#50 - Match Game '07

Dedicated To
Charles Nelson Reilly
1931 - 2007

Added 6/4/07

Good mornfternoovening, my non-time-zone-specific friends. Welcome to a very special episode of Jahnke’s Electric Theatre. No, that doesn’t mean that this week Theo learns about the horrors of morphine addiction from an old jazz musician friend of Dr. Huxtable. Cast your peepers upward and you’ll notice that this is the 50th installment of Ye Olde Electric Theatre. Well, 52nd if you count the Electric Theatre Annuals but I don’t, so neither should you. Hard to believe I’ve done fifty of these stupid things. Harder still to believe that it’s taken me over two years to do fifty installments of a supposedly weekly column. In my defense, it started out as a biweekly so slack should be cut. Anyway, I’m saving the special double-sized anniversary issue with die-cut foil cover for Jahnke’s Electric Theatre #100, if and when we ever hit that milestone. So far now, let’s just wish the column a quiet Happy Golden Anniversary and move right into the movies.


The A-Picture - Knocked Up

I was one of those who strongly championed Judd Apatow’s 2005 flick The 40 Year Old Virgin, persistently and, I’m sure, annoyingly telling anyone who’d listen how great the movie was. Having watched it again recently, I stand by that assessment. And while I enjoyed his follow-up, the unplanned parenthood comedy Knocked Up, I don’t think I’ll be trumpeting its praises quite as frequently. Not that it’s a bad movie by any stretch of the imagination. But it seems like Apatow’s doing more than fine without my help. This time, Seth Rogen steps into the leading man spotlight as Ben Stone, a stoner unencumbered by responsibility or much ambition. He hooks up with leggy blonde Alison Scott (played by leggy blonde Katherine Heigl) and gets lucky. Eight weeks later, Ben and Alison discover their one night stand is going to be held over thanks to Ben’s drunken inability to use a condom. It’s impossible to say at this point how much range Seth Rogen has as an actor but he’s got terrific presence and his amiable, good-natured personality surprisingly turns out to be more than enough to carry the movie. Even so, Apatow doesn’t make Rogen do all the heavy lifting on his own. Heigl matches him throughout, taking us along as she learns to love this big doofus who seems so far out of her league, he’s not even playing the same sport. Also invaluable are Leslie Mann and Paul Rudd as Alison’s sister and brother-in-law, a bored, possibly unhappy married couple. Knocked Up didn’t quite connect with me the same way The 40 Year Old Virgin did. Its pace has more in common with the too-long unrated version of Virgin that’s available on DVD and while the camaraderie between Ben and his roommates comes off as authentic, it’s not as fresh or funny as what Apatow is up to in the rest of the movie. But at its best, Knocked Up is a smart, heartfelt and often hysterical comedy that proves that Judd Apatow is one of the best comedic filmmakers we have right now. (* * * ½)

Mr. Brooks

If I had to sum up the outlandish thriller Mr. Brooks in one word, it would be “peculiar”, not least because there seems to be at least four or five movies all jockeying for position in here. Kevin Costner stars as Earl Brooks, pillar of the Portland, Oregon community, who for years has hid the fact that he’s also the dreaded Thumbprint Killer. Brooks’ alter ego, Marshall, is played by William Hurt in a nifty piece of casting that proves to be one of the best things this movie has going for it. After Brooks’ latest kill, he’s paid a visit by a neighbor (Dane Cook) who snapped some photos of Mr. Brooks in action. He’s a blackmailer with a twist. Instead of money, he wants Mr. Brooks to take him along on his next kill and teach him the ropes. Meanwhile, Demi Moore plays a rich police detective in the throes of a messy divorce who’s working the Thumbprint Killer case. Mean-meanwhile, her life is in danger after one of her collars, the Hangman, escapes from prison (yes, we’re in one of those movie worlds where all the bad guys are serial killers with cool nicknames). Mean-mean-meanwhile, Mr. Brooks has more problems when his daughter unexpectedly arrives home from college harboring a deep dark secret. Some of all this is pretty interesting, with Costner and Hurt doing some fine work together. But a lot of it is laughably, unbelievably awful. The story twists and turns on itself so often that your best bet is to just give up trying to predict where it’s going and allow the out-of-left-field developments to wash over you in great waves of stupidity. I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that every actor was given a slightly different script that made it seem like they were the focal point of the story, so out-of-tune with each other are these disparate threads. That said, I was kind of entertained by Mr. Brooks, though only about 40-50% of that was likely in the ways the filmmakers intended. Not nearly good enough to recommend on its own merits and not quite bad enough to recommend as a bizarro world camp classic, Mr. Brooks is worth watching for the brave but be prepared to do some serious sifting to separate the wheat from the chaff. (* * ½)


Heart Like A Wheel

I remember this 1983 biopic airing on HBO virtually every other time I flipped on the channel back in the mid-80s and me going out of my way to avoid watching it. This may not have been the smartest choice, since it turns out that Heart Like A Wheel is actually pretty good. Bonnie Bedelia has one of her best roles as Shirley Muldowney, the first woman to make a name for herself as a champion drag racer. Beau Bridges offers fine support as Connie Kalitta, the married driver Shirley takes up with once she turns pro. Director Jonathan Kaplan started his career working for Roger Corman and he delivers some terrific racing sequences here. But the movie is at its best when it focuses on Bedelia’s performance. Add in a surprisingly substantial role for cult icon Dick Miller and a funny cameo by Paul Bartel and you’ve got yourself a darned entertaining little movie that continues to fly under the radar. (* * *)


Photographer and music video director David LaChapelle helms this 2005 documentary spotlighting the emergence of crumping, a (then) new dance subculture in South Central LA. LaChapelle spends plenty of time getting to know his subjects, including Tommy the Clown, whose clown movement laid the seeds and provided the inspiration for crumping. LaChapelle is clearly fascinated by this and draws some interesting parallels between this movement and African tribal dancing but in the end, Rize still feels like an outsider’s view of a very insular scene. Still, the main reason to check this out is to watch these kids move and Rize delivers where it counts. (* * *)

The Hamiltons

My slog through the films of last year’s AfterDark Horror Fest continues with The Hamiltons, the debut movie of the eye-rollingly named Butcher Brothers. The Hamiltons are a family whose parents have died and are now looked after by eldest brother David (Samuel Child). Every so often, they’ll kidnap somebody and drain their blood for the benefit of youngest brother Lenny, who is kept locked up in the basement. Only Francis (Cory Knauf) has any problems with all this, suffering through a moral quandary that has him deciding whether or not to rat out his family. The performances in The Hamiltons aren’t too bad and there’s some good ideas in here. But you would expect this Donner Party of Five set-up to yield a cleverer result than what’s on screen. (* *)

Now Playing at the Hell Plaza Octoplex - Wicked Little Things

Here’s a test for watching movies at home. Before the movie starts, prop your feet up on an ottoman. If staring at your toes becomes a more interesting option than following the action on screen, stick this one in the DOA pile. Wicked Little Things failed the toe test within about fifteen minutes. Lori Heuring stars as a widowed mom who moves her two young girls to an inherited house in Pennsylvania haunted by the undead kids trapped in a mining accident a hundred years ago or so. Wicked Little Things looks pretty good but is as exciting as watching dust settle and not much scarier. For all our sakes, I hope this is the nadir of the AfterDark Horror Fest. (*)

Your pal,