MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Tree of Life, Green Lantern, Zookeeper, Mr. Nice, Four Feathers, Horrible Bosses, The Trip, Beautiful Boy, Submarino, Red State, Maniac Cop …

The Tree of Life: Blu-ray
If all one knows about Terrence Malick’s “The Tree of Life” is that it was awarded the Palme d’Or at this year’s Cannes Film Festival, watching it at home could either be a tremendously exhilarating or hugely bewildering experience. A highly personal project, the movie has been gestating in his mind for more than 30 years, and only the barest outline of a plot is visible. Even those conversant with Makick’s exacting composition, studied pacing, ethereal cinematography and cerebral demands aren’t sure what to make of it. As such, “Tree of Life” is a “2001: A Space Odyssey” for our calamitous times. The movie opens with a quote from the bible, but it could have been prefaced with the enigmatic title sequence from the 1960s’ medical drama “Ben Casey.” As a hand draws five symbols on a chalkboard, a disembodied voice intones, “Man, woman, life, death, infinity.” They could stand as chapter headings in Malick’s near-religious interpretation of what it means to exist in a finite universe, either as God’s children or temporal constructs of ash and dust. Malick intersperses stunningly impressionistic images of the creation process with vignettes from the life of a family of middle-class Texans in the 1950s. As exemplars of the human condition, the O’Briens would appear to be a distinctly arbitrary choice. They are, however, drawn from Malick’s memories of his own family.

As suggested in a voiceover narration, the O’Briens represent the eternal struggle between the forces of nature and grace. Brad Pitt’s character is a man whose behavior is dictated by the laws of the various jungles in which he exists at any given moment. In the ’50s, this meant men acted according to guidelines established by countless generations of fathers before them, and they expected their sons to toe the same line. The men also demanded of their wives that they reflect their values and disciplinary standards. All of that would change within the lifetimes of the O’Brien children. As portrayed by the lovely Jessica Chastain, Mrs. O’Brien’s spirit is more ethereal and informed by grace. Her relationship with their three sons is founded on love, spontaneity and maternal instincts inherited from her ancestors. She stands by her man, but never allows the boys to drift very far from the nest. Malick’s alter ego here is Jack (Hunter McCracken), a boy approaching the turbulence of puberty with all of the contradictions inherent in his parents’ marriage already tearing him apart. As an adult, Jack (Sean Penn) is a successful big-city architect who couldn’t be more uncomfortable in his own skin. Out of the blue, Jack takes a powder from his glass-lined office and goes on a vision quest that anticipates his ultimate journey from Earth to the afterlife (in a suit and tie no less). Likewise, Malick imagines how the death of the universe might look, if witnessed from a box seat in the Milky Way. It’s visually spectacular, especially in Blu-ray, and only slightly less portentous than anything in “2001.”

It’s significant, then, that Malick turned to Douglas Trumbull when he came to a creative impasse. Alongside Stanley Kubrick, Turnball re-wrote the book on special visual and photographic effects in Hollywood. It’s Trumbull’s first visual-effects credit since 1982, when he was Oscar-nominated for his work in “Blade Runner.” The only supplemental feature in the Blu-ray presentation is a fairly routine behind-the-scenes piece, sans Malick. I’m only guessing here, but there’s probably a Criterion Collection or Director’s Cut edition somewhere in the offing. – Gary Dretzka

Green Lantern: Blu-ray 3D
In the early years of “Gossip Girl,” Blake Lively always looked about five years too old to play a high school student. Indeed, as far as I can recall, her character’s never been carded when in search of a cocktail or entrance to a trendy nightclub. In “Green Lantern,” the lovely Ms. Lively looks 10 years too young to be a seasoned test pilot for her father’s aeronautics company, let alone someone about to take over its reins. Stranger things have happened in the movies, though, I suppose. Lively’s Carol Ferris is the object of desire for fellow pilot Hal Jordan (Ryan Reynolds) and nerdy scientist Hector Hammond (Peter Sarsgaard). In due course, Jordan and Hammond not only become rivals for Ferris’ attention, but also as Earthly agents for warring intergalactic forces: the peace-keeping Green Lantern Corps and fear-entity Parallax. Jordan’s powers derive from a power-generating ring given him by alien guardian Abin Sur, whose space vehicle crash-lands on Earth. Hammond begins mutating after conducting Abin Sur’s autopsy, during which a yellow meteor fragment comes in contact with his bare skin. For Jordan to fully realize the strength of a Green Lantern guardian and battle Parallax, it will, however, be necessary for him to squeeze all yellow-tinged fear from his body. Conversely, Hammond’s fear-generating mutation not only causes his head to balloon hideously – to accommodate his increased brain size — but it also attracts the massive dark storm that is Parallax to Earth. For Jordan to neutralize Hammond’s newly acquired telepathy and realize the full powers of a Green Lantern, he must overcome his rival and all residual fear from his being. Once that is accomplished, Green Lantern and Parallax can engage in their battle royal.

If that synopsis sounds hopelessly confusing, you already know what’s wrong with “Green Lantern.” To keep the characters and their powers straight, it may be necessary to keep a scorecard or notepad handy. For example, everything Jordan does is influenced by witnessing, at the tender age of 8, his test-pilot father being burned to a crisp in a fiery crash. Ferris’ dad is a ruthless industrialist and Hammond’s is a corrupt politician. Talk about karmic overload. Martin Campbell’s film can be divided roughly into two parts. The first and less interesting half involves the Earth-bound characters and their various schemes and romantic entanglements. The second half takes place in outer space, first on the emerald-green planet of Oa and, later, on a beeline to the sun. It’s on Oa that the Central Power Battery is located and the Guardians of the Universe keep track of the Green Lantern Corps’ activities. The Green Lantern’s final showdown with the evil Parallax takes place in the fiery shadow of the sun. The design of the stormy menace, Parallax, reportedly was inspired by the plumes of dust that swallowed Lower Manhattan immediately after the collapse of theTwin Towers on 9/11 and the “writhing mass of living beings” in Indian festival films. It’s pretty impressive. Not yet in possession of a Blu-ray 3D player, I can only imagine how these scenes might look in that format.

The supplemental package includes the 114-minute theatrical cut and 123-minute extended version; “Maximum Movie Mode: Green Lantern’s Light,” with 161minutes of making-of featurettes and picture-in-picture interviews, pop-up trivia, character bios and backgrounders; “The Universe According to Green Lantern,” which offers the DC Comics take on the characters and mythology; deleted scenes; “Ryan Reynolds Becomes Green Lantern”; a preview of “Green Lantern: The Animated Series”; “Justice League #1 Digital Comic; “Arkham City Character Skin Code,” with Sinestro Corps Batman in the PlayStation 3 version of the “Arkham City” games; and an UltraViolet Digital Copy. “Green Lantern” looks as if it were made to provide a foundation for a franchise, which probably won’t happen. Normally, a $116-million haul at the domestic box office would satisfy investors, but with a budget estimated to be $200 million, it fell well short of expectations. – Gary Dretzka

Zookeeper: Blu-ray
As talking-animal rom-coms go, “Zookeeper” is competently made, reasonably funny and unabashedly sentimental. It should please most kids and fans of such Happy Madison creations as “Bedtime Stories” and “Paul Blart: Mall Cop.” It’s loaded with scatological and slapstick humor and, naturally, the homely guy ends up with a hot gal. I can’t imagine anyone else over 14 enjoying it much, although the hint of a cross-species romance between a gorilla and drunken party girl might inspire fetishists to give it a look-see. The implications of such a hookup weren’t sufficiently kinky to prevent the MPAA from giving it a “PG,” but you never what floats that organization’s boat. “Zookeeper” stars Kevin James as an amiable lug, Griffin, who loves his job at the zoo, but is despondent over his girlfriend’s decision, years earlier, to dump him for a perceived lack of ambition. Instead of saying, “Good riddance to bad rubbish,” and recognizing the attention given him by some very nice women working alongside him at the zoo, Griffin senses Stephanie might be right. The animals under his care have quietly become aware of his unhappiness and conspire to get Griffin and Stephanie back together. He’s been such a pal to them, the animals come out of the special-effects closet by revealing their ability to speak and listen. To his surprise, they also are able to leave their cages at night and roam at will throughout the facility. The various animals teach him what is required of an alpha male, from growling ferociously at potential rivals to marking his territory. Their efforts may not be enough for Griffin to turn down a job at a relative’s car dealership, though, and, if he leaves, the animals fear he’ll be replaced by a particularly sadistic keeper. The same guy was especially brutal to the gorilla, causing it to turn its back on the zoo’s patrons and demonstrate other anti-social characteristics.

What really diminished my enjoyment of the movie was a product-placement strategy that gave the TGI Friday’s bar and restaurant chain an inordinate amount of exposure, even by Hollywood’s profit-based standards. Not only is the chain’s logo conspicuous throughout the movie, but, incredibly, it is the first place the gorilla wants to go when Griffin helps him break out of his funk and cage, if for only a few hours. Some critics found the product placement to be so distracting and offensive, they considered the possibility TGI Friday’s was a not-so-silent investor in the project. (Its logo also was prominent in television ads and Internet teasers.) Someone, after all, had to help pay for an all-star voicing cast that includes Sandler, Sylvester Stallone, Cher, Nick Nolte, Judd Apatow, Jon Favreau, Maya Rudolph and Don Rickles, and human actors Rosario Dawson, Leslie Bibb, Ken Jeong and Donnie Wahlberg. Their salaries could buy a lot of peanuts. The Blu-ray bonus package adds deleted scenes and a gag reel; a look at all the work that went into the creation of the animatronic gorilla character, voiced by Nolte; an introduction to the actors; backgrounders on the scenes in which the animals interacted with each other and Griffin; a piece on James’ training with bears; BD Live functionality; and a standard DVD copy. – Gary Dretzka

Mr. Nice
Before “Easy Rider,” purveyors of illegal substances were portrayed as being loathsome fiends, whose sales pitch could be reduced to, “Try it, the first one’s free,” whether the product was heroin, marijuana or cough syrup. After “Easy Rider,” filmmakers paid lip service, at least, to the popular perception that dealers of marijuana, hashish and LSD were somehow more virtuous than the pushers of heroin, crack and speed. Until the destructive properties of cocaine became widely known and Colombians turned Miami into their personal O.K. Corral, it, too, was given a pass.

Mr. Nice” tells the story of Welsh hashish and marijuana smuggler Howard Marks (Rhys Ifans), who, at the height of his career, was said to have controlled 10 percent of all hashish being trafficked in the world. He arranged for consignments of up to 30 tons of cannabis from Pakistan, Thailand and Colombia to be smuggled into Europe, America and Canada. At various times, Marks claims to have been in cahoots with such organizations as the IRA, MI-6, CIA and the Mafia. He made enough money selling marijuana and hashish that he never felt the urge to traffic in harder drugs. Marks was no dummy and he had alternatives to a career in drug dealing. After growing up in a working-class Welsh community, he was invited to attend Oxford University, where he was introduced to hashish and psychedelics by the sons and daughters of Britain’s ruling class. Despite these indulgences, Marks earned a degree in nuclear physics and studied philosophy as a post-graduate. He tried teaching, but was lured away from the profession by the promise and excitement of scoring easy money. His biggest challenge would come in organizing a smuggling network that allowed his shipments to bypass customs agents. In another marvelously twitchy performance, David Thewlis plays a key IRA operative who convinced sympathizers working at an Irish airport that he was importing guns and other weapons into the country and they should move the cargo along without inspection. Instead, the boxes contained hashish from Afghanistan and Pakistan. The sophistication of his operation blossomed from there.

In addition to the requisite scenes of “la dolce vita,” “Mr. Nice” chronicles Marks’ family life, close calls and arrests, including the one that finally landed him in a maximum-security American prison for a 25-year bit. Before sentencing him, the judge – in the movie, at least – admitted being ambivalent about the necessity for stiff penalties for marijuana smuggling, but was required by law to hand them down, anyway. Not being a belligerent or dangerous fellow, Marks was able to reduce the sentence to seven years. He has since written his memoirs, joined the lecture circuit, acted and become a proponent of the legalization of marijuana. It’s difficult to imagine a better actor to portray Marks than Ifans, who displays a loosey-goosey attitude throughout “Mr. Nice,” but also is convincing as a family man, hedonist and hippie capitalist. Chloe Sevigny and Crispin Glover also deliver fine performances. The Blu-ray comes with a garden-variety making-of featurette, with a guest appearance by Marks, who looks as if he’s still waiting for Woodstock to begin. – Gary Dretzka

The Four Feathers: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
At least a half-dozen movies have been made from A.E.W. Mason’s 1902 novel, chronicling the British Empire’s retaking of Sudan from the “dervishes” and “fuzzy-wuzzies” under the command of the Khalifa Abdullah. Zoltan Korda’s sprawling adaptation of “The Four Feathers,” shot largely on location in the Sudan in three-strip Technicolor, is widely acknowledged to be the best of the lot. Although he espoused leftist principles, the Hungarian-born filmmaker had an immense regard for his adopted country and was somehow able to ignore the blind capitalistic ambitions of its imperialistic foreign policies while completing his Empire trilogy: “Sanders of the River,” “The Drum” and “The Four Feathers.” Things were pretty cut and dry for the colonialist powers in the late 1800s, as were the books and movies that celebrated the wars fought to keep the native tribes and Islamic potentates under their thumbs. By time we meet the key players in “The Four Feathers” reclaiming the Sudan is more a point of honor than an economic necessity. The protagonist, Harry Faversham (John Clemens), has descended from a long line of military heroes and he’s grown up listening to the lies told by old men about their heroism, when “soldiers were soldiers and not soft.” He heard repeated toasts to the memory of family members slain in the line of duty and endless condemnations of those who failed to live up to the British ideal.

When it came time for Harry to serve, he was expected to command a unit of men in Northern Africa. After absorbing all the nonsense dished out by the old men, however, he realized that a soldier’s life wasn’t for him. Harry declared that he wouldn’t fight to protect the financial interests of rich Brits, but what he really feared was the yellow streak he felt inching up his spine. By relinquishing his commission, he opened himself up for accusations of cowardice and the loss of his fiancé, who also sprang from a military family. When he received an envelope from his army cronies containing four white feathers, signifying cowardice, it shook him to his core. In an unexpected surge of courage, Harry commits himself to going to Africa, where he will adopt the costume of a deaf and mute Arab serf and find redemption in acts designed to bestow glory on his family and country. After months of arduous preparation, Harry is given the opportunity to rescue his best friend – blinded by sunstroke – and two other friends taken prisoner by the dervishes. He performs the first miracle anonymously and the second while rallying the prisoners – and captured British officers – while incarcerated in a strategically located fortress along the Nile.

The scope of Korda’s “Four Feathers” is only slightly less grand than that of “Lawrence of Arabia,” which it resembles. Thousands of extras were recruited to portray the opposing fighters, riding into battle on camels and horses, or rushing to oblivion carrying spears, swords and bayonets. Americans will find the patriotic notions of the upper-class Brits to be borderline laughable, but it helps explain some of the attitudes that contributed to the devastating conflagrations of the 20th Century and the current mess in Iraq, Afghanistan and, yes, the Sudan. More than anything else, though, “Four Feathers” is a hugely entertaining reminder of a different era in cinema. The Blu-ray holds the colors of the Technicolor original extremely well and the other restorative measures make the 70-year-old movie practically look brand new. The Criterion Collection edition adds audio commentary by historian Charles Drazin; a new video interview with David Korda, son of director Zoltan Korda; “A Day at Denham,” a short film from 1939 featuring footage taken by Korda; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Michael Sragow. – Gary Dretzka

Horrible Bosses: Totally Inappropriate Edition: Blu-ray
Even though “Horrible Bosses” freely acknowledges its debt to “Strangers on a Train” and “Throw Momma From the Train,” it can easily stand on its own as an extremely dark and potty-mouthed murder comedy. Three friends, Nick (Jason Bateman), Kurt (Jason Sudeikis) and Dale (Charlie Day), meet regularly at a cocktail lounge to commiserate about how badly they’re being treated by their bosses. They don’t hate their jobs. It’s the people they report to who have made their lives miserable. At a time when jobs are hard to find and there are hundreds of candidates for every open position, quitting is career suicide. The only sure-fire way to improve workplace conditions, they figure, is to eliminate their nemeses by any means necessary. Not having the guts to do the dirty deeds themselves, they, of course, go to the place most likely to harbor a potential murderer. That’s right, a bar frequented by African-Americans. It’s there that they meet an opportunistic conman (Jamie Foxx), who, after scamming them out of several thousands of dollars, admits that he’s never killed anyone or would know how to do so. He does, however, encourage them to play the Hitchcock card, by killing each other’s boss, thereby not leaving a trail that leads back to the employee. The comedy derives from watching these nebbishes attempt to pull off such a risky strategy.

The other half of the equation is represented by the bosses, played with gusto by the only vaguely recognizable Colin Farrell; Kevin Spacey, reprising his deliciously repugnant character in “Swimming With Sharks”; and Jennifer Aniston, who is funnier in any one scene here, than in the entirety of her last eight or nine movies. She plays a dentist who torments her hygienist, Dale, by demanding he submit to her sexual advances. If not, she’ll show incriminating pictures – taken while he was under sedation – to his fiancé. Her relentlessness is hysterical. Spacey’s character is a sadistic prick who reneges on his promise to promote Nick. Farrell’s character is a useless playboy and coke hound, who vows to suck every penny of profit out of his father’s company, even if he has to flout every environmental regulation to do it. After being introduced to these horrible bosses, viewers might agree that murder is too soft a punishment … not that they’ll be successful at it.

If “Horrible Bosses” isn’t nearly as a good a picture as it ought to be, I think the blame should fall on director Seth Gordon and his writing team, all of whom earned their bones on sitcoms and made-for-TV movies. The flow of the narrative is uneven, as if the writers were anticipating commercial breaks. Many viewers will find the language offensive, but it didn’t bother me as much as the underdeveloped strategies to murder the men’s bosses. Apart from that, the acting is good and the laughs are plentiful enough to recommend “Horrible Bosses,” despite its deficiencies. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and the featurettes, “My Least Favorite Career,” “Surviving A Horrible Boss,” “Being Mean Is So Much Fun” and “Making of the ‘Horrible Bosses’ Soundtrack.” The digital copy marks one of New Line and Warner’s first uses of the UltraViolet technology, a cloud-based streaming service. – Gary Dretzka

The Trip
For American viewers unfamiliar with the comedy of British actors Steve Coogan and Rob Brydon, I recommend thinking of “The Trip” as “My Dinner With Andre … on Wheels.” In it, the two friends play fictionalized versions of themselves, as they tool around the scenic northern Lake District staying at some of the region’s most celebrated hotels and eating in the best restaurants, all on the dime of the Observer newspaper. Originally, as the story goes, Coogan was to have made the trip with his American girlfriend, but, at the last minute, she was offered a job interview and begged out of it. Brydon was happy to tag along in her place. They spend countless hours on the road, over dinner and at historical locations simply conversing about whatever’s on the minds, breaking into impressions of famous actors and reciting the words of the Lake Poets. They occasionally bicker, as very close friends often will, but far less than might be expected of two normal-sized men traveling for hours in British economy car. As befits the opposing personalities of the men, Coogan spends a great deal of his time wandering the countryside looking for a place to make cell-phone calls to his girlfriend, agents and editor, while Brydon is satisfied engaging with his wife in phone sex on the land line. Brydon’s loyal to his wife and family, while Coogan doesn’t hesitate to use his prominence to make late-night hookups.

“The Trip” was shown in England as a six-part BBC mini-series, directed by Michael Winterbottom. The exceedingly versatile filmmaker, who worked with both men on “Tristram Shandy: A Cock and Bull Story” and “24 Hour Party People,” edited the mini-series down to 107 minutes, so it could be shown in Europe and the United States. As much fun as it is to listen to Coogan and Brydon banter their way around the Lake District, “The Trip” serves equally well as a travelogue. I was unfamiliar with the profoundly beautiful and richly historic region, but now plan to add it to my bucket list. The DVD adds a generous selection of deleted scenes, an extended sequence on wine, a profane musical interlude, behind-the-scenes and making-of features. – Gary Dretzka

Beautiful Boy
Every awards season, there’s at least one movie so thematically bleak and unforgiving that its chances for success are based solely on the splendid acting or familiarity with the source material. Otherwise, it would almost be too difficult to watch. “Rabbit Hole” was such a movie, as were “The Lovely Bones,” “The Sweet Hereafter,” “The Door in the Floor” and “The Crossing Guard.” Any movie in which parents are required to grieve over the unexpected death of a child is going to be a tough sell, commercially. “Ordinary People” did well at the box office, but, in 1980, adults still took movies seriously enough to purchase tickets to see them. Any other year, the release of Shawn Ku’s “Beautiful Boy” might have been pushed back to November or early December, if only to give Michael Sheen and Maria Bello an opportunity to be nominated in one of the many awards contests. This year, however, there’s an even more star-studded movie in which parents must deal with their son’s bloody and inexplicable rampage at his school. Directed by Lynne Ramsay (“Rat Catcher”), “We Need to Talk About Kevin” stars previous Oscar finalists Tilda Swinton and John C. Reilly. Mounting a competitive awards campaign for “Beautiful Boy” might simply have proven to be prohibitively expensive for Anchor Bay. Instead, it can send screeners to voters ahead of the holiday rush hour and hope the movie doesn’t get lost in the shuffle.

Less than a day after Kate and Bill share a seemingly normal Skype conversation with their son, Sammy, the young man goes on a killing spree at his college. Apart from the fact he sounded as if he couldn’t wait for the weekly ordeal to be over, nothing hinted at impending disaster or the suicide that would end the carnage. After police fill them in on the details of the massacre, the parents dredge their memory banks to see if they could have treated him any better as a child or they missed any signs of depression. They had pretty much exhausted all of the good reasons to remain together as a couple and might have divorced eventually, but Sammy must have seen that coming. A copy editor, Kate sought perfection in everything that came to her attention, including Sammy’s homework, and Dad often put his job ahead his family. Still, those problems are small potatoes at a time when many adults act demand to be treated as if they’re the children in the family and are as deserving of attention as a newborn baby. As the movie progresses, Kate and Bill go from being supportive of each other to total basket cases. They’re assaulted by the media and shunned by almost everyone in the community. Again, even the strongest relationships buckle under such pressure. As viewers, we know too little about Sammy’s background to take sides against them. We sympathize with Kate and Bill, of course, but aren’t given enough information about them to empathize with them, even as they struggle with a pain so profound it defies description. It’s a credit to Bello and Sheen that we care as much about their characters as we do. The DVD arrives with a couple of deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

Last Exit to Brooklyn: Blu-ray
Just as most of the best interpretations of Charles Bukowski’s work originated in countries other than the United States, it took a German director to turn Hubert Selby Jr.’s “Last Exit to Brooklyn” into a movie that matched the intensity, depravity and raw emotional tug of the once-controversial book. Only an outsider would think to probe the same grimy shadows of America as our own home-grown “outsider” artists. Selby, Bukowski and the Beats knew those dark corners as well as anyone.

Selby wrote the short stories that would be collected in “Last Exit to Brooklyn” while convalescing from the after-effects of surgery for advanced tuberculosis, which was diagnosed while he was at sea with the Merchant Marine. Doctors gave him little chance for survival, but, as therapy, the writing proved to be a highly effective. He hadn’t previously written anything worth sharing, but his memories of growing up in a strictly working-class section of Brooklyn provided all the source material he would need. The people he still knew by heart. Their shared experiences allowed for vivid descriptions of such unappetizing subjects as random violence, drug and alcohol abuse, corrupt unions, domestic violence, sexual promiscuity, prostitution and gang rape. Neither were unflinching portrayals of homosexuality and transvestism approved by the literary establishment. His style mimicked the “spontaneous prose” of the Beats and the dialogue was authentic. Naturally, in some quarters, the 1964 book was considered to be obscene and, therefore, censorable. In the U.S., the dismissal of obscenity charges against Henry Miller’s “Tropic of Cancer” opened the door for the Grove Press edition of “Last Exit to Brooklyn,” but it would take several more years for the book to be cleared for readers in England and Italy.

German director Uli Edel and Japanese-American writer Desmond Nakano merged the book’s six chapters, using a long strike at a Red Hook factory as the connective tissue. In the early 1950s, the rough-and-tumble neighborhood was bustling with dock and factory workers, soldiers waiting to be shipped out to Korea and the habitués of bars, brothels and street corners. Prominent among the characters here are a union shop steward (Stephen Lang), about to exit the sexual closet; a stern working-class father (Burt Young), attempting to cope with the out-of-wedlock pregnancy of his daughter (Ricki Lake); hoodlums who prey on the soldiers; soldiers who think they’re somehow superior to the hoodlums; several transvestites; and, of course, the prostitute Tralala (Jennifer Jason Leigh), who steals money from drunken sailors and soldiers, but makes the mistake of falling in love with the wrong one. Everything comes to a head at approximately the same time as the strike enters its final violent days. Edel (“Christiane F.,” “The Baader-Meinhoff Complex”) locates the tortured humanity in the characters and events, without asking his audience to judge them or feel compelled to share their pain. The Blu-ray effectively brightens the movie’s necessarily dark tones and allows the characters to be clearly seen in the nearly abandoned nighttime streets of Red Hook. The Blu-ray adds a terrific two-part making-of and backgrounder featurette, which includes interviews with Selby and cameos by some of the guys who inspired the hoodlum characters. – Gary Dretzka

The not-nearly-dark-enough black comedy, “Lucky,” is the story of a kooky, unlucky-in-love receptionist who falls for a childhood friend, but only after he wins $36 million in the Lottery. Although, at first glance, it appears as if Lucy (Ari Graynor) has realized every gold-digger’s dream, it comes with a catch. The affable dork, Ben (Colin Hanks), didn’t even know that he had won the prize, because the winning ticket was among the items he absent-mindedly stashed in his pocket after he murdered a young woman exiting a convenience store one blustery evening. His mother (Ann-Margret) would find the ticket in his coat and check the numbers against those flashed on the TV. There were other victims, but it would take a while before a dogged police detective (Jeffrey Tambor) could put the pieces of the puzzle together. In the meantime, Lucy’s learned to love her husband, and Ben has found a way to squander the first installment of his fortune.

That premise would work if the Lottery bureaucracy was as inept at screening winners as is presented here. Even if that almost trivial pothole were avoided, though, “Lucky” would still suffer from the erratic pacing and a narrative structure of your standard-issue made-for-cable movie. Hanks isn’t a bad actor, but there’s nothing in his eyes that suggests Ben’s a sociopath or could be a serial anything. Graynor is the standout here, bubbling with the energy it would take to hook and land a trophy husband and cute as could be. She reminds me of a considerably less amped-up Jenna Elfman, whose comic chops aren’t strong enough to fill the big screen. I’m surprised Graynor has yet to be accorded a sitcom of her own. The DVD adds a couple of deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

As movies go, there’s nothing quite so bleak as the stories told about the semi-functional alcoholics and addicts who populate northern Europe in increasing numbers. Not only are skies routinely slate gray and threatening to rain or snow, but no one seems to have heard of AA or NA. Here, the title of Danish filmmaker Thomas Vinterberg’s latest movie, “Submarino,” says it all. It refers to the form of torture we know here as “water-boarding,” and Dick Cheney still denies is unnecessarily cruel. All of the primary characters, except for the young son of the heroin-addicted co-protagonist, feel tied down and submerged in one tub of dirty water or another. Vinterberg adapted “Submarino” from a popular novel by Jonas T. Bengstsson. It is the story of two men, Nick and his unnamed brother, so traumatized by the death of their infant sibling and inattention of an alcoholic mother, they’ve never been able to get beyond them. We meet the adult Nick after he’s been released from incarceration and is living like a sot in a halfway house. His junkie younger brother comes into the picture at the funeral of their mother, then disappears for a while. Later, after his equally messed up ex-wife is murdered, the brother takes over sole responsibility of their son, Martin. To provide for the boy, he takes to selling heroin, while also using it. The brothers drift in and out of each other’s lives throughout the rest of the movie, but, always, the person we care most about is Martin.

Vinterberg’s known here primarily as an early advocate of Dogma principles, and “The Celebration” remains his most prominent work. While not purely a Dogma film, “Submarino” is a very close approximation of the movement’s no-frills, in-your-face approach to the source material. As such, the movie feels as much like a product of social-realism as Dogma. “Submarino” isn’t an easy movie to watch and almost impossible to enjoy. It almost qualifies as anti-entertainment. Anyone familiar with Lar von Trier, Nicolas Winding Refn and early Scorsese will understand what they’re in for here, though, and want to share the experience. — Gary Dretzka

Master Harold … and the Boys: Blu-ray
Wouldn’t you just know it? Ving Rhames is allowed to tackle a lead role, in which he isn’t required to kill zombies or fend of killer fish, and the movie disappears into the void of the straight-to-video marketplace. Set in South Africa, not long after the official imposition of apartheid in 1948, “Master Harold … and the Boys” describes how the insidious policy slowly poisoned even those children who grew up in close proximity to black caretakers and servants, and, in this case, may have served as surrogate fathers to them. Rhames plays Sam, who, along with Willie (Patrick Mofokeng), works in a tea room owned by a white family with whom they’ve been associated for as long as the son, Hally (Freddie Highmore), has been alive. Hally’s mother is a stern taskmaster and his father is an alcoholic who lost a leg on a ship during World War II. The old man has long been an embarrassment to Hally, even to the point where the boy had to ask Sam to carry him home from a tavern after he pissed himself and passed out. There’s no reason why there should be tension between the white 17-year-old and the two black adults, but it’s the conceit of the play that the release of Hally’s father from a hospital convalescence will cause such distress in the boy that he chooses this day to assert his white privilege and take his anger out on “the boys.” He demands that his oldest friend and guardian, Sam, address him as “Master Harold,” instead of Hally, just as Willy does. It’s an extremely ugly scene, but integral to the dynamics of Athol Fugard’s play.

A parallel storyline in the 87-minute production involves Sam and Willie’s participation in an important ballroom dance competition. Willie seeks Sam’s guidance in dealing with his partner and the men even practice their steps between chores. The contest is portrayed, in flashbacks, as an elegant escape from the reality of life outside the ballroom. The judges and participants are black, well dressed and free from the humiliation of being required by law to sublimate their pride and emotions. Hally, who’s having trouble coming up with an idea for a theme paper, enjoys watching the men dance, and finds something liberating in their give-and-take. That is, until Hally’s mother calls the tea room, informing him that – against the boy’s wishes and advice – she’s bringing the old boozehound home. She even asks Hally to converse with his father and be supportive of him. No sooner does the boy hang up the phone than he begins lashing out at Sam and Willie. Sam understands that “Master Harold” has just crossed a line that will forever separate them and makes him aware of why it matters. It is a powerful moment and Rhames handles it well. No one should be surprised to learn that “Master Harold … and the Boys” was banned by South African censors and premiered, instead, at the Yale Repertory Theater, in 1982. It went to Broadway with Fugard regular Zakes Mokae, as Sam; Danny Glover, as Willie; and Lonny Price, as Hally. Twenty years later, Price directed this adaptation. – Gary Dretzka

Leap Year (Ano Bisiesto)
Just as Laura, a young woman living in a cramped Mexico City apartment, monitors the so-called lives of her neighbors from her window, “Leap Year” demands that we consider her barely-there existence through the unblinking lens of a virtually static camera. It’s difficult to know what to make of Laura, a journalist who freelances from her kitchen table. During the day, she occupies her time doing chores and making phone calls. We know she’s extremely lonely, possibly depressed, but she stays busy at night having sex – as opposed to making love – to men who literally come and go like delivery trucks. She’s also checking off the days on her calendar leading up to February 29, the date her father died four years earlier. As portrayed by Monica del Carmen, Laura could be any one of a million ambitious young women who migrate to the capital from much smaller cities and villages, looking for something different. Like most of them she’s short, a bit pudgy, has long black hair and is rather plain looking. The closer the checks on her calendar come to the circled 29th of February, however, the more she changes. An actor she meets introduces her to rough sex, finally allowing Laura to share in the orgasmic pleasure, and it’s off to the races. Within a matter of two weeks, her sex life evolves from routine to dangerous. We dread what might occur on the 29th, but anything’s possible for someone who allows herself only one day every four years to grieve for the most important man in her life. By the time the final credits roll, we know little more about Laura than what we did on February 1.

It’s difficult to know if the bare-bones approach taken by freshman filmmaker Michael Rowe was intentional or dictated by what appears to have been a lack of money. By never leaving the apartment, we feel as trapped as Laura and every bit the voyeur she is. It’s a daring approach and Del Carmen bravely reveals her character’s body and soul in ways only a fly on the wall could notice. – Gary Dretzka

Casper the Friendly Ghost: The Complete Collection
Ghost Hunters: Season Six, Part Two

With all the attention currently being paid to characters drawn by the artists at DC and Marvel Comics, it’s sometimes easy to forget that comic books weren’t limited to superheroes. Among the other companies producing popular characters for cartoons, newspapers and comic books were Disney, Archie, Fleischer and Harvey. Harvey’s Casper the Friendly Ghost has been a popular cartoon character ever since his first appearance in the Paramount shorts, “The Friendly Ghost,” “There’s Good Boos To-Night” and “A Haunting We Will Go,” in mid- to late-1940s. In 1950, the studio would begin creating “Casper” cartoons for the fledgling medium: television. Two years later, Harvey became the sole publisher of Casper comic books, eventually acquiring all rights to the character. In addition to publishing the comics for the next few decades, it licensed the character for use in the Steven Spielberg-produced feature, “Casper” (1995), which combines live-action, special effects and animation; a TV series for Fox Kids; a pair of made-for-video films; and a couple of made-for-TV movies. Casper the Friendly Ghost will live forever, as well, in toys and other licensed products.

Watching the earliest episodes makes clear what later, more sanitized iterations didn’t. Casper is the ghost of a boy who died prematurely. We know this because the Friendly One can be found reclining on the gravestone of “Casper” – he would be accorded the surname, McFadden, in the 1995 feature film – when he’s in a particularly blue mood. In the paranormal world, Casper is frequently admonished and shunned by his fellow apparitions, simply because he wants to make friends, not scare them away. In the physical world, the wee ghost is almost always greeted with, “A Ghooooooost …,” after which the human being beats a swift retreat. Once in every episode, however, Casper manages to befriend at least one new person, while also saving someone or something from disaster. That’s when the ghost becomes everyone’s friend.

The new DVD collection contains all of the theatrical shorts and the 1963 television series; audio commentaries with Mark Arnold (editor of “The Harveyville Fun Times”) and Edmee Reit (widow of co-creator, Seymour Reit); interviews with Reit, voice actor Bradley Bolke and Alison Argrim (daughter of Norma MacMillan, the original voice of Casper); and a gallery of comic book covers.

I wonder if Syfy’s intrepid team of “Ghost Hunters” will ever locate Casper and re-introduce to the world. Unlike the other apparitions the TAPS team has sought, he’d probably welcome their intrusion. In the second half of the show’s sixth season, buildings from Maine to Georgia were explored to varying degrees of success. Among them were the National Baseball Hall of Fame, in Cooperstown, New York; the Colonial Inn, in Concord, Massachusetts; Canfield Casino, in Saratoga Springs; an antebellum plantation, in Stone Mountain, Georgia; Fort William Henry, at Lake George; Birmingham’s Sloss Furnaces, with Meat Loaf; and Rhodes Hall, with the Real Housewives of Atlanta. There are 13 episodes in the Blu-ray set. – Gary Dretzka

Red State
There was a time when a movie like “Red State,” which merges agitprop with torture porn and horror, could re-open the rift between Kevin Smith’s rabble-rouser audience and conservatives with an ax to grind against Hollywood liberals. The cover art itself – a young woman an assault rifle — would be enough to put some people off their feed. Once considered to be an indie bad boy, Smith hasn’t hit a ball out of the park for a long time now. The most noise he’s made lately was disputing the decision by Southwest Airlines to kick him off a flight for being too fat. It gave the writers of talk-show monologues sufficient material for a week’s worth of shows. If Smith had scared up that kind of attention for “Red State,” it might have played in theaters outside New York, before opening on video-on-demand outlets and DVD. After several festival screenings, I suspect that no one was quite sure what point exactly – if any – Smith was attempting to make with the movie. Anyone able to recall the flap that greeted “Dogma” already knows Smith isn’t afraid to take on bible-bangers.

“Red State” employs actual events and people as inspiration for the terrible things that occur in the movie’s first half. As the movie opens, group of religious fanatics from the Five Points Church is picketing the funeral of a gay student. The “God Hates Fags” signs and other hateful sentiments are similar to those waved outside the funerals of American soldiers by Westboro Baptist Church members, somehow equating our military’s presence in Iraq and Afghanistan with their belief that homosexuality is the root of all evil in the world … oh, yeah, they blame Jews, too. The Five Pointers, though, make the Westboro bozos look like, well, Hollywood liberals. They use a sex-for-sale ad to lure three students to the home of a member (Melissa Leo) pretending to be a prostitute. Instead, she slips them a mickey. When they wake up, they’re shocked to find themselves locked in cages. Nearby, the pastor (Michael Parks) is delivering a sermon so venomous, it might shock Adolph Hitler. Writhing behind the preacher is a gay man wrapped head-to-toe in cellophane tape. Before long, members of the congregation are invited onstage to join in the ritual assassination of the man. The students are on tap to be the next to die. When a local cop shows up to make inquiries about the students’ disappearance, an escape attempt is made and shots are fired.

It’s at this precise moment that “Red State” switches gears, going from horror to Waco-style thriller. The church members are armed to the teeth and quick on the trigger. A standoff develops after federal hate-crime officers arrive, but not for long. A full-blown shooting war breaks out after the escaped student is mistaken for a church member and shot by a trigger-happy cop. In an attempt to cover their asses, the feds and sheriff’s department begin an all-out siege of the complex and the Christian army returns fire with remarkable accuracy. I won’t spoil the surprise by blowing what ends the confrontation, but it’s wonderfully inventive. Even if one hates everything that’s come before it, the climax would be worth hanging in there. So, too, would be the performances of Michael Parks, as the pastor; John Goodman, as the strike force leader; and Leo, as the true believer. Smith only had about $4 million to work with on “Red State,” of which only $5,000 was allotted for effects. It shows. The pace of the narrative is pretty ragged and questions are left unanswered.

Smith introduces all of the bonus features, including the making-of material and an entertaining interview with Parks, who Boomers will recall fondly for his 1969 TV series, “Along Came Bronson,” and, by action buffs, for his work in “Kill Bill.” – Gary Dretzka

The budget accorded “Arena” reportedly was in the neighborhood of $10 million, which isn’t bad for a direct-to-DVD blood-sport flick. I’d be surprised if most of the money didn’t end up in the pocket of Samuel L. Jackson, who probably hasn’t enjoyed an easier payday in his career. He gets to look cool in a black-on-black wardrobe, chill alongside some truly hot Asian chicks and waste none of his valuable time on acting. “Arena” is yet another one of those movies in which a good-guy fighter is required put all of his moral values on hold, in order to avoid being executed himself. Here, hunkie Kellan Lutz (“Twilight”) plays a tough Denver firefighter who turns to the bottle after his pregnant wife is killed in a traffic accident. After kicking the crap out of a huge Mexican attempting to steal his wallet in an Acapulco bar, he allows himself to be picked up by a gorgeous brunette. Turns out, she’s a recruiter for a promoter who stages death matches on his Internet pay site, for the amusement of yuppie subscribers. The fireman only agrees to participate in a 10-fight death match if the final combatant is an irksome henchman in a Darth Vader suit. No gladiator has ever won five in a row, let alone 10, so the armor-plated punk feels pretty secure. Things don’t quite work out the way Jackson expected, though, after the fighter discovers who’s really behind the operation. Apart from copious amounts of female nudity, “Arena” probably won’t impress many non-genre fans. – Gary Dretzka

Maniac Cop: Blu-ray
The Slit Mouthed Woman
Root of Evil
Blood Curse
The Hillside Stranglings
South of Heaven

If the the slasher era in horror has introduced a more naturally sinister-looking actor than Robert Z’Dar, I’ve yet wait to meet him. Even without the makeup he’s required to wear in “Maniac Cop,” his gigantic head and iron chin qualify him as the proverbial stranger you’d least like to meet in a dark alley. He seems like a decent enough chap in the interview included in the Blu-ray’s bonus features, but he remains one scary dude in the movie. The first time we meet Z’Dar’s title character, he’s the beacon of hope reaching out to a young woman being attacked by a pair of New York alley slugs. No sooner is she able to breathe a sigh of relief, though, when the hulking cop grabs her by her throat and shakes the life out of her. After a few more innocent Manhattanites are murdered in the same way, police detectives start believing the accounts of witnesses and put out a dragnet for a massive, deranged police officer. Even when they do manage to stumble upon him one night, using a decoy prostitute, Maniac Cop is able to escape several direct hits to his head and body. His greatest mistake comes in killing a cop’s wife, after she’s caught her husband cheating on her with a female officer. In the ensuing investigation of the spouse, certain clues lead to an overly vigorous hero cop who was thrown into prison and murdered by inmates … or was he? Undead or not, Maniac Cop has clearly gone over to the dark side, killing innocents who mistake his uniform for refuge. The movie, a collaboration of genre favorites William Lustig and Larry Cohen, falls completely apart under close scrutiny, but why bother? After 23 years in circulation, “Maniac Cop” still has plenty of admirers. If nothing else, it’s fun to watch veteran hard guys Z’Dar, William Smith, Bruce Campbell, Tom Adkins, Richard Roundtree and, yikes, even boxer Jake Lamotta chew the scenery. Cult faves Sheree North and Lauren Landon also have key roles. The restored and remastered Blu-ray presentation allows the nighttime scenes to come alive much better than in previous VHS editions. The set adds interviews, commentary and other hard-core goodies, some of which already have been made available.

The best reason to pick up “Vlog” is to check out Internet sensation Brook Marks, who stars as herself. Remarkably personable and articulate, Marks chats with her fans while clad in a bikini or lingerie against a constantly changing array of background images. It’s the conceit of director Joshua Butler that she’s murdered, live, on her “Brooks Marks the Spot” website, after vlogging details of recent dates and nights out on the town. These webcasts have pissed off the owner of the “How to Erase People From the Face of the Earth” site. Suddenly, boyfriends and other acquaintances begin disappearing and Marks can’t help but watch them being slaughtered and turned into human confetti. When she finally does contact the police, they can’t find the victims, either. Is it an Internet stunt or the real murderous deal? If the latter, who’s the culprit? Frankly, though, who cares? Like most Internet vlogs and serials, it’s what’s up front that counts and Marks makes the whole feature-length exercise worthwhile. She reminds me of Teri Garr, back when she was a regular on David Letterman’s show and they spent each segment flirting with each other. The DVD adds several mostly repetitious deleted scenes.

The legend of the Slit Mouth Woman goes back hundreds of years in Japanese history, with panics being reported as recently as the 1980s. If the Bogeyman had a face, it might look like very much like the antagonist in “The Slit Mouthed Woman” (a.k.a., “Carved”), from Palisades Tartan Asia Extreme. (There are several other movies with the same title, but this is the most recent.) As the story goes, the face of a beautiful long-haired woman once was disfigured by a jealous husband. When her spirit appears in modern times, she’s wearing a trench coat and surgical mask, which hides her butchered face, and is carrying a extra-long scissors. As she approaches children in the street, she removes the masks and demands to know, “Am I pretty?” No matter what they answer — most are too frightened to reply – they tend to be carted off to places unknown. Some will have their faces rearranged by the woman. Koji Shiraishi’s thriller combines elements of horror, ghost stories and urban legend in the service of a movie that won’t impress many adult genre buffs, but will scare the crap out of kids. As rumors about the Slit Mouth Woman’s reappearance spread, a pair of teachers attempt to work out their bad karma by trying to protect students from the villain, who also seems capable of shape shifting. The DVD comes with cast interviews and a making-of featurette.

Also new or newly re-released from the Palisades Tartan family are movies representing Korea, Portugal and the United States. If the descriptions sound familiar, it’s possibly because they’ve carried various other titles. From Korea, “Root of Evil” (a.k.a., “Akasia,” “Acacia”) is the story of a childless couple who decide to take the adoption route after other means of pregnancy fail. That, of course, means weird things will begin to happen shortly after the 6-year-old begins feeling comfortable in his new home. The boy, Jin-Sung, was chosen by the mother because he showed an affinity for art, especially eerie drawings of trees. Sure enough, once he’s settled in, Jin-Sung is drawn to a long-dormant acacia tree in the back yard. In short order, two miracles occur: the mother becomes pregnant and the tree begins to bloom. More sinister things begin to happen after the baby is born and Jin-Sung accurately perceives that he’s being shoved aside. And, as we all know, there’s no greater force in nature – or genre pictures — than an adopted child scorned.

Blood Curse” (a.k.a., “Coisa Ruim,” “Bad Blood”) describes what happens when a Portuguese family is dragged from its Lisbon home and forced to live in a house in the country that once belonged to a distant relative of the professor father. Being a man of science, the father attempts to explain away a series of bizarre events that occur after the family moves into the house. Unlike the professor, local residents have a more likely explanation for the disturbances: the house is cursed and the family inherited the curse with the house. In fact, everything in the village feels a bit off-kilter.

The Hillside Stranglings” (a.k.a., “The Hillside Strangler”) re-tells the story of a demented serial killer and his cousin, who held Los Angeles in the grip of terror in the late 1970s. Kenneth Bianchi and Angelo Buono were convicted of kidnapping, raping and torturing at least 12 women, many of whom were prostitutes. Their bodies were dumped on hillsides or off freeway ramps. The new DVD edition of Chuck Parella’s gruesome account comes in an unrated version. C. Thomas Howell and Nicholas Turturro play the fiends. As with all the Palisades Tartan releases, it comes with several supplemental materials.

South of Heaven” is a nutty micro-budget anti-thriller that travels in several different directions to get to the same violent destination, and it’s a town called South of Heaven. After being released from the Navy, an aspiring writer named Roy (Adam Nee) travels to San Francisco to visit his brother, Dale. Once he gets to the apartment, Roy is mistaken for Dale by a couple of enforcers dressed like sideshow barkers. They’re waiting to punish him for ditching a debt and absconding with their boss’ girlfriend in the company of a goon named Mad Dog. Instead of waiting for an explanation, look-alike Roy is beaten and tortured within an inch of his life. (One of them wears a lobster bib while cutting of Roy’s fingers.) After several such beatings, Roy looks like a seriously deformed potato and is missing most of his fingers. He assumes the name, Nobody, and ultimately will exacts his revenge in several nasty ways. Newcomer J.L. Vara employs animation, noir, surrealism, deliberately phony sets and other Coen-esque touches in the service of a genuinely clever story. The set adds commentaries and three short films from writer/director Vara. – Gary Dretzka

The Heart Specialist: Blu-ray
Like “Jumping the Broom” and “N-Secure,” Dennis Cooper’s “The Heart Specialist” is a hybrid entertainment that combines romance, drama and comedy, in unequal measures. Targeted specifically at so-called urban audiences hungry for characters with whom they can identify, these low-budget pictures borrow the formula formulated by Tyler Perry, without relying quite as heavily on Christian faith for answers to life’s problems. If shortcuts are taken in the screenwriting process and with production values, there are plenty of recognizable stars to enjoy. In “The Heart Specialist,” Wood Harris and Brian White play doctors at a south Florida hospital that caters to HBO subscribers. Harris has committed his energy to helping White’s Harvard-educated intern mature. When White is on call, he invariably can be found in a storage room having sex with a nurse or receptionist. For his part, Harris moonlights as a standup comedian, using his workplace experiences as fodder for laughs. As if …

The Heart Specialist” first hit the festival circuit in 2006, but only was picked up for distribution in January. It’s likely that the deciding factor was being able to put Zoe Saldana’s name on the cover. Also familiar are Mya, Brittany Ishibashi, Ed Asner, Marla Gibbs, Fatso-Fasano, Jasmine Guy, Method Man and Irene Tsu. – Gary Dretzka

Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer
Based on a series of books by Megan McDonald, “Judy Moody and the Not Bummer Summer” looks as if it were constructed out of leftover design elements from “Pee-wee’s Playhouse,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” and “How the Grinch Stole Christmas.” Everything is so darn bright, bubbly and self-consciously kooky that you’d think it was part of an experiment designed to figure out exactly what floats the boats of fickle ’tween audiences. The story is pretty simple, actually. The parents of a hyper-imaginative third-grade girl, Judy (Jordana Beatty), and a Bigfoot-obsessed boy, Stink, have been called to California for the summer to tend for an ailing relative. In their place, they’ve arranged for Aunt Opal (Heather Graham) to supervise the kiddies. Inviting Opal to babysit is kind of like hiring the Cat in the Hat to substitute teach a kindergarten class full of children with ADD. She’s hardly house-broken herself. Besides all the brilliant colors and nutty set designs, director John Schultz has seen fit to add several animated and CGI interludes and inset music videos. It’s a lot to absorb for an adult, but 10-year-olds probably are more adept at controlling sensory overload. It arrives with plenty of supplemental features, including “Join The Toad-Pee Club,” “Flippin’ Out With the Cast,” Camryn’s “Wait and See” music video, “10 Things You Need to Know About Judy Moody,” “Judy Moody’s Guide to Making a Movie” and deleted scenes. It’s also nice to see Jaleel White (a.k.a., Urkel) in the role of popular teacher. – Gary Dretzka

Snuff Box: The Complete Series
Masterpiece Classic: Wuthering Heights/Northangar Abbey/Wuthering Heights: Blu-ray
PBS: The War of 1812
Chuck 4: The Complete Fourth Season: Blu-ray
Bones: The Complete Sixth Season: Blu-ray
Hallmark: Call Me Mrs. Miracle

As any faithful viewer of BBC America and PBS could tell you, British comedy shows take several different forms and much getting used to, whether they’re warm and cozy (“As Time Goes By,” “Are You Being Served”) or silly and off-the-wall (“Monty Python,” “Absolutely Fabulous”). Lately, such rude and demented shows as “The Mighty Boosh,” “The IT Crowd,” “Little Britain,” “Peep Show” and “Ideal” have begun popping up on various cable outlets. The inky-dark sketch-comedy series “Snuff Box” may be the most outrageous of all of these titles. Indeed, even fans of the innovative BBC 3 network often found it to be beyond the pale. For people unafraid to laugh at capital punishment, misogyny, frequent F- and C-bombs, public humiliation, cruel insults and other degrading behavior, “Snuff Box” is the ticket. The series was written by and starred Brit Matt Berry (“The IT Crowd,” “The Mighty Boosh”) and American Rich Fulcher (“Funny or Die Presents,” “The Sarah Silverman Program”). Each show contains a wildly inappropriate gallows scene, during which a profane Vicker, bumbling hangman and cynical prison official exchange jokes and alternately ignore and provoke the doomed man. Another on-going sketch involves a polite young man (Berry) who offers to help damsels in distress, until they casually mention they have a boyfriend or fiancé. The guy then drops whatever burden he’s taken on and hurls an expletive at the woman. Even though we know what’s going to happen as soon as the faux-gallant fellow offers to carry something for a pretty young woman, the F-You moment is always funny. The DVD packages come with testimonials by a dozen or so American comics and comedy writers; a history and walking tour of the show; and look at the creation of the catchy song that is repeated throughout it.

And, now, for something completely different from the Britain: Fans of PBS’ “Masterpiece Classics” love a good British period drama, because they know the acting will be superb, the settings romantic and the costumes out of this world. The original U.K. versions of the productions are even better. For the first time in Blu-ray come Jane Austen’s “Mansfield Park” and “Northanger Abbey,” and Emily Brontë’s “Wuthering Heights.” As one would expect, these are all first-class adaptations, loaded with literary nutrition and highly entertaining. Among the stars represented here are Billie Piper, Carey Mulligan, Tom Hardy, Felicity Jones, Andrew Lincoln and Blake Ritson. A making-of featurette is included in “Wuthering Heights”

I wonder how many of today’s students are required to spend more than a half-hour reading about and discussing the War of 1812, or, for that matter, know which conflagration inspired the “1812 Overture.” Unless one lives in New Orleans, Quebec or has taken a tour of the White House, which was set ablaze by British troops, it isn’t high on the list of must-know topics. After watching PBS’ “The War of 1812,” I realize how little I recall from my lessons, even as taught by tough, old-school teachers. Apart from being absolutely fascinating, the DVD explains a lot about how the fledgling democracy was viewed inside and outside the borders of our country. When Native Americans and Canadians, along with the French and British colonists, looked across the borders of their nations, the only United States they saw was one comprised of political and religious hypocrites, proponents of greed-driven expansionism and government-sanctioned genocide. In the name of unfettered freedom, Americans had shot down the idea of maintaining a standing army and government coffers weren’t yet reliant on taxes. Still smarting from the loss of its American colonies, the British war machine was only too happy to take advantage of our scrawny militias and exploit the unhappiness of our neighbors. Once again, it seriously underestimated American resolve and our ability to compete in battles at sea.

The release of the fourth season of “Chuck,” on Blu-ray, was pushed back a month to more closely coincide with the belated start of the new stanza, during which the accidental spy will take over a spy agency of his own. Much of the action contained in the box set involves Chuck’s efforts to track his mother (Linda Hamilton) and maintain his relationship with Sarah, as the date for their marriage approaches. Timothy Dalton, Robin Givens, Ray Wise and Stacy Keibler make guest appearances. NBC had signaled plans to cancel “Chuck,” but fans pressured the network and it was extended for 13 more episodes and, then, another 13. The Blu-ray package includes “Declassified Scenes,” a gag reel and the featurettes “Chuck Versus Directing,” “Chuck Versus the Leftovers,” “Spying on the Cast,” with Operation Gomez items, “Buy Hard: The Jeff and Lester Story Shorts” and “The Top Secret Chuckipedia Interactive Experience.”

Zooey Deschanel may be TV’s flavor of the month, but older sister, Emily, maintains a steady pace as forensic anthropologist Dr. Temperance Brennan in “Bones.” The sixth-season Blu-ray package covers a lot of ground as the Jefferson Institute team faces a murderous Chupacabra, takes a trip to the Jersey Shore, confronts the Gravedigger and discovers a line to Booth’s past through a vigilante sniper. The Blu-ray set includes commentary on “The Doctor in the Photo” and “The Blackout in the Blizzard”; a pair of extended episodes; a gag reel; a piece on the show’s visual effects; and the pilot episode of “The Killing.”

Five-time Emmy Award-winner Doris Roberts returns to the Hallmark Channel as Mrs. “Miracle” Merkle. One of many beloved characters created by romance novelist Debbie Macomber, Mrs. Merkle last was seen wrangling a set of wild twin boys for a recent widower and making love matches. This time around, in “Call Me Mrs. Miracle,” she’s working at a department store owned by a Scrooge-like widower. His son is in charge of the toy department. It is his decision not to stock the season’s hottest toy, choosing instead to promote classics and items that require a bit more imagination. It’s not exactly a winning proposition. Once again, Mrs. Miracle is required spread seasonal cheer over people separated from loved ones, and match compatible friends. Like many other Hallmark productions, this one often feels like a holiday card that’s somehow come to life. – 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