What’s the Big Deal with Benedict?

 

BC

 

I really (really, really, really) like Benedict Cumberbatch. Like so many legions of screaming, rabid fangirls, I consider myself a Cumberbitch. Or a member of the Cumbercollective. Or a Benaddict/Cumbertadpole/Cumbercookie/Cumberperson – whatever the current vernacular permits.

Whether you’re a Cumberbabe or not, there is no denying that he has taken the world by storm. With roles in five high-profile movies this year alone, Benedict Cumberbatch is seeing his stock as an actor rise even more quickly than his newfound status as a sex symbol. Which is definitely saying something – whether they are tailing him around the world to watch a 10 minute stint on a talk show, queuing for hours to catch a glimpse of him at a film festival, or gathering in the thousands to greet him at the airport – the actor’s fans are both widespread and highly dedicated. He is the object of a whole other class of fandom so reminiscent of the likes of Beatlemania and Bieber Fever that it has garnered its own name: Cumbermania.

But why? Benedict Cumberbatch certainly receives much attention for his remarkable acting skills, but there is something particularly unique about him that drives his fans wild. With his oddly angular face, unruly mop of Sherlockian curls and geeky demeanor, he is far from your run-of-the-mill heartthrob. So really, what’s the big deal with Benedict?

REASON #1: He can act

Let’s get the easy stuff out of the way first – the man can act. Whether we’re talking about his stint on stage in Frankenstein, his breakout role as Dr. Stephen Hawking or the role in Sherlock that made him a near national hero – most people agree that Benedict Cumberbatch is very competent at his job.

Such was the case when Star Trek: Into Darkness was released. Despite a flurry of epic Abrams-esque special effects, a gorgeous cast, featuring the Ken-doll-like Chris Pine, and the equally striking Zachary Quinto, the world was fixated on Benedict Cumberbatch. His fearsome, yet layered portrayal of the villainous Khan demonstrated his signature ability to bring great depth to characters, who otherwise left in the hands of a lesser-skilled actor would seem two-dimensional and flat.

While the characters he plays are quite different – the modern, fast-talking Sherlock Holmes, the ruthless space-age villain in Star Trek: Into Darkness, or the tortured Ford Maddox Ford in Parade’s End – there is something they all have something in common: they are all exceptionally smart. Benedict Cumberbatch has made a name for himself playing brilliant, cerebral characters – but did you know that he’s also quite adept at comedy?

If you haven’t done so already, I highly recommend you give BBC Radio 4’s sitcom Cabin Pressure a listen. In the series, Cumberbatch plays the hilariously unlucky and insecure Captain Crieff – quite the divergence from his usual gigs. Whether he’s uttering lines like “The code word for the real Ouagadougou is Ouagadougou Ouagadougou!” or putting on an intentionally awful French accent, he delivers John Finnemore’s script with hilarious aplomb.

While Cabin Pressure is a personal favourite of mine, you can also catch Benedict Cumberbatch flexing his comedy chops in Starter For 10, a comedy starring James MacAvoy about a mismatched university trivia team. Once you’ve seen him as the gangly, painfully nerdy, turtleneck donned Patrick Watts, you’ll never quite look at his menacing Khan the same way again. And that’s a good thing – Cabin Pressure and Starter For 10 both showcase Benedict Cumberbatch’s great versatility as an actor, proving that he is just as comfortable in a situational comedy as he is in a drama on stage or screen.

REASON #2: He’s actually smart & fascinating in real life

It’s no coincidence why our hero is always cast as interesting and intelligent characters; he is indeed both of these things. Benedict Cumberbatch is someone who radiates intelligence, without being a know-it-all (Proof Here!). He is easily excitable and long-winded, but at the same time can be quiet and pensive (Proof Here!). He has lived a life of adventure, travel and thrills, yet covets simpler things in life, like reading, and time with his family. And, to top it off, he is all of these things without taking himself too seriously – for all his deeply profound and intelligent moments, he has many goofy and eccentric ones to make up for it (Proof Here!; Also Here!; And Here!). It would take several volumes to compile all the research I’ve done as a dedicated Cumberfan on this subject, but take it from me – Benedict Cumberbatch is a truly fascinating person, who is full of surprises.

 

REASON #3: He is not handsome. Or is he?

Benedict Cumberbatch doesn’t find himself overly handsome. While he does acknowledge some of his more attractive features, he finds his head much too large, his eyes too far apart, likening himself to and alien, or Sid the Sloth. I do agree with him – he does not have the perfectly balanced features of an Abercrombie model, and his head is disproportionately large and asymmetrical. And while the tens of thousands of “Benaddicts” would vouch for how incredibly magnetic he happens to be, most people wouldn’t have even considered the 37-year-old thespian to be anything resembling a sex symbol prior to 2010.

But somehow, he has become just that. Beating out the likes of Brad Pitt, Ryan Gosling and George Clooney, Benedict Cumberbatch topped Empire’s “100 Sexiest Film Actors” this year, after also being ranked number 1 on Glamour Magazine’s “Sexiest Actor Alive”. Evidence of his ascent from average British chap to bona fide Hollywood heartthrob is everywhere. It is impossible for him to attend any sort of public event – be it a theatre production, film festival, a reading for a BBC radio program, or a taping, without being surrounded by throngs of swooning, smitten young women. Type in “Benedict Cumberbatch” on Tumblr or Twitter, and read the thousands and thousands of fanatic captions, pictures, collages, fan art, fan fics, and gifs that lovestruck fans have posted about their paramour (admittedly, some of these might even be mine!).

Being the modest chap that he is, he bashfully deflects this sudden attention as a product of his work and the characters that he plays, as opposed to what he actually looks like. Which is partially true on one hand – Benedict Cumberbatch’s appeal is primarily rooted in his great intellect, wonderful personality and talent as an actor. Because of these traits, his odder features are often overlooked, and his more appealing features are compounded. But on the other hand, he is completely and utterly wrong about this. He is tall, lean, athletic and chiseled, with a piercing blue gaze that could floor anyone caught in it. In other words, Benedict Cumberbatch is a certified hottie!

 

REASON #4: He’s a lovely person

Despite his recent meteoric rise to fame, legions of screaming fans, and an increasingly star-studded group of friends – Benedict Cumberbatch remains as humble and grounded as the day he started acting. Watch any of his interviews, and you’ll find that he is so friendly, earnest and forthcoming that it is easy to forget how big of a star he truly is. While I do realize the folly in judging a celebrity’s character based on their outward persona alone, it is difficult to imagine that Cumberbatch’s modest charm and self-deprecating humour to be anything but genuine.

Don’t get me wrong, most respectable actors are likely very kind and respectful to their fans. But Benedict Cumberbatch – having been largely in the shadows of celebrity fame until a couple years ago – still has this wide-eyed, boyish excitement when it comes to his newfound fame. Because of this, he holds a great deal of humility about himself, and deep gratitude towards everything that has happened to him in recent years. With all the reports of celebrities being cold and distant towards the most fervent admirers, I’m all the more grateful that Benedict Cumberbatch is around.

Most of my friends (my friend the Sleepy Skunk included) scoff at my devotion to Benedict Cumberbatch, and dismiss my praise for him as a product of fangirl lust. I’ll admit, this is partially true. But yet the points I have outlined seem to be universally apparent in almost every other icon Hollywood has ever produced. A true versatile talent with a good, genuine heart is the formula a movie star needs to become timeless, and Benedict Cumberbatch truly embodies all of that. To those of you who see it, I salute you! Come visit me on Tumblr. To those of you who don’t see it, just keep keep watching. He will win you over when you least expect it.

– The Skeptical Sloth

Is There Something Wrong With Pixar?

 

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As a child growing up in the 90s, I have nothing but fond memories associated with Pixar Animation Studios. Every time a new Pixar film was about to enter its theatrical run, the collective anticipation for the iconic studio’s next installment was already palpable; each subsequent story was radically different from its predecessor and consistently kept millions of moviegoers of all ages on their toes. Perhaps it had something to do with Steve Jobs, but for the longest time everything Pixar touched was destined to turn into gold.

From feature-length films encapsulating epic adventures in alternate universes to five-minute shorts about mischievous desk lamps, each film would irrevocably go on to become both a critical and commercial success. In a time where animated movies were too often relegated to cheap pop-culture references and clichéd slapstick humor, their winning formula of unique settings, quirky characters tied together with a firm emotional core would constantly set them leagues apart from the competition.

Fast forward to present day. Monsters University – a prequel to one of their most endearing creations – is opening this Friday to moderately polite reviews (at the time of publishing, it currently holds a good but not great 71% fresh score on Rotten Tomatoes). The studio is coming off Brave and Cars 2, which many would consider to be their two least well-received films since the animation powerhouse’s inception back in 1986. After having been emotionally invested for close to two decades, the mere thought of Pixar going downhill is barely imaginable, let alone endurable. How could anyone dare think something like that? To entertain this idea seems ungrateful – almost derisive – considering all the great classics that they have offered us throughout the years.  All feelings aside, however, the question remains: Is there something wrong with Pixar?

Many critics have identified Disney as the potential culprit their recent string of disappointments – and for a good reason. During the production of Toy Story 2, John Lasseter and his uber-talented team of animators were combining all their creative efforts to provide the most satisfying sequel imaginable to their iconic first feature-length film. Sadly, as history recalls, the dictator known as Disney stepped in midway through production and demanded that they churn out a rushed, direct-to-video style sequel, which famously brought the two companies at an impasse.

Pointing fingers at Disney is all too easy – the enormous, evil media empire known for its conservative fiscal decisions vs. the “little lamp that could” that is Pixar – it all makes for the quintessential David vs. Goliath scenario. Despite that, the real underlying issue is much less romanticized and significantly more textbook. In any case of mergers and acquisitions, the corporate values and culture of the acquiring company inevitably supersede those of the other company. While it took several years for them to manifest themselves, the telltale signs of Disney’s high-turnaround, quick-profit culture were bound to become ever-present within Pixar’s yearly summer offerings.

Disney’s business model is elementary: establish a great original brand that the audience will respond to and squeeze every dollar of profit from that venture through sequels, prequels, squishy toys, cheesy decals and every cheap plastic gadget and gizmo imaginable. While this tried and tested strategy earns mounds of profit for Disney and its hungry shareholders, it comes at an arguably higher cost: a lack of creative integrity in times of crisis where making something fast, safe and cheap is at the opposite end of making something wonderful and innovative. If you’re in need of concrete examples on how Disney is starting to tarnish Pixar’s image, look no further than Disney’s Planes, a deceivingly Pixaresque production coming to grab the cash of unsuspecting parents across North American theaters this August.

Another interesting observation would be that perhaps Pixar’s decline is a misconception because it’s the non-Pixar offerings that have kept improving over the years. As far as technical sound and quality of animation, Pixar has always been the indisputable industry pioneer and leader, far surpassing the competition. Or at least, it used to be that way. For the past several years, “Non-Pixar” animated movies have been slowly encroaching on their territory, poised to challenge the artistic dominance that Pixar holds over the whole industry. As other studios have become more proficient with their animation techniques, their movies are becoming increasingly difficult to distinguish from Pixar films.

Take Dreamworks for instance – after years of churning out generic, unmemorable duds like Flushed Away, Bee Movie, and Shark Tale (to name a few), they suddenly unleashed How to Train Your Dragon – a movie that could arguably be Pixar’s first viable contender. While some of their previous efforts did showcase a strong penchant for charm and artistic detail, How to Train your Dragon was their first offering to come with the whole package. Co-directed by ex-Disney talent Chris Sanders, it felt just like a Pixar Movie – full of heart, wonder, fantasy, and equipped with stunning animation to boot. One could almost wonder if some of its cleverly-written supporting characters didn’t inspire Brave’s mediocre scenes of clumsy medieval decorum.

Perhaps it is somewhat of an overstatement to say that Pixar has literally gone downhill, but it remains difficult to dispute that they have dabbled into the pool of mediocrity. But is that really so bad? Is it unreasonable to expect their success to be 100% sustainable? In my opinion, the answer should be a resonant ‘no’. Pixar has become a pillar of unbridled imagination and youthful creativity – a cultural standard that has set the benchmark for every animated films we have today. Being in this esteemed position, it becomes nothing short of a responsibility to deliver high-integrity material.

And yet, I realize that a shadow of my younger self might be holding Pixar on a pedestal – an impossibly high standard that is overly idealistic, to which new material could never surpass regardless of how hard it tries. The hard truth is that great things never last and people – especially great talents – inevitably leave, drawn by the prospect of achieving even greater things. Fifteen straight years of magic, from Toy Story to Toy Story 3 should be considered a good run. A really, really good run.

Despite all my misgivings about Pixar’s recent performance, I remain optimistic about their imminent future at this point. Their promising new line-up has already been chalked up to be wildly daring and ambitious – a much needed beacon of hope for secretly desperate fans who have grown nostalgic of the days when the lights went dark in the theater and we were about to discover their latest classic. I can only hope that the Pixar I fell in love with (the little lamp that could) is still alive and bright; a non-complacent Pixar that doesn’t tell empty stories for the lucrative promise of merchandising, but stories that can instill warmth and wonder within the minds and hearts of countless generations to come.  – The Skeptical Sloth