<p>This image from 'Rocky 5' is tough to take in the wake of today's wrenching news about Sage Stallone passing away.</p>

This image from 'Rocky 5' is tough to take in the wake of today's wrenching news about Sage Stallone passing away.

Credit: MGM/UA Home Video

Sage Stallone, of Grindhouse Releasing and 'Rocky 5,' has passed away

The oldest son of Sylvester Stallone was only 36 years old

As with many things, the news of Sage Stallone's untimely passing today took me back to my days working at Dave's Video, a laserdisc store that was a major industry stomping ground back in the early '90s.

Sage had an account with the store.  Not his dad, but Sage.  At the time, he was around fourteen or fifteen years old.  He would arrive at the store with his big-ass bodyguard in tow, a guy who also served as his driver, and he'd shop for hours.  He was a voracious film fan, and his interests definitely tended to the obscure.

What blew me away was just how adult he was, even at that point.  It wasn't that smarmy over-precocious kind of adult, either.  Sage carried himself like he was much older, and in conversation, he was just a rabid film lover, someone who had seen at least as much as the older film nerds I knew.  He was constantly on the hunt for some rare title, and any time he could cross a film off his huge list of "things I want to see," it was a major accomplishment.

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<p>Jodie Foster was all smiles during her first appearance ever at the San Diego Comic-Con to help promote next year's science-fiction film 'Elysium'</p>

Jodie Foster was all smiles during her first appearance ever at the San Diego Comic-Con to help promote next year's science-fiction film 'Elysium'

Credit: Jordan Strauss/Invision/AP Photo

Matt Damon and Jodie Foster are Comic-Con virgins no more thanks to 'Elysium'

Neill Blomkamp's first since 'District 9' looks like another mind-bending treat

SAN DIEGO - The first year that HitFix covered Comic-Con, one of the highlights was an early screening of "District 9," which we absolutely adored.  Small wonder one of the most anticipated moments of the convention for us came today when director Neill Blomkamp made his triumphant return to the event with seven minutes of next year's science-fiction action film, "Elysium."  As a sign of just how far he's come in a mere three years, in addition to Sharlto Copley, he also was joined by Matt Damon and Jodie Foster, both new to Comic-Con this year.

Based on the footage he put together, fans of "District 9" have reason to celebrate.

Blomkamp took the stage first, joining KROQ personality Ralph Garman, who hosted Sony's entire event today.  Blomkamp sat down and addressed the audience directly.  "I'm here to debut some footage.  I have this thing where I try to be as honest as I can.  I feel like I belong out there with you guys.  I feel like I'm a fan.  There's an element of salesmanship that makes me feel a little distanced as a fan.  The idea of launching footage here feels honest.  I like it because it's fans.  I'm okay with it."  He paused, looking around at the 6000 people packed into Hall H, and smiled.  "You guys want to see it… right?"

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<p>Anna Kendrick almost melted down from all the cute on display in Hall H during the 'Paranorman' panel today.</p>

Anna Kendrick almost melted down from all the cute on display in Hall H during the 'Paranorman' panel today.

Credit: Jordan Straus/Invision/AP Photo

'Paranorman' makes a strong showing to open Friday the 13th in Hall H

Creepy new family stop-motion film from Laika has style to spare

SAN DIEGO - Things may have gotten started with a few communication glitches, but once "Entertainment Weekly" writer Dave Karger took the stage to moderate the "Paranorman" presentation, everything else ran smoothly, resulting in a frequently funny and raucous glimpse at the new stop-motion animated film from Laika Studios.

It seems appropriate that the Friday the 13th programming would begin with this odd hybrid of horror and comedy aimed squarely at a family audience.  Karger brought out a full panel of guests, including producer/lead animator/president/CEO Travis Knight, the co-directors of the film, Sam Fell and Chris Butler, and three of the actors who contributed their voices to the movie.  Kodi-Smit McPhee, who voices Norman, was last onstage at Comic-Con when I moderated the "Let Me In" panel a few years ago, and he's changed a lot since then.  Anna Kendrick plays his older sister Courtney in the movie, and she was very sharp and funny during her time onstage.  Finally, Chris Mintz-Plasse got cast against type here as Alvin, the school bully.

Chris Butler was the one who initially imagined this project, and he says he did so almost sixteen years ago.  The actual production of the film got underway a little over three years ago, and in that interim, Butler's been continuously playing with the idea of the film, a zombie movie for kids.  He's one of those filmmakers of a particular age who is looking to pay tribute to the films he grew up with like "The Goonies" and "Ghostbusters."  He originally pitched it as "John Hughes meets John Carpenter."  It all grew from there.

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<p>If Jessica Biel shows up dressed like this in 'The Wolverine' when she plays Madame Hydra, someone may need to throw a glass of water on me because I'll faint.</p>

If Jessica Biel shows up dressed like this in 'The Wolverine' when she plays Madame Hydra, someone may need to throw a glass of water on me because I'll faint.

Credit: Marvel Comics

Jessica Biel goes to war with mutants as Viper in 'The Wolverine'

Could her second Marvel movie be the one that puts her over the top?

Jessica Biel was, frankly, made to play a comic book character.  She transformed her physique when she signed on for "Blade: Trinity," and she gave a dedicated performance in what was unfortunately a weaker movie, but that performance wasn't enough to make it work.  It seems like a given that some smart producer would find the right comic book role for her, and now it appears she's once again dipping into the Marvel Universe with a role in James Mangold's upcoming "The Wolverine."

Her character, Viper, is also known as Madame Hydra at times, and she's had a long history in the various comics published by Marvel.  She's been a Captain America bad guy, and at once point she even stole the S.H.I.E.L.D. Helicarrier.  One of her most famous storylines involved characters who we already know are part of "The Wolverine," so it makes sense she would also show up.

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<p>Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly were both blunt and funny during their appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con to discuss their new animated film 'Wreck-It Ralph'</p>

Sarah Silverman and John C. Reilly were both blunt and funny during their appearance at the San Diego Comic-Con to discuss their new animated film 'Wreck-It Ralph'

Credit: John Shearer/Inivision/AP Photo

'Wreck-It Ralph' panel shows 10 minutes of footage with John C. Reilly and Sarah Silverman

Acclaimed animation director Rich Moore shows off his passion project

SAN DIEGO - The final movie that Disney did a full presentation for during their Hall H panel at this year's San Diego Comic-Con is one of the most ambitious films they have on their schedule for this year, and based on the material they showed here, they should feel good about what they're trying.

Chris Hardwick, aka The Nerdist, seemed completely comfortable moderating the panel, and at the start of this final stage of the event, he mentioned that he had recently been talking to some friends about "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and how that film could never happen today because of corporate lawyers and IP battles.  Almost as soon as he had that conversation, he saw the first trailer for "Wreck-It Ralph" and realized that he was, in fact, completely wrong.

Director Rich Moore walked out to join Hardwick onstage, kidding as he walked out.  "You said it was just going to be you and me."

As he settled in, he talked a bit about the premise of the film.  "Ralph thinks there is more to life than wrecking, and he sets out on a journey to become more than just an 8-bit bad guy."  When Hardwick pointed out that Moore was a director of "The Simpsons" for five years, Moore was quick to point out "That was 22 years ago."

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<p>Tim Burton seemed excited to discuss his new film 'Frankenweenie' with the crowd at Hall H today.</p>

Tim Burton seemed excited to discuss his new film 'Frankenweenie' with the crowd at Hall H today.

Credit: John Shearer/Inivision/AP Photo

Tim Burton shows several scenes and an old-school trailer for stop-motion 'Frankenweenie'

A spirited Q&A showed Burton at his best

SAN DIEGO - In the half-hour before the Disney panel began in Hall H of the San Diego Comic-Con, Tim Burton stood upstairs in the green room, laughing, smiling, completely at ease and comfortable.  Anyone who sat through the presentation he made for his new stop-motion animated film "Frankenweenie" knows, though, that Burton wasn't always that relaxed in his own skin, and many of his real childhood anxieties, especially about school, served as fodder for the film.

"What did they do to you in that school?" the panel moderator Chris Hardwick asked at one point.

Burton just shook his head, shuddering, and answered, "The lawsuits are still pending."

At the start of the presentation, the first of three films promoted as part of today's Disney event, Hardwick talked about how seeing "Beetlejuice" on the bigscreen was a major event for him as a kid, and how it taught him early on that films did not all have to look the same.

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<p>Sam Raimi teases the preposterously pretty Michelle Williams during the Comic-Con panel for 'Oz The Great and Powerful'</p>

Sam Raimi teases the preposterously pretty Michelle Williams during the Comic-Con panel for 'Oz The Great and Powerful'

Credit: John Shearer/Inivision/AP Photo

Sam Raimi brings Michelle Williams and Mila Kunis to Hall H to introduce 'Oz'

Raimi talks about walking the fine line beween homage and creation for this one

SAN DIEGO - Chris Hardwick, better known as king of a podcasting empire under the handle The Nerdist, was practically giddy as he introduced the second film at today's Disney panel in Hall H at the San Diego Comic-Con.  He said he'd never had a chance to meet the filmmaker he was about to bring out, but that he considered himself a huge fan, and confessed, "I peed just a little bit when I found out this next guy would be here."

The highlight reel that they showed featuring clips from "Evil Dead 2," "The Quick and the Dead," all three "Spider-Man" movies, "Darkman," "Army Of Darkness," and "Drag Me To Hell" made a strong case for why Hardwick might be so excited.  Taken as a thrilling kinetic whole, the clips not only featured some huge, iconic pop culture moments like the upside down kiss in the rain from "Spider-Man," but geeky beloved beats like Bruce Campbell's "groovy" and "Hail to the king, baby."  Sam makes images that you can instantly recognize as Raimi images, and he is justifiably adored by many film nerds.  He took the stage to enthusiastic applause and settled in next to Hardwick to discuss his latest film, "Oz The Great and Powerful."

"This is my home away from home, Comic-Con.  I love it here," Raimi said, talking about how his favorite parts of the convention are "where they sell the comics," which he considers the heart of the event.

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<p>It was kind of like this, but moving.</p>

It was kind of like this, but moving.

Credit: Walt Disney Company

Fans get first look at Johnny Depp in 'The Lone Ranger' footage to finish Disney panel

Could Verbinski make Westerns cool again?

SAN DIEGO - The final surprise of today's Disney panel at Comic-Con 2012 probably wasn't a total surprise to anyone in Hall H.  After all, this is the same place where Disney ended a panel with footage of Johnny Depp as Jack Sparrow on the set of "Pirates 4," and it's the same place Guillermo Del Toro made an appearance to announce a "Haunted Mansion" film that no one was aware of.  And of course, this is where Disney showed that test footage that kicked off the avalanche of anticipation that built to the release of "TRON: Legacy."  Disney knows the value of a Hall H moment, and they did their best to guarantee one this afternoon with the debut of the very first footage anywhere for "The Lone Ranger."

Much has already been written about the backstage drama for this movie, with a production delay while the budget was slashed and later reports that the budget was creeping back up during production anyway, but none of that ultimately matters if the film works.  Based on the four or five minutes they showed today, "The Lone Ranger" looks to be a lush, opulent take on the Western, focusing on the way the introduction of the railroad changed the power dynamic of the Old West.

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<p>By complete coincidence, this is what I'm wearing to the HitFix Comic-Con party tonight.</p>

By complete coincidence, this is what I'm wearing to the HitFix Comic-Con party tonight.

Credit: 20th Century Fox

Is Fox in danger of losing 'Daredevil' back to Marvel?

New behind the scenes developments make things interesting between the studios

20th Century Fox has taken plenty of heat over the years for their handling of comic book properties, some of which I've applied personally, but any fan of the modern age of superhero movies has to acknowledge that if they hadn't taken a chance on "X-Men" when they did, things might look very different right now.

They're still very much in the Marvel business, and it looks like they've made it official now that they'll be rebooting "Fantastic Four" with Josh Trank directing.  I really liked his work on "Chronicle," and I think it'll be interesting to see what sort of aesthetic he brings to the property.  They never really found a tone that worked in the first two films, but I believe that "Fantastic Four" could be one of the biggest franchises in all of superhero cinema if they get it right.

What's more interesting is that David Slade has left "Daredevil," which means Fox has to scramble now to get someone onboard to start production on the film this fall, or they risk having the rights revert to Marvel.

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<p>I just hired this guy to do my yard. That shouldn't be a problem, right?</p>

I just hired this guy to do my yard. That shouldn't be a problem, right?

Credit: Universal Pictures

The MCP: Don Winslow guests on an Oliver Stone-themed podcast

Tom Cruise and Andy Griffith are also discussed in this free-wheeling conversation

The latest episode of the podcast is posting a few days past its due date, but I had a weird tech issue I had to sort out, so I apologize.

The good news is that the interview I did with author Don Winslow is about a half-hour long, and it's a really great chat with a guy whose work is reaching an increasingly large audience with each new book, and who deserves the acclaim.  It's always nice to talk to filmmaker or actors, but we don't feature nearly enough in-depth conversations with writers, and this is a great example of what I'd like to do more often in the future.  Also, since the film's already out, I don't feel so bad about talking with Winslow about the ending of the movie, but be warned…  if you haven't seen it, spoilers do ensue.

In addition, Scott and I have a lengthy talk about the work of Oliver Stone in general this week, and both of us were hardcore fans of Stone for many years.  It's been frustrating for a while now looking at movies of his that just didn't excite me, and finally having a new movie from him that feels like it's worth the sort of excitement he used to generate every time out has been a treat.

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