Comic-Con 2008, Part 3 (Igor, On The Bubble, and Joss Whedon’s Latest)

Posted on July 29, 2008 at 11:00 pm

  • I had a private interview with Chris McKenna, screenwriter of an animated release due out this fall called “Igor.” It is the story of a hunchbacked lab assistant to an evil scientist who wants to be more. Voice talent for the film includes Jon Cusack as Igor, John Cleese as the scientist he works for, Eddie Izzard as the villain, and Molly Shannon as the Bride-of-Frankenstein-like creature they create. Here is the adorable trailer:

  • “We cooked up a really fun story with a great character,” McKenna told me. “Everyone knows him but no one really knows him. He’s lurking in the shadow. But he has his own hopes and dreams, aspirations. Is everyone born with a hunch named Igor and forced to become a lab assistant? Setting up the world was the biggest challenge. What do we need to tell the audience? How do we tell the story in an interesting way, balancing all you need to know to understand this world with all you need to know to get involved with the characters and connect to the story? Igor lives in a world where the biggest stars are the evil scientists, they’re the rock stars, all he wanted to be, his role model, but that’s impossible. He had a hunch and was forced to serve. But he needs to create.”

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  • Producers of comics, movies, music, games, magazines, and other media “content” were not the only ones trying to get the attention of Comic-Con attendees. Advertisers are very eager to find out how to reach audiences who are able to skip radio and television commercials and are increasingly resistant to traditional forms of marketing. I was very interested that a session on a new web-based comedy series called On the Bubble led off not with one of the producers, writers, or performers but with a brand specialist. The people who created the show said that they loved the creative freedom of not having to deal with a television network (“They always have notes.”) The Sierra Mist representative said, “Comedy is the way we reach you.” They will not do anything as obvious as product placement, going instead for “deeper engagement value” through added content, message boards, and other new media.
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  • Another of my favorite sessions at Comic-Con was the “Quick Draw,” with Pulitzer Prize–winner Mike Peters, MAD artist Sergio Aragonés, and veteran of Hanna Barbera and many other animation projects Scott Shaw! (yes, that exclamation point is part of his name). Comic-Con all-star Mark Evanier took devilish pleasure in tossing out all kinds of crazy ideas for them to respond to as the audience watched them draw via overhead projector on huge screens. One of Evanier’s challenges was that he would unexpectedly say to Aragons, “Sergio, don’t do that!” and Aragonés would have to do an instant cartoon with that as the caption. Other ideas included “Why an elephant should not be allowed at Comic-Con” (hint: he doesn’t look too good in a Batman costume). And Evanier had Shaw! do from memory sketches of 50 different Hanna Barbera characters, from Scooby-Doo to Rosie the robot maid on “The Jetsons” and Tennessee Tuxedo, Touché Turtle, and Betty Rubble. I was fascinated by the way they all were able to think ahead and draw like they were telling a joke — saving the punchline part of the picture for the end. And all of the drawings were sold to raise money for the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund.
  • The panel discussion about “Dollhouse,” the new television show from Joss Whedon (“Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Firefly”), began with Tahmoh Penikett (“Battlestar Galactica”) taking a photo of the crowd. “Smile everyone!” he said. Whedon watched him, amused. “This is his first experience with science fiction.”
  • Star Eliza Dushku explained that her new series began when she was was complaining to Whedon about not being given a chance to show all of the range of characters she could do. “Staring into the eyes of the woman, seeing all of the things she could be, I realized I’d have to do it,” Whedon said. “So, I created a girl who has every personality in the world except her own.” The result was the new series with Dushku as Echo, one of a group of men and women who are imprinted with different personalities for different assignments. Dushku talked about what she loved about Whedon’s scripts. “He makes the words pretty on the page, fully puts me at ease and challenges me at the same times. The characters have feist, fury, some funny. He’s like a career brassiere!” Whedon said he liked Dushku because she is “good with pain and being crazy and also acting.”

    A questioner noted that there are already web sites dedicated to saving the show and it has not started yet. “The enthusiasm I love, the wariness is earned, but this is not a niche show,” Whedon promised.

If you’ve read through to the very end, you are really a fan! The first person to send me an email at moviemom@moviemom.com with the word Comic-Con in the subject line will get some small knick-knacks I was given there.

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Man of the Week: JT

Posted on June 18, 2008 at 8:00 am

This week we have something that does not happen very often — two huge movies in the same genre opening on the same day: “Get Smart” with Steve Carell and Anne Hathaway and “The Love Guru” with Mike Myers. One is based on a 1960’s television series created by Mel Brooks and Buck Henry. The other is a satire of the popular fascination with healers and less-than-credible spiritual leaders. Both star accomplished comic actors who began their careers on television. But the most important thing they have in common is former N’Sync-er Justin Timberlake, who appears on screen in “The Love Guru” and on the soundtrack (with Madonna) in “Get Smart.”

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The Happening

Posted on June 6, 2008 at 6:10 pm

happening.jpgHere’s a spooky story: a talented storyteller mesmerizes his audience and then loses his way in a thicket of self-regard so that no matter how hard he tries, each of the stories he tells becomes less powerful than the one before.

M. Night Shyamalan is one of the most talented film-makers working today. But he seems to be running out of ideas. He still knows how to use a camera brilliantly and he is still a master of images that are disturbing in an intriguing way. But so much of this movie seem greatest hits cut and pasted from his other, better films, as generic as the title (anyone else here humming the Supremes song?). There is a train as in “Unbreakable.” There is a scene in a schoolroom as in “The Sixth Sense.” A child is important to the story as in “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs.” Like “Signs” there is a scary scene with characters trapped in a beautiful old house in a remote location.

“There appears to be an event happening.” All at once, without warning, people in New York City’s Central park become disoriented and then self-destructive. They begin to kill themselves. Bodies come hurtling from the girders of a construction project. A cop pulls out his gun and kills himself. Others grab the gun lying near his body to shoot themselves with the remaining bullets. Have terrorists released toxins into the air? Is it some kind of alien attack? No one knows.

In Philadelphia, high school science teacher Elliot Moore (Mark Wahlberg) is called out of class. The students are being sent home. He and his best friend Julian (John Leguizamo), a math teacher, decide it will be safer away from the city. Julian’s wife is out of town but will meet up with them. Elliot’s slightly estranged wife Alma (Zooey Deschanel) comes along but insists on sitting alone. Then, in the middle of nowhere, the train stops. “We’ve lost contact,” the conductor tells them. “With whom?” “Everyone.”

Julian goes in search of his wife, leaving his shy daughter with Elliot. And so Elliot, Alma, and the little girl go on the run, not knowing anything about what it is they are running from or where they are running to.

Many of the individual scenes deliver. Shyamalan knows how to create an eerie mood and when to pepper the story with release, whether a gasp or a laugh. But there is some unintentional humor as Elliot and Alma pause to resolve their marital conflicts, natter about a mood ring, and Elliot tries to make conversation with a potted plastic plant. The talented Wahlberg and Deschanel do their best but cannot make much of an impression with cardboard characters and clunky exposition. Wahlberg manages some warmth now and then but Deschanel has little do to but open her eyes wide. Those blue eyes seem to be Shyamalan’s favorite special effect. The exposition is intrusively inserted and clumsily handled. And in the last half hour, just as things should be ramping up, all of the air rushes out like a stuck balloon. Shyamalan does not always have to deliver a twist, but he does have to deliver an ending better than this one.

Parents should know that this movie has a good deal of violence, some graphic, multiple suicides, shooting death of teenagers, mauling by an animal, some grisly images of wounds and dead bodies, disturbing themes including the deaths of hundreds of people, and brief strong language. There is a sexual joke and there are some mild references to infidelity.

Family discussion: Julian has to make a very difficult choice between protecting his wife and protecting his daughter. What were the reasons for the decision he made and do you agree? What other choices made by the people in this movie seemed right or wrong to you?

If you like this, try: Alfred Hitchcock’s “The Birds,” the classic thriller “Invasion of the Body Snatchers” (the original and first remake) and M. Night Shyamalan movies “The Sixth Sense” and “Signs”

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Coming Soon: Journey to the Center of the Earth in 3D

Posted on May 18, 2008 at 10:00 am

This week director Eric Brevig and producer-star Brendan Fraser (“That’s Fraser like razor”) answered questions about their new film, “Journey to the Center of the Earth 3D.” Unlike the earlier versions, including the 1959 George Pal version with Pat Boone and James Mason and a recent made-for-television movie starring Ric Schroeder, this is based on the Jules Verne book. Instead, it is the story of a modern-day scientist who searches for his brother, who discovered that Verne’s book was true.

The movie is a real thrill-ride with great stunts and effects and it was a blast to hear Brevig and Fraser talk about how it was made. In order to get the 3D effect, they have a special camera that shoots two separate movies, one for each eye. Essentially, they are projected together on screen (we got a sense of how tricky that was when they got it wrong three times before rebooting the system to get it right) and then when viewed with the special glasses, the audience gets a sense of depth and detail so distinct that — well, when the dinosaur drools, you’re going to feel like you need to wipe off your forehead.

Fraser good-naturedly answered questions — no, there will not be a sequel to “Encino Man” and yes, he does all his own stunts (he pointed out that the hanging off a cliff and getting burned stunts were left to the last day of shooting at the request of the insurance company). Brevig swore us all to secrecy when he confided that Fraser has one additional uncredited role in the film — he provides the warbling sounds for the adorable little glow-birds.

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