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Try some 'Axe Kickin' on a Saturday night

By G. Michael Dobbs

Managing Editor

Dream girls and fever dreams are in this week's DVD column.

Dreamgirls: Two-disc Showstopper Edition

Musicals are not my favorite genre, but I was drawn to "Dreamgirls" because of the music and of its notoriety. The Broadway show that inspired the film had drawn criticism because it was a depiction, although altered, of the life and career of The Supremes.

"Dreamgirls" tells the story of a slightly fictional African-American girl group who suffers from the pressures of fame and success. The story is so close to the bone of Motown, its head Berry Gordy and The Supremes, that Dreamworks and Paramount, the stow studios that produced the film, actually apologized to Motown personnel if they were offended by it.

The film starts out more as a conventional musical. There are dramatic scenes that advance the story and are supported by musical numbers. As the film progresses, though, it becomes much more operatic with the characters speaking through the music and the plot carried by the songs.

This shift is accompanied by the change in the style of music. At the beginning the film begins in the early 1960s the music is more traditional R&B. As the story progresses the music changes to the more sterile pop that typified the Supremes and other Motown acts.

My own musical tastes are such that I enjoyed the first part of the film much more than the latter section.

Directed by Bill Condon, who wrote the screenplay for the movie "Chicago," the film suffers from too much music. The performers are capable of good dramatic performances and frankly I wanted to see more of that instead of hearing faux Supremes tunes.

As the Dream who gets dumped, "American Idol" contestant Jennifer Hudson is the revelation here. Her voice and acting abilities are dead on. I thought it was interesting casting to see Beyonce Knowles in the Diana Ross role. One wonders if art was imitating life a little bit here.

Eddie Murphy is excellent as James "Thunder" Early, the raucous soul singer who is forced to change his style.

The second disc gives you everything you could possibly want in extras including audition footage, extended versions of many of the musical acts and documentaries. Pack a lunch if you're going to try to view it all in one sitting.

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The Screwfly Solution

Director Joe Dante is well known for his ability to produce horror and fantasy films that deftly blend humor with drama. In his new film, part of a Showtime horror series, Dante demonstrates he can play it very straight with the result being a serious and affecting horror film.

Based on a short story by James Tiptree, Jr., the film is about an outbreak of violence against women that is spreading around the globe. At first it seems like a series of hideous coincidences, but then it's clearly an epidemic.

Running just an hour, Dante shows what can be done with a taut effective script, good performances and effective direction. There are a lot of horror directors who could learn from him.

If you're a horror fan, seek out "The Screwfly Solution."

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The Film Crew: Killers From Space

Imagine how Peter Graves must have felt. In 1953 he had a prominent role in director Billy Wilder's "Stalag 17." Just a year later he was working for Billy's brother, W. Lee Wilder, who spent his career churning out pretty terrible low-budget films such as "Killers From Space."

Graves was able to get through it. He has had a long and respectable career and thanks to The Film Crew three of the former creators of "Mystery Science Theater 3000" we all can get through a viewing of "Killers from Space" without twitching and crying.

"Incompetent" and "inane" are two words that come to mind about this story of a nuclear scientist who is abducted by aliens with ping-pong ball eyes (literally).

The Film Crew's commentary is pretty darn funny and I'm looking forward to their next release. So far it's been two for two.

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Kung Fu Hustle: Axe Kickin' Edition

OK martial arts and Hong Kong movie fans, you want to know what are the differences between the 2005 DVD release of this Stephen Chow kung fu comedy and this latest release. Well, I'm not entirely sure.

The back of the DVD box states this version contains footage not seen in the American release and has a bunch of cool documentary extras. I've been going around the Internet trying to nail down just how much good stuff we had previously missed and as near as I can tell there's no definitive answer!

This version is "approximately 100 minutes" which is what the running time is noted for the previous edition. Yet one source lists the Hong Kong version as 99 minutes. Oh, what is a film geek to do?

Well, enjoy this package that features Chow's biggest success to date. I have to admit I didn't care for the film very much when I saw it in the theaters largely because it was so different from the other Chow films I've seen. Chow is one of the most popular comic actors in Hong Kong films and this film was a big departure for a guy known for silliness.

A second viewing of this tale of redemption, though, left me with much greater appreciation. It is both funny and moving.

As a director, Chow loves to make references to other movies, both American and Chinese. I'll let you guess where in the film he tips his hat to the Roadrunner. This action comedy is probably unlike anything you've ever seen before.

Be adventurous and try it one Saturday night.

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