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page created: 11/23/05
originally published: 11/22/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #21

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Oh, hi. Nice to see you again. A bit early, I realize. I'd been planning on doing this Wednesday, as usual, but then I remembered that we've got a little thing called Thanksgiving on Thursday. Meaning that there would be a very great likelihood that you all wouldn't get this until Monday. And that just wouldn't do at all, would it?

At any rate, things are slowly getting back up to speed here at the Electric Theatre. Not quite as many theatrical releases as I’d hoped to include thanks to a quick trip to Chicago (and a fond hi-de-ho to all of you Electric Theatre-goers who made my visit such a great time). But I do have a good mix of new, relatively recent, and downright old movies submitted for your approval, most of which are pretty good. And yet, this week's A-Picture isn't a movie at all. Ain't that peculiar?

The A-Picture - Rome

HBO's ambitious series wrapped up its first season this past Sunday and if you don't get that particular channel or, for whatever reason, didn't feel like watching another show on HBO on Sunday nights, I urge you to keep your eye out for the inevitable DVD release. At first glance, I wasn't entirely certain I’d enjoy this series myself. At best, I thought it might be Deadwood with togas. At worst, Caligula: The Series. But Rome steadily carved out its own identity thanks to top-notch performances by its large ensemble cast, a shrewd weaving of historical figures and fictional characters, and production and costume designs that would be impressive on the big screen and are downright stunning on the small. Kevin McKidd and Ray Stevenson made an amusing, often moving team as Lucius Vorenus and Titus Pullo, our common-man, down-to-earth witnesses to such larger than life figures as Julius Caesar. The first season tackled a big chunk of history and my biggest complaint with the series is that it was often difficult to keep track of how much time had elapsed. But that was a minor complaint compared to some of the great moments the first season provided, culminating in a shocking, thrilling and very, very bloody arena fight in the second-to-last episode. Toga pictures, as they were once called, have been a cineplex staple ever since Ridley Scott dragged them kicking and screaming into the 21st century with Gladiator. I've seen most of them and haven't really cared much for any of ‘em, including Gladiator. Season one of Rome beats them all, hands down. (*** ½)

Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Year four at Hogwarts finds the now adolescent Harry competing in the Tri-Wizard Championship or some such nonsense. Fans of J.K. Rowling's books no doubt know exactly what happens and will only find fault in whatever description I come up with and the rest of us don't really care. At any rate, as a movie, Goblet of Fire is a step backward from Alfonso Cuaron's work on Prisoner of Azkaban. Mike Newell takes over as director and he does a fine, if uninspired job. But compared to Prisoner, Goblet is visually pretty flat. Plus, the pace of the movie seemed off to me, somehow. None of these Potter movies are notable for their brevity but Goblet of Fire seemed excessively long to me. And yeah, I know it's a long book but if the movie feels long, that means they could have cut even more of it. And with each movie, I'm more and more convinced that Rupert Grint, the redheaded moptop who plays Ron, is the only one of these young actors with a tinker's chance in hell of having any kind of post-Potter acting career. Still, Goblet of Fire is fairly entertaining and has at least a handful of fun and impressive sequences. Plus, as near as I can tell, most of my complaints with this series are complaints with the source material and not the films themselves. But that still makes this the least satisfying of the Potter films since Chamber of Secrets. (** ½)

Walk the Line

I've always held Johnny Cash close to my heart so it was important to me that James Mangold's biopic, Walk the Line, did the man and his music justice. Thankfully, it mostly does. Joaquin Phoenix is extraordinary, nailing the sound and the attitude of J.R. Cash. He might not be a dead ringer in the looks department but it’s close enough in the right light and at the right angle. Reese Witherspoon is also very good as June Carter and it’s fitting that Walk the Line is mainly a love story, albeit unrequited love for most of the picture. The movie's disappointment is that it's just so conventional. Is there actually a law on the books that dictates the form a music biopic must take? Sure seems that way, considering how few ever break the norm. At least Oliver Stone's The Doors tried to do something different, whether you thought it succeeded or not. I’d have loved to see this movie directed by someone who was as innovative with film as Johnny Cash was with music. Mangold does a decent job but you can set your watch by the dramatic beats of this movie. Even so, the best scenes in Walk the Line are really something special. I loved Cash's audition in front of Sam Phillips and the Folsom concert. These are four-star scenes in a three-star movie. (***)


World's sexiest man Matthew McConaughey (People Magazine's call, not mine) stars as Dirk Pitt, a hero with an unlikely name who travels the world seeking historical curiosities. He and wacky pal Steve Zahn are looking for a Civil War ironclad that supposedly wound up in Africa when they hook up with Penelope Cruz, a sexy doctor with the World Health Organization tracking a mysterious plague. Sahara is no Raiders of the Lost Ark. Hell, it’s barely even a Mummy remake. Crammed full of inappropriate Southern rock on its soundtrack and racing from setpiece to setpiece, Sahara feels like it was inspired by those low-budget Raiders clones from the 80s like King Solomon's Mines instead of the genuine article. I've seen far worse movies than this but few as completely and utterly disposable. (**)

The Harmonists

Inspired by the true story of a popular German singing group in the years leading up to World War II, this 1997 film does a workmanlike job of dramatizing a fascinating story. The Comedian Harmonists were enormously popular when the Nazis came to power, which marked the beginning of the end for this half-Jewish sextet. I enjoyed this movie but I suspect I’d enjoy a documentary on the same subject even more. (***)


Martin Scorsese's 1997 film based on the life of the fourteenth Dalai Lama is almost certainly his most overlooked project. I know I’d overlooked it until recently. It deserves to be better known. Kundun is good, often very good, with truly breathtaking images and impressive performances from a cast of non-professional actors. But I think it would have been a better film if Scorsese had gone all the way and allowed the dialogue to be subtitled. As it is, it’s an occasionally uncomfortable combination of Scorsese's Hollywood influences and his appreciation of the films of Satyajit Ray. At its best, however, Kundun rivals Bertolucci's The Last Emperor, which bears certain similarities to this. (***)

She Wore a Yellow Ribbon

John Wayne's an officer in the U.S. Cavalry, days away from retirement, who leads his last patrol through hostile Indian territory with the added burden of having to escort two women to a settlement. Directed by John Ford, this is not the best Ford/Wayne team-up but it’s still fun to watch. The color cinematography is beautiful, capturing Ford's beloved Monument Valley at its very best. Wayne is in good form and he's given a nice farewell scene, but the young supporting cast is pathetically bland. Only Ford veteran Victor McLaglen brings any fun to his part. The movie’s also way too long, seeming to end and then continuing at least three times by my count. But if you're a fan of either John Ford or John Wayne, you should find this as enjoyable as I did. (***)

Here endeth another fortnight at The Electric Theatre. If you missed the last Bottom Shelf, shame on you! Click on over and feast your eyes on reviews of the Steve Martin classic The Jerk, John Waters’ Cry-Baby and, lest we forget the past, The Daily Show with Jon Stewart: Indecision 2004.

Enjoy your Thanksgiving. I'll catch you all on the other side of your tryptophan coma in December. Have a good holiday and don't forget the popcorn, jelly beans and buttered toast.

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Dedicated to Link Wray

"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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