Friday, March 30, 2012

"The Hunger Games" review: perfect balance of epic story with emotional drama

Can you imagine a highly anticipated movie based on a major bestselling book that has incredible hype for months with very high expectations....ACTUALLY DELIVERING??!! In recent years you can't, right? But "The Hunger Games" actually does just that!

I confess that I have not read the book but gained a bit of insight from Rebecca who at least read the first of the three. I originally began the road to seeing this movie by not planning to go on my own but being fine with joining with Rebecca when she went. As the last few weeks ticked down to the released date I found myself being swept up up bit in the premise and taking note of the very positive word of mouth coming from advanced screenings. By the time the movie opened a week ago I was actually looking forward to it.

Jennifer Lawrence is Katness Everdeen, the strong central heroine and focus of a movie and story that could have been overblown and allowed to get just a bit too big for it's britches. But it's her strong and sometimes intense performance and director Gary Ross who keep the focus squarely on the emotion of teenagers having to kill one another. Katness is thrust into a fight to the death with twenty three other 'tributes' from 12 districts that all serve a central metropolis known as The Capitol in penance for an uprising 74 years ago that was beaten into submission by Capitol forces. Katness' incredible bravery masks her underlying fear and Lawrence never goes over the top, always remaining that young woman whose just trying to save her sister and herself without any unnecessary bravado.

The movie is definitrly brimming with tense action as Katness, accompanied by a fellow District 12 resident Peeta Mellark (blonded Josh Hutcherson) who hopes to win her heart, goes up against the likes of District 1 warrior Gale Hawthorne ("Thor" Chris Hemsworth's brother, Liam). The implied brutality of the book is exacting in it's transferal to the big screen. There is blood and the camera never shies away from what the games are all about, but it's never gratuitous or in your face. Much is left up to your imagination which makes it that much more affective.

Cinematography and editing are both outstanding, and certainly of major note is the sound design. There's a signature to it in this movie that communicates depth, weight and impact of events in and around the characters and story as they struggle to be the last alive.

Another character that could have been turned into slight comedy relief but instead becomes a sobering reminder of the dangers ahead is Woody Harrelson as Haymitch Abernathy who was the sole victor for District 12 many years ago and is now mentor for Katness.

By the time we left the theater I was totally ready for the next movie, based on the second book in the series entitled "Catching Fire" and being released later next year. Bottom line: I thoroughly enjoyed "The Hunger Games" and am seriously glad to see a movie whose anticipation went through the roof become a satisfying, thrilling and powerful film.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Coming this summer: The Great Movie Location Tour!

So here it is, this is THE PLAN!

In trying to come up with something that would equal or be greater than the spectacle and wonder of Comic-Con, Rebecca teased at the concept of trying to go to Devil's Tower in Wyoming. This was a movie location we'd talked about visiting for the past two years and certainly one I've wanted to experience since I first saw "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" in 1977. But with an entire week in July to fill where our trip to San Diego would normally fall, it suddenly dawned on us that we could not only visit one impactful site...but three!

Pulling in two more high profile filming locations, we began to map out a gi-normous trip that would take us to three places, one in Canada and two in the States, where a single theme of iconic emotion, drama and wonder would intersect.

On July 7 we'll be flying to Calgary in Alberta, Canada and a short drive to a small town called Blackie where just a couple miles north sits the Kent Farm from "Superman, The Movie". Jim Bowers of visited the place where young Clark Kent grew up and made the decision to leave and learn who he was, just last summer and it really stirred me to want to go there. Check out his incredible photos from the trip. I really think I'm gonna tear up when we arrive at this destination.

Two days later we'll take another flight to Rapid City, South Dakota followed by a two hour drive to Devil's Tower where in "Close Encounters", Richard Dreyfuss and Melinda Dillon find the object of their obsession and the secret government landing strip for visitors from another world. We definitely want to climb the same route up the side that they did in the movie and I know it's going to be amazing to look around the back side of the tower where that landing takes place in the film. Even though the entire sequence was shot in a hanger in Mobile, Alabama.

After spending a few days there to really explore, we'll board yet another flight to head to Dubuque, Iowa where a 45 minute drive will bring us to the baseball diamond where Kevin Costner hears the voice that tells him 'if you build it, he will come'...and proceeds to plow under part of his cornfield to create what will become a magical doorway to the past in "Field of Dreams". The site is a bona fide tourist location now and you can actually play baseball on the field!

Three amazing movie locations, hundreds of miles apart over the course of eight days. And if we can throw in a forth that's nearby we just might do that! Then, after experiencing an entire week of touching the icons of the screen we grew up with, we'll head back to LA on Sunday, July 15.

This is the event that, when it finally dawned on us we should do, completely eclipses where we might have been that same week. And even though there is some lingering regret about not heading to Comic-Con this summer, I think we're in for one hell of an adventure that will touch us, make us smile, bring us closer and let us touch places from movies we cherish so much.

I need to figure out a proper title for this trip because 'The Great Movie Location Tour' is just a little too generic. But for now it will do. I'll be updating with more details as we sort through and make them available.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Comic-Con 2012: The Big Announcement

Through some miscommunication it turns out the Comic-Con hotel reservations aren't going up until tomorrow morning at 9 instead of today. However as promised, here's the deal.

I didn't write a full post-event report about Wondercon last week because several ideas and concepts began to form as we were driving home, brought on by how much we enjoyed Comic-Con's sister convention this year in Anaheim.

We knew from the first year we attended Wondercon that it was a really comfortable event; no fuss, no muss, with just enough people attending to make it huge but without the insane crush in San Diego. The San Francisco event has been a teaser for Comic-Con these last three times, but it was always a really fun anticipatory trip. I think what we were missing the first two times was that it was exactly the speed and crowd load we wanted and enjoyed.

So before I explain it is, this is it: We are not going to Comic-Con this year.

Wow!! Right?! It's kind of like trout deciding they're not going to swim upstream or the Pope deciding he was going to wear a three piece black suit and red tie out on the Vatican balcony instead of his holy robes and pointy hat.

I've been attending Comic-Con for seven years and during that time I (and we) have had some amazing fun! But as time went on the hotel rates and policies right around the San Diego Convention Center began to annoyingly change and increase at an alarming rate. My first time at the Marriott Hotel and Marina cost around $250 / night. Since then hotel rates have gone up between $50 and $100 a year!

In 2011 we were paying close to $400 a night at the Hilton San Diego Bayfront, now our new hotel of choice. But a strange thing occurred which I've been documenting here since last August. The moment rooms went into the available cue for this July a notice kept coming up when you'd try to reserve that said 'sold out', and that message has continued for the past eight months.

With speculation high that Comic-Con had not just blocked their usual half but the entire hotel, it was confirmed last week that that was exactly what they'd done. The announcement on the hotel page of their website pretty much silenced the guessing game: 'There are more hotel rooms available than ever before.'

A month ago I discovered that the San Diego Marriott Marquis and Marina had rooms available, and I started to breathe a sigh of relief that my coveted 'right next door' hotel could be attained.

Then came the price hike that broke the fanboy's back: $599 per night!! PER NIGHT!!!! OH, COME THE FUCK ON!!!!!!!

That was it, I was done! I WILL NOT pay $600 a night for what is just a place to sleep!! We come in around 9pm each night after having dinner and quickly go to bed because a) we're really tired after the day's happenings, and b) we have to get up at 5:30am the next morning just to get in line for Hall H!

This brings me back to Wondercon. That event's one-off in Anaheim (we really hope they return) was so much fun and without the stress and obscenely overpriced hotels. The cost of a room at the Anaheim Marriott right next door to the Anaheim Convention Center was arounf $250 per night, even though we paid nothing because Rebecca used her hotel points (thank you, Rebecca!). And BTW, we LOVED that convention center!! I have photos and will post shortly. Really well laid out, beautiful structure with plenty of room for the 20,000 people who attended.

The exhibit hall was quite a bit larger than at the Mascone Center in San Francisco (Wondercon's regular home) and lines to get into panels and presentations were handled perfectly. We went to the 20th Century Fox "Prometheus" / "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter" preview on Saturday and had no problem walking right in the door with only a hand full of people in front of us. That was about an hour out and I know from peaking my head through the door fifteen minutes before show time that the line had grown a lot but was nowhere near the usual circus of Hall H. By the time the lights dimmed and Ridley Scott was introduced the very large auditorium, almost the same size as Hall H, was packed. And yet it still never felt out of control.

Even though Wondercon was relocating for just this year due to remodeling at the Mascone Center, I really hope the rumors of a real relocation are true. If they kept it here that would be amazing!

But what about Comic-Con week? That's been such a touchstone moment in the middle of the year for us. We can't just stay home and think about everyone else going to San Diego. There had to be something that was equal or greater than Comic-Con to make a switch-out worth while.

As Rebecca and I drove home, talking about what a great time we both had, we teased a couple of ideas about what we would do if....IF....we skipped Comic-Con. Travel to England?...a trip we've been wanting to make. Jeez, flights are SO expensive during the summer and she's suggested the fall would be better on the wallet and with less tourists. OK, somewhere else? International? Domestic?

Then she hit me with the spark that said 'THIS IS IT': a movie location tour!'re gonna have to wait until the next post for all the details on that. It's big, it's epic, it's very exciting and WE'RE DOING IT!!!

In the meantime, after a week of thought and speculation as to whether I should hit the Big Red Button that said 'no Comic-Con this year', I at last made the official decision last Friday night. SO glad we didn't pay what would have been the full week's stay IN ADVANCE (most downtown hotel's policies starting three years ago) at the Marriott for $600 per night!! And to think I came so very close to doing just that before I woke up and smelled the Mexican Coca Cola (I'd say coffee but I don't drink coffee)!

This does not mean we won't go again next year...assuming the now rape of my wallet known as 'booking a room in San Diego' can be worked around. My thought this morning, until it was brought to my attention that Comic-Con's hotel reservations would go up tomorrow and not today, was to go on at 9am and see what we might have come up with if we'd booked with the CC block. My experience with this in the past has been a major turn-off. Even if you're on there right at the time they go up, the closest hotel you can get is a mile or two away(!) Pretty idiotic.

Yes, you save a bit of money because the deal they have with all hotels is about half the cost of booking on your own. Something I didn't mind and could afford previously because I was stubborn about getting into the right hotel, regardless of cost. That word 'regardless' has just hit the ceiling on my end with these new increases. What are these hotels gonna go for in two, three, four, five, even ten years? $1,000 per night??!! More???!!!

Somebody....SOMEBODY...needs to knock whoever is making these increases off their pedestal. Could you imagine a full-on boycott of an individual hotel or hotels? THAT would be crazy!!

OK, don't worry...I'm hard at work at writing the next post with details of our amazing movie location trip this July!

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Major Comic-Con announcement tomorrow morning

Comic-Con is opening up their hotel reservations online tomorrow morning at 9am and I'll have a special announcement shortly after that. Stay tuned.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Day 2 begins

We had so much fun yesterday, checking out the first half of the Exhibit Hall and taking in the 30th Anniversary of 1982 panel.

Bought a few items already and saw a lot of cool stuff. The panel was really entertaining with remembrances of what it was like when the onslaught of those iconic summer movies were released back in the day. They even touched on how few select news stories and photos from upcoming films were mysteriously teased as opposed to today where too much is revealed way in advance. They even showed original trailers from "E.T.", "Blade Runner", "The Dark Crystal" and even "MegaForce".

Last night we headed to Ruth's Chris for a wonderful steak dinner about a block and a half from our hotel.

We're up now and getting ready for what will certainly be the centerpiece day for the event. Director Ridley Scott will be presenting footage from and probably the first full trailer for "Prometheus", as well as there being a full-on preview for "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter". This is at the 20th Century Fox panel, BTW.

I have to say I am really impressed with the Anahiem Convention Center. It has a very elegant, modernistic design with easy accessability throughout. Let's see how it fairs on the busiest day of the convention.

Friday, March 16, 2012

And we're here!

Welcome to Day 1 of Wondercon! We stayed at the Hilton (right next door to the convention center) last night and having an included breakfast buffet right now. Yum!

About to head over, check in to get our pro-reg memberships and then we're in! Today is technically 1982 Day since the primary panel we'll be attending celebrates that year, thirty years ago when anything and everything came out during one crazy sci-fi movie summer! BTW, Robert Meyer Burnett (the director of "Free Enterprise") will be on the panel.

Photos and updates soon!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Final days until Wondercon!

Yes, True Believers....Wondercon is almost upon us!

Rebecca just expanded our hotel reservation to three nights (thank you, Rebecca!) which include this coming Thursday. We felt it might be better to get down there the night before the event began instead of having to get up super early, drive to Anaheim Friday morning, get our memberships, then have to pull away to check-in in the afternoon.

There's a lot to look forward to including a special 20th Century Fox preview presentation of "Prometheus" as well as a retrospective of the greatest year in sci-fi movie history: 1982! I am seriously overjoyed that Wondercon is dedicating a panel (as they should) to honor this summer, 30 years ago when six iconic movies were released, all within a two month period.

"The Road Warrior"
"Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan"
"Blade Runner"

We're psyched, we're pumped, we're READY!!! This could not have come at a better time as I am needing to take a break from everyday life and just fly off to the stars!

Monday, March 12, 2012

My "Thin Ice" broadcast spot is now online

My spot for "Thin Ice" went to finish and not only can I finally reveal that this was one of the projects I worked on over the holidays, but here it is online for your viewing pleasure!

The movie stars Greg Kinnear, Billy Crudup and Alan Arkin in a tale of a crooked insurance salesmen who finds himself in the middle of a cat and mouse game revolving around a priceless violin. Click on the image to be taken to the official site. BTW, this film is really GREAT and I highly recommend it!!

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Wondercon in 1 week!

The excitement builds as the countdown to Comic-Con's sister convention begins ticking downthosee final days. I've been so wrapped up with the issues surrounding hotel accomodations for Comic-Con that I haven't been concentrating on what's right in front of us!

I've taken next Friday as a vacation day and look forward to getting up super early that day (yes, you heard it right) so we can get our full enjoyment out of the three day movie, sci-fi and comic book feat. Staying at the Marriott right next door because I'm so spoiled, it'll be nice to explore a new venue since Wondercon is at the Anahiem Convention Center this year instead of the Mascone Center in San Francisco.

This is to be a one-off for the event due to construction going on at it's usually digs up north. But rumor it that this is a test run for possibly relocation of Wondercon or even a transferring of homes for San Diego based Comic-Con. Much as I want to see my favorite summer event stay put, we'll see what this place has to offer.

40 years of "What's Up, Doc?"

Today is the 40th Anniversary of one of the greatest screwball comedies of all time, as well as one of my favorite movies of all time!

My friend Bill B. first introduced me to "What's Up, Doc?" which stars Barbra Streisand as Judy Maxwell, a career klutz who falls for mild-mannered Howard Banister (Ryan O'Neal) during a trip to San Francisco and a musicologist convention. All set against a case of mistaken identity involving several red plaid suitcases that a few questionable parties want to get their hands on no matter what.

This would be Madeline Kahn's first feature length screen appearance and she practically steals the movie as Eunice Burns, Howard's fiance and ever-controlling woman in his life who Judy wants to unseat. Judy goes so far as to impersonate Eunice at a dinner and comedic genius ensues. Kahn was nominated for a Golden Globe the following year for her role.

Peter Bogdanovich, who the following year directed "Paper Moon" also with Ryan O'Neal, was a major force in Hollywood at the having just come off the success of "The Last Picture Show". Bringing his love for slapstick comedies like "Bringing Up Baby", Bogdanovich crafted the perfect vehicle for Streisand and O'Neal, not to mention the likes of Kenneth Mars as the crazy Croatian musicologist Hugh Simon (one of my favorite characters in the film) and Austin Pendleton as Mr. Larrabee ("FREDERICK!"). Trivia note: "What's Up, Doc?" became the third highest grossing movie of 1972 right below "The Godfather" and "The Poseidon Adventure".

Today is the anniversary but this Monday night will be the actual anniversary screening in The 10th Box. Carrots, naturally, will be the concession stand special.

Monday, March 5, 2012

The Comic-Con hotel situation: time for a critical executive decision

The expanse between the San Diego Convention Center is like a giant game board with two players at each end of a very long table. At one end is Player 1: the relatively new Hilton San Diego Bayfront (pictured). At the other end is Player 2: the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina. Click on the photo for a pictorial reference. These two hotels have been the brass ring as far as our stay during Comic-Con annually.

For four years we stayed at the Marriott. But after they began asking for the full dollar amount when making our reservations with no refund possibility in the case of emergency (still a horrendous policy!), we quite happily decided to head down to the other end of the convention center to what would become our hotel of choice, in our minds from now on.

But after months of the Hilton San Diego Bayfront being 'completely booked', even WAY beyond the time Comic-Con puts a hold on the entire hotel until they make there room block deal for the coming year, our glorious new discovery which wonderfully overlooks Hall H is still 'sold out'. Of course this is not the case due to Comic-Con's actions. What is the case is we still do not have hotel reservations for the big event in July and I've been getting far more than a little annoyed and particularly frustrated at the way they've caused my yearly process to be disrupted.

In lieu of this upset, I've been hounding other hotels, including the Marriott, about availability. Once again, EVERY hotel in the downtown area has Comic-Con's full lock down on it. Something I fully intend to bring up at the bitch session on Sunday and trust me, I WILL be attending that! I mean, WTF??!!

Suddenly a few weeks ago I discoverd the San Diego Marriott Marquis & Marina with (OMG, the heavens have parted) available rooms! Even though I was pretty much done with Player 2 at the other end of the convention center for what was surely our new forever home for the event, I realized something had to be done...and fast!! They have rooms, no one else does. And as of this morning the reservation gap is closing. Rooms are going quickly and that means one thing and one thing only: executive decision time!

So with that in mind, I am going to make reservations with the Marriott for our entire stay of Comic-Con. Yes, it's a great hotel and I have no complaints with the place. It's just that the Hilton is so much better for comfort and location. It truly saddens me that we'll have to do this since I won't be able to get a refund if at some point rooms do open up at the Hilton out of Comic-Con's grasp in the near future. Both hotels now have non-refundable policies for CC...and once again, these policies are just plain wrong.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

"Some Kind of Wonderful" 25th Anniversary

"Some Kind of Wonderful" will always be one of my favorite John Hughes teen era movies for one very special reason: Watts. I always thought her character was so cool and just real. I always thought it would have been awesome to have a friend like Watts...which is probably why I hung out with my fair share of tomboys back in the day.

"Wonderful" is celebrating it's 25th Anniversary this week. Released on February 27, 1987, it would become the last of John Hughes teen era movies and the sealing of his legacy as the most prolific screenwriters and filmmakers of his time. I still enjoy this more than "Pretty in Pink"...being that "SKOW" was John's correcting of the storyline he originally wanted for "Pink".

The story of other-side-of-the-tracks Keith who works at a gas station and yearns to be with beautiful and popular Amanda Jones while best friend and drummer girl Watts hides a secret love takes place outside of the Shermer High setting Hughes set in his previous teen outings. Yet it still resonates the kind of tightly written, depth filled characters who not only worry about fitting in but about just plain wanting to be loved by someone they're close to who doesn't know it.

In her most iconic role, Mary Stuart Masterson as Watts brings the right amount of teen angst, most of the great dialogue as well as exuding the prime of mid-80's post-punk. Don't forget wickedly funny Elias Koteas as the leather clad tough guy Duncan who turns out to have a soft side for Keith's pursuit of Amanda while ultimately watching his back against the evil rich kid, Hardy Jenns (Craig Sheffer). And Maddie Corman, as Keith's younger sister Laura, always reminded me of Molly Ringwald's younger spunky sister!

Tonight will be the 25th Anniversary screening in The 10th Box and if I can get Mary Stuart Masterson on the phone I'm gonna invite her over! Maybe set up a drum kit in the lobby for her to play around on. LOL! Hey, being the huge John Hughes fan I am you know I have to turn up the appreciation, right?!

Oh and BTW, the other cool thing about Watts?: she drove a Mini Cooper! Rock on!!

Here is the original teaser for "Some Kind of Wonderful" which played in front of "Ferris Bueller's Day Off" in the summer of 1986. I have this on a VHS tape but always wanted a higher quality version. God bless YouTube!

Oscar critique: more of the same

Another pretentious Academy Awards review: Patrick Goldstein, 'The Envelope' for the Los Angeles Times. These people just tire me out because they'll never like anything.