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Damnation Alley (PG)

Shout! Factory

In 1977, 20th Century Fox released two sci-fi movies: the big-budget Damnation Alley and a little movie called Star Wars. The executives had no faith in George Lucas' landmark space opera, and expected Alley to be the year's winner. Obviously things didn't turn out that way, or else geeks would be dressing up as George Peppard at conventions. If you ask me, however, that's how it should've been. Here's the gist, loosely based on the lauded novel by Roger Zelazny: Peppard and Jan-Michael Vincent are two Air Force officers traversing the decimated post-atomic landscape, an unforgiving terrain filled with giant scorpions, instant tornados, man-eating cockroaches and the occasional band of redneck rapists. Damnation Alley is solid sci-fi, but was mostly hurt by the special-effects limitations of the '70s. It's just begging for a 3-D remake. Begging. — Louis Fowler

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Zonad (NR)

MPI Media Group

John Carney is the director of the Oscar-winning mumblecore musical Once. For all its accolades, I wasn't a fan, having found it a lazy exercise in emo romance, bookended by a few decent tunes. His latest film, however, has none of that heart-on-my-sleeve nonsense and is a million times better for it. In this old-school bawdy British comedy in the style of the sexy '60s Carry On films, Zonad (Simon Delaney) is a drunk, thieving insane-asylum escapee who, when found passed out on the floor of a hilariously clueless Irish family, is mistaken for an alien from the outer reaches of space. He uses their and the townspeople's foolish idiocy to his advantage, drinking as much free liquor and taking as much free love as possible. Flat-out funny in a very Benny Hill sort of way, Zonad is the saucy kind of farce that I wish the European film industry would get back to making. — Louis Fowler

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Rio (G)

Twentieth Century Fox Home Entertainment

The energetic animated feature Rio was fairly ignored among the clutter of cartoon mediocrities this year, but it has more personality than any of the overstuffed franchise duds like Cars 2 and Kung Fu Panda 2. Director Carlos Saldanha (who had a hand in all three Ice Age films) conceived Rio as a paean to his native country of Brazil, and the movie pulsates with an infectious rhythm and spirit. Jesse Eisenberg does superlative voice work as Blu, a valuable Brazilian macaw raised in luxurious captivity, but forced to survive on the streets of Rio de Janeiro when he's kidnapped and accidentally released. The chattering and singing animals are fun, but what makes Rio special is that it invests just as much in the human relationships, especially the one between Blu's nerdy owner Linda (Leslie Mann) and a Brazilian bird expert (Rodrigo Santoro). — Daniel Barnes


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