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Notes From Comic Con: Locke & Key screening

19 Oct

Fox arranged a special Locke & Key screening at NYCC.  I can tell you this much:  the place was packed.  I literally had to stand against a giant cement post to watch it.  And I was one of the last few people let in, in spite of the fact there were probably at least one hundred people left behind me.  It’s no secret fans of the comic book and fantasy television shows were upset at Fox’s decision to not pick up the pilot this Fall.  But I think they made the right decision.  Now, before you get very angry at me and stop reading, take a deep breath and listen…

There are two competing fairy tale shows out there this Fall.  Grimm (NBC) and Once Upon a Time (ABC).  It is true Locke & Key isn’t a fairy tale show but any fan or reader or person with half a brain in their head has to admit it is fairy tale-ish.  I had just come from the Once Upon a Time panel to watch Locke & Key and watching them back to back, I was struck by how similar they both seemed and here’s the problem:  both shows feature a young boy who is struggling to save the world around him from being engulfed by a world of of make believe.  In Once Upon A Time, the world of make believe is reality and in Locke & Key, it’s the opposite, that reality is constantly threatened by magic and fantasy.

While Once Upon a Time has an evil Queen, Locke and Key has the (SPOILER ALERT) evil Echo.  Both females.  Maybe one is younger than the other but both females are set on destroying the world of these young boys.  The other similarity is that Locke & Key has flashbacks throughout the pilot and while I don’t know if that will be standard (but I’m guessing it probably will be because how else do you get your mythology across and explain the past’s grip on the present) on this show, it is ingrained in Once Upon a Time.  Sure the styles of the flashbacks are even different but the narrative structure itself is a bit too similar for comfort.  At least in the competing season.

Yes, the idea is neat.  There exists a set of keys that opens doors throughout the Keyhouse, a mysterious mansion in New England where the Locke family retreats after their father has been killed.  There are three siblings and each will gain a power with a specific key… The keys open doors that will transform people who walk through them.  Apparently Rendell Locke (Mark Pellegrino plays the deceased dad) used these keys copiously and his family is now paying the price.  His three children, Bode (Skylar Gaertner), Tyler (Jesse McCartney) and Kinsey (Sarah Bolger) begin to uncover the secrets and must grapple with their own issues regarding their father’s violent death.  Their mother Nina (Miranda Otto), appears to be having a nice time with their long-lost uncle, Duncan (Nick Stahl), because they spend A LOT of time together.

The family must battle their greatest known enemy, Sam Lesser (Harrison Thomas) who killed Rendell for seemingly no apparent reason until we learn in the pilot it was at the urging of Echo (Ksenia Solo).  Although the siblings battle Lesser and Echo kills him for the time being (there seems to be an implied promise she can bring him back), we know their nightmare is only just beginning.  At the end of the pilot, we go deep inside a tree and discover that is where Rendell has hidden memories kept hidden.  These memories are represented by miniature versions of people in jars and we focus on one of his wife, Nina.  Honestly, I didn’t even understand what was going on there, I had to read about the San Diego Comic Con panel to discover that’s what the jars represented.  That was not Joe Hill‘s idea or in his comic book originally, that was Josh Friedman‘s idea (who wrote the pilot).  I’m glad I found that explanation as that was completely confusing and guess what Dreamworks/Fox?  I teach film and television and have to understand strange and complicated film and television constantly and I didn’t figure that out.  How is your average viewer going to get that?

I know many fans are disappointed and I do think this show could still work.  I know that Dreamworks (who acquired rights to make the pilot after Dimension Films lost them) wants to keep it alive and I have a feeling Fox wouldn’t be opposed to it but there needs to be a little time and distance between Once Upon a Time, Grimm and Locke & Key.  They did a good job with casting Nick Stahl as Duncan who has been a favorite of mine since HBO’s Carnivale but they had him looking so geeky it took a while to recognize him.  Note to director Mark Romanek who every male reviewer seems to get very  excited over:  don’t make Nick Stahl look geeky.  You’re ruining a built in female audience.  And perhaps Steven Spiellberg, once again, can stop trying to manipulate the audience with his agenda of forcing people to identify with some cutesy, misunderstood boy.  Am I the only person on this planet who sees that we are just seeing another version of E.T. whenever we get a young boy in the lead?  Think about it:  missing father, misunderstood kids, pre-occupied mother (or dead mother, pre-occupied father), something supernatural or other-worldly.  It is the same story over and over again.

Notes From New York Comic Con: MTV’s Death Valley Panel

19 Oct

In all honesty, I kept meaning to watch MTV’s new show Death Valley but I hadn’t gotten around to it.  I even downloaded the first episode for free from iTunes a couple of months ago.  But I got busy and distracted.  Then I noticed at NYCC there was going to be a Death Valley panel so I figured, why not?  Let me just start off by saying even if this show has no class (which actually isn’t meant as a criticism or a put down, it’s just the nature of the show), MTV was kind enough to pass around very nice UTF (Undead Task Force) baseball caps.  Yes I got one.  And at some point, I plan on wearing it.

At Saturday’s panel there was a screening of an upcoming episode where zombies attack the police station.  It was quite a ride and judging from the 13 year old kid sitting next to me, pretty great in the gory department.  The kid flipped his gord every time a zombie got decapitated or sliced and diced.  Sadly, I began enjoying all the zombie violence myself.  It was such a satisfying episode I went home and promptly watched all six episodes available for viewing on MTV/Death Valley‘s website.  Yes, I know, I’m not their target audience but there are a bunch of adult females that actually do have a sick sense of humor.  Nobody appreciates us yet as an audience.  That is probably a mistake but that’s another panel that will probably not see the light of day at any Comic Con any time in the near future:  adult women and horror/comedy:  a new market.

What works about this show is the excessive comedic gory violence, the spoof of the reality show COPS, and the parodies of the many police procedurals that take themselves and their characters so seriously, along with the fact that in Los Angeles the San Fernando Valley is a sort of open joke.  It’s also well known for it’s porn industry and obviously Death Valley couldn’t pass up an opportunity to do an episode about that.  No, the show is not politically correct in the least.  And while as a female viewer, I do get sick of the lesbian kisses, etc. that guys seem to throw in for good measure whenever they can, they at least put in enough gratuitous sexual content that can offend both sexes so I feel it’s a bit more of an egalitarian show.  For instance, in the episode we watched at NYCC, Officer Rinaldi (Tania Raymonde) tells Officer “John John” Johnson (Texas Battle) that she’ll spend the night with him if he’ll kill all the zombies.  What ensues is “John John” single-handedly killing loads of zombies while the Captain (Bryan Callen) holds everyone back since he’s in “the zone.”  Obviously this zone has been induced by the promise of sex with Rinaldi and it’s an exaggeration but still an example of what men will sometimes do to get laid.  The best part of the scene, however, happens when one of his fellow officers hands him a root beer after his zombie killing spree.  I won’t ruin it.  You have to watch for yourself but it is worth the wait.

The panel itself consisted of Spider One (who conceived the show after moving to the San Fernando Valley from Hollywood), one of the Executive Producers/Writers, Eric Weinberg, and three cast members; Tania Raymonde (Officer Rinaldi), Texas Battle (Officer “John John” Johnson) and Charlie Sanders (Office Joe Stubeck).  Spider One (Rob Zombie‘s brother) shot a sample pilot on a super-low budget of $500 and took that around town, pitching it and that’s what ended up getting the show a pilot order from MTV.  Spider also discussed the fact that there has not been a lot of mythology written about the origins of the zombie virus and why there was a sudden influx of zombies, vampires and werewolves to the Valley a year before.  He and Weinberg said that some questions will be addressed in upcoming episodes but there isn’t some giant show bible like some shows create that gives a mythology/backstory to why everything is the way it is in the narrative world of a television show.

They also said that there is a bit of improv in the show since that is Charlie Sanders background (and he still does improv on a weekly basis).  Texas Battle discussed how pleased he was that he is able to appear in two television shows at once – Death Valley and Bold and the Beautiful.  Tania Raymonde had to spend a great deal of time brushing off Battle’s come-ons through the entire panel.  It looked like she had to endure a lot of bad behavior from many of the guys.  Not a great position for any female to have to deal with.  And I say that from personal experience working in the film business.  It’s a bit disheartening to see it still not only goes on but even goes on in front of an audience at Comic Con!  That seems to be a tradeoff, to get really bad humor on TV you have to deal with lots of sexist jokes.  Sometimes they are no big deal and you aren’t offended.  Most of us women do get that is part of the job but there’s a line.  Jokes are fine but when stuff gets directed at you, it feels creepy.  It’s no longer funny.   It’s just fascinating to watch how a creative environment operates because really, there aren’t any rules.  That’s not a judgement.  It’s an observation.

Notes from New York Comic Con: Dark Shadows Panel

16 Oct

I believe Saturday afternoon, I might have found my inner-geek.  And while I would not dress up as a character from the show (although all I’d have to do is put on a late 1960s dress), I found myself enjoying the panel for Dark Shadows as a (sshhh!  please don’t let anyone else hear this) f-a-n.  Ok, a fan but unfortunately also a trained academic and unimpressed person who has worked in film.  But as fanlike as I can probably ever be in my life.  To appreciate this fandom… you must travel back with me to around 1974.  Yes.  I’m that old.  I was a little girl.  I hated school.  I mean HATED school (ironic that I would end up teaching university courses for so many years) and I discovered one day in the summer when it was too hot to leave the house that there was this GREAT soap opera on (obviously re-runs) called Dark Shadows.  I became addicted.  I watched religiously.  It was on in late afternoons.  I planned on coming home from school every day to watch.  After the first day of school, I practically ran home to discover… cartoons.  WTF???  What happened to my show?  I went nuts.  I made my mother buy the TV Guide and combed through it.  I discovered the ultimate betrayal:  they switched the time to 12:30 p.m. on weekdays.  I knew what I had to do.  I snuck out of school at lunch and ran home to watch Dark Shadows and somehow managed to make it back everyday without being late.  This went on for about two months until they pulled it.  Before the end of the show.  Thanks a lot channel 26.  I wouldn’t see the rest of the show until I was an adult.  But that show stayed with me.  Poor Barnabus Collins, the misunderstood vampire.  It wasn’t that Barnabus was in any way hot, but there was just something appealing about him.  The threat of violence?  The fatality of his love?  I don’t know.  I was a child but even though I got a bit creeped out and scared, I had to watch.  What other show on the air had storylines about parrallel time, flashbacks, vampires, werewolves, witches, and ghost children?  Oh yes, and an evil doctor, Dr. Hoffman, hopelessly in love with Barnabus Collins while he lusted after someone else.  Even better, someone dead (alive somewhere though in a parallel time, probably).  I might not get excited about sword fights and trolls and otherworldly creatures whose names I can’t pronounce when I’m reading but apparently, I do like the supernatural stuff.   I guess it is time to admit it to myself and accept it.  I am a secret geek.  Or not so secret if you ask any of my friends.

What does all this have to do with the Dark Shadows panel at NYCC?  Everything really.  Because that is why the panels exist.  For fans like me.  I was actually excited to finally see Kathryn Leigh Scott who played Maggie Evans and Josette DePrés.  Since this was more about the publisher, Hermes Press, trying to exploit their newest re-issue of Dark Shadows comic books, only Kathryn Leigh Scott was making a personal appearance.  Lara Parker (the evil Angelique who was a witch who was in love with Barnabus in 1795 and started off the entire vampire thing) appeared on Skype.  What I began to find more interesting as I watched this panel was the power dynamics going on between these two women.  It is abundantly clear that Kathryn Leigh Scott has managed to exploit her roles as Maggie Evans/Josette DePrés/Lady Kitty Hampshire/Rachel Drummond, and milk them for everything they’re worth.  That is in no way a criticism.  I was impressed how well she’s done it.  Books, personal appearances, audio books, etc. I also notice Scott is far more able to keep everything on track than Parker.  Her adeptness at handling crowds made me think she might consider a second career as a politician.  Seriously.

All of this also made me think of Galaxy Quest, one of my favorite films of all time.  And if you have not seen Galaxy Quest, you are missing out on quite a ride.  It’s a comedy/science fiction/adventure film and if you don’t like it, then I think you might have to have your head examined.  But the dynamics of the stars of the old TV show in Galaxy Quest eerily reminded me of what I witnessed yesterday on the panel.  Ok, just Kathryn Leigh Scott but listening to her description of the reactions of the original actors to the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp film made me think about how some characters/roles become so much of an actor’s personality that it is difficult to let them go.  So I can understand the reluctance Kathryn Leigh Scott has at relinquishing her title as Maggie Evans/Josette DePrés.  Because after this film gets released, if it is any sort of hit, Kathryn Leigh Scott will from that point forward be known as ‘the original’ Maggie Evans/Josette DePrés and that is far different from being her (Maggie Evans and company).  Yes a few others have played the role but this time it’s different.  This time it’s a major Hollywood film and suddenly I felt very bad for Kathryn Leigh Scott who was promoting her new book about the shooting of the film that just may strip away part of her being for the rest of her existence.

If you are wondering why I’m not covering what was said, that was because nothing much was said.  The original cast went to do cameo appearances in the new film.  That’s about it.  They signed non-disclosure statements so they couldn’t talk about it.  Now, this is where I think Tim Burton and Warner Bros. made a mistake.  Uh, you have a built in fan base.  Couldn’t Tim or Johnny have made an appearance at NYCC for this film?  Them talking along with Kathryn Leigh Scott would have upped the ante significantly – a combination of old and new Dark Shadows.  I’m sure the audience would have eaten the trailer up.  I’m not entirely sure what Warner Bros. was thinking but their marketing people might want to get their heads out of their asses and exploit something that is already in place.  What a wasted opportunity.  Oh, and some promo stuff would have gone a long way.  Now that I’ve experienced a Comic Con for the first time in my life, I cannot believe how short-sighted Hollywood can be.  They aren’t exploiting enough film and television panels on the East Coast.  And just an FYI, almost every single TV panel I went to was standing room only, or close to it.  Word of mouth among geeks is worth a lot more than some wasted advertising, marketing people.  Just remember that.

As for Dark Shadows, I will be going to see it next May, it’s tentative release date, but I won’t forget Warner Bros. wasted a great opportunity.  Just for that, I’ll go at the matinee price.

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