SDCC 2018: Women in Hollywood, Location Managers, Superhero Composers, Top Sitcoms, and A Motion-Capture Monster

Posted on July 29, 2018 at 8:00 am

Some of what I saw at San Diego Comic-Con 2018, with excerpts from my coverage at and

Behind the scenes of The Big Bang Theory, The Good Place, and Crazy Ex-Girlfriend.

Photo by Michael Yarish/CBS via Getty Images Copyright 2018

Though it was billed as a panel of “The Big Bang Theory” writers, two of the stars showed up, Kunal Nayyar and Mayim Bialik.

Bialik said about the dress Sheldon described on the show as “looking like a pile of swans,” “We wanted Amy to have a dress that embodied all of her dreams and wishes. Why have just one? If she loves it, it’s not going to look silly.” Nayyar was not impressed with her description of the difficulties of the hoop skirt. “Did you have to ride a seahorse as Aquaman?”

On “The Good Place,”

Kristen Bell (Eleanor) envies her character’s forthright snark. “Eleanor is the ticker tape in my head of nasty, sassy things, not necessarily that I want to say, but I’m definitely thinking about anyone that I see. I don’t find that I get good results in real life when I say that, and I’m looking for good results, guys. I’m looking for smiles and happiness. And so I don’t say them but I do share that wicked, dark sensibility with Eleanor.”

They found Jumanji in Hawaii, Skull Island in Vietnam, Hogwarts in England, and Wakanda in South Africa. The script calls for a 1970’s gas station or a Jane Austen-era house of an earl or the topography of another planet? Location scouts are the visual artists and logistical wizards who find the places that you see on the screen and oversee all of the details to make sure the crew has what they need and that, like Boy Scouts, they leave the place better than they found it. A panel of location managers talked about finding a way for three helicopters to land in London’s Trafalgar Square. Their job is to take the creative vision of the writer, director, and production designer and “turn it into reality. We give them options, narrow it down, and then handle all of the permits, trashcans, port-a-potties, places to prepare and serve food, and parking spaces” for a crew that could include hundreds of people and all of their equipment. “It’s kind of like a moving circus.” They have to coordinate with local police and fire crews and make sure the area is safe for the cast and crew. “And most important,” he said, “is preservation. We leave it the way it was, if not better.” Sometimes pre-production schedules are so long that they come on board before the director, and just do the best they can, based on the script, preparing a number of options to present when the director is selected.

Composers talked about creating music for superheroes to save the world by.

Christophe Beck composed the music for the “Ant-Man” movies, matching the tone of the movie’s visuals and storyline. “It had to be quirky and off-beat but still making sure it was in the Marvel universe.” He explained that most popular music is in four beats to the bar, but he created this score in 7/8. “There’s like an extra beat in every bar.” For the Wasp character, he did five beats to the bar “to give her forward movement and great energy.” He found himself creating “a darker version of the theme” that was not right for the film but matched the end credit sequence.

I saw two panels of women working in Hollywood.

Copyright Nell Minow 2018

There was some good news at Leslie Combemale’s third annual Women Rocking Hollywood panel at San Diego Comic-Con. Women in Film LA director Kirsten Schaffer told the packed room that in the era of #MeToo and inclusion riders, “every studio and network has a program” to encourage and support women at every level of film production. When studios were invited sign up for WIF’s Reframe initiative, which is designed to work inside the system through conversations, resources, and data to assess progress, 35 immediately agreed. WIF is also going to be issuing a gender parity stamp—“think LEED certified or USDA organic—to let the public know which productions are close to 50/50. Their “Flip the Script” series of short films uses humor and empathy to show what women in film productions go through by using actual dialogue but switching the gender of the characters…A panel called “You Do What? Women in Film Production” featured Lauren Haroutunian (cinematographer, “Fangirling”), Alicia Varela (first AC, “Video Game High School”), Lolita Ritmanis (composer, “Batman Beyond”), Sylwia Dudzinska (AD, “You’re the Worst”), and Maritte Go (line producer, “Sleight”) discussing work in traditionally male-dominated fields of production, moderated by publicist Brittany Sandler.

And I really loved talking to Jason Liles about playing a gorilla in “Rampage” and two monsters in the upcoming “Godzilla” movie.

Copyright New Line Cinema 2018

I started studying my butt off, going to the L.A. Zoo just watching gorillas for hours, watching them be still but also watching them be alive in stillness. That’s really key, not just running around but just being. I watched “Planet of the Apes” behind the scenes, “King Kong” behind the scenes and anything with Andy Serkis or Terry Notary. I watched a lot of Koko the gorilla who learned to sign, every bit of footage I could find on her, and tons of documentaries. You just type in “gorilla documentary” on YouTube. It’s incredible the amount of stuff that comes up. So I found what was the most useful for me and just rewatched it and studied it.

Then I got brought on to the film and trained with Terry Notary who is King Kong and Kong in “Kong: Skull Island” and Rocket in “Planet of the Apes.” He’s done so many characters and coached some incredible performances out of actors. He trained me for three weeks in the Santa Monica mountains on all fours, hundreds of hours of miles with these arm extensions, learning to engage my senses as a gorilla and strip down what makes me Jason and a man and an American and a human and just be an ape. So it was a huge process. He got it to where I could basically lucid dream while awake as a gorilla. I can’t even describe it; I felt like I could fly at some moments. It was crazy.

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Posted on April 11, 2018 at 4:00 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: Middle School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for sequences of violence, action and destruction, brief language, and crude gestures
Profanity: About a dozen bad words
Alcohol/ Drugs: None
Violence/ Scariness: Extended peril and action-style violence with chases, explosions, guns, bombs, monsters, many human and animal characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: April 13, 2018
Date Released to DVD: July 16, 2018
Copyright New Line Cinema 2018

Pay attention, my friends, this one is a little bit tricky. In his last movie, Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson played an avatar in a movie about a video game. In Rampage, he plays a human in a movie based on a video game, though in the video game, big in arcades in the 1980’s, it was the animals who were the avatars, and your task as player was to help them destroy the city while Johnson’s human character in the film is there to protect it.

Still with me?

Well, maybe “human” does not adequately describe Johnson’s character, the primatologist/Special Forces veteran Davis Okoye, the essence of movie hero, always ready with his fists or a quip or both at the same time. And, you know, he looks like The Rock.

Okoye works at a San Diego animal preserve, where he is especially close to an albino gorilla named George. They communicate via sign language. And it’s all downright Edenic until George is hit with spray from one of three canisters of gene-altering material that “edit” his DNA to make him grow to King Kong size and make him furious, aggressive, and destructive.

With the help of the beautiful scientist who developed the gene-editing juice, hoping to help humanity and not in any way aware that the evil corporation she was working for was planning to weaponize it. Naomie Harris plays Dr. Kate Caldwell, and Jake Lacy and Malin Akerman are the oh-so-evil brother and sister who run the corporation. Well, she’s evil; he’s way over his head. Then there’s Joe Manganiello as a mercenary hired by the evil sister, Jeffrey Dean Morgan as a FBI official with a Southern accent, and a walloping lot of CGI as the three monsters — those two other canisters — Okoye has to find a way to stop.

If they ever give out an Oscar for efficiency of set-up, this movie is a contender. It quickly assigns an attribute to each character and lets us know immediately what the stakes are in every scene. Director Brad Peyton (“San Andreas,” also starring Johnson) knows we’re here for the action, and spends just enough time between scenes of shootouts, explosions, and chases to remind us why we should care what happens to the characters. Manganiello’s character has a big scar on his face, so we know he’s tough. The evil sister says, “There’s a reason we were doing these experiments in space and it wasn’t for the betterment of humanity,” just to make it clear that she is the bad guy. In case we missed it the first time, when her hapless brother says, “You can’t liquidate all your problems,” she snaps back, “Agree to disagree.”

And Dr. Kate lies to her boss on the phone, so we know that she is not a rule follower. Plus, we glimpse a photo in her apartment showing her hugging a cancer patient, so we know she is nice and probably bereaved. Morgan’s FBI character has a seen-it-all, heard-it-all look but a bit of a twinkle in his eye. And a homing device has the three giant, hungry, and very hostile animals going full-speed to Chicago.

Does any of it make sense? Not really. Do we care? Not really. Just don’t think too hard about how long it would take for debris to fall from space, what condition it might be in, or how long it would take an antidote to work. This is a movie based on an arcade game, and it is much better than most game-based films.

In part that is because the game was from the 80’s and didn’t really have a storyline, so there was no risk of being too faithful or not faithful enough, and in part because it never takes itself too seriously. It takes the stunts and action seriously, though. There’s a wow of a plane crash and some good moments in the midst of a massive destruction of Chicago’s Loop. And George (motion capture actor Jason Liles) is, if not realistic, believable. Johnson is right in his sweet spot here, and so are we, with a popcorn treat to kick off the summer season.

Parents should know that this film includes extended peril and action-style violence with chases, explosions, guns, bombs, monsters, many human and animal characters injured and killed, some graphic and disturbing images, some strong language, and some crude humor.

Family discussion: Who should make the rules about genetic experimentation? Who in this film follows orders and who does not? Why did Davis say he was not a “people person?”

If you like this, try: “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” and “Transformers”

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Action/Adventure Based on a video game DVD/Blu-Ray

Movie MVP of the Month: American Sign Language in “Rampage” and “A Quiet Place”

Posted on April 11, 2018 at 8:22 am

Two April movies feature ASL (American Sign Language), the beautiful, complex language based on hands, gestures, and facial expressions that is used by Deaf and non-speaking people in America and English-speaking Canada. “A Quiet Place” is about a family trying to survive in a world overrun with vicious blind animals who attack by using their hyper-acute hearing. So they communicate via ASL, which they all know because they have a Deaf daughter, played by Deaf actress Millicent Simmonds of “Wonderstruck.”

In this week’s “Rampage,” the primatologist played by Dwayne Johnson uses ASL to communicate with an ape called George, along the lines of the famous experiments with Koko the gorilla and Washoe the chimp.

And the 2017 Oscar-winner for Best Picture and Best Director was “The Shape of Water,” which also featured ASL, as Sally Hawkins played a mute woman who communicated with a highly evolved amphibian.

Other movies featuring character using ASL to communicate include: “Children of a Lesser God,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “The Heart is a Lonely Hunter,” “Johnny Bedelia,” “The Miracle Worker,” and “Baby Driver.”

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Disabilities and Different Abilities Film History Lists Movie History Understanding Media and Pop Culture

The A-Team

Posted on December 15, 2010 at 12:20 pm

I love it when a plan comes together.

And I love it when a summer movie delivers all of the chases, crashes, explosions, wisecracks, and sheer exuberant fun that we have a right to expect when the weather gets warm. “The A-Team,” based on the television series of the mid-1980’s, may be silly but it is purely enjoyable.

We get to see how the fearsome foursome first met. That’s Hannibal (Liam Neeson), the cigar-chomping leader, driver and fighting powerhouse B.A. Baracus (Ultimate Fighting Champion Quinton ‘Rampage’ Jackson), mentally unstable pilot Murdock (District 9‘s Sharlto Copley), and social engineer (okay, con man) Face (Bradley Cooper). As frustrated Lt. Sosa (Jessica Biel) says, eight years and 80 successful missions later, they specialize in the ridiculous. Characters hang from a helicopter. They slalom down a skyscraper. They crash many vehicles and they blow many things up. This is a movie with a flying tank. Well, technically, as one character says, not flying. It’s actually hurtling to the ground after the plane that was carrying it exploded. Why? Could that really work? Don’t ask. This is not that kind of movie. Just pass the popcorn.

There are some understated shout-outs to the original, including a clever disposition of the beloved van and BA’s knuckle tattoos — “PITY” on one hand and “FOOL” on the other. And be sure to stay to the very end of the credits for one last salute.

After the prologue, we are brought up to date. Our team has completed 80 missions in eight years, all successful. Now, American troops are packing up to leave Iraq. One piece of unfinished business is a briefcase filled with engraving plates for U.S. currency. If they get into the wrong hands, our enemies could print money and destroy our economy. And there are a lot of wrong hands out there, possibly including the mercenaries/government contractors who think they’re all that and who are assigned to the retrieval operation.

This provides opportunities for many stunts, ably directed by Joe Carnahan, who co-wrote. Co-screenwriter Brian Bloom is electrifying as Pike, the leader of the contractor team. Biel does her job: fuming or melting, she is very pretty. And the quartet of actors in the lead roles are an A-Team of their own, bringing their own screen chemistry and sense of fun to the characters they play. Neeson chomps on his cigar with panache. Copley makes Murdoch’s proficiency with accents and languages both evidence of his instability and his mastery. Jackson makes BA’s soul-searching feel real without throwing the entire movie off-kilter by making it too serious. Early on, when Face gets punched in the jaw, Cooper’s eyes widen in delight and he says, “Now it’s a party!” Yes, it is.

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Action/Adventure Based on a television show Remake
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