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page created: 12/23/05
originally published: 2/1/05





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #1
Nominees and Wannabes


Jahnke's Electric Theatre - Main Page

Well, let's give this a try, shall we?

Welcome to Jahnke's Electric Theatre. Here's how it works. Every two weeks, I'll be providing little mini-reviews of the movies I've seen over the preceding fourteen days. (I've chosen Tuesday evenings to send this out for no particular reason other than it's Tuesday right now and I have nothing better to do.) The best movie will be spotlighted at the top in a little feature called The A-Picture. Likewise, the most unendurable flick I suffered through will have the bright light of shame cast its way in the Hell Plaza Octoplex. Between these two extremes will be everything else (in alphabetical order, not in order of preference). I'll also give each title a star-rating, ranging from **** (signifying a classic of the highest order) to * (signifying a film whose makers owe me an amends).

I should point out that while I certainly hope this thing steers you toward some good movies you might otherwise have skipped, I am not doing this to discourage you from seeing something I thought stunk on ice. Everyone's taste is their own and what works for me isn't always going to work for you and vice versa. No doubt if you feel I've missed the boat on something, you'll let me know in no uncertain terms. Please do. My mind can be changed... sometimes.

So having said all that, let's start this thing, huh? I've got a surprisingly large number of movies to kick things off. Since I've still been playing catch-up on last year's movies, everything this week hails from the year 2004. That ain't gonna happen again, I can promise you. This week's A-Picture almost certainly would have landed on my Top Ten list had I seen it in time. And I'd have added another screen to the Hell Plaza Octoplex to include this week's bottom-feeder on my Worst list.


The A-Picture - The Aviator

My opinions of the movies Martin Scorsese has made since 1990's GoodFellas have ranged from "OK" to "all right, I guess". None of them have been bad. All of them have had individual elements that I thought were terrific. But none of them have been great. Until now. The Aviator is Scorsese's return to form. A smart, lavish epic in which the size and scope of the film match the subject. Howard Hughes didn't do anything halfway, so it's no surprise that Scorsese's biopic matches him excess for excess. It's clear that Scorsese is in love with the period and the setting. His glee at recreating the golden age of Hollywood radiates off the screen. Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Hughes, which shouldn't surprise anyone who remembers how good he was in movies like What's Eating Gilbert Grape and This Boy's Life. And Cate Blanchett does wonders with the unenviable job of playing Katharine Hepburn. It's a long movie (and not one of those long movies that feel shorter than they really are) but it needs to be. The Aviator deserves every one of the Oscar nominations it just received and, much as I love Million Dollar Baby, I hope it wins. Clint's got his Best Director trophy. It's long past time Scorsese got one, too. And if he wins for The Aviator, it isn't just a career recognition award. He's earned it. (*** ½)


Code 46

Cerebral science fiction movie takes place in a future in which genetics dictates everything from what countries you can or cannot visit to who you can mate with. Tim Robbins plays a fraud investigator who has an affair with Samantha Morton. But because they're too genetically similar, they're in violation of Code 46. I really tried to like this movie and came close at times. It looks great and actually has a brain in its head, unlike a lot of recent sci-fi movies (see below). But it's also painfully slow and so obtuse at times that figuring it out becomes a chore. And frankly, it's not so clever or original that performing that chore is all that rewarding. (** ½)


Collateral

Silver-haired Tom Cruise is a hitman who recruits unlucky cab driver Jamie Foxx to drive him around L.A. while he makes his rounds. A pretty entertaining action movie, slightly smarter than most of its type. Cruise isn't as laughably miscast as I'd assumed from the trailer and Foxx is quite good, though I'm not sure he's Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination good (for one thing, it's not even a supporting role, really). Like all of director Michael Mann's films, Collateral is a great-looking movie. And even when logic takes a holiday in the last 15 minutes, it remains enjoyable. (***)


Garden State

Zach Braff (star of NBC's Scrubs) makes his debut as indie film auteur in this OK comedy-drama. Braff stars as a TV actor who goes home to New Jersey for his mother's funeral and spends his time avoiding his dad (a miscast Ian Holm), hanging out with his old friends, and falling in love with kooky Natalie Portman. Garden State has a couple of scenes that are genuinely touching and heartfelt. But those scenes are surrounded by lots of forced, self-conscious quirkiness that does nothing other than call attention to itself. And I really hated the college-radio soundtrack. On the other hand, Braff did make a visually interesting movie, which is something that most first-time independent filmmakers never do with a script like this. (** ½)


I, Robot

The comment I made about those recent sci-fi movies that are as dumb as a bag of hammers? Applies here. Will Smith is robot-hating (rocist?) Chicago detective Del Spooner and you'd best believe the reasons Del hates robots will be revealed in a tinted flashback about halfway through the movie. Anyhoo, Del's investigating the apparent suicide of robot designer James Cromwell. Del thinks robots did the deed but that's crazy talk because the First Law of Robotics says robots are incapable of harming humans! Whaaaaaaa??? Loud and stupid with a handful of neat ideas and details sprinkled intermittently, presumably thanks to director Alex Proyas (who made the infinitely superior Dark City and The Crow). Needless to say, this is very, very tangentially related to the titular stories by Isaac Asimov. (**)


King Arthur

The Arthurian legend, Braveheart-style. Based (ostensibly, anyway) on the life of the historical Arthur, this version casts Clive Owen in the title role and Keira Knightley as Guinevere. There's lots of talk about the Roman Empire and the Saxons and Arthur struggling to accept his destiny, none of which is what most people want to see when they sit down to watch a movie called King Arthur. Long and drawn-out with some OK battle sequences but nothing you haven't seen before in better movies like Braveheart or Excalibur or Kenneth Branagh's Henry V, for that matter. I don't know how historically accurate this all is and I don't care. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Antoine Fuqua would have been well-advised to rewatch The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance before making this. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend. (* ½ - this review applies to the unrated director's cut, which is bloodier and more violent than the PG-13 rated theatrical version. I can only assume the PG-13 version is completely useless.)


Wimbledon

Generic romantic comedy set in the world of tennis. Paul Bettany is a fading British tennis pro playing his last Wimbledon. Kirsten Dunst is the spunky American pro. Standard stuff made bearable by some interesting tennis footage that actually succeeds at making the sport look vaguely exciting. Bettany and Dunst are pleasant enough and it all goes down fairly easily, although I don't think there's a single surprise in the movie's entire 100 minutes. I suspect that the screenwriter first came up with the line, "In tennis, love means nothing!" and structured everything else around that. (**)


Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Van Helsing

Our product is never touched by human hands! Director Stephen Sommers calls this a tribute to the classic Universal monsters. Universal Pictures more honestly calls it an attempt to relaunch some dormant but profitable characters in a new franchise. In fact, it's a big old steaming dumperoo on the graves of Lugosi, Karloff, Chaney and their work. Unbelievably bad on every level, Van Helsing is big-budget studio product at its slackjawed worst. The good news is Van Helsing II now seems a remote possibility at best. (*)


And that'll do it for this week. Let me know what you think. Pass it along if you like. If you know someone who wants to get in on The Electric Theatre, have them drop me a line.

See you in fourteen.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


"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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