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MAKE IT RAIN DARK WATERS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The new film ‘Dark Waters’ that opens in theaters this weekend reminded me of a similar film, though unlike ‘Dark Waters,’ ‘The Rainmaker’ is fictional. Still, it might get you in the mood for another idealistic lawyer taking on a big corporation, and ‘The Rainmaker’ is readily available on DVD and various streaming sites. My review was published on Nov. 27, 1997, in the Deseret news.

In some ways, "John Grisham's The Rainmaker" plays not like a made-for-television movie — but like two made-for-television movies.

The main and most compelling story is a courtroom drama that pits a young, idealistic Memphis lawyer named Rudy Baylor (Matt Damon) against a huge insurance corporation, David-and-Goliath style.

Second to that is the story of the lawyer's relationship with a tragic young woman (Claire Danes) who is continually abused by her vicious husband.

Both are utterly predictable, and the second, in particular, brings nothing new to the table. (What it does offer is Danes, whose performance is sweet and touching, even when everything she does is overly familiar.)

     

     Claire Danes, Matt Damon, 'The Rainmaker'

The courtroom drama centers around the plight of a dirt-poor family whose son is dying of leukemia but whose claim has been denied by a heartless insurance company.

The company's high-rolling legal team is led by the renowned, if pompous Leo F. Drummond (Jon Voight), who is sure he can easily stomp on Rudy and his streetwise assistant Deck Shifflet (Danny DeVito). What he doesn't count on is Rudy and Deck's tenacity — they believe in their clients and just won't let go.

As written and directed by Francis Ford Coppola (who stumbled last year with "Jack"), Grisham's novel never rises above its pulp roots, but the film is nonetheless slick and entertaining — and boasts some wonderful performances from its all-star cast. (Rudy's voiceover narration was written by Michael Herr in a way that is both clever and witty and which logically pushes the story along.)

     

  Danny DeVito, left, Matt Damon, 'The Rainmaker'

Damon is sincere and natural in the lead, DeVito brings some wonderful energy to the proceedings, Voight is appropriately smarmy as the opposing counsel, unbilled Danny Glover is dignified and warm as the judge and Mary Kay Place is heartbreaking as the leukemia victim's mother. (Johnny Whitworth, as her son, and Red West, as her nearly mute husband, are also quite good.) Roy Scheider as the insurance company's CEO and Randy Travis as a volatile juror, however, seem more like stunt casting.

In the end, this is crowd-pleasing entertainment. A little long (it doesn't need to run more than two hours) and overly predictable, but amusing and emotionally rewarding.

"John Grisham's The Rainmaker" is rated PG-13 for violence and some profanity.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

THROUGH A SCREEN DARKLY

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

“Dark Waters” and “Waves” give us some Oscar bait this week, while “The Aeronauts” appears to be pure entertainment. Nothing wrong with that.

“Dark Waters” (PG-13). An attorney (Mark Ruffalo) working for a big-city firm that defends giant corporations discovers some disturbing truths about one of his clients, DuPont, which has been allowing dangerously polluted seepage to enter the water systems of West Virginia farmland. Based on a 2016 true story published in New York Times Magazine. With Anne Hathaway, Tim Robbins, Victor Garber, Mare Winningham and Bill Pullman.

“The Aeronauts” (PG-13). In 1862 a daredevil balloon pilot (Felicity Jones) and a pioneering meteorologist (Eddie Redmayne, playing a real-life character) attempt to fly higher than anyone has ever gone in an effort to learn more about weather. With Himesh Patel and Tom Courtenay.

  

“Waves” (R). A high school senior on the wrestling team self-medicates when he develops a physical problem so he won’t disappoint his well intentioned but domineering father, and his life becomes more complicated when his girlfriend discovers she is pregnant, which ultimately leads to tragedy and a road to forgiveness. With Kevin Harrison Jr. Lucas Hedges, Taylor Russell and Sterling K. Brown.

“Frankie” (PG-13, in English and in French with English subtitles). Isabelle Huppert and Marisa Tomei star in this exploration of three generations of a European family that comes together in Portugal, where family dynamics prove to be uncomfortable. With Greg Kinnear and Brendan Gleeson.(Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

  

“Knives and Skin” (PG-13). The eccentric populace of a small Midwestern town reacts in different ways to the news that a young high school student has disappeared in this psychological thriller that takes come cues from “Twin Peaks.”

“The Islands” (PG-13). Chiefess Kapiolani embraces Christianity and helps spread the word throughout the Hawaiian Islands circa 1823 with the help of Baptist missionaries. Mira Sorvino is the most recognizable cast member in this Christian film. (Exclusively at the Regal Crossroads Theaters.)

“Playmobil: The Movie” (Not Rated). A girl enters a fanciful world to find her younger brother in this English-language French-animated feature, which is based on a German building toy but looks like a “Lego Movie” knock-off. Voice-cast members include Jim Gaffigan, Daniel Radcliffe, Adam Lambert and Kenan Thompson.

  

“Rising Free” (PG-13). A young woman on the run in the wilds of Oregon in the late 1800s is taken in by a kindly pioneer family, but soon enough her past catches up with her. (Exclusively at the Regal Crossroads Theaters.)

“The Whistleblower” (Not Rated, in English and in Mandarin with English subtitles). After a fatal accident a Chinese expat working for a mining company in Australia learns that he company’s new technology may be come with health risks, so he investigates to learn the truth. (Exclusively at the AMC West Jordan Theaters.)

“En Brazos de un Asesino” (R, in Spanish with English subtitles). An assassin for hire comes to a drug lord’s lair to collect his pay and meets a woman who’s been imprisoned there for nine years. When she hides in his car to escape, the hitman discover his conscience in this thriller from the Dominican Republic (Exclusively at the Megaplex Valley Fair Mall Theaters.)


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

ROBOCOP

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original ‘RoboCop’ has received the ‘special-edition’ treatment from the boutique label Arrow. Here’s my review, published July 17, 1987.

OK, a warning up front: “RoboCop” is the most violent movie to come along in some time. It’s rather numbing in fact, with its penchant for gore and extreme bloodletting (no one takes a bullet here without a lot of goo splurting out of the bullet hole). This one is not for youngsters.

At the same time, however, “RoboCop” is funny and exciting, a rapid-fire action picture portraying a very bleak near-future, played out with humorous, if extremely dark satire. This is sort of an urban “Rambo” by way of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Actually there are a lot of movies that “RoboCop” calls to mind – most prominently “The Terminator,” but you may also recognize bits and pieces of “Westworld” and “Futureworld,” “Blade Runner,” “Brainstorm,” “Escape from New York,” “Future Cop” and even “The Toxic Avenger.”

It is the near future; the setting is Old Detroit, depicted as being overrun with crime and beginning to resemble Beirut. Peter Weller (ol’ “Buckaroo Banzai” himself) is a dedicated cop and family man on his first day in a new precinct — the worst in town, of course.

     

       Karen Allen, Peter Weller, 'RoboCop' (1987)

He is teamed up with tough-but-cute Nancy Allen: We know she’s tough because her first scene has her beating up a slimeball in the police station and we know she’s cute because as soon as she finishes beating the guy to a pulp, she pulls off her helmet and throws her head back in that “Flashdance”-ish “Gee, aren’t you surprised I’m a woman instead of man” manner.

It’s their first day together and they find themselves in hot pursuit of Detroit’s worst evildoers. But after following them to an abandoned warehouse the tables are turned and Weller is tortured and killed. (Reportedly it is this scene that required heavy editing to keep the film from getting an X rating for violence.)

To the world Weller is dead but to Security Concepts Inc. he is about to become a prototype of their new cyborg policeman, “RoboCop,” an invincible supercop that  will clean up the crime-ridden town to make way for the building of a new crimeless city. So they say.

But, despite his memory being erased, Weller still has unstructured flashbacks. Humanity, of course, cannot be obliterated.

Along the way, however, he battles the bad guys in a series of rescue scenes that bring to mind the first “Superman” film, where Christopher Reeve ran around Metropolis one night doing everything from getting a cat our of a tree to rescuing Lois Lane from a rooftop fall. And “RoboCop” eventually goes one-on-one with a wild villainous robot that’s even more indestructible than he is (and rather animal-like).

     

There are crosses and double-crosses but the plot is really secondary to the action — and the humor.

My favorite scenes are the segues with two news anchors (Mario Machado and “Entertainment This Week’s” Leeza Gibbons) reporting bizarre news of the future; the commercials that accompany the news are also hilarious.

Director Paul Verhoeven, whose first American film this is (he did the Dutch movies “Spetters” and “Soldier of Orange”), is a stylist with a sharp sense of humor, and that humor is what makes the excessive violence somewhat palatable, if not excusable.

But the excesses are prominent, and if you are in the least bit squeamish you might want to pass on this one. Weller, Allen, and especially Ronny Cox in a surprisingly nasty role, are good, but in a film like this they are secondary to action and special effects.

“RoboCop,” rated R for violence, profanity, drug use and some brief nudity in the cops’ locker room, overplays its hand but it’s also a lot of fun — in its own perverse, nihilistic way.


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

GREMLINS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sure, ‘Gremlins’ is a Christmas movie! The same way ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie! So if you’d like to revisit ‘Gremlins’ on the big screen, it will play Saturday, Dec. 7, at 1 p.m. in the Regal Crossroads theaters in Taylorsville. My review was published on June 8, 1984.

“Gremlins” opens with a pre-credits sequence in that mystical state of mind, Chinatown. Which Chinatown or where it is we’re never told. But it looks very much like an old waterfront movie, as goofy inventor Hoyt Axton tries to peddle his wares, at the same time looking for a Christmas present for his son.

In an old, worn shop, Axton tries to sell mysterious Keye Luke, who wears a glass eye, his latest invention, the “Bathroom Buddy,” an automatic razor/toothbrush/comb combination that tends to spit toothpaste all over its user. Luke’s not very interested.

Then Axton spots a wooden box emitting strange squeaks, goes over and is fascinated by its contents, a little singing creature called a mogwai. He wants to buy it as a pet for his son, but Luke won’t sell. His grandson, however, knows they need the money, so he spirits the creature to Axton outside the shop, explaining that there are three important rules to follow in caring for a mogwai: Don’t expose him to bright lights (“sunlight will kill him”), don’t get him wet, and especially don’t feed him after midnight.

Axton goes home to the small town of Kingston Falls — again in Anywhere, USA — and presents the new pet to his adult son (Zach Galligan), a would-be cartoonist who works in the local bank. The mogwai is dubbed “Gizmo.”

And that’s when the magic of “Gremlins” really begins to weave its spell.

Another stunning bit of movie magic, blending the mechanics of “E.T.” with the furry cuteness of the Muppets, the little mogwai seems amazingly real, and is sure to capture the hearts of moviegoers everywhere.

     

Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan and Gizmo, 'Gremlins' (1984)

After a while, Galligan begins to find that his mogwai is also very intelligent. It reads, watches television and even corrects him as they play a tune together on a small piano.

But then, the inevitable happens. Water and late-night feedings lead to some scary moments as several little mogwai appear on the scene (in much the same way that tribbles multiplied on an old “Star Trek” episode) and they go into a transitory state — eventually turning into nasty, vicious mischief-makers who go wild and virtually destroy Kingston Falls, killing quite a few people along the way.

I don’t want to go into the details of how the film unfolds, since that is a major part of the joy of “Gremlins” — there are surprises at every turn — but before you pack up your little ones for this picture, be advised that the film goes from a benign sweetness in the “E.T.” vein to a horror-movie motif, with the nasty mogwai resembling Muppets going berserk.

In some ways the nature of this film is best tipped off by a scene in the movie itself, where the leader of the rapidly multiplying mogwai is on a toy shelf in a department store when he flips an E.T. doll to the floor. “Gremlins” is the flip side of “E.T.”

Yet, despite the mayhem they cause, you have to love the little guys when they set up their own midnight screening of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and sing along with it.

“Gremlins” is also a movie buff’s dream, with more in-jokes and references to old movies than any film in recent memory — or perhaps ever. A movie double-bill at a Kingston Falls theater is playing “A Boy’s Life” and “Watch the Skies,” which were the working titles of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and “Close Encounters.” “Watch the Skies” was also the last line in the original version of “The Thing,” and that film’s star Kenneth Tobey has a small role in “Gremlins.”

     

Gizmo celebrates the holidays on a keyboard in 'Gremlins' (1984)

Robby the Robot makes an appearance and quotes from “Forbidden Planet.” In the background at an inventor’s convention you can see “The Time Machine,” which has mysteriously disappeared in the next scene. Jackie Joseph and Dick Miller play a Kingston Falls married couple, both having appeared in the cult classic “The Little Shop of Horrors.” And Kingston Falls looks suspiciously like the town featured in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” — which this film in many ways resembles.

But you don’t have to be able to spot any of these things to enjoy “Gremlins.” It’s just an added bonus for movie fans like me and a trademark of director Joe Dante, who did the same thing in “Piranha” and “The Howling,” as well as his segment of “Twilight Zone — The Movie.”

One aspect of this film is like an extension of the latter, with Dante paying homage to Warner Brothers cartoons, right down to having animator Chuck Jones in a cameo role. (And some of the mogwai themselves resemble the cartoon Tasmanian devil.)

“Gremlins” is also a frenetically paced movie and you may feel a bit frazzled when it’s over, if not completely wrung out. But you will certainly have had your money’s worth. Dante is a dazzling director.

Most of the actors are very good here, especially Axton, whose low-key style is a perfect counterpoint to the bevy of weird inventions he is constantly coming up with. Zach Galligan, a newcomer, is a very appealing youngster who should have a bright future in films. Polly Holliday scores well as the mean-spirited owner of half the town. And Frances Lee McCain is wonderful as Galligan’s mother, who doesn’t take kindly to what the mogwai do to her kitchen.

On the downside, Phoebe Cates proves that keeping her clothes on doesn’t make her a better actress, and that comes to an embarrassing zenith when she explains why she hates Christmas, which is unbelievably unfunny and should have been cut.

Rated PG, but decidedly not for young children, being loaded with violence, “Gremlins” is a lot of fun for film enthusiasts, special-effects fans and those who are looking for a wild-eyed piece of escapism.


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

PROPHECY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: If someone were to ask me, of all the films I reviewed for the Deseret News, which is the least likely to be revived in the 21st century for a Blu-ray upgrade, this might have been at the top of that list. But for some reason, the Shout! Factory believes there is a fanbase for it, so it’s back in the catalog. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 18, 1979.

“Prophecy” has the distinction of possibly being the worst movie with which director John Frankenheimer, writer David Seltzer or star Talia Shire have ever been associated.

The ad campaign for this movie is better than the film itself. It is being built up as “THE” monster movie and those hired to work on it were sworn to secrecy so the “original” storyline could not be stolen by someone else for a quick movie rip-off.

But the real reason this plot was kept under wraps is that “Prophecy” itself is a rip-off of the 1977 film “Day of the Animals,” and others of its genre (“The Birds,” “Frogs,” “Night of the Lepus,” etc).

In “Day of the Animals” a group of people are trapped in the wilderness while animals and birds, driven berserk by the sky’s ozone layer, kill all the humans they can find.

In “Prophecy” a group of people are trapped in the wilderness while mutant animals, driven berserk by mercury in the water, kill all the humans they can find.

Horror, monster and science-fiction films are very commercial right now and it’s a shame to see such talented people involved in such a dumb movie. I’d like to think it is good intentions gone awry, not just a chance to make money with a creaky idea.

     

Talia Shire and Robert Foxworth, with Richard Dysart in the background, 'Prophecy' (1979)

But next to such recent horror fare as “Alien” and “Halloween,” “Prophecy” appears to be without style and is certainly without anything scary. And this PG-rated film is every bit as bloody as those R-rated movies.

Though Talia Shire receives top billing here she is reduced to screaming and worrying while her husband, Robert Foxworth, does all the typical hero work. For Shire it is a step backward toward such banal first films of hers as “The Dunwich Horror.”

Foxworth, previously seen in “Damien – Omen II” and “Airport ’77,” handles his role well. He is a dedicated U.S. Health Services doctor taken out of the ghettos of Washington, D.C., to spend two weeks evaluating the northern woods of Maine. It is hoped he will settle a land dispute for the Environmental Protection Agency between a paper mill and local Indians.

He takes his cello-playing wife (Shire) along for the ride as he confronts a bigoted mill boss (excellently played by Richard Dysart) and hostile Indians (Armand Assante, Victoria Racimo).

Foxworth soon discovers the mill has been polluting the water with mercury and it is mutating local fish and animals. He doesn’t know Shire is pregnant and has eaten some of the fish — thus opening the door for a possible sequel.

     

The mutant "bear" or whatever it is in 'Prophecy' (1979)

The first third of the film is pretty good, with Frankenheimer showing his talent for suspense (“The Manchurian Candidate,” “Black Sunday”), as in an ax-and-chainsaw fight scene and with discoveries of a giant fish and a killer raccoon.

But then his actors have to utter such ridiculous dialogue as when they carry a wounded helicopter pilot to a cabin: “Where shall we put him?” asks one carrier; “Let’s take him inside,” the other answers.

When they catch two baby monsters the plot seems to have taken an interesting twist, but it quickly slides downhill as Mama Monster (looking like a giant bare bear) spends the rest of the movie chasing them and her cubs (looking like skinned dogs).

It’s all formula horror. But it’s poorly done and excessively bloody, including a decapitation. The only difference between “Prophecy” and Roger Corman’s 1950s mutant movies is pollution instead of atomic desolation.

The clichés include musical buildups and stark silences as indications the monster is about to jump out at you. You’ll be better off jumping up and leaving the theater.