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Flash Gordon, Fracture, House of Games, Jailhouse Rock

FLASH GORDON (1980). A reigning guilty pleasure, producer Dino De Laurentiis' adaptation of the classic comic strip (and subsequent film serials) has divided viewers for close to three decades now. Released the same year as The Empire Strikes Back (thus guaranteeing that it was pretty much doomed from the start), this eye-popping eye candy of a movie revels in its campy nature, meaning that audiences either go with the flow or suffer the consequences. On the plus side, Danilo Donati's wonderfully garish costumes and sets are award-worthy, Queen's rock score sets the appropriate kick-ass mood, Max von Sydow is a delight as a playful Ming the Merciless, and Ornella Muti (as the sultry Princess Aura) flustered many a teenage boy (including me) back in the day. On the other hand, the absolutely wretched work by Sam J. Jones (as Flash) and Melody Anderson (as Dale Arden) is tough to stomach, while director Mike Hodges, in his element with such gritty titles as Croupier and the original Get Carter, is obviously a stranger in the land of big-budget Hollywood productions, since he often fails to provide this piece with enough zip.

Extras on the new Saviour of the Universe DVD Edition include an interview with the film's screenwriter, Lorenzo Semple Jr., a discussion with comic artist Alex Ross on the movie's influence, and an episode from the 1936 Flash Gordon serial.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

FRACTURE (2007). For the most part, Hollywood has grown so inept at staging whodunits that it's a blessing to come across a film like Fracture, which lets audiences know from the outset that he-done-it. The "he" in question is wealthy engineer Ted Crawford (Anthony Hopkins), who has just shot his adulterous wife (Embeth Davidtz). With the identity of the villain in place, Fracture can then borrow a page from the Columbo playbook by following the protagonist as he tries to piece together the details of the crime. But the lawman here is a far cry from Peter Falk's lovably rumbled detective; rather, he's Willy Beachum (Ryan Gosling), a hotshot attorney who's used to winning and who agrees to prosecute Ted because, hey, the man has already signed a confession, right? But in his arrogance, Willy has underestimated Ted, and it's a disastrous move that might end up costing him his career. Fracture has its fair share of plotholes -- enough that you might be tempted to grab a shovel and a bag of cement mix -- but it features an exquisite cat-and-mouse game that makes it easier to overlook its flaws. And for once, here's a film in which it's not instantly obvious to predict every twist resting just over the horizon. The film grows flabby in the midsection thanks to a superfluous subplot involving Willy's romance with his new boss (Rosamund Pike), but once it gets back to focusing on business rather than pleasure, it straightens itself out. Hopkins is solid in a role that veers toward Hannibal Lecter terrain, but it's Gosling who gooses the proceedings with a thoughtful performance.

DVD extras include deleted scenes and two alternate endings.

Movie: ***

Extras: *1/2

HOUSE OF GAMES (1987). David Mamet was already a Pulitzer Prize-winning playwright (Glengarry Glen Ross) and an Oscar-nominated screenwriter (The Verdict) when he decided to try his hand at directing movies. He made quite the freshman impression with House of Games, a sharp thriller that functions as both a character study and a salute to the art of the con. Today's thrillers are always trying to put over one final twist on audience members -- plot pivots that can invariably be sniffed out ahead of time by savvy viewers -- but Mamet's script accomplishes that goal without breaking a sweat, and if the movie's "gotcha" structure doesn't seem quite as fresh 20 years later, that's only because too many subsequent films of this nature have dulled the element of surprise. Lindsay Crouse (then Mrs. Mamet) stars as Dr. Margaret Ford, an emotionally aloof psychologist whose sessions with one of her patients, a young man with a gambling problem, leads her to the House of Games, a seedy establishment frequented by a con man (Joe Mantegna) who, at her insistence, draws her into his world of deception and double-crosses. Both leads are excellent; look for William H. Macy as a gullible soldier in one memorable scene.

DVD extras include audio commentary by Mamet and consultant and actor Ricky Jay, new interviews with Crouse and Mantegna, and a documentary shot during the production of the film.

Movie: ***

Extras: **1/2

JAILHOUSE ROCK (1957). This week (August 16, to be exact) marks the 30th anniversary of Elvis Presley's death, and to commemorate the event, various studios are once again re-releasing many of the King's 31 movies in special editions, with titles available individually and/or in box sets. Naturally, Jailhouse Rock, the film generally cited as the finest in the Presley canon, has been lovingly juiced up: It's presented in a new version that's been digitally remastered and strapped with Dolby Digital 5.1 sound. Elvis' third movie (following Love Me Tender and Loving You) isn't just a top-notch Presley picture; it's also one of the premiere rock & roll flicks, as evidenced by its #8 placement on Creative Loafing's list of the 20 greatest rock films ever made (see our March 21, 2007, cover story). Jailhouse Rock was the first of the King's pictures in which every element came together just right; as for the icon himself, he's noticeably more confident and comfortable on screen than in his earlier outings, playing a jailbird who eventually becomes a rock star. This arguably boasts the best soundtrack of any of his films (along with the title hit, tunes include "Treat Me Nice" and the great "Baby, I Don't Care"), as well as the best production number ("Jailhouse Rock," of course).

DVD extras include audio commentary by author Steve Pond (Elvis In Hollywood), a making-of featurette, a 24-page photobook, and trailers for several Elvis flicks.

Movie: ***1/2

Extras: **1/2

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