MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Jolene, Bunny & the Bull, Dinoshark, Three Idiots, The Lickerish Quartet …

Jolene: Blu-ray
Anyone who’s ever wondered how a pretty young woman ends up on stage, stripping, or in a parking lot doing something less legal, will see in the character of Jolene a familiar stereotype. After reaching puberty on the foster-home circuit, the flirty redhead marries the first guy with a job who pays her attention. Even though her husband worships her, Jolene allows herself to be seduced by her leering father-in-law. She also captures the heart of a female supervisor at the mental hospital to which she’s referred during the in-law’s trial for statutory rape. Afraid of becoming a bird in a gilded lesbianic cage, Jolene hitches rides from horny truckers to Phoenix. Once there, she takes a job as roller-skating waitress and falls for a tattoo artist, who fails to mention he’s a junky and already married, with a child. When the unfortunate lass finally turns the corner on 18, she gets a job in Las Vegas, dancing at a so-called gentleman’s club. Here, Jolene is taken under the wing of a rich and kindly mobster, who provides her with everything a girl could want, including an opportunity to pursue her love for art and painting. When the law of averages catches up with the older man, she’s once again left to her own devices. A while later, Jolene somehow finds her way to Tulsa, where takes has a legit job and a has the semblance, at least, of a future. Will she find happiness, at last, in the arms of a rich and handsome Prince Charming, who promises her the sky and seems not to care a wit about her past? Stay tuned.

Adapted without much flair from a short story by E.L. Doctorow, “Jolene” is rescued by a terrific debut performance from Jessica Chastain. Not only is she one hot number, but Chastain also makes her character’s nearly 10-year journey from post-pubescent teen to responsible adult completely credible. Her Jolene isn’t permiscuous, per se, simply a state-raised kid who enjoys sex and flattery. Growing up without the benefit of paternal guidance, she’s unable to to avoid the kind of men and women who prey on waifs and take advantage of their naivete.

“Jolene” isn’t nearly as exploitative as the girl’s lovers, as it offers a credible explanation of how fate determines destiny. There is a point, however, just when we’re starting to feel good about Jolene’s chances for a normal life, that director Dan Ireland makes us wish we hadn’t come along on her journey through life. It arrives suddenly, violently and unexpectedly. Spoiler alert: the last of Jolene’s diverse array of suitors is a brutal pig, who beats her senseless. No matter how screwed up a guy is, no woman in or out of the movies deserves to be blindsided by someone she has been given reason to trust. Neither do audiences deserve it. Even though Ireland hints at trouble to come, the attacks are so gratuitously violent that one wonders what Ireland (“Mrs. Palfrey at the Claremont”) could have been thinking. He leaves nothing to the imagination. Otherwise, the all-star cast, which includes Chazz Palminteri, Dermot Mulroney, Rupert Friend, Michael Vartan, Denise Richards, Theresa Russell and Frances Fisher, makes us care about the characters, even those we come to despise. And, for newcomer Chastain, every day on the set became a master class in the actors’ art. The DVD includes a fawning discussion between the director and star. — Gary Dretzka

Bunny & the Bull
How did this thoroughly delightful and madly inventive movie not find distribution in the United States? Equal parts buddy film, road movie and offbeat romance, “Bunny & the Bull” not only defies expectations, but also easy summarization. The easiest way to introduce Paul King’s freshman feature is to point to such clear influences as Michel Gondry, Charlie Kaufman, Jean-Pierre Jeunet and and Bruce Robinson’s semi-autobiographical “Withnail & I.” It reminds me, as well, of Alex Cox’s cartoonish crime fantasy, “Repo Chick,” which never disguises the fact that it was shot almost entirely in front of a green-screen. Edward Hogg plays Stephen, a recluse with obsessive-compulsive disorder — he keeps and catalogs everything in his life, including dental floss and urine — whose last trip outside London resulted in the death and agoraphobia. His best and only friend, Bunny (Simon Farnaby), is a mop-topped slacker with a magic touch when it comes to gambling and women. After cashing their win ticket for a bet made on a 50-1 horse, Stephen and Bunny embark on a trip around Europe, stopping at every obscure museum they find. Along the way, they pick up an impossibly cute waitress — a Spanish Amelie, if you will, played by the impish Verónica Echegui — who provides the third line in the movie’s love triangle. Their incredible journey ends abruptly when Bunny picks a fight with an Andulusian bull.

A year later, Stephen relives the fateful trip in a dream state informed visually by the many souvenirs, maps and snapshots he collected. As is the nature of dreams, Stephen’s unfolds in a veritable moshpit of half-backed hallucinations, Freudian fantasies and actual people and events. In addition to the illustrated backgrounds employed by King, segments of the trio’s journey are staged inside snow globes and model roadways. The dream likewise ends on the Spanish plains, where Stephen imagines the aspiring toreador, Bunny, fighting a robotic bull constructed from chrome bumpers. “Bunny & the Bull” may not be as whimsical as “Amelie,” or as psychedelicly twisted as “Withnail & I,” but it’s every bit as inventive. It should appeal greatly to viewers who aren’t afraid to take a walk on the wild side, every now and then. It comes with interviews and a good making-of featurette. — Gary Dretzka

Dinoshark: Blu-ray
The weakest elements of such made-for-cable fare as “Dinoshark,” “Dinocroc vs. Supergator,” “Sharktopus” and the upcoming “Piranhaconda,” aren’t the bargain-basement special effects and cheeseball dialogue. In this regard, at least, these titles aren’t any worse than dozens of movies in which young women in bikinis face monstrous threats from outlandish fiends. Roger Corman’s been churning them out for more than a half-century. It’s what’s missing from these movies, all produced in the Corman factory, that makes them feel so flat. As the pictures that comprise Shout! Factory’s essential “Roger Corman Cult Classics” series make so abundantly clear, the fake monsters and cheesy dialogue are viable only when enhanced by time-release quantities of outrageously gratuitous nudity, violence and vehicle crashes. Because Syfy isn’t a premium-cable option, its proprietors apparently asked Corman to eliminate anything that could offend a Baptist preacher in Alabama.

As is the case with so many post-WWII sci-fi thrillers, the appearance of Dinoshark off the shores of Mexico is the result of man’s tampering with the Earth’s environmental balance. In this case, global warming causes an ancient glacier to melt. In turn, this allows a prehistoric creature to escape perpetual entombment. Like any snow-bird tourist, the beast immediately heads for warmer climes, where tourists are as plentiful and presumably tasty as plankton. Not surprisingly, the dinoshark’s armor-like skin is resistant to any weapon less powerful than a nuclear bomb. If it weren’t for research being conducted by a marine biologist — who looks suspiciously like Corman, his own self — Eric Balfour and Iva Hasperger’s characters wouldn’t have a chance in hell of keeping a women’s water-polo team from being devoured, bathing suits and all.

That may be fine for Syfy, but, for Corman fans, it’s only half the fun. How much more time and money would it have cost the maestro to shoot a companion “Unrated Director’s Cut”? It could be sold/rented separately from the tame version or included in a multidisc package. Let’s call it a missed opportunity and leave it at that. Commentary is provided by director Kevin O’Neill, Corman and co-producer Julie Corman. — Gary Dretzka

Three Idiots
When “Three Idiots” arrived in my mail, I examined the cover art and, from the image of three doofuses with their pants around their ankles, assumed it was yet another smarmy teen-exploitation flick. Nothing in the cover art suggests it was an Indian export or that it broke all sorts of box-office records there. The information on the back cover only added to my confusion. Would “Three Idiots” be a Bollywood version of “Animal House” or “American Pie“? Because Mumbai movies tend to be more chaste than the average Disney Channel product, I knew, for better or worse, this wouldn’t be “National Lampoon Presents Van Wilder in Bollywood.”? That the first fart joke arrived less than five minutes into the story made me wonder how much torture one reviewer could take over the course of the next 160 minutes.

What I didn’t expect was a movie that used mildly scatalogical humor and slapstick comedy to address very real concerns about the pressures of being a college student in India. It remains a country, after all, where parents not only arrange marriages but also live and die by the career decisions made by their kids. Two of the three “idiots” — “stooges” might have been a more accurate translation — in the cover portrait are underachievers, who, nevertheless, are bright enought to have been admitted to an elite engineering college. The third is the kind of National Lampoon protagonist who continually confronts his teachers and other symbols of authority with wiseass remarks and other pedagogical observations, and is usually shown to be right. In Indian colleges like this, the professors hold the trump card, no matter how unruly their students are. All they have to do is threaten to rat them out to their parents or withhold their references. The student then will have a difficult time getting into a top graduate school and landing a good job, preferably in the U.S. or England, and, as dessert, a beautiful wife and handsome dowry. The dean of the college may look like a buffoon, but he’s shrewd and powerful. As such, the comedy is only allowed to go so far, before reality comes into play.

Another through-line involves the often contentious courtship of the dean’s daughter by the lead idiot, Rancho (Aamir Khan), who wouldn’t be among the educator’s top 1,000 choices for her hand. While the twists and turns in their relationship are usually quite amusing, director Rajkumar Hirani intends to show how parents and eligible daughters can be fooled by a suitor’s material goods and other trappings of wealth. At about the two-hour mark, “Three Idiots” flashes ahead a couple years, when it becomes imperative that the old gang reunite and solve a matter of great urgency. Rancho seems to have dropped off the face of the Earth and the effort to locate him literally takes them to the roof of the world.

Bollywood movies tend to be long, because that’s the way audiences like them. If they’re going to spend their hard-earned money on a night at the megaplex, customers expect their money’s worth. That means spicing the melodrama with lots of laughs, tears, romance and flashy production numbers, and leaving the fat and bones in the stew, to boot. It’s all here, in spades. “Three Idiots” benefits greatly from the cast’s ability to make us care about their characters and their individual stories, something that typically doesn’t happen in a 90-minute college gross-out comedy. The music-and-dance interludes are pretty good, too. The DVD adds some interesting making-of material and interviews. Anyone who’s looking for an entry point to Bollywood entertainment will find one in “Three Idiots.” — Gary Dretzka

Because Steve Austin’s face dominates the cover of “Knockout,” it’s logical to assume the movie is just another slam-bang saga of a brawler overcoming the odds to become a champion pugilist. Instead, director Anne Wheeler and writer Joseph Nasser employ Stone Cold’s character as a mentor to a boy, Matthew, in his mid-teens who’s experiencing the agony of being ripped from the friendly confines of his previous school and thrown into a hellhole presided over by jocks and cheerleaders. Complicating things further for the painfully withdrawn teen nerd is mom’s decision to move into the home of a man who’s not Matthew’s father.

Austin’s Dan Barnes is a former heavyweight boxer, who, blowing his shot at the big time, has ended up as the janitor in his old middle school. When he notices Matthew being bullied by one of the jocks, Barnes comes to his defense and suggests he consider joining the school’s boxing program. He also displays a hint of violent streak, possibly passed along from his grandfather, who was a well known boxer in his own right. After being humiliated in the ring by the same bully, Matthew begs Austin to serve as is trainer, so that he can compete for a spot on the school’s boxing team. To this end, the boy is supported by other outcast students, including a potential love interest, for whom sports isn’t a big deal.

I’ll admit to having my focus being diverted by this plot twist. I can’t imagine that any middle school or high school in the U.S., public or private, could afford the insurance it would take to cover a boxing program. Golden Gloves, sure, but not a school-sanctioned team. Once I managed to suspend my disbelief, however, I was able to enjoy what turned out to be a surprisingly compelling coming-of-age movie. Austen isn’t there to teach Matthew how to hit below the belt or supply him with steroids. He’s simply a decent human being, who wants to see Matthew get a fair shot at gaining self-respect. To her credit, Wheeler also keeps the bullying from becoming indigestible and Matthew’s domestic problems surmountable.

I’d hate to credit the sweetness in the movie to the light touch of a woman director, but it couldn’t have hurt. “Knockout” displays many of the same qualities that made the original “Rocky” popular, but Wheeler never lets us forget that Matthew is first and foremost has homework to turn in and a girlfriend to impress. (It’s interesting, as well, that she also makes him appear less nerdy as his training intensifies.) And, that’s a refreshing twist in movies about boxing and coming of age. — Gary Dretzka

President’s Book of Secrets
Salvador Allende

Anyone tempted to turn over the reigns of power to a wingnut candidate such as Donald Trump, Sarah Palin or Michelle Bachmann ought to be required to watch this History documentary before being allowed to vote. As testified to here, there’s quite a bit more to being president than showing one’s birth certificate to the press and defending a college student’s right to carry assault rifles to school. In addition to conducting the business of government, presidents also are required to bear the weight of the nation’s secrets, many of which are passed along to them only after their inauguaration. According to the information revealed in this fascinating and occasionally scary documentary, such classified material can include everything from ongoing military and intelligence operations to the things we don’t know about extraterrestrials and Area 51.
One of the great mysteries of our time involves the abrupt about-face made by President Obama after Inauguration Day. Promises made during the campaign have been ignored, reversed or put on the back burner from Day One. Why? Three theories persist: 1) Obama simply wasn’t up to the task before him, 2) someone from Skull and Bones warned him against rocking the boat, and 3) a “book of secrets” revealed information that changed his mind about how to conduct the business of state. We’ll never know. The documentary further asserts that no president is made aware of all the secrets floating around the capital, and it’s entirely possible that members of a “shadow government” or good-ol’-boy network know more than he does.

Informing “The President’s Book of Secrets” are interviews with former Vice President Dan Quayle, former First Daughter Susan Ford, former U.S. Rep. Newt Gingrich, former Secret Service agents and political aides and veteran reporters Dan Rather and Jonathan Alter. They’re well-spoken but as clueless as most other citizens. Nonetheless, what is revealed about escape routes, hidden bunkers, nuclear codes and “black budgets” is impressive. Unfortunately, there are no extras attached to the DVD.

The assassination of Chilean president Salvador Allende, during a military coup in 1973, probably wouldn’t have happened — in the same way, at least — if it weren’t approved beforehand by someone in the Nixon administration, perhaps the president himself. Given what we learn in “Book of Secrets,” Nixon might not have been aware of the CIA or State Department’s involvement in the coup. If George McGovern had been elected president, in 1972, would he have been given the opportunity to veto our manipulation of Chile’s economy, which led to street protests and provided General Augusto Pinochet with an excuse to the stage the coup? Or, fearing a veto, would our secret-keepers have left McGovern in the dark? Again, we’ll never know.

Patricio Guzman’s sympathetic 2004 bio-doc, “Salvador Allende,” recalls the socialist leader’s life and times, through the eyes of surviving friends, family, members and loyalists. Guzman also asks, “How was he both revolutionary and democrat?” It can be argued Allende presented a greater threat to capitalism and right-wing demogoguery than Fidel Castro, if only because he was freely elected to the presidency, couldn’t be branded a Soviet puppet, wasn’t strapped with a dibilitating U.S. blockade and had begun raising people’s awareness of the threat of multinational corporations. Unlike Castro, he wasn’t turning off American liberals by killing off his opponents and potential threats to the socialist ideal. It demonstrated Allende’s humanism, but made him vulnerable to the coup and assasination attempts. It’s an excellent documentary, even if it feels more anachronistic than ever. — Gary Dretzka

The Lickerish Quartet: Blu-ray
One of the things that made soft-core porn so attractive to couples, back in the day, was that the best ones were shot in places more exotic than those featured in mainstream Hollywood romances. The characters were played by extremely attractive actors (actresses, anyway), who weren’t required to engage in actual sex or take a facial as proof of male orgasm. “Emmanuelle” was the most successful franchise, but Radley Metzger’s films came the closest to merging erotica and arthouse fare. The most striking thing about “The Lickerish Quartet” is its magnificent setting, the Balsorano Castle in the Italian province of L’Aquila, Abruzzo. It’s there that an aristocratic couple and their son become obsessed with a pretty blonde actress in a scratchy black-and-white blue movie. Conveniently, she’s riding motorcycles in the Wall of Death of a visiting carnival right down the mountain. They invite her back to the mansion, where each of the family members takes turns acting out scenes in the movie. Metzger extends the conceits by inserting Mom, Dad and Junior into the movie, itself, thus holding up a mirror to their fantasies. One of the most artistic sex scenes in the history of the genre takes place in the castle’s library, whose decor is made to resemble a book the longer the horizontal dance goes on. The Blu-ray captures the beauty of the castle and surrounding mountains, while also adding clarity to the interior scenes. The features include a making-of piece and much additional audio and visual material. — Gary Dretzka

Bob Dylan: Revealed
Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Narrative: 1990 – 2006
Bob Dylan: Don’t Look Back: Blu-ray

On May 24, Bob Dylan turns 70. Big deal, you say, people turn 70 every day. True, but most of those people won’t be editorial and op-ed writers, who will use the occasion as an excuse to reminesce endlessly about their own idealistic youths and the relevancy of age, itself. Lost youth may be the great tragedy of post-WWII America, but Dylan is as bushy haired and active at 69, as any recent college graduate. Some old-timers continue to bemoan the events of 1965, when Dylan “went electric,” to the horror of folk purists and others who didn’t want him to pass them by. Others, especially those who remember when all things seemed possible, will ponder the lack of progress toward world peace, racial equality and economic prosperity for all prophesized in “Blowing in the Wind” and “The Times They Are a-Changin’.” (How ironic is it that our first black president has expanded America’s military footprint around the world and refuses to penalize the mad-dog capitalists who made so many middle-class people poor; poor people poorer; and rich people wealthier and more powerful?)

With a couple of noteworthy exceptions — “Hurricane,” “George Jackson” — Dylan appears to have avoided overt political stances, favoring metaphysical musings on love, romance, the blues, fame and God. His conversion to Christianity stunned his legion of fans and was widely scene as a goof or momentary whim. It wasn’t. In fact, it resulted in several excellent, if underappreciated recordings. He would then re-adopt his Jewish and Midwestern roots and embark on the “Never Ending Tour,” which began in 1988 and continues today. During these concerts, he continually fiddles with playlists, often inserting new versions of old hits, including the so-called protest songs.

Listen to the people interviewed in the retrospectives “Bob Dylan: Revealed” and “Bob Dylan: The Never Ending Narrative: 1990–2006,” and the message that comes through so clearly is that Dylan has always considered himself to be an entertainer, first, and, second, a songwriter who’s never allowed himself to be pigeon-holed or held captive by other people’s expectations. He loves to experiment with sound, words and images, and his musical influences extend far beyond those obvious in his rock and folk music. “Never Ending Narrative” continues the series of period retrospectives already distributed by MVD. It traces the career and music of Bob Dylan from the so-called comeback album, “Oh Mercy,” to 2006’s “Modern Times,” which favored traditional blues, rockabilly and balladry.

“Don’t Look Back” has been released and re-released for many times. It is D.A. Pennebaker’s chronicle of Dylan’s 1965 tour, when he was a folk-rock troubador on the verge of being devoured by the media, international fandom and the counterculture. He was playful and full of wonder about the British scene, personified by Donovan, Alan Price, Marianne Faithful and John Mayall. Joan Baez and Allen Ginsberg represented the Yanks, alongside omnipresent manager and guardian of the vault Albert Grossman. The two-disc Blu-ray edition arrives with commentary by Pennebaker and road manager Bob Neuwirth; Greil Marcus’ interview with Pennebaker; an alternate take to famous “Subterranean Homesick Blues” music video, in which he discards cue cards with lyrics to the song; audio only tracks, in lossless DTS-HD Master Audio 2.0, of “To Ramona,” “The Lonesome Death of Hattie Carroll,” “Love Minus Zero/No Limit,” “It Ain’t Me, Babe,” and “It’s All Over Now, Baby Blue,” from the 1965 tour; and “65 Revisited,” the “companion piece” of Pennebaker assembled from outtakes. — Gary Dretzka

Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story
Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate
Selling God
Straight & Butch

There are plenty of good documentaries from which to choose this week. “Cul de Sac: A Suburban War Story” recalls the strange saga of Shawn Nelson, a 35 year-old plumber, who, in 1995, commandeered a tank and rumbled through the streets of a San Diego suburb. A news helicopter followed the escapade from above, providing the dramtic footage seen around the world. “Cul de Sac” (2002) would be interesting if it only interviewed Nelson’s relatives and neighbors, who lived modestly in blue-collar Clairemont. Instead, director Garrett Scott’s uses the incident to paint a portrait of a boom-town gone bust and how unemployment and underemployment drove skilled workers to seek relief in drugs, drink and pipedreams. Nelson’s pipedream was digging a shaft in his backyard and hitting a motherlode of gold. After a conflict with City Hall, the former National Guardsman walked to a nearby armory and stole the M-60 tank, which cut a swath of destruction for miles. In the end, he committed suicide-by-cop.

That Nelson was troubled is obvious from the comments of friends and neighbors. He was unemployed, recently divorced, delusional, an alcoholic and meth head, maladies he shared with almost everyone we meet in the film. Scott’s larger point is that Nelson’s rampage was just the tip of the iceberg. In cities, even those as idyllic as San Diego, working-class Americans were losing jobs to budget cuts, outsourcing and the greed of factory owners. Without something productive to do, these proud men and women were lost. The same thing would happen to white-collar Americans throughout the rest of the 2000s. Scott also offers a primer of meth since World War II, when it was used to keep pilots awake on long missions. That’s a lot to absorb in a 55-minute documentary. I’m surprised more unemployed Americans haven’t followed Nelson’s lead.

Longtime television documentarian Helen Whitney returns to PBS this month with the two-part “Forgiveness: A Time to Love and a Time to Hate,” also available on DVD. It examines the ability of victims of unspeakable crimes, as well as political and social outrages, to forgive the perpetrators. On the flip side, it also interviews people who’ve found it necessary to forgive themselves. Whitney covers a wide range of examples, from genocide and mass murder, to the abandoning of children by their mother, adultery and 1960s’ radicals regreting acts committed in their youth. The most striking example is provided by South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission hearings, during which those who renounced crmes committed in the name of Apartheid were forgiven and allowed to re-join the newly integrated society.
Imagine the same thing happening in Germany, Japan and Italy after World War II, or in the Deep South of America after the Civil Rights Act was signed. I can’t.

Jeffrey Blitz’ “Lucky” examines the lottery phenomenon through the experiences of five winners, all of whom have handled their windfalls differently. By now, we’ve all heard the stories of people who’ve won big, but ended up losing everything and more. Somehow, we know less about how those winners who were able to keep things in perspective and spend their money in practical ways. Yeah, I know, booooring. “Lucky” also studies the history of the lottery and the expectations of different players, some of whom actually believe winning is inevitable and others who treat it as a pastime.

“Selling God” describes the many ways God and Jesus Christ have been used as brands for products sold in their names by nearly 2,000 years’ worth of evangelists. These not only include tickets to biblical theme parks and Christian-rock concerts, but to the promotion of celibacy, polygamy and unprotected sex. From the earliest days of the Christian church, to the proliferation of televangelists, saving souls has always been seen as a business opportunity to schemers and professional clerics. Director Carl Christman (I kid you not) uses humor to make the message go down smoother. Among the scholars and religious leaders interviewed are Noam Chomsky. Watch this as a double-feature with Bill Maher’s “Religulous” and you’ll count your fingers after being served your next communion host.

Philadelphia TV host Butch Cordora was looking for a hook to sell a calendar and came up with the idea to appear in a baker’s dozen worth of photos, in which he, a local gay celebrity, would pose nude with straight (or, so we’re told) male models. Hence, the title, “Straight & Butch.” The photos would be staged to imitate famous photos in pop-culture history, including album and magazine covers. The film follows the process through inception to casting and shoots, which occasionally flouted the law. The DVD adds a 13th photo shoot, bloopers and an interview with Cordora. — Gary Dretzka

The Holy Mountain/El Topo: Blu-ray
Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

After being missing in action for so many years due to licensing problems, the works of master surrealist Alejandro Jodorowsky have finally become available in pristine DVD and Blu-ray editions. Made in the early-1970s, when eccentric filmmakers were encouraged to work out their kinks on the big screen, “The Holy Mountain” and “El Topo” pushed the limits of good taste, religious symbolism and coherency. Viewed from a distance of 40 years, it’s possible to clearly see both the brilliance and excess of films previously only available in substandard, often bootlegged VHS editions. To say that Americans weren’t quite ready for “El Topo,” upon its initial release in December of 1970, is an understandment. Critics were divided on its cinematic worth, some objecting to the hyper-violent Old West-era shootouts, flakey narrative and the blasphemous biblical iconography. Conceivably, the counterculturists who made “El Topo” one of the first midnight-movie sensations enjoyed it for the same reasons it was hated by older mainstream critics.

If anything, “Holy Mountain” was even more outrageous and controversial. Reportedly, when it was screened at the 1973 Cannes Film Festival, riots broke out in response to Jodorowsky’s sacrilegious imagery and existential symbolism. Here, the director plays the Alchemist, who leads a group of industrialists on a mission to storm a sacred hill and gain immortality. The movie comments negatively on all of the then-current targets of scorn by progressive thinkers, including cultural and economic imperialism, war mongering and excessive profit-taking. In doing this, “Holy Mountain” also employs astrology, mysticism, tribalism and non-traditional religions.

Both movies are a blast to watch today, even if many of Jodorowsky’s conceits remain a mystery. Some are discussed in the bonus features, which, on “Holy Mountain,” include the original theatrical trailer; deleted scenes and “The Tarot,” with commentary by Jodorowsky; a piece on the restoration process and the director’s feature commentary. “El Topo” comes with the original theatrical trailer; script exerpts; a photo gallery; an English dub track; and an on-camera interview and commentary with Jodorowsky.

The latest version of Terry Gilliam’s equally surrealistic “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas” comes from Criterion Collection, which is the best news possible. In addition to the digital transfer, which recoups the original’s vivid colors and brilliant psychedelic imagery, the Blu-ray adds audio commentaries with director Terry Gilliam, stars Johnny Depp and Benicio Del Toro, producer Laila Nabulsi, and author Hunter S. Thompson; deleted scenes, with commentary by Gilliam; a
selection of Thompson correspondence, read on camera by Depp; the short documentary, “Hunter Goes to Hollywood”; a look at the controversy over the screenwriting credit; a profile of Oscar Zeta Acosta, the inspiration for Dr. Gonzo; a collection of artwork by illustrator Ralph Steadman; an audio excerpt from the 1996 spoken-word CD, “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” featuring filmmaker Jim Jarmusch and actor Maury Chaykin; a 1978 BBC documentary with Thompson and Steadman; storyboards and production designs; a stills gallery; and a booklet with an essay by critic J. Hoberman and two pieces by Thompson. — Gary Dretzka

Moguls & Movie Stars: A History of Hollywood
Stan Lee’s Superhumans: Season 1
American Experience: The Greely Expedition
Sex and the Single Mom/Honeymoon With Mom

It seems as if they’ve been making documentaries about Hollywood for as long as Hollywood has been a brand name for movies intended for mass consumption and huge profits. All are boosterish to some degree, rounding the sharp edges of monstrous studio czars and lavishing praise on actors and directors whose best works are exalted and turkeys are left unmentioned. In these tomes, anyone who reminds viewers, “It’s only a movie …,” could be found guilty of blasphemy and excommunicated from the AMPAS invite list. TMC’s multi-part “Moguls & Movie Stars” strays off the beaten path more often than previous documentaries, but doesn’t come close to suggesting the emperor isn’t wearing clothes. Its chronology begins before the first studio was built and ends with the retirement of Jack Warner, in the mid-1960s. That the industry would change so dramatically in a few years makes “Moguls & Movie Stars” feel a bit like a coloring book about dinosaurs. And, yet, it overflows with entertaining movie lore and puts many events into the context of the times. It comes with panel discussions with the researchers who contributed to the documentary.

If anyone knows how to spot a superhero or mutant in a crowd of mortals, it’s Stan Lee, a living legend in the world of comic books. In History’s “Stan Lee’s Superhumans,” which debuted last August, Lee and contortionist Daniel Browning Smith scour the world to identify people with extraordinary physical gifts, reminiscent of characters in “X-Men,” “Spider-Man,” “The Hulk and other comics and movies. Included in the eight-episode season are ordinary folks who are able to withstand electrical shocks, ignore extreme fatigue, endure the blows of a sledgehammer and are referred to as a “human calculater,” “human bat,” “human orchestra” and “the man who eats anything.”

Last week, we discussed here the documentary “Into the Cold,” which re-created the Peary expedition to the North Pole 100 years ago. PBS’ “The Greely Expedition” dramatizes the ill-fated 1881 attempt by Lt. Adolphus Greely and 25 others to make an exhaustive scientific study of the “sheer blank” wilderness of Lady Franklin Bay and establish a meteorological-observation station. When, three years later, rescue ships arrived at their camp, only six survivors remained. The inability of supply ships to reach the team, due to poor planning, had stranded them in one of the most barren and unforgiving places on Earth. It’s an amazing story, made more frightening by reports of starvation, mutiny, isolation and cannibalism.

If anyone personifies the ideal Lifetime protagonist it would be Gail O Grady, who, at 48, remains a familiar presence in television series and made-for-TV movies. Though blond and strikingly beautiful, her characters tend to be romantically vulnerable, but ultimately strong enough to pull themselves back from the brink of emotional disaster. She seems equally adept at playing moms, judges, cougars and doctors. In Lifetime’s “Sex and the Single Mom” (and its sequel), O’Grady is the mother of an inexperienced 15-year-old daughter, who’s chomping at the bit to leave her virginity behind her. Mom preaches abstinence, but fails to listen to her own advice, becoming pregnant after a brief fling with a surgeon. All irony aside, mom’s mistake tests the tenuous bonds connecting mothers and their strong-willed teen daughters.

A tad older than O’Grady, Shelley Long also remains in demand as a guest star in TV series and the lead in cable-original movies. In Lifetime’s “Honeymoon With Mom,” Long plays the still-fetching single mother of a woman who’s left standing at the altar. Not wanting to let a good honeymoon go to waste, they travel to a remote island resort together. Mom, who publishes a magazine, sees in the resort’s owner (Jack Scalia) a pretty good story. He’s a former astronaut, who disappeared from view after a scandal. She doesn’t bother to inform the publicity-shy owner of her plans, opening the door for heartbreak. Meanwhile, the jilted bride has pulled herself together and has two men waiting on her beck and call.

Also extending their tenure on network TV and in the TV-to-DVD arena are “American Dad!, Volume 6” and “South Park: Complete Fourteenth Season.” This time around, CIA op Stan Smith battled the Antichrist in “Rapture’s Delight,” while also taking on strippers and the Goonies. The set adds several commentaries, uncensored audio and deleted scenes,

Now in its 14th stanza, “South Park” continues to raise eyebrows and enduce laughter in faithful viewers. This year, the wee lads envied Tiger Woods, wrote a best-selling book, faked cancer to get a prescription for medical mariujuana, discovered social networking and were challenged by Tom Cruise. There’s commentary by Trey Parker and Matt Stone on all episodes, deleted scenes and a bonus episode, “The Coon.” — Gary Dretzka

Summer Eleven
These days, so many turning-of-the-page movies require of their characters that they sample the forbidden fruits of adolesence, it’s a shock when one merely asks that they act their age under normal conditions. In writer/director/editor/producer Joseph Kell’s freshman feature, four inseparable 11-year-old girls are asked to deal with some tough issues before making the transistion to middle school. Vanessa is an aspiring actress, forced to deal with rejection; Lizzie’s brother has come hom from war in a wheelchair; Jess struggles to cope with her parents’ separation; and Peri’s mother is fighting a losing battle against homelessness. Throughout, the girls find answers to questions their parents are trying to avoid. “Summer Eleven” hasn’t been show in many places, perhaps because it doesn’t contain a sufficient number of gross-out scenes. It’s well made, though, and the kids are terrific actors. Emmy-winners Adam Arkin and Valerie Mahaffey somehow manage not to be upstaged. — Gary Dretzka

Fly Away
Janet Grillo’s film addresses perhaps the most perplexing question asked of families raising a child with autism or any progressively debilitating condition: who’s going to take of him/her when you can’t? Beth Broderick plays the single mother of an autistic teenage girl, Mandy (Ashley Rickards) whose mood swings often make her impossible to control. The mother has spent her entire life caring obsessively for the child, sacrificing her social life and independence. After meeting a man (Greg Germann) with whom she might want to spend time away from home and her job, the mother wrestles with the possibility of having to enroll her daughter in a treatment facility. It’s not an easy decision and Grillo (“Autism: The Musical”) doesn’t provide any pat solutions. The “Fly Away” DVD adds a conversation with the filmmakers; the music video, “Autism Speaks: It’s Time to Listen”; and a companion guide with information on autism spectrum disorders. — Gary Dretzka

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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