Tuesday, May 31, 2005

'The Force' arrives in Halls

The Force arrived in Halls at 12:01 a.m. May 19 from a galaxy far, far away (also known as George Lucas’ brain). What a hold this cinematic power still has on its loyal audience.

Halls Cinema 7 held a special midnight showing of “Star Wars Episode III: Revenge of the Sith” on the film’s first day, indeed minute, of release. The packed, mostly male audience cheered the minute the famous John Williams theme ushered in the opening credits. Some had been waiting in line throughout the day. Others had bought tickets online weeks before.

The final installment of Lucas’ space opera has been eagerly anticipated by the film’s fans. This adventure promised to tie the three prequels made the past six years to the storyline of the three “Star Wars” films of the late 1970s and early 1980s and show the creation of the villainous Darth Vader.

“I’m looking forward to seeing the transition from this film to the originals,” Gibbs High School teacher Dean Harned said before the screening. “This is what I’m wanting – will this all come full circle?”

Not everyone was as enthusiastic. Two friends spotted one another inside the theater just before show time.

“You’re as crazy as I am,” the one said. “My son dragged me here,” the other said. “Don’t tell anybody you saw me.”

Halls guy Harned has been collecting all things “Star Wars” since childhood. One wall of his home is covered with action figures and merchandise from the film franchise. The attraction the films have to males of a certain age is both palpable and intriguing. Why, one wonders, did “Star Wars” and not, say, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” create such devotion?

“I think it’s the greatest tribute to the creativity of human imagination,” Harned said of the films. “The meticulous detail, the thought that has gone into them, the themes in them… obviously, the eternal conflict of good and evil is the biggest (theme), and how blind hatred can destroy you. But, also, how it is never too late to redeem yourself.”

Halls High teacher Tim Reeves also attended a midnight showing last week. He then saw the film again the following night.

“It’s just the basic good versus evil and good wins in the end,” Reeves said. “It’s just a folk tale. For me, (the appeal) was that the average farm boy (Luke Skywalker) is the one that is going to save everybody. That anybody given the right guidance and circumstances can be a hero. You don’t have to be a comic book type mutant to save the day. Everyman saves the day. There’s nothing much more basic than that.”

Reeves said “Episode III” is “by far the best of the new batch of films. It belongs up there with the original three.”

Perhaps the attraction to “Star Wars” also lies in the fact that the films conjure memories of childhood for most of its fans. It is as if the series offers a tangible part of youth that, unlike childhood itself, never wanes.

“I started collecting (memorabilia) as a kid,” Harned said. “I was fortunate that my parents kept everything, so I still have everything I had when I was young.”

He now owns more than 1,000 items from the series. Nothing is as strong as the power of nostalgia and nobody knows this more than George Lucas. His 1973 film “American Graffiti” served as a sentimental ode to the cruising and rock and roll-tinged days of Lucas’ own childhood in the late 1950s and early 1960s. The film helped usher in the nostalgia boom that has continued to grow as Baby Boomers reach middle age.

Still, nostalgia does not explain the long lines of viewers who made the original “Star Wars” a hit in 1977. The film was the first major Hollywood sci-fi movie of the 1970s, but the story was hardly original. The struggle between good and evil has been with us since Eden. Some critics of the period even said that “Star Wars” was nothing more than a western set in space.

Perhaps the secret to Lucas’ success does, as Harned said, lie in his imagination. Not since Rod Serling’s “Twilight Zone” had American popular culture experienced something that was at once both thought provoking and entertaining. No one had ever seen creatures with four eyes and little robots and space battles presented in such a way. An America reeling from Vietnam and Watergate was looking to be uplifted and who better than Han Solo and Luke Skywalker to take us to the stars. Or perhaps moviegoers just love a good storyteller.

Whatever one may think of “Star Wars” and its legions of fans, the films are entertaining. “Episode III” is the most completely satisfying installment in the franchise since “The Empire Strikes Back.” The film brilliantly succeeds at tying the storyline of the later films to the originals. The story moves along at a quick pace and is free of the malaise that marred the previous two films.

“It answered all of the questions I had about how we got to Episode IV (the original film) and then some,” Harned said. “This was a traditional Lucas ‘Star Wars’ film. I came away from it with the feeling I had when I watched the other three. It had the magic.”

Actor Hayden Christensen is the weakest link. His transformation from heroic Jedi Anakin Skywalker to the evil Darth Vader happens too quickly, as if Lucas flipped a switch and yelled
“OK, Hayden, be bad now!”

But once he is placed in the famous Vader suit and rises from the operating table with the voice of actor James Earl Jones, the film reaches its apex. That moment no doubt sent chills down the spine of every fan that had ever been touched by all this.

And, in the end, perhaps trying to understand or explain the phenomenon is pointless. This is, after all, “Star Wars,” not “Citizen Kane.” “Wars” is a well-imagined series with plenty of visual highlights and adventure to keep audiences spellbound for two and a half hours.

And as to its nearly 30-year appeal – well, heck, blame that on The Force.

Tuesday, May 03, 2005

'Fever Pitch' worth a look

"If you’re in love with the game," the late Billy Martin once observed about baseball, "you can’t turn it on and off like a light. It’s something that runs so deep it takes you over.’’

So it is with high school teacher Ben (Jimmy Fallon) in Bobby and Peter Farrelly’s "Fever Pitch." Ben’s uncle took him to a Boston Red Sox game at Fenway Park when he was 10 years old and something clicked. The shy youngster grew up without many friends and used the Sox to fill his emotional void.

The attachment has lasted to adulthood. Ben celebrates the arrival of his Fenway season tickets by hugging the UPS driver. His apartment wall is a replica of the park’s left field Green Monster. He tucks himself into bed at night lying beneath Red Sox sheets.

Ben, you see, is obsessed. He is, the narrator tells us, "one of God’s most pathetic creatures: a Red Sox fan."

Enter Lindsey Meeks (Drew Barrymore), a successful workaholic who lives life on the fast track. After meeting Ben one winter, she admires his devotion for the Sox and tells him he is a romantic. The two fall in love. Ben even asks her to go to opening day with him.

Then the season starts and the trouble begins.

Loosely based on the Nick Hornby novel about English soccer, "Fever Pitch" is a fluffy but enjoyable romantic comedy about obsession, growing up and discovering the things in life that truly matter. As Ben’s obsession with the Sox begins to hinder his relationship with Lindsey, he gets a speck of wisdom from one of his students: "You love the Sox," the kid tells Ben. "But have they ever loved you back?"

"Fever Pitch" fails to reach the bar the Farrelly brothers set with earlier hits "There’s Something About Mary" and "Dumb & Dumber." The humor is not as enjoyably offbeat as those earlier hits and the ending seems a bit rushed.

Some viewers might also find the romance a bit distracting, but "Fever Pitch" has a certain charm to it that is enhanced by the sheer likability of Fallon and Barrymore. The montage of moments at Fenway Park set to the strains of Neil Diamond’s "Sweet Caroline" is pure joy.

Don’t expect to see Oscar material here, but "Fever Pitch" is worth a look. Although it is not quite a home run, it’s at least a triple with a close slide into third.

"Fever Pitch" is rated PG-13.