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page created: 12/1/05
originally published: 3/29/05





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #5
Infinity and Beyond


Jahnke's Electric Theatre - Main Page

Hi, crime-stoppers! Lots to cover this week, so let's swing wide the doors of your Electric Theatre, shall we? Yes, let's.


The A-Picture - The Incredibles

I'll keep this one short. I'm assuming that I'm the last person to jump on this particular bandwagon and you already know how great The Incredibles is. On the off chance you don't, rest assured, it's great. Colorful, kinetic, exciting, smart, funny and about a zillion times more imaginative than any ten live-action movies. But you probably don't need me to tell you that, since everyone else in the world saw this before I did. I would, however, like to toss in a plug for a bandwagon that I did climb aboard before most folks and that's the one in support of director Brad Bird's previous effort, The Iron Giant. Where The Incredibles ranks in regard to other Pixar features is irrelevant. What's important is that it's as good as Bird's last movie. The Iron Giant is flat-out one of the best animated movies of the 1990s. Most people didn't see it and that's a shame. The Incredibles will likely be one of the best animated movies of this difficult-to-name decade. Lots of people have seen it and I couldn't be happier. (*** ½)


Easy Riders, Raging Bulls

Based on Peter Biskind's superior non-fiction book of the same name, this documentary is yet another in the recent mini-wave of retrospective looks at cinema of the 1970s. The problem with this kind of thing is the implication that movies were great back then and they suck now and that's just not entirely true. Biskind's book does a better job balancing the lionization of the films and filmmakers of the 70s with the hard truth that most of these directors went power mad and started making very expensive movies, most of which weren't nearly as good as the ones that made them famous in the first place. Plus, anytime you see a movie or TV special on this subject, you can pretty much bet the farm on who you're going to see interviewed and, in that respect, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls doesn't disappoint. All the usual suspects are trotted out and propped up in front of the camera, including Peter Bogdanovich, Peter Fonda, Dennis Hopper, Roger Corman and John Milius. Don't these guys ever get tired of telling the same stories? Still, Easy Riders, Raging Bulls is a well-made, entertaining and occasionally sardonic overview of the subject with some anecdotes I hadn't heard before, including a couple good digs at George Lucas. (***)


The Gambler

No, not Kenny Rogers, sorry to say. James Caan stars as a college English lit professor who doesn't know when to hold 'em and when to fold 'em. The fact that I watched this so soon after seeing Robert Altman's similar California Split is sheer coincidence, swear to God. Regardless, The Gambler (which actually came out the same year as California Split) isn't nearly as good as Altman's film. Caan gives a good performance and the best parts of the movie focus on his efforts to borrow money and pay back debts. But motivations that are implicit and unsaid in Altman's movie are spelled out in pointless detail here. The Gambler isn't a bad movie but it's definitely a case of if you've seen one, you've seen 'em all. (**)


Hostage

After spending a few years beneath most radars, Bruce Willis is back in business. I'll be able to tell you next time if his turn in Frank Miller's Sin City kicks as much ass as I suspect it will. Until then, Hostage is a perfectly swell little thriller. Bruce stars as a former hostage negotiator for the LAPD who takes a job as chief of police in a small town in Northern California after he burns out on the crazies in Los Angeles. Unfortunately, bad things happen everywhere. Three thrill-seeking kids (including one who's genuinely crazy) invade the home of an extremely rich mob accountant. Thing is, they don't know whose home they've invaded. Hostage isn't a great movie by a long shot. The plot isn't exactly airtight but it's all done with urgency and just enough intelligence so that you don't feel insulted. This is the kind of meat-and-potatoes thriller they don't make much of anymore. After years of overwrought, overshot and overdirected action flicks, I was perfectly happy to see a movie like Hostage. (***)


Killer Nun

Anybody who doesn't want to watch a movie with a title like Killer Nun can leave right now. Those of you who are left (and, I might add, the only honest people among you) get comfy and enjoy a little classic of nunsploitation. Anita Ekberg stars as the morphine-addicted Sister Gertrude. The patients in her hospital keep turning up dead. Is Gertrude the Killer Nun? Or is it her lesbian junior partner, Paola Morra? According to the opening credits, this is all based on a true story that took place in "a Central European country not many years ago"! Can you prove it didn't happen? Without question, this is one of the best movies about buxom lesbian nuns starring a past-her-prime Italian sexpot I've ever seen. (*** on the nunsploitation scale)


The Loveless

Willem Dafoe's first starring role was as the leader of a 50s biker gang in this homage to Kenneth Anger's Scorpio Rising. The trouble with The Loveless is that Scorpio Rising was already an homage to (and deconstruction of) The Wild One with Marlon Brando. So this quickly turns into the snake consuming its own tail. On its own standards, The Loveless is a great-looking film with an astonishing amount of period detail for such a low budget and some terrific music. But the pace is glacial and I was never entirely sure what the point of all this was or even if there was one. Co-director Kathryn Bigelow would hit it out of the park with her next movie, the brilliant Near Dark. Her partner, Monty Montgomery, stopped directing after this and became a much better producer than he was director, going on to work with David Lynch on Wild at Heart and Twin Peaks. (**)


Sabrina

Billy Wilder was responsible for a number of brilliant films that can truly be described as classics. I don't think Sabrina is one of those films but it is an enjoyable enough romance. I've never been a huge Audrey Hepburn fan but she's very charming as Sabrina. For me, the best reason to watch this is for the clever casting of Humphrey Bogart as Linus. It's a funny and relaxed performance with Bogart showing no signs that he was concerned about playing against type. I knew what they were trying to do by casting Harrison Ford in the role in the 1995 remake and that's the difference between the two films, despite the fact that I thought the remake was pretty good. In the new version, you can see them trying. Here, it just is what it is. (***)


Smithereens

The second best movie of the past two weeks, Smithereens is Susan Seidelman's low-budget 1982 debut film. Susan Berman stars as Wren, a NY street punk who gets through life by latching onto others and promoting the idea that someday she too will be famous. For what, no one quite knows. When Smithereens first came out, it was probably considered a thoughtful and captivating character study. Today, it's that and a time capsule of a vanished New York City. Smithereens is a terrifically entertaining movie with a great soundtrack by bands like The Feelies and Richard Hell and the Voidoids. It perfectly captures the transitionary period between punk and new wave. (*** ½)


Stage Beauty

It's England in the 18th Century. Women are forbidden by law to appear on stage, so male actors play all the female parts. But when that law is overturned, the most renowned female impersonator finds himself out of work, unable (or unwilling) to play men's parts and not allowed to play women's. Richard Eyre's film has its moments and the subject is interesting. Billy Crudup gives a good performance, although I'm not entirely sure he's believable as the most beautiful woman in London. I also enjoyed the fact that Claire Danes' character (the woman who becomes famous by breaking the law) is, by her own admission, not much of an actress. But the movie drinks liberally from the Shakespeare in Love well. By the film's climax (in which Crudup and Danes single-handedly invent method acting in the span of about twenty minutes), I'd checked out. (** ½)


Nothing for the Hell Plaza Octoplex this time around, so I guess that concludes our business at the Electric Theatre for another fortnight. See you in fourteen with more good times and great oldies.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Dorris Burke

"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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