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page created: 12/1/05
originally published: 4/26/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #7
Crime Is a Disease... Meet the Cure

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Spanning the globe to bring you the constant variety of cinema, welcome once again to your Electric Theatre. And a very transcontinental installment it is, too. We've got movies from Spain, Korea, and a couple of American movies that are trying hard to look like they're from France and Russia. In fact, I've only got one movie to offer you this time out that looks, sounds and feels like it was born and bred right here in the good old U S of A... and it ain't at the top of the charts. But let's save the bad news and jump into a rare double feature in...

The A-Picture - Bad Education / Oldboy

Pedro Almodovar's latest film will be covered in an upcoming column over at The Digital Bits, so I'm not going to get into it in much detail here. Suffice it to say that if your impressions of Bad Education are anything like mine were going into it, you should be very pleasantly surprised. I expected something of a polemic against the Catholic Church and priests abusing young boys. And while that element is certainly a major part of the film, I didn't expect it to be delivered in the guise of this fascinating puzzle of a movie. Bad Education isn't Almodovar's best recent film (I still prefer Talk to Her and especially All About My Mother to this one). But it's certainly consistent with the body of work he's amassed lately, making this stage of his career his best so far. (*** ½)

Oldboy, on the other hand, is a wildly extreme revenge picture from Korea that is as crazily exhilarating as anything I've seen this year. After a drunken night out, our hero is kidnapped and locked in a dirty hotel room without any explanation. He's left there for fifteen years with no human contact apart from the TV and the anonymous hand that delivers his meals. After all that time, he's released with as little explanation as before. Now he has to track down his wife and daughter and, more importantly, figure out who put him in there and why... and how to make them pay. Oldboy has a bracingly original concept at its core and director Chan-wook Park keeps you on your toes throughout. Sometimes literally. Some of the violence here is so extreme that even a jaded old bloodluster like me squirmed once or twice. A big prize-winner at last year's Cannes Film Festival, Oldboy isn't quite as great as its reputation led me to believe. A lot of the characters are drawn too sketchily and I've been surprised at how many people didn't see the final twist coming. Still, Oldboy's virtues far outweigh its faults. It's a tough, exciting thriller that starts off well and finds ways to top itself all the way to the end. (*** ½)

The Flower of My Secret

Also by Almodovar, this is from his mid-90s period. Almodovar's work can be divided into three stages: the early, outrageous comedies of the 80s, culminating in Tie Me Up! Tie Me Down!; the later, more mature period which includes Bad Education; and the creatively fallow mid-period when it didn't seem like Almodovar quite knew what to do with himself. Flower of My Secret isn't really a bad movie but it is dull and that's a word you can't use to describe most of Almodovar's other films. Again, look for this to be covered in more detail in an upcoming column. Recommended only to die-hard fans of Pedro Almodovar. Others need not apply. (**)

Jacques Brel Is Alive and Well and Living in Paris

Thanks to my theatre-nerd upbringing, this album of somewhat creepy cabaret tunes was part of the soundtrack of my youth. This may explain a lot if I ever need to go into therapy. But while I kind of knew this was a soundtrack album, I didn't really know what it was a soundtrack to until fairly recently and even then, I didn't know they'd made a movie of it until about a month ago. And boy, talk about a movie that could only have been made in the early 1970s. Jacques Brel's bittersweet chansons are adapted, sometimes very literally, to the screen with no plot, no dialogue, and sometimes very trippy visuals. This is the kind of movie where the choreographer's credit reads "Movement by". Sometimes it works, like in the visualization of the song "Carousel". Sometimes it really doesn't, as in "If We Only Have Love", a great song filmed horribly. By most modern standards, this is a pretty grating movie with marionettes, sad-faced clowns, and a recurring group of hippies parading around. Jacques Brel's music is actually very affecting. He's kind of the weird missing link between Edith Piaf and Leonard Cohen. If you're already a fan, this movie is a bizarre time capsule. If you're not, listen to the album first. (** ½)

K-19: The Widowmaker

Casting Harrison Ford as the Communist-Party-loyal commander of a Russian nuclear submarine at the height of the Cold War is one of those ideas that really shouldn't work. And indeed it does not. But then why is K-19: The Widowmaker not a complete waste of time? Credit goes to director Kathryn Bigelow. K-19 takes too long getting up to speed and on the other end, takes too long winding down (the credits roll a good 10-15 minutes after the movie really should have ended). But take those bookends away and you've got yourself a pretty darn entertaining thriller hiding in the middle of all this. Once Ford and Liam Neeson start locking horns underwater and all hell starts breaking loose in the reactor, you ignore Ford's in-and-out Russian accent and forget about the endurance test masquerading as the movie's first half hour. Das Boot, this isn't, but that's OK. I wasn't really expecting it to be. Frankly, I was just pleasantly surprised it wasn't another Hollywood Homicide. (** ½)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Amityville Horror

First off, this is not a truly terrible movie. It isn't even the worst horror remake I've ever seen. It is, however, the worst movie I've seen in the past two weeks and rules are rules. I actually went into this with marginally high hopes. The trailer was promising and after all, how hard could it be to make a better movie than the original 1979 Amityville? Well, apparently it's more work than the folks behind this remake were willing to put in. Ryan Reynolds (the poor man's Jason Lee) stars as George Lutz, new husband and stepfather, homeowner and would-be axe murderer. There's just no reason for this movie to exist. It doesn't improve on the original. It makes no effort to exploit (or even stay true to) its 1975 setting apart from having one of the kids be a KISS fan. And when will Hollywood get it through its pixellated head that a zillion computer-generated flies are about a tenth as scary as a couple dozen real ones? Sure, it was kind of fun seeing the lakefront property from hell back on the big screen for awhile. But if I'm gonna watch a crappy movie with the word Amityville in the title, I'll be watching one with nostalgia value. (**)

And with that, the Electric Theatre is shuttered for the night. See you all again in fourteen with more of the thrill of victory and the agony of defeat.

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to George P. Cosmatos

"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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