BLOG: New thoughts/old stories BLOG: New thoughts/old stories



For, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: In the mid-1990s Jackie Chan was trying to expand his stardom into America. He was a first-rank movie star all around the world but in the United States his fanbase was, it’s fair to say, on a ‘cult’ level, meaning the fans he had were crazy about him but, relatively speaking, they were small in number.


Blame U.S. moviegoers’ aversion to foreign films with subtitles or just the notion that martial-arts movies were a sub-genre, but Chan’s best flicks (‘Police Story 3: Supercop,’ ‘Armour of God II: Operation Condor,’ ‘Drunken Master 2,’ released in the United States as ‘The Legend of Drunken Master’) just didn’t cross over like they should have.


So, in January 1996, Chan brought to the Sundance Film Festival a picture called ‘Rumble in the Bronx,’ which he hoped would do the trick. Thanks to the Sundance premiere and the big ad campaign that followed it became his biggest success thus far in U.S. theaters and a reissue of ‘Supercop’ did even better. But it was still on the ‘cult’ level. Eventually that would change when in 1988 he teamed with Chris Tucker for ‘Rush Hour,’ Chan’s first U.S. blockbuster.


But at Sundance three years earlier something unexpected happened with ‘Rumble in the Bronx,’ which was scheduled for a midnight screening in Park City. This column tells that story. And next week, in anticipation of Chan’s latest movie landing on Blu-ray and DVD here in the States, a 1996 interview with Chan will be in this space. The column below was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 28, 1996, under the headline: ‘And the winner at Sundance Film Festival is … Jackie Chan.’ (Note the comment at the end about the commercialization of Sundance, which now seems hopelessly naive.)


The two most highly anticipated events of the Sundance Film Festival both occurred Saturday. Awards were handed out to the best of the fest, measured both by audiences and jurors — and Jackie Chan came to town.


And if you think it's frivolous to suggest that the arrival of the martial-arts comedy superstar is on a par with the independent-competition prizes, you weren't there to see Chan receive what no other celebrity at a Sundance festival has ever received — a rousing standing ovation before his film was shown!




Of course, all of these are low-budget, independent productions, the primary emphasis of the Sundance Film Festival. But a more commercial effort took over early Saturday morning — 12:30 a.m. to be precise — as the overflow crowd in the Egyptian Theater prepared for Jackie Chan's "Rumble in the Bronx.”


There was an undeniable electricity in the air as Sundance program director Geoffrey Gilmore, who is normally quite unflappable, excitedly introduced Chan — who was inexplicably clad in a white jacket. (He was apparently not informed that Sundance movers and shakers wear all-black clothing, leather being optional.)


Forget Robert Redford and Al Pacino. As audience members leaped to their feet, applauding and screaming, this was Chan's moment, and he humbly acknowledged it.


Then he held out a wallet, which he said had been left in the women's rest room, and asked if the owner was in the audience. An embarrassed young woman ran down to the stage to retrieve it, and got a kiss from Chan in the bargain.




The party atmosphere continued during the film and fans were quite disappointed that Chan wasn't there afterward for a question-and-answer session. Then again, it was after 2 a.m.


Movie distribution deals for the independents were being struck right and left during the festival's final days, including a record (for a Sundance-based negotiation) $10 million by Castle Rock for "Care of the Spitfire Grill.”


Advertising gimmicks also became more prevalent as the festival wound down. People all over town were wearing "Jackie Chan" baseball caps and holding spring water bottles with Gap labels.


But whether anyone was wearing the freebie from Absolut vodka is a private matter — long johns with the phrase "Absolut Welcome" on the back.

New Movies In TheatersThis Week New Movies In TheatersThis Week



For, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021


A new ‘Tom & Jerry” cartoon? A feature?


Folks from my (baby boomer) generation may think T&J have been retired in Florida but the cat and mouse team has actually never gone away, and has been remade in the image of digital animation several times. But this one is being touted as all “new.” Maybe.


Nine other new films are also opening this weekend, a couple of horror films and two faith films among them, including an LDS-centric sequel (the poster above is for the 2020 first film, as there was no poster available for the sequel).


“Tom & Jerry” (PG). Animation and live action combine for this reboot of the Tom and Jerry franchise about the cat that can never seem to catch the ever-elusive mouse in the house. After becoming homeless, they team up at a ritzy Manhattan hotel. Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Robe Delaney and Ken Jeong head the live cast.


“Companions: Heart of Africa 2” (PG). This sequel to last year’s “Heart of Africa” tells the same story of a Congolese man who is forced to confront his past during his LDS mission, only this time it’s from the point of view of his companion, a white American with demons of his own.


“God’s Compass” (Not Rated). Two parallel stories converge in this faith film. A beloved retired teacher (Karen Abercrombie) looks for purpose as her son (T.C. Stallings) struggles with the realization that his newborn child may die and as she helps a young car thief (Joey Ibanez) straighten out his life. (This one was released on home video in 2016 but now makes its theatrical debut.)




“Crisis” (R). Three stories related to the opioid crisis in America unfold in this drama about addiction and pharmaceutical companies’ complicity. With Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear and Michelle Rodriguez.


“My Zoe” (R). Julie Delpy wrote, directed and stars in this drama about a geneticist raising her daughter along with her toxic ex-husband until tragedy strikes and the child dies. So, in her grief, Delpy’s character decides to have the girl cloned. A fantasy that reportedly takes a low-key, serious approach. With Daniel Brühl.


“The Vigil” (PG-13). In a Hasidic community of Brooklyn, a despondent young man agrees to take on the role of an overnight “shimmer,” to watch over a deceased member of the Orthodox community, only to be confronted by a malevolent spirit. An unorthodox horror movie.




“Wrong Turn” (R). Six friends hiking the Appalachian Trail find themselves luted by “The Foundation,” a self-sufficient community of people that have lived in the mountains for hundreds of years are are hostile to outsiders. With Matthew Modine. (This is the seventh film in the franchise and is described as a reboot.)


“Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” (R). Teen singing phenomenon Billie Eilish is profiled in this documentary that explores her creative process, as well as life on the road when touring and in the studio when recording.


“Check” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). A brilliant chess player finds himself on death row, despite protesting his innocence. There, he puts his skills to work even as he repeatedly becomes involved in violent confrontations.


“Night of the Kings” (R, in French with English subtitles). In this Canadian-Senegal co-production a pickpocket is sent to prison in the French-speaking African city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and he soon learns that to survive he must become the prison’s official “storyteller.”


And “Jurassic Park” is still around, along with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the third “Work and the Glory” film, “A House Divided.”

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



For, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: From 1966 to 1990, Robert Redford and the late Sydney Pollack made seven movies together and 'Out of Africa' was, arguably, their best collaboration. No small feat when the others include 'Jeremiah Johnson,' 'The Way We Were' and 'Three Days of the Condor.' But in my book 'Out of Africa' has a grandeur and sweep that ranks up there with David Lean ('Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Doctor Zhivago'), as you will ascertain from my admittedly gushing review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 20, 1985. ‘Out of Africa’ is part of a new eight-movie DVD set of Meryl Streep pictures just released by Universal Home Entertainment.


Sydney Pollack, as if you didn’t already know it, is one of our most talented directors. There doesn’t seem to be a subject he can’t tackle and turn it into a wonderful movie, from comedy (“Tootsie”) to thriller (“Three Days of the Condor”) to romance (“The Way We Were”).


So his name on “Out of Africa” is enough to get the juices going in anticipation that this is going to be something special. Add to that a cast headed by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and it’s impossible even for a jaded film critic not to expect to be entertained.


The ultimate discovery that “Out of Africa” is not just a good movie but a great one is less a surprise than a delightful fulfillment of expectations. This is filmmaking at its finest — from the gorgeous photography, the lovely music, and the flawless set design to the sharp, witty script and the fine-tuned performances all around.


The story is basically true, about a Danish woman in 1914, Karen Dinesen Blixen (Meryl Streep), who would later write about her life under the name Isak Dinesen. The film is based on her book, “Out of Africa,” as well as with several other works, including biographies.




Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in an iconic moment from 'Out of Africa' (1985).


In the film, Dinesen essentially buys her way into a marriage for the purpose of gaining a title. Her husband is Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who has gone ahead to Kenya where he was to have begun a dairy farm. But when she arrives, Dinesen discovers he instead has put her money into coffee beans, a risky farm project at that altitude.


The result is the first of several unhappy encounters that lead to their permanent separation, as he goes off on safari and has affairs with native women, and she tries to make their farm thrive.


Blixen eventually falls in love with a free-spirited adventurer named Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), only to find that he is too free-spirited even for her. Yet their on-and-off life together is a fascinating one, and they help each other grow.


But perhaps even more than being about Dinesen’s love affair with Finch Hatton, “Out of Africa” is about Dinesen’s love affair with the country and its people. We see her go from naïve tolerance to genuine love for Africa, a land that is succumbing to the ever-increasing demands of civilization, and the people whose traditions and lifestyles are permanently and unhappily altered.


The environmental statement is actually quite subtle here for the most part with the emphasis on the characters, and Streep is once again simply astonishing as she gets into the skin of this woman. Every step she takes is so right that we feel we are growing with her.




Redford gets the lion’s share (pardon the phrase) of the great dialogue here, providing … of all things … comic relief. He delivers his lines in a deadpan manner, and though he is essentially a dramatic character his witty and insightful observations are often quite funny.


Brandauer is wonderful as the slimy husband, yet he’s not a blackguard; he manages to gain some sympathy through the shading of his character.


Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke did a good job with his first screenplay “Absence of Malice” but who would have dreamed he had this kind of sensitivity? His script for “Out of Africa” is first-rate — sharp, intelligent funny, bright and never sinks into sloppy sentiment.


Similar kudos are also deserved for every technical aspect of the film, from set design to costumes to cinematography to the score (one of John Barry’s best). …


And director Pollack knows just how to use all this material to proper advantage, making the film a wonderful throwback to the best romantic adventures.


This is by far one of the year’s best films and a sure bet as a major Oscar contender.


“Out of Africa” is rated PG for some violence and profanity, with some discreet sex and partial nudity.

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.

Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism


Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Click here for Amazon store.

Older Movies On the Big Screen Older Movies On the Big Screen



For, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: John Singleton died last year at age 51 but he will always be remembered for the critically and commercially successful drama ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and earned him status as the first black filmmaker to be nominated for a best-director Oscar, and as the youngest person to be so nominated. He was 24. To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are presenting a big-screen revival that will play in local Megaplex and Cinemark multiplexes on Sunday, Feb.. 28, and Wednesday, March 3. My review was published on July 14, 1991.


"Boyz N the Hood" could easily be dismissed by cynics — in particular those who haven't seen it — as just another angry black film finding its way into theaters on the heels of Spike Lee's mainstream, studio-backed success. And the cynic in me does see that as part of the reason Columbia Pictures picked up this low-budget independent picture.


But "Boyz" is the best so far of the string of such movies we've gotten recently because it is more thoughtful than angry and focuses on its characters rather than their tragedies.




Actor Ice Cube, left, and writer/director John Singleton, 'Boyz N the Hood' (1991).


The central character in this ensemble piece is young Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II), whom we meet when he's 10 years old. His mother reluctantly decides to let him move in with his father (Larry Fishburne), whose South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood seems to be a fairly ordinary, lower-income suburb — until you start noticing the background noises and the subject of the conversations between Tre and his friends.


The sounds are sirens and helicopters, so distracting that we see at one point a high school girl at home unable to concentrate on her studies. Casual conversation often centers around drugs, sex and drive-by shootings, all ordinary, everyday concerns to these kids.


After Tre settles in and the characters are established, "Boyz" jumps forward seven years as Tre (now played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his buddies are seniors in high school.


His best friend Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a football star who is attracting college scholarship attention, is saddled with a young wife and child; Ricky's brother Doughboy (rap star Ice Cube) is into drugs and theft; another friend has wound up in a wheelchair, apparently the result of a drive-by shooting; and Tre is frustrated with his chaste girlfriend. All are worried and confused about their futures — if they have futures.




Ultimately, they will become involved in the neighborhood violence they've strived so long to avoid, with tragic results. But 22-year-old writer-director John Singleton isn't a doomsayer. And while there are lengthy speeches here about solutions to problems, he manages to avoid preachiness or the temptation to justify radical action.


Rather, he approaches the subjects he raises quite simply, suggesting each person is responsible for his or her own actions. And in the end, though there is certainly tragedy and frustration, Singleton also allows a glimmer of hope.


Though "Boyz N the Hood" does falter here and there, overall it is very affecting, with many powerful moments and understated performances. Singleton proves he understands the language of the medium better than many of his more seasoned peers.


It is unfortunate, however, that Singleton includes what have become the clichés of wall-to-wall profanity and graphic sex, since those elements may well limit his audience.


The film is rated R for considerable profanity, as well as violence, sex, nudity, vulgarity and drugs.

New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II



For, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: Miramax has reissued on DVD this critically acclaimed dark crime thriller that earned four Oscar nominations — for director, screenplay and the two lead actresses — and there is much to commend here. But it is definitely not for the faint of heart. My review was published on Jan. 25, 1991.


"The Grifters," rated a hard, deserved R for considerable violence, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity, is gritty, rough and downbeat. Not that it's without humor — in fact it often takes on the air of dark satire.


But like the Jim Thompson novel on which it is based, "The Grifters" is the blackest of film noir, with characters whose evils will catch up with them — whether violently or psychologically.


John Cusack plays the central character, a young con artist who is stockpiling a nice nest egg but who has no real life.




   John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, 'The Grifters' (1991)


His new girlfriend is portrayed by Annette Bening, a hooker whose heart is not of gold — and whose motives are never really clear until the film begins to wrap up its loose ends.


Bening wants him to get involved in a big con — one that is more dangerous but with much higher stakes. Cusack, who really isn't that good anyway, is satisfied to pull small jobs and slowly build his savings.


Then there's his mother, played by a blond Anjelica Huston, who works racetrack scams for a very nasty mobster (Pat Hingle). Huston hasn't seen Cusack in years but looks him up when she's in Los Angeles.




She takes an immediate dislike to Bening, but Cusack isn't about to accept any motherly advice, having given up on a mother-son relationship years before.


What happens as these three individual, strong-willed personalities clash is full of surprises, some of them rather shocking. Let's put it this way — "The Sting" it ain't.


The actors are all terrific, with Huston a particular standout. British director Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaisons"), who also co-wrote the sharp script, is uncompromising in this, his first American film, giving us great detail and clever dialogue that is alternately funny, touching and horrifying.


"The Grifters" is a cynical film that continually catches the audience off-guard; if you're into dark film noir, it doesn't come much darker than this.