Why The Russos Are The Best Thing to Happen to the MCU Since Joss Whedon
This was one of those weeks where I was buried in work stuff– writing gigs, school things, and so on. So I just didn’t get a lot of reading done. Didn’t get down to the comics shop, didn’t really get to attack the review pile or the Shelf of Shame… there are piles and piles of books just sitting there, making me feel ridiculously guilty.
What I did get to do was watch a lot of weird old movies and TV shows.
Because our schedule is so odd these days, I end up writing well into the night most of the time, and when I’m done with that, I just don’t have enough gas left in the tank to try and settle in and read something, especially something that was sent for review. But I usually can manage to throw a DVD in the player or watch a show that’s in our queue… and some of those over the last week have been, if not actually comics-related, at least of comics-adjacent interest.
For example, there’s the Dr. Strange movie that wasn’t. Doctor Mordrid.
This is a little forgotten oddity of a movie from 1992, from Charles Band and his straight-to-home-video house of schlock, Full Moon Productions (Full Moon was kind of the equivalent to today’s The Asylum back in the VHS era.) Band is very clearly a comics guy, as his movies tend to have a 70s Marvel-Warren magazine vibe to most of them. And he actually had the rights to make a Dr. Strange movie at one point, but the option expired. This was after he had a first draft of the screenplay but before he’d actually shot anything, so he had a quick rewrite done to tweak it into the TOTALLY ORIGINAL! REALLY! “Doctor Mordrid, Master of the Unknown.”
All that being said… this isn’t bad. It’s fun, certainly. And it actually looks more like the genuine Doctor Strange than the Dr. Strange made-for-TV movie from 1978. In fairness, Peter Hooten actually comes off better when you’re watching the movie than in the horrible stills floating around the internet (as in the left-hand photo below) but he still isn’t really anything like the guy we think of as Dr. Strange.
On the other hand, especially when you look at the two side by side, Mordrid (on the right, above) is the clear winner. Put a mustache on him, and a couple of white streaks over his temples, and Doctor Mordrid is Dr. Strange. You can see for yourself.
And certainly the cast is better. Jeffery Combs as Doctor Mordrid and Yvette Nipar as Samantha are light-years beyond Strange’s poor Peter Hooten and his glassy-eyed consort Eddie Benton as Clea.
All the stuff you’d want in a Strange movie is there. Glowing stuff spewing from sorcerers’ hands, astral travel to weird Ditko-esque dimensions…
And the big showdown at the museum is everything you could wish for in a Dr. Strange movie. Sorcerous bolts of fire accompanied by a lot of polysyllabic smack talk between Mordrid and his nemesis Kabal, played by Brian Thompson (who comes off very nasty and menacing despite his unfortunate mullet)…
…that has at its climax a battle between animated dinosaur skeletons. Really.
My one gripe with this movie is that it went for the R. There’s some nudity and some swearing… so that it comes off as one of those trying-a-little-too-hard-to-be-cool comics efforts. (Like, oh, the 1970s Marvel magazines or the Warren output. Band really can’t help himself, I suppose.) They could have cut that stuff and it wouldn’t have touched the plot, it’s completely gratuitous; and if they had, they’d have probably had a family fantasy classic that could stand with the best of Harryhausen’s stuff, despite the Doctor Mordrid screenplay’s thinly-disguised origins.
Even so, in the way I think The Incredibles is a better Fantastic Four movie than the official ones, and Galaxy Quest is a better Star Trek movie than most of the official ones, I can tell you that Doctor Mordrid is a WAY better Doctor Strange movie than either the official live-action or the animated attempt to make one. And the DVD is ridiculously cheap, too.
Also this last week I watched the pilot for Intelligence, starring Josh Holloway and Marg Helgenberger.
Its premise– a hero that is given computer enhancements to plug his brain into the entire internet– was something I had to check out. As a child of the bionic superhero TV of the 1970s, I was almost compelled to.
Unfortunately, in every way that counts, Intelligence is as dull as ditchwater. It looks good and the cast is trying hard, but there’s just nothing there. There was not one plot point in the pilot you couldn’t see coming. Not one. Worst of all, the structure of the thing is designed so that as far as the basic premise is concerned, this is the exact same idea as NBC’s Chuck. Except with all the warmth and humor drained out of it (honest to God, even the bits in Intelligence that are supposed to be humorous quips come off as Serious People Talking Seriously About Serious Things) so that in the end, it’s just another gimmick procedural from CBS.
The problem for me wasn’t really the premise. It was the execution. Certainly the premise has problems– you can poke huge holes in any given scene (the biggest being, how the hell is this thing supposed to work? How does our hero not go insane from the constant bombardment of the entire internet in his brain all the time, how does he pull the exact piece of data he needs every time just by thinking about it?) But you could make similar real-world implausibility criticisms of Chuck, too. We all know too much about computers and the internet now to buy something like “it’s coded into the chip” as an explanation. The difference was that Chuck was entertaining enough that you could let it go and play along. Intelligence doesn’t have that charm, and it’s not nearly as intriguing as CBS’ other supercomputer espionage show Person of Interest, either. I got through, I don’t know, three-quarters of Intelligence and was starting to nod off, so I went to bed.
Much better is the new Helix from Syfy. I watched this one with Julie when she got home from work this morning and we both liked it okay.
The publicity is stressing that this is the new thing from Galactica‘s Ron Moore, but for us the major draw was that it also is the new thing from Javier Grillo-Marxuach, from The Middleman.
It’s a story about a mysterious zombie-fying virus loose on a privately-owned research station in the remote Arctic, because an evil biotech/pharmaceutical firm wanted to do scary tests with mutant DNA on human subjects without any of those pesky oversight or safety laws about that stuff. And of course Things Went Terribly Wrong.
Our heroes are the CDC team sent to investigate, led by Billy Campbell as the noble Dr. Alan Farragut. Like on Battlestar Galactica, these are all pretty damaged people and all of them have secrets. There’s a lot of grim staring at each other from over the tops of microscopes and a lot of running around trying to chase shadowy figures. It’s kind of a mashup of Outbreak and John Carpenter’s The Thing.
All that being said, we did enjoy it– we like shows with a big over-arcing mystery that you piece together week-by-week– and we’ll probably stick around for a while. My only real caveat is that it doesn’t seem open-ended enough for a series…. it seems more like something where you do ten or fourteen episodes and then conclude it. (I see from the initial announcements that Helix has scheduled thirteen episodes for a first season, but it’s being treated as an ongoing. So we’ll see.) But for now, we’re in.
And that’s all I’ve got. Time for me to crawl off to bed, and I’ll see you all here next week. Maybe by then I’ll have even had a chance to read some comics.
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