Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns



For, Friday, July 29, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sandra Bullock celebrated her 52nd birthday this week, which for some reason makes me feel old. Perhaps it’s because I was the Deseret News movie critic when she started her Hollywood rise and I reviewed all of her movies until I eventually quit that grind. And when Bullock brought her first directing effort to Sundance nearly 20 years ago, I had the pleasure of speaking with her in advance of her appearance. This is that interview, headlined ‘Star takes turn behind camera,’ published in the Deseret News on Jan. 17, 1997.

“Hi, this is Sandy Bullock.”

Her voice is immediately recognizable over the phone as she calls from her Los Angeles home. And she’s so bubbly and enthusiastic and friendly that it’s easy to understand why Sandra Bullock has been dubbed “the girl next door” among modern movie stars. (OK, “Sandra” I can say — but for some reason it’s more difficult to call her “Sandy.”)

Bullock is undeniably the most popular female movie star in the business. And not just because she won a People’s Choice award last weekend.

Despite their appeal and megastar salaries, neither Julia Roberts nor Demi Moore — her equals in terms of salary — can “open” a film like Bullock. (In fact, when’s the last time anyone went to a movie because Roberts or Moore starred in it?)

But since her “overnight” stardom with “Speed,” Bullock has proven repeatedly that she is a genuine draw. Both men and women like her. “While You Were Sleeping” and “The Net” may have been cute films but without Bullock they probably would not have become solid hits. Last year’s “A Time to Kill” was another smash. (Her latest “In Love and War,” opens next week.)

And no one doubts that when “Speed II” is released in the summer (with Jason Patric taking over for Keanu Reeves) it will burn up the box office.

So why is she coming to the Sundance Film Festival, with its reputation as a showcase for small movies by first-time filmmakers? Because she is a first-time filmmaker and her small movie is playing in the festival.

Bullock’s short film “Making Sandwiches,” in which she also stars, will be screened four times in Park City, as part of “Shorts Program II.” And Bullock is taking a few days off from her “Speed II” shooting schedule to help promote her maiden voyage behind the camera.

And she’s genuinely excited about it. (Of course, it’s not hard to imagine Bullock being genuinely excited about something most of the time.) But she’s also surprised that the film was accepted. “I was really shocked. I figured I’d be given a really hard time, just because it was me. I didn’t make it to sell. I just made it for me, as a learning process.


Beth Grant, 'Making Sandwiches,' directed by Sandra Bullock

“And we just showed it to Sundance and said, ‘Look at it and tell me what I did wrong.’ And we got some great advice. But I really didn’t believe we’d get in. It was just one of those things, and it didn’t bother me because I’d already learned so much.

“So, when we got in, it was a real shock — a huge shock. Because Sundance means a tremendous amount to me. All these other film festivals said, ‘Sure, come on in.’ But I said, ‘If we’re going to do a festival, I’d rather risk it and wait.’ Sundance is the hardest one, but it’s the one that lets you know you’re on the right path, or that you’re not.”

Bullock is so dedicated to seeing audience reaction to “Making Sandwiches” that she doesn’t even mind trading the gorgeous atmosphere of the island of St. Martin, where “Speed II” is filming, for the snowy cold of Park City. “I can handle it. I’ll just pack two pairs of boots and a couple of sweaters.”

Bullock will only be able to stay for the first screening of her film on Saturday afternoon, however — then it’s back to the salt minds … so to speak … for “Speed II.”

“Or as we say there, ‘Speed, Part Deux,’ ” Bullock says with a laugh. “Oh, yes, it’s rough. I’m there until the end of February. This one’s a four-and-a-half, five-monther. And you get banged up and thrown off of things and run over and have your hair pulled — but then it’s 85 degrees, and you get to see the most incredible sunsets.”

As for “Making Sandwiches,” Bullock says the story of a young couple with a struggling business is something she’s been pondering for a couple of years. “It was a story I’d had in my head for awhile. The premise, the idea, the people — I had 29 (script) pages in my head.

“And then, during one Thanksgiving break a couple of years ago (while filming ‘A Time To Kill’), I wrote it on the back of various periodicals in the room. I mean, I had 29 pages of this story that was in my head and it started to just pour out. Out of all my years, it’s the only story I have.”

To get the film made, Bullock said she called on friends, and she called in favors. “I wrote it with very specific people in mind, actors who I knew could do it well. And I went to a girlfriend of mine who had always said she wanted to be an A.D. (assistant director), and I said, ‘Now’s your chance.’

“I just got on the phone and called everyone I’d ever worked with, and so many people who didn’t have to do it, did it — and it was great.”


Willem Dafoe, left, Jan de Bont, Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric in

               St. Martin, circa 1996, on the set of 'Speed II.'

Bullock said she and her cast (including Matthew McConaughey and Eric Roberts) and crew (“The crew got paid, the actors didn’t”) took over the small town of Oxnard, Calif., for 2 ½ weeks, where her assistants found the perfect location, a sandwich/pizza shop directly across the street from a coffee shop. “They found this perfect place. It was the place I wrote about but I had never been there. And we just talked these people into giving up their livelihood for two weeks. We begged, borrowed and stole. We got incredible equipment deal— and lots of free time, free equipment, free stuff — free advice.”

The hardest part, however, came after shooting was completed, when she had to go into the editing room and cut her film down from 50 minutes to 30 minutes. “I had to go away for awhile and then come back to it and edit. There were a lot of performances that were hysterical and great but which didn’t need to be there. So we lost them. But I’ll work with those people again, and put them into something better.”

After “Making Sandwiches,” does Bullock want to take on the task of directing a feature? “I would never do it unless I was so passionate about it that I felt nobody else could tell the story but me. It would take a lot of development and careful scrutiny. I don’t feel the need for that right now. I don’t have the talent yet. I don’t think I have it in myself to do the hour-and-a-half thing.”

Still, Bullock says she found “Making Sandwiches” to be a singular, exhilarating experience. “I hardly slept, but I never had more energy in my life.” Which probably means that if that energy could be tapped, it could light up a city.

Or at least the island of St. Martin.

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, July 29, 2016

Matt Damon returns to the role of Jason Bourne for a fourth film in that franchise and Woody Allen is back with his annual comedy, both providing highlights for this weekend’s new movies.

“Jason Bourne” (PG-13). After disappearing at the end of “The Bourne Ultimatum,” the title character (again played by Matt Damon) resurfaces with some memories returned but a lot of questions remaining. And the CIA isn’t happy to see him. Co-stars include Tommy Lee Jones, Alicia Vikander and Julia Stiles.

“Café Society” (PG-13). Woody Allen’s latest is an old-Hollywood comedy set in the 1930s, with Jesse Eisenberg as the starstruck son of a New York Jeweler who heads to Hollywood and becomes a gofer for his agent-uncle (Steve Carrell) and is smitten with his uncle’s secretary (Kristen Stewart). Co-stars include Jeannie Berlin, Blake Lively, Parker Posey, Corey Stoll and Sheryl Lee. Allen narrates the film.

“Nerve” (PG-13). Emma Roberts and Dave Franco are strangers drawn into a truth-or-dare-type online game that sends them out into the real world to perform challenges, but it turns dangerous when their personal information is hacked and their money drained. Juliette Lewis co-stars.


“Bad Moms” (R). Kristen Bell and Mila Kunis star in this raunchy farce about wife/mothers who decide they are tired of being pushed around by the judgmental supermoms around them. Kathryn Hahn, Christina Applegate and Wanda Sykes co-star.

“Life Animated” (PG). Documentary about a young boy with autism who opens up in reaction to Disney animated features. One of his favorite characters is the mouthy parrot from “Aladdin,” so Gilbert Gottfried, who voiced that character, is also here. Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas)

“Roseanne for President “ (Not Rated). Comic documentary about Roseanne Barr running an off-the-rails presidential campaign with a reality-TV approach. Interviewees include Michael Moore, Rosie O’Donnell, Sandra Bernhard, Tom Smothers and Rocky Anderson — yes, that Rocky Anderson, the former mayor of Salt Lake City. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas)

“Hunt for the Wilderpeople” (PG-13). New Zealand film about a rebellious boy who goes missing, along with his foster uncle, in the wild bush country. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas)

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



For, Friday, July 29, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Warner Archive, the groundbreaking manufacture-on-demand website, has begun reissuing movies that were previously released on DVD in full frame, restoring them to their widescreen splendor. None of the choices so far has been a classic, simply because the classics are already available on widescreen discs. But for fans of movies that were released on DVD from pan-and-scan prints, this is a wonderful decision. One of the latest is this Michael J. Fox vehicle that came along some six years after he hit it big with ‘Back to the Future.’ This review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 2, 1991.

Michael J. Fox is an enjoyable comic leading man, but how many films can he make that hang completely on his charm?

Like some of his other pictures, "Doc Hollywood" has some good ideas (though many are taken from other movies) and a terrific cast. But it suffers from a mediocre script (by three screenwriters whose efforts include "The Hard Way," "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" and "Pacific Heights").

Add to that some botched comedic timing by the editors and director (Michael Caton-Jones, who also did "Scandal" and "Memphis Belle"), and the result is overall disappointment, despite some sporadic laughs.

Fox's role seems tailor-made: He's a cocky med-school graduate who dreams of becoming a plastic surgeon in Hollywood. When he finishes residency in a Washington, D.C., hospital emergency room, Fox begins his trek to California. But an auto accident finds him waylaid in South Carolina, the small town of Grady to be specific.


            Julie Warner, Michael J. Fox, 'Doc Hollywood'

There, he is ordered by the local court to spend a week of community service in the local hospital, and, of course, he gets his comeuppance, learns a thing or two about humanity and falls in love with a local girl, who just happens to drive the ambulance.

Anyone who's ever seen a movie will probably be a step ahead of every plot development and certainly every joke. The attempt here is to do something along the lines of "The Egg and I," with a bevy of eccentric rural rubes who prove they're wiser than the city folks they encounter. (Chevy Chase's "Funny Farm" is the most recent film to try this motif.)

But the first third of the movie seems off, with Fox and his friends stumbling in and out of various situations that must have seemed funny on paper but don't quite make the translation to the big screen. (What can you say about a movie that makes big jokes out of vomiting, urinating and a cake shaped like nude female breasts?)

The film does get a bit better as it goes along, but the bevy of terrific character actors — Frances Sternhagen, Barnard Hughes, David Ogden Stiers, Woody Harrelson (who has a funny throwaway line about Ted Danson, his "Cheers" co-star), Roberts Blossom, Bridget Fonda, Eyde Byrde — are underused and never seem quite able to overcome the script's hurdles and lack of comedic energy.


All the cast members are good, of course, including Fox and newcomer Julie Warner, as his love interest, but it's simply not enough. (And such unnecessary modern excesses as having Warner introduced by rising up nude from a lake tend to undermine the film's attempts at old-fashioned sensibilities.)

All in all, a sad misfire, despite some amusing moments in the film's second half.

"Doc Hollywood" is rated PG-13 for nudity, profanity and vulgarity.

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, July 15, 2016

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.

And here it is again, playing Sunday, July 31, at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, Aug. 3, at 2 and 7 p.m. in several local Cinemark Theaters.

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



For, Friday, July 29, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another offbeat choice, in a string offbeat choices, for a Blu-ray upgrade is this Hitchcock-wannabe thriller, which Kino Lorber has remastered. This review was published in the Oct. 13, 1991, Deseret News.

No question about it, "Shattered" has potential in its first act. Oh, the mystery isn't that hard to figure out and things do start getting convoluted early on. But there's still enough excitement in the stylish direction and earnest performances that the viewer holds out hope.

By the time we get to the final act, however, it has all become so wildly preposterous and the characters remain so sadly underdeveloped, that even those in the audience who readily suspended disbelief will likely be shaking their heads.

"Shattered" begins with a car crash off a San Francisco seaside cliff. Greta Scacchi ("Presumed Innocent") is apparently thrown out and survives without a scratch, but Tom Berenger is inside as the car rolls down the hill, and when it finally comes to a halt he is horribly disfigured and comatose.

After a time, Berenger comes out of the coma, but now he has amnesia. After extensive plastic surgery, he is helped by Scacchi through his lengthy recovery (though it seems hurried in the film's first five minutes or so).

When they go home, to a plush seaside mansion near San Francisco, Berenger immediately goes upstairs to the bedroom and smashes a mirror. (This movie isn't called "Shattered" without reason — glass shards play a more prominent role than any of the stars.)


                 Bob Hoskins, left, Tom Berenger, 'Shattered'

Later, Scacchi re-introduces Berenger to their friends, reserved Joanne Whalley-Kilmer ("Willow," "Scandal") and overbearing Corbin Bernsen (TV's "L.A. Law"). Bernsen, who is also his business partner, doesn't hesitate to tell Berenger what a jerk he used to be, which is later verified by Whalley-Kilmer — though she suggests that it was Scacchi's fault.

The next day, Berenger returns to work, without the faintest idea what that entails. Worse, his concentration is constantly interrupted by clues that indicate all was not well with his marriage for quite a while before the accident.

And it doesn't help that he keeps having those flashbacks, the ones with shattered glass, ocean waves and a gun.

Eventually, Berenger hires eccentric retired private eye Bob Hoskins, an animal lover who runs a pet store — and who apparently feels a loss whenever he has to part with any of his stock.

Together they try to unravel the growing mystery of who Berenger really is, whether Scacchi tried to kill him by deliberately rigging that car accident and what's behind all that broken glass in his flashbacks.

"Shattered" is replete with Hitchcock elements — snatches of "Vertigo," "Suspicion," "Spellbound" and "Rear Window" abound. Even Alan Silvestri's music echoes Hitchcock. Of course, Hitch never resorted to using the oldest of movie clichés, amnesia and plastic surgery, in the same film!


Adapting a novel, "The Plastic Nightmare" by Richard Neely, writer-director Wolfgang Petersen uses all the best suspense elements from his earlier films, the claustrophobic German U-boat thriller "Das Boot," the children's fantasy "The NeverEnding Story" and the science-fiction epic "Enemy Mine." Petersen also employs some great, if standard mood effects — fog, rainstorms, crashing waves, an abandoned ship. But, unfortunately, he forgets to make us care about the characters.

Berenger is convincing as a man trying to rediscover his past, though he's a bit bland (which may be intentional, given that he remembers nothing about himself). But Scacchi, Bernsen and Whalley-Kilmer are barely onscreen enough to register, much less create any dimension.

The only one to leave a mark is Hoskins' funny, eccentric detective, whose character traits are many, giving Hoskins the opportunity to have a field day. And yet, he's a bit too familiar — a reworking of his "Who Framed Roger Rabbit" role, perhaps?

All splash and no substance, in the end "Shattered" is merely a film that relies on its excesses instead of its story or characters.

And that includes its R-rated elements: There is the expected violence and profanity, but they are relatively restrained compared to the unnecessary over-abundance of sex and nudity.