Sunday, June 9, 2013

White Folk Be Acting Crazy : A Review of The Purge

Let's face it, Denver's homeless issue has gotten out of control. They fill our streets. They plague our mall. Asking for handouts, while fine hard working folks like ourselves have to earn our credits. It's disgusting. This problem has left the realm of annoyance, and has become a spiritual burden. There's nothing left to do but to cleanse these poor souls from our streets.

We thank them for their sacrifice. God bless the new founding fathers on this Purge day.

Sounds kinda like ... I don't know, racist elitism. That's exactly the vibe of James DeMonaco's The Purge. Once a year, America's police look the other way for 12 hours so the populace can let their dark side lose by committing any crime they want. While the "holiday" is sold as a way to let our animalistic personalities be expressed, the movie viewers are slowly exposed to the truth of the holiday. It's an excuse to wipe out the poor and lower class. Hence the recovering economy and lack of crime.

While it's not the most original idea (Star Trek did it in "The Return of the Archons" episode, circa 1967), DeMonaco has given the idea a nice touch of modernity by relating it to the 1% versus the 99%. The have's get to remove the have not's.

The film does this through a nice reminder of the racism that used to (and arguably still does) exist in America. The poor are represented by the only African American of the film, performed by Edwin Hodge. While we initially spend the film questioning Hodge's honesty, by the end the characters find themselves questioning their own morality with what to do with this homeless man on the run. Do they sacrifice him to the elitist Purgers, or do they risk their family in helping to save a life?

My rantings above may make it appear as if this movie is a psychological thriller. Let me assure you, IT IS NOT. The Purge pretends it has layers of political commentary, but at it's core it's just a fun, suspenseful thriller. We spend half the film looking for the black guy in the dark, and the other half is just action-packed with elitists fighting each other. The last bit being one of the best nose breaking scenes in my cinema recollection.

Oh, I did I mention the bad guy's are hilarious. Rhys Wakefield really sells his character's demented appeal. I almost started rooting for him and his masked crew. They just want to have a fun night, like any good All-American group of college kids.

If you're in the mood for a fun thriller with a hint of political commentary, then you should Purge yourself.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Why I chose a game of D&D over William Shatner at Denver Comic Con

Everyone has their geeky side. It doesn't have to be comic books or a science fiction series. Your personal outlet of escapism and enjoyment could be american football. Maybe your outlet is through romance novels, or prime time television drama's. Either way, we all have things we "geek" out over.

For the 48,000 attendees of Denver's second annual Comic Con convention, our outlet was comic books, science fiction and fantasy series, and board games. For 3 days we celebrated the awesomeness that is being a geek.

I attended a couple of panels where the topic was essentially the growing worldwide acceptance of our obsessions with these alternate medias. It was refreshing to feel that connection with people. I'm not alone, and we are not alone.

The highlight of these panels I attended was Wil Wheaton's. Wil Wheaton is widely known for his role in Star Trek: The Next Generation as Wesley Crusher. What's not as well known is Wheaton's lifestyle as a geek, especially in tabletop board gaming. He's a player of such games as Dungeons & Dragons, and Fiasco. Today, Wheaton hosts a YouTube show called "Tabletop" where he and guests play and review board games.

During the panel, Wheaton told a personal story of why tabletop gaming was important to him. It involved a dark emotional time for his family, when the only peace they ever had together as a family was during board game night. During that time, when they were throwing dice and moving board pieces around, all the troubles of the outside world were put aside for just a few hours. All the drama was left at the door, and despite all the problems they were a family again for the duration of the game.

This was significant for me. It reminded me of how much I loved these games and how much I missed playing them. To me, there's nothing better than the creation and escapism of a good tabletop game with friends. Especially tabletop roleplaying games like D&D, Heavy Gear, and Vampire: The Masquerade. I left this panel determined to go to the gaming arena of the convention that night, and join in on a game.

That night I played Dungeons & Dragons with group of people I've never met before. I was nervous at first, but as the game went on that universal feeling of acceptance swept through the room and we had a blast. There were many laughs, some interesting roleplaying, and in the end we had a challenging battle against a Warforged. I left the convention that night with a huge smile on my face, and a determination to experience that again on Sunday. So that night, I went ahead and signed up to play another game the next afternoon.

Now you may be wondering, what does all this geek squabble have to do with William Shatner?

William Shatner was the guest of honor of the convention. Which meant that his panel, scheduled Sunday afternoon at the same time as my D&D game, was one of the few limited engagements of the convention. Only VIP badges were guaranteed admentince. For the rest of us, we had to be part of the first 500 or so to enter the convention floor that Sunday morning to receive a special wristband to gain entry.

To my surprise Sunday morning, I was one of those lucky few who received a wristband to Shatner's panel. Which meant I had to make a choice. Do I go to Shatner's panel, or do I go to the D&D game I had already signed up for?

It may not sound like a very tough decision, but for me it was like choosing between parents. Do I spend time with Dad, or with Mom? In the end, my conscience made the decision for me. I had already committed to play this game. The other emotion tied to this decision is one I struggle to explain. Simply put, I knew I would have more fun sitting around a table of strangers pretending to be warriors and priests searching to solve the mystery of disappearing villagers. I love shared storytelling. To me there's nothing as creative and exciting as that. This was a once in a lifetime experience, where as the Shatner Panel I can probably watch on YouTube later someday.

So as the line for William Shatner's panel started to form, I went out looking for someone to give my wristband away to. I found off to the side of the main line a smaller line of maybe twenty people. I asked the man at the lead of that smaller line what they were lining up for.

"Oh, we're just lining up hoping to fill any empty seats after they let all the wristbands in."

I pulled out my wristband, "Well, I have a wristband and it turns out I can't go. Would you like to have it?"

I'll never forget the look of glee in that man's face. At first it was a questioning look to see if I was serious, but once I handed him the wristband he thanked me excessively and practically skipped his way over to the other line. My heart swelled as I realized I had just made this man's day, if not his Con.

No offense to the awesomeness that is William Shatner, but I'm glad I sacrificed that wristband to give that fan a day he'll probably talk about for months. Plus, I'll always remember the fun I had playing Dungeons & Dragons that afternoon.

So thanks for reading, and as gift to you here's a video of Shatner at Denver Comic Con reading "Where The Wild Things Are" to the kids in the Comic Book Classroom.

Sunday, June 2, 2013

#DCC2013 Day 3

When the convention ended at six o'clock today, I felt immediate remorse. My last walk out the main hallway was slowed by the weight of it's significance. This was the end of a most, excellent journey.  While the convention did have it's problems (cough, morning entrance lines, cough, cough), the sheer awesomeness of the attendees and guests overshadowed those issues.

Again, it's the end of a long day and I must be brief in my telling of it. From an outsiders perspective, my last day is kinda boring due to 60% of it being a game of Dungeons & Dragons. There's more story to this, but put simply I gave away my William Shatner ticket so I could play in a game I already committed to. That may sound lame, but I made someone's day when I surprised them with a ticket. The look of gratitude on his face made it worthwhile.

So BatFans, WILL he take the time to write a summary blog of Comic Con?

CAN he tell you the important details without creating a blog too long to read?

Does he have the charisma, the passion, and THE EGO to presume there's even enough viewership to support such a feat?

We'll find out soon friends ... same Bat Network, same Bat Domain!

Saturday, June 1, 2013

#DCC2013 Day 2

I've somehow conveniently found internet in the Denver Comic Con as I wait here in line for Will Wheaton's panel. The random "line" picture seen here is what the line looks like ahead of me. I'm actually in a good spot all things considered. Plus, I now have internet to entertain me as I wait so I thought I'd share a few photos.

Yesterday must have just been a Cos Play warm up, because today there's some seriously impressive costumes.

Oh, and I met George Takei ...

More to come!

Friday, May 31, 2013

Denver Comic Con : Day One

In short, my first day at Denver Comic Con 2013 was amazing.

It is now midnight. I just got home. I'm getting up at 7am tomorrow so I can catch one the first panels. That is why I must be brief, and why I'm writing a blog from my tablet for the first time. I'm curious to see how well I can edit the pictures in here.

Hmm, looks like I can't. Oh well, so here's a quick commentary followed by some pictures of the day.

This is the first convention I've ever dressed up for. As I walked through downtown Denver sporting the Federation Uniform, I felt that odd outcast sense from the residential stares. Then I arrived at the line for Comic Con and felt right at home. The Cos-Play scene at this Con is very rampant, and very friendly.

I've met an official AMC walking dead zombie, and a professional voice actor (Hal Rayle). I've been introduced to new card games in development. I've seen Felicia Day from a far. I've attended a great panel on the battles of earning a place in the cartoon voice industry.

The highlight though is the strong vibe of respect and acceptance among the crowd of attendees. This really is a celebration of "being" geeky. It's only day one, and I've already had multiple nerdgasms.

OK, enough late night blabber. I'm off to sleep for Day 2. Enjoy a few pictures from my day ...

A Denver Comic Con Prequel Story, featuring Waldrop

It confounds me me that the last time I did something like this was 14 years ago. Before I begin my Denver Comic Con 2013 experience, let's flashback ...

The year was 1999. The location was Dragon Con, a three day science fiction and fantasy convention hosted in Atlanta, GA. I went with a close friend of mine who, while very relevant to the story, we will keep anonymous with the pseudonym "Waldrop". Waldrop was an impressive portrait artist that enjoyed getting his portraits signed by the celebrities they featured. At this point in time, I believe he had an Eric Idle portrait of his signed by Mr. Idle.

That, for the most part, was Waldrop's motivation to come to this convention with me. He had a great portrait drawn of Billy D. Williams as the Lando Calrissian Character, and Billy D Williams himself was to be at Dragon Con that year. So after dragging Waldrop through the trade room with me for a while, we went to meet the great Star Wars traitor himself.

Billy D. Williams from 1999's DragonCon
As we approached Billy Dick William's signing room, we were cut off by security. They informed the line that Mr. Williams would not be signing ANY Star Wars memorabilia. He would only be signing his new book, which we could purchase there for the signing. Well, a couple of underpaid security guards never stopped a pair of teenagers in my knowledge of the history of America. Confident that we could appeal to the "Artist" within Billy D., Waldrop snuck the picture under his shirt and we confidently continued forward. When we reached the book sellers they again warned us Mr. Williams would only sign the new book. We continued on, and Waldrop stood before Billy D. Williams with his portrait in hand.

"Hello Mr. Williams. I understand you are an artist, like myself, and I was just wondering if you had any comments about my piece of you here or maybe if you'd might honor it with your signature?"

Billy D. just stared blankly at Waldrop and said "No.", and pointed us towards the door.

Waldrop was devastated.

Adam West from 1999's DragonCon
I lead us on to the Celebrity Walk, in hopes of raising his spirits with a different celeberity. As luck would have it, Adam West's booth was within sight without a single attendee before him.

"Hey dude, cheer up! Let's go say 'Hi' to Batman!"

If you're not in the know, Adam West is fucking awesome.

I walk up, nerding out to Mr. West about how I grew up watching his show, when he notices the distraught Waldrop. 

"Yeah, that's great kid. What's wrong with your friend?"

Waldrop steps forward, "Billy D. Williams wouldn't sign my portrait of him."

Batgirl at 1999 DragonCon
"Really, what a jerk! Can I see it? Wow kid, this is really good. Tell you what, can I sign it?"

Waldrop begins to lighten up a bit, "Um, sure."

So Adam West signs Waldrop's Billy D Williams Portrait, writing in one corner "Great work kid, keep it up. Love, Adam West" and in the other corner "Sorry I'm such a douchebag. Love, Billy D. Williams".

He gives us the portrait back, and suggests that we get all the other celebrities at the con to sign it. Then we could bring it back to Billy D. and exclaim, "Hey all these other celebrities would sign it, why can't you?"

So that's what we did. A campaign across the DragonCon Celebrity booths to gather signatures to shove in Billy D. Williams face. Now this was 14 years ago, so my memory may be fallible but I remember us getting ...

Apollo Smile at 1999 DragonCon

Yvonne Craig (60's Batgirl)
Apollo Smile
Phillip Brown (Uncle Owen Lars)
Peter Ostrum (Charlie from the Chocolate Factory)
Julie Dawn Cole (Veruca Salt from Chocolate Factory)

Just to name a few of the signatures I remember ...

Now fast forward to 2013 ...

The Denver Convention Center Bear just wants to come in to play!
I'm attending my second convention in almost 14 years since that epic day! I'm excited and hopeful for some new stories to share from Denver's Comic Con. There will be many photos coming to this blog, so stay tuned or subscribed or however you choose to find my blog through the internets.

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Boldly Going : A Commentary on Star Trek Into Darkness


I apologize for starting a blog with required reading, but the situation calls for it. The following article inspired my Star Trek Into Darkness experience to such a degree that I am unable to write without including it.

The article is ...

Harry dives into STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS' spoilers to reveal the truth behind the blockbuster we're seeing!

 ... You're back already? Did you even ... oh alright! I'll summarize with an excerpt ...

The first film saw a 9/11 shock and awe attack upon Vulcan that resulted in it’s complete annihilation.   The attack also targeted Earth…   In addition, that very first attack – it took Kirk’s father – a father that in our beloved Trekverse, lived and served as a constant inspiration for Kirk.   In JJ’s, ol Tiberius has the swagger and the libido of Shatner’s Kirk, but he isn’t prone to preach the ideals of Starfleet.   Instead, he’s raised with at least one step-father that he has zero respect for – and is prone to reckless adrenaline rushes.   Shatner’s Kirk was an adventurer at heart, marveling at the infinite variety of civilizations out there around the stars.  We can see some of that with Pine’s Kirk – he’s anxious to get way out there, but he hasn’t believed in Starfleet for most of his life.

Now – is this Starfleet still based on the idealism of the 1960’s America?    No.   With STAR TREK INTO DARKNESS, the Darkness of the film isn’t Khan.   It isn’t the Klingons or the Romulans, it’s the Darkness that has infected policy in STARFLEET.   In other words, this is a metaphor for a Post-9/11 America.    In JJ’s Verse, he has a Kirk that doesn’t yet value the core beliefs of STARFLEET…   Meanwhile, the rest of his crew…   good souls like Spock and Scotty…   They raise these issues with Kirk, but Kirk doesn’t want to hear it.   He’s us.   Kirk has always been us.   But just like Kirk, we’ve changed.    - Harry Knowles @headgeek666
Classic Star Trek was classic for a generation because it was once relevant.

From the BoOk Of Knowledge 
Roddenberry wanted to tell more sophisticated stories, using futuristic situations as analogies for current problems on Earth and showing how they could be rectified through humanism and optimism.
It's this often unspoken of ingredient of Star Trek's appeal that J.J. Abrams has kept alive in this interpretation  The alternate universe idea has changed the setting of Starfleet a little more than it's core characters. From this perspective, Into Darkness succeeds in presenting us the "What If" scenario of the crew of the Enterprise being pulled into the politics of "The War on Terror".

I found this sequel to be more in tune with the characters than the original, both in scripting and in portrayal. Simon Pegg in particular stole the show with his Scotty performance, and it felt like Chris Pine had included a little more Shatner to his performance. The Enterprise Crew I knew and loved as a child really felt reborn this time around.

Well, for the most part ...

There were a few moments that threw me off as a fan. Namely moments where classic scenes were relived from different perspectives. While Kirk is the driving motivation for pursuing Kahn, it is Spock who actually does most of the battling with the genetic superman. It's a cool alternate universe idea, I admit. Seeing Spock and Kahn battle it out was most excellent, but Spock yelling "Kahn!!"? Too much Abrams ... too much. Yes, like the original Shatner scream, it had a nice flare of cheese to it. Yet Spock's "Kahn" scream just killed any tension and tone building with the scene for me, whereas Shatner's kept the tension building to Ricardo Montalb├ín's victory orgasm.

Despite my little geeky nitpicking, Into Darkness was an overall success in bringing classic Star Trek back alive. It's nice to see good guys be good guys despite the darkness growing in their/our world.

I'm also thankful they didn't abuse Spock's classic "The need of the many outweighs the need of the few" line as a pro-war on terror statement. That would have been awkward ...