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August 27th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (0 Comments)

Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s ambitious, existential, stream-of-consciousness, comedy/farce BIRDMAN is an audacious gamble and a grand stage for actors, particularly for those who have never had a chance to show their serious chops on the big screen. (Any big actor who has fallen from grace should be ringing Inarritu’s agent this weekend for his next film.)

First and foremost among these is Michael Keaton. He plays Riggan Thomson, a movie actor who walked away from a successful superhero franchise entitled “Birdman” (any similarities between this film and the “Batman” character that Keaton assayed in the ’90s is purely coincidental. Purely.). In a full-throttle performance Keaton upends most of what we’ve ever thought of him and his toolkit as an actor. He doesn’t appear to be baring his soul, he appears to be working his ass off, using an arsenal of intellect and empathy to create a character from whole cloth. Where we’ve formerly seen humorous, improvisational riffing we can now see deep understanding, where we once saw responses to a situation we now see a man in character, where we once saw a jester, we now see a king.

But there is a wealth of opportunity in Inarritu‘s innovative, collaborative screenplay. A rich, funny take on the desperately hard act of creating art, a critique on current societal norms and our possibly bankrupt culture, and a fascinating character study, credit is shared with three others: Nicolas Giacobone (who co-wrote Inarritu’s last film, the searingly painful, beautiful BIUTIFUL), Alexander Dinelaris, and Armando Bo, who also co-wrote BIUTIFUL). It must be noted that, were this a true super-hero film, the presence of more than two writers would likely be mocked.

Keaton’s Riggan is trying to mount a Broadway stage production of Raymond Carver‘s “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love,” that he himself adapted, is directing and is starring in. When we meet Riggan the rehearsals are going so badly that he arranges for a stage light to fall on one of his actor’s heads to get the hack off the stage. But that’s just one of Riggan’s many problems. He may have impregnated his co-star, he’s in debt, he’s fighting addiction, and, worst of all, battling against the super-ego voice in his head that sounds a lot like the gravely voice of Birdman. And, in a classic example of sticking with “the devil you know,” his injured actor’s replacement, is the trained stage actor Mike, played with playful energy by the phenomenal Edward Norton. Mike both disrupts and improves the preview performances but has no respect whatsoever for Riggan, which, really, is what the former movie star craves most of all.

In the press conference for the film Inarritu stated that the inspiration for this entire enterprise was Phillipe Petit, the performance artist who walked a tightrope from one World Trade Center building to the other, documented in the film MAN ON WIRE. That can be seen in nearly every frame. Numerous scenes are gasp-inducingly long takes, with tracking shots in tight corridors that seem impossible, while these tightrope walkers are turning in the performances of their lives. Inarritu breaks this style up with short, shocking, visionary moments of Riggan imagining he truly has super-powers, that he sees a Wormwood like destruction of the world while his own personal Birdman flies behind his shoulder filling him the worst advice possible. You can almost see the pole bending and Inarritu steadying himself and his cast and crew several times in the film.

Also allowed to show a grittier and less oafish side, in a small but critical role, is
Zach Galifanakis, who plays Riggan’s producer. Galifanakis is comic relief but in a way that he’s never been before. He’s not aping another, nor swishing his way across the screen. He’s a scared, lifelong friend of Riggan’s whose career is on the line.

But every actor here is in top form. Naomi Watts and Emma Stone give possibly the performance of their lives and Andrea Riseborough continues to prove herself one of our most compelling actresses.

BIRDMAN is indeed a tight-wire act between the towers of creativity and acting and the film ends up on the other side with both hands high in the air in triumph.


Venice Primer – For Me, At Least

August 26th, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (0 Comments)

The first thing I was surprised to discover about the Venice Film Festival, old news to old pros, is that it doesn’t take place in Venice proper. So there is no taking gondolas from one venue to another, which is a very good thing. In the map below Venice is the island at the top and the Lido is highlighted in the oval.

The Lido is also the name for the long beach that faces the Adriatic Sea. If you’ve ever seen Luchino Visconti‘s DEATH IN VENICE then the Lido is the stretch of endless cabanas outside of Gustav von Aschenbach’s (Dirk Bogarde) magnificent hotel, where Aschenbach pines for a young Polish boy. Incidentally, the magnificent Grand Hotel des Bains, which had fallen into disrepair and had to be fixed up and reopened to be used by Visconti in 1971, was converted into condominiums which never sold and now is sadly boarded up. Not suffering the same, tragic fate as its neighbor to the south-west, The Hotel Excelsior.

Giants have stayed and strode at The Excelsior. It’s so venerated I believe there is a standing Venetian edict that the article “The” in “The Hotel Excelsior” has to be capitalized.

We had lunch there on the beach terrace, fighting off the jet-lag, and watched as the pickpocket pigeons waited on perches for anyone to become distracted so they could swoop in and steal food. Tim Roth; was there as well, he’s on the In Competition jury this year, and had to fend off not only the pigeons but the patrons who overcame their embarrassment to approach him for a photo. He politely declined (the man was in the middle of a conversation when they barged in). Nearby execs from Fox Searchlight planned out the BIRDMAN premiere.

Just up from The Hotel Excelsior is the center of the action on the Lido, the Palazzo del Cinema (below). It’s the equivalent of the Grand Theater Lumiere in Cannes. When we arrived the Palazzo del Cinema was still primping for her week in the world spotlight.

The poster this year is by artist Simone Massi and was inspired by the final shot of THE 400 BLOWS as director Francois Truffaut freezes on the forlorn? quizzical? rebellious? face of child actor Jean-Pierre Leaud, playing Truffaut’s alter ego, Antoine Doinel. Why a film from the French New Wave was chosen over something more…Italian, is a mystery to me.

In his third year of creating the poster for the festival Massi “imagines the boy surrounded by flying fish: an element of fantasy that mitigates the quizzical dimension of his gaze, as he prepares to plunge into the sea of life.”

Yeah, sure, okay.

Last week, reporters attending the Television Critics Association’s Summer Press Tour enjoyed a private screening of Fox’s “Gotham”. Based on the origin stories of a young James Gordon and a younger Harvey Bullock (played by Ben McKenzie and Donal Logue), “Gotham” is one of the most highly anticipated new shows on the fall schedule.

What the actors and series executive producer Bruno Heller probably were not anticipating was the reaction of some critics, that “Gotham’s” pilot is essentially a grim cop show missing the key element that makes this particular universe special: its headliner, Batman.

For the record, this writer disagrees with that assessment. Sure, the pilot isn’t perfect, but I found it to be true to the Batman universe and would confidently recommend it to fans of the Dark Knight. A full review of “Gotham” will post closer to its premiere at 8pm on Monday, September 22. In the meantime, I sat down with McKenzie and Logue at the Beverly Hilton earlier this week to find out what they thought about a few early and very vocal critical reactions to the pilot.

Spoiler alert — they were not amused.

IMDb: You two have fielded a lot of questions about how “Gotham” will work without a superhero.

Ben McKenzie: I’ll jump right in there, if you want.

Donal Logue: That’s absurd. Really? It’s uninteresting to see Gotham, Oswald Cobblepot, the development of all these people before they became villains? It seems like a tired kind of criticism.

McKenzie: It’s a strange criticism to me in the sense of, the people who are fans of Batman and the Batman world are incredibly passionate, and they’ve watched all of these different iterations of this universe, from the comic book 75 years ago, all the way through the Adam West TV show, through the movie versions which – how many different versions of that have there been? Three or four different auteurs taking on this mythology. And throughout all of that, when we take a side angle at this universe, your criticism is, “Well, there isn’t a Batman”? Well, you must love these other characters too, right?

And there is a Bruce. You see Bruce when he’s twelve. We’re not going to jump forward. We’re going to take this one day at a time, and show how this city descends into the anarchy that ultimately manifests the need for a Batman.

Logue: As a fan of Tolkien, although I know he wrote it in order – if, say, for instance, Lord of the Rings came out and someone said, “Would you be interested in seeing The Hobbit, to see what happened before that?” I’d say “Hell yes!”

McKenzie: That’s what’s beautiful about our origin story. It allows us to mine the familiarity of these characters, for an audience that is predisposed to understand what we’re talking about, in terms of the broad strokes of who these characters are. But we’re not beholden to any interpretation, because this is 20 to 30 years before they are who they’ll become.

IMDb: From my perspective, the cops are integral to this universe. There’s a huge political element to the world of Batman, with all the corruption within the police department. And then you have Carmine Falcone ruling the criminal underworld. All of these are elements, if you look at it, which would make a great procedural kind of show with an extra mythology layered in.

Logue: I thought they did an excellent job in the animated series.

IMDb: I did too.

Logue: In a weird way, this is a bit of an homage to that, presented to a wider audience in a different kind of format. But always, to true aficionados, even those things of what Jim and Harvey went through early on are deeply important. To me, [the critical reaction] seemed a bit kneejerk…when I saw it in print I thought, “Man, some 13 year old smart ass is writing that. ‘Nope. Pass!’”

IMDb: You also have to realize that a number of people said that about “Smallville” too.

Logue: What I like about some of this stuff, like with “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”, it is more difficult in some ways, in that you know that they exist but they can’t just walk into the room. That seems to handcuff them in a really hard way. But with us –

McKenzie: We show everybody. We can show Bruce, and Oswald, and Nygma — every single character, we have access to. The only character we don’t have access to is Batman, but that’s because we’re taking it 20 years before. Eventually he will become Batman, but at this point he’s a 12-year-old boy. You’ll see him struggling with all the issues, psychologically and otherwise, that will eventually compel him to put on the cowl… For people who aren’t familiar with David Mazouz’s work, he’s a great actor. And I think watching him process all of what he’s going through at such a seminal moment in his life, it’s just going to be riveting.

And the battle between Jim and Alfred over Bruce’s soul, the conflicting philosophies that they have – they’re both trying to steer Bruce down a path, but those paths differ – they’re trying to make Bruce not choose this path of vengeance and vigilantism. But they’re going to fail.

IMDb: Let’s take away all of those criticisms we talked about. What would you tell someone who is coming to this show, knowing what Gotham is, but otherwise coming in cold? Would you say “Gotham” is more like a procedural, or that it’s part of the Batman, comic book universe but without a superhero in it?

McKenzie: My answer that I would give to anyone on any show, even if I didn’t work on the show, is: “Watch the pilot. Just watch the pilot. If you don’t like it, you don’t have to watch it.” It’s such an easy answer.

Logue: Look, this is a group of people who are so actively engaged in [this universe] that of course there’s going to be criticism. It’s amazing, the confidence with which people have opinions and dismiss it without having seen it! But to me, per some of earlier questions that we had, it’s the absurdity of, for example, how satisfying could Chinatown be if the rich guy gets away with murder at the end? Well, exceedingly.

McKenzie: And this idea has been around for a while! Back to Oedipus Rex!

Logue: …And so, yes, there’s a procedural element to it, which I really like, and I think the crimes are really interesting.

McKenzie: Because it is a little noirish, the crimes are odd and they’re not…it’s not like we have to go through eight different procedural points to discover this huge reveal of who it could possibly be. It’s more about how bizarre, twisted and crazy the world that we’re entering into is. … It’s fascinating and [the crimes] all give you a small window into how completely compromised every aspect of Gotham is, from the church to the police force, to the political powers that be. Everyone is on the take, and so weird crimes manifest in strange ways, and people behave in a bizarre manner because they’re without hope. And Jim’s the only hope there is.

IMDb: Also, in the end, none of these people are metahuman. They’re all just people doing crazy, heightened things.

McKenzie: Yes!

Logue: I’ve always loved the DC world because it’s rooted in, like, a Jungian-style human psychology where people take actual masks to match their shadow. I think that really bodes well for us, because it’s rooted in this visceral part of human nature. So when you’re talking about, “How can you do a show that explores the darker side of human nature, and how it behaves in an overly urban environment?” If you can’t see that there’s no limit to the storylines there, then I don’t know what to say.

It’s OK. Look, we’ll take whatever criticism comes our way, and we’ll even take it before someone’s actually tasted the meal, but that comes a little with this universe, I think.

Test Post

August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in Toronto - (0 Comments)

This is a post for the Toronto Film Festival.

Before the Fest Starts — Academy Award-nominated composer Alexandre Desplat (pictured) has the enviable or un-enviable task of heading the In Competition jury for Venice. He will either butt heads or lock arms with various members of his eclectic jury including highly-skilled filmmaking artisans such as:

Before the Festival Begins – Preamble

August 22nd, 2014 | Posted by keithsim in Venice - (0 Comments)

Before the Fest Starts — I was extremely honored to be asked by the organizers of the Venice Film Festival to attend their legendary, venerated event for my first time, with travel and lodging paid. It is, after all, the grand-daddy of them all, the oldest festival, going on its 71st edition. But Venice is never fusty but, rather, the opposite. Two year’s ago many were surprised when PIETA took home the Golden Lion. This same crowd suggested that if THE MASTER had been In Competition instead of in the “Out of Competition” category it would have surely won the top prize. But both are iconoclastic films so that either could have been the top film says much about the nature of the fest and its juries.

Venice’s lineup continues its tradition of debuting outstanding, or at least artistic and provocative, films. Festival director Alberto Barbera and his staff have compiled another impressive lineup and 54 of the 55 films showing at Venice are world premieres, including the opening night film, Alejandro Gonzalez Inarritu‘s BIRDMAN, starring Michael Keaton and Edward Norton. We’re listing all of the films in our lists (below) and in our Mini-Guide section:

Venice has broken down the categories for us:

A Dame to Kill For: A Chat with Frank Miller

July 31st, 2014 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

The reverence comic book readers hold for Frank Miller is understandable when one contemplates the depth of his influence on popular culture. Christopher Nolan’s Batman trilogy drew heavily from Miller’s reimagining of the iconic superhero in his 1986 series The Dark Knight Returns and 1987’s Batman: Year One. You can see shadows of Miller’s signature artistic style in the films of Zack Snyder, who directed the film version of Miller’s graphic novel 300 before taking on Watchmen and Sucker Punch.

But while his takes on classic DC heroes such as Batman and Daredevil were singular, Miller’s original creation, his hyper-noir Sin City graphic novels, may be his most celebrated work. Set in the deeply cruel and corrupt town known as Basin City, its vignettes paint portraits of tough men with tender souls, and women who are sexy, sinister and controversial… but never simple, or easy.

Miller co-directed a film version of Sin City with Robert Rodriguez in 2005, and on August 22, nearly a decade later, its sequel Sin City: A Dame to Kill For hits theaters. We sat down with Miller at San Diego Comic-Con to talk about what it’s like for a cartoonist to direct films, what fans of the graphic novels can expect to see in the movie, and which films and TV series have influenced his work.

IMDb: Let’s talk about the evolution of your directing. You co-directed the original Sin City almost 10 years ago, and in between you did The Spirit. What do you think that you learned from both of those experience that you’re bringing to Sin City: A Dame to Kill For?

Frank Miller: The primary thing that I’ve learned is that I love working with actors, which was my biggest fear coming into film. I knew I could tell a story visually, and I knew I could write a story. But I’m not known as a people person, so I didn’t know how I’d deal with actors. I found them to be the central thrill of directing, that actors are extremely intelligent, hard-working people who bring a great deal of creative life and energy to the parts. That has been my biggest discovery, beyond the many technical things I’ve learned and the many things that Robert Rodriguez has taught me.

I did learn, for instance, that you allow exactly two seconds before somebody asks you a question and you give an answer. You’ve got to keep the crew running. You have to be very decisive, and you have to be relentless. And once you make up your mind about what kind of movie you want to make, you can’t be swayed by people along the way to change the direction of it, because then you’ll end up with a pile of Jello.

IMDb: I just came from the “Game of Thrones” panel, and George R.R. Martin said something interesting I wanted to run past you. He’s had a lot of fans asking how he felt about the parts of the show that aren’t true to the source material. His answer is that when people ask him that, he always asks the question, ‘How many children does Scarlett O’Hara have? In the book she has three. In the film she has none. But really, she has none because she doesn’t exist.’

You’re in a different situation: You created the source material, and you’re close to the movie as a co-director. In making A Dame to Kill, did you feel more liberated from the material? Do you hew as closely to the comic book this time, or will there be a few departures?

Miller: The only significant departures are that there are two new stories in it. We decided to put them in, since I’ve got so many new Sin City stories ready to go, and it was a pleasure. Stylistically, I would say what’s happened with the technology has been the biggest change. The digital revolution is well upon us now, and then we’re talking about the use of 3-D, which I really had my doubts about until Robert showed me how he intends to use it.

It works with my stuff, because my artwork is very simple. I give you exactly the information I want you to have to tell a story. And so if it pops forward, it’s not jarring. It’s not as if you’re being flooded with spaceships, or aliens or dinosaurs. It doesn’t have, what is to me, the very sickening feel that some other 3-D movies can have.

IMDb: Yes, you’ve always brilliantly used negative space to bring the action forward. That must be interesting to explore on film as opposed to the page.

Miller: Yes, it’s wonderful to actually plan a shot where three-quarters of the shot is white, and the action is taking place over on the side. It’s a thrill, especially since it’s moving, and since somebody real is playing the part who’s giving it his particular swagger or her particular point of view. So it’s been a kick.

IMDb: There have been a lot of discussions about the way female characters are portrayed in popular culture… There have been instances when some people look at the women in Sin City, and the fact that a number of the key players are prostitutes, and might see those portrayals as somewhat reductive —  even though the women of Old Town hold control of that sector, hold political sway and protect themselves. What is your response to those who make that critique?

Miller: Anybody who calls me a realist should really give things are second look. I mean, my characters are cartoons. They’re deliberately cartoons. Is anti-masculine to have a character like Marv? Is it anti-police to do a corrupt cop? It’s a city that is made of visual fantasy because… it is true of cartoonists, that a lot of us come up with stories that involve things we like to draw. The fact is, I like to draw cars, and I like to draw tough guys, and I love to draw women.

IMDb: In this particular iteration of A Dame to Kill For, what are some of the things that longtime Frank Miller fans can look forward to seeing that they might not have noticed from your previous work?

Miller: They won’t have known about the new stories, and I think they’ll be surprised and rather thrilled by the new story that Jessica Alba’s in, because it is a coda, a completion, of That Yellow Bastard. Also, the heightened sort of super-real sense to the first movie is topped handily by this one. The technology has advanced terrifically. The actors are all much more comfortable in their roles, and I think it’s full of surprises.

You’ll get to see Marv, for instance, before he gets killed. And it fills in the history of much of Dwight McCarthy’s character.

IMDb: Let’s talk a bit about Nancy Callahan. … What made you want to expand that particular storyline?

Miller: Because her story wasn’t complete. She has one of the best arcs in the entire canon: she begins as an abused child who turns into an exotic dancer, and then meets the love of her life and has him commit suicide. Her story isn’t over.

IMDb: Last question: When you’re developing film scripts or look at new subjects for your comics, are there particular films or TV series, or even portrayals within those works, that you draw upon for inspiration?

Miller: Oh, sure. But there are so many!

IMDb: What are the top ones that come to mind, that you’d recommend?

Miller: I would suggest the work of Sergio Leone, Sam Fuller, all of the obvious people. The Hitchcocks, the Orson Welleses, etc. And the occasional TV series, like “Gunsmoke,” or “Kojak,” or even things like “NCIS,” which is currently [on the air]. It’s a wondrous world out there. There’s tons of material.

IMDb: I’m very surprised that you would recommend “NCIS”. This is not to say that I don’t like “NCIS,” I just would not have called it as one of your choices.

Miller: I just think it’s a wonderful ensemble cast, and it’s one of the funniest shows on television.

Comic-Con 2014: Thanks For the Memories.

July 28th, 2014 | Posted by Melanie McFarland in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

I cannot tell a lie, folks — the cool Sunday evening air of Seattle felt particularly good upon my return from San Diego Comic-Con.  Sure, the Con was fun. It always is.  But spending four days pretending to be the Millennium Falcon navigating an asteroid field can be draining — and this year’s swarm of slow-moving convention-goers seemed particularly thick, leaving less room to maneuver.

Comic-Con 2014 was something of a paradox: it felt bigger while seeming to offer fewer of the charms that made past Comic-Cons special. The entertainment industry’s presence felt more pervasive, and panels for the biggest TV series were packed. To echo the observation made in a previous post by my colleague Michelle Nelson, after Thursday night, it became tougher to find extraordinary cosplayers on the floor that weren’t sponsored or professionals such as Yaya Han.

Granted, there were a few Con-goers whose costumes showed a level of ingenuity that blew my mind, like the “Supernatural” fan who constructed fully expandable angel wings that were to true to scale. (Thanks to TVLine West Coast Editor Vlada Gelman for sharing that photo on Twitter.) Or the guys dressed in functional Transformer costumes, including one whose Optimus Prime was taller than a pair of elevator doors.

Or the family attending the small child on a tricycle smoothly pedaling along while dressed as Jigsaw‘s puppet. Afterward a few of us debated whether that kid’s mother and dad were the greatest parents ever, or the worst. And, Powdered Toast Man? Whoever you are, thank you for being you.

San Diego Comic-Con has been dominated by the entertainment industry for years now, and considering that plenty of films and television series are based on comic book, video game, science fiction and fantasy franchises, I get it if there are fewer people choosing to go all out with their costumes. The Con ceased being merely a geek event eons ago. More everyday movie and TV fans are buying tickets for a chance to be in the same room with their favorite stars.

It’s also understandable if fewer devotees to the artistry inspired by these films and series bother to construct intricate costumes from scratch, dress up, and baste in their own sweat while fighting their way through the increasingly crowded corridors. Should this perceived trend continue, and the Con grows to be even less about celebrating the artists who create these works of popular art, something beautiful will be lost … to San Diego at least. Comic book conventions in other cities appear to be growing in popularity, including one right here in IMDb’s backyard, Emerald City Comic-Con. For geeks who want to keep plenty of comic books in their ‘cons, this is a welcome sign.

It must be said that San Diego Comic-Con’s tightening embrace of the entertainment industry isn’t entirely a terrible thing. I can’t think of any other large-scale environments where so many viewers who think deeply and critically about their favorite shows can speak directly to the people who make them, and have that dialogue witnessed live, without the anonymity and filter of the Internet. There’s value in that face-to-face interaction.

This leads me to recall one of my favorite moments of this year’s Comic-Con, when I happened to cross paths with “Hannibal” creator Bryan Fuller following his show’s well-attended panel. Where other showrunners were coy about sharing too much information with fans, Fuller wondered aloud whether he had given “Hannibal’s” Comic-Con panel attendees enough details about the upcoming season. They wait in line for hours, he said, and he was concerned about doing everything he could to honor that kind of devotion.

At that panel were plenty of cosplayers and many others who weren’t dressed up, but everybody seemed content to be there with hundred of fellow “Hannibal” fans. There was a sense of openness and belonging in that room, which is what Comic-Con should always be about at its heart.

Comic-Con 2014: My Favorite Moments

July 28th, 2014 | Posted by Michelle Nelson in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

For the past couple of years when I’ve recounted my favorite Comic-Con moments, the fans and cosplay are usually at the top of my list.  But this year felt different.  There didn’t seem to be as many people dressed up, and there were many times when I did see a cool costume, only to discover it was a paid actor promoting a film or TV show.  On more than one occasion I saw people taking photos of people dressed as a pack of gum or a mobile phone (both were promotions). There certainly was a blurred line between commercial promotion and the celebration of our favorite characters. Despite this noted difference, I had a lot of fun this year and was very impressed by the footage that was revealed.

Here are a few of my favorite moments:

If an hour can be a moment, the entire Hobbit panel tops my list.  I am still smiling.  A few highlights that stand out were hearing Andy Serkis use Gollum’s voice to answer a fan question, the outtakes reel, and when Stephen Colbert asked Cate Blanchett if she wore any of her original costumes from the Lord of the Rings in the new film. She misheard him and thought he asked if she wore any underwear beneath her costume.  Apparently she did not!

“The Walking Dead” is one of my favorite shows. I don’t care what the haters say, I loved the last season: “Claimed!” and “Just look at the flowers” now have regular use in my everyday conversation.   I always look forward to covering the “Walking Dead” events, not just because I’m a fan, but because the cast and crew seem so genuinely happy to be there.   At the “Walking Dead” BBQ, they were taking selfies and signing items for fans.  Norman Reedus and Greg Nicotero also judged a Comic-Con costume contest, and Nicotero gave tips on their costumes.  This makes me like the show even more.

I had assumed that The Boxtrolls was a CG-animated feature.  I found the panel so fascinating as they shared how they created this world in a hybrid of motion-capture and visual effects.  My favorite part of the panel was when Elle Fanning told the story about the first time she visited the animation studio with her sister, Dakota, when she was filming Coraline.  While there, she met the woman who knit the tiny little sweaters for the characters, and as she described watching her work, her eyes just lit up with delight.

In the Sin City: A Dame to Kill For panel, what stood out to me the most was the amount of respect Robert Rodriguez and the entire cast have for Frank Miller’s work.   It was expressed repeatedly that the primary goal in production is to stay true to his original vision.  Miller told a story about how he had drawn a storyboard for Jessica Alba’s character, putting her in an action pose that he knew wasn’t realistic, but that he drew in his usual style nevertheless.   One day on set, he was surprised to see Jessica in this impossible pose. He stopped her and said, “What are you doing?  How are you getting like that?” Jessica answered, “That’s what you drew.”

Every year Entertainment Weekly hosts a series of specialty panels, and this year I checked out the Women Who Kick Ass panel, with Katey Sagal, Sarah Paulson, Tatiana Maslany, Nicole Beharie, Maisie Williams, and Natalie Dormer.  I learned so many interesting facts from each of the panelists, but there were two standout moments: listening to Sarah Paulson describe her transformation into a 77-year old Lana Winters in “American Horror Story: Asylum,” and Tatiana explaining that she has different music playlists that help her get into each of her “Orphan Black” clone characters.

While waiting in a line for a panel, a little dog drove by in a Superman convertible with “Kryptonite” playing on his stereo.  There was so many people you couldn’t tell who was operating the remote control.  You can see the photo on our Instagram:


What with all the hoopla surrounding new and returning TV titles at Comic-Con, it helps to be reminded that more than a few series made a splash here just once, never to return. I could list a few of those titles as examples, but I honestly can’t recall any off the top of my head because their lifespans were short and unsung.

I bring this up because on Saturday and Sunday, the casts and producers of “True Blood” and “Sons of Anarchy” appeared before their faithful viewers at Comic-Con for a final time. Tears were shed during each panel, and heartfelt moments brought attendees to their feet to give the actors and producers standing ovations.  These long-running series appeared regularly at Comic-Con through their runs, and each of their casts poignantly thanked the fans by acknowledging that they owe their long lifespans to their passionate viewers.

Fan favorite Kristin Bauer van Straten cried frequently during “True Blood’s” panel. By her report, she was one of the biggest weepers on the set whenever she experienced the “last” of anything. But surprisingly enough, on the “Sons of Anarchy” panel, the person who lost it was none other than the show’s hard-boiled creator and executive producer Kurt Sutter,  moved to tears by a heartfelt expression of gratitude by the series’ go-to director Paris Barclay  and a standing ovation by the fans in Hall H.

Saturday and Sunday also brought panels for “The Vampire Diaries” and “Supernatural”, the latter of which is entering its 10th season and will air its 200th episode. Each show has a reputation for drawing particularly enthusiastic, devoted fans to its panels. “Supernatural” usually panels at the end of Con, so the people who show up are not only deep fans of the show but Comic-Con diehards, which created the air of a particularly joyous family reunion on Sunday morning.

Keep reading for highlights from these panels and details about what’s in store during the upcoming seasons and episodes of these shows.

True Blood airs the sixth of its final 10 episodes this week, and Saturday evening’s panel had a uniquely celebratory vibe to it. Even Rutina Wesley showed up although her character, Tara, is officially among the dearly departed. Or, we should say, she’s left Bon Temps … but according to showrunner Brian Buckner, we have yet to see footage from the very last scenes Wesley filmed on the show.

However, both Buckner and Anna Camp teased that what’s in store for Sarah Newlin, one of the main figures responsible for helping to create and spread the fatal Hep V virus to vampires, will be particularly awful/awesome. “I think I get what I deserve,” Camp told fans.

Buckner added that the day that they shot Sarah receiving her “punishment,” Camp’s boyfriend was on the set and he had to explain to the man, “She deserves this, she deserves this!”  Oh dear.

Saturday’s vampire weekend treat began earlier that afternoon with The Vampire Diaries panel, which kicked off with a funny spoof video that picked up from the finale’s fade-to-white cliffhanger by showing Kat Graham and Ian Somerhalder, both of whose characters were presumably zapped out of existence, turning up on an empty soundstage with no clue as to what happened to them. Nina Dobrev, Paul Wesley and Candice Accola, meanwhile, acted as Graham were huge divas behind the scenes and they were glad to have them gone.

Naturally, Graham and Somerhalder then took the stage to eardrum shattering screams because, honestly, did you really think they’d kill off one of the Salvatores? Executive producer Julie Plec confirmed that the pair would be back but, of course, did not say how that would happen.

What Plec and the cast did reveal is that the time jump between the finale and the premiere is four months, and that in the coming season Matthew Davis, who plays Alaric Saltzman, will return as a teacher at the university.

Sunday’s Sons of Anarchy panel did not offer many details about the coming season – Sutter likes to play his cards close to the cut – but those assembled in Hall H did get a first look at the opening montage of the season which included the usual riveting moments of beauty, brutality, tragedy and as the cherry topper, a little bit of D.I.Y. dentistry. “I think we’re gonna break a lot of hearts this year,” said David Labrava, who plays Happy. “Get your handkerchiefs ready.”

The end of the series does not mean the end of its story, however. A novel titled Bratva comes out this fall, with the action taking place during the events of season four, in which the club tangles with a Russian gang. Sutter also updated fans on the status of a “Sons of Anarchy” prequel currently being developed. He said that it could be a miniseries or a regular series commitment, and will explore the club’s origins dating back to John Teller’s era and his relationship with Piney.

One of Sunday’s top TV destinations at Comic-Con, “Supernatural,” opened with series star Jensen Ackles introducing the season 10’s version of the signature “The Road So Far” recap reel before treating fans to a scene from an upcoming episode he directed. After co-stars Jared Padalecki, Misha Collins and Mark Sheppard joined him onstage, Ackles and Padalecki told fans about the coming season’s central conflict between Sam and Dean… rather, Sam and Demon Dean.

Ackles explained that his demon version isn’t a meat suit, but a twisted, tortured version of his soul. In the clip, Dean taunts Sam with his past actions, asking Sam whether he is any less monstrous than his demon brother. Showrunner Jeremy Carver also said that in the first few episodes, Dean enjoys being a demon while Sam searches for a way to save him.

Season 10 also brings “Supernatural’s” 200th episode, which the panel teased would be the show’s version of a musical episode featuring “big hair bands.” In fact, Ackles said, we’ll discover that Dean enjoys karaoke.

Carry on, wayward sons.