Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

DISNEY/MGM STUDIOS, PART 2

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: some 28 years ago, I was commissioned to write about the Disney-MGM Studios theme park in Disney World as one of several stories gleaned from a Florida junket for a couple of Disney movies. This one ran on the July 2, 1989, Travel section cover of the Deseret News, under the headline: ‘Mickey’s Mecca for Movie Mavens.’ And it’s so long that I’ve cut it in two; the second part will be in this space next week. (FYI: In 2008, MGM dropped out of the arrangement and the park was renamed Disney’s Hollywood Studios, which is still in use today, though I’m not sure how many of these attractions are still in operation, and I am sure the prices have since gone up.)

LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. — In your meanderings through Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios, here are some of the rides and tours you’ll likely bump into.

The Great Movie Ride: A 20-minute tram ride through myriad Animatronics scenes from “The Wizard of Oz,” “Mary Poppins,” “Aliens,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “Casablanca” and many other films, and the tram is kidnapped by either a ’30s gangster  or a bank-robbing cowpoke. (Outside this ride is a replica Grauman’s Chinese Theater, where cement handprints include Mickey Mouse, Donald Duck and Roger Rabbit.)

The Backlot Tour: This two-hour extravaganza includes a tram ride through the studio’s costume and prop departments, backlot street sets — all in operation for productions filmed right here — and Catastrophe Canyon, where an artificial rainfall, an earthquake, exploding oil derricks and a flood seem like the real thing. Then the tour goes to the Water Effects Tank that shows how miniature battleships are made to look real, a Special Effects Workshop show where two kids will ride a huge flying bee, and three working soundstages where shows are being filmed. It all winds up with a two-minute Bette Midler stunt-comedy and a how-it-was-done tour of the sets. (The short movies in this tour are star-studded and include the unexpected teaming of Mel Gibson and Pee-wee Herman, as well as many others, all explaining various aspects of how movies are made.)

The Animation Center: This 25-minute tour is narrated by another unlikely duo, Walter Cronkite and Robin Williams — Williams being animated about half the time. It’s hilarious, as well as informative, explaining the different phases of animation and winding up with a look at the artists at work (currently on a new 7-minute short, “Rollercoaster Rabbit,” starring Roger, of course).

The Indiana Jones Epic Stunt Spectacular: An outdoor theater featuring a live 30-minute show with hair-raising stunts patterned after the three “Indiana Jones” features, including the fist fight under a moving airplane from “Raiders of the Lost Ark.”

     

The Monster Sound Show: A short horror-comedy film with Chevy Chase and Martin Short is shown, then guests from the audience provide the sound effects for a second showing.

Superstar Television: Some 30 people are picked from the audience to play characters and interact with the videotaped stars of “Gilligan’s Island,” “General Hospital,” “Golden Girls” — and even Johnny Carson on “The Tonight Show.”

Restaurants: The ’50s Prime Time Café, where TV monitors show classic black-and-white programs like “I Love Lucy,” “Our Miss Brooks” and “The Honeymooners,” and the Brown Derby, a replica of the famed Hollywood eatery, are the only waiter-served restaurants in the park. But plenty of snack parlors are around, such as Min and Bills’ Dockside Diner and Dinosaur Gertie’s ice cream parlor.

In January the most popular ride at Disneyland, Star Tours, will also open in Disney World’s Disney-MGM Studios.

During our stay it rained quite heavily, but only in short spurts and it remained warm. The Disney folks were ready, however, providing some 10,000 umbrellas and uncountable ponchos, all of which seemed to appear out of nowhere.

We also rubbed shoulders with a lot of stars, from Bette Midler to Kevin Costner, from Audrey Hepburn to Lauren Bacall, from George Burns to Bob Hope. But remember, we were there for the grand opening. As a rule don’t expect too much more than a wave from a sweaty performer in a Mickey Mouse suit.

And, as with everything Disneyish, the parks are incredibly clean.

     

Disney animation artists at 1989 Disney/MGM Studios opening.

Here’s a rundown of things to keep in mind if you decide to make the trek to Disney World:

Prices: The three-day ticket has been eliminated in the hope that vacationers will stay longer with a four-day incentive. A one-day, one-park pass is $29 for adults, $23 for children. Four-day passes for all parks are $97 and $77. Five-day pass for all parks, $112 and $90. Annual passes are also available.

Best Days, Times: Wednesday, Thursday and Friday, avoiding the 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. rush hours (the biggest crowds arrive on the weekend and spill over to Monday and Tuesday). Disney officials suggest you allow six to seven hours to get through Disney-MGM Studios. The longest wait in line is estimated at 55 minutes, but on opening day, with an unusually large crowd, it was about 50 minutes.

Interesting Statistics: When the new hotels open their 4,300 rooms it will increase Disney World hotel capacity by more than 50 percent.

Since 1984 Disney’s profits have more than quintupled, to $522 million in 1988; its revenue has risen 136 percent, to $3.44 billion.

Tokyo Disneyland, which opened in 1983, sees 10 million guests a year. In 1992 Euro Disneyland opens 18 miles east of Paris.

Rivals: Sea World, and Boardwalk and Baseball in Orlando; Busch Gardens in Tampa; Cypress Gardens in Winter Haven; and Cape Canaveral. In May of 1990, Universal will open its Orlando studio tour, some 12 miles form Disney World.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

MR. BOURNE GOES TO CHINA

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

 

Matt Damon eschews his “Bourne” identity to go to China for this weekend’s biggest movie opening, which leads an array of eclectic choices.

“The Great Wall” (PG-13). Matt Damon stars in this epic Chinese fantasy as a mercenary warrior who is imprisoned within China’s Great Wall and finds himself in the middle of a battle with giant alien monsters that rise every 60 years. With Jing Tian, Pedro Pascal, Willem Dafoe and Andy Lau. Directed by Zhang Yimou, known for his many international hits, including “Raise the Red Lantern,” “House of Flying Daggers” and “Curse of the Golden Flower.”

“Everybody Loves Somebody” (PG-13, in Spanish with English subtitles). A Los Angeles doctor (Karla Souza, of TV’s “How to Get Away With Murder”) asks a co-worker to be her date at a family wedding in Mexico, but after arriving she’s shocked when her ex-boyfriend shows up after having disappeared some years before. Utah actor K.C. Clyde is among the cast.

 

“The Salesman” (PG-13, in Persian with English subtitles). An Iranian couple is rehearsing scenes for a performance of Arthur Miller’s play “Death of a Salesman” when their collapsing house forces them to take up residence in a new apartment. One night the woman is sexually assaulted, which prompts the husband to seek revenge, but she is strangely indifferent about the event. Oscar-nominated for best foreign-language film. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Fist Fight” (R). Raunchy remake of the ’80s teen comedy “Three O’Clock High,” switching out students for teachers. When Andy (Charlie Day) is instrumental in the firing of Ron (Ice Cube), Ron calls him out for a fight after school. With Christina Hendricks, Dennis Haysbert, and Tracy Morgan, in his first film since his 2014 auto accident.

  

“A Cure for Wellness” (R). A young executive is sent to an idyllic but mysterious and remote “wellness center” in the Swiss Alps to retrieve his company’s CEO, but he soon begins to show symptoms of the same illness that has laid up many of the residents, then realizes he is a prisoner.

“Toni Erdmann” (R, in German with English subtitles). A retired German music teacher travels to Bucharest to reconnect with his workaholic daughter, but when his attempts seem to fail, the father, an exhaustive practical joker, dons an alter ego and invades her workplace. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Oscar Nominated Short Films 2017: Documentary” (NR). Collection of short films from around the world that have been nominated for this year’s Academy Awards. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)


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

RUNAWAY TRAIN

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Twilight Time at ScreenArchives.com has given this violent thriller a Blu-ray upgrade, which enhances its stunning snowbound visuals. Here’s my Jan. 24, 1986, Deseret News review. And despite some of the reservations I express here, the film earned Oscar nominations for both of its stars, Jon Voight and Eric Roberts.

Essentially combining two violent genres, “Runaway Train” is a prison escape picture that turns into a disaster picture … in more ways than one. The real disaster is the script, as contrived as they come.

But that’s not meant to simply dismiss the film, since “Runaway Train” boasts some harrowing suspense sequences and an offbeat trio of performances from its stars. (If you see Rebecca DeMornay in “The Trip to Bountiful,” you’ll never recognize her here — the role and the look are that different.)

In the lead is Jon Voight as a convict so hardened that the warden has welded him into his cell in an Alaska prison. Then, after three years in that cell and a subsequent civil-rights suit, he is finally let out to sojourn with the other prisoners.

Voight is a little hard to take as a brutal killer, and it doesn’t help that he plays the character as if this were a sequel to “The Champ,” looking and sounding like an over-the-hill pug. Still, it’s an undeniably interesting characterization.

     

                       Jon Voight, 'Runaway Train'

In the yard, he meets up with groupie Eric Roberts, in another of his patented whiny punk roles, and as might be expected Voight becomes a target of the warden and his cohorts, prompting him to attempt an escape.

And escape he does, reluctantly with Roberts in tow, and after an incredible trek through the snow they come upon a railroad yard and board a train — four engines locked together. But as the train pulls out, the engineer suffers a heart attack and falls out of the cab, leaving the train to barrel 90 miles-an-hour down the track.

It takes Voight and Roberts a while to catch on to what’s happening. Soon they stumble upon railroad worker Rebecca DeMornay and together they try to get to that front engine so they can stop the train.

That’s about it, storywise, but there are some genuinely spine-tingling moments as the film progresses.

     

Those are rather isolated moments, however. On the whole the film suffers from several problems — the aforementioned contrivances, an obnoxious performance by Eric Roberts, a pace that simply begins so frenetically it can’t be built upon, and a general feeling that the entire production is a bit overwrought.

This is also a very grimy movie. In contrast to the white snowcapped surroundings, the people and everything they touch are, without exception, filthy and horrifying, and the cinematography is deliberately gray and dingy. You may want to head directly for a shower when it’s over.

Andrei Konchalovsky, the Russian director of “A Slave of Love” and “Siberiade,” is a stylish filmmaker and “Runaway Train” boasts individual scenes that manage to transcend the rest of the film, lyrical moments that indicate what the film that might have been. But in the end he is overwhelmed by the material.

This is a movie for action buffs who don’t care that their movies have plot holes bigger than the tunnels the train goes through. And given the rapid movement of it all, the action alone may be enough for some.

“Runaway Train” is rated R for violence, nudity and an abundance of profanity.


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

GONE WITH THE WIND

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

The first time I saw the 1939 Civil War classic “Gone With the Wind” was as a young pup in 1961 when my parents dared to take me to a theatrical revival of the nearly four-hour picture.

They knew that even in my early double-digits I wouldn’t become fidgety because movies of all stripes captivated me. If it was on the big screen, I was there.

And “Gone With the Wind” didn’t disappoint. I was mesmerized at age 12 and have seen it many times since, and it still doesn’t disappoint.

“Gone With the Wind” didn’t invent the historical epic, of course, but it certainly refined movies of the era that were huge in scope and ambitious in multilayered storytelling in keeping with its source material, the Pulitzer Prize-winning novel by Margaret Mitchell.

And the movie’s ability to focus on one central character while carefully developing so many others in her orbit is something from which many modern filmmakers could take a lesson. (Modern Hollywood might also take something from the fact that the central character is a woman.)

     

   Vivien Leigh, left, Hattie McDaniel, 'Gone With the Wind'

“Gone With the Wind” is also wonderfully cast. Vivien Leigh, the young Englishwoman who was not yet well-known in America, won the coveted role of Scarlett O’Hara over dozens of other, more prominent American movie stars — and she proved to be the perfect choice. Leigh’s performance is utterly winning, despite the character’s self-centered motivations.

And Clark Gable, who was always the first choice for Rhett Butler, is also perfect. Thank goodness the filmmakers waited for him and didn’t go with someone else just to get the production moving.

Great performances also come from the actors in the two secondary leading roles, Olivia de Havilland, whose role of Melanie could have been sappy and grating but is instead quite endearing as the quintessential guileless, sweet-natured optimist, and Leslie Howard as the weak-willed Ashley Wilkes, though the character is not foreign to his earlier work.

But the real scene-stealer is Hattie McDaniel, whose characterization of house servant Mammy is hilarious and sly, witty and warm as she becomes Scarlett’s unwanted voice of reason.

I’m not going to excuse the film’s oft-vilified romanticizing of the Old South, nor its inaccuracies regarding Reconstruction after the Civil War, nor the slavery stereotypes that reflect the racism of the 1930s as much as the 19th century (most notably Butterfly McQueen’s Prissy and Oscar Polk’s Pork).

    

But let’s not forget that McDaniel did win an Oscar, becoming the first black performer to be so honored, and in doing so opened some doors. Quite a thing for 1939.

Taken as a whole, however, even if it’s just on a soap-opera level, “Gone With the Wind” is supremely entertaining stuff with many memorable scenes and some startling moments.

The direction by Victor Fleming (whose other triumph, “The Wizard of Oz,” came out the same year) wonderfully captures the scope of events, even as he was constricted by the square-ish film framing of the time.

Widescreen movies would not become an industry standard until 1953, but some scenes in “Gone With the Wind” nonetheless have a big, wide feel to them, especially sequences at Tara and Twelve Oaks, and the famous moment in Atlanta when Scarlett runs through the streets to find a doctor and stops in shock as the camera slowly pulls back to reveal uncountable wounded, dying and dead Confederate soldiers laid out in the seemingly never-ending main streets.

This music is also memorable, the editing is sharp, the pacing is solid, and in this early era of Technicolor, when black-and-white movies were the norm, “Gone With the Wind” is so vivid and rich in its colors that after seeing it you may want to smack the next director whose movie is bathed in muddy grays or oranges.

That “Gone With the Wind” remains the most popular movie of all time is inarguable. In terms of tickets sold and adjusting the numbers for inflation, not even “Avatar” or “Titanic” can touch it.

And its enduring popularity is attested to by how many times it’s been a part of the Cinemark Theaters’ classic-movies series over the past several years.

“Gone With the Wind” will play Friday, Feb. 22, at 6:30 p.m., in Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden.

This is a film that really is something special when viewed on a theater screen. Don’t miss it.


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

MAN FACING SOUTHEAST

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: A Blu-ray upgrade was given to this Spanish film last year by the niche label Kino Lorber. Here’s my June 10, 1987, Deseret News review.

“Man Facing Southeast” has an intriguing premise and is very much what mainstream American audiences think of as an “art” film: slow-moving, slightly pretentious, often abstract.

Doctor Denis, a psychiatrist at a mental institution in Buenos Aires, is informed that there seems to be an extra patient in the ward. At first Denis suspects the patient, who calls himself Rantes, is being chased by police and plans to use the hospital as a hiding place – especially when Rantes relates his story, claiming to be a visitor from another planet.           

Denis is curious, and comes to genuinely care for Rantes, but tries to keep the relationship professional at first. Soon, however, he finds himself wondering if Rantes might not be telling the truth.

    

Meanwhile, day after day, Rantes stands in the hospital courtyard, holding still for hours, always in the same position, facing southeast. This is how he receives transmissions from his superiors, he explains.

“Man Facing Southeast” is an easy-going film, a soft-sell, though it is rather blatant about its Christ imagery, and is most humorous in the way the irreligious Denis takes in what he sees.

But the audience may not be quite sure what to think. There is an odd scene early on where Rantes uses telekinetic powers to move dishes in a diner, which would seem to indicate that he really is an extraterrestrial. But later there are moments geared more toward making us wonder.

    

The film as a whole might have been more effective if we had no more physical evidence of Rantes’ claims than does the good doctor.

At the same time, however, the movie is loaded with wonderful little touches, lyrical, humorous or tender moments that are rather mesmerizing.

Obviously not for all audiences, “Man Facing Southeast” (rated R for a steamy sex scene, hospital gore, some profanity and destructive violence) is nonetheless quite a thought-provoking, touching film.