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page created: 3/23/06
originally published: 3/22/06

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #28
A New Hope

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Faith ‘n’ begorrah, sure’n if it isn’t time for another trip to The Electric Theatre. I hope you all had a happy St. Patrick's Day, whether it was spent down the pub in Belfast reminiscing about the Troubles or on the couch at home eating a bowl of Lucky Charms. I've got a handful of movies to throw at you this week and since I'm not really sure where to start, let's do things in reverse alphabetical order! Whoa! Hold on!!

Now in Theatres...

V for Vendetta

This is, I suppose, this week's A-Picture but let me say right off the bat, I have reservations about it. I have said many times that movie reviews should not get hung up on comparing films to their source material. Movies are not books, books are not movies, and which one is “better” doesn't really matter because they are different mediums working in different ways. It's like saying an éclair is better than a taco. Sometimes it is, sometimes it isn't. It all depends on what you want out of your food. Consequently, I will attempt the impossible here and try to forget that V for Vendetta, the graphic novel illustrated by David Lloyd (I will respect the writer's wishes to have his name kept off this project), is one of my favorite comic books and ignore the fact that this film adaptation is almost nothing like what I hoped a movie version of this story would be like. I will deal with the movie as its own entity and as such, it's pretty darn good, especially in its second half. But the march to that second hour seemed occasionally clumsy and awkward to me. The domino pattern that is the story (to borrow the film's most inspired visual metaphor) is laid down without much subtlety. That seems to have been sacrificed in order to make room for scenes of V showing off his kung fu and knife-throwing moves. These scenes are cool and, I suppose, what most people want from a movie written by the Wachowski Brothers and produced by Joel Silver but it's not what I want from a dark sci-fi allegory a la 1984. Still, there's much to admire including some great cinematography by the late Adrian Biddle, amazingly detailed production design that'll probably wear out at least a few “pause” buttons when this movie hits DVD, and a uniformly excellent cast. Natalie Portman gives a go-for-broke performance as Evey. Stephen Fry was an inspired choice to play talk show host Deitrich. And Hugo Weaving's voice is a perfect match for V, though I'm not prepared to rave about what a great physical performance he gave. Considering he was hired after the movie began shooting, I'm not at all convinced that Weaving is the only actor behind the mask. And if he is, he certainly didn't need to be. For all I know, this performance was delivered by a combination of Weaving, the actor he replaced, a stuntman or two, and a Team America puppet. At any rate, while I didn't whole-heartedly love V for Vendetta, it's certainly a much, much better movie than it could have been. The road to The Hell Plaza Octoplex is littered with horrible films based on intelligent and literate comic books. Happily, V for Vendetta is not one of them. It's stylish, exciting and cathartic, yet intelligent enough to make you think about what it is you're applauding. But the book is better and you should all read it after you see this. (***)


If I sounded a little wishy-washy on calling V for Vendetta this week's A-Picture, let there be no doubt that Ultraviolet reigns supreme in The Hell Plaza Octoplex. This is a perfect cautionary tale about the dangers of playing Movie Roulette. That's what you're playing when you just show up at a theatre and buy a ticket for whatever the next movie is. This is just mind-numbingly awful. The story has something to do with a future society where a man-made plague has turned a fair number of the population into “Hemophages” or “vampires” (don't be scared... it seems to just be a euphemism as they don't display any vampiric traits I'm familiar with unless I missed the part in Dracula about the ability to change the color of your hot leather outfit at will). Milla Jovovich stars as Violet, a rebel Hemophage who's sent to intercept some kind of ultimate weapon. Turns out the weapon is one of the worst child actors I've ever seen in a major motion picture. She spends the rest of the movie trying to protect the kid. I can't imagine how this thing even snuck into theatres. The fight scenes are either poorly executed or done off-screen entirely, the wooden performances give wood a bad name, and I've downloaded better computer effects from About fifteen minutes into this movie, I realized I'd forgotten to turn off my cell phone. I left it on and prayed for someone to call. (*)

The Libertine

Johnny Depp stars as John Wilmot, the Earl of Rochester, in this oft-delayed costume drama. Rochester was a drunk and a lech but also a prodigiously talented writer and poet. These gifts provide both his salvation and his downfall at the court of King Charles II (John Malkovich). I liked about half of this movie. Depp gives his usual reliably excellent performance, as does Malkovich. The period details feel authentically gritty and the screenplay by Stephen Jeffreys (adapting his own play) is both literate and engaging. But I was disappointed when Samantha Morton turned up as an actress who Depp trains. I feel like we (or at least, I) have seen more than enough period dramas about the stage at this point. Also, for the first time ever I found myself wishing a film had been directed by Peter Greenaway. The music by Michael Nyman helped put me in a Greenaway state of mind, I'll admit. But the film could have been helped a great deal by a director with a wider visual palette than Laurence Dunmore displays here. It appears the movie was shot entirely with natural light, along the lines of Kubrick's Barry Lyndon. The difference is that Kubrick's movie looks fantastic. The Libertine is dark, monochromatic, and singularly unattractive. It's worth watching for Johnny Depp but it's a close call. (** ½)

The Hills Have Eyes

Alexandre Aja's remake of Wes Craven's 1977 shocker doesn't deserve a place in the Horror Remake Hall of Fame alongside Carpenter's The Thing or Cronenberg's The Fly, but neither does it deserve to be dumped alongside Van Sant's Psycho. Once again, a typical American family in an RV gets stranded in the desert and find themselves besieged by hill people. But this time, the hill folk aren't just deranged savages. They're bona fide mutants, twisted out of proportion in both body and mind by American nuclear testing decades earlier. So yeah, the social commentary is substantially more ham-handed this time around. And I have to say there was no reason for this movie to be shot in Morocco instead of right here in the good old U S of A. Don't tell me it was for budgetary reasons. You could make this thing for half what they paid for it, easily. But the movie delivers where it counts, ultimately becoming one of the most vicious and grim mainstream horror movies I've seen in a long time. I actually liked this a little better than Aja's debut, High Tension, a movie so seriously undone by its atrocious finale that it's like watching a house of cards collapse in front of your eyes. The Hills Have Eyes at least holds itself together throughout its running time. Aja has style and mood to spare. If he can get his hands on a script to match, he might yet produce a real classic. (***)

Now on DVD...

Oliver Twist

I had somewhat high hopes for this 2005 adaptation of the Dickens novel. Roman Polanski is a great, great filmmaker, no matter what anybody says, and I love Charles Dickens and this book in particular. And while I can't say I was disappointed, it wasn't the definitive Dickens film I was hoping for. Young Barney Clark is very good as Oliver, the orphan with an air of melancholy about him, and Polanski and screenwriter Ronald Harwood do an admirable job cramming the novel into just over two hours. Ben Kingsley is almost totally unrecognizable as Fagin and while his performance is certainly entertaining, it doesn't flesh out the character as much as it should. Oliver Twist is a handsome, well-mounted production and if it isn't as surprising or engaging as one might like, that's only because the story itself is so familiar. Barring an eight-hour BBC production, this is likely as good as you can ask for. And yeah, the book is better. (***)

I'm afraid that's all I've got for you this time out. Before we call it a day, however, I'd like to call your attention to the little long distance dedications that conclude these articles/columns/blogs/whatever-you-wanna-call-ems. Usually The Electric Theatre is dedicated to someone who passed away during the previous two weeks, an artist usually whose work and/or life touched mine in some way. It's my little way of paying tribute and saying thanks.

This week's edition is a little different. Instead of dedicating The Electric Theatre to someone gone, I thought I'd salute someone who's just joining us. Over Christmas, my wife Tisha and I were honored to be asked to be godparents by friends of ours who were expecting. On Thursday, March 9, at around 11 AM, Felix David Vu-Schura premiered. It is to him that this week's Electric Theatre is dedicated with heartfelt congratulations going out to Florian and Fawn. I shall try to be worthy of my post.

Now if you'll excuse me, I have to go make somebody an offer they can't refuse. See you all in the cruelest month (that'd be April, for those of you who aren't big T.S. Eliot fans).

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Dedicated to Felix David Vu-Schura

"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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