Tag Archive: Benedict Cumberbatch


Steve JobsSteve Jobs (Dir: Danny Boyle)

The case of Steve Jobs has been a perplexing one. A promising limited release in the States was colouring this to be the hot awards ticket that many expected it would  be. Yet when Universal made the decision to push wide earlier than scheduled, the film bombed. Now, while certain to be present this award season, this Boyle/Aaron Sorkin joint simply doesnt seem to be burning up among movie-goers. Discussion of it is limited almost to nothing. Which is a shame because it is one of the most finely acted, sharply scripted and energetically directed films of the year.

Focusing on three separate product launches, from the Mackintosh in 1984, to the ill-fated Next System in 1988 and culminating with the release of the i-Mac in 1998, Sorkin’s screenplay keeps all the drama backstage in the build up to each of Job’s presentations, demonstrating his relationships with colleagues, friends, lovers and the girl who he refuses to admit is his daughter.

Through focusing on issues both technical and personal, the film attempts to give a portrait of Jobs as a man without following the tropes of a more conventional bio-pic. It is a structure that feels more accustomed to the stage, and while it may feel repetitive at times, the film is undoubtedly unique, bold, and uncompromising in the way it wishes to proceed. Much like the man himself.

Each back-stage encounter allows Jobs, evoked rather than imitated by Michael Fassbender, to interact with all the key players in his life, from devoted assistant Joanna Hoffman (Kate Winslet), old friend and Apple co-founder Steve Wozniack (Seth Rogen), CEO of Apple John Sculley (Jeff Daniels), his former girlfriend (Katherine Waterston) and his supposed daughter, Lisa (Perla Haney-Jardine, Ripley Sobo, and Makenzie Moss at different ages). Each back-stage walk and talk sees Jobs encounter everyone, battling with some and reconciling with others, allows Sorkin’s dialogue to truly fly, delivered by a fine cast of actors, arguably the finest assembled to deliver Sorkin’s words. No one puts a foot wrong, but it is by far Fassbender’s film, doing so much to make us see this version of Jobs as both a portrait of one of the most significant men in the modern age, and as a character who lives and breathes thanks to his presence.

Being a Sorkin script, the film is incrdibly dialogue driven, which is why the choice of Danny Boyle as director seems a bit strange, as he is a man often applauded for his visceral kineticism as a director. Somehow, though, it works. Boyle finds movement and pace through his camera work and through his clever and bombastic visual tweaks which highlight points and drive home Jobs rhetoric. Shooting on era appropriate flm stock and moving to digital gives the film a unique aesthetic, while Dnaiel Pemberton’s score does wonders to punctuate the faultless editing in numerous sequences of heightened drama.

The repetitiveness of the structure and Sorkin’s occasional lapse in to crafting lines of rather cringe-worthy prohesising of the future of Apple, Steve Jobs is nothing if not indulgent; but it is entertaining in only the way a Sorkin scripted movie can be. His energy is paired somewhat brilliantly with Boyle’s developing a film which is entertaining throughout and a wondrous master-class of actorly craft. 4/5  

BlackMass

Black Mass (Dir: Scott Cooper)

Black Mass has been particularly highlighted as marking a return of Johnny Depp as a ‘serious character actor’ after a string of performances which which require little of him beyond the ‘Jack Sparrow’ routine, and that’s without acknowledging that none of them have been particularly well received at the box office. Black Mass certainly does offer a role for Depp that allows him to flex more than he has in recent years, and he certainly delivers what is asked of him. The problem is that the film itself ends up asking little of hi in a scattered and un-focused snapshot of one of America’s intriguing criminals.

Depp plays Whitey Bulger, a Boston Gangster, who manages to use the powers of the FBI for his own gain when child-hood friend Agent John Connelly (Joel Edgarton) approaches him with an offer to help take down rival gangs in the city. Bulger managed to orchestrate for himself an untouchable empire, and managed to evade capture for many years despite being responsible for many violent crimes, and taking many  people’s lives. While the figure is undoubtedly interesting and worth exploring, Scott Cooper’s film fails to truly land on a point of focus, leading to a frustrating and wholly generic gangster pic that could have been so much more.

We initially seem to be taking on the perspective of a leg-man in Whitey’s ranks, played by the ever-dependable Jesse Plemons, before then jumping into to Whitey’s personal life with his mother and publicly adored Senator brother (Benedict Cumberbatch). That is until it takes more of a focus on Connelly, on his desire to both impress Bulger and rise in the ranks of Federal officials. It never settles on any one character, leaving many thinkly sketched, relying on the admitteddly very talented cast to paint in more than the script actually allows them.

Thankfully for the film, the cast is up to the challenge. Edgarton is on particularly fine form as Connelly, delivering great nuances and conflict in a man who never seems to have grown up from being a small boy admiring the strength and control exuded by Bulger. Depp himself disappears behind heavy prosthetics to present a monstrous image of one of America’s criminals, but is let down by the film which seems to only want to depict him as a sneering, unmerciful killer come the final third, despite their being shades of something much more complicated.

There is a strong film here, with many separate moments proving affecting thanks to stellar work from the actors, and Cooper is certainly a director who knows how to send a chill down your spine. The main issue is that it all feels too disjointed to come through as a convincing character study, something which it seems entirely un-interested achieving. 2/5 

 BridgeofSpiesBridge of Spies (Dir: Steven Spielberg)

Trust Spielberg to be the one to make it like they used to. With a dash of Capra, a lashing of Carol Reed and a good dose of his own sensibilities, Spielberg has crafted a refreshingly old-fashioned Cold War drama which is pure Americana in its most purest and un-cynical form.

Lawyer James Donovan (Tom Hanks) is called upon to represent a suspected Soviet Spy named Abel (Mark Rylance) in the face of the Cold War. After showing great strength and resilience in upholding the constitution despite representing what many deem to be the enemy, Donovan is once again tasked with the impossible; he must negotiate a swap for Abel after a US fighter pilot is caught taking aerial photographs over Russia. The location of the swap: Soviet Occupied East Berlin.

A wonderfully complex moment in Cold war history, Bridge of Spies tells its tale vicariously through the eyes of Donovan, a man of unshakeable moral ethics, a decent and honourable man who could perhaps only ever be played by Tom Hanks (in another era, this would be a Jimmy Stewart picture). Partnering with Hanks for the fourth time, Spielberg uses his star’s persona to power much of the characterisation of Donovan, and it quite simply works. Hanks is wonderful in a role which relies upon his natural confidence and charisma. We need to believe Donovan is a man who can talk himself out of any situation, all the while never bending his ethical and moral code, and having someone as established and as dependable as Hanks in the role firmly establishes Donovan as such in a believable way.

However, as a result, it is often difficult to feel there is all that much at stake; history is written and its Tom Hanks, of course he will win out against the obstacles that stand in his way. Spielberg therefore frames his story as a moment of courage and resilience in a complicated political climate, and as a reminder that neither side may be right. Donovan may be American, but he sees how Abel’s own resilience is something to admire, despite him being part of ‘the other side.’ Rylance’s quietly assured and affecting performance enables this mirroring and duality to take place, offering Abel as a character of sympathy, not one who should be judged.

Spielberg is now rather effortless at establishing his aesthetic, working with tried and tested crew members to produce a finely crafted picture. Cinematographer Janusz Kaminski often chooses high key lighting to give the film an almost dream-like quality at times, while producing some truly chilling imagery come Donovan’s entrance into East Berlin.

The second half of the film moves away from the Capra-esuqe courtroom drama of the first hour. We witness an eye-catchign moment of spectacle as the US Fighter pilot is shot down, we enter East Berlin and the sense of danger is palpable. It is in these moments that the script contribution of the Coen Brothers can truly be felt, presenting us with ridiculous figures of military authority and obscure beats of dark comedy. This combination of Coen wit and Spielberg driven visuals allows Bridge of Spies to stand as something quite special for both sets of respected auteurs.

Bridge of Spies is one of the more wholly satisfying cinematic experiences of the year; it is simply a well crafted tale that revels in an engaging and complex moment in history with a confidence that perhaps only Spielberg can exude. The Spielberg-schmultz ending feels earned, a feat many of his films struggle to achieve. Compelling, entertaining, and filled with old school charm. 5/5 

12years-1Steve McQueen is a talent who has only grown with each film that he has produced. With only three features under his belt, McQueen can quite safely be regarded as one of the great director’s of contemporary cinema, tackling dark chapters of human history and exploring warped corners of the human mind. 12 Years a Slave finds the director at his most accessible following from Hunger and Shame, but is still a film of incredibly potent emotion and disturbing imagery. It is also one of the most beautiful pictures of recent memory which both installs hope in the persistence of the human spirit and provokes disgust at the evils that human beings have been (and are) capable of.

Based on a true story, 12 Years a Slave brings to life the tale of Solomon Northup (Chiwetel Ejiofor). A freeman living in a pre-Civil War New York, Solomon lived a happy and respectful life with his wife and two children. After being deceived and poisoned, Solomon found himself sold into slavery. The film charts his 12 years as a slave, moving from the ownership of the conflicted Mr. Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch), to the claws of the despicable Mr. Epp’s (Michael Fassbender) who treats his ‘property’ in anyway he so desires. All the while Solomon waits for the opportunity to seek his freedom, an opportunity which proves rather hard to come by.

Solomon’s journey is told from a distance; McQueen makes us fully aware that we are spectators to an event which has come to pass and are powerless to intervene. The way in which the camera pushes through the surroundings creates the impression that we are sneaking a glimpse at a moment in history that we may not wish to embrace, yet we still approach 12YearsASlave-2with cautious curiosity. We are witnessing a man’s struggle to negotiate a world that he was never supposed to inhabit, with McQueen making us pay special attention to Solomon’s reactions and expressions within certain scenes. These emotions range from anger, to restraint, to passivity, as he merely acts as he needs to in order to survive his ordeal. The power of these scenes, both the more emotive and more quiet scenes are given a greater sense of fragility and tragedy through the amazingly expressive eyes of Ejiofor.

Ejiofor delivers a performance that has moments of Oscar friendly outbursts, but remains largely restrained as he continues to survive and endure. Ejiofor has always been an incredibly generous actor, predominantly serving in a supporting capacity throughout his career, providing a strong and steady act for the lead performers to work against. He always presents other actor’s a challenge and has at many a time threatened to over-shadow lead actors with his undeniable talent. In a lead capacity here, he is finally given the role that should seem him shoot to leading man status, whilst also still maintaining his generosity as a performer.

Ejiofor shares the screen with a plethora of talent, with many faces appearing over the course of the story, with some ultimately being under used. Paul Giamatti occupies our attention for the best part of five minutes as a sniveling slave dealer, while Cumberbatch adds a touch of moral complexity in his brief but interesting role. Brad Pitt proves to be somewhat of a distracting presence in the film’s final moments, but certainly does not derail the picture. The two highlights of the supporting performances are in the form of newcomer Lupita Nyong’o and everyone”s favourite half-Irish half-German Michael Fassbender. Nyong’o as young slave Patsy adds a fresh sense of vulnerability and tragedy to Solomon’s story, a DF_02659.CR2reflection and an embodiment of an individual who is in a much worse position than himself. It is a very raw performance made all the more powerful by Nyong’o being an unknown. Fassbender meanwhile plays an utterly ugly example of a human being. Yet, he manages to bring such pathos and complexity to Epps in his performance that exceeds beyond that of being merely the villain of the piece. He is a human being, not one we like, but one none the less. His attitude towards religion and his belief that it gives him justification to treat his ‘property’ as he so chooses allows Fassbender to develop a man powered by utter conviction in his beliefs. He is a volatile and ferocious presence, but also incredibly thought provoking.

America is a beautiful place. McQueen knows this, and makes full use of the natural beauty of America’s Southern States. He uses these luscious backdrops as the theatre for displaying one of the darkest chapters in human history. Hunger and Shame certainly pulled no punches with their visceral violence and shocking imagery, and 12 Years is no different, featuring some violent scenes of a distressing order. Shocking, but necessary to highlight the ferocity and brutal behavior of the slave owners. It is not the violence that affects the most though, it is the pure human emotion and artistry on display that affect most greatly. Even the coldest of hearts will find it hard not to be 12years-4moved to tears in the final moments of the film’s climax. You’d be forgiven for thinking that only 12 months had passed, rather than 12 years, which adds a great deal of shock in the last scenes as it becomes clear quite how long Solomon has been subjected to such pain, sorrow, and hardship.

To say this is McQueen’s best film is not particularly fair or just to his two previous features which are pieces of fine art in and of themselves. 12 Years a Slave is perhaps his most beautiful film, interjecting the tragedy with simply stunning grace notes of power, beauty, and profundity. It has been quite some time since a film has moved me in much the way this picture has, in fact it is hard to think of one which has had the same effect. A film crafted with a respectful yet uncompromising vision, and one that thoroughly deserves the praise it has and should continue to receive.

5/5- Unflinching, emotionally intense, yet utterly beautiful all the same. A worthy awards contender if there ever was one.

smaug1A journey back into Middle Earth is always something to get excited about. Although the general buzz around The Desolation of Smaug has been somewhat less than previous visits, there was still plenty to intrigue about the next installment in The Hobbit trilogy. The main reason being, we all want to see what this film does to justify why we actually have a Hobbit trilogy. Much of the criticism directed towards the first installment, An Unexpected Journey, was in regards to its laborious pacing. In the year since that release, the opinion of that film has turned into something which is quite harsh; I found the film (despite its very damaging pacing issues) to be a welcome return to Middle Earth, one that concerned itself with character and establishing a sense of child-like wonder and awe. Desolation has worried me, ever since the first trailer was released. It looked to contain too much needless padding. And while that has turned out to be the case, it does have a bloody good dragon to boot.

Picking up after the events of An Unexpected Journey, we re-join Thorin Oakenshield’s (Richard Armitage) quest to take back Erebor from the keep of the terrifying dragon, Smaug (Benedict Cumberbatch). With Gandalf (Ian McKellen) attending to other business concerning a mystery involving the rise of a certain dark lord, the company of Dwarves, along with contracted burglar Bilbo (Martin Freeman) find themselves encountering arrogant Elves, battling a group of Orcs determined to make them fail, as well as making their final push to The Lonely Mountain. Once they get there, Bilbo will have to face his contractual obligation and attempt to steal the Arkenstone from beneath the fierce eyes of the dragon Smaug.APphoto_Film Review The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug

Desolation is a much more exciting piece of escapist cinema with a much greater sense of purpose. Unfortunately, this seems to be in favour of losing much of the charm of the first film, devoting attention to agitating story aspects and never allowing for a true sense of attachment to Bilbo, Thorin and co. There were plenty of characters in The Lord of the Rings, but time was devoted very well to the individual subplots, rarely lagging purely because we cared about them. Peter Jackson clearly wants to recapture this sense of a number of adventures occurring simultaneously, but in the case of The Hobbit, it is not something that needs to happen. Instead of devoting his time to the quest at hand, Jackson feels it right to establish a sub-plot with the returning Legolas (Orlando Bloom) and new original character Tauriel (Evangeline Lilly). Not only do the two put across two of the worst performances that we have seen in the realm of Middle Earth, their story is infuriating and distracting, as a love triangle between the two and Kili (Aidan Turner) proves to be an ill-judged move on behalf of Jackson and his screenwriters. It is a distracting sub-plot that would not have been missed if it had ended up on the cutting room floor.

While the pacing issues are definitely not as bad as An Unexpected Journey, there are still some issues in this 2 hour and 40 minute film. It is not that it is particularly boring, it is more that there is little to no structure. This is not a film in the traditional sense of the word. This is a sequence of events happening one after the other, which then just happens to end once it thinks its been around too long. Make sure you enter accepting that fact, and you may have a better time than me. At least An Unexpected Journey had a three act structure, Desolation feels like it is wondering from place to place, trying to kill time before the eventual encounter with Smaug. Along the way, we Smaug3do have a great deal of fun with a skirmish in Mirkwood, and a highly energetic barrel escape. But until we get to Smaug, we do not do a great deal with our time. While Luke Evans is a welcome addition as Bard the Bowman, most of the new characters add little to the proceedings. Thank God, then, for Smaug.

Once we enter the halls of The Lonely Mountain, you just about forget the journey its taken to be there. Smaug is realized through stunning visual effects and is given a unique and vicious personality by the one and only Benedict Cumberbatch. The sequence within the mountain as well stands out as not only the highlight of the film, but as one of the highlights of the entire Middle Earth franchise. Jackson builds a great level of suspense, whilst also allowing Martin Freeman to provide light relief with his still spot on performance, even though he gets lost in the shuffle within the rest of the film. It provides the film with a sense of purpose, a reason to exist, that had been lacking in the build up. Much of what comes before we enter the mountain feels needless, the blow somewhat being softened by the brilliant production design of the Laketown of Esgaroth. Smaug however does make it worth it, as he is a wondrous creature of design and execution; remarkably detailed and a scene stealer in every sense of the term. Smaug4

What is most lacking in Desolation, and the aspect that made the film somewhat underwhelming for me, is a sense of investment. The spectacle is there by the bucket load, but there is little else worth clinging on to. We are about to enter the final installment, and while that looks set to be an action-packed affair, I find myself caring very little about it. At this point in LOTR there felt like there was much more at stake due to the fact that we cared much more about the characters. The Hobbit is too much of a crowded affair to have the same level of investment, and this has to come down to the fact that Jackson made the decision to make Tolkien’s novel into a trilogy. Too much time is wasted elsewhere in this installment, resulting in a lack of interest into what is going to happen next, despite the rather blunt cliffhanger ending. There and Back Again will be with us in one year’s time. Will I rush out to see it? Probably. But only because of Sherlock and Watson.

3/5- Never lacking in spectacle, The Desolation of Smaug is a visual treat but does little to make you care about what is happening. However, Smaug himself makes it worthwhile.

StarTrek-1Back in 2009, J.J. Abrams did quite a remarkable thing; he made Star Trek cool again. After the mis-fire that was Star Trek: Nemesis, it seemed that Gene Roddenberry’s vast and unique universe had lost all resonance and relevance on the big screen. Thankfully, that was not the case, as Abram’s reboot of the franchise rejuvenated the series with a jolt of adrenalin straight to the warp core. While many considered Star Trek to be a world where you were only welcome if you were well versed in Klingon, Abrams opened the door to the mainstream and delivered one of the most exciting space-action spectacles of the past decade. The pressure certainly was on for the inevitable follow up. There was the question as to whether this new alternative timeline (wonderfully established by wibbly-wobbly-timey-wimey-space-logic) would hark back to the previous entries more measured and philosophical themes, or if it would continue pretty much in the same vein as before; fast, exciting, relentless, but still with the characters at its heart. I can tell you now that it has gone for the latter. Faster, faster, faster is the name of the game, making for yet again another piece of super kinetic and thoroughly exciting action cinema from the man whose next foray is into a galaxy far, far, away.

Fresh from a skirmish with a primitive alien species, the crew of the Enterprise is called back to Starfleet when a terrorist attack in London requires immediate action. The man behind the attack, the mysterious John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), who once was a member of Starfleet, becomes the target of a galaxy wide manhunt. When a further attack by Harrison raises the personal stakes for one James Tiberius Kirk (Chris Pine), the Captain of the Enterprise takes it upon himself to send his crew out alone to catch the fugitive. It is a mission thwart with danger and the risk of Intergalactic War with the fearsome Klingons. However, as Kirk, Spock (Zachery Quinto) and crew pursue, they soon begin to realize that they are  involved in a much larger conspiracy, and that John Harrison is not all that he seems to be. StarTrek-2

The beauty of operating within a new alternative timeline is that Abrams and his writers (Roberto Orci, Alex Kurtzman and Damon Lindelof) have the freedom to work within familiar territory and have the capacity to revise certain aspects and play with audience and fan expectation. There is plenty here that evokes memories of past Trek adventures (one in particular), but does so as to construct an air of familiarity before pulling the rug from under your feet. It makes for a very exciting, emotionally engaging and unpredictable experience as a spectator and as a fan. Some references to the franchise’s past are more subtle than others, but there is certainly enough to fuel the fan-boy spirit and turn you into a shrieking mess of delight (new look Klingons, Come On!), making it rather hard for you to keep your critical head on.

While the catering to the fans is well and truly present (and maybe not quite as necessary as the writer’s seem to think), the action sequences do more than enough to cater to the uninitiated. And boy, do they come at you fast. The film is positively unrelenting in its pacing. There is not much room to breath as Abrams delivers exhilarating action by the photon load. His signature lens flare style once again adds a visceral element to the space environments and makes the action much more dazzling, frantic but never incomprehensible. After an Indiana Jones-esque opening, the film delivers chases,  phaser shoot-outs, fist fights, space-jumps, space-ship skirmishes, and even a chase at warp speed. The invention and the impeccable mounting of these sequences are second to none and keep you on the edge of your seat, ensuring you stay on board the roller-coaster by quite simply never giving you a moments chance to step off. At is essence it is a pared down revenge flick that bursts with momentum and purpose, not so much boldly going as just simply going; as quick and as action-paced as it can.

MILD SPOILERS AFOOT.
YE HATH BEEN WARNED.

StarTrek-3The pacing does work against the film’s finale however. Due to the film’s relentlessness, when it does finally come to a halt it feels rather abrupt and rushed in order to make sure the film doesn’t run over a comfortable 2 hours 1o. It smacks of compromise and there is not a great sense of closure, with the script lazily recycling the ending of the previous installment almost beat for beat. If at least five minutes had been given to allow the audience to reach a suitable pace and to catch their breath before wrapping up proceedings, it would allow the ending to be much more measured and not as sudden, unfortunately that is not the case. However, it does certainly leave you wanting more, as Into Darkness was a ride that I was in no hurry to get off from.

One of the most successful components of the reboot was the pitch-perfect cast led by Pine and Quinto, and once again the cast proves to be one of the film’s stronger aspects. More time is given to the bro-mance between Kirk and Spock, and it does well to emotionally resonate in pivotal moments. The film deals quite heavily with the theme of morality and the acceptance of death as an inevitability. While this theme is generally well balanced and played particularly well by Pine and Quinto, it has perhaps come at too early a time in this franchise. These characters are still young and fresh, these themes should not really play until a later date, but it does certainly allow the title to live up to its name. A lot of the supporting characters get lost in the mix with most of the attention given to the inter-play between Kirk and Spock. Simon Pegg’s Scotty has quite a pivotal role, and Zoe Saldana’s Uhura is utilized much more as Spock’s girlfriend, amounting to some enjoyable comic beats. Many of the other characters get lost in the mix but are all still given their moments to shine.

Now on to the villain of the piece. I will not divulge much in regards to the nature of Benedict Cumberbatch’s character, although the twist is one of Abrams more unsurprising reveals of his career. In regards to Cumberbatch’s performance; the boy has done good. He is cold, detached and quite stoic; equally mysterious, compelling, and down-right terrifying. It is a shame then that he is not quite given justice with the amount of screen-time that he has, nor in the dialogue he is given. Much of his dialogue is driven by heavy exposition, which even for an actor of Cumberbatch’s caliber, can be quite hard to deliver while still forming a layered and StarTrek-4motivated performance. Yet he delivers where it counts, proving to be surprisingly intimidating in his physical presence and strength. Some fans may not be pleased, but Cumberbatch proves to be a domineering presence in bigger budget fair. And long may he continue to do so.

Into Darkness perhaps does not have the same effect the reboot had back in 2009, it isn’t quite as fresh this time around and the script is not as balanced to allow enough time to be shared amongst the characters. But the style and energy is firmly in place, and it is just too darn exciting to truly allow anything to bother you too much. Perhaps as I reflect over time I might happen upon more factors that bother me (as has happened with Iron Man 3) but at this current moment in time, Star Trek Into Darkness stands above Iron Man 3. The action is not as strong as some of the spectacle in Iron Man, but its balance of character and break-neck pace push it above Shane Black’s still very impressive Summer blockbuster. Although it is unlikely that J.J. Abrams will return to the Captain’s Chair, he has left the franchise in a safe and promising place, although I do think it might be time to slow the pace down somewhat and bring back some of the wonder of exploration that Star Trek inhabited under the caring eyes of Gene Roddenberry.  An adrenalin shot of a movie whose positives outweigh the effect of it faults. There may not be a lot of logic in that, but who cares when it is this much fun.

4/5- Exciting to say the least; Into Darkness is a non-stop relentless ride to the outer limits and back; filled with dazzling action, stirring emotion and of course, plenty of lens flare. Abram’s phasers are certainly set to stun.