For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we watched ‘Crocodile Dundee’ again the other night — a film that holds up quite well as a very funny comedy — my wife Joyce commented that she appreciated the music score because it was gentle and understated rather than showy, signaling how the audience is supposed to react, which is unlike background music in a lot of films. That reminded me of this column, published in the Deseret News on Feb. 8, 2013, which, of course, tackles the subject using a movie that was new that year as a negative example, but then goes on to praise an old classic for its use of music — another classic, by the way, that holds up wonderfully.
A couple of films my wife and I took in last week, one new and one old, offered up a surprising perspective on the way movies are made and how effectively, or ineffectively, too much showy technique can influence the outcome.
On Tuesday we took in “Mama,” a PG-13 horror movie that proved to be much better than most modern fright flicks, a ghost story with an interesting plot that holds interest and works pretty well … until it falls apart in the finale.
I won’t give it away except to say that a choice at the end seems to undermine everything that’s gone before, something an awful lot of genre movies do today by violating the very rules they set for themselves. The apparent idea is to add one last twist that might give the film some memorable moment to distinguish itself, but which too often, as in this case, just causes the audience to scratch its collective head and ask, “Say what”?
There are many examples but it’s a discussion that’s difficult to have without giving away “spoilers,” so, lest I be inundated with outraged emails, we’ll save it for another time.
Even more than its wrong-headed denouement, what really struck me about “Mama” from start to finish was how it used music and extremely loud, booming sound effects to bolster scenes that are intended to startle, but which became an annoying cliché before the film was half over. The effect, instead of fright, caused me to wonder if the filmmakers simply lacked confidence in their work, falling back on a bag of technical tricks to overcompensate.
The frightening apparition of 'Mama' (2013)
Take for example the first time we see a ghostly apparition, which occurs as two young girls are being led by their father to the proverbial “cabin in the woods.” As they approach the structure the oldest girl looks at a window and sees a fleeting shadowy figure. Lest we misinterpret this moment, just as this mysterious shape appears there is a thunderous boom.
I couldn’t help but wonder how much more effective that scary introduction to the title apparition might have been in silence, with just the ambient sound of the forest. And the question returned every time one of these ear-splitting pronouncements occurred, and they arrived with some regularity. It couldn’t have been more obvious if instead we saw printed on the screen each time, “This is a scary bit.”
Of course, silence is a rare commodity in modern movies. The thinking seems to be that today’s attention-deficit audiences won’t tolerate any scene that is not filled with music, either orchestral or, more often these days, a pop song with lyrics that tell us precisely what we’re supposed to be feeling.
All of which brings me to the older film we saw the very next day, “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid,” part of Cinemark’s “Classic Series.”
I’ve seen “Butch & Sundance” many times but never in a theater. I was overseas courtesy of the Army when the film was initially released in 1969 and only caught up with it later on TV and home video. So this was a real treat.
And when you see a movie in a theater, as opposed to watching it at home even under the best possible conditions, you always pick up on something that perhaps went unnoticed before. Maybe it was seeing “Mama” the day before but the thing that struck me on this viewing was the way the film used its background score. And even more significantly, when it didn’t.
There are many moments in “Butch & Sundance” with no music at all, quiet, pensive sequences that work just fine the way they are, thank you. But which, if filmed today, would undoubtedly be packed end-to-end with boisterous orchestrations.
This was driven home all the more by the auditoriums on either side of the one showing “Butch & Sundance,” which sent the thundering soundtracks from whatever films were playing through the walls so that we heard a distant pounding, rousing music, screaming, yelling, automatic weapons firing, whatever. Especially when our film was silent.
Despite that minor distraction, however, Butch, Sundance and their gang did just fine as they robbed trains and banks, jabbed each other with comic digs and asked that inevitable question about the posse that just wouldn’t give up on them: “Who are those guys?”
There was gunfire, a train car was blown up, orchestral background music came and went, and B.J. Thomas sang “Raindrops Keep Fallin’ On My Head.” But when it fell into moments that were quiet, with just the sound of horse’s hooves or rustling leaves or general body movement, it was actually quite an effective technique.
It’s a lesson that should not be so lost on 21st century filmmakers. Just because it’s old school doesn’t mean it’s not a better choice.
LIAM RIDES AGAIN
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021
Liam Neeson’s annual thriller “Honest Thief” opened in theaters in October and it’s still in a couple of local multiplexes, so it’s a bit surprising that another one opens this weekend. That and a documentary about the FBI’s attacks on Martin Luther King are the highlights.
Unless you’re a fan of Indian cinema that is, in which case you might be in heaven with an American production set (and filmed) in India, along with three genuine Bollywood flicks.
Of course, all of that is contingent on your being willing to venture out to a movie theater during this time of Covid. If it helps, socially-distancing procedures are in place.
“The Marksman” (PG-13). Liam Neeson is a former Marine living on the Arizona border when he encounters a young boy on the run from a drug cartel. He agrees to take the boy to family in Chicago but their trip won’t be easy.
“MLK/FBI” (Not Rated). This documentary explores the investigation and harassment of Martin Luther King Jr. by the FBI, using new information provided by documents that have been recently declassified.
“Don’t Tell a Soul” (R). Two teenage brothers (Jack Dylan Grazer of “It” and Fionn Whitehead of “Dunkirk”) burglarize a business for cash to help their sick mother but are confronted by a security guard (Rainn Wilson), who gives chase. But when the guard falls into a deep abandoned well he tries to negotiate with the boys to help him get out, though they are unaware of a threatening secret he holds. With Mina Suvari.
“The White Tiger” (R). Based on the best-selling novel, this drama is narrated by a poor villager in India who worms his way into becoming the driver for a wealthy family. But when he is betrayed and forced to confess to a crime he did not commit he begins to fight back against what he sees as a rigged system. (Debuts Jan. 22 on Netflix.)
“Master” (Not Rated, in Tamil and Telugu with English subtitles). This Indian film follows an alcoholic professor sent to a juvenile school where he soon discovers that a gangster is using the children to commit criminal activities.
“Krack” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). This one is based on the true story of a tough cop who breaks the rules to take down bad guys.
“Red” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). A man is arrested for murder but both he and the police are unaware that the crime was actually committed by a lookalike.
Among the older films that are in theaters this week are “Selma,” “The Emperor’s New Groove,” “Spider-Man: Into the Spider-Verse” and only at the AMC West Jordan theaters, “Abominable.”
BEVERLY HILLS COP
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 15, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: In this era of Black Lives Matter, it seems fitting to look back at ‘Beverly Hills Cop,’ the picture that put Eddie Murphy into the movie-star stratosphere. Having recently seen the film again, the criticisms in my original review of (gulp!) some 36 years ago still stand, but so does my praise. It’s violent and profane but it ’s also hilarious. And Paramount Home Entertainment has decided to use it to lead a new DVD collection of 14 of Murphy’s flicks. This review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 8, 1984. Oh, and isn’t it quaint to recall when admission to a movie theater was 5 bucks!
Yes, it’s foul-mouthed, and yes, it’s quite violent — but “Beverly Hills Cop” is also the most spirited, action-packed and hilarious movie to come along in quite some time.
You’ll have to check your inhibitions at the door and forgive some excesses to get into this one. But once you do, you’re guaranteed 90 minutes of nonstop laughter.
“Beverly Hills Cop” marks Eddie Murphy’s solo debut, after having supported (and stolen the show from) Nick Nolte, Dan Aykroyd and Dudley Moore in his first three films. And he’s more than up to the task.
Whether he’s intimidating the white establishment, lying his way through an illegal police investigation or reacting to the bizarre things going on around him, Murphy commands our attention and rewards us with his unique brand of humor, which is, more often than not, right on target.
The film begins with Murphy involved in some kind of illegal transaction in the back of a van. The exchange is interrupted by police, and the thugs dealing with Murphy hop in the truck and lead a wild chase, smashing and crashing through the streets of Detroit. It’s a harrowing beginning to a movie that is alternately suspenseful and comic with equal intensity.
Murphy is revealed to be an undercover police detective, young and overly ambitious with more enthusiasm than experience, and a street-smart, wiseacre attitude that drives his boss up the wall.
That night, Murphy meets up with an old buddy he hasn’t seen for years, a friend from school who has been in prison and who is apparently up to something illegal again. He’s been in Beverly Hills, he explains, and is just in Detroit for a stopover. They go out, and when they return to Murphy’s apartment the friend is brutally murdered by a couple of thugs.
Murphy surmises the two hoods are from out of town so he takes vacation time, hops in his beat-up jalopy and drives to Beverly Hills, where his casual attire and mouthy attitude immediately clash with the uptight, posh surroundings.
The culture clash here is the main running joke, of course, especially as Murphy begins his investigation and interacts with the Beverly Hills police force, chiefly a team comprised of a weary veteran (John Ashton) and a wide-eyed rookie (Judge Reinhold).
Murphy begins to uncover a major drug operation fronted by a powerful art dealer (Steven Berkoff), and with the help of another old schoolmate (Lisa Eilbacher), unravels the mystery. Along the way, of course, he gives the Beverly Hills force a lesson in taking action and covering your tracks.
There are many wonderful vignettes here, as when Murphy, staying in a plush hotel, distracts Ashton and Reinhold by having room service delivered to their car as he stuffs the tailpipe with a banana. Or when he gives a fellow black officer a dressing-down for not sounding black enough. He also does a number of very funny characterizations to get past intimidating officious types.
John Ashton, left, Eddie Murphy and Judge Reinhold, 'Beverly Hills Cop' (1984).
Murphy’s energy propels what might otherwise simply be a contrived, rather silly plot that has too many holes. For example, why would a powerful art dealer risk everything to deal drugs? Why would he hire hit men who are such lousy shots? Why, when he’s barely been provoked, would he take violent action that is bound to attract police attention? Furthermore, we never get a real sense of the strong bond between Murphy and his friend who is murdered, and they and Eilbacher seem very unlikely as previous school buddies.
But none of this really matters very much. This is comedy, wild, free-spirited and farcical, designed to lace an edge-of-the-seat action picture with deadpan one-liners, wild physical humor and an innate sense of fun.
Some may take offense at the constant use of Murphy’s favorite R-rated word and there is a tasteless scene in a strip joint (that includes some nudity). And I felt the violence was far too bloody and frequent for what is essentially a light comedy. And still others may be put off by the script’s suggesting we should lie whenever we want to get around rules that seem ridiculous or to protect ourselves.
Still, “Beverly Hills Cop” is less violent and hard-edged than Murphy’s first film, “48HRS.” And no one can make up a tale like Murphy. There’s no message here to worry about; it’s all in the spirit of fun.
Murphy is helped a great deal by his co-stars, especially Reinhold, who gets more than his share of laughs (the only time Reinhold and Ashton falter is during an ill-conceived Laurel & Hardy bit in the middle of a shootout).
Martin Brest (“Going in Style”) has directed “Beverly Hills Cop” with a fine sense of humor and a sharp eye for suspenseful action, though he is a bit less successful at blending the two. And the script (by first-time screenwriter Daniel Petrie Jr.) is very good.
But Murphy is the main reason to see this, and if he can keep up the laugh ratio in the future, his name will always be enough to part with $5.
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.
BOYZ N THE HOOD
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 1, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: John Singleton died last year at age 51 but he will always be remembered for the critically and commercially successful drama ‘Boyz N the Hood,’ which debuted at the Cannes Film Festival and earned him status as the first black filmmaker to be nominated for a best-director Oscar, and as the youngest person to be so nominated. He was 24. To celebrate the film’s 30th anniversary Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events are presenting a big-screen revival that will play in local Megaplex and Cinemark multiplexes on Sunday, Feb.. 28, and Wednesday, March 3. My review was published on July 14, 1991.
"Boyz N the Hood" could easily be dismissed by cynics — in particular those who haven't seen it — as just another angry black film finding its way into theaters on the heels of Spike Lee's mainstream, studio-backed success. And the cynic in me does see that as part of the reason Columbia Pictures picked up this low-budget independent picture.
But "Boyz" is the best so far of the string of such movies we've gotten recently because it is more thoughtful than angry and focuses on its characters rather than their tragedies.
Actor Ice Cube and writer/director John Singleton on the set of 'Boyz N the Hood' (1991).
The central character in this ensemble piece is young Tre (Desi Arnez Hines II), whom we meet when he's 10 years old. His mother reluctantly decides to let him move in with his father (Larry Fishburne), whose South-Central Los Angeles neighborhood seems to be a fairly ordinary, lower-income suburb — until you start noticing the background noises and the subject of the conversations between Tre and his friends.
The sounds are sirens and helicopters, so distracting that we see at one point a high school girl at home unable to concentrate on her studies. Casual conversation often centers around drugs, sex and drive-by shootings, all ordinary, everyday concerns to these kids.
After Tre settles in and the characters are established, "Boyz" jumps forward seven years as Tre (now played by Cuba Gooding Jr.) and his buddies are seniors in high school.
His best friend Ricky (Morris Chestnut), a football star who is attracting college scholarship attention, is saddled with a young wife and child; Ricky's brother Doughboy (rap star Ice Cube) is into drugs and theft; another friend has wound up in a wheelchair, apparently the result of a drive-by shooting; and Tre is frustrated with his chaste girlfriend. All are worried and confused about their futures — if they have futures.
Ultimately, they will become involved in the neighborhood violence they've strived so long to avoid, with tragic results. But 22-year-old writer-director John Singleton isn't a doomsayer. And while there are lengthy speeches here about solutions to problems, he manages to avoid preachiness or the temptation to justify radical action.
Rather, he approaches the subjects he raises quite simply, suggesting each person is responsible for his or her own actions. And in the end, though there is certainly tragedy and frustration, Singleton also allows a glimmer of hope.
Though "Boyz N the Hood" does falter here and there, overall it is very affecting, with many powerful moments and understated performances. Singleton proves he understands the language of the medium better than many of his more seasoned peers.
It is unfortunate, however, that Singleton includes what have become the clichés of wall-to-wall profanity and graphic sex, since those elements may well limit his audience.
The film is rated R for considerable profanity, as well as violence, sex, nudity, vulgarity and drugs.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Jan. 15, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Arnold Schwarzenegger and Danny DeVito were big stars in the 1980s and putting them together for ‘Twins’ must have seemed like a genius proposition — and it paid off, since the film, despite my misgivings in the review below, was a big hit, slotted comfortably as the 16th biggest moneymaker of 1988. In fact, the stars are being reunited for a belated sequel titled ‘Triplets,’ with Eddie Murphy rounding out the titular trio. And ‘Twins’ has now earned a new Blu-ray release from the Shout! Factory, with a pair of new featurettes for fans. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 9, 1988.
“Twins” is what is known in show business as a “high-concept movie.” That is, it’s a sure-fire idea with a sure-fire pair of stars.
Unfortunately, it is also what critics refer to as a “boardroom movie.” That is, it looks as if it was conceived by a bunch of “suits” (businessmen) sitting around a huge table discussing movie clichés that must be included to ensure a film’s commercial success.
Personally, I’m convinced that a really good movie, whether it is a “commercial” concept or not, will wind up being commercial. If it’s really good, word-of-mouth will ensure staying power.
From left, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Kelly Preston, Danny DeVito, Chloe Webb, ‘Twins’ (1988)
But what usually happens with “high-concept” movies that have no real thought behind them is that they do very well at the box office for two or three weeks, then quickly fade away. The super-fans of the stars get out to see the film right away, but it does nothing beyond that.
There are exceptions, of course. Mediocre films like “The Golden Child” and “Coming to America” did incredible box office business just because Eddie Murphy fans will go see him in anything — and then they’ll go see it again and again. Similarly, “Scrooged” is presently riding on Bill Murray’s coattails.
This is all leading up to the review of “Twins,” an idea by director Ivan Reitman (“Ghostbusters”) about Danny DeVito and Arnold Schwarzenegger playing twin brothers who don’t know of each other’s existence until they are adults.
The idea was turned over to two sets of screenwriting partners who turned it into a formula sitcom.
This is basically a one-joke movie, a joke that stretches pretty thin. DeVito is a streetwise conman in Los Angeles and Schwarzenegger is a naïve innocent reared on a remote island. Schwarzenegger goes to L.A. to look up DeVito, his first visit to “civilization,” and the standard fish-out-of-water gags ensue.
Danny DeVito, Arnold Schwarzenegger, 'Twins' (1988)
Then DeVito steals a car that has something in the trunk that is supposed to be delivered to an unscrupulous Texan, and pretty soon there are chases and shootouts and all the standard bad-movie formula fare.
The sad thing about all of this is that, surprisingly, Schwarzenegger and DeVito are quite good together, and Schwarzenegger’s naïve innocence is the perfect foil for DeVito’s wiseacre smart-guy. (The in-joke when Schwarzenegger compares his biceps to a huge poster of Sylvester Stallone from “Rambo III” is an especially nice touch.)
If Reitman and his screenwriters had just been confident enough about their stars’ ability to carry the material, “Twins” could have been a much more enjoyable film. As it is, the two-star rating is just for the two stars.
“Twins” is rated PG for violence, profanity, implied sex, vulgarity and a quick nude shot when a Playboy magazine is opened.