LOTS OF FUNNY LADIES
Left: Martin & Lewis & Janet Leigh; Right: Lewis & Shirley MacLaine
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 7, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Since Mother’s Day is this weekend it seems appropriate to celebrate women, so I dug up this 21-year-old column celebrating female comedians, which sprang from a ridiculous comment by the late Jerry Lewis disparaging his distaff peers. This one was published in the Deseret News on Feb. 18, 2000, under the headline, ‘Loutish Lewis obviously forgot actresses’ talents.’ (On a personal note, in reading this again I found it amusing that I suggested Lewis’ stupid remarks might be a result of his old age, 73. I’ll be 73 this year! Yikes!)
MEMO TO JERRY LEWIS: What're you, nuts? You don't like any female comedians? You didn't care for Lucille Ball? You think a woman should just be "a producing machine that brings babies in the world"?
Yikes! It's finally happened. All that oil in Lewis' hair has seeped into his brain.
As a fan of Jean Arthur, Carole Lombard, Betty Hutton, Judy Holliday, Ann Sothern, Eve Arden, Gale Storm, Joan Davis, Madeline Kahn, Diane Keaton, Rosie O'Donnell, Janeane Garofalo, Bette Midler, Jenna Elfman … and, yes, the irrepressible Lucy … among others, I am genuinely aghast at such ill-considered comments. Especially from someone like Lewis as he's being honored by his peers at the U.S. Comedy Arts Festival in Aspen, Colo., last weekend.
We can only look forward to the all-male cast of Lewis' next telethon.
For years, many of us have wondered if Lewis wasn't slowly de-evolving into Buddy Love, the arrogant, obnoxious, chauvinistic lout who was the alter ego of his "Nutty Professor" character back in the early '60s. And now he seems bent on confirming it.
Of course, maybe Lewis has always been that character. And the sweet, unassuming nebbish he played in so many of his early movies was actually the put-on. (Guess he's a better actor than we thought.)
But, in this case, what was he thinking? Has Lewis forgotten that many of his own movies benefited from the comic performances of a variety of fine actresses?
Lewis, with Stella Stevens, left, and with Jill St. John on the right.
Take his first two movies, for example — "My Friend Irma" (1949) and "My Friend Irma Goes West" (1950). They were actually vehicles for Marie Wilson, based on her hit radio show. But she was gracious enough to let the new, hot comedy team of Dean Martin & Jerry Lewis steal the show in both pictures, earning the duo top billing in 14 subsequent films together.
Playing opposite a headlining comedy team — especially one as manic as Martin & Lewis — is never easy for any actress. She is usually relegated to "romantic interest" or "straight man," in an often bland, underwritten role.
But several of Martin & Lewis' co-stars managed to not only stand on their own, but liven up the proceedings:
— Polly Bergen — particularly in "At War With the Army" (1951), but also in "That's My Boy" (1951) and "The Stooge" (1953).
— Carmen Miranda, at her wackiest up against Lewis in "Scared Stiff" (1953).
— Janet Leigh, as a devious reporter in "Living it Up" (1954).
— And Shirley MacLaine, in her second film role, "Artists and Models" (1955).
Then there are the films in which Lewis soloed, with female co-stars who gave notable performances and also managed to get their share of laughs — often under Lewis' own writing and direction!
— Marilyn Maxwell and Connie Stevens, "Rock-a-Bye Baby" (1958).
— Suzanne Pleshette, "Geisha Boy" (1958).
—Helen Traubel, "The Ladies' Man" (1961).
— Stella Stevens, "The Nutty Professor" (1963).
— Jill St. John and Agnes Moorehead, "Who's Minding the Store?" (1964).
— Thelma Ritter, "Boeing, Boeing" (1965).
— Janet Leigh, Mary Ann Mobley and Leslie Parrish, "Three on a Couch" (1966).
Lewis with Carmen Miranda, left, and with Kathleen Freeman on the right.
Special note should be made of Miranda, Traubel and Stevens, who actually managed quite a feat by stealing a few scenes from Lewis in their respective films. And for that matter, Ritter, Leigh (in her Martin & Lewis outing) and, in her film debut, Pleshette.
And then there is the formidable Kathleen Freeman, a supporting player who had featured roles in no less than 10 of Lewis' pictures (including one M&L effort).
Freeman, still an active character actress, is usually cast as a matronly authority figure (perhaps best-known as the Mother Superior who sends "The Blues Brothers" on their "mission" in that 1980 hit).
In Lewis' films, Freeman had some great bits of business, occasionally stealing Lewis' own thunder … and yet he hired her again and again.
Maybe Lewis is starting to show his age (he's 73). Or maybe he was medicated.
Whatever, it's hard to excuse such remarks from any prominent filmmaker/performer. Much less an elder statesman being feted for his body of work.
Even the French are likely to be up in arms over Lewis' indiscreet, idiotic pronouncements.
MEN, MEN, MEN
True, it’s Mother’s Day in a couple of days but this weekend’s new films are dominated by men — even the titles of two films highlight the word “Man.”
There are also a couple of family films in the mix, including one that focuses on Mormon missionaries, along with the usual action and horror entries.
“Mission Stories” (PG). This anthology is comprised of three short faith films based on true stories of LDS missionaries encountering potential converts who are dealing with such dark difficulties as addiction, depression and suicidal tendencies.
“The Water Man” (PG). Actor David Oyelowo (“Selma,” “A United Kingdom”) makes his feature-directing debut with this family film about a young boy’s desire to help his terminally ill mother by reaching out to a possibly mythical and somewhat sinister man with magical healing powers who lives in a nearby forest. Oyelowo and Rosario Dawson are the parents, with supporting roles filled by Alfred Molina and Maria Bello.
“The Paper Tigers” (PG-13). Three childhood kung fu prodigies, who are now middle aged and washed up, come together despite past grudges when their martial arts master is killed and seek to avenge his death — while juggling family responsibilities and dead-end jobs. This low-budget action-comedy comes on the heels of strong reviews (it holds a rare 100 percent rating on Rotten Tomatoes).
“Here Today” (PG-13). Billy Crystal co-wrote, directed and stars in this comedy as an aging comedy writer who forms an unlikely partnership with a brash young street singer (Tiffany Haddish). Sharon Stone, Kevin Kline, Bob Costas and filmmaker Barry Levinson make guest appearances.
“Wrath of Man” (R). More than 20 years after Guy Ritchie’s “Lock, Stock and Two Smoking Barrels” and “Snatch” made him an action star, Jason Statham has reteamed with the filmmaker for this revenge thriller. Statham stars as a mysterious and volatile security guard for a cash truck who harbors secrets.
“Mainstream” (R). A young woman (Maya Hawke, daughter of Uma Thurman and Ethan Hawke) with a social-media presence makes an internet star of a wild-eyed, unstable ranter (Andrew Garfield). This eccentric comedy-drama is a cautionary tale co-written and directed by Gia Coppola, granddaughter of Francis Ford Coppola. With Jason Schwartzman (Francis Ford Coppola’s nephew), Johnny Knoxville and Colleen Camp.
“Murder in the Woods” (R). This 2017 production is a cheaply made horror movie in the “Cabin in the Woods” sub-genre with six teens heading to a remote cabin for a wild party only to encounter a slasher who takes them out one by one. Sound familiar? On the plus side there’s Danny Trejo as a local sheriff, but the only tweak to the formula is the mostly Latino cast. (Exclusively at the Redwood Drive-In and available for streaming online.)
COOL AS ICE
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 7, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: These days Vanilla Ice isn’t considered ‘cool’ at all, despite the title of his only starring film, but Kino Lorber has given the picture a Blu-ray upgrade nonetheless. This review was published in the Deseret News on Oct. 18, 1991.
Welcome to the land of Vanilla Ice. In "Cool as Ice," it's a place where everything has a reference to some other film.
Homes in a small town are lined up like a pseudo-'50s tract, a bizarre cross between John Waters and Steven Spielberg. One house looks like a "Pee-wee's Big Adventure" reject.
The color scheme here — day and night scenes — is garish "Miami Vice," with deep blues and off-yellows. No one has dialogue; everyone speaks in soundbites. And no scene lasts longer than 10 seconds before it's choppily edited into an MTV music video.
This is, of course, a cinematic vehicle for Vanilla Ice, the rap star who demonstrates just how untalented he really is. Not that it will deter fans.
Vanilla Ice, Kristin Minter, 'Cool as Ice' (1991)
He's a biker named Johnny who rides into this small town on his big yellow chopper, along with a few friends on their own motorcycles. When one of the bikes breaks down, they stop at the very bizarre Pee-wee-esque home of the even more bizarre Dody Goodman and Sydney Lassick.
Lassick offers to fix the bike but he instead turns it inside out, forcing the group to bed down for a few days. Meanwhile, Johnny is taken with a girl across the street, a brilliant college student (Kristin Minter) whose father (Michael Gross) has a mysterious secret.
There's a boyfriend Johnny is forced to beat up (which he does as if he's Steven Seagal), a ridiculous kidnapping subplot, and lots of misjudgments and misunderstandings, most based on prejudice against the way Johnny looks — his two earrings (but just in one ear), his tattoo, the shaved designs on his head and the mismatched, brightly colored clothes.
Johnny's enough to make Marlon Brando's "Wild One" seem positively conservative.
Screenwriter David Stenn (who wrote for "Hill Street Blues" in better days) and music-video director David Kellogg make their film debut here, and their style is loud and dumb. There are speeded-up slapstick comedy scenes, cartoon sound effects, attempts at off-the-wall humor and mild (PG-style) vulgarities, such as a young boy making an obscene gesture. They even offer slow motion as if it's the first time anyone's ever tried it.
Vanilla Ice, Deezer D., 'Cool as Ice' (1991)
If there were any more music-video montage scenes this could be an MTV special instead of a movie.
And what a shame to see Candy Clark (as Minter's mother), who started her career so brightly with wonderful turns in "American Graffiti" and "The Man Who Fell to Earth," reduced to playing a mincing housewife with nothing to do but whine in the dark.
Vanilla Ice shows no acting ability whatsoever … but then, if I hadn't seen Michael Gross (the father on "Family Ties") in other projects I'd think he had none either.
At least supermodel Naomi Campbell had sense enough to merely sing under the opening credits rather than try something out of her league.
"Cool as Ice" may appeal to fans of Vanilla Ice but they'd better be tolerant; there are some very long stretches between rap numbers. No story or character development — just long stretches.
It's rated PG for violence, profanity, vulgarity and sexual innuendo.
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.
FRIED GREEN TOMATOES
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 7, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: This popular book became an even more popular movie and earned Oscar nominations for actress Jessica Tandy and screenwriters Fannie Flagg and Carol Sobieski. For its 30th anniversary, Fathom Events is reviving the film on the big screen, with several theaters around the valley showing it on Sunday, May 9; Wednesday, May 12; and Thursday, May 13. My review was published in the Deseret News on Jan. 24, 1992.
Based on the popular novel by Fannie Flagg (a former actress who co-wrote the screenplay and has a quick cameo), "Fried Green Tomatoes" is an enjoyable film for the "Steel Magnolias" crowd, though a bit grittier.
But the film's framing device — two parallel stories, one set in the present day and the other set in the '30s — is awkward at best.
Kathy Bates plays a bored Alabama housewife. Her children are grown and gone, her husband takes her for granted and she's subsisting on a steady diet of candy bars.
Kathy Bates, left, Jessica Tandy, 'Fried Green Tomatoes' (1992)
Then one day, while her husband is visiting his irascible aunt in a Birmingham nursing home, Bates meets another resident there, played by Jessica Tandy. And before she knows it, Bates is reveling in Tandy's stories about growing up in the little town of Whistle Stop and two disparate young ladies (Mary Stuart Masterson and Mary-Louise Parker) who become friends.
Visiting on a regular basis becomes an important part of Bates' life, and Tandy's stories about these young Southern gals taking hold of their lives at a time when it was deemed improper, has a profound effect on her. Bates starts exercising, watching her calorie intake and standing up to her husband.
The film goes back and forth between the very broad cartoon comedy of Bates' escapades (at one point she rams a car in a parking lot because the driver deliberately takes her parking space) and the decidedly more serious and involving story of the two young women during the Depression, which has Parker marrying an abusive jerk and Masterson rescuing her — temporarily. The latter also has a subplot about racist violence.
Clockwise from top left: Cicely Tyson, Mary Stuart Masterson, Mary-Louise Parker, Jessica Tandy, author Fannie Flagg and Kathy Bates on the set of 'Fried Green Tomatoes' (1992).
Needless to say, these two storylines don't mix very well, and as the flashbacks become more and more involving, the modern-day story becomes tiresome and even annoying.
That's really too bad, not just because Bates and Tandy are a most enjoyable pairing, but because the film could otherwise be much more compelling.
As it is, it's still pretty compelling.
"Fried Green Tomatoes" manages to be most entertaining most of the way and boasts a bevy of wonderful performances. (Though why Cicely Tyson is wasted in her thankless role is puzzling.)
It is rated PG-13 for violence, profanity and vulgarity.
For Hicksflicks.com, Friday, May 7, 2021
EDITOR’S NOTE: Alan Alda directed 32 episodes of ‘M*A*S*H’ and wrote 18, but he wrote and directed just four feature films, this one being his second. And now Alda’s fans can rejoice as it is upgraded to Blu-ray by Kino Lorber. My review was published in the Deseret News on May 16, 1986.
“Sweet Liberty” is a sweet little movie, a frothy comedy that pokes fun at moviemaking and smalltown life, offering enough laughs and likable characters to let the audience easily forgive its faults.
This is Alan Alda’s one-man show, his first movie since “The Four Seasons,” and he wrote and directed, and stars in the lead role. He’s a college history professor whose carefully researched book about the Revolutionary War is being turned into a movie … shooting on location right there in his small college town.
As you might expect, the movie, as written by nervous screenwriter Bob Hoskins, is not very faithful to the book, causing Alda no end of consternation.
But the film’s young director (Saul Rubinek) explains patiently to Alda his three-pronged moviemaking formula: Defy authority, destroy property and take off people’s clothes. That’s the only way to attract teenagers who make up 80 percent of the moviegoing audience, right?
But that’s not good enough for Alda, so he teams up with Hoskins to turn out daily rewrites of just about every scene, substituting historical accuracy for Hollywood puffery.
Alda, who argues a lot with his girlfriend (Lise Hilboldt) about whether they should get married, falls in love with movie star Michelle Pfeiffer, or rather he’s in love with her portrayal of the character she plays from his book. There is no question, of course, that real life will clash with reel life.
Alda also has run-ins with egocentric womanizer Michael Caine, the dashing star of the movie, a character who is easily distracted and definitely possessed with a one-track mind. Caine is hilarious as he hijacks a helicopter to impress one of the ladies he is pursuing, fences with Alda for exercise, and shrinks when his wife shows up unexpectedly, leading to a very funny rollercoaster ride.
And it is scenes like those that save this movie. In fact, it’s a good thing “Sweet Liberty” is as funny as it is, because it doesn’t hold up well under scrutiny.
There are many ways to pick this film apart for the way it slides over details — from Alda’s character’s script rewrites (where’d he learn screenwriting so fast?) to the director’s being able to film whole scenes differently at the drop of a hat (where are budget and schedule and rehearsal considerations?) to a battle sequence shot entirely in one take (with six cameras, true, but in one short take?).
Those familiar with the process of moviemaking will cringe. But it all moves fast enough that most members of the audience won’t mind.
A worse problem is Alda’s tendency to have his characters — particularly the one he plays himself — talk too much, explaining things to us over and over again, when the same information is conveyed very well as the scenes progress. There are times when Alda comes close to having this movie talk itself to death.
In addition to its fine-tuned sense of humor, the charm of the performers adds a lot, with Michael Caine and Bob Hoskins giving very funny turns, and also very good are Michelle Pfeiffer, wide-eyed Lise Hilboldt (a delightful new find) and Lillian Gish (hysterical as Alda’s dotty mother, though their relationship lacks credibility on his end).
Alda is also fine in his role and his directing of physical comedy scenes is commendable. The movie is paper-thin and Alda probably could have used some strong collaborators to point out the more obvious weaknesses but his sense of humor and air of intelligence save the day.
“Sweet Liberty,” with its wonderful cast and a good load of genuine laughs, proves itself to be a nice early entry in the summer fluff sweepstakes.
It is rated PG for profanity, discreet sex and a couple of comic nude scenes.