WHEN CLINTON WAS ‘GUMPED’
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: When I was writing about movies for the Deseret News I would occasionally see Donald Trump — yes, our (insert adjective here) president — in movies doing cameos as himself: ‘The Associate,’ ‘The Little Rascals,’ ‘Two Weeks Notice,’ ‘Zoolander.' And if you look up his credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) you’ll see that he has no less than 27 credits in his ‘Filmography’ list and 379 in the ‘Self’ list, meaning talk/variety/political shows on which he was a guest — which includes his appearances on ‘Fox and Friends’ and other shows during the past four years. But it also includes such TV shows as ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Spin City,’ ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and the daytime soap opera ‘All My Children.’ No kidding!
But for previous presidents, such frivolous appearances were something they didn’t even consider — to include the years before and after their presidencies. As an example there’s this column I wrote back in the late ’90s. Under the headline ‘Clinton in “Contact” is amusing despite what the White House says,’ published on July 20, 1997.
And, strangely, this does dovetail into current politics when altered videos are routinely used to discredit opponents and promulgate disinformation. When fiction becomes prediction, if you will.
President Clinton has been Gumped. And he's not happy about it.
Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, who won an Oscar for "Forrest Gump," cleverly worked news-conference footage of the president into "Contact," thanks to the advanced computer technology that so seamlessly blended Tom Hanks' interaction with President Nixon in “Gump."
In "Contact," it appears that Clinton is on the movie set with the film's actors, offering up approval of the space exploration program that is the film's subject.
Of course, our chief executive didn't really participate in the film.
The main speech used was given some months ago in the Rose Garden of the White House, and he's actually discussing a rock believed to have come from Mars. Zemeckis and crew simply placed the video of Clinton into the movie, so that it appears he's in a room with Jodie Foster, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett and other actors.
From left: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, all in their 70s and still doing action films.
Steve Starkey, a co-producer of "Contact," told the Los Angeles Times that presidential speeches "are in the public domain. We didn't alter a word he said. We just digitally replaced the setting. We took him from the Rose Garden to the pressroom."
The White House is not amused, however, and has lodged a complaint with the filmmakers.
Maybe they'd like to put the film in arbitration. Clinton could get into the Screen Actor's Guild, and his speechwriter could receive a writing credit — or at least a fee.
What's most interesting about all this is how well Clinton's remarks fit into the context of "Contact." These particular news clips provide a perfect example of how easily a pontificating generic political speech, which actually says nothing, can be adapted to any situation.
In that sense, it's pretty funny. And I was more amused by Clinton's appearance in the film than anything else. (There was also a titter that ran through the audience when he appeared onscreen.)
On the other hand, it does set a strange precedent. "Contact" may be the first movie to use public domain footage rather than simply hire an actor.
Who knows where it might lead?
Maybe all those 50-year-old action heroes — Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford — will be able to continue doing slam-bang movies longer than anyone thought, with digital computer-generated bodies doing all the work.
They'll be 90, still banging heads and saving the world.
And movie producers will still be giving them 25-year-old female co-stars.
Wolf Blitzer, left, Bryant Gumbel, Jay Leno, at their day (or late-night) jobs in 1997.
-— CNN RSVP ASAP: Someone else who got his feathers ruffled by "Contact" was CNN President Tom Johnson, whose highest-profile reporters appear in the film, making pronouncements about the fictional plot as if they are reading legitimate news.
CNN's senior news anchor Bernard Shaw, anchors Bobbie Battista and Linden Soles, several field reporters and, of course, Larry King, all show up.
A range of non-CNN types — from Bryant Gumbel to Jay Leno — also appear in "Contact." But because CNN is owned by Time-Warner, which also owns Warner Bros., the movie studio that made "Contact," there has been some question about the ethics of so many CNN reporters showing up on various TV screens in the movie. (Only CNN White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer formally declined.)
Of course, CNN has also been a strong presence in a number of other recent movies — "Independence Day," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "Face/Off" and many more.
Johnson said the intention was to help promote the Cable News Network — but now he feels that it has become a bit embarrassing.
Though a formal announcement has not been made Johnson indicated he may not let any of his reporters appear in future movies.
That will be a relief to struggling actors who audition for roles as news anchors.
ENDNOTE: Wolf Blitzer, by the way, has since been seen in such films as ‘The Campaign,’ ’Skyfall’ and ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout,’ along with such TV shows as ‘House of Cards,’ ‘The Brink’ and ‘Alpha
SEVEN NEW MOVIES AND NOTHING TO WATCH
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020
It’s a mixed bag of new movies at the multiplexes this weekend, with a couple of independently produced Sundance Film Festival winners appearing to be your best bets. Or you could just wait for them to be on some streaming site, which will happen all too soon.
There are also a few older films that have crept into theaters this weekend, including a 1963 classic and a couple of fairly recent films about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.
“The Last Shift” (R). A sad, over-the-hill, faintly racist bachelor and former high school jock (Richard Jenkins) is about to retire from a fast-food joint when he clashes with his replacement, a young black man (Shane Paul McGhie) who rails against white privilege in this comedy-drama. With Allison Tolman and Ed O’Neill. (Had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.)
“Kajillionaire” (R). Richard Jenkins is also in this comedy-drama (which also had its world premiere at Sundance) about a cynical con artist (Evan Rachel Wood) who works with her criminal parents (Jenkins, Debra Winger) but who feels upended when another crook is invited to join them on a heist. With Gina Rodriguez. (To be on video-on-demand Oct. 16.)
“Ava” (R). Jessica Chastain stars as a seasoned assassin working for some kind of killer-for-hire worldwide organization is blindsided by hit gone wrong and begins to think she was set up. With Colin Farrell, Geena Davis, Common, John Malkovich, Joan Chen. (Also available on video-on-demand.)
“Leap” (Not Rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles). Chinese biographical film covers 40 years in the lives of members of China women’s national volleyball team. Gong Li stars as a coach. (Exclusive at the AMC Theater in West Jordan.)
“Shortcut” (R). A mysterious monster terrorizes five school kids whose bus has taken a wrong turn in this English-language Italian creature feature.
“Break the Silence: The Movie” (Not Rated, in Korean with English subtitles). South Korean documentary follows the band BTS (aka The Bangtan Boys) during its “Love Yourself” world tour and is being sold as a sequel to the 2018 documentary “Burn the Stage: The Movie.”
“Candy Planet” (PG, dubbed in English). A group of kids in a jungle setting perform one task after another — derived from the “Candy Crush Saga” video game — to save their friends on Candy Planet. The full title for this children’s animated feature from China is “Jungle Master 2: Candy Planet.”
Older films landing in theaters this weekend include the two about Justice Ginsberg — the biographical film “On the Basis of Sex” and the documentary “RBG,” along with the Hictchcock-like comedy thriller “Charade,” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, as well as “The Empire Strikes Back” and the animated features “Akira,” “Madagascar,” “The Land Before Time” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others that are hanging in there include “Jurassic Park,” “School of Rok,” “Inception” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the great epics remains the 1960 ‘Spartacus,’ an early directing effort by Stanley Kubrick and, arguably, his most mainstream picture. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 9, 1991, on the occasion of a restoration and theatrical release — and which provided version shown in theaters now when the film is revived and the one released on disc and online these days. And that includes the new 4K upgrade released by Universal Home Entertainment a few weeks ago.
The latest re-issued classic film to get the restoration treatment is "Spartacus" — brought to us by the folks who resurrected "Lawrence of Arabia" a couple of years ago.
And you may ask why, since critics over the years have been somewhat disparaging toward "Spartacus," singling it out as a more clunky, less compelling example of the Hollywood sandal-and-sword epic, a genre that prospered during the late '50s and early '60s.
Even the film's director, Stanley Kubrick, has commented that "Spartacus" is perhaps the least of his work — probably because his other films, most prominently "2001 — A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange," were singular visions while this one required him to bend somewhat to the will of others (primarily Kirk Douglas, who starred, co-produced and essentially mounted the project himself).
But it should be remembered that "Spartacus" has not been seen on the big screen with an audience for many years. How fair a judgment can it receive when reviewed, in retrospect, on the small screen — or worse, from memory?
Seeing "Spartacus" in this restored version, with its original overture, intermission and a few inserted pieces of footage that had been excised after initial screenings, is nothing short of spectacular.
The first half of the film focuses on the title character (played by Douglas), born a slave in ancient Rome, as he finds himself in a gladiator school run by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov, who won an Oscar as best supporting actor). There he is trained with other slaves to fight in the arena, for the purpose of being sold to Romans who wish to watch, for amusement, combat to the death. He also meets Varinia (Jean Simmons) and falls in love.
But when Roman senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) drops by and insists on a fight to the death right there at Batiatus' school, it evolves into a riot as the slaves revolt and escape. Spartacus eventually organizes them and they cross the land freeing other slaves and building an army.
After the intermission, the film's second half is somewhat less focused as the action vacillates between Crassus' personal battles in the Roman senate, particularly against his longtime enemy Gracchus (Charles Laughton), and Spartacus' attempt to lead his army south to the sea, where they hope to board ships and escape Italy.
But in the final third, the story comes together very well and the ending is, for its time, surprisingly taut and stark.
Kubrick actually proved a perfect choice to direct "Spartacus," bringing a sense of graphic realism that was ahead of its time. This applies to some of the acting choices and the way he choreographed his literal cast of thousands as well as such highly publicized restored sequences as Crassus' face being splattered with blood when he kills a slave and Spartacus chopping of a Roman soldier's arm during a battle.
While it's perhaps understandable that censors balked at the bloody violence Kubrick included, some other choices, moments that are back in this restored version, seem less reasonable. The infamous "snails and oysters" scene, wherein Crassus makes a veiled homosexual advance toward his slave Antoninus (Tony Curtis), actually helps us understand why Antoninus runs away from his plush surroundings and easy life. Later, a touching moment that shows grieving parents burying their dead baby during the slave army's long trek gives us a sense of the hardships suffered during that journey, which is otherwise largely absent.
The most thrilling moments, however, do not come from material restored to this film, but rather from sequences that simply lose power on a video monitor. The projection of "Spartacus" on the big screen is what lends depth to the action sequences, offering the kind of spectacle we see so rarely today.
The two most stunning examples are Spartacus' duel to the death with a fellow slave (Woody Strode) in the film's first half, as exciting a movie fight as any in the past 30 years, and the incredible march of the Roman soldiers on the slave army toward the end of the picture, which reaches a zenith as the slaves drag flaming logs through the enemy's ranks.
The performances here are uniformly excellent, but special mention should be made of the subtle scene-stealing that Ustinov and Laughton bring to their roles — triumphs of subtle acting from which modern thespians could learn much.
There was no rating system in 1960, but this restored version has received a PG-13 for violence, along with a couple of brief moments where Simmons is partially nude.
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.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Of all the teen flicks churned out by John Hughes, ‘The Breakfast Club’ is generally cited as his seminal work, idiotically rated R at the time of its initial release … though I doubt if that kept many teens from going to it. As Fathom Events gets up and running for the first time since the pandemic shut things down in March, one of its first national limited-release films is this one, to be screened on Sunday, Sept. 20; Monday, Sept. 21; and Tuesday, Sept. 22 in various local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. This review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 15, 1985.
Writer-director John Hughes seems to be single-handedly raising public consciousness about teenagers. While all around him filmmakers portray adolescents as sex-hungry jerks who play vulgar practical jokes on each other, Hughes depicts teens as sensitive, rounded human beings. Radical, to say the least.
Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” last year had its problems, most of which seemed to be commercial concessions, but the film was respectful of its teenage characters. And he even cast real teenagers in the roles.
The biggest obstacle to Hughes’ latest film, “The Breakfast Club,” may be its being mistaken for just another raunchy teenage comedy, since the ad campaign seems to suggest that, and it is surrounded by such other current releases as “Mischief,” “Heaven Help Us” and “Vision Quest.”
From left, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy (sitting), Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Michael Anthony Hall, 'The Breakfast Club' (1985)
But “The Breakfast Club” is unique. The story idea is not new, putting five people from different social strata in one room for a day and observing their fights, arguing, mellowing out and eventually gaining respect for one another. But Hughes has taken this basic idea out of the Army camp, the barroom and the jail cell, and put it in a high school.
His five very different people are teenagers, all condemned to a day of detention — a Saturday. And the result is a perceptive, occasionally piercing look at parent-child relationships.
True, the film is rather static; true, the individual characters’ stories occasionally seem too obvious, too contrived, or too pat; and true, the film’s universality may only be felt in fits and starts for some audiences.
But there are enough redeeming truths here, and more than enough excellent performances, to suggest this is a film from which teen audiences might benefit. And I might go one more step and suggest parents see it with their teens, then discuss some of the issues it raises.
(The R rating here is exclusively for language, which, admittedly, gets rather coarse from time to time — but nothing kids don’t hear in school. Yes, even Utah kids.)
As “The Breakfast Club” opens, four of the five are dropped off at school on Saturday morning by their parents (one walks there himself). This is the only physical glimpse we get of any parents, though their presence is felt throughout the film.
The five kids are the rich princess (Molly Ringwald), the intellectual geek (Michael Anthony Hall), the macho jerk (Emilio Estevez), the hoodlum who’s smarter than he lets on (Judd Nelson) and the weirdo with no friends (Ally Sheedy). And where Hughes occasionally lets his writing seem more like writing than real conversation, he is helped by the five actors, all of whom give consummate performances in true ensemble style.
They nearly all dislike one another upon their initial meeting, then they gradually, reluctantly, come together as they unite in their resentment of the teacher in charge of their detention, well-played by Paul Gleason but written in an extremely one-dimensional way. (The only other prominent adult is John Kapelos as a philosophizing janitor, a gimmick that is a bit too cute.)
By the end they have psychoanalyzed each other and themselves, and the movie finishes on a note of realism that comes rather unexpectedly at the end of the lengthy confessional scene — the film’s best sequence.
“The Breakfast Club” is a remarkably refreshing little teenage film that is like an oasis in the current sea of ridiculous, idiotic teen comedies that dominate local movie theaters.
And the R rating seems a bit harsh. A PG-13 might be more palatable, indicating that the teenagers who can best appreciate this film should more easily be able to get in.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Hungarian period drama — the first film from Hungary to win the Oscar for best foreign-language picture — is making its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the United States (it was released on VHS here in 1994) as Kino Lorber gives it an upgrade that should please foreign-film fans. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 1983.
A tortured study in egotism and the lengths to which people will sometimes go to achieve their own ends is the theme in “Mephisto,” which follows an obscure young actor (Klaus Maria Brandauer) on his rise to fame during the beginnings of Nazism in Germany during the 1920s and ’30s.
The film hangs largely on Brandauer’s performance as an egocentric whose manic need for attention is forcefully brought home in the film’s first scene, as he sits alone in a theater dressing room, ranting and raving because the leading lady of the evening is receiving enthusiastic applause on stage. Brandauer is but a struggling unknown.
Klaus Maria Brandauer, 'Mephisto' (1983)
Later, when his talent is complimented by the same leading lady, he asks her to repeat it — louder. She does, and the look on Brandauer’s face tells us that such things are what he lives for, and only what he feels he deserves.
Brandauer would sell his soul for stardom — and would sell it again to retain that stardom. And that’s precisely what he does when the Nazis take over. His wife, his lover, his friends … all are secondary to his personal desires, and some are occasionally discarded.
Eventually, he allows himself to be a pawn, used by Nazis to perpetuate a false image of cultural humanity. And it becomes evident that he has been playing roles for so long, his own personality has become lost in the character shuffle.
Klaus Maria Brandauer (center) in performance makeup puts on a show for a Nazi gathering in 'Mephisto' (1983)
“Mephisto” won last year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film, and though it has power and is extremely well-acted, I have to question its being chosen over the Polish “Man of Iron” and the Italian “Three Brothers,” both of which have played in Salt Lake City — and both of which are better films. (But then, whoever said Oscar was the definitive chooser of each year’s best.)
A downbeat character study, the biggest drawback is perhaps that the lead character is such a louse. He occasionally shows signs of remorse but each time we think he may take a stand or change his viewpoint, his personal desires get in the way.
“Mephisto,” in Hungarian with English subtitles, is unrated but would easily get a hard R for the sex scenes between Brandauer and Karin Boyd as his lover. The violence is mostly off-camera, the profanity is minimal, but the nudity and sex are excessive and unnecessary.