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CHRISTIAN FILMS COULD BE BETTER

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 2, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Since this page today carries so many horror movies of one kind or another (it is October, after all), here’s a Deseret News column from a decade ago that seems like a nice reminder, especially this weekend (it is Conference Weekend, after all), that there are films with positive messages out there. And despite the reservations expressed here, a lot of them are worth seeking out (especially those by the Kendrick brothers; a couple of their films are mentioned below, but my favorite is ‘Courageous,’ from 2011, which I highly recommend). A few of these titles may spark your interest, and there are many more. After all, movie-watching is the go-to indoor pastime during this pandemic, right? So what’s so bad about feeling good, to quote a 1960s maxim. This column was published on April 23, 2010.

 

Last week we whined about movies that are overloaded with sleaze, so this week we’ll whine about clean films that just aren’t as good as we’d like them to be. (Notice my use of the editorial “we,” so that you, dear reader, are complicit in said whining.)

 

First of all, despite what you may think, there are movies out there that qualify as clean, wholesome and uplifting  — which, by the way, are three words that critics seem to think are dirty, or perhaps just code for pablum.

 

That’s even true of big-budget movies like “Invictus” and “The Blind Side” — which are still around, albeit in the Dollar Houses (which actually charge $1.50 these days).

 

But there are others, too, lower-budget, family-friendly, live-action pictures — specifically “The Perfect Game,” which opened last Friday, and “Letters to God,” which arrived the week before.

 

And a few weeks before that, “The Secrets of Jonathan Sperry.” That one wasn’t around very long — but “Letters to God” and “The Perfect Game” are probably not here for the long haul either.

 

All three of these movies proudly wear the label “Christian Films.” That means they are clean — no sex, no nudity, no profanity, no drugs, no violence (beyond shoving or bullying). They are rated PG and try to address serious social issues, ultimately suggesting that faith in God will lead to forgiveness and redemption.

 

Unlike the vast majority of Hollywood movies, they treat religion with respect. Even encouragement. They often depict people going to church, reading the Bible and offering up prayers, both in groups and in private.

 

      

 

It is true, however, that these movies are seldom as slick and artful as Hollywood productions, or even as more professional independent pictures. Oh, they generally look pretty good. These days it’s hard for any movie to really look bad. Technological advancements are in place to belie even meager budgets these days.

But they are almost always lacking to some degree in the areas of directing, editing, screenwriting and/or acting. They are often poorly paced, so that they sag in the middle. Jokes may fall flat. The sentiment is spread on with a trowel. Music cues heavy-handedly signal comedy or tragedy. And the Christian message is rarely understated.

 

Moreover, they are well intentioned … which, by the way, is another phrase critics like to use as code for not-so-hot. But if the road to box-office failure is paved with good intentions, I’m happy to mitigate a bit of that with some of my own moviegoing dollars.

 

In fact, whenever one comes to town, my wife and I make it a point to go. We don’t have to; we choose to. We like to see movies on the big screen and try to go every week — but we have no intention of seeing such populist pictures as “Hot Tub Time Machine,” “Kick-Ass,” “She’s Out of My League” or many others that are also in theaters now.

 

Not that we don’t go to R-rated movies. We sometimes do. But we avoid the obviously sleazy stuff.

 

But one reason we attend Christian films — admittedly with our expectations lowered a bit — is because it’s a pleasant change to see religion celebrated instead of ridiculed, which is by far the rule in Hollywood movies.

 

       

 

True, Christian films tend to wear their religion on their sleeves; the messages are obvious and sometimes preachy. But faith is integrated into the story, with prayer depicted as normal behavior, with discussions of scripture or gospel lessons part of normal conversation, with church attendance a normal activity.

 

And there are rewards. Sometimes these films rise above the expected sentimentality to become unexpected pleasures. My wife and I found some truly worthwhile themes in “Fireproof” two years ago, and a couple of years earlier, “Facing the Giants” was a nice underdog sports film with a faith-promoting component.

 

Right now, “The Perfect Game” is another underdog sports picture, a true story about a Mexican team that won the 1957 Little League World Series, and it features a strong Christian theme. It also benefits from some top-line talent that most of these films don’t have (the cast includes Cheech Marin, Louis Gossett Jr. and Frances Fisher, among other recognizable faces).

 

“Letters to God” — about a boy dying of cancer whose optimistic spirit cheers a community — isn’t quite as good, and it certainly could have pulled back on the sentiment and used more humor to offset the tragedy. But it nonetheless tugs at the heartstrings while providing a message of hope.

 

None of these movies will ever be up for an Oscar. But if you ever tire of Hollywood movies that leave you grumbling about all the profanity or violence or sexual content, about how none of the characters are likable or how you’d like to see a movie that could cheer you up instead of dragging you down. …

 

Well, you could certainly do worse than these — yes, I’m not afraid to say it — these well-intentioned efforts.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

HORRORS! MORE MIDDLING FLICKS

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

 

Three fright flicks lead off the five new movies opening in local theaters this weekend, appropriate as Halloween nears, I guess. Along with horror oldies to get you in the costume-wearing mood. As always, theaters are practicing mask-wearing and social distancing, and these films are already, or will soon be, online for your streaming pleasure.

 

“Murder in the Woods” (R). The plot is familiar — a group of teens gather in a remote cabin in the woods where a mysterious killer picks them off one by one. But early reviews suggest this is a dark sendup of the genre, lampooning slasher-flick cliches. Danny Trejo is in the cast.

 

“The Empty Man” (R). Teens from a small town in the Midwest are disappearing and all leads point to the titular local legend, which no one believes, of course — until a retired sheriff discovers what some locals are doing to conjure evil. Right. Based on a graphic novel.

 

“Synchronic” (R). Two New Orelans paramedics discover that a series of horrific local deaths are caused by a new synthetic designer drug. When one of the paramedics learns he hasn’t long to live, he begins buying up the drug to save others and discovers a time-travel pill. Right. Sci-fi horror with Jamie Dornan and Anthony Mackie.

 

  

 

“After We Collided” (R). Josephine Langford as Tessa and Hero Fiennes Tiffin as Hardin return for this sequel to last year’s PG-13-rated soap opera romance “After,” with Tessa beginning an internship with a publishing company, where she meets potential suitor who will give Hardin competition. Selma Blair also returns.

 

“Escape from Extinction” (Not Rated). Rare footage of endangered animals highlights this documentary with animal-welfare and conservation scientists making a plea to protect animals on all of Earth’s seven continents.

 

In addition to the new stuff, the original “Halloween” and the first “A Nightmare On Elm Street” are playing in Megaplex and Cinemark theaters, along with the 2018 “Halloween,” and over at the AMC theater in West Jordan, “The Conjuring” and “The Curse of La Llorna” continue. (AMC is also bring back “The Boss Baby” and “Jason Bourne” is at the )

 

If you prefer lighter Halloween-oriented fare, there’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” the original “Ghostbusters” and “Beetlejuice,” and for the younger set, “The Addams Family” (last year’s animated version), “Hocus Pocus,” “Monsters, Inc.” and “Casper.”

 

Also, “Ghost” has a two-day Cinemark and Megaplex run this weekend, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, and for small fry, the 2000 film of “Thomas and the Magic Railroad” will play Saturday only, another Fathom Events presentation.


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

TREMORS

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Most of the old reviews I post here are of movies that are being newly reissued on Blu-ray or DVD but my review of the original ‘Tremors’ is in this space because a new sequel is being released — ‘Tremors: Shrieker Island,’ No. 7 in the franchise — and it features as a goofy sidekick to Michael Gross, Utah native Jon Heder (yes, Mr. ‘Napoleon Dynamite’ himself). I haven’t watched it yet (from the trailer, it appears to have borrowed liberally from ‘Jurassic Park’ and is played with camp humor) but it’s available on Blu-ray and DVD, and the usual streaming sites. My ‘Tremors’ review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 23, 1990.

 

"Tremors" is a throwback to the old ’50s creature features — you know, "The Blob," "Them!" "Tarantula."

 

But "Tremors" recognizes that its premise — in this case giant sandworms that look like they were lifted from "Dune" — is ridiculous, so it makes the clever choice of presenting itself as both monster movie and comedy.

 

Kevin Bacon and Fred Ward ("The Right Stuff," "Remo Williams") are a pair of modern-day cowboys working as "handymen" in the Nevada desert near a small town called Perfection when they stumble upon the worms.

 

       

 

Kevin Bacon, Fred Ward, Reba McEntire, 'Tremors' (1990)

 

They join the town's few residents in trying to destroy the creatures, and when that fails they attempt to get into the rocky hills where the worms are unable to tunnel.

 

Among the townfolk are a pair of overzealous survivalists, well-played by Michael Gross (the father on TV's "Family Ties") and country singing star Reba McEntire, who have an arsenal in their bomb shelter.

 

There's definitely a campy tone to most of the laughs but Bacon and Ward are deadpan as they make wisecracks, resulting in a satisfying combination of humor and horror.

 

       

 

Like many of those monster movies of old, "Tremors" never tries to explain exactly what these creatures are: Oversized worms? Humongous snakes? Overactive shoelaces?

 

But it's funny enough and scary enough to while away 90 minutes, and, as you might expect, the special effects are first-rate as the monsters tunnel at high speeds, tracking their human prey.

 

"Tremors" is rated PG-13 but there is an abundance of profanity and enough violence, with accompanying glop-and-goo special effects, that you might want to steer young ones elsewhere.


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

GHOST

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: During my 20-year movie-critic career, none of my reviews touched a nerve as much as this one. I thought ‘Ghost’ was just OK — but when it became a monster hit (no pun intended) local fans came after me with complaining calls and letters to the Deseret News, my primary employer, and to KSL TV and Radio, where I worked part time.

 

Nary a week went by for a couple of months when someone didn’t call into ‘The Movie Show,’ a call-in radio program that Doug Wright and I did each Friday, to rake me over the coals. And for years after the picture left town we still had occasional callers dressing me down about it. I would explain that I didn’t dislike the film … I just apparently didn’t like it enough.

 

Anyway, here’s that original review, since ‘Ghost’ is returning to local theaters for a two-day run this weekend, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies — Saturday and Sunday, Oct. 24 and 25. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 13, 1990.

 

And here it should be noted here that in addition to being a blockbuster box-office success, ’Ghost’ was nominated for Academy Awards for best picture and best editing, as well as for Maurice Jarre’s score. And it won for best screenplay by Bruce Joel Rubin and this is the film that earned Whoopi Goldberg her best supporting actress Oscar. So you see — what do I know?

 

"Ghost" — not to be confused with "Ghost Dad," despite some inherent resemblances — is the story of a really nice banker (Patrick Swayze) who is murdered and finds himself locked in some kind of spirit world where he must remain until his murder is solved.

 

At least that's how it seems — though there are lots of other ghosts wandering around the streets of Manhattan who, for some reason or other, can't get to heaven either.

 

Learning he can communicate with a phony psychic (Whoopi Goldberg), Swayze uses her to make contact with his girlfriend (Demi Moore). He needs her help to find the motive for his being killed.

 

       

 

Whoopi Goldberg as a psychic demonstrates with ghostly Patrick Swayze that spirits should be heard ... for felt ... and not seen in 'Ghost' (1990).

 

But "Ghost" is so superficial and there are so few supporting characters of any depth that it's very easy to figure out who the bad guy is — despite attempts to make this movie a mystery of sorts. (In fact, neither Swayze nor Moore seems to have any friends or relatives at all.)

 

Swayze eventually manages to solve the mystery, with Goldberg's and Moore's help. And he benefits from a lesson in learning to move physical objects by concentrating with a grimace (just as Bill Cosby does in "Ghost Dad"), under the tutelage of Vincent Shiavelli, who offers a wonderful and all-too-small role as a territorial ghost who rides the subways.

 

Swayze, on the other hand, is called upon to do little more than look perplexed and/or frustrated, while Moore has lots of close-ups as she cries.

 

       

 

Goldberg is funny and brings the film to life single-handedly in her scenes, but she's so out of sync with the overall tone it's as if she wandered into the wrong movie.

 

"Ghost" is a mix of too many genres (the ending looks like the conclusion of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind") and a rather wrong-headed romance. We already know they can't get together.

 

If you want a ghost/mortal romance that does work, rent "The Ghost and Mrs. Muir."

 

"Ghost" offers only infrequent pleasures. It is rated PG-13, despite violence, sex, partial nudity, profanity and vulgarity.


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

WOLFEN

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 23, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘Wolfen’ is being reissued on Blu-ray by Warner Archives as one of four films in a set of 1980s horror flicks, the others being ‘Innocent Blood,’ ‘The Hunger’ and ‘Body Snatchers.’ Of those, ‘Wolfen’ is the best. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 27, 1981.

 

“Wolfen” purports to explain the thousands of disappearances that mystify police in American cities each year.

 

Those people are eaten by wolves, of course.

 

The film gives the impression that we are entering werewolf territory here — hot on the heels of “The Howling,” which placed werewolves in modern-day California, so why not a story about the same in modern-day New York?

 

       

 

       Gregory Hines, left, Albert Finney, 'Wolfen' (1981)

 

But these aren’t men uncontrollably becoming wolves. They are actually wolves — wolves that have lived on the land since long before the white man came and who have developed extrasensory perceptions, as well as strength that allows them to strike and hide secretively, helping them remain undetected for centuries.

 

The overall film concept is told in the style of the current spate of “slasher” films, that is from the killer’s point of view, with the added dimension of a sort of computerized negative-reversed image and amplified sound. A Steadicam helps give the movement an even flow.

 

All of this is pretty effective, and as detective Albert Finney tries to track down whatever is doing the killing, the suspense builds in an exciting and horrifying fashion.

 

Unfortunately, the film begins to get awfully gory (including a wolf jumping at a man’s throat and decapitating him) and the shocks begin to be outweighed by the repulsiveness of what we see on the screen. (The sex is PG stuff; this is rated R for the violence and profanity.)

 

       

 

Finney is very good as the world-weary cop and Gregory Hines (he was the tap-dancing slave in “History of the World, Part I”) is his match as a pathologist. Diane Venora in her first film has a thankless role as Finney’s assistant, but she shines so we’re bound to see her in the future.

 

“Wolfen,” the first fictional feature directed by Michael Wadleigh (“Woodstock”), is a chilling horror movie for the most part. The filmmakers successfully take us beyond our disbelief of the strange premise and plunge us into a very believable unreality.

 

Gerry Fisher’s cinematography is also worthy of note, with excellent lighting in the night scenes and smart handling of the new computer technique.