MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: The Rite, Araya, Freedom Riders, Shoeshine, Pale Flower, Solaris, The Other Woman, The Roommate …

The Rite: Blu-ray
For movies about demonic possession to work, it helps that viewers either believe that Satan actually exists or that the filmmaker is able to convince us simply to suspend disbelief for the next two hours, or so. Although Mikael Hafstrom’s supernatural thriller, “The Rite,” doesn’t break much new ground on the subject of exorcism, it’s elevated by the presence of Anthony Hopkins and some neat gothic architecture. That it’s based on the experiences of an actual California priest, Father Gary Thomas — as described in journalist Matt Baglio’s “The Making of a Modern-Exorcist” – is a bonus. Colin O’Donoghue plays Michael Kovak, an American seminarian and son of a funeral director, who abruptly decides that he isn’t cut out for either vocation. In return for not being required to pay back his scholarship, Kovak agrees to attend a school in Rome where the rite is taught. Even so, Kovac doubts the existence of the devil even more than his ability to perform the duties of a parish priest or undertaker, not that those things don’t occupy his nightmares.

An instructor in Rome recognizes in the American seminarian a talent for serving afflicted Catholics and invites him to study directly under a mildly eccentric, if completely forthright Welsh priest, Father Lucas Trevant (Anthony Hopkins). Without much hesitation, beyond a quick absolution of his suns, Father Lucas allows Kovac to sit in on the ongoing exorcism of a pregnant teenager. He is impressed by Trevant’s no-nonsense style, but believes the girl might be suffering from something other than demonic possession. (“What did you expect? Spinning heads? Pea soup?,” the crusty old cuss replies.) Their intellectual sparring continues until the devil sinks his claws into both men’s psyches.

Hafstrom takes a decidedly sober approach to the subject of exorcism, preferring to focus more on the men’s personal struggles than pushing the envelope on special effects, of which there already are plenty. Having witnessed the embalming of his own mother at a tender age, Lucas’ demons reside just below the surface of his skin. The afflicted youths display all the usual signs of possession, including speaking in foreign tongues and superhuman strength. I doubt that many horror fans will be disappointed. The Blu-ray set adds deleted scenes, a slightly different alternate ending, BD-Live functionality and a featurette, hosted by Father Thomas, on the Vatican school and role played by exorcists in the 21st Century Church. – Gary Dretzka


 American Experience: Freedom Riders

It’s been 50 years since America’s willingness to ignore its own Apartheid policies was tested by a courageous group of young people, known as Freedom Riders. Throughout the 1950s, the civil-rights movement affected change in the military and such places as Little Rock, Montgomery, Greensboro and the U.S. Supreme Court, in Washington. In the very Deep South, however, those successes had merely caused ardent segregationists to dig their heels deeper into the red-clay earth. Moreover, in 1961, Kennedy administration officials put enforcement of recently imposed laws banning segregation in some public places on the back burner, preferring to focus their attention on international issues. Because the South still was dominated by Democrats — however Neanderthal in their beliefs — John and Bobby Kennedy chose not to demand immediate change. Neither did the NAACP want to test the resolve of its backers by sending civil-rights advocates into harm’s way. Growing more impatient with every passing day, diverse groups of civil-rights activists – black and white, men and women, students and non-students – decided they would take matters into their own hands by hopping on Greyhound and Trailways buses to test new laws that prohibited segregation in interstate travel facilities.

Stanley Nelson’s extremely powerful and deeply moving documentary, “Freedom Riders,” reminds us of the violence that greeted the “agitators” – a code word for uppity Negroes and commie sympathizers — not only by pinhead rednecks and Klansmen, but by duly elected city and state officials in Alabama and Mississippi. To avoid the mob violence that attracted the media to Birmingham, Anniston and Montgomery, the governor of the Magnolia State ordered all Freedom Riders to be arrested and shipped to the notoriously inhumane Parchman Prison farm. (Finally, so many activists were jailed there that it became a “university for non-violence.”) In fact, the first Freedom Rides attracted little attention in the media. As the violence increased and horrifying photos and newsreel footage made their way north, however, reporters from around the world descended on the Riders’ destinations. Some of them were beaten, as well. Among other things, this denial of equal rights allowed Cuba, the Soviet Union and other communist nations to wag their fingers at the “devout and pious” Kennedys, who seemed to value democracy more in Africa, Asia and Latin America, than in their own back yard.

“Freedom Riders” is informed by interviews with historians, former government officials and veterans of the civil-rights movement from both sides of the picket lines. It also contains much archival video footage, photographs and examples of newspaper coverage. If those brutal images seem incomprehensible a half-century later, imagine what it says about the continued willingness of some rabid politicians to employ vigilante posses in the war on illegal immigration and ignore the rights of those immigrants already here. The two-hour film deserves to be seen in civics classes throughout the country, and not just during Black History Month. – Gary Dretzka

Daydream Nation

The Beautiful Person (La Bell Personne)

Imagine that you’re a teenager and your high school is overpopulated with kids whose only ambition in life is to get stoned, drunk, screwed and tattooed. Now, imagine that one of the new kids in school this semester is a dead-ringer for Angelina Jolie or Justin Timberlake. Suddenly, high school wouldn’t seem be quite so dull, would it? That, essentially, is the premise to “Daydream Nation,” a very decent story about the manifestations of multigenerational angst in a typical town in the United States or Canada. The luscious Kat Dennings plays the newcomer, Caroline, who, sensing that her classmates are nearly brain-dead, makes a beeline for her handsome English teacher (Josh Lucas), who, not so reluctantly, succumbs to her womanly charms. Meanwhile, her single dad conspires with the neighborhood MILF (Andie MacDowell) to make a love connection between their mismatched offspring. Terminally bored with the status quo, Kat decides to shake things up, by making her emotionally scarred older lover jealous of her stoner suitor. Meanwhile, just for kicks and giggles, a serial killer is turned loose in the small town.

That would be a lot of mishigas for any director to keep straight, but first-timer Michael Goldbach holds things together better than anyone could have hoped, probably. The dialogue is sharp, the cinematography perfectly captures the town’s chronic ennui and the prototypical characters are invested with some surprising traits. Dennings does a nice job, as well, although it’s impossible to buy her as a 17-year old femme fatale. MacDowell is delightfully flirty as the horny mom and Lucas is believable as the hunky teacher. “Daytime Nation” didn’t enjoy much of a release last month, but, given the right amount of buzz, it could do very well in DVD.

In several obvious ways, Christophe Honore’s “The Beautiful Person” (“La Bell Personne”) is a Gallic cousin to “Daydream Nation.” Sixteen-year-old Junie (Lea Seydoux) is every bit as hot as Dennings’ Caroline, and every bit as fixated on her school’s Italian teacher, Nemours (Louis Garrel). In the meantime, she strings along a desperately quiet and vulnerable classmate, Otto (Grégoire Leprince-Ringuet). The movie is adapted from Mademoiselle de Chartres’ classic French novel “The Princess of Cleves,” a study of courtly affairs in the 16th Century. (I wouldn’t be at surprised to learn that Michael Goldbach was inspired by the same book.) Honore’s updating of the novel nicely captures to social scene at Junie and Otto’s school, as well as contemporary musical tastes. Plus, you never quite know how things are going to turn out for any of the principle characters.  – Gary Dretzka

The Other Woman

It’s difficult to love any movie in which almost all of the primary characters, including a cute little boy, are as unpleasant as they are in Don Roos’ “The Other Woman.” Adding to the problem is a script that demands these people spend most of their time arguing with each other. Based on the novel “Love and Other Impossible Pursuits,” by Ayelet Waldman, “The Other Woman” asks us to care deeply about a Manhattan couple, while forgiving the adultery that led to their marriage, and the insufferable child caught in the crossfire of divorce. Natalie Portman and Scott Cohen portray the married lawyer and horny legal aide, Jack and Emilia, who couldn’t keep their hands off each other long enough to add “Use a condom” to their list of things to do on a business trip. If nothing else, Emilia’s almost instantaneous pregnancy gives the lawyer an excuse to divorce his status-obsessed shrew of a wife (Lisa Kudrow), who has poisoned their young son with her snobbery.

Now married, Jack and Emilia experience the tragedy of an infant’s sudden, unexpected death. It turns her into a basket case and Jack into a ping-pong ball to be knocked around by the insane women in his life. To her credit, Emilia tries to be a good stepmom to the Jack’s brat son, but his parroting of his mother’s opinions would make anyone want to take a hairbrush to his backside. Ten minutes into the picture, it’s clear that the only question left to answer is, “Can this marriage survive?” Even though Roos adds enough wrinkles to delay the inevitable Hollywood response to such a question, I can’t imagine viewers caring much either way. Portman’s performance is solid enough to recommend it to her fans, as long as they don’t expect to come out of the theater with a smile on their faces. Conversely, one has to admire Kudrow’s continued willingness to play the foil in Roos’ pictures. – Gary Dretzka


In one of the most singular films ever made, Venezuelan filmmaker Margot Benacerraf profiles an isolated community of hard-scrabble families, who, like many generations of their ancestors, make their livings by harvesting salt from a giant marsh on the Araya Peninsula. The people we meet in “Araya,” which was made in 1959, represent the last generation of “salineros,” men, mostly, who’ve mined the pure-white mineral by hand since the marsh was discovered by Spanish colonialists in the early 1500s. The women and girls sell fish caught in the briny waters and tend the homes. At the time of its discovery, salt was so valuable a commodity that a massive fortress was built to keep outsiders from plundering the ponds. The Spanish gave up the enterprise in 1726, when a storm wiped out the salt reserves, but the fortress still looms over the Caribbean coast. The workers stayed on, however, passing down their methodology, songs and traditions as if the Spaniards had never arrived. In the early 1960s, the process would be entirely mechanized, leaving the once self-reliant community to fend for itself. The peninsula is now a tourist attraction and resort area.

Although it caused a mild sensation at the 1959 Cannes Film Festival, where it was hailed for its artistic beauty and poetic depiction of life along the marshes, “Araya” went largely unseen outside Venezuela. The national treasure was accorded international distribution in 2009, after undergoing a complete restoration. The DVD package adds commentary; a profile, during which Benacerraf returns to Araya, 50 years later; two other analytical pieces on the filmmaker; and the 1953 short documentary, “Reveron,” about the Venezuelan Impressionist painter. Oddly, “Reveron” would be Benacerraf’s only other movie. She continues to devout her time film preservation and promotion in South American. Anyone who considers himself – or herself — to be a cineaste, should immediately find a copy of “Araya” and study it.  – Gary Dretzka


The Roommate

Waiting for Forever

The only similarity between these two movies – apart from sharing a target demographic – is the presence of attractive young actresses, who, for all intents and purposes, might as well be sisters. Rachel Bilson, co-star of “Waiting for Forever” made a name for herself playing the rich and spoiled brunette in “The OC,” while Leighton Meester, co-star of “The Roommate,” continues to portray the rich and spoiled brunette in “Gossip Girl.” The shows may have been set on opposite coasts, but Bilson and Meester’s characters are cut from the same cloth. While extremely popular in their television incarnations, the undeniably beautiful and youthful looking actresses have failed to make a credible crossover to the big screen. To be fair, though, neither have their blond counterparts on the TV series, Mischa Barton and Blake Lively.

 Meester plays opposite Minka Kelly in “The Roommate,” a lifeless homage to 1992’s “Single White Female.” That thriller starred the imminently more cinematic Bridget Fonda and Jennifer Jason Leigh, and was directed by the estimable Barbet Schroeder. Given the widespread availability of “SWF” in video and on TV, it’s surprising that anyone would attempt to scare anyone with as anemic a remake as “The Roommate.” There simply are no more surprises left to be milked from “SWF.” The PG-13 rating limited how far Danish director Christian E. Christiansen could go to top the thrills and chills of Schroeder’s movie, and Meester and Kelly looked enough like each other to rule out any “Persona”-like melding of personalities. Here, Kelly’s Sara plays a Iowa hayseed, who moves to L.A. to get a leg up in the fashion racket. Meester’s Rebecca hails from nearby Beverly Hills. Where Sara is generally bright and friendly, Rebecca is obsessive and needy, especially when she’s off her meds. She scares away anyone who threatens to come between them. (A good punch in the nose probably would have sent Rebecca scurrying back to the 90210 in a flash.) Commentary on the Blu-ray edition is provided by Danish director Christian E. Christiansen, for whom “Roommate” represents his first American effort. There’s also a making-of featurette and deleted scenes.

If, like me, you go to great lengths to avoid mimes, performance artists and civilians dressed like clowns, you’ll want to steer clear of “Waiting for Forever,” as well. In the misconceived romantic dramedy, Tom Sturridge plays a street performer, Will, who always dresses like a Technicolor version of Buster Keaton and is obsessed with the childhood friend (Meester’s Emma Twist) he imagines to be in love with him. Will follows the actress from Hollywood to their Pennsylvania hometown, where her truly psychotic L.A. boyfriend also lays in wait. (Parallel stalkers, is that something new?) If that weren’t sufficient cause for distress, Emma also is required to watch her father (Richard Jenkins) endure a lingering disease and help her flakey mom (Blythe Danner) cope with the situation. Boiled down to its nub, “Waiting for Forever” wants us to believe that a kookie stalker is somehow more suitable for sainthood than a macho stalker, and street performers aren’t as dangerous as they sometimes appear to be. No one comes off particularly well in “Waiting for Forever,” but, typically, old pros Jenkins and Danner steal the show from the young’uns. – Gary Dretzka


Red White & Blue

Killer Yacht Party

Eyes of the Chameleon

Throughout much of Simon Rumley’s thriller, the primary question to be answered is, “When is something interesting going to happen?” After an early tryst with a trio of grungy Austin musicians, the movie’s protagonist, Erica (Amanda Fuller), continues to act like a sexual pin cushion … a predator, not the prey, or a full-time prostitute, either. When she isn’t tracking down her next meal, however, Erica resembles every pitiable girl we see on “Law & Order: SVU.” A red flag goes up, however, when she demands that a man she picks up not use a condom and she gets pissed off when he refuses to comply. What’s this gal up to? Finally, a potential hero rides into town in the form of a scruffy drifter, who may or may not be an Iraq War veteran being recruited by the CIA for an unspecified assignment. He’s imminently patient, strong, reasonably good-looking and willing simply to be there when Erica needs him. After a while, they become something of an item.

Things start to get interesting, though, when one of the musicians Erica entertained realizes that she’s given him one of those gifts that keep on giving, and he’s none too thrilled to receive the news. In fact, he decides to exact revenge on the newly rehabilitated Erica. When she disappears, her boyfriend embarks on a mission to track down everyone who might have seen her in the last 24 hours and get a handle on her location. Needless to say, what happens next is horrifying for everyone involved. And, that’s sort of the point British writer/director is attempting to make in “Red, White & Blue,” a movie that could remind some viewers of a trailer-park remake of “American Psycho.” In the interview included in the DVD package, Rumley cautions that not every villain looks like a monster or wears a hockey mask when he or she goes in for the kill. The girl next door, or musician down the block, could turn out to be every bit as fiendish as Jason Voorhees, Freddy Krueger or Norman Bates. Horror is as horror does.

“Red, White & Blue” makes a pretty good case for Rumley’s argument, even if it sounds elementary to anyone who goes to the movies more than twice a year. Shot digitally, the film captures both the mundane nature of everyday life in a loosey-goosy place like Austin and the spectacular beauty of a west Texas dusk and dawn. The movie didn’t get much exposure after touring the festival circuit, but horror geeks would be doing themselves a disfavor if they didn’t check out “Red, White & Blue” on DVD.

The same can’t be said for the latest pair of Troma releases, “Killer Yacht Party” and “Eyes of the Chameleon.” In the former, a corrupt nightclub owner stages an event on an ocean-going yacht haunted by the specter of a murder victim. The circumstances allow for much sexual canoodling and lots of places for young scenesters to hide before they’re brutally assaulted by parties unknown. At least, they look before they die.

“Killer Yacht Party,” at least, has the advantage of being somewhat linear. In the case of “Eyes of the Chameleon,” the many ample bosoms on display prove to be no substitute for a complete lack of logic and narrative flow. Here, a promiscuous Goth chick becomes unhinged when friends and acquaintances start dying around her and lizard-like people, with eyes on the sides of their head, begin wandering through her dreams. The verbal and physical abuse heaped on a young boy by his psycho father are almost impossible to watch, but not for the right reasons.

Indeed, the scariest thing on the “Chameleon” DVD is a featurette shot at a fan fest, where the geeks strolling down the aisles are as grotesque as any of the characters in Todd Browning’s “Freaks.” The DVDs also include Troma-esque public-service announcements, making-of featurettes and cornball bits with company co-founder Lloyd Kaufman.  – Gary Dretzka

The Hit List

Brotherhood: In or Out

Academy Award-winner Cuba Gooding Jr. has found a new home in the direct-to-DVD arena, portraying good and bad characters who play with guns for a living. In “Hit List,” his Jonas is identified early on as an assassin for an unspecified government agency. He’s deliberately blown an assignment and is being hunted down by his employers, who fear a fatal illness has dulled his edge. While nursing a drink in a Spokan tavern, Jonus makes the acquaintance of Allan (Cole Hauser), who, over the course of the last 12 hours, has been denied a promised promotion, been threatened by an evil shylock and caught his wife cheating on him with his best friend. After quite a few more cocktails, Jonas reveals the nature of his profession to his new “friend,” but Allan doesn’t believe him. As way of proof, Jonas asks him to make a list of the five people he’d most like to see dead. Playing along with the supposed gag, the designer does just that, reserving the slot at the top for his wife.

After a night spent sleeping in his car, Allan walks into his office and hears the news that his boss has been murdered. Stunned, he takes the precaution of discovering where the next victim – a rival at work – could be and sets out to warn him. Oops, too late. This time, though, Jonas has killed a cop and revealed himself to surveillance cameras. Before peeling out, he grabs Allan and reminds him of their deal. To avoid further bloodshed, the hit man says his friend will have to take him out himself. As “Hit List” progresses, more and more cops and bad guys are slain, finally leaving Allan’s wife as the ultimate target. Gun nuts will appreciate the arsenal of firepower put at Jonas’ disposal and the skill with which he dispatches his victims. Action specialist William Kaufman keeps the action flowing at a brisk clip, by keeping the moralizing to a minimum and making sure Jonas wastes as few bullets as is possible.

In “Brotherhood: In or Out,” a fraternity initiation ritual goes haywire, leaving the brothers – in the Greek, not African-American sense of the word — in a world of foreseeable trouble. Two people are wounded in a faux holdup of a convenience store and no one at the frat house wants to be implicated in the mess. Instead of facing the music, by simply taking the two wounded people to a hospital and copping to their stupid prank, the frat elders elect to call a doctor they know and ask him to perform surgery at the house. They also demand that two of the pledges return to the scene of the crime to recover a surveillance tape and erase any other incriminating evidence. This, too, backfires on them. The closer to total disaster the pledges come, the more their underdeveloped ethical code is tested. “Brotherhood” offers little new to the action genre, but, in his feature debut, writer/director Will Canon avoids all the usual pitfalls of the genre by making 90-degree turns in the narrative flow whenever things start bogging down. – Gary Dretzka


Pale Flower: Criterion Collection 

Fat Girl: Criterion Collection  

Diabolique: Criterion Collection

Solaris: Criterion Collection

May is a particularly bountiful month for collectors of true international classics. Most arrive in nifty Blu-ray editions or pristine DVD form, and all are welcome.

 Released in April, 1946, Vittorio de Sica must have begun work on “Shoeshine” at about the same time as the bodies of Benito Mussolini and his mistress, Clara Petacci, were being hung, upside-side on meathooks, outside a petrol station in Milan. Il Duce was long gone from the capital, but Rome and Naples were still in ruins, some of which are visible in the background of the movie. The protagonists of the story are a pair of street urchins, Giuseppe and Pasquale, who accept an assignment from black-market hoodlums to get the money necessary to buy a horse. Failing to nail the real culprits, police arrest the boys and throw them into a prison overflowing with similarly troubled youths. Although the boys have sworn not to implicate the gangsters, police extract their names from Pasquale, by pretending to beat the tar out of Giuseppe. His friend, whose brother set them up for the bust, doesn’t appreciate the gesture and begins palling around with a different set of hoodlums. The leader knows the real score and tries to keep Pasquale away from the easily duped kid.

The prison probably would have looked the same, no matter who won the war: overcrowded, unsupplied and administered by fascists. Instead of rehabilitating the youthful inmates, or trying to scare the bejesus out of them, the warden pretty much leaves them to their own devices and steals everything of value that isn’t nailed down. This post-Darwinism has an especially negative impact on kids who lost their parents in the war and had to resort to petty crime or begging for favors from American G.I.’s for survival. In “Shoeshine,” the first foreign film to win an Academy Award, a final betrayal leads to a tragedy almost dictated by the gods of war. The DVD restoration adds much to our enjoyment of the 65-year-old film, considered to be the first example of neo-realism. Author Bert Cardullo adds a full-length audio commentary for the feature.

Masahiro Shinoda’s “Pale Flower” is another shining example of Japanese film noir from the mid-1960s, and, in Blu-ray, a true revelation. The story documents the efforts of a Yakuza henchman to get back into the game after spending three years in prison for committing a gang-related murder. While attempting to re-connect with his former cohorts, Muraki (Ryo Ikebe) partakes in a game of chance at an underground gambling den. Opposite him is a pretty, young woman about to break a months-long losing streak. Gamblers’ logic would suggest that Muraki brought Saeko (Mariko Kaga) the luck she needs to justify entering higher-risk games and he knows where one can be found. Clearly, the charge one gets from putting large amounts of money at risk is more seductive for the woman than simply winning it and walking away with a profit, a psychosis Shinoda captures magnificently. When Saeko begins taking chances away from the tables, Muraki knows he’s also being led into the danger zone. If we didn’t recognize this from what we see on screen, the modernistic soundtrack would have signaled the turning point. The Criterion Collection Blu-ray package has been digitally restored and comes with new video interview with Shinoda, who describes how “Pale Flower” helped break the hold studios once had on Japanese directors. It also contains audio commentary with film scholar Peter Grilli, co-producer of “Music for the Movies: Toru Takemitsu”; the original theatrical trailer; a new subtitle translation; and a new essay by critic Chuck Stephens.

Released in 2001, “Fat Girl” is Catherine Breillat’s uncompromising study of two girls on opposite sides of the sexual divide that comes with puberty.  It’s also a movie that asks us to consider the possibility men and women will never be able to overcome differences caused by the physical and mental imperatives of human sexuality. The title character is 12-year-old Anaïs, whose appearance often makes her the butt of jokes and insults, even from members of her own family. Her 15-year-old sister, Elena, is thin, pretty and about to buy into the lies told by boys to get into pants of teenage girls.  While the girls are on vacation, Anaïs is required to witness Elena’s unabashed flirting with Fernando, an Italian law student, and, then, pretend she’s sleeping the young man deflowers the teenage girl. It’s no thing of beauty, that’s for sure. Breillat also seems to be leading us by the nose to an ending that suits her cynical mistrust of male-female relations, which combines elements of lust, provocation and horror. Her misgivings are reflected not only in the making-of featurette and interviews, but also in her decision to write and direct a separate movie, “Sex Is Comedy,” about some of the things that happened during the creation of “Fat Girl.”  The set adds a booklet, featuring an essay by film scholar Ginette Vincendeau, a 2001 interview with Breillat and a piece by Breillat on the title.

It would be accurate to call Henri-Georges Clouzot’s “Diabolique” Hitchcockian, even if both directors were contemporaries who found similar ways to blend elements of crime and horror into an entertaining whole product. Indeed, it’s said that Clouzot acquired the rights to the source material — Pierre Boileau and Thomas Narcejac’s novel “Celle qui n’était plus” (“She Who Was No More”) –only hours before Alfred Hitchcock was prepared to buy them. (The same writers would later provide Hitch with the source material for “Vertigo.”)  In “Diabolique,” the wife (Vera Clouzot) and mistress (Simone Signoret) of an abusive headmaster at a provincial boarding school mutually plot his murder and conceive an alibi they consider to be air-tight. The killing goes off as planned, but the alibi falls apart when the victim’s body disappears. Tension builds as students report seeing their missing principal in the school yard and a detective begins snooping around the places where clues are hidden. The ending is a stunner. The new digital restoration comes with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack; commentary by French-film scholar Kelley Conway; new video interviews with Serge Bromberg, co-director of Clouzot’s, “Inferno,” and horror film expert Kim Newman; and a booklet, with a new essay by critic Terrence Rafferty.

What can one add to any discussion of one of the most enigmatic and beautifully rendered movies ever made, except to say that Andrei Tarkovsky’s “Solaris” looks even more amazing on Blu-ray than it did in DVD and video, and is loaded with bonus features? Created as a Soviet answer to “2001: A Space Odyssey” – and adapted from a novel by Stanislaw Lem — “Solaris” has proven to be an even more challenging vehicle for exploration of Outer and Inner Space than Stanley Kubrick’s gem, and its visual effects are every bit as fantastic. The Blu-ray edition adds high-definition digital restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack; an audio essay by Tarkovsky scholars Vida Johnson and Graham Petrie; nine deleted and alternate scenes; video interviews with actress Natalya Bondarchuk, cinematographer Vadim Yusov, art director Mikhail Romadin, and composer Eduard Artemyev; an excerpt from a documentary about Lem; and a booklet with an essay by critic Phillip Lopate and an appreciation by director Akira Kurosawa. Like the other pictures mentioned here, it shouldn’t be missed. – Gary Dretzka

Manchurian Candidate: Blu-ray

Misfits: Blu-ray

Some Like It Hot: Blu-ray

Beverly Hills Cop: Blu-ray

These Hollywood classics, all of which have stood the test of time and shifting tastes, arrive in Blu-ray looking better than ever and, with one exception, full of bonus features, albeit mostly culled from previous standard-definition editions.

Given our continuing fear of deep-cover Al Qaeda agents hiding in plain sight in neighborhoods just like yours and mine, “The Manchurian Candidate,” is no less relevant today than it was during the Cold War. It’s the original paranoid political thriller and still packs a wallop. The package includes commentary by director John Frankenheimer; a group interview with star Frank Sinatra, screenwriter George Axelrod and Frankenheimer; a separate interview with Angela Lansbury; an appreciation by director William Friedkin; another short making-of piece, with Lansbury; and an outtake from the Friedkin interview.

The Misfits” may not come with any bonus features, but it still can boast of a cast that includes Clark Gable and Marilyn Monroe, in their last film roles, Montgomery Clift, Eli Wallach and Thelma Ritter; the directorial genius of John Huston; and words of playwright Arthur Miller. More than being a western about the closing of the west, “The Misfits” describes how the spirits of devil-may-care American individualists, even in the early 1960s, were being broken as if they were just so many wild mustangs in the Nevada desert. The black-and-white cinematography really pops in hi-def, as does the score. More than anything else, though, “The Misfits” is a reminder of a time when Hollywood wasn’t afraid to push the envelope on adult-oriented dramas every now and then. It also makes us miss such larger-than-life actors as Monroe, Gable and Clift more than we thought possible. Quite simply, there’s no one around who can fill a screen as well as they did.

Monroe also is terrific in Billy Wilder’s outrageous “Some Like It Hot,” one of the funniest and most brilliantly conceived comedies of all time. Collectors will have to settle for the hi-def upgrade, as the bonus material has appeared in previous editions of the movie. For the record, it includes audio commentary by screenwriter I.A.L. Diamond’s son, Paul Diamond, along with that of Lowell Ganz and Babaloo Mandel, and snippets from archival interviews with Tony Curtis and Jack Lemmon; the featurettes, “The Making of ‘Some Like It Hot,’” “The Legacy of ‘Some Like It Hot,’” “A Nostalgic Look Back” and “Memories From the Sweet Sues”; and an extensive stills and clips gallery.

The first “Beverly Hills Cop” was an often hilarious, fish-out-of-water action-comedy about a street-savvy Detroit cop – black, of course – who comes to La-La Land to close a murder investigation. Instead, he primarily manages to cause a 7.5 temblor in one of the most willing-to-please and well-financed police departments in the world. It also proved that Eddie Murphy could carry a movie all by himself, without having to share the bill with a white star such as Nick Nolte, Dan Aykroyd or Dudley Moore. The premise was so simple it opened the door for the dozen other vaguely ironic comedies with “Beverly Hills” in the title. Here, the bonus package includes commentary by director Martin Brest; a featurette on the history of the “Beverly Hills Cop” franchise; a look at the casting process and soundtrack; and an interactive location map. – Gary Dretzka

Sons of the City: New York: Blu-ray

As we come to the end of another NBA season, the league is compensating for the absence of any New York area team in the semi-finals by sending out this DVD, which reminds us of the many great players who emerged from Gotham. The ones featured in  “Sons of the City: New York” include Bob Cousy, Dolph Schayes, Tiny Archibald, Kareem Abdul-Jabbar, Connie Hawkins, Bernard King and Chris Mullin. No argument from me on that count. I would have guessed the list would be twice as long, but these official league products are tough to figure out sometimes. With the possible exception of the WWE, no one repackages its archival material as well as the NBA. So, if this one clicks, prepare for similar products honoring players from Chicago, L.A., Washington and other cities. Let’s hope no one forgets the state of Indiana or, for that matter, Lithuania and the former Yugoslavia. The Blu-ray package adds even more interviews and jock talk. – Gary Dretzka

Thor: Tales of Asgard: Blu-ray

The folks at Lionsgate apparently waited for the release of the live-action “Thor: The God of Thunder,” by Paramount/Marvel, before sending out their own animated “Thor” feature, which has been sitting around since 2009. “Tales of Asgard,” which is targeted at a younger demographic than the Kenneth Branagh-directed action-adventure, fills us in on the formative years of the Nordic superhero, before he picked his mighty hammer. Here, the ambitious teenager is in pursuit of the Lost Sword of Surtur. Along for the ride is his brother Loki, a sorcerer in training. Beyond that quest, Thor and Loki are required to save the center of the Norse universe, Asgard, from destruction. The Blu-ray package adds separate audio commentary with supervising producer Craig Kyle and screenwriter Greg Johnson, and supervising director Gary Hartle, animation director Sam Liu and character designer Phil Bourassa; the making-of featurette, “Worthy: The Making of ‘Thor: Tales of Asgard’” ; and a bonus episode of  “The Avengers: Earth’s Mightiest Heroes,” a new TV series. – Gary Dretzka

South Riding

The Twilight Zone: Season 4: Blu-ray

Nickelodeon Favorites: Food With Friends

Splat the Cat & Other Furry Friends

No sooner did the “Masterpiece Classic” edition of “South Riding” end its run on PBS than comes the original BBC version, which is an hour longer and probably makes a bit more sense than the one shown here. Andrew Davies, who’s adapted virtually every English literary classic (and some that weren’t), penned the teleplay based on Winifred Holtby’s acclaimed novel, published after her death in 1935. David Morrissey and Anna Maxwell Martin star in the story of a Depression-era Yorkshire town, bubbling over with political intrigue, financial schemes, forbidden and unrequited love, and small-town prejudices. Martin plays headmistress Sarah Burton, who tries to keep her most brilliant student from becoming mired in a life consumed by menial chore and other mindless labor, and the guardianship of her siblings. Morrissey portrays Robert Carne, gentleman farmer and landlord, whose financial troubles make him seem somehow less despicable to Sarah. Once again, modern big-city ideas come into conflict with the conservation tradition of rural Brits. The Yorkshire scenery is lovely, of course, and the acting can’t be beat.

Fans of the original “Twilight Zone” now can enjoy all 18 episodes of the fourth season in hi-def. Knowing that most of them already own complete sets in DVD and VHS, the folks at Image Entertainment have raised the ante by including several hours’ worth of new and exclusive bonus features. They include 13 new audio commentaries with such writers and historians as Marc Scott Zicree, Gary Gerani, Earl Hamner, William F. Nolan, Bill Warren, Jeff Vlaming, Joseph Dougherty, Scott Skelton, Jim Benson and Jaime Paglia. There also are vintage interviews with director of photography George T. Clemens and such stars as Morgan Brittany, Anne Francis, Paul Comi and John Furia Jr.; seven radio dramas, with Blair Underwood, Jason Alexander, Lou Diamond Phillips, H.M. Wynant, Mike Starr, Barry Bostwick and John Ratzenberger; isolated Scores for all 18 episodes; and much Rod Serling memorabilia. Among the episodes are “In His Image,” “The Thirty Fathom Grave,” “Valley of the Shadow,” “No Time Like the Past” and “I Dream of Genie.”

Food With Friends” is for kids who don’t mind being babysat by characters from such hit Nickelodeon series as “Dora the Explorer,” “Go, Diego, Go!,” “The Wonder Pets!,” “Blue’s Clues,” “Yo Gabba Gabba!” and “Ni Hao, Kai-lan.” The episodes explore and celebrate the food and culinary traditions of countries around the globe. Also in the “Food with Friends” package is a pair of music videos from Team Umizoomi. 

The same youngsters should enjoy Scholastic’s “Splat the Cat & Other Furry Friends.” It contains 14 stories collected from the archives of “Splat the Cat,” “The Story About Ping” and “The Napping House.” There’s also an interview with “Splat the Cat” author/illustrator Rob Scotton, a Spanish-language version of “The Story About Ping” and read-alongs. – Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: The Rite, Araya, Freedom Riders, Shoeshine, Pale Flower, Solaris, The Other Woman, The Roommate …”

  1. Whoa, many thanks for this data. Superb to grasp men and women will be helpful together with going over in by using this method. I wish to go to the much more similar to this in the near future.


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