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

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #18
Gem of the Ocean

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A funny thing happened on my way to the Electric Theatre. Seems our little just-between-friends thing we had going here has gone global. Thanks to Big Bill Hunt, the Electric Theatre now has a permanent home in cyberspace at The Digital Bits, complete with a very spiffy new logo. So to those of you now joining us through the website, welcome and I hope you stick around and enjoy yourselves. To clarify, while I will be reviewing the occasional movie I saw on DVD, these aren't proper DVD reviews. Then again, anybody familiar with my other ramblings for the site shouldn't expect proper DVD reviews from me.

And what does this mean for the rest of you, oh long-time Electric Theatre-goers? Will this usher in a new era of respectability, forcing me to clean up my act and actually put some thought into these things? Naaaah. Business as usual, I'm afraid. However, to mark this important new milestone in Electric Theatre history, I have decided to write this week's installment while wearing pants for a change.

And now, on with the festivities. Nothing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex, believe it or not. As a matter of fact, if this were an ordinary week, I'd have a hard time picking just one movie for the A-Picture. But this is no ordinary week, ‘cause we've got a clear winner in...

The A-Picture - Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit

The best video store in the world is Scarecrow Video in my old stomping grounds of Seattle. Last year, they published a very good book of movie reviews, cleverly titled The Scarecrow Video Guide. One of my favorite categories in the book is "Movies you'd have to be kind of an asshole to hate". Their list includes such worthy titles as Babe, Amelie and Toy Story. Add to that list the first feature film from Aardman Animation's intrepid duo Wallace & Gromit: The Curse of the Were-Rabbit. If you're familiar with their great short films, you already have a good idea what to expect and you won't be disappointed. This time out, cheese-loving inventor Wallace and his silent (and infinitely smarter) dog Gromit have started a business, the Anti-Pesto humane pest control service. Their mission: to keep neighborhood gardens rabbit-free during the weeks leading up to the annual Giant Vegetable Festival. But even our heroes have trouble with the sudden appearance of the Were-Rabbit by the light of the full moon. This is, quite simply, a perfect movie. I loved every single thing about it. It's packed with humor, charm, and an amazing visual style. And while it would certainly be possible to clean up the animation digitally, I love that they didn't. You can still see the animators’ thumbprints in the clay. Five years in the making, The Curse of the Were-Rabbit was worth every minute. It's a testament to the devotion of everyone at Aardman Animation. They should be extremely proud of what they've accomplished here. (****)


Meanwhile, on the other side of the spectrum. No one's ever doubted that Philip Seymour Hoffman is a great actor. He's been terrific in ensemble movies like Boogie Nights, Magnolia, and Happiness. And while only about half a dozen people saw it, he more than proved he could carry a movie in the terrific and shamefully underrated Owning Mahowny a few years back. Even so, get ready for a shock when you see Hoffman completely transform himself into Truman Capote in this outstanding film. Directed by Bennett Miller, Capote follows the author to Kansas as he researches the case that would become the groundbreaking In Cold Blood. In lesser hands, this could be painful, making caricatures of either the flamboyant Capote, the hicks and rubes in the heartland, or both. But Capote sidesteps all the traps, painting a vivid and compelling picture of a writer who thinks he controls his material but finds out his material is controlling him. This is one of the best movies I've seen about writing and writers. A friend bet me five dollars that Hoffman would win the Best Actor Oscar for this. I took the bet, betting against Hoffman, mainly because I thought it was pointless to make predictions this far in advance. Now that I've seen Capote, I hope I lose. (*** ½)

Good Night, and Good Luck

While many (including me) praised George Clooney's directorial debut, Confessions of a Dangerous Mind, I suspect a lot of folks thought much of the credit belonged to screenwriter Charlie Kaufman and not Clooney. With his second film, Clooney proves that he's, as they'd say in O Brother Where Art Thou, bona fide. The always-great David Strathairn plays Edward R. Murrow, taking on no less a target than Senator Joseph McCarthy and his ruthless search to ferret out communists wherever they may hide. Clooney wisely keeps the focus on the newsroom, vividly depicting the hustle of live television and the risks these men and women were taking in their profession. Shot in gorgeous black and white, Good Night, and Good Luck. is like a dramatic version of My Favorite Year focusing on news instead of comedy. Sure, the parallels to current events couldn't be much more obvious but what's wrong with that? I've always liked and admired George Clooney. He makes interesting choices in the films he chooses to star in and as a filmmaker, he shows much more talent than many movie stars who climb behind the camera. And if he wants to let his work speak for him instead of making tedious speeches on Larry King Live, good for him. (*** ½)

In Her Shoes

Chick flicks don't get much chickier than this comedy-drama about two sisters, one (Toni Collette) a responsible lawyer, the other (Cameron Diaz) a flighty and flirty mooch who can't hold down a job. When they have a bitter falling-out, Diaz has nowhere else to turn and tracks down the grandmother she never knew she had down in Florida. There isn't a chance in hell any single, straight man would ever watch this by himself but actually, it's not bad for its type. Curtis Hanson directs with the same eye for realism he brought to L.A. Confidential, Wonder Boys, and 8 Mile. He handles things like Diaz's dyslexia and Collette's low self-esteem with sensitivity and intelligence. Best of all is Shirley MacLaine, proving once again that she can be as good an actress as we have when she wants to. Some of this is a little (OK, a lot) over-the-top, like the feisty seniors and Collette's too-perfect boyfriend. But compared to something like Bridget Jones II: Season of the Witch, this is really quite good. Not Terms of Endearment level good, but enjoyable. (***)


Here's another American Movie Classic that I somehow never got around to until now. Actually, I'd avoided this one, assuming I wouldn't like it because everything I'd ever heard about this movie made it sound like the Old Yeller of westerns. Alan Ladd is the title character, an ex-gunslinger who throws in with a family of homesteaders. When their land is threatened, Shane comes to their defense. Most of this movie is pretty good, although I didn't like it as much as any of John Ford's great westerns. Ladd doesn't really do anything for me and, as I predicted, I hated the little kid who comes to idolize him. But Shane is worth checking out if only for Jack Palance's performance as Wilson, the hired gun. Dressed all in black with his shootin’ hand protected by a single leather glove, Palance is genuinely menacing and one of the great bad guys in western cinema. Watch it for him and if you're like me and hope that a stray bullet picks off that tow-headed little urchin, don't feel too guilty. (***)

Well, with no Hell Plaza Octoplex to heap scorn on this week, I guess that'll do it. Unless I miss my guess, I believe you'll find some additional reviews in a spankin’ new edition of The Bottom Shelf. Click on over to read all about Oliver Stone's Alexander, Clint Eastwood's Million Dollar Baby, Crash, Fever Pitch with everybody’s favorite Drew Barrymore, xXx: State of the Union, and Jane Fonda's big comeback, Monster-In-Law. I'll give you three guesses what I thought of the J.Lo/J.Fo team-up and the first two don't count.

Thanks for reading and I'll catch you all in fourteen (give or take).

Adam Jahnke

Dedicated to August Wilson

"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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