Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns



Robert Redford, holding court at the Sundance Film Festival.

For, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although the Sundance Film Festival story below is 20 years old, it’s surprisingly relevant to the current festival and Robert Redford’s role therein. Especially the final paragraphs, since last November Redford received from President Barak Obama the Medal of Freedom, which is the nation’s highest civilian award. The 2017 festival is now in progress in Park City and other venues around the state. This story was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 24, 1997, under the headline: ‘Festival remains a priority for perennially busy Redford’.

PARK CITY – In January of 1994, Robert Redford told the Deseret News he would not be at the Golden Globe Awards to accept the Cecil B. DeMille Award for lifetime achievement.

The next question was obvious: “Why not?”

“Well,” he said simply, “because I’m here.”

“Here,” of course, is the Sundance Film Festival.

Each January, the 10-day event is an important priority for Redford, who holds a news conference and makes his presence known at various events. And Festival ’97 was no different as Redford hosted the opening-night kickoff in Salt Lake City, and two days later was at his Sundance Resort for the annual morning chat with the press.

But at the moment, the actor/filmmaker has returned to his offices in Los Angeles, where he is in the throes of pre-production for his next movie, the highly anticipated adaptation of the popular novel “The Horse Whisperer.” (Filming begins in late February or early March.)

And though it is his fifth directing effort (after winning an Oscar for “Ordinary People,” and then helming “The Milagro Beanfield War,” “A River Runs Through It” and “Quiz Show”), the pressure may be a bit more intense than usual. For the first time, Redford the director will be putting Redford the actor through the motions.

Despite his absence during part of this year’s festival, Redford says it is no less important to him, and that no matter how busy he gets, he won’t be softening his commitment or involvement. “I spend a lot of time on the festival throughout the year,” Redford said by phone from his L.A. office. “And now with the Sundance cable channel, there’s a synergy between television and exhibition in Park City that kicks up the ante.”

Asked if he sees any irony in the fact that TCI cable is an “Official Sponsor” of the Sundance Film Festival, but does not carry the Sundance Channel for its customers, Redford says, “If you want to be kind, you could say ‘paradox.’ ” Then, after a pause, “Yes, a deep irony.”


President Obama awards Medal of Freedom to Robert Redford.

As with everything that bears the Sundance name (lifted, of course, from the character that made him an international superstar in 1969, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid”), Redford has also been hands-on with the Sundance Channel. He wants to ensure that it fulfills his vision as a place for a wide range of independent work. “That’s the point — the variety, the diversity, the television environment. And the more people who get access to it, the more appreciation they’ll have for being able to get something they’re not going to get anywhere else.”

And that’s precisely how he feels about the festival. “The nice thing about the festival is that it really runs on its own. It certainly doesn’t need me to walk out in front of it, like when we first started, when nobody knew we existed.

“The role that I now play is more behind the scenes, more of a design area, and trying to open and close the festival with, first of all, stating our purpose — and then restating it: It’s for the filmmakers.

“The chief priority is the filmmakers themselves. And behind them are the local people.” After a pause and a laugh, Redford adds, “And last are the meat-handlers — or the butchers in some cases,” meaning mainstream Hollywood.

Of course, while he clearly sees himself as an independent filmmaker, Redford has always worked for “the meat-grinders.” “The thing I’ve appreciated is that I’ve had a decent enough relationship with the studios that I can make independent movies within the studio system. And I have no complaints about how I’ve been treated.”


    Bill Clinton, left, Hillary Clinton, Robert Redford (1996)

Redford is mounting “The Horse Whisperer” for Disney (which also released “Quiz Show”), and he confesses that he has “mixed feelings” about trying to act and direct. “I get too involved in the characters that I play as an actor to be objective about it. If I’m directing myself, I will need to be objective about that. But I wanted to do it because of the feelings I have about the West and the meshing of that with the urban environment.”

He adds that his adaptation, with a screenplay by Richard LaGravanese (“The Fisher King,” “A Little Princess,” “The Bridges of Madison County”) is not going to be literal. “I’m not doing the book exactly as written. I don’t think I would have made the book exactly as it was written. But I’m intrigued by going somewhere with it.”

Asked about the National Medal of Arts he recently received from President Clinton at the White House, Redford said he is usually wary of awards, but this one surprised and pleased him. “I have mixed feelings about awards in general. When I didn’t take the Golden Globe, the lifetime achievement award, I was honored, but I just didn’t want to do it. I don’t like placing too much emphasis on awards.

“But I was quite taken back by this award. It was very, very special. And at one point, there I was standing in line waiting to go into dinner, I looked over and I was standing next to (Utah Republican Senator) Bob Bennett.

“Here I am standing next to someone I’ve been generally opposed to politically, but there we were talking about the importance of art, and I realized we were involved in something that transcended party politics.”

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017

Five new movies open this weekend, led by the story of the McDonald’s restaurant franchise.

“The Founder” (PG-13). Michael Keaton goes from fictional figures like "Batman" and "BIrdman" to this true story of Ray Kroc, an aggressive and duplicitous but struggling Illinois-based salesman who wormed his way into the family-run McDonald’s burger business in Los Angeles and eventually built it into the familiar multi-million dollar franchise with the golden arches. But at what cost? With Laura Dern, Nick Offerman, John Carroll Lynch, B.J. Novak, Patrick Wilson and Linda Cardellini.

“The Resurrection of Gavin Stone” (PG). Faith film comedy-drama about a washed-up former child star (Brett Dalton, of TV’s “Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D.”) who is doing community service at a megachurch when he decides to pretend to be a Christian so he can play the role of Jesus in the church’s elaborate pageant.


“Split” (PG-13, horror). James McAvoy stars in this horror yarn about a psychopath with 24 different personalities who kidnaps three teenage girls and traps them in a locked room with no windows. When the girls figure things out, they try to reason with some of their captor’s personalities.

“XXX: Return of Xander Cage” (PG-13 sequel). Xander Cage (Vin Diesel) comes out of his self-imposed exile and recruits a team of his old cohorts to help the CIA capture a weapon of mass destruction that is also on the radar of villain Xiang (Chinese martial-arts superstar Donnie Yen). Tai martial-arts star Tony Jaa is also here, along with Samuel L. Jackson and Toni Collette. This is the third film in the “XXX” frachise.

“20th Century Women” (R). Potential Oscar nominee Annette Bening stars in this comedy drama set in 1979 about a free-spirited middle-aged single mother who feels she’s losing touch with her teenage son (Lucas Jade Zumann), so she enlists the help of a live-in friend (Greta Gerwig) and the teenage girl (Elle Fanning) who lives next door. Billy Crudup co-stars.

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



For, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: A forgotten but worthy ’80s thriller gets a Blu-ray upgrade from the Shout! Factory. This was Mary Steenburgen’s ninth film in as many years and she acquits herself nicely, stretching her wings in a uniquely challenging lead role. Here’s my February 8, 1987, Deseret News review.

Director Arthur Penn has had a very up-and-down career.

The heights — “Bonnie and Clyde,” “The Miracle Worker,” “Little Big Man” — have been very high indeed. And the lows — “Targets,” “Four Friends,” “The Missouri Breaks” — have been, to put it kindly, disappointing.

So now Penn enters the fright-suspense genre and the results are, as might be expected, rather mixed.

This is a very old-fashioned movie in many ways, a basic story of deceit and treachery. A ruse is set up in an “old dark house” during a snowstorm that cuts the occupants off from civilization, the owner of the mansion is an antiques collector with a thick European accent who is confined to a wheelchair, there’s a secret passage behind a mirror and an actress is hired to impersonate someone she resembles — all of which are elements that have been used in countless horror yarns.

Even the presence of Roddy McDowall brings to mind dozens of other such pictures.

And that is perhaps the point, that Penn has no interest in giving us another ’80s slasher yarn … thank goodness. He’s kept the blood to a minimum, despite some aspects that could have gotten quite gory indeed, and the emphasis here is on suspense, and even more on the performances, particularly those by Mary Steenburgen, who plays three roles.

Penn was also very smart to hire Steenburgen. She gives the material a sense of class, a certain air that another actress might not have been able to pull off. And she is quite convincing all the way.


Jan Rubes, left, Roddy McDowall, Mary Steenburgen

Steenburgen’s main role is as an actress hired by foppish Roddy McDowall, supposedly to finish a film that is already halfway through production. She is told the original actress playing her part has suffered a breakdown and can’t finish the movie. Since Steenburgen resembles this actress, she will be made up to look more like her and audition at the home of the film’s producer.

McDowall drives Steenburgen through upstate New York in a raging snowstorm and finally they arrive at the huge old house in the middle of a small town. The house is owned by a wheelchair-bound doctor (Jan Rubes), a psychiatrist we soon learn. His house is loaded with an oddball collection of antiques and stuffed wild animals, animals he has killed himself.

McDowall, meanwhile, attends to Rubes’ every need, and proves himself quite the domestic — cooking, sewing, cutting and coloring Steenburgen’s hair, etc.

Steenburgen, of course, finds all of this unsettling, but she goes along, lets them reshape her looks and then performs a prepared scene on videotape, which she is told will be sent to the film’s director.

All of this is, to say the least, quite unorthodox, but since Steenburgen is portrayed as a rather desperate actress we can go along with it.


          Mary Steenburgen, 'Dead of Winter'

But eventually she discovers all is not as it seems and before long there are mutilations and dead bodies and all kinds of nasty goings-on. But the surprises are half the scary fun here, so I won’t leak any more.

“Dead of Winter” is quite flawed. The script, by video and commercial makers Marc Shmuger and Mark Malone, is pretty routine and fairly easy to figure out as it goes along. And it doesn’t help that Penn allows silly genre conventions to creep in — as when we hear screeching violins during one stabbing attempt, so obviously ripped off of Bernard Herrman’s “Psycho” theme that the audience tittered.

There is always the possibility that Penn took such liberties purposely, intending all of this as black comedy — and some would argue that almost all films with plots like these are intended as black comedies — but despite a few such obvious moments, we’re never really tipped off in that direction.

Or maybe he just wanted to make an old-fashioned homage to B-horror flicks. If that’s the case, however, he would have been better advised to try making his own film an A-horror flick.

“Dead of Winter” is rated R for violence, but again, none of it is nearly as explicit as what R-rated movies normally offer these days.

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.

Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism

  Click cover for 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



For, Friday, Jan. 20, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The popularity of some films defy explanation, and I say that as someone who took heat for, arguably, over-praising  ‘Buckaroo Banzai.’ ‘Dirty Dancing’ is one of those movies that isn’t bad, it’s just predictable, by-the-numbers and although it’s set in the 1960s feels very contemporary (circa 1987). Which is to say, its initial popularity is somewhat understandable but its enduring popularity is something unexpected. Still, it apparently struck a chord, leading to a brief TV series, a movie sequel of sorts (‘Dirty Dancing: Havana Nights’), a popular stage show and a three-hour TV remake scheduled to debut on ABC in May. So here’s a 30th anniversary revival of the 1987 film, a Fathom Events production that will play in local Cinemark theaters on Sunday, Jan 29, and Wednesday, Feb. 1, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my Sept. 2, 1987, Deseret News review.

“Dirty Dancing” is a better-than-average coming-of-age yarn about a young girl (Jennifer Grey), who spends her 1963 summer vacation at a Catskills resort with her family and falls for a talented, cynical working-class dance instructor (Patrick Swayze).


        Patrick Swayze, Jennifer Grey, 'Dirty Dancing'

Grey plays the daughter of a wealthy doctor (Jerry Orbach), and is extremely idealistic and naïve — looking forward to joining the Peace Corps and changing the world … after college, of course.

But reality comes crashing in when she becomes friendly with the employees, as she helps one dancer (Cynthia Rhodes) get an abortion on the sly, fills in for that dancer during an important engagement, and lies to her father (Jerry Orbach), disappointing him and causing their relationship to become rather frigid.

Then, despite the consequences of casual sex she observes in Rhodes, she begins a love affair with Swayze. (Does anyone ever come of age in the movies without losing their virginity?)


Grey learns lessons from Swayze and friends, and they learn lessons from her, and Dad eventually comes around and everyone lives happily ever after in an extremely sappy “Hollywood” ending.

Yet, there is that energetic dancing, the earnest performances of Grey (Matthew Broderick’s sister in “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”), nice pre-Beatles ’60s tunes and a romantic, gentle remembrance of the times.

On the whole, “Dirty Dancing” is an enjoyable light romance for older teens. It’s rated PG-13 for sex, partial nudity, profanity, violence and suggestive dancing.

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



For, Friday, Jan. 13, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: A fanciful exploration of our dream state, which predates ‘Inception’ by some 33 years but contains some similar elements, this sci-fi thriller is another film that has fallen through the cracks, only to be rescued by the Shout! Factory with a new remastered Blu-ray release. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 23, 1984.

The initial premise is far from original, with a little bit of “Scanners” and a bit more perhaps of “Brainstorm” giving “Dreamscape” its early ideas. And, unfortunately, like many films of this type, “Dreamscape” starts out imaginatively only to sink into a government-paranoia thriller.

Still, the film is, on the whole, enjoyable science fiction fare.

Dennis Quaid stars as a talented psychic, currently wasting his time with petty gambling schemes, and he is soon blackmailed by the government into participating in dream-research experiments. Scientist Max Von Sydow has developed a means of projecting those with psychic abilities into someone else’s dreams, with that second party becoming a participant.


        David Patrick Kelly, 'Dreamscape'

Perhaps not particularly original but a fascinating idea nonetheless, and it is developed quite well in its early stages, as we are shown the dreams of troubled people, with Quaid entering them to help solve their difficulties.

The first hints of problems in the film however, come early, with a giant snake monster that looks like something Sinbad might have battled in his “7th Voyage,” with the main plot being revealed as President Eddie Albert has nuclear-holocaust nightmares, which may lead to his calling for an all-out freeze. That causes high-ranking government official Christopher Plummer no end of dismay, so he plots to do away with the president.

Needless to say, Quaid, Von Sydow and fellow scientist Kate Capshaw (“Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom”) try to foil the plot.


'Dreamscape' poster, looking like an 'Indiana Jones' sequel

The special effects are pretty good, particularly those of Albert’s dreams, and there is a pretty funny comic sequence involving a mismatched married couple. Quaid is a charming lead player, Von Sydow, Plummer and Albert are their professional selves, but David Patrick Kelly (“The Warriors”) steals the picture as a wonderfully menacing rival psychic.

The newspaper ads make this film look like another “Indiana Jones,” though nothing could be less accurate, despite a scene in which a living man has his heart ripped out (albeit less graphically than in “Jones”).

“Dreamscape” is rated PG-13 for graphic violence, brief nudity and sex in a dream sequence, and profanity. This one would no doubt have received a PG under the old rules, but the more strict rating is certainly earned.