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SMALL SCREEN DISTORTS BIG-SCREEN FLICKS
This frame-grab example (of 1962's 'The Music Man') shows how much is lost when a widescreen image is given the pan-and-scan (aka 'full frame') treatment.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: Having cut the cable cord some years ago my wife and I watch DVDs/Blu-rays and Netflix, along with a very few network shows on local channels via a digital antenna (a real throwback to the ‘rabbit ears’ we had in the 1950s and ’60s). Among those local channels are several that screen TV shows from way back when and old movies, interrupted by drug and insurance commercials aimed at vintage viewers like us. The surprise, however, is that the movies are often vintage pan-and-scan TV prints made before the advent of widescreen televisions, shifting the image from side to side and cutting off half the picture. Which reminded me of the ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column reprinted below, which was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 6, 1987, under the headline: ‘TV turns great films into commercial pap.’
Have you noticed how dismally theatrical films play on commercial television these days?
With apologies to TV critic Joe Walker, on whose territory I now trod, it was hard not to take notice last week that “Gandhi,” in its network television debut, was right down at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings. Down there with some of my favorite TV programs, like “Sledge Hammer!” and “Beauty and the Beast.” (OK, so now you know why I’m the movie critic and not the TV critic.)
Granted, “Gandhi” was shown over two nights by CBS, the conclusion airing on Thanksgiving Day, hardly one of the hottest prime-time network spots of the year, but would very many people have watched it at a better time? Probably not.
Let’s face it, theatrical movies, no matter how popular or how many Oscars they’ve won, have already played out in theaters, on video and on cable long before they come to network TV.
When I saw the ads for “The Empire Strikes Back” being shown on NBC a couple of Sundays ago I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would be watching. If you have an interest in that movie, not only have you likely seen it more than once — you probably have a copy in your own home collection! (Which brings to mind a suggestion — why hasn’t’ someone taken the three “Star Wars” movies and added outtake footage and shown it in a miniseries format, a la “The Godfather Saga” of a few years ago?)
And with irritating commercial break-ins every 10 or 15 minutes, movies are even less appealing on network television.
And now come the results of a recent survey by A. C. Nielson Co., which reveals that as of November, half of America’s TV watchers now own videocassette recorders. And they also have cable.
According to the figures, 50.5 percent of all U.S. households subscribe at least to basic cable now, and more than half also have their own videocassette recorders and tape many of the programs for viewing at another time.
The survey doesn’t say so, but the other half of America’s TV-watching households probably rent videocassette players from time to time.
Another aspect of the survey shows that network television programs are those most often taped — which means people are fast-forwarding through commercials.
If people would rather see “L.A. Law” and “Moonlighting” as 50-minute shows sans ads, they most certainly feel that way about much-longer movies.
So if you want to see “Gandhi” or “The Empire Strikes Back,” are you going to watch it on network TV and waste an extra hour or two in commercial interruptions, or are you going to spend $2 to rent it from your corner video store?
You don’t have to be a network executive to figure out that one.
FANTASTIC BOASTS: THE CRIMES OF OSCAR
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018
Family films and potential Oscar-bait are starting to creep into theaters, which will only increase as we approach Thanksgiving and then Christmas.
“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (PG-13). Dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes captivity with a plot to recruit pureblood wizards and witches, and take over the world from the non-magical populace. A sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” of a couple of years ago, set in the “Harry Potter” world. With Eddie Redmayne back as Newt Scamander, along with Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Zoë Kravitz and Jude Law.
“Instant Family” (PG-13). This domestic comedy has a married couple (Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne) deciding to test-run their idea of having a family by taking in a foster child, preferably a small boy or girl. Instead, they find themselves saddled with a rebellious 15-year-old (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings. With Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty and Joan Cusack.
“Widows” (R). When an infamous bank robber (Liam Neeson) and his two partners are killed during a botched job, his grieving widow (Viola Davis) recruits the other two widows (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) to help her pull off a job of their own after being threatened by one of their husbands’ victims. With Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Lucas Haas and Robert Duvall.
“A Private War” (R). Rosamund Pike stars as ill-fated, real-life British war correspondent Marie Colvin, who felt compelled to chronicle events in frontline confrontations around the world that affected helpless civilians, putting herself in danger to alert the world of injustices. With Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander.
“Boy Erased” (R). This true story focuses on Jared, a college freshman (Lucas Hedges) who is sexually assaulted, which prompts him to reveal to his parents that he is gay. Jared’s father, a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe), enrolls him in a gay therapy-conversion program, but upon discovering that the chief therapist (Joel Edgerton) is an abuser, Joel’s mother (Nicole Kidman) intervenes, which leads to friction at home. With Cherry Jones. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
BOGART & BACALL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: The four films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together in the 1940s are keepers, and three of them are genuine four-star classics. So it’s nice to see Warner Archive offering all four in a new compact Blu-ray set that includes all the previous editions’ copious bonus features. What follows is an edited compilation of mini-reviews of the four films published in the Deseret News on the occasion of earlier DVD and Blu-ray releases (2003-16), as well as excerpts from the my review of the 1997 reissue of an alternate version of ‘The Big Sleep.’
“To Have and Have Not” (1944). It’s the summer of 1940 in the French colony of Martinique, which is controlled by Nazi sympathizers, and a cynical opportunist (Humphrey Bogart) makings money by chartering his fishing boat to tourists. But when he’s approached to help the French Resistance, he balks. But, hey, we know he’ll come around; after all, any resemblance to “Casablanca” is undoubtedly intentional.
All of this plotting, however, plays second fiddle to the crackling chemistry between Bogie and, in her first film, Bacall. There is also scene-stealing comic relief from Hoagy Carmichael and Walter Brennan.
The result is a rousing adventure, directed by Howard Hawks, and it’s filled to the brim with witty dialogue — although remains most famous for bringing together Bogart and Bacall. They fell in love during filming and married after the picture’s release. (Included are a documentary about the film, a 1946 radio version with Bogie and Bacall, and a cartoon spoof, with an unfortunate racially insensitive climax).
“The Big Sleep” (1945-46). One of the best film noir thrillers ever made, this one is stylishly directed by Howard Hawks and stars Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe, while young, stunning and dangerously alluring Bacall brings the heat. Also here are a bevy of first-rate character players (Elisha Cook Jr., Bob Steele, Martha Vickers), along with very young future Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone as a sexy bookseller.
The mysteries plotted out here are layered and somewhat confusing but there are enough laugh-out-loud quips and one-liners to keep you from caring. (My personal favorite comes at the beginning when Martha Vickers says to Bogie, “You’re not very tall, are you?” And he replies, “Well, I try to be.”)
This disc includes the 1945 version of this thriller that was released overseas, as well as the 1946 U.S. theatrical version that includes additional material shot a year after the film was completed (along with a documentary explaining why and the differences between the two versions). Both are fascinating, though the later, “official” version, ramped up the sexual tension between Bogie and Bacall at the expense of plot.
“Key Largo” (1948). John Huston’s excellent crime thriller is set against a raging hurricane in the upper Florida Keys and boasts an all-star cast. Bogie leads the roster as an ex-GI who is paying a visit to the widow (Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) of a World War II military pal who died in combat.
The father and daughter a hotel that houses a bunch of seedy guests (including Claire Trevor as an alcoholic) and they are in the midst of battening down the hatches against the coming storm when a sadistic gangster (Edward G. Robinson) shows up — and the games begin.
“Dark Passage” (1947). This offbeat melodrama/murder mystery stars Bogart as a San Quentin escapee who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. After his escape, he gets plastic surgery and tracks down the real killer. Agnes Moorehead memorably co-stars as a shady lady who helped put him away.
The first third of the film hides Bogie’s face with a first-person point of view (similar to what Robert Montgomery did with “Lady in the Lake”), then he’s in bandages for the middle third.
True, the story is highly implausible but the film is still entertaining. The star power helps immensely and fans shouldn’t be disappointed.
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.
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.
HEAT AND DUST
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: Before coming up with such international Oscar-winning blockbusters as ‘A Room With a View,’ “Howards End’ and “The Remains of the Day,’ the Merchant-Ivory folks came up with this little gem, which has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from the boutique label, Cohen Film Collection. Here’s my review, published Feb. 24, 1984, in the Desert News.
“Heat and Dust” is hot, but not dusty, an intriguing look at passion and deceit amid the sand dunes of India, in both the 1920s and modern times.
Julie Christie, who has been away from films far too long, stars in the modern-day narrative as Anne, a woman who is obsessed with the past, especially as it relates to her free-spirited Aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi). Anne interviews the elderly Harry (Nikolas Grace), who was a friend of her aunt’s and who became involved in the events that led to a scandal among the Britons stationed with the Army in India in the 1920s.
She discovers that Olivia, though the wife of a tradition-bound military man, Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenove), was unable to fit in with the rest of the military wives at the post and found herself drawn to the romantic ideal of India. She was also drawn to the Prince of the State, The Nawab (Shashi Kapoor), which led to a torrid affair — and the aforementioned scandal.
Shashi Kapoor, Greta Scacchi, 'Heat and Dust'
After interviewing Harry, Anne travels to India to see where it all happened and she runs into a number of interesting characters herself, including an American (Charles McCaughan) who is looking for spiritual peace, and Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain), the head of the household where she is staying, and with whom she begins an affair.
The two stories are not told in linear fashion, but instead blend together with scenes from the ’80s juxtaposed with scenes from the ’20s. The idea is to offer a parallel between the lives of Anne and Olivia, and that turns out to be one of the film’s difficulties. The jumping back and forth in time is occasionally frustrating, with the audience just getting interested in one story when it switches to the other.
And except for the R-rated explicitness of certain scenes, “Heat and Dust” resembles, in truncated form, one of those British miniseries we so often see on Public Television. Occasionally there seems to be something missing and sometimes the pace is too slow. Had it been cut into a couple of one-hour chunks, with one long flashback bookended by Anne’s story, the narrative might have worked better.
As it is, “Heat and Dust” is not the great epic romance that was attempted but it is still a very enjoyable one. The use of India locations is fabulous (and should be especially so to snowbound Utahns), the photography and sets are gorgeous, and the actors are uniformly excellent.
Christie is wonderful, though hers is hardly the lead role, and Shashi Kapoor and Greta Scacchi are very good together. Also particularly good is Nickolas Grace as Harry, a man torn between the role he would like in life and the one he must choose.
The film tends to play fast and loose with our romanticized idea of India but there is a nice sense of storytelling here and a calm, quiet, almost moody reverence to the overall tone of the film
Obviously, my feelings about “Heat and Dust” are mixed but if the premise interests you, you will more than likely enjoy it.
Though rated R — and deserving of that rating, for sex and nudity, some profanity and sex jokes — the explicitness here is not quite as graphic or gratuitous as most R-rated movies these days.