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Magnolia Pictures
Movie B+
Special Features B+
DVD Geek Factor 7 (out of 10)

Released in theaters on a Friday, and available in video stores the following Tuesday, Magnolia Pictures managed to technically avoid the old direct-to-video stigma with this sweet film. Paul Rudd plays a clam digger living in Long Island, N.Y., during the '70s, and this film is further proof that he's one of the more valuable performers collecting paychecks today.

An effective period piece, it was written by Ken Marino, former member of comedy troupe The State. He also plays Lozo, another clam digger with too many kids and a nasty temper. Marino (who co-starred with Rudd in the classic Wet Hot American Summer) proves himself a mighty fine actor, and not a bad writer to boot.

The excellent supporting cast includes Lauren Ambrose (Six Feet Under) as Rudd's unreliable love interest, Maura Tierney as Rudd's sister and Ron Eldard as the neighborhood playboy. Some cool pop-culture references, including a funny bit involving Jaws, make this fun for anybody who grew up in the '70s. Marino is a force to be reckoned with.

Special Features: Offerings include an episode of the HDNet TV show Higher Definition featuring the film, deleted scenes and outtakes, along with a fun commentary by Marino.

Fay Grim

Magnolia Pictures
Movie B
Special Features B-
DVD Geek Factor 6.75 (out of 10)

In a summer of sequels, this has to be the strangest of the bunch. Like Diggers, it was released to theaters on a Friday in May, with the DVD coming out the following Tuesday. It is director Hal Hartley's unusual sequel to his 1997 masterpiece Henry Fool, and, in true Hartley form, it's ultra-bizarre.

Parker Posey reprises her role as Fay Grim, wife of Henry Fool (Thomas Jay Ryan), the eccentric man from the first film who couldn't write. Henry had tried to pass himself off as the greatest novelist of the 20th century, but a glance at his writings proved unfortunate. His journals were gibberish.

Hartley uses Henry's allegedly bad writing as a springboard for a satire of sorts, taking aim at spy movies like the Mission Impossible series and Jason Bourne movies. Fay must go to Europe when a CIA agent (Jeff Goldblum) informs her that her husband has died. This isn't a Scary Movie-type spoof. Hartley, for the most part, plays it straight, with his satire coming off more through occasional wise-ass observations.

As in past films, Hartley sporadically employs a brand of slapstick that is all his own. (There's a bit involving a vibrating cellular phone that's good for a laugh.) He's one of the more offbeat directors working today, and this should stand as one of his strangest efforts.

Special Features: A making-of documentary, where Hartley basically explains how nuts he is.

Straight Time

Warner Bros.
Movie A
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 8 (out of 10)

If you are looking for a refresher course on why Dustin Hoffman is one of the greatest actors to ever grace a movie screen, check this one out. Produced in 1978, Straight Time tells the story of Max Dembo, a lifetime criminal newly released from the state penitentiary, looking to start life anew by getting a home, a job and a woman to love him.

Of course, life is not easy for an ex-felon, and Dembo soon finds out that society doesn't necessarily want to see him succeed. Even though he's gotten himself a job, a home and a girl (Theresa Russell), his slimy parole officer (M. Emmet Walsh) sees him as just another ex-con. When the parole officer pushes Max too far, the criminal re-emerges, and his life spirals out of control.

Hoffman, who notoriously researches his roles, comes off as a guy who really did a lot of time in the pen before making this movie. When Dembo first gets off the bus, with a glaze over his eyes, he orders a hot dog and almost forgets to pay. It's not because he's trying to steal the food; it's because he's become so used to walking up and simply choosing his lunch. The notion of paying has escaped him.

The film offers some great supporting performances, especially from Gary Busey as a drug-addicted former partner in crime, and Harry Dean Stanton as an impatient thief who can't tolerate Dembo's on-the-job demeanor. Whenever a crime is going down, Dembo ignores the calls of "Time's up!" and continues to steal things, while Stanton's character continues to scream at him. Max's tendency to overdo it ultimately has tragic results.

The movie is based on the novel by real-life ex-criminal Edward Bunker, who would go on to play Mr. Blue in Quentin Tarantino's Reservoir Dogs. Bunker also appears in the film and served as a technical advisor, a big reason for this film's authentic feel. Look carefully, and you'll see Kathy Bates in one of her first big-screen roles. Busey's son Jake plays Busey's onscreen son.

Special Features: Dustin Hoffman and director Ulu Grosbard deliver commentaries, although they are more like interviews played along with the film. There's also a vintage featurette on the making of the movie, including an archival interview with Bunker sitting in a prison cell discussing the film.

More by Bob Grimm


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