Sunday, December 23, 2012

Thursday, December 20, 2012


When Lily really wants me to get out of bed, she starts to do this in front of our bedroom storage closet. When I open the door, she walks away. 

Stretch (November 22, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: November 30, 2012)

Monday, December 17, 2012


When chasing her toys, Lily often runs right past them. (This blue one is her current favorite.)

Zoom (November 22, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: November 16, 2012)

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Sunday, December 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #27--Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

Sands is one of those people who's just absolutely, totally for himself, only himself. Any opportunity to create chaos or kill or trip someone up is purely for his own humor, just for his own benefit. He just has  a very, very perverse sense of humor. -- Johnny Depp on Agent Sands

What kind of fairytale is this?
Once Upon a Time in Mexico is the third of an action-packed Western trilogy written and directed by Robert Rodriguez. I still haven't seen the other two films, El Mariachi (1992) and Desperado (1995), but you can guess why I saw this one: Johnny Depp plays corrupt CIA agent Sheldon Sands, who likes to run things on his beat, Mexico. He recruits legendary gunslinger El Mariachi (Antonio Banderas) to kill guerrilla force leader General Marquez (Gerardo Vigil), who himself has been hired by Mexican drug lord Armando Barillo (Willem Dafoe) to assassinate Mexico's president (Pedro Armendariz, Jr.) and overthrow the government. El Mariachi agrees to do it, as he seeks revenge against Marquez for killing his wife Carolina (Salma Hayek) and their daughter long ago.

Meanwhile, Sands gets retired FBI agent Jorge Ramirez (Ruben Blades) to agree to kill Barillo, who Ramirez hates already for murdering his partner years before. Sands also assigns military operative Ajedrez (Eva Mendez) to keep an eye on Barillo's activities for him, but she has her own plans....

More happens: More characters show up, more plots twist around, lots of shooting occurs, and Johnny loses his eyeballs. It's all a little convoluted, but don't worry. It doesn't matter.

Why is Johnny here? 
When I first heard that Johnny signed on to be in the third installment of some sort of shoot-em-up, action-fueled, stunt-stuffed movie with Antonio Banderas, I couldn't imagine it. I couldn't picture Johnny doing crazy stunts while shooting guns. And, I really wasn't looking forward to it when I heard he loses his eyeballs in the middle of it all. (How dare they mess with that feature!)

All the other Johnny fans I came in contact with were so excited about this movie and thrilled by the images they saw from the set. They were apparently more in-the-know than I was. I tried to avoid seeing or reading anything about it before seeing the finished product, and all I knew about Robert Rodriguez was that he was the director behind the family-friendly Spy Kids movies (which I also haven't seen). People thought Johnny was crazy for doing a Disney pirate movie, but I thought this choice was more bizarre. This is not my kind of movie at all--guns, stunts, explosions. But okay, Johnny, I'll go see it.

"Are you a Mexi-can or Mexi-can't?" 
In the theater, I discovered Johnny has some great lines in this movie (see above). In fact, Sands is a great role. Despite the fact that Johnny loses his eyeballs in this adventure, Once Upon a Time in Mexico is actually a  clever, thrilling, entertaining ride....Yeah, this movie rocks! It hit me that I lost sight of my steadfast rule to trust Johnny's choices of roles. He always makes things more interesting than expected, and a movie is always better with him in it. George Clooney was the first choice for Agent Sands: I'm so glad that didn't happen because what would this movie be like without Johnny's Agent Sands? I don't know because I probably wouldn't have seen it.

Sands is not a good person. He bosses people around through his cellphone. He kills people who are "too good" just to keep the status quo around town. And, he wears really tacky t-shirts and obviously fake disguises. "I kind of saw Agent Sands as this guy who had been in the CIA, who had probably been so annoying and so dangerous that the agency moved him as far away from them as they possibly could," Johnny says. "A total psychopath, psychotic, you know, not well." You're not supposed to like him. But, in typical Johnny fashion, you end up rooting for Sands by the end.

Sands was the first character Robert Rodriguez fleshed out for this story. "I liked the character so much in how despicable he was. It was going to be interesting and fun--I think this is what Johnny liked about it too--taking somebody that despised and giving the audience a conflicting interest in him, where they're actually kind of cheering for him by the end. The guy's a complete scumbag but by the end, by the second half of the movie, he becomes really redeemable in a way, in an odd way, even though he's not redeemable at all."

It's true! I can't really explain what a likable slimeball Sands is. It's something you just have to witness to appreciate those Johnny touches.

  • It's the way he always talks and does everything--threatening or not--so calmly: You don't know if he's about to kill somebody or not. Johnny based his voice and demeanor on someone he met in the movie business years ago, someone he immediately knew couldn't be trusted.
  • It's that he wears ridiculous wigs and mustaches, tacky touristy t-shirts, and Fannypacs. Johnny sent his assistant on the movie, his sister Christy, on a mission to find the tackiest stuff she could for him to wear on film. "I thought that would be something that Sands would wear in order to try to get someone to mention it," he says. "He would be hoping that someone would say, 'Is that mustache fake?' just so that he could kill him." 
  • And, then, there are the one-liners and physical comedy that only Johnny thinks to add, whenever and wherever he can. (You'll just have to watch the movie to know what I'm talking about.) 

"He added a lot of things to this character, obviously," Robert Rodriguez says. "I mean, that's why you hire someone like Johnny. I wrote the character Sands, and what Johnny did was give him a whole identity."

Johnny was only on the set for 8 days and loved every minute of it. I think Robert Rodriguez has a coolness factor that makes everyone love to work with him. He wrote, directed, and even mixed the music. Johnny was already impressed with him, having heard he completed the first of this trilogy, El Mariachi, on a $7,000 budget. Shooting in digital HD, as he did for Once Upon a Time in Mexico too, is much cheaper than the traditional way. Because it's just videotape, rather than film stock, he could keep shooting for as long as he wanted. With film always rolling, the actors were on their toes. Robert Rodriguez explains, "If you never call action and you never call cut, you're always in rehearsal mode, which is a really free time to be, and you get really great performances."

Another thing he asked of his actors was to contribute to the film score. On this movie, all the principle players had some sort of musical background--Antonio Banderas and Johnny play guitar, and Salma Hayek likes to sing. So, Antonio Banderas wrote and performed a mariachi song in the movie. Salma Hayek sings the song that plays during the film's end credits. But Johnny was the only one who showed up with a complete piece of music, his character's theme song, which he produced and performed for the soundtrack.

Johnny had so much fun making this movie that he scanned the script  on his last day to find any other characters he could sneak in before getting on the plane. Keep an eye out for the Marlon-Brando-esque priest.

Do you have a guitar gun? (They do.)
If someone described Once Upon a Time in Mexico to me, I'd say this isn't my kind of movie: I'm not one who thinks bad guys with guns are cool. I have no stomach for violence. But this movie has a sense of humor about itself. It is violent, but you don't actually see much (which is the best way to do it). Everything is heightened in a way. The plot is complicated, and you may lose what's going on, but it doesn't matter much because you get the style. "This is definitely a desperado movie; they never really make sense," Robert Rodriquez admits. "Coming from a cartoonist's point of view, the guitar cases full of guns and all that, it's not a real Mexico. All the movies I've always done have been somewhat fantasy, and this is no exception. It's sort of a surreal take on Mexico and its culture and it's iconic imagery."

The stunts are elaborate and unbelievable, but you just go with it because you're in on the idea: Of course the legendary El Mariachi and his sexy wife, linked together by a chain they'd been handcuffed to while sleeping, would be able to swing five floors down the side of a building like monkeys to escape assassins. A shootout in a church is halted when the only innocent bystander, an oblivious old lady who just finished her prayers, shuffles her way out the door. That's right out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon. "I consider this movie to be a visual fantasy." Antonio Banderas says. "It goes so far that I think you have to have a sense of humor to understand it. I feel like I'm doing an action movie but, at the same time, I feel like I'm doing comedy." Enjoy it!

Gordon is too cool!
So, I dreaded whenever Johnny was going to lose his eyeballs during this movie. But I also heard from those who had already seen the aftermath that Johnny was the coolest eyeless character ever. I couldn't imagine it, but Johnny did it. He is the coolest eyeless character ever!

"There's something really beautiful and kind of poetic about a blind gunfighter, a guy who goes out there with no eyes, knows he's going to die, and has to defend himself," Johnny says. Gordon couldn't resist such an iconic image! (Too bad he couldn't fit into the all-black outfit.)

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #27--Once Upon a Time in Mexico (2003) [September 1, 2012]

And, he's even cooler when you play his theme:  

What's next? 
Johnny's eyes are okay behind some glasses in Secret Window. (But he's still a bit off his rocker.)

All film images and "Sands Theme" © Columbia Pictures; illustration © Melissa Connolly

Wednesday, December 05, 2012

Take Remember

Dave Brubeck Quartet performs "Take Five" in London, aired on BBC's "Jazz 625," November 28, 1964

Every time I hear "Take Five," I think of Mom because every time she hears it, she says, "Hey! That's my song!"

When she worked as a nightclub emcee in Taipei, this is the song they played to open and close the show every night. Nice choice!

Rest in peace, Dave Brubeck...

Sunday, December 02, 2012


I know it's Christmastime, but I'm a little behind in posting my Illustration Friday drawings. Haunt was the topic for the last week of October.

At the time, I had just seen Tim Burton's Frankenweenie and was completely inspired to create Frankenweenie Kitties.

Then, while in San Francisco, my friend and I caught a bit of Young Frankenstein, one of our favorite movies, on TV.


So, here's a mix of both: Comet is "The Monster" (with a heart of gold). Ashes is his bride. B.J. is Dr. Frankenstein with Simon assisting as Igor and The Mother Kitty providing musical accompaniment as Frau Blucher. (Oops, I set off the horses.)

Haunt (November 21, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: October  26, 2012)

Frankenweenie images  © Disney Pictures; Young Frankenstein images © 20th Century Fox

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Ghennet + Hailesh's Tree

Hi everyone,

This week's Illustration Friday topic is "tree." Here's a tree, but I didn't draw it for Illustration Friday. Does it count if I get inspired by the topic a few weeks in advance?

Ghennet + Hailesh's Tree

In September, I created this drawing as a wedding gift for my friend Ghennet and her husband Hailesh. Congratulations!!! 

I was inspired to draw this tree for them as they plant their own roots and begin this new chapter of their lives together. Here's how it came out:

Ghennet + Hailesh's tree framed
Ghennet and Hailesh's wedding gift! (September 15, 2012)

They like it. Yay!

Friday, November 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #26--Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of The Black Pearl (2003)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

I'm still too dumb to make choices just because it's going to be successful. In terms of this being a giant production, I still chose the same way I choose other films. I really saw something in the character I could do something with.
- Johnny Depp on taking the role of Captain Jack Sparrow in Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl

Is there anyone out there who hasn't heard of or seen this movie?
For those of you who haven't seen Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, here's the scoop: The drive to make this movie was described as Disney's effort to revitalize a 40-year-old theme park ride called Pirates of the Caribbean. But the film isn't really based on the ride, which doesn't have a story to it. Apparently, the writers somehow incorporated a few of the ride's characteristics and minor characters for familiar audience members to wink at as they watched the movie, but they created an original story that could stand on its own. I believe it because there's no way a theme park ride could have such an intricate backstory. At the end of the audio commentary on the DVD, co-writer Ted Elliott actually lists out the plot points one-by-one, ending with, "See? It makes sense, right?!" It does, I swear!

Having several simultaneous stories going on is part of what makes this movie so good! The story begins in the late 1700s or so on a sailing ship with the governing body of England's Port Royal, including Governor Swann (Jonathan Pryce) and his 8-year-old daughter Elizabeth, aboard. Peering in the distance, Elizabeth discovers a boy drifting in the ocean and rescues him. She learns that his name is Will Turner and steals the medallion around his neck to hide it from the others for fear that it marks him as a pirate. Ten years later, Elizabeth (Kiera Knightly) and Will (Orlando Bloom) are still friends but have a societal gap between them: She's the Governor's daughter being courted by Commodore Norrington (Jack Davenport), but she's really in love with Will, who is just a working-class blacksmith. (Isn't that always the case!)

Elizabeth doesn't realize that the medallion she stole all those years ago set a hunt in motion: Everyone comes looking for it. Led by Captain Barbossa (Geoffrey Rush), pirates sail The Black Pearl and attack Port Royal, looking for the trinket and its owner. Captain Jack Sparrow (Johnny Depp), previous captain of The Pearl before his crew committed mutiny and left him stranded on an island, arrives in search of his ship but soon discovers that Elizabeth possesses the rare medallion. So, things get interesting: Ultimately, Elizabeth is captured by the Barbossa's crew, with the medallion, and Will enlists Jack--who has his own vested interests--to help rescue her. Adventure ensues. Enjoy the ride!

Johnny's gone to the other side!
When word got out that Johnny had signed on to star in a Disney production focused around one of its faded theme-park rides, everyone said he had sold out: He'd given up his indie roots and infiltrated "the enemy camp" for blockbuster success! This idea never occurred to me and hearing it over and over started to irritate me. Do critics really think that signing Johnny Depp to star in a Disney movie about pirates in a story based on an old theme-park ride is a successful recipe? It really didn't sound like one to me. Johnny has never approached his roles thinking about the money he's going to make from it. In fact, he's done the opposite and worked for free just for the experience or as a favor to his friends.

Signing on for a Disney movie was a definite surprise, but surprises are one of the many Joys of Johnny. I chalked this decision up to Johnny having kid movies on his brain since the birth of his daughter in 2001 and left it at that. But Johnny doesn't go into those details to explain these things. Instead, he says things like, "I just had a good feeling about it--a really, really good feeling." He's telling the truth here. He goes on, "It was mentioned that they were considering a movie based on the Pirates of the Caribbean ride, and I said I was in. There was no screenplay, no director, nothing. For some unknown reason, I just said I was in."

Trusting Johnny's instincts, I wanted this movie to be really great--mainly just to disprove all the speculation and skepticism around it. Though wild with anticipation, a part of me feared that it could go horribly wrong. This was a new experience and a risk but no more or less exciting to me than any of Johnny's other movies were when they premiered: I didn't see what the big deal or difference was about this one. Good or bad, I knew Johnny would do something different to keep things interesting, which is good enough for me.

I have a date with Captain Jack Sparrow!
One day, I came home from work, sifted through my mail, and found two free tickets to see an early preview of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl at my local theater in Georgetown. I don't remember asking for these, entering any contests, or giving out my address to strangers. I have no idea how they ended up in an envelope addressed to me in my mailbox. Creepy? Yes, but I  squealed and jumped around in my apartment anyway! In reality, these tickets were no big deal because I planned to be first in line to buy tickets to this movie, but I prefer to see these surprise treats--magic tickets to see this movie few days earlier than everyone else--as fateful Johnny Gifts that make my day. Thanks, whoever sent them. (Was it you, Walt Disney?)

While my friend and I were among the first to arrive at the theater that night (because I'm neurotic that way), it was eventually packed. (Apparently, I wasn't the only one to get free tickets.) More important, I'm pretty sure we all really enjoyed the movie! I was relieved.

The story is rich with side characters and story lines among the stars handling the main plot. Everyone in the cast, straight down to the extras, have distinct personalities, detailed histories, and their own little quirks. It makes for an entertaining soup. To top things off, the script--which really what sold Johnny on the project--is filled with smart humor. During the entire production, scriptwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio were on set to make changes, so director Gore Verbinski, Johnny, and the rest of the cast had plenty of freedom to give input and test ideas on the spot. I was also impressed with the special effects. There are things in this movie I'd never seen before, and it's all so detailed! (I love details!) For example, the curse in this story only appears in moonlight, making the night-time scenes and battles extra special. And, instead of your typical treasure hunt, this curse requires that the pirates return rather than keep the goods. I think all these different elements made Pirates of the Caribbean the summer blockbuster it became--I mean, aside from the obvious key ingredient.

Johnny's in his element.
You have to think back to a time before you ever saw or knew Captain Jack Sparrow. I know it's difficult because he may be in everyone's psyche at this point, whether you're a fan or not. If you think back to before you first saw him, you'll realize what an amazing transformation Johnny made into this one-of-a-kind pirate. He disappeared into this role with the costume, the walk, the voice--every movement and every joke. Granted, I'm biased, but I gasped during Johnny's first scene when he started interacting with people. I really couldn't believe that it was the same person.

As always, Johnny did a ton of research for this role. After reading a bunch of books about pirates during that time period, he considered them the rock stars of their day. So, most noticeably, the captain is based on Kieth Richards, guitarist for the Rolling Stones, who Johnny considers the greatest of all rock stars. Johnny also spent a lot of time in saunas thinking about the character and what it'd be like to be on the ocean fighting the elements for hours on end. Captain Jack, he assumed, would be a little off due to the intense heat on the high seas. "With Jack, it was more that I liked the idea of being ambiguous, of taking the character and making everything a little bit....questionable." Also in the mix are bits of Lee Marvin's character from Cat Ballou and the great Pepe Le Pew. (I love it!)

When Johnny showed up at the studio in his costume, the rest of the cast was baffled. "That first day, we were all like, 'What's he doing?'" says Kiera Knightly. When the studio heads saw the dailies, they thought Johnny was ruining the movie. "I was sure I was going to be fired, absolutely!" Johnny says. "They had a few questions: Is he gay? Is he drunk? Is he gay and drunk?" Johnny also had to barter for his look. The studio felt that a mouthful of gold teeth was too much for audiences to bear, but Johnny counted on this concern and removed the two extra gold teeth he considered his barginning chips."When you hire Johnny, you want him to do something unique and different," producer Jerry Bruckhiemer says. They got it. "The characterization, the personality of Jack is what we wrote," screenwriter Ted Elliott notes. "The expression of that personality is purely Johnny Depp. It was exactly what we described but nothing like we anticipated." Johnny is pretty genius in this role, no matter how sick of Captain Jack you may be by now.

But you have to keep it all in perspective, I suppose. Scriptwriter Terry Rossio expains, "Johnny's performance is amaazing, but it's framed by all the other characters and sustained by the situations he gets put in. Everything goes into a performance like that--the cinematography, editing, but particularly the surrounding characters who have to create the environment for him to play off of." It's true. All the supporting characters perfectly fit their roles. Aside from Jack, everyone loves the beautiful people--Orlando Bloom as Will and Kiera Knightly as Elizabeth--who are fantastic. But  no one ever mentions Geoffrey Rush. The more I watch his performance, the more I marvel at his Captain Barbossa, who is your classic "Argh!" kind of pirate up against Johnny's uncategorical Captain Jack. As Terry Rossio notes, "Geoffrey Rush's eyeballs deserve an Academy Award nomination." It's true.

It's about time! At the Oscars with mom Betty Sue
and partner Vanessa Paradis in 2004
Well, they didn't get one, but Johnny did! Did you hear me scream and jump around the moment his nomination was announced? Only Johnny could get nominated for starring in a Disney summer blockbuster as an ambiguously gay, drunk pirate. Granted, he should have at least five Oscars by now, but it's delicious that, after all this time, this is the one that got him nominated. I never would have guessed, yet I wasn't surprised. Johnny probably didn't care as much as I did. Maybe it was the 17-year wait, but I Was Thrilled!!! Alas, he lost to his friend, Sean Penn, who won for Mystic River. Johnny was probably relieved that he didn't have to make a speech. But the only reason I'm just the tiniest bit relieved about his loss is that Johnny didn't go down in history holding an Oscar sporting that night's weird greasy hairstyle. You know I would have had to keep that photo forever, despite what his hair looked like that day. Crisis averted.

Up to this point, Johnny performances generally received critical acclaim, but his characters were always labeled "outsiders" or "oddballs." Hiring Johnny was  considered a risk because "he can't open a weekend" or "he's too weird." He's always described his career as one built on a bunch of box office failures. Johnny's movies were not mainstream, and many people didn't see them unless they were in the know and made the effort.

Imagine the shock of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl becoming a gazillion-dollar blockbuster overnight, Captain Jack and all the characters going down in Disney history, and talk of sequels already buzzing! Did I fully express the inexplicable magnitude of my joy about this? Really, I felt this couldn't have happened to a better person after all the equally stellar work before this crazy pirate movie. Making this movie didn't mean that Johnny sold out: No one could plan for or predict the ridiculous meteoric success of The Pirates of the Caribbean.

Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl was nominated for four other technical Oscars and at a bunch of different award shows that season. It earned quite a few awards. Most exciting to me was that Johnny won the Best Actor award that year from the Screen Actor's Guild, an honor voted  by other actors. Ah, the love gave me a warm fuzzy feeling (even if he couldn't attend to accept it in person).

The Kitties have already heard of Captain Jack Sparrow.
I've actually submitted a couple Illustration Friday drawings inspired by Captain Jack already. Illustration Friday's word of the week, "skyline," stumped me for a few days in 2006. But, eventually, my brain made its way to the last line of Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl, in which Johnny mentions the horizon. (It counts, right? They're synonyms, aren't they? Well, even if I tried, I couldn't think of anything else once the seed was planted.) Everyone was stumped on how to end this movie, but Johnny had a eureka moment and ran to the writers like a little kid, yelling, "I've got it! I've got it!"

Skyline (July 7, 2006)
"Now, bring me that horizon..." -- Captain Jack Sparrow
(Illustration Friday: July 7, 2006)

By 2007, the word "captain" instantly and only made me think of the captain on his ship, The Black Pearl. (It still does.)

Captain (August 17, 2007)
"It's Captain! Captain Jack Sparrow."
(Illustration Friday: August 17, 2007)

But drawing a specific tribute to Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl for Johnny Kitties was daunting! At first, I thought I'd have to draw several illustrations to cover the entire cast of beloved characters. Then, I figured I'd have a few more chances to capture them later. So, I went with my original idea, which flashed in my head when I first thought up the Johnny Kitties project. It's true that Johnny's character shines best when all those "normal" people are reacting around him, but ultimately the greatest thing this movie does is introduce audiences to Johnny's Captain Jack Sparrow.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #26--Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl (2003) [July 9, 2012]

Not only should his entrance go down in film history as one of the best ever, but--once introduced--there's no turning back. As soon as he sets foot in Port Royal, you know you're in for something special. And, he's here to stay. Savvy?

What's Next?
And now for something completely different: Johnny represents the CIA in Once Upon a Time in Mexico, and I'm guessing they wish he didn't.

All film images © Walt Disney Pictures; illustrations © Melissa Connolly; candid photo  © unknown

Monday, November 05, 2012

A Reason to Believe...

Hi everyone,

I'm back from my trip, just in time for Election Day. Get out and vote! (I'm talking to you, Swing States!) I trust you'll make the correct decision.

While waiting for this day, I found the perfect antidote to the media overload of speculation and negativity, poll results, and endless commercials surrounding the campaigns. If you're not already watching The Daily Show and The Colbert Report for laughs about it all, you should read  Governor Deval Patrick's fantastic book, A Reason to Believe: Lessons from an Improbable Life.

I stumbled upon the Governor last spring at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, where he was about to start a book signing event. I just finished touring an exhibit and recognized his name on the event sign on the way out. I had no idea who he was when I saw him promoting his book on The Daily Show a few days before, but I was impressed by how positive and normal he seemed during his 5-minute interview with Jon Stewart.

Well, in person, Governor Patrick is just as inspiring. Mid-speech, I walked over to the small display of books and bought one. At the end, as he signed my book, I told him he made me homesick for Massachusetts. (He responded that I was always welcome to come back.) I noticed many people in line said similar things to him: I'm from Revere! I'm from Danvers! We all want to be proudly related to this guy.

While you learn about Deval Patrick's upbringing, his family, and how he became the first black governor of Massachusetts in this book, it isn't so much a memoir as it is an education on how to be a good person. He talks most about his ideals and how he's kept to them, how and what he's learned from others on his path through life, how he accepts and learns from his failures, and how he's stuck to the high road in politics.

What surprised me most about this book is how much common sense is found within these pages: Why doesn't everyone accept everyone else equally and listen to them and try to do the right thing whenever possible? Why doesn't everyone think before they speak and act?

What I found most inspiring about this book is that Governor Patrick doesn't talk about his famous friends in high places. Sure, he got appointed by President Bill Clinton as the assistant attorney general to civil rights. Yes, he gave then Senator Barack Obama some tips for his 2008 acceptance speech for the Democratic presidential nomination. But it's the anonymous citizens of the world who get highlighted in this book, those who hardly ever get any credit. Aside from his own parents and family members, he recalls the bus driver who gave him a free ride when he realized he was out of change, the admirable old ladies he met at the weekly church sermons he was forced to attend as a kid with his grandmother, the teacher who got him to apply for enrollment in an elite boarding school in Massachusetts to avoid the dangerous trappings of Chicago's South Side, and his fellow travelers in Sudan who helped each other on their treacherous journey through the desert. All these individuals and more made their mark on his journey to becoming a better person.

Reading this book, you'll sleep better knowing there are still good thinkers in the world. I knew there were a few still out there, no matter what they say on TV.


Thursday, October 25, 2012


Don't forget to look up every once in a while. (I'm off to San Francisco for a week. Maybe you'll see me on my way tomorrow morning...)

Sky (October 25, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: October 19, 2012)

Tuesday, October 23, 2012


These actions are based on true events, proving Simon's special relationship with water. What it all means remains a mystery.

Water (October 22, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: October 12, 2012)

Tuesday, October 16, 2012


When I rub Lily's belly while she's lounging on the couch, she typically twists and stretches out her front half in pure yogic fashion. Her back feet, however, always curl in crooked opposite directions, twisting like retracting tree roots.

When I tell her that Simon can lounge completely flat on any surface, with his legs stretched straight in opposite directions--flying Superman style--making him the longest Kitty of all, she says, "So?"

Crooked (September 30, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: September 21, 2012)

Friday, October 12, 2012


The Mother Kitty studies the Funhouse Mirrors at every amusement park she visits. I think she's on the verge of figuring them out.

Mirror (October 11, 2012)
(Illustration Friday: October 5, 2012)

Tuesday, October 09, 2012

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #25--Lost in La Mancha (2002)

[What is Johnny Kitties? See Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp for all the details.]

I don't want anyone to feel sorry for me. Not just me, a lot of people put an incredible amount of their life into this thing, and it all fell apart. For all of us, in that sense, [Lost in La Mancha] is the only postcard we've got of what happened.

--Terry Gilliam

This disaster actually happened.
When Johnny Depp signed on for The Man Who Killed Don Quixote, reteaming with director Terry Gilliam and costarring with his real-life partner Vanessa Paradis, I instantly couldn't wait to see it! Johnny was to play Toby Grosini, a modern-day advertising executive who travels back into the 17th century, where Don Quixote (Jean Rochefort) mistakes him for Sancho Panza. Vanessa Paradis was to play Johnny's love interest, Altisidora. 

It's tragic that this project never got off the ground. (Tragic, I tell you!) But Lost in La Mancha  is a worthy keepsake. This fascinating documentary chronicles Terry Gilliam's efforts to get The Man Who Killed Don Quixote made, starting from preproduction and ending after the sixth day of shooting, by which time they accomplished completing about 7 minutes of film. Everything possible went wrong, and they were all out of the director's control--illness, F16 drills, monumental storms, floods. This was an extreme case of fate.

The curse of Don Quixote lives! 
In 1957, Orson Welles started working on his own version of Don Quixote, the story of a delusional old man wearing a homemade suit of armor who seeks adventure with  his sidekick, Sancho Panza. The film was left unfinished when he died in 1982, and I hope the same doesn't happen to Terry Gilliam! Whenever I watch Lost in La Mancha, I'm reminded that I still want to see The Man Who Killed Don Quixote--Gilliam-style!

Because I love movies, I love this documentary, which offers a behind-the-scenes look at the tedium of  moviemaking (basically lots of meetings and zillions of details). Fascinating, right? Well, what I find exhilarating is watching a team of people bring one person's vision to life--building sets and designing costumes, talking through the script and rehearsing scenes, etc.--especially when that person is as imaginative a director as Terry Gilliam is. 

Terry Gilliam began working on The Man Who Killed Don Quixote in 1991. He had tried to film it in 1999, but funding for it fell through. This second attempt was to be the most expensive film made solely with European funds, and it's only half of the budget that the director needed. Terry Gilliam has a bad reputation when it comes to financing, which is why he went to Europe to make this movie. It stems from his experience making The Adventures of Baron Munchausen in 1988. During that shoot, problem after problem occurred and spending got out of control. The film was finished but didn't recoup its losses at the box office, and it got around town that Terry Gilliam was a wild director who didn't know how to manage. I'll never understand the taste of the general public, but The Adventures of Baron Munchausen is one of my all-time favorite movies, and it's because Terry Gilliam made it just right.

Lost in La Mancha  hints at how The Man Who Killed Don Quixote might become Munchaussen Revisited for the director, but these new problems were unavoidable. While Terry Gilliam is an over-the-top showman who's entertaining to watch doing just about anything, the film combats his reputation by reflecting a serious, methodical director with a clear plan.

He asked filmmakers Luis Pepe and Keith Fulton to create a diary of the making of this film. "It may be the kind of narcissism  that wants to see what the truth is--Because I don't know what reality is, let's assume that for a moment," Terry Gilliam says. "And here's a chance for someone to record what's really going on and then maybe learn something." Having worked with Terry Gilliam before on a documentary about the making of one of his other movies, 12 Monkeys, it's pretty amazing to see how much they capture in this one and how candid everyone is on film as things begin to go downhill. "It's not an exploitative kind of documentary," co-director Keith Fulton says, "It depicts a disaster, but it doesn't take it apart and look to see whose fault it was because, in fact, it wasn't really anyone's fault. It was a lot of ugly fate at work in what took this film down."   

Here's a few of the problems during preproduction and on the set of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote that get Terry Gilliam and company Lost in La Mancha:
  • Star Jean Rochefort becomes ill the day before filming is to begin. Terry Gilliam decides to shoot scenes that don't involve him until he returns. 
  • The first location to be shot is a NATO bombing training area. Officials say they'll only be training for an hour each day, which really meant all day long and ruined any chance of recording suitable audio. Johnny describes being near target practice of the F16s: "I remember being completely shocked by the sound of this plane screaming in--deafening! Between the set, where we were shooting, and the base camp, which is where our trailers were, you heard the plane scream and then a bomb exploding--and fire, a little blast of fire."  
  • During lunch on the second day, the clear sunny sky is invaded by black clouds of death. Unlike everyone else who takes cover as rain and hail drench the desert, Terry Gilliam finds a rock to sit under and waits it out: "It was a great, biblical storm. It was God's vengeance! It was everything you ever hoped for! Everything howled, shattered, and crashed, and the rain was coming down, and this barren land was suddenly full of waterfalls! Then, it turned to hail the size of golf balls! And, I'm under this rock yelling, 'Yes! Yes! Gimmie all you got! You're not going to get me!'" 
  • The rain stops, Terry Gilliam emerges from under his rock, and finds that everything is washed away--Everything. "There's nothing left. The tents are down. The sets are gone. The people are gone. There's nothing but mud as far as you can see," he describes. "I thought, 'I'm free at last. This burden of a film is off me, and I don't have to do it again!'"
  • On Day 4, the land is dry again, but the water from the storm has changed the landscape's hue and shape. It looks completely different and won't match the scenes that have already been shot on Day 1. 
  • Finally, there's some good news: Jean Rochefort returns and shoots a scene! And, then there's bad news: It's clear that he's in serious pain. A few days later, doctors discover that the star has a double-herniated disc. His return is questionable.
After a while, the filmmakers felt awkward hanging around with cameras with everything falling apart around them. They called Terry Gilliam to voice their concerns, and he told them to keep going: "I've been working for 10 years to try and make this film. It's starting to look like I might not get to make the film, which means only one film is going to come out of it, and it's not going to be mine. So, it better be yours." 

Don't worry, nothing happens to Johnny!
Because much of this documentary covers preproduction, Johnny isn't in Lost in La Mancha very much. He shows up, fresh from the set of Chocolat, about a week before shooting. If, like me, you love to see the man at work, there are some snippets of him discussing the script with Terry Gilliam and Jean Rochefort and--of course--some of him acting whatever scenes they could actually get in the can that first day. If, like me, you are also perfectly happy watching Johnny just sit around sipping coffee or whatever, there's some of that too. Among the DVD special features, he'll treat you to some interviews about the experience too. 

Johnny was eager to work with Terry Gilliam again, having really enjoyed the experience of working with him on Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas in the '90s. "He is a lunatic, but I mean that as a great, great compliment because Terry, in a lot of ways, is really free. He's not bound by the realities that 'this is possible, this is not possible.' Terry's a great dreamer. He's able to put his visions into an arena and make them come true."  

Despite everything, Johnny remained optimistic: "Against all odds, it felt like it was going to be a really great film." But Vanessa Paradis never even made it to the set. She arrived to do costume and makeup tests, seen to the right, but she wasn't scheduled to arrive on the set until Day 7--the day after everything shut down.

Vanessa Paradis is hugely popular in her native France as a model, singer, and actress. Johnny met her 1998 while filming The Ninth Gate in Paris, and they have two kids together. They've never worked on film together before, and I've barely heard Vanessa speak any English during their 14-year relationship, so I was keen to see her in this movie, where she would be in an English-speaking role. Alas, it wasn't meant to be. And, since she and Johnny decided to go their separate ways last June, I don't think it's going to happen. Sad, all around. 

What now?
After everything that happened, Terry Gilliam remains defiant: "I'm going to make the film. I may have to recast the thing. There are a lot of things that may be different, but it's too good a script. I just know it's good. Everyone who reads it says this is magic."As the years have gone by, he has fought to regain the rights to his script from investors, and Johnny's schedule has become increasing packed. The last I heard, our hero director had his script back and recast the film with Robert Duvall as Don Quixote and Ewan McGregor as Toby Grosini. (I'll take it!) He hopes they'll start shooting next spring. Keep your fingers crossed. 

For a glimpse of what The Man Who Killed Don Quixote could be, here's the trailer to Lost in La Mancha.

Fish fights? Giants? I don't know what it all means, but--come on--don't you want to see it?!

Do The Kitties need to know what's going on?
Rather than focus on all the disasters and unfortunate events, The Kitties celebrate what little film Terry Gilliam was able to shoot of The Man Who Killed Don Quixote.

Johnny Kitties: Celebrating Johnny Depp Film #25--Lost in La Mancha (2002) [June 23, 2012]

Contemplating the untimely demise of his 10-year project, Terry Gilliam (Norman) watches with (I think) Casting Director Irene Lamb (Ashes) a bit of film he shot of Johnny leading his horse through the desert. I think the horse is carrying Don Quixote (B.J.), but no one can say for sure because none of us has seen this movie!

What's next?
Johnny signs on to play a pirate in a Disney movie based on one of their run-down theme park rides. I keep the faith but am slightly worried that he may have lost some marbles.

All film images and video © IFC Films; illustration © Melissa Connolly