For, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

EDITOR’S NOTE: Today we have two movie art houses in Salt Lake City — the single-screen Tower Theater and the multiplex Broadway Centre Cinemas. And art films are also shown in the bigger commercial multiplexes more often than ever before. When I landed in Salt Lake City in 1978, however, the Blue Mouse was the only game in town. Then the Utah Theater began running art films for a time. And both were successful enough that the owners of the Blue Mouse decided to add yet another art house — and all three were right downtown competing with each other. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column ran in the Deseret News on May 10, 1987, announcing the debut of the latter.

Can you picture Bogie and Bacall toasting one another? …

Bogie: Here’s mud in your eye.

Bacall: Here’s Cinema In Your Face!

Well, maybe not. But that’s the name of a new Salt Lake City theater. No, no, not “Mud In Your Eye” – that would be silly.

The theater is called “Cinema In Your Face!”


You will no doubt think this is some bizarre joke, but I promise it’s true. Should you doubt it look up the ad in the theater pages.

Here’s the setup:

A couple of months ago you may have read about the Art Cinema, at 45 W. Third South, a new movie theater that would specialize in foreign-language and offbeat independent productions, competing with the Blue Mouse and Plitt’s Utah Theater downtown.

The building housing the Art Cinema was, until recently, one of Salt Lake’s soft-core porno houses, but you may recall that the people operating those places were run out of town.


The new owners – Greg Tanner and John Bray – opened the Art Cinema with “Blue Velvet,” which had played several weeks during its first Salt Lake run. Then they played a Blue Mouse staple, “Harold and Maude.” A short time later they brought in their first first-run films — “Beyond Therapy,” followed by “Monster In the Closet.”

Those are hardly top-of-the-line pictures, but Tanner and Bray made up for it when they brought in “True Stories” for a two-week run, a film that had played only one week during its initial run in February. And Friday they opened their most prestigious film yet, “Waiting for the Moon.”

Customers have not exactly been pounding down the Art Cinema’s doors, however.

Tanner and Bray decided that people were probably just not aware of the theater – or if they were aware of it, perhaps they thought it was still a porn theater. They also worried that the name they had chosen for the theater, “Art Cinema,” may have had people thinking “Adult Films,” as in X-rated.


In order to draw attention to the establishment and its new decorum, they decided to change the theater’s name once more. It is no longer the Art Cinema.

But is it something in the least bit conventional? Say, the Bijou? Nope.

As of Friday it became … that’s right … Cinema In Your Face! (Don’t forget the exclamation point!)

“We figured this was the greatest way to grab some attention, an obnoxious name like that.” Tanner explained over the phone.

Well, he got my attention.

“We feel the marquee, which said ‘Art films shown daily’ was just a minor change from ‘Adult entertainment nightly.’ Some people may confuse ‘art’ films with ‘blue,’ or X-rated films.”

He said the plan is to aggressively seek out special-interest groups, as the Blue Mouse does, and advertise on radio as well as in the newspapers, or wherever they can best hit the target audiences for specific films.

Of course, the real question is whether Salt Lake City can sustain three “art” movie theaters.

I suspect not.

The Blue Mouse has a mailing list and sends quarterly calendars to its faithful customers, who sometimes plan months ahead to see certain movies. It is a small, intimate theater, with an ambiance that keeps as many people away as it attracts.

What’s more, its location, 260 E. First South, is directly down the hill from the University of Utah, which probably draws in college students. And there is parking available on the streets.

After all these years, the Mouse’s biggest draw is still midnight (OK, OK, 11:30) showings of “The Rocky Horror Picture Show” on Fridays and Saturdays.

Plitt’s two-screen Utah Theater, on Main Street downtown, is bigger and more comfortable (though there is a problem with overlapping sound from auditorium to auditorium), and shows some great films. But there’s no convenient parking, and the number of people in attendance is sometimes less than you’ll see at the Mouse.

Because it is part of a major chain, the Utah Theater tends to book the biggest films off the art/foreign circuit, but then it does little to let the public know they are here. “True Stories,” for example, might have done a lot more business the first time around if Talking Heads fans knew it was playing.

The Art Cinema … er, excuse me … the Cinema In Your Face! (that ought to be hyphenated, don’t you think?) is somewhere in between the Utah and the Mouse in terms of size. Parking is better, and the theater is comfortable and clean.

But it takes time to build up any kind of audience, and an art house crowd is even tougher.

Toughest of all for the three theaters, however, is the competition for movies. We may find ourselves getting more art and foreign films in town, which film buffs will appreciate, but we will also probably get more mediocre movies.

Worst of all, sooner or later someone will have to cave in. Competition is a wonderful thing, until it drives somebody out of business.

We can only hope that doesn’t happen in this case.



For, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

Academy Award-winners “Birdman,” “The Theory of Everything” and other Oscar-bait pictures have widened their nets a bit this weekend, hoping to take advantage of the hype that last weekend’s Oscar telecast presented.

As a result, only two new wide-release movies are opening, along with a pair of art films that played in New York and Los Angeles some weeks ago.

“Focus” (R). Will Smith (where’s he been?) stars in this romantic comedy-thriller as a veteran con artist whose former apprentice and lover (Margot Robbie) is on the other end of a major scam he’s pulling, and she throws him off his game. Gerald McRaney and BD Wong co-star.

“The Lazarus Effect” (PG-13). Yet another variation on “Frankenstein,” this modern-day yarn has Mark Duplass and Olivia Wilde as doctors who have successfully revived dead animals but have yet to try their serum on humans. Then Wilde dies in a lab accident and Duplass tries to bring her back, with unexpected results. Or expected, if you’re familiar with “Frankenstein.”

“Maps to the Stars” (R). Last weekend’s Best Actress Oscar-winner Julianne Moore heads the ensemble cast of this dark satire from director David Cronenberg. Moore plays a fading movie star whose mother was an even bigger star, Mia Wasikowska is a scarred burn victim who becomes Moore’s personal assistant, Robert Pattinson is a limo driver and aspiring actor, John Cusack as a pop psychologist on TV and father of former teen sensation Evan Bird and Olivia Williams is Cusack’s ambitious wife. Carrie Fisher appears as herself. Exclusively at the Tower Theater.

“Leviathan” (R, in Russian with English subtitles). This Russian drama is about a simple man whose property is on the verge of being taken from him by an unscrupulous mayor who manipulates the law. The music of Philip Glass is used as the film’s score. Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.




For, Friday, Feb. 27, 2015

One of Billy Wilder’s greatest films is based on Agatha Christie’s play “Witness for the Prosecution” (1957, b/w), a murder mystery-courtroom drama with an all-star cast and laced with wicked humor.

The film has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber and is a classic must-see picture that marked a high point for all concerned.

Tyrone Power, in his last film before his untimely death at age 44, plays a down-and-out American inventor in London who is accused of killing a rich widow that was his benefactor. The only defense is an alibi offered by his German wife (Marlene Dietrich), and she seems to be waffling.

Power approaches a famous but aging barrister with health problems (Charles Laughton), whose medical team — and in particular his ever-nagging nurse (Elsa Lanchester, Laughton’s real-life wife) — urge him not to defend Power as it will bring on too much stress.


Charles Laughton, left, John Williams, Marlene Dietrich, 'Witness'

The case takes a few twists and turns, and in the end Laughton feels something just isn’t right, though he’s hard-pressed to figure out what it is.

Much of the film’s humor comes from the relationship between Laughton and Lanchester, as she follows him around, trying to control his drinking and smoking. (Both Laughton and Lanchester earned Oscar nominations.)

And Power and Dietrich are magnificent, playing characters that keep the audience off-balance and guessing.

But it’s Wilder’s witty contributions to the script (he and two co-scriptors added the Laughton-Lanchester patter in adapting Christie’s play) and his sure-handed direction that pull it all together in a way that puts this film right up there with his best work in “Double Indemnity,” “Some Like It Hot,” etc.

Even irascible author Christie considered Wilder’s film right at the top of the 60-some adaptations of her works to cinema.

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, Feb. 27, 2015

There are lots of movies by other directors that have been done in the style of Alfred Hitchcock — including such highly entertaining efforts as “The Prize,” “Last Embrace” and three different remakes of “The 39 Steps.”

But the best — no arguments, please — is “Charade” (1963), starring Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn.

“Charade” was directed by Stanley Donen, a veteran of MGM’s “Dream Factory” whose credits include some of the best movie musicals made during the 1950s — “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” “Funny Face,” etc.

But Donen also directed a number of comedies, and in the mid-1960s a pair of thrillers, first “Charade,” then three years later, “Arabesque,” with Gregory Peck and Sophia Loren — which is also quite Hitchcockian.

But “Charade” is completely magical in casting its spell as both a hilarious comedy and a suspenseful mystery-thriller.

Hepburn plays a Paris resident whose life is turned upside-down when her estranged husband is killed. She attends to the funeral arrangements and is later approached by Grant, who becomes a protector of sorts. Especially after she is threatened by three men (James Coburn, George Kennedy, Ned Glass) who believe she has the money they stole during World War II in league with her late husband.


      George Kennedy, left, and Cary Grant in 'Charade'

She also meets a CIA agent (Walter Matthau) who tells her that the money in question was derived from gold intended for the French Resistance, and now the U.S. government wants it back. He also seems to suspect that Hepburn knows more than she is telling.

But she doesn’t. And she becomes even more confused when Grant’s identity and allegiances come under suspicion several times. Hepburn is attracted to Grant but doesn’t know if she should trust him.


It all comes to a head in a very clever way — and the film’s enormous entertainment value never lets up for a minute, bolstered by location filming in the City of Lights and a wonderful score by Henry Mancini.

And now’s your chance to see it on the big screen as it plays at various Cinemark theaters on Sunday, March 1, at 2 p.m., and on Wednesday, March 4, at 2 and 7 p.m.

Golden Oldies Finally On DVD Golden Oldies Finally On DVD



For, Feb. 27, 2015

Fredric March stars in the biographical melodrama “One Foot in Heaven” (1941, b/w), which earned an Oscar nomination for Best Picture — in competition with pretty heady company: “Citizen Kane,” “The Maltese Falcon,” “Sergeant York,” “Suspicion.” (They all lost to “How Green Was My Valley.”)

Based on the autobiography by Hartzell Spence about growing up in the home of a minister shortly after the turn of the 20th century, “One Foot in Heaven” has March playing Hartzell’s father, William Spence.

The film begins in Canada as William graduates from medical school and becomes a doctor but feels strongly that he has received a call to enter the Methodist ministry.

This decision takes William and his new wife Hope (Martha Scott) across the border and they find themselves in Iowa as they move from parsonage to parsonage, eking out a living from donations and by performing weddings.


          Fredric March at the pulpit in 'One Foot in Heaven.'

This gives the film an episodic feel with William entering each new location expecting to follow rigid Methodist policy but finding himself humbled as he learns the value of bending tradition to change with the times.

Perhaps the film’s most famous moment comes when William learns that his son Hartzell has been going to motion pictures, which is thought to be forbidden by the church. So William attends a movie with his son, expecting to point out its evils, but as they watch a William S. Hart silent Western, William is impressed by its moral message and surprises his congregation the following Sunday by suggesting parents can learn a thing or two from their children.

A goodly portion of the film’s second half is devoted to the family settling in Denver, where the Spences must deal with wealthy church members and their snobbery, and their unwillingness to easily part with their money to keep the local church in good repair. This leads to some unexpected situations that include Harzell being unjustly maligned — until William steps up to take corrective measures.


“One Foot in Heaven” is a wonderfully constructed, beautifully directed and performed slice of Americana and is highly recommended.

It’s also making its home video debut on the Warner Archive label next week (on Tuesday, March 3), though why it’s taken so long is a mystery.