JACKIE’S ’90s CULT FANDOM - Home
JACKIE’S ’90s CULT FANDOM
For Hicksflicks.com, 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.
ANOTHER WEAK WEEK
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021
Only three new movies are opening this week, and as you might expect since we’ve been getting a lot of them lately, one is a horror flick, another is a wild thriller and both are British.
“SAS: Red Notice” (R). A Special Forces operative (“Outlander’s” Sam Heughan) goes up against an army of mercenaries who are plotting to blow up the Channel Tunnel underwater railway that connects England and France in this British thriller. With Hannah John-Kamen, Ruby Rose, Andy Serkis and Tom Wilkinson.
“In the Earth” (R). As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into a forest for a routine equipment check and encounter a folk legend come to life as an evil spirit causes physics-defying events and terrorizes the two. British horror yarn.
“Monday” (R). Sebastian Stan (best known as Marvel’s Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier character) and Denise Gough (an Irish actress) star in this tale of two Americans who meet on a Friday, spend a weekend together in Athens and then must decide if it’s a fling or something more serious. This drama has already garnered a reputation for its depictions of graphic sex.
THE WILD LIFE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another inexplicable Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber, which is fast becoming less of a boutique operation than a desperate one. My very negative review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 5, 1984. The late Chris Penn (bother of Sean) stars; he would suffer an untimely death at age 40 in 2006. (FYI, if you want to play spot-the-star, in addition to those mentioned in the review, the film also features Eric Stoltz, Hart Bochner and Sherilyn Fenn, as well as filmmaker Cameron Crowe (‘Jerry Maguire’) and musician Nancy Wilson (of the band Heart).
If you’ve seen the ads for this film, you might think it’s little more than another “Porky’s” clone. And you’d be right. Somehow, however, this one makes “Porky’s” look like high art.
“The Wild Life” is from the author and producer of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which had as its one saving grace a very funny wacko supporting performance from Sean Penn as a spaced-out surfer. “The Wild Life” has Christopher Penn, brother of Sean, in a similar role – but he’s the nominal lead and about half as funny.
What little story there is has Penn as a wild party-time guy whose limited vocabulary consists mostly of reacting with, “It’s casual,” to any given situation.
Eric Stoltz, left, Chris Penn, 'The Wild Life' (1984)
He moves into a swinging singles apartment with a much more sedate buddy, and needless to say, this teenage “Odd Couple” gets into and out of a number of vulgar, idiotic, stupid situations intended to be much funnier than they are.
As usual, females are sex objects, males are jerks and everybody wants sex, beer and drugs, not necessarily in that order.
Subplots abound, including Rick Moranis as a wimpy (what else?) department store manager trying to hit on Penn’s girlfriend; Lea Thompson as a clerk in a donut shop, being led on by a married cop; and two younger boys who idolize a doped-up Vietnam veteran, with Randy Quaid as the vet, a role that lasts about two minutes.
A Van Halen score battles a number of popular ’60s tunes by Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, etc – and the ’60s tunes win by a mile.
Penn has proven his ability to project screen charm in “All the Right Moves” and “Footloose,” but in the underwritten part given him here, he just flounders.
Rick Moranis, Jenny Wright, 'The Wild Life' (1984)
Lea Thompson is likewise a strong screen presence, and Jenny Wright as her best friend fares pretty well here, but they too drown in the material.
Directed by Art Linson — whose only other directing effort is the dreadful “Where the Buffalo Roam,” which has the distinction of being Bill Murray’s only box-office flop — the attempts at humor are forced, and gag after gag thuds as the film progresses.
But “The Wild Life” also tries to be serious, and subplots about the married cop and the Vietnam Vet become downright embarrassing in their clichéd predictability.
The real question is, what in the world are Rick Moranis and Randy Quaid doing in trash like this?
Rated R for sex, nudity, profanity, violence and vulgarity, all in abundance, “The Wild Life” is a bore and a drag on every count.
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.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 2, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: This fine rockin’ 1950s-era biography is (gulp!) 35 years old now and Fathom Events has decided to give it a big-screen revival. Not a bad idea. You can catch it at some local theaters on Sunday, April 18; Wednesday, April 21; and Thursday, April 22. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1987.
According to “La Bamba,” 1950s rock ’n’ roller Ritchie Valens was a virtual saint, managing somehow to keep himself outside the influence of his evil brother Bob.
And when he began to rise as a singing sensation, Ritchie also kept his perspective, remaining loyal to his family and friends. Bob just got jealous.
On the surface that might seem to be fairly tame stuff for an ’80s biographical movie on the brief life of a ’50s rock star (Ritchie Valens died in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holley). But in the hands of writer-director Luis Valdez and his excellent cast, “La Bamba” is a well thought-out serious drama with a strong message for youth — one that is played out, not preached.
As the film tells it, Ritchie was a sweet-natured, gentle teenager from a poverty-ridden but close-knit family of migrant workers. Though his father is dead when the film opens, Ritchie’s mother holds the family together.
Esai Morales, Lou Diamond Phillips, 'La Bamba' (1987)
Meanwhile, brother Bob returns to the family from prison and talks his mother into moving to Southern California. It’s no surprise to us, however, that they find life is just as rough in the land of plenty.
For Ritchie, however, life revolves around rock and roll. This is the Fifties, after all, that period of time when rock music was evolving and coming into its own. And Ritchie was writing his own songs and carrying his guitar with him everywhere he went.
The film follows his rapid rise in the music industry but the central focus is on the relationship between Ritchie and his brother, who is an alcoholic prone to abusing his common-law wife while running drugs up from Mexico.
The movie offers no particular explanations for how Ritchie managed to stay so pure while his brother was so nasty but it does show in subtle ways the important influence his mother had on the family, and how focused and mature Ritchie was for his age.
Valdez’s writing is crisp and his direction forthright, and though there is built-in sentiment here he manages to keep the tale from getting sloppy. And his cast is terrific.
Lou Diamond Phillips, Danielle von Zerneck, 'La Bamba' (1987)
Films that hone in on “good vs. evil” always run the risk of having “evil” look so much better, just because the role is inherently more flamboyant (look at “The Untouchables,” for example — bland Eliot Ness doesn’t have a chance against flamboyant Capone in the eyes of moviegoers). And occasionallyEsai Morales, as Bob, does dominate the film by sheer force of acting power.
But Lou Diamond Phillips, as Ritchie, has a strong screen presence and manages to hold his own most of the way. Both are charismatic actors and both handle their roles superbly, though my guess is Oscar-voters will remember Morales’ performance longer than Phillips’.
Despite the necessarily tragic ending to this story, “La Bamba” is surprisingly upbeat, and somehow we have the feeling, right or wrong, that after the film’s story is over Bob will somehow straighten himself out.
“La Bamba” is rated PG-13, and despite its violence, sex, brief partial nudity, profanity and drugs, it’s a fairly soft PG-13 most of the way. These elements never seem exploitive, but always inherent to the story. And how many movies can you say that about these days?
DEFENDING YOUR LIFE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: The Criterion Collection has given a Blu-ray boost to another Albert Brooks comedy (the boutique label also distributes ‘Lost in America’), and this one is what I consider to be, arguably, his best film: ‘Defending Your Life,’ co-starring Meryl Streep. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 5, 1991.
Not counting the films in which he has been merely a performer (the most memorable being "Broadcast News"), writer-director-comic actor Albert Brooks has made only four features in 12 years, but each has been better than the one before.
"Real Life," which had an obnoxious filmmaker following a suburban family around for a documentary, was flawed but occasionally very funny; "Modern Romance," about angst among yuppies who can't commit, similarly ran out of steam before it was over but had some terrifically bright moments; and "Lost in America," with a yuppie couple chucking the materialistic life and hitting the road, only to lose everything at a Las Vegas casino, was a scream before ultimately revealing it could not quite sustain itself to the end.
But with "Defending Your Life," Brooks has made his best, most fully realized film, a hysterical look at the afterlife.
The premise alone is a winner, beginning with a pre-credits sequence that has Brooks again playing a well-to-do yuppie, this time buying a new car on his birthday only to run head-on into a city bus.
Meryl Streep, Albert Brooks, 'Defending Your Life' (1991)
As the credits roll, he awakens in a stupor to find himself being herded with hundreds of others into trams that will take him to Judgment City. He's put up in an adequate hotel and the next day meets with his defense counsel, Rip Torn, who explains that he has died and is in the way station between heaven and Earth.
Torn tells him that over the next few days he must confront two judges and a prosecutor (Lee Grant) as they watch selected moments from Brooks' life on a huge video screen. Ultimately, Brooks will either be deemed worthy to move on to the next level of life, or he will return to Earth to give mortality another whirl. He's on his 20th try.
Brooks is feeling OK about all this until he meets a woman (Meryl Streep) and falls in love, only to see that she is staying in a posh hotel, viewing far fewer days of her life on Earth and is an obvious candidate for the next level.
This is a great idea, and Brooks takes full advantage of its comic potential, showing Judgment City as clean and pristine with everyone dressed in white robes as they visit such amusement sideshows as "The Past-Lives Pavilion," where people can see what some of their other lives on Earth were like. (And special kudos for the side-splitting quick cuts of "misjudgments" in Brooks' life.)
Albert Brooks must answer for himself as scenes from his life are reviewed by a panel that includes a prosecutor (Lee Grant, far right) and a defense lawyer (Rip Torn, far left) in 'Defending Your Life' (1991).
In addition to a bevy of sight gags and hilarious set pieces, Brooks has a field day with one-liners and great supporting characters he confronts during his brief stay in Judgment City.
Brooks is in fine form, on camera and off, and he's complemented perfectly by Streep, who seems to be having a great time in a wonderful comic role. Torn is also great, filling out the film's own brand of logic as he vaguely answers Brooks' many questions.
This may be arguable theology but cinematically it is one riotous piece of entertainment. And if it leaves you thinking a bit about your priorities in this life, who's going to complain?
"Defending Your Life" is rated PG for a few scattered profanities and a couple of vulgar jokes.