Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sunday, November 18, 2007

I'm moving.....

I'm delighted that from now on my reviews, interviews, features, commentary, and blog will all be in one place: Please visit me there and let me know what you think!

Update:

Here's the official press release:

"THE MOVIE MOM” MOVES TO BELIEFNET
Nell Minow, Trusted Advisor to Parents about the Best Kid-Friendly Movies,
TV and Web Entertainment Settles in at a New Online Home

New York, NY – December 10, 2007 – Beliefnet.com, the leading online
community for spirituality and inspiration, today welcomes popular author
and parental entertainment advisor, Nell Minow, to its roster of
contributing bloggers. Blogging as “The Movie Mom,” Ms. Minow will provide
reviews, quizzes, tips and advice about which movies, DVDs, television
programs and Internet sites are most appropriate for children of varying
ages. Originally hosted by Yahoo!, “The Movie Mom” will now take up
residence on Beliefnet’s entertainment channel and will be accessible from
www.beliefnet.com. Visitors to www.moviemom.com will be automatically
redirected.
Nell Minow, as “The Movie Mom” has been featured in The Chicago Sun-Times,
USA Today, The Chicago Tribune, Parents, Family Fun and other publications.
She has been profiled by The New York Times, The Economist, Forbes, The
Chicago Tribune and Ladies Home Journal. Her book, The Movie Mom’s Guide
to Family Movies, has helped parents from all over present their children
with entertainment that is both safe and fun.
“Beliefnet is the best possible place for me because it allows me to write
about movies and popular culture in the context of family, community,
values and meaning, which is where it belongs,” says Nell Minow. “Movies
are our modern-day myths, our sagas, our dreams made real. They reflect
our history and culture back to us and reinforce and pass on—for better or
worse—those values to our children. I am very happy to have a place to
write about those issues and to enter into conversations with families to
understand how these influences are transmitted and to help them respond.”
In her blog, Nell Minow guides parents through all the hype, and helps them
reach an educated decision before they arrive at the theatre. Ms. Minow
also provides reviews for holiday DVDs to ease the pressure of shopping for
appropriate gifts for children.
“We’re so glad to have Nell’s expertise to offer Beliefnet readers. She’s
recognized, loved and respected by families in every community,” said
Deborah Caldwell, Managing Editor for Beliefnet. “She’s full of wise,
creative and fun advice to help parents navigate the often rocky terrain of
parenting in today’s media-saturated world.”
Beliefnet blogs offer thought-provoking commentary and inspiration from a
variety of spiritual voices, and cover a wide range of topics including
politics, parenting, pop-culture, mental health and more. In addition to
“The Movie Mom,” current offerings include:
Beyond Blue, A Spiritual Journey to Mental Health by Therese J.
Borchard
Flower Mandalas, A Blog About Mandalas, Art, Healing and
Transformation by David J. Bookbinder
Casting Stones, Beliefnet’s political mashup; A Boistrous Conclave on
Faith and Politics
God-O-Meter, Analysis of the 2008 Presidential Candidates’ use of
Religion in the Race to the White House, in Partnership with TIME
magazine
Crunchy Con, Conservative Politics and Religion with Rod Dreher
God’s Politics, by Jim Wallis and Friends, a partnership with
Sojourners
J-Walking, a Christian view of Jesus and Politics with David Kuo
Conversations With God, a Blog with Neale Donald Walsch
Feiler Faster, the Blog of Bestselling Author and Commentator, Bruce
Feiler
Idol Chatter, Beliefnet’s Pop-Culture and Religion Entertainment Blog
Virtual Talmud, Rabbis Blogging for the Sake of Heaven
In addition, an examination of holiday culture wars is back by popular
demand for 2007’s December Dilemma Watch. Members of the new social
network Beliefnet Community—the world’s largest multi-faith social
network—are adding user generated content and posts around the clock.
###
About Beliefnet
Beliefnet, winner of the 2007 National Magazine Award for General
Excellence Online, is the largest online community for spirituality and
inspiration. Its mission is to help people find and walk a spiritual path
that instills comfort, hope, clarity, strength and happiness for people who
are exploring their own faith or curious about other spiritual traditions.
Beliefnet offers a wide variety of resources including social networking
tools, articles, quizzes, devotionals, sacred text searches, photo
galleries and intimate interviews with noted politicians, celebrities and
spiritual leaders. Beliefnet has approximately three million unique
visitors each month and a daily email newsletter readership of nearly 11
million subscribers. The company, which is a subsidiary of Fox Digital
Media and Fox Entertainment Group, is not affiliated with any spiritual
organization or movement, and has partnerships with TIME magazine, Yahoo!,
and Chicken Soup for the Soul.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Movies that make you cry (or sob or blubber uncontrollably)

Desson Thomson has a wonderful piece in this Sunday's Washington Post about movies that make us cry, and a list of some examples sent in by readers. The usual suspects are there, from "Dumbo" to "Field of Dreams," but some surprises, including Adam Sandler's "Click" ("Never thought I would cry at an Adam Sandler movie -- I usually don't even admit to even going to one."), "Star Trek: The Search for Spock," and "Terminator 2: Judgment Day." I admit to tearing up at the end of that one, too. Some of the other movies that have made me cry: Waterloo Bridge, A Little Princess, Steel Magnolias, the one Thomson refers to as "that Michael Keaton movie" (My Life) and yes, An Affair to Remember.

Be sure to listen to Thomson's graceful audio commentary on his own list, with such classic choices as "Old Yeller" and "Terms of Endearment." I enjoyed the quotes from experts, especially Professor Mary Beth Oliver of Penn State, who said that these movies

cause us to contemplate what it is about human life that's important and meaningful. . . . Those thoughts are associated with a mixture of emotions that can be joyful but also nostalgic and wistful, tender and poignant. Tears aren't just tears of sadness, they're tears of searching for the meaning of our fleeting existence.

Just reading those words made me a little damp-eyed. Sorry, I just need a minute here.








Hot Pick


Thank you Rotten Tomatoes! My "Martian Child" review is their "hot pick" of the week.

Last Lecture of Randy Pausch

The "Last Lecture" is an academic tradition. It is supposed to be theoretical, a sort of intellectual "desert island discs," what the professor would want to say as a summation of his or her life and ideas. In the case of Professor Randy Pausch, it is literally a "last lecture" because he recently learned that his pancreatic cancer prognosis gives him only a few more months to live. The 47-year-old father of three young children talks about what makes life worth living, about achieving his childhood dreams and helping others achieve theirs. The lecture is thrilling, engrossing, inspiring, hilarious, meaningful, unforgettable.

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

A Big Hand for the Little Lady


I'm delighted to see that a neglected gem is out on DVD, A Big Hand for the Little Lady. It has a powerhouse cast including Oscar winners Jason Robards, Henry Fonda, and Joanne Woodward and a bunch of top character actors like Kevin McCarthy, Paul Ford, and Burgess Meredith. And it has one of the best surprise endings ever filmed.

Ansen's list (8000 and counting)

Newsweek critic David Ansen began compiling his list of every movie he saw when he was 12. It is now 146 handwritten pages with almost 8000 movies. The essay is a little list-y but fun to read, a sort of time-lapse photography of the last five decades.

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Spoiler Alert: Sad Dads go Bowling and Get Traffic Tickets



Two movies in two weeks feature widower dads learning to move on with (not from) loss. In "Dan in Real Life," Steve Carrell feels that he might be able to love again for the first time since his wife died when he meets life force Juliette Binoche (she laughs, she listens, she cooks, she hugs, and she's great with kids). In "Martian Child," John Cusack feels that he might be able to love again for the first time since his wife died when he takes steps to adopt a child who is either odd or disturbed but qualifies as a life force because he is a child and therefore does not have to cook or hug or anything except for be young and need love.

The movies have some other similarities. Both use bowling(!) as a marker for happy-fun-bonding time (has the bowling association banded together for product placement? Both feature rattled and sheepish dads getting stopped by the police for traffic violations. Both have someone show up at exactly the wrong time, creating consternation and misunderstandings. But that probably happens in more movies than not. Cusack is going to be bereaved again soon. His next film, "Grace is Gone," is about a man whose wife is killed in Iraq.

Even Jar-Jar Binks looks good made of Legos

This clip of the new Star Wars Lego Game is adorable.

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Interview with Charles Horak

My MMI colleague Charles Horak interviewed me for his NPR show. It was so much fun to talk to him about family movies -- and family and movies.

Blu-ray must be seen to be believed

I have seen the future and it is in super hi-def with all kinds of great extras. There was a Blu-Ray demo at Tyson's Corner, Virginia this weekend and the quality of the picture was stunning, especially with the digitally created images in the Pixar movies. The extras include some terrific interactive features. I liked the way that kids watching "Cars" could play a game without leaving the movie, helping them with pattern recognition and encouraging active watching. I felt like Tommy Lee Jones in "Men in Black," looking woefully at the new super-small cds made with alien technology: "Now I'm going to have to buy the White Album again."



The rest of the tour: Oct. 26-28 -Burlington Mall, Burlington, Mass. Nov. 9-11 -King of Prussia, King of Prussia, Pa. Nov. 16-18 -Circle Centre, Indianapolis Nov. 23-25 -Lenox Square, Atlanta Nov. 30-Dec. 2 -The Galleria, Houston Dec. 7-9 -Barton Creek Square, Austin Dec. 14-16 -Chandler Fashion Center, Chandler, Ariz. Dec. 21-23

Thursday, October 18, 2007

Quotes of the Week -- Rendition


Hollywood—particularly during Oscar season—functions on the assumption that no trauma has entered the national consciousness until it's been undergone by a flaxen-haired gamine with major box-office draw.
Dana Stevens, Slate

No more fine print?

A bank once put a sentence deep inside the pages and pages of mandated disclosures: "If you bring this page into the bank we will give you $10." Not one person took them up on it. No one reads that stuff. Almost no one reads manuals, disclaimers, contracts, leases, waivers, any of that dense, boring, small print stuff.

But would you pay attention if it was on You Tube? And less than two minutes?
And funny? Can a video be worth a million words? Visionary cyber-wizard Esther Dyson is offering $5000 to find out. Submit a video explaining cookies, covering:

What is a cookie?
How do cookies work?
How can cookies be used?
How is the data from cookies used with data collected in other ways, including from third parties?
How can cookies be misused?
What options does a user have to manage cookies and their use?

The winner gets $5000 and a trip to Washington DC to attend a workshop at the Federal Trade Commission on "Ehavioral Advertising."

Monday, October 15, 2007

'The Feel-Good Movie Blurb Credit of the Year'

Paul Fahri of the Washington Post did a little investigative reporting and answered a question I have wondered about for a long time. Who are these critics who love all these awful movies? It turns out there is considerable affiliate inflation in movie ads, and small- and mid-market TV critics are often listed in ads as representing the views of their networks.

Marc Doyle, co-founder of the Web site Metacritic.com, which tracks critics' opinions, says the studios prefer the more impressive network title, even if it isn't quite accurate, because would-be film patrons might not be very impressed by a blurb from a reviewer from "some outlet they've never heard of."

But Paurich says titles aren't really important. "This might reflect badly on me and everybody else in this business, but unless you're Roger Ebert, people don't necessarily check the name beneath the quote [in the ad]. The quote is going to matter more to [a moviegoer] than the source of the quote."

The real motivation is in Fahri's last line:
As for critics, he says they like to be blurbed: "It's nice to see your name in the New York Times or in a TV commercial. It's flattering. It's still a kick."

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Simply Irresistible

I get several questions a month through Allexperts, usually about half-remembered films (many questions begin: "I might have made this up, but I sort of remember..."). I get a big kick out of identifying the films when I can. Sometimes that is not possible -- one recent query could provide no details other than it was a scary movie that included a scene of someone running out of a dark house screaming.

But for some reason, the most frequent movie I get asked about is a minor romantic comedy about a chef with magical powers called "Simply Irresistible." For some reason, people love that movie. I guess it is...irresistible.

Women On Movies/Women In Movies/Women About Movies

Salon has an article with an extended version of a discussion in this month's "Elle" magazine by women film-makers.

The panel was moderated by one of Tinseltown's great brains, producer Lynda Obst ("Contact," "Sleepless in Seattle," "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days"). She nimbly guided panelists Nora Ephron (screenwriter, director, "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle"), Laura Ziskin (writer, producer, "Hero," "To Die For," "Spider-Man"), Callie Khouri (screenwriter, director, "Thelma & Louise," "Something to Talk About"), Patty Jenkins (writer, director, "Monster"), Cathy Konrad (producer, "Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"), Kimberly Piece (writer, director, producer, "Boys Don't Cry"), Andrea Berloff (writer, producer, "World Trade Center"), Margaret Nagle (writer, producer, "Warm Springs"), and that rarest of Hollywood breeds, a female studio head, Universal president of production Donna Langley, in a conversation that touched on issues that cut to the heart of the Robinov story. They spoke of the remaining handful of female movies stars as if they were the last hope of the Jedi order -- Luke ... Leia ... Julia ... Reese -- and maybe they are. If these female machers are to be believed, the business of making movies for women remains one of constant juggling between progress and regress, of compensation and compromise.The panel was moderated by one of Tinseltown's great brains, producer Lynda Obst ("Contact," "Sleepless in Seattle," "How to Lose a Guy in Ten Days"). She nimbly guided panelists Nora Ephron (screenwriter, director, "When Harry Met Sally," "Sleepless in Seattle"), Laura Ziskin (writer, producer, "Hero," "To Die For," "Spider-Man"), Callie Khouri (screenwriter, director, "Thelma & Louise," "Something to Talk About"), Patty Jenkins (writer, director, "Monster"), Cathy Konrad (producer, "Walk the Line," "3:10 to Yuma"), Kimberly Piece (writer, director, producer, "Boys Don't Cry"), Andrea Berloff (writer, producer, "World Trade Center"), Margaret Nagle (writer, producer, "Warm Springs"), and that rarest of Hollywood breeds, a female studio head, Universal president of production Donna Langley, in a conversation that touched on issues that cut to the heart of the Robinov story. They spoke of the remaining handful of female movies stars as if they were the last hope of the Jedi order -- Luke ... Leia ... Julia ... Reese -- and maybe they are. If these female machers are to be believed, the business of making movies for women remains one of constant juggling between progress and regress, of compensation and compromise.


A lot of the discussion is the usual (and inevitable) "if a man goes home because his kid has an ear infection, he's a hero, but if a woman does it, she's unprofessional" but I loved the discussion of "Knocked Up."

Paul Schneider


Two of the best performances I have seen this year were from the same actor, Paul Schneider. In the broody western "The Assassination of Jesse James by the Coward Robert Ford" he played Dick Liddil, the ladies' man of the James Gang. He brought maturity and depth to the seduction of a young wife and the description of his conquests to the other men, both scenes that could easily have been mishandled and become slick or snickery. And in the lovely little indie "Lars and the Real Girl" he plays brother to the title character, who believes that a "fun doll" is his girlfriend. Many actors would not have been able to resist a sit-com vibe in reacting to this gentle delusion, but Schneider again shows a range of often conflicting emotions with great restraint, delicacy, and humanity. I see he is now directing a film based on his own screenplay and that he has assembled an extraordinarily appealing cast, including Paul Giamatti, Billy Crudup, and SNL's Kristen Wiig. Sounds wonderful.

Monday, October 08, 2007

Southland Tales -- at last


I am really looking forward to "Southland Tales," the much-discussed, often-delayed second film from Donnie Darko's Richard Kelly (he also co-wrote the script for the movie star's daughter-model-turned-bounty hunter movie "Domino" about which no more need be said). I was a little concerned after footage at Comic-Con in 2006 was a little disappointing. Then there were the delays, and did I mention "Domino?" But the trailer for this one is a knock-out and the movie looks like it will fulfill the promise of the masterful "Donnie Darko." It has a sensational cast including "Darko" alums Holmes Osborne and Beth Grant, SNL stars Cheri Oteri, Jon Lovitz, Amy Poehler, and Nora Dunn, and other luminaries from The Rock to Justin Timberlake. Can't wait!

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Showing and Telling

I've seen four movies based on books in the past week and all made me think about the perils of adapting novels to the screen. I once heard Peter Hedges speak about the difference between plays, novels, and movies. His novel, What's Eating Gilbert Grape, was adapted into a fine movie by Lasse Hallström, and he described the experience as a master class in understanding the difference between print and film. He said that novels are about what people think and feel, plays are about what they say, and movies are about showing what the characters think and feel, most often without saying anything.

I did not think much of the book The Jane Austen Book Club. If any other author's name was in the title, it would not have been a best-seller. The movie version is far better, genuinely enjoyable. Feast of Love and O Jerusalem did not live up to their source material. The Dark is Rising, The book that inspired "The Seeker" was so diluted in the final script that it had the same relaitonship to the source material that a homeopathic remedy has to its active ingredient. And the result was less efficacious.

It is not just about the acting. "The Jane Austen Book Club" has first class actors who bring more subtlety and complexity and life to the characters than the author ever did, but "Feast of Love" has Morgan Freeman, Jane Alexander, and Greg Kinnear, who all do the best they can but never make the relationships on screen feel immediate or alive. It just has to do with showing, not telling, and "The Jane Austen Book Club" manages that act of alchemy where the others fail.





Wednesday, September 26, 2007

DVD picks for kids

Recommended new DVDs for kids:





Great Moogly Moogly! The intrepid adventurer and her best friends salute the power of imagination and the joys of friendship.



The last animated film personally supervised by Walt Disney himself has some of Disney's most memorable songs, including "The Bear Necessities" sung by Phil Harris and "I Wanna Be Like You" by the inimitable Louis Prima.



One of the freshest surprises of the summer of 2007 was this animated mockumentary about surfing penguins starring the voice talents of Shia LeBoeuf ("Transformers"), Jeff Bridges, and Jon Heder ("Napoleon Dynamite").



As in Dorothy's famous story, this is the tale of someone who thought found that there's no place like home.

Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Simpsons movie parodies

This site has some great shot-by-shot comparisons of Simpsons episodes to the movies that inspired them, including "Citizen Kane," "Steamboat Mickey," and "2001: A Space Odyssey."

Monday, September 24, 2007

Emile Hirsch goes Into the Wild


Emile Hirsch gives a magnificent performance in one of the year's best films, Into the Wild. I met with him in Georgetown to ask him about making the film.


What does Sean Penn as an actor bring to directing?
He has that whole wealth of experience since he's done it on the actor's side. So you trust him so much. Everything he asked me to do, certain things I was hesitant to do, he did first. He ate squirrel. He went first on the Colorado River. He let me know I could do it. Sean was an incredible director. He let me learn for myself, He helps you bring out the best in yourself and there's no greater gift.


All of the movies Penn has written and directed are in some way about lost children. Why do you think that is?
He is a man of high intellect but also a very keen instinct. A lot of his choices are on an instinctual level in a very pure way. One of the things I admire about him so much is the kind of strong-willed instinct that he has and the confidence to trust that instinct and move forward. Where so many people are in the back rubbing sweaty palms, he is doing it. He wanted to do this movie because he always had a really strong wanderlust, as do I. It was infectuous, the idea that you want to go out and live your life all the way and have more meanng, live it while you have it.

You play a real-life character who died of starvation in Alaska. Did he have poor judgment? Was he self-destructive? Where would he have gone next?
He made a couple of really crucial errors, not bringing things with him like a map. But he purposefully did not bring them because he wanted to shave he margin of error. He shaved it a little too much. He had amazing wanderlust and also had a lot of personal problems.

Did he learn from the people he met or were they just way-stations on his journey to sever all ties?
He was very determined. The people on the road started to open his eyes, but it took the total solitude for him to find himself and what the meaning of his life could possibly be.

It's quite a contrast to go from this film to your next film, "Speed Racer." How do you prepare for such different genres?
The directors of "Speed Racer," the Wachowski brothers, the guys who did The Matrix, have a particular sensibility about performances they expect. It was like being in a sauna for eight months and jumping into an ice bath without a break -- with the lid locked!

Were there elements of the real-life story that were especially meaningful to you in portraying Chris McAndless?
The abandoned bus he lived in, which he called "the magic bus." It was like a waystation, always symbolzing the journey, Where he learns about himself. It symbolizes the question, "Where is he going?" And I read the books he was reading, Walden by Thoreau, Emerson, Dr. Zhivago by Pasternak, Jack London's Call of the Wild. What Chris did was very similar to what Thoreau did.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

About.com Guide to Documentary Films

My colleague from the MMI Film Critic Institute, Jennifer Merin, has established a new About.com Guide to Documentary Films, an immediately indispensible resource for fans of this vitally engaging category of movies. Her initial selection is superb and I was especially glad to see one of my recent favorites, "The King of Kong" on her list. And I'm glad to hear that she'll continue with her work for the New York Press and the online magazine Women on Film as well.

Friday, September 21, 2007

Quoted by Peg Rosen

ParentCenter's Peg Rosen has some thoughtful advice for parents about television and families and I am honored to be quoted.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

Quote of the Week: Meet the Beatles

Critics borrowed from the Beatles to express their disappointment in Julie Taymor's Across the Universe.

Contrary to what you may have heard, love isn't all you need.
Ty Burr, Boston Globe

I saw a film today, oh boy. (Headline: Hey Dudes, You Made it Bad)
Sean Burns, Philadelphia Weekly

Nothing is real. (Headline: She can't work it out.)
Ann Hornaday, Washington Post

And my favorite:

I wanted to turn the sound down on them and say rude things.
J.R. Jones, Chicago Reader

(On Rotten Tomatoes, there's a perfect follow-up comment from Captain Siberia: "Then Julie Taymor is that posh bird who gets everything wrong?")

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Gmail Gvideo



Gmail invited its users to help them create a video about the journey of a gmail message. This collection of the best of what they received is adorable -- I am particularly partial to the sequence of animals, the jive dancers, and the old school flipbook.

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Best Satans on film from EW

Nice going, Dalton Ross! If you are going to put together a list, it's always best to back it up with clips. Best Satans on film: Dalton's (Pacino-free!) list

Duck-ing with writer-director Nic Bettauer



Nic Bettauer wrote and directed an independent film called "Duck," starring Philip Baker Hall and the duck from the Aflac commercials. We spoke by phone:

Philip Baker Hall is one of my favorite character actors and it was a real pleasure to see him in a lead role. How did that come about?

I’ve been known to try to do things backwards, but in this case there was no way other than protocol. I made an offer through his agent and the system worked. I did not have him in mind while I was writing it because if you picture a patticular actor you get lazy and think of all the wonderful things he could do with the role, but once I’m done, I like to think about what the actor can bring to it, sometimes things I never thought of. With Philip, this was different than a lot of the roles he’s been playing. I like to offer someone something he hasn’t done on every level. That’s how without having a lot of money you take a risk on people. It is also how you make it worth it for them in other ways than money.

He has a gorgeous voice, wonderful for this movie because so much of it is essentially a monologue.
His voice is a stunner, it just cuts to the quick, love to have him read the audio book.

Most directors worry about working with animals, especially those not easy to train. How did you come to write a movie starring the Aflac duck?
When I was writing I tried not to censor myself but then when it got to making it I was like wow. It was important that it was all live, so I went after the best quality duck. We had great ducks and trainers. Ducks are very social. Our "hero duck" #30 was the best listener and we had stand-ins with different personalities. So we would say, "Is this a job for #27 who liked to walk ahead?" or for another who loved to be held. You might have to switch ducks because you could not have it all in one shot. But they were very charismatic. We had to know the ducks and think like a duck in a way. With three different ages of ducks in the movie, we had 1-2 babies, some teenage, and about 6 big ducks, always more than one on the set just in case. At one point we wanted the duck to look grubby but we learned the derivation of the expression "water off a duck's back." They just always look pristine.

What is the duck's purpose in the story?
Philip Baker Hall is so real and his character's relationship with the duck was like the one I have with my dog, who is my writing partner. Philip plays it so straight. When he was working with the duck he was looking at his alter ego, almost speaking to the part of himself that was keeping him alive. He is almost speaking to himself or treating the duck like a replacement for his son or his wife. As long as he is teaching or learning life is worthwhile, so taking care of the duck gave him a purpose. Now Philip and I have been intellectualizing it but it’s not really the way I think when I write.

How did French Stewart become involved in this project?
I really adore him. He is so interesting. He came in and read. It is problematic not to be typecast when you are so huge on a TV show. He was doing a lot of theater, smaller projects. He was a bit different than I had thought of the character and that is so exciting, it brought so much to the film. People capable of being funny are usually capable of the exact opposite.

The one smart thing I did unbeknownst to myself at the time -- because the movie is a set of vignettes, we would end up filming one additional character a day. Some really interesting people worked with us because we only needed a day of their time. People really came through for us, a nice influx of creative energy, a breath of fresh air each day.

The movie is set in 2009. Why set it in the future and why just a couple of years in the future?
I wanted it to be slightly in the future so that it was a bit of a cautionary tale about where we were headed but still with hope to make a change. I not want to make it so far ahead that it was irrelevant. It is a fable. It’s not what I necessarily predict. At one point he says the President is Jeb Bush. That was not a prediction. I did not want to use a realistic candidate because it would be distracting. By chosing Jeb Bush as the answer I was talking about this administration.

What's next?
Next is my version of a cop movie, a character piece, an anti-hero cop, and I am currently obsessing over Chris Cooper [to play the lead]. The character says everything I wish I could but shouldn’t in polite company. I would love to keep this character, maybe a series. I grew up on the 70’s NY cop films.

Duck is bittersweet, but also funny, isn't it?
I do think there’s a lot of humor in "Duck." It is a bit surreal, a bit acerbic, a little Sartre. You never know what people will see, absurdist kind of humor but also sad. I like to find the funny in sad, if you can do that in real life you’ll be okay.

20 best big-screen comic book heroes - Times Online

Another list.

I don't take these things too seriously. But the fangirl in me has to squawk a bit. Tim Burton's Batman has to be number one. It is way ahead of "Batman Begins," which has the same problem as the first "Fantastic Four" and "The Hulk" -- too much time on origins and not enough interest in the bad guys (plus "The Hulk's" CGI made him look almost weightless and let's face it, the Hulk is about Bulk). Yes to "Blade" and "Hellboy" and the Christopher Reeve "Superman" but there are some awful movies on this list, movies hugely disappointed by failing to do justice to the comic book characters like "The Punisher," "Daredevil," and "Ghost Rider."




Saturday, September 08, 2007

Dorothy, I don't think we're at the multiplex anymore

Looking for something exotic? Still haven't watched that Netflix DVD that's been sitting on top of your television set for two months and want something new right now? Your friends are lovely people, but they'd rather wait for the Hollywood remakes than watch Japanese horror films or French comedies? Try Jaman, where you can download a wide range of independent and foreign films and then discuss them with a myspace-style community. And you won't be tempted to spend $5.00 on 30 cents worth of popcorn.

Monday, September 03, 2007

The art of the comic book movie parody



Charles Fulp loves movies and he loves comics. His day job is being owner of One-Stop Cellular, a chain of independent wireless retailers. But his labor of love, through "Fulp Fiction" is a series of comic book movie parodies.

Fulp spoke to me by phone about the comics which he bills as "More powers than Austin, more flash than Gordon, and more dick than Tracy." In other words, these are not literary satires requiring a knowledge of classical literature to appreciate the subtlety of the puns. These are comics with titles like Harry Johnson and the Case of the Crabbes, "a two-fisted two-pack for one low price of 3.95."

Fulp said, "'Raiders' is one of my favorites. I wanted to write a screenplay that spoofed it in the same way "Austin Powers" spoofed James Bond. I wrote it and could afford to turn it into a comic book but not a movie. I was thrilled to get Dean Yeagle to do character design. He's a Playboy cartoonist -- this was a clever ploy to get invited to the Playboy Mansion. I then approached artists who had worked for DC and Marvel. Next I would like to have it turned into a movie, and I am currently working toward some sort of adult swim animated series or live feature."

Ben Foster and "3:10 to Yuma"


Ben Foster stars with Russell Crowe and Christian Bale in "3:10 to Yuma," one of this fall's two big westerns. This is a remake of an earlier film by the same name, starring Glenn Ford and Van Heflin, a tense thriller about a rancher who must deliver a captured outlaw to the train station, so he can be taken to trial. Both movies are based on a story by Elmore Leonard, better known as the writer behind stories of modern-day crooks and tough guys. This new version is directed by James Mangold of "Walk the Line" and "Girl, Interrupted."

Ben Foster took time to talk with me by phone between interviews when he was in Washington to promote the film. He was very engaging and very forthcoming about his tactics in approaching this role.

Jim [Mangold] really re-created and modernized the film and really delved into the character development. Fans of the original film will be startled. I decided not to watch the original film. I related to being in an accident where it seems like everything slows down. My research was going through the archival photographs of outlaws at the time. We concluded they were the rock stars of their day. They were like pirates or rock and roll stars, living outside of the law, where murder becomes your show, performance. So I watched glam rock footage, David Bowie and INXS. These outlaws were also indiginous to the environment and its elements. They were predators. That idea seemed to resonate the most, so we looked at mountain cats, how they move and approach their prey. We also thought of matadors because there is a certain elegance to the character. I play the second in command, so finding a certain kind of deviant loyalty was also important.

Foster started acting professionally when he was very young, so I asked him about his influences.
Gary Oldman is brilliant. Barry Levinson gave me my first job in Liberty Heights and really shaped me with his approach to work. I was hoping to be told what to do and his direction was by asking questions, making it your own. Nick Cassavetes (Alpha Dog) works in that same way and so does Jim Mangold.

His future plans:
I'm heading to Belfast to shoot a film called "50 Dead Men. I want to keep doing what I am doing. I'm fortunate to stay busy and not feel that I am repeating myself.
I've never avoided a genre or pursued one. It's always the material and who the other players are. What’s important is I've never taken a job because I know how to do it. I look for a sense of recognition. Ideally in conspiracy with the director you create a fouidation that lets the character come in, making room for that person to come through, so you’re experiencing through them rather than through you. I believe you do the research and preparation so you can experience what is going on for the first time.

He admires his co-star:
Russell Crowe was incredibly supportive. He went out of his way to make sure that I felt good on my horse. I had never ridden a horse before and that’s not something you can really fake. He is really misrepresented in the press. He is a remarkable actor. If you’re hardworking and you mean it, you’ve got him on your side.

And the most important thing to know about this film:
There's a stigma with westerns that makes people think there’s no dialogue and it's all people scowling at each other. This is more of a character-driven action film great acting, great ride, not a dated western, it really moves.


Superbad and the birds and the bees

The Washington Post's Desson Thomson has a sweet, touching, and very funny piece about taking his 15-year-old to see Superbad.

As I sat there with him, the exploits of three socially maladroit high school seniors on a mission to lose their virginity and become cool in the process no longer seemed like the sleaze-fest I had initially thought it to be, but an extended empathy encounter for him.


Thomson finds the movie communicates with his son the way his birds-and-bees talk did not. And that the movie gives them a way to connect that is very precious at an age when kids find it hard to express their feelings to their parents.
Ironic, I thought, that an R-rated comedy tells it like it is for moviegoers who are too young to actually go see it on their own. Finally, I asked my son that potentially groan-inducing, must-immediately-walk-away-from-Dad question: "What did you learn from this movie?"

"I learned that people that age are obsessed with sex -- a little bit too obsessed," he answered. And he didn't walk away.

Andy and Alan

Andy Horbal and Alan Abbott, two of my wonderful Film Critic Institute colleagues, had a conversation about the role of the committed movie critic in bringing audiences to the best in film, not just by writing reviews but by seeking out movies that go beyond the usual multiplex fodder and helping to bring them to the community.

Wednesday, August 29, 2007

Catsoulis on Sequels

Leave it to Jeanette Catsoulis to bring a fresh approach to the subject of stale sequels. Movie sequels have been around since the silent days, of course, and the 30's and 40's gave us popular series like The Thin Man, Blondie, and Dead End Kids. And let's not forget James Bond.

It's not called "show art" or "show originality;" it's called "show business," and that means that if there is money to be squeezed out of the public by showing them more of the same, Hollywood will provide, whether by establishing a franchise like "Rush Hour" or "American Pie" or following up a success like "Saw" with not only sequels but rip-offs ("Captivity," anyone?).

I think one of the differences between movie audiences and critics is that people who buy tickets are looking for a sure thing, and if they've seen and liked it before, that means their $11 investment (before popcorn) is low-risk.






Monday, August 20, 2007

Mumblecore

Meeting the brilliant Dennis Lim was one of the highlights of the Film Critic Institute at the Museum of the Moving Image. His article on a new genre of independent films called mumblecore. "Specimens of the genre share a low-key naturalism, low-fi production values and a stream of low-volume chatter often perceived as ineloquence." Examples include "Funny Ha Ha" and "Puffy Chair."

Thor Halvorssen - Documentaries - Movies - New York Times

The New York Times has a profile of Thor Halvorssen , described by First Amendment activist Nat Hentoff as "the embodiment of the nonpolitically correct person." He is a half-Norwegian Venezuelan who has founded a nonprofit to support and distribute documentary films. "At a time when the most successful documentaries on political or social issues all seem to be anti-corporate, anti-Bush, pro-environmentalist and left-leaning, the Moving Picture Institute has backed pro-business, anti-Communist and even anti-environmentalist ones." I have seen four of their films so far, including "Indoctrinate U," about suppression of free (right-wing) speech on college campuses and "Mine Your Own Business," which "portrays environmentalists as condescending elitists while impoverished locals insist they would welcome the jobs and development the mines would bring." Like the films of Michael Moore and other left-leaning documentarians, these films do not pretend to be balanced. And like those films, they make important points that shift the burden of proof to the other side. I look forward to seeing how the films of Halvorssen's Motion Picture Institute are received by audiences and by the people they portray. And to seeing whatever they come up with next.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Movie Locations Guide: Maps and Directions to Filming Locations

A friend sitting next to me at "The Invasion" this week passed the time by whispering "Washington, Baltimore, Baltimore, Washington" as Nicole Kidman and Daniel Craig drove around what was supposed to be DC but which included some footage of Charm City to the North. Just to make it more confusing, there were also scenes set in Baltimore, too. If you've ever wanted to find a movie location, take a look at Movie Locations Guide: Maps and Directions to Filming Locations. So far, they have 131 Movies/TV Shows in the database with a combined total of 276 filming locations. Each location includes a map, an address and a link to see the filming location in Google Earth.

Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Sleuth



This morning I saw the remake of "Sleuth." Like the original, it stars Michael Caine, but this time he plays the role of the older man, a mystery writer whose visit from his wife's young, handsome lover turns into a battle of wits and power. In 1974, the older man was played by Laurence Olivier. In 2007, the younger man is played by Jude Law, took over another of Caine's iconic roles in "Alfie." The original was an entertaining potboiler with one of theater and movie history's cleverest surprises (incomprehensibly omitted from the new version). In 2007, it gets a high literary sheen with a new screenply by Harold Pinter and direction, in between Shakespeare adaptations, from Kenneth Branaugh.

The play was written by Anthony Shaffer, identical twin brother of Peter Shaffer, who wrote "Equus" and "Amadeus." The themes of competition, identity, and duality run through the work of both brothers. I think their story would make quite a movie.



Tuesday, August 14, 2007

NPR commentary

My essay on Robin Hood kicks off a week of Marketplace commentary on what we can learn from "beach books" about business.

Monday, August 13, 2007

What is ABC's idea of family programming

The ABC Family channel is heavily promoting a new animated series called "Slacker Cats" with a commercial that includes the word "perv." One review notes:

The humor isn't dirty so much as disgusting. In tonight's show, Buckley and Eddie borrow Flat Man and have Dooper climb inside his corpse in order to collect reward money from the family who lost their cat. The jokes will appeal mostly to 14-year-old boys - or 35-year-olds who either never grew up or who have decorator bongs on their end tables.

According to the show's website, future episodes include one where the cats sell their friend to a lab to raise stakes for a poker game. Whose idea of family programming is this again?

Lessons from the Movies about Money

In Eight golden lessons from the silver screen, one of my favorite columnists, Kathy Kristof of the LA Times, uses movies to illustrate principles of investing and saving (and quotes me -- thanks, Kathy!).

Friday, August 10, 2007

Be Kind Rewind Trailer

This is unquestionably the movie I am most looking forward to before the end of the year.

More lists from EW

Always fun to read and debate, or just to take a look at the video clips.

The best dance moves on video. Props for some great categories here, like "best awkward solo" (odds are that Napoleon Dynamite takes that one, though always a pleasure to see Dr. McDreamy do that anteater dance), and best dance-off (I love that they included "Breakin' 2: Electric Boogaloo," my all-time favorite sequel title), separate categories for Michael and Janet Jackson, and a best "shock the audience" award.

And then there's Best Movie Endings. Also some great choices, though, interestingly, they include my personal choice for best movie ending, "Godfather 2," but describe a different ending. The ending I love is the flashback to the Godfather's surprise birthday dinner, when everything that will happen over the two movies begins -- Connie's introduction to Carlo, Michael's enlistment in the Army. They focus on the last shot of Michael in the movie's present day. They do the same thing with "A League of Their Own," omitting the flash-forward, which always makes me cry. I love EW's mix of canon films, undisputed classics like "The Third Man" and "Gone With the Wind" and guilty pop pleasures like "Valley Girl."

Wednesday, August 08, 2007

The war on film critics

This defense of film critics seems rather cowed -- talk about damning with faint praise. We have to be able to do better than to say that local critics are better at responding to reader complaints. Thought the point about Metacritic is a good one. It won't be very Meta if the number of critics shrinks.

I was surprised when my positive review of "Bratz" elicited a barrage of angry and outraged comments over at Rotten Tomatoes, especially since it was clear that the posters had neither (1) read anything from my review but the pull quote or (2) seen the movie. It seems odd to me that people would come to a forum for the expression of a wide range of opinion and then freak out when someone does not agree with the majority. It also is ironic considering that one of the reasons I liked the movie was its low-key but sincere message in favor of rebelling against the tyranny of those, like clique-ish high school kids, who want everyone to act only according to established norms. Too bad the posters are too cool -- and too worried about not seeming cool -- to actually go to the movie. They might learn something.

Tuesday, August 07, 2007

More Bad News for Baby Einstein

From Slate:

A study suggests "Baby Einstein" and other baby videos are bad for kids. Findings: 1) "32% of the babies were shown the videos, and 17% of those were shown them for more than an hour a day." 2) "For every hour per day spent watching baby DVDs and videos, infants understood an average of six to eight fewer words than infants who did not watch them." Theories: 1) By spending time with "DVDs and TV instead of with people," the babies lose interaction with humans who "instinctively adjust their speech, eye gaze and social signals to support language acquisition." 2) Baby DVDs are worse than educational TV shows, because the DVDs "have little dialogue, short scenes, disconnected pictures and … linguistically indescribable images." Researcher's conclusion: Your kid is better off watching American Idol with you than watching Baby Einstein alone. Human Nature's view: You knew Baby Einstein had to be poison when President Bush extolled it.


Of course readers of this blog already knew all about that.

Sunday, August 05, 2007

Jeffrey Blitz on "Rocket Science"













Jeffrey Blitz, director of the award-winning spelling bee documentary Spellbound, was in Washington to talk about his first feature film, the semi-autobiographical coming-of-age story, "Rocket Science." He and I had a wonderful talk at the Georgetown Ritz hotel. We got off to a good start when we discovered we were both on our way to Comic-Con.

Most people would say that the lifetime period of greatest anxiety and misery is ages 13-15. What is it about that time of life that interests you so much?

You live an inwardly raw life at that age, you haven't got an ability to protect yourself from your own emotions and the world. You are ripe --when you fall in love you really fall inlove, when your heart is broken, your heart is really broken, you don't yet have the inner resoures to protect yourself or be anything less than completely that feeling.

It must be a challenge to ask kids to access and express emotions that are still unfamiliar to them. How do you work with these young actors?

The biggest part of it is casting. When you cast well you are casting someone who can access what needs to be accessed for that part. It was a low budget movie but we put whatever resources it had into casting. The great story about finding Reece [Thompson, who plays the lead] is that we had looked for six months and finally HBO, who was financing, gave us a two week grace period, or we'd have to shut down. And then one day someone was walking through the production office with a bunch of tapes that had been sent in unsolicted. Normally, we would not have watched them but we were ready to try anything. Reece's came from Vancouver and his agent sent it in. It was like when yiou meet someone you want to be friends with or fall in love, you don't ask why It's him, he thoroughly inhabits the role.

The big challenge was that in this case, we had a main character who stutters. It's like learning a very difficult accent. Sometimes a performance suffers because the actor's brain is working on the mechanical stuff their mouth has to do instead of what they need for the scene. We looked for six months, everywhere, we tried actual stutterers, but this character had a very particular kind of stuttering that is more amenable to the way of comedy, to set-ups and punchlines, it has a rhythm.

Our female lead, Anna Kendrick, came in very early into the process. After her audition, I wrote down Anna Kendrick is Ginny Ryerson, but because it was so early we thought we should keep looking. But she was one of the few girls we auditioned who could grasp everything she was saying, not just rattle off all those serious SAT words.

Boys and girls at that age seem to be from completely different species. How would you describe their differences and how does that affect their ability to communicate with each other?

We tried to get out of the idea that boys and girls are of completely different realms. Everyone in the movie is lost when it comes to love and romantic relationships and that defines them more than any differences. Ginny is very ambitious, not a typical girl role. They're all kind of gender neutral in a way, all striving.

The adults in the film all seem to be dealing with their own difficulties. Despite the fact that the characters are surrounded by parents and teachers who theoretically have a commitment to concern for the kids, most of them do not seem to be capable of it. What is their role in the story?

We were not trying to make a comment about adults in general or say that adults are useless. If my main character is lost and all he needs to do is turn to his parents, there's no story. It is so much more interesting if he has to solve things on his own. It's not about debate, not about who wins; it's about kids who are trying to grapple with questions that are bigger than they are. You can love but still not feel you understand it. The adults are childlike, all at the mercy of the mystery of love. The Violent Femmes (whose song is played in the movie) are so expressive of the anger of love gone bad. I love the idea that the adults' idea of therapy is to do a cleaned up, dainty version of the songs that are roiling with such anger.

In a movie about the power of speaking to express oneself, why have a narrator? He seems to be omniscient, not just older and wiser. Who is he and what does he contribute to the movie?

Hal is a character who essentially has no voice and is struggling to find his voice. He has a fantasy of a voice like James Earl Jones. With a narrator, we had one character with no voice and one who is noting but a disembodied voice, a purely articulate voice. It shows the gulf between who Hal is and who he wishes to be. You are given Hal's dream voice and confronted with his real voice. I love the idea of a torrent of words. When you grow up as a suttterer you are very aware of the power of words.

What do you want to do next?

I'm working on a documentary about lottery winners. It is another low budget scrappy project, just me operating the camera and producer/sound man. It is a great thing to go back and forth between big productions with a crew of 100 people and this little two-person movie. In a bigger production, you speak in a different language to the cinematographer and the production designer and the cast, many different languages all day long, saying the same thing over and over again. On this new film, I just put the camera exactly where I want to put it. I don't have to say anything to anyone, I just start to shoot. There are two American myths about the lottery. One is the Protestant work ethic, it's tainted, bad, and you're cursed if you did not earn the money. The other is that it solves all your problems. The reality is that your sense of scale shifts, your sense of the money that you need or want shifts. If you have more money, you have more financial concerns. And family members and friends expect you to help them out.

Can you give examples of the kinds of movies and directors who have inspired you?

Hal Ashby -- I watched his films again and again, the cinematography and production design. He has a masterful blending of absurd comedy and naturalism. His characters do outrageous things that are not of the real world and yet I feel like he's someone I know. I did not want a Wes Andersen snowglobe artificial world. I wanted characters with real human emotion but exaggerated. I watch a lot of Billy Wilder films, the way he brings intelligence and humanity into whatever genre he was working in. I love the idea of being able to genre-hop the way he did. He brought his stamp to every one of his films, and I would love to be able to do that.

Saturday, August 04, 2007

Quote of the Week: Jeanette Catsoulis on "The Ten"

From the New York Times: With “The Ten,” David Wain uses the Ten Commandments the way a suicide uses a bridge.

Friday, August 03, 2007

Bratz

Thanks to the Kansas City Star for running my review of Bratz!

And here's my interview:

Talking to the girls who play the Bratz on screen is like being at the coolest lumber party in town. Like their characters, Skyler Shae (Cloe), Janel Parrish (Jade), Logan Browning (Sasha), and Nathalia Ramos (Yasmin) are big time BFFs, very different but utterly supportive, all talking at once but somehow always somehow hearing, loving, supporting, and responding to what the others are saying. In Washington, they went on a night-time sight-seeing tour of the monuments in Washington, signed autographs for fans who were all but levitating in excitement, and stopped by to visit the patients at Children’s Hospital before sitting down with director Sean McNamara for an interview.

McNamara sat back and let the girls do most of the talking – it was easy to see that he was used to that. It was also easy to see how much he genuinely enjoyed and respected the young performers. “When we announced that we were making the movie online we had 1400 submissions in one hour,” he said. “We saw over 5000 girls. We didn’t have fixed characters in mind, so we asked what they could bring that no one's ever seen before. We looked for the ability to act, to make us believe their performance, and that special something that comes between the words. These girls got it; they created believable, interesting characters that came through.”

What's on your iPod?

All four at once: Everything!

LB: I love everything! Let me just tell you my playlists: Country, Bumpin', Poppin’, Rock, Indie, and Musical.

SS: I've got David Gray, Lonestar, Justin Timberlake

JP: I'm a theater freak. I was in "Les Miserables" on Broadway, so that is my favorite. I listen to tons and tons of Broadway. It's my dream to be in "Miss Saigon." I've also got classic rock, oldies --- that's the foundation of music. I love artists that play their own stuff, especially Holly Brook, Robin Thicke, and Alicia Keys.

NR: A little of everything, but my passion is classic rock. My dad has over 2000 records at home, lots of vinyl, (Peter) Frampton, (Eric) Clapton, Supertramp, and The Beatles. I love "Go Your own Way" by Fleetwood Mac.

You never met before the movie. How did you find ways to connect to each other to make your onscreen friendships seem real?

SS: We hung out all the time, went shopping, had our nails done.

JP: We did a lot of dancing and singing together, and we had the most fun set, with constant humor, constant jokes.

NR: We learned acting skills from each other and dance moves. Logan really inspired me.

LB: We feed off each other's energy and make each other laugh by imitating each other. Janel has cute little baby voices. And Nat is always practical, a great advice-giver.

In the movies, the Bratz get their name from a “mean girl” who tries to boss around everyone in the school. What makes people behave that way and what makes the Bratz the only ones who don’t do what she says?

SS: People want to fit in, so they are afraid to say no to her. Because she is beautiful and controlling and powerful, and people want to go to the coolest party.

NR: She wants attention. She is insecure, so she overcompensates.

JP: I think some people who truly believe they're better than everyone else. The Bratz show that the good relationship with their family is the foundation for having the confidence to say no to her.

LB: All the Bratz are anti-stereotypical; they do not feel they have to do what everyone else is doing.

What makes Bratz dolls so popular?

NR: They're cute, trendy, different, young, and diverse. Each girl can relate to one of them. And we’ve seen that girls do not necessarily pick the one of the same race as their favorite.

LB: The idea behind it was girls expressing themselves different ways, finding their own way.

Bratz all have “a passion for fashion.” How do clothes help you express yourself?

SS: Chloe loves sports and film-making, so that affects her look, jeans and hoodies.

LB: We all have unique and different styles in the movie, and it helps us show who our characters are, what makes each of us unique. We all have different color palates. Sasha is very Beyoncé, very classy, and animal prints are her signature.

ND: Yasmin wears fun, flirty dresses.

JP: Jade loves very funky, old stuff, loves to take something and “Jade-ify” it, with lots of chunky skull jewelry and lots of black.


What makes girls' friendships so special?


JP: To have someone that's always there for you not matter what, even though you have little fights and get torn apart.

LB: I have five best friends back in Georgia. We are there for each other with family situations, with school, they're the ones that will help you when everyone is against you, exactly like in the film.

Even more pics from Comic-Con


























Adam Bernstein on Movie Geeks podcast

The Washington Post's Adam Bernstein, whose wise, erudite, and lyrical tributes to Ingmar Bergman and Michelangeo Antonioni ran this week, will be discussing Bergman on the Movie Geeks Unlimited podcast this weekend. After it runs, you can click on the link any time to hear the interview.

Wednesday, August 01, 2007

Even the list made me cry -- Best movie tearjerkers ever



A brief break from Comic-Con highlights for another list -- Entertainment Weekly's best movie tearjerkers ever.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Erin Moran and Irwin Keyes


One of the best parts of Comic-Con is getting a chance to chat with the stars who show up to sign autographs. It was a treat to shake hands with Irwin Keyes, a friendly giant who told me how much fun it was to make Rob Zombie's "House of 1000 Corpses," even though there were two weeks of sandstorms. He also told me that after Roger Ebert praised his performance as one of the highlights of "Intolerable Cruelty" without mentioning his name, Keyes went to his book-signing to ask him to give the names of character actors when he was impressed with their performances. And Ebert said he would. My favorite part was when his friend took our picture, and Keyes asked me, "Regular or choking?" I chose choking, of course!


Erin Moran of Happy Days was warm and friendly, and I loved seeing her interact with the fans. She made each one feel welcome and appreciated. It rocked me a bit to hear that her most recent pilot is for Retirement Living TV. It's a talk show called "Wise Words," with retirees giving advice to callers. I hope it gets picked up. She said she also tried out for "Hell's Kitchen."

The Ray/Ray interview: Harryhausen and Bradbury at Comic-Con


When Ray Harryhausen was a young boy, his parents took him to a movie called King Kong and he decided to devote his life to creating the same kinds of effects that made him believe there was a giant ape on the Empire State Building. "For me it stimulated a dramatic imagination of a gothic nature." He taught himself the same stop-motion animation techniques that were used in King Kong and the dinosaur movie, The Lost World. In films like The Beast From 20,000 Fathoms and It Came from Beneath the Sea he took movie special effects to an entirely new level of fantastic realism.

Mr. Harryhausen was at Comic-Con to promote a new 50th anniversary release of 20 Million Miles To Earth with lots of DVD extras. On Friday night, he provided live commentary for the film, noting at least three times that the Venusian reptile monster (called Ymir by the film-makers but not identified that way onscreen) never attacked anyone until he was attacked first. It was clear that he had more affection for the creature than he did for the story's human characters. Understandable -- the reptile was a better actor. On Saturday, he sat down with a small group of reporters to talk about his career.

I began by asking Mr. Harryhausen if he thought that what he was doing was acting as well as animating.

Of course! You're working with actors so you can't let them upstage you. I learned from King Kong you have to get sympathy for the villain. Hard to do with a Tyrannasaurus Rex! You can get sympathy for a humanoid form, but it is harder to get sympathy for an animal. So we adapted the original design for Ymir to make him more like a human, his torso anyway. He originally had one eye, like a cyclops. We had to wiggle the tail a lot to distract the audience. I always did a lot of research but was not bound by it, just inspired by it. The Ymir was from Norse mythology originally, but we changed our mind.

I brought in the story; I was very modest in those days. It took me 50 years to learn that modesty is a dirty word in Hollywood. Originally, we had the rocket ship land in Chicago, but I wanted a trip to Rome, so we moved the landing to Italy so I could go there and scout locations. We added our ruins to theirs.

He did not feel that his artistic vision was compromised by colorizing the new release.
We would have shot them in color if we had the budget. We had to do them on the cheap and not let them look cheap.

He does not admire what he calls the "hyper-realism" of today's CGI special effects or DVDs that reveal too much about how the effects were created.
When you try to make fantasy too realistic you defeat the fantasy. It is a shame that DVDs tell everyone how everything was done. It spoils the fantasy.

Fantasy was a word he came back to several times.
I did not do horror; I did fantasy. Fantasy is "what if" -- it's stretching your imagination. We don't want to be associated with horror. I don't like them to be called monster films.

He liked to run things himself and seemed pleased he was getting credit not just for the special effects but for the movies.
I liked to work alone because I didn't like anyone telling me what to do. This was not director's picture in the European sense of the word. In our films, the director's job is to get the best out of the actors. And these were not films built around the actors. We had three different Sinbads. We shot the live action first, planned very carefully. Everything is probably the first take.

He said his two biggest challenges were the multiple characters in Jason and the Argonauts and the Medusa in Clash of the Titans.
The most challenging creature was Medusa with twelve snakes in her hair. I did not want to animate a cosmic goddess, so we gave her a snake's body. We did not want to go with the classical concept of a pretty woman with a pretty face and snakes in her hair; we wanted to make her furious. We borrowed the bow and arrow from Diana. We borrowed the seven heads from Hercules; you always had to remember which head was going in which direction. With the multiple figures in "Jason," We couldn't do rotting corpses coming out of the ground at night in "Jason;" we had to do clean-cut skeletons in the daylight. The things you see today would frighten the devil.

Even in the days before CGI, there were issues of changing technology.
We had the advantages and disadvantages of changing technology in building our creatures. Originally, we used foam rubber, which shrinks 10-15 percent so the clay models were a little fat and you can see that some of the stand-ins were a little stouter. It depends on how long you cook it, how long it holds up. It is fine material, but it will rot. We have a big display of the models in Germany at the Sony Museum.

His childhood influences continued to inspire him. He mentioned King Kong and She several times.
You'll see shades of She in First Men in the Moon.

It sometimes took years of planning before any footage was shot.
My complicated pre-production drawings had two purposes. To help with planning and to let the actors know pretty well what it will look like. Actors have imagination -- an actress might have to make love to a teapot. I have to be very careful to draw things I know I can do because we used them to raise the money.

Toward the end of the interview, we were joined by Mr. Harryhausen's lifelong friend, sci-fi writer Ray Bradbury, nattily attired in suspenders and a tie featuring grinning jack o'lanterns.
We met through our mutual love of dinosaurs. King Kong inspired us both. "The Lost World" -- nothing like it had been done. My first influence was Lon Chaney. I have total recall from birth on, and I can remember when I was very young seeing "Hunchback of Notre Dame." Then "Phantom of the Opera." These things teach you about love, falling in love, stories for a lifetime. Then there was Buck Rogers when I was nine. I got the job of reading the comic strips on the radio. My pay was tickets to the movies -- "King Kong," "Murders in the Wax Museum." I was rich! Because we are surrounded by reality, which is stupid, we fall in love with Beauty and the Beast, Jack the Giant Killer. When I was five years old, I fell in love with fairy tales. Love what you do and do what you love and forget about the money. I wanted to become a magician, and I did, didn't I?

Mr. Harryhausen had one final comment:
And don't let anyone talk you out of it.