Tuesday, July 27, 2004


Comic-Con is the big event for collectors and film lovers. Oh, yes, they have comic books, too, but the big draw is the fact that the studios choose July every year in San Diego to promote their blockbusters.

This is the first one I’ve attended in the last 3 years. I’ve discovered that Comic Con tells me how old I am, and it’s not a welcome message. I’m 15 years old, or at least that myth lives inside my head. Sitting on the floor or standing in one spot for 5 hours for a chance at the first three rows in Hall “H” stubbornly explains to me just how old my body is. It’s a disturbing message.

The big annual Star Wars presentation with Steve Sansweet, Carrie Fisher, and young Anakin-turned Darth Hayden Christiansen is what Ricky looks forward to, and for that reason we’re in line for “H” as soon as the doors open. However, they’ve moved us outside in the sun so that the line can grow. We find out quickly that those who went above two levels and down, the first to enter, are ahead of us and in air-conditioning, as they came down to line the walls of “H.” We’re learning the system as we go so we can be quicker next time. As long as it’s fair, we comply with whatever rules there are.

We also saw screenings of “Alien vs. Predator” (surprisingly promising), Keanu Reeve’s new movie “Constantine” (surprisingly violent), Buffy star Sarah Michelle Gellar representing “The Grudge” (horribly violent), “Sky Captain & the World of Tomorrow” (with guests Jude Law and Bai Ling), a surrealistic and unbelievably visual presentation by director Robert Rodriguez and Frank Miller of Miller’s “Sin City,” young hip actors John Cho and Kal Penn introducing their new movie about the power of fast food and cameo appearances by buddy actors (“Harold & Kumar Go to White Castle”), and a spectacular presentation by New Line regarding the new “Return of the King” extended DVD (with witty remarks by prince David Wenham and hobbit Billy Boyd). There were many more, and we were in the front row. However, we missed everything else because we had to hold down our spot in line for 3-5 hours each day so that we could see the presenters.

I believe that the surprising attendance numbers for 2004’s Comic Con tells good things about the economy. Even on a Thursday, it was almost impossible to walk the middle aisle in the dealer’s room without bumping into somebody with a light saber. There seem to be more Hobbits this year than ever before, a testament to the popularity of Lord of the Rings. I’m beginning to feel resentful that the Hobbitses didn’t stay in the Shire this year. Where’s Gollum when you need him?

We won’t be returning to Comic Con in 2005, simply because it conflicts with Disneyland’s 50th anniversary celebration. Seven dwarfs instead of four Hobbits. What a trade-off.

Friday, July 09, 2004


I have a few friends who grew up in Stepford. Completely dominated in early life by the idea of the women they should be, an idea that was fostered both by the larger-than-life men in their lives as well as key women, it took determination, a lot of therapy and colossal courage to become the independent women they are today.

Knowing this, I think that Stepford is not a pretty place, contrary to both the 1975 and 2004 movies built upon the Ira Levin novel. It is also not a funny place.

The earlier film had the right tone. We followed the discoveries right along with Katharine Ross in this mystery. We were frightened, and we watched in horror when good friends like Paula Prentiss (you remember her in several beach blanket movies) fall under the Stepford curse.

This new film, however, is determined not to keep anything from us. Director Frank Oz acts as if we know all along what Stepford is, so there’s no use keeping it a secret. So, if we know what’s supposed to be happening, and the horror is telegraphed, the movie should have a lighter tone. It doesn’t.

And, in deference perhaps to the 30-year difference, Oz adds some modern touches to this latest treatment. We see a Jewish couple and, yes, even a gay couple fall into the trap. The gay angle, you would think, would elicit more laughs, as most of the stereotypes are played out. One of the funniest and most ironic moments of the play should have been when Roger, our co-conspirator, is “made” into a Republican conservative, his hair is changed, and his manner of flamboyant dress is ripped from him. However, that change, which happens in a matter of seconds, doesn’t have the impact of irony it should, and it certainly isn’t funny.

There are some wonderful performances here. Glenn Close is as close to a Stepford wife as possible. She just glows in these “smaller” roles as she ages. Christopher Walken is primarily used as a parody of himself. But since he’s already a parody of a parody, it’s hard not to laugh as soon as he comes onscreen. Matthew Broderick is developing into a fine comedian; his face tells you exactly what’s going on.

Nicole Kidman is fine, but she doesn’t take command of the movie, referring, instead, to veterans like Close and Walken. Kidman is much better in the beginning of the film when she’s the hyper T.V. executive – very believable as the wonderfully anal CEO right out of “Network.”

The real problem is that The Stepford Wives in 2004 is a comedy. At least I think it was supposed to be. There were a few moments when I laughed, mostly at Bette Midler’s clever deliverance of a line or two. (And, I’m sorry, but Bette as a blonde doesn’t seem “perfect” to me.) But the movie is too serious to be funny. The real truth, at least in my mind, is that the reality of Stepford is a tragedy. The town of Stepford still exists in America. Men still think if they could change their wives, they’d had perfect lives, and the women in their lives pass that message onto their daughters. But trying to squeeze laughs out of this “perfect” scene was a real mistake.

Thursday, July 08, 2004


“When you answer, answer s-l-o-w-l-y,” Ricky said to both of us. “If you’re going to give the right answer, make sure you answer after everybody else has. That’s how you don’t get picked for The Big Chair.”

Rick was giving Brandon, his teenage nephew, and me, his aunt, our last instructions on how not to compete in Disney World’s MGM Studios event, “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire.”

They tagged us as soon as we walked into the park. Ricky obviously didn’t want to play this game, as he edged towards the Indiana Jones Stunt Show while the Disney cast member spoke to us about the game, but it was clear both Brandon and I wanted to go inside the studio. We wanted to compete. So, Ricky gave in and followed us into the air-conditioned lobby.

I looked at Brandon and rolled my eyes at hearing Rick’s words of wisdom. Obviously, neither Brandon and I were going to follow this scheme. We wanted to win, kick butt with our knowledge of the American culture!

The studio wasn’t full, but as the time closed in on the 10 a.m. start time, more people kept coming in, no doubt funneled by the Disney reps. We were in “special” seats, the seats rimming the stage itself. I found out quickly that these seats gave us no advantage at all. The object was to hit the button A, B, C or D upon hearing the choices. Fast responses meant a chance to compete for prizes in front of the studio audience.

A kid was picked to be in The Big Chair from the first question. He was given very easy questions, but left very quickly when he had to answer a question about Bill Cosby’s T.V. family. They then picked the next person for the Chair, the person who got the most correct answers when the kid was up, the person who answered the questions the fastest, and that person in the audience happened to be…. Ricky.

Brandon and I were dumbfounded. W-h-a-a-a-t??? How could that have happened? We were instantly really excited! A family member made it to the Big Chair!

The very smooth Millionaire host asked Ricky what he did in San Diego. “Very little,” said Ricky. “He’s not kidding!” yelled out Brandon. The host did a little comedy routine around Rick’s answers, and then went to the game.

Ricky did very well, better than the kid, and we noticed that he was given tougher questions. He got to $16,000, but didn’t know which architect created Fallingwater.

As one of his lifeline choices, he opted to ask someone on the street. “On the street” in Disney World meant somebody right outside the studio. The Disney cast member handed her cell phone to the next person walking down the street, a mother and her two small children. Mom’s guess was incorrect, and Ricky was booted from The Big Chair. Architect Frank Lloyd Wright had created the Fallingwater structure.

At the end, they gave him his gifts and escorted him out. We had to wait until we were all the way out before we could finally ask him: What happened? What happened to don’t-answer-any-question-quickly-or-correctly, the strategy Rick was pushing at us?

He looked sheepish when he answered: “I lost my head.”

We never made it back to the Millionaire game, even though Brandon and I really wanted to, having had an appetizer of limited fame. Ricky couldn’t go back even if he had wanted to. (He didn’t.) He’s banned from playing the game for 30 days.

Should be enough time to get out of town.