Thursday, July 30, 2009

Comic Con Adventures: Thursday

Thursday dawned bright and early (a little too bright and early) and we were all a little nervous about the logistics of the Con. Would we be able to get into all the panels we wanted to see? Would the lines be that horribly long? Would we even be able to find the rooms we were looking for?

After the Wednesday night debacle with the shuttle bus, we decided to give the trolley a try. It's basically an above ground subway and the cars are shaped like trolleys. Trust me, you haven't lived until you've waited on a trolley platform with a crowd of people dressed like characters from movies and anime.

Riding on the trolley.

When we arrived at the Convention Center, the line for registration was....scary. It might be the longest line for anything I have ever seen. Luckily, Rachel and I had gone through the process the night before and Carly had arrived early to try to avoid the ridiculousness. Unfortunately there was some confusion as to how to get into the Convention Center--the Exhibit Hall didn't open until 9 and it didn't seem like they were letting people in before then, but since we had the four day passes we managed to find a volunteer who would let us in.

Since we got into the Con about an hour before any of the programming started, Rachel and I got to the room for our first panel way early. It was called Sci-Fi That Will Change Your Life and was put on by the people over Each person on the panel talked about books, movies, comics, or a television show in the science fiction genre that had impacted them during the previous year. But since we got there so early, Rachel and I had time to play some Uno. Or I should say, we had time for Rachel to kick my ass at Uno four times in a row.

After our first panel we had several hours before the next one, so we grabbed a table in the pavilion and ate lunch (ham and cheese sandwich on wheat...assembled from our purchases at Ralph's the previous day). I was able to win back some of my honor by beating Rachel at War and we spent the time just people-watching. If you like people-watching, Comic Con is the place to do it.

After catching up with Selvi and Carly, we headed over to our next panel, Wonder Woman: Female Power Icons in Pop Culture. I was pretty excited about this one since the panelists were Sigourney Weaver, Eliza Dushku, Zoe Saldala, and Elizabeth Mitchell. The write-up of the panel will be on the tv blog soon, but let me just say that everyone came off as intelligent and eloquent, except for Eliza, who was unfortunately kind of dim. She had been a last minute replacement for Kristen Bell (Veronica Mars!), and that made me sad since I love Kristen Bell.

Ladies of the Female Power Icon panel.

Sigourney Weaver, who blew me away with her intelligence. I'm playing with the idea of worshipping her as a goddess.

After the Power Icons panel, I ran across the Convention Center to try to join Rachel in line for the Robot Chicken panel, but it was clear we were not going to make it in. Not only was the line stretching down the hall, but it also went outside and around the side of the building. Whoops. So, plan B.

We stood in the long line for the panel on the Evolution of Fantasy (discussing what's the next big fantasy series), but since I was so worried about making it into the Legend of the Seeker panel, I skipped out after 20 minutes and joined the other line. I started talking to a really nice couple from the UK, who had flown all the way from London for the Con, and after about an hour (ugh) made it into the room for Legend of the Seeker (write-up here).

You know, when writing all this out, it seems like we did a lot, but when you're actually there, it feels like you just sit in panels and stand around in line all day. But it is inexplicably exhausting. And it's not over yet! After Legend of the Seeker, I met up with Rachel, Carly, and Selvi (and the three guys we had met at the airport) in Hall H which is the giant room that seats almost 7,000 people.

Inside Hall H.

Most of the big panels were done for the day, but the good news is I was able to walk right in and not have to wait in a 6 hour line like the people who had wanted to see the New Moon and Avatar panels earlier in the day. We saw a preview of a movie called Kick-Ass which looks AWESOME, and then a preview for a Korean movie called Thirst. It's being billed as Twilight for grown-ups, but really it was totally disturbing and weird. Basically a priest gets turned into a vampire and starts sleeping with his best friend's wife and then turns her into a vampire. And then things get really messed up; there were shot of people vomiting blood, sucking blood from each other's feet, etc. They were doing a free screening of it later that evening but after seeing the preview, we decided that it might be a little too disturbing, even for us.

By then, we were starving and were pretty tired so we struck out into the Gaslamp Quarter of San Diego to find dinner. There were a billion people who had the same idea, and it took us forever to cross the street, but after we actually made it out into the city, finding a restaurant was surprisingly easy. You just had to get a couple blocks away from the Convention Center. After a quick stop for ice cream at the Ghiradelli Chocolate store (you gotta have ice cream), we went back to the hotel and basically collapsed.

Coming up tomorrow: I see my favorite author, Neil Gaiman, and see Joss Whedon in person!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Comic Con Adventures: Wednesday

You can tell right away if people are familiar with Comic Con. When I would say, “I’m going to Comic Con in San Diego,” I would typically get one of two responses. I’d either get, “OMG that is so awesome,” or I would be met with a quizzical stare and a “Comic…Con? What is that?”

I’m happy to say that these days the first response is the more prevalent. After all, pretty much every major news outlet reports on Comic Con and sends a correspondent or two to provide complete coverage; even my Mom called me after seeing a big story about it on the evening news and in The Washington Post. And if my mother has heard of something, it is officially in the mainstream.

But it was hard to prepare or know what to expect since nobody I personally know has ever attended the Con. I spent hours perusing first timer’s guide to the Con, and made sure I had a handle on all the basics. Wear comfortable shoes, make sure you shower and use deodorant (kind of depressing that people needed to be TOLD that one), plan ahead, bring snacks, etc. etc. But it’s hard to actually prepare for an experience, you know?

(Sidenote: I’m writing up the television-centric panels I attended over on the tv blog but here I am going to chronicle all the stories of my various wanderings, as well as give a general idea of what being at the Con was like. Both blogs are going to go chronologically, so there should be plenty to read!)

On Wednesday, when my friends and I arrived in San Diego, we weren’t totally sure what to expect. The flights at least went over without a hitch; Rachel was my travelling buddy as we had booked our flights together, and despite a short stop in Salt Lake, we arrived in San Diego around noon. While walking around the airport it was fun to pick out the people who were there for the Con; anyone wearing any kind of pop culture t-shirt, goth outfit, or gave off an aura of geekiness was instantly identified and categorized. It felt like we had to wait forever for our suitcases, but we met up with our friend Carly who had been so kind as to chat up some cute guys who were also attending the Con (and planned on dressing as Wolverine and Deadpool, so, score!).

Thankfully, our hotel had a free shuttle from the airport (score one for the frugal-minded!) and we got all the scoop from the driver about what was around San Diego. Our hotel was about 10 blocks from the Convention Center, so totally walkable, but Comic Con also provided a free shuttle that stopped right in front of the hotel, and there was a public transport trolley station right around the corner, so we had lots of options. Our first concern was, of course, food.

As I mentioned above, I had read that bringing your own snacks and food was a must. So we struck out for a grocery store located about 5 blocks from the hotel and got a feel for the city. And let me just say this: I love San Diego. I have been to LA before and hated it; too hot, too brown, too meh. But San Diego has gorgeous weather (even in July), plenty of greenery, and even though we stayed right downtown it was totally safe to walk around, even late at night. It has a ton of excellent restaurants and lots to do, even if you don’t spend all day in the Convention Center.

Signs for Comic Con along Broadway in San Diego

Anyway, we hit the grocery store, picking up items for sandwiches and lunches and snagged a cooler to keep in the room. We also had some great Chinese food (mmmm….chinese food) and then struck back out for the hotel. By this time, it was getting on in the afternoon, and Rachel and I decided to head over to the Convention Center to pick up our name-tags and registration and check out Preview Night. Carly, who had not been able to register for a four-day pass spent the rest of the afternoon/evening at the zoo.

San Diego Convention Center

Ok, so after spending 45 minutes in grid-lock traffic on the shuttle bus (taking it ended up being a huge mistake), Rachel and I finally arrived at the Convention Center. Immediately we spotted the huge (and I mean huge) line for registering. Yikes. BUT. I will say this. The line moved quickly, we only ended up waiting maybe 20 minutes, and overall the experience was much easier than I was expecting. All the volunteers seemed to know where people needed to go, and they did the best they could to keep the lines organized and moving. So my first experience with the infamous Comic Con lines was not overwhelming or too annoying.

The view from the escalator in the Convention Center.

After securing our registration, name-tags, and Comic Con info book, Rachel and I struck out to explore the Convention Center. I figured we would be best prepared for the coming days if we knew exactly where everything was located. That way, when I realized I had to book it to Room 6BCF from Ballroom 20 on Thursday, I would know where I was going.

The first thing we saw after exiting the Pavilion (where registration took place) was a huge, monster line. And when I saw monster, I mean it. The line stretched almost the entire length of the convention center which is about 3 city blocks. We had no idea what it was for. Were people trying to get into Ballroom 20 to see the pilot screenings that evening? Was it something to do with the masquerade? Turns out neither were right. It was people waiting to get into the Exhibit Hall to score the best freebies and get a head start on their comics and merch shopping. Since we wanted no part of that, we skipped merrily past the line and right into Ballroom 20 where some pilot episodes of fall television shows were screening.

After sitting around for a while and flipping through the info book, we decided to check on the line for the Exhibit Hall, which had been due to open at 6:00. We stuck our heads into the hall…and the line was gone. Everyone had already moved into the Exhibit Hall so we followed suit.

Let me just say this: sensory overload. You can’t imagine how many people and just…things are crammed into the Exhibit Hall. Every size movie studio (from tiny independents to huge names like Warner Brothers) has a large stall, as do almost every comic manufacturer. There are stalls for video games, artists, manufacturers, it’s like a Portobello Road of geekdom. Since comics and other nerdy merchandise aren’t really my thing, I wasn’t too enamored, but I think for most people at Comic Con the Exhibit Hall is the real highlight. For me, it will mostly be remembered as a giant clusterfuck of people clambering to get limited edition bags from the various movie studios and as the place of my first Comic Con humiliation: asking the lady from Dark Horse Comics where the Angel comics are. Yeah, that’s a different company. So = embarrassing. In my defense, Dark Horse produces the Buffy and Firefly comics, so it was an honest mistake, right?

In the Exhibit Hall

After about an hour of wandering around the Exhibit Hall, Rachel and I headed back up to Ballroom 20 and saw the pilot screenings for V and The Vampire Diaries. You can find my thoughts on those here, at the tv blog. For the most part, it was enjoyable, and kind of exciting to see something before everyone else! I felt almost like a real television reporter, sitting there with my journal, taking notes on the tv shows. All I needed was a fedora with a press tag sticking out of it to complete my look.

Ballroom 20, the second largest room at the Con.

By the time the screenings were over, it was getting late, and we were jet-lagged and tired, so we headed back to the hotel. There was a lot of excitement and planning for the day to come among us girls and we ran around like crazy people packing our backpacks for our first full day of Comic Con panels!

Next up: Sigourney Weaver is a goddess, why it pays to pre-register, and who knew sitting on your ass all day could make you so tired?

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Reports from a Midnight Screening

One of the more depressing parts of growing older is that you find it difficult to perform tasks that once came so easily. Drinking massive amounts of alcohol without significant effect and staying up until the wee hours of the morning are the two examples that first come to mind. So my decision to attend a midnight screening of Harry Potter and the Half Blood Prince (HP6) was not made lightly. But in the end, my fangirlishness beat the tiny logical section of my brain into submission, and there I was, sitting in a movie theater at 12:00 midnight on Wednesday morning to see the first showing of HP6.

After getting home from work at around 6:30 on Tuesday, I immediately laid down for a nap. When the alarm went off at 8:00, I felt a little groggy and a little confused. I would normally start the winding down for the evening process at this time. But there was Harry Potter to be had, so I jumped out of bed and quickly wolfed down some dinner.

Then it was on to more important tasks. Specifically: cookie making. To add to the celebratory feeling of the evening, I decided to make some sugar cookies in fun Harry Potter shapes. I had mixed the dough and made cookie cutter templates out of cardboard the night before (in the shape of a lightning bolt and Harry's spectacles) and just needed to actually cut and bake the cookies. They turned out very good, if I do say so myself, especially for a low fat sugar cookie recipe. I stuffed a tupperware container full and carried one of my large handbags; if I got searched at the theater I would be totally busted but was hoping no such steps would be taken.

I left to meet up with Chris and Kent at 10:00, and it was a bit surreal to be leaving the house at the time I would normally be hitting the hay, but I was feeling good. After meeting Chris and Kent's creepy roommate, we struck out and began walking to the movie theater, which was basically just across the street.

Along the way we passed a lady smoking a cigarette. Kent in his usual friendly fey manner said "Hello!" to the lady to which she replied, "Fuck you. Bastard." We hurriedly walked away and of course laughed about the incident for the next 6 hours. Because, seriously. What the hell was her problem? Although we should probably be grafeul she didn't stab us or anything.

We arrived at the theater at around 10:30 and joined the already impressive line. We played some card games, ate cookies (which thankfully did not get confiscated) and met up with our friend and fellow Potter-phile, Whitney. The theater opened at around 11:15, and then we just kind of sat there for 45 minutes waiting.

There were of course too many commercials and too many trailers, but at last, around 12:15, the movie started.

(If you want to be spoiler free, stop reading here)

So what did I think? I really liked it. I can't wait to see it again, in fact. As with all the Potter movies, the scenes are so full of small details, that it takes multiple viewings to take it in. The actual direction and cinematography of the film is gorgeous, the camera seems to really inhabit the wizarding world, rather than it seeming the world was created for the camera.

I think overall Order of the Phoenix is still my favorite of the films (because of the big fight scene at the end), but this one was really great. It was much more mature in tone, despite the PG rating, and it seems that as the characters near adulthood they’re making the films less and less whimsical; there is a noticeable lack of moving portraits or shifting staircases, for example. Now Hogwarts is all about dark gothic corridors and secrets. Is that a good thing? I'm not sure. At time it feels like Hogwarts could be a normal private British school, rather than a private magic British school. One of the things I love about the films are the classroom scenes, and other than some potions here and there, we don't get that here.

My only real disappointment was the lack of a real big fight scene at the climax; I guess they are saving all that for Movies 7 & 8 when they have the battle of Hogwarts. This was more of an emotional climax with Dumbledore and Harry in the cave and on the Astronomy Tower. Maybe I was tired, but Dumbledore's death was not as moving as I was expecting; but the cave scene was actually more tense and scary than I had prepared for. The inferii are creepy as hell and Harry forcing Dumbledore to drink the potion seemed like it was lifted right from the book.

Regarding the performances, Rupert Grint and Daniel Radcliffe were great; they both get separate comedic scenes that really deliver (the love potion and the Felix Felicious). The chick who played Lavender Brown was hilarious, really spot-on, but the biggest surprise was Tom Felton as Draco. Having to play tortured and brooding can go so wrong so easily, but Tom Felton really sold it.

I was hoping that Alan Rickman might let his Snape break through into more of a mania at the end with the whole "fight back, you coward!" but alas, he was still as stoic as ever. I get that it's his own take on the character, but still, Snape in the book is prone to rages and we haven't seen any of that in the movie Snape. It would have been nice to see him get really worked up. Also, before killing Dumbledore, he sees Harry and hushes him. But this basically telegraphed that he's actually a good guy, right?

The other adults in the movie are around only for a couple minutes, but are always welcome. Jim Broadbent (who I swear, looks totally different in every movie he is in; that guy can totally control his face) was a perfect Slughorn and I just read he's due back for Deathly Hallows, so hurray!

On the whole, I was impressed by how faithful the book was to the movie. Whole lines seemed to have been taken directly from the book, and the things that were changed, made real sense. There's an attack on the burrow that was added (with JKR's approval) but it ups the ante and gives you a sense of the real menace. There's also a small moment with the Gaunt's ring and Riddle's diary that took my breath away with it's awesomeness and hinted at things to come. There was sad lack of Luna and especially Neville, but I am just holding out hope that Neville's big moment in Deathly Hallows is handled well.

Which leads me to the big issue. So much of HP6 is set up for Deathly Hallows. We get some key info and key character development (notably Harry and Ginny--which side note: I loved that Ginny was pursuing Harry as much he was crushing on her), but after the movie ends you want to get on with it! There's another year and a half wait until Deathly Hallows Part I and that's the most disappointing thing about HP6. It doesn't satisfy in the way the other Harry Potter movies have because it isn't really an ending--it's just the beginning of the end.

Overall, I would give it a solid B+. It's my third favorite of the movies (behind Order of the Phoenix and Prisoner of Azkaban), but it might move up in the rankings after multiple viewings. I will say it felt more like a "real" movie than any of the others, meaning it didn't just feel like a Harry Potter film. But I haven't decided if that's a good thing or not. I'll let you know after I see it again on Saturday!

By the way, I was home and in bed at 3:30 in the morning and was feeling fine. If I can prepare myself for being up so late without any problems, maybe my days of binge drinking and no hangover aren't behind me after all!

Then again...maybe they are.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Potter Protest!

I know what you are thinking. "Mags, I happen to know that you are a huge Harry Potter fan, so WHY would you be protesting those awesome books?"

Ah, but see, I wasn't protesting the books. I was protesting that cowardly bureaucratic establishment, the Ministry of Magic! For too long the Ministry has served to keep fellow creatures from exercising their equal rights and has embarked on a campaign of disinformation against the public!

Or, maybe I was in DC to participate in a Pottercast and Wizard Wrock meetup. (Hint--the correct answer is the last one).

On a lovely day last month, my friend Dorilyn and I took some leave and skipped out of work early (oh, how I love working for the feds) to meet the Pottercast peeps on their summer tour. Pottercast, one of my favorite podcasts, is travelling around the country this summer with The Whomping Willows and The Remus Lupins talking Potter at libraries, bookstore, and even on the National Mall.

The whole gang was there, Melissa, John, Frak, all except Sue, whom I assume was unable to abandon her familial responsibilities to drive around in a creepy looking rape van all summer. There was a group of about 40 of us (mostly teenagers, I am not ashamed to admit), some parents, and me and Dori, and we just sat around and shot the shit about Potter.

It was a little structured; some of Pottercast's segments made an appearance: Canon Conundrums (discussing aspects of the Ministry which it turns out...nobody really knows a lot about), Are You Smarter Than John Noe (yes, it turns out most people there were smarter than him), and occasional musical breaks to give the bands a chance to play.

I say bands but it was really just the dudes with their acoustic guitars playing for us as we assembled under a tree. But it was awesome, and I'm sure we got mistaken for hippies or something.

We had protest signs (Umbridge is Dumbridge), sang protest songs (Werewolf Rights!) and in general just enjoyed the gorgeous weather and talked Potter. I was able to get my copy of Melissa's book, Harry, A History, autographed, and a bought a CD to add to my Wizard Wrock collection.

All of it was just getting me into the mood for the Half-Blood Prince release which I'll be seeing in, oh, 8 hours at the midnight show! Leaving time for a nap of course. I'm not as young and resilient as I used to be.

In the mean time, pictures!

The group under a tree chatting about the Ministry of Magic.

Being serenaded by the Wizard Wrockers.

A fan tests her Potter knowledge against John Noe (in the yellow t-shirt) during Are You Smarter Than John Noe? Melissa, in the green and standing in the middle, acts as our host.

Singing protest songs with our signs!

Group shot!

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Independence of Pie

My July 4th was all about pie. And seriously, what else do you need in a holiday? Fireworks, BBQ, spending time with family members, all of these are just ancillary to the main event: PIE.

First, as part of a lunchtime cook-out with my Mom, we made a cherry pie. It wasn't from scratch, she had bought a pie crust mix and cherry cobbler filling at Williams Sonoma....say, about a year ago. Hey, better late than never! We made the crust, Mom expertly rolled it out and fitted it into the pan and here was the end result:

From this angle, it looks like an angry pie. See the angry eyebrows, the messed up nose, and the frowny face. But while it looks unhappy, trust me, it was goooood.

The crust was a little thick, but my Mom loves her crust. The crust dough overshot the rim of the pie pan by a good 2 inches, but when I suggested that we trim it she shot me a withering look and replied, "we are not throwing away any of this crust." Ok, then Mom.

After the cherry pie, I headed over to Grandma's for the Riley Family's 5th Monthly Harry Potter night (all leading up to the sixth movie release in a few weeks) where Pie #2 awaited. After perusing Healthy Cooking magazine, I found a great low-fat, low-calorie recipe for a berry patch pie. Strawberries, raspberries, blackberries, and blueberries (a super food!) cooked with some sugar and cornstarch and voila:

SO GOOD OMG. Sweet and tart and not bad for me and...effing amazing.

All in all, it was a very successful Fourth of July. We sort of forgot to watch the fireworks (we were right at the end of Order of the Phoenix!), and there wasn't any hanging out at the beach or other typical Independence Day activities, but each family has it's own traditions, right? Apparently mine likes to sit around watch movies (I had also watched 1776 with Mom earlier) and stuff ourselves with pie. And yes. You can come over next year and help us "celebrate".