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IT’S NOT THE TRUTH, IT’S THE MOVIES

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 12, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The press is under attack, and newspapers are losing both subscribers and advertisers. It’s a very different scenario than it was 35 years ago when I wrote this column about how movies never seem to get it right when it comes to professions, and especially when it comes to the tactics of newshounds. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published in the Deseret News on March 13, 1983, under the headline: ‘Maligned in the movies? You’re not alone!” I’m reminded of the old maxim that it’s unwise to argue with someone who buys ink by the barrel. Although these days it’s perhaps even less wise to argue with anyone who has a Twitter account.

Have you ever noticed how sensitive people are about how their professions are portrayed in the movies?

It seems that religions can be misrepresented (certainly Mormons have been, from “Trapped By the Mormons” to “Without a Trace”), biographical portraits distorted (Frances Farmer gets a crude prefrontal lobotomy in “Frances” but not in the recent TV film “Will There Really Be a Morning?”), history torn asunder (witness any number of period pieces that contradict one another), and Hollywood simply calls it “artistic license.”

But when you start stepping on someone’s employment, look out. The higher that profession’s profile, the more public the film’s mistakes are made.

This came home to me when I reviewed “Absence of Malice” jut over a year ago. That film had Paul Newman as the innocent victim of a federal investigator’s setup as reporter Sally Field is duped into writing a phony news story for her paper. Field justifies herself with the First Amendment and Newman plots revenge. The film is a sharp, involving drama laced with humor and romance. It’s also wildly inaccurate in its portrayal of the news media — excluding some supermarket tabloids, of course.

I gave “Absence” three stars, meaning “good,” and went on to praise the performances and crisp direction by Sydney Pollack (whose most recent effort is “Tootsie”). I also noted the misconceptions about journalists (taking into account that the film was written by a veteran newspaperman.

This was easy, of course, since a newspaper reporter (I began at the Deseret News by writing for the City Desk) is going to spot such things right away. But the general public didn’t notice, and it was a popular film. Deservedly so.

 

My colleagues, however, had other ideas. Most of them hated “Absence of Malice,” calling it a malicious slap at the profession. Some were so incensed they couldn’t discuss it without popping a blood vessel or two.

And so it went across the country. National columnists attacked the film, other critics with news experience slammed it — still others dismissed it (but couldn’t help commenting on it, just the same).

To me, it such reactions seemed a bit overboard. But then you have to consider that writers have the outlet to make their views known, and when their profession was stepped upon, they picked up their pens (or typewriters or computer terminals) like swords and attacked the foe.

Then I began to notice that other professions were also taking loud exception to film portrayals of their work. Loudest of all legal eagles incensed by “The Verdict” (though a few doctors got their digs in on that one, too), and the latest is “Lovesick,” an innocuous little comedy that spoofs Freudian psychology, and specifically, the psychiatric profession.

“Lovesick” has the audacity to suggest that there are comic possibilities in a Park Avenue psychiatrist falling in love with his patient, who happens to be about 20 years his junior. The outcry has softened somewhat since the film is not the blockbuster some others have been, but it was vehement and loud just prior to, and shortly after, the film’s release.

And this is no recent phenomenon. “The Hospital,” with George C. Scott, caused a few rages among the medical community back in 1971. The U.S. Army refused to show “MASH” on military bases in 1970. And there are other examples, probably going all the way back to silent movies.

 

The real issue here, however, is … why?

Why bother to gt all worked up over it? Even if it seems to you rather irresponsible that your own working lifestyle is inaccurately depicted, it’s only a movie.

My guess is that police officers, construction workers, secretaries, plumbers, milkmen, door-to-door salesmen, postal workers, artists, writers and waitresses are all equally maligned in films — and no doubt much more often than white-collar professionals.

They just aren’t as loud as lawyers, doctors — and especially journalists.

Yes, it’s artistic license. Yes, it’s exaggeration. Sometimes it’s even downright fantasy.

But it’s also The Movies!

If you want real life, take a bench in Central Park.

The movies are for escaping. And I, for one, don’t mind if the world we escape into doesn’t parallel our own 100 percent.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

ON THE BASIS OF FLICKS

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

A potential Oscar nominee, a family film and a bit  of a departure for Kevin Hart lead off this week’s new movies.

“On the Basis of Sex” (PG-13). Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg is the subject of this biographical legal drama that primarily focuses on her challenges to laws enforcing gender-based discrimination. Felicity Jones stars, with support from Armie Hammer, Justin Theroux, Kathy Bates and Sam Waterston.

“A Dog’s Way Home” (PG). Bryce Dallas Howard voices a dog in this live-action family comedy-drama about a pooch that travels more than 400 miles to reunite with his master (Jonah Hauer-King). With Edward Ashley Judd, James Olmos, Wes Studi and Alexandra Shipp.

“The Upside” (PG-13). Kevin Hart is a paroled felon who is reluctantly hired by a wealthy quadriplegic (Bryan Cranston) and his assistant (Nicole Kidman) to help with the man’s day-to-day needs. This comedy-drama is a remake of the 2011 French film “The Intouchables.”

  

“Replicas” (PG-13). In the near future, after his wife (Alice Eve) and three children are killed in a car accident, a neuroscientist (Keanu Reeves) violates the law and his team’s scientific principles with his attempts to bring back his family back to life.

“Buffalo Boys” (Not Rated, in Indonesian with English subtitles). In 19th century Java after a brutal massacre, a sultan’s brother travels with his two infant brothers to the American wild west in this martial arts-spaghetti western mix. Eventually the trio returns home to avenge their father’s death. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Jordan Commons Theaters.)

“Perfect Strangers (Perfectos Desconocidos)” (Not Rated, in Spanish with English subtitles). A group of best friends gather for a dinner party where the hostess initiates a game that requires guests to put their cell phones on the table, read aloud all incoming messages and put calls on speaker for the entire group to hear. Naturally, this results in more than a few embarrassing revelations. A Spanish comedy of 21st century manners and mores. (Exclusively at the Megaplex Valley Fair Theaters.)


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

WHEN HARRY MET SALLY ...

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Every once in a while a romantic comedy will exceed rom-com expectations, entering the battle-of-the-sexes conversation — and staying there. Such is the case with this 30-year-old sleeper that boosted the stardom of Billy Crystal and Meg Ryan while allowing Carrie Fisher to prove she was a talent to reckon with beyond ‘Star Wars.’ The Shout! Factory has just released a 30th anniversary Blu-ray edition, so here’s my review of the film, printed in the Deseret News on July 21, 1989.

Director Rob Reiner, who 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. More correctly, a Woody Allen movie without all 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 and Billy Crystal in 'When Harry Met Sally's' infamous restaurant scene.

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 and 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 some vulgarity as the characters talk frankly about sex.


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

FIELD OF DREAMS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘If you build it … ’ — but you know that quote, don’t you? It’s one of the best-remembered lines from cinema. And in that spirit, the SCERA Theater in Orem is hoping that if they show it, the audience will come. You can catch it on the big screen Tuesday, Jan. 22, at 10 a.m. Here’s my review, published May 5, 1989, in the Deseret News.

There's no question that "Field of Dreams" is a throwback to movies of yesteryear. After all, how long has it been since we've had a flat-out fantasy laced with innocence and a gentle, yet powerful pro-family message?

Even the recent "Chances Are" had its smarmy moments.

But "Field of Dreams" never loses its focus or its sense of what it wants to be, and consequently the film achieves a euphoric state that seems rare in modern movies. And my guess is it's something that has been missed, and once word gets out about this picture it will play to standing-room-only audiences all over the country.

The film begins with a brief biographical sketch of Ray Kinsella (Kevin Costner), whose father loved baseball — his hero was Chicago White Sox player "Shoeless" Joe Jackson — and hoped his son might grow up to be the player he was never able to become. Unfortunately, it resulted in an alienation between father and son that was never resolved.

     

James Earl Jones, left, Kevin Costner, Amy Madigan, 'Field of Dreams'

Ray married an Iowa girl (Amy Madigan) and somehow found himself a farmer raising fields of corn, along with a young daughter (Gaby Hoffman). He's never done a crazy thing in his life, Ray explains, but he's about to, and as the film's modern setting unfolds he is standing in his cornfield one early evening when he hears a whispering voice say, "If you build it, he will come."

"If you build what, who will come?" his wife asks, but Ray has no answer.

Eventually it comes to him that he is to build a baseball diamond in the middle of his cornfield, therefore mowing down his main crop. He thinks its a little crazy, of course — and so does his wife. But he is compelled to do it anyway.

The result is a visit from "Shoeless" Joe Jackson (Ray Liotta), who returns from the dead to play on the ball field and eventually brings with him the rest of the disgraced Chicago "Black Sox" who threw the 1919 World Series.

Then Ray is guided to link up with a former radical '60s writer (James Earl Jones) and an aging former baseball player (Burt Lancaster), who eventually figure in the mystery of this bizarre spiritual experience

     

     Kevin Costner, left, Burt Lancaster, 'Field of Dreams'

That description may sound more weird than enchanting, and I have to admit that the theatrical preview for this film left me cold when I saw it a few weeks ago. I can only say that cursory descriptions and the previews do a disservice to what is actually a magical, often funny, utterly delightful movie, one that will stay with you for some time to come.

The performances, appropriately low-key and perfect for this piece, are played superbly by the actors, and writer-director Phil Alden Robinson, basing his screenplay on W.P. Kinsella's novel "Shoeless Joe," manages to at once evoke an old-fashioned style of filmmaking with nostalgic overtones and an up-to-date yearning for the ability to reconcile our past mistakes with our present lives.

Robinson also wrote and directed the delightful but underrated "In the Mood" last year and wrote the screenplay for Carl Reiner's hysterically funny "All of Me," which, in my book, remains Steve Martin's best film.

This film proves those accomplishments were not flukes and Robinson is a talent to watch for in the future. And for me "Field of Dreams," rated PG for a few scattered profanities, is so far the best film of 1989.


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

SINGLE WHITE FEMALE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another film that lodged itself into the zeitgeist was this one, though not to the same degree as one of its main inspirations, ‘Fatal Attraction.’ I wasn’t a fan but this one retains enough popularity for The Shout! Factory to give it a Blu-ray upgrade. So here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 14, 1992.

Considering how often critics complain about there being so few showcases for actresses in leading roles these days, it almost feels hypocritical to have to knock the rare efforts that do come along.

But, as with "Death Becomes Her" and especially "Whispers in the Dark," the new thriller "Single White Female" is quite disappointing, despite its two strong female leads.

A by-the-numbers shocker, "Single White Female" has Bridget Fonda kicking her boyfriend out of her rent-controlled New York apartment when she finds that he's been cheating with his ex-wife. But she's insecure and lonely, so she advertises in the classifieds for a roommate (hence, the title), and winds up with mousy Jennifer Jason Leigh.

     

'Single White Female' begins with a cheery outlook for roomies Bridget Fonda, left, and Jennifer Jason Leigh ... 

At least she's mousy when the film begins, but it isn't long before Leigh is showing her true psychotic colors. And it doesn't help that Fonda makes up with her boyfriend and Leigh thinks she might have to move out after she's barely settled in.

It isn't enough that Leigh becomes possessive and demanding and starts taking over bits and pieces of Fonda's life. Soon, Leigh is wearing clothes and even changing her physical appearance to resemble Fonda.

Meanwhile, Fonda has to put up with a male chauvinist jerk who hires her computer fashion-design business only to reveal more sinister motives.

This latter subplot, with its sexual-harassment elements, feels like a forced attempt to be up-to-the-minute with current headlines. But even if it felt profound or important it wouldn't help the rest of the film, which is mired in horror clichés and suspense button-pushing.

     

... but things go downhill fast when Leigh, left, develops a psychopathic obssession for the life that Fonda has.

All of this escalates in its level of ridiculousness until there are unintentional laughs attending a new use for stiletto heels and a chase through Fonda's tenement building, which never seems to have any tenants in sight.

"Single White Female" does deserve to be congratulated for its one cliché-busting moment. Instead of the killer rising from the dead, this film has a murder victim rising from the dead. Ah, progress.

"Single White Female" is rated a very hard R for considerable sex and nudity in addition to the expected violence and gore. There is also some profanity.