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page created: 3/13/06
originally published: 3/8/06





Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #27
Hot Lead & Cold Feet


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Greetings from Hollywood, USA. I hope you're all recovering nicely from this year's epidemic of Oscar fever. Personally, I had a blast this year. I was invited to the first (perhaps the first annual) Oscar Viewing Party at the American Cinematheque here in LA. We were just blocks away from the main event at the Kodak Theatre, watching the telecast on the huge 57-foot screen of the historic Egyptian Theatre. Needless to say, it was great fun.

And hey, since I actually watched the show in an honest-to-god movie palace, I think it qualifies for a review here, don't ya think?


The 78th Annual Academy Awards

As three-and-a-half-hour live TV shows go, this one wasn't bad. Jon Stewart was, I thought, a terrific host. After a clever opening montage featuring past hosts ranging from the ubiquitous Billy Crystal to Oscar whipping boy David Letterman, Stewart took the stage and kept things moving along with class and wit. He stumbled only a bit during his opening monologue but found his stride with jokes about attack ads in the Best Actress category and ad-libbed linking material (“Coming up, Oscar's salute to montages.”). The night's best moments came courtesy of George Clooney, who will in twenty years most likely inherit Jack Nicholson's spot in the front row, and the members of Three 6 Mafia enthusiastically accepting their Best Song trophy for “It's Hard Out Here for a Pimp”. But it wouldn't be Oscar night without about an hour's worth of TV you wish you could forget, now would it? Who had the bright idea to play saccharine music underneath the entirety of all the acceptance speeches as if they were picking up their awards in a dentist's office? Stewart's montage joke only worked because of the utter pointlessness of the seemingly endless parade of film clips. In the salute to “movies that make a difference”, did they honestly equate The Day After Tomorrow with movies like All the President's Men? But the epitome of bad TV, and possibly the single most amazing thing I've ever seen on television, had to be Crashdance, the jaw-dropping retelling of the film Crash in interpretive dance form that unfolded behind Bird York's performance of “In Too Deep”. Just when you thought such moments had been buried along with your memories of Rob Lowe and Snow White crooning “Proud Mary”. As for the awards themselves, well, they are what they are. Crash was my least favorite of the five nominated films, so I can't say I'm thrilled it won Best Picture (although I did win a bet because of it, so bully for me on that score anyway). But anyone who considers the Academy Awards to be the final arbiters of what will go down in cinema history as a brilliant film needs to have their head examined... or at the very least be forced to endlessly watch Cimarron, the 1931 snoozefest that won Best Picture. All in all, this year's Oscars were reasonably entertaining and really, that's all you can expect from this annual event. But hey, I also liked Dave Letterman and Chris Rock as hosts, so what do I know about it? (***)

OK, now that that's out of the way, let's move on to some actual movies, eh? And to start things off, I've even got a rare advance review!


Coming Soon to Theatres...

The Proposition

Set in colonial Australia as the British are doing their best (and worst) to “civilize” the untamed outback, The Proposition is a strong, lyrical mix of the elegiac westerns of Sam Peckinpah and the bloodier spaghetti westerns to come out of Italy. At the beginning of the film, police Captain Stanley (Ray Winstone) captures two brothers wanted for the rape and murder of a pregnant woman. Stanley offers one of the brothers (Guy Pearce) a deal. He has ten days to ride out and capture or kill his older brother, the ringleader of the gang. If he fails to return, Stanley will hang his younger brother at dawn. Danny Huston plays Arthur, the older brother, with intensity and conviction. It's easily the best performance I've seen him give to date. Written by Nick Cave and directed by John Hillcoat, The Proposition is beautifully filmed, taking full advantage of the setting, and deeply literate, steeped in a rich background of Australian history. If you're at all familiar with Cave's music, it won't come as any surprise to learn that The Proposition is also intensely violent, one of the bloodiest westerns since the likes of Django. The Proposition is harsh, unsettling, and in its way, grimly beautiful and poetic. The film opens theatrically in the US in May and is well worth seeking out, especially on a big screen. (*** ½)


Now in Theatres...

Manderlay

Well, “now playing” might be stretching it a bit. This movie has all but vanished from theatres in the Los Angeles area, so your best bet at this point will be to wait for the DVD. But try to check it out if you can because Manderlay, the second part of Lars von Trier's controversial USA trilogy that began with Dogville, is quite a piece of work. Bryce Dallas Howard assumes the role of Grace from Nicole Kidman. She and her gangster father (now played by Willem Dafoe) have driven across country to arrive at the gates of Manderlay, a plantation in the Deep South whose slaves were never set free after the abolition of slavery over 70 years earlier. Grace liberates them and decides to stay on to help set the newly freed slaves on the path of freedom, as well as to teach the family who ran Manderlay a lesson. Things do not go easily and Grace learns that a little information is a dangerous thing, making a series of bad decisions based on evidence that isn't always as it seems. If anything, Manderlay is even more provocative than Dogville, with Grace's character less of a mystery and Trier now dealing in issues that are less abstract. I think it would have been a stronger film if Trier could have had his entire Dogville cast return. Howard isn't as strong as Kidman in the role but she ends up acquitting herself fairly well in some extremely difficult scenes. Even so, Manderlay is blisteringly confrontational and audacious. It's impossible to walk away from this film without feeling something, whether you agree or disagree with Trier's positions. It's a tough movie to shake out of your psyche, on a subject that most people probably don't want to think about but should. (*** ½)


Now on DVD...

LolliLove

In the interest of full disclosure, LolliLove is distributed by Troma, a company I have a bit of a history with, as you may know, and stars real-life married couple James Gunn and Jenna Fischer (who also co-wrote and directs), both of whom I know a bit. So if you think I'm just sucking up to friends by writing this review, so be it. But LolliLove is a genuinely funny movie and if you don't believe me, you're only hurting yourself by not watching it. James and Jenna play a rich married couple named James and Jenna in this mockumentary. Wanting to fill a spiritual void in their lives, they come up with a plan to help the homeless by handing out lollipops wrapped in “inspirational” artwork featuring keep-your-chin-up slogans like “You matter!” It's a plan designed to ultimately help nobody except James and Jenna feel better about themselves. LolliLove has a distinctly handmade feel to it and when the pace slows, it feels a bit like watching the Gunn family home movies (which we may well be doing at certain points of the film). But at its best, LolliLove is a clever satire on the condescending way in which the idle upper class tries to help the less fortunate. In less talented hands, this improv-style comedy could have been painfully bad. But Jenna Fischer is smart enough to keep things moving and both she and James are never less than amusing and often hilarious (my favorite bit is James’ reflections on the Holocaust). LolliLove probably isn't going to show up on the next AFI list of the 100 funniest movies of all time but it's quite a bit more fun than you may expect. Check it out. I think you'll be pleasantly surprised. (***)


Me and You and Everyone We Know

This is one of those movies that probably seem a lot better if you see it in the hermetic confines of a film festival than in the real world. John Hawkes (whom you may recognize from HBO's Deadwood) stars as a recently separated shoe salesman who moves into a bachelor apartment with his two young sons. By chance, he meets Christine (played by writer/director Miranda July), a video performance artist who earns a living as an elderly care driver. They're attracted to each other but find it difficult to establish a connection. Additional missed connections and chance encounters draw patterns between others in their circle, including the two boys, a neighbor, two teenage girls, and a gallery owner. I liked this movie more than I thought I would. There are some arresting images and at least one very, very funny scene involving Hawkes’ boys, the youngest of whom delivers one of the most natural and relaxed performances I've ever seen a child actor give. But there are other scenes that are just too art-installationy for my tastes. They may play well to an audience of film snobs watching half a dozen movies a day or to a gallery crowd sipping white wine and nodding appreciatively but just seem like overkill in a normal movie-going environment. Worth watching, to be sure, but it would be nice to see July ditch some of her art school affectations in her next film. (***)


That's all there is, there ain't no more! Or is there? The Bottom Shelf finally returned to The Digital Bits this week. Click your clickin’ finger on over to read reviews of Afro Promo, a compilation disc of black cinema trailers, Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean's MirrorMask, indie films Off the Map and Thumbsucker, and, most importantly, the Friday the 13th series! Parts one through eight, anyway.

Until next time, talk amongst yourselves.

Adam Jahnke
ajahnke@thedigitalbits.com


Dedicated to Don Knotts, Darren McGavin, Dennis Weaver, Jack Wild, Ali Farka Toure, Dana Reeve, Gordon Parks and Kirby Puckett... touch 'em all, folks

"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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