For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a column from 12 years ago that might offer a brief respite from the rather nasty current election cycle, written back when Stephen Colbert was still on his Comedy Central program playing an obnoxious, ill-informed conservative’; David Letterman was still a nightly fixture, and Jon Stewart on ‘The Daily Show’ was skewering all things political. This one was published on Oct 23, 2008, in the Deseret News. (Here’s a YouTube link for one of Gracie’s Allen’s campaign radio shows, and this YouTube link is for a  faux documentary about Pat Paulsen’s campaign — narrated by Henry Fonda!)

Here is a pair of amusing political quotes, both spoken with deadpan irony:

“It is time to forget the petty bickering and settle down to an old-fashioned mudslinging, name-calling campaign.”

“A platform is something a candidate stands for and the voters fall for.”

Although these comic observations could be applied to the current presidential campaign, they aren’t from Jon Stewart or David Letterman — or Stephen Colbert, who took a satirical run at the presidency last year.

They’re from two other faux presidential campaigns that preceded Colbert by several decades.

The first comes from Pat Paulsen’s 1968 presidential bid for the Straight Talking American Government Party — the “Stag Party” for short.

The second is Gracie Allen, who campaigned as a presidential candidate in 1940 for the “Surprise Party.”


Tom Smothers, left, Dick Smothers, Pat Paulsen, circa 1968.

In their respective eras, Paulsen and Allen launched wildly popular comedy campaigns, stumping across the country and speaking at various gatherings — and Allen’s whistlestop tour came to Salt Lake City.

(The TV special “Pat Paulsen for President” is on the DVD “The Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour: The Best of Season 3.” Allen’s campaign is chronicled in the book “Gracie Allen for President” and the audio-CD set “Burns & Allen: Gracie For President.”)

Paulsen was a standup comic who hit his stride as a writer/performer for the “Smothers Brothers Comedy Hour,” which ran from 1967-69. He gained popularity on the show with his stone-faced editorials that tackled issues of the day:

“We are not against censorship because we realize there’s always the danger of something being said.”

“We hear that (the military draft) is unfair, immoral, discourages young men from studying, ruins their careers and their lives. Picky, picky, picky.”

Allen was the latter half of George Burns & Gracie Allen, with Burns as straightman to Allen’s ditsy “illogical logic,” which they perfected in vaudeville in the 1920s, later achieving stardom on radio (in the 1930s and ’40s) and TV (in the ’50s).

A typical exchange has Allen answering the phone and Burns asking who called. “A reporter from Hawaii,” Allen says. Burns asks, “How do you know he was from Hawaii?” “Well he must be,” Allen replies. “He said he was Brown from the Morning Sun.”


In their presidential races, Paulsen and Allen offered similar views about their qualifications for the office:

Paulsen: “I did not want this support. I have not desired it. As I’ve said, I’d rather remain as I am today, a common, ordinary, simple savior of America’s destiny.”

Allen: “Now, I don’t pretend to know all the answers. I’m just a plain, ordinary, everyday genius who loves her fellow-men whenever possible.”

Paulsen: “I have conducted my campaign thus far in the true American political tradition. I lied about my intention to run. I’ve been consistently vague on all the issues. This has not been enough, apparently. Therefore I promise you all, my fellow Americans, that I will continue to make promises that I will be unable to fulfill.”

Allen: “We all realize that what this country needs is plenty, and even though it’s impossible I’ll be glad to do it.”

So with Allen in 1940, Paulsen in 1968 and Colbert in 2007, we should have another comedian running for president around 2030.

And since Allen and Paulsen actually did get write-in votes on some ballots, maybe by 2030 a comedian will actually win!

Tina Fey, perhaps?

New Movies This Week New Movies This Week



For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

Universal Pictures has rebooted one of its classic 1930s monsters in R-rated 21st century fashion, for good or ill, and this weekend’s four other new movies are a biography, a documentary and two TV series adaptations.

“The Invisible Man” (R). Elisabeth Moss stars in this very loose adaptation of H.G. Wells’ novel as a woman trapped in a violent, controlling marriage with a brilliant scientist. When she finally manages to escape, she learns that he has committed suicide — but she has her doubts, especially when evidence suggests that he has become invisible and is tormenting her.

“Seberg” (R). This is the true story of American actress Jean Seberg (Kristen Stewart) who achieved stardom in 1960 in the French film “Breathless,” and who was surveilled and harassed by the FBI after she became associated with Hakim Jamal (Anthony Mackie) and the Black Panthers. With Jack O’Connell, Colm Meaney, Vince Vaughn and Stephen Root.


“Once Were Brothers: Robbie Robertson and The Band” (R). Robertson and the title “roots-rock” group are profiled in this Canadian confessional documentary, which features appearances by Martin Scorsese (who directed The Band’s acclaimed 1976 “farewell concert” film, “The Last Waltz”), Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen, Eric Clapton and many more. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“Impractical Jokers: The Movie” (PG-13). Based on the TV series, this one does have a scripted story of sorts, which unfolds during interludes between hidden-camera “reality show” pranks performed by the improvisational comedy team The Tenderloins on unsuspecting “civilians.” Paula Abdul makes an appearance.

“My Hero Academia” (PG-13, alternate screenings offer soundtracks dubbed in English or in Japanese with English subtitles). This Japanese anime fantasy is based on a popular manga comics and the subsequent anime TV series, here telling the story of a superhero-loving boy who has no powers but is determined to enroll in a prestigious hero academy.

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



For, Friday, Feb. 28, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: During the early 1980s I heard a couple of songs on the radio by Talking Heads but I was not actually a fan of the group when I reviewed this concert film some 35 years ago. That changed, however, after the movie. And these days it’s considered one of the best concert films of all time, and rightly so. Now it’s the beneficiary of a new Blu-ray upgrade from music-distribution company Palm Pictures. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 29, 1985.

This ain’t no party

This ain’t no disco

This ain’t no foolin’ around

If you know those lyrics, you know the Talking Heads, a bizarre, energetic group that might be best described as jogging new wave.

If you don’t know them, go meet them.

No suffocating close-ups, no boring shots of the audience in throes of ecstasy or agony, no cinéma vérité camera-shaking to make you nervous, and no interviews — “Stop Making Sense” is an excellent example of the best way to film a rock concert, focusing on the action, the various members of the band and the performance.


David Byrne, center, jogs to the music of 'Stop Making Sense' (1985).

“Stop Making Sense” is one of the best concert films you’ll ever see, with director Jonathan Demme (“Melvin and Howard”) taking full advantage of cinematic technique to enhance a live performance loaded with jubilant music that is guaranteed to make you tap your toes, and maybe even get up and dance.

Lead singer David Byrne is a frail-looking, 96-pound weakling-type, who comes out on stage wearing a white suit and shirt, buttoned at the collar with no tie, looking like a cross between Mr. Rogers and Norman Bates.

He’s initially alone on a bare stage with his guitar but as the songs progress he is joined by various members of the group, building the set, if you will. And the songs build the same way, almost every single one, to a sense of joyous frenzy.

Some, like “Burnin’ Down the House,” make it virtually impossible to sit still, and at Thursday night’s preview screening, the audience was so excited many youngsters ran down to the front of the theater and danced with the music, blending in with the dark shadows of audience members at the concert whose silhouette images occasionally show up on the screen.


In his oversized suit, David Byrne sings in 'Stop Making Sense' (1985).

There’s a sense of zaniness to it all, particularly when Byrne comes out on stage in an oversized suit that makes his head look like he’s been to the witch doctor one too many times.

Then there is the jogging, dancing and just general rhythmic movement of it all, as the various band members occasionally take the spotlight, singing, playing and making the concert consistently rousing, energetic and exhilarating.

The film is gleaned from four live performances that Demme recorded and it is beautifully photographed and edited so that the rhythm of the movie matches that of the live performance.

If you aren’t a Talking Heads fan you soon will be. Just go to this movie and try to keep from being swept away.

“Stop Making Sense” is unrated, but would doubtless get a G.

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, March 27, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Mel Gibson’s three-hour epic ‘Braveheart’ was nominated for 10 Academy Awards and won five, including Best Picture and Best Director, and though I was not quite as taken with the film as were many critics, I understand why the film nonetheless remains a fan favorite some 25 years later. Now it’s coming back to the big screen for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events, on Sunday, March 22, at 2 p.m., and Monday, March 23, at 7 p.m. in selected Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 24, 1995, and note my comment about its budget; in today’s dollars, $70 million is about $120 million.

Mel Gibson the actor does pretty well in "Braveheart," though one wonders if a more focused director could have pulled a performance from him that would have given the central character a bit more heft.

And Mel Gibson the director vindicates himself with ferocious, complex battle scenes involving hundreds of extras while managing to tell the intimate story of one man whose name is still revered in Scottish history. (Let's remember that he has only directed one other film, the small drama "The Man Without a Face.")

But Mel Gibson the co-producer seems to have been unable to keep his director and star's ego in check. With its slow-motion sequences, an emphasis on bloody gore and an unwieldy three-hour running time, "Braveheart" just hints at what it might have been. In fact, it's fair to say that a terrific two-hour movie could probably be found somewhere in this three-hour epic.


Mel Gibson and Catherine McCormack on the set of 'Braveheart' (1995).

Keeping his focus on his real-life central character, Scottish knight William Wallace, whom he also plays, Gibson has made a valiant effort to make this medieval adventure authentic, faithful to its time in terms of sensibility and physicality. The characters are filthy and crude, the fight scenes are up close and personal, and the politics are simplistic and often duplicitous.

But there are times when, instead of feeling as if they are being pulled into the story, audience members may feel pushed away. The level of violence, in particular, is up there with the slasher-horror genre, which may keep even Gibson's most ardent fans from wanting a second helping in weeks down the road. (And repeat viewings are essential to the profit margin of a film this size, reportedly budgeted at $70 million.)

An educated man, unlike the peasants who surround him, Wallace is a Scotsman through and through, and when the king of England (Patrick McGoohan) seizes the Scottish throne and begins to impose impossible demands on the people, Wallace is asked to join a rebellion. But he declines.

Later, however, after he romances and marries his lifelong love Murron (Catherine McCormack), a tragedy occurs that changes his mind as he leads his people into battle against the English.


The sheer logistics of the battle scenes must have been a tremendous obstacle, and Gibson is to be commended for making the military strategy understandable and the violence unpleasant (as opposed to the cheerful violence in the "Lethal Weapon" movies). But in achieving the latter, Gibson has boosted the gore factor to an over-the-top degree. Making the audience flinch this much seems unnecessary, and Gibson ups the ante as the film progresses.

There are also too many scenes that seem redundant, repeatedly making a point that has already been made — as if Gibson just couldn't bear to throw anything out and refused to listen to cooler heads on the subject.

The performances here are all quite good and McGoohan makes an unexpectedly terrific nasty villain. The cinematography takes advantage of the locations (the film was shot in Scotland and Ireland), James Horner's music is appropriately enthralling and the character of Wallace is a compelling one.

But there is the nagging feeling as one leaves the theater that less is definitely more, and with a bit of restraint Gibson might have had a great movie here instead of merely a pretty good one.

"Braveheart" is rated R for considerable violence and gore, a rape scene, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity.

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



For, 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.