OPINIONS ARE LIKE ...
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: Ah, pompous movie critics. Here’s an example of my own pomposity in a ‘Hicks on Flicks’ column published in the Deseret News on Dec. 10, 1989 under the headline, ‘Some American films masterfully dubbed, reader says.’ With two new subtitled foreign-language films opening this weekend, it seems appropriate.
We get letters . . ..
DEAR MR. HICKS,
In an article you wrote Oct. 1, 1989, you take (Motion Picture Association of Americn president) Jack Valenti to task for his endorsement of quality dubbing of foreign-language movies. Personally I don’t have any problem with subtitles. I immensely enjoyed, for example, “Babette’s Feast” last year. And the subtitles version of “Das Boot” was far superior to the dubbed version (I’ve seen both). But I believe, in a sense, you may have missed the point of Mr. Valenti’s comments. I wonder if perhaps you are not fluent in a foreign language and therefore have never had the opportunity of seeing a masterfully dubbed American film.
Years ago . . . in Germany, I was able to see a few such films. It might seem strange and disconcerting to you to think of Yul Brynner and Charlton Heston spewing forth German in “The Ten Commandments,” but to German-thinking-and-speaking people it was tremendous! I saw one of my favorite movies, “The Sting,” the first time was dubbed into German. The effect was marvelous. I saw it twice and looked hard for awkwardness. I found virtually none. It was easy to believe that Redford, Newman, Shaw, etc., had shot a German version of the film.
The point it, we Americans never see first-class dubbing. If we did, you might feel differently, too.
Barney Christiansen, Sandy
DEAR MR. CHRISTIANSEN,
I also spent some time in Germany, during the late ‘60s and early ‘70s, and had an opportunity to see several American films dubbed into the German language.
The most interesting experience was with “The Graduate,” which had dubbed-in German dialogue but still featured Simon & Garfunkel singing in English in the background. It was an odd but enjoyable experience.
In my comments about Valenti’s address, however, I was referring to foreign films being dubbed into English. And it’s not just the usual lousy dubbing that causes me to prefer subtitling. There’s also an ambiance, a sense of the culture of the foreign country that is lost when, for example, an English voice speaks for a French actor.
But you may be quite right in your assessment, and perhaps I should reserve judgment until after I’ve seen an example of a foreign-language movie that has received a first-class English-dubbing job.
MARVEL'S BIG CAT
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 16, 2018
The latest Marvel superhero arrives this weekend, along with an animated comedy, a biblical tale and an Oscar-nominated true story.
“Black Panther” (PG-13). One of the year’s most highly anticipated action films is this Marvel Universe entry about an African king (Chadwick Boseman) who returns home to his reclusive, technologically advanced nation but unexpectedly finds himself challenged for the throne. With Michael B. Jordan, Lupita Nyong’o, Martin Freeman, Angela Bassett, Forest Whitaker and Andy Serkis.
“Early Man” (PG). This spoof of prehistoric man and creatures comes from British stop-motion animator Nick Park (“Wallace and Gromit,” “Shaun the Sheep”). The voice cast includes Eddie Redmayne, Tom Hiddleston, Maisie Williams, Timothy Spall, Rob Brydon and Miriam Margolyes.
“Samson” (PG-13). The biblical story of strongman Samson, his conflict with the Philistine army and eventual downfall at the hands of Philistine seductress Delilah, receives yet another film adaptation. Taylor James and Caitlin Leahy have the lead roles, with support from Lindsay Wagner, Rutger Hauer and Billy Zane.
“Film Stars Don’t Die in Liverpool” (R). Annette Bening stars as Oscar-winning actress Gloria Graham (“The Bad and the Beautiful,” “Oklahoma!”) in this biographical story of her romance with a much-younger man (Jamie Bell). With Vanessa Redgrave and Julie Walters. Bening, Bell and screenwriter Matt Greenhalgh are nominated for Academy Awards.
“The Insult” (R, in Arabic with English subtitles). A Lebanese Christian and a Palestinian refugee exchange harsh words over repairs to a drainpipe on a balcony, which leads to court action that gains national attention. This Lebanese drama is nominated for the best foreign-language Oscar.
“La Boda de Valentina (The Wedding of Valentina)” (R, in English and in Spanish with English subtitles). A Mexican woman living in the United States accepts a proposal by her American boyfriend. But then she discovers that her corrupt politically connected family has married her off to her old boyfriend without her knowledge. So she heads south to straighten things out in this glossy rom-com.
“Oscar Documentary Shorts” (Not rated, though some films may have R-level material). As the title suggests, this program features all five Oscar-nominated short films in the “Documentary” category. (Exclusively at the Tower Theater.)
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: A decidedly 21st century take on Beatrix Potter’s beloved Peter Rabbit opens this weekend, so it’s a good time to remind you of a lovely little film about Potter that played in theaters about a dozen years ago. ‘Miss Potter’ is available on DVD and shows up now and again on various streaming sites. I wasn’t reviewing movies in 2006 but I did have occasion to write about this one when it was released on DVD, and later in a column about romantic movies for Valentine’s Day.
June 21, 2007: “Miss Potter” (Weinstein/Genius, 2006, PG, $28.95). Renée Zellweger is the title character, Beatrix Potter, who lived a sheltered life until she wrote the beloved Peter Rabbit children's stories. This film is an offbeat mix of sentimentality and whimsy (she occasionally speaks to her characters and we see them respond).
Zellweger is utterly charming, as is Ewan McGregor as the shy publisher who slowly begins to woo her. The film also nicely captures the period, the turn of the 20th century.
If you are one of those who wishes they’d make ’em like they used to, this is for you.
February 6, 2014: In anticipation of Valentine’s Day (yeah, guys, it’s next Friday; write it down), the Internet and a variety of show-biz magazines have been bubbling over with their choices for the “best romantic movies,” and some of them are laughably strange.
“Forgetting Sarah Marshall”? “Lost in Translation”? “Big Night”? “Love, Actually”? “Friends with Benefits”?
Are they kidding?
Renée Zellweger, Ewan McGregor, 'Miss Potter'
Despite some airs of romantic desire in each film, and whatever else you may think of them in terms of quality, none of these fit my definition of “romance.”
As old-fashioned as this may sound, to me romance involves meeting someone, finding yourself attracted to him or her, dating, having actual conversations, getting to know her or him, becoming closer, getting serious, declaring exclusivity. … And at some point, expressing love and fidelity.
Not, as Hollywood would have it, meeting, having sex and then, maybe, pursuing a relationship. And saying “I love you” seems to be the most difficult thing, spoken hesitantly, if at all.
Since the “freedom of the 1960s, ’70s and then even more aggressively since the ’80s, Hollywood has increasingly confused “romance” with “sex.”
Sorry, they aren’t the same thing. Romance is in the wooing, the courting, not in the bedding.
Renée Zellweger, 'Miss Potter'
But you wouldn’t know it to watch movies and TV shows these days. Perhaps because, in Hollywoodland, a long-lasting relationship might get you lunch the next day.
This is especially true of so-called “rom-coms.” I mourn the death of comedies about finding love in favor of comedies about finding a sex partner — graphic, profane, scatological, raunchy and otherwise R-rated. Or for that matter, PG-13-rated.
Note to Hollywood: Just because you can show everything these days doesn’t mean you should.
EDITOR’S NOTE: At this point in the column I listed 10 titles, including this one.
“Miss Potter”: The Victorian author, watercolorist and decidedly unconventional Beatrix Potter (Renée Zellweger), whose “Peter Rabbit” stories become a surprise sensation, is romanced in a reticent way by her gentlemanly publisher, Norman Warne (Ewan McGregor). This biographical comedy-drama is a touching true story artfully realized by filmmaker Chris Noonan (“Babe”).
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 from my some 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 still writing for the D-News, but this is mostly archival stuff (with permission), 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.
THE DARK CRYSTAL
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: Love it or hate it, ‘The Dark Crystal’ has a following, which explains this big-screen, two-day revival at local Cinemark theaters, courtesy of TCM and Fathom Events. You can catch it on Sunday, Feb. 25, and Wednesday, Feb. 28, at 2 and 7 p.m. Here’s my review, published in the Deseret News on Dec. 30, 1982.
“The Dark Crystal,” a five-year dream project of Jim Henson, is not quite the epic fantasy he intended, but it’s still a fascinating attempt, and a surprisingly affecting one.
Henson, and his partner Frank Oz, have created a bizarre world where three suns are about to converge and wreak havoc, unless a young gelfling named Jen finds a missing shard and replaces it in the dark crystal, a life-giving force at the center of this unusual universe.
This sends young, inexperienced Jen on a “Wizard of Oz”- type journey that takes him through “Alice in Wonderland”-style forests and swamplands, as he encounters all kinds of cliffhanger adventures. There is also some Tolkein here, and even a touch of “Star Wars.”
In fact, the entire story and most of the plot twists seem to have their origins elsewhere. But what Henson lacks in originality where the script is concerned, he more than makes up for in his own special brand of Muppetry.
You won’t find Miss Piggy or Kermit the Frog here, but you’ll meet a number of wondrous little creatures, most of them relegated to the background, and a vast number of grotesqueries, curiously dominating the foreground.
That, and some unusually dark imagery make this questionable for younger audiences; parents might want to think twice about taking very young children, since the PG rating is for some rather violent moments and more than a few scary ones.
There is also the Henson charm in abundance, however, with some delightful characters that will remind you of others you’ve seen on “The Muppet Show” and “Sesame Street” — including Animal and Snuffleupagus! What I enjoyed most about this film were these delightful little creatures, the podlings and the dog-like Fizzgig, and the dozens of strange forms of animal and plant life populating the swamps and caves, playing supporting and cameo roles.
“The Dark Crystal” is mainly populated with skeksis and mystics, along with landstriders, garthim and characters called Aughra or Urzah, and a second young gelfling named Kira — the love interest for Jen. If all this sounds confusing, you’ll catch on as the film progresses.
Gary Kurtz, left, Jim Henson and Frank Oz on the set of 'The Dark Crystal.'
Henson has also included a lot of semi-religious mumbo-jumbo and the climax has Jen and Kira starting anew as a sort of Adam and Eve in Muppetland. And, after all, this is really just an elaborate puppet show.
But the special effects and amazing advanced art of puppetry here are truly fascinating. The story takes a back seat to the imaginative and highly entertaining telling in this case.
“The Dark Crystal” is obviously not for all tastes (at one point Jen says, “This place is weird!” and you’ll have to agree), but even if audiences fail to catch its spirit, there’s a cult film here whose reputation will grow over the years, I think. It’s so new and so different, it may take more than one viewing to take it all in. But I expect it will tend to grow on its audience.
It should also be mentioned that the joint direction of Henson and Frank Oz (who, in addition to his numerous Muppet chores, was Yoda in “The Empire Strikes Back”) is very good. They have a real feel for the art of cinema, and future projects should prove well worth waiting for.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Feb. 9, 2018
EDITOR’S NOTE: This offbeat comedy recently received a Blu-ray-special edition upgrade from the Criterion Collection. Here’s my Deseret News review, published Nov. 7, 1986. And in retrospect, I’m surprised I didn’t cite — or even name — Ray Liotta, who gives terrifying performance as Melanie Griffith’s violent, ex-con husband.
Jonathan Demme has proved adept at directing screwball comedy with “Melvin and Howard,” and he provided nail-biting suspense with the underrated and little-seen “Last Embrace.”
So now he has a new movie with both.
The blend isn’t always successful, and in that regard “Something Wild” at times reminded me of John Landis’ “Into the Night,” which has some similar themes. But “Something Wild” has a genuine offbeat charm to it that manages to compensate for a heck of a lot. And it really doesn’t lose its way until it shifts too darkly toward being a suspense-thriller in the final third or so.
The theme is not unfamiliar, and actually harkens all the way back to “Bringing Up Baby,” with zany Katharine Hepburn taking staid professor Cary Grant on the wild ride of his life. (And it probably goes back further than that.)
But, it’s still a good theme in the right hands, and Demme’s are certainly the right hands … most of the way.
Jeff Daniels, the actor and character-come-to-life in “The Purple Rose of Cairo,” and Melanie Griffith, who played the female lead in “Body Double,” are the stars here.
Daniels is a straight-arrow vice president in a prestigious Manhattan tax-consulting agency who likes to do little things he shouldn’t, such as leave restaurants without paying the bill or steal candy bars while standing in the grocery checkout line.
From left: Jeff Daniels, Melanie Griffith, Ray Liotta, Margaret Colin
Griffith spots him as he leaves a restaurant without paying and lures him into her car, calling him a “closet rebel.” She’s a wild and crazy gal, but we’re not quite sure what to think of her for the first little while, and it’s rather late into the film before all the questions are answered.
Before the weekend is over, Daniels will find himself pretending to be Griffith’s husband — not just in general, but for her mother — as well as going to her 10-year high school reunion and having all kids of other zany, crazy and dangerous encounters.
But giving too much of the plot away here will spoil the surprises, which are numerous and frequently hilarious in a very quirky way.
In the final third, however, when the tone of the film shifts to dangerous ground and gets very tense, it’s simply too stark. We just aren’t prepared enough for it. Demme has kept us on edge throughout the film, but it’s a different kind of edginess. When the suspense builds and the shocks occur, the audience is likely to be thrown off too far — especially considering the oddly old-fashioned ending that is tacked on afterward.
Despite all these misgivings, however (and the R-rated nudity, sex, profanity and violence), there is an awful lot to admire here.
“Something Wild” boasts some wonderful performances, especially from the leads. Jeff Daniels is the perfect personification of the everyday normal guy who is suddenly whisked up into things over which he has absolutely no control. And Melanie Griffith manages to make her kooky character fully developed and touching, rather than just a superficial nut. Hers is perhaps the most difficult role in the piece, and she’s terrific.
Also interesting are a number of in-jokes, people with zany reputations playing incredibly straight characters — such as Tracey Walter as a British liquor store salesman and John Waters as a used car salesman.
And the toe-tapping, slightly wacked-out score, by such people as Laurie Anderson (“Home of the Brave”) and David Byrne of the Talking Heads, is also quite good.