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Movie Review: "The Phantom of the Opera"

I got a chance the other night to see a preview screening of this film, which is opening in the proverbial "select cities" on December 22 and nationwide on January 21, 2005, and here's how strict things have gotten about piracy.

Last year the motion picture academy wasn't going to send out its traditional "screener" videos, for fear they'd wind up pirated or on the Internet, but after an outcry from Academy members, they did so. Sure enough, an actor named Carmine Caridi, who had some bit parts in the "Godfather" movies, gave his screener copies of "Big Fish", "Something's Gotta Give", "Mystic River", and "The Last Samurai", to a Chicago-area man named Russell Sprague, who made tons of illegal copies and was eventually sentenced to a prison term for piracy. Caridi, for his part, was fined $300,000 in civil penalties, the judgment there coming down only a few days ago.

So, screenings such as the ones I attend are now also attended by a security guard who has a wand, pats you down and informed me I couldn't have my camera phone there and had to "go back to the car".

Well, that was too far and luckily, there was someone there in charge who offered to keep the camera phones during the screening, which satisfied Mr. Security Guard. The phone couldn't have done anything other than take muddy-looking photos and I would never do such a thing anyway, but from now on I leave the camera phone in the car.

As far as the movie is concerned, you need remember only one name:

Emmy Rossum.

Rossum plays Christine, the young heroine of the story, which is translated here on the screen faithfully from the stage play by director Joel Schumacher, who has directed such disparate films as "Veronica Guerin" and "Phone Booth", along with a couple of the Batman films.

All the actors and actresses in this film did their own singing (with the notable exception of an almost-unrecognizable Minnie Driver, who played Carlotta).

Rossum is terrific, in the role which grows from an innocent young girl to a worldly woman... and I seemed to remember how young she was, from her roles in "The Day After Tomorrow", and her brief appearance in "Mystic River", playing Katie, the girl who gets murdered (I figure most of you have seen "Mystic River" by this point so I'm not giving you a spoiler) -- and looking it up, I was right -- she is only eighteen years old.

Rossum is already a major talent and she could get an Oscar nomination for this role, and though the Academy doesn't usually nominate musicals for Best Picture, they have been more willing to do so in recent years, particularly with the victorious sweep of "Chicago" a couple of years ago, and so "POTA" might indeed get such a nomination.

Schumacher's direction is filled with color in a "Moulin Rouge"ish sort of way, but also with darkness when necessary, as the story itself is dark, and it's juxtaposed with scenes shot in black and white, a sub-story set years in the future, after the days when the Phantom haunted the Paris Opera House. Excellent performances were also given by Scottish actor Gerard Butler as the Phantom, and Patrick Wilson as Raoul.

Don't miss this movie, it's going to be one of the highlights of the holiday season.

AYRating: ****