MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Pirates of Caribbean, Willy Wonka’s 40th, Robotech, Bad Teacher, Captains, Harakiri, Salo, Names of Love, Baaria, Shock Doctrine, Leningrad Cowboys, A Better Life …

Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides: Blu-ray
Call me old-fashioned, I was far more turned on by the swashbuckling action in the first half hour of “POC4,” than the entire search for the Fountain of Youth that followed it. Outside King George’s courtroom, a crowd of blood-thirsty Brits is salivating in anticipation of Captain Jack Sparrow’s date with the hangman, Meanwhile, inside, mischief is afoot. From a distance of 200 years and three previous “Pirates of the Caribbean” movies, we know Captain Jack is going to find a way to humiliate the crown and rejoin his mates on the high seas. The only question is when and how. I won’t spoil the fun, only to say that Errol Flynn would have been proud of the young buccaneer. Jack leaves a trial of frustrated redcoats from the crazy king’s salon to the Thames, with a detour through a tavern and encounter with his female doppelganger. It’s only when he’s ready to declare victory does Jack realize that he’s been bamboozled by a more senior rapscallion. Much, maybe most of the credit for this tightly choreographed chase belongs to director Rob Marshall, who took over for Gore Verbinski at the helm of Disney’s unsinkable “Pirates of the Caribbean” franchise. If the rest of “On Stranger Tides” is less engaging, it’s possible that the veteran Broadway choreographer and Academy Award-nominated director of “Chicago” probably felt more comfortable working with real humans than digitally derived creatures, backgrounds, stunts and props. That “On Stranger Tides” probably contains the least number of big-bang thrills of all the “POTC” episodes doesn’t make it worse than its predecessors, though, just noticeably more earthbound.

Keira Knightley and Orlando Bloom are nowhere to be found in “On Stranger Tides.” In their place are Penelope Cruz and Ian McShane, as the pirate Blackbeard and his formidable daughter, Angelica. Geoffrey Rush is back as Barbossa, as is Keith Richards, if only briefly, as Captain Teague. Guess who was given the best line. (Teague: “I heard where you’re headed. The Fountain.”/Sparrow: “Have you been there?”/Teague: “Does this face looks like it’s been to the Fountain of Youth?”/Sparrow: “…Depends on the light.”) Angelica has a romantic history with Sparrow and knows him well enough to pretend to be him, while collecting a crew to sail to the New World on Blackbeard’s Queen Anne’s Revenge. Rather than risk another date with the hangman, Sparrow is reluctantly enlisted to join the hunt for Ponce de Leon’s ship in the company of Blackbeard’s zombie crew. The mission gets complicated when Spanish galleons are spotted heading in the same direction and Barbossa agrees to bring a vial of the magical potion back home to King George. Before anyone can bathe in the fountain, however, Blackbeard will risk everyone’s lives by attempting to capture the teardrops of a carnivorous mermaid.

The less one expects from “POTC4,” the more it will entertain undemanding fans of the series, especially kids. There are a few scenes they’ll find scary – maybe even mildly sexy – but adults could get the same rush by going to Disneyland and hopping on the ride for the hundredth time. None of the reviews I’ve read have been overly impressed with the 3D version, but, if you’ve already made the investment, you’ll want to pick up the all-inclusive package. Otherwise, the Blu-ray looks and sounds as good as one would expect from such a high-profile Disney product. The most supplemental material will be found of the Blu-ray and 3D editions. They include Disney Second Screen, which allows viewers to sync “On Stranger Tides” with your computer or iPad, via a downloadable app. It provides a gateway to exclusive behind-the-scenes content and other background material. There’s audio commentary; interviews with the filmmakers; a profile of Blackbeard; a look at the Fountain of Youth legend; bloopers, extended and deleted scenes; an dissection of the effects used to create the mermaids; and “Legos of the Caribbean” shorts. – Gary Dretzka

Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory: 40th Anniversary Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Two weeks after the Blu-ray release of Tim Burton’s “author-approved” adaptation of “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” comes Warner Bros.’ super-duper “40th Anniversary Ulimate Collector’s Edition” of the G-rated family comedy, “Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.” Although slightly different in narrative focus, both are wonderful movies, worthy of repeat viewings. Roald Dahl had his reasons for dissing Mel Stuart’s musical but, 40 years later, they’ve been rendered moot. More interesting is the long-forgotten fact that “Willy Wonka” was a critical success and commercial underachiever. It wasn’t mentioned in the same breath as the word “classic” until it found new life on television and in the upstart video-cassette marketplace. Neither is it well-remembered that the production was subsidized by Quaker Oats, which was about to introduce a new “Willy Wonka” candy bar. It was a flawed product, though. Like the movie, whose distribution moved from Paramount to WB, the candy-bar brand soon was sold to another company and re-formulated. That confection is alive and kicking, too. Leslie Bricusse and Anthony Newley’s Academy Award-nominated score has also stood the test of time.

In candy-maker Willy Wonka, Gene Wilder found an opportunity to create one of the most beloved characters in the history of Hollywood movies. (Ticket-winner Charlie Bucket’s role was elevated in Burton’s adaptation.) The 40th-anniversary gift package comes loaded with all sorts of tasty features, many of which have been included in previous DVD and Blu-ray editions. Production has been limited to 100,000 units, making it more collectible than most other so-called “collectible” boxed sets. The new features include a 144-page behind-the-scenes book; copies of 14 pieces of correspondence exchanged by producers, designers, the director and key actors; a themed pencil box with scented pencils and eraser; and a replica of the Golden Ticket, which doubles as a new instant-win game. – Gary Dretzka

Robotech: The Complete Original Series
As odd as it might seem to a generation of American kids brought up on cartoon series inspired by or purchased outright from animation companies based in Japan and Korea, anime didn’t begin to register on television’s Richter scale until the mid-1980s. The groundbreaking Harmony Gold series, “Robotech,” was one of the first animes to find a following here and it continues to maintain a hold on its original fanbase. A&E Television has partnered with Harmony Gold on “Robotech: The Complete Series,” a highly giftable boxed set containing re-mastered versions of all 85 episodes of the show’s three early storylines, “The Macross Saga,” “The Robotech Masters” and “The New Generation.” Also included are an additional 10 hours of bonus material.

For the uninitiated, the American version of “Robotech” combined elements of three Japanese series, in support of another Harmony Gold-licensed show, “Macross.” Because another American company already owned the rights to distribute “Macross” model kits, a co-licensing agreement was forged under the auspices of “Robotech.” After “Macross” was combined with the other three shows, there was just enough source material left to support a saga that spanned three generations of mankind’s fight for freedom against alien forces seeking the power source “protoculture.” The earthlings would have been defenseless if they hadn’t been able to unlock the robotic secrets of a spacecraft that crash-landed on our planet. From its ruined frame sprang the weaponry that would be built into giant mechanized fighting vehicles — “mecha” – not unlike Transformers. Producer and story editor Carl Macek was assigned to the task of merging the various themes and storylines. Sequels to the original series have appeared, as have a pair of anime features. Plans for a big-budget movie apparently have stalled.

Among the supplemental materials are new making-of documentaries, music videos, alternate sequences, deleted scenes, the “Macross” pilot, sequences from a 1986 hybrid movie, promotional and marketing material, stills and bios, and reference material. In other words, it’s a treasure trove for buffs and newcomers, alike. – Gary Dretzka

Bad Teacher: Unrated Edition: Blu-ray
Andy Warhol’s Bad
Shockorama: The William Beaudine Collection

Sometimes, only a very thin line separates intentionally bad movies from truly, irretrievably and unintentionally bad ones. Intentionally bad movies can’t be measured by the same criteria used to separate the wheat from the chaff at the local megaplex. Depending on their provenance and production values, good bad movies are limited mostly to the art- and grind-house circuits. Others have had to wait until they were championed by Quentin Tarantino, Roger Corman or such niche DVD distributors as Shout! Factory, Troma, Cheezy Flicks, Synapse Films, MVD and One 7 Movies. And, of course, simply adding the word, “bad,” to a film’s title doesn’t mean it will be taken seriously as good bad or nasty bad, or its antagonist is worthy of our scorn.

Bad Teacher,” for instance, is neither a bad movie nor is Cameron Diaz’ character an evil person, as was Billy Bob Thornton’s Willie, in “Bad Santa.” She’s merely rude, lewd, obscene, lazy and greedy, depending on her mood at any particular moment of her day. Students don’t fear the gold-digging pedagogue, as did the kids who sat on Thornton’s lap in “Bad Santa.” I think it’s also safe to say that too many of us have had our educations entrusted to worse teachers than Diaz’ Elizabeth Halsey. (At least, she lets the kids watch worthwhile movies when she’s too lazy to teach, which is almost always.) Only one of Elizabeth’s fellow teachers – Lucy Punch’s delightfully petty Amy Squirrel — is repulsed by her personally or professionally, and that’s mostly because the two women are in pursuit of the same substitute teacher: Justin Timberlake’s dorky Scott Delacorte. As we make her acquaintance, Elizabeth has just been dumped by her sugar-daddy fiancé. To prevent another such insult, she commits herself to raising $10,000 for a new set of boobs. (Again, she probably could have reached her goal simply by performing two weekends’ worth of lap dances in Las Vegas, but she picked the honorable alternative.) So, what we’re left with is a self-centered educator with a heart of something resembling gold, and, in Diaz’ capable hands, she’s, well, not that bad. I didn’t see the theatrical version of Jake Kasdan’s commercially successful comedy, so I can only imagine what’s been added to the unrated DVD and Blu-ray. Since there’s only a minute of semi-nudity and it already had been accorded an R-rating, it probably boils down to five more minutes of vulgar language and the verbal instructions in fellatio Elizabeth gives the teens. If any of that sounds entertaining to you, it’s also worth knowing that Diaz is up to the task assigned her, as is the fine cast of supporting actors: Jason Segel (“How I Met Your Mother), Phyllis Smith (“The Office”), John Michael Higgins (“Kath & Kim”), Thomas Lennon (“Reno 911!”) and Eric Stonestreet (“Modern Family”), with cameos by David Paymer and Molly Shannon. The Blu-ray extras include an interactive “yearbook”; gag reel, outtakes and deleted scenes; a discussion with then-lovers Diaz and Timberlake and a closer look at her sexy carwash scene; cast members’ recollections of their teachers; Movie IQ and BD-Love; and a DVD copy.

On the other hand, “Andy Warhol’s Bad” is bad in all the ways people expect a beyond-campy Warhol production to be bad. Released in 1977, after writer/director Paul Morrissey parted company with Warhol, “Bad” even lacks the “polish” of “Frankenstein” and “Trash.” And, yet, the almost amateurish production values and acting – Carroll Baker, Susan Tyrell and Perry King, being the sole exceptions – only serve to add to the movie’s pulpy charm. Baker plays Hazel, a woman who runs a combination beauty salon and boarding house for female felons. She’s also known locally for her electrolysis treatments. Tyrell portrays her pitiful daughter, while King’s almost-charming hit man needs a place to stay while awaiting an assignment. It comes in the form of a request from a selfish mother to murder her autistic son, a request so onerous even the least reputable of hit man might report to police. Meanwhile, the female boarders are game for almost any assignment. This being the 1970s version of New York, the crimes committed barely register with the local media, no matter how hideous.

Expect for the aforementioned actors, it looks as if director Jed Johnson recruited the cast during an open call at Max’s Kansas City. Some can barely recite their deli deliriously twisted lines. After a fire at a movie theater, the owner tells a TV reporter: “I just thank God we were showing a bad movie … one of ’dose arty things. Otherwise, a lot more people would have been killed in ’dere.” Later, after a baby is thrown out the window of a high-rise by its mother, a bystander on the street tells her snotty son, “That’s what I’m going to do to you if you don’t shut up.” It may not be pretty, but for sheer outrageousness, “Bad” is tough to top. The late, great blues guitarist Mike Bloomfield contributed original music to the score. An edited R-rated version of the movie previously was distributed by Roger Corman’s New World Pictures, but what would be the point. Cheezy Flicks is making the unrated cut available on a manufactured-on-demand basis, through Amazon and other outlets.

The Cheezy folks also are responsible for unleashing a double-feature of “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” on an unsuspecting public. As is suggested by the titles, these exercises in unintentional cross-genre comedy define what it means to be so bad, they’re hilarious. What’s most interesting about the otherwise worthless western/horror hybrids is the man who made them. Don’t take my word for it, though. Check out any Internet biography of the exceedingly prolific director/actor/writer William “One Shot” Beaudine, who has been credited with as many as 500 movie titles in a career that spanned seven decades. Not all or even many of his titles stand out today as being memorable or hideously bad. While some have been mentioned in the same breath as pictures made by Ed Wood — “Bela Lugosi Meets a Brooklyn Gorilla,” anyone – one, “Mom and Dad,” has been listed among the treasures on the U.S. National Film Registry. In the silent-era, he was among the most highly paid directors in Hollywood. Then, after being cleaned out in the Depression, he worked for peanuts at Poverty Row studios. Beaudine’s tour de force was the hygiene/sexploitation epic, “Mom and Dad” (1945), which flouted censors by accurately depicting how babies are made and delivered. It toured the country for decades, playing in theaters leased for the course of the film’s run. It is estimated that “Mom and Dad” grossed more than $100 million, most of it at a time when the Kinsey Report was still being researched and the sexual revolution was an impossible dream. Within the next 10 years, he would be commissioned to make films for the Protestant Film Commission and Walt Disney’s fledgling television operation.

The genre-moshing “Billy the Kid vs. Dracula” and “Jesse James Meets Frankenstein’s Daughter” represent Beaudine’s final features and the titles tell us everything. As the director’s nickname suggests, little time was wasted getting them into the can. Shot back-to-back on eight-day schedules, they were booked in drive-ins and grind-houses as if they were conjoined twins. The great thing about Billy the Kid (Chuck Courtney) is that he looks only slightly more threatening than, say, Pee-wee Herman. Not surprisingly, John Carradine makes a credible vampire, albeit one who doesn’t appear to have the slightest clue what he’s doing west of the Mississippi River. Technically speaking, Jesse James meets Dr. Frankenstein’s granddaughter, Maria, and grandson, Rudolph, not his daughter, as advertised. They’re laying low in a castle – that’s right, a castle – overlooking a Mexican village. They’re prepared to pick up where grandpa left off, but need a suitable specimen. He arrives in the muscular form of the outlaw’s traveling companion, Hank (a.k.a., Igor). The movies, of course, are ridiculous, but surprisingly watchable. – Gary Dretzka

The Captains: A Film by William Shatner
Betty White isn’t the only octogenarian enjoying the time of her life … and career. William Shatner isn’t letting any grass grow under his feet, either. Shatner currently is making the rounds of the talk shows, promoting a new book, music album, Price Line and the delightful documentary, “The Captains,” which he directed, wrote and co-executive produced. In it, he interviews and shares memories with all of his fellow Star Fleet captains, visits a major “Star Trek” convention and allows former co-workers to say nice things about him throughout. No matter how much fun Shatner appears to be having at this late stage in his career, you get the impression he remains most proud of his earliest work in the theater. It’s where he was learned his craft and was discovered. Indeed, it is something he shares with all of the other starship captains: Patrick Stewart, Avery Brooks, Kate Mulgrew, Scott Bakula and Chris Pine. As an interviewer, Shatner never could be confused for Charlie Rose or James Lipton, and, for that, we can all be thankful. Taking a cue from his interview show on Biography, he’s extremely curious and well prepared for the task at hand. If he often comes off as self-aggrandizing, his guests don’t seem to mind.

Given their backgrounds in the theater, it should come as no surprise that all of the actors were reticent, a first, to commit to a costume series, such as “Star Trek, or any of its syndicated sequels (and a prequel). Stewart, a classically trained Shakespearian actor, probably was the most unlikely of captains. Somewhat imperious in demeanor, he recalls being welcomed on the set of “The Next Generation” by someone who encouraged him to “have fun,” which was the last thing on his mind. It was on the long-running series, however, that he discovered for the first time that work and fun weren’t incompatible, and he says it made him a better actor. Shatner’s successors also were reluctant to accept a role for which they’d forever be compared to the original captain. The way creator Gene Roddenberry devised the franchise, though, each of the captains was given latitude to shape his/her character’s personality. It’s also fun to watch Shatner stroll through the Las Vegas Hilton, where the convention was being staged and Trekkies were free to revel in their Trekkiness. It was as if Elvis Presley had returned from the grave for one last concert and wanted to re-connect with his fans. It wasn’t always so for Shatner. It took an executive at an aerospace firm to admit to him that “Star Trek” inspired him to pursue a career in engineering, before Shatner stopped being embarrassed about the iconic status accorded Capt. James T. Kirk. Of course, for an actor, there are far worse ways to make a living than being worshiped. The DVD includes “The Making of ‘The Captains.’” – Gary Dretzka

Harakiri: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Salò, or the 120 Days of Sodom: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

“Yojimbo” and “Seven Samurai” have provided templates for several American and European westerns. From a distance, the concept of the honorable warrior-knight presaged the cowboy hero, as defined in dime novels, movies and television. Anyone versed in contemporary Japanese cinema could easily see how the itinerant gunmen in “The Magnificent Seven” and “A Fistful of Dollars” could be facsimiles of the unattached ronin who populated Kurosawa’s movies. In Masaki Kobayashi’s stunning 1962 period drama, “Harakiri,” the samurai we meet represent both individual ronin and those in the employ of feudal lords. The latter adhere to the traditional Bushido code of conduct that demands loyalty, honor and frugality, as well as martial-arts expertise. As long as their master was alive and solvent, the samurai were bound by the Bushido code. American cowboy heroes lived and died by a code, as well, but drifted from town to town with no visible means of financial support, apart from collecting the occasional reward or stumbling upon the infrequent gold mine. Working for wages was anathema to the cowboy hero as was anything resembling the final rite of harakiri.

Kobayashi was disgusted by the Japanese tradition of blind obedience to more powerful masters, whether it harkened to the Bushido code or appeals to patriotism and fealty to the emperor, as was the case in World War II. It was a characteristic he examined at length in the films in his “Human Condition” trilogy. In those films, which immediately preceded “Harakiri,” Kobayashi describes the horrific emotional and physical journey endured by a Japanese pacifist, who deplored war but, as a conscientious objector, could serve his country in a humane way and protect the rights of workers at a Manchurian mine. As the war escalates, he’s required to pick up arms on the Russian front, where he’s eventually captured and imprisoned. It’s here the protagonist learns the difference between the Marxist principles he embraced as a youth and the realities of life under Stalin.

In “Harakiri,” an impoverished, unemployed samurai, Hanshiro Tsugumo (Tatsuya Nakadai), arrives at the estate of a feudal lord to ask if he could commit ritual suicide on his property. It’s the second such request the nobleman’s heard recently and he is suspicious of the coincidence. He demands to know if the ronin is serious – more importantly, honorable – or if he is being duped. In relaying his tale of woe, the warrior discovers that the previous petitioner was his son-in-law, a younger samurai whose life had become intolerable because of his inability to keep disease from claiming his wife and son. The bad treatment accorded the fine young man – in times of peace, unattached ronin were left to their own devices – causes Tsugumo to plot revenge and suicide on his own terms. In doing so, he reveals the hypocrisy of samurai allowed to interpret the Bushido code to fit their own needs by a pre-occupied nobleman. “Harakiri” won the 1963 Cannes Film Festival’s Special Jury Prize and, in Blu-ray, looks as splendid today as it must have looked then. It includes a useful video introduction by Japanese-film historian Donald Richie; an excerpt from a rare Directors Guild of Japan interview with the director; and interviews with Nakadai and screenwriter Shinobu Hashimoto.

Whenever a movie is banned, censored or forced to conform to commercial dictates, it’s important to know who made the decision and what criteria were used. In some countries, all it takes for a movie to be banned is a point of view that challenges the political status quo. In others, even the least sexual or violent of scenes could keep a movie from being shown. In the United States, the MPAA ascribes a highly subjective grade to a movie and hands the ball off to exhibitors and their landlords to do the dirty work for it. First shown in 1977 and continually bent, folded and mutilated thereafter, Pier Paulo Pasolini’s final film, “Salo, or the 120 Days of Sodom,” re-wrote the record books when it came to ways ratings and censorship boards could condemn a film. “Salo” proved to be an equal-opportunity offender, though. No less a filmmaker than Bernardo Bertolucci swore he wouldn’t watch it twice, before giving in to the temptation of revisiting the movie. In a recent interview included in the Criterion Collection bonus package, he calls it “atrocious and sublime.” Name an act generally considered to be depraved and you’ll probably find at least one example of it in “Salo.” Although there are copious amounts of nudity and perverse sexuality, director John Maybury (“Love Is the Devil: Study for a Portrait of Francis Bacon”) says the movie “undermines all notions of erotica or pornography.” Neither will it do much for the libidos of pederasts, urophiliacs, coprophiliacs, voyeurs or masochists, although fans of the Marquis de Sade should find plenty in it to admire.

“Salo” refers to the town in northern Italy that became the capital of Italy’s Fascist government, after the Allies landed in Sicily and the post-Mussolini government attempted to sign a separate peace agreement with them. Raised nearby, Pasolini was acutely aware of what the leaders of the doomed regime were doing in their abundant free time. (In the closing weeks of the war, his brother was killed in an ambush there.) The movie follows an outline established by chapters in Dante’s “Inferno”: the Anteinferno, the Circle of Manias, the Circle of Shit and the Circle of Blood. Four libertines – a duke, bishop, magistrate and politician – round up 18 teenage boys and girls and take them to a villa near Marzabotto. Once there, they’re indoctrinated by experienced prostitutes and sadistically abused by the libertines. Much of what’s revealed will have first-time viewers gagging on their popcorn, which, of course, is exactly what Pasolini intended. Under such brutal conditions, only the strongest among us are able to resist being brainwashed into accepting any depravity as the norm. In less violent periods, conformity can be contagious. In the tumultuous mid-1970s, Pasolini felt that hippie and radically political counter-culturists had already begun an inexorable march toward conformity and re-absorption into mainstream European culture. He added the unbearable scat-eating scenes in “Salo” as an indictment of rampant consumerism and the universal acceptance of junk food as a nutritional imperative. Knowing this, however, doesn’t make those scenes any easier to stomach. The hi-def restoration is impeccable and the many interviews – on-screen and in the enclosed booklet — really help explain Pasolini’s intentions. – Gary Dretzka

Attack on Leningrad: Blu-ray
Filmed in Russia, in winter, “Attack on Leningrad” is a World War II thriller that feels as if it might have started out as a mini-series, but was abridged for foreign consumption. In addition to a fine cast of Russian actors, the producers were able to attract bankable foreign names Mira Sorvino, Gabriel Byrne and Armin Mueller-Stahl. Unlike other movies about the long Nazi siege of Leningrad, this one puts human interest before depictions of heroism in battle. At its center is a British reporter (Sorvino) left behind as dead when the last group of foreign journalists is evacuated from Leningrad. Instead, she’s been knocked unconscious by a German bomb and given shelter by a peppery young policewoman and her family. Turns out, she’s also the daughter of an exiled White Russian leader and, therefore, persona non grata in the eyes of Stalin’s functionaries. Given an opportunity to escape the horror, she decides to stay and fight in a woman’s militia. It’s interesting that the Russian producers decided to invest so much money and effort to tell this one story in a million from that 900-day ordeal. In a making-of featurette, director Alexander Buravsky explains how he re-created the hellish condit ions that characterized the siege on sound stages, in the streets of modern St Petersburg and on a frozen bay in minus-20-degree weather. You’ll shiver along with the filmmakers and actors. –Gary Dretzka

Craig Ferguson: Does This Need to Be Said?
As we age, the earlier we go to sleep. That’s OK, though, because there are increasingly fewer things to do that are worth the effort it takes to stay awake. If you’ve recently joined the many people who tend to doze off after David Letterman recites his nightly top-10 list, this means you’re missing Craig Ferguson’s hugely entertaining late-night talk show. If anyone needs to be cautioned about caffeine abuse, it’s Ferguson. Even in the wee hours, the twitchy Scotsman is operating at full speed, borrowing visual gags as old as Ernie Kovacs would be, if he were still alive, and props that wouldn’t have seemed out of place in a kiddie’s show. More than anything else, though, Ferguson is extremely likable. That quality is on full display in “Does This Need to Be Said?,” a frenetic in-performance DVD shot in Nashville. In it, he opens with the promise of telling his favorite joke, but first feels obliged to caution the audience about all the bawdy language and R-rated material they’re going to hear and explain why he can’t say the same things on television. This leads to a bit about being fined by his young son whenever he lets slip a cuss word, which leads etc., etc., etc. The joke does get told, but not until the end of the show. Although everything in between resembles stream-of-consciousness venting, it’s probably been finely honed and polished. That it feels improvised is another of Ferguson’s gifts. The Comedy Central production adds a pair of short fan bits, but it’s what happens on stage that counts most and you won’t hear that on television. – Gary Dretzka

More Brains! A Return to the Living Dead
The Howling Reborn: Blu-ray

Few movies in Hollywood history have had as much written and said about them as “The Return of the Living Dead.” Besides dozens of reviews and essays that border on the scholarly, there have been several commentary tracks for DVD bonus packages, the recently published “Complete History of the Return of the Living Dead” and several other books documenting the zombie phenomenon in movies. Dan O’Bannon’s 1985 undead thriller holds a special place in the hearts of many genre buffs. At first, it was misconstrued as a sequel to George Romero’s epochal “The Night of the Living Dead,” released 17 years earlier. Others thought it might have been made to exploit the nearly concurrent release of Romero’s “Day of the Dead,” itself a sequel to “Dawn of the Dead.” After “Return” opened to surprisingly favorable reviews from mainstream critics, word spread to young viewers looking for something different than the usual parade of shuffling ghouls descending on a houseful of innocent citizens. O’Bannon took his job seriously enough to throw out the rule book on zombie clichés – along with the script he was handed by the producers – and re-imagine the monsters as punk rockers willing to bite for their right to party. Neither was he willing to skimp on the blood-letting and other special makeup effects. The horror was real enough, but so too was O’Bannon’s determination to add unexpected laughs to the screenplay. Buffs understood that he wasn’t attempting to parody or send up the genre, as Mel Brooks had done so marvelously in “Young Frankenstein.” He wanted, instead, to push its boundaries and expand the audience for such material to include those who preferred insider-access to the conceits. One way he did this was by spicing the cast with seasoned veterans, such as Clu Gulager and James Karen; sexy scream queens Linnea Quigley, Beverly Randolph and Jewel Shepard; and interesting unknowns, some of whom were practically homeless at the time. Moreover, O’Bannon was relentless when it came to the look of the special effects and credibility of the victims of a toxic catastrophe. His demands didn’t endear him with cast and crew. The title of this documentary, “More Brains,” refers to the exhortations of Tarman (Allan Trautman), a gooey zombie brought back to life after the chemical spill. He is believed to be the first movie zombie to crave brains as a dietary supplement. Not having the time or inclination to study all of the material available on “Return,” I can’t say how much of the information in “More Brains” is fresh. I found the movie to be entertaining and instructive, even though I’m tired to death of zombie flicks. Anyone who aspires to making a horror movie should be required to watch it. The DVD adds making-of featurettes for “Return of the Living Dead, Part 2” and “Part 3; “Dan O’Bannon’s Final Interview”; a piece on the filming locations; “Stacey Q Live!” music video of “Tonight”; “They Won’t Stay Dead: A Look at ‘Return of the Living Dead, Part 2’”; “Love Beyond the Grave: A Look at ‘Return of the Living Dead, Part 3’”; deleted interviews; a three-minute synopsis of the movie; and O-Sleeve packaging.

The Howling Reborn” bears as much relation to Joe Dante’s original 1981 werewolf thriller as “Twilight” and “The Vampire Diaries” do to the origina1 “I Was a Teenage Werewolf.” The direct-to-DVD “Howling Reborn” introduces a soon-to-graduate teenager to his fate, in the form of a colony of werewolves inexplicably led by his long-dead mother. As the movie opens, high school senior Will Kidman (Landon Liboiron) is given his final shot at impressing the classmate, Eliana (Lindsey Shaw), he’s been crushing on for years. She appears to be under the spell of a typically arrogant jock jerk, but becomes interested in Will when he shows her a notebook filled with sketches he’s made of her. The jerk makes the mistake of confronting Will at approximately the same moment that Will is realizing his destiny as a werewolf. Eliana is turned on by Will’s transformation, but not what happens when his animal friends come calling. They don’t want to share Will with her and make no secret of their nasty intentions. It’s up to Will to protect his new girlfriend and a wild battle between hugely scruffy werewolves ensues. There isn’t much story to “Howling Returns,” but the actors – Ivana Milicevic, especially – are all pretty hot. I wouldn’t bet that “HR” would attract enough attention to convince producers to launch a new “Howling” franchise. The first series stopped being interesting after the second of six entries. – Gary Dretzka

Freerunner: Blu-ray
It isn’t often that an action picture’s making-of featurettes are more exciting and interesting than the movie itself. That, however, is case with “Freerunner,” an unremarkable straight-to-DVD flick, involving Xtreme athletes practiced in the recently invented sport of urban acrobatic freerunning (a.k.a.. competitive parkour). The first time I saw it on film, in the French thriller “District 13,” I had no idea how the actors were able to hop from impediment to impediment, scale walls with no visible outcroppings and rappel down the sides of buildings without ropes. I assumed the actors and stuntmen were relying on wires, as they do in Hong Kong, but that wasn’t the case. It was a completely fresh activity and lots of fun to watch, as was “District 13.” Parkour showed up again three years later in “The Bourne Ultimatum.” “Freerunner” is a long way removed from those movies.

The challenge faced by the characters here is to get from one side of Cleveland to the other without having their heads blown off by an unseen promoter, also responsible for taking bets from rich punters on the Internet. Occasionally, a pretty young woman will pop up on the screen and show her boobies. Apart from the bonus package, that’s probably the best part of the Blu-ray. The most recognizable stars are Sean Faris, Tamer Hassan, Danny Dyer, Seymour Cassel and champion freerunner Ryan Doyle. – Gary Dretzka

The Names of Love
I wonder what a gaggle of psychiatrists might conclude if asked to participate in a test screening of “The Names of Love.” Although it largely defies easy categorization, Michel Leclerc’s largely autobiographical film can best be described as a romantic dramedy. The romantic protagonists of “The Names of Love” could hardly be more mismatched. Baya Benmahmoud (Sara Foresier) is a free-spirited young woman — daughter of a fiery French Marxist and an undocumented Algerian immigrant – who, as a girl, was sexually abused by her piano teacher. Instead of bringing shame on her father by exposing the pervert, Baya comes to believe that sex can be used as a weapon against people she perceives to be racists and fascists. Once she gets one in the sack, a bigot’s prejudices wither and die. Even when on a first date with perfectly agreeable men, she wastes no time eliminating any possibility of sexual tension.

The object of her affection is a mousy, middle-aged French scientist, Arthur Martin, whose grandparents died at Auschwitz. His mother survived the war under an alias and became proficient in math. She never overcame her feelings of loss, however, first by the deportation of her Greek grandparents and, then, by the certainty of her parents’ death in the ovens. Arthur still lives in mortal fear that he’ll accidentally say something that could trigger thoughts of suicide in his mother. His father was inspired to name him Arthur Martin, out of respect for a manufacturer of popular appliances. (His mother preferred the name, Dean Martin.) It’s as non-Jewish a name as Arthur could imagine and because of it, perhaps, he’s gone through life in as generic a way as possible.

No matter how much these opposites are attracted to each other, however, it naturally takes Arthur a long time to accept Baya’s politically motivated promiscuity, ultra-ditzy behavior and absolute belief that all people should embrace their pasts, no matter how painful. More often than not, she’s as maddening as she is adorable. Throw in all of the political, cultural and racial tensions crippling contemporary France, and “The Names of Love” becomes a powder keg of good intentions gone awry. And, yet, Baya’s theory that a widespread fusion of races ultimately could neutralize prejudice in diverse societies is a belief now being promulgated in an increasingly diverse, if similarly divided America. What isn’t open to debate, however, is the performance by Forestier, an absolutely charming actor who was awarded a Best Actress Cesar for her combined work in five different films in 2010. – Gary Dretzka

Baaria: Blu-ray
Fans of Sicilian-born director Giuseppe Tornatore and such films as “Cinema Paradiso,” “The Legend of 1900” and “Malena” already know how proficient the writer/director is when called upon to recycle impressions from his youth. In doing so, his movies speek to a common memory of what life was like for Italians growing up in small, agriculturally based towns immediately before and after World War II. “Baaria” is a sprawling, 150-minute drama about Tornatore’s hometown of Bagheria, with a tight focus on three generations of the Torrenuova family. Peppino Torrenuova is the son of a peasant when we meet him. He parades the family’s cow down the town’s dusty main street, selling freshly squeezed milk at the curb, and works on the side for a goatherd. He’s not much of a student, but is observant and inquisitive. He witnesses first-hand the combined tyranny of the Fascist government and Mafia on the eve of war, and does what he can for the partisan resistance and Communist opposition during it. At the same time as Peppino begins his rise in the post-war party, he falls in love with a pretty teenager betrothed against her will to a landowner. They decide to elope – down the street, basically – even though their tradition-bound elders make life difficult for them.

Halfway through the movie, then, Tornatore’s hitherto fast-based and occasionally exciting story slows down to accommodate post-war economic growth in Bagheria and the rest of Italy; the semblance, at least, of political stability; and the Torrenuovas’ entry into the middle class. Finally, the story is partially handed off to a new generation of far more educated, affluent and socially conscious Italians. Even within the ever-expanding family of Peppino (Francesco Scianna) and Mannina (Margareth Made) Torrenuova, the split between the old and new left was becoming apparent. By this time, though, “Baaria” has drifted inexorably into melodrama.

Everything else about “Baaria” is first-rate, from the acting and set design, to the splendid scenery and musical score by Ennio Morricone. The Blu-ray presentation is excellent, as well. In addition to film’s sterling look and sound, there’s Tornatore’s commentary and a discussion with him about the music; a making-of featurette; deleted scenes; poster and picture galleries; and vintage home movies from Tornatore’s youth. – Gary Dretzka

Some romantic dramas are so familiar, by now, it would be difficult not to discern their trajectory after 15 minutes of viewing. That doesn’t necessarily mean the movie isn’t worth a rental or is too clichéd to be interesting, however. “Strangers” is well made and romantic enough to suit most people’s tastes. The acting can’t be faulted and Paris and Berlin provide fine backgrounds for accidental love. That said, though, haven’t we already exceeded the quota on movies in which star-crossed Israeli and Palestinian lovers are forced to pay for the intolerance of others? Here, our lovers meet cute in Berlin, where they’ve come separately to absorb the atmosphere surrounding the World Cup finals. Eyal (Liron Levo) is an Israeli national, while Rana (Lubna Azabel) is a Ramallah native living, not by choice, in Paris. They accidentally exchange bags in the subway, but, through the miracle of cell phones, make arrangements to connect soon thereafter. Neither bothered to reserve a room in the packed city, but, given their easy rapport, agree to share one. At first, they dance around the subject of their ethnic backgrounds, for obvious reasons. Ditto, when news of the latest Israeli invasion of Lebanon breaks on the all-news stations.

Their blossoming romance is interrupted when Rana is called back to Paris to care for her asthmatic son, whose existence she’s kept from Eyal. She reluctantly asks him not to follow her to Paris or call her by phone. When he does both things, anyway, he’s able to rescue her from a difficult situation with her son’s health and immigration authorities. Knowing that Eyal had agreed to return to active duty during past invasions, should alert viewers to the severity of his predicament now. Both have relatives in harm’s way, but as an unwed, single mother, Rana can’t go home and Eyal doesn’t want to fight in the endless war. “Strangers” was screened at Sundance 2008 and more than a dozen Jewish film festivals without generating a whole lot of heat. That doesn’t mean there isn’t an audience out there for a topical romance, though. The DVD only adds a trailer. – Gary Dretzka

Monte Carlo: Bluray
I don’t have any idea how old the three young women at the heart of “Monte Carlo” are supposed to be and I’m not at all sure why it bothers me. The only person in this ’tween-skewing rom-com who’s playing her age is Selena Gomez, the 19-year-old Disney woman-child who portrays both a Texas teenager, Grace, and, in a fortuitous case of mistaken identity, a snobby British heiress. Her traveling companions while in France are her waitress friend, Emma (Katie Cassidy), and stepsister, Meg (Leighton Meester), both of whom look as if they could be Grace’s aunt. Expecting, of course, to find love while in Paris, only one of the young ladies gets a nibble. Not all is lost, however, as it’s here that Grace is mistaken for the heiress and whisked away to Monaco in a private jet. From the airport, the still-befuddled trio is chauffeured to a swank hotel suite. Now, the real fun can begin. Fortuitously, the socialite’s suitcases had already arrived and they contained a vast array of evening dresses and casual wear, a treasure trove of cosmetics and lots of swell jewelry. Neither does it take the ladies long to attract the attention of some drippingly handsome young men, all of whom are too polite to jump their bones or invent vows of eternal love. That, right there, is how you know “Monte Carlo” is a fairytale.

Amazingly, the only person who notices that the Texans are imposters is the heiress and she’s unable to see anything funny in the disappearance from her bags of an extremely valuable necklace. She’s even less happy to learn that it is already on the auction block at a charity event. Worse, Grace’s cute polo-playing boyfriend is pissed off, as well, over being duped. After starting off so promisingly, Grace is the only one left without a boy toy. Is it time to break out the hankies, yet? Stay tuned. The Blu-ray edition contains plenty of bonus features, including deleted scenes, an interactive quiz, a hi-def tour of Monaco, a guide to the boys and fashions of Monte Carlo, a gossip session with the “girls,” BD-Live and other downloadable material. – Gary Dretzka

The Shock Doctrine
You Got To Move: Stories of Change in the South

Anyone who looks at news reports from the Occupy Wall Street sites and only sees hippies playing bongos and smoking pot, or anarchists and commies piggy-backing on the media attention, ought to do three things very quickly: turn off all cable-news shows; think about going back to school; and pick up a DVD copy of this documentary. Or, if the store’s copy is rented out, substitute “Capitalism: A Love Story,” “Inside Job,” “The Yes Men Fix the World” or “Freakonomics.” These documentaries were released well before the OWS movement began making headlines and America’s major banks’ conspired to circumvent Obama-era reforms. “The Shock Doctrine” was directed by Michael Winterbottom and Mat Whitecross, who previously collaborated on the similarly damning “The Road to Guantanamo.” The message it delivers derives largely from Naomi Klein’s best-selling book of the same name and material gleaned from her lectures. If “Shock Doctrine” feels a tad dry and academic – compared to Michael Moore’s films, anyway – the horrifying facts speak for themselves.

It is Klein’s studied opinion that for the last 40 years, at least, American economic policy has been dictated by the radical free-market theories of Milton Friedman and the Chicago School economists. In a nutshell, Friedman believes that growth can be accelerated by taking advantage of wars, coups and other chaotic political situations, as well as devastating hurricanes and tsunamis. If those situations don’t occur organically, it’s then fair to create opportunities to exploit burgeoning upheaval, unrest and fear. Klein traces her argument back to Chile in the early 1970s, when we helped instigate discord among the country’s middle class, and the military used it as an excuse to stage a coup against the duly elected socialist government. To prevent reprisals from the left and unions, the junta simply ordered the extermination of thousands of potential dissenters, and no one in the Nixon White House so much as blinked. The same thing happened in Argentina. Margaret Thatcher didn’t slaughter innocent workers in the name of free-market capitalism; she simply eliminated their jobs. On and on it went, until the plutocrats and gangsters bled Russia dry and we created an economic free-fire zone for contractors in Iraq. Obama may have inherited the Wall Street mess, but he allowed the foxes who snuck into the hen house under Reagan to stick around. They did nothing to prevent banks from feasting on the carcasses of poor and middle-class Americans. As “The Shock Doctrine” argues, nothing has changed.

Coincidental to the release of “Shock Doctrine” and OWS movement is the release of Lucy Massie Phenix’s “You Got to Move: Stories of Change in the South,” which has been released to coincide with the 50th anniversary of the Civil Rights-era Albany Movement and upcoming 80th Anniversary of the Highlander Folk School (now Highlander Research and Education Center). The activists we meet probably have never owned bongos or smoked pot at a sit-in, if at all. What they do share with the OWS protestors, though, is being vilified in the media, called communists by pinheads and rallying for a cause at the grassroots level. Highlander was at the crossroads for change at time when blacks were being denied their basic rights as Americans and companies involved in strip-mining started dumping toxins in the streams and backyards of poor, rural Kentuckians. In both instances, singing was used as a tool to rally the troops and fuel the movement, and, of course, the bigots and polluters had the law on their side … until they didn’t. It’s a very inspirational document. – Gary Dretzka

Aki Kaurismaki’s Leningrad Cowboys: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Iggy and the Stooges: Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans: Blu-ray
Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon & McCartney 1967-1972
When Aki Kaurismäki’s hysterical comedy about a terrible Siberian polka band’s ill-conceived tour of the United States was released here, in 1990, a lot of people thought it might be a Dada-ist parody of the Blues Brothers. Even if it were inspired by John Belushi and Dan Ackroyd’s musical mission from God, though, it sure was funny. On closer inspection, “Leningrad Cowboys Go America” was as much a humorous poke at the Finns’ historical rival, Russia — then, the USSR — as anything else it might or may not have been. The most obvious half of the gag was visual. With their omnipresent shades, dark suits and extreme pompadours, the Cowboys did resemble country-bumpkin cousins of Elwood and Jake Blues. It was the musicians’ other distinguishing features, however, that made us roar with laughter. Their pompadours were long and pointy — not high and rounded on top – and so were their shiny black shoes. From a distance, they could be parentheses. The other half of the dig was more subtle, at least to western eyes. As an aspiring capitalist, the band’s promoter couldn’t have been any more inept or corrupt. Like everyone else in the ensemble, the fur-coated Vladimir is addicted to vodka and beer. Upon the Cowboys’ arrival in New York – Coney Island, to be precise – the boss arranged for an audition. Instead of playing Madison Square Garden or somewhere equally majestic, the promoter booked the band a gig at the wedding of his cousin … in Mexico. To get there, they were required to buy a car – with practically no money – and embark on 2,000-mile road trip. Along the way, the promoter urged the band members to learn the difference between rock ’n’ roll and polka music.

You know their journey isn’t going to be a typical tourist adventure when the car salesman is played by indie icon, Jim Jarmusch. He attempts to convince Vladimir of the merits of a beat-up Checker cab, but the wanna-be millionaire will settle for nothing less than an equally suspect Cadillac sedan. If three of the musicians were put in its trunk, the instruments could make the journey with them. Oh, yeah, on top of the car’s roof is a wooden coffin, filled with ice, beer, small instruments and a dead Cowboy. As it turns out, the Cowboys are a quick study and quickly master the rockabilly idiom, by playing freelance gigs at dives in Memphis, New Orleans, Houston, San Antonio and other stops along the road. You get the picture.

After a thorough digital scrubbing, Criterion Collection has included “Go America” in Eclipse Series 29, alongside its sequel, “Leningrad Cowboys Meet Moses,” and a third disc containing a live concert and music videos, also by Kaurismäki. (His “Proletariat Trilogy,” comprised of “Shadows in Paradise,” “Ariel” and “The Match Factory Girl,” filled an earlier Eclipse Series box.) “Meet Moses” picks up where “”Go America” left off, in the Mexican desert with their hapless manager still AWOL. Apparently, in his wanderings, Vladimir came to believe he’s Moses, and he’ll lead the depleted band back to the promised land of Siberia. Instead of making the trip by plane, the musicians are required to take the overland route, through the United States, by leaky boat to Europe and into Russia, unobstructed by Iron Curtains or concrete walls. The gags may not be as fresh this time through the ringer, but fans of the original won’t mind. Staged in Helsinki, before a crowd estimated to be 70,000-plus Finns, the “Total Balalaika Show” combines the classic-rock chops of the Cowboys with the magnificent voices and ringing balalaikas of the 150-member Russian Red Army Choir. As incongruous as such a match might sound – imagine “Bat Out of Hell,” as performed by Meat Loaf, Barbra Streisand and the New York Philharmonic – it truly is a slice of heaven. Even if the music videos that accompany the concert footage wouldn’t fit within the narrow confines of MTV, they can stand on their own merits as short films.

Being one of the most dynamic acts in all of show business, Iggy & the Stooges are well represented in videos and live-concert films. Even in his 60s, Iggy can kick it with the best of the young rockers. “Raw Power Live: In the Hands of the Fans” is a different breed of cat in that six fans were given cameras and given complete access to film the proceedings. Fortuitously, it was the September 3, 2010, concert, at the All Tomorrow’s Parties Festival, where the band committed to performing all of the songs from its 1973”Raw Power” album. The bonus features are dominated by material submitted by the winning contestants.

Composing Outside the Beatles: Lennon & McCartney 1973-1980,” represents
MVD’s latest examination of Boomer-era rock ’n’ roll follows John Lennon and Paul McCartney as they ventured forth from the security of the Beatles and blazed career paths of their own. Neither was terribly successful at the start of their separate endeavors. Beatles fans reacted negatively to the post-breakup squabbling and hesitated before embracing the new sounds. Competition for radio airplay was fierce and Lennon’s political activism was deemed too provocative for AM programmers. This DVD approaches the material both historically and critically. – Gary Dretzka

A Better Life: Blu-ray
Movies that attempt to interpret the immigration experience have been a Hollywood staple for nearly all of the last 100 years. It’s only been since the early 1980s, with “El Norte” and “The Border,” that the ordeal of illegal immigrants from Mexico and Central America has been addressed in any significant way. That’s changed, of course, in the ensuing 30 years, whether it’s because the “wetback” stereotype has been deemed politically incorrect and smarter voices are being recognized – outside of Arizona and Alabama, anyway — or distributors have come to the conclusion that the Hispanic audience is now large enough to exploit in a profitable way. The fact remains, however, that the creation of such movies remains the province of independents, just as it’s always been.

Director Chris Weitz (“About a Boy,” “New Moon”) and writer Eric Eason (“Manito”) adapted “A Better Life” from a story by mystery novelist Roger L. Simon. Equal parts tear-jerker and inspirational drama, it stars Demián Bichir (“Che,” “Weeds”) as a Los Angeles gardener who’s spent many years looking over his shoulder for “la migra,” while also struggling to keep his son in school and away from the gangs that dominate their East Side neighborhood. So far, so good. At the exact point in his father’s life that he can see his dreams come to fruition, fate intercedes, putting them on hold. His new truck and tools are stolen by a day laborer he picks up outside a hardware store. After he locates and retrieves the vehicle from a chop-shop, in the company of his son (Jose Julian), he’s stopped and arrested for driving without a license. There doesn’t appear to be any chance the man will be able to avoid a deportation, so, after an emotionally charged farewell, it’s left to the teenager to steer his own course, at least temporarily. The DVD comes with commentary, deleted scenes and a music video by Ozomatli. – Gary Dretzka

Masterpiece Mystery: Complete Inspector Lewis
V: The Complete Second Season
Nova: Engineering Ground Zero
History: American Pickers: Volume Two
History: Top Shot: Reloaded: Season 2
History: Pawn Stars: Volume Three
Celtic Angels at Christmas
It isn’t often that the untimely death of an actor playing the protagonist in a popular television series presents the show’s producers with both a dilemma and an opportunity. Such was the case when two-time BAFTA-winner John Thaw (a.k.a., Chief Inspector Morse) died in 2002, creating a vacuum ultimately filled by his series’ fictional subordinate, Inspector Robert Lewis (a.k.a., Kevin Whately). Conveniently for Granada/WGBH, Lewis was available, having spent a couple of years on sabbatical in the British Virgin Isles, and so was Newcastle-native Whatley. He returned to Oxford, newly widowed and reluctantly in charge of a murder case involving the murder of a mathematics student shot while participating in a sleep-deprivation study. In England, that scenario was used to introduce “Lewis” to viewers hungry for more of the same good thing. The pilot is included in the new 10-disc PBS collection, “Masterpiece Mystery: Complete Inspector Lewis,” which is comprised of all 20 mysteries, through the fourth American season. (Don’t worry fans, the episodes are shown at their original lengths, not the abridged American versions.) Lewis is joined by Detective Sergeant James Hathaway (Laurence Fox), Chief Superintendent Jean Innocent (Rebecca Front) and Dr. Laura Hobson (Clare Holman). As always the splendid Oxfordshire countryside and colleges are as important to the enjoyment of the show as anything else.

ABC may have canceled its sci-fi soap, “V,” after a couple of its “bubble” shows burst, but the way things are going with some of the network’s replacement series, it might need a quick fix with a reliable fan base, however marginal.ABC execs probably thought “Charlie’s Angels” was a no-brainer, but it already has been canceled. “V” was a remake of the two-part 1983 mini-series, which aired on NBC and spawned a sequel, a weekly series and a novelization. In the updated series, the alien Visitors are led by the mysterious queen Anna, who advises from above, “Don’t be frightened. We mean you no harm,” which translates to, “Obey or die.” Motherships hover over 29 different cities. In the 10-episode Season 2, it’s revealed why such an odd number of vehicles are involved in the invasion. Meanwhile, an underground unit of resistance fighters — the Fifth Column – struggles to undermine the reptilian intruders. The Blu-ray set adds a pair of making-of featurettes, with cast interviews; unaired scenes; and a blooper reel.

As part of the national outpouring of grief that accompanied the 10th anniversary of 9/11, dozens of shows commemorating those who died aired on television. There were nearly as many programs that celebrated the recovery efforts by relatives and survivors. Not surprisingly, PBS’ “Nova: Engineering Ground Zero” took a different tack. Just as the terrorists’ living victims struggled to rebuild their lives on a foundation poured by slain loved ones, so, too, did an army of engineers, architects and construction workers labor to create a fitting memorial to the people who died there. Beyond that, they have endeavored to replace the commercial entity specifically and symbolically targeted by the hijackers on that awful day. Their story is more than one of iron and steel. The negotiations and debates that preceded construction of One World Trade Center created an aura of drama that, in some ways, continues today. Among those interviewed are architect David Childs; Chris Ward, executive director of the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey; Mayor Michael Bloomberg, chairman of the 9/11 Memorial Foundation; and Michael Arad, who conceptualized the 9/11 Memorial.

Once upon a time, I was employed as a garbage man. This was before the days when residents were required to roll their containers to the curb, so as to save time and reduce the challenge of carrying overloaded cans to the truck without dropping half the load on the driveway. Separating garbage into refuse, recyclables and garden waste was an idea too far-fetched for any of us to imagine. For our labors, some of the residents on our routes would leave six-packs of beer or pop, which we would consume at the dump, if we had some time to kill. Apparently, the guys who spent their free time sifting through the piles of garbage, looking for discarded treasures and recyclable metals where decades ahead of their time. Today, they would have a television show of their own, just like “American Pickers.” Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, we’re told, “are just two ordinary guys looking for extraordinary things. ‘American Pickers’ follows them as they scour the country’s junkyards, basements and barns for hidden gems.” In the show’s second season, the pickers were rewarded at “honey holes” filled with coin-operated games and pinball machines, civil war artifacts, circus leftovers, toys, signs and other goodies. Who knew?

History’s competition series, “Top Shot,” is “Survivor,” with weapons. Contestants are required to demonstrate mastery of weapons from all eras of human history, from primitive rocks to sophisticated firearms. They are required, as well, to endure grueling physical tests to stay in the game. High-speed, high-definition cameras capture the skillful execution of each test in extreme slow motion Like “Survivor,” the competitors can be every bit as petty and unreasonable as children playing cowboys and Indians. With $100,000 at stake, who can blame them? Among the stunts required of the contestants are shooting while hanging from a crane; riding on the back of a jeep; standing 1,000 yards from the target; and using Civil War rifles.

Ever notice how “Pawn Stars” and other reality-based shows involving previously owned junk and artifacts resemble PBS’ “Antiques Roadshow”? All feature professionals whose job it is to evaluate property ranging in value from priceless to worthless, and everything in between. Pawn-shop employees not are experts at assessing value, but also getting customers to accept low-ball offers. If the property is worth anything, they benefit from charging interest – usually less than your average bank-backed credit card – and/or the inability of the pawnee to meet certain deadlines. Some proprietors can be unscrupulous, but rarely the ones willing to risk their reputations in front tens of thousands of viewers each week. Fans should know that “Volume Three” is comprised of only 16 of the show’s 28 episodes.

First screened on Canadian television in 2006, “Celtic Angels at Christmas” is a lovely seasonal presentation that showcases the songs and steps of Celtic artists from Cape Breton and other strongholds of Scottish heritage in eastern Canada. The traditional Gaelic hymns and carols are as inspiring as they are unfamiliar to most American ears. Fiddler Kendra MacGillivray is an energetic interpreter of Scottish songs and fellow Angel Sabra MacGillivray dances, as well as sings. She is joined, as well, by some very young step dancers. Maggie MacInnes performs on the clarsach (Celtic harp), while Patricia Murray, Gillian Boucher and Stephanie Hardy round out the ensemble. Close your eyes and you won’t be distracted by the Spartan backgrounds. — Gary Dretzka

I clowns: Blu-ray
Specialty distributor RaroVideo made Federico Fellini’s delightful “docu-comedy” of the history of clowns and their continuing role they play in and out of circuses one of its first releases here. “I clowns” also recounts the maestro’s lifelong fascination with the circus, and its place in his movies. RaroVideo has now done movie lovers the very great favor of sending out the wildly colorful “I clowns” in Blu-ray. Among the guest stars are Anita Ekberg, Geraldine Chaplin and the director himself. The enchanting score was composed by Nino Rota. The Blu-ray bonus package is similar to that of the DVD: “The Matrimonial Agency,” Fellini’s 16-minute short, conceived for the 1953 anthology “Love in the City”; a video essay by Adriano Aprà on the creation of “I clowns”; and a 50-page booklet with Fellini’s notes and sketches for the film. – 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