Tagged: Benedict Cumberbatch

Box Office Democracy: Doctor Strange

I assume at some point in the future of the Marvel Cinematic Universe we’re going to come across a threat that unites every character in one movie to fight against it in some budget-busting assembly of talent. I am starting to dread this moment because between Tony Stark, Peter Quill, Scott Lang, and now Stephen Strange, I can’t imagine anything could ever get done between giving all four of them chances to show how little they care about anything that happens in favor of getting in some quip or another. Ironic detachment has become the house style in the MCU, and I’m not sure why Doctor Strange was my breaking point but it was. I’m sick of people saving the world by not caring about it.

It’s not that Benedict Cumberbatch is the problem with Doctor Strange. I found him surprisingly acceptable playing a native New Yorker. He isn’t bad at doing pithy dialogue and this might be projection on my part because he’s English but he’s masterful at appearing above it all. He does a good job climbing over the mountain of unlikability the script puts in his path. Honestly, I’m not sure at what part of “arrogant doctor crashes his supercar while rejecting pleas from sick people to get help” is supposed to make us think he’s a good guy, but his subsequent petulant rejection of all of the advice of his doctors so he can regain the use of his hands so he can go back to being a jerk of a surgeon doesn’t do it either. Stephen Strange is an unlikable crater in the middle of Doctor Strange, but Benedict Cumberbatch is just reading the words off the page.

I don’t like Tilda Swinton as The Ancient One. I don’t like that she’s playing an Asian man and even though they go out of the way to say she’s Celtic, there’s nothing she does in the entire film that isn’t out of the mystical Asian man playbook. I think it’s cowardly that Marvel changed the character from Tibetan so that they could have an easier time accessing the Chinese film market. All the talk of censorship I’ve seen in media these past few years— we get actual government intervention in a movie, and so few people seem to notice.

The rest of the cast is great. Chiwitel Ejiofor is too good an actor for the small part this movie asks of him. He wrestles with his morality over the course of this film and you can see the conflict on his face and in his posture in a way you just don’t see in genre films. He’s deserving of more, and I trust if we get a sequel we’ll get more of him. Benedict Wong is also excellent in a small part. He has a great physicality in a movie dominated by bodies skinnier than a life dedicated to martial arts would suggest. He is the focus for much of the humor in the second act and he carries it well. Mads Mikkelsen wouldn’t have been my first choice for a magical martial arts bad guy but I’m thrilled to have been proven wrong. Because of the magic roots (and the liberal use of stunt doubles) it’s not like he has to carry any of the difficult work himself, and it gives us a gifted actor skilled at playing menaces to carry the heavy weight a villain must shoulder in a superhero film. The best part of the entire film is a quick comedic exchange between Cumberbatch and Mikkelsen, and I’m not sure anyone but Mikkelsen could have made it work.

The story is as predictably lifeless as one would expect from a superhero origin story these days. Bad thing happens, person gets extraordinary power, some sort of betrayal requires that power to be directed against evil, and then there’s a new status quo. I’ve seen this movie dozens of times now and there’s nothing new or exciting about the way it’s written up here. The been-there-done-that feeling also extends to the special effects. I’ve read rave reviews of the visual effects and while they’re nice, there’s nothing here I haven’t seen in Inception or The Matrix franchise. While they’ve turned those visual concepts up to 11 this time out it didn’t particularly impress me; I’m not looking for more and bigger with effects as much as I am smarter and more effective. Doctor Strange looks like someone put a kaleidoscope in front of the projector after it had already been shot rather than having a coherent design.

It must seem like I didn’t like Doctor Strange and that honestly isn’t true. Marvel Studios has gotten very good at making these films and it’s almost impossible to sit through one and not be entertained. I’m just starting to see the strings a little more, the same old things, and the clichés that dominate these movies particularly the origin stories. I had a good time watching the movie but it’s not fresh like Iron Man was; it feels more like watching a movie where a police officer has only one day until retirement. Perhaps as we get in to a round of sequels we’ll see a lot less of this, but until then I’m going to be writing a lot more reviews complaining about a movie that’s honestly above average.

Ed Catto: Comics’ Original Mustachioed Magician!

Mandrake Covers for ComicMix 

Mandrake oct 30 1938The world has quickly forgotten that Iron Man was always kind of a B-level superhero. As you know, mid-tier comic titles like Iron Man or The Guardians of the Galaxy have now become blockbuster movie franchises. And next up is Doctor Strange, the thoughtful, deliberative sorcerer of the Marvel Universe who was always a well loved, but ultimately B-level player. We know that bigger things are in store for him as his cinematic manifestation, in the guise of actor Benedict Cumberbatch, was plastered all over downtown San Diego.

There have been several other comic book magicians with pencil thin mustaches and one was so popular that his adventures also enjoyed time on the big screen. It seemed like Mandrake should have broken out of that B-character ghetto by now.

Mandrake the Magician, created by Lee Falk (who created The Phantom almost two years earlier), is regarded by many comic historians to be one of comics’ very first superheroes. Falk was the original artist, but before long the masterful Phil Davis was brought in to handle those duties. Mandrake, with his faithful friend Lothar, started in the funny papers, and soon graduated to comic books, movies, radio and more. There was a television pilot developed in the 50s, a cartoon in the 80s and even a made-for-television-movie. Throughout the 50s and 60s, Mandrake was so big he was regularly parodied in Mad Magazine.

Mandrake_2 Don HeckThis character is a dapper magician, with slicked back hair and a tuxedo that would look great onstage in Vegas. In the early days, he employed reality-bending magic and traveled to the astral plane, not unlike Doctor Strange, but he would later settle into a routine of simply fooling evildoers with hypnotic trickery.

Mandrake seemed to have it all. His girlfriend was beautiful and exotic, and after a loooong courtship, they married. His best friend was an African strong man and prince. (In many ways, I think the bromance of Spenser and Hawk from the Robert B. Parker detective novels were a modern version of how that friendship could have been presented.) He was well respected in his community. Mandrake had an over-the-top house called Xanadu that could certainly be featured on MTV Cribs. Everybody loved him… except for dirty rotten crooks.

Lee Falk photoAnd Mandrake’s 60s comics even have that Silver Age Marvel feel. Mandrake #1, reprinted in Hermes Press Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years: Volume One offers stories in that vein. The first story, for example, is illustrated by Marvel stalwart Don Heck and uses a real New York City location as a backdrop for adventure.

“If you like Silver Age Marvel comics, I don’t know how you couldn’t like it,” said publisher Dan Herman.

I should also note that Titan is reprinting Mandrake the Magician newspaper strips, while Dynamite spins new adventures of Mandrake in solo series and the Kings Watch team-up comic. As an aside, we had the honor of including a Mandrake the Magician backup in an issue of Captain Action a few years ago.

Over time, Mandrake drifted off the pop-culture radar while Doctor Strange came into pop-culture focus and is ready to take center stage this fall.

The Hermes Press collection, Mandrake The Magician The Complete Series: The King Years, Volume One is a celebration of Mandrake’s glory days. It collects five issues of Mandrake’s King series and Mandrake backup stories from Flash Gordon comics.

Mandrake Cover Vol_1This volume includes scans of original artwork, in that wonderful IDW/Scott Dunbier Style. A reprinted interview with Fred Fredricks, the “modern” Mandrake newspaper strip artist, also provides insights to the character.

But would there have been a Doctor Strange without a Mandrake? One might argue that via Mandrake and Lothar, we can see the prototype for Doctor Strange and his assistant Wong. Mandrake’s adventures harken back to a simpler time, when magicians and gangsters and super-villains all knew their place in the world, and the world’s most insidious problem could be solved in half a comic book.

Mandrake and Lothar, full of self-confidence and purpose, never thought of themselves as B-listers.

Mike Gold: Looking Forward

agent-carter-header-2

In these waning days of 2015, our media tends to look backward at all the great stuff that came down during the previous year. That’s because there’s damn little that happens between Christmas Eve and New Year’s morn and people like me are tasked with filling space. This plays nicely with my powerful sense of cynicism. Hey, it’s a living.

But what the hell. For all practical purposes 2015 is already history (and I hope that comment doesn’t come back to bite me in my ass). Instead, in a fit of optimism I’d rather talk about what I’m looking forward to in the new year.

When it comes to the mother medium, I eagerly await the return of Bitch Planet, easily my favorite new series of 2015. Actually, I have yet to stop being pissed at Kelly Sue DeConnick and Valentine De Landro for having the audacity to take a vacation.

The third and final volume of the graphic novel series March, Congressman John Lewis, Andrew Aydin and Nate Powell story of the struggle for civil rights, is due out this coming year. If you haven’t read the first two books, you’ve got time to catch-up. This series carries my highest recommendation. By far.

DC and Marvel have retconned and rebooted and reimag

Bitch Planet, Kelly Sue DeConnick, Valentine De Landro, March, John Lewis, Andrew Aydin, Nate Powell, Savage Dragon, Superman v Batman, Deadpool, Doctor Strange, Benedict Cumberbatch, Agent Carter, Hayley Atwell, Civil War, Skottie Young

ined their respective universes to death, so it’s hard for me to show any enthusiasm for their upcoming projects. Why bother? They’ll only be retconned and rebooted and reimagined still again. Give me the stability and pure fun of Savage Dragon any day.

We’ve got lots and lots of comic book based movies and television coming up because Hollywood lives to run stuff into the ground. I can’t say that Superman v Batman or Civil War makes my pulse race – we’ve seen it before, and besides I have no reason to be optimistic about any Warner Bros. superhero flick. While I hope for the best, the comics movies that are putting the salt on my popcorn are Deadpool and Doctor Strange – which are two different movies.

Our pal Emily Whitten talked about the Deadpool flick in this space yesterday afternoon and backed up her enthusiasm with 32 links, so I don’t have to be repetitious. I will say that from the trailers and the hype this appears to be a movie that will either be a lot of fowl-mouthed fun and a much needed satirical jab at the form… or a complete disaster. I like both the character and the lead actor, and the campaign has been very amusing so I have reason to be optimistic. We can always use a good laugh.

Doctor StrangeDoctor Strange has been one of my favorite characters since Lee and Ditko invented the psychedelic superhero way back when I was still (barely) a pre-teen. He’s never really been able to hold onto a title of his own, but he’s been a vital – even critical – part of the MCU for over a half-century. And casting Benedict Cumberbatch as the Sorcerer Supreme (which still sounds to me like a Baskin-Robbins flavor of the month) seems perfect.

As for comics-on-teevee, I’m looking forward to the return of Agent Carter because the first series was my favorite comics-based series on broadcast television. Hayley Atwell will also be reprising Peggy Carter in the Civil War movie, which is set in contemporary time. Peggy will be real old and nobody expects her to make it to the end-credits, but, of course, that doesn’t mean she won’t be in future flicks. It’s comics, folks.

What would I like to see in 2016? Hey, I’m glad you asked. I’d like to see a year of solid storytelling that does not reply upon overworked and overproduced “events” and variant covers (except those by Skottie Young) and phony deaths – in comics, that’s redundant – and astonishing resurrections. Honest, comic books are stories; let’s get back to good stories.

You know, the kind from which they make movies and teevee shows.

Have yourself a safe, productive and amazingly entertaining new year. You deserve it.

Tweeks: More D23 2015 Adventures

As promised, here is Part 2 of our adventures at D23 Expo at the Anaheim Convention Center.  In this video we take a look at some of our favorite things (Harrison Ford, Chris Evans, Benedict Cumberbatch, Teen Beach Movie, etc) and ask some expo-goers what their favorite things have been over the weekend. There’s also plenty of cosplay, some Broadway stars, new Disney things to acquire, and a special “hi” from Markiplier!

Martha Thomases: Doctor Strange Things Happen!

Dr Strange

This is how devoted I am to you, Constant Reader. This morning of deadline day, just before I woke up, I had a dream. In that dream, Editor and Task Master Mike Gold was saying, “That new Doctor Strange movie is just an excuse for fangirls to obsess over Benedict Cumberbatch.”

(Note: I don’t actually think this is something Mike would say. I mean, I don’t live in his head, so maybe he would. The point is, some aspect of my subconscious, disguised as Mike, said it in my dream.)

In my dream, I answered, “So what? Pocketful of Miracles was just an excuse for men to obsess over Ann Margaret’s hymen.”

And then I woke up and realized I needed an idea for this column.

Luckily, the inspiration gods were looking out for me, and Justice Elena Kagan of the Supreme Court of the United States geeked out. As part of a majority decision on a case involving patent law as it pertains to Marvel Entertainment and the guy who invented web-slinging toy technology, Kagan proved she had fangirl cred.

For those of you who haven’t read her decision (or haven’t read the coverage of it, which is all that I’ve read), you may be delighted to learn that she name-checks Steve Ditko, cites the proper issue number for Peter Parker’s debut, and quotes “With great power comes great responsibility” correctly and appropriately.

Clarence Thomas, the other noted fanboy on the court, disagreed with Kagan, but did not cite any Marvel creators in his written opinion. I like to imagine them arguing at lunch over who would win in a fight, the Hulk or Superman (maybe with President Obama and Senator Patrick Leahy, and any other elected comic-book nerds). I doubt it would help our political system function any better, but it would make it much more relatable.

I would like to tell you that, because of Kagan’s opinion, I went and did the research on patent law and came to my own conclusions about patent law, which I now understand.

I did not, and I do not.

Instead, I wondered if maybe I should create a superhero with a secret identity as a Supreme Court Justice. It could work. Supreme Court justices are only required to appear in public for a few hours a day when the court is in session, and they are not in session at all from the end of June until the first Monday in October. They probably spend a lot of time doing research and writing opinions, but with the right staff, I bet that would still leave a lot of free time. The frisson between the highest upholder of the law by day and a vigilante by night could be awesome.

But that’s too much like work, so I looked for something else to think about.

And then, I wondered whether or not Justice Kagan wore a Spider-Man t-shirt under her robes. I wondered if anyone would cosplay as her at San Diego in two weeks, because that’s a really easy costume. You could even smuggle in snacks.

Oh, and go watch this. You’ll thank me.

 

Tweeks Draw 2014

DrawOurYearThumbWe seemed to watch a lot of “Draw My Life” videos this past year, so we felt it was appropriate to recap our 2014 with a white board and some dry erase markers. In under 3 minutes, we quickly doodle this year’s top movies, tv shows, books & comics.  We also draw our favorite Con experiences, the pop culture headlines that stuck with us, and the best hair of the year (belonging to Blythe from IDW’s Littlest Pet Shop Comics)!   Lots of wishes for a fabulous 2015, everyone!

Tweeks: Christmas at the Movies with the Family

Night-At-The-Museum-3-2014Merry Christmas ComicMixers! After the presents have all been opened, dinners been eaten, and we’ve set the TiVo to record Doctor Who, we like to wrap up our Tweeks Christmas with a trip to the movies with our family. Sadly (and, well, we think weirdly) there are very few family friendly movies out in the theatres this holiday season (unless you’ve been under a rock & haven’t seen Big Hero 6 and Penguins of Madagascar — which in that case, go watch our reviews & go see those pronto!) In this week’s episode, we break down the family-friendly films you can see over Winter Break: The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies, Night at the Museum: Secret of the Tomb, Annie,  and Into The Woods.

Box Office Democracy: The Imitation Game

Benedict Cumberbatch month rolls on here at Box Office Democracy. Last week we had his turn as an obnoxious egotistical wolf and next week we’ll have him as the voice of a megalomaniacal dragon but this week we get to see him act with his whole body in The Imitation Game. Finally we get a big screen look at the face that launched a thousand tumblrs. I don’t know if it’s overexposure or the breaking of some kind of spell but I fear I’m turning on Cumberbatch and at just the worst point in his career, certainly as far as the fine people at Marvel are concerned.

I’m sure Alan Turing was a fascinating person but I sincerely hope the people who knew and loved him would say more about his character than, “probably two parts BBC’s Sherlock and one part Sheldon Cooper” but that’s what the character is for most of this film. He’s great at playing that type, I never once wished Jim Parsons was in this film, but it’s not a new place for him as an actor and it’s disappointing for a movie that has such grand ambitions leaning on what is essentially type casting for most of the film. The scenes where he’s not playing that awkward know-it-all are primarily ones where he’s dealing with his homosexuality and how uncomfortable he is by how closeted he must be. Cumberbatch is fantastic in these scenes; he plays that nervous energy with just a light undercurrent of anger so well. I wish we had more of this work and fewer scenes of him showing up laypeople with his dizzying intellect; I’m quite bored with all that right now.

Other than my disenchantment with the lead actor the rest of the movie is really quite something. The rest of the cast is quite good. Keira Knightly does some exceptionally good work and her line about being a woman in man’s job meaning she doesn’t have the freedom of being an ass is destined for gif set immortality on the Internet. Matthew Goode pops off the screen in the limited time he has, his exceptional work is the takeaway for me and I hope this gives him more attention and leads to more and better work for him. Charles Dance continues his tour of being every unpleasant person with a British accent in all of media. Allen Leech is apparently not Sean Astin and you cannot convince me that he isn’t part of some Hollywood plot to clone Astin to make sure there’s always a broad shouldered redhead around, they look exactly the same it’s uncanny.

There’s a good script here but I can’t help but feel like some kind of Academy Award consultant came in and mucked it up. I’m quite sick of movies about World War II but I’m still a sucker for the emotions it can conjure up. I always fall for the stories of sacrifice, of working together, I can even get jazzed about military logistics if you give me a chance. The Imitation Game has all of that and some rather compelling characters. It works just fine at the base story but then there’s a couple things grafted on to it that feel forced and wrong.

There’s a frame story around the wartime story about police slowly realizing they can charge Turing with gross obscenity for homosexual acts and it culminates with Turing introducing the idea of the Turing test to the investigating detective and asking him after hearing his whole story if he believes Turing to be a real person. I’m quite sure nothing like that ever happened but with the Turing test being the most enduring part of his work there seemed to be this need to shoehorn it in to the movie and it takes what should be a top scene and makes it feel overwhelmingly fake. T

here’s also end cards where they praise Turing for his work and mention that generations of scientists would continue work on Turing machines and then on a separate card they say “now we call them computers” and, yeah movie, I got that they were making a computer. It also felt like a movie trying to make itself more important by underscoring how important the subject is. I know it’s Weinstein and I understand at this time of year they’re only swinging for Oscars but it needs to feel slightly less contrived.