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page created: 11/10/05
originally published: 11/9/05

Jahnke's Electric Theatre

Jahnke's Electric Theatre #20
No Funeral

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Well, isn't this a pathetic display. All this time between proper Electric Theatre entries and what do I have to show for myself? Four lousy movies. At this rate, let's hope I get sick and have to spend a couple days in bed just catching up.

The good news is that what little I have for you this week actually isn't bad. And, since there isn't much, it'll be a quick read. Everyone's a winner this week.

The A-Picture - Shopgirl

All I have to say is thank god Steve Martin's written another screenplay. Watching him flail about in inexplicably popular movies like Bringing Down the House these past few years has almost been enough to make this hardcore fan lose faith. But when he takes a writing credit, it's usually a pretty good sign that the movie will be worth watching and Shopgirl is no exception. Based on Martin's novella, this is a bittersweet movie about a young artist (very well played by Claire Danes) and her relationships with two very different men. The first is a logo designer (Jason Schwartzman) who has no money and no idea how to relate to women. The other is a rich, older man (Martin) who treats her well but keeps her at a distance. Shopgirl reminded me both of Roxanne and Martin's little-seen and somewhat underrated A Simple Twist of Fate. It's sad, funny and romantic and once again, Martin uses Los Angeles better than just about anyone else. But the biggest surprise may be the performances. Shopgirl is often very funny but most of the best lines are given to Schwartzman. Martin's performance, on the other hand, is very restrained and closed off. Shopgirl isn't Steve Martin's best film but it's certainly the best one he's been involved with in years. If you're a fan, particularly of his writing, you'll definitely want to check this out. (*** ½)

The Interpreter

Sydney Pollack directs this throwback to the political thrillers of the 1970s, movies like Pollack's own Three Days of the Condor. Trouble is that The Interpreter is nowhere near as good. Nicole Kidman is the title character who overhears an assassination plot after hours in the United Nations. Sean Penn is the Secret Service agent assigned to protect the visiting dignitary and assess Kidman's credibility. The Interpreter certainly isn't a bad movie. A couple of the suspense sequences really deliver and both the stars are fine. But the story kind of collapses by the third act, as if they hoped the audience would stop trying to keep up with the story by then and just go with the flow. I'm afraid I did not. The screenplay is credited to three people and the movie feels like none of them ever met. (** ½)


I'm still not entirely sure what to make of Sam Mendes’ Gulf War drama and the fact that I'm still thinking about it probably means this is a great movie. But it didn't seem like one while I was watching it and I'm still hedging my bets. Jake Gyllenhaal is good as Marine sniper Anthony Swofford, a recruit whose bloodlust has been fired up by the military but has no release for it in this new, lightning-paced war. Jamie Foxx is also memorable as Swofford's drill sergeant but I never quite bought Peter Sarsgaard as his partner. Jarhead is full of arresting images and I love the idea of a war movie that focuses on the tedium of waiting for battle. At its best, Jarhead is reminiscent of M*A*S*H and Catch-22. But there's also a lot here we've seen many times before in other war movies and I was frustrated by how distant and remote the movie was. In particular, I didn't understand why the movie didn't explore why these men signed up for this all-volunteer army. Every Vietnam movie I've ever seen devotes more time to this question than Jarhead does, and we know why most of them were there. They were drafted. Still, it's not really fair for me to complain about what Jarhead isn't. What is on screen is often compelling, funny and worth watching. (***)

North Country

Will Charlize Theron make it 2-for-2 at this year's Oscars? Could be. After all, Sally Field won for Norma Rae and North Country is nothing if not Norma Rae in the Mines. Theron is quite good as the real-life whistleblower who exposed the rampant sexual harassment in the male-dominated mining industry, forging a complex and interesting character out of a part that could too easily have been turned into a one-dimensional lionization of the real person. And she's really the main reason to see North Country (well, her and Sissy Spacek and Richard Jenkins, very good as Theron's parents). It's a good movie but it's not exactly breaking new ground. Plus, the decision to switch the timeframe of the movie to 1989 (several years after the events took place in real life) doesn't work. I assume it was just done to parallel the Anita Hill hearings, which they do repeatedly and obviously throughout. But the hair, costumes and sets just don't look like any 1989 I lived through. Even so, North Country is never dull and avoids most, though not all, of the usual traps for this kind of issue-oriented drama. (***)

OK, I'm tapped out for the week. Unless, of course, you haven't checked out the latest Bottom Shelf column, where you'll find reviews of three Bruce Campbell movies: Alien Apocalypse, Man with the Screaming Brain, and some obscure little flick called Evil Dead II. I swear I'll try to have more for you in a couple weeks. ‘Til then, may the good lord take a likin’ to you.


Dedicated to... oh, let's say... Moe

"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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