A FISTFUL OF CLINT
1990 Sundance Film Festival program cover
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Clint Eastwood, who will turn 90 next May, is everywhere this week, publicizing ‘Richard Jewell,’ the 38th film he’s directed (he’s appeared in more than 60). He’s actually more accessible these days than he has been in the past, always a reluctant interview subject at best. But he did grant the press a presence at the Sundance Film Festival nearly 30 years ago to talk about his first starring roles and filmmaker Sergio Leone. This interview story was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 25, 1990, and is followed by a short ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column item that was published three days later.
PARK CITY — Jane Fonda canceled at the last minute and Robert Redford was nowhere to be seen — he’s off making a movie. But one of filmdom’s superstars did show up to give the Sundance United States Film Festival a boost this year.
Clint Eastwood met with the public — and a massive collection of reporters — in the Yarrow Hotel in Park City Wednesday afternoon to talk about the late Italian filmmaker Sergio Leone.
It was a brief news conference — about 20 minutes. In fact, Eastwood probably spent as much time graciously signing autographs and speaking with people who crowded around him afterward as he did at the microphone.
Leone, who died just over a year ago, is being honored by the festival in its “Gone But Not Forgotten” section with showings of “Duck, You Sucker,” a typically overblown Leone comic Western epic that had a different title in its abridged American version — “A Fistful of Dynamite.”
Eastwood and Leone fans can tell you why the title was changed. It has to do with an attempt to cash in on the title of Eastwood’s first starring film.
In 1964 Eastwood was just another TV cowboy — co-starring in “Rawhide” — when Leone cast him as the Man with No Name in his low-budget ($225,000) western “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” known in America as “A Fistful of Dollars.”
“Somebody sent him (Leone) an episode of ‘Rawhide’ in Rome,” Eastwood said, adding that he was offered only $15,000 for the role. Eastwood naturally asked his agent why he didn’t negotiate for more money. “He said, ‘You’d better take it. They have Rory Calhoun in the wings.’ Well, I’d never seen Europe, so I decided to do it.”
The film was scheduled to shoot during the hiatus between seasons of “Rawhide.” Eastwood described his Rowdy Yates character on “Rawhide” as “the second banana and the dumber of the two.”
When he finished the film he returned to the TV series, unaware that the movie was becoming a phenomenon in European movie theaters. Eastwood said he read in Variety about a popular European Western called “Per un Pugno di Dollari,” but he thought it was some other picture since his film had been titled “Magnificent Stranger” while he was working on it. Eventually he saw his name connected with it and realized his movie was a European hit.
Eli Wallach, left, Sergio Leone, Clint Eastwood and Lee Van Cleef take a dinner break from shooting 'The Good, the Bad and the Ugly' in 1966.
The film went on to become an enormous worldwide success, made Eastwood an international star, and the term “spaghetti Western” became a household phrase.
Over the next two years Eastwood played the same character in Leone’s equally popular sequels, “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.” Along with their first collaboration, these films have become known as Leone’s “Dollar Trilogy.”
Leone went on to make several other big films, sans Eastwood, including “Once Upon a Time in the West” (considered by many to be Leone’s masterpiece) and, more recently, “Once Upon a Time in America.”
“Sergio was not afraid to attack American mores,” Eastwood said, explaining that Leone broke some of the rules of American movie censorship with more realistic violence than had been used in westerns up to that point. “He had an operatic feel — a big, grandiose style. He was very big with the countryside.”
When they first met, Leone spoke no English and Eastwood spoke no Italian, but he said they had no trouble making the movie because they left each other alone.
“It was very easy to handle that. I just did my own thing,” Eastwood said, adding that producers complained about his seeming inaction in the screen. “They said, ‘He’s not doing anything. He’s just standing there with that cigar in his mouth.’ They didn’t understand the symbolism. Italian producers were used to a lot more dialogue.”
Did Leone influence Eastwood the director? “I’m sure he influenced me a lot. His boldness, subject-wise, and visually he was terrific. I admired his visual eye. He admired (Japanese director Akira) Kurosawa and so did I.”
Eastwood said he hasn’t given up on westerns, despite their being rare these days. One of his next two films will be a Western, though he described it as “something a little different than I’ve done in the past.” His last Western was “Pale Rider” in 1985.
Eastwood said he and Leone had drifted apart, and not communicated for several years when he was in Rome last year to promote his film, “Bird.” Leone called him up and they spent a couple of evenings together and renewed their friendship. A few months later Leone died.
EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: By the way, the western to which Eastwood refers here was ‘Unforgiven,’ which was released two years after his Sundance appearance, and which won him his first two Oscars as best director and as producer of the best picture of 1992. (He would go on to win in the same categories for 1995’s ‘Million Dollar Baby.’)
Clint Eastwood mingles with fans in Park City's Yarrow Hotel after his 1990 Sundance Film Festival press conference.
Clint Eastwood’s appearance was memorable on a couple of counts.
He shared his early industry experiences as part of a tribute to the late director Sergio Leone, who gave Eastwood his start in pictures with “A Fistful of Dollars,” “For a Few Dollars More” and “The Good, the Bad and the Ugly.”
The imposing superstar was funny and open as he discussed their relationship and even punctured a couple of myths, one about whether Eastwood named his production company Malpaso, which means “bad step,” to thumb his nose at those who told him doing those “spaghetti westerns” was a bad step, and another about whether Leone directed his films after Ennio Morricone wrote the scores so he could direct to the music. Eastwood said they were both nice, romantic stories, but neither was true.
On the downside, the Eastwood press conference started a few minutes before the announced 4 p.m. time and was over by 4:15! Festival program director Tony Safford also announced that questions were to stick to the subject of Leone, which seemed to inhibit the crowd. It might have been better to go a bit longer and perhaps have Safford or someone else field the questions to keep things moving.
But Eastwood more than made up for it as far as his public was concerned when he stuck around for quite a while signing autographs, mingling with the crowd and succumbing to an “Entertainment Tonight” interview.
All this when he probably would rather have gotten back on the slopes for some more skiing.
(And where were Ch. 2 and Ch. 4, by the way? You’d think their news departments would cover a star of his stature visiting the film festival!)
OSCAR BAIT/BOX-OFFICE BAIT
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
Clint Eastwood fishes for another Oscar with “Richard Jewell,” Netflix also tries for Oscar nominations with “The Two Popes” and the “Jumanji” sequel goes for the box-office win. And it probably will succeed on that front.
“Richard Jewell” (R). Eastwood directed this true story of the title character (played by character actor Paul Walter Hauser) being railroaded for a bomb planted at the Atlanta Olympic Games when he actually managed to help save lives on that fateful day. With Sam Rockwell, Kathy Bates, Jon Hamm and Olivia Wilde.
“The Two Popes” (PG-13). Anthony Hopkins is Pope Benedict XVI and Jonathan Pryce is Cardinal Jorge Mario Bergoglio, soon to be dubbed Pope Francis, in this “what-if” story, based on real events when the conservative pope had discussions with his more liberal successor. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater, and on Netflix Dec 20.)
Jumanji: The Next Level” (PG-13). The cast of “Jumanji: Welcome to the Jungle” returns for further adventures in the wildly unpredictable video game they find themselves once again sucked into, literally. With Dwayne Johnson, Jack Black, Kevin Hart, Bebe Neuwirth, Karen Gillan, Nick Jonas, Madison Iseman and Colin Hanks, along with newcomers Danny DeVito, Danny Glover and Awkwafina.
“Black Christmas” (R). Yes, it’s the Christmas season but it’s also Friday the 13th, so why not a holiday horror film? This is the second remake of the 1970s slasher film about sorority sisters stalked by a masked killer. With Imogen Poots and Cary Elwes.
“Promare” (PG-13, in Japanese with English subtitles). Elaborate Japanese anime feature about a futuristic firefighting mecha service that protects the world. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)
THE COTTON CLUB
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: I liked it but Francis Ford Coppola’s troubled production of ‘The Cotton Club’ proved to be a box-office flop (my review’s predictions notwithstanding). Still, there are apparently enough fans for Lionsgate to give the 35-year-old film a Blu-ray boost. My review was published on Dec. 14, 1984.
“Dune” and “The Cotton Club” opening the same day is like having a contest to see which over-hyped, obscenely expensive movie is going to have the best reception.
“Dune” may open strong due to the curiosity factor but “The Cotton Club” will be around much longer thanks to a uniquely successful blend of seemingly incompatible elements that have been brilliantly tied together.
“The Godfather” meets “Footlight Parade,” if you will.
“The Cotton Club” is directed and co-written by Francis Coppola (who seems to have permanently dropped the middle-name Ford) and it’s his best film in years. Though it deals with gangsters in the late ’20s and early ’30s, this is very different from his “Godfather” films, and, despite a number of flaws (including the year’s most trite ending), “The Cotton Club” has an energy and vibrance that come along all too rarely in movies these days.
The film concentrates mainly on two parallel stories, that of a white cornet player who innocently becomes involved with the underworld and a black dancer who performs at the mob-owned Cotton Club, an all-black nightclub for a white-only audience. Their stories occasionally interconnect but generally stay on their separate roads — and that alone gives this a more realistic stance than most films that would feel the need to have the two characters become buddies.
Gregory Hines, left, Lonette McKee, Diane Lane, Richard Gere, 'The Cotton Club' (1984)
Yet, despite striving for realism (and the R-rated violence is particularly harsh in a couple of scenes), “The Cotton Club” occasionally opts for a fuzzy, fantasy tone in certain bits of dialogue and characterization. That’s a minor point until the climax, when there is a rather jarring Busby Berkely happy ending that looks like it came right out of left field — or perhaps Steve Martin’s “Pennies from Heaven.” It’s just too pat and silly, compared to everything that’s gone before.
Despite that, “The Cotton Club” is a delightful revelation with absolutely on-target performances from the entire cast — and a few knockouts in the bargain.
The story has Richard Gere as Dixie Dwyer, a young cornet player (and Gere actually plays his own cornet solos here) who innocently saves the life of psychotic mobster Dutch Schultz (James Remar) and finds himself rather too much in Schultz’s debt thereafter. Diane Lane plays Vera Cicero, a young girl who wants her own nightclub, and who carries on an adulterous relationship with Schultz to get it. Eventually, Dwyer breaks free of Schultz long enough to go to Hollywood and become a movie star — playing gangsters, of course.
The other story has Gregory Hines as Sandman Williams, a young dancer who works his way up in the Cotton Club, eventually achieving stardom there. He loves Lila Rose Oliver (Lonette McKee), a singer/dancer at the club, and she goes on to achieve her own stardom, passing for white in Cicero’s club.
Gere is top draw here, of course, and he’s very good playing a much more low-key character than usual. He’s likable and charming, and mixes just the right amount of innocence, apprehension and fear in his musician-on-the-way-up, but not necessarily the way he’d like to go. Lane is also good, as a street-smart young kid who gets in too deep, then simply resigns herself to it.
Remar, who may be remembered as the vicious villain of “48 HRS.,” is brilliant as Dutch Schultz, a mad dog if ever there was one, and he’s a most threatening, frightening presence on the screen. Bob Hoskins as the owner of the Cotton Club, Fred Gwynne as his hulking cohort and Nicolas Cage as Dwyer’s brother, who also becomes a crazy mobster, are all excellent.
In the parallel story, Hines dominates the screen as a brash, aggressive talent determined to win both stardom and Lila Rose. His performance is flawless and his dancing duets with his real-life brother Maurice are exquisite (one of them, which patches up a feud, is especially moving). Lonette McKee as Lila Rose is terrific, a woman refusing to be intimidated by her own choices, and she and Hines sizzle together.
Also worth noting are Julian Beck as a menacing hit man, whose ironic deadpan humor is delightful, and Tom Waits as the Cotton Club’s gravel-voiced MC.
The editing of all this material, jumping back and forth as it does, could have made a real mess of the entire project, but instead it is brilliant, and everything fits together very well. Coppola’s direction is quite stylish, and the lighting, sets, costumes and cinematography are all excellent. As is the music, of course, depicting the golden age of jazz.
The script is also quite good, written in an E.L. Doctorow style (“Ragtime,” “Daniel”), fusing fiction and history.
Aside from a few slips here and there (including that ending), my only real complaint about “The Cotton Club” is that it has a scene or two that are just too gory for my taste. Especially one early on, though it achieves the shock value sought. For that reason it is rated R, and there are a few profanities, along with some discreet sex and partial nudity.
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 CHRISTMAS STORY
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: This holiday favorite gets the big-screen treatment — for a full week, starting Friday, four shows daily — at the Cinemark Movies 9 Theaters in Sandy. Take the kids, no matter their ages, and enjoy. My review was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 1983.
Frankly I prefer Jean Shepherd’s original title for this work, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Despite that bit of carping, however, “A Christmas Story” is a wonderfully nostalgic, light-hearted movie that manages to capture an amazing amount of truth in its episodic telling.
This film is like a compilation of Deseret News “Christmas I Remember Best” stories, spun with the gently humorous yet biting talent of Shepherd, as he actually narrates them for the screen.
The main storyline has to do with young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a 9-year-old boy living in Indiana during the early 1940s. Ralphie wants nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder air gun, and his efforts to convince his parents it won’t put his eye out provide the film’s binding thread.
There are dozens of wonderful moments in this film, and having Shepherd narrate is a brilliant touch, as he manages to verbally evoke his writing style, a grand juxtaposition of words that makes the stories even brighter.
Jeff Gillen, left, Peter Billingsley, "A Christmas Story" (1983)
There is Ralphie being picked on by the local bully, until he finally fights back, and the way in which his mother (Melinda Dillon) handles it.
There’s Ralphie’s little brother being bundled up so snugly for the harsh weather that he can hardly move, eventually falling on his back and being stuck like a turtle.
There’s Ralphie’s father (Darren McGavin), whose frustrations in dealing with the ever-troubled basement furnace result in some most unique profanities, leading to Ralphies’ accidentally uttering “the queen-mother” of such phrasing. The subsequent, predictable punishment is hilariously dealt with.
Probably the funniest, truest moment, however, comes when Ralphie confronts a department store Santa with his request for an air rifle.
To elaborate any further on these vignettes would be to give away the warm and funny surprises that await you with this film. Suffice to say, “A Christmas Story,” rated PG for a few profanities, is well worth seeing and will doubtless become a holiday regular.
My one real complaint about this film is the direction by Bob Clark (“Porky’s”), which is occasionally too heavy-handed. There are plenty of funny, charming moments but there are also scenes that would have benefited from a lighter touch. Had a director with a better feel for comedy been behind “A Christmas Story,” this could have been a genuine classic, instead of merely a good, entertaining film.
But Shepherd’s material shines through and the actors are uniformly marvelous. In many ways, this film hangs on the performances of several children, and if the casting had been wrong the film probably would have faltered along the way. But Billingsley is the ultimate in charming children, and the other kids are equally good. They all seem very real, as do the parents.
McGavin is obviously relishing his role, and he and Dillon work very well together, perfectly realizing our image of 1940s parents. I personally think Dillon is one of our finest actresses and to examine her range, consider the mother she plays here as compared to the one she played in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” They couldn’t be more different, yet both ring absolutely true.
If you are familiar with the three PBS programs that adapted Shepherd’s work some years ago, you may recognize some of the episodes here (especially the lamp McGavin wins in a contest). But no matter. This kind of humor is really better for being familiar.
“A Christmas Story” is a biting satire of Americana but it is also gentle, funny and warm. And I suspect this one will also be a very popular film.
ACES: IRON EAGLE III
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 13, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Yet another Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber that boggles the mind, the third and final entry in the lackluster 1980s-’90s ‘Iron Eagle’ franchise. My review was published on June 14, 1992.
"Aces" is the third "Iron Eagle" film featuring maverick Air Force pilot Col. Chappy Sinclair, played again by Louis Gossett Jr.
The first film had Chappy helping an 18-year-old boy fly an unauthorized rescue mission in the Middle East. The second had Chappy teaming with Soviet pilots for yet another unauthorized mission to the Middle East.
But this time around, Chappy does something completely different — he teams up with three pilots, a Peruvian woman and a street-smart hood for an unauthorized mission to South America.
And if you've watched any B-movie thrillers in the past decade, you'll know that if South America's involved the good guys must be after drug runners.
Louis Gossett Jr., 'Aces: Iron Eatle III' (1992)
To add a little variety this time out, the three pilots Chappy recruits are World War II vets who fought on opposite sides during the war — one is Japanese (Sonny Chiba), another is German (Horst Buchholz) and the third is British (Christopher Cazenove). This allows for an amazing number of offensive stereotypes and clichés. (And not one of them looks old enough to have been a pilot in World War II.)
The plot is revealed early on when an Air Force pilot is shot down and a stash of cocaine is discovered in his plane. Chappy, who knew the young pilot, can't believe he was smuggling drugs. And his suspicions are confirmed when a Peruvian woman shows up — the young pilot's sister (Rachel McLish) — to tell Chappy that drugs are being transported from her village to the Air Force base.
You'll spot the bad guys long before Chappy does but suffice to say he gets no help from his commander. So he organizes his friends, using the old WWII planes they've been flying in air shows. Their unauthorized mission? To blow up the headquarters of the evil drug lord, a former Nazi (Paul Freeman, who is, more or less, reprising his character from "Raiders of the Lost Ark").
The lengthy climax has the fliers doing wild stunts in the air, as each new explosion, shootout or spectacular killing becomes more ludicrous than the one before. The most ridiculous moment comes when a church is blown up and the steeple bell flies through the air, then lands on the head of a bad guy. It prompted a big laugh from the audience, but not an affectionate one. You'll be shaking your head as you leave the theater.
Rachel McLish, 'Aces: Iron Eagle III' (1992)
The first hint we're in trouble here is a mistake in the opening credits. Despite the declaration, "Introducing Rachel McLish," this isn't her first movie. She was in the documentary "Pumping Iron II: The Women." (She was also in the TV movie, "Getting Physical.")
Director John Glen, who seems to have been inactive since the James Bond franchise went belly-up (Glen directed the last five bond movies), lends a heavy hand here. When he's not blowing up buildings he's giving us close-ups of McLish's oiled biceps.
"Aces: Iron Eagle III" is just as dumb as the first two films in this series but the real shame is to see Gossett going through the motions. Remember his Oscar-winning performance in "An Officer and a Gentleman" or his Emmy-winning role as Fiddler in the TV miniseries "Roots"? He deserves better.
"Aces" is rated R for considerable violence, along with some profanity.