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Merlin and the Book of Beasts (NR)

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Merlin has all the markings of a movie originally aired on the Sci-Fi Channel: ultra-low budgets, shoddy CGI and questionable acting. Usually this makes Sci-Fi movies fun in a "bad movie" way, but I gotta say, the grizzled, gruff take that James Callis has on Merlin actually makes this one of the better efforts from the cable network. The aging-backward Merlin leads Sir Galahad and King Arthur's daughter (along with the sons of other Round Table Knights) to take on Mordred, the bastard son of Arthur, who has created a perverse version of Camelot using Gorgons and the like. With more money and an actual studio behind it, this could have been a mainstream theatrical feature — it's different and original. Sadly, it'll probably just languish at the bottom of the bargain bin. — Louis Fowler


Goodbye Solo (R)


He's the best American filmmaker you've never heard of: Ramin Bahrani transforms the mundane into unexpectedly moving drama. After two extraordinary features set in New York City — 2007's hard-edged Chop Shop and 2005's sharp and delicate Man Push Cart — Bahrani returns to his native North Carolina for this graceful tale about a cab driver, Senegalese immigrant Solo (Souleymane Sy Savane). The driver befriends a fare, William (Red West), who wants Solo to drive him to a remote mountaintop ... and leave him there. Solo gets it: William's gonna commit suicide. And William doesn't want to hear any suggestion that he shouldn't. The crushing performances linger: These are two men the likes of whom we've never seen onscreen before, and cannot soon forget. — MaryAnn Johanson


Hardbodies Collection (R)

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Talk about bringing back some memories! I distinctly recall nights in the mid-'80s, long after my parents went to bed, sneaking to the TV to watch the Hardbodies movies on HBO. Did it warp me? Yeah, probably. Do they hold up? Only as artifacts of the worst aspects of the T&A cable craze of said '80s — which is a good thing in my book! The first Hardbodies is relentless in its objectification of women, with a trio of old men trolling for beach babes with the help of a sleazy local lothario; party-animal hijinks ensue. The sequel, on the other hand, is a bizarre ultra-meta "movie within a movie" take on the first one, as if the director was flagellating himself for his cinematic sins and inviting all to watch. Or, maybe I'm reading too much into it and should just enjoy the beer and boobs? — Louis Fowler


Sunshine Cleaning (R)

Anchor Bay Home Entertainment

Sunshine Cleaning is your prototypical quirky indie comedy, made by Sundance darlings who think they're more clever than they really are. This one finds them doing everything possible to recapture the box-office success of Little Miss Sunshine, right down to casting Alan Arkin as a crotchety grandpa. That being said, I have to admit that Sunshine Cleaning is actually very enjoyable for the most part, mostly due to the casting of Amy Adams and Emily Blunt as trashy sisters who, in need of cash, start their own crime-scene clean-up service. And while the rapport between these two is rife with laughs and pathos, the movie does leave too many unanswered (or just plain forgotten) subplots to be fully satisfying. In more thought-out, capable hands, this could have been the year's big indie hit. Now, it just makes a nice enough rental. — Louis Fowler

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