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SAME AS IT EVER WAS

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Aug. 14, 2020

EDITOR’S NOTE: One weekend last month, with few movie theaters open to the public during the current pandemic — and with those that are open dominated by 1980s ‘classics’ — a 36-year-old movie became the No. 1 box-office hit in the nation: ‘Ghostbusters.’ So let’s take a look back at August 1984 when the summer was wrapping up and yours truly was assessing the damage for the Deseret News. As it happens, ‘Ghostbusters’ would go on to become the year’s biggest moneymaker, and four of the top 10 were also summer flicks; No. 2 was ‘Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom,’ followed by ‘Gremlins’ (No. 3), ‘The Karate Kid’ (No. 4) and “Star Trek III: The Search for Spock’ (No. 8). The moviegoing public had spoken! This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published on Aug. 19, 1984.

Unless there’s some surprise coming I don’t know about — that is, unless “Body Rock” or “Oxford Blues” turns out to be an exceptionally wonderful sleeper — the summer verdict is pretty well in.

“Ghostbusters” is the winner and reigning champ, and indeed one of the summer’s brightest and best films.

Meanwhile, though they still made a box-office killing, “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom” and “Gremlins” are licking the critical wounds of Steven Spielberg backlash. Even critics who raved about the films when they first viewed them seem to be backing down a bit in the light of more recent criticisms of those films and of Spielberg himself.

And while it may be true that Spielberg is “imitating himself,” and going for fast pacing and shock effects over character and story, those films are, for me at least, still highly entertaining and wonderfully fanciful.

Every summer has its sleeper  and “The Karate Kid” was unexpectedly a pleasantly surprising box-office and critical hit, one which seemed to open the floodgates for family films.

Most of the other movies that were aimed at children and their parents came at the end of the summer, following “The Karate Kid.” Late in July we got “Marvin and Theo,” “The Last Starfighter,” “The Neverending Story” and “The Muppets Take Manhattan,” and this month brought “The Lucky Star” and “Cloak & Dagger.”

      

Ralph Macchio, left, Pat Morita, 'The Karate Kid' (1984)

And that will most certainly be the last of the family fare we will see until Christmas, or at least that’s how it appears right now.

Fall, traditionally a time for “serious” films — those with higher aspirations than most and those that begin to aim seriously for Oscar nominations — will not be much different this year in content. It will differ, however, in the number of films scheduled.

Each month between now and December has from 10 to 15 major movies on the calendar, a most unusual phenomenon. And December, always a big month, has some 20 on the schedule.

Some of the upcoming Christmas films already have previews showing in the theaters, including the two big sci-fi films “Dune” and “2010: Odyssey Two.” In addition there is “Supergirl,” John Carpenter’s “Starman,” Neil Simon’s “The Slugger’s Wife,” David Lean’s “A Passage to India” and Francis Ford Coppola’s “The Cotton Club.” Along with a detective film starring both Clint Eastwood and Burt Reynolds, a thriller with Tom Selleck, and comedies starring Goldie Hawn, Eddie Murphy and Michael Keaton, respectively.

December, as you might gather from that list, is a big-budget blockbuster month. The fall months preceding December, on the other hand, usually go for smaller films.

Those scheduled for September include a comedy, of all things, Steve Martin and Lily Tomlin in “All of Me,” but most will be much more serious – “Country,” with Jessica Lange, Sam Shepard and Wilford Brimley; “Amadeus,” based on the stage production about Mozart; “Places in the Heart,” with Sally Field; Under the Volcano,” with Albert Finney and Jacqueline Bisset; “Irreconcilable Differences,” with Ryan O’Neal, Shelley Long and Drew Barrymore; and “A Soldier’s Story,” with Howard E. Rollins Jr., who was so memorable as Coalhouse Walker in “Ragtime.”

      

Ke Huy Quan, left Kate Capshaw, Harrison Ford, 'Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom' (1984)

Among those scheduled for October are Bill Murray’s dramatic debut, “The Razor’s Edge”; “Songwriter,” with Willie Nelson and Kris Kristofferson; Brian De Palma’s “Body Double”; “Little Drummer Girl,” with Diane Keaton; and, for a bit of lighter fare, Paul McCartney’s “Give My Regards to Broad Street,” with McCartney and his wife Linda, along with Ringo Starr.

Even lighter is one of November’s films, the third in the “Oh, God!” series, again with George Burns.

Looking for possible Oscar fare among films that have not yet been seen is a fool’s game, of course, though Albert Finney, Diane Keaton and David Lean are always fairly secure bets. But there have been so far very few films that look like qualifiers and one is tempted to speculate that nary a single film up to now will receive a nomination in a major category.

There are possible exceptions, of course. A fairly strong contender might be Anthony Hopkins for his excellent portrait of Capt. Bligh in “The Bounty,” but that may not come to pass since the film flopped at the box office. Lesser possibilities, though they are certainly deserving, would be Mia Farrow for “Broadway Danny Rose,” John Lone for “Iceman,” Wilford Brimley for “The Stone Boy” and Pat Morita for “The Karate Kid.”

But I haven’t seen a single film so far this year I would put money on as a contender for “best picture.” It would appear those and any other strong contenders for ’84 will come from films released in the final months of the year.

One thing remains certain, however. Those who avidly search out movies to see will not have their usual idle period during the fall this year.

It’s enough to make a critic look forward to Christmas.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

SEVEN NEW MOVIES AND NOTHING TO WATCH

  

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

It’s a mixed bag of new movies at the multiplexes this weekend, with a couple of independently produced Sundance Film Festival winners appearing to be your best bets. Or you could just wait for them to be on some streaming site, which will happen all too soon.

 

There are also a few older films that have crept into theaters this weekend, including a 1963 classic and a couple of fairly recent films about the late Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg.

 

“The Last Shift” (R). A sad, over-the-hill, faintly racist bachelor and former high school jock (Richard Jenkins) is about to retire from a fast-food joint when he clashes with his replacement, a young black man (Shane Paul McGhie) who rails against white privilege in this comedy-drama. With Allison Tolman and Ed O’Neill. (Had its world premiere at the Sundance Film Festival.)

 

“Kajillionaire” (R). Richard Jenkins is also in this comedy-drama (which also had its world premiere at Sundance) about a cynical con artist (Evan Rachel Wood) who works with her criminal parents (Jenkins, Debra Winger) but who feels upended when another crook is invited to join them on a heist. With Gina Rodriguez. (To be on video-on-demand Oct. 16.)

 

“Ava” (R). Jessica Chastain stars as a seasoned assassin working for some kind of killer-for-hire worldwide organization is blindsided by hit gone wrong and begins to think she was set up. With Colin Farrell, Geena Davis, Common, John Malkovich, Joan Chen. (Also available on video-on-demand.)

 

  

 

“Leap” (Not Rated, in Mandarin with English subtitles). Chinese biographical film covers 40 years in the lives of members of China women’s national volleyball team. Gong Li stars as a coach. (Exclusive at the AMC Theater in West Jordan.)

 

“Shortcut” (R). A mysterious monster terrorizes five school kids whose bus has taken a wrong turn in this English-language Italian creature feature.

 

“Break the Silence: The Movie” (Not Rated, in Korean with English subtitles). South Korean documentary follows the band BTS (aka The Bangtan Boys) during its “Love Yourself” world tour and is being sold as a sequel to the 2018 documentary “Burn the Stage: The Movie.”

 

  

 

“Candy Planet” (PG, dubbed in English). A group of kids in a jungle setting perform one task after another — derived from the “Candy Crush Saga” video game — to save their friends on Candy Planet. The full title for this children’s animated feature from China is “Jungle Master 2: Candy Planet.”

 

Older films landing in theaters this weekend include the two about Justice Ginsberg — the biographical film “On the Basis of Sex” and the documentary “RBG,” along with the Hictchcock-like comedy thriller “Charade,” with Cary Grant and Audrey Hepburn, as well as “The Empire Strikes Back” and the animated features “Akira,” “Madagascar,” “The Land Before Time” and “The Secret Life of Pets.” Others that are hanging in there include “Jurassic Park,” “School of Rok,” “Inception” and “How to Train Your Dragon.”


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

FULL METAL JACKET

      

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Stanley Kubrick’s still stunning and still disturbing ‘Full Metal Jacket’ recently earned a 4K reissue on video, so here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on July 10, 1987. (And despite my prediction in the final paragraph, none of the actors was nominated for an Oscar, although R. Lee Ermey was nominated for a Golden Globe.)

 

Stanley Kubrick movies are events, no getting around it.

 

When a filmmaker of his stature makes a film only every seven or eight years, his fans tend to look forward to each venture with great expectations.

 

He doesn’t always live up to what we hope for, but even Kubrick’s less successful films — “The Shining,” for example — have so many fascinating elements about them that movie buffs inevitably return to them.

 

And his best films — “Paths of Glory,” “Dr. Strangelove,” “2001 — A Space Odyssey” — are classics.

 

“Full Metal Jacket,” Kubrick’s dissertation on the Vietnam War, is an oddly structured film, essentially in three parts. The sum of those parts may not add up to a classic but the parts themselves are composed of powerful filmmaking, particularly the final third.

 

       

 

   Vincent D’Onofrio, Lee Ermey, 'Full Metal Jacket' (1987)

 

Kubrick has taken a different approach than “Platoon,” so comparisons, though inevitable, are not really valid. Where Oliver Stone followed a rich kid who volunteered for combat and showed us how the war changed him, Kubrick follows his main character – a recruit who becomes a Stars and Stripes reporter – almost incidentally. There is some voice-over narration, but it’s limited, rather stilted and unnecessary. That, however, is where the resemblances end.

 

“Full Metal Jacket” begins in boot camp. You may think you’ve seen it all before, but you haven’t. Not like this.

 

Though the aforementioned main character, Joker (Matthew Modine), is prominent early on, the showstoppers are Vincent D’Onofrio as “Gomer Pyle” and Lee Ermey as the drill instructor. There is little dialogue exchanged here, the soundtrack being filled instead with the obscenities of the D.I. as he puts his troops through the rigors of basic training.

 

The boot camp portrayed here reveals more realistically than any movie I’ve ever seen the combination of comedy and tragedy, humor and heartbreak that make up that eight-to-12 week experience. And the end of this segment is a shocker.

 

Then we follow Joker to Vietnam, where his character is established as a conflicting mix of rebel, trooper, peace-lover and killer. But gradually one of the Marines in his group takes over our attention, Animal Mother (Adam Baldwin).

 

      

 

And before long the latter third of the film takes us to the destroyed city of Hue during the Tet Offensive as this rat-tag bunch of sad sacks find themselves without a leader. The chaos that ensues as they are confronted with a sniper is as powerful a piece of filmmaking as you are likely to see on the subject. It reveals incredibly well the sense of young boys playing war — for keeps — and the difficulty of making decisions in the ultimate stress situation.

 

“Full Metal Jacket” has its flaws but Kubrick’s technical prowess is so overwhelming that those flaws seem largely unimportant. His characters may be underdeveloped, the story may meander from time to time, but the overall picture of the horror of war is clear, and the power with which it is told is at once repugnant and compelling.

 

Rated R for extreme violence and profanity, “Full Metal Jacket” would seem to round out a trilogy of war films by Kubrick — “Paths of Glory,” about the insanity of World War I; “Dr. Strangelove,” about the insanity of nuclear war; and now “Full Metal Jacket.”

 

Summer seems an odd time to release a movie of this intensity but maybe it’s just what we need in the midst of all the standard silly movies out right now.

 

And you can bet on Baldwin, D’Onofrio and Ermey as strong contenders for next year’s Oscar race.


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

AKIRA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This popular Japanese anime feature has been brought back to theaters this weekend (playing in several Cinemark and Megaplex multiplexes around town) and fans will be happy to see it on the big screen, perhaps for the first time. My review was published in the Deseret News on March 30, 1990. (Although, as noted here, the film was unrated in 1990, it was given an R rating for a 2001 anniversary home-video release.)

 

"Akira" is an animated feature but don't let visions of talking ducks and dancing hippos fill your mind. This is adult fare, aimed at hard-core science-fiction fans.

 

Further, it's so violent and bloody that if the film was live-action it would easily get an R rating. Come to think of it, maybe it would get an R rating anyway. (There are also a few profanities and a scene with nudity.)

 

The ads hype "Akira" as a cross between "Heavy Metal," the animated sci-fi anthology, and Ridley Scott's "Blade Runner." The comparison is apt, since the concept owes something to "Heavy Metal's" rude, gritty animation style and the scenes of "Neo-Tokyo," some 30 years into the future, starkly resemble Scott's vision of 21st-century Los Angeles. (And like "Blade Runner," "Akira" gives much more emphasis to the visual style than the story.)

 

After that there are a lot of other movies that come to mind while watching "Akira," from "Star Wars" to "Superman," but chiefly Brian DePalma's "The Fury" and David Cronenberg's "Scanners" — right down to the one-on-one duel-of-the-telekinetics.

 

       

 

But being animated, "Akira" has a lot more freedom than those films, in terms of its visual imagery, and stylistically it's all over the map.

 

The film's "look" is significant, since "Akira" is aimed at animation, sci-fi and comic book buffs — it is based on the comic book … er, "graphic novel" … by Katsuhiro Otomo, published here by Epic Comics. (Budgeted at $7 million, this is also Japan's most expensive animated feature.)

 

But the plot is less successful.

 

A convoluted, muddled mixture of decades' worth of science fiction and fantasy themes, the story begins with a couple of biker gangs battling it out in the streets of Neo-Tokyo, built on the remains of Tokyo Bay in the year 2019, 31 years after World War III.

 

During one confrontation on their hyper-speed motorcycles, a junior member of one of the gangs is injured and spirited off by evil government officials to a hospital. There a doctor discovers he has telepathic and telekinetic powers.

 

Before the boy's powers can be harnessed, however, he escapes and wreaks havoc on the city, with his friends and other government experimental telekinetics trying to help him. Eventually, however, they realize that all they can do is try to stop him.

 

       

 

Anyone who's read or watched much science fiction will recognize the themes here, right down to the most basic — the "1984"-style government structure. And the battles, whether involving mobs of people or one-on-one confrontations, become rather redundant after awhile. (Some of the English dubbing is a bit strange, as when a couple of Japanese natives seem to have affected Brooklyn accents. And why do so many characters grimace and growl?)

 

Worst of all, the film is more than two hours long, which is much too lengthy to sustain interest in an animated feature, even if the story were more compelling.

 

But it is the animation that is the draw here, so to speak. And some of the imagery is nothing short of stunning. (The hallucinations of experimental victims are especially effective.) And the musical score is also very good.

 

So keep in mind that the three-star rating is strictly for avid fans of the genre. Anyone else should beware.


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

BIG TROUBLE IN LITTLE CHINA

       

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 25, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: With its recent Shout! Factory reissue in a Blu-ray ‘Collector’s Edition’ with copious new bonus features, ‘Big Trouble in Little China’ — a real change of pace for director John Carpenter, of ‘Halloween’ and ‘The Thing’ fame — is worth looking back at again. My review was published in the Deseret News on July 4, 1986.

 

“Big Trouble In Little China” is very funny, in an oddball “Buckaroo Banzai” kind of way, with Kurt Russell and Dennis Dun as gambling buddies who team up to take on an evil ghost, the spirit of a 2,000-year-old sorcerer. That ghost is searching for a green-eyed woman to sacrifice so he can once again become flesh and bone.

 

Russell is truck driver Jack Burton who is drawn into the adventure by his friend Wang Chi (Dun). Initially all Burton wants is a gambling debt Chi owes him, but when his truck is stolen, and his livelihood along with it, Burton is forced to join in.

 

Burton and Dun trade quips and battle the bad guys together, but while Dun is revealed to be a full-fledged hero (in a deadpan spoof of Bruce Lee martial arts pictures), Burton is little more than a good-natured oaf.

 

       

 

Kim Cattrall, left, Kurt Russell, Dennis Dun, Suzee Pai, 'Big Trouble in Little China' (1986)

 

The plot is complex and more than a little ridiculous, but director John Carpenter (who also did the music) keeps the pace moving so fast you won’t notice until it’s all over. And by then you probably won’t care.

 

W.D. Richter, who gave us “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” is credited here with “story adaptation,” and some of the dialogue has that “Buckaroo Banzai” ring to it. When the chief heroine, for example, is told the evil ghost’s victim is a woman with green eyes, she says with a straight face, “That’s like patent-leather bucket seats; it doubles the price.”

 

Probably the most interesting aspect of “Big Trouble in Little China” is that it appears to be the first flat-out spoof of “Rambo,” as well as an obvious Indiana Jones knock-off. With his John Wayne swagger and his Inspector Clouseau klutziness, Russell’s character is also something of a variation on Tom Selleck’s “Magnum, P.I.,” though more of a male chauvinist. Despite Russell’s macho, redneck attitudes, however, he gives Jack Burton a warmth that belies his outward facade.

 

       

 

Dennis Dun’s Wang Chi could have been little more than just another “sidekick” character but Carpenter and Dun have made him an equal partner to Jack Burton, in laughs and heroics — and in fact, he repeatedly surpasses Burton in the latter, beating up the bad guys while Burton bumbles along.

 

Kim Cattrall’s character, a hard-nosed attorney, is not very well developed but she does get a few laughs and provides Russell with some romance. Victor Wong (also in the current “Dim Sum”) fares much better as the good-guy sorcerer, who drives a Chinatown tour bus on the side. Wong is something of a Chinese Wilford Brimley, excellent in everything he does.

 

“Big Trouble in Little China” which is quite violent for its PG-13 rating, isn’t going to win any awards. But during a summer when there is no “Indiana Jones” movie, a pseudo-Indiana Jones will do.