Doctor Strange: The Bradscribe Review

Open Your Eye…

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“It’s Strange” – Doctor Strange.

“Maybe, who am I to judge?” – Kaecilius. 

When you’re strange, faces come out of the rain.

When Bennybatch is Strange, Marvel go ALL OUT to make the fourteenth – and latest – entry in their formidable Cinematic Universe: Doctor Strange, a spectacular and one-heckuva-trippy outing. 

Straight after the new, enhanced Marvel Studios logo is unveiled, we are led on a blistering ride of energy-harnessing and reality (re)shaping.

Benedict Cumberbatch is a long way from Holmes in the role of arrogant neurosurgeon Stephen Strange, whose self-centred world comes crashing down around him after losing the use of his hands in a horrific car accident. He is advised to travel to Nepal, where answers of a mystic kind can be attained… providing he foregoes his stubborn defeatist attitude that “this material universe is all there is.”

Cumberbatch has the right look, mood and elocution to create this extraordinary character – no wonder the studio upheld production until he had completed his Hamlet sting in London’s West End!

Having got over initial reservations concerning visuals designed TOO closely to the aesthetic originally concocted for Inception and The Matrix, such scenes as soaring through the multi-dimensional vortices and the confrontation with the dread Dormammu are suitably good fun.

“Have you seen THAT at a gift shop?”

Fortunately, complementing the impressive visuals is a really snappy script: bold, intellectual, coherent and invariably humorous. 

For a handy intro to this character, see here:

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“You’re a man looking at the world through a keyhole. You’ve spent your life trying to widen it. Your work saved the lives of thousands. What if I told you that reality is one of many?” – The Ancient One. 

Much controversy centred around Tilda Swinton’s casting as The Ancient One. Changing the ethnicity to Celtic (?!) was (ahem) strange, but when you consider that the original setting for all those mystic arts was switched from Tibet to Nepal so as to appease the Chinese box office, it all becomes so painfully politically “correct.”

By the Rings of Raggadorr, the Power of Yen conquers all it seems. Business is – annoyingly, regrettably – business. 

Wong (Benedict Wong)his forever-faithful, forever-making-tea manservant from the comics – has been upgraded to Head Librarian. Amazingly, the titular role and the librarian are both played by top British thesps who share the same forename: Benedict – how strange!

Kaecilius – as noted before, is a character NOT found in the comics. Maybe he is not given as many memorable dastardly moments as we would like, but hey! The fact that it is played to sinister perfection by Mads Mikkelsen, possibly my – and your! – fave villainous character actor provides enough reason to rejoice.

And when you’re starting to wonder how this visual treat ties in with the rest of the MCU, there IS the honorary Stan Lee cameo – that is hilarious! To help bring further MCU relevance to these proceedings, Wong helpfully states:

“The Avengers protect the world from physical enemies… we safeguard it against more mystical threats.”

Too right, Wong!

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“Steve Ditko is one of the greatest Marvel artists in history… We are now able to take his trippy comic panels and have the technology to put that into big 3-Dimensional space on a movie screen… it’s amazing” – Kevin Feige. 

Okay, let’s get the most annoying problem (which applies to too many movies these days, not just Doctor Strange) out of the way first.

As is all too painfully predictable in modern cinema these days, Rachel McAdams has woefully little to do here, worryingly described as the “love interest.” As is so often, her “appearance” is reduced to insipid underdevelopment. And Stephen shows little Interest anyway. Yet again, we are left wondering what necessitated her inclusion at all…

It would have been really groovy if Martin Freeman’s American character from Cap America: Civil War had made a cameo somewhere here! Talk about opportunity missed…

Once again – as expected, Vishanti be praised! – Marvel has produced another great hit. It’s well worth checking out. Remember to stay for the post-cred scenes; BOTH are impressive – one features a cameo from one of Marvel’s well-established heroes (Hint: he does NOT like tea!)

As for me, multiple repeat viewings are assured – while you go and enjoy this one, Brad will be pleasantly coming down. Preferably with tea.

No mushrooms! Just tea. With a little honey. 

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BRADSCRIBE VERDICT: 

4 Eyes of Agamotto out of 5 – hey, four Eyes is nothin’ ta snigger at!

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Homecoming Scream!: Is Comic Book Movie Fatigue Setting In?!

Tell me, do you despair? You will… 

SPIDER-MAN AGAIN: Why?! How about Spider-Woman? After sex, the female spider EATS the male - who wouldn't pay good money to go watch THAT?!
SPIDER-MAN AGAIN: Why?! How about Spider-Woman? After sex, the female spider EATS the male – who wouldn’t pay good money to go watch THAT?!

“I’m not overly fond of what follows…” – Loki. 

Of all that’s sacred! Another one?! 

Still reeling with dismay from the announcement that the umpteenth Spider-Man movie is forging (or should that be spinning?) ahead, it’s even been given the title: Spider-Man: Homecoming. Now this is quite possibly the lamest tag EVER concocted; what a pun – alluding to Peter Parker’s high-school frolics as well as “coming home” to Marvel after enjoying box office success in the hands of Sony.  

Ahem, is there anyone celebrating this news?

Sure, the original Spider-Man movie with Tobey McGuire was an enjoyable outing. Good to see Sam Raimi on top of his game, but Willem Defoe as the Green Goblin stole the show and rightly so. When the inevitable Spider-Man II came out, it looked okay, but made me realise that there is more to life than sitting through sequels. By the time No. 3 came along, there was no incentive to go watch; many agreed – in fact, a universal arachnophobia had set in. And then for some ludicrous reason – which STILL  thwarts my investigative journalistic powers – with the dust barely settled on this non-starter, we were subjected to: the reboot. This time it was The Amazing Spider-Man. The obligatory Stan Lee cameo happened to be the only amazing aspect of this forgettable movie.

Sorry, Spidey, but Ant-Man was always more intriguing. Even when only seven years old – and in the prime of his comic-collecting duties – yours truly could never accept the Webslinger’s red and blue costume. Nah, Ant-Man had a cool helmet, and the ability to shrink to ant-size really appealed, especially as a viewing of Jack Arnold’s classic: The Incredible Shrinking Man (1957) at around that time had thrilled my infant mind beyond measure. 

But press me on the issue (hypothetically of course) of an Ant-Man franchise and yours truly would have to respectfully decline. Don’t get me wrong, last year’s Ant-Man movie was like a dream come true, but, bearing in mind the wonders that can be achieved now with modern sfx, the exploits of the tiniest Avenger really don’t suit the big screen.

PANDA-BOY BEGINS!: What?! Neither DC nor Marvel publish a book called Panda-Boy?! Honestly, if you wanna job done properly...
PANDA-BOY BEGINS!: What?! Neither DC nor Marvel publish a book called Panda-Boy?! Honestly, if you wanna job done well…

“Never rub another man’s rhubarb” – The Joker.  

Initially, the prospect of a Suicide Sguad movie did not instill too much confidence in me. So we’ve never heard of them before, but such was the case with Guardians of the Galaxy, and look what an awesome bundle of fun that turned out to be…

The astonishing success of Deadpool in February showed that cinema-goers want something different… something fresh. Hell yeah, Sguad is so fresh, it’s got the Fresh Prince playing Deadshot who, admittedly, is the only member of this mental mob of misfits one can identify from the comics. It is difficult to tell whether this will be a smash or a mere cult hit – talk so far has centred mainly, (worryingly), on the music used in the trailers, rather than the sort of action on offer.

The big news is that this pic will feature an exhilarating new version of the Dark Knight’s archnemesis: the Joker, played -with tattooes?! – by Jared Leto. Personally, Heath Ledger’s performance as the Clown Prince of Crime seemed so fantastic and fearsome, that any subsequent portrayal would seem misguided.

If, however, that is Leto in the Panda-Boy disguise in the above pic, then sure – what the hell! – let’s have a butchers… 

In Squad We Trust? 

We can find out if these bad’uns do good from 5 August. 

SEARCH & DISTRAUGHT: Argo-Man scours the blogosphere in vain for any favourable reviews...
SEARCH & DISTRAUGHT: Argo-Man scours the blogosphere in vain for any favourable reviews…

“Next time they shine your light in the sky, don’t go to it. The Bat is dead, buried. Consider this mercy…” – Superman.

So, most critics and bloggers unanimously agree that DC’s initial entry of their own Cinematic Universe is just a Dawn of Just Ass. Honestly, how can a movie featuring the two most iconic superheroes EVER turn out to be SUCH a phenomenal FAIL?!

Believe me, as someone who collected both Superman and Batman comics as a kid, the thought of seeing them finally spar against each other in one epic blockbuster was overwhelming to say the least! (Given the choice who to root for, it would be very difficult for me to pick a side). Unfortunately, we read the somewhat underwhelming reactions from reviewers and bloggers alike…

One of the few warmly-received aspects of Batman v Superman (or BS for short) was Ben Affleck’s seemingly definitive portrayal of the Dark Knight. Fans are rejoicing at the prospect of another solo Batflick written/directed by Benaffleck – the very same fans who, incidentally, were cursing the casting director when news of Dawn of Justice broke…

If this is the Dawn we’ve all been waiting for, a lie-in has never seemed a sweeter option. And if this “dark and gritty” approach is what we should expect when the DC Cinematic Universe expands, then all does not bode well for a Justice League movie. As a Brit, Brad finds himself rooting instead for the imminent Captain America movie (a character he’ll never tire of watching!) – where’s the Justice in that?

Civil War (released on 6 May!) is shaping up to be another cracker, but personally, the build-up has been marred with a tad too much speculation as to whether – uh-huh, him again – Spidey would make an appearance… in the latest trailer…  

Couldn’t care less? You bet…

Ooh, but Brad! Did ya see that cool thing Spidey did with his eyes?

Yeah… so what?

My attention falls instead on Black Panther. His appearance in the Marvel Cinematic Universe is about time and would be most welcome. And a standalone Black Panther movie? Sure: a previously unseen character, and an exploration of diversity – why not? 

But PLEASE – for the love of cake – DON’T give us ANOTHER Spider-Man cameo!!

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“Are we done here?” – Steve Rogers. 

Be sure to join me next time for more cynical banter an’ japes! Same Brad time, same Brad channel. 

Quasi-Scientific Powers: A Blog About Magic

Is There Any Argument To Include ‘Magic’ In Science Fiction?

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“Magic is, by definition, not science. It is, therefore, that which cannot be entertained within science fiction. Its banishment, however, has been less than total” – Brian Stableford. 

Perhaps the best way to tell the difference between science fiction and fantasy is that while the former emphasizes science, a great deal of fantasy deals with magic. 

By definition, magic is the power of apparently influencing events by using mysterious or supernatural forces. Imagine magic disciplined into an “applied” science. Some SF writers have dabbled in it, leading to a varied array of stories about magic, or – more precisely – quasi-scientific powers.

It’s all James George Frazer’s fault. In The Golden Bough: A Study In Magic and Religion (1890), magic is represented as a kind of proto-science based on presumed natural laws: the law of similarity and the law of contagion. The first states that one can influence a process by imitating it, or influence an object by operating upon a likeness of it; the second states that objects once in contact remain associated, so that – ah, stuff it: anyone fancy any cake?

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“Any sufficiently advanced technology is indistinguishable from magic” – Arthur C. Clarke. 

No matter how determined SF authors have been in shutting out the mysterious lure of magic, they have invariably kept returning to it. It is said that one branch of specialised (science-based) jargon can easily pass into fantasy territory; strict boundaries btween the two no longer apply. Why should there be any boundaries in fiction?  

As just one example, psionic power can be converted into witchcraft, and vice versa. The combination of “careful extrapolation and absurd premises” fuelled the fantasy that appeared in “Unknown Worlds,” at one time a short-lived companion magazine to Astounding Science Fiction. One of its most notable stories was “The Devil Makes The Law,” (aka “Magic, Inc”) by Robert Heinlein.

A number of SF authors have toyed with pseudoscientific versions of supernatural phenomena. The shape-shifting inherent in “There Shall Be No Darkness” (1950) by James Blish comes to mind. The world really thrives on the mythology of magic in Black Easter (1968) by James Blish, while a world “where magic works and has been disciplined for application” featured in Poul Anderson’s Operation Chaos (1971).

Yet perhaps the most awesome SF/fantasy crossover is the The Book of the New Sun, a four-volume series by Gene Wolfe. He pioneered the innovative concept of “science fantasy” whereby conventional science fiction was rearranged into a new “posthistoric” Dark Age centuries after the collapse of our own civilization.

The first volume: The Shadow of the Torturer (1980) carries one of my all-time favourite SF book covers (see above), so – if the whole series can be found this Winter during my festive book hunt – then some thoroughly enjoyable reading is in order!

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“I’d like to see little girls playing Avengers in the playground and doing the Scarlet Witch hand gestures” – Elizabeth Olsen.   

While scientific mishaps created (most of) the comic book heroes we know and love today, there are plenty of mystical mavericks ready to fight for justice, especially in Marvel Comics.

Leading the way, dazzling the least-suspecting with her luminous pink hex power is the Scarlet Witch. Wanda Maximoff became one of the most prominent female members of the Avengers; she married everyone’s fave android-in-green-tights: the Vision. 

The mutant mystic made her big screen debut this year in Avengers: Age of Ultron, played by Elizabeth Olsen. Apparently, her character’s powers were useless against the real dangers of filming: “You’re looking around and it’s like all these prestigious actors dressed up in costumes and none of us could stop laughing because we kept screwing up the scene.”  The actress confirms that the Scarlet Witch will make a second appearance in next May’s Captain America: Civil War and the next Avengers adventures.

Sure, my comics radar was well aware of Dr. Strange: the Master of the Mystic Arts, but somehow, his title never appealed. Even when you’re seven years old, a moustachioed man in a mini-skirt, with tights, does not look cool.  

However, having realised (in my teenage years) that he was actually wearing a long tunic, and some of his comics (from the early 80s) were actually quite impressive, the prospect of seeing him on the big screen is intriguing; the fact that Benedict Cumberbatch has signed on to play him has only piqued my interest further. It’s not due for release until 4 November next year, so that leaves plenty of time to catch up with the doctor’s exploits (back issues).

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“m’I tuo fo ym ecaf” – Zatanna Zatara. 

DC Comics – not to be outdone – have their own formidable canon of mystic heroes.

Perhaps this stable’s best-known mystic is Zatanna, who made her debut in Hawkman #4 in 1964. Most notable for her odd knack of casting spells backwards, not only is she more glamorous than either Dr. Fate or the Spectre, but her fondness for white rabbits should be generously rewarded.  

This black-clad, top-hatted, curvaceous conjuror just happens to be embroiled in DC’s Identity Crisis storyline, with all its magical mind-wiping madness. 

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“Pick up any one of the Essential Defenders reprint trades and you’ll see the Hulk and the Silver Surfer venturing into the worlds of magic with the Atlantean prince Namor. Rocking” – Charlie Jane Anders. 

Despite his penchant for blue tights and yellow helmet and cape, there was nothing about Dr. Fate that made me want to grab his comic. Funnily enough, whenever his so-called ongoing series was revived, it never lasted long – so it seems unlikely that we will see him on the big screen any time soon.

So, is there any room in this dizzying technological age for a little bit of hocus-pocus?

You could fly from one side of this galaxy to the other, see a lot of “strange stuff,” but never see anything to make you believe that there’s one all-powerful Force controlling everyone. No mystical energy field controls my destiny! It’s all a lot of simple tricks and nonsense.

Or is it…?

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Abracadabra!