Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

3-D OR NOT 3-D

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: In March of 2013, I wrote a column that included this little reminiscence, which seems timely since ‘Comin’ At Ya!’ has just been released on 3-D Blu-ray for the first time (see my 1981 of the film review on this page).

(My review of ‘V.I. Warshawski” being misquoted to sound like a rave on the Blu-ray and DVD covers) reminded me of the first time a review I wrote was misused this way.

And in that case, it was in service of a movie that I really didn’t like.

Way back in 1981 there was a 3-D spaghetti Western titled “Comin’ At Ya!” and it made so much money that it is today credited with single-handedly bringing back a brief early-1980s revival in 3-D movies as it was quickly followed by “Friday the 13th, Part III,” “Jaws 3-D,” “Amityville 3-D” and the filmed-in-southern Utah “Spacehunter: Adventures in the Forbidden Zone,” among others.

Even Alfred Hitchcock’s 1954 “Dial M for Murder,” which was filmed in 3-D but never shown that way, earned its first 3-D release in 1982.

  

In its second week of release, an ad appeared in the paper that quoted my review: “ ‘Comin’ At Ya!’ is different ... however it’s worth it. There is a certain thrill as flaming arrows and shooting spears seem to fly off the screen and into your lap … this new 3D system is a great success.”

In context, this is what my 1981 review said: “I gave up on spaghetti westerns years ago when I finally realized no one could duplicate Sergio Leone’s style and flair, though many tried. But ‘Comin’ At Ya!’ is different. Oh, it’s a very standard spaghetti western, but ‘Comin’ At Ya!’ is really just a come-on.”

After describing the 1950s 3-D process and the inconvenience of the glasses back then, the review continued: “With the 1981 process, however, the glasses are still cumbersome, if you tilt your head the picture still goes out of focus — and it still takes awhile to get used to it and settle into the film. In some ways, however, it’s worth it. There is a certain thrill as flaming arrows and shooting spears seem to fly off the screen and into your lap. And to that extent, this new 3-D system is a great success.”

   

Of course, very early in the review it also says: “As 3-D it’s not too bad, but the movie stinks.”

Way back in 1981, in just my second year as a full-time movie critic, I was flattered. After all, the person who put the ad together could have misquoted some major movie critic from New York or L.A. or Chicago, but instead he chose me.

After the ad showed up I wrote a story about it and referred to it as my baptism of fire: “Now I feel like a real movie critic.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

COENS, SPARKS & ZOMBIES!

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

The Coen brothers return to comedy, two longtime British stars headline a highly praised new film, and for you literary types, well, cover your eyes — Nicholas Sparks returns and Jane Austen is zombiefied.

“Hail, Caesar!” (PG-13). The Coen brothers are in full-spoof mode here, lampooning 1950s Hollywood with an all-star ensemble cast as a “fixer” (James Brolin) is tasked by a movie studio with finding its biggest star (George Clooney), who has apparently been kidnapped. Also on hand are Scarlett Johansson, Frances McDormand, Ralph Fiennes, Jonah Hill, Tilda Swinton and Channing Tatum.

“45 Years” (R). This British drama has been reaping praise for the performances of its stars, Tom Courtenay, and especially Charlotte Rampling, as a long-married couple preparing for an anniversary party when news of the tragic death of the husband’s former girlfriend conjures up old feelings and begins to intrude on the proceedings.

“The Choice” (PG-13). Nicholas Sparks’ annual book-to-film offering has two neighbors (Benjamin Walker, Teresa Palmer) in the small coastal town of Beaufort, North Carolina, falling in love. But then she goes into a coma following a serious car accident. And somebody dies, right? Someone always dies in Nicholas Sparks movies, am I right? Maggie Grace, Tom Welling and Tom Wilkinson co-star.

“Pride and Prejudice and Zombies” (PG-13). Some movies have titles that tell it all, and that’s the case here. Take a little Jane Austen, stir in some George Romero, but keep it in a PG-13 stew so as to not prevent the kiddies from seeing it. Lily James stars, along with Sam Riley, Jack Huston, Charles Dance and Lena Headey.

“Oscar Shorts: Animated and Live Action” (Not Rated). Two collections of Oscar-nominated short films, animated and live-action, will rotate on the schedule. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)


New DVDS/Blu-rays New DVDS/Blu-rays

THE LAND BEFORE TIME

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the DVD release this week of ‘The Land Before Time: Journey of the Brave,’ a Walmart exclusive that is No. 14 in the ‘Land Before Time’ cartoon-feature franchise, it seems like a good time to remember the first film in the series (and the only one that was released theatrically), with my Nov. 18, 1988, Deseret News review.

Don Bluth struck gold with “An American Tail,” which got a much better shake than his darker but artistically superior “Secret of NIMH.” That’s probably because Steven Spielberg had a hand in the project and his marketing people were just what the doctor ordered in terms of getting audiences out to see it.

And, with Spielberg and George Lucas attached to Bluth’s latest effort, “The Land Before Time” should be another major hit.

And it really deserves to be.

Some of the artwork in “The Land Before Time” is astonishing, and animation buffs — adults who love this art form — should have a wonderful time taking it all in.

   

Meanwhile, the small fry will be delighted by the story and characters, which, despite the misleading ad campaign that makes this picture look like little more than “An American Tail” with baby dinosaurs, is simpler and more endearing.

“The Land Before Time” opens with an underwater sequence that is mesmerizing, and then works its way into its prehistoric tale, which may spark memories of “Fantasia’s” “Rite of Spring” segment.

The story has five different prehistoric species coming together for a quest as they cross the barren land — which is periodically in earthquake upheaval or lava explosions — to search for vegetation so they may survive.

Along the way they are terrorized by a Tyrannosaurus rex and other obstacles, while each character becomes more well-defined; Littlefoot, the last of his brontosaurus breed, and leader of the pack; Cera, a triceratops that seems to have been inspired by the “Peanuts” character Lucy Van Pelt; Ducky, an overzealous anatosaurus; Spike, a slow-moving, quiet stegosaurus; and the scene-stealer,,Petrie, a pterodactyl who is afraid of flying (and whose voice is supplied by Will Ryan, who also did Digit, the cockroach in “An American Tail”).

   

Despite the more obvious ethnic mix of characters in “Oliver & Company,” “The Land Before Time” has a much more subtle and therefore more compelling message about tolerance. But that’s not the main thrust, of course.

“The Land Before Time” is a fabulous artistic achievement for adults to savor while their children just have fun.

This is what family entertainment is supposed to be.


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

TO CATCH A THIEF

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

Alfred Hitchcock was, of course, The Master of Suspense. But he was also, at heart, a sentimental romantic. Check out the sexual tension and unabashed falling in love between characters in such films as “Notorious,” “Vertigo,” “North By Northwest” … and especially "To Catch a Thief" (1955).

Of all of his many movies, “To Catch a Thief is hands-down Hitchcock’s most romantic effort, with emphasis on character, although there are some suspenseful moments.

And it’s also one of his most beautifully photographed films, winning an Oscar for cinematography, which is stunning in sequences set against the lush backdrop of the French Riviera, where much of it was filmed on location.

 

        Grace Kelly, Cary Grant, 'To Catch a Thief'

Cary Grant stars as a retired cat burglar — he has even earned the nickname “The Cat” — who discovers he is being framed for jewel thefts at ritzy hotels along the Riviera. So he sets out to solve the crime himself.

Along the way he becomes entangled with an elegant heiress (Grace Kelly), at first seemingly demure — but with a wild side, reveled as she begins playing, um, cat and mouse with Grant.

Grant and Kelly are a great team with crackling chemistry, and Hitch makes the most of it. There’s some spark between Kelly and James Stewart in Hitchcock’s “Rear Window” (1954), but less between Kelly and Robert Cummings in the stagey thriller “Dial M For Murder” (1954).

But with “To Catch a Thief,” Hitchcock’s last of his three films with Kelly, she and Grant fairly burn up the screen, and it doesn’t matter a whit that she’s 25 years his junior.

The film is also rich with crackerjack dialogue, and the stars are ably backed up by Hitchcock regulars Jessie Royce Landis, as Kelly’s mother (she played Grant’s mother in “North By Northwest”), and John Williams (the actor not the composer) as an insurance agent (he played the Scotland Yard detective that tries to help Kelly in “Dial M for Murder”).

And Hitchcock’s cameo comes about 10 minutes in, and is one of the director’s more obvious and lingering appearances. It’s also quite funny.

Cary Grant spies someone familiar in 'To Catch a Thief.'

This was Hitchcock’s first film in VistaVision, a widescreen process created for Paramount Pictures to compete with 20th Century Fox’s popular CinemaScope process. Both were designed to make the movie experience bigger and more expansive in light of the enormous and growing popularity of that newfangled invention known as television, which was keeping moviegoers home.

To say that Hitch made the most of his first widescreen endeavor is to understate. The locales, and the stars, never looked better.

And you can see it on the big screen at many local Cinemark Theaters on Sunday, Feb. 7, at 2 p.m., and Wednesday, Feb. 10, at 2 and 7 p.m

 


Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray Oldies New to DVD/Blu-ray

COMIN’ AT YA!

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 5, 2016

EDITOR’S NOTE: The R-rated ‘Comin’ At Ya!’ has been on DVD before but it has not been seen in 3-D since it played theatrically some 28 years ago. So a new remastered 3-D Blu-ray (which also includes a 2-D or ‘flat’ version) will be welcome to fans of the 3-D process, since it actually did revive the format for a few years in the 1980s. Now, of course, 3-D films come out every week, but most of them aren’t designed with the original in-your-face action of the earliest 3-D films, tossing things at the camera so that audience members are prompted to duck. But that’s what this one is. Of course, it’s also a lousy film, as my September 2, 1981, Deseret News review attests, but I did have kind words for the 3-D process. (Foreign-film fans will note that the leading lady is Spanish actress Victoria Abril, who became an international star seven years later in Pedro Almodovar's one-two punch, 'Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown' and 'Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!')

I gave up on spaghetti westerns years ago when I finally realized no one could duplicate Sergio Leone’s style and flair, though many tried.

But “Comin’ At Ya!” is different. Oh, it’s a very standard spaghetti western, but “Comin’ At Ya!” is really just a come-on.

You will notice that the ads preceding the opening of “Comin’ At Ya!” have emphasized the 3-D aspect of the film — that’s because the 3-D is the only reason to see this picture at all.

As 3-D, it’s not too bad, but the movie stinks.

Actually, that may be some kind of recommendation in itself, since 3-D movies in the 1950s often stunk — yet many remember the process fondly.

Sure the glasses were cumbersome back then and if you tilted your head the picture went out of focus — and it took awhile to get used to it and settle into the film.

  

        Victoria Abril, Tony Anthony, 'Comin' At Ya!'

With the 1981 process, however, the glasses are still cumbersome, if you tilt your head the picture still goes out of focus — and it still takes awhile to get used to it and settle into the film.

In some ways, however, it’s worth it. There is a certain thrill as flaming arrows and shooting spears seem to fly off the screen and into your lap. And to that extent, this new 3-D system is a great success. I confess to having been jarred and thrilled a few times during the course of “Comin’ At Ya!”

On the other hand, since nearly all the major 3-D process shots are repeated at the end of the film, you could almost go in for the last five minutes and get the same thrills without wasting an hour-and-a-half watching this dumb movie.

The story has one H.H. Hart (Tony Anthony, who played the title role in “The Stranger” series of spaghetti westerns in the late 1960s) searching for his bride (Victoria Abril), who was abducted on their wedding day by a couple of very nasty brothers (Gene Quintano & Ricardo Palacios) who have kidnapped 50 women to auction off to bordellos.

Needless to say, Hart finds the crew, frees the women and prepares to dispatch the brothers and their gang, but the tables turn and they nearly dispatch him — until the tables turn once more.

Along the way is some disturbing violence (not as much explicitly gruesome as just upsetting — kidnapped women are beaten and killed, a man is stabbed with a pitchfork, another is chewed on by rats, and several are shot all over the place.

Much of it is in slow motion and there is a haunting background score that becomes awfully redundant and soon is anticipated by audience groans.

  

Victoria Abril being attacked by a rubber bat, 'Comin' At Ya!'

When Sergio Leone created his own stylistic violence in the “Man With No Name” Westerns that made Clint Eastwood a star in the mid 1960s (backed by Ennio Morricone’s evocative music), he showed us a film artist in his embryonic stage. Clones like this one merely show us a true artist cannot be successfully copied.

Of the 3-D effects, my favorites are the action sequences. But when the camera shoots upward from the ground, to show a yo-yo flying into the audience, or thrusting upon us a baby’s bare bottom or an apple peel or peanut shells or gold coins — the slow motion and amplified sound become wearing.

If the three writers who put this script together had had any sense of humor, it could have been a campy, laughable delight. But “Comin’ At Ya!” simply takes itself too seriously — so when the laughs come they are unintentional.

In fact, the real shame is that the writers who were employed to come up with that fantastic, hilarious theatrical preview of “Comin’ At Ya!” weren’t put to work on this screenplay. The only real laughs in this picture come from the sincere emoting of a bunch of amateur actors (led by Anthony, whose puppy dog, sad-faced sneer gets tiresome) and the phoniest bats you’ll ever see on the screen.

So, if you want some new 3-D thrills, you might enjoy “Comin’ At Ya!” But if you’re looking for a western of worth — look for it on TV.