CELEBRATING 26 YEARS OF STUFF ‘N’ THINGS
The Movie Guys go to Wonder-Con
Comments by Paul Preston
Photos by Adam Witt & Paul Preston
Everyone knows Comic-Con, the San Diego pop culture extravaganza that goes on every July. Have you heard of Ape (the Alternative Press Expo) in San Francisco? No? How about Wonder-Con? If Comic-Con is the Alec Baldwin of pop culture conventions, Wonder-Con is the Stephen Baldwin (leaving Ape the Daniel Baldwin of said events). Normally existing in San Francisco, Wonder-Con came to Anaheim this year due to renovations to San Francisco’s convention center. Being in Anaheim, the event was easier to get to by all the crazies in Los Angeles, but there seemed to be fewer costumes and get-ups than in San Diego. I guess they’re not onto the event’s proximity yet. Or they’re just so crazy that they lack the skills to register online in a timely fashion. Or know what proximity is.
It wasn’t overcrowded. It was inviting, full of good people and lured some pretty decent Hollywood types to promote what’s coming out, movie-wise, in the next year. And movies are what we focus on. Here are some of the sights and our comments:
(You can see in Cobra Commander’s helmet reflection just how excited Adam was to meet such a legendary character)
Adam put it best, however, you feel safest in a place where Stormtroopers outnumber actual security:
I don’t know if it’s because “Superman: The Movie” producer Ilya Salkind was signing autographs or what, but safety measures were sharpened for this event. Even The Punisher had to check all his weapons past security before he could roam the floor. And it went on like one of those bits where the dude keeps pulling weapons out of everywhere – the pistol from behind his back, the knife in the bootstrap, etc.
A guy like me goes to Wonder-Con for the big, splashy movie studio presentations of upcoming movies that tie into comics, fantasy and sci-fi genres. And there was plenty of good presenting to satisfy your nerd jones. A guy like Adam goes for EVERYTHING offered up.
Here are a few convention floor highlights before we go inside the Third Floor Ballroom (For the record, “Third Floor Ballroom” doesn’t have the same ring as Comic-Con’s “Hall H”. Wonder-Con might wanna work on that).
As always, The Movie Guys are the first with movie news! So we’d like to report that Marvel has been secretly working with Walt Disney Pictures to bring us all an “Avengers” movie. There you go. Scoop uncovered.
You got to pose for photos with Thor’s hammer (which was actually quite heavy). I thought, “Hey, I’d like to look like Chris Hemsworth! Gimmee that!”. However, as evidenced in the picture, I look like Tom Brokaw or something. Next photo.
Adam “scored” at one of the video booths, coming away with hard-to-find DVD copies of the TV movie of “Doctor Strange” (who knew there was such a thing), the 1977 TV pilot of the animated “Spider-Man: The Movie” and long lost animated “Hulk” cartoons from thirty years ago. Now for people like my wife, my parents and any clergy I know, this isn’t necessarily “scoring”, but for Adam, it was the mother lode.
Now, on to the Third Floor Ballroom (Nope…still doesn’t sound like a place where something awesome would happen). Hall H in San Diego holds about 6,000 people. Being the baby brother of Comic-Con, Wonder-Con’s presentation room held about 3,000. Don’t get me wrong, that’s still a crap-ton of people lining up to hear about “Battleship”.
The first film out of the gate was “Sound of My Voice”, a creepy movie about a couple of documentary filmmakers who are embedding themselves in a local cult when, naturally, things go wrong, documentary ethics are questioned and “Martha Marcy May Marlene”-type murders occur. The first twelve minutes of the film were screened, a wise move for a film nobody knows anything about. Well timed, too, as the last line of the footage is the ringer for what kind of cult this is, and introduces the sci-fi element a crowd of 3,000 geeks needed.
Then two members of “the cult” talked to the audience about the creepy sect they belonged to. This seemed like a great idea that somehow fell flat. I think one cult guy didn’t know where the booth on the convention floor was to find out more info and both had commune-like low energy that didn’t help rev up excitement for the film. This was followed by a by-the-numbers Q&A with the filmmakers and star.
Presentation aside, the footage spoke for itself. The movie looks like a very well-made indie that’s creepy and could find a “Blair Witch”/”Paranormal Activity” audience if rolled out correctly. It was a Sundance hit that opens in April.
THE FIRST TWELVE MINUTES OF “SOUND OF MY VOICE” CAN BE SEEN HERE.
Next up was 20th Century Fox, rolling out new trailers for two summer films. First was “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”. A short film was played where “Tim Burton” (a zombified corpse on a hospital bed surrounded by two hot nurses and “Dr. Andrew Weil”) introduced the presentation. He could not attend because he was in London.
Then the screenwriter (and writer of the original books) Seth Grahame-Smith came out to moderate a Q&A with director Timur Bekmamnetov and star Benjamin Walker. Timur was of little words, but Walker seemed to be a big fan of the project and he looks strikingly like a young Liam Neeson, who ironically was originally cast as Honest Abe in Spielberg’s “Lincoln” (before Daniel Day-Lewis got the role). They said more than once that history is a great launching point for this horror/sci-fi adventure because Lincoln himself had a childhood and “origin story” not unlike a superhero’s. This particular version of that story just happens to have vampires.
There aren’t many writers who come across as genial and energetic as Seth Grahame-Smith. He goofed on Stephanie Meyer and seemed thrilled to pieces that anything has become of his goofy stories that bend history (he also “Pride & Prejudice & Zombies”). Overall, the film looks WAY (perhaps TOO) stylized. From the clip and new trailer they showed, the film has no interest in being in reality at ALL. Not quite “The Lincoln Story…plus vampires”. As Adam would remind me, with a title called “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter”, I should expect some exaggeration. Well…there’s certainly that on display here!
Next up was what most people in the convention center were there to see. Ridley Scott (the world’s most famous Ridley) on hand to introduce the newest 3D trailer for “Prometheus”. This was the most high-powered panel, as Scott was joined by writer Damon Lindelof (“Lost”), Charlize Theron and Michael Fassbender.
All signs are pointing to “Prometheus” being the “Alien” prequel everyone wants it to be. There is even some Giger-esque production design to whet your sci-fi appetite. Sadly, the new trailer doesn’t directly help us understand what the plot might be, but the good news is, the new trailer doesn’t directly help us understand what the plot might be.
This was the big prestige project of the day. No gimmicks, no bullshit, just Magento, Sir Ridley and Oscar winner Charlize Theron talking to that guy who fucked up “Lost”. Ridley returns to sci-fi for the first time in thirty years. People were pleased, and below you can see why:
Up next was a not-nearly-as-impressive summer slate from Universal Pictures. Lately, comedies and action movies have treated The Globe Studio well with “Bridesmaids” and “Fast Five”, but their fantasy offerings like “Cowboys & Aliens” and “Land of the Lost” have tanked. “Snow White and the Huntsman” and “Battleship” don’t look to change that trend, so hopefully “The Bourne Legacy” kicks ass…
Kristen Stewart looked her usual waif/goth/hot, but kinda seems dull in this new update of the Snow White story, stripping all the fun out of the story the same way “Robin Hood” with Russell Crowe did, replacing whimsy with armor-clad battles between armies. Theron came back out to discuss the joy of playing an unlikeable character (a run she’s been on lately after “Young Adult” and here as the Wicked Queen Ravenna).
They were joined by director Rupert Sanders, who’s making his debut. They debuted a new trailer and an extensive clip. But there’ll be no confusing this with the recently-released “Mirror Mirror”. Check out the differences below:
SNOW WHITE AND THE HUNTSMAN:
But…he was working HARD to get us excited about the strange concept of “Battleship”. This movie is based on the board game, but…um…it has…uh…well, let me quote director Berg: “There are aliens in BATTLESHIP”.
Yes, aliens, and Berg, along with Brooklyn Decker and Alexander Skarsgard, gave us sneak previews of two extended scenes from the film. One was the kind of scene you can only get in a summer action movie. Taylor Kitsch plays a naval officer who seems like trouble, and we got a glimpse of his rambunctious ways in a six minute sequence that got known quickly as “the burrito clip”. Kitsch is determined to get a chicken burrito for Decker’s character when she arrives at his local bar after the kitched closes. He then goes to/breaks into a convenience store, busts the place up and draws the attention of the police to get her the burrito. This is “Battleship”. Too much unfunny comedy. Make with the aliens.
The next scene gave us just that. But it was still only mildly appealing. But I was quickly reminded that Liam Neeson is in the movie, so it may be too early to get down on it. Berg is definitely trying to be Michael Bay here. But with Michael Bay still out there being Michael Bay whether that’s requested or not, there may not be call for a second one.
But I hope “Battleship” isn’t a total wash, ’cause I’d hate to see the promising career of Taylor Kitsch completely go in the crapper, and that would definitely happen if this summer film tanks on the heels of “John Carter”. Kitsch played Carter as a healthy mix between Indiana Jones and William Wallace, often bothered to be helping, but really being good at it. I’m rooting for him.
“Lockout” doesn’t look good. And yet, it looks awesome. This is a movie for a very slim cross-section of male viewers, so the trailer we saw plays directly to them with no apologies. It has lines like “He’s a loose cannon”. Again, horrible. Again, awesome.
Maggie Grace was on hand to try like hell to make this appeal to women with stories about her family visiting the set and she debuted an extended, five minute scene where hero Guy Pearce is racing against, I don’t know, “bad guys”(?) to break into a cell on a prison in space to get to The President’s daughter. You see, in another horrible/awesome move, The President’s daughter is on a goodwill mission to the prison when a riot turns the whole jail into a madhouse. It’s basically “Escape from New York” in space. And “Escape from New York” was not horrible at all. Just awesome.
FIVE MINUTES OF FOOTAGE:
Those blobs in the center, at the table, those blobs are Milla Jovovich and Paul W.S. Anderson, star and director of “Resident Evil: Retribution”. I’ll admit I haven’t seen any of these movies, but perhaps I should subscribe to Adam’s theory that whenever a series gets four or five movies in, you OWE it to their hard work to check the movies out, for god’s sake.
Anderson has no problem being known as the “video game movie” director. He’s all about ‘bullet-time’, all the time, as the panel gave us a sneak peek of an action scene. This scene was nothing but Jovivich killing zombies in as stylistic a manner as possible. It looked like nothing matters in this movie except rampant killing. So, naturally, I was interested.
The super-crisp HD footage and 3D were pretty impressive, even if I didn’t know why Alice was wasting all these monsters, or why they were monsters in the first place. All I know is I played the very first “Resident Evil” game on PSOne YEARS ago, and there was no Alice in it. Apparently, the plot is expanded to a global level here and it’s to be the biggest of the “Resident Evil” films. OK! I’ll go already!
I LOVE discovering a new film at a con. In the past, it’s been films like “Red” and “Drive”. This year’s little-known film doesn’t come out until September. “Looper” is the latest film from the director of “Brick” and “The Brothers Bloom”, changing genres yet again to bring a time-travel movie to the masses. Rian Johnson and Joseph Gordon-Levitt gave fans the world debut of the trailer, which showed us Levitt as an assassin who kills people sent back in time for their execution. One rule – don’t let the victim escape. So naturally…things go wrong. This was such an exclusive event I couldn’t even find the trailer online to show you all now. Search harder than me and you may come up with something, and you won’t be disappointed by what you see.
Levitt’s a great actor and he and Johnson seemed genuinely excited about this project, which also features Bruce Willis as an older Levitt. It looks like it nails the genre and enjoys the fun and danger in the storyline. Johnson and Levitt had a great rapport, as if they whipped this film together for us and “go have fun with it, guys!”. It looks great.
Your finale was “The Amazing Spider-Man”, bringing out Emma Stone, director Marc Webb (Really? The director of a Spider-Man movie is named “Webb”?) and producer Matthew Tolmach. The best part of this panel was Tolmach. He was in total producer mode, totally in charge and totally funny and totally sure this movie was gonna be the greatest thing of the summer. Yes, he was funny.
Despite not being done with all the VFX, Webb showed a VERY extended clip montage, with high school scenes, action scenes and more. I thought it was cool just to see Spidey swinging in front of a blue screen to see what it looks like before the final cut. Tolmach and company were making the hard sell to let us all know just how different this Spider-Man story was going to be. GOOD. Since I first heard of this project, and that the whole project was going back to high school, I was underwhelmed. I mean, really? The origin story again? Well, with The Lizard and Gwen Stacey and a more mysterious background to Peter, they’re promising a storyline that is true to alternate comic book mythology, yet won’t be a re-tread.
So, slowly, I’m becoming interested, plus the cast looks good, especially Rhys Ifans as Dr. Collins/The Lizard.
That’s it till Comic-Con 2012, where there better be some dirt on “Pacific Rim” and “Start Trek 2”!