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Posted at 1:25 PM ET, 07/28/2009

Twenty Questions: What Hollywood's Comic-Con 'Sneaks' Taught Us

By Michael Cavna

NOTE: Today at 11 a.m., Comic Riffs hosted a live chat about San Diego Comic-Con International 2009.


At times during this year's San Diego Comic-Con International, the seemingly constant unspooling of Never-Seen-Before! Footage -- typically interspersed with Acts of Random Cast Wackiness -- began to become a blur. Soon, our Starbucks-addled state had this Riffster asking: Just how many "zomedies" (spoofy zombie flicks) ARE there at this confab? Just how many movies is Woody Harrelson IN? And if director Roland Emmerich indeed blows up the world in 2012, will cockroaches and William Shatner's indestructible career be the only entities to survive?

So having enjoyed/endured "sneak" footage of Fox TV comedies and 3D feature-film animations and more CGI-sweetened "performance capture" movies than our eyeballs can consume without rolling back like a Robert Zemeckis effect (talk about your "dead eye" animation), here are Twenty Questions so you can brace yourself for the cinematic onslaught about to begin. So don those chunky 3D glasses (thank you, "Avatar"!) and join the journey if you dare.

1. So just what color IS zombie vomit ("zomit") supposed to be, anyway?

This year's Big Con featured an early showdown between two funny "zomedies": "Jennifer's Body" (Megan Fox) and "Zombieland" (Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone). "Jennifer" went with projectile chocolate-syrup ("Hershey's," Fox joked before deciding not to"endorse" any one confectioner). "Zombieland" tricked it old-skool, showing footage featuring traditional "split-pea" special-effects green. Let the debate rage on.

2. "Zomedies" are the new black (and blue). So which will do better: "Jennifer's Body" or "Z-land"?

"Jennifer" has cult-y sleeper written all over it. "Zombieland" feels "bigger" and so seems a bigger risk; Woody Harrelson was hysterical in the extended trailer, though, so it should find a respectable-sized audience. Caveat: With so many zombies afoot, release date is crucial.

3. Who does a better Russian accent: Mickey Rourke (Whiplash in "Iron Man 2") or Mila Kunis ("Extract" and "The Book of Eli")?

Jon Favreau tells the hall of 6,000-some fanboys that after Rourke learned that his character had spent time in a gulag, he suddenly read on TMZ that Rourke was IN a Russian prison. (Anything for the role.) But Mike Judge tells Comic Riffs how in one small-shop scene during the "Extract" shoot, Mila suddenly broke into fluent Russian with the real-life shopkeep. Then Judge remembered: Mila was born in the Ukraine. Winner: Kunis!

4. Speaking of Mila: Which young starlet's raspy voice seemed to stir the panting fanboys more: Kunis's or Scarlet Johansson's ("Iron Man 2")?

Too close to call, except we should note: It was Mila who prompted one brave geek to ask from the Q&A floor whether he could be her personal "pool cleaner" (a sexual reference straight from the "Extract" clip). Kunis's response, admiring his nerd chutzpah: "You have (huevos), my friend!"

5. Who had the better goatee in person: Johnny Depp or Robert Downey Jr.?

Trick question. Depp rocked his usual goatee, but Downey -- after all the footage showed him with the Tony Stark facial hair -- showed up clean-shaven (and apparently clean) to the panel and media roundtable.

The Great Hayao Miyazaki-san & the men of Disney/Pixar. Immediately to the right of Miyazaki is Pixar founder John Lasseter. (Michael Cavna/The Washington Post)

6. Who does "oceanic fury" better -- "2012's" Roland Emmerich or "Ponyo's" Hayao Miyazaki?

Edge: Miyazaki! The "Ponyo" clip screened during the Disney/Pixar panel was deeply, deeply beautiful.

7. Who does a better Schwarzenegger impression: The Guvinator, or Roland Emmerich?

During the "2012" session, Emmerich sounded remarkably like Ahnuld. So when the "2012" footage include a "news report" of a Schwarzenegger press conference, you had to wonder whether Emmerich had dubbed it. (The whole room seemed to wonder it.) When finally asked, Emmerich said no, he had not dubbed the Guvinator's voice -- though he added that he's friends with Arnold and would be screening the film for him.

8. Who had better makeup onscreen in trailer footage: Johnny Depp or Zoe Saldana?

Depp's Mad Hatter character in "Alice in Wonderland" had some serious kabuki-esque action, but Zoe's blue-hued "Na'Vi" alien in "Avatar" was an awesome effect to behold.
Edge: Saldana. (Though Depp's orange hair is in a class by itself.)

9. Who fibs the most about the "newness" of the "Never Before Seen Anywhere!" footage?

James Cameron during the "Avatar" panel. "Avatar" producer Jon Landau adknowledged to Comic Riffs that almost all the same footage had already been screened weeks earlier in Amsterdam.

10. Who rocks the long, scraggly-haired and bearded look better onscreen: Woody Harrelson in "2012" or Ben Affleck in "Extract"?

Woody's great, but judging by the limited footage, Affleck's acting benefits from the hair-band look. Here's the thing: Unlike so many studio honchos, Mike Judge is smart enough to know that Affleck best acting comes as a character actor, not a leading man -- roles that often cause him to stiffen up. (In "Hollywoodland," he played off this very dynamic.) But "Extract" is the film that will make Affleck's career in front of the camera relevant again. I said to Judge that I thought Affleck's best work was back in his "Chasing Amy" days. On the panel, Judge cited another '90s film: "Dazed and Confused."

11. Who hates the world more: Roland "master of disaster" Emmerich or Mike Judge?

Judge was asked during the "Extract" panel, jokingly, why he hates America so much, given his satirical bent. Similarly during the "2012" panel, Emmerich was asked why he hates the world so much, destroying swaths of the planet in film after film.

Judge's response: "I don't hate America. I love America." Emmerich's response: "I don't hate the world" -- he loves his home planet, haha. So -- a tie, I guess.

12. Who was the most winning, honest-about-the-biz actor in the panel chats?

Gotta be Jason Bateman, star of "Extract" -- he repeatedly was at his funniest when uttering the sly, brutal truth.

13. Who'll get the bigger bounce from "Extract": Bateman or Kunis?

They both are very, very funny in the limited footage, but again: Might have to go for Option "C" with Affleck. This film could move him into a Paul Rudd-esque string of leading-man-as-character-actor roles, if he's smart about it. But: Bateman said he tells Judge that the director should form a Christopher Guest-like troupe of regulars for more frequent feature films. We'd love to see Bateman head up that troupe.

14. Some fanboys ask questions of young starlets as if they're merely eye candy. Who's sharper with the retort in such situations: Kunis or Megan Fox?

Tie. Both were slyly brilliant and quick at undercutting such classifications -- while not leaving lasting marks upon their fans. They still know on which side much of their fan base is buttered.

Sam Rockwell and Don Cheadle prepare to face their "Iron Man 2" public. (Michael Cavna/The Washington Post)

15. Which film used giant donut-shop signage to better effect: "Iron Man 2" or "2012"?

It's a quick rolling laff in "2012." In "Iron Man 2," an apparently hung-over Robert Downey Jr. lounging on the signage, the effect is very funny. Edge: Iron Man.

16. Who did the Con give the Inkpot Award to (for career contributions to animation) during the Disney/Pixar panel: Hayao Miyazaki or Pixar founder John Lasseter?

Both. And given that Miyazaki's is a hero of Lasseter's -- and now they're pals -- it seemed especially fitting.

17. Who'll voice the Ken Doll character in next year's "Toy Story 3."

Michael Keaton. His "Groovin' With Ken" clip played to great effect in 6,000-strong Fanboy Hall.

18. Which panel participants made the most cracks at the expense of "nerdy," doughy and libidinous fanboys who live "in their parent's basement"?

Disney/Pixar host and comic Patton "voice of Ratatouille" Oswalt, himself appearing conspicuously to be a doughy and libidinous fanboy. Go figure. We hope Oswalt was laughing with them, not at them.

19. Who received get a bigger Fanboy Hall reaction: Johnny Depp or Hayao Miyazaki?

Depp got the short-burst rock-star roar -- and then he was gone. Miyazaki received a long, heart-moving standing ovation. Take yer pick -- both cool moments.

20. What clip of new footage got the single biggest laugh of the entire Con 2009?

Would have to be for Seth McFarlane's new animated Fox comedy, "The Cleveland Show." The father tells his young boy he needs to renounce his vow of virginity -- which must be "cast off" on whichever poor soul will take it. If the boy doesn't, Dad warns, the kid will turn out like THIS...

...CUT TO an animated visual of many costumed nerds milling about a comics convention.

The jet-engine burst of uproarious laughter in Ballroom 20 -- in joyous unison -- felt like one of the most insta-unifying moment of the Con. Seth smartly played to the crowd and the sentiment in the hall: The geek shall inherit the Earth!

Thanks, Hollywood. That's a wrap.

By Michael Cavna  | July 28, 2009; 1:25 PM ET
Categories:  San Diego Comic-Con  
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