The Dr. Strange Movie

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Yesterday, Marvel announced their upcoming Phase 3 movies, and the earliest new character is going to be Dr. Strange. They’ve even announced that they offered the role to Benedict Cumberbatch.

For those who aren’t familiar with the character, he’s basically the superhero wizard of the Marvel Universe. Origin in brief: Arrogant surgeon injures his hands in car accident. In seeking a cure so he can go back to being his old self, he stumbles upon a world of magic spells, extra-dimensional demons, and fetishized orientalism. He becomes apprenticed to a sorcerer, then takes the role of the Sorcerer Supreme (the magical protector of his reality).

Basically, he faces magical bad guys, extradimensional weirdness, and fights with magic items and spells. And back in the Steve Ditko days, we got art like this:

Note to Disney: get that shit in the movies.

However, it seems that the MCU will continue to run away from the idea of actual magic. In the upcoming movie, Strange’s spells let him “tap into the supernatural, which involves everything from quantum mechanics to string theory, all of which you can manipulate with your hands and your thoughts.” Which makes no sense, really, but if you’re afraid of driving off any segment of your audience, you change Thor into an alien (and turn his story lines into sword and planet adventures) and base Dr. Strange’s spells on “string theory.”

Which… whatever. It’s just a different kind of hand-waving, and I seriously doubt it will satisfy hardcore “Harry Potter recruits for Satan!” types. The truth is, I’m hoping this movie works. Dr. Strange has always been better in the concept than the execution–although I wish Marvel would hire Chris Bird to write the book. His ideas are more interesting than the usual stuff Marvel runs with.

How I think it should be done:

    Skip the origin. Just to show it’s possible.
    At least three Ditko-esque acid trip landscapes.
    Keep Cleo, but without the creepy student/teacher romance.
    Keep Wong, but make him more than a kung fu manservant. Better roles for POC > fewer
    Lose the costume.
    Get a better costume. The big cape is cool, but change the look.
    Keep magic spells
    Lose rhymes required to chant them.
    Lose the magician swears. “By the Vishanti!” Seriously.

Villain: Mordo, with Dormammu lurking in the background.

As for the casting of Cumberbatch (if they’re correct) I don’t really have an opinion about him. I’ve seen him on Sherlock and Star Trek, and was underwhelmed both times. Maybe his performance in THE IMITATION GAME will surprise me, since I thought ST was boring and wanted to walk out of the room when Sherlock was on. We’ll see.

Randomness for 10/21

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1) World’s Worst Playgrounds h/t @cstross

2) Maps of modern cities drawn in JRR Tolkien’s style.

3) How to “gird your loins,” in illustrated form..

4) Norman Rockwell’s Saturday Evening Post cover art with DC Comics characters.

5) Drunk J Crew, a Tumblr.

6) An internet glossary, from The Toast.

7) The Zero Stooges (aka The Three Stooges Minus Stooges). Video.

New creepiness for the Halloween season

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Maybe you guys have heard about The Dionaea House? It’s a story (or is it real?) told through emails, texts and blog posts, a modern epistolary novel.

And it’s spooky as hell.

Not gross, not horrible, or filled with monsters tearing people apart, or demon children, or whatever bullshit modern horror is about. It’s a smart, subtle (except where it shouldn’t be) scary story, and I highly recommend it.

It’s by Eric Heisserer, and it was popular enough that it launched his screenwriting career. The film that was supposed to be made from it hasn’t happened, for the usual reasons, but it’s supposedly going to be name-checked (or featured, not sure) in the upcoming series The Librarians. Anyway, you should read it.

The reason I mention it? Heisserer is back at it: “Information I’m Dumping Here for Safekeeping”

Read through. Open the images. Follow the updates. It’s fun.

h/t to John Rogers (@jonrog1) for the link.

Randomness for 9/26

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1) The 50 Dorkiest Songs You Love. NB: you don’t have to tell me you personally don’t love some or all of them. I know.

2) Edgar Wright – How to do visual comedy. Video. This is excellent and shows why I find modern comedy so incredibly boring.

3) Joaquin Phoenix’s Forehead (Rotated). Video. So weird and funny.

4) Anonymous Gods. The computers at Google automatically blur the faces of famous religious statuary.

5) Netflix’s new spoiler website. #spoilers

6) Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch Malkovitch.

7) Robert Heinlein, L. Ron Hubbard, Charles Manson & the Birth of Cults

Rolling my eyes at THE BLACKLIST

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Probably the least effective promotional tool (for me, personally) is an image of James Spader in a fedora, but that’s all over the ads for the second season of THE BLACKLIST, his latest TV show. I had little interest when the first season aired (I watched two shows last year, both derived from comic books) but when S1 appeared on Netflix Streaming I felt a little poke in my curiosity bone, and I gave it a try.

The premise: Spader plays Raymond Reddington, one of those super-criminals who travels all over the world doing favors and generally playing fixit for other bad guys. He has a background in military intelligence and a mysterious, tragic incident that prompted him to disappear and become a baddie. Essentially, his backstory is a dead wife and daughter, the first two female characters fridged on the show. After decades on the Most Wanted List, he turns himself in to the FBI, volunteering to be an informant in exchange for immunity. He promises to give them criminals so secret the government hasn’t even heard of them, but he’ll only talk to one person, an obscure young agent no one has ever heard of.

The show is cheesy from the start, but it opens with mystery: What’s Reddington doing? Why this young woman in particular? What *really* happened to Reddington’s family? Is the young agent’s husband really who he says he is?

So it’s cheese, but it’s smart, fast-moving cheese. (Contrast that with FOREVER.) This is one of those shows where the cops get into gunfights all the time, shoot people, then brush it off. It’s also one of those shows where the criminals they chase are all evil masterminds of their fields. Usually, their so good that no one even realizes they’re committing crimes.

Sadly, they have a habit of fridging their female characters. Supporting character Agent Action-Hero gets to reunite with his ex only to lose her tragically. Tragically, I tell you? And the season finale threatens to bump off three series regulars, but only the woman is really gone.

They should be smarter than that.

The whole thing is exaggerated as hell. The mystery behind Reddington’s list, the over-the-top quality of the eeeevil plots, the constant uncertainty of who can be trusted, all reminds me of some best-selling thriller novels, and it’s been interesting to study.

But the second season premiered last night and I skipped it, because while it’s fun, it also feels like it ran it’s course. Still, it’s an interesting exercise in popular entertainment.

Movie Review: THE GUEST (tl;dr: See It)

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I don’t usually review movies because most of what I see at this point is Corporate Hollywood Entertainment [1] (case in point: My kid is dragging me to THE MAZE RUNNER next week) and I’m not part of anyone’s marketing team. If there’s something worth saying, sure, but I only write “SEE IN THE THEATER/RENT IT AT HOME, MAYBE/ONLY IF YOU WANT TO PUNISH YOURSELF” for smaller movies folks might miss.

THE GUEST is in limited release in the U.S. as of today, and I’m going to tell you why you should see it.

First, here’s the trailer.

For those who didn’t watch, it’s a Deadly Friend story, in which average people find themselves the “beneficiary” of a powerful, dangerous new pal. Stephen Black’s Deadly Friend subplot was one of my favorite parts of Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell, and it’s a subgenre I have wanted to dabble in for a long time.

The Peterson’s are a typical family, but they’re struggling. Mom is still stricken over the death of her eldest son in the military. Dad is drinking too much and stalled in his career. Their eldest daughter secretly seeing her drug-dealer boyfriend on the sly, and their remaining son is friendless and bullied at school. In walks David, who knew their son in the military and was with him when he died. He’s come to deliver a message of love, and to fulfill his promise to help his dead comrade’s family, if he can.

Unfortunately, David is a vicious psychopath and maybe somewhat more than human, too. What starts off with small kindnesses quickly escalates into terror and violence, but despite all that, there’s still an underlying attraction for all the characters. He’s a bit like a vampire; attractive and compelling, but once you’ve invited him in, you’re in the shit.

One thing the movie gets right is just how seductive David’s penchant for violence can be. He starts off by responding to attacks with counter-attacks, and there’s an undeniable appeal to that sort of strength, especially for the youngest boy. It feels like power, like agency, like something to be admired and emulated. As David gets closer to the family, and the things he does to “help” them become more awful and outrageous, the connection he’s established with them is still powerful. There’s a scene late in the movie–just a conversation between two characters–that would be the epitome of “What the fuck are you doing? Are you nuts?” in any other movie. It’s a metaphorical go-into-the-basement-along scene. And yet, because of the characters’ history, it’s the most believable, heart-breaking, and terrifying scene I’ve watched in months.

The movie’s being partly billed as part comedy[2] but it’s not, really. It has some subversive moments, and there’s a dark comic playfulness to it, especially at the end, but nothing to make you[3] laugh aloud. For me, the weird absurdity of it lent the violence extra weight and realism.

The trailer features a lot of action shots, but this is more psychological thriller than action movie. Dan Stevens, (who does a pretty good American accent) brings real charm and unpredictability to the part.

Anyway, it’s in limited release right now, but if you can see it, you should. If you can’t, see it when it goes into wide release in October. Everyone claims to want original, interesting movies, don’t they? Well, this is it.

[1] Hey, I wonder if I could make a useful acrony–oh, never mind.

[2] Or an comic thriller

[3] meaning “me”

Playing Football and Erasing The Self

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Ta-Nehisi Coates is writing about his decision to stop watching football games because of his concern about head injuries.

Part of this is my own mix of spirituality and atheism. I generally think of the ghost not in the machine, but as the machine. My body is me, and while my brain is particularly important, when I dislocate an ankle I have injured part of myself. Anyone who is being honest about football knows that injuring people is part of the game.

One summer during my college years, a friend of mine broke my ankle during a particularly rough basketball game. Me, I thought it was just a bad sprain and didn’t seek treatment, After a week, I wrapped up the injury, went to my day job, and got back out onto the court. It was only months later, after numerous re-injuries, that I had it x-rayed.

My right ankle is still a problem to this day. It hurts when I walk too much, it aches in certain kinds of weather, it even hurts if I drink too much alcohol. I can’t imagine the effect of ignoring injuries to my brain.

Unlike Coates, I don’t really follow NFL news anymore, so I didn’t know that John Abraham, who is apparently one of the league’s best defensive players, retired for a year because of “severe memory loss,” but is now planning a return.

Maybe I’m being a bit of a writer about this, but to me, memory is self. It’s one thing to destroy the parts of the body that let you walk, or wipe your ass, or sit upright. It’s something else to destroy all the memories that make up your life. Whatever it is that drives players to wreck themselves for the sake of a win seems, in Abraham, to be the pursuit of a living suicide.

If that were the story of a movie or a novel, it would be LEAVING LAS VEGAS. A tragedy. Since it’s real life, it’s something people will make people jump out of their seats and cheer.

Abraham can do what he likes, provided no one convinces a court that his brain damage had made him unable to make his own decisions. Fans and casual viewers can do what they like. So can I, and what I like is to leave the TV off on Sunday morning and afternoons, so I don’t have to see men drive themselves into self-annihilation.

ADDED: Has anyone brought up the issue of brain damage and violent tendencies with Ray Rice and Adrian Peterson?

My Wonder Woman Pitch

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[I started this post way back when Gal Godot was first cast and I'm blowing the dust off it because what the hell.]

So we’re getting Wonder Woman in a movie, but not a Wonder Woman movie.

Christopher Bird has an interesting post about the difficulties the character faces. I’m not sure I agree that Wonder Woman has never had a “definitive” run: while I’m not a WW expert by any means, William Marston created the basics of the character, and Greg Rucka’s stint where she was the ambassador from Themyscira is pretty awesome.

I’m not sure the U.N. is a place to start a franchise, though. It might work for a TV series, but movies would need more setup and a greater willingness to break status quo.

(BTW, supposedly WB seems to have a pretty good version of The Flash coming up. Hopefully it’ll be a step above the ’90′s version.)

Unfortunately, it seems WW is going to be a supporting role in the new Man of Steel movie. Gal Gadot has been cast. People are already complaining about her: she’s too this, she’s too that, but I’ll reserve judgement. Yes, she is a former Miss Israel and a Miss Universe contestant (her “National Costume” is disappointingly non-bonkers) and yes, she served two years in the Israeli military (as a “sports trainer”?). Yes, it’s fun to speculate.

But I remember when people were complaining about Daniel Craig being cast as James Bond (“A blond Bond? What are they thinking?”). I remember when they griped about Tom Cruise playing Lestat. Both actors were terrific in those roles. The truth is, if the script is good, we will love Gadot in the part. If the script sucks, we’ll blame her for screwing it all up.

Anyway, this is how I would pitch a Wonder Woman movie if they were going to make one, which they should:

It opens during the climax of MAN OF STEEL (to tie the films together). Continue reading

Randomness for 9/11

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1) X-men mashed up with The Smiths.

2)
Five Classic Authors Who Hated Their Book Covers (and One Who Got His Ass Kicked as a Result)

3) Scrublands: photographs of people who live off the grid.

4) Rupert Giles plans coursework for an MLS.

5) Everything you need to know about 5th ed D&D.

6) Beautiful animated gifs. h/t @keithcalder

7) “Every year, Americans spend nearly three times as much on candy as they do on public libraries.”