CRITICS ARE SO CRITICAL
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Way back some 41 years ago, in my fledgling movie-critic years, my columns sometimes took on a self-reflective approach, analyzing my job and how it works. This may have been the first, published June 30, 1981, in the Deseret News, under the headline: ‘Good or bad? It’s in the eyes of the viewer.’ (Note: This was three years before the PG-13 was added to the rating system.)
Rick Kogan, second-string movie critic at the Chicago Sun-Times, loved “Breaker Morant.” On the four-star scale, Kogan gave it the maximum four stars and raved about how good it was.
Chief reviewer for the Sun-Times, Roger Ebert, who co-hosts PBS-TV’s “Sneak Previews,” saw the film later and did not like it. On his nationally broadcast TV program, he said he could not recommend that audiences see it, despite co-host Gene Siskel’s endorsement on the same program.
The four-star review, however, stayed in the Sun-Times, appearing week after week in the capsule listings, despite the lead critic’s different feelings about the film.
That incident illustrates how subjective this reviewing business, is, and why the general public needs to get to know whose regular critics they read and rely on for information about movies they intend to see.
Last year, Newsweek ran two side-by-side reviews of “The Island,” with an editorial note explaining that the two critics disagreed so wildly about the picture, the magazine decided to run both opinions.
As a film critic for the Deseret News, I try to give reasons for films being rated G, PG or R, but they must be generalizations since the ratings board does not spell out its decisions. In the movie list that runs on the calendar page each Friday, I include parenthetically why I think each film is rated as it is. I also offer firm opinions about whether I feel the film is worth seeing.
Often, readers disagree.
When I recently reviewed “The Four Seasons,” I raved about its virtues, and though I have had many people tell me they agreed that Alan Alda’s film is excellent, I have also had a few readers write in and tell me they hated it.
Sometimes people don’t come to me with adverse reactions, however. Sometimes they go to my section editor, or Entertainment Editor Howard Pearson, or even the newspaper’s publisher. It’s important to understand that the opinions expressed under my byline are my opinions, and not anyone else’s.
It isn’t necessary to agree with a critic to use him as a consumer resource. If he praises a film, but his review gives information about it that makes you decide not to see it, then he has still done his job. The same for negative reviews of movies you decide to see anyway.
When you go to a movie after reading a Deseret News review, whatever the rating, whatever the quality, you will be better informed as to its content. At least that is our aim.
Readers and critics are never going to agree 100 percent about whether a movie is good or bad. When my negative review of “The Cannonball Run” appeared in the paper, it was the very day that film raked up the third largest box-office gross in history for an opening weekend.
But at least anyone who read my review and then went to the film, knew what to expect.
Many publications merely describe a film’s storyline, a few scenes and then offer an opinion, never giving a hint as to its rating or why it received that rating.
The Deseret News will always tell you the probable reasons a film is rated R or PG.
Then an opinion will be offered. But whether you ultimately go to the theater and pay to see the film, is up to you.
PANIC AT THE MULTIPLEX
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Due to the pandemic, all movie theaters have been shuttered for the foreseeable future, though not for too long we hope. And a number of major movies have seen their dates shoved back to later in the year anyway … and in the case of the newest ‘Fast & Furious’ sequel, to next year. So, no new movies to alert you to this week; you’ll have to pop some corn, relax on your couch and settle for Netflix — preferably on a widescreen TV and not your phone.
ENEMIES, A LOVE STORY
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Those looking for something complex and compelling might want to check out this one, a serious post-Holocaust drama with something to say, and one of filmmaker Paul Mazursky’s best efforts. It’s being revived by the release of a brand-new Blu-ray release. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 9, 1990.
Herman is living in Coney Island in 1949, and he isn't very happy. He's a somewhat inherently sad person anyway, living under the shadow of his past as a Polish Jew who barely escaped the Nazis at the end of World War II.
But Herman also suffers from his present domestic problems. Boy, does he ever. To sum it up lightly, before long he will find himself married to three women at the same time.
Other movies might make this situation the butt of light humor or farce, but in "Enemies, a Love Story" there's a lot more going on.
Like most of Paul Mazursky's raunchy comedies (he co-wrote, produced, directed and has a small role), "Enemies" is an uneven affair. Some of it works astonishingly well; some of it falls flat. But in the end, it's both entertaining and thought provoking — more than you can say for most films these days.
Margaret Sophie Stern, left, Ron Silver, Anjelica Huston, 'Enemies, A Love Story' (1990)
"Enemies" begins by showing us Herman's life in Coney Island, living in a rundown tenement building with his wife, Yadwiga. Actually, she's more like a servant than a wife, her slavish devotion both comical and embarrassing. And we eventually learn Herman married her out of gratitude because she saved his life in the old country when Nazis were searching for him.
But he lies to her when he says he's selling books around the country; actually, he's spending time in the Bronx with his mistress, Masha, a concentration camp survivor with whom he's more honest. Masha is married to a lawyer but eventually hopes to have him grant her a divorce so she can marry Herman.
Before long, however, Herman finds that his first wife Tamara, thought to have died at the hands of the Nazis, is also in New York, and her arrival on the scene further complicates an already seriously complex situation.
Based on the Isaac Bashevis Singer novel, "Enemies" is a fascinating story about people who can't come to terms with life after having survived extreme duress. Guilt, more than any other human emotion, is in charge of their lives. And by and large Mazursky's approach, which is by turns comic and tragic — but never to cheap effect — chronicles the events at hand thoughtfully.
Ron Silver, Lena Olin, 'Enemies, a Love Story' (1990)
But what sets the film apart is the treatment of each character as a multi-dimensional human being — Yadwiga is devoted and loving, though superficial, and unfortunately reminds Herman of his past; Masha is tempestuous and exciting, and Herman truly loves her, though he's never quite sure what she's going to do; and Tamara is intelligent, down-to-earth and knows Herman better than he knows himself. Herman, meanwhile, is weak and scared and tends to let life run him over like a steamroller.
Mazursky has always been at his best when creating vivid characters in such films as "An Unmarried Woman," "Moscow on the Hudson" and "Down and Out in Beverly Hills," and in this case he also has the perfect actors for all four of the key roles — Ron Silver as Herman, Margaret Sophie Stern as Yadwiga, Lena Olin as Masha and Anjelica Huston as Tamara. They are an excellent ensemble and give the picture a great deal of its life.
"Enemies, a Love Story" is rated R, earned for its sex scenes, and there is violence in a flashback and one or two profanities.
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.
HOUSTON, AND EVERYWHERE ELSE, WE HAVE A PROBLEM
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, March 20, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Upcoming golden oldies scheduled for big-screen revivals — including ‘Braveheart’ and ‘Apollo 13,’and maybe ‘Gladiator’ and ‘Airplane!’ — have, of course, been canceled/postponed due to the pandemic. Stay tuned.
THE RUNNER STUMBLES
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 22, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Kino Lorber releases a lot of Blu-rays that are upgrades for films that have long been on DVD, but every now and again it comes up with something completely unexpected. This one’s an example, a title that has been out of circulation since its VHS release in 1985 and whose quality has been a matter of debate among movie buffs for decades. As it turned out, this was the final film for director Stanley Kramer. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 10, 1980. (And Quinlan has had a strong career, mostly in supporting roles, on both TV and in movies, and she’s still working.)
Dick Van Dyke is a master comedian, as demonstrated by his classic eponymous sitcom and the beloved “Mary Poppins.” He has had a number of other career triumphs as well but most of his movies are lightweight comedies unworthy of his talent.
Van Dyke has also fared pretty well in a couple of more dramatic films: His TV-movie profile of an alcoholic, “The Morning After,” was a fine piece of acting, and he was even better as a broken-down silent-movie clown in Carl Reiner’s overlooked film, “The Comic.”
So it was that I went into Stanley Kramer’s “The Runner Stumbles” hoping to see Van Dyke really succeed in his first major-movie dramatic role.
But the runner does stumble and it’s very disappointing.
Kathleen Quinlan, Dick Van Dyke, 'The Runner Stumbles' (1980)
Actually, this is Kramer’s fifth disappointing film in a row during the 1970s, a sad downhill track record coming from the director who gave us such classics as “The Defiant Ones,” “On the Beach,” “Inherit the Wind” and “Judgment at Nuremberg.”
Saddest of all, Kramer’s ’70s films (“R.P.M.,” “Bless the Beasts and the Children,” “Oklahoma Crude” and “The Domino Principle”) though inferior, have shining moments that indicate they could have been better with a little more care. “The Runner Stumbles” is another near miss that might have been much better with a strong actor in the very complex character lead.
The story, by now fairly well known, is based on a 1920’s true incident wherein a priest (Van Dyke) falls in love with a younger nun and later finds himself charged with her murder.
The film is told in flashbacks with the priest on trial and in jail. Kramer, in typical innovative fashion, leads into the flashbacks with a number of unusual segues that are as successful as they are fascinating — but using flashbacks may have been a major mistake.
Because we know at the outset that a murder has been committed, we are led to believe that Van Dyke did not do it so the audience immediately starts asking “who done it?” Unfortunately, the murderer is easily spotted during the first 15 minutes, causing an extremely anti-climactic climax.
Kathleen Quinlan is a fabulous actress as she again proves here in the part of the young nun. She is far better than her material in most of her films, such as this year’s “The Promise,” a ridiculous sudser. It would be nice to see her get another part as good as “I Never Promised You a Rose Garden,” her first major role and the last one to really showcase her talent.
The rest of the stellar cast — Maureen Stapleton, Beau Bridges, Ray Bolger and Tammy Grimes — is uniformly excellent.
But Van Dyke is stiff and seems nervous throughout. If he had loosened up as much in the many one-on-one dialogue scenes as he did in the few emotional explosions he might have done a much better job.
“The Runner Stumbles” is rated PG for two words of profanity uttered by a young boy and one scene of violence.