SDCC 2017: Preview Night (and a Contest for Tick Swag)
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Welcome to Comic-Con 2017! The force is with us! As you can see from the photo, I got a glimpse of the newest “Star Wars” movie. And I visited one of the coolest displays at SDCC this year, Amazon Prime’s Tick Experience. The new series, produced by and starring Peter Serafinowicz (“Spy”), looks very good, more complex than I was expecting from a show about a big blue superhero with antennae who spouts dialog somewhere between a robot and a fortune cookie. The character of Arthur (Griffin Newman of “Search Party”) is especially well conceived and performed. The Tick Experience includes a preview of the first episode, which comes to Amazon Prime on August 25, followed by an enthralling escape room adventure and a crazy green screen photo op. I got some extremely cool swag which I will send to some lucky reader. To enter, send me an email at email@example.com, with Tick in the subject line. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I’ll pick a winner July 25, 2017. Good luck!
At the exhibition hall, I saw the set from “Star Wars” above, with clips from the new film and the 40th anniversary Star Wars celebration and a tribute to Princess Leia Carrie Fisher. Fisher was represented at another booth, too, with treasures from her collection and her mother’s for the upcoming auction of the Carrie Fisher/Debbie Reynolds estates. Reynolds, of course, was the all-time greatest collector of Hollywood props, costumes, and memorabilia, so there are some extraordinary items including Dorothy’s ruby slippers from “The Wizard of Oz” and Carrie Fisher’s chair from the set of “Return of the Jedi.”
What do “Wall Street” and the “Star Wars” saga and, seemingly, about half the movies ever made have in common? They are about fathers. In “Wall Street,” Charlie Sheen plays the ambitious Bud, who respects the integrity of his blue-collar father, played by his real-life father, Martin Sheen. But Bud is dazzled by the money and power and energy of Gordon Gekko (Michael Douglas). The movie will up the ante with Bud’s father’s heart attack as we see him struggle between the examples and guidance of these two male role models.
In “Star Wars,” Luke (Mark Hamill) does not know until halfway through the original trilogy that (spoiler alert) the evil Darth Vader is his father. He was raised by his aunt and uncle, who are killed very early in the first film, but the father figures who are most meaningful in his life are the Jedi masters Obi-Wan Kenobi and Yoda. Like Bud in “Wall Street,” Luke must choose between the good and bad father figures. Like Luke, Harry Potter is raised by an aunt and uncle, but he finds a true father figure later. For Harry, it is headmaster Albus Dumbledore. In opposition is He Who Must Not Be Named. Like Luke, Harry has the opportunity for great power on the dark side, but he lives up to the example set for him by Dumbledore.
The first stories ever recorded are about fathers. The central human struggle to reconcile the need for a father’s approval and the need to out-do him is reflected in the “hero of a thousand faces” myths that occur in every culture. In Greek mythology, Zeus is the son of a god who swallowed his children to prevent them from besting him. Zeus, hidden by his mother, grows up to defeat his father and become the king of the gods. Ancient Greece also produced the story of Oedipus, who killed his father and married his mother, and The Odyssey, whose narrator tells us “it is a wise man who knows his own father.”
These themes continue to be reflected in contemporary storytelling, including films that explore every aspect of the relationship between fathers and their children. There are kind, understanding fathers whose guidance and example is foundation for the way their children see the world. There are cruel, withholding fathers who leave scars and pain that their children spend the rest of their lives trying to heal. There are movies that reflect the off-screen real-life father-child relationships. Martin Sheen not only played his son’s father in “Wall Street;” he played the father of his other son, Emilio Estevez, in “The Way,” which was written and directed by Estevez, and which is about a father’s loss of his son. Will Smith has appeared with his son Jaden in “The Pursuit of Happyness” and “After Earth.” John Mills appeared with his daughter Hayley in “Tiger Bay,” “The Truth About Spring,” and “The Chalk Garden.” Ryan and Tatum O’Neill memorably appeared together in “Paper Moon.” Jane Fonda produced and starred in “On Golden Pond” and cast her father Henry as the estranged father of her character. Jon Voight played the father of his real-life daughter Angelina Jolie in “Tomb Raider.” And Mario Van Peebles, whose father cast him as the younger version of the character he played in “Sweet Sweetback’s Badasssss Song” made a movie about the making of that film when he grew up. It is called “Badasssss!” In the role of Melvin Van Peebles he cast himself.
Director John Huston deserves some sort of “Father’s Day” award. He directed both his father and his daughter in Oscar-winning performances, Walter Huston in “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre” and Anjelica Huston in “Prizzi’s Honor.”
Some actors known for very non-paternal roles have delivered very touching performances as fathers. Edward G. Robinson is best remembered for playing tough guys, but in “Our Vines Have Tender Grapes” he gave a beautiful performance as a farmer who loves his daughter (Margaret O’Brien) deeply. Cary Grant, known for sophisticated romance, played loving – if often frustrated — fathers in “Houseboat” and “Room for One More.” “Batman” and “Beetlejuice” star Michael Keaton was also “Mr. Mom.” Comedian Albert Brooks is a devoted father in “Finding Nemo.”
There are memorable movie fathers in comedies (“Austin Powers,” “A Christmas Story”) and dramas (“To Kill a Mockingbird,” “Boyz N the Hood”), in classics (“Gone With the Wind”), documentaries (“Chimpanzee,” “The Other F Word”), and animation (“The Lion King,” “The Incredibles”). There are great fathers (“Andy Hardy”) and terrible fathers (“The Shining”). There are fathers who take care of us (“John Q”) and fathers we have to take care of (“I Never Sang for My Father”). All of them are ways to try to understand, to reconcile, and to pay tribute to the men who, for better or worse, set our first example of how to decide who we are and what we will mean in the world.
Interview: Francesca Capaldi on “Max 2: White House Hero”
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“Max 2: White House Hero” star Francesca Capaldi has a very extensive resume for someone born in 2004, including three seasons on the popular series “Dog with a Blog” and the voice of the little red-haired girl in “The Charlie Brown Movie.” It was a lot of fun to talk to the charming and remarkably bright and poised young actress about her newest project, Max 2: White House Hero, available on DVD/Blu-Ray and streaming May 23, 2017. I have a copy to give away! Send me an email at firstname.lastname@example.org with Max in the subject line and tell me your favorite pet’s name. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only.) I’ll pick a winner at random on May 31, 2017.
“Okay, so the movie is basically the Russian President and his daughter come to America for talks with the US President,” she told me. “I play Alex, the daughter, and I meet the first son, TJ, who is played by Zane Austin, and his dog Max, who is a Marine dog but he stays with TJ. We kind of get into some trouble and we kind of get in some mischief. We go to a party, I went in the water on this raft, and it’s because someone is trying to sabotage these talks between Russia and the US.”
She was experienced in working with dogs before, from “Dog with a Blog.” “The most important thing to know is probably that they are not typical dogs and they’re not pets either. They’re workers. They are like actors but they’re just not humans and they are so well trained and they know so much that it’s crazy. You just have to remember they are working, kind of like service dogs, you can’t really go around playing with them.” There were actually four dogs playing the part of Max, each with different specialties. “They all had different abilities. They have different strong suits and we got to spend time with all of them before we filmed so that they are comfortable with us and there’s a better emotional connection when we’re filming. One could jump really, really well, one was a runner, one was like the face for the dogs. He’s on the posters and stuff like that. So, they all have different things they do and I thought was really cool.”
Francesca describes her character as “really excited to see what’s going to happen and I think she had a great time visiting America. And she’s a really fun character to play especially since I never did a Russian accent before. It was really cool to try something new with that. And she is a little precocious, she is a little funky and she was really fun to play.” She loves doing accents and developed this one by watching YouTube videos and working with her dad, who speaks a lot of languages. “Russians have a really distinct accent. Instead of ‘will’ they say ‘vill.’ I actually got to say some things in Russian and I’ve never spoken Russian I barely even heard it been spoken before so it was really fun. It was a little bit difficult because it’s not like anything I ever heard.”
She also had her first opportunity to do stunts, which she enjoyed very much. “I had to do a scene where I was kidnapped, where I was thrown into a van and I head butted someone and I was in this river. It was so cold I had to wear a dry suit, it was freezing and I remember the medic that was on set was saying, ‘Yes, keep your toes moving or there’s not going to be any circulation and we’re going to have to amputate them,’ and I was like ‘Oh, okay, yes, I’ll keep my toes moving.’ So it was just so cold but I loved it. I thought it was so much fun.”
Francesca has been performing since she was a baby and says, “I just love acting so much, it’s crazy.” She keeps in mind advice she got from the late Don Rickles. “He said to me, ‘Don’t let anyone ever discourage you. Stay confident, no matter what. Stay strong.’ He just gave me the best advice about the business and how to stay true to yourself.”
No relationship is more primal, more fraught, more influential, more worried over, more nurturing when good and more devastating when bad than our connection to our mothers. The first eyes to look at us with love, the first arms to hold us, Mom is the one who first keeps us fed and warm, who applauds our initial steps, kisses our scrapes, and takes our temperature by kissing our forehead. She’s also the one who keeps people in endless years of psychoanalysis. Mothers inspire movies in every category, from comedy to romance to drama to crime to animation to horror, from the lowest-budget indie to the biggest-budget prestige film.
There are innumerable ways of mothering, and all of them show up in the movies. There are cookie-baking, apron-wearing mothers who always know just the right thing to say. There are stylish, sophisticated, wealthy mothers and mothers who do not have enough money to feed their children. There are mothers with PhDs and mothers who cannot read. There are mothers of every race and religion and many species on earth and in outer space (remember Alien).
There are terrifying mothers who abuse or abandon their children. There are mothers who give good advice and endless support and mothers who push their children to take the wrong jobs or marry the wrong people. There are super-strict mothers and super-lax mothers, mothers who want to know every detail of their children’s lives and mothers who barely remember that they have children at all. There are mothers of children with special needs who fight to make sure they have the fullest and most independent lives they can. There are children who love and support their mothers and children who break their mothers’ hearts.
And there are those very special souls who remind us that motherhood doesn’t require a biological connection. Stepmothers and adoptive mothers are as vitally important on screen as they are in the lives of those lucky enough to be raised by them.
“A boy’s best friend is his mother,” says a character whose mother is central to the story even though she never appears in the film. (Spoiler alert: The quote comes from Norman Bates in “Psycho.”) In “Stop or My Mom Will Shoot,” tough guy Sylvester Stallone plays a cop who mother comes along on his investigation whether he wants her to or not. In “Oedipus Wrecks,” one of three short films that make up the compilation New York Stories, Woody Allen plays a lawyer whose mother finds the ultimate way to embarrass him. And don’t get me started on Jason’s mother in the Friday the 13th movies.
I have selected 50 of my favorite movie mothers, from films as varied as The Sound of Music and Little Women along with forgotten or overlooked films like Stella Dallas, Claudia and David, and Dear Frankie. Actresses like Anne Revere and Spring Byington made careers out of wonderful performances as mothers, and I have included some of their best. I have a special affection for films and performances based on real-life mothers, especially those based on the mothers of the writers who told their stories, like Sally Field’s Oscar-winning performance in Places in the Heart. But each of the mothers in these movies is inspired by the unique joys and frustrations of the woman we love first.
A lot of women have been nominated for Oscars for playing mothers and just about every actress over age 20 has appeared as a mother in at least one movie. From beloved Marmee in “Little Women” and Mrs. Brown in “National Velvet” to mean moms in “Now Voyager” and “Mommie Dearest.” Oscar-winnng classics and neglected gems, based on real-life like Sally Fields in “Places in the Heart” or fantasy like Dumbo’s lullabye-singing elephant mom, biological mothers like Irene Dunne in “I Remember Mama” or step-mothers like Maria in “The Sound of Music,” these are all must-see movies.
“The Red Turtle,” new on DVD/Blu-ray this week, is a lyrical, mystical, almost-wordless story about a solitary castaway. Like all Studio Ghibli animations, it has a rich, complex portrayal of the natural world.
I’m delighted to have two copies to give away! Send me an email at email@example.com with “Turtle” in the subject line and tell me what you’re looking forward to this summer. Don’t forget your address! (US addresses only) I’ll pick a winner on May 7, 2017.