Super Megafest 2013: Celebrating celebrities young & old

02-Jan-14 11:25 AM by
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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…)

Harry Potter and the Half-Adapted Script

04-Aug-09 1:45 PM by
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Though scoffed at by some as children's literature, the Harry Potter series has nonetheless made a fan of me, though not a hardcore one. I bought each book upon its release, read it once, then put it away, never to be re-read. In a way, my lack of fanaticism has prevented me from appreciating the degree of detail with which author JK Rowling has invested her world, as she rarely repeats herself, choosing instead to reward those who have dedicated themselves to her work.

But it took only a single reading for the sixth entry, Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince, to be my favorite book of all seven, so I had high expectations for the movie. I knew the constraints of the film medium would likely leave it wanting, and I was right — but even with that forewarning, I was still disappointed.

I enjoyed the book's depth of characterization, especially as we came to know many players we previously knew only by name and deed. But in the movie, the history of Voldemort, Dumbledore, and the titular prince are all emasculated, and the ending stripped of much of its tension and the opportunity for Harry to show how much he's matured. Further, one of the joys of the books is never knowing what trivial fact will later prove significant. With the hindsight provided by the movies now lagging behind the completion of their source material, I can say that I'm challenged to see how this movie sets up the story's conclusion in the 2010 and 2011 releases of the two-part Deathly Hallows.

If I find fault with the script, I am not so easily critical of its actors: Daniel Radcliffe, Emma Watson, and Rupert Grint continue to perform admirably, as they have since founding the roles in 2001. Perhaps it was because I had, less than a week earlier, experienced my third viewing of the new Star Trek film, but it was in watching Half-Blood Prince that I finally realized that Rowling has done with her protagonists what Gene Roddenberry did with his: created a balanced triumvirate. There is the cool, logical, dispassionate sidekick; an emotional, human counterpart; and the main character who looks to both for support, balancing their advice while still relying on instinct. I am not proposing a one-to-one relation with Spock, McCoy, and Kirk, but there is definitely a tried-and-true formula at work here.

The film makes good use of its minor characters as well. I was consciously aware that Ginny Weasley (Bonnie Wright) had zero lines in Order of the Phoenix, relegating her to annoying pouty faces, which is thankfully not the case here. And Natalia Tena is back as Tonks — but without the purple hair she featured in Order of the Phoenix, seems somehow less cute to me.

From a production standpoint, Half-Blood Prince left me with an observation I've never made about this film's franchise's previous installments: it has an excellent soundtrack. I don't just mean the recurring Harry Potter theme, but also the original pieces that swell dramatically at just the right points. Although composer Nicholas Hopper worked on this film's predecessor, that soundtrack didn't leave an impression. The last film to make me want to buy its soundtrack was Enchanted, which was a musical; for a non-musical to similarly motivate me is unusual.

I did not leave the theater disappointed; the action, acting, pacing, and soundtrack of Half-Blood Prince were together worth the price of admission. But fans of the books will miss what was left on the cutting room floor, and non-readers may find the plot a bit confusing without the underlying support.

I want to close by sharing a product of Emerson College (where I myself am a student), which collaborated with Warner Bros. to create this trailer that takes the unique approach of featuring no actual film footage, instead focusing on how Rowlings' fictional sport has influenced real-life athletes:



Update to the 2007 Hiphop Awards

25-Apr-08 12:39 PM by
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Dear faithful readers: Hiphopguy23 has finally finished watching all the movies he wanted to see that were released in 2007. Therefore, Hiphopguy23 would like to issue some updates to his 2007 Best Movie Awards.

BEST SUPPORTING ACTRESS: Sadly, nothing has changed. There weren't any stand-out supporting actresses so Hiphopguy23 is going to give the award to Cheryl Hines in Waitress. Waitress is a very well acted movie and the award could just have easily been given to the late Adrienne Shelley, but Cheryl Hines was just a wee bit more memorable.

BEST DOCUMENTARY: The King of Kong. This one isn't even close. This is an absolutely astounding documentary, with heroes and villians for you to root for. Never mind the claims that the documentarians "fudged" with the truth. Watch this movie for the entertainment factor. Also, you do not need to be a fan of video games at all to appreciate this movie.

WORST MOVIE: Across the Universe. Yikes, was this movie a disaster. Hiphopguy23 figured, "The Beatles are enjoyable. How could a movie featuring their songs go wrong?" It turns out that you need to be a tremendous fan of the Beatles to even remotely enjoy this movie. The filmmakers picked the most unpopular B-side "hits" to fill out the soundtrack, and there are constant references to obscure lyrics and callbacks to the horrid Beatles movies, none of which Hiphopguy23 has seen. All of this occurs in the most unstructured free-flowing mess of a "plot". Not even a special appearance by Bono could save this train wreck. Hiphopguy23 is curious to hear if any die-hard Beatlemaniac enjoyed this movie, because that seems to be the only audience.

BEST DIRECTOR: David Yates (Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix). Finally, a Harry Potter movie that works! Yates abandoned the "feel-good" vibe of the first two movies and wisely disregarded the "trendy teenager" motif of the third movie. The fourth movie was also too colorful and upbeat for this stage in Harry's life. Yates picks a dark, sinister direction that is very real and very true to life. This movie plays less like a crowd-pleaser and more as a twisted look into the good (and bad) that takes place at Hogwart's. This is the first Harry Potter movie that is better — yes, better — than the corresponding novel.

None of the other awards have changed, so in conclusion, Hiphopguy23 will give his top five recommendations:

  1. 300
  2. Enchanted
  3. Juno
  4. Waitress
  5. The King of Kong

HONORABLE MENTION: Balls of Fury — but only if you prefer your comedy very slapstick.

Double the Potter, Double the Monotony

13-Mar-08 12:05 PM by
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Harry Potter's sixth of seven books will release to theaters this November 21st — but it will not be his penultimate movie.

CNN reports that the series' conclusion, The Deathly Hallows, will be divided across two films. "Unlike every other book, you cannot remove elements of this book," said producer David Heyman. The article also states that "the two final Potter films will be shot concurrently… The first film is slated for release in November 2010, with part two following in May 2011."

Right — because such a release schedule worked so well for The Matrix sequels. Here's an idea: how about the director cut from the middle of the book the hundreds of pages of pointless, inert camping? It didn't make for riveting storytelling in print; now imagine as their tenting explodes across the screen! Sheesh.

I don't approve of how The Golden Compass ended prematurely compared to the book. I hope Rowling's work doesn't suffer a similar ignominy.

Phoenix Descending

18-Jul-07 5:55 AM by
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The Half-Blood Prince was the only Harry Potter book that left me looking forward to the sequel. But before I take that step forward this coming weekend, I took a step back and watched the film adaptation of the series' most boring entry, The Order of the Phoenix.

The movie's opening is fashioned after one of the novels' most lamentable traits: a complete lack of introduction or context. Anyone who is just a casual fan of the series — that is, those who read the books only once each — will have trouble recognizing Dudley Dursley or Nymphadora Tonks in the opening scenes. Indeed, many characters' roles have been reduced, Potter's love interest is of little note, and the titular Order is rarely seen or referenced.

Most disappointing than these cuts, necessary to adapt this behemoth of a book to film, is that the parts cut were the parts I liked. Ginny Weasley speaks not a single word in the entire film, whereas in the novel, she provided a helpful connection between Potter's current dilemma and the one she faced in The Chamber of Secrets. Potter's hesitancy to pursue lessons with Snape is absent, yet that motivation is vital to understand the depth of Voldemort's manipulation. And though we know the Dark Lord is seeking a weapon, but the movie never solidifies what the weapon is, or its value and implications (including to Neville Longbottom and Professor Trelawney).

The Potter films often serve as a useful refresher to anyone who hasn't memorized the source material, and in this case, I was hoping to be satisfied by the movie in a way I wasn't by the book. Though the film was well-acted and had some nifty special effects, its lack of detail — or rather, its choice of detail — left me hoping the silver screen has not overwritten my memories of the original text.

Return to Narnia

21-Jun-07 5:19 PM by
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C. S. Lewis's Prince Caspian, the second book in the Chronicles of Narnia, will be adapted to the silver screen in time for a May 16th, 2008 release, say the IMDb and Wikipedia.

I learned of this upcoming film only from an offhand comment in a completely unrelated blog post. I'm surprised only that I haven't heard more news about it, not that it's in development: with every Harry Potter book making its way to Hollywood, to tap only the first entry in Lewis' classic fantasy series without considering its sequels would've been unnatural. But I'm concerned at the rate of adaptation. The Potter books progressed rather rapidly, with only 18 months or so between each release. There's twice that between the first two Narnia films, which is a long time for its young cast (which is indeed returning for the sequel) to grow up. Kids age faster than adults, if you know what I mean, so I wonder how long this cast will be feasible. OTOH, the cast of the Narnia books is more mutable than the Potter novels. Future sequels will not contain the same characters, so without resorting to recasting, they can still cycle in fresh, young faces as the series progresses.

It's something to look forward to — as if next month's Potter plethora weren't enough. Which series do you prefer?

The Year In Preview

25-Feb-07 10:51 AM by
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Seeing as how the Oscars are to be presented tonight, I thought it time to stop looking backward to the best (and worst) of 2006, and have plotted my moviegoing for 2007. The pickings are slimmer than I thought.

Movies I want to see this year:

Spider-Man 3 (May 4th)
The Transformers (July 4th)
Harry Potter (July 13th)

Movies I wouldn't mind seeing:

Ghost Rider (now playing)
The Astronaut Farmer (now playing)
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (March 23rd)
Shrek 3 (May 18th)
Sin City 2 (September?)

Movies that I can't believe they're making out of TV shows, whether or not they'll be out this year:

The A-Team
Get Smart
I Dream of Jeannie
Land of the Lost
Love Boat

Or video games:

Dead or Alive (June 22nd)
Prince of Persia
Soul Calibur

Or other franchises:

Hot Wheels
Jurassic Park IV
Underdog

What about you — what looks hot, or has you bothered, in 2007?