Monday, December 21, 2015

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Pass The Popcorn: STAR WARS: THE FORCE AWAKENS - A review with few spoilers

It was difficult staying away from all the social media spoilers that were popping up from the day of the Premiere until Thursday night when Kristina, Sarah, Michael and I hit the AMC Theater (La Jolla 12) for a 10:50pm showing of Star Wars: The Force Awakens.  Despite an embargo on reviewers requested by Disney for 24 hours, there were still things going around, plus the usual conjecture.  The only review I read, since I can trust him not to give things away, was the one by Leonard Maltin.  After seeing the film myself I could see that he pegged it.

I'll try not to throw in any major spoilers, but if you are still one of those who haven't seen the film yet, you might want to skip this until you have.  Otherwise, don't complain to me!

Happy was I that the film opened with the Lucas logo and then the scroll we have all come to expect.  I had told Kristina that if there wasn't a scroll I was going to walk out.  Probably an overstatement, but it wouldn't be Star Wars if we didn't see those words spreading before us. We hear the music of John Williams and we are transported (Can we say that about a non-Star Trek film?) to that galaxy far, far away.

We get desert planets, lush jungles and bars filled with the worse scum in the galaxy. More stormtroopers then we have ever seen before and an evil guy in a mask. All things we wanted and that were hinted at in the trailers.  We see characters we have grown to love over decades and get introduced to some new heroes and villains we will learn to love and hate over the course of at least two more films.  It is both an introduction and a reminder of worlds we have known in a lot of forms since 1977.

We meet Rey, a young woman making a living by foraging the broken technology from the ruins of ships and machines abandoned over the years. We get to see FN-2187, a member of the First Order taken from his family as a child and trained to be a stormtrooper. Never in actual battle before, he witnesses the brutality of those he serves for the first time and finds that he can not follow the orders he is given.  Poe Dameron, a member of the Rebel Alliance and one of their best pilots, finds himself captured, but is able to enrust an important piece of information to his droid, BB8 before he is taken away.  We also are introduced to Kylo Ren, a mysterious masked figure whose goal is to follow in the footsteps of Darth Vader.

Along the way we get to meet some old friends, some of whom have gone their separate paths.

There is a meme going around that if you've seen STAR WARS: A NEW HOPE you've pretty much seen this film. A bit of an exaggeration but one can see some similarities.  We do have Rey following in the footsteps of Luke Skywalker, as she seeks revenge for what has happened to her life at the hands of the Empire.  Lightsaber battles, ariel dog fights over a planet and the danger of a super-weapon.  Still J.J. Abrams and his team have taken those elements, added some new ones and brought back the Star Wars that many of us thought we would never see again, after those prequels.

I hate to rank my favorite Star Wars films, since each of the three original ones hold such great memories.  It's hard to judge them simply as films at this point. George Lucas created with them an entire universe which has become embedded in our culture.  I can't think of any other film franchise, excepting perhaps Star Trek that has gone from entertainment into almost a religion for some folks.

This is not a great film, but it is a good movie and reminded me of why I have loved these characters and this universe from my introduction in '77. (Okay, to be honest it was actually in '76, when I saw a presentation for what was to come at the San Diego Comic-Con of that year.)  I'm glad to see everyone back and I'm already looking forward to all that Disney/Lucas has in store for us.

Do yourself a favor and see the film, if haven't already.  It will remind you why you fell in love with this world years ago.

Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Star Wars: Episode VII - The Force Awakens ALL Trailer & Clips (2015)

Are they giving too much away?  I have to admit that with each trailer I'm growing more excited.  Nothing will touch the emotional impact of that first teaser where we first see Han & Chewie, but nothing has caused me to dampen my expectations.

Got my tickets for opening night and already thinking about what to wear.  My Chewbacca with skateboard is probably the right choice.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 - Saturday my final post

We were pretty wiped after Friday night, ending it with pizza and meeting Donna at the girl's house.  Still, for me a Comic-Con wouldn't be complete unless I got to see two of my favorite panels and pick up one of my favorite comics from its creator.

Sarah was nice enough to drive me to the Convention center and drop me off around 8:30 am.  You never know what the lines are going to be like, as Saturday is often the only day that some folks can take it in so the place is always mobbed.  Room 6B/C/F has three well attended panels in a row, so I learned a few years ago that if I wanted decent seats for the later panels I had to get there during the first event. After last year I decided that I wanted to get there for the entire thing.

Marvel Animation Studios always shows some clips and often entire episodes of their current television output.  This year we got to see some of Marvel's Avengers: Ultron Revolution, which will feature voice work from some of the cast of the Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D program.  We were also told that we'd be seeing their own version of Civil Wars. Since the Studio can use all the Marvel characters it would probably differ from the up-coming Captain America: Civil War film.  Following that we caught up with Ultimate Spider-Man who will be going up against the Sinister six, plus take part with other Marvel characters in a version of 'Contest of Champions'. That looks pretty cool!  Finally, we were shown the first part of the two-part Guardians of the Galaxy series premiere, which really has me excited and will probably have me setting the DVR.  I always enjoy this presentation and so it's become one of the panels to which I look forward. During the Q&A segment, the panelist were joined at the end by a young girl dressed as Ms. Marvel (Kamala Khan), who had to be the most adorable kid at the con. Both panelists and audience members were touched by this. Hats off to the guys from Marvel for making this so special for her. The happiness on her face when she was asked to get on the stage was clearly visible. By the way, if you are a Guardians fan, I recommend you start picking up both the Rocket Raccoon and Groot comics. A lot of fun, but also with moments that remind us of the deep friendship these two have for each other.

The next two panels are moderated by Mark Evanier and have been the things that generally wrap up my convention agenda.  Generally the rest of the day is just wandering around the exhibition hall looking to see if there is anything I forgot or overlooked the first dozen or so times I looked the previous three days.

The first is QUICK DRAW, which features three cartoonists drawing quickly the ideas or phrases that Mark gives them, or are suggested by the audience.  The three always includes Sergion Aragones (MAD magazine, GROO, etc.) and generally Scott Shaw! (Captain Carrot, Annoying Orange, and other funny comics).  As Scott was recovering from medical issues, his place was taken by the legendary Disney animator, Floyd Norman (who was the guest artist last year).  Always a lot of fun and as usual the Room was all but completely filled. Keep in mind that while generally 'family friendly' the artists do sometimes push the envelope.

Following that one was Mark's first of two Cartoon Voices panels he does.  Each has 7-8 professional voice actors who talk about the industry, how they got started and do some of the voices for which they are known.  The last part has the actors read from a script they have not seen before, doing several voices and numerous characters each.  This year it was an abridged version of Wizard of Oz which was wonderful (no pun).

Every year I look forward to stopping by the WCG booth and chatting with artist/writer Randy Reynaldo about his comic ROB HANES ADVENTURES.  I can't recall the exact year I first met Randy, but it had around 1995 or so, since Randy was still publishing the early stories as ADVENTURE STRIP DIGEST featuring Rob Hanes.  It may have been Tony Isabella or another pro that recommended the book to me, since several were already reading and reviewing it.  Rob's stories have the feel of the adventure comic strips that featured Terry & The Pirates, Captain Easy and Steve Canyon.  Lone adventurers who traveled to exotic ports, met beautiful women and nasty villains.  Randy has taken that style and brought it to the current day.  The past few years, Randy has only been publishing about one book a year, plus keeping the older stories available in trade paperbacks. This year tracking down Randy was my final 'must do' at the convention, so it was good finding him at his booth where we could chat for a few minutes and catch up. Go to the WCG website, sample some of the digital material there and order some copies.  Tell him that Steve sent you.

Sorry that this thing took as many days to get through as the convention, but there was just so much going on that I couldn't possibly get it all into a couple of blogs.  Hope you enjoyed at least some of it.

Thursday, July 16, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 - Part Four of My Journey (Best day ever!)

We're finally getting to one of the most remarkable days I have ever had at SDCC, or just about any convention I've attended.  Hey, I've been going to various pop culture conventions (SF, Horror/Fantasy, Mystery, Comics) since 1976 and have some great times. This whole convention was extra special since it was the first one I was able to share with Kristina & Sarah.  Dan and I always have had fun at these.  This past Friday just shot to the top of my list by about half way through and went over the top by the end.  I hope I can just give you a hint at how remarkable it was.

We got to the Hall H line around 6:30 am on Friday.  Of course, we started further back than when we were there the previous night, as a number of folks had stayed even after receiving their wristbands. I will admit, being the Doubting Thomas I always am, that I started off wondering if we were still going to gain admittance into the Hall.  The bands themselves say on them that the possession of the band did not guarantee admission.  Fortunately, my three companions talked me down after the line eventually began moving and we could actually see the tents were we would spend the final half hour or so.  For the most part the crowd was well behaved, if a little rowdy towards the end.  Line holders and not staff were the first to report someone for breaking into the line. A few minutes later he was being escorted away by Security to the cheers of many.

I have to admit that once the line was moving and we were snaking around under the tents, everything was well organized and I have to salute the SDCC staff and volunteers for being so professional and organized.  The thousands of line standers were gathered into smaller groups and that hundred or so were then allowed into the convention center and into the hall.  We were then seated as we entered and ended up with decent seats towards the rear and in the center with the screens above us allowing us a great view of the actual stage and anything shown on the screens.

After a brief introduction and welcome the first program was announced. The Hall H program began, as it always does, with the Annual Animation Show of Shows. Ron Diamond, who has moderated this event at SDCC and animation festivals around the country, announced that the Show of Shows would begin being presented in theaters as well.  The shorts included FEAST (everybody loves the dog), DUET, LOVE IN THE TIME OF MARCH MADNESS and a new cartoon by Bill Plympton, THE LONELIEST STOP LIGHT.  They ranged from amusing to heart-breaking, with a wide-range of animation styles.  I highly recommend trying to hunt these down and perhaps checking out the Show of Shows Facebook page.

The next two panels were hosted by Chris Hardwick (Nerdist, The Talking Dead), who was the perfect choice. The Walking Dead panel featured over a half dozen of the regulars who played Rick, Carl, Carol, Michone, Abraham, Glenn, Daryl, Sasha and Morgan.  Everyone seemed to be having a lot of fun and the trailer for the up-coming season looks pretty good.  This was followed by the WD spin-off, Fear The Walking Dead.  The new series takes place in Los Angeles, rather than in Atlanta and the surrounding area.  It also begins, for regular TWD fans, in the weeks during which Rick lies in a coma. Some of the cast including Rueben Blades, Mercedes Mason, Cliff Curtis and others appeared talking about the show and the trailer of the first season.  This series will show how the disease began to spread and how things fell apart in the days and weeks prior to the Walking Dead series opener.  It looks pretty good, even though some complained that it looked more like a family drama than the horror series the original has always been.

After a brief break one of the other major panels began, this being that for Game of Thrones.  It was a surprise, at least to me, to see Seth Myers come out as host for the panel.  He was funny and kept the questions brief, whether from his own list or from the audience members lucky enough to get to the mike. This presentation was eagerly awaited by a good portion of the crowd, but having not seen the entire last season, I had plenty of spoilers blown.  Of course, the big one had been all over social media and was pretty hard to ignore. Thanks, Interwebs!  Some of those attending were Sophie Turner, Maisie Williams, John Bradley, Liam Cunningham and Gwendoline Christie (who would show up at a later panel, as you can imagine).  The panel was entertaining, but a lot of folks were disappointed in that there was no trailer for the new season and the panelists had apparently been told not to discuss much of what we were going to see.  One cool thing was a video showing GoT references and jokes that appeared on other TV shows.  This included Kit Harington appearing as Jon Snow in a skit on Myer's late night show.  Unfortunately folks were limited in learning much new, although while the show's writers kept telling us that a certain character was in fact extremely dead, some cast members hinted at other things.  Going to give this a mixed review, but overall it was cool seeing the cast.

Initially we had talked about taking a break during the next panel, called Enterainment Weekly: Brave New Warriors, which was comprised of male actors from various shows talking about how they got started and telling stories about some of the shows and films they worked on.  I admit that only a couple were familiar to me.  They were Zachary Levi (Heroes Reborn), Sam Heughan (Outlander), Jordan Gavaris (Orphan Black), Kevin Durand (The Strain), Rob Kazinsky (The Frankenstein Code) and Michael Cudlitz (Abraham on The Walking Dead). Only Durand and Cudlitz are in shows I watch currently.  Between this panel and the one for WD, I now consider Cudlitz one of my favorite actors on TV.  He was just so cool and very revealing about some of his early career.  In fact, everyone on the stage had some funny stories to share about their careers.  At one point, in response to an audience question, the discussion became very serious while a number of the men revealed how they or friends had been propositioned or used sexually in order to get roles. I'm really glad that we stayed and I have new respect for everyone who appeared.

At 5:30 pm the panel that I would say most of the folks in the Hall (and certainly the four of us) had been waiting for began. Chris Hardwick came on again, initially introducing Kathleen Kennedy, director J. J. Abrams and writer Lawrence Kasdan. They talked about how excited they were and showed a short video on the history of Star Wars had at SDCC.  Pretty cool seeing some of the older photos, including ones from the 1976 convention where SW was introduced and I was in attendance. Also shown was a 'behind the scenes' look at the making of the film. This included some actual scenes, a few snippets of interviews with cast members and some bits showing cast & crew working on various segments of the movie. I don't know your reaction was to seeing the intial teaser trailer ending with the appearance of Han and Chewie, but I don't think I was the only person in the crowd holding back tears as we watched this new footage.  Hardwick began introducing some members of the new film, beginning with the new characters. Daisey Ridley, John Boyega and Oscar Isaac came on representing the "Light" they spoke briefly. This was followed by the 'Dark' side which included  Gwendoline Christie (for her second panel of the day), Adam Driver (who looked like he wanted to be anywhere else but on this stage) and Domhnall Gleeson.  They all had a few words to say, but didn't give away much about their characters, understandably. Finally, the 'legacy cast' was introduced with Carrie Fisher and Mark Hamill coming out to a huge reaction from the crowd.  They were talking about being back as the iconic characters and what it was like working with the new cast.  At about this point, Hardwick asked J.J. how Harrison Ford was doing and if he was recovered. J.J. looked out into the crowd leaned into the mike and said, "Why don't you ask him yourself?"  You can imagine the crowd jumping to their feet as Ford came up on stage, with no cane of seeming limp. Hardwick opened the floor to questions and while we didn't learn many plot points and some questions asked seemed to be met with non-responses, it was still great and I don't think many folks at that point regretted standing in line all that time. It was a pretty good way to end thing.

As some folks were actually getting up to leave, J.J. asked everyone if they loved the music of Star Wars. That got a round of applause.  He then said how great it would be to attend a live concert of SW music.  I think like others I was expecting him to announce an upcoming event. When he then said that he was inviting everyone in the Hall to follow him and the cast for a live concert the place erupted. I looked over at Kristina and like the rest of us she appeared stunned.  We were told to peacefully go out the exits towards the front of the hall and we would be given lanyards for

It was so amazing with the limos of the cast members driving past escorted by members of the 501st Stormtroopers.  Both Mark Hamill and Daisy Ridly (quicking becoming a favorite) hanging out their windows high-fiving and yelling to the crowd as they passed us. The stadium down by the water quickly filled but we were able to make our way down towards the front near the side of the stage, We had great views of the three large screens (where the orchastra and scenes from the film were shown as the San Diego Symphony Orchastra played the well-known music of John Williams. There was a DJ playing music (non-SW) and revving up the crowd, before many of the the cast members , along with Kathleen Kennedy and J.J. came out with light sabers to greet the crowd a final time.  Many of them 'dueled' with those in the front of the stage (as lightsabers were given out if you wished) both as they came out and later as they left.  The next hour or so was to amazing and moving to put into words.  I felt like weeping a few times and saw I was not the only one in the crowd feeling the same way.  As the last piece was being played and the sky darkened a fireworks display began over the harbor.  Truly magical!

That wrapped up the most incredible day that I have ever experienced at any convention and the fact that I could share it with Kristina, Sarah and Dan made it even more so.  I promise to wrap this up tomorrow with the last few panels I attended on Saturday.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 - Part Three of My Journey

Sorry that this is going way over what I had planned.  I keep thinking of things as I write, plus I'm known for rambling on about the smallest details.  I sometimes bore myself.

On Wednesday, Dan and I had dropped in at Full Circle Tattoo to set up an appointment.  I had gotten a tattoo at another place the previous year, but the artist who had worked on it was no longer there.  Besides, Kristina had gone to Full Circle once before and she liked the parlor and the artists. Kristina was also going to be the one to escort me there, while Dan and Sarah held our places in line.

The choice of the tattoo had been an on-going discussion since I got the original anchor last year.  I loved it and have had folks say nice things about it.  After the fact, I can see that the only problem was placement on my arm, which had been my spur of the moment decision. It is way too high and is hard to see even in some sleeveless shirts I own.

I had considered the idea of having Hellboy or his glove, as well as a Popeye and even a ship. Finally, I decided, with input from the family on getting a ship's wheel with crashing waves.  I discussed the artwork with artist Johnny Bones and with a few minor changes we picked the size and placement of the new ink.  While my first tat had taken less than an hour, this badboy took closer to two.  I'm not ashamed to admit that there were moments there when I wanted to just put a stop to the process, just leave the outline and skip the color work.  When it was finally over however I was happy that I had gone through with it.  Kristina was great keeping me calm and documenting the process.  I'll skip some of the bloodier stuff and just show you the finished product.

We were back in line before 7:30 pm and told that they would begin handing out wristbands to those in line shortly.  Of course, you had to show that you actually had a badge and folks had to vouch for others that they had been standing in line and not simply jumping in.  It was probably around 9:00 pm that Volunteers actually began handing out the bands.  Once you had them you were told that you had two options.  The first was that you could stay in line over night, thereby ensuring you were going to be at the front of Hall H as that is how they sit you moving folks to the front of the room and filling it in.  The second choice was that you could leave, but had to return before 7:30 am on Friday, to be guaranteed a seat even with a band.

The four of us were pretty exhausted at this point and opted to head back home.  This time around we had decided to forego mass transit and with the car service, Uber. We had used them that morning and I want to thank the fine folks at the Unofficial San Diego Comic-Con Blog for putting out a code that gave you a free ride after you registered with Uber.  We used all our free rides over the three days and even used another service called Lyft a few times.  It seemed that a lot of the Uber drivers also worked for Lyft, and you saw stickers for both on a number of cars pulling into hotels and other pick-up locations. Most of the drivers we had for both companies were very nice, with only one exception who was a complete jerk and got a pretty crummy review when we got home.

It looks like we'll have a couple more of these to get through, so I hope you'll stick around.

Tuesday, July 14, 2015

San Diego Comic-Con 2015 - Part Two of my journey

I should start this out with an admission.  It was never my initial intent to try for a pass to Hall H.  That was an idea that Dan and Kristina decided upon, then bringing poor Sarah into the project.  Steve had no intention of sitting for hours in the weather hoping for a chance to sit in a room for 8 or 9 hours. No way!  There were so many panels and so much stuff he wanted to check out.  Of course, as Donna will tell you, this guy can be talked into just about anything by his step-daughter. It began as a promise to get me a pass and eventually I found myself signing on for the long-haul.

Things were off to an early start on Thursday morning.  As usual with Comic-con there are always lines to get into for just about everything from panels to restrooms and even the overpriced food court and food carts.  Sadly, this was a year I lacked the forethought to pack any munchies or time to head into the Gaslamp, so the carts and Food Express (or whatever it's called) were pretty much my only option.  I stopped going to Starbucks at the convention center years ago, as they do not accept the Starbucks card, plus the coffee at Mrs. Fields is better and the cookies outstanding.  Also, back at the food court, FIVE BUCKS for basically half a corn dog? Seriously??

To be completely honest, most of the coffee I was drinking over those days was from the Pro Lounge, which as usual was a great place to get away from the crowds for a bit.  Free coffee, hot water for tea, and even lemonade, plus outlets where you can recharge your devices make the place an oasis in the convention center.  Thanks again to Comic-Con for offering this to us.

Anyway, any chance to get into Hall H means at least a half-day in line. So we all took time during the day standing and sitting down by the water hoping to gain entry on Friday.
At least the weather was better than it had been the night before.  Some folks had been camping out for the past couple of days and it was beginning to look and smell like a homeless encampment.  Still folks mostly seemed to be in good spirits and we once again were treated to the endless droning of fan boys & girls speculating and pontificating on all types of useless trivia.  Poor Sarah was probably the most lost since this isn't really her cup of tea.  Dan and I have learned to tune it out and keep the eye-rolling to a minimum. While Sarah was keeping watch on The Wall, the rest of us were out and about in the convention center.

I was able to jump into a few panels. I caught the "Wrath of Con Bloggers" where Tony B. Kim (Crazy 4 Comic Con), Megan Gotch (The Nerdy Girlie), Leonard Sultana (An Englishman in San Diego) and Alyssa Franks (Friends of CCI) talked about what had gotten them started in blogging and gave tips to folks just starting out.  It seemed that over half the attendees had either already begun blogging or were hoping to start.  It's hard to believe that I've been doing this for so long.  In some cases almost twice as long as those on the panel. I started my first blog back in 2003.  Still it was entertaining.

My next panel was by the Comic Book Legal Defense Fun (CBLDF) called, Spinner Rack Revolution: The Secret History of Free Speech in Magazine Comics. Alex Cox, Deputy Director of CBLDF, gave a quick history of the censorship movement that led to the development of the Comics Code Authority (CCA) and its impact on the industry.  Fans know a lot of this already, about how the crew at EC comics (basically, all but pushed out of the industury by the CCA) began putting together MAD first as a four-color comic, and eventually turning it into a B&W magazine to avoid the code.  He then quickly covered the B&W magazines from Warren and others, including Marvel.

It seemed that the '60s were changing comics and in spite of the CCA, artists were working to improve them. The creators of this period allowed to do things without the restrictions imposed on the four-color monthly pamphlets many of them had been working on for years. Eventually some of the artists and writers from those publications going out on their own to develop what came to be known as the 'undergrounds'.  As publishers and creative types saw what they were capable of they began pushing the boundaries of what they could get by the Code.  Eventually, as companies began dropping the CCA stamp from their books it was inevitable that it would lead to the elimination of the code and greater freedom we see in today's mainstream.  Sadly, a technical glitch cut the presentation short and wouldn't allow many of the graphics to be displayed. Even so it was an interesting presentation and the CBLDF deserves our thanks for all the great work they do.

Sorry, about that! Didn't mean to digress, as they say.

I had planned on hitting a few more panels, but I had to get to a CVS as I had run out of Tylenol and also had promised to pick up other stuff for folks. As usual at Comic-con my left ankle (injured first playing soccer in Jr. High and later in the Navy when a charged hose got loose, hitting me in the same ankle) was hurting.  Even without the constant walking and standing it goes out on me on occasion.   Plus I had to be back to meet up by 3:00 pm as Kristina was going to be my moral support when I went to get my second tattoo.

This is going to take longer than I thought, so I'll try to get back tomorrow to finish up at least Thursday and get a start on the big events on Friday.

Monday, July 13, 2015

San Diego Comic-con International 2015 - One Fan's Experience

Just to start off I want to say that this San Diego Comic-Con (SDCC) ranks in my mind as possibly the best experience as a whole I have ever had. There have been some great moments during the dozen or more cons I've attended but overall this has to be #1 and I can't imagine any other coming close.  I owe that to my wife Donna for letting me attend once again. I'm a very lucky guy.  Next I need to mention that my step-daughter, Kristina, her wife Sarah and our friend Dan had to be the best con-going buddies I've ever had.  Dan and I have been to several together, but being with Kristina and Sarah made it extra special.  Neither had ever been to a SDCC, or any other comic convention, so seeing it through their eyes was a nice change.

I started out on Wednesday with a nice train ride down to San Diego.  I recommend the Amtrak Business Class seats with their free coffee and danish.  Get to relax, enjoy the room and get the caffeine and sugar rush you'll need for the rest of the day.  Also on the plus side was that I wasn't close to your know-in-all fanboy who decides that everyone in the car should be aware of how much trivial knowledge he has of everything. It might as well be the same guy every year.  Of course, I did end up with him in just about every line I stood in and even a few panels where he felt his commentary was more entertaining than whatever was happening up on the stage.   While that guy, and sometimes gal, is far from your typical fan that seems to be the one that non-fans encounter thereby giving the rest of us a bad name.

Dan was nice enough to pick me up at the train station and we grabbed a nice lunch at the Park House Eatery in University Heights.  I really have to recommend the BLT Bloody Mary's if you drop by and they are just what you imagine.

We met up with Kristina and Sarah at their home later. The four us decided to give San Diego mass transit a try and caught the Green Line down near the Charger's stadium.  Haven't been there since I saw them get their butts kicked by the Jets, which was also a lot of fun. The trains were on time and clean, which was a pleasant change from many of my subway rides on the MTA back in the day.

You can imagine the lines outside the convention center, even for Preview Night.  We had to split up as Dan & Kristina had regular tickets, while Sarah and I headed over to Pro registration. The line was still long, but certainly not as crazy as many I've had to stand in at other cons. After we got out tickets I happened to spot Mark Evanier, who I have known for a number of years. I was actually surprised to not see him with Sergio Aragones, as the two of them often seem attached at every SDCC.  

We four met up finally and began what would be a weekend of standing in one line or another for exclusives or panels.  One of the fun parts was that neither Kristina or Sarah had ever been to a comic convention before, so Comic-con was certainly a great way to introduce them to such events. My first SDCC was in 1975 and was my second con, but even then it was far bigger than the one I had attended months earlier on a Saturday at a local high school.

One of the places we hit was the Super 7 booth.  If you knew about it you could approach one of the folks there and ask "where can I get a coin?"  You'd then be handed a plastic silver coin with the head of Skeletor on it and a postcard with the address of their 'secret store' which opened later in the night.

Then it was time to head over to the Blind Burro for drinks and Mexican food.  I highly recommend the place. Be sure to get the chips and salsa that's made on the site and they keep refilling.

Unfortunately, even though we got to the 'secret store' a bit after they opened the line was clear around the building and up the next block. In close to an hour we just got around the corner and part of the way to the store.  It was after 10:00 pm and all of us were getting tired, had to make sure to get to the trolleys before they stopped running, plus it had started to mist.

So ends Preview Night at SDCC 2015.  I'll have more to say about the next few days we spent beginning tomorrow and possibly the day after.  

Saturday, January 17, 2015

Popcorn for One - THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES (with perhaps a spoiler or two)

I finally had a chance to see the film THE HOBBIT: THE BATTLE OF THE FIVE ARMIES yesterday.  It's sad thinking that we may not see the Middle Earth of Tolkein (and Peter Jackson) again, although there are rumors floating about.  Tolkein did write other books, less well known, about that world, so you never know.  Still taken together the three films in the trilogy do make for some excellent film-making, even if Jackson & Co. did take liberties to turn the book, which could have been adapted into two films, into a trilogy like LOTR.

Just about everyone with a desire to see the film has probably already seen it, but I'll briefly talk about it with few SPOILERS.

The film picks up with Smaug flying across to Lake-town, which we saw at the end of the last film.  Personally, I think the second film (and likely the first) could have been trimmed allowing the destruction of the town to be last scenes of the second film. This would have started this one with the survivors coming to the Lonely Mountain to confront Thorin.  That would have worked with the title of the second film as we would witness then the 'desolation of Smaug' upon the town and its people.  Just my opinion, of course although I don't seem to be the only person reviewing the movie expressing that or similar thoughts.

After we witness the fate of Smaug and the town's people attempting to recover from the destruction, we catch up on some of the other characters (elves, dwarves and orcs, among others). Gandalf learns of certain things and goes to find his former comrades while word of the death of the dragon spreads.  Eventually the armies mentioned in the title gather, sides become drawn and redrawn as other factions join in.  The later part of the film is pretty much an extended battle between these factions, moving from large scale assaults to individual fights among characters we've seen in earlier films.  I last reread the novel prior to the release of the first movie so, while I know Jackson made changes to the book, I'm not clear on some of the characters and how their fates match those in Tolkein's original.

Overall I was pretty happy with the film and Jackson's attempt to bring the novel to life.  I do want to mention that while most of the CGI and green screen work was exceptional, there were a few moments (as there were in a few of the LOTR films) where it was pretty glaring.  I saw none of the films in 3-D or IMAX, so it possible my experience was difference from yours. However, one of the scenes featuring Legolas towards the end of the movie was so obviously fake that it took me out of the movie completely.  One of those things that you could do in animation, but with live actors with a green screen just can't be believable.

The last scenes with Bilbo's goodbye to his former mates and the final scene back in the Shire are really nicely done. The last especially brings things around full circle and make you want to watch the original trilogy all over again.

Hope you liked the move as much as I did and if you haven't I hope you get the chance on the big screen.  Those battles were amazing!