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Comic-Con Wrap-Up: 10 Big Winners

July 15th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

Guillermo del Toro : The unofficial mayor of Comic-Con unveiled the best trailer of the event, his stunning, giant-sized first look at Pacific Rim, which aims to seamlessly fit together human emotion, smart science, and smarter CGI/visually effected moviemaking into one of the top event films of next year. After catching glimpses of del Toro’s robot vs. kaiju action, pretty much all other monsters (aside from Godzilla, but more on that in a sec), looked off in scale and purpose. Please don’t hate me, Milla.

Wreck-It Ralph: Much has been said about Disney’s acquisition of Pixar since that deal was inked in 2006, but Wreck-It Ralph, a story set in the world of classic video games, is showing indications of how Disney Animation Studios can create increasingly resonant movies by looking to Pixar’s standards. During the Con’s “trailer park” panel — an interstitial event where trailers are shown between live presentations – Wreck-It got the most applause each time I was present.

Joss Whedon: With a post-Avengers glow, our favorite male feminist hung out with fans the night before the emotional “Firefly” reunion, announced that “Dr. Horrible’s” will air on the CW, and seemingly is in position to do whatever he wants next, which may or may not be an Avengers sequel.

Iron Man 3: Robert Downey Jr. dancing up the aisles to a Luther Vandross song kicked off a presentation that offered a glimpse of Ben Kingsley as The Mandarin and gracefully let Jon Favreau sound off on his participation in the third chapter of Tony Stark’s saga. I never thought this franchise would earn lazy comparisons to Transformers, but let’s just say Stark and company will rebound after a questionable second outing.

After Earth: Apparently you don’t need Will Smith, his son, Jaden, or director M. Night Shyamalan to pack a conference room with news of a sci-fi/adventure story set 1,000 years after our planet’s destruction.

The Campaign: Initially I bristled at the inclusion of this comedy during the Warner Bros. presentation, but an improved second trailer and the Will Ferrell vs. Zach Galifianakis banter fully won me over. And I still can’t believe it every time I see that baby get punched in the face.

“The Big Bang Theory”: Being somewhat naive about this show, its graduation into Hall H made me realize how much of a true fan connection has been developed over its 5 seasons. Also, Kaley Cuoco should be hired for more comedy films.

Django Unchained: Of course Quentin Tarantino motormouthed his way through the script’s development and its myriad movie inspirations, and the footage was full tilt; however, it was the ways in which Jamie Foxx and Kerry Washington articulated their respective connection to the material that made me feel this might be QT’s first important film.

Godzilla: A 2-minute tease of Monsters director Gareth Edwards‘s take on the kaiju icon proved what we already know: Edwards is an emerging talent who could help reshape what it means to make an event film in Hollywood.

Two Season Threes: “The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” held two of the biggest panels this year — both in Hall H, and both as we await their respective third seasons. Universes will expand, characters we love (and otherwise) will die, and fourth seasons are a given, so let’s get to it already.

‘Thrones’ & ‘Dead’ Lead as TV Rules Day Two

July 14th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

“The Walking Dead” and “Game of Thrones” announced their respective return dates to 6,000+ ecstatic fans in Hall H on Friday. These two genre-changers capped a major day for television at Comic-Con; personally, each panel reminded me of the tipping point that occurred here at the height of “Lost”‘s popularity, when there was a clear an indication that the small-screen gives us more to invest in in terms of character- and plot-line development. You know, the qualities Steven Soderbergh has cited as he prepares to leave the world of film for TV.

Both panels delivered wildly entertaining previews into their respective third seasons.

Please don’t put me in the barn for saying this, but “The Walking Dead” is an almost-there show. What I mean: Now that we’re beyond the Frank Darabont dismissal drama and the shaky start to season two, true greatness awaits in season 3 as the Ricktatorship senses a mutation in the zombie epidemic and encounters a seemingly abandoned prison that pits them against pure evil in human form. I’ve had issues with the Rick Grimes character over the second season, and Andrew Lincoln seemed aware of Rick’s abrasiveness and questionable decisions. The same goes for his wife, Lori, played by the radiant Sarah Wayne Callies. (“I’m not a homewrecker, I play one on TV,” she offered.) Together, Lincoln and Callies offered sound defenses for their characters’ past actions, and Callies’s assertion that she’d ultimately done right by her husband and family was better articulated than most of Lori’s dialogue. I was like: hey, Robert Kirkman, perhaps she should be in invited into the writers’ room? At the end of the table sat Danai Gurira, who appeared at the end of season two as the katana-sword wielding Michonne, and David Morrissey, who will psychologically terrorize audiences as The Governor. Both actors kept their statements brief, but it’s clear they’ll be more front and center at Comic-Con 2013. And what else is there to say aside from the fact that Merle, the survivalist redneck played by Michael Rooker, appeared at the very end of the season 3 preview trailer.

George R.R. Martin himself moderated the “Game of Thrones” panel; one cool thing about Martin is the fact that he’s been doing the sci-fi/fantasy convention rounds for years, so he was most interested in truly interacting with his cast and the audience without being anything but his sex-and-violence-focused self. He had no filter – it was like hearing your cool grandfather swear, and the crowd loved it. They also loved each time Emilia Clarke and Richard Madden took a question; there was a serious Team Daenerys/Team Rob vibe happening. If I had to gauge who should win the throne from the Hall H reaction, it would be a Targaryen world. The season 3 casting announcements were thorough surprises; personal highlights were brief testimonials from Diana Rigg (who looks amazing) and Mackenzie Crook and his whole Rhys Ifans/I don’t really sleep look. This upcoming season is going to be such an all-star game it will be hard to back a single contender.

Comic-Con: A Warm, Totally Fuzzy First Day

July 12th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Comic-Con - (1 Comments)

Cooler temperatures, successful crowd-dodging maneuvers, and a genuine feeling of starstruckness made it a perfect first day at Comic-Con 2012. Here are some highlights:

  • Assessing the individual and collective maturity levels of the kids, who have grown up in front of the press over the past years and are keenly aware of the credit due to Stephenie Meyer, the franchise’s directors, and the worldwide fan base who have turned them into icons. And sensing there might be truth to the notion that Kristen Stewart and Robert Pattinson are indeed a couple by the way he devotes full attention to her.
  • Watching a kid in a Nintendo controller mask, a DIY construction made of cardboard and magic marker, get more attention than his older brother’s Batman costume.
  • John C. Reilly saying to a reporter, “You’re at Comic-Con, man, do your homework” in response to the question if he played the video game Wreck-It Ralph as a kid.
  • Talking with comedienne, Wreck-It Ralph co-star, and fellow New Hampshire native Sarah Silverman about Funspot, the arcade in our home state that used to give you five free tokens for every “A” you received on your report card (and 3 tokens for every “C”).
  • The Scooby Doo kids.
  • Holding brief, nearly back-to-back audiences with Tim Burton and Sam Raimi, both in similar all-black ensembles. It was good to listen to and speak with Burton about a project to which he’s long been connected, the feature-length expansion of his short, Frankenweenie. Raimi, though graceful, already seems weary of all the Spider-Man reboot questions and the misinterpretations of his Oz: The Great and Powerful project (and he didn’t seem to dig my question of whether he discussed directing techniques with James Franco, which I will be overanalyzing for weeks).
  • Seizing up as Michelle Williams approached and realizing I was thoroughly starstruck. Instead of asking about Oz: The Great and Powerful, I just wanted to look at her hair, patterned dress, complexion, and shoes from a respectful distance. It’s a bit odd to see a queen of independent dramas in this setting, and I didn’t think it was the place to talk with her about Meek’s Cutoff and how she was robbed of an Oscar nomination there.

With all the talk of Comic-Con becoming too Hollywood-centric and mainstream, sometimes all you need is a photo of Batdog to help you turn down the background noise.

With Preview Night Upon Us

July 11th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Comic-Con - (Comments Off)

From the IMDb archive: Catherine Hardwicke and Kristen Stewart at the first Twilight panel.

My first exposure to Comic-Con’s unique superpower, the ability to launch a pop-culture phenomenon, coincided with the Twilight panel four years back; this year, that saga comes to a close with a Hall H curtain call for Breaking Dawn – Part 2 on Thursday morning, preceded by an industry party the night before, where Michelle (@IMDbMichelle) and I (@IMDbArno) hope to snap some candids for you before the Con officially kicks into gear for 2012.

It’s an expected start to a year that has one major day of movie presentations — with The Hobbit, Django Unchained, Iron Man 3, Pacific Rim, Man of Steel, and others turning Saturday into the day everyone’s focused on. But let’s acknowledge the two studios who are missing from this year’s roster: Paramount will sit out 2012, and Fox’s barely-here presence has film bloggers wondering aloud if the Con’s special abilities are waning. I wouldn’t say a Hugh Jackman PR stunt to hype The Wolverine would change the prevailing opinion that the industry might be falling out of love with the event, but it would be a welcome surprise in a year that features more than a few notable absences.

Jackman’s Con history is in sharp contrast with someone like Will Smith‘s, who’s no longer Mr. July and isn’t scheduled to appear during the After Earth panel on Saturday. The presentation for the summer 2013 sci-fi flick won’t be graced by Smith’s son and co-star, Jaden, nor director M. Night Shyamalan. The panel isn’t even being held in Hall H. It’s all so curious that I feel as though one, two, or all three of them have to put in a surprise appearance.

Sci-fi fans will be treated to panels with Guillermo del Toro and Neill Blomkamp. The lovable and profane del Toro will unveil bits from his robots-versus-sea-monsters creation, Pacific Rim; Elysium, Blomkamp’s follow-up to District 9, could emerge as the buzziest Con revelation.

I’m also going to cover two of the best TV shows to stream from bed: “Game of Thrones” and “The Walking Dead“.

And if I manage to get a split second with Quentin Tarantino, who will unveil more of Django Unchained, I’m going to ask him if he prefers fast or slow zombies and, since he has some TV experience under his belt, to sound off on “The Walking Dead” since Frank Darabont‘s unceremonious dismissal.

Look, Up in the Sky! It’s … Stan Lee?

June 28th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Comic-Con - (3 Comments)

These photos of an animated Stan Lee from the upcoming Amazing Spider-Man video game essentially sum up our growing enthusiasm for Comic-Con 2012.

We will be there. Follow @IMDbMichelle and @IMDbArno for scene-by-scene details.

Sundance 2012: And the Winners Are …

January 28th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Sundance Film Festival - (Comments Off)

Sundance 2011

Congratulations to the Winners at the 2012 Sundance Film Festival

Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Grand Jury Prize: Documentary – The House I Live In

Directing Award: Dramatic – Middle of Nowhere

Directing Award: U.S. Documentary – The Queen of Versailles

Waldo Salt Screenwriting Award – Safety Not Guaranteed

Excellence in Editing Award: U.S Documentary – Detropia

Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S Dramatic – Beasts of the Southern Wild

Excellence in Cinematography Award: U.S. Documentary – Chasing Ice

Special Jury Prize: Dramatic – Ensemble Cast: The Surrogate

Special Jury Prize: Dramatic – Film Producing: Smashed

Special Jury Prizes: U.S. Documentary – Love Free or Die; Ai Weiwei: Never Sorry

Audience Award: U.S. Dramatic – The Surrogate

Audience Award: U.S. Documentary – The Invisible War

World Cinema Audience Award: Dramatic – Valley of Saints

World Cinema Audience Award: Documentary – Searching for Sugar Man

Best of Next Audience Award: Sleepwalk with Me

World Cinema Grand Jury Prize: Dramatic – Violeta Went to Heaven

World Cinema Directing Award: Dramatic – Teddy Bear

World Cinema Screenwriting Award: Dramatic – Young & Wild

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Dramatic – My Brother the Devil

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Dramatic – Can

World Cinema Jury Prize: Documentary – The Law in These Parts

World Cinema Directing Award: Documentary – 5 Broken Cameras

World Cinema Excellence in Editing Award: Documentary – Indie Game: The Movie

World Cinema Cinematography Award: Documentary – Putin’s Kiss

World Cinema Special Jury Prize: Documentary – Searching for Sugar Man

Alfred P. Sloan Awards – Robot and Frank; Valley of Saints

“And I Don’t Even Like Sports …”

January 28th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Sundance Film Festival - (Comments Off)

Still from The Other Dream Team

I cannot recommend The Other Dream Team highly enough. It is one of the more multi-faceted documentaries I’ve seen in recent memory, weaving together the formation of the 1992 Lithuanian Olympic basketball team, the personal histories of its players, and the sport’s legacy as the country fought for its independence from Russia. The Grateful Dead factor into the events, making the story even more unique; giving it Hoop Dreams appeal is the presence of Jonas Valanciunas, Lithuania native and recent first round NBA draft pick.

The work is also reminiscent of “30 for 30″, and director Marius Markevicius has a couple vets from that ESPN series on his crew. As of this writing, it’s been reported that six studios are chasing distribution rights, while others are — wait for it — vying for the option to remake the documentary into a feature. Hopefully, like Young@Heart, the documentary will find success and the remake will never make it past the development stage.

Sundance Capsules: Shadow Dancer & Room 237

January 27th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Sundance Film Festival - (Comments Off)

James Marsh is a heralded documentary filmmaker with Wisconsin Death Trip, Man on Wire, and Project Nim to his credit. He’s also an apt dramatist with the underrated The King and Red Riding: In the Year of Our Lord 1980, the best film of that trilogy. His new Belfast-set IRA thriller Shadow Dancer is effective, especially since Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy just proved that slow-burning story mechanics are better than chases, explosions, and shouted exposition. Andrea Riseborough stars as Collette McVeigh, a single mother and active member of the IRA who turns informant for MI5 after an aborted bombing attempt in the London subway system. She falls into the noble hands of Clive Owen‘s mid-level agent, who lays out her ultimatum. Despite bouts of unoriginal dialogue and overt symbolism (Riseborough wears a red trench in almost every scene after she turns mole), traces of familiarity end there. Even Owen’s superior, Gillian Anderson, misinterprets his effort to protect Collette as he goes a bit rogue once he realizes a second, more entrenched informant is in the mix. There are two nice twists at the end, one of them ambiguous.

Room 237 is billed as a “subjective documentary” on hidden meanings in the film version of The Shining. It’s definitely a crowd pleaser for people who think the world will end this year, or those who have played Dark Side of the Moon while watching The Wizard of Oz. Interviewees offer up a series of insights that blur the line between credibility and fanaticism, but director Rodney Ascher, who also edited his work, knows how to respect his cast while entertaining his audience. The notion that Stanley Kubrick created the film as a way of dealing with his feelings about the Holocaust and American imperialism are viable, while some people take what can only be continuity errors to another level of our obsessive search for meaning. More than anything, the documentary is a testament to Ascher’s editing skills, as he recontextualizes footage from Kubrick’s oeuvre with a deft hand. I’m unsure if his work will be picked up for theatrical release, but I think a long shelf life awaits.

LCD Soundsystem Takes Center Stage

January 26th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Sundance Film Festival - (Comments Off)

LCD Soundsystem leader James Murphy has always come across like a fantastic man on record and in interviews, so imagine how crush-worthy he is in Shut Up and Play the Hits, in which he reflects on his music career to date as LCDSS’s final show approaches. Exuding the kind of cool that comes from humble self-consciousness, Murphy’s answers to writer Chuck Klosterman‘s guiding questions touch on his love of art and community as he illuminates some of the feelings behind his decision to end LCD at a creative zenith. The footage from the Madison Square Garden show is emotional, and you will probably tear up for the 1,000th time during a live rendition of “All My Friends”.


I had to exit the V/H/S screening about 30 minutes into the feature, not wanting to be the second case of someone passing out during the horror anthology. Ti West is the best known of the directors, but he’s in fit company with David Bruckner, Glenn McQuaid, and others. The premise finds a group of violent guys hired by an unknown person to retrieve a videotape from someone’s property. They are the kind of people you hope meet a horrific fate, and by the end of the first segment, it’s pretty much a given that will happen in time. I hope the demon who looks like a wicked version of River from “Firefly”/Serenity factors into the overall narrative, because gross males need to be disposed of properly. Like her, I am a delicate creature; shaky-cam and hyper-editing are no good for my flora. Perhaps I will have to watch this one segment at a time. There was applause after the first chapter, something I’m sure never occurred once during The Devil Inside‘s opening weekend.


Beats, Rhymes and Life was one of the best documentaries to emerge from last year’s festival, and it fared well in theaters, too. Ice-T‘s Something from Nothing: The Art of Rap does not seem destined to mirror that success. As co-director and interviewer, the guy who wrote “Cop Killer” and espoused the pimp lifestyle sure does conduct a series of stale interviews.


Also somewhat zzz is Bones Brigade: An Autobiography, a documentary on the pioneering skateboard crew that included Tony Hawk and Steve Caballero. Of course the 1980s footage is ace and might inspire you to pull out your old Independent Truck Company t-shirt, but director Stacy Peralta made a classic with Dogtown and Z-Boys, and Bones doesn’t achieve the same level of greatness by default.

Two Imposters, One of Them Can Stay

January 25th, 2012 | Posted by arno in Sundance Film Festival - (4 Comments)

Still from Compliance


Compliance has earned wildly mixed reviews here at Sundance, and I feel it’s successful for that reason alone, even though it’s a filthy piece of work.

The drama puts the employees of a fast food restaurant through an incredible scenario orchestrated by a prank caller. Posing as a police officer, he contacts the store manager and makes her an unwitting ally in a plot against a pretty cashier, whom he accuses of stealing money from a customer’s purse. The manager quarantines the young woman, and for the remaining duration of the film she is subjected to a series of dehumanizing acts illustrate how some bend to the will of others without true resistance.

I think writer-director Craig Zobel slips up by placing value judgments on his characters, especially in the film’s coda. And the lurid camerawork is as sleazy as the true events that inform Zobel’s work. This is especially questionable and perhaps short-sighted filmmaking from a guy who has worked with David Gordon Green from George Washington through Undertow.

Still from The Imposter

More successful is The Imposter, an immersive missing person documentary that reveals one person’s fraud and one family’s potential crime and cover up.

13-year-old Nicholas Barclay vanished from his San Antonio neighborhood in 1994. Some three years later, a young man in Spain materialized, claiming to be Nicholas. We’re introduced to this man, Frédéric Bourdin, at the beginning of The Imposter, and he guides us through how he duped authorities on both sides of the Atlantic and was accepted by the Barclay family as being Nicholas.

Keep in mind that Nicholas was a blonde haired, blue-eyed boy with a small frame at the time of his disappearance, and Frédéric, who was in his early 20s when he posed as the boy, was a Frenchman who bleached his dark hair the day he was reunited with his would-be sister and had three small tattoos inked on him according to Nicholas’ missing person report.

Wait, a tattooed 13-year-old boy?

That’s when I felt a greater sense of curiosity and suspicion about the Barclay family history, and director Bart Layton does a fantastic job at balancing Frédéric’s amoral deception with a sense of Nicholas’ true fate; he even lassos in a private eye who provides bits of welcome comic relief as he takes up the case against the Barclays.

A&E IndieFilms is behind the work, which plays like a superior TV documentary. That’s a polite way of saying I’m surprised this was programmed at a top-ranking film festival, but it is definitely worth seeing as Nicholas’ case remains open.