Ep. 91 – Doctor Strange, MondoCon/RiffTrax Live recap, and a preview of our next Cinema On Tap screening

November 7, 2016 by  
Filed under Podcast

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This week on The CineSnob Podcast, Cody and Jerrod review Doctor Strange, recap MondoCon 3 and RiffTrax Live: Carnival of Souls, and preview our next Cinema On Tap screening at Big Hops Huebner.

[00:00-35:07] Intro/MondoCon/RiffTrax Live recap

[35:07-52:54] Review: Doctor Strange

[52:54-1:03:58]Wrap up/tease

Click here to download the episode!

Doctor Strange

November 4, 2016 by  
Filed under Jerrod, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Tilda Swinton, Chiwitel Ejiofor
Directed by: Scott Derrickson (“Sinister”)
Written by: Jon Spaihts (“Prometheus”), Scott Derrickson (“The Exorcism of Emily Rose”) and C. Robert Cargill (“Sinister”)

At 14 movies in, Marvel Studios’ cinematic universe is humming along rather well. After two lackluster releases in “Avengers: Age of Ultron” and “Ant-Man” in 2015, the studio stormed back this year with the certifiably-fantastic “Captain America: Civil War” and vanquished its longtime rival DC Comics in the battle for critical acclaim, because no one really liked “Batman v. Superman” or “Suicide Squad” all that much, volume of Harley Quinn Halloween costumes notwithstanding.

Anyway, here we are at “Doctor Strange,” Marvel’s latest effort in its (so-far) successful attempt to expand their theatrical bench using superheroes not quite as known to the general public. Doctor Strange, created by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko, is quickly explained as a mustachioed sorcerer with a high-collared cape and a giant amulet around his neck. Hardly Halloween costume material.

We begin quickly with a look at Dr. Stephen Strange (Benedict Cumberbatch), a hot-shot, egotistical surgeon bearing more than a passing resemblance to Robert Downey Jr.’s Tony Stark whose career is put in jeopardy after a high-speed, distracted driving Lamborghini crash leaves him without the use of his hands. After exhausting the limits of medical science and the patience of his on-again/off-again girlfriend Christine (Rachel McAdams), Strange travels to Nepal to solicit help from The Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), who isn’t some sort of faith healer but a sorcerer supreme. She offers to teach him the ways of sorcery to win back the ability to use his hands—oh, and maybe fight in an impending magical war, to boot.

The film seems to know it has a lot of ground to cover to get Strange from surgeon to sorcerer, and as a result the first half of “Doctor Strange” at times feels equal parts plodding and hasty. This is, after all, another origin story, and this far in, the setup portions of these films start to feel longer and longer. The movie perks up, though, when it finally gives way to a special effects bonanza, starting with a sentient cape reminiscent of Aladdin’s magic carpet and continuing on to a kaleidoscopic, geometric rearranging of the New York City skyline and a climax that plays with the passage of time in clever, head-tripping ways. Even as the most self-contained Marvel movie since “Guardians of the Galaxy,” “Doctor Strange” is careful to toss in references to the Avengers, its own Infinity Stone, and the assurance that, of course, Doctor Strange will return.

Black Mass

September 19, 2015 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Johnny Depp, Joel Edgerton, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Scott Cooper (“Out of the Furnace”)
Written by: Jez Butterworth (“Get on Up”) and Mark Mallouk (debut)

As fascinating as the true life story is of one James “Whitey” Bulger, a South Boston criminal-turned-FBI informant (see a better albeit still flawed retelling of it in Joe Berlinger’s documentary “Whitey: United States of America V. James J. Bulger”), one might imagine the intense nature of the narrative pouring out of every scene in “Black Mass.” Alas, what audiences receive is a worthy attempt at a gangster movie that sort of dissolves from memory once you leave the theater. It’s a couple of steps up from Johnny Depp’s last crime biopic “Public Enemies,” where he plays pretty-boy John Dillinger, but still far from anything in the realm of greatness.

With that said, “Black Mass” isn’t a failure by any means. While it doesn’t entirely succeed in transforming Depp’s Bulger into evil incarnate, it is Depp’s vigor and commitment to the more terrifying traits Bulger possesses that keep the film from flat-lining halfway in. Let’s face it. As an A-list actor, Depp makes more bad choices in roles than most. Fault his ambition to try something totally different from anything he’s done before or fault a slew of underwritten scripts he’s been given, but Depp is the kind of actor that seems to be intrigued only by a character’s surface qualities. With a character as complex as Bulger, however, there is a lot more to explore even when the screenplay meanders into territory that never factors into who he is as a person.

Along with Depp, there are some other noteworthy performances, specifically from an underutilized Peter Sarsgaard and Julianne Nicholson. Basically, everyone not named Depp or Joel Edgerton is shortchanged, which is why any emotional connection between Bolger and other characters feels incomplete. It’s especially true with actor Benedict Cumberbatch, who plays William Bolger, Whitey’s brother and the President of the Massachusetts State Senate. Why screenwriters Jez Butterworth and Mark Mallouk treat this relationship like a mere blip on the radar doesn’t make much sense.

Still, this is Depp’s movie and he has just enough material to do some interesting things with the character. It’s just unfortunate that no one else was given the same attention. If they had, “Black Mass” might’ve cut deeper.

The Imitation Game

December 25, 2014 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Keira Knightely, Matthew Goode
Directed by: Morten Tyldum (“Headhunters”)
Written by: Graham Moore (debut)

In the late 1930s and early 1940s, mathematician and cryptanalyst Alan Turing (Benedict Cumberbatch) was hired to decrypt German messages thought to be unbreakable called Enigma. As his team of analysts fights him along the way, Turing carries out the construction of a machine that can theoretically crack any code. “The Imitation Game” tells the story of Turing and his team and their tireless work to help the allied forces win WWII.

“The Imitation Game” serves, first and foremost, as a showcase for Cumberbatch who is absolutely fantastic as Turing. Anyone who watches his role as Sherlock Holmes on the BBC show “Sherlock” will find the more “Asperger’s” type personality quirks familiar, yet Cumberbatch also plays Turing with an outstandingly unique speech pattern and sense of wanting to be the smartest person in the room. Consider him a lock for a Best Actor nomination at the upcoming Academy Awards. The performance slightly overshadows that of his female counterpart Joan Clarke played by Keira Knightley, who is good in her own right, but never quite measures up to the powerhouse performance of Cumberbatch.

One thing that “The Imitation Game” has going for it is the element of having a lesser known, yet extremely intriguing story set in the World War II landscape. As the details unfurl, it is often mesmerizing to see Turing and his team uncover new ideas to try and break the unbreakable, all amplified by a fantastic and fitting score from Alexandre Desplat. Turing’s social interactions provide the film with most of its comic relief, mostly at the expense of Turing being off-putting, often times unknowingly. It is also extremely satisfying to watch Turing go up against foes and equal minds, both amongst his team and with his higher ups (particularly with a very Tywin Lannistery Charles Dance and a super slick Mark Strong).

If “The Imitation Game” has any weak points, it is in Graham Moore’s script. The first half of the film, especially with the introduction to many of the characters, often come off as clunky and the films framing device and flashbacks don’t add much to the end result. Perhaps most troublesome is the way that Turing’s homosexuality is dealt with. Though it is likely that Moore and director Morten Tyldum wanted Turing’s sexual orientation to be just a part of who he was – rather than the entire story itself – the final moments of the film as well as some post-credits text hint towards some darker moments and turmoil in Turing’s life that is absent from the rest of the film. Moore and Tyldum obviously wanted this area of Turing’s life and his abominable treatment in the wake of his homosexuality to be important to the viewer. It’s a shame that it isn’t explored further and is instead mostly treated like an afterthought.

Despite some speed bumps along the way, “The Imitation Game” is an often-fascinating study into a slice of history that remained a secret for three decades. Cumberbatch is superb and carries this film with ease and a surprising amount of charm for what can be a curt character. We can only hope that the film industry can continue to unearth gems of untold stories to share with eager moviegoers.

Penguins of Madagascar

November 28, 2014 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Tom McGrath, Chris Miller, John Malkovich
Directed by: Eric Darnell (“Madagascar”) and Simon J. Smith (“Bee Movie”)
Written by: John Aboud (debut), Michael Colton (debut) and Brandon Sawyer (debut)

It shouldn’t be a surprise to anyone that animation studios are finding every possible angle to take to keep their most profitable franchises going for as long as they can. Over at DreamWorks Animation, the company is milking everything from their catalog with feature film sequels and animated TV shows and home videos and Christmas special of popular properties like “Shrek,” “Kung Fu Panda,” and “Monsters vs. Aliens.” Their biggest success, however, is probably from the mileage they’re getting out of their “Madagascar” stock, which first splintered into a Nickelodeon TV series featuring their penguin characters – Rico, Skipper, Kowalski and Private – in 2008.

With the animated film “Penguins of Madagascar” now at theaters, DreamWorks has proven there is no end in sight for the blossoming series and that secondary characters in major franchises have just as much to say as the characters (and just as much money to make) as those that take top billing. With the “Minions” movie coming out of Universal Pictures in July 2015, what can moviegoers expect to see as children clamor for more of their favorite sidekicks? How about a “Toy Story” spin-off featuring Mr. & Mrs. Potato Head? Or how about a “Frozen” movie where we get an origin story about those annoying stone trolls?

Whatever is next, parents will be happy to know that even though “Penguins of Madagascar” is unavoidable, it’s not unwatchable. It is, in fact, a creative way to introduce audiences to the stealthy spy penguins and their adventures without having anyone above the age of 12 who is accompanying the little ones planning their escape route from the theater before the credits rolls.

In “Penguins of Madagascar,” the fearsome foursome of flightless birds are on the trail to stop villain and geneticist Dr. Octavius Brine (voiced perfectly by John Malkovich) who is actually a purple octopus disguised as a lanky man of science. Dr. Brine (AKA Dave) has developed something he calls the Medusa serum and is set on using it to cause global havoc. We won’t ruin what the serum actually does since that happens in the third act, but it’s reminiscent of what happens to our friends the Minions in “Despicable Me 2.” Helping out the penguins on their mission is another group of spies called the North Wind, made up of a team of international agents, who also happen to be animals.

While the spy roster gets a bit diluted with the number of members on the team, there are enough exciting moments and homages to the spy genre that, while familiar, are enjoyable, especially when it’s the penguins who are giving most of the tactical support to save the day. “Penguins of Madagascar” isn’t very inspired filmmaking, but with Malkovich’s voice work and our arctic heroes leading the way, it’s harmless fun.

12 Years a Slave

November 1, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko, Reviews

Starring: Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: Steve McQueen (“Shame”)
Written by: John Ridley (“Red Tails”)

Already considered by many to be the frontrunner for a Best Picture Oscar in March, Steve McQueen’s harrowing pre-Civil War narrative “12 Years a Slave” definitely has all the elements voters usually look for when designating a top-tier film. From its significant subject matter to McQueen’s fine direction to a script that pits man’s brutal nature against the persevering human spirit, “12 Years” has a lot going for it as we enter the start of awards season.  Lest we forget a handful of performances (specifically from Chiwetel Ejiofor, Michael Fassbender and newcomer Lupita Nyong’o) that can possibly garner each of them their own accolades at the end of the year.

Set in the antebellum U.S., “12 Years” tells the story of Solomon Northup (Ejiofor), a free black man living in upstate New York who is kidnapped, sold into slavery in the American South and kept imprisoned for 12 years before he is able to find his freedom. Most of the story covers the time Solomon spends under the confinement of Edwin Epps (Fassbender), a cruel slave driver who purchases him after his former, and less heartless, slave owner Ford (Benedict Cumberbatch) informs him that he can no longer guarantee his safety. While working at Epps’ plantation, Solomon suffers immensely through vicious beatings and abuse, but does everything he can to survive in hopes of one day reuniting with his wife and children.

Adapted from Solomon’s 1853 memoir of the same name, “12 Years” is certain to be compared to the 1977 award-winning TV miniseries “Roots” starring LeVar Burton and Louis Gossett, Jr. because of the historical similarities. However, Solomon is a different man compared to Burton’s Kunta Kinte. Solomon knows what freedom tastes like, so when it is taken from him, the effects seem even more devastating. That’s not to say Kunta had it any better, of course, but Solomon had build a life for himself and his family. Kunta, who was taken from Africa as a teenager, becomes a slave first and then a man; for Solomon, it’s the opposite.

While much of the attention will be paid to the brutality of the film, McQueen avoids “12 Years” becoming sensationalized in any way. The violence is there without a doubt, but McQueen is able to balance it well with the strongly written characterizations shared by Solomon and some of the other slaves he meets during his time on the plantation. One of these women is Patsey (Nyong’o), a highly skilled cotton picker who draws the unwanted attention of Master Epps much to the dismay of Epps’ equally merciless wife (Sarah Paulson). The entire film is, at times, is difficult to watch, but it is during Solomon’s years with Edwin which break him down into something he never imagined he could become and, in turn, will make audiences recoil at the sheer hatred humankind had to endure.

“12 Years” is extremely powerful and should be considered essential viewing for everyone. The problem, however, comes from the fact that it feels less epic in scope than it should for a film of its caliber. The timelines are vague and by the end of the picture, when Solomon is set free, it is less emotionally gratifying that it should be. It might’ve been presumptuous to hope for an ending like “The Color Purple,” where each scene builds to a grand reunion, but there’s much less of that here. Add to that some dialogue from secondary characters that is delivered more like the actors are on stage than in front of a camera, and a not-so-fitting cameo by Brad Pitt (you can’t help but only see Brad Pitt in a beard), and “12 Years a Slave” deserves less praise than it’s currently receiving, but is still as raw and real as anything to hit theaters in recent memory.

The Fifth Estate

October 18, 2013 by  
Filed under Cody, Reviews

Starring: Benedict Cumberbatch, Daniel Bruhl, Anthony Mackie
Directed by: Bill Condon (“The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn Parts 1 and 2”)
Written by: Josh Singer (debut)

WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange has been no stranger to the spotlight in recent years. Seizing seemingly every opportunity he has to strip away the layers of secrecy from some of the world’s most powerful institutions, Assange has, for better or worse, personally embodied WikiLeaks’ truth-telling mission. Though the saga is still very much ongoing, Hollywood has churned out a dramatization of the birth, growth, and prominence of Wikileaks and its eccentric founder in “The Fifth Estate.”

With an agenda of releasing the world’s most tightly guarded secrets, computer hacker Julian Assange (Benedict Cumberbatch) forms WikiLeaks, a website which anonymous whistleblowers can upload information and reveal dark truths about governments and corporations to anyone who desires them. In an effort to grow, Assange teams up with Daniel Berg (Daniel Bruhl) who shares his values in the freedom of information. After years of substantial leaks, the two find themselves sitting on one of the biggest information leaks in history. From there, it’s a battle of opposing views on whether releasing sensitive information is worth the potential endangerment of the lives of thousands of people.

The character of Assange proves to be fertile ground for Cumberbatch. He absorbs the role and is by far the strongest element of the film. He commands the screen every second he appears and effectively conveys the larger-than-life persona that Assange has cultivated, all while getting details such as his voice down to perfection. Bruhl is also strong as Daniel Berg, serving as somewhat of a moral compass to the WikiLeaks mission. Unfortunately, his character is bogged down by an unsatisfying romantic plot.

“The Fifth Estate” features a rather kinetic storytelling device that is scatterbrained and unnecessarily confusing. Besides globe jumping, the narrative of Assange is regularly interrupted by the introduction of smaller storylines and characters. Further complicating things is a subpar script that most frequently finds the Assange character speaking in maxims without providing any true substance behind his insistence on the freedom of information. There is also a visual device in the film that fails in its execution where this fantastical idea of Assange running the organization by himself materializes into scenes where Assange is found behind various nameplates in a warehouse of desks.

There will undoubtedly be a lot of comparisons to another WikiLeaks film that has been released this year, Alex Gibney’s documentary “We Steal Secrets.” As another exhaustive look at Assange through the years, Gibney’s film hit its most interesting points when touching on the topics of the leaks of the U.S. military bombing of civilians by Bradley Manning (now known as Chelsea) and the subsequent Afghan War Logs, the name given to the biggest U.S. military intelligence leak to date. “The Fifth Estate” barely touches on the fascinating look at Manning and his motives, and also ignores Assange’s accusations of sexual assault, the main reason that he currently remains sequestered in the Ecuadorian Embassy in London. It is no surprise that the most engaging and riveting sections of “The Fifth Estate” come in the wake of the release of the Afghan War Logs, which makes the decision to devote such a small section of the film to it even more puzzling.

The debate on the morality and stance on WikiLeaks and the war on information is a divisive one, and one that continues to this day. Regardless of your stance, the details of the sources of the leaks are fascinating topics that this film merely glosses over. “The Fifth Estate” strives to get into the motives, ego, and eccentricities of Assange but never does. Cumberbatch is fantastic here, but those looking for true insight and the full story of Assange and WikiLeaks are better off searching out the documentary instead.

Star Trek Into Darkness

May 17, 2013 by  
Filed under Kiko

Starring: Chris Pine, Zachary Quinto, Benedict Cumberbatch
Directed by: J.J. Abrams (“Star Trek”)
Written by: Roberto Orci (“Star Trek”), Alex Kurtzman (“Star Trek”) and Damon Lindelof (“Prometheus”)

Already having given audiences the best “Mission Impossible” film of the series with the third installment in 2006 and the best “Star Trek” movie with his hip revamp in 2009, director J.J. Abrams attempts to top himself again by joining up with the Starship Enterprise in “Star Trek Into Darkness,” a solid follow-up to Abrams’ first foray into space seven years ago. It’s more proof that you don’t have to be a Klingon-speaking geekboy to find this franchise one of the more fascinating big-budget sci-fi projects to hit the mainstream in the last four or five years.

Of course, if you are one of those hardcore “Star Trek” fans that won’t be happy with the shape of Mr. Spock’s ears in comparison to Leonard Nimoy’s or looking forward to nitpicking any number of creative choices Abrams makes that are different from the original TV show, then it’s probably best if you stay home and Netflix “The Trouble with Tribbles.” This isn’t your grandfather’s “Star Trek.” For those interested in another fresh take from Abrams and have the open-mindedness to let things go, then “Into Darkness” just might be the popcorn movie of the pre-summer.

Working loosely off 1982’s “Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan,” which is what most “Star Trek” aficionados agree is the best of the original films, we join the crew of the Enterprise as they search for John Harrison (Benedict Cumberbatch), a former commander who has gone rogue. On his trail and reprising their roles from the 2009 film are Chris Pine as Capt. Kirk, who was recently relieved and then reinstated as Captain; Zachary Quinto as Mr. Spock; Zoe Saldana as Uhura; Karl Urban as Bones; Simon Pegg as Scotty; John Cho as Sulu; Anton Yelchin as Chekov; and Alice Eve as new and attractive science officer Carol Marcus. When they catch up to Harrison on a Klingon planet, the crew is shocked to learn there is more to their manhunt than simply eliminating a powerful villain.

Aside from the outstanding action sequences and set pieces that packed its predecessor, “Into Darkness” also takes an effective emotional turn with the relationship between Capt. Kirk and Mr. Spock. Kirk’s massive ego and bullheaded nature and Spock’s reluctance to break regulation frame their interaction very well. Pine and Quinto once again take command of the characters in the same way William Shatner and Nimoy did in the late 60s. Sorry, purists, but those roles are theirs now.

With today’s technology catching up to Gene Roddenberry’s creation, the universe feels even more volatile, which makes for an exciting adventure with this crew. Who knows how long Abrams will stay on board (now that he’s been dubbed to lead the new “Star Wars” movie in 2015), but he’s laid some great groundwork for a dozen more and has taken the storytelling to a place few directors have gone before.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

January 8, 2012 by  
Filed under Reviews

Starring: Gary Oldman, Colin Firth, Tom Hardy
Directed by: Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”)
Written by: Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”)

Say the words “British spy” and most moviegoers would probably picture any one of the James Bond incarnations over the last 50 years performing death-defying stunts far above the ground. Whether it’s Pierce Brosnan bungee jumping from a dam in “GoldenEye,” Roger Moore skiing off the side of the Alps in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” or Daniel Craig leaping from construction cranes in “Casino Royale,” Brit and secret agents usually go hand in hand with exaggerated entertainment.

As much as an author like Ian Fleming has engrossed fans of the spy genre with feats of flight in his Bond series, author John le Carré has captured the same interest in a more atmospheric approach with his novels centered on British intelligence officer George Smiley. Think of Smiley as the anti-Bond. In fact, the only real similarity between the two is that Smiley is about as dry as the martinis 007 frequently orders. His subtleness is evident in the most recent of le Carré’s adaptations, “Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy,” a complex and sometimes confusing Cold War thriller that might actually require a few viewings to puzzle together all of the narrative’s intricacies.

Still, if you’re familiar with any of le Carré’s work or their cinematic counterparts (search out “The Spy Who Came in from the Cold” now), his slow-boiling and meticulous storytelling is what makes his voice in the genre so distinct. Considered by many as one of the greatest British writers of espionage fiction in the 20th century, le Carré’s novels demand attention and refuse to provide easy avenues to maneuver between aggravating plot points. The sentiment couldn’t be truer than with “Tinker Tailor.” Adapting le Carre’s 1974 book (the first of what is considered “The Karla Trilogy” and one of seven works featuring the character Smiley), screenwriters Bridget O’Connor (“Sixty Six”) and Peter Straughan (“The Men Who Stare at Goats”) attempt to simplify the story without sacrificing the elaborate details that make the mystery so intriguing to solve in the first place. To some extent they’re able to play their version of the spy game (noted here as a kind of metaphorical chess board) without knocking over too many pieces.

The featured rook of this game of high-stakes chess is actor Gary Oldman (“The Dark Knight”) who plays Smiley, a retired agent of the Secret Intelligence Service (also known as “The Circus”) who is asked to covertly return to duty to expose one of his former colleagues as a Russian-planted mole rooting around at the highest levels of the SIS. Possible double agents include Bill Haydon (Colin Firth), Percy Alleline (Toby Jones), Toby Esterhase (David Dencik), and Roy Bland (Ciarán Hinds). Also in the already-crowded mix is Jim Prideaux (Mark Strong), another SIS agent sent to retrieve the identity of the mole by the head of British intelligence (John Hurt), rogue agent and whistleblower Ricki Tarr (Tom Hardy), and Peter Guillam (Benedict Cumberbatch), Smiley’s inside man delegated to sift through file cabinets when no one’s watching.

Directed by Swedish filmmaker Tomas Alfredson (“Let the Right One In”), “Tinker Tailor” is far from the sprawling BBC miniseries released back in 1979 starring Oscar winner Alec Guinness (“The Bridge on the River Kwai”). Clocked at a very reasonable 127 minutes, Alfredson’s version (his first English-language film) is most satisfying when we witness – through flashbacks – the evolution of a once powerful foreign intelligence agency into the equivalent of a whispery sewing circle. The contrast between old guard and new guard principles is a frightening look at how corruption is able to snake its way into even the most secured venues. The emotional aspects of these events do tend to have an impersonal bitterness to them, but it’s a fine complement to the bleak Cold War-inspired world Alfredson has set his players in. The emphasis on the grim atmosphere is made even more significant through the technical aspects of the film. Credit production designer Maria Djurkovic (“The Hours”) and cinematographer Hoyte Van Hoytema (“The Fighter”) for turning 1970s London into a place even the sleaziest spies wouldn’t want to wander.