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Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #29...

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Hello, Superfriends. Welcome back to The Electric Theatre. It's been a perfectly swell couple of weeks at the movies, so without further ado, let me introduce you to this week's A-Picture.

Now in Theatres...


I expect I'll see better movies as the year goes on (after all, it is only April) but I'd be very surprised if I see another that's this much fun. Michael Rooker stars as Grant Grant, a middle-aged guy with a trophy wife he jealously keeps on a short leash. One night after a fight, he hoists a few too many at the bar and heads out into the woods with a high school classmate who had a secret crush on him. But instead of getting lucky, Grant gets very unlucky when he runs across what Stephen King referred to as “meteor shit” in Creepshow. The space goo infects him with a parasite that gives him a craving for raw meat and an undeniable urge to reproduce. From there, things go haywire in a big way. Slither is a thrill ride of a movie, piling on laughs and scares in an overlapping, crazy quilt fashion. Writer/director (and yeah, fellow Troma alumnus) James Gunn makes it virtually impossible to guess where the story will lead you next. The script is chock full of references to the movies and filmmakers that inspired this one, including Frank Henenlotter, David Cronenberg and John Carpenter, but for a change, the in-jokes don't come across as forced. This is also one of the most perfectly cast horror movies I've seen in eons. Besides a great, sometimes prosthetic-encased performance by Rooker, there's Elizabeth Banks as Grant's wife Starla, the hilarious Gregg Henry as Mayor MacReady and Nathan Fillion giving a relaxed leading-man performance as Sheriff Pardy, not to mention an innumerable amount of memorable bit parts. The fact that Slither didn't do as well at the box office as hoped is perplexing to me. Have horror fans actually lost the ability to enjoy a good monster movie? Is the future of the genre solely in PG-13 remakes like The Fog and grueling torturepaloozas like The Hills Have Eyes and Hostel? Not to take anything away from the best of those movies, some of which I do enjoy, but I hope not. Slither is a return to the genre that produced some of my favorite movies, pictures like Basket Case and The Fly. The last time I saw a movie like this was Chuck Russell's underrated remake of The Blob. For some of you, that's going to be a reason to stay away from this. But if you can appreciate a movie that knows how to walk the fine line between scaring an audience and making them laugh and can do both... hell, if you're just ready to have a good time at the movies again, please check out Slither. Even if you don't, rest assured that this movie will be remembered and enjoyed long after most of its contemporaries have been forgotten. (*** ½)

Inside Man

I don't know that I'd say that Spike Lee is one of my favorite filmmakers but I do try to see everything he does. He's capable of great things and even when I'm not crazy in love with one of his movies, I've never regretted giving over a couple hours to one of them. Inside Man, Spike's most mainstream joint to date, is not one of his best but it is sharp, entertaining and refreshingly low-key. Clive Owen (who I'd watch in just about anything, up to and including glorified BMW commercials) plays a criminal mastermind who has outlined the perfect bank robbery. Denzel Washington is a low-on-the-food-chain detective assigned to the case... and when Denzel barks that this ain't no bank robbery, you'd best believe it ain't. Jodie Foster is a slick corporate fixer hired by the bank's founder to keep certain secrets secret. For almost three-quarters of Inside Man's running time, it's an engaging heist thriller that keeps your attention and interest, even if it doesn't exactly keep you guessing. Is it the new Dog Day Afternoon? Well, no. For one thing, any movie that explicitly name-checks Dog Day Afternoon in its dialogue pretty much forfeits the right to be that classic's heir. Worse, the movie seems to have about sixteen different endings, as the story just keeps resolving and resolving and resolving. Missteps aside, Inside Man is still enjoyable stuff, a fun throwback to a time when thrillers relied more on actors and dialogue than on guns and steadicams. (***)

Thank You for Smoking

For years, Aaron Eckhart has been a cool actor known to hipsters (like me, naturally) for his work in Neil LaBute's movies. He's also been a reliable presence in movies ranging from Erin Brockovich to the cheese epic The Core. Now in Thank You for Smoking, he gets his breakout role as Nick Naylor, a lobbyist for the tobacco industry. Jason Reitman brings Christopher Buckley's novel to the screen with much of its scathing wit and attitude intact. Unfortunately, it also brings along the novel's main weakness: its plot. Or perhaps I should say its lack thereof. Smoking is at its best as just a string of incidents and observations revolving around Naylor's job, his efforts to put cigarettes back in the hands of movie stars (Rob Lowe and Adam Brody are both extremely funny in this scene), his camaraderie with lobbyists from the alcohol and firearms industries (the Merchants of Death), and his meeting with the former Marlboro Man (played by the great Sam Elliott), now dying of lung cancer. The story is kind of an afterthought, with Nick having an affair with a reporter (Katie Holmes) and dealing with attempts by a Birkenstock-wearing Senator to put “poison” labels on packs of smokes. Thank You for Smoking was never quite as laugh-out-loud funny as I'd hoped. It's more wise and witty than full of jokes. But the top-notch cast (which also includes William H. Macy, J.K. Simmons, Maria Bello, David Koechner, and Robert Duvall) led by the vibrantly charismatic Eckhart makes the movie more than just worthwhile. (***)

Now on DVD...

Jake Gyllenhaal Presents the Heartbreak and Triumph of Math and Science:

Proof/October Sky Double Feature

Thanks to some cosmic Netflix coincidence, I ended up with both Proof and October Sky at home simultaneously. Turns out they make a pretty darned ideal double feature.

Proof stars Gwyneth Paltrow as Catherine, a college drop-out coming to terms with the recent death of her father (Anthony Hopkins), a mathematician who spent the last years of his life struggling with mental illness. Gyllenhaal is one of her dad's last students, a math geek who refuses to believe that Hopkins' once-brilliant mind had shut down completely. He asks for permission to go through his notes, hundreds of notebooks filled mostly with nonsense. Hope Davis plays Catherine's estranged sister who returns home, all but certain that Paltrow is headed down the same road of insanity that claimed their father. Based on an acclaimed play by David Auburn, director John Madden does a good job of opening the story up for film, as well as capturing the atmosphere of campus life. Nevertheless, this probably works better on stage where the intimacy of the environment can bring the audience in closer to the actors' raw emotions. Paltrow is good, although at times it felt to me like she was auditioning to play Chloe's sister on the next season of 24 (and if she did that, my opinion of Gwyneth Paltrow would shoot to new heights). The mathematics angle, which I was looking forward to, is interesting but never given enough prominence for my tastes. There's just enough math on display to ground the story in its proper context but no so much that the audience ever feels stupid... and also not enough to be able to tell if the filmmakers really knew what they were talking about or were just faking their way through that part of the story. Proof is a well-made movie but not a particularly satisfying one. (** ½)

October Sky, on the other hand, is something of a buried treasure. This time, Gyllenhaal plays Homer Hickam, the son of a West Virginia coal miner who is inspired by the launch of Sputnik to find a way out of his dead end town. He and three friends resolve to build their own rocket. The process brings new life to the townspeople... all except Homer's dad (Chris Cooper), who can't understand why his son doesn't want to follow in his footsteps. October Sky is a stolidly old-fashioned movie in the mold of who knows how many inspirational true-life adventures. But the story is told with such sincerity and heartfelt emotion by director Joe Johnston and screenwriter Lewis Colick that you can't help but get swept up in it. Chris Cooper is outstanding, as he so often is, and if I'd been paying attention back in 1999 and had seen this when it was first released, I'd have been able to talk about what a terrific actor Jake Gyllenhaal is long ago. If you were paying attention, you've probably already seen this but if not, gather up your old science club pals and check out this movie. It's quite a treat. (*** ½)

The Electric Theatre is now coming to the end of another broadcast day. For those of you who have wondered when I'm going to stop wasting my time with movies from Gwyneth and Julia and concentrate on good stuff like Indonesian women in prison flicks and Turkish superhero movies, check out the last edition of The Bottom Shelf for reviews of Don't Deliver Us From Evil, Satan's Blood, Virgins from Hell, The Deathless Devil and Tarkan Versus the Vikings. And don't say I never did anything for you.

Until next time, why don't we just wait here for a little while... see what happens?


Dedicated to Richard Fleischer

"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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