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The Return of the King

Conventional wisdom dictates that movie scripts be designed and function in much the same way as a short story; another apt comparison would be the musical form of the overture.
And just as most stories are short in comparison to J.R.R. Tolkien’s epic, so are most movies mere overtures in comparison to Peter Jackson’s unprecedented cinematic achievement. A running time of three-plus hours certainly allows a design reminiscent of a symphony’s multiple, distinct movements—even, as in this case, the many “false” endings for which symphonies are often criticized.


The Two Towers

Jackson’s filmed version of The Two Towers is not the same story as Tolkien’s. The titular towers are not even the same as those emphasized by Tolkien: Orthanc and Barad-dûr have been substituted for Minas Morgul and Minas Tirith. The framework of Jackson’s story is provided by the Axis of Evil which hems in and ravages Rohan and Gondor; Tolkien’s framework places more emphasis on the battle for right, waged in the shadowlands which form between darkness and light. With a different framework come different details.


The Fellowship of the Ring

Though it’s clear that this is a darker—and scarier—vision of Middle-earth than comes across on the printed page, obviously, the film succeeds as terrific entertainment for adolescents and adults, and will no doubt sate the appetite of Tolkien addicts at least for a few months. Box-office records will fall, and fall mightily. But what about the entire series? Will it become flabby and perfunctory, like the Star Wars series? Or will it actually build momentum, and end with as satisfying a conclusion as the novels?


Sergio Leone’s Westerns
A Fistful of Old Testament Justice

Make no mistake: there are no Christ figures in Leone’s Westerns. Mercy is as out of place in his landscape as Leone’s dusters. So this truth you will not find in Leone’s vision: God is found not merely in the satisfaction of retribution via human agents; he is also there in the desert, between oases, calling us to sit and dwell in the silence and wait not for an explosion but a still, small voice. As humans, we want justice, and we want it now, served our way. Leone’s films are visions for December 8 or September 12.


Breakdown

It’s super, super tough to say much more about the film without ruining it. But since you’ve demonstrated that you’re either brave, foolish, or just too smart for you own good, go ahead and watch the trailer I include with this commentary… and then, if you’re REALLY intent on spoiling the movie for yourself, read through an exchange that Hollywood director Scott Derrickson and I had on Facebook after he posted his thumbnail review of Breakdown.


Serenity
Can It Have Been Ten Years?

Firefly fans were pretty pleased with Serenity. Plenty of ordinary people were, too. Writer-director Joss Whedon directed this film adaptation of his own sci-fi TV series with confidence and style, giving audiences more to cheer about in space since long, long ago in a galaxy far, far away. A really good thing even today, when “reboots” of the Star Trek and Star Wars franchises leave folk like me crying, “No mas! No mas!”


Lawrence of Arabia

When the restored “Director’s Cut” of Lawrence of Arabia played at Seattle’s legendary Cinerama theater in 1989, I was naturally at the first showing… even though it meant cutting work that afternoon. As the overture began playing to a fairly crowded house, the lights failed to come down… and the projectionist opened the curtain and unblocked the projection aperture. As the dumbfounded and confused audience looked on, timing marks on the 70mm print were projected onto the screen… and then the curtain closed. So much for the intended effect of the overture.


Undefeated
A Game of Inches? You Bet!

Coach Bill Courtney is a self-made man from the wrong side of the Deep-Southern tracks. He owns a specialty hardwoods factory, and knows what it means to suck it up when misfortune strikes and rise above it. But the coaching… well, he volunteers at Memphis’ Manassas High, and over the course of six years takes the Tigers from scoring maybe 36 points in an entire winless schedule to a shot at the division title, the playoffs… and maybe, even, an undefeated season.


The 12 Dates of Christmas
Groundhogs Eve, Anyone?

I first saw Amy Smart in The Butterfly Effect and was blown away by her performance as a young woman traumatized by sexual abuse. I didn’t think Smart got nearly enough attention for that supporting role. So I’ve always been pleased to run across Smart in other offerings–and particularly so when Jenn and I stumbled across The 12 Dates of Christmas on Netflix several years ago. It’s now one of our holiday staples.


The Christmas Secret

Have you ever taken a road trip to someplace like the Grand Canyon, or Disneyland? I’ve done both, and have discovered that the journey there can be just as much fun as the destination itself. Some movies are like that. You know exactly where the plot is going—either because you’ve seen the movie already, or one very much like it—but you don’t mind at all because the getting there is pretty darned pleasant. The Christmas Secret is that kind of movie, particularly when you’re holding a bowl of fresh-popped popcorn. It’s a Hallmark original production in which nothing very surprising happens; but heck, you’ve tuned in to Hallmark Movies and Mysteries, right? You’re there for a reason!


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