BLOG BLOG

WHEN BLOCKBUSTERS TOOK OVER

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, July 12, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you attend movies in the Salt Lake area you’ve no doubt noticed that there are 15 multiplexes in the valley and only one of them, the Broadway Centre downtown, shows a movie mix that is different from all the others. Which is to say, if you go to any Megaplex or Cinemark theaters you’ll discover that all of them are playing the same movies.

If you’ve ever wondered why — when you go to, say, Jordan Commons or Jordan Landing and attend a low-budget film at a matinee — you’re the only person in the auditorium … that’s why. It’s a weird phenomenon that makes sense only for the blockbusters. If you want to see ‘Spider-Man: Far from Home’ on opening day you have many, many more choices and every one will be sold out over that first weekend. But if you’re looking for more variety you’ll quickly discover that there is very little.

Those of us of a certain age remember when a ‘Star Wars’ or a ‘Raiders of the Lost Ark’ would play exclusively in a single theater for many months, sometimes more than a year! So other theaters would get creative, playing smaller independent or foreign films, or bringing back favorite titles from just a few years before. (The Utah 3 downtown brought back ‘Jaws’ in 1979, just four years after it premiered, and did a booming business.)

Then, with the acceptance and proliferation in the early 1980s of home-video rentals — videotape, that is, on VHS or Beta or, for collectors, laser discs — along with multiplex theaters, things began to change. Lower-budget or quirky movies began to go straight to video, skipping theaters altogether. It laid down the formula for what we have today as films that studios feel will have limited appeal skip the multiplexes and head straight to streaming or disc.

Anyway, I wrote about it for the Deseret News in a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column, published on Sept. 9, 1984, under the headline, ‘A new trend: let movies sit on the shelf.’ And as an offbeat example a movie that looked like it would never come to Salt Lake theaters, I cited ‘The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai: Across the Eighth Dimension.’ (As it happens, a month later the film did open — in a single Salt Lake theater, with zero advertising, where it played to miniscule audiences for just one week.)

This is the story of a movie you may never see in a Salt Lake theater, and it says something about a growing trend in the motion picture industry today.

The film is “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai” (subtitled “Across the Eighth Dimension”), and the trend is for major studios to shelve movies that look like they won’t earn a heavy profit the first weekend of their release. It’s a trend not unlike that which plagues commercial-television series, as networks refuse to give sitcoms an opportunity to grow, develop and gain an audience.

In the case of movies, they are often tested on the coasts, New York and Los Angeles, though occasionally in various other markets, and if a film doesn’t perform well, it is simply not released to the rest of the country. Losses are recouped through overseas and video sales. (Salt Lake City has always been a test market for family-oriented films, such as “The Man from Snowy River” and “Phar Lap,” both huge successes that went on to achieve success in other parts of the country. But we’ve had our share of box-office clunkers, too, like Disney’s “Something Wicked This Way Comes,” which was never seen in theaters around most of the country.)

In fact, with the advent of the booming video market, most movies do eventually come around on cassette, whether or not they played theatrically. And it’s beginning to look like that is the easy way out for a movie perceived by the studios as a potential box-office flop.

Studios skip the theatrical market for certain films for various reasons, all of them linked to a financial base, but most often because a film is difficult to sell; it may seem unworthy of the expense of ever-rising costs of advertising and shipping prints around the country.

Of course, sometimes a movie that looks like a sure-fire moneymaker turns into a big-budget bomb, as with “Rhinestone” this past summer. There’s no such thing as a sure thing. And a few major flops like that add up quickly, giving studio executives cold feet about films that don’t look like sure-fire hits.

 

But are potential theatrical revenues being overlooked? Would movies like “Independence Day,” “Daniel,” “One From the Heart,” “Mike’s Murder,” “I’m Dancing as Fast as I Can,” “Crackers” and “Buckaroo Banzai” find an audience for their offbeat sensibilities if they were given the chance, if word-of-mouth were allowed to build instead of those movies being routed directly to cable television and videocassette rentals for the quick-buck recoup?

Somewhere in its post-production stage someone at 20th Century-Fox must have seen some potential in “Buckaroo Banzai.” In fact, someone must have thought it would be a major hit since critics around the country have been receiving advance publicity on that film for months. I can’t remember another film that has generated so much advance marketing, only to be shunned by its distributor, with the possible exception of “Daniel.”

“Banzai” still has a chance for wider distribution, if it fares better in markets outside L.A. and the Big Apple (it is scheduled to open in a few at the end of September). Don’t get too hopeful but at least Fox is giving “Banzai” a chance that most “difficult” movies don’t get. Recent past experience has shown that a difficult sell is generally dropped by the studio. And there’s no question that this film is indeed a difficult sell.

The title character, Buckaroo Banzai, is a modern-day hero, but not a superhero. He only seems that way. Banzai is a physicist, a racecar driver, the leader of a rock band and something of a universal troubleshooter. In the film, the title character apparently battles villainous aliens from the eighth dimension, headed by one Dr. Lizardo.

According to national reviews, “Banzai” is funny, hip, outrageous and a mishmash of several different styles, with references to various movie genres. (Sounds like my kind of film.) The cast is impressive, headed by respected Broadway actor Peter Weller as the title character, John Lithgow as Lizardo, Ellen Barkin as the love interest and Jeff Goldblum as a New Jersey cowboy.

 

But is it funny? Is it involving? Does it work? These are questions that can be answered only by those who have seen it. The real question, in the mind of Hollywood, is, “Will it attract enough people to make it a worthy box-office contender?”

Whether or not a particular movie makes a killing on its opening weekend has as much to do with timing as it does with marketing strategy, and apparently “Buckaroo Banzai” is not attracting big crowds thus far. But this time of year, aside from “Tightrope” and “Ghostbusters,” what is?

Had “Buckaroo Banzai” opened earlier in the summer, when bizarre science fiction is expected, it might have fared better. But, unless these new regional engagements bring a new box-office status to this film, it will doubtless go the way of all financial flops — videocassette.

Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful for videocassettes. Without them we’d never see some of these films. But I still wonder how movies like “Cheech & Chong’s The Corsican Brothers,” “Meatballs, Part II,” “Making the Grade” and “Sheena” manage to be released through major studios when other, obviously more worthy, efforts cannot.

And my guess is each of those will also be on videocassette before “Buckaroo Banzai.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

BLINDED BY THE BOSS

 

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

It’s an interesting mix of movies in local theaters this weekend, from the offbeat Springsteen musical to a vehicle for Cate Blanchett to demonstrate her comic chops to a documentary about one of the great TV newsmen of the 20th century.

“Blinded By the Light” (PG-13). A Pakistani-British teenager (Viveik Kalra) living in Luton, England, circa 1987, writes poetry to combat the racial and economic turmoil of his life when a classmate introduces him to the music of Bruce Spingsteen, which he embraces as a cathartic release for his pent-up frustrations. Based on a true story. With Haley Atwell.

“Where’d You Go, Bernadette” (PG-13). Richard Linklater (“School of Rock,” “Boyhood”) co-wrote and directed this whimsical comedy based on Maria Semple’s novel about the titular misanthrope (Blanchett) who has spent her life being a wife and mother but suddenly feels compelled to strike out on her own and follow her bliss. With Billy Crudup, Kristen Wiig, Judy Greer, Laurence Fishburne, Steve Zahn and Megan Mullally.

  

“Mike Wallace Is Here” (Not Rated). The TV journalist whose fearless confrontations with the rich and powerful made him a celebrity in the late 1960s on the CBS newsmagazine program “60 Minutes” is profiled in this documentary comprised of copious amounts of archival footage featuring, among many others, Martin Luther King Jr., Johnny Carson, Jacqueline Kennedy, Bette Davis, Salvador Dali and the Ayatollah Khomeini. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“47 Meters Down: Uncaged” (PG-13). This in-name-only sequel has four teenage girls diving in a ruined underwater city when they suddenly find themselves confronted by a bevy of sharks in a claustrophobic labyrinth of caves. With Sophie Nélisse (“The Book Thief”), Corinne Foxx (daughter of Jamie), Sistine Stallone (daughter of Sylvester), Brianne Tju, John Corbett and Nia Long.

“The Angry Birds Movie 2” (PG). The angry birds and angry pigs are still at war with each other as this animated sequel begins but soon they are forced to come together to take on a mutual enemy, a vengeful eagle. Voice cast includes Jason Sudeikis, Josh Gad, Leslie Jones, Bill Hader, Rachel Bloom, Awkwafina, Sterling K. Brown, Eugenio Derbez, Danny McBride, Peter Diklage, Maya Rudolph and Tiffany Haddish.

  

“Ode to Joy” (R). Martin Freeman is Charlie, a librarian in Brooklyn who suffers from cataplexy, causing him to faint whenever he experiences strong emotions, which his girlfriend (Melissa Rauch) tries to respect and support. But when he falls in love with a charming free spirit (Morena Baccarin), Charlie tries to avoid embarrassment by setting her up with his brother (Jake Lacy). With Jane Curtin.

“Good Boys” (R). When a 12-year-old boy (Jacob Tremblay) is invited to a kissing party he panics and asks his buddies for some pointers, which leads to a series of very bad decisions. Screenwriters Gene Stupnitsky & Lee Eisenberg (“Year One,” “Bad Teacher”) wrote this raunchy comedy, which marks Stupinsky’s directing debut. With Will Forte.

“Honeyland” (Not Rated). This documentary chronicles the travails of the last female beehunter in Europe who is attempting to restore the natural balance in Honeyland when the area is invaded by a family of nomadic beekeepers that threaten her livelihood. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

LOLA

       

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: Rainer Werner Fassbinder was a singular cinematic figure during the 1970s and into the early 1980s, and he died all too soon, in 1982 at the age of 37 from a drug overdose. A German filmmaker whose works were eccentric but often gripping, he received worldwide acclaim for several films before his biggest international hit, ‘The Marriage of Maria Braun’ in 1979. I reviewed two of his follow-ups, ‘Veronika Voss’ and ‘Lola,’ for the Deseret News and now all three are in a new Criterion Collection Blu-ray set, ‘The BRD Trilogy.’ My review of ‘Lola’ is below, initially published on Jan. 21, 1983. (The ‘Veronika Voss’ review was in this space last week.)

Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s images of post-war Germany are always bleak, but there is an oddly interesting look to “Lola,” with strikingly gauche colors and lights invading every scene, and transitions that seem designed to make scenes run into one another.

That bit of unique camera trickery alone would make this worth recommending, but the performances are equally as striking, particularly by the lead characters, a seemingly incorruptible public official (Armin Mueller-Stahl) and the cabaret singer who leads him astray (Barbara Sukowa).

“Lola” takes place in the late 1950s, during Germany’s post-war reconstruction era and Fassbinder once again paints a rather unflattering portrait of people, invading their dark sides and seeming to suggest that everyone has his/her emotional price.

     

                      Rainer Werner Fassbinder

His film’s characters always do and this picture offers no exceptions.

In this case, it is a small town with a corrupt building committee that must contend with a new, stiff-necked building commissioner (Mueller-Stahl).

What the commissioner doesn’t know about the seamier side of this berg is that all the men spend their evenings at the local brothel-cabaret, where his own assistant plays sexy songs and the board members spend their nights with the ladies, er, that is, ladies of the evening.

Meanwhile, Lola takes it as a challenge that all the other men in her life seem to feel the commissioner cannot fall and wouldn’t be interested “in a girl like her.” So she seduces him intellectually, eventually reducing him to ashes.

As should be expected, perhaps, the commissioner, in the end, proves as corruptible as any of the townspeople and eventually trades his integrity for his extremely foolish heart.

     

The acting is fine all around, particularly the two leads, and the direction is excellent. Fassbinder’s views of humanity were certainly cynical, but there is no denying that he was a first-rate filmmaker whose eye for the camera was one of the best in the business.

The prolific filmmaker died of apparent suicide late last year, and we are still getting the last few of his films here from time to time.

“Lola” is rated R for nudity, sex and profanity, though all three are rather restrained, considering the subject matter.

It’s not Fassbinder at his best, but it is certainly Fassbinder — eccentric, experimental and fascinating in his approach.


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

HELLO AGAIN

     

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

EDITOR’S NOTE: During and after leaving the hit sitcom ‘Cheers,’ Shelley Long capitalized on her TV celebrity by starring in a string of big-screen comedies, most of which played like failed big-screen sitcoms (‘Caveman,’ ‘The Money Pit,’ ‘Troop Beverly Hills’). And so it is with this one; it’s not unwatchable but it should have been better. Still, this will be a treat for all you Long fans, as Kino Lorber has given the comedy a Blu-ray upgrade in a brand-new release. My review was published Nov. 6, 1987, in the Deseret News.

“Hello Again,” a comedy vehicle for Shelley Long (her first since leaving TV’s “Cheers”), is sort of “Heaven Can Wait” by way of “My Favorite Wife.”

The latter, of course, is the old Cary Grant-Irene Dunne picture (remade with Doris Day and James Garner as “Move Over, Darling”) that had Dunne presumed dead after being lost for several years on a remote island, returning to civilization to find husband Grant about to remarry.

In “Hello Again,” Shelley Long chokes on a piece of chicken and actually dies. A year later her eccentric sister, who runs an occult shop, finds a spell in an old witchcraft book that brings Long back to life.

Not only does Long find her husband (Corbin Bernsen, of TV’s “L.A. Law”) has remarried, he married her best friend. Further, he has sold their home, is living a new high-rolling lifestyle and is none too happy that Long has returned to foul up his life.

     

        Sela Ward, left, Shelley Long, 'Hello Again'

This isn’t really such a bad premise but “Hello Again” is fraught with problems from beginning to end, not the least of which is director Frank Perry’s inability to set up the many slapstick sequences with any finesse.

Long’s character is supposed to be a real klutz and she is constantly tripping, stumbling, knocking over whatever she comes near, and spilling food and drink all over herself. But there is a big difference between clumsiness on the screen that makes us laugh and that which makes us cringe. All too often, this clumsiness does the latter.

Comedy is a delicate art, of course; it’s all in the timing. Unfortunately, the timing is consistently off here. And that’s really a shame because the script, by Susan Isaacs (“Compromising Positions”), contains some very funny material and Long works very hard at trying to make it work.

If that’s not enough, every character in the film — no matter how endearing — is far too underdeveloped. The film’s scene-stealers are Judith Ivey as Long’s eccentric sister and Austin Pendleton as an equally eccentric billionaire, but they simply aren’t given enough to do.

     

Likewise, Bernsen, who is really terrific on “L.A. Law” as divorce lawyer Arnie Becker, a lovable cad, has a truly thankless role as Long’s husband. He is supposed to be a lovable cad here too — and in the second half of the film he certainly is a cad. But before Long dies and despite Bernsen’s desire to climb socially, he seems like a loving, caring, husband. It’s hard to believe he could be so callous about Long’s return from the dead.

Sela Ward, as Bernsen’s money-hungry new wife, fares better, but Gabriel Byrne, as Long’s new love, is so sullen and intense he seems to belong in some other movie.

As for Long, fans will no doubt enjoy her here — it is the first movie she has carried as the lone star, after all. But mugging and pratfalls aren’t enough to save this one. Long is very good and a real charmer but she needed a director that understands comedy.

Director Perry has some good films to his credit but he’s also the man who gave us the wildly over-played “Mommie Dearest.” Subtlety and delicacy have never been his forte and it has seldom been so obvious as in this film.

“Hello Again” is rated PG for a few profanities and a brief shot of Long’s derriere revealed through a hospital dressing gown.