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Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #33
I've Got a Song Ain't Got No Melody


Jahnke's Electric Theatre - Main Page

Hey, gang. This is Jahnke's Electric Theatre coming at you with music and fun. And if you're not careful, you may learn something before we're done. So let's get started, OK? Hey, hey, hey!


The A-Picture - A Prairie Home Companion

I approach every Robert Altman film with a degree of cautious optimism. The man has been responsible for some of my favorite movies of all time, from acknowledged classics like Nashville to sleepers like The Long Goodbye. But on the other hand, he's also made some grueling torture sessions like Pret-a-Porter and Dr. T & The Women, movies so full of their own inflated sense of self-worth that you feel like slapping each and every person involved with their making. His latest, an adaptation (if you can call it that) of Garrison Keillor's long-running radio show A Prairie Home Companion, falls squarely on the plus side of his filmography. In fact, I wouldn't be at all surprised to see it end up on my year-end ten best list. This is a warm, joyous movie so full of energy and life that it's easy to overlook the fact that it's basically a movie about death. A Texas-based corporation has bought out the radio station that hosts A Prairie Home Companion and the movie takes place over the course of their final broadcast. The sprawling cast brings every ounce of their formidable talents to bear. There isn't a single miscast part in the film. Kevin Kline's gift for physical comedy is given a showcase in his performance as security chief Guy Noir. Woody Harrelson and John C. Reilly are ideally paired as singing cowboys Dusty and Lefty. Virginia Madsen is alluring and ethereal as the “Dangerous Woman”. But the highest praise must be reserved for Meryl Streep, Lily Tomlin and Lindsay Lohan. Streep and Tomlin are delightful as Yolanda and Rhonda Johnson, the last remnants of the singing Johnson Family (“Just like the Carter Family, only not famous,” Streep says). Lohan is a genuine surprise as Streep's rebellious daughter Lola. When she takes the stage to perform “Frankie and Johnny”, I defy you not to be moved. A Prairie Home Companion juggles multiple characters, stories and overlapping dialogue in the time-tested Altman style with precision and grace. This is the kind of heartfelt movie that makes you want to jump out of your seat and onto the screen to be in the same room as these people. And in its own quiet, Midwestern way, it's deeply profound. It's a movie that understands that a wake can be one of the most memorable, emotionally satisfying parties you'll ever attend. It's possible that you may actually have to be from the Midwest (or at the very least, a small town) to truly appreciate this film. It's tapping into a very particular way of living and a form of entertainment that could be completely alien to people who've lived their entire lives in the city. But for those on Altman and Keillor's wavelength, a sort of laid-back, stoic optimism that says hope for the best but expect the worst, this is a movie to cherish. It's the first movie this year that I immediately wanted to see again. (****)


Cars

I've learned many hard lessons over years of movie-going. One of the most recent I've had to add to my list is always give Pixar the benefit of the doubt. On more than one occasion, I've skipped a Pixar movie during its theatrical release only to regret that decision once I caught up with it on DVD. Finding Nemo was a particularly boneheaded move on my part. At the time, I thought it looked just awful. My bad. Cars, their seventh feature film, is unfortunately not up to their usual standards. Having said that, even half-baked work by Pixar is still in a league of its own, far surpassing just about every other animated movie out there. Owen Wilson voices Lightning McQueen, a cocky race car who gets stuck in the tiny forgotten town of Radiator Springs. Needless to say, he learns valuable life lessons from the townsfolk, including a sassy Porsche (Bonnie Hunt), a dilapidated tow truck (Larry the Cable Guy) and Doc Hudson (Paul Newman), the town's spiritual leader who's hiding his own racing past. For the first time, the ingredients of the Pixar formula are all-too apparent. The movie follows the standard Toy Story template, complete with a montage set to a treacly Randy Newman song that shows up exactly where you'd expect it. But the movie is so visually dazzling, its deficiencies almost don't matter. The movie is worth seeing just to sit back in your chair and let all the pretty colors dance around your eyeballs for a couple hours. While the screenplay doesn't operate at the same level of sophistication as some of Pixar's earlier movies, there are still a number of laughs that both adults and kids will appreciate and the details that go into creating this all-vehicle world are pretty impressive. Cars is a fun movie but Pixar's previous work has led us to expect much more than that. Sure, it's unreasonable to expect a masterpiece every time but John Lasseter and his team at Pixar set the bar up there themselves. I imagine they push themselves to greatness much harder than any critic ever could. (Oh, I should also mention that One Man Band, the short film that precedes the feature, is a charming and amusing little movie in its own right. Be sure to get to the theatre on time to check it out.) (***)


An Inconvenient Truth

Documentaries have unexpectedly become a sound counter-programming option for studios during the summer months and judging from the media coverage its receiving, An Inconvenient Truth is positioning itself to be this year's Fahrenheit 9/11 or March of the Penguins. That would be nice because this is an important and informative movie that has the potential to change the way people think. For years, Al Gore was an outspoken leader on the subject of global warming, researching the topic in depth and bringing his findings to the people through books, lectures and slide shows. His status as an eco-warrior was unfortunately (and, if you ask me, which you didn't, mistakenly) sidelined during his run for presidency. Now, Gore seems to realize that the issue has become much more pressing. With this film, he is attempting to inform as many people as possible as quickly as possible, trying to silence the debate over whether global warming is actually happening or not. Gore comes across quite well in this, laying out his research in a way that neither talks down to his audience or clouds their mind with impenetrable science-speak. Within the first hour, I think only the most closed-minded skeptic would still doubt that something is going very seriously wrong with our planet. The movie has two major problems as I see it. First, after convincing us that we are causing this problem, not enough time is spent on offering solutions about how we can help fix it. We're told it's still something that can be addressed but how? You have to sit through the end credits to get any real suggestions. The second problem is perhaps more serious. Getting Gore's message out to a wider audience is a noble goal but I'm not convinced that a feature film is the way to go about it. Quite honestly, the people who most need to see this movie probably won't. When faced with a decision at the multiplex between X-Men and seeing Al Gore deliver a 90-minute lecture on global warming, guess which movie most people are probably going to buy a ticket for? Earlier this year, Steven Soderbergh's Bubble caused a bit of a stir by shaking up the way movies are distributed, being released almost simultaneously in theatres, on DVD and on pay-per-view. Wouldn't a better choice for this kind of release have been something important like this instead of some obscure art film that 90% of the population probably doesn't want to see anyway? Better yet, trim the movie down by twenty minutes or so (my fellow liberal friends will hate me for saying this but the movie could probably lose some of the Al-Gore-Is-A-Good-Guy background material and benefit immensely) and show it on all TV networks simultaneously. An Inconvenient Truth spotlights a serious issue that could turn into a real crisis without immediate action. The movie should be seen by as many people from as many different backgrounds as possible. But I'm resigned to the probability that as it is, it probably won't. Please feel free to prove me wrong by going to see this movie. (***)


Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Omen

Is there anything less scary than a little kid trying to look menacing? Even a basket of fluffy kittens can be intimidating to an allergy sufferer but children with furrowed brows and jutting lower lips? It just ain't happening. This is something that was understood by Richard Donner when he directed the original Omen back in 1976 and is definitely not by John Moore in this thoroughly needless remake, created seemingly for no other reason than because somebody at Fox got a 2006 calendar early and got all excited when they realized the year would include 6-6-06. There's no point in summarizing the plot. If you've seen the original movie, you know exactly what happens in this one. Now as much as I enjoy Donner's The Omen, it's no horror classic. It's fun and scary in the same way a rollercoaster in the dark is and it's blessed with Jerry Goldsmith's classic score but that's about it. This Omen seems to think it's restaging Shakespeare in its strict adherence to the original's story. Stripped of any surprises, all Moore can offer is some effective staging of familiar scenes. And there are some interesting dream sequences that would have been scary in a better movie, plus one nifty decapitation (and again, if you've seen the first one, you know exactly which head rolls and when). But the unanswered question at the end of the movie is why bother? Liev Schreiber and Julia Stiles awkwardly inhabit the roles originated by Gregory Peck and Lee Remick. Peck's presence in the first movie lent it some much needed gravitas. Schreiber can't offer anything similar. And I'm not sure why the characters were made so much younger here. If they're trying to appeal to a younger demographic, you'd think they'd have hired bigger names than Schreiber and Stiles. With people having children later and later in life, now would have been the perfect time to remake a movie about an older couple having a child who turns out to be the son of Satan. But that's not what this movie is interested in. The Omen Redux is less a movie based on an earlier film than a movie based on a release date and just as uninspired as you'd imagine such a project would be. (* ½)


That's a wrap! Usually the next Electric Theatre would be coming out in two weeks on the 28th but expect a delay of a day or two. Apparently there's some big movie being released that day, Super... something or other, and I'll be including that next time out. Until then, don't forget to enjoy your Powder Milk Biscuits and stock up on plenty of Duct Tape.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Billy Preston and Gyorgy Ligeti

"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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