Friday, August 27, 2010

Danny's EMMY Preview: aka: "Does Anyone Really Care About the Emmys?"

Man, it's been a long week. After a fun weekend, things kicked into overdrive at work, and I ended up having a couple of consecutive days where I was really burning the candle at both ends. Part of that was due to a presentation skills class that I was enrolled in through work. On Tuesday and Wednesday, I went over to the Universal lot for two all-day sessions that dealt with the ins and outs of giving a great presentation in front of a big group of people. It was definitely an interesting change of pace from the usual workday, and I do think it was a valuable experience, forcing us to think more about how we appear when speaking in front of others. But, it was also super-exhausting. Just sitting in a classroom environment all day, with the added pressure of giving multiple presentations in front of others (during which we were evaluated and videotaped as well), was really draining. Plus, given that there's been lots of craziness at work, I ended up actually going back into the office for a few hours each night *after* finishing up the day's training session. Suffice it to say, for the last 48 hours I've basically been in countdown-to-the-weekend mode.


- I always say it, but the Emmys as they currently exist are not worth analyzing to any huge degree. Quite simply, they nominees rarely, if ever, truly represent the best TV series in their categories. The Oscars, at least, tend to seek out films that are eclectic, outside-the-mainstream, and independently-produced. The Oscars of course have certain biases, but, at the least, there is a certain sense of legitimacy. With the Emmys, you get the sense that the awards are voted on by casual TV fans who watch whatever is buzzworthy or popular but little else. You also get the sense that series are looked at in terms of overall run as opposed to by a particular season. Does this past season of LOST really deserve to win for Best Drama? Probably not ... but it could win if only to recognize the series as a whole. Sometimes, the omissions are just mind-boggling. How does John Noble get no love for his tour-de-force performance on FRINGE? Where is a single nomination for the year's best new drama, JUSTIFIED? What about one of the funniest comedies I've ever seen, EASTBOUND & DOWN? How about COMMUNITY, which was likely the best Thursday night comedy this year? It's just hard to care about these awards and to consider them legitimate. Sure, there are plenty of deserving nominees in the overall pool, and some of those deserving actors and series will end up walking away with awards. But enough of the nominees are shrug-worthy enough to dilute the whole thing.

On the other hand, I feel like the actual Emmy broadcast could be entertaining this year. I like Jimmy Fallon as host, and I'll be curious to see if they do anything fun with, say, Conan O'Brien. I'm sure there will be a lot of jokes at the expense of Lost's baffling finale, and if there's some sort of bizarro, American Idol duet with Steven Tyler and J-Lo ... well, that could be a can't-miss trainwreck.

- Still, okay, I guess it doesn't hurt to take a look at the nominees. I'm not going to even predict who will win - it seems pointless. I'll just give my own take on who I'd like to see come out on top ...
*NOTE: when I first wrote up this piece, I was somehow oblivious to the fact that a bunch of smaller awards had ALREADY been handed out, including guest-actor trophies and the like. So, I've gone back and updated my list with some additional thoughts on alread-announced winners. Just look for the items marked with a *.

BEST DRAMA: This one is tough. Lost should have won this for Season 4. For Season 6? Not so much. I haven't watched Dexter or Breaking Bad. I want to. Both sound like they had amazing seasons this past year, and my gut tells me that both are highly deserving of this award. That said, True Blood is an interesting choice. It's not conventionally "good," but in it's own way, it's a pretty amazing show - just super campy and over-the-top. It's one of the most addicting, most expertly-serialized scripted shows I've ever seen though. I wouldn't be upset if it won.

BEST COMEDY: This past week, I finished Season 7 of Curb Your Enthusiasm, and there's no doubt in my mind it deserves this award. 30 Rock and The Office both had pretty good but uneven seasons. Glee is unique and fun but only sort-of a comedy. Plus it's still finding its groove. Modern Family might have been my pick in other circumstances (and Community should have been nominated), but ... Curb had moments of sheer brilliance this past season - it was classic. This one is, ultimately, a no-brainer.

LEAD ACTOR, DRAMA: Again, this one is tough because my gut tells me that Bryan Cranston and Michael C. Hall are the most deserving, but I haven't seen their shows. I know, I know - I need to asap. So this one is basically a toss-up for me. Matthew Fox was always strong on Lost, but he also was the central figure in many of the series' most annoying and aggravating moments, especially this season. If anyone from Lost deserves an Emmy, it's Henry Ian Cusick, who of course ... isn't even nominated. Also ... Timothy Olyphant, anyone? Raylen was robbed.

LEAD ACTRESS, DRAMA: Another toss-up. I don't watch any of the shows on which the nominated actresses star. I've seen a little of Friday Night Lights though, and Connie Britton seems incredibly strong on it, so she's my pick.

LEAD ACTOR, COMEDY: What can I say, it's the year of Curb. Larry David was brilliant as always on Season 7. Yes, he's playing himself, but he's so hilarious that I don't care. Matthew Morrison is the straight man on Glee - he doesn't really do comedy. I don't like him being nominated here (and holy lord, does Danny McBride deserve a spot -- and next year, if Louie CK isn't nominated, it will be a crime). I love Alec Baldwin and Steve Carell, but neither of their characters had their best or most memorable storylines this past year (Carell more so than Baldwin - I wouldn't mind if Alec won, actually). But come on, this one has got to go to Mr. David.

LEAD ACTRESS, COMEDY: This is another tough one. Lea Michele is a huge breakout star and the heart and soul of Glee, but again, I kind of object to it being implied that she's the funniest woman on TV by being in this category. Tina Fey is always great. But, this, maybe, should be the year of Amy Poehler. I am torn - I actually think Parks & Rec got funnier when it toned down Amy's character and made her less of a focus. That said, she was still the main character of a show that was probably one of the two or three funniest this past TV season. Toss-up between the two SNL alums, but Amy might be my pick.

SUPPORTING ACTOR, COMEDY: This one is dominated by Modern Family, and deservedly so (sort of - where is anyone from Community or Curb or Parks?). But yeah, MF's cast is superb, and the best among them is Ty Burrell, who is the show's breakout star and who's responsible for a majority of its best gags. I think Ty Burrell basically has to win this one - he owned it on Modern Family this year.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, COMEDY: Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch. Jane Lynch. One of the funniest people on the planet. Hilarious on Glee. Just give her the Emmy now.

SUPPORTING ACTOR, DRAMA: This set of nominees is pretty annoying, I have to say. Terry O'Quinn and Michael Emerson are both incredible actors ... but both of their characters peaked in earlier seasons of Lost. I wouldn't be upset if either of them won, but again, where is Henry Ian Cusick, brotha?! John Noble from Fringe?! Walter Goggins from Justified?! No offense to Andre Brauer, but, WTF.

SUPPORTING ACTRESS, DRAMA: No real opinion on this one. I know the women of Mad Men are a talented bunch, but that's yet another show that I haven't had a chance to dive into as of yet.

*GUEST ACTOR IN A COMEDY: A ton of talented people in this category. I might have to go with Neil Patrick Harris on Glee though, as he really was hilarious in his guest spot, and it proved to be one of the most memorable episodes of the series to date. Also loved Fred Willard on Modern Family, but I've gotta go with NPH.
*And so did Emmy voters - NPH won the award this past week.

*GUEST ACTOR IN A DRAMA: Gregory Itzin was a lot of fun on 24's final season, and hey, 24 is one of my all-time favorite shows, so he's probably my sentimental favorite. There are, again though, so many actors that come to mind from Justified and Fringe - two shows that were totally passed over. I mean, Peter Weller on Fringe - hello! He kicked ass!
*John Lithgow ended up winning though, and hey, congrats to him. He's the man (seriously, who doesn't like John Lithgow?)

*GUEST ACTRESS IN A COMEDY: See, I do support Glee. Kristin Chenoweth was awesome on the show, and if saying that makes me less of a man, then dammit all, call me Shirley. Because, surely, the former co-star of Pushing Daisies deserves some Emmy love. And hey, I like Betty White (I have a soul), but, I don't know, enough already - you know?
*Oh, I know, but not Emmy voters. Ms. White's name on the ballot likely produced an automated reaction of "check!" among Emmy voters who choose to vote like automatons. Look, he episode of SNL was great though (at least as compared to other recent episodes of SNL), so congrats to Ms. White. Maybe next year, she'll get a nomination for her upcoming work on, dare I say it, Community?!

*GUEST ACTRESS IN A DRAMA: No real opinion. I've really liked Elizabeth Mitchell on Lost in the past, but wasn't last season really her swan song? So yeah ... whatever on this one.
*Ann Margaret won for Law & Order: SVU. Cool, goooo NBC.

VARIETY, MUSIC, OR COMEDY SERIES: The Tonight Show With Conan O'Brien. Seriously. This needs to win. Those final few weeks were *classic* TV, that will be talked about and written about for years to come. I know, Stewart and Colbert always win, and yes, they always do a great job. But Conan was the man this year. He put on great television in the midst of controversy, and produced some of the most memorable episodes of late-night TV ever aired. Team Coco, baby!

ANIMATED PROGRAM: Um ... what? These are the choices? No love for the last-ever season of King of the Hill (not sure if it was eligible, but still ...)? All I know is, next year had better be all about the returned Futurama.
*And the winner was ... some Disney show I never heard of. Well, at least it wasn't Family Guy ...

WRITING FOR A COMEDY SERIES: Hmm, again ... no Community or Parks really makes this category feel lacking. I will say, I think there were some brilliantly-written moments of The Office this year that make it worthy of a win. Same goes for 30 Rock - the show still had some hugely hilarious scripted moments that kept it in the top-tier of TV comedy.

WRITING FOR A DRAMA: Okay ... I don't know. Mad Men, maybe - again, haven't watched, but I know by reputation that it's among the best-written shows on TV. Lost - aside from a couple of episodes, there was a lot of weaksauce writing this season. Justified has such good dialogue, and Fringe as well ... those are very conspicuous by their absence.

*VISUAL EFFECTS FOR A SERIES: Fringe is seriously not nominated? Really? Fine, I support Caprica by default.
*Apparently "CSI" won this. How ... not exciting?

*SOUND EDITING FOR A SERIES: Wait, Fringe IS nominated in this category! Sweet delicious strawberry death! Fringe should, MUST win here, baby.
*Oh, but wait, it didn't win. Only appropriate. Fringe, you are too good for the Emmys.

WRITING FOR A VARIETY, MUSIC, OR COMEDY PROGRAM: Once again, Team Conan. Conan's got a crack team of amazing writers (they even had their own special on TBS), and they deserve to be recognized for the many amazing sketches and bits that we got on The Tonight Show with Conan.

*MAIN TITLE THEME MUSIC: Justified - whoo! - it's nominated! Awesome theme song, always sets the tone perfectly for the show. How does this category even work though? Are only new shows nominated? If so then how are Parks & Rec and Warehouse 13 nominated. Is it shows that have never been nominated before? Regardless, a win for Justified would be highly justified.
*And yet ... NURSE JACKIE WON?! Apparently no Emmy voters watch Justified, and therefore, they can suck it.

*MUSIC COMPOSITION: Okay, here's one where there's no doubt in my mind, LOST deserves to win. Lost had the best scored music of any show of the last several years, and despite other faults, the music in Season 6 was among the series' best. I mean, come on, that scene in the finale with Jack and Not-Locke squaring off on that rocky cliff? With that badass music? I can hum the various Lost themes right now, they are that good.
*Hmm, apparently 24 won this, which is cool - 24 always did have great music.

And there you have it, my EMMY thoughts. What do YOU think? Are you excited for the Emmys? Underwhelmed by the nominees? Still bitter that Lauren Graham was never nominated for Gilmore Girls?

Some other quick TV thoughts:

- LOUIE continues to be brilliant. One of the best comedies in recent years.

- PLANET EARTH on blu-ray, just watching it now for the first time -- holy wow.

- CURB season 7 - I loved the ending - so brilliant. Not the best season of the show overall, but still, so many moments of genius throughout.
- FUTURAMA has been having a really good season. Again, praised be jeebus that this show is back on the air.

Annnnnd ... there you have it. Time for the weekend - enjoy!

Getting My Feet Wet With PIRAHNA 3D ...!

PIRAHNA 3D Review:

- Going into a movie like Pirahna 3D, you have a very basic set of expectations. You want fun, you want carnage, you want laughs, you want scares. And maybe, just maybe, you want an extended scene of Kelly Brook frollicking lustily (and nakedly) with another woman underwater ... in 3D. On all of those counts, Pirahna 3D delivers. It's not a great movie, but it's a fun time at the cinema, no doubt about it. That said, is there some of that "Snakes on a Plane" syndrome at work here? Does the movie want to be self-aware, so-bad-it's good camp, yet only end up as so bad it's ... bad? Sometimes, I do think the movie falls into that trap. But while "Snakes" was, ultimately, just bad, Pirahna has enough inspired moments that I have to give it one (severed) thumb up.

Updating the classic, Roger Corman-produced B-movie for 2010, Pirahna 3D never takes itself too seriously. Now, here's where I sometimes think that modern B-movie auteurs tend to miss the point of the old-school Corman movies. The great thing about those was that, yes, they had humor, but they also had conviction. The movies had huge ambition, and despite some winks at the audience, in their own way, they took themselves very seriously. Classic B-movies tend to walk a very fine line between self-seriousness and self-parody, but they usually lean towards the former. Where Pirahna 3D tends to falter is in the fact that the tone swings pretty wildly throughout the film. There are moments of insane, over-the-top sex and violence that are fairly awesome, but all of the filler stuff isn't as fun - it's teen drama that seems to have been lifted straight out of some bad CW soap. Basically, the overall blandness of the main characters is a real rough spot for the movie. In Pirahna 3D, cheesiness is fine and even welcome, but bland is nearly unforgivable.

Luckily, there is enough craziness in the movie to counterbalance the lame teen-drama stuff. Sure, we may have to suffer through the boring main character and his girl problems, but to counteract that we get moments of CHRISTOPHER LLOYD acting awesomely nutty. We get Ving Rhames as one badass Pirahna-killer. We get Jerry O'Connell as a hilariously sleazy peddler of "Girls Gone Wild"-style videos. And, we get a movie-stealing Elisabeth Shue as our protagonist's still-hot mom who's a local cop that can kick ass and take names. Basically, she makes her emotastic son look like a giant $%#%. Not to get on a soapbox or anything, but some of these teen actors need to learn how to act with the proper B-movie hero tone, where you take everything super-seriously and play it straight no matter how crazy things get ... with just the slightest hint of self-awareness thrown in for good measure. Elisabeth Shue and Ving Rhames get it, and they totally school the youngsters. Adam Scott is also pretty entertaining as a smirky specialist called in to help with the Pirahna problem. On the other hand ... Jessica Szohr from Gossip Girl is running around as if she's still on Gossip Girl (where she plays the show's most annoying character by far). Steven R. McQueen, our lead (and, uh, nice name by the way), might as well be acting as if he's guest-starring on Gossip Girl. And hey, I admit it, I like Gossip Girl. But this is Pirahna 3D, dammit all.

Now, Pirahna 3D has a somewhat slow build-up to get to the really good stuff, but the movie really pays off in the final act, when it erupts into an orgy of aquatic violence and gore. It's cartoonish and oftentimes hilarious, and yes, a lot of fun to watch. Director Alexandre Aja has a lot of fun with all the craziness - getting some truly creative (and oftentimes laugh-out-loud funny) kills on film.

I wish the script had been a little more fun and sharp. Christopher Lloyd's big expository scene hints at the sort of campy goodness that could have been, and it helps that he sells it all like a champ. You also wonder why the movie had to resort to having two small kids as main characters - the whole kids-in-peril part of the movie seems to detract a little from the fun, and takes you out of the film's subversive spirit. It just feels weird to keep cutting to these little kids in the midst of the much more debaucherous storylines involving spring-breakers, sleazy video producers, etc.

In the end though, Pirahna 3D was a fun little movie that ultimately delivered on its promise of over-the-top 3D carnage. It's got killer pirahnas going insane, Christopher Lloyd acting insane, and yes, Kelly Brook in 3D in scenes sure to fog up many a pair of 3D glasses. At times, the movie just feels flat. But when business eventually picks up, there are enough "oh my god!" moments to send you home happy. It's a good time at the theater, no question.

My Grade: B

Monday, August 16, 2010

Danny Chronicles the WEEKEND OF EPICNESS: Weird Al in Concert, OC Fair, and MORE!

What up, everyone? So, I am here to tell the tale of a true weekend of epicness (maybe even epic epicness?). It's been a crazy month or two in general, but this past weekend was particularly insane. In a good way. The craziness began on Thursday evening with a screening of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World on the Universal Studios lot. It continued on Friday evening as me and some fellow hardcore badasses took in a showing of The Expendables. On Saturday, a band of intrepid explorers, in search of strange and unique fried foods and other oddities, journeyed to THE OC FAIR on a quest to eat, see the sights, and to see Weird Al Yankovic (!) in concert. On Sunday, I got the band back together, nWo-style, to head to the Staples Center to see the WWE's summer wrestlefest, Summerslam, live and in person, brother. So, yeah, it was an epic weekend indeed. I've already posted my reviews of Scott Pilgrim (awesome!) and The Expendables (disappointing ...). But, let me talk for a bit about the rest of the mega-weekend-o'-dooooom.


- Last year, I went to the OC Fair for the first time ever (back when it was known as The OC Superfair - no longer "super" I guess?), and had a really fun time. Going to the fair, I really felt like I'd been transported to another world. It's like a slice of Redneck County, USA in Southern California, and it is quite a place to visit. And this year's show was just as crazy and over-the-top as I remembered from last summer. Everywhere you look, there are ostentatious food stands, each one seemingly trying to outdo the others in terms of the sheer ridiculousness of the food being offered. Anything that can be deep fried ... is. There's Krispy Kreme chicken sandwiches, fried Twinkies, fried Reeses, fried Klondike bars, fried dough, fried butter (yep!), and everything in between. There's pizza, pizza on a stick, ice cream, ice cream in a cone, funnel cake, frog's legs, chocolate-covered bacon, chocolate-covered everything, sno-cones, shaved ice, and frozen lemonade. There's smoked turkey legs, pork butts, grilled chicken, charbroiled chicken, and fried chicken. Burgers, hot dogs, french fries, cheese fries, ranch fries, and apple fries. No food is too crazy-sounding (hello, Chocolate Charlies and Zuchini Weenies). No food too heart-attack-inducing (hello "Heart Attack Cafe"). No promotion of said foods too shameless, either - the bright facades and bold declarations of the various food stands are half the fun. It really is amazing to just walk around and see it all, and yes, perhaps sample a local delicacy or two. It's madness.

Meanwhile, there are all sorts of other random oddities and attractions to check out at the fair. Last year's highlight, Al's Brain, was back again this year. It's a hilarious 3D movie created by and starring Weird Al himself, and it's a real comedy gem. I'm not sure if there's any way for those who can't make the fair to check it out online or something, but I highly recommend seeking it out if you're a fan of Al (and who isn't?). It's a very funny and surprisingly very educational look at the way the human brain works, and it's packed with hilarious bits, and even has cameos from the likes of Fabio, Thomas Lennon, Patton Oswalt, and Paul McCartney! And it's in "eye-popping 3D." Sweeet. What else is at the Fair? Well ... an ice-museum, elephants, horses, other random livestock (including Hercules the Giant Horse, who's so freakishly big that he costs and extra dollar to see!), pig-races (yep!) acrobats, a giant market known appropriately enough as the Parade of Products, rides (most of them looking like something out of an amusement park from a 70's horror movie), carnival games, and more. Like I said, other than the nerd-friendly presence of Weird Al, it really does feel like you've just arrived at some random, super-sized Deep South county fair. You know, one of those "wouldn't want to live there, but super fun to visit" things. But man, what a place to visit.

In any case, it was a lot of fun just wandering the fair grounds, eating random semi-incredible / semi-gross foods, enjoying some quality people-watching, etc. Me, my brother, the G-Man, and Kyle O. drove down to the OC from Burbank, and then KC (fellow former Conan intern, current San Diego resident) met up with us. Good times indeed.

- But, of course, the main event of the trip was the WEIRD AL concert that punctuated the evening. The concert, the second of two back-to-back shows performed at the OC fairgrounds, at the nearby Pacific Ampitheater, was a rocking, hilarious, and most definitely epic show. I mean, I had heard that Al always puts on one heck of a show, but I came away from this one somewhat blown away by the guy. By the end of the show, I felt like we had just witnessed a comedy legend at the peak of his powers. Weird? Maybe. Awesome? Yes!

It was also just a really cool show in that the crowd was so diverse. There were a ton of kids and families there, which made the concert a lot of fun. I loved seeing ten and eleven year old kids going crazy for Al or maybe even discovering him for the first time. There were old-school fans, twenty-somethings, and teens. There were those of us who could recite the dialogue of UHF in tune with the clips that played between songs, and those who knew the lyrics of White & Nerdy by heart. Plus, all the kids there just gave me an added appreciation for just how funny Weird Al has always been able to be while remaining firmly in the PG realm of humor. I mean, honestly, how many other comedians can claim that? Al's humor is just flat-out genius at times, but never crosses certain lines. How much great comedy is out there that kids and adults can enjoy equally?

Also amazing is just how enduring Weird Al's career has been. It's pretty crazy and a little surreal to see him sing tunes from a catalog that dates back to the late 70's. This was especially true during songs like "Fat" and "Smells Like Nirvana." Michael Jackson and Kurt Cobain may no longer be with us, but, damn, there in front of me was Weird Al, still kickin' it, and performing parodies that were almost as much a part of a given pop-cultural era as the actual songs that inspired them. One thing about Weird Al though - he never rests on his laurels. The show contained plenty of new material alongside the classics. Sure, we got Fat, Dare to be Stupid, Beverly Hillbillies, Smells Like Nirvana, and Amish Paradise. But we also got White & Nerdy, Trapped in the Drive-Through, You're Pitiful, Canadian Idiot, Skipper Dan (a funny tune about a tour guide on Disney's Jungle Cruise ride), and CNR (a White Stripes parody all about TV icon Charles Nelson Reilly!). The show even opened with one of Al's trademark polka medleys, which included samples of Lady Gaga, Ke$ha, and Katy Perry.

Another unique thing about the concert was that Al does extensive costume changes between songs, so the short breaks between the music are an opportunity to sit back and partake in a mini Weird Al film festival of sorts, as clips from AL TV play, along with other random Weird Al TV appearances from throughout the years, plus talk-show appearances, voiceover work, bits from cult-classic comedy UHF, and more. Plus, Al seems to have carefully collected and assembled literally every clip of every time he's ever been mentioned on TV - from Johnny Carson to Family Guy. Just about all of the clips shown though - especially the Al TV faux-interview bits (where Al fake-interviews the likes of Eminen, Celine Dion, and Jessica Simpson) were legitimately hilarious though. So basically, the pauses between songs were almost as fun as the songs themselves.

The breaks also mean that Al can go all-out when performing his songs. He dons the classic fat-suit for Fat, Amish getup for Amish Paradise, a Devo suit for Dare to Be Stupid, grunge gear for Smells Like Nirvana, a Jungle Cruise tour guide outfit for Skipper Dan, and a hilarious pink pimp-suit for his song all about cheesy pick-up lines, Wanna Be Ur Lovr. The capper came during the uber-epic encore, in which Al and his band came onstage in full Jedi garb, flanked by an army of Storm Troopers and Darth Vader himself. Jedi Al then proceeded to pull a fast one on the crowd - instead of launching into "The Saga Begins," he randomly burst into the cheesy, one-line song "Everyone Has Cell Phones." Eventually, he got down to business though - he performed "The Saga Begins" (the Star Wars-inspired take on American Pie) as the crowd sang along in unison (My, my, this here Anakin guy - someday later he'll be Vader now he's just a small fry."). Al followed that with a rockin' redition of Yoda (his classic parody of The Kinks' Lola), and sent the crowd home happy.

Al really went all-out to put on an awesome show. He covered a ton of songs too, even performing abbreviated versions of hits like eBay, Bedrock Anthem, Ode to a Superhero, Gump, and Eat It in a parody medley. The crowd, young and old, was loving it, and Al was jumping around, dancing in the crowd, and having fun - I don't think the guy has lost a step. And his band is super-impressive to boot - the fact that they can effortlessly transition from Green Day to Coolio to Michael Jackson is pretty impressive.

All in all, it was definitely one of the most fun concerts I've seen, and definitely the funniest. Weird Al is quite simply the man. You've got to love the fact that he's still out there, still making kids and adults alike laugh and get into different musical styles. You've got to applaud the guy for basically being as funny and sharp as ever. A great night of comedy from an icon of funny - I can only conclude that Weird Al is a national freaking treasure, and that he deserves a monument or Nobel Prize or something. And if you dont' agree, well, all I can say is ... "yoooooou soooooooo stuuuupid!!!!!!!!" (sorry, had to get a UHF quote in there ...).

- The weekend of epicness didn't stop there though ... on Sunday, me, my brother, and the G-Man headed down to downtown (downtown LA that is) to attend WWE's SUMMERSLAM, live, up close, and personal. We had great, dead-center seats, so we were right there, ringside, for all the action. We saw the likes of Rey Mysterio, Kane, Chris Jericho, Edge, John Cena, and The Undertaker mix it up in a number of epic battles. We even saw the legendary Bret "The Hitman" Hart wrestle, a sight that made those of us in the crowd of a certain age nostalgic for old-school wrasslin', for the days when The Hitman was known around the world as the consummate champion and as the "excellence of execution." In short, it was a really fun event, and yes, a fitting end to the weekend.

And now it's back to the grind. It's already been a pretty intense week at work, but I've also been somewhat energized, still riding the high from the weekend of Scott Pilgrim, Sylvester Stallone, Weird Al, and The Hitman. Now, it's on to the next adventure ...

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Going Over-The-Top With THE EXPENDABLES - Stallone's All-Star Action Flick ... Reviewed!


- At some point in time, the underlying idea of THE EXPENDABLES was a near-magical thing. As more and more details about the movie came to light, fans of old-school action films couldn't help but dream about a movie that promised to be the ultimate badass action flick, with an all-star cast of larger-than-life icons. This could be the movie that would bring back the kind of gritty, rough n' tumble cinema that has become all too rare in this age of less-than-inspiring big screen heroes. This was the movie that would kick our collective asses seven ways to Sunday and leave us begging for more. There was plenty of reason to buy into the hype: after a rough patch in the cinematic wilderness, Sylvester Stallone seemed to have found his mojo again. Rocky Balboa was a triumph. Rambo was old-school action at its finest, and badass to its core. Just the idea of Stallone and Jason Statham co-starring in a balls-to-the-wall action film seemed to have nearly unlimited potential.

But, as time passed, the cracks in the master plan began to show. The concept of an all-star dream cast of action icons never *quite* came to fruition as many had hoped. Sure - Stallone, Statham, Li, and Rourke (and, okay, Dolph ... sort of) are all legit A-list action heroes. But Steve Austin? One of the best performers ever in the WWE, sure, but not exactly a movie star. Terry Crews? Incredibly charismatic and funny, but his best work has been on a TV sitcom. Eric Roberts? Great as a go-to supporting player, and always willing to ham it up as a villain. But as your Big Bad? And Randy Couture? The guy is legit tough as nails - a flat-out scary dude. But as an actor? Has he done anything that's shown he's anywhere near as legit as an actor as he is an MMA fighter? Here's the thing - I think we all wanted to buy into the hype and convince ourselves that Stallone DID in fact assemble an all-star lineup of action icons. That was, after all, the movie's main marketing hook. And seeing all of those names together is enough to get the ol' adrenaline pumping, no doubt. But do all of those names thrown into a cinematic soup make for a great film? That was my biggest question going into the movie. I didn't want to overthink this one. I wanted to just sit back in the theater after a long week and watch some hardcore action. But - in order to have great action, you need great CHARACTERS. You need a great REASON for the action to take place. You need stakes. You need motivation. You need emotional involvment. When you look back at the great action films - Predator, Conan the Barbarian, Robocop, Escape From New York, Terminator 2 - they all started with a great premise, followed through with larger-than-life, memorable characters, and then delivered on dialogue, attitude, and epic story beats that got your blood flowing. Hell, Stallone is the star he is because of two of the all-time great CHARACTERS of cinema - Rocky Balboa and John Rambo. And part of the reason why the latest entries in those franchises worked so well was because they focused so much on character. THE EXPENDABLES has fun moments. It has a couple of badass and brutal action scenes. But considering all of the big-name talent involved, it's surprisingly bland and forgettable. There was no moment organic to the film that made me want to smile and cheer.

There is one truly awesome scene in the film, and that's the glorious meeting of Stallone, Schwarzenegger, and Willis towards the beginning of the movie. It's a very brief scene, but the sheer novelty and badass-factor of seeing these three legends together on film makes this sequence a guaranteed crowd-pleaser. The writing in this scene feels like Stallone just cutting loose and having fun, and you wish that the rest of the script had that same sort of sharpness and sense of humor. It also doesn't hurt that the Governator can still deliver a one-line with the best of 'em.

But, especially given that the movie does have a couple of really fun moments like the one above, it's a shame that so much of the film's script is completely lifeless and, at times, just plain stupid. It's a very schizofrenic movie, to be honest. There's a scene where Mickey Rourke - the only guy in the film who seemed to have his acting shoes on - delivers a pretty damn cool monologue that almsot feels like it's from a different movie - one that actually has some character and soul. But it's weird - the monologue, about the emotional price Rourke has payed for living the life of a mercenary, almost comes off as unintentionally funny because it's this epic speech in the middle of a movie that has to that point mostly been filled with go-nowhere dialogue and do-nothing characters. It's like Stallone was sitting Rourke down to do this scene as some sort of random acting clinic for the other guys in the film. Rourke nails it, but he so outclasses everyone else in the movie in a two minute span that the effect is almost comical.

Meanwhile, the movie's plot is pretty ridiculous, but not good-ridiculous in a way that would actually help a movie like this to be kickass. Like I said above, an action movie doesn't need an ultra-sophisticated plot - I didn't go into The Expendables expecting Inception or anything. But, again, give us a REASON to root for these characters - something, anything. Instead, we get a bunch of mercs on a mission to take out a CIA guy gone rogue in some godforsaken third-world republic. Okay, decent enough start, right? You figure the movie will be all about how this band of brothers is chewed up and spit out, about how they learn to find something to fight for and take on a cause rather than just a paycheck. Well, that's sort of what happens, but it unfolds in the limpest, most weaksauce manner possible. The whole plot boils down to Stallone deciding to take his team back to this hellhole of an island-nation and seemingly kill everyone in it and blow the whole place to hell, all so that Stallone can "save" this one girl who he met for about 5 minutes during his initial mission. Trust me, it makes even less sense in the context of the actual movie. More than anything else though, you just want those huge, larger-than-life, widescreen moments in a movie like this. You want the equivalent of Arnold staring down the predator, of Rambo rising from the ashes to wreak unholy vengeance, of Robocop confronting Dick Jones, or Snake Plissken telling everyone who gets it wrong to "call me Snake." You need those iconic characters, those classic moments, that memorable dialogue. The Expendables just feels ... empty ... in that regard.

To the movie's credit, it definitely has a couple of genuinely kickass action scenes that are just plain entertaining. The sewer scene that I first saw at Comic-Con remained ultra-intense and hardcore upon second viewing, as did the scene where Jason Statham swoops in to wreak havoc on some unsavory locals via some heavy-duty airborne ballistics. Some of the over-the-top carnage on hand is downright crazy, and it's during these shock-value moments that the movie is at its best and most jaw-dropping. There's also a pretty amusing scene in which Statham beats some sense into some thugs who've been messing with his girl, which includes the movie's best and funniest one-liner. There's a fun confrontation between Dolph Lundgren and "Stone Cold" Steve Austin where you can practically hear Good Ol' JR screaming "bah gawd!" in the background. And Eric Roberts is always entertaining to watch - he's so effortlessly slimy and smarmy, like some sleazy uncle you're glad you don't have to see very often.

That said, one thing that bugged me about this film is that it never quite felt like a classic Stallone movie. What I loved about Rocky Balboa was that it went back to the original Rocky and had that more intimate feel, that slower pace, that emphasis on character. Same goes for Rambo - it really felt like old-school filmmaking. It was bloody and brutal, but the overall rhythm of the movie was very classical ... a throwback. Not so with The Expendables. Stallone seems to want to make a Jason Statham movie and not a Stallone movie. The cuts are quick and jumpy during the action, and it more often than not detracts from the film. When you have so many great action vets on hand, why go this route? Why make it so that we can barely even make out the moves performed by martial arts master Jet Li? Really, there've only been a couple of directors who have truly been able to make the shaky-cam style of action 100% work for them. I don't know why Stallone felt the need to adopt this style in a movie that is, in so many other ways, decidedly old-school. It makes sense in some scenes, but other times the action just starts to feel impossible to follow and completely devoid of rhyme or reason. By the tail-end of the movie's breakneck climax, you really have no idea what's being blown up or why.

Maybe the biggest disappointment of the movie is Stallone himself. I love Stallone as an actor - he's such a great personality. I also give him all the credit in the world for doing what many thought impossible and giving both Rocky and Rambo each one last blaze of glory worthy of their cinematic legacies. So it makes it especially disappointing to see Stallone go from playing Rocky and Rambo - two all-time classic characters - to just playing ... some guy. According to IMDB, Stallone plays "Barney Ross" in The Expendables, but you likely wouldn't know that from watching the film. His character is just sort of there. We never care much about him. He just goes through the motions, and that is a shame. So, yeah, "Barney Ross" won't be taking his place in the Stallone cannon alongside Rocky Balboa or John Rambo anytime soon.

Despite a lot of pretty glaring flaws, The Expendables still manages to be a pretty entertaining and enjoyable movie, especially if you're an action junkie who's likely to get a kick out of seeing this all-star squadron of badasses team-up and try to out-badass each other (the Stallone-Willis-Schwarzenneger scene alone might just be worth the price of admission, for novelty value alone). That's the fun of the movie, but those big names on the marquee only go so far. You need something, some sort of glue, some sort of reason for existing, to hold the movie together and actually get you, the viewer, invested. As it stands, The Expendables never lives up to the potential of the fanboy dream movie we all had hoped for. Maybe a Part 2 could deliver. Maybe. But Stallone is going to have to go back to the drawing board if he wants to create a new franchise on par with the movies that made him a star. The Expendables shouldn't have been this clunky and forgetable.

My Grade: B-

Friday, August 13, 2010


- The memories of old-school videogames are forever burned into the very center of my brain. Don't get me wrong, I still love gaming, but I doubt I'll ever 100% recapture those blissful days of youth perched in front of the TV, playing Super Mario Bros., Street Fighter II, and Final Fantasy. The iconic 8 and 16-bit sound effects carry instant weight for me the moment I hear them. I can instantly identify the sound of Mario powering up via mushroom, the sound of Megaman jumping into the air, the sound of your mechanical arm swinging towards the heavens in Bionic Commando. And the music ... as much as TV theme songs were etched into the collective memories of one generation, so too were those legendary videogame soundtracks part of our pop-cultural cannon. If you're anything like me, you can hum the Mario Bros. theme (the 1-1 theme and of course the 1-2 "underground sewer" theme). You have the background music of at least one level from Megaman 2 in your head, or from Street Fighter II, or from Castlevania. Hearing the Final Fantasy theme might even give you a chill. It used to be that after hours of playing a game, it would work itself into the inner sanctums of my head. I'd have fever-dreams about the game. The line between reality and virtual reality would becomes ever so slightly blurred on a routine basis. I don't think I'm alone in this. I think there's a whole generation out there that grew up on this stuff, that saw the world through the filter of videogames. And yet, we've lived in a world so dominated by the remnants of Baby Boomer culture that it's STILL rare to find a big-budget movie that seems relevant to us specifically, that seems by, and for, the Nintendo Generation.

And man, that's why SCOTT PILGRIM just feels like a total adrenaline rush. It's one of the first-ever movies to fully translate the videogame aesthetic to the screen. But it's not just the aesthetic - it's the hero's journey as seen through games and pop-culture translated into real-life, and that's why Scott Pilgrim is much more than just a collection of references and visual homages. Sure, that's part of it. But to me, the genius of the film is that out of all that cultural jumble, it manages to find a greater Truth. It looks at life through the prism of pop-culture and somehow turns a series of videogame-style battles into a classic, epic quest of self-discovery. It realizes that all of these games are, in their own way, metaphors for our daily battles. Growing up on games taught us to never accept defeat, to look for ways to win through skill and perseverance, to learn from failure so as not to repeat the mistakes of the past. Scott Pilgrim takes place in a super-heightened reality, and yet there's an authenticity to it that much more "realistic" movies often lack. Part of that authenticity is that a lot of us can likely relate to Scott Pilgrim's warpzone worldview. Who among us hasn't occasionally viewed life-as-pop-art? We all take inspiration from pop-culture, and that's the magic of the relationship between people and art (sorry Roger Ebert, videogames are art). Scott Pilgrim is, in its own way, a pretty brilliant look at how one person, and by extension, all of us, transpose ourselves into movies, comics, TV shows, games, etc. on a daily basis -- how we see ourselves as characters in our own epic stories.

At the same time, Scott Pilgrim is just ridiculously fun and energetic. It's a nonstop rock n' roll spectacle, overflowing with visual imagination and humor. Edgar Wright nailed it, and created a movie right up there with Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz in terms of innovative, genre-breaking action-comedy. In fact, Scott Pilgrim is his best film yet. SCOTT PILGRIM is like no other movie you've seen before. It has its own aesthetic, its own visual style, its own storytelling techniques, it's own sense of humor. Want something new? Want something that taps into your childhood and explodes onto the screen in a flash of visual and sonic fury? See SCOTT PILGRIM. Sure, some people (lame people) just won't get it. Some people (even lamer people) won't even give the movie a chance. Don't be one of those people. It doesn't mean you have to have grown up on videogames or comic books. It just means you have to be open-minded. You have to have imagination. You have to be with it. You have to go with it. Accept that the movie is over-the-top and hyper-real. Dig the aesthetic. Root for Scott to defeat the Seven Evil Exes. Try it, like it, it's good.

But let's back up for a second, shall we, and recap our story for the unitiated. Adapted from the series of graphic novels by writer/artist Bryan Lee O'Malley, Scott Pilgrim Vs. the World is the highly-stylized story of the title character's fight to win the heart of the new love of his life, the enigmatic Ramona Flowers. Ramona has recently moved to Scott's hometown of Toronto from New York, and, with her punk-rock style and multi-colored hair, quickly captures the attention of hopeless romantic Scott. Sure, Scott Pilgrim (a twenty-something) is already involved with seventeen-year-old innocent schoolgirl Knives Chau, but Scott quickly falls for Ramona, leaving naive Knives for the new girl in town. And Ramona's got some baggage (she's also got a giant battle-hammer straight out of Soul Caliber, but that's another story). Turns out that the girl's been around the block. In fact, little Ramona has seven evil-exes (not just ex-boyfriends - there's one ex-girlfriend from Ramona's bi-curious years) who have ganged up to destroy any guy who would dare date her (Ramona may have been bi-curious, but the exes are bi-furious!). Now, Scott isn't exactly Sly Stallone here. He's a dreamer, a musician, a romantic. But if he wants Ramona, he's going to have to fight for her. And therein lies the central quest at the heart of the movie - Scott has to man up, reach for that proverbial power-up, and kick some ass in the name of love.

The cast of SCOTT PILGRIM really nails it, and everyone seems to completely get the unique, slightly-left-of-reality tone that Edgar Wright is going for. I know, a lot of people like to just dismiss Michael Cera, for whatever reason. I get it, he plays pretty similar characters in a lot of his films. But people - what do you *want* him to do? If you need a scrawny, geeky, sort of quirky lead you go with Cera - not just because he looks the part, but because the guy has a ton of talent as well as pitch-perfect comic timing. We've known that since the Arrested Development days. That said, Scott Pilgrim is a much different character than Cera's played before. He's fairly self-confident and in some ways self-assured - his problem is more just that his head is in the clouds and he doesn't quite know what he wants out of life. But this movie is about Scott's journey, and the place he ends up by the film's end is a different one from where he started. It's a lot of fun to see Cera as Pilgrim get that added drive and determination, to see him man up and kick ass and take ownership of his life. Knock him if you want, but this is a great performance from Cera.

There are so many other standouts in the film. Ellen Wong makes a huge impression as Knives Chau, and steals every scene she's in. Knives is perhaps the movie's most fun character, and her transformation from sweet schoolgirl to badass, leather-clad asskicker is a joy to behold. You will geek out for Knives, that's a promise. Kieran Culkan has some of the movie's funniest lines as Scott's roommate, Wallace Wells. The relationship between the two is great - supportive yet antagonistic - and there are some classic dialogue exchanges between them. Mary Elizabeth Winstead is perfectly cast as Ramona. She's the kind of girl who has a past but may just be ready to move beyond it. She's sort of dark, sort of brooding, but you want to root for her to see the light and smile a little more. When she pulls out that giant hammer and fights her evil-ex-gf to save Scott, it's an awesome moment. You get why she just might be worth fighting for. Meanwhile, the Seven Evil Exes are all hilarious and a ton of fun. From Matthew Patel and his demon hipster Bollywood dance troupe to Lucas Lee and his army of stunt doubles. Chris Evans, Brandon Routh, Mae Whitman, Jason Schwartzman - they all rock, and all seem perfectly cast as bizarro subversions of the types of role that each actor tends to be known for. Evans is the cocky action-hero-as-asshole. Routh is the preachy, too-perfect uber-Vegan who's now in a band with (and dating) Scott's scornful ex, Envy Adams. Mae Whitman is the rage-filled woman scorned, and she totally owns the part. And then there's Jason Schwartzman - hilarious as Gideon Gordon Graves (aka The G-Man), the sinister-hipster leader of the League of Evil Exes, lurking in the shadows as Scott's final boss battle.

It's funny, because as I was racking my brain trying to think of any flaws with Scott Pilgrim, I briefly wondered if the movie suffered from "adaptation syndrome," in which a lot of minor characters from the source material are included in the film, but become more clutter than anything else. But the more I thought about it, the more I realized that I loved how complete of a world the movie creates, filled to the brim with colorful characters who are so instantly interesting that you wouldn't mind seeing them in a movie all their own. I'm thinking in particular of the members of Scott's only-okay band, Sex Bob-Omb (Mario Bros. reference alert!) - Kim Pine, Stephen Stills, and Young Neil (gotta love those names). Each member has enough personality that Sex Bob-Ombs' battle of the bands storyline - and their clash with the Envy Adams-fronted Clash at Demonhead (extra points for their name being an awesome obscure Nintendo reference!) is almost a movie in and of itself. Anna Kendrick is also excellent as Scott's sister, Stacey - the voice of reason in Scott's dream-world of power-meters and one-ups. Aubrey Plaza is super-funny as acerbic scenester Julie Powers. Like I said, it's an incredibly talented cast that helps to create this whole entire world for Scott Pilgrim to inhabit. It's quirky, and it's fun, and it feels like a place you just might want to visit again.

The number one star of Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World though? Edgar Wright and his team. The visual energy of the movie, the look, the humor, the pacing, the vision - Wright deserves a ton of credit for creating something wholly unique and wholly awesome. From the overall, comic book-like editing of the film to the great little touches (vintage videogame sound/fx, 60's Batman-style action balloons, comic book "secret origins" of the Evil Exes) that give the movie its sensory-overload aesthetic. This movie is absoluely packed with fanboy-friendly moments big and small that kept me giddily smiling throughout. Plus. the action is also just flat-out awesome. Rarely has a movie captured the visceral, frenzied feeling of playing videogames - or the mental reward of defeating them - with such acute accuracy. The movie often plays like a videogame meets rock video. In many ways, you could almost compare the magical realism, the pacing, and the music-heavy nature of the film to a musical. I should mention though that the music in the movie is a ton of fun - the songs are integrated into the action in funny and unique ways, and the songs from the movie's bands are catchy yet rough-sounding, like what you'd actually expect from an amateur battle of the bands.

Still, Wright makes sure to give Scott Pilgrim a hefty emotional core. Again, all of the little visual shout-outs and dialogue references add up to create this portrait of life-as-pop-culture and vice versa. We all go on the same sort of journey as Scott in our own way. But the movie challenges us to be the hero in our own story, to step up and "get a life." Hey, to me, any movie that can use the "Continue?" countdown screen from old arcade games as a giant metaphor for life is possessing of a certain degree of genius. Scott Pilgrim is smart, it's funny, it's a nostalgia trip, and it's not quite like any other movie you've seen. There's action, romance, humor, and heart. So, yeah, it's pretty much the bomb. Okay, the bob-omb. Seriously though, this is one of those films that may end up being divisive, but for my part, I can't recommend it enough. Scott Pilgrim Vs. The World delivers a cinematic K-O.

My Grade: A

Thursday, August 12, 2010

Bustin' Heads With THE OTHER GUYS.


- I had high hopes that The Other Guys might be awesome and hilarious. Even though the trailers never really wowed me, this was a movie from the team that brought us the comedy classic Anchorman and the almost-as-funny Talladega Nights and Step Brothers. If The Other Guys was in the same league as those films, it would be a surefire success. After seeing the movie, though, I declare The Other Guys to be a funny film, but also a very uneven one. Maybe its merits will be more evident as time goes by (afterall, it took me a while and multiple viewings to 100% come around to Anchorman), but my first impression after seeing the movie is that The Other Guys has its moments, but overall feels too slapped-together to really be called a home-run. This one just doesn't have the same mojo going for it as previous Will Ferrell and Adam McKay collaborations, although it definitely has enough inspired bits to be worth a watch.

The Other Guys tries to insert McKay and Ferrell's trademark over-the-top humor into the classic buddy-cop movie formula. Will Ferrell plays Allan Gamble, a mild-mannered NYPD policeman who spends all of his time at the safety of his desk rather than on the mean streets. Mark Wahlberg is his partner, Terry Hoitz, a hot-tempered guy who was a rising star on the force until he accidentally shot Yankees star Derek Jeter, and got thrown into a semi-permanent doghouse. Gamble, Heitz, and just about every other cop in the city are forever in the shadow of New York's resident supercops - played by two larger-than-life badasses in "The Rock" Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson. However, when these two superstars get sidelined due to a chase gone awry, there's a sudden opportunity for some new blood to step up and prove their mettle. Hoitz sees this as his big shot to get back to the bigtime. Gamble, content to stay out of trouble, has no desire to go off with his partner and get mixed up in anything dangerous. But soon enough, Hoitz and Gamble stumble into something big - a major case of corporate scandal-in-the-making - and find themselves pursued by trained killers, kidnapped by corrupt businessmen, and on thin ice with their harried captain (played by Michael Keaton, looking like Timothy Stack, who gets in some hilarious bits).

It's a fun setup, and I like that the movie mixes some genuine cop movie action and intrigue with the comedy. I've always liked comedies like Fletch that mixed the funny stuff with a legit-seeming plot and real-feeling danger, so I was intrigued that director McKay seemed to be taking a slightly less absurdist approach than in his previous outings. The beginning of the movie is particularly well-done, as we transition from what is almost a movie-within-a-movie - The Rock and Samuel L. Jackson busting heads in typical action-flick fashion - to the semi-pathetic 'other guys" on the force who live in their shadow. The initial pairing of Ferrell and Wahlberg seems to have a lot of promise, too. Ferrell as the yuppie-ish softie, and Wahlberg as the hothead with a chip on his shoulder. That alone could have made for a fun buddy cop comedy.

But where The Other Guys eventually falters is in the fact that it can't seem to leave well enough alone and keep things simple. The movie introduces all sorts of random, recurring gags that just never seem to go anywhere. Case in point ... we start getting this whole other backstory about how Ferrell's character has a secret past as a tough, take-no-prisoners pimp - a whole other persona that he's kept bottled up inside. It's a funny idea, but I don't know if there's any real payoff to it. There's a whole other running gag revolving around the fact that the nerdy Will Ferrell is married to the smoking Eva Mendez, and yet he keeps insisting that she's not all that attractive or special. The joke goes all over the place from there. At first the gag is that Ferrell doesn't realize how hot and amazing his wife (Eva Mendez - very game and funny) is. Then there's a whole thing about how Ferrell oddly attracts gorgeous women that should be way out of his league. And the joke keeps spiralling, until by the end of the movie we're not really sure what the joke actually is. There are a lot of running jokes in the film in that vein, that just seem to go nowhere. Like, I chuckled the first time Michael Keaton was oblivious to the fact that he'd just made an overt TLC reference. I smiled the second time it happened. By the third time, the joke was run into the ground sans any real punchline - and there are a lot of similarly go-nowhere gags throughout the movie that continually hint at funny plot reveals that never actually come to fruition. Similarly, a lot of plot threads feel pretty haphazardly dealt-with. The romantic subplot involving Wahlberg and his sad-eyed love-interest, for example, basically just feels like a time-filler, and we never really care about it in the least.

There are some really funny, if not random scenes though. Everything with The Rock and Samuel L. in the beginning is fairly golden, and their unexpectedly abrupt exit from the movie is pretty classic. The bits where Farrell morphs into his pimp persona, "Gator," are uniformly hilarious (which is why it's too bad it isn't played up more). Wahlberg in general is really funny - his monotone, pissed-off delivery makes almost all of his lines amusing. More so than any other movie he's been in, this one feels like Wahlberg essentially playing the Andy Samberg caricature of Mark Whalberg from SNL, and it's pretty funny. You expect him to bust out "say hello to your mother for me" at any moment (and he comes close). The movie also has a whole host of reliably funny comics in supporting roles. In addition to Ferrell, Wahlberg, Eva Mendez, and Keaton, there are a lot of familiar faces from films like Anchorman and TV shows like The Office and Parks & Recreation. The movie almost seems to raid the NBC Thursday Night comedy lineup for a lot of its bit players, but that's cool - there's a lot of talented comedians in the film who make the most of their relatively short screentime (including a certain Ms. S. Chase of West Hartford, CT, who gets in a great scene with Dwayne Johnson and Samuel L. Jackson!). The only guy who feels a bit wasted is Steve Coogan as the movie's big bad, shady mogul David Ershon. Coogan is saddled with a ton of plot exposition that just seems extraneous in a movie like this. Honestly, by the end of the movie I barely had a clue what Ershon's scheme was or how exactly Farrell and Wahlberg put a stop to it. Coogan is a hilarious guy, so I thought it was too bad he didn't have many truly memorable comedic moments (although, a gag where he keeps buying off Farell and Wahlberg by giving them choice tickets to Broadway shows and Knicks games is pretty inspired). All in all, I'll give credit where it's due - the movie really benefits from a great, very comedically capable cast, who oftentimes help elevate the material with their timing and talent.

The Other Guys is one of those movies that sometimes feels more like a collection of funny little jokes and bits of dialogue than a real, cohesive comedy. Whereas Anchorman, Talladega Nights, and Step Brothers felt like complete, fully-realized comedic visions, this one is much more scattershot - torn between funny, absurdist bits of humor, and the need for the more conventional plotlines and character development that are typical of a buddy-cop movie. Anchorman worked so well precisely because it had a very particular, over-the-top comedic voice.The Other Guys doesn't have that same consistency in tone or humor. But, like I said, it has its moments.

My Grade: B

Monday, August 09, 2010

Bracing For Impact: Random Rants, TV Thoughts, Movie Ramblings, MORE!

Well, it's been a while since I just wrote a blog post without any particular motive or agenda. No big movies or concerts to review, nothing too earth-shattering to talk about. And yet, it's been a really busy couple of weeks, and the past few days have been no exception. Some random things that have been going on:

- Last Tuesday, I attended a taping of THE TONIGHT SHOW WITH JAY LENO as part of a digital partner day at work. It was my first time at the show in a while, but even though the studio was different (in fact, Jay's new studio is the one where Elllen used to tape when I was a Page), everything felt pretty familiar (including the jokes). Still, despite some rather warmed-over humor, it was a really fun show. BETTY WHITE was the main guest, and she was in fine form, with a lot of great quips, witty as always. Sam Trammel from True Blood was also on, which led to some hilarious interplay between he and Betty White. When a clip was shown of Sam (as Sam Merlotte) on True Blood shape-shifting from a dog into a (naked) man, Betty White, without missing a beat, exclaimed "boy would I like a dog that could do that!" Classic. Finally, the musical guests for the show were THE BLACK CROWES, who were pretty rockin' with their very classic-rock-ish new tune. Good stuff. And yes, fellow former NBC Pages, Jay STILL did the Ashley Simpson lip-synching joke before the show, which was lame and outdated circa 2005.

- My friend Mimi from BU was / is in town via New Jersey and Japan! I hung out with Mimi last week after not having seen her since college, so it was great catching up.

- On Friday, I saw a bunch of my friends from Birthright Israel in Redondo Beach, where Sabrina A. hosted a most-excellent Shabbat dinner party.

- My brother moved this weekend to a new apartment nearby to his old one in Burbank. Still, a big move!

- Tomorrow is primary day in many states, including CT. My dad is running for reelection for his seat as a State Rep., so it will be a big day! Make sure you go out and vote!

- This coming weekend is going to be epic! My plans so far include: seeing a SCOTT PILGRIM screening on Thurday, hitting up THE EXPENDABLES on Friday, going to the OC FAIR and seeing WEIRD AL in concert on Saturday, and then gettin' ready to rumble at SUMMERSLAM at the Staples Center on Sunday, Sunday, Sunday. Indeed, it shall be one for the books.


- It's been a while since I talked TV, but this has actually been a pretty good summer for quality comedy, so I'd be remiss if I stayed silent. As I always say, I try not to watch a lot of first-run TV during the summer. Instead, it's a time to catch up on old TV-on-DVD, movies, games, comics, etc. Plus, the last several weeks I've been so busy in general that I haven't had much time for anything. That said, there are two summer TV series I've been faithfully DVR'ing and watching, those being FUTURAMA and LOUIE.

- FUTURAMA reached its high point since returning from cancellation two weeks ago, when it aired the first truly classic episode of its latest run: "The Late Philip J. Fry". This time-spanning epic was a throwback to the best episodes from throughout the series' run -- combining a great sci-fi concept with some real heart and emotion, and, of course, a ton of awesome jokes and gags. This was a flat-out 'A' episode, right up there with the series' best. It made this past Thursday's ep, "That Darn Katz!" slightly disappointing in comparison. The plot, about a race of alien cats involved in a plot to halt the earth's rotation, was amusing if not overly awesome. A decent ep, but not up to last week's standards. Still, it's still amazing and kickass to have Futurama back on TV with new episodes. While the episode quality has been up and down, we've seen that the show is still able to churn out a classic. And, honestly, the overall quality has been very good to excellent. I have a feeling that come the end of the year, Futurama will once again have a place on my list of the year's best TV.

- Meanwhile, LOUIE on FX has been really exciting to watch develop. It's one of those shows that just feels so fresh and unique that, even when it's not 100% clicking with its humor, it's still a real pleasure to watch. At first, I wasn't sure if it made sense to so heavily feature Louie CK's standup, but it's been the standup segments that have been some of the show's biggest standouts. I also enjoy the show's mix of random humor with some pretty pointed social and political commentary. I don't think the show is really political, per se, but at the same time, there's a sense of authenticity to it that is pretty raw. You really feel like you are seeing Louie CK fully exposed for all to see. And that honesty often leads to absolutely hilarious, if not awkward and fairly dark humor. This past week's episode, in which Louie gets paid a visit from his horrible mother, was a good example. It's funny, because on paper Louie deals in a lot of standard sitcom tropes, but the execution, often feeling more like a series of short films than a normal TV comedy, is what makes this more than just standard, watered-down comedy fare. This is Louie CK putting himself and his comedy, unfiltered, up on screen, and it's a total contrast to most other comedies on the air. This is one of the best new comedies we've seen on TV in a long time.

- So what else have I been watching? Well, after finishing season 2 of TRUE BLOOD on Blu-Ray, I've been digging into Season 7 of CURB YOUR ENTHUSIASM. So far, it's sidesplittingly hilarious. Amazing. Larry David is a genius. I've also been trying to finish up THE MIGHTY BOOSH, which I kind of stalled on for a while but am now back into again. I still have DVD's lying around of Twin Peaks, Rome, and Planet Earth that need to be watched. And, one perk of working in Digital Distribution? Early access to Hulu Plus on my PS3. On that service, there are complete runs of such series as Buffy, Firefly, and Spaced. Yeah ... so much to do, so little time.

- As far as movies go, the last week or two has seen an influx of smaller indie movies hit that I'm somewhat curious about. Interested in checking out Middle Men, Get Low, Lebanon, and a couple of other smaller movies that have just been released. And, I still need to see The Other Guys, which I'm very excited to see, especially seeing as how it's from the team that brought us Anchorman and Talladega Nights. Now, this coming weekend is going to be very interesting at the box office ...

A few months ago, everyone seemed to think that The Expendables was going to bomb. Here's a random theory on this ... I think that a lot of older critics and writers and media watchers fall victim to "old people time." When you live on old people time, all of pop-culture that happened after a certain point tends to blur together. It's like talking to an eighty-year-old man about rock n' roll. Unless that man was uniquely attuned to pop-culture in his later years, anything after The Beatles is probably the same to him. He wouldn't know the progression of rock from the sixties on. He wouldn't know hair metal from grunge from new wave. If you showed that eighty year old man an old Poison music video, he'd probably say something about that "newfangled rock n' roll music," not realizing that he was watching something already twenty-five years old.

I guess that relates back to something like The Expendables in that the pundits who take the long view, but aren't fans themselves ... well, they aren't attuned to the subtle shifts in fandom. They react to the zeitgeist rather than be a part of it. If you live by old person time, then you probably aren't all that interested in a new Stallone action movie. Afterall, to you, he never left - he's just doing the same thing he's been doing all this time. But if you are a movie fan, an action movie fan, then the recent Stallone renaissance has been a welcome respite from the endless parade of lame-ass wannabe action vehicles that emphasize slick CGI and pretty-boy leading men over the gritty, take-no-prisoners style of action that Stallone and Schwarzenneger made cool back in the day. For every action movie starring a Paul Walker or yeah, a Matt Damon, I think the appetite for old-school, larger than life action heroes has only grown exponentially. But us 80's kids that grew up with Stallone and Arnold alongside He-Man and Sgt. Slaughter have demanded a return to hardcore, balls-to-the-wall action, and Stallone has listened. In return, we want to make his movie a hit. Without being too overanalytical, I think it's sometimes hard for media watchers to see the makings of a true trend. Rocky and Rambo were the warm-ups, the momentum-builders. Now here's when Stallone steamrolls the box office.

By the same token, you have to wonder about Scott Pilgrim vs. The World. At Comic-Con, the cool kids were all about Scott Pilgrim. And with good reason - the movie is a love letter to Gen Y, an ode to growing up in the Nintendo generation. But how much monetary power does our generation actually wield? Can a movie aimed at Gen Y geeks succeed? I think Scott Pilgrim's appeal may surprise people. Teens will see it. Guys and girls will see it. Older folks? Probably not. Most likely not. But hey, haven't we had enough movies that celebrate Woodstock or The Beatles or whatever? Isn't it time for a movie that's wrapped in the aesthetic of Super Mario Bros. and Street Fighter? I say yes! To that end, support Scott Pilgrim this weekend. See it and see The Expendables. Look, let's be honest here. The Expendables is probably going to be fun as hell, but Scott Pilgrim is likely going to be the better movie. This IS Edgar Wright we're talking about - Shawn of the Dead, Hot Fuzz, anyone? To quote the review of the movie up now on film fansite Chud: "This is a great movie from a great filmmaker. And people turn into coins when defeated. If that's not a winning combination I don't know what is." Here's the good thing though - two very cool movies are out this weekend. My point being: if Eat, Pray, Love is #1 at the box office, it will be an epic fail of epic proportions.

Okay, guess this eventually turned into a movie post afterall. So, before things get out of hand ... I'm outta here. Until next time ...

Thursday, August 05, 2010

Feeling the Sting: Danny Gets Rocked by THE SCORPIONS at their Final Tour!

So the summer craziness continues. It took me forever to write up my Comic-Con experiences, but, now that that's out of the way, I can finally get caught up on some other stuff I've been meaning to talk about. Priority #1 on my list ... THE SCORPIONS.

Now, I know many people reading this are probably going to say "The Scorpions? Whaat? Aren't they some lame one-hit-wonder band from the 80's that sang 'Rock You Like a Hurricane?" To which I say: no, you fool - the Scorpions are legit - a hard-rock band that's been playing rock n' roll since the late 60's, and has kept on rocking straight through into 2010. I'd go so far as to say that The Scorpions are one of the all-time great arena-rock bands. Not many other rock outfits can lay claim to their logevity, their huge catalog of hits, or their ability to rock the faces of sold-out arenas worldwide. Yes, like many of my generation, I was introduced to the band via those late-night infomercials for 80's hair-metal compilation albums that used to play over and over on TV back in the day. Those commercials were always bookended by "Rock You Like a Hurricane," which, well, rocked - and that song led me to seek out a little album called "The Best of Rockers and Ballads." From there, I was turned on to the awesomeness of such songs as "The Zoo," "Big City Nights," "Love Drive," "Holiday," and "Still Loving You." I sought out other Scorpions tunes like the classic ballads "Winds of Change" and "Send Me an Angel." I won't lie, Rockers and Ballads is probably one of my all-time most listened-to CD's.

A few years back, I saw The Scorpions in concert at the Gibson Ampitheater in LA, and it was a pretty damn awesome show. I wasn't sure what to expect, but the Scorps put on a kickass concert, and I came away very impressed -- these guys still had it. In any case, several months ago, I found out that the Scorpions were about to release a new album that they were calling their last, and embarking on a worldwide farewell tour before ultimately retiring and calling it quits. As a man who's always intrigued by this sort of "one last hurrah" scenario, my eyes lit up when I saw there was an LA stop on the tour. I quickly bought two tickets when they went on-sale, excited to see the Scorpions rock n' roll one last time. Of course, things got busy, and my mind turned to to other matters. Somehow, I neglected to purchase that final Scorpions album. However, as the concert date approached, I remembered that I had yet to hear the final tunes from the band. I logged onto iTunes and quickly sampled some of the most popular tracks. Instantly, I could tell that this one was a must-buy. I stopped at the local Best Buy and plunked down some cash for the CD, "Sting in the Tail", and eagerly gave it a listen. Again, I wasn't quite sure what to expect, but ... holy crap on a stick, the album rocked and rocked hard! The whole album is incredibly solid, but there are a couple of songs, like "The Best Is Yet to Come" and "Raised On Rock" that should legitimately be considered new classics, right up there with the best arena rock songs you'll find. If this was truly the Scorpions' last hurrah, then, dammit all, they have gone out on one hell of a high note.

Suffice it to say, after listening to the album, I was extra excited about the upcoming show at the Nokia Theater in downtown LA. As it turns out, the show was ... postively kickass. My brother and I took the subway from Universal to downtown (very convenient and cheap way to get there, by the way), and quickly found ourselves in a line of black-clad metal heads eager to have their socks rocked. We were ushered into the theater - a really, really great venue - very clean and a great size for a concert - and took our seats in the middle of the arena. As we entered, the opening act, CINDERELLA, was already playing. And, I'll be damned, they were actually somewhat on fire. You never quite know what you're going to get with some of these second-tier 80's bands, but man, Cinderella left it all on the stage, and rocked their way through hits like "Gypsy Road," "Nobody's Fool," and of course, "Don't Know What You've Got ('Til It's Gone)". Singer Tom Kiefer was really rollin', and his trademark raspy / howling voice seemed as powerful and distinctive as ever. The band was tight, and the jams pumped up the crowd, who was on their feet and pumping their fists for the big, piano-accompanied ballads that anyone who's ever owned a "Best Rock of the 80's" CD is all-too familiar with. Kudos to Cinderella though, they walked the gypsy road and rocked it like it was 1987.

Then, it was time for the main event - THE SCORPIONS. Man, it's hard to express just how much the Scorps rocked at this show. You could tell they were putting their all into each song, and they seemed 100% on top of their game. They looked like anything but a band on the cusp of retirement. The band was introduced via a montage of clips from some of their all-time biggest shows - selling out huge stadiums the world over, playing "Winds of Change" as the iron curtain fell. The stage was set for some epic rock, and man, from moment one of the show, singer Klaus Meine was wailing away like a man on a mission - sounding as good as ever, and guitarist Rudolf Schenker, looking like a man who had just timewarped onto the stage from the future of Blade Runner, was an absolute machine on lead guitar. The band opened with the titular Sting In the Tail from their new album, which is a rockin' tune with a thumping arena-friendly chant at it's core, and then segued into Make It Real and Bad Boys Running Wild. Business picked up after that though, as the Scorps launched into an absolutely thrashing version of The Zoo, with pulsing lights flashing across the huge video monitors, accompanying the song's famously powerful guitar riffs. It was at this point that I could only turn to my brother, goofy grin on my face, and say "yeah, this rocks."

Later on, the band played one of their aforementioned new songs, The Best Is Yet To Come, and I was really excited to hear it live. I won't lie, this is one of those great songs that gets in your head and forces you to listen to it over and over. It's cheesy, sure, but that's the great thing about the Scorpions - they are completely unironic in their music. They are old-school rock n' roll in that they unapologetically sing big, melodramatic ballads as well as straight-up rockers about sex, life, and rocking out. A lot of the crowd wasn't familiar with the new tunes, but it was only a matter of minutes before people were on their feet, chanting along to the song's uplifting chorus:

You're such a part of me
And you've always been the one
Keeping me forever young
And the best is yet to come
Don't look now, the best is yet to come
Take my hand, the best is yet to come

Dammit all, it was a true arena rock moment. And hey, you've got to love this awesome, yearbook-quote-ready line from the song: "How can we grow old ...? When the soundtrack of our lives ... is rock and roll!" Well put, Klause, well put!

The concert only got bigger and badder from there. We got a pair of classic power ballads - Send Me an Angel and Holiday, and both were awesome. The first, in particular, was pretty memorable in that Klause dedicated the song to his late friend, the great RONNIE JAMES DIO. As the crowd chanted "Dio! Dio! Dio!", the classic ballad was sung with all the emotion and power you'd expect out of The Scorpions. Amazing stuff. And dammit all, I don't know if I ever got the chance to say RIP to Dio here on the blog, but I'll say it now - truly, one of the all-time greats in rock n' roll.

The band then went on to do some more sped-up tunes, highlighted by the new single Raised on Rock, which is a really great song that feels fresh yet also like vintage Scorpions. We also got a fun drum-solo segment from drummer James Kottak (he of the "Kottak Attack"), which was really funny because the whole thing was accompanied by this crazy video that was like one of those really weird rock music videos you might have seen on MTV in the 80's. The whole premise was Kottak going around trying to hook up with various women, only to have the tables turned on him. Eventually, he ends up in an insane asylum! Yep, pretty out-there and Euro-weird, and yet ... sort of awesome!

The band then returned to the stage and closed out the main set with a power-trio of the classic Blackout, an all-instrumental triple-guitar onslaught known as Six String Sting (amazing!), and finally, Big City Nights, during which the stage was lit up with neon displays evoking life in the big city, baby. As the band exited the stage, the crowd was on their feet with appreciative applause - we all knew we were witnessing one hell of a concert, and that the band was truly intent on going out with a bang - or, in this case, with one last sting.

To that end, the three-song encore was a nitro blast of sheer rock n' roll awesomesauce. First up was one of the all-time epic power ballads, Still Loving You, which had the whole crowd singing along and waving their hands. Then came the ripping guitar and screaming chorus of No One Like You, which really whipped the crowd into a frenzy. And finally, Rock You Like a Hurricane, which was a fitting capper to a night where we had, in fact, been rocked like a hurricane by a band that seemed, still, to be able to bring the pain.

So thank you to The Scorpions for putting on an epic rock n' roll show. They seemed to be having a blast all night long, and genuinely appreciative of the fan reaction and applause. Again, if this was the Scorpions' swan song, then they went out like kings - people were buzzing about the show as they exited the arena, and people were smiling and sharing enthusiastic reviews in the streets and on the subway. And I'll say it again - if you're a classic rock fan, I'd say run don't walk and listen to their album Sting In The Tail, or at the least, download "Raised on Rock" and "The Best Is Yet to Come." In any case, this was a night at the rock n' roll zoo, in which we came, we saw, and yes, we rocked. Long live the Scorpions, and for those about to rock, I salute you.

Sunday, August 01, 2010

Danny's COMIC-CON 2010 Recap Special: An Epic Post of Epic Epicness!

- Well, it's been over a week since Comic-Con and, finally, it's time to sit down and write about this year's annual adventure in San Diego. It's been an insane week since returning to LA, and I've barely had a chance to catch my breath. But, there's a lot to talk about with regards to Comic-Con 2010, so I'll do my best to recap -- with plenty of my usual random anecdotes, observations, and asides. So, let's get to it. As always, if geeky fanboy rantings scare you ... keep reading at your own peril.


- So, last Thursday morning, me and the G-Man hit the road for San Diego for the fourth straight year. Unbelievable, I can't believe we've made the trip so many times, but hey, there is a magic to the event that, once you leave, you just can't wait to rediscover in one year's time. I guess in Hollywood, it sometimes feels like Comic-Con 365 days a year. Afterall, we in the entertainment industry are now in a business where superheroes and science fiction rule the box office, where high concept TV is the new norm, and where just about every comic book and graphic novel under the sun is optioned by a major studio. And yet, while it's been awesome to take advantage of my industry connections to attend some cool parties and whatnot each year in San Diego, the main joy of going to the show is still simply the ability to engage in a shared experience of geeking out with my fellow fanboys and fangirls. Every year when entering the convention area, I just get that sense of being united with "my people." Sure, I like to think that I'm a man with wide-ranging interests, from politics to basketball to rock n' roll. But that's exactly it -- in so many areas of life, you meet people who have closed themselves off, who are too ashamed or timid to be loud and proud about what they love. Not at Comic-Con. It's a place to raise your geek flag high, to find random strangers and discuss the finer points of Geoff Johns' run on Green Lantern. Comic-Con is a magical place where GOOD ideas are celebrated and bad ones are boo'd. It's a place where the most talked about TV show isn't Two and a Half Men or Desperate Housewives, but THE WALKING DEAD. It's a place filled with smart, interesting, creative people who are into movies and TV and comics and games. That, to me, is pretty awesome.

- Anyways, me and the G-Man (also known as Brian) made our way down to San Diego on Thursday, and we made pretty good time to boot. I know that personally, I was pretty exhausted after a long night of packing and last-minute preparations, but I was also amped. Not only was I in serious need of a getaway, but this Comic-Con promised to be particularly fun. As it stands, our annual odyssey has become as much about seeing old friends as it has anything else. It's a great opportunity to see SD-based buddies like Aksel and KC - not to mention the ever-growing list of LA friends who attend the show. Luckily, I got to hang out with a bunch of various friends at this year's show - some of the meetups were planned, and others were completely random - which, again, is all part of the fun.

- So we arrived in downtown SD in the early afternoon and parked at our hotel - The Embassy Suites. This was, I think , easily the best hotel we've stayed at so far in San Diego. It was within walking distance of the convention center, and was super-nice to boot. But being within walking distance made everything so much easier. It was a pretty solid walk back and forth, but hey, it made us feel like we were working off some of the junk food that inevitably gets consumed at the show. Anyways, we dropped off our stuff in the room, and then headed off to grab some lunch before entering into the madness that is Comic-Con. We booked it to the Gaslamp district (a huge area full of shops and bars and restaurants that basically becomes an extension of Comic-Con during the show) and grabbed some grub at Joltin' Joes. Immediately, the craziness of the Con was apparent, as throngs of fanboys, having just left the Disney / Tron Legacy panel, were running around trying to find hidden Tron symbols as part of some sort of scavenger hunt. As we sat down to eat, it was already clear that we weren't in Kansas anymore - we sat next to all manner of costumed fans, and, as is customary in SD during the show, all the waiters and waitresses were decked out in geek-friendly superhero T's. And that's one great thing about SD - all the local businesses get in on the act and go all-out to get into the Comic-Con spirit. You've got to love it.

- Finally, we checked in at the convention center, got our all-important badges, and pondered what to do now that we were actually at the San Diego Comic-Con! Being overambitious as usual, I suggested we make a beeline for the Geoff Johns panel that was about to start in one of the large ballrooms upstairs. We made a go of it, but didn't end up getting in to see one of the best comic book writers in the biz talk about his various projects. By the way though, it's been amazing to watch the evolution of Johns over these last several years. Four years ago he was a fan favorite writer but still slightly under many peoples' radars. Now, he's the biggest thing going in comics, and has become DC Comics's official liason to Hollywood to boot, via DC Entertainment. After the spectacular runs he's had on numerous comics these last several years though, Johns certainly deserves all of this success. In any case, we ended up walking the show floor for a bit before eventually getting in line for our top "must-see" event of the day - the panel for THE EXPENDABLES which was set to fill the conventions's largest room, the mammoth Hall H. As we walked to get in line, we began to realize that Hall H this year was going to be even more insane than in year's past. While there was not Twilight presence to create pure chaos like last year, I think the whole Twilight thing began a domino effect in which attendees are now getting in line earlier and earlier for Hall H and for all panels in general, going so far as to camp out the night before for the next morning's panels. That said, we lucked out as we approached the gigantic line - my brother's roommate, Adam, spotted me - he'd been in line with his friends for a while, hoping to get into the preceding Joss Whedon / JJ Abrams panel. So we joined Adam and his crew in line, and after a pretty long wait, ended up getting into Hall H for the last 20 minutes or so of the Whedon / Abrams session. It was one of those panels that wasn't "about" anything in particular, just a chance to put two pop-culture icons together in a room and let them riff. Of course, we got there when they were already in the midst of fan Q&A, which is almsot always the worst part of any Comic-Con panel. For whatever reason, fans at the show tend to ask the stupidest questions imaginable of panelists, with endless variations on "how did you prepare for this role?" or "what was your inspiration for doing this movie?" Even worse, there is always a group of hardcore question-askers who seem to ALWAYS be at the front of the Q&A line, meaning we are subjected to their inanity multiple times while at Comic-Con. Ugh. Anyways, it was cool to see JJ and Joss speak for a bit. I'm not a Whedonite - I know, it's blasphemy to some, but I've never seen Buffy, or Angel, or Firefly. I've read his run on Astonishing X-Men and watched Dr. Horrible, that's about it ... for now. One of these days. But hey, I hope he kicks ass with The Avengers. But yeah, cool to catch he and JJ.

- But then, it was time for the main event. THE EXPENDABLES, baby. Ignoring the movie itself for a second, the sheer display of alpha male badassery on the stage in Hall H was staggering. On the stage we had: Sylvester Stallone, "Stone Cold" Steve Austin, Randy Couture, Dolph Lungdren, and Terry Crews. Holy crap, talk about "over the top." Moderating the panel was none other than the Head Geek himself, Harry Knowles. As a longtime reader of Ain't It Cool News, I got a kick out of seeing Harry in person - a true character, indeed. But yeah, it's funny because via AICN I've come to better appreciate how awesome Stallone truly is. The guy is just a real mensch - his Q&A's on AICN reinforce that nobody in Hollywood is harder working than Stallone, and yet he's also funny, cool, and genuine - and super appreciative of his fans. Seeing Stallone onstage was a true pleasure, and ... dayum, the footage from The Expendables looked sick. Will the movie kick as much ass as we'd all like? I don't know. But what I can tell you is that the pair of action scenes shown at Comic-Con were flat-out brutal and intense. Gritty, ultra-violent, and just plain badass. If the movie has a halfway decent plotline to match the intensity of those action scenes, it could be the awesome retro 80's-throwback we are all hoping and praying for. One thing's for sure - Stallone clearly put his all into this one. He kicked ass with both Rocky Balboa and Rambo, so if he can match those films' with The Expendables, it should be one hell of a ride.

- After The Expendables panel wrapped, we stuck around in Hall H for SCOTT PILGRIM VS. THE WORLD, which, ironically, is opening the same day as Stallone's action opus. Man, I want The Expendables to do well, but I'm also really hoping that Scott Pilgrim 100% kicks ass at the box office. No, I haven't seen the movie yet, but all indications are that Edgar Wright and co. have knocked it out of the park. Luckily, if we're judging by the reception at Comic-Con, the movie will a.) be awesome, and b.) go over huge. If I had to pick the number one most buzzed-about movie at all of Comic-Con, it might just be Scott Pilgrim. T-shirts were everywhere. The biggest costume on the show floor among the fangirls in attendance? Ramona Flowers and other female characters from Scott Pilgrim. The most rabid fans of any panel I went to at the show? Yep, the ones at the Scott Pilgrim panel. It was cool to see, frankly. Because no other franchise to me better represents the spread of geek culture into the mainstream. Legions of fangirls seemed as enthused about Scott Pilgrim as they were last year for Twilight. BUT ... Scott Pilgrim is about 1000 times cooler than Twilight, and it's something that us guys can get behind just as much as the girls. Because it's a movie and a comic that has something for everyone - action, romance, humor, style, rock n' roll - and it's overflowing with geek-friendly references to comics and videogames to boot. And that's when you realize - we ARE the Nintendo generation, baby. We ALL love this stuff - girls, guys, older, younger. The geeks have inherited the earth, and Scott Pilgrim just may be the proof. Anyways, the whole cast from the movie was there - Michael Cera (in goofy looking Captain America costume), Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Brandon Routh (Superman himself), Aubrey Plaza, Jason Schwartzman, Ellen Wong, Anna Kendrick, Kieran Culkan, etc. The panel was energetic, lively, and funny, and director Edgar Wright (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) was hilarious as the moderator. He even brought out his old pals Simon Pegg and Nick Frost for a cameo, claiming that they were also in the movie - only to reveal that he had misread his notes and meant to say they they were NOT also in the movie, leading them to hang their heads and sullenly walk offstage. Classic. Bryan Lee O'Malley, the creator of the Scott Pilgrim comic, was also really funny. When someone asked him the standard question of "who inspired you," he retorted rather brilliantly with "Nobody. I inspired myself. I'm a super-genius!" Later, Wright played pied piper and led a select group of randomly chosen audience members to an early screening of the entire movie. Craziness. Suffice it to say, this was a really feel-good panel filled with excitable fans and a ton of enthusiasm. Can't wait to see this movie.

- After the Scott Pilgrim panel, we went back to our hotel for a bit before heading out to explore the Gaslamp district, which is always extra-insane during Comic-Con. It's always a trip to walk around and see all the crazy characters roaming the streets at night, as well as all the random parties, events, and promotions going on all around downtown SD. Hungry, Brian and I grabbed dinner at Cafe Diem, the Syfy channel-themed diner that has now become a staple of Comic-Con. Being a good company man, I always make it a point to stop by there and check out the scene. This year, there were even some Digital Distribution promotions at the cafe (XBOX Live and Zune promotions on the tables and Syfy-themed menus), so I represented NBCU and had some tasty but overpriced Lou Diamond Flapjacks (you heard me). Then, as we walked through the Gaslamp, we bumped into Diane P. Diane had just come from an LA Times party that we were about to check out, and she told us that none other than STAN LEE was there taking pictures and signing autopgraphs. We booked it to the party, but of course, we arrived right as Stan the Man was wrapping up and heading out. Noooooooooo! At least, for mere minutes, we were in the presence of a true legend of comics and pop culture. And hey, the guy looks good, and gets around, for a man who's soon to be pushing 90. Man, it is nice to know that he's still kicking around though - just seeing the guy and seeing that trademark sparkle in his eye is enough to reduce you to an "Excelsior!"-screaming ten year old. So, even though we didn't get our picture with Stan, we stuck around at the LA Times party for a bit and chatted with some random partygoers about all manner of appropriately geeky topics, and partook of the free food and drink. Then, we met up with Diane again at a local bar where her comic book artist brother was participating in a drawing and drinking mash-up known as Drink & Draw. I'll say this: there are certain movie and TV stars I get starstruck by, but the fanboy in me still gets revved up when in the presence of a kickass comic book artist. So it was cool walking around for a bit and seeing the various pencillers do their thing. Finally, we walked back to the hotel and checked out for the night - Day 1 at Comic-Con was complete!

- After a long day on Thursday, I was pretty wiped. I tried my best to wake up at a reasonable time on Friday morning though, because I wanted to try to make it into the WALKING DEAD panel that was set to take place in the early afternoon, and would likely be one of the biggest attractions of the entire show. After all, THE WALKING DEAD is, perhaps, the very best ongoing comic book series of the last five years. It's freaking awesome. And the TV show has comic creator Robert Kirkman onboard as a writer-producer. And, oh yeah, some guy named Frank Darabount writing/producing/directing. Um, yeah, this show is going to be the bomb ... bigtime. Anyways, even though I got to the convention center a bit on the late side, I thought I'd still be in good shape, as I met up with my friend KC who had gotten in line much earlier. Unfortunately, we still didn't manage to get into the panel - in fact, we almost made it - if we had been maybe ten spots ahead we would have been good to go. It was disappointing, but, if nothing else, it was a good chance to catch up with fellow former Conan intern KC, who I hadn't seen in several months. In any case, I later caught some of the clips from the panel online, and, yeah, this show will indeed be all that and a bag of chips. And by the way, if you haven't read The Walking Dead, you are seriously missing out. Go buy Volume 1 as soon as humanly possible.

- After the whole Walking Dead panel epic fail, I decided to go off on my own for a bit and get in some slightly smaller, comic book related panels. After all, this is COMIC-Con, right? Seriously though, it's easy to live and breathe movies right here in LA. But where else can I convene with thousands of fellow comics fans? It's part of the reason why I always make sure to go to some comic book panels at Comic-Con. But yeah, I went and got in line for a spotlight panel on crazed comic book madman GRANT MORRISON, easily one of the most celebrated and controversial writers of the last couple of decades. Morrison, known for his surreal and mind-bending writing style, is always fascinating to hear speak, and this panel was no exception. Hearing Morrison cover such topics as his theory of time travel, his take on the Joel Schumaker Batman movies, and his plans for new Batman title, "Batman, Inc." was pretty cool. And hey, go figure, the questions from Grant Morrison fans were actually well thought-out and interesting! Next, I stayed put for a DC Comics panel on all things BATMAN, where Morrison was joined by writers like Paul Dini, Scott Snyder, Paul Cornell, and Gail Simone. No major announcements or reveals, which was a little disappointing. It was still cool to listen to some great talents speak, but I do think that the panel was illustrative of the fact that the comics guys need to up their game a bit at Comic-Con. I know that DC and Marvel can't compete with the movie studios in terms of production value and star power, but come on. Give the panels a little drama. Save some big announcements for the show. Have a teaser trailer, or some amazing artwork from an upcoming series. Give hints about the next big storyline. But give us ... something! And one other suggestion: Comic-Con is now a place where a lot of non-comics fans get exposed to comics for the first time. Why not give some background at these panels to get the new fans up to speed? Way too many comics panels gloss right over any attempt to give some context to what's going on in current storylines. Bottom line is, they should step it up a notch -- as a comics fan, I want the industry to put its best foot forward! As the Batman panel ended, I met up with Ken H., who used to work down the hall from me at NBCU. Ken is a huge DC comics fan, and a Comic-Con regular, so it was good to see him at the show. Plus, he kindly snapped a photo of me with a great group of Batman-themed cosplayers, which included two great-looking Harley Quinns. It's sort of become Comic-Con tradition to take photos with the best Harley's I can find on the show floor, and this was one of my best pics yet. What can I say, I have a thing for homicidal women in clown makeup.

- After meeting back up with the G-Man for a relaxing lunch outside on the convention center patio, we decided to book it over to the Marriot hotel next to the convention center for a panel on Writing For Television. The panel was great - really informative and with a lot of very practical information dispensed. The best part was that the two moderators of the panel are both involved in a writers' program that I recently applied for, so, hey, it was a great chance to network and give myself a chance to stand out from the crowd. See - I was actually semi-productive at Comic-Con this year! After the Writing panel, we decided to get in line for the Roger Corman spotlight panel that was taking place in one of the smaller ballrooms back at the convention center. In line, we bumped into fellow NBCU'er Kim H, who decided to join us for the panel. The line was sort of a mess, with a fairly inept Comic-Con employee herding us into an absurdly complicated snake-like formation. Eventually though, we made it into the panel, and despite being all the way in the back, it was still pretty cool. The legendary B-movie producer and director Roger Corman was joined by the likes of Joe Dante, Syd Haig, and Allan Holzman, and actress Mary Woronov. A pretty stacked panel of genre icons, to be sure - and it was fun just hearing them reminisce about the old days, giving all sorts of anecdotes about the making of movies like Death Race 2000, Galaxy of Terror, and Rock n' Roll High School. I've recently been trying to get into some of those old Corman classics, and just a few weeks prior watched Rock n' Roll High School for the first time with my brother, and loved it. It was really cool hearing the man himself talk about the making of the film. After the panel, I walked the floor for a bit and stopped at the Shout! Factory booth - they'd sponsored the Corman panel, as they are steadily releasing all the old Corman films on new-edition DVD's. Of course, their prices were pretty jacked up as compared to what you'd find on Amazon, so I held off on buying anything. That said, we found some fun swag and of course lots of good photo ops on the show floor, and we hung out there until the doors officially closed at 7.

- After a quick trip back to the hotel, we walked back to the Gaslamp district where we met up with the one and only Aksel for dinner at a rockin' Irish pub (Dublin's) downtown. There was an extra-festive atmosphere in the air, and we even got a cameo appearance from the Axe-Man's friend Bob. Plus, there was a guy next to us in a full-on, old-school Tron outfit! We had a fun dinner, and then me and the G-Man parted ways with Aksel, as Diane had helped us to score guest-list placement for the huge, celeb-packed From Dusk 'Til Con party (formerly known as The Wrath of Con). The shindig was held at the swanky Stingaree nightclub in downtown SD, and was sponsored by Starz and AMC Theaters. So we got tons of gladiator types walking around, looking straight out of Spartacus: Blood & Sand. Tons of random celebrities in the house - the entire cast of Chuck, Nathan Fillion, Scott Wolff, Adrienne Curry, Stan Lee (!), and the entire cast of Scott Pilgrim plus Edgar Wright! And many more to boot. AMC was actually honoring Stan Lee and Edgar Wright with awards, too, so each got a nice little presentation. Even though I've been to a few of these Hollywood parties now, it was still definitely surreal standing feet away from the likes of Michael Cera and Brandon Routh. I will say though, sometimes these parties end up being a bit boring despite all of the cool celebrities in attendance, because you basically just end up standing around and trying to look cool and not talking to anyone. But -- not this party! Since Diane is now a maven of the pop culture world via her web articles, we met a bunch of cool industry insiders, and, I even got to have a short conversation with one of my favorite artists, John Cassaday, of Planetary and Astonishing X-Men fame. Later on, I'm not sure exactly how it happened, but we totally hung out with the cast of Chuck, including the actors who play the likes of Chuck, Morgan, Captain Awesome, Big Mike, and Jeffster (alas, no Yvonne)! Yes, I tried to play it cool, but still - pretty, well, awesome - huh? Turns out just about the whole cast of the show is super nice and friendly. And yes, I revealed to Joshua Gomez that I got a tad emotional this season when Chuck finally told Morgan his secret. I don't know, the party overall just seemed way more laid back and fun than other Hollywood parties I've seen -- people were actually dancing, joking, and having a good time. Dammit all - it was a memorable night, and the only fitting way to cap it off seemed to be a late-night milkshake at Cafe Diem, so that we could all collectively geek out about the awesome party we had just attended (and you can check out my Facebook for photos!).

- Saturday was our camp-out-in-Hall H day, and I forced myself to wake up early to get in line even though just about every fiber of my being wanted to sleep past noon. I hurried to the convention center and made my way to the Hall H line, but what I found was sheer madness. After walking through the Hilton hotel, around the back of the convention center, and basically into the ocean, I finally made it to the back of the line. I had no idea if I had a chance in hell of making it inside for the Warner Bros. panel that kicked off the day in Hall H, but it wasn't looking good. I was standing next to this British journalist who was super annoyed, too. He was supposed to covering the panel for a big British film magazine and thought he'd have some connection to get inside, but was now stuck waiting with all the plain old fanboys. So, I was starting to get a little nervous about my chances, when the G-Man called to let me know that two friends of his from work had gotten in line at the crack of dawn. Meeting others in a big Comic-Con line can sometimes be a little risky, so I quickly told some guys behind me that I was running to grab something and could they please save my spot? They agreed (always good to have a contingency plan, Batman-style), and I booked it for the front-end of the line, where I jumped in with Brian and his friends. Success! Our streak of Comic-Con luck continued, as we easily made it into Hall H and got pretty decent seats for the big WB panel. We collected our WB-provided swag bag and 3D glasses, and sat down for the big show.
- The main attraction for most of us fanboys at the WB panel was, of course, the GREEN LANTERN portion of the event. For some reason, Warner decided to divide their panel between three big films, which I'm not sure was the right move. I mean, surely Green Lantern deserves its own panel? It's only the first big DC Comics movie since the inception of DC Entertainment last year, and it marks DC's first real crack at turning one of its characters other than Superman or Batman into a bonafide big screen franchise. Anyways, the panel brought out a lot of the big guns from the movie - Ryan Reynolds (Hal Jordan), Blake Lively (Carol Ferris), Peter Skarsgard (Hector Hammond), and Mark Strong (Sinestro), along with director Martin Campbell, writer Greg Berlanti, and DC's Green Lantern superstar, Geoff Johns. It was definitely cool seeing Johns up there promoting a big Hollywood movie that will in large part be culled from his comic book work, and you could see Johns' enthusiasm for all things GL spill over into the crowd. That said, it was interesting to later go back and read reaction to the panel. In the comics world, Johns is known for being incredibly secretive when it comes to spilling the beans on upcoming storylines. In Hollywood, and especially at Comic-Con, I think that secrecy may have slightly come across as a lack of actual insight into what would be in the film. Overall, I think the panel was a moderate success. There was nothing in it to make anyone overly worried about the direction of the film, but also nothing truly jaw-dropping. It did seem like a lot of things about the movie - the costume, the f/x, the overall plan for the franchise - are still up in the air to an extent. I don't know, it's a tough call. I think Marvel has set the benchmark for these superhero movie panels, and they've made the Marvel movie panels into rock concert-like spectacles over the years. The fact that DC Entertainment and GL didn't even have its own panel seemed to indicate that Warner still has reservations about the DC brand, and that is a bit troubling. I mean, Green Lantern should be owning Comic-Con and should be the event of the show - it shouldn't be lumped in with Harry Potter and Sucker Punch. I think fans were also really pumped to get some sort of hint about the overall direction of DC Entertainment. Some sort of hint about future films in the pipeline, whether it's Batman 3, The Flash, Wonder Woman, Superman, etc. - or, at the least, some hint that we'd be seeing the start of a shared DC Movie Universe similar to what Marvel is doing to such great effect. Again, Johns played coy when asked about this, and again, it was hard to tell if he was holding back or just honestly didn't know what was up. If it's the latter, DC really needs to figure out its longterm strategy. Comic-Con is about the longterm hype machine, and there really wasn't a lot from DC to get us excited about their brand on the whole. As a huge DC fanboy, this was a little bit worrisome, I can't lie.
Still, the GL panel was ultimately pretty exciting, and the teaser trailer shown had some very cool moments. Aside from the footage itself, I loved the bookends - an ominous message from the not-seen Guardians of the Universe, inviting the crowd to test their willpower by manipulating the green energy on screen. It set the mood for what should be an epic adventure. The footage itself though provided only fleeting glimpses of a few big money shots - the alien landscape of OA, the corpse of Hal's predecessor Abin Sur, and Corps member Tomar-Re. But, we didn't see any shots of Hal in costume (it's still evolving, apparently), and no footage of Sinestro. Everything that we did see flashed by so quick that it was difficult to digest. And it was just that very quick teaser, shown only once in the interest of time. It was a teaser that likely inspired a million questions from fans in the audience, but time only allowed for a handful. Johns and co. revealed a few interesting tidbits (we'll see all 3600 Green Lanterns even if only in brief, Parallax is in the film, etc.), but the most memorable moment of the panel came when a young Green Lantern fan, probably about 6 or 7 years old, asked Ryan Reynolds what it was like to recite the Green Lantern Oath. Reynolds smiled, and then proceeded to perfectly recite the legendary oath with pitch-perfect superhero tone. "In brightest day, in blackest night, no evil shall escape my sight ...". The look on the kid's face was absolutely priceless - he was in total awe. And then, the kid flashed his fist toward Reynolds, showing the Green Lantern ring he proudly wore on his finger. Reynolds then raised his fist, revealing that he, too, was wearing his GL power ring. The kid's jaw dropped to the floor as the crowd cheered and collectively "awwed." In that moment, Reynolds completely won over the crowd and went a long way towards convincing us all that he would make a damn fine Hal Jordan. We shall see. The movie still has a lot to prove, but I'll remain cautiously optimistic. If the film is in fact faithful to Johns' creative vision, it could indeed be a true interstellar epic.

- The next portion of the WB panel was devoted to Harry Potter. I enjoy the Potter films but I'm definitely not a fanatic. To me, the movies don't hold up as truly *great* films on their own merit. Recent entries have come close, and hey, the final two parts look like they could be pretty amazing. The new extended trailer shown at Comic-Con looked pretty fantastic, no doubt. Only Tom Felton from the cast showed up to address the crowd of Potter fanatics, but he seemed pretty cool and genuinely appreciative of and humbled by the warm response.

- Finally, the last portion of the WB panel belonged to Zack Snyder and his new movie, SUCKER PUNCH. Zack brought out the leading ladies of his new surreal action pic, which looks like a cross between Inception, a live-action Japanese anime, 300, and Kill Bill. Onstage were the likes of Jena Malone, Abbie Cornish, Emily Browning, and Vanessa Hudgens, as well as the iconic stunner Carla Gugino, who owned the stage like a classic film star-slash-pinup model of a bygone era. Snyder seemed to be a bit all over the place in trying to describe the film, but, luckily, the footage shown spoke for itself. Visually stunning action scenes were the highlight of the kickass trailer, on par with those of 300 and Watchmen in terms of sheer sensory overload. Snyder is always the master of cutting an epic trailer together, and Sucker Punch was no exception. As Led Zeppellin's classic "When the Levees Break" throbbed in the background, we saw giant mecha fights, fast and furious swordplay, burlesque dance numbers, surreal dream scenes, and lots and lots of girls kicking ridiculous amounts of ass. Yikes.

- Next was a panel for LET ME IN, the American remake of the acclaimed Swedish vampire film Let the Right One In. I was a big fan of that film, and like many I had to wonder what the point was in remaking such a recent and already-excellent film. Luckily, what was shown at Comic-Con looked excellent. Director Matt Reeves (Cloverfield) seems to be fairly faithful to the original novel as well as the Swedish film, while also adapting things for a new audience and changing things up a bit. Still, Reeve's version seems to maintain the moody ambiance and eerie foreboding of the Swedish film, which is awesome. And man, how great is Chloe Moretz? The pint-sized actress best known as Hitgirl from Kickass just seems to have so much raw talent and presence, I think she'll be around for a long time to come. As the lead character in Let Me In - the ancient vampire trapped in a young girl's body, Moretz seems poised once again to be a scene-stealer. Plus, Richard Jenkins is in this as the vampire's devoted manservant, and the scenes shown with him were scary, weird, and flat-out intense. I still question why exactly this remake needs to happen, but luckily, it seems to be in excellent hands. I'll be looking forward to checking out Let Me In, no question.
- I'll admit, somewhere in the back of my mind I wanted to bolt from Hall H and take my chances trying to get into the Fringe panel in one of the big upstairs ballrooms. But, seeing how insane the lines had been all weekend, it only made sense to stay put in Hall H and wait things out until the Marvel panel that was set to cap off the evening. It turned out to be an excellent decision, as the last set of panels in Hall H on Saturday turned out to be pretty memorable and kickass. That said, sometimes things can surprise you. Take the panel for RESIDENT EVIL: AFTERLIFE in the afternoon. I love the Resident Evil games, but have never seen any of the films and wa under the impression that they were all fairly mediocre. And most likely, they are. But, the Resident Evil panel was a ton of fun, largely thanks to the fact that, as it turns out, Mila Jovovich is freaking awesome. Mila's star shone brightly at the panel - she was funny, smart, witty, charismatic, appreciative of the fans, genuinely excited about the movie, looked great, and yeah, I think every guy sitting in that panel on Saturday likely fell in love with her just a bit. The great thing about an actress like Mila, as well as her co-star Ali Larter, is that they both seemed totally in their element at Comic-Con and in Resident Evil. Both are unapologetic about starring in a B action movie, and both seem to just enjoy the the fact that they are lucky enough to get paid to go out and kill pretend zombies for a living. Awesome. I came away from the show a HUGE fan of both of these actresses, as both just radiated excitement and likability (Mila especially though -- when she started geeking out about how the film's cameras were the same ones that James Cameron used for Avatar, made from space-shuttle technology, you could practically hear the collective hearts of the audience melting in sync). Director Paul W.S. Anderson was there, and hey, even if he's known as a somewhat dicey director, he at least seemed like a cool guy. Also on stage was Wentworth Miller of Prison Break, who was super quiet and seemed sort of uncomfortable. Being a huge PB fan, I'd love to see Miller take off as an action star in film. But geez, the guy could stand to be a little more enthusiastic about things. Anyways, the clips from the movie looked fun if not cheesy, with some videogame-like monster battles that were pretty entertaining to watch - and the 3D looked pretty impressive thanks to the hi-tech cameras being used. Maybe, just maybe, I'll have to check out the earlier films, if only to support Mila J. If nothing else, the panel gave me a huge urge to go back and finally finish Resident Evil 5 on the PS3, which I put aside a while back and never got back into. Ah, zombie-killin'. Got to love it.

- The next panel in Hall H was basically just an uber-long reel of trailers, some in 3D and some in plain old 2D. Basically, this was a chance for people to get up, grab food, and go to the bathroom. It turns out it was also a chance for someone in the audience to STAB SOMEONE IN THE EYE WITH A PEN, thus turning all of Hall H into a crime scene. WTF! A few minutes into the trailer reel, I went out to grab some food, came back, and scarfed down my rubbery personal pizza as I watched the crowd collectively boo M. Night Shyamalan when his name came up in the trailer for Devil. Later, feeling thirsty, I went outside again to grab a Diet Coke. As I walked through Hall H to the adjoining concessions area, I saw a lot of commotion towards the back of the room. What was going on? I figured it was just the usual Comic-Con shennanigans and walked off to grab my soda. But, when I went to reenter the hall, police had blocked off the entrance - nobody was getting back in yet. A hundred or so people who had left to grab food were stranded outside, as panic grew inside the hall. I kept hearing rumors that someone was stabbed, but, come on - that seemed absurd. But, people outside were whipping out their iPhones and showing that the stabbing thing was already being reported on the web. Okay ... We ended up standing outside for a good 40 minutes or so, and while it was nice bonding with my fellow Hall H'ers, things did get pretty tense for a bit, especially since no one was able to guarantee us that we'd even get back inside. Luckily, things eventually cleared up, and we were let back in as the Universal Pictures panel kicked off -- after the long, stabbing incident-induced delay. And one more note on the whole stabbing thing: it is kind of funny in its own absurdist way, yes, but also definitely not representative of the Comic-Con crowd, which tends to be one of the friendliest groups of people you'll find. One of the best things about the show is always all of the random people eager to say hello and share their stories. I think it's partly why everyone was in such disbelief that someone would actually get violent arguing over seats. But hey, it's definitely fodder for many a funny Wolverine claws or Harry Potter wand joke.

- I think the Universal panel flew under a lot of people's radar prior to Comic-Con, overshadowed on Saturday by the big WB and Marvel panels. But, hot damn if Universal didn't come close to stealing the show from the more hyped-up panels. Obviously, most of us knew little to nothing about the two movies at the panel - PAUL and COWBOYS & ALIENS - prior to the show. But, by the time the panel ended, I think both movies shot up to the top of most fans' must-see lists.

PAUL looks absolutely hilarious, and it was pretty staggering to see almost all of the movie's man cast sitting together on-stage, as it was a veritable all-star team of comedy talent. We had Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Jason Bateman, Seth Rogen, Sigourney Weaver, Jeffrey Tambor, Bill Hader, and Joe LoTruglio all up onstage, along with director Greg Mottolla (Superbad). Simon Pegg and Nick Frost (Shaun of the Dead, Hot Fuzz) are veritable Comic-Con royalty, as is Sigourney, so the ovations for them were predictably rapturous. Plus, the movie is partially set AT Comic-Con. It was definitely playing to the right audience, but it also helped that the trailer shown was incredibly funny. The movie is about too geeky friends (Pegg and Frost) who befriend a foul-mouthed alien (voiced by Rogen), who's on the run from the FBI and looking to get home. Shaun of the Dead meets E.T.? Yes, please. I've heard rumblings about this one for a while, but I am now 100% sold. Can't wait for PAUL.

The crowd was hot after the Paul part of the panel, but oh man, business was about to pick up. Jon Favreau came out to talk up COWBOYS & ALIENS, and he was the only one advertised for the panel, so I don't think most of us were initially expecting much. But, as soon as Favreau made a rockstar-like entrance to AC/DC's "Back in Black," a buzz filled the room and you could tell that we were, perhaps, about to witness something special. Favreau became a Comic-Con king with his now-classic presentations for Iron Man and Iron Man 2, so I think it quickly began to sink in that this is a guy who always brings his A-game to the big dance. And bring it he did. Favreau played coy at first, saying that the film was so early in production that he wasn't able to secure any footage or get any of the cast to come down to the show. But hey, Favs has earned enough goodwill that you know what, that might have been enough to make the Hall H crowd happy. But, Favs proceeded to blow the roof off the joint. He hinted that he *was* able to wrangle up one or two cast members for the show. He introduced Daniel Craig - James Bond! And the crowd went wild. Next was Olivia Wylde. Sam Rockwell! The buzz was building to uncontainable levels. If those three were there, could it mean ...? It did! Favreau introduced a guy who we "just might know," HARRISON FORD. The floodgates opened and out came Han Solo, Indiana Jones, a true movie icon - Mr. Harrison freaking Ford. The crowd rose to its feet to applaud their hero, giving him a standing O that lasted a good couple of minutes. It was, without a doubt, a true Comic-Con moment for the ages. This was, afterall, Ford's first EVER appearance at the show. Ford was led out to the stage in handcuffs, perhaps a nod to his usual reluctance to appear at these sorts of events. But man, even the usually stoic Ford couldn't help but beam and smile as thousands of his fans showed their appreciation for his storied career. I had chills, no question. It didn't stop there though. Favreau teased that he did in fact some footage to show us. In fact, even though production had only commenced weeks ago, he had made sure that the first scene he filmed was something truly kickass so that he could show it off at Comic-Con. And kickass it was! Favreau showed a trio of scenes that felt like vintage 80's Spielberg - shot on film, larger than life and iconic, and yet brimming with a sense of awe and wonder. We saw Daniel Craig face off with a badass Clancy Brown. We saw a showdown in an Old West town square. And then, we saw the alien invasion, as hi-tech laser-fire reigned down on unsuspecting cowboys. The whole thing just felt awesome. I was worried the movie might be jokey or cartoonish, but it was anything but. It felt like a legit adventure movie full of larger than life heroes and villains, tons of action, and brimming with atmsophere. Again, I am sold, and I cannot wait to see this movie on the big screen. Cowboys & Aliens FTW.
- Thanks to Jon Favreau, Harrison Ford, and the awesomeness of Cowboys, Hall H was already at a fever pitch going into the mighty MARVEL panel. People were hyped up and ready to be wowed, and Marvel, as usual, gave the people what they wanted. Marvel has become the main attraction each year at Comic-Con, and hey, I'm down with that. It's fitting to me that the star of the show is a company with such a deep legacy in comics and pop culture (and it's why I want DC to step it up a notch - it's time for them to have the same buzz at Comic-Con that Marvel has enjoyed). Marvel's panel kicked off with Kevin Feige of Marvel Studios bringing out the cast and crew of CAPTAIN AMERICA - director Joe Johnston, along with stars Chris Evans (Cap) and Hugo Weaving (the Red Skull). A short teaser was shown to get things going - it was short on substance, but definitely set the mood for the movie. We saw all sorts of old WW2 newsreel footage cut with shots of the Captain America shield and insignia. We then got a quick flash of Cap in costume posing and then throwing his shield directly towards the audience. It was very, very brief, but also, well, pretty sweet. Later on, Johnston and co. took a risk and showed us early footage that they had literally shot mere days earlier - it was so fresh that it still had timecode on it. But, the footage was tantalizing in that it teased that Hugo Weaving will likely make one hell of a villain for the film. We saw Weaving in pre-Skull mode, back when he was simply an evil bastard of a Nazi commander. Weaving leads a squad of Nazi's into an ancient Norse tomb, where the keeper of the crypt warns them that the object inside the tomb is not meant to be possessed by ordinary men. "It is not for an ordinary man" glowers Weaving. He opens the tomb and pulls out an artifact - a crystal cube - a COSMIC CUBE, if you will. A light flashes from the cube as Weaving's eyes widen. Okay, now THAT was cool. It hinted that the film will have a pulpy, adventure serial, Indiana Jones-like vibe befitting Cap's WWII-era comic book roots. Honestly, my biggest doubt about the movie is still Chris Evans. Watching him on the panel, he just gave off that laidback, surfer-dude vibe that was hard to reconcile with the authoritative, old-school man's man type of aesthetic you want from Captain America. I'm just not sure how that casting decision will work out. But we shall see. If nothing else, we know that Weaving will most likely rock. Nontheless, I think the panel gave the audience some cause for optimism, and it worked well as the warm-up to the main event ...
- ... that being THOR. I was already pretty excited for Thor going into the Marvel panel, but the presentation got me uber-hyped. Kevin Feige brought out directer Kenneth Branagh, along with stars Chris Hemsworth (Thor), Natalie Portman (who got a huge, rockstar ovation), Kat Dennings, Tom Hiddleston (playing Loki) and Clark Gregg (the SHIELD agent from Iron Man 2, who crosses over into this one and The Avengers). To start with, Hemsworth just plain looks the part. He's a huge, pale, blonde dude and he seems like he can legitimately act as well. In some of the footage we saw, he was going toe to toe with Anthony friggin' Hopkins and holding his own. Good choice, Marvel. I think Branagh was also the right man for the job. The guy's Shakespearian background is perfect for a fantasy-epic like Thor, and I think that this one is going to be a bit different from other Marvel movies in that it will be truly epic, truly, well ... Shakespearian. At the same time, Branagh seems open to integrating Thor into the larger Marvel movie universe, and some of the scenes we saw showed some of the continuity that's being established between this film and Iron Man and The Avengers. But man, the trailer for THOR looked flat-out awesome. I've seen some criticism online, but not sure where it's coming from. The footage, to me, knocked it out of the park. Asgard looked great, Loki looked menacing and awesome, Hemsworth looked like, well, Thor, and Anthony Hopkins brought the pain - and the gravitas - as elder god Odin. I mean, I replayed Hopkins' already-iconic speech to Hemsworth in my mind over and over -- "In the name of my father, and his father before him ... I cast you out!" This was epic, Lord of the Rings-style speech-making here, with Hopkins in full-on scenery-chewing mode (and in a movie like Thor, would you want it any other way?). The trailer seemed to convincingly show that the film will be able to seamlessly transition from the fantasy world of Asgard into the more grounded world of the mainstream Marvel U, as emphasized by a great little epilogue scene in which a bunch of SHIELD agents confront a giant, steampunkish robot out in the desert. "What is this, one of Stark's?" someone asks. In fact, it is not. The otherworldly mechanical creature opens up to reveal a flaming interior, unleashing a giant orgy of flame from its arms onto the agents. This. Was. Badass. I don't know, again, I'm not sure where the skepticism is coming from. I feel like THOR has a ton of potential, and yeah, I'm psyched.

Of course, this was not the end of the MARVEL panel, as we then got the moment that everyone had been anticipating: the reveal of THE AVENGERS. A teaser played on the screen - something about how "when a threat rises to great for one hero alone to tackle, the world's greatest superheroes must join forces to fight the ultimate evil." ... well, something like that. We got The AVENGERS logo on-screen, and the crowd went wild. And then, Samuel L. Jackson himself - aka Nick Fury - walked onstage to a huge ovation. Sam brought Chris Evans and Chris Hemsworth back onstage, and then introduced Robert Downey Jr., who walked out to a huge, huge round of cheers. RDJ took the mic and did a vintage RDJ rant, asking if anyone had been stabbed lately, and ruminating on the craziness of Inception. He said that Inception might just have been the most ambitious movie ever made. That is ... until The Avengers. The crowd erupted, as Downey introduced Scarlett Johansson - The Black Widow, Jeremy Renner - newly announced as Hawkeye, and Mark Ruffallo - the new Bruce Banner / The Incredible Hulk. RDJ then brought out the movie's writer/director, Joss Whedon. Whedon gave thanks to the crowd and promised to do his best, despite being nervous and anxious about tackling the project. Onstage, all of the cast members posed for the photo op of all photo ops -- the AVENGERS had assembled at Comic-Con! Yeah, it was a true geek-out moment, and proof that Marvel has become the master of the movie hype machine. The Avengers is still a long ways away, and yet, the foundation has been put in place. The fanboys are already salivating. It's going to be big, packed with starpower, and most likely epic - a fanboy dream taken from page to screen. We'll see if the movie delivers, but hey, for now, it still lives in that geeky part of the brain that dares to dream of what might be and what could be. And with that, our day in Hall H came to a close.
- Due to the whole stabbing incident, it was pretty late by the time we actually left Hall H - close to 8 pm. We definitely didn't have the willpower or desire to hang around for the Kevin Smith panel that was set to close out the night. We did however, walk over to the nearby Marriot to try to cash in our tickets from the various Hall H panels, which gave us access to cool swag like free T-shirts and whatnot. Of course, the fulfillment room closed at 8, and so a mini-riot was forming outside, as a bunch of geeks set to fly out of San Diego that night or early the next morning were fuming that they wouldn't be able to get their free Captain America T-shirt. It was quite a sight - lots of nerd-rage, but after a little while we decided to pick up our swag the next day. We were, afterall, really hungry. And so, we met up with Diane for dinner at one of my favorite downtown SD haunts, Sloppy Joey's. Kim H eventually met up with us as well, and we had a very nice, long, leisurely dinner after a long day at the convention. We had contemplated one more night of hitting the town, but after a night-capping stop for ice cream at Ghirardelli's (where I ran into Erin M from work), we decided to call it a night. We went back to the hotel and rested up for one last day in SD.

- Sunday at Comic-Con is by far the quitest day in terms of big panels, so it's usually the best time to walk the floor one last time and possibly buy some heavily-discounted merchandise from the retailers on the floor. As is customary, I spent a while browsing through the comics and 50% off graphic novels for sale, making a couple of key purchases for very low prices. We walked through all the big studio booths, as well as a lot of the smaller booths belonging to indie comics publishers, web comix guys, etc. Eventually, we met up with KC for a bit and said our goodbyes, and then stopped into one last panel - a DC panel that included an impressive lineup of artists and writers talking about their current projects, from former DC Publisher Paul Levitz to up-and-comers like Nicola Scott, Tony Bedard, and JT Krull. (As an aside, we also caught the tail-end of a Spiderman panel while waiting for the DC panel to begin. The Spiderman panel included a very special panelist -- Spiderman! Turns out he's a fan of the current comics ...).

- After the DC panel, we exited the convention center and once again met up with Diane for some lunch at TGI Fridays. I know, not very exciting, in theory. But, the sad truth is that here in LA, there are very few Fridays, and none in my immediate vicinity in Burbank. So, I actually get kind of psyched to go there when I come across one in, say, downtown San Diego. So, we ate lunch, walked back to our hotel, checked out, and hopped into the G-mobile to head off into the great blue yonder ... Tired but satisfied and full on pop-culture craziness, we drove back to LA after yet another successful San Diego Comic-Con adventure.


- A lot of people I talk to still think that Comic-Con is, well, a sausagefest. Totally not the case. I think Twilight may have opened the floodgates, to a degree, but the fact is that at this year's show it honestly felt like there were as many, if not more, girls there than guys. You could sense it in all the panels too -- lots of fangirl screams for popular actors and such, and the fangirl-friendly films and TV shows, like Scott Pilgrim, Harry Potter, True Blood, and Supernatural produced some of the longest lines and most rabid reactions at this year's show. There were geek girls everywhere - Geek Girl Podcasts, Geek Girl Tweet-Ups, Geek Girl panels. One sure sign that the women were taking over: while in Hall H, during the session where random trailers were playing, a trailer for Never Let Me Go played, and I was sure it would be greeted by boo's from the audience. Afterall, a period romance about upper crust British teens? That's not a Comic-Con movie, right? Well, it got a hearty round of applause and cheers. I guess I understand ... it basically looks like Twilight sans vampires. But it was a sure sign that fangirls, and girls in general, are now as big a part of the show as the guys.

- Speaking of which, not only is there a girl power movement at Comic-Con, but there's also definitely a youth movement. Sure, there are still the crusty old stalwarts who've dutifully trekked to San Diego since the 70's. But there are also more teens at the show than ever. And these kids have their own vocabulary and pop culture universe, filled with animation and anime and manga and all kinds of stuff that as a 27 year old I already feel slightly out of the loop on. My main concern: are these kids still reading any good, old-fashioned comics? Let's hope so. Then again, I think that as long as there is alienated and angst-ridden youth, copies of Neil Gaiman's The Sandman, Alan Moore's Watchmen, etc. will still be bought at Borders and consumed in low-lit bedrooms across the country.

- The comics guys do need to step it up a bit though. I talked about this before, but DC, Marvel, Image, etc. need to come to Comic-Con with a little more swagger and flair. Show fans that comics are awesome - that to get the best stories about Batman, Spiderman, zombies, or vampires, you can turn to comics. Tease big storylines, have great, visual presentations, treat the writers and artists like rock stars. Too many of the comic book panels at Comic-Con are dry, sort of boring affairs. Step it up!

- Has geekiness gotten too mainstream? I ask because, man, there are definitely an increasing number of casual pop-culture fans at Comic-Con who seem to be there more to check out the scene than anything else. That's cool, but it's also sad when you have to really search just to find some crazy-hardcore fans in tricked-out cosplay costumes of obscure comic book characters. I don't think I saw a single decent Zatanna at this year's show, for crying out loud. I love that Comic-Con has become more mainstream, but you also can't help but lament the decreasing number of insane costume-clad crazies and hardcore comics fans at the show.

- Also notable at this year's show was the steady presence of protesters from the Westboro Baptist Church, who marched around outside the convention center claiming that the geeks were going to hell for worshipping false gods and such (if only there were hardcore geeks who prayed to Jack Kirby's New Gods or something -- all hail Darkseid!). The protests were obviously ridiculous, but the upside was that the fanboys came out in full force to stage anti-protest protests of their own. It was awesome. The signs that the anti-protesters came up with ("God Hates Humans" - carried by a guy dressed like Bender) were hilarious and brilliant, and it was a rousing show of human spirit and comraderie among a group of people that tends to be filled with individuals who are unique, yes, but also smart, curious, open-minded, and decent. I think the Westboro Baptist Church has more important things to worry about than people who find inspiration in larger-than-life, do-gooding heroes. Ya' know?

- So what were the most buzzed-about things at Comic-Con? Here are my Top 1o lists:


1.) Thor

2.) Cowboys & Aliens

3.) Scott Pilgrim vs. The World

4.) Tron Legacy

5.) The Avengers

6.) Green Lantern

7.) Captain America

8.) Sucker Punch

9.) Pirates of the Carribean 4 / The Haunted Mansion

10.) Paul
Special Mention: THE EXPENDABLES


1.) The Walking Dead

2.) True Blood

3.) Chuck

4.) Fringe

5.) The Event

6.) Futurama

7.) Community

8.) Nikita

9.) Dexter

10.) Smallville (hey, Clark will actually put on the Superman suit this year!)


1.) The Walking Dead

2.) Batman, Inc.

3.) Wonder Woman (new costume - with pants!)

4.) Scott Pilgrim

5.) Invincible

6.) Fables

7.) Brightest Day

8.) Green Lantern

9.) Spiderman: Big Time

10.) Batman & Robin

And there you have it - another Comic-Con complete. See you next year, nerds.