Don’t Scratch & Sniff

Spy Kids: All the Time in the World came out too late for anyone to care. By this point I was getting too old for kids movies like this. So this became the only family friendly Robert Rodriguez movie I didn’t see in theaters. Just like Spy Kids 3-D, Spy Kids 4-D tries to force another gimmick. This time by incorporating scratch & sniff cards. A process previously used in 2003 where you scratch a number and smell what’s in the movie. Although you might not want to pick them up with smells like dog farts on them. Spy Kids: All the Time in the World follows a new less interesting spy kid duo. The girl likes to pull pranks and the boy has hearing loss. They’re no comparison to Carmen and Juni. Who are of course in the movie along with Machete. Alexa Vega looks more mature and Daryl Sabara is a lot bigger. Aside from their appearance, Jessica Alba is the only other draw. She plays a spy mom that’s married to the father of the kids. Ricky Gervais also plays a sarcastic robot dog, but it’s nothing but potty humor. The kids try to take down a villain called “The Time Keeper.” Who plans to stop time or something. With a forgettable plot that can’t compare to the original trilogy, Spy Kids: All the Time in the World does nothing but waste your time.

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The new spy kids

Preceded by: Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

The Adventures of the Wishing Rock

Shorts is the first movie I went to the theater to see by myself. My brother did the same thing the previous month, so I scrambled to do the very same. Since Shorts was the next kid friendly Robert Rodriguez project I figured why not. Shorts is, as the title suggests, about a series of shorts. All of which are told completely out of order. With a magical wishing rock being the one thing that connects everything.

Episode Zero: The Blinkers – A quick short about a brother and sister that decide to have a blinking contest that ends up lasting all day. It’s random, but funny.

Episode Two: Alien8ed – The first short introduces everything. The town of Black Falls is run by a company that built a gadget called the Black Box. It can literally transform into any device you want. This short focuses on the unpopular braces wearing kid Toe. With the wishing rock, Toe wishes to have friends. They end up being tiny aliens. Putting him in direct conflict with his bullies Cole and Helvetica. This short proves there’s more randomness to come.

Episode One: The Wishing Rock – The second short tells the origin of the wishing rock. Lug, Laser, and Loogie are three brothers loosely based on Rodriguez own kids. They discover the rock on a boring day. They quickly realize that they can wish for whatever they want. Junkfood, superpowers, whatever. Until its power gets out of hand. This short is creative in a very juvenile way.

Episode Four: Big, Bad, Booger – The third short jumps to a kid named Nose. His father is trying to rid the world of germs, but Nose inadvertently creates a giant booger monster. This short is obviously the grossest and probably my least favorite.

Episode Three: The Miscommunicators – The fourth short follows the parents of Black Falls. Specifically Toe’s parents who work on opposing sides of their company. Toe and Helvetica go to their costume party in hopes of trying to find the rock. This short is the most over-the-top and its once again clear that the adults aren’t trying nearly as hard as the kids.

Episode Five: The End – The final short involves everyone trying to get their hands on the wishing rock. They wish for a bunch of crazy things until they randomly decide to get rid of the rock. This short is full of action, but its hard to say what the point was.

In conclusion, Shorts is a colorful distraction for kids. It’s certainly better than Sharkboy and Lavagirl, but nobody remembers it. Shorts is just a breezy hour and a half for anyone with a short attention span and fondness for kiddie thrills.

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Loogie (center), Laser (right), and Lug (left) make a wish

Everything that is or was, Began with a Dream

The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl in 3-D is just childish. Instead of simply making movies for his kids, Robert Rodriguez went directly to the source. Most of the movie was actually thought up by his 7 year old son Racer. He drew up storyboards and everything. I came up with my own superheroes at a young age too, but my ideas weren’t nearly this silly. Sharkboy is a half shark half boy hybrid. While Lavagirl is a girl with volcano powers. A very young pre-Twilight (pre-muscles) Taylor Lautner plays Sharkboy. Another Taylor named Taylor Dooley plays Lavagirl. They’re technically not the main characters though. That “honor” actually goes to Max. A kid who dreamt up the young superheroes along with a dreamworld called Planet Drool and versions of people he knows in the real world. Like villainous versions of his teacher and bully named Mr. Electric and Minus. While there’s no denying the imagination put into the story, Sharkboy and Lavagirl ultimately suffers from an over reliance on lousy special effects and the use of obnoxious 3D. Spy Kids 3-D wasn’t much better, but at least the story was built around it. This movie is just trying to punish the parents who unwilling took their kids to see it (myself included). The humor is often juvenile and the performances are all painfully cringy. Although the kids are trying a lot harder than the adults. The Adventures of Sharkboy and Lavagirl proves 7 year olds might not be the best people to get story ideas from.

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Sharkboy and Lavagirl explore Max’s dream

Put On Your 3D Glasses

Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over was a serious strain on people’s eyes. Its always been Robert Rodriguez goal to bring back old fashion method’s of filmmaking. So he figured he’d make the third Spy Kids movie using obnoxious 3D. Something my dad had to suffer through when he took us to see it. I wasn’t doing much better though. I remember taking off my red and blue 3D glasses at least 3 separate times. Luckily the entire movie isn’t in 3D. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over puts much more focus on Juni. Carmen is still around, but she takes a back seat to most of the action. After leaving the OSS in Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams, Juni now works as a private kid investigator. He’s brought back into the spy life when an evil video game called Game Over takes over. Plunging into the game is when you have to put on your 3D glasses. While inside the game, Juni finds new allies in Rez, Arnold, Francis, and a mysterious girl named Demetra. None of whom have much personality. Ricardo Montalbán is also given legs through digital means. Speaking of digital, the effects make up nearly 80% of the movie. There’s a racing level, a fighting level, and of course a lava level. The man pulling the strings is called “The Toymaker.” Sylvester Stallone puts in a bizarre pre-comeback performance. When the game is won, Carmen and Juni have to fight it in the real world with the help of their friends and family. Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over is a better video game than it is a movie.

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Carmen and Juni inside Game Over

Preceded by: Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams & Followed by: Spy Kids: All the Time in the World

Isle of Dreams

Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams takes the action to strange new places. Robert Rodriguez immediately followed up Spy Kids with its sequel. While the kids were still young. Much like the first movie, I also remember it fondly from my childhood. Along with seeing both in theaters, I remember getting Spy Kids 2 toys for Christmas. As well as having a buildable happy meal toy of the latest gadget. A robotic beetle named Ralph. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams sees Carmen and Juni as fully formed spies. Part of the OSS organization which is shown in much more detail. While attempting to rescue the President’s daughter at an amusement park, two other spy kids interfere. Gary and Gerti Giggles, who are the kids of Mike Judge’s character from the first movie. A misunderstanding costs Juni his spy status, but Carmen brings him back to take on the next big mission. Traveling to a remote island that contains a device which can shut off all electronic devices. Meaning most of the movies action doesn’t involve fancy gadgets. Instead Carmen and Juni use their wits to fight magnet men, skeletons, and giant hybrid animals. The animals were created by a strangely philosophical loonatic scientist named Romero. Meanwhile Mr. and Mrs. Cortez try to find their kids with the help of their grandparents. In the end, trust is the lesson everybody learns. Alexa Vega and Daryl Sabara are given much more of a starring role. Vega is even given a chance to sing at the end. Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams is an adventure most kids could only dream of.

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Carmen and Juni leave the island

Preceded by: Spy Kids & Followed by: Spy Kids 3-D: Game Over

Real Spies… Only Smaller

Spy Kids brings the world of international espionage to the playground. On paper a movie about kid spies may sound ridiculous, but it’s actually the highest rated movie of Robert Rodriguez career. Although Rodriguez normally makes extremely violent films like his best friend Quentin Tarantino, Spy Kids was his first of many family friendly films. Such a tonal shift was attributed to his own kids. Whom he loved so much, he decided to make movies for them. Spy Kids is one of the most fondly remembered movies of my childhood. I even brought it in for my class to watch one time. Spy Kids centers on the Cortez family. Gregorio and Ingrid are secretly spies who now have two kids Carmen and Juni. Carmen is the more adventurous older sister. While Juni is the more timid younger brother. When their parents are captured, it’s up to them to come to the rescue. By using an array of cool gadgets and vehicles. Despite being a kids movie, Rodriguez continued to work with actors he used in his more mature films. Like Antonio Banderas or Danny Trejo. Oddly enough Trejo’s character Machete was always meant to be an R rated character. While on their mission the villain is seemingly revealed to be a wacky kids show host named Floop. With plans of building an army of robot spy children. He also has an army of thumbs. In the end, the Cortez’s learn the importance of working together as a family. It may seem dated to some, but Spy Kids is still a fun combination of fast paced action and inoffensive comedy.

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The Cortez family fights together

Followed by: Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams

Good for Health, Bad for Education

Akira is a landmark piece of Japanese animation. It was responsible for bringing both manga and anime to a far wider audience. But its impact doesn’t stop there. Akira was the most expensive anime film made at the time. Since it was one of the first to give its characters fully expressive facial features. Not to mention the highly detailed world that was crafted. Akira impacted the cyberpunk genre, adult animation, and a whole lot of modern pop culture (both Japanese and American). Although my experience with anime is limited, I knew this was a film I just had to watch. The subtitled version is probably better than the dubbed version though. Akira takes place in the far future of 2019. Neo-Tokyo is a very R rated post-apocalyptic city full of street gangs, corrupt politicians, violent protests, and terroristic threats. One particular gang is lead by Kaneda. A youth that looks after his friends and fights off more violent gangs. His friendship is put to the ultimate test when Tetsuo discovers he has telekinetic superpowers. From there they encounter rebel factions, secret government conspiracies, psychic children, and even the mystery behind the titular Akira. Some of the imagery in Akira is recognizable even if you haven’t seen the film. From Kaneda’s red motorcycle to Tetsuo’s villainous red cape. Along with other disturbing moments, Akira ends with Tetsuo losing control of his powers and turning into a giant grotesque blob. With its fast-paced energy, boundary pushing animation, and complex themes, it’s easy to see why Akira is one of the most influential anime films ever made.

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Kaneda rides

The Woods

Blair Witch is the secret sequel to The Blair Witch Project. So secret in fact that it went by the title The Woods long before its true name was revealed. Obviously they couldn’t get away with calling it factual at this point. After the misguided attempt at making a sequel during the hype of the original, Blair Witch came out 17 years later. Thankfully ignoring whatever Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 was trying to do. This time they actually make it found footage. Which has severely lost its novelty considering every other horror movie uses that technique now. At least the camera work is a lot smoother. Blair Witch is just like The Blair Witch Project. Only louder, with more people, and a few unexpected turns. It also follows a group of young people shooting a documentary. One of the crew members is investigating the disappearance of his sister Heather Donahue. Since he believes she’s still alive after all these years. Along with the usual stick figures, other strange things start to happen. The climax again takes place inside an abandoned house. There’s just a lot more of it that’s seen. Including the Witch herself (seen for a few split seconds). I can’t help but wonder if it was intentionally made to look like an old Blair Witch action figure from 2001. Blair Witch is essentially just a rehash of more memorable events, but at least they tried to make it scary.

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Lisa runs from the Blair Witch

Preceded by: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2

Ain’t that a Witch

Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 has practically nothing to do with The Blair Witch Project. It only exists to profit off the movie’s success. Almost like they were making a completely different movie and slapped Blair Witch 2 onto it. That would make sense considering the “sequel” was rushed out just one year later. The movies title makes no sense either. Since the titular Book of Shadows is literally never brought up once. Instead the focus is on the phenomen sparked by the real life movie The Blair Witch Project. It would be an interesting concept if it wasn’t abandoned within the first few minutes. The focus is actually on a group of obsessed fans trying to film locations that the movie was set in. Two dull grad students, a weird former psych patient, an annoying Wiccan, and a goth girl who has psychic powers for some reason. People end up dying, but it’s never made clear if a witch is responsible. Along with random shots that make no sense and frantic camera work, Blair Witch 2 isn’t a found footage movie. They actually dropped the very thing that made the original such a success. What Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2 amounts to is nothing more than a lazy cash grab that came out way too soon.

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The Blair Witch tour observe a grave

Preceded by: The Blair Witch Project & Followed by: Blair Witch

I’m So Scared

The Blair Witch Project revolutionized the found footage genre. It wasn’t the very first, but it did popularize the technique. With a nearly non-existent budget of $60,000, a couple of hand held cameras, entirely improvised dialogue, and three amateur actors, The Blair Witch Project managed to gross over $248.6 million. What really sold the movie was that they passed it off as real footage. Going so far as to create fake police reports, phoney interviews, and missing persons posters of the three hikers. All of which could be found on the movie’s website during the late 90’s. How nobody came up with this idea before is beyond me. The Blair Witch Project is a documentary by Heather Donahue about the fabled Blair Witch of Burkittsville, Maryland. She enlists the help of Mike and Josh. Together they interview locals and travel deep into the woods. That’s when things take a turn for the worst. What makes the film so unique is that it barely shows the audience anything outside of their own imagination. Mostly just rocks, tied up sticks, and someone facing a corner. Some people aren’t a fan of this type of horror, but I find it very terrifying. The most famous scene involves a terrified Heather leaving an emotional message for her family. How she won Worst Actress I’ll never know. Sure the shaky camera is nauseating, but it helps to sell the illusion of authenticity. The Blair Witch is never shown and that’s just as scary as anything we could have seen on screen. The Blair Witch Project goes to show that you don’t always need much to be successful.

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“I’m scared to close my eyes, I’m scared to open them”

Followed by: Book of Shadows: Blair Witch 2