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Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #31
Let the Games Begin


Jahnke's Electric Theatre - Main Page

Greetings once again, lovers of the filmic arts. I hope you're having a great summer, full of barbecues, softball games, trips to the beach, and hangin’ out down by the pool. And don't give me that old “but it isn't even Memorial Day yet” excuse. According to the tastemakers in Hollywood, summer officially kicked off two weeks ago. And as George Clooney told us at the Oscars recently, Hollywood is ahead of the curve on most everything so you'd better catch up. Put on those bathing suits and go for a swim! Hollywood doesn't care if it's too cold and neither should you.

I'll get to the currently released crop of would-be blockbusters in a moment but, to the surprise of hopefully no one, they aren't my A-Picture this week. In fact, I have two excellent movies to recommend before we put our brains in neutral, so let's dive right in.


The A-Picture - United 93

I watched the controversy surrounding Paul Greengrass’ United 93 unfold with some fascination. By now you're no doubt familiar with the hue and cry. Is it too soon? Should the film have been made at all? The whole thing was very revealing. Not so much about the unresolved emotions Americans are still struggling with almost five years after 9/11 but about the assumptions and prejudices people have toward film. I can promise you, if this had been a novel or a play or a TV-movie, there would have been none of this. Indeed, the same story already has been a TV-movie, the similarly titled Flight 93. If you missed the uproar over that version, it's because there wasn't any. But when the story is told as a feature film with a theatrical release and major studio money behind it, suddenly it becomes a major issue. Partly because the theatrical movie-going experience is so overwhelming. Other mediums offer escapes. You can put a book down. TV offers periodic breaks in the action and on the few channels that don't, most television sets are still smaller than you. Even live theatre has the artifice of its sets to remind you that what you're watching is staged. But film surrounds you, filling your eyes and ears. Also, Hollywood doesn't exactly have a great track record when it comes to telling true stories with honesty, integrity and sensitivity. It isn't impossible to find films that succeed at doing so. It's just really, really hard.

Fortunately, United 93 is one of those rare exceptions. Did those story need to be told? Absolutely, and the fact that it was told so soon after the actual event gives the film an immediacy that a later production would have lacked. What the terrorists pulled off on 9/11 was nothing short of an extraordinary act of war. The only thing more chilling than their plan is the fact that we were unable to stop it from happening. Greengrass cuts back and forth from flight 93 to events unfolding with the military, the FAA and at Air Traffic Control centers in New York, Boston and Cleveland. Almost everyone's first reaction to being told of a possible hijack situation is, “Seriously?” And of course, it would be. No one thought such a thing was a possible back then. Meanwhile, the tension builds on flight 93 and Greengrass expertly puts us right there on board the plane. These passengers took truly heroic action that day. Most of us will never have to make such a sacrifice and this film gives us as much of an idea of what it takes to do just that as we're likely to want. I didn't know what to expect from United 93. I personally did not lose anyone that day. Like so many of us, I watched things unfold from thousands of miles away on television. If you're like me, the memory of 9/11 is burned in your mind forever but the real impact of it has faded with time. United 93 vividly reminds us of a day we should never forget or allow to be diminished by the vagaries of memory. If you think you're not ready to watch it, you're probably right and you shouldn't. This is an shatteringly intense, deeply powerful and moving film. One day, when 9/11 has become history instead of a current event whose repercussions are still being felt and, quite frankly, are far from being resolved, United 93 will stand as a tribute to those who lost their lives that horrible day in 2001. (****)


Art School Confidential

Terry Zwigoff hasn't really made enough movies yet to be considered one of my favorite filmmakers but he's getting close. Ghost World was my pick of the best film of 2001 and now he's reunited with writer/artist Daniel Clowes for a caustic satire set in the easily-parodied world of fine art and art school. And if Art School Confidential isn't as assured as their previous collaboration, it's still top-notch. Max Minghella stars as Jerome, a freshman at the Strathmore Institute majoring in drawing and painting. He claims to have aspirations to be a great artist but is in fact much more interested in winning the heart of Audrey (Sophia Myles), a life model he's been nursing a crush on ever since seeing her photo in Strathmore's brochure. John Malkovich is very funny as Jerome's bored professor and Jim Broadbent is great as a burned-out Strathmore alum. This movie isn't for everyone. There are virtually no sympathetic characters, although I thought Matt Keeslar was very likable as Jonah, Jerome's mysterious rival. When I saw this, I could literally feel the audience rejecting the movie as the main character became less tolerable. I thought it was a gamble that paid off. Art School Confidential is as nihilistic and cynical a movie as you're likely to find but it's staged with wit and intelligence. If you're unable to embrace its ice cold worldview, steer clear. I thought it was a jolting tonic to the vapid, cookie-cutter sameness of so many other campus comedies. (*** ½)


Mission: Impossible III

OK, blockbuster time. Tom Cruise returns as Ethan Hunt, the IMF agent we've followed through two previous impossible missions. Now he's about to get married and pulled back into the field to rescue a protégé who's been kidnapped by Philip Seymour Hoffman, an arms dealer after the Rabbit's Foot, a device that... well, the movie never actually bothers to explain what exactly it does but it must be bad ‘cause he wants it so much. TV guru J.J. Abrams has been handed the directing reins for this installment and he delivers at least two really good action sequences that are almost worth the price of admission. Almost. M:i:III is a step up from the last movie, a ridiculous affair which almost succeeded as a John Woo self-parody. I had two main problems with this movie. The first is the same as I've had with every one of these movies. Tom Cruise simply looks ridiculous when he runs or does any kind of big physical action. His voice goes way up high when he gets excited and he gets these goofy looks on his face when exerting himself. I probably would too but then again, I'm not trying to headline a major action franchise. Second, I can understand Cruise and Abrams wanting to mix things up by going the “this time it's personal” route with this. But really, who cares? We've only seen this character in two other movies and have only the vaguest idea who he is. Hell, I could barely remember his name was Ethan in the over-half-a-decade wait between sequels. Even so, Hoffman makes for a memorable villain and it's fun to see him in a movie he actually got paid for, for a change. Abrams is a skilled director of over-the-top action and I'll consider seeing whatever he does next. But if this turns out to be the final Mission, I won't shed too many tears and I doubt anyone else will either. (** ½)


Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Poseidon

Never before have I seen a movie that seemed so costly and employed so many people that seemed so lazy. 1972's The Poseidon Adventure is no American movie classic, no matter how many times it might turn up on that channel, but it's good fun if you're in the mood for some disaster cheese on the high seas. The only reason Poseidon exists at all is because somebody somewhere thought it would be cool to see a ship turn over using today's visual effects. And indeed it is. For about five minutes, the good ship Poseidon capsizes in full CGI-enhanced glory, rendered in fetishistic detail with bodies floating around and tiny computer-generated chairs sailing out of windows. It's pretty neat, providing you can get past the idea that the crew of a ship with more high-tech naval gadgets on board than a nuclear submarine doesn't notice a “rogue wave” roughly the size of the Continental Divide until it's literally right on top of them. But after that, you're stuck with characters from a Random Movie Generator struggling through standard Perils-of-Pauline-style pitfalls as they scramble for a way up and out. There's Kurt Russell as the former mayor of New York, Emmy Rossum as his firebrand daughter, Josh Lucas as a professional gambler who may actually be named Grifty McGrift, and Richard Dreyfuss as a suicidal gay architect nursing a broken heart. And they've got to cross chasms, and they've got to shimmy up air ducts, and they've got to swim underwater for a lung-achingly long time, and you've seen every one of these disaster scenarios done in a zillion other movies, usually much better. Wolfgang Petersen is a fine director (Das Boot) who occasionally makes some incredibly ludicrous crap (Outbreak) but usually even his crap is more entertaining than this. If nothing else, however, Poseidon does earn my respect for being one of the only remakes I can think of that is actually shorter than the original. At just 99 minutes, Poseidon is a waste of time but at least it's not a waste of a lot of time. (* ½)


That'll do it for this week. Next time, I'll attempt to unravel The Da Vinci Code and I'll take a stand either for or against X-Men: The Last Stand. And since the current TV season is wrapping up, maybe I'll even have some thoughts on the last year's worth of shows like 24 and Lost. Until next time, keep on truckin'.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated (long overdue) to Noa Jahnke-Lesire... congratulations Peter and Rachelle from Uncle Adam

"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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