BLOG BLOG

WHEN CLINTON WAS ‘GUMPED’

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: When I was writing about movies for the Deseret News I would occasionally see Donald Trump — yes, our (insert adjective here) president — in movies doing cameos as himself: ‘The Associate,’ ‘The Little Rascals,’ ‘Two Weeks Notice,’ ‘Zoolander.' And if you look up his credits on the Internet Movie Database (IMDB) you’ll see that he has no less than 27 credits in his ‘Filmography’ list and 379 in the ‘Self’ list, meaning talk/variety/political shows on which he was a guest — which includes his appearances on ‘Fox and Friends’ and other shows during the past four years. But it also includes such TV shows as ‘Sex and the City,’ ‘Spin City,’ ‘The Drew Carey Show,’ ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ and the daytime soap opera ‘All My Children.’ No kidding!

 

But for previous presidents, such frivolous appearances were something they didn’t even consider — to include the years before and after their presidencies. As an example there’s this column I wrote back in the late ’90s. Under the headline ‘Clinton in “Contact” is amusing despite what the White House says,’ published on July 20, 1997.

 

And, strangely, this does dovetail into current politics when altered videos are routinely used to discredit opponents and promulgate disinformation. When fiction becomes prediction, if you will.

 

President Clinton has been Gumped. And he's not happy about it.

Filmmaker Robert Zemeckis, who won an Oscar for "Forrest Gump," cleverly worked news-conference footage of the president into "Contact," thanks to the advanced computer technology that so seamlessly blended Tom Hanks' interaction with President Nixon in “Gump."

In "Contact," it appears that Clinton is on the movie set with the film's actors, offering up approval of the space exploration program that is the film's subject.

Of course, our chief executive didn't really participate in the film.

The main speech used was given some months ago in the Rose Garden of the White House, and he's actually discussing a rock believed to have come from Mars. Zemeckis and crew simply placed the video of Clinton into the movie, so that it appears he's in a room with Jodie Foster, Tom Skerritt, James Woods, Angela Bassett and other actors.

  

From left: Stallone, Schwarzenegger, Ford, all in their 70s and still doing action films.

Steve Starkey, a co-producer of "Contact," told the Los Angeles Times that presidential speeches "are in the public domain. We didn't alter a word he said. We just digitally replaced the setting. We took him from the Rose Garden to the pressroom."

The White House is not amused, however, and has lodged a complaint with the filmmakers.

Maybe they'd like to put the film in arbitration. Clinton could get into the Screen Actor's Guild, and his speechwriter could receive a writing credit — or at least a fee.

What's most interesting about all this is how well Clinton's remarks fit into the context of "Contact." These particular news clips provide a perfect example of how easily a pontificating generic political speech, which actually says nothing, can be adapted to any situation.

In that sense, it's pretty funny. And I was more amused by Clinton's appearance in the film than anything else. (There was also a titter that ran through the audience when he appeared onscreen.)

On the other hand, it does set a strange precedent. "Contact" may be the first movie to use public domain footage rather than simply hire an actor.

Who knows where it might lead?

Maybe all those 50-year-old action heroes — Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Harrison Ford — will be able to continue doing slam-bang movies longer than anyone thought, with digital computer-generated bodies doing all the work.

They'll be 90, still banging heads and saving the world.

 

And movie producers will still be giving them 25-year-old female co-stars.

  

Wolf Blitzer, left, Bryant Gumbel, Jay Leno, at their day (or late-night) jobs in 1997.

-— CNN RSVP ASAP: Someone else who got his feathers ruffled by "Contact" was CNN President Tom Johnson, whose highest-profile reporters appear in the film, making pronouncements about the fictional plot as if they are reading legitimate news.

CNN's senior news anchor Bernard Shaw, anchors Bobbie Battista and Linden Soles, several field reporters and, of course, Larry King, all show up.

A range of non-CNN types — from Bryant Gumbel to Jay Leno — also appear in "Contact." But because CNN is owned by Time-Warner, which also owns Warner Bros., the movie studio that made "Contact," there has been some question about the ethics of so many CNN reporters showing up on various TV screens in the movie. (Only CNN White House correspondent Wolf Blitzer formally declined.)

Of course, CNN has also been a strong presence in a number of other recent movies — "Independence Day," "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," "Face/Off" and many more.

Johnson said the intention was to help promote the Cable News Network — but now he feels that it has become a bit embarrassing.

Though a formal announcement has not been made Johnson indicated he may not let any of his reporters appear in future movies.

That will be a relief to struggling actors who audition for roles as news anchors.

ENDNOTE: Wolf Blitzer, by the way, has since been seen in such films as ‘The Campaign,’ ’Skyfall’ and ‘Mission: Impossible — Fallout,’ along with such TV shows as ‘House of Cards,’ ‘The Brink’ and ‘Alpha

 House.’


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SEVEN NEW MOVIES AND NOTHING TO WATCH

  

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

It’s a mixed bag of new movies at the multiplexes this weekend, with a couple of independently produced Sundance Film Festival winners appearing to be your best bets. Or you could just wait for them to be on some streaming site, which will happen all too soon.

 

There are also a few older films that have crept into theaters this weekend, including a 1963 classic and a couple of fairly recent films about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

 

“The Last Shift” (R). A sad, over-the-hill, faintly racist bachelor and former high school jock (Richard Jenkins) is about to retire from a fast-food joint when he clashes with his replacement, a young black man (Shane Paul McGhie) who rails against white privilege in this comedy-drama. With Allison Tolman and Ed O’Neill. (Had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.)

 

“Kajillionaire” (R). Richard Jenkins is also in this comedy-drama (which also had its world premiere at Sundance) about a cynical con artist (Evan Rachel Wood) who works with her criminal parents (Jenkins, Debra Winger) but who feels upended when another crook is invited to join them on a heist. With Gina Rodriguez. (To be on video-on-demand Oct. 16.)

 

“Ava” (R). Jessica Chastain stars as a seasoned assassin working for some kind of killer-for-hire worldwide organization is blindsided by hit gone wrong and begins to think she was set up. With Colin Farrell, Geena Davis, Common, John Malkovich, Joan Chen. (Also available on video-on-demand.)

 

  

 

“Leap” (Not Rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles). Chinese biographical film covers 40 years in the lives of members of China women’s national volleyball team. Gong Li stars as a coach. (Exclusive at the AMC Theater in West Jordan.)

 

“Shortcut” (R). A mysterious monster terrorizes five school kids whose bus has taken a wrong turn in this English-language Italian creature feature.

 

“Break the Silence: The Movie” (Not Rated, in Korean with English subtitles). South Korean documentary follows the band BTS (aka The Bangtan Boys) during its “Love Yourself” world tour and is being sold as a sequel to the 2018 documentary “Burn the Stage: The Movie.”

 

  

 

“Candy Planet” (PG, dubbed in English). A group of kids in a jungle setting perform one task after another — derived from the “Candy Crush Saga” video game — to save their friends on Candy Planet. The full title for this children’s animated feature from China is “Jungle Master 2: Candy Planet.”

 

Older films landing in theaters this weekend include the two about Justice Ginsberg — the biographical film “On the Basis of Sex” and the documentary “RBG,” along with the Hictchcock-like comedy thriller “Charade,” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, as well as “The Empire Strikes Back” and the animated features “Akira,” “Madagascar,” “The Land Before Time” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others that are hanging in there include “Jurassic Park,” “School of Rok,” “Inception” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”


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

TENDER MERCIES

      

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Duvall deservedly earned his best-actor Oscar for ‘Tender Mercies,’ which holds up marvelously some 37 years after its theatrical debut. If you’re looking for something uplifting that will give you hope during the ongoing pandemic and financial crisis, here it is. If I were compiling a list of my favorite films of all time, this one would be near, if not at, the top. Now it's earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 10, 1983.

“Tender Mercies” is an excellent film likely to be overlooked by summer audiences who want razzle-dazzle escapism — but you won’t find anything better to spend your movie dollars on.

Arriving on the heels of ecstatic reviews, “Tender Mercies” lives up to every shout of praise. But the film itself is quiet, very gentle and low-key. This is real life, with all the day-to-day motions people are led through, with the present linked inseparably to the past and genuine expressions of every emotion as they naturally occur.

Robert Duvall, who also co-produced is Mac Sledge, a former country-western singer who was a singing star in his day but now is reduced to drunken brawls in small towns where no one remembers him.

      

Robert Duvall, left, Tess Harper, Allan Hubbard, 'Tender Mercies' (1984)

We meet Mac when he finds himself stranded in a small Texas motel on a desolate highway. To pay for the motel room in which he’s been unconscious for two days, Duvall does some work for the owner, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a widow with a young son (Allan Hubbard).

Gradually they become close and Mac asks Rosa Lee to marry him. She agrees and they lead a quiet life, as Mac gives up the bottle and tries to settle down. Then his ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), comes through town, a singing star whose rise came through Mac’s music years ago. Mac tries to see their daughter (Ellen Barkin) after nearly a decade of absence and Dixie’s hatred for him flares. And later, Mac gets the itch to write and sing again.

“Tender Mercies” is about people, and it makes no attempt to give us extended highs or lows. And because it is so honest and refreshing in its approach it never fails to move us.

This is a “little” film, an even-tempered story told directly, without major plot tragedies or violent shifts in development. Screenwriter Horton Foote (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) obviously knows these people very well and Australian director Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”) has perfectly captured the bleakness of the landscape, along with its simple beauties. Likewise, the characters here are all people with whom we can identify.

      

Duvall is incredible. There’s no underplaying, no overplaying — in fact it hardly seems like playing at all. It’s as if we’re peering into Mac Sledge’s life with no regard whatsoever that this is an actor in a role. He is so believable, so real, that any thought of his being anyone else is left behind. (Duvall also sings all his own songs, and even wrote some of them.)

The rest of the cast is also remarkable, with Harper, Hubbard, Buckley, Barkin and Wilford Brimley all giving wonderful turns — some in very brief, but memorable roles.

Rated PG for some profanity, “Tender Mercies” is one of those rare things, a movie you immediately want to share with everyone you know.


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

AKIRA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This popular Japanese anime feature has been brought back to theaters this weekend (playing in several Cinemark and Megaplex multiplexes around town) and fans will be happy to see it on the big screen, perhaps for the first time. My review was published in the Deseret News on March 30, 1990. (Although, as noted here, the film was unrated in 1990, it was given an R rating for a 2001 anniversary home-video release.)

 

"Akira" is an animated feature but don't let visions of talking ducks and dancing hippos fill your mind. This is adult fare, aimed at hard-core science-fiction fans.

 

Further, it's so violent and bloody that if the film was live-action it would easily get an R rating. Come to think of it, maybe it would get an R rating anyway. (There are also a few profanities and a scene with nudity.)

 

The ads hype "Akira" as a cross between "Heavy Metal," the animated sci-fi anthology, and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." The comparison is apt, since the concept owes something to "Heavy Metal's" rude, gritty animation style and the scenes of "Neo-Tokyo," some 30 years into the future, starkly resemble Scott's vision of 21st-century Los Angeles. (And like "Blade Runner," "Akira" gives much more emphasis to the visual style than the story.)

 

After that there are a lot of other movies that come to mind while watching "Akira," from "Star Wars" to "Superman," but chiefly Brian DePalma's "The Fury" and David Cronenberg's "Scanners" — right down to the one-on-one duel-of-the-telekinetics.

 

       

 

But being animated, "Akira" has a lot more freedom than those films, in terms of its visual imagery, and stylistically it's all over the map.

 

The film's "look" is significant, since "Akira" is aimed at animation, sci-fi and comic book buffs — it is based on the comic book … er, "graphic novel" … by Katsuhiro Otomo, published here by Epic Comics. (Budgeted at $7 million, this is also Japan's most expensive animated feature.)

 

But the plot is less successful.

 

A convoluted, muddled mixture of decades' worth of science fiction and fantasy themes, the story begins with a couple of biker gangs battling it out in the streets of Neo-Tokyo, built on the remains of Tokyo Bay in the year 2019, 31 years after World War III.

 

During one confrontation on their hyper-speed motorcycles, a junior member of one of the gangs is injured and spirited off by evil government officials to a hospital. There a doctor discovers he has telepathic and telekinetic powers.

 

Before the boy's powers can be harnessed, however, he escapes and wreaks havoc on the city, with his friends and other government experimental telekinetics trying to help him. Eventually, however, they realize that all they can do is try to stop him.

 

       

 

Anyone who's read or watched much science fiction will recognize the themes here, right down to the most basic — the "1984"-style government structure. And the battles, whether involving mobs of people or one-on-one confrontations, become rather redundant after awhile. (Some of the English dubbing is a bit strange, as when a couple of Japanese natives seem to have affected Brooklyn accents. And why do so many characters grimace and growl?)

 

Worst of all, the film is more than two hours long, which is much too lengthy to sustain interest in an animated feature, even if the story were more compelling.

 

But it is the animation that is the draw here, so to speak. And some of the imagery is nothing short of stunning. (The hallucinations of experimental victims are especially effective.) And the musical score is also very good.

 

So keep in mind that the three-star rating is strictly for avid fans of the genre. Anyone else should beware.


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

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: With its recent Shout! Factory reissue in a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ with copious new bonus features, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ — a real change of pace for director John Carpenter, of ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Thing’ fame — is worth looking back at again. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 4, 1986.

 

“Big Trouble In Little China” is very funny, in an oddball “Buckaroo Banzai” kind of way, with Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun as gambling buddies who team up to take on an evil ghost, the spirit of a 2,000-year-old sorcerer. That ghost is searching for a green-eyed woman to sacrifice so he can once again become flesh and bone.

 

Russell is truck driver Jack Burton who is drawn into the adventure by his friend Wang Chi (Dun). Initially all Burton wants is a gambling debt Chi owes him, but when his truck is stolen, and his livelihood along with it, Burton is forced to join in.

 

Burton and Dun trade quips and battle the bad guys together, but while Dun is revealed to be a full-fledged hero (in a deadpan spoof of Bruce Lee martial arts pictures), Burton is little more than a good-natured oaf.

 

       

 

Kim Cattrall, left, Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Suzee Pai, 'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986)

 

The plot is complex and more than a little ridiculous, but director John Carpenter (who also did the music) keeps the pace moving so fast you won’t notice until it’s all over. And by then you probably won’t care.

 

W.D. Richter, who gave us “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” is credited here with “story adaptation,” and some of the dialogue has that “Buckaroo Banzai” ring to it. When the chief heroine, for example, is told the evil ghost’s victim is a woman with green eyes, she says with a straight face, “That’s like patent-leather bucket seats; it doubles the price.”

 

Probably the most interesting aspect of “Big Trouble in Little China” is that it appears to be the first flat-out spoof of “Rambo,” as well as an obvious Indiana Jones knock-off. With his John Wayne swagger and his Inspector Clouseau klutziness, Russell’s character is also something of a variation on Tom Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.,” though more of a male chauvinist. Despite Russell’s macho, redneck attitudes, however, he gives Jack Burton a warmth that belies his outward facade.

 

       

 

Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi could have been little more than just another “sidekick” character but Carpenter and Dun have made him an equal partner to Jack Burton, in laughs and heroics — and in fact, he repeatedly surpasses Burton in the latter, beating up the bad guys while Burton bumbles along.

 

Kim Cattrall’s character, a hard-nosed attorney, is not very well developed but she does get a few laughs and provides Russell with some romance. Victor Wong (also in the current “Dim Sum”) fares much better as the good-guy sorcerer, who drives a Chinatown tour bus on the side. Wong is something of a Chinese Wilford Brimley, excellent in everything he does.

 

“Big Trouble in Little China” which is quite violent for its PG-13 rating, isn’t going to win any awards. But during a summer when there is no “Indiana Jones” movie, a pseudo-Indiana Jones will do.