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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

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

GREMLINS

     

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: Sure, ‘Gremlins’ is a Christmas movie! The same way ‘Die Hard’ is a Christmas movie! So if you’d like to revisit ‘Gremlins’ on the big screen, it will play Saturday, Dec. 7, at 1 p.m. in the Regal Crossroads theaters in Taylorsville. My review was published on June 8, 1984.

“Gremlins” opens with a pre-credits sequence in that mystical state of mind, Chinatown. Which Chinatown or where it is we’re never told. But it looks very much like an old waterfront movie, as goofy inventor Hoyt Axton tries to peddle his wares, at the same time looking for a Christmas present for his son.

In an old, worn shop, Axton tries to sell mysterious Keye Luke, who wears a glass eye, his latest invention, the “Bathroom Buddy,” an automatic razor/toothbrush/comb combination that tends to spit toothpaste all over its user. Luke’s not very interested.

Then Axton spots a wooden box emitting strange squeaks, goes over and is fascinated by its contents, a little singing creature called a mogwai. He wants to buy it as a pet for his son, but Luke won’t sell. His grandson, however, knows they need the money, so he spirits the creature to Axton outside the shop, explaining that there are three important rules to follow in caring for a mogwai: Don’t expose him to bright lights (“sunlight will kill him”), don’t get him wet, and especially don’t feed him after midnight.

Axton goes home to the small town of Kingston Falls — again in Anywhere, USA — and presents the new pet to his adult son (Zach Galligan), a would-be cartoonist who works in the local bank. The mogwai is dubbed “Gizmo.”

And that’s when the magic of “Gremlins” really begins to weave its spell.

Another stunning bit of movie magic, blending the mechanics of “E.T.” with the furry cuteness of the Muppets, the little mogwai seems amazingly real, and is sure to capture the hearts of moviegoers everywhere.

     

Phoebe Cates, Zach Galligan and Gizmo, 'Gremlins' (1984)

After a while, Galligan begins to find that his mogwai is also very intelligent. It reads, watches television and even corrects him as they play a tune together on a small piano.

But then, the inevitable happens. Water and late-night feedings lead to some scary moments as several little mogwai appear on the scene (in much the same way that tribbles multiplied on an old “Star Trek” episode) and they go into a transitory state — eventually turning into nasty, vicious mischief-makers who go wild and virtually destroy Kingston Falls, killing quite a few people along the way.

I don’t want to go into the details of how the film unfolds, since that is a major part of the joy of “Gremlins” — there are surprises at every turn — but before you pack up your little ones for this picture, be advised that the film goes from a benign sweetness in the “E.T.” vein to a horror-movie motif, with the nasty mogwai resembling Muppets going berserk.

In some ways the nature of this film is best tipped off by a scene in the movie itself, where the leader of the rapidly multiplying mogwai is on a toy shelf in a department store when he flips an E.T. doll to the floor. “Gremlins” is the flip side of “E.T.”

Yet, despite the mayhem they cause, you have to love the little guys when they set up their own midnight screening of “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” and sing along with it.

“Gremlins” is also a movie buff’s dream, with more in-jokes and references to old movies than any film in recent memory — or perhaps ever. A movie double-bill at a Kingston Falls theater is playing “A Boy’s Life” and “Watch the Skies,” which were the working titles of Steven Spielberg’s “E.T.” and “Close Encounters.” “Watch the Skies” was also the last line in the original version of “The Thing,” and that film’s star Kenneth Tobey has a small role in “Gremlins.”

     

Gizmo celebrates the holidays on a keyboard in 'Gremlins' (1984)

Robby the Robot makes an appearance and quotes from “Forbidden Planet.” In the background at an inventor’s convention you can see “The Time Machine,” which has mysteriously disappeared in the next scene. Jackie Joseph and Dick Miller play a Kingston Falls married couple, both having appeared in the cult classic “The Little Shop of Horrors.” And Kingston Falls looks suspiciously like the town featured in Frank Capra’s “It’s a Wonderful Life” — which this film in many ways resembles.

But you don’t have to be able to spot any of these things to enjoy “Gremlins.” It’s just an added bonus for movie fans like me and a trademark of director Joe Dante, who did the same thing in “Piranha” and “The Howling,” as well as his segment of “Twilight Zone — The Movie.”

One aspect of this film is like an extension of the latter, with Dante paying homage to Warner Brothers cartoons, right down to having animator Chuck Jones in a cameo role. (And some of the mogwai themselves resemble the cartoon Tasmanian devil.)

“Gremlins” is also a frenetically paced movie and you may feel a bit frazzled when it’s over, if not completely wrung out. But you will certainly have had your money’s worth. Dante is a dazzling director.

Most of the actors are very good here, especially Axton, whose low-key style is a perfect counterpoint to the bevy of weird inventions he is constantly coming up with. Zach Galligan, a newcomer, is a very appealing youngster who should have a bright future in films. Polly Holliday scores well as the mean-spirited owner of half the town. And Frances Lee McCain is wonderful as Galligan’s mother, who doesn’t take kindly to what the mogwai do to her kitchen.

On the downside, Phoebe Cates proves that keeping her clothes on doesn’t make her a better actress, and that comes to an embarrassing zenith when she explains why she hates Christmas, which is unbelievably unfunny and should have been cut.

Rated PG, but decidedly not for young children, being loaded with violence, “Gremlins” is a lot of fun for film enthusiasts, special-effects fans and those who are looking for a wild-eyed piece of escapism.


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.