IMPLAUSIBLE v IMPOSSIBLE
Kurt Russell, Peter Fonda, 'Escape from L.A.' (1996)
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: With this column, published in the Deseret News on Sept. 22, 1996, I find the most amusing observation in the final paragraph, where I ask, ‘Am I getting old? … ’ If I was ‘getting old’ 23 years ago, what am I now? Yikes! Although the specific examples used here are movies that are largely forgotten (but still have a fan base and are widely available from various outlets), the sentiment remains true. In fact, if anything, modern movies have become exponentially more moronic in the 21st century.
Let's call them "moron moments" - and in some cases, entire "moron movies."
The kind of films where things happen that are so implausible, so illogical, so ill-advised that we tend to roll our eyes, or scratch our heads, or find the words, "Oh, come on!" coming out of our mouths.
In truth, of course, nearly all movies have certain far-fetched elements. But if we like a particular movie, we are apt to be more forgiving. Or maybe we just don't think about it too much.
After all, if we were fed nothing but plots, scenes and dialogue exchanges that resembled what we encounter in our own everyday lives, how dull would that be?
Take, for example, "John Carpenter's Escape from L.A.," when the characters played by Kurt Russell and Peter Fonda jump on their surfboards to ride out a tidal wave alongside a Los Angeles freeway.
Ridiculous? Of course. And if you found that film too dumb to get into, you probably hated that sequence. But if you enjoyed the picture, you probably laughed and just went along with it.
So, "moron movies" are those that offer scenes or plot elements that are so over the top, so wildly ludicrous that we not only refuse to suspend disbelief, we get downright angry at the movie for insulting us.
— In the first of many brutal, blow-away-the-bad-guys sequences in "Last Man Standing," Bruce Willis draws and fires both of his shoulder-holster handguns to kill one villain. He clearly gets the guy with the first shot, but he continues to pump round after round into the body as it jolts and jerks and ultimately flies through a plate-glass window, then rolls into a back-flip before flopping onto the street. (And how many rounds do these anachronistic handguns carry in each clip … hundreds?)
— Halle Berry, as "The Rich Man's Wife," is suspected of hiring someone to kill her wealthy husband. As the film opens, she begins to tell two police detectives her side of the story. Then the film goes into a flashback, which lasts for the length of the movie, until a surprise twist ending. But during the course of the film, we see how her husband was brutally killed, how a friend of hers met with the killer and how the detectives investigated the murder — all of which she could not possibly have witnessed. So, how is she able to relate these events to the police?
— At the end of "Extreme Measures" (which opens next week) a woman in a wheelchair sheds a tear when a doctor says he's not sure it's a good idea to kill people so that others may lead a more productive life. In other words, because he can't condone murder for the sake of medical research, she gets weepy.
— "Bulletproof" has undercover cop Damon Wayans being shot in the head by his best friend, a crook played by Adam Sandler. As a result, Wayans has a metal plate surgically implanted and goes through arduous physical therapy to learn how to walk again. No time frame is given for his recovery, but it is played as if it takes only a few weeks (if not days). Yet, logic tells us he had to go through this process for many months. And all the while, Sandler is a fugitive. After Wayans is released from the hospital and returns to police work, Sandler is finally arrested. How is he caught? Two highway patrolmen spot him in his car, which is illegally parked on the side of a deserted highway. It's an open convertible and he is sleeping in the front seat, in a drunken stupor, covered with beer cans. Do you suppose he's been sleeping there throughout Wayans' rehabilitation? Then there's the revelation that Wayans' physical therapist for his entire recovery period, who has also become his girlfriend, is actually a mole planted by the bad guys!
— A married woman (Jennifer Aniston) visits her parents in "She's the One" and gets into a detailed conversation about their respective sex lives … which is initiated by the parents! In fact, everyone seems to talk about their sex lives with everyone else in this movie! (Am I getting old, or isn't this still a private subject?)
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019
Two sequel fantasies — one rated R and the other PG — are the major-studio films new theaters this weekend, along with a pair of low-budget documentaries at Salt Lake’s downtown art house.
“Maleficent: Mistress of Evil” (PG). Angelina Jolie returns as the title character in this sequel to the 2014 fantasy aimed at a youth audience, this time pitting her against Michelle Pfeiffer as a queen who attempts to divide fairies and humans, which also causes Princess Aurora (Elle Fanning) to take sides against Maleficent in the impending war. With Chiwetel Ijiofor, Imelda Staunton and Warwick Davis.
“Zombieland: Double Tap” (R). Sequel to the 2009 violent zombie comedy with Woody Harrelson, Jesse Eisenberg, Emma Stone and Abigail Breslin, all of whom return for this story of the team joining with a band of vigilante zombie killers in a dystopian future America. With Rosario Dawson, Zoey Deutch and Luke Wilson.
“Becoming Nobody” (Not Rated). Interviews and archival recordings of his presentations tell the story of clinical psychologist and self-styled spiritual teacher Ram Daas (now age 88) in this documentary about his life and the primary focus of his instruction. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Miles Davis: Birth of Cool” (Not Rated). Documentary biography of the legendary musician (who died in 1991 at age 65), a trumpeter, bandleader and composer who was at the forefront of rapidly changing styles of jazz during five decades of the 20th century. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
THE ADDAMS FAMILY
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: With the new animated ‘Addams Family’ feature in theaters, let’s take a look at Charles Addams’ cartoon characters when they were successfully transferred to live-action film (well after the ’60s TV sitcom) with two hit movies in the 1990s. Both are now on Blu-ray for the first time, separately and in a double pack. Here’s my review of the first film, published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 1991. The second film’s review will be in this space next week.
The first thing that strikes you about "The Addams Family" is the casting. "Inspired" is the only word: Anjelica Huston as Morticia, Raul Julia as Gomez and Christopher Lloyd as Uncle Fester are perfect. Surprisingly, however, the best of all may be young Christina Ricci as daughter Wednesday, whose deadpan delivery is unsurpassed.
The second thing is a sense of surprise that Tim Burton, whose "Beetlejuice" would seem to be as much a model for this film as the Charles Addams cartoons or the old TV sitcom, was not hired to direct.
Instead, "The Addams Family" marks the directing debut of Barry Sonnenfeld, an innovative cinematographer whose jazziest work includes "Misery," "Raising Arizona" and "Three O'Clock High."
For those unfamiliar with the Addamses, suffice it to say this is a typical American family turned on its ear. They embrace everything dark, deadly and monstrous, and live in a dilapidated "old dark house."
Anjelica Huston, Raul Julia, 'The Addams Family' (1991)
When Morticia is put on the rack and tortured she looks at her torturer and says seductively, "You've done this before." When a Girl Scout approaches Wednesday's lemonade stand and asks if it's made with real lemons, Wednesday responds by asking if her cookies are made with real Girl Scouts. And when Sally Jesse Raphael does a TV show on cults, Gomez calls in and asks where they meet.
Everything in their realm is haunted, from the bearskin rug that attacks a passer-by to the front gate with a mind of its own to the clinging vines along the house that wrap up intruders. The Addamses even have their own private backyard cemetery.
Eccentric to be sure, "The Addams Family" may take a little getting used to by some members of the audience but once you get into its rhythm this is very funny stuff.
There is a story, though it's little more than an excuse to string together a series of hilarious, very dark jokes — from one-liners to elaborate sight gags. But for the record, it involves Gomez preparing for his annual seance, intended to seek information on his long-lost brother Fester. Meanwhile, his sleazy attorney finds a Fester-imposter in a plot to steal the Addams' cache of gold doubloons.
But the story doesn't really matter. What matters is the laugh quotient, which is very high.
Christina Ricci, left, Christopher Lloyd, Jimmy Workman, 'The Addams Family' (1991)
And how did they do "Thing," the disembodied hand that runs around like a spider on speed? The special effects that bring the hand alive are remarkable, but equally startling is how well the hand expresses fright, nervousness, boredom — you name it. (Is there an Oscar category for acting appendages?)
And though it may sound odd, I was also impressed by the passion Gomez and Morticia show for each other. True, this is a campy setting but how many long-married people do we see in movies these days who are truly in love with each other?
"The Addams Family" is too dark for very young ones — especially a scene where the children, Wednesday and Pugsley, perform on stage in classic Grand Guignol fashion. But older kids and parents should have a great time — especially if you kick your sense of humor into the "sick" mode.
It is rated PG-13 for comic violence — including the aforementioned stage scene with a lot of phony blood — and a couple of mild profanities.
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.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Of all the many theatrical-movie adaptations of popular television programs, this one is the undisputed champ, one of those pictures that just gets better with each viewing. And now you can see it on the big screen once again, courtesy of the ‘Megaplex Theaters 2019 Classics’ series. You can catch it at various Megaplex theaters around Utah on Monday and Wednesday, Oct. 21 and 23, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review, published Aug. 19, 1993, in the Deseret News. (Because I reviewed the movie after it had been playing for a week, my hook was that it had been helmed by a new hot director, but, sadly, while Andrew Davis made a few serviceable thrillers in subsequent years he never came close to duplicating the success he achieved here.)
This review is late, of course. Your friendly neighborhood movie critic has been on vacation.
So, you probably already know that national critics are doing back flips over "The Fugitive." That Harrison Ford delivers an excellent performance as the title character. That Tommy Lee Jones gets all the good lines and delivers them expertly as the U.S. marshal in pursuit.
But you may not know that "The Fugitive" introduces a new star on the rise, one who deserves just as much attention as Ford and Jones.
Andrew Davis. Remember that name. And when you see it on his next film — especially if it's an action picture — remember that it's worth a look.
Davis is the director of "The Fugitive," and much of the film's success comes from his stylish structuring and catch-your-breath pacing.
Davis' earlier work includes what national critics have called "the best Chuck Norris movie" ("Code of Silence") and "the best Steven Seagal movie" ("Under Siege"). Those were serviceable action pictures with bland stars and routine, rip-off scripts.
Tommy Lee Jones, 'The Fugitive'
But with "The Fugitive," Davis has managed to land a workable screenplay by Jeb Stuart ("Die Hard") and David Twohy ("Warlock") and two lead actors whose screen charisma and acting ability are established.
The result is a first-rate blend of Davis' talent for staging exciting action scenes, bolstered by characters we care about and clever, witty dialogue.
Not bad for an update of a beloved ’60s television series, which was itself pretty good for its day.
The familiar story has Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) accused of murdering his wife (Sela Ward) and ultimately convicted of the crime, despite his protestations that a man with one arm was the real killer.
In the television show, Kimble (played by David Janssen) was a pediatrician in Stafford, Ind. After being freed in a train wreck, Kimble crisscrossed the country searching for the one-armed man, while the relentless Inspector Gerard (Barry Morse) pursued him.
The movie reworks Kimble's character as a Chicago surgeon, and instead of running around the country he stays in the Chicago area, with Gerard (Jones) in hot pursuit.
The train wreck is also reworked, into a train-bus accident — and it's a spectacular sequence. In fact, the audience may be forgiven for wondering if the rest of the film might be a letdown. But it's not. Davis cranks it to full force in the film's first few minutes and never lets up.
There have been comparisons to Hitchcock by other critics, and that's understandable. "The Fugitive," though more obviously derived from Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," owes a lot to Hitch's man-on-the-run and twist-the-plot motifs. About two-thirds into this film, it suddenly switches from chase movie to murder mystery — and then back again. And it works.
Also like many Hitchcock films, "The Fugitive" has holes in its plotting that are easy to pick apart and characters that are pretty thin, bolstered by the performances of seasoned vets who know how to lend heft to their roles.
Yet, the film is so stylish, so funny and so heart-stopping in its suspense that the audience simply doesn't care about flaws.
"The Fugitive" is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 18, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Although ‘Scarface’ has its fans, most critics find it wanting. Including me. But since the film has recently made its 4K Blu-ray debut, here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 11, 1983.
Toward the end of “Scarface,” Al Pacino sticks his face into a huge mound of cocaine on his desk and snorts like a hungry hog. The moment is meant to show just how ridiculously excessive the Cuban refugee-cum-kingpin’s life has become. But it also typifies the movie’s excesses, which are so extreme they occasionally take on tones of parody.
And at the very end of the film, there is a dedication — to Howard Hawks and Ben Hecht, the respective director and writer of the original 1932 “Scarface,” with Paul Muni. That seems especially ironic, since the first film was a prime example of tight scripting and directing by Hecht and Hawks respectively. But the 1983 “Scarface,” with script by Oliver Stone (“Midnight Express,” “The Hand”) and direction by Brian De Palma (“Dressed to Kill,” “Carrie”), is so loosely structured it’s flabby.
The problems are many in this film, and it’s hard not to wonder if they might have been diminished had the film been pared down from its nearly three-hour running time to somewhere between 90 minutes and two hours. If that had happened maybe we wouldn’t notice so much the superficiality of it all, the illogical progression and the simple-minded stereotypes.
Because “Scarface” is so ambitious, and aspires so strongly to be something great its many failures become more obvious. And since Pacino is the star, and the genre is the gangster film, comparisons to “The Godfather” films become impossible to avoid.
But where “The Godfather” films succeeded, aside from the obvious benefits of Coppola-Puzo and an incredibly talented cast, was in the dignity of its “family” structure. We could identify with these people, though we obviously could not condone their actions.
And in the old Cagney-Bogart gangster films, about a single man’s rise in organized crime, the characters always had some redeeming feature, some element — whether Cagney’s love for his mother, or some minor vulnerability in Bogey — that added a certain amount of humanism.
Pacino’s “Scarface” is a total scumbag from Frame 1, and that might be OK but for the fact that there isn’t a single other person in the film with whom you can sympathize. The only person Pacino cares for is his sister and he seems to harbor incestuous feelings toward her.
Pacino’s performance is also curious. Constantly sullen with a deeply downturned mouth, and an accent that sounds like Jose Jiminez, Pacino skulks across the screen, muttering, bullying, yet never really becoming a frightening or larger-than-life character, as is obviously intended.
The film takes him from his flight to the United States through his murderous entrance into the world of drug-running in Miami and eventual status as a kingpin to be reckoned with. But most of this is so rapid that it becomes idiotic and the character never seems strong enough to warrant his rise in infamy.
Worse, his eventual downfall is totally unbelievable as it results from his refusing to kill a wife and children along with a “hit” victim. A noble gesture but it comes out of the blue from a character that has heretofore been utterly ruthless and uncaring, even about those closest to him.
Despite lapses, Pacino does put a lot of energy into his performance, and De Palma is as stylish and technically refined, if heavy-handed, a director as always.
But the film is ultimately just too empty to care about.
As to the X rating this film originally received, it seems much ado about nothing. Yes, the film is very violent. Yes, it literally rains blood and hails bullets, and yes, a new record has been set for the use of profanity in a single film. But I’ve seen worse examples of blood and gore that have always managed to walk away with an R rating. “Scarface” also has sex and nudity, as you might expect.
If hype, hoopla and controversy mean box-office dollars, “Scarface” will probably be a major hit. But in terms of quality, it is a major disappointment.