From what we hear, San Diego's Comic-Con used to be all about comic books and movies —what a strange, novel idea! While comic classics and big-screen adventures are still a major part of the convention, SDCC can now be viewed as a litmus test for television's growing popularity. In recent years, the infamous Hall H has been flooded with frantic fans flocking to see their favorite hits from the small screen, and 2012's convention will feature more shows than ever before. Hollywood.com will be on the floor for many of your favorite shows, bringing exclusive scoop and interviews from their hottest stars. But before we grab our badge and brave the crowds, let's run down what we already know from your favorite hits, and, more importantly, what we're dying to find out. MINOR SPOILERS AHEAD!
Dexter: At the end of season 6, fans were treated to the moment they'd been waiting for since the days of the Ice Truck Killer: Deb (Jennifer Carpenter) walked in on a kill. This. Changes. Everything.
What We Need To Know: To put it mildly, season 6 of Dexter was a disappointment. In fact, things haven't been quite the same since the phenomenal John Lithgow took his final bow. Having Deb in on the game (or battling Dexter) would certainly shake things up, but fans really need to know how they plan to keep things fresh for season 7. Showtime has been pretty mum about this season's new big bad, but we do know that newcomer Ray Stevenson will play a high-ranking member of an Easter European crime ring, with Katia Winter recurring as a Russian stripper. This high-power organized crime factor is new territory for Dexter, so we're keeping our fingers crossed for a quality trailer.
Community: Creator Dan Harmon was fired after a tumultuous season 3, and a series of leaked voicemails that exposed extreme personal and creative differences with Chevy Chase. David Guarascio and Moses Port (Happy Endings) will take the reins for season 4, while Chase has confirmed that he will definitely return for another year at Greendale. When we last left the study group, Jeff (Joel McHale) was searching for his father, while Troy (Donald Glover) became the "messiah" of Greendale's Air Conditioning Repair Annex.
What We Need To Know: How the new showrunners plan to handle the transition, and their plans for the tone of the show. Community is one of television's most unique treasures, and its devoted fans are fiercely loyal to Harmon. Guarascio, Port and the cast have been relatively quiet since Harmon's firing, so Comic Con will be their big debut. Expect plenty of scoop on the Community front, Human Beings.
The Walking Dead: They're everywhere! At the end of season 2, Andrea (Laurie Holden) was rescued by a hooded woman when she became separated from the rest of the besieged gang, who were forced to flee Herschel's (Scott Wilson) farm. It was soon revealed that this woman is none other than Michonne, a popular sword-wielding heroine from the comics. Meanwhile, the Grimes Gang were left reeling over the news that the virus that makes "walkers" is alive in all of them, so even a natural death would result in zombie rebirth. What We Need To Know: Michonne's casting has already been revealed — Treme's Danai Gurira will join the cast when the show resumes next fall, along with David Morrissey as a formidable villain known as The Governor. (Check em' out in the brand new poster!) But more importantly, we want to know how season 3 will look with new showrunner Glen Mazzara officially at the helm. Will he quicken the dull pace of season 2? The final 3 episodes of last season were a vast improvement over fall's poorly received Sophia snooze-fest, so we have high hopes for Dead's panel at this year's Con. Game of Thrones: Stannis (Stephen Dillane) is (maybe?) defeated! Tyrion (Peter Dinklage) lost his power over the realm! Jon Snow (Kit Harington) is a wildling! Theon (Alfie Allen) and Davos (Liam Cunningham) might be dead! So much happened in last month's finale that there aren't enough exclamation points in this world to encapsulate. We doubt the GoT crew will give away too much about season 3 since it's (unfortunately) eons away, but George R. R. Martin knows how to give a good panel. (Though it's pretty hard to adequately tease plot lines when everything already exists in a book.) What We Need To Know: They've already announced a bevy of characters that will join the cast for season 3 (which will be based on the third book in George R. R. Martin's A Song of Ice and Fire series, A Storm of Swords). We'll on the lookout for any casting announcements, or new exotic filming locations to expand upon the already vast world of Westeros. Also, since A Storm of Swords will be split into 2 seasons, we're curious to know where this one cuts off. Breaking Bad: The fifth season of AMC's groundbreaking drama premieres on the final night of 'Con (Sunday the 15th), so fans won't have to wait too long to see where Walt (Bryan Cranston) and Jesse (Aaron Paul) ended up after last season's dramatic face off. (Get it?) What We Need To Know: Is Walt really capable of killing a child? After seeing that Lily of the Valley plant in his backyard, it would certainly seem so. Was Saul in on the scheme? Also, getting rid of Gus leaves plenty of room for a new big bad — but will this season's opposition be a brand new face, or has Walt himself become the show's main antagonist? We expect Cranston and co. to touch on all of these issues and more, so be sure to check back for updates! Once Upon A Time: The first season's finale brought good news and bad news. In the "good" column, residents of the cursed Storybrooke, Maine regained their memories when Emma (Jennifer Morrison) finally broke the evil spell. However, fans were left with a cliffhanger when Mr. Gold/Rumpelstiltskin (Robert Carlyle) and Belle (Emilie de Ravin) seemingly went ahead and cast another one. It looks like magic has finally made its way to "our" world, but what this means for our favorite characters is yet to be seen. What We Need To Know: Well, besides more details about the latest curse, we'd like to see what the newly cast Mulan and Sleeping Beauty will be up to. Jamie Chung (who will now and forever be known as the girl from The Real World: San Diego) and The Tudors' Sarah Bolger have officially joined the roster, but the Once-lers have kept mum about their role in Storybrooke. We're hoping for some overall badassery from Chung (and not only to make up for Sucker Punch). The Vampire Diaries: In the final moments of May's third season finale, TVD fans were shocked when Elena (Nina Dobrev) died, only to re-emgerge minutes later as a bona fide creature of the night. Also, Klaus is somehow occupying Tyler's (Michael Trevino) body. What We Need To Know: We're not sure if anything can beat Caroline's (Candice Accola) hilarious-slash-heartbreaking season 2 transformation, but we're curious to see producer Julie Plec and co. try. Also — if Klaus is occupying Tyler's body, what does that mean for his soul? And how the heck does Trevino plan to pull off the conniving Brit Joseph Morgan? True Blood: Since we're right smack in the middle of the season, the True Blood gang might not have too much to give away. But after an intense make-out session between Sookie (Anna Paquin) and Alcide (Joe Manganiello), fans will be chomping at the bit for any details on Sookie's love... quadrangle? What We Need To Know: How they plan to proceed without showrunner Alan Ball leading the way. The show just got picked up for another season, which will be its first with co-executive producer Mark Hudis at the helm. Does he have any plans for a change of direction? Fringe: Fringe's final season will debut this fall (tear), and after a madcap season 4 that included a special flash-forward to a dystopian 2036, Peter (Joshua Jackson), Olivia (Anna Torv) and Walter (John Noble) experienced some sort of happily ever after when they saved our universe and learned that Olivia was pregnant. However, this pregnancy fits perfectly with the grim future presented in the flash-forward, where Peter and Olivia's daughter tries to survive a world run by evil Observers, and Olivia is supposedly dead. What We Need To Know: According to Noble, Fringe's final go-round will take place almost exclusively in 2036, where the original Fringe team (plus Peter and Olivia's daughter, Etta) are wanted insurgents. Using the Observers as final-season villains is a huge plot shift, because we always thought September was our dearest friend. Does this mean the Observers were behind everything all along (even September)? Will we ever see the alternate universe (and our beloved Lincoln Lee) again? Are peacoats still in style in 2036? In case you couldn't tell, we're pretty excited for the Fringe panel. Please excuse the impending exclamation points. Sons of Anarchy: Season 4 of SoA ended on a major bang: Jax (Charlie Hunnam) finally learned that Clay (Ron Perlman) killed his father (and tried to kill Tara), but now he has to keep the old bastard alive. Agents in the CIA-backed Galindo cartel are using the Sons as their drug and weapon runners for their deal with the Irish Kings, who will only deal with Clay. Galindo will crush the now Jax-led Sons if their Irish investigation fails, so Jax will need to try his darndest to keep internal issues at bay. To make matters worse, Tig (Kim Coates) ran over the daughter of the most infamous drug kingpin in Oakland. What We Need To Know: We learned on Lost that Harold Perrineau will do anything for his kin. So when we heard the news that Perrineau had joined the cast as Damon Pope, the famous gangster/father of the woman run over by Tig, we were thrilled. ANY news on his character, and upcoming gang drama for the Sons, is necessary. Follow Shaunna on Twitter @HWShaunna More:
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Based on the best-selling book of the same name Fast Food Nation has three intertwined stories revolving around the fast food industry. Don Anderson (Greg Kinnear) is a corporate marketing guy assigned to put a positive spin on the bad news that fecal traces has been found in the meat. He goes to the meat factory to investigate and doesn’t like what he sees but no one offers him a viable solution. Then there’s Raul (Wilmer Valderrama) and Sylvia (Catalina Sandino Moreno) Mexican immigrants who cross the border illegally. The only job they can get is in the meat factory. She bears with demeaning sexual advances while he faces the unhealthy and dangerous conditions to try for the American Dream. Finally we meet Amber (Ashley Johnson) who works in a local franchise. She’s just a high school girl trying to pay for her car insurance. This isn’t her future but it dominates her present. The corporate story is a comedy about ineffective management and media spin. The immigrants’ story is a hard drama about a bad life. Amber’s story straddles both lines--a slacker teen comedy but also introspective about what the job is doing to her soul. It may be no secret these days but it’s still fascinating. There is plenty of juicy dialogue for actors to sink their teeth into (pun intended). Kinnear plays the corporate suit as lovably as possible. He’s the put-upon business cog similar to his characters in The Matador and Little Miss Sunshine but funnier because it’s the system that’s futile not his own dreams. Valderrama has a smaller part just supporting his wife going through a horrible life with noble determination. Moreno is as heartbreaking as she was in her Oscar-nominated performance in Maria Full of Grace. You sense so much potential in her and she’s stuck in the factory demeaned by sexual harassment and unable to save her sister from succumbing to it. She adds new colors of despair to the immigrant experience. Johnson is careful not to make her character too wise beyond her years. She really is just a normal kid. High school sucks so do counter jobs. It’s not about being unique just relatable. Cameos stand out too. Ethan Hawke plays the coolest uncle ever. He comes to town for two scenes spouts off his cool-uncle advice and then leaves. Even though he’s a self-confessed loser he’s convincing. And he buys her beer. Bruce Willis gives a speech on the meat industry with his David Addison smirk while chomping into a burger. We’re sold. Director Richard Linklater does a good job keeping the comedy and drama balanced. He cuts back and forth between stories at sensible intervals. Towards the end Greg Kinnear disappears for a long time but Ashley Johnson’s story beefs up to compensate. Showing the inner workings of the meat factory is pretty powerful. Cow guts falling out and bodies mangled by machinery are not fun things to watch but they are important to remember. It’s all up there on the screen but not gratuitous—and doesn’t have to ruin meat forever. Just think how all foods have processes that we don’t see and still taste good. There are plenty of scenes in which the characters are talking a real Linklater specialty (Before Sunset Before Sunrise for example). Whether they’re talking about meat or minimum wage jobs or life ambitions the conversations have a catchy flow. The satire of corporate America and slacker lifestyles juxtaposed against the drama of immigrant life makes Fast Food Nation both ridiculously funny and appropriately uncomfortable.
When ordered to fire a long-time janitor named Stavi (Luis Avalos) Steve Barker (Johnny Knoxville) softens the blow by hiring him to mow the lawn at his apartment complex. Steve didn't provide him with health insurance so Stavi naturally loses a few fingers in a mowing accident and now it'll cost thousands to save the digits. What's a guy to do? Why of course fix the Special Olympics—a suggestion of Steve's degenerate uncle Gary (Brian Cox) who's also in the financial dumps. Former track star Steve reluctantly goes along with the scam and competes in the Special Olympics. His competitors are quick to pick up on his ruse but they decide to help him after Steve explains his motive. He must also try not to disappoint Lynn (Katherine Heigl) the beautiful volunteer who doesn't know of his real identity. What's a guy to do? Take the high road of course. Certainly Knoxville—of Jackass infamy and debauchery—would have no moral trepidation about headlining offensive exploitative crap like The Ringer but stardom beckons him if he only he stops aiming so damn low! His performance here was probably not as easy as it'd seem but it's reasonable to think that Jackass stunts involving a bottle of absinthe and some paper cuts to the cornea quickly eliminated any butterflies. What Knoxville has in spades is that rare charisma to prevent him from ever looking uncool. Then there's Cox the latest revered journeyman to sell his soul on the cheap for a role completely beneath him. Mostly disabled actors round out the cast uttering any and all funny lines but there's something fundamentally wrong when the audience erupts in laughter before the lines are even delivered. Though the Farrelly brothers—directors of There's Something About Mary and Dumb & Dumber--only acted as executive producers of The Ringer their lowbrow stamp is smeared all over. Directing chores were handed over to Barry Blaustein prolific writer of comedies like Coming to America making his feature directorial debut. The Ringer delivers on its promise of frat-dude humor and Blaustein certainly knows how to make his leading man shine—but it does so in cheap sophomoric ways.
In the late 19th century Dr. Gabriel Van Helsing (Hugh Jackman) a misunderstood monster hunter is summoned to Transylvania to ferret out Count Dracula (Richard Roxburgh) and kill him once and for all. When Van Helsing gets to the small village where the vampire was last spotted he discovers he also must contend with Dracula's three seriously twisted vampire brides Dracula's angry henchman/werewolf--and a lovely gypsy princess named Anna Valerious (Kate Beckinsale) who is hell-bent on eradicating Dracula and his bloodsucking kind for slaughtering her entire family. Oh and let's not forget Frankenstein's Monster (Shuler Hensley) who holds the key to Dracula's evil master plan--something about releasing his minions of unborn bat-like children from their goo-filled cocoons so they can wreck havoc on the world. Yuck. Sounds like our resident monster stomper and his sword-swinging gal pal have their work cut out for them. If Van Helsing does manage to kill all his monster foes does that mean he's out of a job?
Jackman has the whole antihero thing down pat. He adequately embodies the younger more virile Van Helsing dishing out as much pain and torture as he can on the undead--but the Aussie actor isn't given nearly as much meat to chew on as he did say delving into the complicated Wolverine in X-Men. Instead the monster hunter is relegated to carrying big weapons wearing a big hat and muttering something about having bad dreams to a past he can't remember. Same goes for Beckinsale. The British actress was oh-so-cool on the other side of the fence playing the chic vampire Selene in Underworld cutting her way through a myriad of werewolves. As Van Helsing's heavily accented female counterpart Anna however she just runs around with her sword blurting out such pathetic dialogue such as "Dracula took everything away from me and now I'm alone in the world" while Roxburgh's Dracula--who can't hold a candle to other far more charismatic Draculas before him--wails about being so very alone as his luscious brides hang upside down in front of him. Give me a break. At least Australian actor David Wenham (The Lord of the Rings) provides much-needed comic relief as Van Helsing's sidekick Carl a Catholic friar who doesn't much like playing hero.
With the requisite dark mood and tone action sequences and snazzy CGI-creations including the winged vampire brides and formidable werewolves you can see exactly where writer/director Stephen Sommers (The Mummy) spent Van Helsing's nearly $150 million budget. But even all the bells and whistles can't tie together the film's vacuous nonsensical mumbo jumbo as Sommers attempts to bring classic movie monsters together in the same movie. Maybe in a tongue-in-cheek Abbott and Costello movie it could work but as a serious action-packed thriller clearly Dracula Frankenstein and the Wolf Man do not need to meet. On top of that Sommers steals from other movies as well such as recent films Underworld (the whole vampire vs. werewolf conflict) and The League of Extraordinary Gentleman (Van Helsing defeats a rather familiar-looking Mr. Hyde at one point). Whatever originality there is in the film leaves you either scratching your head--Dracula has kids?--or rolling your eyes--Anna needs to kill Dracula so her nine-generations of family can reunite in Heaven? Please.