Monday, March 30, 2009

Andy Hallett 1975-2009

I have seen him twice, but he was still unforgettable.
The first time was in Sacramento at a CreationCon with James Marsters. I think he was talking about the weather in Sacramento, but he was a very funny guy. I didn't have a camera back then, but I should have.

The other time was at the Wolfram and Hart Revue, another great convention that took place just months before Angel was cancelled on the WB in 2004. He looked great, and had a fine time with the fans. I remember people talking about how they could save the show.

I knew that he had some heart issues, and I had hoped he would be back on TV, or making a CD of classic music. It's just hard to grasp that a guy like that could be taken short of his 34th birthday. I was worried about heading towards 50, but this puts everything into perspective.

I know that the Whedonverse will never be the same again with the tragic loss of this fine man. When I go to Los Angeles in a couple of weeks, I will make it a point to go to a bar, order a sea breeze, and toast our friend, Krevlornswath of the Deathwok Clan.

Godspeed, Andy Hallett

Sunday, March 29, 2009

Amber Benson's "Death's Daughter" Tour in Roseville

It's been about four years since Amber Benson, aka Tara on Buffy, visited the Sacramento area. Back then, she was talking about her time on Buffy and a new movie she made called Chance.

Last Sunday, she talked about that, along with her first book, "Death's Daughter" at Borders in Roseville. Her appearance drew a good crowd of Buffy and Whedon fans. She started by reading a passage from the book, which recalls Calliope Reaper-Jones' first visit to Hell, and her conversations with someone tied to a tree. The book is about a girl who discovers that she is the daughter of Death, and has to fulfill her birthright.

She credited her old writing collaborator Christopher Golden as a main reason why she decided to write the book. "I feel like I went to the Christopher Golden School of Creative Writing," she says. " I don't think this book would be if I hadn't met Chris. I really wanted to do something on my own, and this is what came into my head."

She also talked about another difficult part of the process: the perfect book cover. She said she didn't have much of an impact, but they had discussions about the color of the cover, and how the title character looked. "I always sort of saw Calliope looking like Zooey Deschanel," she says...although that could be a possibility if a movie is ever made.

Benson originally saw Death's Daughter as one book, but later decided to make it a trilogy. She also calls it a homage to the Divine Comedy. "Maybe Dante would be writing chick-lit if he were around now." While the major story arc will cover three books, she says the possibility of a fourth book will be there.

She also talked about Drones, an office comedy with alien overtures. She and Adam Busch are putting the finishing touches on the movie. Johnathan Woodward will also be part of the movie. She also talked about her experiences with Chance, with James Marsters, and had lots of good things to say about him. (By the way, he is from Modesto, just south of Sacramento.)

With movies and books and web series, it's almost like she's trying to be just like Joss Whedon, who's doing everything from comics to award-winning internet musicals. She admits he's been an influence. "He's an empire," he says, "and it's amazing, like to work with him for three years and to see like him do all this stuff. I just learned so much."

She also talked about what has happened in her book tour. The day before, in San Francisco, she had problems with her contacts. However, when she started reading, she had to read with one eye because she forgot she had one lens missing. Still, she got through it just fine. She was also at ConDor, a convention in San Diego, but could only attend the first day before most of the attendees arrive. Later, they asked her to do live commentary for "Family." "The woman who was doing it, I don't think she knew Buffy that well, because she put on the wrong episode. We literally watched half of it, and I'm not in it at all." Later, they got the right one, and she got to talk about working with Oscar nominee Amy Adams, who played Cousin Beth.

She also had great stories about Joss, including one interesting tidbit: "When Joss was prepping Firefly, he came over to me and said 'I've written this pilot and I based one of the characters on you. Inara, I based her on you.' I read it and I was like, 'oh, so I'm a prostitute?'
That drew a big laugh from the crowd, but she admitted that "I think it was more like she was very bright, and was very sweet and nice". So, although Amber was surprised to be the inspiration of Inara, " I thought that was kind of cool that some of her is a little bit of me".

She also talked about an interesting discussion by some book editors at the New York Comic-Con, and she really did say that they were discussing werewolf sex: "They're like talking about werewolf sex, and how you can't have like a human werewolf and a werewolf werewolf (?) getting it on because ut's another type of book." Sounds like Twilight gone horribly wrong to me, but it really puzzled her.

Afterwards, she signed copies of her book and posed for pictures.

Monday, March 23, 2009

Cinematic Titanic: Mexican Vampires, Made In Manila

Recently, I've been seeing bad Italian horror movies being riffed by Cinematic Titanic and Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. These films are a unique breed, combining breasts with blood. Where else can a horror fan ogle a naked girl who either makes monsters or is carried off by one?

Thanks to CT, though, I found a even stranger movie: a Filipino vampire movie set in Mexico, where some of the actors are in blackface, and the evil demons are defeated by the full force of the Catholic Church. These, and more, are part of Blood of the Vampires. This was one of the two movies riffed during the recent live tour. I don't know how the riffs in the recent DVD release compares to the live showings, but it's safe to say there's not much difference.

The movie was released by the same people who gave us The Oozing Skull. You can tell that because the soundtrack for that movie is the theme for B of V. Right off the bat, the crew is in gear, noting the titles are trying to escape, and Josh noting "Gerardo de Leon, he's the guy who discovered the Fountain of Sh*t", which apparently is this movie.
The story is about the cursed Escordero family. The head of the family, Don Enrique, doesn't want his two kids, Eduardo and Lenore, to be married to their respective loves, Christina and Daniel (who basically doubles as a mannequin, as does Eduardo). The reason is there's a deep dark secret in the basement. It's so horrible, dad wants the house burned to the ground when he dies. Eduardo demands the truth, and Don Enrique reluctantly shows him through a secret room behind a painting (Josh Weinstein: "I predict this is the first of many times that this film goes into a wall."). In the basement, they find mom in a coffin...waking up! That's right, she is a vampire (Mary Joel Pehl: "Even in death, she needed a shave."). Lenore also finds out about the secret in a very embarrassing way, even for this movie. She decides to break up with Daniel, but he maybe talks her out of it. We don't know.

Then, Eduardo makes the mistake of visiting Vampire Mom, and taking off his crucifix to show his good will. Mom goes for the neck, and now Eddie's a vampire, too. He also has the best demon teeth in the whole movie. Still, Eduardo has to face it, as Trace Beaulieu says, "I got a hickey, FROM MY MOM!!" It isn't long before he makes his girlfriend Christina a vampire, too, and later his wife. Hey, he might as well...
Don Enrique is unaware of all this before he spots his vampire wife wandering around again, looking at Lenore's neck. He stops her, and she escapes so quickly "she's like an unholy Usain Bolt. (DVD's Frank Coniff with that one)" The "black" manservant does kill her with a wooden stake, and they burn her body. (Joel Hodgson: "That's the way I want to go, Kirk Douglas, Viking style."). Don Enrique goes to tell Eduardo, just in time to get killed by his vampire son.

As for Lenore, she fears she'll die the way mom did, but Daniel the Mannequin says they should run away together. They do, but their stagecoach has been damaged by Eduardo, and they both die, or one of them dies, or something.
Oh, Lenore lives while Daniel is dead, according to her vampire brother. However, that doesn't stop Daniel from visiting her as a surprisingly solid ghost. It also leads Eduardo to lust after her sister or at least her neck. This leads to one of the best riffs in this movie...

Mary Jo: Brother-sister vampire action? It's not right and it's not hot.
Josh: Would it help if they put one of them in blackface?

Ah, yes, some of the cast are put in blackface to show they are servants to the lighter-skinned not-Mexicans. The CT crew have quite a time mocking this decision, especially when they identify three "black" servants together as "the Jolsonettes".

But back to the movie: this soon leads to a battle of the undeads for Lenore's soul. Daniel even has an alleged sword fight with Eduardo. This doesn't stop Eduardo, though, from biting a servant right in front of his vampire wife. Tsk.
Meanwhile, Lenore digs up Daniel's body to see he is really dead. Then, the vampire family and the undead Jolsonettes arrive to feast on her body.
Finally, we get the typical unruly crowd with torches, ready to storm the house of evil that as Casa Escodero. Not only that, they have priests and nuns from every church in "Mexico" storming the place. This leads to a series of religious riffs that may upset or amuse the average Catholic. Daniel the ghost also shows up to deal with now-undead Lenore. This leads to a riff that sums up how ridiculous a Filipino movie about Mexican vampires really is. I won't repeat it because this is an obvious way to get you to buy the DVD.

Aside from the movie, we have a couple of host segments. The supervisor for the CT group talks about a "data spill" in the Copolla tank. The other segment apparently shows the crew in the middle of power drinking. Considering the movie, it should have started after the credits. Anyway, Frank claims he hasn't had a drink in 22 years, but will make an exception. Then he gets a call on his cell that freaks him out. Again, get the DVD, and you'll see why.
Actually, I've noticed the CT crew only does one "host segment" per DVD, rather than two in the earlier releases. Compare that to the ICWXP gang, who go out of their way to attack a bad movie just like MST3K at its prime with at least three host segments.

While this was another winner, I am hoping they can get the DVD for Dynamite Brothers released soon, probably around Memorial Day. I did see that movie in the live tour in San Francisco. If the crew at least kept The Spit-Take Heard Round the World, it will be worth it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Are Downloads Better Than Ratings? Echo Hopes So!

Fans of Dollhouse are waiting for Friday with baited breath, mainly for the pivotal episode, "Man on the Street." After five weeks of telling the story of Echo, a gitl who can be anyone except herself, in the usual procedural way, this week's episode is supposed to throw away the cookie-cutter and let the story run free.

One possible problem, or actually two: SciFi (soon to change its name to something that sounds like a chain of theaters) will be airing the final episode of Battlestar Galactica, while CBS has its NCAA basketball coverage. This will put some fans in a spot. Should they skip a very important episode to wave so long with Adama, Helo, Starbuck and the Cylons, or root for their favorite college basketball team?

Well, there's always one other option...TiVo Dollhouse, and watch it later. A lot of people have been doing that since the show began. Some have also seen it on the Fox website or Hulu, or even spent two bucks to see it on their iPods or iPhones.

Naturally, they could also DVR the basketball game or BSG, since BSG is leaving and the NCAA tournament is only on for a couple of weeks. But for this, let's say people will record Dollhouse instead. The real issue is whether TiVo'ing the show, or watching it on the net or on the iPod, is just as important as watching it live. There's has been a lot of mention of how many people watch the show up to a week after recording it. TV by the Numbers says it does boost the overall viewing numbers. It also does the same for Chuck and Terminator: Sarah Connor Chronicles. However, is it enough to keep them on the air? The costs of making these shows, as well as the ratings, may be what will determine if your favorite shows will stay on their air, or you're stuck with a dozen reality shows you don't care about.

The only example of a show returning to the air in an unusual way is...Family Guy. It was on for three years before it was taken off the air in 2002. However, thanks to cable reruns and DVD sales, it's back on Fox to stay, and is holding its own against dramas on Sunday nights. Jericho got another season thanks to tons of peanuts, but only that much.

So, could Dollhouse be saved by iTunes downloads, hits on Hulu and Fox, and TiVo? Could any show "on the bubble" be saved that way? If so, Dollhouse could be the first. It would also signal that the suits at Fox are the first to admit that people who watch a Friday show during the weekend, or even Monday, count just as much as those who see the show live. That should change TV as we know it, even more than cable.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

Why I Deserted "Castle", and Like To Buy Stuff Early

I had planned to do recaps of Nathan Fillion's new show, Castle, which is basically Murder, He Wrote. I gave it a shot last Monday, but it wasn't my type of show. First of all, the show is a variation of Bones, with the smart-aleck guy solving crimes with the stiff, humorless woman. There are two other reasons: Stana Katic's character, Kate Bennett, has no respect within the NYPD, and the show had the nerve to explain that Castle is such a jerk because he didn't have a father figure. That was the last straw. Maybe the show will get better a few episodes later, but it's not enough to get me back every week.

Meanwhile, I am very surprised by how tickets to this year's Paley Festival aren't selling like hotcakes. Maybe it's the selection of shows, ranging from Fringe to The Hills, 90210 to The Mentalist, Big Bang Theory to Desperate Housewives. I was also surprised there's no panel devoted to a classic show. Maybe it's the economy. What surprised me is that tickets are still available for Dollhouse and Dr. Horrible (even if it doesn't include Neil Patrick Harris right now). The panels that have sold out are Battlestar Galactica, True Blood, and a very affordable screening of the last three episodes of Pushing Daisies. I'm fairly sure more panels will sell out in the next two weeks. I'm just very lucky I have the tickets I wanted, and I can see two good panels. It's too bad we couldn't have Mad Men again. That would have been fun.

I am also surprised that Comic-Con has sold out its four-day passes four months before the 40th anniversary of the event. Usually they run out of four-day tix sometime in May. People must be hoping the 40th anniversary of Comic-Con will be bigger than big. It's still possible to get tickets for all four days, but it also means you can't be part of preview day. At least it proves what I have always believed: buy next year's Comic-Con tickets the second you leave this year's event.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

That Heavy Metal Riffer Is Back!

It's not easy to live up to the tradition of Mystery Science Theater 3000, or even make something that is a worthy successor.

But a Missouri Heavy Metal dude named Rikk Wolf did it with Incognito Cinema Warriors XP. Despite delays related to equipment, weather, or other things, it's become very popular. The third release, Bloody Pit of Horror, was finally available last Sunday.

For the uninitiated, the premise is Rikk Wolf is trapped inside an old theater surrounded by zombies in some post-apocalyptic world. With him are a popcorn maker named TopsyBot 5000 and a robot usher named Johnny Cylon. Their "Forrester" is Dr. Blackwood, a crazy long-haired guy who delivers the bad movies to them. The structure of the show is similar to MST, including host segments. This is especially true in the latest release. We even get a new character, a zombie head named Zed who sounds quite educated if not for his occasional rants where he vows to kill them all.

For the first time, the crew riff on a traffic safety movie called "The Talking Car". This was offered separately in their MySpace site. It's a strange short about a kid who had to prove to three cars in a weird dream he knows the "see and be seen" traffic rules. It's more "out there" than the "X Marks the Spot" movie the MST crew mocked.

Before the main feature, we see Rikk repairing the head of Cylon after, according to Topsybot, he turned into a were-gorilla. There are some problems, like Cylon being stuck speaking Spanish and Rikk getting sick from eating 40 year old donut holes. They also find Zed among those old donut holes. Dr. Blackwood isn't faring much better: he's trying to make a time machine out of a bunch of Magic Markers. "So far," he says, "the past is light-headed and blurry." Actually, it's the fumes of Time getting to him.

But being blurry may have helped him deal with Bloody Pit of Horror, supposedly based on the writings of the Marquis de Sade. It opens with someone called the Crimson Executioner being sent to the Iron Maiden, the device he used to torture and kill his victims in the 17th Century. Before he is sealed inside, he vows revenge. About 300 years later, the nightmare, I mean the plot, begins. A group of models, with a photographer and other people, stop at what they think is an abandoned castle. After they find a way in, they discover they are not alone. A guard carrying a candalabra find them, and one of them meets the owner, played by Mickey Hargitay (Mr. Jayne Mansfield, and Mr, Universe, too). He tells them to get out, until he sees one of the girls. So, they can stay the night..if they survive. Oh, and stay away from the dungeons.

So how does the ICWXP crew deal with this?
"Filmed in Pyschovision"...Filmed by your ex-girlfriend.
They go inside the lobby, which inspires Rikk to do a killer riff on Resident Evil.
The owner knocks over his chess pieces...Invisible Chicken Beat Me Again!!

Well, the crew snoops around for good wine while the editor, Parks, tries to sneak a peak at the models while they're undressing. Typical Italian horror movie...until the horrifying photo session with POLKA MUSIC!! This shocks Rikk and his friends until they thnk of worse things like Knight Rider 2008, then sing a happy tune ("It's the worst film ever made, ever made, ever made.."). Then, shocking accidents and deaths occur among the models and crew. There's also a skulking figure who apparently is behind it all. Edith, the non-model of the group, discovers it's the owner, who she had planned to marry years ago. Now, he delcares, he is the Crimson Executioner..although he looks more like a Mexican wrestler who'd never get past being jobber. Still, he comes up with interesting ways to "punish" those he thinks are impure. He even ties one of the models to a spider web, facing death either by a robot spider (Wes Craven's Little Miss Muffett) or a thousand arrows aimed at her. Seeing Rick, the writer, try to save her is something to see.

Meanwhile, the host segments are getting more complex. In one, the gang take a nap, and become haunted by the grouchy car from the traffic safety short. In another, TopsyBot and Cylon practice for a poetry slam before things get out of hand. The final one is a real surprise, because it's an update on the old Hexfield View Screen...and also very funny. This show is making an effort in recreating the classic days of MST3K, and is succeeding very well, Remember, this is a mom-and-pop operation from deepest Missouri.

Lately, there's been some changes behind the scenes, but this latest release shows ICWXP is making progress in great movie riffing. They have a new character, and some new writers like Josh Way, who has become a MySpace star thanks to Fun With Shorts and a couple of movie riffs, too. They have another movie coming soon called Werewolf in a Girl's Dormitory, followed by a fan choice which seems to be Hideous Sun Demon. While Rifftrax and Cinematic Titanic are getting the attention in maintaining the comedy tradition of MST3K, ICWXP also deserves the attention for its efforts. Let's hope it won't be too long before their next release is ready. Even if it is, the new stuff, especially now, is always worth the wait.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Of Nathan and Watchmen

I have a DVD-R of interviews of Nathan Fillion when he was promoting Waitress and Desperate Housewives. He looks so different back then, trying to get the non-Whedonistas to see how cool he is. He made progress, of course, and Dr. Horrible also helped.

Well, it looks like he finally has. Since he is now in an ABC mid-season show called Castle, he has the power of a network behind him. He's is actually touring, from Jimmy Kimmel Live to The View. I skipped his appearance on Good Morning America because I am usually asleep by then. His appearance on Kimmel on March 4 was the better one. I had some doubts about his haircut, and the velour jacket, but he was a hit otherwise. They talked about how he's become a big Comic-Con hit, and how people were dressing like him. He was also concerned when they look better than him, but I have never seen that happen. He was also surprised someone brought him a homemade Capt. Hammer doll. On The View, they totally ignored Firefly/Serenity, and talked about when he was on One Life To Life and that show about Housewives. They did have a clip from Dr. H, and actually gave copies of the DVD out to the crowd. That's fairly impressive, and I hope some are sent to Emmy voters who better give this DVD the honor it deserves....somehow.

Naturally, I will be doing recaps of Castle starting next week, but they won't be as detailed as my recaps for Dollhouse. I just wonder if Castle will really be any good, especially if they plan to keep the female cop he follows as bitter as possible. If we find out, however, that she's convinced he NYPD hates her because she doesn't play ball (despite the fact she gets results anyway), that is a good reason. It's like my concern on how Dollhouse makes Paul Ballard look even dumber than Barney Fife. It's only going to get worse for him after he meets Echo (trust me), and I would hope he eventually finds someone who does believe him...and who isn't an Active. Then again, that may happen well after Laurence Dominic tries to oust DeWitt as head of Dollhouse so he can get rid of Echo and kill Ballard for his peace of mind.

Meanwhile, I got some good news about seeing Watchmen in Imax. As you know, I was lucky enough to get a ticket to a midnight screening at Wondercon, then got turned away because I was part of the evil press. Well, the movie will be at my local Imax theater in downtown Sacramento in a month. Since I have 15 bucks in gift certificates lying around, I will be using them. So, it works out.

As far as reaction goes, the movie has narrowly earned "fresh" status at Rotten Tomatoes, which is the same as a passing grade. The fans seem to be split over whether the movie should be made at all. What's also interesting is that they have different reasons: the casting, Dr. Manhattan's anatomy, changing the ending, what's in and what's out, being too faithful to the series, and whether it has any significance to now. I just know about the first issue, and plot lines I have read from other articles. Now, we are not expecting this to be Dark Knight to the 5th power, or even more fun than Iron Man. Watchmen is what it is, and maybe it should have been split in half, as they plan to do with the movie version of the last Harry Potter book. The fact is, Hollywood wanted more comic book movies, and took on the ultimate comic book series. No matter what, and this also goes to the Twilight movie series, they will get our money. There is enough of an audience who want to see Watchmen on the screen, and they will be coming. If sales are consistent, or there is repeat business, then Watchmen is a success, whether people thought it was unfilmable or not. If it experiences a big fat drop in sales in its second week, like Twilight did, then we'll be getting some "told-ya-so" chanting. There will also be others who think the real version won't be available until the director's cut DVD...which is coming either in the fall or Comic-Con (guess which date makes more sense). No matter what, I will be seeing this in Imax next month.

Tuesday, March 3, 2009

OK, Wondercon fans, my report is done

The Wondercon section of Impaler General's Home Page is just about done. It includes some very nice pictures, and interviews from cool people. Of course, my interviews with such people as Summer Glau, Josh Freidman, Shirley Manson and Adam Baldwin are part of press conferences. Still, they have some very interesting comments you should check out. I did have a one-on-one interview with Ed Brubaker, award-winning comic book writers who is now getting into web series with Angel of Death. The cast will interest Buffy and Xena fans alike. I also talked to the director of Disney/Pixar's latest movie, UP! I also attended the screening of the first half, and I smell another Oscar winner. The only competition I see is Coraline, but only because it has a spookier story.
Anyway, just visit my site to see what I thought of this year's event.

Coming next month, I hope to have reports from two special Paley Festival panels in Hollywood.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Wondercon report on my website

I have just submitted five stories to Whedonopolis, including a one-on-one talk with Ed Brubaker, and press conferences with Adam Baldwin, Summer Glau, Josh Freidman and Shirley Manson. Those stories, and pictures, are on my website. It's still under construction. I still have to add two more stories, but that should be done by Wednesday

This year's edition was much better for one reason: they used the Esplanade ballroom again as its Hall H. Putting the big events in the basement was a terrible idea, and using the Esplanade should be a given every year. I still say that one day, they will have to use the entire convention area for the event. It will get that big.

My only disappointment, as I had said before, was the guys at Watchmen who didn't want press to see the midnight screening. Hey, I just wanted to see how it would look. I still haven't read the whole thing. In any case, I will wait patiently for Dr. Manhattan, Silk Spectre, the Comedian and the rest to play on my local Imax theater. Thing is, I had heard it may not happen until the summer. Well, there's still the Imax at the CityWalk. Maybe I can go there.

That is in my future because I got tickets to the two events I wanted to see at the Paley Festival in April. I got tickets to Dollhouse, which I hope will still happen, on April 15th, and the Pushing Daisies screening on the 19th. So far,none of the panels have sold out except Swingtown, which closes the festival. However, the Pushing Daisies screening was sold out only because it's only slightly more expensive that going to the El Capitan and see 3-D Jonas Brothers. Or maybe, just maybe, people would be willing to pay 15 bucks to see something they are afraid will never air on TV. Bryan Fuller will be there to introduce the episodes, but maybe we can hope some cast members may drop by, then have a piece of pie to remember it by. Of course, this is bound to change very quickly, but at least I was this lucky.

Anyway, the website should have all the stories that I am blogging elsewhere. I am happy to get the Wondercon section updated after two years.