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Tag Archive: Doctor Strange


Review by C.J. Bunce

Marvel Contest of Champions is a 2014 mobile fighting game from Kabam, released four years ago on iOS and Android, boasting more than 100 million players.  Based on ideas generated from the 1982 three-issue Marvel Comics series Contest of Champions by Mark Gruenwald, John Romita Jr., and Bob Layton, players select superheroes from across the history of the Marvel universe to battle each other.  Both the original comic and the game key in on the scheming machinations of Grandmaster and the Collector, and if the idea sounds familiar, it may be because it was also featured in Marvel’s big screen Thor: Ragnarok, with Jeff Goldblum’s Grandmaster pitting Chris Hemsworth’s Thor against Mark Ruffalo’s Planet Hulk-inspired gladiator Hulk.

Initially intended to be based on Marvel’s Super Heroes Secret Wars comics, the Contest of Champions video game features more than 100 playable characters, and includes dozens of others.  The characters as realized for the game and the game environments is the focus of a new book from author Paul Davies, Marvel Contest of Champions: The Art of the Battlerealm The book represents one of the rare assemblages of so many characters from all segments of the Marvel universe.  Showcasing the story by Sam Humphries and artwork by Gabriel Frizzera, Luke Ross, and others, the book is full of great character designs, concepts, and final selections.  It even takes readers beyond the events of Infinity War, although the game does not adhere to the movies.

Readers and game players will find it difficult coming up with characters from Marvel Comics not incorporated into Contest of Champions.  In the book they’ll find updated versions of all the superheroes (and many villains) from the Marvel Cinematic Universe, plus the X-Men, Deadpool, Old Man Logan, X-23, Spider-Gwen, Ghost Rider, Howard the Duck, Hyperion, Jane Foster’s Thor, Miles Morales’s Spidey, Kamala Khan’s Ms. Marvel, Spawn, Dark Phoenix, She-Hulk, Moon Knight, Cable, Gwenpool, Mephisto, Blade, Carnage, and the Inhumans.  Plus there’s the Netflix Marvel series characters, lesser used characters like the future evil Hulk called Maestro, Magik, M.O.D.O.K., Sentry, Sentinel, Sabretooth, Agent Venom, Morningstar, Guillotine, Karnak, Kang, Doctor Voodoo, Black Bolt, and Venompool.  Both Angela, grand-daughter of Odin, and King Groot are brilliantly realized in the game and the book (shown above).

Here are some preview pages from Marvel Contest of Champions: The Art of the Battlerealm:

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As part of the continuing celebration of 10 years of the Marvel Cinematic Universe that kickstarted filmdom’s modern superhero blockbuster chapter, AMC Theaters are getting the entire team back together for an eight-day movie marathon nationwide beginning Thursday, August 30.  Get ready for the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival.  Marvel has converted three early films in the series to IMAX for the first time: Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, and The Incredible Hulk.  So the entire 20 film series will be screened in IMAX, plus many of the films will also be screened in 3D.

The announcement arrives with the home video release of Avengers: Infinity War, now available on Blu-ray and Digital HD, 4K, and DVD.  If you missed Infinity War, check out our review here (and catch all our Marvel Cinematic Universe reviews below).  This is your chance to catch up any or all of the films you might have missed in the theater, including the three 2018 releases Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  And it will give many younger viewers the opportunity to see some great superhero movies from the early days of the MCU on the big screen for the first time.

The big day of the festival appears to be September 3, with a great single-day line-up: Thor: Ragnarok, Black Panther, Avengers: Infinity War, and Ant-Man and The Wasp.  The series will run over Labor Day weekend, with four films per day from August 30 through September 5.  On September 6, AMC will screen two fan-favorite films, to be selected by a fan vote.  See the Marvel Studios 10th Anniversary Film Festival website for more details.  It also seems likely based on past screenings that AMC may offer some kind of bundled purchase price for multiple shows.  Check back to the website as the end of August nears for any additional promotions.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

You probably haven’t had this much fun watching a rollicking fantasy movie this cool since you first saw the 1980 Flash Gordon movie starring Sam Jones, Max Von Sydow, Melody Anderson, Timothy Dalton, and Brian Blessed, accompanied by that memorable Queen soundtrack.  It shouldn’t be hard to believe–seven weeks from its premiere and Thor: Ragnarok continues to sell-out theater screenings across the country.  In a year full of so many comic book adaptations, and great ones at that, from Logan and Logan Noir to Spider-man: Homecoming, Guardians of the Galaxy 2, and even The LEGO Batman Movie, this was a great year for comic books on film.  But Thor: Ragnarok rivaled them all from an entertainment standpoint.  In many ways Thor: Ragnarok is a natural progression from both the past Thor films and the entire Marvel Cinematic Universe.  But something about director Taika Waititi’s vision for Avengers Thor and Hulk in this latest film changed how the MCU can entertain.  Instead of focusing on the events that the earlier Marvel entries–and comic books–are best known for, events like Civil War, Waititi returned to the reason we all turn to superheroes for entertainment:  it’s because we like the characters.  The end of the world is coming for Asgard, three great villains are wreaking havoc for our heroes, but Taikiki does something novel.  He puts the setting where it belongs: in the background.  And so we get closer to Thor, Hulk, Loki, Valkyrie, and even Thor and Loki’s sister Hela, by watching them interact.  The result is a film that should be vying for the top spot with the likes of Iron Man, Captain America: The First Avenger, X-Men: Days of Future Past, Guardians of the Galaxy, Ant-Man, Logan, and Spider-man: Homecoming, on your comic book movie best-of shortlist.

Waititi really accomplished something difficult here.  It’s not often the third film in a series completely exceeds the prior films (although it’s certainly arguable Spider-man: Homecoming trounced four prior Spider-man movies).  The Incredible Hulk and Hulk were hardly comparable to Thor: Ragnarok as a Hulk movie (sans title only).  And Thor and Thor: The Dark World weren’t remotely as memorable as Thor: Ragnarok.  So what made it all come together?  Clever dialogue from a tight script for one.  And each actor needed no time to take their characters and march forward.  Chris Hemsworth’s cocky God of Thunder has always sported a humorous side, but partnered with Tom Hiddleston’s on-again, off-again baddie Loki, and a Bruce Banner after he’s stuck in “Hulk mode” for two years (played by Mark Ruffalo), Thor: Ragnarok is every bit the next Avengers team-up film–it may as well be called Avengers: Ragnarok.  It’s also a buddy comedy.  Why not?  In the comic books the serious and powerful characters of Hulk and Thor have always been less accessible than the rest so how better to reach audiences?  And why not take that most-comic book of tropes and let them have their hero battle in the ring?  Many comic book readers have been waiting for this film for a long time.

The entire art design and sound should be credited with the film’s success, too.  Classic Jack Kirby imagery and style can be found throughout the production design.  Funky psychedelic colors, lights, and imagery make this a fantasy film, as opposed to a superhero or sci-fi movie.  Action choreography appears like it’s torn from the panels of a comic book page.  Dazzling fantasy costumes by Mayes C. Rubeo (The Great Wall, John Carter, Avatar, The Librarian) include Cate Blanchett’s Hela destroyer outfit, Tessa Thompson’s Valkyrie/Scrapper 142 outfit, Idris Elba’s Heimdall in Robin Hood garb, and Karl Urban’s iridescent Scurge armor.  Music by Mark Mothersbaugh (The LEGO Movie, Lords of Dogtown, Fanboys, 21 Jump Street) includes audacious, sometimes triumphant, sometimes hilarious choices.  And Magic Sword’s “In the Face of Evil,” Led Zeppelin’s “Immigrant Song,” and Gene Wilder’s “Pure Imagination” from Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, were simply inspired inclusions that made the characters and film exactly how we want these characters to look and feel: Cool.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

Twelve Days is Steven Barnes’ latest sci-fi novel, an urban thriller delving into the evolution of the human brain.  Olympia Dorsey is a single mother of two, working for an Atlanta news outlet.  Her son Hannibal is autistic, and Olympia has been called into his school where they suggest sending her son to a better center for his care.  The center, a spiritual headquarters shrouded in Indian mysticism and nestled in the mountains, sounds too good to be true.  So she brings along her ex-boyfriend neighbor in their first visit to meet a Doctor Strange-esque mystic and martial arts expert who uses her influence and charisma to convince them she has the place for Hannibal’s care, evening promising a complete turnaround for the child in ten days.  Barnes’ crafts a slowly-building story where Olympia, desperate to improve the life of her autistic child, allows herself to be reeled in.

Olympia’s boyfriend Terry is ex-military, and had been plotting a jewel heist with his old military pals, but after his confrontation with the mystic he is somehow changed.  Can he make a clean break from his own criminal enterprise?   What is the motivation of this cult?  Influence?  Money?  Power?  Revenge?  Is the threatened apocalypse in only twelve days real or only a distraction?  And can Olympia get out before it’s too late?

Not like even the typical cult, the mystical mountain facility evokes the frightening Jefferson Institute of Robin Cook’s Coma, only here the victim’s organs aren’t harvested for money.  Here the victims are used as brainwashed agents to use their brainwaves to kill people far away, when submerged in a chamber not unlike that of Philip K. Dick’s Minority Report.  It’s when the science fiction begins that Twelve Days kicks in.  Borrowing from the ideas of Joseph Ruben’s 1984 film Dreamscape, Twelve Days presents the most unusual of assassination tools to eliminate all the members of an anonymously leaked “Death List”–a dead pool list that includes both the world’s most wanted criminals, but also its leaders.  Each is being systematically eliminated, and even more are projected to die within twelve days.

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This week the Saturn Awards crowned the best of genre film and television, selecting the best works on the screen for the 43rd year.  As with last year’s selections, although the start and end dates vary from our own calendar year list, this year’s winners aligned in the major categories with our own borg.com picks of the Best of 2016 from film and television.  If the Academy Awards, Golden Globes, Emmys, and all those other award recognitions leave you wanting, you can always depend on the Saturn Awards to come through for genre fans.

So we’re happy to see the Academy of Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror Films name Rogue One: A Star Wars Story as Best Science Fiction Film, Best Direction in a Film (Gareth Edwards) and Best Film Visual/Special Effects (John Knoll, Mohen Leo, Hal Hickel, Neil Corbould), Doctor Strange as Best Comic-to-Film Motion Picture and Tilda Swinton for Best Supporting Actress in a Film, and Star Trek Beyond for Best Film Make-up (Monica Huppert and Joel Harlow) Star of our favorite superhero sequence of 2016, Spider-man Tom Holland was awarded Best Performance by a Younger Actor for Captain America: Civil War.  In the television categories, Riverdale was named Best Action/Thriller TV Series and star KJ Apa won The Breakthrough Performance Award for his work as the iconic comic book character Archie Andrews.*  The Best New Media TV Series was a tie, shared between Stranger Things and Marvel’s Luke Cageand Stranger Things star Millie Bobby Brown was named Best Younger Actor on Television.  Even a borg.com Hall of Famer won major kudos this year, Six Million Dollar Man actor Lee Majors was awarded The Life Career Award.  We couldn’t agree more with all these selections.

Other works we liked last year that won honors included 10 Cloverfield Lane for Best Thriller Film, Best Actress (Mary Elizabeth Winstead), and Best Supporting Actor (John Goodman), Deadpool for Best Actor (Ryan Reynolds), Arrival for Best Film Screenplay (Eric Heisserer), and Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them for Best Film Costume (Colleen Atwood).

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Speaking of Mark Hamill’s performance in this year’s December release Star Wars: The Last Jedi, Star Wars: The Force Awakens director J.J. Abrams said this past week, “I think we are all going to be very upset if he does not win an Oscar.”  It’s a great thought, and certainly hits on what must be a significant role in this year’s eagerly awaited Episode XIII.  But it’s pretty unlikely if the ghost of Oscars past has anything to say about it.  This year is like most years when it comes to Academy Award nominations.  Dramas monopolize the nominee categories yet again.  When a genre is represented–also as usual–the representations are dramas in genre dress (like Passengers).  The usual representation of biopics (like Jackie), movies about Hollywood (like La La Land) and historical dramas (like Hacksaw Ridge) are back as well, sure to take home some of the coveted trophies tonight.  But nine nominees for best picture and no Midnight Special?

The best animated film category provides a little relief, with Kubo and the Two Strings, Moana, Life as a Zucchini, The Red Turtle, and Zootopia as nominees.  Oscar winner Colleen Atwood is back as a costume design nominee with one of the year’s fantasy releases, Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them, which also garnered a nod for production design.  But why Fantastic Beasts?  Compare Atwood’s reserved designs for Fantastic Beasts with her elaborate designs for The Huntsman: Winter’s War.  Alas, Dave Crossman and Glyn Dillon’s landmark costume designs for Rogue One: A Star Wars Story were completely ignored, as were the hundreds of new, stunning, alien wardrobe designs and Starfleet retro-design uniforms created by Sanja Milkovic Hays for Star Trek Beyond.

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As usual you need to look for the technical categories for the genre works.  Star Trek Beyond and Suicide Squad, along with A Man Called Ove are the makeup and hairstyling contenders.  Considering the fifty unique makeups designed for Star Trek Beyond in the franchise’s fiftieth year, this would be a triumph for the franchise.  Rogue One: A Star Wars Story landed multiple nominations this year, including a deserved nod for sound mixing.

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Review by C.J. Bunce

In a year with Deadpool, X-Men: Apocalypse, Captain America: Civil War, Batman vs. Superman: Dawn of Justice, and Suicide Squad, only one really knocked our socks off beginning to end with no caveats.  Doctor Strange, our pick for last year’s best superhero movie, began with a hotshot medical whiz played as smartly as ever by Benedict Cumberbatch, who embarked on an intriguing story arc with the help of a mystic brilliantly played by Tilda Swinton.  Along the way Cumberbatch introduced us to the next great character of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, a dead ringer for the classic comic book character who sports the coolest cloak ever, and wields otherworldly special effect powers that really look great in 3D.  Plus, we had a great villain in Mads Mikkelsen’s Kaecilius, humor, and a solid supporting cast.  Next week Doctor Strange makes its way to online streaming services with the 3D Blu-ray, Blu-ray, and DVD release scheduled for February 28, 2017.

Doctor Strange includes the best recent use of 3D in the theater, so if you have the 3D player and compatible TV the 3D Blu-ray will be the way to go.  Viewing it in 3D in the theater was a must, from Doctor Strange’s spell weapons to a world colliding with an amped up Spirograph meets Kaleidoscope-infused reality, from conflicts on Salvador Dali paintings come to life and M.C. Escher and Labyrinth-inspired battlefields, to journeys through distant outer space and beyond time.  Crisp clarity and beautiful cinematography reveals modern effects at their best thanks to the production of Kevin Feige–who has coordinated everything Marvel for both Disney and Twentieth Century Fox–and director of photography Ben Davis (Guardians of the Galaxy, Avengers: Age of Ultron, Kick-Ass, Stardust, Layer Cake).

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Look forward to some great costume work from Academy Award-winning costume designer Alexandra Byrne (Hamlet, Elizabeth, The Phantom of the Opera, The Avengers, Guardians of the Galaxy).  And Michael Giacchino is finally back with a superb musical score more on par with his work on The Incredibles than more recent soundtrack efforts.  Giacchino really hedged his bets last year, producing soundtracks to 2016 releases Star Trek Beyond, Zootopia, Doctor Strange, and Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.   Giacchino really justified his place as an Oscar-winning composer with his brilliant score for Doctor Strange, a score we think was on par with his superb work on The Incredibles.

After the break, check out all the extras for the home edition release and an unusual–unusually cute–trailer for the home release of Doctor Strange:

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Japan toymaker S.H. FiguArts is setting a new standard in small-sized action figures representing the state of the art of sculpt design technology from Bandai Toys, the fourth largest toy company in the world.  Designed to mimic the range of motion of the human body, the series aims to focus on “Simple Style” and “Heroic Action.”

Arguably the best of these new designs is the S.H. FiguArts new Doctor Strange figure, designed specifically for the U.S. market, available later this year.  The “Doctor Strange & Burning Flame Set” is a high-end 6-inch figure, about 1:12 scale.  Doctor Strange’s facial expressions are replicated with superb detail utilizing Tamashii Nations’ digital coloring technology, a printing technique that enables reproduction of minute details in the creation of expressions–in this case–true to Benedict Cumberbatch’s portrayal in last year’s blockbuster film, Doctor Strange.

The figure is available for pre-order now from both Amazon here and Entertainment Earth here.  This set is sold by special arrangement only in the U.S.

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Check out more photos and product details after the cut.

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What better way to celebrate the strong, determined leader Leia Organa made famous by actress Carrie Fisher than to celebrate her legacy in the genre heroines of today?  What do most of the characters on this year’s list of Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines have in common?  Most have roles that could easily be swapped with a male.  Sure, you can have heroine characters who are written to largely rely on traditional female qualities, but women characters bending gender roles are breaking new grounds.  We met characters this year who were held back in their place in time by their status as women, and it is often that role that prompts them to gain the fire and passion necessary to become the heroine of their stories.  So we have both a dress-wearing, well-read 19th century Jane Austen character on our list, but also a space-faring criminal in combat boots, a sea captain, an alien survivor, an alien visitor, a warrior, a sorcerer, a group of clones, a gunslinger, two cops, a zombie, and a supernatural assassin.

In past years we were able to select our Best Kick-Ass Genre Movie Heroine and Best Kick-Ass Genre TV Heroine, but this year the studios gave us more to cheer about than ever, and instead of ranking them we’re highlighting the very best from an unprecedented slate of heroines, with characteristics to learn from and emulate.  Determined, decisive, loyal, brave, smart, fierce, strong.  You’ll find no one here timid or weepy, but all rely on their individual skills to beat the odds and overcome any obstacle that comes their way.  Some may be frazzled, put-upon, war-weary, very human, resulting from trying circumstances, personal losses, and even death of friends and family.  But they all mustered up the strength to rise above it all.  These are the Best Kick-Ass Genre Heroines of 2016:

Sara Huntsman

Sara (The Huntsman: Winter’s War).  Heroines can be medieval or fairy tale warriors, a trained Huntsman quick with a bow and arrow or two-handed swordplay.  Jessica Chastain’s Sara was never seen in Snow White and the Huntsman, but we quickly learned why Chris Hemsworth’s Eric was filled with despair when learning of her supposed death.  A loyal warrior to her queen, she must decide whether to join her excommunicated secret husband against the forces of evil or stand with Queen Freya and her manipulative sister.  A powerhouse trio of actresses, Chastain’s Sara rises above them all opposite Emily Blunt and Charlize Theron in this great fantasy film.

Lily James and Bella Heathcote in Screen Gems' PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES.

Elizabeth Bennet (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies).  You already know Elizabeth Bennet as the eldest sister in the classic Jane Austen novel Pride and Prejudice.  An obnoxious mother harassing her, unlikely prospects for marriage, and an oppressive society with little opportunity to make her own choices.  Readers finally get to witness how the classic character might react when given opportunity–opportunity to learn Eastern mysticism and Japanese martial arts, and a role where she and her sisters and friends can fully defend their family and home from a zombie onslaught.  Lily James couples lacy dresses, Regency manners, and in-your-face, Quentin Tarentino-inspired kicks, with classic swordplay–and bloody beheadings.  If a war is coming, you want the likes of Elizabeth Bennet on your side of the battle lines.

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What a year!  The world’s a changing place and no less so than with the welcome onslaught of new movies, television shows, books, comics, and everything else that entertained us in 2016.  All year long we tried to keep up with the best of what Hollywood had to offer and honed in on the genre content we thought was worth examining.  We went back and looked at it all and pulled together our picks for our annual Best of the Best list.  We watched all of nearly two dozen TV series, and enough of others to know we’d seen enough.  We watched dozens of new movies, reviewed more than three dozen books (and read even more), and kept up with dozens of comic book titles.  We witnessed the 75th anniversary of Wonder Woman, Green Arrow, Archie, and Captain America, the 50th anniversary of Star Trek and Charles Schulz’s Great Pumpkin, Rocky turned 40, and it was the 30th anniversary of Aliens and Labyrinth.  And the Cubs finally won the World Series.

Today we reveal the best genre content of 2016–with our top categories from movies and television Best Sci-Fi Fix, Best Fantasy Fix, Best Superhero Fix, Best Animated Fix, and Best Borg, followed by our Best in Movies picks.  The big winner was Rogue One, taking 13 spots, followed by Doctor Strange with three.  Come back later this week for our TV and print media picks, our special look at Kick-ass Heroines of 2016, followed by our annual borg.com Hall of Fame inductees.

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Best Sci-Fi Fix – Rogue One: A Star Wars Story (Lucasfilm).  Although the franchise is more space fantasy than science fiction, all the elements of the best sci-fi were crammed into Rogue One.  Epic space battles, aliens, and loads of sci-fi technology.  A compelling story.  We’re wagering this film will be a classic we go back to for years to come, upsetting Star Wars: The Force Awakens as the third best of the eight films in the series.  It’s everything a sci-fi fan could want.

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Best Fantasy FixThe Huntsman: Winter’s War (Universal Pictures).  Like Rogue One it was a prequel that was also a sequel.  Better than the original Snow White and the Huntsman, this early 2016 release provided a high-fantasy story rooted in the classic fairy tale, rewarding viewers midway with a surprise change-up.  Three tough female leads, four brave (and funny) dwarves, two epic quests, a fairy tale romance, and elaborate costumes and sets made for a perfect fantasy film.

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Best Superhero FixThe Magnificent Seven (MGM/Columbia Pictures).  When we first reviewed The Magnificent Seven we were surprised it had adapted the Yul Brynner version and Akira Kurosawa’s earlier Seven Samurai so well.  We were even more surprised at how well the cast, and cast of characters, worked together to create a true ensemble piece.  It rivaled every attempt by the studios to make a great superhero team-up, and, but for the Western garb and setting, it rates as the year’s best of the superhero genre.  Runner-up, a close contender for the win was the second appearance of Evan Peters as Quicksilver doing his speedster business slow-motion style again in X-Men: Apocalypse.

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Best Retro FixStranger Things (Netflix).  It’s a TV series that would have made a solid movie hit in 1982.  So many series appear unexpectedly these days with a full season ready to stream immediately.  Most demonstrate why they couldn’t cut it with the networks or a major cable channel.  Not so with some of Netflix’s series, especially the surprise hit Stranger Things.  With a nicely eerie soundtrack, title font, a Twin Peaks-meets Steven Spielberg coming of age film cul-de-sac for the setting, and  John Carpenter meets Stephen King vibe, it’s no wonder Stranger Things was the #1 talked about series this year.  Our favorite part, besides the young heroine of the show, was the attention to throwback clothes, toys, posters, and 1980s pop culture references.  It’s a series we’ll revisit in the future, and look forward to in its second season.

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Best Borg/Best Movie Villain – Darth Vader (Rogue One: A Star Wars Story).  Darth Vader returned in his best scene of the franchise outside of The Empire Strikes Back in Rogue One: A Star Wars Story.  It wasn’t James Earl Jones’s return to voice one of the best villains in the history of cinema that grabbed us, but the full-on rampage Vader takes to pursue the stolen Rebel plans in the film’s finale.  Director (and lifelong Star Wars fan) Gareth Edwards gave fans exactly what they wanted, utilizing an impressive UK creature actor Spencer Wilding to do his bidding as the imposing Lord of the Sith.  We also got a peek at what little of the man remained years after his battle with Obi-Wan Kenobi.  We saw inside his cybernetic suit of armor via a scene featuring him floating in a bacta tank.  Darth Vader remains one of the greatest borgs of all time.

Want to know who we picked for best in effects, soundtrack, and best sci-fi, fantasy, comedy, and horror movies of the year?  Take a look after the cut…

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