For December 2nd, details on the Arch of Constantine, Rome.
An advent calendar, highlighting some of my favorite photos, is something I’ve done before, but let’s do it again, shall we?
Today is Veterans Day. It was originally established as Armistice Day to celebrate the end of the Great War, aka WWI. In the years since, it has extended to remember veterans of all wars.
So, something different here. I love State Capitols partly because you can find unusual and unexpected things on their grounds. On the Ohio State Capitol grounds, for example, there is a memorial to conflicts from 1898-1902. And so I share those with you:
Tell me if you recognize this story from the Marvel Cinematic Universe.
A brilliant, snarky, assholish rich person with amazing skills strides through life blandly, confident that he knows everything, and often can back up his reputation with cold hard skills and knowledge. He is an endless deadpan snarker, always ready with a cutting jape or a quip for friend and rival alike. He has a long-suffering quasi love interest who clearly deserves better. We get to see him in his glory before an accident brings him low and nearly kills it. Worse, it doesn’t kill him, but gives him a permanent debility, changing his future plans forever. Said asshole learns to be better slowly and painfully in a period of retrenchment and regrowth, becoming a superhero in the process, and defrosting the heart of his love interest a bit whilst in the middle of battling the big baddie.
I could be describing Iron Man, but I am also describing Doctor Strange, and that is the core of one of the problems I found with the 2016 Marvel Cinematic Universe story. For all of its faults, and for all of its joys, Doctor Strange is a story we’ve seen before, and in a tone and mode we’ve seen before. Its yet another origin story movie for the MCU and unlike, say, Ant-Man, it follows way too familiar beats in that origin story.
The change from the Tibetan origins of Strange’s powers in the movie, I think, weakens it too. While I understand realpolitik as reasons why the setting gets changed from Tibet to Nepal, and the Ancient One changed to a “Celtic” Tilda Swinton (and she IS a fabulous actress in this, the person clearly having the most fun with her role), it does miss some opportunities in casting ,setting, and character choice thereby. The movie does try to balance things by having Mordo be played by Chiwetel Ejiofor, but the movie still feels like it misstepped with these alterations. And Ejiofor’s character only really gets some juice, and the actor gets his “A” game on in the last portion of the movie. Too, I would have liked to have seen more of Benedict Wong as the librarian, especially given his excellent work as Kublai Khan in Marco Polo. He was badly under-utilized.
There are some other things that bothered me, too, besides the whitewashing. You’ve already gone in for changes on the background of the character, so having Cumberbatch saddle himself with an American accent is, I think, a mistake. His normal British accent is distinctive, strong and one of his best features, and so taking it off the table is missing a bet. Too, I think having Rachel McAdams, she who embodies the love interest in modern cinema, is a coup as Christine-but giving her more to do would have been sorely welcome. Really, you could have made Christine Strange’s mother’s sister’s niece’s cousin’s former roommate and it would have not been any real change to the story. Mads Mikkelsen as the baddie, I am afraid I was distracted by the CGI around his eyes to really get a hook on his role and acting.
So what did the movie get right?
The gonzo nature of Strange’s multiverse is explained and depicted in a way we haven’t really seen before in film. We get Inceptiony type stuff, we get Ditko-esque type stuff, and we get visions and locations that defy description and characterization. I saw the movie in 2D and it looks absolutely gorgeous and the movie knows it. Better, the editing and cinematography are done excellently. There are plenty of fight scenes but we always can tell who is doing what to whom, even if it is a lot of CGI stuff. That CGI is rendered well, so that we can see the forms of spells, of astral projection, of Portals, and it all looks crisp and sharp. I would have love to have been able to freeze frame the spells and get a *real* look at what the sigils looked like. The movie does seem afraid to go too long without pulling another visual rabbit out of its hat, but that goes part and parcel with films like this, and for this movie, it works.
For the changes mentioned above, there are a ton of touchpoints to the comics story of Dr. Strange that I appreciated. From characters to magic items, the script knows its roots and honors them fully, and after the movie, I explained a few things to my movie buddy, who isn’t as deep into Marvel comics as I am (I’ve done this before for him.). I think I even saw the face of the Watcher at one point in the film, but I’d want to see it again to make sure. There is a Stan Lee cameo, of course.
As opposed to the comics, the bindings to the MCU movies we’ve seen before are lighter, and sometimes seem a bit shoehorned in just to make viewers assured this IS a movie set in that world. There is a possible, oblique reference to Rhodey, too oblique, I think. There is a more explicit Avengers tag, a throwaway line about an Infinity Stone. All of these are overshadowed by a credit cookie which I will not spoil–save that it definitely binds the movie into the MCU at that point. But other than that…the rest of the MCU really doesn’t exist as far as this movie is concerned. I suppose that someone who has not seen any of the Marvel movies could, in fact, “Start here” without any trouble.
So, is it worth seeing? Although it is a cookie cutter template of an origin story, has problems with its whitewashing and has uneven results in the casting and roles, my attention never wandered and I was always entertained. The movie tries sometimes too hard with its humor, and even makes a joke about that within the movie! Sometimes the movie’s tonal shifts need work, but its shift, not out and out whiplash–this movie was a bit inspired by Ant-Man in terms of those tonal gears. And the movie gets more confident with what it’s doing as it progresses, it finishes much better than it starts. The endgame for the movie, what the villain is doing, and what the hero is doing to stop him, is straight up, clear and makes sense. (Again, a tip of the nod for the scriptwriters for that).
When the movie really goes for the eye-popping visuals, I was astonished. We live in a world and era where the very over the top weirdness of Dr. Strange’s world can be depicted on screen beautifully and appealingly, and the movie holds nothing back in that regard. Most of the violence is non-bloody CGI based, although there is a beheading at one point, and a number of scenes in surgery (quelle surprise). The CGI based violence does make it more kid friendly in some ways.
Oh and I have plenty of stuff I can borrow from this movie for various roleplaying games, too, and I will be happy to do that, too.
So, let me put Doctor Strange in my personal ranking of Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, since I have seen them all to date. I do move movies up and down this list some, but this is how it stands as of 11/5/2016, best to worst:
Iron Man I
Captain America: the Winter Soldier
Guardians of the Galaxy
—Threshold of Awesome–
Captain America: Civil War
Iron Man III
The Incredible Hulk
Iron Man II
I am not a big horror movie maven. It’s not really my genre and never really has been for whatever reason. Still, I have movies which partake of horror elements in my collection and every so often I do like to watch a couple.
So if I wanted to go overboard on movies with horror elements for Halloween viewing, I’d go with these:
eXistenZ, by David Cronenberg.
There’s enough body horror in this movie for me to put it on a Halloween list. Sure, its about virtual realities and videogames, but this IS early to mid Cronenberg, so there is plenty of elements that move toward horror, as well.
Prince of Darkness and In the Mouth of Madness by John Carpenter
Let’s go with cosmic horrors for this pair from Carpenter. In the first, Satan is in a giant test tube hidden by the Catholic church, and seeking to free himself so he can free his father, Anti-God. With bonus Alice Cooper as a possessed homeless person! In the Mouth of Madness goes with the reality mind screw, as hack horror writer Sutter Cane warps reality toward the return of Lovecraftian beasties, all filtered through a poor Insurance investigator who realizes he’s fictional.
28 Days Later
28 Days Later is probably the seminal work in the “new Zombie” craze that hit movies. Monkey gets infected with a zombie virus (“rage”) in order to study it. Environmental activists unwittingly unleash it on London. A man who has been in a coma wakes up 28 Days Later. And we’re off running.
Dawn of the Dead (2004 remake). I know, not the original. I told you I am not well schooled in horror movies but I like this remake even if it doesn’t really break any new ground. I love the strange world that the mall shelterees try to make for themselves, until it all eventually goes to hell.
My fellow Skiffy and Fanty members got me to watch this one, about a sexually transmitted supernatural curse that stalks its victim. Dark and most excellent.
The Ring (US remake)
I know I am an uncultured barbarian who hasn’t seen the Japanese original. The American remake is creepy enough, thank you very much. The idea of watching and seeing something that dooms you to die is as old as The Medusa but the idea of this videotape, and the force behind it, is a mind screw.
Finally, one of my favorite movies set in space, period, the story of a ghost ship, come back from hyperspace, and the evil that it has brought with it, and the rescue ship sent to study it. Poor Sam Neill goes through all sorts of hell for the second movie on this list, but with a very different endpoint. And how many movies use a mistranslation of Latin as a plot point?
One of the surging Puppy memes lately, in the wake of the 2016 Hugo Awards and the inaugural 2016 Dragon Awards, is “Hugo Delenda Est”. A check of Google shows that the idea has been in Puppyland for at least a year, but I noticed it when I visited John C Wright’s blog. , when he took issue with comments about the Dragon Award winning Somewhither. At the end of that post, he signed it off for (as far as the first time I can tell) with that phrase.
In PKD** fashion, I am tempted to tell you all about the etymology of the phrase and its origins. Rome and Carthage, Cato the Elder, and all that. I do find it interesting that the Puppies have cast themselves as Rome, and the “Puppykickers and SJWs” (their labels, not mine) as the Carthaginians. Since the Carthaginians performed child sacrifice (and truthfully, at that period, so did the Romans), the anti-abortion side of the Puppies might find this parallel even MORE appealing and apropos.
I do find it interesting that the “mask” is off. Mr. Wright was genuinely pleased by his Hugo nominations, and John, fun fact, its an honor to be nominated, even if you lose. But it appears that the “Puppykickers and SJWs” use of the No Award option the last couple of years cannot be borne.
So Hugo Delenda Est?
There have been complaints about who has gotten Hugos since, it seems, since the second year of the awards (They Rather Be Right, *really*?). And as Cora Buhlert pointed out in a recent blog post, back in 2013, when the Puppies were just getting going, there were rumblings and discussions in the SF field about the kind of works that were getting nominated. Those complaints were that the award was TOO commercial and was missing important books and stories in the field in favor of much more commercial and mainstream works. (In other words, the exact opposite argument the Puppies advance). I should know about these rumblings and discussions–because I was there. I was actively tweeting and commenting and talking on podcasts at the time. I ALSO remember that some of those people who were unhappy pondered and contemplated the possibility of starting a new award. That turned out to be naught, because, well, its difficult to get an award up and running. Look at the Dragon Award, where a suspicious number of the winners match Theodore Beale’s “Not a Slate” slate.
But destroy the Hugos? Why? Isn’t destroying the Hugos because you don’t like the books and works winning a case of that charge you throw at SJWs of accusing Puppies? Are SJWs wrongfans having wrongfun?
We’re not having wrongfun, and you aren’t either when you read the works you like to read and talk about same. As I have said a thousand times, my only beef with the Puppies in regards to the science fiction they love is the use of slate tactics to put works on the Hugo ballot..
My only beef with the Puppies in regards to the science fiction they love is the use of slate tactics to put works on the Hugo ballot.
And when you try to *troll* the awards by slating Chuck Tingle, then my ire gets up to 11.
Read what you love, and be done. No one has to destroy anything. Or should want to.
**Oh yes, this SJW read and talks about Philip K Dick, Jack Vance, Alfred Bester, Robert Heinlein, and plenty of other authors that, if the Puppies are to believed, I should say penance to a statue of Astarte for if I even utter their names.