REALITY BITES - Home
LAW & ORDER & FAITH
The 2009 primary cast of 'Law & Order,' from left: S. Epatha Merkerson, Jeremy Sisto, Anthony Anderson, Sam Waterston, Alana de la Garza, Linus Roache.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: There’s a lot of discussion about religion and churchgoing these days, especially given the current heated political climate, so it seems like a good time to ask about how the subject is portrayed on television. When this column was written, some 12 years ago, it was unusual to see anything but negative portrayals of faith and believers, which is why this episode of ‘Law & Order’ late in the series’ run seemed to stand out. Today, partly because there are so many accessible programs on broadcast and cable networks, and streaming sites, you have at least a few shows that treat religion and the religious with more respect — most obviously ‘Blue Bloods.’ But that was very much not the case when this was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 2009. (And we’ll explore this subject a bit deeper next week.)
Prime-time network TV feels the need to shock these days, with depictions of violence and gore, sex and nudity, profane and vulgar language getting stronger all the time.
And that’s just the news shows.
But last week, “Law & Order” had a real shocker.
That is, the original “Law & Order,” the 19-year warhorse with Sam Waterston as District Attorney Jack McCoy, where the first half of each episode is about the police investigating a murder and the second half is about the prosecutors taking the case to court. And the plot starts out being about one thing and ends up being about something else.
This is a show that is mostly about the crimes, not the people who try to solve them each week. But sometimes we do get bits and pieces of backstory that tell us something about the recurring characters.
And one recurring theme we have seen over the years regarding many “L&O” characters is a skepticism, if not downright mockery, of all things religious. Especially organized religion. Chiefly with McCoy, who is a bitter lapsed Catholic.
Anthony Anderson, left, Jeremy Sisto, 'Law & Order' (2009)
Anyway, here’s last week’s shocker:
Two of the regulars on the show — Anthony Anderson’s police detective Kevin Bernard and Alana De La Garza’s prosecutor Connie Rubirosa — revealed that they are churchgoers. And Rubirosa knows her Bible. Yikes!
This may not seem like a big deal until you ask yourself how many characters on prime-time TV today attend church or even verbally acknowledge God with anything short of derision.
This episode begins with a murder investigation but quickly twists and turns into something else. The general theme is the Rapture, described on the show as “The last days, the book of Revelation,” “When Jesus comes back and takes all good Christians to heaven.”
The focus is on two zealous cults, one involved with a faith website designed to automatically send e-mails to loved ones left behind when the Rapture comes, and the other with returning Jews to Israel before the Rapture. And there’s the usual mix of naïve believers and scam artists.
Early in the show, while questioning a confessed murderer, Bernard is asked if he believes in Jesus. “I do,” he replies.
Later Bernard is asked by his partner Cyrus Lupo (Jeremy Sisto) if he’s really a believer or if he was just trying to get information from the guy. Bernard replies, “I’ve been seen in the church from time to time,” although he adds some skepticism regarding the Rapture.
Linus Roache, Alana de la Garza, 'Law & Order' (2009)
Toward the end of the show Rubirosa’s moment comes as she challenges a reverend who is a reluctant witness in a separate murder case.
She and lead prosecutor Mike Cutter (Linus Roache) find the reverend in an empty church and approach him about his testimony (he has perjured himself in court).
At one point, Rubirosa reaches for the reverend’s Bible, opens it to Matthew 24 and reads a scripture, which prompts the reverend to reconsider his actions. Then she leads the reverend and Cutter in a prayer.
After they get their conviction, McCoy asks if it’s because God told the reverend to tell the truth. Cutter replies, “And Connie.” He then turns to Rubirosa and adds, “Matthew, Chapter 24? You study the Bible?”
She responds cryptically: “I prepare for court, I prepare for church.”
And for a 21st century TV character, a little shocking.
A SOON-TO-STREAM POTPOURRI
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
There are six new films in our pandemic-protocol conscious theaters this weekend, with streaming options looming, of course. Horror films have dominated the new titles for the past several months but this week there are movies addressing social issues and two that encourage faith.
“No Man’s Land” (PG-13). A Texas rancher (Frank Grillo) and his adult son (Jake Allyn) do their own “border patrols” to keep illegal aliens off their land, but one night the son inadvertently shoots a boy in the back, causing him to flee into Mexico. With Andie MacDowell and George Lopez.
“The Dig” (PG-13). A medieval burial site is discovered on the property of an English landowner (Carey Mulligan) in 1939. Based on John Preston’s historical novel. With Ralph Fiennes and Lily James. (Debuts on Netflix Jan. 29.)
“Our Friend” (R). A journalist (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Dakota Johnson) and two young daughters have a good life until she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, at which point he feels overwhelmed. Then his goofy best friend (Jason Segel) moves in to help out in this dark comedy-drama.
“American Skin” (R). Writer-director Nate Parker (“The Birth of a Nation”) concedes that he was influenced by “Dog Day Afternoon” and “12 Angry Men” for this story of a Marine veteran (Parker) whose unarmed son is killed by a cop during a traffic stop. When the cop is acquitted of wrongdoing and there is rioting in the streets, the vet recruits his Marine buddies to storm the police station and stage their own trial.
“About Hope” (PG, aka “False Hopes”). This Christian comedy has a young man looking for the perfect woman to love when he becomes friends with a single mother struggling to launch her own small business. (Now streaming.)
“Heaven” (PG-13). A middle-aged paramedic struggles with his faith after his wife dies of cancer, then he wakes up one morning to find himself in heaven, where is has an opportunity to review his life. A low-budget independent production. With Eric Roberts.
Meanwhile, some older pictures are sneaking in to offer fans some rare big-screen options, including “Jurassic Park,” “Back to the Future” and the 2012 version of “Les Misérables.”
OUT OF AFRICA
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: From 1966 to 1990, Robert Redford and the late Sydney Pollack made seven movies together and 'Out of Africa' was, arguably, their best collaboration. No small feat when the others include 'Jeremiah Johnson,' 'The Way We Were' and 'Three Days of the Condor.' But in my book 'Out of Africa' has a grandeur and sweep that ranks up there with David Lean ('Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Doctor Zhivago'), as you will ascertain from my admittedly gushing review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 20, 1985. ‘Out of Africa’ is part of a new eight-movie DVD set of Meryl Streep pictures just released by Universal Home Entertainment.
Sydney Pollack, as if you didn’t already know it, is one of our most talented directors. There doesn’t seem to be a subject he can’t tackle and turn it into a wonderful movie, from comedy (“Tootsie”) to thriller (“Three Days of the Condor”) to romance (“The Way We Were”).
So his name on “Out of Africa” is enough to get the juices going in anticipation that this is going to be something special. Add to that a cast headed by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and it’s impossible even for a jaded film critic not to expect to be entertained.
The ultimate discovery that “Out of Africa” is not just a good movie but a great one is less a surprise than a delightful fulfillment of expectations. This is filmmaking at its finest — from the gorgeous photography, the lovely music, and the flawless set design to the sharp, witty script and the fine-tuned performances all around.
The story is basically true, about a Danish woman in 1914, Karen Dinesen Blixen (Meryl Streep), who would later write about her life under the name Isak Dinesen. The film is based on her book, “Out of Africa,” as well as with several other works, including biographies.
Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in an iconic moment from 'Out of Africa' (1985).
In the film, Dinesen essentially buys her way into a marriage for the purpose of gaining a title. Her husband is Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who has gone ahead to Kenya where he was to have begun a dairy farm. But when she arrives, Dinesen discovers he instead has put her money into coffee beans, a risky farm project at that altitude.
The result is the first of several unhappy encounters that lead to their permanent separation, as he goes off on safari and has affairs with native women, and she tries to make their farm thrive.
Blixen eventually falls in love with a free-spirited adventurer named Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), only to find that he is too free-spirited even for her. Yet their on-and-off life together is a fascinating one, and they help each other grow.
But perhaps even more than being about Dinesen’s love affair with Finch Hatton, “Out of Africa” is about Dinesen’s love affair with the country and its people. We see her go from naïve tolerance to genuine love for Africa, a land that is succumbing to the ever-increasing demands of civilization, and the people whose traditions and lifestyles are permanently and unhappily altered.
The environmental statement is actually quite subtle here for the most part with the emphasis on the characters, and Streep is once again simply astonishing as she gets into the skin of this woman. Every step she takes is so right that we feel we are growing with her.
Redford gets the lion’s share (pardon the phrase) of the great dialogue here, providing … of all things … comic relief. He delivers his lines in a deadpan manner, and though he is essentially a dramatic character his witty and insightful observations are often quite funny.
Brandauer is wonderful as the slimy husband, yet he’s not a blackguard; he manages to gain some sympathy through the shading of his character.
Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke did a good job with his first screenplay “Absence of Malice” but who would have dreamed he had this kind of sensitivity? His script for “Out of Africa” is first-rate — sharp, intelligent funny, bright and never sinks into sloppy sentiment.
Similar kudos are also deserved for every technical aspect of the film, from set design to costumes to cinematography to the score (one of John Barry’s best). …
And director Pollack knows just how to use all this material to proper advantage, making the film a wonderful throwback to the best romantic adventures.
This is by far one of the year’s best films and a sure bet as a major Oscar contender.
“Out of Africa” is rated PG for some violence and profanity, with some discreet sex and partial nudity.
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.
FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an ’80s comedy that holds up as very funny and still ranks with Matthew Broderick’s best work. And if you came along too late to see it on the big screen, a couple of Cinemark cineplexes are bringing it back this weekend … in a socially distanced manner, of course. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 13, 1986.
“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is another terrific teen comedy from John Hughes, the writer-director-producer who has already given us such winners as “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink,” not to mention (and we shouldn’t) “Weird Science.”
Matthew Broderick plays sort of a modern-day teenage version of Groucho Marx in that he frequently turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience … a technique recently revived by Bruce Willis in the TV series “Moonlighting.” (And in this film it makes for the funniest closing sequence you’ve seen in a long time — don’t leave before the end credits are over.)
Broderick is the title character, a master con artist who feigns illness to stay home from school, and when his parents leave after wishing him well, he sits up, turns to the camera and says with equal parts smugness and surprise, “They bought it!”
Soon he’s off to downtown Chicago with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his best friend (Alan Ruck), an unhappy lad whose father prefers his classic Ferrari to his son.
Mia Sara, left, Alan Ruck, Matthew Broderick, 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)
Meanwhile, the obnoxious and ridiculous school principal (Jeffrey Jones, the emperor in “Amadeus”) is plotting to expose Ferris, as is Ferris’ own sister (Jennifer Grey), who feels he’s gotten away with too much for too long.
The plotting here is pure fantasy, as the trio manages to convince the head waiter at a posh restaurant that Ferris is a young sausage tycoon, avoids several close calls with Ferris’ father downtown, convinces the principal that Ferris (from a distance) is his girlfriend’s father, etc.
There is also a lot of high-tech assistance here, as Ferris uses his home computer, tape machines and various and sundry other modern mechanical devices to get away with his escape for the day.
Toward the end “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” tends to get a bit preachy and sluggish, although it does pick up again.
But, as with most Hughes films, character is the thing, not plot. While the situations are sometimes a bit too contrived and silly, the characters are constantly charming, with actors perfectly cast, interacting with great hilarity — both physically and verbally — lifting the film to great comic heights.
Broderick is perfect in the lead, with his own personal charm, his unique way with a phrase, and his comic manner — he can give a look, sly smile or grin that says more than reams of dialogue — making Ferris Bueller an utterly delightful character.
Matthew Broderick in the final moments of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986).
And though all the adults are buffoons (as is also the case in most Hughes projects), Jones is very funny as the principal, whether spouting cliché after cliché (“When are you going to wake up and smell the coffee, he’s just leading you down the primrose path”) or finding himself terrorized by the Buellers’ dog.
Ruck and Sara have less to do but are good in their roles, as are Grey, and as Ferris’ parents, Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward. Especially notable, however, are Charlie Sheen, in a small but pivotal role, and Edie McClurg, quite funny as the principal’s secretary.
Despite a few vulgar lapses in taste (and there aren’t many), along with some profanity and a nude computer graphic – for which the film is rated PG-13 (which seems a bit severe, given the number of PG movies lately that are just as bad or worse) — “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is very funny and should appeal to both young and older audiences.
But it is the kids who will make this a big hit; this is just the kind of movie they’ll enjoy seeing again and again, as smart-aleck youth triumphs repeatedly over buffoonish adulthood.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Universal Home Entertainment is offering random Blu-ray upgrades for disparate titles, this one being one of the most recent. The stars have all gone on to bigger things but they shine in this ensemble comedy that marked Ben Stiller’s feature-directing debut (he also co-stars). My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 20, 1994.
Twentysomething angst gets another going over in "Reality Bites," a light comic romance about aimless youth in the ’90s that compares favorably with such recent similar efforts as "Singles" and "Bodies, Rest & Motion."
Winona Ryder heads the ensemble cast as the valedictorian of her class who is unable to get a job in her career of choice. As the film begins she is working at a local TV station as an intern for a pompous morning-show host (John Mahoney), and, on the side, is making a documentary about her slacker friends.
Ryder's roommate (Janeane Garofalo in a funny, winning debut) is working at the Gap, hoping to become manager; her longtime best friend, a grungy musician (Ethan Hawke), is bright but cynical and can't seem to hold a job; and rounding out the foursome is a gay friend (Steve Zahn), whose character is the least developed of the group.
Ethan Hawke, left, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, 'Reality Bites' (1994)
The main plot device has Ryder accepting career guidance and romance from a yuppie cable-video executive (Ben Stiller), who is a bit older and who long ago sold out. This puts Ryder at odds with Hawke, who loves her but can't articulate his feelings without being an insensitive lout.
In truth, however, the "will they/won't they?" plot machinations here are the film's weakest link. Much more interesting are the characters and some very funny situations in which they find themselves, courtesy of the bright script by first-timer Helen Childress.
"Reality Bites" is also well-directed by Stiller in his feature debut after winning an Emmy for his critically praised but little-seen Fox Network program. (Stiller also had small roles in "Empire of the Sun," "Next of Kin" and other movies.)
Ryder is charming in the lead and effectively conveys her character's puzzlement about where she's going, both romantically and career-wise. And Hawke is also good, sour and cynical much of the way but still sympathetic, as is Stiller, who gives his character some fullness that goes beyond the obvious stereotype.
But it is Garofalo who steals the show, demonstrating an enormously ingratiating likability on the screen. She's someone to watch for in the future.
One question: Why does everyone in this movie smoke so heavily?
"Reality Bites" is rated PG-13 for sex, profanity, vulgarity and marijuana smoking.