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by Teresa Jusino

17 Jul 2009

It’s been a month since Wizard World Philly 2009, but I have to write about it.  Someone has to mark its death knell.

I started going to conventions in 2006, when I was lucky enough to be hired as a volunteer at the Official Star Trek Convention in Las Vegas.  I’ve been to New York Comic Con twice, and plan on going yearly, because it’s a great con, and I live in NYC, so it doesn’t require airfare or hotel expenses.  Over the years, as I’ve listened to fellow geeks make me jealous with tales of all the conventions they somehow find the time and money to go to, Wizard World Philly was always mentioned as a natural, desired stop in their convention circuit.  So I was excited when I saw a chance to go to WWP as a volunteer.  Finally, I’d get to see what all the fuss was about!

Turns out it’s not about very much, not anymore, and I wasn’t the only one who thought so.  Being a volunteer, one hears the gossip amongst the vendors.  This is the worst Wizard World Philly in years they said.  No one is here! they panicked.  The “exhibition floor” looked more like a PTA swap meet in a school gym.  Nothing caught the eye, and the floor was only about half full.  The cast of Battlestar Galactica was signing autographs, which was amazing…but Lou Ferrigno and Peter Mayhew?  Really?  No disrespect intended, but are they the best that WWP has to offer?  The programming schedule also left a lot to be desired.  There were one or two interesting panels, which I’ll write about another time, but for the most part…well, they’ll have to invent a new word for boring to capture how boring this convention was.  I mean, I didn’t even take any pictures, it was so boring.

Wizard World seems to have been the victim of convention over-saturation.  HeroesCon was going on the same weekend, and lots of people chose that instead.  I would have, too, if I could have afforded to fly to Charlotte!  Brian Michael Bendis was there!  As was Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, Tony Harris, and other powerhouses in the comics industry from both mainstream comics as well as indie comics.  It’s only natural that with the increase in conventions some will fall by the wayside.  Sadly, though Wizard World Philly is happening in 2010, it seems to be on the way out.  Which is a shame for East Coasters like me who can’t afford to fly across the country to get our geek on.  Ah, well.  There’s always New York Comic Con!

by Chadwick Jenkins

17 Jul 2009

The History Channel is about to launch a new series focusing on the somewhat unpromising subject of a pawnshop. The series goes by the rather prurient but, I suppose, amusing moniker of Pawn Stars and features three generations working together in the pawn business, a business that served as the main form of credit in the United States until about 1950 and remains one of the oldest forms of banking.  This particular business is apparently the only family-run pawnshop in Los Angeles and indeed the family tensions and camaraderie make up a large part of the premiere episode. Thus the History Channel enters the world of (quasi-) reality TV in a manner in which only The History Channel could—mixing family and business dynamics with a genuine interest in historical artifacts.

Richard Harrison (often simply called “the Old Man”) started his “Gold & Silver Pawn Shop” in 1988 after losing millions in real estate. He dresses, at least for the credits, as an underachieving mob boss and because of his poor eyesight (presumably) he squints no end. Supposedly, he assesses the value of any piece of merchandise with remarkable exactitude (at least according to the press material) but in this episode he is exposed as having made a rather serious gaffe—he priced a Carson City coin worth roughly $500 at a mere $50 because he could not accurately read the back of the coin. His son and grandson finally convince him to visit the eye doctor but he insists on driving to the appointment!

by Bill Gibron

17 Jul 2009

Sometimes, a horror film is its own worst enemy. While that may sound cliché, no other cinematic genre shoots itself in the foot as readily and as consistently as the so called scary movie. From a lack of atmosphere to a horribly lame monster, movie macabre just can’t keep from ruining its own reputation. While it could be the prevalence of paranormal narratives, or the lack of skill behind the lens, fans of fright have to take the abundant bad with the infrequent good just to get their gore/ghost groove on. A perfect example of this ideal is The Uninvited. While it tries to address terrors both psychological and real, it ends up doing nothing except confusing the bejesus out of everyone involved - audience and actors alike.

Lee suffers from a strange psychological malady. She’s afraid of space. No, not outer space, or the outdoors, like agoraphobics. Her issue is much different. She can’t tolerate the distant between herself and other objects. Afflicted since she was a child, she is seeking medical help for the condition. She’s also become the subject of a documentary by famed filmmaker Nick. A year passes, and the two marry. Lee is much better, living with few side effects from her previous problem. Then things start to slowly unravel.

A strange young woman arrives at their door one day. A shaken Nick brushes off any oddness. It’s just an old assistant, he argues, looking for her final paycheck. But when she’s left alone in the house one night, Lee starts to hear strange noises. It’s not long before her condition returns, as does the mystery girl. Gun in hand, she starts screaming for her baby. Lee has no idea what she’s talking about. Turns out, there is something sinister going on under our heroine’s nose - and she’s about to meet its horrific realities face-to-undead face.

There is nothing more frustrating than a horror film that cheats - and Bob Badway’s The Uninvited (not to be confused with the equally awful remake of A Tale of Two Sisters from January) is the cinematic version of Barry Bonds, Mark McGuire, and Rafael Palmiero all rolled into one. To call it illogical would be an insult to teenage girls everywhere. Socrates himself couldn’t rationalize this ridiculous, overly complicated mess. Clearly hoping to mine the same demonic territory that made Rosemary’s Baby a success, this failed first film instead ends up looking like a dumber Devil’s Rain. While the premise of “spatial phobia” has promise, and our actress Marguerite Moreau gives it a damn good try, specious storytelling destroys what little dread there is.

Part of the problem is the underlying conspiracy. Spoiler warning in place, we are supposed to believe that Lee’s loony husband Nick has decided to sell a baby to Satanists in order to become financially prosperous. He gets extra if the surrogate’s blood is also included in the deal. Now, we are never really told this out loud. Former Man at Work, Colin Hay, hints around via dialogue that seems lifted out of a misprinted copy of the script, with the audience required to fill in the blanks through inferences made several scenes earlier. Even worse, we never really know why Lee is singled out. Sure, her malady makes her an easy patsy, but there appears to be a no real method to all this human sacrifice and baby eating (you heard right - baby EATING). Badway would probably argue that vague adds to the tension. All it does is extend the already present tedium.

Because of its scattershot approach and lack of linear connections, The Uninvited can build up a decent head of suspense. Darkened rooms pass for atmosphere and random ambient cues (infant crying, guttural growls) try to tweak the angst. But since we don’t know what’s going on, who to care about, why we should empathize, and the final fatal endgame should hubby get his way, our interest wanes. Then Badway goes a step further and finds the single most annoying supporting character is any scary movie - a suicidal wench who’s hard up for cash and quite happy to pawn her infant to a group of Demonic cannibals. As she sweats and stammers, arguing with someone who clearly has no idea what she’s talking about, The Uninvited grows increasingly irritating. At some point, we keep rooting for the man-goat himself to show up and kick this child merchant in the manifolds.

There is however one thing that does work here, a visual symbol that suggests Badway could actually make a competent fright flick. Lee’s phobia began during a horrific run-in with a spectral image in her youth. In flashback and hallucination, we revisit this terrifying event. As the shot of a neighbor’s opening window exposes a darkened room, our heroine remembers the time when she saw an eerie old woman standing in the frame. Transfixed by the visage, the ghost’s gangrenous smile sends her over the edge. Every time Badway pulls this phantom out, it’s effective. Even when she becomes part of the gobbledygook action elements, our sinister spirit brings on the chills. Too bad the rest of the film is so lame. Another run through the word processor and this could have been a decent Satanic stomp.

As it stands, however, The Uninvited (sorry about that name Badway - you will be forever tied to and/or trumped by that Elizabeth Banks stinker as a result) is too messy to recommend, too tethered to a bunch of incongruous fear factors to do much except aggravate. For all his narrative incompetence, Badway certainly has a cinematic eye. The movie looks good, the frequent fantasy sequences showing a wonderful use of exteriors and color. And Ms. Moreau is not just phoning it in. She gives a fully realized, if factually confusing performance. As with many attempts at terror, we fright fans have to put up with a lot to get a little. In the case of The Uninvited, one’s tolerances are tested - and the results just don’t add up.

by Matt Mazur

17 Jul 2009

Carey Mulligan is getting buzz already as a favorite for Best Actress for her work in this Brit coming of age tale. And Peter Sarsgaard’s dodgy English accent aside, the supporting cast looks killer: Cara Seymour, Olivia Williams, Dominic Cooper, Rosemund Pike, Sally Hawkins, the dynamic Emma Thompson and the always-underrated Alfred Molina (what does this man need to do to get an Oscar nom?). This is a real no-brainer: essential fall cinema.

by Kirstie Shanley

17 Jul 2009

There are almost two different Richard Swifts. There’s the poetic, melancholy Swift whose swirling songs are dreamy in the same way 1930s black and white films are. On the flipside, there’s the entertainer side more akin to an Elton John. Live, he plays this second side up and there’s more emphasis on performance and having a good time rather than dwelling in the lyrics, which is also more consistent with his newest release.

Swift has technically put out eight releases within his nearly decade long career. 2009 finds him touring on his most recent release, The Atlantic Ocean, with a full four piece backing band. Swift alternated between guitar and electric piano with accompaniment that included trumpet, keyboard, drums, guitar, and bass. Swift also whistled and played harmonica while hammering on the electric piano keys. 

Swift’s vocals were also a little more nasal live and less lush and husky than on some of his albums. Occasionally, as in “Lady Luck” they also took on a bit of soul. Gone was the sense of delicateness inherent within some of his songs and, because of this, the set took on a much different mood than a fan of his past recordings may expect, especially when referring to previous albums such as 2005’s The Novelist and Walking Without Effort. Swift appreciated the applause and came off as rather modest throughout his hour-long set and was treated to the audience clapping for an encore.

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