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CAST OF THOUSANDS...OF PIXELS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This column, published in the Deseret News on March 9, 2007,under the headline, ‘Computerized background looks too fake,’ is a rant about CGI looking too phony, especially in crowd scenes. And when it was written that was certainly a legitimate gripe, as the examples suggest. But to be fair, in the dozen years since, special effects have become much more sophisticated. And little did I know in 2007 that just four years later we’d see Marilyn Monroe given new CGI life in TV commercials, along with Fred Astaire, Grace Kelly and others. Tom Cruise, take note!

Remember that old tagline that was used to advertise so many movies in the 1950s and ’60s — "a cast of thousands!" Well, not anymore.

Unless you count the cartoon crowd scenes in movies today.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. In theory.

After all, artwork — in the form of drawings and miniature models — has supplemented movie backgrounds ever since movies began.

Need a blue sky, even though the scene was filmed on a cloudy day? We'll paint it in.

Want a village devastated by a flood? We'll build it small and photograph it big.

You get the idea.

Today, of course, such things are done with CGI — computer-graphic imagery, more commonly referred to as computer animation.

Which is fine as far as it goes, although some filmmakers who love dazzling special effects predict that one day movies will be so driven by computers that humans will hardly be needed at all.

If Tom Cruise wants to co-star in a film with Marilyn Monroe, perhaps he can perform against a blue screen and she can be added later!

But if today's big movies are any indication, we have a ways to go.

 

Take, for example, "300."

In the interest of full disclosure, I have not seen "300," which opens in theaters today. So I have no opinion of the movie itself. But I can say that in the trailers the multitudes of warriors look phony.

Perhaps in the context of "300" — which is, after all, based more on a comic book than history — it doesn't matter. Maybe it's supposed to be cartoony and over the top.

But I've noticed this in other recent films and I'm beginning to wonder if the technology is being pushed a bit too fast.

This has been building in my mind for a while now. It was some years ago that I first began to notice — as in, it's a bit of a distraction — large crowds being added with animation instead of extras. (In Hollywoodspeak, "extras" are actual human beings hired to fill out crowd scenes; see "Spartacus," "Lawrence of Arabia," etc.)

But it's getting kind of ridiculous.

Two recent examples leap to mind: "Curse of the Golden Flower," a Chinese epic, and the World War I dogfight flick "Flyboys."

"Curse" is a flamboyant, Shakespearean soap opera set in 10th-century China, with an emperor and empress engaged in a down-and-dirty power struggle — a deadly game of one-upmanship.

The film gets wilder and weirder as it goes along — especially in the climax, where thousands of soldiers spill gallons of blood. Gallons of computer imagery, that is.

     

This entire sequence just looks too fake, very much like a cartoon. Or worse, a video-game cartoon.

After all the human interaction that has gone before — however hyper-real it may seem set against the film's colorful, eye-popping costumes and set design — it's understandable that the audience might expect something a tad more realistic in this battle sequence.

In the case of "Flyboys," I couldn't help but think of WWI films I had seen decades before — from "Hell's Angels" to "The Blue Max" — which used some models but also a lot of daredevil flying of actual planes in the air.

"Flyboys" also too often resembles a video game, with silly-looking cartoon dogfights.

But it's a little worse than that. Because you're not at the controls.

It's like watching someone else play a video game.

After a while boredom sets in.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

WHAT? NO FRANCHISE FLICKS?

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 12, 2019

It’s just not like the summer season to have a weekend without a new franchise flick but that’s the case this weekend. Perhaps ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home” and “Toy Story 4” are just dominating the box office too much for any of the other major studios to bother. Whatever the reason, this is an uncharacteristicly slow period with a couple of films that exhibit promise but nothing that screams for an audience.

“Bethany Hamilton: Unstoppable” (PG). If you remember the 2011 faith film “Soul Surfer” that chronicled here remarkable life, you may enjoy this documentary about Bethany Hamilton, the surfer in Hawaii who, at age 13, survived a shark attack but lost her left arm — then went on to recover and ultimately return to professional surfing.

“Stockholm” (R). This comical, fictional account of a real bank robbery/hostage situation purports to tell explain how “Stockholm Syndrome” became an actual medical diagnosis for hostage/kidnap victims who form an attachment to their captors. With Ethan Hawke, Noomi Rapace and Mark Strong. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Jordan Commons Theaters.)

  

“Stuber” (R). Dave Bautista is capitalizing on his success as Drax in Marvel’s “Guardians of the Galaxy”/”Avengers” franchise with a pair of action comedies this summer, the family comedy “My Spy” in August and this R-rated comedy-thriller about a hapless Uber driver (Kumail Nanjiani) who picks up a tough detective (Bautista) on the trail of a sadistic terrorist. With Mira Sorvino and another “Guardians” star, Karen Gillan (she plays Nebula in the Marvel films).

“Crawl” (R). This monster movie features marauding alligators attacking humans in a small Florida town after a fierce Category 5 hurricane. Hmmm. Where have we seen this before? (“Lake Placid”? “Alligator”? “Eaten Alive”? Let me count the ways.)

“The Fall of the American Empire” (R, in French with English subtitles). A shy delivery-truck driver happens upon two bags of cash and decides to keep them. But when two detectives begin to suspect him the driver links up with a couple of lowlifes for help (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

LOLA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a singular cinematic figure during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and he died all too soon, in 1982 at the age of 37 from a drug overdose. A German filmmaker whose works were eccentric but often gripping, he received worldwide acclaim for several films before his biggest international hit, ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ in 1979. I reviewed two of his follow-ups, ‘Veronika Voss’ and ‘Lola,’ for the Deseret News and now all three are in a new Criterion Collection Blu-ray set, ‘The BRD Trilogy.’ My review of ‘Lola’ is below, initially published on Jan. 21, 1983. (The ‘Veronika Voss’ review was in this space last week.)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s images of post-war Germany are always bleak, but there is an oddly interesting look to “Lola,” with strikingly gauche colors and lights invading every scene, and transitions that seem designed to make scenes run into one another.

That bit of unique camera trickery alone would make this worth recommending, but the performances are equally as striking, particularly by the lead characters, a seemingly incorruptible public official (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the cabaret singer who leads him astray (Barbara Sukowa).

“Lola” takes place in the late 1950s, during Germany’s post-war reconstruction era and Fassbinder once again paints a rather unflattering portrait of people, invading their dark sides and seeming to suggest that everyone has his/her emotional price.

     

                      Rainer Werner Fassbinder

His film’s characters always do and this picture offers no exceptions.

In this case, it is a small town with a corrupt building committee that must contend with a new, stiff-necked building commissioner (Mueller-Stahl).

What the commissioner doesn’t know about the seamier side of this berg is that all the men spend their evenings at the local brothel-cabaret, where his own assistant plays sexy songs and the board members spend their nights with the ladies, er, that is, ladies of the evening.

Meanwhile, Lola takes it as a challenge that all the other men in her life seem to feel the commissioner cannot fall and wouldn’t be interested “in a girl like her.” So she seduces him intellectually, eventually reducing him to ashes.

As should be expected, perhaps, the commissioner, in the end, proves as corruptible as any of the townspeople and eventually trades his integrity for his extremely foolish heart.

     

The acting is fine all around, particularly the two leads, and the direction is excellent. Fassbinder’s views of humanity were certainly cynical, but there is no denying that he was a first-rate filmmaker whose eye for the camera was one of the best in the business.

The prolific filmmaker died of apparent suicide late last year, and we are still getting the last few of his films here from time to time.

“Lola” is rated R for nudity, sex and profanity, though all three are rather restrained, considering the subject matter.

It’s not Fassbinder at his best, but it is certainly Fassbinder — eccentric, experimental and fascinating in his approach.


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

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: When people … older people, of course … talk about movies that need to be seen in a theater on a 40-foot screen instead of at home on a TV screen — even a 65-inch screen — the film that sets the standard is ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Originally released in 1962, the multiple Oscar-winner was given a meticulous two-year restoration and re-released in theaters in 1989. And now it’s back for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, on Sunday, Sept. 1, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. in several Cinemark theaters and at 1 and 6 p.m. the Megaplex Jordan Commons theater. My review below was published in the Deseret News on March 17, 1989. (And, of course, the Regency Theater mentioned at the end has long been absent from the Salt Lake movie landscape.)

Despite powerful performances in films that post-date "Lawrence of Arabia" — such as "Becket," "The Lion in Winter," "The Ruling Class," "The Stunt Man," "My Favorite Year" and "The Last Emperor" — Peter O'Toole is seldom named in the company of great actors.

Yet his "Lawrence" remains truly great acting, and what he does with his face and body as we see the gradual evolution of T.E. Lawrence in the course of this nearly four-hour film, is nothing short of amazing.

When David Lean picked the unknown actor, with only three minor film roles to his credit at the time, to be his "Lawrence," he knew what he was doing. There are lingering moments here when we see O'Toole's sun-bleached blond hair and striking blue eyes against the bright blue sky or expansive yellow desert, and his expression says more than reams of dialogue could ever approach.

     

Peter O'Toole, left, Anthony Quinn, 'Lawrence of Arabia'

In fact, though I've seen this film's truncated version a couple of times since 1962, I had forgotten just how little dialogue there is, and how deeply textured the film becomes as it progresses. The desert is a prominent character here, and it changes and shapes T.E. Lawrence as much as the horrors of war that he endures.

If ever there was a movie worthy of restoration and reissuing it is "Lawrence of Arabia," which too often is catalogued under "epic" film and simply aligned with every other big-budget, cast-of-thousands movie ever made.

But "Lawrence" is much more, with a strong central character who undergoes stark changes over the course of several years as a British military officer, initially assigned to size up Prince Feisel (Alec Guinness) during the 1914 campaign against the Turks in Arabia. Despite his fair skin and English uppercrust demeanor, Lawrence idealizes the Arab people and tries to become one of them, ultimately heading for his downfall when he begins to think of himself as something more than a man.

 

It is a complex performance complemented by Lean's superlative direction, which is indeed epic in scope, but which never allows that scope to overwhelm the story or characters. It is a film with action and adventure, yet it defies those genre types.

Lean isn't afraid to let his camera rest on images that fill the 70mm screen and allow the audience to work a bit at picking out the importance of them. And, as a friend put it, you'll find yourself leaning forward in your seat and looking across the screen, almost as if you yourself were in the desert instead of a movie theater.

O'Toole is also complemented by a terrific supporting ensemble, with Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn all in rare form, as are Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains.

Don't wait for this one to hit video in its newly restored, richly enhanced form. And don't wait for it to go into second-run theaters. See it in 70mm and Dolby Stereo at the Regency Theater and you will be amazed at what movies are capable of being.


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

HELLO AGAIN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: During and after leaving the hit sitcom ‘Cheers,’ Shelley Long capitalized on her TV celebrity by starring in a string of big-screen comedies, most of which played like failed big-screen sitcoms (‘Caveman,’ ‘The Money Pit,’ ‘Troop Beverly Hills’). And so it is with this one; it’s not unwatchable but it should have been better. Still, this will be a treat for all you Long fans, as Kino Lorber has given the comedy a Blu-ray upgrade in a brand-new release. My review was published Nov. 6, 1987, in the Deseret News.

“Hello Again,” a comedy vehicle for Shelley Long (her first since leaving TV’s “Cheers”), is sort of “Heaven Can Wait” by way of “My Favorite Wife.”

The latter, of course, is the old Cary Grant-Irene Dunne picture (remade with Doris Day and James Garner as “Move Over, Darling”) that had Dunne presumed dead after being lost for several years on a remote island, returning to civilization to find husband Grant about to remarry.

In “Hello Again,” Shelley Long chokes on a piece of chicken and actually dies. A year later her eccentric sister, who runs an occult shop, finds a spell in an old witchcraft book that brings Long back to life.

Not only does Long find her husband (Corbin Bernsen, of TV’s “L.A. Law”) has remarried, he married her best friend. Further, he has sold their home, is living a new high-rolling lifestyle and is none too happy that Long has returned to foul up his life.

     

        Sela Ward, left, Shelley Long, 'Hello Again'

This isn’t really such a bad premise but “Hello Again” is fraught with problems from beginning to end, not the least of which is director Frank Perry’s inability to set up the many slapstick sequences with any finesse.

Long’s character is supposed to be a real klutz and she is constantly tripping, stumbling, knocking over whatever she comes near, and spilling food and drink all over herself. But there is a big difference between clumsiness on the screen that makes us laugh and that which makes us cringe. All too often, this clumsiness does the latter.

Comedy is a delicate art, of course; it’s all in the timing. Unfortunately, the timing is consistently off here. And that’s really a shame because the script, by Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), contains some very funny material and Long works very hard at trying to make it work.

If that’s not enough, every character in the film — no matter how endearing — is far too underdeveloped. The film’s scene-stealers are Judith Ivey as Long’s eccentric sister and Austin Pendleton as an equally eccentric billionaire, but they simply aren’t given enough to do.

     

Likewise, Bernsen, who is really terrific on “L.A. Law” as divorce lawyer Arnie Becker, a lovable cad, has a truly thankless role as Long’s husband. He is supposed to be a lovable cad here too — and in the second half of the film he certainly is a cad. But before Long dies and despite Bernsen’s desire to climb socially, he seems like a loving, caring, husband. It’s hard to believe he could be so callous about Long’s return from the dead.

Sela Ward, as Bernsen’s money-hungry new wife, fares better, but Gabriel Byrne, as Long’s new love, is so sullen and intense he seems to belong in some other movie.

As for Long, fans will no doubt enjoy her here — it is the first movie she has carried as the lone star, after all. But mugging and pratfalls aren’t enough to save this one. Long is very good and a real charmer but she needed a director that understands comedy.

Director Perry has some good films to his credit but he’s also the man who gave us the wildly over-played “Mommie Dearest.” Subtlety and delicacy have never been his forte and it has seldom been so obvious as in this film.

“Hello Again” is rated PG for a few profanities and a brief shot of Long’s derriere revealed through a hospital dressing gown.