Rachel McAdams

Doctor Strange (2016, Scott Derrickson)

The only particularly bad thing in Doctor Strange is the music. Michael Giacchino strikes again with a bland “action fantasy” score. The score feels omnipresent; I’m not sure if it really is booming all throughout the film or if I was just constantly dreading its return.

Dread is something in short supply in Doctor Strange. The film opens with Mads Mikkelsen’s ponytailed bad guy doing some visually dynamic magic. The world becomes a moving M.C. Escher piece, with lots of tessellation. While visually dynamic, these magical reconfigurations of the world don’t affect regular people and don’t really change the fight scenes much. The reconfigurations happen aside from the principals’ actions. Most of that action is white people doing questionable kung fu fighting with magic assists.

Director Derrickson embraces the long shot and the extreme long shot to do his action. The camera’s never close enough to reveal whether Tilda Swinton really did all her kung fu fighting. She definitely did her melodrama scene though. It’s a special thing, a melodramatic scene in Strange, the film utterly avoids using them. Lead Benedict Cumberbatch’s character development is done without them. Sure, when he’s despondent over his injured hands after a car crash, there’s a little melodrama. But not once he starts his journey.

Cumberbatch gives up on conventional medicine–he was the only surgeon good enough to fix his hands–and heads to the Far East. He’s looking for a magical fix. He finds it with Swinton and company. Swinton’s the leader, a near immortal sorcerer with a shaved head. Chiwetel Ejiofor is her main lackey. He gets the job of training Cumberbatch when the movie takes time for a training scene. Until Cumberbatch gets the magic; after he gets the magic, he’s got all the magic. No one seems to notice he goes from novice to sorcerer supreme in three minutes.

They’re too busy trying to save the world. Jon Spaihts, Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill’s script is long on exposition, short on thoughtful plotting, even shorter on character development. Ejiofor gets it the worst. He’s in the movie more than anyone else in the supporting cast, but he never gets a character. Not until the third act and then it’s just a contrivance.

Rachel McAdams is in the movie less than Ejiofor, with a lousy part. The screenwriters seem to think Cumberbatch needs a romantic interest of some sort. She doesn’t have anything going on besides doting on Cumberbatch, whether she likes it or not.

Many of the performances improve over time. Swinton’s far better later on than at the beginning. Mikkelsen is bland at the open only to end up saving the middle portion of the film. He and Cumberbatch have some banter. The banter keeps things going given the CG spectacular isn’t ever spectacular when it needs to be. Cumberbatch, for instance, is only ever a passive party when not doing CG spectacular by himself.

Eventually Cumberbatch starts getting into ghost fights. Fighting when a ghost on the spirit plane. The ghost fights are simultaneously well-executed–something of a surprise as Derrickson and photographer Ben Davis don’t seem to care at all about the CG compositing being weak–and boring. The visual concept for the astral plane kung fu fights is good. The special effects realize it perfectly well. Derrickson just can’t direct fight scenes. So the scenes get old fast. Especially when they’re distracting from Mikkelsen.

Mikkselen’s essential for keeping it going in the second act. He and Cumberbatch’s banter has more character development for Cumberbatch than his entire mystical training.

Cumberbatch is entirely bland in the lead. He’s more believable opening portals to mystical dimensions and having showdowns with ancient intergalactic evil beings (who look a like the MCP from Tron, only without any enthusiasm in CG) than he is being the world’s best surgeon, who also knows more seventies music trivia than anyone else. His voice is flat and without affect; he’s trying not to lose his American accent. Unfortunately, it affects his performance.

It’s unlikely McAdams and Cumberbatch are going to have any emotionally effective scenes, but at least if Cumberbatch were concentrating on responding to her lines and not making sure he never sounds British… well, it might have helped. Both actors are completely professional opposite one another, but there’s zero chemistry. Wouldn’t really matter if there were any chemistry, as McAdams is only around for medical emergencies.

The film moves well once it gets to the second act. Cumberbatch moping is a little much; his performance doesn’t have any nuance. Maybe it did on set, but if so, Derrickson goes out of his way not to shoot it. Long shots, extreme long shots, bad expository summary sequences. Derrickson plays it completely safe. Even when Doctor Strange gets visually fantastic, Derrickson rushes it along so there’s not time to regard that fantastic.

Anyway, once Cumberbatch starts doing magic, it picks up. Then he runs into Mikkelsen and the film improves big time. Of course, then the third act is a mess and Mikkelsen’s villain level gets downgraded. The action finish is also contrived in just a way to keep Derrickson from having to direct anything too complicated. His action is like watching a video game cut scene. One where you aren’t worried about any of the characters being in danger.

And the cape stuff is good (Cumberbatch gets a magic cape once he’s a wizard). And Cumberbatch and Benedict Wong are almost good together.

Doctor Strange’s lack of ambitions, narrative or visual, hurt it. But the script and Derrickson’s disinterest in his actors hurt it more. Still, it’s usually entertaining. It could definitely have been worse. Cumberbatch’s lack of personality probably helps Doctor Strange. The film wouldn’t know what to do with any.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Scott Derrickson; screenplay by Jon Spaihts, Derrickson, and C. Robert Cargill, based on the comic book by Stan Lee and Steve Ditko; director of photography, Ben Davis; edited by Sabrina Plisco and Wyatt Smith; music by Michael Giacchino; production designer, Charles Wood; produced by Kevin Feige; released by Walt Disney Pictures.

Starring Benedict Cumberbatch (Dr. Stephen Strange), Mads Mikkelsen (Kaecilius), Tilda Swinton (The Ancient One), Chiwetel Ejiofor (Mordo), Rachel McAdams (Christine Palmer), and Benedict Wong (Wong).


Passion (2012, Brian De Palma)

Moody lightning, false endings, a Pino Donaggio score–Passion is De Palma’s return to his overcooked Hitchcock homages and a gleeful one. More, De Palma’s aware of its place in his filmography–the film opens with a playful piece of music from Donaggio, preparing the audience for a pitch black comedy. And, for a long while–even through some unexpected developments–De Palma lets that impression continue.

Most of the film is Rachel McAdams behaving badly. She alternately grooms and torments one of her subordinates–Noomi Rapace–which soon sets the two women against each other. Throw in a shared love interest (Paul Anderson) and Rapace’s admiring assistant (Karoline Herfurth) and De Palma has his lurid setup.

There’s also the setting–Passion takes place in Germany, apparently. It’s unclear and just European for a while, but then a lot of the cast starts speaking German, just not the leads. And then all of a sudden Rapace starts speaking it and the setting is just another thing De Palma didn’t make clear for the audience.

The last third of the film is De Palma daring the audience to guess how he’s messing with them. Even when he makes things completely clear, he’s only doing it to further twist things.

Passion has good acting from Rapace and McAdams and De Palma is having a great time. His only ambition–besides giving his actors good scenes–is toying with the audience. Great editing from François Gédigier.

It’s far better than it should be.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Brian De Palma; screenplay by De Palma and Natalie Carter, based on a film written by Carter and Alain Corneau; director of photography, José Luis Alcaine; edited by François Gédigier; music by Pino Donaggio; production designer, Cornelia Ott; produced by Saïd Ben Saïd; released by ARP Sélection.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Christine Stanford), Noomi Rapace (Isabelle James), Karoline Herfurth (Dani), Paul Anderson (Dirk Harriman), Rainer Bock (Inspector Bach), Benjamin Sadler (Prosecutor), Michael Rotschopf (Isabelle’s Lawyer), Max Urlacher (Jack) and Dominic Raacke (J.J. Koch).


Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows (2011, Guy Ritchie)

I think Guy Ritchie has to be the last blockbuster director who still likes bullet time. Sherlock Holmes: A Game of Shadows has so much bullet time, one would think it’s from the late nineties. Sometimes Ritchie uses it pointlessly–there are some fight scenes with it and it doesn’t work so well. In contrast, Ritchie also does an action sequence in profile without bullet time and it works much better.

The one time the bullet time is awesome is when Robert Downey Jr. and Jude Law (and their gypsy sidekicks) are on the run from some mechanized artillery. Ritchie and his effects people show the weapons working in (digitized) close detail, then zooming back (digitally) to show their effect. Sherlock is supposed to be a blockbuster… not sure having some amazing realization of historical weapons–for a limited audience–is the way to go.

The film’s a very long two hours. The story itself doesn’t fully get moving until about forty minutes into the picture, when Downey first meets arch villain Jared Harris. It gets boring at times, even showing signs subplots got the axe, but it’s always amiable.

Downey’s excellent, Law’s funny and Ritchie, except indulging a little much, does all right.

Noomi Rapace is nothing special as their sidekick, but Stephen Fry’s hilarious in a smaller role and Rachel McAdams is pleasant. Paul Anderson does well as another villain.

Once again, against the odds (and itself) a Sherlock outing proves to be a diverting motion picture experience.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Ritchie; screenplay by Michele Mulroney and Kieran Mulroney, based on characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by James Herbert; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; produced by Joel Silver, Lionel Wigram, Susan Downey and Dan Lin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Noomi Rapace (Madam Simza Heron), Jared Harris (Professor James Moriarty), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Kelly Reilly (Mary Watson), Stephen Fry (Mycroft Holmes), Paul Anderson (Colonel Sebastian Moran), Thierry Neuvic (Claude Ravache), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson) and Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler).


Midnight in Paris (2011, Woody Allen)

Midnight in Paris is one of Allen’s single stroke films. There are some painters in it, so using the paint stroke metaphor works rather nicely. The film’s about one thing; it’s about Owen Wilson’s Hollywood screenwriter who wants to be a novelist learning to take an active role in his life. There’s a lot going on around him—a whole lot, but it slowly becomes clear that one aspect is the salient one.

In the film, Allen continues to search for his perfect stand-in and Wilson does a good job. It’s hard to say how much of Wilson’s personal situation plays into the perception of him as mildly tragic, though it’s always present. Probably doesn’t hurt he wrote some great scripts too.

The film has its quietly profound moments, nothing too neon. There are a lot of literary references, some art ones, a couple film ones. It helps if one knows them. Allen is enjoying himself and not worrying too much about anything else. The subject matter is one he’s interested in and doesn’t care if the audience can’t keep up. It’s closer to his absurdist seventies comedies than anything has been for a while in that way.

And he gets an absolutely amazing performance from Michael Sheen. Also great is Adrien Brody in his one scene.

Marion Cotillard, Kathy Bates and Corey Stoll are all good. Rachel McAdams has too little to do, but does it well.

With Darius Khondji’s luscious photography, it’s a wondrously self-indulgent feast.

4/4★★★★

CREDITS

Written and directed by Woody Allen; director of photography, Darius Khondji; edited by Alisa Lepselter; production designer, Anne Seibel; produced by Letty Aronson, Jaume Roures and Stephen Tenenbaum; released by Sony Pictures Classics.

Starring Owen Wilson (Gil), Rachel McAdams (Inez), Marion Cotillard (Adriana), Michael Sheen (Paul), Corey Stoll (Hemingway), Kurt Fuller (John), Mimi Kennedy (Helen), Carla Bruni (Museum Guide), Kathy Bates (Gertrude Stein), Tom Hiddleston (Scott), Alison Pill (Zelda), Marcial Di Fonzo Bo (Pablo) and Adrien Brody (Dali).


Morning Glory (2010, Roger Michell)

It’s been a long time since I’ve seen a good “Hollywood” New York comedy, even longer since I’ve seen a great one.

Morning Glory is a good one. Though, at times, it reminds of a great one—I’m not sure if David Arnold’s score, which is lovely on its own, is supposed to remind of Sabrina, but with Harrison Ford walking around Manhattan… it’s hard not to think of it.

Since he’s lost the luster of superstardom, Ford has actually become an exceptionally interesting actor. His performance in Morning Glory is easily his funniest (he plays an egotistical news anchor) and it’s unlikely anyone but Ford could have made the role work.

But for Ford to work, Rachel McAdams has to work too, because all of Ford’s scenes are with her. McAdams does a fine job here—it helps the film is incredibly well-cast. From John Pankow as her sidekick (the two are fantastic together… McAdams works well with other actors), Diane Keaton (it’s a shock how little she has to do here, but she’s great), Jeff Goldblum (similar to Keaton, but he’s not third-billed), and Patrick Wilson (who’s excellent as the love interest).

Reading over that paragraph, it seems like I’m not giving McAdams enough credit—she really is good. The film couldn’t work without her.

Michell shoots Morning Glory in Panavision; he and cinematographer Alwin H. Kuchler know how to use it. It looks fantastic.

The only problem is the soundtrack—modern pop songs are weak.

3/4★★★

CREDITS

Directed by Roger Michell; written by Aline Brosh McKenna; director of photography, Alwin H. Kuchler; edited by Daniel Farrell, Nick Moore and Steven Weisberg; music by David Arnold; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by J.J. Abrams and Bryan Burk; released by Paramount Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Becky Fuller), Harrison Ford (Mike Pomeroy), Diane Keaton (Colleen Peck), Patrick Wilson (Adam Bennett), John Pankow (Lenny Bergman), Jeff Goldblum (Jerry Barnes) and Ty Burrell (Paul McVee).


Sherlock Holmes (2009, Guy Ritchie)

Ok, so… is Robert Downey Jr. ever going to be in a serious movie again? He’s the new Johnny Depp (serious indie actor turned blockbuster star for hire). Anyway. Sherlock Holmes.

Let’s see. Guy Ritchie can direct. Who knew? Maybe he just needed Joel Silver to rein him in. Good Hans Zimmer music. Good Jude Law sidekick performance. Awful Rachel McAdams (I really wish they’d killed her off so she couldn’t come back). Mark Strong is one of the worst villain “heavies” I’ve ever seen. Love how he’s dressed like a Nazi with a Nazi hairdo and a plan to invade the States. But whatever, one doesn’t see Sherlock Holmes for the script (not when the script gives Strong’s bastard character a lordship).

Unfortunately, Downey’s performance, while engaging and charismatic, is really nothing more than an athletic aping of Jeremy Brett’s Holmes and Downey’s own Chaplin (for the accent). There’s never a moment one doesn’t think a British actor couldn’t have done a superior job.

The film’s pretty simple to describe: it’s a well-produced League of Extraordinary Gentlemen. It’s also directly informed by “House,” which is inspired by Holmes‘s source material. It’s exceptionally unoriginal in its relationship between Downey and Law, but all the writing is pretty lame so it doesn’t matter much.

It’s a fine non-summer blockbuster. It discourages any intellectual involvement, it has a decent, “I hope there’s a sequel” ending. Too bad Downey’s become such a boring actor.

Hopefully it’ll get people to see Chaplin.

1.5/4★½

CREDITS

Directed by Guy Ritchie; written by Michael Robert Johnson, Anthony Peckham and Simon Kinberg, based on a story by Johnson and Lionel Wigram and characters created by Arthur Conan Doyle; director of photography, Philippe Rousselot; edited by James Herbert; music by Hans Zimmer; production designer, Sarah Greenwood; produced by Wigram, Joel Silver, Susan Downey and Dan Lin; released by Warner Bros.

Starring Robert Downey Jr. (Sherlock Holmes), Jude Law (Dr. John Watson), Rachel McAdams (Irene Adler), Mark Strong (Lord Blackwood), Eddie Marsan (Inspector Lestrade), Robert Maillet (Dredger), Geraldine James (Mrs. Hudson), Kelly Reilly (Mary Morstan), William Houston (Constable Clark), Hans Matheson (Lord Coward), James Fox (Sir Thomas) and William Hope (Ambassador Standish).


State of Play (2009, Kevin Macdonald)

Who has the least personality when it comes to State of Play? Director Kevin Macdonald? He shoots the most boring Panavision-sized frame I think I’ve ever seen. I’ve never seen a Brett Ratner movie from start to finish, but… Macdonald’s boring. He’s not bad, he’s just not any good at all. The lack of a distinctive screenwriter is also a problem–Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray are all hacks. I mean, they’re–at times–fine hacks, but none of them is a distinctive screenwriter. They’re the kind of guys Carrie Fisher comes in to fix up and, watching State of Play, one can’t help but think she rewrote the scenes between Russell Crowe and Robin Wright.

But it’s not just the behind-the-camera talent… no one in front of the camera has any personality either. I mean, Helen Mirren does because she occasionally swears with her British accent. It’s The Queen swearing; laugh. And the audience does laugh, because it’s why she’s swearing. For comic relief. State of Play is a newspaper drama in the post-newspaper age, which means lots of derogatory blog comments. But, you know what? It doesn’t provide a useful defense of printed media. There’s nothing, after all the film’s emphasis on Crowe as the traditional reporter and sidekick Rachel McAdams as the blogger, to show McAdams’s blog couldn’t have done all the narrative’s whistle-blowing.

McAdams and Crowe are both fine. Really, they’re fine. I mean, they have all the personality of a “Tonight Show” guest and it’s like the film’s producers didn’t understand Crowe is an actor, not a screen presence, so casting him in a lousy role, one needing a presence, was a bad idea. McAdams is the same situation. She has no character and no personality. For the majority of the film, State of Play relies on Mirren for relief. Sometimes, it’s Wright. She’s been doing these crappy wife roles for ten years, so it’s no surprise she doesn’t break a sweat doing another one, even one where she’s supposedly married to Ben Affleck.

Ben Affleck is, at the time of this film’s release, thirty-seven years old. Russell Crowe is forty-five. Robin Wright is forty-three. Crowe and Wright look fine together. State of Play puts Affleck in a bunch of aging make-up. He looks silly. It’s unbelievable he, Crowe and Wright went to college together. It’s unbelievable he and Crowe ever knew each other before the film’s present action. Affleck and Wright are both solid enough to make their marriage, however silly-looking thanks to Affleck’s make-up, work.

Affleck gives the film’s second best performance, after Mirren. Then, I guess, Wright. Then everyone else. They really don’t matter. Andy Garcia would have been far superior in the Crowe role. Anyone with some kind of non-character-based screen presence. Russell Crowe’s an actor, not a matinee star. State of Play needed a matinee star.

Originally, it was going to be Brad Pitt in the Crowe role and Edward Norton in the Affleck role. With them, the film would have at least made sense. It wouldn’t have been good unless Macdonald was gone and the script got a rewrite from a real writer.

Wait, I forgot about Jason Bateman. He gave the film’s best performance. He was fantastic.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Kevin Macdonald; written by Matthew Michael Carnahan, Tony Gilroy and Billy Ray, based on the television series by Paul Abbott; director of photography, Rodrigo Prieto; edited by Justine Wright; music by Alex Heffes; production designer, Mark Friedberg; produced by Andrew Hauptman, Eric Fellner and Tim Bevan; released by Universal Pictures.

Starring Russell Crowe (Cal McAffrey), Ben Affleck (Stephen Collins), Rachel McAdams (Della Frye), Helen Mirren (Cameron Lynne), Robin Wright (Anne Collins), Jason Bateman (Dominic Foy), Jeff Daniels (Rep. George Fergus), Michael Berresse (Robert Bingham), Harry Lennix (Det. Donald Bell), Josh Mostel (Pete), Michael Weston (Hank), Barry Shabaka Henley (Gene Stavitz) and Viola Davis (Dr. Judith Franklin).


Red Eye (2005, Wes Craven)

The saddest thing about Red Eye is Wes Craven. The film opens with an action movie build-up montage, which he handles fine (for what it is), moves into an Airport movie, which he handles fine, turns into an actor-based thriller, which he handles fine. What doesn’t he handle fine? What does he handle so poorly I’m asking rhetorical questions? The slasher movie chase through the house scene in the last act. To be fair, the script completely falls apart in the third act too, when the immediate action and the abstract catch up with each other, but still… Wes Craven has probably directed ten movies with these scenes, most with multiple instances, and he can’t do it here? For lower budget Hollywood film, Red Eye has a lot of gloss and it really, really doesn’t serve Craven in those last minutes. I kept wondering, actually, if Red Eye were originally intended to be Scream 4 (hell, it would have been better if it had been) and if Rachel McAdams was just a stand-in for Neve Campbell.

What surprised me, in a good way, was how well Craven handled McAdams, even after she turned into Ellen Ripley. I kept thinking he did a lot of female heroines, then remembered I was thinking of someone else. McAdams is solid throughout, even during the misfired last act, but it’s really nice at the beginning when she and Cillian Murphy are bantering. The biggest problem with the last act is it disregards the chemistry between the characters. They start doing unbelievable things in the way they act towards each other and then Murphy loses the ability to speak… All the suspense is also flushed after a certain point and Craven tries to carry the thing on his handling of the house chase, which is ass. During the majority of the film, it looked like Craven had a real talent for picking projects he could bring a flare to without dousing in Craven-muck. Then the end submerges the whole thing in it.

The film’s also got some politics problems. Even if I was the type of person to have sympathy for a Homeland Security director with the rhetoric of Joseph Goebbels, the movie doesn’t properly present the character (played by Jack Scalia, looking grateful to get the job). He’s not a believable target, it’s not a believable situation, so whenever that aspect comes up, it’s best ignored. There’s good stuff going on for a while, so it can be ignored… until the end. When there’s a CG rocket and Wes Craven’s inability to direct an action scene becomes painfully clear.

Like I said, McAdams is fine. Likable, appealing–in the situation. She doesn’t make the character likable, but that inability could very well be because the script hinges on the character’s secret… (It’d been better if she’d been a ghost. Or Sidney from Scream). Murphy’s great, having a lot of fun during the majority of the film until the script crashes. Brian Cox is apparently saying yes to every single script someone sends him. He’s hamming it up, but he’s decent at hamming, so whatever. If it’d been a real performance, the movie might have been a little better but not really.

Oh, jeez, I just realized… McAdams really isn’t stronger than Murphy in the end. Damn. I totally should have run with it. There’s a whole male vs. female thing running through it and it’s her dad who saves her, which is even worse than my standard example, John Carpenter’s Someone’s Watching Me!, when fate intervenes.

But, really, whatever.

1/4

CREDITS

Directed by Wes Craven; written by Carl Ellsworth, based on a story by Ellsworth and Dan Foos; director of photography, Robert D. Yeoman; edited by Patrick Lussier and Stuart Levy; music by Marco Beltrami; production designer, Bruce Alan Miller; produced by Chris Bender and Marianne Maddalena; released by DreamWorks Pictures.

Starring Rachel McAdams (Lisa Reisert), Cillian Murphy (Jackson Rippner), Brian Cox (Joe Reisert), Jayma Mays (Cynthia) and Jack Scalia (Charles Keefe).


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