Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

REDFORD: 'WAS THAT A MOVIE?'

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: In today’s Deseret News, my weekly column is about my first interview with Robert Redford. Below is a sidebar that ran with that March 10, 1985, Deseret News story, with Redford commenting on several of his early films, headlined ‘A film-by-film look at Robert Redford’s career.'

Robert Redford says his legacy to the public will be the work he leaves behind, the films he has acted in or directed. There will be no tell-all autobiography. “Just the work.” So here is a look at the work as it stands now (dates reflect each film’s release rather than period of productions; italicized comments are Redford’s own): 

War Hunt (1962, b/w) – Oh, you’re going to bring that up. You notice how I deftly skipped over that. That was my first film in fact, in 1961. But it didn’t feel like a film. It was made in three weeks, and it was made for $250,000 in Topanga Canyon (Southern California). So I came out thinking, ‘Was that a movie?’ As a matter of fact, that film had a lot of interesting aspects to it. Francis Coppola drove a truck. Noel Black (later to direct ‘Pretty Poison’) held a reflector. John Houseman hung around like some weird apparition. I don’t know what he was doing there. Dean Stockwell was taking pictures. And in the cast there was Gavin McLeod, he’s got a television series now (‘The Love Boat’); Tom Skerritt, his first film; John Saxon playing a psycho, and I thought he did a very good job; and Sydney (Pollack, who later abandoned acting for directing [except for a supporting role in his own ‘Tootsie’]). The storyline concerns soldiers in battle during the Korean War.

       

             Robert Redford, left, John Saxon, 'War Hunt'

This Property Is Condemned (1966) – When Natalie Wood was a big star she’d asked me to be her leading man (in ‘Inside Daisy Clover,’ 1965, then this one). But this was a troubled film. John Huston was involved, Montgomery Clift and Liz Taylor were supposed to be in it, but everybody kept falling out. And it seemed to get tainted as a project. A lot of directors just didn’t want to get involved with it. She (Wood) had a list, and I remember her coming to me and saying, ‘We’re down to a television list,’ and she mentioned some names, and way down at the bottom of the list was Sydney (Pollack). And she said, ‘Do you know anything about this guy?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, I would go with him.’ She was a little apprehensive about it and they set up a meeting. And he (Pollack) said (to me), ‘There are two questions I have for you. What can you tell me about her? And secondly, how do I stop my palms from sweating?’ So he did it, and we worked together on that project. But it was really a mess, I mean the script was mostly Scotch Tape. Charles Bronson and Robert Blake co-starred; Francis Ford Coppola worked on the script.

     

Sydney Pollack, left, Robert Redford, Natalie Wood and Charles Bronson on the set of 'This Property Is Condemned.'

Barefoot in the Park (1967) – Redford repeated his Broadway stage role in this early Neil Simon comedy, co-starring for the second time with Jane Fonda (after “The Chase” in 1966), as well as Charles Boyer and Mildred Natwick. The play opened in the fall of 1963, and I stayed with it until the summer of 1964. Then I did three Hollywood films (‘Inside Daisy Clover,’ ‘The Chase,’ ‘This Property Is Condemned’) and I had misgivings about whether I wanted to continue in films. They sort of disillusioned me. They were big films. They were major roles… but the process isn’t what I thought it would be. Too heavy, too big, too cumbersome. Too many layers to get through, and I didn’t much like it. So I quit for a year and went back to painting. I was living in Europe, in Greece on an island. But I had to return to do (‘Barefoot’) because the deal was made when I was doing the play. I didn’t like the idea of remembering the part I’d done. I like to work fresh. But it was fine, once I got through it. I like Jane, I’ve always liked working with Jane, we work well together and we like each other and we like working with each other. So that was good.

Downhill Racer (1969) – The first film Redford produced. He stars as an egotistical athlete who joins the Olympic ski team. A well-made picture about internal corruption, and the first to mark Redford’s unique brand of introspective acting. I was very taken with characters who were caught in some dilemma, where a lot of the experience, the drama, came from the character being hauled through it — what lesson the character learned from it, or didn’t learn from it. I liked working with (director) Michael Ritchie. Gene Hackman, Camilla Sparv and Dabney Coleman co-starred.

The Candidate (1972) – The second film he produced has Redford, again directed by Michael Ritchie, as a Senatorial candidate. Biting, sharp-eyed satire (the script won an Oscar) and a fine Redford performance. I once saw (‘The Candidate’) and “Downhill Racer’ as part of a trilogy. The third one, which I never got to because it was replace by “All The President’s Men,’ was business. Politics, sports and business were three areas I really wanted to get into and explore in a certain way, subjectively, by playing characters that were placed in a position you could be in. So that you went through what the character went through. A kind of rough style of filmmaking.

The Way We Were (1973) – Redford and Barbra Streisand. A lot of trouble on the set, generally attributed to the producer’s interference, and heavily edited from director Sydney Pollack’s final cut. To everyone’s surprise, from those on the set to studio executives, it became a major box-office hit. Who knows when you’re making a film how it’s going to be? The only thing you know is that you don’t know. And ‘The Way We Were’ went way over schedule, way over budget, and the producer was a foolish person, just a foolish man. Ray Stark behaved foolishly on it. And everyone was tired and just wanted it to end, so we weren’t prepared for the reception.

     

     Robert Redford, Barbra Streisand, 'The Way We Were'

The Sting (1973) – Redford’s most popular film to date, again with Newman (after ‘Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,’ 1969), again directed by George Roy Hill. A delightful audience-pleaser that set the pace for every comic con-artist film to follow, it won seven Oscars, and gave Redford his only Oscar nomination for acting. George I’d like to work with, I loved working with George. We (Newman, Hill and Redford) would love to do another one together.

All the President’s Men (1976) – Redford produced this intelligent, critically acclaimed examination of the press, based on the Woodward & Bernstein book, in turn based on their Washington Post investigative reporting of Watergate. Redford is excellent as Bob Woodward, matched by Dustin Hoffman as Carl Bernstein and a great supporting cast — Jason Robards, Jane Alexander, Jack Warden, Martin Balsam, Hal Holbrook, Ned Beatty, etc. Robards and the screenplay won Oscars. The press is looked upon differently today. And I’m not sure that film didn’t in some way contribute to the change by glamorizing it. Though we tried not to.

Ordinary People (1980) – Redford’s directing debut landed his only Oscar to date. A stark, visually stunning, stylish examination of an upper middle-class family in trouble. Great performances from Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland, as well as Timothy Hutton as their son, complemented nicely by support from Judd Hirsch as Hutton’s psychiatrist, Elizabeth McGovern, Dinah Manoff, etc. I saw Mary Tyler Moore when I was reading the book, and I saw Judd Hirsch really clearly in my mind. I thought the psychiatrist should be a little mad. I actually saw Donald Sutherland in the role of the psychiatrist, but he wanted the role of the father and that interested me. I’m really big on casting, that’s a real thing with me. 

      

The Natural (1984) – An event built around “the return” of Robert Redford, after an absence of four years from the screen. Redford gives a fine performance, capitalizing on both his image and his age, with an excellent supporting cast (Robert Duvall, Glenn Close, Wilford Brimley, Richard Farnsworth, etc.). That was Tri-Star’s first film, and it was a big-budget film because we had a hard time finding a baseball stadium we could use and still have a period feeling. And we had a new director who had only done one picture (Barry Levinson, ‘Diner’). I was aware of being used. I worked with the director and was very involved, right down to the editing. I was glad it did so well. 


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

BARAK & MICHELLE, SITTIN’ IN A TREE …

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

Hollywood’s summer season comes to a close with a fictionalized film about the Obamas and a slam-bam action sequel starring Jason Statham, along with some so-called “art films” filling out the bill.

“Southside With You” (PG-13). Romantic comedy-drama about young Barack Obama (Parker Sawyers) wooing Michelle Robinson (Tika Sumpter) in Chicago, circa 1989, and focusing on their first date.

“Mechanic: Resurrection” (R). Hitman Jason Statham is forced out of retirement when a foe kidnaps his girlfriend (Jessica Alba), and his ransom is that Statam complete three seemingly impossible assassinations. Tommy Lee Jones and Michelle Yeoh co-star.

“Equity” (R). Touted as the first Wall Street movie to focus on female characters, this Sundance Film Festival favorite has Anna Gunn leading an ensemble cast as a senior investment-banker enmeshed in scandal, which forces her to track down the real source of corruption. Co-stars include James Purefoy and Margaret Colin.

  

“Don’t Breathe” (R). A teen delinquent (Jane Levy) and her boyfriend (Daniel Zovatto) break into the home of a blind neighbor (Stephen Lang), thinking they can easily burglarize his basement safe, but it turns out he’s not the easy target they imagined.

“The Intervention” (R). Four couples take a weekend getaway together, but it seems the trip was orchestrated to give one couple an intervention, encouraging them to divorce. Ensemble cast includes Clea DuVall (who is also making her writing-directing debut), Cobi Smulders, Natasha Lyonne, Melanie Lynskey and Jason Ritter. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Space Dogs Adventure to the Moon” (G). Russian (dubbed in English) animated sequel to the straight-to-video “Space Dogs,” with anthropomorphic space travelers, led by a teenage canine astronaut, being recruited to investigate the disappearance of the Statue of Liberty. Voice cast includes Alicia Silverstone, Ashlee Simpson and Sam Witwer.


New DVDS/Blu-rays New DVDS/Blu-rays

NEWSIES

  

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Newsies’ was one of those films that flopped upon its initial theatrical release but later gained a following on home video. In fact, it became such an afterthought hit that a stage version of the musical was developed and it became a Broadway hit. The touring show of 'Newsies' is in Salt Lake City is in Salt Lake City Aug. 25-28 in the Capitol Theater in Salt Lake City. And the movie is, of course, available on DVD and Blu-ray. Here’s my April 10, 1992, Deseret News review of the film. (Star Christian Bale, of course, later became ‘The Dark Knight,’ and director Kenny Ortega went on to helm the ‘High School Musical’ films.)

In the past 10 years we've only had two old-fashioned, live-action, characters-bursting-into-song musicals that I can think of, "Little Shop of Horrors" and "Annie."

And, speaking for myself, I've missed them.

On the surface, "Newsies" seems like odd subject matter for a musical. Based on a true story, the film is set in 1899 and has raggedy newsboys, most of them orphans, forming a union so they can strike against newspaper mogul Joseph Pulitzer (Robert Duvall), who has greedily raised the prices they pay for the newspapers they sell.

The film's biggest flaw is its lack of color — the obvious back-lot setting is dark and dreary, and the colors are muddy and washed out. Because it has so obviously been shot on a back lot, the dowdy atmosphere can't be because the filmmakers thought it would give the film a gritty, realistic look. Some of the production numbers cry out for colorful treatment, and the atmosphere definitely suffers. (At more than two hours, it's also a bit too long.)

But the songs, with music by Alan Menken (Oscar-winner for "The Little Mermaid" and "Beauty and the Beast"), are very good, and the athletic production numbers are lively and energetic (Gene Kelly is rightly given "special thanks" in the end credits).

As a whole, "Newsies" manages to successfully blend elements of "West Side Story," "Annie" and "Oliver!"

     

           Christian Bale, left, Robert Duvall, 'Newsies'

The story has Jack Kelly (Christian Bale, of "Empire of the Sun") as an orphaned "newsy," the unofficial leader of the boys (sort of updated "Dead End Kids") who hawk papers on the streets of New York City. In the film's early scenes, he links up with David Jacobs (David Moscow, best known as the young Tom Hanks in "Big") and even has dinner in his home, discovering for the first time what a traditional family is like.

When Pulitzer announces his price hike to the newsies, David becomes the intellectual voice who helps charismatic Jack lead the lads in their fight for fair pay.

Ann-Margret has two abbreviated scenes as a burlesque singer who supports the movement and lends a welcome female voice to the otherwise all-male chorus.

"Newsies" marks the directing debut of choreographer Kenny Ortega ("Dirty Dancing"), and he's at his best staging the lavish production numbers. But he doesn't take full advantage of them with his camera, and though he has cast the film well, many characters remain underdeveloped.

     

      Christian Bale, center, leads the strike in 'Newsies.'

Faring best are Bale (who successfully buries his British accent), Moscow and Bill Pullman, as a reporter who supports the boys' movement. The most memorable songs are the rousing "Seize the Day," the evocative "Santa Fe" (though its choreography, complete with cowboy hat and horse, is a bit much) and the show-stopping "King of New York."

If there were 10 other musicals in the past few years for comparison, I'm not sure where "Newsies" would place. But as it is, this is the only game in town — and it's quite entertaining most of the way.

I hope it does well and we see more.

If it doesn't, this could be the death knell for the genre.

"Newsies" is rated PG, and it's a bit more violent than you might expect.


Welcome Welcome

Hi. I'm Chris Hicks.

But if you're looking for Chris Hicks the Australian rugby player or the American recording-industry executive or the Major League Baseball player or the author of "Think" or the singer-songwriter or the former basketball player, you're in the wrong place.

I'm Chris Hicks the movie guy from Salt Lake City. If that's who you're looking for, welcome to my website as I enter the 21st century … a little late (May 2013).

This site is all about movies, well mostly, and it's also about me, I guess, but I'll try to keep my ego in check.

My goal, my hope, is that you will be able to browse the pages here and be alerted to or reminded of some great movie you've never heard of or forgotten about. In other words, something that might enhance your movie-watching experience, whether it's by Alfred Hitchcock or Joss Whedon, or stars Audrey Hepburn or Jennifer Lawrence or someone you never heard of. And I've also tried to make it fun.

The bulk of stories and reviews here are gleaned from my 30-plus years of writing about film for the Deseret News, a daily newspaper in Salt Lake City, with side trips here and there to other entertainment forms.

I'm still writing for the D-News and contributing the occasional article to the website Familius, publisher of my May 2013 book, "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?"

This site is a mix of archival stuff (with permission) from the Deseret News, along with an array of non-DesNews material, including new blogs, reviews and stories as often as I can manage to squeeze them out.

Hope you enjoy my little site. If you do, tell your friends. If you don't, just say you couldn't find it.

Cheers,
Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism

  Click cover for Parents.com article.  Click cover for interview with Chris.

 

Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

THE NEVERENDING STORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 26, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a very special 1980s family film, which performed fairly well at the box office, then did even better on home video. And it’s one of those movies that definitely benefits from a big-screen showing, so now’s your chance as it is presented by Fathom Events in local Cinemark Theaters on Sunday, Sept. 4, and Wednesday, Sept. 7, at 2 and 7 p.m. This is my July 25, 1984, Deseret News review. (Wolfgang Petersen went on to direct 'In the Line of Fire' and 'Air Force One,' among other hit films.)

A fascinating blend of special effects, children’s fantasy and interesting ideas, “The NeverEnding Story” is a fabulous family film, in the best sense of that phrase.

The ideas have to do with soaring imagination and the human capacity for inventiveness, along with a hearty endorsement of reading for the young. And while “The NeverEnding Story” is probably not likely to send kids in droves to local libraries, it is nonetheless a tremendously encouraging notion.

The children’s fantasy comes from a vast resource of familiar material, literature and films ranging from “The Wizard of Oz” to “The Lord of the Rings.”

As for the special effects, there’s a boatload of creative creatures here, some friendly and some not so friendly, but each is unique and quite charming. Some of the story is dark and morose, some light and frothy, a terrific blend, just like the best children’s books and movies.

But “The NeverEnding Story” is a movie first, and as such, a delight for the senses.

     

             Barret Oliver, 'The NeverEnding Story'

The film begins with young Bastian, whose mother has died, being told by his father that he needs to stop daydreaming and get his feet back on the ground — a running theme in children’s stories since the first was told. But we know that’s not likely to happen, as Bastian “borrows” a strange book called “The NeverEnding Story” from an old curmudgeon bookseller.

Bastian then heads for school, but he’s late, and there’s a math test in progress. So instead of stumbling in and inviting trouble, he takes the book up to the school attic and begins to read. He is immediately wrapped up in the story of young Atreyu, a warrior who tries to save the world of Fantasia from the dreaded “nothing,” which is ravaging the land and destroying everything in its path. And, eventually, and to his great surprise, Bastian himself becomes a part of the story. In the end, as they say, the adventure continues. …

Among the many bizarre creatures strewn along the way are the rockbiter, the racing snail, the luckdragon and many others, all conceived as marvelous characters that play an intricate part in the story, and each uniquely designed.

     

Noah Hathaway rides the luckdragon in 'The NeverEnding Story'

And though there are many familiar elements here, this is a very original work, with director Wolfgang Petersen, who gave adults the tension-filled “Das Boot,” here giving children something to enjoy equally. Yet, as mentioned, there are enough ideas to keep adults attentive as well.

Petersen’s human actors are also quite good, with young Barret Oliver as Bastian, Noah Hathaway as Atreyu, Tami Stronach as a beautiful child empress, Moses Gunn as the dignified Cairon and one half of TV’s “Simon and Simon,” Gerald McRaney as Bastian’s father.

Rated PG for violence, “The NeverEnding Story” is fabulous entertainment and every age group in the family should enjoy it equally.


Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray

IN COUNTRY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 19, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an excellent post-Vietnam War drama that went unnoticed upon its initial release but is getting some attention now thanks to Warner Archive releasing the film in widescreen for the first time (earlier DVDs were taken from pan-and-scan TV prints). It looks great in this new manufacture-on-demand DVD-R release and is highly recommended.

On the surface “In Country” is a rambling film, a series of anecdotal sequences that are only loosely tied together in story form. But director Norman Jewison’s deceptively simple tale of alienation and reconciliation, builds slowly and solidly until the always-lurking undercurrent of emotion builds to a powerful crescendo.

Yet, somehow, none of the story seems hollow or contrived, and the three-handkerchief ending feels completely sincere and from the heart.

The story focuses on young Samantha (Emily Lloyd), a just-out-of-high-school Kentucky teenager in the rural town of Hopewell. She’s sassy and brassy, living in her mother’s house with her uncle Emmett (Bruce Willis), a burned-out Vietnam vet.

Sam’s mother (Joan Allen) has recently remarried and moved to the big city, leaving her hometown and all its painful memories behind. It seems Sam’s father was killed in Vietnam just before Sam’s birth, and it’s taken nearly 18 years for Mom to start her life anew after caring for Sam and Emmett all that time.

      

                Bruce Willis, Emily Lloyd, 'In Country'

But now she wants Sam to move to the city with her and go to college. Sam, however, feels the need to stay in Hopewell and care for Emmett. But in a way that’s just an excuse to stay around for her own quest, which consists of finding out more about her father.

The film culminates with Sam, Emmett and Sam’s grandmother (Peggy Rea) going to the Vietnam War Memorial in Washington, D.C., to look up the name of Sam’s father. The memorial, with its glistening black marble walls, filled with the names of soldiers who died in Vietnam, seems to go on forever, and this gentle, cathartic scene provides images and emotion guaranteed to stay with audiences for a long time.

Jewison (“In the Heat of the Night,” “A Soldier’s Story,” “Moonstruck”) and screenwriters Frank Pierson (“Cool Hand Luke,” an Oscar-winner for “Dog Day Afternoon”) and Cynthia Cidre have perfectly captured the confusion of a young woman fresh out of high school and her need to uncover secrets she feels have been hidden from her. And the details they provide, about small-town life, teenagers at the crossroads of beginning adulthood and the troubled Vietnam veteran ring true all the way.

     

And British actress Lloyd delivers a remarkable performance as Sam, abandoning her natural Cockney accent for a perfect Southern drawl (she also displays an accurate Brooklyn accent as the title character in the current “Cookie”).

Willis is also quite good, quietly underplaying Emmett as a troubled man who hasn’t come to grips with the year he spent in Nam, letting it affect his entire life.

Joan Allen as Sam’s mother is perfect in her combination of resolution and dismay; Judity Ivey, as a woman with eyes for Willis, lights up the screen in a pair of all-too-brief scenes; and Rea as Sam’s grandmother is also delightful. The rest of the cast is quite good as well.

“In Country” is rated R for profanity, and there is some mild violence and a brief scene with Sam and another troubled vet in bed together.