BLOG BLOG

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

THE NEED FOR SPEED

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

A true story, an elderly thriller and a remake lead off this weekend’s new movies in theaters. It’s the serious vs. the silly; welcome to fall flicks

“Ford v Ferrari” (PG-13). Auto designer Carroll Shelby (Matt Damon) is hired by Henry Ford II (Tracy Letts) to build a racecar to challenge Ferrari at Les Mans, the world’s oldest sports-car endurance race. Shelby recruits driver Ken Miles (Christian Bale), a wild card but the one guy he believes can beat Ferrari. True story directed by James Mangold (“Logan,” “Walk the Line”). With Josh Lucas and Jon Bernthal.

“The Good Liar” (R). An aging career con artist (Ian McKellen) sets his sights on someone he’s met online, a recently widowed millionairess (Helen Mirren), and he means to take all her money. But in time it becomes clears that things are not what they seem. A twisty thriller from director Bill Condon (“Dreamgirls,” “Beauty and the Beast”).

  

“Charlie’s Angels” (PG-13). Sabina (Kristen Stewart), Elena (Naomi Scott) and Jane (Ella Balinska) are investigators for the Townsend Agency who take down bad guys all across the globe. An action-filled reboot of the TV series and 2000s movies, written and directed by Elizabeth Banks (“Pitch Perfect,” “The Hunger Games”), who also co-stars (as Bosley). With Djimon Hounsou, Sam Claflin and Patrick Stewart.

“The Report” (R). The true story of an idealistic CIA staffer (Adam Driver) who is assigned to lead an investigation of the Detention and Interrogation program created in the aftermath of the 9/11 attacks. But what he finds leads to a cover-up as the CIA tries to bury his report. With Annette Bening, Jon Hamm, Tim Blake Nelson, Maura Tierney and Corey Stoll.

“Radioflash” (Not Rated). After a nuclear strike causes an EMP (electromagnetic pulse) that cuts off power, water and communication for the entire western United States, a teenage girl (Brighton Sharbino), who revels in virtual-reality survival games, and her father (Dominic Monaghan) begin a desperate journey in this apocalyptic thriller. With Will Patton and Fionnula Flanagan. Filmed in Idaho, Washington and Montana.

  

“The Warrior Queen of Jhansi” (R). The story of Rani (Hindi for “Queen”) of Jhansi (Devika Bhise), a freedom fighter in 1850s India who became known as the “Joan of Arc of the East” for leading her people into battle against the British Empire  is given epic cinematic treatment in this historical biography. With Rupert Everett, Derek Jacobi, Jodhi May and Nathaniel Parker.

“Fantastic Fungi” (Not Rated). Brie Larson narrates this documentary about the medicinal world of fungi, of which there are a million-and-a-half species, 20,000 of which produce mushrooms. And mycologists interviewed here feel they could be useful in saving the planet. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)

“No Safe Spaces” (PG-13). This documentary has comic podcaster Adam Carolla and conservative radio talk-show host Dennis Prager traveling the country to interview experts on what they consider an attack in the public forum on free speech.


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

NEW YORK STORIES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Martin Scorsese, Francis Ford Coppola and Woody Allen walk into a bar. … Just kidding. But the mismatched trio did collaborate on an anthology film some 31 years ago, and it’s just catching up with Blu-ray, courtesty of Kino Lorber. My review was published on March 10, 1989.

“New York Stories” is actually a triple-feature packed into a two-hour movie. But unlike most anthology films, such as “Woman Times Seven” or “Plaza Suite” or “Twilight Zone — The Movie,” the only binding link here is that all three stories take place in Manhattan and all are essentially light comedies with elements of romance.

And since each film is its own significant work, each one really deserves its own review. Hence, three reviews in the order the films appear in “New York Stories”:

     

Nick Nolte, Rosanna Arquette; Martin Scorsese's 'Life Lessons'

—"Life Lessons" is Martin Scorsese's contribution, a stylized tour de force of razzle-dazzle directorial technique, with a wonderful performance by Nick Nolte as an eccentric SoHo artist who paints oversized canvases to loud heavy metal, using a trash can lid as a palette.

Rosanna Arquette is appealing, if a bit shrill, as his live-in assistant, an aspiring painter herself, who is insecure and flighty and who routinely rejects Nolte's advances and declarations of love.

The story is ostensibly about Nolte's pursuit of Arquette, who has fallen for a loutish performance artist, and of Arquette's continual rebuffs. But it’s really about Nolte's artistic passions, which seem to thrive on personal pain.

Scorsese has developed an incredible 45-minute treatise on the creative mind and its self-destructive side, and Nolte has never been better as the embodiment of both.

Despite the presence of Scorsese's fascinating style, it never intrudes upon the story, giving the entire film a feeling of effortlessness. And it is the one short film in this trio that probably could have sustained feature length.

     

Don Novello, Heather McComb; Francis Ford Coppola's 'Life Without Zoe'

—"Life Without Zoe" is from Francis Ford Coppola, the least of the three films here, and the shortest (33 minutes), a slight, rambling tale about a poor little rich girl who lives in the Sherry Netherlands Hotel and whose parents (Talia Shire, Giancarlo Giannini) are never home.

So young Zoe (Heather McComb) is alone much of the time, helped with daily chores by the butler (Don Novello, better known as “Saturday Night Live’s” Father Guido Sarducci, in a funny, scene-stealing performance).

The problem with this story is that it goes nowhere. There is the beginning of a plot device, as Zoe rescues a priceless earring during a robbery and discovers her father may have had an indiscretion, but that also goes nowhere.

Despite charming performers and some nice moments, this is a flat, lifeless effort and rather a disappointment after Scorcese's triumph.

     

Mae Questel, left, Mia Farrow, Woody Allen, 'Oedipus Wrecks'

—"Oedipus Wrecks" more than makes up for "Zoe's" failure, however, and Woody Allen fans will be happy to know this is a comedy and Allen himself stars.

Allen is a 50-year-old Jewish lawyer with a domineering mother — the ultimate stereotypical Jewish Mother. But you don't have to be Jewish to identify with his angst at being a successful adult attorney and still being told by his mother that he doesn't know how to run his life.

So Allen secretly wishes his mother would "disappear," and one day he gets his wish in a rather unexpected manner. The result of that occurrence is also unexpected.

To reveal what happens in this comic fantasy, essentially an extended Jewish Mother joke, would spoil the fun, but suffice to say there are some hilarious sight gags and one-liners, and an ending that is both ironic and perfectly satisfying.

This is essentially a one-joke film, and Allen, who initiated this anthology project, rightly knew it needed to be a short, not a feature. The result, 40 minutes in length, perfectly suits the material.

Mia Farrow has a rather small part without much to do here, but Mae Questel as Allen's mother and Julie Kavner as a looney psychic are thoroughly delightful. And the best news, of course, is that Allen is back in rare form.

"New York Stories" is rated PG, for profanity and implied sex in the first and third films.


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

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY ...

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: This fondly remembered romantic comedy is the quintessential cinematic examination of the age-old question, ‘Can men and women ever just be friends?’ You can see it in select local theaters, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, on Sunday, Dec. 1, at 4 p.m., and Tuesday, Dec. 3, at 7 p.m. My review was published July 21, 1989, in the Deseret News.

Director Rob Reiner, who, with screenwriter Nora Ephron also wrote much of "When Harry Met Sally … ” (though he gets no screen credit for that), seems to pride himself on doing films that are very different from each other.

First there was the hilarious spoof of rock documentaries, "This Is Spinal Tap!," followed by the teen comedy "The Sure Thing," the preadolescence drama "Stand By Me" and his biggest hit, the fantasy-comedy "The Princess Bride."

Now comes Reiner's "When Harry Met Sally … ” — which could be called his Woody Allen movie. Or more correctly, a Woody Allen movie without the angst. Unfortunately, it's also a Woody Allen movie without the complexity of character. But most moviegoers won't mind.

Despite a certain superficiality, "When Harry Met Sally … ” is an adult romantic comedy in a time when we don't get very many, and it has one thing going for it that gives it an enormous boost — it's very funny.

     

Meg Ryan, Billy Crystal, 'When Harry met Sally ... ’ (1989)

Billy Crystal is "Harry" and Meg Ryan is "Sally," who meet as college graduates driving together to New York City (shades of "The Sure Thing"). It's hate-at-first-sight, as Harry, an opinionated snob, spouts off theories about men and women, as well as his own penchant for promiscuity, then tries to get Sally to go to bed with him. She declines and they part ways.

Several years later they bump into each other on an airplane but this meeting isn't much more successful than the first, and besides, Sally's in love and Harry's about to be married.

Several more years pass and they meet again. This time both are licking their wounds from failed relationships, but they have matured and somehow hit it off to become friends. Just friends.

We know, of course, that they will eventually acknowledge their love for each other, and recognize that romance and friendship should go hand in hand rather than be mutually exclusive, and in the end there is a nice endorsement of both — and of marriage as well.

But the bulk of the film is made up of comic set pieces that are at once very funny and helpful to the narrative. Some, like this movie's most notorious moment during a restaurant scene, get big laughs, but in retrospect don't seem very realistic. Others are both amusing and insightful.

      

"Harry/Sally" is well cast, with special kudos to the stars — Meg Ryan is a complete delight, with some wonderful little character nuances that make her role utterly real, and Billy Crystal controls his penchant for doing shtick, which has marred some of his other film appearances, and uses to advantage his natural tendency to be a bit overbearing in creating a character who is occasionally obnoxious but not without charm.

Carrie Fisher and Bruno Kirby, as their respective best friends, are also excellent. Fisher is carving out a nice post-"Star Wars" niche for herself with "best friend" character roles, and she's good at it. Will she evolve into the Eve Arden of the ’90s?

As for the Woody Allen comparisons — fans will see them easily, from the stark black-and-white credits that open the film to the "interview"-testimonials to the old tunes in the background to the ending that parallels "Manhattan."

Call it Rob Reiner's "Annie Hall." But it's funny in its own right and should appeal to a broad audience looking for something other than the slam-bang special effects dominating theater screens at the moment.

"When Harry Met Sally. … ” is rated R for profanity, though there isn't really a lot, and vulgarity as the characters talk frankly about sex.


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

NIGHT ON EARTH

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Independent filmmaker Jim Jarmusch has been making quirky low-budget movies and amassing a cult audience since his breakthrough film ‘Stranger Than Paradise’ made a splash at the 1984 Cannes Film Festival. One of his more interesting efforts is this five-part anthology that is nothing if not offbeat (a word applied by critics to most of his work). And it’s now on Blu-ray on the Criterion Collection label. My review was published on June 5, 1992.

An unusual anthology film, “Night On Earth” is the latest from minimalist filmmaker Jim Jarmusch, who wrote, directed and produced each episode in different cities around the world. (He also translated the subtitles for foreign-language sequences.)

Jarmusch, whose earlier works include "Stranger Than Paradise," "Down By Law" and "Mystery Train," specializes in spare filmmaking, deliberate stories with characters whose motivations are by and large internal and who find themselves tossed about by the winds of fate.

There's not a lot of action in his pictures; character motivation is more the order of the day, along with eccentric humor. As such, Jarmusch's movies aren't for everyone — but for the sophisticated audience he pursues there are sometimes great rewards.

     

Gena Rowlands, left, Winona Ryder, 'Night on Earth' (1992)

In the case of "Night On Earth," each of its five stories is set in precisely the same time period, though each is quite different.

The first has Winona Ryder as a tomboyish cabbie who picks up high-rolling Hollywood casting agent Gena Rowlands at LAX and drives her to Beverly Hills. The entire episode is made up of their conversation during the ride, the upshot being that Ryder is quite content, though she aspires to be a mechanic — and Rowlands can't believe she wouldn't rather be a movie star.

The second is set in New York, with Giancarlo Esposito, and later his sister (Rosie Perez), getting a ride from Eastern European immigrant Armin Mueller-Stahl, who can't speak English and doesn't drive very well. The soft-spoken Mueller-Stahl and the fiery Esposito and Perez are comic counterpoints, of course, but the story turns surprisingly poignant before it's over.

The third, in Paris, has a blind woman being picked up by a black cab driver — but don't expect a variation on "A Patch of Blue." This one has some gentle surprises.

     

The fourth is set in Rome, a riotous ride with zany cabbie Roberto Benigni spilling his life to his passengers, who react incredulously. Benigni's wild, improvisational style may remind you of Robin Williams (he's just signed on as Inspector Clouseau for a new series of "Pink Panther" films).

And finally, a cab ride in Helsinki has three drunken friends sharing tales of woe with their barely tolerant driver. This sequence is reminiscent of the films of Finnish filmmaker Aki Kaurismaki ("Leningrad Cowboys Go America," "Ariel") and features some actors from Kaurismaki’s films.

My favorites were the sweet, quiet Ryder/Rowlands piece and the hilarious Rome sequence, and Perez certainly lights up the New York sequence, though her constant stream of profanities is the primary reason for the film's R rating (there is also some sex and violence).

There are moments here that are a bit self-indulgent and certainly the film is too long at more than two hours. But this is a movie for Jarmusch fans and the general art-house crowd that appreciates offbeat humor and is looking for something quite different from the run-of-the-mill Hollywood product. To them it is highly recommended.