For, Friday, May 22, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: My column in the Deseret News this week is about widescreen movies on DVD and Blu-ray. This July 8, 1990, ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column, ‘Scarcity of 70mm-capable theaters denies local fans a “broad perspective,” ’ addresses a similar issue regarding 1990 theater screens.

One of the more common complaints about local moviegoing these days — at least from those who care about how films are presented in theaters — is that we seldom get 70mm prints of new movies in Salt Lake theaters anymore. Hence, we don't very often get to see the bigger big-screen picture with the highest quality sound.

A lot of people wondered why we didn't see a 70mm print of "The Hunt for Red October" this past spring, for example. Who knows? Although the 70mm-capable theaters do seem to be dwindling.

Two of the best are gone now — the Centre and the Regency. Though there are 70mm projectors in the Crossroads, Cottonwood and Century theaters, those auditoriums and screens are not big enough to allow the audience to feel the impact of 70mm at its best advantage. The only two top-of-the-line 70mm houses in Salt Lake now are the Villa and the Trolley Corners theaters.

A couple of weeks ago, when a 70mm print of "Back to the Future, Part III" was released from a Los Angeles theater, Cineplex Odeon brought it into its 70mm auditorium at the Crossroads Mall. But that was four weeks into the film's run and, unfortunately, most people who would have gone out of their way to see it didn't know about it. By Friday it was already gone.


"Days of Thunder," at Mann's Villa Theater, is the first first-run 70mm print we've had since "Batman" at the Cottonwood Mall last year, and seeing "Days of Thunder" in 70mm is the only way to get some enjoyment out of Tom Cruise's latest ego epic. (In fact, you can take a star away from my 2 1/2-star review when this film goes to video.)

There is another great 70mm theater in Utah — the SCERA Theater in Orem. And at the moment it is the only place in the state to see "Dick Tracy" in 70mm, which definitely enhances Warren Beatty's comic-strip extravaganza. (And, yes, the accompanying Roger Rabbit cartoon "Roller Coaster Rabbit," is also in 70mm.)

For some movies a 70mm presentation means less, of course. Seeing "Ghost Dad" or "Pretty Woman" or "Driving Miss Daisy" in 70mm may make it bigger, but intimate pictures don't benefit as much as action-thrillers.

Like "Days of Thunder," "Die Hard 2" and "Total Recall," for example, which were made for 70mm presentation. And if they are diminished somewhat in 35mm, imagine what they'll be like when they come to video. Cruise will look like he's driving the Hardee's version of his stock car.



For, Friday, May 22, 2015

This week’s new releases include a futuristic imaginary world, ghosts in the suburbs, and lions and tigers and cheetahs, oh my.

“Tomorrowland” (PG). The title world in this Disney fantasy directed by Brad Bird (“The Iron Giant,” “The Incredibles”) is not the Disneyland namesake but rather a magical Oz-like world of the future, and this film has two earthbound narrators who are magically transported there, one a curmudgeonly scientist (George Clooney) who had the privilege some 50 years earlier and the other a contemporary teenage girl (Britt Robertson).

“Poltergeist” (PG-13). They’re here … again! Remake of Steven Spielberg and Tobe Hooper’s 1981 classic horror film —unique at the time for putting a haunted house in the middle of suburbia — stars Sam Rockwell and Rosemarie DeWitt.

“Roar” (PG). Controversial 1981 film produced by Tippi Hedren and Noel Marshall (her husband at the time), who also star, along with their children (including young Melanie Griffith). Marshall also wrote and directed this tale of a family at a compound with some 110 big cats, many of which went wild during the shoot and caused no less than 70 injuries to cast and crew, many of which were caught on film and incorporated into the story. Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Good Kill” (R). Ethan Hawke stars in this story of a drone pilot fighting the Taliban who begins to wonder if he is creating more terrorists than he is killing. Based in Las Vegas, he also seems to be at war with his wife and children. Co-stars include January Jones, Zoe Kravitz and Bruce Greenwood. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Iris” (PG-13). Renowned documentary filmmaker Albert Maysles (“Gimme Shelter,” “Grey Gardens”) directed this profile of 93-year-old style maven Iris Apfel, a quick-witted and outsized presence on the New York scene for several decades. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Lost River” (R). Vilified (it was booed at the Cannes Film Festival) vanity project for Ryan Gosling, who wrote, directed and co-produced this dark fantasy about a single mother (Christina Hendricks) in a depressed neighborhood trying to raise money to save her home. Meanwhile, her oldest son (Iain De Caestecker) and his girlfriend (Saorise Ronan) think they know how to reverse a curse on the town. This one is already on home video. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)




For, Friday, May 8, 2015

George Lopez stars in “Spare Parts” (PG-13), a true underdog story about a group of illegal-alien Mexican kids at an Arizona high school that toppled MIT in an underwater robotics competition. The title refers to the use of automobile spare parts to build their robot.

That description gives away the ending, of course, but if they had just entered a competition and failed, would anyone have made a movie about it?

And if you haven’t heard of this film, you’re forgiven, since it received no publicity to speak of and played in theaters only a week or two. But it’s the kind of film that word-of-mouth might have made a hit a couple of decades ago.

Now it’s on DVD and well-worth renting or buying.


George Lopez, far left, and the boys purchasing 'Spare Parts.'

Mixing comedy with serious drama, the film tells the story of Lopez’s character, a substitute teacher at the school who has taken the job simply as a stopgap after being laid off as an engineer. He hopes to land another high-paying job and plans to depart quickly when that happens.

But it also delves into the lives of the troubled teens he organizes for an after-school robotics club, and there are parallels with the Kevin Costner film “Macfarland, USA,” though in this one Lopez’s Hispanic roots help him reach the kids.


“Spare Parts” is an independent film with no less than five credited production companies (along with Lionsgate as a distributor) with the potential to be a breakout film, but critics were not kind, seeing it as formulaic and overly familiar.

That may be true, but I was touched by it and found it hugely entertaining. A strong recommendation from this corner.

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, May 22, 2015

Robert Montgomery gets top billing in “They Were Expendable” (1945, b/w), but today second-billed John Wayne is the draw.

The John Ford World War II action drama about the development of PT Boats and their success in the Battle of the Philippines in 1941 and ’42 was released just after the war ended in December 1945.

But the drama of two Navy lieutenants (Montgomery and Wayne) trying to sell the military on the practicality of PT Boats was one that still resonated strongly with American audiences and the film was a great success.


    John Wayne, left, Donna Reed, George Montgomery

Donna Reed co-stars, providing romance for Wayne, but this one is mostly about the boats and the men who operate them (including Ward Bond, Marshall Thompson, Leon Ames and Cameron Mitchell), and the location shoot in Key Biscayne, Florida, was not only endorsed by the Navy Department, it was given access to actual Navy PT Boats and naval aircraft.

This is also the film that gave Montgomery the directing bug. When Ford fell ill, Montgomery went behind the camera for a few sequences until the great filmmaker could return. After “They Were Expendable,” Montgomery made only seven more films, and he directed five of them.


Just in time for Memorial Day (Monday, May 25), this exciting and engaging wartime drama will be presented on the big screen of the Harold B. Lee Library on the Brigham Young University campus in Provo.

“They Were Expendable” will be shown Friday, May 29, at 7 p.m. for free.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Friday, May 8, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Making its belated DVD/Blu-ray debut on the Olive label this week is the Paul Newman flick “Harry & Son” (PG), not a great movie but one that fans have been watching for. And get a load of the supporting players, a laundry list of future stars. Here’s my March 3, 1984, Deseret News review.

Paul Newman is the drawing card for “Harry & Son,” a look at the blue-collar working class, the woes of unemployment and the tenuous relationship between a father and son. But the lead role is really Robby Benson’s.

Oh, Newman has a major part as the “Harry” of the title, and certainly his character is integral to the overall point of this film, but the focus is on Benson as Newman’s son, an aspiring writer whose father doesn’t understand why the lad won’t use his college education to begin a career, rather than just sit around pounding on a typewriter.

As co-writer, co-producer, director and star of “Harry & Son,” Newman obviously is nurturing a pet project here. And as director, Newman has proven himself in the past with some very good films. But for some reason this one never really catches fire or becomes involving. There’s a constant distance between the intended emotions and the audience, despite a number of very good performances by the extremely talented cast.

Under the credits, the film opens with Newman on a construction crew, using a wrecking ball to tear down a building, an obvious metaphor for Harry’s own crumbling life and destructive attitude. Cut to Howard (Benson), working at his car wash job, then heading out to the beach for some surfing.

Widowed Harry and his son Howard live alone together in a small house in the middle of a warehouse district, and it gradually becomes clear that the idea here is for Howard to be a likable kid, but without any real sense of where he’s going, and for Harry to be an irascible father, but with no real sense of how to guide his son. Hence, they argue and fight, until Harry finally comes to the realization that Howard does know what’s best for himself, after all.


Clockwise from top left, Paul Newman, Robby Benson, Ellen Barkin, Joanne Woodward, 'Harry & Son'

The relationship is oddly handled. Harry often comes of as unnecessarily cruel, rather than misguided. Howard seems aimless and occasionally downright dumb, rather than merely having a strong, obsessive devotion to his writing.

Better are the supporting characters, and the actors who play them. Joanne Woodward is wonderful as a loopy phrenologist who operates a pet store, and Ellen Barkin is equally good as her pregnant daughter who once went steady with Howard. And in three brief scenes, Wilford Brimley is also very good as Newman’s brother.

Though his character is an odd one that seems overly contrived, Ossie Davis as a victim of unemployment who gets a good job through Benson, gives a solid performance in a very brief role, and Morgan Freeman registers strongly in an even smaller part, as an exasperated line boss. And as Newman’s daughter and son-in-law, Katherine Borowitz and Maury Chaykin are also effective. I was less taken with Judith Ivey, a good actress saddled with a ridiculous role as an office seductress.


Neither of the lead actors, Benson and Newman, seems very well suited to his role, and that’s probably the main problem here. Their characters are never very consistent when they are onscreen together, though Benson works very well with Barkin, and Newman is better with Woodward and Brimley. There is also a problematic lack of logic, with some of the plot twists making no sense whatsoever (especially Newman’s being laid off from his job with a medical pension, despite his never seeing a doctor).

And though hardly new, the ideas and the overall message here are very good, and there is a fine sense of how to use a subplot, something a lot of modern films seem to avoid.

Rated PG for profanity, some sex talk and brief partial nudity, “Harry & Son” is a disappointment but not a total failure. There are some very nice moments here, and enough wonderful supporting roles to make it worthwhile in some measure.