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The Dark Backward: Special Edition

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

Back in the day, I had a VHS copy of this strange movie. I would show it to friends who appreciated stuff that was "out there," and it would receive a mixed reaction. The 1991 film hadn't yet got a DVD release, and my tape copy is long gone. But now, 16 years after its original release, the movie's finally getting some digital love.

Judd Nelson plays Marty Malt, the world's worst--and sweatiest--standup comedian. His act bombs on a nightly basis, but best buddy and fellow garbage man Gus (Bill Paxton, in total overdrive) has undying faith in him. That, or he simply wants Marty to make it in showbiz so he can ride his coattails as Marty's musical accompaniment. (He plays a mean accordion.)

Marty has developed a strange bump on his back. A sleazy doctor (James Caan, in one of the film's many cameos) tells him it might be a tumor, and not to pick at it. Then the tumor turns into a baby hand and eventually becomes a full-grown third arm. Gus decides to capitalize on his friend's newfound limb and gets famous talent scout Jackie Chrome (a fully committed Wayne Newton) to sign him as a client. Now that Marty is a freak, the act is destined for the big time.

The film, shot for less than a million bucks, is put together well by director Adam Rifkin. It looks like it cost a lot more. He's created his own little universe where everything is made by a factory named Blumps, and the streets are strewn with litter.

The Dark Backward isn't for the squeamish. It contains a sex orgy with Paxton and three overweight women, as well as a corpse-licking scene (also featuring Paxton) that somehow managed to make it into the movie with an R rating intact. The vibe is sort of David Lynch meets John Waters, and sometimes it goes a little too far. Still, the commitment of the performers--especially Paxton--to the insanity of the piece keeps things enjoyable for those who can handle a little corpse-licking in their movies.

I'm going to go out on a limb and call this the best Judd Nelson performance ever, even better than his performance in The Breakfast Club. Marty Malt represented a complete U-turn for his career, a career that never quite took off after his involvement in the movie, which was a critical and box-office disaster. In the start of his career, Paxton was great at playing oddballs. (I loved him in Aliens and Weird Science. ) I like his work here, but I could see how somebody could hate it. Overacting is an understatement for what the man puts forth in the movie.

Don't blink, or you'll miss cameos from Rob Lowe and others.

Special Features: There's some great stuff on this disc. Rifkin, Nelson, Paxton and others deliver a good-natured commentary, often discussing how nobody made any money on the movie. They also sit down for a Q&A and a decent documentary. It's very cool to see somebody as high profile as Paxton giving this much of an effort to an obscure DVD project. Deleted scenes and outtakes also make the disc.

Year of the Dog

Paramount Home Video
Movie C+
Special Features B
DVD Geek Factor 5 (out of 10)

Molly Shannon stars as a woman whose dog dies, causing her to slowly unravel and then be reborn. First-time director Mike White, who penned The School of Rock and The Good Girl, makes an uneven debut in the big chair. Shannon, normally a comic actress, delivers a bold performance as a woman going through some big changes. Peter Sarsgaard is also good as a Humane Society worker and vegan (probably based on White himself) who helps Shannon's character get back on her feet and up to speed with her new doggie.

The film has a good heart, but it sort of loses its way toward the end. White gets a lot of credit for assembling a good cast, but his film is lopsided in tone and feels undernourished. There are some great dogs in the movie, including an adorable beagle playing a dog named Pencil. I love beagles.

Special Features: Some making-of documentaries, deleted scenes, outtakes and a commentary with White and Shannon.

Starter for 10

Movie B+
Special Features D
DVD Geek Factor 5.75 (out of 10)

I didn't know what this movie was when it arrived in the mail. It had a limited release, and when I looked it up, I saw that many critics seemed to really like it. After watching it, I concur.

The film is a late-'80s period piece about a college student looking for quiz-show fame and love. Sounds terrible, right? It's actually very enjoyable, with James McAvoy (The Last King of Scotland) doing an excellent job as the confused student. There are astonishingly cute leading ladies, a quirky feel to the film and a great soundtrack that includes the music of The Cure. It's a pleasant surprise.

Special Features: An HBO "First Look" feature that you probably already saw if you have HBO.

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