BLOG: New thoughts/old stories BLOG: New thoughts/old stories



For, Friday, April 16, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: You may have noticed that home video loves an anniversary, which is to say the studios are up for any excuse to re-release titles from their libraries. Hey, it’s all profit for something that was in theaters 20 years ago or 25 years ago or 75 years ago. This year there’s already been the 25th anniversary reissues of ‘The English Patient’ and ‘Mission: Impossible,’ and coming up are the 40th anniversary re-releases of ‘Chariots of Fire’ (April 20) and ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ (June 8). So this nine-year-old column, published on May 10, 2012, seems appropriate to review — and maybe it will remind you of a title or two you’d like to watch (again).


Movie studios love to re-release older films on their anniversaries. Any excuse to squeeze a few extra bucks from fans of a fondly remembered title, especially now that upgrading them from DVD to Blu-ray offers an additional incentive.


Some of the more popular pictures, from “Citizen Kane” to “Star Wars,” have been released in so many VHS/DVD/Blu-ray sets that completists — those really obsessive fans that have to own every new edition — could conceivably have as many as 10 different versions of the same title on their shelves.


So far this year we’ve had Paramount’s “To Kill a Mockingbird: 50th Anniversary Edition” (its Blu-ray debut) and a massive box set from Warner Bros., “Casablanca: 70th Anniversary Edition,” marking the umpteenth reissue for both. Even 20th Century Fox’s “Wizards: 35th Anniversary Edition” marks that film’s fourth or fifth home video release.


And if a studio doesn’t have enough “classic” titles whose dates work out, there are other celebratory excuses. How about the fact that the studio itself has managed to endure for a century? That’s what one of the major movie studios is doing this year with a string of titles under this banner: “Universal 100th Anniversary Collector’s Series.”


Universal’s 100th has so far given us Blu-ray book-packaged re-releases of a number of off-year vintage favorites, including “All Quiet On the Western Front,” “Out of Africa,” “Buck Privates” and “Pillow Talk,” along with regular Blu-ray reissues of “The Deer Hunter,” “Charade,” “My Man Godfrey” and “Sullivan’s Travels.” And it’s only May.




There are many others that could conceivably celebrate even-numbered anniversaries in 2012, some of them yearned-for titles, so here are that I’d like to see:


— It’s the 90th anniversary of Harold Lloyd’s 1922 silent feature “Grandma’s Boy,” in which he’s inspired by his grandmother’s stories of their ancestors. This very funny picture has historical significance as well. Along with Charlie Chaplin’s “The Kid” the year before, “Grandma’s Boy” is a pioneer of the long-form comedy, proving that audiences would respond to character development and story depth in a feature-length farce.


— An 80th anniversary worth noting is the jungle melodrama “Red Dust,” starring Clark Gable and Jean Harlow. One of 1932’s biggest moneymakers, this one still has a large fan base and in 2006 was cited as worthy of preservation by the Library of Congress for the National Film Registry. Yet, believe it or not, “Red Dust” has never been on DVD! (Where’s Warner Archive when you need them?)


— In addition to “Casablanca,” it’s also the 70th anniversary of a pair of 1942 Veronica Lake vehicles, neither of which has seen the light of DVD: “The Glass Key,” a terrific film noir thriller co-starring Alan Ladd, and “I Married a Witch,” a witty supernatural comedy with Frederic March. (Maybe we need a Veronica Lake box set!)


— It’s the 60th anniversary of “The Quiet Man.” If ever a movie screamed out for a Blu-ray upgrade, it’s this boisterous 1952 romantic comedy-drama starring John Wayne and Maureen O’Hara, and directed by the great John Ford. This is a lovely ode to Ford’s beloved Ireland, and he won an Oscar for it, as did his cinematographers for their gorgeous, eye-popping location filming on the Emerald Isle.


— Similar sentiments can be expressed for “Lawrence of Arabia,” another winner of multiple Oscars, including best picture, best director (David Lean) and best cinematography. This one came out in 1962 and shares its 50th anniversary year with “To Kill a Mockingbird,” and while it’s nice to have that one in high definition now, I’m not sure there’s any movie that has more fans clamoring for a Blu-ray upgrade than “Lawrence of Arabia.”




— From 1972, it’s the 40th anniversary of “Jeremiah Johnson,” and the good news is that Robert Redford and Sydney Pollack’s outdoor adventure, which has loads of gorgeous Utah scenery, has been released on Blu-ray for the first time.


— And 30th anniversary films from 1982 that have not yet found their way to Blu-ray include the top three moneymakers of that year: “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” (really, “Poltergeist” from the same year is on Blu-ray but not “E.T”?),  “Tootsie” and “An Officer and a Gentleman.”


Earlier this year, Disney reissued “Good Morning, Vietnam” for its Blu-ray debut but did not make note of its 25th anniversary this year. Hey, 1987 also brought three of my personal favorites: “84 Charing Cross Road,” “La Bamba” and “Radio Days,” none yet in hi-def.


And, realistically, those three are not likely to go there. In fact, there’s a much higher probability of getting a 10th anniversary reissue of 2002’s “27 Dresses” or “Beverly Hills Chihuahua,” even though they’re already on Blu-ray.


Of course, the major studios don’t always wait for celebratory excuses. “Chinatown,” for example, received its Blu-ray debut in 2012, just last month, even though it’s only two years away from its 40th anniversary.


There could be a practical reason, I suppose. Maybe Paramount isn’t sure Blu-rays will still be a go-to technology two years from now.


EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: All of the movies listed here are now available on DVD and those cited as needing Blu-ray upgrades have received them. Also, a new home-video technology, 4K, did come along a few years later — and now we have online streaming, which is rapidly attempting to overtake all of these formats.

New Movies In TheatersThis Week New Movies In TheatersThis Week



For, Friday, April 16, 2021


Only three new movies are opening this week, and as you might expect since we’ve been getting a lot of them lately, one is a horror flick, another is a wild thriller and both are British.


“SAS: Red Notice” (R). A Special Forces operative (“Outlander’s” Sam Heughan) goes up against an army of mercenaries who are plotting to blow up the Channel Tunnel underwater railway that connects England and France in this British thriller. With Hannah John-Kamen, Ruby Rose, Andy Serkis and Tom Wilkinson.


“In the Earth” (R). As the world searches for a cure to a disastrous virus, a scientist and a park scout venture deep into a forest for a routine equipment check and encounter a folk legend come to life as an evil spirit causes physics-defying events and terrorizes the two. British horror yarn.


“Monday” (R). Sebastian Stan (best known as Marvel’s Bucky Barnes/Winter Soldier character) and Denise Gough (an Irish actress) star in this tale of two Americans who meet on a Friday, spend a weekend together in Athens and then must decide if it’s a fling or something more serious. This drama has already garnered a reputation for its depictions of graphic sex.

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



For, Friday, April 16, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s another inexplicable Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber, which is fast becoming less of a boutique operation than a desperate one. My very negative review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 5, 1984. The late Chris Penn (bother of Sean) stars; he would suffer an untimely death at age 40 in 2006. (FYI, if you want to play spot-the-star, in addition to those mentioned in the review, the film also features Eric Stoltz, Hart Bochner and Sherilyn Fenn, as well as filmmaker Cameron Crowe (‘Jerry Maguire’) and musician Nancy Wilson (of the band Heart).


If you’ve seen the ads for this film, you might think it’s little more than another “Porky’s” clone. And you’d be right. Somehow, however, this one makes “Porky’s” look like high art.


“The Wild Life” is from the author and producer of “Fast Times at Ridgemont High,” which had as its one saving grace a very funny wacko supporting performance from Sean Penn as a spaced-out surfer. “The Wild Life” has Christopher Penn, brother of Sean, in a similar role – but he’s the nominal lead and about half as funny.


What little story there is has Penn as a wild party-time guy whose limited vocabulary consists mostly of reacting with, “It’s casual,” to any given situation.




     Eric Stoltz, left, Chris Penn, 'The Wild Life' (1984)


He moves into a swinging singles apartment with a much more sedate buddy, and needless to say, this teenage “Odd Couple” gets into and out of a number of vulgar, idiotic, stupid situations intended to be much funnier than they are.


As usual, females are sex objects, males are jerks and everybody wants sex, beer and drugs, not necessarily in that order.


Subplots abound, including Rick Moranis as a wimpy (what else?) department store manager trying to hit on Penn’s girlfriend; Lea Thompson as a clerk in a donut shop, being led on by a married cop; and two younger boys who idolize a doped-up Vietnam veteran, with Randy Quaid as the vet, a role that lasts about two minutes.


A Van Halen score battles a number of popular ’60s tunes by Buffalo Springfield, Jimi Hendrix, Steppenwolf, etc – and the ’60s tunes win by a mile.


Penn has proven his ability to project screen charm in “All the Right Moves” and “Footloose,” but in the underwritten part given him here, he just flounders.




    Rick Moranis, Jenny Wright, 'The Wild Life' (1984)


Lea Thompson is likewise a strong screen presence, and Jenny Wright as her best friend fares pretty well here, but they too drown in the material.


Directed by Art Linson — whose only other directing effort is the dreadful “Where the Buffalo Roam,” which has the distinction of being Bill Murray’s only box-office flop — the attempts at humor are forced, and gag after gag thuds as the film progresses.


But “The Wild Life” also tries to be serious, and subplots about the married cop and the Vietnam Vet become downright embarrassing in their clichéd predictability.


The real question is, what in the world are Rick Moranis and Randy Quaid doing in trash like this?


Rated R for sex, nudity, profanity, violence and vulgarity, all in abundance, “The Wild Life” is a bore and a drag on every count.

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.

Older Movies On the Big Screen Older Movies On the Big Screen



For, Friday, April 2, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: This fine rockin’ 1950s-era biography is (gulp!) 35 years old now and Fathom Events has decided to give it a big-screen revival. Not a bad idea. You can catch it at some local theaters on Sunday, April 18; Wednesday, April 21; and Thursday, April 22. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1987.


According to “La Bamba,” 1950s rock ’n’ roller Ritchie Valens was a virtual saint, managing somehow to keep himself outside the influence of his evil brother Bob.


And when he began to rise as a singing sensation, Ritchie also kept his perspective, remaining loyal to his family and friends. Bob just got jealous.


On the surface that might seem to be fairly tame stuff for an ’80s biographical movie on the brief life of a ’50s rock star (Ritchie Valens died in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holley). But in the hands of writer-director Luis Valdez and his excellent cast, “La Bamba” is a well thought-out serious drama with a strong message for youth — one that is played out, not preached.


As the film tells it, Ritchie was a sweet-natured, gentle teenager from a poverty-ridden but close-knit family of migrant workers. Though his father is dead when the film opens, Ritchie’s mother holds the family together.




Esai Morales, Lou Diamond Phillips, 'La Bamba' (1987)


Meanwhile, brother Bob returns to the family from prison and talks his mother into moving to Southern California. It’s no surprise to us, however, that they find life is just as rough in the land of plenty.


For Ritchie, however, life revolves around rock and roll. This is the Fifties, after all, that period of time when rock music was evolving and coming into its own. And Ritchie was writing his own songs and carrying his guitar with him everywhere he went.


The film follows his rapid rise in the music industry but the central focus is on the relationship between Ritchie and his brother, who is an alcoholic prone to abusing his common-law wife while running drugs up from Mexico.


The movie offers no particular explanations for how Ritchie managed to stay so pure while his brother was so nasty but it does show in subtle ways the important influence his mother had on the family, and how focused and mature Ritchie was for his age.


Valdez’s writing is crisp and his direction forthright, and though there is built-in sentiment here he manages to keep the tale from getting sloppy. And his cast is terrific.




Lou Diamond Phillips, Danielle von Zerneck, 'La Bamba' (1987)


Films that hone in on “good vs. evil” always run the risk of having “evil” look so much better, just because the role is inherently more flamboyant (look at “The Untouchables,” for example — bland Eliot Ness doesn’t have a chance against flamboyant Capone in the eyes of moviegoers). And occasionallyEsai Morales, as Bob, does dominate the film by sheer force of acting power.


But Lou Diamond Phillips, as Ritchie, has a strong screen presence and manages to hold his own most of the way. Both are charismatic actors and both handle their roles superbly, though my guess is Oscar-voters will remember Morales’ performance longer than Phillips’.


Despite the necessarily tragic ending to this story, “La Bamba” is surprisingly upbeat, and somehow we have the feeling, right or wrong, that after the film’s story is over Bob will somehow straighten himself out.


“La Bamba” is rated PG-13, and despite its violence, sex, brief partial nudity, profanity and drugs, it’s a fairly soft PG-13 most of the way. These elements never seem exploitive, but always inherent to the story. And how many movies can you say that about these days?

New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II



For, Friday, Feb. 26, 2021


EDITOR’S NOTE: Miramax has reissued on DVD this critically acclaimed dark crime thriller that earned four Oscar nominations — for director, screenplay and the two lead actresses — and there is much to commend here. But it is definitely not for the faint of heart. My review was published on Jan. 25, 1991.


"The Grifters," rated a hard, deserved R for considerable violence, sex, nudity, profanity and vulgarity, is gritty, rough and downbeat. Not that it's without humor — in fact it often takes on the air of dark satire.


But like the Jim Thompson novel on which it is based, "The Grifters" is the blackest of film noir, with characters whose evils will catch up with them — whether violently or psychologically.


John Cusack plays the central character, a young con artist who is stockpiling a nice nest egg but who has no real life.




   John Cusack, Anjelica Huston, 'The Grifters' (1991)


His new girlfriend is portrayed by Annette Bening, a hooker whose heart is not of gold — and whose motives are never really clear until the film begins to wrap up its loose ends.


Bening wants him to get involved in a big con — one that is more dangerous but with much higher stakes. Cusack, who really isn't that good anyway, is satisfied to pull small jobs and slowly build his savings.


Then there's his mother, played by a blond Anjelica Huston, who works racetrack scams for a very nasty mobster (Pat Hingle). Huston hasn't seen Cusack in years but looks him up when she's in Los Angeles.




She takes an immediate dislike to Bening, but Cusack isn't about to accept any motherly advice, having given up on a mother-son relationship years before.


What happens as these three individual, strong-willed personalities clash is full of surprises, some of them rather shocking. Let's put it this way — "The Sting" it ain't.


The actors are all terrific, with Huston a particular standout. British director Stephen Frears ("Dangerous Liaisons"), who also co-wrote the sharp script, is uncompromising in this, his first American film, giving us great detail and clever dialogue that is alternately funny, touching and horrifying.


"The Grifters" is a cynical film that continually catches the audience off-guard; if you're into dark film noir, it doesn't come much darker than this.