Now that we’re seeing Ghostbusters trailers featuring Melissa McCarthy, Leslie Jones, Kristen Wiig, and Kate McKinnon, the process of seeing gender-swapped characters feels more real. An all-female version of Ocean’s Eleven is in development with Sandra Bullock at the helm, so what other classic movies could be re-energized with a gender change-out? Continue reading Five Classic Movies That Need the ‘Ghostbusters’ Treatment
It’s the start of a new year and for many people that means it’s time to buy a new car. There are lots of options, but have you considered the benefits of owning the real Optimus Prime or the real Bumblebee? We’re not talking scale models, but functional vehicles you could drive to work or to the next apocalypse.
Both iconic vehicles are going up for sale through Barrett-Jackson auctions this month so you don’t have much time to save your pennies. Time to clean out that piggy bank.
First up is Optimus Prime, which is a 1992 Peterbilt 379 that Michael Bay thought was the perfect vehicle for the role. It is one of the trucks that was used in filming and has those blue and red flames that every fan will immediately recognize.
There are special details like dark tinted windows, rows of glowing lights, and a custom grille with a silver and red Autobots emblem. Imagine how quickly people will get out of your way when they see that in their rear view mirrors.
It was used for pictures and for stunts so it’s being sold as is. Expect some dings, dents, and scrapes, but that’s what happens when you’re trying to save Earth from certain doom. It’s not street legal and may not be emissions compliant in every state, but who cares? You could park Optimus Prime in your driveway and be the envy of the whole neighborhood.
If he’s a little too much Transformer for you to handle, then you can always place your bid on Bumblebee instead. He was built for the fourth film, Transformers: Age of Extinction, and is currently owned by Michael Bay. He’s a 1967 Camaro SS autographed by Bay and has yellow and black accetns with plenty of Transformers logos thrown about for good measure.
You can’t go wrong if you’re a Transformers fan looking to own the ultimate fan vehicle. There are no reserves so how much these things will fetch is anyone’s guess. It should be noted that no transforming occurs with either vehicle, but that won’t stop you from yelling, “Transform and roll out!” every time you get behind the wheel.
Holiday break is a popular time to binge watch movies and television shows, and to play music while people are off school or work. What are some of the GeekMoms’ favorite media?
Free to Be… You and Me
If you were a kid in the ’70s, you may have watched or listened to Free to Be… You and Me. It was a fantastic movie, and also a record album. My mom even has the piano music book with original illustrations. The message of the project, spearheaded by Marlo Thomas, is that every child is fine, just the way they are. It’s fine to be different, it’s fine to cry, it’s fine to be a boy who likes dolls. It’s good to be nice to other people, and to be a responsible friend. These are messages that are just as important today as they were in the 1970s. Plenty of other famous people participated in the project. Kris Kristofferson, Michael Jackson, Mel Brooks, Harry Belafonte, Alan Alda, Roberta Flack, Carol Channing, Shel Silverstein, Tom Smothers, Dionne Warwick, Rosie Grier, and others all lent their skills and/or notoriety to it. Share this movie, CD, or book with your favorite children today, showing them that you love them, just as they are.
Today, just like most every geek on the planet, I am counting down the days until Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters. We have tickets for the whole family and, here it comes: my kids couldn’t care less.
They’re not looking forward to it and they’d rather hang out at home. They don’t like the Star Wars movies.
I’ve been asked many times through the years how I became the big ole nerd that I am. It has been asked in many ways by many types of people and I choose to believe it is always asked out of jealousy of my awesomeness. I mean, how could anyone not want to be just like me, right? I usually laugh, make a joke, or will reply with my standard response of, “It just happened over time, there was no one thing or event.”
Over the last few days, as I prepared to join this wondrous team known as GeekMom, I’ve been actively thinking about this topic. No easy task for a busy gal with ADHD and a to-do list that would make a lesser person weep, but perhaps highly overdue. Why did I become a geek? Most people I know can attribute their geekiness to someone in their family who is also a geek. They picked up their love of this or their fascination with that by observing loved ones in their passionate undertakings. Alas, there is no one in my immediate family who has the same predilections as I.
How did this happen? I’m going to tell you my story. You tell me yours. Continue reading GeekMom Secret Origins: Samantha Fisher’s Journey Started With The Doctor
When my husband and I were first dating, we loved broad parodies like Blazing Saddles, Sleeper, and Airplane! We used movie lines as code between us (hardly the first teenagers to do so) and, a decade or so later, I had the lame-brained inspiration to revisit those movies with our kids.
It’s not till I watched these old favorites with a 6-year-old and an 8-year-old that I realized, to my surprise, they weren’t entirely kid-friendly. Racist jokes meant to lampoon racism? Jokes about sex-and-drug-crazed pilots and stewardesses, not to mention plane crash jokes? The Orgasmatron? Yeah, my kids haven’t let me forget.
In my defense, old movies (as well as old books) can be great conversation starters. True, sometimes these are conversations you weren’t ready to have just yet. But it’s downright fascinating to get a kid’s perspective on outdated social mores, especially asking where they draw the line between what’s funny and what is demeaning.
Apparently, I’m not the only parent whose judgment is memory-impaired when it comes to movies. My fellow GeekMoms have done the same thing.
We tried showing our then 5-year-old Home Alone over Christmas—it was definitely a different experience! We didn’t make it far. I was allowed to watch whatever I wanted when I was a kid (Blues Brothers was often on repeat), but I don’t think I have the same philosophy as a parent now!—Kelly
There was that one time when I let my eldest son, then nine, watch The Terminator with me when it was on regular cable. He wanted the DVD and I bought it for him. I totally spaced on the nudity that had been cut from the television version we watched. Oops.—Corrina
I think I watched a ton of inappropriate movies because a) I had an older brother by seven years, and b) we watched most of them edited for television, with commercials. As I got older, I could see how awkward and terrible the edited versions were, but when you’re small you’re oblivious. Here are the movie mistakes we’ve made with kids: Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Beverly Hills Cop, Romancing the Stone, Ghostbusters (I think I was 30 before I realized what that ghost was doing to sleeping Dan Aykroyd).—Jackie
My sons are 10 and 12, so we’re slowly dipping our toes into that zone. I just had a conversation about how PG in the early 80s (before the invention of the PG-13 rating) isn’t the same as PG now. This discussion came up while we were watching Romancing the Stone the other night. It had come up during National Lampoon’s Vacation (the 1983 version) too.
Right now, we’re on the Christopher Guest and company comedies. Our sons are *barely* old enough to handle the humor. We just finished Best in Show (full of innuendo!), and just started For Your Consideration. I want to show them A Mighty Wind most of all (they’d get a kick out of the music), and maybe This is Spinal Tap soon. We have yet to watch Blazing Saddles in front of the kids. Call me lazy, but we don’t feel like saying “Don’t repeat that” over and over and over.—Patricia
My kids, at 5 and 8 or so, really wanted to watch Mamma Mia, and they did indeed love it. But at the end, I was really glad nobody asked why she doesn’t know who her daddy is or what “dot dot dot” in the diary reading implied.—Ruth
Monty Python and the Holy Grail… my favorite comedy of all time… went do share with my oldest… totally forgot “and then comes the oral sex.” Aye, aye, aye… oops.
My dad’s the most conservative of all of us and makes fun of me when I get embarrassed around him. The first time I saw Slapshot unedited, I was so embarrassed to be watching it with him while he’s cracking up at me. I totally forget about a few of those scenes. I mentioned in my Top Gear post having my then five-year-old ask what a bellend was… right in front of Grandpa. Three generations of awkward, but now it’s a running gag at our house.
We all love the Hanson Brothers, though. I’ve had to learn the hard way when you see a movie on TV the first time, make sure it hasn’t been too edited before sitting down to the full version with your kids. Of course, they all got treated to the Jackman butt in that last X-Men, but they’re at the state where butts are just plain funny, even Wolverine’s.—Lisa
We sat down to watch Ghostbusters with my son recently. I love this movie and was thrilled that he was really into it. Well, until it got to that part where Dan Aykroyd is having the… ahem… erotic dream. Hey, everyone… who wants popcorn??
Also, this wasn’t something we sat to watch, but the topic reminded me… one holiday season, my husband and son were out and I was watching Love Actually. They came in, so I changed it. My husband hit “return channel” button right to the scenes with Martin Freeman going through his “lines” to that girl… with all of the various porno scenes. Thank goodness my son’s back was to the screen at the time. (That actually made it funnier.) I was like… “change it back!!”—Rachel
Or maybe we’re overreacting.
Samantha says, “Huh. I have or would let my kids watch any of these.”
Robots 3D is an exciting new movie from National Geographic Studios coming to a big screen theater near you this summer. The movie is narrated by Simon Pegg of Star Trek and Shaun of the Dead fame and directed by Mike Slee who is also known for the acclaimed documentary Flight of the Butterflies. Together they take you on a tour of the latest in robot technology, and the results will blow your mind.
I have loved robots since I was four years old watching Lost in Space and the B9 robot back in the ’70s. I have several models and figurines of The Robot around my house and the complete DVD boxed set which I have watched with my kids. A Trip Through the Robot is my favorite episode. Apparently director Mike Slee also has a soft spot for robots, and his enthusiasm and passion shines through in Robots 3D.
I recently had a chance to watch Robots 3D with my family, and we were amazed at some of the advancements robots have made in the past few years. For example, our ability to model robots after ourselves has advanced to the point where you may wonder who the human is and who the robot is. Which is which?
But even if robots still look like your traditional science fiction robot, they are moving more and more like us each day. Take for example, the fluid motions of ASIMO from Honda which are nothing short of amazing and totally impressive. He has more flexibility than some of us jumping high and running at speeds up to 5mph.
There are also robots that focus on doing specific tasks, and they do them very well. For example, Justin can catch a ball with a 90% accuracy rate.
My personal favorite robot from Robots 3D is iCUB—a robot designed to look and learn just like a human child. Adorable and fascinating in one little package!
Your family will marvel at the strides in technology and the capabilities of the latest robots as Robots 3D takes them around the world to the most advanced robotics research labs. Director Mike Slee says, “If you’re interested in humanoid robotics and your age is somewhere between seven and 107, then you’re going to be interested in this film.”
Look at this list of theaters to find where Robots 3D is playing near you, and watch the trailer to get a peek at all the wonderful robots you’ll get to meet in the movie.
You can also download and print a set of fun robot trading cards from the movie. Enjoy!
A free screening of Robots 3D was provided to GeekMom.
Let’s just get this out of the way right from the get-go: I loved Ant-Man. It does not pass the Bechdel test, and it would be awesome if Marvel could get it together and do that one of these days. This is not the movie where they see the light.
Having said that, I still loved it. I haven’t been this excited to write up a movie in a while. As I write this, I just left a screening about two hours ago and couldn’t wait to talk about it.
Note: only minor and vague spoilers in this review.
When Ant-Man was announced, I wasn’t terribly excited. In the whole scope and scale of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, it was hard to imagine where he would find his place. What could they do with him? Paul Rudd’s casting helped, and then the trailers really helped. By this week I was so looking forward to it.
And it didn’t disappoint. Ant-Man the movie is completely aware that it is about Ant-Man. It’s light and fun and full of skeptical looks from Paul Rudd, like he is in on the absurdity of it with us. It plays with Ant-Man’s size in a way that takes advantage of all the action sequences a proper superhero movie should have. But it also throws in spot-on little jokes to remind us not to take it all too seriously. Because we are talking about an Ant. Man. The Thomas the Tank Engine scene was perfect.
Forget the science of how Rudd’s Scott Lang shrinks, and really forget the plot. Corey Stoll’s Yellowjacket wants to sell shrink technology to the highest bidder, but Michael Douglas’s Dr. Pym, who invented the tech, wants to stop him. But that’s actually not what’s important.
The characters are the big draw here, along with a big save-the-world heart. Despite some occasional swearing, this is the most family-friendly superhero movie to come along in a while. The gore isn’t very gory, and the scares aren’t terribly scary. And Lang is doing everything to make his young daughter proud, and to protect her future.
The very first scene gives us a surprise appearance by a favorite Marvel lady, and somehow after that I just knew I was in for a treat. Paul Rudd is exactly the Ant-Man this movie needed to take a tiny character with Aquaman-caliber superpowers and make him worth a big screen. Michael Douglas’s Dr. Pym is a great genius trying to stop the bad guy (Corey Stoll) from letting advanced science fall into the wrong hands. Evangeline Lilly got a pretty awesome bonus scene during the credits.
But Michael Peña stole the show. He played Scott Lang’s prison buddy Luis, a man who was arrested for stealing two smoothie machines. He is glorious and surprising in every scene he’s in, whether he’s talking about wine tastings or “sublime” Mark Rothko paintings.
This movie did two things really well: It got back to the kind of humor that made the first Iron Man such a standout (remember when no one could picture Robert Downey, Jr. as a superhero?). And, it made an army of ants that weren’t creepy crawly. They are actually sort of adorable, and I didn’t think it was possible to make a movie that would give me all the feels about ants.
But I do, I have all the feels about ants. And Ant-Man. And Michael Peña. Stay to the very end of the credits, there are two bonus scenes.
GeekMom attended a promotional screening for review purposes.
It’s now an expected, and respected, tradition for Pixar to treat viewers to a brand new animated short whenever the studio releases a feature film in theaters. Their latest offering, called “Lava,” is currently playing alongside Inside Out and tells the story of a lonely tropical volcano and his search for someone to love (or “someone to lava,” as the song in the short goes).
This unusual premise was the brainchild of first-time director James Ford Murphy, who previously worked as an animator on many of Pixar’s greatest hits, including Cars, The Incredibles, and Finding Nemo. Combining beautiful visuals, a hummable tune, and an epic love story, it’s a nice companion piece that will stir your emotions long before Joy makes her first appearance in the main attraction.
Here are a few of the things that make this little gem something special.
1. It was inspired by a genuine affection for the Hawaiian islands.
Murphy gave a little presentation about the making of short at the press day for Inside Out a few weeks ago. He explained that he first fell in love with Hawaii while visiting the Big Island on his honeymoon 25 years ago. “Ever since that trip, I’ve been in love with tropical islands, active volcanoes, and Hawaiian music.”
Murphy returned to Hawaii several times during the making of the film. He even took his family on a spectacular flyover of the active volcano Kilauea. He also came across a diorama in a shopping mall showing the region’s active volcanoes, including an underwater one which became the inspiration for the female volcano in the film.
2. The director not only wrote the sweet, catchy tune that tells the story of “Lava,” he also played the ukulele himself on the final recording.
“I’ll never forget the first time I heard Israel Kamakawiwoʻole’s version of ‘Over the Rainbow,'” Murphy says. “It was featured on an episode of ER and it absolutely stunned me. And I never forgot it. And I thought, ‘What if I could write a song that makes me feel the way that song does and feature it in a Pixar short film?’ So that’s what I set out to do.”
3. The two volcanoes in the story are named “Uku” and “Lele.”
“Why waste a name that doesn’t mean anything?” Murphy says. “Mauna Uku and Mauna Lele sound like a place. The funny thing is, the Hawiians all giggle. Because ‘uku’ literally means ‘head lice.’ And ‘ukulele’ means ‘dancing flea.’ That’s where the name comes from. So they teased the singer. But I just thought it sounded right. Mauna Uku and Mauna Lele, and together they’re the island of Ukulele.”
4. The singing voices of the volcanoes were provided by two superstars of the Hawaiian music scene.
“In my initial pitch, I promised this song would be sung by traditional Hawaiian singers,” Murphy recalls. “So for one year, all I did was listen to Hawaiian music. I drove my family crazy, my friends crazy, but I was searching for the perfect singers for ‘Lava.’ And in my research, I learned about a Hawaiian musical festival called the Na Hoku Hanohano Awards. And when I found out about it, I convinced [producer] Andrea Warren that we had to go, because every musician I was interested in was going to be there and this would be our opportunity to see, meet, and hear who we wanted to work with on ‘Lava.’ And it turned out to be the best decision we ever made for the film because we not only left there completely inspired by the culture and the aloha spirit that we felt, we ended up casting two of Hawaii’s most popular recording artists. Kuana Torres Kahele sings the part of the narrator and Uku, the male volcano, and Napua Greig sings the part of Lele, the female volcano.”
5. The gorgeous, millennia-spanning visuals will make you want to fly off to Hawaii immediately.
Producer Andrea Warren cautions all who see the short: “You’re about to see images of an extreme tropical nature and we can’t be held responsible if you feel compelled to go on a tropical vacation afterwards.”
I had a strangely nostalgic feeling when watching Tomorrowland. I say strange, because the movie is supposed to be about the future, yet I couldn’t help looking back, and not just because there are so many subtle stylistic elements straight out of Disneyland (at one point you can see the white Space Mountain building dotting the landscape of the movie’s titular futuristic city). It reminded me of going to the movies as a kid, back when “family film” meant something different than it does today.
Now that term generally means a film aimed at a younger audience, but I remember a time when it referred to a movie the whole family could see together. Back in the ‘60s and ‘70s, Disney was as renowned for these kinds of live-action adventures as they were for their animated features. On the surface, Tomorrowland may have little in common with cheesy-by-today’s-standards classics like Flubber, The Love Bug, The Computer Wore Tennis Shoes, Escape to Witch Mountain, or The Black Hole. But it shares that same spirit of whimsy and adventure, as well as a universal appeal that will thrill kids and their parents in equal measure.
It doesn’t hurt that the young members of the cast–Britt Robertson, Thomas Robinson, and especially Raffey Cassidy–are often the most interesting on screen. Not to take anything from the always affable (even when he’s trying to be curmudgeonly) George Clooney, of course, but the kids really do hold the film together. The relationships between them are the true heart of the story, and one of the most interesting aspects of it.
It begins with a boy named Frank Walker (Robinson plays the young version of Frank), an aspiring inventor who brings his jet pack to the 1964 World’s Fair (an event, incidentally, which included many attractions created by Walt Disney himself). Frank is turned away from the Hall of Invention because his jet pack doesn’t quite work, but a strange little girl named Athena (Cassidy) takes a liking to him and slips him a pin which grants him access to an astounding, futuristic place called Tomorrowland.
Five decades later we meet Casey (Robertson), a bright young rebel who spends her nights sabotaging the ongoing demolition of a NASA platform where her dad once worked. After she’s caught and released from detention, she discovers a strange pin just like Frank’s, slipped in with her belongings. When she touches it she’s instantly transported to the same Tomorrowland, looking much as it did in 1964. The pin eventually loses power and she feels compelled to find a way back. Her search leads her to Frank (Clooney), now grown up and living as a recluse in a house full of incredible inventions, including an elaborate defense and surveillance system.
And that’s about all I can tell you without spoiling it. The film is filled with unexpected twists and turns. I was somewhat surprised to note at one point that I had absolutely no idea where it was going next. That doesn’t happen very often these days, with all the safe, predictable, by-the-numbers studio fare in theaters. It only occurred to me later that it might have been because the filmmakers didn’t know where it was going either. For the first two thirds of the film I was on the edge of my seat, as each new revelation uncovered another piece of the so-called “mystery box.” It’s not until the final third, when we get back to Tomorrowland, that it all comes apart.
If you’ve been to a Disney resort you’ve likely had the experience of riding an attraction that breaks down while you’re in the middle of it. You sit there in your vehicle for a while and then the lights come up and you see the animatronic figures for what they are and something is lost; it’s not quite so magical anymore. That’s the ultimate flaw in Tomorrowland. At some point they have to reveal the secret they’ve been teasing, to essentially bring up the lights, and suddenly this amazing world loses its luster. The internal logic doesn’t hold up under any sort of scrutiny. There are glaring plot holes, things left unexplained, and connections made out of nowhere. It only scratches the surface of a deeper mythology involving historical figures and a secret organization called Plus Ultra that I wanted to know more about. I got the distinct impression that a lot of exposition was cut out to make room for the showy action set pieces, and the film is worse for it (though with a little digging you can find a lot of this supplemental material online). I’d still say it’s enjoyable, so long as you don’t think about it too much.
Which brings me to the question in the title of this article. Should you take your kids? As long as they’re comfortable with a small amount of non-human violence (certainly no more than your average superhero movie), then go ahead and bring them along. It does get a bit preachy toward the end in delivering its ultimate message about the power of hope, idealism versus cynicism, and the battle between competing visions of the future, but there are worse messages to take away from a movie. I’d go so far as to say that kids might actually get more out of it than their parents. They’re more likely to take it at face value, not to notice the smoke and mirrors that create the illusion of an amazing spectacle. They don’t need it to make sense, they just want it to be fun. And that’s what family movies are all about anyway.
You’ve probably seen the trailers, posters, and billboards for Tomorrowland, but if you still have no idea what the movie is actually about, don’t worry. You’re not alone. According to the filmmakers, you’re not supposed to know yet. When it comes to explaining anything specific about the story, everyone involved has been pretty coy so far.
Of course, the secret will be out when the film opens on May 22, but if you can’t wait until then, we’ve got a fun teaser about some of Tomorroland‘s themes and big ideas from none other than star George Clooney himself.
What we can say about the story is what you probably know already, at least if you’ve seen the promos. It involves a STEM-savvy teenage girl named Casey (Britt Robertson), who receives a mysterious pin with one amazing property: Whenever she touches it, she is instantly transported to a wondrous, futuristic place called Tomorrowland. When the pin loses its power, she searches for a way back and meets up with a strange little girl (Raffey Cassidy), who in turn leads her to a gruff old genius named Frank Walker (Clooney). Together, they embark on a quest as the fate of both worlds hangs in the balance.
At a recent press event to promote the film, Clooney talked about what initially drew him to the project. He said he was intrigued by the originality of the idea and how it differed from your typical summer blockbuster.
“First and foremost, I think it is a really bold thing for Disney to be willing to do a film that isn’t a sequel and isn’t a comic book,” Clooney said. “I just loved the idea of, you know, we live in a world right now where you turn on your television set and it’s rough out there. And it’s not fun. And it can really wear on you after a period of time. And we see generations now feeling as if it’s sort of hopeless, in a way. And what I love about it is it sort of speaks to the idea that your future is not preordained and predestined, and that if you’re involved, a single voice can make a difference and I believe in that. I happen to believe in it, and so I loved the theme or the idea that, you know, there’s still so much that we can all do to make things better.”
There was another thing that especially stood out for him when he first read the script. And it wasn’t necessarily a good thing.
“I have to say, just so we’re clear, when [writer Damon Lindelof] and [writer-director Brad Bird] showed up at my house, they said, ‘We’ve got a part that we’ve written for you,’” Clooney recalled. “And then I opened up the description of the character and it’s a 55-year-old has-been, and I’m kind of going, ‘Hang on a minute, which part am I reading for?’”
At the core of this genre-defying adventure tale is the choice between pessimism and optimism, and how that choice can shape the world. As to whether he related to the struggle between the two points of view, Clooney said he remains positive about the future.
“I didn’t ever have that great disappointment in mankind,” he said. “I always felt like it was going to work out in the end. And I still feel that way. And so what I loved about the film was that it reminds you that, you know, young people, they’re not born and start out their lives cynical, or angry, or bigoted. You have to be taught all of those things. And I watch the world now and think I see really good signs from young people out there. And I feel as if the world will get better. And I’ve always been an optimist. I’ve been a realist, but I’ve been an optimist about it. And I really related to the film because Brad and Damon want to tell a story that’s an entertainment, because first and foremost, it has to be an entertainment. But it is hopeful, and I’ve always felt that way myself.”
And really, if George Clooney can continue to have faith in the future of humanity, so can we all.
GeekMom attended a press event that included a free screening of Tomorrowland.
Who lives in a pineapple under the sea and is going on a tour across the United States? SpongeBob SquarePants. Just in time to honor “World’s Oceans Day,” SpongeBob is touring the country to tell everyone about his latest movie coming to Blu-Ray 3D, The SpongeBob Movie: Sponge Out Of Water.
In addition to promoting his new movie, SpongeBob will also be handing out reusable tote bags and asking families to go plastic bag free for one year. And if you have the munchies while visiting, SpongeBob’s crew will be handing out tasty treats and other goodies.
If you’re interested in meeting up with SpongeBob and his alter ego “Invincibubble,” head over to one of these tour stops:
5/19 at Zoo Miami (12-4pm)
5/21 at Lowry Park Zoo (9:30 am-12:30 pm)
5/21 The Florida Aquarium (1:00 pm-4:00 pm)
5/23 The Children’s Museum of Atlanta (11:00 am – 3:00 pm)
5/23 Atlanta Aquarium “Dive In Movie” event (7-10pm)
5/25 at Houston Aquarium (10:00 am-2:00 pm)
5/27 at Dallas World Aquarium (10am-2pm)
5/29 at Albuquerque Aquarium (10am-1pm)
5/31 at Location/time to be announced
6/2 at Location/time to be announced
The calendar may say it’s spring, but the summer movie season is officially upon us with the release of the sequel to 2012’s blockbuster The Avengers this weekend. It’s Marvel, it’s Joss Whedon, and it’s the Avengers, so there’s no question Avengers: Age of Ultron is going to be a megahit to rival, perhaps even surpass, its predecessor.
A traditional review seems rather pointless for a film like this. I mean, if you want to see it you’re going to see it, no matter what the critics say (for the record, I say it’s a whole lot of fun and well worth your time). What’s more valuable, I think, is an exploration of the issues the film raises, particularly in terms of the depiction of its main female hero, Black Widow (deftly portrayed by Scarlett Johansson).
Due to some grossly insensitive comments made by a couple of the actors in an interview (et tu, Evans?) and the observation that Black Widow has been woefully underrepresented when it comes to merchandise, the character has become a lightning rod for controversy on the fringes of the Avengers franchise. And let’s not forget that despite Johansson’s popularity and the rich well of story material, there’s still no sign of a Black Widow standalone film.
These are all legitimate gripes, important to the ongoing conversation about the treatment (or, sadly more often, mistreatment) of women in Hollywood. Yet it always seems as though there are those lying in wait for things like this to happen, ready to fire up the outrage machine and whipping out hashtags like pre-printed Super Bowl championship T-shirts. There’s a old newspaper saying: “Never pick a fight with anyone who buys ink by the barrel.” The updated version is: “Never offend anyone who sells ad space by the page click.” To be fair, it doesn’t help that tone-deaf filmmakers, actors, and studios fall into the trap every single time.
So now, instead of talking about Black Widow’s arc in Age of Ultron, we’re drawn into a larger debate about slut shaming and invisible protagonists on retail shelves. There are plenty of places where you can engage in that worthy discussion, but I’m not going to get into all of that here (others have covered the topic quite thoroughly). What I’d rather focus on is Natasha’s storyline in the film itself, an aspect often overlooked in the midst of all these external elements.
This is where I must to pause to issue a spoiler warning before continuing. The following article will deal with some minor plot points from the film. I won’t be revealing any major details about the final act or any of the other character’s storylines (except where they directly intersect with Black Widow), but if you want to go in truly knowing nothing you may want to stop here and come back after you’ve seen the film. Otherwise, let’s dive right in.
Setting aside for the moment her appearances in previous MCU installments, I would argue that the storyline Whedon has written for Black Widow in Age of Ultron is actually quite empowering. The sweeping action sequence in the film’s opening shows her fighting shoulder to shoulder with her male counterparts. They value her for her skills and what she can contribute to the team. No one talks down to her, flirts with her, or considers her lesser because of her gender. She’s the only one who points out the difference, often jokingly referring to her compatriots as “boys.”
In a way, Natasha Romanoff is the spiritual successor to Peggy Carter, achieving the equality and respect among her colleagues that Peggy could only dream about in the 1940s. I believe in giving credit where it’s due, and Whedon has made Black Widow an intrinsic part of the Avengers, consumer products not withstanding.
It’s Natasha herself who goes and challenges that dynamic by not only having romantic feelings for Bruce Banner (Mark Ruffalo), but expressing them to him outright. She takes the initiative, making it clear to him that she’s still considering whether to go for it, and if she does it will be on her terms. It’s sort of adorable the way Bruce has no idea what to do with this declaration. He’s obviously interested (even the “other guy” has a soft spot for her), but has convinced himself he’s damaged goods. What he doesn’t realize is that’s exactly what she sees in him. She’s damaged too, and looking for someone who won’t judge her for it.
I’ve heard some critics take issue with the fact that Black Widow in Age of Ultron is basically defined by her relationship to a man, as if somehow that diminishes her as a character in comparison to her male counterparts. I don’t agree with either part of that assessment, but let’s say for the sake of argument that the first part is valid and her journey in the film is centered around her connection with Bruce. If that’s true of Natasha, then it’s true of Bruce too, since they are on a parallel path. Their story is about trying to find some shred of good in a whole lot of bad. The question that unites them is whether they are too far gone for redemption. Love is one measure of redemption, but it’s not Natasha’s only option.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying the film should be held up as beacon of feminism or anything. Though it features a handful of outstanding female characters, they scarcely interact.
I especially wanted to see more of the strong friendship hinted at between Natasha and another female character outside of the world of the Avengers, but their screen time together is minimal. Certainly there’s room for improvement on the Bechdel front. What I’m arguing is that Black Widow is far from marginalized in the source material, even if she gets the shaft everywhere else.
Age of Ultron is a very crowded film, with lots of moving parts. That Whedon was able to serve so many characters, even in a minimal way, and still keep the running time under three hours is an impressive feat of storytelling.
I encourage Black Widow fans to see the film themselves and form their own opinion, outside of the Internet echo chamber. You may come to a completely different conclusion, and that’s fine. That’s great. That’s a discussion I’d love to have.
The massive Marvel Cinematic Universe is about to get bigger. With the release of Avengers: Age of Ultron, we’ll see the addition of at least three new Avengers to the already abundant lineup, not to mention supporting players both familiar and strange (though the real Strange is yet to come). There’s a shiny new bad guy too, the Ultron of the film’s title, a twisted artificial intelligence with genocidal tendencies (voiced with relish by James Spader). This not only makes for a crowded film (more on that when we get to our review later this week), it also makes for a very crowded press conference.
Earlier this month, Disney hosted said press conference at their studio in Burbank, where a baker’s dozen of panelists, including all of the usual suspects, appeared to promote the film. On hand were Scarlett Johansson, Joss Whedon, Elizabeth Olsen, James Spader, Mark Ruffalo, Chris Hemsworth, Robert Downey Jr., Chris Evans, Jeremy Renner, Paul Bettany, Cobie Smulders, Aaron Taylor-Johnson, and Kevin Feige. Each one of them could have held an entertaining press conference all on their own, but as it was we had to split our attention among all of the impressive talent in front of us during the limited time we had.
You can imagine how hard it must have been for Whedon, who wrote and directed both Avengers films, to do the same over the course of years. “There’s like 47 of these people,” he joked. “I really didn’t think that through, and I regret very much doing this at all.” That last part may not have been a joke.
He went on to explain the challenge of making sure each of the characters got their moment in the film. “I have all these people. I love all these people. They’re extraordinary. But making sure that they’re all being served, all within the same narrative structure, that they’re in the same movie, that it’s all connected to the main theme. At some point during the editing process, I could not have told you who they were, who I was, what movie I was making, I got so lost in it. But I think it all came together, and you know, it’s just about making these guys look good.”
Downey Jr., whose quippy sense of humor is not unlike that of his big-screen counterpart Tony Stark, pretended to be offended when it took the press a while to get around to asking him a question. “I want to say this very clearly,” he said in a mock-serious tone. “The next time I’m not asked the first question, I’ll [expletive deleted] walk out.”
The first question actually went to Smulders, who plays former S.H.I.E.L.D. agent Maria Hill. She was asked about the development of her character since we first met her in the original Avengers film.
“Maria’s now under the employment of Tony Stark and she’s now working with him to privatize security,” Smulders said. “It’s very fun being a thread to be able to tie the TV show and the movies together. That’s been a lot of fun. But yeah, she’s got a bigger job now. She’s working, like I said, with Tony, and she doesn’t have S.H.I.E.L.D. at her disposal anymore, so it’s a much more difficult job.”
Johansson, who plays another kick-ass female character, Black Widow, was also asked about how her character has changed over time and her emotional journey throughout Age of Ultron.
“There’s some sense finally of there being a kind of normal, in a way,” Johansson said of the film’s opening scenes. “I mean, it’s a well-oiled machine where, you know, we’re tag teaming each other. It’s finally like the introductions are over and we’re at work, like we’re digging our heels in. And at the end of Avengers 2 I think Widow is, you know, she let her guard down, she was hopeful for something. I think she had this moment of false hope.”
Speaking of character development, fans of Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye will be happy to know he actually has some in this film, after spending a lot of the first on the sidelines under Loki’s control.
“Well, I speak in this movie, which is awesome,” Renner says of the differences between the two installments. “And I become part of the team, which is awesome. And dive into some really killer aspects of [the character]. When sitting down with Joss, and even Kevin [Feige] back in the day, talking about why I liked him, why I wanted to play Hawkeye, because I didn’t understand, I could never do like what these gentlemen do. I don’t have that creative of a mind. I understood Hawkeye in the sense of he’s a human just with a high skill set, so I could tap into that, and I feel like I got to explore a little bit more of that, even outside the skill set.”
The new cast members also got their turns to speak, at least for a little bit. Spader talked about being thrown into the role of a giant killer robot on his first day. In addition to providing the voice, he also did some motion capture work and was present on the set when shooting with the other actors.
“I arrived in London and within the first half hour they put on a suit, they put on all this gear, and I’d gone through a range of motion,” Spader recalled. “And then within 15 minutes I was watching me walk around a big room, moving and doing this and that and everything else, and watching Ultron, or at least a formative stage of Ultron, on a monitor in front of me. And it started right there. And the next day I was on set shooting a scene with Scarlett. And so really that pace was what it was, through the entire project. And luckily I’d had some conversations with Joss and one fantastic meal with a whole bunch of wine to figure out who this guy was. And that was it. That really was it. It was just trying to hold on.”
Olsen and Taylor-Johnson, who play super-powered twins Wanda and Pietro Maximoff (AKA Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver), were asked if their previous work together as husband and wife in 2014’s Godzilla helped them develop chemistry as siblings.
“I think it’s only a benefit,” Olsen said. “I mean, it’s kind of intimidating joining this group so I’m glad I got to do it with Aaron by my side.”
Taylor-Johnson agreed. “Yeah, it was comforting to know, stepping on set, when it was such a big ensemble and cast, that you kind of had some to feel comfortable with. Absolutely, yeah.”
The last newcomer to the film wasn’t really a newcomer at all. Paul Bettany has been a part of the MCU since he first recorded the voice for Tony Stark’s A.I. assistant J.A.R.V.I.S. in Iron Man. In Age of Ultron, he takes on the physical role of the Vision, a mysterious, benevolent android. The dual role is no coincidence, but we can’t say any more than that without giving too much away.
When asked about the differences between the two roles, Bettany cut right to the practical aspects of the job. “The main difference is I have to show up,” he said. “You know, the great thing is being able to work with all these incredibly creative and talented people. However, I also now have to show up at junkets, you know, so everything’s a double-edged sword.”
Avengers: Age of Ultron opens Friday, May 1.
Did you hear? The complete Star Wars Saga will be available on Digital HD this week! You guys don’t know how excited I am about this!
Perhaps I’m dating myself here, but I do vividly remember all the hubbub when the original Star Wars Trilogy—as a trilogy—made itself available to the masses on VHS video cassette. It was in the mid-1980s. It was a big deal. This was back before owning VHS tapes was affordable ($75-100 per movie!), so we were content to get into the queue at our local Erol’s Video to see a rented copy. In the first VHS release…Han indeed shot first! By the mid-90s, the prices for video tapes had come down considerably, and it wasn’t hard to buy the Special Edition box set…but by then the movies had been significantly remastered.
I also remember the announcements and excitement when the series came out on DVD in the mid-2000s; of course, by this point Episodes I and II had been released and had even been issued on DVD before the original trilogy. My thoughts on the matter were mostly in the neighborhood of, “I can’t believe I had to endure Jar Jar in vivid detail first!”
The complete saga will be available starting Friday, April 10th, and will be offered as a complete set for $89.99 or else as individual movies for $19.99 each. I’ve seen announcements for this release at Disney Movies Anywhere, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and even on my sons’ XBox! With the movies are numerous never-before-seen special features, so you certainly won’t want to miss this! Let me leave you with this fun video hosted by Bill Hader about some of the saga’s unforgettable creatures.
If you want to see more videos like this one, be sure to check out Disney Movies Anywhere for more of Star Wars @Lightspeed, where you can learn more about the greatness that is the Star Wars Saga!
50 Shades of Grey goes back to Twilight, which goes back to the bodice-ripper romance novels, which goes back to our fairy tales of young, beautiful princesses who need to be taken care of by a powerful man. The song “I Will Save Myself” refers to princesses in fairy tales who annoy me as much as Bella. My two children are teens and I can only hope I instilled a strong sense of self and independence. Now that I have two nieces of elementary age, I’m still worried about our culture and the lure of being the sparkly “princess.”
I wasn’t really into princesses growing up. I loved Star Wars, and yes, Princess Leia was cool, but I really wanted to be Luke. I wanted to be the one who everyone counted on to save the day. I like that there are powerful women in stories, girls who are main characters; my problem is that it’s considered odd or there’s only one cool girl character to every 10 cool boys.
I wanted to be awesome and not singled out because I’m an awesome girl. If the continual challenge of a girl in stories is to prove she is as good as any man, that’s not high enough for me.
My favorite book growing up was A Little Princess by Frances Hodgson Burnett. Except the main character isn’t a princess. It was what her father called her; it became a part of who she was, who she wanted to be. She defined a princess as someone who had the privilege to be generous. Even when her resources were gone, she acted like her father’s definition of a princess. Although this is certainly a “Cinderella” story, the main character is active in fixing her situation. Sarah in that book was another character I wanted to be, much more than any princesses in fairy tales.
In Disney, which has its hands in every facet of media aimed at children, the princess factor is still going strong. In every princess story I know, they are very pretty (and if they are not, that’s the point of the story). I found it annoying as a child. As an adult in the entertainment biz, I completely understand the need for pretty visuals, but I was never a pretty girl, and so I couldn’t relate.
I had a pretty sister who became embarrassed and neurotic about people commenting on her beauty. I felt bad for her, and I was glad to fly under the radar and do my own thing. (This, of course, wasn’t how I felt as a teenager, but that’s a different topic.) So these princesses were pretty (not me), were considered the top of their social heap (not me), and had a lot of money (not me, again). I had more in common with boy characters than any princesses in books and movies.
I know the point of these kind of tales is to fantasize about being someone completely different from yourself. But I liked myself. I had a very healthy self-esteem as a young girl and had no desire to be someone else. I wanted to be me—just more awesome. I liked books and movies that gave me the tools to help me become what I could envision would be the best Becca. Or at least, pretend to be, if I had superpowers. So I needed characters that I could see myself in.
Somewhere in my later childhood years, mainstream media (Disney) did start to reflect different cultures and attitudes towards women, but I think the whole thing became even more ridiculous. Now, they weren’t just pretty, kind, and rich (by the end), but were also clever, strong-willed, and sometimes could fight. And they were princesses?
Does being a princess help the character achieve a goal?
Maybe the definition of a princess has changed. From the press coverage, modern-day royalty hardly live a fairy tale life. Princesses, then and now, are tied to convention, their social class, their money. Their stories have to involve breaking girl stereotypes because the princess one is so ingrained in our culture. Maybe there needs to be some other role our little girls can live up to. There are fantastic stories out there, traditional and new; stories that involve girl protagonists who are both intelligent and kick-ass. They don’t have to be a princess to succeed.
Maybe the entertainment world can learn from A Little Princess: it’s not the title, money, or looks that makes someone a princess, but your character, integrity, and strength.
Being a geek is becoming more and more mainstream. Yet there are still stereotypes of what makes a geek a “geek.” Being a comic book fan is a quintessential sign, and often linked to the old-school idea of socially-inept, single guys. For women who proclaim their love of comics (like me), it’s just…strange.
But that is changing. I was just invited to a Fan Girls Night Out at my local comic store by another mom who is also into comics. There are more of us than you realize. And although it may seem new to the mainstream world, it is far from abnormal. The history of women in comics as both fans and within the industry stretches back to the beginning.
The new documentary She Makes Comics is an eye-opening and heartfelt look at women within the history of comics, and I highly recommend watching it. The film is directed by Marisa Stotter and produced by Patrick Meaney and Jordan Rennert of Respect!Films. It is executive produced by Sequart’s Julian Darius and Mike Phillips and by Columbia University comics librarian Karen Green. It is a series of interwoven interviews of passionate people with different roles and points of view. My teenage son and I watched it together, finding it informative and entertaining.
Did you know that women and men made up equal numbers of comic book readership before the 1950s? American comics were about many topics, had various settings, and reflected every possible interest. By the ’70s, women readers started to drop off dramatically, partly due to the focus on male superheroes as the best-seller comic book theme, as well as the feminist movement awakening a generation of women who were tired of the same “wedding bliss” ending. An underground women’s comic movement began, and it was fascinating listening to the creators talk about it on camera: both the excitement and the fears.
Several women really changed the comic book world, from Wendy Pini, the original chain-mail bikini awesome cosplayer who then created ElfQuest, to Janette Kahn, former publisher of DC who broke the glass ceiling, to Gail Simone, notable comic writer, and author of Women in Refrigerators, an unapologetic look at how female characters are unfairly treated in comic stories, to Kelly Sue DeConnick, the creator of the hugely popular female Captain Marvel, and many more.
How do women get into comics in the first place? Better comics. The consensus of the interviewees was: Give us a variety of women featured, complex characters, and in-depth storytelling. As an X-Men fan, it was cool to know how many other women in this film cited that series as their turn-on to the whole genre. The fact that the male creator of the series had two female editors makes sense. Neil Gaiman’s Sandman was another “gateway” comic, again, with a female editor. In fact, that editor, Karen Berger, is credited with developing the talents of some of the biggest names in comics for the past several decades.
I personally got into comics in the 1990s, and was quite alone. I took my two young children to the comic book store and was the only female there, let alone a mother. I found it interesting to hear about that time period. The film talked about how more women were getting into the creative side of comics then, but still not equally represented by a long-shot. The industry was not welcome to women or women-centered stories, but also, women are not as confidant in promoting themselves.
Comics used to be sold in supermarkets and bookstores, but then only in specific comic stores that were (and mostly still are) very much a bachelor den of boob posters and all-male staff who assume a girl is only there because she is dating a comic book fan. In 1994, a support organization for women in comics was created called Friends of Lulu which put out a book helping comic book stores understand how to attract more females to their stores—why shut out the biggest consumers in the country? The internet ushered in a huge change. This has given women a place to connect, collaborate, and share their love of comics. The film also mentions the influence of the manga craze during that time as well, with comics targeted to girls.
There is so much to this film, but what stood out to me most was the passion of the people interviewed, and the range of ages. I loved hearing from the elder pioneers in the industry, as well as the younger talents of today. Inspiring the next generation of comic creators came up a lot, and is something I support wholeheartedly. Everyone should be able to express themselves in whatever medium suits them best, boys and girls. Check out the film!
She Makes Comics is now available to order on DVD and as a digital download at SheMakesComics.com.
GeekMom received a copy for review purposes.
Center Stage turns 15 this year, and every time it’s on TV I still have to watch it. And every time I watch it, I post about it on Facebook and am inundated with messages from girlfriends who are also obsessed with this movie.
I have no idea why the phenomenon of Center Stage has such a hold on so many of us. It’s not a particularly good movie—the acting is mostly cringe-worthy, and it’s a cliched story (but with dancers!). And yet somehow it is just…the best.
For the uninitiated (are there any left who are?), Center Stage stars a then-unknown Zoe Saldana, the voice of Rapunzel’s mom from Tangled as a tough-but-fair teacher, a bunch of dancers who are amazing dancers but not very great actors, and Peter Gallagher as the eyebrow—er, director—who rules them all.
It is the story of a young hopeful dancer who is accepted into the American Ballet Academy of the American Ballet Company in New York City. It’s like ballet college, so young Jody (Amanda Schull) is basically living out a freshman year existence in a dorm with other dancers. She and her classmates have a year to prove to the teachers and to the director of the company that they can make it as professional dancers.
The year culminates in a giant dancing showcase with representatives from every major dance company anywhere ever looking for new talent. (Do they all do these student showcases? Does every dance company also have an academy? I have no idea!)
So we spend a year following these students chasing their pointed-toe dreams. Jody’s the main event, and we watch her torn between two love interests. There’s earnest class crush Charlie, who seems like he would just like to hold hands and be utterly respectful until they’re 30, and then there’s company principal and bad-boy womanizer Cooper who takes her to bed the first night they hang out after an off-campus dance class. Guess whom she lusts after for most of the movie before finding herself?
It’s also kind of like The Wizard of Oz but with dancers. Jody is all heart and hard work, but her footwork is just the pits. She cannot use her hips to turn them out any farther. Eva Rodriguez (Zoe Saldana) has flawless technique, and she’ll work hard when she needs to, but her sassy attitude towards everyone in authority is pretty terrible.
And Maureen (Susan May Pratt) has been there forever, pushed by her stage mom into a dancing destiny (I don’t remember why some of the students are new this year and others seem to have been born at ABA). She is all perfect technique and hard work, but secretly she hates dancing and how it’s kept her from a normal teenage life. Maureen is the mean girl of this group.
Except that she isn’t. This is, I think, part of the appeal of this pretty gentle movie. In reality, there is very little girl-on-girl crime in this movie, and from an era that brought us Mean Girls and every late-90s teen comedy with a nasty villainess, that’s pretty awesome. Eva risks her own already-bad relationship with teachers to stick up for Jody, and she is constantly encouraging. Jody is nice to everyone, even Maureen.
Maureen’s criticisms of her competition are largely correct, if harsh, and she readily admits when their dancing is great. She makes jabs with her mom about poor Emily, who gained weight over the summer and has a doomed future in dance. But, it doesn’t take long to reveal that she’s actually miserable and just trying to satisfy the mother of all mothers. And once she starts to relax and live a little, and show some of the struggle she’s had to stay perfect, she becomes pretty human.
And some of that is thanks to poor overweight Emily and her mom. Emily, who is actually adorable and in no way fat, and her glorious mom (Marcia Jean Kurtz, of many a Law & Order episode) who sweeps her up when the school expels her for gaining weight and essentially says that this is some bullshit, helps Maureen see that this isn’t what she wants. Even my college self in 2000 appreciated a mom in this movie who was present and stepped in when her kid needed her. Rare in teen movies.
Yes, this movie kind of floats over the issues of weight maintenance in the dance world, but it at least talks about them. Listen, I don’t watch Center Stage for a scathing indictment of fat-shaming in dance culture. Emily, my year-2000 self would have happily spent all night walking around Manhattan with you eating those fruit tarts Eion Bailey was serving. They looked divine.
It also deals with YA issues like sex, breakups, parental pressure, drinking, and fear of the future. But it’s lighthearted about it. This is not an angst-filled movie, but it’s also not chaste. They just have sex, it’s part of life and no big deal. They go out and have a good time like perfectly normal teenagers. There’s no judgment and no moral lesson here, just teens figuring stuff out. You have to live to create art, and all that.
Then there’s the dancing. The final dance is the reason that at least two generations of women know all about Jamiroquai’s “Canned Heat,” and we can probably do a few of the moves. The ending is pretty solidly girl power. Even Jody’s final dance (choreographed by bad-boy Cooper) is about giving up on the boys and concentrating on yourself.
Maureen walks away from dancing, Eva learns not to be so combative and becomes a star, and Jody finds her own niche. She has a lot of somewhat painful speeches for everyone in the final scenes as her dance future is decided after the performance of a lifetime (and several magic costume changes), but I still love her and her beautiful dancing soul with terrible feet.
This week the news broke that Scarlett Johansson has been cast to play Major Motoko Kusanagi in the yet-to-be-greenlit live action film of Ghost in the Shell, and to say there were mixed reactions would be an understatement.
Ghost in the Shell is a popular Japanese anime movie and TV series based on the manga of the same name by Masamune Shirow. Set in a futuristic Tokyo, Japan, it features the counter-cyberterrorism organization Section 9. Motoko Kusanagi is one of the leaders of this organization.
Now, I have to admit, when I first read that Johansson was cast, I said, “Wow, that could work.” I mean, Kusanagi has a fully cybernetic body. She could well look American, if that’s how her body’s designers had planned it. Plus, we’ve seen what kick-ass characters Johansson can play from her portrayals of Black Widow and Lucy. After some reflection, however, some serious doubts began to set in.
Sure, I have no problem if Scarlett Johansson was going to play Kusanagi, if that was the only thing they changed about it. But I know Hollywood, and I’ve seen what they’ve done to other films and franchises.
Ghost in the Shell is a story steeped in Japanese culture. All of the main characters are Japanese, it takes place in Japan, it draws on Japanese history and society to create the world and plot. My worry is that Hollywood will strip this franchise of its culture, of its framework, and leave us with a whitewashed husk of something vaguely resembling the original. We have one American actress, what about the other characters? Will they all be white as well? Will they keep the setting as Tokyo or change it to New York?
When one looks over the plotline of the story arc (and it is yet to be announced what part of the whole Ghost in the Shell story they will be using for this movie, if it is the original movie, or something from the series Stand Alone Complex), it seems on the surface it could be adapted to be American in nature. But again, on the surface. Superficially. Ghost in the Shell is awesome because there are so many layers to it, so many things to grok beneath the surface. Why can’t Hollywood write an original story of their own if they want an American story that “Americans can relate to”? I’ve heard time and again, Hollywood Americanizes stories so that American audiences can understand and sympathize with them. Are we as a nation truly so shallow that unless characters look like us and live in our country, we can’t sympathize with them? I don’t believe we are. Furthermore, how are we supposed to learn to sympathize unless we are exposed to different things?
Again, this movie has not been green-lit for production yet. But it disturbs me that people feel that in order for this movie to be successful in this country, it would have to have a white actress playing a character that identifies as Japanese. It’s speculation on my part that any other aspect of the film will be American, but let’s get real. If Hollywood thinks an all-white-American cast will make the movie sell better, then that’s what they will do, story and quality be damned. It’s happened before *cough* Edge of Tomorrow *cough*.
Author N.K. Jemison (The Dreamblood and The Inheritance Trilogy series) shared her thoughts on the subject:
“Hell, Americans are mostly villains in the GiTS’verse, constantly horning in on the ‘Japanese miracle’ that’s saved the world from their warring and pollution. The geopolitics are crucial to the manga/film/show’s world-building. And GiTS properly depicts those Americans as racially diverse. If the source material can show us that much basic respect, doesn’t it behoove us to show that much respect to the source? And not impose our own simpleminded racism on it, instead?”
I couldn’t agree more.
Star Wars came out a decade long, long ago when the only way to see the movie was in a theater. I was seven, so my Dad took me to see it and the movie completely and utterly blew my little mind. According to him, I watched half the film with my jaw dropped down to the floor. Now kids see it for the first time in the comfort of their own homes. This 3-year-old boy is one of those kids and his reaction is brilliant.
It appears that he’s already familiar with the characters as he calls out Darth Vader and “Storm Woopers.” Storm Woopers? I will now think of them this way forever and until the end of time. It makes them much less scary and makes this kid unbearably cute. He’s adorable and the way he keeps adjusting his glasses to be sure he doesn’t miss anything is just killing me.
His dialogue is great, but his physical reactions will have you giggle-snorting your coffee onto your monitor, so be warned. He shushes Dad with a finger held up as the movie starts and then he has the most incredible freak out. There is jumping up and down. There is flailing. There is dancing and there is a huge smile.
Since I saw the movie for the first time in a theater, I could not jump up and down, but if I could have, I’d have done exactly what this kid did, right until they kicked me out. If we’re being totally honest, and we are, that’s exactly what all Star Wars fans do inside every single time that music starts to play.
The completely rapt look on his face is how we’re all going to look when Star Wars: The Force Awakens hits theaters in December. You guys, that’s this year! Yup, absolutely flailed my arms at that thought and barely refrained from jumping up and down at my desk.
Just before the holidays, my youngest son and I performed our usual mid-December ritual: Skip school to see The Hobbit on opening day. It’s been this way for all of The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films. For one, it’s The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings. For another, the films always release on or around my birthday (December 18).
The advantage of playing hooky to go to the first showing of a movie (in daylight!) is that there will be some folks in the theater, but it’s usually never crowded. Vin and I had our pick of seats and were very comfortable during the show. While I’ve seen some of The Hobbit/Lord of the Rings films in 3D, I prefer to see them in standard format (the cinematography and movement doesn’t need it, IMHO). However, I wouldn’t mind seeing The Battle of the Five Armies in IMAX—and I will be seeing it again, because I really enjoyed it and I forgot to look for Peter Jackson’s cameo.
I would consider myself a pretty hardcore Tolkien fan. Behold the rubbing I made of his gravestone:
I was excited about the films when I first heard of them, because I would have access to another Tolkien film; that’s rare. The Rankin/Bass animations from the 70s and the incomplete Bakshi Lord of the Rings hold special places in my heart, but Peter Jackson’s films feel closest to Tolkien’s vision for me. I will never forget when I first “saw” Bag End. It was an emotional moment for me because up to that point, that place had been in my head and drawn as a cartoon. Now, it is real. Here are some memorable moments from the last installment that may contain some light spoilers…
Cinematography, Design, Costumes, Makeup, etc.
Visually, the film was appropriately dark and brooding, as the scenery centered on dragon-ravaged Lake-town, Dale and Erebor, and the haunted forest of Dol Guldur. Brightness and beauty returns at the end when Bilbo goes home; the Shire is as it should be—filled with Hobbits, fine country craftsmanship, and lush green hills—but only at the very end.
The costumes were magnificent; a challenge, as this portion of The Hobbit centers around devastation and destruction. Here, you can see how the details of costume can be used to forward the plot and stir the feelings of the viewer: The heavily embroidered folksy details in the clothes of the tattered and battered citizens of Lake-town are still there underneath the rips, tears, and scorch marks. I loved that everyone was appropriately filthy. (I had a problem with this in the Eregon film.) The elves alone remained spotless despite the conflict raging around them. Thranduil and Legolas emerged with only black scratches on their faces. Tauriel was the exception. She gets bloodied during her battle with the Orcs, which only adds to her aura of being a “different” elf, living outside the tribe, doing her own thing, and being real. And then there is the armor—lots and lots of armor. The most beautiful (and what you really get to see in detail) are the pieces worn by the original 13 dwarves of the company. The knot-work patterns on the shields, helms, breastplates—all of it—is just gorgeous. I also loved that Dain wielded a Thor-esque hammer.
Weta Workshop continues to amaze with the creatures (including new steeds and the bats that make their appearance in the last battle) and scenes of destruction—of which there are many. Afterwards, my son said that he thought that Dain was completely CGI, but it wasn’t something I noticed. I’ll be paying closer attention to this when I see the film again.
The Death of Smaug
The film starts immediately with Smaug attacking Lake-town. Great scenes of the dragon swooping low, crashing into things, and setting the place on fire take up the first 10 to 15 minutes. We get a wee bit more of Ben Cumberbatch’s evil banter; this time with Bard, which differs from the book. There are more deviations in how the dwarves find out about the dragon’s demise and we also finally get to see what happened to the Arkenstone.
Thorin’s Dragon Sickness
The film had a short time to show Thorin morphing from his hard-headed (but respected and lovable) self to a gold-obsessed crazy-dwarf—and then back again to come out of the mountain to save the day and his honor. I liked Richard Armitage’s treatment of this aspect of the character. He wavered realistically several times between the Thorin we know and love, to the tyrant who you want to hate but you know that it’s Thorin inside. He redeemed himself so well that I cried in the end, even though I knew what was going to happen.
The Showdown at Dul Guldur
This inclusion of this storyline in the film was necessary in making The Hobbit a three-part series. Gleaned from other works, epilogues, and notes, it fills in the background of where The Hobbit fits into The Lord of the Rings. In The Battle of Five Armies, these scenes confirm that, “he’s baaaaaaaaaack!” Galadriel, Elrond and Saruman have a face-off with Sauron and rescue Gandalf. It was interesting to see Saruman as a good guy (even though you know what happens with him if you’ve read the book or have seen any of The Lord of the Rings films). When that segment ended, I found myself wondering if he had already started down that path, or if he was trying to be the hero and unwittingly opening himself up to his downfall. I just love Sir Christopher Lee.
Tauriel and Kili…
Until The Hobbit films I never thought of dwarves as objects of romantic affection, but Kili and Fili (and Armitage’s Thorin) changed all that for me. I admit I ate the elf-elf-dwarf love-triangle up with a spoon. I felt that Tauriel was a character that was added to the film to give it a strong feminine presence as it’s so overwhelmingly male, and to add a love interest as there is none in the book. I liked the added romance and the idea of an elf and dwarf getting together (almost a kind of foreshadowing of the friendship between Gimli and Legolas that comes later). It also provided a kind of foil to the “us versus them” theme that emerges between the various peoples vying for the treasure of Erebor.
This also had me thinking about what was going to be done with the ending of the film. If you’ve read the book, you know what happens to all of the members of the company, but this added twist had me wondering if anything was going to change on that score. No more deets as it would be a major spoiler—but I will say Tauriel and Kili’s story, like the rest of the film is song-worthy.
Orcs with Forks…
…for hands, and feet. Okay, maybe not forks, but one difference that both my son and I noticed between The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings films, and particularly this last film, was the plethora of Orcs and trolls with amputated limbs replaced by weapons. Azog was the first we saw in this film with his missing arm replaced by a spiky pike (it’s a sleek, silver blade for The Battle of the Five Armies). But suddenly, it seems that there are lots of maimed Orcs and trolls. One had both legs replaced by round-headed maces—awkward and… weird.
Afterwards, it made me think that portraying some of the Orcs and trolls like that showed how these creatures were seen by their masters as expendable: If they’re not dead, fix ‘em up and send ’em back out. If you really look at it, the whole of the film shows the utter uselessness of war—that it breaks down more than it could ever lift up. Tolkien, who experienced World War I first hand, seems to have felt this way (as can be judged from his letters), though he professed many times that his stories have no symbolic or metaphoric messages in them.
“At least… we may make such an end as will be worthy of a song!”
Before a reprise of Howard Shore’s enduring score kicks in, the ending credits are backed by a song sung (and written) by Billy Boyd (along with Fran Walsh and Phillipa Boyens). “The Last Goodbye” has words that are reminiscent of Tolkien:
“…To these memories I will hold
With your blessing I will go
To turn at last to paths that lead home
And though where the road then takes me
I cannot tell
We came all this way
But now comes the day
To bid you farewell
I bid you all a very fond farewell.”
Besides being a good ending song, this seemed to me, a clear message to everyone who was involved in these films—the viewers and fans included. So many people went on the journey of The Hobbit andThe Lord of the Rings. They’ve been a part of my life and my family’s life—watching them, waiting for them, talking about them, rereading the books—for over a decade. It is bittersweet, but as the song says, worth it.
Should Kids Go to See This Film?
My children range in age from 14 to 22, and all three have read The Hobbit and The Lord of the Rings trilogy. I went with the 14-year-old and we were both pretty giddy over it. However, I would use caution in bringing younger children to see it. The film is rated PG-13 for violence and there a good deal of it (the film focuses on the final battle described in the book, but on steroids):
• The film starts out with Smaug attacking Lake-town. There is fire, toppling buildings, screaming people, people falling out of boats. The aftermath is realistically gruesome, with bodies being pulled from the lake. Young children might have a hard time with that.
• The Orcs, trolls, and goblins in the movie have a clear purpose: kill or be killed—and both happen. Often. Besides the violence they perpetrate, they’re very realistic, frightening to look at, and there were enough with severed appendages refitted with weapon limbs make them even creepier, if that’s possible.
• Romance between Tauriel and Kili blossoms, and it is more about deeper feelings than the flirtations of the past films.
• The film is 2 hours and 24 minutes long, which might be too long for young children.
The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies is a satisfying ending to over a decade of Tolkien movies from Peter Jackson. Like the other Hobbit and Lord of the Rings films, creative license has been used to bring the book to the big screen. I felt that the film respected Tolkien’s vision and was visually stunning to watch. It is a war film and the horrors of war are captured in it. As the title suggests, the story is very battle-centered. There is a good deal of violence and even though it’s started for the most part by monsters, there are many images of the dead, of all races, and all ages. Use your best judgement when it comes to bringing younger children to see it.
Happy New Year’s Eve! I asked the GeekMoms what their favorite movies of 2014 were because I hardly ever get to the movies. I needed a list of what I’d missed that was worth seeing. Turns out, a lot of us do not get out to see many movies. And most of what we do see we saw with the kids. Hello, parenthood.
Here’s what we did see and like. Ruth and Andrea win the Going to the Movies award.
Jackie: I realized that Godzilla was probably my favorite of the year. Probably because I saw it by myself on a day out in New York City, so it was like a vacation. But, I’ve barely seen anything. I don’t even remember what else was out.
Jenny: I haven’t been to a movie in the theater in many years! I honestly can’t remember the last movie I saw that wasn’t Netflix or a DVD. I really don’t get out much.
Rachel: I loved Big Hero 6… and not just because it was one of the few (only?) times that I went to the theater this year. Otherwise, I’m going with The Grand Budapest Hotel. Great imagery, great cast, and downright hilarious. I hope to see Ralph Fiennes do more comedic work like that in the future. He was awesome!
Sarah: I didn’t get out much. Maleficent would win, though.
Helene: Hands down Guardians of the Galaxy was the BEST movie of 2014.
Rebecca: The Lego Movie would be my top pick. I took my son and his friends to see it, and we all really enjoyed it. Watched it again at Christmas with the extended family. But some others I saw…Transcendence was thought-provoking and great for discussion afterwards. Chef was a great feel-good movie. Made me happy. My dad took my daughter and me to see Lucy. It sparked really good conversation for the rest of our day. X-Men: Days of Future Past was well done, and I love that universe. BTW, I didn’t see all the movies in the theater—online as soon as I can. Movie tickets are too expensive!
Natania: Guardians of the Galaxy, Big Hero 6, totally. Finally saw Snowpiercer, and that was pretty amazing. Oh, loved Winter Soldier. Maybe this is the year of I Adore Chris Evans and I Don’t Know Why.
Andrea: LOVED Birdman and Budapest Hotel. Very much enjoyed St. Vincent. Enjoyed Into the Woods, but I know the musical production too well to LOVE love it. I found Citizen Four compelling but wish it had come out two years ago—Glenn Greenwald is a brilliant man and Snowden is still such a cipher for me. Found Guardians of the Galaxy mindlessly enjoyable. Theory of Everything of was poignant. Dear White People was GREAT. Great timing on discussing race, too. Skeleton Twins was a lot darker than I expected, good but not great. Watching The Fault in our Stars was surreal: sitting in a theater and sobbing along with two hundred teenagers was oddly cathartic. I liked Divergent, nice to get reacquainted with Mr. Pamuk. He is soft on the eyes. Chef was my favorite sleeper hit of the year.
Patricia: Big Hero 6. The Lego Movie. And (for the most cerebral date night ever): Interstellar.
Corrina: Didn’t Winter Soldier come out this year? Am I a year behind? That’s my favorite with Big Hero 6 just behind.
Melanie: My favorites were Guardians of the Galaxy and Godzilla.
Jules: I’m in the same boat as Jenny. It’s been over 10 years since I’ve been to a theatre.
Maryann: Ninety-nine percent of the movies I get to see in the theater are ones the kids want to go to. While I enjoyed Big Hero 6, can I honestly say that I enjoyed Planes: Fire and Rescue more? I know that sounds silly. The first Planes movie really wasn’t very good, but I did find the second movie to be much better. I got all the adult humor with the Village People songs, etc.
Lisa: Guardians of the Galaxy was a family superhero favorite. Big Hero 6 topped animation, and I can’t help it, I cried at the end of the final Hobbit, although I was hoping the ending would mirror the book more.
Ruth: OK, I finally got my list together. That was hard! I tried to put them in order, but there was a lot of good stuff. I mean, The Lego Movie fell further than halfway down! But then it’s also pretty hard to compare a Lego Movie to a Chef. Grand Budapest Hotel hit the bottom because it just didn’t do it for me like other people. Unlike almost all of these, I saw it on a plane instead of a theater, so maybe that’s part of it.
Guardians of the Galaxy
How to Train Your Dragon 2
Big Hero 6
Into the Woods
Earth to Echo
The Theory of Everything
The Monuments Men
The Lego Movie
Knights of Badassdom
A Million Ways to Die in the West
Grand Budapest Hotel
I’m really not a fan right now. In fact, I’m really disappointed with your recent decision to completely stuff The Interview into a drawer.
I can no longer support a company that completely cancels a movie’s release because of threats and hackers.
I have many reasons. One of these reasons is: If the various places for which I do contract work let me go because they’ve been attacked for hiring me, I’d have much less work. Instead, these places—one of which includes this website–have increased support and circled their wagons around me.
And now, only hours after the announcement was made that you are pulling The Interview from both theaters and video-on-demand release, there are many reputable sources who are pulling apart the claims that North Korea is behind all of this hullaballoo.
To quote Vice President Biden, “What a bunch of stuff.”
Individual GeekMom writers are split on how they feel and what they think about your decision, Sony. Some understand this decision because they worry that some lone wolf, not from North Korea, would use this heightened sense of danger as an opportunity to pull another Newtown massacre. While others think threats, like the Newtown massacre, were already present and almost anything could set a lone wolf off. Individual GeekMom writers are also split on whether or not they believe it was North Korea, and believe unnamed sources in the CIA quoted in the media may not be trustworthy.
However, it is the opinion of this writer that we cannot give into threats. And big companies, like you, Sony, have huge resources that can pay for the best internet security and firewalls, and can properly rally around those who have signed contracts with you. Instead, we get—to paraphrase: we [Sony] are all about free speech and freedom of expression for our writers and directors, but we have chosen to stifle what we believe.
This sets a very bad precedent, and opens the door to bigger threats and more entertainment companies pulling out of existing contracts because they think the subject matter is too risqué.
Over the last few years, several Canadian government buildings have been the subject of terrorist attacks, including a lone wolf gunning down a guard at our federal Parliament building, and a thwarted Canada Day bombing a la Boston Marathon, on the B.C. Legislature building. Instead of giving in to the terror, we chose not to give in and continue our lives as normal. Obviously, this colors my opinion.
And if GeekMom as an entity, who has little resources compared to you, Sony, can rally around me when I’m doxed, and are willing to endure horrible attacks because I write for them, then, Sony, it is my unapologetic opinion that you and other big corporations can—and must—do better.
To completely pull out of any type of release of The Interview is… gobsmacking. There are more options than video-on-demand from which to choose. Why not release it on Netflix, Amazon, iTunes, Google Play, and many more online release options? Do you not understand how much revenue that would bring in?
Sony, you’ve let the supposed terrorists* win. I can see a future where no films that challenge certain ways of thinking will be made in Hollywood. You’ve basically said, “Sure, we believe in free speech and all that jazz, but we are completely opened to selling out to the highest bidder.”
If you can swallow the cost of producing The Interview, then you can definitely swallow the cost of setting up better internet security. Sticking your middle finger up to other corporations and not just supposed terrorists by releasing the movie by other means instead of letting them stifle your freedom of expression—something you claim to be all for—will benefit you and take away profits from those other corporations’ that refuse to show the movie.
As one GeekMom said, “If [Sony] decided to make the movie, they have no need to cancel it. Of course, North Korea was going to be pissed off. Of course “something” was going to happen. With the [North Korean leaders’s] ego, they weren’t going to sit idly by. But if [Sony] decided to make it, [Sony] already decided.”
In short: Sony, you made your bed, now lay in it. Don’t punish audiences and Seth Rogen because you’ve decided to create a complicated bed.
Sony, you can and should do better! You’ve lost me, and many others, as a customer.
Signed with much disappointment and sadness, but without regret,
*It is my personal opinion that these supposed terrorists are home-grown hackers who finds it quite entertaining when groups within a country becomes frenzied over any supposed threat.
The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens has only just made its debut but already people are having their way with the video. YouTuber Snooperking wasted no time putting together a Lego version of the trailer that includes everything from the trisaber to the Millennium Falcon’s triumphant return.
Don’t miss the subtitles that were not in the original trailer and add a nice dose of humor. Also, be prepared to worry over whether or not you remembered to turn off the oven.
I get very irritated when people talk through a movie at the cinema, but I have no qualms about chatting through a movie at home, just ask anyone who knows me. It isn’t by choice, I simply can’t help myself. Settle me down in a comfy armchair with a good (or bad) movie, and I am suddenly more chatty than Lorelai Gilmore.
My commentary tends to fall into two categories:
1. What it about to happen?
- Is he going to die? He’s going to die isn’t he? Just tell me if he dies and then I’ll be okay.
- She’s the killer isn’t she? It has to be her. Oh yes she did it.
- What’s in the box? You have to tell me what’s in the box!!!
- Well I’ve read the book so I know he can’t die… unless they changed it for the movie… did they change it for the movie?
- Well Mr. X can’t die, he’s a main character, there’s no way there are killing him off… are they?
- Oh I’ve seen this, is this the part where (insert annoying spoiler here)?
Should you be watching a movie with me and the above occurs, just ignore me. For if you answer my questions thinking it will silence me, you will be wrong and get a whole new set of questions. If I have my laptop with me, I will inevitably refer to Wikipedia at least a half dozen times.
2. Fun Fact Time. This second category relates to facts concerning the movie in question, whether it be actual movie trivia, things that I like/dislike about the movie each time, or information on how the movie pertains to me.
- During The Two Towers, I will always comment that when seeing the film in the cinema, the fire alarm went off at the very moment the first arrow is fired at Helm’s Deep, forcing us all outside for twenty minutes.
- During The Return of the King, I will always criticize Aragon’s accent as he beckons the mouth of Sauron to come speak with him. All of a sudden he’s Irish!
- During Disney movies, I will sing along with songs, and I will speak lines before they are spoken. I will also give any and all information I have about Walt’s involvement with the film in question.
- During any movie set in New York, I will point out places I have been.
- If I have watched the making of—or director’s commentary of—a film, I will tell you everything that I found interesting, even if you watched the making of or director’s commentary with me.
- During Star Wars I will point out every actor that has signed my Return of the Jedi storybook, which is most of them.
As with the first category, I will also inevitably refer to Wikipedia several times. This will usually be going down the rabbit hole of “Wasn’t he in…?” or “Didn’t she used to play…?” or the dreaded “Didn’t they make a movie about … yet?”
I am my own Mystery Science Theater, but no one is willing to give me my own franchise. I try to tone it down when watching movies with anyone other than close friends and family, and I don’t think even they find it particularly cute. It is genetic however, so I can happily chat with my mom through an entire movie.
So, would you mock me, or join in?
When The Boxtrolls opens today in theaters, audiences will be witnessing the culmination of a production spanning years and countless hours of work by hundreds of talented people, and most will hardly notice.
It’s easy to get caught up in the story of Egg, a boy raised by the friendly underground-dwelling creatures for whom the film is named, and forget everything that went on behind the scenes to create the fantastical town of Cheesebridge and its various inhabitants. But it’s worth taking a closer look, because the artistry on display in the film is really quite something.
I got a chance to see it firsthand during my visit last spring to LAIKA studios, as filming on The Boxtrolls was nearly complete. (You can check out my previous interview with the film’s directors from the same trip here.) Like the studio’s previous films, Coraline and ParaNorman, it was created in traditional stop-motion style, using mechanical puppets which are manipulated one small gesture at a time and photographed in succession. It’s a trick as old as film itself, but the animators at LAIKA have perfected it to an art form.
To give you an idea of just how complicated and intricate the film really is, here are some amazing statistics provided by our hosts during the visit:
- The animators were expected to produce 4 seconds of film per week. At 40 hours a week, that adds up to around 600 hours of work to create one minute of film. The final average came out to 3.7 seconds per week, or around 90 frames.
- At the height of the production there were as many as 30 animators working all at one time on different sets. Since the film is basically made up of a series of still frames, several different scenes in different locations could be created side by side at the same time.
- There were around 190 puppets created for the film. Some of them were duplicates so they could be used in different scenes at the same time, others were backup puppets made to replace worn-out or broken ones. It took four to six months to complete a single puppet.
- The puppets have removable faces, some in two pieces. The eyes can be switched out to express different emotions, while the mouths are carefully designed to mimic the shapes of human speech and a wide range of expressions. The filmmakers used a revolutionary color 3D printing technique to create each face individually, so the pieces could be designed on a computer first and then printed as needed. This process represented one of the most ambitious changes from LAIKA’s previous films. There were around 52,000 faces created for the production, compared to 20,000 for Coraline and 33,000 for ParaNorman.
- The costume fabricators created more than 200 costumes for the puppets. The smallest was a sweater made for baby Egg measuring 3 1/2 inches from cuff to cuff, and his baby socks, which were just 5/8 inches long.
- There were more than 20,000 props made by hand for the film, including 55 different kinds of cheese and a tiny sewing needle and thread. The sets even included 25 different kinds of weeds.
With so many films these days relying on computer graphics and dazzling special effects, it’s nice to know that there are still people out there creating things with their hands in true maker spirit. When you see The Boxtrolls try and take a moment to step back and appreciate the artistry and charm of that audacious concept. The film opens today.
Earlier this summer, GeekMom was invited to participate in a preview day at the headquarters of Disney Feature Animation in Burbank, Calif., to get a sneak peek at the studio’s next big animated film, Big Hero 6. Due in theaters on Nov. 7, the film is a fascinating blend of graphic design and artistic influences, from comic books to anime to Disney’s own rich catalogue. We got to see some footage from the film and speak with the talented filmmakers and technicians who had a hand in creating this intriguing new project.
There’s no denying that the partnership between Disney and Marvel Comics has turned out well, for both the companies and the fans. The partnership has resulted in a complex cinematic universe, encompassing an impressive number of films and television series. So it was only a matter of time before the jewel in the Disney Studios crown, the feature animation department, got into the act by creating a comic-book-inspired world of its own. But Big Hero 6 is unlike anything Disney animation has ever done before. It introduces a fantastic, stylized world of tech-powered heroes and villains to rival anything that’s been done in live action.
It was co-director Don Hall who first saw the potential in a mash-up of these two distinctive influences. “As a lifelong fan of comic books and a lifelong fan of Disney animation, I started imagining what a combination of those two things would look like,” he said. “So in the course of research I came across a lesser known Marvel comics series called Big Hero 6. And it was from there that we were inspired to create the film that we’re going to share with you today.”
Big Hero 6 takes place in the fictional city of San Fransokyo, itself a blend of Eastern and Western cultures. The story centers on young Hiro Hamada (voiced by Ryan Potter), a 14-year-old robotics genius. Aspiring to take after his big brother Tadashi and attend the prestigious San Fransokyo Institute of Technology, Hiro creates a revolutionary invention, microbots. Controlled by telepathic thought, these tiny machines can work together to create anything. But Hiro’s dreams are crushed when the invention is stolen and his brother is killed. Enter Baymax, an inflatable medical nursebot created by Tadashi, who assumes the responsibility of caring for Hiro in his brother’s absence.
Hiro sets out to track down the person responsible for his brother’s demise, a mysterious figure known only as Yokai (the name comes from Japanese folklore and refers to a spiritual entity). The directors were very secretive about the villain’s origins, saying only that he has “a fractured mind,” as evidenced by the erratic, menacing constructs he creates when controlling the microbots.
Helping Hiro in his quest are some of Tadashi’s friends and fellow students. There’s Wasabi (Damon Wayans), Honey Lemon (Genesis Rodriguez), Go Go Tomago (Jamie Chung) and Fred (T.J. Miller). Hiro develops high-tech super suits for all of them, even Baymax, according to their specialties. Together they become a formidable super team. All of the suits and special powers are cool, but I predict spunky daredevil Go Go will be a standout character among the team. She zooms around on adjustable discs that are both wheels and weapons. It’s so much fun to watch.
Speaking of fun, one of the scenes we got to see was an exhilarating flying sequence in which Baymax and Hiro soar above the city in their suits. Co-director Chris Williams describes it as “one of the most aspirational scenes in the film.”
“My 8-year-old self would love this clip,” he said in his introduction. “My 5-year-old self loves this clip. We hope you love it too.”
In a sit-down interview following the presentation I had a chance to ask Williams and Hall about their specific influences and what kind of research they did while working on the film.
“Name your kid robot Japanese anime, we watched it,” said Williams.
Hall added: “I mean, in this building we’re surrounded by fans of animation and fans of anime and knowing that was going to be part of the influence of this film we knew that we would have license and would want to kind of push some of the action scenes. You guys have not seen some of the really over-the-top action scenes that we have in this movie.”
He went on to explain that they also drew inspiration from some sources that weren’t as obvious.
“I love superhero movies, I love action movies, but we knew that this movie had to have a really emotional center,” he said. “And we knew there would be a really unique relationship between Hiro and Baymax that was going to be the center of the movie. And so I thought a lot about My Neighbor Totoro and the relationship in that movie. That kind of character that seems so sweet and so naive and maybe there’s something a little bit more going on than you might at first recognize. And so I think some of those moments in Miyazaki’s films were also a guiding influence on this movie.”
Williams also elaborated on the ideas that went into developing the robot Baymax. In the course of their research, the team visited some of the most advanced robotics labs in the country and met with actual scientists and engineers in the field. One of the most interesting things they came across was the work being done in the new area of soft robotics.
“Soft robotics is sort of a new, bleeding edge technology that’s coming,” Williams said. “And then the other thing, as we were researching early on was just the idea of the uncanny valley where if things start to look too realistic they look creepy. So we looked a whole range of robots on this trip and the ones that were super human ones were like [scary]. My instinct is to go the other way. You have to project more of yourself into it as opposed to a super realistic thing that was looking back at you. And that’s what led to the idea of a very simple approach to Baymax.”
Stay tuned for more coverage from the press day, including a look at the adorable short film “Feast,” which will play in front of Big Hero 6 when it opens in theaters on Nov. 7.
When a film gets such nearly universal glowing praise as Guardians of the Galaxy has, all those accolades can inflate expectations to such a degree that nothing could ever live up to them. So I realize that I’m only adding to the hype here when I say that Guardians of the Galaxy is every bit as epic, irreverent and plain old fun as you could hope it to be. But that’s just the way it is.
Director and co-writer James Gunn and co-writer Nicole Perlman, who is rumored to also have a script for a Black Widow floating out there (ohpleasemakethishappen), expertly traverse a diverse color palette of tones, always keeping that core of lighthearted mischief at the center. If you’ve seen the trailers, you should already have a good idea of what you’re in for, but rest assured that there are so many fantastic moments you haven’t seen yet, and they’re not all jokes.
Take the first five minutes, which punch you in the gut with a heart-wrenching death scene and then immediately whisk you away to the far reaches of the cosmos for a goofy solo dance number. You might think this would give the viewer a kind of emotional whiplash, and it does, but it also serves to establish a range right off the bat, to let you know that despite the jokes there are actual, emotional stakes here.
That sequence also does a great job introducing us to the film’s lead character, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), or as he likes to call himself, Star-Lord. Abducted from Earth as a boy, he was raised by a group of intergalactic outlaws known as Ravagers. Pratt infuses the character with his personal charm and unassuming heroism, and damn near carries the movie on his broad shoulders alone.
When Peter steals a mysterious orb and attempts to double cross the Ravagers by attempting to fence it himself, he becomes the target of a number of unsavory operators. Among them is the deadly assassin Gamora (Zoe Saldana), the adopted daughter of powerful supervillain Thanos (who is mentioned more than he is seen, but is played by Josh Brolin in the quick glimpses we do get). She is sent to retrieve the orb by genocidal buzzkill Ronan (Lee Pace), who is in league with Thanos and becomes the de facto antagonist of the film. But Gamora has her own ideas, and her motives line up more closely with Peter’s than either of the big baddies.
Also on Peter’s tail are a pair of scrappy bounty hunters: Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper), a wisecracking genetic anomaly who also happens to be a brilliant escape artist; and Groot, a sentient tree-man whose vocabulary is limited to the words “I am Groot,” exclusively in that order (those three words are given proper weight by Vin Diesel). These two are so good together they could support their own spinoff film, or an HBO series. If it weren’t for the inherent likability of Pratt and the formidable screen presence of Saldana, they would steal every scene out from under them.
The four come to blows and land in prison, where they add one final member to the team, Drax the Destroyer (Dave Bautista), a muscle-bound brawler craving vengeance against Ronan for the death of his wife and child. He joins up with Peter, Gamora, Rocket, and Groot when he finds out that their mission intersects with his own and may bring him closer to the subject of his wrath. To his, and everyone’s, surprise, he finds himself coming to respect and even trust his new companions as they work together toward a common goal.
The impact this film will have on different audiences is bound to vary, depending on their familiarity with the source material and the Marvel universe. For those who know the Guardians of the Galaxy comics, the changes in many of the origin stories may be disconcerting at first, but it’s not hard to see why Gunn and Perlman made those choices.
As if to make up for that, there are some Easter eggs thrown in that only those fans will get. If you only know the Marvel movie universe, there are a few morsels thrown your way too, though some of them won’t pay off until far down the road in future films. And if you have no familiarity with any of those things, you’ll still have a great time discovering these characters and this world.
Be warned that the introductions fly by almost too fast, though. If there’s one issue I have with the film (and it’s a minuscule one compared to all the other great stuff), it’s that it moves at such a brisk pace there’s hardly any time to absorb all the new features of this cosmos before we’re thrown hurtling through it. Those familiar with the outskirts of the Marvel universe probably won’t be thrown off by the references to things like the Nova Corps, Xandar, and the Kree race, but everyone else may find themselves playing a bit of catch-up during the first act. Of course, that won’t be as much of a problem the second time you see it. Or the third. Or the fourth.
It’s also important to note the essential role that the soundtrack plays in Guardians of the Galaxy. It’s not just background music; it’s a part of the story. Peter’s Walkman and mixtape, which he had with him the night of his abduction from Earth, are his prized possessions and his only connection to his home planet and long-lost mother. The filmmakers took great care in selecting each ’70s track not just for its sound but for its thematic relevance to the story. From the catchy “Hooked on a Feeling” by Blue Swede to the Jackson 5’s groovy “I Want You Back” to Redbone’s soulful “Come and Get Your Love” to the punky “Cherry Bomb” by The Runaways, these songs are the film’s beating heart.
For those who keep track of these things, Guardians of the Galaxy does pass the Bechdel test, but only just barely. There are a few quick exchanges between Gamora and her half-sister Nebula (Karen Gillen) during a pretty awesome fight sequence that hint at a much deeper story for both of them. Gillen looks amazing in her blue makeup and prosthetics, but Nebula amounts to little more than a one-note henchwoman for Ronan. The film doesn’t have the time to go into the relationship or history between these two fascinating female characters, which I would have loved to have seen.
In an era where sequels dominate the box office, it’s wonderful to see a giddy, visually spectacular, original film (at least, original in the sense that the title doesn’t have a Roman numeral after it) like Guardians of the Galaxy emerge from the pack to become the must-see movie of the summer.
And make no mistake, if you like science-fiction, comedy, action, or things that are good in general, you must see this movie.
If there’s one thing director James Gunn got right when making Guardians of the Galaxy (and he actually got a lot right), it was the casting. From top to bottom, the assembled group of talent on screen is truly impressive. I mean, we’re talking big names like Glenn Close and John C. Reilly in supporting roles with very little screen time (they make it count, naturally). As for the main cast, the film relies on each of them to bring a range of complex, sometimes even contradictory, qualities to their characters. They all have the capacity to be both noble and roguish, tough and vulnerable, deathly serious and lighthearted. Part of the fun of the film is watching the titular team come together as a group.
A couple weeks ago I got to watch many of those actors come together in real life at a press conference to promote the film. In attendance at the event were stars Chris Pratt, Michael Rooker, Zoe Saldana, Vin Diesel, Dave Bautista, Benicio del Toro, and director James Gunn. According to Gunn, it was the first time they’d been assembled in one place (Diesel provided the voice of Groot but didn’t play the character on screen and del Toro’s role is basically an extended cameo).
Pratt grounds the film as Peter Quill, aka Star-Lord, an ordinary human who was abducted from Earth as a child and raised by Yondu (Rooker), the leader of a group of intergalactic outlaws known as Ravagers. When Peter steals a mysterious orb he becomes the target of multiple pursuers, including bounty hunters Rocket Raccoon (voiced by Bradley Cooper) and Groot (Diesel), as well as a trained assassin named Gamora (Saldana). They all eventually cross paths with Drax the Destroyer (Bautista), a convict seeking to avenge the deaths of his wife and child, and must put their differences aside to face an even greater threat that could mean the destruction of the entire galaxy.
“I’m like so emotional right now,” Gunn said as the press conference began. “Because I’ve missed these guys so much. I luckily got to spend some time with Zoe and Dave last week, but everybody else I haven’t been around and it’s just an amazing moment for us, I think.”
Gunn wasn’t just passionate about his cast, he animatedly talked about the origins of the project and what it meant to him to bring these characters to life on screen. When asked about taking on a lesser-known property from the Marvel universe, he said that it was “liberating.”
“I think I would have had a harder time trying to fit into the regular Marvel scheme of things,” he said. “This gave me a chance to take what I loved about Marvel movies and Marvel comics and create a whole new universe, which really has been the most exciting thing in my entire professional career.”
For Pratt, it was also a big step. Until last year he was probably best known as lovable doofus Andy in Parks and Recreation. Then, he lent his voice to the lead role in the blockbuster film The Lego Movie, followed by this starring role in Guardians of Galaxy. He’ll next be seen on the big screen running from dinosaurs in next year’s Jurassic World. Despite all the increased attention, Pratt taking this new career direction in stride.
“I’d been sort of having an identity crisis as an actor,” he said. “I didn’t know what I was, if I was a action guy or a comedy guy. And I thought maybe I could do a combination of both, but there’s nothing out there that’s like it. [I thought] maybe I have to develop something, And my manager just kept saying, ‘Guardians of the Galaxy, man.’ I said, ‘All right, maybe you’re right. Let’s go meet on it.’ And then James said, ‘I just want somebody to do their thing.’ And part of me thought, ‘Okay, well then I’ll just do my thing and if it’s not right, that’s okay.’ But I had an idea what that thing was and it was the thing that I got to do in this movie.”
Each of the actors in turn got a chance to talk about what their role in the film meant to them and what attracted them to it. Though Saldana was cast late in the process and arrived last on set, she said had a very specific view of how to portray Gamora when she arrived.
“I just didn’t want Gamora to look like any typical action person that’s just like very martial artsy and just does that Underworld jump and lands and the ground breaks and shit,” she said. “I wanted her to be a little more graceful and sleek, very classy in the way that she fights.”
The inspiration hit her, she said, as she was watching some footage of a Spanish bullfighter in action: “I’ve never seen somebody move so smoothly. It was just such a seductive dance. And I thought, ‘Well, that’s Gamora.’ She’s a woman and she just has to be very seductive in the way that she tricks her enemy into falling into their own death. And I thought. ‘Well, that’ll be interesting to do. I’ve never done that.'”
Just as Gunn gave Saldana the freedom to play with her character, del Toro also appreciated the way the directed allowed him to take chances with the smaller role of Taneleer Tivan, aka The Collector.
“I felt like I could explore the character in every way I would have wanted to,” del Toro said. “And James was very supportive to taking chances and trying different things. And I felt like an animal that grows up in a cage and suddenly you open the door and he comes out and he’s tentative to take chances. James was very, very nice to me to allow me to like go, go, go, go, go. And so at the end I was like, ‘Oh, I could have done this, I could have done that.’ But it was a great feeling.”
One of the most heartfelt moments in the press conference came when Diesel talked about the timing of the project, coming as it did on the heels of the death of his friend and Fast and Furious co-star Paul Walker in November of 2013. As a gentle, humanoid tree, Groot symbolized growth and regeneration in a way that spoke deeply to the actor at the time.
“It was at a very important time when I did this movie because it was in December and it was the first time I was coming around humans again and the first time I was working again,” Diesel said. “And there was something very therapeutic about in my personal life— I guess in my professional life, too—dealing with death and then playing a character that celebrates life in the way that Groot celebrates life. I took my kids to a screening to see this movie and they walk around the house reciting Star-Lord, Gamora, and all the characters. Something very beautiful happened in playing this role. Something that as an actor I never would have imagined.”
Guardians of the Galaxy opens in theaters on Aug. 1.
Within the walls of an unassuming office building just outside of Portland, Oregon, there is a tiny, magical world. This is LAIKA Studios, where some of the most talented, and patient, stop-motion animators in the world lend their talents to bring these worlds to life.
On behalf of GeekMom I was invited along with a group of writers to visit the studio just as the latest production, The Boxtrolls, was winding down. I’ll be posting a series of features from this fascinating set visit, beginning with today’s overview of the film and a chat with the directors.
The title characters in The Boxtrolls are charming, inventive creatures who live underground, wear boxes instead of clothes, and love to tinker. Yet, despite their good nature they are misunderstood and feared by the people who live above them in the town of Cheesebridge. The two worlds are set on a collision course when the boxtrolls discover an abandoned human boy and raise him as one of their own.
As young Eggs (voiced by Isaac Hempstead-Wright) begins to question where he belongs, he meets a spirited girl named Winnie (Elle Fanning) and they team up to stop the evil Archibald Snatcher (Sir Ben Kingsley) from eliminating the boxtrolls for good. The stellar voice cast also includes Simon Pegg, Nick Frost, Richard Ayoade, Tracy Morgan, Jared Harris, and Toni Collette.
Check out the film’s official trailer:
The story is loosely inspired by the children’s book Here Be Monsters! by Alan Snow. Directors Graham Annable and Tony Stacchi talked about the early stages of the film and the difficulties of adapting the intricate source material into a filmable script. Although there are many fantastical creatures in the underground world of the book, the filmmakers made the decision early on to focus on one set of creatures in particular, the boxtrolls.
“Alan Snow’s book is wonderful,” Stacchi says. “It has a great hero character. It’s a sort of child-empowerment story of this boy Arthur. You can’t imagine a more timid sort of hero and he’s the hero of the book. He has a glancing acquaintance with boxtrolls and cabbageheads that’s really sweet, but when we developed the story we wanted to have a much more intimate relationship between the hero and the boxtrolls.”
So Arthur became Eggs and the rabbit women, rat pirates, and freshwater sea cows had to go. That may be a disappointment for fans of the book, but what works on the page doesn’t always work on the screen. The character of Winnie, for instance, had to be created for the film through combing several different characters from the book. She evolved through the story process, the directors explained, to serve a very particular purpose.
“We needed a character who represented the above-ground world in every way,” Stacchi says. “She [is] the character who kind of goes through the biggest moral arc in the movie, who realizes the truth about boxtrolls. So we gave her a special relationship to the story of the boxtrolls. She’s morbidly obsessed with the idea of what boxtrolls do when they kidnap children. She thinks there’s mountains of bones and rivers and blood down there. ‘Did they let you watch them eat your family?’ She would ask questions of Eggs. And it turns out all of these are lies. But Eggs needed a guide above ground, so we created Winnie.”
In casting the role of Winnie, the directors went directly to Elle Fanning, whose sister Dakota provided the lead character’s voice in another LAIKA film, Coraline. The rest of the cast came together through listening to recordings and poring over lists of actors and actresses. Before hiring Hempstead-Wright to play Eggs, the filmmakers listened to bits of his dialogue as Bran Stark in Game of Thrones. But one of the biggest “gets” as far as the directors are concerned, was Kingsley, or “Sir Ben,” as they call him, as the film’s main villain.
Kingsley recorded most of his dialogue in a tiny booth at a recording studio in the quaint English village where he lives. Stacchi admits he was a bit intimidated by the Oscar-winning actor’s intensity and preparation for the role. At one point, Kingsley told Stacchi that if he gave him another line reading he would send him “to the Tower of London!” The director still isn’t entirely sure whether he was kidding.
Annable and Stacchi agree that the real trick of directing is casting, and in this case that’s not only true of the actors. On a stop-motion animated film like The Boxtrolls, the animators are also performers.
“No matter what they tell you about live-action directors or any of this stuff, it’s 90 percent casting,” Stacchi says. “And in our case it’s casting 40 people, as well as the voice cast. Really, because there’s the actor and then there’s the animator or the six animators that animate that character. It’s all about empowering a bunch of department heads, because there’s so much to do. It’s getting the ship all steered in the same direction, is the main thing. And then along the way trying to keep it in that direction while those people do what they’re way better at doing than you are.”
Annabel adds, “It’s an interesting situation on this project because you have never directed a stop-motion production. I’d never directed before. I was working as a story artist and I thought I knew what was going on down on those stages, but I didn’t quite know all the steps involved. And yeah, Tony’s right, I mean we leaned so much on the department heads that are here. In a lot of cases it felt like we just did our best to sort of stay out of the way and let them maximize what they could do within the film.”
“They’ll eventually figure out how to do it without directors,” Stacchi jokes. “Graham has the best definition of what it’s like directing one of these things, though. It’s that every day is like having to take a test you didn’t study for. That’s exactly how it feels.”
I’ll have more later on the amazingly intricate sets and puppets we saw at the studio and how LAIKA has revolutionized the process of stop-motion animation with 3D printing, so be sure to stay tuned!
The Boxtrolls opens in theaters everywhere on September 26.