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Have questions on the summer movie season?
Steve Persall
Steve Persall

Will Shrek, Harry Potter or Spiderman be this summer's big winner? Perhaps you're an indie movie freak - there's something for everyone coming up this season. Times film critic Steve Persall is answering your questions about the flicks you'll see on the big screen.

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Latest questions and answers (Updated August 6)

Question: When and where will "The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi" be playing? I have enjoyed watching these classic japanese dramas. Thanks, Steve

Steve Persall: The Blind Swordsman: Zatoichi is currertly scheduled to open locally (probably at only one yet-to-be-announced theater) on Sept. 3. That date can change, however, due to the usual art house reasons we've covered before. Keep an eye on Weekend each Thursday, especially the list of upcoming releases, to know for sure.

Question: When and Where will Grand Theft Parsons be playing?

Steve Persall: Sorry, Antonio, but it doesn't look promising for Grand Theft Parsons to get much of a release. The film debuted at the Sundance Film festival in January and opened in a few theaters in June, but reviews and box office results haven't been good, and that's a big factor in deciding if such a low-budget, independently produced film finds a distributor ready to take the financial risk of striking prints, advertising, etc.

The current distributor of Grand Theft Parsons, Swipe Films, apparently isn't in that league. (I've never heard of the company, to be honest).

For those readers who don't know, Grand Theft Parsons is a retelling of one of rock'n'roll's greatest folk tales, how the remains of guitarist Gram Parsons were stolen and cremated in a desert. I'd certainly like to see it.

Alas, it looks like home video will be our only chance (unless something changes). No date for that DVD release has been announced. Just keep your ear to the ground. Thanks for asking.

Question: Hey, Steve. Just wanted you to know what an impact you have had on me as a movie fan. Twelve years ago or so, I became aware of, and began to follow, specific directors, etc. and realized just how similar our opinions are in the world of film. There have been very few instances through the years where we weren't on the same page. However, one stands out. Do yourself a favor and rent David Lynch's Lost Highway. Your original review really missed what he was doing in that film. Nobody (and I mean nobody) gets it the first time. After several viewings, it has become a part of my top 5 all time favorites. Brilliant! There is a big clue I could give you that would really open your eyes to the unbelievable concept that is going on in the film. I know you see a lot of movies, but if you are interested, email me and I'll clue you in. Keep up the great work. Randy

Steve Persall: Thanks for the nice words, Randy, and I'll take your advice on that. I'll admit that I've changed my mind a few times, either way, over the years. The best cinema can be re-examined and re-assessed, and perhaps Lost Highway deserves that chance. What the heck: I'm still getting flack on my adoration of Lynch's Mulholland Dr. now and then. I seem to recall that the Lost Highway screening and review was under rushed circumstances and, as you note, Lynch (along with the Coen brothers and others) sometimes takes a while to sink in. (And before anyone asks: Some of the other films I've raised or lowered my opinions about after a while include Clueless, Indecent Proposal, Cast Away and episodes 1 and 2 of the Star Wars series.)

Question: Hello Steve: Excellent site. My wife and I are considering relocating to the Tampa area and are big movie fans. (Know very little about the area) What would be your recommendation for a top quality theater/area to start our search? This may sound a little corny, but a great theater w/surrounding restaurants & malls is a big factor. Kind of "the good part of town", if you will. I figured since you are the movie guru, you may have some insight. Thanks so much Steve and keep up the great work! Derek

Steve Persall: Hi, Derek, and welcome to the Sunshine State. Movie guru? I'm not sure about that, but the compliment is nice enough to try and help. It depends on which part of Tampa, you'll move into.

My first instinct is suggesting Channelside Cinemas, near the shipyards and the St.Pete Times Forum, home of the Stanley Cup champion Tampa Bay Lightning. (Gosh that feels good to type.) The theater has a fine system including the only IMAX set-up for mainstream films like Spider-Man 2 and The Matrix. (The other IMAX is at the Museum of Science and Industry, dealing mostly with, you know, science stuff.) The Channelside complex also includes several nice restaurants (and a Hooters), some with nightclub atmosphere. An excellent bet, if you're withing your driving range.

Otherwise, I like the AMC Veterans 24 theaters on Anderson Road, a few miles north of the airport. The handful of restaurants are more chain-oriented except for one with a name that escapes me but features a great margarita pizza and sangria pitcher. You also have a nice theater set-up at Westshore Mall with all the shopping and dining you expect there. Thre's also Sunrise Cinemas in the Hyde Park district, a very cool theater with alternative films in mind and a couple of blockbusters to pay the bills. That, and the Centro Ybor 20 in Ybor City feature gourmet concessions and wine, along with nice dining nearby.

I hope that gives you a few tips. Look up those places on the Web for a better idea. Just be sure you keep reading the Times when you get here. Good luck.

Question: Where are the Springhill Theatre listings? The theatre is open. You do have a misprint when looking up the actual city. I found it under Sprindhill. There were still no listings. Thanks, Paula

Steve Persall: Sorry, Paula, for those problems. I'll pass it along to the fine folks who handle our movie timeclocks. Thanks for the heads-up.

Question: Has there been any update as to why Fahrenheit 9/11 is not in any of the Muvico theatres? Bob

Steve Persall: Nothing new to report. I'm sure it was simply a negotiation hitch, not a right wing conspiracy. As far as the chain's exhibition of America's Heart and Soul, that flop should teach them a lesson, if there were some kind of underhanded booking. Only two small theater chains in the Midwest refused to show Fahrenheit 9/11 and Michael Moore sniffed them out. I'm sure the same would happen with Muvico, if politics played into their decision.

Question: Terminal was a very good movie as Tom Hanks is a favorite actor of mine, but The Notebook sure hit home and was a good "tear jerker" for us living in retirement. I still laugh when I think of your recommendation years ago to see the "Big Lebowski?" (forgot the spelling) and went with my daughter and her daughter and we three generations thought it was awful and I've been leary of your picks ever since, ha, ha, - Betty

Steve Persall: Nice to know The Terminal has another fan, although I'm shocked at how relatively poorly it's doing at the box office. Even Spielberg and Hanks don't have that immediate appeal anymore, I guess. I haven't seen The Notebook (our backup reviewer Philip Booth handled that with a C grade) but it sounds like a decent offering for your older demographic, which isn't served often at theaters these days.

I still laugh at The Big Lebowski, too, but for entirely different reasons. In fact, I'll be attending a convention of the film's fans, Lebowskifest, in New York City next month. Watch for a feature story on that later in August.

Question: What is the title article of the story written in the St. Pete Times about 10 days ago of the real life story from the movie "The Terminal". I want to read it for my wife, but I cannot find it. We loved the movie and were interested in its origin. Please e-mail me the title or author so I can pull it up on-line. Thanks so much. - Dean and Olena

Steve Persall: That was a Sunday Express (U.K.) article written by Jack Gee that we found on the wires and used with my review of The Terminal. As such, it isn't filed in our Web archives. I suggest running a Google (or other search engine) Web seach for the name: Merhan Karimi Nasseri, the real-life resident of a French airport terminal. That search should turn up Gee's article and may also lead to other articles on the gentleman. Good luck.

Question: I've got a news tip for you. I recently called the Muvico headquarters in Ft. Lauderdale to find out why they weren't showing the Michael Moore documentary "Fahrenheit 9/11". I was told that the chain was not going to show the film because it was "an arthouse film", even though other large chains such as AMC, Regal, etc. decided this was a movie of general interest.

I thought this might well be the company's decision until I saw that Muvico is one of only a few chains to reserve screens for "America's Heart and Soul" the Disney documentary about the great spirit of America.

If this doesn't sound the alarms on corporate censorship and political partisanship I don't know what does. Have you contacted Muvico about this obviously distorted decision?

Thanks and look forward to hearing your response. - Philip

Steve Persall: Hi, Philip. Yes, it does seem odd but Muvico's marketing director, Jim Lee, told me a few days ago that the chain had been negotiating with Lions Gate Films prior to the June 25 opening and couldn't agree on terms to arrange dates. Theater chains share ticket proceeds with distributors, usually with the distributor getting upwards of 75 percent of the first 2-3 weeks sales, then gradually shifting to the theater's favor as the engagement proceeds. All deals are different, especially for a hot property like this. Lee could be blowing smoke but I know there's enough truth in the difficulty of making those agreements sometimes that he may not be covering up anything. We'll keep our collective ears to the ground. Thanks.

We received several inquiries from readers and Web site visitors about Fahrenheit 9/11 and when it would be available in more theaters. Hopefully this will clear up any questions:

The shortage or tardiness of theaters showing Michael Moore's Fahrenheit 9/11 can be summed up with two words: Economics and ignorance. Please allow me to explain.

Moore's film opened June 25 on approximately 868 screens nationwide. That's a fraction of the screens regularly devoted to mainstream movies; the Shreks, Harry Potters and Spider-Men of the world. But it's still a record for any documentary and likely close to one for any alternative film offering (i.e. foreign films, documentaries or just plain weird stuff).

By that measure alone, nobody could expect Fahrenheit 9/11 to be as readily available as mainstream films. A half-dozen theaters in the Times circulation area was just about right for such a limited release. This kind of thing happens all the time to unusual film projects but few people notice (although I've written about it on several occasions) simply because the movie in question isn't at hot as Moore's.

That's the movie economics part. Here's the ignorance factor:

Booking decisions are made in Los Angeles and possibly New York by people who haven't learned that "Tampa Bay" is comprised of three major cities. When bookers get marching orders to secure theaters in the top-15 markets (of which we're number 15 by most counts) they automatically think "Tampa." The same thing happens to our Devil Rays. Many sports fans probably still think they play in Tampa. Lion's Gate Films obviously bought into that thinking in this case.

I contacted a Lion's Gate representative a week prior to the film's relase when Moore's Web site showed only Hillsborough County locations (and one theater in Oldsmar that might as ell be Tampa for most Pinellas County moviegoers) for Fahrenheit 9/11. I explained the geography and the reluctance of many folks to travel across a bridge to see a movie. In effect I told him that even though Tampa Bay is a lucrative market, the current bookings would effectively shut out almost half of the potential audience. He thanked me and said he would do whatever he could at such a late date. Apparently it wasn't much.

Another factor comes to mind: With Spider-Man 2 opening on thousands of screens July 30, theaters reserved multiple screens for that blockbuster. All movies have a tough time securing and maintaining screens in the competitive summer season when theaters are crowded. Some movies are still making money so thater owners don't want to lose them. Others are contractually locked in for weeks, sometimes beyond their ticket sales value. I'm sure that has something to do with Fahrenheit 9/11's situation.

This week, Fahrenheit 9/11 is expected to increase its national run to nearly 2,000 screens (about the same number that White Chicks opened on last week). It should be easier and more convenient to find expect perhaps in smaller areas that don't usually book docuemntaries or foriegn films anyway due to their market demands. Two theaters currently expected to add the film are Beach Theater in St. Pete Beach and Tyrone 6 in St. Petersburg. It may expand to Pasco, Hernando and/or Citrus Counties.

Above all, there isn't any conspiracy to keep people from seeing the film. True, some organizations tried to pressure theaters into not showing Fahrenheit 9/11 but that hasn't had any obvious effect. No county Republicans or shopping plaza owners or anyone will prevent the movie from showing wherever it can make a buck or two. If there were such conspiracies, you can bet Michael Moore would be complaining loud and longer, if only to hype ticket sales more.

Question: I attended an advance screening of the movie "The Notebook" last week at Movieco. They showed the previews for a movie called "Cellular". However, I haven't seen it listed among the summer movies coming to theatres. Do you know anything about this movie? It looked like a terrific movie. By the way, "The Notebook" was a really good movie. - Janet

Steve Persall:
I haven't see that preview, Janet, but the Internet Movie database lists Cellular, starring Kim Basinger, with a Sept. 17, 2004 release date. Hope you can wait that long.

Question: Hi Steve - I'm an old student of yours from RHS (you taught a law course at the time - I'm a lawyer now, I guess you made an impression!). Anyway - I have a 3-year-old son who enjoyed the first two Harry Potter movies, mainly because of the eye-candy special effects. Last night, a commercial for Prisoner of Azkaban was shown and he got excited when he recognized some of the elements of the first movies. I was cautious to tell him we could go see it in the theater because it seemed to be a bit more intense than the first two films. Reading your excellent review confirmed that. Would you discourage taking such a young child to this movie? Thanks in advance, and keep up the great work! - Chris

Steve Persall: Hello, Chris. Glad to hear you're doing well, possible in spite of my teaching skills. The third Harry Potter film is my favorite simply because it's moving past the "eye-candy special effects" in into darker emotional territory. Part of that comes from more intimidating special effects like the Dementors, which will incite some nightmares somewhere, I'm certain. I think a 3-year-old is too young for the film, and practically any other movie that isn't rated G, to be honest. There's also a creature even scarier than the Dementors that I didn't mention in the review to avoid spoiling a key plot twist. I would suggest waiting for home video (probably arriving during the late-year holiday season) so you can comfort or converse with your son without spoiling the movie experience for others. Once again, very nice to hear from you and thanks for reading. Take care.

Question: Darkness was just pulled from the release schedule and left in limbo. You had mentioned that the one that was to be released was a remake, but I think it was the same movie as before. Do you know something that I don't? I'm only curious because I've already seen it. It is available on DVD in parts of Europe. By the way, advance word on The Village is NOT good.

Steve Persall: Upon further review (as football referees say), Darkness is actually the same film with some apparent tinkering, perhaps to better suit American tastes. Good catch, and one that only that kind of Euro-experience could make. "Remake" was a poor word choice, I'll admit.

Thanks for the heads-up on The Village, an idea that I've never been convinced would play well. But I thought that about other Shyamalan films, too. To even the score: I hear the Exorcist sequel is no better for its overhaul, either. Question: Is that movie considered a remake since the original version was scrapped and re-shot? Hmm...

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