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BEFORE SUNDANCE, 41 YEARS AGO

     

Robert Redford, left, and Sterling Van Wagenen, circa 1978. Redford was on the board of the Utah/US Film Festival while Van Wagenen was one of the driving forces behind mounting the event, and later helped Redford found the Sundance Institute.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: As the 2019 Sundance Film Festival gears up (it begins Jan. 24), let's look back at its beginnings. Utah’s first major film festival was held in Salt Lake City during summer 1977 as part of the nationwide celebration of the country’s bicentennial. Out of that sprang the Utah/US Film Festival, which was held in Salt Lake City, Sept. 6-12, 1978, and was composed primarily of old classic movies. But there was one unique element, an independent-film competition with six low-budget American movies judged by a panel of cinema professionals. The second Utah/US Film Festival shifted to late October 1979 and again featured many vintage classics on Salt Lake theater screens, along with five “regional cinema” independents to be judged by a professional panel. So, I’m using this space for the next three weeks to highlight some of my stories about that gestating period, which would eventually lead to what we now know as the Sundance Film Festival. I was a city desk reporter, not yet the full-time film critic at the Deseret News (although I was freelancing occasional reviews to the entertainment section), but because of my interest in all things celluloid I was allowed to write about some of the events. This story was published Sept. 6, 1978, under the headline, ‘Fest focuses on film history.’ (This link is to my story about the results of the competition that first year, filed under ‘Sundance 1978-98’ at the top of this page.)

A lot of history and lore of the movie industry will be represented in films to be shown during the Utah-US Film Festival, which opened at Trolley Corners today.

Names of some of Hollywood’s outstanding pioneer personalities appear as stars, directors or producers of pictures to be shown during the festival, which continues through Sept. 12.

For instance, the late John Ford is represented in eight of his own productions to be shown during the festival and a John Ford Medallion dinner is scheduled. Ford also will be remembered through two special retrospectives, “Directed by John Ford,” and “On Working With John Ford,” scheduled at 4 and 5:30 p.m. Sept. 11. Admission to these films will be free.

The John Ford movies to be shown with admission prices will be “The Searchers,” “The Quiet Man,” “Stagecoach” and “My Darling Clementine.” Ford has been selected for the tribute because “he best represented the U.S. story in his films,” according to festival directors. John Wayne, who starred in many Ford movies, will receive the Ford medallion. Wayne has been invited to be on hand for the festival, but so far has had to decline.

     

The John Ford Medallion was an award at the first Utah/US Film Festival in 1978.

Some pioneers in the industry, represented with films in the Festival, are still living. One is Allan Dwan, now 93 and living in the Hollywood Motion Picture Home. He directed “Sands of Iwo Jima” back in 1949. It starred John Wayne and Forrest Tucker. Dwan is noted for many camera innovations such as the dolly shot.

Another film from a still-living pioneer is “True Grit.” It was made in 1969 by Henry Hathaway and won an Oscar for Wayne. Now in his 80s, Hathaway has been around longer than most of the others. He started as a child movie actor in 1908 in San Diego. The first movie lot in Hollywood came into existence in 1911, and Hathaway moved to Hollywood and continued acting and later went into directing and producing.

Still another legendary figure of the business who is still alive and will be represented at the Festival is Raoul Walsh, who started as an actor in “Birth of A Nation,” which was made in 1915 and which will be shown at the Festival.

Walsh has been familiar because he wears an eye patch. He was scheduled to both direct and star in “In Old Arizona” in 1928. On location at night, he swerved his car to avoid hitting a rabbit, and lost an eye in the mishap.

Walsh is given credit for discovering John Wayne. Walsh took the Duke from the University of Southern California football team and put him in “The Big Trail,” which started Wayne on the road to his big career.

Another pioneer in the movie industry is Jack L. Warner, actually a frustrated comic. He took over Warner Bros. Studio in 1918 and the next year Rin Tin Tin bit the seat out of Jack’s pants. Jack fired the original dog and made a star of the canine’s son. Several Warner pictures will be presented in the Festival.

Howard Hawks, another pioneer of the industry who died only last year, will be represented in “Rio Bravo,” which he directed in 1969, and “Red River,” which he made in 1948.

     

Lillian Gish, center, with Lionel Barrymore in 'The New York Hat' (1912), a D.W. Griffith short.

And Lillian Gish, who has returned to acting, stars in “Birth of a Nation” and “The New York Hat,” which are on the schedule. The latter also stars Mary Pickford, a recluse in Hollywood. Miss Gish was the greatest star of D.W. Griffith, who made “Birth of a Nation.”

And, of course, the Festival will feature the oldest youngster in movies with a special two-hour tribute. He’s Mickey Mouse, who was involved in many pioneer features in the world of animation. He turns 50 this year.

EDITOR’S NOTE: John Wayne was not able to accept his award, since, as we now know, he was battling cancer at the time. He died 18 months later. During the run of the festival the medallion was accepted on Wayne’s behalf by filmmaker/actor/author Peter Bogdanovich. There was no film festival in 1980 but in January 1981 “The Third Annual Festival for American Film,” as the program referred to it, changed its name to the United States Film and Video Festival and made its Park City debut. The Sundance Institute was founded in 1979 and took over the festival in 1984, though the ‘Sundance’ moniker would not become part of the festival’s name until 1990.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

THE ‘GLASS’ SCREENING

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019

The long-in-the-works superhero/horror movie “Glass” opens in theaters this weekend without much new competition, only a Japanese animated film.

“Glass” (PG-13). A low-key superhero (Bruce Willis) takes on a supervillain (James McAvoy) with 23 different personalities, unaware that the latter is being manipulated by yet another supervillain (Samuel L. Jackson). M. Night Shyamalan’s highly anticipated sequel combines two of his earlier films, “Unbreakable” (2000) and “Split” (2016). Spencer Treat Clark and Charlayne Woodward re-create their roles from the former and Anya Taylor-Joy is back from the latter. Sarah Paulson also co-stars.

“Dragon Ball Super: Broly” (PG, dubbed into English). Goku and Vegeta take on a Saiyan called Broly in this Japanese anime fantasy martial arts effort. This is actually the 20th in the “Dragon Ball” series, although anyone unfamiliar with the anime series may think this is a standalone picture.


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

CLIFFHANGER

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sony has just released the superior Sylvester Stallone action thriller ‘Cliffhanger’ on 4K so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on May 28, 1993.

When "Cliffhanger" is doing its "Vertigo" thing, it is an incredibly effective thriller, with an opening scene that is so intense audience members will work up a sweat and strain their fingers gripping the armrests on their theater seats.

And that's enough to warrant this three-star recommendation for action fans.

But it is too bad director Renny Harlin ("Die Hard 2") and screenwriters Michael France and Sylvester Stallone couldn't keep the story and level of violence from sinking into a morass of clichés.

Still, action fans won't be disappointed. Harlin knows how to grab the audience immediately, then build a series of thrilling moments until the hold-onto-your-hats climax, which is a knockout.

     

         Sylvester Stallone, Janine Turner, 'Cliffhanger'

Stallone, who rewrote France's original script, stars as a professional mountain climber working with the Rocky Mountain Rescue Team (the many mountain scenes were actually filmed in Italy). The opening sequence has Stallone climbing up to a dangerous peak where his friend and colleague Michael Rooker has taken an inexperienced girlfriend.

This gripping rescue ends in tragedy and Stallone and the rest of the team (Rooker, Janine Turner, Ralph Waite) are shattered by it. While everyone else stays on, however, Stallone disappears for eight months. Then he returns, to ask Turner to leave with him, intending to give up mountain climbing for good.

Meanwhile, evil John Lithgow and a team of high-tech crooks are hijacking a U.S. Treasury plane to steal $300 million in brand-new notes. But their plans go awry, the three cases of money fall into the mountains and their plane crashes.

So, Lithgow summons the rescue team, and Stallone and Rooker show up. They are forced to help search for the money, but soon Stallone has broken away and is on his own. His goal is to reach the money first, realizing that when Lithgow gets what he wants, he'll kill Rooker.

     

Turner soon gets in the thick of things as well, in a particularly thankless way. The "Northern Exposure" star begins with a character who is initially quite strong. But soon she becomes a hanger-on, whining and doing stupid things, as all women tend to do in macho thrillers.

There is also too high a body count, too many sympathetic characters killed off and a mean-spirited sense of nastiness that pervades the overall film, in an attempt to show us just how cold-blooded Lithgow is. And the gore quotient is also too high, with globs of blood in fight scenes and one killing that seems right out of a "Friday the 13th" movie.

Still, for all these complaints, and despite some of the dialogue being far too clichéd, there are so many amazing thrill sequences that get the blood pumping, fans of this sort of thing will likely be in heaven.

"Cliffhanger," rated R for violence, gore and profanity, is the only "Die Hard"/"Lethal Weapon"-style thriller of the summer season, and as a result will likely have a long run.


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 (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.

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

FIELD OF DREAMS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘If you build it … ’ — but you know that quote, don’t you? It’s one of the best-remembered lines from cinema. And in that spirit, the SCERA Theater in Orem is hoping that if they show it, the audience will come. You can catch it on the big screen Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 10 a.m. Here’s my review, published May 5, 1989, in the Deseret News.

There's no question that "Field of Dreams" is a throwback to movies of yesteryear. After all, how long has it been since we've had a flat-out fantasy laced with innocence and a gentle, yet powerful pro-family message?

Even the recent "Chances Are" had its smarmy moments.

But "Field of Dreams" never loses its focus or its sense of what it wants to be, and consequently the film achieves a euphoric state that seems rare in modern movies. And my guess is it's something that has been missed, and once word gets out about this picture it will play to standing-room-only audiences all over the country.

The film begins with a brief biographical sketch of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), whose father loved baseball — his hero was Chicago White Sox player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson — and hoped his son might grow up to be the player he was never able to become. Unfortunately, it resulted in an alienation between father and son that was never resolved.

     

James Earl Jones, left, Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, 'Field of Dreams'

Ray married an Iowa girl (Amy Madigan) and somehow found himself a farmer raising fields of corn, along with a young daughter (Gaby Hoffman). He's never done a crazy thing in his life, Ray explains, but he's about to, and as the film's modern setting unfolds he is standing in his cornfield one early evening when he hears a whispering voice say, "If you build it, he will come."

"If you build what, who will come?" his wife asks, but Ray has no answer.

Eventually it comes to him that he is to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, therefore mowing down his main crop. He thinks its a little crazy, of course — and so does his wife. But he is compelled to do it anyway.

The result is a visit from "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who returns from the dead to play on the ball field and eventually brings with him the rest of the disgraced Chicago "Black Sox" who threw the 1919 World Series.

Then Ray is guided to link up with a former radical '60s writer (James Earl Jones) and an aging former baseball player (Burt Lancaster), who eventually figure in the mystery of this bizarre spiritual experience

     

     Kevin Costner, left, Burt Lancaster, 'Field of Dreams'

That description may sound more weird than enchanting, and I have to admit that the theatrical preview for this film left me cold when I saw it a few weeks ago. I can only say that cursory descriptions and the previews do a disservice to what is actually a magical, often funny, utterly delightful movie, one that will stay with you for some time to come.

The performances, appropriately low-key and perfect for this piece, are played superbly by the actors, and writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, basing his screenplay on W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," manages to at once evoke an old-fashioned style of filmmaking with nostalgic overtones and an up-to-date yearning for the ability to reconcile our past mistakes with our present lives.

Robinson also wrote and directed the delightful but underrated "In the Mood" last year and wrote the screenplay for Carl Reiner's hysterically funny "All of Me," which, in my book, remains Steve Martin's best film.

This film proves those accomplishments were not flukes and Robinson is a talent to watch for in the future. And for me "Field of Dreams," rated PG for a few scattered profanities, is so far the best film of 1989.


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

STAY TUNED

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 18, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This disappointing fantasy farce starring two TV stars of the 1980s, the late John Ritter (‘Three’s Company’) and Pam Dawber (‘Mork & Mindy’) is a disappointment but it must have a following since Sony has decided to give it a Blu-ray upgrade. Here’s my review, published Aug. 27, 1992 (which was jointly reviewed with two other films that opened around the same time, ‘Once False Move’ and ‘The Gun in Betty Lou’s Handbag’).

Returning from vacation the film critic plays catch-up on movies that opened while he was off.

"Stay Tuned" is a spoof of TV series, commercials and movies, and a few of the brief skits here are amusing.

The animated centerpiece — a cartoon by Chuck Jones called "RoboCat" — is a riot.

But the film's extended set pieces, which make up most of the movie, are flat and humorless.

What this movie needs is the sense of insanity and rapid-fire jokes in the vein of "Airplane!" or "The Naked Gun." Instead, it's a series of setups, most of which simply don't pay off.

     

John Ritter spoofs his old sitcom 'Three's Company' in 'Stay Tuned,' here with June Nagy as Chrissy and Roselyn Royce as Janet.

The premise has couch potato John Ritter signing his soul over to an agent of the devil (Jeffrey Jones) in exchange for "Hell-vision," a satanic cable channel that proves to be quite interactive.

In fact, Ritter and wife Pam Dawber are sucked into their satellite dish and find themselves participants in psychotic TV shows, where they have 24 hours to battle for their lives.

So, they outwit wolves in "Northern Overexposure," go to the mat on a wrestling program and Ritter even shows up on the Starship Enterprise in a spoof of "Star Trek: The Next Generation."

But how do you spoof something that is already a spoof, like "Wayne's World"? Here, they make Wayne and Garth zombies. It's hilarious — not!

     

And that's the problem. Even a plotless movie can be fun if it's funny enough. But too often "Stay Tuned" is completely laughless.

And the pacing is surprisingly slack, considering the driving force is director-cinematographer Peter Hyams, who seems to fare better with action pictures ("Running Scared," "Outland").

This is most evident when Dawber and Ritter show up on an elaborate French Revolution set. Hyams lavishly photographs the moment but has no idea how to employ the wit of, say, the Monty Python troupe.

“Stay Tuned” is rated PG for violence, profanity and some mild vulgarity.