I WAS A TEENAGE FILM CRITIC
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: A 30-year-old ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column I stumbled upon recently, written when I was the full-time film critic at the Deseret News, is more autobiographical than most as it leads up to praising the latest technological craze, the VCR. Hey, it was three decades ago! TV Guides were the size of a Reader’s Digest and were resting on living-room coffee tables all across America, VCRs were hot-selling items, video-rental stores were on every street corner, and DVDs and DVRs were science fiction. Things change, of course, and nowadays technology has indeed, to quote the column below, ‘ … made critics of us all.’ Anyway, throwing modesty to the wind, here it is, originally published Nov. 19, 1989, under the headline, ‘VCRs make finest, and trashiest, movies accessible.’
If there had been VCRs in the ’50s and ’60s I might never have managed any semblance of a well-rounded life — and certainly little education. Every moment out of school would have probably been spent watching movies around the clock, catching up on the thousands of pictures made before my birth.
As it was I still managed to see a good many of them and became a dyed-in-the-wool movie buff during my “Wonder Years,” growing up in Southern California among kerjillions of movie theaters and TV channels.
My mother thought it was some kind of disease. My father wasn’t sure what to think.
The TV Guide was almost unreadable with my scribblings around scheduled movies I wanted to see — the after-school showing of an Astaire-Rogers musical, the after–dinner Bogie thriller, the Friday night Karloff-Lugosi horror show, the Saturday morning Marx Brothers picture. …
In addition, there were all the offerings at local movie theaters — from Saturday matinee showings of old Abbott & Costello comedies and 15-chapter serials to the newest Hitchcock film in the evening (my parents occasionally had to come down and drag me from the theater after an especially long movie binge).
And it didn’t matter whether the movie was a drama, comedy, horror, musical, science fiction, foreign language, documentary … I wanted to see them all.
(Lest you think I never picked up a book, let me assure you I was also an avid reader. After all, you have to do something during intermissions.)
By the time puberty hit I was already something of a junior league film critic; my parents’ friends, knowing I saw just about everything, would ask me about a specific film and I’d offer a little mini-review on the spot. (And if I hadn’t seen the film, I’d quote from reviews about it.)
All of this no doubt drove my parents nuts, especially when an “important” film was showing at an odd time or in a distant theater.
After years of reading about “Citizen Kane,” which critics called the greatest film of all time, it was exciting to at last come across it in the TV Guide. Unfortunately it was on at 1 a.m. on a weeknight. Dad wasn’t crazy about the idea but he let me nap after school so I could stay up for it.
Not that my choices were always so discerning — I also stayed up late on a weeknight to catch “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein.”
But these days there is the VCR. And thousands of movies available on video.
You can rent “Citizen Kane” or “Abbott & Costello Meet Frankenstein” and watch them at any time that’s convenient. An instead of staying up until 1 a.m. to catch something not available on video, it can be taped by simply setting the VCR timer.
The result is more accessibility to classic movies than ever before. But, of course, greater access to the best films also means greater access to the worst.
Most video rental stores stock few classics but have dozens of copies of the latest hit — “Bill and Ted’s Excellent Adventure,” “Pet Sematary” — because that’s what young video watchers rent 10 or 20 times each. And young people rent the most videos.
The result is that while the VCR has made movie buffs — and critics — of us all, it has also become an object of misuse.
Who’s renting the relatively few golden oldies available? Their parents. And they watch them on an evening when their children are out.
One of the things people often say to me is that they can’t get their kids to sit down and watch a black-and-white movie. My response is that they’ve never made them sit down and watch a good black-and-white movie.
Once they get into the story, audiences tend to forget whether a movie is black and white. (Someone told me he was surprised when “Yankee Doodle Dandy” was colorized — in his memory he thought the film was already in color.)
Whether a movie is black and white or color doesn’t matter. What matters is whether it’s good. If it is, audiences — including young people — will respond.
My oldest daughter and I have a running joke about old movies I recommend to her. If she’s hesitant, she’ll say, “Is this one of those movies that I don’t think I want to see but once I sit down and get into it I’ll really like it and come back and thank you later?”
I just nod and hand her the tape.
So it would be nice if parents occasionally took “Batman” out of the VCR and made the kids watch a respected classic with them. My children — including the younger ones — have loved such diverse pictures as “Arsenic and Old Lace,” “City Lights,” “North by Northwest,” “Casablanca,” “Ben-Hur,” “Duck Soup” and many, many more.
There’s nothing wrong with watching “Bill and Ted,” but a steady diet of popcorn needs to be offset by a hearty meal once in awhile.
Even movie buffs need to be well rounded.
HALLOWEEN'S GONE, MERRY XMAS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
Last week it was Halloween, so, Merry Christmas, as the first holiday flick of the season arrives in theaters this weekend, along with a big-budget horror movie, a big-budget World War action picture, and a silly kids comedy, along with several art films.
“Last Christmas” (PG-13). Emilia Clarke (“Game of Thrones”) and Henry Golding (“Crazy Rich Asians”) are a mismatched couple thrown together by fate when he meets her in the department store where she works during the Christmas holidays as one of Santa’s elves. This holiday-themed romantic comedy co-stars Michelle Yeoh, Patti LuPone and Emma Thompson, who also co-wrote the screenplay.
“Doctor Sleep” (R). Ewan McGregor is an alcoholic with psychic abilities and PTSD due to his childhood encounter with evil spirits in a Colorado Hotel. On the wagon, he tries to help a young girl with similar abilities targeted by a cult of killers that sucks out the “steam,” or life essence, of special children. This film adaptation of Stephen King’s novel is a sequel to his book “The Shining,” but the film also tries to be a faithful follow-up to Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 movie. With Rebecca Ferguson, Carl Lumbly, Bruce Greenwood, Cliff Curtis and Henry Thomas.
“Midway” (PG-13). The attack on Pearl Harbor and subsequent Battle of Midway are the focus of this World War II epic directed in razzle-dazzle style by Roland Emmerich (“Independence Day,” “Godzilla”), with Ed Skrein (“Game of Thrones”), Patrick Wilson, Luke Evans, Aaron Eckhart, Nick Jonas, Mandy Moore, Woody Harrelson and Dennis Quaid.
“Playing with Fire” (PG). This slapstick comedy stars John Cena as the leader of a group of no-nonsense, tough-guy firefighters who rescue a trio of children. Kiddie chaos ensues. With Keegan-Michael Key, John Leguizamo, Dennis Haysbert and Judy Greer.
“Pain and Glory” (R). A famous filmmaker in his decline (Antonio Banderas) has a series of re-encounters, some happening in real time and others remembered in flashbacks. With Penélope Cruz. This latest film from Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodóvar has been described as his “8½” (the famous 1963 self-referential film by Federico Fellini that won two Oscars). (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Making Waves: The Art of Cinematic Sound” (Not Rated). A documentary exploration of the history and technique that goes into creating sound in motion pictures, heavy on Hollywood players. With Steven Spielberg, George Lucas, David Lynch, Sofia Coppola, Christopher Nolan, Robert Redford, Barbara Streisand, etc. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)
“Take Home Pay” (PG). Two brothers take on jobs as seasonal workers in New Zealand where they hope to earn money to give to their family in Samoa in this action comedy. But one of the brothers runs off with the cash, leaving the other to try and come up with a way to keep from returning home empty-handed. (Exclusively at the Regal Crossroads.)
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: Independent filmmaker John Sayles has a number of fine films to his credit but he’s slowed up now that he’s pushing 70. He hasn’t directed a picture since 2013 and hasn’t had a ‘wide’ theatrical release in about 15 years. That’s a real shame, given how good many of his films are — ‘Lone Star,’ ‘Limbo,’ ‘Passion Fish,’ ‘Eight Men Out,’ ‘Return of the Secaucus Seven’ and this one, which has just earned a Blu-ray upgrade from Criterion Collection. My review was published on Feb. 24, 1988, in the Deseret News.
John Sayles is a unique filmmaker and probably the best example of an “independent” working today. He makes his films with low budgets, uses largely unknown actors and tells stories that interest him personally.
Yet he does so in an appealing manner, telling interesting narrative yarns generously laced with humor; and though he’s not above offering a message, he does so subtly. The result is that his films, which include “Return of the Secaucus Seven” and “Brother from Another Planet,” are seen by a larger audience than most independent filmmakers’ works.
Sayles supplements his income and helps finance his own movies by directing videos (he’s done three for Bruce Springsteen), writing books, and by working as a Hollywood screenwriter (“The Howling,” the acclaimed TV-movie “Unnatural Causes”).
“Matewan,” Sayles’ latest personal film, is based on a true story, the war between West Virginia coal miners, united with strikebreakers to form a union, and the mine owners, which led to a bloodbath in the streets of Matewan in 1921.
Chris Cooper, Mary McDonnell, 'Matewan'
Sayles builds his story largely from the point of view of Danny (Will Oldham), a teenager who has been a mineworker himself and who also doubles as a young preacher at the local “hard-shell” Baptist church. He befriends the union organizer, Joe (Chris Cooper), who is sent by the union to unite the miners in their efforts to go up against the company.
Joe advocates a non-violent approach, though the rough-hewn coalminers, whose families are suffering from the oppression of the mine-owners, are getting ready for blood.
As the film progresses we see the black and Italian strikebreakers at first an object of scorn and violence, but then gradually joining the miners’ ranks to go up against the company.
The company provides the film’s villains, who go up against the law and the townsfolk, and eventually wind up in the streets in a “High Noon” showdown, or perhaps more correctly, one that borrows from “Gunfight at the OK Corral.”
Both Sayles’ strengths and weaknesses are in full evidence here. There’s the excellent dialogue that is a Sayles trademark, conversations that seem real and pointed, and which seem to come from life. There are the fully developed, three-dimensional characters working as an ensemble, so many of them that it’s impossible to highlight all worthy contenders. And in this instance Sayles also has the benefit of Haskell Wexler’s gorgeous cinematography and Mason Daring’s evocative music.
But there are also the old-movie clichés that occasionally get in the way, and Sayles’ villains have never been so one-dimensional or completely despicable as they are here.
Those distractions aside, however, “Matewan” still manages to pack an awfully powerful punch drawing up portraits of distressed families in crisis.
Cooper is a superb lead player, underplaying his role nicely in a moving, low-key manner. Other standouts include James Earl Jones as “Few Clothes,” leader of the black contingent; Will Oldham as the young preacher-miner; and Nancy Mette as Bridey Mae, the lonely young widow who meets each train that pulls into town hoping it might be bringing her someone to love.
Sayles’ “Matewan” is loaded with unforgettable images and wonderful characters and ranks with his best work. It is rated PG-13 for scenes of violence and profanity.
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.
THELMA & LOUISE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: The feminist thriller ‘Thelma & Louise’ became an unexpected ‘sleeper’ hit of summer 1991, striking a chord with women around the country. And though the film is set in four other states, much of the action was filmed in southern Utah, and it looks glorious on the big screen. Peery’s Egyptian Theater in Ogden will show it one night only, Wednesday, Nov. 12, at 7 p.m. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 24, 1991.
Susan Sarandon, who seems incapable of putting forth a single false note into any of her screen characters, and Geena Davis, whose amiable goofiness finds another suitable showcase here, make a formidable team in "Thelma & Louise."
Sarandon is Louise, a waitress in a small Arkansas diner who has left some unpleasant memories behind in Texas. Davis is Thelma, a mild-mannered housewife whose husband (Christopher McDonald) is a selfish lout.
When the two of them decide to escape for a weekend outing, Thelma is so intimidated by her husband she leaves him a note instead of telling him in person. She also throws a gun in Louise's car, just in case a psycho-killer shows up along the way.
But their happy-go-lucky trip turns sour the first night when they stop at a honky-tonk and have a run-in with a local jerk who makes Thelma's husband look like Prince Charming. What happens next sends them farther down the road than they intended, as eluding police becomes secondary to self-discovery.
Geena Davis, left, Susan Sarandon, 'Thelma & Louise'
Written with great wit by first-time screenwriter Callie Khouri and directed as a change of pace by stylist Ridley Scott ("Alien," "Blade Runner," "Black Rain"), "Thelma & Louise" could have been a man-hating feminist thriller, a violent female variation on themes from any number of road movies that have been made about men.
But with its terrifically funny, scary and perceptive story, the film refrains from being strident and is always in tune with its characters' sensibilities. There's more going on here than merely bubbles on the surface.
Louise and Thelma meet up with a young hitchhiker (Brad Pitt), whose intentions may not be as benign as they seem; Louise's boyfriend (Michael Madsen), who tries to convince her he's changed his errant ways; and a cop from back home (Harvey Keitel), with whom they communicate by radio, believes they have been the victims of a "snowballing" effect. They also see some great old faces on the road, lovingly framed by Scott's camera. (Much of this was filmed in southern Utah, by the way, and it looks gorgeous.)
The surprise here is that "Thelma & Louise" becomes more compelling as it rolls along, building up to a payoff that may or may not be to your liking. To me, the climax felt right, though it ends too abruptly.
Meanwhile, some male members of the audience will complain that the men in the movie seem too unsympathetic. But for me it works as a fitting allegory for women who struggle in "a man's world." (Including the run-in with a stereotypical trucker, who gets his comeuppance in a terrific moment.)
Sarandon and Davis are perfect, changing places periodically as the mother and daughter figures, but never in a way that seems contrived. (But will Oscar remember them since the film has opened so early in the year?)
"Thelma & Louise" is rated R for violence, profanity, sex, brief nudity and a funny, if out-of-left-field, marijuana sequence.
EDITOR’S ENDNOTE: As it happens, ‘Thelma & Louise’ was indeed remembered when Oscars rolled around the next year, with nominations going to cinematographer Adrien Biddle, editor Thom Noble, director Ridley Scott, screenwriter Callie Khouri, and stars Susan Sarandon and Geena Davis. Only Khouri won, however.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 8, 2019
EDITOR’S NOTE: The original ‘Blob’ was such a low-budget, goofy, campy monster movie that I’m sure no one involved ever expected it to ever be remade. But it was, in 1988, and now that version has a new Blu-ray upgrade in release. My review was published in the Deseret News on Aug. 7, 1988.
The first question that comes to mind about a new high-tech remake of “The Blob” is, “Why?”
Since I hadn’t seen the original 1958 version since I was a lad of 12 or 13 (and that was a looooong time ago) I watched it again the other night, and Steve McQueen or no Steve McQueen (he’s actually billed as Steven), it was awful.
But it was that kind of campy, low-budget awful that makes it kind of fun.
It was sort of like “Attack of the Killer Tomatoes.” With Jell-O.
And since the appeal of that first film was campy low-budget tackiness, how can a multimillion-dollar special-effects-laden remake achieve the same charm … if that’s the word?
Well, it can’t.
So instead it goes for straight humor and extremely gooey gore.
Shawnee Smith, Kevin Dillon, 'The Blob' (1988)
There’s an odd trend at work here, set by earlier high-tech remakes of such 1950s B-movie fare as “Invasion of the Body Snatchers,” “The Thing from Another World,” “Invaders from Mars” and “The Fly.”
All of those were pretty good for various reasons but if “The Blob” resembles any of them it’s John Carpenter’s “The Thing” — especially when the Blob itself sprouts tentacles to attack its victims.
The storyline is amazingly faithful to the original “Blob,” with a meteor from outer space landing outside a small town, discovered by a lonesome old man. The Blob gloms onto his arm, and some teens take him to a hospital.
There the gooey mass eats away at the old man and attacks one of the teens, then, as it begins to grow, it moves across town, munching on locals.
There’s a re-creation of the famous movie-theater scene — where a phony slasher spoof is shown, “The Garden Tool Massacre” — and the grocery store scene, and ultimately the Blob is destroyed in the same manner as the first film.
But in this day and age you can’t have a horror movie without blaming the mayhem on the government, so some scenes and plot elements purloined from “E.T. The Extra-Terrestrial” and “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” have been added, a sinister aspect that is a bit weak.
Obviously people who are grossed out by gore aren’t going to be able to get into “The Blob,” and it’s certainly not the best of the ’50s remake trend. But it is surprisingly entertaining and often funny, it its own horrible way.
Besides, how can you hate a movie that has one of its victims literally pulled down a sink drain or that lists in its credits such technicians as five Blob Wranglers.
“The Blob” is rated R for violence, profanity, and vulgarity.