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DOG DAYS OF SUMMER FLICKS

     

Steven Spielberg on the set of 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' (1997), preparing to kill the dog, perhaps?

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 14, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The recent box-office hit ‘John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum’ is still in theaters, the third in a film trilogy that began with bad guys fatally shooting the title character’s dog. And all three movies are all about obeying the rules. Or not. Which reminded me that some 22 years ago I wrote a column about how dogs were never killed in action movies … unless Steven Spielberg was the director. It’s a rule. Or it WAS a rule. Well, OK, it’s just a rule I made up. Published on Aug. 3, 1997, this ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column (actually, just the first half of a longer column that was also about another subject) ran under the headline, ‘Only Spielberg has the guts to kill “The Dog” in films.’

More things I found myself thinking about when I should have been paying better attention to the movies:             

Only Steven Spielberg can kill The Dog.

In action movies, The Dog always survives.

Dozens — even hundreds — of human beings may perish in disaster thrillers, but The Dog always manages to escape. And usually comes out as unscathed as the hero.

This has been an especially prolific cliché since "Independence Day" last year, when Vivica A. Fox's pooch barely escaped a blast in a tunnel filled with cars that flew end over end.

As a result, "Independence Day" set the tone — the First Lady may bite the dust, but not The Dog.

     

It's no surprise when Boomer the dog barely escapes with his life in 'Independence Day' (1996).

Further examples:

    — In "Daylight," Sylvester Stallone leads a small band of survivors out of a tunnel that has been sealed at both ends and is on the verge of collapsing under the Hudson River. Will The Dog drown in one of those dangerous underwater undertakings, or will it prove to be a better swimmer than some of the humans?

    — In "Dante's Peak," after a volcano loses its cool in the Great Northwest, The Dog is perched on a rock that is surrounded by molten lava. Pierce Brosnan drives by in a jeep (that apparently has fireproof tires) but will he be able to save our four-pawed friend from a serious hot foot?

    — In "Volcano," after Los Angeles residents have been the victims of a volcanic eruption beneath the city, The Dog is trapped in a burning house. Will Tommy Lee Jones and friends get Rover outta there before the timbers collapse?

    — In "Speed 2: Cruise Control," after Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric have been battling bad guy Willem Dafoe for two hours, The Dog is on a small boat that is about to be smashed to smithereens. Will the little guy somehow survive the wreckage?

    — And in "Spawn," The Dog disappears after a violent fight between the title character (Michael Jai White) and the evil Clown (John Leguizamo), with only its collar left intact. Will "Spaz" surprise the audience by showing up safe and sound in the final reel?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, a resounding "Yes."

     

In 1997 it was very unexpected when the T. rex in 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' turned this pooch into a dino hors d'oeuvres (off-screen, of course).

It's a movie. And they never kill The Dog in a movie.

Unless the movie is directed by the mighty Steven Spielberg. He isn't one to follow the crowd. And he may be the only guy with enough clout to get away with this kind of thing.

So, in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," The Dog is depicted as a pet in suburban San Diego when the T. Rex tramples the backyard while using the swimming pool as a watering hole.

And though the moment is not graphically demonstrated (it occurs off screen), the audience is made painfully aware that the T. Rex has turned The Dog into a dino-munchie.

Thus, the new Movie Rule: Only Steven Spielberg can kill The Dog.

And even Spielberg won't SHOW The Dog being killed.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

LATE AND LATER NIGHT

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 14, 2019

Late-night television and late-night zombie attacks, along with a pair of franchise sequels, mark this weekend’s entries in the summer-movie sweepstakes.

“Late Night” (R). Emma Thompson plays a pioneering late-night talk-show host in this comedy-drama but her reputation is tarnished by accusations that she hates women because she has an all-male writing staff. When she learns that she’s in danger of being replaced by a younger, hipper male host, she impulsively hires a new writer, an inexperienced woman (Mindy Kaling, who also wrote the script). With John Lithgow, Hugh Dancy, Max Casella and Amy Ryan.

“Men in Black: International” (PG-13). This reboot/sequel to the sci-fi comedy “Men in Black” trilogy has serious-minded new recruit Tessa Thompson teamed up with goofball veteran Chris Hemsworth, and Emma Thompson reprises her role (from “MIB3”) as MIB’s boss. With Liam Neeson and Rebecca Ferguson.

“Shaft” (R). Although it carries the same title used for the Samuel L. Jackson 2000 reboot of the cops ‘n’ robbers franchise about maverick detective John Shaft — which was also the title of the original 1971 film with Richard Roundtree — this is a new mystery-thriller with Jackson, Roundtree and Jessie Usher as three generations of the titular character. With Regina Hall.

  

“The Dead Don’t Die” (R). A series of odd events and missing animals in and around a small town, to include an array of empty graves in the cemetery, lead locals to realize that the zombie apocalypse is in full swing. A dark comedy written and directed by quirky independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch with an eclectic cast that includes Bill Murray, Adam Driver, Tilda Swinton, Chloë Sevigny, Steve Buscemi, Danny Glover, Rosie Perez, Iggy Pop, Carol Kane, Selena Gomez and Tom Waits.

“American Woman” (R). When her daughter goes missing, a 32-year-old woman (Sienna Miller) in a small blue-collar town in Pennsylvania spends the next 11 years raising her grandson alone while grieving the mystery of her daughter’s disappearance. With Christina Hendricks, Aaron Paul and Amy Madigan.

“The Outsider” (R). The wife of a Chinese railroad worker (Jon Foo) is raped and killed, sending him on a kung-fu fury of vengeance. The corrupt local sheriff (country singer Trace Adkins) tries to stop him in this low-budget western. With Sean Patrick Flanery and Danny Trejo. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Gateway Theater.)


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

THE BOSTONIANS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 14, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Merchant Ivory Productions was a notable movie company in the 1980s having produced such Oscar winners as ‘Howards End’ and ‘A Room with a View,’ among many others. Another film in its canon, which seems to have been forgotten, is this one, now getting new life with a Blu-ray upgrade from the boutique label the Cohen Media Group. My review was published in the Deseret News on March 15, 1985. (And by the way, Vanessa Redgrave did receive an Oscar nomination for her performance here.)

So, the question is, does Vanessa Redgrave deserve an Oscar nomination for her role in “The Bostonians”? And the answer is yes, most assuredly.

But then, so does the entire cast here, including Christopher Reeve in what has to be his single best onscreen performance yet.

Based on the Henry James novel, “The Bostonians” is about a psychological tug-of-war as Olive Chancellor (Redgrave), a repressed middle-aged matron, vies with her distant cousin Basil Ransome (Reeve), a male chauvinist of the first order, for the affection of Verena Tarrant (Madeleine Potter), a young woman who has become a vibrant symbol of the women’s movement in 1875, struggling to get women to vote.

As the opening scenes set it up, Verena is an up-and-coming representative/spokesperson of the movement but her presentation is as much a sideshow as anything else, with her charlatan father performing spiritual tricks first.

Olive sees in Verena something special, however, and becomes her Svengali, taking Verena into her home and convincing her she should commit her life to the movement, even urging her to never marry.

     

Vanessa Redgrave, left, Madeleine Potter, 'The Bostonians'

Basil is also taken with Verena, however, though for decidedly different reasons. He is a struggling young lawyer in New York, trying to get published some of his outdated views, formed largely through his upbringing as an old-fashioned Southern gentleman. His politics are completely the opposite of hers and Verena looks upon him as a challenge to convert.

Olive, however, sees Basil as “the enemy.” She doesn’t seem to care for men at all but Basil in particular is a threat — and not just to the movement. As a result, Basil and Verena meet only surreptitiously at first, then more openly. Soon, Verena is in love with him, despite their disparate views, and Olive fears losing her forever.

“The Bostonians” is a low-key, intelligent look at people and obsessions, wrapped up in an interesting view of the women’s movement, which makes it an extremely timely film — more so than most movies that are set in our modern day and age.

In that regard, however, the women’s cause is not always viewed favorably, and the ending of this film may disturb some. But there are more levels being explored here than lie on the surface, and they are perhaps best summed up with a brief speech by a supporting character late in the film, as she makes note of deeper-running human motivations.

Linda Hunt, the Oscar-winning actress who played Billy Kwan in “The Year of Living Dangerously,” has that role, and she is excellent as a doctor who seems rather indifferent to the cause but whose wise observation of it from a more distant view makes her the one character who probably understands it best.

     

There are other mesmerizing supporting performances in this film, including Jessica Tandy, wonderful as an older woman in the movement; Nancy Marchand, as a wealthy New York woman whose son is in love with Verena; Nancy New as Olive’s sister, who has her eyes on Basil; and Wallace Shawn, as a greedy journalist out to exploit Verena.

But in the three leads, Reeve, who uses his considerable physical presence and charm to great advantage here, proves once and for all that he has the talent when he’s given the script; Redgrave as a most unhappy woman who lives through what she helps Verena become, is fascinating; and Potter, as a woman who seems to have always been something of a pawn for others, is quite complex and carries it off very well. All are magnificent.

Director James Ivory has an exciting eye for detail and photography, and obviously knows how to get the best from his performers. And the script, by Ruth Prawer Jhabvala, is intelligent and very well developed.

My only complaints about this film have to do with its opening and closing scenes. The first few set-up moments come all too fast and are a bit jumbled, as if it’s in too great a hurry to escape the starting gate. And the ending is far too flat and unsatisfying, considering all that has gone before.

“The Bostonians” on the whole, however, is a fine-tuned film, with a great cast, and should more than satisfy those who have missed having a nice adult piece of entertainment in local theaters.

It is unrated, but would doubtless carry a PG – and then purely for its adult themes. There is no profanity, sex, nudity or violence.


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

HOOP DREAMS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Salt Lake art houses the Broadway Centre and Tower theaters are running a series of vintage films, several each week, under the banner, ‘The Greatest: Life-Changing Documentaries,’ through June and into July. A highlight next week is ‘Hoop Dreams,’ playing afternoons at the Tower beginning Friday, May 31. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 13, 1995; though unrated at the time, the film has since received a PG-13. (For updates on the principles involved, go to these links: Internet Movie DatabaseWikipediaThe GuardianChicago Tribune.) And if you miss it at the Tower, it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

"Hoop Dreams" follows two inner-city Chicago youths during their high school years, boys who display a natural talent for basketball and who are encouraged to pursue the American Dream, which in this case means aiming for an NBA contract. (OK, maybe it's the Nike Dream.)

As the film begins, it seems obvious which of the two will most successfully chase that dream — but by the end, the characters seem to have switched places, after their lives have taken a variety of unexpected twists and turns in this nearly three-hour epic journey.

Meanwhile, the boys themselves display remarkable character, fortitude and dedication, despite the pressures, family problems and economic difficulties that bear down on them.

This is the plotting and character development of great drama, the kind that makes the best movies so compelling and believable. Except that in this case it wasn't scripted. "Hoop Dreams" is a documentary, and these kids — along with their families and friends — are real. And filmmakers Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, who dedicated seven years to this project, have come up with a film that is so rich, so involving, so compelling … that superlatives seem inadequate.

     

Told in a chronological, straightforward manner, the film has only occasional narrative interruptions, necessary to clarify certain moments.

"Hoop Dreams" begins as young Arthur Agee is spotted by a "street scout" who is on the lookout for talented ball players. He sees Arthur playing street ball and recommends him to St. Joseph High School, famed alma mater of Isiah Thomas, superstar player for the Detroit Pistons — and Arthur's longtime personal hero.

But in this largely white Catholic school, Arthur begins to falter. He confesses that he is intimidated at being surrounded by white people, he isn't used to the kind of pressure his coach exerts, and his grades, which were low to begin with, do not improve. As a result, his self-confidence begins to wane.

There are problems at home, also. His parents split up as his father sinks into a crack-cocaine habit and eventually goes to prison (he later gets himself straight and, for a time, is reunited with the family). Meanwhile, Arthur's mother, suffering from back problems, struggles to keep the family alive, while training to become a nurse's assistant. (One of the film's most emotional moments comes when she achieves that goal.)

But before completing his freshman year at St. Joseph's, Arthur is kicked out of school, leaving his family $1,500 in debt for tuition. Mrs. Agee is one of the film's most compelling characters and in just one of many candid moments, she bitterly says that the St. Joseph's debt is unfair, that she feels deceived by broken promises and that the experience has cost her son his self-confidence.

A couple of years later, as Arthur is progressing through his senior year at public school, he is told he needs his transcripts from St. Joseph's to graduate — but St. Joseph's won't release them until Arthur's parents begin making payments on the $1,500.

     

At the beginning of the movie, as Arthur begins his tenure at St. Joseph's, we also meet the film's second subject, William Gates, a student who seems to be on the fast track for his own superstardom. His coach and a gaggle of self-important sportswriters talk him up as "the next Isiah Thomas."

Though he begins with a disappointing academic status that parallels Arthur's, William's grades improve remarkably and he is the light of his coach's eye. But soon William is sidelined by an injury, which has a dispiriting effect on him.

At home, William lives with his mother and siblings. His father, who has been gone for some time, pops up late in the picture but is never a figure in William's life. At St. Joseph's, William's talent and prospects have prompted school officials to find him a sponsor, alleviating tuition problems, but after he fathers a child and ponders marriage, he becomes more and more disillusioned with both school and basketball.

There is much more here, with plots and subplots masterfully woven together by the filmmakers, along with a huge number of amazingly well-drawn characters — from parents, siblings and friends who figure in the boys' day-to-day lives to authority figures who appear only briefly.

Much more than a movie, "Hoop Dreams" is a genuinely heartfelt experience. It works on so many levels and successfully explores so many issues that not only is the audience left thinking about each in a new light, audience-members are also bound to have new respect for documentary filmmaking as an art form.

"Hoop Dreams," which won the Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival, is not rated but would probably get a PG-13 for a few scattered profanities (mostly from coaches during the heat of practice) and some cussing in a rap song, which one character listens to on a CD player.


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

RAMBO: FIRST BLOOD PART II

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 14, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘First Blood,’ in which Sylvester Stallone introduced his one-man army Rambo character, was a surprise hit in 1982, ranking No. 13 for the year in box-office dollars. So a follow-up was inevitable, and three years later ‘Rambo: First Blood Part II’ was an even bigger hit — No. 2 for the year, behind ‘Back to the Future’ and ahead of ‘Rocky IV.’ Yes, Stallone was riding high. Now, each of the first three ‘Rambo’ movies has earned a new 4K release from Lionsgate Home Entertainment, so here’s my review of the second film in the franchise, ‘Rambo: First Blood, Part II,’ which was originally published in the Deseret News on May 29, 1985.

Sylvester Stallone, he of the droopy eyelids, the Schwarzenegger biceps and the crooked sneer/smile — depending on whether he’s playing Rocky or Rambo — is back as the latter in “Rambo: First Blood, Part II.”

Here’s a movie that knows its audience. You want action? You want violence? You want a fast pace? You want a bigger-than-life hero who overcomes all — and I mean all — odds? You want a plot that panders to our need to hate the government for what it did to us in Vietnam?

“Rambo” delivers.

And it undeniably delivers with style and excitement, which is more than you can say for Chuck Norris’ lethargic “Missing In Action,” which had a nearly identical plot (as did “Uncommon Valor” before “MIA”).

As a result, on a purely visceral level, “Rambo” is kind of fun. Whaddaya want, brains too?

The film begins with Rambo in prison after his “First Blood” escapades, during which he literally destroyed a small Colorado town, single-handedly of course, after being mistreated by local authorities.

     

      Sylvester Stallone, 'Rambo: First Blood, Part II'

He is visited by his old commanding officer (Richard Crenna) who tells him the government needs him for a secret mission — to go back to an old POW camp in Vietnam and photograph any survivors who might still be there.

Rambo looks the commander in the eye and says, “Sir, do we get to win this time?”

And we’re off, transplanting the jungles of Colorado (in the first film) for the jungles of Vietnam (subbed here by Mexico).

Of course, Rambo doesn’t just take pictures. He’s not going to photograph those guys — he’s going to rescue them. All by himself. And what a rescue. He single-handedly blows away literally hundreds of Vietnamese and Russian soldiers with everything from arrow bombs to heavy helicopter gunnery held in one hand.

In fact, the body count on this film has to be one of the highest in history — including World War II documentaries.

Stallone co-wrote the “Rambo” script — which probably means he re-wrote it to suit his own talents. And it has the Stallone stamp all over it. We see close-ups of his glistening, gleaming biceps in the hot jungle sun; we see close-ups of the sneer as he warns the double-crossing diplomat that he’s coming to get him; we see close-ups of his mud-laden body as he jumps out of nowhere to attack a bad guy. But we don’t hear much in the way of dialogue.

     

The biggest mistake the original “First Blood” made was to have Stallone babble on with an incomprehensible monologue at the end, something to do with how badly Vietnam veterans have been treated. The sequel has the same preachy ending, but here it is reduced to two or three grunts. Wise move.

And that pretty well points the difference between this film and the other MIA “rescue” films. “Rambo” is streamlined, sleek and to the point. Rambo don’t take no guff from nobody — and the film is structured in the same manner.

That doesn’t mean “Rambo” makes any more sense or is any less ridiculous than other films of this ilk. When Stallone mumbles, “I’ve always believed the mind is the best weapon,” the audience has to laugh.

And “Rambo” is no more sensitive to the real MIA issue, either. It’s just a better action film. And that’s enough for a moderate recommendation.

“Rambo” is rated R for violence — and there’s mayhem aplenty (more bodies than any film since “The Terminator,” and that’s saying something). There is also some sex, brief partial nudity and profanity.