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page created: 12/23/05
originally published: 12/21/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #23
Live on the Sunset Strip

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Hello there, all you happy little elves. Welcome once again to The Electric Theatre. This'll be the last one of the year and apparently we've all been relatively nice because we're ending the year on a good note. Once again, nothing will be publicly shamed in the Hell Plaza Octoplex. Huzzah! I've also got some seasonal choices to share with you in a bit and I suppose there's an 800-pound gorilla in the room that we need to talk about. But he's just gonna have to wait. Because this week, the biggest movie isn't the best.

The A-Picture - Brokeback Mountain

At first, I was not terribly enthusiastic about going to see this movie. If the phrase “gay cowboys eating pudding” from South Park means anything to you, you can probably figure out why. Fortunately, there is no pudding on display in Brokeback Mountain. Perhaps the most revelatory thing about Ang Lee's romantic neo-western is how traditional it really is. Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhaal are outstanding as the out-of-work cowboys who take a summer job from Randy Quaid (powerful and almost unrecognizable) tending sheep in Wyoming. The two men form a connection up on the mountain, one that leads to sex and to love. But once that idyllic summer is over, they must return to a world that wouldn't begin to condone their relationship, so it gets pushed as far out of sight and mind as possible. But it never goes away completely and they continue to meet clandestinely over the next two decades. This is a sad, sweet movie, told at a deliberate pace and allowed to unfold gradually. Both the guys are great but Ledger is particularly noteworthy as the more withdrawn of the two, a restless man never comfortable with his own identity. However, anybody who tells you this is just a love story and not really a gay movie is fooling themselves. It's very much a gay movie. It embraces its sexuality wholeheartedly and unflinchingly. If it's also seen as a universal love story, bravo. That's as it should be. (*** ½)

King Kong

If you've read anything about King Kong in the past few weeks, you're probably sick and tired of hearing jerks like me talk about how seeing the original 1933 movie was a turning point in their lives, it's one of their favorite movies, blah blah blah. I'll spare you all that but trust me, it was and it is. So despite my usual allergic reaction to remakes of all kinds, I was cautiously optimistic about this new one. Peter Jackson has made no secret of his love of the source material and I truly don't believe that he's made a bad movie yet. And King Kong keeps that record intact. There are things about this remake that I like a great deal, maybe even love. I loved that contraption that lowered Naomi Watts to her sacrificial perch on Skull Island. I thought a lot of the action was absolutely thrilling. I had no major complaints with any of the performances. But Good God a'mighty, somebody reintroduce Mr. Jackson to an editing system, stat! There's long and then there's loooong and then there's this. A lot of the criticism I've heard leveled at this movie focuses on the first hour but I don't think that's entirely fair. The fact is there isn't a single scene in this movie that doesn't go on longer than it needs to. From the opening montage (which, while clever, kind of sets you up for a different movie than what you're going to get) to Kong's eventual first appearance on Skull Island, from his debut on Broadway to his final plunge off the Empire State, every single scene is too long. I've had this conversation with friends before so I apologize if you're one of them and have heard this before (not bloody likely since none of my friends would bother reading this far). Just about anybody can tell a story in three hours time. But to generate some real emotion and response in an audience in ninety minutes? Now that's a skill. Peter Jackson's Kong isn't a bad movie by any definition. But I can't imagine anybody wanting to watch it as many times as I wanted to watch that 1933 original. (***)

Memoirs of a Geisha

Based on an Oprah-approved novel that I've never read, Rob Marshall's cinematic adaptation spares no expense on the costumes, sets and assorted on-screen finery. Ziyi Zhang stars as the impoverished country girl who is sold into the life of a geisha and trained to become Japan's finest by Michelle Yeoh. It's all very lovely to look at with sumptuous set-pieces and swelling mock-Japanese music by John Williams. But I never felt it really got to the heart of any of these characters. And while I understand the necessity for making this film in English (the novel itself was written by an American), perhaps making an English-language film with a cast composed entirely of people who have only recently learned the language isn't the easiest way to win fluid and natural performances. Memoirs of a Geisha is lovely to look at, to be sure, but imagine what kind of a classic Akira Kurosawa might have made in this world. (** ½)

Emmet Otter's Jug-Band Christmas

Lives there a Scrooge with heart so cold that it cannot be melted by this Jim Henson holiday classic? I say, no sir! I adore A Charlie Brown Christmas and Chuck Jones’ How the Grinch Stole Christmas just as much as the next guy but this often overlooked little gem deserves some holiday props, too. The story is your standard Gift of the Magi riff made special by Henson's Muppet magic. This is one of the only holiday specials I can think of that doesn't have any of the usual Christmas trappings or songs, which may be what makes it such a breath of fresh air. Paul Williams’ songs are terrific and, as anyone of my generation who remembers this show can tell you, the Riverbottom Nightmare Band RULES! (*** ½)

A Midnight Clear

One of the best things about recommending Christmas movies is that filmmakers love to set all kinds of weird-ass stories against a holiday backdrop. So by default, just about anything becomes a Christmas movie, whether it's Die Hard or Gremlins or this underrated 1992 war movie. Set during the month of December on the German front in 1944, A Midnight Clear follows a squad of young American GIs, assigned to intelligence detail because of their high test scores, as they encounter a weary German platoon sick of fighting and desiring nothing more than making it to the end of the war alive. Ethan Hawke is the sergeant in command of such fine actors as Peter Berg, Kevin Dillon, Arye Gross and Gary Sinise. Directed by Keith Gordon, A Midnight Clear never really becomes a great movie. But it is a smart, compelling one that you probably haven't seen, making it a perfect Yuletide antidote if you've overdosed on eggnog and Tim Allen movies. (***)

OK, merry-makers, that'll do it for 2005. Thanks again for reading and I'll see you back here in two weeks with what promises to be a bumper crop of end-of-the-year movies. Then the week after that, I'll have the eagerly-awaited best and worst of the year. Try not to bust a gut in anticipation.

Until next time, I truly do wish you all the very best of holiday seasons. Merry Christmas to all and to all, a good night.


Dedicated to Richard Pryor

"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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