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John Allman

If you’ve ever wandered the aisles at the video store or surfed the DVR pay-per-view options and seen a bunch of movies that you’ve never heard of, chances are John has watched them. Why? He loves movies. All kinds of movies. Good, bad, so-bad-they’re good, even the truly unwatchable ones. He mostly loves horror and science-fiction and drive-in exploitation movies that most upstanding model citizens wouldn’t dare watch. Then he writes up his thoughts so you can decide - watch, don’t watch or avoid at all costs. Sometimes he even gets to talk to the cool folks who make some of your favorite films.

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New Releases for Tuesday, May 1, 2012

Posted May 19, 2012 by John Allman

Updated May 19, 2012 at 11:55 AM

What’s new in stores and on video shelves this week:

Genre: Action/Spy
Directed by: Steven Soderbergh
Run time: 93 minutes
Rating: R
Format: Blu-Ray

The Lowdown: Former mixed martial artist Gina Carano takes center stage in “Haywire,” indie director Steven Soderbergh’s attempt to fuse a B-movie beatdown with arthouse aesthetic.

And, for its first 35-40 minutes, the director who broke out with the wonderfully illicit and avant-garde ‘sex, lies and videotape,” does bring a perspective to the action genre that is foreign to the stereotypical brawny American shoot-em-up.

Then it all falls apart.

But where does the blame lie, if at all?

Carano isn’t necessarily ready for prime time. She needs a few supporting roles to take the lead. Her one-note delivery, blank stare and, surprisingly, her fight scenes all feel hesitant, the first steps of someone completely unsure of her surroundings. She’s not wooden so much as knowingly obtuse. At points I thought I could see Carano holding back intentionally following a flicker of something in her eyes. I’m not sure. Her performance just didn’t work for me.

That leaves her unbelievably top-heavy A-list supporting cast – Ewen McGregor, Antonio Banderas, Michael Douglas, Michael Fassbender, Channing Tatum, Bill Paxton – and the overly twisty screenplay by XXX.

The story does get a little too formulaic in the third act. It becomes confusing as to who is working for whom, against whom, etc. And Carano’s scenes with Paxton, her on-screen father, just lack any genuine pathos. I know she’s supposed to be a kick-butt former Marine, but dude, Marines can emote, they can cry, they can express feelings.

Soderbergh incorporates some nifty shots early on, framing the action scenes, which feature two extended foot chases through crowded city streetscapes, and overhead, across rooftops, with interesting tracking shots and various, unexpected POV’s.

A director willing to take such creative risks should be championed, and there have been few times in his career, even when helming big-budget studio tentpoles, that Soderbergh could be accused of playing it safe.

It’s just that “Haywire” feels like an experiment instead of a real movie, particularly during its last 30 minutes or so. Its ragged energy and loping pace start to work against it, and several scenes just fall flat. Even the ending, which should have been a clever comeuppance, kind of thuds.

Part of it is Carano, who might as well be looking at a takeout menu instead of a co-star when she speaks. Part of it is the story itself, which becomes a kind of trap from which very little of intelligence can escape. Part of it feels like Soderbergh just ran out of tarmac during takeoff and couldn’t decide whether to crash spectacularly or skirt the treetops and hope for the best.

The Stuff You Care About:
Hot chicks – Gina Carano is a hot, but empty, vessel.
Nudity – Brief.
Gore – No.
Drug use – No.
Bad Guys/Killers – Who knows. I don’t know who anybody worked for.
Buy/Rent – Rent it.
Blu-Ray Bonus Features – Two fairly short featurettes, one on Carano and one on all her male co-stars.

Also Available:

MIB and MIB 2 – J and K are back, and in high definition, and just in time for the third “Men in Black” film to hit theaters. The first remains an all-time classic, and the second outing deserves another look. It’s much better than people give it credit for, even if it fails to maintain the same imaginative consistency of the original.

Strip Strip Hooray! – Burlesque performers and low-budget B movies. They go together like peanut butter and chocolate, and this set of six films from the 40s and 50s is a treasure trove of classic erotica.

New Year’s Eve – First there was “Valentine’s Day,” now “New Year’s Eve.” I refuse to watch any of these holiday-themed box office versions of “The Love Boat” until they get smart and release “Hannukah: The Movie.”

Joyful Noise – Dolly Parton, shame on you. You’ve gone from “9 to 5” to this?

The Front Line – The Korean War, as never told before.

Clueless – Even 17 years later, this one still sparkles with sly, subversive wit and a scathing commentary on privilege.

Ralphie May: Too Big to Ignore – Funny man.

Mimic 3-Film Set – Guillermo del Toro’s giant bug movie spawned two sequels, neither of them as inventive as the original, but as a set, “Mimic” makes for pulpy, gooey fun.

Kojak: The Complete Fourth Season – Who loves ya, baby?

W.E. – Madonna tries, she really tries, but much like her Super Bowl halftime spectacle, this is all surface gloss with very little depth.

Fight the Fight – Much like recycled horror clichés, Chinese kung fu epics don’t need much in the way of originality to still be entertaining. Kick kick hooray!

Suits: The Complete First Season – Gabriel Macht bombed as “The Spirit,” but on the small screen, he actually surprises.

Dirty Sexy Money: Season One and Season Two – Best known for being the first Prime Time soap to feature a transgendered character, this ABC drama was neither dirty or sexy enough.

Samantha Who: Season One and Season Two – Christina Applegate, we love you! That’s who.

Felicity: Season One and Season Two – In the end, it was all about the haircut seen around the world, but J.J. Abrams first hit was a nicely structured drama free from mysteries, islands or alien invaders.

Not To Be Overlooked:

The Theater Bizarre (Anchor Bay/Image, 114 minutes, Unrated, DVD): Proving once again that anthology horror is a lot more difficult to pull off than it might look, especially when wrapped around a concept as thorny as sexual deviancy, “The Theater Bizarre” is one of those films that you want to love even as the segments start to drag and muddy. There are some wonderfully dark segments, particularly the story within a story featuring Udo Kier as a creepy man-puppet, and the frequent blasts of hyper-sexualized eroticism isn’t unwelcome or distracting. It just leaves you wanting more, unlike 2011’s “Little Deaths,” which tackled the same themes, sex, love, revenge and experimentation, with decidedly better results.

The Fields (Breaking Glass, 98 minutes, Unrated, DVD): An above-average independent horror film with a wonderful turn by Cloris Leachman. The last act makes up for any slow drags in the beginning and middle. Definitely worth checking out. 

Shame (Fox, 101 minutes, NC-17, Blu-Ray): Michael Fassbender goes full monty, Carey Mulligan does too. “Shame” is the most provocative film you will ever see about sex, really nothing but sex, that is not the least bit erotic. There were several moments I wanted to stop the film not because I was aroused, but because I felt dirty and uncomfortable and wanted to shower. Director Steve McQueen is a daring, fearless auteur who you will be hearing much, much more about in the future. A visionary whose actors trust unconditionally is a good, good thing. 

Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites and Dark Shadows: Best of Barnabus (E1, 360 minutes combined, Unrated, DVD): Poor Jonathan Frid did not live long enough to see his iconic creation, Barnabas Collins, the tragic and doomed vampire antihero of the long running daytime soap, “Dark Shadows,” brought to un-life by Johnny Depp in Tim Burton’s recent big-screen treatment. Frid died just one week prior to release. But the overly dramatic, entirely campy, shockingly uneven cult favorite, which ran for five easons on ABC from 1966 to 1971, is being, ahem, resurrected by Entertainment One in a Deluxe Boxed Set, shaped like a coffin, no less, and in individual discs like “Fan Favorites” and “Best of Barnabus,” to give fans a chance to re-experience one of the first serials to attempt to incorporate vampires, werewolves, witches and more into a traditional dysfunctional family drama.

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