THANKFULLY, CHAN DIDN'T RETIRE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: I was introduced to Jackie Chan movies in the late 1980s by my friend and fellow film critic Don Porter, who was reviewing movies for the Ogden Standard-Examiner (where I also began my journalism career) back when newspapers were newspapers.
Those blurry old bootleg VHS tapes of early Chan flicks — already dubbed and redubbed several times when Don let me dub my own copies (you could do that with VHS) — made me an instant fan of Chan’s hilarious antics and daredevil stunts, with zero use of stunt doubles.
By the mid-1990s Chan was becoming better known in this country, thanks to art-house screenings and rental videos of several of his films but he had yet to make a dent in the U.S. box office. So I was excited when it was announced that he was bringing a movie to the Sundance Film Festival, one that he hoped would be his crossover ticket.
So, as noted in this space last week, his then-new action-comedy ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ landed on the January 1996 Sundance Film Festival schedule with Chan introducing the film in person, albeit at a Friday midnight screening in Park City.
Chan did interviews with the press the next day and mine was in morning at an empty Park City pub. The subsequent story was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 23, 1996, the day the film had its simultaneous opening in theaters all over the world.
You really have to see him for yourself because there is no accurate frame of reference for Jackie Chan.
Unlike the brooding, scowling movie heroes who dominate American action pictures — Arnold Schwarzenegger, Sylvester Stallone, Jean-Claude Van Damme, Steven Seagal — Chan's screen persona is never threatening.
His characters are always easygoing, charming "everymen," though they are self-assured, quite capable — and expert in the martial arts.
The distinguishing factor, however, is the humor. Chan's characters would almost always rather be somewhere else when they find themselves in violent situations but their reactions make us laugh.
And Chan's comic action scenes — complicated, intricately choreographed stunts performed with equal parts danger and slapstick — have made him a world-renowned legend.
If you really want to try and visualize Jackie Chan, think of Bruce Lee crossed with Buster Keaton.
Or better yet, rent one of Chan's older pictures — "Police Story," "Drunken Master," "Armour of God" or their sequels. His handiwork is so amazing it really has to be seen to be believed.
Chan's death-defying stunts have included a rooftop jump to a rope dangling from a helicopter, hanging from a hot-air balloon, kick-fights on moving trains, falling from trees, dancing on hot coals. … And if you think this all sounds fairly routine, keep in mind that for two decades Chan has been performing all of his own stunt work.
No stuntmen, no doubles, no blue-screen special effects — what you see is what you get.
And each of his pictures is punctuated with outtakes under the closing credits, showing stunts that went awry and the star's broken bones. In one such outtake, we see Chan being carried on a stretcher to a waiting ambulance.
Jackie Chan is interviewed by David Letterman in the mid-1990s.
During the past couple of weeks Chan has been introduced by David Letterman and Jay Leno on their respective late-night television programs as the "biggest action-movie star in the world" — and they weren't kidding. Chan really is the most popular movie star in the world — every part of the world except North America.
And since the United States is perhaps the single biggest moviegoing arena on the planet it's understandable that Chan has long wanted to crack this market. In the early ’80s he tried with a couple of American movies — "The Big Brawl" and "The Protector." He also appeared in the two "Cannonball Run" pictures. But Chan's strengths — intricately choreographed martial-arts comedy — were downplayed, and the films flopped.
Now he's back with "Rumble in the Bronx," a Chinese action film set in New York City with English dialogue (some of it dubbed), which is getting a huge push from its American distributor, New Line Cinema.
In "Rumble," Chan leaps from a five-story building to a small balcony across an alley, water-skis barefoot, dives into the sunroof of a parked car just before a motorcycle goes over it between his legs, hangs off of a giant Hovercraft as it plows through New York streets and uses appliances as weapons when he battles bad guys in a warehouse. And closeups and long tracking shots without edits remind you that it really is Chan up there on the screen doing all of this himself.
The U.S. premiere of "Rumble in the Bronx" was held at the Sundance Film Festival, where a small but vocal core of fans filled Park City's Egyptian Theater for a midnight show and gave him a loud standing ovation — before the film was shown.
The next day, Chan did a string of interviews in the Claimjumper Restaurant and he was every bit as charming and self-effacing as his screen persona. Dressed in a turtleneck and sport jacket, Chan bowed as a publicist introduced him.
During the interview, he repeatedly apologized for his broken English. Occasionally, he had to ask an interpreter to clarify a question or give him an American word. But he actually spoke the language quite well.
One wonders if he realizes how thick Schwarzenegger and Van Damme's accents are. Or Stallone and Seagal's, for that matter.
Full of energy and quite animated about the possibility that "Rumble in the Bronx" might actually reach that sizable American audience that has eluded him for 20 years, Chan spoke excitedly about the film and his career.
But, surprisingly, he revealed that retirement looms in the near future.
"Now I'm 41, so I believe (that in) a few more years I will retire," Chan explained. "If this (`Rumble in the Bronx') breaks me into the American market, then I can find a James Cameron, a Steven Speilberg that will be interested in me. I'd like to try (combining Hollywood) special-effects with my real stunts — I want to see what would happen. Then I would continue for another 10 years.
"But without (big-budget) special-effects, I don't think I can continue to do these things for another 10 years. Another three or four years is the best I can do — then I look for another talent. I can still direct — maybe I'll teach (another actor) to fight and put all my dreams into his body.”
Jackie Chan's latest movie, on video next week, was helmed by his old 'Rumble in the Bronx' director, Stanley Tong.
He emphasized, however, that he won't do a movie that is all special-effects. "It's the audience that forces me to do this kind of thing. That's why I'm different — there's too many action stars in the world.”
Chan said he began his film career as Bruce Lee's stunt double, and reveals that the great martial-arts star had one peculiar weakness — he could not do a somersault.
A defining moment for Chan came during that period as he sat in a Hong Kong movie theater, watching the audience cheer Lee and realized, "Hey, that's really me up there." He vowed to himself that when he could make his own movies there would never be any doubt that he was doing the stunts.
The idea of employing slapstick came after Chan saw his first Buster Keaton movie. "When I saw Charlie Chaplin, I was smiling. But when I saw Buster Keaton — wow! Incredible stunts! But I couldn't do it because there was a director and a stunt director and I didn't have the guts to say something.”
So, he began writing and directing his own movies. Lately, he's been hiring other directors — as with Tong on "Rumble in the Bronx." But Chan oversees all the stunt work, retains the right to override directorial decisions and is in charge of the film's final edit.
"When you look at this restaurant," Chan says, gesturing to the darkened booths that fill the room, "you say, `ahh, pretty.' For me, the first thing I do is look around — `Is this good for fighting or not?' Some other director might say, `I want a good shot,' or, `Maybe it should be snowing.' But for me, it's always thinking about stunt-action.”
Chan's screen persona has changed rather subtly over the years, especially in terms of comedy. Years ago, he could be sillier, but today he feels as if he must act his age. "I like natural comedy. Now, I try to be natural — I'm not Jim Carrey. I'm 40, not twentysomething now. So, I must change my image.”
But Chan still has some trepidation about trying to conquer America. "Sometimes I'm very scared to come to America. Fifteen years ago I came to the American market but I think it was wrong timing. `The Big Brawl' wasn't a success in America, it wasn't a success in Asia — I almost lost two markets.
"In Asia I have confidence. But here, my English is not that good and there's too many big stars — and I'm just a tiny one.”
This time, however, the stars would appear to be in his favor.
EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: Despite Chan’s hopes, he never did get a chance to work with Spielberg or Cameron, but he also didn’t retire and he’s continued to have his action comedies released in this country on a regular basis. True, he’s slowed down some — he is 66 after all — but not much. His latest was ‘Vanguard,’ helmed by his ‘Rumble in the Bronx’ director Stanley Tong, and which played in theaters last November and lands on Blu-ray, DVD and streaming sites next week. What’s more, rumor has it that a fourth ‘Rush Hour’ film is in the works, as well as a third ‘Shanghai Noon’ picture.
PROBABLY NOT THE LAST DRAGON
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021
A new Disney animated feature arrives in theaters this weekend, along with a variety of films from several genres, ranging from a small, independent true story to a big Hollywood sci-fi epic.
And theaters are, of course, still social distancing and asking that you mask up.
“Raya and the Last Dragon” (PG). In the fantasy world of this Disney animated adventure dragons sacrificed themselves to save humans from a band of monsters. Now it is 500 years later and the monsters are back, but there is only one dragon left and young warrior Raya must find him. The voice cast includes Kelly Marie Tran, Awkwafina, Daniel Day Kim, Sandra Oh and Benedict Wong.
“My Salinger Year” (R). In the late 1990s, Joanna (Margaret Qualley), a young aspiring writer, goes to work for a tech-phobic New York City agent (Sigourney Weaver) whose most famous client is the notoriously reclusive author of “Catcher in the Rye,” J. D. Salinger. And one of Joanna’s duties is responding to Salinger’s voluminous mail, which he refuses to accept. A true story based on Joanna Rakoff’s memoir.
“Chaos Walking” (PG-13). A woman (Daisy Ridley) crash-lands on a strange planet where all the women have gone missing and the men are afflicted with “the Noise,” which causes their thoughts to be heard aloud. A young man (Tom Holland) vows to protect her but there is danger all around. Based on the best-selling novel, “The Knife of Never Letting Go.” With Mads Mikkelsen, Demián Bichir, Cynthia Erivo, Nick Jonas and David Oyelowo.
“Boogie” (R). Even as his parents push him to go for a scholarship to an elite college, Alfred “Boogie” Chin (Taylor Takahashi) hones his talent for basketball and dreams of one day making it to the NBA. Written and directed by entrepreneur Eddie Huang, best known for his memoir “Fresh Off the Boat,” which was adapted for the same-name sitcom. Huang also has a supporting role, as does rapper Bashar “Pop Smoke” Jackson in his only movie; he was shot and killed in his home last year during a robbery gone wrong.
“Pixie” (R). After a bungled drug heist in , two bungling thugs pair up with the title character (Olivia Cooke) and hit the road in this frantic, violent Irish comedy that includes a body in the trunk of their car and two gun-wielding mobster priests (Alec Baldwin, Colm Meaney) on their trail.
“The Affair” (Not Rated). Beginning in the 1920s, this Czech melodrama unfolds over a couple of decades as a wife and mother married to a Jewish businessman drifts into a lesbian affair following years of oppression by her husband, who yearns for a lost love. Eventually, World War II disrupts their lives as the Nazis come calling.
“A1 Express” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). Corruption and nepotism in professional sports are explored in this soccer musical-comedy from India.
PUMP UP THE VOLUME
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of Christian Slater’s early successes was the coming-of-age yarn ‘Pump Up the Volume,’ released when critics and moviegoers were still remarking on his resemblance to — and affected acting style that seemed to mimic — Jack Nicholson. Slater has since gone on to earn his own place in Hollywood, of course, with a wide variety of films and TV shows to his credit. And now ‘Pump’ is getting a Blu-ray upgrade from Warner Archive. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 26, 1990.
Christian Slater is an actor of great potential, though — as many critics have pointed out — he does tend to slip into a self-conscious Jack Nicholson impression from time to time. (The possibility that Slater will one day play Nicholson's son seems inevitable.)
In the current "Young Guns II," Slater manages to put that acting tic on hold but it surfaces once again in "Pump Up the Volume," the latest cinematic essay in teen angst.
"Pump Up the Volume" is a teenage version of "Talk Radio" that has aspirations of being this generation's "Rebel Without a Cause." Unfortunately, especially in the first half, it comes off more like "Porky's: The Ham Radio."
Slater is a painfully shy East Coast teen transplanted to a small Arizona town where he has become alienated and alone, unable to make even a single friend. But he does show off writing talent in an English class (taught by Ellen Greene, of "Little Shop of Horrors”).
Samantha Mathis, Christian Slater, 'Pump Up the Volume' (1990)
One night, while trying unsuccessfully to reach his friends with a ham radio, Slater finds he can hone in on local frequencies, and soon he's unmasking another side of his personality on the air, a much more aggressive, forceful one than he wears during the day.
To his surprise, Slater finds his fellow high school students are tuning into his ravings, which, in an extremely vulgar fashion, encourage masturbation, listening to "forbidden" music and acting crazy. Using a machine to distort his voice, he gains a fervent following of local teens through his outrageous behavior, a constant stream of profanity and verbal attacks on adults and authority in every form.
Eventually he begins taking calls on the air, phoning teens who write him letters at an anonymous post office box, but he has second thoughts when he finds himself counseling a suicidal classmate.
Meanwhile, a girl (Samantha Mathis) in one of his classes, an aspiring poet who always wears black, begins to catch on to who this foul-mouthed high school Larry King really is. So she takes steps to prove her theory.
Eventually, Slater begins a campaign against the corrupt high school principal (Annie Ross), which brings her wrath down on him. She calls in the FCC (headed by James Hampton) to track down his signal.
All of this builds to a most unlikely frenzy with, as my own teenage son noted, the requisite end-of-the-movie car chase.
Though writer-director Allan Moyle has some interesting ideas at work here, "Pump Up the Volume" is primarily the same old thing — "us," represented by adolescents of all shapes and sizes, against "them," meaning parents, teachers and any other handy authority figures.
Shifts in tone are frequent and far too stark, plot holes and implausibilities are gargantuan, and there are a number of inconsistencies. This is also a surprisingly exploitive film, from the sentimental cameo of the suicidal student to the scene where Mathis removes her blouse.
One of the traps just about every filmmaker who tries a coming-of-age picture falls into is exploiting the very audience he is seeking. Wouldn't it be nice to see a picture like this take the high road once in a while?
The most annoying aspect for me, however, was the lack of balance in the characters. Aside from Slater, everyone here is a stereotype. And except for Greene's sympathetic teacher, every adult is a villain, from the over-the-top "Mommie Dearest"-style principal to the cartoonish FCC executive to Slater's foppish father.
The only real reason to see this film is Slater's knockout performance. He's an amazing young talent — even if he does echo Nicholson — and it will be interesting to see what he comes up with when he's able to sink his teeth into a really good script.
"Pump Up the Volume" is rated R for considerable profanity and vulgarity, with partial nudity and some violence.
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.
A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘A League of Their Own’ is one of those movies that grows on you, or at least it has on me. Having watched it a few times since its initial released I’ve found that it has improved with age, something that may be easier for nostalgic period pieces. And it was a big hit — the seventh biggest hit of 1992, and it helped expand Tom Hanks’ resume as a dramatic actor; the next year he won his first Oscar. Several local theaters are bringing it in this weekend and if you’ve never seen it on the big screen, well, it’s worth a look. My review was published on July 1, 1992.
The ensemble film "A League of Their Own" takes its cue from the real-life events surrounding the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943, when it appeared that major league baseball might dry up because top players were being drafted during World War II. The result is an enjoyable, if lightweight comic fiction.
The story focuses on the memories of Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) as she arrives at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., (where the league was finally inducted in 1988) and recalls her season with the Rockford Peaches the year the women's league was organized.
The bulk of the movie is comprised of this extended flashback with the most interesting moments taking place in the first third or so as we see the recruiting and try-out process, and the organization of teams. We also see examples of how, before the games even begin, these women are exploited by team owners who force them to wear short-skirt uniforms that make them look more like cheerleaders than ballplayers. "How am I going to slide in that outfit," one woman asks. And it isn't long before condescending national press coverage follows, with such pronouncements as, "They've traded their oven mitts for baseball mitts.”
Bitty Schram and Tom Hanks in the famous 'There's no crying in baseball' moment in 'A League of Their Own' (1992).
The earliest scenes also provide the film's biggest laughs, courtesy of a disgruntled, sarcastic baseball scout who grouses about everything, played to the hilt by Jon Lovitz. At once obnoxious and hilarious, Lovitz is right at home with a character that is much like those he played on "Saturday Night Live," except that this one is better written. He's a riot. But then he's gone — all too soon — and the film is never quite as funny again.
The primary characters here are Dottie, her highly competitive younger sister Kit (Lori Petty), who feels that she's spent her entire life living in Dottie's shadow, and the team's manager, an over-the-hill, alcoholic former baseball star named Jimmy Dugan, surprisingly well-played by Tom Hanks in an offbeat bit of casting.
Dugan is recruited by the owner of the team, candy bar tycoon Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall). Dugan tells Harvey he's not drinking anymore, "because I can't afford to," but, of course, he shows up drunk, surly and only half-awake for the team's first game. So it is up to Dottie, who is married and more mature and levelheaded than the other women on the team, to take over and organize things.
Other team members include "All the Way" Mae (Madonna), the team's token "loose girl"; Mae's boisterous best friend Doris (Rosie O'Donnell); a plain-Jane powerhouse hitter named Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh); and assorted other young women with a variety of personal problems that will be resolved by the final reel.
Once the games begin in earnest, the film settles into a predictable story line — and in the end, the sisters will resolve their differences, the other players will overcome their problems, and the manager will shed his male chauvinism and start to care about his team.
The entire cast is good, with many of the actresses who play teammates giving a genuine boost to underwritten characters. Special kudos to Davis and Hanks. And someone really missed a bet by not bringing Lovitz back into the picture now and again.
In the end, "A League of Their Own" settles for light humor, soft characterizations and sentimental resolutions. It's bound to find an audience that will be happy with what it has to offer but it's a shame the real potential here wasn't better tapped by screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers," "Parenthood," "Splash") and director Penny Marshall ("Awakenings," "Big").
On the whole, it is a pleasant diversion that should have been more.
"A League of Their Own" is rated PG for a fairly steady stream of vulgar dialogue, along with some profanity and violence.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 5, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Miramax is giving a new Blu-ray upgrade to ‘Sling Blade’ the film that put Billy Bob Thornton on the map with a characterization that’s unlike any other he’s done. Or that anyone else has done either. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 14, 1997.
Uneven, quite profane in places and chilling in its no-nonsense, straight-forward approach, "Sling Blade" is also a singularly brave and even startling acting piece from writer-director-star Billy Bob Thornton, who landed surprise Oscar nominations for best actor and best screenplay.
With a quiet, haunting quality that is unusual in movies these days, "Sling Blade" is the kind of picture that stays with you long after you've left the theater.
Thornton has set his story in the South, though the precise location is never made known, and he also plays the lead character, a slow-witted 40ish man who committed murder at the age of 12.
As the film opens, quiet, hulking Karl Childers (Thornton) is staring out a window of the hospital where he has been confined for some 30 years. Another inmate, Charles Bushman (J.T. Walsh), approaches him and begins relating in graphic sexual detail some of the experiences that led to his own incarceration. (In the end, this proves to be a wraparound device designed to tell the audience more about Karl than Charles.)
Billy Bob Thornton, left, Lucas Black, 'Sling Blade' (1997)
Karl is about to be released after having been "cured," diagnosed as unlikely to kill again. But before he leaves, Karl agrees to talk with a student reporter about his crimes. In a lengthy, riveting monologue — a major highlight of the film — Karl explains that he grew up an abused and neglected child.
He also reveals the nature of his crime. At age 12, the young, retarded Karl saw the town bully on top of his mother in their home. Misinterpreting the act, he killed the man with a sling blade. Then, upon discovering that his mother was a willing participant, Karl killed her as well.
Upon his release, Karl, who has never been outside the hospital as an adult, heads to his nearby hometown, wanders around for a time and then returns to the hospital asking to be re-admitted. But the kindly caretaker (James Hampton) explains that Karl will have to return to town and try to adjust. He also helps Karl get a job at a local fix-it shop.
Soon, Karl has bonded with young Frank Wheatley (Lucas Black), a boy whose widowed mother (Natalie Canerday) has a mean-spirited, bigoted, abusive boyfriend (played by country singer Dwight Yoakam).
You can predict the rest, as Karl sees a situation that parallels his own youth and finds protective feelings for the boy welling up. But will he be able to help resolve the situation without resorting once again to violence?
As a director, Thornton uses a simple, static storytelling technique, relying heavily on his actors to set the tone. And the main actor, of course, is Thornton himself, who is in virtually every scene.
But his supporting players are also quite good, especially young Black and John Ritter, playing against type as a gentle, small-town gay man. Robert Duvall also shows up for a brief but effective cameo toward the end.
The film is too long (2 hours, 15 minutes), there are stretches when nothing much happens and some of the characters (including Ritter's) are rather thinly and stereotypically drawn.
But there is a lot of rich atmosphere here and Thornton's own central performance is riveting.
"Sling Blade" is rated R for off-screen violence, profanity and vulgarity.