Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Transformers The Ride: Changing The Face Of Theme Park Attractions As We Know It

This past Memorial Day weekend, droves of Los Angeles residents and tourists made the trip to Universal Studios Hollywood to experience the brand new attraction, Transformers: The Ride-3D. I was on the scene for the grand opening of the 100 million dollar spectacular and have returned with a detailed report on how me and a rag tag group of Autobots, Universal employees and fellow members of the press saved the world. Or rode a ride that pretended we saved the world. Shhh. Let me have my fantasy.

The event itself boasted free samples of a deliberately mysterious fizzy orange drink called "Energon", a red carpet filled with Ron Meyer, Steven Spielberg, Judd Apatow and, for no discernible reason, 10 minor actors from Glee, an impressive stunt show featuring the Optimus Prime truck, soldiers falling off of buildings, fireworks, actor Glen Morshower, and red, white and blue streamers exploding down upon us, and a large breakfast spread which boasted donuts being fried live. When I described the experience to a friend, comedian Kyle Ray, he noted,
Frying donuts outside of an amusement park ride based on a blockbuster movie that was based on a television cartoon, that was made to sell toys, this might be the most American thing I have ever seen.
Truer words were never spoken, Mr Ray. But we're not here to discuss how Universal celebrated the opening of their monumental new ride - we're here to review the ride itself, and tell you if it lives up to hype. After the jump, of course!

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Friday, May 25, 2012

Happy Towel Day!

Happy Towel Day everyone! I've written towel so many times in the past ten minutes, it doesn't make sense anymore. Also, someone find the towel pictured above and get it for me? Once I had to decide to get a jersey that said Vonnegut/5 or Adams/42. Because I had read 7 Vonnegut books at the time and more recently, and only 5 Adams books, and the year before, I went with Vonnegut. I regret the decision to this day. If you haven't read the Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, you are not a hoopy frood, I SAID IT, IT'S OUT THERE, DEAL WITH IT.

And now some words from Douglas Adams,

 "A towel, it says, is about the most massively useful thing an interstellar hitchhiker can have. Partly it has great practical value - you can wrap it around you for warmth as you bound across the cold moons of Jaglan Beta; you can lie on it on the brilliant marble-sanded beaches of Santraginus V, inhaling the heady sea vapours; you can sleep under it beneath the stars which shine so redly on the desert world of Kakrafoon; use it to sail a mini raft down the slow heavy river Moth; wet it for use in hand-to- hand-combat; wrap it round your head to ward off noxious fumes or to avoid the gaze of the Ravenous Bugblatter Beast of Traal (a mindboggingly stupid animal, it assumes that if you can't see it, it can't see you - daft as a bush, but very ravenous); you can wave your towel in emergencies as a distress signal, and of course dry yourself off with it if it still seems to be clean enough.
More importantly, a towel has immense psychological value. For some reason, if a strag (strag: non-hitch hiker) discovers that a hitch hiker has his towel with him, he will automatically assume that he is also in possession of a toothbrush, face flannel, soap, tin of biscuits, flask, compass, map, ball of string, gnat spray, wet weather gear, space suit etc., etc. Furthermore, the strag will then happily lend the hitch hiker any of these or a dozen other items that the hitch hiker might accidentally have "lost". What the strag will think is that any man who can hitch the length and breadth of the galaxy, rough it, slum it, struggle against terrible odds, win through, and still knows where his towel is is clearly a man to be reckoned with."
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Thursday, May 24, 2012

Is Community The American Answer to Spaced (And Can It Continue To Be Without Dan Harmon?)

Cross-posted on Film.com

I was listening to NPR last week while sippin on a Jamba Juice, as you do when you're so LA sometimes you should be slapped, and heard Joel McHale come on to The Treatment with Elvis Mitchell. During this conversation, McHale noted about Community, the show on which he stars,

"There's a certain level of pop culture knowledge that I think people have. Some don't and [certain references] would be totally lost on them…but there's a certain level of understanding of pop culture ...much like something like Mystery Science Theater, where there is [sic] 100 jokes thrown at you, you may only get 70% of them, but don't worry, there's another one coming that you are going to get if you didn't get that last one."

This quote got me thinking about another television show that followed a similar pattern, one of my top five shows of all time, Spaced. It was this Twitter account that said to me at one point, "hey, remember that failed American remake of Spaced? Well, I actually think the American answer to the show already exists - it's Community." I didn't let it sink in at the time, but after hearing this interview, combined with seeing the completion of Community's incredible third season and hearing the announcement that Sony has declined to renew their contract with creator Dan Harmon, it all sort of hit me and I thought now would be the time to explore the theory.

For those of you unfamiliar with Spaced, it's a half hour single cam comedy created and written by Simon Pegg & Jessica Hynes nee Stevenson, directed by Edgar Wright. It aired on Britain's Channel 4 in 1999 and 2001. The premise, like Community's, is standard sitcom fodder. Where Community sees a disbarred lawyer forced to enter into community college, where we encounter a wacky group of people he soon forms close friendships with, Spaced begins with Tim and Daisy, two strangers who pretend to be a couple in order to move into a North London apartment they were separately vying for, where they encounter a wacky group of residents, and each other's wacky friends, who they soon forge close friendships with. What neither logline hints at are that both shows were created by giant nerds with a vast understanding of genre and pop culture who apply that knowledge boldly and uniquely, challenging the notion of a sitcom, pushing the homage envelope, and bonding with its audiences in a way rarely seen before or since. 

In the way that Community has had a claymation episode, an 8 bit video game episode, a Ken Burns episode, an alternate reality episode, a "Cuckoo's Nest" trope episode, two paintball episodes that played with the archetypes of war video games and westerns, a My Dinner with Andre episode masked as a Pulp Fiction episode, and more, Spaced paved the way with perhaps not whole themed episodes (although series two episode Mettle while not using the Cuckoo's Nest trope, is in fact one giant homage to One Flew Over The Cuckoo's Nest), but elongated homage sequences littered with references in between. The show was so known for its handle on genre and love of and ability to play with American film, that the DVD even has an "homage-o-meter" that lets you know whenever something is being referenced. As Joel McHale said about Community, your average pop culture fan would understand 70% of the jokes, but if there was ever one that went over your head, fear not, because something you *will* understand is right around the corner. Spaced's relationship to pre-existing pop culture was unprecedented and was what helped make it so special and new. So it makes perfect sense that a show like Community that takes that idea to the next level, could be seen as its American counterpart. Oh, and Spaced too had an episode where paintball played a major role, it just happened to take place on an actual paintball course.
From Spaced's paintball episode

But it isn't just the shows strong exploration of pop culture that bridges the gap. Both shows manage to be completely goofy, surreal, and at times absurdist, while still creating characters you love and feel connected to. With a show like Happy Endings or 30 Rock, their absurdity makes us laugh a million times an episode, but aside from Liz Lemon, I'm not sure I feel a personal connection to any character on either show, because they mostly exist on another plane of reality. No character on Happy Endings feels real, so we are incapable of relating to them or caring about them. Which isn't to say I don't enjoy the crap out of the show, but it can't rise to a level of greatness without that element. With both Spaced and Community, as crazy as things get, and as not-actually-the-straight-man as our lead characters become, we still care about what happens to them. We root for Abed and Troy's friendship the way we root for Daisy and Tim to get together and root for Jeff to become a good person the way we root for Marsha to be happy. 

Both shows also come from the mind of, I'm saying it, geniuses. The trio of Simon Pegg, Edgar Wright and Jessica Hynes is a strong one, and although Hynes hasn't been involved in the films I'm about to name, without Spaced, there would be no Shaun of the Dead, no Hot Fuzz, no Scott Pilgrim. I suspect Harmon may have a similar trajectory, going on to create even more wonderful things, cementing his legacy in this world. It just sucks that he won't get to see Community's journey through to the end. What if Pegg, Hynes or Wright had been taken off of Spaced creatively, but the show continued on? It wouldn't make sense. What made the show so unique was the blending of those minds, aesthetics and sensibilities. Similarly, it is Dan Harmon's creative genius and risk taking that makes Community so special. The fans' chant of #sixseasonsandmovie seems to sad and futile when we envision that future without Harmon. 

Spaced ended after two series, 14 episodes total, and although it never truly felt over, as we never got to see Tim and Daisy admit they loved each other (though we do see in a documentary about the show that they end up together with a daughter whom Tim wanted to name Luke),  better it ended when it did than continue on with a different creative team, not that that was ever a potential scenario, but hopefully you see my point - Spaced may have had a short run, but it was also a perfect run. I can't help but feel a great sense of dread and confusion imagining Community continuing without its true voice. The show's wonderful season three finale, Introduction to Finality, tied up enough to serve as a series finale, but left enough open to continue. Unfortunately, as it moves on, it will be without its master and creator. Guys, remember The West Wing when Aaron Sorkin left, or did we all collectively block out that dark time in our lives? I think all of us #sixseasonsandamovie believers would have gladly taken three or four seasons done by Harmon's rules than any of the show betraying what it is, has been and stands for.

So what do you think? Have you seen Spaced and can you see the parallel? Does imagining a Spaced without Simon Pegg's POV start to put into perspective what Community without Dan Harmon might mean? Sound off!

Oh, and watch this clip from Spaced right now See full post

So Bad, It Wasn't Bad Enough: A Battleship Rant

Cross-posted on Film.com

When I decided to see Battleship this past weekend, it was for two very specific reasons. First, I heard great things about the visual effects and the sound, and if it's gonna get any sort of Oscar nod, better I see it in theaters than on a screener later in the year. Second, I had assumed from the Wondercon footage and various interviews where director Peter Berg said he wanted to make his version of a giant big budget action film that is super fun and doesn't take itself too seriously, I thought, fuck yes, I love that shit.

Because I do love that shit! I hate the Transformers films because they take themselves *just* too seriously, and yet make no sense, but loved GI Joe because I thought it was utterly ridiculous in all of the best ways. You can read more in depth about my feelings on those two in Why GI Joe > Transformers 2: A Love Story. So you can imagine, after writing a piece like that, and then hearing how there is a Battleship: A Love Letter article going around, that I thought I would love the crap out of Battleship, right?

Wrong. So very very wrong.

(There be spoilers ahead)

See here's the thing. I can forgive a lot. I can forgive horrible, never ending winking at the camera acting, Taylor Kitsch, I can. I can forgive a hollow love story and a woman prancing around wearing nothing with no purpose, sure, maybe, sometimes I can forgive that, though yes it's a stretch. Can I forgive a lead character who goes through a hero's journey without actually learning anything, who misinterprets Sun Tzu and accidentally mimics a children's game his way to victory? Hey, why not. I can even forgive vacant characters, flat jokes and failed attempts at relating to the audience. I AM A VERY FORGIVING PERSON. But you know what I can't forgive, action movie?

I can't forgive you being boring as all hell for the first hour and a half of your two hour long masturbatory effects jam.

I elaborate after the jump

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Monday, May 21, 2012

Snow White and The Huntsman Funtime Giveaway!

Another contest?? Hooray!! This time, we're celebrating the release of Snow White & The Hunstman aka the movie I wanted to hate, but then I saw the first trailer and was like, oh crap, I really want to see this now. I've also seen extended footage at both Wondercon and CinemaCon and loved it, plus Charlize Theron's appearances at both have cemented my shift from disliking her to loving her, which began with one of my favorite performances of the year in Young Adult. She's just so apologetically sassy! So if you too are looking forward to this movie, then this contest is for you. Hooray free stuff!!!!!

Two winners will receive the following:

SWATH Nail Polish
SWATH Necklace
SWATH Cell Phone Mirror
SWATH Sling Bag
SWATH Lip Gloss

To enter, just follow the directions in the handy dandy rafflecopter below! The winner will be chosen randomly on Monday, June 4th.

Please keep in mind that this giveaway is US only, but if you are international and you have a buddy who lives in the states who is down to enter for you, then ship the package off to you if you win, that is a-okay!!

Happy contest entering, guys! :)

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Friday, May 18, 2012

SEE THIS MOVIE! Extraterrestrial Available on VOD and Theatrically 6/15!!!

So I don't normally post just straight up news or announcements, but I will make an exception for Nacho Vigalondo's follow up to Timecrimes, Extraterrestrial. I saw the film at AFI Fest and absolutely loved it. Out of the 26 films I saw, it landed at #4. My capsule review is below, though in general I would say don't read anything, just trust me and go. But if you don't believe me, then you can read paragraph #2 and if you REALLY REALLY don't believe me, read both. I just hate to think of anything being spoiled for a movie so good, although ultimately it's fairly spoiler proof as the film is less about what happens and more about how it happens.
4. Extraterrestrial (dir. Nacho Vigalondo)“Something urgent is not the same as something important. That’s my lesson.” This part of director Nacho Vigalondo’s introduction to his new film, Extraterrestrial, stuck with me throughout the whole genre-bending screwball comedy. The film opens with Julio and Julia, awkwardly dancing around each other the morning after a drunken romp. Normal post-one-night-stand protocol is thrown out the window when the twosome notices that all communication lines are down and, more alarming still, a giant alien spacecraft is hovering outside the window. In any other film, made in any other country, by any other director, Julia and Julio would then embark on an adventure of epic proportions, falling in love as their adrenaline from massacring aliens brings them closer together. But this is Nacho Vigalondo, making a character-driven story “filled with bullsh*t” (his words), not a soulless big-budget sci-fi extravaganza. So instead, Julia and Julio use the conventions of alien invasion stories to weave an elaborate web of lies to cover up their brief affair when a nosy neighbor, Angel, and her alpha male boyfriend with a penchant for heroism, Carlos, check in on her. The series of lies becomes more and more elaborate as Angel discovers their secret, and Carlos experiences an entire film of his own off camera, seeking out alien insurgents and fighting to take back the city. Or so he thinks. 
Extraterrestrial shows a masterful knowledge of every genre in play. No one could tell a story quite this humorously, this cleverly, without having a vast working knowledge of science fiction, romance, and classic screwball comedies, yet nothing about the film feels too well tread or unoriginal. Even with a straightforward narrative, a huge departure from Vigalondo’s first feature, Timecrimes, the film keeps us guessing as we marvel at the absurd length these two people will go to, and to what end? With the world seemingly ending outside, how much does it matter if your boyfriend catches you cheating? It may have been more important to come up with a plan of survival, but the comically urgent human drama at hand took priority. Leads Julián Villagrán and the jaw droppingly gorgeous Michelle Jenner have incredible chemistry, which grounds the outrageous nature of the story. 
Favorite Scene: A character makes a “confession” that is at once ridiculous and necessary, perhaps not to the physical survival of the human race, but certainly to the mental survival of the people involved in this comedy of errors.
The film will be available nationwide via VOD on June 15th and also opens June 15th in New York, Austin and Seattle and June 22nd in Los Angeles. 
Moar info!
From Focus Features, the premiere global brand in original and daring cinema, comes FOCUS WORLD. Charged with finding the most exciting voices in international and independent film, Focus World is proud to present EXTRATERRESTRIAL, the sexy and hilarious new sci-fi comedy from director Nacho Vigalondo (TIMECRIMES). 

When Julio wakes up in a strange apartment after a night of partying, he’s pleasantly surprised to discover it belongs to a beautiful one-night-stand he can’t remember - Julia. What’s already an awkward situation is made even more so when they discover a giant flying saucer hovering above the city, which is now deserted. Now Julio must contend with a jealous ex-boyfriend, an eccentric neighbor – and very possibly the end of the world! 

Extraterrestrial will be available nationwide on video-on-demand as well as other outlets in Focus World’s digital distribution network.  The film will also be available to filmgoers across the country through Tugg (more info below) with initial theatrical releases in select cities including Brooklyn, NY (at reRun’s Gastropub Theater) and Seattle, WA (at the Uptown Theatre) on June 15th; North Hollywood, CA (at Laemmle’s Noho 7), on June 22nd; and in Texas (at Alamo Drafthouse Cinema locations) in June.

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Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Kinect Star Wars: A Mildly Fun Missed Opportunity

Cross-posted on and commissioned by Gaming Blend

When I attended E3 last year, I got to try out the newly announced Star Wars Kinect. It was practically a dream come true for me, getting to kinda sorta really have the force, and it made my Top Five Movie Related Video Games list. Sure some things were wonky, but I GOT TO USE THE FORCE, so I saw a lot of promise. Cut to less than a year later and the finished game hitting stores, fully fleshed out, and the question arises, well wait, IS getting to the use force enough to justify the existence of this game? I'm not so sure.

In Kinect Star Wars, C3PO and R2D2 are your guides of sorts, showing you around the Jedi Archives, categorizing files and other boring organizational things. In the main campaign, you learn about the Clone Wars by jumping in and seeing what it was like to be a padawan during that time (between Episodes one and two), under the tuteledge of a raven haired badass jedi master named Mavra Zane  who has never been mentioned before in the history of Star Wars anything, but is voiced perfectly by Jennifer Hale, so that's a plus?

The campaign seems endless, which can be a little annoying when your move catalog is so limited and cannot be expanded upon. Right hand wields your lightsaber, and most of the time you are doing nothing but swinging your right wrist in a sideways figure eight to block blaster fire, which doesn't feel great the day after when you have to do things like USE YOUR RIGHT HAND. Your left hand controls the force, but don't even try to use the force *while* blocking blaster guns, cause the Kinect will get sad and stop recognizing you altogether. This is silly because it makes no sense, logically. OF COURSE I would block blaster fire whilst using the force, why can't I do both, why?! Oh, limitations of Kinect, my patience, it is waning. You can also jump to jump over enemies, step forward to dash forward for both movement and part of attacking droids, and kick to, well, kick. At the end of every major battle, you go into duel mode, which I still don't understand how to win, despite the fact that I obviously did come out on top every time. Occasionally you drove around in a speeder, which was unwieldy and not fun at all, or engaged in space battle, which was a little bit more tolerable.

While the moves themselves can be fun in doses, spending hours upon hours jumping and slashing without much variety to speak of is incredibly dull and exhausting all at once, two modifiers I try to avoid in my life at all costs. It becomes a lot more enjoyable if you spread the game out over time, especially if you can involve a Star Wars loving friend as well, although having two people confuses the Kinect horribly and both the force and my lightsaber worked just slightly less when someone else got involved. Luckily, the game goes a lot faster with another person, as the number of enemies doesn't seem to increase from one player to two players, so the somewhat faulty motion capture is less bothersome overall.

But fun in doses can really only get you so far when your universe sucks. Sorry. But this game would be a thousand times better if it SIMPLY TOOK PLACE DURING THE ORIGINAL TRILOGY or at least with original trilogy characters. I'm glad I got to see Chewbacca, but I don't understand why I'm fighting alongside some random invented character instead of Luke Skywalker. Have the prequels and Clone Wars TV show really made the original trilogy *that* irrelevant to Kinect owning/video game buying geeks?

The rest of the review after the jump

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Friday, May 11, 2012

On The Scene: Starship Troopers 15th Anniversary Screening

Cross-posted on Film.com

Last night, tons of die hard Starship Troopers fans descended upon the Arclight Hollywood to celebrate the 15 year anniversary of the Paul Verhoeven cult classic film, adapted from the Heinlein novel. Beware, spoilers abound! Although if you haven't seen the movie by now, that is very silly and should be remedied immediately.

Right outside of the theater, various props and costumes were on display, that in retrospect, I probably should have taken a look at again *after* re-watching the movie, as I had kind of forgotten the significance of any of it, this being the first time I revisited the film since I was 11 years old.

This seemed to be a popular theme of the night. I kept hearing audience members talking about their Troopers circumstances and the majority either hadn't seen the film since it came out, or watched it fairly regularly, and anyone who could, brought someone who had never seen the film, correctly figuring that this would be the best forum to introduce them to the now classic.

Read on for how the film holds up, audience reaction, and what I learned during the Q&A! After the jump we go!

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Should Joss Whedon Direct Avengers 2?

Cross-posted on and commissioned by Film.com

After breaking the all time record for highest opening weekend numbers with 207 million and holding steady at 93% fresh on Rotten Tomatoes, The Avengers is officially a giant effing success. As haters everywhere find themselves stunned that Joss "wait, the guy who created Buffy?" Whedon pulled off such a universally acclaimed take on these beloved characters, it starts to make you wonder. Will Disney give Whedon another shot, since he did so well the first time around, or will they move on, too nervous about the chance they took the first time to try again? What should they do? Does Whedon even want a round two?

First off, it should be noted that I am a major MAJOR Whedon fan. I've watched all of his shows when all of his shows originally aired, I love The Cabin in the Woods, I love Serenity, I love Dr. Horrible, I know I'll love Much Ado About Nothing, and the list goes on. When I met Whedon at Comic-Con a couple years back (well, met as an adult, I encountered him rather often at conventions as a teen,) my fandom overtook my body and forced me to blurt out "BUFFY CHANGED MY LIFE" before telling him my name. Good one, Muse. So I never doubted that Whedon could handle the multi-character action extravaganza that would be The Avengers.

He has been juggling ensemble casts and action scene after action scene for the past fifteen years! This ability is not one easily honed, but comes so naturally to Whedon, it can't help but make you consider  that he made a deal with The Master Angelus The Mayor Adam Glory Trio First Evil the devil somewhere along the way. What he does with the Avengers is masterful. Each character has his moment to shine, his fight to win, his relationships to explore. No one gets the shaft and everyone has the ability to walk away a fan favorite.

On top of that, the fight scenes were made for the excited child in all of us who used to bang Iron Man & Thor action figures together, even though it didn't really make sense, the dialogue is smart, quippy and feels natural coming from each characters' mouths, and Whedon even turns his own Whedonverse tropes on their head by gettin a little meta, but for the sake of spoilers, I won't elaborate on that. For now. While the film may be slow to start, it ends exceptionally, the first Marvel film to boast such a claim, as most of them end following the same old same old formula to mostly unexciting results. In The Avengers, instead of pretending the question is "Will the heroes win?" when we all know they will, the question becomes "How will the heroes win?" and watching the answer unfold and these characters finally become a team is pure unbridled fan joy. Oh, and the film is currently sitting on over 650 million worldwide. So yeah, I think it's safe to say Whedon succeeded.

Furthermore, I would argue that the film has succeeded primarily *because* of Whedon. He jumped in there and rewrote the script, he used his talent at writing and directing women better than most anyone ever to make Pepper Potts the most likable yet and give Scarlet Johansson close to the best role and performance of her career, and he finally put the Hulk we've all been waiting for on the screen. The only difference between this Marvel film and the rest? Joss Whedon. So when this one is clearly the best yet, the reason seems rather obvious.

How the actors felt working with Whedon has become a major topic at any and all press events. Scarlet Johansson during CBS' profile of the director last  week even said that when she got the script and read how Joss crafted Black Widow so powerfully she said to herself, "Thank you, Joss" and at the press conference held last month, Chris Hemsworth talked about how hilarious Whedon is and how though he doubted certain comedic moments would play, he ended up being blown away by how well they worked on screen (specifically, "He's adopted.") Whedon knows these characters inside and out and it shows. Robert Downey Jr elaborated, noting how Whedon established the perfect tone for the film and  "...did a good job of finding everyone's frequency."

So why wouldn't Disney have him back to direct? Well there's always the old fear that lighting doesn't strike twice. Maybe Disney feels great about this gamble paying off, but wants to use the good will the film will drum up to a. pick a "bigger" director (although technically, no one is bigger than the Whedon right now) or b. go in the opposite direction and pick someone even riskier, with more of a distinct directorial style. Perhaps Whedon himself would want to go out on a high note, rather than pull a Favreau, who followed up the acclaimed Iron Man with the disappointing Iron Man 2. Of course it's possible to pull a Nolan as well, and take on both Avengers 2 and Avengers 3, but Nolan has had time to breathe and step away between each of his Batman films. Would Whedon be afforded that luxury?

When I really think about it, much more so than the directing, it is the writing and the overarching choices of the series that make The Avengers work. Whedon makes some fun directorial choices and the action is all extremely solid, but I find myself only really panicking if someone suggests Whedon stepping away from the writing desk. So here is my proposal.

Acknowledge the fact that Whedon is pretty much *the* reason the film works so well and give him reign over the rest of the Avengers films as writer and producer, and if he so choose, director. Let him guide the story and the direction, perhaps even becoming a instrumental force in selecting his predecessor, should Avengers 2 not be his to helm. After all, Joss discovered some of the best writers working today on Buffy and Angel, and I trust his knowledge of the Avengers and where they need to go and what they require inside and out, and truly believe he would know whose vision would work best in presenting them next.

So at the end of the day, as long as Whedon is heavily involved in the rest of the Avengersseries, I'll be a happy gal. But no matter what happens, thanks to the quality of The Avengers and its inevitable success, I say already Whedon has won, Marvel has won and fandom has won. It's a good week to be a geek.
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Wednesday, May 9, 2012

PEN World Voices Festival 2012: New Technology & Conventional Literature Strike a Balance

I had the total lit-nerdy thrill to attend some exciting events during the 8th annual PEN World Voices Festival of International Literature. PEN American Center is the American chapter of International PEN, which is a literary and human rights organization that fights for the freedom of expression of writers all over the world. This year, PEN American Center's festival celebrated the ways in which literary expression expands across multiple artistic and technological mediums. The festival took place in various New York venues, from April 30th through May 6th, and included such authors as Martin Amis, Margaret Atwood, Jennifer Egan, Tony Kushner, Marjane Satrapi, Brian Selznick, and Salman Rushdie (who served as the Festival Chair).

From Margaret Atwood arguing for the internet as a useful literary tool, to Jennifer Egan discussing how Power Point worked conceptually and structurally in her novel, the festival events I attended proved that literature is evolving with (and not being destroyed by) new technology. The festival also showcased writers like Marjane Satrapi and Brian Selznick who are breaking literary conventions with their genre-challenging and medium-crossing narratives.

Highlights from my experience at the festival, after the jump.
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Monday, May 7, 2012

May At The Movies

Cross-posted on and commissioned by Film.com

Happy official summer movie season! Time to celebrate by examining what this month has to offer for us, from some of the most anticipated films of the year to tiny gems that may only be playing on one screen near you, if any. Let's break it down.

Major Genre Fare

The Avengers (May 4th)
Nick Fury of S.H.I.E.L.D. brings together a team of super humans to form The Avengers to help save the Earth from Loki and his army.
Finally. FINALLY. Entry one in the battle for the largest Summer box office numbers (alongside The Dark Knight Rises of course), The Avengers finally hits theaters this Friday after breaking world records overseas and garnering almost universal praise for the incredible work of Joss Whedon and his spectacular cast. Although the Hulk steals the movie, everyone has his or her moment in the sun and man is it nice to have proof that the Whedon gamble paid off.
When Am I Seeing It? Already seen it, but going again for the opening midnight show!

Dark Shadows (May 11th)
An imprisoned vampire, Barnabas Collins, is set free and returns to his ancestral home, where his dysfunctional descendants are in need of his protection.
Although some fans of the original have been cringing at the spots for this high camp comedy take on Dark Shadows, others are looking forward to Burton's take on the series. I for one am more or less indifferent, but did find myself chuckling at the trailer and I love Chloe Moretz and Eva Green, so consider me on the "Sure, I'll give it a go" side.
When Am I Seeing It? Opening Week

Battleship (May 18th)
A fleet of ships is forced to do battle with an armada of unknown origins in order to discover and thwart their destructive goals.
Everything I have seen on this movie is utterly stupid. It's possible that the film is stupid in a deliberate call back to action movies of the 90s sort of way, but am I willing to spend $15 to find out? Taylor Kitsch is starting to grate on me the more I see him speak in person, so the only saving graces here are Liam Neeson and Alexander Skarsgard who fact, I would move mountains for. Director Peter Berg is also the man responsible for Friday Night Lights, so perhaps I should give him some more credit, but comeeee onnnn. You can't cast Brooklyn Decker and tell me it's cause she's "smart" before you dress her in a skin tight crop top and expect me to not think you're movie is dumb.
When Am I Seeing It? Ugh. Can I wait and see it when it's playing at the local two dollar theater? Are there are local two dollar theaters left in Los Angeles? Don't make me pay for this. Please.

Men in Black III (May 25)
Agent J travels in time to MIB's early years in the 1960s, to stop an alien from assassinating his friend Agent K and changing history.
That weird feeling where you're SO EXCITED because Men In Black was amazing, but then you become full of dread because you remember how Men In Black II was so painfully awful?A. How did that even happen in the first place? and B. MAN do I hope this redeems the Men in Black franchise. The potential and the talent is there. In fact, there really is no reason for this to suck. Except for the fact that they started shooting without a screenplay and all that. Oh boy. Here comes the dread. I'm pulling for you, guys.
When Am I Seeing It? Opening Weekend

Chernobyl Diaries (May 25th)
Six tourists hire an extreme tour guide who takes them to the abandoned city Pripyat, the former home to the workers of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor. During their exploration, they soon discover they are not alone.
I feel like I've been hearing about this movie before, but that might just be because of the word Diaries, which are also kept by entities like vampires and nannies. This movie, co-written and produced by Oren Peli of Paranormal Activity sounds like it will be about humans mutated by nuclear energy, one of those horror things that frightens me more than just about anything. I saw about five minutes of The Hills Have Eyes once and started crying. This film actually looks pretty good, I just suspect it may enter into a realm of horror that goes past my comfort zone.
When Am I Seeing It? Neverneverevernevevrr STOP IT STOP TALKING ABOUT IT AHHH. Not that you shouldn't see it. Be my guest. I have to go hide now.

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Sunday, May 6, 2012

Emily Blunt Top Five

Cross-posted on and commissioned by Film.com

A few weeks ago, the heartfelt comedy The Five Year Engagement opened in theaters nationwide, showing off the comedic prowess of Emily Blunt that has been laying dormant for entirely too long. Although since the film wasn’t as well received as expected (though I enjoyed it thoroughly), you may find yourself wishing to refresh with some better Blunt films. Here are our recommendations for where to find the best of the British actress.

My Summer Of Love
In her first major film role, 20 year old Blunt plays Tamsin, a privileged young girl home from boarding school for the summer who takes an interest in Mona, a girl of a much lower class who is easily taken in by the beautiful, manipulative rich girl. They have a love affair over the summer that ends up meaning very different things to each girl. This quiet, moody piece won tons of Awards in its year, most notably Best British Film at the BAFTAs. Blunt wasn’t discovered until eight months into the casting process, but thank goodness director Pawel Pawlikowski found her and put her on the big screen where she belongs. Blunt is captivating in the role, bringing intelligence, maturity, and emotional depth to an unstable character whom in lesser hands may have fallen flat and been all too transparent. Even if highly acclaimed British art house film isn’t your thing, Emily Blunt giving such a powerful, seductive performance is reason enough alone to pop this on Netflix Instant.
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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Is 2012 The Year of Sci-Fi/Fantasy?

Cross-posted on and commissioned by Film.com

With at least 60 genre films coming out in 2012 when all is said and done, I think it's safe to say with certainty that the geeks have inherited the Earth. But over the past few years, genre films have been released with such an intense ferocity already, is 2012 really any different? I would argue that it is. I mean, sure, every year has its tentpole films (2011: Thor, Captain America, X-Men, Harry Potter) and every year has its smaller sci-fi pics that garner small, but dedicated audiences (2011: Hanna, Source Code, Another Earth, Attack the Block), but 2012 not only has both of these in spades, but boasts some of the most anticipated science fiction and fantasy flicks in years.

When you look at the genre trajectory of the past 25 years, 2012 really emerges as the year to stand back and take stock. Let's take a glance at just the big budget releases.

In one year alone we have Ridley Scott's return to sci-fi and better yet, a return to the Alien franchise, with Prometheus, the conclusion of what has become one of the most acclaimed Superhero film series' of all time with Chris Nolan's The Dark Knight Rises, and the relaunch of another with The Amazing Spiderman, perhaps hoping to follow in Nolan's universe-rebooting footsteps by trading over the top characterizations for grounded realism and emotional authenticity. With The Avengers, we see five years worth of film and 50 years worth of comics culminating in the best Marvel release yet, which on top of everything is written and directed by Joss Whedon, one of the most beloved Scifi/fantasy creators of this generation. We have The Wachowski's returning to science fiction in a big (and hopefully not terrible coughninjaassassinspeedracercough) way with Cloud Atlas, after changing the landscape in 1999 with The Matrix, and although the Evil Dead remake doesn't hit theaters til 2013, we can expect heavy promotion for the film bringing Sam Raimi, re-inventor of the horror genre, full circle, at genre events throughout the year, especially at Comic-Con. 2012 is also where we see both the end of the Twilight series and beginning of the Hunger Games, a baton being passed from gateway drug to the good stuff for millions of tween girls for whom this timeline will bring them from middle school to college, when Men In Black tries to recreate the sci-fi comedy magic of the first film, now 15 years old, by adding a time travel element to the mix, and when Total Recall, originally released in 1990, gets a modern makeover. On top of all of this, some of the oldest science fiction we know of, 1912's Princess of Mars, was turned into a giant scale science fiction flick with John Carter, which may have flopped at the box office, but thrilled a lot of John Burroughs fans who had been waiting for this film for a long time.

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