The most painful thing about The Last Witch Hunter is how clear it is that Vin Diesel is passionate about the material and is having an amazing time. Almost every profile piece I’ve ever read on Diesel has mentioned his love of Dungeons & Dragons, or that he wrote the introduction for their 30th anniversary retrospective book, or that his character in xXx had a tattoo with the name of his D&D character on his stomach; his nerd credentials are beyond reproach and they’re on full display in this film. Unfortunately instead of turning that knowledge and experience in to a quality fantasy movie, we’re given a film that is about as interesting as listening to the guy behind you in line for Star Wars tell you stories about how amazing his character is in his buddy’s D&D game.
The Last Witch Hunter suffers immensely from a lack of stakes. It features an immortal badass killer, Kaulder, who not only can’t die but any injury he suffers heals instantly Wolverine-style. All of the supporting characters are seemingly introduced immediately before being put in peril so you have to really bond with them quickly to feel anything at all for them. Michael Caine, the only actor in the cast capable enough to overcome this script problem, is imperiled off-screen and is afflicted with some kind of curse that is barely explained nonsense seemingly designed so they could have their emotional moment but still bring Caine back for the sequel. Things ramp up dramatically toward the end of the movie when they strip Kaulder of his immortality and directly imperil the entire world or maybe just New York City (and honestly is there even a difference) but by then I was just too far-gone to care.
Reportedly, this script came about from Vin Diesel telling one of the screenwriters about one of his Dungeons & Dragons characters. While I’m not sure any movie should come about through a story like that, it makes his investment in this movie palpable. He believes in his character and every silly nonsense word that comes out of his mouth. In a weird way, it’s one of my favorite performances of his career because he’s trying to put this movie on his back and just make it better through sheer force of acting. Diesel isn’t on that rare level where he can make a movie better just by trying harder, but I can appreciate that effort even if it isn’t quite enough.
There isn’t enough original stuff in this movie to make it feel worth the time and effort of making it. Fantasy is so well trod these days there’s nothing in the flashback scenes that I haven’t seen in Game of Thrones, or Lord of the Rings, or even How to Train Your Dragon. The contemporary stuff at its very best feels like a slightly reskinned version of Men in Black and at worst like an episode of Charmed. I sort of liked their take on a bar for witches (even if that’s not exactly new ground) but my enthusiasm was dashed when the place is destroyed within five minutes of being introduced on screen. Nothing feels like a fresh take, or a new use of metaphor, or a deeper look at a theme, it’s just recycling stuff we’ve seen and hoping the new arrangement proves compelling and it doesn’t.
I often complain about movies feeling too compact or too drawn out, and The Last Witch Hunter is in a strange limbo in between. Everything feels too rushed and there isn’t any space for the story to breathe or for the characters to reveal themselves to us, but also I left that 106-minute movie convinced it had been two and a half hours long. It might be an impossible task to make this a compelling film narrative. This is a story that would work much better in a novel: it would have proper space to build, internal monologues could make exposition a little less clunky, and the stakes could be more clearly defined.
Unfortunately, I don’t think I would want to read that novel either.
I’m back, ladies and gents, with more SDCC coverage! If you missed Part I(the con floor) or Part II (the Her Universe Fashion Show), don’t forget to check ‘em out. And now, on to Part III – party tiiiiiime!
So it’s no secret that I love a good party. And SDCC isn’t a bad place to find one. If you look (and there are some handy party guides put out ahead of each con by more enterprising souls than me to get you started, like this one from Variety and this one from The Hollywood Reporter), you can find events ranging from casual to fancy to star studded galas, and from free events to paid ticketed events.
Your party mileage may vary depending on what you’re looking for; but if you’re like me and like to have a couple of events per night on your radar (nothing worse than ending up at a lame party and not knowing where else to go for a good time when you’re all ready for a fun night), then it’s a good idea to have at least two to three places in mind per night (although it could actually be a good thing if you don’t get to them all – it might mean you were having so much fun at the first one that you didn’t want to leave; and that’s way better than making it to All The Parties).
As a side note before I move on: of course, a lot of the parties listed that feature A-list celebrities or whatever are going to be invite or RSVP-only; but honestly, in my experience of having been to everything from those parties to the come-on-in, it’s-free-for-everyone parties, it’s not celebs that make the fun. Those parties can be awesome; or they can end up being badly organized, long-wait-outside kind of things; and who wants that when you’re looking to get your dance or drink on? So if you end up invited or on the list for those parties, by all means give it a whirl; but if you don’t land an invite to something like that, don’t stress or feel like you’re missing out on life. There’s plenty to do at night for any con-goer.
And as a tip to organizers doing the celebrity-style parties – the most fun I’ve had at those are the ones where you don’t have to wait forever to get in, and where you can actually chat with the other guests, no matter who they are, or where it’s more about everyone dancing and having a good time than whether you’re standing next to so-and-so. The least fun are the ones where if you aren’t an A-list celebrity, you feel like you’re kind of just there, even if you were invited and on the list and everything. Totally lame; so try to strike a balance where everyone feels like they’re welcome and it’s their party. I’ve seen it done right many times, so I know it’s possible! Oh, and for heaven’s sake, don’t tell a press person (or any person) they’re on the list for a party you invited them to and then forget to add them. Trust me – it happened to me; and after wasting precious party time standing in line for a party we won’t see when we could be elsewhere, reporting and/or having a blast, reporters do not forget that shit. Ever.
Anyway; this year, I started poking around the party lists and invites fairly well ahead of time and by the time the Con rolled around, I had my party schedule together. I aimed for a balance of drinks-and-chats vs. club-like, casual vs. fancy, and free vs. ticketed or RSVP events; because hey – I like variety! Some of the potentials dropped off the schedule because I never made it to them, mostly because there’s only so much time in a night (and I heard that the aforementioned list-SNAFU party I also missed turned out to be pretty lame, so no loss there!), but here’s the round-up of the ones I hit, which were hella fun.
The Event: J!NX PRESENTS: Gabe Eltaeb’s Second Annual Comic Kickoff Fundraiser
Where I Found It: I knew about this one in advance because my friend and I stumbled on it last year in the course of meeting up to get dinner. It had a fun casual vibe, so I checked with the J!NX folks to see if they were hosting it again this year, and lo-and-behold they were! But if you don’t know the folks at J!NX, no worries, because this event was also listed on Facebook.
Open To: Anyone! I RSVP’d on Facebook.
The Experience: Like last year, this was held at BASIC Urban Kitchen & Bar. The pizza there is good, and there’s a bar area as well as a more restaurant-like area with tables. The get-together is actually a benefit for The Hero Initiative, which helps comics creators in need, so it’s for a good cause. This year it was sponsored by Razer, Dark Horse Comics, and Loot Crate, and had raffle prizes that included hand-drawn sketches donated by guest artists, Razer Gaming Accessories donated by Razer, and Loot Crates and free subscriptions donated by Loot Crate. The guest artists on hand were Gabe Eltaeb (Star Wars, Green Lantern Corps), Jim Calafiore (Exiles, Aquaman), Carlos D’Anda (Star Wars, Deathblow), Todd Nauck (Young Justice, Nightcrawler), Eddie Nunez (Fanboys vs. Zombies, Ben 10), and Doug Wheatley (Star Wars, Blade: The Vampire Hunter).
As with last year, the vibe was again casual and cool. It was, again, a good place to have dinner with a friend, and more. Although I didn’t opt to participate in the raffle, there were some great pieces available, as well as the merchandise prizes. It was awesome to be able to be in amongst the party while still able to sit down and grab a bite to eat after the hecticness of Preview Night. All-in-all, it was a perfect, relaxed way to do something fun while still easing into the Comic-Con mood on the first night.
But of course, it wasn’t all I did that night. I soon headed over to my next event of the evening…
The Event:Wooden Wisdom (Elijah Wood & Zach Cowie DJ Set) at Bang Bang
Where I Found It: Twitter. I came across this purely by accident on my Twitter feed. Not knowing (as I do now) that Elijah Wood has been into DJing for a long time, my main thought was, “this is the weirdest evening event I’ve encountered at Comic-Con. I must go.” Given that tickets were only $15 when I looked it up, and after learning the venue had a bathroom devoted to Ryan Gosling, I was totally sold. I had to see this.
Open To: Anyone who wants to pay between $5-25 to go to a club and dance the night away with a hobbit co-helming the turntables!
The Experience: The website said the club closed at midnight on Wednesdays, and listed Wooden Wisdom as going on at 10, so I headed over around 10:30 to see what it was all about. As it turned out, for Comic-Con week the club was open until 2, and Wooden Wisdom was starting at midnight (that’s more like it!). That was perfect since I’d wanted to see a few friends for drinks first – so I got my stamp and headed to the Marriott for a drink, heading back to the club a little after midnight for the main event. I was prepared for anything – crowds, no crowds, terrible music, awesome music – and was pleasantly surprised to discover that (other than a sticky floor) this was a rockin’ experience.
Wooden Wisdom is good, you guys! Like, I-wish-they-hadn’t-had-to-go-in-two-hours, I-could-have-danced-a-lot-more good. Both Elijah Wood and Zach Cowrie were awesome up there. Plus, the weird bathroom didn’t disappoint (if you don’t mind a life-sized Ryan Gosling staring at you while you use the facilities); the bartender was extra-nice; I met a couple of new friends on the dance floor; and the giant disco ball and lighting was also pretty darned cool. And, I mean, there was the whole Elijah Wood is DJing (and havin’ a drink) a few feet away thing going on. That was fun. And a kick-ass way to start off the con weekend! I didn’t leave until they pushed us out the door.
Where I Found It: Long story short, I know a guy. Sometimes it does help to have those connections, and this year, I checked in with a friend who had, last year, hosted several Comic-Con panels and an associated rockin’ Robot Rendezvous Party, complete with technological demonstrations and special guest Brent Spiner, to see what he was up to this year. As it turned out, this year he was all about virtual reality, and was planning three panels, including a “Building the Holodeck” panel and an associated “VR Lounge” party. After last year? I was so there!
Open To: Everyone, with a ticket purchase via EventBrite. Even though I know a guy, you don’t have to in order to attend his parties.
The Experience: Like last year, it was geeky-cool, and a place to play as well as eat or drink. Held at the Stone Brewing Tap Room, the party featured complimentary appetizers and three different VR demonstrations. I got to try out two of the three before having to run off (I wanted to stay the whole time, but I couldn’t miss the Her Universe Fashion Show!) and they were super cool. For one, from the Emblematic Group, you put on some tech gear (a bag, headphones, and a viewing thing) and could walk around a room in the pub, while experiencing the room as a replica of the Star Trek: Next Generation bridge. It was pretty cool; and you could even sit down in chairs that now looked like holodeck chairs. (Or you could walk around looking like a badass Red Son Super(wo)man in a cape, like my friend Amy.)
The next, from Qualcomm, was Vuforia, which is essentially a modern-day, VR View-Master (man, I loved my View-Master), and is super-cool. The way it works is that by looking at a reel while using the viewer, you can enter the “experience” on that reel, and look around a VR version of different scenes. I looked at a space one, and it was super cool (and if you look down, it will say on the “floor” what experience you are in). You can also look around and see different reels within the reel you are in; and if you click on one of those, can jump into another experience. Let me tell you…it is neeeeeaat. I definitely want one; at the very least for my little nephew and nieces, if not also for myself! The third experience, which I didn’t have time to try but also looked rad, was NASA’sPhobos Hopper project. If only I’d had a little more time to play! But even though I had to dash, it was a super-cool party.
Where I Found It: On the website, word-of-mouth, and in the party round-ups. Even though this was my third year attending Nerd HQ (which, if you haven’t encountered it, is an amazing all-weekend event started by actor Zac Levi to benefit the important charity Operation Smile, and which I will cover in much more detail in another column), and I’d heard of the parties before, I hadn’t managed to make it to one in the other years. This year, I bookmarked the Nerd HQ party as the next place I’d hit on Thursday if there was time. As it turned out, dinner didn’t wrap until midnight, and I was already super tired after a busy day at the con; but I did swing by Nerd HQ with someone else from the dinner to see what the party was all about in this year’s new setting, The New Children’s Museum.
Open To: Anyone who has registered for Nerd HQ (which is free)
The Experience: This party is funnnnn, y’all. Remember how I was talking about celebrity parties that strike a balance and make everyone feel like it’s their party? Nerd HQ does it right! Even though it’s a draw to know that Zac Levi (and possibly famous friends) are going to be there, hosting the party, interacting with the crowd, etc., the party is still, first and foremost, a party with a bunch of nerrrrds. Albeit a party with Zac Levi and a Wookie on stage. On Thursday around midnight, there was no wait to get in – they just scanned our RFID bracelets, and in we went. The setting this year was pretty good, with a dance floor area set in front of a raised platform where the DJ and Zac and friends could hang out, and they had a really fun mix of music, and great lighting, to set the mood. Zac was totally into the party, singing, dancing, and saying hello to people in the crowd. There was a good crowd, clearly having a great time dancing and chilling, and there were also two bars (indoor and out on the patio) for drinks, although I didn’t get a drink Thursday, since I was just swinging by to scope the scene before dropping like a dead thing into my bed, to prepare for…
The Event: The Fashionably Nerdy Cocktail Hour
Where I Found It: Facebook, and friends mentioning it.
Open To: Everyone! I RSVP’d on Facebook.
The Experience: This was Fashionably Nerdy’s first year hosting this event; but from the minute I saw it, I was excited to attend. As you can probably tell from my coverage of the Her Universe Fashion Show and more, I am all about nerd and geek fashion for women; and the ladies hosting this party are, too! So it was a total match. The event was hosted at the Manchester Grand Hyatt Grand Lobby Bar, and advertised as a way to meet the Fashionably Nerdy team and some great geek chic designers. Swag bags were promised for the first attendees, along with a raffle, and prizes for the best-dressed. Press commitments elsewhere kept me from arriving when it started, so I didn’t land a swag bag, but their list of designers and prizes was very impressive!
Given that this was a fashion party, I dressed in my geek best with the Loki dress from the Her Universe Hot Topic line, designed by the winners of last year’s SDCC Her Universe Fashion Show. I swung by after the party had been going for an hour, and the place was pretty packed! I somehow immediately honed in on and met the Fashionably Nerdy gals (it’s like a geek fashionista sixth sense!) and chatted with them, as well as with some of their friends, one of whom is a designer who had made one of the great geek dresses being worn, and had actually been one of the Fashion Show models as well. We all bonded over our shared love of geek fashion, and kept running into each other for the rest of the weekend after that, which was fun. Yay, new friends!
Speaking of the Fashion Show, the Loki dress a good choice of attire, because I got many compliments! Despite the fact that the line was on my radar from the get-go, several people at the party had never seen the dress and wanted to know where I got it. I was happy to be able to tell them Ashley Eckstein had just announced that the sold-out line is coming back; and this was clearly the right crowd to be interested in news like that. After I met a few folks, I settled in for some food and drink, because whoo, I was starving! Over shrimp tacos I made friends with other like-minded geeks, chatting about, e.g., some of the difficulties and discrimination we’d encountered as women who are into video gaming; and the fun we have in sneaking geek couture into our daily work wardrobes. As the event wound down, I was happy to unexpectedly get one of the cute prizes they were handing out to some attendees – a great glittery Flash hairclip from Accessories by Nerd Girl Britt that I’ll surely wear somewhere. All-in-all, it was a really fun event! I hope to go again next year, and have been assured that planning is already in the works! As this year’s event wrapped up, I headed over to…
Where I Found It: Ah, I have been a Sherlockian for yea, these many years, and had many friends (particularly from the yearly NYC BSI Weekend, and from my personal scion group, The Red Circle of DC) who were going to this party! So I heard about it from several folks.
Open To: Everyone who buys a ticket! Although this one always seems to sell out pretty fast.
The Experience: This was an all-around great party in a great setting, put together by The Baker Street Babes, Being Geek Chic, The Nerdy Girlie, SherlockDC, and more. Held on the 9th floor of the San Diego Public Library, the room had a glassed-in view of PETCO Park and downtown San Diego (which was especially cool when we unexpectedly partook second-hand in the Star Wars Celebration fireworks!), as well as a patio outside. There was a great spread of food (both hot food and a fruit and cheese table), and a cash bar. Everyone who went got a cool swag bag with Sherlockian-themed items like exclusive prints and Sherlock-themed tea. There was also an impressive raffle with lots of themed prizes, as well as a selection of merchandise to browse.
One of my favorite bits was a photo booth where you could get a set of four pictures done in quick succession, with silly props supplied for you. My friend Lacy and I had a total blast with that. It was also cool to run into great friends from the BSI, like Les Klinger of The New Annotated Sherlock Holmes and Curtis Armstrong of Supernatural and King of the Nerds. And, of course, any party where you walk in and Steven Moffat is hanging out doing a Q&A is pretty darned cool. Really, this party wasn’t missing any ingredients of success; and a good time was had by all. Which brings me to the final party night…
The Event: The Nerd HQ Nerd Army Party
Where I Found It: See above. I was determined to actually have time to hang out at this party Saturday night, after being too tired to stay long on Thursday.
Open To: All registered Nerd HQ attendees
The Experience: The vibe and setting was similar to Thursday, although there was a line to get in. Still, it moved fairly quickly (unlike most party lines) and soon I was nerding out inside with the rest of the Nerd Army. At first, I’ll admit I was a little cranky, because I really, really wanted a water and could not figure out how to efficiently obtain one. After waiting in a long bar line, realizing near the front that I had to buy tickets in a separate line for drinks, and then buying those and getting back in the bar line, I was a bit frustrated – and I definitely think that process needs to be streamlined (why did there need to be drink tickets at all?) and clarified for next year (at the very least a complimentary water station, or a separate line for just water, would probably work wonders).
But once I got some water in me, I was more than happy to party like the rest of the crowd. And also, to take a couple of pictures with their free photo set-ups, which were still available during the night-time fun. (Fun side note: I pinned one copy of my party picture to the photo clotheslines just for fun; and the next day, a friend who I didn’t actually get to see in person the whole contweeted it at me, all, “found you!” Haha! Friends seeing friends via Nerd HQ.) The dance floor was a good time; I got into the crowd for a time, and actually ran into and said hi to Zac as he was making his way back to the raised area after he’d been dancing in the middle of the crowd for a long while; and when I took a break from dancing, I ended up meeting and hardcore nerding out with a new friend in conversation on the sidelines of the dance floor. And although I personally didn’t run into any of the other celebs who might have been there, I know that, e.g., Yvonne Strahovski was there at least one of the nights; so you never know who you might see at Nerd HQ! And either way, it’s a hoppin’ party!
But eventually, I needed to slow it down a little; so I headed over to my last party of the weekend…
The Event: SlamCon
Where I Found It: Twitter. You have to follow @Slam_Con on Twitter to find out the location of this party each year. On the day of, they tweet the location a few hours before (they tweeted it at 5, and the party started at 8, this year).
Open To: Everyone! And you never know who you might see there, from friends to celebs to who-all-knows. Last year half the cast of Supernatural apparently showed up.
The Experience: SlamCon is another example of a good way to mix some celebrities or con guests with con-goers without it feeling weird. Although the venue and feel might change a little from year to year, this party, organized by Todd Stashwick, Dennis Calero, Brea Grant, and Deric Hughes, is a great way to hang out, have some drinks, and wrap up a con weekend. This year, the event was at the Hilton Bayfront Pool Club; but then moved to the Odysea because the crowd got so big.
Although, alas, I headed over pretty late and missed a fair bit of it, as well as Deric, who I would have loved to catch up with, even just walking in I ran into the awesome Brandon Auman, writer for the current fantastic Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles show on Nickelodeon (and funnily enough, earlier had run into the just-as-awesome Greg Cipes, voice of Michelangelo, out on the street – Turtle Power and Turtle friends!) and was introduced to another writer for the show. And I also got to say hi and thanks for organizing to Todd Stashwick, who is a delightful human being (and a great actor!). And I ran into one of the great Fashionably Nerdy gals again, too! So even though I didn’t get to stay too long, it was nice to go and see some old friends or meet new ones! And next year…well, I’m definitely going to try to get there sooner!
The San Diego Comic Con starts tomorrow, and OMG I am all in a tizzy getting prepped for it. Which kiiiiind of means I didn’t have time to write a long, thoughtful, in-depth column about anything this week. Not only because I’m busy, but also because when I get excited, it’s like Fireworks! Going! Off! In! My! Brain! And then long, thoughtful columns are overtaken by things like Rorschach answering dating questions, or incoherent babbling about imaginary stuff. So you can imagine what my brain looks like right now.
However, for those of us heading off to SDCC and looking for some tips, I can refer everyone back to my Comic-Con Prep 101 guide from last year. Check it out for a list or a reminder of all the basics you should think about when packing for and prepping for a con.
I can also share a few tips specifically for San Diego. Of course, a good place to start when planning for SDCC (which you totally should be completely ready for by now, right? Right??) is the official app, where you can put your own personal wish-list schedule of panels together (while recognizing you’ll only actually make it to maybe 1 in 10 panels you want to attend, if you’re anything like me and over-commit). You can also see what guests might be out there that you want to track down for autographs, commissions, and more. You can also head over to the official site for the list of San Diego Comic-Con exclusives exclusives to see what you absolutely must snag on the con floor.
And of course, there are other peripheral events to be aware of; one of the biggest of which is Zac Levi’s awesome Nerd HQ. Even though the Conversations (200-seat panels featuring awesome celebrities, sold for $22 each and with proceeds going to Operation Smile) sell out in a hot second, there are also other things going on, like free gaming, and usually Thursday and Saturday night parties. And then there’s also SlamCon, the mysterious moving party that you need to hunt down via Twitter to attend. And then there’s the occasional thing that makes you go, “Bwuh?” but in a good way; like Elijah Wood DJ’ing at Bang Bangtomorrow night (come on, I’m so there; I hear he has a kickin’ vinyl collection). All in all, there’s more than enough to see and do while in San Diego for the con.
So there you go! Some on-the-fly tips off the top of my head (which is about to fly off in excitement) about how to experience the San Diego Comic-Con, at least the way I like to do it.
So get out there, have a blast, and until next time, Servo Lectio!