MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Rio, Exporting Raymond, Outside the Law, Streetwalkin’, The Perfect Game, Stake Land, John Pinette …

Rio: Blu-ray
It’s been nearly 70 years since Walt Disney and a team of animators toured South America, looking for new ideas and acting as cultural ambassadors to a continent our State Department felt was ripe for exploitation by Adolph Hitler. Among the souvenirs they brought home was an anthropomorphized cartoon parrot, Jose Carioca, who introduced Donald Duck to the rhythms, colors and scenic splendor of Rio de Janeiro. Disney modeled Carioca after the green tropical parrots that populated the trees of Brazil, but adding an umbrella, cigar, yellow sport jacket, a snazzy boater hat, black bowtie, white shirt and opera gloves. He was the quintessential Brazilian ladies’ man, nearly the polar opposite of the well-meaning, if short-tempered Donald. How cool might it have been if the folks at Fox had been able to make a cultural exchange with Disney, so its splendid Blu-ray edition of “Rio” – to be followed a few weeks from now with a 3D edition – could have included an upgraded edition of “The Three Caballeros,” as well? Certainly, “Rio” can stand on its own two feet as a delightful family entertainment, but, oh, the possibilities.

“Rio” tells the story of a blue macaw, kidnapped from the forests surrounding Rio de Janeiro as a young bird and raised by a kind girl in a small Minnesota town. Years later, a Brazilian ornithologist, Tulio, traces Blu to his frigid home, where he informs Linda – now, an adult – that Blu is the last male of his species and he would like to introduce the fully domesticated macaw to a feisty female, Jewel, back in Rio. Following rom-com convention, Blu and Jewel aren’t nearly as compatible as the ornithologist had predicted. Among other things, she’s turned off by his inability to fly. Basically, Jewel thinks Blu is a hopelessly awkward wimp, unworthy of her favors. In Blu’s defense, however, no one in Minnesota could have foreseen the necessity for sex-education lessons, so he’s clueless in such matters. To get the mismatched macaws from Point A to Point Z, director and story creator Carlos Saldanha has devised a scenario wherein Blu and Jewel are literally forced to remain in each other’s company throughout most of the movie, giving the hoser plenty of time and opportunities to man up. Meanwhile, Linda and Tulio are encouraged to work out some cultural differences of their own. What’s wonderful about these parallel storylines is that they take the primary characters on a whirlwind tour of Rio de Janeiro, from its jungles, mountains and beaches, to the samba schools and the judging platform on the Carnaval parade route.

As host to the 2014 FIFA World Cup and 2016 Summer Olympics, Brazil could benefit from some good publicity. “Rio” doesn’t completely ignore the city’s less-attractive qualities, but the accent here is squarely on fun, music and the colorful lifestyle of the citizenry. In Blu-ray, those colors literally pop off the screen, while the soundtrack pulsates with the percussion-heavy rhythms of the streets. The re-creation of the Carnaval parade is especially impressive and, unlike the real thing, doesn’t require a PG-13 or R rating to enjoy. The all-star, English-language voicing cast includes Anne Hathaway, Jesse Eisenberg, Will i Am, Wanda Sykes, Jane Lynch, George Lopez, Leslie Mann, Jamie Foxx and Rodrigo Santoro. The Blu-ray bonus package is heavy on kid-friendly activities, including an interactive tour of the city, deleted scenes, making-of material and an “Angry Birds” mash-up. Teens and adults will enjoy the music-oriented featurettes, which include in-studio interviews and dance lessons. Animation buffs will recognize the artistic fingerprints of Blue Sky Studios, also responsible for the “Ice Age” franchise. – Gary Dretzka

Exporting Raymond
Putting differences in politics and economics aside, families the world over tend to behave in ways that transcend borders and ideology. For better or worse, this quirk in human nature helps explain why American-style sitcoms and game shows fare as well in the international marketplace as they do in the U.S. Throughout most of Phil Rosenthal’s entertaining cross-cultural documentary “Exporting Raymond,” however, we’re led to believe that the Russian translation of the CBS hit series “Everybody Loves Raymond” might be the exception that proves the rule. Even though the producer/writer/director looked as if he was passing a stone while lending his expertise to the creative team responsible for mounting the Russian “Raymond,” the universality of the show’s premise comes through intact. Of course, you’ll have to check out the episodes of “Everybody Loves Kostya” included in the bonus package to see just how closely they match the originals. Contrary to Rosenthal’s worst fears, they’re virtually identical.

Halfway through “Exporting Raymond,” it seemed as if manifestations of the famously dark Russian soul would trump the lighthearted frivolity of suburban life in Raymond’s Long Island home. Everywhere Rosenthal turned, he was greeted by negativity, pessimism and bureaucratic indifference. Each new casting decision required an OK from network apparatchiks whose offices might have been located in a bunker under the Kremlin. Stone faces greeted tried-and-true sitcom conventions and gags imported directly from the American series. Moreover, whenever Rosenthal got comfortable with a producer, translator or chauffeur, he was replaced. It isn’t until Rosenthal leaves the studio and sees how average Russian families interact at home that he realizes just how narrow the cultural divide truly is. Raymond and Kolya’s families could live side-by-side in any middle-class enclave around the world and blend naturally into the woodwork. After dealing with writers and producers who steadfastly insisted his gags, as written, wouldn’t translate into Russian, the conviviality of the average citizens he meets appears to have taken Rosenthal by surprise. It shouldn’t have, perhaps, but what does any highly successful, over-compensated Hollywood producer really have in common with a members of the proletariat … anywhere? After surviving nearly a century of repression, deprivation, economic ruin, rampant alcoholism, German invasions and crappy weather, it’s a miracle anyone in the former USSR has the energy to get out of bed, let alone act silly in front of a camera.

As usual, of course, the proof is in the pudding. The episodes “Baggage” and “The Family Bed,” which are shown in both the original American and re-fabricated Russian versions, look as if they had been run through a Google translation app. The actors, set design, comic beats and moronic laugh track could hardly be more similar. We’re left to decide for ourselves if the credit belongs to Rosenthal or the Russians, whose recalcitrance might have been overstated from the beginning. No matter, because the show’s a No. 1 hit and Rosenthal is fielding invitations from studio executives in other countries. In many ways, the key players in America’s television industry are every bit as small-minded, up-tight, trivial and afraid of change as anyone living in the shadow of the Kremlin. The primary difference comes in knowing that a creator of a successful sitcom in Russia isn’t likely to be treated as if he invented a cure for cancer, as is the norm in Hollywood. To get the full benefit of Rosenthal’s experience, it’s necessary to watch the DVD’s bonus material, especially the full-length episodes. After meeting his parents, you’ll also see where some of the inspiration for “Raymond” originated. – Gary Dretzka

Outside the Law: Blu-ray
While the title of Rachid Bouchareb’s sprawling historical drama, “Outside the Law” (“Hors-la-loi”) makes it sounds like a project Steven Seagal might have been offered, it is a movie that’s reignited passions and opened old wounds in France and its former colony, Algeria. Anyone who’s seen Gillo Pontecorvo’s powerful “The Battle of Algiers” will have a head start on those who come to “Outside the Law” without a broad understanding of the events that not only led to Algeria’s independence, but also the rise of liberation movements in all colonized nations in the bloody wake of World War II. Not surprisingly, perhaps, Bouchareb’s film opens in a North Africa with an eviction and a massacre, both perpetrated by French gendarmes and Arab collaborators. The movie then takes us to a horrendous refugee camp on the outskirts of Paris, where the news emanating from Algeria is closely monitored and the FLN resistance movement is taking root. It takes a while for the Algerian men to risk their jobs and the livelihood of their families on the off-chance such a revolt back home might actually succeed. Brutal police repression, unequal treatment under the law and widespread racism make their decision to side with the FLN that much easier, however. We follow the organization’s evolution through the activities of three brothers, who were raised in Algeria but took very different routes to Paris. One is an intellectual, jailed in Paris for fomenting trouble in Algeria; another lost an eye, defending French colonialism in Indochina; and the other grows up to be a street hustler, whose profits from a nightclub and pimping help support his brothers’ political activities. The intellectual and the former soldier become key figures in the resistance, while the gangster contributes his access to weapons, financing and police intelligence. The intolerance of FLN ideologues is demonstrated when the nightclub owner is castigated for promoting a boxer and smoking cigars, activities that have been banned for reasons only fundamentalists and aspiring tyrants can understand.

The police official in charge of neutralizing the FLN also witnessed his country’s humiliating defeat in Vietnam. He chases the brothers and their cohorts around Paris, even though he knows that a guerrilla movement can’t be defeated by repression and mounting casualty figures. Indeed, FLN leadership doesn’t seem to be concerned about the mounting number of Algerians immigrants who have been beaten and killed by police. In their minds, such repression only serves to call attention to the movement outside France, adding to the pressure already weighing down French politicians. They same thing was happening in Algeria as troops combed the Casbah, searching for dissidents and rebel leaders to interrogate and torture. Bouchareb maintains a steady pace throughout “Outside the Law,” balancing the atrocities perpetrated in defense of both positions with intrigue, action and humanistic touches. Eventually, of course, Algeria gained its independence in 1962, just as the United States, in its red, white and blue arrogance, began escalating its presence in Vietnam’s civil war. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette, an interview with Bouchareb and cast members, deleted scenes and trailers. The film was nominated for both a 2011 Academy Award and 2010 Palme d’Or, at Cannes. Given what we’ve seen of the continuing Arab Spring, such movies as “Outside the Law” and “Battle of Algiers” can help us understand what’s still at stake in the Middle East and Northern Africa. – Gary Dretzka

Streetwalkin’: Roger Corman’s Cult Classics
Dear Lemon Lima

Some actors have won Oscars the first time out of the chute. Others wait a lifetime simply for the honor of being nominated. The closest most actors get is an invitation to a party after the televised ceremony. Melissa Leo was 25 when she made her feature-film debut in “Streetwalkin’,” as a naïve teenage prostitute shackled to a thuggish pimp in New York’s then-grittyTimes Square. It would take Leo another 24 years of extremely hard and critically acclaimed work to be nominated for a Best Lead Actress trophy, for “Frozen River,” and another two to win in the Best Supporting category, for “The Fighter.” It would be fascinating to sit alongside the New York native today, watching this often tawdry, Roger Corman-produced exploitation flick. If nothing else, Leo looks every bit the 18-year-old runaway, Cookie, who exchanges an abusive stepfather for a pimp (Dale Midkiff) who closely resembles Andrew “Dice” Clay’s trademark character.

Cookie makes the mistake of assuming that a pimp’s “bottom girl” is also, by definition, his girlfriend, and she happily begins peddling her ass for him. By the time Cookie learns that Duke is as faithful as your average alley cat, she finds herself in too deep to escape the quicksand. It takes a veritable militia of sympathetic pimps and ’hos to keep Cookie and her younger brother – also a runaway – from becoming the Manhattan equivalent of road kill. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that Joan Freeman’s movie was inspired by “Vice Squad,” which took place on the similarly crime-ridden streets of Hollywood in the early- 1980s. Part of both movies’ contemporary appeal can be attributed to the fact that Hollywood Boulevard and Times Square have both been rehabbed since then and now look about as sinister as the Universal CityWalk. So, it can be enjoyed as a historical document, if nothing else. While far more credible a study of the hookers’ game than “Pretty Woman,” “Streetwalkin’” isn’t ever likely to be confused with “Taxi Driver” or, even, the more procedural, “Vice Squad.”

But, wait, there’s more. “Streetwalkin’” also benefits from campy appearances by Amazonian Julie Newmar, in red lingerie; Antonio Fargas and Leon Robinson, as rival pimps; Deborah Offner, as Duke’s other punching bag; tiny Annie Golden, as Newmar’s polar opposite; and Khandi Alexander and Greg Germann, in their feature debuts. Commentary is provided by Freeman and producer/writer, Robert Alden.

As she’s grown into lead and featured roles, Leo has continued to make appearances in low-budget indies and other projects that might benefit from her marquee value. “Dear Lemon Lima” is just the kind of quirky movie that could have disappeared from view completely if it weren’t for exposure at festivals and recognizable talent, not to mention a cute cover. The real star of this show is newcomer Savannah Wiltfong, who plays a precocious half-Inuit 13-year-old, Vanessa, whose uncommon intelligence and outsized sense of self-confidence make her an outcast at a private high school full of rich blond snobs and closet racists. Lacking in certain physical abilities, as well, she’s placed in a class reserved for other non-athletic types at the school. Not wanting to take advantage or draw undue attention to her Eskimo roots, Vanessa paints herself into a corner emotionally, as well. Winning the school’s “snowstorm survival” competition, with a team of fellow misfits – brunettes and scrawny boys, mostly — would go a long way toward rearranging the school’s priorities. Although aimed directly at the ’tween market, “Dear Lemon Lima” risks being too hip for the demographic. Sometimes, it feels as if writer/director Suzi Yoonessi is targeting moms more than the kids and the material is too cool for school. – Gary Dretzka

MST3K vs. Gamera:Deluxe Edition
In the DVD equivalent of a marriage made in cult-movie heaven, Shout! Factory has joined its “MST3K” and “Gamera” franchises together in a digital alliance no sane man would dare put asunder. Apart from the titles in the “Godfather” and “Apocalypse Now” series, it would be difficult to find any franchise that’s been repurposed in video as often as Daiei Motion Picture Company’s “Gamera.” The giant, fire-breathing, prehistoric species of tortoise – whose petroleum-based diet provides the fuel necessary to fly – was introduced to American audiences in the 1970s as part of Saturday matinee “Creature Double Features” and, again, in the early ’80s, on “Elvira’s Movie Macabre.” In 1988 and, again, in 1991, the Japanese kaiju flicks would provide fodder for both the KTMA-TV and Comedy Central iterations of “Mystery Science Theater 3000.” In January, 2008, Shout! acquired the worldwide home-entertainment and digital-download rights to all “MST3K” branded properties and, two years later, the rights for all eight “Gamera” entries in the Showa series. The uncut, Japanese- and English-language versions were released in sequential order, starting with “Gamera: The Giant Monster ,” on May 18, 2010, and ending on March 15, 2011, with the double-feature of “Gamera vs. Zigra” and “Gamera: Super Monster.” Mill Creek recently released Blu-ray editions of Shusuke Kaneko’s re-booted “Gamera” trilogy, from the late 1990s, and the 2006 “Gamera the Brave” was released on DVD by Tokyo Shock.

The “Deluxe Edition” of “MST3K vs. Gamera” arrives in a tin gift box and features both the uncut movies and witty observations of our favorite orbiting critics: series creator Joel Hodgson and robots Tom Servo and Crow. The bonus goodies include skits in which Tom croons a tribute to the film’s lost pet, Tibby the Turtle, and future host Mike Nelson reveals the true nature of his relationship with the boy hero, Kenny. The rarely heard “Gameradammerung” and “Gamera Song” also are given an airing here. Among the featurettes are “So Happy Together: A Look Back at MST3K and Gamera”; “Gamera vs. the Chiodo Brothers,” in which Stephen, Edward and Charles Chiodo (“Killer Klowns From Outer Space”) evaluate a half-century of men-in-monster-costume epics; “Gamera Obscura,” an exhaustive oral history of the Gamera series, Japanese fantasy film expert August Ragone; Mike Nelson’s wrap segments as Jack Perkins from the syndicated “MST Hour”; original Japanese trailers for each film; original mini-posters by artist Steve Vance. – Gary Dretzka

Ferris Bueller’s Day Off: Blu-ray: Commemorative Packaging
The realization that “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off” turned 25 earlier this year put a lot of Baby Boomers and post-Boomers off their feed for a couple of days. The same happened when Bob Dylan turned 70, though, and most of us managed to survive the shock. Like many of Dylan’s greatest songs, “Ferrris Bueller” simply never grows old. It’s possible to find new things to cherish with every viewing. (I particularly enjoy watching the interplay between Charlie Sheen and Jennifer Grey.)That said, the anniversary-edition Blu-ray comes with only one feature not previously available on the “Bueller … Bueller … Edition.” The slip case comes with a foldout map highlighting many of the Chicago locations seen in the movie. Otherwise, the feature package includes “Getting the Class Together: The Cast of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’”; “The Making of ‘Ferris Bueller’s Day Off’”; “Who is Ferris Bueller?”; “The World According to Ben Stein”; “Vintage Ferris Bueller: The Lost Tapes; and “Class Album.” – Gary Dretzka

John Pinette: Still Hungry
Comedian John Pinette is a seriously overweight comedian who bears an uncanny resemblance to Fatty Arbuckle. That’s neither here nor there when it comes to being funny in 2011, but it adds a level of comfort that might not come with watching your morbidly obese neighbor make jokes about his aversion to salads. Fortunately for all involved, “Stay Hungry” is hilarious and Pinette prowls the stage of Chicago’s Vic Theater like a man a quarters his weight. Even knowing he could keel over with a heart attack at any second doesn’t make his bits about having to wait in line at a rib festival, behind a pair of chatty Canadians, any less funny. And, for those who care about such things, I don’t recall Pinette using a single curse word or reference to sexual organs. The bonus features include “Tour of Chicago,” “Looking for John Pinette,” “Worst Snowstorm in 1,000 Years,” “In the Make-Up Chair,” “Fans,” “Photoshoot” and “Number 1 Fan.” – Gary Dretzka

Stake Land
Exit 33
The Frankenstein Syndrome
Strigoi: The Undead

At a time when the megaplexes are overflowing with crappy movies and empty seats, it defies explanation whenever a very good horror movie is confined to a limited release in a handful of theaters or none at all. Considering how bored most of us have become with the parade of same-old/same-old vampire/zombie movies, this qualifies as a real shame. At the very least, “Stake Land” is the best-looking post-apocalyptic thriller I’ve seen since “The Road.” It also has a nicely realized familial element that’s missing from most other genre flicks. Jim Mickle’s sophomore feature imagines a scenario in which a political and economic disaster leads to an epidemic of vampirism across the U.S. These aren’t the cool bloodsuckers and werewolves of “True Blood,” or the suave demons of “Interview With the Vampire,” however. These vampires more closely resemble the undead characters in “Night of the Living Dead” than Tom Cruise, Brad Pitt and Anna Paquin. They look scary, howl like banshees and are fleet of foot, but they die pretty easy if one knows where to stick the stake. That job belongs to a hard-ass warrior, Mister (co-writer Nick Damici), who’s determined to reach vampire-free Canada (a.k.a., New Eden), with his makeshift family of refugees in tow. At various times, the entourage includes Mister’s death-dealing protégé, Martin (Connor Paolo, of “Gossip Girl”); a nun, Sister (Kelly McGillis), who prays for the fiends’ souls whenever Mister blasts a hole in them; a pregnant troubadour, Belle (Danielle Harris); and an ex-marine, Willie (Sean Nelson). Besides the zombies, who pop up in the most unexpected places, Mister also must contend with a gang of religious cultists, who, for some reason, are pissed off at him. Just knowing Canada is an attainable goal gives the characters here more hope than those in 90 percent of all other horror films.

Strigoi: The Undead” was shot in Romania, with a predominantly Romanian cast of English-speaking actors. The setting is a rural village in the formerly Communist police state, where the institutional memory of Ceausescu family tyranny competes with the omnipresent specter of Vlad Dracul in the dark recesses of the country’s soul. More a mystery than traditional horror flick, “Strigoi” revolves around the efforts of a medical student, who returns to his home village from Italy, to come to grips with the murder of his grandfather and other unexplained deaths. Complicating his investigation is an ancient myth, which theorizes that people who have died under suspicious circumstances can rise again after death to seek justice and satisfy their thirst for blood. “Strigoi” often seems to venture into the realm of parody, as well, considering the bizarre behavior of the locals, which just as easily could be attributed to alcoholism. Even with the English dialogue, it feels very much like such recent Romanian exports as “Police, Adjective” and “12:08 East of Bucharest.”

Also from Breaking Glass, “Exit 33” is a standard issue torture-porn movie that relies on an unlikely series of coincidences for its basic premise to work. In it, five high-school friends plan to re-connect at their reunion, which requires separate road trips along the same route. On the way, they nearly run out of gas at approximately the same point in the trip and make a pit stop at a service station that looks as if it ran out of gasoline, itself, only back when it cost 25 cents a gallon. The bathroom is foul and the proprietor, Ike, treats his customers as if he’s doing them a favor by taking their money. Soon thereafter, all of the cars break down at approximately the same place in the woods, where Ike (Kane Hodder) greets them with a tire iron to the head. Back in his basement, Ike tortures the young people before butchering them, carefully slicing off the raw meat necessary to make the region’s best jerky. You get the picture. “Exit 33” is fairly well made and plenty gory, even if it’s not particularly scary.

Ten minutes into “The Frankenstein Syndrome” I was struck with the distinct feeling that I’d been here before and met all the characters. The sterile-looking environment of a research lab couldn’t be more familiar and neither could the efforts of the scientists to re-create life, this time using forbidden stem-cell technology. Scream queen Tiffany Shepis plays a stem-cell researcher recruited by a prominent doctor (Ed Lauter) to discover an aggressive treatment for his cancer. This requires the creation of a serum that can bring the dead back to life, which, of course, references Mary Shelley’s classic novel. Where Dr. Frankenstein’s monster suffered from arrested development, however, the one here evolves from moron to genius at warp speed, as does his frustration and temper. There’s lots of blood-letting here but it’s mostly limited to splatters and security cameras. – Gary Dretzka

The Perfect Game: Blu-ray
Eastbound & Down: The Complete Second Season
Minnesota Twins: 1991 World Series
Magic in Minnesota: 20th Anniversary Special

If the extremely compelling baseball drama, “The Perfect Game,” weren’t verifiably accurate, according to real events that led to the greatest upset in the history of the Little League World Series, it would be easy to feel completely manipulated by director William Dear and writer W. William Winokur. Typically, audiences resent being jerked around by facts not in evidence and coincidences that seem to have been cut from whole cloth. In fact, though, everything about “Los pequeños gigantes” – as the little giants of team from Monterey, Mexico, became known — defies credulity, so what’s a little poetic license between baseball fans? The team actually was comprised of players who practiced on a field littered with tires and broken glass, and made do with hand-me-down equipment and uniforms. On average the players gave up 35 pounds and 6 inches to their American counterparts. And, being 1957, the dark-skinned youngsters faced good old-fashioned American racism at every stop along the way to Williamsport, Pa. Finally, though, the boys captured the hearts of baseball fans around the world, not only by becoming the first team from outside the U.S. to take home the LLWS trophy, but to claim the championship on a perfectly pitched final game. The feat has yet to be repeated.

“The Perfect Game” had nearly as high a mountain to climb as the team from Monterey. In addition to running out of money during the course of production, the filmmakers were required to replicate Southern, Northeastern, Texan and Mexican locations within the confines of southern California. The stadium in which the playoffs were contested was found in San Bernardino. Moreover, for all the fuss that’s made about the scarcity of family-friendly fare in theaters, “Perfect Game” found a home in only 218 theaters and, then, only for a week. Considering how few multiplexes can found in the nation’s barrios, it’s pretty safe to assume the PG-rated, Dove Foundation-approved movie never was given a fair shot at success. The same limitations shouldn’t apply to the DVD release of “Perfect Game.” Besides the inspirational story, itself, the cast includes adult stars Cheech Marin, Lou Gossett Jr., Bruce McGill, Emilie de Ravin and David Koechner, and teen faves Moises Arias, Jake T. Austin and Ryan Ochoa. And, with the 2011 LLWS right around the corner, the timing couldn’t be better. The DVD adds a making-of featurette and an interesting then-and-now look at the team. Anyone who enjoyed “Hoosiers” is the perfect candidate for “Perfect Game.”

HBO’s ribald comedy series “Eastbound & Down” does for baseball what “Bad Santa” did for Christmas and “Bad Teacher” does for public education. It rips a new orifice in one of America’s most sacred of cows, while setting new standards for blasphemy and bad taste in hairdos. In the show’s second season, Kenny Powers (Danny McBride) acts on the promise he made at the end of Season One to make a serious attempt to get back into the Major Leagues. After the onetime All-Star closer washed out of the Major Leagues, he took a job as a coach and P.E. teacher at his old high school, most of his addictions and bad manners intact. The only team that will take Kenny is a Mexican minor-league outfit in desperate need of a marquee attraction. While there, he manages to alienate everyone and everything in his wake, including his teammates and coach, the team’s gangster owner, an incredibly beautiful nightclub singer (Ana de la Reguera), a burro and several dead roosters. He also reconnects with a long-lost relative (Don Johnson), a former rival (Adam Scott) and a major-league scout (Matthew McConaughey). Depending on one’s tolerance for extreme humor, “Eastbound & Down” will either be deemed hilarious or horrifying. The Blu-ray arrives with a set visit, deleted scenes and outtakes, commentaries and the featurette, “Big Red Cockfighting.”

Everything that makes baseball great was on full display in the 1991 World Series, which pitted the Minnesota Twins and Atlanta Braves, teams that finished the previous season at the bottom of their divisions. In its “World Series 100th Anniversary” countdown, ESPN selected the 1991championship series as the “Greatest of All Time,” with five of its games being decided by a single run, four games decided in the final at-bat and three games going into extra innings. Among the players were future Hall of Famers John Smoltz, Tom Glavine, and Kirby Puckett. The beauty of packages like this for fans of the individual teams comes in reliving past glory. For those of us with poor memories, it’s possible to watch the series as if for the first team … quick, who won the championship? A&E’s seven-DVD collection contains all seven games in their entirety, along with a DVD audio feature that allows Minnesota fans to eliminate the network voices and listen to the Twins announcers. A companion DVD, “Magic in Minnesota,” is strictly for people who’ve actually canoed all of the state’s 10,000 lakes or think “Fargo” is a documentary. Kidding. Suffice it to say, diehard fans will enjoy it almost as much as the other, more comprehensive collection. – Gary Dretzka

Dennis Woodruff Collection: Volume 1
Produce Your Own Damn Movie

In Hollywood, sanity is a relative thing. Anyone who’s ever crossed paths with actor/director/self-promoter Dennis Woodruff or spotted one of his four-wheeled wet dreams on the streets of Tinsel Town, knows he’s either a latent genius or clear and present danger to himself and everyone around him. The same, of course, has been said about the late Wild Man Fischer and Angelyne, the Hollywood poster queen. With his long blond hair and black-rim Ray-Bans, Woodruff looks no different from hundreds of other Los Angelinos who’ve spent too much time in the hot SoCal sun and have had their brains seared. Put him next to one of his garishly decorated cars – all of which extol his dubious acting ability and easy availability for jobs – or listen to him rave about “the ant people,” and you’ll keep your distance. Troma’s first “Dennis Woodruff Collection” features three of the auteur’s self-made movies, two of which are guardedly hilarious. In the other, “Spaceman,” plays an extraterrestrial being whose space capsule lands in the Hollywood Hills and requires him to preach peace and love to anyone willing to listen to a nut job in an astronaut costume. Any teenager with an iPhone could make a better movie.

In “Obsession: Letters to David Lynch,” Woodruff is either portraying a lunatic stalking the eccentric filmmaker and artist for the purpose of landing a role in his next movie, or he’s made a documentary about the lengths he’s gone to landing a role in a Lynch project. As such, “Obsession” draws a thin line between horror and comedy. “L.A.” can be viewed either as a conscious parody of his own public image or, again, a horror show. One’s funny, the other is tragic. Woodruff keeps us guessing throughout the length of both of these movies. Fact is, guys like Woodruff and New York’s Naked Cowboy would be locked away in an abandoned refrigerator if they plied their craft anywhere outside Hollywood and Manhattan. Do their public persona make these clowns any less worthy of our respect or pity, than, say, John Boehner and Michelle Bachman? I think not.

Also from Troma Studios comes “Produce Your Own Damn Movie,” from the fertile mind of company president and “Toxic Avenger” creator Lloyd Kaufman. Say what you will about the Troma catalogue of horror comedies, there’s no questioning Kaufman’s talent as a producer, one of the most misunderstood titles in show business. Kaufman, who comes off as bit of an eccentric himself, has spent most of the last 40 years writing, producing, directing, promoting, acting and scrounging for money to finance projects that define what it means to be a cult sensation. He lends his expertise to anyone crazy enough to get into a business that practically guarantees poverty and shame. It’s the third installment in Kaufman’s entertaining and enlightening “… Your Own Damn Movie” series of documentaries and books. Here, he includes interviews with such luminaries as David Cronenberg, Roger Corman, Monte Hellman, Joe Dante, Ernest Dickerson and the Duplass brothers. The lessons also include tips on raising money, maximizing production values, securing locations for free, developing business plans, pre-selling a movie and “making your own damn green screen.” Buy Kaufman’s instructional films and invest the money you would have spent on tuition at USC or NYU in the production of a Troma-tastic picture. – Gary Dretzka

Zen: Vendetta/Cabal/Ratking: Blu-ray
Jesse Stone: Innocents Lost
Epitafios/Alice/Mandrake/ El Perro y El Gato
Craft in America: Season 3: Messages
Frontline: Wikisecrets: Julian Assange & Wikileaks

Not having remembered to record the “Masterpiece Mystery!” mini-series, “Zen,” I was ecstatic to find a Blu-ray copy of it in my mailbox. It’s gotten far more difficult for Los Angeles viewers to find a PBS station still willing to carry the three “Masterpiece” offerings, so, surely, I won’t be the only one happy to find it in video stores. Rufus Sewell places Detective Aurelio Zen, an honest cop in the thoroughly corrupt corridors of justice in Rome. It takes a few minutes to buy into the use of British actors in a story set and shot in Italy, but, once that’s accomplished, it’s clear sailing. While Zen isn’t a genius, he’s sharp enough to put 2 and 2 together before the end of each installment. He has a detached cool reminiscent of cunning super-sleuths and espionage agents from the mid-1960s, a look replicated in the credit rolls. The BBC set includes the chapters, “Vendetta,” “Cabal” and “Ratking,” during which Zen’s integrity is continually tested by his superiors, who have vested interests in distorted conclusions. Sewell is terrific as the steadfast detective – invented by author Michael Dibdin’s – who finds himself getting increasingly enchanted by his enigmatic fellow detective, Tania Moretti (the exceedingly gorgeous, Caterina Murino). Best of all are the settings, which span the splendid Italian countryside and cramped streets of the Eternal City.

Innocents Lost” represents Tom Selleck’s seventh appearance as New England lawman Jesse Stone, a character created by the late Robert B. Parker. Following 2010’s “No Remorse,” Tom Selleck returns (and shares a writing credit) for the latest installment of the Jesse Stone saga in “Innocents Lost.” In this, the seventh outing, Selleck is more world weary and introspective than usual. Fans of the series already know that the onetime chief of police of Paradise was replaced by odious son-in-law of a town councilman. If anything, the demotion has made Stone even more downcast than in previous outings and the force is none too pleased with their new boss, either. When an old friend is murdered in the town, Stone takes it upon himself to solve the crime. This, of course, upsets the new chief and muddles the picture for rank-and-file cops. Selleck, once again, shared writing credits with Michael Brandman.

HBO subscribers in the U.S. can sample some of some of South America’s best series via HBO Latino, although the lack of English-language subtitles makes full enjoyment impossible for most of us. (Even without subtitles, the sizzling hot “Sexo Urbano” is capable of raising a sweat, but that’s another story.) Now, three of those series have been collected in seasonal packages, complete with English subtitles, and sent out by Maya Entertainment. They include the second season of “Epitafios,” which follows investigations into serial killings that would make Dexter Morgan wince. The first two seasons of the Brazilian export “Mandrake,” inspired by the books of Rubem Fonseca, also are newly available. It’s set in Rio, where the underground meets the mansions on the hill. Mandrake is a lawyer, who fixes problems some people don’t want to see adjudicated in court. In the first season of “Alice,” we were introduced to a vivacious young woman who returns to her native Sao Paolo, after being raised in the boonies of Brazil. Although she thought she’d only be there for the length of a funeral, Alice decides to stay on and discover the joys of city life. (Both series have Portuguese and Spanish tracks, with English subtitles.)

HBO Latino’s animated “El Perro y El Gato” is aimed at the pre-school demographic. It follows a mismatched pair of canine and feline friends, who find ways to narrow the very real differences between them. The characters repeat each phrase in English and Spanish, and key vocabulary words appear onscreen in both languages. The four new DVDs – “The Adventure Begins,” “Together Again,” “From Here to There,” “Unleashed” – are comprised of specially themed four-minute episodes, all adding up to about 25 minutes of entertainment. The brightly colored characters and pacing are all designed for maximum toddler appeal.

PBS’ “Craft in America” is the television byproduct of a nonprofit organization dedicated to the exploration, preservation and celebration of craft and its impact on our nation’s cultural heritage. Season Three featured artists who found ways to express personal beliefs in their art.

As has become abundantly clear, the recent Wikileaks hasn’t caused any noticeable rift in the space-time continuum. Of course, the trials and persecution of Internet activist Julian Assange and Army intelligence analyst Bradley E. Manning have only just begun. This “Frontline” production brings viewers up to date on the case, which currently is in the scapegoating stage. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: Rio, Exporting Raymond, Outside the Law, Streetwalkin’, The Perfect Game, Stake Land, John Pinette …”

  1. Why are teachers happy at Halloween parties ? Because there is lots of school spirit !


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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