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2011 San Diego Comic-Con Recap

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Last year I covered the San Diego Comic-Con for Spectrum Culture, and it was a delightful and exhausting romp, complete with hilarious accounts of comics shopping and line standing. So naturally, my draconian editor requested I do it again. He also requested I get more movie coverage, so I spent two days among the damned and the loathed- the all day Hall H-ers. With the reduced studio presence this year, in the wake of the disappointing performances of Scott Pilgrim vs. the World and Green Lantern, there were thankfully less lines to get into Hall H, but there was no shortage of fucking bullshit!

THURSDAY

Panels attended:

FILM DISTRICT

This was the first movie panel I attended in Hall H, hosted by Guillermo del Toro and Nicholas Winding Refn.

DON’T BE AFRAID OF THE DARK

Del Toro was there to promote a film he co-wrote and produced, Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark, helmed by first-timer Troy Nixey. The film is based on an old TV movie that scared the living hell out of Del Toro, and star Guy Pearce was on hand as well to field questions. Del Toro is always a fascinating listen, as his giddiness for horror and his passion for film always ensure that his panel appearances are memorable and informative. While I’m not a huge horror fan, the movie still looks particularly well-made and suspenseful, and Del Toro having creative involvement has more appeal than your typical name association.

DRIVE

Next was Nicholas Winding Refn’s Drive, starring Ryan Gosling, Carey Mulligan and Ron Perlman. Refn, the director of Bronson and the divisive Valhalla Rising is making his Hollywood film debut, and the trailer that was shown indicates that this movie looks to be almost a throwback to the ’70s cynical action film, more akin to Walter Hill’s The Driver than The Fast and the Furious. Refn stole the panel, however, by telling a hilarious awkward story about meeting Ryan Gosling while doped up on cold medicine and being deathly ill, which culminated in a tear-stained version of “I Can’t Fight this Feeling Anymore” in Gosling’s car – a move that cemented his involvement, according to Refn. The exclusive footage debuted some brutal violence, which is always welcome, as well as ALBERT FUCKING BROOKS as the film’s villain.

20TH CENTURY FOX

Moderated by Damon Lindelof, the 20th Century Fox panel was not as hyped as it should have been, considering the footage debuted of some of the most anticipated films of 2011/12 and beyond.

PROMETHEUS

The panel began with Lindelof addressing the crowd, telling the story of how he became involved with screenwriting Ridley Scott’s enigmatic new film. Long rumored to be an Alien prequel, Prometheus is a return to science-fiction horror from a director whose talent truly shines in that arena. Lindelof initially interviewed actress Charlize Theron after a screening of some of the first footage of the film, which also includes Michael Fassbender and Idris Elba, Lindelof announced that they had a surprise for the audience: Ridley Scott himself teleconferenced in from the set in Greenland, along with Noomi Rapace of the original Girl with the Dragon Tattoo. The film has a very clear inspiration from Scott’s masterpiece, but it does tease to be visually stunning and character driven. Scott was chipper and surprisingly less dry than I imagined – the teaser video made him seem stiff, but talking to the Con audience he was playful and energetic, like a passionate director should be.

IN TIME

Next up was In Time, a new techno-thriller from Gattaca director Andrew Niccol. Niccol was present as well as stars Justin Timberlake and Amanda Seyfried. Niccol was a very engaging speaker, and his track record for intelligent science-fiction seems to be intact. Dealing with a world in which time has become currency, the story seems like a stereotypical “running man” set-up, but Niccol has a way with visuals and a craft for storytelling that makes the film look a cut above the shitty thrillers that usually come out with star studded casts. Timberlake and Seyfried were humorous and and receptive to the crowd, and incidentally were informed about the film and their projects. In these panels it’s important to appear sincere or else attention definitely flounders and In Time strikes me as a more personal vision for Niccol, which always indicates a more interesting endeavor.

RISE OF THE PLANET OF THE APES

The Rise of the Planet of the Apes panel began with an awesome video of a monkey being handed an AK by some terrorists, only to have it fire on them. Then the panel launched into what was basically a live featurette about the CG, including an appearance from Andy Serkis, who played lead ape Caesar. Director Rupert Wyatt was also on hand, and he seemed excited for the project, but it can’t shake its cash-in capacity. The special effects are impressive and there was some brutal footage of ape attacks, including a sweet helicopter crash, but the film looks hollow and perfunctory – there’s little to be gleaned creatively, but it will probably look pretty dope. John Lithgow’s in it, though, to lend some credibility to this otherwise negligible film.

QUICK DRAW STUDIOS

Making its first-ever Comic-Con appearance was Quick Draw Studios – a new endeavor from Robert Rodriguez. Effectively a solo panel for Rodriguez, he talked about the new Spy Kids film, which is also being shot in “Smell-O-Vision.” It will be in both 2-D and 3-D, but each showing will provide a scratch ‘n sniff card for certain moments in the film. Rodriguez also announced he has acquired the rights to Heavy Metal, and one of Quick Draw’s newest projects will be a new Heavy Metal anthology. Rodriguez brought out Kevin Eastman, owner of the magazine, to discuss the future of the project, as well to announce that they will be accepting submissions for the anthology as well.

Rodriguez, a lifelong fan of Frank Frazetta, also announced his partnership with the estate of the late artist, including creating a museum in Austin, Texas and plans to work on Frank Frazetta’s Fire and Ice, a re-imagining of the 1986 animated film that Frazetta was involved in. Frazetta’s art is integral in comics and film culture, and the creation of the museum is a pivotal step in the recognition of comics as an art form.

ENTERTAINMENT WEEKLY: THE VISIONARIES

The final panel of the evening was a chat with Guillermo Del Toro and Jon Favreau, moderated by Jeff “Doc” Jensen of Entertainment Weekly. Del Toro was there to discuss and debut more footage from Don’t Be Afraid of the Darkand Favreau gave an in-depth interview on the procedures in directing and adapting Cowboys & Aliens. Favreau and Del Toro are friends and both are extremely vibrant and stimulating personalities, so the panel was witty and hilarious. Del Toro and Favreau both discussed their Disney projects (Del Toro is adapting The Haunted Mansion, one of his lifelong obsessions and dream projects, and Favreau will be working on an adaption of The Magic Kingdom, from a screenplay by Michael Chabon.)

Favreau also introduced the audience to “Bleak House,” a home Del Toro has purchased for all of his treasured memorabilia and thematic obsessions, including having a replica of a the plaque from the actual Haunted Mansion. Favreau also announced the world premiere of Cowboys & Aliens to be held that Saturday during Comic-Con and gave away a pair of tickets to an elated young fan who happened to be lucky enough to be wearing a T-shirt with the film’s name. Overall it was an exciting and energetic panel that flew by far too fast.

FRIDAY

PANELS ATTENDED:

HAYWIRE

Steven Soderbergh was in attendance at this panel, along with star Gina Carano and Channing Tatum. The panel and responses were standard fair, but the footage was the star of the show- they showed a brutal fight scene between Carano and Star of Everything Michael Fassbender. Soderbergh had apparently also announced his retirement earlier this year, so he gave a very heartfelt explanation of what could be expected from his career. Despite the Hollywood tinge of the film, Soderbergh paired with screenwriter Lem Dobbs (of The Limey) promises to be at least a thought-provoking and insanely watchable movie.

THE RAVEN

Sounding like a premise I made up as a fucking joke, the next panel was for James McTeigue’s The Raven. The plot, if you could call it that – the last five days in the life of Edgar Allen Poe, as he helps the Baltimore police try to catch a serial killer who is taking his crimes from Poe’s book. Star John Cusack was on hand, looking as aloof as I felt, and the footage from the movie looked put together, but kinda shitty. McTeigue spoke highly of the film, but his previous efforts have been mostly lackluster, and nothing covered in this panel would indicate otherwise. This is the kind of movie I’m glad exists, if only so I could have something to drunkenly watch when it goes to DVD a week after it comes out.

UNDERWORLD: AWAKENING

Of course we don’t need another Underworld movie, but that never stopped Hollywood before! The latest installment in the series was shot in 3-D and is not helmed by the original creators – damn, that’s the fastest three strikes in the history of movies I don’t care about! The panel was the expected self-congratulatory stuff, and new directors Mans Marlind and Bjorn Stein seemed personable and excited, but the Underworld saga is just so lifeless and stiff (pun not intended until this very second) that it was hard work to muster the apathy I needed to get through this panel. Len Wiseman and Kate Beckinsale were also on the panel, and although they’re married, they really did not have any spark when talking about themselves or their movies. The line of question from the audience was also cringe-worthy, including some dude asking who would win in a fight between Beckinsale’s Selene and Jessica Biel’s Abigail Whistler. Dude, we have an Internet for that kind of query – ask a disrespectful question of the guest or get off the mic.

ATTACK THE BLOCK

The most fun surprise of the Con, Joe Cornish’s Attack the Block is one of those movies you root for because it’s eager and freshly original. Produced by Edgar Wright, the panel featured Cornish, star John Boyega and Wright himself. The three of them had a wonderfully bro-ey lovefest, and their genuine affection for their craft and for this movie in particular is infectious. The footage they showed was my first experience with Attack the Block, and it was most impressive- scary, gory, creepy fun, with the right amount of humor. Not to leap too far, but this film appears to be what those disappointed in Super 8 were looking for. Cornish was a very affable and intensely fanatical director, with every word he spoke imbued with heartfelt adoration for the subject matter and the film itself. Cornish and Wright also got into it a little bit on their work for Steven Spielberg in writing Tintin: The Legend of the Unicorn and Wright revealed that he and Cornish had turned in a first draft of their eagerly awaited Irredeemable Ant-Man movie. They also discussed some concept art they’ve been provided. Attack the Block is the kind of film that should develop a following immediately and hopefully this panel will have some new converts for the soon-to-be-released film.

FRIGHT NIGHT

Next up was the remake of the cult classic Fright Night, helmed by Craig Gillespie. As a fan of the cheesiness of the original, I am wary of the remake, but Gillespie is highly impassioned and the footage that was screened was much more impressive than expected. Colin Farrell was lively and charming, and David Tennant video conferenced in to announce a special Comic-Con only screening. Screenwriter Marti Noxon was also on the panel, and as a former Buffy the Vampire Slayer writer, her talents do lend some credibility to the talent and the possible success of this remake. Anton Yelchin captures the goofy yet concerned nature of Charley and Christopher Mintz-Plasse is a considerably less irritating Evil Ed. Farrell seems particularly excited about stepping into the role of Jerry Dandridge, and original actor Chris Sarandon moderated the panel. Frankly, what I’ve seen makes this movie look like a lot of fun and even though it’s been “modernized,” it still looks to capture the creepiness and the spirit of the original.

GHOST RIDER: SPIRIT OF VENGEANCE

Did you know they were making another Ghost Rider film? The sequel that no one clamored for is back, and it looks kinda dope. Helmed by Neveldine/ Taylor (the Crank films,) their adaptation of the Marvel Comics character looks to actually capture the kineticism and the horror and action of the series. Actor Nicolas Cage was also on the panel, as was Idris Elba, who talked about the excitement and the physical toll of working with the directors. Neveldine/ Taylor are also well known for their hands-on approach, and a reel of footage showed their commitment to their work. More directors should put their lives on the line for my entertainment, and I’m glad some are willing to. The special effects are more impressive this time around, and this movie seems more concerned with highlighting the badassness of the Ghost Rider instead of its own boring mythos- a mistake the first one made repeatedly. Honestly, I’d prefer Ghostwriter: Spirit of Vengeance, but this’ll have to do for now.

30 MINUTES OR LESS

Another one of the surprises of the Con was 30 Minutes or Less, director Ruben Fleischer’s follow-up to the excellent Zombieland. Fleischer brought new footage of the film with him, including the pivotal bank robbery that the film is centered around, and it looks to be a snappy and genuinely hilarious movie. There’s no lack of serious action, however, and the film looks more in the vein of a Pineapple Express or a Midnight Run, so it won’t necessarily be just schtick. Zombieland showed Fleischer’s talent for blending gore and violence with heart, and Jesse Eisenberg and Aziz Ansari have a natural and intuitive chemistry that works well on-screen. The always ornery Danny McBride was unavailable as he is filming season three of “Eastbound and Down,” but he had a pre-tape where he insulted everyone on the panel with expert level profanity. Flesicher also announced that he is working on a new film called The Gangster Squad, a departure from his comedy work, starring Sean Penn as Mickey Cohen. Panelists Nick Swardson and Michael Pena stole the show, however, with their quick wits and willingness to make light of themselves. Pena himself talked about how much of the film’s dialogue was improvised and fleshed out on set, including a witty clip of him treating a wound and whimpering.

TOTAL RECALL

The most fuckingest of bullshit that I witnessed at Comic-Con, the completely unnecessary remake of Total Recall had a panel, debuting some new footage, mostly mixed with animatics straight out of Perfect Dark. Panelist Bryan Cranston was the liveliest and most engaging part, as he is a consummate professional, and through his comments he let it slip how troubled the production is (reshoots, recasting.) Honestly, there is absolutely no reason why this exists: Len Wiseman has zero interest or initiative in making the film and the footage reflect that – it borrows its palette from Blade Runner, which simultaneously shows the impressive ineptitude of the filmmakers AND a complete misunderstanding of the themes of the original story. This panel bordered on offensive, if only because the sheer lack of genuine interest from any of the panelists or persons involved. The film looks a mess, the actors could not care less, so why the fuck should we? I hatefectionately dubbed this panel Total Remake, and I think that sums up this crapfest nicely.

THE AMAZING SPIDER-MAN

The last film panel I saw, The Amazing Spider-Man was surprisingly worth the wait. While I have been curious as to what the reboot would entail, I was curious about every aspect of the film save one – the casting of Andrew Garfield as Peter Parker. Garfield is a dynamite actor and his affection for the role could not be clearer. The panel began with someone “crashing” the microphone in a bad Spider-Man costume, to be told by the moderator that they were not taking questions, and then he proceeded to make an impassioned speech. The crasher removed his mask only to reveal it was Andrew Garfield! This stunt was both one of the more fun and unique approaches to a panel and a clever attempt at mitigating the Internet hate that has plagued this movie. Director Marc Webb was present, as was the lovely Emma Stone and Avi Arad. Stone was nervous and giggly, but reassuringly affirmative in her understanding of the role, and Garfield was flabbergasted with excitement. Webb’s footage was promising, and the 3-D effects are among the most impressive I’ve seen. It helps that the film is being planned and actually shot in 3-D, and there is a first-person sequence that becomes thoroughly arresting when viewed that way. As a hater of this whole movement (and incidentally, a wearer of glasses,) I am convinced that The Amazing Spider-Man will be a worthy cinematic experience. Cast member Rhys Ifans was also on hand for the panel’s biggest surprise – the debut of The Lizard. A bit too Killer Croc for my tastes, but the obviously drunk Ifans does seem to have a control over the role and watching him struggle to stay awake was a true challenge indeed. Webb’s 500 Days of Summer was an impressive and versatile film, and his talent for motion and intimacy seems like it will translate into handling the action sequences and the tender moments between Peter Parker and Gwen Stacy.

With the studios fleeing from Con this year, the entertainment presence was reduced, but it did not keep Comic-Con 2011 from being one of the most jam-packed and exhausting on record. Some films made a lasting impression, others were Total bullshit that I wished I couldn’t Recall, but ultimately the Hall H presentations were among the highlights of the Convention.

by Rafael Gaitan

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