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page created: 11/3/05
originally published: 7/5/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #11
Happy Winds-Day

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Welcome, patriots! I trust you all had an enjoyable Independence Day weekend. Thanks for checking in for another motley assortment of schlock, trash, and the occasional token "art" film at Ye Olde Electric Theatre. No reason to hang around here gabbing so let's just plunge right in, shall we?

The A-Picture - Godzilla: Final Wars

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the Big G, Toho Studios in Japan let out all the stops for one great big epic that has everything you could ask for in a giant monster movie. Supposedly, Toho is also retiring Godzilla for at least a decade and it that's the case, Final Wars is a terrific farewell. A race of aliens calling themselves the Xiliens arrive on Earth with plans to harvest humankind as food. And to help them out, they've taken control of virtually all of Earth's monsters. There's only one they can't control, so a tiny band of survivors goes to free Godzilla from beneath the South Pole. Basically every major city on Earth is reduced to rubble and every single monster from the past five decades worth of Godzilla movies turns up, from Mothra to Ghidrah to Baby Godzilla. Even the CGI 'Zilla from the American remake makes a brief appearance. Godzilla: Final Wars is completely silly, amazingly loud and destructive, and about as much fun as movies can be. If you're a fan, Final Wars will take you back to the good old days and remind you why you fell in love with Godzilla in the first place. And if you're not a fan of Godzilla, your parents must have not let you watch television when you were a kid. You must really resent them. (*** ½)

House of Flying Daggers

Zhang Yimou's Hero starring Jet Li is one of the five most visually breathtaking movies ever made. His follow-up, House of Flying Daggers, is right up there, too. A military captain is sent to uncover the new leader of the mysterious House of Flying Daggers, an underground resistance group. It is hoped that the old leader's blind daughter will lead him to the rebel fighters. But the situation is complicated when the captain begins to fall in love with the blind girl. As with Zhang's previous film, this is an amazing movie to look at, whether or not you become invested in the story itself. But as beautiful as this movie is, Hero is better. It's better looking and the story is more resonant. Still, House of Flying Daggers is highly entertaining and an easy movie to get lost in. (***)

Land of the Dead

George A. Romero's long-awaited return to his living dead series is definitely a step up from his recent work. However, considering his recent work includes the direct-to-video snooze-a-thon Bruiser, this is faint praise indeed. Zombies are now everywhere and the remaining humans live inside walled cities. Only trained professionals venture out for supplies. But life inside the city is highly segregated between the haves, led by Dennis Hopper, and the have-nots. Meanwhile, the zombies are beginning to evolve as well, developing the first rudimentary signs of reasoning. It's a good premise, despite the fact that much of the story is actually about a stolen truck. Night of the Living Dead, Dawn of the Dead and Day of the Dead form a perfect trilogy and Land of the Dead often feels like an unnecessary, belated epilogue. But that doesn't prevent it from being a lot of fun. Romero virtually invented this kind of movie and it's still a pleasure to see him put it through its paces, even if at this point we all know what those paces are. It's too much to expect Romero to re-invent the genre yet again at this stage of the game, so if you're hoping for that, you'll be disappointed. But if you just want to see a master of the form get down and dirty one last time, you'll have as much fun as I did. (***)

The Quiet American

Michael Caine stars as a British journalist using the developing war in Vietnam as an excuse to escape from his life back in London. He has a lover and a steady routine in Saigon but everything is disrupted with the arrival of an American economic aid worker (Brendan Fraser) who may not be as polite and unassuming as he seems. Based on the novel by Graham Greene, The Quiet American is an engrossing character study, well played by both Caine and Fraser. The film was directed by Phillip Noyce and released in 2002, the same year as Noyce's superior Rabbit-Proof Fence. If you only see one of those two films, it should absolutely be Rabbit-Proof Fence. But The Quiet American is well worth your time, particularly for Caine's intense performance. (***)

The Seduction of Mimi

I've never really been able to get into the films of Italian director Lina Wertmuller but this political comedy from 1972 is one of her most enjoyable. Giancarlo Giannini stars as Mimi, a Sicilian laborer forced to look for work elsewhere after he's blacklisted by the local mafia. One thing leads to another and he eventually finds himself back home with a lover and child he has to keep hidden from his wife. Highly political but also very amusing with a grotesquely funny sex scene that rivals just about anything Troma has to offer. Apparently this was the basis for the Richard Pryor movie Which Way is Up? (***)

War of the Worlds

Steven Spielberg and Tom Cruise take on H.G. Wells and the results are... not too bad, I guess. Even if you don't know the exact premise of this movie by now (which I find unlikely considering the media blitzkrieg Cruise has been on), you can probably figure it out, so we'll dispense with the plot. Suffice it to say that for the past twenty years, even when I've enjoyed a Spielberg film there have been at least certain elements that I felt were truly awful. With War of the Worlds, I didn't hate any of it, so that's progress of a sort. On the other hand, I didn't really love any of it, either. It's a fine movie with at least one truly tense and fearful scene. The effects are good, Cruise is fine, and I appreciated that the narrative stayed true to Cruise's point of view throughout. It certainly isn't a great movie. I don't even think it's the best movie of the summer. But it's entertaining enough, although I found myself wondering how many times I'm going to have to see this story played out on screen before I die. It's no better or worse than any other large-scale alien invasion movie you've seen a hundred times before. (***)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Party Girl

Usually I can sit through any movie, no matter how dreadful. But once in a very great while, I'll run across a movie that I just can't make it through. Within half an hour or so, I know I've made a dreadful mistake. Last time I had to switch a movie off was with the Heath Ledger religious pseudo-thriller The Order. It happened again with Party Girl, the 1995 Sundance favorite that made Parker Posey the indie film poster girl of the decade. Maybe it gets better after awhile but considering that it's only 98 minutes, I kinda doubt it. No star rating for this one, since technically speaking I really haven't seen it, at least not the whole thing. But what I saw is emblematic of everything I hate about the indie film movement. It's a big-budget Hollywood romantic comedy in hip, thrift store clothes. In real life, I wouldn't spend 98 minutes with these people, so why would I want to on film?

And that'll wrap up another biweekly installment of the Electric Theatre. We'll see you back here in fourteen days with... well, honestly I have no idea what to expect next time around. But no doubt it'll be tremendous.

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to Paul Winchell and John Fiedler

"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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