Beastly: No Beauty, All Beast

4 03 2011

Alex Pettyfer (I Am Number Four) shows up on silverscreens yet again this season in Beastly, a modern retelling of the classic fairy tale Beauty and the Beast. Starring along side him is Vanessa Hudgens, in one of her first major film roles before this spring’s Sucker Punch. And then you have Mary-Kate Olsen. Why not Ashley? Who knows. Here’s the breakdown:

Kyle (Pettyfer) is the rich, good-looking, popular kid at his elite New York high school. But when he crosses paths with Kendra, “The Witch” (Olsen), she casts a spell on him and he finds himself hideously deformed. He has one year to find true love before he’s stuck in his ugly state forever. Locked away from friends and family, Kyle only has the help of his childhood maid (Lisa Gay Hamilton) and his blind tutor (Neil Patrick Harris) to attract the affections of the beautiful Lindy (Hudgens).

The Monkey: Despite the awful lines he’s been forced to recite in his two most recent movies, Pettyfer is a decent actor. He manages to slog through atrocious scripts with his decency intact and is a charismatic enough actor to keep audiences engaged. If he can break away from these kinds of Twilight-esque bombs, he might actually have a future.

Neil Patrick Harris is one of the bright points in the movie. His comedic timing as the blind tutor Will, is flawless and his ability to sense the audience’s own discomfiture with the cheesy goings-on onscreen saves many of the scenes from utter disaster. At one point he even makes a gagging noise when forced to listen to Kyle’s dramatic overtures to Lindy, mimicking much of the audience’s own sentiments.

Olsen is surprisingly good as the archetypal “witch” character; unfortunately, she is mightily underutilized, and, in fact, with the movie’s final scene, you wish you could see more of her story rather than any of the other principal characters’.

The Weasel: Where to begin. Firstly, and most problematic, Beastly doesn’t even try to establish a world where magic could exist, making the entire crux of the story absolutely unbelievable. Instead of sticking to a real-world scenario for Kyle’s disfigurement (an accident, a fire, etc.), the movie throws a total curve-ball by introducing magic, without any backstory or precedent for its existence. This could have been such an easy fix and has been done successfully countless times in other movies of this genre – the fact that Beastly ignores it completely is just plain lazy and adds to the made-for-TV feeling of the overall affair.

Aside from this fundamental flaw, there’s Hudgens, who is completely out of her element on the big screen. Her performance is ripped straight from a Disney Channel movie-of-the-month and clashes so badly with the relative talent of her co-stars, it’s jarring.

Then there’s the painful shoe-horning of the classic story into the contemporary plot. There are numerous scenes that are practically lifted shot-for-shot from the 1991 Disney animated Beauty and the Beast, and a mind-bogglingly ridiculous bit of wretched writing that attempts to explain Lindy staying with Kyle that involves her drug-addicted father and a murder.

The ending doesn’t even try to be clever or original, painting the definition of cliché across the screen and shoving a kumbaya moment between Harris’ and Hamilton’s characters down the audience’s collective throat.

In short, Beastly is pretty ghastly.

1 Death Star out of 5

What do you think? Does Alex Pettyfer have a future in Hollywood? Does Beastly live up to the many previous iterations of this classic story? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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The Chronicles of Narnia: The Voyage of the Dawn Treader: Visually Stunning, But Mostly Treads Water

10 12 2010

The third film in The Chronicles of Narnia franchise, and the first under 20th Century Fox, The Voyage of the Dawn Treader returns to Narnia for yet another C. S. Lewis inspired adventure. After Disney dumped the franchise when 2008’s Prince Caspian failed to make the necessary box office numbers, 20th Century Fox and Walden Media felt the franchise still had some life yet. Here’s the breakdown:

Lucy and Edmund Pevensie wait anxiously in war-torn London, counting the days till they can join their older siblings in the United States. But in the meantime, they must stay with their annoying cousin Eustace. But things don’t stay boring for long. Transported aboard Prince Caspian’s ship, the Dawn Treader, the Pevensie’s are once again thrust into an adventure for Narnia’s survival.

The Monkey: Visually, this movie lacks nothing. Stormy seas, fierce dragons, giant sea serpents, mystical locales…The Voyage of the Dawn Treader transports audiences to the magical land of Narnia in epic fashion. In particular, the climactic battle with a persnickety sea serpent was not only a highlight of the series, but one of the most thrilling fantasy battles on film.

It was nice to see the familiar faces of Lucy, Edmund, Caspian and Reepicheep; these characters helped tie the story to the preceding installments and made the introduction of new characters less abrupt. Of these new characters, annoying cousin Eustace had the most prominent role. While some may find him too annoying, I thought his character added a much needed dose of humor to the story, and, in fact, was the only character to really undergo any kind of discernible character arc.

The Weasel: The filmmakers knew from the start that the source material was too episodic, so they decided to incorporate elements from the fourth installment in the Narnian saga, The Silver Chair, to help give the story a more solid structure. Unfortunately, it wasn’t quite enough. The Voyage of the Dawn Treader remains an episodic tail, as the audience follows the heroes from island to island, mystery to mystery. The script attempts to set up a hunt for seven lost lords and their magical swords, needed to defeat an evil mist, but the reason for their disappearance, the purpose of the mist and the need for Caspian, current king of Narnia, to undergo such a dangerous task, are all questions left unanswered. If the saying, “a film is only as good as it’s villain” is to be believed, then The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is not very good. An evil mist? Really? Where did it come from? What’s its purpose? Why are the seven swords needed to defeat it? The movie tries to distract the audience from these questions by peppering the film with elaborate, albeit gorgeous, special effects.

There’s never a sense of urgency, never an understanding of why Narnia was in such need of the Pevensie’s help. Eustace is the real hero – so were Lucy and Edmund just dragged along for the ride?

It was also disappointing to see the awe-inspiring Aslan featured so minimally. He was practically tacked onto the end of the movie, and offers so little to the story his scant dialogue might as well have been, “Oh, hey guys, I remember you from the last two movies…why are you here again? To save my kingdom? Why am I here again? Oh yeah, my face is plastered all over the marketing materials.”

Fans of the first two films are sure to enjoy yet another romp through Narnia. While The Voyage of the Dawn Treader is definitely the most visually stunning installment, its story is also the weakest. And with elements already borrowed from The Silver Chair, I highly doubt fans will see any more Narnia films in the future.

3 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did you enjoy the Eustace character? Do you think The Silver Chair will hit the big screen anytime soon? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Tangled: Disney Unravels A Magical Tale That’s Fun For Everyone

24 11 2010

Disney’s Tangled is its 50th animated feautre-length film and, reportedly, the last one to feature a princess. Here’s the breakdown:

Rapunzel (Mandy Moore) lives with her mother (Donna Murphy), alone in a tower. Her flowing golden locks provide healing and life and her mother has stayed young and beautiful thanks to Rapunzel’s gift. But when Rapunzel encounters a wandering scoundrel (Zachary Levi), she embarks on a quest to find out where she really comes from and learns the values of family and love along the way.

The Monkey: The animation is gorgeous. From the stylized character designs to the intricately detailed sets, Tangled is a masterpiece of CGI and digital animation. For that reason alone, the movie should be seen in 3D or at least in a theatre that offers digital projection.

The voice acting is superb. Mandy Moore brings an innocence and vibrance to Rapunzel that sets her apart from what could easily have been another generic princess. Zachary Levi brings equal parts Han Solo and Robin Hood to Flynn Ryder, the suave scoundrel with a heart of gold. Finally, Donna Murphy, as Mother Gothel, delivers a performance like no other Disney villain, bringing a humanity and uncomfortable familiarity to an otherwise evil character.

Speaking of Mother Gothel, this was one of the most interesting Disney villains to date. Her role as Rapunzel’s mother prevents the audience from dismissing her as pure evil from the start, like so many one-dimensional villains. Instead, Gothel is a bitingly subversive, verbally abusive and ultimately misguided villain, giving her far more layers than her previous counterparts. While most Disney films stick to the “sacrificial single parent” model, Tangled flips this notion on its ear, telling the tale of a dysfunctional family and how damaging it can be to make excuses for wrongful behavior, even from the ones you love and claim to love you. Sound deep? It is, but not stiflingly so – this is a layer of storytelling that will be missed by most younger audiences (despite its positive message) but adds a maturity to the story that older audience members can appreciate.

Composer Alan Menken (Aladdin, The Little Mermaid) is back and the songs in Tangled are wonderful. From a rowdy bar song involving thugs and cutthroats (“I’ve Got A Dream”) to a beautiful, romantic duet (“I See The Light”), Tangled delivers the magical musical moments that you remember from the most classic of Disney films. Mother Gothel’s signature song (“Mother Knows Best”) is the standout performance, recalling the spectacle of Aladdin‘s “Friend Like Me” as well as the villainous belting of The Little Mermaid‘s “Poor Unfortunate Souls”.

The magic of Tangled doesn’t stop there. The film includes enough humor to keep kids (and adults) laughing, thanks to the movie’s animal pals, chameleon Pascal and horse Maximus. They were wonderful secondary characters that were used for well-placed laughs without being overdone.

The Weasel: While it can’t really be helped with a fairy tale story, Tangled is pretty predictable. No one of importance dies, it all ends happily, etc. This could be one of the reasons why Disney is “discontinuing” fairy tale princess stories from here on out…there’s just not much that hasn’t already been done.

Another point of contention: the number of songs. I can think of six amazing and distinct songs from Aladdin, yet Tangled only offered up three really memorable tunes. This is a case where less does NOT equal more. The existing songs are exceptional and it would have been nice to have several more.

I have to say, I’m not thrilled with the title. It was originally called Rapunzel, but in an effort to appeal to a male audience, the name was changed. I think it shows a lack of faith, on Disney’s part, in the finished product. If this truly is the end of the princess genre for Disney, they should have gone all out, title and all.

There have been some complaints about the 3D making the screen very dark. It does darken the screen, so if you have a theatre that offers 2D digital projection, you won’t miss much by skipping the 3D; however, there are one or two particular scenes that are quite thrilling in three dimensions.

With great voice talent, wonderful animation and classic music, Tangled delivers the Disney magic like I haven’t seen in a long time.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Will Tangled rank among some of the best Disney animated movies? Do you think the title change was a good decision? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Star Wars Celebration V: Day 3 & 4

20 08 2010

Sorry it’s taken me so long to get this post up! Last week/weekend was such a hectic whirlwind of Star Wars awesomeness, to be hit full in the face with the realities of work and real life is equivalent to a proton torpedo in the exhaust port! I hope you were all following me on Twitter; I was able to get some great pictures and juicy news out to the Twitter-verse, right from my phone. But, for those of you waiting for the full breakdown, here it is:

Day 3

Saturday, we got up EARLY – like 3:30am early! The shuttles weren’t running to the convention center yet, so we cabbed it. Not surprisingly, we were NOT the first ones in line for the George Lucas/John Stewart Main Event. There were already about 2,000 people in line! I heard later that the first person in line had been there since 5pm on Friday! Hats off to you, uber-dedicated fan.

For being so early (and so freakin’ muggy) everyone was in surprisingly high spirits. At 6am, they let the line inside the convention center, blessing us with A/C and coffee. There were only a limited number of seats available in the “Celebration Stage,” the theatre where George would be live, in person, in the flesh. They had several other theatres set aside to stream the video coverage. As we drew nearer the door, the yellow wristbands for the Celebration Stage were dwindling…dwindling…almost there…GOT ONE! We made it (by only about 75 people!) into the live stage! I was super psyched.

Once inside, people slept, read, talked, watched Star Wars on iPads and laptops. There was a guy making Star Wars-themed balloon art which was pretty impressive. Finally, at around 10:30 (yes, we were in line for six hours) they let us into the theatre. The place was buzzing and once John Stewart stepped out on stage (with a complete stormtrooper escort) the crowd was going crazy. Without much ado, John introduced the man of the hour (literally, it was only an hour), George Lucas! The place went nuts, myself included.

To be honest, I was on such a high (lack of sleep and crazed fanboy overstimulation will do that to you) that I don’t remember every single word that was said. John was asking questions from a list of fan-submitted queries. He was funny and everyone was soaking it all up. George talked about the original movies, how no one knew what they were or how they’d do at the box office. He talked about the generational spread Star Wars has (the Original Trilogy for one generation, the Prequels for another, The Clone Wars for yet another). At some point during the show, George presented John with his very own action figure! John returned the favor by showing an old Japanese commercial, featuring Ewoks, Chewbacca and George himself, sufficiently embarrassing The Maker.

Then the juicy stuff. George revealed quite a bit about The Clone Wars Season 3. His cameo in Episode III, Baron Papanoida, will make an appearance, along with his family. The voices will be provided by George himself and his children. A clip was shown, where the Baron enters a cantina brawl with duel pistols blazing. Then, a clip was shown of the Nightsister witch Talsain, introducing Count Dooku to a new apprentice: a Zabrak named Savage Oppress. George revealed that Savage is actually…Darth Maul’s brother! A collective gasp rose from the ranks of nerds, followed quickly by roaring cheers.

But that’s not all folks! George announced that all six Star Wars movies will be released on Blu-ray sometime in 2011…and…that there would be some never-before-seen deleted scenes from the Original Trilogy! They showed one of the scenes from Return of the Jedi, showing Darth Vader tempting Luke to the dark side, while Luke is building his new green lightsaber in Obi-Wan’s hovel, right before sending R2-D2 and C-3PO to Jabba’s Palace. Once Luke activated his new green lightsaber, the crowd exploded, whooping and hollering (with maybe a few sobs of joy thrown in there).

Mark Hamill and Carrie Fisher made surprise guest appearances, talking briefly. Carrie had the whole house rolling, saying she was glad her sex scene with Jabba the Hutt would finally see the light of day on the Blu-ray release; although she blamed this particular scene for her eventual descent into drug addiction.

And that was it. Mark, Carrie, George and John waved their good-byes and the biggest event of the week came to a close.

But it was only noon! The day was still young. Walking the exhibit hall, we saw Ashley Eckstein host a Star Wars fashion show, got to see some more killer costumes (including a young woman as a Rebel pilot…inside an X-Wing!). We saw a screening of the first ever 3D Star Wars fan film, The Solo Adventures – it was pretty awesome! (If you have the red/blue 3D glasses, you can actually watch it here or watch it in 2D here).

Went to the Fate of the Jedi panel later that day. Authors Troy Denning, Christie Golden and Aaron Allston were there, along with editor Shelly Shapiro and moderator Pablo Hidalgo. Not a lot of groundbreaking news, other than the title for the last book in the series, Apocalypse. After this series, it looks like they will focus more on standalone novels and trilogies/duologies instead of the longer series. Should be some good stuff coming out of Del Rey and Co. in the coming years!

Around four o’clock, we headed to the buses to go to Disney World for The Last Tour to Endor event! The Star Tours ride is closing, with a new version opening next year (new storyline, happening between Episodes III and IV, new locations, 3D – see a preview video here), so they were having a big shindig, just for the Star Wars fans to enjoy the ride one last time.

This event was awesome. The park was reserved just for the fans, Star Wars music was piped through the park all night long, the lines to the rides (like Rock ‘n’ Roll Coaster and Tower of Terror) were non-existent – and Star Tours is so awesome when you’re riding with a packed starspeeder of cheering Star Wars fans! We rode all the rides twice, picked up some merchandise (including the limited edition Last Tour to Endor t-shirt) and enjoyed just walking around, having the park to ourselves.

At 10pm, we waited in line for the live action theatre event, Indiana Jones and the Raiders of the Lost Jedi Temple of Doom – most epic title ever! The line was long, the weather was sweltering (I think I was sweating even more than Jabba in a sauna), but we got good seats. Right before the show, George Lucas showed up, amid cheers and a bazillion camera flashes. The show started and the directors called some special guests out of the audience to act as extras – Seth Green, Jaime King and Anthony Daniels!

There really was no plot to the show, but it was every fanboy’s dream to see Indy fighting Boba Fett, swinging from rooftops with Slave Leia and dueling with Darth Maul. Pyrotechnics, humor and overall geekiness made for a thoroughly enjoyable show!

At midnight, Disney put on the best fireworks show I have ever seen. A full 15 minutes of perfectly timed fireworks, set to John Williams’ brilliant Star Wars score. It was enough to give me goosebumps, even in the disgusting humidity!

Finally, 1am rolled around (yep, almost been up for 24 hours!) and the closing ceremony of Star Tours commenced. R2-D2 and C-3PO made an appearance, along with Darth Vader and Boba Fett. Vader tasked Fett with destroying the old ride in preparation for the new one. With a well aimed thermal detonator, a blast of fire and sparks marked the close of an amazing and exhausting day.

Day 4

After such a crazy Day 3, Day 4 was mercifully low-key. I was able to test out my Force abilities with the Force Trainer toy, where I confirmed my suspicions – I am, indeed, a Jedi Master! Checked out the massive Hoth dioramas that people had been working on all week, browsed the Ralph McQuarrie art exhibit, and got an exclusive interview with Star Wars author extraordinaire, Dan Wallace, where he revealed some awesome details about his upcoming book, The Jedi Path (will post the interview soon, so keep an eye out for it!).

Then off to the tattoo booths to get my long-overdue, Star Wars tattoo! With the Jedi symbol inked firmly beneath my skin, I made my way to The Clone Wars Season 3 panel.

Dave Filoni and Joel Aron didn’t reveal a whole lot (George let loose more details in his Main Event panel than they expected), but they had some juicy tid-bits. They showed a bunch of clips: Asajj Ventress and Count Dooku attacking the cloning facilities on Kamino with Trident ships and new Aqua droids; Dooku having a late-night lightsaber duel with three invisibility-cloaked Jedi assassins; Ventress heading to her homeworld (Dathomir!), where we learn she has some connections with the Nightsisters; Savage Oppress is revealed again; and finally, a “mega” trailer for Season 3, teasing at a whole lot of crazy happening this fall!

Dave was pretty cagey, not really answering many questions – he’s definitely mastered the art of the evasive answer. But he confirmed Delta Squad’s appearance and revealed that “a location from the Original Trilogy” will be featured. Lots to look forward to in Season 3 people!

Unfortunately, Carrie Fisher cancelled her panel. I was super bummed; I think she is hilarious, and was really looking forward to an hour of her being crazy funny. Maybe next time.

The day was winding down: grabbed a few more pictures then headed to the shuttles to go back to the hotel – exhausted, ecstatic and totally satisfied.

Day 3 picture gallery

Day 4 picture gallery

Once again, sorry it took me so long to get this last post up. Had almost 20 hours worth of plane delays getting home and was running on a measly amount of sleep – but it was all worth it!

Hope you all enjoyed the coverage and the pictures. Stay tuned for my interview with Dan Wallace; should be up beginning of next week.

Did you go to Celebration V? Share some of your favorite moments in the comments! Can’t wait for Celebration VI? Share what you hope to see in three years (I’m hoping it’s in Vegas next time – close and cooler!).

May the Force be with you!

UPDATE: Check out what happened on days 1 & 2!

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Star Wars Celebration V: Day 1 & 2

13 08 2010

Whew! These last few days have been a whirlwind of costumed troopers, high-priced collectables and endless photo opps. Star Wars Celebration certainly lives up to its name: it’s a celebration of all things Star Wars, from obscure Expanded Universe lore to panel discussions with some of the original actors and creators. And being its fifth iteration, Star Wars Celebration is a well-oiled machine – or as well oiled as you can get with 40,000 rabid fans let loose in a convention center. But to be fair, considering the size of the four day event, the first two days have gone off pretty much without a hitch. So what all has happened in a convention center not all that long ago in a city not all that far away? Here’s the breakdown:

Day 1
Arriving to the Orange County Convention Center, I quickly headed to the exhibit hall waiting line. Yes, I got there a little before eight, and yes, the hall wasn’t opening until ten: such is the life of a fan. The surrounding fans were pleasant and clearly hyped about the first day of Celebration. Mingled snippets of conversations included everything from maquette collections to Prequel Trilogy debates. Once the doors were open, the lines for exclusive merchandise formed faster than Han Solo’s Kessel Run. I was able to hit up the Hasbro booth before the line was too long and snagged a limited edition comic pack action figure set – my first purchase from my first Celebration!

Hasbro had some awesome action figure dioramas set up: the carbon freezing chamber, the Battle of Ryloth and a breathtakingly detailed Battle of Hoth.

From there I made my way through the hall, taking in the myriad booths and overwhelming amounts of costumes, merchandise and Star Wars goodness. Disney had a booth set up, the R2-D2 Droid Builders were out in force, there was a life-size snowspeeder you could sit in, a life-size Jabba (complete with several Slave Leia’s), a LEGO diorama display, a massive AT-AT looming over one of the lobbies, with a giant balloon Death Star in another, a life-size TIE Interceptor (!), a life-size Cantina/Jabba’s palace diorama you could walk through, and a swanky “Echo Base Ice Bar.” Overwhelming indeed!

I went to my first panel in the afternoon: “Exploring the Star Wars Galaxy with the Essential Guides.” Authors and artists Jason Fry, Pablo Hidalgo, Helen Keier, Chris Reiff, Chris Trevas and Erich Schoeneweiss were there (unfortunately Dan Wallace, the king of the Essential Guides had travel delays and Ryder Windham was also absent). The panel was fun and insightful, especially getting to hear how each of the authors and artists came to work on Star Wars projects; they were all fans, first and foremost. It was inspiring to hear them talk about what they loved professionally, and how that transferred over to their love of Star Wars. There were a few more details about Jason Fry’s upcoming Essential Guide to Warfare (it will be more focused on the development of warfare over time, both philosophically and technologically – it will feature first hand “Soldier Story” narratives – will have specific sections dedicated to major battles and major characters, all featuring new artwork).

Each panel member also got to share some of their favorite Easter Eggs they had included in their work: Jason Fry’s son was able to name a planet for the Essential Atlas, and Helen Keier based the akul on her friends Pomeranian. Erich had a new announcement as well: a third edition of the Essential Guide to Characters is tentatively scheduled for a summer 2012 release! And Pablo Hidalgo talked a bit about his upcoming Essential Reader’s Companion, a listing of all Star Wars fiction in chronological order with special behind-the-scenes stories and original artwork – really looking forward to this one!

After the panel I headed to the “Echo Base Ice Bar,” which was hosted by G4. The atmosphere was cool (fog, glowing “ice” tables, ice sculptures and fake snow), and the drinks weren’t half bad either!

The day was winding down, so I walked around, snapped a few more pictures, browsed the Celebration Store then went to stand in line for my picture with…Carrie Fisher! She was running late, but once the line got moving, it went by fast. It was brief, but she was really nice, complementing me on my Chewbacca shirt, seeming very friendly. And considering the number of autographs she has to sign and pictures she has to take, she was a gracious Princess indeed.

The day was over – but the night had just begun! Heading back to my hotel, TheForce.net official after party was getting started. Picked up my exclusive pins, had my caricature done, had some delicious food, a few drinks, mingled a bit…and I was beat. End of day one!

Day 2
Didn’t quite get to the convention center as early as I had hoped, but made it in plenty of time to catch The Force Unleashed II panel. Matt Omernick and Brett Rector showed the previously released trailer for the game (which was WAY better on a big screen with booming speakers!) and talked a lot about the story and updated gameplay. They revealed that Yoda will be featured in the game, showing a cutscene of Starkiller speaking to Yoda on Dagobah. Starkiller then enters the Dark Side cave (the same one Luke did in Episode V) and has a vision of his lost love, Juno Eclipse. The gameplay looks awesome, with new moves and Force powers, including Jedi mind trick, Force Fury and even the ability to grab missiles out of the air and send them back towards your enemy! The jury is still out on whether or not Starkiller is actually a clone, but all clues so far lead me to believe he’s NOT – which means The Force Unleashed II has a lot of explaining to do!

Next, I rushed over to get in line for the Mark Hamill panel, “Return of the Jedi!” It was great to be able to experience Mark’s first and, so far, only U.S. Celebration appearance! Not only was he very charming, he was extremely funny, showing off his amazing impersonation abilities and sharp wit. He told never-before-heard stories about the filming and production of the Star Wars movies (He and Anthony Daniels became close friends after nearly being run off the road in Tunisia, he sprained his thumb filming a Hoth scene, making his Cloud City lightsaber fight scene a bit tricky). He really has so little knowledge of Star Wars, outside of his own experiences, and he made that clear when he said, “You all could beat me in a trivia contest, but I have the first hand stories, I was actually there!” Touché, Mark! They played clips of his Sesame Street appearance, something the crowd found delightful but Mark found rather embarrassing. It was too bad the hour flew by so fast – everyone groaned when he was ushered off stage; we all could have sat through an hour or two more!

After the panel, it was time for more Mark! Got in line for a picture with Luke Skywalker himself; he was so nice, every bit the charming and laid back man I’d just seen at the panel. He shook my hand and seemed genuinely happy to be there. A class act and a Jedi Master in my book!

After my picture, I had some time to check out the costumed attendees, get some more pictures, enter a raffle for the kick-ass looking new Jedi Path book, and get my copies of Outcast and Allies signed by Aaron Allston and Christie Golden! Then I ran into Steve Sansweet and the gorgeous Adrianne Curry!

But the day wasn’t over yet – I headed to “The Robot Chicken Empire” panel, with Seth Green, Matt Senreich, Tim Root and Joey Fatone! As expected, the guys were hilarious and previewed a new trailer and some new footage from the upcoming Star Wars Robot Chicken III, due out this December. Unfortunately, there was very little info divulged about the new animated TV series, but Seth was able to introduce everyone to the new director, Todd Grimes. A great panel and a great way to end day two!

Day 1 picture gallery

Day 2 picture gallery

I apologize in advance for the unorganized and label-less picture slideshows. I’m scrambling to get as much info to all of you as possible, but rest assured, once I get back Monday, I’ll have those picture galleries labeled and looking nice. Tomorrow is the Main Event with George Lucas and John Stewart, so I gotta get some rest – it’s gonna be an early morning and a long day! Wish me luck!

Don’t forget to follow me on Twitter (@DRJedi) and my hash tag #popgoestheculture for updates and pictures as they happen!

UPDATE: See what happened on days 3 & 4!

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Toy Story 3: A Third Time Continues to Charm

24 06 2010

Pixar’s ground-breaking Toy Story saga concludes this summer with Toy Story 3, reuniting audiences with some of Disney’s (and cinema’s) most memorable characters. Here’s the breakdown:

Andy is headed to college and Buzz Lightyear, Woody and the rest of the gang wonder what will become of them. Deciding that life at a local daycare center is better than retirement in the attic, the toys head to Sunnyside, where they meet Lotso, the seemingly friendly leader of the ragtag group of daycare toys. But not all is as it seems, and Woody must team up with new and old friends alike to save his family and return to Andy.

The Monkey: Pixar’s number one asset is their writers. As poor box office numbers plague such visually stimulating movies as Jonah Hex and The A-Team, it is becoming increasingly clear that a good story will not only please audiences, but studio execs as well. The characterization is solid, the plot is familiar, yet refreshing enough to avoid feeling overdone. And Pixar knows their audience. Sure, a new generation of kids will enjoy this third foray into the world of talking toys, but the true fanbase for the Toy Story franchise is 20-somethings, who themselves were kids when the original film debuted in 1995. With this in mind, Toy Story 3 kept the humor family-friendly while managing to appeal to the original fans (once again, Mr. Potato Head has some belly-laugh-inducing moments).

Seeing the movie in 3D did little for me, other than giving me the opportunity to see the movie in digital projection. The crystal clear image threw Pixar’s quality animation style into sharp contrast with similarly animated fare.

The new characters that were introduced (while numerous) were memorable, especially Lotso and Ken. And Lotso’s turn as the film’s villain was more fleshed out and better written than Toy Story 2’s Stinky Pete the Prospector.

The ending of the movie was satisfying, bringing a wonderful film to a wonderful conclusion.

The Weasel: There were a lot of new characters, almost too many. Not only was there a whole new cast of toys at Sunnyside, but another group was introduced, a collection of toys owned by daycare attendee, Bonnie. It was this latter group that was more intriguing, and I wish the film had spent more time acquainting the audience with the likes of Mr. Pricklepants, Trixie and Buttercup. Perhaps we’ll see more of these characters sometime in the future…?

At times, the peril the toys found themselves in bordered on ridiculous, going as far as a descent into a veritable hell (in the form of a garbage incinerator). But just when it seemed too much, the filmmakers pulled back, splashing in some humor and charm.

Yet another success for Pixar and another enjoyable move-going experience. Sure to be a contender for Best Animated Film at next year’s Oscars, Toy Story 3 is certainly deserving of a nomination; however, the previously released How to Train Your Dragon could be well deserving of the top honor.

4.5 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Was Toy Story 3 a fitting ending to the series? Do you think we’ll see more Toy Story films in the future? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time: Like a Footprint in Sand, Forgotten in No Time

1 06 2010

With all the buzz around Jake Gyllenhaal’s abs in the new Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time movie, you’d think the box office numbers would be more forgiving. Unfortunately for Jake (and his abs), Prince of Persia underperformed miserably this weekend, raking in a measly $30 million. With numbers like that (and lackluster word of mouth) it’s doubtful that Prince of Persia will become Disney’s new Pirates of the Caribbean replacement franchise. Here’s the breakdown:

Dastan, orphan-turned-prince, is framed for his father’s murder and hunted by his brother and uncle. In his attempt to clear his name, he teams up with the mysterious and beautiful Princess Tamina and discovers she is hiding a secret that could change the course of history forever. Tamina is the guardian of the Sands of Time and the mystical dagger that controls them – with the press of a button, the wielder of the dagger can go back in time. Dastan must stop evil forces from harnessing this awesome power, saving the world and proving his innocence in the process.

The Monkey: As with most Bruckheimer productions, Prince of Persia delivers on the action and the wonderful visuals. With bustling street bazaars, glittering domes and exotic costumes, the movie felt epic.

Despite a relatively formulaic plot, there were moments of originality, namely a comedic interlude involving an ostrich race, the deadly fighting style of the Hassansins and the dagger’s time travelling special effects.

Gemma Arterton’s Tamina was forced to be the narrator, constantly explaining all the finer plot points and mystical aspects of the movie; yet she managed to keep the audience from growing bored and looked stunning in every frame (although I much preferred her in Clash of the Titans). Alfred Molina was a pleasant surprise, playing the scumbag-with-a-heart-of-gold character with gusto. Unfortunately, he was underutilized.

Jake Gyllenhaal’s Parkour scenes added something new to otherwise routine fight sequences, and acted as a nice nod to the movie’s video game origins.

The Weasel: As with most Bruckheimer productions, Prince of Persia leaves audiences feeling empty. Great special effects, decent actors, visually exciting, humor, romance, action…sitting in the theatre, it seems like the movie is delivering everything necessary for a great night at the movies. But as the credits roll, you realize it was empty. Part of the problem is the target audience. Being a Disney production, the movie has to appeal to a younger market (how else are they going to sell shelves of toys?). But Prince of Persia rides an uncomfortable line between kid-friendly film and adult-oriented action movie. And without a comparable Jack Sparrow character from Pirates of the Caribbean or the cleverness of National Treasure, Prince of Persia’s franchise potential is limited. After all, a movie can’t be supported by abs alone.

The plot wasn’t complicated or dark enough to be taken completely seriously (although the movie itself took itself far too seriously), and it wasn’t light-hearted enough to be seen as a family-friendly action-adventure. The result is Prince of Persia gets lost in the middle somewhere, easily forgotten.

The plot is painfully predictable; the audience continues watching in hopes there might be a twist, or, at the very least, an entertaining action sequence that will distract them from the trite storyline. The biggest cheat, however, came with the movie’s finale. SPOILERS: Dastan goes back in time, to the beginning of the film to keep the entire movie from happening in the first place. Aside from the fact that this gives cutthroat reviewers the perfect set-up for “I wish the viewer could have done the same thing” or “The audience should have been given the same opportunity” jokes, this particular plot device slaps the viewer across the face, saying, “Thanks for sitting through this movie for two hours, but guess what, you didn’t need to, because nothing that you just saw actually happened!” Hmmm…not the best message to leave your audience with. Plus, Dastan traveled back right AFTER the opening battle – why couldn’t he have traveled just a few hours earlier, sparing countless lives? Seems a bit callous.

Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time was a visually entertaining movie and a fun way to kill a couple hours. Unfortunately, it did not live up to expectations, which is too bad, because, if handled differently, it could have been the start to a great franchise. But with the way things are looking at the box office, I doubt there will be any sequels.

2 Death Stars out of 5

What do you think? Did Prince of Persia do the source material justice? Do you think the movie has franchise potential? Share your thoughts in the comments!

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