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SAME AS IT EVER WAS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: One weekend last month, with few movie theaters open to the public during the current pandemic — and with those that are open dominated by 1980s ‘classics’ — a 36-year-old movie became the No. 1 box-office hit in the nation: ‘Ghostbusters.’ So let’s take a look back at August 1984 when the summer was wrapping up and yours truly was assessing the damage for the Deseret News. As it happens, ‘Ghostbusters’ would go on to become the year’s biggest moneymaker, and four of the top 10 were also summer flicks; No. 2 was ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ followed by ‘Gremlins’ (No. 3), ‘The Karate Kid’ (No. 4) and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ (No. 8). The moviegoing public had spoken! This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published on Aug. 19, 1984.

Unless there’s some surprise coming I don’t know about — that is, unless “Body Rock” or “Oxford Blues” turns out to be an exceptionally wonderful sleeper — the summer verdict is pretty well in.

“Ghostbusters” is the winner and reigning champ, and indeed one of the summer’s brightest and best films.

Meanwhile, though they still made a box-office killing, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” are licking the critical wounds of Steven Spielberg backlash. Even critics who raved about the films when they first viewed them seem to be backing down a bit in the light of more recent criticisms of those films and of Spielberg himself.

And while it may be true that Spielberg is “imitating himself,” and going for fast pacing and shock effects over character and story, those films are, for me at least, still highly entertaining and wonderfully fanciful.

Every summer has its sleeper  and “The Karate Kid” was unexpectedly a pleasantly surprising box-office and critical hit, one which seemed to open the floodgates for family films.

Most of the other movies that were aimed at children and their parents came at the end of the summer, following “The Karate Kid.” Late in July we got “Marvin and Theo,” “The Last Starfighter,” “The Neverending Story” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” and this month brought “The Lucky Star” and “Cloak & Dagger.”

      

Ralph Macchio, left, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid' (1984)

And that will most certainly be the last of the family fare we will see until Christmas, or at least that’s how it appears right now.

Fall, traditionally a time for “serious” films — those with higher aspirations than most and those that begin to aim seriously for Oscar nominations — will not be much different this year in content. It will differ, however, in the number of films scheduled.

Each month between now and December has from 10 to 15 major movies on the calendar, a most unusual phenomenon. And December, always a big month, has some 20 on the schedule.

Some of the upcoming Christmas films already have previews showing in the theaters, including the two big sci-fi films “Dune” and “2010: Odyssey Two.” In addition there is “Supergirl,” John Carpenter’s “Starman,” Neil Simon’s “The Slugger’s Wife,” David Lean’s “A Passage to India” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club.” Along with a detective film starring both Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, a thriller with Tom Selleck, and comedies starring Goldie Hawn, Eddie Murphy and Michael Keaton, respectively.

December, as you might gather from that list, is a big-budget blockbuster month. The fall months preceding December, on the other hand, usually go for smaller films.

Those scheduled for September include a comedy, of all things, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in “All of Me,” but most will be much more serious – “Country,” with Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley; “Amadeus,” based on the stage production about Mozart; “Places in the Heart,” with Sally Field; Under the Volcano,” with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset; “Irreconcilable Differences,” with Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long and Drew Barrymore; and “A Soldier’s Story,” with Howard E. Rollins Jr., who was so memorable as Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime.”

      

Ke Huy Quan, left Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

Among those scheduled for October are Bill Murray’s dramatic debut, “The Razor’s Edge”; “Songwriter,” with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson; Brian De Palma’s “Body Double”; “Little Drummer Girl,” with Diane Keaton; and, for a bit of lighter fare, Paul McCartney’s “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” with McCartney and his wife Linda, along with Ringo Starr.

Even lighter is one of November’s films, the third in the “Oh, God!” series, again with George Burns.

Looking for possible Oscar fare among films that have not yet been seen is a fool’s game, of course, though Albert Finney, Diane Keaton and David Lean are always fairly secure bets. But there have been so far very few films that look like qualifiers and one is tempted to speculate that nary a single film up to now will receive a nomination in a major category.

There are possible exceptions, of course. A fairly strong contender might be Anthony Hopkins for his excellent portrait of Capt. Bligh in “The Bounty,” but that may not come to pass since the film flopped at the box office. Lesser possibilities, though they are certainly deserving, would be Mia Farrow for “Broadway Danny Rose,” John Lone for “Iceman,” Wilford Brimley for “The Stone Boy” and Pat Morita for “The Karate Kid.”

But I haven’t seen a single film so far this year I would put money on as a contender for “best picture.” It would appear those and any other strong contenders for ’84 will come from films released in the final months of the year.

One thing remains certain, however. Those who avidly search out movies to see will not have their usual idle period during the fall this year.

It’s enough to make a critic look forward to Christmas.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SOMETHING FOR … ANYONE?

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

So far the “new” movies that have been opening in local theaters (meaning the Megaplexes), and which have also debuted as online streaming options, are nothing to shout about. Hollywood is, of course, holding its best stuff off in hopes of theaters genuinely reopening at some point. (Although Disney became impatient and put its live-action “Mulan” remake on its Disney+ channel already.)

But the Megaplexes, one Cinemark (Jordan Landing) and the Redwood Drive-In continue to traffic mostly in oldies, some golden, some silver and some leaden.

This weekend you can see these newbies at several Megaplex multiplexes:

“How to Build a Girl” (R). Based on a popular novel, this English coming-of-age comedy stars Beanie Feldstein as an out-of-step teenager who rises from her working-class roots to become a popular music journalist. With Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd.

“The Silencing” (R). A reformed-alcoholic hunter (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose teenage daughter disappeared years earlier joins forces with a town sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) to track down a serial killer.

“Children of the Sea” (PG, Japanese, dubbed in English). Another Japanese anime offering, this one has a junior high school girl hanging out at the aquarium where her father works and taking up with a pair of mysterious brothers that her father says were raised by dugongs, marine mammals related to manatees.

  

“Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” (Not Rated). The controversial 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon series about an unstable Chihuahua and his pal, a sweet-but-dim cat, is profiled in this documentary.

“Sputnik” (PG-13, in Russian with English subtitles). The lone survivor of a mysterious incident aboard a spaceship in 1983 is unaware that his body has been taken over by a creepy alien creature … and the use of the word “Alien” here is no accident.

“Spree” (R). This yarn about a rideshare driver obsessed with social media who turns to murder to up his presence online has been described as a combination of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.”

  

And, the usual (mostly 1980s) “classics” continue to dominate the aforementioned theaters, including “Ghostbusters,” “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, the first two “Indiana Jones” pictures, “The Breakfast Club,” “Dirty Dancing,” etc.

And such post-’80s efforts as “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Space Jam,” “Iron Man,” “Twilight,” the first three “Harry Potter” films and “Edge of Tomorrow.”

And a pair of 1970s films — “Jaws” and “Superman.”

Enjoy — in a socially distanced theater or in the comfort of your own home.


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

ROBOCOP

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Dec. 6, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The original ‘RoboCop’ has received the ‘special-edition’ treatment from the boutique label Arrow. Here’s my review, published July 17, 1987.

OK, a warning up front: “RoboCop” is the most violent movie to come along in some time. It’s rather numbing in fact, with its penchant for gore and extreme bloodletting (no one takes a bullet here without a lot of goo splurting out of the bullet hole). This one is not for youngsters.

At the same time, however, “RoboCop” is funny and exciting, a rapid-fire action picture portraying a very bleak near-future, played out with humorous, if extremely dark satire. This is sort of an urban “Rambo” by way of “Dr. Strangelove.”

Actually there are a lot of movies that “RoboCop” calls to mind – most prominently “The Terminator,” but you may also recognize bits and pieces of “Westworld” and “Futureworld,” “Blade Runner,” “Brainstorm,” “Escape from New York,” “Future Cop” and even “The Toxic Avenger.”

It is the near future; the setting is Old Detroit, depicted as being overrun with crime and beginning to resemble Beirut. Peter Weller (ol’ “Buckaroo Banzai” himself) is a dedicated cop and family man on his first day in a new precinct — the worst in town, of course.

     

       Karen Allen, Peter Weller, 'RoboCop' (1987)

He is teamed up with tough-but-cute Nancy Allen: We know she’s tough because her first scene has her beating up a slimeball in the police station and we know she’s cute because as soon as she finishes beating the guy to a pulp, she pulls off her helmet and throws her head back in that “Flashdance”-ish “Gee, aren’t you surprised I’m a woman instead of man” manner.

It’s their first day together and they find themselves in hot pursuit of Detroit’s worst evildoers. But after following them to an abandoned warehouse the tables are turned and Weller is tortured and killed. (Reportedly it is this scene that required heavy editing to keep the film from getting an X rating for violence.)

To the world Weller is dead but to Security Concepts Inc. he is about to become a prototype of their new cyborg policeman, “RoboCop,” an invincible supercop that  will clean up the crime-ridden town to make way for the building of a new crimeless city. So they say.

But, despite his memory being erased, Weller still has unstructured flashbacks. Humanity, of course, cannot be obliterated.

Along the way, however, he battles the bad guys in a series of rescue scenes that bring to mind the first “Superman” film, where Christopher Reeve ran around Metropolis one night doing everything from getting a cat our of a tree to rescuing Lois Lane from a rooftop fall. And “RoboCop” eventually goes one-on-one with a wild villainous robot that’s even more indestructible than he is (and rather animal-like).

     

There are crosses and double-crosses but the plot is really secondary to the action — and the humor.

My favorite scenes are the segues with two news anchors (Mario Machado and “Entertainment This Week’s” Leeza Gibbons) reporting bizarre news of the future; the commercials that accompany the news are also hilarious.

Director Paul Verhoeven, whose first American film this is (he did the Dutch movies “Spetters” and “Soldier of Orange”), is a stylist with a sharp sense of humor, and that humor is what makes the excessive violence somewhat palatable, if not excusable.

But the excesses are prominent, and if you are in the least bit squeamish you might want to pass on this one. Weller, Allen, and especially Ronny Cox in a surprisingly nasty role, are good, but in a film like this they are secondary to action and special effects.

“RoboCop,” rated R for violence, profanity, drug use and some brief nudity in the cops’ locker room, overplays its hand but it’s also a lot of fun — in its own perverse, nihilistic way.


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

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it received some backlash because it is darker in tone and arguably more violent than its predecessor, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ remains a wild ride and a satisfying entry in the serial-spoofing quadrilogy from Steven Spielbeg. (I can’t say that I’m thrilled that he is handing the reins to another director for the upcoming fifth ‘Indiana Jones’ flick.) And it’s playing now at the Megaplex Jordan Commons multiplex in Sandy. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 23, 1984.

You may recall that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” opened with the Paramount Pictures logo — a snowcapped mountain — fading into a South American mountaintop as we were introduced to that intrepid archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones. I remember the preview screening, when the Villa curtains parted to reveal the scope of the 70mm film, and the audience “oohed” and “ahhed.”

Something similar happened Monday night at the Villa’s preview of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the “Raiders” sequel. The Paramount snow-laden summit faded into an engraved mountain on a gong in a Shanghai nightclub. Again, the audience “oohed” and “ahhed” as the 70mm screen filled and everyone in the theater knew immediately we were off to another rousing rollercoaster ride from Steven Spielberg. And that’s exactly what it is.

Prior to that, fans wondered if Spielberg could possibly pull it off — a satisfying sequel to the fifth biggest hit movie of all time. Could “Indiana Jones” possibly be as fantastic as the nonstop action of “Raiders,” building thrill upon thrill, leaving the audience excited and exhausted? But by the time “Indiana Jones” was over — possibly the fastest two hours you’ll ever spend at the movies — there was no doubt.

Steven Spielberg has done it again.

“Indiana Jones” is different from “Raiders” in several significant ways. The period is set before the first film, in 1935. We first see Indy in a tux, of all things, while the locations range from Shanghai to India, and most of the second half is confined to a palace and its underground caverns, though there is nothing static about it.

      

From left, Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

The film begins in the aforementioned Shanghai nightclub, where American showgirl Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is warbling a Chinese version of “Anything Goes” (shades of Mel Brooks’ “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish in “To Be or Not to Be”).

In the club, Jones confronts an evil villain and finds himself in a free-for-all reminiscent of Spielberg’s nightclub scene in “1941.”

Indy and Willie are rescued, momentarily at least, by his young friend Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and they board a cargo plane that eventually loses its pilot. Their escape is incredible, unbelievable and wonderful, setting the pace for what is to come.

Eventually the main plot unfolds as they agree to find a sacred stone stolen from a drought-ridden Indian village, and with it the village’s population of children.

How Indy and his two companions manage to do so, bringing the children home in Pied Piper fashion, makes for an incredible two-hour visceral experience that will exhaust and excite you every bit as much as “Raiders” on its first go (the high point has to be a wild underground coal-car chase).

Harrison Ford is perfect as Indiana Jones, using his ironic sense of humor frequently here. He’s heroic yet accident-prone, in possession of nine-plus lives, and there are lots of wonderful little comic bits that occur in and around the action.

Kate Capshaw’s blonde singer is pampered and spoiled, afraid of everything — especially getting dirty or breaking a nail — and she’s very funny in the role.

      

But the real charmer is Ke Huy Quan as the little Chinese boy Short Round, Indy’s sidekick, who manages to rescue Indy almost as often as he is rescued by him. (Quan is actually a 12-year-old Vietnamese boy living in Los Angeles, and though he has never acted before he has a very engaging and natural screen presence.)

Spielberg’s direction is lickety-split, of course, and he works the camera like a character, pulling us through the story and the action. He truly is the master of his craft. John Williams’ score is rousing, the technical credits and effects are superlative, and the script is clever and funny.

A warning, though: Like “Raiders,” “Indiana Jones” is very violent. A man’s heart is torn out of his chest while he remains alive, and various people are shot, fall from great heights, are devoured by crocodiles and die in other sundry ways. And though there are no snakes or tarantulas, there are such delights as cockroaches galore, vampire bats, and the eating of disgusting Indian delicacies (such as live eels) to raise your adrenalin.

In other words, heed the warning below the PG rating: “ … may be too intense for younger children.”

My only real complaint about “Indiana Jones” is that the only female in the film is a stereotypical nincompoop, whereas “Raiders” offered just the opposite in the wonderful characterization by Karen Allen. But when you consider the source material for this film, the old ’30s and ’40s serials with their stereotypes and contrivances, it is certainly a faithful element.

On the whole, prepare for a wonderful, tremendously invigorating, old-fashioned cliffhanger time at the movies.


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

DATE WITH AN ANGEL

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again Kino Lorber has a mixed bag of vintage Blu-ray upgrades in release this week that genuinely represent both ends of the quality spectrum. ‘Tender Mercies’ (reviewed elsewhere on this page) is a genuine gem, while this one, ‘Date with an Angel’ is dumbfoundingly atrocious. But someone must like it, so here’s my review, published Nov. 24, 1987, in the Deseret News.

“Date With an Angel” is yet another movie with a “heavenly connection,” hot on the heels of “Made In Heaven” and “Hello Again.”

Emmanuelle Beart (soon to be seen in the title role of “Manon of the Spring,” the sequel to “Jean de Florette”) is the angel in question, sent to earth on a mission that is revealed late in the film (but which can be easily figure out whether or not you are paying attention).

The camera gives us an angel-eye view as she leaves heaven, heads for earth and accidentally bumps into a satellite injuring her wing. She crash-lands into a swimming pool and is rescued by our hero, played by Michael E. Knight.

He takes her into his apartment and helps nurse her wing back to health, much to the consternation of his fiancé (Phoebe Cates) and her father (David Dukes).

      

Michael E. Knight, Emmanuelle Beart, 'Date with an Angel' (1984)

When word gets out that Knight has an honest-to-gosh angel in his midst, his three money-hungry buddies try to exploit her, Dukes tries to get her to endorse his cosmetics line, and Cates has periodic fits and begins drinking heavily.

But Beart is a complete innocent, though she often seems like a bit of a nymphet. And she doesn’t speak; she squeaks, sounding for all the world like a dolphin.

Plotwise, “Date With an Angel” makes no sense whatsoever, and the climax is truly ridiculous, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized that a happy ending could not be achieved, given the direction the story was going — so they shifted gears at the last minute to achieve the desired results.

Most of this is pure slapstick, however — and not very good slapstick at that. Dukes is bitten on the rear by a ferocious dog and thereafter has trouble sitting down. Beart can’t walk in high heels but tries anyway, falling down a lot. Cates drunkenly puts on her underwear over her jeans and goes after the angel with a rifle. Knight’s trio of friends lures Beart with her favorite food, French fries, which she stuffs piggishly into her mouth.

And those are the highlights.

      

Phoebe Cates, left, Michael E. Knight, Emmanuelle Beart, 'Date with an Angel' (1984)

There are some good special effects and the cast does try but most of the players are often less than charming, when they aren’t downright obnoxious. Knight is somewhat appealing in the lead and Beart is stunningly beautiful, exhibiting the perfect amount of innocence as the angel, though the noises she makes are really annoying.

And wouldn’t you know it; they just couldn’t resist. The angel has a nude scene.

Worse, however, are the scenes of bondage as the angel is kidnapped by Knight’s friends, and the opening sequence with his pals staging a phony terrorist attack. There’s a cruel streak at work here that undermines the film’s attempts at humor.

“Date With an Angel” is rated PG for some profanity, violence, nudity and implied sex.