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SMALL SCREEN DISTORTS BIG-SCREEN FLICKS

     

This frame-grab example (of 1962's 'The Music Man') shows how much is lost when a widescreen image is given the pan-and-scan (aka 'full frame') treatment.

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Having cut the cable cord some years ago my wife and I watch DVDs/Blu-rays and Netflix, along with a very few network shows on local channels via a digital antenna (a real throwback to the ‘rabbit ears’ we had in the 1950s and ’60s). Among those local channels are several that screen TV shows from way back when and old movies, interrupted by drug and insurance commercials aimed at vintage viewers like us. The surprise, however, is that the movies are often vintage pan-and-scan TV prints made before the advent of widescreen televisions, shifting the image from side to side and cutting off half the picture. Which reminded me of the ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column reprinted below, which was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 6, 1987, under the headline: ‘TV turns great films into commercial pap.’

Have you noticed how dismally theatrical films play on commercial television these days?

With apologies to TV critic Joe Walker, on whose territory I now trod, it was hard not to take notice last week that “Gandhi,” in its network television debut, was right down at the bottom of the Nielsen ratings. Down there with some of my favorite TV programs, like “Sledge Hammer!” and “Beauty and the Beast.” (OK, so now you know why I’m the movie critic and not the TV critic.)

Granted, “Gandhi” was shown over two nights by CBS, the conclusion airing on Thanksgiving Day, hardly one of the hottest prime-time network spots of the year, but would very many people have watched it at a better time? Probably not.

      

Let’s face it, theatrical movies, no matter how popular or how many Oscars they’ve won, have already played out in theaters, on video and on cable long before they come to network TV.

When I saw the ads for “The Empire Strikes Back” being shown on NBC a couple of Sundays ago I couldn’t help but wonder if anyone would be watching. If you have an interest in that movie, not only have you likely seen it more than once — you probably have a copy in your own home collection! (Which brings to mind a suggestion — why hasn’t’ someone taken the three “Star Wars” movies and added outtake footage and shown it in a miniseries format, a la “The Godfather Saga” of a few years ago?)

And with irritating commercial break-ins every 10 or 15 minutes, movies are even less appealing on network television.

And now come the results of a recent survey by A. C. Nielson Co., which reveals that as of November, half of America’s TV watchers now own videocassette recorders. And they also have cable.

     

According to the figures, 50.5 percent of all U.S. households subscribe at least to basic cable now, and more than half also have their own videocassette recorders and tape many of the programs for viewing at another time.

The survey doesn’t say so, but the other half of America’s TV-watching households probably rent videocassette players from time to time.

Another aspect of the survey shows that network television programs are those most often taped — which means people are fast-forwarding through commercials.

If people would rather see “L.A. Law” and “Moonlighting” as 50-minute shows sans ads, they most certainly feel that way about much-longer movies.

So if you want to see “Gandhi” or “The Empire Strikes Back,” are you going to watch it on network TV and waste an extra hour or two in commercial interruptions, or are you going to spend $2 to rent it from your corner video store?

You don’t have to be a network executive to figure out that one.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

FANTASTIC BOASTS: THE CRIMES OF OSCAR

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

Family films and potential Oscar-bait are starting to creep into theaters, which will only increase as we approach Thanksgiving and then Christmas.

“Fantastic Beasts: The Crimes of Grindelwald” (PG-13). Dark wizard Grindelwald (Johnny Depp) escapes captivity with a plot to recruit pureblood wizards and witches, and take over the world from the non-magical populace. A sequel to “Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them” of a couple of years ago, set in the “Harry Potter” world. With Eddie Redmayne back as Newt Scamander, along with Katherine Waterston, Dan Fogler, Zoë Kravitz and Jude Law.

“Instant Family” (PG-13). This domestic comedy has a married couple (Mark Wahlberg, Rose Byrne) deciding to test-run their idea of having a family by taking in a foster child, preferably a small boy or girl. Instead, they find themselves saddled with a rebellious 15-year-old (Isabela Moner) and her two younger siblings. With Octavia Spencer, Tig Notaro, Margo Martindale, Julie Hagerty and Joan Cusack.

  

“Widows” (R). When an infamous bank robber (Liam Neeson) and his two partners are killed during a botched job, his grieving widow (Viola Davis) recruits the other two widows (Michelle Rodriguez, Elizabeth Debicki) to help her pull off a job of their own after being threatened by one of their husbands’ victims. With Colin Farrell, Jacki Weaver, Lucas Haas and Robert Duvall.

“A Private War” (R). Rosamund Pike stars as ill-fated, real-life British war correspondent Marie Colvin, who felt compelled to chronicle events in frontline confrontations around the world that affected helpless civilians, putting herself in danger to alert the world of injustices. With Jamie Dornan, Stanley Tucci and Tom Hollander.

“Boy Erased” (R). This true story focuses on Jared, a college freshman (Lucas Hedges) who is sexually assaulted, which prompts him to reveal to his parents that he is gay. Jared’s father, a Baptist preacher (Russell Crowe), enrolls him in a gay therapy-conversion program, but upon discovering that the chief therapist (Joel Edgerton) is an abuser, Joel’s mother (Nicole Kidman) intervenes, which leads to friction at home. With Cherry Jones. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)


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

BOGART & BACALL: THE COMPLETE COLLECTION

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The four films that Humphrey Bogart and Lauren Bacall made together in the 1940s are keepers, and three of them are genuine four-star classics. So it’s nice to see Warner Archive offering all four in a new compact Blu-ray set that includes all the previous editions’ copious bonus features. What follows is an edited compilation of mini-reviews of the four films published in the Deseret News on the occasion of earlier DVD and Blu-ray releases (2003-16), as well as excerpts from the my review of the 1997 reissue of an alternate version of ‘The Big Sleep.’

“To Have and Have Not” (1944). It’s the summer of 1940 in the French colony of Martinique, which is controlled by Nazi sympathizers, and a cynical opportunist (Humphrey Bogart) makings money by chartering his fishing boat to tourists. But when he’s approached to help the French Resistance, he balks. But, hey, we know he’ll come around; after all, any resemblance to “Casablanca” is undoubtedly intentional.

All of this plotting, however, plays second fiddle to the crackling chemistry between Bogie and, in her first film, Bacall. There is also scene-stealing comic relief from Hoagy Carmichael and Walter Brennan.

     

The result is a rousing adventure, directed by Howard Hawks, and it’s filled to the brim with witty dialogue — although remains most famous for bringing together Bogart and Bacall. They fell in love during filming and married after the picture’s release. (Included are a documentary about the film, a 1946 radio version with Bogie and Bacall, and a cartoon spoof, with an unfortunate racially insensitive climax).

“The Big Sleep” (1945-46). One of the best film noir thrillers ever made, this one is stylishly directed by Howard Hawks and stars Bogart as private eye Philip Marlowe, while young, stunning and dangerously alluring Bacall brings the heat. Also here are a bevy of first-rate character players (Elisha Cook Jr., Bob Steele, Martha Vickers), along with very young future Oscar-winner Dorothy Malone as a sexy bookseller.

The mysteries plotted out here are layered and somewhat confusing but there are enough laugh-out-loud quips and one-liners to keep you from caring. (My personal favorite comes at the beginning when Martha Vickers says to Bogie, “You’re not very tall, are you?” And he replies, “Well, I try to be.”)

     

This disc includes the 1945 version of this thriller that was released overseas, as well as the 1946 U.S. theatrical version that includes additional material shot a year after the film was completed (along with a documentary explaining why and the differences between the two versions). Both are fascinating, though the later, “official” version, ramped up the sexual tension between Bogie and Bacall at the expense of plot.

“Key Largo” (1948). John Huston’s excellent crime thriller is set against a raging hurricane in the upper Florida Keys and boasts an all-star cast. Bogie leads the roster as an ex-GI who is paying a visit to the widow (Bacall) and father (Lionel Barrymore) of a World War II military pal who died in combat.

     

The father and daughter a hotel that houses a bunch of seedy guests (including Claire Trevor as an alcoholic) and they are in the midst of battening down the hatches against the coming storm when a sadistic gangster (Edward G. Robinson) shows up — and the games begin.

“Dark Passage” (1947). This offbeat melodrama/murder mystery stars Bogart as a San Quentin escapee who was wrongly convicted of murdering his wife. After his escape, he gets plastic surgery and tracks down the real killer. Agnes Moorehead memorably co-stars as a shady lady who helped put him away.

     

The first third of the film hides Bogie’s face with a first-person point of view (similar to what Robert Montgomery did with “Lady in the Lake”), then he’s in bandages for the middle third.

True, the story is highly implausible but the film is still entertaining. The star power helps immensely and fans shouldn’t be disappointed.


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

THE PRINCESS BRIDE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: This popular fairy tale spoof will play on the big screen Tuesday, Nov. 20, at 10 a.m. at the SCERA Theater in Orem. And if you can’t get to that, a new Blu-ray edition with lots of bonus features is now available on the boutique label, Criterion Collection. Here’s my review, published Oct. 9, 1987, in the Deseret News.

William Goldman’s popular novel “The Princess Bride” has at last come to the screen, adapted by Goldman himself. And why not? Goldman has two Oscars on his mantle already (for “Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid” and “All the President’s Men”), and he’s given us “Marathon Man,” “Harper” and many others in the past.

And Rob Reiner, whose “Stand By Me” and “The Sure Thing” proved that movies about kids don’t have to be stupid, has directed with great affection for the material and a wonderful sense of comedy.

On the surface these two men may seem like odd collaborators for this venture, considering that it is very much a movie quite unlike anything either has done before. But consider this: Goldman’s “Princess Bride” is to “Robin Hood” what “Butch Cassidy” was to “The Searchers.” He has somehow managed to affect both an homage to the genre and a spoof of same.

You may recall that “Butch Cassidy” was a similar accomplishment. His western managed to really be a western in every best sense of that word, yet he had great fun spoofing cowboy-movie conventions. And “The Princess Bride” is very much a fairy tale/adventure that would be great fun on its own but with an added dimension of hilarious comedy. (Reiner’s first was “This Is Spinal Tap!” both a satire of rock documentaries and at the same time a very real-looking documentary-style homage to rock music and musicians.)

This was indeed the perfect match after all.

     

'Inconceivable!' Mandy Patinkin, left, Wallace Shawn, Andre the Giant, 'The Princess Bride'

“The Princess Bride” also manages to correctly capture Goldman’s story-within-a-story motif. As the film begins, a modern-day young boy (Fred Savage) is sick in bed. When his mother enters his room he switches off his video games but he soon wishes she’d left them on. Grandpa (Peter Falk) comes in and announces he would like to read the boy a fairy tale.

The lad’s reluctance gradually lets down, however, as he interrupts his grandfather, at first complaining that this sounds like “a kissing book,” but eventually because he can’t wait to find out what’s going to happen next.

Meanwhile, the story Grandpa is reading unfolds before us as we meet Buttercup (Robin Wright) and her true love Westley (Cary Elwes).

Westley goes off to find his fortune, vowing to return to Buttercup, but word eventually comes back to her that he has been killed by a pirate. So Buttercup allows herself to be betrothed to the kingdom’s evil prince (Chris Sarandon), not realizing he plans to kill her. Then. …

Come to think of it, I don’t want to give too much away — so suffice to say there are kidnappings, giants, magicians, monsters and all sorts of other wonderfully funny and scary things going on here — including the most hilarious fencing match (between Mandy Patinkin and Elwes) since Danny Kaye squared off against Basil Rathbone in “The Court Jester” — adding up to completely enchanting entertainment for all ages.

     

Very young children will doubtless be frightened by the sea serpents and giant rats but for the most part this is one of those rare films that will delight every age group.

“The Princess Bride” isn’t perfect. There are technical glitches, such as edited camera shots that don’t quite match and cardboard mountains and trees that look very much like cardboard mountains and trees — but for me that just added to the zany sense of fun. And it could be argued that Billy Crystal, under tons of makeup, doing a Mel Brooks-style “2000-Year-Old-Man” voice as an aged sorcerer, is out of place — but he’s so funny you won’t care.

Both Goldman and Reiner deserve applause for their accomplishment, and the wonderful cast (did I mention Wallace Shawn, Christopher Guest, Carol Kane, Peter Cook and Andre the Giant?) is obviously relishing every moment.

This is in some ways a non-vulgar, Americanized version of how Monty Python might do a fairy tale. And it is great fun from start to finish.

“The Princess Bride” is rated PG for violence (there is some blood, several deaths and a couple of torture scenes) and two profanities (one spoken by the young boy in bed, one by Patinkin).


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

HEAT AND DUST

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 16, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before coming up with such international Oscar-winning blockbusters as ‘A Room With a View,’ “Howards End’ and “The Remains of the Day,’ the Merchant-Ivory folks came up with this little gem, which has just received a Blu-ray upgrade from the boutique label, Cohen Film Collection. Here’s my review, published Feb. 24, 1984, in the Desert News.

“Heat and Dust” is hot, but not dusty, an intriguing look at passion and deceit amid the sand dunes of India, in both the 1920s and modern times.

Julie Christie, who has been away from films far too long, stars in the modern-day narrative as Anne, a woman who is obsessed with the past, especially as it relates to her free-spirited Aunt Olivia (Greta Scacchi). Anne interviews the elderly Harry (Nikolas Grace), who was a friend of her aunt’s and who became involved in the events that led to a scandal among the Britons stationed with the Army in India in the 1920s.

She discovers that Olivia, though the wife of a tradition-bound military man, Douglas Rivers (Christopher Cazenove), was unable to fit in with the rest of the military wives at the post and found herself drawn to the romantic ideal of India. She was also drawn to the Prince of the State, The Nawab (Shashi Kapoor), which led to a torrid affair — and the aforementioned scandal.

     

          Shashi Kapoor, Greta Scacchi, 'Heat and Dust'

After interviewing Harry, Anne travels to India to see where it all happened and she runs into a number of interesting characters herself, including an American (Charles McCaughan) who is looking for spiritual peace, and Inder Lal (Zakir Hussain), the head of the household where she is staying, and with whom she begins an affair.

The two stories are not told in linear fashion, but instead blend together with scenes from the ’80s juxtaposed with scenes from the ’20s. The idea is to offer a parallel between the lives of Anne and Olivia, and that turns out to be one of the film’s difficulties. The jumping back and forth in time is occasionally frustrating, with the audience just getting interested in one story when it switches to the other.

And except for the R-rated explicitness of certain scenes, “Heat and Dust” resembles, in truncated form, one of those British miniseries we so often see on Public Television. Occasionally there seems to be something missing and sometimes the pace is too slow. Had it been cut into a couple of one-hour chunks, with one long flashback bookended by Anne’s story, the narrative might have worked better.

As it is, “Heat and Dust” is not the great epic romance that was attempted but it is still a very enjoyable one. The use of India locations is fabulous (and should be especially so to snowbound Utahns), the photography and sets are gorgeous, and the actors are uniformly excellent.

     

Christie is wonderful, though hers is hardly the lead role, and Shashi Kapoor and Greta Scacchi are very good together. Also particularly good is Nickolas Grace as Harry, a man torn between the role he would like in life and the one he must choose.

The film tends to play fast and loose with our romanticized idea of India but there is a nice sense of storytelling here and a calm, quiet, almost moody reverence to the overall tone of the film

Obviously, my feelings about “Heat and Dust” are mixed but if the premise interests you, you will more than likely enjoy it.

Though rated R — and deserving of that rating, for sex and nudity, some profanity and sex jokes — the explicitness here is not quite as graphic or gratuitous as most R-rated movies these days.