Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

17-Nov-12 11:41 PM by
Filed under Celebrities, Potpourri; Comments Off on Reflecting on Super Megafest 2011

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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Up the Slipstream Without a Paddle

02-Oct-07 11:25 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

When a student of mine wrote an essay on why the little-known sci-fi film Slipstream was one of the best films of 2005, my interest was piqued. I was already a sucker for any movie featuring time travel, so mix in a glowing review and a famous hobbit, and I was sold. Too bad I ended up wanting a refund.

Sean Astin plays a government physicist with a handheld, software-based temporal translocation unit. By using nearby cell phone towers, he can send himself and anyone in contact with him back in time up to ten minutes, displacing their selves of that previous moment. But the movie applies this concept unevenly. Are their bodies affected, or just their mind? Are objects affected, or are they duplicated? Frequency could be criticized for having an illogical temporal mechanic, but that film was both creative and internally consistent. Slipstream fails in this regard, as we see no truly clever applications of the device other than for do-overs.

It's typical for a movie to introduce the main character and show us his invention in action as buildup for when things go awry. Slipstream rushes this important getting-to-know-you stage by immediately putting Astin in a bank that gets robbed. And not just by any thugs; no, these are British mods and rockers who kept their outfits, hairdos, and tattoos when they turned 40. Despite the heist going off with a hitch and losing several of his comrades, the gang leader has time to stop and steal what he assumes is an expensive cell phone — but is, in fact, the titularly codenamed time machine.

It is the first of the story's many weak points. Already we have stereotypical villains, a loser scientist protagonist, and unrealistic behavior from both. Such examples continue: when the bank robbers get into a car accident, the first squad on the site are… the FBI? They should've gone with the local police, as maybe they've seen Quick Change and then that old "terrorist disguised as a hostage" trick wouldn't've worked again. The masquerade continues moments later as we see the evil mastermind demonstrate that anyone wearing a captain's uniform can get on a plane, without ID.

Worse than any plot holes is the film's ego. It draws out scenes for seemingly no reason than to revel in its own creativity. Other scenes alternate between speeding up and slowing down, as if to hammer into the audience's thick skulls, "Hey, time is fluid in THIS film!" A couple scenes feature the background slowly revolving around the actors, or vice versa. It's like bullet time with one camera and a green screen. But Slipstream is just a shadow of the many films it wishes it was. Just as Overdrawn at the Memory Bank channeled Casablanca, Slipstream imitates Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. Now that's what I call cinematic hubris.

Slipstream's first five minutes — filled with cheesy narration, slow-motion sequences, and screen savers — immediately suggested, "Oh, it's going to be one of THOSE films": not a bad one, but one that sets its sights low. Proper expectations can make or break a film, but even given the proper mindset, I still enjoyed Adam Sandler's Click (and Sean Astin's performance in same) more than this. Slipstream's goofy characters and illogical science make me think it was made for a younger audience, but language and violence have rated it 'R' — yet another inconsistency. Whatever target this film was aiming for, it slipped and slid right off the map.

Is There a Temporal Mechanic in the House?

22-Aug-07 12:37 PM by
Filed under Films, Television; 6 comments.

Time travel is a fascinating concept that is bafflingly unpopular at the box office. With the exception of Back to the Future, few films that dabble in this science fiction staple have become household names — and those that do, such as The Lakehouse and Click, owe their recognition more to the stars than the plots.

Yet even Sean "Hobbit" Astin couldn't elevate Slipstream out of obscurity. But before I review this film, I'd like to rewind the clock and examine its ancestry of other little-known time travel films: Time After Time, Time Changer, Timestalkers, Out of Time, and Happy Accidents.

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Turn On, Tune In, Drop Out

27-Feb-07 1:29 PM by
Filed under Reviews; 2 comments.

In Rodgers & Hammerstein's Carousel, Louise asks if it's possible "for someone to hit you hard like that — real loud and hard, and it not hurt you at all?"

Or, to place the question in a personal, modern context: can I watch Adam Sandler's Click and still have a good time?

By most accounts, this was a pretty rotten film. Fortunately, having appropriately lowered expectations allowed me to find some amusement in what I agree to not be a critical success — for, as anyone who saw Snakes on a Plane can attest, quality of film (C- for Snakes) is not necessarily an indication of quantity of enjoyment (B+).

In Click, Adam Sandler, who can't find enough time to balance work and family, receives from the ever-unsettling Christopher Walken a "universal remote control": a control for the universe (not to be confused with John Ritter's remote in Stay Tuned). With it, Sandler can pause, fast forward, and translate his surroundings — though it's the fast-forwarding that gets him into trouble as he skips ahead in his career, losing out on the accompanying joy of raising a family.

And what a family: wife Kate Beckinsale's "rockin' body", as Walken's character puts it, is enough to make anyone want to slap Sandler silly for skipping even a second with her. Other notable actors: David Hasselhoff and his pearly whites play the part of the pompous boss all too well; and I was surprised to see Sean Astin in a small, almost insignificant role. I thought, after Lord of the Rings, that he was destined for better things. But Henry Winkler was great as Sandler's dad. I hadn't previously realized Sandler's proclivity for recycling: his Waterboy coach and the O'Doyle family from Billy Madison are both present here.

As far as the movie goes, it's a story of maturation and realization that's been told countless times. There's an occasional laugh-out-loud funny moment, though for every clever moment, there's a scatological joke — exactly what I expected from Sandler. The last ten minutes or so, despite also being clichéd, were touching (reminiscent of the climax for Defending Your Life); it's getting there that's the trouble: Sandler learns fairly quickly the curse of the control, and the audience must endure another 30 minutes as this lesson is painfully beaten into his thick skull. With some judicious cutting, this movie could've been a one-hour episode of Amazing Stories.