MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: The Kids Are All Right, Modern Times, Avatar Three-Disc Extended Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray, Cher: The Film Collection … and more

The Kids Are All Right

It’s been 21 years since the publication of Heather Has Two Mommies, a book the mommies in The Kids Are All Right might have read to their own children. The controversy that little book sparked in 1989 had already turned into a giant shit storm when Lisa Cholodenko’s observant family comedy arrived at the Sundance Film Festival last January.

The question of legalizing same-sex marriages was inching its way toward the Supreme Court and special-interest groups were using it as a litmus test for politicians seeking their support. In some communities, of course, no amount of political furor could disrupt partnerships that had long since stood the tests of time and right-wing hysteria. In one such progressive enclave live the two mommies and two teenage children we meet in The Kids Are All Right, a movie far less interested in political debate than the turmoil that rocks any family when an epochal change takes place. Here, two momentous events were playing out simultaneously.

The oldest child, Joni (Mia Wasikowska), was about to leave home for her freshman year in college. Before she did so, however, Joni and her brother, Laser (Josh Hutcherson), conspired to learn the identity of the man whose sperm was used to inseminate both of their lesbian mothers. By all appearances, Nic (Annette Bening) and Jules (Julianne Moore) have been wonderful parents and their nuclear family doesn’t stand out from others in their middle-class neighborhood.

Conveniently, the sperm donor turns out to be a laid-back fellow who runs a boutique restaurant not far from home. He wears and goatee and drives a motorcycle. In principle, Nic and Jules have no objection to meeting Paul (Mark Ruffalo), who’s already endeared himself with the kids. In reality, though, the slightly ditzy, if perfectly agreeable Paul possesses certain personal attributes one of the mommies, at least, fears could disturb chemistry formulated over the course of 18 years. Fissures might have begun to reveal themselves in Joni’s absence, anyway, but Paul’s continuing presence has hastened the process.

Cholodenko, who’s already impressed indie audiences with High Art and Laurel Canyon, knows her way around unconventional lifestyles and allows Bening, Moore and Ruffalo the emotional space to let the situation percolate naturally. The kids are wonderful, too, but their changes aren’t born of anguish for the future of their family. Joni and Laser are simply too immature to comprehend all of the ramifications that come with opening Pandora’s Box.

In Moore’s hands, Jules is a train wreck waiting to happen. Her naiveté is as inexcusable as her actions are unavoidable. It’s the fear we read in Bening’s face, though, that breaks your heart for the older, more inflexible Nic. The supplemental features in the DVD package aren’t much to write home about, really. The accent is on the writing process adhere to by Cholodenko and co-writer Stuart Blumberg.


Modern Times: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

So much of what we remember about our first viewing of Modern Times is wrapped up in the indelible image of Charlie Chaplin becoming enmeshed in the gears of a giant machine that it’s easy to forget the movie’s other wonderful moments. Among other things, there’s the love story involving Chaplin’s Factory Worker (in Tramp’s disguise) and Paulette Godard’s sprightly street urchin, the Gamin.

Then, too, there are several wonderful set pieces, including the couple’s wild sleepover in a downtown department store, ostensibly being guarded by the Chaplin, and his mess-hall antics while imprisoned for being a communist agitator. Look closer at the assembly-line sequences in Modern Times and you’ll see the roots of comedy sketches later performed to similar effect by Jacques Tati, Jackie Gleason and Lucille Ball. There’s enough great material here to inspire three completely different movies, all of which would still be relevant today.

When Modern Times was released, in 1936, Chaplin was one of only a handful of partisans, holding out against “talkies.” It had been five years since City Lights was released and audiences had come to expect synchronized sound and dialogue, much as they would insist upon color cinematography 30 years later. Even so, the only voices heard in Modern Times are mechanized or are emitted by the Tramp during his stint as a singing waiter. It’s hardly missed.

Certainly, the optimism we see in the faces of the Factory Worker and Gamin doesn’t require words to be understood. It probably helped that Chaplin and Godard were very much in love at the time the movie was made and would marry after it premiered.

The Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition offers a great deal of material Chaplin fans will find indispensable. While a bit on the dry side, the audio commentary provided by biographer David Robinson is extremely informative, especially as it puts what’s happening on screen into the context of the ongoing Depression, Chaplin’s socio-political beliefs and his personal life. A trio of making-of featurettes describes the film’s production history, the many geographical locations and the use of visual and sound effects.

The package also contains an interview with Modern Times music arranger David Raksin; a pair of deleted scenes; three theatrical trailers; the home movie, All at Sea, shot by Alistair Cooke during a cruise to Catalina Island with Chaplin and Godard; the 1916 short, The Rink, in which Chaplin demonstrates his proficiency on roller-skates; a booklet, with an essay by film critic Saul Austerlitz; and an absolutely delightful documentary short, For the First Time, in which a Chaplin comedy was screened in Cuban villages too remote to have theaters.


Avatar: Three-Disc Extended Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray

It’s been less than a year since Avatar began its precedent-setting run in movie theaters around the globe, but consumers are able to choose between three separate DVD and Blu-ray editions, with a fourth yet to come in December. That version will be used to promote the sale of 3D Blu-ray hardware manufactured by Panasonic. Until those fans can afford such an advanced playback unit, though, they will have to content themselves with the new “Collector’s Edition,” which is very good, indeed.

The hi-def package includes the original theatrical release, the “Special Edition” re-release and the exclusive extended cut not shown in theaters. The rest of the three-disc package is comprised of more than 45 minutes of deleted scenes; actors’ screen tests; on-location footage; feature-length documentaries on the film’s production; an interactive scene-deconstruction feature, which explores different levels of production for 17 scenes; and a comprehensive guide to the world of Pandora; a copy of the original script and screenplay; and other extras accessible through BD-Live. If that doesn’t sate a movie lover’s appetite for all things Avatar, only the 3D edition will.

Beginning December 1, buyers of Panasonic Viera Full HD-3D TVs will be given a copy of Avatar Blu-ray 3D, along with two pairs of the company’s stereoscopic eyeglasses. (Anyone who purchased a qualifying Viera TV prior to that date is eligible for the special package, as well.) Likewise, Walt Disney Studios has announced that the 3D Blu-ray version of Tim Burton’s Alice in Wonderland – or Bolt 3D — will be exclusively available to buyers of select Sony 3D Bravia HDTVs. These exclusionary deals don’t often work in the favor of consumers, but, then again, what does?


Cher: The Film Collection

Despite such glaring omissions as Come Back to the Five and Dime, Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean, Mask, Witches of Eastwick and Suspect, MGM’s newly released Cher: The Film Collection is a fitting testimonial to the 64-year-old diva’s versatility and stamina.

The least familiar of the titles in the collection are the ones in which Cher collaborated with Sonny at the dawn of her movie career. They’re also the most forgettable. Good Times and Chastity were released in 1967 and 1969, respectively, after Sonny & Cher had become pop-cultural icons, but before they would shed the hippie trappings and take mainstream television by storm.

Directed by William Friedkin, Good Times attempted to capture the same off-the-wall vibe that characterized the Beatles’ Hard Day’s Night and would inform Bob Rafelson’s Monkees’ vehicle, Head. Sonny Bono wrote, produced and scored Chastity as a solo vehicle for Cher. In it, a disaffected young woman hitchhikes around the U.S. and Mexico, looking for love and role models. (A Mexican brothel wouldn’t be the first choice of most viewers, probably.) It would be another 13 years before Cher, sans Sonny, would attempt another dramatic role on the big screen.

After suffering the slings and arrows of tabloid gossip for much of the 1970s, Cher impressed audiences and critics, alike, with her performance in Robert Altman’s Jimmy Dean, Jimmy Dean. A year later, her performance as Karen Silkwood’s lesbian friend and nuclear-plant co-worker, in Silkwood, was honored with an Oscar nomination in the Supporting Actress category. Cher did herself one better in Norman Jewison’s ensemble rom-com, Moonstruck (1987), when she took home the statuette for Best Actress.

In Richard Benjamin’s kooky Mermaids (1990), the Armenian/French/Cherokee entertainer played a pre-hippie Jewish mom, whose daughter (Winona Ryder) aspires to becoming a nun. Nine years later, in Franco Zeffirelli’s semi-autobiographical Tea with Mussolini, Cher would play an eccentric American art collector stuck in Italy in the build-up to World War II.

The timing of Cher: The Film Collection” coincides with the release of her new movie musical, Burlesque. In it, Cher plays a former dancer and owner of the Burlesque Lounge, a nightclub threatened with extinction. Unfortunately, the DVD set arrives without any extras.



In the animated dystopia of Metropia, animated humans resemble actual humans in the same way that Cabbage Patch babies resemble flesh-and-blood toddlers. There’s a clear similarity, but it’s too creepy to explore for long periods of time.

Tarik Saleh’s inky black vision of 2024 Europe is premised on the theory that the world’s oil supply will dry up in the not-too-distant future and certain Orwellian efficiencies will be required to get food to the people and keep businesses alive. Among them is connecting all the major cities of Europe in an elaborate network of subways. An extensive CATV system would monitor all movement and communications.

The atmosphere at street level appears to be toxic or, at least, infused with a melancholic pollutant. Roger, a nebbishy Swede voiced by Vincent Gallo, avoids the system as much as possible, fearing the subliminal pronouncements of the invisible men who control the underworld. Roger’s obsessed with Nina (Juliette Lewis), a spokesmodel for a shampoo company that somehow is linked to man’s survival. One day, he spots Nina entering the subway and follows her deep into the labyrinth. Their joint adventure doesn’t always make literal sense, but it’s nicely executed by the animators, who employ a photo-montage technique. The DVD adds an interview with Saleh and coverage from the Tribeca festival.


Rains of Injustice
Walking Vengeance

Only two years old, Maya Entertainment has already begun to make a name for itself as a distributor and producer of multicultural and Latino-themed entertainment. This year, alone, the company has released 20 films theatrically and in DVD. Typically, the movies feature actors who will be familiar to American audiences and those in Spanish-speaking countries, although not necessarily in both markets simultaneously.

In the fact-based Rains of Injustice (Tropico de Sangre), Michelle Rodriguez stars as Minerva Mirabal, one of four sisters who were active in the movement to depose Dominican dictator Rafael Trujillo. As depicted in the story, Minerva pissed off “El Jefe” by refusing to give in to his advances and openly questioning his policies. Trujillo reciprocated by forcing the family business to close, spying on the sisters and their husbands, and refusing to allow her to practice law.

As the Mirabals’ involvement in the resistance grew, the more obvious it became for Trujillo that they would have to be silenced. They were imprisoned and tortured, along with their spouses and comrades, and finally murdered. Trujillo, a man who equated any desire for freedom with communism, would be assassinated a year later. Without digging too deeply into the roots of the dictator’s 31-year reign, the depiction of how he wielded power in the 1950s is appropriately unforgiving. Juan Delancer’s film deserves to seen especially by women looking for role models in the fight against oppression and tyranny.

Walking Vengeance (Solo Quiero Caminar)
is a rip, roaring thriller about a gang of larcenous Spanish sisters, who conspire to rob a powerful Mexican gangster, Felix, The women don’t need much in the way of an excuse to cause Felix trouble, because he’s greedy and a brute. He makes himself a prime target for revenge after he nearly kills one of the sisters, a prostitute Felix married after she impressed him with her skill at fellatio.

After moving to Mexico, the newlywed woman gets bored, so she devises a scheme to separate the gangster from his money, which is hidden deep in a seemingly impenetrable urban fortress. Unfortunately, the former prostitute is lying comatose in a hospital bed when her sisters arrive to execute the plan. Complicating things for the sisters is the presence of a vicious, if dreamy henchman, played with menace by Diego Luna.

If Walking Vengeance were less well made and just a wee bit sleazier, it would fit neatly alongside such recent bloodbaths as Machete and the grindhouse movies of Quentin Tarantino and Robert Rodriguez. What distinguishes Agustin Diaz Yanes’ film from such American gang-bangs are the ruthless performances by several of Spain’s leading ladies: Victoria Abril, Ariadna Gil, Pilar Lopez de Ayala and Elena Anaya. I couldn’t find any deeper socio-political meaning in Walking Vengeance, but it sure was fun to watch.


Best Worst Movie

Last month, MGM released a Blu-ray edition of Troll 2, a movie so lacking in cinematic virtues that it’s been dubbed the “best worst movie” ever made. For something that couldn’t have cost more than a $10,000 to produce, if that, such a respectable hi-def sendoff seemed absurd. At the time, I wasn’t aware of the cult following enjoyed by Troll 2.

Since there’s no accounting for taste, I decided to study the phenomenon with a viewing of Michael Paul Stephenson’s investigative documentary, Best Worst Movie. Stephenson was a mere tadpole when he starred in Troll 2, which opened in Germany in 1990, before going straight-to-video here two years later. He was among a group of Utah actors – including a full-time dentist and a mental patient – who were hired by Italian schlockmeister Claudio Fragasso.

Stephenson has enjoyed a bit of a professional afterlife, since playing a member of a family being terrorized by vegan goblins – not trolls – but even he couldn’t quite fathom how Troll 2 had developed a cult following. Most of the other professional actors involved continue to leave it off the resumes.

For the thoroughly enjoyable Best Worst Movie, Stephenson was able to locate and interview most of his fellow cast members, local townsfolk, Fragasso, writer Rossella Drudi and dozens of fans. They would be gathering for 20th anniversary screenings and fan conventions, in Utah, L.A. and and in Europe. Almost everyone involved was there to have a good time and celebrate their time in the spotlight.

A few of the participants, though, didn’t quite get the whole “best worst” concept. Fragasso was noticeably disturbed by the laughter that greeted certain scenes, while Drudi still considers Troll 2 to be “ferocious commentary.” The lead actress, now a recluse, clings to the belief that it reflected some of her best work. The DVD package adds another hour of interviews, commentary and deleted scenes.


Back From Hell: A Tribute to Sam Kinison
The Electric Chair: A Comic’s Nightmare

In some ways, the late Sam Kinison was the comic envied most by his peers on the standup circuit. Born into a family of Pentecostal preachers, Kinison literally rained fire and brimstone on audiences willing to feel his pain for an hour or so. If he had stuck with the hell that was marriage, the gnomish comic might have enjoyed 15 minutes of fame and disappeared.

Instead, he courted controversy by expanding his kill zone to include gays, starving Africans, fellow drug addicts and tele-evangelists. With a scantily dressed model on each arm and a kick-ass band to his rear, the beret-wearing bombardier could transform an evening of standup comedy into a full-blown rock-‘n’-roll show. And, unlike such one-note firebrands as Andrew “Dice” Clay, it was easy to believe that Kinison actually believed what he said … that his primal screams originated from a spot deep in his belly, not from a script.

What distinguishes this Comedy Central tribute from a half-dozen others that followed in the wake of his untimely death – the clean and sober comic was killed by a drunk driver, an irony few of his peers missed — the overall quality of the production and testimony of comics who played the same clubs and waited around to watch him perform. Among them are Jay Leno, Denis Leary, Chris Rock and George Lopez. The DVD includes some extended material.

When you see Victor Argo in The Electric Chair: A Comic’s Nightmare, you’ll immediately recognize his distinctive mug from appearances in a half-dozen different cops-and-robbers movies. Before his passing, in 2004, Argo also appeared in such notable non-genre films as Taxi Driver, The Rose, New York Stories, The Last Temptation of Christ, Shadows and Fog, True Romance and Coyote Ugly.

More an off-off-Broadway conceit than a full-blown play or movie, Electric Chair allowed Argo to take center stage as an aging standup comic whose flashes of brilliance are camouflaged by stale gags and insult comedy. There’s even a drummer behind the comedian, punctuating punchlines with rimshots, and a heckler encouraging him to strap himself into the electric chair, which magically appearances on stage between jokes. Mark Eisenstein’s piece is making some kind of statement, although I’d only be guessing if I said it had something to do with the life-and-death struggle experienced by any performer who dares speak his mind every night before an audience of alcoholics.

There’s also a bizarre series of dream sequences shot in beach community nearly abandoned for the winter. Argo’s performance, though, is pretty terrific. The DVD set arrives with some scene-setters and other pieces by Eisenstein.


Disney’s A Christmas Carol: Blu-ray
Mrs. Miracle
Cooper’s Christmas

Like any Boomer with access to a TV set from birth, I’ve seen dozens of renditions of Charles Dickens’ classic Christmas fable. When I lived in Chicago, one of our family holiday rituals involved taking in the Goodman Theater’s annual presentation of A Christmas Carol. (Our kids were frightened by the same spectral images that scared us, while watching Edwin L. Marin’s 1938 version the first four or five times.) Disney, alone, has been involved in three adaptations: Mickey’s Christmas Carol (1983), The Muppet Christmas Carol (1992) and last year’s Disney’s A Christmas Carol, in which the author gets third billing to director Robert Zemeckis and the corporate ghost of Uncle Walt.

Even with a few textual concessions made for the sake of length and flow, Zemeckis’ Christmas Carol deserves to be a holiday favorite for many years to come. A typically elastic Jim Carrey plays Scrooge in all of his permutations, as well as all three ghosts. He’s able to accomplish this feat with the help of some amazing motion-capture technology – fully documented in the supplemental features – and the considerable CGI animation skills of Zemeckis’ team.

In theaters, audiences could choose standard 2D or 3D experiences, or IMAX 3D. For those so equipped, Disney’s A Christmas Carol is best experienced at home in its 2D and 3D Blu-ray editions, which sparkle. The Blu-ray and DVD versions include the making-of featurette, Capturing ‘A Christmas Carol’; “On Set With Sammi,” in which young actor Sammi Hanratty describes an unusually busy production day; and three deleted scenes.

The Blu-ray package adds “Behind the Carol: The Full Motion-Capture Experience,” “Countdown to Christmas Interactive Calendar” and six deleted scenes. The four-disc Blu-ray 3D includes the Blu-ray and DVD version, plus Mr. Scrooge’s Wild Ride, in 3D, and another making-of featurette.

Even at the ripe old age of 80, Doris Roberts shows no signs of slowing down. Indeed, the five-time Emmy-winner is probably old enough now to be given a slot on Dancing With the Stars. In the Hallmark TV movie, Mrs. Miracle (a.k.a., Debbie Macomber’s Mrs. Miracle), she plays Mrs. Merkle, an angelic nanny and housekeeper, who, yes, works miracles with James Van Der Beek’s rambunctious twin boys.

Mrs. Merkle is also adept at the art of matchmaking, as she demonstrates by steering Van Der Beek’s widowed father toward Erin Karpluk’s unlucky-in-love preschool teacher. The attractive cast makes this predictable story far more watchable than it has any right to be.

Coopers’ Christmas (a.k.a., Coopers’ Camera) is a surprisingly slight holiday comedy from some of Canada’s top improv specialists. The story is set in 1985 among a family of slightly demented suburbanites. Teddy, the youngest Cooper male, is recording the annual free-for-all on the second-hand VHS camcorder he received as a present.

Naturally, as the day goes on, the adults get drunker and the kids grow bored with their reindeer games. It allows for the taping of much maniacal behavior and the revealing of certain family secrets, involving surreptitious hookups and horny teens. The best thing one can say about Coopers’ Christmas, given the talent involved, is that it should have been much funnier.


Opposite Day

What’s this … Pauly Shore headlining a G-rated, straight-to-DVD family comedy? Typically, the odds against such a movie actually being entertaining would be prohibitive. In fact, though, freshman director R. Michael Givens’ Disney-esque Opposite Day is just that … entertaining and well made, to boot. Shore, whose name has become synonymous with low-brow humor, is only one parent among many who become overwhelmed by a gaseous substance, which causes them to act the age of their children and vice-versa.

Apparently, the only people exempt from participating in this city-wide Opposite Day are those who were on vacation or visiting relatives out of town, as were the children of Robert and Denise Benson (Shore, Colleen Crabtree). When the Benson kids return home, they witness a dream come true. While visiting their grandparents (Dick Van Patton, Renee Taylor) one of them had remarked, “I wish kids ruled the world,” and voila, it happened. They see children in the guise of their parents heading for their jobs or performing the chores of people who work outdoors.

Meanwhile, the city’s adults are playing in the park or in day-care centers. It becomes the duty of the brilliant son of a cocky scientist (French Stewart), who unwittingly leaked the gas into the atmosphere in the first place, to bring Opposite Day to a safe conclusion. It’s a tough act to pull off, but one Givens seems to have managed with ease.


Nikkatsu Roman Porno Trailer Collection

At about the same time as Emmanuelle and the films of Radley Metzger were introducing soft-core porn to western audiences, Japan’s oldest movie studio, Nikkatsu, was attempting to save itself by producing a line of harder, but, by today’s standards, still relatively soft porn under the rubric, “roman porno,” or romantic pornography.

It was a bit of a misnomer, in that many of the movies featured non-consensual sex and liaisons that owed more to lust and perversity than romance and passion. Between 1971 and 1988, when hard-core tapes became readily available in Japan, Nikkatsu released more than 1,000 such flicks. An hour’s worth of trailers from that period is represented here.

Roman porno is about to enjoy a resurgence in Japan, but it’s difficult to imagine the new movies being quite as interesting as the originals or that the new titles could measure up to such beauties as Kōichirō Uno’s Wet and Swinging, Rape! 13th Hour, Attacked Female Teacher, Star of David: Beauty Hunting and Female Convict 101: Sucks.” This highly focused collection of sex-ploitative trailers also includes a new 30-minute short, Ryoko’s Lesbian Flight; liner notes by Behind the Pink Curtain author Jasper Sharp; newly translated and removable English subtitles; and individual trailer selection.


Lottery Ticket: Blu-ray

Set in an Atlanta housing project, Lottery Ticket tells the familiar story of a largely anonymous young man who wins a huge lottery jackpot on his first try, but has to sweat out the hours between the calling of the numbers and his arrival at the state office, where he can claim his prize. And, because it’s a holiday weekend, Kevin Carson (Bow Wow) is required to endure another full day of threats to his well-being by neighborhood thugs, greedy ministers and gold-digging hotties.

What sets Lottery Ticket apart from other such movies about the accumulation of vast wealth in a short time is the generally supportive reaction of the community and a lack of moralizing on the part of director Erik White and writer Abdul Williams. All Kevin really wants to do is design athletic shoes, enjoy the trappings of wealth and share the cheese with his grandma and friends. If lessons are to be learned on the road to a good time, so be it.

The other nice thing is the performances of Brandon T. Jackson, Loretta Devine, Charlie Murphy and Ice Cube. The comedy doesn’t sugarcoat daily life in the projects, but it doesn’t dwell on the negatives, either. It is what it is. I enjoyed it … sue me.


31 North 62 East

This preposterous political thriller is based on the very remote possibility that a British prime minister (John Rhys-Davies) would reveal the position of a super-secret group of commandoes in Afghanistan, if it meant securing a huge arms deal with the Saudis. The unit had killed the favored nephew of a Saudi prince, who happened to be at the wrong place at the wrong time in Afghanistan, and the potentate demanded revenge in kind.

The PM agrees to give the prince the coordinates of the mission, thinking the deaths of a few “grunts” would produce a one-day headline, at best. What no one foresees is the survival of a woman commando whose wealthy family won’t rest until it gets some answers. Jill’s been captured by Arab extremists, who torture her – all too graphically – but hold off killing her until they get the OK from the prince.

Instead, the Brits rescue the woman, who, within a few days at home, is once again kidnapped and presumably murdered, again, to keep the arms deal secret. When Jill’s sister is tipped off to the deadly deception, she works the Internet to reveal the PM’s role in the charade to the nation. 31 North 62 East is the kind of far-fetched thriller that depends on the intervention of interchangeable brunettes – who look like beauty queens, but are as savvy as Rommel – to save the day. I lost track after the first one managed to plant a bug in a room of the remote villa, where the PM and a representative of the prince were scheming.


Ramona & Beezus: Blu-ray
16 Wishes

According to the hands of the big Mickey Mouse clock on the wall, it’s just about time for Disney debutantes Selena Gomez and Debby Ryan to experience mid-teen crises of their own. Demi Lovato was the latest to snap, of course, and is now performing at a rehab center near you in a double bill with Lindsay Lohan. OK, cheap shot.

Gomez, who could hardly be any cuter, stars with 11-year-old Joey King in the coming-of-age comedy Ramona & Beezus. Elizabeth Allen’s film was adapted from the popular books of Beverly Cleary. King plays the mischievous Ramona, whose huge imagination allows her to keep her head while everyone around her is losing their’s.

Beezus, played by Wizards of Waverly Place star Gomez, has her plate full trying to adapt to high school life. Foremost on Ramona’s mind is saving their home from foreclosure after her dad (John Corbett) loses his job. Also in the all-star cast are Bridget Moynahan, Ginnifer Goodwin, Josh Duhamel and Sandra Oh. The Fox Blu-ray contains seven deleted scenes; “Show & Tell Film School,” with director Allen; an interview with the 94-year-old author, Cleary; a tour of the set with King; footage from Gomez and King’s auditions; and an interview with Allen, conducted by a trio of film students.

Debby Ryan (The Suite Life on Deck) and Jean-Luc Bilodeau (Kyle XY) star in 16 Wishes, a Disney Channel movie that anticipates a teenager’s impending Sweet 16 party. (Just wondering, can some lucky girls score a Bat Mitzvah, Quinceanera and Sweet 16 party before getting their driver’s license, the only rite of passage that really matters?)

Unfortunately, the day she’s been waiting for all her life begins shaping up as a disaster. That all changes when a box of magical birthday candles mysteriously is delivered and the girl must make a very adult decision. The DVD and Blu-ray arrive with cast interviews and a music video.


Robert Whitlow’s The Trial

In this faith-based drama, adapted from a novel by Robert Whitlow, Matthew Modine plays a lawyer in a small Southern town who’s lost the will to live after surviving a car crash that left his wife and sons dead. In a case that could very well have been handed to him by someone in the Great Beyond, “Mac” McClain reluctantly agrees to defend a drifter (Randy Wayne) accused of murdering a college student from a wealthy family.

The more the evidence points to his client’s guilt, the more McClain fights to keep him off Death Row. To this end, he is aided by a widowed Christian psychologist.


The Lightkeepers: Blu-ray

Richard Dreyfuss is one of those actors who you don’t know you’ve missed until he appears in a small movie that needs his big presence. He’s still capable of chewing any amount of scenery you throw in his way, but, as he’s currently proving in Weeds, he remains an actor of substance. Plus, Dreyfuss he doesn’t seem to mind playing characters that look every bit of his 63 years.

In The Lightkeepers, he plays a Cape Cod lighthouse tender, circa 1912, with an aversion toward women. In this, he’s soon joined by a mysterious stranger (Tom Wisdom, of Pirate Radio), who floats into his life like a chunk of driftwood. Their resistance is tested by the arrival of a pair of spirited blonds, the well-bred artist Ruth (Mamie Gummer, daughter of Meryl Streep) and her housekeeper (Blythe Danner). Lightkeepers was shot on location in Massachusetts, so, when the romantic comedy lags, there’s generally something pleasant on the horizon.


Sondheim: The Birthday Concert: Blu-ray
They Came to Play

On the occasion of Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, a couple dozen of America’s brightest musical talents gathered at Lincoln Center’s Avery Fisher Hall to join the New York Philharmonic to pay tribute to the great composer and lyricist. It would take several days to cover the entirety of Sondheim’s repertoire, but, at nearly two hours, The Birthday Concert offers a hearty helping of it. David Hyde Pierce hosts the event, while longtime Sondheim collaborator Paul Gemignani conducts the orchestra.

Among the all-star cast of singers and dancers are Michael Cerveris, Joanna Gleason, Nathan Gunn, George Hearn, Patti LuPone, Marin Mazzie, Audra McDonald, John McMartin, Donna Murphy, Mandy Patinkin, Bernadette Peters, Elaine Stritch and Chip Zien. The highlights included selections from West Side Story, Sweeney Todd, Follies, Into the Woods, Sunday in the Park with George and A Little Night Music. A booklet inserted in the package has an essay by director Lonny Price

They Came to Play chronicles the 5th International Piano Competition for Outstanding Amateurs, hosted by the Van Cliburn Foundation, in Ft. Worth. In addition to recording the performances by a diverse instant-colony of 75 of musicians, the film contains interviews with the competitors, many of whom have an inspirational story to tell about the sacrifices they made just to get to Texas. The DVD adds extended performances.


SpongeBob SquarePants: Legends of Bikini Bottom
Wow! Wow! Wubbzy!: Fly Us to the Moon

All tribes have their legends, so, too, do the denizens of Bikini Bottom. Here, Patrick and SpongeBob try to separate fact from fancy in such tales as “The Monster Who Came to Bikini Bottom,” “Welcome to the Bikini Bottom Triangle,” “The Main Drain,” “Trenchbillies,” “Sponge-Cano” and “The Curse of the Hex.” The six chapters were originally targeted for a TV special, but plans for the DVD got in the way.

It adds previews of “SpongeBob DVD Collection,” “Toonzai on the CW4Kids,” Penguins of Madagascar and “NickToons Rebrand 2009”; Animation Station (formerly Animation Art Gallery); SpongeBob trivia; and a bonus episode of The Penguins of Madagascar: Huffin’ and Puffin’.

The Nick Jr. series Wow! Wow! Wubbzy! takes its young viewers on a spin through outer space in Fly Us to the Moon. Among the bonus features are coloring and activity sheets; music videos; the bonus episode, “All Bottled Up”; and sneak peeks.


The World at War: Blu-ray
The Twilight Zone: Season 2: Blu-ray
Ancient Aliens: Season One: Blu-ray
Gangland: Complete Season 6: Blu-ray
Superman/Shazam: The Return of Black Adam: Blu-ray

After watching the Blu-ray version of HBO’s The Pacific in its entirety, it’s nice to see that all 1,352 minutes of Thames Television’s epic The World at War has been re-released in hi-def, as well. Even 37 years after its first airing, the documentary series remains the definitive visual history of World War II. That’s saying a lot, considering how much we’ve learned about the conflagration in the interim. (Hell, last week, reporters at the New York Times discovered something that people around the world already take for granted: that the American government harbored Nazi war criminals, even knowing of their crimes against humanity.)

This essential package is comprised of 26 hour-long episodes, all of which contain valuable newsreel, propaganda and home-movie footage drawn from the archives of 18 nations. The interviews range from standards Q&As to first-hand accounts of crucial battles by participants and civilian witnesses. Narrated by Sir Laurence Olivier, the series was honored with an International Emmy Award, National Television Critics’ Award for Best Documentary and knighthood for its creator, Sir Jeremy Isaacs.

The crowning achievement this time around, though, is the pains-taking restoration into 1080p high-definition and a newly-created 5.1 DTS-HD Master Audio. Blu-ray purists have already voiced their disapproval over the decision to reframe the release in 16:9, arguing that too much is lost in the translation. It’s possible, though, that restoration costs, along with continued support for standard-format screens, required such an economy. The restoration also provided fodder the only new bonus supplement, although all of the original material has been converted to hi-def.

It includes “Secretary to Hitler,” “The Two Deaths of Adolf Hitler,” “Warrior,” “Hitler s Germany: The People s Community, 1933-1939,” “Hitler’s Germany: Total War, 1939-1945,” “The Final Solution: Parts 1 and 2” and “From War to Peace.”

The original Twilight Zone series is no stranger to DVD, either. Besides the terrific stories, the “Season 2” Blu-ray package contains 25 new audio commentaries, by historians, writers, composers and authors; interviews with actors Joseph Ruskin and H. M. Wynant; the episode “Nightmare at Ground Zero,” written by Rod Serling; vintage audio interviews with director of photography George T. Clemens and makeup artist William Tuttle; 15 radio dramas, featuring Daniel J. Travanti, Jim Caviezel, Jason Alexander, Ed Begley Jr., Fred Willard, Jane Seymour, Michael York, Chris McDonald, Henry Rollins and Stan Freberg; audio commentaries by actors Donna Douglas, Don Rickles, William Idelson, Bill Mumy, Cliff Robertson, Dennis Weaver and Shelley Berman; the audio recollections with Buzz Kulik, Douglas Heyes, Maxine Stuart, George Clayton Johnson and Robert Serling; 22 isolated music scores by such outstanding composers as Bernard Herrmann, Jerry Goldsmith and Fred Steiner; sponsor billboards; and Serling’s promos for the following week’s show.

Erich von Daniken’s 1968 work of speculative archeology, Chariots of the Gods, posited that intelligent life forms from other civilizations visited Earth thousands of years ago, leaving behind the technology that would shape our planet for centuries to come. The author based his theories on such exotica as ancient cave drawings, “landing strips” in the jungle and Indian texts that describe the “flying machines of the gods.”

Von Daniken brings his wellspring of knowledge to the A&E series, Ancient Aliens, which examines discoveries made over the course of the last 30 years. The Blu-ray adds the History special, “Ancient Aliens: Chariots, Gods and Beyond.”

After five seasons, I would have thought the producers of Gangland had exhausted America’s supply of dangerous gangs and all that would be left would be the Boy Scouts. But, no, there were more than enough thuggish ensembles around to warrant a “Season 6.” Among the gangs profiled are the prison-based Tri-City Bombers and the Texas Chicano Brotherhood, and California’s Vagos Motorcycle Club, Devils Diciples and the Assassins.

The latest Superman/Shazam collection includes a quartet of animated shorts from the DC Showcase catalogue, starring Superman, the Spectre, Jonah Hex, Green Arrow and Captain Marvel. Each has a distinct personality and mission, as do such villains as Merlyn the Magnificent and Count Vertigo. Besides the four shorts, there are commentaries by writers Steve Niles, Joe Lansdale, Greg Weisman and Michael Jelenic, and four bonus TV episodes picked by Bruce Timm.

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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