Doctor Strange

Director: Scott Derrickson (2016) BBFC cert: 12A

Released on a Tuesday to capitalise on UK schools half term break, this is a movie which doesn’t need the leg up to take the number one spot in the box office chart. The eye popping visuals and star power of Benedict Cumberbatch means this sorcery-based superhero adventure will have you spellbound.

In an astute piece of casting every bit as inspired as having Robert Downey Jnr play Iron Man, the star of TV’s Sherlock star plays Dr Stephen Strange, a brain surgeon turned Sorcerer Supreme.

In the latest introduction of a minor character in the Marvel canon to the wider cinema audience, the impressively psychedelic stylings of this latest product off the assembly line are sufficient to distract us from the functional plot.

Plus its East meets West magic and martial arts action means it possesses it a far stronger sense of identity than some of its franchise fellows. Yes, I’m looking at you Ant-Man (2015).

Despite a distracting American accent, Cumberbatch is alarmingly dashing in goatee beard, glowing medallion and a red cape. Similarly to the magic carpet in Disney’s animated Aladdin (1994), the cape has a mind of its own and is a major character in its own right. It says a lot for the actor’s comic ability he can play straight man to his costume.

The strong supporting cast includes Chiwetel Ejiofor, Rachel McAdams and Benedict Wong. Stan Lee has one his better cameos. McAdams is focused, bright and underused in the role of Strange’s love interest. By coincidence she appeared in Guy Ritchie’s Sherlock Holmes (2009) as Holmes’ love interest Irene Adler.

A rampant egotist, the Doctor’s glamorous lifestyle and career are ruined when a car accident crushes his hands. In Nepal he is trained in the art of sorcery by Tilda Swinton’s mysterious Ancient One. Her sink or swim teaching methods include abandoning her pupils on Mount Everest to find their own way to safety.

Having fun in a role which is absolutely not stretch of his talent, former Bond villain Mads Mikkelsen sports glam rock eye shadow and periodically teleports in to cause carnage. As renegade mystic Kaecilius, he’s attempting to destroy the world with the help of Dormammu, a powerful demon from the Dark Dimension.

The story skips between London, New York, Hong Kong and Nepal in a series of gravity defying, time twisting, space curling, mind bending action set pieces. For a lot of the time it’s like watching Christopher Nolan’s Inception on acid.

This is easily the most visually ambitious, funny and entertaining superhero movie of the year.

@ChrisHunneysett

 

Spotlight

Director: Tom McCarthy (2016)

Stop the press for this Oscar nominated drama of award winning journalism.

Based on real events, a US newspaper team fight to reveal the industrial scale cover up of child abuse perpetrated by the Catholic Church in Boston.

It’s gripping tale which allows for the redemption of an individual, the validation of journalism and the recovery of civic pride.

So exactly the sort of worthy subject matter which allows Hollywood to feel good about itself and self-righteously pat itself on the back for making.

Consequently it’s garnered 6 Oscar nominations including best picture and director ,as well as for individual nods for performers Ruffalo and Rachel McAdams in the supporting acting categories.

It’s set in the early 2000’s in the basement office of the close knit Spotlight newspaper investigations team of The Boston Globe. The real Spotlight Team earned the 2003 Pulitzer Prize for Public Service.

Michael Keaton is weathered and wary as ‘Robby’ Robinson, veteran leader of the four strong department.

Sporting a supportive if volatile chemistry, they’re played by Mark Ruffalo, Rachel McAdams and Brian d’Arcy James.

They face the double threat of the burgeoning new media world and a new editor, played with softly spoken steel by Liev Schreiber.

Marty requests the team investigate complaints made against the church.

Being from out of town Marty is immediately considered someone not to be trusted. A situation compounded by being Jewish in a Catholic dominated city.

It is strongly in part to this insular attitude which allows members of the Catholic clergy to spend years abusing their flock, and for the hierarchy to systematically cover it up.

The powerful and wealthy institution has long put the fear of god into legal profession, justice system, police and even parts of the press.

We follow the team undertaking journalistic procedure of voluminous research, copious coffee consumption, door knocking, meetings with lawyers, prodigious note taking and telephone calls.

As files of evidence go missing from the courthouse, the team realise they can’t trust their colleagues, the police or the courts.

This is all familiar procedural stuff and it’s the high stakes and charisma of the actors which brings it alive.

We are drawn in by the performances, intrigued by their work and disgusted by the subject matter.

Covering a difficult subject in a dignified and sensitive manner, a strong narrative framework provides essential information in a clear manner.

But the film struggles to open out from a series of meetings into something more grand and cinematic.

More than one scene has the team gather around a telephone speaker to receive vital information from a Deep Throat type whistleblower.

As efficient as Spotlight is, it‘s the grim truth which keeps us watching, not the drama.

 

About Time

Director: Richard Curtis (2013)

Having torpedoed his own ­reputation with his previous film, The Boat That Rocked, Richard Curtis does nothing to rescue his career with this twee time-­travelling comedy drama.

About Time is the writer and director’s indulgent tribute to fatherhood. Curtis is a long-time shameless magpie with other ­people’s ideas and here he’s content to ­complacently plunder his own ­material – recreating the wedding dress scene from Four Weddings And A Funeral.

Along with a wedding and a funeral, About Time has much familiar, unfunny, ‘comic’ ­profanity. Poor Domhnall Gleeson is apparently under instructions to ape Hugh Grant while a sickly-sweet voice-over is reheated from Love Actually and/or Notting Hill.

On top of all this, the actors have to wade through their scenes while gallons of syrupy music is poured over them.

In About Time, when Tim (Gleeson) turns 21 he is told by his father (Bill Nighy) that the men in the family have a secret ability to travel through time.

By standing in a dark room and clenching his fists Tim can appear anywhere in his own past.

With incredible opportunities now available to him, Tim decides to settle down to a dull life of work, babies and playing ping-pong with his Pa.

Tim is useless with women and exploiting time travel to seduce the American Mary (Rachel McAdams) is the only ­exciting thing he does with his gift. Curtis is typically so ­uninterested in her character that his ­habitual Yank-bashing is limited to giving her dodgy hair and dowdy clothes.

Tim’s friends and family are bumbling idiots or foul-mouthed miseries that irritate as much as the wobbly camera work.

One scene takes place entirely in a blacked-out restaurant which means we’re watching a blank screen and listening to a poorly scripted radio play – filming it in silence may have improved it.

The dominant image of this film is of a sex-starved man sitting alone in a dark cupboard and gripping his sweaty palms.

Curtis has threatened to stop ­directing after this latest offering and that would indeed be about time.

★☆☆☆☆