BLOG: New thoughts/old stories BLOG: New thoughts/old stories

BOX OFFICE ALSO DIPPED 36 YEARS AGO

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 9, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: OK, the dip in box-office revenues for the summer of 1985 may have seemed troubling when it happened but it’s nothing compared to 2020, of course, when theaters closed down for many months due to the pandemic. At the time, however, it was devastating to the industry that so many movies thought to have hit potential failed at the box office. Worse, the drop-off went from the summer’s 10 percent to 17 percent by the end of the year. Good movies bring more people into theaters and bad movies keep them away; that’s just the way it is. This ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column was published in the Deseret News on Sept. 8, 1985, and for the dollar figures given here, you might want to double or even triple them to get an idea of how much of a difference inflation has made for the 2021 equivalents.

 

In case you’re interested — and of course you are — this summer’s box office results dropped 10 percent from last year’s, according to Variety, the show-biz trade paper.

 

From Memorial Day to Labor Day, the summer season according to Hollywood, movie theaters across the country took in 400 million tickets. That sounds like a lot, but it’s actually 14 percent under last year’s total.

 

Ticket sales brought in $1.42 billion, which also sounds like a lot, but it was 10 percent below the summer of 1984, which took in $1.58 billion.

 

And who were the big winners, you ask?

 

“Rambo: First Blood Part II” ranks No.1 this summer, raking in some $146 million, followed by “Back to the Future,” which has earned $133 million and is still going strong.

 

Those were the only two summer movies to go over the $100 million mark, gaining super-hit status. Last summer there were three – “Ghostbusters,” which gained $188 ½ million during the summer ($220 million altogether), along with two Steven Spielberg productions, “Gremlins” and “Indiana Jones and the Temple of Doom.”

 

 

 

Other movies that made profitable showings this summer include “Cocoon,” which took in $69 million; “The Goonies,” with $61 million; “A View to a Kill,” $50 million; “Pale Rider,” $41 million; “Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome,” $34 million; the re-release of “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial,” $33 million; “Prizzi’s Honor,” $24 million; and “Fright Night,” $22 million.

 

“Fletch,” “Brewster’s Millions,” “National Lampoon’s European Vacation” and “Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure” also made good showings at the box office and have gone well into the black (and “Pee-wee” is still doing well).

 

Of course, profits are relative to cost, and Clint Eastwood’s “Pale Rider,” for example, can be considered a major success because it earned $41 million and only cost $7 million to make. That’s not in the same class as Eastwood’s “Sudden Impact,” which took in more than $70 million – but because it cost so little make, "Pale Rider's" $41 million qualifies as solid hit-making bucks.

 

Likewise, “Fright Night” cost $7 million and earned $22 million – it too is a hit. And “Mad Max,” “Prizzi,” “Fletch” and “Pee-wee” were relatively inexpensive productions that made respectable profits.

 

On the other hand, “Silverado” earned $27 million, but because it cost $23 million to make it is still in the red. (Remember, a film must earn at least twice its production cost to begin earning a profit, cost figures that don’t include promotion and advertising, which are often as much as $5 million alone.)

 

 

 

But that’s better than some big-budget films did. A number cost an awful lot to produce and were megaduds. Disney’s “Return to Oz” cost $25 million to make and bombed out almost immediately; “Lifeforce,” which also cost $25 million, did well it’s first week, taking in $4 million, but then virtually disappeared from the charts as business dropped off completely.

 

Other expensive flops included “The Black Cauldron” ($25 million), “Explorers” ($24 million) and “Perfect” ($17 million). “The Legend of Billie Jean,” “Real Genius,” “My Science Project,” “The Bride,” “Secret Admirer,” “The Heavenly Kid,” “Red Sonja” and “The Man with One Red Shoe” all died early deaths as well.

 

Look for them in your local video stores soon – very soon.

 

As to why ... well, that’s anyone’s guess. Westerns obviously are still weak box office entries, if not the box office poison Hollywood had thought. And teen films with hit songs (“Billie Jean”) and R-rated sex (“Secret Admirer”) are not automatic hits. And animated films (“Cauldron”) need to be scaled down to reach their limited audience (“The Care Bears Movie” cost nearly nothing and made a very good profit, for example.)

 

Good movies, i.e. “Prizzi,” “Fletch,” “Mad Max,” “Cocoon,” etc., usually do pretty well – but if they cost too much, as with “Silverado,” they may not garner hit status.

 

Bad movies, i.e. “The Goonies,” also can do well – particularly if Steven Spielberg’s name is attached. And Spielberg was imprinted on two other hits this summer – “Back to the Future” and “E.T.”

 

So perhaps the only given is that Spielberg remains the king of summer flicks. Everything else is pure speculation.

 

And, as they say, that’s show business.

 

EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: By the end of 1985 ‘Back to the Future’ had risen to the top, bumping ‘Rambo’ down to No. 2 for the summer, and it fell to No. 3 by year’s end. Still, among the end-of-the-year top 10 box-office winners, six that had been released during the summer: ‘Back to the Future’ (at No. 1) ‘Rambo’ (3), ‘Cocoon’ (5), ‘The Goonies’ (7), ‘Fletch’ (8) and ‘A View to a Kill’ (10). But how many of these titles are you interested in watching again today? Note, for example, that despite its success, ’A View to a Kill’ is now, arguably, considered the worst James Bond movie in the franchise. The next year, 1986, box-office earnings improved considerably. Hollywood is hoping that will happen again this year as theaters re-open and delayed blockbusters are released. And if ‘Godzilla vs. Kong’ is any indication it looks like that could happen.


New Movies In TheatersThis Week New Movies In TheatersThis Week

WHERE NO ONE WANTED TO GO BEFORE

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 9, 2021

 

Pickings are slim for new titles in theaters this week as “Godzilla vs. Kong” continues to roar at the box office, occupying multiple auditoriums in all the local multiplexes. And speaking of local multiplexes, the Redwood Drive-In has re-opened for the summer; it’s also playing “Godzilla vs. Kong.”

 

“Voyagers” (PG-13). Thirty young men and women are sent deep into space on a multi-generational mission in search of a new home but when the crew reverts to a primal state their madness butts up against reality. With Tye Sheridan, Lily-Rose Depp, Colin Farrell.

 

“Moffie” (Not Rated). This South African biographical film is set in 1981 as a gay teen struggling with his identity enters his two-year compulsory military service, where he meets another gay teen and their relationship puts both in danger.

 

“Karnan” (Not Rated, in Tamil with English subtitles). Even has his neighbors are being tortured by a police officer, a youth strives to fight for the rights of the people in his village in this Indian action drama.

 

“Vakeel Saab” (Not Rated, in Telugu with English subtitles). The life of a criminal lawyer is explored in this Indian drama.


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

RUNAWAY TRAIN

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 9, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: If the ‘Fast & Furious’ franchise is any indication (No. 9 arrives in theaters on June 25) movies today don’t need a lot of plot anymore, just a ridiculous amount of over-the-top, gravity-and-physics-defying stunts. And if that’s all you want, you might enjoy ‘Runaway Train.’ I was disappointed some 35 years ago that the film had so many story problems but today it may fare better with less discriminating action fans. Kino Lorber has give the film a Blu-ray upgrade so you can judge for yourself. This review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 24, 1986.

 

Essentially combining two violent genres, “Runaway Train” is a prison-escape picture that turns into a disaster picture … in more ways than one. The real disaster is the script, as contrived as they come.

 

But that’s not meant to simply dismiss the film since “Runaway Train” boasts some harrowing suspense sequences and an offbeat trio of performances from its stars. (If you see Rebecca DeMornay in “The Trip to Bountiful,” you’ll never recognize her here — the role and the look are that different.)

 

In the lead is Jon Voight as a convict so hardened the warden has welded him into his cell in an Alaska prison. Through a civil rights suit, and after three years in that cell, Voight is finally let out to sojourn with the other prisoners.

 

Voight is a little hard to take as a brutal killer, and it doesn’t help that he plays the character as if this were a sequel to “The Champ,” looking and sounding like an over-the-hill pug. Still, it’s an undeniably interesting characterization.

 

          

 

                Jon Voight, 'Runaway Train' (1986)

 

In the yard, Voight meets up with groupie Eric Roberts, in another of his patented whiny punk roles, and as might be expected Voight becomes a target of the warden and his cohorts, prompting him to attempt an escape.

 

And escape he does, reluctantly with Roberts in tow, and after an incredible trek through the snow they come upon a railroad yard and board a train — four engines locked together. But as the train pulls out, the engineer suffers a heart attack and falls out of the cab, leaving the train to barrel 90 miles-an-hour down the track.

 

It takes Voight and Roberts a while to catch on to what’s happening. Soon they stumble upon railroad worker Rebecca DeMornay and together they try to get to that front engine so they can stop the train.

 

That’s about it, story-wise, but there are some genuinely spine-tingling moments as the film progresses.

 

Those are rather isolated moments, however. On the whole the film suffers from several problems — the aforementioned contrivances, an obnoxious performance by Eric Roberts, a pace that simply begins so frenetically it can’t be built upon and a general feeling that the entire production is a bit overwrought.

 

          

 

This is also a very grimy movie. In contrast to the white snowcapped surroundings, the people and everything they touch are without exception filthy and horrifying, and the cinematography is deliberately gray and dingy. You may want to head directly for a shower when it’s over.

 

Andrei Konchalovsky, the Russian director of “A Slave of Love” and “Siberiade,” is a stylish filmmaker and “Runaway Train” boasts individual scenes that manage to transcend the rest of the film, lyrical moments that indicate the film that might have been. But in the end he is overwhelmed by the material.

 

This is a movie for action buffs who don’t care that their movies have plot holes bigger than the tunnels the train goes through. And given the rapid movement of it all, the action alone may be enough for some.

 

“Runaway Train” is rated R for violence, nudity and an abundance of profanity.


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.

Older Movies On the Big Screen Older Movies On the Big Screen

LA BAMBA

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 2, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: This fine rockin’ 1950s-era biography is (gulp!) 35 years old now and Fathom Events has decided to give it a big-screen revival. Not a bad idea. You can catch it at some local theaters on Sunday, April 18; Wednesday, April 21; and Thursday, April 22. My review was published in the Deseret News on June 24, 1987.

 

According to “La Bamba,” 1950s rock ’n’ roller Ritchie Valens was a virtual saint, managing somehow to keep himself outside the influence of his evil brother Bob.

 

And when he began to rise as a singing sensation, Ritchie also kept his perspective, remaining loyal to his family and friends. Bob just got jealous.

 

On the surface that might seem to be fairly tame stuff for an ’80s biographical movie on the brief life of a ’50s rock star (Ritchie Valens died in the plane crash that also killed Buddy Holley). But in the hands of writer-director Luis Valdez and his excellent cast, “La Bamba” is a well thought-out serious drama with a strong message for youth — one that is played out, not preached.

 

As the film tells it, Ritchie was a sweet-natured, gentle teenager from a poverty-ridden but close-knit family of migrant workers. Though his father is dead when the film opens, Ritchie’s mother holds the family together.

 

          

 

Esai Morales, Lou Diamond Phillips, 'La Bamba' (1987)

 

Meanwhile, brother Bob returns to the family from prison and talks his mother into moving to Southern California. It’s no surprise to us, however, that they find life is just as rough in the land of plenty.

 

For Ritchie, however, life revolves around rock and roll. This is the Fifties, after all, that period of time when rock music was evolving and coming into its own. And Ritchie was writing his own songs and carrying his guitar with him everywhere he went.

 

The film follows his rapid rise in the music industry but the central focus is on the relationship between Ritchie and his brother, who is an alcoholic prone to abusing his common-law wife while running drugs up from Mexico.

 

The movie offers no particular explanations for how Ritchie managed to stay so pure while his brother was so nasty but it does show in subtle ways the important influence his mother had on the family, and how focused and mature Ritchie was for his age.

 

Valdez’s writing is crisp and his direction forthright, and though there is built-in sentiment here he manages to keep the tale from getting sloppy. And his cast is terrific.

 

          

 

Lou Diamond Phillips, Danielle von Zerneck, 'La Bamba' (1987)

 

Films that hone in on “good vs. evil” always run the risk of having “evil” look so much better, just because the role is inherently more flamboyant (look at “The Untouchables,” for example — bland Eliot Ness doesn’t have a chance against flamboyant Capone in the eyes of moviegoers). And occasionallyEsai Morales, as Bob, does dominate the film by sheer force of acting power.

 

But Lou Diamond Phillips, as Ritchie, has a strong screen presence and manages to hold his own most of the way. Both are charismatic actors and both handle their roles superbly, though my guess is Oscar-voters will remember Morales’ performance longer than Phillips’.

 

Despite the necessarily tragic ending to this story, “La Bamba” is surprisingly upbeat, and somehow we have the feeling, right or wrong, that after the film’s story is over Bob will somehow straighten himself out.

 

“La Bamba” is rated PG-13, and despite its violence, sex, brief partial nudity, profanity and drugs, it’s a fairly soft PG-13 most of the way. These elements never seem exploitive, but always inherent to the story. And how many movies can you say that about these days?


New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II New DVDs/Blu-rays, Part II

DRIVING MISS DAISY

          

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, April 9, 2021

 

EDITOR’S NOTE: In these days of ‘wokeness’  movies like ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ are often disparaged because of emphasis on white characters over black characters, and in this case the white actor (Jessica Tandy) won the best-actress Oscar for her performance, while the black actor (Morgan Freeman) had to make do with a nomination for his role (he lost to Daniel Day-Lewis for ‘My Left Foot’). ‘Daisy’ specifically has even become an easy punchline for jokes about Hollywood suppressing black performers. But it also won the Oscar for best picture of 1989, and Freeman’s presence has a lot to do with that, so I’m not alone in my opinion that the criticism is unwarranted and unfortunate. ‘Driving Miss Daisy’ holds up well and all the actors (including Dan Aykroyd, who was also Oscar-nominated) are terrific. You can judge for yourself with a new Blu-ray upgrade courtesy of Warner Archive. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 26, 1990.

 

Adapting plays to the movies is always an iffy prospect. If the story is “opened up” too much, with extra characters and locations, it can lose its intimacy. If the story remains too close to its stagebound roots it can become cinematically dull.

 

But every now and then a stage adaptation comes along that manages to be faithful to the play’s best interests and yet open it up just enough to make for a cinematic treat, and such is “Driving Miss Daisy.”

 

Led by riveting performances from Morgan Freeman and Jessica Tandy, this Pulitzer Prize-winning comedy-drama is utterly enthralling, though also quite spare and intimate.

 

Director Bruce Beresford, an Australian who seemed right at home in America’s South with “Tender Mercies” and “Crimes o the Heart,” has returned triumphantly to that area in creating this wonderfully delicate masterpiece, largely through the fine performances of its stars.

 

          

 

Morgan Freeman, Jessica Tandy, 'Driving Miss Daisy' (1989)

 

Tandy is the title character, a wealthy 72-year-old Southern matron, a Jewish woman in the Christian Bible Belt of 1948 as the film begins. After an accident with her car she is nagged into allowing a driver to be hired by her protective son Boolie (Dan Aykroyd, who is also convincing and never resorts to any of the shtick you might expect).

 

Boolie hires Hoke (Freeman), a black 60-ish widower and chauffeur whose patience seemingly knows no limits. At first Miss Daisy wants nothing to do with Hoke. She is a stern, stiff-necked woman with pride as big as all outdoors, and she’s humiliated by her inability to drive herself.

 

Not one to give up easily, however, Hoke, after sitting around the house with nothing to do for his first week of employment, follows her int the car as she walks to the store one day. Embarrassed, she reluctantly climbs into the back seat.

 

Thus begins a tenuous relationship that will span the next 25 years in the changing South. And they will change with it.

 

But this isn’t a movie about people who make some remarkable lifestyle switch in the last five minutes. Rather, Alfred Uhry’s touching and very funny screenplay, based on his own play, shows the gradual change that creeps inside these characters.

 

          

 

Miss Daisy, though she considers herself a liberal Southerner, exclaiming repeatedly, “I am not prejudiced,” hangs on to longtime traditions.’’When she thinks Hoke has taken something from her she says, “These people are always stealing things.” And when she has an extra ticket to a dinner honoring Martin Luther King, she doesn’t even consider that Hoke might like to attend. During the latter scene she comments that she’s glad to see things change. But Hoke mutters, “Things haven’t changed all that much.”

 

Needless to say, Morgan Freeman, who continues to grow as one of the American movies’ finest actors, and Jessica Tandy, who is certainly one of our national treasures, will be remembered come Oscar-nomination time. And Aykroyd will surprise you as a character who ages 25 years in a very natural and realistic manner.

 

“Driving Miss Daisy,” which is rated PG for a single profanity uttered by Aykroyd, is an extremely moving film with some hilarious moments. And though the screenplay obviously offers the humor, it is the actors’ inflections and twists on words that give the comedy its real impact.

 

Beresford has also managed an incredibly authentic look to his period piece. It’s fascinating, for example, to notice in the background during a scene on an old country road that old-style cars are driving by while Hoke and Miss Daisy exchange casual dialogue in the foreground. It would have been much easier to keep all the traffic out of the shot, but Beresford goes the extra mile here, as he does throughout the film.

 

It’s easy to see why “Driving Miss Daisy” is on so many national critics’ top 10 lists, this who saw the film before 1989 came to a close. This is indeed among the year’s very best pictures.