Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

THE PRIMROSE PATH

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 24, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Those of a certain age remember when a Disney film was a clean film, no exceptions. But in 1984, 18 years after Walt’s death and the same year the PG-13 rating came into being, the Disney conglomerate took the plunge into more adult moviemaking. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published Feb. 26, 1984, in the Deseret News with the headline: ‘Disney’s move into “mature” films.’

You probably couldn’t help noticing the full-page ad in Friday’s paper about the new Disney enterprise, dubbed Touchstone Films. That’s the banner under which Disney will henceforth release its more “mature” material.

And the new marketing arm is probably a wise decision, since the Disney name seems to connote family entertainment to the general public, and the studio doesn’t want to outrage parents with some of its new, more adult-oriented material.

But the ad holds several intriguing elements.

First off, look at the layout of this expensive, full-page advertisement. “Splash” will be Disney’s first release under the new name, but reports indicate that with some nudity and raunchy humor, it is hardly the kind of film we have come to expect from that studio. So, look at the size of the “Splash” art, compared to the photos of Jessica Lange and Sam Shepard for the upcoming “Country.” The photo of mermaid Daryl Hannah is considerably smaller.

      

Now, notice the opening line, which says audiences want “mature entertainment. But they don’t want violence. They don’t want exploitation. They don’t want tasteless themes. They want quality. They want standards.” It will certainly be interesting to see if “Splash” fits that description. We’ll find out when it opens March 9.

But the item that most impressed me was the fifth paragraph. “Touchstone Films will make movies like ‘Kramer vs. Kramer,’ ‘Ordinary People,’ ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ and ‘Tootsie.’ ”

Touchstone may attempt to make films like those, but we’re talking about some of the most acclaimed and popular movies of all time. Every studio would like to have a dozen each of those kinds of movies, but few are able to manage it.

In fact, the only Disney live-action film that even approaches that kind of quality in my book is the current “Never Cry Wolf.”

On the other hand, if you are going to aspire to great heights, you might as well reach for the moon.

Good luck, Touchstone. You’re going to need it.

ENDNOTE: Touchstone Films became Touchstone Pictures in 1986 after the success of Disney’s first R-rated movie, ‘Down and Out in Beverly Hills,’ which was a hit, along with many other of its earliest efforts, including ‘The Color of Money,’ ‘Stakeout,’ ‘Three Men and a Baby’ and many others in those formative years. Although whether any of these achieved the lofty goals heights of ‘Kramer vs. Kramer’ or “Tootsie’ is debatable.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

McConaughey v Goldblum v Lively

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 24, 2016

Surprisingly, one of the week’s big films is the kind of Oscar bait usually reserved for fall, a true story pulled from the Civil War. Of course, there are also three thrillers about aliens, sharks and L.A. models trying to suck the beauty from the latest hot young thing.

“Free State of Jones” (R). Matthew McConaughey stars in this true Civil War story of Newt Knight, a farmer who rebels against the Confederacy and manages to recruit other local farmers, as well as slaves, to launch an uprising and eventually establish the title county in an attempt to secede. Gugu Mbatha-Raw and Kerri Russell co-star.

“Independence Day: Resurgence” (PG-13). In this 20-years-later sequel the world has come together using alien technology to create an immense defense system to protect the planet. But when the aliens return it’s with an unanticipated level of force. Will Smith declined but other original cast members are here, including Jeff Goldblum, Bill Pullman, Judd Hirsch, Brent Spiner and Vivica A. Fox. Also on hand are Sela Ward, Charlotte Gainsbourg and Liam Hemsworth.

 

“The Shallows” (PG-13). A professional surfer and lifeguard (Blake Lively) is catching waves in a secluded area but is only 200 yards from shore when she is attacked by a great white shark. She manages to get to a giant rock and climb safely to the top, but then finds herself stranded as the shark circles.

“The Neon Demon” (R). A young runaway and aspiring model (Elle Fanning) heads to Los Angeles, finds fast success thanks to her natural attractiveness and falls in with a make-up artist (Jena Malone) and a pair of jealous models who are obsessed with youth beauty. Christina Hendricks and Keanu Reeves co-star in this gruesome horror movie with a supernatural twist.


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

INDEPENDENCE DAY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 24, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: With ‘Independence Day: Resurgence’ opening this weekend it seems like a good time to revisit the first film from 20 years ago. ‘Independence Day’ is readily available on and streaming sites and remains an enjoyable summer/popcorn movie. Here’s my July 3, 1996, Deseret News review.

In the near future, you may be able to pick up a dictionary, look up the word "derivative" and find this reference: "See the motion picture `Independence Day.' "

Whether you call it "homage" or "rip-off," "Independence Day" could not exist without a wide array of predecessors - "War of the Worlds," "Star Wars," "Alien," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind," "Star Trek," "The X-Files," "The Stand," "V" . . . well, you get the idea.

Each of these seminal science-fiction efforts is specifically invoked by a scene or plot device, and many others ("Planet of the Apes," "E.T.," "2001," "Dr. Strangelove") are referenced in verbal or visual moments that sci-fi fans will immediately recognize.

Consider this the Reader's Digest condensed compilation of sci-fi epics!

But what's truly amazing about "Independence Day" is that it moves so quickly, has such a huge "Wow!" factor in terms of special effects and is loaded with so much humor and so many amusing characters that even purists won't complain.

This is the first movie so far this summer to live up to its promise - and considering the hype and buzz preceding its release, that was no easy task.

The stage is set as threatening alien spaceships appear over Earth's major cities. Meanwhile, we are introduced to a number of characters from around the country who will gradually come together for the final standoff.

Several spacecraft, each 15 miles in width, have left a "mother ship," and when they get to Earth's major cities, casting shadows over recognizable monuments, they simply hover in ominous silence.

      

Will Smith on the Bonneville Salt Flats, 'Independence Day'

The U.S. president (Bill Pullman) tries to quell panic by staying in the White House, even as his advisers hit the road. But a quirky computer genius (Jeff Goldblum) inadvertently cracks the aliens' code and discovers it is a countdown. Yikes!

So the president packs his bags after all, and, as you've seen in the ads a dozen or more times already, the White House is blown to smithereens. It's a spectacular moment - and many more will follow.

Meanwhile, a cocky young Air Force pilot (Will Smith) is among the first to go one-on-one with a spaceship, resulting in a crash-landing and a tangle with an alien on Utah's Salt Flats. (Part of the film was shot near Wendover, which provides a stunning visual moment as a cadre of motor homes is seen advancing across the Bonneville Salt Flats.)

Without giving away any plot twists - and there are plenty - suffice it to say the main characters eventually gather in the desert as they put aside their differences and try to find a weakness in the aliens' annihilation plans - or at least in their ships.

     

Smith and Goldblum are both very funny, especially when they become an unlikely Luke Skywalker-Han Solo team. And as a bonus, there are colorful supporting characters galore - including a wacky scientist played by Brent Spiner, best known as Data on "Star Trek: The Next Generation" (Spiner also has an amusing cameo in "Phenomenon," which also opened Wednesday); Judd Hirsch, as Goldblum's sensible, down-to-Earth father; Randy Quaid's drunken crop-duster, who insists he was kidnapped by aliens 10 years earlier; etc.

Director Roland Emmerich and his co-writer/producer Dean Devlin (the "Stargate" team) could have left out some of the sentimental goop, but thankfully their casting makes up for it. Just when a soft-and-gooey moment seems too much, the actors give it a knowing, comic spin.

No question, "Independence Day" is the film to beat this summer - you will be going back to this one again.

It's rated PG-13 for violence and mayhem (though the deaths are not graphically portrayed), as well as a few profanities and vulgar comments.


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

WILLY WONKA & THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 17, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: Forget Tim Burton’s 2005 flick ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.’ For fans of a certain age, the 1971 ‘Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory’ is the only real golden ticket. If you qualify, check out that first adaptation, scripted by author Roald Dahl himself, when it comes to local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters for two days at the end of the month as a Fathom event, Sunday, June 26, and Wednesday, June 29, at 2 and 7 p.m. To help you get in the mood, here’s my Deseret News review, written for a revival that began Aug. 2, 1996.

Movie buffs like me love to see all the attention lavished on older pictures — especially when a major studio kicks in the money to go through the painstaking process of restoring a film to its original splendor.

But sometimes the choices seem a bit odd.

Not that I have anything against "Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory," mind you — but there are probably other, more important films that deserve this treatment. This isn't "The Wizard of Oz," after all. Well, most of the way.

On the other hand, it's nice to see a children's film that relies so heavily on the vibrant colors of its lavish set design go through the preservation process. And with two other Roald Dahl adaptations in theaters right now — "Matilda" and "James and the Giant Peach" — perhaps the time is right, at least in a commercial sense. (And it probably helps that this is the 25th anniversary of "Willy Wonka," which first hit theaters in 1971.)

Adapted by Dahl himself (from his book, titled "Charlie and the Chocolate Factory"), the first 45 minutes of this musical fantasy sets up the main characters, young Charlie Bucket (Peter Ostrum — whatever happened to him?) and his loving, optimistic Grandpa Joe (Jack Albertson).

They live in a shack on the poor side of town, where Charlie's mother takes in laundry to support him and his four grandparents, who have been bedridden for 20 years. Charlie also helps out with earnings from his paper route.

      

     Gene Wilder, center, with 'Willy Wonka's' Oompa-Loompas

The plot kicks in when the mysterious Wonka chocolate factory announces a contest. Hidden in five of the thousands of Wonka bars distributed around the world are gold tickets for a tour of the Wonka factory and a lifetime supply of chocolate.

Charlie wants to win very badly but he's too poor to buy even one bar, while rich kids around the globe are purchasing hundreds. He does eventually get a ticket, of course, and Grandpa Joe manages to rise from his sickbed to go with him.

Though the Leslie Bricusse-Anthony Newley songs are hit and miss ("Candy Man" is the most famous), this first half holds up quite well, with some genuinely hilarious bits of business as Dahl and director Mel Stuart ("If It's Tuesday, This Must Be Belgium," "Sophia Loren: Her Own Story") show a deft hand for dark comedy.

But it really gets going in the second half, as we meet the enigmatic Willy Wonka (Gene Wilder), who guides Charlie and Grandpa Joe, along with four spoiled-brat kids and their weak-kneed parents, on a tour of his magical factory.

This section takes on a "Wizard of Oz" tone, especially with its own version of the Munchkins — the green-haired, orange-faced Oompa-Loompas. And the zany factory's imaginative gimmicks, and that vivid color scheme, will keep even the youngest kids alert.

     

The main complaint about this film has always been that it may be too dark in places for young children — but that's a 25-year-old complaint. True, there is an edgy tone. And until the final scenes, it's a bit hard to figure out why Wonka is such an unfeeling character (although Wilder plays it quite humorously). But this isn't nearly as dark as "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" or "Mighty Morphin Power Rangers" or the average video game.

By the way, to answer the question about Peter Ostrum — this was his first movie, at age 13. Today he is a veterinarian in upstate New York.

"Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory" is rated G.


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

BAD INFLUENCE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 24, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: This film has been on DVD before but has just earned a new Blu-ray upgrade from The Shout! Factory. It’s notable for being influenced heavily by Alfred Hitchcock, as well as the unusual flipping of the two main actors from their comfort zones — with Rob Lowe as the slimy villain and James Spader as the wimp who’s being taken advantage of. Here’s my March 15, 1990, Deseret News review.

"Bad Influence," with echoes of "Strangers On a Train" and other Hitchcock thrillers, tackles a familiar theme — the innocent man who becomes involved in murder and tries desperately to free himself from an evil bond.

In this case, it's Rob Lowe who's having a "Bad Influence" on James Spader.

But the film is old-fashioned only in its basic themes. The R rating is earned.

The story casts Spader as a high-rolling yuppie, a bit of a wimp, engaged to a woman he doesn't really want to marry and letting himself be stepped on by a colleague who's more aggressive and less ethical.

One day he's feeling sorry for himself in a bar and unwisely smarts off to a tough guy. But before Spader's beaten to a pulp, Lowe steps in to help him. When Spader turns to thank Lowe, he's gone. Coincidentally — or is it a coincidence? — Spader's wallet is also gone.

That night, Spader is jogging when he spots Lowe and approaches him to thank him for the help. They have a drink together and it's the beginning of a less-than-beautiful friendship.

     

             Rob Lowe, James Spader, 'Bad Influence'

Lowe introduces Spader to a lifestyle he barely knew existed and for the next week he becomes acquainted with its drugs, booze and women, followed in due course by assault, robbery and murder.

Things escalate rapidly and get out of hand before Spader knows it. At first this new lease on life is quite appealing, especially when Spader gets the courage to stand up to the co-worker who's been giving him trouble.

The joke begins to go too far, however, when Lowe helps Spader get out of his impending marriage by using a compromising videotape (a plot device that parallels a little too closely Lowe's real-life scandal of last summer, and which is doubly interesting when you consider that Spader's last film was "sex, lies and videotape").

As is evident, "Bad Influence" is a treatise on the nature of evil, an attempt to explore the idea that each of us has a bad side, which, when prodded, can prompt us to do things of which we never would have believed we were capable.

     

The performances are excellent by both stars. Spader's always good and he excels here as an innocent who quickly finds himself in a well of corruption and finds it's not easy to climb out. As for Lowe, this is perhaps the most convincing acting he's ever done.

The supporting players are also quite good, especially Christian Clemenson as Spader's ne'er-do-well brother and Lisa Zane as a kinky/kooky woman Spader becomes attracted to.

This is territory that director Curtis Hanson explored with equal success in "The Silent Partner," which he wrote, and "The Bedroom Window," which he wrote and directed. But this film, like those, is more raunchy than it needs to be. Screenwriter David Koepp has also previously delved in the genre with "Apartment Zero" (which also happens to be playing in town right now).

"Bad Influence" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity, profanity and drug use.