MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Red Riding Hood, Hall Pass, Jackass 3.5, Legend of the Fist, Kill the Irishman, Intolerance, The Makioka Sisters …

Red Riding Hood: Blu-ray

If the word, “Little,” is conspicuously absent from the title of Catherine Hardwicke’s retelling of the venerable fairy tale, it’s probably because, 1) American lawmakers, parents and ratings boards are made queasy by the portrayal of sexual-awakening among “little” girls in the movies, and 2) there’s nothing remotely “little” about Amanda Seyfried, the blond beauty who’s the object of the Big Bad Werewolf’s affection here. For the last several hundred years, “Little Red Riding Hood” has been told and re-told by the parents of young girls as a cautionary tale, alerting them to the dangers of talking to strangers and, more specifically, opening their hearts to the advances of handsome young men. Freudians would put their own spin to the folk tale, suggesting that the primary difference between horny teenage boys, pedophiles and lustful werewolves is their grooming. In Neil Jordan’s not entirely dissimilar interpretation, “The Company of Wolves,” little Rosaleen was quickly approaching 13 and her grandmother had already warned to be wary of men whose eyebrows met in the middle of their foreheads.

Being noticeably older, Seyfried’s Valerie is well aware of her own sexuality and the sensual appeal of shirtless young men wielding axes in the forest. A wolf is targeting women in the medieval village, but not for overtly lustful reasons. He merely seems to be hungry and pissed off. After the murder that opens “Red Riding Hood,” men in the remote village trace a wolf’s paw prints back to a mountain cave and kill it. Thinking that their problem is solved, they parade the beast’s head around the village as if it were the Stanley Cup. Their revelry is dampened by the arrival of Father Solomon (Gary Oldman), who advises the townsfolk that the head belonged to an actual wolf, not that of the werewolf he’s been chasing in the wake of a lupine attack on his wife and her subsequent death. A battle royal ensues when the real Big Bad Wolf returns, killing several more villagers but sparing the life of Valerie, with whom he verbally shares a confidence. Given that Hardwicke helmed the first “Twilight” installment, it’s safe to assume that the producers of “Red Riding Hood” wanted it to appeal to the same demographic. Without giving anything away, though, this particular werewolf is cut from an entirely different cloth. For this particular conceit to have worked, the studio would have been forced to settle for a rating a bit harder than PG-13.

I’m guessing that “Red Riding Hood” will fare better commercially on DVD and Blu-ray than it did in theaters, where it underperformed … at least, when forced to compensate for a budget north of $40 million. Hardwicke’s costume choices and set designs help make the movie more appealing than it would be otherwise, and Julie Christie’s turn as Grandmother is lots of fun to watch, as well. It’s almost worth the cost of a rental to watch Valerie escape into the mountains of British Columbia, with the 20-foot-long train of her brilliant red hoodie contrasted against the pure white snow. (At this point, viewers are encouraged to interpret the imagery however their twisted little minds desire.) The DVD offers several making-of featurettes, as well as a history of the “Little Red Riding Hood” tale. — Gary Dretzka


Hall Pass: Enlarged: Blu-ray

Jackass 3.5: The Unrated Movie

 In the not too distant past, Bobby and Peter Farrelly ruled the realm of gross-out comedy as much as Judd Apatow does in 2011. Ever since the release of “There’s Something About Mary,” however, the brothers have mostly failed to merge their ability to manipulate basic rom-com conceits with a sense humor most reasonable people would agree is in outrageously bad taste. The gags in “There’s Something About Mary,” “Kingpin” and “Dumber & Dumber” worked as well as they did because they came so unexpectedly out of left field. No one, for example, could have anticipated how long the Farrellys would able to stretch out what the old junk-caught-in-the-zipper sight gag, making it funnier as it went along. Nor was it possible to imagine that anyone would invent a scene in which a beautiful young woman would confuse jizz for hair gel. If nothing quite so surprising occurs in “Hall Pass,” there’s enough laugh-out-loud material for it to qualify as the Farrellys’ best film “Mary.”

The premise upon which the movie is built is as familiar as the concept behind “open marriages.” Here, Owen Wilson plays a likable suburbanite whose wife doesn’t buy his assertion that it’s perfectly normal for a man approaching 40 — or any age, for that matter — to ogle the boobs and butt of an attractive young stranger. Fed up with her husband’s many distractions, the wife (Jenna Malone) hopes he’ll get such misbehavior out of his system, if she hands him a “hall pass” from fidelity for a week. Jason Sudeikis and Christina Applegate play their best friends, who also go along with the scheme, which includes the proviso that what’s good for the goose also is good for the gander. Needless to say, the men have far worse luck engaging in meaningless relationships than do their wives. Their fails are far funnier to watch, however, because the hotties they hit upon are half their age, and, of course, there’s no fool like an old fool. Toss in the occasional dick and diarrhea gag and you have comedy gold. The “Enlarged Edition” comes with the original theatrical (why bother?), a deleted scene and gag reel, and BD-Live capability.

Of course, there are those among us for whom the Farrelly brothers’ humor has simply grown too lame and obvious. I’m speaking, of course, about fans of the “Jackass” team, which continues to test the borders of sanity and appropriate behavior in the name of entertainment. For all intents and purposes, “Jackass 3.5” is more of them same old stuff, except, this time, with more threats to the lads’ genitals and lower intestines. The pranks include taping a snapping alligator turtle to a long piece of wood and extending it to the buttocks of volunteers. And, yes, the results are as shocking as they are predictable … and, yes, hilarious. Other tests of courage include “Barrel Surfing,” “Enema Long Jump,” “Belt Sander Skates,” “Dildo Bazooka,” “Electric Limbo” and “Fart Dart.” By now, the Jackass crew seems to perform more for its own benefit than to amuse fans, even to the point where you’d think the guys would do this stuff for free. Still, anyone unable to laugh out loud at one or two of these outrageous stunts might want to check his pulse.

Also included is the documentary, “Jackass: the Beginning,” in which Johnny Knoxville, Spike Jonze and Jeff Tremaine trace the group’s roots and development as a TV series. It offers clips from the early years of the MTV show, as well as raw skate videos, a bunch of deleted scenes from “3.5” and material from their promotional tour of Europe, in support of the 3-D movie. — Gary Dretzka


Legend of the Fist: The Return of Chen Zhen: Blu-ray

From where I sit, the key differences between the martial-arts masters we meet in movies from Hong Kong and the homegrown comic-book superheroes now dominating the American cinema are their choices of weapons and costumes. Kung-fu fighters don’t require Spandex to work their magic and their superpowers generally are limited to what can be accomplished with hands, feet and the occasional stick or sword. “Legend of the Fist” merges both schools by expanding on the time-honored legend of Chen Zhen, who famously took on the Japanese occupiers as revenge for the death of his teacher. It also pays homage to Bruce Lee, who played Chen Zhen in “Fist of Fury.” In a departure from Hong Kong tradition, the protagonist of “Legend of the Fist” dons a costume — practically a copy of Lee’s uniform, as Kato, in the “Green Hornet” TV series — to disguise his true identity from Chinese mobsters and soldiers, as well as the Japanese occupiers who consider their fighting disciplines superior to those taught in China.

 In this version of the legend, Chen Zhen is among a group of Chinese soldiers sent to France to fight on the side of the Allies against Germany in World War I. Instead of being welcomed as fighters, they were relegated to performing chores and digging ditches. When these laborers find themselves trapped between advancing Huns and fleeing French troops, they follow Chen Zhen’s lead by employing martial-arts techniques in hand-to-hand combat. Chen Zhen decides that this would be a perfect time to adopt a new identity and become known for something other than fighting, so word is sent out that he died in combat. Several years later, he takes a job in a Shanghai nightclub that caters to the international community. Just as everyone living and passing through Casablanca during World War II met at Rick’s, everyone stationed in Shanghai in the turbulent 1920s meets at the Casablanca nightclub. In addition to western-style music, showgirls and beverages, the Casablanca provides a safe middle ground for Chinese, Japanese, American and British diplomats, military officers, spies and ex-pats. Shanghai mobsters conspire with and against Chinese military leaders, while Japanese officers prepare for the coming invasion by preparing a list of potential troublemakers to eliminate.

Taking a cue from “The Masked Warrior,” playing at the local Bijou, Chen Zhen dons the mask and chauffeur’s uniform to fight the bad guys and keep his identity secret. Less easy to handle are the duplicitous showgirls, who are as dangerous as they are sexy. Genre purists likely will miss the wall-to-wall action that typifies other Hong Kong fighting epics. Casual fans, however, should enjoy the period settings and intrigue as much as the kung fu. It’s that kind of a picture. In Blu-ray, the bright lights and neon colors of the Shanghai set really pop. The bonus materials include behind-the-scenes material and an optional English dub. — Gary Dretzka


Kill the Irishman

 The common myth surrounding organized crime in America is that it was an Italian thing, whose investments, in large part, were backed by Jewish money. “The Godfather” demonstrated how that arrangement worked … and didn’t work. Truth is, though, organized crime has long been an ecumenical exercise. Hollywood took its sweet time acknowledging it. “American Gangster” reminded us of the African-American kingpins who dominated the heroin trade in New York and other big cities in the 1960s and 1970s, while “Gangs of New York” argued that Irish thugs controlled Manhattan decades before the Black Hand took control of Little Italy. In “State of Grace,” we met their descendents. Traditionally, too, the settings for crime movies has been limited to New York, Chicago, Las Vegas, Miami and, lately, Boston. Cleveland doesn’t spring immediately to mind when depicting hotbeds of mob activity. And, yet, the Ohio city served as a breeding ground for criminals who would expand their empires to include the entertainment industry, the Teamsters and other unions, Las Vegas and the financing of criminal activities around the country.

 “Kill the Irishman” chronicles the saga of Daniel Greene, a real-life maverick who went toe-to-toe with established Cleveland mobsters in an effort to control the longshoreman’s union, garbage hauling and other criminal activities. Although born in the U.S., Greene fancied himself as a “Celtic warrior,” whose invincibility was an inherited trait. There was nothing subtle about Greene or his methodology. He was a thug from Day One and fearless, to boot. Jonathan Hensleigh’s no-frills bio-pic is informed by voluminous news coverage and law-enforcement files. Irish actor Ray Stevenson portrays him in much the same way he did the powerful legionnaire Titus Pullo, in the HBO series, “Rome.” Indeed, Greene’s ability to thwart more a dozen assassination attempts made him something of a folk hero in Cleveland.

 “Kill the Irishman” is also interesting for its depiction of mob activities in northeastern Ohio during the period. In 1976, alone, nearly 40 bombs were detonated in the war between Greene and the Mafia. We also learn how the famous “omerta” vow of silence already was becoming a joke among gangsters willing to rat out their cohorts to stay out of jail. Federal agents exploited holes in the honor code by shelling out tens of thousands of dollars to killers and their bosses, who, in exchange for the occasional leak, were allowed to continue breaking the law. (Among the informers in Cleveland were Greene, his assassin and Jackie Presser, leader of the Teamsters. In Boston, the infamous “Whitey” Bulger traded information with the feds, who even gave him the names of informants willing to testify against him.) Stevenson’s excellent, but Hensleigh’s supporting cast makes “Kill the Irishman” something different and special. It includes Val Kilmer, as fat cop, Christopher Walken, Vincent D’Onofrio, Paul Sorvino, Steven Schirripa, Tony Lo Bianco, Vinnie Jones, Robert Davi, Bob Gunton, Mike Starr, Linda Cardellini, Fionulla Flanagan and Laura Ramsey. The DVD includes a feature-length biodoc on Greene, with testimony from friends, family, reporters, a retired mob enforcer and a police official, who considered the gangster to be a friend. It’s fascinating and should be considered must-viewing for anyone interested in the subject matter. — Gary Dretzka

Insignificance: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

The Makioka Sisters: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

 If movies were reviewed according to their degree of difficulty to comprehend, as well as acting, writing, cinematography and direction, Nicolas Roeg’s films would be in the same category with diving’s “reverse 2½ somersaults with 2½ twists in pike position” and the quadruple jump in ice skating. Decades after the release of such titles as “Performance,” “Don’t Look Now,” “The Man Who Fell to Earth,” “Walkabout,” “Bad Timing: A Sensual Obsession” and “Eureka” critics and buffs still debate their meaning and relevance. “Insignificance” was a bit different in that it originated on the London stage and featured portrayals of real-life newsmakers whose names were disguised by generic descriptions of their roles in life. Thus, the Professor clearly was Albert Einstein; Marilyn Monroe, the Actress; Joe Dimaggio, the Ballplayer; and Joseph McCarthy, the Senator (played respectively by Michael Emil, Theresa Russell, Gary Busey and Tony Curtis).

 All four of the characters would meet on a steamy summer night in Manhattan, in the hotel suite of the Professor. The room was littered with pieces of paper, upon which were scribbled mathematical calculations and artifacts of nuclear physics. The Actress had just been filmed standing over a sidewalk grate, with a blast of air causing her dress to billow like a parachute over her milky thighs. Her husband, the Ballplayer, follows the Actress as she escapes the crowd in a limousine, fearing she’ll be making a beeline for another man’s apartment, which, of course, she does. The Senator is serving a subpoena on the Professor, demanding he pledge his allegiance to the flag before a committee. No fan of Cold War politics, the Professor plans to attend an anti-war conference, instead.

What these characters have in common is a place on the top of the totem pole in their respective professions. They are admired as much for their celebrity, itself, as for their accomplishments. They are not the Kardashians and Snookis of their day or flashes in the pan. They are significant human beings, even if their familiarity with each other is based on clichés and what can be discerned in a quick perusal of the New York Times. The clash of personalities results both in unexpectedly tender moments, such as when the Actress explains the theory of relativity to the Professor using toy trucks and rocket ships, and some incredibly sad ones, as well. Witnessing the Ballplayer obsess over his baseball-card collection and the Actress’ nightmare miscarriage is the opposite of glamour. “Insignificance” isn’t nearly as visual a treat as Roeg’s other work, but the acting can’t be beat. The Blu-ray arrives with new interviews, a vintage making-of featurette and essays.

 Released in 1983, but not making much of a splash here, “The Makioka Sisters” was adapted from a novel by Junichiro Tanizaki by the excellent Japanese director Kon Ichikawa (“The Burmese Harp,” “Fires on the Plain”). It is the story of a close-knit quartet family of sisters raised on the considerable profits of their late father’s kimono manufacturing business. Two are married, but the youngest is restricted from following her heart until the third sister is married and her share of the common dowry is distributed by the oldest sister, who serves as the executor of her father’s will. The time frame spans the spring of 1938, when the sisters to marvel at Osaka’s explosion of cherry blossoms, to the end of the ominous winter of 1939. War has broken out in Manchuria and threatens to spread further … not that it has much affect on the sisters … yet.

 Their primary concern is arranging a marriage for the third daughter, who is both shy and picky. Meanwhile, the youngest is losing patience with each passing day. Instead of sitting around the family home, lording over the servants and gossiping, she has entered into a doll-making business and shows other signs of rejecting upper-class traditions. As the restless sister, she seems to represent a shift in priority for Japanese young people. It would be interrupted by the Emperor’s call to slaughter, but the genie already had escaped the lantern. Most of that goes unstated, though, as “The Makioka Sisters” remains firmly rooted in its own present. Ichikawa’s ability to capture this moment of time so exquisitely is what makes this movie such a worthwhile experience. It’s amusing, touching, sad and joyous, in almost equal measures. The love between the sisters is palpable, but so, too, is the passing of literal and figurative time. The Blu-ray is a visual treat, as it describes the amazing natural beauty of the region and glory of seasonal change. The kimono collection is pretty smashing, as well. The Blu-ray comes with a booklet of essays. — Gary Dretzka


 Fall Down Dead

The only good reasons for seeking out “Fall Down Dead” are appearances by Udo Kier and the long-dead David Carradine. They don’t expend much energy here, but completists tend not to be fussy. Kier plays a mad slasher who kills beautiful women with a razor and uses their blood and trimmings in his paintings … thus the nickname, the Picasso Killer. He’s especially drawn to a pretty young waitress and single mother, Christie, played by Dominique Swain. On Christmas Eve, Christie finds herself trapped inside a darkened office building with an ancient security guard (Carradine), some doubtful cops and the Picasso Killer. Somehow, given the potential of such a scenario and high body count, “Fall Down Dead” is both highly predictable and not a bit scary. – Gary Dretzka

 Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son

Clearly, there’s a ready audience for movies in which African-American men in drag portray overweight and overbearing African-American women. Tyler Perry’s Madea may be the best-known such character, but Martin Lawrence’s Big Momma has her own army of loyalists. Before them came Eddie Murphy’s Grandma Klump and Flip Wilson’s more fit, Geraldine. (Some old-timers insist Moms Mabley could qualify in this category.) I’m not partial to drag humor, but ticket sales don’t lie. In “Big Mommas: Like Father, Like Son,” FBI agent Malcolm Turner (Lawrence) is required to dust off his Big Momma disguise, after his musician stepson, Trent, witnesses a murder committed by Russian mobsters and is forced to take refuge at Atlanta’s Female School of the Arts. To blend in with other students, he assumes the identity of singer-songwriter Charmaine. After getting used to wearing a dress, Trent learns to enjoy life in the women’s dorm. He bonds with a pretty singer, who naturally assumes he’s a she, and can’t resist the temptation to introduce himself to her off-campus and in men’s clothes. Unwisely, Trent agrees to perform a duet with her at the school’s talent show. The Russians have crashed the concert, discovering along with Haley that Charmaine’s a fraud.

“Like Father, Like Son” couldn’t be any more predictable or lightweight an entertainment. Wisely, director John Whitesell rips a page from the “Glee” playbook, adding some impromptu performance numbers to liven up the proceedings. The best sight gag comes when Big Momma engages in a game of Twister with a robustly build security guard (Faizon Love). If the rest of the movie was half as funny, it might have amounted to something. – Gary Dretzka


 Rashida Jones is such an appealing young actor that it’s sometimes difficult to separate her natural charm from the attributes and limitations of her characters. Such is the case in “Monogamy,” a romantic drama in which she plays a promising singer-songwriter engaged to a wedding photographer who doesn’t display the common sense God gave a mollusk. To make ends meet and exercise his creative muscles, Theo (Chris Messina) occasionally moonlights as a voyeur-for-hire. Clients pay him good money to follow them around Brooklyn and photograph them as they go about the daily routines. A female client uses the occasion to masturbate in public and turn tricks in darkened parking lots. Her activities stimulate Theo’s curiosity and libido, threatening his relationship with Nat. Just as Theo’s about to ruin the best thing he’s ever had, fate steps into the picture to clarify his options. “Monogamy” lacks both the heft and credibility to compete with other indie romances at their own game. Maybe, if Nat was more of a bitch, Theo’s kinky infatuation could be justified. As it is, Rashida Jones’ presence is the only thing to recommend it. – Gary Dretzka

When They Were Young: Blu-ray

 Now that the 2010-11 NBA season has come to an abrupt and surprising end, the attention of all basketball fans turns to the draft and next generation of pro players. “When They Were Young” returns to the graduating class that included the Heat’s LeBron James and Dwayne Wade and the Maverick’s Dirk Nowitsky, among other future stars. The promise of the title isn’t realized in the content, as most of the footage comes from the players early years in the NBA and not high school, college or AAU events. That’s what made Kristopher Belman’s James biodoc, “More Than a Game,” such a fascinating film, anyway. Still, NBA junkies should find enough material here to keep their minds occupied for an hour, or so. Also represented are Shaquille O’Neal, Kevin Garnett, Kobe Bryant, Chris Paul and Tim Duncan, whose Caribbean upbringing and willingness to stay at Wake Forest for four years makes for the most compelling vignette. – Gary Dretzka


 Laws of Gravity

High School Hellcats

The Girl in Black Stockings

 Among the no-frill packages offered this month in MGM’s manufactured-on-demand service are a pair of black-and-white dramas from the 1950s and a rarely seen crime picture with actors who would go on to enjoy substantial careers. The most familiar face in Nick Gomez’ debut, “Laws of Gravity,” is Edie Falco, who, of course, would make a name for herself as Tony Soprano’s long-suffering wife and the junkie nurse in “Nurse Jackie.” In fact, her streetwise Denise in “Laws of Gravity” could have grown up to become Carmela or Jackie. In it, she plays the girlfriend of a petty Brooklyn crook, Jimmy, played by Peter Greene. Although he doesn’t aspire to being anything more than a minor-league hoodlum, Jimmy does appear to have such something resembling a heart in his chest. His other buddies are far less worthwhile.

“Laws of Gravity” plays very much like a non-Italian “Mean Streets,” in that the male characters spend most of their time hanging out in a seedy tavern and dreaming of pulling off the one Big Score that would allow them to retire at 30. They don’t dress nearly as well as the Italians, however. It’s an interesting film, especially for the performances of up-and-coming actors and the unsparing representation of life in a different borough of New York. In the 1950s, movies about juvenile delinquents were a staple of drive-in triple-bills. While exploiting the phenomenon, the pictures served as cautionary tales for a generation made restless by the threat of nuclear war and the very real possibility of being chained to a desk or factory machine for the rest of their productive lives.

A variation on the theme can be found in “Hell School Hellcats,” an inadvertently hilarious portrayal of girls trying to be as tough and lawless as their male counterparts. The problem here is that the teenagers don’t look much more threatening than the average Girl Scout troop. Indeed, one of the initiation rites requires a new girl to wear slacks to school. Still, cultists could have a field day with “High School Hellcats.”

“The Girl in Black Stockings” is a noirish murder mystery, set in a summer resort in Utah at about the same time as nuclear tests were being conducted next-door, in Nevada. Among the suspects in the killing of guests is a pretty young therapist played by a very young Anne Bancroft. The whodunit also stars Lex Baxter and Mamie Van Doren, and, as the polar opposite of Bancroft, she provides reason enough for checking the movie out. – Gary Dretzka


 Elvira’s Movie Macabre

 Crash and Burn/Robot Wars: Double Feature

Gordon’s War/Off Limits: Double Feature

 Marvel Knights: Spider-Woman Agent of S.W.O.R.D.

 I’m not willing to go out on a limb on the question of how much of a debt is owed Cassandra Peterson – a.k.a., Elvira: Mistress of the Dark – by the space cases at “Mystery Science Theater 3000,” or even if the “Movie Macabre” conceit was borrowed from some other horror host. Growing up in Milwaukee, I loved watching Dr. Cadaverino (Jack DuBlon) introduce the same B-movies later introduced by Elvira and the crew of the Satellite of Love. I can’t recall if he provided voice-over commentary, but the show’s interstitial shtick was priceless. Elvira was introduced to Los Angeles audiences in 1981 and, for two very good reasons, at least, became a huge star. She still is. Peterson’s resurrected the character several times in the interim. Shout! Factory has packaged the most recent iteration, maintaining her commentary, as well as the lead-ins and lead-outs from commercials.

 The first double-features are “Night of the Living Dead” and “I Eat Your Skin,” and “Satanic Rites of Dracula” and “The Werewolf of Washington,” all of which are in the public domain, if I’m not mistaken. In the beyond-camp “I Eat Your Skin,” a Miami writer/playboy escorts a party of fun-seekers to the Bahamian Voo Doo Island, which is populated by a mad scientist and his zombie militia. Del Tenney’s non-thriller is so bad that Elvira’s witty asides are completely superfluous. By contrast, “Night of the Living Dead” is a true horror classic. Old hands Christopher Lee and Dean Stockwell star in “Satanic Rites of Dracula” and “Werewolf of Washington.” Neither movie is very good, but, again, their cinematic attributes are beside the point. The sets include some decent bonus material, including behind-the-scenes featurettes from “Movie Macabre,” a photo shoot, Ghoultown’s “Mistress of the Dark” music video and trailers.

 The latest additions to Shout!’s growing “Double Feature” franchise are “Gordon’s War” and “Off-Limits,” and “Crash and Burn” and “Robot Wars.” Although released more than a dozen years apart from each other, Vietnam provides the connecting tissue for both. The estimable Paul Winfield plays Gordon, a war veteran who, after four years, returns home to a Harlem he barely recognizes for all the crime and deprivation. Directed by Ossie Davis, it stands as one of the earliest and best examples of blaxploitation. “Off Limits” (a.k.a., “Saigon” and “Saigon: Off Limits”) is a police thriller, set in 1968, in which MPs are called in to investigate a series of killings involving prostitutes and, perhaps, army brass. Filmed in Thailand, it stars Willem Dafoe, Gregory Hines, Fred Ward, Scott Glenn, David Alan Grier, Keith David and Amanda Pays.”

“Crash and Burn” and “Robot Wars” (a.k.a., “Robot Jox 2: Robot Wars”) are products of Full Moon Entertainment and both are about robotic threats to mankind. That the pictures have survived in the video and DVD marketplace this long is their major claim to fame. They were directed by Charles Band and Albert Band, respectively.

And, the folks at Shout! aren’t done, yet. The latest addition to the “Marvel Knights” TV-to-DVD franchise brings back Jessica Drew, who’s recruited by S.W.O.R.D. agent Abigail Brand to save the world from their common enemy, the Skrulls, and exact revenge on her former captors. The dark, hyper-realistic animation was contributed by Eisner Award-winners Brian Michael Bendis. (In a departure from tradition, the “motion comic” was released before the print edition.) The DVD jacket showcases a drawing of the bosomy superhero and it should attraction, at least, of the geek demographic. – Gary Dretzka


Black in Latin America

Haven: The Complete First Season: Blu-ray

 Compared to last week’s crop, there’s not a whole lot growing this week in the TV-to-DVD garden. The highlight is Henry Louis Gates Jr.’s four-part, 240-minute PBS documentary, “Black in Latin America.” It examines how African and European bloodlines merged in the Americas to create a distinctly unique culture and permutations based on historical, geographical and demographic differences. Despite a shared history of slavery and colonialism, citizens of Haiti, Dominican Republic, Cuba, Brazil, Mexico and Peru were able to distinguish themselves from each other in ways that reflect the blend of ethnic legacies and evolving political realities. And, yet, the contributions of African slaves isn’t often taught or appreciated by scholars and tourism officials. Gates also was responsible for PBS’ “Wonders of the African World.”

More paranormal and supernatural activity takes place on television than anywhere else in the known world, including Transylvania. If only a fraction occurred in real life, America would be a spooky place, indeed. The best thing about the Syfy series, “Haven,” is that it was shot in Nova Scotia, which, at least, offers a different look than other locales, especially overused British Columbia. Inspired, at least, by a Stephen King novel, the series involves a beautiful blond FBI agent – is there any other kind? – who travels to Maine to investigate the murder of a former prisoner. Needless to say, Haven is populated by folks with mysterious secrets, weird powers and links to the agent’s hidden past. The set arrives with making-of featurettes, interviews, commentary and a preview of the second season.

The second installment of Time-Life’s “The Best of the Dean Martin Variety Show: Collector’s Edition” arrives this week, with more hugely entertaining material previously available only through infomercials. The complete series is available in packages containing one, two and six DVDs. It comes with an hour’s worth of bonus features, including interviews with Martin’s famous guests and daughter, Gail.

Also new to the shelves are “Heroes of Bikini Bottom” and “Yo Gabba Gabba: Circus,” both comprised of material from popular Nickelodeon kids’ shows. Parents should check the contents to be sure the DVDs don’t contain material they’ve already purchased under different titles. – 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