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CINEMA SAINTS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Just in time for Utah’s 24th of July celebration it seems appropriate to look back at some of the movies that portray members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (or, as I like to say, the church formerly known as ‘Mormon’). This feature story was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 25, 1993, with an art head reading ‘Cinema Saints: How Mormons are portrayed in Hollywood,’ and a headline and deck reading ‘Stereotypes: Movies generally show Mormons as latter-day quaints: Striking number of films portray church and Utah as backward, bizarre, hypocritical — or idyllic.’

TAKE ONE: Phoebe Cates and Tim Roth play friends who used to have a romantic relationship in “Bodies, Rest & Motion,” a romantic comedy that played in competition at the Sundance Film Festival in January and which will be released later this year.

The story is set in a small Arizona town and in the opening scene Cates and Roth are teasing each other. At one point Roth talks about hitting the road for Butte, Mont., and Cates points out that they’ll have to drive through Utah. “There’s no good radio in Utah. It’s all religious programs.”

They then paint a fictional scenario that has Roth being picked up by the Utah Highway Patrol for drunken driving. “The judge is Mormon,” Cates says. “You get 15 years!”

TAKE TWO: In the HBO TV comedy series “Dream On,” an episode from last year has Brian Benben’s character finding himself physically attracted to his first cousin, played by Helen Slater. To his surprise, Slater returns his affection.

But, wracked by guilt after a kiss, Slater mutters, “This is not good. This is not healthy.”

Benben replies, “This is not legal! Except maybe in Utah.”

TAKE THREE: The eccentric, counter-cultural on-the-road tale “Roadside Prophets,” which played in theaters last summer, has a moment where the protagonist (John Doe) enters a Nevada “Motel 9.”

The man behind the desk is apparently composing a birthday poem for his young son and has a birthday gift on his lap, though we can’t see what it is. Doe asks if there is a casino nearby. “We don’t go in for that kinda stuff around here,” the man behind the desk says. “We’re Mormons.”

He then stands up, revealing that the gift for his son is a rifle.

TAKE FOUR: Last month, a notorious episode of “Picket Fences,” which did not air locally, had as its main plot a teenage girl in high school discovering she is pregnant.

For two-thirds of the show, which is set in the fictional town of Rome, Wis., the audience is led to believe that the girl is involved in an incestuous relationship with her father. An early scene has her discussing abortion with a friend and saying sarcastically, “You know my father, the Latter-day Saint. Abortion is a mortal sin in our church. Plus, my father would disown me.”

Eventually, after he is charged with incest, it is revealed in court that the girl’s “father” is actually her husband. He is a polygamist and she is his second wife.

The defense attorney explains, “My client is a Mormon.” But Judge Henry Bone (Ray Walston) says in chambers, “Mormons don’t practice polygamy anymore. The church has condemned it.”

The polygamist replies,  “The Church was forced to condemn it, by federal law. Otherwise the whole religion would have been banned. There’s still a lot of Mormons that believe in polygamy. And I’m one of them!”

                                                            *****

Hollywood deals in stereotypes. Ask a lawyer, doctor, psychiatrist, policeman or stockbroker how they feel about the way their professions are portrayed in movies and on television, and they’ll likely say the same thing — Hollywood never gets it right.

Or in the case of ethnic stereotypes, ask American Indians or Asians or Jews — or women — the same question.

Similarly, culture and religion are frequently misrepresented, whether for the sake of a plot device or a one-line gag.

     

Phoebe Cates, Tim Roth, 'Bodies, Rest & Motion' (1993)

After all, movies generally have only two hours to tell their stories, and the easiest cinematic tactic is to deal in images that evoke and immediate, recognizable response. Whether or not that response is accurate or deserved.

In the case of Christian religions, Catholics are the most frequently maligned, and certain other groups — the Amish, for example — are sometimes portrayed as broadly exaggerated types.

But it’s surprising how often “Mormons” crop up. Whether they are actually supposed to be members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, ex-Mormon fundamentalists or merely members of Utah’s “culture.” And, yes, that oldest of old saws, polygamy, is still the most common element.

In some ways, movies have come full circle in the portrayal of Mormons. In the earliest days of film, the silent era, the polygamous stereotype was often used as either a joke or a stock villain.

But in the 1930s Hollywood developed a censorship code, which decreed, among other things, that religion could not be defamed. So, Mormon in the movies took on a new image — stoic pioneers.

Then, when the Production Code began to break down in the ’50s, religion became fair game. And in recent years, Mormons have once again become either jokes or stock villains.

                                                            *****

TAKE FIVE: Kathleen Turner plays a woman who finds herself reliving her high school past in the 1986 film “Peggy Sue Got Married.” Late in the film she is attracted to a beatnik poet (Kevin O’Connor) who wants to run away with her after graduation. Where does he want to go? Utah.

“Utah?” says Turner. “What’s in Utah?”

“Rita,” O’Connor replies. “She’s got this great little cabin just outside the hills of Provo where she raises chickens. I’ll write and you two can take care of the chickens to support us.

“I can’t do that,” Turner responds.

“Why not?” asks O’Connor. “Polygamy’s legal in Utah.”

TAKE SIX: In an episode of the popular TV series “Cheers,” manager Rebecca (Kirstie Alley) sees a bouquet of flowers on the bar and after commenting on them finds herself in an obtuse conversation with bartender Sam (Ted Danson) and regular customer Norm (George Wendt):

“Oh, why can’t more men send flowers?” Rebecca laments.

Sam responds: “I didn’t know Mormons couldn’t send flowers.”

Rebecca: I said more men, not Mormons!”

Sam: “I know they can’t dance.”

Norm, interrupting: “No, Sammy, that’s the Amish.”

Sam, to Rebecca: “Why can’t Mormons send flowers?”

Rebecca: They can!”

Sam: “Then what are you talking about?”

Rebecca: “I just wish someone would send me some damn roses!”

Sam: “Well why does it have to be a Mormon?”

Rebecca storms off and Sam adds, “Some people you just can’t discuss religion with.”

     

               Ted Danson, Kirstie Alley, 'Cheers'

TAKE SEVEN: In Sam Peckinpah’s “The Getaway” (1972), a caper-thriller starring Steve McQueen, Ali MacGraw goes into a bar and is approached by a young soldier.

“Say, you wouldn’t happen to be a Mormon, wouldja?” he asks.

“No, I’m afraid not,” McGraw responds, chuckling.

“Me neither,” the soldier says. “I’m from Orem. That’s right near Salt Lake. There’s about 12 people in the state who aren’t Mormons and I’m one of ’em.”

TAKE EIGHT: “Without a Trace” (1983) stars Kate Nelligan as Susan Selky, a New York woman whose young son has disappeared. Eventually, her former baby sitter, a young man named Philippe (Keith McDermott), is arrested and charged with murdering the boy. A homosexual, he was convicted in Utah of child molestation. He tells Susan he is innocent and explains his past:

Philippe: “In Salt Lake City I fell in love with a college freshman. He was a music prodigy. His father was an elder of the church. When his parents found out about us they had me arrested for rape. I guess they figured if they changed what it was called they were changing what it was.”

Susan: “You pleaded guilty.”

Philippe: “If that surprises you, you don’t know much about Mormons or Utah.”

                                                            *****

The first movie to depict Mormons was probably Thomas Edison’s nickelodeon film “A Trip to Salt Lake City” in 1905, a two-minute gag picture about a polygamous family aboard a train. His many children want drinks, so Dad comes up with a singular solution — a milk canister with dozens of straws.

More typical, however, were some 30 to 40 anti-Mormon propaganda films, such as the 1913 Hollywood production “A Mormon Maid” and the 1922 English film “Trapped By the Mormons.” While those two have survived, the others have, along with the majority of the silent era’s output, been lost due to film-stock deterioration. We may never see “The Mormon,” “A Victim of the Mormons,” “Marriage or Death” or “Mountain Meadows Massacre.”

In 1940, 20th Century Fox gave us “Brigham Young,” with Dean Jagger in the title role, though his character was somewhat subordinate to the romantic plot between a young pioneer couple (Tyrone Power and Linda Darnell; Vincent Price played Joseph Smith in early scenes). The film fictionalized history and gave a deliberate back seat to polygamy. (It has not been released on video.)

But the film’s historical contribution was in changing the Mormon persona over the next two decades. Now the perception was pioneers who demonstrated faith, determination and, yes, “family values.”

From major-studio productions shot on location in southern Utah, such as John Ford’s “Wagon Master,” to B-movies shot on a California back lot, Mormons became heroic figures.

Television, mostly through Western shows, helped perpetuate the image through the ’50s and ’60s in episodes of “Bonanza,” “Death Valley Days,” “Wagon Train” and “The Big Valley,” among others.

Then, in 1969, Josh Logan’s epic movie version of the stage musical “Paint Your Wagon” took some comic pokes at polygamy, and Mormons again became a joke. “They Call Me Trinity,” “The Duchess and the Dirtwater Fox” and others in the ’70s kept it up.

And in the ’80s, Mormons in the movies again became either gag lines or villains. The latter included theatrical films like “Messenger of Death” (1988), about warring polygamist clans in Colorado, and such “based-on-a-true-story” TV vilms as “Deliver Then from Evil: The Taking of Alta View” (1992), about Richard Worthington’ assault on Alta View Hospital, and “In the Line of Duty: Siege at Marion” (1992), portraying the Singer-Swapp standoff in Summit County.

So, there is hope.

Maybe Hollywood doesn’t always get it wrong. Or if it does, maybe it isn’t always negative.

                                                            *****

TAKE NINE: At the conclusion of “Raising Arizona” (1987), Nicolas Cage has a monologue as his character is dreaming about the future, where he sees an older version of himself and his wife, and they have many children and grandchildren:

“It seemed real. It seemed like us. And it seemed like, well, our home. If not Arizona, then a land not too far away where all parents are strong and wise and capable, and all children are happy and beloved. I dunno. Maybe it was Utah.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

WHEN THE 'LION KING' ROARS

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

So how afraid are the major studios of Disney’s “The Lion King”? So afraid that nothing is opening the same weekend, well, except for an art house film in just three local theaters. “The Lion King” is opening ion several screens of every multiplex in the Salt Lake Valley, save the Broadway Centre Cinemas, the art house downtown.

“The Lion King” (PG). The original 1994 “Lion King” was praised at the time as being a groundbreaker in realistic animation but this new version is being touted by the studio as a “photo-realistic computer-animated remake,” and if you saw Disney’s 2016 “Jungle Book” remake, you have an idea of what that means. This one is helmed by the same director, Jon Favreau (who is also an actor, most recently playing Happy Hogan in “Spider-Man: Far from Home”). James Earl Jones is the only original voice-cast member to return, joining Donald Glover, Seth Rogan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver and Beyoncé, among others.

“The Art of Self-Defense” (R). After a timid bookkeeper (Jessie Eisenberg) is attacked by a motorcycle gang he begins taking karate lessons in a neighborhood studio. But his instructor also recruits him for an after-hours class where he discovers a sinister world of hyper-masculinity and brutality. (“Fight Club” anyone?) With Imogen Poots.


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

THE LION KING (1994)

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the new ‘Lion King’ reboot opening this weekend it’s time to take a look back at the original film, now some 25 years old. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1994. (And I’ll say it so you don’t have to — ‘Hakuna Matata’ isn’t memorable? What was I thinking?)

The first thing you will notice in "The Lion King" is its triumphant animation during the opening, pre-title sequence, an extended version of that theatrical preview you've seen over the past few months. Every animal you can think of is racing across the plains to be present as the newborn heir to the throne is anointed by a baboon shaman, many so realistically portrayed that they appear to have been photographed instead of drawn.

But that's only the beginning. The entire film is loaded with eye-popping visuals, which, even on a second viewing, never fail to mesmerize.

The story is also strong, borrowing heavily from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" for plot and bolstered by a string of hilarious supporting characters for plenty of comic relief. And there are some wonderful characters here, including a riotous hornbill bird, whose voice is provided by the rubber-faced British comic Rowan Atkinson (TV's "Mr. Bean" and "Blackadder"); a funny and wise old baboon (energetic Robert Guillaume, best-known as TV's "Benson"); and especially the hilarious warthog and meerkat, voiced, respectively, by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, a pair of very talented stage actors (Lane's brief hula song is especially hysterical).

In short, there is much to recommend "The Lion King," though it still falls short of its three immediate predecessors — "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

Let's get the complaints out of the way early:

— Most of the characters in "The Lion King" are not as warm and fuzzy as other Disney animated features. In fact, they are largely aloof and distant, which makes the film a bit tougher to warm to.

     

RIifiki holds up the new 'Lion King' for all the jungle to revere in the original 1994 film.

— There is also an unexpected gross-out factor at work here, with three characters dining graphically on a bevy of live insects, a trio of hyenas eating a zebra leg and the warthog demonstrating why other animals steer clear of him (he's quite flatulent).

— There is violence, with the young lion prince's father dying in a herd of stampeding wildebeests and a climactic battle between Simba and his evil Uncle Scar. Don't suppose that this is out of the realm of the film's G rating but it is certainly more specific than, say, the death of "Bambi's" mother. (And there is very bad choice near the end, as Simba and Scar battle in slow motion, a serious moment that seems unintentionally comic.)

— And finally, the songs are disappointing and don't hold up very well on repeat listening. The central theme, "The Circle of Life," is closer to the grace and tuneful satisfaction of Alan Menken's work in "Mermaid," "Beast" and "Aladdin," but the others are all novelty tunes. They work in the context of the film and are supported by imaginative artistry, but are not memorable.

Despite these flaws, however, the film is still a fabulous extravaganza — proof positive that even a weaker entry in the Disney canon is better than anything the competition churns out.

     

The cast of the original 1994 Disney animated feature 'The Lion King.'

The first half of the film focuses on Simba's youth (his voice supplied by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, of TV's "Home Improvement"), with a couple of scary scenes — the first in an elephant graveyard and the second a wildebeest stampede (destined to be one of the most talked-about animated sequences ever) — both engineered by his evil Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons).

After the death of Simba's father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), Scar convinces the lad that he's to blame. So, an angst-ridden Simba banishes himself from the land of his forefathers, while Scar and his hench-hyenas (led by Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and a giggling, babbling Jim Cummings) take over.

Meanwhile, Simba is befriended by the warthog Pumbaa and the meerkat Timon as he grows to adulthood (with Matthew Broderick taking over the voice chores). Pumbaa and Timon introduce Simba to the joys of leisure and a steady diet of bugs, until one day the lioness Nala (Moira Kelly), to whom Simba was betrothed, shows up. She tells Simba of Scar's treachery and pleads with him to return and take his rightful place on the throne.

Aided by the shaman baboon Rafiki, Simba looks within himself and then gets a piece of ethereal advice from his father (in a scene that seems to come straight out of "Star Wars" movies), ultimately returning home to set his house in order and face the truth about his past.

Bolstered by a bevy of delightful performances and that fabulous animation, "The Lion King" is a winner much of the way. And none of its weaknesses should keep audiences from flocking to the film again and again, making it the one sure bet for a long summer run.


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.

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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

GLORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies have selected the Civil War film ‘Glory’ for its July golden-oldie offering, and it’s a wonderful choice. The three-time Oscar-winner (for best sound, Freddie Francis for best cinematography and Denzel Washington for best supporting actor) is an epic that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and it will be shown in several Megaplex and Cinemark theaters on Sunday, July 21, and Wednesday, July 24. Here’s my Deseret News review, published Feb. 16, 1990.

It's becoming increasingly rare these days for a movie to come along and really blow you out of your chair. It's even more rare that such a film has a big-screen look to it, one that is certain to lose something when reduced to video.

But "Glory" is such a film: big in scope, powerful in its storytelling drama, intimate in its character and relationship development. And to top it off, it's all true. Well, mostly.

History buffs — and especially Civil War buffs — should be excited about the arrival of "Glory." But don't think this is a movie that will appeal only to experts. Here's a film that knows how to be honest, emotional, highly moving and supremely entertaining.

The capsule description is this: The first black regiment is formed for the Northern army, led by a 25-year-old officer. In many ways the regiment is intended as a token with the black volunteers — most of them runaway slaves — doing dirty work to free up white troops so they can go into battle. But the officer who has built this prideful unit of men knows that his soldiers are eager to fight for themselves. And he intends to lead them into battle.

     

Jihmi Kennedy, left, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, 'Glory'

Matthew Broderick does very well as the young officer and among his troops are two of our finest actors — Morgan Freeman (also currently starring in "Driving Miss Daisy") and Denzel Washington (currently in "Heart Condition").

"Glory" has something of a wandering narrative, traveling between Broderick's story (with some voice-over narration via letters to his mother) and the black troops.

Four soldiers in particular are featured — Freeman as a former gravedigger who is, if the term isn't too anachronistic, "street-smart," and who will become the first black non-commissioned officer; Washington as an angry escaped slave who has been consistently beaten and shoeless for far too long; Jihmi Kennedy, as a stammering, uneducated field hand; and Andre Braugher as an educated friend of Broderick who learns about soldiering the hard way. There are also nice turns by Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") as Broderick's friend and fellow officer and Cliff DeYoung, doing his patented nasty authority figure.

In some ways, the intertwining stories of the characters here follow accepted Army-movie clichés — the tough older sergeant who is wise enough to point the way and soft enough to care, the rebellious individualist who learns the value of working as part of the unit, the seemingly incompetent intellectual who performs an act of bravery in the line of duty, etc.

And in some ways the focus of attention is probably too much on Broderick’s character, though his story is not one that lingers longest in memory — in mine, at least.

     

                     Matthew Broderick, 'Glory'

But it's hard to find too much fault with a film that is not only noble in its intentions but succeeds so well. "Glory" is a movie of rare emotional power that also educates its audience about an aspect of our history that has too long been neglected.

The history lesson alone is worth the price of admission. Everything else is a tremendous bonus.

As a footnote, we should point out that screenwriter Kevin Jarre, director Edward Zwick and producer Freddie Fields were robbed. "Glory" should be up for best picture, best screenplay and best director Oscars. (Though it was nominated for five Oscars, all but one were in technical categories. Denzel Washington is up for best supporting actor, but the rest are for art direction, cinematography, editing and sound.)

And as for the film's R rating, it is probably deserved. The violence does get rather gory in places, though it's easy to see why it was deemed necessary in a depiction of what was certainly a very bloody war. There is also some profanity, though, taken in context, it doesn't seem particularly gratuitous.


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

TUFF TURF

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A pre-stardom lead role for James Spader and pre-stardom co-starring role for Robert Downey Jr. as his sidekick (billed without the “Jr.”— and who doesn’t even get a mention in my review) highlight this ’80s trifle. Still, the film has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. So, here’s my review, published March 6, 1985, in the Deseret News.

As hard as I try not to judge movies from their ads or previews it becomes difficult not to have certain expectations based on previous experience.

For example, whenever I see that a forthcoming movie is being released by New World Pictures or Cannon Releasing Corp., I expect to be bored or appalled or both. Admittedly both companies have had pictures that were surprisingly entertaining — but those were the exceptions, not the rule.

For example, “Missing in Action 2,” subtitled “The Beginning” proves to be every bit as lame and insulting as its predecessor, but — giving credit where credit is due — “Tuff Turf” proves to be better than expected.

     

  James Spader, left, Robert Downey (Jr.), 'Tuff Turf'

“Tuff Turf,” which should also have a subtitle – “Screenwriter in Search of a Dictionary” — isn’t bad, at least the first half.

A formerly rich, bullied Connecticut teen (James Spader) is transplanted to a tough … , er, that is, “tuff” … Los Angeles high school and immediately runs into trouble with some young toughs. Er, tuffs.

He also falls for the leader’s girl.

In addition, Spader plays piano and sings with talent but his parents don’t understand him. There is also a constant rock score and even some scenes in a teen nightclub-cum-warehouse, where we see a couple of rock bands, like Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (easily the best shown here).

Call this one “West Side Story” meets “Footloose” by way of “Rebel Without a Cause.”

     

The actors are amiable enough and there is some good humor but the second half of the film sinks into violent melodrama that (except for its graphic aspects) seems lifted from some deplorable daytime soap opera.

Still, you could do worse. “Tuff Turf” has its moments and some of them are pretty darn good.

The saddest aspect of this film is seeing Art Evans, so good as the soldier who is humiliated by his tough sergeant in “A Soldier’s Story,” relegated to a nondescript cameo role here.

“Tuff Turf” is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.