Tag Archives: Kevin Smith

Kevin Smith’s Dogma

No one has ever skewered the Catholic Church quite like Kevin Smith did with Dogma, a wholly original, densely verbose, punishingly funny stage play of monologues, satirical jabs, cynical skits and cheeky lampoons that showcase the kind of idiosyncratic, acid tipped penmanship that only The Smith can bring us. It’s my favourite of his films, mainly because of how original the humour is, based in reality but blasted off into a stylized fantasy realm that gives a galaxy of perky acting talent room to pontificate and sink their teeth into immense passages of rich dialogue that are any actor’s dream. Also, it’s just such a unique, surreal experience in terms of casting and characterization; where else can you see beloved thespian Alan Rickman get his sillies out as the sarcastic Metatron, an asexual being who serves as the voice of god and the spiritual tour guide to adorable protagonist Linda Fiorentino (whatever happened to her?), who’s the chosen one in a holy not so holy crusade of angels, demons and religious figures all given the Royal Smith twist. There’s Ben Affleck and Matt Damon as Loki and Bartleby, two hedonistic fallen angels who squabble at each other and rebel against heavenly management, causing quite the cosmic ruckus. Salma Hayek does a transfixing go-go dance to rival her slinky number in From Dusk Till Dawn as The Muse, a shapeshifter who helps them battle an excremental (that’s a demon made of poo, before you ask). It goes on with sterling work from everyone including Chris Rock, Jason Lee, Bud Cort, George Carlin, Janeane Garofalo, Gwyneth Paltrow and those two adorable slackers Jay & Silent Bob, who wouldn’t miss a Smith outing for the world. Oh, anyone who casts the already angelic Alanis Morisette as God should be given a hefty raise. It’s a tough film to summarize or even capture the spirit of with a written passage, as it defies description, shirks standards and makes no apologies. Anyone from the Clergy who took any offence clearly missed the point though, this is satire and lighthearted at that, with only a dash of the kind of jaded ill will a film like this could have had. This is Smith’s world, and the characters who populate it are larger than life yet still feel real, never boring and always have something to say, be it thoughtful rumination or effervescent silliness.

-Nate Hill

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“I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of … feel kind of invincible.” : An Interview with W.D. Richter by Kent Hill

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To talk about W.D. (Rick) Richter, is to talk about one of my all-time favorite films, Big Trouble in Little China. It is, to put it simply, one of those films that comes along (not so much anymore) once in a generation. As we know in this age of remakes, reboots and re-imaginations, there is a very good chance that this film, because of its staying power and built-in fan base, will more than likely resurface with Dwayne Johnson playing Jack Burton. Just like Hansel in Zoolander he is, as far as the Studios are concerned, so hot right now!

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And you can be your bottom dollar that it will try like hell to recapture the magic of what was – and more than likely – crash ‘n’ burn in its attempt to do so. I might be wrong. Because, BTILC, was and is what is often referred to as a “happy accident”. What began as a seemingly awkward combination of a western with a plot that involved Chinese black magic became, thanks to my guest, a glorious blending of genres that there is really no recipe for.

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I rarely get nervous doing interviews, but I was glad to be sitting down for this one. When the person on the other end of the line had a hand in creating a couple of the seminal film of one’s existence . . . it is tough to play it cool, plus for the first time in a long time, I found the need to have my questions written, rather than merely see what the conversation would provoke. Primarily because I knew I was only going to have a limited time, and secondly because during our email exchanges prior to the chat, I found Rick to be extremely matter-of-fact and, wishing not to have the interview published in audio form, he merely wanted to be concise and not ramble on as, he says, has happened in the past.

So I sat and pondered questions. Having read other interviews with him in the past, before he’d stepped away from the business, the focus was on the films he had released at the time and didn’t really get below the surface. Off the record, we spoke about a few of the things that were beneath the polished exterior of the press kits, but that was not all that interested me. There have been many books and articles on his films, as well as many having excellent special features and commentary tracks which mine their depths – so I wasn’t going to waste time there.

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In the end I waited till the last minute and scribbled down the first questions that popped into my head. Some of course are elementary, but one or two I’ve had on my mind for a while.

Well, it took a long time, but sometimes, good things do. It was well worth the wait and the frustrating silences in between messages from Rick’s friend who very graciously made the introductions, and I, as a fan first, was humbled, honored and thrilled at the prospect of speaking to yet another film-making idol of mine.

While Rick, early in our email exchanges said, “I prefer to let he films, for better or worse, speak for themselves.” I am and will be forever grateful he took the time to talk a little about his work. In the end I wasn’t nervous or scared at all . . . I felt kind of invincible.

 

KH: Did you always want to work in movies and if so what were the films which influenced you?

WDR: First I wanted a paper route.  Then I wanted to run a circus.  Then I thought about pursuing a career as an English teacher.  Then I thought, “Why not aspire to become an actual tenured English professor?”  But, by the time I got to college, graduate film programs were springing up here and there.  Having loved movies since childhood, but never imagining there was a route available into the business, I suddenly saw a way to pursue a career in film in a structured, sensible way.

I went to a lot of movies of all kinds as a kid, but mostly B horror films from the mid-fifties through the mid-sixties.  In 1964, I saw DR. STRANGELOVE and in 1965 THE LOVED ONE.  They suggested a new direction and deeply influenced me.

KH: How did you break in to the business?

WDR: I wrote screenplays at USC, and one of them secured me an agent.  I then worked as a reader for Warners and wrote on the side and continued to do so when Warners and Irvin Kershner let me work as his assistant while he was prepping DIRTY HARRY for Sinatra.  That project fell apart, but a spec script I’d written, SLITHER, got to the director Howard Zeiff, and he set it up, odd as it was, and we shot it.  Presto!  I was a produced screenwriter.

KH: Your early career was full of greats like Dracula, Body Snatchers and your Oscar nod for Brubaker. How much does momentum play a factor in one’s career (films coming out and performing well) as well as recognition for one’s talent?

WDR: Actually, none of those films did perform well, but they were respected, and, as a result, I was respected as a young writer with perceived potential.  You must remember that during the seventies and eighties eccentric characters in unusual, small stories were nothing Hollywood ran screaming from.  That came later.

KH: You are a part of two of my favourite films of all time with Banzai and BTILC. How do you feel as an artist to be remembered for singular works rather than your entire body of creativity?

WDR: I’ve never given much thought to being “remembered”.  After all, sooner or later, this whole planet is going to be forgotten.

KH: If people want the skinny on Banzai, you have already provided an excellent commentary. What I would ask is, did you ever see Kevin Smith’s Q & A whose guests were Weller and Lithgow, and how did you feel about possible versions of the continuing story of Banzai?

WDR: I thought Kevin did a spectacular job that evening, and it was nice to learn how much the movie shaped him.  As long as Mac Rauch is involved, I feel quite confident that a “new” BUCKAROO could be as startling as the original.

KH: BTILC was ahead of its time, in my opinion. What I’ve always wanted to know is, what the “western version” was like prior to your work on the script, and how much of the finished film remains your work?

WDR: The “western version” just didn’t work for anybody, sad to say.  It all seemed too distant…the Old West and the Asian occult, etc.  So I proposed moving it to a modern, familiar setting and swapping the hero’s horse for a big rig.  The pitch went over well, and, with a writers’ strike looming, I dug into the challenge of creating a contemporary script in about seven weeks, choosing to do that with a somewhat dim but hopefully lovable hero at the center.  The finished film stayed absolutely true to my screenplay, apart from the inevitable ad libs here and there.  Jack Burton’s John-Wayne cadences, though, are definitely nothing I wrote or endorsed.  John and Kurt settled on that themselves.

You asked me prior to this conversation: “Did you write the line or was it improvised: I feel pretty good. I’m not, uh, I’m not scared at all. I just feel kind of… feel kind of invincible?”

Turns out I did write it.  I wrote the whole script furiously in longhand in several spiral notebooks, and a typist transcribed them into script format.

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KH: There was a significant gap between Home for the Holidays and Stealth. I have interviewed many writers who talk of these periods. They say, it’s not that I wasn’t writing, it’s just my scripts weren’t getting made. Was that true of your career at the time?

WDR: Definitely.  I had movies actually green-lighted then cancelled when directors went over budget in pre-production.

KH: I understand Stealth was a troubled production.

WDR: STEALTH was just a bizarre and massively unpleasant experience.  Directors and location scouts shouldn’t rewrite writers, if you want my opinion.  Kind of like Presidents shouldn’t tweet.

KH: Did your involvement end after the writing?

WDR: The “writing” never really stopped.  I was removed from the picture several times when my revisions failed to please the director.  But I was repeatedly brought back by the studio to pull the script back from the brink after the director (who shall remain nameless) had worked it over again in his spare time.  It’s the only film I’ve had made that, with great care, I kept my distance from during production and through release.

KH: I also love Needful Things. What was it like to adapt King?

WDR: Crazy.  The book is 690-pages of single-spaced prose.  My script was 124 pages, and you know how much “air” there is on a script page.  I figured that if one were to retype the novel in a crude screenplay format, it might easily hit 1000 pages.  So I lost roughly 876 pages while trying to keep King’s story and mood intact.  I have no sense of how that worked out because I’ve never reread the book, but I always imagined a looser, grittier, less-arch movie.

KH: Any advice you would give to a struggling screenwriter – not unlike myself?

WDR: Write.  Write.  Write.  But always try to imagine the movie itself playing to paying strangers.  Why would they — or you! — want to watch it?

KH: Sir it has been a profound honor to converse with you. I cherish the moment and humbly thank you.

WDR: Thank you, Kent. Take care.

Conceptually Speaking: An Interview with Sylvain Despretz by Kent Hill

 

Sylvain Despretz really is the personification of honnête homme. And he has been a man of the world since an early age. Travel was a part of his life; the other constant being his love of the cinema.

He is an artist of great style and skill and after his schooling he worked as an art director for a top Madison Avenue agency then moved on to illustrating Graphic Novels in California under the mentoring of the internationally famed artist Moebius. From there he would set out upon what would become and astonishing career as a story board artist and conceptual designer.

 

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His work you’ll have seen, gracing the screen in a myriad of films in a variety of genres. Movies like Gladiator, Alien Resurrection, Panic Room, The Fountain, (Tim Burton’s) Planet of the Apes and The Fifth Element. These including work on Don’t tell Mom the Babysitter’s Dead and the coming Luc Besson sci-fi extravaganza: Valerian. He has worked with  and on films directed by the true masters of the screen including Ridley Scott, Stanley Kubrick, David Fincher and Jean-Pierre Jeunet.

But, as you will hear, Sylvain has become disenchanted by the current repetitive nature of Hollywood’s cookie-cutter output. He is now driven by the notion that the only way to usher in change, is to be part of a creative revolution that places an emphasis on original voices instead of corporate responsibility.

 

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To this end he is now embarking on a journey that will see him stepping away from the drawing board and moving behind the camera; bringing his own visions to life using that mysterious blending of industrial light and storytelling magic.

He is a learned Hollywood veteran who has seen the Dream Factory from the inside, and his stories and wealth of knowledge and experience was and is fascinating to experience.

The designer behind the scenes and the future man in the director’s chair, proud am I ladies and gentlemen to present this interview with the one and only, Sylvain Despretz.

VISIT SYLVAIN’S OFFICIAL SITE:

http://www.metaprogram.net/

Rogue One: A Star Wars Story: A Review by Kent Hill

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So another December has come and with it comes another Star Wars movie. The reviews begin. Kevin Smith raves about it, calling it Empire Strikes Back great. In his brief thoughts following the premiere which he attended, Smith makes mention of what are really the highlights. This is an excellent chapter in the Star Wars saga. There are great tie-ins which link this film to those that have come before. Vader is badass in this movie and then there is the ending . . . that ending.

Now, unlike the case of The Force Awakens, this film has not enjoyed a triumphant reception. Those that have distaste for it are talking sooner rather than later. Before seeing the film today, I took note of some of the positive/negative stances. One thing I marked was a comment regarding the resurrection of a certain character from the original trilogy. I will not spoil this for anyone, but the review to which I refer, made the statement that the arrival of this character on screen (with the help of effects, cause he bought the farm a while ago) was something that took them out of the movie. I am going to take arms against this statement (which you may read more about if you wish here: http://geektyrant.com/news/review-disney-and-lucasfilm-play-it-safe-with-rogue-one-a-star-wars-story). Me personally, and I am referring to the pair of instances which the technology is used in the film, I feel this is one of the better examples of this type of effect used thus far in movies and remind the learned gentlemen for the prosecution of the creepy, expressionless faux-young Jeff Bridges in the lamentable Tron sequel as a better example of something that disconnects one from a film.

Still, what about the film itself? Is it Empire Strikes Good? I read Harry Knowles’ review this morning too. He though, has a tendency to gush, going so far as to list the things that he liked best. You need to be wary when film writers take such actions. The reason being? There was stuff they didn’t like in between those things they did.

Rogue One is the story of the story before the Star Wars we all grew up with – and I refer to those of us who grew up before they started using the “Episode” system. It finds the brains behind that moon that is no moon but a space station, living out his life in peace and harmony with his family. Then the empire shows up and ruins everything, as it is their want to do. From this pastoral opening we following our heroine Jyn Erso (Felicity Jones) as she is recruited by the rebels (they are rebels aren’t they?) to track down Forest Whitaker, because rumour has it, that he has received word from Jyn’s dad, Mads Mikkelsen, about a super-weapon the empire is about to unleash.

So the Star Wars story moves along, and at times it is a slow boil. There is a good comradery among the cast, along with levity and heavy-handedness in equal measure. There are also lots of droids and aliens, which are always fun to hang out with in a time of great tyranny. This film paints the best portrait of the galaxy far, far away in the wake of the rise of the empire as we know it. It’s a grimy hit-run-hide type of universe, where heroes are few and all hope seems lost.

But wait, maybe not. Though the rebellion has its own dark undercurrent of distrust and personal agenda, we find out (what those of us who are children of Star Wars already know) there is a weakness to this battle station. It soon falls to the good guys to decide what they are going to do with this intel.

When faced with a planet killer, some guys run and some guys stay. The guys that stay join with our ragtag band of heroes on their veritable suicide mission. Their objective: to retrieve the plans of the Death Star in order to exploit the flaw in its design.

This is when Rogue One finds its wings, and all of a sudden I found myself in a film that felt more like a Star Wars movie than The Force Awakens did.

The final act of the film is bold, brilliant. At one point I think I heard Sam Elliot’s voice from The Big Lebowski in my head saying: “I didn’t like seeing Donnie go.” I was looking for shots from the trailers that I liked, but I found them to be absent from school today. I thought it was a good ending which brought to mind the old chestnut: those who live by the sword shall die by the sword. I also read in those reviews from earlier today, that the characters were thinly drawn. This would imply they are like most characters in modern movies, which is to say you don’t really give a shit whether they live or die. But I cared, not for all concerned, but for some. When things finally went south, I can genuinely say I was moved by their passing.

So, is Vader badass? Yes. That’s all I’m going to say on that score.

The film looks beautiful, though please again be wary, especially when reviewers make mention of this early in their critique. Praise for the photography and locations are often code for: it looked good, but that’s all it did.

The score by Giacchino is sombre and at times melancholic, but it lifts, and there is a nice peppering of Williams which will make you smile as ever.

And thus we come to that ending. Go see it. Go see it. The best thing about the ending is you can go home and watch the story continue, unlike last year’s Star Wars where we’ll have to wait a while yet to find out what Luke is going to say, or not say, or just keep on glaring, or fart , or something like that.

Did this dude in the audience like Rogue One? He did, he did indeed. He will be going again, that is a given. The cast and crew, all involved, have made a good Star Wars movie. It’s not Empire Strikes Good, but filmmaker Mike Mendez (Big Ass Spider, Don’t Kill It), whom I interviewed recently, said it best. During our chat we talked about Spielberg and Mike’s love of Raiders of the Lost Ark. He (Mike) considers this the perfect film. He caught lightning in a bottle, and I’m paraphrasing Mike here, but Mike went on to say that as talented as Spielberg is, he doubts he could ever duplicate something like Raiders. The same could be said of this, the third coming of Star Wars. I watched it begin in the 70’s, I was there for explosive hype of The Phantom Menace. I was there last year when the force decided to wake up again.

My point is this. The lightning has already been caught. It was captured a long time ago in a galaxy far, far away. They will never be able to recapture that lightning, but so far the Star Wars we are getting is calling down the thunder and Rogue One roars across the sky. It reminds us, yet again, of that brilliant lightning that brightened our world a long time ago…

GO SEE IT!