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CAST OF THOUSANDS...OF PIXELS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column, published in the Deseret News on March 9, 2007,under the headline, ‘Computerized background looks too fake,’ is a rant about CGI looking too phony, especially in crowd scenes. And when it was written that was certainly a legitimate gripe, as the examples suggest. But to be fair, in the dozen years since, special effects have become much more sophisticated. And little did I know in 2007 that just four years later we’d see Marilyn Monroe given new CGI life in TV commercials, along with Fred Astaire, Grace Kelly and others. Tom Cruise, take note!

Remember that old tagline that was used to advertise so many movies in the 1950s and ’60s — "a cast of thousands!" Well, not anymore.

Unless you count the cartoon crowd scenes in movies today.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In theory.

After all, artwork — in the form of drawings and miniature models — has supplemented movie backgrounds ever since movies began.

Need a blue sky, even though the scene was filmed on a cloudy day? We'll paint it in.

Want a village devastated by a flood? We'll build it small and photograph it big.

You get the idea.

Today, of course, such things are done with CGI — computer-graphic imagery, more commonly referred to as computer animation.

Which is fine as far as it goes, although some filmmakers who love dazzling special effects predict that one day movies will be so driven by computers that humans will hardly be needed at all.

If Tom Cruise wants to co-star in a film with Marilyn Monroe, perhaps he can perform against a blue screen and she can be added later!

But if today's big movies are any indication, we have a ways to go.

 

Take, for example, "300."

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen "300," which opens in theaters today. So I have no opinion of the movie itself. But I can say that in the trailers the multitudes of warriors look phony.

Perhaps in the context of "300" — which is, after all, based more on a comic book than history — it doesn't matter. Maybe it's supposed to be cartoony and over the top.

But I've noticed this in other recent films and I'm beginning to wonder if the technology is being pushed a bit too fast.

This has been building in my mind for a while now. It was some years ago that I first began to notice — as in, it's a bit of a distraction — large crowds being added with animation instead of extras. (In Hollywoodspeak, "extras" are actual human beings hired to fill out crowd scenes; see "Spartacus," "Lawrence of Arabia," etc.)

But it's getting kind of ridiculous.

Two recent examples leap to mind: "Curse of the Golden Flower," a Chinese epic, and the World War I dogfight flick "Flyboys."

"Curse" is a flamboyant, Shakespearean soap opera set in 10th-century China, with an emperor and empress engaged in a down-and-dirty power struggle — a deadly game of one-upmanship.

The film gets wilder and weirder as it goes along — especially in the climax, where thousands of soldiers spill gallons of blood. Gallons of computer imagery, that is.

     

This entire sequence just looks too fake, very much like a cartoon. Or worse, a video-game cartoon.

After all the human interaction that has gone before — however hyper-real it may seem set against the film's colorful, eye-popping costumes and set design — it's understandable that the audience might expect something a tad more realistic in this battle sequence.

In the case of "Flyboys," I couldn't help but think of WWI films I had seen decades before — from "Hell's Angels" to "The Blue Max" — which used some models but also a lot of daredevil flying of actual planes in the air.

"Flyboys" also too often resembles a video game, with silly-looking cartoon dogfights.

But it's a little worse than that. Because you're not at the controls.

It's like watching someone else play a video game.

After a while boredom sets in.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

BLINDED BY THE BOSS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

It’s an interesting mix of movies in local theaters this weekend, from the offbeat Springsteen musical to a vehicle for Cate Blanchett to demonstrate her comic chops to a documentary about one of the great TV newsmen of the 20th century.

“Blinded By the Light” (PG-13). A Pakistani-British teenager (Viveik Kalra) living in Luton, England, circa 1987, writes poetry to combat the racial and economic turmoil of his life when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Spingsteen, which he embraces as a cathartic release for his pent-up frustrations. Based on a true story. With Haley Atwell.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (PG-13). Richard Linklater (“School of Rock,” “Boyhood”) co-wrote and directed this whimsical comedy based on Maria Semple’s novel about the titular misanthrope (Blanchett) who has spent her life being a wife and mother but suddenly feels compelled to strike out on her own and follow her bliss. With Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn and Megan Mullally.

  

“Mike Wallace Is Here” (Not Rated). The TV journalist whose fearless confrontations with the rich and powerful made him a celebrity in the late 1960s on the CBS newsmagazine program “60 Minutes” is profiled in this documentary comprised of copious amounts of archival footage featuring, among many others, Martin Luther King Jr., Johnny Carson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bette Davis, Salvador Dali and the Ayatollah Khomeini. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (PG-13). This in-name-only sequel has four teenage girls diving in a ruined underwater city when they suddenly find themselves confronted by a bevy of sharks in a claustrophobic labyrinth of caves. With Sophie Nélisse (“The Book Thief”), Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie), Sistine Stallone (daughter of Sylvester), Brianne Tju, John Corbett and Nia Long.

“The Angry Birds Movie 2” (PG). The angry birds and angry pigs are still at war with each other as this animated sequel begins but soon they are forced to come together to take on a mutual enemy, a vengeful eagle. Voice cast includes Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, Awkwafina, Sterling K. Brown, Eugenio Derbez, Danny McBride, Peter Diklage, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish.

  

“Ode to Joy” (R). Martin Freeman is Charlie, a librarian in Brooklyn who suffers from cataplexy, causing him to faint whenever he experiences strong emotions, which his girlfriend (Melissa Rauch) tries to respect and support. But when he falls in love with a charming free spirit (Morena Baccarin), Charlie tries to avoid embarrassment by setting her up with his brother (Jake Lacy). With Jane Curtin.

“Good Boys” (R). When a 12-year-old boy (Jacob Tremblay) is invited to a kissing party he panics and asks his buddies for some pointers, which leads to a series of very bad decisions. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (“Year One,” “Bad Teacher”) wrote this raunchy comedy, which marks Stupinsky’s directing debut. With Will Forte.

“Honeyland” (Not Rated). This documentary chronicles the travails of the last female beehunter in Europe who is attempting to restore the natural balance in Honeyland when the area is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers that threaten her livelihood. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

ALADDIN (1992)

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: With Disney’s live-action reworking of ‘Aladdin’ opening this weekend let’s take a look back at the 1992 animated version. This review was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 25, 1992.

"Beauty and the Beast." What a tough act to follow. In fact, the animation graveyard is strewn with summer of ’92 cartoon flicks that failed to live up to expectations.

But leave it to the folks at Disney to come back a year after "Beauty and the Beast" with something completely different. "Aladdin" isn't a romantic musical laced with comedy and cutesy characters.

It's a flat-out comedy-adventure, an anachronistic, wacky effort that looks more like something the old Warner Bros. cartoonists (Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng) would concoct than Disney.

The story is, of course, based on the oft-filmed "Arabian Nights" tale of a young street thief who finds a magic lamp, rubs it and releases a genie that offers him three wishes.

The film has its "Raiders of the Lost Ark" moments and is enjoyable as an action picture — but it is the wild comedy that pushes it to a superior level of animated entertainment.

     

Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) with Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and Jasmine (Linda Larkin) in 'Aladdin.'

Much of this is due to the already ballyhooed voice performance of Robin Williams as the genie. Williams really cuts loose, impersonating dozens of celebrities with his one-of-a-kind comic aplomb.

Not all of the comedy comes from him, however — much of it comes from the artists he has obviously inspired. The sight gags that accompany his verbal virtuosity are just as hilarious, right down to a couple of pokes at Disney, cameos by Pinocchio and Sebastian the crab. Still, there's no question that Williams handily steals the show.

The story has Aladdin and his pet monkey being forced by an evil wizard to obtain the magic lamp from a hidden, mystical treasure trove.

When things go awry, Aladdin, the monkey and a helpful, amazingly expressive magic carpet are trapped with the lamp, and when Aladdin innocently rubs it, he releases you-know-who.

From this point on, no holds are barred as Williams cuts loose with a barrage of rapid-fire gags aimed at an uncountable number of comedy targets.

     

Other aspects of the film that cannot be ignored, however, are the amazing blending of computer and hand-drawn animation, which lends an unprecedented depth to the film's look, and another humorous voice interpretation, Gilbert Gottfried as a nasty parrot perched on the shoulder of the wizard.

It's also nice to see the two young romantic leads here drawn with an Arabian ethnic look, another unprecedented move from the Disney folks.

"Aladdin" is a terrific film, a highly entertaining experience but it is by no means strictly for children. In fact, many of the gags will go right over their heads. How many kids know who William F. Buckley or Ed Sullivan or Carol Channing are, anyway?

Cartoon or not, "Aladdin" is simply a hilarious comedy.


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

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: When people … older people, of course … talk about movies that need to be seen in a theater on a 40-foot screen instead of at home on a TV screen — even a 65-inch screen — the film that sets the standard is ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Originally released in 1962, the multiple Oscar-winner was given a meticulous two-year restoration and re-released in theaters in 1989. And now it’s back for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, on Sunday, Sept. 1, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. in several Cinemark theaters and at 1 and 6 p.m. the Megaplex Jordan Commons theater. My review below was published in the Deseret News on March 17, 1989. (And, of course, the Regency Theater mentioned at the end has long been absent from the Salt Lake movie landscape.)

Despite powerful performances in films that post-date "Lawrence of Arabia" — such as "Becket," "The Lion in Winter," "The Ruling Class," "The Stunt Man," "My Favorite Year" and "The Last Emperor" — Peter O'Toole is seldom named in the company of great actors.

Yet his "Lawrence" remains truly great acting, and what he does with his face and body as we see the gradual evolution of T.E. Lawrence in the course of this nearly four-hour film, is nothing short of amazing.

When David Lean picked the unknown actor, with only three minor film roles to his credit at the time, to be his "Lawrence," he knew what he was doing. There are lingering moments here when we see O'Toole's sun-bleached blond hair and striking blue eyes against the bright blue sky or expansive yellow desert, and his expression says more than reams of dialogue could ever approach.

     

Peter O'Toole, left, Anthony Quinn, 'Lawrence of Arabia'

In fact, though I've seen this film's truncated version a couple of times since 1962, I had forgotten just how little dialogue there is, and how deeply textured the film becomes as it progresses. The desert is a prominent character here, and it changes and shapes T.E. Lawrence as much as the horrors of war that he endures.

If ever there was a movie worthy of restoration and reissuing it is "Lawrence of Arabia," which too often is catalogued under "epic" film and simply aligned with every other big-budget, cast-of-thousands movie ever made.

But "Lawrence" is much more, with a strong central character who undergoes stark changes over the course of several years as a British military officer, initially assigned to size up Prince Feisel (Alec Guinness) during the 1914 campaign against the Turks in Arabia. Despite his fair skin and English uppercrust demeanor, Lawrence idealizes the Arab people and tries to become one of them, ultimately heading for his downfall when he begins to think of himself as something more than a man.

 

It is a complex performance complemented by Lean's superlative direction, which is indeed epic in scope, but which never allows that scope to overwhelm the story or characters. It is a film with action and adventure, yet it defies those genre types.

Lean isn't afraid to let his camera rest on images that fill the 70mm screen and allow the audience to work a bit at picking out the importance of them. And, as a friend put it, you'll find yourself leaning forward in your seat and looking across the screen, almost as if you yourself were in the desert instead of a movie theater.

O'Toole is also complemented by a terrific supporting ensemble, with Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn all in rare form, as are Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains.

Don't wait for this one to hit video in its newly restored, richly enhanced form. And don't wait for it to go into second-run theaters. See it in 70mm and Dolby Stereo at the Regency Theater and you will be amazed at what movies are capable of being.


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

HELLO AGAIN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: During and after leaving the hit sitcom ‘Cheers,’ Shelley Long capitalized on her TV celebrity by starring in a string of big-screen comedies, most of which played like failed big-screen sitcoms (‘Caveman,’ ‘The Money Pit,’ ‘Troop Beverly Hills’). And so it is with this one; it’s not unwatchable but it should have been better. Still, this will be a treat for all you Long fans, as Kino Lorber has given the comedy a Blu-ray upgrade in a brand-new release. My review was published Nov. 6, 1987, in the Deseret News.

“Hello Again,” a comedy vehicle for Shelley Long (her first since leaving TV’s “Cheers”), is sort of “Heaven Can Wait” by way of “My Favorite Wife.”

The latter, of course, is the old Cary Grant-Irene Dunne picture (remade with Doris Day and James Garner as “Move Over, Darling”) that had Dunne presumed dead after being lost for several years on a remote island, returning to civilization to find husband Grant about to remarry.

In “Hello Again,” Shelley Long chokes on a piece of chicken and actually dies. A year later her eccentric sister, who runs an occult shop, finds a spell in an old witchcraft book that brings Long back to life.

Not only does Long find her husband (Corbin Bernsen, of TV’s “L.A. Law”) has remarried, he married her best friend. Further, he has sold their home, is living a new high-rolling lifestyle and is none too happy that Long has returned to foul up his life.

     

        Sela Ward, left, Shelley Long, 'Hello Again'

This isn’t really such a bad premise but “Hello Again” is fraught with problems from beginning to end, not the least of which is director Frank Perry’s inability to set up the many slapstick sequences with any finesse.

Long’s character is supposed to be a real klutz and she is constantly tripping, stumbling, knocking over whatever she comes near, and spilling food and drink all over herself. But there is a big difference between clumsiness on the screen that makes us laugh and that which makes us cringe. All too often, this clumsiness does the latter.

Comedy is a delicate art, of course; it’s all in the timing. Unfortunately, the timing is consistently off here. And that’s really a shame because the script, by Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), contains some very funny material and Long works very hard at trying to make it work.

If that’s not enough, every character in the film — no matter how endearing — is far too underdeveloped. The film’s scene-stealers are Judith Ivey as Long’s eccentric sister and Austin Pendleton as an equally eccentric billionaire, but they simply aren’t given enough to do.

     

Likewise, Bernsen, who is really terrific on “L.A. Law” as divorce lawyer Arnie Becker, a lovable cad, has a truly thankless role as Long’s husband. He is supposed to be a lovable cad here too — and in the second half of the film he certainly is a cad. But before Long dies and despite Bernsen’s desire to climb socially, he seems like a loving, caring, husband. It’s hard to believe he could be so callous about Long’s return from the dead.

Sela Ward, as Bernsen’s money-hungry new wife, fares better, but Gabriel Byrne, as Long’s new love, is so sullen and intense he seems to belong in some other movie.

As for Long, fans will no doubt enjoy her here — it is the first movie she has carried as the lone star, after all. But mugging and pratfalls aren’t enough to save this one. Long is very good and a real charmer but she needed a director that understands comedy.

Director Perry has some good films to his credit but he’s also the man who gave us the wildly over-played “Mommie Dearest.” Subtlety and delicacy have never been his forte and it has seldom been so obvious as in this film.

“Hello Again” is rated PG for a few profanities and a brief shot of Long’s derriere revealed through a hospital dressing gown.