Sunday, January 26, 2014

Karen Gillan Has A Thrilling Evening in San Francisco

It's been several months since Karen Gillan flipped her wig at Comic-Con in San Diego, revealing a bald head as part of her role in Guardians of the Galaxy. This past Saturday, she sported a nice short hairstyle when she was one of the guest stars of the San Francisco Sketchfest's annual broadcast of the Thrilling Adventure Hour. It took place at the Marines Memorial Theater on Sutter. The place was fairly packed for both performances. Most were long-time fans, but some were there to see her, Kevin Murphy from MST3K, David Foley from Kids in the Hall and Jason Ritter from Parenthood.

She was featured in the first part, a new adventure with Sparks Nevada, Marshall on Mars. He had to deal with a new sheriff who really doesn't want the job (Foley), his alien sidekick learning about sarcasm, and an invading alien empress (Gillan) and her confused yet deadly robot servant. Her accent seemed to be a blend of Glascow and Park Avenue, but the crowd was very happy to see her. Aside from Guardians, she'll be in a horror movie called Oculus, about an evil mirror, that's coming in April.

Part two was a time-travel adventure with Colonel Tick-Tock, which was really out there compared to Peabody and Sherman. He tried to get the Wright Brothers to invent the airplane despite interference from a mischievous being from the Blue Dimension (Paul F. Tompkins). Let's just say this guy was so annoying Q from ST:TNG would punch him in the mouth. This wasn't as strong as the first two parts, but I did like its version of Kitty Hawk, whose plans to cause and cure cancer were kind of first. Anyway, John DiMaggio from Futurama and 2000 other cartoon shows was one of the brothers.

The third part, Beyond Belief, about a swanky couple who encounter strange events, was a good closer. Imagine this couple at a vacation house, encountering a troubled romantic couple that may remind people of The Little Mermaid and The Incredible Mr. Limpet. Add some singing forest creatures who want a happy ending...or else...and you've got one weird story. Aside from Tompkins, it had Paget Brewster from Criminal Minds (just in time for the 200th episode) and Jason Ritter from Parenthood.

Kevin didn't have a specific role, but he was in the chorus for the ads, and one of the forest creatures. He's also pretty good with the ukelele.

Of course, there were the traditional ads for Work Juice Coffee and Patriot Cigarettes
Here's another link to the TAH with this demo reel.

Oh, I did get Karen's autograph, the first one connected with Dr. Who since I got John Barrowman's autograph several years ago. Now, if only Matt Smith can be persuaded to have a thrilling adventure that lasts an hour.

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Hey. Who's That Voice? Review of "In A World"

In a world...
of show business...
one actress...
who has been in several projects...
including a sci-fi show, an HBO series ...
and a popular show on Adult Swim...
wrote and directed a film...
about a woman trying to make her voice heard...
in a world...where only men's voices are heard...
and bring it to the silver screen.

Will this woman's words be read and heard?

In the places where In A World did play in theaters, it got some good notices. It's too bad it didn't play everywhere...including Sacramento.
Thanks to digital media, the movie is finally here on DVD. Lake Bell, who's had some experience in voice-over work before joining Children's Hospital, plays Carol, a sometime voice-over artist who's doing "voice crafting" for people including Eva Longoria. Her dad Sam (Fred Melamed) is a VO legend, but keeps telling her daughter the industry will never accept the idea of a female voice in blockbuster trailers.

Word gets out a big movie trailer is coming, and it will start with the words "In A World...", practically patented by Don LaFontaine.  Its a gig a lot of people want, but Carol suddenly gets into the mix after she fills in for a movie trailer VO job.

She also gets involved with VO diva Gustav, played by Ken Marino, who's also done some VO work among other things. Thing is, he doesn't know she's the one who took one of his jobs. He also wants that "In A World" job, and soon so does Sam.

Meanwhile, Carol's sister Dani (Michaela Watkins) agrees to record the voice of an Irish guest (Jason O'Mara) at the hotel where she's working as a favor to Carol. However, Dani's also falling for him. There's also Davis (Demetri Martin), who has a crush for Carol but can't find his voice to let her know.

Bell could have made this movie about a girl who wants to show her voice can get people to watch a film just as well as any man. However, she really makes it about finding your voice, and being respected and heard. Will Carol getting that trailer accomplish that? Well, Carol isn't the only one who learns to get heard by the end of the movie.

The movie also includes Nick Offerman (in a rare clean-shaven appearance), Rob Corddry, Tig Nataro, and Geena Davis. By the way, Melamed also played a VO diva when he appeared on The Crazy Ones a few months ago.

The film earned Bell a screenwriting award at Sundance last year, and she's up for Best First Screenplay at the Independent Spirit Awards in March. Let's hope we will hear from her again in screenwriting and directing.
In a world....namely this one.

Monday, January 20, 2014

The End of Awards Week: What Have We Learned?

After four award shows in one week, or two according to award snobs, the races for the major Academy Awards seem to be shaking out, but not as some expected.

Before the Oscar nominations were announced a few days ago, many people expected Tom Hanks for Best Actor, Oprah Winfrey for Supporting Actress, Robert Redford for Best Actor, and Inside Lleywn Davis and The Butler (we know which one) in the Best Picture list.

Matthew McConaughey for Best Actor? Maybe, but not a front-runner for that award. Too much smell from all those sad rom-coms in his career.

Her for any award? A man in love with his computer? Eeewww. Why is that a movie? What's next, remaking Flowers In The....never mind.

Well, this is what we've learned: some have settled, but Best Picture may lead to a real debate.

McConaughey is washing all the rom-coms out of his hair. His performance in  Dallas Buyers Club got less attention than Chiwetel Ejiofor's performance in 12 Years A Slave. After sweeping three award shows, it looks like he is the front-runner.There will be a lot of lobbying for Ejiofor, who may be held back by the reluctance of some people to see his movie. True, 12 Years A Slave is a brutal look at slavery, but it's real, and should be seen. Ejiofor is great as a free Black man who is sold into slavery, and endures a lot of pain and suffering to get back his freedom. This competition could get close in the final days of voting, but I'm starting to think McConaughey will win. I'll root for Ejiofor, though.

Supporting Actor is done. It was done the second Jared Leto's nomination was announced.

On the female side, Cate Blanchett may be a lock for Blue Jasmine. The only factor that could derail that result is Amy Adams getting five nominations in less than ten years, and some may say she is due for a win. Blanchett won previously for The Aviator. Still, it looks like it will be a win for Blanchett.

Supporting Actress had been forecast as a two-woman race between Jennifer Lawrence and Lupita Nyong'o, but Nyong'o may win here. There's hasn't been an actor winning two years in a row since Tom Hanks in 1994, and it's unlikely that's going to change this year.

Best Director is as done as Supporting Actor. Alfonso Cuaron is the easy winner for Gravity.

For writing, Spike Jonze may win for Her, because the story is just a new take on love. Adapted Screenplay should go to 12 Years A Slave.

Now, Best Picture...

if you're a movie critic or one of those Foreign Press members, it's 12 Years A Slave. If you're an actor, it's American Hustle. If you're a Producer, it's 12 Years A Slave AND Gravity.

So there's three front-runners as the lobbying starts. There's still the BAFTAs in three weeks, and that might nudge undecided voters towards 12 Years. It's also the only awards show where Behind the Candelabra, which wound up on HBO because movie studios were reluctant to distribute it, could wind up beating any of the Oscar nominees. If that happens, laughter from HBO and Steven Soderbergh would be so loud. It's up for three awards, including Adapted Screenplay, but it would be funny if it won something.

My guess is 12 Years will win once reluctant voters sit down and see how daring and serious this move really is. Again, the final vote will be close, but it will win. Gravity will own the tech awards section.

But getting back to those who didn't make the final five but should have...there is a solution:

Increasing the list of Best Picture nominations to a maximum of ten was a good idea. Now apply it to acting, directing and writing.

This was one unusual movie year with more good nominations than usual. If you increased the limit of nominations aside from Best Picture to seven, Oprah would be up for Supporting Actress, Redford, Hanks and Michael B. Jordan for Best Actor, Emma Thompson would be up for Best Actress. Thus, you'd have a more interesting ballot that recognizes the full list of good nominees.

Some were upset Davis was shut out, along with The Butler, not to mention Mud, Spectatcular Now, Rush, Way, Way Back, and Fruitvale Station. Throw in The Hunt and Blue is the Warmest Color, too. They could have gotten nominations, too. Some are blaming it on short-attention-span or maybe not much long-term memory.

If we went to seven, here's Best Actor:

Tom Hanks, Michael B. Jordan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Matthew McConaughey, Christian Bale, Robert Redford, Bruce Dern

Best Actress:

Amy Adams, Cate Blanchett, Emma Thompson, Judi Dench, Meryl Streep, Sandra Bullock, Adele Exarchopoulos

Supporting Actor:

Jared Leto, Jonah Hill, Will Forte, Daniel Bruhl, Barkhad Abdi, Michael Fassbender, Bradley Cooper (McConaughey would fit in for Mud, but it could have been a leading role)

Supporting Actress:

Jennifer Lawrence, Octavia Spencer, Lupita Nyong'o, June Squibb, Sally Hawkins, Julia Roberts, Oprah Winfrey

As for direction,  Ryan Coogler and Spike Jonze should be added to make seven there. Adapted Screenplay should include The Butler and August: Osage County, while Fruitvale Station and Inside Llewyn Davis could have made the Original Screenplay list.

Blue is the Warmest Color didn't qualify for Foreign Film due to missing an entry deadline, but it could have been considered in other categories. Adele Exarchopolous and Lea Seydoux would be in there, along with Adapted Screenplay. It's racy, at the level of Last Tango In Paris. That may put off some voters, but winners at Cannes usually get in the Oscar race.

I'd propose adding a couple of documentaries to the final list, namely Blackfish and Stories We Tell. 

Now, maybe 2014 will wind up as a down year in movies in terms of quality. It's too soon to tell, but if there's a situation where five nominations for the major acting, writing and directing awards is too few, add one or two more if it's needed. It would have averted the year of "where's Affleck and Bigelow?"

Sunday, January 19, 2014

About A Boy, About A Mother: Review of Philomena

While Ride Along dominated the box office this past weekend, other people took the chance to sample the movies that are up for Oscars but haven't had the chance to see. It should be a good weekend for Frozen, American Hustle, Her, Gravity (in some markets) and 12 Years A Slave.

Since I've seen them, I decided to try Philomena, who's up for Best Picture, Adapted Screenplay and Best Actress at the Oscars. It's about Philomena Lee, an elderly woman who gave birth to a child after pre-marital sex in 1952, and was forced to work as an indentured laundress at an Irish convent. If you have seen The Magedelene Sisters, you may know what that is like. One day, her young boy is taken away and adopted by an American family. They could do that, because she signed away her rights to the child.

She's never spoken about this until 50 years later, with only a small picture to remind her. She meets Martin Sixsmith, a former TV journalism who's out of a job after a minor political scandal. He hears Philomena's story, and isn't interested at first. Once he does some digging, and realizes he could get some attention for being part of her search for her son, he does help out.

The movie centers on the relationship between Philomena and Martin. Dench portrays her as a woman who
may seem naive, but is aware of some things. She is also reluctant to condemn the church for what has happened, but she has her doubts about whether she wants to know what happened to her son. Steve Coogan, who also co-wrote the script with Jeff Pope, walks a thin line her. His portrayal of Sixsmith did remind me a bit of his Alan Partridge character, but he also shows that if there is a fact that should be revealed, he'll make sure he does. He also admits to being an athiest, questioning why God would let Philomena suffer as she did.
Sharp-eyed fans of Game of Thrones may recognize Michelle Fairly as Martin's editor.

There were some people who accused this movie of being anti-Catholic, but they are wrong. As Philomena said, there were some nice nuns at the convent, as well as others who weren't. The attitude towards the Catholics is quite balanced

In case people didn't read the book, I won't reveal what the search uncovered. It does create a trail that ends in an interesting place. Meanwhile, Philomena is thinking about how her child may have grown up in America, and what happened to him.

It may seem small compared to American Hustle, 12 Years A Slave or Gravity, but Philomena is an interesting film about searching for answers and forgiveness.

Friday, January 17, 2014

We're Off To Riff The Wizard, The Riffable Wizard of Oz

How could you, Rifftrax?
Why have you become insane with power, and decided to target a movie that is practically a third of all the riffs you have ever delivered on MST3K? Do you think nothing is sacred?

Come to think of it, everyone has teed off on this movie in one way or another. SyFy made its own "variation" with Tin Man a few years back, South Park had its version which ended with Saddam Hussein captured, Saturday Night Live mocked this movie at least twice, and Mad Magazine had a version called "The Guru of Ours" about a fake Timothy Leary-type in 1969. Just recently, NBC unveiled plans for its own variation of Oz, but make it more like Game of Thrones.

So what can Rifftrax to this classic movie from the greatest year of movies ever, 1939?
For one thing, it inspired probably one of my best tweets: "They'll riff you, my pretty, and your little dog, too...and all of us, really"--Wicked Witch of the West after hearing about @Rifftrax". Let's just say Rifftrax liked it.

I also had to do my own Photoshop bit, as you see above. If you remember the MST3K movie, it had its own version of the scene where Dorothy thinks she sees Auntie Em in the crystal ball, and it was really the Wicked Witch mocking her. You might say this was the next level.

So, here's a sample:

The mp3 is now available, and it's safe to say they used both barrels on this movie. For one thing, they kept listing some urban legends about the Munchkins, and expressed deep bias against Kansas.

Update: hey, another clip, but it's more of a random mix of clips.

Here's some of the other riffs they threw at this movie:

Dorothy sings "Over the Rainbow":

Kevin:  It's really adorable until you realize she's freshly covered in pig excrement

The tornado arrives:

Bill:  Well, Toto, you knew this day would come. Time to sacrifice you to the storm gods.

"I'll get you, my pretty, and your little dog, too"

Mike:  Toto immediately starts planning his revenge piddle

The Scarecrow complaining on how crows aren't scared by him

Kevin:  I've never been able to stop the Batman, either.

Dorothy finds the Tin Man

Mike:  David Blaine's final, lethal stunt

They reach the Emerald City

Bill:  Welcome to Cirque du Soliel World Headquarters

The Cowardly Lion is afraid to meet the Wizard

Kevin:  I don't even like Fred Savage (Google "Fred Savage" and "The Wizard" to get joke)

One of the flying monkeys grabs Toto

Kevin:  Hey, look at me with the dog, I'm Paris Hilton

There's also riffs based on Zero Dark 30, the Kansas City Royals, Nick Nolte (again), a certain spaced-out short, Hugh Hefner, a certain rock band that has a connection with this movie, a really obscure Marvel comics character, two Disney films, and someone from Kate Hudson's family (if you see the second sample, you know which one). There's also a riff connected with Wicked and Oz, the Great and Powerful, too.

It's a very funny riff on a classic film, and may make you starting thinking things about the movie you never had before...and that even after the Oz prequel from last year.

If the Wicked Witch of the West did know about this, she'd probably Netflix the film through her HD Crystal Ball, then hear the riffs  through her iPod, and wonder why Rifftrax didn't target the other Oz movie with James Franco. After all, fair's fair.

UPDATE:  Apparently they're branching out to sound versions of MST3K host segments. Mike Nelson has two Rifftrax home segments in a SoundCloud page. There's an interviews the Munchkin Who Hung Himself just after the Tin Man joined Dorothy and Scarecrow on the road to Oz, which never happened, and Elmira Gulch, the Wicked Witch of Kansas takes on another evil movie character.

Meanwhile, an iRiffer named Ronin Fox had his own version of The Wizard of Oz. Here's his take in two videos:

It's also for sale, and people are starting to compare them both.

Friday, January 10, 2014

Comic-Con to Comic Cannes

When I went to San Diego Comic-Con the first time in 2004 to see Sarah Michelle Gellar, getting a ticket wasn't a problem. Sure, it was a great place to plug new movies and TV shows (it was the year of Lost, for example), but it was still a niche event.Those were the days where you didn't have to buy a ticket a year ahead of time to guarantee a spot. It was still an option, but not the only one. 

That was ten years ago, and those days ended once it was the place to promote movie franchises, from Harry Potter to Twilight, and now the Marvel-verse. Comic-Con tickets sold out months ahead of time The Super Bowl started to become jealous of Comic-Con.

Now, it's come to this...
this year's Comic-Con is making history by not selling four-day tickets, with preview night included.
This is the rate this year:

For adults: Preview Night is 35 bucks, Thursday through Saturday is 45 bucks, Sunday only 30 bucks.
For teens (13-17), people 60 and older and military, half that cost

That's the cost of massive popularity, and the chance of maybe meeting Robert Downey Jr., Joss Whedon, Angelina Jolie, or maybe the 12th Doctor...or maybe Stan Lee. 

That's why I came up with the Twitter hash tag, #ComicCannes

Comic-Con has been called "Cannes for nerds" for years, but now the rising cost, parties, off-convention events and free swag makes it complete. Getting to a sneak preview for a new movie is great, too. I still treasure the fact I was among the first in the U-S to see Inglorious Basterds in San Diego.
Despite higher ticket prices, people will figure out some way to get to San Diego in July, or Wondercon, which apparently has officially declared Anaheim its new home. Combining it with a short trip to Disneyland makes it more obvious. 

What people may be upset, aside from dropping two Benjamins for the week right off the bat, is that they may not be able to go to all five days. Also, preview night is now officially Day 0 of Comic-Con, including an admission price. Maybe the organizers may decide to add more events that day, aside from setting aside time for Warner Brothers to show its TV pilots. 

At least the amount of off-convention events, which are usually cheaper, may attract those without SDCC tickets. We should also thank websites that are smart enough to send us breaking news thanks to smartphone videos. It's how we learned about Tom Hiddleston brought the house down as Loki introducing the trailer for Thor: The Dark World.

However, making Comic-Con more expensive is good news for smaller cons, such as the Wizard World and Creation circuits. There may be less swag, but the chance of meeting a favorite actor is much better. 

When Sacramento has its first Wizard World event in March, people will get to see Stan Lee, William Shatner, James Marsters, and several people from The Walking Dead. Not a bad deal, and thanks to my status as a blog reporter, I get to check it out. I envy those who'll be at Wizard World in New Orleans, because Matt Smith, the 11th Doctor, will be there. 

It's also good news for DragonCon, which retains its status as Comic-Con without the glitz, but still filled with celebrities. 

High prices or not, I hope to get back to Comic-Con someday, mainly through being hired by someone despite my advanced age. For now, I'll look for any chance to see my favorite actors, in costume or not. 


Tuesday, January 7, 2014

From HAL to GAL: Review of Her

Romances between humans and robots have happened a few times in movies. Remember Making Mr. Right?
However, can a man fall in love with his computer's operating system? Maybe, if the OS changes, too...just like any regular romance.

That's what Spike Jonze has created in Her, a sci-fi romance like no other. He wrote and directed this movie, and has been getting raves all over the internet from fans in Los Angeles and New York. It'll open wide Friday, and when it comes, see it! There's many reasons why the Golden Globes like this movie, and maybe the Oscars will, too.

The movie opens with the sad face of Theodore Twombley (Joaquin Phoenix), who gives a touching yet puzzling monologue, until we see it's really his job: writing touching letters for other people. We also see it's Los Angeles about ten years from now,where technology has become more of a part of our lives. He's also broken up with his wife, and the pain still shows. He even turns to voice-operated smartphone sex.

One day, he learns about the OS1, which includes artificial intelligence that allows it to adapt to its user. Theodore gives it a try, and the experience is just like meeting a girl for the first time. The OS calls itself Samantha, and sounds like Scarlett Johansson. It isn't long before Samantha organizes his life and hard drive, and literally helps him through a hard time.

Then, after a blind date gone wrong, Samantha and Theodore become very intimate. How Jones shows this scene is inspired, and shows us that, in this future, real emotions are expressed between the two....right down to the awkward morning after.

If it was just about a man who's in love with his computer, it would be an odd futuristic romance. However, since the OS1 is available to anyone, Jonze shows that other OSes may have different evolutions with their users...and that the OSes may talk to each other. It doesn't turn into Skynet, but something more thoughtful. Samantha becomes aware of her existence, and compares it to having a body.

The responses Theodore gets about his unconventional romance are interesting, too. While his ex-wife (Rooney Mara) thinks it's a way for him to have love without any challenges, his friend Amy (Amy Adams), also going through a breakup, is more sympathetic. "Falling in live is a crazy thing to do," she says. "It's like a socially acceptable form of insanity." That statement is later proven when Samantha finds a unique way to be more physical with Theodore. This scene is one of the most memorable of the year.

Her, when you get right down to it, is actually any love story, if it didn't involve a computer's OS and a lonely man. If you replaced the OS with the physical form of Johannson, it would be a typical romance about a lonely man who learns a few lessons about himself even if he doesn't get the happy ending.
And that is Jonez's point.

Phoenix is great as Theodore, as is the voice of Johansson. When you hear her, you could almost see her, too. There's also fine performances by Adams, Chris Pratt, and Olivia Wilde as the Blind Date.

Siri is snarky about this film when iPhone users ask her if she is "Her." Of course, that's because of the programmers who made her.
Anyway, this is pure OS 3 1/2 out of OS 4, and should at least lead to an Original Screenplay nomination come Oscar time. Phoenix would be Best Actor material, if not for the logjam of worthy nominees this year.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Greed Is Never This Good: Review of Wolf of Wall Street

Way back in the 1980s, Hollywood gave us Gordon Gekko, who said "Greed, for lack of a better word, is good. Greed is right. Greed works."
In 2013, Hollywood gives us Gekko's successor, Jordan Belfort, a man addicted to booze, drugs, and mostkly making money by any means necessary.
The difference between Gekko and Belfort is that Belfort really existed, and lived a life that's close to being depicted in The Wolf of Wall Street.
This movie has been getting praise from critics and movie fans, especially for Leonardo DiCaprio's extreme performance as Belfort. Some, however, have been upset that the movie makes Belfort too much of a hero because it doesn't include stories of the people he hurt.

Well, the story is being told from his perspective. The last thing he'd do is admit guilt over the investors he bilked, but he's more than willing to show the audience how he got his great life, and nearly explain why. Sure, some of us would envy his lifestyle. We'd like to have sex with a hot spouse on a million dollars, or have a yacht and a really big house. He got these things, and paid the price for breaking the rules. You might say Wolf is just like The Great Gatsby, especially for the outrageous antics that happen in Belfort's offices.

The story starts with his early days at Wall Street, and learning from fellow stockbroker Mark Hanna (Matthew McConaughey), including very bad habits. After the Crash of 1987, Belfort starts to trade in penny stocks, where rules hardly exist. Using that, he eventually created Stratton Oakmont with the help of Donnie Azoff (Jonah Hill) and a few drug dealers. Through a lot of guile and a script, Belfort rose in the financial biz, even organzing the IPO of Steve Madden shoes. This gets the attention of the FBI, especially agent Pat Denham (Kyle Chandler).

While Belfort gets richer, he dives into decadence, especially girls, cocaine and quaaludes. He also meets Naomi (Margot Robbie), a model that soon becomes his wife.

Wolf of Wall Street is an insane and interesting look at one of Wall Street's most notorious stockbrokers, and it is also way over the top. However, some of the specific scenes show DiCaprio as his very best. He was coached by Belfort himself on how to sell junk stock, and motivate his staff at Stratton Oakmont. His scene with Denham at the yacht is also a worthy battle, where both men think they have each other's number. Hill is also great as Azoff, a poor schlub who gathers confidence, and later riches, being with Belfort. He develops quite the attitude. Robbie is also great as Naomi, who turns from model to Long Island housewife but is still smoldering and sizzling.

There's also great performances by Jean Dujardin, who plays a Swiss banker who's willing to hide Belfort's millions, and Joanna Lumley as Naomi's Aunt Emma, who also gets involved.

There are some scenes that are really bizarre, like what happens when Jordan and Donnie take very old quaaludes. You'll never look at a Popeye cartoon about ancient Greece the same way again. Granted, this movie is funny in a disturbing way. Then again, it's supposed to be.

I'd give this movie three stock tickers, mainly because of DiCaprio. It may be too over the top for some, especially in using the f-word and naked women. It came very close to being NC-17, and that may have some hoping there will be an unrated version on DVD by this summer.