For, Oct. 31, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: Back on Nov. 30, 2001, this column for the Deseret News lamented the failings of the now-defunct Villa Theatre at 31st South on Highland Drive. Re-reading it, however, caused me to become a bit melancholy about film, as in 35mm film stock, which today has been almost universally usurped by digitalization. Many purists, and I have been one, feel there's a visual texture to film that has been lost since theaters went digital. But in terms of what was allowed to happen to film prints over an extended run, as attested to here, perhaps the digital format is an upgrade after all.

Many moons ago, fairly early in my former life as Deseret News movie critic, I wrote a story about the Villa Theatre on the occasion of the one-year anniversary of its showing "Raiders of the Lost Ark."

Yes, children, back in those days, a single movie could play in a showcase theater for a full year and still pull in an audience. These days a movie is lucky to be on the same screen for a month.

Anyway, I went to the Villa and watched "Raiders" again, and one of the things that struck me was how pristine the print was. No pops, no skips, no scratches … obviously a new print, right?

When the show was over, I asked the projectionist how many prints of "Raiders" he had gone through during that year of showing the film several times daily, seven days a week.

His answer startled me: "Oh, this is the original print."

Say what? Where are the pops, the skips, the scratches?

He went on to explain that a professional projectionist knows how to handle a movie print, how to thread it properly and run it through the projector carefully — and if a splice needs to be made, he also knows how to judiciously do that so it's hardly noticeable.


These days there are no projectionists, of course. There are kids working in theaters who are assigned to fire up the projectors — the days of projectionist as a reputable trade are gone forever.

As a result, movie prints today are often torn up and noisy, especially by the time a picture has been trotted over to the so-called "dollar house."

All of this came home to me as I sat in the Villa last weekend and watched "Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone." As the trailers faded and the film finally came up, there was a scratch — a line running down the center of the picture — that lasted several minutes during the film's opening scenes. And later, there was another line that came up on the left side of the screen, and which stayed there even longer.

If that wasn't enough, the sound was muffled, the picture was darker than it should have been and the projection bulb periodically made the picture go dark for a fleeting moment. And it didn't help that the house lights stayed up for the entire show, so that, sitting about halfway up the stadium seats, it was like watching a movie at a drive-in theater at dusk.

Adding insult to injury, the floor was so sticky that I couldn't move my feet without making noise. And on the main floor was a section of roped-off broken seats … and they weren't the only seats that were broken.

Ironically, this less-than-perfect moviegoing experience came on the heels of last Friday's USA Today, which featured the Villa as one of "10 great places to see a classic cinema" on the travel page of the Life section.

Sadly, I must take issue with USA Today's assertion that the Villa "is still one of the best places to see a movie in America."

That was true once but the theater is simply not being kept up by the Carmike chain that owns it.

No one in the know is speculating about the Villa's future but we've seen this pattern before — when theaters are getting ready to shut down. Or be divided into multiplexes.

That would be particularly sad since the Villa still has the largest seating capacity of any theater in the valley — and probably the state — and is one of only two remaining free-standing single-screen theaters, and the last that shows first-run mainstream movies. (The other is the Tower, which, of course, juggles several "art-house" films each week.)

"Harry Potter" weekend business notwithstanding, the Villa can't be a moneymaker. It's sad to drive by — as I frequently do on my way home — and see the parking lot nearly empty night after night.

For those who remember the Villa as a Cinerama theater or who have seen landmark movies there over the years, it's a nostalgic place. But it'll take more than nostalgia to prop it up much longer.

USA Today's acclaim may be too little too late.


EDITOR'S FOOTNOTE: When attempts to sell the Villa proved fruitless it was finally shuttered in February 2003. The theater's distinctive marquee is still there but since May 2004 the building has housed Adib's Rug Gallery.



For, Oct. 31, 2014

This week's stars are Reese Witherspoon, Nicole Kidman, Michael Keaton and Jake Gyllenhaal, each in a new film that opens today all over the valley

"The Good Lie" (PG-13) stars Reese Witherspoon as an American woman who helps four young Sudanese refugees — the "Lost Boys" of Sudan — assimilate to the United States after they relocate. Based on a true story. Cory Stoll co-stars.

"Before I Go to Sleep" (R). Nicole Kidman stars in this thriller as a woman who survived an auto accident 10 years earlier but is unable to remember anything from one day to the next. Later she learns that what she actually survived was a brutal assault. Looks like a mash-up of Christopher Nolan's "Memento" and Alfred Hitchcock's "Suspicion." Colin Firth co-stars.

"Birdman" (R) is a dark, existential satire of show business, focusing on a former Hollywood star, famous for his superhero character Birdman (Michael Keaton), who is directing himself in a Broadway-bound play to rekindle his acting career. Co-stars include Edward Norton, Emma Stone, Naomi Watts, Amy Ryan and Zach Galifianakis.

"Nightcrawler" (R) stars Jake Gyllenhaal as a video journalist working for local TV in Los Angeles who chases ambulances and police cars in the middle of the night to capture gruesome crime footage, delving deeper and going further until it overtakes his life. Rene Russo and Bill Paxton co-star.

"Art and Craft" (R) is a documentary about an art forger who carefully crafted phony works of art, put them into frames he purchased at Walmart and then "donated" them to 40-plus museums around the country over the course of 30 years as a sort of pseudo-philanthropist.

"Saw: 10th Anniversary" (R) is just what you think it is, a 10th anniversary re-release of the grotesque horror film that led to six sequels and marked a shift in the genre toward torture-porn. Believe it or not, this first entry stars mainstream actors Cary Elwes, Danny Glover and Monica Potter.




For, Oct. 31, 2014

With its new Blu-ray upgrade on the boutique label Criterion Collection, Halloween seems like the perfect day to offer a pitch for the 1988 Dutch suspense film "The Vanishing," in French and Dutch with English subtitles.

When I reviewed this picture for the Deseret News more than 20 years ago, I said it was more "Hitchcockian" than most other attempts to invoke the spirit of Alfred Hitchcock, the Master of Suspense, and that it offers surprising twists on the usual thriller cliches.

Watching it again my impressions haven't changed.

The plot is deceptively simple: A young couple from Amsterdam on vacation in the south of France stops at a gas station and they frolic in a nearby park for a short time. Then the wife heads to a nearby convenience store to get some drinks. But she never returns.


         Johanna ter Steege and Gene Vervoets star in 'The Vanishing'

The film then shifts to what seems to be an entirely different story about a family man obsessed with good vs. evil. And how this tale eventually converges with the first evolves into a fascinating, albeit creepy, cat-and-mouse game. Just not the one you'll be expecting.

This is a low-key horror film that is not only without gore but is virtually without violence. There is also very little coarse language. A PG fright flick if ever there was one, although the film is not actually rated.

 There was an Americanized remake of "The Vanishing" in 1993 starring Kiefer Sutherland, Jeff Bridges, Nancy Travis and Sandra Bullock, and it was directed by the same filmmaker, George Sluizer — but his original Dutch version is far superior.




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


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



For, Oct. 31, 2014

Jack Skellington is back with "The Nightmare Before Christmas" (1993, PG), Tim Burton's blend of Halloween and Christmas, a charming, timeless musical comedy realized via computerized stop-motion animation. It's imaginatively directed by Henry Selick and filled with terrific songs that are sung beautifully by their composer, Danny Elfman.

This is part of the Cinemark Theaters' latest classic movies cycle, scheduled for Sunday (Nov. 2) at 2 p.m. and next Wednesday (Nov. 5) at 2 and 7 p.m. But being as tonight (Friday, Oct. 31) is Halloween, there are additional screenings today from 11 in the morning through around 10 at night.


Jack Skellington making like Santa in 'The Nightmare Before Christmas.'

For those unfamiliar with "The Nightmare Before Christmas" — is there anyone out there who's unfamiliar with it? — the story is set in an imaginary world where each holiday has its own town, chief among them Thanksgiving Town, Easter Town, Christmas Town, and, of course, Halloween Town. But each is unaware of the others.

In Halloween Town, spindly Jack Skellington is the Pumpkin King and he's quite satisfied with his annual efforts to set his holiday in motion.

But when he stumbles upon Christmas Town and is embraced by the joy of the celebrations, he gets an idea to meld the feelings of that holiday with his own.

Witty spoofery ensues and the result is utterly enchanting.

If you've never seen "The Night Before Christmas" on the big screen, now's your chance.


Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Oct. 31, 2014

There are too many Hitchcock-wannabe thrillers out there to count, and most of them are disappointing or awful. But some are surprisingly good (see "The Vanishing," above).

Among the very best are "Charade" and "The Prize" — along with an early film by Jonathan Demme, who would go on to win an Oscar as director of "The Silence of the Lambs." A dozen years before that prestigious honor, however, Demme came up with "Last Embrace" (1979, R), a gripping tale of psychological suspense wrapped up in a seemingly straightforward tale of espionage, very much in the style of the Master of Suspense.

Roy Scheider stars as an unstable CIA agent who suffers a breakdown and is committed after witnessing his wife's shooting death. Months later he's back in circulation but strange doings are afoot.

On the way home someone tries to push him under a subway train. And when he gets to his New York apartment he discovers an odd young woman (Janet Margolin) has somehow sublet the place, though she may not be who she claims to be. What's more, it appears that his own agency is out to get him.

On the other hand, it could be that he's simply been released too soon and is suffering from paranoid delusions.


         Roy Scheider and Marcia Rodd in 'Last Embrace.'

Things build to a terrific climax at Niagra Falls and Demme takes full advantage of the location to take the film out on a high note.

Co-stars include Christopher Walken, John Glover, Marcia Rodd and look quickly for Mandy Patinkin on the subway platform.

"Last Embrace" is one of those movies that has flown under the radar since it's initial release but it deserves to be seen. Out of circulation since its home video debut on VHS in 1998, the film makes a welcome comeback in a new Blu-ray/DVD edition from the boutique label Kino Lorber.

This also marks the film's first widescreen release since it debuted in theaters and it looks gorgeous in Blu-ray.