MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: True Grit, Another Year, Just Go With It, Carancho, Night Flight, The Housemaid, The Big C, White Collar … …

True Grit: Blu-ray
There is a considerable difference between the re-making a classic movie for contemporary tastes and the re-adaptation of a novel, based primarily on a re-interpretation of the source material. While staying true to the original version of “True Grit” – for which, in 1969, John Wayne was awarded an Academy Award as Best Actor — the Coen brothers’ re-adaptation of the Charles Portis novel stands less as homage to the movie, than a fresh take on the text. Both are supremely entertaining Hollywood westerns, well worth repeated viewing on video and DVD, but the context has shifted in a significant way. The most telling difference between the two pictures is found in the amount weight placed on the shoulder of U.S. Marshal Rooster Cogburn. As the one-eyed, booze-ravaged, pot-bellied lawman-for-hire, Wayne dominated Henry Hathaway’s darkly comic “True Grit” in ways Jeff Bridges isn’t required to do in the Coens’ version. And, that’s to the great relief of everyone involved in the project, especially Bridges.

When the original was released, Wayne may have been the most polarizing force in the entertainment industry, more so, even, than Jane Fonda. The Vietnam War was at its height in 1969 and, even before he co-directed and starred in the propagandistic “The Green Berets,” Wayne had willingly become the standard-bearer for American conservatism and love-it-or-leave-it patriotism. On campuses, film students were torn between their admiration for the classic movies “Duke” dominated and his outspoken support for values they considered to be reprehensible. “The Searchers” may have been John Ford’s film, but Wayne took the brunt of the abuse for Ethan Edwards’ intolerance, racism and bloodlust. Even though it had a completely different vibe, “True Grit” tested the willingness of liberal and anti-war viewers to put aside their political beliefs long enough to enjoy a rip-snorting western. As America’s involvement in Vietnam came to an end, so, too, did most of the animosity toward Wayne … unless, of course, you were Native American. Ironically, some of it later would be re-directed at NRA spokesman Charlton Heston, who, in the late 1960s, was still considered to be a liberal Democrat.

The new “True Grit” arrived last winter without any of that sort of baggage attached to it. It would be a Coen Brothers movie, not a Jeff Bridges movie, even though he was coming off an Oscar-winning performance in “Crazy Heart.” While not exactly blending into the woodwork, Bridges could stick to the script and enjoy being part of a highly talented ensemble cast. Cogburn’s disheveled appearance and eccentric behavior perfectly complements the arrogance of Matt Damon’s Texas Ranger, LaBoeuf; the sociopathic lean of Josh Brolin’s Tom Chaney; the sheer evil of Barry Pepper’s Lucky Ned Pepper; and the vengeful determination of Hailee Steinfeld’s Mattie Ross. The movie is more faithful to Portis’ novel, but not so much as to be unrecognizable from Hathaway’s “True Grit.” Cogburn, LaBoeuf and Mattie’s mission remains the same: to exact eye-for-an-eye justice on a mad-dog killer, while also testing the “grit” of a young woman and threadbare old man.

Fans of the genre who only know the Coen brothers’ from their eccentric portrayals of archetypal characters and film-school conceits will welcome the reverence paid both to certain time-honored western conventions and Portis’ wonderful novel. Personally, I could have done without so many musical references to the hymn, “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms” – borrowed from “The Night of the Hunter,” a Coen favorite – but everything else in “True Grit” feels fresh and focused. Sticklers for accuracy may wonder how cinematographer Roger Deakins was able to make the Choctaw Nation look as spectacular as it does here. (Answer: New Mexico and the Texas Hill Country stood in for Oklahoma.) Not surprisingly, then, the Blu-ray edition is the format of choice for watching “True Grit.” Besides the exemplary visual and audio presentation, the set adds the informative making-of featurettes, “Mattie’s True Grit,” “From Bustles to Buckskin: Dressing for the 1880s,” “Colts, Winchesters & Remingtons: The Guns of a Post-Civil War Western,” “Re-Creating Fort Smith” and “The Cinematography of True Grit.” Best of all, though, is the thorough profile of the reclusive author, Portis. – Gary Dretzka

Another Year: Blu-ray
Picture after picture, director Mike Leigh invents new ways to make everyday people — in the Sly Stone sense of the term – seem every bit as fascinating as the characters in movies adapted from best-selling novels and Tony Award-winning plays. His latest slice-of-life drama, “Another Year,” is different only in that the folks we meet are so entirely commonplace, they might as well be our own neighbors. That we come to care so much about them – or, in turn, are disturbed by their inadequacies – is testament to Leigh’s humanism and the skill of his ensemble cast to match ideas and verbal cues to recognizable behavior. Certainly, very few other directors would put at the center of their film a couple who have lived together in peace and harmony for near a half-century, have raised a child with no visible neuroses, appear to enjoy their jobs and charitably welcome into their home people at their wits’ end. Where’s the fun in that?

“Another Year” is divided into four interrelated segments, as defined by the seasons, prevailing weather conditions and what’s happening in their garden patches. Jim Broadbent and Ruth Sheen play Tom and Gerri, suburban Londoners who provide comfort, shelter and friendship – as well as that all-purpose British elixir, a hot cup of tea – to co-workers and relatives, while also maintaining the distance required to remain unaffected by their woes. The other characters who stay with us through the changing of the seasons are Tom and Gerri’s son, Joe (Oliver Maltman), and Gerri’s co-worker, Mary (Lesley Manville), an attractive middle-age woman whose fear of growing old and unappealing is palpable throughout “Another Year.” Complicating the relationship is Mary’s overt crushing on Joe, for whom she served as babysitter and honorary aunt. Her obsessive need to hang onto this vestige of her youth is dealt a blow when the young man brings home his effervescent new girlfriend, Katie (Karina Fernandez). Along the way, too, we meet Tom’s two very different brothers, one an alcoholic who wallows in nostalgia for a time when pubs weren’t decorated with ferns, and the other a recent widower made nearly catatonic by his loss. All the while, Tom and Gerri – the choice of names wasn’t coincidental, by the way — about their business, knowing that their love for each other, finally, is the cement that binds everyone and everything in their orbit.

As fragile a proposition as this seems, Leigh benefits from maintaining an ensemble family of his own, which ranges from a core of actors to cinematographer Dick Pope, costume designer Jacqueline Durran and editor, Jon Gregory. Their ability to read each other’s minds and complete each other’s sentences allows Leigh to forgo a formal script, in lieu of improvised dialogue and unrehearsed reactions. If “Another Year” sounds as if it might not fit the tastes of mainstream audiences, it shouldn’t be taken as a sign of arrogance or elitism. It’s just the way Leigh works. He doesn’t begrudge those who would prefer to watch movies with more discernible storylines and dynamic characters. I, for one, though, am stunned that no one from the cast of “Another Year” – especially Lesley Manville – was nominated for an Oscar. (Leigh was, somewhat ironically, a finalist in the Best Original Screenplay category.) The Blu-ray extras includes commentary with Leigh and Manville and the featurettes, “The Making of Another Year” and “The Mike Leigh Method.” – Gary Dretzka

The Company Men: Blu-ray
Having been in the same position as the key characters in “The Company Men,” I can attest to the veracity of the emotions on display in it, especially the sense of hopelessness felt by the laid-off employees. If the movie’s ending errors on the side of optimism – in my experience, anyway – it’s only because a less-Capraesque scenario would have necessitated the inclusion of a razor blade or letter from the late Dr. Jack Kevorkian in the DVD package. Writer/director John Wells merely wants us to believe that fairy tales can come true and they can happen to you, even if the only thing that’s young is your heart. Ever since the managers of publically traded companies began selling their souls to the devils of Wall Street, in the 1980s, the pressure to produce unreasonable year-after-year profits has led to such atrocities as, here, the mass shedding of loyal, still-productive employees. The Boston shipping conglomerate, GTX, even intends to shift its primary focus off the core product to more exploitable assets, none of which includes the ship-building business. The first major player to go is the cocky sales manager Bobby Walker (Ben Affleck), who doesn’t see it coming. A few weeks later, when Wall Street demands even more cuts of GTX, its acerbic co-founder, Gene McClary (Tommy Lee Jones) is let go, along with his close friend and aide, Phil Woodward (Chris Cooper). Each man is situated differently in the sinking boat that’s become the U.S. economy. Gene has a cushy benefits balloon upon which to fall back on; Phil, who’s reached a certain age, can only look forward to a bleak retirement; and Bobby still has a huge mortgage to pay off and a kid to put through private school and college. By all rights, all three men should be able to find a new job, albeit at a lower salary. Not being 1975, though, none can compete against a workforce of recent college grads who would work for minimum wage, if asked, and put in 80 hours a week, if so ordered. Each character handles his dilemma differently.

After chasing jobs far and wide, to no avail, Bobby finally takes his brother-in-law up on an offer to work construction for his company. Jack (Kevin Costner) is generous to his sister’s husband, but only as long as Bobby absorbs his needling about being an overcompensated pencil pusher, poor excuse for a manly man and a “shitty carpenter.” Still, Bobby perseveres, thanks mostly to the loyalty of his wife (Rosemarie DeWitt). Phil, who started with the company as a welder, sees only dark clouds ahead, and none has a silver lining. Even before he antagonized his former friend and company co-founder, CEO James Salinger (Craig T. Nelson), Gene was cheating on his wife with the corporate HR bimbo, Sally Wilcox (Maria Bello), who supervised the layoffs. Gene moves in with Sally, but she quickly tires of his surly disposition and lack of enthusiasm for do-nothing positions on corporate boards.

Wells, who created the TV series “E.R.,” does a nice job humanizing the characters here, even if they are more representative of real people than friends and neighbors we recognize as being in the same position. Neither could the problem addressed in “Company Men” be any more timely or relevant. Besides losing an income, laid-off employees sink into a seemingly bottomless pit of lowered self-esteem, unreasonable guilt feelings and an inability to understand how their past devotion to a company could so easily be dismissed. Add to that such ancillary woes as alcoholism, divorce and depression and you have all the makings of a national tragedy. In “Company Men,” the despair rings with the clarity of a cathedral bell. Even with a budget on the low side of moderate, “Company Men” didn’t fare well at the box office, probably for the same reason as movies about the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq have underperformed. Fans of the actors will find a lot more here to like than the legions of Americans looking for jobs that no longer exist. One certainly can’t fault the acting. – Gary Dretzka

Just Go With It: Blu-ray
Nice Guy Johnny: Special Edition

Hollywood hasn’t had much luck with romantic comedies since it began catering to teenagers and young adults whose idea of love is not farting in bed. Each new rom-com comes out of the oven more underbaked than the ones put in before it. Relatively speaking, then, “Just Go With It” isn’t so bad a rainy-night entertainment. If it had been made in the same way and with the same personnel as when such talented actors as Goldie Hawn, Barbra Streisand and Warren Beatty were still young, it probably would have felt much slighter than it already is. But, times and demographics change. In fact, the Adam Sandler/Jennifer Aniston vehicle was inspired by the 1969 rom-com “Cactus Flower,” in which Hawn played Walter Matthau’s ditzy blond girlfriend and Ingrid Bergman was the nurse enlisted to be the beard. (It, in turn, was adapted from a play of the same title by Pierre Barillet and Jean-Pierre Grady.) In “Just Go With It,” Sandler is less than convincing as a successful Beverly Hills plastic surgeon, so traumatized by a wedding-day debacle he decided never to trust another woman with his affections. That is, until his Dr. Danny Maccabee falls head over heels for the busty blond, Palmer (Brooklyn Decker), who never got over her crushes on various boy bands. Even if Maccabee is portrayed as being the shallowest of all Beverly Hills plastic surgeons – and that’s saying a lot – it’s difficult to imagine him spending more than a few nights in the sack with Decker, who lacks all of Hawn’s wacky charm. Aniston’s nurse Katherine comes into play when Palmer becomes convinced that Maccabee’s only pretending to be on the rebound from a psycho ex-wife. It takes the doctor most of the movie to realize what everyone in the audience already knows: Katherine is infinitely more appealing than Palmer and every bit as hot.

And, that’s where the problem lies. Whenever Sandler plays a schnook, he pulls back from the point where he might alienate the bulk of his fan base, even momentarily. Here, his character’s easy rapport with Katherine’s kids telegraphs everything that’s going to happen when they join him in Hawaii, where he hopes to convince Palmer of his fidelity. Instead of honing an edge, “Just Go With It” goes limp, reminding us more of “Forgetting Sarah Marshall” than “Cactus Flower.” (Gee, it must be fun to make movies on location, in the tropics, especially since incessant product placement makes everything so much more affordable.) Every time Aniston appears on screen, the pace of the picture noticeably picks up speed and adds some bite. This is especially true in an ancillary through-line in which Katherine is required to compete, once again, with her sorority nemesis (Nicole Kidman). Appearances by singer Dave Matthews, wacko comedian Nick Swarsdon, Minka Kelly, Kevin Nealon and Rachel Dratch also keep things moving when they’re on-screen. (As an actor, Dekker makes a heck of a swimsuit model.) Fans will enjoy the generous Blu-ray bonus package, which includes two commentary tracks and more than a dozen featurettes of varying lengths.

Unlike studio executives, who think profits derive from pleasing the broadest possible audience, indie filmmakers have learned the hard way that being true to themselves can reap rewards of a different sort. Film festivals, from Sundance and SXSW to the Lower Slobovia International Group Grope, matter because they give smallish movies and the directors a fighting chance of being noticed. If a critic then chooses to champion a particular low-budget underdog, well, so much the better. Having made a name for himself with the micro-budget “The Brothers McMullen,” Edward Burns knows the ropes as well as anyone working both sides of the Hollywood sign. He understands only too well that the same people who fall in love your first “offbeat” movie can turn on you in a heartbeat if your next project doesn’t meet their expectations.

If, like Burns, a filmmaker is fortunate enough to have alternative revenue streams, it can allow for the occasional personal project. “Nice Guy Johnny” is the kind of unassuming rom-com you might expect emerging from a festival with an Audience Prize attached to it. Unlike previous Burns movies, however, “Nice Guy Johnny” doesn’t appear to have been cribbed from his private diary. It involves a diminutive 25-year-old Oakland sportscaster, who promised his fiancé he would seek more gainful employment if he wasn’t making $50,000 a year by the time he hit the quarter-century mark. Because he’s nowhere near that benchmark salary, Johnny agrees to give up his dream job and accept a position in her rich daddy’s cardboard box industry, or, at least, fly to New York to interview for it. Johnny’s playboy Uncle Terry, portrayed credibly by Burns, tries to make the lad see the error in his ways, but a promise is a promise. He does agree to tag along with his uncle on a roadtrip/booty call to the Hamptons, where Terry has a blond surprise waiting for him. Loyal to a fault, Johnny resists the temptation to succumb to the woman’s natural beauty, athletic body, outgoing personality and several common interests. Because “Nice Guy Johnny” is a fairy tale, Brooke (Kerry Bishe) falls for the honorable runt. The rest of the story need not be revealed here. Suffice it to say, the movie is a sweet confection that looks a whole lot better on DVD than it would at the local multiplex, to the tune of $10 a ticket.

If Burns hasn’t turned out to be the next Woody Allen, as prophesized by some New York pundits … well, tough bananas. He’s being true to his own calling and, like Henry Jaglom, seems willing to let audiences find him, not the other way around. – Gary Dretzka

Night Flight
IMAX: Legends of Flight: 3D

Flight is taken so much for granted these days, it’s worth remembering that man didn’t take to the air successfully until 1903, a little more than a century ago. It still felt new in 1933, when MGM released “Night Flight,” a star-studded drama about the brave pilots who made the first nighttime commutes over the Andes, delivering mail to and from South American capitals and on to the United States and Europe. Even today, the Andes form a formidable barrier for aircraft not up to the task of making leaps of 20,000-plus feet in elevation. Imagine, then, how difficult a task it must have been when aviation was a new business and radar devices couldn’t dictate safe paths for pilots. Antoine de Saint-Exupery was just such a daredevil and his adventures with Aeroposta Argentina in the late 1920s and early 1930s informed his award-winning book, “Night Flight.” Needless to say, portrayals of manned flight were new enough to thrill viewers who probably wouldn’t climb aboard a commercial airliner until after World War II. Howard Hughes’ “Hell’s Angels” had already found an enthusiastic audience for war pictures involving airplanes, but it took a different kind of courage to fly over mountains, often without the benefit of a clear sky or moonlight.

Clarence Brown’s “Night Flight” may look primitive in 2011, but it benefits mightily from a marquee cast and not being overexposed on AMC or TMC. The participants include John Barrymore, as the ruthless managing director of Trans-Andean Mail Service; Lionel Barrymore, as his order-delivering lackey; Robert Montgomery and Clark Gable (briefly), as endangered pilots; and Helen Hayes and Myrna Loy, as the women who feared for their men’s lives. Adding to the tension, as well, is a tick-tock element that covers a 24-hour period, during which a parcel containing medicine must be hauled from Santiago, Chile, to Buenos Aires, where it will be transferred to plane heading for Rio de Janeiro. Once there, the medicine would be delivered to a hospital, where a boy suffering from infantile paralysis is in a battle for his life. Stormy weather threatens not only to derail that mission, but also push the light planes over the Atlantic Ocean, far past the limit of their gas tanks.

Currently in rotation at the National Air and Space Museum, in Washington, “Legends of Flight” feels more like a 3D infomercial for the Boeing 787 Dreamliner and the Airbus A380, jumbo jetliners that have been described as being game-changers in the aeronautics industry. After a short discourse on the evolution of flight from dinosaur days to the present, the filmmakers focus on the technological lead-up to the first public flights of Airbus A380 and 787. The “energy-efficient” Airbus debuted before plane geeks at the 2007 Paris Air Show, while, after much in-flight testing, the similarly economical 787 is expected to make an appearance next month at the same show. I can’t testify for the 3D edition, but the graphics-heavy Blu-ray presentation is plenty sharp. The making-of sidebar is nearly as long as the feature. – Gary Dretzka

In Her Skin
At first glance, this taut Aussie thriller looks as if it might be just another one of the many horror flicks that go straight-to-DVD and are virtually indistinguishable from each other. A closer look reveals head shots of the esteemed Australian actors Guy Pearce, Miranda Otto and Sam Neill, along with Irish newcomer Ruth Bradley, who gives a hell of a performance as the film’s pathetic antagonist. Played down is the fact that “In Her Skin” (a.k.a., “I Am You”) is not only based on a true story, but it also is entirely faithful to a crime that truly shocked Australia. Americans may be blasé to murders that don’t involve celebrities or large numbers of victims. Down Under, though, it was huge.

Pearce and Otto play the parents of a pretty teenage girl who has everything going for her, including a parent-approved boyfriend and mad skills as an aspiring ballet dancer. One night, Rachel (Kate Bell) fails to show up at the train station, where her father is waiting to take her home. Within two hours, her mother is on the phone to the local police, demanding they drop everything and look for the girl. The cops, of course, play down the possibility that Rachel’s the victim of foul play and try to convince mom that, for her own reasons, she making herself scarce at home. Turns out, though, that mom is right and the cops are merely hoping she’ll quit bothering them. It isn’t until the unsolicited intervention of a missing-persons detective that the investigation bears fruit of the most-bitter variety. Caroline, the woman responsible for the disappearance, turns out to be a onetime neighbor and babysitter, who hates herself for being overweight, unkempt and miserable in every way possible. Neill plays Caroline’s father, who’s pretty much given up trying to heal her deep, self-inflicted wounds.

Writer/director Simone North makes us care deeply for the victim’s family, and she even finds room for some sympathy for the twisted and seemingly unremorseful Caroline (up for parole in a couple of years). Wisely, she keeps the crime in its proper perspective and refuses to place the blame on anyone but the one responsible for the disappearance. By sticking to the facts of the case and playing everything else down the middle, however, North dilutes the shocks and turns in the case. It turns “In Her Skin” into something more closely resembling a police procedural. Viewed from America, North’s film already has been criticized for being too much like a Lifetime movie, albeit a very good one. I thought it was pretty convincing, though. The DVD’s bonus features deeper into the disappearance and persistence of Rachel’s parents, introducing the real ones to us and explaining how the actors prepared for their roles. – Gary Dretzka

The Housemaid
Wild Hunt
The Corporate Cut Throat Massacre

If there’s a country producing better horror movies than South Korea, it isn’t on any map that I’ve seen lately. In addition to being exceedingly twisted, movies such as “I Saw the Devil,” “A Tale of Two Sisters,” “Arang,” “The Red Shoes,” and “The Housemaid” are intellectually satisfying and exceedingly well made … scary, too. The police procedurals are every bit as disturbing, as well. Nominated for last year’s Palme d’Or at Cannes, Im Soo-sang’s “The Housemaid” tells the story of a naive young woman, Eun-yi (Jeon Do-yeon), hired to care for the pregnant wife of a wealthy businessman, Hoon, who seems to prey on such vulnerable types. Their liaisons attract the attention of the older maid, who misses very little in the household and resents both the girl’s chipper attitude and the arrogance of her bosses. She reports the transgression to Hoon’s sociopathic mother-in-law, who threatens to make everyone’s life miserable with the information. Their machinations lead to a final confrontation so extreme, brutal and sudden it will make your head spin. Rarely has the pursuit of sensual pleasure been made to look so forbidding and, until the shocking climax, sexy. Don’t stop with “The Housemaid,” though. Go to the K-horror section of Netflix and start with “Whispering Corridors,” the 1998 film credited with bringing the world’s attention to the Korean cinema, and then work your way forward in time, to “I Saw the Devil.”

Arriving on DVD so soon after “The Last Exorcism” and “The Rite,” “Exorcismus” (“La Posesión de Emma Evans”) seems redundant, if not a completely unnecessary addition to the subgenre. The stylish Spanish horror flick, with a largely English cast, stands up to pretty close scrutiny, though. Satan has a deep grip on 15-year-old Emma (Sophie Vavasseur) and isn’t content merely to torture his host and the exorcist, a priest who’s also her uncle,. Indeed, this devil won’t be content until he causes Emma to destroy her entire family. Although director Manuel Carballo is an unknown quantity here, it’s worth pointing out that screenwriter David Munoz also co-wrote “The Devil’s Backbone,” with Guillermo del Toro and Antonio Trashorras. That should be sufficient cause for exorcism geeks to rejoice.

Alexandre Franchi’s debut feature, “The Wild Hunt,” may not be all that scary, but almost all of the LARP-obsessed characters reside on the fringes of mainstream society and, as such, are freaks of nature. I’ve seen several TV sitcoms and police dramas lately, in which Live Action Role Playing provides a backdrop for comedy or crime. Usually the participants are characterized as being nerds and geeks, who, if they weren’t pretending to be knights and damsels in distress, would be designing costumes for the next Star Trek convention or communing with X-Box buddies. Not so in “The Big Hunt.” The male re-enactors seem pretty athletic and the women are reasonably attractive and physically fit. Their weapons, too, look deceptively authentic, until someone calls “time” and it becomes clear that they’re made from harmless material. Things turn nasty when an outsider decides to free his LARPy girlfriend from the clutches of the Vikings and Celts doing battle in a Quebec forest. She’s being held by a particularly handsome and powerful Celt who’s in no mood to part with her. This leads to a fracas with real, flesh-and-blood consequences. Apparently, Franchi enlisted participants in the local LARP scene and they came prepared to do battle in their own period costumes and faux weapons. It adds a great deal to the picture’s credibility.

And speaking of Celts and Vikings, the cross alluded to in the title of Patrick Dunham’s freshman feature is of ancient Celtic origin. It’s worn by the handsome and chivalrous Callan (Brian Austen Green), who leads a pack of weapons experts in a pursuit of a gang of hoodlums engaged in snatching pretty young women from the streets of L.A. Knowing that anyone in possession of the Celtic cross is practically immortal, an ancient Viking warrior conspires to steal the pendant and use it to destroy the world. Among the villains seeking eternal life in “The Cross” are characters played by Michael Clarke Duncan, C. Thomas Howell, Vinnie Jones, Robert Carradine Jake Busey and Tom Sizemore, as a persistent cop. More relevant to the enjoyment of the live-action comic book is the bevy of beautiful women, led by Lori Heuring, who portray victims and warriors. The DVD comes with commentary, an alternate ending, deleted scenes and animatics.

Another week, another no-budget Creep Creepersin bloodbath to review. This time, it’s “The Corporate Cut Throat Massacre,” a no-frills black comedy in which an evil office manager gets her just desserts, after forcing her employees to work overtime and justify their continued presence in the company. Creepersin appears to have modeled some of the characters, at least, after those in “The Office.” He probably was influenced, as well, by the cult favorite, “Office Space,” and Agatha Christie’s “Ten Little Indians.” Ragged in the same way as other DIY indies, “Corporate Cut Throat Massacre” is just funny enough to give aspiring filmmakers hope they, too, someday could see their name in lights. – Gary Dretzka

When was the last time you saw a truly exciting movie about insurance fraud? Not since “Double Indemnity” or “The Thomas Crown Affair,” I’ll bet. In the Argentinian export, “Carancho,” the criminals concern themselves with less lofty pursuits than murder and art theft. Instead, they conspire to rip off companies ensuring motorists, as well as the accident victims hoping to collect pennies on the dollar, after ambulance chasers and corrupt cops, doctors and politicians take their share of the proceeds. As noted in the movie’s prelude, more than 8,000 Argentinians die in traffic accidents annually and behind each one is a flourishing industry founded on insurance payouts and legal loopholes. The great South American actor Ricardo Darin (“The Secret in Their Eyes,” “Nine Queens”) plays Sosa, a disgraced lawyer who trolls for clients in hospital waiting rooms, police stations and the scenes of accidents. In some cases, he mysteriously arrives ahead of the police and paramedics. At one such wreck, Sosa helps a pretty young doctor, Lujan (Martina Gusman), fresh off the bus from the boonies, save the life of a crash victim and find a doctor at the nearest hospital willing to accept an emergency patient.

Inevitably, Lujan and Sosa fall into bed together and begin to unravel each other’s secrets. She’s appalled by Sosa’s role in the scheme and he swears he’s quitting the firm that benefits from his shady dealings. Unfortunately, for both of them, Sosa’s in far too deep to quit just like that. His compatriots have become too dependent on the money and he’s simply too good at what he does to be allowed to leave. It takes all of his cunning to pull off a scam that will free him from their clutches and give Lujan an opportunity to cleanse herself of the demons tormenting her. Gusman and writer/director Pablo Trapero worked together previously in the harrowing prison drama, “Lion’s Den,” in which she played an inmate raising a baby in captivity. – Gary Dretzka

AC/DC: Let There Be Rock: Limited Collector’s Edition
Who Took the Bomp? Le Tigre on Tour

No less an expert on hard rock than Steven Tyler once described AC/DC’s music as “the thunder from Down Under that gives you the second-most-powerful surge that can flow through your body.” In such matters, I tend to defer to loyal such metalheads as Beavis and Butt-head, who made AC/DC T-shirts a fashion statement heard around the world. Even if you’re not “down” with heavy metal music, it would be difficult to dispute the Aussie band’s dynamic stage presence and ability to make teenage boys weep like little bitches when allowed to touch Angus Young’s guitar. The new “Limited Collector’s Edition” of “Let There Be Rock” recalls the band near the end of its Bon Scott iteration. The lead singer would succumb to his rock-’n’-roll lifestyle two months after the 1979 “Highway to Hell” tour, but he doesn’t look any worse for the wear here. Eric Dionysius and Eric Mistler’s film is an uncluttered mostly-in-concert affair, absent a celebrity director and staging the equal to the Shock & Awe raids on Baghdad. It looks as if it might have been shot by hand-held cameras placed in the balcony and on either end of the Paris stage. I’d be surprised to learn that anything more advanced than a camera crane was rented by the producers. And, yet, the band’s music and energy was succinctly captured. In Blu-ray, the sound trumps the visual presentation, but what’s there isn’t bad.

“AC/DC: Let There Be Rock: Limited Collector’s Edition” arrives in a numbered tin box, containing, in addition to the original movie, such featurettes as “Loud, Locked & Loaded: The Rites of Rock,” “AC/DC: The Bedrock of Riff,” “Angus Young: A True Guitar Monster,” “Bon Scott: The Pirate of Rock ’n’ Roll,” “AC/DC: A Rock Solid Legacy,” song-specific interviews, a BD playlist, a 32-page booklet, a custom guitar pick and postcards with images from the show. Among the rockers interviewed in the featurettes are Rick Allen, of Def Leppard; Matt Sorum, of Guns N’ Roses; Scott Ian, of Anthrax; Lemmy, of Motorhead; Billy Corgan, of Smashing Pumpkins; the Donnas; as well as various journalists, label executives and biographers.

Some rock bands not only defy description, but they also defy those who attempt to label them, if only for the sake of journalistic brevity. Le Tigre, subject of “Who Took the Bomp?,” has been pigeonholed in more ways than peer bands, perhaps because “girl groups” continue to mystify mainstream music critics and politically relevant bands resist being trapped in one bag. Even so, it’s career suicide for a niche band not to cater to specific fan bases. I’m sure Le Tigre’s members would hate to be described as peppy and deliberately ironic, in a faux-cute sort of way, but it’s just as accurate as saying their music falls within such vague categories as “electroslash,” “new wave,” “synth punk,” “riot grrrl,” “underground electro-feminist” and “queercore.”

Hell, lead singer Kathleen Hannah is shown jumping rope, wearing what appears to be hand-me-down clothing, on Carson Daly’s talk show. They even perform choreographed dance movements, a la a Post-Modern Temptations revue. Le Tigre rocks, in much the same way as Devo, the Go-Gos, Tom Tom Club, Sleater-Kinney and the Tubes did before them. As demonstrated in this energetic in-concert/profile documentary – recorded during their final tour together, in 2006 — they also give their fans their money’s worth in person. – Gary Dretzka

American: The Bill Hicks Story
Since his untimely death in 1994, of pancreatic cancer, standup comedian Bill Hicks’ reputation has reached mythic proportions. At 32, Hicks was at the zenith of a career that still was in its ascendency. He had successfully made the transition from observational humor and “dick jokes,” to pointed political commentary and a keen rejection of social norms. In this, the Houston-based comic wasn’t alone, of course. The first political humor probably appeared as graffiti on the walls of caves, alongside etchings of wooly mammoths and antelope. A straight line could be drawn from the ancient Greeks and Romans, through “Gulliver’s Travels,” the cartoons of Thomas Nast and “Animal Farm,” and past Will Rogers, Woody Guthrie, Bob Hope, Tom Lehrer, the Smothers Brothers, Johnny Carson, Mort Sahl, Dick Gregory, Lenny Bruce, George Carlin and Mark Russell. Bruce’s self-martyrdom and Carlin’s battle over seven forbidden words cleared the path for comedians to punctuate their bits with blistering language and feigned outrage. Not that everything passed muster. Comedians still had to pick their spots and censor themselves for network and basic-cable television. Nine years before Bill Maher lost his ABC show for comparing the “cowardice” of the 9/11 terrorists to that of Americans who “lobbed cruise missiles at targets 2,000 miles away,” a mildly sacrilegious joke got Hicks booted off David Letterman’s show. (The host has since apologized.)

Hicks began his professional career in his mid-teens, telling jokes in a Houston comedy club about his parents and teachers. He would go on to adopt some of Sam Kinison’s loud, confrontational style and incorporate them in his rants about former girlfriends and the hypocrisy of the media and politicians. There was no question that Hicks was very, very good at what he did and his future was extremely bright. Sadly, he would throw a roadblock in front of his own career path when he gave in to the same bad habits that hobble other young artists, who graduate from cigarettes and booze, to cocaine and even more booze. After cleaning up, Hicks came into his own as a social critic. Still, it wasn’t until he took his act to England and Ireland that he received the kind of reception his material warranted. During a tour of Australia, he discovered the cancer that soon would claim his life.

Matt Harlock and Paul Thomas’ “American: The Bill Hicks Story” uses performance clips and some inventive animation, as well as interviews with colleagues and relatives, to pay homage to the still hugely influential comedian. The Brit filmmakers are reverential, but not blind to Hicks’ shortcomings. Neither do his family members and friends try to pretend his was some kind of angel. Mostly, they let Hicks’ humor stand on its own considerable merits. As such, it’s enlightening, frequently hilarious and ultimately heart-breaking. The DVD arrives with five hours’ worth of extended interviews, deleted scenes, archival material, festival footage, audio journals and panel discussions. – Gary Dretzka

Madagascar: Blu-ray
In the initial push to make high-definition television palatable – economically, at least – to the American public, manufacturers used colorful stock footage of birds, animals, fish, flowers, rivers and mountain ranges to make their case. These images looked so terrific that many early adapters were disappointed by the picture quality of the sets they ended up buying. It wasn’t the fault of the manufacturers as much as the inability – or unwillingness – of broadcasters to deliver industry-standard pictures. It took the good folks at PBS, BBC and Discovery to show everyone else how it should be done, with nature programming that bordered on the spectacular. “Planet Earth” was the first BBC nature documentary to be filmed in hi-def. The three-part documentary “Madagascar,” co-produced by BBC Worldwide and Animal Planet,” extends several of the themes and creatures introduced in “Planet Earth.”

As host David Attenborough explains, the vast island nation is so removed from other habitats that it serves, like the Galapagos Islands, as a laboratory for the study of evolution. Species that exist nowhere else, flourish in Madagascar. And almost all of them have evolved to the point where their natural colors are perfectly suited for Blu-ray. Lemur enthusiasts will be particularly pleased with the coverage given to the 80 known species represented on the island, including some rarely seen by non-natives. (One is practically as small as a matchbox, while another hops around like a very fast kangaroo.) In the one-off segment, “Attenborough and the Giant Egg,” Sir David takes us back to his first visit to Madagascar, 50 years ago, when he was handed egg fragments believed to be left over from the days when giant elephant bird wandered around the island, like so many ostriches on steroids. Using modern scientist equipment and technology, he’s since been able to pinpoint when and how the creature became extinct, and the role humans played in its demise. The segments are followed by similarly fascinating making-of pieces. (BTW: American networks shouldn’t feel compelled to substitute Attenborough’s learned narrative with that of such Americans as Sigourney Weaver and Oprah Winfrey. If British and Irish wags can enhance golf coverage here, what’s the point of covering for Attenborough?) – Gary Dretzka

The Big C: The Complete First Season
White Collar: Season Two
HawthoRNe: Season Two
Leverage: Third Season
Breaking Bad: The Complete Third Season
Burn Notice: Season Four
Secret Life of the American Teenager: Volume Six
SGU: Stargate Universe: The Complete Final Season

Now that the broadcast networks’ 2010-11 season is dead and buried, it’s time to rediscover some of the treasures of the cable universe, via TV-to-DVD collections. For anyone without cable or satellite TV, I recommend doing yourself a favor by sampling these shows and comparing them with what you’re getting for free over the air. I think you’ll be surprised.

Laura Linney’s the kind of actress who probably could get any part she wants, on stage, in the movies or on television, without an audition or being required to shed her clothes … anymore, anyway. She couldn’t have chosen a more risky role to play than that of Cathy Jamison, a 42-year-old schoolteacher who’s just received the death penalty from her oncologist. Instead of weeping, wailing and seeking the support of friends and family, Cathy decides she’ll keep the bad news to herself and make the best use of her final days as possible. The only complicating factors, really, are her husband and son, both of whom are dependent on her for regular doses of tea and sympathy. They’d be sympathetic to her needs, if alerted to Cathy’s condition, but sympathy is the one thing she doesn’t want at this juncture in her life. They’re mystified by her sudden laissez-faire personality shift, but basically are left to stumble around on their own. For her part, Cathy makes friends with a cantankerous neighbor and a defiantly obese student, while also embarking on a search for the perfect orgasm. Dripping with black humor, “The Big C” is intelligently written, very funny and extremely moving. Fully complementing Linney’s bravura performance are Oliver Platt, Gabourey Sidibe, Gabriel Basso, Phyllis Somerville, Idris Elba, Cynthia Nixon and John Benjamin Hickey. The Blu-ray set arrives with deleted scenes and outtakes, character profiles and interviews. The second season launches on June 27 on the premium cable network.

USA Network’s “White Collar” will remind older viewers of the old Robert Wagner series, “It Takes a Thief,” in that they’re both about master thieves who’ve agreed to work for a U.S. agency, in return for being let out of jail. In the 2009 series, now going into its third stanza,” a brassy con artist agrees to work with the FBI in return for being let out of stir after an escape attempt. It’s the same idea as “It Takes a Thief,” but with more expensive toys at stake. Matt Boner, who doesn’t look old enough to play quarterback on his college team, let alone a master criminal, is charming as the brilliant con artist, Neal Caffrey. He’s joined by old hand Tim DeKay, as his FBI handler; Willie Garson, as an even slicker conman; Diahann Carroll, as Neal’s landlady and widow of another conman; and a bunch of ridiculously young and beautiful women.

TNT’s prime-time medical soap “HawthoRNe” stars Jada Pinkett Smith as a saintly, if troubled head of nursing and patient advocate at a Charlotte hospital. She’s also a single mom, with a sometimes uncooperative teenage daughter and, reportedly, a baby growing in her tummy. Marc Anthony returns as a regular character in the third season, but is introduced here. The set includes several background featurettes.

Also on TNT, “Leverage” remains one of the most clever action dramas on television, although it’s sometimes difficult to tell when one season ends and the next begins. Timothy Hutton stars as the leader of a gang of highly skilled and financially motivated con artists. Like “Mission:Impossible,” each brings a different talent to the table. Here, though, they volunteer to help average citizens who’ve been fleeced by corporations, thieves and shysters. In the end, they take something extra for their cut, as well. Also recognizable in the cast of fresh-faced young anchors is delightful Gina Bellman, from the original British “Coupling.” The set includes a set visit, deleted scenes, pieces on the writers and producers, a gag reel and commentary.

Truly one of the most unique and interesting shows on television, AMC’s “Breaking Bad” stars Bryan Cranston as a high school chemistry teach, who, upon learning of his terminal cancer, started cooking crystal meth to provide a stable life for his wife and kids. Apparently, ratings success has had the added benefit of prolonging the teacher’s life. His cancer now appears to be in remission. The bad news is that his wife (Anna Gunn) has filed for divorce, his DEA agent brother-in-law (Dean Norris) is out to bust him and a Mexican cartel just plain wants him dead. Stay tuned. The DVD includes more than enough extras to keep fans occupied until the start of Season 4, next month.

USA’s smart, sexy and exciting “Burn Notice” enters its fifth season later this month, but not before fans and newcomers are allowed the opportunity to catch up with the quick and clever “burned” spy and his supercharged posse in No. 4. Newcomer Jesse Porter (Coby Bell) joined the crew after being promised he would get an opportunity to find the man who caused him to be dropped from the same counterintelligence agency as Michael (Jeffrey Donovan). Hint: it wasn’t the same guy who toasted Michael. The best thing about the show might be sexy weapons expert Fiona (Gabrielle Anwar), whose duty it is to keep the boys from being boys. The set adds deleted scenes; featurettes on “ladies and libations” and stunts; commentary; and a verbal tug-of-war between the writers of “Burn Notice” and sister show, “White Collar.”

Although ABC Family’s hit soap, “The Secret Life of the American Teenager,” is only now coming to the end of its third season, the show’s TV-to-DVD compilations have reached “Volume Six.” I’ll let the fans do the math, because I can’t. This time around, it seems as if everyone is hearing wedding bells or thinking of taking their relationships to “the next level.” The set includes themed iPhone skins. Considering the network’s name, “Secret Life” is forthcoming about the sexual issues facing teens and other adult concerns.

Even though”SGU: Stargate Universe” won’t live to see another season, fans of the Syfy series can relive their favorite moments in the new TV-to-DVD compilation, which also includes such goodies as cast interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary on all episodes and a tight focus on the second-season finale. You know a cable network has arrived when it’s willing to finish off pre-branded favorites and take the risk of sending loyalists scurrying for their remotes. – Gary Dretzka

Bravestarr: The Complete Series
In a universe populated with cartoon characters, anything is possible, even intergalactic cowboys. I don’t know if “Bravestarr” was inspired by the Steve Miller song, “Space Cowboy,” but it easily could have been. It features Marshall Bravestarr, a Native American lawman stationed on the planet New Texas. He rides a “techno horse,” Thirty-Thirty, able to turn itself into biped, in order to wield a powerful energy rifle. Bravestarr’s nemeses are a mutant hombre, “Tex Hex, who can conjure “fire snakes,” and the cigar-chomping Outlaw Skuzz. (I can’t make this stuff up.) There are other assorted villains, varmints, peaceful settlers and robots. Mill Creek has compiled all 65 episodes of the Filmation/Group W project, which began in September 1987. The set adds commentary with producer Lou Scheimer, director Tom Tataranowicz, voice actor Pat Fraley, animator Tom Sito and voice director Erika Scheimer. – Gary Dretzka

Be Sociable, Share!

One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: True Grit, Another Year, Just Go With It, Carancho, Night Flight, The Housemaid, The Big C, White Collar … …”


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