The Power of a Movie

A couple of weeks ago, Greg and me attended a screening of “E.T. The Extra Terrestrial” at the beautiful Tennessee Theater in downtown Knoxville.  Seeing this movie for the umpteenth time just proves how much you love classic movies.  This one in particular is always a top 10 favorite for me.  In fact, it’s the earliest movie that I remember seeing at the age of 2 in 1982.

(Side note: I am planning to do a series or articles sometime in the future highlighting my top 10 favorite movies of all time.)

I think it’s safe to say that the true measure of how a film does is how much it pulls you into the story, engages all of your senses, and especially your emotions.  This film in particular gets the best emotional response out of me.  When E.T. is dying, it always breaks my heart and I feel like a little kid sitting there instead of a guy in his late 30s.  You can’t help but feel heartbroken for Elliott.

Then at the end of the film when Elliott and E.T. have to say goodbye, the emotions swell up again, all the way through the powerful ending with the ship speeding away and leaving a rainbow behind.  Combined with John Williams’ awesome Oscar-winning soundtrack just hits every time.

I remember back in 2002, when I was working at Lee Cinema, we got to screen the 20th Anniversary Edition on its opening weekend.  Every night I worked for the next couple of weeks, I was sure to peek my head into the theater for that final scene, and the same emotions came up and enveloped me time after time.

*That* is the measure of what makes a film a true classic.  If a movie can do that time after time after time and never age or never wear off, it will last forever.

That is what that movie meant to me.  I cried at 2, 22 and 37.  I’ll probably cry again when I’m 42 and the film turns 40 years old.


Movie Apathy

Recently, someone asked if I was going to watch (insert name of film here).  It got me to thinking, “Why have I lost interest in movies lately?”   Honestly, I don’t know how I can answer that question.  To tell the truth (no pun intended) I’m just not that excited about a lot of stuff I see.  For example:

  • Does the world really need Tom Cruise in “The Mummy”?
  • Why did I like “Alien: Covenant” at first, then grow to dislike it somewhat afterwards?
  • Is “The Last Jedi” going to suck?
  • Why did people have such negative reactions to a good story like “Rogue One”?

I don’t know.  I guess my apathy level is just at 12 on a scale of 10 today.

The Force is With You, Knoxville

Today is May 4th, or has it come to be known in recent years, Star Wars Day.  Or, as you may have heard it said, “May the 4th Be With You.”

You can actually celebrate the first Star Wars movie twice this month, on the 4th, and especially on May 25th, with 2017 marking the 40th Anniversary of the original release of Star Wars in 1977.   This got me to thinking what theaters in the Knoxville area showed the film upon its initial release.

Before I go into that, I should point out a little background on the release of the film across the entire country.  According to Star Wars opened in 32 theaters on May 25th (which was on a Wednesday,) and by the first weekend, expanded to 43 theaters.  If you’re curious for more details, read this article from 2003 about the release of the movie.  There’s lots of great in depth info there.

The nearest theater to have the film upon release was the Showcase Cinemas in Louisville, KY.  As the film grew to more and more theaters, certainly word of mouth must have spread around.  As 20th Century-Fox made more prints of the film, it grew to more theaters.  A comprehensive list of when and where the film opened as it grew wider is in this very extensive and well researched 2015 article at The Digital Bits.  The first place in Tennessee to get the film was the Hermitage 4 theatre near Nashville on June 17th.  As a matter of fact, it was the grand opening of that theater.  What an time to open an new theater!  Check out this article from The Tennessean for more.

The film finally made it to Knoxville on July 15th at the Cedar Bluff Twin theatre.  If you’ll note on that list at the Bits, it got to the Tri-Cities before it got to Knoxville.  That certainly is interesting, but oh well.  Here is a gallery of some period advertisements from the Knoxville News-Sentinel:

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Star Wars also started running in Oak Ridge at the Ridge Theater.  It started there on July 29th and played there for 13 weeks.  It also played at the Lakemont Drive-In in Maryville starting on August 10th.  (As a side note, in research for this article, not long after Star Wars stopped playing at Lakemont, some rather seedy titles started to appear on its ads… go figure.)

Star Wars spend a mind boggling 21 weeks at the Cedar Bluff Twin.  It was then replaced with (as shown in the gallery above) another big winner of 1977, Close Encounters of the Third Kind.  Fans of the sprawling epic needn’t have waited long to see it again, because it moved down Kingston Pike a bit and grew in epic scope and size, to the famed Capri-70 Theater, to be shown in the grand 70mm format!  (Note: I am taking liberty here in assuming that the film was shown in 70mm.  Since it’s a theater known for showing 70mm films, I think I can safely assume that it probably was 70mm… if anyone reading this happens to know, please do comment below and let me know!)

Article from the Knoxville News-Sentinel regarding the film moving theaters
Star Wars moves to the Capri 70, 12/16/77
The final day of Star Wars at the Capri 70, 3/16/78… 13 weeks later

If I were there, I probably would go watch it at least twice a week, just for the experience.  From my personal experience, seeing a 70mm film is just something to behold.  Star Wars played here for another 13 weeks, finally ending its run on March 16th, 1978.  It played for longer in bigger cities, but 34 consecutive weeks between two theaters is an impressive run.  Movies would certainly never be the same again.  Star Wars did appear again in Knoxville later in 1978, particularly at the then Cinema 6, which is known today as the Regal Downtown West 8 (and is one of my favorite theaters in the whole area!)

So, as we celebrate the 40th Anniversary of this great film, just think back to the first time you saw it.  Whether it was in 1977 or some time after, try and remember the magic of that film unreeling before your eyes for the very first time.  I guarantee you that neither you or I will ever have an experience quite like that ever again.

May the force be with you!

Easter Movie Tradition

Last night was the yearly tradition of ABC screening the epic Cecil B. DeMille film “The Ten Commandments” starring Charlton Heston.  The film has been broadcast annually by ABC since February 18, 1973.  Check out this ad from the premiere telecast:

This was back in a time when movies on television were a very big event.  It was of course the days before cable and home video pretty much ruined that epic feeling you might have gotten when a great movie was on that you just had to watch.

I thought to myself as this movie was on last night, “You know, this movie has nothing to do with Easter directly.”  True, but people love it more for it being inspirational.  Of course, this movie would be more identified with Passover instead of strictly Easter, so don’t write in or comment that I don’t know my religious holidays, because I do know.

I guess people just love this movie so much and people still turn out to watch it once a year, even though you can readily watch the movie on any number of home video formats that it has been released on over the years.

While “The Ten Commandments” is not my favorite biblical epic, I got to thinking about when my two favorites appeared for the first time on television.

“The Robe” premiered on ABC on Easter Sunday, March 26, 1967.

My favorite film of all time, “Ben-Hur”, premiered on CBS Sunday, February 14, 1971 and was watched by over 85 million people (a record for a movie on TV at the time).

Excuse me, I need to go get my sword and sandals.


Home Cinema Experience

Recently we got tired of the arrangement of our living room.  I felt that the speakers were not configured properly to totally enjoy watching a movie in 5.1 surround sound at home.  So, we reconfigured our living room and arranged the speakers in a more favorable configuration.  It sounded pretty good.  It needs to be said here that we don’t actually have the .1 part.  You see, we never bought a subwoofer.  That got me to thinking, “Gee, I should really do something about that!”

Well, we are going to get one.  But then another problem came up.  Newer Blu-ray movies are in sound formats that our receiver can’t decode.  The standard formats are Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  Even newer than that are Dolby Atmos and DTS-X, which are more directional sound formats than traditional surround sound.  A favorite YouTube channel of mine, TechMoan, has a great video where he installed some Dolby Atmos speakers in his living room, and explains Dolby Atmos as well, you can watch that at this link.

What spurred this thinking on was when I was watching one of my favorite movies recently, “Close Encounters of the Third Kind.”  Greg noticed that the  Blu-ray had both Dolby TrueHD and DTS-HD Master Audio.  While we could decode the Dolby sound, when we tried to use the DTS track, it just came back in 2 channels instead of 6.  Our receiver is a 10-year old model.  Here’s a photo in case you’re curious:

That’s a Sony STR DG-810.  It’s actually capable of 6.1 channels, you could add a surround back speaker to the mix.  It’s a good unit, we got it from someone here in Knoxville via Craigslist for only $75, at a time when a very old RCA receiver we had started emitting very bad ground loop noise.  In a very strapped budget mode, it was a good buy at that time.

Now, however, we have a more flexible budget to play with.  After looking around at various websites, we decided to go with the Onkyo TX-NR555.  This amp is a beast, at least as far as we’re concerned.  It’s capable of 7.2 channels, 80W of power per channel, for up to 980W.  Here is a photo of the new receiver in its home:

Let me tell you, this receiver is sweet.  It takes a complicated setup of several devices in our home theater and lets us run it through one unit.  It eliminated a whole bunch of cables from our wiring.  That is a major fringe benefit.  It’s very convenient to be able to do that.  Watching CE3K with the true DTS-HD Master Audio is like night and day.  Particularly when you hear alien ship flybys.  The whooshes in surround sound make it very real, like you are really there.

I am very happy with this purchase.  It was about time that we upgraded!

Maybe someday, the price of 4K will come down enough to where we might consider that purchase.  Probably not for several years, at least.


Nick’s Mix Review of “The Founder”

I have nothing but good things to say about “The Founder,”  the biopic about Ray Kroc, the man who made the McDonald’s restaurants a household name in the 1950s and 1960s.  Michael Keaton continues to astound me with his great acting ability playing the multi-faceted and ruthless Kroc, who met the McDonald brothers and not only franchised their idea, but outmaneuvered them and took the rights to their own name.  Keaton takes great care to give Kroc the proper interpretation, down to mannerisms, accent, and just a general sense of just how hungry he is to succeed and be rich and famous.

You probably know the story, it’s really no different here.

The script by Robert Siegel and the direction by John Lee Hancock were both very impressive.  I’ve always felt that when you do a period piece, especially a biopic, I have to be totally immersed and convinced that I care about the story.  It helps that was already familiar with the backstory of what happened here going in.  I tend to be when it comes to what biopics interest me.  This one was no exception.

It’s interesting to note that most of this film was shot in Georgia.  As several readers of this probably know, the state has been a boon for media production over the last few years.  Isn’t it a coincidence that Atlanta is probably going to be my next move career-wise?  Hmm.

I highly recommend watching this film.  It’s an interesting story and a great period piece.  It’s a win-win flick!

Nick’s Mix: “Moonlight”

It’s a very tough life growing up in an urban area with crime and bad influences surrounding you.  You are supposed to act, think, and do certain things to get by, even if you have any aspirations to actually do something else.  If you are different, especially if you are gay, you have to bury those feelings underneath a thick veneer to where nobody can see who you should be, who you really are.

The character of Chiron in “Moonlight” is a very quiet, troubled soul.  He knows he’s different, but as a young child, he doesn’t realize who he is yet.  He is growing up in urban Miami, where crime and drugs are rampant, and where he is picked on by school bullies and isn’t loved by his mother.  One day, he befriends a man, Juan, and later his girlfriend, Teresa, who tell him that he can be whomever he wants.  Chiron does have one acquaintance his age, Kevin.

The film examines three stages of his life, when Chrion is 9, then when is a teenager, and finally when he is a man.  Chiron has just about every life challenge you can imagine for a 9-year-old boy.  His mother is a drug addict buying the junk from Juan himself (much to Juan’s shock.)  In the second part, Kevin and Chiron have romantic encounter on a beach.  This was a very profound and powerful scene.  The love is short lived as the bullies at his school force Kevin to beat Chiron up as a rite of passage.  Chiron in turn lashes out at one of those bullies in class and is sent away.

Years later, Chiron gets a phone call late one night from Kevin.  He hasn’t heard from him in years.  Kevin has tried to get on the right road to having a decent life.  Chiron, not so much.  But, eventually, they meet back up and it’s left to the audience to wonder if they do, in fact, become lovers.

This is the kind of film I like to see. The writing and direction of Barry Jenkins is very, very well done.  You felt for all of these characters. It’s not very common with someone of Chrion’s background to be able to be gay and be accepted.  I can understand how he feels.  The hurt inside when you can’t find anyone to love and be yourself has to be devastating.  I know, I felt that as a teenager myself.  So for me, this aspect of his life hit very close to home.

I am quite proud that this movie has already won the Golden Globe award for Best Motion Picture – Drama.  I hope that it will win a couple of Academy Awards come next month.  These kinds of personal tales are ones that are the core strength of cinema and need to be told, especially in this day and age.

Nick’s Flix Review of “Don’t Breathe”

Most suspense films for me fail to keep my attention as the characters plod along aimlessly. The film “Don’t Breathe”, directed by Fede Alvarez, is a wonderfully shot, very intense and intriguing movie that kept me in suspense for its modest 88 minute running time.

The plot is very simple. Three people from Detroit who are young and poor are committing petty crimes to try and get enough money to move away. They decide to hit the home of a blind war veteran, who is sitting on a fortune, and then get out. His house is in the middle of a desolate neighborhood with nobody even close to around.

The blind guy has his own secrets… but that is best saved for the film itself. Needless to say they were very shocking and I didn’t see them coming. You’ll see what I mean when you see it for yourself.

The best scene in this movie for me is when two of the characters are in the basement of the house. The blind guy then cuts the power, putting everyone in the dark. This scene is so intense. The cinematography and the editing here are first rate to let the audience see just enough to know what was going on.

The biggest takeaway from this film is the fact that it cost only $9.9 Million to make (according to Box Office Mojo.) This proves yet again what I have long said, that Hollywood doesn’t need to be throwing large sums of money at the screen in order to make an entertaining and engaging film.

Low budget film making is possible folks! 🙂

By the way, you may remember that Alvarez directed “Evil Dead.” It’ll be interesting to see what he does next!

Nick’s Flix Review of “Sausage Party”

It’s an article version of “Nick’s Flix”!

Here is my review of the R-rated CGI-animated comedy “Sausage Party.”

The brief version of the movie is that you have a grocery store full of talking groceries who want to get out of the store into the mythical “Great Beyond,” only to find out it isn’t what it really is.  There are lots of raunchy jokes and ethnic humor throughout this film.  Parents, please don’t bring your kids to this one! (It’s Rated R for a reason!!!!)

It’s easy to see where the writers got their inspiration for talking groceries going on an adventure.  All of the classic animation studios back in the day did a talking/singing groceries film at one time or another.  One of the most prevalent in my mind is Warner Brothers’ “Goofy Groceries.”  Think of that idea with a modern spin and fleshed out.

The story itself is a good one.  There is a lot of heart once you look past all of the expected humor in a R-rated comedy.  For the most part, the jokes aren’t necessarily over the top, but the scene at the end of the movie (you’ll know which one when you watch it, no spoilers) is totally expected given the tone of the film.  That’s not necessarily a bad thing, just predictable.

This is a very slick, well edited movie.  I never felt like the pace of the film was off.  It has a modest running time of 89 minutes, which is about right for an animated film.  It’ll be interesting to see if anything was cut out when the Blu-ray comes out (probably.)

I’d recommend this film, but again, I warn you, DO NOT TAKE YOUR KIDS TO THIS MOVIE!!!

NSFW Trailer below: