Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns


For, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: A recent wire story out of Hollywood says the 2011 American version of ‘The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo’ had a $100 million budget, and earned $230 million at the international box office, which put it in the black but not by much. So the movie franchise is going to skip the first two sequel books and go straight to the latest in the literary series, ‘The Girl in the Spider’s Web,’ with a ‘modest’ $60 million budget. So, for major-studio flicks, $100 million is the norm and $60 million is ‘modest.’ Contrast this with what movies cost 30 years ago. Here’s a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column from the Nov. 20, 1983, Deseret News, with the headline ‘What does it cost to make a movie? Try $11.3 million.’ Yes, back then we thought $11.3 million was outrageous; now it’s below average for a low-budget film. Also, the last paragraph here, with its quaint observations about ‘prints’ (digital discs now) and ‘videocassettes’ (streaming/DVD/Blu-rays, now) bears an explanation. Video sales were reflective of rental stores, since, in 1983, VHS tapes were far too expensive for collectors, and hit films cost rental stores a lot more to purchase, so the return was fairly meager.

Hollywood Budgets ain’t what they used to be – they’re more.

Not that anyone will be especially surprised by that, but the average budget for a movie used to be $10 million. Now? Make that $11,300,000 according to the latest issue of Variety, the show biz bible.

There are a number of modestly budgeted films on the docket – modest by Hollywood standards, that is. The Variety story reports quite a large number that will cost $7 million or less.

But there are also a lot that will cost considerably more, which pushes the average up over the $11 million mark. And it is admitted up front that most of the films budgeted at $7 million and under are independently produced and merely picked up by the major studios for release.

The conclusion there, of course, is that major Hollywood studios are still allowing movie budgets to inflate to tremendous proportions, apparently forgetting the lessons wrought by “Heaven’s Gate,” “Annie,” et. al.

Yet, despite inflationary pressures, production is up, and the number of movies that have begun shooting in 1983 is running well ahead of the number started in 1982. As of Nov. 1 last year, 74 pictures had commenced production, compared to 83 this year. And that’s just the major studios.

Independent films are slightly behind ’82 figures, with 71 started by Nov. 1 this year, and 76 at this time last year. Overall, 154 U.S.-produced films have been started in the first 10 months of 1983, compared to last year’s 150.

Variety also reports that advertising, promotion and publicity costs have been rising even faster than production costs. Advertising for particular films increases when it’s a hit, and you may have noticed that newspaper ads for such summer hits as “Flashdance” and “Return of the Jedi” got larger as the weeks went by.

On the other side of the fence, if movies that are in test runs on the coasts fail to find an audience, those films are very often shelved by studios, to await a cable-TV or videocassette release.

It’s a lot cheaper to grind out videocassettes than to strike prints and ship them to hundreds of theaters around the country, and the return on videocassettes is decidedly greater when the films were not immediate box-office successes.



For, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015

The big movie opening this week is the final “Hunger Games” adventure, of course, but there are some other major movies on the docket as well, including Julia Roberts’ first starring role in a while.

“The Hunger Games: Mockingjay, Part 2” (PG-13). This is, of course, the fourth film in the apocalyptic sci-fi franchise with Jennifer Lawrence leading a band of rebels to overthrow the corrupt government, led by Donald Sutherland. Co-stars include Josh Hutcherson, Liam Hemsworth, Woody Harrelson, Elizabeth Banks, Julianne Moore, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Stanley Tucci, Jeffrey Wright, Jena Malone and Natalie Dormer.

“Secret in Their Eyes” (PG-13). Remake of an Argentine thriller (taken from a novel) about two police detectives (Julia Roberts, Chiwetel Ejiofor) and a district attorney (Nicole Kidman) who discover that a rape/murder victim is the teenage daughter of one of the cops (Roberts). The case goes cold for 13 years, but then the killer is identified, and Roberts wants revenge.

“Spotlight” (R). True story of the Boston Globe’s investigative “Spotlight” team digging into allegations of sex abuse by Catholic priests in Massachusetts, resulting in a series of articles that earned the Pulitzer Prize. Stars include Mark Ruffalo, Michael Keaton, Rachel McAdams, John Slattery, Stanley Tucci and Liev Schreiber.

“By the Sea” (R). Angelina Jolie wrote and directed this graphically sexual domestic melodrama set in 1970s France, and she and husband Brad Pitt star as, respectively, a former dancer and a blocked writer who spend time mingling with people in a quiet seaside town. Eventually they become voyeurs, spying on the sexual acrobatics of the newlyweds in the next room.

“The Night Before” (R). Joseph Gordon-Leavitt, Anthony Mackie and Seth Rogan star in this sleazy comedy about three childhood friends (two of them Jewish) looking for a rowdy party on Christmas Eve. Co-stars include James Franco, Miley Cyrus, Mindy Kaling and Michael Shannon.

“Room” (R). A young woman and her 5-year-old son escape from the confinement of a small room where they have been forced to live for five years, giving the boy his first opportunity to experience the outside world. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Asthma” (Not Rated). A drug-addict (Benedict Samuel) and a tattoo artist (Krysten Ritter) hit the open road in a stolen Rolls Royce and ponder why the ’70s was a much cooler decade than this one. Co-stars include Nick Nolte, Rosanna Arquette and Iggy Pop. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)




For, Friday, Oct. 30, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE:  The Luc Besson-Bruce Willis sci-fi epic ‘The Fifth Element’ has just been released in a newly remastered Blu-ray edition, which looks gorgeous. Here is my May 9, 1997, Deseret News review.

There’s no question that French filmmaker Luc Besson’s “The Fifth Element” is the wackiest, goofiest, strangest $100 million-budget movie ever.

Imagine Mel Brooks and David Lynch collaborating to remake “Blade Runner.”

After this picture, we may better understand why the French love Jerry Lewis.

Stealing liberally from “Blade Runner,” “Star Wars,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and dozens of other lesser sci-fi fantasy epics, ranging from “Stargate” to “Species” (not to mention “The Love Boat” … sort of), Besson has concocted a wild, weird 23rd-century world where giant iron-shelled scarab beetles are saviors of the universe and huge, ugly, rubber-faced monsters can morph into human form by sheer will (though they can’t hold it for very long).

On Earth, meanwhile, roads have apparently gotten so over-crowded that vehicles now fly through the air — though airborne traffic is still ridiculously heavy. The president (of the federation territory) is played by hulking Tiny Lister Jr. (who is surprisingly effective in the role). And Bruce Willis is a retired “space fighter” who lives in a cramped apartment (really more of a hallway) and drives … er, flies … a Brooklyn cab.


One day, a young woman (Milla Jovovich) drops into Willis’ cab — literally — and a wild-eyed priest (Ian Holm) reveals that she is the title character. That is, you have your air, earth, water and fire — and this young woman is the fifth element.

To save the world from a raging, “evil” planet-sized fireball, she must be placed between sacred stones representing the other four elements. This will form a weapon designed to destroy evil.

OK, it makes no sense — and I warned you that it’s weird.

Anyway, to get to that point, Willis and Jovovich must go through a series of adventures that are increasingly bizarre with the film unfolding as a zany comedy. Honest!

— Chief villain Gary Oldman looks like a fey Chinese warlord, walks with a limp and speaks in a goofy Southern accent.

— A large woman who is assigned to impersonate Willis’ wife wears her hair in two huge buns, ala Princess Leia.

— A blue soprano who resembles one of the “Alien” creatures performs a lovely operatic solo on a stage.


— A wild-and-crazy talk-show host (Chris Tucker), who helps Willis and Jovovich save the world, is an amalgam of (the artist formerly known as) Prince, Arsenio Hall and Richard Simmons with a voice that sounds as if it’s on helium.-

— And they all come together on a spaceship-cum-vacation-cruise-liner to try and locate the sacred stones.

Trying to figure out the convoluted plot is probably futile, but what holds the film together — as far as it holds together — is its dazzling visuals.

Besson has obviously spared no expense for the film’s look, and scenes of vehicles flying around high-rise buildings, a cruise ship floating through space, special-effects details from pets to giant spaceships, etc., provide some wonderful eye candy.

And there are plenty of individual moments that are truly captivating, such as the Chinese junk that pulls up to Willis’ apartment window to deliver lunch, the aforementioned blue soprano’s performance and many others.

But as a whole, the chaotic effect is more on the order of a train wreck.

This is especially disconcerting in the final act, as the film turns into “Die Hard In Space.” Even when crazy weapons are used, gunfire and explosions are still just gunfire and explosions.

Even worse, however, is Tucker’s character, who is amusing at first but then quickly becomes so obnoxious you just wish he’d go away. Oldman similarly wears out his welcome before the film is over.

Sci-fi fans will want to check it out but don’t expect too much in the story department.

“The Fifth Element” is rated PG-13 for violence, nudity, sex, profanity and vulgarity.

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.

Chris H.

Shameless Hucksterism Shameless Hucksterism

  Click cover for 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


For, Friday, Nov. 20, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the great things about the classic 1956 Western musical ‘Oklahoma!’ is that it was really opened up for the big screen, a true outdoor Western as well as a vibrant Broadway musical. And now’s your opportunity to experience the film the way it was intended to be seen, on the big screen. It will be in several local Cinemark Theaters on Sunday, Nov. 22, at 2 p.m., and on Wednesday, Nov. 25, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review that ran in the Deseret News on March 2, 1984, when the film was reissued that year (and the "carping" I mention in the text I would tone down today, as I now love this film unequivacally, primarily because very few films today are as upbeat and jubiliant, and hardly any send you out of the theater so happy).

“Oklahoma!” which is one of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s first musicals, hasn’t played theaters for many years, and has only been available in 35mm since its initial release in 1956. But now you can experience the joy of Dolby Stereo sound and the benefit of a 70mm, widescreen presentation that’ll knock your socks off.

Though not a perfect film – and just a little editing to cut down its enormous length would make it much better – “Oklahoma!” is still a prime example of the Broadway musical transferred to the screen, and that fabulous music hasn’t aged a bit.

The story is familiar, of course, with Gordon MacRae as Curly, a down-to-earth cowboy who loves the lovely Laurey (Shirley Jones), but is too shy to tell her so. (She loves him too, natch.)

MacRae and Jones (in her first film) are a wonderful match, both lending fine voices to the songs, and more than a little old-fashioned sex appeal.


        Gordon MacRae, Shirley Jones, 'Oklahoma!'

But the supporting cast often runs away with the picture.

Gloria Grahame, in an odd bit of offbeat casting, is very good as the promiscuous Ado Annie, and Gene Nelson is terrific as her beau, the naïve Will Parker. Rod Steiger is properly menacing as the evil Jud Fry, while Eddie Albert as a Persian peddler, Charlotte Greenwood as Laurey’s Aunt Eller, and James Whitmore as Annie’s outraged father are terrific at providing the laughs.

Certainly one of the most popular and frequently produced of R&H’s plays, the film version suffers from being a bit overblown (and at nearly 2 ½ hours, it’s just too long – and the Agnes DeMille ballet sequence illustrating Laurey’s nightmare about Jud and Curly seems overlong as well). And director Fred Zinneman has his scenes oddly jump from gorgeous outdoor photography to cramped, stagy sets.

Admittedly, however, these complaints are, for the most part, carping.


       Gene Nelson, Gloria Grahame, 'Oklahoma!'

“Carousel,” the MacRae/Jones/Rodgers/Hammerstein followup to this one is a better-made film, but “Oklahoma!” is more upbeat and the perfect example of bright, toe-tapping, show-stopping music and dance that made this show such a long-running stage hit.

Today’s “Footloose/“Flashdance”-oriented youth audiences ought to take a look. They just might find themselves tapping their toes to a different beat in spite of themselves.


Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Friday, Oct. 2, 2015

Surprisingly, “Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown (and don’t come back!!)” (1980), the fourth film in the ongoing “Peanuts” big-screen franchise, has never been on DVD. Which is a shame since it is a charming entry among the cartoon adaptations of Charles Schultz’s beloved comic strip. But it’s on DVD now, it’s been remastered and it looks great. So here’s my review, which ran in the Deseret News on May 30, 1980. (And little did I know how prescient my last line would be, since, some 35 years later, the franchise is still vibrant, with a new “Peanuts” movie is about to be released on Nov. 6.)

Lucy, who is one of my favorite laugh-getters from the “Peanuts” gang, has only a walk-on in the latest full-length animated feature from the Charles Schulz factory.

As the entire crew goes to the airport to wish Charlie Brown and a couple of others farewell, Lucy joins the throng as they yell, “Bon voyage, Charlie Brown.” Then she adds, “And don’t come back!”

That, of course, makes up the title of this new movie — but we know he will come back, and we’re glad of it.


Snoopy drives the 'Peanuts' gang in 'Bon Voyage, Charlie Brown ... '

And “Bon Voyage,” etc., is every bit as charming as the previous three features and all the TV specials that have periodically made us laugh and sigh.

In this outing, Charlie Brown and Linus are selected by their school to be exchange students in France. Coincidentally, so are Peppermint Patty and Marcie, from their school.

Naturally, they are going to be in the same small French school and, naturally, Patty is going to drive Charlie Brown to distraction.

Along for the ride are Snoopy and Woodstock, and a good deal of the laughs, as usual, belong to them.

It’s all formula, and I don’t want to give any of it away, but I might warn any parents whose children are ultra-sensitive that this one is a bit more frightening than any of the “Peanuts” features thus far.

There is a burning home toward the end and a number of spooky sequences as Charlie Brown and Linus encounter a mysterious chateau.


But it’s all resolved well — and it shouldn’t inhibit your going, with or without the young ones.

It’s nice to know that some things stay the same in this world of change, and that Charlie Brown will bumble along through life and still steal your heart is one of the surest.

Thank you, Mr. Schulz.