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To The Movies!

Fall 2003

Click here for a few words about movie theatres in West Michigan.

It's been a big summer of Blockbusters, but there are all sorts of good looking movies coming for Fall 2003 and especially November and December 2003. We hit probably half the movies that we wanted to see this summer, but in the long run, I think we ended up seeing the "good" ones.

A few notes on DVD/VHS and sneaks for the future (Fall and Christmas 2003) are included at the end.

New! (8/28 - Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines) . (8/30 - Mustan helmen kirous) . (9/13 - Matchstick Men) . (11/01 - Love Actually <Sneak Preview>) . (11/08 - The Matrix Revolutions) . (11/15 - Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World) . (11/27 - Timeline) . (11/29 - Whale Rider) . (11/19 - The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King) .

New on DVD: (11/07 - The Matrix Reloaded) . (11/26 - Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [Extended Edition]) .

Old on DVD: (11/13 - Amadeus) . (11/15 - Doctor Zhivago) .

We've Got Dates Now: The Matrix Revolutions . Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King .

An Important Note on The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers DVD Releases:

Just as with the first LOTR movie, LOTR:TT is going to come out in multiple editions.

Coming Soon...

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (11/14) with Russell Crowe as Captain Lucky Jack Aubrey -- Mystic River, directed by Clint Eastwood, with Sean Penn, Lawrence Fishbourne, Billy Bob Thornton -- Love Acutally (another British romantic comedy from the Four Weddings and a Funeral / Notting Hill crowd), with Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney and Alan Rickman -- The Last Samurai, Tom Cruise's "Dances With Shogun"... and more!

And one horror to come...

Is there anyone besides me who is absolutely disgusted with every single bit I've seen of the upcoming "live-action" The Cat in the Hat with Mike Myers? I mean, Jim Carrey ruining the Grinch and dissing one of the best Christmas cartoons of All Time was bad enough, but Mike Myer's face isn't even the right shape to play Dr. Seuss' The Cat in the Hat. To say nothing of the fact that everything else looks horrible, I'm sure they've ruined the story and the whole thing makes me want to heave.

Oh no -- The Cat in the Hat marketing is going overboard. At the grocery story today (11/15/03 Sa) that ugly make-up on Mike Myers was on a ton of huge displays. Pepsi, Oreos, etc. -- you're history in my book!

But I don't have strong opinions about anything.

The Fall 2003 New Motion Picture Collection

Terminator 3: The Rise of the Machines

28 August 2003 Thursday · 20:45 · Finnkino Theatre #2 at the Tennispalatsi, Helsinki FINLAND, €9.00, Row 7, Seats 11/12

When we were planning our week in Helsinki, we made a list of odd things that we wanted to do. One of them was to go see an American movie in a Finnish movie theatre, and since we hadn't seen the third installment in the Terminator franchise, it seemed like something fun to go see if we could.

The Tennispalatsi (Tennis Palace, I presume) was one of the facilities built for the 1952 Olympic Games in Helsinki. Three enormous floors of tennis courts was eventually turned into what was, for a time, the largest multiplex cinema in Europe. There are at least 12 screens, I don't remember. We had our choice of a 20:20 or a 20:40 start. We asked for the earlier show, but the girl at the ticket counter was sure we would rather be in the bigger Theatre #2. Okay.

Finnish movie theatres (and others in Europe) still sell you particular seats, not general admission. The girl at the counter asked if we wanted front, center or rear. We took center and found Theatre #2 to have long curving rows of wide plushy comfy seats with no center aisles. It was a trifle odd to have a large theatre with only a few dozen people concentrated in little groups around the theatre. (One of Debbie's friends also went to the movies and found that after the movie started, the small crowd for Tomb Raider 2 moved and spread out, rather than all be bunched up.) Finns buy popcorn and pop -- and have combo deals like in the U.S., but I saw people who brought in their own plastic bags of candy, crunchy stuff and one guy was eating grapes. They do fifteen minutes of trailers and advertisements -- but the ads are much better than the ones they bother with around here.

American flicks are not dubbed, but subtitled in the two national languages -- Finnish and Swedish. We didn't need subtitles to understand what Arnold was saying (grin) -- not that he said much in this film.

As for the film, the plot was semi-adequate and the special effects were swell. I thought that the ending might go one way -- and end up very cliche -- but they didn't do that. In fact, I think it took some guts to do the ending they did, and they didn't write out the possibility of a T4 movie in the future. I missed Linda Hamilton's character, but the "new" girl Terminator -- the TX ?? -- was a great deal of fun. And Arnold acquitted himself okay, despite the years since he first appeared naked after time traveling from the future filled with evil machines.

Mustan helmen kirous (Pirates of the Caribbean: The Curse of the Black Pearl)

30 August 2003 Saturday · 20:00 · Finnkino Theatre #1 at the Tennispalatsi, Helsinki FINLAND, €10.00, Row 2, Seats 02/03

Made you click here, didn't I? (grin)

Having seen one American film in Finland, we found out that Pirates of the Caribbean was opening on Friday. Pirates was one of the best movies we saw in Summer 2003 (The Italian Job hadn't yet opened in Finland, and we had seen The Matrix Reloaded in two formats already -- and didn't have a crushing interest in seeing Lara Croft 2, etc.), so we thought to see what an opening weekend crowd was like. Theatre #1 at the Tennispalatsi was huge, easily twice the size of Theatre #2. The ticket counter is like an airline counter, listing the movies and the next start times and the number of seats left. When Mrs. Dr. Phil ran over to get these tickets there were less than ten seats left in the house. But sitting almost at the end of a wide-wide second row (again, no center aisles) turned out not to be the neck breaking activity one sometimes gets in American theatres, there being quite a wide space between the screen and the first row.

This is still a swell movie, equally as enjoyable the second time as the first, especially since I had had to miss a bit of the movie earlier, since I was drinking a lot of fluids with the antibiotics I had to take in July, and there's only so much you can hold...

Finns do not watch credits, it seems. So as we sat there and the theatre emptied, I heard an American voice in English complaining that none of the group he goes with ever lets him watch the credits. So I piped up and mentioned in English that he would be missing the extra little bit at the very end after the credits (a Dr. Phil Special). That one comment prompted him to convince his friends to plop down in the first row -- and others asked if there was something more at the end. We probably had about thirty people staying to the end of the credits -- otherwise, seeing everyone in the outside aisles filing out, we would have been the only ones left in the theatre. Interesting.

Matchstick Men (PG-13)

13 September 2003 Saturday · 2:45pm · Star Holland Theatre #2, $5.75

We were meeting people in Holland, so went to Star Holland rather than our favorite Studio 28. It's been a while since we've been to Star Holland, and I was annoyed (a) by the concessions crew that were too absorbed in their own bantering to get around to wait on us, then (b) overfilled the frozen Cherry Coke so it took about half a dozen napkins on my part to clear up the mess before I'd even pick it up and (c) the lack of back support in those stupid "rocking chair" seats.

Ah well, on to the movie. I don't want to talk about the plot too much because we're talking about con men here, and like The Sting, one doesn't want to reveal too much of the con men's con game. However, we can start with Nicholas Cage's outrageously wonderful performance as a man suffering from an obsessive-compulsive disorder and nervous tics. Things are NOT helped when he accidently dumps his medication down the garbage disposal. The way his life is held helpless by his phobias and disorder is all at once painful to watch, touching and amusing. We don't want to laugh at his misfortune, but we all know people who have some of his odd traits -- and we quickly get used to them. Now throw in a fourteen year old daughter he didn't know/couldn't bring himself to know about from his ex-marriage, and the collision between a teenage girl and his ultra-clean and ordered house is delicious.

The performances are all good, and the quirky plot has some good twists. Not as classic a script as The Sting, but perhaps for 2003 a more realistic portrayal of con men and the games they play. The rationalizations the con men use to justify what they do gives some insight into their characters. Of the four of us in the group, about half didn't see where the plot was going, so it's moderately effective.

TRAILERS: Saw trailers for Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World with Russell Crowe as Lucky Jack, O’Brien’s Royal Navy sea captain, opens 11.14; Mystic River directed by Clint Eastwood, with a great cast starting with Sean Penn, Lawrence Fishbourne and Billy Bob Thornton; The Last Samurai with Tom Cruise – sort of a Dances with Shogun; finally a Hugh Grant, Emma Thompson, Alan Rickman (blonde?), Laura Linney British romantic comedy by the same team as Three Weddings and a Funeral and Notting Hill. The Alamo – another version of this classic Texas story, seems to spend a good amount of time with the Mexican Army as well as the Texicans, so it should (a) be really interesting and (b) probably tick off some people who don’t want both sides of the story shown.

Love Actually (R)

Sneak Preview · 01 November 2003 Saturday · 7:00 pm · Studio 28 #5, $7.75

We couldn't resist the promos for this one. Another British romantic sex comedy by the team that did Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral. With Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson, Laura Linney, Billy Bob Thorton, Claudi Schieffer, Colin Firth, and Keira Knightly (she of Pirates of the Caribbean) and a bunch more I can't recall or don't know their names.

First off -- this is definitely a British film and so it's going to miss the target with a lot of Americans. The British have a very different sensibility about curse words, especially the f-word, and female frontal nudity than Americans. So it's going to offend and/or turn off some. Not nearly as innocent as Four Weddings and a Funeral. Second, this is a complicated bob-and-weave tapestry of a multitude of storylines, some/most of which manage to combine or merge into one big (mostly) happy ending. Third, there's a sub-plot involving some movie stand-ins that is going to annoy some people. There's a reason that this movie is sporting an R-rating.

So the next big issue -- can you believe that Hugh Grant is Prime Minister of Great Britain? Actually... yes. Up to a point. Grant is charming and moderately self-effacing. His opening voice-over tells you that something different is going to unfold. And you'd think you'd have trouble believing ol' Billy Bob Thornton as the American President... well, he's really not tall enough. But he's smug.

But this movies' about Love, and like Andrew Lloyd Weber's musical Aspects of Love, this movie is going to investigate all sorts of Love. Some of the stories are heartwarming, some are sweet, some are heartbreaking. We first saw Alan Rickman (as far as we know) as the chief terrorist in Die Hard, and we've loved him since. Here he's working on an affair with his secretary... oops, he's married to Emma Thompson. Another subplot involves Liam Neeson and his stepson. And there's a wonderful "relationship" between an English writer off in the South of France and his Portuguese housekeeper, who doesn't speak a word of English. And the improbable bit about the wanker running off to Wisconsin -- well, the Brits have a fine time making fun of Americans, too.

It's all enough to make your head spin and give you whiplash, leaping from story to story. But it can be a great deal of fun, if it ends up being your cup of tea.

If you're a Kate Winslet fan -- and what self-respecting movie fan of the 21st century wouldn't be a monumental fan of La Winslet, the finest actress of her generation -- there are two bonuses here: (1) a chance to see many of Kate's co-stars from Sense & Sensibility (Hugh Grant, Alan Rickman, Emma Thompson) and (2) an odd little "cameo" with Kate Winslet. Might not be a reason to see or buy this movie for your "Kate DVD Collection", but you'll smile when you see the scene.

The Matrix Revolutions (R)

08 November 2003 Saturday · 1:30 pm · Studio 28 #5, $5.50

"So, what actually happened?" Mrs. Dr. Phil asks Dr. Phil as the credits begin to roll. What? You were expecting nice, neat, clear-cut answers from The Walchowski Brothers? I mean, the whole ad campaign for The Matrix was "What is The Matrix?"

There's lots of stuff here, but in a way -- I was disappointed. It'll sound strange, especially considering all the action in the first two installments, but this one looks more like a video game than something believable. Oh sure, in The Matrix you don't have to follow all the rules of Physics if you're the One, or at least have the power of the mind to overcome the false reality. But Zion and the Machine City are supposed to be in the real world. And after showing us those electric pad powered hoverships moving somewhat realistically -- there's a sense of ponderous inertia as Morpheus' ship arrives at The Dock in Matrix 2. Now we're going to hose around and fly at maniacal speeds. Sigh. Sorry. I've seen this before in Star Wars and it wasn't realistic for the Millennium Falcon either. And the Giant Face trick? It reminded me of Marlon Brando's bloated face as Jor-El in Superman: The Movie, which inspires comedy routines from Saturday Night Live, not awe and power.

Another disappointment. Outside of the core cast -- Morpheus, Trinity, Neo -- and some others we met in Zion the last time, there are characters we've seen before who have almost no screentime. One could call them cameos, until one reconsiders Matrix 2 and 3 as one film. Then they are just recapitulations from bits "earlier" in the film, i.e. The Matrix Reloaded. And who's this Ghost guy we're supposed to know? Oh, he's one of the two stars of Enter the Matrix, the story-expanding video game that's really part of the movie, too.

On the other hand, if you yearn to see the Oracle again, or thought that Seraph, her guardian, was cool -- you'll be happy. We even get fresh baked cookies again. Of course the Keymaker is gone, as are the White Twins, so we're going to need some new characters. Best of the new is the Indian family (as in British India as opposed to New World India). So few Indians show up in American films, I wonder if these actors are professionals from the extensive Indian cinema industry.

Still, this is Mr. Smith's movie (or is it?). Why, this nice man is always dressed neatly, straightens his tie and is the only one to call Neo by his real name -- Mr. Anderson. Smith is at the height of his powers, but that doesn't keep him in the forefront of the movie for a long time. No, we have to have the Battle to End All Battles in Zion. Obviously, this is the Money Scene for Matrix 3. I guess I am actually looking forward to seeing that in the IMAX version of The Matrix Revolutions, given the complexity of these scenes. And there are some good bits here, don't get me wrong. But I think that Battle of the Year is still going to go to the upcoming Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

At least your not going to be patronized in this movie. Revolutions literally picks up where Reloaded ends. There is no attempt to set the scene or recant the saga. The Wachowski Brothers expect you to have kept up with the story (two earlier films, an anime DVD and a video game) and get with the program -- you'll be quizzed on it later.

So, did I hate The Matrix Revolutions? No. It's kind of like the first time I saw Return of the Jedi -- the anticipation is going to bring in some bit of disappointment, but it'll improve once you've had time to process the whole thing. And having seen it, I'm sure I'll have another reaction on the second viewing. I did consciously choose to see Revolutions at Studio 28 first -- and then see the IMAX version. See my comments from The Matrix Reloaded in IMAX. The best thing about Revolutions is that is ISN'T a neat and tidy package. There are no simple answers in The Matrix. If you ask someone a question, you'll get one of two responses: (1) You already know the answer. (2) You don't want to ask me that question. After all, you really do know the answer -- the only choices you cannot see are the ones you don't understand.

They don't make it easy, do they? And that's fun.

TRAILERS: They showed lots of trailers -- I'm sure the studios were tripping over themselves to try to get attached to this movie. The most interesting movie that I hadn't heard about has to be Troy, as in "Helen of...", "The face that launched a thousand ships", the Trojan Horse, "Beware of Greeks baring gifts" and all that. The opening of the trailer is a dramatic pullback from one ship to all of those thousand ships. They are going big here, or as big as their CGI computer database could manage.

Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (PG-13)

15 November 2003 Saturday · 12:15 pm · Studio 28 #1, $5.50

With The Matrix Revolutions opened and Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King coming in November and December, the other big fall opening for 2003 is the "first" installment based on Patrick O'Brien's books about Captain Jack Aubry. What a marvelous adventure. Russell Crowe is perfect and the sailing ships, some done at sea with working replica ships and some done in the same salt water tank in Mexico that once sank the RMS Titanic for James Cameron, are done so well that this has to be the best, most faithful ships of sail movie of all time. It also marks a new high point in realism for early naval warfare films. The Horatio Hornblower movies that A&E is showing in the U.S., with Welshman Ioan Guiffold, have been excellent, but they've not anything like the budget for this. I understand that the director wanted some "old world seaman" looking faces in the background, so he hired some Polish fellows from a remote part of Poland who didn't speak any English. The use of small boys for certain tasks is jarring in this age of Child Labor Laws, but getting apprenticed to task was a common experience and as show, many young titled men were sent to sea to season and earn some character.

The movie's PG-13 rating is remarkable, considering the blood. But this is fair, too, because there's a lot of damage done to human beings that is not shown but merely implied. And they aren't showing blood and gore to be gratuitous. The fact that the Navy surgeon prepares for battle by spreading sand on his floor so that one can get some traction once the blood and guts flows... well, it is historically accurate.

As a science literacy issue, you should look up when Charles Darwin sailed on the Beagle and made his discoveries in the Gallapagos, and then you'll appreciate some of the irony here.

A minor historical note -- the major action projected here involves a British and a French ship. But in real life, it was an American ship, the U.S.S. Hornet, I believe, which was forced to go to the Pacific and attack British interests. I heard a story on NPR about this, but I can't remember the details.

In any event, don't miss this film. It will show up again during Oscar season and deservedly so. Russell Crowe has expresed interest in continuing in this series, and with some twenty books, this could be a franchise of several decent seafaring movies. Funny, how after a long dearth of swashbuckling and seamanship, that in 2003 we get both Master and Commander and the highly entertaining Pirates of the Carribean.

Timeline (PG-13)

27 November 2003 Thanksgiving · 3:50 pm · Studio 28 #12, $5.50

During the opening three minutes, Dr. Phil sighed to himself, sat back in his chair and thought, "Whew, they're going to follow the book on this one, unlike Congo or do a bad job, like Sphere." Now usually it is true that "First impressions last," but then there's Hollywood versus Science. And unfortunately, reality shall triumph over first impressions.

Timeline involves two "parallel" story lines. One involves a sortof Bill Gates genius whose company seems to have come up with a working model for time travel. The second involves a bunch of archaeologists who are trying to preserve a 14th century French battle site, only to find themselves sent back to the 14th century to try and rescue one of their number. Now I don't know enough about 14th century French and English battle technologies and tactics to know if they got that stuff wrong. It looks cool, it looks consistent and there are some excellent scenes/shots depicting trebuchets and flights of arrows during battle that you do not want to miss -- for a cultural and historical education, of course. But Dr. Phil does know some Physics and the makes of Timeline the Movie have managed to gut most of the Physics out of the story. Sigh.

Timeline the novel was Michael Crichton's first big attempt to deal with Quantum Mechanics -- the Physics of very small things and the governing laws for atoms, molecules and all of Chemistry. Many of Dr. Phil's students have read Timeline and wrestled with the intriguing concepts of the "multiverse", which is usually expressed in the Copenhagen many-worlds theory, after a conference which debated these points. The basic idea: quantum mechanics is based on probabilities and in the many-worlds theory, all of the possibilities are allowed to happen, although you and I only experience one temporal chain of events in our lifetime.

TRAILERS: Several of the same ones we've seen. Also... (1) Paycheck is one of TWO movies filmed in 2003 to involve memory erasure. Oh, so someone people think this is a fait acompli ??? (The other film is Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, a comedy starring... Kate Winslet... and that other guy, Jim Carrey. Wonder if Paycheck is the reason that ESOTSM is delayed until later in 2004, just as Kate's OTHER new movie, Neverland, is getting delayed because of the Christmas 2003 version of Peter Pan. What, am I cursed here and will never again see a new Kate Winslet film?) Ben Affleck plays this high tech guy who does jobs so secret, he gets his memory wiped after each job and just cashes the paycheck. This is based on Yet Another Philip K. Dick story -- so far his stories have provided some classic modern SF fare, including Bladerunner and Minority Report. (2) Cold Mountain is a Civil War era film about soldiers who just want to go home. Based on a best-selling book, I believe, and "everyone" is touting this as Oscar material -- Nichole Kidman stars, I believe. (3) Miracle comes out in February 2004 and looks to make a lot of money. In 1980, the most dominant hockey team in the world was the "amateur" Soviet Red Army team which played as the Soviet Union's national Olympic team. In 1980, a team of young unknown Americans managed to beat the Soviets for the Gold Medal at Lake Placid NY, in a game titled "Miracle on Ice" by the press -- and what has been ranked as the #1 sports moment in the United States for twenty years. Too bad we have to wait until 2006 to play real Olympic hockey... (grin). And FINALLY, after YEARS of lawyers arguing and studios fighting each other, it looks like we are really going to get: (4) Alien vs. Predator -- two of the baddest SF alien franchises are finally going to pit one species against the other, after having being teased by the Trophy Room scene in Predator 2 so many years ago. It could be awful, but who cares? And if it's good, it should be pretty exciting stuff.

Whale Rider (PG-13)

29 November 2003 Saturday · 7:00 pm · Knickerbocker Theatre, Holland MI, $6.00

What a lovely surprise! Mrs. Dr. Phil had seen part of this on an airline flight this summer, but we missed it when it made its first rounds in Grand Rapids, but we are surely glad to not have missed it at the Knickerbocker. Whale Rider is a New Zealand Maori coming-of-age story -- with a twist. It isn't about a boy growing up to be a man and chief of his tribe, but a girl. Excellent performances all around and given their limited budget, the whale scenes are phenomenal. The girl's grandfather, the current chief, is both bitterly disappointed in his eldest son's lack of interest in maintaining the old traditions and in the failure of said son to produce a (living) male heir. There's a whole lot of growing up done by a whole lot of people in this movie, and it gives some rare insight into a part of the world and culture that most of us in America know nothing/little about.

Since this movie is unlikely to be showing on a screen near you, go out and buy or rent this movie when you can -- I know the VHS release is scheduled for late January 2004.

This must be the Decade of New Zealand Film, given the tremendous shot in the arm that Peter Jackson's Ring Trilogy has done for N.Z. film visibility in Hollywood.

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King (PG-13)

19 December 2003 Friday · 3:00 pm · Studio 28 #1, $5.75

We didn't make it either to the Midnight showing Wednesday morning -- or the 12-hour marathon at Celebration Cinema in Grand Rapids on Tuesday 16 December 2003, featuring film prints of the Extended Editions of I and II, followed by an early premiere of III. Pesky little things called grades due on Tuesday, you know...

If you have not read J.R.R. Tolkien's trilogy or you haven't seen the first two movies, do NOT go to see The Return of the King. Instead, go straight out and buy or rent the first two movies: The Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Extended Edition] and The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [Extended Edition] and watch them first. Director and master craftsman Peter Jackson has conceived of LOTR as being ONE film which just happens to be shown in three parts, so there is no summary of how we get there -- we just plunge into the story. This is no idle "sequel".

So often we are disappointed in sequels (Godfather III) and ends of series (The Matrix Revolutions), that when someone does it RIGHT and does it with such grandeur and style, we are amazed beyond words -- but we'll try. So despite the hype, it is ALL worth it. This 3 hour 20 minute movie does not let up. Sure, there are some things that are not included, and the rumor is that the Extended Edition DVD will add an hour, but what they have here is complete enough that it holds together. This film opens with Smeagel’s murder of his friend over the finding of the Precious, so that we understand more of Gollum's sad story, and then we go on -- as in The Two Towers we switch back and forth between Frodo and Sam and The Ring and everyone else. And there's a LOT going on.

This is a long movie and deservedly so. In LOTR I, we end with a skirmish between the fighters of the Fellowship and Saruman's Urok-hai warriors, and this is personal one-on-one combat. Very visceral and with the death of Boromir, very emotional. In LOTR II, we build up to the Battle of Helm's Deep, with 10,000 orcs and Urok-hai nasties up against a much smaller force of men, elves and a dwarf. It was one of the finest battle scenes ever. But true fans of LOTR know that it is in this third part that the BIG battles occur. And the battle for Miras Tirith, the White City of Gondor, is legendary. The orcs are not mere shadows, they have characters of their own, evil and gross though they may be. The battle is long, fierce -- with despair afoot and the treachery of the Regent liberally interspersed. "Catapult cam" as one reviewer put it, gives you a unique view of the battle -- and what a battle. The siege engines, the eight-story high war elephants, the undead Nine ringwraiths and their cursed living deaths -- it's all there and it's glorioius, horrible and exhausting.

But wait. End this giant battle and we discover: (1) that Sam and Frodo have only just gotten to Mordor and (2) our heroes must provide the hobbits with a suitable diversion. So on into Mordor and on to challenge Sauron at the Black Gates. Dr. Phil's Mom wondered whether LOTR III should have been split into two two-hour movies, instead of a three-hour movie plus an hour of Extended Edition -- but that would spoil the whole thing. We need to be exhausted, just as Aragorn and his armies are exhausted, and Frodo and Sam are weary. This next level of story depends on our investment in the first part of the movie.

One more thing I should mention. Peter Jackson has managed to give us two creations -- two characters that don't fit in the normal way. First is Smeagel/Gollum. Sirkis didn't get an Oscar for The Two Towers, but that oversight may be made up for in The Return of the King. We continue to have dialogues and battles between the evil Gollum and good Smeagel, but one scene in particular, this split personality is raised to the level of high art. Secondly, we have Sauron in the form of The Eye. We have seen The Eye searching and terrorizing in visions in the first two movies. But once we get to Mordor and the realm of Sauron, The Eye becomes a real player in this story and I think it is very effective. Of course, when we get to the end of the Quest, we see fear and panic in The Eye of Sauron. His end is suitably monumental... oops? Did I give away the story? That good triumphs over evil in the end? Of COURSE it does! This is an EPIC, after all.

Lest anyone think that there might be a Lord of the Rings IV sequel, trust me, this story has an ending and it is faithful, as usual, to the book. And if you don't quite think that Peter Jackson considered this monumental work one large movie, then all you have to do is consider that LOTR II and III barely have beginnings, but just thrust on with the story -- and LOTR III ends with "real" credits. The soft pencil sketches and the poignant song sung by Annie Lennox (of Eurithmics fame) who has such great range and power in her voice -- these are credits worthy of an epic film.

(An Aside: Of course I should point out that while Peter Jackson is currently working on a new version/vision of King Kong, he has expressed agreement with the sentiment that he needs to go back and do his treatment of The Hobbit -- the Lord of the Rings prequel story. We can only wait for that one, too. We're patient. We've been waiting for years for many great films (grin).)

What could possibly be missing from The Return of the King and the whole Lord of the Rings saga? There are several minor omissions, ones not central to the story of the Ring, which was Peter Jackson's driving center to these movies, but the big one is the Scouring of the Shire, which surely is the bulk of the Extended Edition. Those who have just seen the movies and not read the books will not understand until later how important this last denouement is to the whole story. And no doubt we'll have to wait until November 2004 to see it...

Other than that, I guess Mrs. Dr. Phil and I liked the movie and thought it okay. (GRIN)

TRAILERS: We saw a boatload of trailers at Studio 28, but two stood out: (1) Harry Potter and the Prizoner of Azkaban -- Harry Potter III didn't quite make it out in time for Christmas 2003, but that's okay. They had to break in a new Professor Dumbledore, and anyways, we want it to be done RIGHT, not FAST. Schedule looks like it is due Friday 4 June 2004 -- and I just read that it will open in both regular movie screens and in IMAX format. That should be fun. (2) Spiderman 2 -- If history repeats itself and they do as good a job as they did with the first one, this movie should rule Summer 2004. That explains the Friday 2 July 2004 Fourth of July opening date.

DVD and VHS Video Notes:

The Matrix Reloaded (DVD - Rated R)

07 November 2003 Friday

With The Matrix Revolutions, aka The Matrix 3, just open, it's important for a scientist to do his pre-lab. In this case, given that Reloaded and Revolutions are really the first and second halves of the same really long movie, Dr. Phil and Mrs. Dr. Phil had to get back up to speed with the story.

First the bad news -- there are no easy answers here. Not only do we have tons of philosophizing here, but we still aren't sure if the Oracle (or anyone else for that matter) is quite on "our" side or even whether they are telling the truth. The good news is that the story still flows in DVD splendor and my comments from earlier this year still hold. The special features of this DVD go far beyond some of the print and TV reporting as to "how" they managed to pull things off and why -- and it is as entertaining to see them construct the Freeway Chase sequence as it is to watch it. That everyone, including their stars, managed to survive the filming of Reloaded is a testament to the professionalism and vision of the film makers.

Of course, the Wachowski Brothers have taken things to a new height with The Matrix Saga. In addition to the three films (the last two in both regular and IMAX theatres), there are nine anime shorts in The Animatrix and almost an hour of DVD cinema in the video game Enter the Matrix which expand on the story and fill in some of the gaps. It makes it hard to keep track of everything and even then you aren't quite sure.

What fun. We're ready for The Matrix Revolutions now.

Amadeus (DVD - Rated PG)

13 November 2003 Thursday

The big wind storm that began Wednesday night knocked out the cable TV where we live, so by Thursday we decided to fire up the DVD player and break into the movies we've bought but hadn't yet broken the seal. You don't have to be a huge fan of classical music to discover that you are familiar with a lot of the work of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. How interesting could a movie about Mozart be? After all, by the time Mozart was my age, he'd been dead for ten years. I have a VHS copy of Amadeus, but we can't really watch it -- this is a long movie with a rich soundtrack and the manufacturer went and got cheap on us. The VHS version should have been two tapes. Instead they used one really thin tape and on ours the play and rewind tensions caused the tape to stretch in some places, so that the music, especially the Requiem (which is the whole POINT of the movie) are unhearable -- feeble, weak and dropping out on the left and right tracks. It didn't help that our stereo VCR is fifteen years old and came out just before Hi-Fi VHS machines, so we're trying to do stereo off the narrow audio track band instead of the Hi-Fi helical striping audio.

One cannot decide if Tom Hulce's completely over the top Mozart, with that hideously inappropriate laugh, is better than F. Murray Abraham's haunted and vengeful Soliari. But one thing is certain -- there are definitely NOT "too many notes".

Doctor Zhivago (DVD)

15 November 2003 Saturday

The 1960s produced three of the greatest Romantic epics of all time: Lawrence of Arabia, Doctor Zhivago and Franco Zefferelli's Romeo and Juliet. The last two are love stories between people and the first two are the work of David Lean -- his two films couldn't be more different, in some sense, but both deal with the excesses of revolutionary times and war. I'm not sure I was even ten when I first saw Doctor Zhivago, but I did once see it in Evanston IL in a theatre with no heat in the winter, and we sat in our winter coats in the 40°F theatre.

Everybody in the cast is perfect, every shot is a work of art... and then there's the musical score. Ahhhh.

The Lord of the Rings: The Two Towers [Extended Edition -- 4 DVD's]

26 November 2003 Wednesday

The first reaction to Lord of the Rings: The Fellowship of the Ring [Extended Edition] a year ago was -- they should have made the EE the theatrical release and the extra material was both a boon to Tolkein fans as well as a necessary plus for people who didn't know the story. Mrs. Dr. Phil's first comment to this second installment's Extended Edition -- they really edited the theatrical release of LOTR:TT quite well. While the forty-some extra minutes fill in a lot of gaps and add in a lot of little bits that the purists found lacking in the theatrical release, it just may not be as tightly integrated. That is, you had to first take apart the previous editing and then fit the new pieces in. And Mrs. Dr. Phil's opinion is that it isn't quite so seamlessly done.

So why isn't Dr. Phil taking a stand here? Wait a second -- who says I wasn't? I think my wife's opinion has some real validity here. For me, the trouble is partly my own fault. We've now seen LOTR:FOTR in both versions so many more times than LOTR:TT, that I just don't know the second movie as well. And I have to confess that on the first viewing I probably was concentrating too much on trying to figure out what bits were new and which ones weren't, as well as trying to follow the story. We have since viewed LOTR:TT [EE] a second time and just let it flow. I've heard some say that this second installment is better than the first, but then we like exposition (gives nod to the drama of The Council of Elrond in LOTR I) and epic battles (Helm's Deep in LOTR II). I think we'll have to watch both again Real Soon Now.

We also need to spend time watching the two DVD's of documentary materials -- they were so good in LOTR:FOTR [EE], they will hopefully be as well done here.

Alas, I have been quite unable to have time to go see either theatrical release of the Extended Editions at Celebration Cinema in Grand Rapids or the 12-hour marathon trilogy viewing they did for charity on December 16th. But we've done our pre-lab for Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King and we are champing at the bit to see Aragorn come into his own as the last great King of Men.

The Future...

The Matrix Revolutions / The Matrix Revolutions in IMAX

Wednesday 5 November 2003

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, they're just two-parts in what would be a much-too-long epic. 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! They did it in The Matrix Reloaded -- can they finish the deal with Matrix 3?

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 The Matrix Revolutions from December 2003 to November 2003 -- and will be opening the IMAX version the same day at the regular version. (Though Dr. Phil will go see the film in regular style first, in order to be able to take it all in at once, and then go see the IMAX version. See Dr. Phil's comments on previous IMAX feature films: Star Wars Episode II: Attack of the Clones and The Matrix Reloaded.

Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King

Wednesday 17 December 2003

It all comes down to this. Part I was superb. Part II looked 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.

Harry Potter 3

was scheduled for Christmas 2003, but looks more like May 2004 now, so it won't go up against the climas of LOTR.

More Bummer News...

Both of Kate Winslet's next movies, Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind (with Jim Carrey and "Frodo" from LOTR) and Neverland (with Johnny Depp, about the real story of how Peter Pan was written), which should have opened in late 2003 and now being delayed up to a year.

Eternal Sunshine... now looks to have a Friday 19 March 2004 opening.

But 2003 already looks like a good end of the year at the movies...

Last Update: 21 December 2003