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Disc Covering: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” one to add to the “bad” pile of Stephen King adaptations.

Disc Covering: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” one to add to the “bad” pile of Stephen King adaptations. (photo)

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I find the world of direct-to-DVD movies totally fascinating. You walk into a video store, confident in your knowledge of the current cinema landscape, and suddenly you discover a Morgan Freeman movie you’ve never heard of before in your entire life. It’s hard to imagine why a movie starring Freeman, Antonio Banderas and Radha Mitchell by the director of “Deep Impact” can’t get a theatrical release. Sure, it could be a real stinker, but c’mon — real stinkers get exhibited on thousands of screens across the country every single day of the year.

(My hypothetical example, by the way, isn’t hypothetical: it’s “The Code,” or at least that’s the name it’s rented under at my local video store. IMDb lists it as “Thick as Thieves.” Let’s call that BAD SIGN THAT YOUR MOVIE IS GOING STRAIGHT TO DVD #1: Multiple Titles.)

Still, there’s no denying that direct-to-DVD stigma exists, and not without good reason. But as the independent film distributors and boutique studio labels close, theatrical releases are get harder and harder to come by. As our own DVD columnist Michael Atkinson observed, that’s led some damn fine movies to premiere on disc. So I’m not approaching this world just looking for bad movies to make fun of (though I’m definitely not above doing that if a movie warrants it). In this column, I’m going to search the direct-to-DVD world for undiscovered gems. And if I find some entertaining schlock along the way, I’m cool with that to. Let’s begin.

05252010_dolanscadillacdvd.jpg“Dolan’s Cadillac” (2009)
Directed by Jeff Beesley

Tagline: “An eight-cylinder fuel-injected coffin”

Tweetable Plot Synopsis: Mousy schoolteacher seeks revenge on heinously evil human trafficker who killed his wife; discovers joys of construction work.

Salable Elements: Mid-range, somewhat faded movie stars Christian Slater and Wes Bentley in the two lead roles, a plot based on a short story by top tier literary star Stephen King.

Biggest Success: For a movie about retribution, mental breakdowns, and the slave trade, the film has a pretty wicked sense of humor. After his wife’s murder by a mobster (Slater) who’s worried she’ll testify against him in court, sixth grade teacher Robinson (Bentley) plunges into a nasty downward spiral. He hits the pain medication and alcohol so hard that his wife’ charred corpse starts appearing to him in visions a la John Landis’ “An American Werewolf in London.” In a particularly demented scene, she helps him pick out a gun to kill Slater’s Dolan with, one three times more powerful than Dirty Harry’s Magnum (true to its reputation, a stray bullet from the gun later causes a rock slide). Robinson and Dolan’s final confrontation takes place on an abandoned stretch of highway near a sign for Las Vegas bearing the town’s “Whatever happens here, stays here,” motto. That’s already a clever poke at Robinson’s crippled emotional state even before we learn exactly how he plans to strike back at Dolan, which elevates the gag to the level of a great “Twilight Zone” stinger.

05252010_dolans4.jpgBiggest Failure: Despite the dark comedy, and a plump Christmas ham of a performance from Slater — who has maybe three lines in the entire film that don’t involve despicable racial epithets or screaming at the top of his lungs, or both — the screenplay by Richard Dooling leans way too heavily on faux philosophical (let’s call it “fauxlosophical”) narration. The movie begins with “Terminator 2”-style images of the open road, while Bentley describes his adversary in grave voiceover: “He looks like anybody you see on the street. But when he grins, birds fall off telephone lines. When he looks at you a certain way, your prostate goes bad, and your urine burns. The grass yellows up and dies where he spits. He’s always outside. He came out of time. He has the name of a thousand demons.”

Let’s for the moment ignore the whole an-altercation-with-this-gangster-made-my-pee-burn thing (I promise, I’ll come back to it). The movie sets up Dolan to be the bad guy of all bad guys, and when we meet him he’s… Christian Slater? There are very few actors who could live up to that kind of introduction — Al Pacino in “The Devil’s Advocate comes close — and, sadly, Christian Slater isn’t one of them, especially when he’s saddled with a role that requires him to do so much mugging and sweating.

(About the burning urine thing, the movie is strangely preoccupied with peeing. Bentley actually repeats the same line in another voiceover later in the film, and Robinson and Dolan’s first face to face meeting takes place — where else! — at adjacent truck stop urinals. No word on who made whose urine burn though.)

05252010_dolans2.jpgBest Moment: Robinson screams at Dolan, the man who blew up in his wife in a car bomb, “It tears me to pieces to think about how you tore my wife to pieces!” Sincere but poorly chosen expression of rage or brilliant deadpan wordplay? I still can’t decide, though the fact Slater is, by this point in the film, shirtless and flexing his sixpack as he begs for his life makes me lean towards the latter.

Special Features: A 20-minute promotional featurette about the making of the film, which includes director Jeff Beesley’s contradictory claim he made “a Saturday night popcorn movie” that is “at its heart, it very much… an art film.” You and half the directors on the festival circuit, Jeff.

Worthy of a Theatrical Release: No, but “Dolan’s Cadillac” does make a respectable rental title. It certainly looks good enough for a theatrical release, courtesy of some decent cinematography by Gerald Packer. But its whiplash moves between comedy and drama look a lot better on the small screen, where the line between intentional and unintentional comedy is a lot more fluid, and a lot more forgiving.

For Further Viewing: Watch as a bunch of seventh graders interpret King’s “Dolan’s Cadillac” with predictably goofy results.

[Photos: “Dolan’s Cadillac,” Film Bridge International, 2009]

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The Best Of The Last

Portlandia Goes Out With A Bang

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The end is near. In mere days Portlandia wraps up its final season, and oh what a season it’s been. Lucky for you, you can watch the entire season right now right here and on the IFC app, including this free episode courtesy of Subaru.

But now, let’s take a moment to look back at some of the new classics Fred and Carrie have so thoughtfully bestowed upon us. (We’ll be looking back through tear-blurred eyes, but you do you.)

Couples Dinner

It’s not that being single sucks, it’s that you suck if you’re single.

Cancel it!

A sketch for anyone who has cancelled more appointments than they’ve kept. Which is everyone.

Forgotten America

This one’s a “Serial” killer…everything both right and wrong about true crime podcasts.

Wedding Planners

The only bad wedding is a boring wedding.

Disaster Hut

It’s only the end of the world if your doomsday kit doesn’t include rosé.

Catch up on Portlandia’s final episodes on demand and at

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Your Portlandia Personality Test

The New Portlandia Webseries Is Going Your Way

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Carrie and Fred understand that although we have so much in common, we’re each so beautifully unique and different. To help us navigate those differences, Portlandia has found an easy and honest way to embrace our special selves in the form of a progressive new traffic system: a specific lane for every kind of driver. It’s all in honor of the show’s 8th and final season, and it’s all presented by Subaru.

Ready to find out who you really are? Match your personality to a lane and hop on the expressway to self-understanding.

Lane 10: Trucks Piled With Junk

Your junk is falling out of your trunk. Shake a tail light, people — this lane is for you.

Lane 33: Twins

You’re like a Gemini, but waaaay more pedestrian. Maybe you and a friend just wear the same outfits a lot. Who cares, it’s just twinning enough to make you feel special.

Lane 27: Broken Windows

Bad luck follows you around and everyone knows it. Your proverbial seat is always damp from proverbial rain. Is this the universe telling you to swallow your pride? Yes.

Lane 69: Filthy Cars

You’re all about convenience. Getting your car washed while you drive is a no-brainer.

Lane 43: Newly Divorced Singles

It’s been a while since you’ve driven alone, and you don’t know the rules of the road anymore. What’s too fast? What’s too slow? Are you sending the right signals? Don’t worry, the breakdown lane is nearby if you need it.

Still can’t find a lane to match your personality? Check out all the videos here. And see the final season of Portlandia this spring on IFC.

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Last-Minute Holiday Gift Guide

Hits from the '80s are on repeat all Christmas Eve and Day on IFC.

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GIFs via Giphy, Photos via The Everett Collection

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