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Mystery Train





(OUT OF 10)

While this film is not Jim Jarmusch's best (Down by Law, Dead Man and Broken Flowers are my faves), this uneven film certainly has moments of greatness.

Jarmusch sets various, sort-of-connecting stories in Memphis, Tenn., where the spirit of Elvis pervades. Three stories, with a flophouse hotel as the common thread, play out in improvisatory fashion, with mixed results. While "Far From Yokohama" features two leads—Masatoshi Nagase and Youki Kudoh, as Japanese tourists—who fail to engage, the story does include a strange Screamin' Jay Hawkins as the hotel's night clerk. Hawkins also appears in the other two stories, "A Ghost" and "Lost in Space"; his presence is odd, yet appreciated.

"Lost in Space" is easily the best segment, featuring Steve Buscemi, Rick Aviles and the late Joe Strummer as a trio of bumbling idiots who get themselves in all types of trouble while out on the town. Seeing Strummer here is a sad reminder that The Clash leader left the planet far too soon. He's in fine form as Johnny, aka Elvis, earning his nickname due to his pompadour.

This is a very loose movie, with almost no plot and not much scripted dialogue. While the style works with masters of improvisation like Buscemi, it doesn't really click with the likes of Nicoletta Braschi (Life Is Beautiful), who can barely speak English, yet stars in the "Ghost" segment. This segment consists mostly of droll actors bouncing lines off of her while she looks confused.

Considering the lack of structure, the film still comes together as an interesting, if not always entertaining, character meditation. I enjoy Jarmusch's style, and the film is worth watching if you like his movies.

SPECIAL FEATURES: Jarmusch, who doesn't like doing commentaries, does answer questions about the film in a lengthy audio section that is separate from the movie. You also get a portion of a Screamin' Jay Hawkins documentary, a doc about Memphis, and a booklet with essays on the film.

Avatar: The Last Airbender: The Complete Book 1 (Collector's Edition)





(OUT OF 10)

Man, I like this Avatar a whole lot more than the James Cameron debacle.

This is the first collection of episodes (out of three) from the animated series that aired on Nickelo-deon from 2005 to 2008. A first glance might have you thinking that this is some Japanese anime series that the children's network picked up, but it's not. It's created and produced by Americans, and it looks terrific.

Series creators Michael Dante DiMartino and Bryan Konietzko came up with the idea while in college; they pitched it, and it got picked up. It features nations based on the elements (fire, water, earth and air), with a young boy (the title character) being the only entity who can beat the evil Fire nation.

The series gained a huge following, and M. Night Shyamalan has adapted it into a movie to be released on July 2. As children's cartoons go, this one is one of the best.

SPECIAL FEATURES: The discs with the show's episodes were released a few years ago, so fans will be repeating themselves if they purchase this. You do get a nifty box reminiscent of the releases for The Lord of the Rings extended editions. There's also a bonus disc including a sweet and sentimental documentary on the series, animation art and interviews. Finally, there's a nice little book detailing some of the animation art. If you own the previous edition, you could always pawn it and buy this to get the exemplary bonus materials.

The Crazies





(OUT OF 10)

George Romero is in a big slump (see the Survival of the Dead Film Clip), but some remakes of his works by others have actually been pretty good. The Dawn of the Dead update was a nice rethinking of Romero's premise, and now The Crazies has made Romero look good.

Timothy Olyphant stars a small-town sheriff who notices that some of his neighbors are acting a bit, well, crazy. Turns out a crashed plane leaked a chemical agent into their water supply, and as a result, people are turning into raging zombie-like maniacs. Olyphant shares the screen with other good performers, including Radha Mitchell as his wife, and Joe Anderson as his deputy. Part of the film's terror comes from not knowing who is in the primary stages of infection; any of the main characters could be sick—and mere moments away from going berserk.

Director Breck Eisner got a couple of good scares out of me, which is not an easy thing to accomplish with a guy who has seen an abundance of horror movies. The man does creepy well, and Romero should be proud.

SPECIAL FEATURES: This is rich with supplements, including a director's commentary, some motion-comic episodes, a segment on the special makeup effects and more.


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