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page created: 9/30/05
originally published: 9/14/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #16
It's Bad You Know

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Hey there, hi there, ho there! You’re as welcome as can be to the sweet sixteenth installment of Jahnke's Electric Theatre. Odds are good that, if you've been paying any attention whatsoever to what's been playing at your local cinema, you may be wondering what I could possibly have to recommend. August and September are pretty grim months for new releases. Not quite as grim as January but still, the pickings get mighty slim. So it should come as no surprise that most of the positive reviews this time out come from movies handily available to you on Digital Video Disc. Rent them and be pleased, starting with this week's...

The A-Picture - The Corporation

So over the past couple of years, I've recommended all sorts of wacko left-wing documentaries to friends and family. This is the price that must be paid for having the dimmest bulb on the Christmas tree in the Oval Office. The left has no real power but at least we can make a zillion movies complaining about it. But I'll admit, many of these wacko left-wing documentaries, while they are chock full of valuable information, leave a lot to be desired in terms of cinematic aesthetics. The Corporation is a happy exception. Directed by Mark Achbar and Jennifer Abbott, The Corporation examines the history, purpose and agenda of the corporation from its inception back in the post-Civil War days to today. Taking the law at its word, Achbar and Abbott look at corporations as if they were people and, after applying basic psychoanalytic principles to corporate behavior, come to the conclusion that the modern corporation fits the profile of the textbook psychopath. This is a fascinating movie with serious, pointed discussions of economics, the environment, politics, sociology, and ethics. But unlike a lot of recent angry, left-leaning documentaries, this one actually succeeds as a movie. It's shot well, edited extremely well, and has a very good musical score. It's a long movie, clocking in at around two-and-a-half hours, but it needs to be, given the amount of information packed into the film. As our every waking moment becomes ever more influenced by corporations, this film is a must-see. It's informative, sometimes darkly funny, and often chilling. It may very well be the most eye-opening film you see this year. (*** ½)

The Cave

Meanwhile, on the other end of the spectrum... a scientific expedition discovers a vast network of underground caves. A team of buff, North-Face-catalog-ready scientists lead by Cole Hauser (son of Wings, needless to say) heads down below to explore the cave and are surprised to be greeted by a welcome wagon of scary monsters. The Cave is exactly what it claims to be. Monsters in a cave. If you like to see movies about monsters in a cave, you might not hate this. I didn't, but on the other hand, I didn't really like it either. I've seen this story about a gazillion times and this telling was no better and no worse. Oddly enough, I may have enjoyed The Cave more if it had been just a little worse. If it were really, really bad, it would have at least been memorable and kind of funny. As it is, it's just another 90 minutes out of my life that I'll struggle to remember a few months down the road. (**)

The Constant Gardener

Ralph Fiennes is a mild-mannered diplomat out of Africa who is forced to take off his blinders and address the corruption around him when his pregnant activist wife (Rachel Weisz) is murdered. Based on a novel by John Le Carre, The Constant Gardener is a superior political thriller and, if you absolutely feel the need to hit the theater, this is one of your best bets. But if I'm being absolutely honest, it was a little snoozy for my tastes, running out of gas about midway through before picking up steam again for the tense finale. Fiennes is excellent, as is Weisz in one of her first really juicy roles, but Danny Huston is miscast as Fiennes’ superior. Most of the movie looks great, although it goes a little too far with the handheld shaky-cam stuff when it isn't really necessary. The Constant Gardener was directed by Fernando Meirelles and if you haven't seen his previous film, the Oscar-nominated City of God, I'd recommend you rent that instead and wait for this to come out on video. City of God is a great film. This one is merely good. (***)

In Good Company

Dennis Quaid is a middle-aged salesman for a sports magazine whose life is thrown into crisis mode with the arrival of his new, much younger corporate boss (Topher Grace). Written and directed by Paul Weitz, In Good Company is a pretty good, reasonably sharp comedy in the James L. Brooks mold. Quaid gives a fine performance, as he almost always does, and Grace is far less objectionable than he is on that dreadful 70s Show. The movie skirts most, if not all, of the cliches and pitfalls you might expect it to fall into. Not what I'd consider a great movie by any stretch but certainly an entertaining one. (***)

Shall We Dance

No, not the J.Lo movie, nor the Japanese original that J.Lo and Richard Gere were remaking. This is the good stuff, the 1937 Astaire-Rogers classic. Fred is the Great Petrov, a Russian ballet dancer (actually from Pennsylvania) who, thanks to the usual Hollywood misunderstanding and rumor-mongering, is forced to pretend he's married to cabaret dancer Ginger. Not my favorite of their team-ups but even lesser Astaire-Rogers is great fun. The songs by George and Ira Gershwin are all standards now (including "Let's Call the Whole Thing Off" and "They Can't Take That Away from Me") and the comic relief by Edward Everett Horton and Eric Blore is often hilarious. The finale, with Fred dancing with a dozen girls in Ginger masks, is a bit on the creepy side but it's a minor complaint. While there are plenty of other movies from the 1930s that stand up over the years, for my money none of them transport you so completely back to the era as the Astaire-Rogers musicals. (***)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - The Brothers Grimm

I've put worse movies in the Octoplex but none quite as depressing as this one. For the first time, Terry Gilliam has made a bad movie. I've been a Gilliam fan for almost as long as I've been a movie fan. I have very good, very concrete memories of seeing every one of his films for the first time. None of them are quite this... ordinary. Matt Damon and Heath Ledger are the title characters, charlatans who go from town to town pretending to exterminate witches, curses and assorted other fantastic beasts. They're finally caught and forced to do it for real, traveling to a village whose children have been disappearing, presumably thanks to a long-dead queen trapped in a tower. This sort of thing should be right up Gilliam's alley but for whatever reason, it just doesn't work. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet of Ehren Kreuger, whose script is beyond terrible. Presumably some blame can be given to producers Bob and Harvey Weinstein, who apparently forced Gilliam into some creative decisions he wasn't happy with. But the sad fact is, this is Gilliam's movie. It looks good, often very good, but it's pretty clear his heart just wasn't in it. Some directors can take any script and make it their own. Some can't. Terry Gilliam needs to get back to bringing his own ideas to life, as he did so brilliantly in Time Bandits, Brazil and The Adventures of Baron Munchausen. The Brothers Grimm is the work of someone who has been hired by the studio to provide that "Terry Gilliam feeling" without actually making a Terry Gilliam film. If we're lucky, the best thing to come out of this will be a good, candid making-of documentary on the DVD, like Lost in La Mancha or The Hamster Factor and Other Tales of 12 Monkeys. (**)

And we're done! I know, I know, another Electric Theatre with a paltry six movies. Rest assured I haven't been lying down on the job. Keep checking The Digital Bits over the next couple days for a great big new edition of The Bottom Shelf. It's a veritable spook-fest this time, all horror all the time, with reviews of (get ready... it's a long list) The Antichrist, Boogeyman, The Church, Cold Blood, Curse of the Devil, Elvira: Mistress of the Dark, Fear No Evil, The Guyver, Guyver 2: Dark Hero, Hell Night, Hide and Seek, The Mangler, Red Cockroaches, Return of the Killer Tomatoes!, Return to Horror High, Saw, Sleepaway Camp, Tetsuo: The Iron Man, To the Devil... a Daughter, Transylvania 6-5000, Vamp, White Noise, and Wishing Stairs. I've given more thought to most of these movies than even their creators did, so check it out and I'll see you back here again in fourteen days.

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to R.L. Burnside

"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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