#48 - The Black Cauldron

Dedicated To
Lloyd Alexander
1924 - 2007

Added 5/21/07

Bonjour, mes amis. Welcome back to Le théâtre électrique. Summer’s here and to help you navigate your way through the glut of movies that will be assaulting your senses over the next few months, I’ve decided to start ordering the films in order of preference again with the best movies at the top. I figure you don’t need me to tell you that Spider-Man 3 is playing but it might be helpful for you to know that Waitress is also out there and offers an infinitely better return on your entertainment dollar. Which means that it’s time for the long-awaited return of both The Hell Plaza Octoplex and…


The A-Picture - Paris, je t'aime

As much as I like the concept of multi-director omnibus films, I’ve hardly ever seen one that I really liked. At best, you usually end up with something like Twilight Zone: The Movie, which does offer a couple of good segments for those patient enough to make it through the unbearable first half. More often, the result is something like Aria, a dispiriting effort that wears you down with the sight of all these talented filmmakers fumbling the ball over and over again. Paris, je t’aime is a wonderful exception, 18 brief vignettes exploring the City of Light, most revolving around the theme of…what else? L’amour. While some are inevitably more successful than others, there isn’t a truly bad one in the bunch. Some of the highlights: Joel and Ethan Coen trap tourist Steve Buscemi in the metro; Tom Tykwer shows the entire evolution of a relationship between a blind student (Melchior Beslon) and an actress (Natalie Portman) in just a few short minutes; Alfonso Cuarón eavesdrops on a walk-and-talk between an American man (Nick Nolte) and a much younger French woman (Ludivine Sagnier). Two of the shorts are particular stand-outs, however. Gérard Depardieu and Frédéric Auburtin co-direct a wonderful Cassavetes-esque segment with Gena Rowlands and Ben Gazzara as a married couple on the eve of divorce. Finally, Alexander Payne provides a perfect travelogue from an American tourist (Margo Martindale) on vacation. The segments don’t always flow together as well as you might like. The best way to watch this movie may be at home, where you can close your eyes briefly and take a sip of wine between each segment to cleanse the palate before the next. Plus, it’s easy to gripe about filmmakers who should be represented here but aren’t (où est Jean-Pierre Jeunet, par exemple?), the cumulative effect of these different impressions is magically transporting. Even the odd ones, like the Christopher Doyle or Vincenzo Natali segments, or the underwhelming bits, like Wes Craven’s cute but slight vignette, have something to offer. I’ve read that the producers of this film plan to apply this concept to other cities, including New York and Tokyo. I hope it’s true and I hope the result matches the line-up here. Paris, je t’aime, c’est magnifique. (* * * ½)

28 Weeks Later

I was a bit surprised to discover there are horror fans that intensely dislike Danny Boyle’s 28 Days Later. Personally, I think it’s a terrific, intense and genuinely scary little horror item. That said, I saw no need to revisit it with a sequel. The original stands perfectly well on its own. And while 28 Weeks Later certainly isn’t the direct-to-video disaster it easily could have been, I didn’t think it quite lived up to the hyperbole it’s been receiving. It starts off very well with Robert Carlyle and Catherine McCormack as a married couple holed up in a house with a handful of other survivors who abruptly come under attack by zombified creatures infected with the “Rage” virus. Things slow down after that as we focus on the repopulation of Britain in a sector of London controlled by the American military. But before long, the virus is loose again and all hell re-breaks out in Un-Merrie Olde England. 28 Weeks Later goes down plenty of the expected sequel roads, introducing Americans into what had been an all-British milieu and throwing a couple kids into the mix. But director Juan Carlos Fresnadillo delivers where it counts, filling the movie with an air of despair and dread and ratcheting up the tension in the horror set-pieces. And if this must become a franchise, as apparently it must, the open-ended conclusion here is one of the better sequel set-ups I’ve seen in a long while. 28 Weeks Later doesn’t carry the same punch as the original film. Much of the repopulation business seemed reminiscent of George Romero’s recent Land of the Dead, a fine movie but not one that’s so great that it’s worth ripping off. Still, this is a scary, entertaining ride, much better than it could have been and leagues ahead of most recent horror movies. (* * *)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Shrek The Third

I’ve never hid the fact that I don’t have kids when I’m reviewing movies aimed at the pee-wee crowd, so if that makes me overly harsh on them, mea culpa. Nevertheless, Shrek The Third doesn’t hold a candle to its overrated forebears and I’ll hold that position until the end. This time around, Shrek (that’d be the big green ogre voiced by Mike Myers) finds himself in line to be king of Far Far Away unless he can find a replacement. The only other option is Artie (the once and future Arthur, voiced by Justin Timberlake), a picked-on teenager at Worcestershire High School. Meanwhile, Shrek’s wife Fiona (Cameron Diaz) is pregnant and mean-meanwhile, the vain Prince Charming (Rupert Everett) has concocted a scheme of his own to take the throne. With all this going on, you’d think Shrek The Third would be a bit more memorable. It isn’t. I did laugh a few times but by the end credits, I’d completely forgotten what jokes had produced those chuckles. After some thought, I remembered one of them but it wasn’t really a laugh, more a satisfied smile at the well-done conclusion of a predictable set-up involving Snow White. Given the redemptive conclusion of this movie, I really don’t see what they can do with the inevitable Shrek 4, unless they go ahead and make the R-rated Shrek movie they’ve clearly always wanted to make. Shrek The Third isn’t just instantly forgettable, it’s concurrently forgettable. If you see it, you may want to jot the occasion down on your calendar so you remember that you’ve seen it and don’t rent it again when it comes out on DVD. (* *)


Following Sean

In 1969, filmmaker Ralph Arlyck was living at Haight and Cole in San Francisco, pretty much ground zero for the counterculture. Looking around for a subject for a student film, he trained his camera on Sean Farrell, the four-year-old son of his upstairs neighbors. Thirty years later, he began to wonder what ever happened to Sean and his folks. If all Following Sean had to offer was Arlyck’s meditations on what the 60s were all about, it would probably still be pretty interesting. In fact, it’s a moving, surprisingly personal look at family, politics and growing older. Sean, happily, turns out to be a normal, well-adjusted guy going through the same problems we all face. So does Ralph Arlyck and his movie is a low-key, heartfelt gem well worth seeking out. (* * *)


In 2002, filmmaker Lucky McKee burst onto the horror scene with the terrific low-budget May starring Angela Bettis. Roman is one of the more intriguing filmmaking experiments to come down the pike in a long while. Written by McKee, it can almost be considered the flip side of May, with Bettis directing McKee in the title role as a solitary welder obsessed with his beautiful neighbor (Kristen Bell). Imagine if Robert De Niro had directed Martin Scorsese in a microbudgeted movie shortly after the release of Taxi Driver and you’re on the right track. Roman is a modest but disturbing little movie, uniformly well acted and, like May, infused with a real sense of dread as well as sympathy for the main character. McKee is certainly a better director than he is an actor and the reverse can probably be said for Bettis, though both acquit themselves very well here. Roman isn’t one of the best horror films in recent years but it is one of the more entertaining and captivating examples of no-budget indie horror movies you’ll see. (* * *)

A Perfect Couple

Since the death of Robert Altman last year, I’ve been trying to catch up with his earlier films that I’d missed. A Perfect Couple, unfortunately, is far from his best work. Paul Dooley and Marta Heflin star as a couple paired up through computer dating. He comes from a strict, tight-knit conservative family of antique dealers. She’s part of an equally strict (in its own way) rock performance collective improbably named Keepin’ Em Off The Streets (led by Ted Neeley from Jesus Christ Superstar). This was apparently Altman’s stab at a romantic comedy and it falls flat. Elements bear his signature style but far too much time is spent on the mediocre rock stylings of Keepin’ Em Off The Streets. It’s as if Altman was more interested in promoting the fictional band than in telling his story, which wasn’t all that compelling to begin with. This one is for Altman completists only. (* *)


And now, Secrets of the Electric Theatre Revealed! I’ve occasionally referred to a writer named Danny Peary in these columns. He and his books were some of the biggest influences on me as a film critic. Years ago, I picked up his book A Guide for the Film Fanatic, in which he lists over 1,000 movies that he suggests anyone with a serious interest in movies must see. Since then, I have dutifully tried to track down and watch every last one of those movies. So when you see an odd retro DVD choice here, the silents, the classics, the exploitation faves, odds are you have Danny Peary to thank for it. Hallelujah is one of them, the first studio movie with an all-black (or as the trailer puts it, “all-colored”) cast. Daniel L. Haynes stars as Zeke, a cotton-picker who gets taken for a rube by a femme fatale (the amazingly sexy Nina Mae McKinney) and her dice-rolling boyfriend. After he hits rock bottom, he becomes a traveling preacherman. Hallelujah is more interesting than entertaining, though the underrated director King Vidor contributes at least a couple of amazing sequences that make this worth a look and ahead of its time. It’s also unusual in that it’s sort of a musical but with authentic spirituals, work songs and jazz instead of the usual over-produced show tunes. Even so, this 1929 feature isn’t something you’d recommend to casual moviegoers to expose them to the early days of cinema. It’s of great interest to students of film history and African-American Studies, rough going for everyone else. (* * ½)

Your pal,