For, Friday, June 26, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Salt Lake Tribune runs a daily item on page A-2 labeled ‘Odd News,’ with a story or two that relate incidents that are either goofy or funny or just plain weird. It’s often a highlight of the daily newspaper … for those of us who still read daily newspapers as actual papers. I was recently reminded that back in the day I would similarly gather offbeat Hollywood-related stories for a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column of brief items, like this one, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 25, 1985.

I know, I know, enough about “Rambo” already.

But there’s always something more. I may have to get a special logo made up for a weekly update on “Rambo” phenomena.

Anyway, the latest is the “Rambo-gram.”

That’s right, “Rambo-gram.”

And, as you might guess, it consists of a “Rambo” lookalike delivering your best … or worst … wishes to a friend … or enemy.

But the scheme, in Buffalo, N.Y., backfired Monday.

An actor delivering a “Rambo-gram” apparently frightened people on the street, as he marched along with a fake Russian assault rifle in hand, and after delivering his message in an office building, found himself in the waiting arms of a police dragnet.

Meanwhile, a 21-year veteran cop who was part of the dragnet slipped on an escalator and shot himself in the foot.

The actor was charged with disorderly conduct.

The policeman was recovering in a local hospital.

Which only goes to prove that violence in the movies can lead to violence in real life.


—A LETTER I HAVE neglected for a few weeks came in from Benjamin Urrutia, who asks why I gave “D.A.R.Y.L.” two-and-a-half stars, the same number I gave “The Goonies,” and yet I say in the context of the review that “D.A.R.Y.L.” is a better movie than “The Goonies.”

Good question. I wish I had a good answer.

Actually, I don’t compare movies in terms of the number of stars I give them. Each film is rated entirely on its own merits, and though I thought “D.A.R.Y.L.” had an overall edge over “The Goonies,” I didn’t think it deserved any more stars. Both films have a multitude of problems but the feeling I had as I came out of “D.A.R.Y.L.” was that it just worked a little better.

On the other hand, I gave “Cocoon” only three stars, yet at this point it may appear on my top 10 list at the end of the year — which is favorite films, as opposed to best films.

But in the end it comes down to this: A movie critic’s star-rating system is as subjective as his entire review. It’s just a personal evaluation and others are bound to disagree.

One other thing that Urrutia mentioned in his letter was that he thought “D.A.R.Y.L.” worked as sort of offbeat prequel to “The Terminator.”

In a way he might be right. But then we could only wonder about how sweet little computerized Daryl turned into the killing machine portrayed by Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Maybe he saw “Rambo” too many times.

—WHEN I GO TO THE movies I usually sit on the aisle. The reason is simple — quick escape when it’s over. Otherwise I have 40 people asking what I thought of the picture as I try to leave the theater.

But a story over the wires this week indicates there may be another reason.

Dr. Robert Israel, a Manhattan sports-medicine specialist, says people who always sit on the aisle probably do so to stretch their legs, because they are potential victims of what he calls “cinema sign,” which results from putting pressure on the knee and can lead to permanent arthritis.

“Cinema sign” is not untreatable, however. Israel says all you have to do is isometric and “flex” exercises, such as bringing the knee up to the chest.

Uh, oh, I’m done for. The only way I could get my knee up to my chest would be to remove it first.

—LAST WEEK IN MY review of “Volunteers,” as I listed earlier credits of director Nicholas Meyer, I gave away the fact that I’m occasionally running on empty when I wrote that one of Meyer’s films was “Star Trek II: The Search for Spock.”

Actually, as any Trekkie can tell you, “Star Trek II” was subtitled “The Wrath of Khan,” and that’s the film Meyer directed.

“The Search for Spock” was, of course, “Star Trek III,” directed by Mr. Spock himself, Leonard Nimoy.

Never write a review when you’ve put your brain on hold.

—AND IN THIS COLUMN last week, I mentioned that “Warning Sign,” filmed in Utah County, would be opening on Aug. 23rd.

You may have noticed that it did not.

“Warning Sign” will open wide (across the country) on a future “undetermined” date, 20th Century-Fox now says, after it plays in a few big cities first.

Interpreted, that means if it does well “Warning Sign” will go out nationally in a couple of weeks. But if it does poorly we may not get it at all.

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: ‘Warning Sign’ did eventually open around the country, on Oct. 9 OF 1985, and it garnered abysmal reviews and did very poorly at the box office. ‘Cocoon’ didn’t make my end-of-the-year 10-best list but it was No. 12 as a runner-up. ‘Warning Sign,’ however, landed at No. 1 … on the 10-worst list.

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, June 26, 2020

Everything old is new again at the movies, as older films continue to dominate the Megaplex theaters, which remain the only movie houses that have opened locally. (Cinemark opens its doors next weekend.)

This week there are a couple of new theatrical films in several Megaplex multiplexes, chiefly Jon Stewart’s R-rated political satire “Irresistible,” starring Steve Carell. But officially it’s a video on demand (VOD) release, available on multiple streaming sites, and the reviews are less than encouraging (at this writing, a paltry 39 percent on Rotten Tomatoes).


The other VOD release in Megaplex theaters this week is “Looks That Kill,” a dark romantic comedy that went to streaming sites last weekend, but, surprisingly there are no reviews available.

Otherwise, the titles this week aren’t all that far afield from last week’s, led by a pair of vintage blockbusters, “Jurassic Park” (1993) and “Jaws” (1975) — which is understandable since those were last weekend’s biggest box-office hits. “Back to the Future,” “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and “The Goonies” were also in the top 10. (Steven Spielberg continues to rule!)


More recent titles among last weekend’s biggest hits (“biggest” being a relative term since so few theaters across the country are open) were the 2020 “The Invisible Man,” “Trolls World Tour,” “The Hunt,” “Jumanji: The Next Level” — and “Followed,” a new horror film that is not yet playing here.

A few of last week’s vintage titles have fallen away, while Megaplex has picked up “Gladiator,” “Mean Girls,” “50 First Dates,” “The Greatest Showman,” the 2009 “Star Trek,” “Mamma Mia!,” “Mission: Impossible: Fallout” and the “Hunger Games” quadrilogy.

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



For, Friday, June 26, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber has released five Spike Lee movies as Blu-ray upgrades, four of which I reviewed during my tenure as movie critic for the Deseret News. The past two weeks have seen ‘Crooklyn’ and ‘Clockers’ in this space; today it’s ‘Jungle Fever,’ reviewed in the June 9, 1991, Deseret News. (As a footnote, although she’s not mentioned here, Halle Berry is also has a small role in her film debut.)

Spike Lee is a most infuriating filmmaker. He's bold and aggressive, more than a little brash, a stunning stylist, and there are always flashes of brilliance in his movies. But he may never make a truly brilliant film until he learns to look at his work with a critical eye.

With his latest, "Jungle Fever," which he wrote, directed, produced and in which he plays a minor role, Lee has tackled his largest canvas yet. Though you may have read that this film explores an interracial love affair and its ripple effect on the families and friends of the couple, it's much more than that. The love affair is merely the catalyst that sends everything else reeling.

Lee is interested in racism in all its forms and he's not afraid to attack it head-on — or to be angry. That he doesn't always resolve the conflicts he creates or probe deeply the issues he raises doesn't seem to be as important to him as forcing us to think about them.

In that regard, "Jungle Fever" is his most powerful film so far. (Be advised, however, that it also carries a hard R rating, with constant foul language, as well as sex and nudity, violence and heavy drug use.)


   Annabella Sciorra, Wesley Snipes, 'Jungle Fever' (1991)

The film begins by showing us the life of a successful black architect named Flipper (Wesley Snipes), who lives in Harlem with his wife (Lonette McKee) and young daughter. They are a loving, happy family, though Flipper is frustrated with the white firm he works for, feeling he's not getting his worth.

The trouble starts when he compromises his relationship with his wife by embarking on an affair with a white Italian temp secretary named Angie (Annabella Sciorra), whom he meets at work.

Meanwhile, Angie has her own problems, living with her overbearing father and two brothers, who expect her to act as if she's their maid and cook, and the boyfriend (John Turturro) she's gone out with since high school but doesn't really love.

Other significant players include Flipper's parents, a defrocked Baptist minister (Ossie Davis) and his patient wife (Ruby Dee); his crackhead brother (Samuel L. Jackson), who brings tragedy to their home; his best friend (Spike Lee), who provides some comic relief; and a number of lesser characters, including one played by Anthony Quinn.

And, as always, Lee is an actor's dream director. Everyone looks good here, with special kudos to Jackson and Turturro, who are knockouts.


John Turturro, left, Spike Lee, Theresa Randle, 'Jungle Fever' (1991)

Though "Jungle Fever" occasionally threatens to suffer from character overload, Lee manages to keep the threads of the story tied together so that the flow never seems overly contrived. There are a lot of characters, but we care about all of them.

The film suffers from a few sloppy elements that are quite surprising, especially choppy editing in two scenes. And Lee continues to distract us with too much music that overwhelms dialogue instead of supporting it.

But his stylized technique seems more in the service of the material here than in any of his other films and there are some powerhouse sequences, most notably the "Dante's Inferno" scene that has Flipper on a journey through a crackhouse to find his brother, and a telling "war council" gathering of Flipper's wife and her friends, which appears to be ad-libbed as they discuss why black men seem to have a yen for light-skinned black women.

There's no question that this is Lee's most ambitious and successful work so far, but it will be nice if, in the future, he has enough confidence in his story to let down even more of his affectations.

And one more thing: Flipper? Why is he named Flipper?

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.

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



For, Friday, June 26, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: With movie theaters playing primarily older movies for a few weeks, it’s time to take a look back at one that’s continuing at several Megaplex Theaters, and which, some 27 years ago, kicked off a franchise that remains ongoing (‘Jurassic World: Dominion’ is scheduled for next year). In the Salt Lake Valley you can find ‘Jurassic Park’ at the Gateway in Salt Lake City, the District in South Jordan, the Jordan Commons in Sandy and the Cottonwood in Holladay. In my review, published in tbe Deseret News on June 11, 1993, I suggest that the film has a huge ‘Wow’ factor, and the special-effects team did take home Oscars — but with today’s advanced CGI in every other film and Hollywood’s deluge of special effects-driven comic book heroics, that aspect may be lost to time. At the end of the write-up, I say that this film is definitely not for young children. Is that still the case or have parents given up on monitoring what their kids see these days?

There's no question that "Jurassic Park" is the roller coaster movie ride of the summer and if you can take it strictly on its own thrills-and-spills, popcorn-movie terms, you won't be disappointed.

Some of director Steven Spielberg's past scary and thrilling pictures have contained more substance, depth and character development — "E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial," "Close Encounters of the Third Kind" and "Jaws," just to name three. But let's face it — it's been too long since we've had a rip-snorting, hold-onto-your-hats, awe-inspiring big-screen yarn, Spielberg-style.

And "Jurassic Park" delivers the goods.

Based on Michael Crichton's best-selling cautionary "what if" novel, with some substantial changes, the film still manages to keep intact many of the book's major set-pieces, along with its most memorable characters — the tyrannical T-Rex and the cunning, predatory velociraptors.


From left, Laura Dern, Joseph Mazzello, Sam Neill, 'Jurassic Park' (1993)

The stunning special effects used to bring these creatures — and others — to life, a sophisticated blend of models, stop-action animation and computer graphics, provide the movie's "ooh" and "ahh" factor. And there seems little doubt that moviegoers will want to return a time or two to observe them more closely.

For the uninitiated, the story has an eccentric gazillionaire (Richard Attenborough) — much more benign here than the book's evil character — inviting a small group of people to visit his island near Costa Rica, which houses an unusual amusement park and zoo.

His guests include a lawyer (Martin Ferrero) who represents concerned investors; a mathematician (Jeff Goldblum, with all the best lines) who theorizes the park will fail because man cannot control nature, a pair of paleontologists (Sam Neill, Laura Dern) who have been digging up dinosaur bones in Montana, and Attenborough's own young grandchildren (Ariana Richards, Joseph Mazzello).

Neill and Dern don't know that the park is a haven for genetically engineered dinosaurs, created through the use of DNA extracted from an ancient mosquito found encased in amber. And when they see the park's prime exhibits, they are at first thrilled and enthusiastic.

Eventually, however, Murphy's Law goes into effect when a computer saboteur (Wayne Knight) brings down the park's safety system and the most dangerous dinos run amok. Most of the rest of the film has Neill, who doesn't care for children, finding himself saddled with Richards and Mazzello as they try to get back to the park's headquarters.


    Steven Spielberg, on the set of 'Jurassic Park' in 1992.

Once this element kicks into gear, the human stories more or less go by the wayside to make way for high tension. The ride begins and the suspense doesn't let up until the end of the final reel.

This lack of depth does hurt the picture to some degree and Knight's portrayal of a slobbish jerk is too cartooney to blend with the more subdued performances offered by the rest of the cast. And though the young girl here is not as obnoxious as her character in the book, she still does a bit too much screaming.

Still, despite a few flaws, how can you complain when a movie offers this many genuine thrills? And the Oscars for special effects may as well be handed out now — how can anyone top this incredible animal act?

"Jurassic Park" is rated PG-13 for violence, some gore (a severed arm, the remains of a cow and a goat) and some profanity and vulgarity. And it is definitely not for young children.

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



For, Friday, June 26, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Like Paramount, Sony Pictures Home Entertainment has been digging into its archives to release Blu-ray upgrades with, as far as I can tell, no concern about the quality of the chosen films. All the big hits have been on Blu-ray for a long time, of course, so perhaps this one is just another stab in the dark for fans of lesser pictures. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 11, 1994. (And since their marriage is mentioned here, it’s worth noting that Joanne Whalley and Val Kilmer divorced the year this film was released and she went back to using her maiden name; 'Trial By Jury' is her last credit as 'Kilmer.')

So, who the heck is Joanne Whalley-Kilmer?

The doe-eyed actress is the wife of actor Val Kilmer, the actor who scored as Doc Holliday in "Tombstone" last year and who has replaced Michael Keaton in "Batman Forever." (Whalley-Kilmer and her husband co-starred in "Willow" and "Kill Me Again," both on video.) She also has a supporting role in the current "A Good Man in Africa" (reviewed in Friday's Deseret News). And she has the title role in the upcoming CBS miniseries "Scarlett," the sequel to "Gone With the Wind."

If that's not enough, she is the star of the new courtroom thriller "Trial by Jury," playing Valerie, a naive single mother who finds herself terrorized while sitting as a juror in a sensational New York mob trial.

Though she could easily ask to be dismissed because she runs her own small business, Valerie feels it is her civic duty to serve on the jury. Unfortunately, when she vocalizes that sense of duty in the courtroom, it brings her to the attention of Pirone (Armand Assante), the mobster on trial.


Gabriel Byrne, Joanne Whalley-Kilmer, 'Trial By Jury' (1994)

The state has only circumstantial evidence and Pirone has taken care of the prime witness against him. But all the same, Pirone orders the corrupt ex-cop (William Hurt) on his payroll to threaten Valerie: She must either attempt to sway the jury to acquit Pirone or, at the least, cause the trial to be abandoned with a hung jury. Otherwise, Pirone will kill her young son.

Terrified, Valerie moves the boy to upstate New York to stay with her father (Stuart Whitman in a thankless cameo) — but, of course, Pirone's men find the lad anyway.

Then, just to drive the point home, Pirone himself pays Valerie a visit in her apartment, even as two cops are parked outside to protect her.

So, Valerie reluctantly agrees to play ball, much to the chagrin of the volatile district attorney (Gabriel Byrne). Eventually, he does suspect jury tampering — but by then, it's too late.

The film's central point, of course, is that the experience toughens Valerie. As she says late in the film, "I've changed. I'm not the same person I was." And she proves it by plotting her own revenge on Pirone.


Whalley-Kilmer isn't bad, though writer-director Heywood Gould ("One Good Cop") tends to rely a bit too much on her inexpressive face, as her big eyes stare blankly.

The supporting cast is loaded with familiar faces — Kathleen Quinlan as a hooker/hitwoman, Margaret Whitton as a flamboyant juror, Ed Lauter as a goofy prosecutor, Joe Santos as a mob kingpin, etc.

There are a couple of well-staged action scenes and some droll humor (the judge has stomach trouble, and both sides of the case feel a mostly female jury will be to their benefit).

But most of the movie is slow and talky, allowing the audience to dwell far too long on the many implausible aspects and the lack of character development.

"Trial by Jury" is rated R for violence, some gory photographs, profanity and some partial nudity.