TRYING TO SADDLE UP
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: I love westerns and I’ve written a number of columns saying so, and every time the studios come up with a new theatrical cowboy yarn — like the remake of ‘The Magnificent Seven’ that opens this weekend — I try to take an optimistic approach. But more often than not I’m disappointed, and even when I’m not, it never seems to lead to more. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column, published in the Deseret News on Oct. 21, 1984, under the headline ‘Good guys ’n bad guys are back,’ was written in anticipation of ‘Pale Rider’ and ‘Silverado,’ but neither was successful enough to revive the genre (of the others mentioned here, ‘Uphill All the Way’ bypassed theaters and played on TV, and the comedies ‘Lust in the Dust’ and ‘Rustlers’ Rhapsody’ flopped). There would be many more off-and-on attempts in the years that followed, so the genre isn’t dead, but it continues to limp.
Do you miss westerns? I do.
There’s something about the good guys and bad guys shooting it out on Main Street after swigging some red-eye at the local saloon that just isn’t captured in the western replacements — science fiction, sword & sorcery and urban cop melodramas.
If you feel the same way, take heart. There is something of a western revival on the horizon.
It began, I suppose, with Kirk Douglas’ made-for-cable TV movie, “Draw!” That was the first old-fashioned western to come down the trail in quite awhile (not counting a few ordinary made-for-commercial TV efforts, like Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler” and its sequel).
Douglas teamed up with James Coburn for a rootin’-tootin’, rip-roarin’ shoot-‘em-up like we haven’t seen in ages, almost worthy of Howard Hawks and John Wayne’s later efforts. Almost.
The fact that it was too padded, too vulgar in an ’80s manner and too enamored of itself, made it a bit less palatable than most of us would have preferred.
But it looks like theatrical films will attempt to make up for that, and it can’t be too much of a coincidence that they are following hot on the heels of “Draw!,” which, for all its flaws, had a rather successful HBO run.
Clint Eastwood is currently directing himself in “Pale Rider,” a western for Warner Bros. shooting in Idaho. The film costars Carrie Snodgress, Michael Moriarty and Richard Kiel. If successful when it is released next summer, you can bet Eastwood will have legitimized the western once again.
Meanwhile, another major-studio western is underway. Lawrence Kasdan, basking in critical and popular acclaim for “The Big Chill,” is again teaming up with Kevin Kline for a western called “Silverado,” for Columbia Pictures. Co-starring are Scott Glenn, Linda Hunt, Kevin Costner, Danny Glover and Rosanna Arquette. Some of those names may be unfamiliar to you, but all have received recent acclaim, and Hunt won last year’s best supporting actress Oscar for “The Year of Living Dangerously.” That film begins shooting in New Mexico next month.
On the independent production side, Mel Tillis and Roy Clark are teaming up for a western comedy currently shooting in Texas, “Uphill All the Way,” to co-star Glen Campbell, Burl Ives and Trish Van Devere. Tillis, Clark, Campbell and Ives will all contribute songs to the soundtrack.
In addition, Paul Bartel (“Eating Raoul”) is finishing up a western comedy with 300-pound transvestite Divine and Tab Hunter (who co-starred in “Polyester”), and another western called “Rustler’s Rhapsody” is also underway.
The most surprising element is that none of these films is being shot in John Ford country, otherwise known as southern Utah. But you can bet that if the western genre is revived to any real extent, we’ll get some being made here again.
In the meantime, fans of the old west, like myself, can sit back and relax. For a while at least, westerns cease to be neglected.
RIDE ’EM COWPOKE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016
This week’s major-studio release is a remake of a classic western, with some independent films and an animated feature along for the ride.
“The Magnificent Seven” (PG-13). Denzel Washington, Chris Pratt and Ethan Hawke are the most familiar faces in this remake of the 1960 classic western about a group of gunslingers that come together to save the day. In the original it was a Mexican village under siege; here it’s a frontier town.
“The Hollars” (PG-13). John Krasinski directed and heads the ensemble cast in this comedy drama about a dysfunctional family (is there any other kind in movies today?) that comes together when the mother is diagnosed with a brain tumor. Co-stars include Charlie Day, Josh Groban, Richard Jenkins, Anna Kendrick, Margo Martindale, Mary Elizabeth Winstead and Mary Kay Place.
“Storks” (PG). Animated comedy about the factory where storks deliver babies switching gears to become a package courier, and holding onto the last baby that is raised among the birds. Eighteen years later, she is an inept employee working for the service. Voice cast includes Andy Samberg, Katie Crown, Kelsey Grammer, Keegan-Michael Key & Jordan Peele, Jennifer Aniston, Ty Burrell and Danny Trejo.
“Goat” (R). After being assaulted, a 19-year-old boy enrolls in a college and joins a fraternity along with his brother, where they become involved in dubious activities, including extreme hazing. Based on a true story. James Franco co-produced and has a small role. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)
“Author: The JT Leroy Story” (R). Documentary about J.T. LeRoy, a fictional persona created by writer Laura Albert, who wrote magazine stories and books under that name, gaving the character a detailed backstory as a troubled youth. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
BEAUTY AND THE BEAST
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 16, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: Disney is reissuing its animated ‘Beauty and the Beast’ in a new Blu-ray edition this week, gearing us up for next year’s live-action adaptation of the 1991 animated musical. So here’s my review, which was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 1991.
"Beauty and the Beast" took three years to create as the 1991 entry in Disney's announced schedule of turning out a new animated feature every year — and the painstaking labor shows in every detail.
The animation ranges from cute to remarkable to knock-your-socks-off — the latter taking hold during the ballroom-dance sequence where computer-generated three-dimensional backgrounds (and a chandelier in the foreground) combine gorgeously with the hand-drawn character movement.
Aside from its technical prowess, however, this one will be remembered for its timeless story, amusing characters and memorable songs.
Belle finds the glass encased rose, dropping its petals.
The Disney version has the Beast, a conglomeration of animals that would seem to include a bison, bear and lion, being punished for being an insensitive clod. And unless he finds true love before the last petal of a glass-encased rose drops from its stem, he's doomed to live out his life in his present hideous shape.
Meanwhile, Beauty is a bookworm dreamer named Belle, whose visions of leaving her small-town province for faraway lands and exotic adventures is lived out through reading.
When Belle's father, an eccentric inventor, stumbles onto the Beast's castle, he is imprisoned, and eventually Belle offers herself as a replacement if Dad can go free. In the castle she meets the Beast's servants, who have been turned into such household items as a clock, a teapot, a chipped cup, a candelabra, a feather duster, etc.
The Beast, Belle and their comical household friends.
These clever and very funny characters are aimed at children, while the romance between the title characters is geared more for older audiences, in what is obviously hoped will be crossover appeal similar to "The Little Mermaid." And while it remains to be seen whether this will sufficiently enchant all ages, there is plenty of suspense, comedy and wonderful music to keep everyone entertained.
The songs — from Angela Lansbury's beautiful rendition of "Beauty and the Beast" to the Busby Berkeley-style "Be Our Guest" to the hilarious "Gaston," sung by the egotistical hunter who wants to marry Belle — are by the same writers who did "Mermaid's" score, and all are first-rate.
In short, "Beauty and the Beast" is a first-class winner all the way and should provide sufficient entertainment value for every age.
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.
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.
STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 23, 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of the 50th anniversary celebration of ‘Star Trek’ (which premiered as a TV series on Sept. 8, 1966) the 34-year-old movie that is considered the best theatrical effort of the franchise is getting a two-day revival, courtesy of Cinemark Theaters’ classic-movie series. You can see it on Sunday, Sept. 25, at 2 p.m., or on Wednesday, Sept. 28, at 2 or 7 p.m. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on June 4, 1982.
If, like me, you were disappointed in “Star Trek – The Motion Picture,” you’re in for a pleasant surprise.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” is the film that the original big-screen effort tried to be and missed by several light years.
Spun off of an episode from the TV series’ second season, “Star Trek II” is a tale of vengeance. Khan, a genetically created superhuman, tried to take over the Enterprise in the TV show and was abandoned on an isolated planet.
In “Star Trek II” we learn that the planet has become a barren death trap, his wife and most of his followers have died as a result and he has sworn vengeance on Capt. Kirk (now Adm. Kirk, of course) for dropping him there.
Ricardo Montalban drops his white-suit “Fantasy Island” persona to re-create the role of Khan, a crazed superintelligent, genetically perfect specimen, and he’s very good as he alternately enjoys his victories with glee and registers shock as Kirk continually slips through his fingers.
Kirstie Alley, left, Leonard Nimoy, William Shatner, DeForest Kelley, George Takei, Nichelle Nichols, 'Star Trek II: Wrath of Khan'
And the original TV cast is back, with William Shatner as Kirk, Leonard Nimoy as Mr. Spock (now a captain) and DeForest Kelley as “Bones,” along with the rest of the gang.
Some new dimensions are added to Kirk and Spock’s characters, making for some real space-age soap opera, including some rather startling developments (one in particular with Kirk seems to be a flip side of the one we learned about Luke Skywalker in “The Empire Strikes Back”).
“Star Trek II’s” special effects are superb, especially one scene that has a desolate planet instantaneously turned into a fruitful one; attention to detail is remarkable, with all kinds of tinker toys flashing lights and even a peek at Adm. Kirk’s San Francisco apartment; and seeing it in 70mm and Dolby Stereo just adds to the already thrilling experience.
But the real secret to the success of this new film is what was lacking in the first — and what is most often the problem with failed flicks. “Star Trek II” has a great script.
Gene Roddenberry is given credit here as “executive consultant,” and it’s obvious he is responsible for much more here than in the first “Star Trek” film. As the creator of the original series, Roddenberry knows his characters, and “Star Trek II” has many familiar touches: Banter and friendly baiting between Doc McCoy and Spock, Spock educating Kirk in logical thinking, the vulnerability of Kirk the hero — and even some Vulcan dialogue with English subtitles.
As was the series, this film is filled with humorous dialogue and situations that are alternately amusing and suspenseful. This one’s a real cliffhanger with twists and turns that will take any Trekkie back to their love for the original series.
There are a few unnecessary cuss words and a couple of scenes more violent than what has gone before, but the PG rating is appropriate, and kids old enough to really care about seeing it should be able to.
And as to whether Spock gets knocked off … ? Well, if you follow the news, you know the answer to that one. But, to reiterate Paramount executives, “No one ever dies in science fiction,” and “Star Trek II” leaves the ending open so you can be sure that when “Star Trek III” gets under way, Leonard Nimoy won’t be sitting on the sidelines.
In every way, “Star Trek II” is so much better and more faithful to the series than the film of two years ago, it’s almost unfair to compare them.
In addition to the thoughtful, intelligent script, the sequel boasts crisp direction by Nicholas Meyer (“Time After Time”). The action is fast-moving, the story “logical” in its progression and the film as a whole is much tighter than the first.
“Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan” should definitely be another 1982 summer hit, and help keep big audiences at theaters for the next few months.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 16 2016
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s yet another curious choice for a Blu-ray upgrade, the brainless, redneck action drama ‘Road House,’ a vehicle for the late Patrick Swayze, back when he was riding high and considered a hunk. The Shout! Factory has released this one on its new Shout Select label. And, as I’m prone to saying about films like this, despite my negative review, published in the Deseret News on May 21, 1989, it has a rabid following.
Though it doesn't say so anywhere in the film, "Road House" must be set on another planet where the inhabitants resemble humans. This can't be the world I live in.
How else can you explain a story where nasty Korean War veteran Ben Gazzara "owns" a small town, so much so that he can go around blowing up homes and businesses and even killing people, but no one can seek any legal recourse. The most blatant and bizarre example is a scene where Gazzara orders an entire automobile showroom — complete with brand-new cars — destroyed by his henchmen, in broad daylight and in front of dozens of witnesses.
Why? To get Patrick Swayze mad. You see, Swayze is ultra-cool, and it takes a lot to get his blood boiling.
If you've seen the ads, you probably know "Road House" has Swayze as a bouncer in a rowdy bar. And Swayze is the only reason anyone would possibly want to see this film.
Sam Elliott, left, and Patrick Swayze, 'Road House'
Essentially, this is an updated Western: A famous bouncer — are there famous bouncers? — comes into a small town to clean it up. Really, though, "Road House" is about nothing more than Patrick Swayze cracking heads and showing off his nude backside. And at the end he turns into "Rambo," going into Gazzara's lavish home to kill everyone in sight, a strange twist since he has been suffering psychologically throughout the film because he once killed a man in self-defense.
This is also the kind of picture where characters, instead of talking like real people, say things like, "It's my way or the highway." Swayze is a hunk, but his role is just too dumb to believe. Aside from the Jeff Healey Band's music, only co-star Sam Elliott comes out unscathed, largely because he seems to be laughing at all of this.
But, hey, you want logic? Go see that other science-fiction film in town: "Cyborg." Even that movie makes more sense than this one. And it can't be much more violent.
But then what else can you expect from a director named Rowdy Herrington?
"Road House" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity, all in abundance.