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page created: 1/18/06
originally published: 1/4/06





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #24
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Hey there! Welcome to 2006. Glad you could make it. I hope you all had a festive and merry last couple weeks, no matter what holiday you chose to celebrate or even if you chose to celebrate absolutely nothing.

For me, Christmastime usually means catching up on a whole multiplex worth of current cinema. This year was no exception, so although I did watch a few older movies on DVD, I'm going to hold those in reserve for the time being. As we enter the barren movie landscape that is January at the box office, I'll be glad to have these in my back pocket for future emergencies. Which means that this week brings a rare, all-theatrical release edition of the Electric Theatre. Please turn off your cell phones and pagers and enjoy the show!


The A-Picture - Match Point

A few weeks ago, I reviewed Melinda and Melinda and mentioned that Woody Allen was long past due for a great movie. I suspected, I hoped, that Match Point would be that film. But I've had high hopes for movies before that ended with me once again disappointed, so I kept it to myself. Now that I've seen the movie, however, I'm happy to shout it from the rooftops. Match Point is Woody Allen's best film in over a decade and a movie worthy to be considered alongside his many classics. A lot of critics have pointed out how different Match Point is from the rest of his work and superficially that's true. But thematically, it's very much in line with his other work. In fact, you could almost consider this a British remake of Crimes and Misdemeanors that excises the comedic story. The less you know about the plot of Match Point, the better off you are going in. Suffice it to say that it's a taut, captivating story that kept me totally off guard. Just when you think you know what's going to happen, it quick turns the opposite way. The entire cast is top-notch but Scarlett Johansson is particularly perfect as the sultry American who serves as the story's tipping point. And I've never been too impressed by Jonathan Rhys Meyers but in this, he pulls off a tricky role with expert precision. Over the past few years, I've grown pretty tired of having to defend Woody Allen to other moviegoers of my generation who don't understand why I'm a fan. With the arrival of Match Point, hopefully I won't have to do that any more. (****)


Caché (Hidden)

The movies of Austria filmmaker Michael Haneke may be something of an acquired taste. But once you get on his wavelength, it's easy to get hooked on his challenging, often disturbing style of mystery thriller. In Caché, Daniel Auteuil and Juliette Binoche star as a well-off, sophisticated, highly literate married couple who begins to receive a series of anonymous videotapes and notes. The tapes show the exterior of their own house, hours of uninterrupted coverage. Auteuil begins to suspect he knows the culprit from his childhood when he sabotaged his parents’ attempt to adopt the child of two servants who had died. Caché is a dark, gripping mystery that may or may not even have a solution (take it from me... pay very, very close attention to the final shot if you want to have a hope in hell of figuring this movie out). But Haneke is less interested in the solution than in the effect the mystery has on his characters. Caché demands careful scrutiny and ultimately rewards it. It's a movie that'll have you thinking long after it's over. (*** ½)


Casanova

Heath Ledger stars as the world's greatest lover in this handsome but toothless tale. The plot is like something out of Three's Company. Casanova must get married or else risk deportation from his beloved Venice. He sets his sights on the most chaste virgin in Italy but almost immediately falls head over heels in love with proto-feminist Francesca Bruni (Sienna Miller). Wackiness, false names and mistaken identities inevitably follow. Casanova is handsomely produced but feels like a lame sitcom throughout, especially whenever Jeremy Irons shows up as the most cartoonish Inquisitor since Terry Gilliam hung up his robes as Cardinal Fang. I kept expecting him to burst into the room declaring, “Nobody expects the Spanish Inquisition!” At least Oliver Platt can be depended on for some good moments. By the way, I can't for the life of me figure out why this movie is rated R. So if you're hoping this movie will at least be salacious, you're out of luck. (**)


The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe

As a child, I read every book in C.S. Lewis’ epic Narnia fantasy. And while I must have enjoyed them (why else would I read all seven?), I can hardly remember the first detail about them. Which probably makes me the perfect audience for Disney/Walden Media's adaptation of the first book. It's a marquee-buster of a title and it can't hold a candle to The Lord of the Rings movies but surprisingly enough, I found the movie rather enjoyable. The visual effects are somewhat uneven but at their best, they're eye-popping. We've seen countless battle shots of enormous armies charging at each other over the past few years, but never one that includes the menagerie of creatures on display here. The four young actors are all pretty good and Tilda Swinton makes for a superb White Witch. As movie fantasies go, Narnia is closer to the top than the bottom. Better than Legend but not quite as good as The Dark Crystal. But I'd see another if they decided to keep going with the series. (***)


The Family Stone

What would Christmas be without a holiday-themed family dramedy that allows you to avoid dealing with your own family for a couple hours? The Stones are your typical Hollywood movie idea of a typical university boho-liberal family. Most everybody has vague ambitions in “the arts” and they all love and encourage each other beneath a veneer of eccentric mannerisms. Into this tight-knit clan comes Sarah Jessica Parker, a wound-up, buttoned-down business type who's engaged to oldest son Dermot Mulroney. She's uncomfortable, the family doesn't think she's right for him, insert your own movie here. The Family Stone is cookie-cutter from beginning to end but it kind of works, thanks to the seemingly effortless efforts of its cast. Diane Keaton is genetically incapable of giving a bad performance and she rises above the material here as well. So does Craig T. Nelson as the family patriarch, Rachel McAdams as the spiteful sister, and Luke Wilson as... well, basically the Luke Wilson type brother. The Family Stone won't win any awards for originality but it's a decent enough formula that you probably won't notice that you've had it before. (** ½)


Munich

This past summer, I read a description of Steven Spielberg's work that was so perfect, I wish I had come up with it myself. It was in an interview with Terry Gilliam, who said that Spielberg directs great scenes but seems to have forgotten how to assemble them into a movie. Munich, Spielberg's latest, suggests he might be beginning to remember how it's done. This is easily Spielberg's most interesting movie in a long, long time and for my money, the best one he's made in over twenty years. Eric Bana stars as an Israeli operative who goes off the grid, cutting his formal ties with Mossad, to lead a team charged with assassinating the Palestinians responsible for the murders of 11 Israeli athletes at the 1972 Munich Olympic games. Munich works on a number of levels, as a suspense thriller as well as a contemplation of the self-destructive circle of violence. It's not a perfect film, with a final half-hour that seems somewhat abrupt and rushed. But it is a film, not just a handful of bravura setpieces haphazardly stitched together. This is Steven Spielberg at his most restrained and quite honestly, I didn't think we'd ever see this side of him again. I'm glad he's back. (*** ½)


The New World

I risk having my membership card in the Movie Nerd's Clubhouse torn up for admitting this publicly but here goes. Terrence Malick's movies? Not really a big fan. However, I have been willing to concede that part of my problem might be that I'd never seen any of them on the big screen and clearly the images in his films demand to be writ large. So I was hoping that The New World, Malick's latest and only his fourth film in a career that spans three decades, would change my mind. The verdict? Still not really a big fan. Colin Farrell plays Captain John Smith and newcomer Q'orianka Kilcher is Pocahontas in this retelling of the classic story. Predictably, the visuals are drop dead gorgeous. This is certainly one of the most beautiful movies you'll see this or any year. And while certain key scenes are captivating, the sweep of the story itself failed to win me over. Also, Malick relies heavily on voice-over narration to advance things, a device I truly hate and is used to extreme measures here. First Farrell narrates, then Kilcher, then Christian Bale when Farrell takes off for awhile. I've always felt narration should be used sparingly if at all and that's certainly not the case here. There's no denying that The New World, like all of Malick's films, is full of lovely images. But so is a museum, and at least there I can decide for myself which ones to linger over. (***)


The Ringer

Johnny Knoxville stars as a nice guy in a jam whose uncle pressures him into pretending to be mentally challenged so they can rig the Special Olympics. This should have been the most offensive movie of the year. For better and worse, it's not. For one thing, the Special Olympics actually helped produce the movie, so you know the treatment of the actual athletes will be nothing but respectful. But the first fifteen minutes or so are genuinely painful to sit through as the filmmakers go out of their way to set up the premise and establish Knoxville as an exceptionally decent human being. But once he checks into the Special Olympics, The Ringer actually has its moments. I got some laughs, the movie's heart is in the right place, and you get to see the Kids of Widney High perform! How many movies can offer that? (** ½)


The White Countess

The final Merchant-Ivory film stars Ralph Fiennes as a blind American diplomat in Shanghai who abandons his work to chase his dream of creating the perfect nightclub. Natasha Richardson is his muse, an exiled Russian Countess who Fiennes discovers working as a dance hall girl and hires to be his hostess. Like all Merchant-Ivory films, The White Countess has an impeccable pedigree but sadly fails to connect. Part of the problem is that Fiennes’ character is far less interesting than Richardson and her family (which includes members of Richardson's real family, Vanessa and Lynn Redgrave). But also, the script and performances feel very stagy, as if this was based on a play. Characters rarely converse when they could just as easily soliloquize. A disappointment but a handsome one. (**)


Wolf Creek

An Australian horror import isn't the likeliest candidate for holiday viewing. But when a movie's this harrowing, you tend to forget what time of year it is. Three friends stop for a hike at the Australian crater lake area called Wolf Creek. When they get back, they find their car won't start and they're stranded in the middle of nowhere. Before long, things get much, much worse. Wolf Creek is an all-too-real horror movie, supposedly based on true events. Whether it is or it isn't, the movie itself seems quite plausible. Wolf Creek takes its time, allowing you to get to know these people and almost making you forget that you're watching a horror movie before things get bad. Wolf Creek would make a great vacation-from-hell double feature with The Vanishing, another movie that frightens you because it really could happen. (*** ½)


Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Producers

Oy vey. Maybe this works better on stage. ‘Cause it almost certainly couldn't work any worse than it does on film. Nathan Lane and Matthew Broderick reprise their Broadway roles... or perhaps I should say “re-enact” because it feels like not a beat has been changed from the stage to screen... in this misfire based on the musical based on the Mel Brooks movie. I'm a fan of the 1968 movie and had heard many good things about the play but now I'm really not sure why that is. The only two memorable songs are those that were in the movie in the first place. All the rest are standard show-tune placeholders that vanish from your brain the second they end. Visually, this movie is flatter than flat and surprisingly small and chintzy looking. For the musical numbers to pop, they needed to be staged with the flair and logic-be-damned panache of Busby Berkeley's production numbers in movies like 42nd Street. As for the performances, every actor is so antic that you leave the theatre feeling like you've been shouted at for two hours. The only scene that even came close to feeling like entertainment was the can't-miss “Springtime for Hitler” production number... and even that felt hemmed in. Perhaps the worst thing I can say about The Producers is that at times, it actually made me wonder if the original movie is really as funny as I remember it being. (* ½)


And... scene. That'll do it for now but don't go too far, Mouseketeers. You're just a few days away from the long awaited, eagerly anticipated Best and Worst of 2005 installment of Jahnke's Electric Theatre! One last chance to praise and censure the year's flicks. Lobbying has been going on for weeks here (I'm still not sure how Peter Jackson got my phone number) but I will not be bribed! If you read only one Electric Theatre this year... well... read two. Because obviously if you're reading this, you've just read this one and it's the next one I'm trying to convince you about.

Aw, the hell with it. Just keep your eyes peeled for the first ever Jahnke's Electric Theatre Annual, coming soon to this theatre. Until then, rock on with your bad selves.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Vincent Schiavelli

"Electric Theatre - Where You See All the Latest Life Size Moving Pictures, Moral and Refined, Pleasing to Ladies, Gentlemen and Children!"

- Legend on a traveling moving picture show tent, c.1900


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