#45 - Welcome to the Monkey House

Dedicated To
Kurt Vonnegut
1922 - 2007

Added 4/16/07

Greetings, monkey-shiners. Welcome back to Jahnke’s Electric Theatre. It’s just like Oprah’s Book Club, only without the books. Or the author interviews, although I did once make James Frey feel uncomfortable. And you read it on your computer instead of watching it on TV. And being chosen for the Electric Theatre seems to have no demonstrable effect on how much money a movie makes. But other than that, they’re exactly the same. On with the show!


Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters

Do yourself a favor. If you’re not a fan of Cartoon Network’s Aqua Teen Hunger Force or if you’ve never seen an episode before, don’t watch this movie. If you can’t make it through fifteen minutes of Matt Maiellaro’s and Dave Willis’ absurdist animated fare, you’re not going to have a better time with 86 minutes of it. But if you’re a fan, this Movie Film for Theaters is a blast and a half. Story is not a strong suit (or even a passing concern) of the series, so it should come as no surprise to find that the movie makes about as much sense as a fridge full of magnetic poetry assembled by a brain-damaged spider monkey. It has something to do with our heroes Frylock, Master Shake and Meatwad battling an exercise machine called the Insano-Flex alongside the Plutonians, Oglethorpe and Emory, the Cybernetic Ghost of Christmas Past, and the Mooninites, Ignignokt and Err. This all has something to do with the sinister Dr. Weird and the origin of the Aqua Teens. If you’ve never seen an episode of the series, all of the above is completely meaningless to you and if I tried to explain it, it would just get worse. Suffice it to say that if you like this stuff (and don’t feel bad if you don’t), you shouldn’t be disappointed. This isn’t as ambitious as South Park: Bigger, Longer & Uncut, nor does it make any effort to improve the rudimentary-at-best animation used on the show. But really, how animated are a giant cup, a wad of meat and a floating box of fries going to get anyway? This movie is every bit as strange as David Lynch’s Inland Empire, half as long and twice as entertaining. Plus you don’t have to waste a lot of time afterwards trying to figure out what it all means. Aqua Teen Hunger Force Colon Movie Film for Theaters may just barely qualify as a motion picture but as a longer version of the usually hilarious series, it’s a winner. I laughed ‘til I produced moisture. (* * * ½)


There aren’t many movies this year I’ve wanted to see less than Disturbia and this may well be the ideal frame of mind in which to approach it. Surprisingly, it’s not half bad. Only about a third, really. Shia LaBoeuf stars as a high school kid with anger management issues after his dad dies in a car crash. Sentenced to house arrest for three months, he spends his time watching his suburban neighbors through binoculars. In short order, he falls for the hot chick next door and suspects another neighbor (David Morse) of being a serial killer. Thanks to LaBoeuf’s performance and the relatively restrained direction of D.J. Caruso, this Pee-Wee Rear Window actually hits all the right notes for its first two acts. It all falls apart in the end, of course, after the bad guy takes about a bucket of stupid pills and makes a series of decisions which can only land him in jail or the grave. But at its best, Disturbia reminded me of the 80s teen thrillers I grew up with like Gotcha! and The Manhattan Project. If you didn’t like those movies either, you aren’t going to have much fun with this. Nobody’s going to mistake LaBoeuf for James Stewart or Caruso for Hitchcock anytime soon. But considering that their intended audience probably thinks a thriller is just a PG-13 rated horror movie, Disturbia offers some modest charms. (* * ½)


Sleeping Dogs Lie

About fifteen years ago, Bobcat Goldthwait made his directorial debut with Shakes the Clown, the Citizen Kane of alcoholic clown movies. Since then, I and the tiny, tiny handful of people who love that movie have been eagerly awaiting his next movie. And if Sleeping Dogs Lie isn’t quite the instant cult classic that Shakes was, it’s perhaps even more surprising. This is a clever, funny romantic comedy about Amy, a young woman who, in keeping with her fiancé’s desire to have no secrets between them, tells him something she’s never told anyone. Namely that she once…oh, how to be delicate about this…well, there’s no way really...fellated her dog. Sleepless in Seattle, this ain’t. But as shocking as the set-up is, what’s really shocking about this movie is how smart it is about the minefield of honesty in relationships. Melinda Page Hamilton is great as Amy, funny, charming and keeping the premise rooted in sometimes heartbreaking reality. The supporting cast, including Bryce Johnson, Colby French, Jack Plotnick, Geoff Pierson, Bonita Friedericy and Brian Posehn, are equally good. If you can get past the premise, you’ll discover a very good movie that slipped through the cracks. (* * *)

Happy Feet

I had wanted to see this when it played theatrically last Christmas but frankly, couldn’t find anyone else that did and I really didn’t want to see it by myself. Loathe as I am to admit it, all my friends who didn’t want to see this were on to something. Elijah Wood voices Mumble, an emperor penguin who can’t sing (like apparently penguins do) but can dance up a storm. Needless to say, he’s shunned. To prove himself, he sets off to find out what’s been diminishing their fish supply. Basically, this is March of the Penguins meets Moulin Rouge with a dash of An Inconvenient Truth and it’s as awkward a fit as you might expect. Technically, the movie is flawless but the story is nowhere near as sure-footed as its penguin hero. It ambles along fairly aimlessly for awhile, then takes a somewhat unexpected turn in the last third that leads to a problematic finale that suggests that all that needs to happen for us humans to stop ravaging the planet is for the animals to learn better tricks. I’d had hopes for this movie since George Miller’s last stab at a family film was the criminally underrated Babe: Pig In The City. Unfortunately, Happy Feet has the dubious honor of being the first George Miller film to let me down. (* *)


Nelofer Pazira stars as an Afghan-born woman who fled with her family for Canada years ago. She receives a letter from the sister she left behind threatening to kill herself on the day of the last eclipse of the century, so she undertakes the perilous journey through Afghanistan back to Kandahar to save her. Directed by Iranian filmmaker Mohsen Makhmalbaf, Kandahar is an episodic film that paints a grim picture of conditions in Afghanistan. Dramatically, the movie isn’t quite as compelling as it should be. Individual scenes play out more like illustrations of what life is like rather than as moments that drive either the characters or the story forward. Even so, what we see is interesting enough to make Kandahar worth a look. (* * *)

The Saga of Gösta Berling

This week’s out-of-left-field selection: a three-hour-plus silent Swedish epic from 1924! Yep, the fun never stops at the Jahnke house. Lars Hanson stars as Gösta Berling, a defrocked priest with a weakness for women and booze. He signs on as a tutor for a young girl at a wealthy estate but loses his position when the girl, who has fallen in love with him, learns about his past. He becomes the twelfth member of the Knights of Ekeby, a group of outcast drunks taken in by a countess who inherited her estate from her lover, unbeknownst to her husband. Directed by Mauritz Stiller, this is a long, dense film with a large cast of intersecting characters, including a beyond-beautiful Greta Garbo as Berling’s true love. It’s not as significant or impressive as some films of the era but it’s never dull and some scenes, including a night-time chase across a frozen lake, are spectacular even today. (* * *)

Your pal,