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There may be red carpets and glamor and great big movie stars in great big movies, but at it’s big, beating, heart, Comic-Con is still about passionate fans of the popular arts, whether of the most arcane and all-but forgotten radio programs or comic strips to the most mainstream and squeal-worthy, like the next installment of the “Twilight” or “Iron Man” sagas.

I’ve said it before. Comic-Con is the Iowa caucuses of popular culture. For a while, there was some attempt to tie in the movies, television shows, books, games, and music on display here to comics. There was almost always some element of fantasy or action. But now even a suburban sitcom has come here to give its first previews. The Comic-Con audience is fearless — they never care what anyone else has said about something or whether it is cool or not. They are happy to decide what is cool and pass it on to the mainstream. By the time the kids who were too cool to talk to them in high school have caught on to whatever is approved here, this crowd will have moved on to something else.

Or by the time others have moved on, they will remain faithful. One of the most endearing aspects of Comic-Con is seeing the audience enthusiasm for people whose work has been overlooked or forgotten by the mainstream. It was a thrill to see a packed ballroom cheering for Stan Freberg, who talked about his experiences doing voices with Mel Blanc for more than 400 cartoons, helping to create “Beany and Cecil,” and revolutionizing advertising with his cheeky commercials for Pizza Rolls and Contadina.

One of yesterday’s highlights was a “Coraline” panel with author Neil Gaiman, writer/director Henry Selick, voice talent Teri Hatcher and Keith David, and some of the other people who worked on the movie. They brought some of the figures used in the film and the detail and sheer beauty were astonishing.

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I’ll be posting more pictures later, plus my interviews with the Winner twins, two of the stars of the forthcoming “Boondock Saints 2,” and more, so stay tuned.

“I really like your fangs!”
This is not a comment I had ever anticipated I’d be making, but at Comic-Con it seemed perfectly natural. As did her response:
“Thanks! We make them ourselves!”
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Some things are different at this 40th anniversary Con. This is the first time there has been an iPhone app to help attendees navigate their way through the hundreds of events and exhibitors. And it has come a long way expanded its range and its audience from the couple of hundred who came to a hotel to swap comics four decades ago. It now includes all of the “popular arts,” movies, music, games, books, and television. James Cameron is here with “Avatar,” probably the most eagerly anticipated appearance, with the “Twilight” cast a close second.
My favorite moment so far was my interview with the Winner Twins, the 14-year-old identical twin novelists. I’ll be writing more about them later. I also attended panels on “Robot Chicken” with Seth Green and Cartoon Network’s “Chowder” and “Flapjack” with their writers and casts. Stay tuned!

Top voice talent and good 3D computer graphics cannot make up for the fact that this film is utterly synthetic as well as crass, loud, and vulgar. Even at a brief running time of under 90 minutes, it overstays its welcome.

A team of super-agent guinea pigs, assisted by a reconnaissance fly and a computer whiz mole (Nicolas Cage), fail in a mission to find out what weapons-dealer-turned-consumer-electronics mogul Saber (Bill Nighy) is up to. So, over the protests of their human leader, Ben (Zach Galifianakis), the program is shut down by the FBI’s Kip Killian (Will Arnett). The guinea pigs and mole have to escape from a pet shop — and from children who abuse them — to prevent Saber’s diabolical plot from being executed.

The script is predictable and derivative. References to other movies like “Die Hard” and “Scarface” may amuse parents and potty jokes may amuse children but they contribute to a crass and lazy feel to the film. The 3D effects are mostly used to make the audience duck flying glass shards and spraying water. If they’re smart, they’ll just duck the movie.

There is little chemistry between co-stars Katherine Heigel and Gerard Butler in this charmless war of the sexes story, but there is even less chemistry between the two genres it tries to combine, the romantic comedy (sunny pop song over opening credits, cute meet, conflict with some sparks of attraction, makeover sequence) and the outrageous sex farce with many raunchy references to sex acts and body parts.

Heigel, whose wholesome beauty worked effectively as a raunch repellent in “Knocked Up,” here plays Abby, a typical romantic comedy heroine — romantically idealistic but a little controlling to make up for her insecurity. She is the producer of a low-rated Sacramento morning show featuring a married couple (John Michael Higgins and Cheryl Hines) who are all perkiness on camera but snipe at each other off air between segments. To improve ratings, she is forced to add Mike (Butler) to the show, a guy from cable access who believes that both men and women need to understand that everyone will be happier if they just acknowledge that we are essentially animals. So, men may pretend they want to respect women but all the time they are listening sympathetically and making romantic gestures they are only hoping to [insert sex act here].

Abby despises everything Mike stands for. But when she meets her very own Dr. McDreamy, a man who has all ten attributes on her check-list, she enlists Mike’s help in bagging him. He tells her to be unavailable, laugh a lot, wear skimpier clothes, never complain (“Even constructive criticism?” she asks in disbelief), and wear lacy, remote-controlled vibrating underpants, which he thoughtfully provides. So we are subjected to a scene in which a child finds the remote control and clicks it on and off and ON and OFF just as Abby is at a restaurant with Mike, Dr. Perfect, and some big shots from corporate.

One scene lurches into the next with no sense of moving toward anything. For a movie like this to work, we need to believe that the parties will come out of their opposing corners and make some progress toward the big clinch. Heigel and Butler seem to be watching the clock, as uncomfortable with their unlikeable characters as we are. The truth may not be ugly, but this movie is.

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