Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

Was Doctor Strange As “Trippy” As They Claim?

The sun took its sweet time sinking into the horizon that summer day. July was coming to an end, but still the days seemed longer. Maybe they seemed that way because of my particular position on the globe at the time; the parabola of the Northeast region made it feel like the Earth was grabbing on to as much sunlight as it could, as if it was storing it up for the long, cold winters. Maybe they seemed that way because I might be looking back on my twenties with a fondness for my more rebellious and carefree days. The poetry in the long goodbye note of a late summer sunset is written in the color of black raspberry ice cream and pink lemonade. It’s close to dusk, and my toes grab wet sand as a guy we just met walks out into the waist deep surf to take a piss while holding on to a case of cheap beer. There was something surreal, beautiful and strangely silly about this scene, and we all pick up on it right away. My friends and I look at each other and grin like mad. Maybe they seemed that way because we knew that this moment would never come our way ever again.

Maybe they seemed that way because we realized that the blotter acid we just bought in the parking lot outside of a Jerry Garcia concert was the real deal as it dug its claws into our cerebellum. We knew we’d be up for a while.

The last rays of sunshine flickered into nothing. I meander back to the parking lot. I have lost track of my friends a while ago. I knew it was going to be an interesting night as I looked up to see the stars dance and warp as Rob Wasserman plucked the melody to The Rolling Stones “Satisfaction” on one of his many upright bass solos. The details of the rest of the night were murky. There was no sleep involved that night, however I do remember taking a much needed shower in the morning. Afterwards, I dried off, collapsed on the couch, and did my best to relax. But it was difficult because the cat kept trying to force her head into my mouth.

What I’m trying to say is, in terms of a Jimi Hendrix litmus test, I am experienced.

I have seen horizons and landscapes that shouldn’t exist. I’ve felt immeasurable joy, paralyzing fear, and pants-shitting danger. I have been places. They’re nice to visit, but you wouldn’t want to raise a family there (stay in school, kids!). I lived and breathed “trippy” for a brief moment in time.  I know what “trippy” means.

It is nothing like what they’re trying to sell you with the new Doctor Strange movie.

Now, before you think I’m hating, let me explain…

Comic books, historically, have never been taken seriously. I know, try telling that to a serious collector, and he might throw his bowl of Kraft Dinner at me. But from Golden Age to the Silver (translated: from the early 1930s to the late 1960s) pulp comics in general, Marvel in particular, have always fought tooth and nail to keep and expand its fan base. Which, in and of itself, is challenging. If it wasn’t the period where pulp comics were considered the folly, and ultimately the downfall of America’s children, then it was the Comics Code Authority making life miserable for everyone. If it wasn’t them, then it was the long process of trying to get back the disaffected youth that they were trying to get to read to begin with. If it wasn’t that, then it was trying to stay ahead of the curve and avoid being out of touch, to be reminded that you need to constantly evolve. If it wasn’t that, then it would be the endless one-upmanship with their closest competitor.

DC had been the standard bearer for what the modern heroes would be; square-jawed, two dimensional dudes in flashy costumes, swooping in to thwart a burglary in progress while simultaneously saving the equally two dimensional, anatomically impossible female from danger, and trying not to look gay while doing it.

meanwhile

Steve Ditko, Jack Kirby, and Stan Lee where busy wrangling their own creative bullpen over at Marvel. Most of the time it was hit and miss.

By the early 60s, the perfect storm of censorship and uninspired story lines nearly brought an end to the brand.

That all changed when Stan introduced”The Fantastic Four”.

On the surface, just another superhero comic. But dig a little deeper, you found four individuals with different abilities who argue and spat just like an actual family would. Just like people who knew each other would. Just like people.

Flawed characters were the thing that would save Marvel during the dark times of the early 70s. But at this time, they were still fighting to keep their head above water. One of the many offshoots of Marvel was an anthology series that went by the moniker, Strange Tales. The pages were mostly about monsters and ghouls and gore and blood and guts and zombies and vampires. It was presented as an alternative to superhero drama, but it wasn’t completely devoid of familiar characters. Cloak and Dagger first appeared there. The previously mentioned Fantastic Four found their origins there. Nick Fury and his agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. were first kicking Hydra’s ass in a few issues. And, a mystical character who was inspired by a radio era serial rounded out the entourage.

That character was called Doctor Strange.

Without giving too much away that you probably already know, Stephen Strange is a brain surgeon who travels to the Far East to be healed after his hands had become damaged in a car accident.  You know the rest.

The movie is a total blast to watch. But that’s not what concerns me. What concerns me is the advertising campaign billing this film as “psychedelic” or “trippy”.

There is a sequence in the film that may constitute a decent head trip, but that’s not the point. The point is that this character was made before the Psychedelic Era, although it has been noted that it might have had a hand at predicting it. Steve Ditko’s motivation when drawing for the Sorcerer Supreme wasn’t to recall the night when he baked magic mushrooms on his pizza. It was more about how would somebody draw something mystical; an idea that hasn’t been explored very much. Especially in comics. If someone came up to you and said, “Draw black magic”, how would you do that? Steve employed purples and reds, darker colors and free form shapes. He employed the use of Abstract Art, something else that hasn’t been tried before in comics. To bill this film as “trippy” does a great disservice to the essence of what was originally achieved.

Shorter: The film is nowhere near as hallucinogenic is one might think. It is abstract. Or more to the point, it is abstract as much as a mainstream movie could be. It is a family friendly Disney property, after all. Trippy is “2001: A Space Odyssey” or “Jacob’s Ladder” or “The Science of Sleep”. Any of these films do a much better job at portraying an interpretation of hallucinating. The effects of the movie seem to lean more towards playing with geometric shapes than anything else; brick patterns, mosaic tiles, window panes. Anything that has a unifying structure is manipulated in such a way that no longer follows an actual design. If it were trippy, the bricks would come alive and shape-shift into something else before changing back into its original form. This is was just fun with shapes. To be honest, it was fun, really fun to look at, but it’s hardly mind-bending.

Other than that, the only real complaint I have about this movie is that it moves almost too fast. I suppose that might be a good thing. Calling attention to every single dollar that you throw into a scene is considered gauche, and the MCU have been quite adept at not doing that. But still, enjoying a moment for a second or two longer wouldn’t damage the narrative. I took a YouTube refresher course on the backstory of the good doctor. It turns out that it wasn’t completely necessary, although it wouldn’t kill ya to do your research.

Personal gripes aside, the movie is a blast. It is so much fun packed into an hour and fifty-five minutes (it could have run longer, and it would have been fine). This movie is a perfect example of a comic book adaptation done right. It is a perfectly stitched together collage of right choices. The writing was snappy and alive. The casting choices were perfect (let’s leave the whole “whitewashing” controversy alone for another time, shall we?) And the soundtrack. The effing SOUNDTRACK! A perfect homage to the time from whence this came from; a full orchestra combined with harpsichord, sitar and a fuzzy guitar shoved through a Tube Screamer (go ask a guitarist) was just delicious to listen to. Still, the theme, if there was one, was as forgettable as the other Marvel franchises. It’s been a complaint amongst music and movie nerds. But at least this time, they put a little more effort into it.

Go.
Go see this movie.
Go see this movie with an open mind, and if you can afford it and have the ways and means, see this in an IMAX theater.

Bottom line, Doctor Strange is not “trippy”

…It’s…strange…in a good way.

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Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

Thoughts on Halloween 2016: Where Has The Spirit Gone?

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This picture was taken on this All Hallow’s Eve while Trick-or-Treating with the kids. I could count on one hand the number of houses that were fully decorated, and I’d like to address that in a second. But first, I’d like to point out that yes, that’s a bunny sitting quite contently in someone’s front yard. After conversing with the homeowner, we found out that it wasn’t his bunny, he just likes to hang out in his yard. Which, I guess would be slightly probable for this area.  This isn’t the first rabbit I’ve seen hanging around here.

But still, some people go all out with the spoopy factor for their yard display. This guy just has a single bun-bun.

Worst. Halloween display. Everrrrr.

Still though, it is a black bunny, so it’s kinda scary? And knowing my luck, this one would just happen to be the one with big,wizardtim nasty, pointy teeth and bones strewn about its lair. But luckily, I didn’t doubt my courage or my strength, so I snapped a picture before he hopped away.

The people that live across the street from him had a more involved display, turning their front lawn into a festive graveyard festooned with blinking lights, tiny, cartoonish graves and Dollar Store cobwebs. A half a block away, another with the same motif. But between the first one and the last one and the majority in between, the houses were dark. Nobody home; the universal language of “no candy here”. Not many revelers out in the street either. I’m used to being run over by squads of screaming children, hyped up on too many Kit Kats, and dressed in their store bought costumes. Last night, I was lucky to see two families out, and even then they were on their way home. For lack of a better term, my neighborhood was a ghost town.

Why is this?

Well, most of the reasons seem pretty obvious this year.

Hurricane Matthew

For starters, there just so happened to be a Category 3 hurricane that mowed down most of the eastern coast of Central Florida before lumbering north and flooding the Carolinas.

Maybe you’ve heard of it?

20161101_142239The aftermath left a bunch of damaged houses, and many more oak trees snapped into kindling. For the most part, there were some damages done, but it was nothing we haven’t lived through before.

Weeks later, we are still cleaning up, and life goes on. People are still repairing their roofs. Chainsaws are still grinding away, and the debris trucks will be holding up traffic for a little while longer.

In the meantime, trees still lay in segments along a busy road with no sidewalks. Not the most ideal situation for kids to try and navigate.

It’s a Monday, fercrissakes…

I mean, c’mon! Monday? If you weren’t a traditionalist like some of us, you would have sidestepped this little conundrum and had your Halloween-y whatnots taken care of over the weekend. Partying for the past two days in your costume puts you in no mood for dealing with throngs of sugar fueled children.

Most of us have to work in the morning. Besides, isn’t there a game on? Burp Fart Scratch

It’s an Election Year

Admit it, while some of your kids might be a little fearful of stepping onto some stranger’s porch that’s rigged with motion sensor jump scare contraptions, you kinda felt the same way when you walked up to a house with about a dozen Trump signs propped up in the front lawn like cartoonish gravestones. “Oh, there’s nothing to be scared of,” you repeat to yourself as you walk passed the chained up pit bull and old engine-less pickup truck. “I’m sure they’re nice people.” Then you see the stars and bars backlit in the living room window. Then the gun rack. And then another. Then the chill goes down your spine when you see them smile on their porch, and they all have three teeth between them.

shines flashlight under chin

…AND ALL THEY HAVE IS CANDY CORN AND STALE CIRCUS PEANUTS! MUH- HAAHAHAHAHAAAAA! NIGHTY-NIGHT, KIDDIES!

It could be nothing. It could be that I haven’t properly canvassed this area. I’ve lived in this part of town for two years and I still haven’t got a feel for it. I spend too much time hiding inside to notice or care. Maybe it’s always been like this.

Then again, maybe it’s all the above factors rolled into one big excuse to sit this one out this year. The heart’s just not into it this year. It needs a breather.

Then again, maybe it’s because I live in a suitcase community. On one side of us, there is the beach. The other, a river. In between, rows of tiny houses built in the 1950s. Most of them occupied, a lot of them with “for rent” signs out front. Rent is too high for the locals, so that means flocks of Snowbirds flock down here in their Mercedes Benz’s  to escape the chilly grasp of Northern winters for a few months. They are congenial and lovely, but deep down, I think they feel about as out of place as I do. None of us have any idea what’s going on.

Then again, maybe everyone that lives here are complete d-bags and hate hate HATE Halloween like some Grinch who’s getting his list done early.

And I surely hope that isn’t the case.

I hope that we haven’t become as jaded about Halloween as we have about Christmas. I hope that somewhere there is that spirit of the holiday hasn’t completely died.

Why I bring this up is because it concerns me a little when things like this happen. Halloween isn’t just for the kids. I’ve seen plenty of adults light up like a Hollywood marquis on opening night because this night is their time to shine. The sense of wonderment that you once felt as a child, whether you were too afraid to climb up the porch, or running with the pack of department store Power Rangers. The sense that we still have the capacity for letting the unknown into our lives. At least for a little bit. We still have the ability to be shocked, to have a laugh, to worry that you might be showing up to your office party in a lame costume, and realize that 4 or 5 people are thinking the same thing. It takes one night out of 365 to make us realize how human we are, and lately, it feels like it might be slipping away.

I bring this up because it concerns me. There is nothing sadder than an adult who has lost his capacity to celebrate just for the sake of celebrating. It concerns me, because it makes me sad and a little nervous that there are darker forces than ghosts and vampires who cast a pall over this night, and darken house after house. Have we become that jaded? Have we let this year grind us down? We have let the screaming heads guide us by fear. We are a divided country. One we haven’t seen in a long time. One night passing out the candy in costume. One night to join in with a parade. One night to commune with the beasts and the bunnies. One night to reclaim that wonder we once had as a child.

I think we all deserve it.

On a related note, a neighborhood that goes completely dark while a black bunny roams the streets just might be another thing to add to my Work In Progress file.