Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

WHAT A SNEAK

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 19, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sneak previews in the old-fashioned sense are virtually a thing of the past these days, unless you live in Los Angeles. Sure, there are radio giveaways for free advance screenings, and there are early screenings the night before a film opens, but those hardly qualify. To explain, here’s a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column that ran in the Deseret News on May 22, 1983, under the headline, ‘Most “sneaks” aren’t so sneaky!’ The Tommy Lee Jones pirate movie, by the way, was ultimately titled “Nate and Hayes.” I gave it a positive review when it finally opened in November 1983, but it was a box-office flop.

When I was living in Southern California years ago, I used to love going to sneak previews, because they were really sneaks — unknown quantities shown on a Friday or Saturday evening with the regular show. The titles weren’t advertised, and often there was no information at all about the storyline or the stars. Going in, the audience had no idea what the film would be about.

The purpose of sneak previews back then was to determine audience reaction for further post-production work, to see if any scenes elicited the wrong reaction, or perhaps no reaction at all, and should be changed, or perhaps excised. Cards were often passed out asking the audience to rate the movie.

These days, however, sneaks are very different. Usually they are nothing more than promotional gimmicks designed to gear up the audience for a film’s opening a week or two later, and the advertising always gives the title and stars. The most recent examples of this include “WarGames” last week, and “Blue Thunder” for two weeks running, prior to its opening.

Those weren’t really sneak previews — they were advance screenings.

So it was kind of nice to see an honest-to-gosh sneak in a Salt Lake theater last weekend, a preview of a film that won’t open until August, a fairly rough print with edit marks still on some frames, and an audience that went in with little or no idea what it would see.

     

You could hardly have missed the ad for the event, as it was half a page Friday and a full page Saturday. All it said was “Move over Butch and Sundance, here come Bully Hayes and the Reverend. It’s the good guys at their best, bad guys at their worst and adventure at its highest . . . in an exciting new movie.” Then it had the logo of the distributor, Paramount Pictures, and of Plitt’s Crossroads Cinemas.

Because “Bully Hayes and the Reverend” was in large bold type, many people waiting to go into the theater Saturday thought that was the film’s title. And because of the “Move over Butch and Sundance” line, many more thought it was a Western, and probably a comedy.

Actually, the film was a pirate picture titled “Savage Islands,” an adventure film with comic overtones, similar in style to “Raiders of the Lost Ark” and starring Tommy Lee Jones, best known as Gary Gilmore in TV’s “The Executioner’s Song” and as Sissy Spacek’s husband in “Coal Miner’s Daughter.”

Paramount flew a goodly number of its executives in for the preview of one of its big summer films (and probably some skiing, as well) and the ads drew a big crowd, nearly filling the 546-seat theater.

     

Preceding the screening, someone told the crowd this was the first public U.S. showing, and that afterward another announcement would be made. When the film ended, Paramount execs asked that as many people as possible stay and fill out a survey form.

Cards with pencils were passed out, asking questions about the audience’s reaction, including particulars in the film and respondents’ background. I am not privy to the results of Paramount’s survey cards, of course, but it’s safe to say that the reaction was favorable, as most of the audience seemed to really get into the film, laughing at the wisecracks, thrilling at the action scenes and applauding when it was over.

Whether any cuts or changes will be made is anyone’s guess, but it’s clear that there’s an audience for unknown sneaks — and possibly for a return to the pirate genre, as well.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

ALIEN V. GUARDIANS

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 19, 2017

After two weeks in the top box-office spot, “Guardians of the Galaxy, Vol. 2” may be unseated by the latest in the “Alien” series this weekend, and on the family-friendly side, a new “Diary of a Wimpy Kid” movie also opens.

“Alien: Covenant” (R). Ridley Scott directs another film in the scary sci-fi/horror franchise, this time with a colony ship headed for a planet described as paradise when an accident derails their plans. Then a distress signal is received from another planet that appears to be inhabitable, so they head there. Bad idea. This sequel to “Prometheus” is the second entry in the “Alien” prequel series and the sixth “Alien” film. With Michael Fassbender, Katherine Waterston, Billy Crudup, Danny McBride and James Franco. In addition to Fassbender, Noomi Rapace and Guy Pearce also return from “Prometheus.”

“Diary of a Wimpy Kid: The Long Haul” (PG). Set one year after “Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days,” this entry in the franchise finds the Heffley family on a road trip to visit grandma on her 90th birthday, though Greg and Rodrick really want to attend a video game convention. Alicia Silverstone plays their mother. Although no one from the earlier “Wimpy Kid” movies shows up here, the filmmakers are calling this fourth film in the series a sequel, not a reboot, despite its coming five years after “Dog Days.”

“Everything, Everything” (PG-13). A teenage girl (Amandla Stenberg) lives a sheltered life in her home equipped with filtered air because she’s allergic to everything. But when a boy (Nick Robinson) moves in next door and they begin to communicate via email, she finds herself yearning for life beyond her restrictions. 

  

“Chuck” (R). True story of heavyweight boxer Chuck Wepner (Liev Schreiber), who fought Muhammad Ali (Pooch Hall) and was the inspiration for the Oscar-winning film “Rocky,” which starred and was written by Sylvester Stallone (Morgan Spector). With Elisabeth Moss, Jim Gaffigan, Michael Rapaport and Ron Perlman. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Norman” (R). Originally subtitled “The Moderate Rise and Tragic Fall of a New York Fixer,” this thriller follows smooth operator Norman Oppenheimer (Richard Gere), who befriends a prominent Israeli politician (Lior Ashkenazi), buys him an expensive pair of shoes, and then sees him rise to prominence three years later as Israel’s prime minister. With Michael Sheen, Steve Buscemi, Josh Charles and Charlotte Gainsbourg. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Obit” (Not Rated). Documentary about obituary writers at the New York Times who try to succinctly, and quickly write in 500 words the life stories of prominent people who have died. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

A LEAGUE OF THEIR OWN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 12, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Penny Marshall’s tribute to women baseball players of the 1940s has earned a new 25th anniversary Blu-ray release from Sony Home Entertainment, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on July 1, 1992.

The ensemble film "A League of Their Own" takes its cue from the real-life events surrounding the formation of the All American Girls Professional Baseball League in 1943, when it appeared that major league baseball might dry up because top players were being drafted during World War II. The result is an enjoyable, if lightweight comic fiction.

The story focuses on the memories of Dottie Hinson (Geena Davis) as she arrives at the Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown, N.Y., (where the league was finally inducted in 1988) and recalls her season with the Rockford Peaches the year the women's league was organized.

The bulk of the movie is comprised of this extended flashback, with the most interesting moments taking place in the first third or so, as we see the recruiting and try-out process, and the organization of teams. We also see examples of how, before the games even begin, these women are exploited by team owners who force them to wear short-skirt uniforms that make them look more like cheerleaders than ballplayers. "How am I going to slide in that outfit," one woman asks. And it isn't long before condescending national press coverage follows, with such pronouncements as, "They've traded their oven mitts for baseball mitts."

     

                 Geena Davis, 'A League of Their Own'

The earliest scenes also provide the film's biggest laughs, courtesy of a disgruntled, sarcastic baseball scout who grouses about everything, played to the hilt by Jon Lovitz. At once obnoxious and hilarious, Lovitz is right at home with a character that is much like those he played on "Saturday Night Live," except that this one is better written. He's a riot, but then he's gone — all too soon — and the film is never quite as funny again.

The primary characters here are Dottie, her highly competitive younger sister Kit (Lori Petty), who feels that she's spent her entire life living in Dottie's shadow, and the team's manager, an over-the-hill, alcoholic former baseball star named Jimmy Dugan, surprisingly well-played by Tom Hanks in an offbeat bit of casting.

Dugan is recruited by the owner of the team, candy-bar tycoon Walter Harvey (Garry Marshall). Dugan tells Harvey he's not drinking anymore, "because I can't afford to," but, of course, he shows up drunk, surly and only half-awake for the team's first game. So it is up to Dottie, who is married, and more mature and levelheaded than the other women on the team, to take over and organize things.

Other team members include "All the Way" Mae (Madonna), the team's token "loose girl"; Mae's boisterous best friend Doris (Rosie O'Donnell); a plain-Jane powerhouse hitter named Marla Hooch (Megan Cavanagh); and assorted other young women with a variety of personal problems that will be resolved by the final reel.

     

Tom Hanks tells Bitty Schram 'There's no crying in baseball.'

Once the games begin in earnest, the film settles into a predictable story line — and in the end, the sisters will resolve their differences, the other players will overcome their problems, and the manager will shed his male chauvinism and start to care about his team.

The entire cast is good, with many of the actresses who play teammates giving a genuine boost to underwritten characters. Special kudos to Davis and Hanks. And someone really missed a bet by not bringing Lovitz back into the picture now and again.

In the end, "A League of Their Own" settles for light humor, soft characterizations and sentimental resolutions. It's bound to find an audience that will be happy with what it has to offer, but it's a shame the real potential here wasn't better tapped by screenwriters Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel ("City Slickers," "Parenthood," "Splash") and director Penny Marshall ("Awakenings," "Big").

On the whole, it is a pleasant diversion that should have been more.

"A League of Their Own" is rated PG for a fairly steady stream of vulgar dialogue, along with some profanity and violence.


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

FULL METAL JACKET

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May19, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Kubrick’s incredibly intense Vietnam-era military drama will be shown in the Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden on Tuesday, June 6. Here’s my review, which ran in the Deseret News on July 10, 1987. And, of course, my Oscar predictions at the end of the review were way off base: one nomination, for the screenplay.

Stanley Kubrick movies are events, no getting around it.

When a filmmaker of his stature makes a film only every seven or eight years, his fans tend to look forward to each venture with great expectations.

He doesn’t always live up to what we hope for, but even Kubrick’s less successful films — “The Shining,” for example — have so many fascinating elements about them that movie buffs inevitably return to them.

And his best films — “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001 — A Space Odyssey” — are classics.

“Full Metal Jacket,” Kubrick’s dissertation on the Vietnam War, is an oddly structured film, essentially in three parts. The sum of those parts may not add up to a classic, but the parts themselves are composed of powerful filmmaking, particularly the final third.

Kubrick has taken a different approach than “Platoon,” so comparisons, though inevitable, are not really valid. Where Oliver Stone followed a rich kid who volunteered for combat and showed us how the war changed him, Kubrick follows his main character — a recruit who becomes a Stars and Stripes reporter — almost incidentally. There is some voice-over narration, but it’s limited, rather stilted and unnecessary. That, however, is where the resemblances end.

     

            Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, 'Full Metal Jacket'

“Full Metal Jacket” begins in boot camp. You may think you’ve seen it all before, but you haven’t. Not like this.

Though the aforementioned main character, Joker (Matthew Modine), is prominent early on, the showstoppers are Vincent D’Onofrio as “Gomer Pyle” and Lee Ermey as the drill instructor. There is little dialogue exchanged here, the soundtrack being filled instead with the obscenities of the D.I. as he puts his troops through the rigors of basic training.

The boot camp portrayed here reveals more realistically than any movie I’ve ever seen the combination of comedy and tragedy, humor and heartbreak that make up that eight-to-12 week experience. And the end of this segment is a shocker.

Then we follow Joker to Vietnam, where his character is established as a conflicting mix of rebel, trooper, peace-lover and killer. But gradually one of the Marines in his group takes over our attention, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin).

And before long this latter third of the film takes us to the destroyed city of Hue during the Tet Offensive, as this rat-tag bunch of sad sacks find themselves without a leader. The chaos that ensues as they are confronted with a sniper is as powerful a piece of filmmaking as you are likely to see on the subject. It reveals incredibly well the sense of young boys playing war — for keeps — and the difficulty of making decisions in the ultimate stress situation.

     

Matthew Modine, left, Stanley Kubrick, on the 'Full Metal Jacket' set.

“Full Metal Jacket” has its flaws, but Kubrick’s technical prowess is so overwhelming that those flaws seem largely unimportant. His characters may be underdeveloped, the story may meander from time to time, but the overall picture of the horror of war is clear, and the power with which it is told is at once repugnant and compelling.

Rated R for extreme violence and profanity, “Full Metal Jacket” would seem to round out a trilogy of war films by Kubrick — “Paths of Glory,” about the insanity of World War I; “Dr. Strangelove,” about the insanity of nuclear war; and now “Full Metal Jacket.”

Summer seems an odd time to release a movie of this intensity, but maybe it’s just what we need in the midst of all the standard silly movies out right now.

And you can bet on Baldwin, D’Onofrio and Ermey as strong contenders for next year’s Oscar race.


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

THE HANDMAID’S TALE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 12, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Margaret Atwood’s sci-fi thriller has been adapted as a 10-episode series that is now running on Hulu, but there was also a movie version, released just five years after the book’s publication, and that one has just received a Blu-ray upgrade by the Shout! Factory. Here’s my review of the film, which ran in the Deseret News on March 23, 1990.

The problem with big-budget genre films featuring star talent is that often they are made by talented directors who seem to have no understanding of the simple basics of the genre with which they are dealing.

An example that immediately leaps to mind is Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s “The Shining,” starring Jack Nicholson. It’s not the worst horror film in the world but it’s also hardly up to the talent involved.

That also seems to describe “The Handmaid’s Tale,” an effort by director Volker Schlondorff and screenwriter Harold Pinter to adapt Margaret Atwood’s novel to the screen. There are worse science-fiction films around but the talent involved here justifiably builds one’s expectations.

Some may feel the whole notion of the story is wrong-headed with its view of an American society in the “near future” where sterility is so rampant that fertile females are imprisoned and brainwashed to become concubines. Their only function in life is to bear children, and at one point we hear quoted the Old Testament story of Jacob, Rachel and her “handmaid” Bilhah (from Genesis, chapter 30).

     

Robert Duvall, Natasha Richardson, 'The Handmaid's Tale'

So how does an entire society, hot on the heels of the women’s rights movement, become so oppressive toward women? And why is this atmosphere of “1984” so rampant with religious overtones? There is no satisfactory explanation.

Assuming you buy into the premise, there’s still a lot more you must accept on face value. Why, for example, when brainwashing techniques so obviously fail to convert some subjects — such as Natasha Richardson and her best friend (Elizabeth McGovern, as a hard-edged lesbian stereotype) — do they allow them to continue the exercises?

The film follows Richardson, who is “assigned” to the home of a top government official (Robert Duvall) and his wife (Faye Dunaway). Naturally, Dunaway resents Richardson and Duvall lusts after her. But because Duvall’s sexual encounters with Richardson are closely monitored by Dunaway, he steals some private time. And what do Duvall and Richardson do during their moments together? They play Scrabble. Honest!

Later, it is revealed that Duvall may be the sterile one (men are never medically examined for sterilization, it seems) and if Richardson fails to conceive she’ll be in big trouble. Meanwhile, there’s a romantic subplot between Richardson and Duvall’s chauffeur, Aidan Quinn, who may or may not be a part of an underground revolution that’s building up.

     

Natasha Richardson, left, Elizabeth McGovern, 'Handmaid's Tale'

There’s an interesting allegory in here somewhere, but Schlondorff, whose films include the odd but intriguing “Tin Drum,” never finds it. And Pinter’s script, surprisingly, is without any depth or logic. That becomes especially clear when the film’s final quarter turns into a routine thriller and the last scene is an idiotic attempt at a happy-ending wrap-up. Given all that has gone before, this is a particularly sappy idea.

“The Handmaid’s Tale” is a real mess. The fine cast tries hard but often just looks uncomfortable, especially Duvall. If it’s true he gave up a role in the upcoming “The Godfather, Part III” for this, he has reason to look uncomfortable.

The film is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.