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page created: 12/1/05
originally published: 5/10/05





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #8
Saludos Amigos!


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Holy jumpin' beezers, Electric Theatre-goers! Have I got a bumper crop of flicker-shows for you this time around. Twelve, count 'em, twelve movies! New and old, foreign and domestic, comedies and tragedies, fiction and non. And while I didn't love 'em all, none of them were such a dog's breakfast that it was necessary to open the Octoplex this time. So let's get to it, shall we?


The A-Picture - Los Angeles Plays Itself

The relationship between Los Angeles and the film industry is a strange and incestuous one. For proof, just look at some of the freakishly deformed offspring of their union now playing at a theatre near you. Thom Andersen's extraordinary visual essay takes an in-depth look at that relationship, showing how movies have depicted, shaped and misrepresented the city over the years. Los Angeles Plays Itself is made up almost entirely of clips from almost a century's worth of L.A.-based and shot films, everything from Laurel & Hardy's The Music Box to Ridley Scott's Blade Runner, from Chinatown to Who Framed Roger Rabbit, from the film noir of Billy Wilder to the underground work of Andy Warhol. What Andersen reveals is fascinating and revelatory. The point of view is affectionate but critical, casting both the city and these movies in a whole new light. At almost three hours, Los Angeles Plays Itself is both exhaustive and a little exhausting. But it's a must-see for anyone who has ever lived down here in the City of Angels. If you're lucky enough to have a screening in your area, catch it while you can. (*** ½)


All About Lily Chou-Chou

This 2001 Japanese film runs a close second for this week's A-Picture. Lily Chou-Chou is a (fictional) pop star and the object of obsession for Yuichi, the teenaged moderator of an online chat room devoted to her. Online, Yuichi is a disembodied voice of authority but in real life, he's a sad, put-upon kid whose life revolves around shoplifting, crime, and some very brutal friends. All About Lily Chou-Chou is a complex and involved picture that demands close attention from the viewer. But it's also haunting, moving and surprisingly beautiful. This is the kind of movie that stays with you for days afterward. (*** ½)


La Commare Secca

The first movie directed by legendary Italian filmmaker Bernardo Bertolucci can boast an interesting structure and some terrific cinematography but not much else unless you're a student of Italian cinema. Made in 1962, the film follows the investigation into the murder of a prostitute as a detective interrogates various suspects. Each character recounts their actions the day of the murder, though what we see doesn't always agree with what they're saying. Not bad and certainly worth watching if you're an aficionado of either Bertolucci or original writer Pier Paolo Pasolini. But if you're not, it's easily skippable. (** ½)


Eyes Without a Face

When you think French cinema, horror probably isn't the first genre that pops to mind. But this creepy 1959 film by Georges Franju can easily hold its own with any of the better-known horror classics of the era. Pierre Brasseur stars as a surgeon whose life work is to perfect a method of regenerating dead skin (the "heterograft"). His primary subject is his daughter, whose face was irreparably damaged in a car accident caused by the good doctor himself. To conduct their experiments, the doctor and his assistant kidnap young girls and attempt to transplant their faces onto the daughter... and Franju doesn't spare the details in the face-transplant scene. It's surprisingly graphic, especially by 1959 standards. Edith Scob is wonderfully disturbing as the daughter, floating through her gothic house wearing a blank, expressionless mask. Eyes Without a Face is a darkly poetic minor classic of the genre that deserves a wider audience. (*** ½)


Finding Neverland

Any movie with the combined talents of Johnny Depp and Kate Winslet can't help but be at least mildly interesting. Even so, my expectations were not high for Finding Neverland. The Peter Pan story has never done much for me in any of its incarnations. And for the first 30-45 minutes of this film, I was mainly just watching politely while Depp as J.M. Barrie puts together the jigsaw pieces that eventually form Peter Pan. But when the movie finally got around to the first performance of that play, it won me over with its unforced, surprisingly genuine sentiment. I don't think the fantasy sequences worked as well as they might have (check out the truly brilliant Lewis Carroll pastiche DreamChild to see fantasy better integrated with real life). But Finding Neverland is undeniably sweet, charming and entertaining. (***)


The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy

Going into this very long-awaited adaptation of Douglas Adams' novel, I had two major, mutually exclusive concerns. The first was that the movie would not be faithful to the spirit of the book I knew and loved. The second was that it would be so faithful to it that it completely alienated my goodlady wife Tisha, who has never read the book and would likely think me an even bigger nerd for liking this Pythonesque space fantasy. Amazingly, the filmmakers put my mind at rest on both counts. The movie version of Hitchhiker's Guide is just about as good as could be expected and in some ways better than I'd dared hope. As soon as the opening credits rolled underneath a rousing musical number performed by dolphins, I knew they'd pretty much captured the essence of this supremely silly book. The entire cast is ideal but highest praise must go to Sam Rockwell's manic Zaphod Beeblebrox and Alan Rickman, who was put on this Earth to provide the voice of Marvin. Is it a perfect movie? Nah. It drags a bit here and there and the lack of any real plot makes things feel overly chaotic at times. But it isn't a perfect book, either. It is, however, a fun, energetic movie that I suspect Douglas Adams would have enjoyed. I know I did. (***)


Jiminy Glick in Lalawood

OK, here comes one of those reviews that throws into doubt every other opinion I've ever put forth about anything. ("But Adam," I hear you say, "all of your reviews are like that." Har-de-har-har, funny man.) For the uninitiated, Jiminy Glick is the rotund, impossibly shallow entertainment reporter created by Martin Short. He has now graduated from Comedy Central's Primetime Glick to his own feature film and I, for one, found it hilarious. The wisp of a plot has Glick and his wife Dixie (Jan Hooks) and their twin boys, Matthew and Modine, traveling from their home base in Butte, Montana to the Toronto Film Festival. While there, Glick becomes a highly sought-after reporter and gets wrapped up in a dreamlike murder mystery presided over by none other than David Lynch (another spot-on Martin Short impersonation). But the plot is just an excuse for a string of hysterical, improvised bits, many of which feature such game celebrities as Kiefer Sutherland, Kevin Kline and Steve Martin (Glick: "How do you react to bad reviews, Steve Martin?" / Martin: "Well, Buster Keaton got a lot of bad reviews." / Glick: "No, not really. Not like you.") Jiminy Glick in Lalawood isn't in the same league as such recent improvised comedies as Waiting for Guffman but when it works, I thought it was side-splitting. I can't wait for the DVD, which I assume could have a whole entire movie's worth of deleted scenes and outtakes. (***)


Kingdom of Heaven

The latest epic from Ridley Scott tackles no less a subject than the Crusades and makes them seem... well, pretty dull, really. No one doubts Scott's ability to make a visually spectacular film. He's been doing that on a regular basis for over two decades now. And sure enough, Kingdom of Heaven looks great, with eye-filling cinematography, production design and costumes. But the story lurches along when it should stride confidently forward. Orlando Bloom may well be the coolest elf in Middle-earth but as a knight inspiring awe and confidence in his men? Not so much. Kingdom of Heaven is very busy and expensive but narratively, it's a bit of a snooze. (**)


Naked States

Photographer Spencer Tunick made his rep by taking pictures of nudes in public places. This movie, directed by Arlene Donnelly, documents Tunick's project to travel the country and do his thing in each state. This is fine, as far as it goes. Some of the pictures are certainly excellent and there are several amusing encounters along the way. But the movie has plenty of flaws. First off, Tunick himself can be pretty grating but Donnelly never seems to press him on any issues. Yes, what he's doing is art but it's also kind of a stunt and nobody asks anybody about that aspect of it. Plus, it's all fairly repetitive. Some of the interviews with Tunick's subjects are interesting and even touching but most are variations on the same theme. Hard to believe this is just one of three different documentaries made about this guy. (**)


Rendez-vous

Juliette Binoche had her first major role in this 1985 French drama from director Andre Techine. She plays a naïve actress newly arrived in Paris who casually seduces men and uses them until they catch on to her game. Her game turns dangerous when she meets Quentin, a former actor who now works in a live-sex show and proclaims his obsessive love for her. From there, things just get stranger and more mysterious. Binoche is great, as she almost always is, and Techine keeps things moving right along, not falling into the trap of elongating scenes to the breaking point that plagues so many French art films. Rendez-vous is no classic but it's always a treat to see Binoche and it's certainly unusual and interesting. (***)


Saint Jack

I try very hard to not like Peter Bogdanovich and usually he makes it pretty easy for me. However, I can't deny that his best films are really very, very good. Saint Jack, from 1979, is one of his least-seen but most interesting movies. Ben Gazzara stars in the title role, an American expatriate living in Singapore during the early 1970's, running brothels for tourists and soldiers stationed in Vietnam. Gazzara gives a terrific, lived-in performance and the on-location cinematography by Robby Muller captures the seedy side of Singapore perfectly. Saint Jack also boasts one of the strangest pedigrees I've ever seen. Based on a Paul Theroux novel whose rights were owned by Hugh Hefner (credited as executive producer) and produced by Roger Corman! (***)


Sympathy for the Underdog

Oh, how I loves me some Yakuza! The late, great Kinji Fukasaku directed this nifty little Japanese thriller back in 1971. Koji Tsuruta stars as a middle-aged yakuza just released from prison. He gathers together what remains of his old crew and attempts to start a new racket far from Tokyo on the island of Okinawa. Naturally, it won't be easy. Sympathy for the Underdog is a tough, violent picture with memorable characters, exciting action and bright, vivid photography. If you haven't seen any movies in this genre, start with Fukasaku's Yakuza Papers cycle, Battles Without Honor & Humanity. Once you've made your way through those, check out Sympathy for the Underdog if you're still hungry for more. (***)


Well, that should give you plenty to chew on 'til next time. This is the Electric Theatre signing off for another fortnight. See you all again in fourteen. Enjoy every sandwich.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Joe Grant

"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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