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!

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Hulk (a) Smash!!

27-Jun-08 11:05 AM by
Filed under Reviews; 1 comment.

Bill Bixby's Hulk impressed on me the quintessential rendition of the monster, which made Eric Bana's take all the more monstrous. I have spent the last five years submerging memories of that 2003 Hulk film, and I worried that this summer's second attempt at the green giant would be more of the same. But with the reassurances of Marvel devotees, I paid my admission and steeled myself for the worst.

It's amazing what a difference is made when a film's star shares my opinion. As Ed Norton said on Jimmy Kimmel, "We're trying to rescue this franchise from the crapper!" He thus took a heavy hand in the scripting and editing of this outing, resulting in a much more engaging and fluid tale.

From the opening, it's clear this film is neither sequel nor remake. Dr. Banner's backstory is told primarily through brief vignettes that play out under the opening credit sequence. This encapsulation suffices for comic book buffs; others will pick up the details from ensuing dialogue. The story is clearly an homage to its television namesake: Within the first few minutes of the opening is a cameo by Bill Bixby, and later there's Lou Ferrigno in a much more noticeable and respectful appearance than in the last Hulk film. This is not a movie-length episode of the television series, but there are many common elements, such as a protagonist on the run, looking for a cure, which could not be present in an "origin" story such as Ang Lee's. The renewed focus on character development is a welcome change from the 2003 version that featured arena-type combat, a ridiculous villain, and a hero we could neither understand nor sympathize with.

The supporting cast here creates a valuable context for Banner to develop in. Like Jeff Bridges in Iron Man, William Hurt has aged into an excellent villain almost unrecognizable from his usual throwaway fare in films such as Michael and A.I. His brassy, hard-as-nails general is someone whose motivations we can almost understand, smartly keeping him from being the true villain. General Ross is also a more interesting father figure than the one Nick Nolte tried to play in the last Hulk film; Banner's relationships are sufficiently complex and painful without introducing unnecessary and villainous family.

As for the Hulk's actual adversary, I was hesitant by what the trailers suggested: essentially an evil Hulk, manufactured through the same means that brought us our original hero. Yet the smallest of details banished my concerns and instead subtly incorporated the Hulk into the rich Marvel mythos. It seems the gamma radiation which put Banner on the lam was a byproduct of research into creating the perfect "super-soldier" — a phrase that should hold meaning to any fan of the Marvel universe.

The Incredible Hulk has a good mix of action and dialogue. Banner is subjected to only three transformations, and in the style of Alien, his first appearance is kept almost entirely in the dark. Action fans may've expected more of the title character and less of his human counterpart, but I think the film's focus is exactly where its cinematic predecessor showed (by counterexample) it should be. (There could've been even more; I'm told there are over 70 minutes of deleted scenes, several of which are visible in the trailers.) Director Louis Leterrier deftly works the threat of the Hulk into even non-action sequences. There's a tense scene in which a metamorphosis begins and Betty climbs atop the thrashing figure to offer calming words, piercing Banner's confused haze to remind him who he is. Perhaps this act struck me for being so similar to my mother's own actions when my father had a seizure.

There are a few inconsistencies. When Banner is driving at night with "a person of interest", he ducks down in his car seat; but the next morning, he feels comfortable strolling through an open glade with her in broad daylight. When threatened, he pushes his love interest away for her own safety — but later, when he knows he's about to transform, he makes no such gestures. Is this guy a brilliant scientist or not??

More to the point: is The Incredible Hulk a brilliant film? I'd say yes, and it's almost enough to make me wonder if the 2003 film was Marvel Comics' attempt at New Coke to make us appreciate the reboot all the more. Iron Man is still the summer film to beat, but as superheroes go, Ed Norton has created an unexpectedly incredible movie.