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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

SOMEONE TO WATCH OVER ME

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the better film noirs during that genre’s post-‘Body Heat’ revival in the 1980s, is this largely forgotten little gem, which was a box-office disappointment, despite largely favorable reviews. But now it’s been given new life by The Shout! Factory with a gorgeous Blu-ray upgrade, enhancing the gorgeous visuals by director Ridley Scott and cinematographer Steven Poster. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 11, 1987.

Director Ridley Scott, whose credits include the first “Alien,” “Blade Runner” and last year’s failed “Legend,” is a master of overkill. He’s so technically impressive in his very artistic work that he tends to let the look overwhelm character and story.

Certainly that applies to some degree to “Someone to Watch Over Me,” the latest in a recent spate of cop-thrillers to hit local theaters — especially when the organ music that accompanies a cop from Queen’s introduction to a fancy Manhattan apartment makes it sound like he’s entering the Sistine Chapel, or when smoky New York streets glisten and bright lights and colors flash.

But Scott has apparently learned a lesson along the way and his storytelling ability has improved remarkably. He manages to subdue those technical instincts throughout most of “Someone to Watch Over Me” so that his characters are in the forefront.

And the story here is certainly familiar, with overtones that bring to mind “Stakeout,” “The Big Easy” and even “Lethal Weapon.” But what Scott and his actors do with that story is rather special — most of the way.

Tom Berenger, recently nominated for an Oscar as the scarfaced sergeant in “Platoon,” plays a street cop recently promoted to detective. He’s a happily married family man whose wife (Lorraine Bracco) is a former cop, and she’s one tough cookie herself. (Their son suffers a bit from movie-child precociousness.)

One of Berenger’s first assignments is to protect a murder witness (Mimi Rogers), so the killer, a total psycho with mobster ties, won’t be able to prevent her from testifying.

     

Tom Berenger, left, Jerry Orbach, John Rubinstein, Mimi Rogers, 'Someone to Watch Over Me'

Berenger and a couple of other cops trade shifts as they watch her apartment — a very swanky place that begins to make Berenger feel as though he’s been living in a slum.

As you might suspect, Berenger and Rogers find themselves drawn to each other, though their class difference is distinct. And soon they are embroiled in an affair. Familiar, yes?

What gives “Someone” its edge, however, is that Berenger feels guilty — really guilty. And his wife, when she finds out, is not about to let any of that guilt let up.

One of the things that makes this movie most unusual is that Berenger’s wife, Bracco, is almost as prominent a force in the film as Rogers. And for my money, Bracco runs away with the film — a strident, tough-minded woman who isn’t about to compromise what she has or what she wants to accommodate her husband’s wandering eye.

But Berenger isn’t really the wandering type, and that’s what this movie’s really about. He is suffering during this affair, but at the same time he is drawn like a moth to a flame, no idle metaphor.

     

Lorraine Bracco, Tom Berenger, 'Someone to Watch Over Me'

In the end, as with many of these kinds of movies, “Someone to Watch Over Me” really goes haywire, requiring the psycho killer to lose all control and do really stupid things — almost as stupid as the cops who ultimately track him down. The film’s explosive climax is extremely ludicrous and almost ruins the movie.

This isn’t the first movie to come along this season that has plenty going for it and then tosses much of it away in the final scenes — and it’s difficult for a critic to write about those moments that require the harshest criticism without giving too much of the ending away.

So I will not do so, except to say that the finale here looks like another boardroom decision. Can’t you hear the studio executives saying, “OK, so you sympathize with the characters, but where’s the shootout?”

Most of the way, though, “Someone to Watch Over Me” is a much more satisfying exploration of adultery and the feelings of the people involved on all sides than “Fatal Attraction” — and though it will doubtless not have near the draw of that picture, one hopes it will find its audience.

As mentioned, Bracco, Berenger and Rogers are all fine, and there are several supporting players who also do quite well. And director Scott is to be congratulated for pulling those excellent performances from his cast. And for allowing the story to control most of the film.

“Someone to Watch Over Me” is rated R for violence, profanity and sex.


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.

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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.