Posts by Ken Gagne

Sci-fi geek extraordinaire, Ken supports the arts a performer, moderator, and movie-goer. When not appearing on stage or in films such as Fever Pitch, he is a freelance writer, Apple II enthusiast, and Showbits webmaster. Follow him on Twitter and Google+.

Super Megafest 2013: Celebrating celebrities young & old

02-Jan-14 11:25 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; Comments Off on Super Megafest 2013: Celebrating celebrities young & old

Super Megafest, an annual comic book, sci-fi, geek, and nostalgia convention held the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Mass., has exploded in popularity. When I arrived at 10 AM on the first of 2013's two-day event, the line to get in wrapped around the hotel, and parking was nowhere to be found. It's nearly to the point that the Sheraton can't accommodate all the dealer rooms, speaker panels, and autograph lines, or grow to offer a cosplay competition and other participatory sessions. But for all that, this year's Megafest, of all the seven I've now attended, was a surgical strike for me. Christopher Lloyd was the closest to this year's headliner, and I'd met him at Megafest 2010. I was instead able to focus on celebrities that were less renowned but no less admired for their work in cult hits.

One was Boston native Eliza Dushku, the "evil slayer" from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and star of another cancelled Joss Whedon television series, Dollhouse. I didn't attend her panel (a video of which is available online), but I did get her autograph. In those brief encounters, I always make a point of telling actors how much I liked their less well-known performances, as I imagine it's frustrating for their entire body of work to be overshadowed by a single role. For Ms. Duskhu, I thanked her for the 2007 dark comedy Sex and Breakfast, which I found a fascinating look at the interplay between physical and emotional connections in relationships. She seem surprised to hear this and said the film was "interesting". But she really lit up when I mentioned her cameo on Freddie Wong's YouTube channel, which she said was a lot of fun to shoot.

Other than autograph sessions, hour-long panels of Q&A are often the highlight of any Megafast, but the only panel I was interested in attending this year featured Barbara Eden and Bill Daily, aka Jeannie and Major Healey from the 1960s sitcom I Dream of Jeannie. Both were very genial in their autograph sessions, with Daily especially taking time to chat with attendees. He seemed astonished when he got to his table to find a line of fans waiting for him: "Who are all these people here for?!" he asked. Whether he was sincerely surprised or just being humble, I appreciated his down-to-earth nature. The panel wasn't anything special, and even had a touch of melancholy for being held a year to the day that Jeannie co-star Larry Hagman had passed away, but it was still fun to hear the two actors banter and reminiscence like old friends.

I was going to leave the con at that point, but a new friend enticed me to stay for the next panel, featuring Tom Felton, who played Draco Malfoy in all eight Harry Potter films. He hadn't been on my radar at all until an encounter I had in the Super Megafest hallway, which I then related to Felton during his panel's Q&A: "I was on my way to this panel when I came across a teenage girl who appeared to be having a breakdown: she was crying, tears streaming down her face, and she was having trouble breathing to the point of hyperventilating. I asked her what was wrong — what had happened?!? She took a breath and said, 'I just met Tom Felton!!'" My question to Felton then became, "How do you explain your popularity?" Felton seemed a bit taken aback, saying he'd never been asked that question before. The moderator jumped in and said that I'd have to be a teenage girl to understand. That exchange aside, Felton was a fun and amicable guest, telling anecdotes from the Harry Potter set and, at one attendee's request, even reciting his most famous line: "My father is going to be hearing about this!!"

IMG_4463 For all these actors and their fame and draw, my favorite moment of the entire weekend was perhaps the quietest, and one which surely no one else even noticed. In attendance at Super Megafest was Carroll Spinney, the actor behind Sesame Street characters Big Bird and Oscar the Grouch. I'd first met Mr. Spinney at Super Megafest 2008, but I left that encounter heavy with regret for not having asked him one important question. He was back at Megafest 2011, but having already gotten his autograph years before, I had no occasion to approach him just to ask one question. But I had another chance in 2013 — Spinney is native to this area, and attending Megafest coincides with spending Thanksgiving with family — and this time, I wanted his autograph again, this time as gifts for friends. While he signed, I mentioned that I was one of his Kickstarter supporters, having backed a documentary about his life, I Am Big Bird. The film will be a fitting send-off to the actor, who, at age 80, is nearing retirement.

After chatting a bit about the promising trailer, he handed me the autographed photos. I hesitated. It was now or never. "Mr. Spinney," I began, "I hate to put you on the spot like this, but… can I give you a hug?"

He smiled. "Well, sure! That'd be fine. Come around the table," he said, standing up to receive me. Relieved, I wrapped my arms around him, saying, "Thank you, Bird." For everything.

November was a rough month for me, with two massive, personal disappointments I'd been beating myself up over. It's magical and inexplicable how much that weight was lifted by a hug from Big Bird; I just suddenly felt that everything was going to be okay.

Thank you, Super Megafest, for this moment. I'll treasure it always.

(more…)

Super Megafest 2012: Superman, Hercules & TRON

31-Dec-13 1:29 PM by
Filed under Potpourri; 1 comment.

Super Megafest 2013 was held last month, and I've not yet posted my report from the 2012 event. Today being New Year's Eve, this is my last chance to not fall two years behind.

Super Megafest is held every November the weekend before Thanksgiving in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's an odd panoply of minor celebrities, comic book artists, former pro wrestlers, and nostalgia. This was my sixth time attending Super Megafest, with previous shows having brought encounters with Larry Storch, Jonathan Frakes, Brent Spiner, Christopher Lambert, and Sean Astin, among others. Personalized autographs from each year's attractions are sold for anywhere from $20 to $100, depending on the celebrity's star power, but the one-hour Q&A panels are what really draw me to the event. Some celebrities (like Patrick Stewart) are better in a crowd than they are one-on-one, and it's fun to share in the knowledgeable yet zany questions an audience can ask.

The first panel I attended in 2012 starred Dean Cain, best known as Superman from the television series The Adventures of Lois and Clark. When I asked, he debunked the myth that Gerard Christopher, who'd previously played Superboy, had originally been offered the part. In fact, the final two candidates for the role of Clark Kent were Cain and Kevin Sorbo, who was also in attendance at that Super Megafest. Fortunately, there was no animosity between the two, as Sorbo not getting that television role in 1993 made him available a year later to star in Hercules: The Legendary Journeys. Unfortunately, a throwdown between Superman and Hercules was also not on the agenda.

Cain talked about the good fortune he'd had in life, from signing with the Buffalo Bills football team after college to a knee injury that led him to his successful acting career. Despite joining the cast of Beverly Hills 90210 two years after the show's launch, the cast made him feel welcome, an experience for which he is forever grateful.

Even when his acting career has encountered resistance, he's taken it with good humor. When he was cast as Superman, some critics decried his one-quarter Japanese heritage, saying, "We wanted Superman, not Sushiman!" Cain roared with laughter when recounting this tale, saying, "I love racial jokes!"

For those pursuing an acting career of their own, he recommended having a thick skin and not taking things personally. "You'll hear 'no' a million times; just assume they're wrong every time," he coached. Often, the decision isn't even a reflection on an actor's skill: "Nepotism is alive and well" in Hollywood, he said. The only slack he cuts his own family is in World of Warcraft, which he plays with his then-12-year-old son.

The next panel starred Bruce Boxleitner, who held the title role in TRON and was John Sheridan on Babylon 5. A sci-fi actor whose career spans decades, he recounted being on the set of TRON Legacy and pulling aside actor Garrett Hedlund, who played Sam Flynn. This movie's title is no coincidence, he warmly reminded Hedlund; it's what he and Jeff Bridges and will be remembered for. "TRON will live on long after us," he said. Then, turning cold, he warned: "Don't f*$% it up." Expect more TRON movies to come.

Boxleitner also commented on films that had come out that summer, such as the Alien prequel Prometheus, which he described as "a lot of promise and no delivery." For lack of better options when stuck on an airplane, he watched the in-flight showing of a Twilight movie. "Thank God [that series] is over."

Boxleitner has tried his hand at a variety of genres and media and continues to flex his creative muscles. When asked if he prefers comedic or dramatic characters, he replied, "I don't prefer. There's comedy in every character, and drama in every character." He did some voice acting for the video game Spec Ops: The Line, which he thought would "be much bigger and make me much richer." (Nonetheless, I was humbled when he recorded a segment for the Open Apple podcast, which can be heard at 5:40 into our June 2013 episode.) He's currently developing a steampunk television series called Lantern City, which so far has only a graphic novel prequel. He has also tried his hand at writing novels — he autographed my copy of Frontier Earth — but would says that his 2001 novel Searcher will be his last, saying that he is "not a natural-born writer."

Other stars I got to meet at Super Megafest 2013 included Kevin Sorbo and John Wesley Shipp, the latter having starred as the DC superhero The Flash in the 1990 television series of the same name. Both Sorbo and Shipp recorded Open Apple bumpers for me, free with their autograph, which I much appreciated. At an unhurried moment, Shipp also reflected on how fortunate he's been in Hollywood. Though he doesn't necessarily believe in a deity that favors him — that would be unfair to the actors who didn't get the parts for which he was cast — he does marvel at the fortune that has brought him steady work, both large and small. I appreciated hearing from Shipp, Cain, and others that actors, who themselves are often deified by pop culture, can still be humble and grateful.

Finally, I got Stan Lee's autograph, but he did not have a panel (at least one I attended), nor did he offer personalized autographs.

Super Megafest continues to offer a unique cast of celebrities with which to entice geeks a city 20 miles west of Boston. As you'll find in my 2013 report, it has its growing pains, but to which I am happy to contribute. In the meantime, enjoy the below photo gallery. I attended the event with my former co-worker Gene; visit his blog for more details and photos!

(more…)

Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas, Chorally Yours

24-Dec-13 9:30 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; Comments Off on Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas, Chorally Yours

Alumni of Mystery Science Theater 3000 rang in the holiday season earlier this month with a live RiffTrax of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians, a film that Cinematic Titanic has also revisited. When MST3K originally spoofed that episode on Dec 21, 1991, it featured a host segment with a very special musical interlude: Joel and the bots wishing viewers to "Have a Patrick Swayze Christmas".

Mr. Swayze is no longer with us, but I think he would smile at the thought of us celebrating the holidays in his memory. MST3K creator Joel Hodgson and the team at Reddit agree and together revisited this holiday staple, arranging it for a mighty chorus. Come and listen to their musical rendition:

Merry Christmas, everyone!

(Hat tip to reddit)

Sesame Street parodies the Hobbit, Hunger Games

09-Dec-13 11:18 AM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Sesame Street parodies the Hobbit, Hunger Games

The Internet has inspired a revolution in Sesame Street's relevancy. Always a wonderful tool for educating children not just in reading, writing, and arithmetic, but also in social skills such as cooperation and patience, these values are now being encased in many wonderful YouTube videos whose humor will appeal to adults as well. Nowhere is this more evident than in the show's newest segment, "Cookie's Crumby Pictures", in which Cookie Monster teaches kids self-regulation and executive function skills in the form of parodies of Hollywood's latest big-budget hits.

This series is impressively modern by setting its sights on this holiday season's headliners. One of the current hot flicks has been Catching Fire, the second adaptation in the Hunger Games book trilogy. Cookie Monster engages in survival of the fattest in The Hungry Games: Catching Fur:

Despite Cookie being the leading role, Pita nearly stole the show. What an improvement over the original!

The next fantasy film in showgoers' sights is The Hobbit: The Desolaution of Smaug, releasing this week. What force could be more evil: a dragon, or a ring? Neither! Beware the one dessert to rule them all in Lord of the Crumbs:

Classic icons aren't above having our furry blue friend inserted into their casts. When the world's best spy isn't available, they call Cookie Monster in The Spy Who Loved Cookies:

You can also see Cookie Monster as Captain Snack Sparrow in Cookies of the Caribbean and as an earnest martial arts student in in The Biscotti Kid. See the playlist for the full catalog of parodies.

It just goes to show: everything is better with Muppets!

Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day offerings

27-Nov-13 2:19 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on Mystery Science Theater 3000 Turkey Day offerings

It is a good time to be a fan of Mystery Science Theater 3000. The television show spent ten years lampooning some of the worst films ever created, and this week, 25 years after the show's debut, the comedy just keeps on coming.

If you didn't catch this show during its decade on the air, or you're missing your favorite episodes, Shout! Factory has you covered. All this month, they've been celebrating the show's 25th anniversary with daily sales on select DVD sets. But why settle for one a day? This Thursday and Friday, ALL previous sales will return simultaneously. Engorge yourself with your favorite box sets at MST3KTurkeyDay.com.

There are still more box sets to come, with the 25th Anniversary Edition having been released just yesterday, and another box set — the show's 29th! — announced as coming next year, containing some of the best episodes ever.

Want to watch MST3K show live like it's 1988? A tradition long gone from our world returns this Thanksgiving, thanks to show founder Joel Hodgson. The MST3K Turkey Day Marathon is back, with six favorite episodes airing starting at noon ET, again at MST3KTurkeyDay.com.

Reruns are great — but what about the future? After MST3K concluded its run, its hosts continued the comedy with two similar troupes: Cinematic Titanic, hosted by Joel Hodgson, and RiffTrax, spearheaded by Michael J. Nelson.

Cinematic Titanic focused on DVDs and live tours and will be concluding their farewell tour next month. I caught them on all three of their visits to Boston, most recently on November 2, when they subjected their audience to a terrible movie, The Doll Squad. Hodgson engaged in Q&A with the audience, but more impressively, he yesterday conducted a Reddit "Ask Me Anything" (AMA). Generations of fans paid tribute and got sincere, thorough answers to their questions about the past, present, and future of Hodgson's comedy exploits.
Meanwhile, RiffTrax continues to publish audio commentary MP3s to accompany your favorite blockbuster films, from Starship Troopers to Twilight. Their next live event is a holiday riffing of Santa Claus Conquers the Martians on December 5 at 8 PM ET. Tickets are now on sale, and these events have been known to sell out, so get yours today!

This holiday season, I am thankful for the talented artists who have brought so much laughter into my home, and the many friends with whom I've shared those experiences. We have movie sign!!

UPDATE (2-Dec-13): Missed the Turkey Day Marathon? Here are all the original host segments featuring show creator Joel Hodgson:

(Hat tip to Annie Lynsen and Annie Lynsen)

RiffTrax Starship Troopers gets my name wrong

20-Aug-13 1:45 PM by
Filed under Humor; Comments Off on RiffTrax Starship Troopers gets my name wrong

RiffTrax, the comedy troupe composed of Mystery Science Theater 3000 alumni, earlier this year conducted their first Kickstarter. The plan was to raise enough funds to secure the rights for a one-night live riffing of Twilight. Having heard their MP3 riffs of this film, I was all in. The Twilight studio proved enthusiastic to work with RiffTrax but felt the timing wasn't right to dilute their sparkly vampire brand, so the comedy team moved onto their second choice: Starship Troopers.

Starship Troopers
Prepare for an explosion of funny.

The show was last Thursday, which I attended with my middle brother Dan and dozens of friends from the local Meetup group. I encouraged everyone to wait after the movie, as my Kickstarter pledge had earned my name an inclusion in the credits. Dan, in anticipation of seeing my name on the silver screen, pulled out his iPhone and started recording the credit sequence.

It didn't turn out quite how we expected.

How "Ken Gagné" became "Ken GagnŽ", I'll never know. But that'll teach me to be all fancy with my foreign accent marks.

Thanks for the riff, guys! An encore performance will occur on Thursday, September 12, at 7:30 PM. On August 30, tickets will go on sale for their next original live show: Night of the Living Dead!

UPDATE (5-Dec-13): Bill Corbett (aka Crow T. Robot) balanced the scales when he got my name right in the first 30 seconds of this Kickstarter thank-you video:

UPDATE (20-Dec-13): RiffTrax offered an official apology as a comment on the above Vimeo video.

Jobs movie applies its own reality distortion field

19-Aug-13 1:45 PM by
Filed under Reviews; Comments Off on Jobs movie applies its own reality distortion field

Less than two years since Steve Jobs' passing, his life story hits the silver screen today. The limited release of Jobs, the feature-length film directed by Joshua Michael Stern and starring Ashton Kutcher, was delayed from its original April release after it received poor reviews at the Sundance Film Festival. The official release will please Apple fans with its casting and acting as much as it will frustrate them with its script and dramatic reinterpretation of events.

Josh Gad & Ashton Kutcher

Josh Gad & Ashton Kutcher as Steve Wozniak and Steve Jobs.


Continue reading my review at Computerworld.com »

A big thanks to the Cinema Fix weekly movie review podcast, whose co-host got me into the Jobs press screening that made my review possible!

Summer Shorts sellout: My favorite CGI films

19-Jun-13 12:23 PM by
Filed under Films; Comments Off on Summer Shorts sellout: My favorite CGI films

I spend so much time watching YouTube that, in 2009, I applied that knowledge toward creating a Showbits feature: Summer Shorts. Every weekday for a week, I posted a different short film to this site. In 2010, I revisited the format but over a longer period of time, sharing one video every Friday for 17 weeks.

After a two-year hiatus, I'm pleased to announce Summer Shorts is back, though in a new context. Going with a thematic approach and a commercial outlet, I've compiled my nine favorite CGI shorts into a video gallery. "9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money" is my first freelance feature for ITworld, an affiliate of Computerworld, the magazine where I was an editor for six years.

9 animated shorts that give Pixar a run for its money

Who needs Pixar? Here are my 9 favorite CGI shorts that you can watch for free right on YouTube.


Two of the nine shorts will be familiar to long-time Showbits readers. Pigeon: Impossible and Kiwi, though older, stand as some of the most enjoyable and memorable animated films I have seen online. Five other shorts I'd seen before but had not previously shared, leaving Rosa and The Chase as new to me, the result of extensive research into YouTube's library.

There were enough other candidates that ITworld's gallery could have been nearly double its length: six more videos, including The Passenger and Sebastian's Voodoo, nearly made the cut. As is, the final playlist totals an hour, making for an fun and diverse showcase of the fastest, funniest, most poignant CGI films YouTube has to offer.