For, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unless you are completely unaware of the fact that movies can now be streamed on the Internet — which would require your having been in a coma for several years — you probably know about Disney+, which is the 7-month-old go-to site for watching all things Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic. Well, not ALL things, of course; just whatever has been selected for a particular month. And you may be aware of the recent brouhaha over Disney’s 1994 film ‘Blank Check,’ which is part of the current lineup. It’s a terrible film about an 11-year-old boy who essentially steals $1 million and blows it on expensive toys. It’s a reprehensible film in every way but what has parents up in arms now is a moment toward the end when the boy and a 30-something woman exchange a kiss. This isn’t the first time this complaint has surfaced online; more than a decade ago the film showed up on Netflix and engendered the same complaints. Sadly, this wasn’t the first or last tasteless movie produced by Disney and sold to kids. So here’s my review, initially published in the Deseret News on Feb. 11, 1994.

"Blank Check" is "Home Alone," Disney-style.

It's also an uneven blend of the cable MTV and QVC channels, by way of "Brewster's Millions."

In other words, original it's not.

The story has an 11-year-old computer nerd (Brian Bonsall, who was once the youngest of the Keaton clan on TV's "Family Ties") "finding" a million bucks and blowing it in six days on a plethora of high-tech toys.

This gives director Rupert Wainwright (Hammer's music videos, Sinbad's Reebok commercials) an opportunity to stop the action every so often for dozens of mini-music videos, each showing Bonsall playing with the kind of upscale, brand-name trinkets most of us can't afford — from a video wall to an indoor-outdoor water slide to a virtual reality game to all kinds of oversized athletic equipment.


Brian Bonsall and Karen Duffy, 'Blank Check' (1994)

The story has ex-con Miguel Ferrer digging up his stash — a million bucks in cold cash — and taking it to a Midwest bank where a former associate (Michael Lerner) is bank president. Ferrer tells Lerner to launder the money and come up with a million in clean bills by the next day.

How Bonsall gets the money instead is wildly complicated … which is not to say amusing.

Bonsall then spends the rest of the film frittering the money away — he moves into a $300,000 house (a castle, actually), hires a full-time chauffeur to be his pal (Rick Ducommun) and tries to elude the bad guys (Ferrer, Lerner and rapper Tone Loc).

Bonsall also strikes up an oddly "romantic" relationship with a glamorous bank teller who turns out to be an FBI agent (Karen Duffy).

Eventually, however, Bonsall must confront his own deceit and discover his inner child … which certainly seems older than his outer child.


The kids in the audience seemed satisfied that villains fell into the swimming pool and one was hit in the groin with a baseball.

Favorite moment: Toward the end of the film, Bonsall's negligent father apologizes for his parental neglect, making his confession to the back of a chair, never knowing that his son is sitting in the chair. You have to see it to believe it.

On second thought, no one should have to see it.

Farcical plotting can take on wild proportions, of course, but in "Blank Check" they just get sillier and sillier without ever getting funnier. The result is a very dumb movie that talks down to the kids who are its target audience.

Especially at the end, when it pretends to moralize about doing the right thing — after 90 minutes of demonstrating that anyone who steals a million bucks and doesn't get caught can get away with anything.

The audience should feel insulted. I certainly did.

"Blank Check" is rated PG for comic violence and some vulgar language.

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, July 10, 2020

Once again an oldie-but-a-goodie was the top box-office draw of the week, 1984’s “Ghostbusters,” which has been playing on 622 screens nationally, with 90 percent of them in drive-in theaters.


 That film and several other fan favorites — including “Jaws,” “Back the Future” and “Raiders of the Lost Ark” — continue in Megaplex multiplexes around the valley.

And there are plenty more being added to the mix this weekend — “Inside Out,” “Black Panther,” “Field of Dreams,” “The Empire Strikes Back,” “Notting Hill,” the first two entries in “The Fast & the Furious” franchise, “Selena,” “Saving Private Ryan,” “Little Shop of Horrors” and “Interstellar” among them.


And three “new” films are also opening in theaters for the first time, although, as you no doubt expect, they are also on streaming sites: the R-rated horror film “Relic,” about a woman (Emily Mortimer) whose mother’s home may be haunted; “The Outpost,” rated R, with Orlando Bloom and Scott Eastwood as part of a team of soldiers in Afghanistan battling hundreds of Taliban fighters; and “Sometimes Always Never,” a PG-13 comedy-drama starring Bill Nighy as an English tailor trying to reconcile with his youngest son even as he tries to solve the mystery of his older son’s disappearance.

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



For, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: For those who have seen only Jackie Chan’s American films — the ‘Rush Hour’ trilogy, ‘The Tuxedo,’ etc. — and wondered what all the fuss was about, you really owe it to yourself to watch ‘Drunken Master II,’ considered by Jackie-philes to be his masterpiece. No wires here folks; it’s all Jackie doing his own famous comic stuntwork, and ably assisted by the great Anita Mui. And now Golden Harvest Home Entertainment has rewarded fans with a newly remastered Blu-ray release and it’s well worth checking out. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 23, 1994. (FYI, the reference to the earlier ‘Drunken Master’ reveals that I had not seen that film; it wasn’t available on video then, but two years later it played at an art/revival venue in Salt Lake City. At the end I suggest it would be rated PG-13, but to my surprise when it finally came to home video, it was slapped with an R, which was — and is — ridiculous.)

"Drunken Master II" is another feather in Jackie Chan's martial arts cap, with all the ingredients for which he is known — slapstick humor, precisely choreographed karate kicks and aerodynamic-defying wild stunts designed to take the breath away from audience members.

The setup and characters are also familiar. In fact, they are rather overworked in films like this.


Anita Mui, Jackie Chan, 'Drunken Master II' (1994)

Set in pre-World War I China, the story has Chan playing a young fighting champion who is still living with his parents (though Chan himself is actually 40 years old now).

He has to keep his kick-'em-up antics from his father (Ti Lung), a martial arts master who eschews violence, with comical aid from his mother (Anita Mui), who secretly plays mahjong for money and is always ready for a fight … even more so than her son.

Apparently, the film is a sequel to the original 16-year-old "Drunken Master" movie, also known as "Drunken Monkey in a Tiger's Eye," which was one of Chan's biggest hits.

The plot here has to do with evil British soldiers who are attempting to smuggle historical Chinese artifacts out of the country, and who also operate a local steel mill, exploiting the workers.

But Chan will save the day, of course, using a method of karate known as "drunken boxing," at which he shows more talent when intoxicated. (The result is sort of a karate version of Red Skelton's old "Guzzler's Gin" routine.)


As with many such films, the exposition sequences are a bit muddled (and boy, do those English subtitles zip by) … but once the action and comedy kick into gear, all is forgiven.

Chan is in great form here, falling into a pit of red-hot coals, dodging dozens of bad guys with spears, leaping in the air with incredible force (and taking equally incredible falls) … and, as is his custom, Chan shows us how painful an actor's life can be in the end-credit outtakes.

Great fun for action fans. And if you haven't tried one of these Hong Kong stunt-packed thrillers, this one may get you hooked.

"Drunken Master II" is not rated but is in PG-13 territory, with quite a bit of mayhem and a few scattered profanities.

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.

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



For, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This fondly remembered romantic comedy is the quintessential cinematic examination of the age-old question, ‘Can men and women ever just be friends?’ You can see it in select local theaters, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m., and Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. My review was published July 21, 1989, in the Deseret News.

Director Rob Reiner, who, with screenwriter Nora Ephron also wrote much of "When Harry Met Sally … ” (though he gets no screen credit for that), seems to pride himself on doing films that are very different from each other.

First there was the hilarious spoof of rock documentaries, "This Is Spinal Tap!," followed by the teen comedy "The Sure Thing," the preadolescence drama "Stand By Me" and his biggest hit, the fantasy-comedy "The Princess Bride."

Now comes Reiner's "When Harry Met Sally … ” — which could be called his Woody Allen movie. Or more correctly, a Woody Allen movie without the angst. Unfortunately, it's also a Woody Allen movie without the complexity of character. But most moviegoers won't mind.

Despite a certain superficiality, "When Harry Met Sally … ” is an adult romantic comedy in a time when we don't get very many, and it has one thing going for it that gives it an enormous boost — it's very funny.


Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, 'When Harry met Sally ... ’ (1989)

Billy Crystal is "Harry" and Meg Ryan is "Sally," who meet as college graduates driving together to New York City (shades of "The Sure Thing"). It's hate-at-first-sight, as Harry, an opinionated snob, spouts off theories about men and women, as well as his own penchant for promiscuity, then tries to get Sally to go to bed with him. She declines and they part ways.

Several years later they bump into each other on an airplane but this meeting isn't much more successful than the first, and besides, Sally's in love and Harry's about to be married.

Several more years pass and they meet again. This time both are licking their wounds from failed relationships, but they have matured and somehow hit it off to become friends. Just friends.

We know, of course, that they will eventually acknowledge their love for each other, and recognize that romance and friendship should go hand in hand rather than be mutually exclusive, and in the end there is a nice endorsement of both — and of marriage as well.

But the bulk of the film is made up of comic set pieces that are at once very funny and helpful to the narrative. Some, like this movie's most notorious moment during a restaurant scene, get big laughs, but in retrospect don't seem very realistic. Others are both amusing and insightful.


"Harry/Sally" is well cast, with special kudos to the stars — Meg Ryan is a complete delight, with some wonderful little character nuances that make her role utterly real, and Billy Crystal controls his penchant for doing shtick, which has marred some of his other film appearances, and uses to advantage his natural tendency to be a bit overbearing in creating a character who is occasionally obnoxious but not without charm.

Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, as their respective best friends, are also excellent. Fisher is carving out a nice post-"Star Wars" niche for herself with "best friend" character roles, and she's good at it. Will she evolve into the Eve Arden of the ’90s?

As for the Woody Allen comparisons — fans will see them easily, from the stark black-and-white credits that open the film to the "interview"-testimonials to the old tunes in the background to the ending that parallels "Manhattan."

Call it Rob Reiner's "Annie Hall." But it's funny in its own right and should appeal to a broad audience looking for something other than the slam-bang special effects dominating theater screens at the moment.

"When Harry Met Sally. … ” is rated R for profanity, though there isn't really a lot, and vulgarity as the characters talk frankly about sex.

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



For, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: The 1952 black-and-white film noir classic ‘The Narrow Margin’ is a B-movie of the old school. It’s also a first-rate thriller set aboard a train and the stars, Charles McGraw and Utah’s own Marie Windsor, have never been better. Alas, most modern audiences don’t care about old movies, especially if they’re not in color. So when a good idea is out there it’s likely to be remade for 21st century (or in this case late 20th century) sensibilities. And now Kino Lorber has upgraded the remake for a new Blu-ray release. I’m not sure modern audiences care about 30-year-old movies that are in color either, but this one isn’t bad (in retrospect, I may have been a bit harsh in my review); it just can’t hold a candle to the original. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 21, 1990.

No one can argue with Peter Hyams' skill as a director of action sequences — remember that harrowing car chase on the El in "Running Scared"?

And he's also good — sometimes very good — as a cinematographer. (Who besides Bo Derek's director-husband, John, does his own photography these days?)

But with his latest thriller, "Narrow Margin," he could have used a collaborator on the screenplay and maybe even in the directing of dialogue sequences between the action.

"Narrow Margin," a remake of the 1952 B-classic of the same title, has basically the same plot — a prosecutor tries to bring in a woman to testify after she witnesses a mob murder, only to be trapped on a moving train with the mobsters.


Gene Hackman, 'Narrow Margin' (1990)

In the old film the woman was the gangster victim's widow. Here she is Anne Archer (Michael Douglas' wife in "Fatal Attraction"), an editor at a publishing house who also happens to be a sophisticated divorcee.

The film opens with her reluctant blind date with lawyer J.T. Walsh, who seems like a heck of a nice guy. It isn't long, however, before Archer sees him murdered in cold blood by a notorious gangster client (Harris Yulin) whom he's been cheating. But Yulin doesn't know Archer is there.

So she heads for the hills, literally, to a remote mountain cabin in Canada, only to be tracked down by a stern deputy district attorney (Gene Hackman) who wants her to testify so he can put Yulin away.

Unfortunately, Hackman was followed by the bad guys, so he and Archer find themselves on the lam in the woods, hitching a ride on a passenger train headed for Vancouver.

The cat-and-mouse high jinks that follow are fairly predictable and come alive only as the action explodes from time to time. The best sequence is toward the end, a stunning chase on top of the train where, sometimes, there are obviously no doubles for the two stars.

Unfortunately, the film has many dry spots along the way, not to mention implausible behavior, as Hackman and Archer try to outquip each other with one-liners that feel more awkward than funny, and they do myriad dumb things.

There are also red herrings — about the identity of one of the bad guys aboard the train and who the traitor in the D.A.'s office might be — that are all too easy to figure out.


To say all of this is contrived is to understate.

Archer tries valiantly to lend some class to her thinly written role but it's pure damsel-in-distress stuff. Hackman, an amazing actor who seems unable to do anything wrong, even with a part as occasionally wrong-headed as this one, lends some depth to his tired but earnest deputy D.A., a man who seems utterly incorruptible. (As written, a chink in the armor might have helped a bit, and Hackman is portrayed as being a bit too good with his fists to be believed as simply a desk- and courtroom-bound prosecutor.)

And there is able support from M. Emmet Walsh, who disappears all too soon as Hackman's cop sidekick; James B. Sikking as a nasty hitman; and Yulin as the sullen crime boss.

There is also that dazzling sequence on top of and to the side of the train, while it rattles along bridges over steep caverns, with the Canadian Rockies providing a stunning backdrop to the action.

If that's enough, you may enjoy "Narrow Margin." Otherwise, be warned.

It is rated R for violence and profanity.