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Comic-Con 2012: Rev your engines

San Diego Comic-Con International is a celebration of cartoons, costumes and fictional and real characters. Recent years have brought increasing commercialization. Many of the panels are little more than tantalizing propaganda for upcoming TV programs and movies and the panels bare their wares as brazenly as the whores who used to walk the Gaslamp District before it became a hip place to be. But SDCC is also a venue for introducing and releasing movies that have a link to geek culture and SDCC hosts a Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival.

SDCC can be a family fun event, although some of the movies offered haven't quite caught on to that aspect, and seem aimed at an audience of nerdy boy-children living in their parents' homes.

Alexia Anastasio's uneven documentary, "Adventures in Plymptoons" about American animator Bill Plympton sets a tongue-in-cheek attitude from its two first talking head sequences with Terry Gilliam (who presented Plympton's 2008 "Idiots and Angels") and Ed Begley Jr. (who was a voice actor in the 2004 "Carrie"-like comedy horror story "Hair High"). Plymptoons are the anti-Disney--twisted, surreal and often for mature audiences, and might make you think of boys in basements. Plympton has been nominated twice for an Academy Award for his animated shorts and his work was feature on "The Simpsons" this year for the opening segment as well as in music videos for Kanye West (the 2005 "Heard 'Em Say") and Weird Al Yankovic (the 2006 "Don't Download This Song").

The official release date for "Adventures in Plymptoons" is September 18 by Cinema Libre and the documentary will be available on DVD. Anastasio will be attending New York Comic-Con.

Even if this feature makes you think that Plympton might be that creepy uncle type, he did help guide a the 10-year-old Perry S. Chen in this 2011 animated short, "Ingrid Pitt: Beyond the Forest," about the experiences of actress Ingrid Pitt during the Jewish Holocaust. Although she made her film debut with a small role in the 1965 "Doctor Zhivago," Pitt mostly worked in horror movies during the 1960s and 1970s. This poignant animation is about the period that the Polish-born Pitt was in a concentration camp as a child. In 2010, Pitt died in London, seven months after she completed the narration on this project. She was 73,

San Diego-based Chen and Plympton were part of a panel discussion at SDCC. The animation short premiered at SDCC in 2011 and has gone on to win several festival awards. "Ingrid Pitt" is available on iTunes.

Another feature that will have you thinking of boys and basements is producer Roger Corman's "Attack of the 50-foot Cheerleader." When the lighting technician focuses his attention on the bountiful bared breasts rather than the faces of the actresses in question, the claim that this movie empowers women seems artificially inflated. Brilliant but nerdy Cassie (Jena Sims) is a post-doc level researcher trying out for the cheerleading team and a pledge at Zeta Zeta Mu as a legacy. Brittany (Olivia Alexander) is the queen bee mean girl in both organizations. The nude scenes will insure that this film will attract sweaty fans who aren't turned away by the lackluster acting and stilted dialog (by Mike MacLean who also gave us "Piranhaconda") Notable among the otherwise unknown cast are Sean Young and Treat Williams picking up a paycheck but not baring their chests.

Directed by Kevin O'Neill (TV movie "Dinoshark"), the movie will be released on EpixHD, August 25, 2012.

The direct-to-DVD computer animated science fiction "Starship Troopers: Invasion" is another feature directed toward a male audience. This is a direct sequel to Paul Verhoeven's 1997 live action "Starship Troopers." The alien "bugs" attack a federation outpost and the mobile team is assigned to evacuate the survivors. Carl Jenkins of the Ministry of Paranormal Warfare takes a warship on a top-secret mission, leaving Captain Carmen Ibanez without a ship. Her ship and Jenkins mysteriously disappears. The troops are sent on a rescue mission and the battle-scarred John Rico will have to come to their aid as the bugs then launch an attack on earth itself. "We're not fighting for some rock across the galaxy; we're fighting for our home."

"Starship Troopers: Invasion" premiered in Japan on July 21, 2012 and will make its U. S. DVD premiere on August 28, 2012.

Two movies based on comic book characters also made a splash at Comic-Con. Six Batmobiles (from the original TV series, "The Dark Knight" version, "The Dark Knight Rises" camoflage versions, the Tim Burton movie version, the Joel Schumacher versions from "Batman Forever" and "Batman and Robin") and were on public display at Comic-Con just in time for the CW's documentary, "The Batmobile."

The first Batmobile was a quick low-budget job used for the campy TV series yet it inspired future Batman movie directors like Tim Burton and Chris Nolan. The Batmobile was not a fixed vehicle of certain dimensions and features. In the comic books, it easily morphed with each successive illustrator's imagination. Why should the movies be any different?

"There's something incredibly primal about the relationship between man and machine," director Chris Nolan tells us. Still when a designer says, the car is everything that a young boy would desire I wanted to scream: Women like to drive sports cars, too. Maybe we need Batgirl and Robin in their separate rides.

The documentary premiered at Comic-Con before its July 16 TV debut and segments appear to have been taped at a previous Comic-Con. The movie is currently available on-demand. The full-length documentary will be available on Blu-Ray and as a digital download this holiday season.

Another dark knight from the comic books is Solomon Kane, a character created in 1928 by pulp fiction author Robert E. Howard, and his stories mostly appeared in the magazine Weird Tales. Portrayed by James Purefoy (Kantos Kan in another pulp fiction to movie adaptation, "John Carter"), this movie is meant to be the first of a trilogy. Consider it both an origin story and a mission statement of who privateer Kane finds God, a purpose and Puritan clothes. More mysterious is how it couldn't find a U. S. release date until this year.

Director/writer Michael J. Bassett creates a world where the highway robbers are the least of the terrors to be faced. The beasts of European folktales threaten Kane—witches, zombies, vampires and demons of various sizes and dimensions. Purefoy is a fierce presence as the reluctant hero and the CGI creates a rich environment of dark terrors although the atmosphere is sometimes overly grandiose.

This isn't the first time the feature movie "Solomon Kane" has come to Comic-Con. In 2009, it was at SDCC with a panel discussion and the movie premiered at the Toronto Film Festival and opened in France. The movie opened in other countries, including the United Kingdom, but is slated for release on-demand on August 24 and a limited U. S. release on September 28, 2012.

What would Comic-Con be with out Star Trek? Isn't Comic-Con a prelude to the Las Vegas Star Trek convention? Two documentaries looked at different aspects of Gene Roddenberry's legacy.

As a follow up to his 2011 feature documentary "The Captains," William Shatner now focuses on his fans in this documentary, "Get a Life!" that uses interviews with fans and even a few of the stars—major and minor, of the Star Trek franchise. Not as deep or moving as "The Captains," this film takes its name from Shatner's 1999 book (as well as an SNL skit) and uses the book as a starting point.

Shatner claims that he originally didn't get why people attended conventions when he wrote his book. His epiphany in this documentary was that the fans weren't going to conventions to see him so much as to see each other.

On becoming an inadvertent Star Trek historian, Shatner commented during a press interview that "Star Trek people are beginning to gravitate toward me who were previously difficult for me to talk to without large amounts of money," and his next project looks at "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

"Get a Life!" premieres on Epix July 28, 2012.

Scott Colthorp directs this somewhat indulgent documentary that explores the legacy of the five Star Trek TV shows as seen by his only son, Eugene "Rod" Roddenberry. Using old tapes and interviews with Gene Roddenberry and various cast members and clips from the five shows with current interviews with writers and Nichelle Nichols, the documentary examines what Gene Roddenberry had to say about his concept and how his son discovered his father.

You might be surprised that his son was only 17 years old when Roddenberry died at age 70 in 1991. Rod is the product of Gene Roddenberry's second marriage with Majel Barrett whom he married in 1969.

George Lucas talks briefly about how Star Trek inspired his vision of Star Wars and that he attended a few Star Trek conventions in the 1970s. Rod Roddenberry also interviews JJ Abrams, the director of the Star Trek re-boot and shows him Gene Roddenberry in a 1986 interview where he enthuses that he's like to see bright young people and new stars doing a better version of Star Trek while looking at how the characters in TOS met and became a crew.

The movie premiered on the Science TV channel (SCI) in November of last year and is currently available on iTunes, Vudu and YouTube.

There was something for and about women: "GLOW: The Story of the Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling" which won the festival award for best documentary. Director Brett Whitcomb and writer Bradford Thomason takes us back to the disco era of big hair, glitter and Spandex to look at how three men, David McLane, Matt Cimber and Steve Blance with money from Pia Zadora's then-husband Meshulam Riklis, created a TV faux-reality show and peopled it with wanna-be stars.

The dancers, actresses and stunt women who made the casting call and training cut were assigned colorful characters with names like Mt. Fiji (Emily Dole), Matilda the Hun (Dee Booher), Little Egypt (Angelina Altishin), Big Bad Mama (Lynn Braxton), Jailbait (Trish Casella) and Babe the Farmer's Daughter (Ursula Hayden). The women were divided into teams: good girls or bad girls. Based in, where else, Las Vegas at the Riklis-owned Riviera Hotel, these women, their rapping and their antics were the basis for a four-season (1986-1990) TV show called "Gorgeous Ladies of Wrestling." At one point Sylvester Stallone's mother, Jackie Stallone appeared as the manager of the good girls.

Clips from the original broadcasts and interviews with former members paint a picture of innocence, fun and folly, but the reunion that resulted from the making of this documentary is touching. Filmmakers director Brett Whitcomb and writer Bradford Thomason don't ignore the downside of wrestling including on-stage and cumulative injuries.

The documentary "GLOW" was the winner of Comic-Con International Independent Film Festival in the documentary category. The movie currently has a Kickstarter campaign to raise money for distribution.

GLOW has been revived at the Riviera under Cimber's son with sex symbol Jayne Mansfield, Tony Cimber, and reunites former GLOW performers with new performers.

Spurlock's "Comic-con IV: A Fan's Hope" isn't the only movie to be produced at Comic-Con. Segments were filmed for a Science Channel documentary on Joss Whedon's "Firefly"; it will air November 11 as part of the 10th anniversary celebration for "Firefly."

Jana Monji

Jana Monji, made in San Diego, California, lost in Japan several times, has written about theater and movies for the LA Weekly, LA Times, and currently, and the Pasadena Weekly. Her short fiction has been published in the Asian American Literary Review.

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