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DAWN OF THE DEAD (2004). George Romero's seminal horror film from 1968, the zombie classic Night of the Living Dead, didn't exactly cry out for a remake, but that didn't stop filmmakers (including Romero himself) from releasing a dreadful new version in 1990. The same goes for 1974's influential The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, which suffered the indignities of a tepid remake last fall. So earlier this year, some foolhardy souls decided to give us a new take on 1978's Dawn of the Dead, the second in Romero's zombie trilogy and a movie that has long been hailed by both critics and cultists as one of the few great "splatter" flicks ever made. It was a situation ripe for disaster, but hold on. This new version proved to be that rare bird: a remake that actually succeeds on its own terms. Director Zack Snyder and writer James Gunn knew that simply offering a lumbering retread of the original would be a fatal mistake, since it would be difficult to duplicate its sharp satiric slant (watching mindless creatures lumbering through the mall is perhaps the final word on both consumerism and conformity) and its shifting viewpoints of the zombies (villainous against the leads, heroic against the bad bikers that appear late in the film). The new Dawn pays only fleeting lip service to these ideas; instead, it wisely presses forward in its own direction, retaining the mall setting but offering different characters, different situations and a different outcome. The result is a crisp horror flick, a fast-paced picture that's exciting, icky and often quite funny. The movie has been released on DVD in the theatrical "R" version as well as an "Unrated Director's Cut"; extras include audio commentary by Snyder and producer Eric Newman, 12 minutes of deleted scenes, and three features on the film's gruesome makeup effects.
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MULAN (1998). One of the better Disney animated features of recent years, Mulan admittedly does adhere more often than not to the studio's strict toon guidelines, with the plotline once again centering on a young person coming of age with the help of some colorful friends. In this case, the protagonist is a headstrong young woman (voiced by Ming-Na Wen, sung by Lea Salonga) who, in an attempt to save her ailing father's life, disguises herself as a man and takes his place in the Imperial army on the eve of a great battle against the invading Huns. Concerned about her well-being, the family's spectral ancestors elect to send a fearsome dragon to protect her from harm, though she instead ends up with a runty, fast-talking dragon (Eddie Murphy) by her side. To its credit, Mulan does strive to present its characters as something more than potential Happy Meal toys, and the theme of tradition versus progress is presented in an interesting context. The mediocre tunes by Matthew Wilder and David Zippel are a major debit, but on the bright side, the studio has once again done a stellar job of finding the right people for the right roles: The casting of Harvey Fierstein as the toughest and most boorish of Mulan's soldier buddies was a nice touch, and Murphy's hilarious turn served as a dry run for his similar work as Donkey in the Shrek films. Extras in this two-disc set include deleted scenes, music videos by Jackie Chan, Raven and Christina Aguilera, and kids' activities.
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