New Blog

FREE SCREENINGS HAVE THEIR PRICE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

EDITOR'S NOTE: This ‘Hicks on Flicks' column ran in the Deseret News on July 17, 1983. Re-reading it recently I felt that it remains surprisingly valid 31 years later.

Have you ever attended one of those free radio-sponsored screenings that gives the station's listeners a peek at a new film the night before it opens? Tickets are usually given away by DJs, who ask the audience to phone in, either to answer a trivia question or just be the sixth caller on the line.

Those screenings are worked out with a local ad agency through the movie studio, and it's a good publicity gimmick because it gets the film talked about on the air for a few weeks before it opens.

In larger cities, major critics receive regular press screenings of new films, so they can get a review in their publications on the opening day. Occasionally we get those here, too, but more often Salt Lake critics are invited to the aforementioned radio screenings.

Perhaps because it's free, the audiences at these functions are often more entertaining than the film — and I don't mean that in a positive sense. Rude audiences are becoming more and more of a problem, in fact, whether it's a free screening or a regular showing you pay for.

But at these giveaways, the radio personalities don't help by encouraging audience rowdiness before the film starts. And they definitely do not ingratiate themselves to those of us who come merely to see the movies. Those pre-film programs, where T-shirts are thrown into the audience and soundtracks (and sometimes other prizes) are given away in drawings, often go on far too long.

Take, for example, the screening of "Staying Alive," sponsored by KISN at the Mann Cottonwood Mall theaters this past Thursday. The passes said the screening would begin at 8 p.m., but it was 8:20 or later before the lights went down. True, there were technical problems with the DJs' sound system, but those were solved fairly rapidly. (The worst pre-film show I've ever seen was for "Psycho II" at Plitt's Crossroads Cinemas, with the obnoxious Thaddeus and his female "bodyguards," who put on a terrible, unfunny 20-minute series of put-downs, treating the audience like idiots. Plitt representatives assure me Thaddeus won't be doing another one for them.)

                

The delay in showing "Staying Alive," only set the mood for a noisy screening. Most of the audience quietly enjoyed the film (except for occasional laughter, of course – some of it probably not intended by the filmmakers), but there was an exceptionally obnoxious faction in attendance (a close-up shot of Travolta's rear-end in the film's final scene elicited the wildest reaction).

What really brought it home was the couple sitting next to my wife and me. They displayed their affection for each other so actively I wondered if they weren't under the mistaken notion that the Cottonwood was a drive-in theater. If that wasn't enough, they carried on a full-fledged conversation during the movie, a very loud conversation that got louder as the film's volume went up, but which did not get softer when quieter dialogue-driven scenes came on.

It got so ridiculous that several of us in seats around them finally told them to quiet down, and they did – but it didn't last.

Inconsiderate audience members are one of the factors that send moviegoers to rental shops for videocassettes instead of to movie theaters for group viewings. The feeling is, why pay $4.50 or $9 to be angered and annoyed by other people, when you can simply rent a film for $2 or $3 and watch it at home.

            

              Finola Hughes, John Travolta, 'Staying Alive'

Actually, television is probably responsible for that kind of rudeness. People are so used to talking to each other during television programs that they do the same thing at the movies.

I'm not sure there's a solution to the problem, especially when some people refuse to shut up even when asked to. But most theater operators will try to help in that kind of situation – especially if they think you might angrily demand a refund.


Movies of the Week

I AM HERCULES, BUT SHE IS LUCY

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

The trailers and commercials for Dwayne Johnson's new "Hercules" movie end with him shouting, "I am Hercules," but after seeing the trailer for "Lucy," I'm wondering if she might not win in a standoff.

Most of the seven new titles opening in theaters this weekend fit the "art film" model but the only exclusive art-house run is "Life Itself," the documentary about the late film critic Roger Ebert.

"Hercules" (PG-13) stars Dwayne Johnson, the former "Rock," as the titular muscleman of Greek mythology, the half-mortal son of Zeus. Here, he is recruited to help a king defeat a tyrannical warlord. Directed by Brett Ratner ("Rush Hour," "X-Men: The Last Stand"). (This is the second Hercules film of 2014, the first being "The Legend of Hercules," which opened in January.)

"Lucy" (R) stars Black Widow herself, Scarlett Johansson, as a drug mule forced to work for mobsters when the dope she's carrying leaks into her body and turns her into a hyper-intelligent superhuman. Morgan Freeman co-stars. Written and directed by Luc Besson ("La Femme Nikita," "The Fifth Element").

"Life Itself" (R) is an up-close-and-personal documentary based on Roger Ebert's autobiography, directed by filmmaker Steve James ("Hoop Dreams") and produced by Chaz Ebert, the beloved film critic's widow.

"And So It Goes" (PG-13). Michael Douglas and Diane Keaton are paired in this comedy about a self-absorbed and widely despised realtor whose neighbor is roped into helping when he finds himself saddled with a granddaughter he didn't know he had. Directed by Rob Reiner ("A Few Good Men," "The Princess Bride").

"A Most Wanted Man" (R) is a British espionage thriller based on a novel by John le Carre ("Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy") about a secret anti-terrorism unit run by Philip Seymour Hoffman. Great cast includes Rachel McAdams, Willem Dafoe and Robin Wright.

"Wish I Was Here" (R). This is the Kickstarter project co-written and directed by Zach Braff, his sophomore comedy-drama effort, about a struggling actor with a family who is suffering a midlife crisis at 35. Kate Hudson and Mandy Patinkin co-star.

"The Fluffy Movie" (PG-13). Concert film by stand-up comic Gabriel Iglesias. Curiously, this one is playing exclusively at Cinemark's Jordan Landing multiplex.


DVD of the Week

THE ESSENTIAL JACQUES DEMY

             

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

The name Jacques Demy may not mean much to you unless you are a fan of international cinema. If so, you know him as the French filmmaker behind the pastel-colored musicals "The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" (1964) and "The Young Girls of Rochefort" (1967), as well as the musical fairy tale "Donkey Skin" (1970), all three starring Catherine Deneuve, along with the dramas "Lola" (1961, b/w), "Bay of Angels" (1963, b/w) and the operatic "Une chambre en ville" (1982).

All six films have been upgraded to gorgeous Blu-ray editions in the fabulous new box set "The Essential Jacques Demy," newly released by the boutique label The Criteron Collection, and the colorful landscapes of "Umbrellas" and "Rochefort" especially pop. (All of these films are, of course, in French with English subtitles.)

            

     Jacques Demy sets a scene with star Anouk Aimee for 'Lola'

Five of the six also boast music by the great Michel Legrand, and the songs for "Umbrella" in particular will carry you away.

Demy's first feature, the black-and-white "Lola," is a charming, wistful ensemble piece about the crisscrossing lives of several characters living in Nantes (which was Demy's hometown in France), with the primary focus on a single mother and cabaret singer (played wonderfully by Anouk Aimee) yearning for the return of her true love. (Also here are four short films by Demy made prior to "Lola.")

"Bay of Angels" is another black-and-white melodrama, this one starring the luminous (and surprisingly blonde) Jeanne Moreau as a casino hound whose fling with a bank clerk (Claude Mann) spirals into a dark obsession that mirrors their gambling addiction.

             

          Catherine Deneuve in 'The Umbrellas of Cherbourg'

"The Umbrellas of Cherbourg" is famous as an entirely sung French musical (there is no spoken dialogue), which became an international sensation and shot Catherine Deneuve to worldwide stardom — and she is completely winning as a young woman working for her mother in a candy-colored umbrella shop. Her boyfriend is an auto mechanic who goes to war, leaving her pregnant and sadness ensues. Great score includes the hit song "I Will Wait For You."

"The Young Girls of Rochefort" sees Demy expanding his reach in this homage to Hollywood musicals, with Deneuve and her real-life sister Francoise Dorleac as twins longing to leave small-town life for the big city. Co-stars the great Gene Kelly, as well as George Chakiris, hot off his Oscar-winning performance in "West Side Story."

       

      Gene Kelly, Catherine Deneuve, 'The Young Girls of Rochefort'

"Donkey Skin" is another musical, this one based on a classic French fairy tale, with Deneuve as a princess whose widowed father wants to marry her (!), so she goes into hiding, impersonating a scullery maid and wearing the skin of her father's prized donkey. Sounds weird, I know, but it's actually quite enchanting and gorgeously photographed.

"Une chamber en ville" is another musical with every line of dialogue sung, here in service of a story set against the backdrop of a workers' strike in 1955 as a young woman (Dominque Sanda) yearns to leave her loutish husband (Michel Piccoli) for an earthy steelworker (Richard Berry).


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

                     

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

MONTY PYTHON AND THE HOLY GRAIL

            

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

Although one could argue that "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" (1975) is a skit film of sorts, it does tell a story, making it the first narrative movie by the Monty Python TV-comedy sextet — Graham Chapman, John Cleese, Terry Gilliam, Eric Idle, Terry Jones and Michael Palin.

And although it has its dry spells and ultimately merely stops instead of really ending, this is one of th most quoted comedies of all time, right up there with "Young Frankenstein" and "Airplane!"

"Run away!"

"I got better."

"I'm not dead yet."

"We are the knights who say Ni."

"It's just a flesh wound."

If any of those lines ring a bell, you know exactly what I mean.

         

King Arthur (Chapman) gives the Black Knight a 'flesh wound' in battle

"Monty Python's Flying Circus" was a British TV series that caught fire on PBS in the States, and the comedians whose skits — "Dead Parrot," "Argument Clinic," "Fish-Slapping," etc. — mixed the silly with the intellectual, had a unique chemistry and won over a huge international audience.

Naturally, films would follow, and "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" is a sort of road picture as King Arthur (Chapman) leads his knights on a quest for the Holy Grail, encountering all kinds of weirdness along the way, from a French castle that launches a cow at them to a killer rabbit.

      

Eric Idle, left, John Cleese, Michael Palin, 'Monty Python & Holy Grail'

In 2006, Idle spearheaded the Broadway musical hit "Spamalot," which is largely based on this film.

Fans of "Monty Python and the Holy Grail" — and they are legion — can see it on the big screen next week at several Cinemark theaters around the Salt Lake Valley, and around the state. It will play Sunday, July 27, at 2 p.m.. and on Wednesday, July 30, at 2 and 7 p.m.


Golden Oldies Finally On DVD

AT WAR WITH THE ARMY

       

For Hicksflicks.com, July 25, 2014

OK, this is a bit unusual for me. I'm recommending this release of "At War With the Army" (1950, b/w) sight unseen (although I'll be checking it out when it's released next week on July 29) not because it's never been on DVD but because it's been on DVD way too much and never in a quality release.

But now, the Film Chest label is touting this new release as "restored" and in "high definition," so, assuming that's true, this will be not only the highest-quality version of the film out there, it will be the only one worth getting. (Fingers crossed.)

        

Lewis has a private war with a Coke machine in 'At War With the Army'

This is the first starring film for Dean Martin and Jerry Lewis after they had supporting roles in two "My Friend Irma" pictures. "At War With the Army" has been in the public domain forever, having fallen out of copyright years ago. That means anyone with a print in his closet can release the film on video and not pay a fee to Paramount Pictures.

Unfortunately, it also means that of the dozens of "At War With the Army" DVDs out there, none are good and most are awful. Sadly, when a movie falls into public domain and cheapjack copies are released, the studios tend to lock up their prints, despite the fact that they would clearly provide the best DVD transfer.

"At War With the Army" isn't Martin & Lewis' best movie. Actually, it's not even their best military farce; "Jumping Jacks" and "Sailor Beware" are more polished and cohesive. But "At War With the Army" is their first time carrying a feature on their own and though it's more skit-like in nature, it does have some very funny sequences.

            

Set at an Army post in Kentucky toward the end of World War II, the story has Martin as a first sergeant and Lewis as a PFC who were former cabaret partners. They're putting on a show for the recruits but Martin really wants to get overseas before the war's over and Lewis wants to see his wife and new baby.

But forget all that and just enjoy one of film's greatest comedy teams in the first of their 14 starring films together, with some comedy bits that give you a glimpse into what their nightclub act was like when they were young and hungry and at the top of their game.