

* Tulip Fever – Alicia Vikander stars in this drama set during the tulip craze in The Netherlands in the 1600s. Also has Christoph Waltz, Zach Galifianakis and Cara Delevingne in the cast. Directed by Justin Chadwick, who made The Other Boleyn Girl (2008) look so good.

MARCH:

* Logan – The world seemed a bit tired of all the X-Men movies, but then came the trailer above for James Mangold’s next Wolverine movie, and now we’re all excited again. 

* T2 Trainspotting – Danny Boyle’s long-awaited sequel to Trainspotting (1996) reunites the old cast. Opens January 27 in Britain. 

* Kong: Skull Island – The big ape is discovered during a military mission to Skull Island. The first two trailers look great. Stars Samuel L. Jackson, Brie Larson and Tom Hiddleston. 

* Beauty and the Beast – The live-action version of the 1991 animated classic. Guaranteed to be a box-office hit judging from the online interest in the trailers. Stars Emma Watson, Ewan McGregor and Dan Stevens.

* King Arthur: Legend of the Sword – Guy Ritchie’s version of the oft-filmed legend. The trailer makes it look brutal. Charlie Hunnam plays Arthur.

* Ghost in the Shell – This manga adaptation has Scarlett Johansson in the lead as “The Major”. 

APRIL:

* Going in Style – The trailer promises no fireworks, but I’m sure it’ll be a pleasure to watch Morgan Freeman, Alan Arkin, Michael Caine and Ann-Margret at work. 

* The Fate of the Furious – The eighth film in the franchise adds Helen Mirren and Charlize Theron to the cast. The trailer is quite explosive. 

* The Lost City of Z – Tom Holland and Charlie Hunnam star in James Gray’s film about a real-life explorer who disappeared while searching for a city in the Amazon in the 1920s.

* The Circle – A thriller about a big tech company, starring Tom Hanks and Emma Watson.

MAY:

* Guardians of the Galaxy Vol. 2 – This sequel comes with a fun trailer that promises more of the laughs and thrills that made the original a hit.

* Snatched – Goldie Hawn returns to the big screen after a 14-year absence, playing Amy Schumer’s mother in a raunchy comedy. 

* Alien: Covenant – Ridley Scott returns with this sequel to Prometheus, a film that (judging from the trailer) seems firmly grounded in the Alien universe.

* Annabelle 2 – A sequel that hopefully will improve on the lackluster first filmLights Out director David F. Sandberg has his work cut out for him. 

* Baywatch – The film adaptation of the cheesy 1990s TV show aims for babes, laughs and a few thrills. Dwayne Johnson and Zac Efron are in the leads.

* Pirates of the Caribbean: Salazar’s Revenge – The fifth chapter in this franchise. Javier Bardem joins the usual gang. 

JUNE:

* Wonder Woman – The DC films have largely been disappointments so far after Man of Steel (2013)… but this one could change that. The trailers have us all excited. 

* The Mummy – Universal aims to create a monster universe the way Marvel and DC have created cinematic universes out of their superheroes. This one looks exciting, with Tom Cruise and Russell Crowe in the leads… but I was hoping for scary.

* Cars 3 – Pixar’s least interesting franchise is beloved by children; this chapter promises to be a little darker in tone. 

* Kingsman: The Golden Circle – Colin Firth returns as a dapper agent in this sequel, and he’s joined by several other big stars. Will bigger equal better?

* Transformers: The Last Knight – The fifth movie in this franchise, and Michael Bay shows no sign of wanting to change it for the better. Audiences will show up anyway.

* The Beguiled – Sofia Coppola directs this Western, which is set during the Civil War and has Elle Fanning, Kirsten Dunst, Colin Farrell and Nicole Kidman in the cast.

JULY:

* Spider-Man: Homecoming – Tom Holland introduced his Spider-Man in Captain America: Civil War (2016) and here comes a stand-alone movie that looks like a lot of fun. 

* War of the Planet of the Apes – The third film in this series pits Caesar against an aggressive colonel played by Woody Harrelson. The trailer is no disappointment. 

* Dunkirk – Christopher Nolan delivers a historic epic depicting the famed WWII evacuation of Allied soldiers. As expected, it looks amazing. One of the summer’s few major blockbusters to be grounded in real-life events.

* The Dark Tower – An adaptation of Stephen King’s novel that combines Western with sci-fi. Stars Matthew McConaughey and Idris Elba.

AUGUST:

* The Hitman’s Bodyguard – Action-comedy starring Ryan Reynolds and Samuel L. Jackson, about a bodyguard who has to deliver a client to the Hague so he can testify against a dictator. 

* Villa Capri – Another action-comedy starring an unlikely duo, this time Morgan Freeman and Tommy Lee Jones in a story that looks very much like Midnight Run (1988).

SEPTEMBER:

* It – Stephen King’s novel was turned into a miniseries in 1990, but here comes the film adaptation. Bill Skarsgård plays the terrifying clown Pennywise.

* American Made – Doug Liman joins forces with Tom Cruise for a thriller about a pilot who becomes a drug smuggler. Based on a real-life story.

* Flatliners – A remake of the 1990 movie, which starred Kiefer Sutherland. He’ll make an appearance here as well. Directed by Niels Arden Oplev (The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo).

OCTOBER:

* Blade Runner 2049 – The highly anticipated sequel has Denis Villeneuve directing. Harrison Ford returns as Rick Deckard. 

* The Snowman – Tomas Alfredson is directing this adaptation of Jo Nesbø’s bestseller, with Michael Fassbender and Rebecca Ferguson in the leads. 

The month also has fresh sequels in the InsidiousFriday the 13th and Saw franchises. If there’s anyone out there who still has confidence in them. 

NOVEMBER: 

* Thor: Ragnarok – The third film in the series stars Thor and the Hulk, you know, the guys who were too busy to make an appearance in Captain America: Civil War… Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) will also show up.

* Justice League – The DC universe’s answer to The Avengers, uniting its big heroes. Zack Snyder has a lot to live up to.

* Murder on the Orient Express – Kenneth Branagh’s all-star remake of the 1974 classic will feature himself as Poirot.

* The Darkest Hour – The story of Winston Churchill’s early days in World War II. Gary Oldman plays the Prime Minister, Joe Wright is directing. 

DECEMBER:

* Star Wars: Episode VIII – Rian Johnson is directing this film, which will likely devote some time to give Princess Leia (Carrie Fisher) a dignified farewell. 

* Jumanji – A remake of the 1995 movie, starring Dwayne Johnson, Kevin Hart and Jack Black. 

* Downsizing – Alexander Payne directs this drama-comedy, starring Matt Damon and Kristen Wiig. 

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Highlights of Comic-Con 2016

This year’s Comic-Con in San Diego ended last Sunday. Time to sum up what we enjoyed the most:

Marvel embracing women – Superhero films are generally speaking not known for giving women good roles. But the times are changing. In the first tweet above, the “Marvel Mamas” have assembled, featuring among others Tilda Swinton and Lupita Nyong’o from the upcoming Doctor Strange and Black Panther. It was also confirmed that Oscar winner Brie Larson will be Captain Marvel in the studio’s first female-led blockbuster.

The return of King Kong – One of the trailers I found most exciting, purely for its popcorn value, was Kong: Skull Island, which premieres next spring. Starring Larson, Tom Hiddleston, John Goodman and Samuel L. Jackson, the trailer is very intense and militaristic, looking like a Vietnam War allegory where the soldiers make the mistake of underestimating their enemy. I’m certainly rooting for Kong.

Warner’s damage control – Batman v Superman was indeed a failure, generating a lot of bad reviews and unsatisfying box-office numbers. The experience jolted Warner who must have had a sit-down or two with director Zack Snyder, trying to figure out how to make Justice League, the DC equivalent to Marvel’s The Avengers, look more appetizing. A sizzle reel showed that the answer is more humor, and it highlighted Ezra Miller as The Flash in particular. But the real buzz was generated by the first trailer for Wonder Woman, that looks genuinely entertaining, DC’s answer to the Captain America films.

The Brits are coming – Eddie Redmayne charmed audiences by handing out wands at his Fantastic Beasts panel, which was hosted by Conan O’Brien. Harry Potter fans had every reason to be excited; the new trailer for the film looks great. Benedict Cumberbatch was in San Diego for panels on both Doctor Strange and Sherlock and surprised fans who were waiting outside Hall H:

Aliens nostalgia – Comic-Con is not just about the future. This wonderful panel reunites the cast of Aliens (1986), which celebrates its 30th anniversary this year. Amazing to see James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Gale Anne Hurd, Michael Biehn, Bill Paxton, Lance Henriksen, Paul Reiser and Carrie Henn (all grown up now!) together again, reminiscing. This is still a total masterpiece to me.

… and there was politics – Alec Baldwin appeared at the panel for the animated comedy The Boss Baby, where he said that he has one brother at the Republican convention, supporting Donald Trump, and another outside the RNC, protesting the billionaire. Politics really has the Baldwin brothers feuding each other. The Trump supporter is most likely Stephen; the protester must be William. Not even Comic-Con can escape this horrifying period in American history.

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Benedict Cumberbatch at 40

Benedict Cumberbatch was born six months after me. Tomorrow is his 40th birthday, so congratulations are in order. In the clip above from Conan, he’s trying to teach the talkshow host how to play a flying serpent, in the vein of The Hobbit films.

Cumberbatch is still in the early years of his career, but it’s fun to ponder what we’ll remember him for. At this stage, at the age of 40, we are likely to think of Cumberbatch as the Sherlock Holmes of our time, thanks to that TV show. What about movies though? Let’s pick three performances.

  • Star Trek: Into Darkness – I described Cumberbatch as a “wickedly entertaining” villain in my review, but also as an “icy” character. That’s true of him; his Holmes has been exceptionally icy until that moment in several episodes where he revealed more clues to his true personality.
  • 12 Years a Slave  – Michael Fassbender deserved our hatred in this film as he tortured Chiwetel Ejiofor… but Cumberbatch played a more complex character, a conflicted slave owner who’s too cowardly to do anything about the awful system that he’s part of.

  • The Imitation Game – Cumberbatch plays Alan Turing, the scientist who helped crack the German Enigma machine. Taking the quirks of his Sherlock Holmes, he makes them far more relatable and human to a wider audience here. Let’s hope his future career is along the lines of this film, more of a challenge than audience-pleasing. 
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Actors Choosing on Brexit

Politics is often hard, especially for those of us who frequently find ourselves in the center. There have been numerous moments throughout history, in different countries, where a decision to turn left or right may be the only sane choice. The most stable governments on this planet find a balance that tries to borrow the best from different ideologies and avoid the worst. Changing from one administration to another thankfully does not mean uprooting the entire system. After an election in countries like the United States, Canada, France, Britain, Israel, Japan, Germany, Australia or Sweden, compromises are usually made with an eye toward the ideological shape of a new parliament. And life goes on.

But all of that boring stuff requires a thinking mind. Now, politics looks like it’s becoming simpler as Europe and the U.S. is headed down a darker and stupid path. We are now severely tested by nationalists and the far right who are influencing large, ignorant masses. One example is Donald Trump, whom no liberal or conservative in their right mind could support. Another is the idiotic British referendum on June 23 that will ask its citizens whether or not to remain as a member state of the European Union. The answer is obvious – leaving the E.U would be an economic disaster for Britain, and it would also hurt other countries who have trade deals with the U.K.. Apart from the financial blow, it would also hurt both the E.U. and Britain culturally since the Union, for better and worse, has been a reasonable way to hold a traditionally war-mongering continent together.

For a country that benefits so much from its membership, and has asked for special deals from the Union, it’s a pretty outrageous thing for Prime Minister David Cameron to do this referendum – especially since he wants the country to remain as a member, even campaigning in the clip above with London’s fresh mayor, Labourite Sadiq Khan!

As a film and TV blog, it’s interesting to look at which celebrities are outspoken on the issue of Brexit. British news magazine The Week featured a compilation a few days ago. It was a relief to see actors like Benedict Cumberbatch, Emma Thompson (watch the RT clip above), Keira Knightley and Helena Bonham Carter be on the right side of history. There was also Simon Cowell – and most surprisingly, Jeremy Clarkson, who made the following bright assessment:

“Britain, on its own, has little influence on the world stage. I think we are all agreed on that. But Europe, if it were well run and had good, cohesive, well thought-out policies, would be a tremendous force for good.”

On the wrong side of history we find Michael Caine, Julian Fellowes, Joan Collins and Elizabeth Hurley, who all have weird and sad reasons for not wanting to be part of the E.U.. Caine seems to think that the Union is a “government-by-proxy of everybody” and forgets that his country is run by an actual government, not the E.U.. And Hurley had the following to say:

“If it means we can go back to using decent lightbulbs and choose high-powered hairdryers and vacuum cleaners if we so wish, I’m joining Brexit for sure.”

The European Union needs a lot of work. I agree that it can’t be the “united states of Europe”, it has to be smaller and leaner than that. But on June 23, the choice is very simple. Be smart on what the E.U. is and what it can be in the future, vote to stay. 

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The Greatest Hits of 2016

It’s time for that annual list of next year’s highly anticipated Hollywood films. Here’s 2016 for ya. As always, premiere dates may change.

JANUARY:

* 13 Hours: The Secret Soldiers of Benghazi – Michael Bay leaves his robots aside for a while, taking on a politically sensitive subject. Looks far from another Zero Dark Thirty (2012) though.

* Kung Fu Panda 3 – Another entry in this popular animated franchise.

* Jane Got a Gun – Natalie Portman stars in a Western, alongside Ewan McGregor, about a woman trying to save her outlaw husband.

FEBRUARY:

* Hail, Caesar! – Another star-studded comedy from the Coen brothers, where we follow the adventures of a Hollywood “fixer” (Josh Brolin). Looks like great fun. 

* Pride and Prejudice and Zombies – A film adaptation of the bestseller that promises blood, gore and Victorian romance. Stars Lily James. 

* Zoolander 2 – Ben Stiller and Owen Wilson are back as the dim-witted models that we first met in 2001. The sequel is on a large scale and has many cameos, including Justin Bieber.

* Deadpool – Ryan Reynolds plays the superhero in a movie whose first trailer was wildly praised at its release during Comic-Con. The character is tied to the X-Men movies. 

* The Witch – This low-budget horror movie, which follows a 17th century Puritan family as it encounters evil in the New England woods, premiered at Sundance last January and is finally bowing in theaters. 

MARCH:

* London Has Fallen – The sequel to Olympus Has Fallen (2013) moves the action to London. Aaron Eckhart and Gerard Butler are back as the President and his Secret Service agent.

* Knight of Cups – Terrence Malick is back with a movie following a Hollywood screenwriter. Starring Natalie Portman and Christian Bale, the trailer looks very “malicky”. 

* The Divergent Series: Allegiant – The last book in the popular series has been divided into two movies; here’s the first part. 

* Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice – The most talked about superhero movie of the year, a follow-up to Man of Steel (2013). Starring Ben Affleck as Batman and Henry Cavill as Superman.

APRIL:

* The Boss – A new Melissa McCarthy comedy is usually worthy of some attention. This one has her as a ruthless former executive who’s sent to prison. Her husband Ben Falcone directs.

* The Jungle Book – Jon Favreau’s live-action take on the Disney classic was originally supposed to have premiered in 2015. Featuring the voices of Scarlett Johansson and Bill Murray.

* Everybody Wants Some – Richard Linklater’s new movie has been described as sort of a sequel to both Boyhood and Dazed and Confused.

MAY:

* Captain America: Civil War – The third Captain America puts Cap (Chris Evans) in conflict with Iron Man (Robert Downey, Jr.). This year’s biggest Marvel event.

* Snowden – Joseph Gordon-Levitt plays the famous whistleblower in Oliver Stone’s take on how Snowden leaked classified documents to the press. Expect controversy.

* The Nice Guys – Shane Black is back with another action-comedy that looks overly familiar… but the trailer is funny, and stars Russell Crowe and Ryan Gosling seem game.

* X-Men: Apocalypse – This one follows X-Men: Days of Future Past (2014) and has the younger versions of our most famed mutants battling the world’s first mutant.

* Alice Through the Looking Glass– I was no big fan of the original Alice in Wonderland (2010), but we’ll have to see what Muppets director James Bobin has up his sleeve. Several of the first film’s stars return.

JUNE:

* The Conjuring 2: The Enfield Poltergeist – The first film was damned scary, so James Wan’s sequel had better be good. Patrick Wilson and Vera Farmiga return as the ghost-hunting couple. 

* Warcraft – Duncan Jones is adapting the famous game and we’re all wondering if this is the one that will change the sad reputation of movies based on video games.

* Finding Dory – The follow-up to Finding Nemo (2003) has the same challenge as The Conjuring 2 – how can you top a beloved sequel? The trailer shows that Pixar likely has found the lovely tone of the first movie.

* Independence Day: Resurgence – 20 years have passed since the first Independence Day, and this sequel brings back some of the old stars as well as new ones. And, of course, the aliens are back.

JULY:

* The BFG – Steven Spielberg directs this family-friendly story about a giant. Based on a Roald Dahl story, the script was written by the late Melissa Mathison who also wrote E.T..

* The Legend of Tarzan – Alexander Skarsgård plays Tarzan in this take on the classic story, directed by David Yates. The trailer suggests a rather traditional approach. 

* Ghostbusters – The remake of the 1984 comedy classic has women replacing the male ghostbusters of the original. Stars Melissa McCarthy and Kristen Wiig; directed by their Bridesmaids helmer, Paul Feig.

* Star Trek Beyond – The third movie in this new franchise premiered a trailer a few weeks ago that sent fans into a rage. Will it honor the predecessors or turn into a new Fast and Furious?

The Bourne sequel – It still doesn’t have a title, this fourth movie in the franchise to star Matt Damon, the first since 2007. Paul Greengrass is back as director.

AUGUST:

* Suicide Squad – David Ayer directs this dark DC Comics adventure that unites supervillains recruited by the government. Will Smith leads the cast; Jared Leto plays the Joker. 

SEPTEMBER:

* A Cure for Wellness – We don’t know much about this project, but it’s a supernatural horror movie directed by the very uneven Gore Verbinski. Dane DeHaan has the lead role. 

* Sully – Clint Eastwood directs this film about the pilot who heroically landed a plane on the Hudson River. Tom Hanks plays “Sully”.

* Deepwater Horizon – The story of the 2010 disaster that caused the worst oil spill in U.S. history is directed by Peter Berg and stars Kurt Russell and Mark Wahlberg.

OCTOBER:

* The Accountant – Warrior director Gavin O’Connor is back with a thriller starring Ben Affleck, Anna Kendrick and J.K. Simmons.

* Gambit – After Deadpool comes this, another spin-off set in the X-Men universe. Doug Liman is directing, with Channing Tatum in the lead.

* Inferno – Ron Howard is once again directing this third entry in the franchise that began with The Da Vinci Code (2006); Tom Hanks also returns as Robert Langdon.

* Jack Reacher: Never Go Back – Tom Cruise returns as Lee Child’s antihero, now directed by Edward Zwick. This time, Reacher is accused of an old homicide.

NOVEMBER: 

* Doctor Strange – Benedict Cumberbatch plays a surgeon who discovers a world of magic and different dimensions. Another Marvel adventure gets its big-screen treatment.

* Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them – David Yates’s second movie this year is a return to Harry Potter world for him; this is a prequel set in the 1920s, starring Eddie Redmayne.

* The Great Wall – Hollywood’s love affair with the Chinese market continues with this film about a mystery surrounding the construction of China’s Great Wall. Directed by Zhang Yimou, starring Matt Damon.

* The Founder – The story of the man who turned a small hamburger joint into McDonald’s stars Michael Keaton.

DECEMBER:

* Rogue One: A Star Wars Story – A stand-alone film, a prequel to Star Wars (1977), depicting a team of rebels trying to get their hands on the plans for the Death Star. Directed by Gareth Edwards. 

* Passengers – Jennifer Lawrence and Chris Pratt star in this space romance set in the future, directed by The Imitation Game‘s Morten Tyldum.

* Assassin’s Creed – The second adaptation this year to possibly save the reputation of movies based on video games. Stars Michael Fassbender and Marion Cotillard. 

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The Fifth Estate

YOU CAN’T EXPOSE THE WORLD’S SECRETS WITHOUT EXPOSING YOURSELF. 

fifthestateIn 2007, German journalist Daniel Domscheit-Berg (Daniel Brühl) meets Australian computer hacker Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) in Berlin and begins working with him on a website devoted to exposing classified information provided by anonymous sources. Bill Condon’s portrait of the rise of WikiLeaks goes for an intense visual look as we follow how Assange and Domscheit-Berg fell out over how to handle the impact of the explosive WikiLeaks material. The film on the whole remains superficial though. Assange is depicted as selfish and ruthless; Cumberbatch is not easy to care about, and Brühl is bland.

2013-U.S. 128 min. Color. Widescreen. Directed by Bill Condon. Books: Daniel Domscheit-Berg (“Inside WikiLeaks: My Time with Julian Assange at the World’s Most Dangerous Website”), David Leigh, Luke Harding (“WikiLeaks: Inside Julian Assange’s War on Secrecy”). Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Julian Assange), Daniel Brühl (Daniel Domscheit-Berg), Anthony Mackie (Sam Coulson), David Thewlis, Alicia Vikander, Laura Linney… Stanley Tucci, Peter Capaldi.

Trivia: James McAvoy was first cast as Daniel. Assange e-mailed Cumberbatch and asked him not to make the movie.

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Black Mass

KEEP YOUR ENEMIES CLOSE.

blackmassIn the late 1970s, the FBI makes a deal with up-and-coming Boston gangster James “Whitey” Bulger (Johnny Depp); in exchange for information on his rivals, the authorities turn a blind eye to Bulger’s activities. One of the most outrageous cases of corruption, where law enforcement ended up protecting the most dangerous mobster in the history of Boston, gets a traditional but engrossing take in this movie that focuses on Bulger and the Special Agent who became too close to his old neighborhood. The filmmakers handle the inevitable gangster clichés deftly, but are careful at the same time to maintain realism. Still, it wouldn’t be this entertaining without Depp’s chilly performance. 

2015-U.S. 122 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Scott Cooper, John Lesher, Patrick McCormick, Brian Oliver, Tyler Thompson. Directed by Scott Cooper. Screenplay: Mark Mallouk, Jez Butterworth. Book: Dick Lehr, Gerard O’Neill. Cast: Johnny Depp (James “Whitey” Bulger), Joel Edgerton (John Connolly), Benedict Cumberbatch (William “Billy” Bulger), Dakota Johnson, Kevin Bacon, Jesse Plemons… Corey Stoll, Peter Sarsgaard, Juno Temple.

Trivia: Co-executive produced by Brett Ratner. Guy Pearce was allegedly first cast for a role. The story of Bulger was also told in the documentary Whitey: United States of America v. James J. Bulger (2014).

Last word: “I came across many people that – because I have a lot of non-actors in the film – and a couple of them had worked for Whitey, seeing really all different sides. I wanted to put forth the multifaceted portrait of this man, but again, you’re making a narrative feature. It’s not in service as a documentary. I don’t think people come to movies for facts. I think they come for psychological truth and humanity and emotion.” (Cooper, Coming Soon)

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The Future of Marvel

Avengers: Age of Ultron is in theaters and the time has come to assess this massive Marvel project unfolding.

Where did it begin? Well, that’s debatable, but let’s make it simple. Marvel Studios was formed in 1996 and spent years regaining the rights to various superhero characters that had been optioned off to various studios. One of the key business deals was made in 2005 when Iron Man came back to Marvel after having been the property of New Line Cinema. In 2007, Kevin Feige, who had been an associate producer on the first X-Men (2000), was made president of production at Marvel. As a fanboy, he knew that while Spider-Man still belonged to Columbia and the X-Men to Fox, many of the Avengers were available for Marvel Studios. After all, the Hulk, Captain America, Iron Man and Thor were rich characters; you could make stand-alone films and blockbusters that united these superheroes. Marvel borrowed a whole lot of money from Merrill Lynch and started one of the most lucrative franchises ever, what’s been coined by Feige as the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”.

The clip above is a Q&A session with Feige from last October. It’s obvious that he has a good rapport with fans.

The “cinematic universe” is a high-end soap opera, really, starting with Iron Man (2008). All in all, there have been 11 chapters so far. Significant for all of them is a high budget, allowing for spectacular special effects, and cameos by various heroes and villains that are part of this universe, usually as a tease for upcoming films. There are no real soap-opera cliffhangers, but the storylines never come to a satisfying conclusion; they are meant to continue in future entries. The films entitled Avengers (starting with The Avengers in 2012) unite the heroes, but most of the entries are stand-alone films. One of Marvel’s most infuriating problems has been Sony, the owner of Columbia and thus Spider-Man, one of the key Avengers. Last February, it was announced that Sony and Marvel had reached a deal. Spider-Man would be joining this universe after all by appearing in the third Captain America.

Fans who’ve read this far know all this, obviously. But this is where we get to the interesting part. How’s this project doing so far? Commercially, there’s no doubt that everything is peachy; each film has made a lot of money, with the latest Avengers breaking records. I haven’t been binge-watching all the films in a row, but that’s what Vox’s Alex Abad-Santos did a few days ago, leaving the theater “a broken man”. I kind of admire how he can identify some of the films as bad and some of them as very good. Because here’s my problem: I think the 11 films are on the whole perfectly watchable. There are no masterpieces here; Christopher Nolan’s Batman movies are superior, all three of them. But there are no massive failures either; the only one I’ve given two stars is Iron Man 3 (2013), which I felt was too jokey.

That’s the thing about Marvel’s movies – they’re all perfectly fine, decent films on their own, following very rigid formulas. 90 per cent of them are worth three stars out of five, not more or less. I feel like a total bore every time I dole out three stars to a Marvel movie, but the studio itself couldn’t care less. As long as we keep rewarding them despite their lack of innovation, they won’t challenge their formula. They will continue to think that we are sheep who can’t handle surprises. And that’s also understandable, especially considering how Sony and Columbia have botched Spider-Man, ruining a nice Sam Raimi franchise for a muddled reignition that took them nowhere.

Where is Marvel Studios taking their “cinematic universe” in the future? Well, this summer Ant-Man is coming to the big screen, hoping to deliver a mix of comedy and action along the lines of Guardians of the Galaxy last year. 2016 will se Captain America: Civil War where the titular hero and Iron Man will clash over a new government act, which will be more exciting than it sounds. Another Marvel superhero, Doctor Strange, will get his own movie that year and he will be played by Benedict Cumberbatch. In 2017, there will be three additional entries, a second Guardians of the Galaxy, a stand-alone Spider-Man movie and Thor: Ragnarok. 2018 will see Avengers: Infinity War Part 1 (directed by Anthony and Joe Russo, who will begin this storyline in Civil War) as well as two stand-alone films, Black Panther and Captain Marvel. In 2019, we’ll see Avengers: Infinity War Part 2 and Inhumans, another stand-alone film. On top of that we have three Marvel TV shows right now, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D., Agent Carter and Daredevil. The future seems limitless. 

In the first clip above, Feige talks about Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) as being a key figure in the future Avengers adventures. I certainly hope he means it. Part of what I would like to see from Marvel is a greater interest in not only what’s darker (as in Nolan’s films) but what’s more surprising, and perhaps what is more relevant in 2015 – characters and events that pay attention to an evolving society. Gamergate of 2014 looked like the dying battle cry of the white, straight, young man who wants to preserve a status quo. But women, gays and minorities are part of that world – and they should be even more visible in the future Marvel Cinematic Universe.

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Imitation Game: Another Beautiful Mind

BEHIND EVERY CODE IS AN ENIGMA.

 

imitationgameThe title refers to a paper that the brilliant mathematician Alan Turing wrote in 1950 where he introduced his now-famous test of a machine’s ability to imitate a human being’s intelligent behavior. The test is performed only through text, with questions and answers, and if the judge of the test cannot tell the machine from the human based on the replies the machine wins. Over the years, the merits of the test have been heavily debated. Naturally, the title of this film also refers to Turing himself who made an effort, just like many other homosexuals or people who in other ways were “deviants”, to imitate normalcy at a time when you were supposed to never step out of the box. This film focuses both on Turing’s historic achievements and the man himself and his issues.

At the outbreak of World War II, the Allies are desperately trying to break the German Enigma machine, a device for enciphering and deciphering secret messages between the high command and various military entities. In Britain, this task is being performed by MI6 at Bletchley Park and they are desperately looking for potential brilliant codebreakers. When the young Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) joins them, his arrogance and social ineptitude is off-putting to his colleagues and superiors. After a confrontation that even gets Prime Minister Winston Churchill involved, Turing takes charge of a team whose work hopefully will result in a new machine that will crack Enigma. He also becomes close to Joan Clarke (Keira Knightley), a woman who is forced to work clandestinely on the team…

Never treated as a hero
The Enigma was a beautifully designed invention, which makes Turing’s accomplishment even greater. As illustrated in the film, his new machine paved the way for computers and is estimated to have helped shorten the war by several years, saving millions of lives. Alan Turing is a true British war hero, but he was never treated as one. Partly because his work had to be kept from the public, partly because he was gay, convicted in 1952 for indecency and subjected to hormonal treatment to reduce libido. This is obviously a shameful part of British history, but the film doesn’t resort to sermonizing. Flashbacks to Alan’s childhood provides an emotional background in the form of a tender infatuation with another boy, and his Bletchley Park connection to Joan, another person who has to pretend in order to live the way she wants to because of the damaging morals of the day, mirrors that part of his personality in clever ways. It is an emotional drama, but not overwhelmingly sentimental; director Morten Tyldum (who made the Norwegian Headhunters (2011) such an enjoyable ride) turns the story of how Turing fought for his machine into a pre-eminent thriller, complete with a secret spy and moral repercussions. Writer Graham Moore has been roundly criticized for many historical inaccuracies. But, as in so many other great films based on real events, the quality of the moviemaking trumps the need for dry reporting on the facts. Alexandre Desplat’s music, reminiscent of James Horner’s score for another film about a genius, A Beautiful Mind (2001), ingeniously sounds as if it is illustrating the ingenious calculations inside Turing’s mind. The scientist is extraordinarily well played by Cumberbatch, who takes the quirks of his detective on Sherlock and makes them far more relatable and human.

Alan Turing received an official posthumous apology from the British government in 2009 and four years later Queen Elizabeth signed a royal pardon. A triumph of reason and compassion over ignorance.

The Imitation Game 2014-Britain-U.S. 114 min. Color. Widescreen. Produced by Nora Grossman, Ido Ostrowsky, Teddy Schwarzman. Directed by Morten Tyldum. Screenplay: Graham Moore. Book: Andrew Hodges (“Alan Turing: The Enigma”). Music: Alexandre Desplat. Cast: Benedict Cumberbatch (Alan Turing), Keira Knightley (Joan Clarke), Matthew Goode (Hugh Alexander), Rory Kinnear, Allen Leech, Matthew Beard… Charles Dance, Mark Strong.

Trivia: The story was also told in the TV movie Breaking the Code (1996).

Oscar: Best Adapted Screenplay.

Last word: “Benedict transforms, he doesn’t act. He becomes Turing. I put aside three weeks of rehearsal — which is now getting rarer and rarer to actually have that — and we were able to really explore these characters and really find the voice of Alan Turing and try to create him. Because there’s no recordings of him — nobody knows how he talks, nobody knows how he moves, there’s only … descriptions of him. So we had to sort of, like, piece him together. And I really think [Cumberbatch] makes Alan Turing come to life. And Alan Turing’s family was there when we opened the [BFI London] Film Festival. They were very complimentary about how it is, so that was a good feeling.” (Tyldum, NPR)

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