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ART v. ENTERTAINMENT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: While promoting his upcoming film ‘The Irishman,’ filmmaker Martin Scorsese stirred up some dust in an Empire magazine interview where he said of the Marvel superhero movies, ‘ … that’s not cinema.’ Various movie folk have been defending Marvel and others have been thoughtfully examining Scorsese’s discriminatory view of ‘movies’ vs. ‘cinema’: ‘Honestly, the closest I can think of them, as well made as they are, with actors doing the best they can under the circumstances, is theme parks. It isn’t the cinema of human beings trying to convey emotional, psychological experiences to another human being.’ Coincidentally, I stumbled across a story I wrote for the Deseret News headlined, ‘Artsy or not, all movies are works of art,’ published June 13, 1980.’ The titles change but the arguments remain the same.

Movies are the most total and encompassing art form we have. … — Pauline Kael

The term “art,” when applied to film, causes the public to avoid theaters as they would a boring acquaintance.

“Art films” have a bad reputation among average moviegoers, justified by the notion that if a film is artistic, it has to be boring, dull and symbolic to the highest cerebral degree. It’s not that we don’t like to be made to think, it’s just that when we’re polishing off a hard week’s work with a night out at the flicks, we want to be entertained — and we’ve somehow come to believe that if a movie is going to make us think, it won’t entertain us.

So “Star Wars” and “Superman” and “Every Which Way But Loose” break box-office records, and lesser-known quantities that may be equally entertaining but aren’t quite as simple-minded fail to break even.

There’s nothing wrong with such lightweight, creampuff fare, but sometimes it’s nice to have some meat — or at least some form of protein.

Of course, we never know how we will perceive a film until after we see it, and if our moviegoing is limited we want to see something we are fairly sure we’ll enjoy, regardless of its artistic merit. But it is possible to have it both ways.

Let’s clear up the misconceptions first.

Because a film is foreign does not mean it is more artistic than domestic products. Too often we feel that if a movie comes from France or Germany or Italy or Sweden or Australia or Japan, it is automatically “deeper.”

Remember, however, that in addition to “Seven Samurai” and “Ugetsu,” Japan also gave us “Godzilla” and “Mothra.”

Nor should a movie qualify as art only when it is praised as such by a film critic, when it takes an underground popularity — or because you don’t think you really understood it.

 

In the end, our perception of art is based on our own experience — and who’s to say what’s right or wrong? Even highly trained arts critics disagree on the merits of specific paintings in a first show, and time often restructures how an artist is judged.

So it is with film. Orson Welles, Ingmar Bergman, Luis Buñuel and many other “classic” or “artistic” filmmakers who are secure in their reputations have often had their films panned by critics in their own countries and ignored by their own public.

Are they really any more artists than Alfred Hitchcock or John Ford or Frank Capra, who have reputations as craftsmen who catered to the public? Are Sam Peckinpah or Arthur Penn or Robert Altman, whose occasional triumphs (“The Wild Bunch,” “Bonnie and Clyde,” “MASH,” respectively) are often surrounded by works no one can endure (“Pat Garrett and Billy the Kid,” “The Missouri Breaks,” “Quintet,” respectively), really the innovative experimentalists they are reputed to be — or did those triumphs merely give them blank studio checks that they egotistically misused?

Does the American press really misjudge the work of Jerry Lewis, who is hailed as a “genius” in France?

Why, in 1979, was Klaus Kinski in Werner Herzog’s “Nosferatu,” with its moody, somber (some would say plodding) design and atmosphere, any more artistic than Frank Langella in John Badham’s romanticized, exciting (albeit slick) “Dracula”? It was, of course. But why? Because it had subtitles? Or because it probed deeper into the inner soul of this pathetic creature and made us see something of ourselves in him? We’d like to be more like Langella but perhaps we feel there is more of us in Kinski.

Another misconception about movies is that if they’re a foreign product, they will be a mite more obscene. To use the ratings system as a common denominator, “Dracula” carried an R, “Nosferatu” a PG, and “Nosferatu” was much more the “adult film of the two, but even more adult is the Australian film “My Brilliant Career,” which carries a G rating.

The latter film, which did great business in Salt Lake City recently and can still be seen this week, is an excellent example of a very simple storyline carried to its highest quality. A young girl, who considers herself plain, dreams of an artistic career but must carry on with her difficult daily existence. Art? I think so, but it’s also very entertaining.

You really care about her by the time the film is over, and as you leave you find yourself wondering what became of her later in life. It’s an Australian film — no subtitles.

No less a film is last year’s “Hair,” which is purely American. Based on the 1960s stage play that caused so much scandal, it could have been a pale reflection of the tumult of the Vietnam decade — but in the hands of Miloš Forman it became an exuberant dazzling, sharp-edged musical that underplayed its message and entertained as much as any movie in recent years.

 

The films that cause the critics to take sides can be seen with an assurance that there will be at least moments of brilliance, films that cause extreme reactions in both directions, such as “The Shining,” “All That Jazz,” “Apocalypse Now,” “Alien,” “Starting Over,” “Yanks,” etc.

Some of these movies will pop up from time to time at art houses around the country in coming years, just as Hitchcock films, the “Godfather” movies and all kinds of foreign films now pop up at Salt Lake repertory houses.

The Avalon, 3605 S. State, is now showing “My Brilliant Career” and owner-manager Art Proctor says he is planning a Hitchcock festival for July, though he has not secured any titles as yet.

The Blue Mouse, 260 E. First South, has “Hair,” “Nosferatu,” the two “Godfather movies in a double bill, and a number of foreign and domestic gems on its current calendar for the next three months.

The Elks Cinema, 139 E. South Temple, is showing foreign and art films exclusively now. “Dark Star,” the satiric predecessor to “Alien” by John Carpenter (“Halloween”) and Dan O’Bannon (“Alien”), is there now, and upcoming are “The Marriage of Maria Braun,” the Oscar-winning documentary “Best Boy” and “Don Giovanni.”

It might be fair to say the opening sequences of James Bond excursions (the free-floating dead astronaut in “You Only Live Twice,” The ski chase in “The Spy Who Loved Me,” the free-fall fight for a parachute in “Moonraker”) qualify as moments of action or “pop art” — but a “Black Stallion” every once in a while is necessary to remind us of what can really be done with the medium.

It’s a visual medium, enhanced by a darkened theater and a hushed crowd. It’s the hush being broken by laughs or cheers or gasps of fright. And it’s the quiet mutual enjoyment felt with a group of strangers; silent, unspoken joy or mind-boggling special effects or thought-provoking sadness.

It’s the movies, and it’s an art.

ENDNOTE: Sadly, all of Salt Lake’s art-house theaters listed above are gone now. But we now have the Broadway Centre Cinemas and the Tower Theater and occasional revivals and documentaries at the multiplexes to counter-balance all the noisy comic-book movies that now dominate the cinema scene.


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

THEY'RE CREEPY AND THEY'RE KOOKY

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

“The Addams Family” (PG). An animated version of the titular family of comic ghouls finds Gomez (voiced by Oscar Isaac), Morticia (Charlize Theron) and clan moving to New Jersey where they encounter a greedy, arrogant and sly reality TV host (Allison Janney). Other voice cast members include Chloë Grace Moretz, Snoop Dogg, Bette Midler, Martin Short and Catherine O’Hara.

“Gemini Man” (PG-13). When a retiring assassin (Will Smith) is pursued by a mysterious killer that is able to anticipate his every move, he soon discovers he’s being hunted by a younger clone of himself. With Mary Elizabeth Winstead, Clive Owen and Bendict Wong.

 

“Lucy in the Sky” (R). An astronaut (Natalie Portman) returns to Earth after a lengthy mission and begins an affair with another astronaut but she begins a downward spiral due to residual effects from her time in space. When her lover cheats on her, she goes over the edge. With Jon Hamm, Dan Stgevens, Nick Offerman, Tig Notaro, Jeffrey Donovan and Ellen Burstyn.

“Jexi” (R). This low-budget comedy appears to be a parody of “Her,” as a pop-culture writer (Adam DeVine) who is addicted to his phone begins a relationship with the “Jexi” voice that comes with an upgrade, and soon he’s more dependent than ever on his handheld electronic device. Rose Byrne provides Jexi’s voice.


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

BRIGHTON BEACH MEMOIRS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Neil Simon’s celebrated play-to-film, which spawned two sequels, gets a Blu-ray upgrade from the Shout! Factory. It’s certainly watchable but in my mind doesn’t come close to Simon’s best work. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 26, 1986.

File “Brighton Beach Memoirs” in the folder marked “Movies I Wanted to Like, But. … ”

It is, of course, the “but” that makes the difference.

What’s the problem? It’s overly familiar, for one. Not only has this story been told 100 times before (whether or not it is the fictionalized truth of Neil Simon’s youth) but all the characters are ethnic and social stereotypes, and there is neither enough laughter nor emotional power to overcome its weaknesses.

And whether or not it is accurate (and in some ways it is) to have the central character, Jerome (or Simon, if you prefer), be a totally sex-obsessed teenager who seems to be a refugee from a “Porky’s” movie, thinking of nothing but the female anatomy, it begins to wear out its welcome after awhile.

     

Blythe Danner, Jonathan Silverman, 'Brighton Beach Memoirs'

The sex jokes — gags ranging from Jerome’s pencil drawings of female breasts to dropping his napkin so he can peer under the dinner table at his attractive cousin — lose their vulgar punch because there are so many of them.

Jerome is the centerpiece of the film, speaking directly to the camera (in a technique similar to “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off”) and generally narrating the otherwise ensemble goings-on of his family’s life during the Depression in Brooklyn’s Brighton Beach.

His older brother loses his job and considers joining the Army; his shy, ineffectual widowed aunt, tentatively courts a new romance but doesn’t know how to deal with her two daughters; his mother, a domineering “Jewish Mother” stereotype, rules the roost; and his father nearly works himself to death and has to quit to spare his health.

There is comedy and drama in equal doses, and the film seems equally funny and touching, and banal and plodding.

     

The cast is good, with newcomer Jonathan Silverman quite appealing as young Jerome, torn between the inherent laziness and self-centered attitudes of youth, and the imbalance of hormones that go with approaching manhood.

Blythe Danner, as his mother, manages to retain some charm while playing a role that is rather shrewish and bigoted, and frequently unpleasant, while Bob Dishy is most appealing as the father who is warm but not particularly understanding of his children’s needs.

Even more impressive is Judith Ivey as the painfully shy aunt.

The period touches are nice, the technical aspects are first-rate and Simon’s script has its moments, but on the whole this is awfully familiar territory and if you have seen many movies or much TV you’re likely to wonder if you haven’t wandered into a rerun.

“Brighton Beach Memoirs” is rated PG-13 for profanity, vulgarity and nudity in a photograph.


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 FUGITIVE

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Of all the many theatrical-movie adaptations of popular television programs, this one is the undisputed champ, one of those pictures that just gets better with each viewing. And now you can see it on the big screen once again, courtesy of the ‘Megaplex Theaters 2019 Classics’ series. You can catch it at various Megaplex theaters around Utah on Monday and Wednesday, Oct. 21 and 23, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review, published Aug. 19, 1993, in the Deseret News. (Because I reviewed the movie after it had been playing for a week, my hook was that it had been helmed by a new hot director, but, sadly, while Andrew Davis made a few serviceable thrillers in subsequent years he never came close to duplicating the success he achieved here.)

This review is late, of course. Your friendly neighborhood movie critic has been on vacation.

So, you probably already know that national critics are doing back flips over "The Fugitive." That Harrison Ford delivers an excellent performance as the title character. That Tommy Lee Jones gets all the good lines and delivers them expertly as the U.S. marshal in pursuit.

But you may not know that "The Fugitive" introduces a new star on the rise, one who deserves just as much attention as Ford and Jones.

Andrew Davis. Remember that name. And when you see it on his next film — especially if it's an action picture — remember that it's worth a look.

Davis is the director of "The Fugitive," and much of the film's success comes from his stylish structuring and catch-your-breath pacing.

Davis' earlier work includes what national critics have called "the best Chuck Norris movie" ("Code of Silence") and "the best Steven Seagal movie" ("Under Siege"). Those were serviceable action pictures with bland stars and routine, rip-off scripts.

     

                 Tommy Lee Jones, 'The Fugitive'

But with "The Fugitive," Davis has managed to land a workable screenplay by Jeb Stuart ("Die Hard") and David Twohy ("Warlock") and two lead actors whose screen charisma and acting ability are established.

The result is a first-rate blend of Davis' talent for staging exciting action scenes, bolstered by characters we care about and clever, witty dialogue.

Not bad for an update of a beloved ’60s television series, which was itself pretty good for its day.

The familiar story has Dr. Richard Kimble (Ford) accused of murdering his wife (Sela Ward) and ultimately convicted of the crime, despite his protestations that a man with one arm was the real killer.

In the television show, Kimble (played by David Janssen) was a pediatrician in Stafford, Ind. After being freed in a train wreck, Kimble crisscrossed the country searching for the one-armed man, while the relentless Inspector Gerard (Barry Morse) pursued him.

The movie reworks Kimble's character as a Chicago surgeon, and instead of running around the country he stays in the Chicago area, with Gerard (Jones) in hot pursuit.

     

The train wreck is also reworked, into a train-bus accident — and it's a spectacular sequence. In fact, the audience may be forgiven for wondering if the rest of the film might be a letdown. But it's not. Davis cranks it to full force in the film's first few minutes and never lets up.

There have been comparisons to Hitchcock by other critics, and that's understandable. "The Fugitive," though more obviously derived from Victor Hugo's "Les Miserables," owes a lot to Hitch's man-on-the-run and twist-the-plot motifs. About two-thirds into this film, it suddenly switches from chase movie to murder mystery — and then back again. And it works.

Also like many Hitchcock films, "The Fugitive" has holes in its plotting that are easy to pick apart and characters that are pretty thin, bolstered by the performances of seasoned vets who know how to lend heft to their roles.

Yet, the film is so stylish, so funny and so heart-stopping in its suspense that the audience simply doesn't care about flaws.

"The Fugitive" is rated PG-13 for violence and profanity.


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

MY BOYFRIEND’S BACK

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 11, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Here’s a comedy misfire that I loathed when I reviewed the film back on Aug. 18, 1993, for the Deseret News, but it must have some fans since Kino Lorber has just released it with a brand-new Blu-ray upgrade.

"My Boyfriend's Back" is one of the year's worst films, an idiotic spoof of zombie movies that wants desperately to be on a par with Monty Python but doesn't have the nerve — much less the laughs.

Produced by Sean Cunningham ("Friday the 13th"), this alleged comedy blends fantasy sequences and dreams with its story of a high school teen (Andrew Lowery) who worships the most popular girl in school (Traci Lind) — from afar, of course.

He wants to take her to the prom but she's going with her longtime boyfriend. So, in one of the film's many irresponsible moments, he decides to win her over by staging a holdup at the convenience store where she works.

     

Mary Beth Hurt, Edward Herrmann, 'My Boyfriend's Back'

He outfits his friend with a ski mask and a squirt gun and plans to save her from this "robber." But, of course, a real robber shows up and Lowery is shot to death. He finally summons the nerve to ask her out just before he dies.

After his funeral, Lowery rises from the dead and continues his courtship of Lind and one of the film's running gags is that no one he encounters, from his family to his neighbors, seem to think this is particularly unusual. Even when he starts eating fellow students.

In fact, his parents (Edward Herrmann, Mary Beth Hurt) begin robbing the local morgue, in case their son wants "a snack." (Herrmann and Hurt provide a very weak attempt at the oddball slant on suburbia that was better achieved by "Edward Scissorhands.")

     

Despite a cast of familiar comic faces, some of whom we haven't seen in a while (Cloris Leachman, Paul Dooley, Austin Pendleton), the comedy repeatedly falls flat.

There are nods to (or is it theft from?) such diverse pictures as "Night of the Living Dead" and "Young Frankenstein," which would be forgivable if they were at all funny.

And for a PG-13 movie aimed at teens, there is an especially disturbing plot thread here — Lowery's pursuit of Lind as his prom date seems more born of his desire to have a sex partner than a dance partner.

The rating is for violence, sex, profanity and vulgarity.