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DISNEY MINUS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unless you are completely unaware of the fact that movies can now be streamed on the Internet — which would require your having been in a coma for several years — you probably know about Disney+, which is the 7-month-old go-to site for watching all things Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic. Well, not ALL things, of course; just whatever has been selected for a particular month. And you may be aware of the recent brouhaha over Disney’s 1994 film ‘Blank Check,’ which is part of the current lineup. It’s a terrible film about an 11-year-old boy who essentially steals $1 million and blows it on expensive toys. It’s a reprehensible film in every way but what has parents up in arms now is a moment toward the end when the boy and a 30-something woman exchange a kiss. This isn’t the first time this complaint has surfaced online; more than a decade ago the film showed up on Netflix and engendered the same complaints. Sadly, this wasn’t the first or last tasteless movie produced by Disney and sold to kids. So here’s my review, initially published in the Deseret News on Feb. 11, 1994.

"Blank Check" is "Home Alone," Disney-style.

It's also an uneven blend of the cable MTV and QVC channels, by way of "Brewster's Millions."

In other words, original it's not.

The story has an 11-year-old computer nerd (Brian Bonsall, who was once the youngest of the Keaton clan on TV's "Family Ties") "finding" a million bucks and blowing it in six days on a plethora of high-tech toys.

This gives director Rupert Wainwright (Hammer's music videos, Sinbad's Reebok commercials) an opportunity to stop the action every so often for dozens of mini-music videos, each showing Bonsall playing with the kind of upscale, brand-name trinkets most of us can't afford — from a video wall to an indoor-outdoor water slide to a virtual reality game to all kinds of oversized athletic equipment.

     

Brian Bonsall and Karen Duffy, 'Blank Check' (1994)

The story has ex-con Miguel Ferrer digging up his stash — a million bucks in cold cash — and taking it to a Midwest bank where a former associate (Michael Lerner) is bank president. Ferrer tells Lerner to launder the money and come up with a million in clean bills by the next day.

How Bonsall gets the money instead is wildly complicated … which is not to say amusing.

Bonsall then spends the rest of the film frittering the money away — he moves into a $300,000 house (a castle, actually), hires a full-time chauffeur to be his pal (Rick Ducommun) and tries to elude the bad guys (Ferrer, Lerner and rapper Tone Loc).

Bonsall also strikes up an oddly "romantic" relationship with a glamorous bank teller who turns out to be an FBI agent (Karen Duffy).

Eventually, however, Bonsall must confront his own deceit and discover his inner child … which certainly seems older than his outer child.

     

The kids in the audience seemed satisfied that villains fell into the swimming pool and one was hit in the groin with a baseball.

Favorite moment: Toward the end of the film, Bonsall's negligent father apologizes for his parental neglect, making his confession to the back of a chair, never knowing that his son is sitting in the chair. You have to see it to believe it.

On second thought, no one should have to see it.

Farcical plotting can take on wild proportions, of course, but in "Blank Check" they just get sillier and sillier without ever getting funnier. The result is a very dumb movie that talks down to the kids who are its target audience.

Especially at the end, when it pretends to moralize about doing the right thing — after 90 minutes of demonstrating that anyone who steals a million bucks and doesn't get caught can get away with anything.

The audience should feel insulted. I certainly did.

"Blank Check" is rated PG for comic violence and some vulgar language.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

OLD HITS ARE NEW HITS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

Once again an oldie-but-a-goodie was the top box-office draw of the week, 1984’s “Ghostbusters,” which has been playing on 622 screens nationally, with 90 percent of them in drive-in theaters.

  

 That film and several other fan favorites — including “Jaws,” “Back the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — continue in Megaplex multiplexes around the valley.

And there are plenty more being added to the mix this weekend — “Inside Out,” “Black Panther,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Notting Hill,” the first two entries in “The Fast & the Furious” franchise, “Selena,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Interstellar” among them.

  

And three “new” films are also opening in theaters for the first time, although, as you no doubt expect, they are also on streaming sites: the R-rated horror film “Relic,” about a woman (Emily Mortimer) whose mother’s home may be haunted; “The Outpost,” rated R, with Orlando Bloom and Scott Eastwood as part of a team of soldiers in Afghanistan battling hundreds of Taliban fighters; and “Sometimes Always Never,” a PG-13 comedy-drama starring Bill Nighy as an English tailor trying to reconcile with his youngest son even as he tries to solve the mystery of his older son’s disappearance.


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

DRUNKEN MASTER II, AKA THE LEGEND OF DRUNKEN MASTER

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who have seen only Jackie Chan’s American films — the ‘Rush Hour’ trilogy, ‘The Tuxedo,’ etc. — and wondered what all the fuss was about, you really owe it to yourself to watch ‘Drunken Master II,’ considered by Jackie-philes to be his masterpiece. No wires here folks; it’s all Jackie doing his own famous comic stuntwork, and ably assisted by the great Anita Mui. And now Golden Harvest Home Entertainment has rewarded fans with a newly remastered Blu-ray release and it’s well worth checking out. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 23, 1994. (FYI, the reference to the earlier ‘Drunken Master’ reveals that I had not seen that film; it wasn’t available on video then, but two years later it played at an art/revival venue in Salt Lake City. At the end I suggest it would be rated PG-13, but to my surprise when it finally came to home video, it was slapped with an R, which was — and is — ridiculous.)

"Drunken Master II" is another feather in Jackie Chan's martial arts cap, with all the ingredients for which he is known — slapstick humor, precisely choreographed karate kicks and aerodynamic-defying wild stunts designed to take the breath away from audience members.

The setup and characters are also familiar. In fact, they are rather overworked in films like this.

     

Anita Mui, Jackie Chan, 'Drunken Master II' (1994)

Set in pre-World War I China, the story has Chan playing a young fighting champion who is still living with his parents (though Chan himself is actually 40 years old now).

He has to keep his kick-'em-up antics from his father (Ti Lung), a martial arts master who eschews violence, with comical aid from his mother (Anita Mui), who secretly plays mahjong for money and is always ready for a fight … even more so than her son.

Apparently, the film is a sequel to the original 16-year-old "Drunken Master" movie, also known as "Drunken Monkey in a Tiger's Eye," which was one of Chan's biggest hits.

The plot here has to do with evil British soldiers who are attempting to smuggle historical Chinese artifacts out of the country, and who also operate a local steel mill, exploiting the workers.

But Chan will save the day, of course, using a method of karate known as "drunken boxing," at which he shows more talent when intoxicated. (The result is sort of a karate version of Red Skelton's old "Guzzler's Gin" routine.)

     

As with many such films, the exposition sequences are a bit muddled (and boy, do those English subtitles zip by) … but once the action and comedy kick into gear, all is forgiven.

Chan is in great form here, falling into a pit of red-hot coals, dodging dozens of bad guys with spears, leaping in the air with incredible force (and taking equally incredible falls) … and, as is his custom, Chan shows us how painful an actor's life can be in the end-credit outtakes.

Great fun for action fans. And if you haven't tried one of these Hong Kong stunt-packed thrillers, this one may get you hooked.

"Drunken Master II" is not rated but is in PG-13 territory, with quite a bit of mayhem and a few scattered profanities.


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 (with permission) from my 40 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 no longer writing for the D-News so this is mostly archival stuff, primarily from the Deseret News but also from my 13 years with KSL Television and Radio, as well as other sundry freelance things I occasionaly come across in my deteriorating hard-copy files.

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 here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

Click here for Amazon store.

Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

LITTLE SHOP OF HORRORS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: I was a big fan of the 1960 poverty-row, no-budget horror-comedy ‘The Little Shop of Horrors,’ which Roger Corman notoriously filmed in just two days on standing sets from another film. It’s hilarious and I recommend it (you can see it for free on YouTube and many other sites, as it has fallen into the public domain). So I was not completely unprepared for the stage-musical remake when the movie version finally came around, and I was not disappointed; it’s thoroughly engaging and hilarious, albeit more than a little weird. And it’s back on the big screen, playing at the District, the Megaplex complex in South Jordan. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 19, 1986.

A bizarre combination of “Grease” and “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” with heavy emphasis on black humor, “Little Shop of Horrors” is like no musical-comedy you’ve ever seen before.

Unless you have seen “The Rocky Horror Picture Show.”

But even that doesn’t quite prepare you for the story of a man-eating plant from outer space that promises to make a celebrity tycoon of the nerd who nurtures him.

Take it from the guy who liked “Pee-wee’s Big Adventure,” you haven’t seen weird until you’ve seen this one. But you also haven’t seen anything funnier.

The story, based on Roger Corman’s old B-movie from 1960 (and the stage musical that followed 20 years later), focuses on an employee in a Skid Row flower shop, Seymour Krelborn (Rick Moranis, doing a more sympathetic version of his “Ghostbusters” wimp).

Seymour buys a strange little plant from a Chinese florist during a total eclipse of the sun and names it “Audrey II,” after a co-worker he loves from afar.

     

Rick Moranis, left, Vincent Gardenia, Ellen Greene, 'Little Shop of Horrors' (1986)

Soon, however, he discovers the plant feeds on human blood. When his fingers run dry the plant pleads with him to provide human food (yes, it talks, and sings with a tremendous voice provided by Levi Stubbs of The Four Tops). Needless to say, Seymour isn’t quite up to it.

But when he sees Audrey, the woman he loves, abused by her nasty boyfriend, Seymour begins to think some people might be better off as plant food.

OK, so it isn’t in the best taste. And it’s definitely not your usual musical-comedy subject matter. Furthermore, the entire production, directed by Muppeteer Frank Oz in a style that almost treats the human actors as Muppets, is little more than a zany live-action cartoon.

So let’s face it – the only saving grace for a picture like this is if it delivers enough laughs to redeem itself. Suffice it to say “Little Shop of Horrors” delivers enough and then some.

There are several show-stopping numbers here, but the best — and most hilarious — are Steve Martin’s introductory song as a sadistic dentist, and Bill Murray’s cameo as Martin’s pain-loving patient. (Trivia buffs will note that Murray’s role in the original film was handled by a very young Jack Nicholson.)

There are also funny bits by John Candy as a wacked-out disc jockey, James Belushi as an opportunistic promoter and Christopher Guest as the first customer to notice “Audrey II” in the shop window.

     

Steve Martin, left, Bill Murray, 'Little Shop of Horrors' (1986)

There’s also a marvelous “Greek Chorus,” a Supremes spoof that is dead-on; a hysterical satire on the “Father Knows Best” view of happy home life; and a number of little visual touches from Oz and crew.

The leads are very nicely handled by Rick Moranis, Ellen Greene (she played Audrey for two years on stage in New York, Los Angeles and London) and the aforementioned Levi Stubbs. (It should also be mentioned that the amazing “Audrey II” was created by Lyle Conway, who has worked with Oz and Jim Henson on earlier Muppet creations. But “Audrey II” is truly an amazingly expressive electronic puppet, definitely worthy of Oscar consideration.)

The songs are funny and bright, Oz’s direction offers just the right amount of camp without overdoing it and everyone in the cast seems to be having a great time, which quickly infects the audience.

Toward the end the film almost wears out its welcome, but the filmmakers had enough sense to know when to quit and the length seems just right.

“Little Shop of Horrors,” rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and sexual innuendo, and there’s not a lot — most of it is very discreet — is the surprise delight of the Christmas season and should enjoy a long run into the new year.


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

NARROW MARGIN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 1952 black-and-white film noir classic ‘The Narrow Margin’ is a B-movie of the old school. It’s also a first-rate thriller set aboard a train and the stars, Charles McGraw and Utah’s own Marie Windsor, have never been better. Alas, most modern audiences don’t care about old movies, especially if they’re not in color. So when a good idea is out there it’s likely to be remade for 21st century (or in this case late 20th century) sensibilities. And now Kino Lorber has upgraded the remake for a new Blu-ray release. I’m not sure modern audiences care about 30-year-old movies that are in color either, but this one isn’t bad (in retrospect, I may have been a bit harsh in my review); it just can’t hold a candle to the original. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 21, 1990.

No one can argue with Peter Hyams' skill as a director of action sequences — remember that harrowing car chase on the El in "Running Scared"?

And he's also good — sometimes very good — as a cinematographer. (Who besides Bo Derek's director-husband, John, does his own photography these days?)

But with his latest thriller, "Narrow Margin," he could have used a collaborator on the screenplay and maybe even in the directing of dialogue sequences between the action.

"Narrow Margin," a remake of the 1952 B-classic of the same title, has basically the same plot — a prosecutor tries to bring in a woman to testify after she witnesses a mob murder, only to be trapped on a moving train with the mobsters.

     

Gene Hackman, 'Narrow Margin' (1990)

In the old film the woman was the gangster victim's widow. Here she is Anne Archer (Michael Douglas' wife in "Fatal Attraction"), an editor at a publishing house who also happens to be a sophisticated divorcee.

The film opens with her reluctant blind date with lawyer J.T. Walsh, who seems like a heck of a nice guy. It isn't long, however, before Archer sees him murdered in cold blood by a notorious gangster client (Harris Yulin) whom he's been cheating. But Yulin doesn't know Archer is there.

So she heads for the hills, literally, to a remote mountain cabin in Canada, only to be tracked down by a stern deputy district attorney (Gene Hackman) who wants her to testify so he can put Yulin away.

Unfortunately, Hackman was followed by the bad guys, so he and Archer find themselves on the lam in the woods, hitching a ride on a passenger train headed for Vancouver.

The cat-and-mouse high jinks that follow are fairly predictable and come alive only as the action explodes from time to time. The best sequence is toward the end, a stunning chase on top of the train where, sometimes, there are obviously no doubles for the two stars.

Unfortunately, the film has many dry spots along the way, not to mention implausible behavior, as Hackman and Archer try to outquip each other with one-liners that feel more awkward than funny, and they do myriad dumb things.

There are also red herrings — about the identity of one of the bad guys aboard the train and who the traitor in the D.A.'s office might be — that are all too easy to figure out.

     

To say all of this is contrived is to understate.

Archer tries valiantly to lend some class to her thinly written role but it's pure damsel-in-distress stuff. Hackman, an amazing actor who seems unable to do anything wrong, even with a part as occasionally wrong-headed as this one, lends some depth to his tired but earnest deputy D.A., a man who seems utterly incorruptible. (As written, a chink in the armor might have helped a bit, and Hackman is portrayed as being a bit too good with his fists to be believed as simply a desk- and courtroom-bound prosecutor.)

And there is able support from M. Emmet Walsh, who disappears all too soon as Hackman's cop sidekick; James B. Sikking as a nasty hitman; and Yulin as the sullen crime boss.

There is also that dazzling sequence on top of and to the side of the train, while it rattles along bridges over steep caverns, with the Canadian Rockies providing a stunning backdrop to the action.

If that's enough, you may enjoy "Narrow Margin." Otherwise, be warned.

It is rated R for violence and profanity.