Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Salt Lake Comic Con 2014 Smashes Attendance Records

Article first published as Salt Lake Comic Con 2014 Smashes Attendance Records on Blogcritics.

I suppose a bar has been set when Stan Lee himself proclaims your Comic Con — or Comic Convention if a certain West Coast city has any say — “The best Comic Con in the world.” It was no small feat as the second annual Salt Lake Comic Con got underway September 4–6.

Salt Lake Comic ConChock full of celebrities tickling the delight of all ages, more than 120,000 attendees bombarded downtown Salt Lake City’s Salt Palace Convention Center to browse booths and see their favorite celeb whether in person during photo ops and signings, or on stage at a panel in one of the Ballrooms. Even in the green room you never know who you’ll run into: this year I got to meet Daniel Logan, a Utah transplant from New Zealand who played young Boba Fett in Star Wars: Episode II – Attack of the Clones. Yes, this was the place to be last weekend with more than 90,000 people on Saturday alone, causing the Fire Marshal to once again bar the door.

The panels I attended were more fun and far more structured than last year with panelists now having dealt with the ins and outs of two Comic Cons. There was also the FanXperience back in April which itself drew more than 100,000 attendees. “The Power of Podcasting in Geek Culture” was moderated by local morning radio sensation Kerry Jackson from X96’s Radio from Hell (also founder of Geek Show Podcast).

Also along for the journey were fellow Geek Show members: local comedian Jay Whittaker, Jimmy Martin (host of his own Comcast film review show Big Movie Mouth Off and film critic for Salt Lake’s No. 1 news show KUTV), Trent Hunsaker, Danielle Uber Alles, Tysen Webb, and Robert Easton. Plenty was discussed about producing your own podcast, including changes and evolution of their own formats to what encouraged them to even jump into the world of podcasting.

“John Carpenter: The Master of Horror” dissected the legendary director with Fangoria/Rue Morgue writer Sean Smithson, Kristal Starr, Martin, Radio from Hell’s Bill Allred, and Ben Lane Hodson. Much was made about the highs and lows of Carpenter’s career including favorite films and moments, and whether the director will ever make another movie. The consensus being a big “maybe,” that is if someone can pry him away from his video game obsession.

A “Film Critics Roundtable” was held with fellow Utah based critics, moderated by Kerry Jackson. Included to discuss the misconceptions of having “a really cool job” were Dan Metcalf of the The Davis Clipper, Sean P. Means from the Salt Lake Tribune, Rich Bonaduce, Smithson and Martin, and 24 Salt Lake’s Audrey Rock. While a decision was never made about whether bloggers will take over the review world, they made it clear that “you get what you pay for.”

Among the celebrity panels I attended, the biggest was of course Stan Lee who was very pleased to be back in Salt Lake and adores his fans. I had the opportunity to meet Cary Elwes backstage and shake his hand while I was with Martin preparing to moderate. There, Elwes was presented with a print from his biggest fan, Jimmy’s wife Kat Martin — which attendees were able to purchase at the booth she shared with fellow artist Leigh George Kade on the exhibit floor, and online at Kat Martin Artist.

On stage, Elwes expressed his love for his adoring fans who stuck mostly to the subject of The Princess Bride during his Q&A but also reenacted a scene, discussed his love for Andre the Giant, provided his Fat Albert impression which landed him the role of Westley, and gave hugs and handshakes to questioners. He continuously plugged his book: As You Wish: Inconceivable Tales From the Making of The Princess Bride and said his tombstone will undoubtedly consist of his most famous three words: “As you wish.”

Two badass special guests took the stage separately: Ron Perlman and Bruce Campbell. Perlman was deadpan, dry, and hilarious — and took no prisoners with his language. He offered a warning upfront that children may pick up a few new words, met with thunderous laughter. He gave insight to him not being a biker guy even while starring on Son of Anarchy and when asked if there was a chance for Ice Pirates 2, he quickly answered: “F— no.”

On the flip side, Campbell was hilariously tongue-in-cheek, poking fun at the Utah swear slangs with lots of gosh dangs and hecks. With no moderator, Campbell took full control of his panel, to no surprise. Running the show like a game show host, instead of simply taking questions from a line of attendees, he treated us to a little bit of “Stupid Human Tricks.” Saving the best for last as Comic Con’s Director of Business Development Jarrod Phillips took the stage and employed Campbell into asking Phillips’ girlfriend to marry him. When Ash himself is kneeling beside you with a microphone, of course you say yes.

The original genie in a bottle Barbara Eden, took the stage with co-star Bill Daily. The two reminisced about their time on I Dream of Genie, including their favorite scenes. Eden also talked about her stand-in who also doubled for Marilyn Monroe, and her time filming with Elvis where he would sing on set in between takes. Hearing Daily use the phrase “shitfaced” stole the whole show.

Salt Lake Comic ConEden made it clear that her only regret was having Jeannie and Nelson marry. She also mentioned that she though Stan Lee was a “rascal” and he sure proved wily during his Q&A. Lee wowed the crowd with insights ranging from wanting to kill Jerry Conway for killing Mary Jane Watson in Spider-Man, admitted that he would love to collaborate with Todd McFarlane, plugged next year’s Avengers: Age of Ultron by letting us know that his cameo will be the funniest thing we will ever see, and began his crusade for "comicbook" versus "comic book."

Two stars from CW’s Arrow were in the spotlight, even if not on stage together: Stephen Amell and John Barrowman tried to bring down the house and largely succeeded. Amell was up first, moderated by Jackson, informing us that he has seen the first four episodes unfinished and realized how important music is. A scene two and a half years in the making will finally payoff this season (its third), and that there will be plenty of crossover with the new Flash show. Episode eight in particular is set to be an “extravaganza” and will be the show’s Justice League moment.

Barrowman treated his hour like a stand-up routine. He admitted that David Tennant is the best kisser he’s worked with and managed to make fun of Utah’s backward liquor laws. He can’t figure out why his hotel can’t bring a glass of wine to his room but can send up a whole bottle. It was a good hour for the LGBT community as he took a chance to share his point of view that there should be unconditional love from birth by parents and that anyone who turns their back on someone’s sexuality are the ones who should go to hell, something everyone should take to heart.

It was another amazing whirlwind three days at 2014’s Salt Lake Comic Con and with record-breaking numbers; I can only imagine how much bigger it can get from here.

Sunday, September 14, 2014

Movie Review: ‘The Drop’

*** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated R for some strong violence and pervasive language
Fox Searchlight

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The Drop’ on Blogcritics.

Being a big fan of author Dennis Lehane’s stories or novels should make for an exciting weekend when a new one hits theaters. Considering there have only been three before — Mystic River, Gone Baby Gone, and Shutter Island — it’s not many to choose from. But at least they are all really good — with Ben Affleck’s GBG arguably the best. And while I haven’t read the short story The Drop is based on (Animal Rescue), I’m sure it’s better than the movie. As it is, director Michaël R. Roskam suffers from the sophomore-slump with The Drop, even with stars Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, and the great late James Gandolfini in tow, and Lehane writing the screenplay. Maybe he should leave adaptations to someone not as close to the source material.

The Drop, Tom Hardy, Noomi Rapace, James Gandolfini, Dennis LehaneBob (Hardy) tends bar at Cousin Marv’s Bar for his cousin Marv (Gandolfini), which is part of the underworld money exchange with Brooklyn bars play the titular locations. One afternoon, Bob passes by a house and hears the sound of a crying animal in a garbage can. Inside, he finds a beaten pitbull pup outside the home of Nadia (Rapace). Eventually, Nadia convinces Bob to take the puppy as his own causing Eric Deeds (Matthias Schoenaerts) — who claims to be the dog’s original owner, and who may or may not have killed an old friend — to start stalking Bob. Meanwhile, a robbery at Marv’s Bar winds up with $5,000 of Chechen Mafia money missing and they want it back. Eventually, everyone must come to turns with their inner demons and ulterior motives.

Lehane definitely knows how to write a slow burn of a screenplay, it’s just too bad director Roskam doesn’t know how to pace one. Let alone that his tone is all over the map. Are we watching a gritty thriller, a love story? Here, the two mix like oil and vinegar, and it makes for a deadly dull concoction. Hardy plays Bob appropriately awkward, but Rapace is wasted as the love interest with a sordid past. If there was any reason to see The Drop, it’s to see Gandolfini up on the big screen. His passing came far too soon, but he’s the true shining performance. Had the film focused more on Cousin Marv and skipped the loosely faith-based personal issues of Bob and Nadia in the background, the film would have been as tense as a good thriller should be.

Unfortunately for The Drop, Fox Searchlight’s September release shows the studio is going along with the title and dropping it in one of the year’s notorious Hollywood dump months. No one will see this until it hits video. And it actually might play better when you can sit through it on the comfort of your own couch.

Photo courtesy Fox Searchlight

Blu-ray Review: ’14 Blades’

Movie: ** out of 5
Video: **
Audio: *** 1/2
Extras: Zero stars

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ’14 Blades’ on Blogcritics.

The film genre wuxia sure makes for some head scratching and downright boring cinema. While some are easier to follow than others, there’s always one that winds up so boring your mind wanders when you should be reading the subtitles. In the case of the Donnie Yen-starring 14 Blades, it’s a miracle if you can make it to the end credits. For hardcore Yen fans, Starz/Anchor Bay is at least giving them another title to add to their Blu-ray collection on September 9.

14 Blades, Donnie YenYen stars as Qinglong, the leader of a group of secret guardians known as Jinyiwei — children born and bred to protect the high court. Qinglong is also the keeper of our titular weapon consisting of a case wielding eight blades used for interrogation and four more for execution. Qinglong is sent on a mission where the convoluted plot kicks into gear when plans go wrong and he’s left to fend for himself. Qinglong winds up in a relationship of sorts with Qiao Hua (Zhao Wei), and they must band together to save themselves and, ultimately, the country.

14 Blades slices its way onto Blu-ray on a 25GB disc in a 2.35:1 aspect ratio. Unfortunately for Yen fans, this is an outright horrible transfer. I don’t think I’ve seen one this bad since Muay Thai Warrior. While not as bad as that, it appears that Starz/Anchor Bay weren’t given much to work with but an old DVD to upconvert. DNR (Digital Noise Reduction) plagues the picture, either stripping grain completely or freezing it onscreen. And man, we could call the transfer “Edge Enhancement Gone Wild!” if we really wanted to; most of the time, characters look like they were cut and pasted onto the backgrounds. Not to mention, that due to the DNR, they’ve cranked the artificial sharpening up to 11.

Thankfully, the Mandarin 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track kicks the video quality’s butt. Surrounds are on full alert, immersing you into the action with some great moments of rumbling bass. While the action and music may sometimes overwhelm the dialogue, there are English, English SDH, and Spanish subtitles available. There are zero special features. The film’s menu is preceded with trailers for The Grandmaster, Dragon, and Man of Tai Chi.

Writer/director Daniel Lee pits Yen in a convoluted tale against China’s Ming Dynasty, but has thrown in way too much CGI wire stunt work, cobbling together incoherent action scenes that only seem to be there to wake up the audience. If you’re looking for a quick Donnie Yen fix, there are already way better films on the Blu-ray market worthy of rental or purchase — see either Ip Man films or even Special ID. And in case you happen to own this on DVD, don’t be surprised if that looks better upscaled than this so-called 1080p transfer. Sadly, I have to recommend skipping this.

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Blu-ray Review: ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’

Movie: *** 1/2 out of 5
Video: *** 1/2
Audio: ****
Extras: Zero

Article first published as Blu-ray Review: ‘Cabin Fever: Patient Zero’ on Blogcritics.

There was a lot of buzz surrounding Eli Roth when Cabin Fever was making the festival rounds back in 2002 before its theatrical release. With a story involving a flesh-eating virus in the backwoods, Roth delivered plenty of yuks and yucks, and gore hounds had a new favorite on their hands.

Seven years later, cult-favorite Ti West was tapped to direct a sequel that wound up going through the wringer of studio suits, and West tried to get his name removed — even though the film isn’t that bad. You can still clearly see West’s ode to ’70s horror even if producers added more gore and sent it straight to video.

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, Sean AstinNow, another seven years later, with the rights lapsing with Lionsgate no less, here comes a prequel that sets out to clarify the virus’s origin in Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, out September 2 from Image Entertainment.

Here, we meet a group of friends gathering for the wedding of Marcus (Mitch Ryan) in the Dominican Republic. Marcus’s brother Josh (Brando Eaton) has chartered a boat to take them — along with best friend Dobbs (Ryan Donowho) and long-time unrequited love Penny (Jillian Murphy) — to a deserted island for an impromptu bachelor party.

What they don’t know is that the fast-spreading virus has been introduced to the surrounding beach waters, and a group of scientists — led by Dr. Edwards (Currie Graham) — has quarantined the infected Porter (Sean Astin), who seems to be a host to the virus and may be key to a cure, something our intrepid partiers may find handy after Penny and Josh contract the virus while snorkeling.

Image Entertainment unleashes Cabin Fever: Patient Zero on Blu-ray as a bare bones release — the film’s trailer isn’t even included — on a 25GB disc in a 2.40:1 aspect ratio. Considering that the film was shot digitally, and slapped onto a cheap disc, it’s no surprise to find it riddled with noise. While banding, aliasing, and crush are never present, it’s too bad this one aspect couldn’t have been cleaned up. It’s also surprising to find it so prevalent considering there are no special features to compete with and only one audio track.

As it stands, detail and color are spot on, something that comes in handy whenever the gore finally comes into play in the final half hour. If it weren’t for the distracting noise, this would be a great picture.

As for the 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio track, it too falls short, but still manages to make the environments come alive and deliver the LFE punches one expects in a horror film. Surrounds are always buzzing once night envelops the island and the bugs come out to play. Directionality also helps during a few key sequences when something happens off-camera.

Cabin Fever: Patient Zero, Sean AstinThe main problem with Cabin Fever: Patient Zero is that it falls victim to the time-honored horror tradition of assuming viewers don’t care where the virus came from. Considering that the original film took place in deep in the woods, the tropical birthplace makes zero sense. While the end credits feature some clips to fill in the gaps of how the virus spread throughout the island facility, and shows a key character making his escape to the mainland, the whole film feels like a wash because the originally planned sequel to this has already been scrapped. You should probably look at this as a standalone feature; that will help it hold up on its own.

Thursday, August 28, 2014

Movie Review: ‘The November Man’

** 1/2 out of 5
108 minutes
Relativity Media

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘The November Man’ on Blogcritics.

August has always been known as a Hollywood dump month. Lots of trash left for audiences to pick through while they wait for school and football to start again. This year we got lucky with the release of Guardians of the Galaxy, which is still cleaning up nicely at the box office and has officially become the highest grossing film of the summer. But since then we’ve been bombarded with the likes of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Into the Storm, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For, and If I Stay. And just when we thought the dust was beginning to settle, along comes Pierce Brosnan in the summer’s dopiest film yet: The November Man.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoBrosnan stars as CIA agent Pete Devereaux, whom we meet training his protégé Mason (Luke Bracey). Mason has an itchy trigger finger and an assassination attempt results in Pete taking a couple of hits and a dead child. Five years later, Pete is retired but is asked by his old CIA buddy Hanley (Bill Smitrovich) to help out the love of his life Natalia (Mediha Musliovic), who’s working undercover in Moscow under the sleazy Arkaday Federov (Lazar Ristovski). After Mason takes out Natalia, Pete sets himself on a mission to find out why she was killed, leading to a missing war refugee and a key witness named Alice (Olga Kurylenko) with super assassin Alexa (Amila Terzimehic) hot on their tails.

If it wasn’t for the fact that November Man is so pedestrian through most of its runtime, the Bad Boys finale could probably have been more forgivable. Unfortunately, director Roger Donaldson brings absolutely nothing new to the table. It also doesn’t help that writer Michael Finch is adapting Bill Granger’s novel There Are No Spies as a long-lost ’90s Brosnan-era Bond film. A few comparisons could be made to the Bourne franchise, but if you were to go that route, this would be The Bourne Lobotomy. Brosnan overacts every chance he gets, erupting into screams when he’s not breathing so heavily that he sounds like he’s having a heart attack. If he wants to keep making these kinds of films, he’ll need to invest in an inhaler, seriously.

November Man, Pierce Brosnan, Olga KurylenkoIf you do wind up seeing the film, just wait for the finale when shit gets real when you’ll be saying, “Ah, hell no,” and wanting to walk out. Unintentional hilarity prevails. For some reason, Relativity had already greenlit a sequel, even while The November Man sat at an astounding 0% rating on Rotten Tomatoes. It has since moved its way up to 33 percent, but considering most people didn’t even know the film is coming out and is bound for horrible word-of-mouth, The November Man makes for one lousy Labor Day weekend release. Just go see Guardians of the Galaxy again (or for the first time), or the 30thanniversary release of Ghostbusters if you want to see something this weekend. As for The November Man, move along people, there’s nothing to see here.

Photos courtesy Relativity Media

Friday, August 22, 2014

Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’

*** out of 5
106 minutes
Rated PG-13 for thematic elements and some sexual material
Warner Bros. Pictures

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘If I Stay’ on Blogcritics.

For a film chock-full of music and band name-dropping, it’s a shame that director R.J. Cutler’s If I Stay is so tone deaf. And the pacing is also terminal. All jokes aside, adapting author Gayle Forman’s novel into a film looks like it was no easy task, so it’s a shame that Shauna Cross’ screenplay is such a structural mess coming after proving her girl-power sassiness with the hilarious derby girl comedy Whip It.

If I Stay, Chloë Grace Moretz, R.J. Cutler, Shauna Cross, Gayle Forman, Jamie Backley, Liana LiberatoAt least most of the cast helps keep the film from imploding, although some additional editing could have helped too, because the film is about 15 minutes too long. And just when you think it might be over, another flashback comes along full of cloying sentimentality making If I Stay only making you wish you could go.

If I Stay refers to the internal dilemma faced by teenager Mia Hall (Chloë Grace Moretz) after she winds up in a coma and deals with an out of body experience. Through her reflections and voice over we get to see every reason why she may want to stay alive. She has a loving and supportive mother and father, Denny and Kat (Joshua Leonard and Mireille Enos), and younger brother Teddy (Jakob Davies).

Mia also has a boyfriend who swoops into her life in the form of rocker Adam (Jamie Backley) who falls in love with her the second he sees her geeking out on her cello. Her best friend Kim (Liana Liberato) spends lots of time with her wandering school halls, attending family dinners, and at local coffee shops. Mia and Adam’s love hits the skids when he finds out she auditioned to Juilliard and could move to New York. But everything gets put on hold after the car accident and Mia has to try to decide if she wants to live.

Cue the violins!

Watching If I Stay turns into a chore toward the final third of the film when you realize how repetitious everything is. With everything being told in flashback, there’s only so much sentimentality director Cutler can wring out of the concept, but it feels like he’s sitting next to you the whole time yelling, “You’re not feeling hard enough!” in your ear. And he directs every scene at full heartstring tugging capacity.

Thankfully, Moretz makes the film far more watchable than your typical angst-filled teen romance. She makes a likeable enough couple with Davies, and feels like real friends with Liberato. The parental scenes even feel more natural than usual, but even if Enos is slightly irritating. Unfortunately, things go south very quickly at a certain point and the film never recovers. What the filmmakers of If I Stay should have done was made a film that people will want to stay and watch. As it stands, it’s just another DOA August release.

Photos courtesy Warner Bros. Pictures

Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’

** 1/2 out of 5
102 minutes
Rated R for strong brutal stylized violence throughout, sexual content, nudity, and brief drug use
Dimension Films

Article first published as Movie Review: ‘Sin City: A Dame to Kill For’ on Blogcritics.

When Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller’s theatrical adaptation of Miller’s Sin City graphic novels was released in 2005, it was one of the coolest comic book movies made. Nine years later, it still stands up to the best of them, with its use of stark black and white noir and hyper-stylized violence. After years of rumors and lots of talk, a sequel has finally been cobbled together in the form of Sin City: A Dame to Kill For. As excited as fans were to get a sequel, does Dame live up to the wait? If you’re simply looking for more of the same then I suppose. Unfortunately, it’s also a case of too little too late.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJust to be clear, Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is a prequel and a sequel. I didn’t know this going in and it never really specifies during the runtime. Our first clue that it’s part sequel is when Goldie (Jaime King) — who died in the first film — shows up alongside her twin sister Wendy (also King). This plot revolves around a few stories that don’t intertwine like they did last time. But there is a four-stage set up and then they’re all tied up individually.First we get to “catch up” with Marv (Mickey Rourke) who wakes up amongst a bunch of dead bodies and a case of amnesia.

Next we meet cocksure gambler Johnny (Joseph Gordon-Levitt) on a quest for revenge against Senator Roark (Powers Boothe); Dwight (Clive Owen in the first film, now played by Josh Brolin in a pre-facial reconstructive surgery plot) facing his demons after being sought out by ex-lover Ava Lord (Eva Green) with a case of ulterior motives. And finally, we’re reunited with stripper Nancy Callahan, with her own score to settle with Roark after the death of John Hartigan.

While there may be fewer storylines this time — and they are more streamlined — Miller’s script feels even more convoluted. The production also feels rushed with plenty of bloodshed but none of the perverse glee Rodriguez and Miller infused in the first Sin City. More of the usual suspects reappear — Rosario Dawson as Old Town’s Gail is given way more to do, along with the Manute character (now played by Dennis Haysbert with the passing of Michael Clark Duncan between productions) — but there’s also a slew of new characters to keep track of.

Sin City, A Dame to Kill For, Robert Rodriguez, Frank MillerJGL’s Johnny is a complete waste once you find out what happens to his character, and his visit to Dr. Kroenig (Christopher Lloyd) is nowhere near as fun as it could have been. Ray Liotta camps it up as a framed man who’s in love with a hooker (Juno Temple), and a couple of cops (Christopher Meloni and Jeremy Piven) are called in to investigate Dwight’s murder of Ava’s husband Damien (Marton Csokas). Even Miho returns to slice and dice with her swords but Devon Aoki has been replaced with Jamie Chung. Roarke is the only one who looks like he’s having fun and can clearly play Marv in his sleep.

With all the loose ends A Dame to Kill For leaves dangling, you’d think Rodriguez and Miller are hoping to have the same kind of success they had the first time. But I doubt we’ll be seeing a third installment anytime soon. I’ve noticed it seems as if fanboys are the only ones who even know this is coming out and the film is a huge bore. After only an hour you’d swear it was wrapping itself up but then you realize there’s still another 40 minutes to go! Sin City: A Dame to Kill For is too little too late, and if it takes another nine years to make a third entry, I doubt anyone will even remember Dame happened.

Photos courtesy Dimension Films