Thursday, July 30, 2009
Fellow readers, it is time to take you to a place only a very select group of individuals have the privilege to visit. A place filled with wonder and awe, whose delights are among the splendid this world has to offer. I'm speaking of course about the annual nerd gathering that is Comic-con. I've been attending the Con for several years now (since 2003, to be exact), but this is a very special year because for me, it is a return to the Con. You see, last summer I was unable to attend because I was busy at work in a film course at USC that kept me a few hundred or so miles from something that I look forward to about as much as Christmas (seriously). But now I'm back and I've certainly gone out of my way to make the most of my time there th is year. And so rather than just give you a play by play of all I saw and did because if you're reading this you probably already heard about it all. So, I've decided not to give you a play by play but rather some highlights of what I got a glimpse at, as well as some thoughts on a few special advance screenings I managed to sneak myself into. So, here it goes, Comic-Con 2009!
Disney 3-D Panel: Disney really went all out on this panel to give the fans what they want, from an astonishing amount of footage to an incredible moderator in actor/certified nerd Patton Oswalt. Despite some impressive peeks at "A Christmas Carol" (from Oscar-winning director Robert Zemeckis) and "Tron: Legacy," the real star of this panel was Tim Burton and the astonishing footage he showed us from his upcoming adaptation of Lewis Carol's "Alice In Wonderland." Now, this isn't just any plain remake, but rather Burton sets his film some years after Alice has left Wonderland only to return and help the inhabitants deal with the tyrannical hold by the Red Queen (played by Helena Bonham Carter). The film also sets itself apart from most other adaptations with it s blending of almost all technologies available today, including live-action, motion-capture, CGI, and 3-D. The highlight of the whole presentation was a brief surprise appearance by actor Johnny Depp who Burton introduced as his "imaginary friend" who he sometimes can bring to life just by thinking. Although Depp only stayed on stage for about a minute, there's still a joy in seeing such a wonderful duo as Depp and Burton stand together, arm in arm, only a few hundred feet away from myself and thousands of screaming fans. Seriously, this footage is one of the best of the entire panel. My calendar's set for next March when the film is released in theaters, along with an IMAX 3-D release.
"Avatar": This is it, what all us fans have been waiting for. James Cameron's return to narrative feature filmmaking in more than 12 years; the film that will set the standard for modern cinema, utilizing the most recent cinematic tools to give us a film unlike anything we've seen before. Well, after seeing the 24 minutes of the movie Cameron showed to the audience, I can say, this sure does look like a great sci-fi action/adventure film from Cameron, but it's certainly nothing more than what I've seen before. It's obvious that Cameron and his crew have spared no expense ($240 million to be exact), but I doubt this film will be placed along cinematic benchmarks like Star Wars or Lord of the Rings. But despite this fact, the film still looks like it has the potential to be great. The effects look awesome, the creature/environment design is especially wonderful, and the film also delivers its fair share of nail-biting action sequences. So, the footage offered me a lot to be excited about, as Cameron prepares to bring us, hopefully, a Burroughs-esque sci-fi yarn as told with the latest cinematic tools available. But if you want to find out more for yourself, you should be sure to head to your nearest IMAX cinema on August 21st, when Cameron will premiere 15 minutes of footage from the film, all for the cost of zero dollars. So, be sure to check it out.
"Kick-Ass": Alright, here's the movie you know nothing about but come next year, everyone will be talking about. "Kick-Ass" is Matthew Vaughn's (the director of "Stardust") film adaptation of Mark Millar's graphic novel about a young comic-book fan who decides to do what all geeks have fantasized at some point, suiting up and fighting crime themselves. Now, suffice to say this is like no superhero movie you've seen before. It's funny, brutal, and incredibly...well, KICK-ASS! The film features performances from Nicolas Cage and Christopher Mintz-Plasse (McLovin from "Superbad"), among others. Now, I'm not gonna spoil everything but I'll bet you've never seen a man jump from a building intending to soar with his mechanical wings only to plummet to his death by crashing into a car or seeing an 11-year old girl take on a group of gang-bangers only to greet them with a certain four-letter word that starts with the letter "c". Seriously, this movie is gonna fucking rule! The interesting thing is that this movie, as of now, has no corporate distributor and was ultimately using Comic-Con as a jumping off point to get momentum going for itself. One of the first things Vaughn said during the panel was he hopes that this film gets the proverbial "thumbs up" from the crowd at Comic-Con, and sure enough the crowd was all thumbs by the end of the footage. Keep your eyes posted for anything and everything "Kick-Ass."
Warner Bros. Panel: Warners gave Comic-Con a huge line-up this year, delivering previews for a grand total of 6 upcoming movies, which allowed for some appearances from stars like Denzel Washington, Mila Kunis, Gary Oldman, Robert Downey jr., Rachel McAdams, Jackie Earle Haley, Cameron Diaz, James Marsden, to name a few. Despite some impressive showings for films like "The Book of Eli," "Sherlock Holmes," and the new "Nightmare on Elm Street" film, the real winner was the Spike Jonze-directed adaptation of the beloved children's novel "Where the Wild Things Are." Honestly, this film just looks astonishingly beautiful as Jonze manages to make the most of some impressive practical special effects to help bring to life the wonderful world of the main character's imagination, capturing both the incredible joy of life as well as the inevitable feelings of fear and doubt, creating a kid's film that rather than talking down to kids, manages to give them a film that treats them honestly, ultimately offering an original, unadulterated fantasy film. Everything I've seen on this leads me to believe we may be looking at one of the best films of the entire year.
Disney Animation: Disney returned on Friday to give us a look at the animation side of things, giving us looks at their upcoming movies like "The Princess and the Frog," a return to classic hand-drawn animation, and the much-anticipated "Toy Story 3," which didn't have any real footage to show other than a hilarious "documentary" on one of the film's new characters, the Ken doll (voiced by Michael Keaton). The panel also publicized the 3-D rerelease of some of Disney and Pixar's most treasured films, such as "Toy Story" and "Toy Story 2," to be released as a 3-D double feature this October, and "Beauty and the Beast", to be released in 3-D this coming Valentine's Day. The panel displayed some of the films in their 3-D format, and seriously it just looks amazing; these already marvelous looking films are now being released in a way that fully captures their incredible beauty, as well as heightening the shear mastery of the animation in these films.
"Legion": Now, I know you've never heard of or seen anything from this movie before, but seriously check it out. There's not much to say except it's a movie about another flood that's being orchestrated by God's angels, however one (played by Paul Bettany) has shed his allegiance with God to protect the unborn savior of humanity in a highway diner. I know, weird story, but just here this, angels with machine guns! It doesn't get much better than that. This movie just took me by surprise and has jumped its way into becoming one of my most anticipated movies for next year. If you like completely ridiculous, insanely violent, unbelievably sacrilegious storytelling, then you'll be sure to love this. (big demographic, I know)
James Cameron/Peter Jackson on "The Future of Film": Seriously, how could any film fan not just die when they hear the title of that panel. Two of cinema's biggest directors together, in the same room, in person, talking directly to you, the Audience! It's just too good to be true. There was a lot said in the panel, so I'll try to pick out the highlights. Jackson and Cameron were both very vocal in their support of modern 3-D technology, adding that we may see some 3-D versions of "The Lord of the Rings" films and Titanic. They both seemed awfully disillusioned with the current state of film, picking arguments with the way studios operate as well as a few comments about the decrease in quality of current films (something that if you look at all the films that have come out this year, I feel I must agree with). They purposed that this was more of the studios playing the "defensive" side since, in addition to slightly slumping box office, the real killer has been the decrease in DVD sales. On this note, Cameron himself seemed to be pretty adamant that hopefully one day they'll be able to apply 3-D to home viewing in order for films like "Avatar" or Jackson's upcoming "Tintin" films (which he's collaborating with Steven Spielberg on and went on to say that what he's seen has got him very excited), although Cameron was quick to point out that no home viewing system in the world could capture the true power of experiencing a film where it's meant to be seen, in a movie theater. So, a lot of cool discussions and definitely one of the best treats us fans have been given in the years I've been attending Comic-con.
"Lost" Panel: Considering the sixth and final season has yet to move into production, and there's no way the creators would allow any possible plot points to leak, there's not much one could expect in actually learning anything about the final season of Lost but showrunners Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse sure know how to throw a party for the fans. From screening fan-made videos to seeing Jorge Garcia (Hugo) and Michael Emerson (Ben) having a bit of fun in a semi-improved argument about Michael being jealous of Jorge because he wasn't cast as Hurley, the nerd level had reached extreme heights. The panel also featured a few other surprise appearances from Nestor Cornbell (Richard Alpert), Josh Holloway (Sawyer), and, one of the most surprising appearances, Dominic Monaghan (Charlie), who's character was killed off in the Season Three finale. However, although not much was learned, some info was gained, mainly that season 6 will feature appearances from many Lost alumnus, some who haven't been seen since as far back as Season One. W e also learn that the newly revealed person of Jacob has never before graced the show in any other entity. So, as I said, not much but it sure was great fun and the "Lost" fan in me is truly sad that this will be the last time that we see this show at Comic-Con. Ah, well, everything good must come to an end.
"Iron Man 2": This is the panel thousands of fanboys have been waiting for all day, if not all weekend. The first glimpse of footage from Jon Favreau's follow-up to his 2008 blockbuster smash hit that is "Iron Man." Considering what a big part Comic-Con played in the success of the first film, the filmmakers certainly didn't skimp on rewarding the fans with a few special surprises. To begin with, Favreau and Marvel Films head Kevin Feige came on stage and introduced a very lame, 90s-era clip that mostly showed off how well Iron Man 1 did and talked about the excitement of the franchise and the character's return next summer. So, essentially, a big ol' hunk of nothing. That is until Robert Downey jr., Iron Man himself, came onstage and forced Favreau into showing off a 5 minute reel of footage from the film, which showed off Tony Stark bickering with a senator at a government hearing, Mickey Rourke as the vicious Russian antagonist known as Whiplash, Scarlett Johanssen running around as Tony Stark's new assistant, Natasha, who's also a Russian spy known as Scarlet Witch, and, of course, James Rhodey (played by Don Cheadle, taking over from Terence Howard in the first film) decked out in full War Machine gear making full on the promise of the first film. And of course after the footage, several cast members graced our presence, such as Cheadle, Johanssen, and Sam Rockwell, who plays the film's other villain, Justin Hammer, a seedy corporate rival of Stark's. All I can say is the footage looks awesome and if the filmmakers can capture the magic of the first one, they'll be sure to hit this one out of the park.
Kevin Smith: Not really a movie panel, per se, but this is the one thing I look forward to every year is Kevin Smith, stepping up on stage, sweating his ass off as he continues to delight and at times disgust his kindred spirits, the fanboys. Smith touched on a lot of subjects, including his last film, "Zack and Miri Make a Porno," and it's disappointing performance critically and commercially, in addition to touching on such topics as "Twilight," the recent "Batman" films, and his decision to direct his upcoming film, "A Couple of Dicks" (which might need a title change as a result of some corporate distaste for the title), a buddy cop comedy which he had no hand in writing (the first time in h is career he's ever done that). I'll never be able to capture the brilliance of Kevin Smith, so I'd say search for it on YouTube or pick up his Evening with Kevin Smith DVDs, and if you ever get a chance to see this man in public, please do yourself a great justice, and just go! (And no, I wasn't given any money to say what I just did...yet)
There's not much to say about Sunday, since that was my go look around, get free stuff, and shop day. So, aside from picking up a few comics and a Comic-Con exclusive Benjamin Linus bobble head, not much to say. But I do wanna fill you in on some of the films I got to see in their entirety thanks to a few early screenings. On Thursday, I got to see two films, "District 9," the Peter Jackson-produced "aliens as refugees" documentary-style film, as well as "Ninja Assassin," the new film from director James McTeague ("V for Vendetta") produced by the Wachowski Bros. Then, on Saturday, I got to see Quentin Tarantino's long-gestating WWII film, "Inglorious Bastards." Out of respect for the filmmakers, I will not write out a full, description/spoiler-heavy assessment since I'm thankful that they were willing to put their movie on display exclusively for the audience at Comic-Con, and despite our opinions, the filmmakers do reserve their respect in preventing these films from being completely ruined in the public eye. So, with that said, I've decided to give some brief and concise, "one-sentence" reviews for each movie. So, here you are:
"District 9": One of the best films all year, Neill Bloomkamp is a director who's got great things ahead of him, and I truly can't wait to write more about this; just great, hardcore, original science fiction at its best.
"Ninja Assassin": An at times gorgeous looking movie with absolutely nothing beneath the surface; just a really, really bad film that does nothing well other than make 98 minutes feel like two-and-a-half hours.
"Inglorious Bastards": For the first 45 minutes, this was my favorite film of the year then it just spiraled into a bloated, self-indulgent mess; considering how long I've waited for this movie, it feels surreal to have seen it and even more so to have my reaction, there's a lot I have to say about this movie but I'll keep it until my review. I do wanna give it another look before I cement my opinion, to be sure. (Oh, and I realize that was more than one sentence)
Well, that was quite a mouthful. Another year, come and gone, but I certainly got my fill. So, time to go back and face the music that is the real world. Well...until next year. Thanks for reading.
--Michael Shymon just graduated from The Bishop's School. He has had an avid passion for film since he was about 5. He enjoys acting, writing, watching movies, as well as making his own films. He will be attending NYU Tisch Film School next year and hopes that all this movie watching will one day pay off.