MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrap: 127 Hours, Road Movie, Faster, Bambi, Germany in Autumn, The Last Train Home …

127 Hours
The title of this alternately horrific and exhilarating movie references the length of time spent by outdoors enthusiast Aron Ralston trapped in a narrow chasm, as far from the people he loved as any astronaut who walked on the moon. Farther, maybe, because Ralston’s hubris allowed him no way to contact his parents and potential rescue teams, who had no way of knowing he was even in the national park. Ralston’s agony was compounded by the reality that his hand was caught between a boulder and the chasm’s sheer wall. If, like Ralston, that’s your idea of hell, know that Danny Boyle’s thriller has a happy ending, even if the still very active young man won’t ever be able to play the fiddle.

The facts of 127 Hours are pretty well known, by now. What potential viewers can’t possibly comprehend without seeing the film or hiking through Utah’s Canyonlands National Park — especially during a particularly uncrowded week — is the desperate sense of isolation faced by Ralston for more than five long days. It’s to the great credit of Boyle and star James Franco that we feel so much of Ralston’s pain, in addition to the immensity of his crisis. As Ralston’s lack of nourishment and hope begin to play tricks on his mind, Boyle also asks us to share the victim’s hallucinations, fantasies and despair. Squeamish viewers should also know that the graphic depictions of self-surgery — while truly painful to watch — are relatively brief and quite tolerable at 2X fast-forward speed.

Although there are other actors in the cast, it’s Franco’s show. Front and center nearly 100 percent of the time, he demonstrates an impressive emotional range, even when his only on-screen partner is a hand-held video camera or an ant. Watch “127 Hours” alongside “Howl” and you’ll witnesses a gifted young actor just hitting his stride. The Blu-ray package adds commentary with Boyle, producer Christian Colson and co-writer Simon Beaufoy; an alternate ending; the featurettes “Search & Rescue” and “127 Hours: An Extraordinary View”; and Luke Matheny’s quirky romance, “God of Love,” which won the 2011 Oscar for Best Short Film. It should go without saying, by now, that Enrique Chediak and Anthony Dod Mantle’s mostly digital cinematography sparkles in hi-def. – Gary Dretzka

Road Movie
Not every movie made in India is a product of the Bollywood song-and-dance factory. Like the country’s diverse cuisine, films from different regions offer tastes and textures of their own. As the title suggests, “Road Movie” owes as much to independently made American “road” pictures – “Easy Rider” and “Two-Lane Blacktop,” among them – as any single Indian genre or subgenre. Even so, Dev Benegal’s delightful adventure is as recognizable as an elephant at a Hindu wedding.

Here, a restless young man bristles at the possibility that he might have to spend his adult life preparing to take over the family hair-oil business. As a favor to an elderly friend, Vishnu (Abhay Deol), agrees to drive the old man’s ancient truck, which has served as a traveling cinema, to the coast, where he’s to sell it for scrap. To get there, however, he’s required to navigate a vast desert, over stone paths that disappear when the wind blows too hard. Along the way, as well, Vishnu picks up a boy working as a tea-toter in an isolated café; a fat and sweaty mechanic, who trades his skills for a ride to a faraway fair; and a nomadic woman, whose husband has been killed by the region’s greedy “waterlord.” Besides the frequent breakdowns, Vishnu also is required to deal with a corrupt cop and risk death by stealing water from the two-bit potentate. His secret weapon is a fully operational projector and rack full of movies that date back to Charlie Chaplin’s silent two-reelers. Among the statements being made by writer-director Benegal in “Road Movie” is that, despite the intrusion of modernity and commercial exploitation, movies still are capable of uniting disparate cultures and bringing out the child in all of us.

Most of “Road Movie” was shot in the country’s Jaisalmer Desert, whose flat and barren terrain reminded me of Utah’s salt flats. Other scenes were filmed in far more populated parts of the Kutch district of the Gujarat State, in northwest India. Certain narrative concessions were made to broaden the movie’s appeal to mainstream Indian audiences, but none so drastic that it diluted Benegal’s mixture of fantasy, romance, comedy and adventure. As such, “Road Movie” is as unique a movie-going experience as I’ve had in a long time. – Gary Dretzka

Faster: Blu-ray
If drive-ins still existed in the same numbers as they did in the 1960s, “Faster” would be the lead attraction in a triple-feature that also included cheeseball exploitation flicks from Crown International or New World Pictures. It would be noisy enough to keep the beer-soaked adults from snoozing through the action sequences, and exciting enough to hold the interest of most teens. After the first half-hour, though, romantically inclined girls probably would ask their dates to choose between the on-screen action or what thrills might be awaiting them in the back seat.

That’s not to say “Faster” is lacking in any particular area, just that it is extremely limited in scope. Dwayne Johnson (a.k.a., “The Rock”) plays a muscle-bound ex-con with a metal plate in his head and a huge chip on his shoulder. He isn’t out of prison more than a few hours, when his character, Driver, begins exacting revenge on the people who double-crossed him and left him to die alongside his brother. Between murders, flashbacks help us understand why Driver is so willing to risk going back to prison or a fiery death in a car crash.

Immediately after exiting the prison, Driver literally runs to a scrap yard, where a vintage muscle car awaits the push of his lead foot. His next stop is the office of one of the co-conspirators in the robbery and double-cross. Once Driver’s likely targets figure out what’s happening, they hire a hit man of their own. This one practices yoga and greatly appreciates the challenge of going up against such a renowned opponent. Also adding to the job’s degree of difficulty are police detectives played by Billy Bob Thornton and Carla Gugino. Her character isn’t required to do much more than look hot, but Thorton’s fills a convenient hole in the narrative. Director George Tillman Jr. (“Notorious,” “Soul Food”) makes “Faster” a far more enjoyable picture than it has any right to be. Johnson makes a compelling anti-hero and the action rarely lags. It helps, of course, that he was accorded a budget that Roger Corman wouldn’t have approved on his most generous day. The Blu-ray package includes a lengthier and more intelligent alternate ending; deleted scenes; a trio of good making-of featurettes; and interactive MovieIQ and BD-Live. The hi-def picture presentation also is quite good. – Gary Dretzka

Bambi: Diamond Edition: Blu-ray
Few movies have resonated as loudly and for as long a time as “Bambi,” Walt Disney’s 1942 adaptation of Austrian writer Felix Salten’s novel “Bambi, a Life in the Woods.” The animated classic chronicles the evolution of a precocious fawn and some of his woodland friends, from birth to adulthood. If the movie has come to represent something far more profound to several generations of moviegoers, it’s because what Bambi experiences in 70 minutes roughly parallels the growth of human children.

Persevering in the face of loss is an ordeal all kids must endure, whether it involves a favorite toy, beloved pet or a parent. Unlike laughter, which comes naturally, learning how to adjust to an unexpected setback takes time, and that was one luxury not accorded Bambi. His dad splits the scene early on, leaving mom to pick up the slack. When she’s “harvested” – or, depending on one’s point of view, murdered – the young deer is required to dust himself off and proceed with the journey. Disney’s pictures have always taught that childhood can be a scary place and no assurances are given for survival. If, however, Bambi were an anthropomorphic salamander, trout or vampire bat, instead of a precocious fawn, I wonder if 70 years’ worth of young viewers would have left theaters so traumatized by what they had just seen they’d vow never to pick up a hunting rifle. Probably not, but who cares?

Not surprisingly, the spanking-new “Diamond Edition” of “Bambi” looks and sounds splendid in Blu-ray. It demonstrates how prescient was Disney’s decision to employ a multi-plane camera in the film’s creation. More than ever, perhaps, the process lends cinematic depth to what happens in front of the artists’ hand-painted backgrounds, especially during the forest fire and strictly pastoral moments. This incarnation of “Bambi,” introduced by Diane Disney Miller, features several fresh features, including “Second Screen,” which allows viewers to synch the playback with content made available on their laptops or iPads. The enhanced interactive edition of “Inside Walt’s Story Meetings,” provides an ongoing picture-in-picture tutorial, with archival footage, production stills, concept art, sketches, color tests, vintage animated shorts, extended filmmaker conversations, Disney anecdotes and other material. There also are two never-before-seen deleted scenes, a deleted song, the “Disney Big Book of Knowledge” game and features seen previously on cassette and DVD editions. – Gary Dretzka

Germany in Autumn
Kartemquin Films Collection: The Early Years Volume 2 1969-1970
The Last Train Home

Anyone who’s watched “Carlos” and “The Baader-Meinhof Complex” is encouraged to extend the experience by picking up the highly introspective documentary, “Germany in Autumn.” The collaborative project was undertaken in 1977, in response to the nearly simultaneous deaths of German industrialist Hans-Martin Schleyer and three prominent members of the Red Army Faction. Schleyer was kidnapped and murdered by terrorists associated with Baader-Meinhoff, while Andreas Baader, Ulrike Meinhof and Gudrun Ensslin died under still-mysterious circumstances in Stuttgart-Stammheim Prison. The documentary is bracketed by coverage of funeral ceremonies, which could hardly be more different. Sandwiched in between the archival footage of those events are segments created by more than a dozen prominent German writers and directors, all of whom came to the project with different perspectives on the political state of nation and the nature of terrorism. It provided them with an ideal forum for the kind of intellectual debate and artistic soul-searching that should follow any hugely traumatic event in a nation’s history. In the U.S., at approximately the same time, such intellectual discourse might have included reasoned and forward-longing debate over the violence that marred 1968 Democratic Convention and subsequent rise of domestic terrorism; the end of the U.S. involvement in Vietnam; the resignation of Richard Nixon; and takeover of the U.S. embassy in Tehran. Instead, we contented ourselves by allowing Archie Bunker and
“the Meathead” to bicker over such weighty issues on prime-time sitcoms.

In Germany, the root cause of radical activity on campuses and in the streets was believed to be official government acquiescence to America’s war in Vietnam and a belief that fascist imperatives hadn’t died with Hitler in a Berlin bunker at the end of World War II. Indeed, the same sort of brown-shirted repression was being embraced by cops and elected officials hoping to quell protests. America’s “new left” had been completely marginalized by 1977 and dismissed as irredeemably unhip by the younger siblings of students and civil-rights activists radicalized in the ’60s. While several very good books and documentaries, and a few compelling theatrical movies, had managed to keep the pot stirred, by and large, Americans preferred to let Saigons be bygones.

Memories of World War II, along with the reality of totalitarianism practiced behind the Iron Curtain, prevented Europeans from accepting a new political status quo. Among the filmmakers and writers who lent their talents to “Germany in Autumn” were Alexander Kluge, Volker Schlondorff, Edgar Reitz, Rainer Werner Fassbinder, Alf Brustellin, Heinrich Boll and Peter F. Steinbach. Not all of the contributions will resonate with American viewers – or many Europeans, I suspect – but the energy and passion invested in the project remain palpable, and the issues being debated are as relevant today as the protests taking place in Libya, Tunisia, Egypt, Iran and Yemen.

One group of young documentarians that kept the fires burning here was Chicago’s Kartemquin Films. Founded in 1966 as a not-for-profit collective, Kartemquin was originally comprised of University of Chicago grads Gordon Quinn, Jerry Temaner and Stan Karter, with Jerry Blumenthal coming on board a year later. Then and now, the team’s mission is to “focus on people whose lives are most directly affected by social and political change and who are often overlooked or misrepresented by the media.” Its best-known title is “Hoop Dreams,” but documentary lovers also recognize such wide-ranging works as “The Chicago Maternity Center Story,” “Taylor Chain,” “The Last Pullman Car,” “Golub,” “Vietnam: Long Time Coming,” “5 Girls,” “Stevie,” “Milking the Rhino” and “At the Death House Door.” The first two volumes in KTQ’s “Early Years” collection remain very much a part of the fabric of the 1960s, with looks at the counterculture, student radicals, racism, feminism, the Vietnam War, warehousing of the elderly, Christian activism and parental authority. The titles in the Volume 2 are “Anonymous Artists of America,” “Hum 255” and “What the Fuck Are These Red Squares?,” which eavesdrop on debates among artists at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, in response to killings on the campuses of Kent State and Jackson State universities. All represent the questioning of the status quo, personal social responsibility, and government and collegiate policies, which took place on a daily basis among young Americans in the ’60s. The package adds interviews with the filmmakers and early documents.

While all of this was happening in Europe and the United States, leaders of the People’s Republic of China were calling on citizens to embrace the Cultural Revolution. The repressive and often violent movement was promoted by the Communist government as a way to eliminate elements of capitalism and bourgeois culture from society. At the same time as radicals outside China waved copies of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book at political rallies, Communist Party officials and Red Guard units were staging witch hunts and kangaroo courts to punish anyone not considered to be sufficiently red. In many cases, this pitted parents against their children and the forced migration of urban youth to the countryside, where they were required to perform manual labor and denounce intellectualism. Mao’s death brought the Cultural Revolution to an abrupt end, paving the way for the establishment of a new religion. In “The Last Train Home,” we witness the end-product of unfettered, government-driven capitalism.

Director Lixin Fan’s documentary follows members of the Zhang family as they – and several million other migrant workers — make the annual pilgrimage from the metropolises in which they work to their home villages, where parents and grandparents are raise their children. Changhua Zhang and Chen Sugin live and work 1,000 kilometers away from the rest of their family, in the smoggy factory city of Guangzhou. We know the Zhangs don’t make a lot of money, especially when compared to warehouse workers in western countries. But it’s a great more than what they would be paid for even more back-breaking labor in the boonies. As long-distance parents, their chief concern is that their two children get a good education and jobs that provide them with security and the opportunity for advancement. Instead, their daughter desires little more than the same privileges enjoyed by teenagers she sees in magazines. The search for “freedom” ultimately convinces her to leave school early and take a job as a waitress in a disco, a true growth industry in China’s urban centers.

The “workers’ paradise” described in “The Last Train Home” more closely resembles an undocumented level of Dante’s hell. Especially horrifying are the scenes shot outside Guangzhou train station, where tens of thousands of China’s 130 million migrant workers gather each year as an unstructured mob, sometimes for a week, to buy tickets and board trains home. Those fortunate enough to get tickets can enjoy some of the world’s most magnificent scenery, even as they endure overcrowded cars and delays sometimes lasting days at a time. As poor as the Zhangs are, however, something tells me that migrant workers in other developing nations and rural sweatshops in China would trade places with them in a heartbeat.

Other new documentaries include “See What I’m Saying,” which introduces us to several deaf performers, who are struggling to make a living in the entertainment industry. Although all are enthusiastic and talented, their road to success is complicated by cold economic reality and the same hurdles faced by artists with full command of their hearing. The film and bonus features are open-captioned in English.

Julie Checkoway’s “Waiting For Hockney” is a curious documentary, in that it attempts to make us empathize with an artist who’s spent more than eight years on one sketched portrait of Marilyn Monroe. Gus Pappas approaches his work with the same attention to minute detail as the guys who etch the Lord’s Prayer or Pledge of Allegiance on grains of rice. If only he could win the endorsement of David Hockney, he thinks, all of his obsessive behavior might somehow be justified, if not rewarded. As far as I could tell, his Plan B involves being a waiter and praying for a McArthur grant. Good luck with that. – Gary Dretzka

I Clowns (The Clowns)
Fernando Di Leo Crime Collection

Italy’s esteemed boutique video company, RaroVideo, makes its U.S. debut with handsome DVD packages of Fellini’s brightly colorful and wildly entertaining “docu-comedy,” “The Clowns” and Fernando Di Leo’s trademark gangster thrillers, “Caliber 9,” “The Italian Connection,” “The Boss” and “Rulers of the City.” Both men were active at the same time and in close proximity to each other. Even if the iconic Italian auteurs occasionally breathed the same air and partook of the same brands of pasta, though, their movies could hardly be any more dissimilar. But, as the movies themselves demonstrate, that’s a good thing.

Made in 1970 for broadcast on an Italian television station, “The Clowns” is a family film in the broadest sense of the term. Children of all ages can enjoy the wacky performances, even as their parents and grandparents reminisce about the days when circuses would set up shop overnight in a vacant lot, using horses and elephants to raise the Big Top. In addition to staging re-creations of time-honored routines, Fellini introduces us to clowns both retired and active. They reflect on the characters they invented and the historical basis for them. Americans are most familiar with Emmett Kelly’s hobo, Weary Willie, and the floppy shoes and big red nose of Bozo. European circuses have featured all manner of clownish characters, representing buffoons rich and poor, tall and extremely short, aristocratic and crude.
Indeed, Fellini welcomes us to a village where it’s difficult to parse the residents from the circus performers, as they share the town square. The set adds a pair of featurettes about Fellini’s obsession with clowns and circuses, and a booklet with images from the film and sketches. The score was created by Nino Rota and there are cameos by Geraldine Chaplin and Anita Ekberg.

Di Leo’s action-packed gangster movies are related to French and American noir classics in the same way as Sergio Leone’s spaghetti westerns mimicked and re-invented the cliché American cowboy. While his ganglords are as slick and urbane as any of Vito Corleone’s contemporaries, however, the rest of the goobahs look as if they were freshly plucked from some Sicilian shithole and given a tube of Brylcreem, a carton of cigarettes and a wife-beater t-shirt in their Welcome Wagon gift bag. Typically, at least one familiar American actor has been cast as a boss or executioner. Here, they include such veteran hard guys as Henry Silva, Jack Palance, Woody Strode, Richard Conte, Lionel Stander and the sexy moll, Barbara Bouchet. The plots, such as they are, simply provide a template for the shooting, slugging, stripping and stinging. It probably could go without saying that both Quentin Tarantino and John Woo were influenced by Di Leo’s work, but you can see the imagery and bits they borrowed in practically every scene. The movies, three of which comprise his Milieu Trilogy, have undergone a terrific digital restoration and re-mastering, in collaboration with the Venice Film Festival. The set adds vintage interviews with the director, stars and crew members, as well as featurettes about Di Leo’s methodology and how an awareness of how the Mafia really worked informed his work. – Gary Dretzka

Last Tango in Paris: Blu-ray
The untimely death of Maria Schneider, last month, stirred memories of watching Bernardo Bertolucci’s controversial drama, “Last Tango in Paris,” for the first time and feeling the electricity as the voluptuous brunette went toe-to-toe with the great Marlon Brando, who was in rare form. The passage of nearly 40 years’ time may have tempered some of the shock value, but reliving Paul’s borderline rape-by-butter of Schneider’s much younger Jeanne still has the power to make one feel as if he’s a voyeur in a brothel run by Ilsa, “she wolf of the SS.” For all its idiosyncrasies and excesses, “Last Tango in Paris” reminds us of the days when a movie of its emotional intensity could inspire much debate over coffee and cigarettes – this was 1972, remember – in the nearest café to the theater. Back then, film buffs argued endlessly over New Yorker critic Pauline Kael’s declaration that “Last Tango” had forever “altered the face of an art form.” Maybe, maybe not. The controversy certainly didn’t hurt ticket sales, though. After nearly 40 years, “Tango” remains a movie that demands to be seen by anyone who believes cinema can be transformative medium. The dialogue, alone, is worthy of serious study.

Unfortunately, the swell hi-def transfer isn’t supported by a bonus package remotely worthy of the film’s legacy. It is being shown in its original, uncut, NC-17 rated version, though.

Neither has MGM expended much additional effort on the Blu-ray transfers of “Rain Man” and “Moonstruck,” movies that people still look back upon with great fondness. The supplemental material is the same as that available in previous DVD editions. And, unlike the films themselves, the extras come in standard definition. – Gary Dretzka

SWAT: Firefight
Half Moon
The Bleeding
Eyes of the Mothman

As movie brands go, you could do a lot worse than “SWAT.” The scenarios practically write themselves. “SWAT: Firefight” is a direct-to-cable sequel to the 2003 “SWAT,” which itself was adapted from ’70s television series of the same name. Instead of Samuel L. Jackson, Colin Farrell, L.L. Cool J, Jeremy Renner and Michelle Rodriguez, though, “Firefight” offers Gabriel Macht, Nicholas Gonzales, Carly Pope, Shannon Kane, Kristanna Loken and the ever-reliable Robert Patrick. That’s represents far less firepower. This time around, the action shifts from L.A. to Detroit, where, presumably, the tax breaks were greater, as well. Macht plays a SoCal cop who’s sent to the Motor City to certify that police department’s SWAT team. (Don’t ask.) He’s a somewhat unlikely choice, considering that he recently blew a hostage situation, resulting in the death of a beautiful young woman. Patrick plays her boyfriend, who holds Macht personally responsible and vows revenge. As a result, the Detroit assault team gets caught in the crossfire. The aptly named director, Benny Boom, keeps bullets flying from start to finish, as if the action sequences were staged with a video-game franchise in mind. “Firefight” probably will satisfy genre fans, while leaving everyone else in the dust.

Judging solely from her performance in “Half Moon,” two-time AVN Female Performer of the Year probably shouldn’t entertain any thoughts of quitting her day job as porn goddess. In it, the cute and leggy Black plays a hooker required mostly to commiserate with a john who’s cursed with wolfman genes. (What some girls won’t do for $4,000, huh?) Not that I’m any kind of expert on the subject, but I would think Black’s performance here wouldn’t have qualified her for any AVN award … acting or otherwise. The blame for her almost comically underwhelming performance can be laid as much at the feet of first-time screenwriter/director, Jason Toler, as any deficiency in Black’s acting credentials. (She must have done something right to win that award, after all.) Toler was the one who elected to set 90 percent of “Half Moon” in a cramped room and confine his wolfman’s nefarious activity to off-screen locations. Neither does it help that Black’s dialogue appears to have been conceived by a freshman in film school, whose only access to street lingo is what can be picked up from late-night fare on Cinemax. In Black’s defense, however, her performance is far more impressive – visually, anyway – than the novices assigned the part of the wolfman and her brutal pimp. Their acting coach ought to be fired, immediately. The disc comes with the director’s commentary and making-of material.

Katherine von Drachenberg, tattoo icon and future Mrs. Jesse James (a.k.a., Kat Von D), fares a bit better in “The Bleeding,” an occasionally stylish vampire thriller by stuntman/director Charlie Picerni. That’s only because so little is demanded of her, though. Unlike Black, she’s been surrounded by action veterans Michael Matthias, Vinnie Jones, Michael Madsen, Armond Assante and DMX and fellow eye-candy Rachelle Leah (model and UFC host). Even with the help of these actors, though, “The Bleeding” is a weak addition to the glutted horror genre. For the record: agents of Satan rise from their coffins to battle God’s holy warriors in discos, graveyards and on the highway. The DVD adds cast interviews and bits on the stunts and makeup effects.

All one needs to know about Mothman is that the legendary creature is a hillbilly cousin to Sasquatch and the Abominable Snowman, and may be distantly related to the Loch Ness Monster and chupacabras. Amateur scientists refer to these beings as cryptids and, without them, Hollywood would be a much poorer place. The feature-length documentary, “Eyes of the Mothman,” takes viewers to the backwoods of West Virginia, where these 7-foot-tall humanoids reportedly lurk. They’re distinguished from NBA players by their piercing red eyes, wings and high-decibel shrieks. You be the judge. – Gary Dretzka

Walking on Water
In California, Hawaii and other seaside precincts, surfing often is used as a metaphor for life. I’m not sure I buy that, but, if nothing else, it gives kids with ADD something to do besides play video games all day and bored adults a reason to keep living. At its core, “Walking on Water” is “The Endless Summer” with a mildly Christian through-line. It was written and narrated by Bryan Jennings, a veteran surfer who passed his own good fortune forward by taking a pair of surf-obsessed kids on a round-the-world excursion, during which they alternately learned life lessons and tackled the best waves on the planets. Jennings says he was changed by just such an experience, when 14, and hopes to put other aspiring pros on the path to success and righteousness. Among the stops on their surfing safari are Hawaii, Peru, Australia, Indonesia, South Africa and France. As directed by Nic McLean, another surfing buff, “Walking on Water” is beautiful to watch and the treks inland to meet the locals are interesting. Blessedly, the proselytizing doesn’t get in the way of the action. – Gary Dretzka

Pioneers of Television: Season Two
Robert Kennedy and His Times
American Experience: Triangle Fire

Watching the retrospective series “Pioneers of Television” made me wonder how today’s generation of viewers, gamers and web surfers someday will commemorate the webisodes, Internet sites and video games that opened the floodgates to those pastimes. Baby Boomers and their parents greatly enjoy recalling the radio and television shows, however corny, they enjoyed in their formative years. They also love to compare the so-called Golden Era of Television with everything that’s transpired in its wake. It’s a fruitless exercise, to be sure, but one that will continue until the last Boomer who was inspired by the antics of Howdy Doody and Froggy the Gremlin is still with us. PBS’ “Pioneers of Television” is an excellent way for geezers to wallow in their pasts, while also introducing their children and grandchildren to the artists who laid the foundation for everything else to come.

The series’ second season is broken down into familiar genres – westerns, sci-fi, children’s shows and crime dramas – to put a tighter focus on their most influential programs, stars, producers and themes, which, for westerns, included equality and justice in post-Civil War America. That episode further concentrated on the period from 1955-75, when oaters dominated the ratings and produced major international stars. Among the actors interviewed are James Arness (“Gunsmoke”), Mitch Vogel (the fourth son on “Bonanza”), Linda Evans (“Big Valley”) Ed Ames and Rosie Grier (“Daniel Boone”) and Johnny Crawford (“The Rifleman”). Other shows highlighted are “Daniel Boone,” “High Chaparral,” “Wild, Wild West” and “Maverick.” The other genres are similarly well represented by the shows’ stars.

The late Brad Davis made for a very convincing Robert Kennedy in the 1985 CBS mini-series, “Robert Kennedy and His Times.” Seven years after his breakthrough performance in “Midnight Express,” Davis’ career was floundering and anyone playing a Kennedy is going to be noticed. His lowered status might have had something to do with the belief that he had strayed too far from the mainstream by accepting the lead role in Rainer Werner Fassbinder’s sexually provocative adaptation of the Jean Genet’s novel, “Querelle de Brest.” In it, Davis portrayed a self-absorbed sailor who’s unabashedly bisexual and prone to violence. Still, the onetime Golden Globe winner’s name carried enough weight to make him eligible for work in a mini-series, while anything about the Kennedy mythos had a head start in the ratings wars. “Robert Kennedy and His Times” was adapted from the biography by Pulitzer Prize-winning historian Arthur M. Schlesinger. It sticks pretty close to popular conception of RFK as a crusader who, after being mentored by his big brother, John, became a formidable politician in his own right. The mini-series covers the period between being raised as an American prince to the assassination of his brother, in Dallas. The show also stars Jack Warden, Veronica Cartwright, Beatrice Straight, Ned Beatty and Joe Pantoliano, as well as Shannen Doherty, River Phoenix and Jason Bateman in supporting roles.

March 25 will mark the 100th anniversary of the horrific Triangle Shirtwaist fire, in which 146 mostly immigrant women were killed. It remained New York City’s worst building disaster until the collapse of the World Trade Center towers on September 11, 2001. The fiery disaster could have been avoided, of course, but only if the powerful garment industry and the politicians it supported had foreseen the tragedy and closed the district’s highly profitable sweatshops. There was no chance of that happening, though. Lives, too, might have been saved if the city’s fire department had been equipped with ladders that reached the higher floors of buildings constructed after the turn of the century. Even then, however, the city fathers and industry magnates weren’t moved to change conditions. The documentary is fascinating to watch, especially in the light of recent moves to cripple unions created to protect workers from such abuses and the acceptance of sweatshop economics in developing nations by American companies.

Also new from the PBS’s thriving documentary mill are the self-explanatory, “Nova Science Now: Can We Make It to Mars?” and “Nancy Reagan: The Role of a Lifetime.”Gary Dretzka

Eddie Griffin: You Can Tell ‘Em I Said It
Alonzo Bodden: Who’s Paying Attention?

No matter how much success comedians achieve outside the nightclub circuit, they rarely forsake their standup roots. Eddie Griffin, who’s appeared in several hit movies and television shows, returns to the stage in “You Can Tell ‘Em I Said It.” Griffin frequently collects his material by observing the raucous exchanges between family members and the behavior of people in within his professional and social orbit. It’s hardly worth mentioning anymore that his bits contain content capable of scorching the ears of sensitive viewers, but I’ll say it again, anyway. “Tell ’Em I Said It” contains the material Comedy Central saw fit to trim, filter and edit from its recent in-concert special.

Alonzo Bodden offers living proof that comedians can find professional success in the big leagues, after first tearing it up on such shows as “Last Comic Standing.” The Queens native was named grand champion in the third-season competition and runner-up the previous year. He employs an easy-going approach to commentary on every-day issues large and small. I was surprised by how much I enjoyed this Showtime concert, which was shot in New York. – Gary Dretzka

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2 Responses to “The DVD Wrap: 127 Hours, Road Movie, Faster, Bambi, Germany in Autumn, The Last Train Home …”

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  2. In the foreshadow of this NBA Lockout various NBA and NFL athletes have teamed up to put together this hilarious video:


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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