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‘SUPERMAN’S’ EXTENDED FLIGHT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 3, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’ve exhausted all the Marvel superhero choices in your quest for entertainment during your forced at-home coronavirus-induced time off, how about going back to the Christopher Reeve ‘Superman’ movies? And if you know those films by heart, have you checked out the rejiggered versions that have been released over the past decade-and-a-half? Just three years ago the extended three-hour version of ‘Superman’ (1978) was released in a widescreen hi-def version and 14 years ago an alternate version of ‘Superman II’ (1980) came out. Last week we looked at the latter in this space; this week, it’s an assessment of the former in a column that was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 25, 2017.

These days it’s not uncommon for major-studio movies to be reworked, extended and generally altered by filmmakers from what was originally released in theaters.

The innovation of DVD and Blu-ray discs in this century has afforded an opportunity for studios to release multiple versions of movies by adding a few deleted scenes or, in some cases, allowing the director to fiddle with the entire film.

The ubiquitous “director’s cut” is today as much a marketing tool as it is a filmmaker’s artistic choice. (Some would say more.)

But back in the day — which is to say, before George Lucas began tinkering with his original “Star Wars” trilogy and Ridley Scott came up with five different versions of “Blade Runner” — there was the rare but not unheard-of practice of restoring deleted footage to extend a movie for broadcast television.

One reason you don’t see these versions on video today, however, is that we now have high-definition TV screens that give us widescreen images and stereo sound. When widescreen/stereo theatrical movies went to television back then, the soundtrack had to be monaural and the picture had to be reduced to pan and scan, with the image sliding back and forth to focus on pertinent action or dialogue in a squareish frame.

     

Margot Kidder, Christopher Reeve, 'Superman' (1978)

Take, for example, “Superman,” or “Superman — The Movie” if you prefer the advertising title over the title as it appears on the film.

When Christopher Reeve’s debut as the Man of Steel landed in theaters in December of 1978, it had a running time of 143 minutes — eight minutes of which was the closing credits (the longest in movie history at the time).

Normally, a film of this length would have been shown over an entire three-hour primetime evening, squeezing in as many commercials as feasible and possibly deleting a couple of scenes.

In this case, however, ABC aired the three-hours-plus “Superman” in two-hour blocks over two nights in February 1982, which allowed for even more commercials.

And now, that version is coming to home video for the first time in “Superman: The Movie: Extended Cut & Special Edition 2-Film Collection” (DC/Warner, 1978, two discs, two versions of the film, bonus features for the “Special Edition”).

What really makes this interesting is that Warner Bros. has gone back to the extra footage and restored it to its original widescreen and stereo format, so that it runs uninterrupted (and without commercials, of course) for more than three hours, just as it would play in a theatrical release. Only in this case it’s a hi-def Blu-ray release.

The 40 minutes-plus of footage that had been left on the cutting-room floor does have an impact on the pacing, making the overall experience more sluggish than either the original 143-minute release or the 151-minute “Special Edition” version included in this set.

     

But it nonetheless includes some nice gags and little moments that are fun to watch, ranging from the expanded sequences on Krypton to scenes of Clark Kent (Jeff East) as a teenager and more of Lana Lang (Diane Sherry) to extended scenes in the frozen Fortress of Solitude to more banter in the Daily Planet’s newsroom.

A lot of the extra footage, however, revolves around Lex Luther (Gene Hackman), his bumbling assistant Otis (Ned Beatty) and Lex’s floozy Miss Teschmacher (Valerie Perrine) in a series of farcical sequences that many — including yours truly — consider the film’s weakest link. And by that I mean in its shorter, original form.

In fact, there’s so much more of this trio in the “Extended Cut” that a real case could be made that it’s the poster child for the argument that less is more.

Having said that, however, there is a simple remedy — the fast-forward button on your remote.

“Superman” is still a great movie, and for me it was fun to watch this longer version — and if you’re a fan or a collector or a completist, you may feel the same way.


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

THE RUNNER STUMBLES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber releases a lot of Blu-rays that are upgrades for films that have long been on DVD, but every now and again it comes up with something completely unexpected. This one’s an example, a title that has been out of circulation since its VHS release in 1985 and whose quality has been a matter of debate among movie buffs for decades. As it turned out, this was the final film for director Stanley Kramer. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 10, 1980. (And Quinlan has had a strong career, mostly in supporting roles, on both TV and in movies, and she’s still working.)

Dick Van Dyke is a master comedian, as demonstrated by his classic eponymous sitcom and the beloved “Mary Poppins.” He has had a number of other career triumphs as well but most of his movies are lightweight comedies unworthy of his talent.

Van Dyke has also fared pretty well in a couple of more dramatic films: His TV-movie profile of an alcoholic, “The Morning After,” was a fine piece of acting, and he was even better as a broken-down silent-movie clown in Carl Reiner’s overlooked film, “The Comic.”

So it was that I went into Stanley Kramer’s “The Runner Stumbles” hoping to see Van Dyke really succeed in his first major-movie dramatic role.

But the runner does stumble and it’s very disappointing.

     

Kathleen Quinlan, Dick Van Dyke, 'The Runner Stumbles' (1980)

Actually, this is Kramer’s fifth disappointing film in a row during the 1970s, a sad downhill track record coming from the director who gave us such classics as “The Defiant Ones,” “On the Beach,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”

Saddest of all, Kramer’s ’70s films (“R.P.M.,” “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” “Oklahoma Crude” and “The Domino Principle”) though inferior, have shining moments that indicate they could have been better with a little more care. “The Runner Stumbles” is another near miss that might have been much better with a strong actor in the very complex character lead.

The story, by now fairly well known, is based on a 1920’s true incident wherein a priest (Van Dyke) falls in love with a younger nun and later finds himself charged with her murder.

The film is told in flashbacks with the priest on trial and in jail. Kramer, in typical innovative fashion, leads into the flashbacks with a number of unusual segues that are as successful as they are fascinating — but using flashbacks may have been a major mistake.

     

Because we know at the outset that a murder has been committed, we are led to believe that Van Dyke did not do it so the audience immediately starts asking “who done it?” Unfortunately, the murderer is easily spotted during the first 15 minutes, causing an extremely anti-climactic climax.

Kathleen Quinlan is a fabulous actress as she again proves here in the part of the young nun. She is far better than her material in most of her films, such as this year’s “The Promise,” a ridiculous sudser. It would be nice to see her get another part as good as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” her first major role and the last one to really showcase her talent.

The rest of the stellar cast — Maureen Stapleton, Beau Bridges, Ray Bolger and Tammy Grimes — is uniformly excellent.

But Van Dyke is stiff and seems nervous throughout. If he had loosened up as much in the many one-on-one dialogue scenes as he did in the few emotional explosions he might have done a much better job.

“The Runner Stumbles” is rated PG for two words of profanity uttered by a young boy and one scene of violence.