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EVERYBODY’S A CRITIC
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 29, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week this space carried a 41-year-old column that explained what a movie critic does, or is supposed to do, from the perspective of a fledgling reviewer in his earliest years on the job. This week we have a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column that ran some five months later with my responses to comments by a couple of readers. This was back in the olden days of written letters before online screeds, and when newspapers actually carried ads for movies, and when R-rated pictures could be softer than some PGs, and PG-13 had not yet been created. A gentler time, I assure you. Under the headline, ‘Critic gets some of his own medicine,’ this one was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 11, 1981. (And I’m thinking about changing my name to ‘Clifford’! What do you think?)
I don’t get a lot of mail — and that’s fine with me.
For some reason, when people want to give me a word of encouragement or praise, they call me on the phone. But when they want to violently disagree with me, they send a letter.
I don’t mind that, except that they generally send them to my bosses, to let them know what an insensitive clod I am. My bosses already know that.
Anyway, I was pleasantly surprised to receive a note from Gregg Olsen recently, who gave it to (Newspapers in Education chief) Sally Archer on one of her many trips to Utah schools, where she tells teachers how to use the Deseret News in classrooms.
Gregg writes: “I am interested in theater. Do you know if Clifford Hicks has any openings for an assistant? I have known a little about movie critics and I am 13 years old.”
Unfortunately, I don’t have any such openings. (I have a tough time convincing my employers that what I do is a full-time job.) But if I did, I’d call on Gregg. He’s perfectly qualified. He knows a little about critics, he’s 20 years younger than me and he’s interested in theater. In fact, he sounds better qualified than me.
Most recent letters I’ve received are self-contained and need no reply but a couple express what I consider to be common misconceptions.
The letter from a Sandy resident that ran in the “Forum” (Deseret News letters to the editor) the other day, complaining about my review of “The Watcher in the Woods,” had a paragraph deleted before it went into print.
Marean Miller wrote: “People generally can figure out from the ads in the newspaper and in the rating of a movie what they will see on the screen.”
While it’s true that exploitation movies with suggestive ads often tell the story (“Vampire Playgirls,” “The Naughty Cheerleaders”) and some major films give enough descriptive hype to let you know what you’re in for (“Halloween II,” “So Fine”), more often they are obscure. No glance at an ad for “True Confessions” or “Rich and Famous” is going to tell you enough about what the picture contains. And that’s especially true for “Raggedy Man.”
Mrs. Charles Pearce, of Alpine, recently wrote that she would rather not see R-rated ads than have to put up with those for exploitation films. She wrote, in part, “I would rather take a chance on missing an acceptable movie like ‘Ordinary People’ than have to look at this junk every day.”
I don’t like the “junk” either but eliminating all of it is like throwing out the baby with the bathwater. There are too many worthy R-rated movies that are less offensive than PG-rated films. And as far as the ads are concerned, most of the display copy that is changed to meet our newspaper’s standards is for PG films, such as “For Your Eyes Only,” “Paternity,” “Mommie Dearest,” etc.
Often, too, the ads are completely misleading as to the film’s content. The ad for “Silence of the North” shows Ellen Burstyn on a raft, fighting a rough river. The dress she is wearing is low cut enough to reveal some cleavage — but nowhere in the movie does she wear such an outfit.
A recent ad for a horror film, “Deadly Blessing,” showed a woman with a low-cut, flimsy nightgown; the same scene in the movie had her wearing a heavy, high-collar nightgown.
Two recent horror comedies, “Student Bodies” and “Saturday the 14th,” were referred to in ad copy as “The World’s First Comedy Horror Movie” and “This Year’s Number One Horror-Comedy Spoof,” respectively. Both were, of course, ridiculous assertions.
And the list goes on and on.
At the risk of sounding self-serving, there is a need for the moviegoing public to go beyond media hype before spending their hard-earned dollars on a movie. Beyond the opinion expressed, a review also serves as consumer information. You can find out why a movie is rated R or PG and generally whether the subject and how it is handled will suit your personal taste.
You don’t even have to agree with the reviewer. But if you do — send a letter to my bosses.
PANIC AT THE MULTIPLEX
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the pandemic, all movie theaters have been shuttered for the foreseeable future, though not for too long we hope. And a number of major movies have seen their dates shoved back to later in the year anyway … and in the case of the newest ‘Fast & Furious’ sequel, to next year. So, no new movies to alert you to this week; you’ll have to pop some corn, relax on your couch and settle for Netflix — preferably on a widescreen TV and not your phone.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 15, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Donen, who will always be remembered as the director of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the co-director (with Gene Kelly) of “Singin’ in the Rain,” died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 94. I only reviewed two of his movies for the Deseret News, ‘Movie Movie’ in 1979 and ‘Blame it On Rio’ in 1984. Loved the first, hated the second. But as both have been given new life on Blu-ray upgrades in the last year, courtesy of Kino Lorber, you’ll find my reviews on this page today. The ‘Movie Movie’ review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 29, 1979.
“Movie Movie” is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore — in fact, it’s two of them.
If you’re one of those folks who stays up until midnight Sunday to catch any old Busby Berkeley film or an old Wallace Beery flick, you’ll love “Movie Movie.” And if you’re not, you’ll still love “Movie Movie.”
Stanley Donen, whose talent has given us such diverse movie entertainment as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Charade” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” has crafted here an old-fashioned double-feature, including coming attractions and complete with hokum.
Donen produced and directed “Movie Movie,” which is composed of a black-and-white boxing film, “Dynamite Hands,” and a splashy color musical, “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933.” Both take place in the 1930s and both begin with the exact same scene. The previews are sandwiched in between.
Trish Van Devere, Harry Hamlin, 'Movie Movie'
Both are also composed largely of the same cast — and a fine acting crew it is, including George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere (Mrs. Scott), Red Buttons, Eli Wallach, Art Carney and Barry Bostwick. Supporting players, appearing in one or the other of the films, include Harry Hamlin, Barbara Harris, Rebecca York, Kathleen Beller, Ann Reinking and Michael Kidd, who also choreographed “Baxter’s” dancing sequences.
Their deadpan delivery of the hilarious dialogue is excellent in all respect, and Scott, Van Devere, Buttons, Wallach and Bostwick get to show just what fine actors they all are with extremely different roles in each feature.
But kudos would be incomplete without mentioning writers Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H” on TV and “Oh, God!” in theaters) and Sheldon Keller. Their script (or scripts) is (are) both a tribute and a send-up. The situations are contrived, the romance is sappy and the dialogue is insipid and delivered straight — in other words, just as Hollywood really used to make them (and often still does). But that dialogue has enough bite, wit, twists and double meanings to keep the laughs coming. They are intentional here, of course, but were not always in the original genres.
It’s hard to say which of the two is better. “Baxter’s” is snappy, energetic and a lot of fun, but “Dynamite” is probably funnier, due largely to a hilarious courtroom scene at the end. Gelbart and Keller are particularly adept at taking everyday clichés with anatomical words and twisting their meanings into the ridiculous. (“When you speak with your heart, your mouth is 10 feet tall.”) They become slightly predictable but never stale.
And Donen has captured the sight and sound of ’30s movies; film buffs will notice the brash color of “Baxter’s” and the quivery background music of “Dynamite.”
My personal favorite is the preview in the middle for a black-and-white picture: “See ‘Zero Hour’ — war at its best!” Scott, Carney and Wallach are hysterical as the typical heroes and villains of old war movies.
“Movie Movie” is rated PG but could easily be G. There is nothing offensive, no profanity, but children may become bored, not understanding the humor. Get a sitter and go; you’ll love it. As Baxter tells his beauties: “Idle feet are the devil’s toenails!”
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.
HOUSTON, AND EVERYWHERE ELSE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Upcoming golden oldies scheduled for big-screen revivals — including ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Apollo 13,’and maybe ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Airplane!’ — have, of course, been canceled/postponed due to the pandemic. Stay tuned.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 29, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Every now and again Hollywood churns out a comedy for kids that is clearly one that kids should be steered away from. Even this film’s original poster crows: ‘It’s purely sexual.’ Still, the 35-year-old fantasy-farce does have a cult audience … no doubt made up of men in their 40s and 50s who loved the film as teens. (It also spawned a four-season 1990s TV series!) Anyway, it’s been given a major ‘special-edition’ Blu-ray boost with loads of featurettes from Arrow Films. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 3, 1985. (And though I didn’t mention them, Bill Paxton and Robert Downey Jr. are among the actors playing goofy teens.)
John Hughes wrote “National Lampoon’s Vacation” and “Mr. Mom,” and wrote and directed “The Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” the latter two being funny/insightful examinations of modern teenagers.
But with “Weird Science,” Hughes has taken a very bizarre turn. This is an absurdist fantasy, loaded with off-the-wall humor and sight gags, some of it funny but more of it just strange.
Beneath it all, however, is that old teen movie standby – teenage wimps trying to lose their virginity.
To get all the jokes, it helps to be well-versed in American pop culture, and though some of the humor is on the mark, and occasionally there is that insight into modern youth that has become Hughes’ trademark, more often he takes the throw-in-everything-but-the-kitchen-sink approach — which seems to better suit Mel Brooks — while combining “Animal House,” “WarGames,” “Electric Dreams,” “Private Lessons,” “Risky Business” and even “The Road Warrior.”
Kelly LeBrock, Anthony Michael Hall (center), Ilan Mitchell-Smith, 'Weird Science' (1985)
The story, which is really little more than a jumping-off device, has two 16-year-old nerds (Anthony Michael Hal, Ilan Mitchell-Smith) creating a woman by computer. The premise is ridiculous, of course, but Hughes makes it happen so fast and furious, in such a razzle-dazzle manner, that you can go with it. This is fantasy, after all.
The woman they create is Kelly LeBrock (she was “The Woman in Red”), beautiful, sensuous, alluring, and brainy, too. And the first thing the boys do is take a shower with her. Of course, they keep their jeans and shoes on, staring in wide-eyed disbelief at their own handiwork.
Next, LeBrock, who is endowed with magical powers, conjures up sports cars and takes them into town to party. After that, she brings the party to them, inviting all the popular kids from school to Mitchell-Smith’s house for a wild bash.
The furniture is sucked up the chimney, a gang of mutant bikers (led by Vernon Wells, spoofing his similar role in “The Road Warrior”) crashes the party, and grandma and grandpa are frozen and kept in a closet.
Well, as you can see, this movie defies description. So why bother?
Suffice it to say that several set pieces are funny, and Hall, who played endearing nerds in Hughes’ “Breakfast Club” and “Sixteen Candles,” proves once again he is a master of comic timing. LeBrock is also much more appealing here than she was in “The Woman in Red,” taking on a motherly role as she attempts to teach the boys that they don’t really want sex — they want love.
That’s nice, of course, but unfortunately Hughes’ definition has sex going along with it. So two 16-year-old boys finally romance two girls they really care about … by bedding them on the first date. Nice message for today’s youth, right?
“Weird Science” is occasionally quite funny but it’s an extremely up and down experience. You’ll have to see this one at your own risk.
It is rated PG-13 for sex, nudity, profanity, vulgarity and some comic violence.