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I WAS TIM CONWAY’S STRAIGHT MAN

     

    Tim Conway, December 15, 1933 – May 14, 2019

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 17, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: I had planned to reprint two more Monty Python interviews this week and next, but with the death of Tim Conway on Tuesday it seemed more appropriate to run my 33-year-old interview with the beloved comic this week, and a Memorial Day column will run next week. (The Python stories will follow.) As you’ll see, interviewing Conway was more enjoyable than many such exercises. This story was published in the Deseret News under the headline, ‘In person, Tim Conway is affable and sharp, not a twit,’ on March 9, 1986. Sadly, the film he was pushing, ‘The Longshot,’ was a lame misfire. But he nonetheless remains a comedy giant and there are lots of hilarious skits on YouTube and in reruns of 'The Carol Burnett Show' that will have you in stitches.

When I was 13, “McHale’s Navy” went on the air and introduced the world to Tim Conway as the bungling Ensign Parker.

The sitcom was little more than a variation on Phil Silvers’ now-classic “Sgt. Bilko” program, with Ernest Borgnine as a Navy Bilko. But Conway was an original and the only reason I watched the program every week.

His screen persona was developed then and there and just about everything he’s done since has been a variation on Parker. There’s nothing wrong with that, since the same can be said for many other screen comedians from Laurel & Hardy to Conway’s sometimes partner Don Knotts.

After “McHale’s Navy,” Conway went on to do several TV series of his own, none of which fared very well, and gained his greatest fame on the old “Carol Burnett Show,” for which he won three acting Emmys and one writing Emmy.

Conway has also written five movie scripts and starred in all of them from “The Billion Dollar Hobo” and “They Went That-Away” to two comedy-team stints with Knotts, “The Prize Fighter” and “The Private Eyes.”

His latest is “The Longshot,” a horseracing comedy, and he was in town this past week plugging it on every TV and radio station he could squeeze time on.

 

At left, Ernest Bognine and Tim Conway star in 'McHale's Navy'(1962-66); at right, Conway in the early 2000s reunited with his 'Carol Burnett Show' (1967-78) co-stars, Vicki Lawrence, Carol Burnett and Harvey Korman.

In person, Conway is affable, charming, funny, but not at all the bumbling twit he portrays on the screen. Although, as I learned interviewing him on television the other night, he automatically goes into that persona when the camera goes on.

Though his first four movies are aimed at a juvenile audience, “The Longshot,” which is produced by Mike Nichols, and which costars his longtime friend Harvey Korman, Jack Weston, Jonathan Winters and a host of others, is a little more in the adult vein.

“One thing I try to tell people right up front,” said Conway, “is that the film is rated PG-13. We used a few naughty words, because I felt it had to be honest and I can’t say I’ve ever heard someone who loses a bet at the track saying, ‘Oh, darn!’”

Despite the foray into more adult humor, however mild, Conway abhors the current trend of movie comedy that dwells on “bathroom humor.”

“I think I’ve been to my last teenage movie. I mean, you get a bowl of Jell-O, a token drug scene, look through a peephole and see a nude woman and that’s it. To me, that’s not comedy.

I took my wife and kids to see one of these pictures last summer, the one with Lauren Hutton (‘Once Bitten’), and about 10 minutes into the film, I was saying, ‘OK, that’s it, time to go.’ And we were out of there.”

Conway emphasizes that unlike his earlier films, parents shouldn’t think they can drop off their kids on Saturday afternoon to see “The Longshot,” “because if they do, the kids may come home with a few new words.”

“The Longshot” is a script Conway has had in the back of his mind for some 30 or 40 years. When he was a youngster, he aspired to becoming a jockey, “until the horses began looking up and saying, ‘Would you mind getting the heck off of me,’” Conway said, alluding to his growth.

     

Lobby Card for 'The Longshot' (1986): Harvey Korman, left, Tim Conway, Jack Weston, Ted Wass

And, he says, the four lead characters in the film are based on real-life characters he has met at the racetrack.

“This is essentially a modern-day, four-man ‘Odd Couple,’ four boneheads who place a huge bet on a race despite their past track record,” he said.

Conway raises thoroughbreds on his own, but you have to be careful how you ask the question.

Q. Do you breed horses?

A. Well, not personally, no. We have other horses for that.

Interviewing Tim Conway is a bit like playing straight man, but he does eventually get around to the answer.

“Yes, I have four horses, and they race, but to give you an idea of how good they are, we used a couple in the film and during the climactic scenes where they had to win, we had to shoot it three times. They walk fast.”

In the meantime, Conway has several other scripts he’s written, including two serious films. He is also developing with Korman a new syndicated TV series for 1987, which he describes as a sketch comedy show.

“I hope this will show adults that there is some humor left for us.”

As for “The Longshot,” which opened Friday, Conway hopes it will help bring out an audience that doesn’t go to the movies as often anymore. “I like to think of this picture as a ‘Breakfast Club’ for older people. This is about grownups, the way they think, the way they talk.”


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

MIXING IT UP

 

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 17, 2019

This weekend’s new movies are a mixed bag — a family film, an ultra-violent thriller, a romantic comedy-drama and a couple of true stories.

“A Dog’s Journey” (PG). This sequel to the 2017 family film “A Dog’s Purpose” chronicles the further adventures of an oft-reincarnated dog (voiced by Josh Gad) that manages to hold onto his love for his first owner (Dennis Quaid). With Marg Helgenberger replacing the late Peggy Lipton as Quaid’s wife.

“John Wick: Chapter 3: Parabellum” (R). Keanu Reeves returns for his third outing as the titular uber-violent assassin. This is a direct sequel to the second film, picking up the story as Wick finds himself with a high-priced bounty on his head and every one of his rabid-killer colleagues out to get him. With Halle Berry, Laurence Fishburne, Anjelica Huston, Ian McShane and Lance Reddick.

  

“The Sun Is Also a Star” (PG-13). Despite her cynicism about love, fate and destiny, sparks fly when a young quantum-physics student (Yara Shahidi) meets a romantic poetry-writing freshman (Charles Melton) in New York. But she fights her feelings so she can focus on helping her family, which is facing deportation. With John Leguizamo.

“Trial By Fire” (R). True story of Cameron Todd Willingham (Jack O’Connell) who was executed in Texas in 2004 for the murder of his three children, despite expert testimony and scientific evidence that bolstered his claims of innocence but which were suppressed during his trial. With Laura Dern.

“Wild Nights with Emily” (PG-13). Historical drama about the poet Emily Dickinson (Molly Shannon), her struggles to be published and her hidden, lifelong relationship with another woman (Susan Ziegler). Based on a stage play. (Exclusively at the Broadway Centre Cinemas.)

“Sauvage/Wild” (Not Rated, in French with English subtitles). This French melodrama explores the ups and downs in the sordid life of a young male prostitute in Paris. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)


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

WHITE NIGHTS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 17, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: Pairing Gregory Hines with Mikhail Baryshnikov must have seemed like dance-movie heaven in the mid-1980s but musicals in those days often seemed to be built around action dramas for some reason, producing less-than-satisfying results. But if you love great dancing, you can always fast-forward through the storyline and bask in the terpsichorean delights of a new Blu-ray upgrade of the film. This review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 6, 1985 (and to my own surprise it makes no mention of the presence of Helen Mirren in the cast!).

“White Nights” is a dance-thriller — how’s that for new genre? — and it boasts some absolutely exquisite dance sequences with Mikhail Baryshnikov and Gregory Hines, separately and together.

But you’ll have to decide for yourself if it’s worth the dancing to put up with this ridiculous thriller.

The story has Baryshnikov as a world-famous ballet star who defected from Russia some years earlier (how’s that for innovative casting?). He’s on a jetliner going from Great Britain to Japan when the plane develops trouble and crash-lands at a military base in Siberia.

Naturally, Baryshnikov panics when he’s injured in the crash and quickly whisked off by the KGB, which tells the world he is seriously hurt. In reality the government plans to coax him back to the Kirov and have him denounce the free world.

To say the least, Baryshnikov isn’t crazy about the idea.

     

Mikhail Baryshnikov, left, Gregory Hines, 'White Nights'

So the Russians give him a roommate, Gregory Hines as an American who defected to Russia, but who isn’t exactly in good favor anymore. Hines is bitter about America and there are several exchanges as Baryshnikov tries to help him understand how much better it is in America. Didn’t he see “Rocky IV”?

There should be no question in your mind that they will eventually team up to try to escape, along with Hines’ wife, played by newcomer Isabella Rossellini (the daughter of Ingrid Bergman, but who oddly resembles Nastassja Kinski).

Their main obstacle is the evil Russian villain, played by actor-director Jerzy Skolimowski, who helmed the superb “Moonlighting” and starred in the fine German film “Circle of Deceit.”

Despite his sterling credits, however, Skolimowski is the main problem … second only to the script. Though Hines and Baryshnikov play their roles utterly straight, with great sincerity (and are both very good, actually), Skolimowski is broad and hammy, gesturing broadly and playing it almost comically, as if he was in “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” or as a friend suggested, as Boris Badinov, the comical Russian villain in the “Rocky and Bullwinkle” cartoons.

     

Actually, that may have been intentional on Skolimowski’s part, perhaps an indication that he was the only one who understood the script.

If the whole film were played so broadly it might have worked as campy fun. But unfortunately, director Taylor Hackford (“Against All Odds,” “An Officer and a Gentleman”), like his two stars, also takes this deadly seriously.

The result, I am sorry to say, is that you are more likely to laugh in places where it was unintended — especially near the end, as the script piles one too many contrivances on an already far too coincidence-ridden storyline.

But then there are those dance sequences. And there are several of them, powerful and exciting and almost worth the price of admission. Baryshnikov angrily showing his former lover in ballet moves why he left Russia in the first place; Hines showing off as he taps his way through a Russian translation of “Porgy and Bess.” This is great stuff.

Alas, however, you have to sit through “White Nights” for more than two hours to see it.

“White Nights” 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 (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

WHAT ABOUT BOB?

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 17, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s a trifle but it’s also quite funny, and this Bill Murray comedy has only gained popularity in the 28 years since its release, so the SCERA theater in Orem has included it in the classic-movie series that plays year-round. You can see it on the big screen on Tuesday, May 21, at 10 a.m. My review below was published in the Deseret News on May 17, 1991.

"What About Bob?" is rather thin comedy material, and it's not particularly original — everything from "The Dream Team" to "The Great Outdoors" came to mind while watching it.

But there's no question that the engaging performances of Bill Murray and Richard Dreyfuss manage to breathe a great deal of life into the proceedings, and before it starts to run out of steam toward the end, the film provides an awful lot of laughs.

Murray plays a pesky psychiatric patient, a man with more phobias than "Sybil" had personalities, and who tends to latch on to his therapist. This has driven his psychiatrist out of the business, but not before he dumps off Murray on a colleague — a best-selling author played by Dreyfuss.

     

Bill Murray, left, Richard Dreyfuss, 'What About Bob?'

Murray is afraid of everything, from everyday germs to elevators, and though he recognizes his illness he can't seem to do anything about it. Dreyfuss prides himself on being Mr. Cool. "I don't get angry," he says at one point, but he also doesn't know how to be warm and tender with his family.

During Murray's introductory session with him, Dreyfuss announces he's going away for a month's vacation, and Murray is already so attached to him that he's devastated. Of course, it isn't long before he tracks down Dreyfuss at his New Hampshire summer home and begins endearing himself to the family and just about everyone else in the small vacation town — everyone except Dreyfuss, that is.

You can probably predict the rest — as Murray drives Dreyfuss crazy he also gives his family members the kind of nurturing Dreyfuss is unable to provide, while the tension between them escalates.

The main thing that makes this work is Murray being obnoxious without losing his charm. This is Bill Murray at his most affable, and despite the things he does, the audience never loses its connection with him.

     

Bill Murray, Julie Hagerty, Kathryn Erbe, Charlie Korsmo, 'What About Bob?'

At the same time, Dreyfuss manages to react wildly to Murray without ever carrying it too far. Though his character is by far the least sympathetic in the film, Dreyfuss manages to make us care about him and understand why Murray is getting under his skin.

There are some good supporting players here, including Julie Hagerty ("Airplane!") as Dreyfuss' wife and Charlie Korsmo ("Dick Tracy") as their young son.

It's unfortunate that all of this doesn't quite hold up to the finale, and the ending feels flat and rushed. But this is farce, after all, and it's the laugh quotient that counts most.

"What About Bob?" is funny enough to get away with being imperfect.

It's rated PG for a couple of profanities and some vulgarities, along with the expected comic violence.


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

10 TO MIDNIGHT

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 17, 2019

EDITOR’S NOTE: A lot of Charles Bronson action flicks have been making their way to Blu-ray recently, but this is a real puzzler, one of Bronson’s worst. Still, the Shout! Factory believes there is an audience, hence this new release. My review was published on April 17, 1983, in the Deseret News.

Charles Bronson is really in a rut. He doesn’t seem to make films about anything but vigilante justice — taking the law into one’s own hands as a solution to clogged up courts, overcrowded prisons and legal technicalities that set criminals loose.

And the final scene of his latest “10 to Midnight,” seems to be a plea to abolish the insanity defense.

At its best, this picture has a centerpiece that begins to explore both sides of the issue, as Bronson, the veteran cop with countless citations, plants evidence to convict a killer and clashes with his young, idealistic partner (Andrew Stevens).

When that happens, “10 to Midnight” comes alive and looks as if it will overcome the inherent limitations of its own genre and be an interesting, serious examination of an issue of real concern.

But the beginning and windup of this film receive much more screen time, and they are so exploitatively violent as to make this film merely a big-budget “slasher” film.

     

Wilford Brimley, left, Charles Bronson, Andrew Stevens, '10 to Midnight'

The story follows Bronson as the dedicated cop who is tiring of injustices being committed by loopholes, and in a parallel manner gives equal time to the killer (Gene Davis), a lisping wimp who strips before he kills young women by stabbing them to death.

Stevens is the stereotypical good-looking young cop who knows all the rules and scientific methods by heart, while the older Bronson is the dinosaur who remembers the good old days, when courts convicted killers instead of letting them off because they weren’t read their rights.

Salt Lake actor Wilford Brimley is good as Bronson’s boss, a token character, and I liked Lisa Eilbacher as Bronson’s spirited daughter (she was the female recruit who finally made it in “An Officer and a Gentleman”), but most of the other supporting players are incredibly amateurish — particularly the female victims, who are required to do little besides strip and scream.

     

What makes “10 to Midnight” particularly detestable is its pretentions of importance — preachy dialogue that implores us to understand, and sympathize with Bronson’s viewpoint. His daughter is threatened, so it’s OK to break the law.

There’s a decent, intelligent thriller in here straining to break free, but it’s done in by a tired script and J. Lee Thompson’s mundane, exploitative direction. Best known for his top-notch “The Guns of Navarone,” Thompson has nonetheless given us mostly shlock, like Bronson’s own “White Buffalo” and “Caboblanco,” along with MacKenna’s Gold” and “Happy Birthday to Me,” which was specifically a “slasher” film.

I never did figure out the title, either. It’s never mentioned in the film and makes no specific reference to anything I remember. It is, however, rated R, as you might expect, for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.