THE BEST FILMS … 40 YEARS AGO
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Nov. 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: As we near the end of 2020 — and if you’re like me, it can’t come fast enough — I’m reminded of the ritual that movie critics go through every year about this time, picking the best (favorite) and the worst (least-favorite) movies of the year. So here’s a look back to my choices 40 years ago. You read that right. Forty years ago. Ouch, I’m old.
Under the headline ‘Hicks picks the flicks — 1980’s 10 best … ” this story was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 31, 1980. And here’s a pop quiz. How many of these titles are unfamiliar? Probably several, I’m thinking. But they are all still worth seeking out. If some of these are films you’ve never heard of, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet. Wait till next week — 1980’s worst films!
In terms of movie history, 1980 will surely go down as one of those years when there were very few films worth noting — especially films from Hollywood.
But it’s always easy to come up with a top 10 list, even in a bleak year like this one. A few national critics have been so discouraged by the movies this year that they have opted to forego the traditional 10 best list — but there have been more than 10 worth noting and some would be at the top of any list any year.
In order of preference, here are my favorites for 1980 (not to say that the very best films are necessarily toward the top):
— Ordinary People. Robert Redford’s superb directorial debut is in a class by itself and, despite its R rating for a single profanity used a few times, it should be seen by families together.
— Coal Miner’s Daughter. You don’t have to be a country-western fan to enjoy Loretta Lynn’s biographical film with an excellent lead performance from Sissy Spacek.
— The Elephant Man. An artistic, moving look at man’s inhumanity to man, using history as a lever, with perfect performances form Anthony Hopkins and John Hurt.
— The Empire Strikes Back. The “Star Wars” sequel was pure fun from beginning to end, even though it didn’t really end. Can we wait two years for “Revenge of the Jedi?”
— The Stunt Man. Of all the movies about movies this one has to be the fastest moving, most mind-twisting of them all. A tribute to what film is all about. Peter O’Toole has never been better.
— Raging Bull. Though this picture won’t be released in Utah until February I include it because you’ll hear a lot about it before you ever see it. An incredible film with an even more incredible performance by Robert De Niro as fighter Jake LaMotta in an uncompromising look at the dark side of a dark personality.
— Brubaker. A hard, rough film with Robert Redford, one of the few in 1980 to make a serious social comment and succeed. Prison life at its worst.
— The Black Marble. One of those overlooked box-office failures, this cops-and-lovers film was a wonderful change-of-pace for Joseph Wambaugh.
— Inside Moves. Schmaltzy and poignant, an exuberant celebration of life about physical and emotional handicaps, and how hard it is to separate the two.
— Resurrection. Ellen Burstyn again proving her considerable worth as an actress gave a great boost to this story of a woman who inexplicably receives the power to heal by touch, and then doesn’t know what to do with it.
I have purposely kept the list to American films (yes, I know “Empire” was filmed in England, but it’s still an American film). Otherwise I’d have to include the excellent Australian film “My Brilliant Career” and the fine Canadian picture “Why Shoot the Teacher?”
All in all, not a bad list, but out of the 200-plus films that qualify as 1980 movies that came through Salt Lake City, a poor percentage.
CHRISTMAS MOVIES GALORE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
If it’s Christmas movies you’re looking for during this pre-Thanksgiving period, local theaters are trying to lure you in, despite our current spike in Covid concerns. Michael McLean’s “Forgotten Carols” gets the big-screen treatment and another Hallmark-ish independent G-rated family film is opening, along with those that arrived last week.
You can also take your check out theatrical revivals of “The Santa Clause” at various Megaplex and Cinemark multiplexes, and the AMC complex in West Jordan is offering “A Christmas Story.”
“The Forgotten Carols” (Not Rated). An elderly patient named John relates the story of Christ’s birth to his skeptical nurse claiming that over the past 2,000 years he has met minor but pivotal biblical characters from the story. With the pandemic upending his annual live production, Michael McLean has filmed his popular stage show for movie screens and stars as John. McLean, of course, also wrote the music and co-wrote the script with his son Scott. Directed by actress Christy Summerhays, who co-stars. Filmed on the Heritage Center Theater stage in Cedar City.
“A Carolina Christmas” (G). In the small coastal community of Paradise, South Carolina, the newly hired City Inspector, a New York transplant, promptly announces that he hates Christmas and plans to shut it down, but a new merchant in town attempts the foil his plans.
“Vanguard” (PG-13). Jackie Chan stars in this Chinese action-comedy as the leader of a covert law-enforcement team trying to protect an accountant from a deadly mercenary organization as events take them to London to South Africa to Dubai.
“Iron Mask” (PG-13). British actor Jason Flemyng returns to his lead role of cartographer Jonathan Green — this time mapping the Russian Far East for Peter the Great — in this follow-up to the 2014 adventure film “Forbidden Kingdom.” Like that film, this one boasts Jackie Chan and Arnold Schwarzenegger in supporting roles.
“Mank” (R). This one is something of a throwback, a black-and-white historical look at Hollywood from the 1920s through 1940, told from the viewpoint of self-destructive alcoholic screenwriter Herman J. Mankiewicz (Gary Oldman) as he races to complete the script for Orson Welles’ “Citizen Kane.” With Amanda Seyfried, Charles Dance, Lily Collins, Arliss Howard. (Debuts on Netflix on Dec. 4.)
“The Last Vermeer” (R). The true story of Dutch folks hero Han van Meergren (Guy Pearce) who swindled millions of dollars from the Nazi regime by selling forgeries of Johannes Vermeer paintings.
“Jiu Jitsu” (R). A master jiu jitsu fighter (Alain Moussi) is helped by an ancient order of jiu jitsu fighters (led by Nicolas Cage) to take on a merciless alien intruder that threatens the human race on planet Earth. With Tony Jaa and Rick Yune.
“Buddy Games” (R). Six lifelong friends who had a falling out five years earlier are reunited for a competition of absurd mental and physical challenges. Actor Josh Duhamel has his first writing-directing credit with this raunchy comedy in which he co-stars with Olivia Munn, James Roday, Devin Dillon and Dax Shepard.
“Fate/Stay Night: Heaven’s Feel III: Spring Song” (Not Rated, in Japanese with English subtitles). Last week theaters that played the first two parts of this trilogy now show the third, a two hours-plus anime about a conflict between magicians.
I LOVE YOU TO DEATH
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Filmmaker Laurence Kasdan took a left turn with this one, a jet-black comedy that found its audience, and holds up today as a surprisingly successful satire. And it’s a true story! Paramount has just release it on Blu-ray for the first time, so here’s may review, published April 6, 1990, in the Deseret News.
"I Love You to Death" is a very dark comedy.
How dark is it? Well, it's about a woman who repeatedly tries to murder her philandering husband, aided by her mother, a young employee of her pizzeria and a couple of drugged-out hippies.
This is dark comedy.
And what makes "I Love You to Death" all the more intriguing is that it's based on a true story. You may remember it, in fact: A previously devoted wife tries to kill her womanizing husband, then he refuses to press charges against her because he feels she was in the right.
As the movie tells it, Kline is an Italian-American who owns and operates the pizzeria in Tacoma, Wash., with his wife Tracey Ullman. She is a plain woman who loves her husband and believes him when he tells her he's working on the plumbing problems in the apartment building they own. Actually, he's having affairs with every woman in the building.
Tracey Ullman, Kevin Kline, 'I Love You to Death' (1990)
When Ullman ultimately discovers the truth, she decides with her mother (Joan Plowright) that the only reasonable punishment for Kline is to kill him.
After a couple of failed murder attempts, they decide to poison his dinner one night by filling spaghetti sauce with three bottles of sleeping pills. When Kline won't die they enlist the aid of an employee at the pizzeria, goofy River Phoenix. He comes over to help but he isn't entirely successful either. So they next hire a couple of drugged-out hippies, played by William Hurt and Keanu Reeves, to do Kline in.
Certainly "I Love You to Death" is offbeat, though the subject of death and murder and even suicide are not unfamiliar to movie comedy — "The War of the Roses," "Heathers," Burt Reynolds' "The End" and the Hitchcock films "Family Plot" and "The Trouble With Harry" come to mind.
But what sets "I Love You to Death" apart is its comic zeal combined with a sense of congeniality developed by the characters. Members of this ensemble cast are all in top form. Kline, though somewhat over-exaggerating his ethnic characteristics, is a blissfully ignorant male chauvinist, and Ullman is perfectly happy — if not completely satisfied — with her subservient life. Until she discovers her husband's unfaithfulness. And Joan Plowright is perfect as Ullman's mother. She even looks like Ullman.
From left, Joan Plowright, Keanu Reeves, River Phoenix, 'I Love You to Death' (1990)
Phoenix is also very good as the spacey young employee who has a crush on Ullman. Hurt and Reeves, both even spacier than Phoenix, are hilarious as the would-be assassins.
But, strangely enough, in a film with as many big laughs as this one has, the biggest comes toward the end when we finally meet Kline's mother, played by Miriam Margolyes with great comic glee (she also played a memorable character in last year's "Little Dorrit" films). And there are a pair of funny in-joke cameos by Kline's real-life wife, Phoebe Cates, and the film’s director, Lawrence Kasdan, respectively.
This is unlike anything Kasdan has done before, though certainly his earlier work has shown a knack for blending comedy with serious themes. And "I Love You to Death" is the first film he has directed that he did not also write, following "The Accidental Tourist," "The Big Chill" and "Body Heat." (He also wrote or co-wrote "Raiders of the Lost Ark," "The Empire Strikes Back" and "Return of the Jedi.")
And first-time screenwriter John Kostmayer has a wonderful sense of the absurd and manages to combine that with an amazing amount of warmth as well. He and Kasdan are a very good team here.
"I Love You to Death" is rated R for violence, a few profanities and a shot of Kline's bare derriere.
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.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: The flawed but entertaining big-screen version of the comic strip-turned-Broadway musical ‘Annie’ returns to theaters this weekend, courtesy of Turner Classic Movies and Fathom Events. You can catch it in various Cinemark and Megaplex Theaters around the valley at noon and 4 p.m. matinees on Sunday, Nov. 22, and Monday, Nov. 23. My review was published on June 18, 1982.
I don’t know which is more elephantine, the movie itself or the massive pre-release publicity, but “Annie,” is here at last.
And most of the criticisms the national press have been giving it are on the money — John Huston’s often stark, gritty directorial style does contrast with the brightness of the sets and dance style; the movie does often seem overblown and underdeveloped; and Carol Burnett’s nasty Miss Hannigan does abruptly become too “nice” at the end.
But one thing many national critics are wrong about is whether “Annie” has heart. I happen to think it does, and I think you’ll feel uplifted and ready to sing “Tomorrow” as you leave the theater.
“Annie” is a spirited return to the “traditional” musical we saw much of in the 1940s, ’50s and early ’60s – and it is a welcome return indeed.
The story is well-known, based on the Broadway hit (in turn based on the popular comic strip). Those who have seen the stage show (I have not) will notice some changes, most notably four new songs, a meeting between Hannigan and Warbucks (Burnett & Albert Finney) and the finale having been changed from Christmas to the Fourth of July.
But none are fatal to the film, flawed as it is.
Aileen Quinn, left, Carol Burnett, 'Annie' (1982)
Aileen Quinn is delightful in the title role, though her thunder is stolen occasionally by an even more endearing youngster, Toni Ann Gisondi as Molly, the lead orphan.
Albert Finney lends an interesting characterization to billionaire “Daddy” Warbucks, who adopts Annie for one week and then embarks on a hunt for her parents, who dropped her off at the orphanage with the promise they’d return.
And Bernadette Peters, Tim Curry and Ann Reinking all lend fine support in underdeveloped roles.
But among the adults, it is Carol Burnett who steals the show. Her Miss Hannigan, the man-hungry orphanage mistress who is seldom seen without a drink in her hand, is a wonderful comic portrait. With more than her share of sight gags (many of which seem improvised), this is without question her finest big-screen role (“Friendly Fire” steals the small-screen honors), and she’s hilarious.
There are obvious comparisons to “Oliver!” the Oscar-winning musical from 1968, and “Annie” is not nearly as good as that one, but Quinn is charming and, as a whole, so is the film.
Albert Finney, Ann Reinking, 'Annie' (1982)
Some of the numbers, “It’s a Hard-Knock Life,” “Maybe” and “Easy Street” are very memorable and while the choreography (by Arlene Phillips of “Can’t Stop the Music”) is often more athletic than dance-oriented, most of it is very good.
Generally, the comic scenes work extremely well, though many of the dramatic scenes seem rushed. The climactic chase sequence ending with a helicopter rescue uses stunt doubles rather poorly, and extremely wasted throughout the film is Geoffrey Holder, a very talented dancer, as Punjab. (That comic-strip character and The Asp, played here by Roger Minami, were missing from the play.)
There is also a ridiculous nod to the supposed need for a PG rating, with a swear word repeated twice in that climax, and a Busby Berkeley-style number, “Let’s Go to the Movies,” including a condensed version of the Greta Garbo film “Camille” (which was actually released in 1936 — a little late for these proceedings), just seems to go on and on.
Aside from those complaints, however, “Annie” fills the bill as an ingratiating piece of family entertainment that adults and kids can enjoy together. The flaws are far outweighed by the pluses, and your movie dollar will be well spent on this musical treat.
THE TWO JAKES
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: If you haven’t ever watched ‘Chinatown’ — and why haven’t you? — it would be wise to check it out before watching this sequel, as explained in my review below, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 10, 1990. Jack Nicholson directed only three movies, and this was the last. Imperfect, to be sure, but not without its rewards, and now it's on Blu-ray for the first time, courtesy of Paramount Home Entertainment. And, of course, doesn’t hold a candle to ‘Chinatown.’ Hey, go watch ‘Chinatown’!
Jack Nicholson has taken a big risk with "The Two Jakes," not just because he's created a sequel to "Chinatown," one of the best-regarded films of the 1970s, and not just because he has directed it, following in the footsteps of Roman Polanski at his peak.
"The Two Jakes" is a risk mainly because it's so unlike any other movie playing this summer and because it is much more a specific extension of the first film's story than any other sequel in years. Also because — let's be honest here — a generation or two has grown up since "Chinatown" and never seen that film.
In fact, even if you have seen "Chinatown," I suggest you rent it again before seeing "The Two Jakes." The latter refers so specifically to the original that if you've forgotten about the character of Katherine Mulwray, you may find yourself lost when "The Two Jakes" reaches its apex about two-thirds in.
Nicholson has tried to make the complex script of "Two Jakes" more understandable by adding a voiceover narration, which is at once sharp-tongued, and annoyingly wordy and cumbersome. An homage to Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles is OK but this is sometimes more a self-conscious copy.
The setting is 1948 Los Angeles, 11 years after "Chinatown," and J.J. Gittes (Nicholson) is a fat cat — successful, a member of a posh country club, engaged to be married, a war hero and at peace with the past. Or is he?
The film opens with a blurry image that is eventually revealed, by the soundtrack, to be a couple making love. As the scene goes into focus we see the image is merely the reflection in a camera lens. Gittes is still doing marital investigations.
Jack Nicholson, left, and Harvey Keitel as 'The Two Jakes' (1990).
The scene that follows is similar to the opening scene in "Chinatown," with Gittes apparently revealing to a client that his wife has been unfaithful. But there is a phoniness to the client's speech. Gradually we see that it's because he's learning a line of dialogue to speak when Gittes helps him burst in on his unfaithful wife and her lover.
This telling scene also reveals that the client is named Jake Berman (Harvey Keitel), a coincidence since Gittes is known as Jake to his friends.
The shocker comes in the next scene, however, as Berman breaks in on his wife (Meg Tilly) and her lover — and Berman shoots the lover dead.
Where'd Berman get the gun? Why did he do it?
Things get all the more suspicious when Gittes discovers that Berman and the victim were business partners — and now Berman gets the entire business to himself.
Was it a setup? Was Berman's wife in on it?
Meanwhile, Gittes has a wire recording of the event, and everybody from cops to hoodlums is trying to get it from him. But on the recording Gittes hears the name Katherine Mulwray, causing the events that occurred in "Chinatown" to flood his mind as he becomes obsessed with finding her.
What follows is a very complex mystery that really is a direct extension of the first film rather than the usual remake-sequel that stands on its own. It is therefore ironic that the title, "The Two Jakes," while a welcome relief from the many numbered titles in theaters right now, does not indicate its original source. Moviegoers who go in blind will likely find themselves confused.
Nicholson's performance is flawless, making Jake more mellow but still the same man from the first film, and though his direction is full of impeccable detail and thoughtful setups, there is much less urgency here than in "Chinatown." Thankfully, however, Nicholson had no compunctions about making a linear movie that lets its story unravel naturally, without distracting car chases, music videos and unwarranted gunplay.
Robert Towne's script is no less convoluted than the story he wrote for the first film but this time the story, while interesting, is much less compelling. (To be fair it should be noted that Towne's screenplay reportedly underwent extensive rewrites.)
The rest of the cast is top-notch and it's especially nice to see Eli Wallach and Richard Farnsworth in roles with some meat to them. Would that they had more screen time.
Fans of "Chinatown" will also be pleasantly surprised to see a number of character actors repeating their roles from that film, including James Hong as Kahn, Perry Lopez as Capt. Escobar, Joe Mantell as Walsh and Allan Warnick as the Hall of Records clerk.
There is much to enjoy in "The Two Jakes" but there's also the haunting notion that "Chinatown" was one of the last movies that needed a sequel. And yet, "The Two Jakes" is like revisiting an old friend many years later. A lot has changed and not always for the best. But it's still fun getting together.
"The Two Jakes" is rated R for violence, profanity, sex and vulgarity.