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LAW & ORDER & FAITH

        

The 2009 primary cast of 'Law & Order,' from left: S. Epatha Merkerson, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, Sam Waterston, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a lot of discussion about religion and churchgoing these days, especially given the current heated political climate, so it seems like a good time to ask about how the subject is portrayed on television. When this column was written, some 12 years ago, it was unusual to see anything but negative portrayals of faith and believers, which is why this episode of ‘Law & Order’ late in the series’ run seemed to stand out. Today, partly because there are so many accessible programs on broadcast and cable networks, and streaming sites, you have at least a few shows that treat religion and the religious with more respect — most obviously ‘Blue Bloods.’ But that was very much not the case when this was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 2009. (And we’ll explore this subject a bit deeper next week.)

 

Prime-time network TV feels the need to shock these days, with depictions of violence and gore, sex and nudity, profane and vulgar language getting stronger all the time.

 

And that’s just the news shows.

 

But last week, “Law & Order” had a real shocker.

 

That is, the original “Law & Order,” the 19-year warhorse with Sam Waterston as District Attorney Jack McCoy, where the first half of each episode is about the police investigating a murder and the second half is about the prosecutors taking the case to court. And the plot starts out being about one thing and ends up being about something else.

 

This is a show that is mostly about the crimes, not the people who try to solve them each week. But sometimes we do get bits and pieces of backstory that tell us something about the recurring characters.

 

And one recurring theme we have seen over the years regarding many “L&O” characters is a skepticism, if not downright mockery, of all things religious. Especially organized religion. Chiefly with McCoy, who is a bitter lapsed Catholic.

 

        

 

Anthony Anderson, left, Jeremy Sisto, 'Law & Order' (2009)

 

Anyway, here’s last week’s shocker:

 

Two of the regulars on the show — Anthony Anderson’s police detective Kevin Bernard and Alana De La Garza’s prosecutor Connie Rubirosa — revealed that they are churchgoers. And Rubirosa knows her Bible. Yikes!

 

This may not seem like a big deal until you ask yourself how many characters on prime-time TV today attend church or even verbally acknowledge God with anything short of derision.

 

This episode begins with a murder investigation but quickly twists and turns into something else. The general theme is the Rapture, described on the show as “The last days, the book of Revelation,” “When Jesus comes back and takes all good Christians to heaven.”

 

The focus is on two zealous cults, one involved with a faith website designed to automatically send e-mails to loved ones left behind when the Rapture comes, and the other with returning Jews to Israel before the Rapture. And there’s the usual mix of naïve believers and scam artists.

 

Early in the show, while questioning a confessed murderer, Bernard is asked if he believes in Jesus. “I do,” he replies.

 

Later Bernard is asked by his partner Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) if he’s really a believer or if he was just trying to get information from the guy. Bernard replies, “I’ve been seen in the church from time to time,” although he adds some skepticism regarding the Rapture.

 

        

 

    Linus Roache, Alana de la Garza, 'Law & Order' (2009)

 

Toward the end of the show Rubirosa’s moment comes as she challenges a reverend who is a reluctant witness in a separate murder case.

 

She and lead prosecutor Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) find the reverend in an empty church and approach him about his testimony (he has perjured himself in court).

 

At one point, Rubirosa reaches for the reverend’s Bible, opens it to Matthew 24 and reads a scripture, which prompts the reverend to reconsider his actions. Then she leads the reverend and Cutter in a prayer.

 

After they get their conviction, McCoy asks if it’s because God told the reverend to tell the truth. Cutter replies, “And Connie.” He then turns to Rubirosa and adds, “Matthew, Chapter 24? You study the Bible?”

 

She responds cryptically: “I prepare for court, I prepare for church.”

 

Fair enough.

 

And for a 21st century TV character, a little shocking.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

A SOON-TO-STREAM POTPOURRI

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

There are six new films in our pandemic-protocol conscious theaters this weekend, with streaming options looming, of course. Horror films have dominated the new titles for the past several months but this week there are movies addressing social issues and two that encourage faith.

 

“No Man’s Land” (PG-13). A Texas rancher (Frank Grillo) and his adult son (Jake Allyn) do their own “border patrols” to keep illegal aliens off their land, but one night the son inadvertently shoots a boy in the back, causing him to flee into Mexico. With Andie MacDowell and George Lopez.

 

“The Dig” (PG-13). A medieval burial site is discovered on the property of an English landowner (Carey Mulligan) in 1939. Based on John Preston’s historical novel. With Ralph Fiennes and Lily James. (Debuts on Netflix Jan. 29.)

 

“Our Friend” (R). A journalist (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Dakota Johnson) and two young daughters have a good life until she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, at which point he feels overwhelmed. Then his goofy best friend (Jason Segel) moves in to help out in this dark comedy-drama.

 

  

 

“American Skin” (R). Writer-director Nate Parker (“The Birth of a Nation”) concedes that he was influenced by “Dog Day Afternoon” and “12 Angry Men” for this story of a Marine veteran (Parker) whose unarmed son is killed by a cop during a traffic stop. When the cop is acquitted of wrongdoing and there is rioting in the streets, the vet recruits his Marine buddies to storm the police station and stage their own trial.

 

“About Hope” (PG, aka “False Hopes”). This Christian comedy has a young man looking for the perfect woman to love when he becomes friends with a single mother struggling to launch her own small business. (Now streaming.)

 

“Heaven” (PG-13). A middle-aged paramedic struggles with his faith after his wife dies of cancer, then he wakes up one morning to find himself in heaven, where is has an opportunity to review his life. A low-budget independent production. With Eric Roberts.

 

Meanwhile, some older pictures are sneaking in to offer fans some rare big-screen options, including “Jurassic Park,” “Back to the Future” and the 2012 version of “Les Misérables.”


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

THE MIRROR CRACK’D

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This Agatha Christie adaptation, despite the plans mentioned in the review below, marked Angela Lansbury’s one-and-only performance as Miss Marple, but there’s little question that it also provided the inspiration for her enormously successful TV series, ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ which began four years later. And this one holds up pretty well, especially for fans of Old Hollywood stars, who were ‘Old Hollywood’ when this film came out some 40 years ago. Now it’s been given a revival in Blu-ray form by Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 25, 1980.

 

There is more ham in “The Mirror Crack’d” than you’ll find on any pig farm — a drawback that wounds but fails to kill this latest Agatha Christie cinema adaptation.

 

The pork performances are provided by a handful of Hollywood has-beens who play a handful of Hollywood has-beens, some of them so broadly that you may feel the urge to toss a few tomatoes or eggs their way.

 

But fortunately, a few professional-minded actors are on hand to raise the level of its quality, headed by Angela Lansbury as none other than the intrepid Miss Marple.

 

Miss Jane Marple is Christie’s aged amateur sleuth, first brought to the screen in the early 1960s, played with splendid aplomb by Margaret Rutherford. Though B-grade in budget, Rutherford’s four films were A-quality throughout and the Marple character adhered to the template of Christie’s novels.

 

Which points to the biggest flaw in “The Mirror Crack’d”; there’s simply not enough Miss Marple.

 

In a film that should be dominated by Lansbury, who is made up to be 20 years older than she is, the movie inexplicably concentrates on the American actors who are supposedly “guests.”

 

It’s a major setback because Lansbury is delightful in the role and deserves more time on screen. Instead, Marple spends most of the film laid up in her home with a twisted ankle while the camera follows other, much less interesting characters.

 

        

 

From left, Angela Lansbury, Rock Hudson, Edward Fox, 'The Mirror Crack'd' (1980)

 

The story has an American film-production crew descending on St. Mary Mead, the little English country village that is the home of Miss Marple and her fellow villagers.

 

Rock Hudson is a second-rate director married to the star of this new production, an important comeback for a two-time Oscar winner who hasn’t’ worked since a breakdown (played by Elizabeth Taylor).

 

Geraldine Chaplin plays Hudson’s assistant, and just to complicate matters, an old screen rival of Taylor’s (Kim Novak) is on hand, along with her brash, crass husband (Tony Curtis), who just happens to be the film’s producer.

 

The crew is going to make “Mary, Queen of Scots’ in the little hamlet, much to the delight of several villagers, including the local gossipmonger (Maureen Bennett).

 

Last, but certainly not least, is the Scotland Yard inspector (Edward Fox) who is Miss Marple’s nephew, and who investigates a murder that occurs during a reception for the film crew and villagers.

 

Now, will they all step into the drawing room, please?

 

The murder victim is Bennett, who sips from a fatal drink as she is boring Taylor to death with a story about their having met during the war when Taylor entertained the troops. But you don’t kill someone because she is a boring chatterbox, Miss Marple concludes at one point. Therefore, it appears that the drink was intended for Taylor, who has more enemies than an American politician.

 

So, of course, the question becomes, “Who done it?”

 

        

 

I like a good murder mystery and they seem to be supplied almost exclusively by British imports these days. And “The Mirror Crack’d” is a good one.

 

This is the latest in Christie mystery movies produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, who gave us “Murder on the Oriental Express” and “Death on the Nile,” two Hercule Poiret stories with Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov, respectively, in the detective’s role. Both were crackerjack tales and both were well produced, though the overpopulation of guest stars was distracting. They also overdid the flashback-to-the-scene-of-the-murder technique, a sort of trademark that is stamped on all these films.

 

Happily, the flashbacks are fewer and shorter and more to the point in “The Mirror Crack’d,” though the guest stars remain a problem. And since the focus is more on them than Marple, the problem is front and center. (Lansbury has signed on for two more Marple films so there is hope for the future.)

 

The worst hambones are Kim Novak and Tony Curtis, not necessarily in that order. Their extremely broad performances might not be so obvious if everyone here were doing the same, but Hudson, Taylor and Chaplin seem positively subdued in comparison.

 

And Lansbury and Fox are so smooth and professional, so relaxed in their characters, that they almost appear to be performing in a different movie. Fox is fine, by the way, as an avid movie buff smitten with the idea of interviewing all the Hollywood folk in the course of his investigation.

 

And director Guy Hamilton, who turned out some of the better James Bond flicks (“Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever”), has managed to keep the flow even and has us wondering throughout who the murderer is. Whether Hamilton or the actors should be blamed for the imbalance in performances isn’t quite clear but it only temporarily impairs the fun.

 

Overall “The Mirror Crack’d,” rated PG for some language, is fun. From the opening black & white old-fashioned movie mystery to the fadeout, it does what the movies do best – it entertains.


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

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an ’80s comedy that holds up as very funny and still ranks with Matthew Broderick’s best work. And if you came along too late to see it on the big screen, a couple of Cinemark cineplexes are bringing it back this weekend … in a socially distanced manner, of course. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 13, 1986.

 

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is another terrific teen comedy from John Hughes, the writer-director-producer who has already given us such winners as “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink,” not to mention (and we shouldn’t) “Weird Science.”

    

Matthew Broderick plays sort of a modern-day teenage version of Groucho Marx in that he frequently turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience … a technique recently revived by Bruce Willis in the TV series “Moonlighting.” (And in this film it makes for the funniest closing sequence you’ve seen in a long time — don’t leave before the end credits are over.)

 

Broderick is the title character, a master con artist who feigns illness to stay home from school, and when his parents leave after wishing him well, he sits up, turns to the camera and says with equal parts smugness and surprise, “They bought it!”

    

Soon he’s off to downtown Chicago with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his best friend (Alan Ruck), an unhappy lad whose father prefers his classic Ferrari to his son.

 

        

 

Mia Sara, left, Alan Ruck, Matthew Broderick, 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)

 

Meanwhile, the obnoxious and ridiculous school principal (Jeffrey Jones, the emperor in “Amadeus”) is plotting to expose Ferris, as is Ferris’ own sister (Jennifer Grey), who feels he’s gotten away with too much for too long.

 

The plotting here is pure fantasy, as the trio manages to convince the head waiter at a posh restaurant that Ferris is a young sausage tycoon, avoids several close calls with Ferris’ father downtown, convinces the principal that Ferris (from a distance) is his girlfriend’s father, etc.

 

There is also a lot of high-tech assistance here, as Ferris uses his home computer, tape machines and various and sundry other modern mechanical devices to get away with his escape for the day.

 

Toward the end “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” tends to get a bit preachy and sluggish, although it does pick up again.

 

But, as with most Hughes films, character is the thing, not plot. While the situations are sometimes a bit too contrived and silly, the characters are constantly charming, with actors perfectly cast, interacting with great hilarity — both physically and verbally — lifting the film to great comic heights.

 

Broderick is perfect in the lead, with his own personal charm, his unique way with a phrase, and his comic manner — he can give a look, sly smile or grin that says more than reams of dialogue — making Ferris Bueller an utterly delightful character.

 

        

 

Matthew Broderick in the final moments of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986).

 

And though all the adults are buffoons (as is also the case in most Hughes projects), Jones is very funny as the principal, whether spouting cliché after cliché (“When are you going to wake up and smell the coffee, he’s just leading you down the primrose path”) or finding himself terrorized by the Buellers’ dog.

 

Ruck and Sara have less to do but are good in their roles, as are Grey, and as Ferris’ parents, Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward. Especially notable, however, are Charlie Sheen, in a small but pivotal role, and Edie McClurg, quite funny as the principal’s secretary.

 

Despite a few vulgar lapses in taste (and there aren’t many), along with some profanity and a nude computer graphic – for which the film is rated PG-13 (which seems a bit severe, given the number of PG movies lately that are just as bad or worse) — “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is very funny and should appeal to both young and older audiences.

 

But it is the kids who will make this a big hit; this is just the kind of movie they’ll enjoy seeing again and again, as smart-aleck youth triumphs repeatedly over buffoonish adulthood.


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

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s common knowledge that John Belushi died in 1982 of a drug overdose at the age of 33 and that his last film was ‘Neighbors,’  a box-office success that nonetheless divided (and continues to divide) critics and fans. But Belushi’s penultimate film — released just three months before ‘Neighbors’ was ‘Continental Divide,’ a little gem that is generally forgotten today, a light comedy that offers Belushi in a more modulated performance. Now, however, it’s been resurrected by Kino Lorber for a new Blu-ray upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 24, 1981, and the last line suggests Belushi had a long career ahead of him, which, sadly, was not to be.

 

John Belushi as a romantic lead? A la Cary Grant or Clark Gable??? More like Spencer Tracy but still a stretch of the imagination.

 

Yet, in “Continental Divide,” John Belushi does a convincing, three-dimensional turn for the first time, in an attempt to step away from the cartoon-like characters he has played in “Animal House,” “1941” and “The Blues Brothers.”

 

“Continental Divide,” yet another old-fashioned movie script by Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back”), is a delightfully witty social comedy, of the type Tracy and Katherine Hepburn turned out several years ago — the headstrong, independent woman with a vital career meets the gruff, aggressive male who is marshmallow on the inside. The setting is her territory, the meeting is anything but friendly, and you know that sooner or later they will fall in love.

 

Though there are a few modern-day elements thrown in, Kasdan essentially has captured the style and flow of those old Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra comedies, and director Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) contributes with a few images of his own.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

Belushi is Ernie Souchak, a fictional clone of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko — so much so that the Sun-Times is used, and Souchak’s column runs on the inside cover where Royko’s actually runs, and much of the film was shot in the newsrooms of the Sun-Times building in Chicago.

 

Because Souchak’s City Hall corruption-busting columns are threatening his life, his managing editor (Allen Goorwitz) sends him to the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming to do a story on a reclusive government ornithologist (Blair Brown) who studies and protects the endangered American bald eagle.

 

To say that Souchak is out of his element is to understate and Kasdan takes full advantage to include all kinds of jokes about smoking in thin air and Souchak’s cityfied ways contrasting with nature. There are some great lines here and a few memorable sight gags.

 

When the assignment and their affair are over, Souchak returns to Chicago so lovesick that he can’t work. Then, when a tragedy occurs with his City Hall contact, he’s inspired to get the old typewriter fire roaring again.

 

The lovesick scenes are probably the least convincing but all of “Continental Divide” is very broad comedy; this is an audience picture and those who go just intending to have a good time and laugh will enjoy it.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

The Belushi fans who go hoping to get another glimpse of his “slob” persona may be disappointed and I dare say that those who don’t care for him because of his past performances will have an even harder time accepting him here. But it’s well worth the effort, and my guess is that by the time the end credits roll Belushi will have sold you on the character.

 

Blair Brown, who co-starred in “Altered States” and “One-Trick Pony” is very good and Allen Goorwitz as Souchak’s frustrated boss shines in another winning character role.

 

Tony Ganios is good in a surprisingly twisted view of Mountain Men that works on a high comic level; Carlin Glynn, as Goorwitz’s wife, is also solid support.

 

Though far from a perfect film (the ending is particularly weak), “Continental Divide” is a good romantic comedy with some very inventive humor.

 

It also shows that Belushi can do more than cartoon comedy. We can only wonder what will be in store for him next.