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RATING THE RATINGS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Motion Picture Association of America just announced that it’s revealing more about its process of rating movies on its website for its 50th anniversary. I wrote a lot about the movie-rating system in the 1980s and ’90s, and interviewed the late Jack Valenti — who created and presided over the rating board at the time — on many occasions. Here’s an example of my sniping at the system, which, despite this new pulling back of the curtain on its history and process, isn’t a lot more revealing than it was 37 years ago. When I wrote the ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column below the PG-13 rating was still three years away from implementation, and already the cliché of having the f-word spoken just once or twice while still trying to avoid an R rating, was already a thing. This column, headlined ‘Rating, not substance, shapes our cinema,’ was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 2, 1981. (A colleague warned me that I was outing myself as a prude. He wasn’t wrong, and I guess I still am.)

Little could producer David O. Selznick have imagined what he would be unleashing upon the movie world when he and director Victor O. Fleming braved the public moral good by allowing Rhett Butler, alias Clark Gable, to utter that famous line at the end of “Gone With the Wind:”

“Frankly, my dear – I don’t give a damn!”

Remember that? The year was 1939.

And today, anything goes.

Why, even “Popeye” muttered a profanity last year for the sake of securing the sacred PG rating.

 

Robin Williams' 'Popeye' bespoke woids that comic-strip Popeye nevuh woulda muttered.

All of this came to mind as I sat through “The Pursuit of D.B. Cooper,” an inventive chase comedy, with a scene in which Robert Duvall says that hardcore cuss word that supposedly requires an automatic R rating.

You didn’t hear him say it, though, since post-production dubbing changed the word. It came in the middle of a string of vulgarities Duvall was spewing at a supporting character as the latter sat in the trunk of a car. The offending word was dubbed over, presumably so the film could carry a PG. And so it does.

But the producers may have gone to the trouble for nothing. A startling number of movies with that horrifying profanity of profanities have been lisping by lately with PGs.

“Honky Tonk Freeway,” “Mommie Dearest,” “Carbon Copy” and “Stevie” (the latter has not played in Salt Lake City yet) all use the offending term; all are rated PG.

Despite this, however, there are still a number of pictures that appear to have been rated R for that word. Certainly “First Monday in October” and “The French Lieutenant’s Woman” could have been PG, even with the rest of the sexual material each contained. “Only When I Laugh” could be R for no other reason (and it’s the first R-rated Neil Simon picture).

While I still feel the rating system is useful in some cases, it is a fickle beast. What in the world happened to making movies purely for the art form or for entertainment’s sake?

     

Alan Arkin in a recent interview in “Movie Guide” magazine remarked that until 15 years ago every great movie – for that matter, every movie – was a G movie. He went on to say, “Now nothing can be considered ‘adult’ unless it’s got an R – which implies that adult means degenerate.”

He has a point.

A friend of mine in the theater business locally said recently, “I don’t mind being frightened by a movie and I don’t mind being made to laugh or to cry or to wonder – but I’m certainly tired of going to the movies and being embarrassed.”

For me, it also has a rather annoying effect. When there is excessive nudity or sex or violence, instead of enhancing the experience, it takes me out of it. Suddenly I’m no longer involved in the story; I’m wincing or uncomfortable.

How is it that so many excellent pictures could be made without those excesses for so many years, and now moviegoers are surprised when a film comes along without them?


New Movies This Week New Movies This Week

THE GRINCH? AGAIN?

  

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

Although two major-studio R-rated releases are getting a lot of publicity, this weekend’s likely box-office winner is yet another movie about the Grinch spoiling Christmas. At least this one’s a cartoon without Jim Carrey.

“The Grinch” (aka “Dr. Seuss’ The Grinch,” PG). This third incarnation of Dr. Seuss’ classic book “How the Grinch Stole Christmas!” is a colorfully animated retelling, with Benedict Cumberbatch voicing the furry, green and very grumpy creature that enlists his dog Max to help him ruin the holiday in Whoville. Other voices are provided by Rashida Jones, Kenan Thompson, Angela Lansbury and Pharrell Williams.

“Time Freak” (PG-13). This time-travel romantic comedy stars Asa Butterfield as a young inventor who perfects a time machine. When his girlfriend (Sophie Turner) breaks up with him, he travels back in time to adjust his treatment of her and mend their relationship. Filmed almost entirely in the Salt Lake Valley, to include the University of Utah. (Exclusively at the Megaplex District Theaters.)

“The Girl in the Spider’s Web: A New Dragon Tattoo Story” (R). Claire Foy is the third actress to tackle the complicated role of Lisbeth Salander, the 20-something goth computer hacker with a photographic memory who teams up with an older journalist (Sverir Gudnason) to take down bad guys. This is a reboot of the “Dragon Tattoo” franchise, based on characters created by Stieg Larsson for his “Millenium” book trilogy.

  

“Overlord” (R). During World War II, on the eve of D-Day, American paratroopers caught behind enemy lines learn that the Nazis have been experimenting with the creation of monstrous super soldiers in this mix of wartime and horror genres.

“What They Had” (R). When an elderly woman (Blythe Danner) with Alzheimer’s wanders off during a blizzard on Christmas Eve, her daughter (Hilary Swank) travels back to her hometown to help her brother (Michael Shannon) convince their father (Robert Forster) that it’s time to place Mom in a nursing home. With Taissa Farmiga and Josh Lucas.

“Wildlife” (R). After a recent move to a new home in 1960 Montana, a golf pro (Jake Gyllenhaal) loses his job and signs on to help fight a forest fire raging nearby. His wife (Carey Mulligan) is none to pleased with the decision and soon their marriage is falling apart as their teenage son watches.


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

CANNERY ROW

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: As a longtime John Steinbeck fan I was happy to see a film adaptation of ‘Cannery Row,’ and I enjoyed the stylized result. Apparently I’m not alone since Warner Archive has seen fit to reissue the film on DVD. Here’s my review, published Feb. 19, 1982.

There is a sweetness, a fantasy-like quality to the latest film treatment of John Steinbeck’s work that will either grab your sense of old-fashioned movie style or leave you behind.

“Cannery Row” is not anything like the gritty, realistic films we are used to today, but in its own way this picture seems to yearn for the naive innocence of another era.

Appropriately enough, it’s a period piece, with lovable winos and prostitutes-with-hearts-of-gold, all gentle, harmless characters whose interrelationships are at the core of their existence.

And the center of their attention is Doc (Nick Nolte), a marine biologist who collects octopi form the nearby Monterey, Calif., oceanside and is going to write that very important paper … someday.

Life is fairly routine among the low-lifes and derelicts of “The Row” until Suzy (Debra Winger) floats into town. Where she comes from or who she really is, is rather vague, but in she strides looking for work. And wouldn’t you know it, the only job she can get is in the local bordello?

That gets her off to a shaky start with Doc, who likes the ladies well enough but isn’t sure he wants to be attracted to one of them.

     

             Nick Nolte, Debra Winger, 'Cannery Row'

Sure enough, though, once she and Doc get past an awkward introduction, they’re fighting and scrapping — and you just know he and Suzy are falling in love.

That’s the way old Hollywood often worked; the more a couple fought, the quicker they were falling in love.

“Cannery Row” is an episodic series of bittersweet comic vignettes, with a good baker’s dozen worth of memorable scenes: the wild frog hunt in the swamp, followed by the local bums using the frogs as money in a local store; the dance sequence with Suzy and Doc in a game of one-upmanship; the party where everyone dresses up as trees or Snow White characters. … And so it goes.

Many of the supporting performances in this picture are worth noting, including Audra Lindley (Mrs. Roper in TV’s “Three’s Company” and “The Ropers”) as Fauna, the local Madame, and M. Emmet Walsh as Mack, leader of the hobos. But the show is nearly stolen by Frank McRae as Hazel, a giant of a man with the mind of a child — a less lethal version of Steinbeck’s Lenny in “Of Mice and Men.” McRae is a thorough delight and every scene he has is worth noting — especially when he comes up with a solution to the rift between Doc and Suzy.

     

M. Emmett Walsh, center, and the denizens of 'Cannery Row.'

In the leads, Nick Nolte and Debra Winger are both superb. Nolte has a childlike quality that lends itself nicely to Doc, a man with a mysterious past, and Winger, who was John Travolta’s wife in “Urban Cowboy,” has an innocence here that seems genuine, though there lurks beneath a feisty sensuousness that is less obvious. She also has the most appealing, unique voice to hit the screen since Jean Arthur, though Winger’s is more throaty.

“Cannery Row” also boasts a fine musical score, thrifty direction (a debut in that effort) by scriptor David Ward (“The Sting”), and luxurious photography by Sven Nykvist (who does most of Ingmar Bergman’s films).

The major drawback here is the set design and some obvious background projection. The set is very stylized and obviously a soundstage, and though it is original, it tends to feel claustrophobic after a while. But the real problem comes when location shots of Doc out in the water are shown. They are so gorgeous and open, that the contrast just overwhelms the set work.

Despite that, though, “Cannery Row” (rated PG for profanity and a scene of Winger undressing in a window) is a delightful, innocent romantic 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

DIE HARD

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 9, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s a longstanding joke that men think of ‘Die Hard’ as the ultimate Christmas movie, but cable TV showings do increase during the holidays, so maybe the joke has become the reality. Fathom Events and Turner Classic Movies have joined that bandwagon, giving the film a big-screen revival for its 30th anniversary. Locally you can catch it various Cinemark and Megaplex theaters on Sunday, Nov. 11, and Wednesday, Nov. 14, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review, published July 20, 1988.

Bruce Willis has decided to switch from the light comedy of his first two movies (“Blind Date,” “Sunset”) and his hit TV show (“Moonlighting”) and move into the action-thriller motif.

And he just may have a rock-’em, sock-’em big winner with “Die Hard.”

The irony is that this doesn’t need to be a Bruce Willis picture (despite the reported $5 million he received for it). The difference between “Die Hard” and “The Dead Pool,” for example, is the difference between a director’s film and a star’s film.

“The Dead Pool” is all Clint Eastwood, who is, of course, a bigger-than-life iconic movie star. Only he could have made that movie work as it does.

But “Die Hard” is a stylishly structured witty send-up of the genre while rooting itself firmly in the genre. And the star could have been anyone.

As it is, Willis will do.

He plays a hard-as-nails but nonetheless quite human New York cop out of his element in Los Angeles. He’s there to attend a Christmas Eve party in a high-rise office building where his estranged wife (Bonnie Bedelia) is a corporate executive.

While Willis is changing clothes in the washroom the party is crashed by apparent terrorists who make it clear immediately that human life has little meaning to them.

So, instinctively, Willis hides out and tries to find a way to reach the local police. Meanwhile, realizing there is nothing to keep these guys from killing their hostages — which include his wife — Willis begins using minor terror tactics of his own to distract the terrorists. And they turn into major tactics as the film builds.

     

Dennis Hayden, left, Alan Rickman, Bonnie Bedelia, 'Die Hard'

On the surface this sounds like little more than “Rambo” meets “The Towering Inferno,” but there’s a lot more going on here — and much of it is comic.

One major plus in Willis’ character is that he’s not a callous killer like Dirty Harry or John Rambo. The first time he kills one of the terrorists it’s an accident and the second time he must be provoked to save himself. In that regard he’s more like Indiana Jones.

The film’s suspense builds as Willis finds himself trapped at every turn. Fate and luck intervene, of course, and nothing here is like real life — but this is a powerful action picture that grabs the audience and doesn’t let go. So who has time to think about lapses in logic?

Director John McTiernan, who also gave us “Predator” — another very stylishly directed thriller — knows how to push all the right buttons, and there are so many hair-raising action scenes in “Die Hard” that Indiana Jones would feel envious.

The script has some nice twists to it — such as having these terrorists as renegades that even terrorist organizations don’t want to be associated with. But ultimately it overplays its hand, especially with an idiotic “Friday the 13th”-“Fatal Attraction” ending.

     

Aside from the fingernail-biting action, however, it is the many delightful little comic touches that give the movie its multi-level feel, and most of them go by so quickly they might be missed if you aren’t paying attention: A tough terrorist whines when he is pricked by a rose thorn, another takes a moment from his duties to steal a candy bar, etc.

There are also some nice supporting characters, in particular the chief villain, played with oozing charm by veteran stage actor Alan Rickman, and the overweight cop who befriends Willis via walkie-talkie, played by Reginald Veljohnson. Alexander Godunov is also good as Rickman’s top killer.

On the other hand, Paul Gleason, as the deputy police chief, is doing his patented dolt-in-charge (he was the teacher in “The Breakfast Club,” the coach in “Johnny Be Good,” etc.), and it’s a very bad choice for this film. The FBI agents (Robert Davi, Grand L. Bush) likewise are portrayed as hard-nosed dimwits and a TV reporter (William Atherton) is particularly — and stereotypically — loathsome.

Sadly, Bonnie Bedelia, a terrific actress, has very little to do but stand (or be dragged) around. She deserves much better.

“Die Hard” is at its worst when the line where satire begins and broad cartoon leaves off is obscured but when this movie is sharp it’s very sharp indeed. And the incredible heavy-hitter action sequences are truly gripping.

“Die Hard” is deserving of its R rating, for a lot of violence and profanity, along with a couple of brief scenes that contain female nudity, and drugs (one character is a coke-head).


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

THE TIE THAT BINDS

     

For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Oct. 26, 2018

EDITOR’S NOTE: Before ‘spoiler alerts’ became a thing — or even had that name — I gave away the ending of this movie in my review, first warning readers that the climax was about to be revealed. My reason for doing so is explained, along with my feelings about why I dismissed the film as a whole. Nonetheless, Kino Lorber has given the thriller a blu-ray upgrade, so here’s my review, published Sept. 12, 1995.

"The Tie That Binds" is an attempt to recapture the spirit of "The Hand That Rocks the Cradle," which was itself simply a more sophisticated variation on the slasher genre.

In this case, however, director Wesley Strick (working from a script by first-timer Michael Auerbach) overplays his hand and underdevelops his characters.

As the film begins, it appears that Daryl Hannah and Keith Carradine, as a pair of homeless serial killers, along with their young daughter (newcomer Julia Devin), will be the film's focus. (Carradine tries to punch up his character with some sick humor but he comes off like a low-rent Jack Nicholson.)

     

      Daryl Hannah, Keith Carradine, 'The Tie That Binds'

Their stock in trade seems to be terrorizing homeowners while stealing food, then taking Polaroid photographs of the victims before (and maybe after) slaughtering them. The girl, meanwhile, cowers in the car and apparently has had little, if any, social interaction with anyone other than her parents.

But early in the film one of the crime sprees is interrupted by police, and while Hannah and Carradine escape their daughter is taken into custody. It is at this point that we meet another young couple, stable but childless Moira Kelly and Vincent Spano, who decide to adopt a child. And, of course, the child they adopt is Devin.

The rest of the film primarily consists of Hannah and Carradine terrorizing the policeman who took their daughter and the social worker who placed her in a foster home, before they finally get around to a showdown with Kelly and Spano.

READER ADVISORY: I am about to give away a key aspect of the film's climax — so if you plan to see this picture and don't want the ending spoiled, don't finish this review.

In the end, it is the young daughter who is called upon to kill her father, stabbing him with a knife, and it serves to confirm the film's most gratuitous tendencies. Yes, I cringed — but not because I was caught up in the film.

     

I'm not crazy about child-in-peril subplots in commercial horror or action pictures, much less an entire child-in-peril movie. But I found this moment — and another that occurs earlier in the film, as a newborn infant is placed in peril — to be quite reprehensible.

After all, there is no "Bad Seed" element here, nothing to indicate that this young girl has violent tendencies.

We know nothing about the background of Devin or Hannah or Carradine, but to have the child kill one of her parents, and then to simply fade out with a let's-go-back-and-live-a-happy-life-together ending, is just too much.

"The Tie That Binds" is rated R for violence, sex, nudity and profanity.