For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a column from 12 years ago that might offer a brief respite from the rather nasty current election cycle, written back when Stephen Colbert was still on his Comedy Central program playing an obnoxious, ill-informed conservative’; David Letterman was still a nightly fixture, and Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’ was skewering all things political. This one was published on Oct 23, 2008, in the Deseret News. (Here’s a YouTube link for one of Gracie’s Allen’s campaign radio shows, and this YouTube link is for a  faux documentary about Pat Paulsen’s campaign — narrated by Henry Fonda!)

Here is a pair of amusing political quotes, both spoken with deadpan irony:

“It is time to forget the petty bickering and settle down to an old-fashioned mudslinging, name-calling campaign.”

“A platform is something a candidate stands for and the voters fall for.”

Although these comic observations could be applied to the current presidential campaign, they aren’t from Jon Stewart or David Letterman — or Stephen Colbert, who took a satirical run at the presidency last year.

They’re from two other faux presidential campaigns that preceded Colbert by several decades.

The first comes from Pat Paulsen’s 1968 presidential bid for the Straight Talking American Government Party — the “Stag Party” for short.

The second is Gracie Allen, who campaigned as a presidential candidate in 1940 for the “Surprise Party.”


Tom Smothers, left, Dick Smothers, Pat Paulsen, circa 1968.

In their respective eras, Paulsen and Allen launched wildly popular comedy campaigns, stumping across the country and speaking at various gatherings — and Allen’s whistlestop tour came to Salt Lake City.

(The TV special “Pat Paulsen for President” is on the DVD “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3.” Allen’s campaign is chronicled in the book “Gracie Allen for President” and the audio-CD set “Burns & Allen: Gracie For President.”)

Paulsen was a standup comic who hit his stride as a writer/performer for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which ran from 1967-69. He gained popularity on the show with his stone-faced editorials that tackled issues of the day:

“We are not against censorship because we realize there’s always the danger of something being said.”

“We hear that (the military draft) is unfair, immoral, discourages young men from studying, ruins their careers and their lives. Picky, picky, picky.”

Allen was the latter half of George Burns & Gracie Allen, with Burns as straightman to Allen’s ditsy “illogical logic,” which they perfected in vaudeville in the 1920s, later achieving stardom on radio (in the 1930s and ’40s) and TV (in the ’50s).

A typical exchange has Allen answering the phone and Burns asking who called. “A reporter from Hawaii,” Allen says. Burns asks, “How do you know he was from Hawaii?” “Well he must be,” Allen replies. “He said he was Brown from the Morning Sun.”


In their presidential races, Paulsen and Allen offered similar views about their qualifications for the office:

Paulsen: “I did not want this support. I have not desired it. As I’ve said, I’d rather remain as I am today, a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.”

Allen: “Now, I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I’m just a plain, ordinary, everyday genius who loves her fellow-men whenever possible.”

Paulsen: “I have conducted my campaign thus far in the true American political tradition. I lied about my intention to run. I’ve been consistently vague on all the issues. This has not been enough, apparently. Therefore I promise you all, my fellow Americans, that I will continue to make promises that I will be unable to fulfill.”

Allen: “We all realize that what this country needs is plenty, and even though it’s impossible I’ll be glad to do it.”

So with Allen in 1940, Paulsen in 1968 and Colbert in 2007, we should have another comedian running for president around 2030.

And since Allen and Paulsen actually did get write-in votes on some ballots, maybe by 2030 a comedian will actually win!

Tina Fey, perhaps?

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

Universal Pictures has rebooted one of its classic 1930s monsters in R-rated 21st century fashion, for good or ill, and this weekend’s four other new movies are a biography, a documentary and two TV series adaptations.

“The Invisible Man” (R). Elisabeth Moss stars in this very loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel as a woman trapped in a violent, controlling marriage with a brilliant scientist. When she finally manages to escape, she learns that he has committed suicide — but she has her doubts, especially when evidence suggests that he has become invisible and is tormenting her.

“Seberg” (R). This is the true story of American actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) who achieved stardom in 1960 in the French film “Breathless,” and who was surveilled and harassed by the FBI after she became associated with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) and the Black Panthers. With Jack O’Connell, Colm Meaney, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Root.


“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” (R). Robertson and the title “roots-rock” group are profiled in this Canadian confessional documentary, which features appearances by Martin Scorsese (who directed The Band’s acclaimed 1976 “farewell concert” film, “The Last Waltz”), Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and many more. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie” (PG-13). Based on the TV series, this one does have a scripted story of sorts, which unfolds during interludes between hidden-camera “reality show” pranks performed by the improvisational comedy team The Tenderloins on unsuspecting “civilians.” Paula Abdul makes an appearance.

“My Hero Academia” (PG-13, alternate screenings offer soundtracks dubbed in English or in Japanese with English subtitles). This Japanese anime fantasy is based on a popular manga comics and the subsequent anime TV series, here telling the story of a superhero-loving boy who has no powers but is determined to enroll in a prestigious hero academy.

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



For, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a singular cinematic figure during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and he died all too soon, in 1982 at the age of 37 from a drug overdose. A German filmmaker whose works were eccentric but often gripping, he received worldwide acclaim for several films before his biggest international hit, ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ in 1979. I reviewed two of his follow-ups, ‘Veronika Voss’ and ‘Lola,’ for the Deseret News and now all three are in a new Criterion Collection Blu-ray set, ‘The BRD Trilogy.’ My review of ‘Lola’ is below, initially published on Jan. 21, 1983. (The ‘Veronika Voss’ review was in this space last week.)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s images of post-war Germany are always bleak, but there is an oddly interesting look to “Lola,” with strikingly gauche colors and lights invading every scene, and transitions that seem designed to make scenes run into one another.

That bit of unique camera trickery alone would make this worth recommending, but the performances are equally as striking, particularly by the lead characters, a seemingly incorruptible public official (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the cabaret singer who leads him astray (Barbara Sukowa).

“Lola” takes place in the late 1950s, during Germany’s post-war reconstruction era and Fassbinder once again paints a rather unflattering portrait of people, invading their dark sides and seeming to suggest that everyone has his/her emotional price.


                      Rainer Werner Fassbinder

His film’s characters always do and this picture offers no exceptions.

In this case, it is a small town with a corrupt building committee that must contend with a new, stiff-necked building commissioner (Mueller-Stahl).

What the commissioner doesn’t know about the seamier side of this berg is that all the men spend their evenings at the local brothel-cabaret, where his own assistant plays sexy songs and the board members spend their nights with the ladies, er, that is, ladies of the evening.

Meanwhile, Lola takes it as a challenge that all the other men in her life seem to feel the commissioner cannot fall and wouldn’t be interested “in a girl like her.” So she seduces him intellectually, eventually reducing him to ashes.

As should be expected, perhaps, the commissioner, in the end, proves as corruptible as any of the townspeople and eventually trades his integrity for his extremely foolish heart.


The acting is fine all around, particularly the two leads, and the direction is excellent. Fassbinder’s views of humanity were certainly cynical, but there is no denying that he was a first-rate filmmaker whose eye for the camera was one of the best in the business.

The prolific filmmaker died of apparent suicide late last year, and we are still getting the last few of his films here from time to time.

“Lola” is rated R for nudity, sex and profanity, though all three are rather restrained, considering the subject matter.

It’s not Fassbinder at his best, but it is certainly Fassbinder — eccentric, experimental and fascinating in his approach.

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.

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



For, Friday, March 27, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mel Gibson’s three-hour epic ‘Braveheart’ was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture and Best Director, and though I was not quite as taken with the film as were many critics, I understand why the film nonetheless remains a fan favorite some 25 years later. Now it’s coming back to the big screen for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events, on Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m., and Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in selected Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 24, 1995, and note my comment about its budget; in today’s dollars, $70 million is about $120 million.

Mel Gibson the actor does pretty well in "Braveheart," though one wonders if a more focused director could have pulled a performance from him that would have given the central character a bit more heft.

And Mel Gibson the director vindicates himself with ferocious, complex battle scenes involving hundreds of extras while managing to tell the intimate story of one man whose name is still revered in Scottish history. (Let's remember that he has only directed one other film, the small drama "The Man Without a Face.")

But Mel Gibson the co-producer seems to have been unable to keep his director and star's ego in check. With its slow-motion sequences, an emphasis on bloody gore and an unwieldy three-hour running time, "Braveheart" just hints at what it might have been. In fact, it's fair to say that a terrific two-hour movie could probably be found somewhere in this three-hour epic.


Mel Gibson and Catherine McCormack on the set of 'Braveheart' (1995).

Keeping his focus on his real-life central character, Scottish knight William Wallace, whom he also plays, Gibson has made a valiant effort to make this medieval adventure authentic, faithful to its time in terms of sensibility and physicality. The characters are filthy and crude, the fight scenes are up close and personal, and the politics are simplistic and often duplicitous.

But there are times when, instead of feeling as if they are being pulled into the story, audience members may feel pushed away. The level of violence, in particular, is up there with the slasher-horror genre, which may keep even Gibson's most ardent fans from wanting a second helping in weeks down the road. (And repeat viewings are essential to the profit margin of a film this size, reportedly budgeted at $70 million.)

An educated man, unlike the peasants who surround him, Wallace is a Scotsman through and through, and when the king of England (Patrick McGoohan) seizes the Scottish throne and begins to impose impossible demands on the people, Wallace is asked to join a rebellion. But he declines.

Later, however, after he romances and marries his lifelong love Murron (Catherine McCormack), a tragedy occurs that changes his mind as he leads his people into battle against the English.


The sheer logistics of the battle scenes must have been a tremendous obstacle, and Gibson is to be commended for making the military strategy understandable and the violence unpleasant (as opposed to the cheerful violence in the "Lethal Weapon" movies). But in achieving the latter, Gibson has boosted the gore factor to an over-the-top degree. Making the audience flinch this much seems unnecessary, and Gibson ups the ante as the film progresses.

There are also too many scenes that seem redundant, repeatedly making a point that has already been made — as if Gibson just couldn't bear to throw anything out and refused to listen to cooler heads on the subject.

The performances here are all quite good and McGoohan makes an unexpectedly terrific nasty villain. The cinematography takes advantage of the locations (the film was shot in Scotland and Ireland), James Horner's music is appropriately enthralling and the character of Wallace is a compelling one.

But there is the nagging feeling as one leaves the theater that less is definitely more, and with a bit of restraint Gibson might have had a great movie here instead of merely a pretty good one.

"Braveheart" is rated R for considerable violence and gore, a rape scene, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.

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

HOT DOG … the movie


For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The exploitation distributor Synapse has decided to give a Blu-ray upgrade (and ‘unrated producer’s cut’) to this R-rated, bottom-of-the-barrel ’80s teen sex comedy, one of too many that followed in the wake of the phenomenal box-office success of ‘National Lampoon’s Animal House’ and ‘Porky’s.’ My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 13, 1984.

I always try to go to new movies without prejudice. I usually don’t read advance press material until after seeing the film. I try to avoid other reviews until I’ve written my own.

But let’s face it. There are some films that send out signals. And “Hot Dog” is one.

First off, there’s the title. Not just “Hot Dog” but “Hot Dog . . . the movie,” with the last two words in small letters.

Then there’s the print ad. “There’s more to do in snow than ski.” Something told me right off that didn’t mean building snowmen.

Then there’s the TV blitz, with frenetic scenes of drinking, dancing and sexual teases. No, this film is not going to be “Chariots of Snow.”


Shannon Tweed, David Naughton, 'Hot Dog ... the movie' (1984)

You know you’re in trouble when the title song is “Love Starts at the Top of the Hill.”

“Porky’s” on skis? That’s being too generous. Now let’s see. What could be lower than “Porky’s?” Well, “Hot Dog,” for one.

The real shame here is that “Hot Dog” has some amazing second-unit stunt footage of free-style skiing. But that’s not the real emphasis here. The R-rated emphasis is sex, nudity, profanity, drugs and vulgarity, not necessarily in that order.

Despite the presence of fabulous ski shots “Hot Dog” is just another sexploitation drive-in film, complete with such sequences as the wet T-shirt contest, the Jacuzzi sex scene … what, no mud-wrestling?

The story has a young cowboy skier (Patrick Houser) heading for Squaw Valley (depicted in a way that makes Sodom and Gomorrah seem tame) to enter the World Free-Style Ski Championship. Along the way he picks up a young girl (Tracy N. Smith) and together they get involved with the American team and party their brains out. Oh, they also do some skiing.


Though David Naughton, of Pepsi-commercial fame and the star of “An American Werewolf in London” is top-billed, he has a supporting role as a former ski champ.

The nominal plot, which portrays men as macho skiers and women as sex toys, has the American team battling the European team (the latter dressed in black, of course), both on and off the slopes, winding up with a ski chase that is in every way inferior to the one in “For Your Eyes Only.” But, again, the emphasis is clearly on sex.

And that brings up another rule to watch for: Beware of any movie that features a centerfold. Shannon Tweed, described by the press kit as the 1982 Playboy Playmate of the Year, is prominent in the cast.

“Hot Dog” is every bit as terrible as you might expect and that’s especially sad since it marks the second film by Peter Markle, whose “The Personals” was such a nice surprise.

“Hot Dog” contains no beef. This one’s a turkey dog.