#39 - Because I'm A Dancer

Dedicated To

John Belushi
1949 - 1982

Added 3/05/07

Dear Editor

This is the Electric Theatre speaking.  No A-Picture to report this week but plenty of frustrating near-misses and even more frustrating total misses, so let’s get to it, shall we?



Not long ago, a friend and I were talking about David Fincher’s latest movie.  He expressed reservations about whether or not they’d be able to find the drama in an investigation that dragged on for years and resulted in no convictions.  Turns out, that’s a reasonable concern and, for my money, it’s a hurdle Fincher and crew never quite clear.  For the first hour or more, Zodiac is a compelling, detailed and thorough procedural capturing the fear and frustration that accompanied the Zodiac killer’s murders and cryptic threats.  As alcoholic crime reporter Paul Avery, Robert Downey Jr. strides into every scene he’s in, packs it up in a box and walks off with it tucked under his arm.  Mark Ruffalo and Anthony Edwards make equally strong impressions as the detectives assigned this seemingly impenetrable case.  The only cast member who doesn’t quite register is Jake Gyllenhaal as cartoonist Robert Graysmith.  This becomes a problem in the second half as Graysmith takes up the trail and begins his own investigation.  It’s never made quite clear why Graysmith would become so obsessed apart from a love of puzzles.  It’s interesting to watch him put the pieces together but I never felt that it really mattered if he solved it or not.  Fincher dials down his usual visual acrobatics but still has his cinematographer and production design team working overtime to create a sense of menace and danger where none actually exists.  Ultimately, while the facts of the Zodiac case are undeniably interesting and unusual, it just doesn’t seem all that important.  We’re told that he held the entire state of California in terror for years but that never quite comes across.  Bear in mind that I’ve been in the minority on Fincher’s movies before.  I’m no great fan of Se7en or Panic Room, for instance, so there’s a good chance you might like this a lot more than I did.  But for me, Zodiac looks and feels authentic but remains inert, kind of like watching someone else solve a crossword puzzle. (* * ½)

Black Snake Moan

Armed with enough pulpy Southern gothic heat to fuel BBQs across the Mississippi Delta, Craig Brewer’s second film doesn’t quite live up to his first, Hustle & Flow.  Samuel L. Jackson stars as an old bluesman whose younger wife has just left him for his brother.  Thrown almost literally at his doorstep is Christina Ricci as a wild young nymphomaniac, badly beaten and left for dead on the side of the road.  Jackson interprets this chance encounter as a sign from God that he’s meant to cure her of her wickedness, whether she wants to take the cure or not.  And yes, part of that cure involves chaining her to a radiator.  Black Snake Moan takes its narrative cues from the old blues songs that propel its soundtrack and Brewer certainly wins points for unapologetic audacity.  The movie has several sequences that snap and are as thrilling as a great guitar riff.  I’d have enjoyed the movie as a whole a bit more if Brewer had filled the entire thing with that energy.  At times it feels as if he’s trying to locate the real-world heart buried in these over-the-top blues songs.  When your central image is a half-naked woman chained to a radiator, that might be a lost cause.  Jackson and Ricci are both excellent and Justin Timberlake is, if not excellent then at least surprisingly effective.  I wanted to enjoy Black Snake Moan at least as much as I did Hustle & Flow but it was a near miss.  Brewer has talent, though, and I’ll enjoy seeing what he does next. (* * ½)

Wild Hogs

Pity the emasculated white suburban male (and his sole black friend).  They get no respect from their kids, their wives are more often than not shrieking harridans and their lives, comfortable as they may be, aren’t what they had planned when they were younger.  In an effort to get back in touch with their dormant masculinity, four friends head off to a dude ranch…wait, wrong movie.  Doesn’t matter, though.  If you’ve seen City Slickers, then you’ve seen Wild Hogs.  Tim Allen’s entire career is based on playing these types of roles and he’s usually pretty good at wringing humor out of sub-standard material, so it’s no surprise that he comes off best in this collection of tired gags.  John Travolta, on the other hand, reverts to Look Who’s Talking mode, mugging and flailing about whenever the opportunity presents itself.  I can’t say as I’ve ever seen a Martin Lawrence movie I’ve enjoyed but at least he seems awake in those.  As for William H. Macy, he stumbles through this as if he’s fulfilling a lifelong dream to appear in a sequel to Revenge of the NerdsWild Hogs is one of the laziest comedies I’ve seen in recent years with every beat telegraphed as if the filmmakers were afraid of startling their audience.  When the climactic biker brawl makes you yearn for the sophisticated humor of the equivalent scene in the original Cannonball Run, you know you’ve got a problem. (* ½)



For a somewhat more dignified William H. Macy performance, check out this indie film with an unusual pedigree.  Written by David Mamet and directed by Stuart Gordon of Re-Animator fame, Edmond stars Macy as a beaten-down nobody suffering through a midlife crisis that would make the Wild Hogs tremble like schoolgirls.  After leaving his wife, Edmond goes on a bizarre psychosexual tour of the city, encountering strippers, peepshow girls, pimps and hustlers.  I’m not familiar with the Mamet play this is based on but the movie feels like a one-act stretched too far.  It opens strong with the first hour playing like After Hours meets Falling Down.  But the movie continues for another thirty minutes, adding very little to what’s already been said and done.  Edmond is worth checking out, particularly for Mamet fans, but in the end it’s more of a curiosity than an undiscovered gem. (* * ½)  

A Force Of One

When a pair of narcotics cops is killed by “one of them karate weirdos like in the movies”, captain Clu Gulager enlists the help of Chuck Norris to train the rest of his force in the martial arts.  Of course, Chuck’s got a big kickboxing championship to worry about too.  Gee, I wonder if they might be connected in some way.  This was Chuck’s second big hit as an action star and, as you might suspect, contains more cheese than a plateful of potatoes au gratin.  Still, it’s amusing and unpretentious, which counts for something.  There are worse things you could do than watch Chuck Norris kick somebody in the head. (* *)


I had been under the impression that Junebug had won a lot of praise when it was released a couple years ago but looking back, it seems that most of it was for the performance of Amy Adams.  Understandable, as she’s terrific in this indie comedy-drama about an art dealer (Embeth Davidtz) who accompanies her new husband (Alessandro Nivola) back home to North Carolina while trying to woo a new artist.  The cast is good but the script and tone are a little too indie-film-quirky to make any real impact.  Nivola’s character is particularly annoying, preaching to his wife about the importance of family despite the fact that he seems to only show up when it suits him.  Adams is great fun, though, and Scott Wilson does a great job with his role, a man of few words but hidden depths.  Together, they make the film worth watching despite its many faults. (* * ½)

Must Love Dogs

Must I?  Believe it or not, I don’t mind romantic comedies and enjoy them when they’re done well.  This one is not.  Diane Lane is a divorcee whose family wants her to start dating again so they place an Internet ad on her behalf.  One of the replies comes from John Cusack, also recently divorced and also done by a friend who wants him to start dating again.  Every cliché in the book is marched out as if it’s a fresh idea…Lane’s gay friend, her ladies’ man father still mourning the death of her “sainted” mother, the precocious kids, and of course, the reaction shots of the dog.  This would have been a bad movie under any circumstances.  What makes it a dreadful movie is that it wastes the talents of usually smart actors like Lane, Cusack, Elizabeth Perkins and Stockard Channing.  By the time you get to the Partridge Family sing-along scene, you’ll be looking around desperately for something…anything else to do with your time. (*)

Your pal,