Saturday, October 10, 2009

A trio of vampire movies

Since the second installment of the "Twilight" series is set to open in theaters soon (I haven't read the books, nor did I see the first film), I looked back and found three reviews of vampire movies to post. The first is a Mel Brooks spoof of the genre, though focused mostly on the classic "Dracula," and it doesn't work too well. The next is an Eddie Murphy romp. And the third -- the one worth a look, if you can find it, is an atmospheric, interesting exercise.

“Dracula” needs more life
By DONALD PORTER
Standard-E
xaminer staff
Mel Brooks’ new comedy “Dracula: Dead and Loving It” is one of those good news/bad news movies. While it may be better than “Robin Hood: Men in Tights” and “Spaceballs,” it doesn’t come close to “Blazing Saddles,” “Young Frankenstein” or “High Anxiety.”
Brooks’ tenure in Hollywood has been meteoric: It burned white hot, then plummeted.

“Dracula: Dead and Loving It” marks a partial return to old form for the once-master spoofer. He lampoons not only the movies that have been adaptations -- loose, and otherwise -- of the classic horror novel “Dracula,” but also the novel itself. In his own offbeat way
, he remains as close or closer to the source material than many previous adaptations, including Francis Ford Coppola’s “Bram Stoker’s Dracula” and Tod Browning’s 1931 version of “Dracula” starring Bela Lugosi.

Leslie Nielsen (“The Naked Gun”) stars as Count Dracula, and Peter MacNichol plays his mad slave, Renfield. Together, they travel from Transylvania to London, where the count sets about gnawing on the necks of a pair of local women. Out to stop him are the uptight Harker (Steven Webe
r) and famed vampire hunter Dr. Van Helsing (Brooks).
The film is about equal parts funny and stupid. The best scene begins with this exchange between Harker and Van Helsing, upon entering the crypt where a vampire sleeps:

“She’s dead,” observes Harker.

“No,” counters Van Helsing.

“She’s alive?”

“She’s nosferatu.”

“She’s Italian?”

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Jeffrey Boam interview, June 1995


This is not a complete transcript of the interview. My vague recollection was that I was facing a pretty tight deadline, and so I skimmed through the recording and only transcribed the notes I thought I might use in the interview story. That said, the nuggets here are pretty interesting, given the way things played out:

* On “Lethal Weapon IV”: Jeffrey got no credit whatsoever. It turned out to be another bad “Lethal Weapon” experience with Warner Bros. and Richard Donner. Before the interview, he sent me a copy of the screenplay. At the time, I suspected he was eager to talk about it because he felt like it might be slipping away and going to another writer, and so he was trying to salvage it. His script, if I’m remembering correctly, involved the Los Angeles Lakers on a jet and a terrorist attack.

* He also mentions “The Phantom,” which he alluded to in our earlier interview. That movie bombed.

* On the fourth “Indiana Jones” movie, he didn’t get a credit, either. But what little he says about it sounds like George Lucas had the story pretty well set even back in the mid-1990s.

Don Porter: THE RIGHT-WING TERRORISM THING SEEMS PRETTY DEAD-ON.

Jeffrey Boam: “It seemed kind of far-fetched when I wrote it. [The Oklahoma City bombing] kind of spooked me a little bit, actually.”

Thursday, September 24, 2009

The Jeffrey Boam interview, 1992


In the late 1980s and early '90s, I guested a couple of times a week on KALL-AM radio in Salt Lake City with DJ Peter Boam, who went by the on-air handle of "Peter B." He's a great guy, and we had a lot of fun talking movies and showbiz. It was during the waning days of so-called "full-service" radio, when listeners got music, news and talk all rolled into one.

Peter's brother was the late Jeffrey Boam, who unfortunately passed away in January 2000. Jeffrey was a tremendously successful screenwriter who penned scripts for movies including "Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade," "Lethal Weapon 2," "Lethal Weapon 3," "Innerspace," "The Dead Zone," "Funny Farm," "The Lost Boys" and "Straight Time." (He also was a writer-producer on one of my favorite, but sadly short-lived, TV series, "The Adventures of Brisco County Jr.")

I first met Jeffrey in 1989 or 1990. While the family was vacationing at Disneyland, I took a few hours in the middle of the day and drove up to the Warner Bros. lot -- where Jeffrey was under contract -- and interviewed him in his offices there.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

"Se7en" (1995)


Cast, crew can take pride in “Se7en”

By DONALD PORTER
Standard-Examiner staff

There is a serial killer on the loose. He’s imaginative, devoted and, as one of the homicide detectives working the case gravely intones, “He’s patient.”

As bizarre and abnormal as these serial murders are, this killer has made them even more of a novelty, basing each on one of the so-called “Seven Deadly Sins”: gluttony, greed, sloth, pride, lust, envy and wrath.

That’s the premise of “Se7en,” a well-made but grisly, disturbing thriller starring Morgan Freeman and Brad Pitt as the cops assigned to crack the case before the killer can dispatch all seven of his intended victims.

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Peter Bogdanovich interview, 1993


“The Thing Called Love” is one of a thousand curious marketing stories in the history of the film business. It was directed by Peter Bogdanovich, who had a string of big hits and critical favorites in the 1970s – “The Last Picture Show,” “What’s Up, Doc?” and “Paper Moon,” and then again in the ’80s hit with “Mask.” (Bogdanovich is also known as a film historian who conducted extensive interviews – and had friendships – with legendary directors like Orson Welles and John Ford. And as the lover of the tragic Dorothy Stratten.) In August 1993, there was a press screening for “The Thing Called Love,” a showbiz-insider movie about wanna-be country music singer-songwriters pursuing their dreams in Nashville. The music genre was exploding in popularity around the country at the time. It starred the long-established River Phoenix, who would sadly be dead of a drug overdose in a couple of months, and up-and-comers Samantha Mathis (“Broken Arrow”), Dermot Mulroney (“My Best Friend’s Wedding”) and Sandra Bullock. All the Salt Lake-area critics assumed the film would be opening wide. I was a bit surprised when I was offered a phone interview with Bogdanovich – granted, he hadn’t had a hit in a while, but still … Anyway, he called and I’ve pasted in the transcript from the interview below. The Standard-Examiner, Salt Lake Tribune and Deseret News published interview stories the day the film opened in local theaters. But it turned out the film was being test-marketed in Utah only – it didn’t open wide until a month or so later, if memory serves. The studio had decided to test-market it in a region friendly to country-western music to see how it would play. I don’t think it made much money here, and it bombed nationally later on, even with the curiosity surrounding the tragedy of River Phoenix’s O.D. (Incidentally, Phoenix overdosed in Los Angeles during a break from filming a movie, “Dark Blood,” in Utah – a movie that was never finished or released.) Here now is the interview with Peter Bogdanovich, who was a lot of fun to speak with.

Don Porter: I SAW THE FILM LAST WEEK AND THIS SEEMS TO BE ONE OF THOSE RIGHT-FILM-AT-THE-RIGHT-TIME SORTS OF MOVIES.

Peter Bogdanovich: “Boy, I hope so, Don.”

SEEMS MAYBE IT'S SORT OF RIDING THE WAVE OF COUNTRY MUSIC POPULARITY. HOW MUCH DID THAT PLAY IN YOUR DECISION TO BECOME INVOLVED WITH THE FILM?

“I like country music; I always have. I mean, always – ever since 1970, when I went to Nashville -- when I was preparing ‘Last Picture Show’ I went to Nashville to meet with some country-western singers to get to know more about country music because I wanted to use it in the movie. And I sort of fell in love with it then, and have used it in five or six pictures since then.

“Clerks” (1994)


I definitely ventured against the critical grain on this one. And Kevin Smith has gone on to a successful, entertainingly iconoclastic career.
$28,000 film just ain’t that funny
By DONALD PORTER
Standard-Examiner staff
The ultimate expression of prevailing slacker chic, “Clerks” arrives in Utah theaters today, trailing awards -- from Sundance and Cannes -- and critical praise in its wake. But just why it’s been so flattered with tony prizes and positive reviews is a puzzlement.

Yes, “Clerks” is witty. And, to be sure, it’s quite an achievement for a micro-budget of less than $28,000. (For comparison, the average Hollywood studio movie costs upwards of $30 million, excluding prints and advertising.)

But if you strip away the irresistible background story of a pair of resourceful first-time filmmakers who scratched together the funds to make their movie by maxing out credit cards and filming in a convenience store where one of them was employed, you’re left with an ultra-low budget oddity that’s more profane, sexist and vulgar than it is intelligent or entertaining.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

"Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure" (1989)


By DONALD PORTER
Standard·Examiner staff

Hey, dudes and babes, listen up. There's this, like, new movie called "Bill and Ted's Excellent Adventure." And, whoa, it's not bad. Actually, it's most excellent as teen films go.

The movie is about these two dudes named Bill and Ted, from San Dimas, Calif. And they're, like, awesomely righteous. They have a cool band called the Wyld Stallyns, and they hope to, like, lure Eddie Van Halen away from his group to play guitar for them, ya know? And they really need him, too, because neither Ted nor Bill know how to play their instruments.

So, anyway, Ted's dad is this bogus authority figure who works as a cop on the San Dimas police force. And since Ted is failing history, his dad has threatened to send him to, like, a military academy.

No way!

Sunday, August 23, 2009

"Heat" (1995)


Given that Michael Mann's latest film, "Public Enemies," is still in (a few) theaters, I thought I'd post my review of "Heat," which was a lot of fun. I especially liked the after-heist shootout through the streets of Los Angeles, which oddly enough would be played out in real life not too long afterward.

“Heat” is on with great acting, writing, intensity

By DONALD PORTER
Standard-Examiner staff

There is an action scene in “Heat” that is as visceral and powerful as any filmed in years: Four bank robbers are attempting to make their getaway, but they’re encircled by cops in downtown Los Angeles. Both sides are heavily armed, and writer-director Michael Mann, instead of showing us the resulting shootout, puts his audience smack-dab in the middle of it.

For all of the violent action flicks being made, few have ever matched this portion of “Heat.” Words like “intense” and “powerful” come up short.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

"The Prophecy" (1995)


You like horror? You’ll love “The Prophecy”

By DONALD PORTER
Standard-Examiner staff

Once in a while, a little horror movie comes along that reminds you of the genre’s possibilities to entertain. It happened a few years ago with “Tremors,” and a few years before that with “They Live.”

Now comes “The Prophecy,” a nifty, scary little shocker that despite being drenched in religious themes remains pleasantly free of dogma. It offers tons of fun for those drawn toward horror that makes you both think and laugh out loud.

The ever-laconic, creepy Christopher Walken stars here as the archangel Gabriel, who’s descended to Earth on a mission that sounds very bad for all of humanity. Apparently, there was a second war waged in heaven -- after the first one, which resulted in Lucifer being banished with his bunch to hell -- that continues unresolved to this day. Now, angels on both sides are warring on the streets of America, vying for a particularly nasty soul which, if it falls into the hands of Gabriel, could turn the tide his way.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Joe Mantegna, March 1989


In March 1989, word came that an independent film would be filming at various Ogden locations over a few weeks. I’m not sure how it works now, but two decades ago, a guy like me – film critic for a small daily newspaper – would have to work the phones in an attempt to convince a publicist somewhere that they should let me on the set to interview one or more people associated with the production.
I was especially keen to get an interview for this film, “Wait Until Spring, Bandini” – based on the John Fante novel – since its male lead was Joe Mantegna, one of my favorite actors. I got the interview – actually, a two-parter – and the first time I sat down with him was near midnight in his trailer next to a little-used train trestle in West Ogden. He was gracious and funny and we spent a couple of hours talking and hanging around the set to watch that evening’s scene be filmed.
A couple of weeks later, I spent the morning on Ogden’s Historic 25th Street watching another scene, this one with Mantegna and Burt Young (“Rocky”). Mantegna had me sitting in the director’s chair next to his while the crew attempted to make a 70-degree day look like a mid-winter scene, including shoveling snow all over the street and sidewalks. It was a fun day, with lots of conversation about his long collaboration with playwright/filmmaker David Mamet, among other things.

Friday, July 24, 2009

John Woo interview, from 1992 Sundance Film Festival

In the early 1990s, a good friend of mine, Scott Bowles, turned me on to Hong Kong movies. Very quickly, I craved all I could get from director John Woo and one of his favorite stars, Chow Yun-Fat – at that time, neither were known to any American fans outside a handful of people. To see their bootlegged films – that was the only way to see them at that time, since nothing had yet been officially released on tape for the U.S. market – was always flat-out thrilling.

Then I got lucky, and Woo’s “Hard-Boiled” played a midnight slot at Sundance in 1992. I had seen it, bootlegged, of course, but it was great fun to watch in Park City’s little Egyptian Theater. Best of all, Woo was on hand to introduce it. The joint rocked.

I snagged an interview with Woo the next day. We spoke upstairs at “Z” Place, a nightclub that, during the festival, served as the hospitality suite for filmmakers and journalists. It should also be noted that Woo was probably the only guy in Park City wearing a sport jacket and tie -- he seemed to take all of it very seriously, and wasn’t dressing down to impress the off-Hollywood crowd. The actual newspaper piece I wrote is still stuffed somewhere in a box, but the verbatim transcript of the Q&A was on my hard drive. Woo had recently moved to the United States – he and his wife had had an anchor baby here years before – and he had not been shy about saying he was coming due to the impending communist Chinese takeover of Hong Kong in 1997. He had been an outspoken critic of the totalitarian government, and he was a Christian, and he suspected both of those things would make it difficult for him to work after the British relinquished control in ’97. His English was OK, but still a little rough; I’ve preserved it to give you a flavor of the interviewed as it happened.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

"Duplicity"


(Review first appeared in the April issue of the Ogden Independent.)

In the 1940s and ’50s, they made movies the equal of “Duplicity” all the time: sparkling dialogue, crackerjack plotting, memorable acting. But it’s been so long, maybe the biggest surprise “Duplicity” offers is that a film this good can still make it through the Hollywood meatgrinder and emerge intact.

The movie’s plot is too dizzyingly complex to describe is this space. Just know this: One consumer-products company hopes to steal a secret formula for a lotion – or is it a cream? For the purpose of this story, that’s an important distinction – from the other, and is willing to spend whatever it takes – think: AIG bonus money – in order to make it happen.

Julia Roberts and Clive Owen play ex-government spies-turned-corporate-black-baggers. Their respective dark-ops teams have the task of making the theft happen, preventing it … or not. Right up to the end, we’re not really certain.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Nora Ephron, 1992

With “Julie & Julia” set to open sometime soon, I thought it might be fun to go back to 1992 and writer-director Nora Ephron’s first directorial effort, “This is My Life,” which opened the Sundance Film Festival that year. In anticipation of the festival’s opening night, I interviewed the filmmaker via telephone – she was in New York City.

I have to add that talking to her on the phone was like watching one of her movies: delightful. She’s just a great interview, couldn’t have been more relaxed and generous; it doesn’t hurt that she was a journalist, and apparently that she’s just a good human being, too, from all indications.

Anyway, here’s a transcript of most of the phoner.

DP: THE PAST FEW YEARS WE'VE BEEN HEARING MORE AND MORE ABOUT THE LACK OF GOOD ROLES FOR FEMALES IN FILMS. BUT YOUR FILMS SEEM TO ALMOST ALWAYS HAVE STRONG CENTRAL CHARACTERS WHO ARE FEMALES. HAVE YOU EVER HAD TROUBLE SELLING THE NOTION THAT FEMALES AS THE FOCUS OF MOVIES ARE A REALLY GOOD THING?

NE: “Well, I think one of the reasons I wanted to direct, finally, is that it's unbelievably hard to get a movie made if it's about a woman. Because you see what happens is you write a script and then you have to get someone to direct it. And the most amazing thing about this is that what happens is you go into your agent's office and he says to his assistant, ‘Bring in the directors list.' And the assistant brings in the directors' list and it is A PIECE OF PAPER. It's not even that big a piece of paper -- well, it's 8x14, but it's not FULL. And on it is a list of, I'd say, 80 or 90 names. Out of which, never mind how many are women -- although more this year than last year -- but the point is, out of which you can rule out 90 percent of the people on the list because they don't make movies about women. Or they don't make comedies. So you're left with 10 names, let's say. And some of those names are people we'd all love to make a movie with, but GET IN LINE. Sydney Pollack makes movies about women ...”

Thursday, July 2, 2009

"Kafka," Steven Soderbergh, Jeremy Irons and Sundance: The press conference

I covered the Sundance Film Festival from 1986-1996. I attended hundreds of screenings, conducted a lot of interviews and attended plenty of press conferences.

Since a big story of the past week out of Hollywood has been the way Steven Soderbergh’s “Moneyball” was canceled just days before it was to begin shooting, I thought I’d publish the transcript of a press conference he and star Jeremy Irons gave in January 1992 to promote “Kafka.” The story I wrote from it is tucked away in a box somewhere, and maybe I’ll republish that someday. I think this was Soderbergh’s sophomore effort after having such a smash with “sex, lies and videotape.” (That’s another Sundance story, with Soderbergh taking to the mic prior to a screening of “slv” and lecturing the Sundance folks on how to improve the acoustics in Park City’s Egyptian Theatre.)

Here you go:


JEREMY IRONS: "When I arrived in Prague, Steven was very keen that I should see an astounding set that had been built -- the main office set, which had something like a thousand typewriters and a thousand desks and a thousand chairs, or something like that; it was incredible. I was still a bit jet-lagged, and he said to me, ‘That's your desk there.' And I said, ‘Great.' And I went and sat in it, trying to impress him that I'm preparing myself.

"And I said, ‘It's very nice, good.' And he said, ‘When you get promoted, you go into that office there. And I said, ‘Thank you very much,' and I went into that office and I sat in my new desk, and imagined having been promoted and looked at the typewriter and on the typewriter there was some paper and ... it said: ‘Working with a second-time director, eh? That's a touch risky. Signed, One Who Knows.'

Wednesday, July 1, 2009

"Slumdog Millionaire"


(Originally published in the March 2009 Ogden Independent)

by Don Porter
Film artists like Danny Boyle, director of the Oscar-winning “Slumdog Millionaire,” are a comparative rarity in world cinema. They make, with remarkable consistency, idiosyncratic films that manage to attract wide audiences. For those who know much about film and the motion picture business, this is a remarkable accomplishment.

That Boyle’s “Slumdog Millionaire” has achieved the pinnacle of recognition with its Oscar nomination and victory finally takes the filmmaker over that last bit of uncovered commercial ground: the kind of attention and praise marketing budgets can’t possibly purchase.

Described simply, “Slumdog Millionaire” is the story of Jamal, child of the Mumbai slums, who is competing on the Indian-TV version of “Who Wants to be a Millionaire.” He’s doing remarkably well on the game show, which seems improbable to the host and producers, who assume he’s cheating. The film flashes back to reveal Jamal’s life story, and the series of sometimes unwatchable graphic events that constitute his education.

Monday, June 29, 2009

"Gran Torino"

(Originally published in the Ogden Independent, February 2009)

By Don Porter

While it would doubtless comfort an enlightened soul to believe that bigots like Walt Kowalski, Clint Eastwood’s racist in “Gran Torino,” are fast-fading relics of a troubled American past, it also would be delusional. Racial hatred – fueled by the ignorance to which it is welded – is not a fading characteristic of our national character.

That much of “Gran Torino” rings true.

Walt is a brutal, mirthless echo of Archie Bunker. The film introduces him as a solitary, scowling figure at his long-suffering wife’s funeral, a woman we gather did not endorse her husband’s xenophobic fury. But his rage is not confined to those who don’t share his white skin. As his children and grandchildren take their seats, the bile of disapproval gurgles in his throat: He actually growls in response to the sight of his own blood. They don’t live up. But, we realize soon enough, in Walt’s view nobody ever does.

Saturday, June 6, 2009

Welcome to The Occasional Critic


For 11 years -- 1985-96 -- I was the film and TV writer/critic for the Standard-Examiner newspaper in Ogden, Utah. I wrote a LOT of movie reviews, columns and interviews/profiles of filmmakers during that time.

My children were too young at the time to 1) be interested in what Dad did for a living, so I've decided to risk 2) they still won't be interested. My plan is to collect some of what I did over the years, at random, so they can see what the old man did to put food on the table -- something precious few people are still able to do in daily journalism as it exists today.

Also, since I left journalism in 2008, I wrote a monthly movie review for The Ogden Independent for about a year -- an alternative newspaper founded and edited by my old pal Steve Conlin. I've dropped a few of those reviews in here, too.

Who knows, maybe I'll discover fairly quickly I'm not interested in reading these things either. For the time being, I'm committed to clogging up space on the 'Net.