Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns


For, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since moviegoing is reportedly down and the debate continues as to why, this ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column that ran in the Deseret News on Oct. 5, 1986, headlined ‘VCRs don’t keep crowds from the movies, but rude people do,’ holds true. Just change ‘VCR’ to DVD/Blu-ray/streaming and add cell phones to the mix.

OK, class. The subject for today is, why don’t people go to the movies anymore?

No, not VCRs.

Nope, not the high price of popcorn.

No, no, not because of parking or babysitters or sticky floors or broken chairs or film breakdowns.

Those may be contributing factors but there is one main reason people don’t go to the movies anymore.

It’s because of the people who do.

The advent of the videocassette recorder and the availability of movies for rent has certainly made home viewing more convenient. But surveys within the movie industry indicate videos have actually served to increase movie attendance among certain audience members by motivating them to see movies made by or starring people whose work they’ve seen on tape.

Popcorn, along with candy, soft drinks, nachos, hot dogs and other items you can purchase at theater concession stands are admittedly ridiculously expensive. But you can avoid the cost by simply not buying them. To help avoid temptation, take your date to dinner before the show instead of after.

(To digress completely off the track for a moment, does anyone else out there miss ice cream bon-bons? You can get them in movie houses in L.A. and New York, and I’ve seen them recently in grocery stores locally, but not in local theaters. Of course, maybe that’s a good thing; I’d buy them every time I go to the movies – and I go to a lot of movies.)

Parking is only a problem sometimes. Baby sitters are worth any price for parents to get a night out. Sticky, cluttered or trashy floors are rare among first-run theaters locally because Plitt and Mann both have encouraged use of lobby trash cans and see that auditoriums are cleaned up between shows. And if a chair is broken you can usually move to another.

Film breakdowns are a bit more annoying. With theaters hiring young, inexperienced (and underpaid) projectionists these days, whose duties include running four to six projectors in some theater complexes, breakdowns seem to be a bit too frequent.

Two weeks ago I was in Plitt’s Crossroads Cinemas, a triplex, to see “Hannah and Her Sisters” on a Friday night and the film broke down during the credits. It quickly came back up so I didn’t think much about it, but this past Wednesday in Plitt’s Trolley Theaters fourplex I saw no less than three breakdowns in two shows — first-run preview screenings no less. That’s a bit much. The worst, however, was some months ago when I was at a weekday matinee in Mann’s west side sixplex, the Mann 6 Plaza. A film broke down and went unattended for 10 minutes; the projectionist was on a break and had to be tracked down.

Annoying? Yes, but usually cleared up rather quickly.

But people. Ah, people.

They come in all shapes and sizes, all sorts of colors, various ages and temperaments, but somehow when they come together in a theater auditorium they have one main thing in common. They become rude.

How many times have you sat in front of or behind someone who chattered through the entire show? It happens all the time. My worst experience like that was when I saw “American Graffiti” for the first time at Trolley Square many years ago (B.C., that is “Before I became a movie critic”). The show was a sellout and there were no other seats to take, so we unwillingly listened for two hours to a woman sitting behind us who had already seen the film and told her companion every plot development 10 seconds before it came on the screen. Asking her to stop was futile. And I didn’t have a bazooka with me.

Then there’s the group that comes into a show bound and determined to develop a party atmosphere. Hoots, hollers, catcalls, yelps, out-loud laughs at all the wrong moments and other such obnoxious behavior ruins the film for everyone around them. That’s OK for “The Rocky Horror Picture Show,” but most inappropriate for just about everything else.

Occasionally someone lights up a cigarette or sneaks in beer or wine (though they are forbidden in movie theaters), also most annoying to other patrons.

And how about the type who taps your seat with his foot, or puts his foot up on the chair next to you, or refuses to remove his hat, or brings in a baby and doesn’t leave when the child screams, or tries to explain adult themes to a 6-year-old all through a movie, or munches ice or chips or any number of other edibles loudly, or … well, you get the idea.

We all have our own moviegoing horror stories, of course. And certainly we all recognize someone else in one of them. But do we ever recognize ourselves?

If we fit one of these categories, perhaps we should pause before entering the theater and consider those around us. They each paid $5 too. If we try to make their experience more enjoyable, maybe they’ll do the same for us.



For, Friday, Aug. 28, 2015

Last weekend was notable for all five new movies being rated R, although that’s typical for bottom-feeding end-of-summer fare. This weekend it’s pretty much the same — except for a faith film that is getting wider-than-usual distribution because it was picked up for release by a major studio, TriStar, a division of Sony.

“War Room” (PG). A real-estate saleswoman meets with an older widow who is selling her home, and as they become friendly the realtor reveals issues with her straying husband. To her surprise, however, the widow suggests she work at saving her troubled marriage by putting Jesus first, and committing to prayer and forgiveness. This Christian film is the latest from the Kendrick brothers, Alex and Stephen, whose earlier films include “Flywheel,” “Facing the Giants,” “Fireproof” and “Courageous.” As they have improved their filmmaking skills with each effort, this may be one to seriously consider, even if faith films have disappointed you in the past. (Exclusively at Cinemark-Jordan Landing.)

“No Escape” (R). This suspense drama set in an unnamed Southeast Asian country has an American family traveling there so the husband/father (Owen Wilson) can work on a water project, but they happen to arrive as a coup kicks in, putting foreigners in danger. Pierce Brosnan plays a mysterious stranger who offers help. Lake Bell co-stars.

“We Are Your Friends” (R). The excesses of backstage show business tempt a struggling 23-year-old DJ trying to make a name for himself in the electronic dance music scene. Zac Efron stars, with support from Wes Bentley, Jon Bernthal and Emily Ratajowski.

 “Mistress America” (R). Greta Gerwig co-wrote (with director Noah Baumbach) and stars in this independent comedy as the madcap soon-to-be-stepsister of a lonely college freshman (Lola Kirke), whom she takes under her wing for a series of zany adventures.

“Diary of a Teenage Girl” (R). A 15-year-old girl (Bel Prowley) in 1970s San Francisco aspires to be a cartoonist and keeps an audio diary that focuses on her desire to lose her virginity. Co-stars include Kristen Wiig, Alexander Skarsgard and Christopher Meloni.

“Meru” (R). Documentary about a trio of elite climbers making their way to the top of Mount Meru, a coveted high-stakes goal in Himalayan big-wall climbing.




For, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015

If you’re looking for some golden oldies for family viewing and feel overwhelmed by your Netflix queue, you might want to take a flyer on “Wartime Comedies,” a new two-disc DVD release from Universal Home Entertainment that collects eight wartime comedies, most filmed during World War II and several of them genuine classics. And the price is just $10 to $15.

Even if a couple of the films don’t appeal, that’s a price that’s hard to beat (it’s available at some retail outlets, like Walmart, ShopKo, Target, etc.) for eight comedies from Hollywood’s golden era starring great comic actors in their prime.

The best of these are a pair of Abbott & Costello features, the first in which they starred — “Buck Privates,” released in January 1941, and “In the Navy,” which was in theaters just four months later. Both are very funny pictures with some of the comedy team’s best routines, and both featuring some great songs by the Andrews Sisters.


In third place, I’d cite “Hail the Conquering Hero” (1944) a zany satire by the great Preston Sturges with Eddie Bracken and a supporting cast filled with seasoned character actors. Bracken is discharged after only a month in the Marines due to chronic hay fever and a group of Marines he meets in a bar decide to help him impersonate a hero so he won’t disappoint his mother. But the ruse quickly escalates out of control when the entire town turns out to greet him and the press latches onto the story.

Next up is “Here Come the Waves” (1944) — because I love Betty Hutton and she plays two roles here, which confuses Bing Crosby (and everyone else). Then there’s “Caught in the Draft” (1942), one of Bob Hope’s best movies, in which he plays an egotistical actor who tries to elude the draft, despite the expectations of Dorothy Lamour.

There’s even a Francis the Talking Mule picture here, “Francis Joins the WACs” (1954), in which Donald O’Connor is mistakenly assigned to the Women’s Army Corps and runs into wacky Zasu Pitts (reprising her role from the first “Francis” film), along with Chill Wills (who also provides the voice of Francis). And he’s surrounded by lovely ingénues of from the Universal stable: Julie Adams, Mamie Van Doren, Joan Shawlee, Allison Hayes and Mara Corday.

Those six films are in black and white, and two color films from the 1950s are also here, “The Perfect Furlough” (1958), with Tony Curtis and his then-wife Janet Leigh starring in a frantic farce set in Paris, directed by Blake Edwards early in his career, and “The Private War of Major Benson” (1955), an atypical comic vehicle for Charlton Heston as tough-as-nails officer assigned to train boys in a military school, with Julie Adams in support, and smaller roles played by up-and-comers Sal Mineo and David Janssen.

These two are the real draw for fans, as they have not been available except as DVD-R burn-on-demand discs on the Universal Vault label, each priced at $15 to $20. So this “Wartime Comedy” set is a real savings just to get those two films.

The downside, however, is that “The Private War of Major Benson” is in the square-ish pan-and-scan mode instead of the film’s original widescreen format.

“The Perfect Furlough,” the only other title here that was a widescreen release, is preserved in its original format.

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, Aug. 28, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: This week’s entry in the Cinemark 1980s classic-movie cycle is the PG-rated off-the-wall comedy ‘Airplane!’ You can see it at many Cinemark theaters around Utah (and the nation) on Sunday, Aug. 30, at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, Sept. 2, at 2 and 7 p.m. Below is my review that ran in the Deseret News on July 8, 1980. Although I didn’t realize it at the time, of course, ‘Airplane!’ is one of those films that just gets funnier with repeat viewings, and now, 35 years later, it is acknowledged as one of the most quotable comedies of all time, up there with ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail’ and ‘Young Frankenstein.’ And don’t call me Shirley.

I’m going to give “Airplane!” (don’t forget the “!”) a 50-50 endorsement because it is very much a 50-50 movie.

For every gag that works there is also a clunker, with a few tasteless moments thrown in for the sake of offending everyone possible.

But if you can stick it out the reward is a great deal of hearty laughter, much more than a lot of the youth film fare that is being dished up these days.

“Airplane!” was written and directed by Kentucky Fried Theater veterans Jim Abrahams, David Zucker and Jerry Zucker, whose only previous big screen venture was the successful “Kentucky Fried Movie.”

The latter film, released in 1977, was a series of blackouts spoofing television and movies. It was written by Abrahams and the Zuckers but directed by John Landis (who later directed “Animal House” and “The Blues Brothers”).

With “Airplane!” Abrahams and the Zuckers direct with a much less heavy hand and the material is not nearly as tasteless. (The only really funny section in “Kentucky Fried Movie” was a lengthy spoof of Bruce Lee’s king-fu flicks.)

It’s harder to make a full-length 90-minute feature hold up all the way through on one thin plot supported by crazy, off-the-wall humor — and to their credit “Airplane!” generally works.

While it has neither the technical finesse nor twisted insight of Monty Python or Mel Brooks’ efforts, it is very reminiscent of Brooks’ first completely weird film, the cowboy movie spoof “Blazing Saddles.”

Leslie Nielsen, Lorna Patterson, Robert Hays, 'Airplane!'

Taking its basic plot from the 1957 drama “Zero Hour!” (which featured Elroy “Crazy Legs” Hirsch in a key role — honest!), “Airplane!” has the crew and many of the passengers of an airliner stricken with food poisoning and the only one who can pilot the plane to safety is an ex-GI suffering psychological problems stemming from a war experience.

TV’s Robert Hays has the latter role and, as do all the other cast members, he plays it straight, letting the jokes and sight gags bounce off him. Newcomer Julie Hagerty is also very good as a stewardess, his former girlfriend — dippy, but sweet.

From the opening credits (printed in the same bold lettering as “Zero Hour!” and many other such films of the ’50s) we know what we’re in for. The opening gag pokes fun at “Jaws,” we see various religious cults offering free (“would you like to make a donation?”) flowers in the terminal — and eventually being punched (not as funny as Alex Karras knocking out a horse but still funny), and so it goes.

The dialogue is incredibly silly, but the deadpan delivery makes it funnier than it has a right to be:

“Stewardess, we must get these passengers to a hospital!”

“A hospital? What is it?”

“It’s a big building with patients but that’s not important right now.”

Lloyd Bridges, left, Robert Stack, 'Airplane!'

Elmer Bernstein’s music is appropriately dramatic, the jokes come so fast and free that the bad ones quickly escape your mind, and every now and then the writers-directors break for another movie parody (“Saturday Night Fever,” “From Here to Eternity”) to ease the monotony of craziness in flight.

And every so often a real gem appears. Peter Graves, as the pilot, is talking to the Mayo Clinic when the operator interrupts with a call from a Mr. Ham on line five. “Ham on five, hold the Mayo,” Graves says.

But the best part is seeing straight actors like Robert Stack (as he did in “1941”), Lloyd Bridges, Peter Graves, Leslie Nielsen and others running around like idiots and seriously speaking insane dialogue.

I should add as a warning that “Airplane!” is also rather raunchy for a PG-rated movie and a few things (profanity, sexual gags, vulgarity, brief nudity) may be offensive to some viewers.

But it made me laugh out loud repeatedly – and I wasn’t alone.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD


For, Friday, Aug. 7, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Deseret News review was published on Sept. 26, 1980, for the PG-rated film “Resurrection,” a movie I really liked but which the studio (Universal Pictures) virtually threw away with little publicity. “Resurrection” was released on VHS in 2000 and this DVD came out in 2009. But as it’s on the Universal Vault label, a manufacture-on-demand DVD-R product, it remains priced at $20, and DVD-Rs are not available for rent. Anyway, here’s my pitch — in the form of my original review — for a movie I feel has been sadly overlooked.

 “Resurrection” is the work of several multi-talented people, the result of an unusual amount of care and research and the product of a confused modern age.

As a movie, it is also somewhat confused, but thanks to uniformly superb performances throughout, it is also well worth seeing.

Ellen Burstyn is an extremely talented actress and she sets the pace for everyone else in this film – and everyone else keeps up very well.

Edna McCauley (Burstyn) has a full life with her loving husband, and she is devastated when she loses him and the use of her legs in an auto accident.

In the hospital emergency room, she dies for a few brief moments, experiencing a long tunnel with a bright light at the far end, and she sees a number of people beckoning her in a warm, friendly manner.

Ellen Burstyn performs a healing in 'Resurrection.'

When she leaves her Los Angeles home to move back to rural Kansas with her hard, distant father (Roberts Blossom) and her kindly, loving grandmother (Eva Le Gallienne), she discovers she has the power to heal others by touching them.

Any resemblance to a predictable tent-evangelist picture ends there, however. Having no religious background, she neither accepts nor rejects the idea that divine intervention may have given her this power. She merely resolves to accept it and use it to help others.

But some of the people around her cannot accept the contradiction of Edna’s life — a healer whose private life is that of a modern, freethinking city girl.

It especially bothers Calvin Carpenter (Sam Shepard), the rebellious son of a local fire-and-brimstone self-styled preacher, who begins to feel that if Edna cannot bow to God then her power must come from the devil. They become lovers while Cal still considers the power a psychological effort, but once he becomes convinced it’s real, he begins to crack.

Screenwriter Lewis John Carlino seems as confused about the source of such power as does Edna. He vacillates from a rich vision of journeying to the afterlife to blunt parapsychological phenomenon research, though there seems to be a constant underlying religious base.

However, director Daniel Petrie, who has given us some of television’s finest dramas (“Eleanor and Franklin,” “The White House Years,” “Sybil”), is more sure of himself and he allows his actors a lot of room to grow into their characters.

Burstyn is magnificent in the difficult lead and Shepard, best known as a Pulitzer prize-winning playwright, is equally stirring in an extremely complex role, living up to the promise he demonstrated in “Days of Heaven.”

The twist ending to “Resurrection” is touching and neatly done, though it may be considered too soapy by some. The aging makeup for Burstyn is not too successful and there’s no sense of the amount of time that is supposed to have passed, but, again, the acting saves the moment.

It’s an actor’s picture, thanks to a talented director who knows how to guide his performers — and to performers who know how to rise above their material.

And there are some scenes that may stay with the audience a long time, such as one in which Edna, under the observation of scientists, heals a woman who suffers from a disfiguring disease that twists limbs and muscles. This scene alone is worth the price of a ticket.

A warning, though, that some might be offended by the sex scenes, as well as the very contradictions that bother other characters in the film. If you can get past that you’re in for a memorable film experience.