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page created: 10/12/05
originally published: 7/19/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #12
High and Low

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Hi-de-ho, everybody! Welcome to yet another installment of the Electric Theatre. I don't know how it is where you are but here in Los Angeles it's too darn hot, as the song goes. Perfect weather for ducking into a comfy air conditioned theatre and sitting in the dark for a couple hours, yes? So naturally, I'm here slaving over a hot computer watching the thermometer rise. Brilliant, I know.

At any rate, the last two weeks saw me head down to San Diego for the annual nerd mecca known as Comic-Con, so I don’t have quite as many hits on my hit list this time around. But most of it's quite good, so why don’t we get to it, eh?

The A-Picture - Crimen Perfecto (Perfect Crime)

OK, listen up. For over five years now, I've been telling anyone who'll listen (and many who won't) about the great Spanish filmmaker Alex de la Iglesia. Hardly anybody has paid any attention. That's all right. I harbor no ill will. After all, most of his films are ridiculously difficult to find in this country. But he has a new one which will be coming to theatres in major cities soon and to DVD later on, so here's your big chance. The good news is that it's one of his very best films, right up there with the brilliant La Comunidad. Guillermo Toledo stars as the slick, womanizing lead salesman of the ladies’ wear section of a huge metropolitan department store. He's in a competition to become floor manager with Don Antonio, his doppelganger in mens’ wear. The battle takes an unexpected turn and Toledo finds himself in cahoots with one of his least desirable saleswomen (a brilliant performance by Monica Cervera) to keep events, which rapidly spin out of control, from being discovered. I don’t want to say too much because part of the fun of this movie is how unexpected each new development is. Nobody mixes the tension of a thriller with flat-out hilarious comedy quite like Alex de la Iglesia. Crimen Perfecto (or Crimen Ferpecto as it's technically called... it makes sense in the movie) is one of the funniest movies I've seen in ages as well as one of the most exciting. Everything gels perfectly (or ferpectly if you prefer), from the bright cinematography to the pitch-perfect comedic performances to the irresistible music. And in a summer overburdened with sequels, remakes and TV show adaptations, it's a beacon of originality. Do yourself a favor. Write down the title and keep your eyes glued to your local listings. See this movie. You won't regret it. And if you forget about it, it's almost certain that I'll remind you in January when I proclaim it one of the best films of the year. (****)

The Rainbow Man/John 3:16

This short (less than an hour) 1997 documentary tells the twisted story of Rock ‘N Rolland, the guy in the rainbow wig with the "John 3:16" sign at all the sporting events in the 70s and early 80s. And if all this movie did was examine a weird footnote to pop culture, it might be kind of amusing but hardly worth seeking out. But it's far stranger than you could imagine and the film ends up being a fascinating look at a man who essentially broke his mind with a steady diet of television, from reality shows to Christian fundamentalist programming. At the time this film was made, Rock ‘N Rolland was behind bars, serving three life sentences for holding a maid hostage in a hotel room for over twelve hours and planting bombs in Christian bookstores. It's a dark, sad story and director Sam Green (who went on later to make the excellent documentary The Weather Underground) tells it well. I'm looking forward to Green's next project, whatever it may be. (*** ½)

The Set-Up

One of the reasons I love to watch old film noir is they almost always take me by surprise. Even if I think I'm going to enjoy it going in, I usually end up liking it even more. That was definitely the case with Robert Wise's 1949 The Set-Up. Robert Ryan stars as an over-the-hill boxer whose manager takes a bribe for him to take a dive. But Ryan is so washed-up, the manager doesn't even bother to tell him about it, assuming he'll lose anyway and not wanting to cut Ryan in on the take. But this fight's different because Ryan has something to prove. His girlfriend no longer believes in him and his boxer friends in the locker room are in worse shape than he is. This is a gritty, detailed film made even more remarkable by the fact that it takes place in real time. The black and white photography is rich with shadow and every character is vividly drawn, right down to the raving spectators in the stands. And Robert Ryan, not usually on anyone's short list of the all-time best movie stars, gives his finest performance here. The Set-Up is a tough, terrific movie, required viewing for anyone who loves noir, boxing or both. (*** ½)

The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants

OK, some of you are gonna be wondering what in the wide wide world of sports even possessed me to go see this movie. Well, I've been happily married for going on thirteen years now. And if part of the reason why I've been happily married for so long is that every so often I have to see a movie like this, then the hell with all y'all, I'm a'goin' to see The Traveling Pants. And y'know what? It's actually pretty damn good, so screw you! In case you don’t have any 14-year-old girls hanging around to tell you, the premise is these four friends find a pair of jeans that mysteriously fits each one of them perfectly. They're going their separate ways for the summer and decide to share the pants, sending them on to the next girl after a week. And yeah, they all learn valuable life lessons. But the movie is surprisingly good, sweet without being cloying, and very smart about the way real people behave. And some of it takes place in Greece and I'm always down for seeing that part of the planet on film. All the young actresses are very good and even though the final act is a little too insistent on jerking tears, the sentimental parts are nicely understated. So yeah, I liked The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants. Big deal. Next week, I'll watch a marathon of Sam Peckinpah movies in an attempt to regrow my testicles. (***)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Fantastic Four

In comic books, Fantastic Four is the cornerstone of the mighty Marvel age of comics. Spider-Man and the X-Men became more popular but none of them would exist if it weren't for Stan Lee and Jack Kirby's work on the FF. But they've always been more beloved by comics fans than the general public. And even though I enjoyed the comic myself, I never really thought the team would make for a very good movie. And now I've been proven right twice: once by producer Roger Corman and his legendarily awful, unreleased adaptation and now by this megabucks version directed by the guy who made Barbershop. To be fair, there are a couple moments in this that show the germ of inspiration that, if focused on properly, could have made for a pretty good movie. It's amusing to see the team become celebrities and more of that kind of thing could have turned this into a superhero version of Ghostbusters. But the movie would need three fundamental things to make that work: a better script, a better director, and a better cast. Fantastic Four is pathetically uninspired, more often resembling a TV pilot than a feature film. The cast is made up of a bunch of interchangeable mannequins, all of whom are way too young to be playing these parts (with the sole exception of Michael Chiklis, who fares better as the human Ben Grimm than encased in orange latex as the Thing). And the action is practically non-existent, reduced to one main fight between the FF and Dr. Doom. Corman's version did that too, but it cost about seventy-five bucks total to make so they had no other choice. These guys have no such excuse. On the Marvel scale of movies, this is much worse than any entry in the Spider-Man or X-Men series and doesn't have the visual panache of Ang Lee's deeply flawed Hulk. But hey! At least it's better than Daredevil. (**)

And that'll do it for this time. Those wacky bastards over at The Digital Bits, America's favorite DVD-related website, have posted a new Bottom Shelf, in case you missed it. Click on over for reviews of John Waters’ A Dirty Shame, the 2005 remake Assault on Precinct 13, the bizarro cult musical Forbidden Zone, Gillian Armstrong's My Brilliant Career with Judy Davis and Sam Neill, and Run Ronnie Run from Mr. Show's Bob (Odenkirk) and David (Cross). Check it out and I'll see you back here in fourteen days. Until then, please take care of yourselves... and each other.

Adam Jahnke
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Dedicated to Evan Hunter and Ed McBain

"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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