Friday, 11 November 2016

Flying Sorcerers

The real world has let us all down very badly this past week.  So I was very happy to visit the mind-bending alternative realities of my favourite Marvel character, instead.

Doctor Strange has always been my favourite Marvel character, for a number of reasons.
Firstly, he always reminded me strongly of Vincent Price, and I believe that is who the look of the character was derived from.

Secondly, I’ve always preferred my heroes to think, not punch their way out of crises - hence my favourite characters tend to be Doctors and Professors, rather than Captains, commanders and mopey Dark Knights.
And thirdly: you never forget your first time. I was twelve and spending a period in hospital, flying full of pain killers and other drugs. My Mum visited gave me another mind-altering substance to help pass the time - a Doctor Strange comic. Very soon my own astral form was well-and-truly tripping through Steve Ditko’s psychedelic realms with the Sorcerer Supreme.

"They'll never get this stuff on screen", thought the Sorceror Supreme

Yes, this natty chap with the cloak and a severe deficit of modesty was the superhero for me, but never in the most skewed of cosmic states of existence would I have thought I’d see him on the big screen.  
By all accounts this somewhat risky investment in a little-known supporting character has magically transformed into yet another Box Office triumph for Marvel Studios.

The fact that they will stumble one day is surely inevitable, but to my great relief not with this particular title.  
In fact, Doctor Strange brings much that is new to the Marvel cinematic Universe - an altogether more cerebral approach to protecting our puny planet, culminating in a genuinely clever resolution.

Impressive visuals are a given. But speaking of becoming jaded, at this point I’d invite anyone likely to whine that they’ve seen it all before in Inception to stick their head in a bucket.
I love Inception as much as anyone, but what we saw there was a mere starting point to the truly astonishing vistas we see Cumberbatch, Ejiofor and Mikklesen tumbling through.  This is one of those rare films which demands you see it in 3-D.

And what a cast.  In Price’s absence I literally can’t imagine anyone but Cumberbatch in the role, and no doubt his star power is responsible for much of the film’s success. Mads Mikklesen has the thankless task of bringing a fairly stock-standard villain to life, but his talent for exquisitely-timed, dry-as-dust humour (see also Wilbur wants to kill Himself, 2003) create some of the film’s best scenes.

If I’m to be completely honest there seems to be a slight coldness about Doctor Strange which ultimately makes it less than the sum of its parts (the exhilaration and warmth of Civil War and The Avengers keep those two at the top for me). But its parts are utterly amazing - and I haven’t even mentioned Tilda Swinton or many people’s favourite character - the Cloak of Levitation.

If this studio can succeed so well with a relatively little-known, high-concept character like this, then I’m fast reaching a heretical conclusion.  If DC fail with their big-screen Wonder Woman next year (and I desperately hope they don’t), then perhaps they should just carry on churning out Batman films and hand everything else over to Marvel.

Saturday, 5 November 2016


To celebrate our anniversary we usually visit glamorous destinations to eat, drink and spend too much money.  This year we dragged ourselves to physical exhaustion and beyond…

Team OrangeCat give the competition paws for thought...

I run and cycle fairly regularly because I enjoy it - and need to spend time away from a computer screen for my health and sanity’s sake. (I have already failed in at least one of those categories).

But it’s always better to to have an event to aim for, and when Rose told me about the Big Bang Adventure little did she know what she was letting herself in for.
Their website told me that you could only enter in teams of at least two, and somehow catching Rose at a weak moment, she agreed to join me - Team ‘OrangeCat’ was born!

Mountain biking - how hard can it be?

This all day multi-disciplinary event has a strong map reading and orienteering angle, and so exact details were shrouded in mystery right up until the actual date. All we knew for now was there would be running, mountain biking and a mystery aquatic event.
Rose arranged mountain bike hire for the date and I drafted my ever-dependable Dad as our support crew, another stipulation of entry.

Fast forward the inevitable training montage (alright, a little bit of running and stuff) to the big day. But first, there’s something you need to know about Rose. Although a brown belt in two martial arts styles and constantly active, she also suffers from a mysterious muscular ailment which has shortened her right leg and made even walking painful at times.  But paradoxically, our running seemed to help and Rose gradually became fitter and more pain-free than she had been in years.

This was hugely encouraging, but I also knew we would never be serious contenders - our goal was to do as much as possible without causing lasting harm.

Leaving at 5.30am with me crammed in the back of our car around two huge mountain bikes and a sack of scroggin we headed for the Kapiti coast, and the recently disclosed race location. On hilly private land just east of Raumati we were to throw ourselves into four cross country events. Alternating between running/orienteering and mountain biking, before ending up at Queen Elizabeth Park for the water challenge.

A always, a lot of anxiety dissipates once you’ve actually made it and know what’s expected of you, but the difficulty level was extreme. Finding  a variety of electronic check points up and down the hillside was made slightly easier in that we were able to stay with ‘the pack’ to some extent, although the steepness and altitude of the terrain was extremely daunting.

The first orienteering stage. We go up, and up...and up.

I’d be lying if I said I didn’t worry about my staunch OrangeCat team mate at points throughout the day.  Mobility pain aside, in the darkest moments a history of heart problems in Rose’s family made me question the sense of this foolhardy venture.  Just when I thought she might do the sensible thing and give up, Rose rallied every single time and willingly stepped back into her world of pain. She probably showed more courage and determination than anyone else on the course, certainly me.

And down - I'm holding the map which was our life-line.

I worried a little about my father as well, left for hours on his own waiting for us to finally reappear and driving our gear from one transition point to the next.  But true to form he was totally dependable, always smiling and encouraging - making the best of a day anyone else would find a chore.
He even had a selfie taken with one of the top managers of the organisation I work for, just by falling into conversation with her.  Couldn’t have done it without you, Dad!

Emerging after getting lost in the bush - still smiling...

We struggled up endless bush-clad inclines, hurtled down logging roads on our hired bikes, got seriously lost when we fell behind anyone who could actually orienteer - but found our way out again. 
Ending with a punishing motor boat ride through the pounding surf to a marker buoy, we crossed the finishing line, intact, alive, still friends - and not even last.

Surf's up - time to get very wet...

I know I’m married to an incredible woman, but 27 years on she continues to surprise me still.
Next year - shopping and eating in Melbourne!

(and here is a video of the day - watch out for those OrangeCat hats at 0:25 and 1:09)