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Movie Mom
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One of my favorite moments at Comic-Con each year is my chance to catch up with the brilliant and beautiful Winner twins, Brianna and Brittney, whose astonishing mastery of story and vocabulary has produced an extraordinary body of work.  The mirror image identical twins published the first volume of their science fiction series at age 11 and now travel to schools to encourage other young writers.  This year, they conducted a panel for would-be writers and I was very impressed with their advice on everything from getting started (it works best if you start from the end!), working with a partner (they use a pen as a “speaking stick” to make sure they both get a chance to talk), overcoming writer’s block, and finding an objective but constructive third party to provide feedback.  I especially liked their emphasis on the fun of writing, which is, as they reminded the group, the reason to do it.  I highly recommend their booklet on how to write.  And their Strand series is a great book for tweens and teens, and even for adults.

Brendan Wayne of “Cowboys & Aliens” is the grandson of movie legend John Wayne.  He talked to me about visiting his grandfather’s movie sets and acting and doing his own stunts in one of this year’s most anticipated blockbusters.  And it was a blast to compare notes with him on our favorite John Wayne films.

I’m so excited about your movie!

We’re in the same boat!  I love the story.  I love the mash-up of the two genres.  It’s a classic Western told the only way we could tell it today since you can’t really do cowboys and Indians without insulting history and culture.  You get to tell the tried and true Western in such an exciting new way, the story we love to tell about the human spirit overcoming greater odds.  It’s really fun, Daniel Craig jumping, riding, and shooting, Harrison Ford, in and of itself making the movie exciting.

The movie takes place in the 1870’s, a small town run by Harrison’s character, Col. Woodrow Dolarhyde.  And Daniel is Jake, a kind of a loner drifter who seems to have amnesia, and we proceed to be attacked.  We don’t know what it is and it is very time period specific so we don’t have electricity or cars or computers to fight back with.  And then these flying objects come in and we have to figure out what’s going on and then take care of business.  That’s where it really gets fun, when we go after them on our horses.

And you did your own stunts!

Every single one of them.  I have to thank two people, Bobby Aldridge for helping me get on a horse and really understand what a stunt guy does and Terry Leonard for making sure I didn’t look like an idiot and making sure I didn’t make my grand-dad look like a jerk. Terry was second unit director and the first film he ever worked on was “Rio Lobo” with my grandfather.  He took care of me like a big brother and made sure that I was safe and willing to challenge myself.  I was riding flat-out on that horse getting cactus stuck on me but having a lot of fun.  I did a lot of stunts that were really just dumb, but it was great.

But you were an experienced rider already, right?

I would never denigrate those real cowboys out there by saying I was experienced.  I had been around cowboys but this was a whole other level of riding.  Taking on these things was a whole different level of physical demand and those guys really helped me understand what it is to be a stunt man.  I barely scratched the surface but a bunch of stunt guys when I did my bigger stunt (I can’t tell you the details!) shook my hand and said they were proud.  I was really proud that they acknowledged it.  You don’t get their respect unless it is the real deal.

I also had a bar fight with Daniel Craig.  He and Olivia Wilde were just great about wanting to do their own stunts.  It was pretty amazing.

How did it feel to look in the mirror and see yourself in cowboy gear?

Our costume designer, Mary Zophres, is incredible.  She was up for an Oscar last year for “True Grit.”  For wardrobe, you just hope it will fit and work right, but she added so much, really helps you create the character, helped the story.  We were able to step into another time period and understand what it was like to wear those clothes and how it affects you.  She was fantastic.

What are your favorite of your grandfather’s movies?

The Shootist,” because he was so dang good in that.  It was his last film and I visited him on the set.  “The Cowboys,” “The Quiet Man,” and “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance” is always at the top of my list.  I still am amazed at how good he was.  “Liberty Valance” is such a great story about doing the right thing, not always being the right guy but doing the right thing.

 

I had a blast at the Archie Comic panel.  Everyone there was a nice and friendly and enthusiastic as you would hope to find in the idyllic environs of Riverdale.  But there is very big news.  In its own nice and friendly and enthusiastic way, Archie Comics is one of the most innovative companies at Comic-Con or anywhere else, on every level from distribution to story.

I was delighted to hear that Kevin, Archie’s first gay character, is so successful he will have his own comic.  I love the way that in the first issue, they show that Kevin was not always the handsome, confident kid who becomes class president at Riverdale High.  We get to meet some of his close friends from middle school and see that he had his awkward stage, too.  Even more amazingly, Archie’s future stories will include visits from Sarah Palin and Barack Obama — who will share a soda at the malt shop — and NY Giant Michael Strahan and even KISS in a four-part miniseries!  With separate series for Archie as a tot, a child, a teen, and a married man, they say they have “a metaverse as rich and plentiful as anything at Marvel and DC,” with “a flowchart from that wall to that wall.”

The Archie folks are very proud that they were the first to have “day and date” availability of their comics online and they are dedicated to making them accessible on every platform from iPhone app to Android and Windows 7 to Nook and Kindle, with 3 million downloads of their app so far.  Their long-time partnership with Ronald MacDonald House will be supported with the 75th anniversary issue, with all proceeds going to help sick kids and their families.

 

One of the great pleasures of Comic-Con is hearing film-makers talk to us about their movies.  But it gets exponentially better when we get to listen in to them talk to each other.  The infinitely generous Guillermo Del Toro (he gave out his email address and invited fans to write to ask to visit him on set) shared the stage at Comic-Con’s largest venue in two separate events, one with Jon Favreau and one with protege Nicolas Winding Refn.

Del Toro co-wrote and produced a remake of the cult classic “Don’t Be Afraid of the Dark.”  The original, a 1973 made-for-television movie starring Kim Darby and Jim Hutton was about a young wife who discovers scary creatures in a house she has inherited.  In the new version, it is a little girl living with her father (Guy Pearce) and his new girlfriend (Katie Holmes) who hears the creepy rasp, “Saaaaaally, Saaaaaaally….”  In the first-ever Comic-Con event from impressive new studio Film District, he appeared to discuss the film with Danish director Refn, of “Drive,” also produced by Del Toro.  “It is our duty to produce first-time film-makers,” Del Toro, told the crowd.  He spoke about the power of fantasy.  His background was in special effects and creature fabrication and he speaks lovingly of the monsters he creates and the importance of details.  “Context is everything in a fable because every story has already been told.”  Refn said that “tracking is good, but still imprints on our brains.”  He loves the images where what matters is what is behind, when what is in the background engulfs the image.

Later, Del Toro appeared with Favreau to compare and appreciate each other’s approach.  Favreau, as shown in “Iron Man,” likes mechanical effects.  Del Toro (“Hellboy”) takes advantage of whatever illusions technology can provide. “There was not a single real thing in ‘Pan’s Labyrinth.'”   Favreau called in Del Toro for advice on some of the action scenes in “Cowboys & Aliens.”  And he urged us all to be on the lookout for a new book about Del Toro’s “Bleak House,” his very own haunted mansion.  Speaking of which, one thing these two directors have in common is forthcoming films based on Disney theme park attractions.  Favreau is working with Michael Chabon on “The Magic Kingdom,” and Del Toro will direct “The Haunted Mansion,” which will do its job if it erases the memory of the Eddie Murphy version.  Del Toro assured us that this one will not be a comedy.