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I AM CRITIC … (VINTAGE COLUMN)

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: My ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column in the July 28, 1985, Deseret News, with the headline ‘Nice job … if you can stand all the movies,’ was an assessment of my strange profession. I had been reviewing movies full time for more than five years, and part time for a couple of years before that. Be careful what you wish for.

Being a movie critic is a very strange job.

On the surface, it sounds like nothing but fun. I mean, imagine this conversation between editor and reporter.

OK, Hicks. Enough of this hard-news reporting stuff. You’ve had all the front-page stories you’re going to get. From now on we want you to go sit in darkened theaters and watch movies all day.

Sure, boss. Sounds great. Where do I sign up?

Right on the dotted line. Oh, yeah, and there’s one other teeny little thing. You’ll have to write down your opinion of all those movies for all the world to see. In print. No way to back down. (Then he starts to laugh.)

Well, OK. No problem. Sounds easy enough.

Until you start the job, that is.

   

After awhile, you discover there are only so many words in the dictionary to describe good, bad or indifferent. And to make matters worse, everyone in the world and his cousin also has his own opinion about each movie, and they all want to know what makes yours so special.

Oh well, the pay is good, right? Well, it’s adequate. Although now that I think about it, I’m not sure there’s enough money in the world to compensate for having to sit through “Secret Admirer,” “The Secret of the Sword,” “The Zoo Gang,” “Red Sonja” and “Fraternity Vacation” all in a row.

But I’m really not complaining. Because even after sitting through all those turkeys, and feeling like I want to chase the next ambulance that comes along to win back that city desk job instead of spending two hours watching “Lifeforce,” sooner or later a reminder of what’s so great about this job comes along.

One “Cocoon” can make me forget all three “Porky’s” films I’ve had to sit through. Seeing “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome” and “Silverado” back-to-back reminds me of how much fun it is to go to the movies, to be able to sit back and thrill at wild adventures I’ll never be able to personally experience.

   

And little surprises like “Return of the Soldier” or “Where the Green Ants Dream” or “The Makioka Sisters” help me remember what I like best about this job: Helping the public become a bit more aware of the little films that are out there, the ones getting trampled beneath the rush of commercial hits like “Rambo” and “Back to the Future” and “The Goonies.”

Yes, the rewards are many. And I won’t forget again. I love this job, and I’m eternally grateful to the chuckling editor who placed me here.

Now where’s that mail I had to open? Let’s see . . .

Dear Mr. Hicks, What kind of an idiot would give four stars to . . .

Sigh. I think I’d better read over this column a few more times before putting it to bed.


NEW MOVIES THIS WEEK NEW MOVIES THIS WEEK

HE SAID HE’D BE BACK!

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2015

The governator returns to the franchise that made him a star in the 1980s, and the only other major film for this Fourth of July weekend is a counterprogramming sequel about male strippers (both opened on Wednesday, July 1). And, of course, the usual low-budget suspects — an independent faith film and art movies at the Broadway and Tower theaters.

“Terminator Genisys” (R), the fifth film in this 30-year-old series, has Arnold Schwarzenegger back onboard (he skipped No. 4, due to his duties as California’s governor). This time out, Kyle Reese returns to 1984 and finds a fractured timeline has jumbled the story. His mission? Reset the future. And reinvigorate the franchise. J.K. Simmons and Courtney B. Vance are among the co-stars.

“Magic Mike XXL” (R). Sequel to 2012’s “Magic Mike,” this time with the male-stripper title character (Channing Tatum) bringing the old gang back together for another big strip show. Steven Soderbergh is back as director, though using a pseudonym, but Matthew McConaughey is MIA.

“Faith of Our Fathers” (PG-13). Faith film about two young men who trek to the Vietnam Veterans Memorial after reading letters their fathers wrote while fighting in the Vietnam War.

“A Poem Is a Naked Person” (Not Rated). This offbeat documentary follows musician Leon Russell from the studio to the concert stage during 1972-74, with existential digressions. This film was Les Blank’s first feature (he made acclaimed documentary short films over several decades) but it was never released and has been shown only at special screenings. Following Blank’s death in 2013 it was decided to put it out there. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Felix & Meira” (R, in French and Yiddish with English subtitles). Canadian melodrama about a Hasidic Jewish wife and mother whose cloistered life wears her down until she begins a tentative relationship with an unreligious neighbor she meets in a bakery. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“The Overnight” (R). A Seattle couple (Adam Scott, Taylor Schilling) that has just moved to Los Angeles with their young son is invited by another couple (Jason Schwartzman, Judith Godreche) to dinner and a playdate. But when the kids nod off, the adults find themselves in a 21st century-style “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” swingers session. Let the raunchy comedy begin. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


DVD/BLU-RAY OF THE WEEK DVD/BLU-RAY OF THE WEEK

McFARLAND, USA

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 5, 2015

It’s a sad thing that in the 21st century, movies that play in theaters are seldom family-friendly unless they’re animated. And even then, the PG rating may be code for too many scatological gags or inappropriate innuendo.

But every once in a while, one comes along, as with “Spare Parts,” which was reviewed here recently, and hot on its heels, “McFarland, USA” (PG), another true story of Hispanic high school kids excelling in a competition, which has been released by Disney on Blu-ray and DVD this week.

With “McFarland, USA,” it’s cross-country running, and the film is uplifting, engaging, funny, warm and completely winning.

It won over critics, but sadly didn’t really dent the box office, earning only $44 million over the course of its run. On the other hand, it only cost a reported $17 million to make, so it went into the black well before tapping DVD, Blu-ray and other ancillary markets.

    

   Kevin Costner, center, with his team in 'McFarland, USA'

I’m with the national critical consensus on this one. It’s a terrific film that the family can enjoy together.

Kevin Costner stars as former football coach Jim White, who loses his job and is forced to scale back and accept a position as an assistant coach at a high school in a largely Hispanic area of central California.

White and his family (Maria Bello plays his wife) have some difficulty adjusting at first, and he is obviously not happy with his role at the school, where he also teaches life science.

  

        Maria Bello, Kevin Costner, 'McFarland, USA'

But when he sees some of the boys run, White is inspired to form a cross-country track team. Unfortunately, the best candidates are from impoverished families and the boys have to work in the fields. They don’t feel they have time for track. White will have to adjust his preconceptions to win them over.

Obviously, things work out. No matter how faithful movies like this are to the truth, they are still formulaic within the parameters of the underdog sports genre.

But that doesn’t really matter. The writing and direction are crisp, Costner, Bello and the rest of the cast are first-rate and the film achieves its goals, which are to entertain and uplift.

Would that more movies today could do the same.


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

BAD DAY AT BLACK ROCK

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2015

It’s a few months after the end of World War II when a one-armed man named Macreedy (Spencer Tracy) gets off a train in the small rundown Western town of Black Rock — which immediately gives the locals pause because the train hasn’t stopped there in four years.

Macreedy is looking for someone, a Japanese-American interned during the war. But the reception Macreedy receives is less than cordial. In fact, everyone he runs into seems quite hostile.

The hotel clerk claims there are no vacant rooms, which seems unlikely, and Macreedy is threatened and harassed by local toughs (Robert Ryan, Robert Ryan, Ernest Borgnine), while the local sheriff (Dean Jagger) is a weak alcoholic.

Even those who aren’t downright hostile are less than encouraging, urging him to leave, though two such residents (Anne Francis and Walter Brennan) offer some reluctant assistance while still harboring secrets.

   

Robert Ryan, left, Spencer Tracy, Anne Francis, 'Bad Day ...'

Such is the strange, almost “Twilight Zone”-like world of “Bad Day at Black Rock” (1955), a gripping and quite colorful thriller filled with atmosphere and excellent performances from the terrific cast. (It was one of Turner Classic Movies’ “Essentials” in the ongoing cable series that showcases must-see movies.)

The film is a scant 81 minutes but it’s packed so tightly that the narrative is completely satisfying. (To appreciate this more, think about how many modern movies seem to sag and drag with bloated running times that approach or surpass two to three hours.)

Directed with a sure hand by John Sturges (who would go on to helm “The Magnificent Seven,” “The Great Escape” and many others), “Bad Day at Black Rock” is also a real showcase for up-to-date motion-picture technology (circa 1955), as widescreen processes and color cinematography were not yet the standard.

   

Spencer Tracy, left, confronted by Lee Marvin, center, in 'Bad Day...'

Although most movies were experimenting with widescreen by this time (the first CinemaScope picture arrived in 1953), the major studios were a still bit leery about the process, unsure if it would really replace the standard boxy style of projection (MGM filmed “Bad Day at Black Rock” in both versions, though the latter was never released).

And in the mid-1950s, black-and-white movies were still the standard, although color films were becoming more common, especially musicals and Westerns.

Both widescreen and color were encroaching quickly, however, and within a few years all movies were in widescreen processes, and black and white was becoming more and more rare.

And now’s your chance to see “Bad Day at Black Rock’s” widescreen compositions and bright colors on display in a big-screen theater on Friday, July 10, at 7 p.m., in the Peery’s Egyptian Theater, Ogden.


Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD

THE MALTESE BIPPY

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 5, 2015

Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello, Martin & Lewis, Cheech & Chong … popular comedy duos starring in hit movies is, sadly, a thing of the past.

The world has changed, movies have changed and certainly comedy venues have changed.

And such pairings in multiple films as Tina Fey and Amy Poehler, Will Ferrell and John C. Reilly, Nick Frost and Simon Pegg, Adam Sandler and Kevin James, Owen Wilson and Jackie Chan, etc., aren’t really comedy teams as such. Rather, each person listed here is a lone actor paired with the other actor for a few films. Not the same thing.

But there have been lots of contenders — Olsen & Johnson, Brown & Carney, Noonan & Marshall and Allen & Rossi, among others, starred in their own movies, but there’s a reason you don’t know who they are.

  

       Carol Lynley, Dick Martin, 'The Maltese Bippy'

Then there’s Rowan & Martin. Dan Rowan & Dick Martin were the stars of the enormously popular late-’60s/early-’70s blackout-comedy TV series “Laugh-In,” stardom they achieved after years on the nightclub circuit and guesting on TV variety shows, where they gained popularity for their off-center comedy routines.

They made two bids for movie stardom — a decade apart. But neither film impressed critics or moviegoers.

The first was “Once Upon a Horse” (1958, b/w), an amusing off-the-wall Western spoof that has some good laughs, and the second was “The Maltese Bippy” (1969, G), an attempt to cash in on their “Laugh-In” success (“bippy” was a catch-word from the show).

“Once Upon a Horse” remains out of circulation but “The Maltese Bippy” has just been released on DVD in a good-looking widescreen transfer by Warner Archive, the burn-on-demand website.

Unfortunately, “The Maltese Bippy” is a disappointment now, just as it was in 1969. A haunted house spoof — a genre that was tired even then — the film has the boys moving into a gothic mansion next to a cemetery and attacks begin occurring that are apparently the work of a werewolf.

  

Interesting for its supporting cast — Carol Lynley, Julie Newmar and Mildred Natwick — the film isn’t very funny, and it’s also quite slow.

Still, there may be a baby-boomer Rowan & Martin contingent out there that remembers the film fondly from their youth.

If so, you can take advantage of the fact that it’s finally on home video for the first time.