MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: The Lincoln Lawyer, Rango, Arthur, Waking Madison, Damnation Alley, The Third Wave, Miral, Insidious …

The Lincoln Lawyer: Blu-ray
The last time a movie was adapted from a crime novel by Michael Connelly, it left such a bad taste in the mouth of longtime fans they prayed he wouldn’t sell another of his books to Hollywood, especially those associated with LAPD detective Hieronymus “Harry” Bosch. Even with the estimable talents of Clint Eastwood at the controls, “Blood Work” failed as a thriller and as a profile of a sickly lawman determined to avenge the murder of the woman whose heart was now beating in his heart. An annoying character was added to the story, seemingly to provide comic relief where none was needed, and the identity of the serial killer became obvious by the time the second reel unspooled. Eastwood looked the part of an over-the-hill FBI profiler, but everything else was askew. Even if Connelly’s remained steadfast in his refusal to sell the rights to Bosch, it didn’t bode well that Matthew McConaughey was assigned the lead role in “The Lincoln Lawyer,” a novel many considered to be more complex than “Blood Work.”

Happily, “The Lincoln Lawyer” turned out pretty well. McConaughey may not be the mirror image of Mickey Haller, a defense attorney who conducts business from the back seat of his chauffeured Lincoln Town Car, but he captured the character’s pugnacious attitude. The mobile office allows Haller to cut costs and deal with clients while making his mad dashes between widely separated courtrooms throughout Los Angeles County. It also makes it easier for his hard-core biker associates to come to him. The case he’s currently handling involves an arrogant real-estate heir (Ryan Phillippe) who’s accused of the brutal assault of a prostitute. At first, the guy is made to look guilty as hell. Eventually, though, Haller’s investigator (William H. Macy) uncovers evidence that exonerates him. Even so, certain things discovered by the P.I. cause Haller to re-evaluate a case in which he urged the defendant to accept a plea bargain. That man is rotting away in San Quentin, still claiming he was railroaded. One thing leads to another and … well, enough said.

Director Brad Furman (“The Take”) and writer John Romano (“Nights in Rodanthe”) wisely decided to focus on the courtroom elements of the novel and jettison the independent storyline that connected Haller to the Bosch. (For more on that, pick up “The Brass Verdict” and just-released, “The Fifth Witness.”) The result is a sleek, sexy thriller with a distinctly L.A. gloss. Also adding greatly to the fun is an all-star supporting cast that, besides Macy, includes Bryan Cranston, Michael Paré, Michaela Conlin, Katherine Moennig Shea Whigham, Marisa Tomei, Frances Fisher, John Leguizamo and Josh Lucas. The Blu-ray includes deleted scenes, a making-of featurette and a pair of Connelly interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Rango: Blu-ray
Ever hear the old line about a comedian being “too hip for the room”? If not, try to imagine Lenny Bruce performing on cruise ship or Richard Pryor plying his craft at a Moose Lodge. The material could have been identical to that performed before a nightclub audience in New York, San Francisco or Chicago, but half of the bits, at least, would sail two feet above the heads of the audience. That’s kind of how I felt half-way through “Rango,” Garth Verbinski’s wonderfully hip animated western, which overflows with narrative references, visual gags and vocal imitations borrowed from dozens of classic and cult westerns. The title character, it’s logical to assume, is named after Franco Nero’s coffin-dragging stranger in a 1966 spaghetti western. Sergio Corbucci’s hyper-violent thriller, “Django” chronicled the exploits of the drifter, who, after straying into a dusty frontier town, gets caught between warring gangs of Mexican bandits and racist Confederate diehards. Like Sergio Leone’s “A Fistful of Dollars,” “Django” paid homage to Akira Kurosawa’s “Yojimbo.” Three decades later, its infamous ear-slicing scene would be reprised in Tarantino’s “Reservoir Dogs.” It’s a great reference, but I don’t know many buffs who enjoy being out-hipped at their own game.

By contrast, Rango (voiced delightfully by Johnny Depp) is an everyday chameleon, who, after busting out of his aquarium prison, winds up in the Southwestern town of Dirt. After accidentally eliminating one of the predators terrorizing the town’s simple folk, the pop-eyed lizard is cajoled into wearing the star as the lawless outpost’s new sheriff. Coincidentally, the town is about to run out of potable water, thanks to the machinations of a corrupt mayor (Ned Beatty, channeling Noah Cross) who’s hoping to cash in on a regional drought. Among the villains Rango is expected to vanquish is a Rattlesnake Jack (Bill Nighy), a critter ornery enough to give King Kong nightmares. To succeed in his quest, the sheriff must rally the petrified residents and discover what’s really happening to the water supply. Besides the references to a couple dozen different westerns, including those of John Ford, Sergio Leone and Mel Brooks, “Rango” also pays its respects to such disparate non-genre fare as “Star Wars,” “Raising Arizona,” “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas,” “Chinatown,” “The Big Sleep” and “Apocalypse Now.” There easily could have been a dozen other references that I missed along the way. Even so, I found the movie to be a superb viewing experience.

Before committing to “Rango,” Verbinski had directed Depp in three of “Pirates of the Caribbean” installments, and he does a nice job in the voicing department. Everybody does, though. The action is paced to entertain adults not typically attracted to animated features and kids drawn more to the anthropomorphic silly stuff than any homage to Ennio Morricone or Hunter Thompson. The 2-D visual presentation benefits greatly from a color palette that brightens the earth tones of the desert and canyons, while accentuating the natural vibrancy of Rango and Jack’s reptilian skin/scale tones. They really pop on Blu-ray, too. Among the voicing cast are Abigail Breslin, Alfred Molina, Stephen Root, Timothy Olyphant, Ray Winstone and Harry Dean Stanton.

Genre buffs should put aside any reservations they might have about animated films and rush to pick up a copy of “Rango.” It’s that much of a hoot. Neither should parents be all that concerned about the scary stuff, given that the violence is on a par with that in a “Roadrunner” cartoon. They shouldn’t be surprised, though, if their pre-teens don’t share the same enthusiasm as grown-ups for the story, which is played surprisingly safe and sometimes appears to make concessions for sight gags. Besides deleted scenes, the technically superb Blu-ray adds the commentary of Verbinski, story writer James Ward Byrkit, production designer Mark “Crash” McCreery, animation director Hal Hickel and visual-effects supervisor Tim Alexander; a roundtable discussion of the technical triumphs; a couple of pieces on the creation of Dirt and its citizenry; and a digital copy. – Gary Dretzka

Arthur: Blu-ray
The recent re-make of Steve Gordon’s hit 1981 comedy “Arthur” — itself a reworking of P.G. Wodehouse’s Jeeves and Wooster tales — begs the question: why bother? It’s the same question asked whenever Hollywood butchers an adaptation of a work deemed classic by a goodly number of critics and fans. In the original, Dudley Moore plays a filthy rich alcoholic who could have served as the model for Lord Buckley’s “God’s own drunk.” Even when pie-eyed, the sweet-natured heir to an even greater fortune is able to avoid disaster with the help of his seen-it-all butler, Hobson, played with wry elegance by Sir John Gielgud. Forced by his billionaire father to become engaged to a dull, self-centered socialite (Jill Eickenberry), Arthur decides instead to pursue a woman of far more simple means. Linda (Liza Minnelli) falls in love with Arthur, despite his wealth and bad habit. Can love triumph over the pursuit of capital? Duh.

Although the basic story remains intact in Jason Winer’s updating of “Arthur,” nothing else measures up to the original. Amazingly, that includes Helen Mirren’s re-interpretation of Hobson and Nick Nolte’s take on Arthur’s father-in-law. Here, Arthur is played by Russell Brand, a British comedian and radio personality whose comedic chops have yet to follow him across the pond. Compared to Sacha Baron Cohen and Steve Coogan, Brand is just another potty-mouth disc jockey and wannabe actor. Apparently, though, Brand has much personal experience in the area of debauched behavior. It would one thing if Brand was the movie’s only sore-thumb. No one comes off very well. As defined in Peter Baynham’s script, Mirren’s valet isn’t sufficiently snooty to compete with Gielgud’s Hobson. Nolte looks as if he’s sleepwalking. And, say what you will about Liza Minnelli, her delightful take on the accidental girlfriend, Linda, made it impossible for any aspiring actress to do justice to the character. Indie heartthrob Greta Gerwig tries mightily to fill Minnelli’s Manolos, but, again, the script neutralizes her comedic talents. Jennifer Garner, as the greedy finance, proves once again that she simply isn’t ready for prime time.

At the price of a rental, “Arthur” isn’t the worst way to kill a couple of hours. I would, however, recommend watching the original before or after screening it, if only to see how much casting means to the success of a project. While you’re at the video store, pick up A&E’s boxed set of “Jeeves & Wooster” episodes, which starred Stephen Fry (“Bright Young Things”) and Hugh Laurie (“House”). The Blu-ray extras don’t offer much more than deleted scenes and a making-of featurette heavy on Brand’s shenanigans on the set. – Gary Dretzka

Waking Madison
Ever since the critical triumph of Frank and Eleanor Perry’s “David and Lisa,” way back in 1962, most taboos regarding stories about psychologically damaged teenagers have vanished. It took a little bit longer for attitudes toward mental illness – and teen pregnancy, for that matter – to become sophisticated enough to allow sensitive portrayals of young people so traumatized they would see suicide as an option to depression and obsessive behavior. For the most part, Hollywood steered clear of the issue, reserving stories about suicide and multiple-personality disorders for adult actors. And, really, who could blame the studios? They had a difficult enough time dealing with the sexual revolution, drugs and campus uprisings, without trying to explain something psychiatrists didn’t fully comprehend. Indeed, another two decades would pass before Prozac became a household brand and less-dangerous alternatives to Librium, Lithium, Thorazine and Valium were developed. “David and Lisa” proved to be a very tough act to follow for studios content to depict all such crises as sequels to “The Lost Weekend.”

Ironically, perhaps, the first baby steps were taken by producers of made-for-TV movies – including 1973’s “Go Ask Alice” — and “after school specials,” during which teens could be directly targeted and the writers and directors tended to be younger and more willing to experiment. Paramount would only risk $6 million on “Ordinary People,” despite the participation of Robert Redford, Mary Tyler Moore and Donald Sutherland. It took the blossoming of the indie movement for doors to open to more thoughtful portrayals on film. Sophia Coppola made her bones on “The Virgin Suicides”; Angelina Jolie won an Oscar for her performance in “Girl, Interrupted,” which also featured star turns by Winona Ryder, Brittany Murphy and Clea Duvall; the careers of Katie Holmes, Nick Stahl and James Marsden would get a boost from “Disturbing Behavior”; “Prozac Nation” suffered from being released seven years after Elizabeth Wurtzel’s book became a best-seller; and such indie faves as “Running With Scissors” and “The Royal Tennenbaums” described how kids were tainted by the eccentricities of their parents. Countless teen-oriented horror movies have tackled the issue in less compassionate ways.

A direct line could be drawn from “David and Lisa” and Katherine Brooks’ deeply personal “Waking Madison,” which opens with a suicide attempt and only gets darker from there. Madison Walker (Sarah Roemer) is a normal-looking young woman, residing in a dump of an apartment in New Orleans’ French Quarter. By all indications, she had escaped the living hell of being raised in a Louisiana household dominated by an abusive mother who was on speaking terms with God and Satan. Madison’s father (Will Patton) sympathized with his daughter plight, but refused to stand up to his wife (Frances Conroy), who’s clearly insane. Her situation turns desperate after she loses her job at a sex-line service and decides to barricade herself inside her apartment for the length of the 30-day calendar she’s painted on a wall. We know that she’s being treated by a caring psychiatrist (Elizabeth Shue), whose other teenage patients are messed up in very different ways than Madison but share traits that suggest familial ties. Brooks keeps us guessing as to the true nature of Madison’s disease, nearly to the end of the film.

“Waking Madison” is an extremely dark and frequently disturbing film, elevated by the performances of Roemer, Imogen Poots, Taryn Manning and Erin Kelly, as well as the writer/director’s firm hold on the reins of her own story. As usual, New Orleans provides the perfect backdrop for intrigue, menace and madness. “Waking Madison” may not be the easiest film to digest, but it deserves to be seen … if not in theaters, then on DVD. Fortunately, Brooks had already secured private funding before production started, but, with only $2 million with which to work, corners had to be cut. Even so, I think “Waking Madison” holds up pretty well alongside “Girl, Interrupted,” which benefitted from a $40-million budget and generous Oscar-oriented marketing campaign. If that movie couldn’t break even in its theatrical release, the odds against Brooks finding a vacant screen, even in arthouses, were prohibitive. The DVD includes background and making-of featurettes that delve into the filmmaker’s personal story and motivations. – Gary Dretzka

Damnation Alley: Blu-Ray
Battle Beyond the Stars: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics: Blu-ray
Dinocroc vs. Supergator

As unbelievable as it might sound nearly 35 years after the fact, it was “Damnation Alley” that Fox executives thought would become the breakout sci-fi hit of 1977, not “Star Wars.” It didn’t take long for that notion to be disabused, of course, with George Lucas’ epic soon to make history as a blockbuster and Jack Smight’s post-apocalyptic thriller relegated to instant footnote status. For many years, the movie’s futuristic all-terrain vehicle, Landmaster, was more fondly recalled than anything else in the film. It didn’t help matters when sci-buffs were alerted to author Roger Zelazny’s hatred for the adaptation, which changed several elements in the story. That piece of trivia long forgotten, Blu-ray edition of “Damnation Alley” today can stand on its own feet as an action-adventure capable of entertaining genre fanatics not likely to force unnecessary comparisons to “Star Wars” and “Mad Max.” It begins on a sobering note, with nuclear-tipped missiles exploding in populated areas throughout the United States and, presumably, the world at large. So many fall that the Earth’s axis is shifted, causing a dramatic change in the climate. After only a few short years, the few survivors begin crawling out of their refuges and bunkers. These include a military base in the Mojave Desert, manned by George Peppard, Jan-Michael Vincent and Paul Winfield. Hundreds of miles from anything resembling civilization, the men set out in the Landmaster to discover if normal life exists in a place called Albany. Along the way, the team is required to survive horrific meteorological phenomena and engage in hand-to-hand combat with mutated scorpions, a mass of hissing cockroaches and bloodthirsty hillbillies. They stop in a deserted Las Vegas long enough to test the effects of radiation on slot machines and rescue a former Las Vegas showgirl (Dominque Sanda). Another hundred miles or so down the road, they pick up an abandoned teenager (Jackie Earle Haley), who’s nearly gone feral. “Damnation Alley” is a surprisingly entertaining confection of sci-fi silliness. Even the prehistoric special-effects gimmicks hold up pretty well. (The polluted skies are particularly beautiful.) The Blu-ray package adds several informative behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Among the many important things Roger Corman has instilled in aspiring filmmakers over the last half-century is the notion that there’s no shame in exploiting cinematic trends. Moreover, if they’re going to borrow other people’s ideas, borrow from the best. Released in the wake of the second wave of “Star Wars”-mania, “Battle Beyond the Stars” is a sci-fi remake of Akira Kurasawa’s “Seven Samurai” and John Sturges’ “The Magnificent Seven,” movies in which peasants hire mercenaries to protect them against evil-doers. The difference here is that all of the fighting takes place in a galaxy a bit farther away and no one carries six-guns, swords or knives, anymore. Writer John Sayles and director Jimmy Murakami pulled their tongues out of their cheeks long enough to acknowledge the source material, by making Robert Vaughn’s character a dead-ringer for the one he played in “Magnificent Seven” and Richard Thomas’ protagonist, Shad, an Akira from the planet Akir. Otherwise, the best things about the “BBTS” 30th –anniversary package can be found in the Blu-ray’s bonus features. It’s fascinating to hear anecdotes about the filming of what was to-date Corman’s most-expensive feature, at $2 million, as well as recollections about working with such then-unknowns as effects-wizard James Cameron, composer James Horner and production assistant Gale Anne Hurd. Besides Vaughan, the semi-stellar cast included George Peppard, John Saxon, Sybil Danning, Sam Jaffe, Darlanne Fleugel, Jeff Corey, Julia Duffy and, in an uncredited appearance as an extraterrestrial extra, Kathy Griffin.

Some writers have pointed out incorrectly that “Supercroc vs. Dinogator” represents David Carradine’s final screen appearance. Although inarguably deceased, lo these many years, Carradine has at least two other movies in post-production and others still awaiting release in the ancillary markets. For a dead guy, Carradine remains extremely active. Exec-produced by Corman, for the Syfy channel, “SvD” is yet another cautionary tale about genetic engineering in the service of laissez-faire capitalism and the military-industrial complex. Here, the mad scientists were able to cross dinosaur genes with those of large aquatic reptiles, resulting in hybrids capable of hunting prey miles from their natural habitats and leaping completely out of water damsels in bikinis are spotted. It’s almost as if they crossed dinosaur and modern reptilian DNA with that of Hugh Hefner. The inevitable clash promised in the film’s title doesn’t occur until dozens of attractive young people have been devoured and is anti-climactic, at best. Fans of this sort of nonsense already know how these movies unspool, however. If “SvD” holds our interest longer than other films in the series, it’s because of the lovely Hawaiian backdrops and the direction of Jim Wynorski, a longtime Corman veteran, whose recent credits include “Busty Coeds vs. Lusty Cheerleaders,” “Busty Cops and the Jewel of Denial” and “The Lusty Busty Babe-que.” His genetically altered reptile flicks may be fine for Syfy, but it probably would make more economic sense if unrated director’s-cut versions were released alongside the originals, which are tame enough to qualify as family fare. There are no bonus features. – Gary Dretzka

The Third Wave
It’s become a cliché of contemporary journalism that a disaster is only as newsworthy as there is money budgeted to cover it, and the media can only afford to apply blanket coverage to one tsunami, earthquake, flood or volcano at a time. Such dereliction of duty could be attributed to compassion fatigue, if it weren’t for the fact that news executives have gotten so damned greedy. They’ll argue that the public requires relief from the steady diet of heartbreaking news, but covering royal weddings, awards ceremonies and celebrity justice only makes good financial sense. They’re cheap and laying there on the ground, like turds, for anyone moron to pick up or step on. As tired as most of us are with the overexposure of celebrities, though, it’s a fact of life that important causes would be ignored if they weren’t endorsed by someone like Brad Pitt or Sean Penn, whose good work in New Orleans and Haiti wouldn’t be rewarded with donations if reporters weren’t drawn to their animal magnetism. Martin Scorsese and Francis Ford Coppola’s imprimatur on a DVD jacket has the same effect at video stores.

Penn’s endorsement of “The Third Wave” has helped Alison Thompson’s documentary finally find distribution — on DVD, anyway — four years after it debuted at the 2007 Tribeca Film Festival. Filmed in Sri Lanka in the immediate wake of the first two blasts of the 2004 tsunami, “The Third Wave” chronicles the experiences of first-responding volunteers from several unaffected countries. After meeting independently at the Colombo airport, a group of volunteers hopped in a van loaded with relief supplies and began looking for a community in desperate need of help. That was the easy part. They decided on Peraliya, a coastal village decimated by the same 40-foot wave that overturned a train and killed more than 2,500 people. Without any formal training in recovery efforts, the volunteers hardly knew where to begin. Thompson’s background as a nurse could be used immediately, of course, but other members of the group served by clearing human and animal remains from the vicinity. They also created makeshift housing for the displaced residents.

As the weeks passed, the volunteers would also be called upon to distribute food, supplies and money to the villagers, many of whom kept track of the exact amount of aid was given to their neighbors and made a stink if they received a dollar less. At times, they became consumed with refereeing arguments between victims, government representatives and fellow relief workers. “The Third Wave” doesn’t pretend that volunteerism is all about handshakes, hugs and high-minded ideals, although there’s plenty of that, too. The movie makes it clear that volunteers eventually will face challenges nearly as taunting as those faced by the disaster victims. Dealing with the politics of charitable organizations – especially the vagaries of distributing donations –is only one of the many hurdles these amateurs faced. On the other hand, the rewards that come in knowing you’ve helped even one person survive are great. Anyone looking for motivation need look no further than “The Third Wave.” – Gary Dretzka

Any artist who dares address the on-going struggle between Israelis and Palestinians on film is bound to be strapped to a rack of critical analysis and stretched to the point where limbs are pulled from sockets, or so it must seem. In “Miral,” Julian Schnabel puts human faces on the Palestinians we know only from news footage of protests, riots and mug shots. For this, the Brooklyn-born son of a prominent Jewish activist was required to defend himself against charges of being anti-Semitic and misguided. This, on top of enduring the scrutiny of critics who take a microscope to all films that could be construed as having political agenda, or don’t particularly like the artist’s way of expressing opinions. By personalizing characters drawn from the autobiographical novel of a Palestinian journalist, with whom he also enjoys a romantic relationship, Schnabel added baggage the movie couldn’t possibly carry on its slim shoulders. I wasn’t aware of exactly how much weight “Miral” was hoisting until I finished watching it and read some stories about the controversy. If I wasn’t already aware of Schnabel’s tendency to take himself too seriously, I would have been surprised to learn any controversy surrounded the movie. While not a great film, by any means, “Miral” is extremely well made and raises important questions.

What impressed me most was how the four Palestinian women to whom we’re introduced dealt with their personal challenges in the face of incredible resistance, some of which we watched as it played out on CNN. I was also moved by the performance of Hiam Abbass, a Nazareth-born actor who plays one of the two central characters in “Miral.” I’ve admired her work in “Lemon Tree,” “The Syrian Bride,” “Disengagement” and “Amreeka,” all of which helped me understand what it means to be an Arab woman in a largely hostile world. I was also struck by the performance of Freida Pinto, the former model and female lead of “Slumdog Millionaire,” who, in her first three movies, has been directed by a pair of Oscar-winners (Danny Boyle, Woody Allen) and Schnabel, a runner-up. These two fine actors are worth the price of a rental, alone.

“Miral” tells the story of three generations of Palestinian woman, all of whom share common narrative threads. Before we meet Miral, Schnabel introduces us to her extremely troubled mother, Nadia; Fatima, a woman who’s sentenced to life in prison for the failed bombing of a movie theater; and world-class humanitarian Hind Husseini (Abbass), who, between 1948 and the early 1990s, ran an orphanage and school, which accepted the children of men and women killed in battle and other homeless kids. It was Fatima who befriended Nadia in prison and asked her brother, Jamal (Alexander Siddig), to watch over and protect Miral. Knowing neither he nor Nadia are suited for parental roles, Jamal takes the girl to Hind’s school for a proper education. Most of Miral’s storyline recalls events that took place when she was a teenager, between the start of the First Intifada, in 1987, and the failed promise of the Oslo agreements, in the mid-’90s. She wavered between committing herself to the insurrection and continuing her studies at Abbass’ school. Her torture at the hands of Israeli interrogators, who demanded she inform on a boyfriend, raised the hackles of detractors who demanded a screening at the UN be cancelled.

Schnabel freely admits that “Miral,” while faithful to Rula Jebreal’s book, isn’t intended to be seen as a balanced account of the troubles between Jews and Palestinians in Jerusalem. Balance is in the eye of the beholder, after all, and it isn’t the artist’s responsibility to be fair or objective. Beholders are entitled to their opinions, as long as they don’t impede on the artist’s ability to display his work … or, words to that effect. Apart from all political considerations, “Miral” is enhanced mightily by Schnabel being allowed to film in the ancient streets of Jerusalem, where much of the rioting occurred and in some of the same buildings in which events depicted in the film, including a rape, actually occurred. The cinematography is highly stylized … heavy on tight focuses, painterly perspectives and interesting angles. The featurettes in the Blu-ray package should be considered essential viewing, as they address the outcry sparked by “Miral” as well as the personal views of the filmmaker and Jebreal. If nothing else, the movie gives Americans another opportunity to watch Abbass, one of the most underappreciated actors on the planet, and Pinto, whose rise to stardom has been nothing short of meteroric. – Gary Dretzka

[Rec] 2
Wake Wood
The Secret Life of Jeffrey Dahmer/Things

Released in 2007, well past the prime of the POV horror craze inspired by “The Blair Witch Project,” the Spanish thriller “[Rec]” found a ready audience for an in-your-face assault on a building infested with zombies, demons and/or renters upset that their supply hot- and cold-running blood had been turned off. It didn’t really matter what exactly was causing the panic, as long as the audience was forced to address the menace at the same time as the firefighters, police and a reporter. Consequently, we were as shocked as they were when finally confronted with the truth. “[Rec]2” picks up roughly a half-hour after the events described in the original “[Rec].” Here, though, it’s a police SWAT team that enters the quarantined building, which we know is infested with ghouls and goblins. Taking a cue from combat teams in Iraq, the cops have been outfitted with helmet cams. They allow the continuing story to be told from the vantage point of team members on different floors of the building and at various stages of the mission. The sequel also finds time to throw in some religious mumbo-jumbo, along with the automatic-weapons fire. “[Rec]2” is scary enough to justify squeezing a sequel from a picture that required no follow-up, let alone the two additional entries already in the works. The bonus making-of material isn’t particularly well made, but special-effects buffs should enjoy the exchanges between writer/directors Jaume Balaguero and Paco Plaza and their crew members. Blessedly, the American copycats who remade “[Rec]” as “Quarantine” have decided to stage their sequel on an airplane.

Do you want to know what gets the attention of studio executives in Hollywood? A movie that cost $1.2 million to make and returns $50 million-plus at the domestic box office, that’s what. I don’t know what director James Wan and writer Leigh Whannell – also responsible for the “Saw” franchise – are planning as an encore to “Insidious,” but they probably could write their own ticket. Let’s hope they elect to continue making big hits on a small budget. In “Insidious,” Wan and Whannell cross more genre boundaries than most directors do in their entire careers. What begins as a fairly standard haunted-house shocker, swiftly turns into a roller-coaster ride whose cheap thrills include demonic-possession, noisy ghosts and other unsettled spirits, transmigration, astral projection and re-animation. Patrick Wilson and Rose Byrne play the parents of an 8-year-old boy who falls into an unexplained coma after a strange incident in the attic of their new home. When the couple finally tires of being pushed around by ghosts, they allow a team of psychics to enter the house to investigate the situation. In addition to adding some comic relief, they come up with a theory that requires the father to revisit events long forgotten in his own youth and enter into a trance state, during which he can attempt to rescue his son from the dead zone. There’s a lot of scary stuff happening in “Insidious,” and lots of surprises from start to finish. What really test the ability of viewers to hang in there, though, are the extremely loud audio effects. They approximate the shock one gets when turning on a television or radio, not knowing that it’s pre-set at maximum volume. The Blu-ray adds some interesting discussions with the filmmakers and background material.

Wake Wood” speculates on the possible consequences of being allowed to revive a deceased loved one, if only for a short while, to tie up loose emotional ends and offer a final, well-considered farewell. Here, a 9-year-old girl dies after being mauled by a dog. Distraught, the parents move to the remote town of Wake Wood, where pagans are known to perform such wondrous acts as waking the dead. All the usual philosophical, religious and ethical questions are pondered, leaving only the dilemma that’s sure to arise when the deceased’s time among the living is up. The presence of Timothy Spall as the cult leader livens things up and viewers of a certain age might ask themselves the same questions as the parents in the movie. “Wake Wood” represents Hammer Films’ third attempt to resurrect its much-honored brand, after 30 years of dormancy.

Maneater” revives the Wendigo legend, with Dean Cain playing the sheriff of a rural town beset with the mysterious disappearances of sexually aggressive teenage girls, hunters and other unfortunate rustics. It takes a while for the sheriff to accept the possibility of a supernatural boogeyman causing all the strife, but a perusal of the Internet convinces him there might be something credible to it. Coincidentally, the cannibalistic attacks might also explain the disappearance of his wife, whose death he’s never accepted. The presence of several Native American actors in the cast is a nice touch, especially considering that the shape-shifting Wendigo has its roots in Indian mythology. Perhaps, in an attempt to lure teenage boys and dirty old men, they monster is something of a voyeur and local coeds drop their tops with great frequency here.

InterVision, which specializes in digging up the graves of long-dead cult flicks and breathing new life into them, has just released a pair of movies I doubt anyone has begged to see for the past two decades, at least. “The Secret Life: Jeffrey Dahmer” is so old that the killer might even have had a chance to watch it, before he was murdered by a fellow inmate in 1994. The story sticks close to the record of events documented in newspapers and court records. It avoids gratuitous gore and features a very decent performance by Carl Crew, who also is credited with the screenplay. He bears a passing resemblance to the Beach Boy, Dennis Wilson, and is especially credible as a hustler. It comes with commentary by Crew and director David R. Bowen.

Released in 1989 on VHS, “Things” is one of those movies so bad that they’re, well, unbelievably awful. Shot on Super 8, it is considered to be a prime example of Canuxploitaion, which distinguishes it from the DIY junk produced in other countries. As near as I can tell, “Things” is the story of a man who seeks medical help when he and his wife Susan are unable to conceive a child. Instead of solving their problem in an ethical way, the doctor impregnates the wife with his own demon spawn. The “Alien”-like creature finds its way to a remote cabin, where a couple of Bob and Doug McKenzie look-alikes are holed up watching TV and drinking beer. They’re forced to interrupt their drinking long enough to dismember the monstrous creation. Nothing in “Things” rises above the level of “sophomoric,” not even the cameos by porn goddess Amber Lynn. Her role here is strictly limited to reading dopey news reports from a Teleprompter. The nudity, we’re told, is supplied an actual prostitute, who either asked or was required to wear a devil’s mask while stripping. The reunion roundtable and commentary track are better than anything in the movie, itself. – Gary Dretzka

Brother’s Justice: Blu-ray
“Brother’s Justice” purports to be a mockumentary about how movies get made in Hollywood. As lame as it is, however, I wouldn’t be surprised if the events described therein were more fact than fancy. How else to explain how movies like “Brother’s Justice” – and far more expensive turkeys – are green-lit. Dax Shepard, who plays the most pathetic sibling/in-law in NBC’s “Parenthood,” wants us to believe that he’s a much-in-demand actor, capable of selling a martial-arts film based on the two-word, high-concept pitch, “Brother’s Justice.” That Shepard knows next to nothing about martial arts, and couldn’t pass as a hero in a crowd of kindergartners, is irrelevant to Dax. After convincing a friend to produce the movie, he begins the search for financial backing and bankable stars. That the only person he’s able to sign up is Tom Arnold should tell you everything you need to know about the project’s viability. It goes on like this for another hour, before being wrapped up with a neat little bow. Shepard, who looks like a cross between Howdy Doody and Dwight Yoakam, saves the best stuff for a pair of short movies within the movie, designed to showcase his ability to carry a feature. They’re tight and focused, where “Brother’s Justice” is loose and pointless. Fortunately, Shepard was able to lure Bradley Cooper, Jon Favreau, Aston Kutcher, David Koechner and Michael Rosenbaum to come along for the bumpy ride. – Gary Dretzka

Dizzy Gillespie: In Redondo
B.B. King: Live: Blu-ray

Along with Louis Armstrong, Duke Ellington and Count Basie, John Birks “Dizzy” Gillespie was one of the greatest of America’s jazz ambassadors. His ready smile and humorous on-stage banter were nearly as much a part of his brand as the puffed-out cheeks and upturned bell of his trumpet. Shot in 1981, during a Concerts by the Sea gig, Gillespie was in top form. Gary Keys’ film caught a set that featured a cross-section of his catalogue, including be-bop, Afro-Cuban, fusion and blues. Among the sidemen were Paquito D’Rivera and Ray Brown. “In Redondo” is a terrific, if all too short reminder of what Dizzy brought to jazz as a musician, mentor, innovator and statesman.

B.B. King is one of the very, very few bluesmen who can get away with playing his ax, Lucille, while wearing a tuxedo. No one has represented the blues as well and for as long as King, who’s been plucking our heartstrings for more than 60 years. T’wasn’t always thus, but the former Beale Street Blues Boy has successfully bridged the gap between the chitlin’ circuit and Las Vegas, the Mississippi Delta and the capitals of Europe. “Live” provides all the proof one needs of King’s ability, at 76, to tear down the house. In it, he’s joined by special guests Terrence Howard, Solange and guitarist Richie Sambora. The Blu-ray looks great, but doesn’t offer any bonus material. Neither does the Gillespie set. – Gary Dretzka

Mickey Mouse: Have a Laugh! Volumes 3&4
The Disney catalogue of cartoons and characters is so deep, there’s a seemingly endless reserve of material in the archives to be repurposed for projects unimaginable at the time of their creation. “Have a Laugh” is a series of restored and digitally re-mastered cartoons sliced, diced and re-packaged to fit specific holes in the schedules of all international Disney networks, including the main Disney Channel and Disney Cinemagic. Some have been re-voiced by current Disney cast members, such as Tony Anselmo, Jim Cummings, Bill Farmer and Bret Iwan, who is the latest actor to put words into the mouth of Mickey.

In addition to the cartoons, which were rendered in the 1930s,’40s and ’50s, the sets include Disney Re-Micks, in which classic Mickey Mouse cartoons are matched with popular songs by such artists as Miley Cyrus, the Jonas Brothers, Black-Eyed Peas, the Go-Gos and Queen; and “Blam!,” with such reality-based cartoons as “How to Play Football,” “Goofy Gymnastics,” “Donald’s Golf Game” and “Hawaiian Holiday.” The amazing thing is how well these cartoons hold up over such a long period of time. – Gary Dretzka

Damages: The Complete Third Season
Entourage: The Complete Seventh Season
Mi-5: Volume 9
ER: The Final Season

Good news on the TV-to-DVD front this week, starting with the third-season compilation of “Damages,” the FX/DirecTV mini-series that does for big-ticket lawyers what “Jaws” did for sharks. In the most recent stanza, demonic litigator Patty Hewes (Glenn Close) and her reluctant protégé Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne) find themselves neck deep in a financial scandal inspired by the Bernie Madoff case. The Madoff surrogates are played by Lily Tomlin, Campbell Scott and Martin Short, with Ted Dawson’s previously disgraced billionaire also making a return appearance. Things get really, really nasty here, but that’s only to be expected on “Damages.” The DVD set arrives with cast and crew commentaries, deleted scenes and a blooper reel, episode introductions and a pair of making-of featurettes.

HBO’s “Entourage” enters its eighth and final season in a couple of weeks and, frankly, it’s none too soon. If it weren’t for a story arc created specifically for retired porn goddess Sasha Grey, Ari’s rants would have grown even more tiresome and offensive than they had already become. With Grey playing Vince’s hedonistic girlfriend, however, the writers were able to tinker with his squeaky-clean image and the hypocrisy of people who watch porn but wouldn’t want their clients sleeping with any actor associated with a XXX production. There are other storylines, but none quite so interesting. The Blu-ray includes the featurettes “The Shades of Sasha Grey” and “Inside the Hollywood Highlife,” as well as some inconsequential commentaries with cast members.

In its penultimate season, the terrific BBC espionage series, “MI-5” (a.k.a, “Spooks”) went out on a limb, introducing a possible ringer to the team and exposing a member to accusations of treason. The writers also put team leader Harry Pearce on the hot seat, by creating an arc involving top spies from four different countries, Internet hackers and a freelance spook who might have the goods on Harry’s sketchy past. As far-fetched as the storyline sometimes gets, the tension remains palpable throughout the season’s eight episodes. Those of us who have given up on PBS moving the series forward on American TV, may need an episode or two to warm to the new characters, but, once that’s accomplished, it’s full-speed-ahead.

In the final season of “ER,” a steady parade of former cast members allowed the series to go out with a series of bangs, and the usual whimpering that comes from critics and fans disappointed by storylines weakened by the necessity to accommodate such network grandstanding. As we’ve learned, however, even substandard “ER” is better than most other series, especially when considering what’s been scheduled in its place. The DVD set includes “Outpatient Outtakes,” unaired scenes and the retrospective, “Previously on ‘ER.’” – Gary Dretzka

Secrets of the Dead: The World’s Biggest Bomb
America’s Test Kitchen
Dr. Lori Mosca’s 3 Keys to Heart Health

The consistently fascinating PBS documentary series “Secrets of the Dead” explores ancient cultures and historical events that were given short shrift in our high school classes. The most recent episode, “The World’s Biggest Bomb” describes the horrifying game of one-upmanship that followed in the radioactive wake of the war-ending bombings of Hiroshima and Nagasaki. As long as the United States was the only country that possessed nuclear weapons, half the world went to sleep each night with a false sense of security and the other half lived in fear of being incinerated by our military-industrial complex. To prevent annihilation, Soviet leaders leveled the playing field by committing their resources to building A-bombs of their own. They got an assist from American nuclear scientists, working at Los Alamos, who didn’t trust their government to play fair and gave our secrets to the commies. In the game of leap-frog that followed, Soviet and American leaders demanded exceedingly more powerful weapons. As we learn here, wiser heads finally prevailed when it became clear that the technology was outpacing the scientists’ ability to control the clouds of radioactive fallout from tests in the atmosphere, let alone the devastating killing power of the thermonuclear devices in their countries’ arsenals. It’s a frightening story, made even more depressing by the knowledge Bikini Atoll remains a nuclear hot spot, 60 years after the last test blast, and Al Qaeda is on the verge of reigniting the arms race.

The long-running PBS series, “America’s Test Kitchen,” is filmed in an actual test kitchen used by the editors of Cook’s Illustrated magazine to determine if what their readers are getting is the real deal. Located in Brookline, Massachusetts, the kitchen is the weekday home for more than three dozen test cooks, editors, food scientists, tasters and cookware specialists. In Season 11, viewers’ appetites were whetted by grilled meat, fruit desserts, deep-dish pizza, steak frites and other treats.

Also available through PBS, “Dr. Lori Mosca’s 3 Keys to Heart Health” delivers practical advice for the prevention of heart disease. Cardiologist Mosca is a professor of medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and Director of Preventive Cardiology at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital. Her research focuses on lifestyle and family-centered interventions arranged to prevent heart disease, especially among women. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: The Lincoln Lawyer, Rango, Arthur, Waking Madison, Damnation Alley, The Third Wave, Miral, Insidious …”

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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