SDCC2020@Home: Charlize Theron, Robert Rodriguez, LGBTQ Characters, and Bill and Ted Face the Music

Posted on July 26, 2020 at 2:25 pm

Copyright 2020 Orion

Instead of waiting for days to get into the cavernous Hall H to hear Guillermo del Toro talk about the upcoming film “Antlers,” you can watch it here.

Do not call Charlize Theron a warrior. I wrote about why and her interview on action movies, or you can watch it here.

Copyright ReFrame 2018

The Women Rocking Hollywood panel is always tops on my list. It was great to hear of the increasingly widespread adoption of ReFrame’s seal of gender equity awarded to films that meet their goals.

I was very moved by the panel about LGBTQ characters on television. Who knew a toothbrushing scene could be so romantic, or that there was such a big difference between “There’s something I haven’t told you” and “There’s something we haven’t talked about?”

The His Dark Materials panel had a thrilling revelation: the character played by Andrew Scott has a daemon who will be voiced by his “Fleabag” co-star Phoebe Waller-Bridge. The trailer for Season 2 looks thrilling.

I always love the behind-the-scenes panels, and I “attended” conversations featuring stunt coordinators, composers, editors, a writer/director/editor, a cinematographer, and a make-up artist.

There was no panel at the Con more fun than the celebration of Bugs Bunny’s 80th birthday, with Leonard Maltin and three actors who have followed Mel Blanc in voicing the rascally rabbit. A forthcoming anniversary box set will included several cartoons never before released for home viewing. Panel attendees got a sneak preview.

But my favorite was the “Bill and Ted Face the Music Panel.” Of course the panelists all “arrived” by animated time travel machines shaped like phone booths.

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Sin City: A Dame to Kill For

Posted on August 21, 2014 at 5:59 pm

Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company
Copyright 2014 The Weinstein Company

If you want to not just see but hear an eyeball being pulverized, then see “Sin City: A Dame to Kill For.”  If you want to see and hear it in the company of an audience who thinks that’s funny, buy a ticket.

Like the first “Sin City,” this sequel is co-directed by Frank Miller, who created the comic book series that inspired it, and Robert Rodriguez, and they have again perfectly transferred the dark pulp sensibility and striking visuals from page to screen.  Like the first film, it is in stark shades of black, white, and gray, with splashes of color — bright red lips, shining blonde hair, sleek blue satin — and, of course, blood.

Sin City is a place of corruption, betrayal, and decay, of haunted souls who can’t remember or who remember too much.  “How did I get here?  What have I done?  And why?” Marv (Mickey Rourke) asks as the film opens and he finds himself with some dead and dying guys.  He does remember “wishing I had an excuse to break somebody’s face.”  When he gets an excuse, he says he feels like Christmas.

The interlocking stories center on a young gambler named Johnny who wants to bring down crooked Senator Roark (Powers Boothe), who controls just about everything and everyone in Sin City, a private detective named Dwight (Josh Brolin) who takes photos of indiscretions for his clients and who knows he should not trust the woman he loved and lost to a man who could afford her (Eva Green as Ava), and a stripper named Nancy (Jessica Alba), who cannot decide whether she should kill the man who murdered her lover or just drink herself into oblivion and hope she can forget him.

People say a lot of tough things to each other.  “They’ll eat you alive,” someone tells Johnny.  “I’m a pretty tough chew,” he answers.  Everyone in this film is a pretty tough chew.  “Death is just like life in Sin City,” another one says.  “There’s nothing you can do and love don’t conquer anything.”  There are monsters everywhere in Sin City, and some of the most painful struggles are with the monsters within.

But that doesn’t keep people from trying.

There is a lot of artistry in “Sin City,” but it is so stylized that it calls attention to itself instead of its story, characters, or themes.   The artistry in visuals and storytelling is so self-conscious it is fetishistic.  It always keeps us at arm’s length.  Despite superb work from everyone in the cast, especially Brolin, Willis, and Gordon-Levitt, the visuals are more striking than the story and ultimately they overpower it.

Parents should know that this is an extremely violent movie with themes of corruption and betrayal.  People are injured, maimed, mutilated, and killed by a wide variety of weapons including a sword, knives, guns, pliers, and arrows.  There are graphic and disturbing images and sounds.  It also includes explicit sexual references and situations and nudity and strong language.  Characters smoke, drink, and use drugs.

Family discussion:  How do Dwight, Johnny, and Marv define justice?  What do we learn from stories of corruption and betrayal?

If you like this, try: “Sin City” and the Frank Miller comics

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3D Based on a book Comic book/Comic Strip/Graphic Novel Crime Drama

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World 4D

Posted on August 20, 2011 at 10:53 pm

Jessica Alba was dressed for her role in Robert Rodriguez’s ultra-violent “Machete” when, on a break from filming, she stopped to change her baby’s diaper.  Rodriguez says he saw her performing this most domestic of tasks in her action-movie attire and knew it was time to start up the “Spy Kids” series again, this time with Alba taking her baby with her on a mission.

The first Spy Kids was about Carmen and Juni Cortez (Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara), children of super-spies who got caught up in the family business.  It was sharp and funny and imaginative and made it clear that the real adventure is being part of a family.  It was a rare film for audiences of any age with strong, smart female and Latino characters.  And Rodriguez, known for his ultra-violent films for adults (“Once Upon a Time in Mexico,” “Machete”), kept the “Spy Kids” series refreshingly non-violent.  If this fourth in the series is not as good as the first, it is better than the unfortunately titled Spy Kids 3D: Game Over.  And much, much better than The Smurfs.

Alba plays Marissa Wilson, a spy who goes into labor in the middle of a chase but manages to capture the evil Time Keeper on her way to the delivery room.  She quits to be a stay-at-home mom for the baby and her twin step-children, Cecil (Mason Cook) and Rebecca (Rowan Blanchard).   Her husband Wilbur (a likable Joel McHale), has a “Spy Hunter” television show but somehow never figured out that his wife was not a decorator.

A year later, the Time Keeper is creating chaos and Marissa, the twins, and the baby are off to save the world and do some family bonding as well.  The original spy kids, now grown up, arrive for some bad guy chasing and family conflict resolving as well.

Everyone gets a chance to know each other better, of course, but the film has a bit more substance.  Cecil is hearing-impaired and he and everyone around him are completely comfortable with it.  It is very rare in movies of any age that we get to see a character with a disability  rather than a disability with a character.  Cecil is a regular kid who happens to have hearing aids and Cook gives a nice comic snap to his comments.  The gadgets are a lot of fun, including a robot dog with more functions than a Swiss Army Knife, hilariously voiced by Ricky Gervais, and “hammer hands” gloves that can punch through walls.  Like all parents, Rodriguez is dismayed by the ever-quickening passage of time.  So in the midst of the silliness with a “4 dimension” scratch and sniff card to accompany some of the story’s most odoriferous moments, a muddled storyline, and too much potty humor, there is a sweet theme about seizing the moment for what matters most.



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3D Action/Adventure Family Issues Series/Sequel Spies Stories About Kids Talking animals

Interview: Robert Rodriguez of ‘Spy Kids: All the Time in the World in 4D’

Posted on August 15, 2011 at 12:30 pm

Robert Rodriguez is a ground-breaking movie director whose first film, “El Mariachi,” was made on a micro budget of $7000 (with another $220,000 after it was purchased for release).  He is known for striking visuals and ultra-violence in movies like Once Upon a Time in Mexico and “From Dusk til Dawn” and for wildly imaginative family movies like Shorts and the Spy Kids series.  Rodriguez continues to operate outside of the film-making establishment.  He has established his own film-making set-up in his home town of Austin, Texas, and works with his family, writing, editing, shooting, and directing himself, with his ex-wife, Elizabeth Avellan, and his sister as his producers, and his cousin Danny Trejo appearing in many of his movies, including this one as “Uncle Machete.”

I spoke to him about the fourth in the “Spy Kids” series, this one in “4D.”

What does 4D mean?

It’s been a very scrappily innovative series since the beginning.  In “Spy Kids 2” we started shooting digital.  And with the digital camera, I thought, “Hey, I think I could bring 3D back.”  It hadn’t been tried in 20 years.  I tried it with “Spy Kids 3” and that became the biggest “Spy Kids” of all, and Jeffrey Katzenberg took note of that and said, “We’re really going to bring 3D back.”  In keeping with the series, with everyone being 3D, we really had to go to 4D.  I remembered a film with “Odorama” called “Polyester.”  That wasn’t a family film, but I said, “That would be a terrific gimmick in a family movie and I’m sure the technology has gotten a lot better.”  It has — everything doesn’t smell like batteries.

How do you keep the smells from colliding with each other?

They don’t do that any more.  It used to be that all the smells had a real chemical base to them and they all started smelling the same after about the third or fourth one. Once you got to the dirty socks, everything kind of smelled that way.  But now they call stay really distinct.  The technology has really gotten better, and I didn’t have to do anything but pick which flavors I wanted and they put them on the card for me.  And it’s free, just as with the 3D movie where we gave the glasses away for free as well.  It’s a level of interactivity that you just don’t get in a movie.  Kids are so into interactive things like video games for entertainment.  A movie can be very passive by comparison.  This brings back the active excitement of putting yourself one step closer to the actors and the characters on screen because you’re smelling exactly what they’re smelling at the same time.  In the tests we did, the kids felt it was really a home run as far as making them feel they were a part of the action.  That’s what you hope to do with another dimension, just make them feel closer to what is going on in the movie.

One of my favorite things about theThe Spy Kids Trilogy is the fantastic gadgets the kids get to use.  What’s your favorite gadget in this film?

There’s a dog they could never understand who watches over the kids in the house and he turns out to be a robot dog voiced by Ricky Gervais.  That’s probably my favorite.  He can do just about anything.  He’s like a multi-tool gadget knife and James Bond car all built into a dog.  And another of my favorite gadgets is the hammer hands that the boy puts on, like Hulk hands — they can smash through anything you touch.  I think my little boy would really love them.

I love the way the “Spy Kids” movies have a lot of action but very little violence.

There’s a very comic line to the action and a lot of it comes back on the kids themselves, so it really promotes adventure and not violence.  That’s what parents have always loved about the series.  I’m always very careful not to put anything over the kids heads in my family films.

Is there anything you wanted to include in this one that you didn’t get to do?

I wanted to do a James Bond-type song over the end credits with the dog’s head like Sheena Easton but we didn’t make it happen.  Maybe next time!

How do you cast a villain? What do you look for?

You want a surprising quality.  The villains in my movies are never really villains; they’re just misguided.  The children always teach the villain a lesson.  They don’t defeat him.  This movie’s villain is the Timekeeper, and he’s very much me.  I’m always worried about time there is.  Seeing my kids grow up so fast, I always want to freeze time.  So he is just a little eccentric and it turns out he has a tremendous amount of heart.  He’s a super-villain with family values.  You need someone who’s a real chameleon.  I knew Jeremy Piven could create three or four distinct characters and pull it all together.  He has a lot of heart as an actor.

The “Spy Kids” movies are always about the importance of family.  In the earlier movies, there was a typical nuclear family but in this one there’s an issue a lot of kids have to deal with — adapting to a blended family.

I got the idea from seeing Jessica Alba on the set of “Machete” with her baby, but dressed for filming.  I thought, “Wow, she kind of looks like a spy, and having to deal with this baby — wouldn’t that be cool as an element in the ‘Spy Kids’ movies.”  I said to her, “You should be the mother in the new ‘Spy Kids’ movie and have to take the baby on a spy mission.”  She said, “I’d probably have to be a step-mother because I am too young to be the mother of school-age kids.”  So I thought, “that’s even better.”  She’d be harboring this big secret and kids are really sensitive.  They know when someone is hiding something from them.  So they don’t really like her as a stepmom because they can tell she is not being honest.  Through this mission they find out what her secret is and everyone becomes closer because of it.  I thought that would add a really great wrinkle to the whole idea of what family means.

I also like the way the kids in your movies are real kids but also very brave and capable.

Kids crave things that empower them.  Seeing kids on screen flying around saving the world gets into their dreams and they identify with it and pay-act it out.  I saw it in my own two youngest, who weren’t born when the first ones came out.  I told them I made them but they did not really understand what that meant.  They just like them and pretend to be spies and to be strong.

And Machete is in this movie?

Danny Trejo’s code name in the original “Spy Kids” movie was Machete.  We were doing a nod to this idea for a movie that we never got off the ground.  We had been talking about doing a “Machete” movie since “Desperado.”  So we said, “We should make your character’s code name ‘Machete.'”  His name was really Isadore.  He’s not the same character as in the movie “Machete!”

That’s good to know, but I hope he doesn’t text.

No, he doesn’t text.  Some things are sacred!

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