Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

HORROR ICON ROMERO DEPARTS

     

                        George Romero, circa 1982

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 21, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: The godfather of zombie movies, George Romero, who died last weekend at age 77, will always be remembered for the amazing impact of his first film, “Night of the Living Dead” (1968), on the genre. I met Romero in 1978 for the first local film festival that would eventually become Sundance, and had encounters with him over the next three years in Salt Lake City and Park City as he continued to be a festival participant. I also interviewed him with Stephen King in 1982 on a junket for ‘Creepshow.’ This interview story was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 12, 1981, under the headline: ‘Horrors! It’s George!’

George Romero is stepping out of the horror genre for the first time with a new film he wrote, directed and is currently editing, “Knightriders.”

But when he finishes it and it’s in release later this year, he’ll step right back in.

It’s often been written that the first impression of Romero is that he is such an intelligent, unassuming man, it’s hard to believe that he is the same fellow who churns out such gory shockers as the cult classic “Night of the Living Dead,” its sequel “Dawn of the Dead,” the wild “The Crazies” and that teenage vampire story about blood-getting with injections and razor blades instead of fangs, “Martin.”

And it’s true.

He just happens to like that genre, and his next projects will team him up with the man whose name is equated with horror in the current literary field, Stephen King.

Romero’s “Knightriders” is an experimental film for him, a modern-day twist on the King Arthur legend, with motorcyclists instead of horse-bound knights.

     

After that, he will probably begin work on “Creepshow,” in collaboration with King. That won’t be a gore flick he says, but rather a “scare” picture, designed, as King has said, to get the audience under its theater seats.

Romero likes that genre, and he will also team up with King for a film version of King’s bestseller “The Stand,” probably before he tackles his third in the “Living Dead” trilogy.

“I just like genre films,” Romero explained. “I go to all the horrors, but I go to a lot of other genre types, too.

“I wish they were still making jungle pictures.”

He is going to leave his editing room for one day only this month, to address a seminar in Park City at the United States Film & Video Festival this week.

Romero will discuss the subject of financing. He laughed at the thought off it, since he has financed all of his films independently, many on shoestring budgets.

     

 A cartoon takes note of Romero's passing and influence.

“It’s hard to compete with the majors (major studios such as Universal, Paramount, etc.) since they use all the screens. They’ve found it’s most effective to kick off a film with a $6 million ad campaign and open in one day on 1,500 screens.

“How can you compete with that?”

Romero is now affiliated with the largest independent distributor around, one with clout, but still independent enough to let him shoot a film his own way.

“We found a good interim with UFD (United Film Distribution), but a lot of young filmmakers have a hard time getting off the ground,” he said.

Romero sees the coming of video advances as a means of helping out the independents. Cable TV will allow a wider market for showing their films, and if some catch on they might gain financing through cassette or disc rights.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

RUMORS OF WAR

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 21, 2017

Filmmaker Christopher Nolen has abandoned fantasy for the time being to take on a real-life period in European history, and it’s opening as a major summer movie, in IMAX no less. Talk about counter-programming.

“Dunkrik” (PG-13). The subject here is the famed evacuation of Dunkirk, France, after Allied soldiers found themselves surrounded by the German Army in 1940 during the early stages of World War II. Christopher Nolen (“The Dark Knight Trilogy,” “Inception”) wrote and directed with a cast that includes Kenneth Branagh, Mark Rylance, Cillian Murphy, Tom Hardy, Jack Lowden and Harry Styles.

“Valerian and the City of a Thousand Planets” (PG-13). The latest visually ambitious sci-fi epic from writer-director Luc Besson (“The Fifth Element”) is based on a French comic book series set in the 28th century as two young agents (Dane DeHaan, Cara Delevingne) are assigned to a peaceful planet where a variety of species share knowledge and culture, but which is threatened by a malevolent presence. With Clive Owen, Rihanna, Ethan Hawke, Herbie Hancock and Rutger Hauer.

 

“Maudie” (PG-13). An arthritic woman (Sally Hawkins) with no prospects in 1930s Nova Scotia takes a housekeeping job, discovers a talent for painting and eventually marries her employer (Ethan Hawke). But to her surprise, she finds success in the art world, which takes her in unexpected directions in this true story of artist Maud Lewis.

“Girls Trip” (R). Four lifelong friends (Queen Latifah, Jada Pinkett Smith, Regina Hall, Tiffany Haddish) travel to New Orleans for a music festival and let down their hair in this raunchy comedy. With Larenz Tate, Kate Walsh and cameos by Mariah Carey, Ne-Yo and more.


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

RUNNING ON EMPTY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 14, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an example of a movie that was tossed aside by its studio when it didn’t perform as well as expected at the box office after opening in just a handful of theaters on Sept. 9, 1988, and despite a rave review from Roger Ebert on his TV show ‘Siskel & Ebert & the Movies’ and in the Chicago Sun-Times. The film also received positive reviews from many other national critics, including David Ansen (Newsweek) and Janet Maslin (the New York Times). It did eventually open in Salt Lake City, on Friday, Oct. 14, at a single theater, brought in as filler without any advance publicity (or a screening for local critics). I saw it over the weekend and was blown away. In my review below I gave it four out of four stars and called it one of the year’s best movies. But my review didn’t get into the paper until Tuesday the 18th, and three days later the film was gone. Surprisingly, at the end of the year it earned two Oscar nominations, one for Naomi Foner’s screenplay and another for River Phoenix as best supporting actor. It remains largely forgotten but now Warner Archive has released the film on a new Blu-ray upgrade, which I highly recommend.

A unique metaphor for the "empty nest" syndrome, "Running on Empty" is perhaps the most powerful, moving film of the year so far, and certainly will be at the front of the line for Oscar contenders.

Powerhouse performances from Christine Lahti, Judd Hirsch and River Phoenix drive the literate screenplay by Naomi Foner, who also wrote the less successful "Violets Are Blue." And director Sidney Lumet, who has given us many fine films, has never been more in control.

The story has Arthur and Annie Pope (Hirsch and Lahti) on the run from the FBI. As young radicals they organized the bombing of a government-funded napalm laboratory to protest the Vietnam War. The building was supposed to be empty but a janitor was blinded in the blast.

So the Popes have been on the run for 15 years, living "underground," moving from city to city, changing names and identities along the way with the help of a community network of former radicals.

     

                 River Phoenix, 'Running On Empty'

It has become a routine, a way of life, but that doesn't make it a comfortable one — especially for their two sons Danny and Harry (Phoenix and young Jonas Abry).

Danny, in particular, is having trouble coping. At 17 he's on the verge of graduating from high school and an exceptional musical talent has surfaced. Unbeknownst to his parents, Danny auditions for Julliard scouts, and they are very taken with him.

But he knows he cannot apply for admission because his records are not available. The past is finally catching up with him and he doesn't know where to turn. Should he pursue his talent, integrate into mainstream life and perhaps never see his parents again? Or should he stay with the family he loves?

To further complicate matters, Danny has fallen in love with Lorna (Martha Plimpton), the daughter of his current high school music teacher.

Even with all of this, however, Danny is reluctantly ready to make the sacrifice and stay with his parents and brother. Not that his father is giving him much choice. For Danny to leave, Arthur tells Annie, "is unacceptable."

But Annie can see that they are going to have to let Danny go and allow him to begin a normal life.

It is upon this central conflict that "Running on Empty" spins its story, allowing us to identify with the feelings if not the circumstances of its characters.

     

From left, Martha Plimpton, River Phoenix, Judd Hirsch, Christine Lahti, in the forgotten-but-shouldn't-be 'Running On Empty'

And because of the nature of this story, Lumet and Foner are able to tell it in the trappings of a suspense film, explore the conflict of ’60s sensibilities in the ’80s and use the situation as a metaphor for the problems of the modern nuclear family.

The film builds slowly and at first it seems to be a family version of "Bonnie and Clyde" as the foursome stays one step ahead of the law. But gradually it becomes more complex and it isn't long before the audience is hooked.

The performances are fabulous. The main focus is on River Phoenix and he gives a multi-layered performance that is brooding, yet never aloof; quiet, yet quite telling. As his father, Judd Hirsch is also marvelous, saying much without words. Martha Plimpton is also quite good as the sassy, volatile Lorna, who, despite her more ideal family circumstances, is much more of a rebel than Phoenix.

As for Christine Lahti, this is her eighth movie, and she has yet to be in a box office winner. It's been said by others, but Lahti is perhaps America's greatest unknown actress. She is wonderful in this picture and, hopefully, may finally get the recognition she deserves.

"Running on Empty" is certainly one of the year's best films, but don't go in without some Kleenex. It is rated PG-13 for profanity.


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 30-plus 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 and contributing the occasional article to the website Familius, publisher of my May 2013 book, "Has Hollywood Lost Its Mind?"

This site is a mix of archival stuff (with permission) from the Deseret News, along with an array of non-DesNews material, including new blogs, reviews and stories as often as I can manage to squeeze them out.

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 cover for Parents.com article.  Click cover for interview with Chris.

 

Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

THE BREAKFAST CLUB

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 14, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: A 21st century joke suggests that if ‘The Breakfast Club’ was made today, it would just be five kids in a room staring at their phones. But 32 years ago, it was five misfits of different stripes coming to terms with their lives and each other. This review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 15, 1985, and you an see it on the big screen at Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden, where it will play on Wednesday, July 26, at 7 p.m.

Writer-director John Hughes seems to be single-handedly raising public consciousness about teenagers. While all around him filmmakers portray adolescents as sex-hungry jerks who play vulgar practical jokes on each other, Hughes depicts teens as sensitive, rounded human beings. Radical, to say the least.

Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” last year had its problems, most of which seemed to be commercial concessions, but the film was respectful of its teenage characters. And he even cast real teenagers in the roles.

The biggest obstacle to Hughes’ latest film, “The Breakfast Club,” may be its being mistaken for just another raunchy teenage comedy, since the ad campaign seems to suggest that, and it is surrounded by such other current releases as “Mischief,” “Heaven Help Us” and “Vision Quest.”

But “The Breakfast Club” is unique. The story idea is not new, putting five people from different social strata in one room for a day and observing their fights, arguing, mellowing out and eventually gaining respect for one another. But Hughes has taken this basic idea out of the Army camp, the barroom and the jail cell, and put it in a high school.

His five very different people are teenagers, all condemned to a day of detention — a Saturday. And the result is a perceptive, occasionally piercing look at parent-child relationships.

     

    Ally Sheedy, left, Molly Ringwald, 'The Breakfast Club'

True, the film is rather static; true, the individual characters’ stories occasionally seem too obvious, too contrived, or too pat; and true, the film’s universality may only be felt in fits and starts for some audience members.

But there are enough redeeming truths here, and more than enough excellent performances, to suggest this is a film from which teen audiences might benefit. And I might go one more step and suggest parents see it with their teens, then discuss some of the issues it raises. (The R rating here is exclusively for language, which, admittedly, gets rather coarse from time to time – but nothing kids don’t hear in school. Yes, even Utah kids.)

As “The Breakfast Club” opens, four of the five are dropped off at school on Saturday morning by their parents (one walks there by himself). This is the only physical glimpse we get of any parents, though their presence is felt throughout the film.

The five kids are the rich princess (Molly Ringwald), the intellectual geek (Anthony Michael Hall), the macho jerk (Emilio Estevez), the hoodlum who’s smarter than he lets on (Judd Nelson) and the weirdo with no friends (Ally Sheedy). And while Hughes occasionally lets his writing seem more like “writing” than real conversation he is helped by the five actors, all of whom give consummate performances, in true ensemble style.

     

Anthony Michael Hall, left, Ally Sheedy, Judd Nelson, Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, 'The Breakfast Club'

They nearly all dislike one another upon their initial meeting, then they gradually, reluctantly, come together as they unite in their resentment of the teacher in charge of their detention, well played by Paul Gleason, but written in an extremely one-dimensional way. (The only other prominent adult is John Kapelos as a philosophizing janitor, a gimmick that is a bit too cute.)

By the end they have psychoanalyzed each other and themselves, and the movie finishes on a note of realism that comes rather unexpectedly at the end of the lengthy confessional scene — the film’s best sequence.

“The Breakfast Club” is a remarkably refreshing little teenage film that is like an oasis in the current sea of ridiculous, idiotic teen comedies that dominate local movie theaters.

And the R rating seems a bit harsh. A PG-13 might be more palatable, indicating that the teenagers who can best appreciate this film should more easily be able to get in.


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

RUMBLE FISH

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 14, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Francis Ford Coppola made S.E. Hinton’s ‘The Outsiders’ a much bigger and more flamboyant movie than the material deserved, and then he immediately adapted another Hinton novel for this film, which is much smaller, very artsy and strangely abstract. But the boutique label Criterion Collection thought enough of it to give it an upgraded Blu-ray release last year. Here’s my Deseret News review, published on Nov. 5, 1983.

Francis Ford Coppola’s second filming of an S.E. Hinton novel (“The Outsiders” was released early this year and is already on videotape) is stylized, surrealistic, often baffling and ultimately displaces its story with visual gimmickry and pretentious symbolism. Yet there is something hypnotic about the style and the gimmickry, and yes, even the symbolism.

If this were an obscure European film, the Eastern critics would be falling all over themselves with praise. But it is from the director of “The Godfather,” so “Rumble Fish” is generally being brushed off as a grab-bag of cinematic tricks.

Despite the muddled storyline and the ridiculous extremes to which Coppola obviously takes this slight tale, it was impossible for me to shrug it all off. There’s a tone here, a tension and an over-all passion that keeps interest up, even when you don’t know what the heck is going on.

Basically, the film is about Rusty-James (Matt Dillon), a young troubled teenager with a hero-worship crush on his older brother, known only as The Motorcycle Boy (Mickey Rourke). And the film takes Rusty-James through a series of seemingly unrelated incidents, tied together with stylized black and white photography, fast-paced rolling clouds and speeding city traffic, smoke and steam billowing out of every nook and cranny, and the face of a clock in nearly every scene.

Is the black pimp a figure of death or is the arrogant cop the death specter? Is Rusty-James actually dreaming all this, flashing on a brother who has long been dead, or is this a linear storyline that’s simply gussied up? What do all the clocks say about our time on earth — that it’s too short, that we misuse it, that we should be more aware of it? And what of the film’s only color images, the rumble fish (tiny Siamese fighting fish) — is the color there because the color-blind Motorcycle Boy identifies with them, or just to heavy-handedly emphasize the parallel?

     

               Nicolas Cage, Diane Lane, 'Rumble Fish'

And is Francis Coppola so hung up on style that he has forgotten how to give us substance?

Who knows? Who cares?

In “Rumble Fish” none of this really matters, as the visual expression of the subject matter is what Coppola obviously cares about, and to some extent it is enough.

Though some of the images — particularly a levitation scene that has Rusty-James leaving his body and being cheered on by his friends — seem merely silly, most of them are quite stimulating: After an injury, Rusty-James hallucinates that he is in school, and his girlfriend, clad in skimpy lingerie, flirts with him as she reclines atop lockers and bookshelves. Segue scenes show clouds racing across the sky as the sun rapidly sets, reflected on the side of a skyscraper. And perhaps the film’s most explosive scene, a carefully choreographed gang fight that coincides with flashes of light and low-level camera work.

     

There is nothing very clear here, and the debates about meaning could go on indefinitely, but “Rumble Fish” provides a feast for the eyes and ears.

The stunning black-and-white photography sets the tone for the troubled themes of the movie, and the sets quickly evoke late ’50s/early ’60s nostalgia. The music, by Police percussionist Stewart Copeland, is excellent, fitting perfectly into the film’s mood from beginning to end.

The acting is also quite good, by a group of youngsters who all seem destined for bigger things: Matt Dillon, the James Deanish brooding star of “The Outsiders,” “Tex” and “My Bodyguard”; Mickey Rourke, who scored well in “Diner” and “Body Heat,”; Vincent Spano, “The Sheik” in “Baby, It’s You”; Diane Lane, “The Outsiders,” “Six Pack”; Diana Scarwid, “Inside Moves,” “Strange Invaders”; and Nicolas Cage, “Valley Girl.”

Rated R for a brief orgy scene, as well as violence and a lot of profanity, “Rumble Fish” is clearly an adult film, though the theme is troubled youth. More than that, however, it requires a patient viewer — but the “look” of this film will more than reward that patience.