MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Blue Valentine, Something Wild, Sledgehammer, Justin Bieber, Broken Hill …

Blue Valentine: Blu-ray
No matter how joyous it is to watch love bloom, on and off screen, it’s that much more painful to watch it wither and die on the vine. It’s even worse, knowing children are trapped inside their parents’ mad world, as well. Long ago, John Cassavetes set the standard by which all such bad-breakup dramas would be measured and no one’s topped him, yet. The marriages he assayed were, at any given moment, exhilarating and passionate, depressing and frightening. In a word, they were “real.” Derek Cianfrance’s “Blue Valentine” bears comparisons to “A Woman Under the Influence” in that it locates the highs and lows of a seemingly normal marriage and demands of viewers that they measure their own relationships by what they see others do on the screen. Limited to a budget roughly in the neighborhood of $1 million, there was no room for frills or Band-Aids. “Blue Valentine” isn’t an easy film to love, but the reward comes in watching ferocious, tour-de-force performances by two of this generation’s finest young actors, Michelle Williams and Ryan Gosling.

Cianfrance doesn’t waste any time alerting us to the trouble in Dean and Cindy’s marriage. Neither does he attempt to disguise what’s at stake in its dissolution: their almost unfairly charming daughter, Frankie. This accomplished, Cianfrance turns back the clock to the couple’s first meeting, at a care facility where Cindy’s grandmother is a resident and Dean is helping another elderly gentleman reassemble the memories of a lifetime. Cindy’s in college, involved with a self-absorbed jock, while Dean, a high-school dropout, has just taken a job with a New York moving company. She isn’t at all interested in Dean’s overtures, but his dogged persistence, easy-going nature and guitar playing ultimately pay off for him. Approximately nine months later, Frankie arrives. Cracks begin to develop several years later, when Cindy’s desire for a nursing career is reignited and she comes in contact with a more stimulating group of people than Dean, who really doesn’t want much more in life than to paint homes, knock back a few beers after work and entertain Frankie. Cindy invites Dean to join her on her journey of self-discovery, but he can’t be bothered.

If the trajectory of this working-class couple’s relationship is predictable, given the evidence, Williams and Gosling’s portrayals are anything but mundane. They make us love Cindy and Dean in the best of their times and dread what might happen to them when worse inevitably comes to worst. We want what’s best for this family, even knowing that wiser heads aren’t likely to prevail. Cianfrance risks a piling-on penalty by demanding of Cindy’s parents that they experience similarly distressing marital woes. Adding this layer of symmetry to the parallel storylines – then, aging the characters beyond the movie’s natural timeline – comes off as unnecessarily gimmicky. The Blu-ray presentation is useful in clarifying another of Cianfrance’s conceits. To further differentiate the storylines, he shot the “before” scenes on grainy Super 16mm film and the “after” scenes using a RED hi-def camera. The BD package also contains a worthwhile making-of featurette, deleted scenes, commentary and a short “film within the film.” – Gary Dretzka

Something Wild: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
It’s easy to forget the splash made by Jonathan Demme in the period immediately following his graduation from the Roger Corman School for Advanced Cinematic Studies. His quirky 1977 ensemble comedy, “Handle With Care” (a.k.a., “Citizens Band”) impressed critics, but was largely ignored by the same Heartland audiences it sought to endear. “Melvin and Howard” took a similarly comic approach to Utah milkman Melvin Dummar’s claim to $150 million of the late Howard Hughes’ fortune and, again, the critics approved. In 1984, the Talking Heads concert movie, “Stop Making Sense,” literally had audiences dancing in the aisles. Despite all his success, however, Demme was left devastated by the studio’s intervention on “Swing Shift,” a dream project that got bogged down in the ego-maniacal demands of two of its stars, Golden Hawn and Kurt Russell, and a hack edit at Warner Bros. In a new interview included in the Criterion Collection edition of “Something Wild,” Demme admits to being so depressed by the experience – even if “Swing Shift” had many fine moments — he considered throwing in the towel on his career as a director. Blessedly, before anything so dire could happen, Demme was introduced to E. Max Frye’s nifty script for “Something Wild,” a wildly inventive road movie that was equal parts romantic comedy and crime thriller. Its success not only reinvigorated Demme, but it also convinced Hollywood executives that they might have been too hasty in taking the word of a star over an inarguably brilliant young director. In the next 10 years, Demme would go on to direct such diverse entertainments as “Married to the Mob,” “Philadelphia,” “Swimming to Cambodia,” “Silence of the Lambs,” “Cousin Ted” and “Beloved.”

Brash and sexy, “Something Wild” imagined what might happen if a straitlaced New York business executive, Charles Driggs (Jeff Daniels), was kidnapped and seduced by free-spirited young woman (Melanie Griffith), hell-bent on unstuffing his Brooks Brothers shirt. Griffith’s look and carefree sexuality was informed by Louise Brooks’ Lulu, in G.W. Pabst’s still-intoxicating “Pandora’s Box.” Lulu confronts Charles after witnessing him skip out on a bill at a Village restaurant. She senses the theft is a tiny act of rebellion on Charles’ part and convinces him to let her drive him to work. Instead of heading immediately to the office, Lulu peels off to New Jersey, where she steals some booze and encourages the uptight suburbanite – newly appointed to vice president at his firm – to partake in some kinky sex in a motel room paid for with a company credit card. If Lulu’s behavior defines the term “force of nature,” it’s probably also true that her mood swings would today be attributed to a bipolar disorder (or, as it was imprecisely known then, manic-depression). Just when it seems as if Charles and Lulu, now rightly indentified as Audrey Hankel, might have some kind of a future together, her sociopathic ex-con husband, Ray Sinclair (Ray Liotta), shows up at their high school reunion, anxious to re-stake his claim on his former partner in life and crime. At first, Ray toys with Charles as if he were a sadistic cat in possession of a mouse he’s not yet ready to devour. When Charles attempts to stand up for himself and Lulu/Audrey, Ray swats him down with a degree of cruelty that’s absolutely frightening to witness. After laughing their heads off for most of the movie, viewers new to “Something Wild” should be prepared to hold their breaths throughout its increasingly dark final half-hour.

Demme has always been known for his dead-on musical choices and “Something Wild” may be the most ambitious soundtrack of them all. Listen to the album and the songs, alone, will tell you when and where they can be heard in the movie and what mood they’re intended to convey. In addition to three very different takes on the Troggs’ immortal hit, “Wild Thing,” the rhythms of several different Third World countries dominate the New York street scenes, while the pop sensibilities of the Feelies complement the romantic scenes and hard rock adds menace to Ray’s reign of terror. So, too, does Tak Fujimoto’s color scheme accent the changes in tone and texture. And, yes, “Something Wild” looks great in Blu-ray. In addition to new interviews with Demme and writer Frye, the set adds the original theatrical trailer and a booklet, featuring an essay by critic David Thompson. – Gary Dretzka

Blood Junkie/Blood Oath
Ninjas vs. Vampires

I’m not sure when exactly DIY and “outsider” gore-fests emerged as legitimate categories within the confines of the horror genre. “The Night of the Living Dead,” “The Texas Chainsaw Massacre” and “I Spit on Your Grave” can certainly stand as early examples of movies that were made cheap, dirty and without any visible support from mainstream sources. The 1999 documentary “American Movie” chronicled the efforts of several Wisconsin cheeseheads to make a micro-budget horror movie out of spare parts and borrowed money, and, in doing so, realize their dream of being mentioned in the same breath as Tobe Hooper and George A. Romero. If few of these do-it-yourself pictures turn out to be worth the cost of a camera rental, at least their makers can say they accomplished something in their lives besides taking up space on the couch.

Made in 1983 on a budget that rivaled the cost of a souped-up Yugo, Director David A. Prior’s “Sledgehammer” has the distinction of being the first slasher movie to be shot on tape for the home-video market. Everything about it screams, “cult classic,” including its almost complete unavailability for the last quarter-century. The story takes place in an abandoned house in the country, where a horrible tragedy occurred in the not-too-distant past and a group of fraternity and sorority meatheads are about to learn why the place hasn’t found a buyer in the interim. If you’ve already guessed that a lone survivor of the massacre – or spectral presence of a victim – is in possession of a lethal sledgehammer and intends to eliminate the intruders one by one, well, you’re already several steps beyond where Prior was when he launched the project. If “Sledgehammer” has one redeeming quality, it’s the heavily synthesized soundtrack, which is scarier than anything that transpires on film. The late Mr. Prior is interviewed in the bonus features, along with commentary by “Bleeding Skull” creators Joseph A. Ziemba and Dan Budnik; the featurette, “Hammertime,” with “DESTROY ALL MOVIES!!!” author Zack Carlson; and “SledgehammerLand,” with Cinefamily programmers Hadrian Belove and Tom Fitzgerald.

From Troma come “Blood Junkie” and “Blood Oath,” movies that look as if they were financed from the proceeds of recyclable bottles and cardboard … that, or a credit card the producers never even came close to maxing out. “Blood Junkie” is set in the wilds of Wisconsin, where the survivor of a chemical-planet disaster is killing anyone – but, especially, teenage girls – who comes near his polluted factory home. If Troma didn’t already have a movie called “The Toxic Avenger” on its roster, it could have wasted the title on this non-thriller by Drew Rosas. To be fair, though, at a reported cost of $6,000, it’s a miracle the producers could afford to feed the actors, let alone pay them.

On the other hand, “Blood Oath” is the real deal: a blood-soaked horror movie, based on a scary local legend, which follows a logical storyline and doesn’t appear to have wasted a precious cent in its pursuit of thrills, chills and gore. It looks good, too. Once again, a group of young people attempts to validate rumors of a grotesque killer left behind after a parent’s deal with the devil went sour. The hook in “Blood Oath” comes from the fact that one of the inquisitive visitors may be related to the fiend. Both Troma packages come with extensive bonus material, including making-of featurettes, interviews and other Troma-tastic material.

“Cropsey” takes a documentary approach — and not a very slick one, at that — in the dissection of an urban legend based on an all-too-horrifying series of murders and kidnappings in Staten Island. That they remain largely unexplained, today, only adds to the tension built by filmmakers Joshua Zeman and Barbara Brancaccio. Cropsey was a name given a creep named Andre Rand, who haunted the grounds of the Willowbrook State School for the mentally disabled, closed after an expose by the then-unknown Geraldo Rivera. Located in the then-isolated borough, the now-empty facilities remain a gathering place for former residents, local Satanists and various other perverts. The disappearances of five children between 1972 and 1987 terrorized the island community and put Rand in prison, based on circumstantial evidence and the accounts of drunks and addicts. “Cropsey” revisits the crimes, court cases and Willowbrook, itself, all of which, when combined, are as terrifying as any slasher flick.

You get exactly what you pay for in “Ninjas vs. Vampires,” from the same team that gave the world “Ninjas vs. Zombies.” Equals parts comedy, action and horror, Justine Timbane’s film imagines a world in which ninjas are humanity’s only barrier between survival and the evils of the undead. It also contains some of the cheesiest special effects this side of a porn flick, which is part of the fun. For a low-budget indie, “NvV” offers an unusually generous bonus package, with three separate commentaries, two featurettes, bloopers, deleted scenes, a music video and an alternate ending. – Gary Dretzka

Justin Bieber: Never Say Never: Blu-ray
Watching the Justin Bieber biopic/concert, “Never Say Never,” I couldn’t help but flash on the lyrics to Willie Dixon’s classic blues number, “Back Door Man”: “The men don’t know/but the little girls understand. …” Jim Morrison, who, like Bieber, caused tens of thousands of girls to shriek, swoon and scream at his every move, would appropriate the song for his own lascivious use. Even if I can’t imagine our latest mop-topped teen sensation ever singing anything resembling the blues, I have to believe that the “little girls” we meet in “Never Say Never” know something about Bieber’s songs that anyone over 18 can’t possibly understand. For this reason, alone, I must recuse myself from criticizing something so clearly foreign to me. The 17-year-old Stratford, Ontario, native obviously is one talented young’un. He began playing the drums when he was barely able to walk and, although he’s no Michael Jackson, “Little” Stevie Wonder or Frankie Lymon, sings and dances as well as can be expected by any superstar his age. Only time will tell if he has staying power.

As an adult, I find “Never Say Never” to be at its weakest when Bieber isn’t on stage or bantering with fans. While it’s fun to watch the wee lad performing on YouTube and at the local mall, listening to his mom, grandpa, teachers, managers, roadies and fellow musicians rhapsodize on Bieber’s skills, talent and never-say-never attitude could hardly be more boring. Indeed, at what point in his life did Bieber encounter a situation in which saying “never” was even an option? But, then, when it comes to jailbait superstars, 16 appears to have become the new 46 and biographical blowjobs can be expected of anyone who’s passed the first stage of “American Idol,” had a show on the Disney Channel or whose parents can afford a ghostwriter for a bar mitzvah present.

In addition to scenes from Bieber’s concerts, early years and life on the road leading to his Madison Square Garden debut, “Never Say Never” includes guest appearances by Miley Cyrus, Usher, Jaden Smith, Ludacris, Sean Kingston and Boyz II Men. The Blu-ray presentation looks terrific, especially in the concert scenes, It also adds “Concert Dance Off,” in which Justin and his crew show off their moves; “Favorite Girl,” a full-length concert performance from the “Director’s Fan Cut”; “R.I.P. Hair Flip,” in which Our Hero gets a haircut;
“Giving Back,” in which Justin’s team surprises fans with concert tickets; and
a digital copy of the film. – Gary Dretzka

Broken Hill
The redemptive power of music has been demonstrated in dozens of movies, many of them very good. On its cover, “Broken Hill” looks very much like a traditional American western, with veteran actor Timothy Hutton and teen queen Alexa Vega in key roles. In fact, though, the setting is rural Australia, where Hutton is a sheep farmer and “footie” coach, and his son, Tommy (Luke Arnold), is treated like the runt of the litter for wanting to pursue a career as a composer of modern classical music (if such a thing is possible). Vega’s Kat is a pretty blond American teenager, stuck in the boonies after one of her father’s many job transfers. Tommy has a crush on Kat, but he sours on her after she tricks him into supplying the truck used in a messy act of vandalism. It doesn’t take long for the police to halt the prank and implicate Kat and Tommy as the instigators. They are sentenced to several days’ worth of community service, which Tommy hopes to perform in a state prison where the prisoners might be convinced to perform his dream concerto.

The prisoners are hard cases, at least for Australia, and it takes Tommy and Kat a while to figure out ways to make them congeal as an orchestra using borrowed, makeshift and traditional instruments. Apart from the Australian settings and sensibilities, “Broken Hill” follows well-trod paths to the inevitable conclusion. Dagen Merrill’s story may be familiar, but it’s well paced and the enthusiasm of the young actors is infectious. When the prison orchestra’s largely discordant noodling finally comes together as something distinctly musical, “Broken Hill” also begins to warm the heart. It carries the Dove seal of approval, so musically inclined families might want to take a chance on it. – Gary Dretzka

Cougars Inc.
Among the many fantasies embraced by teenage boys, the myth of the “cougar” or “MILF” may be the most enduring. Among the movies in which an older woman has worked her wiles on a much younger and presumably innocent male are “The Graduate,” “Summer of ’42,” “Class,” “The Last Picture Show,” “Y Tu Mama Tambien,” “The Door in the Floor,” “American Pie,” “In Praise of Older Women,” “Private Lessons,” “My Tutor” and, of course, “Harold & Maude.” It’s only been within the last half-dozen years that the word, “cougar,” has been attached to the titles of TV shows and movies. K. Asher Levin’s “Cougars Inc.” differs from most of the other movies mentioned, in that several beautiful older women find sexual satisfaction, at least, in the company of a group of social outcasts from a local prep school. Among the horndogs are Denise Richards, Kathryn Morris, Rebecca Mader and Maeve Quinlan, none of whom would look out of place on the arm of George Clooney or any other Hollywood leading man of a certain age. That they would be reduced to swapping spit with this particular collection of misfits strains credulity to the breaking point.

That said, however, winning performances by Richards, Sarah Hyland (“Modern Family”) and Jim Belushi, as the school’s laid-back headmaster, make “Cougars Inc.” far more entertaining experience than it has any right to be. The emotional hysterics are kept to a minimum and there’s enough skin and sexy lingerie to entrance even the most worldly 16-year-old boy. – Gary Dretzka

Testees: The Complete Series
Wholly dependent on scatological humor, and decidedly sophomoric in its approach to basic human relations, “Testees” is a FX sitcom that perfectly complements the network’s deliriously raunchy “It’s Always Sunny in Philadelphia,” but is nowhere near as cerebral as “Louie” and “Archer.” Try to imagine what Beavis and Butt-head might have grown up to be, if they had managed to avoid going to prison for torturing cats or locking Jehovah’s Witnesses in their basement and making them eat pot brownies. Created by Kenny Hotz (“South Park,” “Kenny vs. Spenny”), “Testees” stars Jeff Kassel and Steve Markle as a matched pair of moronic roommates who serve as human guinea pigs at the Testico research laboratory. It was the only job they found that requires less physical effort than going to the bathroom and also paid them to ingest drugs and other foreign substances.

Each new episode required Kassel and Markle’s characters to test another substance and be observed by the sadistic Dr. Ng. Invariably, one of the mopes will decide to play a trick on his roommate by doubling the dosage or taking advantage of a drug-induced sensation, or lack thereof. They have friends, male and female, who also are involved in the testing business and join the shenanigans. I’m not embarrassed to admit that I found much of “Testees” to be quite entertaining, occasionally even hilarious. In many ways, I also consider my sophomore years in high school and college to have been enlightening. Sue me. The set comes with nearly two dozen webisodes, which test the borders of good taste even further. – Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

5 Responses to “The DVD Wrapup: Blue Valentine, Something Wild, Sledgehammer, Justin Bieber, Broken Hill …”

  1. Hattie Wiener says:

    Not misfits, my dear Gary, but superb examples of courageous, beautiful, elegant older women who know how to make a young man feel confident and desired. Contrary to stereotyped images of older women desperately lusting for young guys, it’s the other way around! I’ve been what is now termed a “Cougar” for over 20 years. It’s been remarkable for me…and for the men.

  2. Zoe says:

    The winning performance by Kathryn Morris in Cougars, Inc. is enough to make anyone watch! She’s sexy, and very talented. I definitely enjoyed watching her in that role.

  3. Jeana Curbo says:

    I just usually do not find get this “Bieber Fever”? I guess it proves using the actual accurate promoting any person can end up being a superstar. Awarded I find out he’s did the trick a new lot to acquire where he is.

  4. Paula Silva says:

    Agree with Jeana, all this Bieber Fever can be used to make a thesis on how this world is going weird lately.

  5. GoDaddy tech support is so frustrating. First, I used their applications panel to install joomla, but when I uploaded my local site via ftp, it didn’t work. I called GoDaddy support and they do not give support for migrating a local site to their host. You just have to build it from scratch from their installation. That stinks. Solutions?.


Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More

rohit aggarwal on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More on: The DVD Wrapup: Diamonds of the Night, School of Life, Red Room, Witch/Hagazussa, Tito & the Birds, Keoma, Andre’s Gospel, Noir

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

GDA on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

Larry K on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

gwehan on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

Gary J Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Peppermint, Wild Boys, Un Traductor, Await Instructions, Lizzie, Coby, Afghan Love Story, Elizabeth Harvest, Brutal, Holiday Horror, Sound & Fury … More

Quote Unquotesee all »

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

~ David Simon