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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

BLINDED BY THE BOSS

 

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

It’s an interesting mix of movies in local theaters this weekend, from the offbeat Springsteen musical to a vehicle for Cate Blanchett to demonstrate her comic chops to a documentary about one of the great TV newsmen of the 20th century.

“Blinded By the Light” (PG-13). A Pakistani-British teenager (Viveik Kalra) living in Luton, England, circa 1987, writes poetry to combat the racial and economic turmoil of his life when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Spingsteen, which he embraces as a cathartic release for his pent-up frustrations. Based on a true story. With Haley Atwell.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (PG-13). Richard Linklater (“School of Rock,” “Boyhood”) co-wrote and directed this whimsical comedy based on Maria Semple’s novel about the titular misanthrope (Blanchett) who has spent her life being a wife and mother but suddenly feels compelled to strike out on her own and follow her bliss. With Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn and Megan Mullally.

  

“Mike Wallace Is Here” (Not Rated). The TV journalist whose fearless confrontations with the rich and powerful made him a celebrity in the late 1960s on the CBS newsmagazine program “60 Minutes” is profiled in this documentary comprised of copious amounts of archival footage featuring, among many others, Martin Luther King Jr., Johnny Carson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bette Davis, Salvador Dali and the Ayatollah Khomeini. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (PG-13). This in-name-only sequel has four teenage girls diving in a ruined underwater city when they suddenly find themselves confronted by a bevy of sharks in a claustrophobic labyrinth of caves. With Sophie Nélisse (“The Book Thief”), Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie), Sistine Stallone (daughter of Sylvester), Brianne Tju, John Corbett and Nia Long.

“The Angry Birds Movie 2” (PG). The angry birds and angry pigs are still at war with each other as this animated sequel begins but soon they are forced to come together to take on a mutual enemy, a vengeful eagle. Voice cast includes Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, Awkwafina, Sterling K. Brown, Eugenio Derbez, Danny McBride, Peter Diklage, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish.

  

“Ode to Joy” (R). Martin Freeman is Charlie, a librarian in Brooklyn who suffers from cataplexy, causing him to faint whenever he experiences strong emotions, which his girlfriend (Melissa Rauch) tries to respect and support. But when he falls in love with a charming free spirit (Morena Baccarin), Charlie tries to avoid embarrassment by setting her up with his brother (Jake Lacy). With Jane Curtin.

“Good Boys” (R). When a 12-year-old boy (Jacob Tremblay) is invited to a kissing party he panics and asks his buddies for some pointers, which leads to a series of very bad decisions. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (“Year One,” “Bad Teacher”) wrote this raunchy comedy, which marks Stupinsky’s directing debut. With Will Forte.

“Honeyland” (Not Rated). This documentary chronicles the travails of the last female beehunter in Europe who is attempting to restore the natural balance in Honeyland when the area is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers that threaten her livelihood. (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

SILVERADO

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Westerns are revived from time to time, such as with ‘The Sisters Brothers,’ opening this weekend. One of the more successful attempts to reinvigorate the genre, however, came from an all-star cast directed by Lawrence Kasdan in ‘Silverado,’ which is getting a big-screen revival Monday, Oct. 15, and Wednesday, Oct. 17, at 2 and 7 p.m., at various Megaplex Theaters as part of its latest Silver Screen Classics Series.

“Silverado” makes “Pale Rider” look awfully pale indeed.

Yet it should come as no surprise that Lawrence Kasdan could pull off the best western ride in years, since he has already breathed new life into several other sagging genres.

Remember, it was Kasdan who wrote “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” giving new life to Saturday matinee serials; and he wrote and directed “Body Heat,” reviving film noir; and he also wrote and directed “The Big Chill,” which proved audiences could enjoy ensemble work as much as big-name stars doing solo acts.

Now Kasdan has taken the western form, and injected into it enough ’80s sensibilities to please even the most cynical moviegoers among us.

The premise is actually nothing new, as four unlikely heroes come together on their way to the town of Silverado, eventually joining forces to take on the wicked sheriff of the town and the evil land-grabbing cattle baron who is trying to drive off pioneers.

That plot is so old it has hoof-prints all over it.

But Kasdan has drawn rich characters, cast the film with some rather offbeat, yet very right choices, and the result is a slam-bang, action-packed, fully developed, utterly entertaining and completely satisfying western, the likes of which we haven’t seen for many, many years.

     

Danny Glover, left, Kevin Costner, Scott Glenn, Kevin Kline, 'Silverado'

The first half of the film is a sort of episodic journey, starting off with a bang as Scott Glenn is ambushed by a band of mysterious strangers. Bullet holes in the little shack where Glenn has been sleeping let in streams of light, and when he ventures outside we see a wide expanse of land (the film was shot in New Mexico).

Immediately we know this is going to be a movie with humor, style, wit, action and a breathtaking visual sense. Right on all counts.

Glenn meets up with bearded Kevin Kline, eventually they rescue Glenn’s hotheaded little brother (Kevin Costner), and soon they are joined by Danny Glover, a black cowboy on his way home.

As it happens, all four are headed for Silverado, and for about half the film they are involved together in comic misadventures that bring to mind “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.”

Whey they reach Silverado, the film settles into a more mainstream kind of western sensibility. Glenn and Costner visit relatives. Kline enters the Midnight Star saloon and strikes up a relationship with its diminutive owner (Linda Hunt), and Glover finds his parents’ farm has been ravaged by the local cattle baron’s hired guns.

Eventually the foursome will come together to battle the evil that pervades Silverado, chiefly in the form of an old buddy of Kline’s, now the corrupt sheriff, played with nasty glee by Brian Dennehy.

Kasdan, as usual, has written (with his brother Mark Kasdan) an intelligent, funny, human script, about people searching for their roots and family relationships.

And in addition to rousing music by Bruce Broughton, gorgeous photography by John Bailey and a wonderful, sharp-eyed ’80s style, there is that incredible cast.

Kevin Kline is terrific as the gentle big bear of a man who cannot avoid having to show his strength no matter how hard he tries, and he brings with him a very nice understated humor. (His friendship with Linda Hunt is perhaps the most touching thing in the film.)

Scott Glenn is perfect as the tough guy, and as Kasdan said in an interview, he was born to play a western hero. There’s no doubt after seeing him here that it’s true.

Danny Glover is terrific as the wronged black cowboy, giving the role just the right amounts of dignity and humility that have us rooting for him all the way.

     

                  Linda Hunt, Kevin Kline, 'Silverado'

And Jeff Goldblum has a nice, small role as a gambler from the East, though he seems rather underdeveloped.

But the show-stealers here are Linda Hunt, absolute perfection as a little woman whose philosophy is summed up quite nicely: “Life is what you make it, friend; if it doesn’t fit, you make alterations”; Kevin Costner, having a ball as the quick-tempered ladies’ man (and looking for all the world like a young, demented Leonard Nimoy); and Brian Dennehy, delicious as one of the screen’s most memorable villains of recent years (his second powerfully winning role in a row, after “Cocoon”).

The only real flaw here is in giving Rosanna Arquette short shrift, an unfortunate result of her storyline, about pioneers traveling into Silverado, being cut in favor of the action story. (It would have been better to leave out a scene that implies there is a triangle romance between her, Kline and Glenn, since it comes out of the blue and goes nowhere.)

There are a lot of levels on which to enjoy “Silverado,” but the main thing is that it is a heck of a lot of fun, more fun than any movie we’ve gotten so far this summer — and lately it’s been a darn good summer.

This is a winner all the way — and by all means, see it in 70mm! You have four theaters in the valley to choose from.

“Silverado” is rated PG-13 for violence, and there are two or three profanities.


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.