Vintage Deseret News Columns Vintage Deseret News Columns

STUFF YOURSELVES WITH THANKSGIVING MOVIES

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: If you’re looking for a movie set against Thanksgiving, here are some suggestions in a column published in the Deseret News on Nov. 22, 2013.

Not that we couldn’t see it coming but it pains me to read that major retailers are jockeying so hard to be first in line for Black Friday that it’s going to start this year on Thanksgiving day. Or rather, Thanksgiving night.

Great. Christmas has become “Merry Holiday” and now Thanksgiving is turning into “Black Thursday.”

Of course, if you were to judge by some of the movies set against that holiday (“Less Than Zero,” “Home For the Holidays”) you might think the name “Black Thursday” applies.

But there are, of course, a number of movies with Thanksgiving themes that are quite wonderful, so if you need something to help you mentally prepare for next Thursday’s feast-a-thon, here are some suggestions to get you in the mood.

“Planes Trains & Automobiles” (1987) is, hands down, the most popular film set around turkey day, a very funny John Hughes picture with uptight Steve Martin unhappily saddled with outgoing, bombastic John Candy as they battle the elements to get home for Thanksgiving.

“Avalon” (1990) is one of my all-time favorite movies, Barry Levinson’s very personal, Baltimore-based ensemble comedy-drama about a large extended family over some 50 years. Thanksgiving is a central element and includes a very funny running gag regarding when to carve the turkey. Armin Mueller-Stahl and Aidan Quinn head the wonderful cast, and Randy Newman provides one of his most evocative musical scores.

 

“Hannah and Her Sisters” (1986) is considered by many to be one of Woody Allen’s finest films, with a great cast (Michael Caine, Barbara Hershey, Mia Farrow — and Dianne Wiest, who won an Oscar for her role here). This one is a seamless blend of comedy and drama spanning two years, and includes three extended-family Thanksgiving dinners, two of which open and close the story.

“Broadway Danny Rose” (1984) is another sentimental comedy by Allen, a black-and-white shaggy-dog story with Allen as the title character, a low-rent talent agent. The film offers a nice backstage look at fringe performers and the film ends with a sequence that includes an offbeat Thanksgiving dinner. Mia Farrow co-stars.

“Pieces of April” (2003) is a mixed bag but Katie Holmes gives a career-best performance as a young woman in a small Manhattan apartment trying to impress her dysfunctional family by cooking Thanksgiving dinner. And then her stove breaks down. Patricia Clarkson, Oliver Platt and Derek Luke are also quite good.

“Grumpy Old Men” (1993) is a very funny, but also quite vulgar, comedy with old pros Jack Lemmon and Walter Matthau pursuing Ann-Margret, and the film has a pivotal Thanksgiving sequence. Terrific supporting cast includes Burgess Meredith, Kevin Pollak and Daryl Hannah.

“Alice’s Restaurant” (1969), based on Arlo Guthrie’s famous satirical song and starring Guthrie himself, is a meandering, uneven but generally genial hippie comedy set around what happens after a Thanksgiving dinner and how it later affects Guthrie’s draft status at a military induction center.

And, of course, there are memorable Thanksgiving moments in the two versions of “Miracle on 34th Street” (1947 and 1994), the Fred Astaire-Bing Crosby classic “Holiday Inn” (1942), and there’s a funny spoof of the first Thanksgiving in “Addams Family Values” (1993).

 

There are a number of other films built around or featuring the holiday but they are less recommendable.

Two dreary dysfunctional-family comedies are “Home for the Holidays” (1995), with an all-star cast (Holly Hunter, Robert Downey Jr., Anne Bancroft) bickering for two hours, and the even darker “House of Yes” (1997), with a lower-tier cast (Parker Posey, Tori Spelling, Freddie Prinze Jr.) being inappropriate for two hours.

Then there are these less-than-funny comedies: John Hughes’ road-trip farce “Dutch” (1991), with a blue-collar nice guy (Ed O’Neill) intent on delivering his girlfriend’s bratty kid for the holiday; the Pauly Shore vehicle “Son-in-Law” (1993), about which no more need be said; the slapstick misfire “Goin’ Fishin’ ” (1997), with Danny Glover and Joe Pesci trying to make like Laurel & Hardy; and “Jack and Jill” (2011), with Adam Sandler as the titular twins.

Other Thanksgiving-period movies include the downbeat drug addiction melodrama with Robert Downey Jr., “Less Than Zero” (1987); the bombastic Oscar-winner for Al Pacino, “Scent of a Woman” (1992); the downbeat Charlize Theron-Keanu Reeves romance “Sweet November” (2001); the arms-length domestic drama “The Ice Storm” (1997), with Kevin Kline and Sigourney Weaver; the dour romantic comedy “Sweet Hearts Dance” (1988), with Don Johnson and Susan Sarandon as a couple whose marriage is on the rocks; and the Ben Stiller-Eddie Murphy caper comedy “Tower Heist” (2011).

There are many others, of course, including a spate of horror films, capped by “Thankskilling” (2009), about a crazed turkey killing students over Thanksgiving break.

All of these movies may be set on or around Thanksgiving but whether they deserve thanks is another matter.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

IT’S SOME BIRDS, IT’S SOME PLANES

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017

Another superhero blockbuster is expected to dominate this weekend’s movie business, DC’s answer to Marvel’s Avengers, but there are also some promising counter-programming choices on hand.

“Justice League” (PG-13). This direct sequel to “Batman v Superman: Dawn of Justice” finds Batman (Ben Affleck) and Wonder Woman (Gal Gadot) teaming up with The Flash (Ezra Miller), Aquaman (Jason Momoa) and Cyborg (Ray Fisher) to take on monsters threatening the planet. With Amy Adams, Jeremy Irons, Diane Lane, Connie Nielsen and J.K. Simmons. And, despite being presumed dead, will Superman (Henry Cavill) show up? Is the sun yellow?

“Wonder” (PG). Julia Roberts and Owen Wilson are the parents of a young boy (Jacob Tremblay) with Treacher Collins Syndrome, resulting in disfigured facial features after multiple surgeries. When it is decided he should attend public school for the first time, he has difficulty navigating his own insecurities and local bullies, but eventually makes friends and finds his way. Based on the popular novel. With Mandy Patinkin and Sonia Braga.

 

“The Star” (PG). This musical animated feature is about the birth of Christ but it’s told from the point of view of comic anthropomorphic animals. Hmmm. The voice cast includes Keegan-Michael Key, Kelly Clarkson, Patricia Heaton, Anthony Anderson, Kristin Chenoweth, Tracy Morgan, Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, Kriss Kristofferson, Christopher Plummer, Gabriel Iglesias and Mariah Carey.

“Lady Bird” (R). Indie star Greta Gerwig wrote and directed this fictionalized autobiographical comedy-drama about a Catholic high school senior (Saoirse Ronan) trying to figure out what she wants and how to get it, circa the early 2000s. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

  

“The Square” (R, in English, and in Swedish with English subtitles). This Swedish satire takes aim at the modern-art world and, to a larger extent, the foolishness of humanity, as an egotistical museum curator aspires to altruism with a supposedly revealing installation, but then responds rather shamefully when his cell phone is stolen. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Jane” (NR). Jane Goodall, the 83-year-old primatologist who is the world’s foremost expert on chimpanzees, is the subject of this film, which focuses on her early years, and her groundbreaking research and field work. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Dealt” (NR). This documentary is about blind magician Richard Turner, who is most famous for his card-trick performances, during which he never reveals to the audience his visual impairment. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)


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

THREE O’CLOCK HIGH

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: This minor teen comedy was filmed in Ogden, Utah, so it’s of greater interest locally than it might otherwise be. The Shout! Factory has given the film a Blu-ray upgrade for its Shout Select label. Here’s my Oct. 9, 1987, Deseret News review.

First-time director Phil Joanou shows some snazzy promise in this first-time feature, and as a protégé of Steve Spielberg it’s no real surprise that his film is made for a major studio — Universal — and that it’s slick, glossy and, most of the way, a smooth, technically adept picture.

But it is also quite self-consciously artsy, with the camera zooming all over the place, with angles that seem to be purely for show-off effect rather than for the emotion of the moment and with a teeny-bopper storyline that is all too ordinary.

Of the latter, however, Joanou apparently has tried to turn that story into a spoof of the teen-movie genre itself. How many films have we seen in recent years where — sooner or later — the school nerd is beaten up or threatened by the school bully? Most notable among these is “My Bodyguard.”

“Three O’Clock High,” more or less, takes the conventions of these pictures and stands them on their respective ears, with zany, off-the-wall touches that sometimes lend the proceedings some wonderful humor.

Unfortunately, we’re talking about a genre that is itself self-spoofing. And how do you spoof a spoof? This is much the same problem that Mel Brooks ran into with “Spaceballs,” though since he threw all convention to the wind (as usual), he was able to — for fans of his at least — pull it off.

     

              Casey Siemaszko, 'Three O'Clock High'

Joanou has obviously been influenced by modern film as much as older film, and though there are some unabashedly old-fashioned touches here, “Three O’Clock High” sometimes looks like an early reject of the Coen Brothers, who recently gave us “Raising Arizona.” Perhaps it is no coincidence that Joanou has used their cinematographer, Barry Sonnenfeld, though one wonders who influenced whom.

At any rate, the premise here is quite simple: A mild-mannered kid named Jerry (played by Casey Siemaszko, who amazingly resembles a young Billy Crystal) is assigned to do a story for the school paper on the new kid in school — Buddy Revell (Richard Tyson).

Revell has been transferred out of every other school in the district because when he gets violent he doesn’t care whether he’s punching out a teacher or a student. He also hates to be touched.

Naturally, Jerry inadvertently touches him. Rather than leave Jerry a heap on the floor, however, Buddy challenges him (orders him would be more correct) to a fight when school lets out, at 3 o’clock, in the school parking lot.

The rest of the film has Jerry dreading the moment, constantly glancing up at the school’s clocks, which seems to be ticking down his life — and which also seems to be ticking much more loudly than usual. He tries various schemes to get out of the fight, and notices an inordinate amount of violent scenarios that are going on around him — his teachers graphically describe bloody massacres, the pep squad uses baseball bats to rip to pieces the school’s football rivals, in effigy, of course, etc.

     

    Richard Tyson, Casey Siemaszko, 'Three O'Clock High'

Some of this is really very funny — especially his inadvertent seduction of one of his teachers. But much of it falls flat.

Still, though Joanou may be self-conscious when it comes to placing his camera, he has a good sense of comic timing and handles the actors very well.

When you compare “Three O’Clock High” to most other recent teen films — including “Like Father, Like Son,” “Can’t Buy Me Love” and “Mannequin” — it looks very good indeed. But I fear that is rather faint praise.

As a postscript, this, as you no doubt know, is the movie that was shot in Ogden last year, almost entirely in Ogden High School, and Joanou shows off the school and Ogden’s gorgeous mountain range to great advantage.

“Three O’Clock High” is rated PG-13 for violence and 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 from my some 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 still writing for the D-News, but this is mostly archival stuff (with permission), 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.

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Click here for Deseret News interview.

Click here for Deseret News review.

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Golden Oldies On the Big Screen Golden Oldies On the Big Screen

JOHN CLEESE AND THE HOLY GRAIL

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 17, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Monty Python veteran John Cleese will appear live at the Eccles Theater in downtown Salt Lake City on Sunday, Nov. 19, following a screening of ‘Monty Python and the Holy Grail,’ to talk about the movie and take questions from the audience. To get you in the mood, here’s my interview with Cleese, published in the Deseret News on Aug. 5, 1988, to publicize ‘A Fish Called Wanda,’ which he co-scripted and starred in.

Monty Python fans know John Cleese as the tall, slightly balding fellow who bought a dead parrot, headed up the Ministry of Silly Walks and whose job it was to instigate verbal repartee at the Argument Clinic.

“Fawlty Towers” fans know Cleese as Basil Fawlty, a proud, stubborn, irascible nincompoop who hates people, complicated by his being the owner of a hotel.

And if you’ve ever seen the Clios in the annual Hansen Planetarium show, you know that Cleese has a couple of award-winning commercials in the program nearly every year.

Cleese’s most frequent character has been the pompous, self-important Englishman who deflates all around him until he is ultimately himself deflated.

And to some degree, that describes the character he plays in his latest film, “A Fish Called Wanda.”

But in “Wanda” there is a difference. Cleese co-wrote the film himself, and his own character is much more rounded than usual. And that added dimension gives him an edge he has seldom, if ever, had on the screen before. It makes him … dare I suggest … lovable.

“We stumbled towards that,” Cleese explained in a telephone interview from a San Francisco hotel. “Reading through the script some months before, it became apparent my character didn’t work. It was too much of a caricature.

“Everyone prevailed upon me to make him more realistic and vulnerable, because if the love story didn’t work, the film wouldn’t work. Once I said OK it became a most enjoyable experience.”

The love story has Jamie Lee Curtis, as an American jewel thief, wooing Cleese, a British attorney, to find out where her incarcerated boyfriend stashed their stolen diamonds.

But, as Cleese points out, the audience has to believe Cleese is really falling for Curtis. And because his character is so endearing that is precisely what happens.

Though it is replete with ’80s sensibilities, hence the R rating, “A Fish Called Wanda” is in many ways a throwback to the old Ealing Studios caper comedies of the 1950s that often starred Alec Guinness or Peter Sellers.

     

It’s hard to believe that’s an accident, especially since one of those great classics, “The Lavender Hill Mob,” was directed by the man who also directed “Wanda” — Charles Crichton.

“It was intentional and it wasn’t,” Cleese said. “I knew I wanted to work with Charlie Crichton (who is now 78) and he was one of the great Ealing directors.

“But then there is this American element to the plot.”

The American element is two of the film’s main characters being Americans, played by American actors Curtis and Kevin Kline. This was purposeful by Cleese, a commercial gesture so that the film would play well in this country, but also because he has always wanted to show the contrasts between English and American cultures.

“This was something I had wanted to do for years, even when I was married to my first American wife (Connie Booth, who co-wrote and co-starred in ‘Fawlty Towers’; they divorced and Cleese is now married to another American woman, Barbara Trentham).

“I wanted to write a play that would show two British and American intermarried couples — the man being an American in one couple and the woman an American in the other. All these attitudes always fascinated me. After all, I’ve had two American wives, I’ve spent two-and-a-half years in America, most of my friends now are American and I have two half-breed daughters.”

The ensemble cast for “A Fish Called Wanda” is rounded out by another Monty Python veteran, Michael Palin, who plays a stuttering environmentalist who ultimately commits accidental mayhem to three dogs.

“I know Mickey so well — after all, we started in English television together 22 years ago — that we have a great rapport. He more or less just trusted me to (write his role). And he is an English character.”

For the characters played by Curtis and Kline, however, Cleese sought a lot of input from the two players.

“I can hear English dialogue much better than I can American dialogue.”

Though “A Fish Called Wanda” opens in most of the country, including Salt Lake City, today, it has been playing in some larger urban centers around the United States for a couple of weeks. And it’s doing, as they say in show biz, “blockbuster” business.

     

“I’m surprised that it’s taken off the way it did,” Cleese said. “I always knew that the sort of Americans I knew socially would love it, but not that it would be this successful.”

But then Cleese admits to still being baffled by the enormous success in this country of the Monty Python movies and TV shows.

“It is inexplicable to me how successful it is around the world. I think it must be that underlying attitude toward life. The people who thought we were just silly were not always the people who could see that behind that silliness was an abstract thought that was quite interesting — quite often an absurd way of putting forth a perfectly reasonable idea.”

And will there ever be another Monty Python project now that Terry Gilliam, a former animator for the group, is a successful director (“Time Bandits,” “Brazil”), and the others — Palin, Terry Jones, Eric Idle and Graham Chapman — all have their own ongoing projects?

“There’s the very talk of our 20th (anniversary) celebration next year, of doing a small stage show somewhere, though I’ve no idea where that would be.

“But apart from that, not any prospect of our getting together to do a film again.

“I liked having 40 percent of the say in ‘Wanda.’ Charlie always had a large part of the say, but everyone else had only a small part of the say.

“I disagreed in many of the decisions of ‘The Meaning of Life’ (the last Python movie project). And what would Terry Gilliam do? He wouldn’t want to go back to doing animation, but Terry Jones has always directed the movies.”


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

INTO THE NIGHT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 3, 2017

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s an amusing but unnecessarily violent comedy that offered Jeff Goldblum a rare leading-man role. Since Goldblum is co-starring in the new “Thor” movie right now and the Shout! Factory has given the film a new Blu-ray upgrade, here’s my March 8, 1985, Deseret News review.

The trouble with John Landis is excess. He never knows when to hold back.

“Kentucky Fried Movie,” “National Lampoon’s Animal House,” “The Blues Brothers,” “An American Werewolf in London,” “Trading Places,” even the Michael Jackson video “Thriller” — what they all have in common is overkill, in one department or another.

And so it is with his latest, “Into the Night.”

This film might have been better had it been packaged as a supplement to Trivial Pursuit, since there are dozens of movie directors in bit parts, and two in major supporting roles — Paul Mazursky and Roger Vadim.

While film buffs are playing “spot the director,” however, those who are trying to follow the film may have more trouble.

“Into the Night” begins quite well, with poor Jeff Goldblum suffering from mid-30s burnout. His job is a drag, his life is routine and he’s just discovered his wife is cheating on him.

     

            David Bowie, Jeff Goldblum, 'Into the Night'

As if all this isn’t enough, he’s had insomnia for months. And that’s what leads to the film’s plot. While driving around late one night, unable to sleep, Goldblum parks underground at the Los Angeles Airport and Michelle Pfeiffer literally falls into his life.

She is on the run from four Iranian killers (one of them played by Landis himself) because she has stolen six precious emeralds. She teams up with Goldblum, and for the next two days they are on the lam together.

There are some very funny turns, such as Pfeiffer’s brother being an Elvis freak, but there are also some extremely violent scenes that tend to knock the comedy to the floor.

Occasionally “Into the Night” seems on the verge of really catching fire, but mostly it just meanders about, not knowing what it wants to do or be. The plot twists are illogical and ridiculous, and because the film is not paced as a farce they are hard to accept. Too often the goings-on are entrenched in realism — shockingly horrifying realism — and it’s quite jarring.

Goldblum, who has been an outstanding supporting player for years (“The Big Chill,” “The Adventures of Buckaroo Banzai,” “Invasion of the Body Snatchers”), fares as well as he can in “Into the Night,” though he seems to be taking his insomniac role a bit too far most of the time, walking about in a trance. Pfeiffer, however, is enchanting.

     

Others, like Kathryn Harrold and Richard Farnsworth, are utterly wasted, with very little to do. And, in addition to “spot the director,” you can play “spot the guest star,” which is easier — Dan Aykroyd, David Bowie, Irene Papas and Vera Miles among them, all in small roles.

One of the trademarks of a Landis film is the breaking of his toys, i.e., the sets. He seems to love to destroy things, and this film is no exception, as everything from Elvis memorabilia to furniture is trashed. (No one in an ape suit this time, though.)

There is also another strange trait here; the killers are so mean they even kill animals, specifically a dog and three parrots. People die just as easily, and there are several brutally bloody killings. One death in particular, a drowning, seems completely unnecessary and cruel.

Still, the film does have its moments, and there are a few scenes here that are quite funny. Landis has a fine sense of comedy, but he could use a collaborator to pull in the reins from time to time. His movies always have nice moments, but they are so raggedy in spots, you just know they could be better.

“Into the Night,” rated R for violence, nudity, sex and profanity, is a very cynical film, one that seems to take an odd pleasure in the grotesque.