MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: Enter the Void, Life as We Know It, You Again, The Girl, Hideaway, Thelma and Louise …

Enter the Void
Even after reading what critics had to say about Gasper Noe’s latest provocation, “Enter the Void,” it was difficult for me to foresee just how exhilarating an experience it might be. Reviewers compared the film’s audacious visual conceit to the mind-boggling head trip conjured by Stanley Kubrick for the “Stargate” and “Star Baby” sequences “2001: A Space Odyssey.” Even so, “Enter the Void” is something that needs to be seen with one’s own eyes to be believed.

The film is set in a brilliantly lit section of contemporary Tokyo, where Western and Japanese hipsters meet to share drugs, sex and rock ‘n’ roll. At the center of Noe’s “psychedelic melodrama” are orphaned American siblings, Oscar and Linda (Nathaniel Brown, Paz de la Huerta), one a drug dealer and the other a stripper and plaything for Yakuza scumbags. Witnessing the death of their parents in a head-on collision with a truck, and subsequenting being separated from each other as children, put a serious kink in any plans they might have had for something resembling a normal life.

In short order, Oscar imbibes the hallucigen DMT in the apartment he shares with Linda, walks to a local dance club to conduct some business and is shot to death by cops while trying to jam drugs down the hole in a squat toilet. By any narrative standards, that’s a pretty tough act to follow. Instead of attempting to wrap a story around the facts of the young man’s death, though, Noe uses a “subjective camera” to provide an angel’s-eye view of the surrounding few blocks and a past flashing through Oscar’s rapidly exiting consciousness. The P.O.V. also allows viewers to follow his evolution from corpereal being to hovering ethereal presence.

For the next two hours, Oscar’s spirit floats above the neighborhood, passes through walls and ceilings, peers into the windows of hi-rise buildings and generally messes with the time-space contiuum. The experience is nothing if not dizzying. The Kubrick influence is most apparent in the sequences in which Tokyo is lit up like a giant Christmas tree. If Noe employs far more somber tones in the strip club and alleys, the autopsy room is as bright as astronaut Bowman’s Louis XVI-appointed bedroom on Jupiter. Lest anyone consider dropping a hit of LSD before slipping “Enter the Void” into the Blu-ray player, however, it’s important to know ahead of time that Oscar’s final moments on the floor of the poorly maintained men’s room, followed by his spirit’s visits to the morgue, a crematorium and an abortionist, aren’t for the faint of heart.

The Blu-ray adds eight deleted/extended scenes; several teasers and trailers; a short look at how some of the special effects shots were created; a Vortex “visualizer”; a “loop” of the scene in which Oscar takes the drug DMT; and posters. I’m pretty sure that a more substantial features package will show up eventually in a Criterion Collection edition. — Gary Dretzka

Life as We Know It: Blu-ray
If there were such a thing as a screwball dramedy, “Life as We Know It” would be its four-sheet poster child. Other than the fact that the central conceit hinges on the well-being of an infant orphaned in an off-screen accident, Greg Berlanti’s sophomore feature might have been lumped together with every other lame Hollywood romcom and dismissed as yet another missed opportunity. Instead, we’re asked to put aside any concerns we would normally would have for the baby’s welfare and focus instead on the adults chosen, as if by destiny, to be her foster parents. As played by TV hotties Katherine Heigl and Josh Duhamel, Holly and Eric’s credentials for performing such a task are limited to their being the uncoupled best friends of baby Sophie’s birth parents (Christina Hendricks, Hayes MacArthur). Otherwise, neither would seem to have the time, patience or inclination for parenthood. If that isn’t a screwball set-up, I don’t know what is.

Ian Deitchman and Kristin Rusk Robinson’s screenplay further requires that this mismatched pair of Atlanta yuppies — whose one and only date was an unqualified disaster — live together in their friend’s well appointed home, because, well, the mortgage has been “taken care of.” When Sophie isn’t demanding they pay attention to her, Holly and Eric mostly exchange wisecracks and insults. They’re allowed to date other people, but Holly is the only one who takes advantage of the accommodation. Anyone who can’t already guess how “Life as We Know It” is going to unspool from there, probably hasn’t been to the multiplex in the past 15 years.

Berlanti’s experience as an executive producer of such hit TV series as “Everwood” and “Brothers and Sisters” informs “Life as We Know It.” The unlikelihood of Holly and Eric’s predicament doesn’t appear to have fazed him one bit. When things go sideways, Berlanti simply points the camera at Sophie and leds her take us into the commercial … or, the places commercials would go in any episode of the average hourlong family drama. In any case, Heigl and Duhamel have nothing to be ashamed of here. They milk the comedy for all it’s worth and look good doing it. Their fans should enjoy “Life as We Know It,” if no one else does. The Blu-ray extras include deleted scenes and a trio of short pieces on parenting, featuring the cast members and behind-the-camera talent. — Gary Dretzka

Repo Chick

Imagine Paris Hilton moonlighting from her full-time job as a celebutante, spending her daytime hours repossessing cars and collecting debts for a greaseball shyster. As high concepts go, it would be tough to invent a more succinct premise than that. Alex Cox’s “Repo Chick” — a title that speaks volumes — is less a sequel to his 1984 midnight-movie classic, “Repo Man,” than it is an experiment in micro-budget, underground filmmaking in the digital age. It also represents something approximating a return to the limelight for Cox, who split the scene nearly 25 years ago, after his anti-imperialist biopic, “Walker,” laid an egg critically and commercially. Sandwiched between that disaster and “Repo Man” were “Sid and Nancy,” the punk-rock western “Straight to Hell” and the screenply for “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.”

“Repo Chick” won’t make anyone forget Cox’s previous successes, but it should find an enthusiastic audience among the hipster crowd and starving film students. By combining funky stock footage of various L.A. locations and small-scale-model animation with live-action footage shot entirely in front of a green screen, “Repo Chick” feels very much like an extended episode of “Pee-wee’s Playhouse.” The whimsical sets and velvety pastels mute the shouting, loud music and gunplay, which is prompted by Repo Chick (a.k.a., Barbie look-alike Pixxi De La Chasse) and her girl gang’s mission to foreclose on a train, whose caboose is being used by eco-terrorists to store missiles. Even if that description makes “Repo Chick” sound like a bad joke, there’s no disputing the talent of newcomer Jaclyn Jonet, whose witty performance reminds me of early turns by Alicia Silverstone, Reese Witherspoon and Brittany Murphy. The cast also includes Miguel Sandoval, Alex Beltran, Chloe Webb, Xander Berkeley, Rosanna Arquette, Karen Black and Del Zamora. The bonus making-of featurette describes in great detail how “Repo Chick” was constructed and the possibilities (limitations, too) of green-screen cinema.

Among other things, “Shopping” is noteworthy as the picture that provided Jude Law with his feature debut and introduced writer/director Paul W.S. Anderson to the world. In this extremely loud and violent bumper-cruncher, Law and Sadie Frost play a matched pair of juvenile delinquents who get their kicks from stealing expensive cars and ramming them through the plate-glass doors of department stores. While other members of the wolf pack anxiously grab everything worth stealing, Billy and Jo are content with the adrenaline rush. Anderson packs his movie with as much action, rock ‘n’ roll and bludgeonings as would fit into a 100-minute frame (87 in the U.S. cut). Fans of the “Fast and Furious” and “Gone in 60 Seconds” franchises will dig “Shopping” more than fans of Law’s more subtle work. — Gary Dretzka

You Again: Blu-ray
Happy Ever Afters
Lifetime: I Do (But I Don’t)
ABC Family: Beauty and the Briefcase

If life were fair, everyone turning 18 would be given the opportunity to take a Mulligan on high school. For every teenager who considers high school to be a wonderfully entertaining stepping stone to adulthood, there are probably three who would compare it to being bussed every day , for four years, to hell. “You Again” is populated with characters from both camps. For former dweebs Marnie (Kristen Bell) and Gail (Jamie Lee Curtis), Andy Fickman’s slapstick comedy plays out like “Groundhog Day.” The past can neither be forgotten, nor erased, and it keeps coming back to haunt them.

As families on opposite sides of the church aisle gather for an upscale suburban wedding, it quickly becomes apparent that someone is playing a cruel cosmic joke on Marnie and Gail, the sister and mother of the groom, Will. While in high school, both bride-to-be, Joanna (Odette Yustman), and her mother, Ramona (Sigourney Weaver), dedicated an inordinate amount of their time to making their future in-laws miserable. In that Darwinian milieau, one either belongs to the “popular” clique or is relegated to feeding their nemeses’ twisted appetite for control. To make matters even worse for Marnie, it’s revealed that Gail and Joanna share a common bond as former cheerleaders, at least.

Absent the braces, acne and bangs, Marnie has grown up to become a pretty and highly successful marketing executive. Still, she harbors resentment for the way she was treated by Joanna and her posse of fashionable girls. Gail’s long-sublimated pain resides close to the surface of her skin, as well. When all of the women come clean with their true feelings, mayhem, of course, ensues. “You Again” being a PG entertainment, though, the revenge-taking and emotional fissures are played for broad laughs, not the raunchy hilarity that might have ensued if a Judd Apatow disciple had been given the assignment. Betty White and Cloris Leachman, who come along for the ride, might also have been given something more sinister to do with their characters.

At the risk of sounding sexist, “You Again” will appeal a whole lot more to mid-teen girls and their moms than anyone else. The same can be said about the DVD’s bonus material, including featurettes “Following Fickman: On Set With the Director,” which peers into “the madcap mind of Hollywood’s wackiest director, Andy Fickman”; “Ask the Cast,” with Curtis, White, Weaver and Bell answering questions from fans; the behind-the-scenes-interview spoof, “Funny or Die”; “Sharing a Room”; “Photo Album Memories” and “Riding the Silk”; as well as deleted scenes. The Blu-ray “combo pack” adds a “Blooper Dance Party,” more deleted scenes and several featurettes starring White.

From Ireland comes “Happy Ever Afters,” a wedding movie that more effectively combines farce with offbeat romantic comedy. Stephen Burke’s story locates two receptions under the same hotel roof, allowing for myriad opportunities to merge wedding parties, nutty families and neurotic couples. Sally Hawkins (“Happy-Go-Lucky”)plays a struggling single mother who agrees to marry a Nigerian immigrant (Ariyon Bakare) threatened with expulsion from Ireland, in return for money. Tom Riley (“Lost in Austen”) and Jade Yourell are a divorced couple giving wedded bliss another shot. The intermingling of storylines, guests and cultures worked for me, even when it pushed the boundaries of credibility.

Anyone who enjoys “You Again” and other wedding-themed pictures, will be happy to learn that Lifetime has opened up its vaults to share original nuptially themed titles, “I Do (But I Dont ),” “Making Mr. Right,” “I Me Wed,” “Confessions of an American Bride” and “How I Married My High School Crush.” The Lifetime template pre-supposes that beautiful and successful women experience the same problems landing men who qualify as “Mr. Right” and dragging them to the altar. More often than not, the go-to guy to play the polite, supportive, wealthy and handsome “Mr. Right” looks suspiciously like Dean Cain. In “I Do (But I Don’t),” for example, Denise Richards is a wedding planner who’s conflicted by her obligation to the bride and the hots she feels for the groom (Cain). In Lifetime’s 2008 updating of “Pygmalian,” “Making Mr. Right,” Cain plays a scruffy New York con man who a magazine editor (Christina Cox) editor attempts to turn into her publication’s “Bachelor of the Year.”

“Beauty and the Briefcase” is adapted from a book, “Diary of a Working Girl,” which, 10 years ago, might have been passed along to the agents for Kate Hudson and Matthew McConaughey. It resembles “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days,” in that things begin to go haywire in the social life of a pretty blond fashion reporter, Lane (Hilary Duff), after she accepts an assignment from the editor of Cosmopolitan. The article is intended to describe how difficult it is to find love in the workplace, but, moments after she’s hired by a large corporation, love finds Lane … not once, but multiple times. So much for the premise of the article. Feminism may be a quaint concept in television movies, but “Beauty and the Briefcase” proceeds as if Gloria Steinhem and Betty Friedan had never been born. — Gary Dretzka

High Lane
Paranormal Activity 2: Blu-ray
I Spit on Your Grave

When it comes to the thrillers in which mountain climbing consumes at least half of the characters’ time on screen, the one thing the filmmaker has to get right is the sense that an unscheduled vertical descent could occur without warning and it would result in certain death. The scenery doesn’t need to be particularly beautiful, nor are the climbers required to look the part of veteran mountaineers. If audiences don’t experience vertigo, the movie might as well be set on a ocean liner. Likewise, a horror movie incapable of frightening a 13-year-old probably shouldn’t exist at all.

Set in the mountains of Croatia, the French horror/thriller “High Lane” offers some of the most exciting climbing scenes I’ve ever seen. The implied threat to the characters is extremely real and the camera work often is spectacular. Moreover, by the time the climbers reach firm ground, the dial measuring our anxiety level is stuck firmly in the red zone. We assume there’s a very good reason for the established route to the top of the mountain being closed, but don’t know yet what it is. Indeed, director Abel Ferry allows the cocky team leader to avoid disaster several times before unleashing the monster that lurks beyond the now-collapsed suspension bridge connecting two peaks. It would have been nice if the producers had included a making-of featurette, but I imagine they were working on a fairly tight budget.

Not having seen the movie to which “Paranormal Activity 2” serves as a prequel, I can’t advise viewers as to which one is the more effective nerve-jangler. Internet bloggers seem satisfied with it, though. Even watching it on the small screen, in a well lit rec room, “PA2” was sufficiently scary to meet my less-than-stringent standards. Here, returnees Micah and Katie play bit roles in the psychodrama affecting the Rey family of suburban Carlsbad, Ca. Katie is the sister of Krista Eey, whose home is the subject of 24-hour surveillance by a network of cameras stationed in nooks and crannies around the spacious house. The cameras were installed after their newly purchased home was burgled and vandalized by unknown culprits. It is through the same cameras that we’re allowed 24-access to all rooms in the house, often observing things happening out of the Reys’ line of sight. The queasiness that occurs naturally from participating in voyeuristic activities is multiplied exponentially by our anticipation of the dreadful events we know will occur sometime in the film’s 97-minute length. The Blu-ray adds “found footage” (a.k.a., deleted scenes), as well as DVD and digital copies.

Few filmmakers have weathered the critical drubbing taken by the 1978 edition of “I Spit on Your Grave” and lived to enjoy the profits. No less an observer of cinematic flotsam and jetsom than Roger Ebert called it, “a vile bag of garbage … a movie so sick, reprehensible and contemptible that I can hardly believe it’s playing in respectable theaters.” Naturally, fans of gore and misogynestic violence subsequently were drawn to it like flies to, well, poop. Thirty-two years later, a new generation of deranged moviegoers is being rewarded with an updated re-make of “ISOYG.” In it, writer Jennifer Hills (Sarah Butler) once again has leased a riverside cottage deep in the boonies, where she can focus on her novel and enjoy the outdoors in her bikini and jogging shorts. Almost immediately, Jennifer attracts the lustful attention of a half-dozen inbred locals, none of whom can resist the temptation to rape and beat her. This time around, however, Jennifer is allowed more time to exact her revenge on her attackers, and the carnage is every bit as extreme as ghoulish fans could desire. If anything, its upgraded look eliminates the grindhouse texture that was its predecessor’s sole attribute. The unrated Blu-ray edition of the new “ISOYG” arrives hand-in-hand with the hi-def version of the original, which includes a lengthy interview with filmmaker Meir Zarchi. The 2010 “ISOYG” adds audio commentary with director Stephen R. Monroe and producer Lisa Hansen, who were required to cut the theatrical release for a R-rating; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; marketing material; and a digital copy.

Israel Luna, whose primary claim to fame is writing and directing the not-at-all-bad “Ticked-Off Trannies With Knives,” returns with “Fright Flick,” a campy spoof of generic horror movies and the people who make them. These include everyone from the grips and go-fers, to the scream queens and sex-fiend producers. Someone on the set has embarked on killing rampage, for what reason remains unclear even as the final credits roll. — Gary Dretzka

Hideaway (Le refuge)
The Double Life of Veronique: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

It wouldn’t surprise me at all to learn that French auteur Francois Ozon wrote “Hideaway” only after being made aware of Isabelle Carre’s pregnancy. The possibility of chronicling the physical and emotional changes in a woman during the course of those nine months, and having other characters respond to them, might have been too enticing to resist. That’s probably not how “Hideaway” came to be, but it’s impossible not to see in Carre’s yet-unborn child a character around whom the entire drama revolves. Carre plays Mousse, who, when we meet her is living with a fellow junkie, Louis, (Melvil Poupaud). They are both young, attractive, seemingly well off and willing to risk death to get high.Within minutes, Louis falls victim to a shot of heroin cut with valium. Mousse somehow survives, pregnant and, except for occasional bouts of survivor’s guilt, none the worse for the wear.

Although Louis’ mother demands that Mousse abort the fetus, she takes refuge in a beach house loaned to her by a long-ago lover. By bringing the baby to term, Mousse is able to pretend Louis is still with her in some spiritual way. He isn’t, of course, but his gay brother, Paul (French singer Louis-Ronan Choisy), moves in to help with chores and be a friend. They do grow extremely close, but not in the most predictable way.

Ozon is fascinated by families forced to navigate the rocky shoals of contemporary life. The title, “Hideaway,” offers clues into the direction he’s leading his characters, all of whom are recognizable, if only in the precincts inhabited by the haute bourgeoise. Lovers of the French cinema and Ozon, in particular, will savor “Hideaway,” even as they anticipate the March release of “Potiche,” which stars Catherine Deneuve and Gerard Dépardieu.

Before his untimely death in 1996, at 54, Polish-born writer/director Krzysztof Kieslowski was finally being recognized outside the arthouse circuit as one the world’s most distinguished filmmakers. In less than 10 years, he had created “The Decalogue,” “Three Colors” trilogy and “The Double Life of Veronique,” which has just been given a Blu-ray polish by the folks at Criterion Collection. In it, Irene Jacob plays women named Veronika and Veronique — one Polish and the other French — who share a birth date, a love of singing and common heart problems. Even though their paths never quite meet, viewers come to think of Veronika/Veronique as a single ethereal soul. The enigmatic ending enhances the sense of mystery Kieslowski was seeking.

The Blu-ray edition includes commentary by Annette Insdorf, author of “Double Lives, Second Chances: The Cinema of Krzysztof Kieślowski”; three short documentaries by Kieślowski “Factory” (1970), “Hospital” (1976) and “Railway Station” (1980); “The Musicians” (1958), a short film by Kieślowski’s teacher, Kazimierz Karabasz; the documentary, “Kieślowski’s Dialogue” (1991), with an interview and behind-the-scenes footage from the set of “The Double Life of Véronique”; “1966-1988: Kieślowski, Polish Filmmaker” (2005), which traces the filmmaker’s work in Poland, from his days as a student through “The Double Life of Véronique”; a 2005 interview with Jacob; new video interviews with cinematographer Slawomir Idziak and composer Zbigniew Preisner; and a booklet featuring an essay by Jonathan Romney, and a selection from “Kieślowski on Kieślowski.” — Gary Dretzka

Wild Target: Blu-ray
Bill Nighy is one of those great comic actors whose ability to disappear into archetypically British characters is too often taken for granted. In “Wild Target,” he plays an ever-so-proper assassin and momma’s boy, assigned to take out an aspiring con artist played by the ever-delightful Emily Blunt. Her flighty swindler, Rose, is in cahoots with an art forger in the employ of the National Gallery. Rose cockily manages to pass off a copy of a rare Rembrandt portrait, absconding with a gym bag full of cash minutes before the mark discovers the last-minute switch of canvases. Instead of killing her outright, as ordered, Nighy senses something in Rose that he admires. After failing to take her out, both of them become moving targets.
The rest of “Wild Target” is short on plot twists, but long on chasing, shooting and dodging bullets. If it weren’t for the presence of Nighy and Blunt, the slapsticky action would all go for naught. In their hands, though, “Wild Target” provides a reasonable helping of escapist fun. The DVD includes a short interview with Blunt.– Gary Dretzka

Thelma & Louise: 20th Anniversary: Blu-ray

It’s been a long time since anyone wasted any time, debating whether “Thelma & Louise” should be stacked among the “chick flicks,” “road pictures,” “buddy films,” “feminist parables” or “revisionist westerns” in the local video store. Ridley Scott’s quintissentially American tragedy is all of those things and a six-pack of beer. The new Blu-ray edition is best viewed on its own brilliantly photographed terms. Geena Davis and and Susan Sarandon’s comradarie and audacious cross-country run from the law remains every bit as entertaining as it was 20 years ago, when Brad Pitt was an unknown quantity and Davis and Sarandon could still pass for spring chickens. What’s different here is the hi-def showcase provided for Adrian Biddle’s stunning depiction of Monument Valley, Canyonlands National Park and other other Moab-area locations. The landscape comes alive in ways unrealized since John Ford and William H. Clothier shot “Cheyenne Autumn” there, in 1964. Anyone who watches the “T&L” Blu-ray and isn’t motivated to hop in a convertible and embark on a road trip to the Four Corners needs to reconsider their priorities. The set includes commentaries by Scott, Sarandon, Davis and writer Callie Khouri; lots of deleted and extended scenes; an extended ending, with commentary by Scott; the original theatrical featurette and “Thelma and Louise: The Last Journey”; multi-angle storyboards, depicting the final chase sequence; and a music video of Glenn Frey’s “Part of You, Part of Me.”

Released theatrically in 1970 and left to gather dust on shelf for the next 40 years, “WUSA” reflects the then-universally held conviction that America was coming apart at the seams and drastic measures were needed to keep the Republic intact. (Some things don’t change.) Conservatives mistrusted anyone whose car wasn’t plastered over with flag decals and student radicals decried every American institution from Congress to the National Football League. Minorities rallied behind flags of their own creation and FBI agents infiltrated any organization left of the local Rotary Club. In Stuart Rosenberg’s overheated adaptation of Robert Stone’s “A Hall of Mirrors,” Paul Newman plays a golden-throated drifter who lands a gig on a New Orleans radio station dedicated to promoting white supremecy and other right-wing causes. He doesn’t believe a word of the propaganda he spouts between patriotic songs, but needs the bread to maintain his whiskey habit and keep his girlfriend (a radiant Joanne Woodward) from returning to her former job, as a hooker. A fed-up social worker, played by Anthony Perkins, resorts to desperate measures to make people pay attention to racist government policies, while Laurence Harvey portrays a corrupt preacher at a skid-row mission. None of the lead actors are capable of turning in a bad performance, so “WUSA” is rarely less than watchable. The angry rhetoric, though, might have inspired Rush Limbaugh to go into talk radio and Rupert Murdoch to launch the Fox Network and build a bully pulpit of his own.

Shot entirely within the fences of the Yuma Territorial Prison and populated largely with incarcerated prisoners, “Riot” was released two years before the slaughter of inmates and guards at Attica. That event and the even more hellish riot, nine years later, at the New Mexico State Penitentiary, ensured that Hollywood’s vision of the American penal system could never again allow for such an easy comraderie among inmates of different colors and a willingness on the part of some prison officials to hold off on killing everyone on sight. Retired NFL star Jim Brown and Gene Hackman star as prisoners caught in a trick bag when an escape plan is discovered by guards. Plan B involves completing the digging of an ancient, half-realized tunnel and doing an end-run around heavily armed guard. Despite the film’s title, a full-blown riot was averted for 60 of the movie’s 93 minutes. Instead, the prisoners argue, take sides, scheme and, finally, get bombed on Brown’s mind-altering raison wine. “Riot” is interesting, too, because of its avoidance of time-honored prison cliches. The prisoner-actors add a high degree of verisimilitude to the look of the movie and the hard-edged dialogue. Even the drag queens and psychopaths are accorded something resembling respect. “Riot” may be pulp fiction, but its makers took its characters and audience seriously enough to make a picture that was different than a hundred previous prison-break flicks. — Gary Dretzka

The Girl
Not many American filmmakers could get away with leaving a 10-year-old to her own devices in a farmhouse, while her parents are in Africa on a relief mission and her babysitter runs off with a boyfriend for a few days. Granted, Sweden’s a far safer place for a child to grow up than most American cities and town, but, if the Millennium Trilogy taught us anything, it’s that no place is safe from sick, twisted pervs and child molesters. However benign the intentions, being left alone is a scary proposition for anyone who probably still believes in ghosts and has been warned repeatedly about the possible consequences of talking to strangers.

In her debut performance, waifish Blanca Engstrom delivers a smashing performance as “the Girl.” Fredrik Edfeldt’s lushly photographed film takes full advantage of Sweden’s brilliantly green and rolling countryside in summer, when children can while away their time swimming, sailing, reading books, drawing and capturing the occasion tadpole. Left without a guardian to dissuade the girl from more adult pursuits, the Girl experiments with alcohol, peruses anatomy journals and eats exactly what she desires. Even though she senses that her friends’ parents may not be as normal as they appear to be, she allows them to take her along on car and sailboat rides. Neither does she blink when a friend’s mom introduces her to the laws of gravity as they apply to the voluminous breasts of a middle-age woman. The Girl even allows herself to befriend a ballooner and be taken aloft in his gondola. This being 1981, we fear for her safety far more than she frets about her own well being.

Even though Our Heroine isn’t nearly ready to come of age or even experience the first mysterious pangs of impending womanhood, she does undergo a change of sorts. Like the tadpoles, the Girl is fully prepared to escape her enclosure and enter the next stage in her development. — Gary Dretzka

When I Rise
Everyday Black Man

A couple of weeks ago, I wondered out loud if organizers of Black History Month activities hadn’t already exhausted the supply of unknown events in the long struggle for equal rights and justice. No sooner had I raised the question than I received copies of “Skin” and “When I Rise,” both of which introduced me to women whose stories are as inspirational as they disturbing.

“Skin” is based on the true story of Sandra Liang, a South African woman of color who was born to white parents. Naturally, although she’s officially listed as white, she’s treated by classmates and grown-ups as if she were black and inferior to Afrikaners. After being refused entrance into a segregated school, Sandra’s parents appeal the decision to the local court. During the widely followed hearing, a scientist convinces the judges that most Afrikaners bear traces of native blood and, although it’s rare, a white man and woman can produce a child with the physical traits associated with blacks.

Normally, this would be seen as a victory of sorts among some South Africans living under the restrictions of apartheid. Being declared white, however, Sandra is forbidden legally from marrying the man she loves. If that weren’t sufficient cause for distress, Sandra’s father demands she not see the ambitious black shopkeeper, let alone become his wife and mother of his children. So adamant is her father (Sam Neill, in a frightening performance) that he threatens to disown his daughter, rather than accede to her wishes, and kill her husband if he comes to her house. The girl’s mother is too intimidated to do anything except write letters. Sandra’s long nightmare doesn’t end until apartheid is lifted and racial restrictions are rendered obsolete. By that time, though, her life has largely been destroyed.

The documentary “When I Rise” hits much closer to home. Barbara Smith Conrad, a gifted singer and one of the first African-Americans to be enrolled at the University of Texas, is thrust into the middle of a raging controversy after being cast opposite a white student in an opera. This outrages the bigots in the state legislature, who would prefer that no black students were enrolled at UT. Threatened with the loss of state funds, university officials force Conrad to withdraw from the production. When news of the incident reaches the New York papers, Harry Belafonte invites the talented young woman to audition before more enlightened artists, and continue her studies there. Conrad goes on to become an international opera star and actor. In an ironic twist, “When I Rise” concludes with the Texas Legislature’s recognition of its enormous blunder 30 years earlier and her return to the UT campus.

“Everyday Black Man” tells the fictional story of Moses Stanton, an ex-convict who’s devoted his post-prison life to running a small neighborhood store and protecting his daughter, who only knows him as a family friend. After being refused a loan by a local white-owned bank, Stanton reluctantly accepts the financial support of a young Black Muslim, whose only request is that he be allowed to open a bakery stand in the store. Although Malik dresses conservatively, is extremely polite and renounces violence, he plans to use the bakery as a front for distributing drugs in the neighborhood. By the time the shop owner realizes what’s happening, Malik has insinuated himself into the life of Stanton’s daughter. I’m not quite sure if writer/director Carmine Madden has an ax to grind against all Black Muslims or Malik’s affiliation with the religious organization is merely a plot device. — Gary Dretzka

See You In September
In Frank Oz’ “What About Bob?,” Bill Murray plays a troublrd young man with an obsessive-compulsive disorder, who flips out when his psychiatrist leaves New York for his annual vacation in a lakeside cottage. Instead of waiting for the doctor to return, Bob finds the doctor and ruins his vacation. Apparently, this is a problem shared by many emotionally scarred Manhattanites when August rolls around each year. In the offbeat romantic comedy “See You in September,” Estella Warren plays Lindsay, a beautiful, if hopelessly neurotic woman distressed by the seasonal absence of her shrink. Seeking support, Lindsay puts together a therapy group of her own, comprised of similarly abandoned men and women recruited from Craig’s List. Naturally, the people who answer the ad represent a cross-section of New York’s mentally challenged community. Director Tamara Tunie, who plays medical examiner Melinda Warner on “Law & Order: Special Victims Unit,” was able to put together an attractive cast, full of such familiar faces as Justin Kirk, Liza Lapira, Maulik Pancholy, David Eigenberg, Sandra Bernhard, Michael Rispoli and James McDaniel. Four people are given writing credits for “See You in September,” which explains why so much of the movie seems as if it were drafted by committee. While “See You in September” is only intermittently funny, the actors invest lots of enthusiasm and energy into the portrayal of their characters. — Gary Dretzka

The Shadow of the Tower
There’s certainly no scarcity of movies and television mini-series documenting the history — political, sexual and otherwise — of the British royal families. Although BBC’s nearly 40-year-old “The Shadow of the Tower” is mostly stagebound and far less lovely to look at as such recent concoctions as “The Tudors,” “The Other Boleyn Girl” and “Elizabeth: The Golden Age,” the mini-series features much terrific old-school acting and soap-opera intrigue, involving King Henry VII and the men and women in his orbit. King Henry VII, if course, begat the far more familiar and scandlous monarch, Henry VIII. Much less is known about the father than the son, who liberally reinterpreted Henry VII’s legacy to fit his own designs. The cast included James Maxwell, Marigold Sharman and Norma West. The DVD set adds “The Tower of London: The Innocent,” the 1969 precursor to “Shadow”; “Hooray Henry!,” in which historian Dai Smiths recounts the 1485 transistion of power from Richard III to Henry VII; and a 24-package booklet, with production notes.

Other recently released DVDs from the PBS and BBC libraries are such interesting documentaries as “American Experience: Dinosaur Wars,” “American Experience: Panama Canal,” “Frontline: The Confessions,” “Frontline: Facing Death,” “Independent Lens: The Calling,” “Secrets of the Dead: Lost Ships of Rome” and “Azorian: The Raising of the K-129,” which documents, possibly for the first time, the top-secret CIA mission to raise a doomed Soviet submarine from its grave, three miles below the surface of the Pacific Ocean, and collect material deemed critical by the intelligence agency. Most of that information remains classified, so viewers can only speculate as to whether the mission was worth the billions of dollars handed to companies owned by Howard Hughes. — Gary Dretzka

American Nudie Classics

As difficult as it might be for young people to believe, there was a time when the names of women who posed nude for the camera weren’t mentioned in the same breath as those of sitcom actors, and the cost of individual stardom could be a subpoena to appear before a House or Senate committee. Such was the case of Betty Page, anyway. Certain striptease artists were allowed to escape anonymity, but only if their G-strings and pasties stayed put. MVD’s “American Nudie Classics” offers a relatively comprehensive assortment of “nudie-cuties” and other soft-core erotica, ranging from the dawn of the talkies to the arrival on these shores of “I Am Curious: Yellow.” Of the 41 individual films included in the showcase, only a few can accurately be described as erotic … even if they twisted grandpa’s whiskers in their day. Most interesting are the striptease dancers, who offer samples of their work. The picture and sound quality leaves a lot to be desired, so “American Nudie Classics” exists more as a curiousity than a historical document. — Gary Dretzka

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2 Responses to “The DVD Wrap: Enter the Void, Life as We Know It, You Again, The Girl, Hideaway, Thelma and Louise …”

  1. Marianne says:

    Heigl can hardly be called “TV” these days. Her last 5 movies have grossed what $3/4 billion world wide and she is one of the worlds highest paid actresses. She is about as much a TV star now as George Clooney, albeit without perhaps the quality of movies to back it up of yet. But certainly the talent.

  2. gretacharris says:

    Interesting News! I just now printed Coupons of my Favorite Brands and saved!! search for “printapons” online and save instantly, it is free


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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