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Warner's January '07 Releases

Band of Angels (February 12/07)

Ridiculously overwrought and thunderously dull, Band of Angels - based on the novel by Robert Penn Warren - follows Civil War-era Southern belle Amantha Starr (Yvonne De Carlo) as she's sold into slavery following the revelation that her birth mother was black. Clark Gable co-stars as the wealthy plantation owner who buys Amantha at auction, while Sidney Poitier pops up as an erudite slave. Though there's little doubt that the film has been designed to appeal to fans of Gone With the Wind, Band of Angels has virtually nothing in common with that work aside from Gable's presence; the movie has been filled to the brim with melodramatic plot developments and absurdly unconvincing instances of dialogue. The extraordinarily uneven tone would seem to indicate that large chunks of Warren's book have been carelessly omitted, with the end result a film that lurches from one over-the-top set piece to the next (character development and the like are virtually non-existent). And although there is one effective scene within the movie's overlong running time - in which Gable's character describes to an adversary just how he's going to kill him - Band of Angels is ultimately nothing more than an outdated, relentlessly irrelevant piece of work.

out of

Gymkata (February 13/07)

Although Gymkata undoubtedly lives up to its reputation as one of the most absurd and flat-out silly actioners to emerge out of the 1980s, there's simply no overlooking the egregiously dull vibe that extends even to the film's many fight sequences. The ludicrous storyline follows championship gymnast Jonathan Cabot (played by real-life athlete Kurt Thomas) as he's sent to a remote nation called Parmistan, where he must combat a series of increasingly inept goons and participate in a deadly endurance test known only as "the game." Blandly directed by Robert Clouse, Gymkata possesses the same sort of tongue-in-cheek, thoroughly over-the-top vibe that one generally associates with '80s action movies - yet, despite the inclusion of over a dozen fight sequences and an appropriately sinister villain, the film remains an amateurish and utterly misguided mess on virtually every level. Thomas' hopelessly incompetent performance is undoubtedly the worst of the film's many problems, as the actor never seems entirely comfortable on camera and ultimately makes genre contemporaries such as Steven Seagal and Jean-Claude Van Damme look like classically trained thespians by comparison. And while Thomas' physical abilities are impressive, Clouse - working from Charles Robert Carner's screenplay - relentlessly shoehorns his character into sound-effect heavy, hopelessly contrived situations that are nothing short of laughable (ie Jonathan finds himself confronted by a whole town's worth of lunatics, but is fortunately able to battle them with the assistance of a cement block that's coincidentally shaped exactly like a pommel horse).

out of

Looker (February 14/07)

Written and directed by Michael Crichton, Looker casts Albert Finney as Larry Roberts - a successful plastic surgeon who finds himself caught up in a deadly conspiracy involving a mysterious corporation after several of his former patients turn up dead. While Looker is probably more plausible now than when it was first released, the inclusion of several distinctly outlandish elements (ie the gun that hypnotizes people) ultimately lends the proceedings an irredeemably silly vibe. This is despite a fantastic central performance from Finney, who does an effective job of stepping into the shoes of a typically inquisitive Crichton protagonist. The deliberate pace admittedly suits the material and never quite feels as oppressive as one might've feared, yet there's no denying that the drawn-out finale - which finds several of the characters stalking one another in a high-tech studio - comes off as anti-climactic and flat-out interminable. In the end, there's little doubt that Looker would've worked a whole lot better as a novel - although one can't help but admire some of Crichton's more overtly stylish directorial choices (including an utterly bizarre moment in which Finney's character flies through the air in slow-motion after receiving a particularly brutal punch from a villain).

out of

Madame Curie (February 12/07)

Featuring the third pairing of stars Greer Garson and Walter Pidgeon (following Blossoms in the Dust and Mrs. Miniver), Madame Curie tracks the life and times of famed scientist Marie Curie (Garson) - who, along with her husband (Pidgeon's Pierre), discovered an entirely new element called radium. Madame Curie is undoubtedly most effective in its opening half hour, which primarily revolves around the awkward yet endearing courtship that ensues between the two central characters - with Marie's work-related travails essentially relegated to the background. As the film progresses, however, the focus shifts to Marie and Pierre's efforts to isolate radium - which quickly proves to be as tedious an endeavor as it sounds (those with an interest in such matters will probably find more to embrace within these sequences than neophytes, admittedly). That being said, there's little doubt that the film's superb performances go a long way towards keeping things interesting (Garson is especially good here) - while director Mervyn LeRoy does a nice job of infusing the proceedings with intermittent bursts of style (ie the inclusion of a fairly impressive tracking shot in the first act). But despite such positive attributes, Madame Curie is ultimately undone by its emphasis on scientific matters and unmistakable Oscar-bait sort of vibe.

out of

About the DVDs: Warner Home Video presents each of these titles with crisp, anamorphically-enhanced transfers, though - in the case of Band of Angels and Gymkata - bonus features are limited to trailers. Looker comes equipped with an introduction and commentary track from filmmaker Michael Crichton, while Madame Curie contains a vintage, Oscar-nominated short and a Greer Garson trailer gallery.
© David Nusair