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Rio Bravo (Special Edition)
Warner Bros.

John Wayne. The Duke. An actor, a man, an American icon.

Despite the indelible line from the cult hit Repo Man ("John Wayne was a fag. He came to the door in a dress."), Wayne's macho cowboy image has remained unsullied, and never is that image more powerful than in director Howard Hawks' 1959 classic "Rio Bravo."

Hawks weaves a simple, stark tale: Wayne, as sheriff, is determined to keep a prisoner in jail. Said prisoner's evil compadres are determined to get him out.

The only forces Wayne has on his side are a drunk — brilliantly played by Dean Martin with no nod to irony — a crusty codger delivered by old-school Western fart Walter Brennan, saloon vixen Angie Dickenson, and youngblood gunslinger Ricky Nelson (a period sellout bit of casting for the Ozzie and Harriet fans, but what the hell).

You've got the Duke not phoning it in, a self-loathing Dino with DTs, low murder, high drama, crooning Ricky and sloe-eyed Angie. Next question.

The two-disc special edition reissue offers not only the legendary film, but delectable bonus features: commentary by director John Carpenter, featurettes on the movie and Old Tucson (the filming location outside Tucson, Ariz.), and a Hawks profile.

And, even if the Duke did answer the door in a dress, who cares? He could still kick your commie ass. —Peter Gilstrap


Franz Kafka's The Castle

Michael Haneke's vision of Kafka's unfinished tome may be one of the purest literary adaptations ever filmed. Haneke is such a slave to the source material that the result is an almost anti-visual exercise in book-to-screen translation. Rarely does a dialogue-free scene go by without voice-over narration reciting passages from the book, even when the images tell us clearly what's going on. The long takes and lack of shot variety only bring more attention to the deadpan absurdist drama about a land surveyor (Ulrich Mühe, seen recently in The Lives of Others) who arrives in a village to do his job, only to be stifled by the town's endless bureaucracy. Frequent cuts to black, which at first appear arbitrary, begin to take on the semblance of chapter breaks, and the film even ends in midsentence, just as the book does. Haneke and Kafka may be a match made in existentialist heaven, but the result isn't particularly entertaining. The Castle, does, however, prompt the question "Why bother filming it?" when so little cinematic utility is employed, thereby implicitly critiquing the very nature of screen adaptations. —John Thomason


Avant-Garde 2: Experimental Cinema from 1928-1954

This second compendium of short films from the collection of film archivist Raymond Rohauer includes works by art-school favorites Stan Brakhage, Willard Maas, Marie Menken and Jean Isidore Isou, among others. As a whole, this program shows less imagination than the 1920s and '30s works in Volume One, even though Kino has again secured the best transfers possible and included optional commissioned scores for films usually shown silent. There are just so many times that you can watch a sad-sack Everyman plod down the street while random images signifying Birth! Death! Man and Woman! Infinity! are abruptly intercut before ennui sets in. Of the ponderous and dated offerings, the one that still holds the most relevance is Isou's Venom and Eternity, mostly because of the bratty glee it takes in pulling out all the avant-garde stops. Incomprehensible chanting, scribbled-upon film, upside-down images and discontinuous editing seem inserted purposely to rile up the viewer. After several intertitles boasting that audiences are stupid and boos and catcalls are like standing ovations to him, Isou makes an inarguable request: "I hope you will quietly watch the screening of this film which at least has the virtue of being different." —Violet Glaze


Anchor Bay Entertainment

Its there in all caps across the top of the case for the DVD Imprint, "Banned from cable broadcast." You figure it's just a ploy to get you to rent yet another lame-ass made for cable schlock-fest. After all, Imprint's just an hour-long installment of Showtime's Masters of Horror series. Even if it is directed by the genre-busting extremist Takashi Miike (Audition, Ichi the Killer) there's no way to actually get banned from cable, right? In essence that's what Showtime did when it declined to show Imprint. Censorship issues aside, the basic plot of Imprint doesn't really sound all that perverse — an American dude (Billy Drago, Mysterious Skin, The Untouchables), journeys to an island (yeah, an island) of whores in search of his lost love, the one he promised to rescue. Of course, what's an island of whores without bondage-style torture, aborted fetuses, incest, lots of bodily fluids, female degradation and a clairvoyant conjoined twin? As disgusting (shocking even!) as Imprint is, it's impossible to take seriously. Drago emotes to the point of parody while the Japanese cast — who, please note, all learned their dialogue phonetically —wrenched the script into English. Since it's a Miike flick, you're never sure if the humor is intentional or just subversive cockeyed commentary. —Paul Knoll


Dead Clowns

Finally someone's translated our national ambivalence about murderous circus clowns into a kick-ass-and-eat-guts zombie movie. These homicidal harlequins are wreaking revenge for an accident that happened 50 tears ago when a bridge collapsed and plunged their clown car into an irretrievable part of the ocean. Which doesn't explain why they waited 50 years; anyone who could've been responsible for their deaths (and lame rescue effort) are themselves now bottom feeders. Clearly, octogenarians getting offed is lousy cinema, but clowns smashing pretty girls' skulls in with ball peen hammers? That's the stuff of special interest groups.

In case you're expecting exploding cigars and wisecracking Freddie Krueger meets Krusty the Clown comedy — like "Did you hear me? I killed in there!" — rest assured that these clowns are in advanced stages of decomposition and not having ears has really affected their timing. The biggest joker in this film also turns out to be only person trying to understand these creepy jesters — a young murderous thug who believes all the clowns want is some acknowledgement from the town that they died trying to bring them laughter. Like they'd stop in mid-chew of a young housewife' intestines if you waved a commemorative plaque at them. Pull the other leg, it too has bells! —Serene Dominic

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