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DOG DAYS OF SUMMER FLICKS

     

Steven Spielberg on the set of 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' (1997), preparing to kill the dog, perhaps?

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, June 14, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: The recent box-office hit ‘John Wick, Chapter 3: Parabellum’ is still in theaters, the third in a film trilogy that began with bad guys fatally shooting the title character’s dog. And all three movies are all about obeying the rules. Or not. Which reminded me that some 22 years ago I wrote a column about how dogs were never killed in action movies … unless Steven Spielberg was the director. It’s a rule. Or it WAS a rule. Well, OK, it’s just a rule I made up. Published on Aug. 3, 1997, this ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column (actually, just the first half of a longer column that was also about another subject) ran under the headline, ‘Only Spielberg has the guts to kill “The Dog” in films.’

More things I found myself thinking about when I should have been paying better attention to the movies:             

Only Steven Spielberg can kill The Dog.

In action movies, The Dog always survives.

Dozens — even hundreds — of human beings may perish in disaster thrillers, but The Dog always manages to escape. And usually comes out as unscathed as the hero.

This has been an especially prolific cliché since "Independence Day" last year, when Vivica A. Fox's pooch barely escaped a blast in a tunnel filled with cars that flew end over end.

As a result, "Independence Day" set the tone — the First Lady may bite the dust, but not The Dog.

     

It's no surprise when Boomer the dog barely escapes with his life in 'Independence Day' (1996).

Further examples:

    — In "Daylight," Sylvester Stallone leads a small band of survivors out of a tunnel that has been sealed at both ends and is on the verge of collapsing under the Hudson River. Will The Dog drown in one of those dangerous underwater undertakings, or will it prove to be a better swimmer than some of the humans?

    — In "Dante's Peak," after a volcano loses its cool in the Great Northwest, The Dog is perched on a rock that is surrounded by molten lava. Pierce Brosnan drives by in a jeep (that apparently has fireproof tires) but will he be able to save our four-pawed friend from a serious hot foot?

    — In "Volcano," after Los Angeles residents have been the victims of a volcanic eruption beneath the city, The Dog is trapped in a burning house. Will Tommy Lee Jones and friends get Rover outta there before the timbers collapse?

    — In "Speed 2: Cruise Control," after Sandra Bullock and Jason Patric have been battling bad guy Willem Dafoe for two hours, The Dog is on a small boat that is about to be smashed to smithereens. Will the little guy somehow survive the wreckage?

    — And in "Spawn," The Dog disappears after a violent fight between the title character (Michael Jai White) and the evil Clown (John Leguizamo), with only its collar left intact. Will "Spaz" surprise the audience by showing up safe and sound in the final reel?

The answer to all of these questions is, of course, a resounding "Yes."

     

In 1997 it was very unexpected when the T. rex in 'The Lost World: Jurassic Park' turned this pooch into a dino hors d'oeuvres (off-screen, of course).

It's a movie. And they never kill The Dog in a movie.

Unless the movie is directed by the mighty Steven Spielberg. He isn't one to follow the crowd. And he may be the only guy with enough clout to get away with this kind of thing.

So, in "The Lost World: Jurassic Park," The Dog is depicted as a pet in suburban San Diego when the T. Rex tramples the backyard while using the swimming pool as a watering hole.

And though the moment is not graphically demonstrated (it occurs off screen), the audience is made painfully aware that the T. Rex has turned The Dog into a dino-munchie.

Thus, the new Movie Rule: Only Steven Spielberg can kill The Dog.

And even Spielberg won't SHOW The Dog being killed.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

WHEN THE 'LION KING' ROARS

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

So how afraid are the major studios of Disney’s “The Lion King”? So afraid that nothing is opening the same weekend, well, except for an art house film in just three local theaters. “The Lion King” is opening ion several screens of every multiplex in the Salt Lake Valley, save the Broadway Centre Cinemas, the art house downtown.

“The Lion King” (PG). The original 1994 “Lion King” was praised at the time as being a groundbreaker in realistic animation but this new version is being touted by the studio as a “photo-realistic computer-animated remake,” and if you saw Disney’s 2016 “Jungle Book” remake, you have an idea of what that means. This one is helmed by the same director, Jon Favreau (who is also an actor, most recently playing Happy Hogan in “Spider-Man: Far from Home”). James Earl Jones is the only original voice-cast member to return, joining Donald Glover, Seth Rogan, Chiwetel Ejiofor, Alfre Woodard, John Oliver and Beyoncé, among others.

“The Art of Self-Defense” (R). After a timid bookkeeper (Jessie Eisenberg) is attacked by a motorcycle gang he begins taking karate lessons in a neighborhood studio. But his instructor also recruits him for an after-hours class where he discovers a sinister world of hyper-masculinity and brutality. (“Fight Club” anyone?) With Imogen Poots.


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

THE LION KING (1994)

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: With the new ‘Lion King’ reboot opening this weekend it’s time to take a look back at the original film, now some 25 years old. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1994. (And I’ll say it so you don’t have to — ‘Hakuna Matata’ isn’t memorable? What was I thinking?)

The first thing you will notice in "The Lion King" is its triumphant animation during the opening, pre-title sequence, an extended version of that theatrical preview you've seen over the past few months. Every animal you can think of is racing across the plains to be present as the newborn heir to the throne is anointed by a baboon shaman, many so realistically portrayed that they appear to have been photographed instead of drawn.

But that's only the beginning. The entire film is loaded with eye-popping visuals, which, even on a second viewing, never fail to mesmerize.

The story is also strong, borrowing heavily from Shakespeare's "Hamlet" for plot and bolstered by a string of hilarious supporting characters for plenty of comic relief. And there are some wonderful characters here, including a riotous hornbill bird, whose voice is provided by the rubber-faced British comic Rowan Atkinson (TV's "Mr. Bean" and "Blackadder"); a funny and wise old baboon (energetic Robert Guillaume, best-known as TV's "Benson"); and especially the hilarious warthog and meerkat, voiced, respectively, by Nathan Lane and Ernie Sabella, a pair of very talented stage actors (Lane's brief hula song is especially hysterical).

In short, there is much to recommend "The Lion King," though it still falls short of its three immediate predecessors — "The Little Mermaid," "Beauty and the Beast" and "Aladdin."

Let's get the complaints out of the way early:

— Most of the characters in "The Lion King" are not as warm and fuzzy as other Disney animated features. In fact, they are largely aloof and distant, which makes the film a bit tougher to warm to.

     

RIifiki holds up the new 'Lion King' for all the jungle to revere in the original 1994 film.

— There is also an unexpected gross-out factor at work here, with three characters dining graphically on a bevy of live insects, a trio of hyenas eating a zebra leg and the warthog demonstrating why other animals steer clear of him (he's quite flatulent).

— There is violence, with the young lion prince's father dying in a herd of stampeding wildebeests and a climactic battle between Simba and his evil Uncle Scar. Don't suppose that this is out of the realm of the film's G rating but it is certainly more specific than, say, the death of "Bambi's" mother. (And there is very bad choice near the end, as Simba and Scar battle in slow motion, a serious moment that seems unintentionally comic.)

— And finally, the songs are disappointing and don't hold up very well on repeat listening. The central theme, "The Circle of Life," is closer to the grace and tuneful satisfaction of Alan Menken's work in "Mermaid," "Beast" and "Aladdin," but the others are all novelty tunes. They work in the context of the film and are supported by imaginative artistry, but are not memorable.

Despite these flaws, however, the film is still a fabulous extravaganza — proof positive that even a weaker entry in the Disney canon is better than anything the competition churns out.

     

The cast of the original 1994 Disney animated feature 'The Lion King.'

The first half of the film focuses on Simba's youth (his voice supplied by Jonathan Taylor Thomas, of TV's "Home Improvement"), with a couple of scary scenes — the first in an elephant graveyard and the second a wildebeest stampede (destined to be one of the most talked-about animated sequences ever) — both engineered by his evil Uncle Scar (Jeremy Irons).

After the death of Simba's father, Mufasa (James Earl Jones), Scar convinces the lad that he's to blame. So, an angst-ridden Simba banishes himself from the land of his forefathers, while Scar and his hench-hyenas (led by Whoopi Goldberg, Cheech Marin and a giggling, babbling Jim Cummings) take over.

Meanwhile, Simba is befriended by the warthog Pumbaa and the meerkat Timon as he grows to adulthood (with Matthew Broderick taking over the voice chores). Pumbaa and Timon introduce Simba to the joys of leisure and a steady diet of bugs, until one day the lioness Nala (Moira Kelly), to whom Simba was betrothed, shows up. She tells Simba of Scar's treachery and pleads with him to return and take his rightful place on the throne.

Aided by the shaman baboon Rafiki, Simba looks within himself and then gets a piece of ethereal advice from his father (in a scene that seems to come straight out of "Star Wars" movies), ultimately returning home to set his house in order and face the truth about his past.

Bolstered by a bevy of delightful performances and that fabulous animation, "The Lion King" is a winner much of the way. And none of its weaknesses should keep audiences from flocking to the film again and again, making it the one sure bet for a long summer run.


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

GLORY

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies have selected the Civil War film ‘Glory’ for its July golden-oldie offering, and it’s a wonderful choice. The three-time Oscar-winner (for best sound, Freddie Francis for best cinematography and Denzel Washington for best supporting actor) is an epic that deserves to be seen on the big screen, and it will be shown in several Megaplex and Cinemark theaters on Sunday, July 21, and Wednesday, July 24. Here’s my Deseret News review, published Feb. 16, 1990.

It's becoming increasingly rare these days for a movie to come along and really blow you out of your chair. It's even more rare that such a film has a big-screen look to it, one that is certain to lose something when reduced to video.

But "Glory" is such a film: big in scope, powerful in its storytelling drama, intimate in its character and relationship development. And to top it off, it's all true. Well, mostly.

History buffs — and especially Civil War buffs — should be excited about the arrival of "Glory." But don't think this is a movie that will appeal only to experts. Here's a film that knows how to be honest, emotional, highly moving and supremely entertaining.

The capsule description is this: The first black regiment is formed for the Northern army, led by a 25-year-old officer. In many ways the regiment is intended as a token with the black volunteers — most of them runaway slaves — doing dirty work to free up white troops so they can go into battle. But the officer who has built this prideful unit of men knows that his soldiers are eager to fight for themselves. And he intends to lead them into battle.

     

Jihmi Kennedy, left, Denzel Washington, Morgan Freeman, 'Glory'

Matthew Broderick does very well as the young officer and among his troops are two of our finest actors — Morgan Freeman (also currently starring in "Driving Miss Daisy") and Denzel Washington (currently in "Heart Condition").

"Glory" has something of a wandering narrative, traveling between Broderick's story (with some voice-over narration via letters to his mother) and the black troops.

Four soldiers in particular are featured — Freeman as a former gravedigger who is, if the term isn't too anachronistic, "street-smart," and who will become the first black non-commissioned officer; Washington as an angry escaped slave who has been consistently beaten and shoeless for far too long; Jihmi Kennedy, as a stammering, uneducated field hand; and Andre Braugher as an educated friend of Broderick who learns about soldiering the hard way. There are also nice turns by Cary Elwes ("The Princess Bride") as Broderick's friend and fellow officer and Cliff DeYoung, doing his patented nasty authority figure.

In some ways, the intertwining stories of the characters here follow accepted Army-movie clichés — the tough older sergeant who is wise enough to point the way and soft enough to care, the rebellious individualist who learns the value of working as part of the unit, the seemingly incompetent intellectual who performs an act of bravery in the line of duty, etc.

And in some ways the focus of attention is probably too much on Broderick’s character, though his story is not one that lingers longest in memory — in mine, at least.

     

                     Matthew Broderick, 'Glory'

But it's hard to find too much fault with a film that is not only noble in its intentions but succeeds so well. "Glory" is a movie of rare emotional power that also educates its audience about an aspect of our history that has too long been neglected.

The history lesson alone is worth the price of admission. Everything else is a tremendous bonus.

As a footnote, we should point out that screenwriter Kevin Jarre, director Edward Zwick and producer Freddie Fields were robbed. "Glory" should be up for best picture, best screenplay and best director Oscars. (Though it was nominated for five Oscars, all but one were in technical categories. Denzel Washington is up for best supporting actor, but the rest are for art direction, cinematography, editing and sound.)

And as for the film's R rating, it is probably deserved. The violence does get rather gory in places, though it's easy to see why it was deemed necessary in a depiction of what was certainly a very bloody war. There is also some profanity, though, taken in context, it doesn't seem particularly gratuitous.


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

TUFF TURF

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 19, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A pre-stardom lead role for James Spader and pre-stardom co-starring role for Robert Downey Jr. as his sidekick (billed without the “Jr.”— and who doesn’t even get a mention in my review) highlight this ’80s trifle. Still, the film has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from Kino Lorber. So, here’s my review, published March 6, 1985, in the Deseret News.

As hard as I try not to judge movies from their ads or previews it becomes difficult not to have certain expectations based on previous experience.

For example, whenever I see that a forthcoming movie is being released by New World Pictures or Cannon Releasing Corp., I expect to be bored or appalled or both. Admittedly both companies have had pictures that were surprisingly entertaining — but those were the exceptions, not the rule.

For example, “Missing in Action 2,” subtitled “The Beginning” proves to be every bit as lame and insulting as its predecessor, but — giving credit where credit is due — “Tuff Turf” proves to be better than expected.

     

  James Spader, left, Robert Downey (Jr.), 'Tuff Turf'

“Tuff Turf,” which should also have a subtitle – “Screenwriter in Search of a Dictionary” — isn’t bad, at least the first half.

A formerly rich, bullied Connecticut teen (James Spader) is transplanted to a tough … , er, that is, “tuff” … Los Angeles high school and immediately runs into trouble with some young toughs. Er, tuffs.

He also falls for the leader’s girl.

In addition, Spader plays piano and sings with talent but his parents don’t understand him. There is also a constant rock score and even some scenes in a teen nightclub-cum-warehouse, where we see a couple of rock bands, like Jack Mack and the Heart Attack (easily the best shown here).

Call this one “West Side Story” meets “Footloose” by way of “Rebel Without a Cause.”

     

The actors are amiable enough and there is some good humor but the second half of the film sinks into violent melodrama that (except for its graphic aspects) seems lifted from some deplorable daytime soap opera.

Still, you could do worse. “Tuff Turf” has its moments and some of them are pretty darn good.

The saddest aspect of this film is seeing Art Evans, so good as the soldier who is humiliated by his tough sergeant in “A Soldier’s Story,” relegated to a nondescript cameo role here.

“Tuff Turf” is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.