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Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: The Karate Kid, Beauty and the Beast, The Human Centipede, The Rig, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slumber Party Massacre Collection … and more

The Karate Kid

The concept is simplicity itself: The Karate Kid in China, with Will and Jada Pinkett Smith’s way-cool son, Jaden Smith, in the Ralph Macchio role and Jackie Chan in the place once reserved for Pat Morita. Instead of shooting a silver-anniversary version of Karate Kid in Vancouver or a back lot in Culver City – and a quick straight-to-DVD release — the producers elected to roll the dice and stage it in China. The decision might have been influenced by the commercial success of Kung Fu Panda or, more likely, Chinese backers with reasons of their own to showcase their country’s bounty. Either way, it worked.

Smith plays a 12-year-old Detroit boy, Dre, uprooted by his recently widowed mother to Beijing for career purposes. At first, kids at his new school treat Dre as if he had personally convinced the International Olympic Committee that the Chinese gymnastics teams were force-fed anabolic steroids with their daily regimen of Wheaties and dim sum. He’s bullied by members of the local kung fu club and ignored by almost everyone else. While Dre’s knowledge of karate might have impressed classmates in Detroit, it isn’t nearly enough to keep him from being tossed around by the Chinese kids.

For help, he turns to his apartment complex’s maintenance man (Chan), a martial-arts master gone to seed. His methodology requires extreme patience and unquestioned discipline on the part of Dre, who’s deficient in both qualities. It isn’t until Mr. Han takes Dre to a dojo in the spectacularly beautiful mountains and forests a short distance from the capital that the boy begins to understand kung fu is as much a lifestyle as it is a sport.

Naturally, Karate Kid concludes with an exciting series of bouts in a citywide tournament. By that time, however, the movie’s inspirational message has already been delivered. The splendid Blu-ray package includes an interactive map of China, focusing on Beijing, the Great Wall and picturesque Wudang Mountains; “Chinese Lessons,” which offers a primer in the language; a nine-part production diary, hosted by Chan, and making-of featurette; an alternate ending; Justin Bieber music video; a pair of digital copies and a DVD; BDLive and MovieIQ functionality. Rated PG, Karate Kid easily qualifies as a film the whole family can enjoy.


Beauty and the Beast: Diamond Edition Blu-ray

Every new technology brings with it an expectation of immediate gratification by early adopters. Having spent the money, we want to enjoy our favorite movies and music as the digital gods intended and as quickly as possible. Typically, though, the titles released soonest will have been sent out absent the refinements and features that would take full advantage of the advanced playback units. It explains why “special” editions of movies sometimes are released within a few years or even months of a title’s initial debut.

The addition of supplemental features is always a good excuse to send out new packages, even if they occasionally feel like afterthoughts. Too often, though, the practice smacks of planned obsolescence. Long before anyone could dream of owning a personal copy of a Disney movie, the studio began re-releasing its animated hits in six-year intervals. Brand new prints would be shipped to theaters and, if necessary, reformatted to conform to advances in projection and audio systems. The studio adopted the same practice with its VHS, Beta and DVD releases, each new edition offering more bang for the buck.

If Disney has been slow to release its most valuable properties on Blu-ray, it’s probably because the studio now intends to do things right the first time. The evidence arrives in Diamond editions of Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs, Bambi, Beauty and the Beast and, soon, Fantasia/Fantasia 2000, as well as Platinum editions of Sleeping Beauty and Pinocchio. Disney promises that each title, which will be available for a limited time, will be re-mastered from the original negative (when available) for a 1080p picture and 7.1 soundtrack. (Pinocchio and Sleeping Beauty will go out Diamond next time around, as well.)

It goes without saying that the discs will arrive, as well, with a pile of extras. The Diamond Beauty and Beast package includes the 92-minute extended version, the 85-minute original and an early “storyreel” PIP “experience.” Add to that an extensive audio commentary, with producer Don Hahn and co-directors Kirk Wise and Gary Trousdale; a sing-along track; a fast-play option; deleted scenes; “Beyond Beauty,” a feature-length making-of documentary; standard-format features from previous DVDs; a music video; a look at the Broadway production and music; an interactive game for 2-8 players and “Enchanted Musical Challenge”; sneak peeks; a screen saver; Smart Menu; and BD Live access portal. Beauty and the Beast will make you happy you invested in a Blu-ray.


The Secret of Kells

Unless one was a member of the Motion Picture Academy’s feature-animation committee or had already seen The Secret of Kells at a film festival, news of its nomination probably was greeted with a, “Huh?” Like fellow finalists Coraline, Fantastic Mr. Fox and The Princess and the Frog, the Irish import didn’t stand a ghost of a chance against, Up. Being noticed at all, however, truly could be considered a victory.

Unlike those larger-budgeted pictures and such also-rans as Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs, Astro Boy, Monsters vs Aliens, 9, Ice Age: Dawn of the Dinosaurs and Ponyo, there was a very good chance Kells wouldn’t be accorded a decent DVD run, either. After all, there’s no disguising the fact that it’s as much a film to be enjoyed by adults as children and, as such, might not fly off the shelves of video stores.

Tomm Moore’s traditionally drawn Kells has finally arrived, though, and, while it may still be invisible among the big trees, it is well worth finding. That’s especially true for anyone with an interest in Irish history, medieval art and Celtic mysticism. The story is set in the 8th Century, a time when Vikings threatened to overwhelm the civilizations of Ireland and England.

Twelve-year-old Brendan, whose parents were killed in the invasion, is living in the walled monastery of Kells under the supervision of his uncle, the Abbot Cellach (voiced by Brendan Gleeson). Cellach has instilled in the boy both a fear and curiosity of the unknown territory outside the monastery. His opportunity for enlightenment comes with the arrival of an illustrator of illuminated manuscripts, Brother Aidan, who enlists him to find berries for ink. While in the woods outside the monastery, Brendan encounters demon wolves, a fairy, pagan gods and other potential threats to god-fearing souls.

Once his fears are vanquished, Brendan is able to study under Aiden and collaborate on the Book of Kells, which, today, can be viewed at the library of Trinity College. The elaborately drawn images found in The Secret of Kells appear to have been influenced as much by the Gospels as Celtic iconography, Byzantine paintings, the pottery of America’s Pueblo Indians and native art from Asian cultures. Practically every frame can stand as a work of visual poetry and the impression of light passing through page is palpable. The DVD arrives with several interesting making-of featurettes and backgrounders. Kells is a must-see for anyone interested in animation.


Outsourced: Deluxe Edition

In 2003, NBC fell flat on its face when it attempted to adapt the hit British sitcom, Coupling, for American audiences. It found much greater success in its adaptation of The Office. New this season to the network’s Thursday-night comedy block is Outsourced, which was adapted from a movie about India, shot primarily in and around Mumbai.

While it remains uncertain as to how long the sitcom will last on NBC’s prime-time schedule, I do know it will be given every opportunity to succeed. Even with The Office as its lead-in, the show is up against some very stiff competition. No matter, I can easily recommend seeking out the DVD of the movie, which has been re-released in a “deluxe” edition.

Even if the first two episodes of the sitcom were lifted almost verbatim from John Jeffcoat’s romantic fish-out-water comedy, a distinctly more serious tone that reminds viewers that Outsourced was inspired by the cold realities of life in the current global economy.

Josh Hamilton plays Todd, the manager of a Seattle firm that facilitates the purchase and delivery of novelty items to consumers. One day, he’s told that the company is moving its phone-servicing operation to India, where he’ll train the man taking his place as manager. Moreover, before handing over the responsibility, he’s being required to improve production to a nearly impossible level.

The manager really has no interest in the company or India, beyond the necessity to protect his retirement package. In fact, he’s downright hostile toward his boss back home. The NBC show tempers the manager’s resentment, as well as his company’s cutthroat attitude to its new employees.

Both versions labor to give the Indian employees real personalities and career ambitions, absent the usual Bollywood stereotypes and forever-meddling parents. On TV, though, the same characters also are required to deliver laughs on cue, every 20 seconds or so. The movie benefits, as well, from being shot in the teeming streets of India. As the love interest, a smart and beautiful Indian employee, Asha (Ayesha Darkher), is given far more depth than most women in similar roles.


The Misfortunates

The Misfortunates, Belgium’s entry in the 2010 Best Foreign Language sweepstakes, goes to great lengths to beg the question, “If it were possible to choose your family, would you ask for a trade?” For 13-year-old Gunther Strobbe that question is anything but rhetorical.

As cute and aware as any boy his age, Gunther was born into a family of unvarnished louts, boozers and miscreants. His mother, a “whore,” took a powder early in his life, leaving Gunther to be raised by his good-for-nothing dads and uncles. His grandmother tries her best to keep him from going with the flow of family tradition, but she’s overmatched by her overgrown and unabashedly lazy sons.

Gunther loves his family, even if he understands how much better off he’d off be living at a boarding school. He even respects their dubious achievements: setting a world record for beer consumption, winning naked bike races and singing obscure drinking songs. The Strobbes aren’t alone in their daily celebration of debauchery, though. Homegrown alcoholics appear to outnumber solid citizens, 2 to 1. Just as Gunther reaches the point of no return in his adolescence, a social worker places him in a facility where other kids won’t judge him by his relatives’ antics and he won’t be ridiculed for doing his homework.

Flash ahead to adulthood, when Gunther is confronted with a familiar dilemma. After impregnating his girlfriend, a genetic predisposition to cut and run is revealed. His decision not only will determine his future as a writer and un-conflicted human being, but also the lives of the young woman and their child, who would inherit the Strobbe curse. Felix Van Groeningen adapted The Misfortunates from a best-selling novel by Dimitri Verhulst, whose books are informed by a childhood spent in foster homes and institutions.

His characters make Judd Apatow’s creations look like the Rover Boys. The Misfortunates easily qualifies as a comedy, but there are times when you’ll be ashamed of yourself for laughing at the indignities of life among the Strobbes.


The Human Centipede
The Rig
30 Days of Night: Dark Days
A Nightmare on Elm Street
The Slumber Party Massacre Collection
The Evil/Twice Dead

Critics and fanboys, alike, had a field day with The Human Centipede (First Sequence), an example of torture porn so twisted and depraved that unsuspecting test audiences found it difficult to stay in their seats and only in a handful of American theaters would take a chance on it. Reviews were split almost down the middle as to its worthiness as an entertainment, with Roger Ebert going so far as to eschewing the star system as being inadequate to the task at hand.

Actually, Hostel and Saw are far more graphic, at least when it comes to depictions of amputations and surgery. The horror in Human Centipede is far more cerebral. The more one thinks about the concept of a human centipede, the uglier and more distressing it becomes.

Dutch director Tom Six‘s story begins familiarly enough, with a mad scientist (Dieter Laser, who resembles an insect) rounding up hostages to be used in a surgical experiment. We learn that he’s brilliant, especially in the area of separating conjoined twins, and guess that he’s a closet Nazi. His dream is to attach people front to rear, by removing the ligaments that would allow them to stand and run, while also suturing mouths to rectums.

The new humanoid creature, comprised of two American girls and a Japanese man, would be given a common digestive system and be required to skitter across surfaces on all fours. We hope police will arrive in time to prevent the vivisection, but are given no reason to think they will. (I found it impossible not to flash on the Milwaukee police officers who discovered the horrible contents of Jeffrey Dahmer’s refrigerator.)

In my opinion, movies that prompt great debate in the media are rarely as shocking or controversial as pundits make them out to be. The argument almost always boils down to First Amendment rights of expression and censorship issues. In Human Centipede, though, the image is so disturbing that repeating, “it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie, it’s only a movie,” does help soften the blow. And, of course, no one’s holding a gun to the head of any viewers, forcing them to witness such an atrocity … however fake. A planned sequel reportedly could include a human centipede segmented 12 ways. The DVD package adds a deleted scene, rehearsal footage, making-of material and an interview with the director.

Made months before the massive oil spill off Louisiana, but only released direct-to-DVD this week, The Rig offers a perfectly plausible diagram for disaster on an offshore drilling rig: piss off the Creature From the Black Lagoon’s salt-water cousin and see what happens. Like the crew members stranded on the “Charlie” platform in Peter Atensio’s goofball thriller, it’s possible the BP crew was too distracted by an undersea creature to notice their rig was about to explode.

The rest, of course, is history. Veteran character actor William Forsythe is the only actor I recognized in The Rig, suggesting just how little money was expended on the project. The other big clue is the scuba-suit costume worn by the actor playing the creature, who spends less time on the screen than the opening credits. Otherwise, the movie’s plot is textbook horror: strand a bunch of people in an enclosed space and prompt someone or something to begin picking them off one-by-one. By the time the assassin’s identity and motivations are revealed, only the fittest will have survived to battle the monster.

Unfortunately, The Rig offers precious little else in the way of explanation for the attacks. The monster just is. … If its makers had anticipated the oil spill, The Rig could have exploited BP’s lack of foresight and readiness, and sicced the creature against company executives. Only younger teens are likely to get a charge from The Rig, which is rated “R” primarily for an extended shower scene, which they won’t mind seeing, either.

A year after the population of Barrow, Alaska, was obliterated by vampires in 30 Days of Night, the lone survivor moves to California to exact revenge on the invaders for killing her husband. This time around, Kiele Sanchez has taken over the role of Stella from Melissa George and Mia Kirshner has replaced Danny Huston as the boss bloodsucker.

Dark Days takes place in a pre-True Blood universe, in which vampires are everywhere but most Americans refuse to accept their existence. So, along with a handful of believers, Stella takes it upon herself to save the world from another, even lower budget sequel to 30 Days of Night. The Blu-ray edition of Dark Days adds commentary, a backgrounder featurette and “Graphic Inspirations: Comic to Film,” which follows the creative process that originated in graphic-novel form.

When he isn’t producing and directing mega-budget popcorn flicks, Michael Bay keeps busy supervising the creation of contemporary re-makes of classic slasher/horror pictures, including The Texas Chainsaw Massacre, Friday the 13th and A Nightmare on Elm Street.

Besides the fact that these aren’t pictures that are crying out to be re-made – neither was Rob Zombie’s Hallloween – Bay’s choice of mostly untested feature directors suggests he’s conducting some kind of a boot camp for filmmakers. Nightmare director Sam Bayer, for example, cut his teeth on videos for such artists as Nirvana, Green Day and Metallica. Here, Oscar nominee Jackie Earle Haley plays Freddy Krueger, he of the knifed hands, and Rooney Mara (Lisbeth Salander, in the Hollywood remake of The Girl With the Dragon Tattoo) is Nancy Thompson.

The Blu-ray edition adds an alternate opening and ending; deleted scenes; the featurette “Freddy Krueger Reborn”; Maniacle Movie Mode; and a digital copy.

Shout! Factory’s series of upgraded Roger Corman Cult Classics continues apace with the Slumber Party Massacre trilogy and a double-feature of The Evil and Twice Dead. First released in 1983, the Slumber Party films illustrate what it took to be a drive-in classic in the waning days of the genre and outdoor venues. In addition to the many pretty girls who weren’t shy about taking off their tops when asked, there was an escaped mental patient with a power tool, clueless parents and a wolfpack of horny boys.

The slumber party needs no explanation. Ironically, the first installment – written by Rita Mae Brown and directed by Amy Holden Jones—was intended as a quasi-feminist parody of teen-slasher films. The producers decided, however, to leave parodies to Mel Brooks and accentuate the boobs, blood and lesbian undertones. In the first sequel, Crystal Bernard takes over for party-survivor Courtney Bates, who can’t shake nightmare premonitions of an Elvis wannabe “driller killer” returning to finish the job. SPM3 opens with a beach volleyball game, but the action moves to a slumber party. None of the movies could be confused with art, but, as campy entertainment goes, the trilogy is a great diversion.

Haunted-house thrillers The Evil and Twice Dead are paired in a separate “Cult Classics” release. In the former, a psychologist played by Richard Crenna purchases an antebellum home, which, of course, is already inhabited by, that’s right, Satan. Mayhem ensues when rehabbers inadvertently unlock the doors to his prison. In Twice Dead, a family inherits a mansion once owned by a famous actor. Before moving in, the new owners are required to deal with a street gang and the actor’s ghost. All of the titles in the Corman DVD series arrive with a full complement of bonus features, commentary and interviews.

Also from Shout! Factory come new double-feature editions in its series about the giant, flying, fire-breathing turtle, Gamera. At this point in long-running Japanese franchise, the producers have begun to cater to its loyal audience of kids, who can identify with the increased use of younger characters. The packages include Gamera Vs. Guiron/Gamera Vs. Jiger and Gamera Vs. Gyaos/Gamera Vs. Viras. The freshly polished movies arrive in English- and Japanese-language versions.


The Last of the Mohicans: Director’s Definitive Cut: Blu-ray

Michael Mann‘s gorgeous and exciting adaptation of James Fenimore Cooper‘s The Last of the Mohicans arrives on Blu-ray in a “Director’s Definitive Cut,” which is a new distinction to me. Among other nuances, most of which I wouldn’t recognize if a tomahawk flew past my ear, the new edition is several minutes longer than the original and several minutes shorter than the first director’s-cut DVD.

What remains is the beauty of the Smoky Mountains locations and Mann’s earnest attempt not only to be faithful to the novel, but also to the spirit of the Native Americans upon whom it was based. To this end, Mann also cast Native American actors, such as Wes Studi and Eric Schweig, and activists Dennis Banks and Russell Means, in key roles.

A totally buff and athletic Daniel Day-Lewis plays a Playgirl-approved version of Hawkeye, the American settler raised by the Mohicans, who would be enlisted by the colonists as a guide and protector of British womanhood in upstate New York. (Mann changed his given name from Natty Bumppo to Nathaniel Poe to avoid snickering by rubes in the audience.)

Russell Means plays his Mohican companion, Chingachgook. The movie also attempts to present hand-to-hand fighting as it might have looked and sounded in real combat. It’s an amazing re-creation. The Blu-ray edition, which also looks and sound terrific, adds Mann’s commentary and a making-of featurette with new interviews with Day-Lewis.


Hand in Hand

Of all the original cast members of L.A. Law, Corbin Bernsen probably has enjoyed the most productive afterlife on television and it the movies. His lascivious lawyer, Arnie Becker, may have been an archetypal character, but Bernsen has moved beyond it to play a wide variety of people in projects large and minute.

In the last five years, he’s also been active behind the camera as a director, writer and producer. He does a little bit of everything in Rust, as well. The protagonist is a minister who gave up on his small town life in Canada to wander the secular desert in search of God. He returns home 30 years later to comfort his best friend, who’s confessed to setting a fire that killed an entire family. Naturally, Bernsen’s lapsed minister finds clues that could lead to the man’s acquittal, if only someone in the small town would listen. Suffice it to say, Moore´s faith pulls both men through the ordeal.

Originally released in 1960, Hand in Hand tells the story of two 7-year-old friends — the Jewish Rachel (Loretta Parry) and Catholic Michael (Philip Needs) – who must learn at far too early an age how to cope with religious prejudice and outright bigotry. Unlike their elders, the kids open their minds to the other’s religious ceremonies and traditions. To escape their small-town confines, they embark on a dream journey to Africa in a dinghy, and, not surprisingly, it doesn’t last very long. Instead, it becomes another test of faith.


Human Target: The Complete First Season
Ugly Americans: Volume 1
Scrubs: The Complete Ninth and Final Season
Bill Burr: Let It Go Bill Burr: Let It Go

In the Fox action series Human Target, protagonist Christopher Chance represents the kind of endangered super-agent who can crack a joke, slip a knot and pinch a fanny with equal aplomb, while bullets whistle past his ears and his car barrels down a cliff. As played by the handsome blond hunk Mark Valley – the ex-marine lawyer on Boston Legal – the character appeals as much to women viewers as males … or should.

Chance is a private security contractor whose job it is to protect clients from assassination. In the original comic-book version of the story, Chance would morph into his clients, a trick that could look silly on TV. Fox moved the show to Friday nights this season, a move that’s generally regarded to be the kiss of death for a series. There’s no reason for late-comers not to sample the first 12 episodes, though. Adding to the enjoyment are eccentric supporting characters played by Chi McBride, Jackie Earle Haley and Emmaunelle Vaugier. The set includes a pair of making-of featurettes, pilot commentary and a gag reel.

Comedy Central’s animated horror-comedy series Ugly Americans,could hardly have been any stranger. The show follows a social worker at New York’s Department of Integration, as he helps new citizens – human, alien, horrific and angelic – get accustomed to their new home. On the small screen, the mélange of mutants and misfits can be difficult to absorb, but, truth to tell, this is how the Big Apple must look to people from North Dakota. Given the proclivities and appendages of some of the characters, Ugly Americans is definitely not for the kiddies.

It’s always difficult to say goodbye to an old friend, especially one that’s been put through the ringer for most of the last nine years. That’s how long it took to kill Scrubs, a series more beloved by audiences than the network executives who never quite knew when to schedule it. That’s how it is when nearly the entire cast of characters can be described as offbeat and storylines often blur the line between tragedy and surrealism. Scrubs, which began as an ABC project but debuted on NBC, ended its run back on ABC. In the final season, J.D. returned to teach at Sacred Heart’s medical school, where he was surrounded by new faces and very different story lines. The package includes deleted scenes, bloopers and a segment, “live from the golf cart.”

Road-warrior comic Bill Burr says realized a longtime dream when he was booked into the Fillmore Theater for his recent Comedy Central concert. Not only does the Massachusetts native spend 300 nights a year in the clubs, but he also is a regular on the Opie & Anthony Show, has a weekly podcast and can be found on every social network on the planet. Addition material includes “I’m Blind”/”Thank You,” outtakes and “The Monday Morning Podcast.”

Red Vs Blue: The Recollection Collection represents five hours worth of episodes from Seasons 6-8, a pair of mini-series, special videos and behind-the-scenes footage. Also included are audio commentary, special videos and PSA’s, deleted scenes, outtakes, interviews and visual effects breakdowns.

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7 Responses to “The DVD Wrap: The Karate Kid, Beauty and the Beast, The Human Centipede, The Rig, A Nightmare on Elm Street, The Slumber Party Massacre Collection … and more”

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Quote Unquotesee all »

It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon