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For, Oct. 24, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: With the inexplicable success of ‘Sharknado' and the continued success of the "Mystery Science Theater 3000" guys with "Rifftrax," I'm sometimes asked about movies that are so bad they're good. Here's a column that ran on Oct. 11, 1987, addressing this topic.

It was a small group, nine of us altogether. Some others had promised to show up, but somewhere along the way got waylaid. They were the smart ones.

Actually, we consider ourselves fairly normal, sane people, whose tastes in movies – for the most part – veers away from teen flicks and slasher horror and toward more adult-oriented pictures. We're all in the yuppie category, more or less – ranging in age from early 30s to early 40s.

And before we left for the theater, two members of the group were raving about "A Room With a View," which they had each separately rented on video this past week and watched for the first time.

Yet, here we were on Wednesday at 10:30 p.m., a time when we'd normally be in our respective beds settling in with Johnny's monologue before nodding off. Here we were, standing in line in the basement lobby of the Blue Mouse Theater, surrounded by the regulars.

No, not people going into the "Rocky Horror Picture Show." That might have been more reasonable, if only to watch the audience, which is always more entertaining than the movie.

This was "Surf Nazis Must Die."

And the regulars were pretty reverent. Much more reverent than we were.

"Surf Nazis Must Die" has the distinction of being one of those rare movies that Roger Ebert walked out of. He wrote a column about some of the weirder films playing at the Cannes Film Festival earlier this year, and "Surf Nazis" was one he went to. But he only made it through the first 30 minutes or so.

Remember this is the same Roger Ebert who loved "Invasion of the Bee Girls," and who wrote the screenplay for "Beyond the Valley of the Dolls."

When Ebert doesn't last out a picture, you know you have a turkey.

So why did we go?

Well, I could use the excuse "professional obligation," I suppose. Randy Lucky, the fellow who runs the Blue Mouse, has been trying to get me to see this movie ever since it opened Aug. 26. His push for publicity has waned somewhat recently, since he's noticed the film inexplicably draws a crowd each week anyway (it shows every Wednesday at 10:30 p.m.)

But that doesn't explain my friends' interest – and to be honest, mine either.

This was a case of wanting to enjoy a bad movie with a group of film-loving colleagues, just to sit around and hoot at how awful it is.


Before you wonder what kind of weirdo party that might be, let me mention that it's not without precedent. Video is the usual mode for this, and my personal copies of "Plan 9 From Outer Space" and "Trapped By the Mormons" are rather worn from their repeated home-video party success, providing hours of laughter to various groups. It's a lot of fun to sit with a group and laugh at the wobbling spaceships on visible wires in "Plan 9" or Mormon missionary Isoldi Keene hypnotizing and kidnapping an innocent British girl to force her into his harem in "Trapped."

So we wanted to see if "Surf Nazis" might offer the same kind of fun.

But there's something less humorous about a movie made bad on purpose. "Attack of the Killer Tomatoes" suffers from the same problem. Movies that are purposely bad usually aren't campy or crazy or funny – they're just bad.

And such is the case with "Surf Nazis Must Die."

Now, mind you, we had some fun with it. We laughed and hooted and made jokes. I'm just not sure 10 minutes of fun is worth 90 minutes of watching. I'm also not sure the fairly staid audience at the movie appreciated the nine of us carrying on.

For the uninitiated – which I assume is everyone – "Surf Nazis" is sort of "Mad Max Meets Beach Blanket Bingo." A giant earthquake – referred to throughout the film simply as "The quake" — has devastated Los Angeles, and the beaches are now run by youth gangs.


The gangs are quite small, however – three to five members each. I assume that was because the budget on this picture was $1.98.

The plot has the main gang – the Surf Nazis, led by Adolph and Eva – trying to take over the beach from the other gangs. But they go too far when they kill Leroy, an innocent young man who just wants to go swimming. His mother – a beefy woman staying in a nursing home – vows revenge.

Unfortunately, Gain Neely, who plays Mama, isn't in much of the movie. When she's onscreen the picture almost threatens to come to life. (I also liked Bobbie Briese as a dolt mother of one of the Nazis.)

But mostly we have boring, very lengthy scenes of debauchery on the beach and lots – and I mean lots – of surfing scenes, which are so grainy they look like they were shot in 16mm and inserted into this 35mm film.

This prompted one of our group to get off the best line of the night: "This picture contains gratuitous surfing!"

Oh, well the company was nice.

But next time let's do "Plan 9" or "Trapped By the Mormons."

Movies of the Week


For, Oct. 24, 2014

Bill Murray is a crotchety coot and Keanu Reeves gets his action mojo going in the two major movies opening this weekend. And a little British film makes a comeback.

"St. Vincent" (PG-13). This independent comedy-drama stars Bill Murray as an irritable loner, a war veteran with drinking and gambling issues. When a newly divorced single mother (Melissa McCarthy) and her young son (Jaeden Lieberher) move in next door, Murray forms an unlikely bond with the boy. Naomi Watts and Chris O'Dowd co-star.

"John Wick" (R for violence, language). Keanu Reeves is the title character, a former hit man mourning the death of his wife when a thug harasses him and ultimately kills his dog, which was a gift from his late wife. So Wick gets his Liam Neeson on and things escalate. John Leguizamo co-stars.

"23 Blast" (PG-13). True story of Travis Freeman (Mark Hapka), a Kentucky high school football star who loses his sight due to a rare disease, but with help, continues to play. Uplifting independent film is rated PG-13 for one brief scene in which an underage character is drinking. Click here for the scene in question; the filmmakers suggest the film should have been PG.

"Ouija" (PG-13). After a teenage girl dies in an apparent suicide, her friends use a Ouija Board to contact her but instead unleash the demon that killed her.

"Dear White People" (R for language, sex). Satire about race relations at an Ivy League college built around a white fraternity hosting an African-American-themed Halloween party. The main characters are a militant radio-show host (Tessa Thompson) and her straight-arrow boyfriend (Brandon Bell), whose father (Dennis Haysbert) is dean of students.

"One Chance" (PG-13). This British comedy-drama is the true story of Paul Potts, a Welsh clerk who won "Britain's Got Talent" with his natural operatic singing talent. This film was scheduled to open two weeks ago but the Tower in Salt Lake City, which had booked it for an exclusive run, was forced to shut down that weekend due to "concrete failure" in front of the theater. But now they're back in business and "One Chance" gets a second chance.

"The Blue Room" (R for graphic sex, nudity; in French with English subtitles). Co-writer and director Mathieu Amalric stars with Stephanie Cleau, the screenplay's other co-writer, in this film noir about an adulterous tryst that leads to murder. Adapted from a novel by Georges Simenon.

DVD of the Week



For, Oct. 24, 2014

"Million Dollar Arm" (PG), newly released on Blu-ray and DVD, is a terrific family film from Disney based on the true story of a down-on-his-luck sports agent (Jon Hamm) looking for the next big baseball phenom.

Eventually he hits on the idea of recruiting cricket players from India and teaching them to adjust their power to the great American pastime. And he recruits them by creating a television reality competition.

What follows is quite funny but it also runs deeper, especially as he brings three young Indian men to America for the first time and isn't prepared for the culture shock they'll be forced to endure.


              Bill Paxton, left, Alan Arkin, 'Million Dollar Arm'

Alan Arkin is hilarious as a major-league scout, Bill Paxton is very good as a veteran pitching coach and Lake Bell is quite winning as the agent's neighbor, who becomes a sort of den mother to the young recruits and helps Hamm's character rediscover his humanity.


Madhur Mittal, left, Suraj Sharma, Jon Hamm, Pitobash Tripathy, 'Million'

But the scene-stealers are the Indian actors, Suraj Sharma and Madhur Mittal as the players, and Pitobash Tripathy, a riot as a baseball fanatic who comes along to help.

I'm not sure why true sports stories so often lend themselves to uplifting family-friendly movies, but I'll take my feel-good films where I can find them. And this one certainly fits the bill.


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



One of Alfred Hitchcock's biggest hits and arguably his most enduring classic is "Psycho" (1960, b/w), famous for its shocking shower scene, the sinister setting of the Bates Motel and adjacent house on the hill, some singular dialogue exchanges about "mother," and, of course, Bernard Herrmann's unforgettable music, especially those screeching violins.

"Psycho" also did a couple of things that were unheard of in 1960, adding to the film's terror level and elevating its power as one of the most frightening and effective of all horror films: First, it killed off the person we thought was the star of the movie, Janet Leigh, in the first half hour. Second, the advertising suggested a twist ending so unexpected that no one would be seated after the film began (with cardboard standees in front of theaters, depicting Hitch himself pointing to his watch as a sort of warning).

The slow build is alarmingly intense. First we have benign scenes of Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) and her lover (John Gavin) during her lunch break in a hotel, then of Marion at her workplace, eventually committing a criminal act that is rather unexpected.


     Janet Leigh screams during the infamous shower scene, 'Psycho'

Marian then heads out of town, and during a rainstorm she is driven off the main road and finds herself at the sinister Bates Motel. There, she meets Norman Bates (Anthony Perkins), and they have some pleasant conversation before things flip and go sideways.

Just in case you don't know what comes next … and if you are younger, in particular, that's still possible, I guess … I'll keep mum on the rest of the story. (I can still see Hitchcock pointing at his watch.)


But suffice to say that everyone working on Hitchcock's little horror movie was fully invested, even though he was working with a lower budget than usual, employed crew members from his TV show to keep costs down, and allows his star to go missing so soon into the picture.

"Psycho" remains one of the great horror films, one of the best by the Master of Suspense (no small thing considering his amazing oeuvre) and it's guaranteed to be unsettling on the big screen as it plays in local Cinemark theaters next Sunday at 7 p.m. and on Wednesday at 2 and 7 p.m.

No trick here; this is definitely a Halloween treat.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD


For, Oct. 24, 2014

This has been quite a year for vintage TV shows being released on DVD for the first time, from samplers like "The Best of the Danny Kaye Show" to such full-series sets as "The Wonder Years."

Other surprises in 2014 have included the complete series DVD sets of "I Spy," "Welcome Back, Kotter," "Sgt. Bilko," "Annie Oakley" and such less well-remembered shows as "Cimarron Strip" and "State Trooper."

We even saw 90 episodes of the first four seasons of "The Red Skelton Show," most of which have been in a vault since they first aired in the 1950s.

In addition, season sets have debuted for such long sought-after titles as "Spenser: For Hire," "Newhart," "Bonanza," "The FBI," "Dr. Kildare," "The Zane Grey Theatre," "Sugarfoot," "Bronco," and even the "Perry Mason" TV movies of the 1980s.

And two complete-series sets that fans have been begging for are finally here, "WKRP in Cincinnati," which is available this week, and "Batman," coming out Nov. 11. What's more, "Batman" will be out in both DVD and Blu-ray.

"WKRP," which ran for four seasons beginning in 1978, is a riotous sitcom with a great ensemble cast as it depicts the mayhem that surrounds a radio station when it changes its format to rock ‘n' roll.


            Gordon Jump and Loni Anderson, 'WKRP in Cincinnati'

Gary Sandy plays Andy, hired by "The Big Guy," Mr. Carlson (Gordon Jump), an ineffectual boob who doesn't know what he's in for. But whatever it is, he's sure his mother — the station's owner — won't like it.

Then there are the two DJs whose latent rock-‘n'-roll aspirations are fired up by Andy — Dr. Johnny Fever (Howard Hesseman) and Venus Flytrap (Tim Reid), who really shake things up.

Other terrific characters include Mr. Carlson's too-efficient-to-be-true secretary, Jennifer (Loni Anderson); nerdy newsman Les Nessman (Richard Sanders); obnoxious sales rep Herb (Frank Bonner); and naïve young Bailey (Jan Smithers).

"Batman," which aired on ABC for three seasons beginning in 1966, is an exercise in absurdity, a live-action cartoon with a bright pastel color scheme and comic book-style dialogue balloons whenever a fight breaks out ("Pow," "Splat"), as Batman and Robin (Adam West, Burt Ward) fight the villains of Gotham City.

Oh, and let's not forget Neal Hefti's catchy theme song. (C'mon, you're humming it now, aren't you?)

"Batman" was also an experiment, mimicking the old theatrical serials that offered up cliffhanger endings with each episode. In this case, 30-minute episodes aired during the first two seasons on Wednesdays and Thursdays. The Wednesday episode concluded with a cliffhanger that was resolved on Thursday.

The show switched to single 30-minute weekly broadcasts for the third season and brought on Batgirl (Yvonne Craig) as an ally.


                Julie Newmar is Catwoman and Adam West is 'Batman'

Among the many villains that rotated through were the Riddler (played initially by Frank Gorshin, then John Astin), the Penguin (Burgess Meredith), the Joker (Cesar Romero), Catwoman (Julie Newmar/Eartha Kitt), Mr. Freeze (George Sanders/Otto Preminger/Eli Wallach), Egghead (Vincent Price) and Shame (Cliff Robertson).

"Batman" is one of those shows that fans had come to believe would never find its way to home video, so they will especially enjoy the fact that all 120 episodes are remastered for a vivid look to amplify the color scheme and there are three hours of bonus features.