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SAME AS IT EVER WAS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: One weekend last month, with few movie theaters open to the public during the current pandemic — and with those that are open dominated by 1980s ‘classics’ — a 36-year-old movie became the No. 1 box-office hit in the nation: ‘Ghostbusters.’ So let’s take a look back at August 1984 when the summer was wrapping up and yours truly was assessing the damage for the Deseret News. As it happens, ‘Ghostbusters’ would go on to become the year’s biggest moneymaker, and four of the top 10 were also summer flicks; No. 2 was ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ followed by ‘Gremlins’ (No. 3), ‘The Karate Kid’ (No. 4) and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ (No. 8). The moviegoing public had spoken! This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published on Aug. 19, 1984.

Unless there’s some surprise coming I don’t know about — that is, unless “Body Rock” or “Oxford Blues” turns out to be an exceptionally wonderful sleeper — the summer verdict is pretty well in.

“Ghostbusters” is the winner and reigning champ, and indeed one of the summer’s brightest and best films.

Meanwhile, though they still made a box-office killing, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” are licking the critical wounds of Steven Spielberg backlash. Even critics who raved about the films when they first viewed them seem to be backing down a bit in the light of more recent criticisms of those films and of Spielberg himself.

And while it may be true that Spielberg is “imitating himself,” and going for fast pacing and shock effects over character and story, those films are, for me at least, still highly entertaining and wonderfully fanciful.

Every summer has its sleeper  and “The Karate Kid” was unexpectedly a pleasantly surprising box-office and critical hit, one which seemed to open the floodgates for family films.

Most of the other movies that were aimed at children and their parents came at the end of the summer, following “The Karate Kid.” Late in July we got “Marvin and Theo,” “The Last Starfighter,” “The Neverending Story” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” and this month brought “The Lucky Star” and “Cloak & Dagger.”

      

Ralph Macchio, left, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid' (1984)

And that will most certainly be the last of the family fare we will see until Christmas, or at least that’s how it appears right now.

Fall, traditionally a time for “serious” films — those with higher aspirations than most and those that begin to aim seriously for Oscar nominations — will not be much different this year in content. It will differ, however, in the number of films scheduled.

Each month between now and December has from 10 to 15 major movies on the calendar, a most unusual phenomenon. And December, always a big month, has some 20 on the schedule.

Some of the upcoming Christmas films already have previews showing in the theaters, including the two big sci-fi films “Dune” and “2010: Odyssey Two.” In addition there is “Supergirl,” John Carpenter’s “Starman,” Neil Simon’s “The Slugger’s Wife,” David Lean’s “A Passage to India” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club.” Along with a detective film starring both Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, a thriller with Tom Selleck, and comedies starring Goldie Hawn, Eddie Murphy and Michael Keaton, respectively.

December, as you might gather from that list, is a big-budget blockbuster month. The fall months preceding December, on the other hand, usually go for smaller films.

Those scheduled for September include a comedy, of all things, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in “All of Me,” but most will be much more serious – “Country,” with Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley; “Amadeus,” based on the stage production about Mozart; “Places in the Heart,” with Sally Field; Under the Volcano,” with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset; “Irreconcilable Differences,” with Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long and Drew Barrymore; and “A Soldier’s Story,” with Howard E. Rollins Jr., who was so memorable as Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime.”

      

Ke Huy Quan, left Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

Among those scheduled for October are Bill Murray’s dramatic debut, “The Razor’s Edge”; “Songwriter,” with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson; Brian De Palma’s “Body Double”; “Little Drummer Girl,” with Diane Keaton; and, for a bit of lighter fare, Paul McCartney’s “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” with McCartney and his wife Linda, along with Ringo Starr.

Even lighter is one of November’s films, the third in the “Oh, God!” series, again with George Burns.

Looking for possible Oscar fare among films that have not yet been seen is a fool’s game, of course, though Albert Finney, Diane Keaton and David Lean are always fairly secure bets. But there have been so far very few films that look like qualifiers and one is tempted to speculate that nary a single film up to now will receive a nomination in a major category.

There are possible exceptions, of course. A fairly strong contender might be Anthony Hopkins for his excellent portrait of Capt. Bligh in “The Bounty,” but that may not come to pass since the film flopped at the box office. Lesser possibilities, though they are certainly deserving, would be Mia Farrow for “Broadway Danny Rose,” John Lone for “Iceman,” Wilford Brimley for “The Stone Boy” and Pat Morita for “The Karate Kid.”

But I haven’t seen a single film so far this year I would put money on as a contender for “best picture.” It would appear those and any other strong contenders for ’84 will come from films released in the final months of the year.

One thing remains certain, however. Those who avidly search out movies to see will not have their usual idle period during the fall this year.

It’s enough to make a critic look forward to Christmas.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SOMETHING FOR … ANYONE?

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

So far the “new” movies that have been opening in local theaters (meaning the Megaplexes), and which have also debuted as online streaming options, are nothing to shout about. Hollywood is, of course, holding its best stuff off in hopes of theaters genuinely reopening at some point. (Although Disney became impatient and put its live-action “Mulan” remake on its Disney+ channel already.)

But the Megaplexes, one Cinemark (Jordan Landing) and the Redwood Drive-In continue to traffic mostly in oldies, some golden, some silver and some leaden.

This weekend you can see these newbies at several Megaplex multiplexes:

“How to Build a Girl” (R). Based on a popular novel, this English coming-of-age comedy stars Beanie Feldstein as an out-of-step teenager who rises from her working-class roots to become a popular music journalist. With Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd.

“The Silencing” (R). A reformed-alcoholic hunter (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose teenage daughter disappeared years earlier joins forces with a town sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) to track down a serial killer.

“Children of the Sea” (PG, Japanese, dubbed in English). Another Japanese anime offering, this one has a junior high school girl hanging out at the aquarium where her father works and taking up with a pair of mysterious brothers that her father says were raised by dugongs, marine mammals related to manatees.

  

“Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” (Not Rated). The controversial 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon series about an unstable Chihuahua and his pal, a sweet-but-dim cat, is profiled in this documentary.

“Sputnik” (PG-13, in Russian with English subtitles). The lone survivor of a mysterious incident aboard a spaceship in 1983 is unaware that his body has been taken over by a creepy alien creature … and the use of the word “Alien” here is no accident.

“Spree” (R). This yarn about a rideshare driver obsessed with social media who turns to murder to up his presence online has been described as a combination of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.”

  

And, the usual (mostly 1980s) “classics” continue to dominate the aforementioned theaters, including “Ghostbusters,” “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, the first two “Indiana Jones” pictures, “The Breakfast Club,” “Dirty Dancing,” etc.

And such post-’80s efforts as “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Space Jam,” “Iron Man,” “Twilight,” the first three “Harry Potter” films and “Edge of Tomorrow.”

And a pair of 1970s films — “Jaws” and “Superman.”

Enjoy — in a socially distanced theater or in the comfort of your own home.


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

TENDER MERCIES

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Duvall deservedly earned his best-actor Oscar for ‘Tender Mercies,’ which holds up marvelously some 37 years after its theatrical debut. If you’re looking for something uplifting that will give you hope during the ongoing pandemic and financial crisis, here it is. If I were compiling a list of my favorite films of all time, this one would be near, if not at, the top. Now it's earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 10, 1983.

“Tender Mercies” is an excellent film likely to be overlooked by summer audiences who want razzle-dazzle escapism — but you won’t find anything better to spend your movie dollars on.

Arriving on the heels of ecstatic reviews, “Tender Mercies” lives up to every shout of praise. But the film itself is quiet, very gentle and low-key. This is real life, with all the day-to-day motions people are led through, with the present linked inseparably to the past and genuine expressions of every emotion as they naturally occur.

Robert Duvall, who also co-produced is Mac Sledge, a former country-western singer who was a singing star in his day but now is reduced to drunken brawls in small towns where no one remembers him.

      

Robert Duvall, left, Tess Harper, Allan Hubbard, 'Tender Mercies' (1984)

We meet Mac when he finds himself stranded in a small Texas motel on a desolate highway. To pay for the motel room in which he’s been unconscious for two days, Duvall does some work for the owner, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a widow with a young son (Allan Hubbard).

Gradually they become close and Mac asks Rosa Lee to marry him. She agrees and they lead a quiet life, as Mac gives up the bottle and tries to settle down. Then his ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), comes through town, a singing star whose rise came through Mac’s music years ago. Mac tries to see their daughter (Ellen Barkin) after nearly a decade of absence and Dixie’s hatred for him flares. And later, Mac gets the itch to write and sing again.

“Tender Mercies” is about people, and it makes no attempt to give us extended highs or lows. And because it is so honest and refreshing in its approach it never fails to move us.

This is a “little” film, an even-tempered story told directly, without major plot tragedies or violent shifts in development. Screenwriter Horton Foote (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) obviously knows these people very well and Australian director Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”) has perfectly captured the bleakness of the landscape, along with its simple beauties. Likewise, the characters here are all people with whom we can identify.

      

Duvall is incredible. There’s no underplaying, no overplaying — in fact it hardly seems like playing at all. It’s as if we’re peering into Mac Sledge’s life with no regard whatsoever that this is an actor in a role. He is so believable, so real, that any thought of his being anyone else is left behind. (Duvall also sings all his own songs, and even wrote some of them.)

The rest of the cast is also remarkable, with Harper, Hubbard, Buckley, Barkin and Wilford Brimley all giving wonderful turns — some in very brief, but memorable roles.

Rated PG for some profanity, “Tender Mercies” is one of those rare things, a movie you immediately want to share with everyone you know.


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

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it received some backlash because it is darker in tone and arguably more violent than its predecessor, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ remains a wild ride and a satisfying entry in the serial-spoofing quadrilogy from Steven Spielbeg. (I can’t say that I’m thrilled that he is handing the reins to another director for the upcoming fifth ‘Indiana Jones’ flick.) And it’s playing now at the Megaplex Jordan Commons multiplex in Sandy. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 23, 1984.

You may recall that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” opened with the Paramount Pictures logo — a snowcapped mountain — fading into a South American mountaintop as we were introduced to that intrepid archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones. I remember the preview screening, when the Villa curtains parted to reveal the scope of the 70mm film, and the audience “oohed” and “ahhed.”

Something similar happened Monday night at the Villa’s preview of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the “Raiders” sequel. The Paramount snow-laden summit faded into an engraved mountain on a gong in a Shanghai nightclub. Again, the audience “oohed” and “ahhed” as the 70mm screen filled and everyone in the theater knew immediately we were off to another rousing rollercoaster ride from Steven Spielberg. And that’s exactly what it is.

Prior to that, fans wondered if Spielberg could possibly pull it off — a satisfying sequel to the fifth biggest hit movie of all time. Could “Indiana Jones” possibly be as fantastic as the nonstop action of “Raiders,” building thrill upon thrill, leaving the audience excited and exhausted? But by the time “Indiana Jones” was over — possibly the fastest two hours you’ll ever spend at the movies — there was no doubt.

Steven Spielberg has done it again.

“Indiana Jones” is different from “Raiders” in several significant ways. The period is set before the first film, in 1935. We first see Indy in a tux, of all things, while the locations range from Shanghai to India, and most of the second half is confined to a palace and its underground caverns, though there is nothing static about it.

      

From left, Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

The film begins in the aforementioned Shanghai nightclub, where American showgirl Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is warbling a Chinese version of “Anything Goes” (shades of Mel Brooks’ “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish in “To Be or Not to Be”).

In the club, Jones confronts an evil villain and finds himself in a free-for-all reminiscent of Spielberg’s nightclub scene in “1941.”

Indy and Willie are rescued, momentarily at least, by his young friend Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and they board a cargo plane that eventually loses its pilot. Their escape is incredible, unbelievable and wonderful, setting the pace for what is to come.

Eventually the main plot unfolds as they agree to find a sacred stone stolen from a drought-ridden Indian village, and with it the village’s population of children.

How Indy and his two companions manage to do so, bringing the children home in Pied Piper fashion, makes for an incredible two-hour visceral experience that will exhaust and excite you every bit as much as “Raiders” on its first go (the high point has to be a wild underground coal-car chase).

Harrison Ford is perfect as Indiana Jones, using his ironic sense of humor frequently here. He’s heroic yet accident-prone, in possession of nine-plus lives, and there are lots of wonderful little comic bits that occur in and around the action.

Kate Capshaw’s blonde singer is pampered and spoiled, afraid of everything — especially getting dirty or breaking a nail — and she’s very funny in the role.

      

But the real charmer is Ke Huy Quan as the little Chinese boy Short Round, Indy’s sidekick, who manages to rescue Indy almost as often as he is rescued by him. (Quan is actually a 12-year-old Vietnamese boy living in Los Angeles, and though he has never acted before he has a very engaging and natural screen presence.)

Spielberg’s direction is lickety-split, of course, and he works the camera like a character, pulling us through the story and the action. He truly is the master of his craft. John Williams’ score is rousing, the technical credits and effects are superlative, and the script is clever and funny.

A warning, though: Like “Raiders,” “Indiana Jones” is very violent. A man’s heart is torn out of his chest while he remains alive, and various people are shot, fall from great heights, are devoured by crocodiles and die in other sundry ways. And though there are no snakes or tarantulas, there are such delights as cockroaches galore, vampire bats, and the eating of disgusting Indian delicacies (such as live eels) to raise your adrenalin.

In other words, heed the warning below the PG rating: “ … may be too intense for younger children.”

My only real complaint about “Indiana Jones” is that the only female in the film is a stereotypical nincompoop, whereas “Raiders” offered just the opposite in the wonderful characterization by Karen Allen. But when you consider the source material for this film, the old ’30s and ’40s serials with their stereotypes and contrivances, it is certainly a faithful element.

On the whole, prepare for a wonderful, tremendously invigorating, old-fashioned cliffhanger time at the movies.


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

NARROW MARGIN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, 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.