I was under the impression that ever since the infamous "Borat" incident at Comic-Con a few years ago, the Con was far more restrictive of what could or couldn't play in Hall H. Their point, a valid one, is that it's a family crowd. There are kids as young as stroller age everywhere you look, and there are kids here in groups or with their parents, grade school and high school and college aged. Entire families camp out in Hall H together for a day's worth of programming. It makes sense to try and keep things somewhat clean.
No one mentioned that to Sony, though, because they kicked things off with a blood-soaked presentation for Paul Bettany's new film "Priest," they staged a painfully funny and shockingly dirty panel for "The Other Guys," and closed with a drug-joke laden "Green Hornet" panel. Taken as a whole, it was bracing and a little on the shocking side, but I guarantee no one who sat through it will forget the event.
I'm not particularly anticipating "Priest." I didn't like "Legion," the first film from SFX-guru-turned-director Scott Stewart, which also starred Paul Bettany. This one, based loosely on a 16-volume manga series published here by Tokyo Pop, is set in a world that has been devastated by vampire apocalypse. Humans live in walled cities controlled by the Church, and the only weapons that can be used to stop these no-eyed demons are very special humans called the Priests. The 3-D trailer showed some of the tell-tale signs of being a conversion job, but the effects all appeared to be rendered out as genuine stereo effects. It actually robbed the CGI vampire creatures of any weight or heft in what we saw.
The highlight of the panel for the Hall H audience seemed to be the participation of Stephen Moyer from "True Blood" and Cam Gigandet from the "Twilight" series. Lots of squeals followed everything either of them said, like when Moyer described his character as "Paul Bettany's younger, better-looking brother." It was odd listening to Moyer speak in his real clipped English accent, but he worked the audience like an old pro. Gigandet seemed less at ease with the effect he had on the crowd, but they both seemed relieved when the conversation shifted to the involvement of Genndy Tartakovsky in the film.
If anything's going to get me excited about seeing "Priest," it's knowing that Tartakovsky had a hand in planning and storyboarding the action sequences in the film, along with designing and animating the prologue that establishes the world of the Priests. He did the same sort of thing on "Iron Man 2" for the Stark Expo action scenes at the end of the film, and considering how great Tartakovsky's animated action is, anything that gets him working on big-budget live-action movies is a good thing. The animated prologue is suitably bloody and Tartakovsky talked about the joy of cutting loose and animating decapitations and brutal dismemberments, something he's never done before.
As soon as the "Priest" crew left the stage, Sony brought on the team behind "The Other Guys." Adam McKay, Will Ferrell, Mark Wahlberg, and Eva Mendes all took the stage together, and what followed was unleashed lunacy for a good half hour or more. The clips reel that they showed was not footage from the movie for the most part, but was instead alternate or extended takes of scenes from the film, and it was blisteringly dirty stuff. Adam McKay has one of my favorite comedy brains working today, and watching the scenes he didn't use for his movie was impressive, because it was funnier than most finished comedies released today. It's also apparent how much room he gives his actors to play. One of my favorite moments in the film involves Will Ferrell's stolen car showing up in police impound and Rob Huebel as a cop who reads off a report of everything that happened to the car while it was missing. He mentions that a group of homeless men apparently had a gay orgy in the Prius, leaving a variety of fluids on every surface, then tells Ferrell "They call that a 'soup kitchen,'" a phrase which made me howl in the theater. I wondered if it was a McKay line or if it was something that Huebel just threw out there, and it turns out it was Huebel. The fact that I wasn't sure speaks to the way McKay works with his cast. He has such a strong voice that everyone seems to adapt to it on his films, and even with tons of improv, there ends up being a consistency to the way his films feel.
McKay announced officially that he is directing "The Boys" for Sony, and talked about how he's a major film nerd in general, and not just a comedy geek. Doing the action sequences in "The Other Guys" seems to have sparked a desire in him to move into some of the other genres he loves, and he spoke about his passion for "The Boys" and how it's going to be something new for him.
Right around then, the Q&A spiraled out of control when a cute pre-teen kid walked up to the mic. Eva Mendes made a joke about how cute the kid was, and that turned into a huge series of riffs from Wahlberg and Ferrell about Mendes hitting on the kid and taking him back to her room. When the kid's mother joined him at the mic to give her blessing, the kid went bright red and the room went crazy. Wahlberg got more and more graphic with his teasing, and then another kid came up to the mic who asked Mendes if she remembered him. She freaked out when she realized she did. Turns out, he came to the "Ghost Rider" panel at Comic-Con several years ago and Mendes had flirted with him there before running into him later that day with his family at a restaurant and told him, "Come back and see me in five years." That was five years ago, and the kid was obviously pleased to remind her of what she said. That only made Wahlberg tease her even more.
Then, just as I thought they had reached the pinnacle of how dirty the conversation could get, McKay and Ferrell announced that they had a secret project that they've been producing, and they used the remainder of their time to invite the audience to a free screening at the Gaslamp Theaters a few hours after the panel and to premiere the trailer for the film, which I'll embed here, although I warn you... this is extremely NSFW:
In the room, I honestly had no idea what that was. It wasn't until last night's "Scott Pilgrim" premiere when I ran into Eli Roth that the whole thing snapped into focus. Eli, as you may know, is a producer on "The Last Exorcism," which was written by Andrew Gurland and Huck Botko, two guys who I dig. Their work together over the years has been crazy and abrasive and fascinating, and now they've got two movies together back to back. They almost directed "The Last Exorcism," but when they got the chance to direct "The Virginity Hits," another film they wrote, they jumped at the chance. Although the film looks like a documentary, it is scripted and absolutely the work of these two comedy terrorists, with the idea being that they wanted to feel as real as possible. I haven't spoken to anyone yet who made it to the screening the other night, but after learning who the puppetmasters are pulling these particular strings, I'm going to have to add "The Virginity Hits" to my must-see list for the year.
Finally, the "Green Hornet" team took the stage, ready to make their final pitch to the Comic-Con crowd before the film hits screens in January of 2011. They began the presentation by showing a much, much longer version of the trailer that came out earlier this year, and the difference between that trailer and this footage can be summed up in the way a particular joke played out.
Remember the end of the first trailer where Britt Reid (Seth Rogen) accidentally shoots himself in the face with a gas gun that Kato's working on and then knocks himself out? Well, this clip package ended with Seth waking up in bed, an IV in his arm, dazed and puzzled. He gets out of bed, still groggy, and goes walking through his mansion, finally making his way to Kato's workshop. "Kato... how long have I been asleep? What time is it?"
"It's 4:00," Kato answers, obviously reluctant to get into it.
"4:00? I slept all day?"
"And it's Thursday."
Now Britt freaks, understandably. "You mean today's not Monday? It should be Monday!"
"And it's next Thursday. You were out for eleven days."
Seth checks himself over and realizes he's wearing a hospital diaper. He gets very quiet and still for a moment, then carefully regards Kato. "Did you put this diaper on me?"
"I had to do it," Kato says, "but I have good news. I think I've fixed it so it's not that powerful." Kato holds up the gas gun, and Britt holds his hand out for it.
"Let me see the gun, Kato."
"Be careful, okay?"
"I will. I'll be careful."
"Don't shoot yourself again."
"I won't. Just let me see it."
Kato finally hands the gun over, and Britt promptly shoots Kato in the face with it, knocking him out cold. Britt sets the gun down and shuffles out, satisfied, as the clips package ends. That is so much better as a payoff to the joke than just a simple "knocked himself out" joke.
And, yes, the film is a comedy. It's essentially "Without A Clue," but using the Green Hornet and Kato instead of Sherlock Holmes and Watson. It is an exploration of the dynamics of the sidekick/hero relationship that absolutely aims to make you laugh while also featuring real superheroics. Watching the clips, the shape of the film became a little more evident. Chudnowsky, the character played by Christop Waltz, is one of the main crimelords in Los Angeles in the film, and when the Hornet and Kato start to stage their own crime wave, hoping to use their notoriety to get closer to the city's criminal underworld, it makes Chudnowsky furious. Finally, he decides he's had enough, and he puts out a million-dollar-bounty on the Green Hornet and Kato, and it looks like a big chunk of the film involves one long night as every killer in the city tries to collect that bounty. That's a cool idea, and it introduces real stakes in the middle of something light and funny, a mix that can really pay off in the hands of Rogen and Goldberg as proven in "Pineapple Express."
The thing they showed second was an actual 3-D clip from the film, the first instance of Kato-vision in the movie, and now I finally have a real understanding of how that's going to work. There are two types of Kato-vision... one allows the audience to see what it is that Kato's doing in a fight, slowing time down and playing with energy in a way that illustrates the impact of what he does, and the other is through Kato's eyes, where the color red is used to indicate any danger or anything that Kato can use as a weapon. It's like looking through the eyes of The Terminator. The extended fight footage was the first time I've clearly been able to identify Gondry's voice in the film, and I thought it played great.
Overall, it was depressing watching the hall empty out from the moment the "Green Hornet" panel began. I had no idea that many people were there just for "Priest" or "The Other Guys." The entire time footage was playing and the Q&A was underway, there was an exodus going on. I'm not sure how aware of it everyone onstage was, but it struck me as disrespectful. I think it's clear that many in the Comic-Con crowd still aren't sure they buy the Rogen casting, and they weren't willing to even sit and give it a chance. Seth was loose and funny on the panel, and one of the highlights was when a very obviously stoned girl in her 20s took the mic for the Q&A and Seth called her on it. She didn't even remotely try to disguise it, either. The man knows his demographic... you gotta give him that.
Personally, I'm more excited now that I've seen more of how the story works and now that I can see how much Gondry there is in the footage. I think "The Green Hornet" looks more and more fun the more they show, and I look forward to January.
More Comic-Con stuff still to come, and next week, I've got interviews with Seth, Evan, and Michel Gondry all set to run here on the site while I'm on vacation. They make the case for their film far more passionately than I can, and I think we'll have some great stuff posting for you while I hang out with my kids for a week and try to unscramble the skull full of bees I've had for the last week or so.
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