FanExpo Toronto 2018 – Cosplayers – Part 1

FAN EXPO Canada is the largest Comics, Sci-Fi, Horror, Anime, and Gaming event in Canada and the 3rd largest Pop Culture event in North America.

Celebrating its 24th year, FAN EXPO Canada has grown from a small comic book convention attracting 1,500 fans into a multi-faceted, 4-day citywide event that attracts over 129,000 people from around the world.

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Doctor Strange (2016) – Movie Review

dr strange

“Doctor Strange,” in my opinion, is Marvel’s first step into the uncharted. Sure, “Guardians of the Galaxy” was a bold undertaking, but the concept of gods and aliens had already been explored in “Thor” and “The Avengers.” “Ant Man” may have given us a glimpse into the Quantum Realm, but at the end of the day, it was little more than a comedic heist film with a taste of “Honey I Shrunk the Kids.”

Helmed by horror director Scott Derrickson, “Doctor Strange” invites us into Marvel’s world of magic and mysticism. Benedict Cumberbatch stars as Doctor Stephen Strange, an arrogant neurosurgeon acclaimed worldwide for his medical achievements. After losing the use of his hands in a car accident, Strange desperately searches the globe for anything that will give him back what made him great. Strange’s search leads him to the Ancient One (Tilda Swinton), a sorcerer who introduces him to the mystic arts and sets him on the path to becoming the “Sorcerer Supreme.”

While magic itself is a new element in the Marvel cinematic universe, “Doctor Strange” is still, at its core, a superhero origin story, meaning that all of Marvel’s tropes are ever present. There are several attempts at humor. Some of them work; some of them don’t, and the villain, albeit portrayed very well by Mads Mikkelsen, is once again underdeveloped.

In spite of this, Marvel made an ambitious move with this film, one that I believe paid off in dividends.

The bizarre visuals, dialogue and character interactions of “Doctor Strange” would not work without strong performances, and for this film, Marvel was able to enlist a plethora of quality talent. Chiwetel Ejiofor’s Mordo – an experienced, collected, yet damaged sorcerer studying under the Ancient One – compliments the sarcastic and ambitious nature of Strange well. Benedict Wong and Rachel McAdams as Master Wong and Nurse Christine Palmer, respectively, also have some nice character moments and provide a few laughs along the way.

The “white-washing” controversy surrounding Swinton’s casting as the Ancient One (who, in the comics, was a man of Asian descent), left my mind the minute she stepped into the room with Strange. Swinton’s acting choices bring her character to life, and her expert delivery adds dramatic weight to certain lines of dialogue that may have otherwise come across as poorly written.

Cumberbatch’s performance is already being compared to Robert Downey Jr.’s in “Iron Man” because of the similarities between the origin stories of Stephen Strange and Tony Stark. However, what separates Strange and Stark from the beginning is the charisma and humanity that shine through Stark’s arrogance before becoming Iron Man. He was a likable jerk. The same cannot be said for Strange.

In one scene, Strange tests his music knowledge with other hospital staff while performing surgery. He chooses his operations based on their level of difficulty, discarding ones that he deems unworthy of his time. Even after his accident, he pushes Nurse Palmer, the one person who truly cares for him, away as a result of his pride. The fact that Strange is so unlikeable at the beginning of the film makes it all the more satisfying to watch his transformation unfold on screen, and, as always, Cumberbatch brings his A-game to develop this character.

Scott Derrickson’s background in the horror genre benefits his direction immensely. From the villain’s makeup design to certain visual imagery in the final act, Derrickson’s touch is evident throughout “Doctor Strange,” and the work that he and his team put into the film’s special effects is impeccable, visually and conceptually.

“This doesn’t make any sense,” Doctor Strange says to the Ancient One.

“Not everything does. Not everything has to.”

“Doctor Strange” could easily be viewed as typical Marvel fanfare. It takes a hotheaded protagonist and sends him to the darkest depths, only to have him rise from the ashes to claim his destiny. It sacrifices the villain’s character development to ensure a shorter run time and throws away potentially impactful moments for the sake of comedy. Overshadowing the film’s shortcomings for me, however, are excellent performances, visual flair and a bit of magic.

 

8 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Infinity War (2018) – Movie Review

avengers infinity warAnd so begins the end of an era. Everything that has happened so far in Marvel’s shared universe that began in 2008, everything has led to this moment. Avengers: Infinity War is where this decade’s worth of narrative & world-building is supposed to pay off. And that makes this film more than just another instalment in the franchise. It’s an epic moment, no less than a cinematic event.

The 19th instalment in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and first of the two planned Avengers films that will conclude their Phase 3 plan, Avengers: Infinity War follows the all-powerful Thanos as he travels across the universe looking for infinity stones that would grant him the strength to impose his will on all of reality and finally faces the Avengers in a battle that would decide the fate of all existing lives.

Directed by Anthony & Joe Russo, Infinity War begins where Thor: Ragnarok signed off and what unfolds in the opening scene sets the tone for the rest of the story. It’s no doubt an ambitious undertaking by the Russo brothers but Captain America: Civil War proved that it’s them who were best suited for tackling this massive assignment than anyone else. And for the most part if not all, they do a pretty neat job at it.

Having been teased only in small doses until now, Infinity War puts Thanos front & centre as if it’s his movie. There is more at stake here than previous entries and in Thanos we have a supervillain who lives up to the expectations. His motivation for the sick fantasy that he wants to turn into reality isn’t as strongly appealing but it’s still serviceable. However, the film actually lacks that smooth, perfect balance the first Avengers film exhibited in all aspects.

The VFX team deserves the maximum credit, for everything from the set pieces to numerous locations to changing backdrops & settings to characters’ appearances & outfits is an end result of their work. There are plenty of moments that will make the audience cheer at the spectacle they are witnessing but it could also be exhausting, for CGI-laden action segments don’t carry that lasting effect and may become tiring after a while, which is exactly what happens here.

Cinematography is splendid, utilising IMAX cameras to capture the images in sharp detail & crisp clarity, but it also fails to make the most of the available technology by operating them in conventional fashion. Editing is brilliantly carried out, making sure the action keeps surfacing regularly to keep the interest alive but there were several scenes that it could’ve trimmed from its already demanding 149 mins runtime. And Alan Silvestri contributes with a rousing score that effectively uplifts the film’s larger-than-life aura.

Coming to the performances, barring a few exceptions, the entire ensemble of the MCU return to reprise their respective roles of the Avengers, the Guardians & their allies but it’s Josh Brolin as Thanos who impresses the most. The years of careful threading that underwent into hyping him as the biggest & baddest overlord of villainy & darkness ultimately works out in the film’s favour, as Thanos makes up for one formidable supervillain who’s far more intimidating than past Marvel antagonists and Brolin’s conquering voice makes him stand out even more.

As for the rest of the cast, Robert Downey Jr. returns as Tony Stark (Iron Man) with all his charisma & magnetic charm in tact and delivers a confidently assured input. Chris Hemsworth is even better as Thor and is bestowed with the most interesting arc of all Avengers. Chris Evans as Steve Rogers (Captain America) is no slouch either and carves his own moments to shine. Tom Holland is effortlessly captivating as Peter Parker (Spider-Man) and steals almost every scene he appears in. Others do well with what they are given but every single one of them is overshadowed by Thanos’ imposing presence.

On an overall scale, Avengers: Infinity War is an enjoyable, entertaining & satisfying extravaganza that somehow manages to live up to its enormous hype. There are plenty of unexpected surprises & unforeseen tragedies in store, plus the ending is going to hit the fans hard, but all of it would’ve left a more powerful & unforgettable impact if we didn’t already know that much of it will be undone in the next Avengers film. All in all, Avengers: Infinity War nearly pays off 10 years’ worth of investment with an exhilarating action-adventure spectacle and signs off by setting up a perfect stage for the grand finale.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Avengers: Age of Ultron (2015) – Movie Review

avengers age of ultron

The original line-up of the Avengers are back for another go: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hulk, Hawkeye and Black Widow and a whole bunch of new heroes in Joss Whedon’s final turn in the director’s chair for Marvel’s ensemble franchise.

What’s the story about? Well it’s pretty simple, in the wake of Loki’s attempted invasion of New York City, Tony Stark attempts to create an artificial intelligence whose sole task is to protect Earth against future threats. Of course, this backfires and the Avengers end up creating their deadly enemy, Ultron. The rumors are true: one Avenger will die and it might not be who you expect.

Is it worth watching? Well, first the good stuff: the battle between an enraged Hulk and Iron Man in an unnamed African city is the highlight of the movie and it happens around the midpoint. Supporting characters in the first film like Hawkeye, Black Widow and the Hulk finally get center stage though at the expense of old stalwarts like Thor (who becomes an inadvertent comic relief throughout most of the movie) and Captain America (who turns into a one-dimensional boy scout). Iron Man is the Jimmy Neutron of the team- a tortured genius who tries to create a solution to a problem that has yet to exist and ends up creating a Frankenstein monster of sorts- it’s not that Tony Stark is the villain but this does tie in nicely with the upcoming Captain America: Civil War movie.

This brings into focus the central weakness of the movie: namely too many characters and not enough screen time for each one to be fleshed out. The movie not only serves as an origin story for Ultron as well as new Avengers Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and the Vision but it ends up making the story a paper thin pastiche of short character building vignettes around huge swirling chaotic battle scenes- many of them too enamored with fast editing to the point that they are almost too quick to follow with the mind’s eye. Additional cameos by the Falcon, War Machine and Nick Fury only adds to its ad-hoc nature and myriad narrative.

In the end, Avengers Age of Ultron is ultimately satisfying but if you look closer, it seems to be nothing more than a placeholder for future plot lines in the upcoming Marvel Universe movie franchises.

 

7 out of 10 stars

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Hulk (2003) – Movie Review

hulk

I know the current “Avengers” movies are popular right now, and everybody digs Mark Ruffalo’s version of the Hulk (myself included), however I still consider Ang Lee’s 2003 “Hulk” to be one of the finest comic book based movies ever made, and contrary to popular belief, one of the most faithful. Being a true fan of the Hulk comics from the 70’s to now, I think I can say this with credibility. I’m also coming from the angle that the 70’s TV show is not the real Hulk.

First, Ang Lee’s film is extremely faithful to the comics. Watching the movie, it was as if some scenes were lifted right out of the Stan Lee stories. Hulk fighting army tanks in the desert, Hulk leaping over canyon cliffs, Hulk touching the reaches of space, and yes, even Hulk dogs are from the comics. Hulk’s father in the movie is directly based on Bruce’s father in the comics, Brian Banner, who was abusive and allegedly had a hand in Hulk’s origin. The many villain incarnations that David Banner takes on at the end of the film are not just the Absorbing Man, but are an amalgam of many of the Hulk’s villains including Zzzax.

Second, Ang Lee’s film was less about simply showing “Hulk Smash” and more about the idea of the Hulk. The idea of evolution, the idea of repression and subsequent freedom from that repression. It’s interesting that every Ang Lee film is similarly about this idea of repression. Repressed gay cowboys, repressed women in China, a repressed slave finding freedom after the Civil War, etc. The evolution idea is expressed in the food chain of “Hulk” creatures we see in the movie. First a frog, then dogs, Hulk himself, and then a near “Hulk god” in David Banner. Evolution is also cinematically expressed in the morph edits seen throughout the film. Contrary to popular belief, the multi-frame editing was not just about mimicking a comic book, it was about expressing the idea of freedom from repression, of seeing something from different angles, different points of view, different sides, much like Bruce has a “different side” to him. If you notice, the multi-angles many times show us the same subject but from a different camera angle. The idea of the Hulk is also metaphorically visually expressed through the imagery of atomic mushroom clouds and jellyfish, two visually similar objects. It expresses the idea that this Hulk was born of two of the greatest known forces in the universe, genetic and atomic force.

It’s Ang Lee’s masterful filmmaking, strong use of visual metaphor, and faithfulness to the original comics that really sets his Hulk film apart for me. Perhaps the one scene that really spells out what Ang Lee is doing and also brought me back to the old comics was that first close-up we see of Hulk free and jumping through the desert to Danny Elfman’s haunting music. Classic.

 

10 out of 10 stars

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Comic Book Review – Thor: God of Thunder Volume 1: The God Butcher (collecting issues 1 to 5) – 2012

thorgodbutcher

This review contains spoilers, so if you are planning on reading the book please be mindful of that. On that note, I highly recommending reading it and circling back to the review. It’s a beautifully written and drawn book, and well worth adding to anyone’s collection.

Jason Aaron noted in the letters column of one of the individual books that he doesn’t rely heavily on metaphor in his story telling and that the reader should take from it what they will. Therefore, my interpretation of the story is my own and may differ from yours or what has been published on sites like IGN, etc., in reviewing the book.

Ultimately, I think Jason is world building and defining what it means to be a God within the context of Thor’s universe and by extension the Marvel Universe. These Pantheons of Gods are essentially higher beings, Immortal races, who are fallible and arrogant and seek homage from the lesser races in order to feed their inflated ego about their importance to the universe. They’re space aliens, essentially. The comic leans more towards the God worshipping aspect of Thor’s universe while the MCU leans more towards the space aliens aspect, and rightfully so. I think it would have been a tough task to present the former to a viewing audience in a digestible format and make it entertaining.

Gorr exists solely to inform the reader of the darker side to these Immortal races and define what it means to be a God in this series run. His story is a very straightforward revenge story – he relied on them to help when needed, they didn’t, he lost something as a result and now he’s making them pay. He’s throwing off the shackles of these false Lords who have no interest other than their own vacuous pursuits.

I really liked the non-linear story telling style which showed the different ages of Thor throughout the length of the story. It was an ingenious way of showing the character’s journey from this young, vacuous Thor to the more seasoned, mature version. Jason has done a really good job of pacing out the exposition and revealing Thor’s journey and maturation to the reader without giving away too much of the story too soon. This a veteran move.

The art by Esad Ribic is brilliant and tonally fits well with the story telling style and subject matter. I personally think that Esad is one of the most talented comic book artists working today, and I happily collect anything he’s working on. Appreciating that drawing comic books is a bit of a grind, it’s understandable when artists cut corners, however I can’t see that Esad actually does this. The detail in his work is outstanding and I found myself spending a lot of time on the panels and pages soaking in all of the artwork. As a comic book fan, I live for comics like this.

If you are a fan of Thor or you’re new and would like an introduction to him and his universe, this is an excellent story and jumping on point for new and old fans alike.

5 stars out of 5.

 

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