For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: It’s been some 14 years since we got to see Richard Donner’s version of ‘Superman II,’ so if you’re looking for a superhero movie and haven’t caught up with this one, you might want to give it a spin. This is a column I wrote for the Deseret News, published on Dec. 1, 2006, when the DVD was released. It’s now available on Blu-ray and various streaming sites.
As if to offer literal proof that "everything old is new again," Richard Donner's version of "Superman II" has landed on DVD shelves this week.
It's the same, only different.
This disc has particular resonance for me, as it was in summer 1981 that I attended my first movie junket, a trip to Niagra Falls (Canadian side) to interview the stars of the new movie "Superman II.”
Margot Kidder, who played Lois Lane, was absent but most everyone else was there — led by Superman himself, Christopher Reeve; the film's Lex Luthor, Gene Hackman; and director Richard Lester.
It was while talking with Hackman that I discovered "Superman II" was as much Richard Donner's film as it was Richard Lester’s.
Donner was the director of the first "Superman" movie, so I innocently asked Hackman about the differences in the way the two Richards approached the two "Superman" movies. Hackman off-handedly said he had no idea. All of his scenes were directed by Donner. He never worked with Lester.
Today it's well known among moviephiles that Donner had a falling out with the producers and left "Superman II" unfinished, and that Lester was later hired to complete the film. But back then, who knew? (Although it motivated me to do better pre-interview research.)
Margot Kidder, Christopher Reeve, 'Superman II' (1980)
As explained on the new DVD "Superman II: The Richard Donner Cut,” when Donner was making "Superman," he was simultaneously filming "Superman II." Not back-to-back, like the two "Pirates of the Caribbean" sequels, but at the same time.
When he was shooting on the Daily Planet set, for example, Donner would shoot scenes for both movies within days, perhaps hours, of each other before moving on to a new set.
However, when the film's budget headed north the producers worried they might never recover.
It's hard to imagine now but during filming in 1977 and '78, "Superman" was a troubled shoot, primarily due to the time and money spent developing groundbreaking special effects. Especially for the flying scenes.
Donner felt — and rightly so — that if the flying scenes didn't work, nothing would work. But it was no easy task to fulfill the movie's advertising tag line: "You'll believe a man can fly.”
So, during the making of the first movie, the plug was pulled on the second movie — after Donner had already filmed about 70 percent.
Later, when "Superman" became a hit, "Superman II" went back into production … but bad blood kept Donner from returning.
Enter Richard Lester, who brought more humor and some of his own plot changes to the project.
In the "new" Donner version, Lester's opening sequence at the Eiffel Tower is gone, replaced with scenes in the Daily Planet that have Lois trying to trap Clark into revealing that he's Superman.
The ending is also changed, so that it's more in line with the conclusion of the first film.
There are many other changes, but the most striking put Marlon Brando in the Fortress of Solitude scenes. Though already filmed by Donner, they were excluded from "Superman II" because Brando was in a lawsuit with producers over "Superman" profits. (He eventually received some $14 million.)
So which version is better?
Back in 1981, I wrote in the Deseret News that "Superman II" was "better than its predecessor." And I went on to justify that claim by pointing out that the second film was tighter, more linear in structure, provided great romantic comedy moments for Christopher Reeve and Margot Kidder, less of Lex Luthor's cartoony sidekicks and nothing as stupid as the turning-back-time climax.
Today I would mollify that just a bit. For me, the best film is actually the first half of the first film — Superman's origins through the early Metropolis scenes. But I still have trouble with Luthor's obnoxiously silly cohorts and that ending.
As for the two "Superman IIs," although I enjoyed Donner's alternate version, and especially the more famous sequences that have been Internet fodder for years (the "crystal" scenes really do make a lot more sense with Brando) — and though I have no qualms about recommending it to fans and film buffs (it's quite instructional for those interested in the business of movies) — I still have to give the edge to Lester. If only because Donner chose to revisit the same dumb resolution he used in the first film.
The "Donner Cut" disc includes an introduction by Donner, new interviews, an audio commentary by Donner and his associate Tom Mankiewicz — and even more deleted scenes, all featuring Hackman.
8 NEW MOVIES, NO NEW BLOCKBUSTERS
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
Except for “The Devil All the Time,” which is currently streaming on Netflix, the new titles debuting in local movie houses this weekend are all straight-to-theater releases, but they’ll all be landing online over the next few weeks.
And as we’ve learned since theaters began opening during the pandemic (with mask and distancing precautions in place), independent filmmakers seem to love recycling horror and gore in various forms.
Meanwhile, the Megaplex theaters and the Redwood Drive-In have abandoned screening “classic” titles, but you can still catch some at the Cinemark multiplexes around town: “Jurassic Park,” “Raiders of the Lost Ark,” “The Goonies,” “Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone” and “The Dark Knight,” along with this weekend’s addition of “How to Train Your Dragon” and “Despicable Me.” And “Minions” is playing at the Regal Crossroads theaters.
“The Secrets We Keep” (R). A Romanian woman (Noomi Rapace) in a post-World War II small town in America keeps her wartime trauma from her family — until she recognizes a former German soldier (Joel Kinnaman) and plots her revenge. But is he really the soldier who terrorized her or is she mistaken? This thriller is a remake of “Death and the Maiden” (1994).
“Infidel” (R). Jim Caviezel is an outspoken American journalist/blogger kidnapped by Iranians while he is in Cairo, Egypt, to be put on trial for phony spying charges in this political thriller. When his wife is turned down for help by the government she travels alone to the Middle East to find him.
“The Nest” (R). In 1980, an Englishman (Jude Law) married to an American woman (Carrie Coon) announces that he has a job opportunity in London, so with their two kids they rent a remote mansion they can’t afford and the husband begins to melt down, a la “The Shining,” minus the haunted house.
“The Way I See It” (PG-13). Former Chief Official White House Photographer Pete Souza uses a documentary format to lead us through eight years of Barack Obama’s presidency, but filmmaker Dawn Porter’s approach has less to do with politics than it does with empathy and kindness.
“The Racer” (Not Rated). This English romantic comedy-drama is set in 1998 during France’s Tour de France bicycle race as a support rider in his late 30s is dropped from the race, begins a relationship with a young Irish doctor and then is suddenly brought back in. But he’s no longer satisfied with being just a support rider.
“The Devil All the Time” (R). A variety of nasty characters are followed in this gory thriller, which takes place from the end of World War II to the middle of the Vietnam War as they eventually converge in Ohio. With Tom Holland, Bill Skarsgård, Riley Deough, Jason Clarke, Sebastian Stan, Robert Pattinson and Haley Bennett.
“Ravers” (R). This dark British horror satire has a contaminated energy drink turning ravers into mutant monsters as a germaphobic journalist tries to overcome her fears to get her friends out alive. With Natasha Henstridge.
“No Escape” (R). Friends of a social-media celebrity celebrate his birthday by taking him to Moscow for an escape-room adventure that turns deadly. From the “Hostel” and “Saw” school of gory horror.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: One of the great epics remains the 1960 ‘Spartacus,’ an early directing effort by Stanley Kubrick and, arguably, his most mainstream picture. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 9, 1991, on the occasion of a restoration and theatrical release — and which provided version shown in theaters now when the film is revived and the one released on disc and online these days. And that includes the new 4K upgrade released by Universal Home Entertainment a few weeks ago.
The latest re-issued classic film to get the restoration treatment is "Spartacus" — brought to us by the folks who resurrected "Lawrence of Arabia" a couple of years ago.
And you may ask why, since critics over the years have been somewhat disparaging toward "Spartacus," singling it out as a more clunky, less compelling example of the Hollywood sandal-and-sword epic, a genre that prospered during the late '50s and early '60s.
Even the film's director, Stanley Kubrick, has commented that "Spartacus" is perhaps the least of his work — probably because his other films, most prominently "2001 — A Space Odyssey" and "A Clockwork Orange," were singular visions while this one required him to bend somewhat to the will of others (primarily Kirk Douglas, who starred, co-produced and essentially mounted the project himself).
But it should be remembered that "Spartacus" has not been seen on the big screen with an audience for many years. How fair a judgment can it receive when reviewed, in retrospect, on the small screen — or worse, from memory?
Seeing "Spartacus" in this restored version, with its original overture, intermission and a few inserted pieces of footage that had been excised after initial screenings, is nothing short of spectacular.
The first half of the film focuses on the title character (played by Douglas), born a slave in ancient Rome, as he finds himself in a gladiator school run by Batiatus (Peter Ustinov, who won an Oscar as best supporting actor). There he is trained with other slaves to fight in the arena, for the purpose of being sold to Romans who wish to watch, for amusement, combat to the death. He also meets Varinia (Jean Simmons) and falls in love.
But when Roman senator Crassus (Laurence Olivier) drops by and insists on a fight to the death right there at Batiatus' school, it evolves into a riot as the slaves revolt and escape. Spartacus eventually organizes them and they cross the land freeing other slaves and building an army.
After the intermission, the film's second half is somewhat less focused as the action vacillates between Crassus' personal battles in the Roman senate, particularly against his longtime enemy Gracchus (Charles Laughton), and Spartacus' attempt to lead his army south to the sea, where they hope to board ships and escape Italy.
But in the final third, the story comes together very well and the ending is, for its time, surprisingly taut and stark.
Kubrick actually proved a perfect choice to direct "Spartacus," bringing a sense of graphic realism that was ahead of its time. This applies to some of the acting choices and the way he choreographed his literal cast of thousands as well as such highly publicized restored sequences as Crassus' face being splattered with blood when he kills a slave and Spartacus chopping of a Roman soldier's arm during a battle.
While it's perhaps understandable that censors balked at the bloody violence Kubrick included, some other choices, moments that are back in this restored version, seem less reasonable. The infamous "snails and oysters" scene, wherein Crassus makes a veiled homosexual advance toward his slave Antoninus (Tony Curtis), actually helps us understand why Antoninus runs away from his plush surroundings and easy life. Later, a touching moment that shows grieving parents burying their dead baby during the slave army's long trek gives us a sense of the hardships suffered during that journey, which is otherwise largely absent.
The most thrilling moments, however, do not come from material restored to this film, but rather from sequences that simply lose power on a video monitor. The projection of "Spartacus" on the big screen is what lends depth to the action sequences, offering the kind of spectacle we see so rarely today.
The two most stunning examples are Spartacus' duel to the death with a fellow slave (Woody Strode) in the film's first half, as exciting a movie fight as any in the past 30 years, and the incredible march of the Roman soldiers on the slave army toward the end of the picture, which reaches a zenith as the slaves drag flaming logs through the enemy's ranks.
The performances here are uniformly excellent, but special mention should be made of the subtle scene-stealing that Ustinov and Laughton bring to their roles — triumphs of subtle acting from which modern thespians could learn much.
There was no rating system in 1960, but this restored version has received a PG-13 for violence, along with a couple of brief moments where Simmons is partially nude.
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.
THE BREAKFAST CLUB
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Of all the teen flicks churned out by John Hughes, ‘The Breakfast Club’ is generally cited as his seminal work, idiotically rated R at the time of its initial release … though I doubt if that kept many teens from going to it. As Fathom Events gets up and running for the first time since the pandemic shut things down in March, one of its first national limited-release films is this one, to be screened on Sunday, Sept. 20; Monday, Sept. 21; and Tuesday, Sept. 22 in various local Cinemark and Megaplex theaters. This review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 15, 1985.
Writer-director John Hughes seems to be single-handedly raising public consciousness about teenagers. While all around him filmmakers portray adolescents as sex-hungry jerks who play vulgar practical jokes on each other, Hughes depicts teens as sensitive, rounded human beings. Radical, to say the least.
Hughes’ “Sixteen Candles” last year had its problems, most of which seemed to be commercial concessions, but the film was respectful of its teenage characters. And he even cast real teenagers in the roles.
The biggest obstacle to Hughes’ latest film, “The Breakfast Club,” may be its being mistaken for just another raunchy teenage comedy, since the ad campaign seems to suggest that, and it is surrounded by such other current releases as “Mischief,” “Heaven Help Us” and “Vision Quest.”
From left, Judd Nelson, Ally Sheedy (sitting), Emilio Estevez, Molly Ringwald, Michael Anthony Hall, 'The Breakfast Club' (1985)
But “The Breakfast Club” is unique. The story idea is not new, putting five people from different social strata in one room for a day and observing their fights, arguing, mellowing out and eventually gaining respect for one another. But Hughes has taken this basic idea out of the Army camp, the barroom and the jail cell, and put it in a high school.
His five very different people are teenagers, all condemned to a day of detention — a Saturday. And the result is a perceptive, occasionally piercing look at parent-child relationships.
True, the film is rather static; true, the individual characters’ stories occasionally seem too obvious, too contrived, or too pat; and true, the film’s universality may only be felt in fits and starts for some audiences.
But there are enough redeeming truths here, and more than enough excellent performances, to suggest this is a film from which teen audiences might benefit. And I might go one more step and suggest parents see it with their teens, then discuss some of the issues it raises.
(The R rating here is exclusively for language, which, admittedly, gets rather coarse from time to time — but nothing kids don’t hear in school. Yes, even Utah kids.)
As “The Breakfast Club” opens, four of the five are dropped off at school on Saturday morning by their parents (one walks there himself). This is the only physical glimpse we get of any parents, though their presence is felt throughout the film.
The five kids are the rich princess (Molly Ringwald), the intellectual geek (Michael Anthony Hall), the macho jerk (Emilio Estevez), the hoodlum who’s smarter than he lets on (Judd Nelson) and the weirdo with no friends (Ally Sheedy). And where Hughes occasionally lets his writing seem more like writing than real conversation, he is helped by the five actors, all of whom give consummate performances in true ensemble style.
They nearly all dislike one another upon their initial meeting, then they gradually, reluctantly, come together as they unite in their resentment of the teacher in charge of their detention, well-played by Paul Gleason but written in an extremely one-dimensional way. (The only other prominent adult is John Kapelos as a philosophizing janitor, a gimmick that is a bit too cute.)
By the end they have psychoanalyzed each other and themselves, and the movie finishes on a note of realism that comes rather unexpectedly at the end of the lengthy confessional scene — the film’s best sequence.
“The Breakfast Club” is a remarkably refreshing little teenage film that is like an oasis in the current sea of ridiculous, idiotic teen comedies that dominate local movie theaters.
And the R rating seems a bit harsh. A PG-13 might be more palatable, indicating that the teenagers who can best appreciate this film should more easily be able to get in.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Sept. 18, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Hungarian period drama — the first film from Hungary to win the Oscar for best foreign-language picture — is making its DVD and Blu-ray debut in the United States (it was released on VHS here in 1994) as Kino Lorber gives it an upgrade that should please foreign-film fans. My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 27, 1983.
A tortured study in egotism and the lengths to which people will sometimes go to achieve their own ends is the theme in “Mephisto,” which follows an obscure young actor (Klaus Maria Brandauer) on his rise to fame during the beginnings of Nazism in Germany during the 1920s and ’30s.
The film hangs largely on Brandauer’s performance as an egocentric whose manic need for attention is forcefully brought home in the film’s first scene, as he sits alone in a theater dressing room, ranting and raving because the leading lady of the evening is receiving enthusiastic applause on stage. Brandauer is but a struggling unknown.
Klaus Maria Brandauer, 'Mephisto' (1983)
Later, when his talent is complimented by the same leading lady, he asks her to repeat it — louder. She does, and the look on Brandauer’s face tells us that such things are what he lives for, and only what he feels he deserves.
Brandauer would sell his soul for stardom — and would sell it again to retain that stardom. And that’s precisely what he does when the Nazis take over. His wife, his lover, his friends … all are secondary to his personal desires, and some are occasionally discarded.
Eventually, he allows himself to be a pawn, used by Nazis to perpetuate a false image of cultural humanity. And it becomes evident that he has been playing roles for so long, his own personality has become lost in the character shuffle.
Klaus Maria Brandauer (center) in performance makeup puts on a show for a Nazi gathering in 'Mephisto' (1983)
“Mephisto” won last year’s Oscar for best foreign-language film, and though it has power and is extremely well-acted, I have to question its being chosen over the Polish “Man of Iron” and the Italian “Three Brothers,” both of which have played in Salt Lake City — and both of which are better films. (But then, whoever said Oscar was the definitive chooser of each year’s best.)
A downbeat character study, the biggest drawback is perhaps that the lead character is such a louse. He occasionally shows signs of remorse but each time we think he may take a stand or change his viewpoint, his personal desires get in the way.
“Mephisto,” in Hungarian with English subtitles, is unrated but would easily get a hard R for the sex scenes between Brandauer and Karin Boyd as his lover. The violence is mostly off-camera, the profanity is minimal, but the nudity and sex are excessive and unnecessary.