Posts Tagged ‘chiwetal egiofor’

dr-strange

Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch) is a famous if somewhat arrogant surgeon.  While speeding to a medical conference, Dr. Strange is involved in a horrific car accident, and loses the function in his hands.  Strange hears about a man who  has been completely healed from two broken bones in his spinal column.  He goes to see Jonathan Pangborn (Benjamin Bratt) who tells Strange to go to Kamar-taj in Tibet.  Strange spends his last dollar to go to Kamar-taj and finds the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton) and her students, and the keepers of the ancient texts Wong (Benedict Wong) and Mordo. (Chiwetal Ejiofor)  The Ancient One, Mordo, and Wong protect the world from metaphysical threats with buildings called Sanctums, located in New York, London and Hong Kong surrounded and protected by ancient spells.

The Ancient One is a sorceress and introduces Strange to a world of magic and spells.  Dr. Strange is initially skeptical, but after the Ancient One shows Strange his astral body, and the mirror dimension where Dr. Strange can practice his spells, Strange diligently learns the spells even learning spells involving manipulating time.  Both Wong and Mordo feel like Strange is breaking rules and learning spells that will ruin the world.  But Dr. Strange learns every spell possible and uses them to fight a former student named Kaecilious (Mads Mikkelson) who leads a group of zealots.  Kaecillious has stolen pages from the ancient texts and is trying to summon Dormammu of the Dark dimension.  Kaecillious believes that Dormammu will give him and his zealots eternal life.  While reading the ancient texts, Doctor Strange also learns some disturbing information about The Ancient One, and the key to her long life.  What does he learn about the Ancient One?  Can Dr. Strange defeat Kacillious and Dormammu?

Dr. Strange is a very complex, sometimes needlessly complex movie.  The story involves Dr. Strange discovering his astral body, a mirror dimension where nothing on earth is affected, the Dark Dimension, where Dormammu lives, and infinite time loops.  That is a lot to digest.  The writers apparently tried to jam in every detail from the comic books and that hurt the story, it was difficult at one point to determine if Dr. Strange was fighting Kaecillious in the mirror dimension or New York, and sometimes the action jumps too quickly between New York and Tibet, if the story was simplified, it would be easier to tell.  The ending is also-anti-climactic.

What raises this movie above standard issue sci-fi is the acting.  Much like Robert Downey Jr. made Tony Stark, a non-likeable character, into a loveable jerk, Cumberbatch takes a self-centered, rich, arrogant doctor into someone who sublimates his ego and learns about self-sacrifice.  The transformation is slow and painful, and Benedict Cumberbatch conveys the painstaking nature of the transformation well.  Chiwetal Ejiofor is also very good as the student of the Ancient One’s students, he feels somewhat betrayed and hurt by Strange’s flouting of the rules, and maybe jealous of Strange’s abilities, Ejiofor illustrates these emotions well, and his character was a good counterpoint to Cumberbatch’s doctor.  Tilda Swinton did a fantastic job as The Ancient One, she was mentor and contemporary of Dr. Strange, Swinton did a great job of being a low-key presence in a sometimes frenetic movie.  I think the character should have been played by an Indian or Chinese woman, just because I know there are Indian and Chinese actresses who could have played this role well, but there is no denying that Tilda Swinton is a great actress.  Rachel McAdams is not a great actress, and she turns in another amateurish performance in this movie.  She brings an unlikeable girlish damsel in distress quality to all of her roles, she’s a doctor in this movie, yet she doesn’t seem mature enough to be a doctor.

The direction is not good.  The special effects are reminiscent of Inception, and therefore redundant.  And the special effects interfered with the story too often, whenever the story started to be cohesive, the special effects would come blaringly into view.  The pacing was too fast, the backstory was rushed, there was no explanation of the comic book jargon, and a rush to get to Dormammu. Director Scott Derickson has usually directed horror films and seems ill-suited to tell a sci-fi story.

Doctor Strange:  A Cumber-batch of great actors save this film.

 

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the-martian

Commander Melissa Lewis (Jessica Chastain) is exploring Mars on a mission for NASA.  Without warning, a windstorm approaches, and botanist Mark Watney (Matt Damon) is impaled by an antenna, and presumed dead.  Lewis and the rest of the crew reluctantly leave Watney behind, and head for Earth.  Watney however is alive and uses extreme heat sources to split hydrogen atoms, create water, and fertilize the Martian soil with his own feces to grow potato plants.  Meanwhile, back on Earth, Mindy Park (Mackenzie Davis) realizes while viewing satellite pictures, that the Mars rover has been moved. Park summons Vincent Kapoor, NASA’s director of Mars operations (Chiwetel Ejiofor) and they conclude Watney is alive.  Kapoor in turn tells NASA director Teddy Sanders (Jeff Daniels) that Watney is alive.  Sanders decides not to tell the public until they have a plan to communicate with him and at the very least resupply his food supply.  Watney is working on the communications issue, he is driving the rover to the Pathfinder.  When Kapoor realizes where Watney is going he gets the Pathfinder crew together, and works on getting the communications satellite on Pathfinder up and running,  Kapoor communicates with Watney first through hexadecimal and later through some kind of instant messaging system.

The rescue mission is more complicated.  Sanders doesn’t want to tell Lewis and her crew that Watney is alive, for obvious reasons, so he concentrates on a food re-supply mission.  But the rocket that the Jet propulsion lab builds blows up, so Sanders has to come up with another plan.  He comes up with a plan that involves a Chinese booster rocket and a second food supply mission, but Rich Purnell (Donald Glover) has a much more ambitious plan involving the Chinese booster rocket and Commander Lewis’ ship.  Do the Chinese give NASA permission to use their rocket?  Does Commander Lewis get wind of Purnell’s plan?  Do they think it’s feasible?

I liked the film adaptation of the book the Martian.  The problems I have with the story are the same problems I have with the book.  Can hydrogen be turned into water on Mars, even in a climate controlled environment? Can the Martian soil be fertilized so easily, by just dumping human feces on it?  Would the Pathfinder communications satellites be working after all those years of lying dormant on Mars?  My mind was reeling with questions, after reading the book? But the screenplay is better than the book in this way, the book tends to get bogged down in scientific terminology when trying to explain how Watney survives.  The screenplay streamlines the explanations and exposition, and gets from stranded, to survival to rescue mission much faster than the book does.  The humor in the book is also a vital part of the screenplay.

The acting also makes the characters better.  Matt Damon humanizes Watney, honestly I really thought Watney came off as a pompous jerk in the book, and I wondered why anyone would want to save him.  Damon makes him more likeable and gives him an everyman quality instead of a techie geek quality. This role and his role in Interstellar will surely revive Damon’s career. I also like Jessica Chastain as Commander Lewis, she exudes confidence in this role, despite the self-doubt she has to express when she leaves Watney behind.  The viewer can see why a crew would follow her on a mission.  Chiwetel Ejiofor plays Vincent Kapoor with a quiet confidence, and the viewer feels like everything will work out under his guidance.  He also plays the emotional scenes well, always understated not chewing scenery.  It’s a nice performance.  There has been some press asking why an Indian character named Venkat Kapoor in the book was played by the African-Englishman.  I don’t have a problem with it. Ejiofor is one of the best actors in film today, and certainly better than any Bollywood actor I’ve seen, so they made the character multiracial, that’s ok with me.  That said, Mindy Park should have been played by a Korean American actress, there was no reason for that casting decision.  Diversity in film is important, especially when the characters in the book are written as a certain ethnicity.  But, in its defense,  the film has a lot of diversity. Kudos to Michael Pena for handling the humor to his role well, Benedict Wong and Donald Glover played the humorous parts of their roles well.  Sean Bean is always good, and does not disappoint here

The direction by Ridley Scott is fast paced and decisive, he doesn’t linger too long on any one scene for too long.  The CGI is well done and really looks like the surface of Mars, the scenes in outer space are credible and Scott gets great performances out of the cast, although with a cast like this, that is not hard to do.

Here’s my book review of The Martian

https://reviewswithatude.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/book-review-the-martian-by-andy-weir-hardcover-369-pages/

The Martian:  Better Red (Planet) Than Dead.

12-years-a-slave-

Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor) is a free black man living in upstate New York with his wife and two kids in 1841.  Solomon is tricked by two slave catchers, named Brown (Scoot McNairy) and Hamilton, (Teran Killam) who tell Solomon they are with the circus, but really ply him with liquor and sell him into slavery to the plantation of Ford, (Benedict Cumberbatch) who also buys a slave woman named Eliza (Adepero Oduye), but Ford cannot buy Eliza’s kids.

Ford is a relatively good hearted person, but that does not spare Solomon from cruel treatment from one of the field bosses named Tibeats (Paul Dano) who tries to hang Solomon and leaves him hanging there until Ford cuts him down.  If things are not bad enough with Ford, Solomon, now given the name Platt, is sent to the cruel and sadistic slave owner Edwin Epps. (Michael Fassbender)

Epps thinks of his slaves as his property, and will do anything to bend their actions to his will; Epps literally wants them to dance when he plays a tune.  Epps does not like Platt, and makes it his job to break him.  Epps does have a fondness for Patsey  (Lupita Nyong’o) and Mrs. Epps (Sarah Paulson) sees how much attention Patsey is getting from her husband, she shows her displeasure by throwing a whiskey decanter at her head.  When Mr. Epps sees Solomon talking to Patsey, he whips Solomon and tells Patsey to stay away from him.  When Patsey goes to another plantation for a bar of soap, Epps orders Solomon to whip her, and then viciously whips Patsey himself. Patsey is also repeatedly raped by Mr. Epps, and she can take no more.

Patsey begs Solomon to kill her, he steadfastly refuses.  Instead Solomon a man named Armsby (Garrett Dillhunt) a man on Epps plantation, who seems to be sympathetic to Solomon’s plight, to deliver a letter to some abolitionists up North, who know that Solomon is a free man.  Instead Armsby tells Epps of Solomon’s plan, and Epps burns the letter.  Later, a Canadian named Samuel Bass (Brad Pitt)  shows up to Epps’ plantation and Solomon asks Bass to deliver a similar letter to the one that he asked Armsby to deliver.  Does Bass do it?  Or does he doublecross Solomon, as Armsby had done?

This is a brutally violent movie, but it is also brutally honest.  I usually don’t care for historical dramas about slavery or segregation from Hollywood, because they tend to change the history to fit whatever end they’re trying to put forth, or they try to sugarcoat the experience of slavery or segregation in some kind of revisionist feel-good way.  If you don’t know what I mean, please see The Help. I know the character of Solomon Northup existed because he published a biography contemporaneously to his kidnapping, and this movie does not sugarcoat his life.

The tendency with traumatic historical events is to try to forget them, sweep things under the rug, and cleanse the collective psyche.  I am not one to dwell on events like slavery or the Holocaust, but I think every once in a while, the country and the world needs a jolt to remember how brutal and inhumane man can be to his fellow man.  This movie with its graphic violence, and unflinching point of view,  provides that jolt, and demands to be seen.  My reaction to this movie is one of profound sadness, sadness that founding fathers who professed freedom and liberty for all, kept men and women as property, and by their inaction kept the brutal business of the flesh trade going on far longer than it should have.  I feel sadness for the millions who lost their lives based on the premise of complete servitude or separate and unequal.  I feel sadness that although we have made great strides as a country, we have a long way to go in truly respecting the different racial and ethnic groups that make up America.   I want you to see this film, and when you see some politician talking about ‘losing your freedoms’ to make a rhetorical argument, I want you to think of Solomon Northup, and all he lost, and think about how free you are in comparison.

But always remember,  if someone really does ask you for papers to try to take away your right to vote, or try to prove your citizenship, fight those laws with all your might.  Those laws are akin to Solomon Norhup carrying papers to prove he is a free man, and those laws need to be changed, just as slavery was abolished and the Jim Crow laws were changed.

The writing by John Ridley is poignant and heartbreaking.  Even when Solomon is not being whipped or beaten, the fear of slavery and its attendant pain follows him around like a constant shadow.  He bears the pain of Eliza, who weeps constantly at the loss of her children, he is asked by Patsey to kill her, she prefers death to being even a favored slave.  Solomon sees hangings of runaway slaves all too routinely.  The stories of Solomon, Eliza and Patsey are intertwined and so the viewer, not only cares about Solomon, but the ladies as well.

The direction by Steve McQueen  is truly noteworthy.  Almost from the first scene the film envelops the viewer.  In that first scene the camera is at eye level and wading through the sugar cane fields of Louisiana.  To illustrate the voyage down South McQueen focuses on the paddle wheel of the riverboat, and when the wheel fills the whole screen, the scene is over.  That is captivating camera work.  There is one scene that stood out in the movie, however.  When Solomon is hanging on the tree, put there by Tibbeats, the other slaves go on with their business, seemingly oblivious to the man literally hanging in their midst, until one slave woman gives him a glass of water and meekly scurries away.  They are so afraid of the master’s retribution that they dare not cut Solomon down. And McQueen lets that scene play out for an excruciatingly long time.  That is great filmmaking.  If you don’t know this Steve McQueen, watch Hunger, about the hunger strike initiated by Bobby Sands in Northern Ireland.

The acting is absolutely top notch.  Fassbender is a raving dog one minute, and calmly ordering everyone to dance the next, he knows he can make these slaves do anything, they are toys to him, puppets.  It is that controlled rage that makes his performance so interesting to watch, he will be nominated for Best Actor, Chiwetel Egiofor gives a stunning performance as Solomon, he can hardly believe what happened to him, and now he’s got to outwit his masters and stay alive, at a time when his life was worth nothing more than the amount of cotton he can pick.  He should be nominated for Best Actor as well.  The women in this film are phenomenal as well  Adepero Oduye is outstanding  as Eliza, she conveys the pain of separation from her two children about as well as anyone I’ve seen.  Lupita Nyong’o gives a heart-stopping performance as Patsey, this is her debut film. And Sarah Paulson is also outstanding as the stern, domineering Mistress Epps.  All three of them deserve nominations.  Paul Dano and Paul Giamatti are also very good, the only laggard in the bunch is Brad Pitt, who plays a boring character in a predictable way.  Mr. Pitt, I appreciate the money you put forth and the skill you used to get this movie made, but please resist the temptation of casting yourself in the movies you produce.

There is lots of violence, and language and some nudity, but older teens can watch it, heck they might even want to read the book.

12 Years A Slave. A movie for the ages.

The Mayans have a prophecy that the world is going to end in 2012.  In 2009, geologist Adrian Helmsley (Chiwetel Ejiofor) travels to India and notices an increased occurrence sunspots and solar flares.  He flies to Washington and tells Presidential advisor Carl Anheuser (Oliver Platt) what is happening and the potentially tragic consequences for the country and the world.  Anheuser starts to create an evacuation and government continuation plan for world leaders involving arks located in China but no one in the government tells anyone outside the inner circle anything about the coming catastrophe.

Jackson Curtis (Cusack) is a divorced father of two kids, part time chauffeur, full time failed author, takes his kids on a camping trip to Yellowstone National Park where he meets end of the world prophet Charlie Frost (Woody Harrelson) Charlie is convinced that the world is going to end and tells Jackson that he knows where the evacuation ships are because he’s got the maps.  Jackson mostly thinks he’s a nut, but then realizes that the nut might have a point when earthquakes start roiling California and Governor Schwarzenegger tells everyone the worst is over .  He drives his limo full speed to his ex-wife Kate’s (Amanda Peet) house picks up the kids and tries to get out of California.  Then the really big earthquakes begin. Jackson goes back to Yellowstone, gets a map from Charlie, and tries to make his way to China with his kids and her currant boyfriend Gordon (Tom McCarthy) who just happens to know how to fly a plane.  Jackson’s current employer Yuri Karpov Zlatko Buric gets Jackson a plane to fly.  Does he make it to China? Does he make it to the ark?

This movie is an all too formulaic disaster movie is the mold of the Poseidon Adventure and Independence Day. Cusack is always one step ahead of being swallowed alive by mother earth, Amanda Peet’s boyfriend has two whole flying lessons and he flies like a stunt pilot, Cusack is a part-time chauffer, but he turns into the best driver in the world.  The president is black, which always seems to be the case in these end-of-the world movies.  See Morgan Freeman in Deep Impact.  What is Hollywood trying to tell us anyway?  The story is so formulaic, and trite that the viewer knows exactly who’s going to die and when.  John Cusack is all wrong for this movie, he should be making sophisticated films, this movie screams out for Nicholas Cage playing the lead.  Isn’t he in all these nutty conspiracy theory movies lately?  Daanny Glover looks old and tired, like he IS a couple of days from retirement, it’s nice to see Thandie Newton and Woody Harrelson in this movie, but they don’t belong in this movie.  They all try very hard, but it’s a god-awful 2 ½ hours long and it didn’t need to be.  There were about 10 subplots going on. The geologist has a thing for Thandie, the geologists father is a jazz singer with George Segal on a cruise ship.  George Segal’s son is estranged from him because he married a Hispanic girl Who the f— cares?  Unnecessary, most of them die anyway, and the viewer knows it.  The ending is pure Hollywood milquetoast.  I just felt empty after watching it, empty and bored

2012:  Yours, Mayan, and Ours.