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by Chris Conaton

4 Aug 2009

Part 2:  My Thursday at Comic-Con ended with a movie screening, while Friday began with an epic, two-and-a-half hour Warner Bros. panel. The final movie presentation I saw during the convention was Saturday’s Iron Man 2 panel, which was a great way to finish the film section of the Con. In between there was animation legend Hayao Miyazaki and director Peter Jackson’s first-ever Comic-Con appearance.

Trick r Treat

I remember seeing trailers for this movie several times at Comic-Con 2007, but since then, nothing. Warner Bros. apparently had no idea what to do with this film, so instead of releasing it, they have opted to screen it at film festivals for a couple of months before shoveling it off to DVD in October. Comic-Con was treated to a full screening, though, and I’m happy to report that Michael Dougherty’s horror anthology film is quite a lot of fun. Taking place on Halloween night in a small Ohio town, the movie presents four separate-but-intertwining stories, each quite different. Familiar character actors abound, including Anna Paquin, Dylan Baker, Tahmoh Penikett, and an excellent Brian Cox. Dougherty doesn’t skimp on the gore, but the film focuses equally on scares, making Trick r Treat a nice throwback to the anthology films of the 80’s (Creepshow, Cat’s Eye). It’s tough to figure out why Warner Bros. couldn’t market this- it’s a Halloween-themed horror movie with an iconic character, the sack-headed evil kid named Sam, that shows up throughout the film. Despite being an anthology, the movie should pretty much sells itself even though it isn’t a remake of a classic franchise.

Where the Wild Things Are

I haven’t read Where the Wild Things Are in decades and barely remember it, yet the extended scenes shown from Spike Jonze’s film inspired waves of nostalgia in me. The movie looks spectacular, and the decision to go with actual monster costumes instead of using CG appears to be a brilliant one. The interaction between the wild things and Max feels very real and visceral. Hopefully the full movie will turn out as beautiful as the footage shown at this panel.

The Book of Eli

Denzel Washington stars as a loner wandering a post-apocalyptic landscape, kicking much ass and trying like hell to hold onto the titular book. Gary Oldman is the bad guy who wants to acquire the book. But here in the world of Comic-Con, the trailer brought bigger cheers for Oldman than for Denzel. Directors Albert and Allen Hughes haven’t directed a movie since From Hell in 2001, so they have something to prove with this one. The most interesting tidbit to come out of this panel, though, was Gary Oldman’s admission that he expects Christopher Nolan’s third Batman film to begin production in 2010 for a 2011 release.

A Nightmare on Elm Street

This panel was sort of a mess. The clips shown from the upcoming reboot were heavy on a scene featuring a living Freddy (Jackie Earle Haley) being chased and ultimately incinerated by the group of angry parents from the franchise’s origin story. Yet during the panel, the filmmakers stated that their movie was not meant to be an origin story at all. To top it off, they claimed that they have Robert Englund’s full blessing to reboot the franchise, despite Englund being on the record as very, very unhappy that he has been replaced as Freddy.

The Box

Director Richard Kelly has long been one of the worst guests I’ve ever seen at Comic-Con. Stammering and desperately shy in two previous appearances (for Donnie Darko and Southland Tales) Kelly was barely been able to put a complete sentence together in front of a crowd. Surprisingly, he was much more comfortable this time around, discussing his upcoming thriller The Box. Based on a Richard Matheson short story, the premise involves a mysterious man (Frank Langella), showing up seemingly at random at the house of Norma Lewis (Cameron Diaz) in 1976. He offers her one million dollars if she will just push a big red button on top of a mysterious box, thereby killing a total stranger somewhere in the world that she has never met. The trailer showed that there is a lot more going on in the movie beyond the box itself, with mysterious sci-fi elements popping up. But during the panel discussion, Diaz blurted out what seems to be a gigantic spoiler about the box’s origins, pretty much ruining the mystery for everyone in attendance. Nice going, Ms. Diaz.

Jonah Hex

This adaptation of one of DC comics’ lesser-known characters looks like it’s going to be a slightly off-kilter action-fest for the summer of 2010. Jonah Hex is a cowboy anti-hero, and the footage cut together for Comic-Con was heavy on gunplay and dynamite-based train explosions. Josh Brolin certainly has the look down as Hex and Megan Fox seems to be her usual eye-candy self, except that she gets to handle guns this time out. The footage did feature something I’ve never before seen in an action movie, though: an explosive sequence involving Civil War-era ironclad ships. The real highlight of this panel, though, may have been the film-school jerk who asked Megan Fox to make a celebrity sex tape with him and was subsequently escorted out of the room by security.

Sherlock Holmes

We were treated to an extended trailer of Guy Ritchie’s action film, as well as a scene that featured Holmes in a bare-knuckle fight, analyzing what his opponent is about to do in his head and planning in advance how to counter it. But the real highlight was Robert Downey, Jr., appearing in person to soak up the adulation from the Comic-Con crowd and being very funny and personable, to boot. When asked about learning martial arts for the movie, Downey replied that he was so good, “I could windmill through all of you here right now.”

The Pixar Panel

Pixar and Walt Disney Animation Studios head John Lasseter held court over a 90-minute Disney Animation panel that showed remarkably little of Pixar proper’s upcoming releases. They showed the opening sequence of Toy Story 2 in 3-D and talked about the upcoming double-feature 3-D re-release of the first two movies on October 2. I wasn’t particularly impressed by the 3-D effects, in fact, the only really impressive 3-D of the weekend was in James Cameron’s Avatar. They had nothing to show for Toy Story 3 yet, except to say the plot involved Andy getting ready to leave home for college and that the premise is about what happens to the toys when their owner truly grows up.

The Princess and the Frog

The footage shown from Disney’s upcoming return to hand-drawn animation was very nice. Lasseter discussed how he managed to talk many of the animators and staff from the ‘90s Disney hits back to the studio for this movie, which was pretty obvious from the look and tone of the film. It’s nice to see a lushly hand-drawn Disney movie again, but the result of all these returning animators, directors, and writers is that it doesn’t feel particularly fresh or new. So far The Princess and the Frog seems to be selling nostalgia for the early ‘90s and, just as importantly, the addition of an African-American character to the company’s mega-lucrative Disney Princess line of products. Speaking of Disney in the ‘90s, Lasseter also revealed that they are re-releasing Beauty and the Beast around Valentine’s Day, 2010, in 3-D. They showed the opening scene of the film in 3-D, and it was sort of like looking at a filmed pop-up book, with the animation dividing into several layers. Surreal and kind of cool, but not really convincing as three-dimensional.


Of all the geek-out moments I experienced during Comic-Con 2009, this was the biggest. Disney managed to get legendary filmmaker Hayao Miyazaki to leave Japan and attend Comic-Con to promote the North American release of his latest movie, Ponyo, on August 14. For an animation nut like myself, seeing Miyazaki in person was a big, big deal. He was soft-spoken and funny during the Q&A. My favorite moment went like this: Audience questioner- “Where do you get your amazing ideas from?” Miyazaki- “I wish I could remember.” Lasseter revealed that Disney is actually getting behind Miyazaki’s film this time around, putting Ponyo into 800 theaters. Really, that still isn’t great, but it’s a lot better than the 200 theaters Howl’s Moving Castle got or the few dozen Spirited Away had in its initial release.


Shane Acker’s post-apocalyptic CG adventure movie looks like it’s going to be unique and exciting. They showed a couple of extended action sequences and the animation is fluid and excellent. Producers Tim Burton and Timur Bekmambetov were on hand to help introduce Acker to the crowd. Burton explained that he wanted to produce the film so that he could deal with all the studio interference while just letting Acker focus on making his movie. Bekmambetov mostly sat silently, except for when he was asked about continuing his trilogy that began with Night Watch and Day Watch. His response, “I don’t think that’s going to happen.” I guess having a big American hit (Wanted) means you don’t have to slink back to Russia and return to the franchise that put you on the map in the first place.

District 9

My God, Peter Jackson is so skinny now that he almost looks like a completely different person from when he directed The Lord of the Rings. He gave the Hall H crowd an update on where they were on The Hobbit: about three or four weeks from completing their first draft, after which they’ll turn it in to Warner Bros. for official approval. They expect to start thinking about casting by October or so. Jackson and director Neill Blomkamp talked about how they met, a little bit about their Halo movie adaptation falling through (but without any inside details), and their decision to expand Blomkamp’s short Alive in Joburg into a full-length movie. They showed a seven-minute series of scenes from District 9, which revealed some of the plot instead of just the basic premise that the trailers set up. Blomkamp also talked about a plot point that doesn’t really make it into the movie, that the aliens mostly operate on a hive system and that their queen has been killed. Without her they are sort of directionless and lack the initiative to get their ship fixed and leave Earth.

Solomon Kane

James Purefoy stars as the titular character, the Puritan swordsman from Conan author Robert E. Howard. Knowing that most of the audience was probably not aware of the character, the filmmakers cannily brought lots and lots of clips to introduce their film. It looks like a pretty hard-R action fest, with brutal violence and excellently choreographed fight scenes. Whether it will hang together as a full movie remains to be seen, but hopefully the positive reaction at Comic-Con will at least help them secure North American distribution.


Mike Judge returns to the workplace, albeit a factory setting, for the first time in a decade with this, a movie he called the “spiritual sibling to Office Space.” The clips shown were mildly amusing, but you get the sense that you have to see the full movie in context for Judge’s low-key humor to work. Also, Miramax apparently actively cut out some punchlines in the scenes they showed, which seems like a bizarre thing to do when you are promoting a comedy.


Director Ruben Fleischer admitted straight-up that he loves Shaun of the Dead and that he hopes Zombieland can live up to a movie that good and still bring something different to the table. The scenes they brought to the show, however, were a mixed bag. A funny fight sequence between Jesse Eisenberg and the (zombie) girl next door and a tense situation where Eisenberg and Woody Harrelson are double-crossed by a pair of young sisters were both positives. On the downside, however, is that the movie appears to have a pervasive voiceover from Eisenberg’s character which is supposed to be sardonic and funny but turned out to be pretty annoying, even in the brief scenes they showed.


Moderator: “Roland (Emmerich), why do you hate the Earth?” Emmerich: “I don’t hate the Earth, I love the Earth, that’s why I always want to blow it up!” Maybe his answer was funnier in the original German that was running through the director’s head. And yet, I still want to see Emmerich’s latest disaster movie. An extended trailer showed the Sistine Chapel cracking, complete with crack running right between the fingers of God and Adam in Michelangelo’s painting, then falling and crushing hundreds of people in St. Peter’s Square. They also showed us John Cusack’s desperate attempt to save his family and outrun the earthquake that is sinking California into the Pacific Ocean. In a limousine. Which he does successfully by getting them all to a small plane that’s already waiting for them on a runway. It’s all completely ridiculous and yet also awesome and way more fun-looking than the year’s other over-the-top actionfest, Transformers: Revenge of the Fallen.

Iron Man 2

Spectacular. Unlike the first movie, Iron Man 2 isn’t coming out of nowhere, but it still looks amazing. Director Jon Favreau and his special effects people worked very hard in the week between wrapping principal photography on the movie and doing their Comic-Con panel. The five or six minutes they showed us actually had some good-looking flying effects and Whiplash (Mickey Rourke) using his energy whips. The real kick, though, was watching Robert Downey, Jr. as Tony Stark doing his thing again. The footage opened with Stark testifying before a Senate subcommittee, being grilled by a Senator played by Garry Shandling. Other scenes included another encounter between Stark and Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson), and a sequence with James Rhodes (now played by Don Cheadle) and rival arms manufacturer Justin Hammer (Sam Rockwell), debating about what sort of Hammer hardware to put inside the War Machine suit. And the clip ends with a shot of War Machine in action, shooting everything in sight. Favreau and Downey, Jr. were great in front of the crowd, too. An audience member asked them about working with Mickey Rourke, and Downey replied, “I thought I was eccentric!” Favreau chimed in, “We told Mickey his character had spent time in a Russian prison, and the next thing we knew, Mickey was in Russia in a prison, talking to inmates and doing research.”


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 Omar Kholeif

17 Jul 2009

A controversial screening at Cannes, Antichrist has already become notorious for dividing audiences—with some recoiling in utter disgust, and others who seem unable to contain their unbridled excitement. Although, the premise of the piece is far too expansive to encapsulate in a matter of words, essentially it is about a grieving couple that escape to a country retreat called Eden to grieve over the tragic loss of their son. Soon, psychological torture leads to violent physical manifestations between He (Willem Dafoe, who looks eerily Satanic in this role), and She (Charlotte Gainsbourg), whose unnerving portrayal is equally sympathetic and deplorable. A confrontational, and visceral viewing experience, Antichrist is von Trier’s most disturbing film—unrelenting in its cruelty, the piece is hardly what one would deem ‘conventional’ audience fare.

However, it is the filmmakers’ unflinching desire to affect his viewers that makes Antichrist so heroic. Von Trier is fueled by a brutal vision that details the despair of the human condition, without compromise. His picture unravels an unconventional theology, which suggests that the world, with all of it’s agonizing suffering, must have been created by Satan (as opposed to God), suggesting that evil and chaos will continue to reign supreme in the end.

Beautiful cinematography brings the wilderness of Eden to life, while a bare musical score, interspersed with the occasional operatic aria helps perpetuate the audiences’ nerve-wracking anticipation. Populist audiences and critics will disavow von Trier’s masterpiece because of its explicit content, but let me pose this question, had the film fallen into the more accessible (and shallow) horror film genre, would they be reacting so vehemently against it? Perhaps one of the most affecting films I have seen in years, Antichrist is a definite force to be reckoned with.

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