24 Frames

Movies: Past, present and future

Category: Robert Rodriguez

Robert Rodriguez defends his plan for movies that smell: 'There have been a lot of advances with the technology'

June 24, 2011 |  4:36 pm

The idea of enhancing the filmgoing experience using scratch-and-sniff cards seems even campier now than a similar idea (Smell-o-Vision) did in 1960. That's when the B movie "Scent of Mystery" tried to get viewers' olfactory receptors in on the action by pumping fragrant gases into theaters full of sniffing moviegoers.

But filmmaker Robert Rodriguez -- who announced Friday morning he was releasing his upcoming 3-D family film "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World" using something called Aromascope -- has worked out the reasons why the world is ready for another odoriferous go-round.

Basically, it works like this. Upon purchasing a ticket, all moviegoers will be handed a card with a numbered set of smells. At certain points in the action, audience members will be directed to scratch the corresponding number so they can smell the appropriate scent. (John Waters used a similar technique with  "Polyester" in 1981.)

Below, an except of our conversation with Rodriguez about why smells are swell.

24 Frames: You're comparing this to using 3-D, which you did with the third "Spy Kids" movie in 2003, when 3-D wasn't that popular yet. Are the two things really that similar?

Robert Rodriguez: I think Aromascope is fun in the way that 3-D is. And we wanted to do something in the same spirit of showmanship, which is why we're calling it 4-D. But this is better. When you put on the glasses in a 3-D movie they just kind of sit there and you forget about them. This is interactive throughout the film.

24: Aren't you worried that the interactivity could distract people from watching the movie?

RR: I actually timed it out really carefully so the part where you're supposed to smell the card you also see the characters smelling something. So you really feel like you're a part of the movie. You're experiencing what the characters are experiencing.

24: But you still have people stopping to look down and scratch.

RR: Actually, it's not that distracting. You just wipe your finger on it -- you don't have to scratch like you used to. There have been a lot of advancements with the technology.

24: There have?

RR: Great minds have been working on this for a long time. Like when you wipe your finger on the next smell it won't smell like the one before.

24: It sounds like you've given this a lot of thought.

RR: I've known I wanted to to this for a long time.

24: So you shot it with this in mind, yes? None of this post-production -- I guess you'd call it -- conversion?

RR: Well, I knew. But a lot of the actors didn't. They were wondering why I kept having them smell things in their scenes. I called some of them last week to tell them for the first time and they were like, "Oh, so that's why you kept having us do that."

24: How will this work once the movie leaves theaters and you're watching it at home?

RR: DVDs will also come with the card.

24: Dare I ask what kind of smells you threw in there?

RR: It's a mix. There's a kid who pulls a lot of pranks, so there are a lot of smells associated with him. Some are food items, so sweet smells. Some are surprising smells.

24: So kind of nauseating?

RR: Surprising.

24: You're thinking about 5-D, whatever that is, aren't you?

RR: Don't laugh.

24: Any other advantage to releasing a film this way?

RR: Well it's free for all moviegoers, and you can decide whether you want to use it. It's not like deciding whether you're going to a 3-D showing or a 2-D showing. Everyone gets the card, but if you don't want to participate you just don't use it.

24: You mentioned that the last "Spy Kids" helped kick-start the 3-D trend. Do you think this will spark a smelly-cinema craze?

RR: I don't think it works with all movies. I don't know if it works with "Avatar." Actually, I think it could work with "Avatar." You could smell all the plant life.

--Steven Zeitchik


Photo: An aromatic scene from "Spy Kids: All the Time in the World," which will be released in August. Credit: The Weinstein Co.


Kobe Bryant: Coming soon to a theater near you

February 18, 2011 | 11:34 am

EXCLUSIVE: The trailers for Robert Rodriguez's "The Black Mamba" Nike short, starring Kobe Bryant, has been generating buzz online for a few weeks now (check out one of them above). It's not every day you get to see Kobe, Kanye and Danny Trejo on the screen together -- and in an exploitation-style movie, no less. It's basically "Machete" with basketball.

Now the full short will be screened in an unlikely place: a movie theater.

Starting tomorrow and continuing for a week, filmgoers who go to a PG-13- or R-rated movie at any of the seven Mann Theatres in Los Angeles or about a dozen theaters elsewhere in the Southland (the Foothill Cinema in Azusa, the Plant 16 in Van Nuys or the Regency Rancho Niguel in Laguna, to name three) will also see the six-minute film, which of course also doubles as a Nike spot, before the feature.

The move, courtesy of the in-theater-advertising company Screenvision, is part of an effort to tap into general Lakers fandom (it's playing only in Southern California) as well as into All-Star weekend festivities, which take place over the next several days at Staples Center. The short also will be online starting Saturday. But that's probably not the same as seeing Kobe 30 feet tall.

It's not the first time Nike has worked with a top-level auteur to peddle shoes: During the World Cup last year, Alejandro Gonzales Inarritu's "Write the Future," his quick-cut soccer-themed spot (which also featured a few shots of Kobe, incidentally), became a viral sensation.

In this one, Kobe plays a nighttime hoops game on a rooftop above the city, as a "Grindhouse"-style voice narrates his story and the court combusts several times.

Check it out if you're going to the movies this weekend. Depending on what February fare you're seeing, it could be better than the feature.

--Steven Zeitchik



Critical Mass: 'Machete'

September 3, 2010 | 12:47 pm

Undeterred by the poor box-office performance of "Grindhouse," his 2007 collaboration with Quentin Tarantino, writer-director Robert Rodriguez has returned to the world of low-budget exploitation flicks for his latest offering, "Machete."

This blood-soaked shoot-'em-up starring genre mainstay Danny Trejo as one angry Mexican federale was inspired by one of "Grindhouse's" fake trailers and according to Tribune film critic Michael Phillips, it probably should have stayed there as part of the truncated double feature. "At 105 minutes, 'Machete' is at least half an hour too long for its own good. It would've worked better at that length as one-half of 'Grindhouse,' certainly better than Rodriguez's own 'Planet Terror' did."

But surprisingly, Phillips' pan is in the minority, as most critics are finding something to love in "Machete's" embrace of drive-in cinema's more lurid elements.

Continue reading »

Michelle Rodriguez: Machete reminds me of...Barack Obama

September 2, 2010 | 10:15 am

Before she signed on to make "Machete," the campy celebration of the eponymous Latino legend,  Michelle Rodriguez had pretty much decided she didn't want to make a movie about her own culture.

"I was nervous about doing a movie about Latinos. I've usually stayed away from it," she told 24 Frames, saying she found most depictions of Latino culture on the big screen to be one-note and marginal. "But after I read the script, I realized this is about a symbol of hope. It was kind of the way we felt about Obama when he was first elected."

Rodrigu The Robert Rodriguez movie wouldn't, on its face, be considered a grand political statement. Although it could be categorized as an immigration-law satire and an exploration of Latin identity, it's also an exploitation film whose linchpin scene features low riders shooting missiles. Among other selling points, it offers the rare triple whammy of Lindsay Lohan engaging in a ménage à trois, shooting Robert De Niro and dressing up as a nun, while the film generally takes advantage of most opportunities for comedically over-the-top violence. (It also throws in character parts for Don Johnson, Steven Seagal and Cheech Marin and a leading role for longtime baddie Danny Trejo. Read more about him here: "Danny Trejo, a lethal talent.")

But despite its goofier side, the depiction of Machete as a symbol of hope for a Latino community, at a time when, as the movie noted satirically, immigration fears were  running riot, heartened Rodriguez. And to the extent it shows Latinos and whites working together, she says, it felt even more ideological.

"It was like seeing Run DMC and Aerosmith doing that video together," she said, referring to "Walk This Way." "It was like, 'Yeah, man, we can all do this together and laugh about it.' "

Indeed, "Machete" is a hybrid rarity for a time when most political movies are starchy affairs, and most studio escapism stays far away from hot-button issues,

The film has had one of the more unusual runs to the screen, one in which fiction and truth blended together nearly indistinguishably.

Conceived and written by Robert Rodriguez in the mid-1990s, the script sat on the shelf for more than a decade, until 2007, when Rodriguez included a fake trailer for it in "Grindhouse," his homage to exploitation films with Quentin Tarantino. The trailer got more attention than the whole movie, and fans started wondering when it was coming out. So Rodriguez went ahead and made it.

The film then further caught on fire when the filmmaker (who directed the movie with Ethan Maniquis) re-cut a trailer at the height of the Arizona immigration controversy to make a statement condemning the state's law. "I guess it's been a little confusing about what this is about," he quipped to us when we interviewed him recently. "All I need to do is cut more trailer and it would really confuse people."

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo:Michelle Rodriguez in 'Machete.' Credit: 20th Centiry Fox


Danny Trejo's lethal talent

Machete's Danny Trejo will kill again

The unlikely politics of Machete

'Machete's' Danny Trejo will kill again

August 29, 2010 | 12:34 pm

Fans of Danny Trejo get their full dose of the Latino baddie in this weekend's "Machete." We'll have more later in the week from the character actor, who has had smaller parts in dozens of movies but is finally getting his close-up, playing a part he and Robert Rodriguez describe as the "first Latino superhero."

In the meantime,one interesting tidbit to emerge from our conversation with Trejo: The actor will reunite with "Machete" costar Michelle Rodriguez in a new indie called "Skinny Dip."

The movie is a revenge picture involving a young woman who kills a policeman, and Trejo is keeping it in the family: His son Gilbert will produce and likely co-direct. In case there wasn't enough of the ethnic pride/campiness that Trejo is known for in his work, the other director is a young filmmaker with the perfect name of Frankie Latina.

(No word yet, incidentally, on sequel plans for "Machete," though it's likely Rodriguez, who actually wrote the film back in the early '90s, has some ideas. Certainly, the movie, which got a jolt in development when a fake trailer for it ran in the 2007 movie "Grindhouse," plays on our sequel expectations, with a credit sequence that touts fictitious followups "Machete Kills" and "Machete Kills Again.")

The 22-year-old Gilbert Trejo grew up on movie sets and around movie stars -- Trejo the Elder likes to recall the time his son met Robert De Niro and did a "You talkin' to me" impression (Gilbert was 9). The younger Trejo also occupies one of the low-riders in the climactic scene of "Machete" (firing missiles from a rooftop turret, of course).

Danny Trejo quips that he hopes his son makes it as a filmmaker "so he can give me a job." With the mustachioed one currently booking 10 to 13 gigs per year, we suspect getting a job is no real problem.

-- Steven Zeitchik


Photo: Danny Trejo in "Machete." Credit: 20th Century Fox

'Deadpool' shows signs of life

July 30, 2010 |  4:18 pm

It's been dizzying to follow the will-he-or-won't-he reports about Robert Rodriguez directing "Deadpool," the Ryan Reynolds X-Men spinoff.

Reports last month that Rodriguez had been offered the director's chair on "Deadpool" met with a swirl of speculation and/or denials from the filmmaker's camp as well as studio Fox. (The most anyone would agree to is that Rodriguez had been sent Rhett Reese and Paul Wernick's script.)

But we're hearing that after a few weeks of dancing, Rodriguez and studio Fox are negotiating. There's no deal yet, and the sides need to agree on a number of key points, but it's moved beyond the casual discussion stage and into the more substantive realm of deal points.

Rodriguez is making "Spy Kids 4," which itself comes after he finished the exploitation action picture "Machete," but would be looking for a big movie and one that can be marketed into a hit. As for the picture itself, the mouthy Marvel mercenary would entail violence and comedy in equal measure, and Rodriguez has been adept at combining the two. We'd pull for a Danny Trejo cameo, though.

— Steven Zeitchik



Swimming in a murky Deadpool

The unlikely politics of Robert Rodriguez's Machete

Swimming in a murky (Dead)pool

June 14, 2010 |  7:02 pm


Although his "Machete" has been generating some hot buzz, Robert Rodriguez has been riding a little bit of a cold streak lately. The "Sin City" auteur didn't set the world afire with his suburban fantasy "Shorts." And "Grindhouse," the exploitation experiment on which he collaborated with Quentin Tarantino (Rodriguez directed the "Planet Terror" half of the bill), fared worse.

But Rodriguez's stock remains high at Fox, which is distributing "Machete," as well as the Rodriguez-produced "Predators." High enough, in fact, that the studio is interested in hearing what Rodriguez would do with a big new property, its comic book movie "Deadpool," in which Ryan Reynolds plays the mouthy Marvel mercenary.

Some development-board rumors over the weekend that had Rodriguez "offered" the job led to numerous Web outlets running with the story Monday -- using euphemisms such as "approached" and the more concrete "offered" -- to describe Rodriguez's involvement with the Rob Liefeld adaptation. Sources say the director has indeed been sent the script (penned by the writers of "Zombieland") but has not been extended an offer.

Indeed, it's hard to imagine why Fox would put pen to paper on a deal this far ahead of the release of "Machete": Rodriguez has some options but he's not that hugely in demand.

Would the filmmaker make a good "Deadpoool" movie? Certainly the fan sites that have breathlessly been reporting the Rodriguez news are intrigued. And any time a quirky auteur with an accomplished movie under his belt is given both a dark character and mula to play with, it's worth paying attention.

But there are also reasons to pause at all this. As a character, the dark superhero is becoming a little less interesting by the movie; a dark superhero movie increasingly turns on what you do with that character as opposed to the novelty of the premise itself. And Rodriguez's best film had the benefit of drawing off far richer source material in "Sin City."

Don't get us wrong. Rodriguez would be an interesting choice. But there are other directors who show as much vision and versatility. Producers know this, and the Rodriguez-inclined Fox probably knows this. And Rodriguez himself may, judging by some of what he's taken on lately, move away from the comic book adaptations. We'll believe a Rodriguez "Deadpool" -- and a strong Rodriguez "Deadpool" -- when it's in front of us on the screen.

-- Steven Zeitchik

Image: Deadpool. Credit: Marvel Comics

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SXSW 2010: Robert Rodriguez gets predatory

March 14, 2010 |  8:00 am

On Friday night, the Ritz theater in Austin, Texas, hosted a demonstration event promoting "Predators," produced by Robert Rodriguez and directed by Nimród Antal. As Rodriguez explained from the stage, many years ago, he took a for-hire writing assignment to craft a new installment for the "Predator" franchise. Like James Cameron with "Aliens," which followed Ridley Scott's "Alien," Rodriguez made the title plural and went from there. (In an aside, Rodriguez told the crowd that he recently asked Cameron whether the director had designed the distinctive mouth for the original Predator creature. Cameron's answer was yes.)

Pre The final product of those early efforts is headed to theaters this summer. Michael Finch and Alex Litvak take writing credit on the film, in which a group of hardened killers -- played by the likes of Adrien Brody, Topher Grace, Alice Braga and Danny Trejo -- are dropped onto a safari planet used by the Predator creatures for hunting and sport. They are found by a man (Laurence Fishburne) who has, against the odds, survived on the planet. The film was shot partly in Hawaii but mostly in Austin at Rodriguez's Troublemaker Studios. Rodriguez and Antal stressed that there was little computer-effects work done for the film.  This is "no CG Predators," Antal said -- practical special effects were mostly used, and there were essentially no green-screen shots.

Rodriguez and Antal, joined by effects wizard Greg Nicotero, didn't reveal that many plot points at the event, offering mainly a slide show with concept art from the production. They also unveiled the Predator head from the film, which was a big hit with the crowd. People lined up to take a closer look as Nicotero worked a remote-control device to operate the creature's mouth and face.

Anyone hoping for actual footage from the film, however, walked away a bit frustrated. They showed two variations of essentially the same trailer, with just a few different shots between them, and one short scene in which Fishburne meets the rest of the crew.

Keeping details from the film under wraps was obviously a top priority at the event, where attendees were reminded repeatedly not to film anything, and even taking pictures seemed to be frowned upon. One might have thought they were revealing far more than they actually did at this fanboy promotion.

-- Mark Olsen

Photo: "Predator" movie poster. Credit: 20th Century Fox


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