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ALAN'S AFFABLE ALDA TIME

 

                  Alan Alda, circa 1988, left, and today

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Please forgive the horrible alliterative pun in the headline, but hey, it’s my website! Alan Alda went public last year about having been diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease, though it hasn’t seemed to slow him down. He’s now 83 and his most recent acting role was a month ago as a recurring character on the sixth-season finale of Showtime’s ‘Ray Donovan’ series. (Ironically, a featured character on the program has had Parkinson’s for several years.) Alda has also been active in various scientific and cosmological fields and has a very curious mind. He proved that to me some 31 years ago when I interviewed him for the comedy-drama ‘A New Life,’ in which he starred, along with writing and directing (his third such effort). I found myself answering almost as many questions as I was asking, but he’s such an affable fellow it was hard to complain. Below is that interview, published March 18, 1988, in the Deseret News under the headline, ‘Alan Alda: Despite the fame, he’s still just like an old friend from down the street.’ (Alda was quite curious about the job of movie critic, and I’ll provide my response here next week in a column that was a follow-up to this article.)

DENVER – Alan Alda looks like any ordinary guy as he walks into a Denver television station wearing a nondescript overcoat over a gray sweater. His tie is loosened and the shirt collar is unbuttoned. Maybe he’s a technician or an executive.

But that familiar loping gait, the Hawkeye Pierce swagger that has always been part Groucho Marx, gives him away. He hasn’t even spoken yet — and that voice really gives him away — but before he gets to the studio that is his destination he’s surrounded by an entourage of fans who just want to get a look.

Alda doesn’t give autographs, it is explained, and oddly no one seems disappointed. Familiar from “M*A*S*H” reruns that may be TV fodder for centuries to come, as well as his more recent theatrical films and TV ads for IBM, Alda is more than a movie star-director-writer-pitchman … he’s a nice guy. The fellow from down the street. An old friend.

He’s Alan Alda.

Even his name has come to personify something in particular, bandied about in sitcoms as a metaphor for “the sensitive man” — particularly sensitive toward women. He’s a cliché for the gentle male feminist.

“That public image that I seem to have never strikes me as real — it’s one-sided, it’s ‘Mr. Nice Guy’ and stuff like that,” Alda said in an interview Wednesday. “All clichés are one-dimensional.”

The Deseret News interview was held in an empty studio at KMGH-TV, the CBS affiliate in Denver where Alda had come to promote his latest film, “A New Life,” which opens next Friday.

He had just finished taping a noon “infotainment” show with a gushing host and an enthusiastic audience, the latter prompted by a stage manager who rallied applause before a film clip from “A New Life” was able to reach its punchline. But Alda graciously pretended not to notice and was quite charming for the full half-hour.

Alda says he’s not doing too much traveling with this movie, but last weekend he gave 55 interviews in one day to press from all over the country gathered in Los Angeles. He’s in Denver Wednesday. Chicago Thursday. And on to New York.

He’s characteristically modest, always couching his talk about himself with words that indicate he is “trying” to achieve certain success in his work, and not that he’s sure he has achieved it.

     

Alda, center, with fellow 'A New Life' cast-members Victoria Hamel, Ann-Margret and John Shea.

Despite his protestations, it’s hard not to see him as “a nice guy.” But he flinches at the shallowness of the description.

“I have to be honest that in the beginning it used to rankle. It’s kind of funny that a person would feel bad about being called a nice guy, or sensitive. That’s not a bad trait, that’s a good trait, and maybe I am sensitive or not too much of a bulldozer, and that’s not too bad to be that. But I also know, and people close to me know, that that’s just one side of it.”

Which may explain why the characters Alda has written for himself to play in “The Seduction of Joe Tynan,” “The Four Seasons,” “Sweet Liberty” and now “A New Life” seem to be slightly obnoxious, rather selfish and self-centered. That’s never been more true than with his latest character, a bearded workaholic stock trader, whose wife (Ann-Margret) leaves him after a 26-year marriage, forcing each to begin anew.

“He’s very different from any character I’ve ever played, which made it really fun for me as an actor. (He’s) a little selfish, opinionated, doesn’t care what people think of him, has his own way all the time and gets really sore if he doesn’t get his own way.”

But Alda says he doesn’t deliberately write characters for himself who are the antithesis of his perceived persona. “When I try to write a character, I try to write a lot of different sides.

“I’m not aware of doing it to try and correct a public image. I don’t know. What I’m aware of is trying to find real characters, characters that strike me as real people. And it seems that they’re not real if they’re not flawed in some way.”

As for the beard, which goes from gray to darkened and back to gray during the course of the film: “To me that makes him more of a specific person. People have seen my face a lot, on ‘M*A*S*H’ ” and on interviews, as a private citizen I campaigned politically for the Equal Rights Amendment, and so people have an impression of this face. I hope it’s fun for people to see me try to act a different person. It was a lot of fun for me. I never had such a good time.”

Alda said that though he has been happily married for 31 years he became interested in the subject of divorce in the ’80s through friends, in particular one who was in his early 50s, married a younger woman and suddenly found that he was going to be a father. “He was going to Lamaze classes and was finally present at the birth.” The same thing happens to Alda’s character in the film.

But I wasn’t really interested in writing it as a movie until I realized I would probably enjoy also following what happened to his first wife. I think you get a more balanced view of what life is like now for suddenly single people (by) following both of them.”

 

What’s more, Alda said, virtually everything in the film springs from a real-life situation. “Some of the funniest things they say and some of the more touching things they say came from real people. So I can praise them without patting myself on the back because all I did was listen and find a way to put it together.”

Alda said his method of developing a script is to write notes to himself and throw them in a “crummy little nylon bag that I carry around with me wherever I go.” When the notes get him excited enough he begins to write the script.

For “A New Life” the inspiration came at Robert Redford’s Sundance Institute in Provo Canyon two years ago when he attended as a resource director for the June lab.

“I was so excited, so stimulated by being with other filmmakers all day long, talking about moviemaking all day long, that I looked at my notes one day and said, ‘I’m going to start. I’m not going to worry about failing.’ Not starting is really fear of failing, I think. The tenor of the place there at Sundance is, ‘You’re supposed to fail. You come here to fail. To learn and to get better.’ And I tried it, and I started writing and I had a first draft a couple of months later.”

Alda has no immediate plans for the future, except to promote “A New Life” and do his IBM commercials. Since most of his fellow “M*A*S*H” cast-members have gotten together for IBM ads, the natural question seems to be whether he and the group would all do a mini-“M*A*S*H” reunion as a future commercial spot. “They tell me that (we will). I’m looking forward to that.”

And of trade paper reports that he’s working up a sequel to “The Four Seasons”? “I keep reading that too. But I keep not thinking of one. I haven’t got an idea that I think works yet. I would love to see what happens to those characters 10 years later, because the world has changed so much. And I love those characters. They’re very specific. They really seem like real people to me. But I don’t want to do it just to do a sequel. I want it to be something I would like to go see myself. I don’t want it to seem like a ripoff either.”

Though he writes and directs his own movies now, Alda says he is not opposed to doing films for other writers and directors. He just hasn’t found one that’s been alluring enough.

“I’m actively looking for it. It would have to be something I really want to do. I’m offered things that wind up being played by a very wide range of people. And some of them are cops and some of them are businessmen, lawyers or doctors, blue-collar people sometimes. And I like that.”

Alda’s father was the late Robert Alda, a distinguished actor in his own right. And Alda’s daughters Elizabeth and Beatrice have also acted, together in “The Four Seasons,” and Beatrice plays Alda’s daughter in “A New Life.”

“I do exactly what my father did. I discourage them and then I do everything I can to help them. That’s what he did with me. He got me a job once in Italy working in a play with him. And then I went up and did a small part in a television show he was doing. He tried to help me get some experience. I made my daughters big speeches about how they should find some other profession and I wrote them parts in ‘Four Seasons.’ One daughter’s not acting now, she’s studying to teach deaf children. Beatrice is still acting, although she’s exploring other parts of the business. It’s very tough to be an actor.

“I hope my kids are happy in whatever they’re doing. I hope they can be as happy as I’ve been. I’ve been very happy, very lucky.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

VALENTINE’S DAY FARE

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

This week’s new movies include two that opened on Wednesday (Valentine’s Day Eve), one that opened on Thursday (Valentine’s Day) and a couple of art-house films that arrive Friday.

“Alita: Battle Angel” (PG-13). In the year 2563, a young woman (Rosa Salazar) discovers that her scientist father (Christoph Waltz) has actually reconstructed her from cyborg parts found in a junkyard. When she discovers her true powers and purpose, she attempts to save the world from oppressive hunter-warriors. With Jennifer Connelly, Mahershala Ali, Jackie Earle Haley and Michelle Rodriguez. James Cameron co-produced and co-wrote this live-action/animated sci-fi adventure with Robert Rodriguez directing.

“Happy Death Day 2U” (PG-13). This is a sequel, in case the title doesn’t give that away. And the first film, a PG-13 comic-slasher riff on “Groundhog Day,” wasn’t too bad. So Jessica Rothe (who always reminds me of Blake Lively) is back as the college student who was caught in a time loop — and now she’s inexplicably caught in one again, but this time with her friends also being targeted by the creepy baby mask-wearing killer.

  

“Isn’t it Romantic?” (PG-13). Rebel Wilson stars in this spoof of romantic-comedy movie clichés as a cynical architect who grew up in Australia watching and believing too many such movies. Now living in New York City, she eschews the very notion of finding a soul mate until she is knocked out and awakens in a candy-colored alternate universe where she is fully aware of being surrounded by the very rom-com tropes she abhors. With Liam Hemsworth, Adam DeVine and Jennifer Saunders.

“Capernaum” (R, in Lebanese with English subtitles). Nominated for an Oscar as best foreign-language film, this drama tells the story of a 12-year-old Lebanese boy who takes his parents to court to sue them for giving him life, then shows in flashback how he has come to rebel against the life he’s been given. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“The Wandering Earth” (Not Rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles). This Chinese sci-fi epic is set in the near future as the sun is dying out. So to save mankind scientists draw up an escape plan that requires thousands of huge fusion-powered engines to move Earth out of the Solar System and into the Alpha Centauri system, a 2,500-year journey that is fraught with peril. (Exclusively at the AMC Theaters in West Jordan.)


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

WILLOW

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Willow’ has always felt like a Disney film but it was actually produced by Lucasfilm and released by MGM back in 1988. Now, however, as it is given a 30th anniversary Blu-ray facelift (that includes all the special features from previous DVD/Blu-ray releases), the family fantasy is on the Disney video label … because Disney now owns Lucasfilm. Ah, symbiosis. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on May 20, 1988.

George Lucas’ “Willow” is a long way from “Star Wars” originality (in execution if not entirely in concept), but it’s also satisfying enough to redeem him from the eggs laid by “Howard the Duck” and “Labyrinth.”

A fantasy film set in a medieval world with magic abounding, and fairies and brownies and trolls as taken-for-granted characters, “Willow” is filled with pilfered ides from other tales. In fact, you can tick of the yarns that provide this picture’s inspirations as they roll by: “Gulliver’s Travels,” “Peter Pan,” “Lord of the Rings,” “Stagecoach,” “The Wizard of Oz,” “He-Man,” the story of Patty Hearst (in reverse) and Lucas’ own “Star Wars” films. Not to mention the Bible.

But then, most quest fantasies feed off of each other — even the best. So once you’ve forgiven that and accepted the special effects-laden landscape here, “Willow” is generally quite a lot of fun.

     

                           Warwick Davis, 'Willow'

The star is Warwick Davis as the title character, a dwarf living peacefully in his own land with his own people, wishing he could be a great sorcerer but managing just variations of parlor tricks for the moment.

Then his children discover a baby that has been set adrift on the river, and he and his wife try to care for it. But they soon discover that the evil queen (Jean Marsh, of TV’s “Upstairs Downstairs”) has sent her army to capture the infant, to perform a ritual that will keep the child from destroying her evil power, as has been prophesied.

Willow takes the babe and heads for the hills, hoping to enlist the aid of a good sorceress, and along the way taking up with petty thief Madmartigan (Val Kilmer, the Iceman in “Top Gun”).

But story is secondary to a picture like this, and Lucas’ Industrial Light and Magic folk provide the real impetus, with all kinds of creatures and monsters and wild effects.

     

Director Ron Howard (“Cocoon,” “Splash”) keeps things moving and brings out a wonderful performance from Davis. He’s the charmer that holds it all together.

Howard has also taken a lesson from “Raising Arizona,” using close-ups of the baby here to show that amid all the mayhem and violence, the child is grinning and cooing and having a great time.

But Howard spends far too much time with those chaotic battles, and after a while one more fight is just one fight too many.

Overall, however, the dry spell that has had fantasy fans very thirsty is over. For the most part, “Willow” delivers the goods.

“Willow” is rated PG for violence and some mildly vulgar humor, but a PG-13 would have been more appropriate considering how gory some of the violence is.


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 (with permission) from my 40 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 no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.

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 here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Click here for Amazon store.

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

GONE WITH THE WIND

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Outta the way, ‘Titanic.’ Make room, ‘Star Wars.’ Who needs ya, ‘Avatar’? When adjusted for inflation, ‘Gone With the Wind’s’ ticket sales still mark it as the top box-office movie of all time. No kidding. So if you haven’t had the pleasure, here’s an opportunity — for the film’s 80th anniversary! — to see all four hours of this grand Civil War epic on the big screen, Thursday, Feb. 28, and Sunday, March 3, at various Cinemark and Megaplex theaters, courtesy of Fathom Events. Showtimes are 1 p.m. or 6 p.m. or both (check with the theater of your choice).

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 15, 2016

The first time I saw the 1939 Civil Wasr classsic "Gone With the Wind," I was 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 nad 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, Olivia de Havilland, Leslie Howard, '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 guintessential 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-vilivied 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 Butterly 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 scens 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 Confederal solciers laid out in the seemingly never-ending main streets.

The 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 numbers for inflation, not even "Avatar" or "Titanic" can touch it.

And it enduring popularity is attested to by how many times it's been a part of Fathom and Cinemark's classic-movies series over the past decade.

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

SERIAL MOM

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A cult favorite, ‘Serial Mom’ is one of the less mainstream efforts by sick-humor filmmaker John Waters. As such, the Shout! Factory has seen fit to give it a 25th anniversary Blu-ray upgrade. Here’s my review of the film, published in the Deseret News on April 22, 1994. (And, as noted in the plot points, it may make you nostalgia for landline phones and no caller ID.)

Kathleen Turner seems to be having the time of her life in "Serial Mom," playing Beverly Sutphin, a deranged homemaker who, on the surface at least, seems to be the perfect supermom.

In reality, however, Beverly is a serial killer who takes out neighbors, teachers and friends of her children in retaliation for such crimes against humanity as refusing to recycle, driving without a seat belt and chewing gum.

"Serial Mom" is played out in a straight-faced manner most of the way, showing dates and times at the bottom of the screen to evoke that reality-TV movie-of-the-week sensation. And writer-director John Waters ("Hairspray," "Polyester") sets his sights on such ripe satirical targets as tabloid television programs (which have been a bit overspoofed lately), courtroom dramas and the idealized, cliché-ridden fantasy view of "Leave It to Beaver" suburban life.

But the film goes off in so many directions, and Waters is so self-satisfied with shock and gross-out elements, that it wears out its welcome before we even get to the courtroom.

     

      Suzanne Somers, left, Kathleen Turner, 'Serial Mom'

Beverly bakes cookies, keeps her home sparkling clean, knows the garbage collectors by their first names, and every morning she fixes the perfect breakfast to send off her dentist-husband Eugene (Sam Waterston, whose performance consists primarily of broad mugging) and their two teenage kids, Chip (Matthew Lillard) and Misty (Ricki Lake, a Waters regular who also hosts a daytime TV talk show).

But after the family has gone for the day, Beverly slips into the bedroom, where she keeps her autographed photo of Richard Speck, her personal audiotape from Ted Bundy, and books and scrapbooks about other notorious serial killers. This is also where she goes to place obscene phone calls to that nasty neighbor down the street who stole a parking space from her at the local supermarket.

And as others in the neighborhood offend, they too will pay a stiff price.

This sounds like it has the potential to be great fun, in a very dark satirical way, of course. And there's no denying that there are some laughs.

But Waters is far from subtle, and after a while some of the more disgusting elements are anticipated more with dread than glee. (Beverly impales someone with a fireplace poker, literally ripping out his heart; she sneezes in church, spitting on a child; a disgusting scene from the gory horror movie "Blood Feast" is shown; etc.)

     

There are also places where Waters' material is so threadbare that the humor depends entirely on the viewers' knowledge of such camp celebrities as Mink Stole, Traci Lords, Patricia Hearst, Joan Rivers and Suzanne Somers.

This is intentionally sick humor, of course, but even for those with a strong stomach or a very broad-minded sense of humor, there are places here where Waters simply goes too far.

Still, there is something delightfully perverse about Kathleen Turner trying to run someone down with her car as she cheerfully sings Barry Manilow's "Daybreak."

"Serial Mom" is deservedly rated R for violence, gore, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and marijuana smoking.