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CRITICS ARE SO CRITICAL

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Way back some 41 years ago, in my fledgling movie-critic years, my columns sometimes took on a self-reflective approach, analyzing my job and how it works. This may have been the first, published June 30, 1981, in the Deseret News, under the headline: ‘Good or bad? It’s in the eyes of the viewer.’ (Note: This was three years before the PG-13 was added to the rating system.)

Rick Kogan, second-string movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, loved “Breaker Morant.” On the four-star scale, Kogan gave it the maximum four stars and raved about how good it was.

Chief reviewer for the Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, who co-hosts PBS-TV’s “Sneak Previews,” saw the film later and did not like it. On his nationally broadcast TV program, he said he could not recommend that audiences see it, despite co-host Gene Siskel’s endorsement on the same program.

The four-star review, however, stayed in the Sun-Times, appearing week after week in the capsule listings, despite the lead critic’s different feelings about the film.

That incident illustrates how subjective this reviewing business, is, and why the general public needs to get to know whose regular critics they read and rely on for information about movies they intend to see.

Last year, Newsweek ran two side-by-side reviews of “The Island,” with an editorial note explaining that the two critics disagreed so wildly about the picture, the magazine decided to run both opinions.

     

As a film critic for the Deseret News, I try to give reasons for films being rated G, PG or R, but they must be generalizations since the ratings board does not spell out its decisions. In the movie list that runs on the calendar page each Friday, I include parenthetically why I think each film is rated as it is. I also offer firm opinions about whether I feel the film is worth seeing.

Often, readers disagree.

When I recently reviewed “The Four Seasons,” I raved about its virtues, and though I have had many people tell me they agreed that Alan Alda’s film is excellent, I have also had a few readers write in and tell me they hated it.

Sometimes people don’t come to me with adverse reactions, however. Sometimes they go to my section editor, or Entertainment Editor Howard Pearson, or even the newspaper’s publisher. It’s important to understand that the opinions expressed under my byline are my opinions, and not anyone else’s.

It isn’t necessary to agree with a critic to use him as a consumer resource. If he praises a film, but his review gives information about it that makes you decide not to see it, then he has still done his job. The same for negative reviews of movies you decide to see anyway.

     

When you go to a movie after reading a Deseret News review, whatever the rating, whatever the quality, you will be better informed as to its content. At least that is our aim.

Readers and critics are never going to agree 100 percent about whether a movie is good or bad. When my negative review of “The Cannonball Run” appeared in the paper, it was the very day that film raked up the third largest box-office gross in history for an opening weekend.

But at least anyone who read my review and then went to the film, knew what to expect.

Many publications merely describe a film’s storyline, a few scenes and then offer an opinion, never giving a hint as to its rating or why it received that rating.

The Deseret News will always tell you the probable reasons a film is rated R or PG.

Then an opinion will be offered. But whether you ultimately go to the theater and pay to see the film, is up to you.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

PANIC AT THE MULTIPLEX

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the pandemic, all movie theaters have been shuttered for the foreseeable future, though not for too long we hope. And a number of major movies have seen their dates shoved back to later in the year anyway … and in the case of the newest ‘Fast & Furious’ sequel, to next year. So, no new movies to alert you to this week; you’ll have to pop some corn, relax on your couch and settle for Netflix — preferably on a widescreen TV and not your phone.


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

ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Those looking for something complex and compelling might want to check out this one, a serious post-Holocaust drama with something to say, and one of filmmaker Paul Mazursky’s best efforts. It’s being revived by the release of a brand-new Blu-ray release. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 9, 1990.

Herman is living in Coney Island in 1949, and he isn't very happy. He's a somewhat inherently sad person anyway, living under the shadow of his past as a Polish Jew who barely escaped the Nazis at the end of World War II.

But Herman also suffers from his present domestic problems. Boy, does he ever. To sum it up lightly, before long he will find himself married to three women at the same time.

Other movies might make this situation the butt of light humor or farce, but in "Enemies, a Love Story" there's a lot more going on.

Like most of Paul Mazursky's raunchy comedies (he co-wrote, produced, directed and has a small role), "Enemies" is an uneven affair. Some of it works astonishingly well; some of it falls flat. But in the end, it's both entertaining and thought provoking — more than you can say for most films these days.

     

Margaret Sophie Stern, left, Ron Silver, Anjelica Huston, 'Enemies, A Love Story' (1990)

"Enemies" begins by showing us Herman's life in Coney Island, living in a rundown tenement building with his wife, Yadwiga. Actually, she's more like a servant than a wife, her slavish devotion both comical and embarrassing. And we eventually learn Herman married her out of gratitude because she saved his life in the old country when Nazis were searching for him.

But he lies to her when he says he's selling books around the country; actually, he's spending time in the Bronx with his mistress, Masha, a concentration camp survivor with whom he's more honest. Masha is married to a lawyer but eventually hopes to have him grant her a divorce so she can marry Herman.

Before long, however, Herman finds that his first wife Tamara, thought to have died at the hands of the Nazis, is also in New York, and her arrival on the scene further complicates an already seriously complex situation.

Based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, "Enemies" is a fascinating story about people who can't come to terms with life after having survived extreme duress. Guilt, more than any other human emotion, is in charge of their lives. And by and large Mazursky's approach, which is by turns comic and tragic — but never to cheap effect — chronicles the events at hand thoughtfully.

     

Ron Silver, Lena Olin, 'Enemies, a Love Story' (1990)

But what sets the film apart is the treatment of each character as a multi-dimensional human being — Yadwiga is devoted and loving, though superficial, and unfortunately reminds Herman of his past; Masha is tempestuous and exciting, and Herman truly loves her, though he's never quite sure what she's going to do; and Tamara is intelligent, down-to-earth and knows Herman better than he knows himself. Herman, meanwhile, is weak and scared and tends to let life run him over like a steamroller.

Mazursky has always been at his best when creating vivid characters in such films as "An Unmarried Woman," "Moscow on the Hudson" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," and in this case he also has the perfect actors for all four of the key roles — Ron Silver as Herman, Margaret Sophie Stern as Yadwiga, Lena Olin as Masha and Anjelica Huston as Tamara. They are an excellent ensemble and give the picture a great deal of its life.

"Enemies, a Love Story" is rated R, earned for its sex scenes, and there is violence in a flashback and one or two 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.

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

HOUSTON, AND EVERYWHERE ELSE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Upcoming golden oldies scheduled for big-screen revivals — including ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Apollo 13,’and maybe ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Airplane!’ — have, of course, been canceled/postponed due to the pandemic. Stay tuned.


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

PARADISE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a movie that’s so forgettable I forgot it even existed, much less that I reviewed it nearly 20 years ago. But here it is, newly upgraded to Blu-ray by the ever-surprising Kino Lorber label. My review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 4, 1991.

As a genuine change of pace, Don Johnson leaves behind the shoot-'em-up films he's been making since he left TV's "Miami Vice" and plunges headlong into the genre Hollywood used to refer to as "weepies."

In "Paradise" Johnson and real-life wife Melanie Griffith play a rural couple who have grown apart since the death of their toddler son a couple of years earlier. But when a quiet, intelligent 10-year-old city boy (Elijah Wood) comes to stay for two weeks, he unintentionally forces them to come to terms with their feelings for each other.

In some ways, "Paradise" plays like a made-for-TV movie — modest budget, modest expectations, modest results. But the sincerity of the performances and the charm of the players help bring the material to a higher level than it might otherwise have achieved.

     

Don Johnson, left, Elijah Wood, Melanie Griffith, 'Paradise' (1991)

Mary Agnes Donoghue, who wrote the screenplay for Goldie Hawn's "Deceived," as well as Bette Midler's hit "Beaches," also wrote and makes her directing debut with "Paradise," an Americanization of the French film "Le Grand Chemin (The Grand Highway)."

The film is a faithful adaptation of its source, right down to the unnecessary scene where the kids watch an older girl having sex in the barn. (Disney's French-film remakes never seem to make the films better; they just make them again.)

That is, it's faithful except for one very important area: "Le Grand Chemin" is about the boy, not the adults. And that film's greatest pleasure is derived from the tomboy next door showing the lad how to unobtrusively observe adult behavior, which ultimately leads to his acceptance of his own parents' troubled marriage.

"Paradise," on the other hand, leans a bit too far toward Johnson and Griffith's relationship. Where the French film showed the couple's problems leading the boy to a voyage of self-discovery, the American version seems to be more about the boy leading Johnson and Griffith to that voyage.

    

Donoghue also tosses away any opportunity for developing supporting characters and never really settles on a point of view — is it the boy's or Griffith's or Johnson's. Worse, her dialogue for the children — especially for tomboy Billie (Thora Birch) — sounds less like kids having casual conversation than like words written by an adult.

Still, there are some things to savor here, including the genuine chemistry between Johnson and Griffith, whose performances are restrained and believable; the comic relief provided by Sheila McCarthy ("I Heard the Mermaids Singing") as the ditsy next-door neighbor; and especially the performances of the kids — Elijah Wood and Thora Birch.

Wood is superb, a really natural young actor who never behaves like a Hollywood kid. (Wood had a prominent role in "Avalon" and stars in the upcoming "Radio Flyer.") And Birch has the film's most genuinely touching moment when she confronts her father for the first time and he rejects her.

"Paradise" is rated PG-13 for sex, brief nudity, some vulgar remarks and a few scattered profanities.