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page created: 10/12/05
originally published: 8/17/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #14

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And a very special hello to you. Welcome once again to America's fastest-growing bi-weekly waste of electronic resources, a little something I like to call Jahnke's Electric Theatre. Before we get started with our usual shenanigans and hi-jinx, for those of you who keep track of such things, this whatever-you-want-to-call-it will be sent out on Wednesdays now instead of Tuesdays. I trust this will not be too much of an inconvenience. If it is, you really need to find something else to worry about.

At any rate, let's get this fortnight's collection started. There's the usual mix of old and new, obscure and pop-pop-popular, starting with...

The A-Picture - Hustle & Flow

I don’t know that he'll win or even be nominated for an Oscar but let me say right now that Terrence Howard is the man to beat for Best Actor at this year's Independent Spirit Awards. First he was the best thing in the character-spanning drama Crash. Now he's delivered a magnetic performance as D-Jay, a pimp with hip-hop ambitions in Craig Brewer's Hustle & Flow. This movie could have gone so wrong so easily that it's really quite astonishing how good it is. Howard creates a sympathetic character out of a totally unsympathetic person, while Brewer's screenplay has a genuine air of tragic inevitability to it. The supporting cast is rounded out with familiar faces taking on roles that give them the opportunity to stretch a bit, including Anthony Anderson, DJ Qualls and particularly Taryn Manning, light-years away from playing Britney Spears’ B.F.F. in Crossroads. And of vital importance to a movie like this, the original music is actually good, getting lodged in your head for days afterward. Hustle & Flow is very much a spiritual cousin to the 1973 blaxploitation classic The Mack. It's to Brewer's credit as a filmmaker that Hustle & Flow looks like it could have easily played on a double-bill with The Mack back in the 70's. But while it's a great calling card for Brewer, this is Terrence Howard's movie all the way. This guy's an amazing, risk-taking actor worth keeping an eye on. (*** ½)

Four Brothers

Hustle & Flow producer John Singleton gets back in the director's chair with this somewhat absurd but still entertaining thriller. Mark Wahlberg, Andre Benjamin, Tyrese Gibson and Garrett Hedlund are the titular bros, returning home to Detroit to find out who killed their foster mother. Not a bad idea for a crime drama but after the first 15-20 minutes, Singleton doesn't take things all that seriously. That's bad news for all the critics who keep wanting Singleton to make Boyz n' the Hood II but fine for those of us who just want to see dangerous car chases and fist fights on frozen lakes. Not a great movie by any definition but Four Brothers is quite a bit of fun. Kind of a modern-day urban western. (***)

In the Realms of the Unreal

A sad but fascinating documentary on the life and art of Henry Darger, a Chicago recluse whose neighbors discovered had been quietly working an illustrated novel upon his death. The find consisted of thousands upon thousands of pages of images and stories telling of an epic war with eight young blonde sisters at its center. The artwork is extraordinary (and brought to vivid life by director Jessica Yu's use of animation) but the film is somewhat frustrating. Darger was such a recluse that there's only so much information the documentary can give. Even those who knew him can't agree on whether his last name should be pronounced with a hard or soft "g". Still, it's a compelling mystery even if it is one that can never truly be resolved. (***)

Red Eye

I've never been a great fan of director Wes Craven and his latest film does nothing to change that. Rachel McAdams, the reigning queen of movie cuteness, stars as a hyper-efficient hotel manager whose dad's life is threatened by psycho assassin Cillian Murphy on board the red-eye to Miami. If you've seen the trailer for this (and if you haven't, I'd like to know your secret), you've pretty much seen the whole thing. There's so little to this story that it barely feels like a movie. For that matter, it wouldn't even pass muster as a subpar episode of 24. Red Eye isn't a horrible movie, just a dull, uninspiring one that's over before you even realize the story's started. (**)

Seven Days in May

John Frankenheimer's 1964 political thriller is quiet and subdued (especially by today's standards) but still fairly intense and undeniably entertaining. Burt Lancaster plays the rogue head of the Joint Chiefs of Staff who plans a military coup of the government when President Fredric March signs a nuclear disarmament treaty with the Russians. Kirk Douglas is Lancaster's right hand man who discovers the plot and is torn between his loyalty to his superior officer and his country. The script by Rod Serling is full of great Serling-isms familiar to any Twilight Zone fan. Not quite as good as Frankenheimer's The Manchurian Candidate but not many movies are. (***)

The Skeleton Key

Kate Hudson takes a new job as a live-in caretaker to paralyzed John Hurt and his wife Gena Rowlands in a falling-to-seed old house in the Louisiana bayous. Before you can say jambalaya, she's discovering creepy things afoot involving hoodoo (which the script takes care to point out is not to be confused with the legitimate religion of voodoo). The Skeleton Key isn't horribly original but it is a pretty enjoyable piece of Southern gothic horror. Director Iain Softley's screen drips with atmosphere, making better use of the Louisiana setting that many other recent New Orleans-based movies. Hudson is fine but the real pleasure is watching Gena Rowlands grab hold of this part. She seems to be having a fine old time. (***)

Sky High

I was actually supposed to include this in the last Electric Theatre but totally forgot about it. This might not bode well for the movie's long-term success but while you're watching it, Sky High is actually fairly amusing. The setup is the son of the world's greatest superheroes (Kurt Russell and Kelly Preston) enrolls in a high school for the superpowered. Trouble is that he hasn't manifested any powers of his own yet. There's an obvious Harry Potter meets The Incredibles vibe here but the movie also cribs from every single high school movie of the 80's, from Risky Business to Three O'Clock High... just Disney-fied for your kids’ protection. Sky High barely has an original thought in its head but the kids in the theatre seemed to love it and it is very colorful and energetic. Best of all are the choice character roles filled by the likes of Bruce Campbell, Cloris Leachman and Kids in the Hall Dave Foley and Kevin McDonald. Fun for kids and, if nothing else, tolerable for adults. By the way, the costume production assistant on both this and Red Eye is brilliant. An amazingly talented girl. Sexy, too. Too bad she's married. (** ½)

Walking Tall

I guess sooner or later everything really will get remade. Did anybody really expect to see a remake of the 1973 Joe Don Baker movie about Sheriff Buford Pusser? The Rock replaces Joe Don's baseball bat with a four-by-four and changes the name from Buford Pusser to the blander Chris Vaughn but keeps alive the spirit of a guy fed up with rampant corruption in his small town and running for office to restore law and order. The Rock is certainly the best wrestler-turned-actor since Rowdy Roddy Piper chewed bubble gum and kicked ass in They Live and he's fun to watch here. The movie's just about as stupid as they come (and surprisingly violent for a PG-13) but I kinda liked it for what it was. Probably a good idea to wash this down with a big bag of pork rinds and a six-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. (** ½)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Crew

If you've never heard of this agonizingly unfunny 2000 comedy, consider yourself fortunate. Richard Dreyfuss, Burt Reynolds, Dan Hedaya and Seymour Cassel star as four aging wiseguys relocated to Florida. In an attempt to keep rent low in their retirement community, they stage a phony gangland execution. One thing leads to another and they end up running afoul of a Cuban drug lord. It's just depressing to see these actors laboring with material this bad. The phrase "fuhgeddabout it" is trotted out every five minutes as if it's the most hilarious punchline ever written... and that's about the height of wit in this thing. Jennifer Tilly comes out relatively unscathed as Cassel's crazy stripper girlfriend but then again, she's been in movies way lower-rent than this. I'll give this half a star for a semi-amusing GoodFellas joke that made me smile but if you ever run across The Crew on Cinemax some lazy weekday afternoon, do yourself a favor and watch anything else instead. (* ½)

And that, as they say, is that. Unless you head over to The Digital Bits for the latest Bottom Shelf column, in which I get real with reviews of several documentary DVDs, including Noam Chomsky: Rebel Without a Pause, The 70s Dimension, World War I in Color, Desperately Seeking Seka and The Midnight Blue Deep Throat Special Edition for the eroticists amongst you, and my personal favorite, the 8-track odyssey So Wrong They're Right.

Check ‘em out, watch some movies, and I'll see y'all back here in two. Until then, the balcony is condemned.

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to Matthew McGrory

"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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