Thursday, July 28, 2011

Comic Con Recap: Telepresence Style

To cap off our week of San Diego Comic Con coverage, Dreaming Genius co-editor Tony Nunes teams up with Cinema Suicide editor Bryan White to recap this year's greatest hits. 

Every July it happens. Four days long, and bigger every year. An event that outshines all others. Like Jawas on a droid heap they converge. They come by way of TARDIS, Serenity, or Warthog from their homelands of Latveria, Winterfell, Krypton and all points south of Venusville. They are the truest of the true believers. As this army of believers unleash their Andúril swords and pokéballs they prime themselves for this four day battle with a gutteral scream to the cosmos. "Khannnnnnnnn!!!!"

Comic Con that is, the four day nerdosphere where comics, video games, television and movies converge into the core-demo (ages 18-34) raping media Transformer that it is. If you understood any of the references in that opening paragraph then chances are that you fall into that very demographic.

I’ve never attended San Diego Comic Con, thou I have (and will again in October) attended the also spectacular (though a bit less so) NY Comic Con. Being the geek that I am however, I track every announcement and bit of news leaving the Con. This year, myself and Cinema Suicide editor Bryan White have decided to put together a collection of our favorite chunks of Comic Con greatness from this years convention with a cross site sharing both here on Dreaming Genius as well as Cinema Suicide.

Tony's Picks:

Holy Terror
What was once supposed to be "Holy Terror Batman" has now quite simply become Holy Terror. The newest graphic novel from Frank Miller, legendary comic creator behind Sin City, 300, and The Dark Knight Returns, Holy Terror is primed to be the authors most provocative work yet. A post 9/11 vigilante epic centered on a former Navy Seal caped crusader, the book is promised by Miller to be a violent mix of propaganda and controversy. DC dropped the usage of Batman as the books protagonist, apparently unhappy with the prospect of Batman punching Bin Laden in the face like Captain America once did to Hitler. I’m pretty damn excited to see just how the violence unfolds when the book is released around the upcoming tenth anniversary of the 9/11 attacks.

Batman: Arkham City
I totally missed Rocksteady Games Arkham Asylum game featuring Joker, but now I think I might have to go back and check it out because Arkham City, Asylum’s sequel, looks like a fan boys dream game. I understand that everyone immortalized Chris Nolan’s Dark Knight as the best Batman movie ever, but for me, Batman Returns has always been my favorite. Don’t get me wrong, I love Dark Knight, but with Danny DeVito’s Penguin and Michelle Pfeifer’s Catwoman (oh lord) I can’t resist Returns. So now, seeing the Penguin in all his silly badass glory as the bad guy in Arkham City, I’m sold. Oh, and add a tease of zombie super-villain/boss Solomon Grundy, and my excitement level has accelerated tenfold. Also look for Gotham City Imposters, another promising Batman game, a kind of Warriors meets Dark Knight combo up for download of XBOX Live this Fall.

Bryan Singer’s new digital series looks quite intriguing. A mashup of Sci-Fi and post-apocalyptic doom, its a glimpse of what could be if we ever reach that telecommunications singularity we are most certainly on the verge of. As mobile technology grows at such a rapid pace, I'm sure everyone’s at one point or another thought; "it's only a matter of time until our cell phones are implanted in our heads." This is where H+ picks up, as a new implanted technology puts our communications/web-surfing capabilities into a chip connected to our brains. When something goes wrong with the chips, half the world dies, and technology finally one-up's human existence. I'm not sure exactly what a "digital series" entails, but it seems like a fitting way to present such a theme. While parts of the trailer unflatteringly remind me of the short-lived, and not-so-great series Flash Forward, I remain optimistic.

Last season's Dexter was good, but far from the greatness of the season prior, when John Lithgow's Trinity killer reigned with his clawed hammer super violence. The trailer for this upcoming season (which premiered at Comic Con) shows a plethora of new guest stars, including Mos Def, Colin Hanks, and the great Edward James Olmos (BSG). It’s unclear what role the actors will play in the new season, but I’m eager to know which, if any will be the new target of Dexter’s vigilante justice. What really intrigued me about the trailer however, was what appeared to be Dexter’s use of a particular killing tool in his kill room. With a hammer in hand, could Dex have traded his knife for the tool of his sociopath hero, Trinity?

As this event is called COMIC Con, what better place to have a panel discussion about a film based on the first comic book I ever read and fell in love with as a child. I remember first reading Herge’s classic tales of Belgian reporter/adventurer Tintin on one of my weekly trips to the library with my mother at age 6 or 7. I grabbed this colorful book of picture after picture, and instantly was transported alongside Tintin on his worldly adventures of mystery and danger. Here was a European series started in the 1930’s that still had the ability to transport a child of the 80’s to wondrous and amazing places. So Spielberg (my all-time favorite filmmaker and personal hero) is co-directing a trilogy of Tintin films with Peter Jackson, another legendary director known for a unique ability to transport his audiences to other worlds. At a Comic Con panel, Spielberg’s first ever, the two powerhouse directors discussed the motion capture animation that outdoes any other in bringing Tintin to life, and the hope that American audiences will embrace these genuinely European stories. Tintin is and has been my most anticipated film of this year for very personal reasons. These books, and Spielberg himself are responsible for much of my imagination and sense of wonder, and I hope American audiences do indeed embrace the films. I’m sure they won’t be sorry.

The Avengers
Seems like this film has been in the works forever. Combining many of the greatest of Marvel’s catalog of superheroes into one film is a HUGE undertaking. But finally, we caught our first glimpses of Joss Whedon’s The Avengers during Comic Con and the end credits of last weeks released Captain America: The First Avenger film. There have been two Hulk films, one starring Eric Bana, the other with Edward Norton. In The Avengers however, the Hulk has been recast by Mark Ruffalo. That’s the only fault in the continuity of the Marvel film universe and The Avengers, as the other major heroes of the film will be played by the same actors from their previous films. Robert Downey Jr. will again play Iron Man, Chris Hemsworth will play Thor, and Chris Evans will play Captain America. The tie-ins from these films to The Avengers has been great, including Captain America which ended with a lead up into the present timeframe of The Avengers. The film is set for release next summer, and it looks great. Oh, and did you see that concept art of the Shield helicarrier? Wow!

When it comes to superhero comics I love, Captain America and Superman rule the list with a rather off theme third choice. That choice is Cable, Marvel’s futuristic son of Cyclops, the time traveling antihero who had his heyday in the comics of early to mid-nineties. Now, Joeph Loeb and Ed McGuinness plan Cable’s return to comics this December with “Cable Reborn.” Coming off of Cable’s death in 2010’s X-Force #28, it will certainly be interesting to see how Cable’s “rebirth” is explained. It will also be nice to have Cable returning once more to his own series.

Robert Rodriguez announced that his Grindhouse spawned cult classic (it’s not too early to label it) Machete will be made into a trilogy of films over the next few years. These are the kinds of movies that need sequels, I mean, just look at the Death Wish films. At a Comic Con panel, Rodriguez announced that he will be directing Sin City 2. This is potentially cool news, but nowhere near as cool as his announcement that Machete, the Danny Trejo played vigilante would be returning for not one, but two sequels. The first film will be titled Machete Kills, and the second, Machete Kills Again…In Space! A set in space, Moonraker type vigilante film starring a knife wielding Mexican? Sign me up now. In fact, skip the second film and move right onto the third. 

N64 Redux
Ahhh sweet nostalgia. My generation seems to love it, and I’m as guilty as anyone else. Just look at the popularity of the Transformers movie, re-launch of Voltron , Smurfs and Thundercats, and hugely popular re-airing of early 90’s Nickelodeon shows on Teen Nick. A huge tool of my slacker teen and preteen years was my Nintendo 64, a gaming console like no other that brought with it titles like Mario 64, Goldeneye, and Star Wars Podracer. Nowadays I come equipped with an XBOX 360, and news that a re-launch, in hi-def, of the Goldeneye game of my formidable years returning to my XBOX 360 has me psyched. The XBOX Kinect is hosting the re-launch of a game that single-handedly took months of my life, and will now take over months more. Also being re-launched for Kinect is the Star Wars Podracer game, another of my N64 favorites, and perhaps the only good thing to come out of The Phantom Menace.

Bryan's Picks:

In Time
Science Fiction is my bag, man. Unfortunately, Hollywood doesn't really make the distinction between sci-fi and action/space opera. Sci-fi in the theaters tends to be an excuse to roll out your most expensive and elaborate special effects while floating a concept like robots that turn into trucks. The actual sci-fi method, which pits heady 'what if' concepts against a backdrop of technology and jargon is actually hard to come by in Hollywood and you have to prowl the minimalist landscape of independent film to find anything that approaches actual sci-fi. It looks like Inception may have changed that opinion and opened some studio eyes as this upcoming picture makes it seem. Though this trailer, which started making the rounds at Comic Con, shows off a bit of running and shooting, which any major theatrical sci-fi outing requires, it seems like the bulk of its volume is moody plotting and character interaction in a world where we all stop aging at 25 and then keep our heads above the waters of mortality by working for an economy of time which is represented by a digital readout which blazes across the skin of our forearms. Rather than spending money, you spend time on products and services. The film's star, Justin Timberlake, finds himself in possession of an unreal amount of time after it's handed off from a man claiming to have lived for over a hundred years and tired of life. This massive surplus of time puts him square in the middle of a mystery and in the crosshairs of a nasty and corrupt police department who seem to want him dead. What's more, this all comes from the director of Gattaca, Andrew Niccol, another favorite of mine. Of all the trailers out there at Comic Con, this was the one I found most interesting. If that's the case, I must be getting old.

Knights of Badassdom
Knights of Badassdom seems to fall into the painfully familiar plotting category but I'm willing to cut that some slack for so many reasons. Ryan Kwanten, best known as the alpha dumbass, Jason Stackhouse from HBO's True Blood has the well-meaning but dopey act down pat and given my interactions with LARPers in the past, it's a fountain of ha-ha that never runs dry for me. I've actually met the 'Lightning bolt! Lightning bolt!' guy that this trailer lampoons in passing at a party once. He was a pretty nice guy that didn't let his fleeting internet celebrity status go to his head unlike some people. There's also the matter of one Peter Dinklage, who quickly became my favorite character on Game of Thrones, Steve Zahn, who needs to be in a lot more comedy and Danny Pudi from the show Community. The only lingering matter of doubt for me is Summer Glau whose character on my much-beloved series, Firefly, was the only one that I didn't care for and her status as a nerd society sex symbol grates on me severely. The film's director, Joe Lynch, isn't known for much outside of Wrong Turn 2 but he's associated with horror's latest darling filmmaker, Adam Green. Let us bask in his dubious association. Knights of Badassdom concerns the adventures of a bunch of LARPers who manage to actually summon a bloodthirsty demon in the middle of a foam and cardboard weekend of shameful behavior known as Live Action Roleplaying. Consider it like Advanced Dungeons and Dragons only taken to stratospheric levels of geek that make even 'proud to be nerdy' crowd cringe and back away. Grown-ass men and women in leather, steel and pelts speaking in curt tones to one another over matters of realm and kings in vaguely European accents.

Nicholas Winding Refn pretty much blew my mind with his incredibly bleak Danish crime series, Pusher, and then nailed the remains to the wall with Bronson, which introduced me proper to Tom Hardy. With credits like those, it was only a matter of time before Hollywood came calling and the results couldn't have been cooler. Car chase movies drifted out of vogue some time ago and I'm not sure why because car chases, to me at least, are on par with a good fight scene. A properly planned car chase with enough crashes, fireballs and mayhem is exhilarating. There are some legends, too! Bullit, The French Connection, To Live and Die In LA, Gone In 60 Seconds, Vanishing Point, Taxi (France), Death Proof; all of these pictures wrecked a lot of cars and made use of some of the best sound designers in the business to make the most intimidating engine noise on earth really jump out of the speakers to rumble your insides like a proper engine ought to do. Drive's star, Ryan Gosling, plays an unnamed Hollywood stunt driver who moonlights as the wheel man in midnight robberies and heists. He is drawn into complicated criminal proceedings when he falls for his neighbor, who carries a torch for her husband who is serving time and comes out to find himself in debt to some shady criminal types. Naturally, his hang up on this girl brings him to help her husband out of this pickle and that's when everything sucks for him. It looks like a typically European affair with a lot of quiet, melancholic shots serving as the chillout time between major car chase setpieces and hints at nasty, nasty violence. Adding Bryan Cranston the mix only helps things.

Fright Night
It's wicked fashionable in horror circles to hate on remakes and I'm certainly party to this trend of hatred-in-vogue but I gotta tell ya, everything I see about this Fright Night business really tweaks my horror gland. The original picture, a grossly underrated feature in the pantheon of vampire horror, in spite of its cult appeal, evokes that sense of suburban dread that I was always able to connect with. I grew up in the suburban sprawl that lay somewhere between Boston and the New Hampshire mountains, the sort of place where it seemed perfectly reasonable that your neighbors, entrenched in their personal fortresses, were up to something. I badly wanted to believe that at least someone living on my street was secretly a vampire or a werewolf because the movies that had those things tended to be utterly badass. Movies that exploited that adolescent paranoia are some of my favorites. Joe Dante practically forged an entire career out of it but Tom Holland tapped right into it with the original Fright Night. What's more, it looks like Craig Gillespie's remake finds that same vibe of suburban alienation with absentee parents and runs with it. No remake will ever live up to its original picture and that's to be expected. Most of the remake's detractors take issue with the casting of Collin Farrell as the vampire Jerry Dandridge but from what I've seen, I quite like him in the role. Dandridge in the original is masquerading as your average dude but Farrell's Dandridge seems to be a deliberate douche and I think that's great. Farrell's sardonic delivery of his lines conjures major cognitive dissonance. I mean, this is a savage, murderous vampire after all. The most internet hate seems to derive from the re-imagining of one of the original's greatest qualities. By this I mean Roddy McDowall as TV horror host, Peter Vincent. Here, in the remake, Peter Vincent is recast as a Vegas stage magician with serious Criss Angel overtones played by David Tennant who most people recognize as one of Doctor Who's recent Doctors. The clip that circulated at Comic Con finally put Tennant in the spotlight and I have to tell you, I like it. Tennant does great characters and it looks like this is kind of guy he can play balls to the wall and chew scenery with. Trust me on this one. When the remake finally hits wide release, this is someone you'll be talking about in positive tones for a while.

The Walking Dead Season 2
I'm being generous when I say that I'm looking forward to season 2 of The Walking Dead. I was one of last season's longest running hanger-ons, defending it in the face of very valid criticism. The writing wasn't all that it could be, the characters tended to make really stupid mistakes repeatedly and I couldn't figure out how Shane managed to maintain that perfect coif in the midst of the end of all life on Earth. He must have made it clear to Glenn that if he didn't come back with a pretty specific list of product, he shouldn't come back at all. I didn't take issue too much that the show strayed from the source material until the end of the season when we were way, way off track. Then I just couldn't help myself. However, with more episodes to look forward to and a rather long period of time to reflect on the mistakes of season 1, I'm hoping that Darabont and company will figure out what they need to do to rescue the show. Though I may be down on the show a bit, I am optimistic. This is a real chance for them to turn it around and make something out of this unique opportunity for television drama. If they don't, I won't miss it nor will I be missed. The sort of numbers that show pulled down in ratings was ridiculous!

Somehow, not a frame of the Prometheus panel footage leaked from Comic Con. Instead, we have been treated to description after description that are practically drowning in hyperbole. The mystery of the Xenomorph and LV 246 from the original Alien and its sequel, Aliens, is something that I love. I honestly don't give a fuck about the derelict spacecraft and the giant alien at the controls or where the nasty aliens came from so early reports that Ridley Scott was going back to this property didn't really move me but I'm hearing absolutely nuts reports about the flick and how the preview footage at the con was mighty exciting. The fatal flaw in my dismissal of this picture, however, is that nobody even knows if this is a prequel to Alien as some people have claimed. Scott and Damon Linedeloff are both evasive on the topic and, frankly, I'm not even sure why. Honestly. What difference does it make? Plot details are scant and what is going around the grapevine is a lot about ancient alien civilizations and some really visionary new ideas in horror. It's been some time since I've liked anything that Scott has put out but this return to the genre may be what it takes to reel me back in. I'm cautiously excited about this flick.

The Dark Knight Rises
The only comic movie to make the list is Christopher Nolan's final Batman flick. Nolan gets Batman and has made what are easily the best of all the various Batflicks. He somehow manages to navigate around Batman's campiest tendencies and turns in sophisticated super hero movies that work on so many levels. Unfortunately, he's running out of rope and unless he cuts the cord now, he'll be attaching nipples to the Batsuit and having Bats cavort with Poison Ivy. The future of Batman beyond The Dark Knight Rises, a title which drives me fucking crazy - I swear the word Rise has been in more movie titles in the last five years than any other - is grim and you can see total machine failure creeping in around the margins of the trailer. Bane is a bit of a stretch and the casting of Robin Williams as Hugo Strange may turn out to be either inspired brilliance or catastrophic failure with nothing in between even resembling a gray area. Also, did this movie really need Cillian Murphy? Honestly, how many times is Batman going to go toe to toe with Scarecrow? Nolan locked me in as a fan forever with The Dark Knight as the late Heath Ledger's Joke went down as one of my favorite screen villains ever so I can only hope that as his Batman swan song approaches, he drives it home and continues to float the brand.

Let it be known that Garth Ennis is the shit. If you read comics, you know the name. He made his name in the 90's on the tail end of the British Invasion of comics when, along with Neil Gaiman, Alan Moore and Grant Morrison, Ennis brought a distinctly European grit to a flagging industry that was drowning in fresh American blood that didn't know what to do with the comic book properties that had been so willingly handed over to them by Marvel and DC. Ennis made a splash with his book, Preacher, a piece of psychedelic southern gothic that stands tall among some of horror comics' greatest titles. Ultraviolence was Ennis' calling card and he expanded with the bizarro funny book, Hitman - which featured one of my favorite weirdo vigilantes, The Dog Welder - and he singlehandedly rescued The Punisher from grotesque irrelevance once Marvel's worst writers had run the character aground. I guess it's only natural that Ennis took to the screen and his indie zombie flick, Stitched, hit the floor, making its world premier there. The premise, survivors of a downed Blackhawk helicopter in a remote part of Afghanistan find themselves under attack from, I don't know, something. My instincts tell me that this is a zombie movie of some variety and I guess that's fine. Zombie movies only suck when they're made by people who have a dream to make a movie but have no actual business making a movie. Ennis is not that sort of person and what monsters we see in this trailer look a lot more like the zombies from The Blind Dead series than the rotting shamblers of popular culture. The film hits DVD in November and coincides with the release of the Stitched comic book.


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