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HYPE, HYPE, HOORAY

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lest you think our current president invented ridiculous hyperbole with his self-aggrandizing Tweets, here’s a 30-year-old column about the kind of hype that movie studios use in ads, lifting quotes from movie reviews. It ran in the Deseret News under the headline, ‘Critics fan flames as movie hype heats up,’ on July 22, 1990. The movie titles are old but the hyperbole remains the same.

It's the season of hyperbole, and I don't mean just from movie studios.

Critics all over the country are gushing over certain movies, and the studios are all too happy to take quotes out of context and use them in newspaper ads.

In defense of movie critics — my species, after all — let's face it, how many ways are there to say "good," "bad" or "indifferent"? Now narrow your thesaurus expectations to variations on "good," since that's all that studio press folks are interested in.

On movie pages in recent weeks you may have seen: "thrilling," "dazzling," "heart-stopping," "a bulldozer" and "mind-boggling" — and those were all in one ad, for "Total Recall."

Other adjectives that often appear to be screaming at you in large type — and all of these have appeared in this summer's movie ads — include "terrific," "uproarious," "hysterical," "classic," "a gem," "a triumph," "exceptional," "sensational," "spectacular," "sparkles," "beautiful," "magical," "magnificent," "tantalizing" and "witty."

Most had exclamation points after them, of course.

 

And the latest cliché is "Two thumbs up," whenever Roger Ebert and Gene Siskel agree on something.

When single words are simply lifted from a review, it's hard to blame the critic. Writers who review hundreds of films each year are simply searching for a way to make the writing interesting and different from every other review.

But it does get strange — and it's hard not to think that some critics write with ad quotes in mind, even if you agree that a particular movie was great, there’s no question that some of the praise is over the top.

On one movie page in a recent entertainment section, there were ads describing "Bird on a Wire" as "a roller coaster of a movie" and "Total Recall" as "a thrill ride" — as if they were playing at amusement parks instead of movie theaters.

Other recent examples:

"The most delightful series since ‘Star Wars.’ ” (Richard Schickel on "Back to the Future, Part III")

"Bill Murray will grab hold of your sides and tickle you half to death." (Jeffrey Lyons, "Quick Change")

 

"The best film of the summer." (Siskel, "Die Hard 2")

"The funniest movie in a long time." (Gary Franklin, "Betsy's Wedding")

"A terrific screwball comedy." (Peter Goddard, "Ghost Dad")

"A classic fantasy." (Hal Hinson, "Back to the Future, Part III")

Well, you get the idea.

Maybe we need to redefine "screwball comedy" and "classic."

But the winner of the 1990 Gene Shalit Bizarre Ad-Quote Award goes to Dixie Whatley, co-host of that syndicated "Siskel & Ebert" clone, "At the Movies."

The winning quote ran in huge type in print ads for "Internal Affairs," the Richard Gere thriller released earlier this year:

"I was so enthralled I forgot to breathe!"

I've forgotten a lot of things — an appointment, my wallet, a birthday, to put out the cat. … But I'm pretty sure I've never forgotten to breathe, no matter how enthralled I was.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

MEGAPLEX, REDWOOD CHUG ALONG

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2020

The Cinemark Theaters locally had announced they would be opening their doors in a tentative, social-distancing manner this weekend but with the recent surge in coronavirus cases the chain has decided it’s too soon, refunding money to those who had paid online in advance for tickets. At the moment there is no set date for reopening.

Megaplex theaters in the Salt Lake Valley, and the Redwood Drive-In, however, continue — under social-distancing directives — to play a mix of older films and more recent titles, along with adding a new movie or two each week.

 

The new Megaplex titles this week are the documentary “John Lewis: Good Trouble” (rated PG), about the Democratic congressman and political activist who marched with Martin Luther King and is currently serving his 17th term in the House of Representatives, and “Followed,” and the R-rated found-footage horror film “Followed,” about a social-media video crew visiting a haunted hotel. And “Irresistible” and “The High Note” continue.

A new film is also at the Redwood Drive-in, and if you are (or were) a frequent moviegoer you probably saw the trailer several times in the months preceding the Covid-19 pandemic (my wife and I certainly did): “My Spy,” the PG-13 rated family comedy with Dave Bautista as a bumbling spy who is force to teach a precocious 9-year-old girl (Chloe Coleman) his techniques.

All three of these “new” movies are, of course, also available on various streaming sites.

 

Older titles coming to local Megaplex theaters this weekend include “Saving Private Ryan” (1998), “Downton Abbey” (2019), “Ocean’s Eleven” (2001), “Chicago” (2002), “Dunkirk” (2017), “The Jungle Book” (2016), “Star Wars: The Force Awakens” (2015) and “Deadpool” (2016).

And among the hangers-on are “Jaws” (1975), “Ghostbusters” (1984), “Jurassic Park” (1993), “Raiders of the Lost Ark” (1981), “Back to the Future” (1985), “Gladiator” (2000) and more.

And at the Redwood you can also find “Ghostbusters” and “Jurassic Park,” along with “Groundhog Day” (1993), “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” (1986) and “Footloose” (1984)

Happy viewing, and don’t forget your mask and sanitizer.


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

MO’ BETTER BLUES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber has released five Spike Lee movies as Blu-ray upgrades, four of which I reviewed during my tenure as movie critic for the Deseret News. The past three weeks have seen ‘Crooklyn,’ ‘Clockers’ and “Jungle Fever” in this space; today it’s ‘mo’ better blues,’ reviewed in the Aug. 10, 1990, Deseret News.

Spike Lee's "Do the Right Thing" last year was a tough-minded, angry exploration of racism that sparked controversy when it was released during the summer, then again when it was overlooked at Oscar time.

Prior to that film the young writer-director gave us the low-budget but innovative "She's Gotta Have It," with its insightful feminist bent, and the offbeat campus musical with a message, "School Daze."

But Lee's latest, "mo' better blues," is not at all controversial and, as far as the story is concerned, something of a traditional Hollywood-style film.

With "mo' better blues," Lee has made a movie about the world of jazz, focusing on one talented artist who is obsessed with his music, but minus the dark clichés of depression and drug abuse that so often pervade movies on this subject.

Oddly, however, in eliminating those clichés Lee has embraced several others, capped by a bizarre domestic ending that seems to toss aside everything that has gone before.

     

Denzel Washington, left, Wesley Snipes, 'mo' better blues' (1990)

Denzel Washington, who won the best supporting actor Oscar last year for "Glory," stars here as Bleek Gilliam, a trumpet player whose music has made his life so insular and rigid that he has, for all intents and purposes, psychologically shut out his friends and lovers.

The central characters surrounding him are Lee himself as Giant, a boyhood friend and manager of Bleek's band; Bleek's two lovers, played exquisitely as very different types by Lee's sister Joie as Indigo and newcomer Cynda Williams as Clarke; and two members of Bleek's band, Shadow (Wesley Snipes) and Left Hand Lacey (Giancarlo Esposito).

Giant, though he offers most of the film's comic relief, is a tragic character. He's no good at managing the group and he's a chronic gambler who loses all his money to his bookie (Ruben Blades) by betting on baseball games. Naturally, Bleek is getting pressure to let him go.

Indigo is a schoolteacher who doesn't show a lot of interest in Washington's music and Clarke is an aspiring singer who hopes Washington will help her get a break. (When Cynda Williams finally gets to sing toward the end of the film, it's a wonderful revelation.)

Meanwhile, there are subplots about Lacey getting uptight when he's razzed about his white girlfriend and Shadow as a talented sax player who tries to outshine Bleek onstage and constantly threatens to get his own gig.

     

All of these elements add tension but some are woefully underdeveloped. The competition between Shadow, who tends to grandstand onstage, and Bleek, who is the headliner, is the most obvious example.

For some reason Bleek never complains about Shadow's antics and they don't seem to have much of a relationship offstage. But when the band's ultimate breakup occurs, it becomes apparent that they are supposed to be close friends and that the breakup is a shattering personal blow.

Still, the performances are first-rate, the music is fabulous and Lee's direction is always stylish and occasionally stunning. His whirling camera, sense of improvisation and wry humor provide a richness that adds layers to the film. And there are many individual scenes that are wonderfully realized.

There's no getting around Lee's talent but in this case his script could have used some polish — or perhaps collaboration.

Spike Lee's "mo' better blues" is rated R for language, violence, sex and nudity.


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

RAIDERS OF THE LOST ARK

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Not much need be said about this one; my review was published in the Deseret News on June 12, 1981; it's playing now at all Megaplex Theaters in the Salt Lake Valley.

Many movies owe a lot to other movies, but “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” IS a lot of other movies.

This really is a picture with something for everyone, and while film buffs are spotting bits borrowed from “Stagecoach” or “The Ten Commandments” or “Citizen Kane,” others will simply be caught up in the excitement of it all — and there’s plenty of that.

Director Steven Spielberg draws us in immediately with an opening that offers more thrills than most full-length features. Harrison Ford is freewheeling archaeologist Indiana Jones. He’s in South America searching for an ancient artifact. The time is 1936.

After some rapid-fire, harrowing escapes, he obtains the item, only to have it taken from him by his archrival Belloq (Paul Freeman). But this is only the prelude and we know they will meet again before the picture is over.

Purposely fashioned after the old B-movie serial cliffhangers, the plot has Ford hired by American forces to try and find the ancient Ark of the Covenant, which contained the broken tablets on which the original 10 commandments were written. They want it because Hitler wants it and his agents are very close to finding it.

What power does the Ark contain? Will Indiana Jones find it before the Nazis? How will he escape from the pit of asps? How will he rescue his mentor’s daughter Marion? How will “Raiders” do at the box-office?

The answer to the latter question has to be “stupendously!” You don’t have to wait until next week’s episode to find out what happens in any of the situations here but you’ll be on the edge of your seat from moment to moment.

     

An iconic moment in the opening scene of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)

“Raiders of the Lost Ark” is an enormously enjoyable piece of entertainment that harks back to what movies are really all about.

Spielberg, who hasn’t directed a film since “1941,” is an audience-pleaser and suspense is his strong suit. “Jaws” was the superior thriller it was because of Spielberg’s directorial strength at building scenes and “Raiders” gives him the perfect opportunity to do the same.

He and George Lucas, who is listed in the credits as one of the executive producers and one of the writers of the original storyline, love old movies, and all of their films contain little homages to cinema of the past. But “Raiders” allows them to jump in with both feet and this might almost be called “Raiders of the Lost Flicks”!

But that’s not a criticism. Lucas and Spielberg know how to use the material and the result is an exciting, funny, tremendously entertaining movie experience that will undoubtedly bring audiences back more than once.

Harrison Ford is also probably the perfect choice for a film like “Raiders” because his acting talent is slightly stilted. He looks like a B-movie actor and he’s performed like one in most of the films he’s done, from “Star Wars” to “Hanover Street.”

     

George Lucas, left, and Steven Spielberg on the set of 'Raiders of the Lost Ark' (1981)

Karen Allen (“Animal House,” “A Small Circle of Friends”) is fine as his former lover who has had to fend for herself for so long that by the time Indiana Jones meets her again she is herself a tough adversary.

And the rest of the cast fits perfectly.

The main difference between this picture and the old “B’s” is the scope. In 70mm and Dolby stereo, with expansive shots of his cast of thousands, Spielberg has added a dimension that only makes the picture more enthralling.

As a small warning, I might add that for a PG-rated film, “Raiders of the Lost Ark” is quite violent (there is also profanity). But even that is handled in a campy way, so that it seems to fit in with the huge spiders and large numbers of snakes that our hero meets along the way. And the sense of humor that pervades the entire picture carries it along as much as the thrills.

Originally conceived by Lucas as a series, not unlike the old 1930s and ’40s serials, “Raiders” will have a couple of Indiana Jones follow-ups if it is successful. And there’s not much doubt of that. Between “Raiders” and “Star Wars,” Lucas seems intent on resurrecting “the good old days” of movies … and that’s just fine with me.


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

MY TWENTIETH CENTURY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber occasionally releases interesting foreign-language titles that other home-video outlets have ignored, and such is the case with this new Blu-ray upgrade. It’s not a classic but it is certainly a title that foreign-film fans will appreciate. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 3, 1991. (As a trivia note, ‘My Twentieth Century’ was the first film for Dorta Segda, and the only one in which she was billed as Dorotha Segda.)

In "My Twentieth Century," the fascinating premise focuses on Lili and Dora (both played by the enchanting Dorotha Segda), identical twin sisters born in Hungary in 1880 — just as Edison is demonstrating his electric light on this continent.

The sisters are separated as young children and remain unknown to each other as they take different life adventures. But their paths later cross in surprising ways.

     

Ágnes Kovács, left, Eszter Kovács, as the young Lili and Dora, in ‘My Twentieth Century’ (1991).

The first occurs at the turn of the century, when they are 20, as they board the same train, unaware of each other's presence. Lili is an anarchist smuggling secret messages in a cage with carrier pigeons as she sits in a car filled with peasants and animals. Meanwhile, Dora is a high-rolling con artist and seductress, prowling the dining car.

Later, earthy Dora will continue to ply her trade while idealistic Lili will be planting bombs around the city of Budapest when both will find themselves romanced by the same man, identified only as "Z" in the credits (Oleg Jankowski). He, of course, doesn't realize they are different women, and neither woman realizes he has been with the other sister.

First-time Hungarian filmmaker Ildiko Enyedi (she won the Cannes Film Festival’s Camera d'Or award for this film last year) takes this compelling series of events and builds them slowly and enigmatically. There are moments of great wit and visual richness (the film is shot in gorgeous black and white).

But to call the film idiosyncratic is to understate.

     

Dorotha Segda, 'My Twentieth Century' (1991)

How you take to "My Twentieth Century" will have a lot to do with your own tolerance for obscure symbolism and bizarre technique.

Enyedi's digressions are occasionally maddening, including a strange lecture from a male chauvinist on female "inferiority" that goes on so long it threatens to obscure its real meaning.

Still, there are many wonderful moments and fans of artistic foreign-language film will enjoy this one.

"My Twentieth Century" — in Hungarian with English subtitles — is not rated but would certainly get an R for two sequences with nudity, including one that is a very graphic sex scene. There is also some violence.