Woman Around Town’s Editor Charlene Giannetti and writers for the website talk with the women and men making news in New York, Washington, D.C., and other cities around the world. Thanks to Ian Herman for his wonderful piano introduction.
You think you know how the world works. You think this material universe is all there is. What if I told you the reality you know is one of many?
The Dr. Strange comics could only have come out in the 60’s. They unabashedly combined New Age style mysticism with Steve Ditko’s psychedelic artwork conveying surrealistic worlds that seemed to come from the mind of Salvador Dali. Which is why it’s only right and proper that Dr. Strange, directed by Scott Derrickson (Sinister, The Exorcism of Emily Rose)the latest Marvel movie be the trippiest, dippiest, most visually stunning film to date in their lexicon. Much has been made of the way buildings falling into themselves mimics the look of Inception, but we’re also treated to parallel universes whose look and feel is straight out of the old Ditko comics. The effects folks on Doctor Strange should clean up at the Oscars this year, and this is the rare movie that really does justify the cost of seeing it in IMAX 3D.
The plotline itself is a little skimpy with Dr. Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch of Sherlock and The Imitation Game) a brilliant but arrogant neurosurgeon whose hands are ruined in an accident. After Western medicine fails him, he spends his last penny on a ticket to Nepal to seek a cure at an ancient temple where he becomes an expert in the mystical arts. A cocky jerk getting taken down a few pegs only to rise to heroism in the third act is a song Marvel’s played for us many times before.
Tilda Swinton and Benedict Cumberbatch
Still even if it’s familiar ground in terms of character arcs, Strange’s training sequence at Kamar-Taj is a lot of fun. While playing an insufferable genius is second nature to Cumberbatch at this point, he shows an unexpected penchant for physical humor especially when he grapples with the cloak of power. Benedict Wong of Prometheus and The Martian is great as Wong the Temple’s stern-faced, badass librarian. Casting Tilda Swinton, a white woman, as The Ancient One, a character of Asian persuasion in the comics, was controversial, but there’s no doubt she brings a lot of energy and nuance to her scenes. And Rachel McAdams is quite charming and empathetic as Strange’s ex-lover Cristine whom he pushes away. Sadly there isn’t enough of her, just as you wish Mads Mikkleson as the main baddie had more to do than look suitably menacing while delivering speeches. (Though he does in fact look very menacing and his delivery is great.)
But the real standout of the cast may be Chiwetel Ejiofor (Dirty Pretty Things, 12 Years a Slave) as Mordo a militant fellow sorcerer and pupil to Strange.
Warning! May contain spoilers from here on out.
Mordo is a man of incredible strength and principle but also deeply rigid. Watching his ideals and beliefs conflict with sometimes morally murky and always messy reality is in some ways the real character arc of the film. One which leaves tantalizing possibilities for the future. Marvel movies may finallyget another interesting villain besides Loki. And in fact Dr. Strange may soon be meeting Loki.
In A Bigger Splash (the title comes from David Hockney’s pop art painting), Tilda Swinton plays Marianne, a rock star recovering from throat surgery. She retreats, along with her lover, Paul, to the remote Italian island of Pantelleria. Ensconced in a spacious villa high above the sea, the two spend languid days making love and lying on the beach. Paul (Matthias Schoenaerts) gently cares for Marianne, knowing that she must not talk if she is to heal. Their solitude is disrupted, however, when Marianne’s former lover, Harry (Ralph Fiennes on speed), arrives for an extended visit with his daughter, Penny (Dakota Johnson). Soon the quiet villa is filled with Harry’s outsized personality and boisterous voice and the island paradise is crackling with sexual tension. Pantelleria is a volcanic island, but when the eruption comes, it will be man made.
Frequent flashbacks fill in the history linking the three main characters. Marianne, it seems, is a megastar. Harry, a record producer who claims to have influenced the Rolling Stones, is seen in a recording studio working with Marianne, although how much he was responsible for her success is left unsaid. Appearing in a huge venue teeming with loyal fans, Marianne, with her makeup and costume, resembles David Bowie. We now understand what’s at risk with her recovery and why Paul is being so protective. (References are made to Julie Andrews who lost her singing voice.)
After their breakup, Harry introduced Marianne to Paul, a photographer and a recovering alcoholic. Paul is the strong and dependable presence in Marianne’s life. Where Harry sowed chaos, Paul brings calm. Now it seems that Harry is having second thoughts and this trip to Pantelleria is an assault to win Marianne back. Harry comes equipped for the battle, tempting Paul with bottles of fine wine and his Lolita-like daughter. Harry admits that he just became aware of Penny’s existence, while she claims not to be convinced he’s her father. The interaction between Harry and Penny, their too close embraces and amorous gazes, are discomforting.
From the moment Harry’s flight lands (the shadow of the plane ominously passes over the prone figures of Marianne and Paul on the beach), he begins to dictate the action. He knows this island (we never really learn how), and plans everything, from a dinner at a nearly inaccessible restaurant located on a steep hill, to a karaoke night in a local bar where he keeps pushing Marianne to join in singing. Is he wooing Marianne back or trying to destroy her career? Maybe both?
While Marianne whispers that she’s not leaving Paul, she’s not pushing Harry away, either. Harry’s aggressiveness makes him hard to dismiss and his reminiscing about times past, when Marianne’s career was soaring and they were both high on coke, brings home that those days may not come again. While the pair tours around Pantelleria (even visiting a woman who makes ricotta in her kitchen), Paul and Penny take a long hike to a remote part of the island. Penny quickly discards her clothing and stretches out on the rocks in a not too subtle invitation to Paul. Unlike the sexual novice she played in 50 Shades of Gray, Johnson’s Penny is the provocateur, saving her best surprise for last.
A Bigger Splash is Tilda Swinton’s second collaboration with Italian Director Luca Guadagnino, the first I Am Love, a 2009 Italian film where she played a married woman who has an affair with a chef. (The scene where she swoons after eating a prawn dish he prepared for her is priceless.) it’s easy to see Guadagnino’s fascination (actually any director’s fascination) with Swinton. She’s like a blank canvas, able to transform herself not only from film to film but from scene to scene. In A Bigger Splash, she’s a chameleon, appearing androgynous in the role of a rock star and incredibly sexy in her scenes with Fiennes and Schoenaerts. Marooned on the island, stripped of her music persona and unable to speak, she remains a potent force, the center of the battle between the two men. She manages to convey a stunning array of emotions with her facial expressions and body language.
As Harry, Fiennes literally throws himself into the role, holding back nothing whether challenging Paul to a race in the pool or exhibiting manic dance moves to a Rolling Stone’s tune. Fiennes seems to be having a good time playing larger than life characters like his Monsieur Gustave in The Grand Budapest Hotel. Unlike the well-meaning Gustave, however, his Harry carries a menacing undertone, his exuberance masking a desperation, a sexual hunger that threatens to turn violent. The film’s tension is ratcheted up with the soundtrack, the loud electronic music at times almost unbearable.
One of the most powerful characters in the film is the island itself. Notwithstanding Marianne’s luxurious villa, Pantelleria’s rugged and bleak landscape shouts despair and loneliness, echoed by the many refugees washing up on shore, a tragic counterpoint to what is playing out in Marianne’s villa.
Responsible for such modern classics as Fargoand The Big Lebowski, Joel and Ethan Coen need little introduction. With a handful of Oscars and over a dozen highly-praised works behind them, the Coen brothers are well-versed in crafting thoughtful, multi-layered entertainment. Sure to please Coen fans and film buffs alike is their latest endeavor, Hail, Caesar!, which premieres this weekend.
Opening in a confessional booth, Hail, Caesar!follows movie studio fixer, Eddie Mannix, over the course of a day as he navigates through problems on-set and off. On this specific day, Mannix finds himself preoccupied with tracking down film star Baird Whitlock, who has been kidnapped by a group called The Future. Mannix must round up the $100,000 ransom demanded from Whitlock’s kidnappers, all the while keeping tabloid journalists at bay, appeasing irksome actors and directors, and struggling to hide his smoking habit from his wife.
Mannix is played by the versatile Josh Brolin, who shines here as the well-intentioned studio exec with too much on his plate. Most of the film is dominated by Brolin, who pulls off his character with aplomb. Playing the rather daft Baird Whitlock is George Clooney, who spends much of the movie in wide-eyed bewilderment. Despite Clooney’s decent acting chops, it’s grating to see so much screen time devoted to one of Hollywood’s most overexposed actors.
It would have been far more gratifying to see more of the sweetly charming Hobie Doyle, played by Beautiful Creatures actor Alden Ehrenreich, or the hilarious director Laurence Laurentz, played by the affable Ralph Fiennes. Channing Tatum—who can’t seem to abandon his dancing roots, even here—is perfect as Burt Gurney, as is Tilda Swinton, who plays twin columnists Thora and Thessaly Thacker. Other notable, but brief, appearances include Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, and Jonah Hill.
In addition to an excellent cast, Hail, Caesar! features stellar cinematography. With much humor and flair, Hail, Caesar! pays homage to Hollywood’s golden era, relying on the movie-within-a-movie format to recall the glitz and glamour of yesteryear. Indeed, the movie touches on film noir, and has many tightly choreographed, colorful scenes that are reminiscent of classic musicals. Though the movie-within-a-movie adds a lot of visual impact and interest, it does feel like the overall plotline gets a bit muddled as a result, which isn’t helped by the multiple storylines happening throughout the film.
An amalgamation of quirk and slapstick, Hail, Caesar! also feels like esoteric comedy at times. There are plenty of laughs to be had, yet some audiences might find themselves alienated from the humor. Though the Coen brothers manage to pull it off, some of the plotlines are also admittedly absurd. Though ambitious, the movie veers away from the mainstream perhaps too much to be embraced by broader audiences. Ultimately, however, Hail, Caesar! offers mild, light-hearted entertainment that is a refreshing reprieve from the perfunctory noise and excess offered by standard big-budget pictures currently in cinemas.
Hail, Caesar! opens nationwide on Friday, February 5, 2016.