Comic-Con confidential

If you haven’t attended Comic-Con before, then you’re likely to be overwhelmed from just attempting to get tickets. For those chosen few who get those high-demand tickets, here’s a few things to consider and for those who don’t, there’s still things you can do.

If you don’t have a ticket, you can try again when the returns are put out, but you might end up waiting just to get access into the tickets online. You can’t enter early and even if you attempt to get in the online purchase room, you may be shut out. The demand is that high. Alternatively, if you don’t have the big bucks, you can volunteer. If you have the big bucks, you can buy them via Craigslist the week or weekend of Comic-Con.

If you don’t get tickets, there’s still a lot to do and freebies available. Six Batmobiles were on public display at Comic-Con on the lawn in front of the Hilton between the Hilton and the San Diego Convention Center. Sunday when the crowds were lower was the best time for getting nice photos. Nearby there was a tented gaming room that was open to everybody.

On the other side of the convention center at the Marriott, Nintendo sponsored a gaming room that was also open to the public. It was a nice air-conditioned place to rest with stations for gaming, bean bag chairs for gaming while sitting down and a floor for the dancing video game.

Across the way, Sega had a small gaming room across from the Convention Center, but lacked the knowledgeable staff. My nephew went in to ask a question about one of their popular games and no one could provide an answer. He rated the Nintendo display and presentation as the best.

In the parking lot for the stadium, a few studios set up outposts where you could win prizes such as T-shirts and posters or go through some gimmicky process and see sneak-peeks of upcoming movies or TV shows. The one for “Coma” included the opportunity to have a green-screen photos and/or a scar that reads “Coma” on your face, neck or arm.

Several movies were offering free screenings. Some required reservations but at least two on Saturday night were attempting to attract an audience the evening of the show, handing out fliers in front of the movie theater (Reading Cinema Gaslight 15).

If you do go to Comic-Con, remember Wednesday night’s preview is for the serious collectors who will run you down on their way to get in and out of line for those special limited edition toys, action figures and collectibles.

In a pre-Comic-Con interview with Morgan Spurlock, I was advised to 1) wear comfortable shoes (with insoles) 2) eat before you got there, 3) don’t be afraid to shower more than once a day 4) be wary of Wookie sweat and 5) to go in costume.

Spurlock last year (2011) attended with his son as Batboy and himself as Batman with a “porn-star moustache.” Spurlock’s “Comic-Con IV: A Fan’s Hope” just came out on DVD. You can even get it with mini figures of Stan Lee and Harry Knowles.

When thinking of your costume consider that you don’t have to be near perfection. You can go with just funny ears or you might consider tweaking a character for your costume. A Totoro jumper that looked like a tribute to both the Hayao Miyazaki animation and “The Wizard of Oz” Dorothy was both cute and comfortable. Full body paint as an original artwork or as a character like Poison Ivy or the Silver Surfer wasn’t out of place although carrying a surfboard around all day was probably tiresome.

Remember that many of the comic strip characters are a boy’s wet dream and you’d have to be a real super heroine with super human endurance to walk around all day in high heels. Those six-inch high heeled platforms won’t get you past an hour or two. Conversely, low-tech cardboard shoes that also cannot make the one-block walk test on a video character costume because they weren’t properly attached to the shoes and kept turning this way and that were also detrimental to fun and locomotion through a crowd.

You’ll have to put aside the snarky kind of attitude displayed by the New Yorker reviewer. Spurlock called that  a “disgruntled view” that the attendees are people, mostly men, who spend their lives “in their parents’ basement and don’t have any friends.” Some of the attendees are passionate people “who do have their shit together.” That reviewer apparently never felt the need to cross dress as Wonder Woman, but not everyone is cross-dressing. I did however see a man as a slave Princess Leia (why not) and a male Catwoman (on the sleazy, I-don’t-want-to-stand-next-to-you side). Most people are just heightening their own gender into a same-sex character.

If you’re hoping to get into any panel that is in H where all the major studios and celebrities appear, plan ahead and hopefully either have or make friends. I heard that the wait for “Throne of Games” required getting in line at 7 a.m. and waiting through a few other panels to be at the back of the room. That family clearly had a plan on that Friday.

For Saturday, don’t even bother going to sleep in a hotel room. One person tried to catch a bus from her hotel at 4 a.m.-ish, but two buses were already full and she only caught one at about 5 a.m. She was lucky. A friend had gotten in line at 4 a.m. All this for the Iron Man 3 panel.

Once you get into a crowded room such as H, do NOT give up your seat between panels to look for a better one. You could lose your spot entirely. Send out a search party although if you’re alone this won’t work out. Comic-Con is best handled with friends or family.

While there is plenty of food available at Comic-Con, it can be a bit expensive and if you’re waiting in line, unless you have good friends, you might not be able to get some when you need it. So take a bottle of water or juice (I had small packets an energy drink to mix with my water), energy bars and something to do while in line. To freshen up, I also had talcum powder, my toothpaste and toothbrush. I also had an exercise band since all that sitting and eating can lead to an excess of calories.

Depending upon where you are, you might be in a line where you can’t get WiFi or call out on your cellphone.

While in San Diego, don’t ignore the possibilities of Horton Plaza. Skype set up a lounge there, but there was also a special one-night only Fathom Events screening of “Singin’ in the Rain” and about half of the audience was from Comic-Con judging from the badges. There was also a fun theatrical production by the local theater group, San Diego Repertory Theatre, of “Zoot Suit” that was in previews, meaning cheaper tickets.

Horton Plaza is a convenient walk from the Convention Center and has sit-down restaurants and a food court. Besides Skype a few other organizations set up there with free give-aways.

You’ll have to put aside the snarky kind of attitude displayed by the New Yorker reviewer. Spurlock called that  a “disgruntled view” that the attendees are people, mostly men, who spend their lives “in their parents’ basement and don’t have any friends.” Some of the attendees are passionate people “who do have their shit together.”

SDCC can be a family fun event although some of the movies offered haven’t quite caught on to that aspect, and seem aimed at an audience of nerdy boy-children living in their parents’ homes.

Adventures in Plymptoons!

Alexia Anastasio’s documentary about American animator Bill Plympton sets a tongue-in-cheek attitude from its two first talking head sequences with Terry Gilliam (who presented Plympton’s 2008 “Idiots and Angels”) and Ed Begley Jr. (who was a voice actor in the 2004 “Carrie”-like comedy horror story “Hair High”). Plymptoons are the anti-Disney–twisted, surreal and often for mature audiences.

Plympton has a distinctive hand-drawn style and was nominated twice for an Academy Award for his 1987 animated short “Your Face” and in 2005 for his “Guard Dog.”

The now-66-year-old Plympton was born in Portland and graduated from the School of Visual Arts in New York where he majored in cartooning. His work was  featured on “The Simpsons” this year for the opening segment as well as in music videos for Kanye West (the 2005 “Heard ‘Em Say”) and Weird Al Yankovic (the 2006 “Don’t Download This Song”).


Some of the talking head interviews are serious and others, like Gilliam and Begley’s, are clearly scripted for comedic effect. Interspersed between the comments of friends, colleagues and relatives are examples of Plympton’s animation—some of which are lurid. This is not family friendly fare.

Not all the jokes work in this uneven movie that has definite adult themes but the documentary does capture and attempt to explain the perverse and odd humor of its creator who gave up the possibility of a good career with Disney to illustrate “Aladdin” to follow his own impish impulses.

Plympton was part of Spike and Mike’s Sick & Twisted panel presentation at SDCC and the DVD with “Adventures in Plymptoons”  was a free give-away for attendees. Spike and Mike are based in La Jolla, California in San Diego County.

The official release date for “Adventures in Plymptoons” is September 18 by Cinema Libre and the documentary will be available on DVD. Anastasio will be attending New York Comic-Con.

Attack of the 50-foot Cheerleader

When the lighting technician focuses his attention on the bountiful bared breasts rather than the faces of the actresses in question, the claim that this movie empowers women seems artificially inflated. Producer Roger Corman brings 3D to an update of the 1958 “Attack of the 50 Foot Woman.” This tale of bitches and their boobs nominally involves two cheerleaders at Iron Coast University who get involved in a science experiment gone wrong.

The original movie, starring Allison Hayes, also took place in California but took the form of an alien-encounter enabling a rich heiress to have revenge against her unfaithful husband. Hayes’s tragic death in San Diego makes this current movie’s debut at Comic-Con fitting yet the movie unfortunately falls under the category of breast-baring bimbos B-movie rather than tribute.

Brilliant but nerdy Cassie (Jena Sims) is a post-doc level researcher trying out for the cheerleading team and a pledge at Zeta Zeta Mu as a legacy. Brittany (Olivia Alexander) is the queen bee mean girl in both organizations. The nude scenes will insure that this film will attract sweaty fans who aren’t turned away by the lackluster acting and stilted dialog (by Mike MacLean who also gave us “Piranhaconda”)

Notable among the otherwise unknown cast are Sean Young and Treat Williams picking up a paycheck but not baring their chests.

Filmed at Cal State Los Angeles and Dominguez Hills as well as Santa Ana College and Santa Anita Racetrack and directed by Kevin O’Neill (TV movie “Dinoshark”), the movie will be released on EpixHD, August 25, 2012.

The Batmobile

Six Batmobiles (from the original TV series, “The Dark Knight” version, “The Dark Knight Rises” camoflage versions, the Tim Burton movie version, the Joel Schumacher versions from “Batman Forever” and ”Batman and Robin”) and were on public display at Comic-Con just in time for the CW’s documentary, “The Batmobile.”

Bruce Wayne is quoted as saying, “I seek the means to fight injustice to turn fear against those who prey on the fearful.”  By means, we mean how Batman gets from point A to B or from plot point C to D.  As the title indicates, we’re talking about the cool ride called “The Batmobile.” The Batmobile wasn’t just a way to get Batman where he needed to go, but also was a convenient plot device that fulfilled the crazy dreams of car lovers.

The first Batmobile was a quick low-budget job used for the campy TV series yet it inspired future Batman movie directors like Tim Burton and Chris Nolan. Adam West admits that he enjoyed doing some slick sliding to add some flare to appearances.  “It’s almost like the myth becoming reality,” Adam West tells us.

The Batmobile was not a fixed vehicle of certain dimensions and features. In the comic books, it easily morphed with each successive illustrator’s imagination. Why should the movies be any different?

“There’s something incredibly primal about the relationship between man and machine,” director Chris Nolan tells us. I don’t know if that really fits the definition of primal and if machines can be part of any primal instinct at all, but can you imagine Batman without the Batmobile.

Still when a designer says, the car is everything that a young boy would desire I wanted to scream: Women like to drive sports cars, too. Maybe we need Batgirl and Robin in their separate rides.

The documentary premiered at Comic-Con before its July 16 TV debut and segments appear to have been taped at a previous Comic-Con. The movie is currently available on-demand. The full-length documentary will be available on Blu-Ray and as a digital download this holiday season.

Get a Life!

As a follow up to his 2011 feature documentary “The Captains,” William Shatner now focuses on his fans in this documentary that uses interviews with fans and even a few of the stars—major and minor, of the Star Trek franchise. Not as deep or moving as “The Captains,” this film takes its name from Shatner’s 1999 book  (as well as an SNL skit) and uses the book as a starting point.

If the last documentary was a gift to the fans, this one is a light-hearted examination of just who those fans are and why they attend the conventions. What gives this feature emotional depth is the segment on one particular character we came to know in “The Captains,” “Captain Dave” (Sparks).  The differently-abled Sparks died December 2, 2011, having lived longer than most people crippled by his ailment. He was a famous sight at Star Trek conventions.

Shatner claims that he originally didn’t get why people attended conventions when he wrote his book. His epiphany in this documentary was that the fans weren’t going to conventions to see him so much as to see each other. The first convention was in 1972 and attracted about 3,000 people when about 300 were expected.

On becoming an inadvertent Star Trek historian, Shatner commented during a press interview that “Star Trek people are beginning to gravitate toward me who were previously difficult for me to talk to without large amounts of money,” and his next project looks at “Star Trek: The Next Generation.”

“Get a Life!” premieres on Epix  July 28, 2012.

GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling

Director Brett Whitcomb and writer Bradford Thomason takes us back to the disco era of big hair, glitter and Spandex to look at how three men, David McLane, Matt Cimber and Steve Blance with money from Pia Zadora’s then-husband Meshulam Riklis,, created a TV faux-reality show and peopled it with wanna-be stars.

The dancers, actresses and stunt women who made the casting call and training cut were assigned colorful characters with names like Mt. Fiji (Emily Dole), Matilda the Hun (Dee Booher), Little Egypt (Angelina Altishin), Big Bad Mama (Lynn Braxton), Jailbait (Trish Casella) and Babe the Farmer’s Daughter (Ursula Hayden). The women were divided into teams: good girls or bad girls. Based in, where else, Las Vegas at the Riklis-owned Riviera Hotel, these women, their rapping (each performer had her own rap) and their antics were the basis for a four-season (1986-1990) TV show called “Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling.” At one point Sylvester Stallone’s mother, Jackie Stallone appeared as the manager of the good girls.

Clips from the original broadcasts and interviews with former members paint a picture of innocence, fun and folly, but the reunion that resulted from the making of this documentary is touching. Filmmakers director Brett Whitcomb and writer Bradford Thomason don’t ignore the downside of wrestling including on-stage and cumulative injuries.

The documentary “GLOW” was the winner of Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival in the documentary category.  The movie currently has a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for distribution.

GLOW has been revived at the Riviera under Cimber’s son with sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, Tony Cimber, and reunites former GLOW performers with new performers.

Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest

Bill Plympton guided the 10-year-old Perry S. Chen in this 2011 animated short about the experiences of actress Ingrid Pitt during the Jewish Holocaust.  Although she made her film debut with a small role in the 1965 “Doctor Zhivago,” Pitt mostly worked in horror movies during the 1960s and 1970s. This poignant animation is about the period that the Polish-born Pitt was in a concentration camp as a child. In 2010, Pitt died in London, seven months after she completed the narration on this project. She was 73.

San Diego-based Chen and Plympton were part of a panel discussion at SDCC. The animation short premiered at SDCC in 2011 and has gone on to win several festival awards.  “Ingrid Pitt” is available on iTunes.

Solomon Kane

Solomon Kane was a character created in 1928 by pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard, and his stories mostly appeared in the magazine Weird Tales.  Portrayed by James Purefoy (Kantos Kan in another pulp fiction to movie adaptation, “John Carter”), this movie is meant to be the first of a trilogy. Consider it both an origin story and a mission statement.

We first meet Kane when he’s a cold-blood privateer outfitted in tight-fitting leather and a sneer looking for gold in North Africa, but finding the devil’s reaper. He’s told his soul had been given up to the devil, but he manages to make a dramatic escape.  Next we find him in dreary togs, seeking sanctuary in an English monastery as he attempts to give up violence in order to save his soul.

Fate pushes back out into the world where he’s mugged while refusing to resort to violence. He’s nursed back to health by a Puritan family set on journeying to a port from which they will sail to the America and religious freedom.  Given a set of Puritan clothes, Kane relaxes, enjoying their fellowship and becoming fond of the daughter Meredith (Rachel Hurd-Wood).

A mysterious black army attacks the family, kills the father and son, and abducts the daughter. Kane attempts to save Meredith.

Director/writer Michael J. Bassett creates a world where the highway robbers are the least of the terrors to be faced.  The beasts of European folktales threaten Kane—witches, zombies, vampires and demons of various sizes and dimensions.  Purefoy is a fierce presence as the reluctant hero and the CGI creates a rich environment of dark terrors although the atmosphere is sometimes overly grandiose.

This isn’t the first time the feature movie “Solomon Kane” has come to Comic-Con.  In 2009, it was at SDCC with a panel discussion and the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and opened in France. The movie opened in other countries, including the United Kingdom, but is slated for release on-demand on August 24 and a limited U.S. release on September 28, 2012.

Starship Troopers: Invasion

This direct-to-DVD computer animated science fiction movie is a direct sequel to Paul Verhoeven’s 1997 live action “Starship Troopers.” That movie was about the humans as part of a federation where people must earn their citizenship by serving in the military. After graduating from a high school in Buenos Aires,  John Rico (Casper Van Dien) and his girlfriend Carmen Ibanez (Denise Richards) along with their best friend Carl Jenkins (Neil Patrick Harris) decide to enlist. Carmen becomes a spaceship pilot. Carl, a psychic, joins the Military Intelligence. Rico enlists in the Mobile Infantry. Their enemies are the Arachnids from the planet Klendathu. At the end, the troops have captured a “bug” for study. In the animated feature, ten years have passed and the two sequels, Starship Troopers 2: Hero of the Federation” and “Starship Troopers 3: Marauder” are not a part of this reality.

The bugs attack a federation outpost and the mobile team is assigned to evacuate the survivors. Carl Jenkins is now with the Ministry of Paranormal Warfare and he takes a warship on a top-secret mission, leaving Carmen Ibanez without a ship.  Her ship and Jenkins mysteriously disappears. The troops are sent on a rescue mission and the battle-scarred Rico will have to come to their aid as the bugs then launch an attack on earth itself. “We’re not fighting for some rock across the galaxy; we’re fighting for our home.”

This animated feature is rated R and feature gratuitous nudity and sex. Low on character development, but high on kills and mutilation, this animation requires a numbed brain that wants to feed on violence.  In the first movie the motto was: Everyone fights; no one quits. This movie’s motto is: Here’s to the dead and the next man to die.

“Starship Troopers: Invasion” premiered in Japan on July 21, 2012 and will make its U.S. DVD premiere on August 28, 2012.

Trek Nation

Scott Colthorp directs this somewhat indulgent documentary that explores the legacy of the five Star Trek TV shows as seen by his only son, Eugene “Rod” Roddenberry.

Using old tapes and interviews with Gene Roddenberry and various cast members and clips from the five shows with current interviews with writers and Nichelle Nichols, the documentary examines what Gene Roddenberry had to say about his concept and how his son discovered his father.

You might be surprised that his son was only 17 years old when Roddenberry died at age 70 in 1991. Rod is the product of Gene Roddenberry’s second marriage with Majel Barrett whom he married in 1969. According to the documentary, Barrett had maintained her relationship with the elder Roddenberry during his 27-year marriage to Eileen-Anita Rexroat. Watching the documentary, you might be surprised to know that Rod has two half-sisters, Darleen and Dawn.

His first wife and daughters were the ones who lived through the years of development of the original series that began in 1964. The series premiered in September 1966 and ran only three seasons, the last without Roddenberry.  The documentary doesn’t touch on the Roddenberry’s first family but it also doesn’t have interviews with people of the original series except Barrett Roddenberry (Rod’s mother who died in 2008) and Nichelle Nichols—both with whom he committed adultery while in his first marriage. Notably absent are the other still living cast members of TOS: William Shatner, Leonard Nimoy, George Takei or Walter Koenig.

Instead we have an interview light with George Lucas about how Star Trek inspired his vision of Star Wars and learn that he attended a few Star Trek conventions in the 1970s. Rod Roddenberry also interviews JJ Abrams, the director of the Star Trek re-boot and shows him Gene Roddenberry in a 1986 interview where he enthuses that he’s like to see bright young people and new stars doing a better version of Star Trek while looking at how the characters in TOS met and became a crew.

The movie premiered on the Science TV channel (SCI) in November of last year and is currently available on iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.  There was a special free screening of “Trek Nation” the first official night of Comic-Con with a meet-and-greet at a local eatery.

Roddenberry is the CEO of Roddenberry Entertainment a company that protects the Roddenberry legacy and promotes original science fiction and underwater exploration and produces merchandise and publications.

Spurlock’s “Comic-con IV: A Fan’s Hope” isn’t the only movie to be produced at Comic-Con. Segments of the Science channel special for Joss Whedon’s “Firefly” 10 anniversary were filmed for a documentary that will air later this year on 11 November 2012.

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