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HICKS PICKS MEMORIAL DAY FLIX

     

Steve McQueen, left, Jud Taylor, James Garner, 'The Great Escape' (1963)

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had planned to reprint two more Monty Python interviews last week and this week, but instead reprinted my 33-year-old interview with Tim Conway after his recent death, and this week decided to offer something appropriate to Memorial Day. (The Python stories will follow.) The column below was originally printed in the Deseret News on May 26, 2016, under the headline, ‘Gear up for Memorial Day by watching these wartime flicks.’ And as an update, FYI, Armed Forces Day this year was May 18, Memorial Day is Monday, May 27, and Flag Day is June 14. Oh, and Costco, sadly, has cut back its DVD racks to nearly nothing.

As we leave Armed Forces Day behind and look toward Memorial Day (Monday, May 30), Flag Day (June 14) and Independence Day (aka the Fourth of July) we, naturally, find that patriotic wartime movies are on our minds.

Or if they’re not, all it takes is a glance at the DVD racks while strolling through Costco or Wal-Mart.

When the subject of war movies comes up it’s interesting to see so many people name favorites released within the past 20 or 25 years — “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” “Unbroken,” “The Imitation Game,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Memphis Belle,” “The Pianist,” “Valkyrie,” “Pearl Harbor.”

Someone even mentioned “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Yes, there are Nazis, but no, not really a war film.

And even more surprising, all of them are World War II movies. For some reason we tend to associate the conflict fought by the Greatest Generation with our patriotic holidays.

There are lots of films out there about more recent wars, as well as older wars, but World War II still resonates, perhaps because our enemies at the time were so precisely delineated, and the double conflict of the European and Pacific theaters helped Americans understand what they were fighting for.

Not so easy with more modern conflicts, from Vietnam forward.

My favorite World War II movies are much older than 25 years. So, in case you don’t know them, or have forgotten them, here are a few titles to consider (all are available on Blu-ray, DVD or various streaming sites).

     

Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, 'Casablanca' (1942)

“Casablanca” (1942, b/w). Considered one of cinema’s greatest romantic dramas (and with, arguably, more quoted lines than any other single film), this is also a gripping wartime thriller about duplicity, loyalty and sacrifice, and how, during wartime, our smaller problems, in the words of Humphrey Bogart’s character, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains star, with Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson. Nominated for eight Oscars, this one earned only three, but they were top awards — best picture, best director (Michael Curtiz) and best screenplay (brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch).

“The Great Escape” (1963). Based on a true story, this all-star effort plays as much as a caper thriller (with liberal doses of comedy) as a POW escape flick. In a Nazi camp in Poland, British and American soldiers come together to plan an elaborate mass tunnel escape with everyone contributing their special skill sets. The pitch-perfect cast includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn and David McCallum.

“Patton” (1970, PG). George C. Scott won an Oscar (but declined to accept it) for his powerful portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton, a colorful, some would say tyrannical, and certainly controversial, U.S. Army leader during the Second World War. Scott is brilliant, and Karl Malden is also excellent as Patton’s friend Gen. Omar Bradley, and the staging of battle scenes is gripping and realistic. Nominated for 10 Oscars and winner of seven, including best picture, Franklin J. Schaffner as best director, and Edmund H. North and Francis Ford Coppola for best screenplay (two years before Coppola struck gold with “The Godfather”).

Others I would highly recommend include “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946), “The Big Red One” (1980), “The Bridge On the River Kwai” (1957), “The Longest Day” (1962, b/w), “Tora Tora Tora” (1970), “Stalag 17” (1953, b/w), “From Here to Eternity” (1953, b/w), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961, b/w) … and there are many more. But these offer a variety to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

     

Harold Russell, left, Dana Andrews, Fredric March, 'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)

And finally, one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre, “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946, b/w), a post-war examination of how World War II affected those who fought. The focus here is on three returning servicemen and the difficulties they face adjusting to civilian life: a decorated Army Air Corps captain (Dana Andrews) who has trouble finding work and discovers his wife has been unfaithful, an aging infantry sergeant (Fredric March) who turns to alcohol to soothe his jangled nerves, and a very young sailor (Oscar-winner Harold Russell) who lost both forearms in battle and now uses prostheses with hooks.

All of the actors are in top form, including Myrna Loy as March’s understanding wife; Teresa Wright as their daughter, who is attracted to unhappy Andrews; Virginia Mayo as the straying wife; Cathy O’Donnell as Russell’s sensitive and loving fiancée; and Hoagy Carmichael as the local piano-playing barkeep.

The three stories of these men and their troubled roads to rehabilitation intersect in natural ways and the struggles they go through are universal, though they will, of course, particularly resonate with veterans and their families. This is a film of its time but there’s a lot more going on here, resulting in one of those rare cinematic experiences that transcends its era to remain universally appealing decades later.

Nominated for eight Oscars, “The Best Years of Our Lives” won seven, including best picture, March as best actor, Russell as best supporting actor, William Wyler as best director and Robert E. Sherwood for best screenplay. In addition, Russell, a real-life amputee, won a second Oscar, an honorary award for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

END-OF-SUMMER LEFTOVERS

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019

A new faith film from the Kendrick brothers looks promising, and a couple of documentaries at the downtown art house, but otherwise it's the end-of-summer business-as-usual collection of films that will likely be forgotten before moviegoers exit the auditorium.

“Overcomer” (PG). A small town is devastated when the nearby manufacturing plant closes, displacing many of the area’s families, and the high school basketball coach (Alex Kendrick) loses most of his team. So he’s given the job of cross-country coach, only to find that he has just one runner (Aryn Wright-Thompson) — and she has asthma! This faith film is directed by Kendrick and co-written with his brother Stephen, who also gave us “War Room” and “Courageous,” among others.

“Angel Has Fallen” (R). This sequel to “Olympus Has Fallen” and “London Has Fallen” brings back Gerard Butler as Secret Service agent Mike Banning and Morgan Freeman as the U.S. president he protects. This time around Banning is framed for an assassination attempt on the president and goes on the run to clear himself. With Nick Nolte, Danny Huston, Tim Blake Nelson, Piper Perabo and Jada Pinkett Smith.

“Ready or Not” (R). A young bride (Samara Weaving), with her new husband (Mark O’Brien), visits his rich, eccentric family and is talked into taking part in a wild, freewheeling game of hide-and-seek, only to learn that it’s really a one-sided hunt, she is the prey and the object is murder. With Adam Brody, Mark O’Brien, Henry Czerny and Andie MacDowell.

  

“Luce” (R). The title character is the adopted son (Kelvin Harrison Jr.) from a war-torn African country whose upscale parents (Naomi Watts, Tim Roth) are proud of his high school accomplishments. But a teacher (Octavia Spencer) begins to suspect something is off with the boy and she decides to investigate.

“David Crosby: Remember My Name” (R). Cameron Crowe (“Say Anything,” “Jerry Maguire”) offers an overview of the life and turbulent times of musician David Crosby, a founding member of The Byrds and Crosby, Stills & Nash, who still tours extensively at the age of 78. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“One Child Nation” (R). Directors Nanfu Wang and Jialing Zhang use a seires of interviews and observations to explore China’s one-child policy, which lasted from 1979 to 2015 and was designed to control the country’s burgeoning population. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

TRUE BELIEVER

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A rather forgotten film of the late 1980s is this thriller, with Robert Downey Jr. playing a role that was emblematic of his early career, playing a young, often idealistic newcomer that learns the hard way from a seasoned, often hardened, veteran (in this case, James Woods). This one’s pretty good and deserves its Blu-ray revival from the Mill Creek disc label. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 17, 1989.

After his ill-fated “Cop” and “The Boost,” James Woods has finally come up with a winner in “True Believer,” a murder mystery that is as involving as his eccentric characterization.

Woods plays a former ’60s protest attorney now practicing in Manhattan, and spending most of his time getting sleazy drug dealers off. Along comes idealistic young law-school graduate Robert Downey Jr., who wants to work with the civil liberties champion he expects to find in Woods.

Naturally, Downey is rather disappointed to see pot-smoking, burned-out Woods has been bought off. But when an intriguing murder case comes into the office, Downey sees it as a way to get Woods back on track.

     

James Woods, left, Robert Downey Jr., 'True Believer' (1989)

The case is a Korean-American who has been in prison for eight years on a murder rap. He claims innocence still, of course, but now he’s charged with killing a fellow inmate as well. For that crime he claims self-defense.

Woods at first refuses the case, but then sees it as a way to take on the establishment one more time, by clearing his client not of the second murder charge, but of the first.

His journey into Chinatown and gang warfare and ultimately back into the powers-that-be in Manhattan makes for a complex, believable murder-corruption mystery that is most intriguing as it unravels, and it can be solved by the audience, though not too easily.

One of the problems with murder mysteries today is that they are either far too easy to figure out, following as they do the step-by-step movie-cliché path (as with “Physical Evidence”), or they are impossible to figure out, with the killer being revealed in the end as a red herring (as with “Suspect”).

     

But “True Believer” balances the mystery with offbeat characterizations essential to this genre, while providing plenty of suspense and laughter along the way.

James Woods is terrific, as usual, as the ponytailed, hip lawyer, and he carries the film when it tends to sag. The minor characters, particularly among those in the police department, D.A.’s office and the underworld, are quite good, but others, primarily Margaret Colin as a private eye, get short shrift. Robert Downey Jr., in a role that seems patterned after the Emilio Estevez part in “Stakeout,” is purposely low-key but it tends to work against him since everyone else is so flamboyant.

For the most part, however, this is one of the better mystery-suspensers to come along in some time.

“True Believer” is rated R for violence, profanity and considerable drug use (marijuana smoking), along with a fleeting shot of a nude photo.


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

LAWRENCE OF ARABIA

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 16, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: When people … older people, of course … talk about movies that need to be seen in a theater on a 40-foot screen instead of at home on a TV screen — even a 65-inch screen — the film that sets the standard is ‘Lawrence of Arabia.’ Originally released in 1962, the multiple Oscar-winner was given a meticulous two-year restoration and re-released in theaters in 1989. And now it’s back for two days, courtesy of Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies, on Sunday, Sept. 1, and Wednesday, Sept. 4, at 6 p.m. in several Cinemark theaters and at 1 and 6 p.m. the Megaplex Jordan Commons theater. My review below was published in the Deseret News on March 17, 1989. (And, of course, the Regency Theater mentioned at the end has long been absent from the Salt Lake movie landscape.)

Despite powerful performances in films that post-date "Lawrence of Arabia" — such as "Becket," "The Lion in Winter," "The Ruling Class," "The Stunt Man," "My Favorite Year" and "The Last Emperor" — Peter O'Toole is seldom named in the company of great actors.

Yet his "Lawrence" remains truly great acting, and what he does with his face and body as we see the gradual evolution of T.E. Lawrence in the course of this nearly four-hour film, is nothing short of amazing.

When David Lean picked the unknown actor, with only three minor film roles to his credit at the time, to be his "Lawrence," he knew what he was doing. There are lingering moments here when we see O'Toole's sun-bleached blond hair and striking blue eyes against the bright blue sky or expansive yellow desert, and his expression says more than reams of dialogue could ever approach.

     

Peter O'Toole, left, Anthony Quinn, 'Lawrence of Arabia'

In fact, though I've seen this film's truncated version a couple of times since 1962, I had forgotten just how little dialogue there is, and how deeply textured the film becomes as it progresses. The desert is a prominent character here, and it changes and shapes T.E. Lawrence as much as the horrors of war that he endures.

If ever there was a movie worthy of restoration and reissuing it is "Lawrence of Arabia," which too often is catalogued under "epic" film and simply aligned with every other big-budget, cast-of-thousands movie ever made.

But "Lawrence" is much more, with a strong central character who undergoes stark changes over the course of several years as a British military officer, initially assigned to size up Prince Feisel (Alec Guinness) during the 1914 campaign against the Turks in Arabia. Despite his fair skin and English uppercrust demeanor, Lawrence idealizes the Arab people and tries to become one of them, ultimately heading for his downfall when he begins to think of himself as something more than a man.

 

It is a complex performance complemented by Lean's superlative direction, which is indeed epic in scope, but which never allows that scope to overwhelm the story or characters. It is a film with action and adventure, yet it defies those genre types.

Lean isn't afraid to let his camera rest on images that fill the 70mm screen and allow the audience to work a bit at picking out the importance of them. And, as a friend put it, you'll find yourself leaning forward in your seat and looking across the screen, almost as if you yourself were in the desert instead of a movie theater.

O'Toole is also complemented by a terrific supporting ensemble, with Omar Sharif, Alec Guinness and Anthony Quinn all in rare form, as are Anthony Quayle, Jack Hawkins, Arthur Kennedy and Claude Rains.

Don't wait for this one to hit video in its newly restored, richly enhanced form. And don't wait for it to go into second-run theaters. See it in 70mm and Dolby Stereo at the Regency Theater and you will be amazed at what movies are capable of being.


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

THE MARRYING MAN

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 23, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A notorious production plagued with on-set acrimony, this comedy has been all but disowned by everyone involved (although their on-set meeting put Kim Basinger and Alec Baldwin on the road to a nine-year marriage), but someone must like it since Kino Lorber has chosen the title for a Blu-ray upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on April 5, 1991.

The main problem with "The Marrying Man" is a simple one: It's a comedy and it isn't funny.

The leads are appealing: Kim Basinger as a torch singer, who seems to be patterned after Madonna doing Marilyn, and especially Alec Baldwin in a Cary Grantish playboy role.

The story is interesting, supposedly based on a real-life situation where a volatile couple married and broke up and married again three or four times.

And the supporting cast features some enjoyable character players: Robert Loggia, Paul Reiser, Elisabeth Shue, Armand Assante.

Yet the script, by Neil Simon of all people, doesn't develop the characters or even define them very well, lets the story meander all over the place and has very few laughs. It doesn't help that first-time live-action director Jerry Rees (he also helmed the animated feature "The Brave Little Toaster") lets the film, though slick, hang together raggedly.

     

Kim Basinger, Alec Baldwin, 'The Marrying Man' (1991)

"The Marrying Man" is set primarily in the late 1940s and early ’50s. Baldwin is a Los Angeles millionaire who has never worked a day in his life. He is heir to a toothpaste fortune and about to marry the daughter (Shue) of a powerful Hollywood producer (Loggia).

Six days before his wedding, he goes to then-budding Las Vegas for a bachelor party with four buddies (Reiser, who narrates the film, along with Fisher Stevens, Steve Hytner and Peter Dobson). At a casino they watch the floor show and see a young singer (Basinger), and for Baldwin it's lust at first sight.

Though he's told she is the girlfriend of gangster Bugsy Siegel (Armand Assante), Baldwin just can't resist making a pass, and later in the night Bugsy catches them in the act.

Instead of killing Baldwin and Basinger, however, he forces them to get married. Naturally, neither of them wants marriage — or so they think — so they have it annulled and go their separate ways.

Fate, with a nudge from Simon, has other plans, of course, so they eventually are thrown back together — several times.

     

All of this has the makings of very funny stuff on the order of an old Ernst Lubistch screwball comedy, especially when Baldwin has to take over the family business in Boston and Basinger has to learn to cope with the chic elite.

But whether it was tension on the set (Premiere magazine recently did an article on Basinger's and Baldwin's alleged temper tantrums, which supposedly caused major setbacks in production) or just a dull script by Simon, the possibilities are never realized.

Even the supporting characters, usually a strength in a Simon film, seem to be just hanging around with little or no purpose.

"The Marrying Man," rated PG-13 for sex, violence, profanity and vulgarity, is simply not funny.

And as a postscript, yes, according to the movie's press kit, Basinger really did sing all her own songs — complete with the silly cartoon sexuality she displays, which may remind viewers of Madonna's antics on the Oscar show.