Archive for the 'Potpourri' Category

Convention coverage, holiday greetings, and other topics that aren't so easily categorized.

Gandalf vs. Darth Vader

08-Dec-12 11:10 AM by
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It's less than a week to The Hobbit's premiere, wherein we see the One Ring fall into the hands of the unlikeliest person, setting into motion the last battle to come from the War of the Ring. These many evils were perpetuated by Sauron, the power-hungry lord of the rings who was defeated only through the combined forces of the good races of Middle-Earth, many of them led by the wizard Gandalf.

But what if Sauron was not the greatest foe Gandalf ever faced? Surely there is no more powerful evil on Middle-Earth — but what if we were to look to the stars? What if the Dark Lord that Gandalf the Grey faced was not Sauron — but Darth Vader?

The battle's outcome was decided by a popular vote, though I can't say I agree with the result. I feel we've witnessed more powerful users of the Force in the Star Wars universe, and even they were defeated. Of course, leaving Darth Vader as the ringbearer presents a far more interesting scenario: what now?

This video is, surprisingly, not from the same team that brought us Batman vs. Captain America. It seems celebrity superhero mashups are all the rage on YouTube. Which two powers do you want to see clash next?

Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

17-Nov-12 11:41 PM by
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Every year's weekend before Thanksgiving is host to the Super Megafest, an annual convention of sci-fi, comics, wrestling, and nostalgia. I have recently returned from my sixth consecutive attendance at the event — but what about the fifth?

I report on every Super Megafest for Showbits, but the past few years I've taken procrastination to new heights. Before I can in good conscience relate my experiences at the 2012 convention, here I must finally reflect on the 2011 show.

The headliners of 2011 were two stars well-known to science fiction and fantasy fans: Sean Astin and Sir Patrick Stewart. I had the opportunity and pleasure to first visit their tables, where I paid handsomely for their autographs, then attend their free Q&A sessions. In that former one-on-one encounter, the two actors could not have been more different in their receptions.

Sean AstinAstin had a table in the common area, where no one minded the queue moving slowly, as it was the product of the actor taking his time to recognize each fan as an individual. He'd shake their hands, listen to their comments, and respond with stories. In my case, I told him how, in my sporadic career as an educator, I had a high school student who wrote a paper about his family movie starring Sean Astin. Goonies? Rudy? Lord of the Rings? Nope — Slipstream, a 2005 science fiction time-travel movie that got panned by critics. When I told Astin about this paper, his eyebrows shot up to accompany a disbelieving "Really??" He then quickly harrumphed and, trying to take more pride in his work, offered a casual, interested "Really!" Astin then suggested that Slipstream was the basis for Jake Gyllenhaal's more successful Source Code, though I consider the connection between the two films tenuous at best.

Sir Patrick StewartBy contrast, Sir Stewart gave me almost nothing to relate here. Rather than wait three hours in line for his autograph, I paid for a pricey "speed pass" that got me to the head of the queue. When I was finally face-to-face with Captain Picard himself, I held out my hand, as I did with every other actor I'd met that weekend. Stewart seemed intent on putting his John Hancock on my purchased 8×10" glossy, so thinking he hadn't noticed my gesture, I asked, "May I shake your hand?" "No, sorry," he replied. Fair enough; many stars are concerned about being introduced to too many fans and their germs. I offered as an alternative: "How about a fist bump?". "No, sorry." I persisted: "Elbow bump?" At this point, his handler stepped in: "Sir Patrick has arthritis." Both gentlemen then looked to the side at the next person in line, making it clear that my time had expired. It was an impersonal experience and a real letdown: The Next Generation was my first exposure to Star Trek and defined me and my life. I never even got to say "Thank you".

Despite the discrepancy in personal encounters, both actors proved entertaining in their Q&A sessions, in which neither had to deal with fans on an individual basis. With this being Stewart's first New England convention, he reflected on the first such con he ever attended after gaining fame as Jean-Luc Picard. He said that when he stepped on the stage and the crowd went wild, "In that moment, I knew what it felt like to be Sting." Stewart has rarely turned that fame to the silver screen, though, commenting that his movie career had been limited to Robin Hood: Men In Tights (a slight exaggeration) — but that he'd recently asked his agent to actively solicit movie options. Why not just retire completely? Because in 71 years of life, 54 of them spent acting, Stewart has found that "Actors are some of the most inspiring, respectful, generous people I know." Stewart went on to talk about his gardening — he'd recently produced 24 dozen cases of apple juice, a dozen cases of pear juice, and 16 pounds of damson jam — and about taking risks, The Inner Light, William Shatner, his workout routine, and more. (He also mentioned handing out diplomas at a college and shaking 800 hands… but he couldn't shake mine?)

Sean Astin, better known to some as Samwise Gamgee, was equally entertaining, sharing the stage with Sala Baker, who played Sauron in Lord of the Rings. The two recounted how the trilogy's cast were joined in a real-life fellowship through the art of tattoo. He laughed when the film's star found the experience painful: "I'm ten years older than Elijah [Woods]; he's a punk kid." As it turned out, Astin didn't have so easy a time with it, either.

In a turn of events, Astin even took a photo of ME! You can see me in the right rear in the red sweater.

I told Astin how unusual it is to have a career that spans so many decades and genres. Demonstrating the humility of any great man, Astin seemed even more amazed than I did. As many Hollywood veterans will tell you, nepotism is alive and well, and Astin couldn't help but be recognized during auditions due to his lineage, mother Patty Duke and adoptive father John Astin. A father of three daughters of his own (with the oldest playing his on-screen daughter in The Return of the King), Astin is glad to have a filmography in which each of them can find something to relate to, especially as they near the ages at which he began his career.

(more…)

Bill Corbett's Super-Powered Revenge Christmas

30-Mar-12 10:12 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; 1 comment.

Bill Corbett (whose birthday is today — happy birthday, Bill!) is a writer who knows no bounds: his comedic stylings have defined both RiffTrax and MST3K; the best parts of the Eddie Murphy film Meet Dave were his work; he even contributed to the animated short Max the Hero.

Television, film, live performances, animation — what remains? A graphic novel, of course! And that's exactly what Corbett has envisioned with his Kickstarter project for SUPER-POWERED REVENGE CHRISTMAS!.

The artwork will be drawn by Len Peralta, who formerly did the Geek a Week trading cards.

Kickstarter is a crowdsourcing platform that solicits pledges from the mass market to fund a project. This approach allows artists like Corbett to retain control of their creative vision without sacrificing it to meet the demands of a publisher. Perhaps that is why the final book will be made available as an e-book only and not in a dead trees edition printed for $100-level donors only. The project has until April 28th to raise a minimum of $23,000, or else no money is collected and the project doesn't happen, so pledge at least $15 to guarantee your copy of the finished novel this Thanksgiving!

Animal's Holiday Guide

24-Dec-11 9:30 AM by
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Happy holidays from Showbits! The site turned five years old this month, and though the posting isn't as prolific as it used to be, I'm still glad to share this outlet with you, especially in so demanding a season. We often need to remember to take a breather and enjoy this time of year. With some tips on how to do so is The Muppets cast member Animal:

The Muppets are long-known for their festive spirit. Be sure to join them for a chorus of bells, too!

See you in 2012!

Filming the holidays with iMovie trailers

21-Dec-11 11:35 AM by
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When I first saw Apple's iMovie '11 demonstrated, I knew I had to have it. Even though I don't do much video editing, I had to play with this edition of the popular movie-making software's exciting new feature: a trailer-making workflow. By choosing a film genre and dragging and dropping predefined types of shots (wide, group, action), anyone could effortlessly make a coming attraction for the movie of their lives.

My first outing with this functionality was a promotional video for an annual fundraising event. Since the fundraiser had already been held by the time I got my hands on iMovie, I didn't have any footage of my own to work with. I instead downloaded existing YouTube videos and recut them for my purpose, using the "sports" genre of film. When I showed the final product to the original videographer, she responded, "I just saw your movie trailer and I LOVE IT!!  You created a great, professional quality, energetic piece. I might bug you to do this again with what we['ll shoot next year]!"

My most recent trailer is the only one I've shot for fun. On June 12, 2011, two friends joined me in my annual ascent of Mount Monadnock, the world's most-climbed mountain. It was a last-second impulse to bring my video camera, a Kodak Zi8, and I got several candid and staged shots throughout the state park. I originally tried casting it as a horror film, but in the end, it worked best as an adventure.

But the trailer that was most meaningful is the one I made as a gift. I spent Christmas 2010 with friends, and I wanted to show my appreciation for letting me into their home to share this special holiday. Over the course of a week and as innocuously as possible, I shot several clips of B-roll. Most of them were no longer than five seconds, though one, a Christmas pageant, was fifteen minutes. Altogether, I ended up with about thirty minutes of film, which I whittled down to a brief trailer.

When I debuted a rough cut to the friends, they were extremely moved, immediately wanting to watch it again — and again — and again! They shared it with everyone in their immediate and extended family, and I could tell from my online analytics that the video was viewed every day for at least a month. As its audience was not computer savvy, they had no idea that the quality of what they were seeing wasn't the result of me being a professional video editor. Thanks to iMovie, I was able to keep my secret!

Just in time for me to re-create this gift for my own family this year, Vimeo, my video-hosting service of choice, has offered these tips for shooting great holiday video. Their suggestions are simple yet effective and will give you plenty of grist for later editing.

Happy holiday filming!

Rethinking Super Megafest

11-Nov-11 11:06 AM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; 2 comments.

For the past several years, I've made an annual tradition of attending the Super Megafest, a sci-fi and nostalgia convention held in Framingham, Massachusetts. It's not a massive affair, but for its size and location, it's still fairly enjoyable, with several aspects to entertain the showgoer: vendors of various geek goods; celebrities on-hand for personal autographs (not free or even cheap!); Q&A sessions with said celebrities; and more.

R2!But I found 2010 to be mildly disappointing, due to a variety of logistical decisions. The Q&A sessions are scheduled for specific times and days, but the event coordinator chooses not to publicize those schedules ahead of time, such as on the Super Megafest Web site; my email requesting this data confirmed that it is not available in advance. Although I realize celebrities' schedules often cannot be determined until the last minute, it's frustrating for me to not know if I should be at the conference on Saturday at 10 AM or 5 PM, or on Sunday. Without the Q&A, I need only an hour or two to absorb the event in its entirety; it's unreasonable to block out an entire two-day weekend for whenever the Q&As might be.

The comfort of the celebrities is of course the organizers' priority, so rather than have the stars stand for an hour during Q&A, they're allowed to sit. But the session is held in a conference room large enough that folks in the back can't see someone seated at the front. A simple riser that would elevate the celebrity would be a simple fix.

Last year, I calculated the cost of admission plus that of Christopher Lloyd's autograph and decided it was worth getting the "VIP speed pass", which included admission and autographs by Lloyd and Lea Thompson. The "speed" aspect allowed me to bypass the line for this celebrity, which would otherwise take hours to traverse. But there was no fine print indicating that this privilege was valid only from 9:30 AM to 10:30 AM! The Web site informed me only that I was paying for "a beat-the-line speed pass". Such vague terminology bordered on the deceptive.

Christopher Lloyd at the Q&A.Despite all that, I was still glad for the opportunity to meet the stars. Few people had paid for the speed pass, which also granted exclusive access to Lloyd's Q&A session, which made for an intimate setting. Everyone got to ask a question, with mine being: "Does an actor of your renown still have to audition for parts, or are they written for or handed to you?" Lloyd said that sometimes, the writers say to themselves, "Oh, this script calls for a drunk? Let's get Lloyd." But more often, he still needs to audition, as it's not always clear whether he or someone else will be right for a part. Lea Thompson never showed up, so my pass got me two Lloyd autographs instead.

I also met Marina Sirtis, better known as Deanna Troi from Star Trek: TNG. She was very friendly and fun, laughing and smiling and calling everyone "hon". When I saw the various 8"x10" glossies she had available to autograph, I chose an off-camera shot from First Contact, commenting, "You were so funny in that film!" She responded, "I was more myself in that Star Trek movie than in any other."

I had some time to kill between sessions, so I sat in on a Q&A by Kristin Bauer, who plays Pam De Beaufort on True Blood. I'd never seen this show so wasn't very interested, but she redeemed herself with the credit of playing Lt. Laneth on an episode of Star Trek: Enterprise.

I ended the show by getting Peter Mayhew's autograph. The taciturn Wookie didn't have much to say and didn't offer to personalize his signature, though he did do so after I handed it back with the request.

The headliners for this year's Super Megafest are Patrick Stewart and Sean Astin. After a month of waffling, and with just a week to spare, I coughed up the dough for another VIP speed pass. I'm a bit disenchanted with Super Megafest, though, and would not have been roped in for another expensive pass for anyone other than Captain Picard.

The Public Library: Netflix 2.0

13-Jul-11 3:49 AM by
Filed under Potpourri; 2 comments.

My friends and I have diverse film experiences. They tend to see more movies than I do, whereas I see more unusual or esoteric ones. Where they've seen Dr. Strangelove, I watched Fail-Safe; for their Zombieland, there's my The Lost Skeleton of Cadavra. As a result, we often exchange recommendations, though even our acceptances take different forms: their "I'll add it to my Netflix queue" to my "I'll borrow it from the library."

I understand Netflix's appeal and the purpose it serves: it provides its customers with easy opportunities to expose themselves to a variety of movies and television shows they'd otherwise never see, and for a more affordable price than traditional purchases or rentals. Doing all this without leaving home is convenient, and the option of streaming it directly to your set-top box makes it unnecessary to anticipate your desires more than a few minutes in advance.

Library DVDs

All these DVDs can be yours, for the right price: free.

But for all this, and especially in light of its recent rate increase, Netflix still strikes me as an inferior choice next to the oft-overlooked public library. This venerable institution is sometimes seen as a destination more for children than adults, or for the decreasing number of bookworms in an increasingly multimedia world. But libraries and librarians are often on the cutting edge of technology, which for more than a decade has included such basic offerings as DVDs.

Anyone with a library card can borrow movies and TV shows for free. Much like Netflix, such requests can be made online: just search the library's online catalog, click a button, and the item will be set aside as soon as it becomes available. If the local branch doesn't carry a specific title, odds are their interlibrary loan (ILL) program can procure it at no additional charge. They'll even send an email when the item is ready to be picked up.

True, libraries don't provide streaming media — but my limited understanding of this aspect of Netflix gives me the same opinion of that service as I did of DivX a decade ago. Streaming media does not offer the wealth of bonus features and other additional content that add value to the physical disc. Viewers who still want those can order the disc from Netflix — but at that point, why not use the library?

Besides there being no monthly charge, no limits on borrowing, and no commitment to a persistent membership fee even when life is too busy for movies, there's a far more important reason to consider the library. The challenges of today's economy have afflicted civic services, and libraries are one that we cannot afford to lose. Libraries are a vital element of not just a democracy, but a thriving economy. In one study, every dollar invested in library services returned an increase of $9.08 in gross regional product and $12.66 in total state wages, making them one of the best investments our society can make.

Fortunately, your patronage is just as valuable as your money. At the same time funding is reaching all-time lows, library usage is at an all-time high. When it comes time to allocate next year's budget, one of the best arguments libraries can make is to demonstrate the need and desire for their services by pointing to current usage trends. Every DVD borrowed from libraries is another point in their favor, allowing them to continue to encourage a literate and employable citizenry, both in today's generation and tomorrow's.

No alternative — not Netflix, not Best Buy, and especially not piracy — offers cineasts as much bang for the buck as the public library. Where else can one promote literacy without reading a word or paying a dollar?

If that's not a bonus feature, I don't know what is.

Tom Servo's Christmas Concern

24-Dec-10 9:30 AM by
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Happy holidays from Showbits! As is tradition, I would like to celebrate the season in classic, comedic style with the residents of the Satellite of Love. This collection of MST3K performances has three skits, but I've limited it to the most passionate and my favorite:

This is Showbits' fifth annual Christmas greeting from MST3K and harkens back to the first, when the site was less than two weeks young and run by someone who was recently out of a text-based environment and still unsure how to use multimedia.

May our holidays be rich with humor and cheer!