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by Chris Conaton

3 Aug 2009

My experience at this year’s Comic-Con was mostly about starting the day in the massive Hall H and staying there for, well, almost the entire day. The end result- about 30 movie presentations in three days, and getting to see some very, very famous directors talk about their upcoming films in person. Here’s a rundown of everything I saw with some quick impressions attached:

Disney’s A Christmas Carol

Robert Zemeckis returns with his third motion-capture CGI film, this one starring Jim Carrey as Ebenezer Scrooge in yet another retelling of Charles Dickens’ classic story. Not content to just play Scrooge, Carrey appears in eight different roles in the movie, including all three ghosts. The animation has made another incremental step forward from Beowulf, particularly in the eyes.

Alice in Wonderland

I was worried about Tim Burton taking on another project that seems a little too tailor-made for his sensibilities, but the 90-second teaser they debuted was very, very impressive. Burton looks to have a loopy take on the story that doesn’t adhere too closely to any previous film or television incarnation of the tale. Johnny Depp looks like a crazed cross between Elijah Wood and a clown as the Mad Hatter, and everyone else seems to be well-cast in their roles.

Tron Legacy

Wow. Tron Legacy arrived with no finished effects and very little information beyond the basic premise. To wit, Flynn (Jeff Bridges), hero of the original 1982 film, disappeared in 1989, and in 2009, his son is trying to find him. The world of Tron has grown as a closed system over the last 27 years, away from the influence of the internet and the world at large. Yet even showing production artwork and a 3-D logo with new music by Daft Punk (who are scoring the film) was enough to get me excited. Not to mention the year-old test footage of a souped-up light cycle fight between Flynn and an unknown man. If Disney can market this movie outside of the geeky cult who remember the original, they might have a massive hit on their hands.

Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs

This September kids’ movie arrived with little more than an extended trailer and an introduction by the directors, who called the background music in said trailer “heavy metal music”. This was despite the fact that the songs used were Weezer’s “Troublemaker” and Poison’s “Nothing But a Good Time”. This looks like a cute movie for children, but of little appeal to anyone above the age of 12.

The Hole in 3D

Director Joe Dante (Gremlins, Small Soldiers, Matinee) desperately wanted to sell his new kids’  horror movie as a scary experience, but the footage he brought showed otherwise. The premise: family moves into a house that comes complete with a boarded-up, nailed-shut hole in the basement floor. When they foolishly open the hole, they release an evil that brings their nightmares to life. The execution, in scenes where a high school girl is tormented by a pale young girl dripping blood in a bathroom, and where a young boy is tormented by a glass bottle-throwing jester doll, leaves a lot to be desired. Not to mention ripping off every Asian horror movie from the late 90’s and the Chucky films.

The Final Destination

Nobody is going to go see the fourth Final Destination film looking for quality cinema. They’re going for the cheap thrills of the now-standard movie-opening scene of massive carnage, and for the ridiculously complicated subsequent deaths of the survivors of that opening scene. The Final Destination looks to deliver on both of those promises, with a spectacular NASCAR-like racetrack crash and plenty of gory deaths, all in “gotcha!” 3-D. But maybe it wasn\‘t a good idea for the producers to bring a clip reel that seemingly gave away every single death in the movie. I’m not sure there’s any point to those of us in the Hall H audience going out to see the flick now.

Astro Boy

A computer-animated update of Osamu Tezuka’s classic character, starring the voices of Freddie Highmore and Kristen Bell.  This looks cute and full of kid-friendly action, but it doesn’t seem to hew too closely to Tezuka’s original tales.

Sorority Row

So there’s these sorority sisters, right? And a boy dumped one of them, so they want to get back at him, big-time. So they bring him to their house and pretend to have the scorned girl collapse and die. And their elaborate hoax involves all of them driving out to an abandoned quarry to “bury” the body. But then the girl gets killed for real! They dump her down a mine shaft and promise to never talk about it again. But later, a mysterious killer shows up and starts offing the girls who were involved. The horror! The premise is two parts ludicrous and one part I Know What You Did Last Summer, and the movie itself does not look good.

The Twilight Saga: New Moon

When several hundred fangirls head to the Hall H line on Wednesday as soon as they get their Comic-Con badges and camp overnight, waiting to be first into the Hall on Thursday morning, it’s tough not to be a little scornful of their chosen franchise. Especially after the first movie was so embarrassingly bad. The two scenes shown from the Twilight sequel were predictably cheesy. One involved Bella in a motorcycle crash, terrible fake blood, and Jacob inexplicably taking off his shirt, while the other was a desperate chase through the streets of an Italian town that wasn’t particularly interesting to this uninitiated viewer. Much more entertaining was the panel discussion, which featured a clearly bored, disinterested Robert Pattinson and a fidgety, nose-rubbing, distracted Kristen Stewart who very much appeared to be under the influence of some sort of substance.


Details about James Cameron’s four-years-in-the-making film had been kept tightly under wraps by all involved. Until Comic-Con. Cameron appeared to a hero’s welcome, and introduced 25 minutes of footage from the movie, in full 3-D. While it’s not quite the revolutionary, photo-realistic CGI some had implied, it was still pretty damn amazing. Cameron’s 3-D technology and computer animation is, at the very least, leaps and bounds better that what Robert Zemeckis showed with A Christmas Carol earlier that same day. The sci-fi premise involves human incursion onto a lush jungle planet. But the humans stay on their compound while a select few people get to project their entire consciousness into special, genetically-engineered versions of the native race, The Navi, and explore the planet. One man, Jake, somehow gets separated from the rest of his team and eventually hooks up with some actual Navi, where he appears to learn valuable lessons and even fall in love. The story may not be particularly fresh, but the visuals were quite spectacular.

The most amusing part of this panel might have been Fox chairman Tom Rothman’s introduction, where he stressed that the movie will still look great in 2-D at thousands of theaters and that Cameron intended the film to look just as good that way. Then Cameron came on and it was clear that he had designed Avatar from the ground up as a 3-D project.  Fox is sponsoring “Avatar Day” on Friday, August 21, at IMAX theaters and Digital 3D-equipped screens around the country, where people will be able to see 15 minutes of footage from the movie for free.

The Imaginarium of Doctor Parnassus

Terry Gilliam’s new film features Heath Ledger’s final performance, but is really the story of Christopher Plummer’s Parnassus, who makes a deal with the devil to become immortal in exchange for his first-born daughter when she turns 16. The Imaginarium is a magic mirror that can make people’s dreams literally come true. It looks to be a weird story and a visual feast- in other words, typical Gilliam. Gilliam appeared at the panel with co-star Verne Troyer, but wasn’t interested in talking about Ledger or even about the movie all that much. Instead, he seemed eager for someone to ask him about his next project, which is once again Don Quixote. Assuming all his funding falls in place and he can get it off the ground this time. If you’ve never seen Lost in La Mancha, the documentary about his failed first attempt at the movie, it’s well worth watching if you are interested in the fine details behind the scenes of the moviemaking process.


In the future, a group of astronauts (including Ben Foster and Dennis Quaid) are beset by a mysterious infection. It turns their ship into a horror movie. This creep-fest was produced by the hacky Paul W.S. Anderson (Death Race, Resident Evil, Alien vs. Predator), but fortunately not written or directed by him. So it has a chance at being decent. But after the scant footage shown during the panel, who knows? It could just as easily be a huge stinkbomb of a movie.


The third Wow of the day, after Tron and Avatar. Director Matthew Vaughn (Stardust, Layer Cake) has adapted Mark Millar and John Romita, Jr.‘s comic book into a hyper-violent action-fest of a movie. There is a bit of cognitive dissonance involved in watching a high school kid (Superbad‘s Christopher Mintz-Plasse) getting beaten up and stabbed as he attempts to be a vigilante hero despite having no training whatsoever. There’s even more dissonance in watching a 12-year old girl (Chloe Moretz), thanks to intensive training from her CIA agent dad (Nicolas Cage), brutally murder the bad guys to save said high school kid. And yet, once you get past that, Kick-Ass looks like an amazing combination of excellently choreographed action and comedy.


Park Chan-Wook’s (Oldboy, Lady Vengeance) new film looks to be a very different kind of vampire story. Park has taken great pains to do something left-of-center with vampires, turning a pious, kind Catholic priest into a bloodthirsty creature. Park removed most of traditional vampire lore from his story, leaving his character a man who lusts for blood to survive and starts to lose control of his desires as the craving grows. For a man who has lived his entire adult life by being in strict control of himself, this is a problem. When you add his best friend’s unhappy wife into the equation, the problems grow. And then Park tops it off by not giving his vampire fangs, making the acquisition of blood that much more difficult.

by PopMatters Staff

3 Aug 2009

Arctic Monkeys covered Nick Cave at All Points West last week. The band’s new album, Humbug, drops later this month on the 24th.

by Lara Killian

3 Aug 2009


I don’t read a lot of poetry in general. But this quirky little volume by Canadian poet Sandra Kasturi (with a foreword by Neil Gaiman) jumped into my pile of library books recently. 

The Animal Bridegroom (2007) is part poetry, part twisted fairytale, and totally fascinating. Mermaids, princesses, sharp-toothed wolves, and all manner of nasties populate Kasturi’s verses. The reader is forced to consider some of the darker implications behind those beloved Grimm tales.

If you had been the one, trapped by trickery in a gingerbread house deep in the woods, to push the witch to her death headfirst into the oven, would you struggle with depression and guilt for the rest of your life? 

Little Red Riding Hood is the “lost strawberry girl”, followed by a “thousand eyes gathering yellow / In the creeping dusk.” Princes who want to spirit away the sleeping beauty and keep her all dolled up for showing off have unattractive motivations compared to the knightly gentlemen of fairytale lore. Portraying witches and changelings, wolves and thorny rose gardens, Kasturi pays tribute to myths and legends, fables and ballads, with their menagerie of creatures and characters, at once so familiar and yet misunderstood. I haven’t enjoyed a book of poetry so much in a long while.

by PopMatters Staff

3 Aug 2009

Roy Hargrove Big Band
(Groovin’ High/Emarcy)
Releasing: 25 August (US)

PopMatters jazz trumpet fave Roy Hargrove is releasing his first ever big band album this month. Hargrove claims as influences for his big band approach such masters as Dizzy Gillespie, Count Basie, and Duke Ellington. Readers in L.A. can catch the band at the Hollywood Bowl on August 26th.

01 Velera
02 Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey
03 My Funny Valentine
04 Mambo for Roy
05 Requiem
06 September in the Rain
07 Every Time We Say Goodbye
08 La Puerta
09 Roy Allan
10 Tschpiso
11 Trust

Roy Hargrove Big Band
“Ms. Garvey, Ms. Garvey” [MP3]

by Rob Horning

3 Aug 2009

I’m reading the 33 1/3 book about Céline Dion by Carl Wilson (who is not to be confused with Carl Wilson), which is less about Dion than it is a sociology of pop culture taste. It appeals to me because it dispenses with the obfuscating fictions that taste is autonomous (i.e. intrinsic to one’s inner being and the music itself), or that taste can be “right”,  and looks instead at what social functions taste plays, which class boundaries it helps regulate in a society that pretends to be without them.

The book is framed by the ongoing debate over what the function of pop-music criticism should be, or whether there should be any pop criticism at all. I waver on that question. Wilson mentions the rockist/popist debate, which seems like a red herring; at their worst both approaches are condescending, only in different ways. Embedded in most pop criticism is the idea that listeners need their preferences justified or vindicated by a better-informed outsider. Generally, I get impatient with will-to-power would-be tastemakers, and my experience in the magazine business has confirmed for me without question that pop music critics don’t have any special listening expertise—their ears aren’t refined like a wine connoisseur’s palette. They aren’t doing the sonic equivalent of philology. Perhaps their class habitus affords them the instinct of authority. Usually, though, they are compromised by their own supposed qualifications, the concessions they make to be published for pay. At best, reviewers are clever writers who can startle with a turn of phrase; their work should be appreciated on a formal level, not for anything they might say about a particular record. What reviewers and their editors seem good for is establishing the horizons of relevance—picking out the dozen records worth hearing and talking about in various genres every year. I like reading what other people have to say about a record I already know pretty well; then I can pretends I am part of a conversation, internally agreeing or disagreeing, coming up with objections. I don’t read reviews of records I haven’t heard already; since it is so easy to sample music or yourself rather than rely on recommendations, I imagine I am not alone in this.

//Mixed media


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// Notes from the Road

"McCartney welcomed Bruce Springsteen and Steven Van Zandt out for a song at Madison Square Garden.

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