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SCHINDLER'S LIST REDUX

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: For its 25th anniversary, Steven Spielberg’s World War II masterpiece has received a restoration and is now playing on theater screens across the country (as of Friday, Dec. 7), including several in the Salt Lake Valley. Here’s my review, published Jan. 11, 1994, in the Deseret News (The film opened in the big cities during December 1993, then made its way to the hinterlands, including Utah, in January 1994).

You've read and/or heard so much about "Schindler's List" by now that this review is probably redundant … not that that ever stopped me before.

The good news is that the movie is everything its hype has built it up to be — powerful, emotionally overwhelming, even stunning in places.

Taking a real-life story that is complicated and unsettling, Steven Spielberg uses all of his technical prowess to propel the narrative but also allows this very human story to touch the audience on a personal level.

The result is unquestionably his most important work, his most fully realized work, his most rewarding work.

     

Steven Spielberg directs Liam Neeson on the set of 'Schindler's List.'

The basics have been well-publicized: The film, shot in black and white, is about a German Nazi who took over a factory in Poland during World War II and talked his powerful acquaintances into allowing him to use cheap labor in the form of Jewish workers. Ultimately, Schindler rescued more than 1,100 people from the death camps.

But Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) was not a hero on a white horse. Indeed, when we first meet him he is worming his way into the good graces of SS officers for his own selfish purposes. He sees this scheme as an opportunity to get rich and surrounds himself with beautiful women, sips champagne, bribes Nazi officers and suggests his factory is essential to the Nazi war machine.

He's a complex, initially unsympathetic character. But after the first third — the film is more than 3 hours long — Schindler begins to recognize the horrors that are going on around him and feels compelled to do something about it.

Neeson is superb in the role, as are the many prominent supporting players, including Ben Kingsley as the Jewish accountant used by Schindler to keep track of his business, and who becomes something of a soft-spoken conscience. But most notable is British actor Ralph Fiennes (who also has a role in Robert Redford's upcoming "Quiz Show"). Fiennes' portrayal of a brutal Nazi monster, the commandant of Plaszow Forced Labor Camp in Krakow, is absolutely chilling.

     

      Ralph Fiennes, left, Liam Neeson, 'Schindler's List'

But Spielberg has always been great at pulling appropriate performances from his actors. The surprise here is how well he pulls off the film's many levels, none of them easy. The casual manner in which Nazis kill Jews, the semi-documentary tone, the horrors and ironies of the war itself and the gradual manner in which the audience comes to see Schindler as a man whose baser instincts slowly give way to compassion.

Shocking and wrenching scenes abound — a Jewish worker is dropped to his knees as the Nazi commandant tries to shoot him in the head with a gun that repeatedly misfires, Jews are forced to strip and run around a compound in order to prove themselves healthy enough to live as workers, a soldier plays a piano in an apartment building as his comrades roam from room to room, randomly firing on men, women and children. …

Yet this is not a hopeless film. In fact, it is, in its own way, a very hopeful film, especially in its shamelessly sentimental climax.

Spielberg pulls no punches, and the film's R rating is deserved (for violence, nudity, sex and profanity). This material would be far too disturbing for children.

"Schindler's List" is also the film that should, by all rights, win Spielberg the Oscar. If ever there was a movie that had "best picture" written all over it, this is it.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

EVERYTHING OLD IS NEW AGAIN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

There are no new Hollywood holiday blockbusters opening this week as the box office takes a breather. Instead, we have three little art-house films and a number of revivals, led, of course, by “Schindler’s List.” In addition to such Christmas-themed shows as last year’s “The Man Who Invented Christmas” and the ’80s favorite “A Christmas Story,” there are several pictures coming back or raising their profiles to be remembered for end-of-the-year Oscar consideration, including as “The Wife,” “The Greatest Showman” and “A Star Is Born.”

“Schindler’s List: 25th Anniversary” (R). During World War II, businessman Oskar Schindler (Liam Neeson) begins to worry that his workforce in German-Occupied Poland will diminish as he comes to realize that German Nazis are exterminating the Jewish population. Steven Spielberg’s best film, a masterwork that is alternately disturbing and encouraging, beautifully photographed in black and white, wonderfully scored by John Williams and with a number of standout performances. (See review above.)

  

“Maria By Callas” (PG, in English, and in French and Italian with English subtitles). Filmmaker Tom Volf uses interviews with Maria Callas (who died in 1977 at age 53), as well as her personal letters and diaries (read by French actress Fanny Ardant), to allow her to tell her own story, without shying away from the revered opera singer’s reputation as the ultimate diva. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Burning” A struggling South Korean writer who takes care of his family’s farm runs into a woman he knew in school and she asks him to dinner. Afterward, she asks him to care for her cat while she’s on a trip to Africa. When she returns, she has a new friend, a moody, enigmatic fellow who may or may not be a serial killer. (Not Rated, in Korean with English subtitles). (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“The World Before Your Feet” (Not Rated). Although he’s not sure why, 37-year-old Matt Green has been walking every street in New York City for years, some 8,000 miles. This documentary shows how Green is intentionally homeless, staying with various friends, and has turned his journey into a sort of performance art that he documents with photographs.


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

DRAGNET

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: A parody of a classic radio/TV crime series, this spoof is spotty but also pretty funny, and it has a following, largely because of the pairing of its two stars (these days only those of us of a certain age remember the original programs). Now the comedy has received a Blu-ray upgrade from The Shout! Factory, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on June 28, 1987.

“Dragnet” is yet another in the string of incredibly uneven comedies we’ve had so far this summer, but like “Spaceballs,” “Beverly Hills Cop II,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and the rest, it boasts enough hearty laughs to be worthwhile.

As you no doubt know by now, Dan Aykroyd stars as Joe Friday, nephew of the character played by Jack Webb on the old radio and TV programs, and Aykroyd plays the character just as Webb did — straight-arrow, no tomfoolery, extremely deadpan. “Just the facts, m’am.”

Of course two hours of Aykroyd deadpanning incredibly complex dialogue in a monotone stream would get awfully weary by the first 20 minutes. So the screenwriters (one being Aykroyd himself) have cleverly teamed Friday up with Pep Streebeck, a typically sly, wiseacre smart aleck, womanizing Tom Hanks character, played, as fate would have it, by Tom Hanks.

The teaming allows Hanks to deflate Aykroyd’s pomposity and self-righteous attitude while the audience laughs at both of them. It’s a genius stroke and works very well.

     

    Dan Aykroyd, left, Tom Hanks, Harry Morgan, 'Dragnet'

Unfortunately, there are other aspects that don’t work quite as well, concessions to modern moviemaking that put “Dragnet” in the same league as “Beverly Hills Cop II” so far as explosions, violence (minus “Cop II’s” blood), car chases and gratuitous nudity are concerned. In this case there’s even a rap-music version of the classic “Dragnet” theme to contend with.

But the script is clever and there are enough delightful moments to make “Dragnet” worth it all.

The main story is the relationship between the new LAPD partners, with Friday attempting to straighten out Streebeck while Streebeck attempts to loosen up Friday. Along the way they are investigating strange thefts and attempted murder by a cult know as “P.A.G.A.N.” That’s “People Against Goodness and Normalcy,” of course.

Meanwhile there are subplots galore, with PAGAN stealing a run of porn magazines from publisher Dabney Coleman, who speaks with the most outrageous Southern-lisping accent you’ve ever heard. And linked with PAGAN also is the good reverend Christopher Plummer, also doing an outrageous comic bit, complete with an evil little giggle. Not exactly Capt. Von Trapp.

Then there’s the virgin Connie Swail (Alexandra Paul) … well, you’ll understand if you see the picture.

One of the nicest touches is to have Harry Morgan play Capt. Bill Gannon, promoted from the role Morgan played for three years on TV with Jack Webb.

     

For the first two-thirds or so, and then again for the final 10 minutes, “Dragnet” is hilarious spoofery, and Aykroyd and Hanks are great together.

When the special effects and stunt guys take over, the movie becomes just another shoot-’em-up, car chase, crash-and-burn epic, causing the film to sag. Fortunately, however, momentum manages to pick up again.

First-time director Tom Mankiewicz, a screenwriter whose credits include “Superman,” “Ladyhawke” and a couple of James Bond pictures, does an admirable job of imitating the style of the old “Dragnet” program most of the way, and the actors perform well under his hand.

And the script, written by Aykroyd, Mankiewicz and Alan Zweibel (a TV writer with two excellent cable programs in his credits, “It’s Garry Shandling’s Show” and “Not Necessarily the News”), has some wonderfully witty dialogue, though it’s a bit soft on supporting characters and sight gags.

It’s hit and miss but on the whole “Dragnet” offers a lot of laughs.

The film is rated PG-13, which seems rather tame for the amount of vulgarity and sex jokes it contains; there is also violence and a barroom nude scene.


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

A CHRISTMAS STORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Regal Theater in Taylorsville is showing holiday flicks each Saturday through December. This week, on Saturday, Dec. 8, at noon, it’s ‘A Christmas Story.’ Here’s my review, which was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 1983.

Frankly I prefer Jean Shepherd’s original title for this work, “In God We Trust, All Others Pay Cash.” Despite that bit of carping, however, “A Christmas Story” is a wonderfully nostalgic, lighthearted movie that manages to capture an amazing amount of truth in its episodic telling.

This film is like a compilation of Deseret News “Christmas I Remember Best” stories, spun with the gently humorous yet biting talent of Shepherd, as he narrates them himself for the screen.

The main storyline has to do with young Ralphie (Peter Billingsley), a 9-year-old boy living in Indiana during the early 1940s. Ralphie wants nothing more for Christmas than a Red Ryder air gun, and his efforts to convince his parents it won’t put his eye out provide the film’s binding thread.

There are dozens of wonderful moments in this film, and having Shepherd narrate is a brilliant touch, as he manages to verbally evoke his writing style, a grand juxtaposition of words that make the stories even brighter.

There is Ralphie being picked on by the local bully, until he finally fights back, and the way in which his mother (Melinda Dillon) handles it.

     

Ralphie (Peter Billingsley) isn't sure about sitting on the lap of Santa (Jeff Gillen) in 'A Christmas Story.'

There’s Ralphie’s little brother being bundled up so snugly for the harsh weather that he can hardly move, eventually falling on his back and being stuck like a turtle.

There’s Ralphie’s father (Darren McGavin), whose frustrations in dealing with the ever-troubled basement furnace result in some most unique profanities, leading to Ralphies’ accidentally uttering “the queen-mother” of such phrasing. The subsequent, predictable punishment is hilariously dealt with.

Probably the funniest, truest moment, however, comes when Ralphie confronts a department store Santa with his request for an air rifle.

To elaborate any further about these vignettes would be to give away the warm and funny surprises that await you with this film. Suffice it to say, “A Christmas Story,” rated PG for a few profanities, is well worth seeing and will doubtless become a holiday regular.

My one real complaint about this film is the direction by Bob Clark (“Porky’s”), which is occasionally too heavy-handed. There are plenty of funny, charming moments, but there are also scenes that would have benefited from a lighter touch. Had a director with a better feel for comedy been behind “A Christmas Story,” this could have been a genuine classic, instead of merely a good, entertaining film.

     

Ian Petrella, left, Peter Billingsley, Melinda Dillon, Darren McGavin, 'A Christmas Story'

But Shepherd’s material shines through and the actors are uniformly marvelous. In many ways, this film hangs on the performances of several children, and if the casting had been wrong, the film probably could have faltered along the way.

But Billingsley is the ultimate in charming children, and the other kids are equally good. They all seem very real, as do the parents. McGavin is obviously relishing his role, and he and Dillon work very well together, perfectly realizing our image of 1940s parents.

I personally think Dillon is one of our finest actresses, and to examine her range, consider the mother she plays here as compared to the one she played in “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.” They couldn’t be more different, yet both ring absolutely true.

If you are familiar with the three PBS programs that adapted Shepherd’s work some years ago, you may recognize some of the episodes here (especially the lamp McGavin wins in a contest), but no matter. This kind of humor is really better for being familiar.

“A Christmas Story” is a biting satire of Americana but it is also gentle, funny and warm. And I suspect this one will also be a very popular film.


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

THE PUPPET MASTERS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 7, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it’s not the best adaptation of a sci-fi classic novel, ‘The Puppet Masters’ struck a chord with enough fans to warrant a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. Here’s my review, published Oct. 23, 1994.

Not having read the source material for "The Puppet Masters," I can't speak to the film's faithfulness to Robert A. Heinlein's material. But the movie certainly resembles a lot of other sci-fi thrillers — "Invasion of the Body Snatchers," "The Hidden," "Alien," "Invaders From Mars," "The War of the Worlds” … to name just a few.

Undiscriminating fans of the genre will probably not be terribly disappointed, but this is certainly familiar territory.

The film begins like an expanded (and bigger-budget) episode of "The X-Files" as a team of scientists from a secret government agency race to the site of a reported UFO landing in a small Iowa town.

     

Will Patton, left, Julie Warner, Eric Thal, Richard Belzer, 'The Puppet Masters'

There, ornery team leader Donald Sutherland, his second-in-command (who also happens to be his son) Eric Thal, and scientist Julie Warner investigate and manage to capture an alien creature that is none too friendly.

These parasites from outer space attach themselves to human bodies (or hosts, if you will), take complete control of their brains by tapping into their spinal cords and then organize themselves to take over the world.

They multiply rapidly and are, to say the least, difficult to control. Early on, soldiers in an Army unit become hosts for the aliens before you can say “Rod Serling.”

The film's best moments come when the creatures take over the lead characters and their companions fight to bring them back alive. One stirring sequence has Thal, with the parasite on his back, in a sterile bubble where Sutherland alternately speaks to both his son and the alien.

     

Though there are feeble efforts to toss some intelligence into the mix, first-feature director Stuart Orme, and screenwriters Ted Elliott and Terry Rossio (Disney's animated "Aladdin") and David S. Goyer (Jean-Claude Van Damme's "Death Warrant") are really more interested in action, and they do keep the narrative moving. What the film really lacks, however, is a sense of humor. Everything is so deadpan serious that an element of camp occasionally creeps in.

Sutherland is, as usual, quite a commanding presence, and Keith David has some effective moments as the primary military man on the scene. And Warner and Thal are pretty good in the romantic leads.

But the talented Yaphet Kotto and comedian-actor Richard Belzer (who are co-stars in TV's "Homicide: Life on the Streets") are woefully underused.

"The Puppet Masters" is OK for die-hard sci-fi fans, so long as you don't expect too much.

The film is rated R for considerable mayhem and a fairly large body count, along with a few profanities and a nude scene (Thal in a shower).