Let’s get one thing straight about Marvel’s latest superhero. It’s not Mister, it’s not Master, it’s Doctor. PhD and MD, at that. With such an arrogant statement there is more than a hint of Déjà vu about the studio’s latest caped crusader and his rather Stark-esque characteristics. So much so, in the coming months there is bound to be numerous similarities drawn between Doctor Strange (2016) and the studio’s first big hit Iron Man (2008). I mean, not only do we have a genius, millionaire, flirtatious, sort-of philanthropist, but Stephen Strange is also one to find his groove from pain and suffering, transformed from a self-centred coward, full of arrogance and ego, into a saviour. Thankfully, he also holds the same loveable and charming disposition to ensure audiences eat the film up. And that they should, with director Scott Derrickson weaving a magical and mind-bending work that makes a beautiful and important addition to the ongoing saga.
The fourteenth film in the Marvel Cinematic Universe, Doctor Strange begins with the talented and titular neurosurgeon proving his merit in the operating room, pulling bullets from brains as easily as he can recite the year obscure songs were released. On top of the world with an intellect matched only by his enormous ego, Strange is somewhat untouchable, charming his former flame and choosing only the cases that truly challenge him. That is until his life is up-ended, quite literally, when a horrendous car crash leaves his miracle-wielding hands torn up, bolted back together and with irreparable nerve damage. When Western medicine fails him, he takes the advice of a former physical therapy patient and heads to Nepal in search of the mysterious Kamar-Taj. From there things get mystical, as our protagonist is trained in everything from astral projection to gateway travel, thanks to a being known only as The Ancient One. When former sect student Kaecillius threatens reality with the dark realm of Dormammu though, it will take everything the newly transformed Strange has to turn time itself on its head.
It’s a different direction for the mad and masterful Marvel studios, venturing into worlds further afield than even those of James Gunn’s cosmic breakout hit Guardians of the Galaxy (2012). Here, magic and sorcery reign supreme, as we tread the fine line between unquantifiable science and pure faith. Psychedelic just doesn’t quite do it justice, the visuals taking us to numerous other dimensions and realities and opening up fantastic future film possibilities. The Ancient One describes it as spending your whole life looking through a keyhole and then having that keyhole widen. What they should have said though is it is like looking through a keyhole only to have the door swing open. Like an optical orgy, the special effects denote an exceptional attention to detail, building towards the final climactic moments. Interestingly, the denouement, while cumbersome, plays out in complete contrast to the destruction fuelled nightmares of the rest of 2016’s superhero films. It is hard to say whether it was intentional or coincidence, but either way it is both refreshing and optimistic for the future of the genre.
With one Academy Award winner and three more nominees among the cast, it is safe to say the acting hits the mark. Cumberbatch is of course the charismatic standout, with his New York accent, slick style and penchant for dry humour. His take on the character is as effortless a Downey Junior’s was with Iron Man, as if the role had been written specifically for him. For all the cries of whitewashing, Tilda Swinton also delivers a profound and solid turn as the wise old teacher, while Mads Mikkelsen once again channels his inner Hannibal Lecter as the main antagonist. Rachel McAdams is a wonderful addition too, walking the line between stereotypical and strong female representations. A qualified doctor who is able to hold power over our central protagonist, majority of her scenes involve hilarious jump scares that ground the film in reality. However it is the cloak of levitation that steals the show from everyone, garnering the most laughs in the film’s two-hour run. An inanimate object in the comics designed to help Doctor Strange fly, it takes on a sentient life here, pummelling baddies and looking cool, calm and collected as it goes.
If there is one flaw about the film, it is that is suffers from the pains of future constraints. With Strange destined to appear in the upcoming Avengers films, he is never put in any true amount of peril and as such, is never tested to his limits. We are constantly left with the idea of more, but never the satisfaction of it. Bigger and better is the promise as we head into Phase 3 and in Marvel’s rush to get there the studio has forgotten to give it their all in their introductory pictures. Similarly weak is the lack of humour, which paints the picture of just how depressing bleak the screenplay must have been before the addition of Dan Harmon’s re-writes. The funny offbeat moments we are given have a way of twisting and pulling at the characters’ development, making the moments feel needy and desperate instead of smooth and slick. For all his trying, Cumberbatch is never quite as quippy as Stark is and after seeing him deliver in everything from Sherlock (2010) to The Imitation Game (2014) it’s safe to say it’s not thanks to his acting ability.
It wouldn’t be a Marvel movie though without some tie-ins to the greater shared universe, with names like the Avengers sprinkled about here and there and the classic cameo from Stan Lee hitting the mark if not blowing it out of the water excelsior style. There’s even a big nod to the Infinity Stone storyline, if only for a minute. For anything bigger though, viewers will have to wait until the post-credit scenes, once again teasing future instalments and reminding us that as much as we may love any one character, this is, in fact, a shared universe. The real question for the studio now though is exactly how they will get to their big Avenging moment, throwing together the old and the new and letting them hand off their respective batons. So open your mind to the film, surrender control and let the film shape a new reality around you. Because while not everything in Doctor Strange and the expanding Marvel Cinematic Universe will make sense, then again, not everything has to.
Rating: 4 Mind-Bending Universes out of 5
If it weren’t for the horrifying reality of the utter devastation the Deepwater Horizon disaster caused, the Hollywood restaging of the event could easily be called a work of art or a rollicking ride. But with 11 men dead, 4.9 million barrels of oil spilled into the open ocean and the tagline of the biggest ecological disaster in American history, it is not a film one can cheer on, without feeling like a horrible person. That being said, it is a moving and resounding film that boasts stunning visuals, top-notch acting and a script that never treats the audience like their idiots. It is, arguably, everything you could want in a movie but there is such a dark sadness in that, it is hard to put into words.
The film follows the real-life story of the infamous and titular Deepwater Horizon, an offshore oil-rig in the Gulf of Mexico that suffered a catastrophic tragedy in April 2010. As chief electrical engineer Mike Williams (Mark Wahlberg), navigational worker Andrea Fleytas (Gina Rodriquez) and general operation supervisor Jimmy Harrell (Kurt Russell) fly out to the rig to spend 21 days away from family and friends, trouble is already beginning to brew beneath the surface. Ominous underwater shots show us fissures in the giant concrete seal keeping the pipe’s contents in place and as the bubbles rise so do our heart rates. While the crew set about their technical and tedious trades, two visiting BP executives frustrated at the project’s long delays decide to make up for lost time by ordering some skewed system tests. When the pressure builds and the drill overflows, the structural flaws turn tragic and a full-scale blowout ensues. Cue one of the most impressive explosions ever put to film and the subsequent hour of gut-wrenching tension it brings with it, before the film finishes on the sombre note that even those who walked away were never quite the same again.
What makes Deepwater Horizon (2016) a standout, if not quite award-worthy, is the mesmerizing quality of its special effects. When the mud boils over and the fire rages, it feels like the hairs on the backs of your arms will singe with the sheer force and power of such catastrophe. Once the action starts it never grants us a moment to breathe either, as body’s slam into metal and quick cuts are choreographed in a complex dance of disarray. Backing up this frenetic feel is an incredible sound design, which provides the creaks and groans of mutilated metal, as well as the fear of a quiet, still moment. There is elegance amidst the chaos, no motion or music added simply for the sake of it and it’s great to see such control invoked. The acting too is exemplary, a credit to the real-life counterparts they convey. Where John Malkovich’s BP oil executive Donald Vidrine could easily have served as the stereotypical villain of the piece, he is humanised in his inability to understand the carnage around him. Similarly, Wahlberg is not your normal hero either, simply a man going about his business and lend a helping hand. Along with Russell and Rodriguez he proves that the real weight of sacrifice is a calm façade in the face of overwhelming terror.
The movie marks the second collaboration between Wahlberg and director Peter Berg after the atmospheric army piece Lone Survivor (2013), the duo bringing the same intelligent and visceral style this time round. This is best exemplified by their choice to bookend the film with video from the real-life deposition of a man who was never able to go to sea again. Working from a smart and slick script by Matthew Sand and Matthew Michael Carnahan, the two never let us forgot that beneath the awe-inspiring action there is a tragic realism to such calamities. Interestingly the film manages to hold back, for the most part, in demonizing parent company BP, instead focusing on the intrinsically human element amidst the overwhelming spectacle. There are no ‘heroes’ here, simply the believable behaviour of people who made the right decisions at the right time and shared in the payoff of sheer dumb luck. The script is not without its flaws though and this comes in its limited and fraught ending, which, while poignant, pays little attention to the ongoing aftermath. Having stayed with the characters throughout their ordeal, we are never granted the option to leave their side to look at the long-term problems that day caused and that is a tragedy in itself.
Like most disaster films there is a moral undercurrent that lurks beneath the surface of Deepwater Horizon. Thankfully though, Berg never really takes the cheap shot of throwing it in our face. Unlike The Day After Tomorrow (2004), which chastised us for ruining our planet, Deepwater Horizon uses an extended scene of an oil-covered bird thrashing about to do its talking for it. Its incredible visuals and storytelling provide the sheer force and destruction to humble us in ways you couldn’t imagine too. This was no hurricane, no typhoon, no cyclone, volcano, twister or earthquake. This was a man-made accident that permanently scarred the ecosystem and took lives. We seem to forget that in our constant effort for innovation and advancement we are as much our own destroyers as we are our saviours and Berg plays on this in the arresting image of the American flag surrounded by fire and smoke and death. Everything comes with a price.
Explosive, intelligent and genuinely sobering, Deepwater Horizon may not a perfect film, but it is a profound one. It is almost cathartic in how it traverses the fine line between eliciting emotion and playing on our sentimentalities. Because with tragedy, so too is there human spirit, and that stays with us long after the credits role. It is a touching tribute, in its own way, to those who went to work and never made it home, never striving to label itself as heart-warming and heroic piece, but achieving it nonetheless, and for that Deepwater Horizon is well worth the watch.
Rating: 4 Destroyed Lives out of 5
The Western is a hard genre to conquer. Not only does it come with standards set by Eastwood, but today’s political correct society threatens its very core, reminding us that violence begets violence and that it is never the answer to life’s problems. That being said, it is also a genre that won’t die. From Joel and Ethan Coen’s atmospheric actioner True Grit (2010) to Tarantino’s grisly and comical Django Unchained (2012) the dry dirt and grime of the West continues to be front and centre in cinema even in the 21st Century. Antoine Fuqua’s latest attempt The Magnificent Seven (2016) is another such piece, paying homage to its predecessors as a loud, bullish and brutal remake of the 1960’s classic, which itself is a remake of Akira Kurosawa’s Seven Samurai (1954). Although it never quite lives up to its title, falling more under the banner of The Moderate Seven or The Meandering Seven, it does deliver some semblance of humanity, even if it amounts to nothing more than a stylish but forgetful posse piece.
Set in 1879, the film follows the trials and tribulations of Rose Creek, a small town situated nearby a literal goldmine run by the heavy-handed and egotistical industrialist Bartholomew Bogue. Looking to expand his business and take the townspeople’s land, Bogue murders and menaces his way to the top of the hierarchical chain, appearing as an unstoppable force to all but Emma Cullen, a proud widow seeking righteousness but willing to settle for revenge. Recruiting the brooding and mysterious Sam Chisolm, the duo go about securing a band of misfit mercenaries to fight for their just cause. From Joshua Faraday to Goodnight Robicheaux, normal names are as few and far between as the talent in the townspeople they set about training to fight. The story culminates, of course, with the big showdown, full of TNT, Gatling guns and sombre scores. The intense, bloody battle bears little weight though, with all the emotional investment sucked out in favour of pyrotechnics and a high body count.
The Western genre is bred deep in The Magnificent Seven, from the wide open spaces to the simple townsfolk and hardworking horses. We might never actually see a tumbleweed blow through town, but we never stop thinking that it might happen. Despite its numerous flaws, Fuqua cannot be punished for emulating the greats of old though, bringing a widescreen element to the western and invoking that old time feel through a series of saturated colours. It’s no Blazing Saddles (1974) or The Good, The Bad and The Ugly (1966), but dammit if it doesn’t work hard to ensure it lives up to their legacy. What lets it down is its dependence on violence. Where it was used to shock and silence audiences of yore, nowadays it is so ingrained in our filmic culture, most audience members don’t even bat an eyelid let alone wonder where all the blood is when so many lives are lost.
A blockbuster cast round out the title team, including Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt, Ethan Hawke, Vincent D’Onofrio, Byung-hun Lee, Manuel Garcia-Rulfo and Martin Sensmeier. Entrusted with the seemingly impossible task of tackling characters once inhabited by Hollywood heavyweights like Yul Brynner and Steve McQueen, the most refreshing part of the new crew is that they meet the ethnic standards so often called upon in cinema. While Washington is a stoic and immovable force, his reason for joining the fight revealed in a standout monologue, it is Pratt who is the heart of the film, full of quips, one-liners and self-sacrificing notions that steal the show. The rest remain figures in the background however, defined by their killing skills and given little emotional depth. Similarly, Stellan Skarsgaard’s Bogue falls well flat of Eli Wallach’s terrifying and taut performance, full of selfish bravado and one-dimensional development.
The most touching moment in The Magnificent Seven though, comes not from what we see on screen, but what we hear behind the action. The film was the 158th and final soundtrack score from acclaimed composer James Horner, killed last year in a tragic plane crash and alongside the input from his long-time co-collaborator Simon Franglen, it is a resounding and momentous beat, echoing its predecessor even if not redefining it. Similarly, while the story may lose motivation and morality, the commitment to aesthetic saves it, cinematographer Mauro Fiore delivering some interesting and idealistic shots when not pounding the gunfire home. Perhaps the best example is the moment Chisolm is silhouetted on horseback against the blue-black sky, a frontiersman through and through.
Like any remake the real question regarding The Magnificent Seven is why. Why do we need it? Why is now the right time? Why should we spend our hard-earned money on it over everything else? Sadly, after slugging my way through its two-hour run-time, I still don’t quite have an answer. Despite its best efforts, The Magnificent Seven never quite gets its spurs spinning, instead a cumbersome cash-grab that leaves audiences feeling just a little empty. But thanks to its appealing performances and ability to stay true to its roots it’s not a complete write-off either. Revolutionary may not be in its vocabulary, but charismatic, clichéd and charming make the cut, ensuring that even if it doesn’t live up to its predecessors, it deserves to be mentioned among them.
Rating: 2.5 Cowboys out of 5
Film and TV Reviews
Film and television reviews of everything from independent movies to Disney and superhero flicks.
All video and photo content used on this site is sourced and all credit must go to the original owners. No copyright infringement is intended.
Copyright © 2019. CINEMATICISM.
All Rights Reserved.
Owned by Kirby Spencer.