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Bart and Doug Seus play between training sessions in Heber City.

For, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the release of “The Bear” on Blu-ray and in widescreen for the first time (see review below), this story I wrote for the Thursday, Oct. 26, 1989, Deseret News might be of interest.

Bart is in a playful mood, poking his enormous paws under the bars of his cage and grabbing at Doug Seus. Later, Bart rolls on his back as he gets a rubdown through the bars from Seus' wife, Lynne.

Bart is the 1,800-pound, 9-foot Kodiak bear who stars, along with a cub named Douce, in "The Bear," a new film by Jean-Jacques Annaud.

In the film Bart plays a roaming bear in the wilds of unexplored British Columbia. But Bart has never been a wild bear, so he had to be trained in "natural" bear behavior. And he learned amazingly well.

You might naturally refer to Seus as the man who taught Bart to behave like a bear. He is Bart's trainer but that's an incomplete description. Their relationship goes well beyond that.

"You've got to love the animals if you want them to work for you," Seus says. "I love him and he knows it." And that love is enthusiastically demonstrated through the cage bars as Bart obeys several verbal commands and then reaches out for Seus — an attempt at a "bear hug," perhaps — as playfully frisky as a child.


Doug Seus working with Douce the bear cub on the set of 'The Bear'

In fact, Bart is very much like one of Doug and Lynne Seus' children. Bart came to their Heber City ranch in 1977 as a 6 week-old cub and was bottle-fed in their arms.

Since then he has grown considerably, of course, and seems to be the kingpin of the Seus ranch, which is a virtual zoo. There are the expected animals, such as horses and cats and dogs. But there are also such unexpected residents as Bart himself, an older black bear in the cage next to his, and on this day a row of wolves in cages, to be trained for a new film.

The Seuses and their son Clint have trained animals for several films, and Bart's credits include "Clan of the Cave Bear" and "The Great Outdoors," in which he knocked down a cabin door and sat on Dan Aykroyd (actually Clint doubling for Aykroyd).

"Behavioralists is what we are but basically I'm a frustrated biologist," Doug Seus said during a brief walking tour of his ranch.

Seus speaks in short, often unfinished, sentences and is very animated and enthusiastic as he demonstrates the behaviors he teaches his animals. In fact, he seems a stark contrast to Bart, who is more lethargic.

Filmmaker Annaud had "The Bear" in development since 1982, and when he approached Seus in spring of the next year, he had already become discouraged with the trained bears he auditioned around the world at circuses.


Doug and Bart comparing height on Sues' Heber City ranch.

Says Clint, "We were the last on their list, and they'd seen all sorts of bears and had all sorts of problems. But when they came here, we just walked him (Bart) out of his cage on his chain and let him play in the creek, and normally they have all the trainers and everything."

To say the least, Annaud was impressed.

Asked how he felt about the idea of the bear cub in the movie having dreams and hallucinations detailed for us, Seus said anthropomorphism, that is, giving human characteristics to animals, isn't as far-fetched as one might think.

"When a wolf loses a loved one, the biologist calls it separation anxiety. If you really look at it, it's grief.

"When a bear sits down at the table and prays with Grizzly Adams, that's appalling. But anthropomorphism from dreaming, feeling morose, that's a different story."

As for the work involved, Seus says that in "The Bear" they used "training techniques that won't be approached again — ever."

Adds Clint, "That was the most difficult thing I ever worked on or expect to work on."




For, Friday, Oct. 9, 2015

A drama with a local angle, a documentary about the youngest Nobel Peace Prize-winner and a reboot of “Peter Pan” lead new movies in theaters this weekend.

“Just Let Go” (PG-13). Dramatic film based on Chris Williams’ autobiography about his decision to forgive the 17-year-old drunk driver that caused a hit-and-run automobile accident in 2007, resulting in the deaths of Williams’ wife, his 11-year-old son, his 9-year-old daughter and their unborn child that his wife was carrying. Williams was a Mormon bishop in Salt Lake City at the time of the incident.

“He Named Me Malala” (PG-13). Documentary about Malala Yousafzai, the young Pakistani schoolgirl who spoke out about education for girls and as a result was shot in the face on orders from the Taliban. She survived, of course, and at age 17 became the youngest person to ever win the Nobel Peace Prize.

“Pan” (PG). Flashy family-friendly reboot of the “Peter Pan” story, with Levi Miller as innocent 12-year-old Peter, Hugh Jackman as a scenery-chewing Blackbeard the pirate, Rooney Mara as a take-charge Tiger Lily and Garrett Hedlund as an affable, friendly Hook.


“Walt Before Mickey” (PG). Biographical drama about Walt Disney, focusing on the earliest days of his career. Thomas Ian Nicholas stars as Walt, with Utah native Jon Heder as his brother Roy.

“Highway to Dhampus” (PG). A socialite from England visit a small orphanage in Nepal simply to improve her image but what happens is a surprising transformation. Rachel Hurd-Wood stars. Utahns involved include Rick McFarland making his directing debut, and Sam Cardon, who provided the musical score.

“99 Homes” (R). After losing his home in the 2008 housing market crash, a young man (Andrew Garfield) reluctantly goes to work for the greedy broker (Michael Shannon) that evicted them, and he finds himself evicting others like himself. Co-stars include Laura Dern and Kate Walsh.

“Mississippi Grind” (R). Comedy-drama starring Ryan Reynolds as chronic gambler looking to change his luck by teaming up with another gambler (Ben Mendelsohn) that’s on a losing streak. Sienna Miller and Alfre Woodard co-star. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Ladrones” (PG-13, in Spanish with English subtitles). Comedy-adventure about a pair of retired thieves (Mexican stars Fernando Colunga and Eduardo Yanez) who come together to help a humble hardworking community being swindled by a crooked diva.




For, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

Editor’s Note: After having been released 15 years ago on DVD in a pan-and-scan release, “The Bear” (1989) is finally getting its just due with a widescreen Blu-ray release, and it looks gorgeous. Here’s my review from the Oct. 27, 1989, Deseret News.

"The Bear" is a fascinating anthropomorphic look at a huge Kodiak, wounded by a hunter's bullet, and a young orphaned cub he befriends as they experience adventures both together and apart in the wilds of British Columbia, circa 1885.

There is very little dialogue in this film, only three human characters, and the central focus is on the two bears, remarkably trained by a Utah-based family.

And despite such other fairly successful similar efforts aimed at kids — chiefly "Benji the Hunted" and "The Adventures of Milo and Otis" — probably no one could succeed at such a venture on an adult level as well as director Jean-Jacques Annaud.

"The Bear" is very much a picture for older adolescents and adults, in terms of both mature content and the strong pro-environment message that hovers over this work (not to mention an anti-hunting message).


The overt messages, and some silly, cartoonish efforts to go inside the cub's head when he has nightmares and hallucinations, are the film's weakest links. At its best, "The Bear" simply allows us to follow its characters and natural narrative structure without shallow intrusions.

The story begins with the cub being orphaned when an accident occurs. The cub eventually wanders off and tries to learn to fend for itself but isn't too successful.

Then we meet the 9-foot Kodiak, along with two hunters who are tracking it. Eventually, one of the hunters aims badly and wounds the bear in the shoulder. But the Kodiak gets vengeance in an unexpected way, causing the hunters to vow to track down and kill the animal.

Soon the little cub links up with the Kodiak, though the latter is at first reluctant. And the rest of the film, more or less, has the hunters tracking the two bears while the bears try to avoid them.


There are the expected scenes of the bears interacting with other animals, most notably a mountain lion, some deer and a butterfly or two, along with demonstrations of survival instincts and backscratching techniques.

But on the whole, Annaud, who is best known for his incredible look at prehistoric man in "Quest for Fire" some years back, has created an amazing and quite memorable film in "The Bear." The cinematography is stunning, the setups are surprising and the performances of the bears are nothing short of mesmerizing.

Is there a category for best bear actor in the Academy Awards? They may have to invent it for this picture.

"The Bear" is rated PG for violence, a single profanity uttered by one of the hunters and an amusing scene where the smitten kodiak pursues a female bear behind a tree as the puzzled cub watches the tree shaking.

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, Oct. 2, 2015

“The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey: Extended Edition” (2012, PG-13).

“The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug: Extended Edition” (2013, PG-13).

“The Hobbit: The Battle of the Five Armies: Extended Edition” (2014, R). Adapting “The Hobbit” into three very long films is a bit ridiculous, especially given the brevity of J.R.R. Tolkein’s novel. But after his epic “Lord of the Rings” trilogy, what else would you expect from filmmaker Peter Jackson?

Still, it’s hard to quibble when they are so well done, and so well cast, with several “LOR” performers showing up in iconic roles and Martin Freeman so perfect in the lead as Bilbo Baggins, prodded by wizard Gandalf the Grey (Ian McKellen) to join a band of dwarves as they attempt to reclaim the Lonely Mountain from Smaug, a dragon (voiced by Freeman’s “Sherlock” pal, Benedict Cumberbatch).


But overlength is a problem, not that it’s likely to stop fans from seeing the extended Blu-ray editions of each film on the big screen for a special series of screenings over the next couple of weeks (see details below).

One of the curiosities here is that because of a couple of minutes of violence added to the last film, “Battle of the Five Armies,” its rating has been changed from PG to R! (The other two retain their PG-13 ratings.)

Can it really be that much worse? I doubt it.

But it’s hard to imagine that that will deter rabid fans either.


Each film shows for one night, “Unexpected Journey on Monday Oct. 5; “Desolation of Smaug” on Wednesday, Oct. 7; and “Battle of the Five Armies” on Tuesday, Oct. 13. Each will play at a variety of Cinemark theaters at 7:30 p.m.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

Surprisingly, “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and don’t come back!!)” (1980), the fourth film in the ongoing “Peanuts” big-screen franchise, has never been on DVD. Which is a shame since it is a charming entry among the cartoon adaptations of Charles Schultz’s beloved comic strip. But it’s on DVD now, it’s been remastered and it looks great. So here’s my review, which ran in the Deseret News on May 30, 1980. (And little did I know how prescient my last line would be, since, some 35 years later, the franchise is still vibrant, with a new “Peanuts” movie is about to be released on Nov. 6.)

Lucy, who is one of my favorite laugh-getters from the “Peanuts” gang, has only a walk-on in the latest full-length animated feature from the Charles Schulz factory.

As the entire crew goes to the airport to wish Charlie Brown and a couple of others farewell, Lucy joins the throng as they yell, “Bon voyage, Charlie Brown.” Then she adds, “And don’t come back!”

That, of course, makes up the title of this new movie — but we know he will come back, and we’re glad of it.


Snoopy drives the 'Peanuts' gang in 'Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown ... '

And “Bon Voyage,” etc., is every bit as charming as the previous three features and all the TV specials that have periodically made us laugh and sigh.

In this outing, Charlie Brown and Linus are selected by their school to be exchange students in France. Coincidentally, so are Peppermint Patty and Marcie, from their school.

Naturally, they are going to be in the same small French school and, naturally, Patty is going to drive Charlie Brown to distraction.

Along for the ride are Snoopy and Woodstock, and a good deal of the laughs, as usual, belong to them.

It’s all formula, and I don’t want to give any of it away, but I might warn any parents whose children are ultra-sensitive that this one is a bit more frightening than any of the “Peanuts” features thus far.

There is a burning home toward the end and a number of spooky sequences as Charlie Brown and Linus encounter a mysterious chateau.


But it’s all resolved well — and it shouldn’t inhibit your going, with or without the young ones.

It’s nice to know that some things stay the same in this world of change, and that Charlie Brown will bumble along through life and still steal your heart is one of the surest.

Thank you, Mr. Schulz.