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page created: 10/17/05
originally published: 10/12/05





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #17
The Motion Picture


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Hello, Cleveland! Time to dim the lights, get comfortable with an assortment of your favorite fatty snax, and contemplate the ever-changing world of the Electric Theatre. And O, what sights we'll see, including a cartoon, one of the worst sequels ever produced, and a double feature of recent rockumentaries. But let's start things off with the latest movie from one of my very favorite filmmakers and a shoo-in for a spot on this year's ten best list.


The A-Picture - A History of Violence

David Cronenberg's newest film is a grim, adult, chilling, and always entertaining drama that can stand proudly alongside his very best work. High praise indeed, especially considering that just a list of Cronenberg's movies is a veritable litany of classics: Dead Ringers, The Fly, The Dead Zone, Videodrome, the list goes on. Viggo Mortensen gives one of the best performances of the year as Tom Stall, a family man whose life is torn apart when his diner is held up by a couple of traveling psychos. Tom stops the robbery, saving the life of everyone in the diner and becoming an overnight hero. But his new celebrity attracts the attention of some unwanted visitors, including a creepy and scarred Ed Harris, who think he's a former associate of theirs named Joey. Loosely based on a little-known graphic novel, Cronenberg has far surpassed his source material, crafting a somber and thoughtful meditation about the fragility of identity, the inability to escape the past, and the far-reaching effects of violence. Mortensen is amazing and he's matched in every scene by Maria Bello as his wife, Edie. A History of Violence is a haunting and powerful film, as well as Cronenberg's most accessible work since The Fly. This is a movie that will stay with you long after you've left the theatre. (*** ½)


Corpse Bride

Tim Burton's latest stab at his beloved stop-motion animation tells the story of Victor (voiced by Johnny Depp), engaged to be married to Victoria (Emily Watson). Nervous over the impending nuptials, Victor takes a walk and accidentally gets hitched to the title character (Helena Bonham Carter). Naturally, since this is a Burton movie, the world of the living is a stark grey like a moving Edward Gorey image while the land below populated by the dead is bright and colorful. Corpse Bride is great fun to look at but less enjoyable to listen to. The voice cast is top-notch but the story is pretty slim even by Tim Burton and/or animated film standards. And Danny Elfman's songs sound even more like carbon copies than usual. This isn't a bad movie but I didn't enjoy it nearly as much as The Nightmare Before Christmas and coming off of Burton's great Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, this is a disappointment. But it's disappointing only when compared to Burton's own work. By most other standards, this is pretty good. (***)


The Dancer Upstairs

John Malkovich made his directorial debut with this 2002 political drama. Javier Bardem stars as a police detective assigned to track down the leader of a guerilla movement somewhere in Latin America (countries are rarely named in movies like this). The Dancer Upstairs starts promisingly but loses its way around the halfway mark as the focus switches clumsily from Bardem's investigation to his growing infatuation with his daughter's dance instructor. For a better movie along these same lines, check out John Sayles' far superior 1998 movie Men with Guns. (** ½)


Edgeplay: A Film About The Runaways

The story of The Runaways, the late 70's rock band composed of jailbait girls including Joan Jett, Lita Ford and Cherie Currie, is definitely one worth telling in a documentary. Unfortunately, Edgeplay isn't quite it. In its favor, the movie is directed by former bass player Vicki Blue, giving the interviews a level of intimacy and access that a complete outsider probably wouldn't get. But there's a lot working against it too, primarily Joan Jett's absence. Also, perhaps if the movie had been made by someone who wasn't so close to the material, they'd have expanded their focus, talking to others who witnessed what was going on. And for a movie about the Runaways, there aren't a whole lot of Runaways songs on the soundtrack. Still, I liked this band and their story is compelling enough on its own that the movie is worth checking out if you were a fan. (** ½)


End of the Century: The Story of The Ramones

A much, much better rock doc telling the story of one of the ten best rock bands ever. End of the Century follows the Ramones from their humble beginnings in Queens to their eventual status as one of the most influential bands of the past quarter century, a reputation achieved without ever getting much commercial success, radio airplay or even respect from mainstream rock critics. End of the Century casts a wide net, talking to all the Ramones, the musicians they influenced, childhood friends and family members, all set to the band's pounding, unrelenting beat. Like The Last Waltz, this movie should be played loud. It's fast, funny, and a great tribute to a band long overdue for some respect. (*** ½)


The Exorcism of Emily Rose

Mixing the horror and courtroom drama genres is not necessarily an inherently stupid idea. Done right, I can see how this cinematic combo meal could be kind of tasty, setting the unexplained against a backdrop where facts do battle with rhetoric. The Exorcism of Emily Rose, however, doesn't do it right. Tom Wilkinson plays a priest on trial for negligent homicide when the young girl he believes is possessed dies while under his care. Laura Linney is the hot-shot lawyer assigned to defend him, while Campbell Scott is the conservative prosecutor. The cast is good and there are some effective moments but they're countered by far too many scenes that we've seen before. Probably the best thing I can say about this is that it's better than either of the recent attempts at an Exorcist prequel. But better don't make it good. (**)


Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Bridget Jones: The Edge of Reason

Blimey! Our Bridge has gone all soft in the head, hasn't she? This misbegotten follow-up shoves Renee Zellweger back on screen as chick lit's favorite heroine, now head over heels in love with Mr. Darcy (Colin Firth). Of course, that rotter Hugh Grant can't be far behind to toss a spanner into the works. I made it about half an hour into this piece of garbage before giving up. In that time, I got to see Renee Zellweger parachute ungracefully into pig shit, fall off a roof into some bushes, and humiliate herself verbally about half a dozen times. At this rate, I assume the rest of the film sees her tarred and feathered, shaved bald as a cueball, forced to do the Funky Chicken in a clown suit, and ultimately dressed in a corset while wearing hideous makeup, sitting in a crib and eating dozens and dozens of hard-boiled eggs like Edith Massey in Pink Flamingos. Terrible stuff.


And that'll do for now. I'll see you good folks back here again in fourteen days when, no matter what else happens, it'll at least be October. Until next time, rock over London! Rock on Chicago!

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Robert Wise

"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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