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FAREWELL, SEYMOUR CASSEL

     

                             Seymour Cassel

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Longtime character actor Seymour Cassel passed away last week at the age of 84. I had the opportunity of speaking with him during the 1989 United States Film Festival in Park City (two years before it became the Sundance Film Festival) when Cassel hosted a 15-film salute to actor and independent-filmmaker John Cassavetes, who couldn’t attend due to illness (we didn’t know how ill Cassavetes was until he died the next month). So close friend and longtime collaborator Cassel filled in, leading to this interview, which was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 25, 1989, under the headline, ‘Festival focuses on John Cassavetes’ films.’

PARK CITY – John Cassavetes didn’t make it to the United States Film Festival due to an illness but 15 of his films — as actor and director — are playing throughout the week and a seminar was held Saturday to discuss his work.

One who did come to speak for Cassavetes was his longtime friend Seymour Cassel, a popular Hollywood character actor most recently seen as one of Richard Dreyfuss’ comrades in “Tin Men” and a doctor in Nicolas Roeg’s “Track 29,” Cassel also introduced and discussed some of Cassavetes’ films in individual screenings. (Right now he’s back in rehearsals with Warren Beatty, Madonna and George C. Scott for the movie version of “Dick Tracy,” which starts shooting Jan. 30; Cassel plays Tracy’s sidekick Sam Ketchum.)

Though he is most often cast in comic or heavy character roles by Hollywood producers, Cassel had lead roles in Cassavetes’ “Faces,” “Minnie and Moskowitz,” “The Killing of a Chinese Bookie,” and “Love Streams,” all showing at the festival.

The mutual admiration goes back 30 years.

     

Seymour Cassel receives direction from John Cassavetes on the set of ‘Minnie and Moskowitz’ (1971).

“I’d gone to New York to study acting with the American Theater Wing.” Cassel explained, “and John was the hot young actor at that time. He had done every ‘Playhouse 90,’ ‘Studio One’ and ‘Omnibus’ (dramatic TV anthology shows) available.

“He starred in the movie ‘Edge of the City’ with (Sidney) Poitier. And he had opened this workshop and gave out some scholarships to get it started. I went by and met him. He interviewed me for the workshop and said all the scholarships were gone. But he said I was welcome to study in an acting class if I was interested.

“Then he said he was going to work, that he was shooting a film. I asked if I could watch and we went into the next room and they were shooting ‘Shadows’ (Cassavetes’ first directing effort in 1958, an extremely low-budget independent experimental film).

“I stayed all night, helping move cameras around and just pitching in. I became associate producer — it just sort of evolved ± and had a small part in it. That’s where I learned the first things I knew about filmmaking. The actual shooting took 10 weeks but the post-production took about two years. And because it was an improvisational film we put it together and then had to shoot added scenes.”

Cassel says it was the improvisation in “Shadows” that prompts people to assume Cassavetes’ other films are also improvised. But he says most of them contained hard scripts that Cassavetes would alter if necessary as shooting progressed. “He’d just disappear into another room for an hour and then come back with a new scene.”

     

Seymour Cassel and Lynn Carlin in John Cassavetes' second filmmaking effort, ‘Faces’ (1968).

“ ‘Shadows’ was about 80 percent improvised,” Cassel explained, “but the rest of the films were all written, usually as plays. We would rehearse for two weeks before shooting, and two of the films — ‘Faces’ and ‘Love Streams’ — were shot in continuity (in the order scenes are shown in the film; most films are shot out of sequence). He’s the only one I’ve worked with that’s done that. It’s almost unheard of, but it helps build the character properly, like in the theater.”

Cassel has worked with many top directors, and easily ticks off some of his favorites: Elia Kazan, Sam Peckinpah, Nicolas Roeg, Ken Russell. But, he says, Cassavetes is at the head of the list.

“Although I am prejudiced, of course, he’s the best. I think he’s the most insightful director on the American way of life, relationships people have with each other, whether in marriage or everyday life.”

Cassel said that though Cassavetes has been ill, he remains active. Last year Cassavetes directed a play in Los Angeles, and he’s always working on scripts. “He’s maintaining pretty good. He won’t act anymore, but I think he will be able to direct again. I think he can. But I don’t know which of the eight or 10 scripts he’s working he’ll want to do. This man is a workaholic and always has been.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SINGERS AND PENGUINS AND FAITH — OH MY!

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

It’s a rare mix of films opening in local movie theaters this weekend — two G-rated pictures and two more rated PG (at a time when two in a year with those ratings is rare), along with three musicals! Yes, it’s another slow week of independent productions in advance of the “Avengers” mega-movie event that arrives next weekend.

“Penguins” (G). Ed Helms narrates the latest of Disneynature’s annual  Earth Day documentaries, this one following an Adélie penguin named Steve that joins millions of fellow males in the Antarctic spring quest to build a suitable nest, find a life partner and start a family, none of which comes easily.

“Breakthrough” (PG). Emmy-winner Chrissy Metz (“This Is Us”) stars as Joyce Smith in this true story of the devout Christian mother’s efforts to entreat God to save her teenage son after he falls though the ice on a frozen lake, is trapped underwater for 15 minutes and is thought to be dead before starting to breathe and slipping into a coma. With Josh Lucas, Topher Grace and Dennis Haysbert.

“Twice the Dream” (PG). Utah native Savannah Ostler stars in, wrote and directed this locally filmed musical drama about two sisters pursuing a dream as pop singers until tragedy strikes and derails their ambitions. Ostler and Monica Moore Smith (“Saturday’s Warrior”) play the sisters.

  

“Amazing Grace” (G). Composer Alan Elliott recently finished this documentary, which was begun by the late filmmaker Sydney Pollack in 1972 after two nights of recording Aretha Franklin’s stirring concert with a choir at the New Bethel Baptist Church in Los Angeles. Franklin’s 1972 “Amazing Grace” recording became the best-selling gospel album of all time and remains her best-selling work. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Stuck” (PG-13). When a Manhattan subway train suddenly stops in a tunnel beneath the city, six strangers, a disparate cross-section of New Yorkers, eventually begin expressing their hopes, woes and despair over societal ills — by singing about them. Based on a stage musical, with an ensemble cast led by Giancarlo Esposito, Amy Madigan and Ashanti. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Gateway Theater.)

“Teen Spirit” (PG-13). A shy teenager (Elle Fanning) living in Europe with dreams of becoming a pop-singing star to escape her dismal surroundings and shattered family life thinks she’s found the solution when she enters an international singing competition. With Rebecca Hall.

  

“Little Woods” (Not Rated). Sisters Ollie (Tessa Thompson) and Deb (Lily James) live in a North Dakota oil-boom town where Ollie risks prison to keep her sister and nephew afloat by dealing prescription drugs obtained in Canada in this hardscrabble melodrama. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“The Curse of La Llorona” (R). A widowed social worker (Linda Cardellini) is raising her two children in Los Angeles during the 1970s when she takes on a case with striking similarities to supernatural occurrences that haunt her own family. With Raymond Cruz.

“High Life” (R). French filmmaker Claire Denis wrote and directed this eccentric sci-fi thriller about a group of criminals sentenced to death who are sent into space to extract energy from a black hole. Meanwhile, the ship’s doctor (Juliette Binoche) is obsessed with creating a child in space through artificial insemination. With Robert Pattinson. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

MOVIE MOVIE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Donen, who will always be remembered as the director of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the co-director (with Gene Kelly) of “Singin’ in the Rain,” died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 94. I only reviewed two of his movies for the Deseret News, ‘Movie Movie’ in 1979 and ‘Blame it On Rio’ in 1984. Loved the first, hated the second. But as both have been given new life on Blu-ray upgrades in the last year, courtesy of Kino Lorber, you’ll find my reviews on this page today. The ‘Movie Movie’ review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 29, 1979.

“Movie Movie” is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore — in fact, it’s two of them.

If you’re one of those folks who stays up until midnight Sunday to catch any old Busby Berkeley film or an old Wallace Beery flick, you’ll love “Movie Movie.” And if you’re not, you’ll still love “Movie Movie.”

Stanley Donen, whose talent has given us such diverse movie entertainment as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Charade” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” has crafted here an old-fashioned double-feature, including coming attractions and complete with hokum.

Donen produced and directed “Movie Movie,” which is composed of a black-and-white boxing film, “Dynamite Hands,” and a splashy color musical, “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933.” Both take place in the 1930s and both begin with the exact same scene. The previews are sandwiched in between.

     

      Trish Van Devere, Harry Hamlin, 'Movie Movie'

Both are also composed largely of the same cast — and a fine acting crew it is, including George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere (Mrs. Scott), Red Buttons, Eli Wallach, Art Carney and Barry Bostwick. Supporting players, appearing in one or the other of the films, include Harry Hamlin, Barbara Harris, Rebecca  York, Kathleen Beller, Ann Reinking and Michael Kidd, who also choreographed “Baxter’s” dancing sequences.

Their deadpan delivery of the hilarious dialogue is excellent in all respect, and Scott, Van Devere, Buttons, Wallach and Bostwick get to show just what fine actors they all are with extremely different roles in each feature.

But kudos would be incomplete without mentioning writers Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H” on TV and “Oh, God!” in theaters) and Sheldon Keller. Their script (or scripts) is (are) both a tribute and a send-up. The situations are contrived, the romance is sappy and the dialogue is insipid and delivered straight — in other words, just as Hollywood really used to make them (and often still does). But that dialogue has enough bite, wit, twists and double meanings to keep the laughs coming. They are intentional here, of course, but were not always in the original genres.

     

It’s hard to say which of the two is better. “Baxter’s” is snappy, energetic and a lot of fun, but “Dynamite” is probably funnier, due largely to a hilarious courtroom scene at the end. Gelbart and Keller are particularly adept at taking everyday clichés with anatomical words and twisting their meanings into the ridiculous. (“When you speak with your heart, your mouth is 10 feet tall.”) They become slightly predictable but never stale.

And Donen has captured the sight and sound of ’30s movies; film buffs will notice the brash color of “Baxter’s” and the quivery background music of “Dynamite.”

My personal favorite is the preview in the middle for a black-and-white picture: “See ‘Zero Hour’ — war at its best!” Scott, Carney and Wallach are hysterical as the typical heroes and villains of old war movies.

“Movie Movie” is rated PG but could easily be G. There is nothing offensive, no profanity, but children may become bored, not understanding the humor. Get a sitter and go; you’ll love it. As Baxter tells his beauties: “Idle feet are the devil’s toenails!”


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

THE SANDLOT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This locally-filmed family picture gained much of its enduring popularity after its theatrical release and remains a favorite in Utah — and a lot of other places. The SCERA Theater in Orem is showing the film as part of its ongoing Cinema Classics series and you can see it there on Tuesday, April 30, at 10 am. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 9, 1993.

The new kid in town is a dweeb when it comes to playing ball. But with the help of his reluctant, distracted stepfather and the local kids down at the sandlot where an eight-member team plays daily, he'll get the hang of it. He'll have to. They need a ninth player.

That's basically the overriding storyline in "The Sandlot," set in 1962 in an unnamed small American town. And the new kid, Scotty (Tom Guiry), even narrates the yarn, a la "The Wonder Years," albeit without the wit.

     

James Earl Jones confronts two of the kids playing ball in "The Sandlot."

This is an ensemble film, however, gradually building on a series of comic vignettes to the climactic confrontation between the boys and the monstrous junkyard dog that lives on the other side of the fence at the back of the sandlot.

Almost equal time is given several other team members as the group goes through various coming-of-age encounters — chewing tobacco and getting sick on a tilt-a-whirl ride (culminating, unfortunately, with graphic vomiting), stealing a kiss from the shapely teen lifeguard at the community pool, and using poor judgment when a new baseball is needed to continue a game.

Some elements work better than others. It's hard to believe, for example, that Scotty has never heard of Babe Ruth and the ending is just about as sappy as they come. Worse, co-writer/director David Mickey Evans (writer of "Radio Flyer") indulges his worst instincts, padding many scenes so that they seem to go on forever.

     

And it's too bad that a talented actress like Karen Allen is cast as Scotty's mother but is given nothing to do. (Better off is James Earl Jones, doing yet another of his patented end-of-the-movie cameos.)

But if you can accept "The Sandlot" on its own terms, as a sentimental, nostalgic look at growing up, through that overused metaphor, baseball, and take to the kids as updated, ragtag versions of the old "Our Gang" youngsters, you'll have fun. More important, young audiences will have fun.

"The Sandlot" is rated PG for profanity, vulgarity and some violence — all of it relatively tame.


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

SHEENA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was among the nearly unanimous critical community that found the deliberately campy ‘Sheena’ to be one of the worst films of 1984. Oddly, one of its defenders was the late Pauline Kael, the powerful movie critic for the New Yorker, who took it as a slapstick comedy. And the film does have a following, hence, the recent Blu-ray upgrade by Millcreek Entertainment. The most interesting aspect of this release is the design of the Blu-ray box, which is part of a series of less-than-stellar 1980s titles with a retro VHS look. My review below was originally published in the Deseret News on Aug. 24, 1984.

If you’ve been disappointed ever since Bo Derek’s “Tarzan, the Ape Man” that no other film has quite come up (or down) to its hilarious level of idiocy and incompetence, take heart: “Sheena” is in town.

No, not a concert film with Sheena Easton, “Sheena” is former Charlie’s Angel Tanya Roberts, her hair bleached blond and her body barely clad — when it is clad at all — as she rides her zebra (actually a horse painted like a zebra) through the jungle. As the “queen of the jungle,” Roberts stares blankly into space, juts her chin out for dramatic effect and spouts some of the most ridiculous dialogue in any film since “The Conqueror.”

     

   "Sheena" (Tanya Roberts) with her jungle friends.

The film begins with Sheena’s biography, though hardly in a class with “Superman.” She is orphaned when her parents are buried in a cave-in, though neither she nor any of the tribe that takes her in seems to notice or care. She also inexplicably has the power to communicate with the jungle animals — a sort of distaff Tarzan by way of Dr. Dolittle. (Oddly enough, Roberts co-starred in “The Beastmaster” a few years ago, which had Marc Singer as a similar hybrid, if you substitute Conan the Barbarian for the Tarzan comparison.)

The story here has network-television newsman Ted Wass and his cameraman Donovan Scott doing a story on an African prince, who is also an American football star that has killed his brother to get his hands on some land for its titanium value. Wass meets up with Roberts, of course, and they fall in love … or something. Scott provides comedy relief — as if that was necessary.

“Sheena” is actually little more than a jiggle jungle movie with a supremely serious music score and reverential directorial treatment that only enhances the film’s inherent campiness. Roberts seems to be taking it all so seriously that one can only chuckle out loud at how ridiculous she seems.

     

But no one looks good here, even those who have proved themselves in other shows. Scott’s comedy is clumsy and ill-timed, the villains all look so constantly angry that you expect them to begin hitting each other, and Wass is forced to say things like “You make me want to cry,” as he stares at Roberts. She replies, “What for?” He says, “For everything.” And later he adds, “I love you so much it busts my heart.”

Rated PG for gory violence and an awful lot of nudity, “Sheena” is hardly appropriate for the young audience it seems aimed at, and would most certainly have carried a PG-13 had it been rated after July 1.

“Sheena” is one of the decade’s worst movies — but if you’re in the mood for some unintentionally hilarious jungle nonsense, this one fills the bill.