Saturday, October 29, 2016

Doctor Strange: This mundane psychedelia

The best parts in the Marvel films are the ones where it all gets a bit trippy, when it drops the grey concrete aesthetic of realism, and goes full-on with the cosmic.

It's there in the Guardians of the Galaxy, where the team unexpectedly spark off from a goofy dance-off to become supreme cosmic deities for a minute, and even more surprisingly, it was there in Ant-Man when that film stopped relying on the easy charm of its excellent cast and plunged into the unknown of the microverse.

With that in mind, there is little shock to discover the Doctor Strange movie is tripping its balls off for a good portion of its running time, and is the most far out thing with a Marvel studios logo on it, by far. It's just a shame it's still mired in the mundane realities of the modern blockbuster.

The scenes of mystic mayhem and inter-dimensional tourism in Doctor Strange are impressive, and frequently overwhelming. The fractual psychedelia, as buildings of brick, stone and glass splay out in multiple directions, is visually stunning, and deliberately disconcerting. 

And that's just the tip of the mystical iceberg - there are frequent trips to the astral plane and the dark dimension, where the weirdness goes into overdrive, and some of it is quite effective - one small moment where a character's fingers spawn new little hands that spawn new little hands that spawn new little hands is suitably grotesque, and a decent crack at capturing the kind of weird shit you actually see in an altered mental state.

But there is also a desperation to it all, and all these mindbending visual feel genuinely overcooked. A vision by committee, they lack Steve Ditko's brutal individualism, which he expressed through his dark dimension, and the mindless ones who roamed it. The movie version of other dimension is colourful and crazy, but also over-textured and busy - modern visual effects wizards can't help throwing everything into the mix, even when less can be more.

And all that flash can't hide the plodding desperation to spark a new Marvel franchise. There just isn't much of an actual movie there, even when it's rushing through set-up and plot.

As the good Doctor's first big screen appearance, it has got to get all the origin stuff out of the way - which is does admirably quickly - but then there is nothing more than trite themes of redemption and humbleness. A man has to learn how not to be a dick, and there really is nothing much more to it than that.

It's so busy setting up potential villains  - Baron Mordo's inevitable heel-turn really does come off as  a forced attempt to spark the next stage of Strange's usual hero-journey - and it's busy setting up a whole new section of this established universe, going heavy on the multiverse concept and introducing a magical element to the defense of the planet.

With all that going on, there are no surprises, and nothing really unexpected by the time the end credits roll. It's serviceable enough, and doesn't bother with much of an actual story when it has so much plot to get through.

This is all a bit harsh on Doctor Strange, which for all its busyness and predictability, is still a fun night at the movies, and some of the mystical mumbo-jumbo - and even some of its elementary-level philosophical musings - is bound to strike the right chord with certain sections of the audience.

As noted, it does rock along at a fair clip, establishing the title character's hubris, charting his downfall, and getting him in that bitching crimson cape with a minimum of fuss and bother, and it's easy enough to let the ridiculousness of the whole thing slide on by.

It is a lot funnier than expected, with some sharp dialogue and great character beats. Out of all the blockbuster studios, Marvel have learned Joss Whedon's lesson of structuring stories like they're straight dramas, but treating most individual scenes like they're pure comedy.

And like all the Marvel films, the real power is the cast - Benedict Cumberbatch, who was worth the delay in the whole film production until he was free, looks fucking great with a goatee, Tilda Swinton speaks multitudes with a slight twitch of the lips, Mads Mikkelsen is Mads Mikkelsen and Chiwetel Ejiofor might not fully be able to sell Mordo's about-face, but still keeps the humanity of the character front and center.

But the MVP award for acting goes, as always, to Benedict Wong, who does so much with so little, in every role he takes, and he makes the potentially socially mortifying prospect of the Asian manservent and gives Wong strength, nobility and equality.

All this, along with the adolescent thrill of hearing people use words like Sorcerer Supreme and Agamotto said out loud, (even if, disappointingly, I never caught a Cyttoak), make an entertaining films, and it has the odd moment of wonder.

But these are just moments. Marvel movies still have their great scenes, where they make us laugh and cry, where they thrill, or entertain, or even shine in cosmic splendor. But they're still not there with the complete movie experience - one film that stands out as its own thing, something complete and true. Now that it's built its foundations, it's time to build to that next level.

Tuesday, October 25, 2016

Friday, October 21, 2016

Such a fucking nerd

I saw a huge billboard for the big local geek convention beside the highway the other day, and when I saw they didn't use the word 'comic' at any point on the billboard, it genuinely got me down.

I am such a fucking nerd.

Spoilers for a Mark Millar comic

It wasn't much of a surprise to see SkyFox pull a Siadwell Rhys in the latest issue of Millar/Quiteley's Jupiter's Legacy – as well as the usual blunt-force trauma that Mark Millar calls foreshadowing, he even had the Red Dragon's mask.

Still, hopefully Millar will go for a full-on Zenith rip-off in the concluding issue, and Silver Fox already pulled off a Peter St John and it's all happening in Walter's head. That would be perfect.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I cracked the 90 percent mark on Spider Solitaire the other day, and actually did a fucking dance around the room in celebration, but had to stop after I knocked a three-foot tall Batman doll off the bookcase.

One of his damn ears was broken off, and it makes him look a bit battle-weary, and a lot more goofy, and I think I like it that way.

I also have a Batman keyring, and his bloody foot came off yesterday. He just looks stupid.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I watched the Silence In the Library two-part episode of Doctor Who for the first time in years last week, and it was fascinating, because it was a completely different experience this time around, watching the non-linear story of River Song come to a beginning/ending.

The first time I saw it, years ago now, I was on the Doctor’s side, wondering who this mad woman who knows everything about him is. But seen now, after all the River Song appearances in the past eight years, it’s a whole different story, and it’s the Doctor who seems like a weirdo. Of course he can trust this woman, he’s married her (in an alternate dimension of no time), and she’s Amy and Rory’s baby, for crying out loud! Just because it hasn’t happened to him yet is no excuse for not recognising her.

River was really a part of the Eleventh Doctor’s story more than anybody else, she only appeared with the 10th and 12th once each, but each time it’s a little bit heartbreaking. Capaldi’s whispered ‘Hello sweetie’ in the last Christmas special is devastating, and it’s just as hard to see the Tennant Doctor look so baffled around the good Professor.

I am such a fucking nerd.

I paid $12.95 for the first Marvel Swimsuit Special in 1992, and I still own it today.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The free preview things that the big comic companies keep putting out are usually a total waste of space, but a recent Marvel one had something interesting, and got me to buy my first Luke Cage comic since forever. So maybe they do work.

It was a Luke Cage comic by Genndy Tartakovsky, who is some kind of mad master of hyper-kinetic smackdowns and comedy beats, so it was a pretty easy sell, but I’d forgotten it even existed, so I still needed to be sold.

I am such a fucking nerd.

After decades of watching all kind of gory horror films, it’s always a delight to see something new, to see something actually unique.

The current season of Ash versus Evil Dead totally delivered on that score, with the second episode featuring Bruce Campbell getting up to some extremely gory shenanigans at a local morgue, in his latest slapstick battle against the murderous evil from beyond the veil. At one point, Ash gets dragged up through the butt of a corpse, and has to spend the next few minutes fighting evil with the disemboweled corpse stuck on top of head, and the poor dead dude’s pubic hair and cock ring getting right into his face.

I’ve seen a lot, but I have not seen that ever.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The trade paperback collection of the terrible Scourge's rampage in the Marvel Universe was put out by Marvel under the title: Captain America: Scourge of the Underwolrd. It's spelled that way both on the cover and on the spine.

I keep thinking I should get rid of it, because even with the best of intentions, they're still not great comics, but I love that title typo, and it makes me happy seeing it on the bookshelf.

I am such a fucking nerd.

The other day, I had a few beers and was wandering around the central city, and it was all lit up and beautiful, and it really felt like this was a wonderful and lovely slice of space and time to be living in, and I know I’m coming from the realm of utmost privilege, but this is a wonderful and amazing time to be alive, and there is so much incredible beauty in this world, and it is my honour and privilege to share this world with all of you.

I am such a fucking nerd.

Every time I try to watch some political discourse on the television, this scene from Milligan/Fegredo's Girl comic pops into my head:

I am such a fucking nerd.

The lovely wife has been watching a lot of Poldark this week, sucked in by the almighty force of shirtless Aidan Turner. She describes her abandonment of all wifely duties as 'Poldarking', and insists it's a real verb.

She’s all caught up with it now, and has moved onto ‘Outlanding’, which is a little easier to handle, because at least she’s stopped talking in that godawful 18th century Cornish burr.

She is such a fucking nerd.

Millions and millions of people are going to go to a Doctor Strange movie later this month.

We are all such fucking nerds.

But what’s so bad about being such a fucking nerd anyway? Going through life without being passionate about something - whether it’s dumb comics, silly TV shows or the state of the entire fucking universe – is the dullest and most depressing of existences. Getting a bit obsessed with our favourite entertainments can be healthy, and immensely rewarding. They can help you connect with the world, and all the other fucking nerds in it.

I am such a fucking nerd, and I wouldn’t have it otherwise.