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