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Ferrell's forte: funny but forgettable

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

A terrible "cult" film, two fine documentaries and a funny but forgettable comedy are all in this week's DVD column.

The Dark Backward

I had heard about "The Dark Backward" for years, and I have to admit to some excitement when I learned it was finally going to be released on DVD. I love many "cult" movies "Forbidden Zone," "Rocky Horror Picture Show," most of John Waters' films so I was very curious about a film in which the central character, a struggling stand-up comic, doesn't have any success until he grows a third arm out of his back.

Oh, yes, and Wayne Newton plays a major role in the film as a sleazy talent agent. What's not to love?

Well, plenty, as it turns out. Although supposedly a comedy, I saw the film as a bleak horror movie. Set in a place that sort of looks like America in the 1950s where all the characters are dirty and sweat profusely, the film is more about the unfairness and futility of life.

Frankly, it's a bit of a bummer.

Technically, the film is well done by its director and writer Adam Rifkin (who went on to write a great Joe Dante film, "Small Soldiers"), but I didn't find it very entertaining.

There are some interesting extras such as a panel discussion with several of the film's stars Judd Nelson and Bill Paxton from a 15th anniversary celebration of the film as well as a making-of feature and deleted scenes.

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Les Paul: Chasing Sound

Les Paul, one of the greats in American music, gets the attention he so richly deserves in this documentary first aired on PBS' "American Masters" series.

It may be difficult for younger people to imagine a time in music when there were no solid body electric guitars and no multi-track recordings. Paul was a pioneer with the development of his guitar and with multiple track recording. In many ways, he is the guy who gave musicians the technical tools to create rock and roll.

There is an irony in that as rock essentially did away with his career and the career of his wife Mary Ford, who was his vocalist on a long-running series of highly popular recordings in 1950s.

Although the film glosses over the fact that Paul and Ford parted with a bitter divorce over his reluctance to give up the traveling that was part of their career, it's clear that Paul has the utmost respect for his late wife and her considerable contributions to their success.

The parade of rock stars in the film giving thanks to Paul is testimony to his widespread influence over an entire genre of popular music.

At age 90 Paul is still performing in New York City's Iridium Club once a week a unique chance to see a legend.

Extras on this DVD include classic 1950s television appearances by Paul and Ford as well as full-length performances filmed at the Iridium Club.

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Air Guitar Nation

Watching the previous documentary back-to-back with this one is quite an experience from the sublime of Les Paul's mastery of the guitar we go to the ridiculous skill of a performer such as C. Diddy, a master of the air guitar.

Air guitar? Yes, there is actually a contest for people who mime playing a rock and roll guitar and this film follows two American contestants as they try to win the coveted world championship of air guitar conducted in Finland each year.

Most people in my generation will probably admit to having strummed an imaginary guitar along with a favorite song and the secret habit has extended to the present group of rock fans only now the pastime isn't so secret.

What I liked about this film, besides its good humor, is the loopy dedication of its participants to their "art." Believe it or not, these folks take air guitar very seriously.

A very likable film, "Air Guitar Nation" will have you strumming an imaginary chord.

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Blades of Glory

Looking for a funny but completely forgettable summer comedy as substantial as cotton candy? Look no further than "Blades of Glory," the newest film starring Will Ferrell and Jon Heder.

Ferrell and Heder play competing ice skating champs who are drummed out of the sport when they begin fighting as their receive a joint gold medal. When they discover nothing in the rules prohibits them from coming back as a skating pair traditionally a class reserved for a man and woman they form an uneasy partnership.

This film plays nothing subtly. It is way over the top from Heder's totally innocent Jimmy MacElroy to Ferrell's overly macho skating stud Chaz Michael Michaels. Rated PG-13, the film pushes the boundary of that rating and I think the filmmakers would have probably been more comfortable shooting for an "R." There are many levels of sexual humor here. For those easily offended, I would recommend picking another film.

It's no classic, but does provide a series of hearty, sometimes guilty, laughs.

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