I was a
guest on the highly addictive podcast How the West Was Cast, talking
about the newly updated “100 Greatest Westerns” list I helped prepare for Cowboys
& Indians Magazine. You can listen to it here.
there’s more: I was invited by the folks at the HCC-TV series Up to the
Minute to talk about film distribution during the Age of Covid and awards
bestowed by the Houston Film Critics Society. You can see my segment here,
starting around the 13:44 mark.
Not going to lie: I am seriously geeked to see this one. As
I have noted elsewhere: Michael Caine has received name-above-the-title billing
in movies spanning seven decades. How many other actors can claim that?
What’s it all about? According to Lionsgate: “Inspired by Charles Dickens’s iconic
novel Oliver Twist, this action-fueled crime-thriller set in
contemporary London follows the journey of Twist (Raff Law), a gifted graffiti
artist trying to find his way after the loss of his mother. Lured into a street
gang headed by the paternal Fagin (Michael Caine), Twist is attracted to the
lifestyle — and to Red (Sophie Simnett), an alluring member of Fagin’s crew.
But when an art theft goes wrong, Twist’s moral code is tested as he’s caught
between Fagin, the police, and a loose-cannon enforcer (Lena Headey).”
I am feeling
more than a little melancholy as I process the sad news that producer-director
Richard Donner has passed away at age 91. Not just because of his many movies
that I have enjoyed — ranging from the Swinging London spy-spoofery of Salt
and Pepper (1968) to the slam-bang buddy-cop excess of the Lethal Weapon
franchise — and his early television work that left a lasting impact on me.
(Not only did he direct the classic “Nightmare at 20,000 Feet” episode of The
Twilight Zone — he also helmed two episodes of my all-time favorite TV
series, The Fugitive.) My fondest memory of Donner involves one of his
lesser-known films: Inside Moves, a criminally under-rated dramedy showcasing
career-highlight performances by John Savage, David Morse, and the
Oscar-nominated Diana Scarwid. (You can read Dr. Richard Jahnke’s entertaining and informative 2009 interview with Donner about it here.)
1980, when I was an entertainment writer and second-string critic for The Dallas
Morning News, Inside Moves opened at a local theater in an early test engagement.
I reviewed it, very favorably, and was pleased when it wound up drawing a respectably
large audience for such a small-scale, semi-indie feature. So large, in fact,
that Richard Donner came to Dallas on a promotional tour just before the movie’s
local publicist asked if I wanted to interview Donner, I jumped at the chance.
But I was initially rattled when, as she escorted me to his table in the lobby
bar at the posh hotel where he was staying, Donner leapt to his feet and
shouted while I was still several feet away: “I’m sorry, Joe! I’m sorry!”
What the hell?
sheepishly, Donner pointed to the new poster for Inside Moves, one
festooned with blurbs of favorable reviews. And there, right below quotes from
Judith Crist and Pat Dowell of The Washington Star, was a snippet from my
notice: “Inside Moves is a truly enjoyable little sleeper… so don’t let
it slip by.” And was duly attributed to Dallas Morning News writer… Joe
I had to
laugh out loud. And when I did, evidently, Donner thought it was OK to laugh as
We had a
nice conversation — truth to tell, I think he was amused that anyone remembered
Salt and Pepper — before I headed back to the paper. It was a Wednesday,
the day we put the Sunday A&E section together, and I knew that, as usual,
I would be working late. Indeed, this schedule was so routine that I was mildly
surprised when my wife called around 9 pm to ask when I would be home. But she
quickly explained her query: “Someone delivered a case of champagne for you. I
saw it at the front door when I got home from work.”
So I laughed
and told Anne: “Well, open it up, put a bottle in the refrigerator, and we can
drink up when I get home.” Somehow, I knew — I just knew — it was from Richard
Donner. And sure enough, when I got home, I read the note that had been
attached to the case: “Joe: Thanks again. Sorry again. Richard Donner.”
I got to personally thank Donner for the bubbly years later during the junket
for Conspiracy Theory (1997). He remembered. And we both had another