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A few words about movie theatres in West Michigan.
We are firming up the End of the Year movie line-ups. Should be another BIG December.
And a preview of the devlopments for 2003.
Dr. Phil is behind with a few late summer movie updates, but we haven't been to a film in forever. Mrs. Dr. Phil got to see My Big Fat Greek Wedding with her mom. I think the last movie I saw before November 2002 was Vin Diesel in XXX.
It was SUCH a relief that Harry Potter 1 was as faithful to the first HP book as it was, and that the British cast really was PERFECT. Everybody is back again, with some new friends, too. There would have to be one major meltdown in the continuity department for this movie to be BAD, though of course it could run into the usual Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels -- and lose too much of its innocence -- and not be as much fun.
But I doubt it.
Pierce Brosnan is back as Bond... James Bond. Halle Barry is "The Bond Girl". Madonna was in the studio just the other day (12 July 2002) to do the recording for the title song. Should have Dame Judy Dench back as "M" and John Cleese should reprise as "Q"'s replacement. In other words, all the elements to make a Bond film are here. Oh, what? Did someone remember to write a script? What for? Just cue the boats, cue the jets, cue the really fast cars -- BMW's these days -- and bring in all the Most Really Obvious Product Placements of all Time. Now bring up the exciting bass guitar riff, cue the loud music, cue the explosions... Come on, we need MORE explosions! That's better. And... ACTION! Okay, looks good. Now the suave romance scene. No, you have to turn the Politically Correct filters OFF or Bond doesn't work.
Sounds like fun!
Sci-Fi film from James Cameron (Titanic, Terminator, The Abyss), starring George Clooney. Something about a guy who sees his dead wife, but maybe she's not his wife? I've been avoiding hearing much about this film, though there is an appeal of the R-Rating because they say it's based on the fact we see George Clooney's butt in a scene that isn't pruriant.
Patrick Stewart & Company from Star Trek: The Next Generation go onto the big screen again. I've lost track of whether this is an even or an odd Star Trek movie. (In the Star Trek movies with the Original Cast with William Shatner, only the "even" movies were any good: Star Trek II, Star Trek IV and Star Trek VI.) Or whether they are due to trash another U.S.S. Enterprise.
Who cares? Beam me up, Scotty!
Y2K2 ends with the class act. The second chapter of Peter Jackson's masterful film adapation of J.R.R. Tolkein's Lord of the Rings. Purists will sniff everytime they hear that this is "Book 2". Technically the second book of the trilogy is called Part II, and includes Book Three and Book Four. (Of course the purists will hate that this will be called LOTR II, so there's no pleasing them.) Unless someone REALLY, REALLY, REALLY messes up -- and I just cannot see this happening -- this should be a wonderful movie. From the trailers, I've seen glimpses of the Ents (the tree people) and of Gollum, and they're just fine. And they're doing the love story properly, as near as I can tell. (Those purists who complained that Part I shouldn't have had the love story yet, don't realize that Jackson was trying to balance things out so that the love story theme works across three films over three years. Remember, there will be people seeing these films who have not read the books.)(Heathens!)
It will be interesting to see how this plays out. Part I sets up the story. Part II is something of a waiting game as the forces gather. And all hell breaks loose in Part III. And this isn't kid's stuff either.
For Dr. Phil's comments on Part I: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Rings, click here.
I thought for sure that the first live-action IMAX feature-length film that would make it to Grand Rapids was going to be the IMAX version of Apollo 13. I've read that the launch of the Saturn V rocket alone is worth the admission. That was supposed to open in the middle of the summer. Perhaps the success of the Space Station 3D IMAX film was big enough that Celebration Cinema didn't have screen time to give to Apollo 11. So Episode II is a wild card, a film that slipped in when Dr. Phil wasn't paying attention. We tried to go see it November 2nd just after it opened, but fortunately we tried to buy tickets online first and found the shows sold out. Cool. Now we HAD to go.
They had to cut twenty minutes out of the film to conform to IMAX standards that include a two-hour maximum length. You can check out Dr. Phil's take on what's missing in the deleted scenes -- that's not the focus of this review.
At 52 feet high and 70 feet wide, you tend not to realize how big the Grand Rapids IMAX screen is until the IMAX projectors put the first frames up on the wall. A huge green wall announcing in the bottom half of the screen, that the following Preview is suggested for all audiences. Then they run a promo for the IMAX version of The Lion King, which will be the Disney IMAX Christmas movie, I guess, after last year's IMAX Beauty and the Beast, Disney figured to continue on with this way to make money from old movies. Then we get a huge 20th Century Fox intro, the green-on-black Lucasfilms logo and then the blue "A long time ago, in a galaxy far away..."
When the black interstellar sky comes up with the music, you think you have a handle on it. But the usual Star Wars story scroll is TOO big to take in on the first look. Huge letters forming a line of text seventy feet wide -- you have to wait a line or two until you can get it all in one look (and this from the fourth row). This is not even the same as seeing Episode II on the Big Screen in Studio 28's Theatre 1.
There's an explosion very early in the movie that startled this audience, and lots of them were people who had seen it before. (Obviously everyone in the world, or at least West Michigan has NOT seen all the Star Wars films, but given the hype, one can be forgiven for sometimes thinking that.) They're getting some mileage out of the 10,000 Watt IMAX sound system.
Frankly I am glad that I saw this in a regular theatrical release first, so I knew the action. I suspect that because of the nature of the IMAX projection equipment and the time the shutter has to close between frames, that fast moving BIG action doesn't move in a blur, but to me it is a series of stroboscopic freeze frames. The chase through the asteroid belt between Obi-Wan Kenobi and the Bounty Hunter and parts of the climatic battle scenes (both in the Gladiator phase and the open warfare phase) were a mixture of epic grand scale shots and these oddly impressionistic staccato flashes of frames. I haven't decided whether I like it. I am perfectly willing to concede that as a photographer, I may be too aware of the processes going on to easily separate film versus story telling.
The CGI (computer generated) Yoda, being digital, along with many of the backgrounds and such, accomodate the larger screen size well. Most of the time I was not aware of whatever they were doing to the digitial recording to expand the picture, but in some of the scenes, I felt that I could detect a slight "aura" or edge blurring where the heads and faces of characters looked to have gotten different treatment than the background layer. Because you're keying on the faces, having better details is good, but you also notice the edge defects. It's not really a distraction, just a hint of something different that came up half a dozen times in a film that otherwise survives "supersizing" quite well.
Two characters really come through as larger than they did in the theatres, and it isn't a size thing. Samuel L. Jackson's Master Jedi Mace Windu is powerful, focused and agile -- the perfect Jedi master. Jackson always brings an intensity to his roles, but as a kid, Star Wars blew him away when he cut school to go see it, and he begged George Lucas for a part in Episode I, even volunteering to be the guy blown up in the opening scene (an homage no doubt to the opening of Star Wars [now called Episode IV: A New Hope] where Steve McQueen's stunt double is front and center aboard Princess Leia's ship, waiting for Darth Vader and his Merry Men to blast through). But Lucas liked the idea of having Samuel L. sign on and gave him the role of Mace Windu, who didn't have much to do in Episode I, took center stage along with Master Yoda in Episode II and will return in Episode III to die a valiant death along with most of the other Jedi Knights. The other "big" character is Christopher Lee's powerfully confident Count Dooku (Darth Tyrannus) is both charming and oily as he tries to recruit Obi-Wan Kenobi to his dastardly plot. Lee, along with his filmmate in The Lord of the Rings Ian McAllum, is enjoying quite a success in these modern special effects laden films, able to smoothly move in and out of the action, despite his age and stiffness.
One area where the IMAX version could trim down the flick was in the nine minutes of credits in the original theatrical release. Yet the first few screens of credits came with just one or two names on the giant screen, with the obligatory John Williams anthemn in the background. Eventually we got to all the thousands of people who assisted in making this film and wow -- clearly readible on one screen was nine or twelve regular screens worth of names -- way too much to try to read, but they're all on there. There must have been ten or more screens of all these names. In its own way, it is an impressive use of IMAX technology (you sometimes can't read the credits on a DVD because the letters don't make up enough pixels on a TV screen) and a gallant show of just how many people it took to make a Spectacular like this.
Bottom line: I think that George Lucas' prequel triology so far (Episode I: The Phantom Menace and Episode II: Attack of the Clones) are both flawed movies that don't quite measure up story/character/dialogue-wise to the "original" Star Wars Trilogy. Perhaps it is just Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels, or George Lucas paying too much attention to the new digital technologies and not enough to some good old moviemaking craft, or the corruption of having made too much and had too much acclaim to recapture the magic. Perhaps after 25 years of hype, we're too jaded to just enjoy a good space opera and leave it at that. Or maybe we're angry because we see a Republic that is rich and prosperous, and we are subconsciously reacting to the fact that things are going downhill. Let's face it -- Episode III is going to be a major bummer, because Darth Vader's gonna win that one... (or at least the new Emperor).
Does having an IMAX version of Episode II add anything to the movie? Yeah. Sure. And I am glad that I saw it. Not every movie is going to get (or deserve) the IMAX treatment, and flawed or not, this latest installment of the Star Wars Saga is worthy in its own right, and worthy in its actual IMAX screen presence.
If you're a big fan, it's worth the NINE BUCKS admission. If you've never seen Star Wars, it might be a bit overwhelming and confusing, because there's a whole lot of stuff you are "supposed" to know (grin).
Okay, the Fall 2002 and Holiday Movie Blockbuster season is officially OPENED. Harry Potter has returned to the big screen.
For this second installment of the Harry Potter series, they picked it up nicely where Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone left off. After lovingly spending the time in HP-1 to set up the story & title character, they didn't waste time in HP-2 rehashing all that and yet I think it is possible for a Harry Potter neophyte to understand the basic story. Kenneth Branaugh does a lovely job overplaying a role that it rife with self-aggrandizement. The wizard's duel between Branaugh and Alan Rickman's Professor Snape is a delight of acting. The main kids (Harry, Ron and Hermione) are still truly lovely, the late Richard Harris' Dumbledore is superb and Dame Xxxxx and Robbie Coltrane as Hagard are wonderful. Malfoys, junior and senior, are terrifically evil (hiss-hiss!). House Elf Dobbie is well done in the beginning he really gets on your nerves, as he messes with Harry Potter.
And for those of you who stick through the credits all the way, there's a Dr. Phil Special at the very end.
I have to say that I made a choice and did NOT take the time to do either "pre-lab" activity (re-reading the book or watching the DVD of the 1st movie), instead caring to let the film wash over me and see how many things I remembered and how many gotchas seemed too obvious. I have to say that the film holds up well. Those (young and old) who know the story should be pleased with the effort, and those of you who haven't seen any Harry Potter, I think they have done a good job in both films to make the story accessible to the uninformed.
I confess that I am a bit surprised at the PG-rating. When I started this review I penciled in PG-13, but when I checked the paper is said PG. I think that this movie could be more frightening to younger children, especially those who are too young to have read the books. And think there is a major mistake in not showing the cat at the end of the movie... perhaps it was there and I missed it. I'll look for it when I see this movie again, or get the DVD and can scour the scenes.
I hope this movie does well at the box office -- Harry Potter fans should be happy.
This is one very beautifully filmed movie to watch. It is also supposed to be a little mind blowing to the characters, so hang onto your hats.
Now to keep matters straight, this is a remake of a classic Russian SF film, based on a Russian SF novel by Stanislaw Lem. Soviet and Russian science fiction has a different flavor that you usually see in the States.
Oh, and apparently seeing George Clooney's naked butt isn't going to cause the breakdown of the moral fiber of America -- after an appeal, Solaris comes out with a PG-13 rating instead of R.
Does anyone else besides me think that it' s odd that if you break a window on a 747 sized military transport that it flies wildly out of control, but that if you burn and melt the entire plane so that it is slowly shredding itself to death, that you can fly for several minutes on a somewhat steady course? Aw, forget it!
This is a JAMES BOND FILM! That means that there is a well-established formula. And we get it, but with a little more creativity than we've seen in years in Bond films. In fact, the opening goes from what we readily expect in a James Bond movie opening, except that it gets a most excellent twist. And with this film coming out, there has been LOTS of extra publicity with Halle Berry showing up as a "Bond girl" -- in fact there have been two TV shows about the "Bond girls" over the years. Halle Berry is terrific -- her character is built up to hold her own against Bond (and has even been suggested as a Bond spin-off), but keep your eye on the English blonde, Rosamund Pike. She's rather handy with a sword. Oh, and Madonna herself is actually in some scenes, though not enough to bring the whole movie crashing down.
After The Fellowship of the Ring last year, I wasn't really worried about The Two Towers. But it was such a relief to be in the theatre and see them literally pick up where they left us off. And then wow us with some of the best battle scenes ever. Right after viewing this, I re-read the book and I have to say that as with the first installment, although some liberties have been taken, it is all done to make it fit into some three hours.
The battle at Helm's Deep is big, really big. The fortress and its layers of defenses are well thought out and the attack of the huge enemy army is methodical and brutal and ugly. Aragorn (aka Strider) is played by Viggo Mortenson to a hilt -- he is everything you want in a fighting man of honor and a future king. Wizards, elves, dwarf, hobbits, orcs, goblins, etc. are all there, plus Treebeard and more.
A thought: if Yoda's face is based on that of Albert Einstein, then does anyone besides me think that Gollum's face looks like Peter Lorre? He's the old time B&W movie weasel in lots of films like The Maltese Falcon and Casablanca -- and he almost talks like Gollum/Smeagle. Indeed, watching the poor tortured creature argue with itself is quite frightening in its own way. Can't really peg Gollum as either good or evil -- he is what he is, and he always has a crucial place to play.
By the way, if you haven't yet seen the first movie or need to review it, you owe it yourself to gain access to the Extended Edition (4-DVD) set, because this version of The Fellowship of the Ring is "extended" with an extra half an hour of important material. If you've never read the books, then you should read all four (The Hobbit came out two decades before "the trilogy", but although much lighter in fare, it explains a lot of the back story to LOTR, and if you read LOTR first, you'll have no patience for The Hobbit, dismissing it as a children's story only). I was probably nine when I read The Hobbit and started to read LOTR when I was eleven, but got stalled in the forest, then I really went and read them all in seventh grade. At the time I thought they were really long books, but re-reading all four between Thanksgiving and the weekend before Christmas in 2002, they just aren't that long. What they do have is J.R.R. Tolkien's impressive development of the myth and mythos of Middle Earth. If Peter Jackson could do such an incredible job with these movies, it is because he could tell his people to take Tolkien at his words, and treat all these stories as if they were real history.
Steven Spielberg directing Tom Hanks and Leonardo Dicaprio for a Christmas Day opening? Oh, this film is very entertaining and even more fun because it is based on a real person. Hanks plays an FBI agent who goes after Dicaprio, who is writing bad checks left and right, and impersonating people of authority who command respect, such as Pan Am airline pilots, in order to help get his checks cashed. First of all, being OLD and all, Dr. Phil was alive during the 60s and he remembers the really bad fashions and cars and desk lamps -- and they really went all out to make this look just right. Second, Christopher Walken shows up as Dicaprio's dad and he does a fine job.
If there was anything I would complain about in this movie, it would be that there is a part of the old TV show To Tell The Truth that has been reprocessed to add Leonardo Dicaprio in place -- they didn't finish the bit and I was sure that they would show the rest of it at least during the credits. But no. So that's not much a complaint from this movie watcher -- my wife and I were both delighted with it and will probably see it again. (Especially since there was something wrong around Reel 4, according to the service desk, so that the brightness of the film goes in and odd for no reason -- I had thought the projector was at fault, but they have ordered new reels.)
On Christmas Day itself we watched the DVD of Monsters, Inc., a charming animated flick, and one of its many commendable features was what I would call an "old time inspired" animated opening credits with a jazzy music accompanyment. I mention this because Spielberg has added something similar to the opening of Catch Me If You Can. In fact, the very clever opening is something of a "dumb show" -- back in Shakespeare's day there was often a pantomime or puppet show at the beginning that very quickly showed the basic plot so that you could follow along. And frankly, the movie's score is a refreshing bit of work on the part of John Williams, who too often seems to sound like other movie soundtracks (including his own). Perhaps this too is derivative of some other 1960s movie, but since I probably haven't seen it, i works for me.
Side Note: Leonardo Dicaprio had two films open in Grand Rapids on Christmas Day, because Gangs of New York ended up not having enough prints made up for the original opening day and Miramax stiffed movie-mad Grand Rapids in favor of handing prints out to Benton Harbor and Mount Pleasant.
It always seems to be the case that movie critics will review a movie like Nemesis as if it were just another film. But it's a STAR TREK film and one wtih the Star Trek: The Next Generation cast in it. Therefore it is going to carry with it a lot of baggage and expectations from the Star Trek fans that an ordinary movie, Science Fiction or not, simply never has to deal with. So let's not pretend that this is an "ordinary" film.
Then there's that whole "even-odd" jinx. See, every other Star Trek movie has been poor or a keeper (Odd = weak: Star Trek: The Motion Picture, Star Trek III: The Search for Spock, Star Trek V: The Final Frontier, Star Trek: First Contact and Star Trek: Insurrection. Even = good: Star Trek II: The Wrath of Khan, Star Trek IV: The Way Home (the whale movie), Star Trek VI: The Undiscovered Country, Star Trek: Generations) -- and Star Trek: Nemesis is movie number TEN, which should make it an EVEN. Now if only they could figure out how to have Star Fleet pay the electric bill in the future, so their starships aren't always so darn dark inside...
So, with all that, let me say that Star Trek: Nemesis is a VERY good Star Trek movie and probably a pretty good movie in its own right. Long-time fans know that the first of the villian races was the Romulans, who come from the planets Romulus and Remus in the same star system (check out your Roman mythology to keep this straight). But as the series developed and the myth was extended, we ended up learning much more about the Klingons (who aren't so bad most of the time) and the Cardassians, the Dominion, the Borg Collective, etc., and yet the Romulans were so secretive that we never knew much about them beyond that they are related to Vulcans and are warlike. So it is long overdue that we find out something juicy about Romulus versus Remus.
For long time fans, we get some little prizes as rewards -- the movie opens with a wedding and Data sings. If you've seen any of the trailers or TV ads, then I'm not giving anything away to say that they find yet another android -- another earlier version of Data called B-4 (get it?), that the chief villian resembles a young Jean Luc Picard -- and claims some association with him, and that with a brand new Enterprise (NCC-1701-E), having wasted the last one in Generations, they're going to work very hard to destroy this one in battle as well. See, in movies you can afford to destroy Federation starships, while the TV show didn't have the budget to make a new Enterprise each week.
Trailers: Speaking of the Enterprise, someone needs to tell the makers of the movie The Core that the U.S. Space Shuttle Enterprise is an unpowered, unspaceworthy glider landing prototype that is in a museum and will never fly in space. The Core looks very cheesy, but might be amusing for a few minutes. Then the un-science they are talking will probably cause your brain to explode. We also saw, not one but TWO trailers for upcoming movies with Morgan Freeman. One, called Dreamcatcher, is based on a Steven King story -- but don't hold that against it yet -- and the other is a Jim Carrey comedy called Bruce Almighty, where Morgan (God) gives Carrey God's power for a week. Sigh.
They're already planning the Summer of 2003, and we're only halfway through the Summer of 2002! X-Men was a real sleeper hit the other year, and one that pleased a number of the X-Men fans that I knew. A comic book that the movie treated not only seriously, but lovingly, X-Men gave us a lot of back story to set up things. There was a bigtime fan behind us in the theatre and right at the end he got thrilled, because it had been bugging him all through the movie that the one girl had the wrong color hair -- and they explained that, too. Patrick Stewart was convincing. But it was Wolverine, Hugh Jackman, who stole the show. See, Stewart and Jackman (and others in the case) are real actors. They don't just show up for action flicks. They believe in the heart of this story.
The return of Keanu Reeves and Lawrence Fishbourne has been anticipated for a LONG time. Working on back-to-back sequels, I think that they're trying to do this right, much like Peter Jackson's decision to do all three parts of Lord of the Rings at once. Because Matrix 2 and Matrix 3 are not just sequels. The Matrix stirred something in the moviegoing public -- and despite the controversy regarding outside situations such as Columbine -- there were many people whom Dr. Phil would not have thought would have wanted to see a movie that was "just" a Duke Nuke 'Em shoot-em-up fest were very well disposed towards The Matrix.
Unfortunately, having achieved State of the Art breakthrough once -- and immitated in five billion movies since -- the pressure is on to be equally Cool, Monochromatic and Chillingly State of the Art, again!
Early looks at trailers suggest that maybe, just maybe, they're on their way to achieving some of this. In anticipation, they just moved the start of Matrix 2 to Thursday May 15th, from Friday May 16th.
It all comes down to this. Part I was superb. Part II looks good. Part III holds all the promise. If Peter Jackson can pull this off, we will have seen a major achievement in modern film making and in adapations of classic books and the gold standard in fantasy films.
A few years ago, before The Special Editions came out and long before Episodes 1 and 2, George Lucas made the "first" three Star Wars movies available to theatres if they wanted to do it as a charity fundraiser. So Mrs. Dr. Phil and I bought the 3-movie pass at Studio 28 and one summer's day, we spent from 10am to 5pm in a center seat about one-third of the way back from the front in the giant Theatre 1 and watched Star Wars Episode IV: A New Hope, Episode V: The Empire Strikes Back and Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi back-to-back-to-back. I am already hoping for the day when I can return to Theatre 1 at Studio 28 and see all of The Lord of the Rings in one sitting.
It takes a special set of movies to inspire that kind of devotion.
was scheduled for Christmas 2003, but looks more like May 2004 now, so it won't go up against the climas of LOTR.
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Last Update: 28 November 2002 Thu / correction 12 July 2003 Fri