The Movie Date is a weekly feature where we discuss movies that may appeal to the YA audience. Andrew is The Reading Date’s resident movie critic and this week he discusses the movies covered at Wondercon this past weekend.
With tickets easily available and hotels not needed (we’re only an hour from Anaheim), the annual WonderCon event is quickly becoming a must-do event for our family. I assume that someday tickets and lodging for the San Diego Comic-Con will become completely impossible for us to get, so this will at least be a pleasant substitute. The convention’s growing size apparently convinces enough studios and TV networks to shop their latest wares there, so I’ll run down what we saw over Easter weekend. We missed Friday but spent the rest of the Con in the massive Arena, (mostly) highly amused.
Anything but mundane. Hot ticket for most of you will be the great panel we saw on Mortal Instruments: City of Bones. This is a thrilling and lavish adaptation of the first book in a popular supernatural YA trilogy (hexalogy? nonology?) by author Cassandra Clare, who was present at the panel and a whole lot of fun, a cheekier version of Stephenie Meyer, perhaps. Lucy
reviewed read this book and the series, but for those just joining us, the plot is somewhere between Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Harry Potter. It’s the story of an ordinary New York girl who learns, after seeing creepy warrior types others cannot see, that she’s a Shadowhunter, member of an ancient race committed to vanquishing supernatural bad guys. The girl Clary is played by an endearing young actress named Lily Collins; also present were Jamie Campbell Bower (Caius from The Twilight Saga) as Jace and Kevin Zegers as Alec.
Like many of the weekend’s panels, the Q&A session was fraught with nervous glances amongst the panelists as audience members tried to coax spoilers from Clare and the cast. The production looks solid (we only saw a trailer, no other footage) and it looks like this will be another worthwhile YA-based movie franchise alongside Twilight and The Hunger Games.
Big robots, big monsters. Guillermo del Toro (Pan’s Labyrinth), with glee and profanity, unveiled footage from his upcoming Pacific Rim, in which skyscraper-sized, human-driven robots do battle with equally massive aliens from the ocean’s floor (or something). I’m not a fan of giant robot movies exactly (not a Transformers guy) but found this promising somehow. One cool gimmick: each battle robot must be controlled by two people that share a psychic connection of some sort. I was also impressed that del Toro tried to shoot as much of this film in-camera (eg without CGI) as possible, constructing, for instance, a robot foot as large as the entire Arena. Which was plenty big.
Two kinds of scary. We saw panels for two very different horror films. Though directed by the guy who did Saw (James Wan), The Conjuring is for me one of those holy-grail horror pics, the kind that work their wonders without a drop of blood, free of gore and grotesquery. These pics (the original 1963 The Haunting is another great example) work their wonders purely through mood building and a lot of loud sound effects. Even scarier is that this is based on a true case; Wan was joined on the panel by the original residents and investigators that experienced this nightmarish haunted-house story.
The opposite approach—gallons of gore and truly repulsive effects—was represented by the upcoming remake of the cult classic Evil Dead. Though it looked like a quality film—I was pretty shaken by a long sequence I won’t describe—I don’t think I’ll see it in theatres. A treat for everyone was the presence of the original film’s star, fan favorite Bruce Campbell, who’s producing this one. One female audience member, his Number One fan (at least at WonderCon), announced that she’d camped out since 1:30am to be in the front row for his panel. When Campbell told her that she looked like a soccer mom rather than an Evil Dead fan, she replied, “Apparently you don’t know the dark side of the soccer mom.” Which was as scary as anything on the screen…
House party. A couple of comedies feature parties at celebrities’ lavish Hollywood homes, where it seems like the good times continued offscreen. Joss Whedon (Buffy, Firefly) debuted scenes for the very unusual followup to his widescreen epic The Avengers. The new film is (get this) a literal adaptation of Shakespeare’s Much Ado About Nothing, shot in black and white and set in a gorgeous residence. The film was actually made in two weeks at Whedon’s own home, and far from being stuffy, this is about as funny as the Bard gets, with physical comedy filling in any gaps left by the Elizabethan English. Nathan Fillion was absent, sadly, but still got the biggest laughs through his portrayal of a blustery, arrogant police detective. I was impressed that no audience member asked about the Avengers or any upcoming Marvel superhero projects.
This Is The End features just about every name in modern screen comedy, and they’re all playing themselves, attending a party at James Franco’s home. The merriment goes quickly south when the Apocalypse arrives, either due to a meteor storm or alien abduction or some such. The recurring gag is, famous celebrity being annoying in their own way and instantly meeting their own cruel fate. If it works this could be funny, but I can also see this as being aimless and painfully contrived. On the panel were Seth Rogen (somewhat confused to be dressed as Wolverine), Kevin Hart, and Danny McBride.
Fanboy TV. Only caught two TV-based panels. Lucy and I started watching Revolution last fall and broke up with it after a few episodes, and an uneventful panel made us feel like we’d made the right choice. It’s a popular show and certainly has its merits, but a low-energy cast felt more like they were there because they were asked to be, rather than because they were truly jazzed about the program. Arrow, based on the DC superhero Green Arrow, was never on my radar and didn’t get any closer this time. Showrunner Marc Guggenheim revealed delicate plot points and near-spoilers that were fascinating to the fans in the house but boring as heck to everyone else.
Wrapped up the Con with a couple highly entertaining screenings, the season premiere of Doctor Who that had aired the night before. This gave us another look at the Doctor’s new companion Oswin that we had met in the Christmas special; the episode involved the capture of human souls via rogue wi-fi networks (no joke). I don’t watch it often but am always amazed at the program’s skillful blend of comedy, sci-fi, emotional drama, and fifty year’s worth of mythology and backstory.
As Comic-Con concludes with a singalong screening of Joss Whedon’s Buffy the Vampire Slayer episode Once More With Feeling, WonderCon makes a tradition of a an audience participation version of Whedon’s Dr. Horrible’s Sing-Along Blog. Suffice to say that it’s a remarkable hybrid of superhero/supervillain culture, musical theatre, and viral web video. Always nice to leave this enjoyable “little” Con with a song in your heart…