BLOG BLOG

COMEDY IS HARD

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 20, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: What’s funny to me may not be funny to you, and vice versa. But comedies remain big box-office business (to wit: ‘I Feel Pretty’ and ‘Super Troopers 2’ opening this weekend), even if we don’t get nearly as many in theaters as we once did. These days, sci-fi, horror and fantasies dominate, but 36 years ago comedies were the bigger trend, even as raunchiness was just beginning to dominate the genre. To illustrate, here’s a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column headlined ‘A trend toward more comedies?’ that was published on Nov. 26, 1982.

Hollywood knows what you want to see by virtue of what films make the most money. Why else would we have so many sequels? If you liked it once, you’re bound to like it again, right?

Well, right or not, trends are very important to the studios, and predictions right now are that comedies will be the next wave.

The McGinley Marketing Research Co. in Philadelphia reports that moviegoers want comedies more than fantasies, more than science fiction — even more than horror.

The survey, a “national probability sample,” showed that 73 percent of those polled want to see more comedies.

     

Drama was next with a much lower 46 percent.

Science-fiction films followed with 41 percent.

(The calculations exceed 100 percent because some respondents chose more than one genre.)

Successful comedies this year (in terms of making big bucks), such as “Porky’s,” “Young Doctors In Love” and Cheech & Chong’s “Things Are Tough All Over,” are barometers, of course, but to me it’s an indication of desperation.

Those movies aren’t as funny as they should be — audiences just want to laugh so badly, they’ll settle for a few yuks in a generally weak comedy.

More good comedies are what we need, along the lines of the recent “My Favorite Year.”

     

And the December-Christmas movie season just may bring them.

Unlike last Christmas, when dreary dramas, such as “Pennies From Heaven” and “Rollover,” dominated December, this season looks quite bright, with Dustin Hoffman, Burt Reynolds, Goldie Hawn, Sally Field, Richard Pryor, Peter Sellers, Jackie Gleason and an “Airplane!” sequel among the comedic offerings.

... But will we laugh?

The studios hope so.

They’d like us to laugh them all the way to the bank.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

BIG SCREEN SLEAZE

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 20, 2018

Two films that we once would have called “dirty” or “naughty” but now refer to simply as “comedies,” lead this week’s new movies.

“I Feel Pretty” (PG-13). Raunchy comic Amy Schumer stars in this farce (which is, surprisingly, rated PG-13) as a woman with body issues who is conked on the head and suddenly believes she is the most beautiful and capable woman in the world. With Michelle Williams, Busy Phillips, Naomi Campbell and Lauren Hutton.

“Super Troopers 2” (R). The Broken Lizard comedy troupe is back as five clueless Vermont state troopers, this time involved in an international border dispute between the United States and Canada. With Rob Lowe, Fred Savage, Damon Wayans Jr., Sean William Scott, and Brian Cox, Lynda Carter and Jim Gaffigan return.

  

“Traffik” (R). A couple (Paula Patton, Omar Epps) heads to the mountains for a romantic weekend but after being accosted by a biker gang and unintentionally taking off with one of the gang’s phones, they find themselves in a deadly game of cat and mouse. With Missi Pyle and William Fichtner.

“Final Portrait” (R). True story of Swiss painter and sculpture Alberto Giacometti (Geoffrey Rush), as seen through the eyes of American writer and art lover James Lord (Armie Hammer) and the offbeat friendship that developed when Giacometti persuaded Lord to sit for a portrait. Co-written and directed by Stanley Tucci. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Leaning Into the Wind: Andy Goldsworthy” (PG). This British documentary follows artist Andy Goldsworthy, who uses nature for his sculptures, through such items as stones, twigs, thorns, leaves and flowers to create permanent exhibitions. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

UNDER FIRE

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 20, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The boutique label Twilight Time has a knack for giving Blu-ray upgrades to fine films that have fallen through the cracks. This one is largely forgotten today but deserves to be seen, especially at a time when the line between objective and prejudiced journalism seems to be disappearing. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Oct. 25, 1983.

As with “Absence of Malice” a couple of years ago, “Under Fire” deals with journalistic ethics, though in a much larger context, both in terms of the importance of the ideals at issue, and its cinematic treatment.

 

“Under Fire” focuses on three journalists in Nicaragua during the 1979 revolution to combat the dictatorship of Somoza, and how their personal feelings become wrapped up with the people they are covering.

In some ways the film is as old-fashioned as any Clark Gable/Spencer Tracy/Myrna Loy film, with two adventurous men in love with the same woman, set against the background of a war-torn nation. Yet in other ways, “Under Fire” is a unique film that takes chances as it deals with real issues, and to some extent, real people, pointing up the power of the media and the effect of worldwide communication on a small nation.

The film takes too long setting itself up, and the sluggish first half of the movie becomes a bit wearing. But the pace does pick up and by the last half, you are likely to be caught up in the plight of these people — not just the journalists, but the Nicaraguans who are waging a battle for freedom in their own country.

 

             Gene Hackman, left, Ed Harris, 'Under Fire'

Nick Nolte stars as an ace still photographer; Gene Hackman is an older, somewhat world-weary writer who is considering a TV network anchorman position in New York; and Joanna Cassidy is also a writer. Having become friends while covering other conflicts, they have come to rely on each other, and Hackman and Cassidy are ending an affair. Nolte wastes no time in catching Cassidy on the rebound.

Meanwhile, Nolte has several run-ins with an American mercenary, expertly played by Ed Harris, who also plays John Glenn in the current “The Right Stuff.” In “Under Fire,” Harris has no scruples whatsoever, and is ready and willing to kill for either side, wherever the price is right.

But at the core of the film is a late-breaking plot development — the consequences that follow after Nolte is urged to shoot a phony photograph that will depict the dead leader of the revolution as being alive.

Whether Nolte should take sides in the cause by doctoring a photo is really at issue here, along with larger questions about American involvement in other people’s wars.

     

              Nick Nolte, Joanna Cassidy, 'Under Fire'

“Under Fire” is occasionally confusing, especially to an audience that — to be honest — has grown apathetic about Latin American uprisings. And the film has trouble going back and forth between its romantic and thriller aspects, never really blending the two successfully.

But the screenplay and direction capture what appears to be an authentic look, and all the actors are excellent, from the largest to the smallest roles.

Nick Nolte’s character is quite complex, an expert photographer with high principles, until he begins to sympathize too much with the people he is photographing; Gene Hackman, as always, is perfect as the journalist who has been too many places and seen too much; Joanna Cassidy is a fine actress, best known for her television work, and it’s nice to see a mature, adult woman in the movies for a change. Hamilton Camp, as a wimpish British TV newsman; Richard Masur, as an ineffectual public relations man; Rene Enriquez as Somoza; and, as previously mentioned, the excellent Ed Harris as a mercenary, all offer choice turns in their respective roles.

Rated R for violence and profanity, along with some discreet sex, “Under Fire” is generally effective as a thriller that asks questions about journalistic ethics, less effective as romance or political tract.


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 some 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 still writing for the D-News, but this is mostly archival stuff (with permission), 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

LABYRINTH

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 20, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Jim Henson’s follow-up to ‘The Dark Crystal’ was this equally dark fantasy, starring the late David Bowie and 16-year-old future Oscar winner Jennifer Connelly, along with assorted Muppet beasties. You can catch it on the big screen in various Cinemark locations on April 29, May 1 and May 2 at 2 and 7 p.m., courtesy of Fathom Events. As you’ll see by my review I’m not a fan of this one. It was published in the Deseret News on June 29, 1986.

If you were among the few who genuinely enjoyed “The Dark Crystal,” you may be able to get into “Labyrinth.”

Or, maybe not. Though I have a fondness for “Crystal,” “Labyrinth” tried my patience a bit too much.

With a story that looks like a purge of both “Wizard of Oz” and the works of Maurice Sendak (whose book “Where the Wild Things Are” is shown in an early shot, and whose name is acknowledged at the end of the credits), “Labyrinth” has a young teenage girl being drawn into a fantasy world of twists and extremely bizarre Muppets. (The script is by Monty Python veteran Terry Jones, who has also written a few children’s fairy tales.)

The Muppets, the effects and some of the typical Henson humor are the film’s strongest attributes, but Jennifer Connelly is so obnoxious in the lead, particularly in the film’s early scenes, that her conversion to sweetness at the film’s end seems too little too late, and isn’t likely to prompt the audience to forgive her rather stiff performance in the rest of the picture.

David Bowie, as the king of the goblins, looking for all the world like a zany Kabuki actor, fares much better, but having him burst into rock songs at unexpected moments — songs that often seem to have little to do with the movie — is an irritating judgment error on a par with the pop-music soundtrack for “Ladyhawke.”

     

    David Bowie, 16-year-old Jennifer Connelly, 'Labyrinth'

Worst of all, however, is some of the imagery involving an infant. I’d hesitate to take young children to this one.

The story has Connelly, as a truly unsympathetic spoiled brat, being “ordered” by her stepmother to babysit her baby brother — and we’re talking infant-in-the-crib here. She takes out her indignant adolescent anger on the child, wishing the king of the goblins would spirit him away — and, of course, Bowie does just that.

That might have been a more acceptable plot device if the child were 6 or 7 and an utterly unbearable brat. But this child’s biggest crime is that it is crying. Aside from sucking milk, filling diapers and being utterly adorable, what else do babies do?

Bowie gives Connelly only 13 hours to go through a crazy maze – which changes frequently to mar her progress — get to his castle and rescue the child, or it will become a goblin forever.

     

Jim Henson gives direction to David Bowie and Jennifer Connelly on the set of 'Labyrinth.'

Aside from the psychological abuse heaped on the child by his big sister, at one point David Bowie is shown tossing him very high in the air and walking away. The infant is caught by a goblin in the nick of time, but I’m not sure that’s something for young siblings to see. (It also seems tacky to me to show one of the goblins urinating into a pond.)

Those misgivings aside, the movie is too dull to sustain its approximately 100-minute length, with some long stretches in the middle that are far too slow and boring.

With all the talent that went into this film it seems somewhat amazing that it could be such a wild misfire.

Aside from the wrong-headed lead performance by Connelly, Henson’s direction is bright and imaginative, and as you would expect, his creatures are delightful. (I especially liked the little worm.)

The editing could have been sharper, and though it’s not as dark as “The Dark Crystal,” there would have been no harm in making this picture brighter. But the most obvious miscalculation here is the script, which is derivative, far too familiar and rather one-note.

“Labyrinth” is rated PG for violence.


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

GREASE 2

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 20, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: On April 24, Paramount Home Entertainment will release ‘The Grease Collection,’ a Blu-ray set of “Grease” (1978), “Grease 2” (1982) and ‘Grease Live’ (2016), the first Blu-ray upgrades for the latter two titles. Fans will want to check it out, of course. My 1978 review of ‘Grease’ was reprinted a few weeks ago on this page and can be found in the archives here under ‘Golden Oldies on the Big Screen.’ Below is my review of ‘Grease 2,’ published in the Deseret News on June 14, 1982.

It had to happen, of course.

“Grease” is the fourth biggest moneymaking movie of all time. It’s the most successful musical ever.

So “Grease 2” was inevitable.

As you no doubt already know, neither John Travolta nor Olivia Newton-John are in the sequel — but as you may not yet know, neither is any of the first film’s charm.

“Grease” was a lively, spirited, fluffy musical designed to be nostalgic about the 1950s, with some good songs and great choreography.

This time around, the choreographer, Patricia Birch, has directed the film as well as the dancing — and it seems to be a case of biting off more than she could chew.

The first scene has a new senior class coming back to Rydell High School, where Eve Arden is the principal, Dody Goodman is her secretary and Sid Caesar is the coach — all reprising their “Grease” roles.

It’s a huge production number called “Back to School” and it seems to be setting the tone — catchy, happy, high-energy. … But something happens about a third into the movie, and everything starts to get sluggish, gradually winding down the energy level when there’s still a half-hour to go.

     

                        Michelle Pfeiffer, 'Grease 2'

The movie never quite comes back to the level set by that first big number, and occasionally gets downright embarrassing.

The storyline has reversed the Travolta-Newton-John plot, with Michelle Pfeiffer as a hard-nosed “Pink Lady,” who can only love brainless bikers, and Maxsell Caulfield as the British cousin of Newton-John’s character, innocent and nice.

To win Pfeiffer’s love, he decides to become a biker — with a helmet and goggles hiding his face, he starts coming and going like the Lone Ranger. “Who Was That Guy?” the cast sings. “Who cares?” the audience will likely ask.

By this time we’ve suffered through a song about bowling (“We’re going to score tonight/I’m your kingpin, honey”) and we’ve had to sit through Tab Hunter and Connie Stevens doing broad spoofs of their early star years (Hunter seems to be trying to capture some of the self-effacing camp humor of George Hamilton — but he’s a little too broad).

Birch tries hard to pull it together, and the dance numbers are all very good (even when the songs are not), but she can’t seem to get a handle the dramatic or comic sequences that do not contain dance.

There’s a scene near the end where a biker goes over a cliff, and it’s extremely lackadaisical, totally without suspense or emotion. And a comic scene with Caesar being pushed into a ditch seems very poorly staged.

     

And that luau climax — there’s just too much wrong to even go into.

The lyrics to the songs are often just awful (“Well be together, like birds of a feather”; “You can be you and I can be me”), and a “biker heaven” sequence looks like a bad shampoo commercial.

I recognize that some of this is designed to be campy, spoofing the early ’60s lifestyles and fads, but much of it just sinks into sloppy filmmaking. One funny scene during a talent show just stops suddenly, going into the idiotic “biker heaven” song.

It doesn’t help that Caulfield is the most bland screen presence … well, since Tab Hunter’s early days. Pfeiffer is better, though her singing seems to be imitating Newton-John.

And some of the enormous talent here is wasted. Adrian Zmed, leader of the T-Bi9rds, is excellent, but he merely does an impression of “The Fonz.” Didi Conn is Frenchy again, but she has nothing at all to do, and Caesar is utterly wasted. Arden does have a few good moments, with that marvelous double take of hers being used to the hilt — but a tad too often.

Rated PG for sexual double-entendres (including a funny number titled “Reproduction”), “Grease 2” is certainly less raunchy than “Grease.” But unfortunately it’s also less entertaining.