Monday, March 21, 2011

Wondercon's A Lot Less Wonderful This Year

For the past few years, Wondercon in San Francisco has been the little brother of Comic-Con. People get a chance to see some big productions abut upcoming movies, and see a star or two. In recent years, it's been a pretty impressive event. It's where I got my first Joss Whedon autograph, and very close look at Serenity.
Last year, fans got a chance to see Kick-Ass early, see the cast of Chuck and Human Target, and even see the latest episode of V. Heck, it's where most people got their first look at Inception.

You'd think the 25th anniversary of Wondercon would mean big stars plugging big movies. The fact that it's held on the first weekend of April would be perfect timing for a preview of Thor, Scream 4, Apollo 18, Fast 5 or even Dylan Dog.
Well, no. The fact that no one from Thor is VERY surprising. However, we will get a panel on Super, James Gunn's version of Kick-Ass. Rainn Wilson will be there with Gunn. It makes sense because it premieres in San Francisco the day before the panel. There's also a panel on Hanna, which starts a week later. I'm interested in that because Olivia Williams (Dollhouse) will be in it.
The big panel will be Green Lantern with Ryan Reynolds on 4/1, which will probably be the highlight of the whole weekend. What's surprising that three movies that won't premiere until much later in the year will also appear: Cowboys vs. Aliens (late July), Three Musketeers (October) and Immortals (November). At least with Immortals, Henry Cavill will get a lot of interest since he'll be the new Superman.

What's also surprising is TV Sunday will not be as star-studded as it usually is. Or, as Daniel Feinberg of HitFix tweeted:

@loquaciousmuse "Fringe," "Chuck," "Smallville," "Camelot," "Castle," "Community," "Supernatural." Heck "Glee" goes to supermarket openings.

NONE of them are coming to Wondercon. You'd think Smallville would come because it is ending its run on the CW, while Fringe and Chuck would have big finales.

So who is coming?
Doctor Who is coming, since it will kick off its new series with a visit to America (how come he doesn't drop in to San Diego, July 2011? We'll make room).
ETA: The panel will be moderated by Chris Hardwick. Mark Sheppard (aka Badger) will be there along with Neil Gaiman and director Toby Haynes. This should rival the Green Lantern panel.
A new Fox comedy called Breaking in, about high-tech security guards, will be coming with Christian Slater. That big new sci-fi show, Terra Nova, is also coming, despite the fact its May preview was cancelled a couple of weeks ago. There will also be a screening of Nikita, which resolves a big cliffhanger from the night before.
Two panels may be interesting because they involve two shows that likely won't be back. One is Human Target with Mark Valley. The other is V with Elizabeth Mitchell. I kind of hoped Morena Baccarin would also be there, too, since she and Liz never shared a real scene in season two. The V panel will also be interesting because fans will be asking if those who died in the season two finale are beyond resurrection, not to mention the show itself.

How Wondercon ends is also a surprise: we'll be seeing Dr. Horrible instead of Once More With Feeling. I'm not sure why, but this may be a new pattern: Dr. H at Wondercon and Once More With Feeling at Comic-Con. We'll see.

Wondercon is 25 years old. It should have gotten a better party. I hope it's not too late to add more guests.
Anyone want to e-mail Asgard?

Saturday, March 19, 2011

Paul: He's Of Peace Always, and a Real Event

You notice these days that people are telling us not to trust aliens if they ever decide to come here?
On some radio shows, they figure aliens will be as arrogant and cruel as humans were towards their less civilized brothers, such as the Spaniards against the Aztecs and the Ack-Ack Martians in Mars Attacks!.
Recently, a lizard lady from space made Earthlings her slaves while she locked up her double-crossing human-loving daughter, while another alien wants to start a nuclear reaction to set up a portal to bring his people over...and kill us.
And let's not forget that alien invasion in Los Angeles that was stopped by Aaron Eckhart, Ne-Yo and Michelle Rodriguez.
Yeah, aliens. Just can't trust those arrogant critters.

But then there's Paul. He's grey with a big head held up by a small body. He's got eyes cuter than that Puss and Boots guy in those Shrek movies. What's so dangerous about him?
Nothing, really. At least that's what two British sci-fi nerds learn, and a lot more, in a new movie that would be considered The Complete Sci-Fi Cliche Assortment, but is also a good road movie.
It's written by Simon Pegg and Edgar Wright, who revolutionized zombie movies with Shaun of the Dead a few years ago. They're the British nerds who decide to take a road trip after visiting Comic-Con. One night, they see a car in a rollover accident. When they look for survivors, they see a strange looking creature with a cigarette. That creature is Paul, who sounds just like Seth Rogan.

Anyway, once Paul convinces our two nerds he comes in peace, but would like to leave now, he gets them to drive them to the place where his alien friends can get him home. He also claims that he's played a large part in popular culture, especially a familiar movie and TV show.
They're followed closely by tough-as-nails Secret Service Agent Zoil played by Jason Bateman, and his assistants played by Bill Hader and Joe Lo Truglio. Bateman is really convincing as Zoil, and should repeat that role in other dramas. However, his boss is even more bad-ass. For most of the movie we only hear her voice, but we do know she has a picture of President Bush the Elder with the words "best thing I ever invaded", Gee, does Barbara know?

Along the way, the gang meet up with a lonely Christian trailer-park gal played by Kristen Wiig. I kind of liked her as a girl who gets a very unique revelation about her world, and how it convinces her to help Paul. Problem is, her dad soon joins the chase....along with two other rednecks who are upset the nerds wrecked their truck before they found Paul.

After weeks of us vs. aliens, it's nice to have a movie where reaching out to someone or something new is encouraged. Sure, the sci-fi references come thick and fast, especially in a redneck bar, but it's still quite entertaining.
When I saw it at the Century Stadium 14, the place was half-full. Apparently humans are in full March Madness even though the games so far haven't been close this March 19th. It may not overtake Battle: L-A, but it should do well in the long run. As usual, it's the story that sells the movie, even more than special effects.

As for the sneak previews, I saw the Bad Mother trailer again, but to get the real taste of that movie, find the red-band version. There was also Your Highness, and it does include Natalie Portman in a thong, and Hanna, who will put new meaning to the term "Hit Girl". They'll likely be featured during Wondercon, and I am going to say right now if Cate Blanchett isn't revealed as Hanna's mom, I will be shocked. I also saw one for Dylan Dog, who's a "cop" to keep the peace in the world of zombies, vampires and such. I was pleasantly surprised by that one, and I may check that out.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

The Triplecast Lives Again...In March Madness

For the first time, basketball fans can literally see every game of the NCAA Basketball Tournament. The new deal with the NCAA allows fans to choose between CBS, truTV, TBS and TNT to see their favorite teams, or at least a game that's more interesting than the others.
The only odd thing about this is truTV actually being a sports channel for a few days. It's about as strange as Lifetime carrying the WNBA for a while.
So why spread the NCAA basketball wealth on cable, rather than subtly suggest that getting a special channel on DirecTV to see all of the games would be better?
Two words: Olympic Triplecast.
I'm an old man, compared to the average age of people who write blogs. I remember when Pay-Per-View channels were new, when you could still hear what was happening even if the picture was scrambled. That was 1992, and it was the year NBC decided to offer live coverage of the Summer Olympics in Barcelona for a fee. Remember the Red, White and Blue Channels? They expected people who just HAD to see the Olympics live to pay a fee to get that chance.
Well, that didn't work. In fact, they discounted the price almost immediately, and even simulcasted the pictures on CNBC. That's why NBC decided to just spread the events to its cable channels four years later.

However, the idea of letting cable channels pick up the less popular Olympic events did work out for NBC. For one thing, it helped curling pick up fans in the past three Winter Olympics.
When CBS approved a new deal with the NCAA for the men's basketball tournament, it realized that whipping around from one game to another is no way to cover a billion-dollar event. So, they set up their own "quadruple-cast", with TBS, TNT and truTV carrying games at the same time. It also came up with a bar on top to show the scores of the other games happening on the other channels. Turner Sports and CBS know fans will be turning to their favorite teams or the most exciting game, but they still benefit.
So, why not offer this to, say, new satellite subscribers of DirecTV, or maybe a premium cable channel like the NFL RedZone?
Because still remember how much of a flop the Triplecast was. If you can offer people a special event, and avoid charging them for it aside from commercials, do it!That's one reason why the World Series and the Super Bowl will be on free TV forever. Anyone who tries to turn them to PPV events would be considered worse than al-Qaeda.

So, the idea of the Triplecast does live on, but in the best way: not charging fans for something they'll figure out a way to see for free.
After all, who needs a Triplecast when there's Twitter, Facebook, and certain ways to see PPV stuff for free?

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

PBS Brings Back Les Miz

A staple during PBS pledge drives is showing the 10th anniversary Dream Cast Special from Les Miserables. It was shown mainly between 1995 and the early 2000s. It was part of my diet of occasional Broadway along with Sweeney Todd, pre-Tim Burton version.

This past weekend, a new version of Les Miserables was shown on PBS during another pledge drive. This was the 25th anniversary arena version that was shown in theaters first (kind of like how they show operas from the Met). It's also available on DVD.

The reviews in the papers mainly harped on how Nick Jonas ruined what's otherwise a really good special. I realize casting him as Marius, the boy among men, is also designed to get the tweens to learn about Broadway. Ironically, the people who created this musical already did that with the "schools version". Seeing young students perform the musical at the very end showed that you don't need a Jonas Brother to keep Broadway alive, If they wanted a teen near-idol as Marius, get Cory Monteith or David Archuleta. At least Lea Michele makes a credible Eponine because she did that as an understudy on Broadway (and young Cosette before that) and in concert in Hollywood.

So, how about the venues: the Dream Cast played at the Royal Albert Hall, while the 25th anniversary event was in the O2 arena, which is like doing A Chorus Line at Madison Square Garden. Despite that, presenting the musical like a massive concert still works, thanks to big screens that add backgrounds and scenes. People still miss the rotating stage, but the O2 stage still works. Also, the Dream Cast is mainly a concert while the 2010 version is more like a musical, including some scenes I didn't see before.
I thought Alfie Boe looked a bit too young as Jean Valjean, but he really made the role his own. Just avoid shedding a tear while he sings "Bring Him Home".
Norm Lewis is a very menacing Javert, a man who has no doubts which winds up staining his humanity. It's the first time I've seen an African-American in that role, but the way he struts around is something you don't forget.
The one thing that recommends this version is bringing back Lea Salonga, the eternal Eponine, as Fantine. Having her be the doomed mother who gives all for Cosette was a great idea.
Matt Lucas makes a great oafish Thenadier, and if his wife looks familiar....yep, it's the same Jenny Galloway who was there 15 years before. Hasn't lost a step. I thought Katie Hall was a bit too bright as Cosette. I guess I prefer Judy Kuhn in that role.

What also makes the 25th anniversary special great is the Four Valjeans, including Colm Wilkerson signing "Bring Him Home". It's as incredible as the hearing 19 different Valjeans from around the world, including Iron Chef Chairman Kaga, signing "Do You Hear the People Sing?" in 1995. Also, we hear from the people who created the musical, including Cameron Mackintosh, and the current London casts and the original members. For now, I'll keep my copy of the Dream Cast, but might pick up the 2010 version eventually.