THE WORST FILMS … 40 YEARS AGO
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Last week I pointed out that this time of year is when movie critics create their best-and-worst year-end movie lists, an annual ritual that I also performed back in the day. But since I haven’t seen many movies this year … or more to the point, since there haven’t been many movies this year … I offered up my ‘best’ list of 1980. So, it naturally follows that the ‘worst’ list is on tap this week. I qualify the terms ‘best’ and ‘worst’ here because it really isn’t possible to definitively cite the best and worst of something as subjective as movies. So last week we actually had my 1980 favorites and this week we have my 1980 least-favorites. For the record, this was the first time I created this list for the Deseret News, published on Dec. 31, 1981. The headline on this one was carried over from the headline on the ‘best’ list, ‘ … and the bottom 10 (real stinkers!).’
Choosing the best movies of 1980 was a breeze – picking the worst took more time. There was so much to choose from.
For the 10 worst I’ve stayed with major-studio releases that generally included major stars, producers and directors, then I’ve categorized a number of others so we cover all the bases.
After all, it’s really not fair to include a failed effort like “The First Deadly Sin” with a pure shlock piece like “Friday the 13th.”
In order of how much I abhorred them:
— Cruising. William Friedkin (“The Exorcist,” “The French Connection”) and Al Pacino teamed to give us the worst of brutality and perversion in this lurid, badly-written exploitative tale of underground gays in New York’s S&M district.
— First Family. Tasteless, unfunny “comedy” from the pen and camera of Buck Henry (“Heaven Can Wait,” “The Graduate”) featuring a talented comic cast that should have known better. This is 1980’s equivalent of “Americathon!”
— The Formula. Dumb mystery that can’t even be saved by the presence of Marlon Brando and George C. Scott together. Utterly confusing, thoroughly bland.
— A Change of Seasons. A change of script would have been a better idea. This alleged comedy only serves to prove that “10” was no fluke — Bo Derek still can’t act.
— Wholly Moses! Hollywood tries to rip off Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” and instead manages to embarrass a fine comic cast.
— Where the Buffalo Roam. Hunter S. Thompson as a “Saturday Night Live” skit is dreadfully unfunny.
— The First Deadly Sin. Frank Sinatra’s comeback film may have sent him back into retirement. Actually he was fine, but the script and direction left much to be desired.
— The Gong Show Movie. Chuck Barris has no right to have an ego the size it is and his self-indulgent big-screen debut is a total emBARRISment.
— The Kidnapping of the President. This Canadian film was so bad it hit network TV two weeks after it played out in Utah.
— Windows. This was the first movie I saw in 1980. Little did I know that it would pave the way for a less-than-stellar year. Talia Shire is stalked by killer Elizabeth Ashley, who is in love with Shire!
It’s interesting to note that no out-and-out comedies, made the “best” list and five made the “worst.” That label, “comedy,” was more an allegation than a fact among 1980 films.
Runners-up for the worst included TV-rip-off “The Nude Bomb,” Benji-rip-off “Oh Heavenly Dog,” musical-rip-offs “Any Which Way You Can” and “Smokey and the Bandit II,” and a very sad farewell film from Peter Sellers, “The Fiendish Plot of Dr. Fu Manchu.”
And here are some special awards:
Performance most like a poster: (A three-way tie) Farrah Fawcett, “Saturn 3;” Suzanne Somers, “Nothing Personal;” Bo Derek, “A Change of Seasons.”
Gross-out film worse than “Animal House:” (A six-way tie) “Gorp,” “Up the Academy,” “The Hollywood Knights,” “The Gong Show Movie,” “Cheech & Chong’s Next Movie,” “Caddyshack.”
Best performance in a rotten move: Alan King, “Just Tell Me What You Want.”
Worst performance in a rotten movie: Ali MacGraw, “Just Tell Me What You Want.”
Best scene in a rotten movie: Ali MacGraw attacking Alan King with her purse in a posh department store in “Just Tell Me What You Want.”
Dumbest plot or oldest plot or plot-most-likely-to-have-been-stolen: “The Final Countdown,” which looked like a “Twilight Zone” reject.
Most exploitative movie trick: Having a 33-year-old stand-in (or swim-in) doing young Brooke Shields’ underwater nude scenes in “The Blue Lagoon.”
Actor who seems the most bored on-screen: Chevy Chase, “Seems Like Old Times.” Runner-up: Chevy Chase, “Caddyshack.”
Most embarrassing miscasting: Michael Caine, “Dressed to Kill.” Runner-up: Michael Caine, “The Island.”
Filmmaker who wants most to be like Mel Brooks (but who should quit while he’s behind): Marty Feldman, “In God We Trust.”
Worst shlock horror film: (A 14-way tie) “Saturn 3,” “Silent Scream,” “The Godsend,” “Death Ship,” “Friday the 13th,” “The Island,” “Humanoids of the Deep,” “The Awakening,” “He knows You’re Alone,” “Prom Night,” “The Creeper,” “Terror Train,” “Zombie,” “Fade to Black.”
Because bests and worsts are, of course, subjective, I welcome dissenting ballots cast by the public.
CHRISTMAS IS COMING …
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
“ … the goose is getting fat, please put a penny in. … ” Oh, you know.
Except that in this case it’s your local neighborhood movie theater multiplex hoping for a few pennies in the coffers during this age of Covid.
Of course, most of what they’re playing is — or will soon be — available online.
Personally, I’m saving a lot of money by not going to the movies every week!
But if you’re a braver (Re: younger) soul than I, there are just three new titles opening this weekend, with the many that have opened in the past few weeks hanging on (mostly horror films!).
“The Christmas Chronicles 2” (PG). If you saw the first “Christmas Chronicles” film on Netflix last year, you know that Kurt Russell played Santa (with lots of CGI creatures and elves) and his real-life longtime companion Goldie Hawn showed up at the end in a surprise cameo as Mrs. Claus. Here, they co-star as young Kat (again played by Darby Camp) makes her way to Santa’s Village at the North Pole to help him stop an evildoer from destroying Christmas. With Tyrese Gibson, Darlene Love, Kimberly Williams-Paisley and Malcolm McDowell.
“The Croods: A New Age” (PG). The prehistoric family the Croods leave their cave and encounter another family, the Bettermans, who claim to be more evolved and just all-round better. The voice cast includes Nicolas Cage, Emma Stone, Ryan Reynolds, Peter Dinklage, Leslie Mann, Kelly Marie Tran, Catherine Keener and Cloris Leachman.
“Stardust” (R). This look at the life of the late David Bowie, flashing back during his first U.S. tour in 1971 when he created his stagebound alter ego Ziggy Stardust, is not a documentary but rather a fictional biography — without his songs. It seems the Bowie estate declined to give permission, so Johnny Flynn as Bowie sings covers from the period.
“Frozen” and “The Santa Clause” are among the older films that are playing at local Megaplex multiplexes and the Redwood Drive-In, and “Elf” and “A Christmas Story” are showing at the AMC West Jordan complex.
THE MIRROR CRACK’D
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: This Agatha Christie adaptation, despite the plans mentioned in the review below, marked Angela Lansbury’s one-and-only performance as Miss Marple, but there’s little question that it also provided the inspiration for her enormously successful TV series, ‘Murder, She Wrote,’ which began four years later. And this one holds up pretty well, especially for fans of Old Hollywood stars, who were ‘Old Hollywood’ when this film came out some 40 years ago. Now it’s been given a revival in Blu-ray form by Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on Dec. 25, 1980.
There is more ham in “The Mirror Crack’d” than you’ll find on any pig farm — a drawback that wounds but fails to kill this latest Agatha Christie cinema adaptation.
The pork performances are provided by a handful of Hollywood has-beens who play a handful of Hollywood has-beens, some of them so broadly that you may feel the urge to toss a few tomatoes or eggs their way.
But fortunately, a few professional-minded actors are on hand to raise the level of its quality, headed by Angela Lansbury as none other than the intrepid Miss Marple.
Miss Jane Marple is Christie’s aged amateur sleuth, first brought to the screen in the early 1960s, played with splendid aplomb by Margaret Rutherford. Though B-grade in budget, Rutherford’s four films were A-quality throughout and the Marple character adhered to the template of Christie’s novels.
Which points to the biggest flaw in “The Mirror Crack’d”; there’s simply not enough Miss Marple.
In a film that should be dominated by Lansbury, who is made up to be 20 years older than she is, the movie inexplicably concentrates on the American actors who are supposedly “guests.”
It’s a major setback because Lansbury is delightful in the role and deserves more time on screen. Instead, Marple spends most of the film laid up in her home with a twisted ankle while the camera follows other, much less interesting characters.
From left, Angela Lansbury, Rock Hudson, Edward Fox, 'The Mirror Crack'd' (1980)
The story has an American film-production crew descending on St. Mary Mead, the little English country village that is the home of Miss Marple and her fellow villagers.
Rock Hudson is a second-rate director married to the star of this new production, an important comeback for a two-time Oscar winner who hasn’t’ worked since a breakdown (played by Elizabeth Taylor).
Geraldine Chaplin plays Hudson’s assistant, and just to complicate matters, an old screen rival of Taylor’s (Kim Novak) is on hand, along with her brash, crass husband (Tony Curtis), who just happens to be the film’s producer.
The crew is going to make “Mary, Queen of Scots’ in the little hamlet, much to the delight of several villagers, including the local gossipmonger (Maureen Bennett).
Last, but certainly not least, is the Scotland Yard inspector (Edward Fox) who is Miss Marple’s nephew, and who investigates a murder that occurs during a reception for the film crew and villagers.
Now, will they all step into the drawing room, please?
The murder victim is Bennett, who sips from a fatal drink as she is boring Taylor to death with a story about their having met during the war when Taylor entertained the troops. But you don’t kill someone because she is a boring chatterbox, Miss Marple concludes at one point. Therefore, it appears that the drink was intended for Taylor, who has more enemies than an American politician.
So, of course, the question becomes, “Who done it?”
I like a good murder mystery and they seem to be supplied almost exclusively by British imports these days. And “The Mirror Crack’d” is a good one.
This is the latest in Christie mystery movies produced by John Brabourne and Richard Goodwin, who gave us “Murder on the Oriental Express” and “Death on the Nile,” two Hercule Poiret stories with Albert Finney and Peter Ustinov, respectively, in the detective’s role. Both were crackerjack tales and both were well produced, though the overpopulation of guest stars was distracting. They also overdid the flashback-to-the-scene-of-the-murder technique, a sort of trademark that is stamped on all these films.
Happily, the flashbacks are fewer and shorter and more to the point in “The Mirror Crack’d,” though the guest stars remain a problem. And since the focus is more on them than Marple, the problem is front and center. (Lansbury has signed on for two more Marple films so there is hope for the future.)
The worst hambones are Kim Novak and Tony Curtis, not necessarily in that order. Their extremely broad performances might not be so obvious if everyone here were doing the same, but Hudson, Taylor and Chaplin seem positively subdued in comparison.
And Lansbury and Fox are so smooth and professional, so relaxed in their characters, that they almost appear to be performing in a different movie. Fox is fine, by the way, as an avid movie buff smitten with the idea of interviewing all the Hollywood folk in the course of his investigation.
And director Guy Hamilton, who turned out some of the better James Bond flicks (“Goldfinger,” “Diamonds are Forever”), has managed to keep the flow even and has us wondering throughout who the murderer is. Whether Hamilton or the actors should be blamed for the imbalance in performances isn’t quite clear but it only temporarily impairs the fun.
Overall “The Mirror Crack’d,” rated PG for some language, is fun. From the opening black & white old-fashioned movie mystery to the fadeout, it does what the movies do best – it entertains.
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 SANTA CLAUSE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Although Tim Allen is thought of as a TV star, his first theatrical film, ‘The Santa Clause,’ was a huge hit (and led to two sequels). He followed it up another box-office smash, ‘Toy Story’ (which has so far had three sequels). After that, only a couple of movies registered — chiefly ‘Galaxy Quest’. But ‘The Santa Clause’ is now a beloved Christmas staple, so in the age of pandemic it has found a home on the big screen for a few weeks. You can see it at the Megaplex multiplexes, the Redwood Drive-In and at the AMC theaters in West Jordan. Or on DVD, Blu-ray and various streaming sites. My review was published on Nov. 11, 1994.
Tim Allen makes the leap to the big screen with "The Santa Clause," a dark, cynical spoof of the legend of Kris Kringle, which inexplicably turns to mush in its final third, going soft and squishy — and forgetting it's a comedy.
Still, there are enough laughs to make it worth a look for Allen's legion of fans, gained through his hit TV sitcom "Home Improvement."
Allen plays wisecracking Scott Calvin, a toy company executive and general workaholic who is never without a sarcastic one-liner. He is divorced, and his ex-wife, Laura (Wendy Crewson), has custody of their son Charlie (Eric Lloyd), with her new husband Neal (Judge Reinhold), an uptight psychiatrist.
As the film opens, it's Christmas Eve and Charlie is supposed to spend the night. But because Scott isn't much of a father, Charlie is only reluctantly spending the holiday with his dad.
From left, Wendy Crewson, Eric Lloyd, Tim Allen, 'The Santa Clause' (1994)
When Laura drops Charlie off, Scott becomes angry upon discovering that she and Neal have been confusing the boy about the existence of Santa Claus. Outraged, Scott tries to explain that Santa is real and then reads "The Night Before Christmas" to Charlie as a bedtime story. And later, in the night, Charlie hears "a clatter" up on the roof.
He wakes up his dad, who runs outside, hollers at the man in the Santa Claus suit who is up on his roof, and the guy falls to the ground and is apparently killed. Scott finds a card that says he should put on the Santa suit and that the reindeer — also up on his roof — will know what to do.
With Charlie's encouragement, Scott does so and finishes Santa's route for the night. But later, he finds that his actions have contractually bound him to replace Santa permanently.
As a result, over the next 11 months, Scott gradually takes on Santa's physical characteristics — the tummy, the beard, the white hair — which definitely changes his lifestyle. Yet, as you might expect, he also becomes a better father.
The first half of "The Santa Clause" is often very funny, with Scott's wisecracks and some amusing physical comedy, but the second half has Scott's ex-wife and her husband attempting to take visitation rights away from him, and the film begins to wallow in sentiment as the laughs gradually go away.
There are also not very many peripheral characters that add to the humor, save a wise old elf (played well by David Krumholtz). The result is that you begin to wonder, does Scott date, does he have any friends and what was his personal life like before he started turning into Santa?
In short, what starts off as a great premise only faintly follows through.
Still, except for a few mildly vulgar gags, the film is pleasant enough family fare, and most audiences won't be disturbed by its shortcomings. (Although I have to ask this question: Does someone always have to pass gas in a "family movie"?)
"The Santa Clause" is rated PG for mild vulgarity and profanity and some comic violence.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday,Nov. 27, 2020
EDITOR’S NOTE: Universal Home Entertainment is offering random Blu-ray upgrades for disparate titles, this one being one of the most recent. The stars have all gone on to bigger things but they shine in this ensemble comedy that marked Ben Stiller’s feature-directing debut (he also co-stars). My review was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 20, 1994.
Twentysomething angst gets another going over in "Reality Bites," a light comic romance about aimless youth in the ’90s that compares favorably with such recent similar efforts as "Singles" and "Bodies, Rest & Motion."
Winona Ryder heads the ensemble cast as the valedictorian of her class who is unable to get a job in her career of choice. As the film begins she is working at a local TV station as an intern for a pompous morning-show host (John Mahoney), and, on the side, is making a documentary about her slacker friends.
Ryder's roommate (Janeane Garofalo in a funny, winning debut) is working at the Gap, hoping to become manager; her longtime best friend, a grungy musician (Ethan Hawke), is bright but cynical and can't seem to hold a job; and rounding out the foursome is a gay friend (Steve Zahn), whose character is the least developed of the group.
Ethan Hawke, left, Winona Ryder, Janeane Garofalo, Steve Zahn, 'Reality Bites' (1994)
The main plot device has Ryder accepting career guidance and romance from a yuppie cable-video executive (Ben Stiller), who is a bit older and who long ago sold out. This puts Ryder at odds with Hawke, who loves her but can't articulate his feelings without being an insensitive lout.
In truth, however, the "will they/won't they?" plot machinations here are the film's weakest link. Much more interesting are the characters and some very funny situations in which they find themselves, courtesy of the bright script by first-timer Helen Childress.
"Reality Bites" is also well-directed by Stiller in his feature debut after winning an Emmy for his critically praised but little-seen Fox Network program. (Stiller also had small roles in "Empire of the Sun," "Next of Kin" and other movies.)
Ryder is charming in the lead and effectively conveys her character's puzzlement about where she's going, both romantically and career-wise. And Hawke is also good, sour and cynical much of the way but still sympathetic, as is Stiller, who gives his character some fullness that goes beyond the obvious stereotype.
But it is Garofalo who steals the show, demonstrating an enormously ingratiating likability on the screen. She's someone to watch for in the future.
One question: Why does everyone in this movie smoke so heavily?
"Reality Bites" is rated PG-13 for sex, profanity, vulgarity and marijuana smoking.