MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: HitRECord, The Tempest, Bride Flight, Inspector General, The Caller, Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Claude Chabrol, Mike Hammer …

HitRECord Recollection, Volume 1
The entertainment industry has been trying to mine gold from the Internet for almost two decades now, desperately searching for ways to distribute movies, music and other formats safely and economically. Some have succeeded, while most others have simply failed or disappeared without a digital footprint left behind. The wiseguys say Facebook is worth a fortune, but why? How many people do you know that have ever clicked on an ad or paid for anything available there? The last time I clicked a commercial link, my computer went into a spasm and every virus within a 50-mile radius took up residence in my hard drive.

HitRECord Recollection, Volume 1” represents the early efforts of an international community of artists who’ve come to the website to collaborate on a variety of projects, including short films, music, writing and visual art. I’m not absolutely sure of the correct terminology here, but the process seems pretty wiki-esque to me. In his introduction, HitRECord’s founder and chief pot-and-bottle-washer Joseph Gordon-Levitt explains that artists in the community not only are welcome to exhibit their projects on the website, but they’re encouraged to shape, re-edit and manipulate other people’s work. If the resulting product strikes a chord, Gordon-Levitt (a.k.a., RegularJOE) promises to use his good offices to promote it to commercial outlets, which might have ideas of their own as to its value. Being an old fart, I won’t pretend to understand the wiki aspect or business model. It must make sense to someone younger and more artistic than I am. Neither does the very fine actor (“Inception,” “[500] Days of Summer”) appear to be pulling the wool over the eyes of potential collaborators. His name and reputation do carry clout in the industry and his contributions as an actor, narrator, deejay and/or editor could make the difference between a movie being seen or ignored.

The handsome, 8 ¼-by-8¼-inch cloth-bound book — from New Video Group — contains two discs of digital entertainment, including 36 collaboratively made short-form live-action and animated films, music videos and “tiny stories.” They’ve been submitted by members of the artistic community, which claims 40,000-plus contributors. Artistically, they run the gamut from highly entertaining and innovative, to slight and overly precious. The sketches and drawings can be wildly imaginative and intricately rendered, or delightfully childlike and amusing. In any case, nothing lasts long enough to overstay its welcome. By far, the longest piece, “Sparks,” clocks in at 23 minutes, but the presence of sexy Carla Gugino, Xander Berkely and ever-ready Eric Stoltz makes it seem shorter. As JOE, Gordon-Levitt adapted the screenplay from a short story by Elmore Leonard and directed it. A companion CD invites listeners to join DJ RegularJOE as he hosts his radio show of 17 collaboratively made songs. The discs bookend 64 pages worth of text, photography and sketches accepted as source and/or stand-alone material. All components are also available in digital format, with the book and CD combined as a separate download. — Gary Dretzka

The Tempest
Despite the estimable presence of Helen Mirren in the lead role of Prospera (a.k.a., Prospero), Julie Taymor’s highly imaginative adaptation of William Shakespeare’s “The Tempest” barely raised a ripple of excitement upon its awards-season release. It played on no more that 21 screens simultaneously and impressed some, but not many critics. Clearly, these days, it takes more than Shakespeare’s name on the marquee – or a superlative performance by Mirren, for that matter — to attract attention at the box office. No matter how awards-worthy a movie might seem to studio brass in the run-up to Christmas, any title whose release is limited to “select markets” runs the risk of being completely lost in the scramble for screens, nominations and coverage. Such, I think, was the fate of “The Tempest,” which, finally, was solely nominated by the Motion Picture Academy for Sandy Powell’s imaginative costume designs. I’m guessing that voters may have felt as if perennial Oscar, Emmy and BAFTA candidate Mirren had become a tad over-celebrated and there was too much bad mojo surrounding Taymor, whose Broadway production, “Spider-Man: Turn Off the Dark,” was awash in bad press.

Taymor’s interpretation of “The Tempest” demonstrates not only her respect for the Bard’s words, but also her ability to make room for folklore, mythology and fantasy in all her stage and screen productions ( “The Lion King,” “Frida,” “Across the Universe”). Her first conceit here required the reimagining of Shakespeare’s Prospero, the play’s “rightful Duke of Milan,” as a woman. In this, Taymor and Mirren’s visions coincided nicely, and not a beat is skipped in the transformation. For Prospera’s “bare island,” Taymor could hardly have found a better location than Hawaii’s vast, barren and strangely beautiful lava fields and craggy coastal cliffs. Mirren was then surrounded by a cast that includes Felicity Jones, Ben Whishaw, Djimon Hounsou, David Strathairn, Reeve Carney, Chris Cooper, Alan Cumming, Alfred Molina, Russell Brand and Tom Conti. Unbound by the physical limits of the stage, Taymor was free to incorporate some CGI “white magic” to further her goals. It allows Ariel to escape the chains of gravity and marshal majestic storms, while also siccing fire-spitting spirit hounds and a swarm of hornets on Caliban, Stephano and Trinculo.

Scholars and critics will forever argue over unconventional adaptations of Shakespeare’s plays and Taymor’s interpretation is ripe for such debate, as well. In one of the commentary tracks, professors from Clark University and the University of Warwick mostly applaud Taymor’s choices, while also adding much historical perspective. It’s better than CliffsNotes and people already familiar with the play might be tempted to turn on that track, even in first viewing. The Blu-ray bonus supplements add another commentary track, with Taymor; a long and informative making-of featurette, shot on the private island of Lanai; rehearsal footage; and a couple of pieces in which Brand adds his unique takes on Shakespeare and the role of the jester in his works. Whether one approves of Taymor’s approach, or not, the Blu-ray presentation is inarguably stunning. – Gary Dretzka

Bride Flight
In 1953, New Zealand must have seemed like a very distant place – figuratively, as well as literally — especially for “war brides” attempting to find a new life, half a world away from the ruined capitals of Europe. “Bride Flight” tells the story of several such women, who arrive in Christchurch on the same antique airplane, already committed to men who they had only met briefly, if at all. How their lives evolved over the next few decades is the subject of Ben Sombogaart’s epic romance, which works well both as a sudsy drama and endorsement for Kiwi tourism. Even at 130 minutes, though, “Bride Flight” is unable to do justice to all the disparate story lines. Even before the historic flight lands in New Zealand, one of the women, Ada, becomes enchanted with a handsome bachelor, Frank (Rutger Hauer), who is extremely good-natured and embodies the pioneer spirit expected of new émigrés. He is the polar opposite of the man she met in Holland and re-connects with in Christchurch. In the course of a few short months, that man has turned into a stranger, giving himself over to fundamentalist Christianity and demanding that Ada devote her every waking moment on chores. Her honeymoon is limited to riding in the back of a truck to her ramshackle new home, where she’ll scrub the floors, make his food, bear his children, support his ascendency in the church and fantasize about what might have been.

Esther, who’s Jewish and a true diva, finds herself engaged to a similarly conservative man. Unlike Ada, who’s already pregnant upon arrival, she wastes no time dumping the drip and pursuing her dream of becoming a fashion designer. Another friend from the trip, Marjorie, finds herself in an ideal domestic situation, but is unable to bear children. When Esther discovers that she’s pregnant, she allows Marjorie to raise the child as her own. Years later, Ada decides she’s had enough of her Spartan existence and runs away to join Frank, with whom she’s corresponded. For various reasons, though, her freedom isn’t to last. The final reckoning comes some 30 years later at the funeral of one of the key players. “Bride Flight” weaves enough storylines to qualify as a mini-series, but the expense of capturing New Zealand in its entire natural splendor probably demanded that it be a full-blown motion picture. I can’t imagine many men making it through the first hour without some serious squirming. Women, especially those of a certain age should enjoy “Bride Flight” very much, if only because it’s the kind of movie no one in Hollywood makes, anymore. – Gary Dretzka

To Be Twenty
This bizarre example of Euro-trash exploitation from 1978 today exists in two very different universes. In the original, uncensored Italian version, “To Be Twenty” (“Avere vent’anni”) appears to have been inspired greatly by “Easy Rider,” with a pair of sexually liberated hippie chicks (“We’re young, beautiful and pissed off”) standing in for Wyatt and Billy. In a weird sort of way, it also foreshadows the trajectory of “Thelma & Louise.” The seriously edited American version is decidedly less cruel to Lia and Tina (bombshells Gloria Guida and Lilli Carati), whose only sin is to have believed the hype about the sexual revolution, without considering the possible downside. Like the heroes of “Easy Rider,” the young women overestimate the tolerance of the locals for new ideas and fashions. In the Italian edition, at least, the consequences of such naiveté are difficult to stomach.

Aside from some time-capsule nostalgia, I’m not sure exactly why RaroVideo decided to give “To Be Twenty” a shiny new face lift. The sexuality in both versions is far less graphic and scintillating than that in the average Tinto Brass movie, and it found no traction at the international box office. Listening to director, writer and giallo specialist Fernando di Leo defend his choices in the background featurette is a bit like hearing Larry Flynt make the case for Hustler as an agent for the feminist agenda. If “To Be Twenty” had been made in the 1960s, instead of a decade later, the geezer might have scored some points. Today, the featurette is interesting mostly as a field guide to the body language employed by Italian men in conversations and interviews. It’s a riot. – Gary Dretzka

Scary Movie 2, 3.5: Blu-ray
The Caller
51: After Dark Original
The River Murders
Born of Earth
Blue Sunshine

With straight-to-DVD, PPV and cable-original movies now dominating the horror marketplace and the major studios cutting back on theatrical releases, it’s become difficult find much room for serious parody. Satire only works if the subject of ridicule is worth the effort in the first place. Given the limited reach of most horror movies today, there are far fewer points of reference. With “Scary Movie 5” scheduled for 2012, it will have been five years between installments. That’s long enough for Anna Faris to have become a big star and the Wayans Brothers to virtually disappear from view. (They might never recover from “Little Man.”) After the first two episodes of “Scary Movie,” David Zucker (“Naked Gun,” “Airplane!”) took over the franchise, adding a much-needed shot of comedy adrenaline, and it’s apparent in the otherwise familiar “SM2” and “SM3.5: Unrated.” I don’t know who’ll be at the helm of “SM5,” but, as long as M. Night Shyamalan continues to make movies, the series will have a reason to exist. The Blu-ray editions of No. 2 and 3.5 upgrade the audio-visual presentation, while adding a bunch of standard-definition extras. They include commentaries, making-of and background featurettes, deleted and alternate scenes, individual scene breakdowns and an alternate ending for 3.5.

In “The Caller,” Rachelle Lefevre is very convincing as a recently divorced woman fending off the tyranny of her ex-husband and the increasingly menacing phone calls of a psycho-bitch who lived the same apartment, 30 years earlier, and left behind some souvenirs. The rotary phone used by the tenant is such an antique that it’s safe to assume it must be there for a reason other than making and receiving calls. Otherwise, why not pull the wire out of the wall and use a disposable cell phone, instead? There are several other obvious questions that could be asked, but why bother? Any introduction of logic to “The Caller” would spoil the fun. (It’s filmed in Puerto Rico, for example, but no one speaks Spanish or seems to know they’re not in New York.) Stephen Moyer (“True Blood”) adds some much-needed charisma to the proceedings as Rachelle’s new boyfriend; Ed Quinn is very scary as the scumbag ex-husband; and Luis Guzman plays a maintenance man with the only Puerto Rican accent in the movie. Mostly, though, it’s Lefevre’s show. The DVD adds deleted scenes, an alternate ending and interview with director Matthew Parkhill.

The Syfy/After Dark thriller “51” exploits the paranoia and secrecy surrounding Nevada’s Area 51, where some of our country’s most highly classified research is conducted and, some think, aliens are imprisoned or embalmed. Jason Connery’s made-for-cable movie visualizes what could happen if a group of journalists were invited to check out the Air Force base there and the imprisoned aliens used the occasion for a breakout. If only. As is too often the case in these under-budgeted exercises in sci-fi/horror the humans are significantly less credible than the monsters. The military security teams couldn’t have found Osama Bin Laden in a haystack and the reporters resemble the pseudo-journalists in “TMZ” briefings. It’s the aliens that steal the show, however. One demonstrates its ability to morph into exactly the same form as the human being it touches, leading to much confusion during hand-to-hand skirmishes. Another could be ET’s long-lost father. As Syfy movies go, however, “51” is more entertaining than such epochal hybrids as “Mega Python vs. Gatoroid” and “Sharktopus,” but not as compelling as the series “Alphas,” “Warehouse 13” and “Eureka.” It does provoke one sobering thought, though: if aliens ever do attack Earth and all we have in our arsenal to combat the invasion are standard-issue weapon – as is the case in most sci-fi flicks – we’re screwed. It comes with a behind-the-scenes featurette.

Although well-made and occasionally chilling, “The River Murders” appears to exist primarily for the purpose of showing naked female corpses floating in bodies of water, tied to bedposts and chopped up in gift boxes. The voyeuristic material isn’t erotic or gratuitous, necessarily, but we’ve seen the same thing so often in the past, it’s less shocking than offensive. These reveals also detract from the procedural aspect of the story, which isn’t all that bad. Ray Liotta plays a police detective in the Pacific Northwest who becomes a suspect in a series of killings that involves women with whom he’s slept over the course of the last 30 years. We know that he isn’t guilty, but, then, who else could the murderer be … a priest who’s heard his confessions, a jilted girlfriend, a jealous fellow cop? The answer, I think, will surprise many, if not most viewers, even if it only makes sense in a sick sort of way. The cast also includes such bygone favorites as Christian Slater and Ving Rhames, as well as attractive newcomers Sarah Ann Schultz and Gisele Fraga. The DVD contains a pair of commentary tracks and a making-of featurette, suggesting that the producers had higher hopes for “The River Murders” than a straight-to-DVD launch.

Any DVD with the names of genre specialists Daniel Baldwin, James Russo and Brad Dourif on its jacket is going to capture the eye of horror fans browsing through the local video emporium. Even if the movie is likely to be of the straight-to-video persuasion, renting it probably won’t be a total loss. “Born of Earth” is pretty typical. Five years after his wife is murdered and his children are abducted by bestial creatures, Danny Kessler (Baldwin) is given reason to believe he isn’t crazy, after all. A professor has written a book connecting the dots between similar incidents throughout history and around the world. We know that the creatures exist and they’re likely to surface on a specific day in the near future. Dourif plays a developer whose project would be endangered by any such negative publicity and the career of Russo’s crooked cop also can be destroyed by the truth. Naturally, no one else in rural Prophet Hills believes the legend of blood-sucking subterranean fiends.

Jeff Lieberman’s 1978 camp-tastic horror thriller, “Blue Sunshine,” imagines a scenario in which a group of Stanford students, who shared the same batch of designer LSD, started displaying bizarre behavior 10 years later. Not being a branded pharmaceutical – Owsley Stanley’s products notwithstanding – one tab of acid could be comprised of decidedly different ingredients, while still sending its users on a trip. Theoretically, at least, it’s possible that one of those recipes might have contained a substance that could lead to time-lapse psychosis and symptoms that include complete loss of hair and an aversion to disco music. That isn’t a bad premise for a movie. Substitute Viagra for LSD and you have a potential winner of an AVN Best Feature award. “Blue Sunshine” is one of those micro-budget indies that look as if they were financed on an American Express card. The script leaves little room for nuance, character development or special hair-loss effects, and, unless one stays for the interview, it could easily be misconstrued as an anti-drug screed. Mostly, though, Lieberman simply saw a good hook and ran with it. Soft-core-porn auteur Zalman King stars as both the chief investigator and eventual primary suspect. (Alice Ghostly makes a cameo, as well.)

Anyone who’s seen ‘”Bambi” knows that forest creatures are the first victims of fires in their midst. How many of us have stopped to consider how Bigfoot and its hirsute ilk manage to survive the flames? When a firestorm rips through Bear Valley National Park, the fictional setting of “Savage,” we learn that the humanoid beasts take the loss of habitat very personally. As nasty as things get in Jordan Blum’s freshman feature, though, it’s humans who ultimately are proven to be the real monsters. Beyond that valuable lesson, “Savage” doesn’t offer much to recommend it to anyone over 17 or 18. – Gary Dretzka

The Inspector General: Collector’s Edition
Not being old enough to remember Danny Kaye in his prime, I always considered him to be little more than the thinking man’s Jerry Lewis, as well as a high-profile spokesman for UNICEF. Watching “The Inspector General” (1949), it’s easy to see why Kaye was so popular. In addition to his gift for physical comedy, the Brooklyn native could dance, act and sing as well as almost anyone else in the movies. The songs with which he’ll forever be associated are humorous tongue-twisters, requiring skills most of us will never possess. All of his talents are on display in director Henry Koster’s diverting musical comedy, in which Kaye plays the bumbling assistant to a snake-oil salesman (Walter Slezak) peddling his way through Czarist Russia. In a classic case of mistaken identity, Kaye’s illiterate Georgi is assumed to be the government official who’s been busting small-time politicians stealing tax revenues. Anticipating trouble, the mayor of one such town plots the fake inspector’s demise. The movie, “suggested” by Nikolai Gogol’s play, is further enhanced by a supporting cast that, besides Slezak, includes Elsa Lanchester, Alan Hale, Gene Lockhart and Barbara Bates. The newly re-mastered DVD adds some interesting home-movie footage, shot by Koster on the set of “Inspector General.” – Gary Dretzka

Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World
My Run
Prisoner of Her Past

Watch “Ed Hardy: Tattoo the World” and don’t be surprised if you begin considering, at least, the possibility of getting some ink done. Brilliantly colorful and wildly imaginative, Hardy’s skin art represents a distillation of new- and old-school sensibilities, and influences ranging from traditional images favored by drunken sailors and bikers, to the masters of San Francisco, Japan and the South Pacific. You could stare at some of the designs until your eyes turned purple and still not catch all the nuances and details of a Hardy masterpiece. Fortunately for those still fearful of the needle, his work can be found on everything from T-shirts and key chains, to iPad covers and energy snacks. Temporary tattoo sets can also be purchased on his website. Somehow, though, that doesn’t seem right.

Hardy’s personal history is almost as interesting as his art. At an age when his school friends were playing Little League ball and waiting for the first signs of puberty to emerge, Hardy was checking out the ink he’d see on older guys and copying it in his notebooks. He’d also draw graffiti-like images associated with custom-car shows and surfers. By law, Hardy was prohibited from administering tattoos until he was 18, but it didn’t prevent him from practicing on friends. He would hone other artistic talents at the San Francisco Art Institute, where he also mastered engraving and other disciplines. Rather than accept an invitation to attend a master’s program at Yale, Hardy moved to San Diego to pursue a career in tattooing. “Sailor Jerry” Collins would encourage him to go Japan to study under the great Horihide and observe traditional large-scale techniques. By the time the hippies rolled into San Francisco’s Haight-Ashbury, Hardy was prepared to meet the needs of a new generation of customers. Director Emiko Omori’s documentary captures the artist’s passion and dedication, while also providing remarkable examples of his work’s evolutionary flow. The DVD adds quite a few deleted scenes and extended interviews.

Films that document the many ways in which ordinary people accomplish extraordinary things are a dime a dozen. Only a few are sufficiently impressive to rise above the rest. “My Run” chronicles 56-year-old Terry Hitchcock’s monumental, if borderline crazy feat of running the equivalent of 57 marathons in the same number of days, albeit for a perfectly legitimate cause. After losing his wife to breast cancer, the suddenly-single father of three felt as if he needed to do something dramatic to shine the spotlight on the struggles of single parents. His herculean effort was timed to coincide with the opening of the 1996 Summer Olympics, which meant that weather conditions would range from freezing cold, back home in Minnesota, to boiling hot, with every kind of precipitation in between. Along the way, Hitchcock was able to rally support from local runners and publicize his message. The doc is narrated by Billy Bob Thornton.

The Kartemquin documentary “Prisoner of Her Past” describes how the journalist son of Holocaust survivor Sonia Reich attempted to make sense of his mother’s overriding belief that the world is conspiring to kill her. The investigation took them to Eastern Europe, where her trauma was rooted and the son finds a family he never knew existed. The film also describes the effects of late-onset Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, a little-researched malady that some believe can be alleviated by early psychological interventions. – Gary Dretzka

Le Beau Serge: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Les cousins: Criteron Collection: Blu-ray
My Life as a Dog: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

Claude Chabrol, one of the true giants of the international cinema, died a year ago, this month, in Paris. The only moviegoers unaware of his proficiency in the mystery genre – second only to Hitchcock — are those with an aversion to subtitles … which is to say, most Americans. After withdrawing from pharmacology studies, Chabrol became a contributor to the influential Cahiers du Cinema. His first feature, “Le Beau Serge” (1958) and “Les Cousins” are two films frequently cited as being frontrunners in the Nouvelle Vague movement, which offered young audiences, especially, an alternative to studio classicism and irrelevant subject matter. If only for economic reasons, its practitioners took their cameras, actors and stories to the streets, employing innovative visual techniques and drawing from topical events and trends.

In “Le Beau Serge,” a young man recovering from a serious bronchial ailment returns to his hometown, after an absence of 10 years, to convalesce. Far enough from Paris not to be affected by trends and gossip, the village hasn’t changed much in the interim. On a personal level, though, Francois (Jean-Claude Brialy) is devastated by the condition in which he finds his best friend, Serge (Gerard Blain). Once a handsome and spirited teenager, Serge has become an alcoholic who’s bitterly disillusioned by life’s cruel turns and traumatized by the birth and death of a child with Down’s syndrome. Although Serge sometimes looks as if he might want to accept Francois’ gestures of good will, ultimately the booze does his thinking for him. The townsfolk, too, eventually come to resent Francois’ intervention, if only because he’s now considered to be an outsider. Finally, a blessed event, if not quite a miracle offers both men hope for redemption.

A year later, Chabrol turned the tables on his audiences a bit by casting the same two men in roles almost the opposite of their previous assignments. This time, Blain plays Charles, the quiet and mostly sober country mouse that moves to Paris to share a bachelor pad with his boisterous and undisciplined city-mouse cousin, Paul (Brialy), while both prepare for their law exams. While Charles appears willing and able to hang with Paul’s party-hardy pals, a romantic betrayal sends him to the shelter of his law books. Paul’s idea of studying is breaking the law and seeing if he’ll get caught. Now, no manner of coaxing can get Charles to partake in the truly wild shenanigans of Paul’s far more socially advanced pals. Given what we know about Chabrol’s tendencies, it isn’t difficult to guess how the cousins’ exams will turn out. What happens next, however, is far less predictable.

The Criterion Blu-ray packages provide much background on Chabrol’s move from critic to filmmaker and the situations that informed the events in “Le Beau Serge.” It’s important to know, for instance, that Chabrol spent his summers and the war years in the town where the movie was shot. He cast locals, many of whom he’d known for years, in incidental roles, and based their characters on village archetypes. The movie wasn’t intended to be autobiographical, but, as we discover in interviews with locals decades later, many felt the portrayals were derogatory. (So did the French ministry of tourism, which failed to endorse the film.) Two of the stars of the movie also returned to Sardent, where they chatted with the residents and retraced their footsteps. The locations and setting had barely changed. “Les Cousins” contains far less bonus material, but much of the same background is covered in “Le Beau Serge.”

My Life as a Dog” is the movie that introduced Lasse Hallstrom to international audiences and Hollywood producers looking for someone to add a distinctly compassionate and sentimental touch to such star vehicles as “Once Around,” “What’s Eating Gilbert Grape,” “The Cider House Rules” and “Chocolat.” It was nominated for a pair of Oscars, including for Best Director and Best Adapted Screenplay. (He would be nominated again, as Best Director, for “Cider House Rules.”) The story concerns an energetic 12-year-old, Ingemar (Anton Glanzelius), whose mother is suffering from tuberculosis and can’t abide the constant fighting between the boy and his older brother. It’s decided that Ingemar will be sent to the country to live with eccentric relatives, but not allowed to take his beloved pet dog with him. The Soviets had just sent a dog into orbit — wired to monitors, but without food — leading the boy to consider the ramifications of demanding from animals what humans won’t do to each other. It also intensifies the boy’s acute separation anxiety. (Another continuing through-line involves Ingemar Johansson’s stunning defeat of heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson, an event that unified Swedes of all income brackets and social backgrounds.)

Although still too young not to be intimidated by the mysteries of sexuality and what it means to be masculine, Ingemar is exposed to an unusual array of experiences that normally would occur after emerging from puberty. (It’s Sweden, right?) His friendship with a buxom blond factory worker who values his company leads to a hilarious and genuinely affecting payoff. Before long, Ingemar is required to hop on the emotional yo-yo once again, returning home as his mother’s health deteriorates. After another unsuccessful attempt at placing the boy in a home with his less fidgety and undisciplined brother, Ingemar is given a one-way ticket back north. Not exactly the new boy in town, anymore, he nonetheless is required to tie up a few loose ends left from his previous visit. “My Life as a Dog” is an absolutely charming coming-of-age dramedy. We meet lots of interesting, instantly recognizable folks and Hallstrom makes it easy for us to empathize with their setbacks and share their joy. In addition to a vintage interview with the director, the Blu-ray set adds his entertaining 1973 short film, “Shall We Go to My or Your Place or Each Go Home Alone?” and a booklet featuring an essay by film critic Michael Atkinson and an appreciation by the late author Kurt Vonnegut. – Gary Dretzka

Madso’s War
Made for distribution by Spike TV, “Madso’s War” is the reasonably thrilling story of a power struggle that follows the disappearance of a South Boston mob chieftain, modeled after the recently captured Whitey Bulger. Because all of the Irish thugs we meet appear to be related in one way or another, it’s difficult to say with any certainty who’s out to kill whom at any given moment. In addition to the power vacuum waiting to be filled, there’s the question of $11 million believed to have been left behind in the mob boss’ abrupt departure. “Madso’s War” is quite a bit better than I expected it to be from the generic cover art and lack of reviews and comments on IMDB and Amazon. The cinematography is appropriately dark and there’s enough gunplay to suit the blood lust of most viewers. Besides several character actors whose faces will be immediately familiar to genre enthusiasts, the movie stars Matthew Marsden and Kelly Overton. – Gary Dretzka

Breakfast at Tiffany’s: 50th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
The Others: Blu-ray
The Count of Monte Cristo: Blu-ray

“Breakfast at Tiffany’s” may be one of the most beloved movie romances of all time, but it’s a good bet that most people under the age of, say, 40 haven’t seen it on screen, video or DVD. If that applies, do yourself the favor of picking up Paramount’s new “Breakfast at Tiffany’s: 50th Anniversary Edition,” in Blu-ray, which looks and sounds great and offers a host of new and previously shown bonus features. Although Blake Edward’s version of Truman Capote’s book doesn’t come right out and say that Holly Golightly is a call girl, she’s obviously either a much-in-demand escort and/or an unabashed gold-digger. (For audiences too young to remember Audrey Hepburn, Holly combines the looks and winning smile of Julia Roberts’ character in “Pretty Woman,” with the cosmopolitan panache of the fashion- and sex-obsessed ladies in “Sex and the City.”) George Peppard plays the writer-next-door, who she befriends, confides in and nearly crushes in pursuit of her goal. Not precisely a gigolo, he allows himself to be supported by a wealthy sophisticate, portrayed by Patricia Neal. By contrast, the book is alleged to be a romantic comedy about a gay man in love with a straight call girl. (Capote described Holly as an American geisha.) It’s also a love letter to New York, albeit one the author saw in the mid-1940s.

Hepburn’s portrayal of a woman who’s looking for love in all of the wrong places is iconic … and I don’t use the word lightly. Every time Holly is on screen, the movie becomes something more than the sum of its considerable parts. Even as late as the first year of the Kennedy administration, a character like Golightly – a runaway wife and mother, experienced in the ways of the world but desperately lonely — was an aberration in Hollywood movies. Since the introduction of the Hays Code, 30 years earlier, women in romantic comedies, especially, had pre-assigned identities, duties and sex drives. While a single woman in the city was allowed to be a gold-digger, as were the women in “How to Marry a Millionaire,” the price for their company was measured in furs and diamonds. Holly was limited to accepting $50 donations on her way to the ladies’ room to powder her nose. The price tag for Peppard’s services to Neal was quite a bit steeper.

Also crucial to the enjoyment of “Breakfast at Tiffany’s” is the classic Henry Mancini score and Johnny Mercer’s haunting “Moon River.” The Blu-ray package adds commentary by producer Richard Shepherd; a reunion of actors who participated in the movie’s famous cocktail-party scene; the hi-def featurettes “Henry Mancini: More Than Music” and “Mr. Yunioshi: An Asian Perspective,” in which Mickey Rooney’s overtly racist portrayal of Mr. Yunioshi is dissected by Asian-American activists and actors; and standard-definition pieces on the production, Hepburn and Golightly’s fashion sense, a history of Tiffany’s, a photo gallery and a reading of Hepburn’s preface to the store’s 150th anniversary book.

Disney/Touchstone’s “Count of Monte Cristo” was hailed by many critics for being a welcome throwback to the romantic swashbucklers and lavish adventures of Hollywood’s Golden Age. In Kevin Reynolds and Jay Wolpert’s adaptation of the Alexandre Dumas classic, Jim Caviezel plays the poor sap who’s imprisoned for treason, after his best friend (Guy Pearce) conceives a plan to steal his girlfriend. After escaping from the island, Dantes uses the recent acquisition of great wealth to exact revenge on his friend. Richard Harris, Luis Guzman and Dagmara Dominczyk also add their talents to the fun. The new Blu-ray edition has been re-mastered and includes Reynolds’ commentary, an interactive sound-design feature, five deleted scenes and alternate version of the final fight scene, and featurettes on the movie’s stunts, screenwriting, production design, Dumas and swordfights.

Released in 2001, Dimension’s truly frightening, “The Others,” oozes with menace and atmosphere. It is set on the fog-shrouded island of Jersey in the waning days of World War II. Nicole Kidman plays woman who couldn’t wait for her husband to return from the war to move with her two children into a creepy mansion. She doesn’t mind that the sun is an infrequent visitor to Jersey, because her children suffer from a rare disorder that prohibits them from being outside in direct light. If “The Others” had been made in 2011, it would be safe to assume that the kids were vampires and the missing father was in league with blood-sucking Nazis. Mom, of course, would remain clueless until war criminals snuck onto the island and made a beeline to the manor. In 2001, however, the studios still could afford to make haunted-house movies that didn’t rely on ridiculous gimmicks and could be enjoyed by a cross-section of audiences, here and abroad. Spanish-Chilean filmmaker Alejandro Amenábar had already shown a deft touch with psychological thrillers, in “Open Your E yes,” and was more interested in honoring Hollywood horror traditions than dumbing them down. The real fun begins when a trio of strangers shows up in response to a help-wanted ad and we are led to assume their presence is related to the weird events to come. The Blu-ray adds a scientifically based featurette on Xeroderma Pigmentosum, the allergy to light that afflicts the kids in the movie, as well as pieces on the production, filmmaker and special effects. – Gary Dretzka

Emerson Lake & Palmer: 40th Anniversary Reunion Concert: Blu-ray
Forever Plaid: The Movie

In the late 1960s-70s, as some members of established rock bands tired of their original mates and ego trips upstaged those taken on LSD, the era of the supergroup was born. As much a business decision as a creative alliance, most of the ensembles drowned under the weight of their press clippings, while a few made music that represented an evolutionary step forward from whence the individual artists had come. Emerson, Lake & Palmer was comprised of former members – Keith, Greg and Carl, respectively — of the Nice, King Crimson and Atomic Rooster. Together, they practically invented a musical genre – progressive rock – that would dominate FM radio stations and summer concert tours for a decade, at least. ELP became famous for taking classical pieces, such as “Pictures at an Exhibition” and Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and “Rodeo,” and running the music through a massive Moog synthesizer. They further pumped up the volume and tempo to suit the tastes of fans similarly turned off by relics of Flower Power. Almost universally, critics denounced prog-rock as pretentious and “masturbatory,” and openly ridiculed the tastes of its growing legion of admirers. Critics don’t pay for the concerts and albums they review, however, and it’s the ticket-buying masses who ultimately dictate to labels and radio stations what will be promoted. Eventually, ELP would add full orchestras and other extravagances to its shows, causing profits to drop to near-zero and doubts about the band’s future to rise. Like so many other supergroups, ELP has re-formed several times in the ensuing decades. Last year, they reunited to celebrate their 40th Anniversary and headlined London’s first High Voltage Rock Festival. The Blu-ray record of that performance re-creates the excitement, music and special effects that greeted fans that day.

Fourteen years before the Broadway musical “Jersey Boys” introduced Frankie Valli and the Four Seasons to audiences born after the breakup of the Beatles, a little revue called “Forever Plaid” thrilled audiences with the power of close-harmony singing. It reminded some audiences that without such groups as the Four Freshmen and Four Lads, the Beach Boys might have sounded a lot like Jan & Dean. Like “Jersey Boys,” it’s been playing before enthusiastic audience ever since opening night. The staging is nothing special, but the book – after an accident, a soon to be over the hill 1950s “guy group” finds itself booked for a gig in heaven – allows for much excellent singing. The same production was shown on PBS stations during pledge months. Don’t hold that fact against it. – Gary Dretzka

Mickey Spillane’s Mike Hammer: The Complete Series
The Kennedys: Mini-series
Modern Family: The Complete Second Season: Blu-ray
Raising Hope: The Complete First Season
Happy Endings: The Complete First Season
The Dick Van Dyke Show: 50th Anniversary Edition: Fan Favorites
History: Lee & Grant/Gettysburg: Blu-ray

When it comes to private investigators, Mickey Spillane’s immortal Mike Hammer is as no-frills as they come. As might be expected of a Marine Corps veteran who survived Guadalcanal, he’s super-tough and doesn’t always play by the rules. Even when he beats up the wrong guy, there’s always reason to believe the schnook is guilty of something and deserves to pay for their crimes. Hammer doesn’t crack wise, like Sam Spade and Philip Marlowe, and the women he prefers aren’t nearly as classy. A&E Home Video has done a nice job restoring and packaging the first and second seasons of “Mickey’s Spillane’s Mike Hammer,” which starred Darren McGavin and ran from 1958-59. It’s almost as much fun to watch today as it was back in the day and, while not as slick as the Stacy Keach iteration, the black-and-white presentation and New York locations exude a genuinely noir-ish aura. At 30 minutes, the episodes are short and to the point, leaving little room for character development and social concerns. Solutions tend to come at the end of gun barrel or smack of a fist. Best of all, though, are the saucy dames who populate every episode of the series and look sexy even wearing the censor-approved fashions of the day. The set is comprised of all 78 episodes. Look for such future stars as Angie Dickinson, Ted Knight, Barbara Bain, Marion Ross, Dick Van Patten and Robert Vaughn

Now that “The Kennedys” mini-series has been honored with an Emmy – it received 10 nominations – some of the people at the helm of History Channel probably are nursing bruised egos. Intimated by Kennedy-family loyalists, the network dropped the project from its schedule, leaving it for the obscure ReelzChannel to reap the kudos. If the story being told seemed too scandalous for comfort, it isn’t because any new revelations were being served up for public consumption. The Kennedys’ have never been able to completely erase their fingerprints from the scenes of their crimes and faux pas. The ones dramatized here practically are public record. In any case, the eight-part, 353-minute mini-series attracted a decent audience to the nether-reaches of the cable dial, as well as the attention of critics and Emmy voters. If the producers hadn’t decided to spare Teddy, Joan and the Kennedy sisters, the series might have lasted another four hours. Barry Pepper’s Emmy was the result of his portrayal of Bobby. Other nominees included Greg Kinnear, Tom Wilkinson and a bunch of behind-the-camera personnel. Emmy presenter Katie Holmes played Jackie.

After winning six Emmys in 2010, the delightfully offbeat ABC sitcom “Modern Family” walked away with another carload of trophies Sunday night. Created by Steven Levitan and Christopher Lloyd, the series concerns three very different families, related by blood, love and decidedly unconventional methods of solving problems and ideas about child-rearing. They are as different from the Cleavers and Nelsons of 1950s television as the Kennedys were to the Nixons. Limited to 22 actual minutes of screen time, affording time to such a large number of family members could lead to chaos. The creators decided that anarchy wasn’t the way to go, however. All they had to do was tweak several time-honored sitcom conventions, while completely upending key character prototypes, to find a mix of personalities and situations audiences could embrace. Moreover, anyone who’s tried to raise kids in the last 20 years will recognize the ones in “Modern Family” far more than those who comprised the “Brady Bunch.” The Blu-ray compilation of second-season episodes adds deleted family interviews, deleted and extended Scenes, table reads, music videos, a gag reel and such featurettes as “Mitch’s Flash Mob,” “Modern Family Holidays,” “Waiting for Oprah,” “Chatting With Steve Levitan” and “At Home with Modern Family.”

The first season of “Raising Hope” brought Emmy nominations to Martha Plimpton and Cloris Leachman. Created by Greg Garcia (“My Name is Earl”), the Fox sitcom introduces another kind of American family, one that locates Marx’s “lumpenproletariat” in a blue-collar American community. Mom and Dad Chance are grown-up stoners, barely able to keep their mindless jobs. They make due by taking care of Grandmaw-maw (Leachman), who’s senile but not so far gone that she can’t threaten to make them pay rent. Junior is a slacker who inadvertently impregnates a wanted felon and decides to raise Hope (a.k.a., Princess Beyonce) after she gets the death penalty (minus any lengthy appeals). In some episodes, the baby is the one in the family whose behavior approximates that of a grown-up. Somehow, the characters manage to make it from one week to another, without strangling each other. Like all TV-sitcom families, their love keeps them together. The DVD set adds the unaired network pilot, with commentary; the extended version of “Don’t Vote for This Episode”; “Adorable Stars: Meet the Hopes”; “Moments with Mrs. Chance”; “Taking Chances: Shooting the Season Finale”; a gag reel; and deleted and extended scenes.

In ABC’s “Happy Endings,” a half-dozen young Chicagoans are forced to pick sides when two of them decide to split up, only moments before tying the knot. They’re all friends, in the same way as the characters in “Friends” were friends, connected by a desire to be hip and trendy, but destined to end up like their parents. (Unlike “Friends,” there’s actually an African-American character.) Before they do, the archetypes waste time in meaningless jobs, drink cocktails until they’re too numb to feel their pain and argue lamely about the meaning of life. They look good doing it, though. The series returns next week. The DVD package adds “Banana Republic Style Previews”; a “Mike Relm Remix”; outtakes; featurettes “I’m in a Great Place Right Now” and “The Wedding Prep Scene”; and the “Mark Douglas Parody Theme Song” and “Mark Douglas Interview with Adam Pally and Casey Wilson.”

Image Entertainment offers fans of the “Dick Van Dyke Show” 20 of the classic sitcom’s most memorable episodes, in the “50th Anniversary Edition.” Although the series is widely available on video and DVD, this collection is a bit easier to digest. This special 50th anniversary collection includes 20 classic episodes, the original pilot episode, interviews with cast and producers, a behind-the-scenes featurette, rare rehearsal footage and Emmy Award telecast clips honoring the show.

To commemorate the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War, History Channel decided to take the up-close-and-personal approach to the men who led the great armies of the Republic and Confederacy. It also presented a chronicle of the battle at Gettysburg, from the viewpoint of the soldiers who took orders from the assorted military geniuses and fools. The experience is intended to be raw, immersive and emotional. The History films shouldn’t be confused with the much longer versions commissioned in the early 1990s for the Turner networks. Winston Groom, author of “Forrest Gump,” wrote the teleplay for “Lee & Grant.” – Gary Dretzka

Spongebob’s Runaway Roadtrip
SpongeBob and Patrick embark on an undersea journey, by car, to the Great Ocean Reef, Ocean Mint and other places that they can cause a raucous. The special DVD package of vacation-themed episodes runs 66 minutes and contains two bonus shows, “Hide and Then What Happens?” and “Shellback Shenanigans,” which extend “Runaway Roadtrip” another 25 minutes. It precedes the release of new video game in November. – Gary Dretzka

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It shows how out of it I was in trying to be in it, acknowledging that I was out of it to myself, and then thinking, “Okay, how do I stop being out of it? Well, I get some legitimate illogical narrative ideas” — some novel, you know?

So I decided on three writers that I might be able to option their material and get some producer, or myself as producer, and then get some writer to do a screenplay on it, and maybe make a movie.

And so the three projects were “Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep,” “Naked Lunch” and a collection of Bukowski. Which, in 1975, forget it — I mean, that was nuts. Hollywood would not touch any of that, but I was looking for something commercial, and I thought that all of these things were coming.

There would be no Blade Runner if there was no Ray Bradbury. I couldn’t find Philip K. Dick. His agent didn’t even know where he was. And so I gave up.

I was walking down the street and I ran into Bradbury — he directed a play that I was going to do as an actor, so we know each other, but he yelled “hi” — and I’d forgot who he was.

So at my girlfriend Barbara Hershey’s urging — I was with her at that moment — she said, “Talk to him! That guy really wants to talk to you,” and I said “No, fuck him,” and keep walking.

But then I did, and then I realized who it was, and I thought, “Wait, he’s in that realm, maybe he knows Philip K. Dick.” I said, “You know a guy named—” “Yeah, sure — you want his phone number?”

My friend paid my rent for a year while I wrote, because it turned out we couldn’t get a writer. My friends kept on me about, well, if you can’t get a writer, then you write.”
~ Hampton Fancher

“That was the most disappointing thing to me in how this thing was played. Is that I’m on the phone with you now, after all that’s been said, and the fundamental distinction between what James is dealing with in these other cases is not actually brought to the fore. The fundamental difference is that James Franco didn’t seek to use his position to have sex with anyone. There’s not a case of that. He wasn’t using his position or status to try to solicit a sexual favor from anyone. If he had — if that were what the accusation involved — the show would not have gone on. We would have folded up shop and we would have not completed the show. Because then it would have been the same as Harvey Weinstein, or Les Moonves, or any of these cases that are fundamental to this new paradigm. Did you not notice that? Why did you not notice that? Is that not something notable to say, journalistically? Because nobody could find the voice to say it. I’m not just being rhetorical. Why is it that you and the other critics, none of you could find the voice to say, “You know, it’s not this, it’s that”? Because — let me go on and speak further to this. If you go back to the L.A. Times piece, that’s what it lacked. That’s what they were not able to deliver. The one example in the five that involved an issue of a sexual act was between James and a woman he was dating, who he was not working with. There was no professional dynamic in any capacity.

~ David Simon