reel reviews


Cold Mountain LOTR: The Fellowship of the Ring
Volcanoes of the Deep Sea

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Volcanoes of the Deep Sea
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Explore the underwater depths of Volcanoes of the Deep Sea.

In the crushing depths of the ocean bottom where the Earth’s nuclear furnace spews poisonous gasses and molten lava, a curious thing occurs: Life thrives.

In super heated water hot enough to boil a lobster, exotic creatures teem, feeding on bacteria and creating an otherworldly ecosystem that depends on chemosynthesis - not photosynthesis. Six-foot tall worms, alien-looking crustaceans and tiny ‘farmers’ blithely go about their food gathering business in a place where scientists once thought life was unfeasible.

The exploration of these foreboding depths has pushed scientists to re-think some of their presumptions on evolution. These discoveries are shared in a new, eye-popping giant-screen presentation of Volcanoes of the Deep Sea, at the Extreme Screen at Union Station. Narrated by Ed Harris, the film skillfully weaves actual footage of this alien landscape with amazing computer generated imagery to immerse the audience in a world that would otherwise be impossible.

There, we encounter species that, due to the soft tissues, have left no fossil records. These creatures may have remained unchanged for hundreds of millions of years.

Thanks to the efforts of producer James Cameron, the large format cameras have joined scientists in the oceanic trenches, creating a fascinating and unique documentary that effectively demonstrates the tenacious nature of life. (Not rated) Rating: 3; Posted 2/20/04

The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Liv Tyler in The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King.

The final battle of Minas Tirith is on. Sam and Frodo are trekking up a treacherous mountain with Gollum to destroy a powerful ring. Aragon is recruiting an army of the undead to aid the efforts of the Fellowship. Alwen must decide if she will give up her immortality as an elf to marry the mortal Aragon. The lovely Eowyn, spurned by Aragon, has donned armor and is joining the battle.

If you have no idea what all of that plot exposition meant, then you’re way behind the learning curve. Perhaps you should go back and see the videos (or read) The Fellowship of the Ring and The Two Towers. But it’s not required. In fact, you don’t have to understand anything that’s going on to appreciate the vision of a great director that is on display in The Return of the King.

The final chapter in Peter Jackson’s astonishing adaptation of J. R. R. Tolkien’s masterful trilogy is a stunning visual fantasy. No, there’s not a great deal of depth, but this is cinematic spectacle on a grand scale. (PG-13) Rating: 4 (Taken all together, the trilogy would rate a 5); Posted 2/20/04

Cold Mountain
Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Nicole Kidman and Jude Law in Cold Mountain.

Miramax knows what they’re doing. The studio that re-defined Oscar campaigning has released their big award hopeful just in time to meet the deadline for 2003. Based on the bestseller by Charles Frazier, Cold Mountain is a romantic drama set in the South during the Civil War. Director Anthony Minghella (who benefited greatly from Miramax’s Oscar campaign for his film, The English Patient) has taken great care in his adaptation that was filmed mostly in Romania.

Nicole Kidman stars as Ada, the refined daughter of a minister who falls on hard times when her father dies and leaves her penniless. She tries to survive on her farm while awaiting the return of her beau (Jude Law) from battle. Thanks to the aid of a rough-hewn lass named Ruby (Renee Zellweger), who knows how to work a farm, Ada is saved from starvation.

The production is beautifully mounted and the stars give strong performances. Minghella, who added some battle sequences for period flavor, has constructed a robust, satisfying drama that will have a broad appeal. Don’t be too surprised if it garners numerous nominations. (R) Rating: 3; Posted 2/13/04

Reviewed by Russ Simmons

Kurt Russell and team in Miracle.

Filmmakers who attempt to recreate historical moments on screen are faced with an inherent problem. How do you build tension and keep audiences in suspense when they already know the outcome of the story?

Director Gavin O’Connor (Tumbleweeds) faced that challenge with Disney’s Miracle, the story of the U.S. Olympic Hockey team that defeated the unbeatable Russians and won the Gold Medal in Lake Placid, NY, in 1980. O’Connor and screenwriter Eric Guggenheim wisely chose to focus on one character and allow the audience to experience the drama through his eyes.

Kurt Russell (Dark Blue) stars as Herb Brooks, the obsessively driven coach who bucked the odds and chose players based on their teamwork and not their talent. Overcoming the objections of nearly everyone around him, Brooks managed to mold a winning team while exorcising personal demons left over from a personal setback twenty years earlier.

Russell is excellent in the role, and the movie works largely due to his performance. O’Connor’s filmmaking is pretty much “by-the-numbers,” but he successfully builds the film to a rousing climax. He skillfully sets the scene early on with an historical montage at the film’s outset that creates up a sense of zeitgeist that carries throughout the story.

Many (if not most) of the ticket buyers for Miracle had not yet born when the events depicted here took place. They may experience a sense of discovery while the rest of us enjoy a stirring trip down memory lane. (PG) Rating: 3; Posted 2/13/04


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