let's give this a try, shall we?
Welcome to Jahnke's Electric Theatre.
Here's how it works. Every two weeks, I'll be providing little
mini-reviews of the movies I've seen over the preceding fourteen
days. (I've chosen Tuesday evenings to send this out for no
particular reason other than it's Tuesday right now and I have
nothing better to do.) The best movie will be spotlighted at the top
in a little feature called The A-Picture.
Likewise, the most unendurable flick I suffered through will have
the bright light of shame cast its way in the Hell
Plaza Octoplex. Between these two extremes will be
everything else (in alphabetical order, not in order of preference).
I'll also give each title a star-rating, ranging from
**** (signifying a classic of
the highest order) to *
(signifying a film whose makers owe me an amends).
I should point out that while I certainly hope this thing steers you
toward some good movies you might otherwise have skipped, I am not
doing this to discourage you from seeing something I thought stunk
on ice. Everyone's taste is their own and what works for me isn't
always going to work for you and vice versa. No doubt if you feel
I've missed the boat on something, you'll let me know in no
uncertain terms. Please do. My mind can be changed... sometimes.
So having said all that, let's start this thing, huh? I've got a
surprisingly large number of movies to kick things off. Since I've
still been playing catch-up on last year's movies, everything this
week hails from the year 2004. That ain't gonna happen again, I can
promise you. This week's A-Picture
almost certainly would have landed on my Top Ten list had I seen it
in time. And I'd have added another screen to the Hell
Plaza Octoplex to include this week's bottom-feeder on my
A-Picture - The Aviator
My opinions of the movies Martin Scorsese has made since 1990's
GoodFellas have ranged from "OK"
to "all right, I guess". None of them have been bad. All
of them have had individual elements that I thought were terrific.
But none of them have been great. Until now. The
Aviator is Scorsese's return to form. A smart, lavish
epic in which the size and scope of the film match the subject.
Howard Hughes didn't do anything halfway, so it's no surprise that
Scorsese's biopic matches him excess for excess. It's clear that
Scorsese is in love with the period and the setting. His glee at
recreating the golden age of Hollywood radiates off the screen.
Leonardo DiCaprio is excellent as Hughes, which shouldn't surprise
anyone who remembers how good he was in movies like What's
Eating Gilbert Grape and This
Boy's Life. And Cate Blanchett does wonders with the
unenviable job of playing Katharine Hepburn. It's a long movie (and
not one of those long movies that feel shorter than they really are)
but it needs to be. The Aviator
deserves every one of the Oscar nominations it just received and,
much as I love Million Dollar Baby,
I hope it wins. Clint's got his Best Director trophy. It's long past
time Scorsese got one, too. And if he wins for The
Aviator, it isn't just a career recognition award. He's
earned it. (*** ½)
Cerebral science fiction movie takes place in a future in which
genetics dictates everything from what countries you can or cannot
visit to who you can mate with. Tim Robbins plays a fraud
investigator who has an affair with Samantha Morton. But because
they're too genetically similar, they're in violation of Code
46. I really tried to like this movie and came close at
times. It looks great and actually has a brain in its head, unlike a
lot of recent sci-fi movies (see below). But it's also painfully
slow and so obtuse at times that figuring it out becomes a chore.
And frankly, it's not so clever or original that performing that
chore is all that rewarding. (** ½)
Silver-haired Tom Cruise is a hitman who recruits unlucky cab
driver Jamie Foxx to drive him around L.A. while he makes his
rounds. A pretty entertaining action movie, slightly smarter than
most of its type. Cruise isn't as laughably miscast as I'd assumed
from the trailer and Foxx is quite good, though I'm not sure he's
Best Supporting Actor Oscar nomination good (for one thing, it's not
even a supporting role, really). Like all of director Michael Mann's
films, Collateral is a
great-looking movie. And even when logic takes a holiday in the last
15 minutes, it remains enjoyable. (***)
Zach Braff (star of NBC's Scrubs)
makes his debut as indie film auteur in this OK comedy-drama. Braff
stars as a TV actor who goes home to New Jersey for his mother's
funeral and spends his time avoiding his dad (a miscast Ian Holm),
hanging out with his old friends, and falling in love with kooky
Natalie Portman. Garden State
has a couple of scenes that are genuinely touching and heartfelt.
But those scenes are surrounded by lots of forced, self-conscious
quirkiness that does nothing other than call attention to itself.
And I really hated the college-radio soundtrack. On the other hand,
Braff did make a visually interesting movie, which is something that
most first-time independent filmmakers never do with a script like
this. (** ½)
The comment I made about those recent sci-fi movies that are as
dumb as a bag of hammers? Applies here. Will Smith is robot-hating
(rocist?) Chicago detective Del Spooner and you'd best believe the
reasons Del hates robots will be revealed in a tinted flashback
about halfway through the movie. Anyhoo, Del's investigating the
apparent suicide of robot designer James Cromwell. Del thinks robots
did the deed but that's crazy talk because the First Law of Robotics
says robots are incapable of harming humans! Whaaaaaaa??? Loud and
stupid with a handful of neat ideas and details sprinkled
intermittently, presumably thanks to director Alex Proyas (who made
the infinitely superior Dark City
and The Crow). Needless to
say, this is very, very tangentially related to the titular stories
by Isaac Asimov. (**)
The Arthurian legend, Braveheart-style.
Based (ostensibly, anyway) on the life of the historical Arthur,
this version casts Clive Owen in the title role and Keira Knightley
as Guinevere. There's lots of talk about the Roman Empire and the
Saxons and Arthur struggling to accept his destiny, none of which is
what most people want to see when they sit down to watch a movie
called King Arthur. Long and
drawn-out with some OK battle sequences but nothing you haven't seen
before in better movies like Braveheart
or Excalibur or Kenneth
Branagh's Henry V, for that
matter. I don't know how historically accurate this all is and I
don't care. Producer Jerry Bruckheimer and director Antoine Fuqua
would have been well-advised to rewatch The
Man Who Shot Liberty Valance before making this. When the
legend becomes fact, print the legend. (*
½ - this review applies to the unrated director's cut, which is
bloodier and more violent than the PG-13 rated theatrical version. I
can only assume the PG-13 version is completely useless.)
Generic romantic comedy set in the world of tennis. Paul Bettany is
a fading British tennis pro playing his last Wimbledon. Kirsten
Dunst is the spunky American pro. Standard stuff made bearable by
some interesting tennis footage that actually succeeds at making the
sport look vaguely exciting. Bettany and Dunst are pleasant enough
and it all goes down fairly easily, although I don't think there's a
single surprise in the movie's entire 100 minutes. I suspect that
the screenwriter first came up with the line, "In tennis, love
means nothing!" and structured everything else around that.
Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Van Helsing
Our product is never touched by human hands! Director Stephen
Sommers calls this a tribute to the classic Universal monsters.
Universal Pictures more honestly calls it an attempt to relaunch
some dormant but profitable characters in a new franchise. In fact,
it's a big old steaming dumperoo on the graves of Lugosi, Karloff,
Chaney and their work. Unbelievably bad on every level, Van
Helsing is big-budget studio product at its slackjawed
worst. The good news is Van Helsing II
now seems a remote possibility at best. (*)
And that'll do it for this week. Let me know what you think. Pass
it along if you like. If you know someone who wants to get in on
The Electric Theatre, have
them drop me a line.
See you in fourteen.
"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