Super Megafest 2012: Superman, Hercules & TRON

31-Dec-13 1:29 PM by
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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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Iron Man vs Superman vs Star Trek

29-Apr-13 12:01 PM by
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The summer movie season kicks off this week, with dozens of big-budget blockbusters maintaining the momentum through Labor Day. Although our attention may be piqued by many films, from Pacific Rim to The Wolverine to Now You See Me, only three film have bubbled to the top of my must-see list. For each one, I am cautiously optimistic, as each has the potential to be awesome — or to soar too close to the sun and plummet spectacularly.

I have purposely avoided trailers for each of these three films. If the purpose of a trailer is to sell its audience on seeing the movie, then mission accomplished: I'm sold. Many trailers do so by featuring the film's best moments, and I'd prefer to avoid such spoilers and see them in context. If you're of a similar mindset, you're welcome to skip over the trailers embedded below.

Despite ignoring these media, I've still absorbed critical details about each of the films. So here is my breakdown, which I'd like you to use to answer the question: If you could see only one movie this summer, what would it be: Iron Man 3, Star Trek Into Darkness, or Man of Steel?

Iron Man 3 (May 3)

  • Jon Favreau, director of the excellent Iron Man, is not at the helm of this sequel. How good can it be?
  • Jon Favreau, director of the mediocre Iron Man 2, is not at the helm of this sequel. How bad can it be?
  • Written by Shane Black, who also wrote the excellent Robert Downey Jr. noir comedy, Kiss Kiss Bang Bang.
  • It's been only a year since we last saw Robert Downey Jr. as Tony Stark; his Avengers teammate, Thor, is also returning to the silver screen later this year. Is Marvel running the risk of saturating the superhero genre?

Star Trek Into Darkness (May 17)

  • Likely J.J. Abrams' swan song in Gene Roddenberry's universe before he departs to play in George Lucas's sandbox.
  • Benedict Cumberbatch is the villain — but do we know yet what character that is? Could Paramount be playing this too close to the chest?
  • Star Trek XI was the highest-grossing Star Trek movie of all time; it earned almost as much as Star Trek Generations, First Contact, Insurrection, and Nemesis combined. Can lightning strike twice?

Man of Steel (June 14)

  • The first Superman film reboot since Christopher Reeve's 1978 movie.
  • Smallville was on the air for a decade before signing off in 2011. Is it too soon for more Superman? Or is this just the right time to capitalize on the character before he fades from public consciousness?
  • Directed by Zack Snyder, who's had mixed critical success with past films 300, Watchmen, and Sucker Punch.
  • Produced by Christopher Nolan, who directed the recent Dark Knight trilogy. He knows how to make a superhero relevant and cool — but Batman and Superman are the dark and the light. Will Superman become a brooding badass?
  • The film's title does not actually say "Superman", in much the way the first seasons of Enterprise did not include "Star Trek". That didn't work out so well, either. Are the producers trying to cast this as something it's not?
  • This film holds the potential to set up a Justice League team-up movie. If well-executed, could DC finally begin to rival Marvel in silver screen popularity?

Fortunately, we can have our cake and eat it, too: I'll be seeing all three of these films in due time. What about you?

Identity crisis in Man of Steel trailer

14-Dec-12 12:55 PM by
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Tis the season for superhero reboots: Spider-Man got his this past summer, and the Fantastic Four will get a makeover in 2015. Between those two will be the most iconic superhero of them all. Kal-El, the Last Son of Krypton, will become Clark Kent, then Superman, this June 14 in Man of Steel, an original film directed by Zack Snyder (300), produced by Christopher Nolan (The Dark Knight Rises), and written by David Goyer (Blade II, Jumper, The Dark Knight, Ghost Rider 2). With teasers having been released at this past July's Comic-Con, it wasn't until this week that the masses got their first glimpse of Metropolis' defender with this full trailer:

Man of Steel is the first Superman film (if it can be considered that, given the movie's title's lack of nomenclature) to not be based Christopher Reeve's interpretation since he made that role manifest in 1978. Bryan Singer's 2006 sequel was both empowered and limited by its adherence to continuity, and though I seem to be one of the few who enjoyed Brandon Routh in the role, even I agree it's time for an original retelling.

And that we'll get: Snyder's version appears to focus away from the action and more on the character. Although there are hints of super-powered villains, the film's tension appears to originate from the identity crisis Kal experiences. Is he an alien, a Kansan, or a Samaritan? How will he balance his responsibilities to himself, his family, and his world? It doesn't sound like the stuff of a Hollywood blockbuster, yet with such a storied production crew behind it, Man of Steel has potential to deliver the movie franchise back into the sun.

(Hat tips to Gene Demaitre, Kevin Melrose, and Keith Shaw)

DC Superheroes Duke It Out on DVD

06-Apr-10 1:03 PM by
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DC, the animation house responsible for Batman and Superman, have in the last few years brought their stable of superheroes to life in a series of direct-to-DVD feature films. From the aforementioned mainstays to less popular heroes Wonder Woman and Green Lantern, each has gotten a crack at the spotlight. But despite extended length compared with their television series and PG-13 ratings, I found that two recent installments don't always do their heroes justice.

Superman/Batman: Public Enemies is based on the first six issues of the Superman/Batman comic book that launched in 2003. When Lex Luthor is elected president, one of his first acts is to declare his two arch-nemeses enemies of the state. With villains out to collect the bounty and vigilantes-turned-soldiers determined to follow the letter of the law, Batman and Superman have few places left to turn.

The plot consists mostly of blows being traded among a cavalcade of DC superheroes. While this who's-who of the DCU can be fun for fans of the comics, it doesn't leave much room for character development. There are a few insightful moments, be it in dialogue or in cooperative battle tactics, that reveal Superman and Batman's relationship and ability to work as a team, but mostly it's just one action scene after another.

But the presentation of this film is fantastic, with a vaguely anime-like look. Kevin Conroy and Tim Daly reprise the titular roles they've become famous for in the last two decades, while Clancy Brown and Allison Mack (the latter of Smallville) turn in admirable performances as Lex Luthor and Power Girl, respectively. Unfortunately, the script doesn't afford Power Girl much respect, leaving her a weak-willed woman. (Can you spot LeVar Burton's cameo?)

Batman and Owlman

Batman and Owlman face their counterparts.

Public Enemies was followed this February with DC's seventh and most recent video release, Justice League: Crisis on Two Earths, in which our heroes — Superman, Batman, Wonder Woman, The Flash, Green Lantern, and Martian Manhunter — travel to a mirror universe, where heroes are villains and vice versa. Such an encounter could be a fascinating opportunity to delve into what makes someone be good or evil, but the running time of just 75 minutes affords little opportunity for backstory or character development. The most screen time is given to the trinity of Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman and their evil counterparts: Ultraman, Owlman, and Superwoman, but the only meaningful dialogue is given to Batman and Owlman. There is a superficial love interest for the Martian Manhunter, but it's not explored in any real depth.

Being such a short film, the plot has to move fast. The Justice League's first melee with the Crime Syndicate occurs just 12 minutes into the film, resulting in an exciting airborne battle. In this scene and throughout the film, the Justice League fight mostly random super-powered troops; the movie doesn't pit our heroes against their equivalents until about the one-hour mark.

Again, the animation is top-notch, though there remain instances where CGI is not as seamlessly integrated as they could be. It would've been clever had Batman, Owlman, or both been played by familiar voice actors, such as Kevin Conroy. But we do instead get excellent performances with James Wood as Owlman, Gina Torres (Firefly) as Superwoman, Bruce Davison (X-Men) as the POTUS, and Kari Wuhrer (Sliders) as Black Canary.

Both movies feature trailers and featurettes that we've seen on DC's other DVDs, which doesn't make for very "special" features. A notable exception is Crisis on Two Earths, which includes an original short film starring The Spectre, the DC universe's manifestation of God's spirit of vengeance.

These two animated films feature top-notch production values and are true to their comic book origins without requiring viewers to be familiar with their other animated incarnations. But I couldn't help but feeling that the PG-13 rating was used not to explore mature themes and characters, but to show grittier slugfests. I don't need "mature" to mean "dark", but I do want to see characters embark on a journey, tackling issues with more than their fists.

The Return of Superman Returns

01-Dec-09 2:45 PM by
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Superman Returns, released to theaters in June 2006, was a mixed success: it raked in $391 million from the worldwide box office — a lot of money, but well short of the $500 million expected. Critics were also, well, critical: some found male lead Brandon Routh dull, the plot lacking in action, and the inclusion of Superman's son unnecessary.

But Superman fanboys, even those who can are not blind to the film's shortcomings, still love the film and want even more from it. The various teasers and trailers released at the time revealed footage not seen in the final cut, so we hoped those pieces would be restored in the DVD edition. And though some deleted scenes were indeed made available, there remain even more that were not.

Just as Superman II got a Richard Donner cut, there is now a petition for Warner Bros. to create Superman Returns: The Bryan Singer Cut, named for the movie's writer, producer, and director. These fans have taken what unreleased snippets they could find and strung together this trailer:

As an owner of the original Superman Returns DVD, I would buy another edition and so hope this petition succeeds — but I don't think it will. First, Superman Returns is likely to be dismissed in whatever film is next for the superhero; the potential for a reboot could be confused by further promotion of this film. Second, the Richard Donner cut was a unique situation in which studio politics prevented his vision for Superman II from being realized for more than two decades; I don't know of any similar dissatisfaction on Bryan Singer's part. Finally, since DVDs have regional releases, I'm not sure if it hurts, or is immaterial to, the cause that the petition is based in Argentina.

Nonetheless, you can follow the cause on Facebook or Twitter, though neither have been updated in the last two weeks, just two days after the above trailer was posted to YouTube. Perhaps this cause was just a superhero fly-by-night.

Hat tip to the BlueTights Network.

Super Man Prime

25-Sep-09 1:04 PM by
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October 10th, 2004, was a terrible day. Suddenly and unexpectedly, Christopher Reeve — who for the last decade had fought not only a devastating spinal cord injury, but also a lack of support, funding, and research into curing this condition for millions worldwide — passed away.

Made famous by the Superman movies, Mr. Reeve was known to many only by that role, overlooking his political activism, family values, and talented filmography. This diversity was captured in A&E's biography, as I discovered when I played the DVD to a classroom of high school students, who were surprised by how little they knew of this actor. Several other books and documentaries published both since Mr. Reeve's accident and his passing have added more details and layers.

I am writing this blog post about my personal hero not on October 10th, but today, because this is the day Superman would've been 57. I could write much more about how he has inspired me, and how he embodies what a role model can and should be. But I'll keep this short and celebrate his life, not his death, by sharing his 1979 appearance on The Tonight Show with Johnny Carson — in my opinion, one of the two funniest people of the 20th century. Mr. Carson passed away just three months after Mr. Reeve, but in this video, we can see them both as we remember them, in their prime:

Hat tip to the L.A. Times.

Clash of the Titans

30-Oct-07 6:59 AM by
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Most comic book movies have been adaptations of concept rather than of story. What we've seen have not been translations plot-for-plot from one medium to another, but instead familiar characters and situations being used to invent new adventures for a new audience. Such is the case with the recent direct-to-DVD release .

Despite being animated, this movie is not wholly based on the previous cartoon series, either. The voice cast is all-new, including Adam Baldwin, James Marsters, and Anne Heche. The animation style is slightly different — a bit darker and more detailed (the lines on Superman's face suggest an older, more pessimistic character; whereas Luthor looks leaner and younger). And the story's tone is markedly different from anything that's come before.

The movie's first half-hour is based on the 1993 landmark event: the death of Superman at the hands of the alien Doomsday. And the team responsible for this adaptation has done a fantastic job portraying that titular villain, for Doomsday as a mindless organic killing machine has been captured in all his animalistic and fearsome glory. In all his frenetic action sequences, I never once got the impression that he was angry or vengeful or in any other way emotional, but just a mindless automaton. The closest we get to expression is when Superman is the first to not fall to a single punch: Doomsday cocks his head, intrigued or confused as a dog might be — before quickly resuming the fight. Probably the most humanity exhibited in this entire sequence was by the audience at the fight's climax; Superman (particularly Christopher Reeve) is one of my heroes, and to see his death in any medium is distressing.

And that's an accurate word for this cartoon, which is far more violent than its predecessors. Though the film is judicious in exactly what gets shown, the aggression is nonetheless apparent. In one scene, the camera focuses on a soldier's head disappearing into Doomsday's gigantic fist; the screen pans up to Doomsday's face before we see the muscles of his arm twisting and a sickening crunch sounding. We may not have witnessed the murder, but it certainly leaves little to the imagination. Doomsday isn't the only heartless killer; we also see Luthor economically dispose of one of his hirelings. This is all in vast contrast to the Saturday morning cartoon. As far as I know, there was only one death in Superman: The Animated Series's entire five-year span, and that was the bloodless vaporization of Dan Turpin.

For a story about the death of Superman, this escalation was both necessary and appropriate — and it's still probably less violent than the graphic novels. Yet I was still shocked, being unaccustomed to seeing such slaughter in any Superman vehicle. Shock is a good thing, though; when a character or story becomes predictable is when it loses me as a viewer.

It was this captivating and extended opening sequence that kept me through the rest, though I found the follow-up a bit disappointing. It's not just that the parallels to the comic book inspiration disappear after Superman's death; fitting the entire "Death of Superman" / "Funeral For a Friend" / "Reign of the Superman" story, which originally took more than a year of weekly comics to tell, into a 75-minute movie would be a herculean task. But the original story they've crafted to follow the Doomsday blitzkrieg doesn't strike any chords of emotion or intrigue. It's instead a rather mundane plot with no surprise heroes, villains, appearances, or twists — something I'd expect to find in another episode of a Saturday morning cartoon, if I haven't already, and not in a once-in-a-lifetime comic book epic.

Even if the circumstances of Superman's death and return are not wholly true to the source material, they needn't be; this is a different story, in a different medium. The parts that are done well are done extremely well and make the entire package worth viewing, if not owning.

Rock of Ages

26-Apr-07 4:42 PM by
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Reuters reports that geologists have found a naturally-occurring mineral matching the composition of the fictional kryptonite, as defined by its museum placard in Superman Returns. The authentic substance will, unfortunately, be known by the name "jadarite".

Scientific developments often imitates art, primarily when it comes to science fiction, as detailed in books such as I'm Working On That. So it's neat to see this trend continue with superheroes, even if it's an instance of nature and not manmade technology.

What other substances might they find next? There have been many varieties of kryptonite: green, the fatal classic; gold, which permanently reduces Kryptonians to mere mortals; red, which causes random mutations; and a surplus of single-instance, Bizarro, and alternative media forms, such as pink kryptonite, which alters the affected's sexual persuasion.

My favorite was an episode of The Adventures of Superman in which some thugs were using kryptonite to determine Superman's secret identity: whoever was affected by the passing rock must be the Man of Steel. But one man was unexpectedly impaired by the kryptonite, causing him to pass out. The catch was that, as long as he was unconscious, he was as invulnerable as Superman himself! What a catch-22.

There was also a reference to kryptonite in a comic book that looked at the inspiration people have drawn from Superman. A father worried for his son with leukemia — until the boy, with more confidence than anyone else in the hospital had, said, "Don't worry, Dad; they'll get the kryptonite out." Brave kid — just like the men who have played him. Is it any wonder my hero isn't an athlete or musician, but an actor and his role?

What are your favorite memories of Superman or kryptonite?