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page created: 12/23/05
originally published: 3/1/05





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #3
Fear & Loathing


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Howdy. Welcome back to your Electric Theatre. No outside food or drinks allowed and keep the aisles clear at all times.

So how'z about them Oscar awards, huh? Funny how the year with no clear front-runner turned out to be one of the most predictable Oscars in recent memory. Personally, I think the best thing that could happen to the Academy Awards is for them to be taken off of network television and moved to cable. Then they could be as self-indulgent and boring as they want and not even try and produce a marginally entertaining TV show. I mean, if those were seriously the five best songs they could come up with, why not just give the category a rest for a year? But on the plus side, Chris Rock was very funny, Sean Penn once again proved himself to be the most humorless prig in Hollywood, and I live in the Pacific Time Zone so the whole ordeal was over before 9PM for me.

Anyway, the Oscars are what they are and if you really think they're an accurate barometer of quality and endurance, then please enjoy rewatching Driving Miss Daisy. As for this year, Million Dollar Baby is a terrific movie and it's about damn time Morgan Freeman won something. Otherwise... whatever.

Now on to this week's batch of wonders and oddities. Once again, the Hell Plaza Octoplex stands vacant. Who'd have thunk it?


The A-Picture - La Comunidad (Common Wealth)

If you're a long-time recipient of my annual top ten lists (which is possible) and actually remember them (which is unlikely), you may recall seeing this title back in 2001. At the time, I apologized for including it because it didn't have an American distributor, which meant you probably weren't going to get to see it but it was just too damn good to leave off the list. Well, guess what? Now you can see it and it's just as good as I remembered. It's been released on DVD and should be available through Netflix and better video stores (i.e. Scarecrow in Seattle or Facets in Chicago). I posted a longer review of this in my last column over at The Digital Bits if you're still not convinced. For now, just know that La Comunidad is extremely funny, unpredictable and will probably make you want to seek out other films directed by Alex De La Iglesia. At which point you will be again be frustrated by their lack of distribution in the U S of A. Sorry. (****)


California Split

Robert Altman's 1974 character study of two compulsive gamblers is almost completely unburdened with plot, rambling, disjointed, yet compelling and worth checking out. George Segal stars as a magazine writer who spends more time digging himself further and further into debt than actually writing. He meets kindred spirit Elliott Gould at a poker table. Together, they bet on everything and anything, sometimes coming out ahead but more often just getting by. Altman's usual overlapping dialogue routine wears on the nerves more than usual here but Gould and particularly Segal keep you watching. I've seen more than a few gambling movies (the recent Owning Mahowny is one of my favorites) and this one ends up in basically the same place but doesn't quite take the same road getting there. (***)


Constantine

Anyone familiar with the character of John Constantine from the comic book Hellblazer can be forgiven for expecting this movie version to suck, bite and blow. Casting Keanu Reeves is rarely a good decision and having him embody the blond, British, Sting-inspired Constantine seemed particularly perverse. Well, the good news is that Constantine does not suck. But if that's the highest praise you can give a movie... you're probably better off investing your entertainment dollar elsewhere. The movie starts off well with some nifty demon-slaying and the discovery of yet another key-to-world-domination in some Mexican ruins. But about halfway through, the fun just kind of drains away, as if the filmmakers just woke up one morning having lost interest in the project. Constantine isn't a bad movie. It's just kind of there. However, if you do choose to see this, I can promise you there isn't likely to be a more eccentric performance this year than the one Peter Stormare gives as Lucifer. Hey, as long as he was keeping himself interested, more power to him. (** ½)


Deadwood: The Complete First Season

OK, technically this isn't even a movie. But in preparation for the premiere of Season Two this Sunday, I did myself a favor and watched the first year of HBO's fascinating, profane western. I refused to get involved in the series when it was first broadcast and now realize that was a mistake. This is an awfully good series, totally gripping and even if the history isn't completely accurate (though I suspect it's closer than you might think), it paints a vivid picture of life in the Black Hills. And this might just be the best ensemble cast on television... even better than The Sopranos. If you don't get HBO, check out the first season on DVD. Those of us who are into it already can't wait to catch up with Al, Cy, and Jane on Sunday. (*** ½)


Pennies from Heaven

Last time, I was talking about Dennis Potter's 1978 miniseries starring Bob Hoskins. But for most of you, if you're familiar with this title at all, it's through the 1981 feature film starring Steve Martin. If you're not familiar with either one, you should be. Martin gives one of his best performances in this dark sort-of-musical (as does Bernadette Peters, for that matter). The musical numbers are nothing short of stunning and the mood is remarkably consistent with the BBC original. Again, there's a longer review in my last column comparing both versions of Pennies. Dennis Potter was one of my favorite writers and Pennies from Heaven shows him at the beginning of his best period. Very highly recommended. (*** ½)


The Roaring Twenties

Nobody did gangster pictures like Warner Bros. back in the day. The Roaring Twenties isn't the best of that cycle but it's still very entertaining. James Cagney, Humphrey Bogart, and Jeffrey Lynn become buddies during World War I, then find hard times upon their return home. Cagney turns to bootlegging, building a criminal empire and eventually partnering up with his psychotic old friend Bogart. The script for this is standard rise-and-fall, crime-does-not-pay stuff but the direction by Raoul Walsh and performances by Cagney and Bogart lift it up. (***)


And that's where we'll leave it for another couple of weeks. Y'all come back now, ya hear?

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Dr. Hunter S. Thompson... buy the ticket, take the ride

"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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