BLOG BLOG

DISNEY MINUS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 10, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Unless you are completely unaware of the fact that movies can now be streamed on the Internet — which would require your having been in a coma for several years — you probably know about Disney+, which is the 7-month-old go-to site for watching all things Disney, Marvel, Star Wars, Pixar and National Geographic. Well, not ALL things, of course; just whatever has been selected for a particular month. And you may be aware of the recent brouhaha over Disney’s 1994 film ‘Blank Check,’ which is part of the current lineup. It’s a terrible film about an 11-year-old boy who essentially steals $1 million and blows it on expensive toys. It’s a reprehensible film in every way but what has parents up in arms now is a moment toward the end when the boy and a 30-something woman exchange a kiss. This isn’t the first time this complaint has surfaced online; more than a decade ago the film showed up on Netflix and engendered the same complaints. Sadly, this wasn’t the first or last tasteless movie produced by Disney and sold to kids. So here’s my review, initially published in the Deseret News on Feb. 11, 1994.

"Blank Check" is "Home Alone," Disney-style.

It's also an uneven blend of the cable MTV and QVC channels, by way of "Brewster's Millions."

In other words, original it's not.

The story has an 11-year-old computer nerd (Brian Bonsall, who was once the youngest of the Keaton clan on TV's "Family Ties") "finding" a million bucks and blowing it in six days on a plethora of high-tech toys.

This gives director Rupert Wainwright (Hammer's music videos, Sinbad's Reebok commercials) an opportunity to stop the action every so often for dozens of mini-music videos, each showing Bonsall playing with the kind of upscale, brand-name trinkets most of us can't afford — from a video wall to an indoor-outdoor water slide to a virtual reality game to all kinds of oversized athletic equipment.

     

Brian Bonsall and Karen Duffy, 'Blank Check' (1994)

The story has ex-con Miguel Ferrer digging up his stash — a million bucks in cold cash — and taking it to a Midwest bank where a former associate (Michael Lerner) is bank president. Ferrer tells Lerner to launder the money and come up with a million in clean bills by the next day.

How Bonsall gets the money instead is wildly complicated … which is not to say amusing.

Bonsall then spends the rest of the film frittering the money away — he moves into a $300,000 house (a castle, actually), hires a full-time chauffeur to be his pal (Rick Ducommun) and tries to elude the bad guys (Ferrer, Lerner and rapper Tone Loc).

Bonsall also strikes up an oddly "romantic" relationship with a glamorous bank teller who turns out to be an FBI agent (Karen Duffy).

Eventually, however, Bonsall must confront his own deceit and discover his inner child … which certainly seems older than his outer child.

     

The kids in the audience seemed satisfied that villains fell into the swimming pool and one was hit in the groin with a baseball.

Favorite moment: Toward the end of the film, Bonsall's negligent father apologizes for his parental neglect, making his confession to the back of a chair, never knowing that his son is sitting in the chair. You have to see it to believe it.

On second thought, no one should have to see it.

Farcical plotting can take on wild proportions, of course, but in "Blank Check" they just get sillier and sillier without ever getting funnier. The result is a very dumb movie that talks down to the kids who are its target audience.

Especially at the end, when it pretends to moralize about doing the right thing — after 90 minutes of demonstrating that anyone who steals a million bucks and doesn't get caught can get away with anything.

The audience should feel insulted. I certainly did.

"Blank Check" is rated PG for comic violence and some vulgar language.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SOMETHING FOR … ANYONE?

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

So far the “new” movies that have been opening in local theaters (meaning the Megaplexes), and which have also debuted as online streaming options, are nothing to shout about. Hollywood is, of course, holding its best stuff off in hopes of theaters genuinely reopening at some point. (Although Disney became impatient and put its live-action “Mulan” remake on its Disney+ channel already.)

But the Megaplexes, one Cinemark (Jordan Landing) and the Redwood Drive-In continue to traffic mostly in oldies, some golden, some silver and some leaden.

This weekend you can see these newbies at several Megaplex multiplexes:

“How to Build a Girl” (R). Based on a popular novel, this English coming-of-age comedy stars Beanie Feldstein as an out-of-step teenager who rises from her working-class roots to become a popular music journalist. With Emma Thompson and Chris O’Dowd.

“The Silencing” (R). A reformed-alcoholic hunter (Nikolaj Coster-Waldau) whose teenage daughter disappeared years earlier joins forces with a town sheriff (Annabelle Wallis) to track down a serial killer.

“Children of the Sea” (PG, Japanese, dubbed in English). Another Japanese anime offering, this one has a junior high school girl hanging out at the aquarium where her father works and taking up with a pair of mysterious brothers that her father says were raised by dugongs, marine mammals related to manatees.

  

“Happy Happy Joy Joy: The Ren & Stimpy Story” (Not Rated). The controversial 1990s Nickelodeon cartoon series about an unstable Chihuahua and his pal, a sweet-but-dim cat, is profiled in this documentary.

“Sputnik” (PG-13, in Russian with English subtitles). The lone survivor of a mysterious incident aboard a spaceship in 1983 is unaware that his body has been taken over by a creepy alien creature … and the use of the word “Alien” here is no accident.

“Spree” (R). This yarn about a rideshare driver obsessed with social media who turns to murder to up his presence online has been described as a combination of Martin Scorsese’s “Taxi Driver” and “The King of Comedy.”

  

And, the usual (mostly 1980s) “classics” continue to dominate the aforementioned theaters, including “Ghostbusters,” “The Goonies,” “Gremlins,” the “Back to the Future” trilogy, the first two “Indiana Jones” pictures, “The Breakfast Club,” “Dirty Dancing,” etc.

And such post-’80s efforts as “Jurassic Park,” “Hook,” “Space Jam,” “Iron Man,” “Twilight,” the first three “Harry Potter” films and “Edge of Tomorrow.”

And a pair of 1970s films — “Jaws” and “Superman.”

Enjoy — in a socially distanced theater or in the comfort of your own home.


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

TENDER MERCIES

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Robert Duvall deservedly earned his best-actor Oscar for ‘Tender Mercies,’ which holds up marvelously some 37 years after its theatrical debut. If you’re looking for something uplifting that will give you hope during the ongoing pandemic and financial crisis, here it is. If I were compiling a list of my favorite films of all time, this one would be near, if not at, the top. Now it's earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 10, 1983.

“Tender Mercies” is an excellent film likely to be overlooked by summer audiences who want razzle-dazzle escapism — but you won’t find anything better to spend your movie dollars on.

Arriving on the heels of ecstatic reviews, “Tender Mercies” lives up to every shout of praise. But the film itself is quiet, very gentle and low-key. This is real life, with all the day-to-day motions people are led through, with the present linked inseparably to the past and genuine expressions of every emotion as they naturally occur.

Robert Duvall, who also co-produced is Mac Sledge, a former country-western singer who was a singing star in his day but now is reduced to drunken brawls in small towns where no one remembers him.

      

Robert Duvall, left, Tess Harper, Allan Hubbard, 'Tender Mercies' (1984)

We meet Mac when he finds himself stranded in a small Texas motel on a desolate highway. To pay for the motel room in which he’s been unconscious for two days, Duvall does some work for the owner, Rosa Lee (Tess Harper), a widow with a young son (Allan Hubbard).

Gradually they become close and Mac asks Rosa Lee to marry him. She agrees and they lead a quiet life, as Mac gives up the bottle and tries to settle down. Then his ex-wife, Dixie Scott (Betty Buckley), comes through town, a singing star whose rise came through Mac’s music years ago. Mac tries to see their daughter (Ellen Barkin) after nearly a decade of absence and Dixie’s hatred for him flares. And later, Mac gets the itch to write and sing again.

“Tender Mercies” is about people, and it makes no attempt to give us extended highs or lows. And because it is so honest and refreshing in its approach it never fails to move us.

This is a “little” film, an even-tempered story told directly, without major plot tragedies or violent shifts in development. Screenwriter Horton Foote (“To Kill a Mockingbird”) obviously knows these people very well and Australian director Bruce Beresford (“Breaker Morant”) has perfectly captured the bleakness of the landscape, along with its simple beauties. Likewise, the characters here are all people with whom we can identify.

      

Duvall is incredible. There’s no underplaying, no overplaying — in fact it hardly seems like playing at all. It’s as if we’re peering into Mac Sledge’s life with no regard whatsoever that this is an actor in a role. He is so believable, so real, that any thought of his being anyone else is left behind. (Duvall also sings all his own songs, and even wrote some of them.)

The rest of the cast is also remarkable, with Harper, Hubbard, Buckley, Barkin and Wilford Brimley all giving wonderful turns — some in very brief, but memorable roles.

Rated PG for some profanity, “Tender Mercies” is one of those rare things, a movie you immediately want to share with everyone you know.


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

INDIANA JONES AND THE TEMPLE OF DOOM

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although it received some backlash because it is darker in tone and arguably more violent than its predecessor, ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom’ remains a wild ride and a satisfying entry in the serial-spoofing quadrilogy from Steven Spielbeg. (I can’t say that I’m thrilled that he is handing the reins to another director for the upcoming fifth ‘Indiana Jones’ flick.) And it’s playing now at the Megaplex Jordan Commons multiplex in Sandy. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 23, 1984.

You may recall that “Raiders of the Lost Ark” opened with the Paramount Pictures logo — a snowcapped mountain — fading into a South American mountaintop as we were introduced to that intrepid archaeologist/adventurer Dr. Indiana Jones. I remember the preview screening, when the Villa curtains parted to reveal the scope of the 70mm film, and the audience “oohed” and “ahhed.”

Something similar happened Monday night at the Villa’s preview of “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,” the “Raiders” sequel. The Paramount snow-laden summit faded into an engraved mountain on a gong in a Shanghai nightclub. Again, the audience “oohed” and “ahhed” as the 70mm screen filled and everyone in the theater knew immediately we were off to another rousing rollercoaster ride from Steven Spielberg. And that’s exactly what it is.

Prior to that, fans wondered if Spielberg could possibly pull it off — a satisfying sequel to the fifth biggest hit movie of all time. Could “Indiana Jones” possibly be as fantastic as the nonstop action of “Raiders,” building thrill upon thrill, leaving the audience excited and exhausted? But by the time “Indiana Jones” was over — possibly the fastest two hours you’ll ever spend at the movies — there was no doubt.

Steven Spielberg has done it again.

“Indiana Jones” is different from “Raiders” in several significant ways. The period is set before the first film, in 1935. We first see Indy in a tux, of all things, while the locations range from Shanghai to India, and most of the second half is confined to a palace and its underground caverns, though there is nothing static about it.

      

From left, Kate Capshaw, Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

The film begins in the aforementioned Shanghai nightclub, where American showgirl Willie Scott (Kate Capshaw) is warbling a Chinese version of “Anything Goes” (shades of Mel Brooks’ “Sweet Georgia Brown” in Polish in “To Be or Not to Be”).

In the club, Jones confronts an evil villain and finds himself in a free-for-all reminiscent of Spielberg’s nightclub scene in “1941.”

Indy and Willie are rescued, momentarily at least, by his young friend Short Round (Ke Huy Quan), and they board a cargo plane that eventually loses its pilot. Their escape is incredible, unbelievable and wonderful, setting the pace for what is to come.

Eventually the main plot unfolds as they agree to find a sacred stone stolen from a drought-ridden Indian village, and with it the village’s population of children.

How Indy and his two companions manage to do so, bringing the children home in Pied Piper fashion, makes for an incredible two-hour visceral experience that will exhaust and excite you every bit as much as “Raiders” on its first go (the high point has to be a wild underground coal-car chase).

Harrison Ford is perfect as Indiana Jones, using his ironic sense of humor frequently here. He’s heroic yet accident-prone, in possession of nine-plus lives, and there are lots of wonderful little comic bits that occur in and around the action.

Kate Capshaw’s blonde singer is pampered and spoiled, afraid of everything — especially getting dirty or breaking a nail — and she’s very funny in the role.

      

But the real charmer is Ke Huy Quan as the little Chinese boy Short Round, Indy’s sidekick, who manages to rescue Indy almost as often as he is rescued by him. (Quan is actually a 12-year-old Vietnamese boy living in Los Angeles, and though he has never acted before he has a very engaging and natural screen presence.)

Spielberg’s direction is lickety-split, of course, and he works the camera like a character, pulling us through the story and the action. He truly is the master of his craft. John Williams’ score is rousing, the technical credits and effects are superlative, and the script is clever and funny.

A warning, though: Like “Raiders,” “Indiana Jones” is very violent. A man’s heart is torn out of his chest while he remains alive, and various people are shot, fall from great heights, are devoured by crocodiles and die in other sundry ways. And though there are no snakes or tarantulas, there are such delights as cockroaches galore, vampire bats, and the eating of disgusting Indian delicacies (such as live eels) to raise your adrenalin.

In other words, heed the warning below the PG rating: “ … may be too intense for younger children.”

My only real complaint about “Indiana Jones” is that the only female in the film is a stereotypical nincompoop, whereas “Raiders” offered just the opposite in the wonderful characterization by Karen Allen. But when you consider the source material for this film, the old ’30s and ’40s serials with their stereotypes and contrivances, it is certainly a faithful element.

On the whole, prepare for a wonderful, tremendously invigorating, old-fashioned cliffhanger time at the movies.


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

DATE WITH AN ANGEL

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: Once again Kino Lorber has a mixed bag of vintage Blu-ray upgrades in release this week that genuinely represent both ends of the quality spectrum. ‘Tender Mercies’ (reviewed elsewhere on this page) is a genuine gem, while this one, ‘Date with an Angel’ is dumbfoundingly atrocious. But someone must like it, so here’s my review, published Nov. 24, 1987, in the Deseret News.

“Date With an Angel” is yet another movie with a “heavenly connection,” hot on the heels of “Made In Heaven” and “Hello Again.”

Emmanuelle Beart (soon to be seen in the title role of “Manon of the Spring,” the sequel to “Jean de Florette”) is the angel in question, sent to earth on a mission that is revealed late in the film (but which can be easily figure out whether or not you are paying attention).

The camera gives us an angel-eye view as she leaves heaven, heads for earth and accidentally bumps into a satellite injuring her wing. She crash-lands into a swimming pool and is rescued by our hero, played by Michael E. Knight.

He takes her into his apartment and helps nurse her wing back to health, much to the consternation of his fiancé (Phoebe Cates) and her father (David Dukes).

      

Michael E. Knight, Emmanuelle Beart, 'Date with an Angel' (1984)

When word gets out that Knight has an honest-to-gosh angel in his midst, his three money-hungry buddies try to exploit her, Dukes tries to get her to endorse his cosmetics line, and Cates has periodic fits and begins drinking heavily.

But Beart is a complete innocent, though she often seems like a bit of a nymphet. And she doesn’t speak; she squeaks, sounding for all the world like a dolphin.

Plotwise, “Date With an Angel” makes no sense whatsoever, and the climax is truly ridiculous, as if the filmmakers suddenly realized that a happy ending could not be achieved, given the direction the story was going — so they shifted gears at the last minute to achieve the desired results.

Most of this is pure slapstick, however — and not very good slapstick at that. Dukes is bitten on the rear by a ferocious dog and thereafter has trouble sitting down. Beart can’t walk in high heels but tries anyway, falling down a lot. Cates drunkenly puts on her underwear over her jeans and goes after the angel with a rifle. Knight’s trio of friends lures Beart with her favorite food, French fries, which she stuffs piggishly into her mouth.

And those are the highlights.

      

Phoebe Cates, left, Michael E. Knight, Emmanuelle Beart, 'Date with an Angel' (1984)

There are some good special effects and the cast does try but most of the players are often less than charming, when they aren’t downright obnoxious. Knight is somewhat appealing in the lead and Beart is stunningly beautiful, exhibiting the perfect amount of innocence as the angel, though the noises she makes are really annoying.

And wouldn’t you know it; they just couldn’t resist. The angel has a nude scene.

Worse, however, are the scenes of bondage as the angel is kidnapped by Knight’s friends, and the opening sequence with his pals staging a phony terrorist attack. There’s a cruel streak at work here that undermines the film’s attempts at humor.

“Date With an Angel” is rated PG for some profanity, violence, nudity and implied sex.