Look out, Iron Man! There's a new superhero in town. She (yes, she!) ain't some whiz kid who got lucky when his daddy died, leaving him in charge of some double-dipping multibillion-dollar weapons-manufacturing corporation. Nor does she need a shiny red-and-gold suit to fight the forces of evil. Her name is Dawn, and, unlike the womanizing drunk Tony Stark, she's a good person. This alone makes her an unlikely superhero, but that's sort of what she is in writer-director Mitchell Lichtenstein's Teeth. Dawn (played flawlessly by the lovely Jess Weixler) is a pretty girl, who dresses modestly and lives in a typical suburban home — except for the nuclear plant looming large just beyond the back yard. She believes her virginity is a gift that's best left unwrapped until marriage. She wears her promise ring proudly and speaks to other young adults about abstinence. Golly!
But like all superheroes, Dawn's got some inner turmoil. Kids at school ridicule her, her mom's dying, her step-bro's a seething mass of pent-up sexual aggression and um ... she's got vagina dentata. Hey, some superheroes fly, some talk to fish and some get a vagina that can clamp down on a guy's junk like a bear trap. Dawn's not too keen at first with her effective form of sexual self-defense. But it proves a great way to level the playing field when she comes up against the cretinous men of the world. Teeth could easily have been a one-joke schlocker whose premise was exploited for frat-row snickers. Instead, Mitchell Lichtenstein has crafted a flick that's perceptive, scary and hilarious — one that digs into the mythology of sex and the ridiculous way society has warped young minds about it. His flick is an equal-opportunity assault on the world that bombards teens with sexual images then either denies them proper sexual education or touts abstinence as a solution. This sly and cautionary tale of female empowerment is so good that some guys might want to cover their package with protective gear before watching. —Paul Knoll
Blast of Silence
The Criterion Collection
If there's a darker hunk of noir than this forgotten 1961 black treasure, I don't know where they're hiding it. In gloriously bleak and somber black-and-white, Blast creates a weird nightmare world of Christmastime New York City as the tale of conflicted hit man Frank Bono (writer-director Allan Baron) plays out. The neorealist film is narrated — actually, growled and snarled would be more appropriate — by actor Lionel Standard (think Lawrence Tierny in Reservoir Dogs), and filmed on the streets of New York.
Much of the movie follows Bono on the grim avenues of Manhattan, shot from a moving car in this no-budget project. The hit man is hired to do what he says will be his last job, then he's out of the game; but, of course, it ain't that easy. Along the way we meet the wonderfully scummy Big Ralph (Larry Tucker), who has a thing for pet rats, and Bono has a misguided fling with Lori (Molly McCarthy) that shows just what an emotional cripple he is. The life of a hit man is a lonely one, and you won't see a lonelier finale than when Bono gets his own blast of silence. Don't watch this if you're hating life. It's just that good.
There are great bonus features including a guided tour led by Allan Baron of the original filming sites, and great anecdotal material as Baron recalls the shooting some four-and-a-half decades hence. —Peter Gilstrap
Pity poor Renny Harlin. The Finnish director is still trying to recover from the 1995 debacle Cutthroat Island. His last few films have been lucky to even snag a U.S. theatrical release (e.g. Mindhunters), much less a festival screening. Harlin's latest star-strewn effort sneaks its way onto DVD this week.
The script by Matthew Aldrich is a fairly predictable affair. Samuel L. Jackson stars as Tom Carver, a crime scene cleaner (the guy who comes in after C.S.I. wraps up) who unwittingly covers up a murder. The premise may be interesting, but the plot quickly veers away from the grisly science into trite thriller territory, reminiscent of Kiss the Girls or U.S. Marshals. For a former cop turned technician, Jackson's character can be pretty thick at time.
The presence of Jackson, Ed Harris and Luis Guzman lend the film some cred and solid performances (with Eva Mendes out of her league as usual). Harlin does a journeyman's job bringing it to life, quickly becoming the go-to guy for run-of-the-mill films.
Come Drink With Me
The oft-repeated plaudit that Come Drink With Me is the film that inspired Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon is demonstrably true, but it doesn't begin to unravel the joys of King Hu's 1965 swordplay classic, whose ripple effects can be seen just as glaringly in both Lady Snowblood and Kill Bill. The gold standard for badass-babes-on-murderous-mission films, Come Drink With Me stars Cheng Pei-Pei as Golden Swallow, a notorious mercenary sent by the governor to retrieve his kidnapped son from a band of thugs. She gets more help than Tarantino's Bride ever did — thanks to a kung fu master disguised as a beggar — but the lone vigilantism is still at the film's core. You can add spaghetti Westerns to the list of influences for this blood-spurting pulp too. Golden Swallow is as taciturn as Eastwood's Man With No Name, and she has a similar ability to freeze a bustling bar with a single stride. And, like Sergio Leone, Hu is able to compose genuine cinematographic beauty from a B genre. Check out this movie to see where your favorite directors pilfered from. —John Thomason
What Would Jesus Buy?
Arts Alliance America
It's always been something of an irony that the pushy religious folks who crow about "the war on Christmas" aim their venom at municipalities that won't pay for nativity scenes when, in fact, the single biggest threat to Jesus' birthday is the mania that sets in on Black Friday and doesn't relent until midnight on Christmas Eve. New York "preacher" Rev. Billy and his Church of Stop Shopping seems to have figured this out. This Morgan Spurlock-produced doc (directed by Rob VanAlkemade) follows the reverend around on his Christmas crusade to discourage people from losing their minds (and their souls) in pursuit of holiday overconsumption. Billy and his church are clearly more driven by the performance art and nonviolent resistance part of their proselytizing than they are by any religious imperative, but that makes it far more interesting. This is the freak that's gotta remind people about "the reason for the season" in a way that'll grab viewers.
VanAlekemade is smitten with the reverend, and essentially lets this film act as a video extension of the Stop Shopping Manifesto, but he also manages to draw a clear, bright line between the consumption at Christmas, the consumerism impulse that's embedded in children by carton advertising and the debt-heavy attitude that's screwed up the American economy. It's a heavy message wrapped in an eye-catching package, and by the end, there's a good chance you'll be a new convert. —Jason Ferguson