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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

DON’T GO TO THE BEACH!

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 22, 2019

A highly anticipated horror film leads new movies this weekend, in a perhaps futile effort to stop the box-office steamroller that is “Captain Marvel.”

“Us” (R). Jordan Peele, writer-director of “Get Out,” has come up with another horror yarn, this one about a family vacationing in a beach house when their peaceful retreat is interrupted by a band of evil strangers — who look just like them! With Lupita Nyong’o, Winston Duke and Elisabeth Moss.

“Gloria Bell” (R). Chilean filmmaker Sebastian Lelió wrote and directed this remake of his 2013 film “Gloria,” set in 1970s California as a 50-something divorcee with grown children spends her evenings at the local disco, looking for love in all the wrong places. With John Turturro, Michael Cera, Brad Garrett, Holland Taylor, Sean Astin, Jeanne Tripplehorn and Rita Wilson.

  

“The Wedding Guest” (R). Dev Patel is the mysterious title character, a British Muslim hired to stop an arranged marriage in Pakistan by kidnapping he bride.

“Woman at War” (R, in Icelandic with English subtitles). A choir conductor decides to disrupt the operations of a Rio Tinto aluminum plant in the Icelandic highlands, repeatedly damaging pylons and wires to cut the power supply. When her application to adopt a child gains traction, her activism becomes an impediment. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Wheely” (PG). This animated children’s film, which resembles Pixar’s “Cars,” follows the adventures of the titular underdog taxicab as he dreams of being a racecar and worships from afar a beautiful luxury town car, described as an, ahem, Italian model. (Exclusively at the AMC West Jordan Theaters.)


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

MOVIE MOVIE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 15, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Donen, who will always be remembered as the director of “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers” and the co-director (with Gene Kelly) of “Singin’ in the Rain,” died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 94. I only reviewed two of his movies for the Deseret News, ‘Movie Movie’ in 1979 and ‘Blame it On Rio’ in 1984. Loved the first, hated the second. But as both have been given new life on Blu-ray upgrades in the last year, courtesy of Kino Lorber, you’ll find my reviews on this page today. The ‘Movie Movie’ review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 29, 1979.

“Movie Movie” is the kind of movie they don’t make anymore — in fact, it’s two of them.

If you’re one of those folks who stays up until midnight Sunday to catch any old Busby Berkeley film or an old Wallace Beery flick, you’ll love “Movie Movie.” And if you’re not, you’ll still love “Movie Movie.”

Stanley Donen, whose talent has given us such diverse movie entertainment as “Singin’ in the Rain,” “Charade” and “Seven Brides for Seven Brothers,” has crafted here an old-fashioned double-feature, including coming attractions and complete with hokum.

Donen produced and directed “Movie Movie,” which is composed of a black-and-white boxing film, “Dynamite Hands,” and a splashy color musical, “Baxter’s Beauties of 1933.” Both take place in the 1930s and both begin with the exact same scene. The previews are sandwiched in between.

     

      Trish Van Devere, Harry Hamlin, 'Movie Movie'

Both are also composed largely of the same cast — and a fine acting crew it is, including George C. Scott, Trish Van Devere (Mrs. Scott), Red Buttons, Eli Wallach, Art Carney and Barry Bostwick. Supporting players, appearing in one or the other of the films, include Harry Hamlin, Barbara Harris, Rebecca  York, Kathleen Beller, Ann Reinking and Michael Kidd, who also choreographed “Baxter’s” dancing sequences.

Their deadpan delivery of the hilarious dialogue is excellent in all respect, and Scott, Van Devere, Buttons, Wallach and Bostwick get to show just what fine actors they all are with extremely different roles in each feature.

But kudos would be incomplete without mentioning writers Larry Gelbart (“M*A*S*H” on TV and “Oh, God!” in theaters) and Sheldon Keller. Their script (or scripts) is (are) both a tribute and a send-up. The situations are contrived, the romance is sappy and the dialogue is insipid and delivered straight — in other words, just as Hollywood really used to make them (and often still does). But that dialogue has enough bite, wit, twists and double meanings to keep the laughs coming. They are intentional here, of course, but were not always in the original genres.

     

It’s hard to say which of the two is better. “Baxter’s” is snappy, energetic and a lot of fun, but “Dynamite” is probably funnier, due largely to a hilarious courtroom scene at the end. Gelbart and Keller are particularly adept at taking everyday clichés with anatomical words and twisting their meanings into the ridiculous. (“When you speak with your heart, your mouth is 10 feet tall.”) They become slightly predictable but never stale.

And Donen has captured the sight and sound of ’30s movies; film buffs will notice the brash color of “Baxter’s” and the quivery background music of “Dynamite.”

My personal favorite is the preview in the middle for a black-and-white picture: “See ‘Zero Hour’ — war at its best!” Scott, Carney and Wallach are hysterical as the typical heroes and villains of old war movies.

“Movie Movie” is rated PG but could easily be G. There is nothing offensive, no profanity, but children may become bored, not understanding the humor. Get a sitter and go; you’ll love it. As Baxter tells his beauties: “Idle feet are the devil’s toenails!”


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

THE KARATE KID

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 22, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Believe it or not, it’s been (gulp!) 35 years since ‘The Karate Kid’ was initially released, so Fathom Events and Cinemark Theaters are celebrating with big-screen showings on Sunday, March 31, and Tuesday, April 2. Here’s my review, published June 24, 1984, in the Deseret News.

“The Karate Kid” begins as just another formula coming-of-age picture, with likable, but wimpish Ralph Macchio as a transplanted New Jersey kid having so much trouble adjusting to life in Los Angeles that he becomes the school whipping boy for a gang of karate-trained toughs.

But then a wonderful thing happens. The film steadily veers into another direction, and a good chunk becomes devoted to Macchio’s growing relationship with the old Japanese maintenance man (Pat Morita) in his apartment building.

Once that begins, “The Karate Kid” blossoms into a delightful relationship picture that is warm and humorous, as Morita becomes a father figure, training young Macchio in martial arts while teaching him about life along the way.

     

    Ralph Macchio, left, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid'

Oh yes, there is the obligatory “Rocky”-style showdown as the film’s climax, a device I suppose is necessary, but which tends to pull the film back into its formula origins again.

Despite that, however, this is a thoroughly enjoyable feel-good movie and the screen chemistry between Macchio and Morita is very strong.

For Morita this is the role of a lifetime, and he plays it in a very low-key, dignified manner, perfect for the character. Pruning bonsai trees, he philosophizes in short, curt phrases. Reluctantly taking Macchio in for karate training, he emphasizes the art, playing down the violence. And eventually, he and Macchio seem more like father and son than teacher and pupil.

Morita has been around as a character actor on TV and in movies for years, but this is by far his best — and perhaps his largest — role. He’s wonderful, and we can only hope it opens new vistas for him in the future.

     

Martin Kove, left, Ralph Macchio, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid'

Macchio is loaded with screen charm and handles his role very well. He’s never so much a wimp that we loose empathy with him, and he projects enough innocence that he seems like a real kid — something we don’t get in movies very often anymore.

The rest of the cast is good, too, though some of the supporting roles are steeped in stereotypes — the evil karate instructor (dressed in black no less) who leads his boys to victory by hook and crook, the ineffective mother who cares but doesn’t seem to do much, the wealthy girlfriend whose parents are snobs, etc.

But there are many well-written and well-directed moments in “The Karate Kid,” and the two lead players manage to transcend the film’s weaker moments.

Rated PG for violence and profanity, “The Karate Kid” is a thoroughly entertaining film that parents and kids can enjoy equally for a change.


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

BORN IN EAST L.A.

  

   

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 22, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Although this ’80s comedy doesn’t really gather any comic steam and feels like the padded parody that it is, you can’t say it isn’t timely in 2019. Still, I suspect Cheech Marin’s fan base will provide the only takers for this new Blu-ray upgrade from The Shout! Factory. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Sept. 2, 1987.

“Born In East L.A.” is Cheech without Chong.

Cheech Marin — didn’t he used to take billing as Richard “Cheech” Marin? — stars in this expansion of his song/video, a spoof of Bruce Springsteen’s “Born in America.”

     

Cheech Marin, left, Elvira (Cassandra Peterson), 'Born in East L.A.'

Marin also wrote and directed this movie, which proves that funny things often come in smaller packages — the video is supremely superior.

“Born In East L.A.” has Marin as a third-generation Mexican-American who can’t speak Spanish, and who is accidentally rounded up in an immigration raid and taken south of the border.

In Tijuana he meets strip-joint owner Daniel Stern who takes pity on him and gives him odd jobs to help him earn the money necessary to get back (illegally) to the United States. He also falls in love and shows signs of humanity toward those less fortunate than himself.

     

        Daniel Stern, left, Cheech Marin, 'Born in East L.A.'

All of this shows great potential for hilarity, with the right script and crisp direction — but despite his screen charm, Marin the writer-director is unable to bring it off and the film lumbers along, riding on cheap humor, vulgar asides and raunchy gags that make his character rather unpalatable.

Marin lets all his worse tendencies take over in “Born In East L.A.,” rated R for profanity, vulgarity and raunchy humor.

Next time a collaborator might be wise.

A non-Chong collaborator, please.