Friday, July 31, 2009

The Short Version: A Final Comic-Con Countdown

Man, this has been one of those weeks where I've basically been counting down to the weekend since Monday morning. I'm still recovering from Comic-Con, and look forward to relaxing, catching up on sleep, and basically getting my life back in order following last week's San Diego adventure.

But, I still want to get down some final thoughts on Comic-Con, so this post will be a couple of quick lists recapping some of the coolest stuff I saw (or missed out on) at the show. I know, I know ... my last post was super-long. But hey, was there a better convention write-up anywhere else on the interwebs? There was not, says I.

Also, can I just say how strange of a summer movie season this has been / will be? For the first time that I can think of, there's the chance that August might just be the best month of the summer for great movies. I mean, in the next couple of weeks alone we've got Judd Apatow's FUNNY PEOPLE, the latest from the director of Oldboy - a crazy vampire thriller called THIRST, a sci-fi flick that might just be *the* event movie of the summer in DISTRICT 9, and also, a brand new Tarantino movie, INGLORIOUS BASTERDS. Oh yeah, there's also GI JOE which is supposed to be goofy fun, and hey, I've always liked Stephen Sommers as a director of over-the-top action movies - plus, it has Ray Park as Snake Eyes and Sienna Miller as Baroness. That's not bad, right there. Finally, there's PONYO, the latest from animation master Miyazaki. Not too shabby, eh?

But yeah, it's funny because while I've been looking forward to Basterds for a looong time now, District 9 kind of came in under most people's radars, I think. But thanks to great trailers, cool viral marketing, and now, a wave of glowing reviews, I think this one could just be THE movie to watch. Consider me officially psyched.

Anyways ...

Here are some of the highlights and lowlights from Comic-Con, now in list form.


1. Avatar
2. Iron Man 2
3. Solomon Kane
4. The Prisoner (TV)
5. Tie: Zombieland and The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus


1. Tron Legacy
2. Kickass
3. 24 - Season 8
4. Jonah Hex
5. Fringe - Season 2


1. Blackest Night T-shirts
2. Watchmen characters
3. The Joker + Harley Quinn
4. Flynn's Arcade T-shirts
5. People with signs that said "Free Hugs"


1. Syfy's Cafe Diem
2. The True Blood-themed vampire bar
3. The Heroes-themed carnival


1. Flynn's Arcade

RANDOM CELEBS WE SAW IN SAN DIEGO (aka not as part of a panel):

1. Kevin Sorbo at the MGM party
2. Rob Van Dam and Shane Helms eating dinner next to us
3. Adam Baldwin walking to his car


1. Avatar
2. Iron Man 2
3. Tron 2
4. Kickass
5. Twilight: New Moon
6. District 9
7. Alice In Wonderland
8. Solomon Kane
9. Jonah Hex
10. Tie: Zombieland / 2012


1. V
2. The Prisoner
3. Flash Forward
4. Human Target
5. Stargate Universe


1. Lost
2. Dollhouse
3. Smallville
4. 24
5. Heroes


1. The Avatar Footage
2. The Iron Man 2 Trailer
3. Twilight-mania: good or bad for Comic-Con?
4. Tron 2 footage / Flynn's Arcade
5. Blackest Night
6. Upcoming DC and Marvel movies - Green Lantern, Flash, Thor, Avengers, etc.
7. Kickass footage
8. Futurama - voice actors still not signed
9. Will Tom Welling wear the Superman suit on Smallville?
10. Lack of organization / long lines / too hot / etc.


1. The Suicide Girls
2. The Whip-It Derby Dolls
3. Catwoman at Sony's DC Universe online booth
4. The original Tron light-suit at Disney booth
5. The V recruitment center
6. Syfy's Cafe Diem, it's uber-friendly wait-staff, and its late-night eats
7. The Heroes carnival
8. Free comics at DC Comics booth
9. Kevin Smith for being hilarious (intentionally)
10. Roland Emmerich for being hilarious (unintentionally)


1. Jeffster play at the Chuck panel
2. The Mighty Boosh
3. Anna Torv, John Noble, etc. at the Fringe panel
4. Jack Bauer / new 24 footage
5. Peter Jackson and James Cameron discussing the future of movies at their panel


1. Robert Downey Jr.
2. Jon Favreau
3. James Cameron
4. Sigourney Weaver
5. Kevin Smith
6. The cast of Twilight
7. The cast of Lost
8. Johnny Depp
9. Megan Fox
10. Scarlett Johansson
11. Joss Whedon
12. Stan Lee
13. Geoff Johns
14. Robert Kirkman
15. Ray Bradbury
16. Jim Lee
17. The cast of Chuck
18. Peter Jackson
19. Cameron Diaz
20. Hayao Miyazaki
21. Matthew Vaughan
22. Damon Lindeloff and Carlton Cuse
23. Joe Quesada and Dan Didio
24. Gerard Way
25. Felicia Day

And on that note ... it's the weekend, baby. Goodnight, Irene!

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

COMIC-CON Confidential: A Giant-Sized Recap of Danny's 2009 San Diego Adventures!

Well, I'm back in LA after an insane couple of days in San Diego for Comic-Con. If you've seen my Facebook photos, then you know that it was another successful journey to the center of the pop-culture universe, with many an adventure along the way. Let me try to recap:

DAY 1:

- On Thursday morning, bright and early, myself, Brian (aka "The G-Man" ), and Seth E. met up and began the long trek to SD, basically a straight shot on the 5 South freeway from Burbank. Seth drove, I provided the Rush (Fanboys style), and I also brought along my recently-purchased GPS unit, which would come in handy once we got to San Diego and had to find our hotel. We actually made excellent time, getting to SD in about 2 1/2 hours. Of course, it took an additional 45 minutes to find a parking space near downtown SD's giant convention center, but that's par for the course during Comic-Con. It is funny though, because this was now my third annual Comic-Con trip, and at this point we've become somewhat familiar with downtown SD and a lot of the nuances of the Comic-Con experience. It's still a total crapshoot a lot of times in terms of figuring out how to get into the best and biggest panels and events, but I do think we were, overall, a lot more savvy this go-round in terms of how to navigate both San Diego and the convention itself.

- Upon arriving to the Convention Center, we quickly checked in, got our swanky media passes, grabbed a quick lunch, and then made a dash for the gigantic line that had formed outside Hall H, the crown jewel of Comic-Con's many auditoriums, where the biggest and most-hyped screenings and panels are held each year. Our goal? To get in line early enough to make it inside for the AVATAR panel, aka the most buzzed-about movie going into this year's show.

- In the line outside of Hall H, it was HOT. We all got sunburned that afternoon as we waited in the sun for about 3 hours, crossing our fingers that all of the teenaged girls inside Hall H to see TWILIGHT would filter out when their panel was over. For the uninitiated, once you get into a room at the Con, you can stay as long as you want. So the question for those in line is always how many people will leave and how many will stay after a given panel. The cool thing about Comic-Con though is that lines are never quite as painful as they are elsewhere. There's people in costumes to look at, PR reps giving out free schwag, lots of random geeky conversations going on at any given time, and lots of friendly nerds eager to bond with their fanboy bretheren. Also, my friend and huge fangirl KC, a fellow former intern at Late Night With Conan O'Brien, met up with us in line. I hadn't seen KC in about five years, so it was great catching up. Also, we (well, mostly she) befriended this random Norwegian dude with a pony-tailed mohawk and a Snake Plissken T-shirt, who showed us pictures of the giant Superman statue he has in his Norway apartment, and told KC of his odd fascination with midgets. Um, yeah, 'nuff said. Only at Comic-Con.

- Anyways, luck was with us, as it turned out that the hordes of "Twi-hards" exited Hall H en masse after they all collectively wet themselves over footage from New Moon and appearances by all of the movie's stars (apparently one girl almost got run over in San Diego traffic while running after Robert Pattenson's car). So we just barely made it into Hall H for the AVATAR presentation, although we did miss the first ten or so minutes, which was mostly James Cameron's introduction, etc.

- Before I get to Avatar, a word on TWILIGHT and how it affected Comic-Con this year. Basically, back in the 70's, Comic-Con was a bunch of geeks, mostly male, who plain and simply loved comic books. They came together to talk about comics, buy comics and related items, and meet the writers and artists behind their favorite comic books. That basic idea is still the heart and soul behind the convention, but for the last ten years or so, ever since the big Hollywood studios realized what a great marketing platform Comic-Con is, the show has been dominated by movies and TV. And even though that annoyed a lot of the diehard comic book fans, at least the movies and TV shows that came to Comic-Con tended to be very much geared towards the core Comic-Con audience. Over the last two or three years, Comic-Con has broadened its scope even further -- this year there were panels for shows like Psych on USA and ABC's new sitcom The Middle. And then there was Twilight. Yes, it has vampires, but it's also chick-lit, and it appeals to a demo that was once almost totally foreign to Comic-Con: teen and pre-teen girls. Now, some of these girls are bigtime fangirls who like Twilight but also dig comics and animation and sci-fi. But some are just Hot Topic-sportin' mallrats who don't have much interest in the rest of what Comic-Con has to offer. And some people were bothered by this influx of "new blood" and how it made for unusually long lines and crowded halls, as the few panels that appealled to this demo (TV shows with strong girl-appeal, the panel for Twilight, etc) had so many young girls lining up bright and early that it made it very difficult to get into other panels in those same halls that either followed or preceded. My take on all this? I think it's pretty great. I loved seeing the Comic-Con crowd become more diverse than ever. And I guarantee that a lot of the girls who came for Twilight came away excited about at least one or two other things that they didn't know about before. Maybe they even picked up a comic book or two. To me, as long as the staples of the show remain in some form (and I have no doubt they will), there's no reason to get too upset about the Twilight phenomonon. But anyways, these were the kinds of conversations that dominated the chatter this year in San Diego. Oh man.

- Alright, enough with all that. Let's talk by-god AVATAR. I'll cut to the chase -- the footage we saw was flipping incredible. James Cameron's years-in-the-making epic has so far lived up to the hype, in that it looks and feels like nothing I've ever seen before. I had chills while watching the glorious 3D imagery, which was a startling blend of live action and photo-real CGI. It felt like something big, something new, something almost slightly scary. Because all of this new digital technology was being used to tell what looks to be an epic sci-fi story *about* how technology can be scary and strange and destructive. After James Cameron, Sigourney Weaver, Stephen Lang, and Zoe Saldana (Uhura in Star Trek) came out to big ovations (including thunderous applause for Sigourney, a true sci-fi icon!), we saw several scenes from the film, and I think I mostly watched with my jaw on the floor. It's funny because going in I knew almost nothing about the movie or its plot, but now I have a much better idea. Basically, it tells the story of a future where humans have made contact with a distant planet, Pandora, that is practically an Eden-like paradise, filled with strange creatures and blue humanoid inhabitants. Humans don't seem to be properly adapted to live on the planet, so a select few are chosen to undergo cloning experiments, which give them new bodies that resemble those of the inhabitants of Pandora. From the clips and ensuing discussion, one can guess that even as these cloned humans begin to adapt and become one with Pandora's population, earth's military has decided to go to war with the planet which it perceives to be a threat. Basically, this looked like a Star Wars-level space epic that is going to have some serious philisophical underpinnings behind its amazing look. While a number of scenes presented amazing action and astonishing set-pieces set in Pandora's lush environments, the scene that impressed me the most was perhaps an intense piece in which our main character (played by Sam Worthington, who checked in via video), first emerges from the cloning process that gives him his new blue Avatar body. The scene is almost more horror than sci-fi, as this astonishingly lifelike blue creature wakes in a lab filled with tense doctors. Just mind-blowing stuff. The visuals here are hard to describe - think live action but with digital sets that look completely real yet completely alien, and with digitally-augmented characters each comparable in quality to Gollum from Lord of the Rings. What's more, the 3D effect is rich and textured, completely immersing ou in the ultra-detailed environments. Suffice it to say, I think Avatar is going to blow some minds come December.

- So after the Avatar panel, we decided to stay in Hall H, as the next panel involved a true icon of cinema, the great TERRY GILLIAM, who would be presenting his latest film, THE IMAGINARIUM OF DR. PARNASSUS. The film is worthy of much excitement, as its Gilliam's return to surreal fantasy, but it's also bittersweet, as it contains Heath Ledger's final performance. However, in an impressive bit of last-minute casting, Johnny Depp, Jude Law, and Collin Ferrell stepped in to play different versions of Heath's character throughout the movie. The movie itself though looked very, very impressive, and contains the same kind of stunning, imaginative visuals that Gilliam brought to Monty Python, Time Bandits, and Brazil, among many others. We saw a trailer for the movie as well as several scenes, and it all looked pretty darn amazing - vintage Gilliam, to be sure. Meanwhile, Terry told his usual collection of stories about how dumb the Hollywood studios are, etc, but also as usual, he was a fun and interesting speaker. He even brought out the diminuitive Vern Troyer, who has a role in Parnassus, to join him on stage. It was a bit odd to get Troyer but not any of the film's big stars like Depp or Ferrell or Christopher Plummer, but oh well. Also, a finger of shame to the lame questions asked of Gilliam, which were almost all variations on "I love you, you're my favorite director, where do you get your inspiration from?" and so forth.

- After the Parnassus panel, we contemplated sticking around for a panel focused on Kickass, Matthew Vaughan's adaptation of Mark Millar's controversial comic. Apparently, the footage shown, well, kicked ass. But as it was getting a bit late by that point, we left the convention center, drove to our hotel (the Sheraton, a couple of miles away), checked in, and grabbed some dinner at the hotel restaurant. After that, we went back downtown to the Hotel Solimar, as the G-Man got us all on the list for MGM's swanky shindig that was taking place on the hotel's rooftop poolside patio. The MGM party was in the same place as the SCI FI Channel Party I attended last year, and this party was similar - lots of industry folk trying to look cool and standing around with a drink or two. The centerpiece of the party was the reveal of the new Stargate Universe trailer, and the entire cast of the new Syfy show was on-hand to help promote. Also at the party? A few random celebs, the best of which, in my humble opinion, was Hercules himself - KEVIN SORBO! Yep, I was at a party with Kevin Sorbo, ladies and gents. Now, the MGM party was mostly fun, but at times slightly awkward as folks I work with from NBCU and Apple were in attendance, very much in business / networking mode, whereas I was not really in that frame of mind. Luckily, my NBC Page buddies Diane and Adriana eventually showed up as well, so after a while we had our own little crew at the party. It's funny though, now that I've gone to two big "industry" parties at Comic-Con, I realize how, while they are cool and make you feel like you might be a Hollywood bigshot, there's no substitute for simply walking around downtown SD and partying it up with the people, those who are simply there to have fun and wear their geekiness proudly.

- Anyways, it was only about 11:30 or so when I think all of us began to crash, after a long and sweaty first day in San Diego. We exited the party and went back to the hotel, a successful Day 1 completed.

- But wait! I wish I could say that Thursday's adventures ended there, but unfortunately that was not the case ... You see, upon getting back to our hotel room, the rollaway bed we had asked for was awkardly positioned right in the middle of the other two beds, creating a three-bed row that was like something out of Charlie and the Chocolate factory. As a strong believer in personal space, I was determined to switch things up a bit, and so began the arduous task of rearranging the furniture in the hotel room to create a better layout. Of course, I was so dead tired at this point that the whole process did not go well, Things were being knocked over, items strewn about, etc. Worst of all, when all was said and done, I couldn't find my camera. I looked everywhere, and was beginning to freak out. After searching for a long time, I finally went to sleep, and then, of course, found my camera wedged under the mattress the next morning. Praised be Thor.

DAY 2:

- To set up Day 2 of Comic-Con, I have to start by saying that, well, my freakout the night before when I thought I lost my camera was actually ... only the prelude to the next day's drama. See, after taking a cab from the hotel to the convention center Friday morning, I realized about two minutes after exiting the taxi that I had left my cellphone inside the cab. Ugh! Since my friends had left separately that morning, I wasn't even with them to borrow their phones. So, basically, in between the day's panels and events, I was frantically using a payphone to call the cab company, etc. More on this saga later, but, the fact is, I didn't want this incident to ruin the whole day, so it was off to my first panel of Friday ...

- ... which was for the new AMC remake of THE PRISONER TV series. Now, as I've talked about before here on the blog, a couple of years ago I bought the DVD set of the original 1960's Prisoner series, and began to get really into it. I had heard about the show's influence on modern day hits like Lost, and quickly got caught up in the trippy universe of the show in which one man is mysteriously trapped on an island where men and women are stripped of all identity, with no hope of escape. Anyways, the panel for the new series was a real highlight for me. I had read the pilot script a long time ago, was really, really impressed with it, and so since then I've been eagerly anticipating this one. The footage shown did not disappoint. The writers and producers of the new series were on hand, along with Jesus himself and the star of the new series, Jim Cavaziel, as well as a couple of other actors from the show. Unfortunately, Ian McKellan, who plays the new #2 (everyone on the island goes by a number only), was not there in person. That said, McKellan seems like he is going to absolutely kick ass in this one. He was awesome in the scenes that were shown, and on the whole, the entire cast for this looks very, very strong. The look and feel of the show was VERY cinematic, and I think that this one could very well be another critical and popular hit for AMC. I'm psyched for its debut in November, and by the way, I loved the posters / banners for this one around the show floor that boldly stated "Resist." Suffice it to say, for the rest of the show I was yelling "WHO IS NUMBER ONE?!" and "I AM NOT A NUMBER!"

- After The Prisoner panel, I was lucky to find Seth and Brian, and we took in our first comic book related panel of the convention, DC Comics' BATMAN panel. The event featured an all-star lineup of current Batman writers and artists, including Greg Rucka (Detective Comics), Paul Dini (co-creator of Batman: The Animated Series, and current writer of Streets of Gotham and Gotham City Sirens), and Chris Yost (Red Robin). The panel didn't have too many major announcements, as the talent on hand clearly didn't want to reveal too many of the big surprises they have in store (ie "who is the new Batgirl?", and "when will Bruce Wayne come back?"). There was a lot of enthusiasm though over the Batman titles' new direction (in which Dick Grayson is the new Batman, and Damien Wayne the new Robin), and hey, who doesn't love Batman? (Sidenote: not as many Joker costumes this year as last year, but I did get a couple of great pics with various Harley Quinns, perhaps my personal fave of the Gotham City Sirens rogues gallery ...)

- Following the Batman panel, we grabbed lunch while I frantically explained to Brian and Seth my cell-phone woes. I tried calling the cab company and also my phone a bunch of times, but still no luck or good info. Not good. Anyways, we then met up with KC and got in line for what was one of my most-anticipated events, the big TWENTY (24) FOUR panel. Unfortunately, after waiting in line for an hour, we still were unable to get into the packed Ballroom 20 (the show's second biggest hall). Forget Twilight, this one I blame on the Whedon fans, who lined up outside of Ballroom 20 hours in advance for the Dollhouse panel later that evening. So, no, I did not get to see Kiefer and co. preview Jack Bauer's latest adventures, although the recaps I've read sound pretty sweet. Dammit! So while my Whedonite friends stayed in line for Dollhouse (damn them), I went off in search of other events of interest (still sans cell phone, FYI).

- So I left to spend some time with the real comic book fanboys who share my appreciation for superhero sequential storytelling. To that end, I ditched the line for Dollhouse and headed over to Ballroom 6 for DC Comics' DC NATION panel. Being a big DC geek, I always try to get in a DC-related panel or two, and after the earlier Batman panel, I was primed and ready for even more DC goodness. Plus, DC panels are great because they are chock full of great costumes of people dressed as Superman, Batman, Green Lantern, The Flash, Wonder Woman, and every other Justice Leaguer you can think of. At this panel, there was a group of about 10 people decked out as the golden age Justice Society. Sweet. There were also Lantern T-shirts a-plenty, as DC's BLACKEST NIGHT was clearly *the* most buzzed-about comic book event of the show. Everywhere you looked, you saw people sporting T's with the symbol of the Green, Orange, Yellow, Purple, Blue, Indigo, Red, and Black Lanterns. And yes, on Thursday I did proudly sport the Black Lantern T myself. In fact, Dan Didio, the EIC of DC Comics, showed up sporting ALL of 'em at once, cheerfully giving each shirt away to the crowd member who shouted out the most entertaining thing that they loved, hated, hoped for, were mad about, etc., according to the corresponding color of the emotional spectrum. (and yes, there was the obligatory shout of "Twilight!" when DiDio, ever the showman, asked people to yell out things that made them angry, bwahaha ...). Anyways, this panel was really less about news and announcements and more just about having fun with the fans. The crowd was very boisterous, and gave heroes' welcomes to the lineup of huge DC talent on hand - James Robinson, Greg Rucka, and Geoff Johns among them. GEOFF JOHNS got a gigantic standing ovation - DC's current MVP writer had fans on their feet and chanting his name in appreciation. And I have to say I myself am a huge fan - Johns' comics have been THE reason to read DC for the past few years, and he may be in the midst of his biggest and best epic yet with Blackest Night.

- After the DC Nation panel, I walked the show floor for a bit, checked out a number of the big booths, and then decided to get in line for THE MIGHTY BOOSH panel that was coming up later that afternoon. And man, how crazy - I was convinced that I was one of a small handful of people in America who is a fan of the crazy British comedy, but, oh man, the Boosh fans were out in full force at Comic-Con. Even though I got in line an hour early, I just barely missed the mark to get into the panel. It was cool to see so many Boosh fans in the house, but, man, I was annoyed that in one day I was denied entrance to both 24 and The Boosh. And this was after we had spent ample time on the car-ride up to SD quoting the Old Gregg episode. Oh well ...

- At that point, I returned to the show floor and tried to figure out how I could go about retrieving my cell phone. Also, we were supposed to meet up with the man, the myth, the legend - Aksel - that night in downtown SD, and I had no way of contacting him since I lost my phone and in turn his number. When I finally met back up with Brian, Seth, and KC, I was trying to figure out how to proceed. Finally, I called information, got the number for Aksel's parents' house, and called them. I got Aksel's cell # from his dad, and called the Axe-Man, who greeted me by asking "hey, did you leave your cell phone in a taxi?!". Whaaa? I asked Aksel how he knew this, and he explained that he had tried calling me earlier, and the taxi driver had picked up the phone (I guess he saw the name Aksel and picked up as opposed to when he saw the name Seth?!). Luckily, the driver had given Aksel his contact info, which I promptly wrote down. I contacted the driver, and he agreed to meet us in a couple of hours. Praised be Jeebus!

- So we walked around the show floor a bit more, and then headed up into the Gaslamp district for some quality eats. I remembered how delicious the food at NICKY ROTTEN'S was last year, and so we hit it up one mo' time, for some of the best pizza I've had on the West Coast, by far. During dinner, I got in touch with the cab driver, who kept saying he was on his way with the phone. It was a long time before he finally got to the downtown area, and when he did, he said that he wanted to meet away from a main street so that he didn't have to contend with the insane downtown traffic. What ensued was like an episode of 24 - I was running around downtown with Seth's cellphone, trying to figure out where this cab driver wanted me to go. "Go to the corner of 5th and Island and turn right." "Which way is Island?!" Finally, I found him, got my cellphone (!), and paid him for his troubles. At the end of the day, I was elated to have retrieved it. A true Comic-Con miracle!

- Right after that, Aksel joined us and we sat down for some delicious gelato and to catch up on old times. We broke out many of our classic college stories from the BU days, and then, finally, after a long Day #2 in San Diego, we said our goodbyes to the Axe-Man and headed back to our hotel, as I clung tightly to my cell phone and camera.

DAY 3:

- Saturday is traditionally the biggest day of Comic-Con, and I think it probably was in fact the most crowded once again this year. Although ... this year was unique in that Thursday and Friday were *very* loaded up with programming, so it already felt like things were winding down a bit post-Avatar, etc. That said, the sleeping giant in the room was a little movie called IRON MAN 2, which would hold its own panel on Saturday evening in Hall H. Saturday morning, Seth and Brian tried but failed to get into the panel for CHUCK. As you may recall, Chuck debuted at Comic-Con two years ago with a rock n' roll panel that brought the house down. Since then, the show had developed a huge cult-following and its fans were out in full force early Saturday. In fact, every panel seemed to have an immense line. When I got to the show, heard about how long the line for Chuck had been, and saw how massive in general the crowds were, I had to think quickly. I had planned to get in a couple of panels, with my main goal being FUTURAMA in the mid-afternoon. But I realized I had probably already missed my window for that one, as, like I said, the lines for all the big ballrooms were already gigantic by mid-morning. (I guess it's just as well, as supposedly the Futurama panel was disappointing - turns out the voice actors did NOT show up, and there was no new update on whether they'd actually been signed for the new season of the returning show ...) So, anyways, despite my reluctance to miss out on panels for BLACKEST NIGHT, FRINGE, and my favorite panel from last year, the spotlight on the legendary RAY BRADBURY, I saw the writing on the wall and agreed with Brian and Seth that the best course of action was to simply get in line for Hall H and camp out inside, with the ultimate goal being that we'd be well-positioned for the evening Iron Man 2 event. So we waited in line for only a short time (it was still pretty early at this point), got decent seats in Hall H, and stayed put there for, oh, about seven hours or so. But hey, we had some cool panels along the way - here's the report:

- First up in Hall H was SOLOMON KANE, a movie that is actually one of my absolute favorite things I saw at the show. I had heard bits and pieces about this one, but I think that due to its lack of a big-name director or star, it was still a bit under most people's radars. But man, did it look kickass. Basically, Solomon Kane is a character created way back when by Robert E. Howard of Conan the Barbarian fame, and his stories are similarly epic, violent, and imaginative. Kane is a warrior priest who believes it's his god-given duty to rid the world of evil by any means necessary, and so he travels around killing demons and monsters and all that. In a word, he unleashes righteous fury upon evil. And man, James Purefoy looks to be awesome as Solomon - just badass to the core. The trailer's moneyshot is Purefoy as Kane calling out a demonic evildoer, barking something like: "If I kill you where you stand, I will surely be condemned to hell for it. But ... it is a price I will gladly pay!" Awesome. The director and stars seemedreally reverential to Howard's source material as well, and were already giddy with ideas for possible sequels. All in all, SOLOMON KANE is now up there on my list of most-anticipated movies. It looks like a throwback to 80's epic fantasy like Conan - brutal, pull-no-punches, but with a real intelligence and style to it as well. Can't wait. This one brought the GRAVITAS.

- Next up was EXTRACT, the latest comedy from Mike Judge. Now, don't get me wrong, I am really looking forward to Extract. I love Office Space - it's one of my all-time favorite comedies. And the cluster#$%& of Idiocracy's release and lack of promotion still annoys me, as that movie was a lot of fun and a scarily prophetic version of the future. Plus, Beavis and Butthead and King of the Hill are up there on my canonical list of great animated TV shows. But, this is simply not really a Comic-Con type of movie. Worse, Judge just seemed bored and not particularly enthusiastic to be there, which really dragged out the panel. Meanwhile, Jason Bateman was there and wa clearly trying to be funny and entertaining, but he told us that he flew to SD on one hour of sleep while shooting a movie, and he seemed sort of out of it as well. Mila Kunis was there as well, and, well, she seems awesome and has real geek-cred to boot, but she didnt get to talk much and wasn't asked any particularly compelling questions. That said, Extract looks like it will be *very* funny. It was still hard to tell exactly how the scenes we saw would come together and whether they'd combine to form a great comedy, but things looked promising. But man, this was another one where the Q&A session was just brutal, with loads of lame-o questions from the audience. At some point in this panel, I think most of us were daydreaming about Iron Man.

- After Extract wrapped, we got a couple of more sci-fi-ish presentations. The first was a movie that looks pretty freaking cool, that being ZOMBIELAND. There wasn't as much excitement for this one as there might have been had the trailer not already been released some time ago in theaters, but still, it's a coming-of-age zombie action-comedy with Woody Harrelson as a badass redneck zombie-hunter. What's not to like. The movie's writer and director were on hand, as were Woody, Jessie Eisenberg, and Emma Stone. I count myself as a fan of both of them from their various films, and Eisenberg I thought was great in this past Spring's Adventureland. He seems like a perfect fit for Zombieland as the everyman, geeky teen thrust into a world overrun by zombies. Some of the scenes shown were overall just very cool, and the whole thing had a kind of over-the-top comic bookish vibe, but also a sort of teen-hipster style to it. Almost like Dawn of the Dead meets Tarantino meets Juno, or something. But the cast was very funny - Woody was particularly hilarious - and there were some very funny, very action-packed clips with a number of most-excellent zombie kills. I'm psyched for this one.

- Woody Harrelson then remained on stage for the second part of Sony's double-shot presentation, as he also appears in 2012. Yep, ROLAND EMMERICH's latest end-of-the-world disaster movie. Woody was then joined by the man himself, as Roland took the stage. And man, is he hilarious. He's like a skinnier and more flamboyant version of Arnold Schwarzennegger, with his thick Austrian accent and eccentric mannerisms. I give him credit though, he is a very entertaining speaker, seems like a nice guy, and certainly was very appreciative towards the fans. And as for 2012, well, wow. I mean, you have to wonder what more the guy can to do earth after Independence Day, The Day After Tomorrow, etc. But the carnage shown in the Comic-Con clips was so over the top that it went from being horribly tetarded to kind of hilarious to actually somewhat awesome for its sheer, unapologetic ridiculousness. I mean, we saw this extended scene of John Cusack driving his family through a crumbling LA, as armageddon occurs in the background. Planes are crashing, streets are flooding, the ground is rumbling, buildings collapsing ... and yet Cusack miraculously AVOIDS IT ALL with his superhuman driving ability, as he outraces the end of the world, boards a helicopter, and flies into the sky with his wife and precocious kids as he narrowly avoids being consumed by all hell breaking loose. WTF?! This one clearly will be a big-budget B movie, so my hope is simply that its so crazy and ridiculous that it's awesomely bad, otherwise, it might just be terrible. But man, Emmerich has no shame, no restraint, and doesn't know the meaning of the word subtlety. You've gotta love it.

- After an extended intermission, the next panel was, finally, the big one. IRON MAN 2, baby. And this, my friends, is what Comic-Con is all about. The presentation, the drama, the stars - these guys got it right once again. Two years ago, I was there when Jon Favreau and co. blew the roof off of Hall H when the first Iron Man footage was revealed, and I dare say that lightning did indeed strike twice here in 2009.

But first, a brief interlude on something that's both really lame and really cool about Comic-Con: people who are there who are clearly fakes, posers, etc. One such guy was there MC'ing the panels throughout Saturday in Hall H, some lame-ass movie reviewer from Access Hollywood. This guy annoyed the crowd from the moment he got onstage, with his over-excited and over-caffienated speech about how here in Hall H, "aaaat Commicaaan", we were in "the center of the universe!" Ugh. Immediately, you could tell that he was more enthusiastic about the fact that *he* got to be up on stage hosting than anything else, and the crowd was quick to catch on. The jeers slowly got louder each time he took stage, which was friggin' hilarious, as he seemed totally oblivious nad just got more obnoxious with each panel. But as he began to introduce Iron Man 2, the crowd just booed the hell out of him. It was awesome. And he was sooo annoying. I mean, he was up there talking out of his ass about how "two years ago, nobody cared about Iron Man, but now, *everybody* cares!" Um, maybe noone at Access Hollywood cared, but he was clearly talking to the wrong audience, as, well, duh ... everyone at Comic-Con cared about Iron Man well before 2007. Did this guy not realize that Bob Layton, one of the great Iron Man comic book writers of all time, was sitting right in front of him in the first row of Hall H? What a douche. He was the embodiment of the idea that fake Hollywood lamewads are invading Comic-Con, and I could only smile as this guy was practically booed off the stage. It's moments like that that make me love the Comic-Con crowds.

- Back to IRON MAN 2 ... like I was saying, what a presentation. Kevin Feige of Marvel came out and introduced Jon Favreau, to a huge ovation. Favreau proceeded to thank the crowd and quickly showed a new trailer, as the crowd was on pins and needles with anticipation. But ... this wasn't what the crowd was expecting. The trailer was a cheesy, cheaply-produced highlight reel of Iron Man 1 footage, that looked like the video Andy Samberg made to promote his stunts in Hot Rod or something. As the crowd became confused and wondered what was up, they suddenly rose in unison and went crazy as none other ROBERT DOWNEY JR. walked onstage, declaring that the trailer we just saw was "bull$#%&." Come on, he said to Favreau, I know you had better stuff back in the editing room. Favreau was forced to agree - he'd show us a "real" trailer, but first we had to sing Happy Birthday to his son, who was in the audience. So we did - 6,000 strong in Hall H, baby. And then, the footage. In short, it rocked. Downey is back as Tony Stark. Gary Shandling makes a quick appearance as a smart-ass Senator. The suit is back. There's the same rapid-fire Downey dialogue, humor, and attitude of Part 1. There was Samuel L. Jackson as NICK FURY talking shop with Stark in a diner. But then, business picked up. As "My Shadow" by Tool kicked up in the background, we saw Mickey Rourke as the villainous Whiplash, looking awesomely badass and brandishing two electro-whips that seemed like they could put quite the hurtin' on ol' Shellhead. Then, we saw our first glimpses of Scarlett Johansson as the Black Widow, outfitted in sleek black leather and kicking ass and taking names. At this point the crowd was going crazy. The screen faded to black, the Iron Man 2 logo appeared, and the throbbing chords of Black Sabbath's "Iron Man" played. Damn, that was awesome. Buuuut wait kids, there's more. We fade back up from black, and there's Sam Rockwell talking to Don Cheadle as Randy Rhodes over a huge arsenal of advanced weaponry. "Which of these do you want?" asks Rockwell. A beat. A gleam in Cheadle's eye. "All of them." he says. Cut to ... the money-shot. WAR MACHINE in full gun-metal suit of armor unleashing hell on some badguys. Hot damn, that was sick. The crowd goes nuts, standing ovation, Iron Man 2 has just blown the roof off of Comic-Con, baby. Back onstage, Favreau and Feige and RDJ introduce Sam Rockwell, Don Cheadle, and Scarlett by-gum Johansson. More feverish applause. Scarlett is in the house, geeks everywhere have geekgasms of joy. The following Q&A and panel discussion featured great quips from Downey, speculation on whether Favs would direct the eventual Avengers movie (the crowd voted a resounding "yes"), insight into Scar-Jo's prep process for the movie, some very humble words from Cheadle, and a fan statement that I heartily agreed with for Sam Rockwell -- that if he doesn't get an Oscar nom for MOON, well, then clearly the Academy is insane. The panel closed with a second viewing of the Comic-Con only trailer, and man, did it rock. All in all, these guys were the kings of Comic-Con once again. I am Iron Man, baby.

- Post-Iron Man, we were practically ready to call it a day after several hours in Hall H. Cabin fever was setting in, but ... there was also no way we were missing out on the next panel, that being KEVIN SMITH's annual Comic-Con free-for-all. Having seen Smith speak at Comic-Con before, I knew that his panels are essentially free comedy shows, and are not to be missed. This one lived up to previous Smith speaking engagements. While there was some news about his upcoming early '10 movie called A Couple of Dicks (starring Tracy Morgan and Bruce Willis), mostly, it was just an extended Q&A with the fans that led to Smith riffing on all manner of topics. Smith had a number of hilarious anecdotes about his life, answered a number of questions about his movies, and even held court on the whole Twilight-at-Comic-Con controversy, reassuring the fanboys to wait a couple of years, because, hey, pretty soon all those preteen Twihard girls would be 18 and full-fledged fangirls, not to mention legal. Hey, Kevin Smith's words, not mine. He said a lot of other hilarious stuff, but as you can imagine, most of it is not suitable for my family-friendly blog (yep, this blog is family friendly, baby!). In any case, Smith at this point is a veritable Comic-Con legend, so it's always great to hear him speak whilst in his element. Not to mention, the man is absolutely hilarious. I was laughing throughout the entire panel. And Smith's insults and back-and-forths with the rather ... odd ... fans who try to stump him with their questions are always awesome. But yeah, Smith is a Comic-Con staple. I mean, it was Smith's movies like Clerks and Mallrats that arguably brought fanboy culture into the mainstream in the first place, so regardless of what you think of him, I say the man deserves his props.

- After closing out our day at the show with Silent Bob himself, it was time for some much-needed grub. We walked back up the Gaslamp and sat down for some Mexican food. Just after we sat down to eat, two big guys walked by us, and as all three of us are old-school wrestling fans, we immediately recognized them as none other than ECW legend Rob Van Dam and cruiserweight phenom Shane "Hurricane" Helms. Awesome! Brian shouted "RVD!" and received a fist-bump of glory from the "Whole F'n Show." Both RVD and Helms are Comic-Con regulars and noted comic book fans, so while it was no surprise to see them in SD for the show, it was pretty cool to be sitting next to them at dinner!

- When we finished eating, the original plan was to head back to the hotel, change, and then head out for a night on the town. This was our last night in San Diego, afterall. But as we walked outside and surveyed the gaslamp district, we saw something too cool to pass up: an entire bar in downtown had been converted into a TRUE BLOOD-themed vampire bar, complete with free "blood" drinks for all! We basically had no choice but to enter, drink some fresh-squeezed "True Blood," and mingle with our fellow fanboys and fangirls. They really did a great job with the place -- the bartenders were decked out in full-on vampiric goth gear, and True Blood posters adorned the walls, with slogans like "Friends Don't Let Friends Drink Friends." Definitely did not suck.

- After hanging out at the True Blood bar for a bit, we headed back to the hotel for a few, then hit the town. Originally, we were going to go to this party called X-Sanguin, but when we got there it seemed potentially a bit sketchy, so we headed back downtown, which definitely seemed to be the safer bet. From past experiences I knew that if you're looking for a fun night out in SD, the Whiskey Girl bar is always a crowd pleaser. So that is where we headed, and enjoyed a night of good music and a crazy Comic-Con crowd. Strangely, the place was forced to close down early due to the fire marshall, so we wandered around for a bit before coming across CAFE DIEM, a diner that had been completely converted into a Syfy-themed cafe straight out of the TV show Eureka. During the day, the place was consistently packed, but late at night there was no wait for a table. Coincidentally, when me and Seth walked in we saw Diane and Adriana, who were just finishing up a late-nite meal. The four of us sat and recapped our Comic-Con experiences, before eventually calling it a night. A successful end to our final evening in San Diego.

DAY 4:

- Sunday at Comic-Con tends to be light on panels, so traditionally this is the day to walk the show floor, get in some good pictures with colorfully-costumed patrons, and browse the merchandise sold by the dozens of vendors at the show. Given the tough economic times we're in, sales at Comic-Con this year were reportedly down, and I was definitely one of the many who held off on making any big purchases. Not that I ever spend a ton at the show, but this year my purchases were limited to a couple of cool T-shirts (I got a great Big Lebowski T that says "I Don't Roll On Shabbos") and one or two trade paperbacks that were steeply discounted. But to me, one of the best parts of Comic-Con is just walking the aisles, taking in the atmosphere, and exploring some of the less-trafficed nooks and crannies of the massive show floor. For example, back in the day, the centerpiece of the show used to be the famed Artists' Alley, where comic book artists new and old would set up camp and draw samples for fans, sell original art, or just chat with their admirers. Artists Alley is still a big part of Comic-Con, but today it is sort of pushed aside to a far corner of the floor, and its bare-bones tables can't compete for attention with the elaborate Hollywood booths. But, there is a magic to Artists' Alley that you won't find anywhere else on the show floor. Last year, I chatted with the legendary Jerry Robinson, the artist who CREATED the Joker back in the 1940's. This year, I strolled the aisles, talked to current Batman artist Dustin Nguyen for a bit, and admired the art of many others who I've long been a fan of or perhaps recently discovered. I also walked around the many random booths from smaller vendors - I talked about the challenges of digital distribution with some indie comix publishers experimenting with iPhone apps and digital comics. I took a picture with the Suicide Girls. I leafed through displays of vintage Golden Age comics. They say that comics are being phased out of Comic-Con, but when you see this many people in one place buying comics, reading them, discussing them, dressing up as their favorite characters, etc., you know that the medium is still thriving and maybe even doing better than ever in some ways.

- Finally, we did one last lap of the convention center, collected all the free stuff we could, etc. I checked out some promotions that my department at NBCU worked on for the show as well. With XBOX, we handed out tokens good for a free, exclusive download of the HEROES Season 4 trailer that premiered at the show. With SONY, we created custom Caprica-themed PSP's that were awarded as prizes in a drawing. Anyways, we exited the convention center and were off ... almost.

- Before leaving, we stopped by the giant HEROES-themed outdoor carnival that was across the street from the convention. Apparently the upcoming season of Heroes introduces a new set of super-powered characters who are part of a traveling carnival sideshow. So, to hype the show, Heroes and Nissan set up a full-on outdoor event, complete with cotton candy, snowcones, rides, and carnival games. Pretty cool.

- Finally, since Brian had yet to see Cafe Diem, we decided to have lunch there before heading back to LA. This time there was a lengthy wait to be seated, but it was a good chance to stand outside and people-watch. I have to say, Syfy did an amazing job in setting up the cafe. The interior was fully decked-out with Syfy posters, the tables were covered with artwork from various Syfy series, and TV monitors played shows like Warehouse 13 and Ghost Hunters on an endless loop. But the kicker was the menus, totally Syfy-themed featuring Tracy Morgan burgers and Lou Diamond Philips salads and "Syfrys." Hilariously awesome. And hey, the food was pretty darn good as well. Cafe Diem, I think, was definitely one of the biggest hits of Comic-Con.

- And then it was back to the hotel and, eventually, back to LA. Another Comic-Con successfully completed, another series of adventures had. While I could have done without some of the lost-cellphone drama and whatnot, it was great to get away, see some amazing footage from upcoming movies and TV shows, and to walk the always-impressive show floor. But most of all, it's great just to be amongst people with passion and imagination. People who dare to dream, who look for possibilities beyond the mundane banalities of everyday life. The next Monday, as I put on my khaki pants and button down shirt for work, I had that feeling of "what am I doing?" This isn't me. I'm not a khaki pants person, at all. If anything, I am a dreamer, and Comic-Con is my annual reminder of that fact. It reminds me what I love about entertainment, it reminds me of why I moved to LA from the east coast. It reminds me what all of this is all about - it's about creating art and telling stories that affects people and inspires them and makes a difference in people's lives. That's what I'm here to do, and Comic-Con, for all its craziness and eccentricities, is most of all about the power of stories to inspire and captivate the imagination. This is the place where the dreamers go to dream.

- And with that, I wrap up my annual Comic-Con recap. But don't worry, I'll have more thoughts and ramblings on the show coming soon. I'd like to put off reentry into reality for just a little bit longer, thank you very much.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Countdown to a Finite Series of Crises: Random Pre-SD Thoughts

Hola amigos. Man, my mind is almost totally in San Diego right now. Tomorrow kicks off four days of sheer craziness, as I head to Comic-Con for a pop-cultural onslaught of movie trailers, celebrities, crazed fanboys (and now, thanks to Twilight, fangirls), and surprise announcements a-plenty. In that spirit, I present to you a blog full of random thoughts on pop-culture:

- Going into Comic-Con, I wish that more people shared my fascination with THE MIGHTY BOOSH. I've still only seen a handful of episodes of this crazy British import, kind of like a tripped-out, R-rated British take on Pee-Wee's Playhouse, but ... what I have seen makes me laugh. There is an episode of this show, from Season 2, called "The Legend of Old Gregg," that is so freaking hilarious. I will spoil it if I say much more, other than, wow, just watch it. Luckily, the Boosh is, as of this week, available on DVD here in the US, and is also playing at Comedy Central. How did I discover this whacked-out series? Well, a few years back when I was visiting England, some Bri'ish friends of mine mentioned that there was this show called The Mighty Boosh that I had to see, because it was absolutely insane. Lo and behold, on my flight back to The States, the airline video service had available a couple of episodes of the show. I think I seriously disturbed a couple of people with how much I was laughing at Old Gregg's startling revelation regarding the nature of his nether-regions!

- Speaking of funny TV that's new-to-DVD, I had an absolute blast / nostalgia trip the other day watching THE STATE on DVD. I know, I know, I've hyped this to no end. But just wanted to provide a quick postscript that yes, the show is as good as I remembered it. In fact, I was actually somewhat shocked to find just how many quality sketches are packed into each episode. It's crazy I tell you. But so, so good.

- Also, I've been watching HBO's EASTBOUND & DOWN via the magic of DVD, and am really liking it thus far. Holy lord, this show is dark though. It reminds me A LOT of Observe & Report, which I still deem one of the best movies of 2009 so far. But yeah, Eastbound is very funny, very dark, and a great vehicle for Danny McBride, who is great as an ex-MLB pitcher with serious, serious issues. Watching this show, I was left with the same kind of jaw-on-the-floor reaction of "oh-no-they-didn't" disbelief that Observe gave me. Potentially classic stuff, and I have to wonder how this one was ignored by the Emmys.

- Back to State-related stuff for a minute, I would like to take a second to plug tonight's second episode of MICHAEL AND MICHAEL HAVE ISSUES on Comedy Central. I will watch pretty much anything with Stella members Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, and their new show already seems to have a ton of potential. The mix of narrative and sketch comedy seems a little awkward at first, but I have faith in these guys, as they know how to bring the funny. Even if it had a few awkward moments, the pilot episode of Michael and Michael was easily one of the funnier things I've seen on TV in a while. Watch it!

- Um, did you see the trailer for Tim Burton's ALICE IN WONDERLAND ...? Looks pretty awesome to me, one of Burton's most surreal and stylized-looking movies yet. And I say bring it on. The cast is great, the movie looks stunning, and its Burton being Burton. This one looks hot.

- I am loving all the viral hype for Disney's Tron 2. It's so funny, because I loved Tron as a kid, but the movie became kind of a pop-culture joke since that time. I mean, the movie was perhaps most famous for being the target of a classic Simpsons joke. But now everyone is all hyped about a Tron sequel starring Jeff Bridges? Whaaa'? Awesome. Weird, but awesome.

- Man, I am seeing pictures on Facebook of Comic-Con's massive Hall H, which already has throngs of vampire-lovin' fangirls lined up in front of it, camping out for tomorrow's New Moon panel. Crazy. So ... are girl nerds now just as geeky as guys? Is this a whole new paradigm change? Hmm ...

- Alright, on that note, my brain is now completely and officially fried. San Diego, watch out.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Do You Believe In Magic? A HARRY POTTER Review, a COMIC-CON Preview, and a tribute to WALTER CRONKITE.

First off, I'd like to pay my respects to the great WALTER CRONKITE, who passed away late last week. As a student of journalism and broadcasting, I was extremely saddened to see one of the all-time greats go. While I was too young to see Cronkite broadcast the nightly news, he was nonetheless a big presence growing up - on TV specials, in the classroom via any number of educational videos, or just in pop culture in general (he was the voice of Spaceship Earth at Epcot Center, and appeared in The Magic of Disney Animation at MGM Studios). Later, when I took college classes on the history of broadcasting, many of the biggest moments that we analyzed involved Cronkite's steady, measured presence: the moon landing, the Kennedy assassination, Vietnam. What struck you about these historic broadcasts was the sheer objectivity, the earnest reporting, coupled with just the right amount of gravitas. In today's world of opinionated pundits and talking heads, where everyone editorializes everything, Cronkite was one of the last true newsmen, who simply let the facts speak for themselves. He was the gatekeeper of the news, but more than that he was the trusted voice of an era. Those in journalism today would do well to try to emulate the great Walter Cronkite.

- Anyways, another weekend finito and another week startin' up. But this is no ordinary week, as come Thursday, I head down to San Diego for my third annual SD Comic-Con, southern California's mecca of geekdom. The past two years, I've had an absolute blast at the show. Between the all-star panels for film, TV, and comics, the great and absolutely insane crowds that show up, the after-parties, food, and other festivities, and just the great city of San Diego in general, Comic-Con is basically a guaranteed good time.

So, it's only natural that already my thoughts are turning to the show - what will be big, what will flop, and what surprises are in store. Here are a couple of questions that I have going into Comic-Con 2009:

1.) Will James Cameron's years-in-the-making AVATAR live up to the hype? Will it be an epic disappointment or the next Star Wars? This will likely be the panel to see at Comic-Con '09 - fans are dying to see a return to form for the director of T2, Aliens, The Abyss, etc. But the secrecy around this one means most have little idea of what to actually expect.

2.) What's up with FUTURAMA? Is the voice-cast really out? Is this a sick joke or just a bait-and-switch publicity ploy? If the voice cast really is being replaced, expect a riot. This one will be interesting, that's for sure.

3.) What does 24 have in store for Season 8? Will Jack Bauer be as badass as ever? What role will new cast-member Katee Sackhoff play? Will Aaron Pierce be there?!

4.) Can DC COMICS match the mighty Marvel in terms of big-screen hype? Will there be new news on Green Lantern, Flash, Superman II, Batman III, etc.? How will the first trailer for Jonah Hex look? Last year, DC owned the show with Watchmen - will they have any huge stunners in 2009?

5.) By the same token, can MARVEL once again be the talk of the show thanks to Robert Downey Jr., Scarlet Johansson, and IRON MAN 2? Will there be news about Thor, Captain America, Deadpool, etc.?

6.) Is KICKASS really all its cracked up to be? Will "kickass" new footage make fanboys forget that the comic book on which the movie is based has yet to reach issue #6 after over a year? Will Nicholas Cage go on an insane rant?

7.) Is HEROES officially DOA, or can a new trailer breathe some life back into the once-hot TV property?

8.) Will any new secrets of LOST be revealed? Might there be new footage from the final season, surprise new cast members, etc?

9.) Which of this Fall's new TV PILOTS will get the biggest reception, and which will be deemed as epic failures? There is a lot of new TV at Comic-Con this year - Eastwick, V, Flash Forward, The Middle, Human Target, The Prisoner, Vampire Diaries ... I was there two years ago when CHUCK became an instant Comic-Con hit - will any of these new shows fare similarly?

10.) Which Comic Book company will steal the show? Yep, despite the massive Hollywood presence, this is still COMIC-con, and it's a huge showcase for DC, Marvel, Image, IDW, etc. to generate hype and make big announcements. What does DC have in store for Batman, Superman, et al? What big talent will be working on Spiderman, The X-Men, etc? No doubt, fans at the show will be buzzing about BLACKEST NIGHT, DC's just-launched uber-event in which once-dead heroes and villains have risen from the grave as undead "Black Lanterns."

Other potential highlights: FRINGE makes its Comic-Con debut, KEVIN SMITH live and in person, living legend RAY BRADBURY holds court, master filmmaker and Monty Python member TERRY GILLIAM shows off Heath Ledger's final film - The Imaginarium of Dr. Parnassus, pulpy genre movie SOLOMON KANE footage is shown, long-delayed horror flick TRICK R' TREAT screens, TIM BURTON debuts Alice in Wonderland, animation legend HAYAO MIYAZAKI makes a rare US appearance, and THE MIGHTY BOOSH invades the USA with their insane brand of surrealist humor!

Alright, if you made it through all that ... then you're clearly primed and ready for my HARRY POTTER Review, so let's get to it:


- You know, Harry Potter is one of those franchises that it's so easy to want to hate on. Its fans are rabid and annoyingly evangelical. And those who have read the books will constantly act smugly about the fact that yes, *they* have read the books, so *they* know the real story of what's going on in the movies. Of course, most of these people don't exactly read a lot of books, so they get a kick out of, for once, being in the know. Them and millions of other people who have jumped aboard the Potter bandwagon. I mean, when I bring up one of my many geeky interests in conversation, I usually assume that the other party is NOT familiar with whatever it is I'm talking about - and why would I? But not so for Potter fans - a Potter fan will dive headfirst into discussion of potions and magic spells and (gasp!) spoilers for the as-yet-unreleased-movies, and then react in shock (shock!) that you have no clue what it is they speak of. Not to be rude, but there's just something a bit off-putting to me about so many adults' sole claim to literacy being that they have read a series of books mostly aimed at children. And again, I'm not knocking the books whatsoever - I'm sure they're great, and at some point (likely after I've seen all of the films), I hope to get around to reading them. But let's face facts: adult Harry Potter fans are up there with hardcore Whedon-ites as some of the most annoying fanboys and fangirls around (and yes, they are as geeky as any comic-book lovin' uber-geek, if not more so).

So yeah, every time a new Potter movie rolls around, I always get a bit weary. Because, as someone who has thus far only seen the movies, to me, as a whole, they've been, well, okay. Not great, not spectacular, just okay. Now, that's not to rag on the movies ... I've enjoyed all of them to date, and in particular, the last two entries I think have been just on the verge of greatness. Certainly, you can't find fault in the absolutely stellar casts, which combine a group of up-and-coming younger actors with some of the best thespians around.

Now, with The Half-Blood Prince, we may just have the best Harry Potter movie yet. The direction from David Yates is darker, artier, more epic and sweeping than ever before. Despite being mostly setup for the big two-part finale, THBP is maybe the first Potter flick to really have enough meat where you feel like you can really sink your teeth into it. The characterization isn't just little kid stuff anymore - there's teen romance and lust worthy of the CW (and I mean that in the best way possible), but there's also true villainy and heroics that feel more like The Lord of the Rings and less like The Magic Schoolbus.

Take the big bad, Voldemoort, for example. Up until now, through five (!) movies, he's been basically looming in the background as the stock villain of pure evil. In this one, finally, we get some real interesting flashbacks to Voldy as a child, just coming to terms with his own evil-ness. These flashbacks are dark, creepy, and finally set the stage for Voldemoort to emerge as a truly worthy adversary of Mr. Potter and co. Again, a lot of credit has to go to Yates and his willingness to fill the new Potter with a lot of striking and unconventional visuals. These flashback scenes are eerily-lit, stark, moody, and very un-Harry Potter-esque. Another great example of the interesting visual experimentation is in the film's engaging opening sequence, where we see a brooding, teen-angsty Harry Potter sitting in a very modern-looking London cafe, chatting up a too-cool-for-school waitress. Wait, this is Harry Potter? For a minute there, it felt like Trainspotting. And I liked it.

And while there is a lot of new-school style to this latest Potter, a lot of the best aspects of the previous movies are back, and dare I say, better than ever. Take Alan Rickman as Snape. While his role is still relatively small here, he positively chews up every scene he's in. And finally, after five movies of mostly standing around and getting in a good line or two, Snape actually does something here, and becomes an impact player, if you will. Same goes for Michael Gambon as Dumbledore. Everyone's favorite gay wizard gets in some most-excellent scenes in this one, and is just a great overall presence in the movie. As always, the rest of the adult cast is tip-top from top to bottom. Maggie Smith is another strong presence here. Helena Bonham Carter is memorably crazy-scary. New to the cast is Jim Broadbent as a bumbling potions professor with a dark secret. Broadbent is great throughout the movie, and it's a lot of fun seeing him in the mix with the rest of the talented cast members.

In addition, you have to give it up for the younger cast members, who I have praised before but have to mention again. It really is amazing how well-chosen they all were way back when, and how each of them hsa grown into a pretty darn good actor in their own right. The two standouts here are once again Daniel Radcliffe as Harry and Emma Watson as Hermione. The two not only have great chemistry with each other, but actively make the other younger actors around them better. Rupert Gint helps to round out the trio, and has some legitimately funny moments as Ron, and Tom Felton as the sinister Draco Malfoy is suitably hate-able as an in-over-his-head acolyte of Voldemoort.

My issues with the movie are basically the same ones I've had with many of the other entries in the franchise. Primarily, each movie you can almost tangibly see the script struggle to both tell a coherant, self-contained story and also to fit in all of the details and favorite moments from the books. To that end, a lot of potentially important background information seems to get rushed through in order to focus on the big moments. Meanwhile, characters who were once quite prominent, like the Order of the Phoenix, Haggred, Cho Chang, etc. are barely there. By the same token, someone like Ginny Weasly is all of a sudden a featured player. Not that there's anything wrong with that, but again, these movies often leave me feeling like I missed something. And that applies to some of the movie's internal logic as well -- a scene where Harry and Dumbledore are attacked by a legion of gruesome monsters while searching for a valuable artifact is riveting, for example, but I was hard-pressed to figure out what, exactly, was happening, exactly.

Ultimately though, the movie left me surprisingly satisfied and really left me eager to see the first of the final two films. Like I said, I really felt like this one had some real meat to it. It was setup, but fun setup, creating a real sense of anticipation. Finally, Voldemoort felt like the kind of epic villain that I was told he was supposed to be. Finally, Harry had the kind of emotional heft and gravity to his character that elevated the material beyond the whimsical and into the realm of epic fantasy. So despite me acting like a hater in my opening paragraph, make no mistake, this was a great summer surprise, a Potter that truly delivered.

My Grade: A-

- Alright, back soon with a lot more. Until next time ...

Friday, July 17, 2009

Ish Don't Think So! BRUNO Reviewed! Plus: EMMY Nomination Thoughts and MORE!

Here's my pet peeve of the day: people who suck at communication. Maybe it's an LA thing, or maybe a 20-something thing, but man, I am so sick of waiting around for people to respond to a phone call or email. It's one thing if there's a legitimate reason, like being away on vacation, but I am so tired of email / Facebook message chains with people that stretch on literally for months at a time because there's a two week gap between each message. How annoying is this? Why does it happen? Ugh. I hate flakiness.

So, while I'm in a rant-o'-doom kind of mood ...

... How about those EMMY nominations ...?

- Okay, so all in all the nominations are not terrible. There are well-deserved noms for shows like The Office and 30 Rock and Flight of the Conchords which I think are pretty much no-brainers in terms of comedy. There aren't exactly a ton of great comedies out there lately, and these are easily amongst the cream of the crop. But once you get beyond all of the fairly common-sense comedy series nods for the aforementioned shows, well, that's where things start to get a bit dicey, if not downright crazy. Some of my biggest gripes:

- How the hell is FAMILY GUY nominated for Best Comedy Series? I mean, look, back in the day I was a huge fan of the show, and I still watch out of habit and due to the fact that there is usually at least one decently funny moment per episode nowadays. But -- are you kidding me? FG was, on the whole, abysmal this past year. It wasn't anywhere near as good as it was in its earlier seasons, when maybe you could have argued that it deserved a nomination. But what's even worse -- FG now gets a best comedy nom when The Simpsons, arguably the best and funniest TV show of all time, has never, ever, been nominated in this category, even in its heyday in the 90's. Comedies that would have been more deserving of this slot: King of the Hill, Eastbound & Down, and most especially: CHUCK.

- I know that he isn't exactly the most popular with the older Emmy-voting demo, but ... personally, I think it's more than a bit odd that CONAN O'BRIEN received no love in the Variety / Comedy category. Most fans would agree that Late Night With Conan O'Brien went out on an incredible high note, with a string of hilarious and memorable final episodes. For the show not to be nominated is to me a huge, huge oversight - how can you not honor one of the funniest talk shows ever in Late Night With Conan O'Brien?

- Here's one that really pisses me off ... I know that it was a new series, and I realize that it didn't completely pick up steam until about halfway into its season ... but how can you not show some love for FRINGE? In particular, the great JOHN NOBLE, who has been absolutely incredible as Dr. Walter Bishop. I did not see better acting on TV this year, and to me it's a travesty that he is not nominated in the Supporting Actor in a Drama category.

And those are a couple of my biggest complaints. My one other general point: PUSHING DAISIES should have gotten more nominations aside from technical ones. Kristen Chenoweth got a well-deserved nod, but the fact that such a unique and visionary series couldn't get any other nominations in acting, writing, or general Best Series categories is a cryin' shame, and yet another example of where Emmy voters consistently to think outside the box (and when they do, we get a well-past-its-prime Family Guy nominated for Best Comedy Series). Would I have liked a couple more acting award noms for LOST? Sure - I'm sure that a lot of the mainstays will get awards next year after the final season wraps, but it's too bad that there was nothing for JEREMY DAVIES, who was really the heart and soul of the show this past season.

Finally, there should be a MOST BADASS award. The nominees should be Kiefer Sutherland, the dude who plays Aaron Pierce, William Fichtner, Tony Almeda, and Adam Baldwin. That is all.

-- Alright, I've had almost a week to sit on it, the people have demanded it, and so it's high time that I wrote up my review of Bruno!

BRUNO Review:

- You've got to give Sacha Baron Cohen credit - he will do anything and everything in the name of comedy, and as a performer he is 100% fearless. I've been a fan of Cohen's since I first discovered Da Ali G Show way back when. At the time, I was absolutely blown away by just how funny and original his comedy was. There were two things I think that made the comedy work so well. One was the characters themselves. Cohen has an amazing ability to create characters that are not only just plain funny, but also are an uncanny funhouse-mirror version of various "types" of people. Ali G - the wannabe gangsta. Borat - the eccentric and clueless fish out of water foreigner. Bruno - the flamboyant and effeminate euro-trash gay guy. I think one thing that reviewers in America miss is that these aren't just random characters created out of nothing. You have to take the European origins of Cohen into consideration and realize that these are, sadly - but hilariously - somewhat legit stock characters that you might find wandering around London. But regardless, Cohen so fully inhabits these characters that people on the street actually buy them as real people. And that brings me to the second part of Cohen's comedy that elevates it to brilliance -- the reactions he's able to elicit from the real people he interviews and interacts with. It's almost hard to believe - how do these rubes not realize the joke? But Cohen is a master, and somehow, he sells these characters so well that people buy it.

And to me, that's what a movie like Bruno is really all about. It's social commentary, sure, but moreso than that it's a scathing portrait of people who are too ignorant to see how stupid, how self-serious, or humorless they can be. Cohen points out people's hypocracy, their inherent prejudices, their ugliness. But at its most basic, it points out how many people don't get "the joke." People are so wrapped up in their own personal dogmas that they can't see when they're being had.

I mean, you look at a guy like Ron Paul. His scenes with Bruno are some of the film's most hilarious and disturbingly awkward. As Cohen-as-Bruno's interview with Paul turns into an over-the-top attempted seduction of the former presidential candidate, Paul erupts in anger. But in hindsight, you have to wonder ... how obliviously uptight do you have to be to actually take a guy like "Bruno" seriously?

But Bruno has scene after scene that is hilarious precisely for this reason. Somehow, Cohen has presented Bruno as legitimate to the point where his subjects take him seriously to some degree, at least at first. But then, as always, Cohen cranks up the insanity meter and that's when things get hilarious. It really is amazing though. In Bruno, Cohen finds himself alone in a room with Ron Paul. He mediates a debate between top Arab and Israeli national security experts. He sits in a room with one of the top terrorist leaders of the Al-Aqsa Martyr's Brigade. I mean, holy lord. To do that takes some serious cajones, but the result is funny in a way that's also satisfyingly catharctic. To hear Bruno tell a terrorist leader that Osama Bin Laden looks like a "dirty wizard" is an awesome "in yo' face" moment.

And then there are all the other local yokels who are the usual subjects for Cohen's "gotcha" humor. The priest who specializes in gay-conversion, who tells Bruno that working out with a bunch of dudes is the best way to go hetero. That, and avoiding listening to the Indigo Girls. There is the rowdy audience at a taping of The Maury Povich Show who jeers Bruno for being rascist even as they are pretty blatantly homophobic. There are the attendees at a swingers' party who have no qualms about getting their freak on freely yet who think Bruno is the true freak. And then there are the rabid fans at a redneck wrestling event who have no problem seeing dudes crack each others' skulls open with a steel chair, but who are on the verge of rioting after Bruno begins making out with another guy.

All of these scenes are sort of bitingly satirical in their own way. But really, Bruno isn't a movie that needs to be the political statement of the year to be successful. Because more than anything else, the movie is funny. Very funny. And again, the humor is sometimes driven by socio-political satire, but moreso it's the two things I mentioned earlier - Bruno is just a funny character, and also, the fact that he is able to trick these people into not knowing that they are being punk'd. The priest is SO intent on preaching his anti-gay gospel that he never stops to consider the absurdity of the whole situation. Pathetic showbiz parents are SO intent on getting their kids cast in a commercial that they barely even stop to contemplate the horrific things they're agreeing to. A psychic is so determined to sell the notion that Bruno is talking to the spirit of Mili from Mili Vanili that he dares not break the interity of the moment by questioning Bruno's mock-sincere, and highly X-rated, man-on-ghost encounter with the supposed spirit. And then there's a bunch of Hank Hill-esque good ol' boy hunters, who are so uncomfortable around Bruno that they can't grasp that they are being played worse than Brad and Janet in The Rocky Horror Picture Show.

My only complaints with Bruno are similar to those I had with Borat. One issue is that the narrative, scripted segments are rarely as good as the reality-based ones. Obviously there is some need to have a connective tissue to the film, but you almsot wish you could just see extended versions of the reality segments rather than the movie's mildly amusing love story between Bruno and his doting assistant. That said, there are some pretty hilarious scripted moments, especially in the beginning in the movie when we become acquainted with Bruno's ... unusual ... lifestyle. Related to this though is the fact that Bruno, even moreso than Borat, seems to integrate some heavily-scripted and staged moments into the reality segments. Most of the time the segments as a whole are so funny that you don't pay too much attention, but there are definitely some moments here that are less effective in that too many of the players seem clued into the joke. Lastly, there is that same feeling of material being recycled as there was with Borat. Namely, some of the scenes in Bruno were done and done better on Da Ali G Show. But it's not a big deal - you can't fault Cohen for paying homage to the classics.

In any case, Bruno is balls-out comedy (literally ...) that deserves a ton of credit for pushing the limits of comedy. This movie shocked me, had me rolling in laughter, and left me impressed with how far Cohen was willing to go, how far he was willing to push things. But as always, this isn't Jackass or something like that. There is a comedic brilliance to Cohen's characters and a clear method to his madness. Watching it all play out is seriously funny but also highly satisfying - like watching a master magician work an audience. You might be sick of Cohen at this point, but forget the hype and just appreciate him for what he is - one of the true geniuses of comedy working today.

My Grade: A-

And that's all for now. Have a great weekend!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

From One Neurotic Jew to Another: A WHATEVER WORKS Review ...

Ah, Wednesday is hump day, and right about now I feel like I am on that slippery slide down the other side of the mountain, because I can already taste the weekend approaching. Yesterday I rifled through my weekly to-do list -- laundry, grocery shopping, haircut, etc. -- and I'm not primed and ready for a relaxing weekend. Personally, this whole week I am slowly just getting caught up in a general state of geeking out. The State is out on DVD. Michael & Michael have issues, the new Comedy Central series from two of The State and Stella's funniest members (Michael Showalter and Michael Ian Black, dudes), premieres tonight. And the San Diego Comic-Con is now only a week away, and I'm already brain-storming my plan of attack, scoping out the best panels (Avatar, anyone?) and the coolest post-show parties.

Anyways ...

As mentioned earlier in the week, I do still have a couple of big movie reviews up my sleeve for this week. To start with, I want to talk about the latest from the Woodmeister himself, Woody Allen. Yep, I'm talkin' 'bout Whatever Works.


- At this stage in the game, Woody Allen films aren't typically great movies in and of themselves, but when they are at least watchable, as this one is, they tend to be fairly fascinating journeys into the psyche of their iconoclastic creator. Whatever Works can be hamfisted, awkward, and unfocused, but at the same time, it's an interesting movie to watch. As with so many of Allen's recent films, the movie is often worth checking out simply because a Woody Allen film in 2009 is so, so different from any other movie released in that same year. It's a throwback, and sometime a painfully dated one at that. But this is certainly not in the style of a Match Point or Vicky Christina Barcelona, two movies that tried for a sleeker, more modern sensibility. In contrast, Whatever Works is set in New York, features a neurotic Jewish intellectual as its protagonist, and could probably just as easily have been made 30 years ago as today (and, in fact, the script is supposedly a couple of decades old).

What is unique about this one though is that it marks the first-ever match-made-in-comedy-heaven teaming of Woody Allen with Larry David. On paper, this seems like a veritable dream team - both comedians are two of the most distinct comedic writers of all time, both specializing in idiosyncratic, neurotic, often-times pessimistic characters.

However, there is undoubtedly a bit of shakiness in this comedy mash-up. For one thing, Larry David is such a singular personality that it's odd to see him playing the latest in a long line of Woody Allen proxies. Secondly, David as an actor is known mostly for the highly improvised Curb Your Enthusiasm - and to that end, it's kind of jarring to see him act in such a heavily-scripted, almost stageplay-esque film. It's funny because watching Whatever Works is almost like watching Larry learn as he goes. He starts out sort of wobbly in the beginning, sometimes seeming to recite his lines from memory rather than *acting* them. And yet, as the movie progresses, David seems to settle more and more into his role, and ultimately puts on a pretty good performance. Part of it is just that David is such a naturally funny and charismatic guy that he can pull off something like this and overcome that initial awkwardness. It helps that he is surrounded by a supremely talented cast. Evan Rachel Wood, for one, is superb in this one, yet another female actress who excels in an Allan picture, Wood takes a somewhat cartoonish character and really brings her to life. There's also Ed Begley Jr. as her repressed southern father, and Patricia Clarkson as her equally repressed mother.

Basically, the plot sees Larry David's curmudgeonly character, sporting the over-the-top name of Boris Yellnikoff, grudgingly befriend a naive souther runaway, the much younger Melodie, played by Wood. This being a Woody movie, the charmingly dimwitted shiksa ultimately falls for the older Jewish man's charms, and the two begin an unlikely relationship, as Boris slowly but surely teaches Melodie to understand and appreciate his fatalist views of life, love, and the universe. And soon enough, the god-fearing good-ol' gal absorbs some of Boris' east-coast liberalism. This is all fine and dandy until her dixieland parents come a-callin', and both are equally shocked and horrified by their daughter's transformation and her odd choice of romantic partner. But the big joke in Whatever Works is that, as soon as these middle-America conservative are exposed to the bright lights of the Big Apple, their repressed and secret desires come into full view. The punchline is that true happiness comes in all shapes and sizes, popular gospel and social norms be damned. In the end, you've got go with "whatever works" for you, no matter how strange or unconventional or unlikely it may be.

This larger philisophical point was to me the most memorable aspect of Whatever Works. You had to wonder: was this Woody's way of rationalizing or justifying his own somewhat unconventional love life? In any case, I think Allen makes his point in a simple-to-grasp and entertaining manner. It might be a somewhat predictable and heavy-handed series of twists and turns, but hey, it works.

That said, I can certainly see how some might get annoyed with this movie. It definitely feels a bit dated, a bit heavy-handed, and a bit out of touch with modern sensibilities. It also feels like it's covering well-worn territory for Allen to some extent, and what's more, it sometimes feels like Woody's strong voice as a writer and his desire to get all his random neuroses and philosophies into the script bogs down the actual plot of the movie. It does make you wonder - how many Woody Allen surrogates do we need? A movie like Vicky Christina Barcelona was refreshing in that it had actual, fleshed-out characters that weren't simply one man's persona transplanted into a fictionalized representation.

But here's the thing - at the same time, I appreciate the chance to spend a little time inside Woody's brain. It might, at times, be slow, awkward, anachronistic, etc. ... but it sure is a more interesting place to be than the average written-by-committee braindead blockbuster. It's for that reason alone that Whatever Works is, to me, well worth a watch despite its overall unevenness.

My Grade: B

- Alright, next up: Bruno!

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Oh No! I spilled a-meatsauce all over my new-a white-a suit, and THE STATE IS OUT ON DVD - Hells Yeah!

What's up everyone? Even though today is one of those days where I would have liked to just stay in bed all day, it is a glorious day indeed. For after many long years of waiting, today is the day that THE STATE, finally, comes out on DVD!

This whole thing has almost taken on a bigger-than-life stature at this point. And I daresay that The State is perhaps the last, great, unreleased TV DVD. But it is a legendary release in its own right. I mean, when DVD first exploded onto the scene, it seemed like every crappy TV series ever made was getting the deluxe treatment. Everything from The A-Team to Mr. Belvedere was hitting storeshelves with director commentary and bright, shiny packaging. And yet ... where was The State? Tied up in all kinds of rights and clearances issues, not getting full support from MTV / Viacom, etc. Sure, there were music clearance issues (back in the day, shows on MTV were given free reign to utilize songs played on MTV - now, those rights have expired, making music clearances for old MTV stuff a nightmare). But, hope was continually kept alive. Every so often, some tidbit of news would emerge. A member of The State would assure us that the DVD was on the way. There were multiple stops and starts, numerous times when the loyal fans of The State thought they had reason to rejoice, only to inevitably go back to playing the waiting game. There's no doubt about it: The State is one of the great pieces of vaporware in the world of home entertainment.

I even created a Facebook group a couple of years back to express my frustration with the lack of THE STATE on DVD, entitled: "How is THE STATE still not on DVD? Are you kidding me, MTV?!?!" It was amazing, because I had never really done such a thing before, and I kind of created the group for fun and thought that maybe a couple of people would join. But check this out, fools: the group now has ALMOST 900 MEMBERS. That's ridiculous! The FB group page even received posts from members of The State!

The group mission statement was a humble one, and read as follows:

"For those of us who are huge fans of one of the greatest sketch comedy shows ever made, THE STATE, and who have been patiently waiting for it to come out on DVD since like, well, the beginning of time. When it was announced that it was finally coming out a few months back, we rejoiced. But now, MTV has decided to cancel its release ...? WTF?!?! We the people who have awesome taste in comedy demand for this to be released ASAP. We need our Doug, our Louie, and our Porcupine Racetrack, and we need to be able to watch these classic sketches over and over again at our convenience, and finally show all of our dumbass friends who never watched THE STATE what the hell it is we've been referencing all these years. Dammit all, we want THE STATE on DVD.~!"

So it was a true moment of glory when, a couple of months ago, word spread on the interwebs that, after all this time, The State was really, actually, positively headed to DVD on July 14th. You could practically hear the collective cries of "I wanna dip my balls in it!" from the masses.

And you know what? This isn't just about a beloved sketch comedy show finally becoming available for new fans to discover and old fans to rediscover. Well, it mostly is. But also, this is about fighting the good fight, making our voices heard, and showing that the fans can in fact make an impact. Sure, I may now be a bigtime Hollywood professional (sort of), but I am and always will be a fan first. And by gum, today is a victory for fans everywhere, so take that heartless multinational entertainment corporations!

But let me talk for a minute about THE STATE, specifically, why it is, in fact, so damn funny. I think that, for me, the show was kind of the logical progression of all the absurdist humor that I was steadily growing to love as a kid. The Simpsons, Ren & Stimpy, You Can't Do That On Television, etc., all gave me an early love for humor that was funny by virtue of circumventing reality and reveling in its own wackiness. Unlike the more straightforward Saturday Night Live, The State was a show that, during my middle school years, just blew me away with its inventiveness and flat-out hilarity. The show was completely self-aware and played upon the various conventions of sketch comedy. It didn't waste time with obligatory pop-culture parodies, instead every sketch had some crazy *new* idea that was thought up for no other reason other than that the premise itself was inherently hilarious.

I'm not sure how or why, exactly, but in my small Jewish day school of Solomon Schechter in West Hartford, CT, The State became something of a phenomenon among the boys in our class. I'm not sure what it is about the comedy of The State that so connects with young east-coast Jewish boys, but a lot of it probably has to do with the fact that guys like Michael Showalter, Michael Ian-Black, and David Wain (aka Stella) were, in fact, young Jewish guys from the east coast. But yeah, back in the day I think we all stumbled onto The State because all of us 13 year old boys were already MTV junkies. And in between Nirvana and Alice in Chains videos, we watched Beavis & Butthead, The Maxx, Aeon Flux, and yes, The State. Oh man, what a channel MTV was back in the mid 90's. But I digress ... the point is - we all become State-quoting comedy afficionados. I even remember that my friends and I once made a project for Bible class (like I said, it was a Jewish day school) called "The Garden," in which we took the premise of various sketches from The State and twisted them around to be biblical parables. Damn, we were some creative and sophisticated seventh graders. And yes, just to show you how cool I was, I even had The State's logo on my 8th grade yearbook page, alongside Playstation, Aerosmith, and quotes from Fox Mulder. Yep, I was pretty much the man at that point ...

If you aren't one of the initiated, I can only say that The State is the kind of show that will instantly expand your comedy horizons beyond the all-too-often formulaic confines of the Saturday Night Live mold. If you like your comedy crazy, random, smart, and off-the-wall, The State is for you. Perhaps you may have enjoyed some of the great post-State work that the members of the troup have done? Wet Hot American Summer. Stella. Reno 9-11. The Ten. Role Models. Or maybe, just maybe, you've heard somebody exclaim "I wanna dip my balls in it!" and wondered "hmm, I wonder what in the blue hell he's talking about?"

There are so, so many classic sketches to discover and/or re-watch ...

- Louie, the "I wanna dip my balls in it" guy
- Doug
- the perverted lighthouse keeper
- sideways house
- "I'm a blueberry"
- "get the man a grape soda, Karl!"
- father-son racing
- Porcupine Racetrack
- Barry and Levon
- sideways house
- "please lord, kill this boy"
- The Jew, the Italian and the Redhead Gay
- "toothbrush, you've started a family!"
- the pope is coming
- the monkeys do it

So run out to Best Buy on your lunch break, break out $5,000 worth of pudding, and pop in The State on your DVD player and bask in its comedic glory. You know you want to.

Holy crap, THE STATE is actually out on DVD.


Friday, July 10, 2009

America's Most Wanted: PUBLIC ENEMIES Review, and MORE!

Wow, it's been way too long since my last post. What can I say, it's been a crazy week or so. Work's been busy, and things have otherwise just been seeming to go nonstop as of late. I can't friggin' believe it's already the middle of July. Ahhh where is the summer going?! I feel like I'm working just as much if not more than I was in the winter, and I for one am ready for a nice long vacation (though not of the "you're fired" variety, FYI). Anyways, crap, it's almost Monday. But it was in fact a fun weekend ...

... First off, I saw BRUNO on Friday, which, long-story-short, was completely hilarious. I am VERY behind on my movie reviews though, so I am going to save the full Bruno review for a later post that will hopefully be coming your way shortly. Something to look forward to, right?

... Also, I lucked out in that a friend of mine had an extra ticket to go see the RISE AGAINST and RANCID show at The Forum here in LA, which took place on Saturday. It's not a concert that I probably would have normally shelled out big bucks for under normal circumstances, but, in this case, it was too good an offer to pass up! And overall, the concert was pretty rockin'. I was pretty excited to see Rancid, who I became a fan of back in college when a couple of their songs were in regular rotation on Boston modern-rock radio. Songs like Ruby Soho became some of my favorites of the pop-punk genre. Meanwhile, I can't say I'm a *huge* Rise Against fan, but I think most rock n' roll fans will agree that some of their hits like Ready To Fall and Prayer For the Refugee are fairly badass tunes that are perfect when you're in that fight-the-man / screw-the-world state of mind. So yeah, the show was really enjoyable top to bottom. Rancid was great, but I think their performance was slightly lacking only because the crowd seemed more into Rise Against, so people weren't going as nuts as they should have for classics like "Time Bomb." But hey, it was a thrill to hear that one, Ruby Soho, etc. live. Kickass. As for Rise Against, they had a pretty solid showing - they breezed through a bunch of songs with barely a pause in between. They had a section in the middle of the show where they slowed things down and performed two accoustic songs, but then ended on a rush of adrenaline with an encore that included Ready to Fall as the finale. And yeah, that was pretty awesome. Still, to me, I enjoyed the hits, but just found that a lot of the other songs seemed to blend together a bit. Overall though - a really rockin' show. And really, this was my first big concert of the summer, and it was cool to just be in The Forum among tons of rabid fans pumping my fist to some great bands doing their thing. RAWK.

- Okay, I mentioned earlier that I'm way behind on my movie reviews. So I'm going to back up a bit and review a film I saw last weekend, that being Michael Mann's latest -- Public Enemies. Yes, right here in this very blog. What's coming up? Well, I have to review Woody Allen's WHATEVER WORKS. And of course, BRUNO. And I hope everyone reading this read my earlier review of THE HURT LOCKER, right? Regardless, please run out and see that amazing movie ASAP.


- For me, Public Enemies was one of the absolute most-anticipated movies of this summer. It seemed to have it all: Michael Mann, one of the best modern action flick directors there is, Johnny Depp and Christian Bale, two of the best actors of their generation, and a true-life story of guns and gangsters that seemed like the perfect subject matter to bring together all of these heavywights. So yeah, I did have pretty high expectations for this one, and I really, really wanted it to be great. The fact is that Public Enemies isn't exactly a great movie, but it is a very good one. As expected, it's ably directed, well-acted, and contains at least a couple of action scenes that scream "vintage Michael Mann." But ... the movie sometimes struggles to really pop. It reminds me a bit of another recent star-power-packin' crime movie - American Gangster. Like Ridley Scott's true-life epic, Mann's latest doesn't quite live up to its potential, but still packs enough of a punch to be a fun and at times riveting film, that is still well worth checking out.

Public Enemies tells the story of John Dillinger, a career criminal who was America's most infamous and celebrated bankrobber in the pre-war 1930's. The movie portrays Dillinger as sort of the last of a dying breed - the last of the old-school crooks who flamboyantly committed his crimes with a sense of theatricality and panache. As J. Edgar Hoover's FBI begins to crack down on crime, the criminals become increasingly less visible and more white-collar. Some of Public Enemies' most fascinating moments concern Hoover's one-man war on crime -- and Billy Crudup does an excellent job as the enigmatic but tough-talking FBI boss. Taking things a step further than what was the norm at the time, Hoover dispatches a take-no-prisoners squad of elite agents to hunt down Dillinger and co. Chief among them is Christian Bale as the unfortunately-named Melvin Purvis, a stone-faced agent who made his rep by taking down gang members in cold blood if need be. Bale is good here, but to be honest he isn't given much to do. Mann doesn't spend much time diving too deep into Purvis' psyche, and I think that, ultimately, it hurts the film a bit. But then again, despite the Bale and Depp's double-billing, this really is Depp's movie. Bale is kind of the inhuman, unstoppable force coming after Depp's Dillinger - the guy who doesn't play by the old rules and will cross whatever lines he has to to get his man.

It's interesting though, as a couple of surprise players really end up shining in this one. I mentioned Billy Crudup, for example. But how about Marion Cotillard as Dillinger's loyal gal, Billie. Cotillard is great here - again, not so much because she is give a ton to work with, but because she brings a real presence to the role. She has some great scenes with Depp, both during his initial courtship and later on, when she has gone past the point of no return and been irreversably caught up in Dillinger's fast and furious lifestyle of crime. In fact, the romance between John and Billie is easily the heart and soul of the movie - it's the one area in which the movie really sucks you in and grabs you, and it's the area that delivers a real knockout punch or two to the audience. This dovetails nicely with another unsung hero of the movie - Stephen Lang as an imposing lawman who Purvis recruits to his cause. The veteran Lang brings a concentrated dose of gravitas to the movie, and amazingly, he does it with a minimum amount of dialogue. But with an Aaron Pierce-esque presence of badassness about him, Lang kind of lingers in the peripherey of the movie, and then steps up in the movie's crushing final scene and puts the exclamation point on the film in a way that only he likely could - in a key exchange with Cotillard. Good stuff. Really good, even.

But again, Public Enemies has all this cool periphery stuff going on, and of course there is that intriguing Depp-Cotillard chemistry. But ... the main attraction here was supposed to be Depp vs. Bale, and that showdown never really manifests in the way that you want it to. Part of the problem is that, as I alluded to, Mann doesn't paint a full pictur of what makes these guys tick. He tells us that Purvis is a haunted badass, but we only *see* that once or twice. We are told that Dillinger is this beloved folk hero of sorts, but again, we don't exactly *see* this play out so much as we are just told it.

As far as the action goes - it's pretty good overall but there isn't really one particularly standout scene. There's a fun chase scene in woods as Dillinger and Purvis' respective teams finally converge, but it's another instance where so many of the characters tend to blend together that it's hard to tell who just got shot and who did the shooting. A guy like Lang kind of rises above the fray through sheer force of will, but a lot of the other supporting players do tend to get lost in the shuffle.

In the end, what all this adds up to is that Public Enemies is a very good movie, but not the *great* movie that it very well could have been with a little more focus on character and storytelling. As always though, Mann creates a heightened reality that draws you in with its visual crispness and iconic characters. This is a great turn from Depp. A standout role for Cotillard. Bale is a badass as per usual. And there are some intriguing themes at play here, a little slice of true-crime history. So even if this isn't quite all it's cracked up to be, it's still a movie that's well worth checking out.

My Grade: B+

Alright -- stay tuned for some big movie reviews in the next few days. Peace out.