Tag Archives: heroes

Review of Dr. Strange: a good film misunderstood by the critics

Summary:  This review will help both those wondering if they should see the Dr. Strange and those who have seen it, although in different ways. This gives a different perspective than you’ll get from the critics. No spoilers!

“A hero ventures forth from the world of common day into a region of supernatural wonder: fabulous forces are there encountered and a decisive victory is won: the hero comes back from this mysterious adventure with the power to bestow boons on his fellow man.”

— From Joseph Campbell’s The Hero with a Thousand Faces (1949).

Dr. Strange

 

Review of Marvel’s “Dr. Strange”.

Great acting.
Some interesting cgi.
Adequate plot and dialog.
Questionable morality.

**** out of 5 stars.

Marvel’s latest film tells a story familiar to us all as another re-telling of the hero’s journey, as described by Joseph Campbell in his famous book. It’s also familiar to those of us who read the Dr. Strange comic books, which have run on and off since 1963. The film shows the power and weaknesses both of this iconic character and Marvel’s superhero films. The reviews show that many critics have difficulty understanding either.

The trailer introduces one of the great taglines for the series, almost as good positioning as that of the first X-men film (protecting those who fear and hate them):  “The Avengers protect the world from physical dangers. We safeguard it against more mystical threats.”

Let’s start the review with the most important aspect of modern Hollywood film-making, on which they lavish their time and talent: the CGI. Some of it is excellent. Much is a bore, repeating themes we have all seen countless times going back to 1968’s 2001: A Space Odyssey (Strange’s first magical trip copies 2001’s hyperspace journey). The key demonstrations of magic in the film are all in the trailers: sparkly space portals (clever), astral projection (well done), and space bending. The last is drawn more skillfully in Dr. Strange than in Inception, but used less skillfully. They use too much of it for too long, so it becomes boring.

The fight scenes display little imagination, mostly hand to hand combat with magic light sabers. Oddly they employ none of the imaginative tools used by Dr. Strange in the comics’ battles (e.g., Crimson Bands of Cyttorak, Images of Ikonn, Shields of the Seraphim, Winds of Watoomb, Flames of the Faltine, Hand of Hoggoth). The last third of the film is an extended fight scene, running so long I felt lost in time (but not as bad as The Lord of the Rings, where Peter Jackson gutted the plot to fit in orgies of gratuitous violence).

At the end I agree with the harsh verdict of James Verniere at the Boston Herald: the good spots were too few, so it was a “derivative, monotonous and repetitious display of CGI Cheez Whiz.

The film seldom shows the small uses of magic to demonstrate its power as often done in the comics (except for a humorous example in the first of the two codas in the credits). The writers seem to have exhausted their imagination on the large CGI set pieces, treating the rest as a paint-by-the-numbers exercise.

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Women are moving on top of men in America

Summary:  Long-time readers have seen some stunning but accurate predictions during the past 7 years. The secret to this track record: predicting things that have already happened, but that our preconceptions prevent us from seeing. Here’s another.  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Woman in Charge

 

Contents

  1. See the future by looking at the present.
  2. Women as leaders.
  3. Hollywood shows us the future.
  4. Conclusions.
  5. For More Information.
  6. Poor Castle, a beta in his own show.

 

(1)  We can see the future if we look at the present

What will America look like if current trends continue putting women on top of men? I (and others) have written about this for 5 years, yet the narratives of women’s oppression remained so strong that the facts have only recently penetrated to public awareness — and few have yet considered their implications. Enrichment programs for women, scholarship programs for women, job programs for women — all adding to the growing gap in women’s performance over men’s.  People are beginning to notice: “Women’s Participation in Education and the Workforce“, Council of Economic Advisers, 14 October 2014.  Some of their observations, about which they draw no conclusions (wisely, too inflammatory)…

  • Women’s college going has surpassed men’s in recent decades and has continued to increase. Women are more likely to go to college and graduate school and more likely to graduate from when they go. In 2013, 25-34 year old women were 21% more likely than men to be college graduates and 48% more likely to have completed graduate school.
  • Women now account for almost half of students in JD, MBA, and MD programs, up from less than 10% in the 1960s.
  • College-educated young women are now as likely to be employed as doctors, dentists, lawyers, professors, managers and scientists as traditionally female-dominated occupations such as teachers, nurses, librarians, secretaries, or social workers. … The share of occupations in which women are at least 80% of all workers has remained relatively constant.
  • Men and women with professional degrees have similar earnings in their 20s.
  • Women earn more than men in 16% of all married couples and 29% of married couples where both spouses work. These shares have nearly doubled since 1981.

See the future in the relative graduation rates of women vs. men. More women have bachelor’s degrees; more women have some graduate school, and the gap is widening…

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Who will find the key to power: America or the Middle East’s jihadists?

Summary: We dream of superempowered individuals, seeing ourselves as Ayn Rand’s Übermensch or comic book superheroes while we ignore the methods that made us powerful. Meanwhile, Islamic fundamentalists seek to recover formulas from their past that made them world leaders. We have the machinery yet not the will; they have the reverse. Which is more likely to see a successful mass movement? The answer will channel events in the 21st century.  {2nd of 2 posts today.}

“We are gods. Our tools make us gods. In symbiosis with our technology, our powers are expanding exponentially and so, too, our possibilities.”

— Jason Silva, keynote speaker at the 2012 Festival of Dangerous Ideas.

Superhero

Contents

  1. Our fantasies of superempowerment.
  2. The Islamic Crusade simmers.
  3. America: eagles who think they’re sheep.
  4. For More Information.

 

(1)  Fantasies of superempowerment

Our fantasies take many forms. Some are explicit, like the stories of superheroes that dominate the Hollywood boxes offices. Some are sublimated, such as the hundreds of articles describing how technology creates super-empowered individuals capable of changing the course of history (for good or evil).

This is nothing new. Individuals can destroy cities as easily as Mrs. O’Leary’s cow destroyed Chicago, or create new ideas for technologies that change the world. History is the record of these things.

Technology provides new capabilities, such as allowing individuals to release vast troves of secrets (e.g. as did Bradley Manning and Edward Snowden). But information means nothing by itself. We have no technology allowing better development of common goals and deep trust among people any better than the mail used by the Committees of Correspondence to start the Revolution during 1764-1774. It’s the will that matters, not the tech.

Humanity’s god-like powers come from mass movements — collective action of cities, religions, nations, and political revolutionary groups. Such a movement can coalesce in an eye blink and spread at warp speed, becoming an irresistible force that overturns immovable institutions.

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Why don’t our dreams of a better world inspire us to act?

Summary: In this chapter of our search for a better America we examine our stories and myths. Do they show a path to the future — inspiring us to act —  or are they just dreams of salvation by gods?  {1st of 2 posts today.}

Phoenix

In our future lies a better America.

Remember, democracy never lasts long. It soon wastes, exhausts, and murders itself. There never was a democracy yet that did not commit suicide. It is in vain to say that democracy is less vain, less proud, less selfish, less ambitious, or less avaricious than aristocracy or monarchy. It is not true, in fact, and nowhere appears in history. Those passions are the same in all men, under all forms of simple government, and when unchecked, produce the same effects of fraud, violence, and cruelty.

— John Adams’ Letters to John Taylor (1814).

I’ve written hundreds of posts describing how our passivity and apathy have allowed the 1% to gain power as our representative institutions decay, so that now the Republic itself is at risk. I’ve written 50+ posts about ways to reform ourselves and rebuild America’s politics. Unfortunately the diagnostic posts are more convincing than those about cures. Readers agree, as the posts about the problems get far more clicks than do those about ways to reform (there is another, darker explanation, which I’ll pass over today).

In these cases I turn to our myths for inspiration. Let’s review some of the good futures described in our literature, films, comic books, and TV shows.

Looking at our dreams

“It comes from a very ancient democracy, you see….”
“You mean, it comes from a world of lizards?”
“No,” said Ford … “nothing so simple. Nothing so straightforward. On its world, the people are people. The leaders are lizards. The people hate the lizards.”
“Odd,” said Arthur, “I thought you said it was a democracy.”
“I did,” said Ford. “It is.”
“So,” said Arthur, “why don’t the people get rid of the lizards?”
“It doesn’t occur to them,” said Ford. “They’ve all got the vote, so they assume that the government they’ve voted in approximates the government they want.”
“You mean they actually vote for the lizards?”
“Oh yes,” said Ford with a shrug, “of course.”
“But,” said Arthur, going for the big one again, “why?”
“Because if they didn’t vote for a lizard,” said Ford, “the wrong lizard might get in.”

— Douglas Adams, in So Long, and Thanks for All the Fish (1984).

The Space Patrol in Robert Heinlein’s future history series (e.g., Space Cadet, 1948) is an autonomous military organization maintaining the peace by its monopoly of nuclear weapons. They are aware of that the Patrol could become tyrants, and it had one almost-successful internal coup d’état (“the Long Watch”). This is the most realistic of the visions described here, although the stories themselves imply their improbability.

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Why have our movies become so dark, showing a government so evil?

Summary: The evolution of America has accelerated as we slide down the long-feared slippery slope leading to the end of the Second Republic (founded on the Constitution). Each event appears clear in the news, but the cumulative effect — the rise of a New America — is too large for us to see. For perspective let’s look at our heroes in print and on screen. Their foes display our fears; their relationship to the government reflects our relationship to it. We might pretend not to see what’s happening, but our mythical heroes see the darkness falling on us — and have changed accordingly in ways that reflect our weakness. When we decide to become strong again, we’ll find new myths (or reclaim the old ones).  {First of two posts today}

“People need stories, more than bread, itself. They teach us how to live, and why. … Stories show us how to win.”
— The Master Storyteller in HBO’s “The Arabian Nights”

Superman in handcuffs

“Man of Steel” (2013)

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Our fictional heroes reflect our dreams of individual empowerment, along a gamut from James Bond to Superman. Less often remarked, some of our myths show our awareness that only through collective action do we have strength. In the real world unions, associations, and governments created the middle class and brought full civil rights to women and minorities. Many of our stories feature heroic organizations — such as the British Secret Service, Triplanetary, U.N.C.L.E, GI Joe, and S.H.I.E.L.D. Heroic individuals and organizations protected us against criminals and foreign powers.

The Man from U.N.C.L.E

No longer. The war on terror has revealed that our government might have become our greatest foe. On TV we see stories with ample precedents in history, but unimaginable to most Americans. President Obama personally selects America citizens for assassination, without formal charges or trial. The NSA taps our phones and monitors our emails. Police patrol our streets with military equipment (just like Fallujah), eager to use force (e.g., SWAT teams killing when delivering summonses).

Fiction often mirrors our fears and our view of the world. As do our films today. Soldiers take Superman away in handcuffs. SHIELD launches helicarriers equipped for surveillance and assassination. Government agents attack Captain America. Action adventures routinely feature government officials as the bad guys. The next sequence of Marvel films feature the Civil War series, in which the government regulates — forcibly enlists — mutants in its service.

The GI Joe team

In this world trust becomes rare. Heroes in TV and films are often told to “trust nobody” (e.g., in “The X-Files” TV show, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade”, and “Captain America: Winter Soldier”). Sometimes the moral of the story is the even more extreme “trust nothing”, with the usual exceptions of love — or friends and family. It’s excellent advice for peons. Taken seriously this prevents people from working together through existing organizations, which shatters even the strongest people into powerless shards. We become individuals and families helpless before the mega-corporations and government agencies that run our world, and helpless before the 1% that own it.

Movies and TV are our myths. Today they give us nothing to inspire people to work for social and political reform.

The missing link

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“Mockingjay” shows us a Revolution in Gender Roles. What’s the next revolution?

Summary: The previous post discussed violent revolution as a possible future for America, of the kind seen in “Mockingjay” (3rd film in The Hunger Games series). Today we we looks at a different aspect of The Hunger Games,  social revolutions of the kind that have repeatedly reshaped America. Women using violence against men (for good or evil), revolutions of the past and present — pointing to the possibility of a radical revolution in the future (with unimaginable effects).

Love revolution

Contents

  1. Revolutions of the past
  2. Revolutions in the present
  3. Revolutions of the future
  4. For More Information

(1)  Revolutions of the past (now stereotypes)

“What intrigued me most, however, was the role gender played in the books, and now the movies. With her bow and arrow, inability to talk about or express her feelings, and her lack of respect for the laws and government of Panem, Katniss Everdeen is far from your stereotypical female protagonist. She isn’t weak. She isn’t in distress. And she sure as hell doesn’t need a boy to save her.
— “does ‘The Hunger Games’ really subvert traditional gender roles?“, Kelsey Sejkora, 24 April 2014

Ms Sejkora writes an interesting review (well worth reading), and here states the consensus wisdom of film critics — but she and they are wrong. These features of Katniss are those of today’s stereotypical female protagonist, and have been for a generation. That revolution began in the 1960s.

Diana Riggs as Mrs. Peel

Diana Riggs as Mrs. Peel

Since we spend more time watching TV than films, let’s look at that history for the extreme examples of strong capable women who don’t need saving: action women (i.e., they fight and defeat guys). One of the first on US or UK TV was Dr. Cathy Gale (actress Honor Blackman) in “The Avengers” (1963-1965). She was followed by Emma Peel, and a few imitators, such “Honey West”, and the “Girl from UNCLE”. In the 1970s we watched less-violent action women, such as “The Bionic Woman”, “Wonder Woman”, “ISIS”, and “Charlies’ Angels”.

In the 1990s we marveled at “Xena: Warrior Princess” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer” (“Xena” had Joxer, the first instance of The Chad character: a obsequious male subordinate to the lead woman). And in our century scores of women kick-ass every week on TV, such as  Ziva David  (“NCIS”), Kensi Marie Blye (“NCIS: Los Angeles”), Kate Becket (“Castle”), and the dozens in “Arrow”.

We can see the breadth and depth of the action girl role by consulting the Ur-enclycopedia of American culture: the TV Tropes website. The sub-categories and indexes of “action women” make this section only slightly smaller than the Britannica. And these don’t include the scores of strong women in crime procedurals who don’t kick ass (or do so less frequently), from “Police Woman” and “The X-Files” to the dozens playing today. And the hundreds of strong women professionals in medicine, law, and other fields — commonplace since the Mary Tyler Moore show (1970-77)

Sixty years of the same revolution, endlessly recycled, each time proclaimed new!  In the 1960s independent women, especially as action heroes, violated social norms. They were transgressive, hence shocking. There’s another revolution running today…

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Shut the Robo-whining: The Robocop Remake Has Something on its Mind

Summary:  Today we have another guest post by film critic Locke Peterseim, reviewing the new Robocop film. He shows how it provides a mirror into which we can see ourselves, 21st C America in all its glory. It discusses our view of heroism, our love of violence, and the shift of films from politically challenging to safe mindlessness. Post your comments about the film — and this review!

Robocop (2014)

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Shut the Robo-whining: The Remake Has Something on its Mind

By Locke Peterseim

Posted at the film blog of Open Letters Monthly
17 February 2014
Reposted here with his generous permission

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There was no compelling reason to remake Paul Verhoeven’s 1987 RoboCop. And there’s no great reason anyone has to go see José Padilha’s 2014 remake. A healthy, happy, culturally fulfilled life can be easily led without it. Even those jonesing for a mid-winter hit of PG-13 sci-fi action violence can probably find suitable sustenance elsewhere.

And yet, if you must see the Brazilian director’s remake (itself work-for-hire in the service of Sony’s perpetual franchise machine), there’s enough going on both in front of and behind the camera in the familiar Frankenstein tale of cyborg vs. crime and humanity vs. security to make it tolerably engaging and almost not a waste of your winter doldrums time.

A mid-February week that saw the wide release of not one, not two, but three ‘80s remakes (updated versions of About Last Night and Endless Love also oozed into the Cineplexes) naturally sent the film geeks a chattering about Hollywood running out of ideas and how remakes are never as good as the originals. Of course none of this has anything to do with “Hollywood running out of ideas.” Director John Landis put it very clearly in his angry truth-to-power speech last fall at an Argentinian film fest. Listen up, because the auteur behind Animal House, The Blues Brothers, American Werewolf in London, and Three Amigos is spot on:

“There are no original ideas. What … no one understands is that it is never about the idea, it is about the execution of the idea… The film studios are all now subdivisions of huge multinational corporations … It really has to do with desperation, because they don’t know how to get people into the theaters, so they bring back 3D and make all this kind of shit … It’s very common now to spend more money selling a movie than making a movie. So the reason they make remakes and sequels is because they’re brands, like Coca Cola. They remake movies because they have presold titles.”

Robocop: Joel Kinnaman & Abbie Cornish

Joel Kinnaman & Abbie Cornish

“Hollywood” didn’t put out three ‘80s remakes in one woe begotten Valentine’s Day weekend because there are no good new ideas out there, it put them out because the titles — along with recent releases like The LEGO Movie, Vampire Academy, Jack Ryan, The Hunger Games, and The Hobbit — have built-in “poster awareness” thanks to franchises, boxes of old VHS tapes, popular books, and classic toys.

I hate to be the one to crap in your morning bowl of fiber, Generation X, but we’re the new Baby Boomers. We’re old. Studios don’t care what we want or how much youthful nostalgic geek-glaze we’ve covered 25-year-old films like the original RoboCop in. They want to sell tickets to the only people still reliably wandering into theaters on Friday nights in hopes of copping a feel over a bucket of popcorn: teenagers and Millennials who don’t know Peter Weller from Paul Weller.

That said, good films are good films, bad films are bad films, and passable films are passable films, whatever their hellish marketing-driven, spreadsheet bottom-line origins. And the new RoboCop is a solidly passable film.

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