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JURASSIC UNIVERSE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 22, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: As ‘Jurassic Park’ celebrates its 25th anniversary, and the fourth sequel opens this weekend, let’s take a look back at interviews I took part in with many of the film’s principles. This feature was published in the Deseret News on June 11, 1993, under the headline, ‘Jurassic Park finally arrives.’ (Note that routine Thursday-night ‘previews’ were not yet a thing, and that calling ahead about which theaters would be showing a film at what time was unique. Also, there were no reserved seats back then; it was first-come, first-served, after standing in a long line for hours. In contrast, ‘Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom’ had Thursday ‘previews’ and opened Friday in just about every multiplex in the country, more than 4,600 North American screens, with showings every half-hour or so. This after having already racked up $372 million on foreign screens over the past two weeks.)

UNIVERSAL CITY, Calif. – “Jurassic Park” is big.

How big is it?

Bigger than the tyrannosaurus rex that crunches cars and snacks on park visitors.

Bigger than the brachiosaurus that sneezes on a young girl in a tree.

Bigger than Steven Spielberg’s imagination.

We’re talking big!

No movie in recent memory has elicited so much pre-opening excitement and enthusiasm, and certainly no other film has had people calling about theaters and showtimes two weeks in advance.

As a result, movie houses added late Thursday showings, which should help ensure that “Jurassic Park’s” box-office receipts are also big — and Universal Pictures hopes, record-setting. (The film opened Friday on just over 2,000 screens across the country.)

The $59-million movie is based on Michael Crichton’s best-selling novel and was directed by Steven Spielberg, whom actress Laura Dern calls “the maestro of movie magic.”

And “movie magic” is exactly what this picture is all about. “Jurassic Park” may feature human actors — Dern, Sam Neill, Jeff Goldblum and Richard Attenborough in the lead roles — but it’s really about those genetically cloned dinosaurs stomping around in a theme park, located on a fictional island near Costa Rica.

Dern, who has never made a big-budget special-effects extravaganza before, prefers smaller, character-driven dramas. So, when she saw “Jurassic Park” for the first time, she had to tell herself, “This is a dinosaur movie — sit back and enjoy yourself.” But she adds, “I think it’s a very hilariously funny movie.”

Spielberg did not show up for preview screenings or newspaper and television interviews, as he is shooting a new film in Poland, the black-and-white artsy drama “Schindler’s List.”

But several cast members did subject themselves to press scrutiny, along with author/co-screenwriter Michael Crichton, producer Kathleen Kennedy and the four primary special-effects artists — Stan Winston, Dennis Muren, Phil Tippett and Michael Lantieri.

     

A crew places dinosaurs on the set of 'Jurassic Park' (1993).

“FOR ME, IT WAS a dream team,” said Winston, referring to the collaboration of these Oscar-winning effects experts, all considered tops in their respective fields.

Winston (the “Terminator” films, “Aliens”) was in charge of the live-action dinosaur models on the set. Muren (the “Star Wars” films, “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial”) created the full-motion dinosaurs, using computer graphics. Tippett (the “Robocop” films, “Honey, I Shrunk the Kids”) adapted his sophisticated stop-motion process to coordinate dinosaur body movements. And Lantieri (the “Back to the Future” films, “Death Becomes Her”) constructed complex riggings for the action surrounding the dinosaurs.

“From a computer graphics point of view,” says Muren, “we had to make it completely transparent, so it would look like a real dinosaur out there. And it also had to be able to perform.”

The four agreed that “Jurassic Park” offered them more pre-production time than they had ever had on a film — approximately 18 months. “There were extensive sessions that went on for months,” said Tippett. “It was very elaborately thought out.

“From the very beginning it was Steven Spielberg’s design that the dinosaurs appear to be real, not just monsters that chase people and snap at them. One of the ways that this new, fantastic technology has allowed us to create more of a believable illusion is that it allows us to do extended performances, develop relationships between (several) characters.”

“He was also adamant that everything be paleontologically correct, and he got Jack Horner, one of the leading paleontologists in the United States, as a consultant on the set. We worked very hard to make everything as accurate as possible.

“But the paleontologists, no matter how much we conferred with them, always said there was always a certain ‘fudge factor.’ They were always very adamant about saying, ‘Don’t worry about being too academic, because there’s a great mystery out there and we don’t know everything.’”

Winston adds, “There are four people here and four different teams but they all worked from similar blueprints — and they all worked under the direction of Steven Spielberg.

“This is a Steven Spielberg film and if you walk out loving it, it’s because he made a really terrific film and allowed all of us — and helped us — to put all of our energies together and create these dinosaurs like you have never seen before. But it’s the man at the helm and the film.”

“He was a cruel but fair master,” Tippett added with a wry laugh.

Asked about movies that provided the inspiration for their careers, the four answered separately but in rapid-fire: “King Kong.” “King Kong.” “King Kong.” “King Kong.”

“This was the benchmark,” Tippett said, “and I think that the one thing we can all say is that we are proud to have been involved in this project because finally, we have worked on the best dinosaur movie since ‘King Kong.’ ”

THE SENSE OF AWE that moviegoers may feel when they see these dinosaurs on the big screen will be no more than that felt by the actors when they encountered their first model dinosaur on the set.

For Neill, Dern and Goldblum, it was a sick triceratops in the jungles of the island.

“She was there and completely realistic and amazing and beautiful and life-like,” says Dern. “She breathed and teared and sighed and did everything a real creature would do. So, it was a rather amazing experience.”

Neill was equally impressed. “It was breathing and huffing and had a little tear coming out of its eye, and I found it very moving. It was not only so lifelike but it seemed to be kind of sick. And there’s nothing more moving than a sick creature.”

“It was one of these Stan Winston marvels,” says Goldblum. “It’s life-size, you know. And this was outdoors but in a kind of a bunker somewhere with 15 people operating it — one its breath, one its blinking, one its tears, one its tongue. So, you came upon this thing and for all the world there was this dinosaur. It was utterly astounding.”

     

Steven Spielberg, left, Laura Dern and Sam Neill on the set of 'Jurassic Park' (1993).

SOME OF THE SUPPORTING actors, who had death scenes at the jaws of the dinosaurs, seemed to feel their characters were a bit overwhelmed by their creature costars.

Martin Ferrero plays a lawyer who is snapped up by the tyrannosaurus rex. “When I read the script and realized the kind of death that I had, I thought, ‘This is wrong.’ I thought this was kind of an ignoble death and I wasn’t really interested in doing that. But you think there are going to be major rewrites when you get into a project. You think things might change. But they didn’t.”

Wayne Knight, a comic villain in the film, is more succinct: “I felt kind of like an hors d’oeuvre for a raccoon. That’s what it felt like to me. I was completely, soaking wet the entire time. A wet hors d’oeuvre for an animatronic. That’s one of the things I’ve been living for my entire life.”

Samuel L. Jackson, who plays a computer operator, has an off-screen death scene and noted that his role was shot entirely on a Universal soundstage, though many cast-members went on location to Hawaii: “I never considered my death scene, actually. Once I found I was not going to Hawaii, I forgot all about that. Once they took my plane tickets, I didn’t care.”

LAURA DERN’S MOTHER, three-time Oscar-nominee Diane Ladd (“Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore," "Wild at Heart," "Rambling Rose"), is also starring in a current dinosaur movie, the R-rated exploitation flick "Carnosaur."

Dern said she hasn’t seen it but her mother did tell her about it. “She called me once saying, ‘I’m doing a few days on a Roger Corman movie as a joke and it’s with dinosaurs — and this is hilarious.’ It was a joke to her, because she’s friends with Roger and she thought it was funny.”

YOUNG ARIANA RICHARDS, who spends a good deal of her time on screen screaming, had the opportunity of meeting the ultimate movie screamer, Fay Wray, star of the 1933 classic “King Kong.”

“She’s a close friend of Stan Winston,” Richards’ mother explained. “He invited her to the set.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

WON'T YOU BE MY DINOSAUR?

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 22, 2018

There’s only one major movie opening this weekend, and, as often happens when big bad franchise flicks come out, Hollywood decided to get out of the way and just allow it to take over the box office. There are, however, three so-called “art films” in town as well.

“Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom” (PG-13). Chris Pratt, Bryce Dallas Howard and BD Wong return in this fifth entry in the “Jurassic Park” franchise, a direct sequel to “Jurassic World,” which has them getting caught up in a controversy over whether the surviving dinosaurs on Isla Nublar should be saved or allowed to become extinct. This one also brings back a veteran of the first two “Jurassic Park” films, Jeff Goldblum as chaos-theory expert Ian Malcolm. With Rafe Spall, James Cromwell, Toby Jones, Ted Levine and Geraldine Chaplin.

“Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” (PG-13). This biographical film about Fred Rogers and his PBS career with the long-running children’s show “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” (1968-2001) has been getting rave reviews. But it’s an adult documentary and reportedly contains some cursing and a picture of a male backside, as well as discussions about one of Rogers’ co-workers' sexual identity.

 

“The Seagull” (PG-13). Adapted from the classic work by Russian playwright Anton Chekhov, with the time period pushed ahead a few years into the early 20th century, this story of an aging actress (Annette Bening) whose summer visit to a country estate to visit her brother and her son upends the lives of several innocents. With Saoirse Ronan and Billy Howle (who also co-starred in the recent “On Chesil Beach”), Corey Stoll, Elisabeth Moss, Billy Howle, Jon Tenney, Brian Denney and Mare Winningham.

“The Catcher Was a Spy” (R). Paul Rudd stars in this true drama as Moe Berg, a 15-year baseball veteran who was recruited as a spy during World War II but successfully kept his activities a secret from all who knew him. With Mark Strong, Sienna Miller, Jeff Daniels, Tom Wilkinson, Giancarlo Giannini, Guy Pearce, Paul Giamatti and Connie Nielsen. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Jordan Commons Theater.)


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

JERRY LEWIS 10 FILM COLLECTION

 

The contents of the new set, left, are the same as the 2004 set, right .

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 15, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week, Paramount Home Entertainment reissued a 10-film set of Jerry Lewis movies. The 14-year-old column below, headlined, ‘Funny gags abound in 10 newly released Jerry Lewis DVDs,' was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 15, 2004, and since the new reissued collection has no additions or changes (except the box art), the reviews in this column still stand. Nearly all of Lewis’ starring films and his pictures with Dean Martin are available on DVD or streaming services now; the only exceptions are ‘The Sad Sack,’ ‘Way … Way Out,’ ‘Hardly Working,’ and the Martin & Lewis film, '3 Ring CIrcus.'

The French must not be the only ones who love Jerry Lewis. How else do you explain nine of his movies debuting on DVD this week, along with a special-edition reissue?

Only one of the discs is a Martin & Lewis film, and the rest, listed here chronologically, are hit-and-miss choices representing Lewis’ solo career from 1957 to 1965, but skipping over many of Lewis’ better films — where are “Rock-a-Bye Baby,” “The Geisha Boy,” “Don’t Give Up the Ship” or one that’s never been on VHS either, “Visit to a Small Planet”? (They are all owned by Paramount Pictures/Home Entertainment.)

More important, why is there only one Martin & Lewis picture, “The Stooge”? This one is far from their best, though it does have the duo doing a few onstage bits cribbed from their nightclub act. (Since the film is labeled “The Martin & Lewis Collection,” we can assume that more will be forthcoming.)

Despite such quibbling, there are some good choices here, including a “special-edition” rteissue of the film many feel is Lewis’ best, “The Nutty Professor,” as well as his first solo film, “The Delicate Delinquent,” and his first directing effort, “The Bellboy.”

Lewis fans will also go nuts over the bonus features on some titles, archive materials that include outtakes, deleted scenes, rehearsal footage, promo spots, Lewis’ personal on-the-road footage, etc. And “The Nutty Professor” includes a half-hour featurette about Lewis’ solo career.

Lewis even does some audio commentaries, though the anecdotes and informative comments are few and far between. And he’s got his old buddy singer Steve Lawrence beside him on the audio tracks to laugh at the films and tell Lewis what a genius he is.

 

“The Stooge” (1953, b/w, trailer). This one has Dean Martin playing a singer who’s a self-centered jerk, and when he hires Lewis as part of his act, Martin continues to take all the credit and most of the money. (At one point Lewis repeatedly yells, “Lady!” — just like Martin Short’s impersonation.)

“The Delicate Delinquent” (1957, b/w, trailer). This was to be a Martin & Lewis vehicle, but then the team broke up. Darren McGavin takes the Martin role, as a cop ho helps delinquent Lewis get into the police academy. Some funny routines.

“The Bellboy” (1960, b/w, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). There’s no story in this series of slapstick skits, in which Lewis’ character doesn’t speak (until the final scene). Some hilarious gags in an old-fashioned silent-movie manner. Filmed on location at a luxurious Miami hotel.

“Cinderfella” (1960, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). Lewis’ colorful reworking of the classic fairy tale has some good gags and a great cast, though it gets bogged down in sentimentality toward the end.

“The Ladies Man” (1961, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). One of Lewis’ funnier films has him as a houseboy in a girls’ school.

 

“The Errand Boy” (1961, b/w, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). This one has Lewis wreaking havoc in a movie studio, again with some very funny gags.

“The Nutty Professor: Special Edition” (1963, audio commentary, featurettes, archive materials, trailer). You either love this one or you don’t, but the film is wildly inventive and has some hysterical gags, and Stella Stevens brightens up the proceedings. (On the bonus features the long-held theory that Prof. Kelp’s alter ego was supposed to skewer Dean Martin is debunked.)

“The Patsy” (1964, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). The supporting cast is a wow – Peter Lorre, Keenan Wynn, John Carradine, Everett Sloane, Ina Balin — but this reworking of both “The Bellboy” and “The Errand Boy,” by way of “Pygmalion,” is way too sappy and sentimental, despite some very funny sight gags.

“The Disorderly Orderly” (1964, archive materials, trailer). Some funny stuff livens up this farce with Lewis driving everyone crazy in a hospital, with the assistance of Susan Oliver and Lewis’ stock company of character actors.

“The Family Jewels” (1965, b/w, audio commentary, archive materials, trailer). Lewis tries to make like Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers by playing multiple roles — seven! And all of them are familiar Lewis characterizations in this sentimental yarn about a poor little rich girl investigating her uncles as potential guardians.


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 from my some 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 still writing for the D-News, but this is mostly archival stuff (with permission), 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

RUBIN AND ED

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 22, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of its ‘Summer Late Nights’ program, now through the first weekend in September, the Tower Theater is reviving a number of offbeat films. The locally made ‘Rubin and Ed’ will be shown at 11 p.m. on Friday, June 22, and Saturday, June 23, and at noon on Sunday, June 24. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on May 22, 1991.

Crispin Glover is a strange fellow. His acting style and demeanor — even his line readings — are unquestionably unique among modern movie performances.

Glover is regularly cast in parts that are, to understate, bizarre: Andy Warhol in "The Doors"; the over-the-top teen ringleader of a gang of misfits in "River's Edge"; the guy with cockroaches in his underwear in "Wild at Heart." (Glover's biggest commercial film was the original "Back to the Future," in which he played Michael J. Fox's father.)

But in his latest film, Trent Harris' low-budget, made-in-Utah "Rubin and Ed," Glover, as Rubin, would seem to have found the role that most fits him like a glove. And why not? He helped create it.

Rubin is a real misfit, a young man who apparently suffers from agoraphobia, the fear of open or public places (similar to Bill Murray's problem in "What About Bob?" and Elliott Gould's in "Inside Out"). He wears thick glasses, and his taste in clothes leans toward broad-striped bell-bottoms and high platform shoes. His hair is in a long pageboy cut.

     

He's content live out his life performing a ritual dance to somber music by Mahler while squeezing a rubber mouse. But one day, his mother, who runs the motel where he lives, orders Rubin to go out, find a friend and bring him home to dinner.

Meanwhile, in another part of town, we meet middle-aged Ed, played by Howard Hesseman, best known as Dr. Johnny Fever on TV's "WKRP in Cincinnati" and the first incarnation of "Head of the Class."

Ed is trying to get his life back together, including his estranged marriage to a gold-digging shrew (Karen Black), whom he keeps phoning, despite her nasty rejections. And he's put all of his life savings into a self-help series of lectures called "Power Through Positive Real Estate." Ed is ultra-conservative, has a very bad toupee and wears a wrinkled leisure suit.

And it just so happens that the day he's standing on a street corner trying to recruit people for the lecture series, Rubin approaches.

Ed solicits Rubin for that night's seminar. Rubin says he'll go if Ed will come to his home for dinner first.

Once there, Ed makes the mistake of getting into the refrigerator and finds a dead cat in the freezer. It seems Rubin has been keeping the feline on ice until he can decide where to bury it. Before long, Rubin has kidnapped Ed in his own car and driven to the middle of the desert, searching for the proper burial place, while the cat rapidly thaws in a cooler.

     

There are some funny ideas here from first-time writer-director Harris, a former Salt Laker who has spent the past decade kicking around Hollywood trying to make his first feature.

Harris can be very eccentric — the dream sequence, with Rubin's cat resurrected on water skis, is a comic highlight — and he comes up with some funny, if quirky moments in the context of his lightweight screenplay. But the film as a whole is somewhat disappointing. It often drags, lacking the narrative drive necessary to hold it all together. And it's weighted down by a less-than-satisfactory ending.

This is a very low-budget production that had its troubles and sometimes the seams show through. (Peter Boyle was Ed until he had a stroke two weeks into shooting; he has since recovered).

But Harris' wit successfully comes across, signaling a filmmaker to watch for in the future.

He also makes good use of the southern Utah landscapes (it was filmed largely in Hanksville), and Glover and Hesseman both have some very funny moments.

"Rubin and Ed" is rated PG-13 for some mild profanity and vulgarity. And the dead cat, of course.


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

MY BLUE HEAVEN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 15, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Steve Martin is cast against type and Rick Moranis is comfortable playing his usual type in this overlooked but very enjoyable comedy, recently given a Blu-ray upgrade by Warner Archive, which also marked the film’s first widescreen home-video release. My review below of the film’s theatrical debut was published Aug. 19, 1990, in the Deseret News. Despite my optimistic prediction at the end of this review, however, the film flopped and has been largely forgotten. But, having recentlky watched it again, I still believe it deserves to find an audience.

What a pleasant surprise.

"My Blue Heaven" is a delightful farce with two of our best comic actors — Steve Martin and Rick Moranis — in top form.

Why is it a surprise? Because Warner Bros. purposely kept critics around the country from seeing it before it opened. That usually means the movie is a dog and the studio wants to avoid reviews for the all-important opening weekend.

But "My Blue Heaven" is a bright comedy, and my guess is it will receive largely favorable reviews.

The premise is funny all by itself, with Martin as an eccentric New York mobster who's been relocated to a white-bread San Diego suburb under the federal witness-protection program. Moranis is the uptight over-organized FBI agent assigned to keep him alive and in line so he can testify in a mob-hit case.

     

          Joan Cusack, Rick Moranis, 'My Blue Heaven'

Martin's unique manner of integrating himself into the community provides many of the film's biggest laughs, as when he re-prices food in the supermarket and mows the lawn in his usual attire, an Armani suit.

He's also repeatedly thrown into jail by local authorities, headed by assistant D.A. Joan Cusack — where even his cell gets a big laugh.

Moranis gets Martin out of one jam after another, so to repay him Martin fixes up Moranis with Cusack, perhaps the only person in the world more straight-laced than he is. Meanwhile, not unexpectedly, Martin has a profound influence on Moranis' character, helping him loosen up and enjoy life.

There are flaws here, scenes that don't quite click, gags that fall flat and a temporary sluggishness that sets in somewhere in the final third.

But on the whole, screenwriter Nora Ephron ("When Harry Met Sally . . .") and director Herbert Ross ("Steel Magnolias," "Footloose") keep things hopping with loads of sight gags and clever, inventive bits of business, and a surprisingly sweet romance between Moranis and Cusack. This is a movie that defies you not to like it.

Martin and Moranis are very good, both as a team and separately. If Martin's explanation of why a hitman uses a .22 instead of a .45 doesn't have you on the floor you're in serious need of a humor checkup.

     

Rick Moranis, left, Melanie Mayron, Steve Martin, 'My Blue Heaven'

And the rest of the cast is more than up to their standard: Cusack's wonderful straight woman; Melanie Mayron, as a local cop; Carol Kane, as a late-in-the-game romantic interest for Martin; Daniel Stern, as Cusack's obnoxious ex-husband; William Irwin as Moranis' dancing-fool partner; and William Hickey, whose appearance as a pet-shop owner leads to a very funny plot device as a bevy of known hoods under federal protection are reunited.

Patrons of the annual Sundance Film Festival in Park City may also recognize Irwin; under the name of "Bill" Irwin, he showed off his multiple talents for a live one-man show at the festival a couple of years ago.

As a point of trivia, this is the third film to open in the past two weeks with a strong baseball subtext, the others being "Taking Care of Business" and "mo' better blues." And it was also interesting to see a plug for Warner's upcoming Clint Eastwood movie "White Hunter, Black Heart" on a movie theater marquee.

Rated a very soft PG-13 for violence and profanity, "My Blue Heaven" is bound to be a summer winner — once the word gets out.