BLOG: New thoughts/old stories BLOG: New thoughts/old stories

HAPPY (OR GREEDY) ANNIVERSARY

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: You may have noticed that home video loves an anniversary, which is to say the studios are up for any excuse to re-release titles from their libraries. Hey, it’s all profit for something that was in theaters 20 years ago or 25 years ago or 75 years ago. This year there’s already been the 25th anniversary reissues of ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and coming up are the 40th anniversary re-releases of ‘Chariots of Fire’ (April 20) and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (June 8). So this nine-year-old column, published on May 10, 2012, seems appropriate to review — and maybe it will remind you of a title or two you’d like to watch (again).

 

Movie studios love to re-release older films on their anniversaries. Any excuse to squeeze a few extra bucks from fans of a fondly remembered title, especially now that upgrading them from DVD to Blu-ray offers an additional incentive.

 

Some of the more popular pictures, from “Citizen Kane” to “Star Wars,” have been released in so many VHS/DVD/Blu-ray sets that completists — those really obsessive fans that have to own every new edition — could conceivably have as many as 10 different versions of the same title on their shelves.

 

So far this year we’ve had Paramount’s “To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition” (its Blu-ray debut) and a massive box set from Warner Bros., “Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Edition,” marking the umpteenth reissue for both. Even 20th Century Fox’s “Wizards: 35th Anniversary Edition” marks that film’s fourth or fifth home video release.

 

And if a studio doesn’t have enough “classic” titles whose dates work out, there are other celebratory excuses. How about the fact that the studio itself has managed to endure for a century? That’s what one of the major movie studios is doing this year with a string of titles under this banner: “Universal 100th Anniversary Collector’s Series.”

 

Universal’s 100th has so far given us Blu-ray book-packaged re-releases of a number of off-year vintage favorites, including “All Quiet On the Western Front,” “Out of Africa,” “Buck Privates” and “Pillow Talk,” along with regular Blu-ray reissues of “The Deer Hunter,” “Charade,” “My Man Godfrey” and “Sullivan’s Travels.” And it’s only May.

 

          

 

There are many others that could conceivably celebrate even-numbered anniversaries in 2012, some of them yearned-for titles, so here are that I’d like to see:

 

— It’s the 90th anniversary of Harold Lloyd’s 1922 silent feature “Grandma’s Boy,” in which he’s inspired by his grandmother’s stories of their ancestors. This very funny picture has historical significance as well. Along with Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” the year before, “Grandma’s Boy” is a pioneer of the long-form comedy, proving that audiences would respond to character development and story depth in a feature-length farce.

 

— An 80th anniversary worth noting is the jungle melodrama “Red Dust,” starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. One of 1932’s biggest moneymakers, this one still has a large fan base and in 2006 was cited as worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Yet, believe it or not, “Red Dust” has never been on DVD! (Where’s Warner Archive when you need them?)

 

— In addition to “Casablanca,” it’s also the 70th anniversary of a pair of 1942 Veronica Lake vehicles, neither of which has seen the light of DVD: “The Glass Key,” a terrific film noir thriller co-starring Alan Ladd, and “I Married a Witch,” a witty supernatural comedy with Frederic March. (Maybe we need a Veronica Lake box set!)

 

— It’s the 60th anniversary of “The Quiet Man.” If ever a movie screamed out for a Blu-ray upgrade, it’s this boisterous 1952 romantic comedy-drama starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and directed by the great John Ford. This is a lovely ode to Ford’s beloved Ireland, and he won an Oscar for it, as did his cinematographers for their gorgeous, eye-popping location filming on the Emerald Isle.

 

— Similar sentiments can be expressed for “Lawrence of Arabia,” another winner of multiple Oscars, including best picture, best director (David Lean) and best cinematography. This one came out in 1962 and shares its 50th anniversary year with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and while it’s nice to have that one in high definition now, I’m not sure there’s any movie that has more fans clamoring for a Blu-ray upgrade than “Lawrence of Arabia.”

 

 

 

— From 1972, it’s the 40th anniversary of “Jeremiah Johnson,” and the good news is that Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack’s outdoor adventure, which has loads of gorgeous Utah scenery, has been released on Blu-ray for the first time.

 

— And 30th anniversary films from 1982 that have not yet found their way to Blu-ray include the top three moneymakers of that year: “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (really, “Poltergeist” from the same year is on Blu-ray but not “E.T”?),  “Tootsie” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.”

 

Earlier this year, Disney reissued “Good Morning, Vietnam” for its Blu-ray debut but did not make note of its 25th anniversary this year. Hey, 1987 also brought three of my personal favorites: “84 Charing Cross Road,” “La Bamba” and “Radio Days,” none yet in hi-def.

 

And, realistically, those three are not likely to go there. In fact, there’s a much higher probability of getting a 10th anniversary reissue of 2002’s “27 Dresses” or “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” even though they’re already on Blu-ray.

 

Of course, the major studios don’t always wait for celebratory excuses. “Chinatown,” for example, received its Blu-ray debut in 2012, just last month, even though it’s only two years away from its 40th anniversary.

 

There could be a practical reason, I suppose. Maybe Paramount isn’t sure Blu-rays will still be a go-to technology two years from now.

 

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: All of the movies listed here are now available on DVD and those cited as needing Blu-ray upgrades have received them. Also, a new home-video technology, 4K, did come along a few years later — and now we have online streaming, which is rapidly attempting to overtake all of these formats.


New Movies In TheatersThis Week New Movies In TheatersThis Week

TOM & JERRY? LOOK ’EM UP, KIDS!

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021

 

A new ‘Tom & Jerry” cartoon? A feature?

 

Folks from my (baby boomer) generation may think T&J have been retired in Florida but the cat and mouse team has actually never gone away, and has been remade in the image of digital animation several times. But this one is being touted as all “new.” Maybe.

 

Nine other new films are also opening this weekend, a couple of horror films and two faith films among them, including an LDS-centric sequel (the poster above is for the 2020 first film, as there was no poster available for the sequel).

 

“Tom & Jerry” (PG). Animation and live action combine for this reboot of the Tom and Jerry franchise about the cat that can never seem to catch the ever-elusive mouse in the house. After becoming homeless, they team up at a ritzy Manhattan hotel. Chloë Grace Moretz, Michael Peña, Colin Jost, Robe Delaney and Ken Jeong head the live cast.

 

“Companions: Heart of Africa 2” (PG). This sequel to last year’s “Heart of Africa” tells the same story of a Congolese man who is forced to confront his past during his LDS mission, only this time it’s from the point of view of his companion, a white American with demons of his own.

 

“God’s Compass” (Not Rated). Two parallel stories converge in this faith film. A beloved retired teacher (Karen Abercrombie) looks for purpose as her son (T.C. Stallings) struggles with the realization that his newborn child may die and as she helps a young car thief (Joey Ibanez) straighten out his life. (This one was released on home video in 2016 but now makes its theatrical debut.)

 

  

 

“Crisis” (R). Three stories related to the opioid crisis in America unfold in this drama about addiction and pharmaceutical companies’ complicity. With Gary Oldman, Armie Hammer, Evangeline Lilly, Greg Kinnear and Michelle Rodriguez.

 

“My Zoe” (R). Julie Delpy wrote, directed and stars in this drama about a geneticist raising her daughter along with her toxic ex-husband until tragedy strikes and the child dies. So, in her grief, Delpy’s character decides to have the girl cloned. A fantasy that reportedly takes a low-key, serious approach. With Daniel Brühl.

 

“The Vigil” (PG-13). In a Hasidic community of Brooklyn, a despondent young man agrees to take on the role of an overnight “shimmer,” to watch over a deceased member of the Orthodox community, only to be confronted by a malevolent spirit. An unorthodox horror movie.

 

  

 

“Wrong Turn” (R). Six friends hiking the Appalachian Trail find themselves luted by “The Foundation,” a self-sufficient community of people that have lived in the mountains for hundreds of years are are hostile to outsiders. With Matthew Modine. (This is the seventh film in the franchise and is described as a reboot.)

 

“Billie Eilish: The World’s a Little Blurry” (R). Teen singing phenomenon Billie Eilish is profiled in this documentary that explores her creative process, as well as life on the road when touring and in the studio when recording.

 

“Check” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). A brilliant chess player finds himself on death row, despite protesting his innocence. There, he puts his skills to work even as he repeatedly becomes involved in violent confrontations.

 

“Night of the Kings” (R, in French with English subtitles). In this Canadian-Senegal co-production a pickpocket is sent to prison in the French-speaking African city of Abidjan in the Ivory Coast, and he soon learns that to survive he must become the prison’s official “storyteller.”

 

And “Jurassic Park” is still around, along with the “Lord of the Rings” trilogy and the third “Work and the Glory” film, “A House Divided.”


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

THE WILD LIFE

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another inexplicable Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber, which is fast becoming less of a boutique operation than a desperate one. My very negative review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 5, 1984. The late Chris Penn (bother of Sean) stars; he would suffer an untimely death at age 40 in 2006. (FYI, if you want to play spot-the-star, in addition to those mentioned in the review, the film also features Eric Stoltz, Hart Bochner and Sherilyn Fenn, as well as filmmaker Cameron Crowe (‘Jerry Maguire’) and musician Nancy Wilson (of the band Heart).

 

If you’ve seen the ads for this film, you might think it’s little more than another “Porky’s” clone. And you’d be right. Somehow, however, this one makes “Porky’s” look like high art.

 

“The Wild Life” is from the author and producer of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which had as its one saving grace a very funny wacko supporting performance from Sean Penn as a spaced-out surfer. “The Wild Life” has Christopher Penn, brother of Sean, in a similar role – but he’s the nominal lead and about half as funny.

 

What little story there is has Penn as a wild party-time guy whose limited vocabulary consists mostly of reacting with, “It’s casual,” to any given situation.

 

          

 

     Eric Stoltz, left, Chris Penn, 'The Wild Life' (1984)

 

He moves into a swinging singles apartment with a much more sedate buddy, and needless to say, this teenage “Odd Couple” gets into and out of a number of vulgar, idiotic, stupid situations intended to be much funnier than they are.

 

As usual, females are sex objects, males are jerks and everybody wants sex, beer and drugs, not necessarily in that order.

 

Subplots abound, including Rick Moranis as a wimpy (what else?) department store manager trying to hit on Penn’s girlfriend; Lea Thompson as a clerk in a donut shop, being led on by a married cop; and two younger boys who idolize a doped-up Vietnam veteran, with Randy Quaid as the vet, a role that lasts about two minutes.

 

A Van Halen score battles a number of popular ’60s tunes by Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, etc – and the ’60s tunes win by a mile.

 

Penn has proven his ability to project screen charm in “All the Right Moves” and “Footloose,” but in the underwritten part given him here, he just flounders.

 

          

 

    Rick Moranis, Jenny Wright, 'The Wild Life' (1984)

 

Lea Thompson is likewise a strong screen presence, and Jenny Wright as her best friend fares pretty well here, but they too drown in the material.

 

Directed by Art Linson — whose only other directing effort is the dreadful “Where the Buffalo Roam,” which has the distinction of being Bill Murray’s only box-office flop — the attempts at humor are forced, and gag after gag thuds as the film progresses.

 

But “The Wild Life” also tries to be serious, and subplots about the married cop and the Vietnam Vet become downright embarrassing in their clichéd predictability.

 

The real question is, what in the world are Rick Moranis and Randy Quaid doing in trash like this?

 

Rated R for sex, nudity, profanity, violence and vulgarity, all in abundance, “The Wild Life” is a bore and a drag on every count.


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.

Older Movies On the Big Screen Older Movies On the Big Screen

LA BAMBA

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 2, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This fine rockin’ 1950s-era biography is (gulp!) 35 years old now and Fathom Events has decided to give it a big-screen revival. Not a bad idea. You can catch it at some local theaters on Sunday, April 18; Wednesday, April 21; and Thursday, April 22. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1987.

 

According to “La Bamba,” 1950s rock ’n’ roller Ritchie Valens was a virtual saint, managing somehow to keep himself outside the influence of his evil brother Bob.

 

And when he began to rise as a singing sensation, Ritchie also kept his perspective, remaining loyal to his family and friends. Bob just got jealous.

 

On the surface that might seem to be fairly tame stuff for an ’80s biographical movie on the brief life of a ’50s rock star (Ritchie Valens died in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holley). But in the hands of writer-director Luis Valdez and his excellent cast, “La Bamba” is a well thought-out serious drama with a strong message for youth — one that is played out, not preached.

 

As the film tells it, Ritchie was a sweet-natured, gentle teenager from a poverty-ridden but close-knit family of migrant workers. Though his father is dead when the film opens, Ritchie’s mother holds the family together.

 

          

 

Esai Morales, Lou Diamond Phillips, 'La Bamba' (1987)

 

Meanwhile, brother Bob returns to the family from prison and talks his mother into moving to Southern California. It’s no surprise to us, however, that they find life is just as rough in the land of plenty.

 

For Ritchie, however, life revolves around rock and roll. This is the Fifties, after all, that period of time when rock music was evolving and coming into its own. And Ritchie was writing his own songs and carrying his guitar with him everywhere he went.

 

The film follows his rapid rise in the music industry but the central focus is on the relationship between Ritchie and his brother, who is an alcoholic prone to abusing his common-law wife while running drugs up from Mexico.

 

The movie offers no particular explanations for how Ritchie managed to stay so pure while his brother was so nasty but it does show in subtle ways the important influence his mother had on the family, and how focused and mature Ritchie was for his age.

 

Valdez’s writing is crisp and his direction forthright, and though there is built-in sentiment here he manages to keep the tale from getting sloppy. And his cast is terrific.

 

          

 

Lou Diamond Phillips, Danielle von Zerneck, 'La Bamba' (1987)

 

Films that hone in on “good vs. evil” always run the risk of having “evil” look so much better, just because the role is inherently more flamboyant (look at “The Untouchables,” for example — bland Eliot Ness doesn’t have a chance against flamboyant Capone in the eyes of moviegoers). And occasionallyEsai Morales, as Bob, does dominate the film by sheer force of acting power.

 

But Lou Diamond Phillips, as Ritchie, has a strong screen presence and manages to hold his own most of the way. Both are charismatic actors and both handle their roles superbly, though my guess is Oscar-voters will remember Morales’ performance longer than Phillips’.

 

Despite the necessarily tragic ending to this story, “La Bamba” is surprisingly upbeat, and somehow we have the feeling, right or wrong, that after the film’s story is over Bob will somehow straighten himself out.

 

“La Bamba” is rated PG-13, and despite its violence, sex, brief partial nudity, profanity and drugs, it’s a fairly soft PG-13 most of the way. These elements never seem exploitive, but always inherent to the story. And how many movies can you say that about these days?


New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II

DEFENDING YOUR LIFE

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 16, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Criterion Collection has given a Blu-ray boost to another Albert Brooks comedy (the boutique label also distributes ‘Lost in America’), and this one is what I consider to be, arguably, his best film: ‘Defending Your Life,’ co-starring Meryl Streep. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 5, 1991.

 

Not counting the films in which he has been merely a performer (the most memorable being "Broadcast News"), writer-director-comic actor Albert Brooks has made only four features in 12 years, but each has been better than the one before.

 

"Real Life," which had an obnoxious filmmaker following a suburban family around for a documentary, was flawed but occasionally very funny; "Modern Romance," about angst among yuppies who can't commit, similarly ran out of steam before it was over but had some terrifically bright moments; and "Lost in America," with a yuppie couple chucking the materialistic life and hitting the road, only to lose everything at a Las Vegas casino, was a scream before ultimately revealing it could not quite sustain itself to the end.

 

But with "Defending Your Life," Brooks has made his best, most fully realized film, a hysterical look at the afterlife.

 

The premise alone is a winner, beginning with a pre-credits sequence that has Brooks again playing a well-to-do yuppie, this time buying a new car on his birthday only to run head-on into a city bus.

 

          

 

Meryl Streep, Albert Brooks, 'Defending Your Life' (1991)

 

As the credits roll, he awakens in a stupor to find himself being herded with hundreds of others into trams that will take him to Judgment City. He's put up in an adequate hotel and the next day meets with his defense counsel, Rip Torn, who explains that he has died and is in the way station between heaven and Earth.

 

Torn tells him that over the next few days he must confront two judges and a prosecutor (Lee Grant) as they watch selected moments from Brooks' life on a huge video screen. Ultimately, Brooks will either be deemed worthy to move on to the next level of life, or he will return to Earth to give mortality another whirl. He's on his 20th try.

 

Brooks is feeling OK about all this until he meets a woman (Meryl Streep) and falls in love, only to see that she is staying in a posh hotel, viewing far fewer days of her life on Earth and is an obvious candidate for the next level.

 

This is a great idea, and Brooks takes full advantage of its comic potential, showing Judgment City as clean and pristine with everyone dressed in white robes as they visit such amusement sideshows as "The Past-Lives Pavilion," where people can see what some of their other lives on Earth were like. (And special kudos for the side-splitting quick cuts of "misjudgments" in Brooks' life.)

 

          

 

Albert Brooks must answer for himself as scenes from his life are reviewed by a panel that includes a prosecutor (Lee Grant, far right) and a defense lawyer (Rip Torn, far left) in 'Defending Your Life' (1991).

 

In addition to a bevy of sight gags and hilarious set pieces, Brooks has a field day with one-liners and great supporting characters he confronts during his brief stay in Judgment City.

 

Brooks is in fine form, on camera and off, and he's complemented perfectly by Streep, who seems to be having a great time in a wonderful comic role. Torn is also great, filling out the film's own brand of logic as he vaguely answers Brooks' many questions.

 

This may be arguable theology but cinematically it is one riotous piece of entertainment. And if it leaves you thinking a bit about your priorities in this life, who's going to complain?

 

"Defending Your Life" is rated PG for a few scattered profanities and a couple of vulgar jokes.