July 29, 2011

Interview with Cowboys & Aliens’
Brendan Wayne

EARLIER THIS WEEK, I got to speak with one of the stars of Cowboys & Aliens, Brendan Wayne, who plays Deputy Charlie Lyle. He was friendly, enthusiastic, and open for any topic of discussion – whether it was his new film (opening today), his grandfather John Wayne (yes, that John Wayne), watching movies with his kids, or his professional crush on Sigourney Weaver.

FilmFather: Brendan, thanks for taking time to speak with me today.

Brendan Wayne: Hey man, anytime, I appreciate it...I appreciate you taking time to talk to me!

FF: First off, congratulations on the premiere of Cowboys & Aliens at Comic-Con last week.

BW: It was amazing. It was the most overwhelming thing I’ve ever been a part of, to sit there and see those people. I mean, I was excited, and to have that energy flying onto you, was pretty amazing.

FF: That’s a first for a major motion picture and for Comic-Con, isn’t it?

BW: Yeah, and [director] Jon Favreau understands the importance of a movie like this, that it’s taking a chance. It’s incredibly important to get it out there to try to remove some of the silly ideas or the misunderstandings [about the film].

FF: What was the coolest, craziest, or most ridiculous thing you saw among the attendees there?

BW: Well, [co-star] Adam Beach had two tickets, and he was only one person, so he pulled someone from the crowd to go in with him. I thought that was pretty amazing.

But at the Comic-Con, I can’t even think of just one thing…I went inside with my 12-year-old…I don’t know how to describe it. It’s like another world. Imagine a car show, and people went dressed up as their favorite car. I mean, you’re bumping into people and you’re like, “Oh, pardon me, fat Captain America” or “Sorry, naked Mystique.” You’d think as an actor, I’m pretty crazy, but these guys are putting it all on the line.

FF: How did you get involved with the role of Deputy Lyle?

BW: The old-fashioned way: I auditioned. Then about two months later I had a horseback riding callback, which was bizarre – not because they knew that I ride, but because it usually doesn’t take that long. Usually you find out within a couple weeks, yes or no. It was pretty crazy that it took as long as it did. Then not only did I get the part, the role grew while I was on set, which was really gratifying.

FF: The pedigree behind Cowboys & Aliens is pretty amazing. Not just the cast, but the writers, producers, and director all have proven track records of both quality filmmaking and box office clout. Was it at all intimidating to join the film?

BW: It’s intimidating, but it’s also really important to remember that not only do you have pressure to perform in the film, but these guys – they have pressures, too. And to have a pedigree [like this] means that people expect a certain standard from you. So you know that they’re coming in and they’re gonna works their butts off because it matters to them, and so much is riding on it. It bred a really wonderful community on the set – that we were all in it together.

FF: You performed your own stunts in Cowboys & Aliens.

BW: Yes I did. It’s one of the proudest things I’ve ever done. I’ve done stunts in other films, but not to the extent of what was asked of me here. I got to work with guys like Terry Leonard, who is the greatest living stuntman today and who started out with my grandfather. He really took me under his wing and made sure I looked good.

I love to get physical with whatever I’m doing. For me, it’s one of the great ways to get into character. I spend most of my time with the stunt guys because they are very real. They’re having fun, they’re all adrenaline junkies. They’re like, “I’m about to go flying through this roof at a hundred miles an hour. Whoooo!” I admire the heck out of that.

FF: So Cowboys & Aliens gets the honor for most and hardest stunts you’ve ever performed?

BW: Yeah, by far. I was on my horse every time you see me. When I jump off the horse, that’s me. And that was a point of pride.

FF: You’ve taken the Wayne name [he used his birth name, Danny LaCava, earlier in his career], and you’ve been in several westerns before Cowboys & Aliens, including a remake of your grandfather’s film, Angel and the Badman.

BW: [laughs] That was a valiant effort.

FF: Are you ever concerned about being compared to a Hollywood legend like John Wayne? Does it factor into the roles you choose?

BW: As long as the story’s good, and they’re willing to pay me, I couldn’t care less about that. Because at the end of the day, there’s no comparison. At the end of my career, if somebody wants to compare [our careers], let ‘em. It’s not something I can control. I don’t mind it. Being mentioned in the same breath as John Wayne…it’s a pretty nice place to be.

FF: Do you remember what it was like to visit him on his sets?

BW: I have a recollection from The Shootist; that’s the only one I can really recall. It’s relative to me in the sense that I thought that everybody did that. As I got older, I started to marvel at the fact that not everybody’s grandpa does that.

He was always prepared and ready to go, regardless of what happened the day before or the night before. He was a professional. And he cared about his craft as much as any actor before or since.

FF: One aspect of the reviews on FilmFather is describing whether a film is suitable for kids. According to your bio, you have three kids of your own. What’s your policy or philosophy when it comes to deciding what movies they’re allowed to watch?

BW: Subject matter is first and foremost, and how that subject matter is treated. Things that are gratuitous or don’t compel a story…they’re not things I’m bringing my kids to. I brought my 12-year-old to Cowboys & Aliens, and I think that’s as low as I’d go age-wise for a kid to be prepared for this movie. I think there are elements to it that are scary, that younger kids may not enjoy.

The most important thing for me is the overall theme of a movie. Is it hopeful? Is it something you can draw from and start a conversation with your kids? I would show my 12-year-old the Andy Garcia/Meg Ryan movie When A Man Loves a Woman. They deal with these struggles that are very hard, but very real…

FF: It’s been almost 20 years since I’ve seen that movie, yet I still remember the scene with Meg Ryan and her daughter when Ryan’s staggering drunk, and the abuse she hands down, then putting the girl in the most horrible situation when Ryan passes out and crashes through that glass shower door…

BW: Oh my God, I was in tears when that happened. That whole movie was so moving to me, and the subject matter was so important. [Alcoholism] is something that affects all our lives. It’s like cancer in a lot of ways; everybody knows somebody.

How you relate a movie’s theme to your kids in a way that’s not preachy, in a way that affects their decisions through examples that are valuable…those are the kind of things I love.

I was able to watch Zombieland with my oldest daughter, and the things I thought were inappropriate, I was able to explain them [to her]. Again, it starts a conversation, and that’s what stories – movies – are able to do.

A good movie allows you to walk away afterwards and have a conversation. That’s kind of what Cowboys & Aliens can do, in the sense that it can bridge generations. People who are older, who have westerns in their blood, can say to younger filmgoers, “You should also watch Red River. That’s a great western.” Or Shane. Or The Magnificent Seven. Then you have the younger crowd telling the older folks, “You should see Alien,” which was one of my favorite sci-fi movies growing up. I love Sigourney Weaver. I dream to work with her. She is amazing.

FF: I’ve already heard rumors of a possible sequel for Cowboys & Aliens. Perhaps they can get her for the next film…

BW: I’ll be the first one to vote for it. I’ll be like, “Hey, can I carry your bags?” [laughs] She’s sexy, and powerful, and strong. I have three daughters, and I want them to know that women can be bad-ass, too.

FF: James Cameron made the most of her in Aliens. He always makes a point to have a strong female lead.

BW: Cameron does do that, I’m glad you mentioned it. In a lot of ways, Quentin Tarantino does the same thing.

FF: Are there certain films you enjoy watching with your kids?

BW: We’re hooked on Despicable Me right now. I also like to take them back to classics. Anything with Cary Grant; I’m a big fan of his. It’s fun to see my kids stick with those films and enjoy them. It’s great to know they’re capable of watching a classic movie with a long story.

My daughter’s very creative, and she’s really interested in becoming a director. So we watched Cowboys & Aliens and we broke down those things that we loved, and things we’d like to see done differently. Movies are a great way for her and I to connect right now.

Her school allows for a lot of what I would call “hippie talk.” I had a Catholic school upbringing, and now I’m being challenged by her curriculum. It’s the most learning I’ve ever seen children do; their approach to learning is the best I’ve ever seen. It’s not necessarily structured in the way that I remember [as a student]. They have a more free-flowing, experience-driven education where my daughter’s gaining much more knowledge than I ever did at that age. Her ability to perceive the world is much deeper that mine [at that age]. She read Kafka’s manifesto last year. I don’t even read Kafka! But I love what I’m seeing.

FF: Are your kids familiar with your grandfather’s work?

BW: Oh yeah. When his 100th birthday came around, a lot of theaters were showing his films, and we were able to go see The Quiet Man, Red River, and Rio Lobo on the big screen.

FF: What are some films you can’t wait to show them when they’re older?

BW: Funny story, going back to Tarantino: I remember watching Pulp Fiction with my mom [when it came out]. She was a classic, traditional woman, and you wouldn’t think she’d enjoy it. But when [John Travolta] shoots the guy in the head, I remember my mom laughing and turning to me saying, “This is so amoral, but it’s got me laughing!”

FF: I love the way Travolta underplays that line: “Oh man, I shot Marvin in the face…”

BW: [laughs] It’s like, “Oh, I just shot off my toes. Darn it.”

FF: I’d ask you about your next project, but I think I got a glimpse from a recent tweet of yours: “I love night shoots and horror movies. I am about to rip someone’s throat out.” Care to elaborate?

BW: I play a guy named Cole Callahan in The Red House, and it is a really fun role. I’m the sheriff, so I’ve got to do some business in this town to save some people.

And this fall, it looks like I’m going to Spain to shoot a western called Dollars from Hell, where I’ll play a Clint Eastwood-type of bounty hunter. I’m really excited about it, because we’ll be shooting on the same sets used by Sergio Leone. I’m hoping it's further in the fall, so I can continue to coach my 12-year-old daughter’s soccer team.

FF: It’s good to have that balance between work and family.

BW: It’s funny: I finished Cowboys & Aliens, got home, was able to be there for the start of soccer season, and I ended up having our director of photography’s daughter on my team. So I figured there was a good chance I was going to stay in the movie. [laughs]

FF: Thank you so much for your time, Brendan. It was a pleasure speaking with you.

BW: Well, I appreciate you giving me the time, and I appreciate you asking me about parenting, because that’s the most important thing to me.

July 20, 2011

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July 13, 2011

Kung Fu Panda 2 (2011)

WITH PIXAR AND DREAMWORKS BOTH RELEASING animated films this summer, it’s impossible not to compare them.

I’ve already expressed my disgust and disappointment with Pixar’s Cars 2. But will DreamWorks’ 2011 summer sequel, Kung Fu Panda 2, fare any better?

As the legendary Dragon Warrior, kung fu master Po (Jack Black) guards the Valley of Peace alongside his allies, the Furious Five. When a frightful new enemy emerges, Po and company embark on a perilous journey to save China and the art of kung fu.


Like most “part two” sequels, everything in Kung Fu Panda 2 is on a bigger scale than the original, and director Jennifer Yuh Nelson keeps everything epic without being excessive. The gorgeously drawn landscapes offer the ideal backdrop for the many action sequences involving Po and the Furious Five versus the vengeful peacock Shen (Gary Oldman) and his army of wolves. (Po’s master Shifu (Dustin Hoffman) is relegated to a bit part, showing up mostly at the beginning and end.)

The fight sequences, while sometimes too fast for their own good, are still amazing to watch. Other action scenes are just as entertaining, including a hysterical rickshaw chase between Po and one of Shen’s henchmen.

A reigned-in yet still-funny Jack Black returns as Po, who, in addition to being tasked with defeating Shen, yearns to find inner peace – which is played out in a touching storyline as Po learns of his adoption and the truth behind his real parents. As Po’s nemesis, Gary Oldman is perfectly cast as the voice of Shen, a completely different (yet just as formidable) adversary compared to the original film’s baddie, Tai Lung.

Kung Fu Panda 2 has great storytelling, exciting action, endearing characters, and even a surprise ending. It’s infinitely more clever, engaging, and emotionally involving than Pixar’s Cars 2. And it marks the first time I’m saying this about the latest DreamWorks film I saw, rather than the latest Pixar film: I immediately wanted to see it again.


What did Dash and Jack-Jack think?
They were highly entertained by Kung Fu Panda 2. Dash and I laughed at a lot of the same jokes and gags, and we all got caught up in the action as it intensified in the third act (FilmMother included).

Is it suitable for your kids?
Kung Fu Panda 2 is rated PG for “scenes of martial arts action and mild violence.” There are several mentions of killing and a few implied deaths; a character is killed off-screen by Shen’s cannon; Shen’s army of wolves can be menacing at times; and a major character is killed by a falling boat mast.

Will your FilmMother want to watch it?
With its great combination of humor, emotion, and action, I think she’ll really enjoy Kung Fu Panda 2. (Oh, and the bunnies. Can’t forget the bunnies.)

Yes, this is Po as a baby. You may commence "awww"-ing.

Kung Fu Panda 2
* Director: Jennifer Yuh Nelson
* Screenwriters: Jonathan Aibel, Glenn Berger
* Stars: Jack Black, Angelina Jolie, Gary Oldman, Seth Rogen, Jackie Chan, David Cross, Lucy Liu, Dustin Hoffman, James Hong
* MPAA Rating: PG

Rent Kung Fu Panda 2 from Netflix >>


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