Frills & thrills

The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert: Extra Frills Edition

The Australian film The Adventures of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert may be the greatest drag-queen comedy ever, but really, what's it up against? To Wong Foo, Thanks for Everything! Julie Newmar? Girls Will Be Girls? If the competition were as fabulous as the film's costume design, this gaudy, bawdy and calculatedly sweet road movie might not have become the cult classic it is now. Its confrontation of homophobia keeps it forever relevant, albeit in a neatly constructed, message-movie way, but the only thing remarkable about Priscilla is the subversive casting. As the movie's leading tranny, Terence Stamp looks like Iggy Pop with lipstick, and Guy Pearce frolics across the frame with more emotion than he's ever displayed since. MGM tries to go all out with a deluxe package, dubbed the "Extra Frills Edition," but you know they're straining when they include "Tidbits From the Set," a bunch of stop-and-start 20-second clips of on-set interviews that any other distributor would at least package into a coherent featurette. Director Stephan Elliott offers fond remembrances of the movie in the Birth of a Queen supplement, and he also provides an audio commentary. The actors, though, are conspicuously absent. —John Thomason


The 4 Musketeers

For many people, director Richard Lester had the definitive last word on Alexandre Dumas' classic tale of the Three Musketeers and their headstrong young friend D'Artagnan who, for some inexplicable reason, didn't count as a selection until later, like Neil Young joining Crosby, Stills and Nash.

But those Lester movies were made more than 30 years ago, and a lot has changed, including our attitudes toward the French. Surely we Yanks would love to have the French version of this timeless classic, dubbed in by American-speaking French actors who all sound as if they learned elocution from a Hercules movie. I confess to not remembering what the original story entailed, but I've got a sneaky suspicion it wasn't populated with saucy witches who change into other people and conspire with evil cardinals who have looser morals than fundamentalist evangelists.

But the scenery is always pretty, the women are too, the swordplay's fanciful, and yep, the only thing that seems lacking is a sense of humor about the whole thing, which the Lester films had in spades. D'Artagnan, who looks like a less smart-alecky Weird Al Yankovic here, gets in a head butt and groin kick during a sword fight and says of his opponent, "Well, he would have lost anyway." That's about the extent of translated wittiness on tap in this straight-faced adaptation. Maybe the French are just trying to live that whole "loving Jerry Lewis" thing down. —Serene Dominic


Heavy Petting

Sex in the 1950s, as we all know, did not happen. The anodyne nostalgia that defines the era now sees it as a neat and tidy time of suburban sterility; Heavy Petting takes that mythology and uses it as a (fairly obvious) backdrop to reveal that, yes, people were indeed fucking like rabbits. (It was, after all, the Cocktail Generation.) Interviews with era-children like Allen Ginsberg, Abbie Hoffman, David Byrne and Sandra Bernhard are frank and funny, primarily due to the innate awkwardness that many of them still (unwittingly) feel discussing such subject matter. No matter how libertine you are, if you, like Sting, were born in the '50s, you've likely got a few sexual hang-ups, and Heavy Petting does a fantastic and lighthearted job at exploring them. Accompanying the main documentary is a second DVD of those lovely and hyperbolic "public safety" films. While titles like "As Boys Grow" are just begging for mockery, it's deeply disturbing to attempt to process the harmful, guilt-ridden messages that were imparted upon an entire generation of kids. It's even more troubling to discover just how little such scare tactics have changed in the past half-century. —Jason Ferguson


The Gravedancers

Ever get duped into seeing a movie just because it had a good trailer? You know, those three minutes of carefully chosen, slickly edited celluloid that makes even the crappiest film look like Oscar bait.

The Gravedancers goes one better. Director Mike Mendez took a few days and with a tiny crew actually made a movie trailer for The Gravedancersbefore the movie was green-lighted for production. It was his calling card. The original trailer, as seen in the DVD's bonus material, is ingenious, both at showcasing Mendez's skills and illustrating the flick's potential. But that's as good as it gets — some poor studio eventually took the Mendez trailer bait and coughed up enough dough to make the full-length feature.

Three college chums reunite at a funeral of a mutual friend. They decide that the best way to celebrate the dead guy's life is to visit his grave late at night, get drunk and reminisce about old times. A poem left on the site suggests they dance. So they do. Hence, their fancy drunken footwork desecrates a few graves and unleashes three nasty spirits determined to get even. Mendez knows his way around the horror genre. He delivers a few ghoulish moments thanks in part to the impressive-looking spirits — created with a combination of low-tech puppetry work, prosthetics and animatronics. But the effective moments are undone by hollow dialogue that begets more snickers than tension, and a derivative plot that borrows liberally form better supernatural flicks like The Legend of Hell House, The Entity and Ghost Story. By the time the hokey CGI and green-hued finale swishes across your screen, you'll know you've been duped. The Gravedancers is just another flick that fails to deliver the scares promised in its, uh, killer trailer. —Paul Knoll

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