Sesame Street parodies the Hobbit, Hunger Games

09-Dec-13 11:18 AM by
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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!

The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug trailer

11-Jun-13 6:03 PM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

Last year's release of The Hobbit was warmly received by this blogger. In many ways, I actually preferred it to the Lord of the Rings: it seemed lighter, somehow, and there was more obvious character growth in our protagonist. Though a bit uneven in pacing, it didn't feel too long, either. It left me eager to see the rest of the series.

That wait got a bit shorter today with the release of the first trailer for the second part in this trilogy. Behold The Desolation of Smaug:

I'm actually a bit underwhelmed by this trailer, which I feel reflects more on the editing than on the source material. There weren't many surprises or major plot references. The most intriguing, but still unsurprising, aspect was the appearance of a certain well-known elf. As someone not well-versed in Tolkien lore, I'm unsure how Legolas Greenleaf works into this tale, seeing as how he was not in the original book. But all will be revealed upon the film's release on December 13, 2013.

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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.

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Take flight to Middle-Earth with Air New Zealand

31-Oct-12 2:04 PM by
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For six films, New Zealand has played host to the denizens of J.R.R. Tolkien's tales, its lush country landscapes providing the fantasy setting of Middle-Earth. While the first film in Peter Jackson's Hobbit trilogy doesn't land until December 14, you can land in Middle-Earth today, courtesy of Air New Zealand, who provides this pre-flight instructional video:

This is no indie work — it features cameos by both director Peter Jackson (who turns 51 today!) and Gollum. Impressive!

I have flown seven flights in the last two weeks, and many more than that every year. Not once have I ever found an instructional safety video that gripped my attention like this one. When else have you ever found yourself indulging in this genre on YouTube?

Well done, Air New Zealand! I look forward to visiting Middle-Earth soon.

(Hat tip: Gina Serpe via Gene Demaitre)

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey trailer

19-Sep-12 11:45 AM by
Filed under Trailers; 1 comment.

The Lord of the Rings made for an epic cinematic tale that debuted in the 2001 holiday season, becoming an annual tradition until the trilogy's conclusion in 2003.

Now we have another three years of J.R.R. Tolkien adaptations to look forward to, as this December 14 sees the premiere of the first of three movies based on The Hobbit, the tale that precedes LotR. (It's not a prequel, as The Hobbit was written first.)

Three movies from only one book is possible because we'll be seeing many of the sequences and scenes that were only hinted at in the original narrative. If you wondered where various characters disappeared to while the story followed the main party, Peter Jackson's The Hobbit trilogy will fill in those gaps. Although skeptics and pundits may decry this elongation as a desperate money grab, one must admit that it's a darn effective one: who's going to see just two-thirds of this tale, especially given previous successes in the series?

Back when the original trailer was released, The Hobbit was still envisioned as a duology. The latest trailer is the first to preview the trilogy and shows more of the scenes that are unique to the film:

I'll be in line on or near each of the three opening nights. What about you?

(Hat tip to Jason Schreier)

The Hobbit trailer, real and literal

11-Jan-12 6:36 PM by
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I'm a fan of The Lord of the Rings — the movies, not the books — and not obsessively so. I saw each of the three movies the weekend they were released, followed by the director's cuts back-to-back in a marathon session seven years ago. But the tale didn't begin with Fellowship of the Ring, and neither did the marathon: we started with Rankin's animated movie, The Hobbit, which I'd seen many times as a child. It's a fun movie and the best in an overall poor series of animated adaptations of JRR Tolkien's books.

It seems the only way we'll have the complete tale in a single medium, animated or live action, is to target the anomalous entry in the above marathon for replacement. Peter Jackson is happy to oblige beginning December 14, 2012, with the first of the two movies, the first being The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey.

This is not technically a prequel, as it was written before Fellowship, but it is indeed set many decades before that 2001 film. Some things remain constant, however: just as the previous trilogy is greatly enhanced by RiffTrax, so too has The Hobbit already begun attracting its satirists:

Like the literal trailer and its lyrics? You can get the song on iTunes for only 99 cents! Good grief.

I eagerly await this return to Middle-Earth and all the good humor it portends.

(Hat tip to Mary House and Know Your Meme)

Summer Shorts: The Hunt for Gollum

06-Jun-09 12:00 PM by
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Hot on the heels of yesterday's Dungeons & Dragons short is another fantasy epic, the length and quality of which is in sharp contrast to Choices. The Hunt for Gollum, released on May 3rd, is a prequel set just before the beginning of The Fellowship of the Ring. At 40 minutes, it stands at the long end of "short", such that it exceeds the constraints of a single YouTube video. The entire film is available as a single high-definition viewing on the official Web site, but here it is divided into four separate videos, compiled into a single playlist:

This film most impressed me in its ability to echo Peter Jackson's trilogy in look, which required not only casting talented look-alikes as Aragorn and Gandalf, but applying high-value costumes and makeup. This could not have been cheap, but the end product benefits from the investment. I speak from experience what a difference such dedication can make. I once appeared in an independent fantasy film called Tomorrow's Night. Whether or not that movie was ever released, I don't know; it may be best if it was shelved, as unlike the low-budget films featured this week, Tomorrow's Night was no-budget.

The no-budget <em>Tomorrow's Night</em> features Ken Gagne as the guy in the potato sack.

The no-budget Tomorrow's Night features Ken Gagne as the guy in the potato sack.

What impressed me less was the script itself. As a prequel, The Hunt for Gollum neither fills necessary gaps nor leaves room for surprises. It can end only so many ways without disrupting what's to follow in J.R.R. Tolkien's well-known trilogy and Peter Jackson's popular adaptation of same. What we get instead is a lot of running around and fighting. Fortunately, that's what Hunt does best, as the choreographer and characters obviously know what they're doing. This film may lack the heavy-handed morality of Choices, but I far prefer it for its ambition and subtlety.

If the idea of an untold tale of LotR doesn't sit well with you, there is some relief to be found in the pending live-action adaptation of The Hobbit, which Peter Jackson is writing as two films. It was originally believed that the second of these films would be an original story filling in the sixty years between the conclusion of The Hobbit and the commencement of Fellowship. Fortunately, Mr. Jackson recently clarified: "We decided it would be a mistake to try to cram everything into one movie… [This] allows us to make The Hobbit in a little more style, if you like, of the [LotR] trilogy."

In part, Independent Online Cinema has done with The Hunt for Gollum what even Peter Jackson would not. Thank goodness to online media for giving us a place to be bold and experimental.

Bored of the Rings

16-Oct-07 1:00 PM by
Filed under Humor; 1 comment.

R. A. Salvatore once opined to me that today's readers grew up predominantly with the visual medium of television. Accustomed to quick action and short narratives, they don't need the amount of detail that J. R. R. Tolkien invested in his novels.

If so, maybe that explains that why I can't bring myself to read Lord of the Rings. Believe me, I've tried, at a variety of points in my life; but no matter how (im)mature I am at the time, I just couldn't get into it. I'm not against the concept, though; like with Shakespeare, I just need the story delivered in another medium.

So combine LotR with comic books, add an acerbic wit, and what do you get? The DM of the Rings, a web comic that uses stills from the live-action films to theorize what LotR would be like played as a Dungeons & Dragons game. Observe as the party is railroaded to key locations:

DM of the Rings #1

Indulge in out-of-character conversations on the slopes of Mt. Cahadras … DM of the Rings #2
DM of the Rings #3 … Dread the coming denizens of the Mines of Moria …

and resolutely defend the residents of Helmsdeep.

DM of the Rings #4

This satirical narrative encompasses the entire film trilogy but focuses on Aragorn's party and their perspective on the second and third films. As a former role-player myself and current fan of the Knights of the Dinner Table comic book, I loved this unique and irreverent take on a classic tale. A couple of marathon sittings will make an enjoyable experience of its 144 strips. When you're done, go behind the scenes in Fear the Boot's interview with the comic's artist, Shamus Young. You may also enjoy Darths & Droids, a similar approach to Star Wars Episode I.

(Tip of the hat to Showbits reader GeneD.)