BILL MURRAY CLOWNS AROUND
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 30, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: During my 20-year career as movie critic for the Deseret News I interviewed Bill Murray twice — once in New York City for ‘Ghostbusters’ and then again in Salt Lake City for his directing debut, ’Quick Change’ (reviewed under ‘New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II’ below).
For the first interview he was coming off of ‘Caddyshack’ and ‘Stripes,’ and garnered attention for his unbilled role in ‘Tootsie’ — but ‘Ghostbusters’ would send his stardom into the ‘superstar’ level. And by the time our second interview occurred, he and Eddie Murphy (both ‘Saturday Night Live’ alumni) were the biggest box-office stars in the world.
Despite good reviews, however (it stands at 82 percent at Rotten Tomatoes), ‘Quick Change’ bombed (it cost $17 million to make and earned just $15 million at the box office), and Murray, to date, has never directed another film. Sadly, the competition he was worried about was, in the end, too much to overcome (led by the blockbusters ‘Ghost,’ ‘Total Recall’ and ‘Die Hard 2’). But the film remains a good one and is well worth checking out.
This interview was published on July 11, 1990, under the headline, ‘Hot comic does a “Quick Change” into comfy director role.'
"Mr. Hicks. Paging Chris Hicks."
It's not a particularly loud voice, or perhaps it's just hard to hear over all the ambient sound in the lobby of the University Park Hotel. But it penetrates my consciousness and I look up on the fourth floor balcony behind me.
There's Bill Murray, unmistakable in a casual shirt-and-jeans outfit, with his trademark disheveled hair and that wise-guy tone of voice … a tone that may have become just a tad world-weary in recent years.
Most movie stars hide themselves in their rooms when meeting journalists in hotels, but here's Murray, cupping his hands around his mouth, feigning a loudspeaker as he beckons from the balcony.
He could be daring people in the lobby to recognize him, but he doesn't seem overly aware of his status as one of the biggest box-office comedy draws in movies today — arguably behind only Eddie Murphy.
Murray seems like a regular guy. If it's an act, he's got it down perfectly. But you tend to think it's real.
He was in town last month as one of the owners of the Salt Lake Trappers, but he consented to a series of interviews to promote his latest film, "Quick Change," which opens Friday in theaters nationally.
The first portion of the film has Murray in clown makeup and costume as he robs a Manhattan bank. Then it becomes something of a chase picture as Murray and his cohorts — Geena Davis and Randy Quaid — elude New York police and head for the airport to catch a plane.
Bill Murray in his clown costume sets up a shot with co-director Howard Franklin for 'Quick Change' (1990).
But it's not a chase film in the conventional sense. Rather, it's a character comedy, loaded with goofy people this unlikely trio encounters on the way, especially in the final third. And that's what Murray intended, an old-fashioned screwball approach with loads of supporting characters who have specific comic traits.
To achieve this goal, Murray not only stars in "Quick Change," but co-produced and co-directed.
"Preston Sturges is one of the guys I really like," Murray said, referring to the great writer-director of such classics as "Sullivan's Travels," "The Lady Eve" and "The Palm Beach Story."
"He had a core group of great actors. They were fantastic guys.
"What Howard (Franklin, the screenwriter and co-director) and I did was spend a lot of time trying to find actors for our movie who were different and really strong. And that's one reason New York was so good for us, because there are really great actors in New York, and the actors are definitely different."
One example is Bob Elliott, of the Bob & Ray comedy team, as a bank guard. "He's really funny and a really great guy. Howard's a huge Bob & Ray fan and I'd worked with him on a special. I wasn't sure he'd be able to come in and do it, but he came in — he only has like 30 words in the whole movie, and every one of them is funny. He would say five words and Howard would just fall apart."
Murray said that though the film is faithful to Franklin's screenplay, occasionally actors would thrown in a line of dialogue or make a suggestion. "When you have these good improvisational actors, they help you. They'll just throw a line in that gets you out of a scene or into a scene. That's the difference between having the really great actors and having the sort of soap-opera, where's-my-mark, where's-my-trailer kind of actor.
"Right at the point where Randy Qauid starts screaming, `We need a cab, one lousy cab.' Usually in a movie you go, `Well there's about 20 minutes left, and there'll be a couple of explosions or a bomb or. … And at that point, in comes this whole parade, this whole cast of characters — the cab driver, the bus driver, the Korean guy at the market, even the stewardess is funny. All these guys come in and so you have all these surprises coming in. If we've got the audience at that point, if they're laughing and enjoying it, then we've got 'em."
As for directing a film for the first time, Murray said he had no problem working with Franklin as a co-director. "We were like John and Yoko, one mind.
Bill Murray, left, Bob Elliott, 'Quick Change' (1990)
"We couldn't get the (director) we wanted to do it (Jonathan Demme, "Married to the Mob," "Melvin and Howard").
"He couldn't do it and I said to Howard, `Why don't you and I do this?' He'd been intending to direct anyway, and I'd sort of been planning on it too. So I said, `Why don't we do this? Between the two of us we know as much as one director.’ ”
Murray said the collaboration was most satisfactory, and he has been bitten by the directing bug. "Well, I have been seriously infected. It's like malaria, and once you've got it you've got it for life. But it's also got a lot of bad things to it, it takes a lot out of you. It's really exhausing. I don't recommend it for the faint of heart.
"I'll do it again in a couple of years, but it's not something I want to do every time. It takes two years. If you're an actor in a movie you can work anywhere from two weeks to 12 or 13 weeks. If you're a director you work for two years."
As for his co-stars, Murray said the only one he was sure about from the script's inception was Randy Quaid. In his own wise-guy joking manner, Murray said, "I'd bug him about it and he'd whine. He kept saying, `I don't want to do that part, it's too weird and it's too dumb.' He wanted a lot of money, he was terrible. In the time since, he's done like seven movies. And he's playing this goofy guy every time. I'm saying, `Thanks Randy, beat me up.' But now he's happy he did it."
Murray said he is nervous about the heavy competition in theaters right now, especially since his film is a gentle comedy, quite different from the current box-office blockbusters. "I'm truly terrified, actually. There is a lot of competition and that's why we're coming out last. They're all so slam-bang.
"Then we open on Friday the 13th, so there's that good luck aspect.
"But the more I look at it the more I think people are just going to be exhausted from going to these other movies. (In `Quick Change') nobody gets killed, decapitated, electrocuted, fried, boiled — you know.
"I think, I hope, it's going to be successful."
NO BLOCKBUSTERS, LOTS OF VARIETY
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 30, 2021
Would you believe a baker’s dozen of new movies are in local theaters this weekend, including several foreign films, two of them at the reopened Broadway Centre Cinemas art house downtown.
Others include the usual R-rated horror films and action flicks that would have gone straight to video in a prior non-pandemic era, along with a surprising number of family-friendly efforts.
“Percy vs. Goliath”(PG). Christopher Walken stars as in this Canadian film, simply title “Percy” in its home country) the true story of a 70-year-old Saskatchewan farmer who took on a giant corporation when its genetically-modified canola began affecting his crops. With Christina Ricci, Zach Braff, Adam Beach. (Also streaming.)
“Street Gang: How We Got to Sesame Street”(PG). Documentary about the history of the seminal PBS children’s program “Sesame Street,” including profiles of those behind its development.
“Limbo” (R). A young Syrian musician, separated from his family and awaiting word of his asylum request, finds himself stuck on a remote Scottish island in this offbeat British comedy.
“Triumph”(PG-13). A high school wrestler with cerebral palsy is determined to go the distance in this true story. With Terrence Howard, Johnathon Schaech,
“Walking With Herb”(PG). An aging former amateur golfer (Edward James Olmos) is struggling with his faith when he receives a message from God through his computer, telling him to enter a world golf championship to demonstrate the importance of never giving up, with help from a motorcyclist named Herb (George Lopez). With Kathleen Quinlan, Billy Boyd and Christopher McDonald.
“Four Good Days” (R). After her release from a hospital, a heroin addict (Mila Kunis) must stay sober for four days before beginning a regimen of drugs designed blockers, so she turns to her mother (Glenn Close) and stepfather (Stephen Root) for help. (Goes to streaming May 21.)
“About Endlessness” (Not Rated, in Swedish with English subtitles). A series of brief fanciful and harsh vignettes weave their way through this meditation on life. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“The County” (Not Rated, in Icelandic with English subtitles). The family dairy farm is in danger of foreclosure until the widowed owner decides to stand up for her rights against a corrupt co-op.(Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Cliff Walkers” (Not Rated, in Mandarin with Chinese and English subtitles). Set in the 1930s, this Chinese thriller follows four agents for the Communist Party on a secret mission that has been sold out by a traitor.
“The Virtuoso” (R). An assassin is hired to track down a rogue hitman, which leads him to a rustic diner in a dying town, but he’s unsure about which customer is his target. With Anson Mount, Abbie Cornish and Anthony Hopkins. (Also streaming.)
“Vanquish” (R). A corrupt retired cop (Morgan Freeman) kidnaps the daughter of a single mother (Ruby Rose), forcing her to put to work her skills as a former Russian drug courier. (Exclusively at the Redwood Drive-In; also streaming.)
“The Resort” (R). Four friends travel to Hawaii to investigate an abandoned resort haunted by the infamous Half-Faced Girl in this horror yarn. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Valley Fair Mall.)
“Separation” (R). This horror yarn has a troubled 8-year-old girl caught in a custody battle between her widowed father (Rupert Friend) and his father-in-law (Brian Cox) when her gruesome dolls come to life. With Mamie Gummer.
FLIRTING WITH DISASTER
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 30, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: As part of its spate of re-issued discs, Miramax has put ‘Flirting With Disaster’ back on shelves, a quirky early effort by writer-director David O. Russell (who went on to earn Oscar nominations for ‘Silver Linings Playbook’ and ‘American Hustle’) that leans full-throttle into screwball comedy with hit-and-miss results. Still, fans of Ben Stiller, Patricia Arquette, Téa Leoni and from an earlier generation, Mary Tyler Moore, Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin and George Segal, may want to check it out. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 5, 1996.
Perhaps writer-director David O. Russell ("Spanking the Monkey") was aiming the title of his new comedy "Flirting With Disaster" at more than merely the emotional tightrope walked by his central character. He could just as easily have been referring to the style of comedy he's tackling here.
Frantic farce is difficult at best, and as Russell dives into the genre he recklessly employs enough eccentric characters for a couple of movies. At least by today's standards.
The result is a mixed bag — some riotous material and quite a bit of stumbling in the dark. But starved fans of romantic slapstick may want to check out the proceedings here, which benefits from an ensemble cast that includes several familiar faces playing against type.
Mary Tyler Moore, George Segal, 'Flirting With Disaster' (1996)
Ben Stiller is likable and amusing in the befuddled central role as a conflicted entomologist who was adopted as a child. He has always been cautiously curious about his biological parents, and now that he and his wife (the appealing Patricia Arquette) have a new baby, he's positively obsessed.
Acting spontaneously, Stiller visits an adoption agency, which rather quickly locates his parents for him. And when they agree to meet with him he determines to hit the road the next day.
To break the news to his unsuspecting wife, Stiller brings home a student psychologist (Téa Leoni, who is quite naturally funny and sexy), then insists that all three — with the baby in tow — leave the next day on the cross-country trek to meet his folks.
This leads to all kinds of mix-ups and complications, including Stiller having to deal with the resentments of his obnoxious adoptive parents (Mary Tyler Moore and George Segal), a road trip that leads to a number of dead-ends, Stiller's romantic attraction to the Leoni, a pair of federal agents who wind up tagging along, and ultimately an encounter with a pair of 1960s relics, a hippie couple (Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin) with some interesting secrets.
Alan Alda, Lily Tomlin, 'Flirting With Disaster' (1996)
Russell's anarchic comedy comes up with some doozy ideas, and some of the comedy is clever and on the mark. (Where else would the most conservative character be gay?)
But there are also quite a few set-ups and gags that seem forced, as if Russell is simply trying too hard, throwing everything at the wall without much concern about what sticks. And some of the Woody Allen sexual angst-dialogue is more crass than humorous.
In some ways, Russell's entire movie plays like a ’60s throwback, a culture-clash comedy that is willing to sacrifice laughs for the sake of being frenetic — performed with wild late-’60s/early-’70s-style abandon.
But maybe he should have studied the classic screwball comedies of the ’30s and ’40s instead. Somehow, they seem less dated.
"Flirting With Disaster" is rated R for sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity, drugs and violence.
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, April 23, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Fargo’ is one of the Coen Brothers’ best films and retains a huge fan base that is only fueled all the more by the (sort of) spinoff TV series (the 4th season was on the FX cable channel last fall). The series is good but the original film is terrific (and it earned 7 Oscar nominations, winning 2: the Coens for their screenplay and Frances McDormand as Best Actress). And now, courtesy of Fathom Events it’s getting a big-screen revival for its 25th anniversary. You can see it in several local theaters on Sunday, May 2, and Wednesday, May 5. My review was published on March 29, 1996. (And, as is well known now, although the opening moments state that the film is a ‘true story,’ it’s not.)
"Fargo" is a Coen Brothers film and it's as eccentric as all get-out … if that's not redundant.
Those familiar with their films know what to expect from Joel and Ethan Coen, who write, produce and direct together, though Joel gets directing credit and Ethan is credited as producer.
For "Fargo," however, think "Blood Simple" instead of "Raising Arizona" or "The Hudsucker Proxy." Like "Blood Simple" this one is in film noir territory and it's quite violent in places.
A dark drama, with an odd comic sensibility, "Fargo" is a true story set in the Midwest during the harsh winter of 1987. A simple kidnapping is planned in Fargo, N.D., but when it goes awry all kinds of complications develop for those involved and those investigating.
Frances McDormand, 'Fargo' (1996)
The central character, who isn't introduced until we're a quarter or so into the movie, is Sheriff Marge Gunderson, of Brainerd, Minn. Seven months pregnant, though she doesn't let it slow her down one bit, Marge is amiable and easygoing, and meant to represent the Midwestern mindset, as interpreted by the Coens. And she's a wonderfully human character, perfectly suited to and played wonderfully by character actress Frances McDormand (who is married to Joel Coen).
Responding with "You betcha" and "Yer darned tootin' " to just about everything she hears, Marge is forthright, sensible and no-nonsense in her approach to a gruesome murder investigation, and, for that matter, just about everything else she encounters.
There is a great deal of comedy that springs from Marge, and one could argue that she embodies a stereotype that Midwesterners might not favor. But I found her quite charming, and she provides a warmth that is most endearing.
By contrast, the violent goons (Steve Buscemi, Peter Stormare) who set off the murder plot — characters who are dopey and funny in their own right, though in a much darker sense — are hired by a hapless car dealer (William H. Macy) in Minneapolis. He wants his wife kidnapped and held for a ransom, which will be paid by his wealthy father-in-law (Harve Presnell), and then he and the kidnappers are to split the money.
But the kidnappers wind up killing a state trooper in Brainerd, which leads to Marge's involvement — and the killers' eventual downfall. Meanwhile, the car dealer is becoming more and more psychotic as things unravel, and it doesn't help that his father-in-law is used to taking charge of tough situations and insists on dealing with the kidnappers himself.
Ethan Coen, left, Frances McDormand, and Joel Coen hold onto their Oscars for 'Fargo' while talking with the press at the 1997 Academy Awards.
The plotting is complex and the film does make a few false steps, including some gags that are not quite as successful as the Brothers Coen would like at bridging the lighter comedy and the more grim satire.
There's also an odd, out-of-place and somewhat intrusive subplot about a former high school acquaintance who calls Marge out of the blue and has problems of his own.
Still, most of the way, "Fargo" is funny, frightening and pointed in its explorations of human behavior. It's also wittily conceived, artistically directed and loaded with hilarious anecdotal sequences.
In other words, fans of the Coen Brothers will not be disappointed.
"Fargo" is deservedly rated R for violence, some gore, sex and nudity, and profanity.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 30, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Warner Archive, which is a beloved boutique DVD/Blu-ray dealership that is sadly on the way out (in favor of streaming), has given a Blu-ray upgrade to this very funny but generally forgotten Bill Murray farce, which is quite worthy of re-evaluation. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 13, 1990 (back when I was still jokingly referring to the F-word as ‘the Eddie Murphy Word’).
Like a frenzied cross between "A Fish Called Wanda" and "After Hours," Bill Murray's new comedy "Quick Change" is a delightful romp that generously allows the unknowns who dot the large supporting cast to garner the biggest laughs.
Murray, who also co-produced and co-directed, stars as Grimm, another name for his usual lovable wise-guy persona. This time he's a disgruntled city planner who plots a daring bank robbery in the middle of Manhattan.
Dressed as a clown, in full makeup and costume, Murray travels to the bank by subway — and, of course, no one notices him.
Jason Robards, left, Tony Shaloub, center, 'Quick Change' (1990)
The robbery, with Murray's girlfriend (Geena Davis) and his childhood best friend (Randy Quaid) assisting, goes smoothly enough, despite the exasperated efforts of the police chief (Jason Robards) to put a halt to it.
The robbery is a delightful opening segment that makes up the film's first third or so. It's an inventive twist on a well-worn theme. But then "Quick Change" shifts gears to become something of a chase comedy, as the trio tries to drive to JFK Airport for a flight to Fiji.
Thanks to the kind of people we expect to run into in New York, they find that getting to the airport isn't as easy as they first thought.
And therein lies the film's greatest joys, as they encounter goofball after goofball, each funnier than the last. There's the uptight bus driver (Philip Bosco) who goes strictly by the rules, the cabbie (Tony Shalhoub) who speaks no English, the mobsters who mistake Murray and friends for bagmen, the kid with the guitar who can't get on the bus, etc. Bob Elliott (of Bob & Ray fame) is also good as the bank guard who embellishes the story of the robbery, making himself more of a hero each time he tells it.
Some of these moments are hilarious, bringing to mind the old British caper comedies of the 1950s. And the picture is brimming with great character actors, each with some wacky piece of business attached to the role, a trait from the Golden Age of movie comedy that seems to have been tossed aside by many modern moviemakers.
Murray, Davis and Quaid make a very good team, with Davis in particular adding charm and depth to her character. And the direction by Murray and his collaborator Howard Franklin is usually on the mark, allowing for sight gags in the background, and the script, by Franklin (adapting Jay Cronley's novel) has some great dialogue and situations.
Occasionally a joke falls flat and there are a couple of slow-moving moments, but for the most part "Quick Change" is a winner with a lot of laughs.
And it's certainly a nice respite from the current bloody comic fare in theaters.
"Quick Change" is rated R, for use of the infamous Eddie Murphy Word a few times. This is in PG territory, despite that profanity, a couple of vulgar jokes and some tame violence.