Thursday, July 30, 2009

Review of Comic Con '09: Thursday

My first trip to comic con I only went because my then-boyfriend bought me a ticket. I didn't think I'd find anything that appealed to me, but boy was I wrong. Every year since then I have found more things to love about comic con, and every year has been a completely different experience.

To adapt to the increased popularity of comic con in recent years my plan of attack was to try to find rooms that would offer several panels that I would enjoy in a row so that if I had to wait in line for a room for hours, at least I'd get more than an hour of entertainment for it. I think this plan worked pretty well.

Before I can discuss Thursday at Comic Con I want to address the whole Twilight scandal. In case you are unaware of the situation many twilight fans started waiting in line for the New Moon panel the night before, and many more showed up ridiculously early in the morning. None of this would have been a problem, except that said panel was scheduled to take place after the Disney 3D panel which included previews for Alice in Wonderland and Tron. As a result the room was filled with Twilight fans who got in line so early that regular comic con attendees who aren't used to showing up so early for panels were unable to see the panel.

I was one of the people waiting outside who didn't get in to see the Disney 3D panel even though I started waiting in line two hours before it started. I was pretty upset, especially when I found out that I had missed seeing Johnny Depp, but I don't think blaming Twilight fans is fair. True it's easy, and entertaining, and Twilight is a horribly-written series that is casting abusive relationships in a positive light to the tween girls it is aimed at, but Twilight fans were not to blame for this, they were just an easy scapegoat.

If anything I think it was poor planning to put the Twilight panel second when so many of the fans were not interested in the other panels and would have left afterward to clear it up for Disney fans. Still, Disney is a big name and I can understand why the planners of Comic Con would think to put it first. They simply underestimated the obsessive nature of some of the Twilight fan base. Not all Twilight fans are crazy obsessed teenagers, however. Many have a sense of humor about it, like the two ladies line in front of us.

The most common complaint I heard was that Twilight fans filled up the Tron panel when they couldn't care less about Tron, but in a twist of irony I heard this from Watchmen fans who were sitting through a Vampire Diaries panel that they couldn't care less about so that they could get good seats for the director's cut. My point is that with the way things have gone recently you HAVE to occasionally sit through some panels you don't particularly care about if you want a good seat for the panels you DO care about. For people who don't like that, tough cookies. You should have showed up earlier.

If nothing else you have to admire the commitment of fans who are willing to spend the night outdoors waiting in line for an hour long panel that wasn't actually very exciting. Compared to many of the other panels I attended the answers of the cast were rather lackluster, with the director's responses being the most entertaining, though I'm surprised Robert Pattison even returned after last year's experience, he seemed to survive this year by exuding an aura of distaste for everything around him and answered every question directed towards him with I'm not even in most of this movie except as a figment of Bella's imagination. You could tell what he was thinking while he said that "Why did they even make me come this year?" The actress who plays Bella was either in some sort of zombie-themed comic con attire or on drugs, and she definitely seemed to be lusting after the brains of the actress who played Alice. The actor playing Jacob was by far the most personable because he only recently beefed up and still seemed dazzled and flattered by the fan adoration. I bet by next year he'll be skulking with Pattison trying to avoid the crazies. At least the studio picked the clips well.

The first clip pictures Jacob teaching Bella how to drive a motorcycle because Bella is trying to put herself in danger so that she can imagine the jerk that dumped her telling her to be safe. Bella hits her head and Jacob takes off his shirt to dab rather ineffectually at her wound.

The second clip is of Edward trying to commit suicide by glittering. I kid you not. For those unfamiliar with the book Edward's psychic sister sees Bella jumping off a cliff and thinks she's committing suicide. Edward discovers and immediately tries to kill himself as well, except apparently vampires are incapable of killing themselves. So naturally, he goes to the vampire mafia in Italy and asks THEM to kill him. They deny his request because apparently he's to pretty to die. He then decides to take matters into his own hands and reveal the vampire secret to humanity so that the mafia will be forced to kill him in retribution. He decides to do this by stepping out in the full sun at a big event in Italy and glittering in front of everyone. Now, if I saw some shirtless guy looking like Edward with lots of glitter on I'd just assume he was gay, but then again I'm a theatre student in the Bay Area. Maybe Italians would know to run away in fear from the glitter terrorist. At any rate the clip shows Bella running up trying to stop him as he slowly walks out of an alley while unbuttoning his shirt. The screaming this incited in the audience was painful.

After the Twilight panel came the panels that my roommate and I were interested in because we suffered through the Twilight panel to hear about Avatar and Terry Gilliam. We're rebels like that. The Avatar panel was exciting. Sigourney Weaver was there and we saw 25 minutes worth of clips from the film. It looks good. Interestingly enough you can see the effect of James Cameron spending all that time doing sea life documentaries in the fantastic characters in the film. I still maintain that the depths of the ocean probably hold far more fascinating and bizzare creatures than we will ever find in space.

The Terry Gilliam panel was delightful. The Imaginarium of Dr. Panassus looks good, and I'll be seeing it even if it didn't just because it will be so full of hot (it has Heath Ledger, Collin Firth, Jude Law, and Johnny Depp.) Gilliam said that what inspired him to make the movie was all of his recent flops. He started feeling like people didn't want to watch the kinds of stories that he wanted to tell any more. He then proceeded to make a movie about an old man who is part of a failing traveling show. Part of it takes place in the real world, and part of it in the fantasyland behind the mirror and Gilliam quipped that he hoped that would help to keep his audience's attention. I just hope that Gilliam hasn't made a deal with the devil to achieve eternal life so long as he gives up all of his children on their 16th birthdays like Dr. Parnassus. Verne Troyer appeared at the panel as well because he's in the movie.

Terry Gilliam was also very good at answering the mainly inane questions that were asked. You can tell that he's used to answering stupid questions. Hall H, which is where all of these panels took place, holds 6500 people, and it appears that some people will wait in line to ask questions just to be on the video screens in front of so many people. There were three guys that seemed to just wait in the line to ask questions all day, and many didn't even seem familiar with the work beyond the clips just shown to them. There were at least 3, usually more, variants of the question "Where do you get your inspiration from?" PER PANEL. Gilliam handled one of these asking specifically about his Monty Python work candidly and with humor when he replied that part of the inspiration for the crazy designs were all the all-nighters he pulled to finish it. He joked that when he is running low on ideas he'll still just not sleep for a while and then ideas will come.

After this panel we went to a small panel on comic podcasting because my uncle was one of the panelists. My roommate and I met up with my sister and cousin there and went to wait in line for Dr. Horrible's Sing Along Blog. We only got in line about an hour beforehand, so the panel had already started by the time we got to the head of the line. At this point some rather rude employees started ordering everyone to get out of line because the room was full and no one else was going to get in. This got us about a dozen spaces closer as the quitters abandoned the cause. We remained steadfast and ignored the yelling employees because really, if a bunch of middle-aged men tried to lay hand on us, a bunch of 20 something girls, we could sue them from a pretty penny. We also knew that some people always stay in the room to see if something good is coming up. We knew many of these people would leave the moment everyone in the room began to sing. As much as I love sing-alongs, they aren't for everybody. We were right, of course, and we got in during the first musical number when the people who had stayed from the last panel started to leave. I'd feel sorry to the people in front of us who left after waiting an hour when they could have got in if they'd waited another ten minutes, but hey, that's what happens when you quit.

In the panel they passed out books with lyrics and call backs written in, which was smart. It was much more successful than the attempted Pirates call back I attended a few years back at the con because people forgot when they were supposed to do what. With people following in the book anyway for the lyrics it was easy for people to do the call-backs as well. It was a lot of fun overall, and it was the first time I had heard commentary, the musical, which was hilarious. I wasn't going to sing because I obviously didn't know the tunes, but the guy sitting next to me goaded me into it, and you don't have to ask me twice to sing. This is because once I open my mouth to sing people usually don't ask me to sing ever again, so I've learned to take them up on that first, naive request. I went home exhausted, but jazzed.

*In case you can't read the fine print on the lovely pink hammer in the last picture, it says: "The hammer is my penis"

Tuesday, July 7, 2009

Crow Road

The Crow Road by Iain Banks begins with the memorable line "It was the day my grandmother exploded." This line is, in fact, a good indication of the rest of the novel. This novel is full of similarly pithy one-liners and hooks (another good example being the start of chapter five: "Right, now this isn't as bad as it sounds, but...I was in bed with my Aunty Janice.") but unfortunately aside from amusing me with the occasional one-liner the book didn't do much for me.

At first, due to the vertiginous style of narrative and its constant switches in time and focus it is hard to pin point any one main character or plot except that all the vignettes center around one family. With time, however, it becomes apparent that novel is following a main character, Prentice, through a fairly linear plot with the rest being flashbacks and the like to relevant scenes in the history of his family, whose sordid past he uncovers throughout the novel.

The history of the family seems to be more eventful than the average one, but not to an unrealistic degree. The novel begins at Prentice's Grandmother's funeral where we meet the family. In order of appearance, more or less, they are Uncle Hamish, who is possessed of several peculiar ideas about religion and how one's life is tallied up after death; Prentice's father Kenneth, a devout atheist who Prentice is currently not speaking to over religious differences; Prentice's little brother James, who spends most of the novel in Australia and doesn't appear to do much worth mentioning in the novel other than being moody and listening to his Walkman; Prentice's mother Mary, who is generally warm and loving and motherly; Aunt Ilsa the world traveler, Uncle Rory who rode off on a stolen motorcycle years ago and hasn't been heard from since, Prentice's older, and if you ask Prentice smarter, funnier, and all-around better, brother Lewis; Uncle Fergus, the widow of Prentice's Aunt Fiona and father of twins, he is also the richest and most powerful man in town and the uncle of Verity whose beauty is matched only by her poor taste in men and who has won Prentice's heart. Last but not least I'd be remiss if I did not mention Ashley, who is not a member of the family, but is rather a family friend. Prentice didn't get along with her much during school and in fact broke her nose with a snowball containing a rock. Despite this fact she spends a fair amount of time in the novel taking care of him while he blubbers drunkenly.

All of these people and more populate the novel following a rather predictable path based on the introductions given at the beginning of the novel. I don't recall being surprised by any incident in the novel, which is saying something for a novel that mostly just bounces from incident to incident. A large number of said incidents seem to involve sex or large amounts of alcohol, or both. At what might be called the climax of the book (pun totally intended) a very controlled movement of certain muscles in a pulse-like fashion leads to one character confessing their love to another in Morse code.

Overall the novelty of the bizarre incidents and one-liners wore off pretty quickly and I didn't find anything particularly deep to sink my teeth into. The only part of the book that was even remotely challenging was the non-linear plot structure, but after latching onto the one main through line even that was relatively easy to deal with. There were a couple interesting bits contemplating religion or death, but overall nothing that I haven't seen said before and said better. When I finished the novel there wasn't any issue that I was left pondering or anything at all that really stayed with me. The main thought that went through my head at the end was a vague feeling of disappointment that it ended in more or less exactly the way I had predicted at the beginning.

To be fair I'm not a fan of strictly realistic fiction. A second fact that might bias me against the book is that it contains a lot of contemplation on religion and despite the fact that it is of a mostly atheistic bent I just don't find religion to be quite as interesting a subject for infinite contemplation as most people seem to. With those disclaimers in mind I'd give the book three stars out of five.

People can be teachers and idiots; they can be philosophers and idiots, they can be politicians and idiots…in fact I think they have to be…a genius can be an idiot. The world is largely run for and by idiots; it is no great handicap in life and in certain areas is actually a distinct advantage and even a prerequisite for advancement. Iain Banks, The Crow Road

“Fairness is something we made up,” he said. “It’s an idea. The universe isn’t fair or unfair; it works by mathematics, physics, chemistry, biochemistry…Things happen; it takes a mind to come along and call them fair or not.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road

“Prentice, have you been reading crime novels instead of your history books?”

I gave a small laugh. “No. The worst crimes are always in the history books, anyway.” Iain Banks, The Crow Road