Saturday, August 02, 2014

Popcorn for One - GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY (some Spoilers)

I have been excited about this film since it was first announced, as I have been a fan of the Guardians since the very, first team was introduced in an issue of MARVEL SUPER-HEROES back in 1969.  The team, created by Arnold Drake and Gene Colan was very different from the characters currently making up the GotG and appearing on the Big Screen.

I find it interesting that the only character from the original team used in the film, Yondu (played by Michael Rooker) is very, different except for skin tone and weapon from the way he was portrayed in the initial series. Then he was a 'noble savage' and apparently the last of his race, while the new Yondu isn't given a back story other than he was the one that abducted Peter Quill/Star-Lord the night that Peter's mother dies on Earth.  Other wise the team is the one put together by Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning from characters they had used in Marvel's ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST company event involving a number of the companies inter-galactic heroes and worlds. A mixed bag for sure. With some new and others having appeared in slightly different fashion over the years throughout the Marvel Universe. Star-Lord (created by Steve Englehart in '76) has gone through a number of recons over the years.Rocket Raccoon (created by Bill Mantlo and Keith Giffen as 'Rocky Racoon' in tribute to the Beatles song, also in '76), as in the film Rocket was genetically modified from his actual form and his intelligence increased a great deal. Both Drax the Destroyer and Gamora have origins in the film very similar to those in the comics, with their connections (one way or the other) to Thanos.Of all the Guardians, it is probably Groot that is most different from his original characterization. Co-created by Jack Kirby, Stan Lee and Dick Ayers for a one-shot SF story in one of those pre-Marvel Age "monster comics".  Called there the "Monarch of Planet X" Groot had come to Earth to experiment on humans in order to discover how he could conquer the planet.  As always happens in those stories, Groot discovered that we humans really didn't take kindly to that sort of thing.  As with the other new GotG, Groot was made over for the ANNIHILATION: CONQUEST  series and has continued as a member since.

The film begins with in 1988, with a young Peter Quill in a hospital waiting for the expected death of his mother.  Unable to take her hand as she lay dying the grief stricken child runs out onto the lawn only to be suddenly engulfed in light from a large spaceship that appears overhead.  This is the last time that Quill will see Earth, his only memories of his past those items he had in a backpack he had when he was taken aboard by Yondru and his mercenary Ravagers.  Among those is a cassette player that holds a mix tape his mother made for him of her favorite songs.  It's those songs that provide most of the sound track of the film, and they are used perfectly, IMHO. Reflecting the action and mood of many of the scenes that take place.

Twenty plus years after his abduction, Peter, who has taken the name Star-Lord (a name his mother would call him) as a member of Yondru's crew and is in the midst of stealing an object for an unknown client when events come into play that lead Peter into conflict with the other members of what will become the Guardians.  Initially confrontational, the future heroes find themselves imprisoned by the Nova Corps, the police officers and protectors of a world that has become a target for a renegade Kree (one of a number of Marvel alien races), Ronan the Accuser who refuses to recognize a peace treaty between his race and the Nova Corp. Rocket devises an escape plan, which more or less works, allowing the group to get away.

We discover along the way that Ronan has had to ally himself with Thanos (introduced at the end of the first AVENGERS film), with the goal of getting the object Quill stole. With this Thanos has promised to give Ronan the power he needs to get his own revenge.  There is a lot of Marvel history going on here, which you can find better explained on Wikipedia, involving the Infinity gems and gauntlet that Thanos, among others, has sort for years.  The gems were first mentioned in the second THOR film, where The Collector was also introduced. Lots of battles, between individuals, armies and star ships take place and our heroes come to understand that they must unite in order to save the world and perhaps the galaxy from Ronan's obsession.

A lot of things are tied up at the end, but a number of questions remain unanswered, leading to the next film in this new franchise.  One of these may be the identity of Peter's actual father.  Personally, I can't wait since there are probably a lot more cool songs on that cassette we haven't heard yet.

The movie captured me with the opening sequence and never failed to keep me excited throughout.  As with all Marvel movies, you really need to stay for the closing credit sequence. Two in the case of this movie. The first is cute and the second might only appeal to die-hard Marvel fans, but I actually applauded and laughed while some other folks screamed out the name of the character revealed.  'Nuff said!

San Diego Comic-Con International - 2014 - There & Back Again!

Let me begin by saying that I had a great time at the convention and didn't see half the stuff that I would have liked.  Part of that was the fact that the lines for any event have become obstacle courses that wind around the place for what seems like miles. I'd stand in line for about half an hour and then decide that it just wasn't worth it, no matter how much I wanted an exclusive or to see a panel/celeb.

Now the second part of my angry old fart rant, which you can skip if you'd like.

 (Begin Rant:
Is it just me or is SDCC hiring a greater number of a**holes to work their security?  Sad that I should come away with that as my main impression of the con.  The worst part is that there seems to be overlapping security, including folks running various booths who seem to think that selling stuffed dolls also give them law enforcement cred!  Add to that the fact that one group contradicts the other when it comes to where and when you can stand still for more than thirty seconds.  I witnessed "security" telling parents they could not wait outside restrooms for their children, or stop with a stroller to feed or comfort an infant.  If you are going to allow folks into the con with babies and children you have to take into account that the required "adult supervision" might mean more than pulling the kid by the arm so he doesn't interfere with some cos-player's photo-op.
End Rant)

All that aside I had a lot of fun at the con, just as I do every year.  The fact that the thing exists and gives the fans of so many things what they want shows the dedication and planning that goes into the whole event.  Having been part of one such convention team, my fedora is off to the SDCC board and their many volunteers.  The con really has outgrown the Convention Center and takes over much of the water front and part of the Gaslamp area immediately across the trolley tracks.  Some panels and movie previews and presentations are taking place in nearby hotels and even at Petco Park. Hell, for Hollywood and television the place has become a 'red carpet' event with some of the most important stars and creators appearing to promote their latest product.

There were a number of highlights and I wish I had taken three times as many pictures as I did.  The number of cos-players (some actually paid by various companies to promote a product/film/show) seems to multiple with each convention. There were probably about a dozen running around the first SD con I attended in '75, and most of those were on Saturday night for the costume judging.  Each year the costumes become more elaborate and I can't begin to imagine the amount of time and money (let alone skills) that are necessary to make them so amazing.  It is impossible, for me at least, to tell if someone designed and made the costume themselves or it was purchased/rented from a store offering professionally made items.  You can find examples on YouTube and the 'reality show' HEROES OF COS-PLAY (on the SyFy Channel) will show you how fanatic folks can be.

For me the panel highlights were (in no particular order):

Marvel Animation's preview of up-coming shows on Disney XD. This is fun every year and often the only time I actually see the cartoons, since I already have so much stuff on my DVR that I never get around to watching.  Highlights for me were the ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN, with Spidey following an enhanced Green Goblin to various alternate Earths where they encounter different versions of Peter/Spider-Man.  Shown were 2099, Spider-Girl and a brief part of one featuring The Amazing Spider-Ham, which was a great tribute/homage to the Warner Bros. cartoons. Also, a few minutes of HULK AND THE AGENTS OF S.M.A.S.H. where the team is taken prisoner by Ronan the Accuser (who seems to have recovered from his appearance in Guardians (semi-Spoiler there)).  Best was about a minute of test footage from the up-coming GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY cartoon.  What looks to be a meeting between Rocket and Star-Lord. This I might actually have to record.  Towards the end of the panel voice-actor, Fred Tatasciore, voice of The Hulk in several Marvel cartoons, as well as the voice of dozens if not hundreds of characters throughout his career, was introduced to answer questions both as the Hulk and himself. He got quite an audience response as you can imagine.

MASTERS OF THE WEB: Comic Book Movies - Had a number of folks that review movies on YouTube and other sites.  Best part was seeing Kristian Harloff & Mark Ellis of Schmoes Know, guys I have been following since they began filming in Kristian's apartment and now have their own web channel and various podcasts.  Also, on the panel were Jeremy Jahns (YouTube), Tiffany Smith (DC All Access and sometimes co-host on the Schmoes' podcast) and others.  A cool extra was the appearance of Manu Bennett (Deathstroke on the CW's ARROW, as well being Azog, the chief Orc in the Hobbit trilogy). Bennett talked about his various roles and the expanding use of 'performance capture' in films like the Hobbit and Dawn of the Planet of the Apes, as well as adding his opinion on various other films being discussed by the panel.

Two of the Saturday panels hosted by Mark Evanier are must sees and always warrant going to whatever panel precedes them so you can get a seat in Room 6 BC. Quick Draw, featuring Sergio Aragones and Scott Shaw! each year, with this year's guest Disney Legend Floyd Norman, all trying to out draw the other in response to whatever odd thing Mark comes up with to stump them.  This is always followed by the equally popular Cartoon Voices #1, also moderated by Mark.  Here he brings on over a half dozen of some the best known folks that voice the cartoons and commercials we see & hear all the time.  He asks them each about their careers, characters they portray and incidents that have occurred during recording sessions.  This is followed by the group doing a cold reading of a script they have never seen before.  This year was an adaptation of Snow White, previously I have seen them do a SUPERMAN radio show and other such programs.  Each actor generally portrays several characters, often switching roles or just being made to repeat certain scenes using a different voice. If you ever get a chance to attend SDCC on a Saturday, you should take time away from the exhibit hall for a few hours. Have a seat, grab a drink & snack and enjoy a couple of hours of genuine entertainment and laughs.

I'm sure I've forgotten some of the other things, but overall SDCC is worth the money and exhaustion (not to mention sunburn this year).  Fingers crossed that I get to do it all over again next July.