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To The Movies!

Summer 2002

A few words about movie theatres in West Michigan.

Sneak Previews on Fall 2002 and 2003 Movies...


New (7/12) Windtalkers .

(6/29) Minority Report . (6/29) The Bourne Identity . (7/04) Men In Black II .

(6/20) IMAX Space Station 3D.

(5/12) Lord of the Rings - I. (5/16) Star Wars Episode 2 (1st time). (5/24) 2nd time.

(5/3) Spiderman. (5/27) Insomnia.


LOSERS...

Eight Legged Freaks

If I see the promos for this on TV one more time, I'll... SCREAM! (And not because it's "scary".)


Reel Movies

Spiderman (PG-13)

3 May 2002 Friday (Opening Day) · 2:00pm · Studio 28 Theatre #1

The first of the "Summer 2002" Blockbusters, this is a film that has been awaited for a long time. Actually, at one point there were two competing Spiderman projects, but from the credits I guess that James Cameron pulled his project.

Most Spidey fans know the basic story -- your basic boy gets bit by radioactive spider, boy gains superpowers, boy hides Spidey's identity, boy takes pictures for Daily Bugle, boy makes excuses to the girl he loves, boy tries to make Aunt May happy, story. Although it annoyed John Douglas, who reviews movies for The Grand Rapids Press, I liked the fact that we start at the beginning of the story, with Peter Parker in high school. Parker's tranformation into Spiderman is done slowly and with good humor.

Tobey Maguire plays Peter Parker to good effect. Parker is supposed to be something of a nerd and Spidey is something of a wisecracker, and he pulls that off well. In an earlier generation this role might have gone to Matthew Broderick or Michael J. Fox, but to his credit I think Maguire is more sincere than either of those might have been. Kirsten Dunst, not one of Dr. Phil's favorites, plays M.J., Peter's great love interest. She was okay, I suppose, but the red hair was the best feature, and I don't think Dunst is a redhead. Meanwhile, we need a villain, and who better than Willem Dafoe? He has an amazing scene arguing with himself in a mirror. Aunt May's face looks good at first blush, but the actress playing Aunt May is not nearly as skeletal as we used to see in the comic strips.

Score is by Danny Elfman, who has done some other big movies, and did an okay job. The closing credits has a ballad that seems somewhat derivative of the ballad used in the first Batman movie. If you're gonna steal/copy, then it's good to steal from something that worked.

If you're a REAL Spidey fan, you'll sit through the whole credits. There's a little treat for you.

BTW - In case you don't think that this is really a Summer Blockbuster movie, just notice (just try to avoid!) the rather prominent examples of product placements (Dr. Pepper, Maker's Mark, Cingular Wireless, etc.)

Best Trailer: The Hulk (Summer 2003) · Yet another action hero / classic TV turned into a movie. But... here's the twist. The director is Ang Lee. Acclaimed director of both Chinese action films and the Jane Austen adaptation Sense & Sensibility (Emma Thompson, Kate Winslet (!), Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman (in like his only "nice" role)). And did I see James Cameron's name in the credits as producer? They never let us read those things in trailers, so why bother? Anyway, maybe this was the deal they cut so that Cameron would quit production of his Spiderman movie.


Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones (PG)

16 May 2002 Thursday (Opening Midnight) · 12:01am · Studio 28 Theatre #1 (Center Section, 3rd row, aisle, reserved tickets)

What? Of course I already have tickets for Episode II.

There was such a long gap between the re-named Star Wars Episode VI: The Return of the Jedi and Episode I, that an entire generation demanded to have an event. Thus was born the huge lines to get tickets and 24-hour continuous showings of Episode I when it arrived. Interestingly, although there were a few isolated nutcases starting lines for Episode II back in like January, Studio 28 in Grand Rapids only handed out about 500 wristbands and on Friday 3 May, Dr. Phil was able to walk in and buy advance tickets to the very first showing for 12:01am, without needing a wristband or even stand in a line.

BTW: For a good work-up of all things Star Wars, as well as a review of Episode I that will make you feel better about that movie (though nothing will quite take the foul taste of Jar-Jar Binks out of my mind), check out the University of Aldera web site http://www.aldera.net and make sure you check out the page title at the top of the Windows border -- it's one of the best bad puns I've run across in years.

UPDATE: Initial Comments

One of the reasons for seeing a big film like Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones so early is because then I can't get spoiled by hearing too much about the film. So if you're looking for "Spoilers" to the plot, they're really not going to be here... yet. So let's just use some quotes from some other movies:

"I'm never going to get to go to the Academy... All my friends have gone... <Whine>"
"My name is Anakin Skywalker.  You killed my mother.  Prepare to die."
"I have a bad feeling about this."
"Shut up, we're here to rescue you." "Some rescue."
"Even the smallest person can change the future."

In Star Wars Episode I: The Phantom Menace, the question was always: Does Queen Amidala change all those clothes so often and do all those elaborate hair things because its part of the Royal protocol? Or is it the Naboo equivalent of being a Valley Girl? I think it's the girl, not the office. Oh, and we see the prequel to Princess Leia's cinnamon buns. And of course, young Anakin Skywalker has to make his first steps towards Being Darth Vader.

The movie starts off with a bang. There are some good battle scenes. I think that George Lucas spent too much time with his buddy Steven Spielberg while the latter was making Stanley Kubrick's A.I. -- you'll see the influence. And he does a better job of showing battles and treachery rather than love stories. (What does she see in this guy? Other than they're both reckless.) And Lucas really likes stories about young boys with shattered lives growing up and seeking revenge. Oh, and if the Naboo starship in Episode I bore a passing resemblance to a tailless SR-71, then think B-2 Stealth bomber for Episode II.

What's new? We get to see a little of what makes Master Yoda such a great Jedi Master. Mace Windu (Samuel L. Jackson) finally gets to do something. There have been some fascinating conspiracy theories as to why his light saber is purple -- but we don't get anything like that revealed. R2-D2 continues to save the day, C-3PO is never one to handle difficult situations and complains all the time. That droid just keeps losing his head over things.

I thought that the Clones were very cool. All that was handled in a way that was not what I expected. John Williams of course did the score. The master of stealing from other people's music (including his own), has managed to insert a certain amount of original Star Wars themes into the score, sort of heavy-handedly presaging future developments. Remember, we do have to get the storyline to interface cleanly with Episodes IV, V and VI. And he allows himself one, very bad, musical joke. It created quite a roar from the 12:01am audience, but it was a cheap shot.

Former L.A. Law and NYPD Blue star Jimmy Smits makes a minor appearance and looks uncomfortable. Jar-Jar Binks is back, but doesn't take up a lot of screentime. And I think we can begin to guess how the whole thing is going to fall apart for the worse in Star Wars Episode III. I was annoyed that Lucas, who loves the old-time movie serial format, didn't give us a splash screen with the title and tentative release date for Episode III, which should be out in May 2005.

BOTTOM LINE: Was it worth staying up to 3:30 am for?

Yes.

Trailers: (1) Matrix 2 / Matrix 3 (starting in 2003) · First trailer up, huge roar from the crowd when the green letters started dripping down the screen. No real details, just people falling and rising and doing flips that violate the basic laws of Physics, Morpheus sitting there with his mini-shades pontificating about the coming revolution -- exactly what fans of The Matrix want to see. I believe the new working titles for the two sequels are: The Matrix Reloaded and The Matrix Revolution.

· (2) IMAX Space Station 3D · The hard-core Star Wars crowd was going to cheer any trailer at this point, but this is "real space", so that's pretty good. I'm definitely looking forward to this.

· (3) Lilo and Stitch · Other than being an imp and a troublemaker, we still don't know a heckuva lot about this Disney movie, but the advertising has been cute. They keep on redoing big scenes from some of the more recent Disney animated features and then this little intergalactic koala bear (well, that's the easiest way to describe Stitch) shows up. This one began with the big scene from The Lion King where Simba is introduced to all the animals -- except someone realizes that "Hey, that's not Simba!" Then we see a bit of a scene with this little girl and her mother and this small creature. The jury is still most definitely out on this one.

· (4) Like Mike · This is as in "Be like Mike" as in Michael Jordan. Yet Another film where a kid suddenly gains extraordinary prowess in sports and so we have a 10-year-old playing in the NBA. This after finding a pair of sneakers tied together and thrown over a power line and then lighting strikes, the shoes fall -- and they have "M.J." written in Magic Marker® on the inside of the sneaker's tongue. Then the kid gets a chance to go one-on-one with an NBA star in a half-time contest and the rest is history. We've seen this before, the kids look appealing, don't expect to see Dr. Phil at this one. The 12:01am crowd is getting restless.

· (5) Minority Report · Finally getting to see a little bit more to the story of this one. Tom Cruise works for an agency that arrests people for "thinking" about a crime they will/might commit. Of course, the system is "perfect". And of course, Tom Cruise gets framed and has to go on the run. For a heavily anticipated Spielberg/Cruise movie, the 12:01am audience was tired of trailers at this point and wanted...

A long time ago,

In a galaxy far, far away...

(Cue the fanfare! Cue the Logo! Start running the serial movie style Introduction! Let the titles fade off into infinity... then pan the camera against the star field. Cue the starships! We're rolling...)

UPDATE: Second Viewing

18 May 2002 Saturday (Opening Weekend) · 7:00pm · Studio 28 Theatre #1 (Center Section, 4th row, aisle, reserved tickets)

Of course Dr. Phil is going to see Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones more than once. And when push came to shove, and I had a free evening to myself, I even splurged and bought "near perfect" seats in Theatre #1 again.

Why see Star Wars again? Well, for one thing, the first viewing is almost marred by trying to figure out where the story is going. Once the movie is over, all the speculation and rumors over the past three years are history and the new chapter of this 20th century myth is cast in stone. Now one can sit back and enjoy the thing that Lucas has put together. Now I may rave about Star Wars and act like I am putting it on a pedastal, and those of you who might be real fans of the cinema might be rolling your eyes -- and I understand. In some ways, and George Lucas might not dispute this, the five Star Wars movies so far represent the B-movie serials of the 1930's, just made with some better production values (and color). So I'm not going to lie here and say that Star Wars movies are the ultimate in acting and scriptwriting, because they aren't. But they are great fun, and they really are tied up with some of the great myth telling traditions.

What has made all the movies in this series fit to watch again and again is not just the spectacle, but the scale of the spectacle. It's never been one storm trooper, its thousands. It's not a "small amount of traffic" on Corsecant, but an unending multilevel flow of ships and vehicles. It isn't just a bar, but a wild interspecies meeting place. It isn't just a diner, but... man, is he ugly! Sure, you can try to argue that some of this is the excess of the money that this franchise has brought in. But this was always part of the series, even in its infancy.

I read recently a review of Episode II in The Western Herald (WMU's campus newspaper), and was amused with the comment that while Jar-Jar Binks is still around, at least we have a new and better reason to hate him. This is true -- Jar-Jar is manipulated by the growing forces of darkness and helps unleash the events that work out okay in Episode II, but will go sour in Episode III. Oh, and the Jimmy Smits character is the man who will hide the infant Leia on Alderan. (That's not really a spoiler, just putting some names together. There will be time to talk plot and spoiler details later in the summer, after it is expected that the hardcore fans will have already been to see the movie.)

EPISODE III: The rumor mills are already starting on Star Wars Episode III. In the 26 May 2002 Grand Rapids Press, there is a syndicated story that includes some teasing comments from George Lucas, who says that he shot one of the last images of Episode III near the end of filming for Episode II. Now that doesn't tell us anything, but principle filming is scheduled to begin the Summer of 2003, with release in May 2005. Yet one more reason to follow the rules of Physics and drive carefully and defensively out there -- you don't want to miss the last chapter because of your own stupidity! A real question is that given that the Jedi are going to buy the farm in Episode III, will Lucas be able to swing a PG rating so the kids can see it.


Insomnia (R)

24 May 2002 Friday (Opening Day) · 8:00pm · Studio 28 Theatre #12

This is the first of two Robin Williams movies this summer where this comic genius and overall crazy person plays "bad people". There is very little in the way of redeeming features in his character -- which is way cool. But the real center of action in this movie is Al Pacino, who is leads a pair of L.A. detectives invited up to the middle of nowhere in Alaska to help solve a murder. Or maybe they are pulled out of L.A. to stay one step ahead of an Internal Affairs investigation in the L.A.P.D. that threatens the younger partner, then Al Pacino's character. The scenary, shot in British Columbia and Alaska, is unbelievably spectactor. It reminds me of how we thought the U.P. looked the first time we drove up there, but before we had lived there and began to think of it as home. The title Insomnia comes from Al Pacino's inability to sleep in the land of the midnight sun -- a fact that our friendly neighborly murderer constantly taunts him about.

Christopher Nolan directed last year's sleeper hit Memento, which if you haven't seen, you should really go and buy or rent. Or find some friend or family member who has it and schmooze a viewing of it. While he doesn't try for something of the complexity of Memento here, there is some depth and a few new takes on things. You've seen guys running around on logs before, but this is a little different.

The casting is swell all over. Once you get over the fact that it "looks" like Hillary Swank is trying to be Jorja Fox of CBS's CSI: Crime Scene Investigators, she does a swell job. And Al Pacino, famous for chewing up the scenery, is actually understated in this role -- and man does he look awful as his insomnia grows. If only it wasn't just about the midnight sun.

BTW -- this is actually a remake of a Norwegian movie with a similar title. Perhaps that's another reason why the director isn't quite up to his old tricks, but still, this is a good murder thriller.


Men In Black II (MIB II)

Will Smith and Tommy Lee Jones are back.

What more could be perfect?

Now Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels would suggest that MIB II will be awful, but I have high hopes for this one. The first one was off-beat and clever enough, and while everybody will make quite a payday, they didn't exactly rush this into production overnight. So maybe...

(Men In Black was just on network TV the other weekend and even with commercials and editing, it is still a joy. What's clever about MIB is that everyone seems to be just going with the flow, and Will Smith's character is the only one who wants to shout out, "Wait! What are you doing?" Except that very quickly he realizes the only way to survive is to be too cool about it. And nobody can do cool like Smith. Richard D'Onofrio, currently starring in NBC's Law & Order: Criminal Intent, was quite lovely and talented as a reanimated corpse run by a Bug, who ultimately provides all the excitement of the last third of the movie. Part of having a good action movie, especially a good comic action movie, is that things just keep on happening, the stakes keep on building. And you have to keep track of everybody, because they will come back to either save the day or rain down terror once more. Vast fun.

And I seem to recall a movie ad, after MIB had been out for a while that had Will Smith asking to speak to all the people who had seen MIB -- then he held up the flashy thingy -- and then told the audience to go see his new film, Men In Black. You're not laughing. I guess you had to be there.)

UPDATE:

Men In Black II (PG-13)

04 July 2002 Thursday · 12:45pm · Celebration Cinema Knapp's Corners Theatre #1

Some years ago Will Smith laughed during an interview and said that he owned the Fourth of July box office. His record of 4th of July hits should be in no danger with MIB II in theatres now. It's not all that long, but that's okay, it covers plenty of territory and you'll probably be happily exhausted at the end. By now you've seen the trailers and TV ads (they've practically been saturation bombing the airwaves the last week), so you probably know a few of the gags. Tommy Lee Jones (Agent K) retired at the end of MIB I, and is now working in a Post Office in Maine. Of course he has no memory of his service time with the MIB. That proves trouble when headquarters gets taken over by... well, best not to discuss this. Let's just say that Agent J (Will Smith), needs his old partner back and NOW. Anyway, the whole thing centers on the... no, i probably shouldn't tell you that either. So this story is about a thing and some slimy things and some pretty girls... and a dog, some worms and aliens who have multiple heads (serial and parallel), and if things don't work out right Real Soon Now then it's the end of the Earth. The usual (yawn).

Now Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels would suggest that (1) the original film captured a sense of innocence that the sequel doesn't capture and (2) the sequel has to do everything MORE than in the original, but probably isn't better. Hmm.... I think that The Rule is intact on this one, but for a 4th of July flick like MIB II, I don't think we want too much. In fact, they try hard to keep us off-balance all through the movie so that we can keep some of our innocence. And Agent J (Will Smith), I think is secretly taking Jedi lessons from Obi-Won Kenobi, with his increasingly creative replacement stories he offers those who have just been neuralized by the flashy thing.

All-in-all, a fine sequel. Perfect for Summer. Look for cameos by big stars, including Peter Graves and Michael Jackson. Several running gags. And a really great ending (no! do not go through that door!).

We didn't have time to stay around for all the credits, because we had to rush out of one theatre and make it across the 'plex to see Space Station 3D over at the IMAX theatre. So if anything "happens", please alert Dr. Phil. I'm real big on directors who give us something to reward those of us who usually wait through all the credits. (Hey, I paid for ALL the movie! Made a projectionist rethread his machine one time after he decided to rewind it early, so he could move on to his next theatre. That was in the U.P.)

The movie is paired up with an animated short about "Chub-Chubs", as in, Run for your lives, the Chub-Chubs are coming! It is very cute and clever, and since the MIB franchise is under Steven Spielberg's wing, it was apparently no problem to populate the "Ale-E-Inn" road house with all your favorite figures, from Yoda to Darth Vader to E.T. to Jar-Jar Binks (!) and more...

Trailers: Signs (M. Night Shyalanon's next movie to trick us out of our minds -- he did The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable -- with Mel Gibson and Joaquin Phoenix. Coming soon.), Triple-X with Vin Diesel (soon), Spy Kids 2: The Island of Lost Dreams (August 2002), 007: Die Another Day (Yet Another Bond Movie with Pierce Brosnan and Halle Barry, November or December 2002), Star Trek Nemesis (Next Generation cast - December 2002), Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers (Christmas 2002). And just outside Celebration Theatre 1 was a poster of Dobby the House Elf for Harry Potter II, which opens in November 2002. Should be a fine end to the year.


Minority Report (PG-13)

29 June 2002 Saturday · 5:10pm · Studio 28, Theatre #16.

Big summer Tom Cruise vehicle. Much hype. Big bucks. Hey, it's a summer blockbuster.

When I wrote that earlier, I forgot to add "Spielberg". And "Phillip K. Dick". Who, you say? You've never heard of Steven Spielberg? Oh, you mean the other guy. Ah, you who don't read enough Science Fiction... Dick wrote the novella (long short story) Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? which was turned into the definitive Sci-Fi film noire prototype cyberpunk cult classic movie Bladerunner, starring Harrison Ford. Minority Report is from another Dick story, though I haven't tracked it down and read it yet (at least I don't think I have...).

Okay, here's the scoop: Tom Cruise is the head of a Pre-Crime police unit in the D.C. area. They've got these three pre-cogs (pre-cognatives) who aren't "really" human who can tune into your dreams and desires, and then Cruise & Company can track you down and arrest you before you commit a crime. Cool. And just a little bit terrifying from a U.S. Constitutional point of view, shall we say, especially as the system is "perfect". Naturally Tom Cruise gets charged with a murder that he is sure he isn't going to commit.

I have to say that I had a strong feeling of the late Stanley Kubrick in this Steven Spielberg project -- Steven, of course, was handpicked to complete Kubrick's last film A.I. Artificial Intelligence. And though Minority Report is in color, much of the film is somewhat washed out in sort of a blue & white effect. We are used to sepia or brown toning of film to make it look old. This may be an example of selenium toning to make it look futuristic.

As a story it holds together pretty well. The guy who tends the pre-cogs needs to get a life -- he is one serious geek. And Tom Cruise's character has some very troubling obsessions. Max von Sydow plays his mentor, and though he is getting old, he does a fine job. Watch out for the Plant Lady!

From a Science & Technology point of view, the film is very stylish and mostly believable. (Once you get past the original premise of pre-crime detection by dreaming.) But I have a few issues with the odd automated cars. When Tom is hopping from one car to next as they move down a vertical wall -- that's one really tall wall. It just seems to time out way too long. Also, why is it that security systems in movies are designed by people who have NEVER heard of the problem of building in single point failure modes? Don't these people believe in backups? Redundancy? Not putting ALL your eggs in one basket? Geesh!

Most of the special effects are done very seamlessly, and it is fun to see someone make a mistake with an advanced techology -- in one scene Tom is using special gloves to move images around on a virtual wall and accidently turns quickly, apparently throwing everything into the trash. Must have been written for Microsoft Windows 2050 Professional. Oh, did I mention product placement and advertising? Go rent Bladerunner -- it's a common theme. A scarier thought is having stores recognize you when you walk in. Do we really need, "Hi, Mr. Jones! Welcome back to Walgreens. Did those Depends® solve your little problem?" (UPDATE: An NPR news story on 13 July 2002 talked about new methods of advertising, including a "real" talking Parkay margarine tub coming to stores near you. The noisy cereal box that annoyed Tom Cruise in Minority Report is a LOT closer than I wish to think about. There goes the neighborhood...)

This movie is very entertaining and I think has more going for it, than say Mission Impossible 2. Recommended.


The Bourne Identity (PG-13)

29 June 2002 Saturday · 8:30pm · Studio 28, Theatre #6.

Dr. Phil's Rule of Sequels suggests that sequels lack some innocence that the originals had, and so most sequels just don't quite measure up. Having said that, we flock to sequels anyway. Something similar is true of Remakes. I haven't seen the original Boune Identity in decades, but of course it had a European sophisticated espionage flavor that showed up in a lot of movies of the 1960s and 1970s.

This version with Matt Damon as "Jason Bourne" may not compare well with the original (or the book) at some levels, but for the current crop of spy and adventure movies in 2002, this one is a lot of fun. (Talked to Mom, and she was really ticked at how anemic this version was compared with to the Richard Chamberlin version. So I guess I'm right -- once again. Modesty forbids Dr. Phil from crowing about this.)

This is a good looking movie with a good European look-and-feel to its settings. There are more Bourne stories, I understand, and Matt Damon has signed up to do more, so this should be a good franchise.


IMAX Space Station 3D

Opens Friday 7 June 2002 · Celebration Cinema IMAX, East Beltline & Knapp Street, Grand Rapids.

The only IMAX Theatre in West Michigan will start showing the brand new Space Station, giving you a taste of riding the shuttle and living in the International Space Station. Shown in Color 3-D -- two films shown simultaneously, while you watch with polarized glasses to separate the Left and Right images -- this should be SPECTACULAR. George Lucas, eat your heart out with these "special effects".

Narrated by Tom Cruise.

UPDATE: IMAX Space Station 3D

19 June 2002 Wednesday · Noon · Celebration Cinema IMAX, East Beltline & Knapp Street, Grand Rapids.

I finally got a chance to run out to Northeast Grand Rapids and check out the Space Station 3D movie.

Folks, if you have ever had any interest in the space program or have wondered what science fiction would look like if it were "real", you MUST go see this movie. It isn't cheap at $9.00 for a 45 minute movie, but this isn't just an IMAX movie, which is already expensive, but a Double-Barreled IMAX movie with two films shown simultaneously. They issue you a pair of special polarized glasses (No, they are not souvenirs. No, they don't fold up. Yes, they are somewhat fragile.) and then your left and right eyes see separate images from a slightly different perspective -- just like your regular two-eyed vision.

A word about the 3D. I have seen bunches of 3D movies and 3D graphics. This isn't the old "poke them in an eye with a sharp stick" kind of 3D from bad 3D movies. (Hmm, were they ever any good ones?) It may take a little getting used to, but you can adjust the "focus" of your eyes to see near objects or far. And the startling clarity of the huge IMAX negative and projected image is legendary to begin with. Occassionally they include some regular movie footage, or most of the objects are far enough away that you don't really notice the accomodations that your eyes have to make. But the technology really makes this exceptional viewing.

The International Space Station is a multi-national operation and you get some of the sense of that in this film. Besides the stunning pictures from space, you get rather unprecedented access to the Russian (former Soviet) spaceport at Baikonur Cosmodrome in Kazakstan. The IMAX people trained the Space Station and Space Shuttle crews to do setups, arrange the lighting and run the IMAX 3-D camera. They got in on the ground floor, so we get to see the first modules go up and assembled -- both inside and outside. We watch the first few crews live in space full-time, put lab modules together and sleep in "zero-gee". And you get to see LOTS of Physics principles in action.

To hear Tom Cruise tell it, the major problem with assembling the International Space Station comes from naysayers whining about how hard it is. So they gloss over some of the other problems, such as the crippling cost overruns and the Congressional scaleback of the ISS to just a shadow of what was proposed (which may itself violate the international cooperation agreements that created it), or the constant money problems in Russia that has delayed modules and required cash infusions from the U.S. Then there was the issue about noise. The original Russian ventilation systems was SO noisy, that the crews found they had to wear earplugs much of the time because it was so loud and annoying. You can see several sets of earplugs on a thin connecting string.

Highly recommended. I will be going again. Soon.


Windtalkers (R)

12 July 2002 Friday · 9:35pm · Holland 7, Theatre #1.

Okay. We've had a rash of World War II movies from Hollywood in the last few years, after a long stretch where Hollywood was uncomfortable doing war movies of any kind, unless it involved near-future impossible odds & espionage OR aliens. This time, since Saving Private Ryan and The Thin Red Line, there has been a great emphasis on trying to make WW II dramas fanatically accurate in terms of warfare. Sometimes this devotion to detail succeeds, as in Ryan, or the modern era film Black Hawk Down, and sometimes it ends a miscue, like Pearl Harbor. Nicolas Cage, one of the stars of Windtalkers, made a WW II movie last year called Captain Corelli's Mandolin. My wife and I found it relatively charming, and I felt that the intense battle scenes towards the end were better done than the $200 million Pearl Harbor, which we had recently seen. So why do we care about another war movie?

First, there is the "hook". During the Pacific campaign, the U.S. Marine Corps began to use Navaho "Code Talkers", who used a code based on the Navaho language. The Japanese had broken their previous codes, just as the British were busily breaking the German Enigma codes and the Americans would eventually break the Japanese flower code. But using the Navaho language stumped the Japanese, and disasters caused by the enemy knowing the Marines' plans and positions because we effectively "told" them, were over.

There is a lot more regarding the real Code Talkers than is covered in this movie. In fact it was only a few years ago that the project was declassified and those involved in it were free to talk about it. But this movie is much more about Nicolas Cage's character's demons and he must wrestle them, than the Navaho. Because the real reason why this movie was made, was because the new Navaho radiomen were paired up with an experience sergeant -- whose ultimate mission is to kill the Indian and protect the Code, to prevent any possibility of it falling into enemy hands.

We actually follow two Code Talkers and their "protectors". This is not a good combination, so to speak, because you know that you will end up with only one of each at the end. How the battle sorts out who lives and who dies will be an opportunity to be pithy, if the producers and director want to take it that far. The question is, which two?

Reviews for Windtalkers was mixed, but all the people we know who have seen it have liked it. My guess is that there are some unfinished holes in the plot and some would rather have this filled in before calling the movie "finished".

The war scenes are rough and gritty and violent. And confusing. We don't have as many visual and sound cues as real combatants would have, so I have a lot harder time keeping track of men in uniform. This has been a problem with all the films that use tight camera angles from hand held cameras: Black Hawk Down, We Were Soldiers, etc. And once again we are treated to "color coding". All the Japanese fighters have camouflage branches and leaves sticking out of their helmets -- it's how we tell US from THEM. Probably necessary, since most of us are not trained combatants, but after a while it begins to look funny. Indeed, as in We Were Soldiers, there is also an attempt at Political Correctness. After all, there was quite a component of anti-Nipponese (a correct 1940s term) feelings exploited during WW II. And many of the movies from the 40s and later work on that exploitation, so perhaps a correction of sorts is due. The fact is that the Japanese held/Japanese owned islands in the Pacific were heavily and brutally defended as the Marines pushed on. I'm not sure that the Marines on Saipan had much to say in favor of the "Japs". This was a tough war. Perhaps our attempts to make war movies realistic have collided into our change of sensibilities in the last sixty years. Mrs. Dr. Phil commented on how fanatical we are that the U.S. should not have any casualties in Afghanistan or Kosovo -- and how many casualties these Marines had to absorb in their battles.

Clearly the truth is somewhere in the middle. There might be some attempt not to be racist or atagonistic towards today's Japan in this movie, though I have to say that: (a) the issue legitimately comes up in Windtalkers because there are some issues between the white Marines and the Navaho Marines that have to be resolved and (b) the cricism by some that We Were Soldiers tried to be P.C. towards the Vietnamese has back-fired, because that movie has just open there and it is getting severely criticized.

Overall Windtalkers is a "good" movie about an interesting chapter in America's War in the Pacific, but ultimately it is not a "great" movie.


The Scooby Doo Movie

Dr. Phil isn't a huge Scooby Doo fan, but I have to admit that their first trailer was genius. We wander through some darkened mansion in a thunderstorm, some droning voice going on about a hero for the ages, blah-blah-blah, and finally we turn into a room and there are pointed ears, and just when we think that this is another sanctimonious trailer to Yet Another Batman movie, the "camera" pans around and we find out that it's Scooby. "Who were you expecting?" he gruffly ruffs. Clever. Very clever. This should prove to be very popular. Cartoon Network runs the damn cartoons often enough.


Looking for something else to see?

The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring (PG-13)

11 May 2002 Saturday · 8:00pm · Studio 28 Theatre #19

Of course we had already seen LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring. And of course it is almost closed everywhere in Grand Rapids, except Studio 28 is still showing it. But Saturday night we had tickets to watch the Single-A West Michigan Whitecaps vs. the Ft. Wayne Wizards -- and the weather was very cold, wet and miserable. Amazingly, they managed to bundle up extra layers and hold an entire nine inning baseball game -- losing in the process. So rather than be cold, wet and miserable, Mrs. Dr. Phil observed that she would like to see LOTR again on the big screen before it disappeared completely, so off we went.

J.R.R. Tolkein's epic story, or at least Part I (Books 1 & 2), has survived being presented on the giant silver screen very well. This is a beautiful movie, lovingly made by people who cared, and a cast who does a magnificent job. To say that LOTR is a fantasy swords and wizards movie really misses the point. I have to agree with one critic I read that at its heart, LOTR is a love story. Or perhaps an intersecting web of love stories. "Love" here encompasses many things, including the fierce devotion of The Fellowship of the Ring, who pledge their lives to The Goal. (It is so easy to fall into using Capital Letters when making The Point in such An Epic... sorry.) There is a more traditional love story as well, and Jackson has taken some heat by moving it somewhat into Part I. Otherwise we wouldn't see anything of consequence until Part II.

Of course Peter Jackson holds a special place in Dr. Phil's heart, but given the unfortunate situation that developed when Ralph Balkshi tried to make an animated version of LOTR, it is practically heroic in movie making circles to demand that the front money pay for all three movies to be shot and in the can, before this first movie was cut and edited. It would be so easy to lose the production values -- or spread the shoot over so many years that you can tell. And thankfully, Jackson avoids all that and we shall forever be in his debt. Just seeing the trailer for LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, you could tell that Part I was going to be swell. We don't have such confidence when watching trailers for Batman or Jim Carrey movies.

Some purists, and the Tolkein fanatics are legendary -- they came long before there was a Star Trek or a Star Wars -- have quibbled about certain liberties with the story. One whole chunk of Part I was cut, but frankly, although Tom was beloved, he is not missed in this production. And we mentioned the love story. And as a metaphor for other things, a sort of super-orc army is created. But overall, it feels like it is all (or least enough) there. The terror of wandering through the mines in the dark. The awful swarming of orcs and goblins and who knows what. The relentless pursuit by The Nine ringwraiths.

You are almost seduced by the gorgeous New Zealand setting and costumes and set dressings -- and forget about the special effects for large chunks of the movie. And yet there they are. The men playing dwarves and hobbits are not really that short. Those playing elves are not really that tall and light and thin. Peter Jackson has been playing a shell game with you all this time. Some real old-time camera craft (want something to look larger, put it closer to the camera and vice versa) and some state of the art computer image manipulations makes it all possible. It is nearly perfectly seamless and I cannot say enough about that -- especially on the big screen.

The cast... what can I say? Cate Blanchett is a wonderful actress, but she is a magnificent Elf queen, even though she is only on screen for just a little while. Gandalf is played to perfection -- and the battle between wizards is powerful. Frodo is good -- we'll see if he's up to the task that is required of him. But Sam is perfect. (Much like Ron Weasley is perfect to Harry Potter's pretty good in the "other" wizard movie of Late 2001.) Vigo Mortensen and Orlando Bloom are terrific as the Ranger Strider and the Elf Legolas respectively -- both are both a "man's man" and have growing fan clubs among the distaff side.

So, is LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring an action, fantasy, swords & wizardry movie? Or a chick flick? Or a great metaphor for the human condition? No... it's Part I of The Trilogy. And we who are fans were ready for Part II on opening night. And Part III. But I am getting ahead of myself.

.......The Two Towers Preview

We were given a real treat when, at the end of LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring, we saw what was essentially the first full-length trailer for The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers, which is due in theatres around Christmas 2002. (Alas, "reliable" rumors that Peter Jackson was running ahead of schedule, and would get The Two Towers out this summer and The Return of the King for Christmas 2002 instead of Christmas 2003, have so far turned out to be false.)

As for the trailer itself, it doesn't really tell you anything of consequence -- if you've read the books then you are mentally checking off the important details. Gollum stalking Frodo Baggins and and his earsthwile Samwise. And the Ents -- Mrs. Dr. Phil was very happy to know that the Ents are there.

My bet is that the Academy Awards are going to wait for Part III and give Peter Jackson the Oscar for the whole set.

.......DVD Note

If you are thinking about rushing out to buy the August video release of The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring in VHS and DVD, you should know that current plans of Peter Jackson is to do a SECOND DVD release in November, with additional scenes totalling an extra 33 minutes or so. Check with Amazon.com or some other web site to keep up on this.

The Rookie (G) ***

13 April 2002 Saturday · 9:20pm · Studio 28 Theatre #5

April and May, and even the Cubbies and Tigers aren't technically out of it. The Baseball Movie is a staple of American cinema. But you can't just watch reruns of Bull Durham, Major League, Field of Dreams, etc. all the time. Sometimes you need a new Baseball Movie.

This one is remarkably good for a Disney film. Based on a true story, Dennis Quaid is a rural Texas high school science teacher and baseball coach, who once dreamed of being a big league pitcher, but his minor career died when he ripped up his shoulder. Now, years later, and long after the recovery from the Tommy John operation, he accidentally gets a second chance.

The story is charming and the acting performances by everyone, young and old and older, is solid and excellent. There's some good humor and Quaid comes off as honest in his incredulity at his sudden change in fortune.

*** - I had this listed as PG-13 earlier, but I notice in the current schedule it says G, so we'll update it. I like this rating better, which only makes the movie and its longevity at the box office even more remarkable, since getting rated G is sure death to some movies.

Update: 13 July 2002. This past week The Rookie won an ESPY Award for Best Sports Movie in the past year. While that by itself isn't enough to make you want to run out and see or rent it, you should know that there was some pretty stiff competition from Will Smith's Ali, Billy Crystal's HBO movie 61* (about Roger Maris beating the Babe's HR record), and others. So I think what they recognized here was that this was a wholesome well-told story with wide appeal.

Blade 2 (R)

13 April 2002 Saturday · 6:50pm · Studio 28 Theatre #14

"The Enemy of My Enemy is My Friend?" That's the basic argument to this sequel to the really wonderful looking Blade from a few years ago.

Now let's have an understanding here. Blade is Yet Another Super Hero from a Graphic Novel (Better Than a Comic Book). And this is a sequel to a super hero movie. So we're not talking Oscar material here. And we really aren't trying to connect to an audience that hasn't seen Blade. Having said that, I must say that compared to mainstream super hero fare, such as Superman and Batman, that movies like Blade and The Crow really were revolutionary for bringing the Gtaphic Novel look to the big screen. And We Love Blade, because Wesley Snipes LOOKS so damned good, and even after he runs out of all those marvelous toys, then Wesley gets to really begins to kick some serious martial arts butt.

Having said that, I must say that Blade 2 is a rather enjoyable pleasure for fans of Blade. The title character is himself part-vampire and he makes his living hunting down vampires, along with a rather seedy Kris Kristopherson as his armorer. Now we thought Kris died in Blade 1, but that's a really minor detail to deal with in a sequel, where getting the original pairings together is important. (Just watch how Will Smith gets Tommy Lee Jones out of "retirement" in Men In Black II later this summer.) But here Blade is again, dressed to hunt and kill vampires. The man in black leather, with silver weapons, bulging muscles, a tapestry of tattoos... and he wears wraparound shades, in the dark, at night. Time to crack the bones in your neck and get down to business.

But... the vampires come to Blade and ask for his help. See, there's something nastier than vampires that's taking out the vampires, and these baddies will threaten humanity soon. So an alliance is formed, and Blade teams up with an elite team of technological vampire commandos, who were originally trained to try to hunt down Blade. Life's little ironies abound.

BTW - The English-accented black vampire is Cat from the BBC sci-fi silliness Red Dwarf. Guess he likes his fangs.

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Last Update: 14 July 2002 Sun