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HICKS PICKS MEMORIAL DAY FLIX

     

Steve McQueen, left, Jud Taylor, James Garner, 'The Great Escape' (1963)

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had planned to reprint two more Monty Python interviews last week and this week, but instead reprinted my 33-year-old interview with Tim Conway after his recent death, and this week decided to offer something appropriate to Memorial Day. (The Python stories will follow.) The column below was originally printed in the Deseret News on May 26, 2016, under the headline, ‘Gear up for Memorial Day by watching these wartime flicks.’ And as an update, FYI, Armed Forces Day this year was May 18, Memorial Day is Monday, May 27, and Flag Day is June 14. Oh, and Costco, sadly, has cut back its DVD racks to nearly nothing.

As we leave Armed Forces Day behind and look toward Memorial Day (Monday, May 30), Flag Day (June 14) and Independence Day (aka the Fourth of July) we, naturally, find that patriotic wartime movies are on our minds.

Or if they’re not, all it takes is a glance at the DVD racks while strolling through Costco or Wal-Mart.

When the subject of war movies comes up it’s interesting to see so many people name favorites released within the past 20 or 25 years — “Saving Private Ryan,” “Schindler’s List,” “Unbroken,” “The Imitation Game,” “Flags of Our Fathers,” “Letters From Iwo Jima,” “Memphis Belle,” “The Pianist,” “Valkyrie,” “Pearl Harbor.”

Someone even mentioned “Raiders of the Lost Ark.” Yes, there are Nazis, but no, not really a war film.

And even more surprising, all of them are World War II movies. For some reason we tend to associate the conflict fought by the Greatest Generation with our patriotic holidays.

There are lots of films out there about more recent wars, as well as older wars, but World War II still resonates, perhaps because our enemies at the time were so precisely delineated, and the double conflict of the European and Pacific theaters helped Americans understand what they were fighting for.

Not so easy with more modern conflicts, from Vietnam forward.

My favorite World War II movies are much older than 25 years. So, in case you don’t know them, or have forgotten them, here are a few titles to consider (all are available on Blu-ray, DVD or various streaming sites).

     

Ingrid Bergman, Humphrey Bogart, 'Casablanca' (1942)

“Casablanca” (1942, b/w). Considered one of cinema’s greatest romantic dramas (and with, arguably, more quoted lines than any other single film), this is also a gripping wartime thriller about duplicity, loyalty and sacrifice, and how, during wartime, our smaller problems, in the words of Humphrey Bogart’s character, “don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.” Bogart, Ingrid Bergman, Paul Henreid and Claude Rains star, with Sydney Greenstreet, Peter Lorre and Dooley Wilson. Nominated for eight Oscars, this one earned only three, but they were top awards — best picture, best director (Michael Curtiz) and best screenplay (brothers Julius and Philip Epstein, and Howard Koch).

“The Great Escape” (1963). Based on a true story, this all-star effort plays as much as a caper thriller (with liberal doses of comedy) as a POW escape flick. In a Nazi camp in Poland, British and American soldiers come together to plan an elaborate mass tunnel escape with everyone contributing their special skill sets. The pitch-perfect cast includes Steve McQueen, James Garner, Richard Attenborough, Charles Bronson, Donald Pleasence, James Coburn and David McCallum.

“Patton” (1970, PG). George C. Scott won an Oscar (but declined to accept it) for his powerful portrayal of Gen. George S. Patton, a colorful, some would say tyrannical, and certainly controversial, U.S. Army leader during the Second World War. Scott is brilliant, and Karl Malden is also excellent as Patton’s friend Gen. Omar Bradley, and the staging of battle scenes is gripping and realistic. Nominated for 10 Oscars and winner of seven, including best picture, Franklin J. Schaffner as best director, and Edmund H. North and Francis Ford Coppola for best screenplay (two years before Coppola struck gold with “The Godfather”).

Others I would highly recommend include “The Guns of Navarone” (1961), “The Dirty Dozen” (1967), “A Matter of Life and Death” (1946), “The Big Red One” (1980), “The Bridge On the River Kwai” (1957), “The Longest Day” (1962, b/w), “Tora Tora Tora” (1970), “Stalag 17” (1953, b/w), “From Here to Eternity” (1953, b/w), “Judgment at Nuremberg” (1961, b/w) … and there are many more. But these offer a variety to choose from, and you can’t go wrong with any of them.

     

Harold Russell, left, Dana Andrews, Fredric March, 'The Best Years of Our Lives' (1946)

And finally, one of my all-time favorite movies of any genre, “The Best Years of Our Lives” (1946, b/w), a post-war examination of how World War II affected those who fought. The focus here is on three returning servicemen and the difficulties they face adjusting to civilian life: a decorated Army Air Corps captain (Dana Andrews) who has trouble finding work and discovers his wife has been unfaithful, an aging infantry sergeant (Fredric March) who turns to alcohol to soothe his jangled nerves, and a very young sailor (Oscar-winner Harold Russell) who lost both forearms in battle and now uses prostheses with hooks.

All of the actors are in top form, including Myrna Loy as March’s understanding wife; Teresa Wright as their daughter, who is attracted to unhappy Andrews; Virginia Mayo as the straying wife; Cathy O’Donnell as Russell’s sensitive and loving fiancée; and Hoagy Carmichael as the local piano-playing barkeep.

The three stories of these men and their troubled roads to rehabilitation intersect in natural ways and the struggles they go through are universal, though they will, of course, particularly resonate with veterans and their families. This is a film of its time but there’s a lot more going on here, resulting in one of those rare cinematic experiences that transcends its era to remain universally appealing decades later.

Nominated for eight Oscars, “The Best Years of Our Lives” won seven, including best picture, March as best actor, Russell as best supporting actor, William Wyler as best director and Robert E. Sherwood for best screenplay. In addition, Russell, a real-life amputee, won a second Oscar, an honorary award for “bringing hope and courage to his fellow veterans.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

DID SOMEBODY WISH FOR THIS?

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

Yet another Disney re-do, an apparent horror spin on Superman’s origin story and a well-reviewed documentary lead off this weekend’s new movies.

“Aladdin” (PG). With considerable CGI assistance, Disney’s latest live-action remake of one of its classic animated features retells the oft-filmed “Arabian Nights” story of a young street thief who discovers a magic lamp and is granted three wishes by a big blue genie (Will Smith in the role made famous by Robin Williams). With Mena Massoud, Naomi Scott and the voices of Alan Tudyk (as the parrot Iago) and Frank Welker (reprising his voice roles from the original film: Abu the monkey, the Cave of Wonders and the tiger Rajah).

“The Biggest Little Farm” (PG). Evicted from their small Los Angeles apartment because their dog barks too much, a naïve couple decides to begin farming on 200 acres in the foothills of Ventura County. This documentary chronicles eight years of developing uncooperative land into a wildly diverse farm.

“The White Crow” (R). Actor Ralph Fiennes directed and co-stars in this biographical film about acclaimed ballet artist Rudolf Nureyev (Oleg Ivenko) and his defection to the West. Based on Julie Kavanagh’s book “Rudolf Nureyev: The Life; screenplay by David Hare (“The Hours,” “The Reader”).

  

“Brightburn” (R). After struggling to have a baby, a couple (Elizabeth Banks, David Denman) finds a child that has crash-landed on Earth from another world. But he ain’t no superhero. They think the boy is an answer to their prayers but as he grows older, the lad reveals dangerously sinister powers.

“Photograph” (PG-13, in Hindi with English subtitles). This Indian romantic drama has a struggling street photographer in Mumbai being pressured by his grandmother to marry, so he convinces a shy stranger to pose as his fiancée. Naturally, an unexpected (to everyone but the audience) romance follows. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Booksmart” (R). On the eve of their graduation two high school seniors, who are academic superstars (Kaitlyn Dever, Beanie Feldstein) but are socially inept, decide to cram all the partying they missed while studying into one night in this raunchy teen comedy. With Lisa Kudrow, and “Saturday Night Live” alums Jason Sudeikis, Will Forte and Mike O’Brien.


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

ALADDIN (1992)

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: With Disney’s live-action reworking of ‘Aladdin’ opening this weekend let’s take a look back at the 1992 animated version. This review was published in the Deseret News on Nov. 25, 1992.

"Beauty and the Beast." What a tough act to follow. In fact, the animation graveyard is strewn with summer of ’92 cartoon flicks that failed to live up to expectations.

But leave it to the folks at Disney to come back a year after "Beauty and the Beast" with something completely different. "Aladdin" isn't a romantic musical laced with comedy and cutesy characters.

It's a flat-out comedy-adventure, an anachronistic, wacky effort that looks more like something the old Warner Bros. cartoonists (Chuck Jones, Friz Freleng) would concoct than Disney.

The story is, of course, based on the oft-filmed "Arabian Nights" tale of a young street thief who finds a magic lamp, rubs it and releases a genie that offers him three wishes.

The film has its "Raiders of the Lost Ark" moments and is enjoyable as an action picture — but it is the wild comedy that pushes it to a superior level of animated entertainment.

     

Genie (voiced by Robin Williams) with Aladdin (Scott Weinger) and Jasmine (Linda Larkin) in 'Aladdin.'

Much of this is due to the already ballyhooed voice performance of Robin Williams as the genie. Williams really cuts loose, impersonating dozens of celebrities with his one-of-a-kind comic aplomb.

Not all of the comedy comes from him, however — much of it comes from the artists he has obviously inspired. The sight gags that accompany his verbal virtuosity are just as hilarious, right down to a couple of pokes at Disney, cameos by Pinocchio and Sebastian the crab. Still, there's no question that Williams handily steals the show.

The story has Aladdin and his pet monkey being forced by an evil wizard to obtain the magic lamp from a hidden, mystical treasure trove.

When things go awry, Aladdin, the monkey and a helpful, amazingly expressive magic carpet are trapped with the lamp, and when Aladdin innocently rubs it, he releases you-know-who.

From this point on, no holds are barred as Williams cuts loose with a barrage of rapid-fire gags aimed at an uncountable number of comedy targets.

     

Other aspects of the film that cannot be ignored, however, are the amazing blending of computer and hand-drawn animation, which lends an unprecedented depth to the film's look, and another humorous voice interpretation, Gilbert Gottfried as a nasty parrot perched on the shoulder of the wizard.

It's also nice to see the two young romantic leads here drawn with an Arabian ethnic look, another unprecedented move from the Disney folks.

"Aladdin" is a terrific film, a highly entertaining experience but it is by no means strictly for children. In fact, many of the gags will go right over their heads. How many kids know who William F. Buckley or Ed Sullivan or Carol Channing are, anyway?

Cartoon or not, "Aladdin" is simply a hilarious comedy.


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

HOOP DREAMS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Salt Lake art houses the Broadway Centre and Tower theaters are running a series of vintage films, several each week, under the banner, ‘The Greatest: Life-Changing Documentaries,’ through June and into July. A highlight next week is ‘Hoop Dreams,’ playing afternoons at the Tower beginning Friday, May 31. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 13, 1995; though unrated at the time, the film has since received a PG-13. (For updates on the principles involved, go to these links: Internet Movie DatabaseWikipediaThe GuardianChicago Tribune.) And if you miss it at the Tower, it’s available on DVD and Blu-ray, courtesy of the Criterion Collection.

"Hoop Dreams" follows two inner-city Chicago youths during their high school years, boys who display a natural talent for basketball and who are encouraged to pursue the American Dream, which in this case means aiming for an NBA contract. (OK, maybe it's the Nike Dream.)

As the film begins, it seems obvious which of the two will most successfully chase that dream — but by the end, the characters seem to have switched places, after their lives have taken a variety of unexpected twists and turns in this nearly three-hour epic journey.

Meanwhile, the boys themselves display remarkable character, fortitude and dedication, despite the pressures, family problems and economic difficulties that bear down on them.

This is the plotting and character development of great drama, the kind that makes the best movies so compelling and believable. Except that in this case it wasn't scripted. "Hoop Dreams" is a documentary, and these kids — along with their families and friends — are real. And filmmakers Steve James, Frederick Marx and Peter Gilbert, who dedicated seven years to this project, have come up with a film that is so rich, so involving, so compelling … that superlatives seem inadequate.

     

Told in a chronological, straightforward manner, the film has only occasional narrative interruptions, necessary to clarify certain moments.

"Hoop Dreams" begins as young Arthur Agee is spotted by a "street scout" who is on the lookout for talented ball players. He sees Arthur playing street ball and recommends him to St. Joseph High School, famed alma mater of Isiah Thomas, superstar player for the Detroit Pistons — and Arthur's longtime personal hero.

But in this largely white Catholic school, Arthur begins to falter. He confesses that he is intimidated at being surrounded by white people, he isn't used to the kind of pressure his coach exerts, and his grades, which were low to begin with, do not improve. As a result, his self-confidence begins to wane.

There are problems at home, also. His parents split up as his father sinks into a crack-cocaine habit and eventually goes to prison (he later gets himself straight and, for a time, is reunited with the family). Meanwhile, Arthur's mother, suffering from back problems, struggles to keep the family alive, while training to become a nurse's assistant. (One of the film's most emotional moments comes when she achieves that goal.)

But before completing his freshman year at St. Joseph's, Arthur is kicked out of school, leaving his family $1,500 in debt for tuition. Mrs. Agee is one of the film's most compelling characters and in just one of many candid moments, she bitterly says that the St. Joseph's debt is unfair, that she feels deceived by broken promises and that the experience has cost her son his self-confidence.

A couple of years later, as Arthur is progressing through his senior year at public school, he is told he needs his transcripts from St. Joseph's to graduate — but St. Joseph's won't release them until Arthur's parents begin making payments on the $1,500.

     

At the beginning of the movie, as Arthur begins his tenure at St. Joseph's, we also meet the film's second subject, William Gates, a student who seems to be on the fast track for his own superstardom. His coach and a gaggle of self-important sportswriters talk him up as "the next Isiah Thomas."

Though he begins with a disappointing academic status that parallels Arthur's, William's grades improve remarkably and he is the light of his coach's eye. But soon William is sidelined by an injury, which has a dispiriting effect on him.

At home, William lives with his mother and siblings. His father, who has been gone for some time, pops up late in the picture but is never a figure in William's life. At St. Joseph's, William's talent and prospects have prompted school officials to find him a sponsor, alleviating tuition problems, but after he fathers a child and ponders marriage, he becomes more and more disillusioned with both school and basketball.

There is much more here, with plots and subplots masterfully woven together by the filmmakers, along with a huge number of amazingly well-drawn characters — from parents, siblings and friends who figure in the boys' day-to-day lives to authority figures who appear only briefly.

Much more than a movie, "Hoop Dreams" is a genuinely heartfelt experience. It works on so many levels and successfully explores so many issues that not only is the audience left thinking about each in a new light, audience-members are also bound to have new respect for documentary filmmaking as an art form.

"Hoop Dreams," which won the Audience Award at last year's Sundance Film Festival, is not rated but would probably get a PG-13 for a few scattered profanities (mostly from coaches during the heat of practice) and some cussing in a rap song, which one character listens to on a CD player.


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

SUMMER LOVERS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 24, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Another odd choice for Kino Lorber’s regular Blu-ray upgrades is this so-called ‘art film’ that starred three up-and-comers, including a pre-‘Splash’ Daryl Hannah. Not my cup of tea but it must have an audience out there. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 30, 1982.

Back in the ’60s, when Russ Meyer used a thin plot as an excuse to show naked women on the screen, the movies were called “nudies” — the equivalent of today’s X-rated soft-core porn.

But in this enlightened age a bit of titillating nudity is thrown into so many films that soft-core pictures pale in comparison.

But today, films are technically redefined, glossed up in terms of production values and location photography, and directors like Randal Kleiser pass them off as works of art.

     

Daryl Hannah, left, Valerie Quennessen Peter Gallagher, 'Summer Lovers'

But “Summer Lovers” isn’t art. It’s just a bigger-budget peep show, with very little plot, weak dialogue and even weaker delivery on the part of the cast, which seems to have been hired on the basis of how well it looks undraped, instead of acting ability.

If anyone doesn’t believe that a film full of nudity can be a total bore, “Summer Lovers” is here to prove it. You’ll be lucky to stay awake half way through.

Kleiser is the Hollywood whiz kid director who came up with the biggest moneymaking musical of all time, “Grease,” and that Brooke Shields blockbuster of two summers ago, “The Blue Lagoon.” This time around, he has also written the screenplay.

The story, such as it is, has Peter Gallagher (“The Idolmaker”) and Daryl Hannah (“Blade Runner”) as a couple landing in Greece for an eight-week summer vacation. Though Gallagher has been faithful to Hannah for five years, his eye wanders when he spots a local lady, Valerie Quennessen (“Conan the Barbarian”).

It’s not that Quennessen is all that attractive or charismatic, but Gallagher and Hannah are themselves so bland that Don Knotts would seem spicy in comparison.

    

Anyway, before you know it, the three of them are bunking together, the two women having decided that there’s more than enough of Gallagher for the both of them.

“Summer Lovers” has a tour guide look about it, and nice use is made of some of the Greek locations used for shooting, but too often the camera glides over them with loud rock music in accompaniment so that after a while it begins to look like one of those old between-features travelogues with an ’80s beat. It also shows that for some reason, no one in Greece owns a bathing suit.

What this film really is, however, is a shameless piece of self-indulgence on the part of writer-director Kleiser.

All the time Kleiser is telling us how hip this all is in its ’80s-style “Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice” mode, he’s boring us beyond belief. If being hip and modern means being dull-witted, insensitive and bland, give me Doris Day anytime.

Rated R for nudity, some sex and a few profanities, “Summer Lovers” is worse than offensive — it’s a fraud. And it’s also one of the least entertaining films I’ve seen in some time.