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THE WORST FILMS … 40 YEARS AGO

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week I pointed out that this time of year is when movie critics create their best-and-worst year-end movie lists, an annual ritual that I also performed back in the day. But since I haven’t seen many movies this year … or more to the point, since there haven’t been many movies this year … I offered up my ‘best’ list of 1980. So, it naturally follows that the ‘worst’ list is on tap this week. I qualify the terms ‘best’ and ‘worst’ here because it really isn’t possible to definitively cite the best and worst of something as subjective as movies. So last week we actually had my 1980 favorites and this week we have my 1980 least-favorites. For the record, this was the first time I created this list for the Deseret News, published on Dec. 31, 1981. The headline on this one was carried over from the headline on the ‘best’ list, ‘ … and the bottom 10 (real stinkers!).’

 

Choosing the best movies of 1980 was a breeze – picking the worst took more time. There was so much to choose from.

 

For the 10 worst I’ve stayed with major-studio releases that generally included major stars, producers and directors, then I’ve categorized a number of others so we cover all the bases.

 

After all, it’s really not fair to include a failed effort like “The First Deadly Sin” with a pure shlock piece like “Friday the 13th.”

 

In order of how much I abhorred them:

 

— Cruising. William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) and Al Pacino teamed to give us the worst of brutality and perversion in this lurid, badly-written exploitative tale of underground gays in New York’s S&M district.

 

— First Family. Tasteless, unfunny “comedy” from the pen and camera of Buck Henry (“Heaven Can Wait,” “The Graduate”) featuring a talented comic cast that should have known better. This is 1980’s equivalent of “Americathon!”

 

— The Formula. Dumb mystery that can’t even be saved by the presence of Marlon Brando and George C. Scott together. Utterly confusing, thoroughly bland.

 

— A Change of Seasons. A change of script would have been a better idea. This alleged comedy only serves to prove that “10” was no fluke — Bo Derek still can’t act.

 

— Wholly Moses! Hollywood tries to rip off Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and instead manages to embarrass a fine comic cast.

 

  

 

— Where the Buffalo Roam. Hunter S. Thompson as a “Saturday Night Live” skit is dreadfully unfunny.

 

— The First Deadly Sin. Frank Sinatra’s comeback film may have sent him back into retirement. Actually he was fine, but the script and direction left much to be desired.

 

— The Gong Show Movie. Chuck Barris has no right to have an ego the size it is and his self-indulgent big-screen debut is a total emBARRISment.

 

— The Kidnapping of the President. This Canadian film was so bad it hit network TV two weeks after it played out in Utah.

 

— Windows. This was the first movie I saw in 1980. Little did I know that it would pave the way for a less-than-stellar year. Talia Shire is stalked by killer Elizabeth Ashley, who is in love with Shire!

 

It’s interesting to note that no out-and-out comedies, made the “best” list and five made the “worst.” That label, “comedy,” was more an allegation than a fact among 1980 films.

 

Runners-up for the worst included TV-rip-off “The Nude Bomb,” Benji-rip-off  “Oh Heavenly Dog,” musical-rip-offs “Any Which Way You Can” and “Smokey and the Bandit II,” and a very sad farewell film from Peter Sellers, “The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.”

 

And here are some special awards:

 

Performance most like a poster: (A three-way tie) Farrah Fawcett, “Saturn 3;” Suzanne Somers, “Nothing Personal;” Bo Derek, “A Change of Seasons.”

 

Gross-out film worse than “Animal House:” (A six-way tie) “Gorp,” “Up the Academy,” “The Hollywood Knights,” “The Gong Show Movie,” “Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie,” “Caddyshack.”

 

  

 

Best performance in a rotten move: Alan King, “Just Tell Me What You Want.”

 

Worst performance in a rotten movie: Ali MacGraw, “Just Tell Me What You Want.”

 

Best scene in a rotten movie: Ali MacGraw attacking Alan King with her purse in a posh department store in “Just Tell Me What You Want.”

 

Dumbest plot or oldest plot or plot-most-likely-to-have-been-stolen: “The Final Countdown,” which looked like a “Twilight Zone” reject.

 

Most exploitative movie trick: Having a 33-year-old stand-in (or swim-in) doing young Brooke Shields’ underwater nude scenes in “The Blue Lagoon.”

 

Actor who seems the most bored on-screen: Chevy Chase, “Seems Like Old Times.” Runner-up: Chevy Chase, “Caddyshack.”

 

Most embarrassing miscasting: Michael Caine, “Dressed to Kill.” Runner-up: Michael Caine, “The Island.”

 

Filmmaker who wants most to be like Mel Brooks (but who should quit while he’s behind): Marty Feldman, “In God We Trust.”

 

Worst shlock horror film: (A 14-way tie) “Saturn 3,” “Silent Scream,” “The Godsend,” “Death Ship,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Island,” “Humanoids of the Deep,” “The Awakening,” “He knows You’re Alone,” “Prom Night,” “The Creeper,” “Terror Train,” “Zombie,” “Fade to Black.”

 

Because bests and worsts are, of course, subjective, I welcome dissenting ballots cast by the public.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

A SOON-TO-STREAM POTPOURRI

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

There are six new films in our pandemic-protocol conscious theaters this weekend, with streaming options looming, of course. Horror films have dominated the new titles for the past several months but this week there are movies addressing social issues and two that encourage faith.

 

“No Man’s Land” (PG-13). A Texas rancher (Frank Grillo) and his adult son (Jake Allyn) do their own “border patrols” to keep illegal aliens off their land, but one night the son inadvertently shoots a boy in the back, causing him to flee into Mexico. With Andie MacDowell and George Lopez.

 

“The Dig” (PG-13). A medieval burial site is discovered on the property of an English landowner (Carey Mulligan) in 1939. Based on John Preston’s historical novel. With Ralph Fiennes and Lily James. (Debuts on Netflix Jan. 29.)

 

“Our Friend” (R). A journalist (Casey Affleck) and his wife (Dakota Johnson) and two young daughters have a good life until she is diagnosed with terminal cancer, at which point he feels overwhelmed. Then his goofy best friend (Jason Segel) moves in to help out in this dark comedy-drama.

 

  

 

“American Skin” (R). Writer-director Nate Parker (“The Birth of a Nation”) concedes that he was influenced by “Dog Day Afternoon” and “12 Angry Men” for this story of a Marine veteran (Parker) whose unarmed son is killed by a cop during a traffic stop. When the cop is acquitted of wrongdoing and there is rioting in the streets, the vet recruits his Marine buddies to storm the police station and stage their own trial.

 

“About Hope” (PG, aka “False Hopes”). This Christian comedy has a young man looking for the perfect woman to love when he becomes friends with a single mother struggling to launch her own small business. (Now streaming.)

 

“Heaven” (PG-13). A middle-aged paramedic struggles with his faith after his wife dies of cancer, then he wakes up one morning to find himself in heaven, where is has an opportunity to review his life. A low-budget independent production. With Eric Roberts.

 

Meanwhile, some older pictures are sneaking in to offer fans some rare big-screen options, including “Jurassic Park,” “Back to the Future” and the 2012 version of “Les Misérables.”


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

OUT OF AFRICA

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: From 1966 to 1990, Robert Redford and the late Sydney Pollack made seven movies together and 'Out of Africa' was, arguably, their best collaboration. No small feat when the others include 'Jeremiah Johnson,' 'The Way We Were' and 'Three Days of the Condor.' But in my book 'Out of Africa' has a grandeur and sweep that ranks up there with David Lean ('Lawrence of Arabia,' 'Doctor Zhivago'), as you will ascertain from my admittedly gushing review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 20, 1985. ‘Out of Africa’ is part of a new eight-movie DVD set of Meryl Streep pictures just released by Universal Home Entertainment.

 

Sydney Pollack, as if you didn’t already know it, is one of our most talented directors. There doesn’t seem to be a subject he can’t tackle and turn it into a wonderful movie, from comedy (“Tootsie”) to thriller (“Three Days of the Condor”) to romance (“The Way We Were”).

 

So his name on “Out of Africa” is enough to get the juices going in anticipation that this is going to be something special. Add to that a cast headed by Robert Redford and Meryl Streep and it’s impossible even for a jaded film critic not to expect to be entertained.

 

The ultimate discovery that “Out of Africa” is not just a good movie but a great one is less a surprise than a delightful fulfillment of expectations. This is filmmaking at its finest — from the gorgeous photography, the lovely music, and the flawless set design to the sharp, witty script and the fine-tuned performances all around.

 

The story is basically true, about a Danish woman in 1914, Karen Dinesen Blixen (Meryl Streep), who would later write about her life under the name Isak Dinesen. The film is based on her book, “Out of Africa,” as well as with several other works, including biographies.

 

        

 

Robert Redford and Meryl Streep in an iconic moment from 'Out of Africa' (1985).

 

In the film, Dinesen essentially buys her way into a marriage for the purpose of gaining a title. Her husband is Baron Bror Blixen (Klaus Maria Brandauer), who has gone ahead to Kenya where he was to have begun a dairy farm. But when she arrives, Dinesen discovers he instead has put her money into coffee beans, a risky farm project at that altitude.

 

The result is the first of several unhappy encounters that lead to their permanent separation, as he goes off on safari and has affairs with native women, and she tries to make their farm thrive.

 

Blixen eventually falls in love with a free-spirited adventurer named Denys Finch Hatton (Robert Redford), only to find that he is too free-spirited even for her. Yet their on-and-off life together is a fascinating one, and they help each other grow.

 

But perhaps even more than being about Dinesen’s love affair with Finch Hatton, “Out of Africa” is about Dinesen’s love affair with the country and its people. We see her go from naïve tolerance to genuine love for Africa, a land that is succumbing to the ever-increasing demands of civilization, and the people whose traditions and lifestyles are permanently and unhappily altered.

 

The environmental statement is actually quite subtle here for the most part with the emphasis on the characters, and Streep is once again simply astonishing as she gets into the skin of this woman. Every step she takes is so right that we feel we are growing with her.

 

        

 

Redford gets the lion’s share (pardon the phrase) of the great dialogue here, providing … of all things … comic relief. He delivers his lines in a deadpan manner, and though he is essentially a dramatic character his witty and insightful observations are often quite funny.

 

Brandauer is wonderful as the slimy husband, yet he’s not a blackguard; he manages to gain some sympathy through the shading of his character.

 

Screenwriter Kurt Luedtke did a good job with his first screenplay “Absence of Malice” but who would have dreamed he had this kind of sensitivity? His script for “Out of Africa” is first-rate — sharp, intelligent funny, bright and never sinks into sloppy sentiment.

 

Similar kudos are also deserved for every technical aspect of the film, from set design to costumes to cinematography to the score (one of John Barry’s best). …

 

And director Pollack knows just how to use all this material to proper advantage, making the film a wonderful throwback to the best romantic adventures.

 

This is by far one of the year’s best films and a sure bet as a major Oscar contender.

 

“Out of Africa” is rated PG for some violence and profanity, with some discreet sex and partial nudity.


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

FERRIS BUELLER’S DAY OFF

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an ’80s comedy that holds up as very funny and still ranks with Matthew Broderick’s best work. And if you came along too late to see it on the big screen, a couple of Cinemark cineplexes are bringing it back this weekend … in a socially distanced manner, of course. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 13, 1986.

 

“Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is another terrific teen comedy from John Hughes, the writer-director-producer who has already given us such winners as “Sixteen Candles,” “The Breakfast Club” and “Pretty in Pink,” not to mention (and we shouldn’t) “Weird Science.”

    

Matthew Broderick plays sort of a modern-day teenage version of Groucho Marx in that he frequently turns to the camera and directly addresses the audience … a technique recently revived by Bruce Willis in the TV series “Moonlighting.” (And in this film it makes for the funniest closing sequence you’ve seen in a long time — don’t leave before the end credits are over.)

 

Broderick is the title character, a master con artist who feigns illness to stay home from school, and when his parents leave after wishing him well, he sits up, turns to the camera and says with equal parts smugness and surprise, “They bought it!”

    

Soon he’s off to downtown Chicago with his girlfriend (Mia Sara) and his best friend (Alan Ruck), an unhappy lad whose father prefers his classic Ferrari to his son.

 

        

 

Mia Sara, left, Alan Ruck, Matthew Broderick, 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986)

 

Meanwhile, the obnoxious and ridiculous school principal (Jeffrey Jones, the emperor in “Amadeus”) is plotting to expose Ferris, as is Ferris’ own sister (Jennifer Grey), who feels he’s gotten away with too much for too long.

 

The plotting here is pure fantasy, as the trio manages to convince the head waiter at a posh restaurant that Ferris is a young sausage tycoon, avoids several close calls with Ferris’ father downtown, convinces the principal that Ferris (from a distance) is his girlfriend’s father, etc.

 

There is also a lot of high-tech assistance here, as Ferris uses his home computer, tape machines and various and sundry other modern mechanical devices to get away with his escape for the day.

 

Toward the end “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” tends to get a bit preachy and sluggish, although it does pick up again.

 

But, as with most Hughes films, character is the thing, not plot. While the situations are sometimes a bit too contrived and silly, the characters are constantly charming, with actors perfectly cast, interacting with great hilarity — both physically and verbally — lifting the film to great comic heights.

 

Broderick is perfect in the lead, with his own personal charm, his unique way with a phrase, and his comic manner — he can give a look, sly smile or grin that says more than reams of dialogue — making Ferris Bueller an utterly delightful character.

 

        

 

Matthew Broderick in the final moments of 'Ferris Bueller's Day Off' (1986).

 

And though all the adults are buffoons (as is also the case in most Hughes projects), Jones is very funny as the principal, whether spouting cliché after cliché (“When are you going to wake up and smell the coffee, he’s just leading you down the primrose path”) or finding himself terrorized by the Buellers’ dog.

 

Ruck and Sara have less to do but are good in their roles, as are Grey, and as Ferris’ parents, Cindy Pickett and Lyman Ward. Especially notable, however, are Charlie Sheen, in a small but pivotal role, and Edie McClurg, quite funny as the principal’s secretary.

 

Despite a few vulgar lapses in taste (and there aren’t many), along with some profanity and a nude computer graphic – for which the film is rated PG-13 (which seems a bit severe, given the number of PG movies lately that are just as bad or worse) — “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” is very funny and should appeal to both young and older audiences.

 

But it is the kids who will make this a big hit; this is just the kind of movie they’ll enjoy seeing again and again, as smart-aleck youth triumphs repeatedly over buffoonish adulthood.


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

CONTINENTAL DIVIDE

        

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Jan. 22, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s common knowledge that John Belushi died in 1982 of a drug overdose at the age of 33 and that his last film was ‘Neighbors,’  a box-office success that nonetheless divided (and continues to divide) critics and fans. But Belushi’s penultimate film — released just three months before ‘Neighbors’ was ‘Continental Divide,’ a little gem that is generally forgotten today, a light comedy that offers Belushi in a more modulated performance. Now, however, it’s been resurrected by Kino Lorber for a new Blu-ray upgrade. My review was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 24, 1981, and the last line suggests Belushi had a long career ahead of him, which, sadly, was not to be.

 

John Belushi as a romantic lead? A la Cary Grant or Clark Gable??? More like Spencer Tracy but still a stretch of the imagination.

 

Yet, in “Continental Divide,” John Belushi does a convincing, three-dimensional turn for the first time, in an attempt to step away from the cartoon-like characters he has played in “Animal House,” “1941” and “The Blues Brothers.”

 

“Continental Divide,” yet another old-fashioned movie script by Lawrence Kasdan (“Body Heat,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Empire Strikes Back”), is a delightfully witty social comedy, of the type Tracy and Katherine Hepburn turned out several years ago — the headstrong, independent woman with a vital career meets the gruff, aggressive male who is marshmallow on the inside. The setting is her territory, the meeting is anything but friendly, and you know that sooner or later they will fall in love.

 

Though there are a few modern-day elements thrown in, Kasdan essentially has captured the style and flow of those old Howard Hawks, Preston Sturges and Frank Capra comedies, and director Michael Apted (“Coal Miner’s Daughter”) contributes with a few images of his own.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

Belushi is Ernie Souchak, a fictional clone of Chicago Sun-Times columnist Mike Royko — so much so that the Sun-Times is used, and Souchak’s column runs on the inside cover where Royko’s actually runs, and much of the film was shot in the newsrooms of the Sun-Times building in Chicago.

 

Because Souchak’s City Hall corruption-busting columns are threatening his life, his managing editor (Allen Goorwitz) sends him to the Rocky Mountains of Wyoming to do a story on a reclusive government ornithologist (Blair Brown) who studies and protects the endangered American bald eagle.

 

To say that Souchak is out of his element is to understate and Kasdan takes full advantage to include all kinds of jokes about smoking in thin air and Souchak’s cityfied ways contrasting with nature. There are some great lines here and a few memorable sight gags.

 

When the assignment and their affair are over, Souchak returns to Chicago so lovesick that he can’t work. Then, when a tragedy occurs with his City Hall contact, he’s inspired to get the old typewriter fire roaring again.

 

The lovesick scenes are probably the least convincing but all of “Continental Divide” is very broad comedy; this is an audience picture and those who go just intending to have a good time and laugh will enjoy it.

 

        

 

      Blair Brown, John Belushi, 'Continental Divide' (1981)

 

The Belushi fans who go hoping to get another glimpse of his “slob” persona may be disappointed and I dare say that those who don’t care for him because of his past performances will have an even harder time accepting him here. But it’s well worth the effort, and my guess is that by the time the end credits roll Belushi will have sold you on the character.

 

Blair Brown, who co-starred in “Altered States” and “One-Trick Pony” is very good and Allen Goorwitz as Souchak’s frustrated boss shines in another winning character role.

 

Tony Ganios is good in a surprisingly twisted view of Mountain Men that works on a high comic level; Carlin Glynn, as Goorwitz’s wife, is also solid support.

 

Though far from a perfect film (the ending is particularly weak), “Continental Divide” is a good romantic comedy with some very inventive humor.

 

It also shows that Belushi can do more than cartoon comedy. We can only wonder what will be in store for him next.