Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

3-D, A REDUNDANT PASSING FANCY

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: In the early 1980s, the 3-D craze of the ’50s resurfaced, but it didn’t last very long, which may be surprising to young people who, today, see 3-D as a common movie-watching option for dozens of films each year. This column, under the headline ‘3-D: Revival or a passing fancy,’ was published Aug. 27, 1982, and offers an overview and a brief history of the movie-watching gimmick.

There have been five 3-D movies shown in Salt Lake theaters since the first of the year, three of them new and two reissued oldies.

Last month, a Salt Lake television station ran a vintage creaky 3-D film, and it was a phenomenal success.

The TV station will probably show more in the future and several 3-D films are now in production for theatrical release in coming months.

What’s going on here? Wasn’t 3-D a passing fancy, used by filmmakers to lure customers away from that newfangled box that became a permanent piece of living room furniture in the early 1950s?

Well, of course it was. But now it’s becoming a more refined process, one used to lure customers away from their videocassette recorders and cable-TV stations in the early 1980s!

Unlike Cinerama, Todd-AO, CinemaScope, Sensurround and other such movie gimmicks, 3-D has seemed to come and go at regular intervals since the early ’50s (though it was actually experimented with as early as 1935 by MGM).

The first 3-D movies were B-actioners. “Bwana Devil,” a truly dreadful film with Robert Stack and man-eating lions, is credited as the first widely distributed 3-D film, in 1953.

Dozens of other cheaply produced thrillers followed, peaking with “House of Wax,” a good remake of “The Mystery of the Wax Museum” with Vincent Price and Charles Buchinski (later Bronsen). By the time some big-budget producers got around to making “Hondo,” with John Wayne; “Kiss Me, Kate”; and Hitchcock’s “Dial M for Murder” in 3-D, the fad had waned. And it was only 1954!

The problem was the process more than the films. Two interlocked projectors were required with two simultaneously running films synchronized, and the inevitable breakdowns played havoc with projectionists and audiences alike. And the flimsy glasses, with one green and one red lens, were uncomfortable, with many customers complaining of eyestrain.

     

The latest film to refine the process is “Friday the 13th, Part 3, in 3-D,” being run on a single projector, and the glasses just have a dark tint. They’re still uncomfortable, however — and those of us who already wear glasses have twice the problems with them.

But the illusion of things flying off the screen, of depth not felt in regular “flat” films, is greatly improved. And indications are that even better 3-D effects are in store in the near future.

The real question is whether new 3-D films will be any good, despite their technical qualities.

The two reissued 3-D films shown in theaters this year both had problems. “Dial M for Murder” is a good film, but director Alfred Hitchcock had no real interest in 3-D and only used two brief scenes to thrust things out at the audience. “The Fantastic Invasion of Planet Earth,” written and directed by Arch Oboler, who also did “Bwana Devil,” was an attempt to revive 3-D in 1970, but the film is so bad no one cared. The ’70s also produced “Andy Warhol’s Frankenstein,” which will be brought back by Plitt Theaters on Oct. 1.

All three of the new efforts this year are filled with R-rated gore. “Dynasty,” a Japanese Samurai picture set a record for decapitations; “Parasite” ripped off “Alien” at every turn; and “Friday the 13th, Part 3, in 3-D” is just another horrible horror ripoff of “Halloween.”

All three films suffer from ridiculous plotting, idiotic dialogue and terrible acting. Oh, sure the 3-D effects are good — progressively better with each film — but we have the same problem we had in the ’50s: 3-D movies are generally just gimmicked-up garbage.

Meanwhile, the very industry that theaters are trying to take audiences away from is also experimenting with 3-D. And with amazing success.

Locally, the first 3-D movie to be shown on television was “Gorilla at Large,” a plodding mystery with a young Anne Bancroft and several other notable actors. The 1954 melodrama drew a very large audience, with local 7-Eleven stores selling some 165,000 3-D glasses for the televised event.

     

The glasses sold at 69 cents apiece, with a nickel from each sale going to the Muscular Dystrophy Association. They went slowly at first, but as the days for the telecasts approached, sales gradually picked up. More than 70 percent of them went on the Friday and Saturday that KTVX, Channel 4, televised the film — and crowds at the fast-service outlets were enormous.

“At one store the police were called,” according to KTVX promotion manager Sam Dalton. “There were close to 300 people in that little store, and a fist fight broke out over the last pair of glasses.”

Dalton said that though there are no immediate plans for another 3-D film to be shown, the station is enthusiastic about the response and probably will show another in the near future. Very little negative feedback has come in, and a lot of favorable comments from some 200 phone calls.

Meanwhile, other TV stations around the country have also had responses to 3-D showings — but some less friendly than those received by KTVX. New York audiences saw “Gorilla at Large” in 3-D form last month, too, but a lot of complaints about eyestrain and the film itself were called in. In Chicago, “Revenge of the Creature” (a sequel to “The Creature From the Black Lagoon”) was shown, and literally thousands of viewers called to complain that the 3-D process was inadequate. But in both cases, incredibly huge ratings were also tallied.

It should be noted that the FCC has approved the 3-D signal, but even black-and-white movies must be viewed on a color TV set in order to get the 3-D effect.

And adding impetus to the 3-D craze is a news story out of Columbia, S.C., about three university professors who claim to have developed a 3-D color TV system that does not require the glasses at all.

Meanwhile, 3-D movies will keep coming to theaters over the next year or two, with literally dozens in production now and others preparing to begin filming.

Several horror films are ready or near-ready, and they will no doubt continue to substitute gore for imagination, but on the horizon are also “Jaws 3,” to be shot in 3-D in Orlando, Fla., and “Treasure of the Four Crowns,” a “Raiders of the Lost Ark”-type adventure film from the team that gave us “Comin’ At Ya!” last year. That team will next begin a 3-D sword-and-sorcery epic, “The Legend of the Mystical Knight.”

Whether those films will be of any better overall quality than what’s come along so far remains to be seen.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

INDEPENDENTS’ DAY

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

Friday’s new movies are strictly independents, and there are only three of them, all going up against the major- studio holiday blockbusters that opened over the past couple of weeks — chiefly “Moana” and a couple that opened earlier, “Doctor Strange” and “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them,” which currently rule the box office.

“Believe” (PG). Faith film about a car dealer whose family has funded the community Christmas festival for years, but when the dealership goes under he feels he’s letting his neighbors down because he can no longer pay for it — until he meets a young boy who believes that anything is possible.

“Incarnate” (PG-13). Aaron Eckhart stars in this horror yarn about an unconventional exorcist who has had success by tapping into the subconscious of possessed persons, but who meets his match when an 11-year-old boy is plagued by a demon from the exorcist’s past.

“Man Down” (R). A battle-scarred Marine (Shia LaBeouf) returns from a tour in Afghanistan to a post-apocalyptic America only to find that his wife and son are missing. Co-stars include Kate Mara and Gary Oldman.


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

HOWARDS END

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Cohen Media has given a Blu-ray upgrade to one of the early 1990s best films. Here’s my review from the July 17, 1992, Deseret News.

The Merchant-Ivory team, responsible for "A Room With a View," among others, strikes gold again with "Howards End," another terrific ensemble drama, filled with irony and unexpected twists and turns. Like "Room," it is based on an E.M. Forster novel.

Set in the early part of the century, "Howards End" focuses on three families — the Schlegels, the Wilcoxes and the Basts — whose intertwined relationships affect one another in surprising ways.

The first character to seriously come to our attention, in a pre-credits sequence, is Helen Schlegel (Helena Bonham Carter), who has a brief romance with a member of the uppercrust Wilcox family, then mistakes his advances as a prelude to marriage and embarrasses herself.

Some time later, in a post-credits sequence, Helen has a comical run-in with the working-class Leonard Bast (Sam West), whose umbrella she has mistakenly taken. Bast becomes an acquaintance of the family, and his story provides a pivotal plot point.

But ultimately, Helen's older sister Margaret (Emma Thompson) will emerge as the film's central character.

When the aforementioned Wilcox family coincidentally moves into a flat across the street from the Schlegel sisters, Helen, still embarrassed about her earlier social error, takes an extended trip abroad. Margaret, however, being an effervescent, gregarious sort, pays a call on the Wilcoxes and becomes friendly with the family matriarch (Vanessa Redgrave), who is quite ill.

     

      Anthony Hopkins, Emma Thompson, 'Howards End'

It is Mrs. Wilcox's death early in the film that provides the single most important plot point, upon which hinges just about everything that follows. She scribbles a note in the hospital, a note that leaves her country home, Howards End, to Margaret. But Mrs. Wilcox's husband (Anthony Hopkins), who doesn't really know Margaret, conspires with his children to destroy the note. It is a spiteful gesture to keep Howards End in the family, despite the fact that no one goes there anymore.

Then, a bit later, Mr. Wilcox compounds the nastiness with an offhanded remark, which proves to be deliberately deceptive and sets into motion a series of events that will prove devastating to Leonard Bast.

"Howards End" is an exploration of British class distinctions, but it is also a complex story about how the people we meet in this life affect us for good or ill, and how we affect them. In that way it is somewhat comparable to "It's a Wonderful Life," on a more subtle level.

If I have any complaints about "Howards End," and they are minimal, it is that the ending plays a bit flat and that some of the transitions are a bit confusing. (Several critics have said "Howards End" is better than "A Room With a View," but "Room" remains my favorite in this genre.)

     

  Helena Bonham Carter, Emma Thompson, 'Howards End'

Still, there's no question that the Merchant-Ivory folk, chiefly producer Ismail Merchant, director James Ivory and screenwriter Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, are at the top of their form. They have been making movies together for 30 years, and it's hard to imagine anyone being able to pull off period ensemble stories with the same wit, charm and dramatic impact that this team manages.

The engaging cast could not possibly be better, from veterans Hopkins (in one of his best roles here), Redgrave (cast distinctly against type), Thompson (of "Dead Again," here given an opportunity to show many colors) and Bonham Carter (perfectly cast in yet another period role, after shining also in "A Room With a View" and "Where Angels Fear to Tread"), to newcomers West and Nicola Duffett, who evoke tremendous sympathy as the Basts.

"Howards End" is rated PG for a scene of violence toward the end, a couple of mild profanities and implied sex.


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

SCROOGED

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This one, as you will see, is far from my favorite holiday film, but it will nonetheless be given a big-screen revival by Cinemark Theaters on Sunday, Dec. 4, and Wednesday, Dec. 7. Here’s my Nov. 25, 1988, Deseret News review.

Well, the Christmas turkey came early this year, a ghost comedy woefully lacking in laughs, and rather sick as well as sickly.

The story has Murray as the youngest TV executive ever, soon to be visited by the ghosts of you-know-when. He’s mean, nasty and very angry — none of which should be confused with funny.

While you’re watching Murray go through the motions here you may wonder whether he realizes this is a movie, not a TV skit, or that his believability as the character he is playing is crucial to the film’s success.

But Murray is not believable as the crude, vodka-swigging TV exec, and in the end, when he is supposed to have been converted by the Christmas spirit, his rambling, embarrassing closing monologue seems more like his way of telling us he doesn’t really believe it either.

     

                 Bill Murray, Carol Kane, 'Scrooged'

“Scrooged” is over-produced, confuses chaos with comedy, and is loaded with potentially funny bits and pieces that play out too long or simply go haywire.

The most successful element is the opening 10 minutes or so when we see some of Murray’s tacky network programming — “The Day the Reindeer Died.” “Robert Goulet’s Cajun Christmas,” scare promos for an upcoming program. Not great comedy, but amusing.

And certainly the live production of “A Christmas Carol” that casts Buddy Hackett as Scrooge, backed by scantily clad “Solid Gold Dancers” as “Scroogettes” and Mary Lou Retton as a tumbling Tiny Tim has potential.

Carol Kane also brings some life to the project as the off-kilter “Ghost of Christmas Present,” beating up on Murray as she jovially takes him through his paces. Of course, the appeal of this sequence may be that the audience would like to beat him up as well.

     

             Robert Mitchum, Bill Murray, 'Scrooged'

Other cameos include John Houseman introducing the live production; Bill Murray’s brothers John and Brian as his brother and father, respectively; John Forsythe as Murray’s old mentor; Robert Mitchum as his befuddled boss; etc.

But none of them manage to fulfill our expectations.

And of all this, what is the film’s sickest joke? For me it has to be a man on fire running past Murray as he notes that the guy looks like Richard Pryor.

“Scrooged,” rated PG-13 for violence, sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and drugs, is a mess, and perhaps the year’s biggest disappointment.


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

ELENI

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 2, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a film that fell through the cracks upon its theatrical release, had a pan-and-scan VHS release in the late 1990s and has languished ever since in movie limbo. But now it’s on Blu-ray and DVD, thanks to the folks at Kino Lorber. Here’s my Jan. 22, 1986, Deseret News review.

Though I was prepared to be disappointed by “Eleni” I was instead very pleasantly surprised.

Despite mostly mixed and some decidedly negative reviews in the national press over the past six months or so, “Eleni” vindicates itself as a very moving portrait of the strong bond between mother and son. In fact it was one of the strongest, most heart-rending portrayals of mother love I can remember seeing on film.

Based on New York Times reporter Nicholas Gage’s real-life obsessive search into his mother’s past, “Eleni” tells two stories simultaneously — the flashback examination of his mother’s tribulations in northwestern Greece during that country’s civil war, intertwined with Gage’s own tracking down of people who were there in an attempt to locate the man that sentenced his mother to death some 30 years earlier.

Movies in the past have had difficulty with a film structure that combines what are essentially two different storylines with different narrative tones and … I’m thinking of “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.”

But “Eleni,” despite the 30-year gap in the time frame of its two stories, manages to maintain the same tone, and though we go back and forth, the separate stories are in many ways one.

     

                            Kate Nelligan, 'Eleni'

Peter Yates, who has given us such diverse films as “Breaking Away,” “The Dresser,” “Bullitt” and the underrated “Eyewitness,” has pulled a directing coup here, maintaining a linear theme while essentially telling two stories.

The flashback story, with Kate Nelligan as Eleni, shows the small Greek village of Lia being overrun by communists who tell the villagers they are being liberated, then turn the young daughters into soldiers and the mothers into work-slaves.

The focus is clearly on Eleni and her desperate attempts to free her children, eventually sacrificing herself to do so. But there is also attention paid to others in the village, including two particularly moving portraits, one mother who stands up to the regime and is executed for her efforts, another mother who lies during a mock trial and condemns the innocent Eleni in order to save her own children.

Linda Hunt is very good as one of Eleni’s friends, and Kate Nelligan is incredible as the title character. Nelligan’s performance is often silent, relying on inner emotion and facial expressions, and she is stunning in her ability to convey every nuance as Eleni goes to whatever length she deems necessary to rescue her children, yet still tells her son Nicholas to put it all behind him once he escapes.

     

Nicholas, of course, cannot do this, and his vengeful quest is the thrust of the film. And when he reaches the end of this journey into darkness, an ending that will shock and surprise you, it is incredibly moving.

John Malkovich, superb in supporting roles in “The Killing Fields,” “Places in the Heart” and TV’s “Death of a Salesman,” is also excellent here as the obsessed journalist who uses his investigative skills to unravel this personal mystery.

“Eleni” is yet another example of a movie that received short shrift from a studio because it didn’t know how to market the picture and because the film didn’t make a big splash in New York or Los Angeles when it played there.

Despite that, be grateful “Eleni” has finally come here and by all means go see it before it disappears.

“Eleni” is rated PG for violence.