Emerald City Comicon Day Two

Second day of the convention.
The big news was the show hitting capacity. Someone told me it was 10,000 people. It seemed like more. It was bad enough that the fire marshal had registration shut down and was not letting people who stepped outside to come back in until the crowd thinned. This crowding was most evident in the area outside of the dealer floor. It has been where cosplayers have gone for photo ops. It was so crowded that you could barely move. I think some expansion of space may need to happen next year. An upside of this is that everyone I know that is running a booth had very good sales.
Panels I attended.
Will Wheaton’s 90 minute awesome hour. It’s pretty much what it says on the tin. I have never seen anyone able to work a crowd as well as Will Wheaton. He knows his audience and knows how to play to them to perfection.
Marvel: pint of O’ C.B., which is basically Marvels big news panel. It was a good show case for what Marvel is up to. There were two highlights for me. One was a very honest answer to the question of the lack of female creators. They are aware of it and looking for ways to address it, but right now it is a continuing issue that plagues the whole industry and will probably take years to turn around. The other highlight was when Matt Fraction was asked about his writing of Dr. Strange as very creepy. Fraction countered that Strange is creepy and used that fact that he entered into a romantic relationship with his student Clea. Fraction felt that crossing that line informed a lot about the character.
DC Comics: The New 52. This was a lot better than the DC panel from the previous day. Tough questions were not ignored. A big one was how DC addresses old readers leaving in wake of the New 52 does. Gail Simone led the way in answering that stating that change can be hard but the writers are dedicated to doing their best by the characters. This led the rest of the panel to give their opinions as well. Overall a much more satisfying experience than the day before.
Next were back to back panels featuring Christopher Judge of Stargate SG-1 and George Takei. I will save fuller write-ups on these for the post con report. But let’s just say both were great speakers.
Most awesome moment of the day came early on when I met up with an old friend of mine, Ryan K. Johnson. Ryan is a film maker and it the late eighties and early nineties I worked with him on several fannish films, including Star Trek the Pepsi generation. While talking he told me that he really likes the blog. As a creative person I really respect his praise meant a lot to me.
As for my little cosplay contest, here are the scores for Saturday. Please note that these are new people in the costumes. If it was someone from the day before wearing the same costume I did not count them.
·         Doctor Who: 15 our winner the second day in a row.
·         Joker: 10
·         Batman:9
·         Captain America: 8
·         Batgirl: 7
·         Wonder Woman: 6
·         Robin: 6
·         Harley Quinn: 6
·         Poison Ivy: 5
·         Superman: 4
·         Thor: 4
·         Catwoman: 4
·         Zatanna: 4
·         Green Lantern: 3
·         Deadpool: 3
·         Phoenix: 3
·         Rogue: 3
·         Batwoman: 2
·         Hulk 2
·         Doctor Octopus: 2
·         Nightwing: 2
·         Iron Man: 2
·         Supergirl: 2
·         Spider-man:2
·         TARDIS: 2
·         Riddler: 2
See everyone tomorrow for the last day of the Con.

Emerald City Comicon Day One

Quick overview of Day one of Emerald City Comicon.
First up, the panels.
I attended the Women of Webseries panel. It was definitely what the title suggested, local women working on producing, writing, directing, and staring in webseries. I got some good ideas for the projects I want to work on and a lot of inspiration.
DC All Access panel was next. You would think that a panel at a comic convention that is the news panel for one of the big two it would be kick ass. No such luck. The pros on the panel did some quick shilling of their upcoming projects. When it got to question and answer time that was a lot of deflection. One question asked about the status of Wally West and Donna Troy in the new 52 DCU, the answer was to make a joke and then ask the audience if they would like to win a prize for answering a trivia question.
The next panel was about the history of Wonder Woman for an academic and psychological perspective. The speaker was a tenured professor at Oregon State University for teaches minors program on comic book studies. He was awesome. And as much as I have researched at lot of the same history he covered I still learned some new stuff.
I wanted to get into a panel featuring noted voice actors but it was too full a room.
Next is the dealer floor.
This year has a good mix of comic shops, convention dealers, comic companies, artists and everything else you would expect. Due to the show still growing, this year the gaming based dealers were moved to a new area. It’s a bit of a walk to get there, but it is nice to see the growth.
My wife is a vendor this year and that fact lead to my most awesome moment of the day. She makes gaming dice shaped soap. I took a set to Randy Milholland, the creator of Something Positive. When I gave them to him his face lit up, and he had to show his booth mate Danielle Corsetto, creator of Girls with Slingshots. Mission accomplished and he gave me a sketch and print in return.
So I have decided to keep score of the characters people cosplay as this year. Basically if I see at least two people as a character I start keeping track. I will declare a daily winner and an overall convention winner. Here are today’s scores.
·         Doctor Who: 8 Today’s winner
·         Captain America: 6
·         Harley Quinn: 5
·         Batman: 4
·         Poison Ivy: 4
·         The TARDIS: 4
·         Robin: 3
·         Black Canary: 3
·         Superman: 3
·         Batgirl: 3
·         Green Lantern: 2
·         Catwoman: 2
·         Supergirl: 2
·         Spider Man:2
·         Doctor Horrible:2
·         Captain Hammer: 2
·         Death from Sandman: 2
·         Dalek: 2
·         Red Power Ranger: 2
·         Riddler: 2
·         Green Hornet: 2
See you tomorrow for the next update.

The Fanboy Convention Survival Guide

Ah, conventions. That time when those of us that make up geek culture can come together and celebrate. In the next two weeks there will be three fan conventions in my area. Easter weekend is huge for conventions here in the Geek Capital of the World.

As such it seems fitting to devote some time to this center piece of geek culture.
If you have never been to one it can be a bit daunting the first time. It’s not like a trade convention where people come to see the new products and get tips on how to sell next year’s new vacuum. I am talking about fan conventions.
The first thing to clarify is that not all fan conventions are alike. The three upcoming are considered different genres. So when I say a convention is a fan convention it could be any of the following either as a single focus or some thematic mix:
·         Science Fiction
·         Anime
·         Comic Book
·         Horror
·         Filk (think folk songs with a geek twist)
·         Steampunk
·         Tabletop Gaming
·         Computer Gaming
·         Costuming
·         Specific Fandom (Star Trek, Firefly, Buffy, etc…)
·         Specific mythology (often fairy based, but others can happen)
With all this diversity these events all have one thing in common. People have a chance to come together and mingle with others who share a specific interest.
So if you are going to go forth and attend a convention here are some tips.
First is what has come to be known as the 5/2/1 rule. It is a straight forward rule to ensure your health and well-being as well as making sure others will still want to be around you. The rule is simply this; every day of the event you need to have a minimum of 5 hours sleep, 2 full meals, and 1 shower. Really just basic maintenance but during an event when you want to cram in as much as possible it becomes surprisingly easy to miss these.
Also keep in mind that you are going to be in a limited area when a lot of people. It is not uncommon for illness to spread in these conditions. We often call this “con crud.” I recommend that during the event pay attention to health details like washing your hands. Also taking a multi vitamin during this time is not a bad idea.
Besides health issues, the other thing to keep in mind is the social aspect.  Yes, you are in a place where you are surrounded by people with a shared interest. This does not free you from normally accepted social behavior.  Trust me when I say that being polite and remembering personal boundaries is still important.
The flip side is to remember that other people are there to have fun too. If someone is indulging in a part of fandom you do not participate in, such as cosplay or gaming, remember it is important to them and be respectful.
To sum this up, as one person once taught me, at all times keep your brain with you.
On a personal front, I will be attending Emerald City Comicon this weekend March 30 through April 1. I will be taking notes during the show a will try to have short updates here every day. I will also be tweeting from the show, my tweeter is @caliban1227.
The following weekend I will be at Norwescon, I will probably still tweet, but I probably will just do a single write up following the con.

American Horror Story

When I was growing up one of the shows I liked to watch was Dark Shadows. I was too young to really understand it much beyond “oh neat, monsters,” but I would sit riveted. Years later it was syndicated and I was able to watch it again.
One of Dark Shadows’ intriguing qualities was how it handled casting new characters. Between time travel, parallel worlds and simply a character dying and a new one showing up later, many actors on the show played 4 or 5 different characters. The show often dealt with this by just ignoring it. It became the accepted norm.
And now the new show American Horror Story has decided to follow in its footsteps.
If you have not watched this show you really should.
The premise is that the Harmon family of Boston, Ben, Vivian, and their Daughter Violet, move to Las Angeles for a fresh start after Vivian has a stillbirth and Ben has an affair with a student of his. They move into a restored mansion that was an amazing bargain.  Only it turns out that the house is cursed, anyone who dies on its property is trapped there as a ghost.
I am not going to spoil the rest. It is a well-crafted story, and discovering details as it moves along is one of its strengths.
While I was watching the early part of its first season I was wondering how they could sustain the story over multiple seasons. The pacing was great and they gave a lot of revelations but there was no way to avoid the problem Heroes had, a great first season and then a downhill slide.  
And then they proved me wrong.
The season finale was in fact the end of the story.  As it become clear near the end that they were going to wrap up the producers explained the plan. Each season would be a complete story with new characters. To provide continuity several cast members would stay with the show, but as different characters then before.
I personally think this is brilliant. It allows for a well-paced story with a climax, which is much more satisfying then stretching the story beyond the breaking point that shows like Smallville have.
It also allows for the freedom to sign up some really good actors as they are do not have to commit to anything beyond the one 13 episode season.  I’m sure that’s how they got Dylan McDermott for the first season.
It was announced that Jessica Lange, Zachary Quinto, Evan Peters, Sarah Paulson, and Lily Rabe are returning next season and that they will move from the west coast to the east. If they can keep up the quality from the first season I am there.

Review: John Carter

John Carter is a movie that has one of the oddest handicaps to overcome, the legacy of its source material. Edgar Rice Burroughs first Barsoom story was published in February 1912 so we are talking about a story that is literally 100 years old.  And it is more importantly one of the most influential science fiction series ever. Ray Bradbury, Arthur C. Clarke, and Carl Sagan were all inspired by the novels in their work. You can see the influence in Flash Gordon, Buck Rodgers, Superman, and Star Wars. 

This legacy has led many reviewers to label the story derivative. That’s sort of like someone slamming the Lord of the Rings films as a Dungeons and Dragons rip off. I would prefer they get the order of their chickens and eggs correct.
Ignoring all of that, there is one question that needs to be answered, was it a good movie?
Let’s find out.
The movie uses the same framing device that the first novel used, Edgar Rice Burroughs reading a journal left by his uncle John Carter that details his adventures on Mars.
The movie takes a while to get going setting up the basic Martian conflict, the Burroughs framing device, and where Carter’s life is, before eventually getting him to Mars. It does get points for making the means of transportation make more sense and even a plot point.
Once Carter is on Mars or Barsoom as the inhabitants call it the movie kicks into gear. As is my habit, I will not get into a scene by scene breakdown. But there is a lot to call out.
The script on this movie is pretty strong. There is an actual story happening, not just excuses for action scenes. The characters have motivations that make sense and can but people into conflict without forcing it. It’s not an overly complex story, but it is there.
As John Carter Taylor Kitsch has to basically carry the whole film and overall he does a good job with it. While he is not going to be lauded as the next great action star from his performance he does well and if there is a major flaw it is that there is not a lot of humor in Carter and all his lines are delivered with a great deal of earnestness.
Lynn Collins as Dejah Thoris steals just about every scene she is in. True to the books Dejah is a strong courageous woman who can hold her own. The Damsel in Distress aspect from the books is toned down for the movie, but is still evident. Collins plays her as an intelligent woman who is not content to wait for someone to come rescue her, but is not above relying on Carter do help win the day.
Williem Defoe has a harder performance to put across as Tar Tarkas, Carter’s Thark ally. All the Tharks are CGI so Defoe has to use his voice. Reports are that he and the other Thark principals were on set as is the current practice for CGI characters, so he is credited with the full performance, not just voice.
The movie also is a mini reunion for the HBO series Rome. Ciaran Hinds who played Julius Caesar plays Tardos Mors King of Helium and Dejah’s father (at least I think he is. In the books he was her grandfather) James Purefoy, who was Mark Antony plays Mors’ right hand man Kantos Kan, and Polly Walker who was Atia plays the Thark Sarkoja.
Mark Strong as Matai Shang, the antagonist that is motivating most of the action. I like that he opted to play his character as sincere without cruelty. It works better than being a mustache twirler.
Dominic West as Sab Than probably suffers the worst of the entire main cast. As Matai’s pawn he has the weakest motivation of any characters.  Frankly he is a bit of a mustache twirler.
Overall I feel this was a good movie and worth seeing. The major flaw I see isn’t with the movie itself, but how Disney has marketed it. It was presented as a standard action flick. A better campaign would have celebrated the history of Barsoom and the legacy of the story.  The fact that the title is just John  Carter, not John Carter of Mars, shows that they had no idea what to do with it.
I recommend this movie and hope that we see more of Barsoom in the future.

Review: Chronicle

I finally saw Chronicle last week.  I know, I call myself a fanboy and yet it took me two weeks to get around to seeing a movie documenting a geek fantasy come to life.  All I can offer in my defense was that I had to go with my sister to see Woman in Black, and then I got really sick.

But enough about me, I have a request to review this movie, and damn it, that is what I am going to do.
Basic set up: Three high school students come across a mysterious object in the woods. After this encounter, they slowly develop telekinetic powers.
 The hook: it is a found-footage movie.
When ads came out about this movie I had a mixed reaction. On one hand, I am a leery of the whole found-footage genre. I think it is getting overused and you always have the sense that all the characters you are watching are doomed.  On the other hand the trailers looked like it was going to be a good movie.
So which hand won?
First, I think we need to look at what kind of movie we are looking at. Strip away the found footage aspect, and this is at its heart a superhero origin film. But even that is over-simplified, as it does not follow the normal conventions of an origin film either. 
I don’t want to give too much away, but basically this is a superhero origin film that does not focus on the person destined to be the hero. In pure geek terms this is like a Spider-man movie that focuses on Harry Osborn.
They also give a good reason why it is a found-footage film. In most films of this subset, it does not make sense why the characters would keep filming as the events progress. Here, Andrew, the main focus of the three leads, is heavily abused and bullied. He starts filming things as a coping mechanism, and as the film progresses it becomes clear that his filming has become obsessive.  Also since he is telekinetic he can be filming and still be in the shot.  It is a good hand wave and makes this movie much more interesting than a lot of others have been when this technique is used.
The heart of the movie is the main characters and their relationship. Andrew, played by Dane DeHaan , as our camera man is also our main character. As I said above, he is dealing with his father who is an abusive drunk, a mother who is dying, and he is a target of bullies in his neighborhood and school.  His retreat behind his camera makes perfect sense. His only friend is his cousin Matt, played by Alex Russell, who is more popular, and has been growing away from him. Rounding out our trio is Steve, played by Michael B. Jordan; a friend of Matt’s who is running for class president.
The first act of the movie is about the three boys bonding after they start gaining their powers. It plays true because I honestly believe that any group of teenage boys in the same circumstance would act the same way. 
The second act starts to turn dark as the first signs of strain from Andrew start showing. An abused kid starts getting power; the tragedy is almost a forgone conclusion.
In the third act, when things fall apart you still feel for them, because so much time was spent showing who they are and how they ended up there.
The films weakness comes from the supporting characters. They are just not well-developed. Andrew’s father is just a stereotype, a drunken abuser with no redeeming qualities. There were a couple of chances to give his character some depth, but they were not taken; instead just driving home what a horrible person he is. Andrew’s mother has no character beyond being sick and dying.
I wish a little more depth was given to Matt’s romantic interest, Casey. She is a video blogger, which gives Matt a chance at scenes that do not involve Andrew.  It is implied she is into social causes, but really she is there to give Matt someone to relate to beyond his buddies.
As a movie about superpowers it works great. They set the rules the powers obey, and stay consistent to them. They do fall prey to psychic nosebleed trope (please read the rebuttal to this trope here). As previously stated I think the depiction of what the boys do with their powers is very realistic. They do not start out as very powerful, and so they test what they can do, and largely use it to screw around in novel ways. The special effects are fairly effective, especially in conjunction with the home video style.  The way they handle the characters flying is especially effective.
Final verdict: This is a very good movie that every self-respecting geek needs to add to their collection once it has its DVD release.