Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

COMEDY & SPECIAL EFFECTS

       

Ivan Reitman, center, on the set of 'Ghostbusters' (1984) with Ernie Hudson, left, Harold Ramis, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 27, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the new ‘Ghostbusters’ opening in another month or two, and the original showing in theaters again (see ‘Golden Oldies On the Big Screen,’ to the right) here’s a story from the June 8, 1984, Deseret News, from interviews I did with the principles back in the day. The focus here is filmmaker Ivan Reitman; next week it’s Bill Murray. (And isn’t it quaint that a $30 million budget was big back then?)

After the most obvious choices for the summer’s — and probably the year’s — biggest movies, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock,” Hollywood is pegging “Gremlins” and “Ghostbusters” as potential major hits. (Both open today in several theaters around the Salt Lake Valley.)

And why not? “Gremlins” is a Steven Spielberg production combining the best elements of “E.T.” and “Poltergeist.” And “Ghostbusters” stars two of the movies’ hottest comic actors — Bill Murray and Dan Aykroyd — combining the best elements of “Poltergeist” and “Stripes.”

During interviews on opposite ends of the country with those involved in the two films, there was another common denominator — everyone had a great time making these movies, and it shows on the screen.

That’s especially true of the films’ directors, both relative newcomers to the movies.

NEW YORK – Director Ivan Reitman had never dealt with a big special effects picture before.

Comedy is his forte, with such financial successes behind him as “National Lampoon’s Animal House” (which he produced), and “Meatballs” and “Stripes” (both of which he directed).

“Ghostbusters” is about three parapsychologists who find themselves out of work and decide to go into the business of exterminating ghosts. It was the brainchild of comic actor Dan Aykroyd, who drafted the first script and who then polished it with Harold Ramis, co-author of “Animal House,” “Meatballs,” “Caddyshack” and “Stripes.” Reitman stepped in to direct, and Columbia Pictures financed the film to the tune of $30 million.

Onscreen the movie teams Aykroyd, Ramis and Bill Murray, who gets top billing, all Second City and National Lampoon alumni. Reitman is also a National Lampoon veteran. And Aykroyd and Murray, of course, worked together on the original “Saturday Night Live” TV show.

In addition, all four have worked together in various capacities over the years in movies. But the budget for “Ghostbusters” was the largest any of them had ever seen.

“For me this was not a special-effects movie,” Reitman said. “It’s about three guys who go into business for themselves.” Commenting on the lack of raunchy humor, prevalent in his other films, but generally absent in “Ghostbusters,” he adds, “There was neither the need nor the desire for raunchiness. We concentrated on character comedy.

     

Ivan Reitman, left, and the 'Ghostbusters' cast reunited in 2014.

“For the movie to work, we knew we would have to have at least a tone or reality. It is a comedy primarily, but we had to do it in a way acceptable to the audience — the audience will accept anything as long as you don’t break the rules.”

With regard to having his actors react to things that simply weren’t there yet, Reitman said, “It’s tough when the visual effects are still coming, the lighting and physical effects were hard.”

The effects in the film are generally played for laughs but that’s not to dismiss them as cheap. “Ghostbusters” uses state-of-the-art effects, whether going for startling scares or belly laughs.

“Our ghosts are very different than what are shown in ‘Poltergeist,’ ” Reitman said, noting that many of the effects for that film were done by those who also worked on “Ghostbusters.” “And I used a realistic, low-key camera approach, rather than typical comedy lighting.”

Actually, the most difficult thing for Reitman was keeping himself quiet on the set. “I’m the easiest laugh in show business. They (Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis) would often break me up, and the sound man was constantly worrying that my laughter would be picked up on the soundtrack.”

Reitman has put Bill Murray through the paces in all of his directing efforts, and describes him an anarchic screen comedian.

“Except for the Marx Brothers, the only other comedian who is not a victim, but rather is the master of the situation, is Billy. You have the feeling he will come through, he’s in charge. I’ve always felt he’s a very good actor — and he’s becoming more so. He’s done his first dramatic film now (a remake of “The Razor’s Edge,” scheduled for October release). He’s a fine actor as well as a comic actor.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

X-MEN v ALICE v JANE AUSTEN

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 27, 2016

Two summer blockbusters open this weekend, along with three smaller “art” films, a period romance, a rock-star drama and a British thriller.

“X-Men: Apocalypse” (PG-13). When a god called Apocalypse (Oscar Isaac) is awakened, he looks over the planet and doesn’t like what h sees, so he decides to destroy the human race and rebuild in his own image. To this end he recruits mutants, including Magneto (Michael Fassbender), which prompts Mystique (Jennifer Lawrence) and Professor X (James McAvoy) to round up a team of young X-Men to fight for mankind. Co-stars include Rose Byrne, Tye Sheridan, Sophie Turner and Olivia Munn.

“Alice Through the Looking Glass” (PG-13). This direct sequel to Tim Burton’s 2010 “Alice in Wonderland” brings back Mia Wasikowska as Alice, returning to Wonderland where she again encounters Johnny Depp as the Mad Hatter, Helena Bonham Carter as the Red Queen and Anne Hathaway as the White Queen, with Sacha Baron Cohen joining the cast as Time.

  

“Love & Friendship” (PG). Jane Austen’s romantic comedy is adapted by filmmaker Whit Stillman as a droll period piece, a social satire with Kate Beckinsale as a widow burdened by a sordid reputation who shows up unannounced at her brother-in-law’s estate and sets about trying to find a husband for herself and her reluctant daughter. Co-stars include Chloe Sevigny and Stephen Fry.

“A Bigger Splash” (R). A famous rock star (Tilda Swinton) is vacationing with her photographer boyfriend (Matthias Schoenaerts) on a remote Italian island when an old friend (Ralph Fiennes) and his daughter (Dakota Johnson) drop in on them and completely disrupt their lives.

“High-Rise” (R). Class-warfare metaphor in the guise of a British thriller about the occupants of a 40-story high-rise apartment tower that is self-sufficient, creating its own insular world. But with the haves in the highest dwellings and the have-nots lower down, there’s trouble when structural problems begin to surface. Tom Hiddleston and Jeremy Irons star, with Sienna Miller, Luke Evans and Elisabeth Moss. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)


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

THE PLAYER

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 27, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Criterion Collection has issued a sharp Blu-ray and DVD of one of Robert Altman’s best films, a sharp Hollywood satire that film buffs have embraced. Here’s my April 24, 1994, review from the Deseret News.

Audiences that enjoy playing spot-the-star will find themselves in heaven when they see "The Player."

And those who are hip to Hollywood in-jokes will also get a big kick out of this film — anyone who regularly watches "Entertainment Tonight" or reads any of the insider magazines, even Premiere and Entertainment Weekly, may qualify these days.

But I'm convinced that "The Player" will be well received by just about any modern movie audience. In its own way, this film is not only up there with the best inside-Hollywood pictures, "The Bad and the Beautiful," for example, it's also up there with "MASH," "The Hospital" and "Network" as being among the best movies that have taken scathing satirical potshots at a particular industry — whether it's the military, medicine, television or movies.

"The Player" stars Tim Robbins (the goofy pitcher in "Bull Durham"), perfect as the paranoid, humorless Griffin Mill, a studio executive whose job it is to hear script ideas — "story pitches."

The main plot turns on the threatening letters and postcards he's receiving from an anonymous writer he has put off with his favorite line: "I'll get back to you." So, Mill plays detective, finds a suspect (Vincent D'Onofrio), tracks him down, and in a confrontation, kills him. But did he kill the right writer?

Police detectives (Whoopi Goldberg, singer Lyle Lovett) suspect Mill but have no evidence. And before long, Mill is dating the writer's "widow" (Greta Scacchi), adding fuel to the fire.

But this plot is almost incidental to all that surrounds it, as we see moviemakers wheeling and dealing on their car phones, in studio bungalows surrounded by palm trees, and at parties and restaurants where they are surrounded by a parade of familiar movie stars. And the movie stars play themselves — from Jack Lemmon to Cher, from Burt Reynolds to Teri Garr. More than 60 in all.

Robert Altman, right, directs high-profile guest stars for 'The Player.'

The tone is set by the opening sequence, a lengthy tracking shot that flows from character to character as we hear the studio security chief (Fred Ward) complain about movies today containing too many edits rather than long, flowing shots.

During that scene, Buck Henry (who wrote "The Graduate") pitches a new film, "The Graduate, Part II"; a group of Japanese businessmen are shown around the lot as an unctuous guide tries to make an impression; director Alan Rudolph suggests a new movie that will be a combination of "Ghost" and "The Manchurian Candidate"; etc. With every new project that is pitched to Mill, we hear someone say it should star "a Julia Roberts or a Bruce Willis."

And in the end, there is a hysterical movie-within-the-movie climax that perfectly wraps it all up.

Director Robert Altman ("M*A*S*H," "Vincent & Theo"), who has been inside and outside of the Hollywood machine, certainly knows his subject, and his trademark techniques — camera shots that zoom in and out, overlapping dialogue — are used to their best advantage. Screenwriter Michael Tolkin ("The Rapture"), who based the script on his own novel, likewise knows both sides and has some wonderfully knowing characters and situations here.

    

Together they have made a highly entertaining, dark film that says much about Hollywood — and the audiences who watch Hollywood movies. When it's all over and you're still laughing about the hilarious climax, you may also begin to think about some of its deeper implications.

That alone makes this movie something special.

"The Player" is rated R for profanity, violence, some vulgar language, a sex scene and nudity.


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

GHOSTBUSTERS

    

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 27, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: In anticipation of the distaff “Ghostbusters” remake, due July 15, the original “Ghostbusters” will play as a Fathom Events exclusive in some local Cinemark and Megaplex Theaters, at 2 and 7 p.m. on Wednesday, June 8; Sunday, June 12; and at the Cinemark on Wednesday June 15, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my June 8, 1984, Deseret News review.

Bill Murray, Dan Aykroyd and Harold Ramis want to be the Marx Brothers of the ‘80s, but they’ll settle for being The Three Stooges.

Actually they’ve gone one better – they’ve settled for being Murray, Aykroyd and Ramis in an ‘80s horror-comedy that brings to mind Abbott & Costello’s “Hold That Ghost” or “The Laurel & Hardy Murder Case” or Bob Hope’s “The Ghost Breakers” or any number of comedies that spoof haunted-house movies, and yet which remains an original.

“Ghostbusters” has ghosts like you’ve never seen, some astonishing special effects, and best of all, some wildly hilarious business.

So what if it runs out of steam before it’s over, or if it gets too silly toward the end? There’s so much good stuff up front, you’re willing to forgive its few excesses.

First off, the story, by Dan Aykroyd (Harold Ramis gets co-writing credit), is terrific: Three parapsychologists (Bill Murray, Aykroyd, Ramis) doing research at a New York college are booted into the street when their grant is cut off. So they decide to open a ghost-extermination service, which they dub “Ghostbusters.”

Aykroyd mortgages the house his parents left him and they rent a dilapidated old building that apparently used to be a firehouse. Now it’s a firetrap. But they fix it up and equip it with all kinds of weird paraphernalia, then advertise on television.

   

          'He slimed me!' Bill Murray, 'Ghostbusters'

Their first customer is Sigourney Weaver, who sees eggs fry themselves on her kitchen counter and a vision of hell inside her refrigerator. Murray, the ladies’ man of the bunch, takes an immediate interest in the case. “Generally, you don’t see that kind of behavior in a major appliance,” he agrees. But is he really interested in the case, or in her? What a silly question. She cuts him down to size by noting, “You don’t act like a scientist — you’re more like a game show host.”

Next, they find themselves in a posh hotel, where they nearly destroy the place as they chase a ghost with a special ray gun. The hotel ghost is finally captured, business begins to boom, but it soon becomes apparent that a major confrontation is building up, and eventually they find their ghostbusting abilities are all that lies between Manhattan and Armageddon.

“Ghostbusters” foregoes, for the most part, the usual extreme vulgarity this crew has been associated with in movies like “Stripes” and “Caddyshack,” reaching instead for creative humor and a few genuine scares — both of which it achieves in commendable doses.

My main complaints have to do with those moments when the film sinks into mediocrity — an “Exorcist” spoof that only works halfway, a giant monster in the end that is the height of silliness and an overblown climax that begins to lose its sense of fun.

But those aren’t fatal flaws. Most of “Ghostbusters” is thoroughly delightful, with many hysterical scenes, and a few genuine scares along the way.

Bill Murray has never been better than he is here, dropping his deadpan one-liners right and left, and dominating the screen, despite the formidable talents that surround him. Dan Aykroyd lets Murray run away with the lion’s share of the laughs but he gets in his own licks now and again (is anyone funnier when he tries to look serious?). And Harold Ramis, who played Murray’s sidekick in “Stripes,” is perfectly cast as the stone-faced intellect of the group, looking for all the world like a modern-day Buster Keaton.

   

Harold Ramis, left, Dan Aykroyd, Bill Murray, Ernie Hudson

Sigourney Weaver shows a heretofore untapped deft comic touch. There is a hint of such in “Deal of the Century,” but that film was so heavy-handed that very little about it was funny. Here she gets a chance to show her stuff, whether shrugging off Murray’s advances or being possessed by the devil. And Rick Moranis has some very funny moments playing his patented nerd. Ernie Hudson is also good, supporting the traumatic trio in their ghostbusting work.

Director Ivan Reitman shows a steadier hand here than he did with either “Meatballs” or “Stripes.” Despite its popularity, “Stripes” was a rather poorly constructed film, which lost its sense of direction about halfway through. That same problem afflicts “Ghostbusters” to some degree but overall this one is much more agreeable.

Rated PG for profanity, a brief sex scene between Aykroyd and a ghost, some occasional vulgarity and violence, “Ghostbusters” may actually be a bit too frightening for younger children, but older kids should get a real kick out of it — along with their parents, of course.


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

THE CHALLENGE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 27, 2016

Editor’s note: Despite the authority and appeal he brought to such major movies as ‘The Right Stuff’ and ‘Silverado,’ Scott Glenn hasn’t been the leading man in very many films over his long career, but he’s a solid character actor and usually impresses in whatever films he plays second- or third-banana. This is one of those rare films in which he was top billed, an action picture that has languished in the archives until Kino Lorber decided to give it a Blu-ray/DVD release earlier this year. Here’s my Deseret News review from Sept. 1, 1982.

“The Challenge” looks like just another modern-day Samurai picture, but it’s given a boost by fine performances and some very funny bits of business.

The screenplay has a fairly routine storyline, with two Japanese brothers battling violently over a pair of ancient swords that have been handed down for centuries.

But that routine screenplay was the subject of a rewrite by John Sayles (who gets second credit for it, after Richard Maxwell, whose first screenplay this is).

    

         Toshiro Mifune, lobby card for 'The Challenge'

Sayles is the prolific young writer-director, whose wry sense of humor has permeated such films as “Battle Beyond the Stars,” “The Howling,” “Alligator” and his first directing effort, “Return of the Secaucus Seven.” And he gives this otherwise mundane thriller a needed boost. There’s some great hip dialogue here, along with some funny comic scenes.

But director John Frankenheimer, best known for his early films, “The Manchurian Candidate,” “Seven Days in May,” “The Birdman of Alcatraz,” etc., has chosen to make “The Challenge” a major gorefest, and blood and guts are the order of the day.

   

Scott Glenn is about to be buried up to his neck in 'The Challenge.'

Rated R for that reason, along with an explicit sex scene and a lot of profanity, “The Challenge” doesn’t quite make the recommendation list, but if you can stand the violence, there are a lot of good moments in between.

And the apparent moral here is that it’s worth dying to bring two matched swords together.