MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Our Idiot Brother, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Radioactive Wolves, Another Earth, The Future, The Art of Getting By, Horror Express, Rules of the Game, Smallville …

Our Idiot Brother: Blu-ray
It’s interesting how individual members of a family can be a close as peas in a pod or, in this case, as different from each other as snowflakes. For “Our Idiot Brother” to work, viewers must suspend their disbelief long enough to accept the possibility that a guileless flower child (Paul Rudd), 45 years removed from the Haight-Ashbury, shares the same genes as sisters played by Elizabeth Banks, Emily Mortimer and Zooey Deschanel, all of whom represent one variety of urban neurotic or another. This being a Hollywood rom-com, his sisters and their mates are every bit as mismatched as their organic-farmer sibling, Ned, is to them. Far from being an idiot, as each of the women insist after he nearly ruins their lives, Ned merely is an innocent in a world where lies, hidden agendas and fraud are standard operating procedure. He’s incapable of lying and can’t imagine anyone would take advantage of him. In steadier hands than Jessie Peretz (“The Ex”), Ned might have been conceived as a country cousin to Chance the Gardener, from “Being There.” Only someone terribly naïve, after all, would take a uniformed small-town cop at his word that he needed marijuana for medicinal purposes and not expect to be arrested. In Rudd’s very capable hands, it’s not all far-fetched.

After being paroled from prison, Ned fully expects to pick up where he left off: in the garden with his beloved pooch, Willie Nelson, being bossed around by his nasty hippy-chick girlfriend, Janet (Kathryn Hahn). Instead, Janet’s found another blissed-out sap to till her fields and refuses to give back the dog, purely out of spite. To save the money he needs to find another place to crash, Ned takes his mom (Shirley Knight) and sisters up on their offer to let him stay with them. In each case, however, his inability to betray the truth causes mayhem in the women’s relationships with their partners: a pompous filmmaker (Steven Coogan), an unambitious writer (Adam Scott) and lesbian lawyer (Rashida Jones). Because the relationships aren’t nearly as secure as the sisters think they are, it doesn’t take much to push them over the edge. If only Ned could get Willie Nelson back into his life, things might return to normal. Contrary to the impression left in TV commercials, “Our Idiot Brother” lacks the anarchic appeal as such Rudd vehicles as “I Love You, Man,” “Dinner for Schmucks” and “Role Models.” The situations may have the potential for eliciting big laughs, but writers David Schisgall and Evgenia Peretz seem more interested in commenting on the nature of interpersonal relationships in 2011. Even so, the fine ensemble cast effectively milks the script for the laughs it harbors between the bittersweet moments. And Rudd makes it easy for us to believe there might be a few people out there, like Ned, whose motives are pure. The Blu-ray comes with an extended making-of featurette, deleted and alternate scenes, and commentary. – Gary Dretzka

Cave of Forgotten Dreams: Blu-ray 3D/Blu-ray
Nature: Radioactive Wolves: Blu-ray

Leave it to Werner Herzog to once again take us to places we’ve never been and introduce us to things most of us will never witness for ourselves. In such documentaries as “Encounters at the End of the World,” “Grizzly Man,” “The White Diamond” and “Wheel of Time,” he has continually demonstrated a curiosity that matches that of his audience. As our surrogate, he elicits answers to questions we find interesting, but other filmmakers might consider too embarrassing or banal to ask. In “Cave of Forgotten Dreams,” In addition to photographing the magnificent drawings of prehistoric animals discovered, in 1994, inside the Chauvet-Pont-d’Arc Cave of southern France, he also attempts to get into the minds of the men or women responsible for the world’s oldest known pictorial creations. Why, he wonders, did they create such magnificent representations of animals in the first place: for posterity, personal drive, to impress their friends or out of boredom? How is that so many of the sketches seemingly are rendered with an eye toward beauty, rather than representation? He would also look for connections between these visual artifacts, weaponry and primitive musical instruments.

Even if one were able to follow Herzog’s footprints on an excursion to Antarctica, the odds against a non-scientist entering the Chauvet caves are approximately the same as those of a camel attempting to pass through the eye of a needle. Because of the dangers posed by outside influences on the cave’s walls and floor, Herzog was required to work under strictly observed limitations. For example, he was allowed only three assistants and none was allowed to leave a thin metal walkway to frame a shot or set up lights. The equipment, including the normally cumbersome 3D camera, sometimes had to be assembled inside the cave and only cold, battery-operated lights were permitted. The team was allowed six shooting days of four hours duration each, partially to maintain the chemical and gaseous balance of the interior and also to protect the team from dangerous gases. Even so, when the images are paired with the avant-garde compositions of Dutch cellist Ernst Reijseger, “Cave of Forgotten Dreams” transcends science and approaches opera of Wagnerian scale. (The Blu-ray 3D and 2D package includes a lengthy film capturing the creation of the soundtrack.)

I wonder how Herzog might have approached the extraordinary material presented in “Radioactive Wolves.” It’s difficult to imagine the “Nature” documentary being any more extraordinary than it already is, but who knows to what lengths he might have gone to demonstrate nature’s resilience against man’s arrogance. The forests, building and waterways in a 1,200-square-mile death zone around the crippled Chernobyl nuclear power plant have remained undisturbed for more than two decades. Contaminated earth and foliage were hurriedly removed, along with humans and those farm and domesticated animals not already dead from radiation poisoning. The scars left behind were deep and painful. For all anyone in the non-Soviet world knew and still imagines, today, the immediate area around Chernobyl replicates the destroyed cities in “I Am Legend” and “Wall-E,” and wasted countryside of “The Road.” It seemed as forbidding as Death Valley in August and Siberia in January.

Instead, left to their own devices, the rivers and woods around Chernobyl now could pass for Longfellow’s forest primeval. Eagles and falcons nest on the balconies of abandoned high-rises, fish grow to extraordinary lengths and the animal population has exploded. Wolves, once hunted to near extinction and displaced by Stalin’s agrarian reform movement, run playfully through the deserted buildings, dine regularly on moose, buffalo calves and beavers, and raise their pups without fear of other predators sneaking up on them. A sane person wouldn’t want to eat the meat of any of the beasts found in the no-man’s-land, or wear a coat made from their pelts, but you wouldn’t know that by looking at them.

Like Herzog’s team, the producers of “Radioactive Wolves” were limited in the amount of time they could spend in the affected zone. In some areas, they were required to wear protective clothing and masks. If a loose hair from a wolf is accidentally ingested, it could prove deadly for the researcher. Otherwise, the most surprising thing gleaned from the documentary is how little overt physical damage is visible in the animals and vegetation. The deformities and excruciating deaths recorded immediately after the disaster have apparently given way to natural genetic design. One hundred years from now, all of the animals of Chernobyl might be born with two heads and antlers, but, for now, they look like they could pass muster in anyone’s zoo. The PBS documentary is informed by interviews with scientists and wildlife experts from Belarus and the Ukraine. (Their borders bisect the impacted area, but the countries apparently have their own agendas and don’t share data as much as one might expect.) The footage captured of the animals in winter and spring, as the ice on the Pripyat River begins to break up, is in every possible way splendid. – Gary Dretzka

Another Earth
At its most dour and contemplative, “Another Earth” reminds me of another movie that dealt with great tragedy and an inability to cope with sudden, inexplicable loss, “The Sweet Hereafter.” Here, a 17-year-old girl celebrates her acceptance at MIT in the same way as too many other teenagers do when informed of good news, by drinking to excess. Driving home, the aspiring astrophysicist is distracted by a report on the radio of an incredible solar phenomenon. Gazing toward the heavens for a second too long, Rhoda plows head-on into a car sitting in the opposite lane. The accident leaves the wife and child of a celebrated composer dead, and him in a coma. A couple of years later, after she’s been released on parole, Rhoda (Brit Marling) returns home still guilt-ridden and at sea emotionally. After finding a menial job, she decides to take the next big step in her recovery by apologizing to the now-alcoholic composer (William Mapother), whose productive life ended at the exact moment his loved ones died. The man’s condition jars her to the point where she can’t make good on her intentions, instead convincing him that she’s a professional maid and he could benefit from her services on a weekly basis. I think we’ve all seen that movie before. All that’s left is the timing of the final redemptive moment.

By adding the separately reality of a planet hovering between the Earth and moon, everything else should become secondary to its presence and what it portends for humanity. That the planet resembles the Earth in every geophysical way further deepens the mystery. Having retained her love of astrophysics, Rhoda considers the appearance of a possibly alternative Earth a path to, yes, redemption. After all, the mere rumor of such a phenomenon distracted her to the point where she ignored the car right in front of her. Could fate have opened another door for her to pass through? Discovering the composer’s unused telescope in his attic provides an opportunity for her to connect with him on both an emotional and metaphysical level. Then, Rhoda is informed that she’s written the winning essay in a contest whose first prize is a seat on the first shuttle to Earth 2. Among the million or so other things she possibly could discover is the peace that comes with knowing you’ve been absolved of guilt for committing an unforgivable sin. There’s more to the story, of course, but nothing that begs to be spoiled here.

Marling, who also co-wrote the script with frosh director Mike Cahill, truly deserves consideration when awards nominations are announced in the next few weeks, as does Mapother. That “Another Earth” made next to no money in very limited release shouldn’t be held against the actors, although it probably will. The Blu-ray package is enhanced by interviews with Cahill, Marling and Mapother; deleted scenes; the featurettes, “Creating Another Earth” and “The Science Behind Another Earth”; and the music video “The First Time I Saw Jupiter,” by Fall on Your Sword. – Gary Dretzka

The Future
A performance and conceptual artist before turning to film, Miranda July understands how difficult it is to perform before an audience that might be left cold by what you’re trying to say on stage. The more confused audience members get, the more hostile they can become. July’s first feature, “Me and You and Everyone We Know,” told a story that was accessible and challenging. It defined what it means for an arthouse movie to be quirky, offbeat and eccentric, to borrow just a few overused adjectives from the critics. It introduced us to characters we hadn’t met before and situations that were, at once, poignant, funny and continually surprising. It was easy to assume that July’s idiosyncratic protagonist — a tentative and needy artist — might reflect character traits she possessed, herself. Based solely on physical assumptions, however, it hardly seemed possible that the perverse sexuality written into the script could have come from the same person. By comparison, her even more eccentric “The Future” makes “Me and You and Everyone We Know” look like an adaptation of a Harlequin Romance. In it, July plays a delicate Los Angeles (Silver Lake, to be exact) hipster, Sophie, who “teaches dance, but isn’t a dancer.” She lives with a tech-support adviser, Jason (Hamish Linklater), who spends most of his time indoors, answering questions from people having problems with their computer. It’s difficult to imagine either of them as being the life of anyone’s party.

One day, while lounging on the couch in their usual positions, Jason announces out of the blue that he’s ready to commit to having another living being in their home. As it turns out, he’s referring to a cat, not a baby … which probably is just as well. At the animal shelter, they’re offered a cat so sickly it will take a month before it can recuperate sufficiently to be claimed. The convalescence period provides an opportunity for Jason and Sophie to re-examine their lives and make the kind of decisions that will set the course for their future together. For Jason, this means donating his time to the cause of saving the Earth from global warming by soliciting funds for trees. Sophie decides to see how the other half lives — in squaresville, Tarzana – by shacking up with a man she met at the animal shelter. As long as she’s willing to comfort and have sex with the middle-age warehouse owner, and isn’t performing Pilobolus-like dance routines in the living room, their relationship thrives. Once he catches her act, which is actually pretty good, however, its curtains for them.

The true litmus test for lovers of arthouse entertainment arrives during the interludes when July narrates the intimate thoughts of the desperately ill cat, Paw-Paw, and Jason literally stops time to listen to the musings of the moon. Anyone able to get past those conceits probably will find “The Future” to be intriguing and artistically stimulating, as did most mainstream critics. Others … not so much. There’s no questioning July’s willingness to take chances very few filmmakers would even consider and treating her audience as intellectual equals. The Blu-ray includes July’s commentary, a deleted scene and a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

The Art of Getting By
Just a teenager, George Zinavoy is already too cool for school and almost everyone with whom he comes in contact. Instead of making an effort to further his personal evolution, he allows himself to waste away at his New York apartment, berating his parents and putting the melancholic songs of Leonard Cohen on repeat mode. By accident, he connects with a similarly alienated, if far more pragmatic classmate. He clearly digs her, but backs off when she opens the door to a sexual relationship. As played with stifling arrogance by Freddie Highmore, George is famous at his private high school for having made it to his senior year without turning in homework, not preparing for tests and sketching when he should be listening. He’s an extremely talented kid, but it would take all the Zoloft in Manhattan to get his head back in the ballgame. By comparison, Holden Caulfield is a cheerleader. It’s a credit to Highmore’s acting chops that we give so much as a rat’s ass about George and his ability to squeeze eight months of blown-off schoolwork into a three-week forced march toward graduation. If successful, George also must convince Sally (Emma Roberts) that he’s matured to the point where he won’t consider committing suicide after she breaks his cherry.

Somehow, freshman writer/director Gavin Wiesen makes us care about a spoiled kid and his only slightly less obnoxious classmates, all of whom have benefitted from the generosity of the parents they pretend to despise and diligence of teachers they don’t respect. George’s great re-awakening may not come as much of a surprise, but, at least, we know that his redemption hasn’t come at the expense of a scapegoated teacher or convenient stepparent. If Wiesen hadn’t done such a fine job filming New York – where distractions exist around every corner — it’s possible that “The Art of Getting By” would have soured after 20 minutes of non-stop bad behavior by George. Obviously, Wiesen learned some lessons from Woody Allen about the importance of locations. The Blu-ray features commentary, a couple of making-of pieces and an interview with Highmore. – Gary Dretzka

5 Days of War
At a time when the producers of movies about war and rebellion are struggling to keep up with such harrowing documentaries as “Restrepo” and “Burma VJ” and satellite feeds from the front lines, it’s become increasingly difficult to invent stories that are more compelling than reportage. The events described in Renny Harlin’s “5 Days of War” are based on Russia’s 2008 invasion of the Georgian republic of South Ossetia, when most of the world’s media was preoccupied with the 2008 Summer Olympics in China. It is a traditional war movie, in that the sounds of explosions, acts of heroism and mistreatment of innocents overwhelm any discussion of the political realities and unsettled hostilities that led to the invasion. The only time Ossetia is mentioned is when a venal old man begs for mercy from the brutal militia fighters terrorizing ethnic Georgians living in the same breakaway republic. We know that Georgian President Mikheil Saakashvili (Andy Garcia) is a friend of the west – and, therefore, a good guy — because of his willingness to provoke Russia by playing the NATO card and the constant presence of American media strategist (Dean Cain). Dismissed in passing are the legitimate complaints by Russian and Ossetian leaders that Saakashvili instigated the invasion by attacking Ossetian assets and Russian peacekeepers in anticipation of military support from NATO.

Harlin’s focus, then, is on the atrocities committed by Ossetian militias in the first wave of the invasion and the heroic efforts of American and European journalists to reveal them to the world. Rupert Friend plays a devil-may-care war correspondent, while Richard Coyle is on board as his videographer. They escaped death once, in Iraq, and are tempting fate by being the only western reporters in the disputed region when the first wave of tanks and militia arrive. They’re also on hand when Russian missiles strike a restaurant during a wedding reception and wounded survivors need to be transported to safety. Among them is Emmanuelle Chriqui, a beautiful Ossetian-American who doesn’t see eye-to-eye with her father on politics. When the journalists and their newfound friend disobey orders to return to the front lines, the same Georgian commando who saved the reporter’s life in Iraq – with an assist from a Saint George medallion – repeats the heroic act in a city about to be succumbed by the Russians. As unlikely as the many coincidences are, they serve the story better than the selective memory of screenwriter Mikko Alanne.

Even so, fans of old-school war movies should find something to like in “5 Days of War.” The action is fierce and the tension palpable throughout the movie. Harlin benefited from the beautiful Georgian settings and cooperation of the country’s military, which supplied the tanks, personnel, helicopters and weapons. The pro-Tbilisi slant is easily explained by the money generated from allies of Saakashvili and other Georgian interests. (The president even allowed his office to be used as a location.) What is most bothersome is the epilogue, during which Georgians who lost family members in the war are required to testify before the camera. Besides feeling tacked-on, the appeal feels as if it had been lifted from a telethon or infomercial. Since no one is disputing the brutality of the militias, it’s unnecessary. The Blu-ray adds deleted scenes and Harlin’s commentary. – Gary Dretzka

Horror Express: Blu-ray

Upon its English-language release, late in 1973, “Horror Express” was pretty much dismissed as just another micro-budget genre thriller destined to be shown at the tail end of a triple-feature at the drive-in. Even though American horror buffs had taken a shine to the Hammer horror pictures, especially those starring Christopher Lee and Peter Cushing, it would take a bit longer for mainstream horror fans here to embrace knock-offs from southern Europe. Dubbing was a problem, as were the garish special effects. Moreover, distributers weren’t fond of the gratuitous sex and hyper-violence that characterized giallo and its imitators. Today, of course, the best titles are considered to be classics of the form and they look better than ever in DVD and Blu-ray. “Horror Express” is a Spanish hybrid of Hammer and giallo. Directed by the prolific Eugenio Martin and shot at Estudios Madrid, it starred Lee, Cushing and Alberto de Mendoza in the lead roles. Telly Savalas’ presence gave the marketing team an American name to promote, although the producers couldn’t have known how much his stock would rise between the completion of “Horror Express” and popularity of “Kojack.” It helps explains why the movie, in which Savalas plays only a small part, was released in the U.S. and other markets two years after it debuted at the Catalonian Film Festival.

No capsule review could do “Horror Express” justice, but, suffice it to say, it is equal parts “The Thing” and “Murder on the Orient Express.” Lee’s knighted professor, Alexander Saxon, is about to embark on a journey from Manchuria to Moscow on the Trans-Siberian Express, which apparently was quite comfortable in czarist Russia. While awaiting their departure, Cushing’s friendly rival, Dr. Wells, becomes fascinated with a mysterious coffin-like crate belonging to Saxon. The box contains the partially thawed corpse of a humanoid Saxon believes could represent the fabled “missing link” between ape and man. What we know and the passengers on the train are about to learn is that the creature possesses the ability to fry the brain of anyone foolish enough to stare into its mystic eyes. Naturally, it gets loose on the train and mayhem ensues. Adding to the fun are Mendoza’s mad monk, who serves as an adviser to Countess Irina Petrovski, and Savalas’ scenery-chewing Cossack. (Savalas and Martin had collaborated previously on “Vendetta” – he played Pancho Villa — from which the train interiors were borrowed.)

Severin Films rescued “Horror Express” from public-domain hell and restored it as well as anyone could have, given the degraded quality of the print. There are scratches and other visual artifacts and the dialogue doesn’t always match lip movements. The outdoor scenes reveal the train’s miniature origins, as well. Other than that, it’s in good shape. (Most of the dialogue was recorded after the scenes were shot, probably because almost every supporting actor spoke Spanish exclusively.) On the plus side, the bright colors really pop on Blu-ray and it accentuates the contrasts between dark and light in the ominous moments before the beast is about to strike his prey. The impromptu autopsies, boiled corneas and infrared eyes look pretty cool in hi-def, as well. Buffs will savor the bonus package, which includes extended interviews with Cushing, Martin, blacklisted producer Bernard Gordon and composer John Cacavas; an introduction by Fangoria editor Chris Alexander; and trailers from the Severin line.

With all the attention being paid to grindhouse and other B-movie fare, it was only a matter of time before someone who isn’t named Tarantino or Rodriguez did a parody that both hits home and actually is funny. “Chillerama” reminds me of such riotous sketch comedies as “Amazon Women on the Moon,” “Hollywood Shuffle” and “Kentucky Fried Movie,” but with a twist. It is the closing night of the last drive-in theater in America and the owner plans to go out with a bang. He’s held back four movies that are considered to be so obscure and outrageous that they’ve never been exhibited in public. The titles pretty much explain why: “Wadzilla,” in which a giant spermatozoa attacks the Statue of Liberty, among other women; “I Was A Teenage Werebear,” about fat and hairy gay teens who prey on their straight classmates and turn them into werewolfs, er, werebears; “The Diary of Anne Frankenstein,” an impossibly outrageous combination of “Young Frankenstein” and “The Diary of Anne Frank”; the insanely scatological “Deathication” ; and the framing device, “Zom-B-Movie,” during which the suddenly undead audience turns on itself. A lot of spurting and splatting takes place during the four features and most of it involves blood and semen, if you get my drift. Not all of the gags come off as planned, but, considering the intended audience, the batting average is pretty good. The segments were written and directed by Adam Green, Joe Lynch, Adam Rifkin and Tim Sullivan. It comes with plenty of bonus features, including making-of pieces, interviews, commentaries and mock trailers.

Few words conjure images of extreme pain and suffering more immediately than “needle.” Anyone old enough to remember “SNL” head writer Michael O’Donoghue’s skit involving celebrities and the 6-inch-long steel needles he’d like to see jammed into their eyes probably has been scarred for life by it. Aussie writer/director John V. Soto’s supernatural thriller, “Needle,” has about as much in common with needles as a sewing machine has with a deejay’s turntable, however. A long time ago, they might have been related, but other things got in the way. Specifically, here, the needles are used in conjunction with the voodoo dolls created to inflict great harm on a group of college students. The dolls are created by the person who stole a magic voodoo box from the dorm room of a student whose father had just died and left it to him. I think a haunted sewing machine would have been scarier, but what do I know? “Needle” also is the story of estranged brothers forced to join forces to unravel the cruel mystery they inherited from their father. It isn’t a bad movie, just undernourished in the area of thrills and chills. The young cast is attractive, however, so fans of coeds-in-peril flicks might find something here to their liking. Aspiring do-it-yourselfers should enjoy the informative making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

In My Sleep: Special Edition: Blu-ray
Marcus is a masseuse, sex addict, parasomniac and possibly a murderer. Among the women with whom he’s recently slept is the wife of his best friend. He can’t remember if he enjoyed the experience or not because he hooked up with her while he was sleep walking, sleep driving and sleep screwing. One morning, ostensibly after a night of sleep revelry, Marcus wakes up in his own bed with blood stains all over the sheets and his hands, and a knife lying on the floor. Coincidentally, police officers arrive at his door just as he’s wiping the sleep – and disbelief – out of his eyes. He manages to distract them long enough to disguise most of the blood stains, but he’s baffled at the lack of other incriminating evidence and any indication of a woman’s presence. Given Marcus’s history of somnambulism, he can’t eliminate himself from the list of potential suspects. Instead, he attempts to get to the root cause of his problem, first by analyzing his own sordid dreams and, then, confronting his shrew of a mother about why his dead father keeps making guest appearances in them. In the meantime, Marcus enlists a pretty young neighbor to tuck him in at night and make sure he’s firmly handcuffed to the bedframe.

In his first feature film since his 1995 senior thesis, “Harlem Grace,” writer/director/producer Alan Wolfe has attempted to create a Freudian thriller with a Hitchcockian twist. It’s a difficult enough trick for an experienced filmmaker to pull off without also having to create board games, as he did, to finance the project. “In My Sleep” isn’t particularly suspenseful, but it’s well made and the actors are attractive. The “Special Edition” Blu-ray arrives with an abundance of bonus material, including lots of deleted and alternate scenes, interviews, sleepwalking stories, a gag reel and making-of featurettes. As straight-to-DVD titles go, I’ve seen a lot worse. – Gary Dretzka

The Rules of the Gamer: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
12 Angry Men: The Criterion Collection: Blu-ray

It should go without saying by now that anyone who professes to love cinema and hasn’t watched “The Rules of the Game” once, at least, probably ought to consider returning to film school. If that’s out of the question, however, they should pick up a copy of Jean Renoir’s 1939 classic (for lack of a better cliché) and study it as if it were the Holy Grail. Set between the great wars, “Rules of the Game” is a critique of French aristocracy and the bourgeois conventions that allowed it to blissfully ignore what was happening in Germany and Italy. Seventy years later, the movie retains its ability to surprise, inform and entertain. Criterion’s Blu-ray represents the latest attempt to repair the damage to “Rules of the Game,” first by French censors and outraged audiences, then the Allied bombers that destroyed a warehouse containing the original negative. It had already been trimmed by from 94 to 81 minutes to appease distributors, but enough original pieces were recovered to piece together a 106-minute version, which Renoir approved and has been used as the model for all future upgrades. And, yes, it looks and sounds terrific. Owners of previous DVD editions are advised to compare editions to see how much more supplemental material is available in the Blu-ray iteration. The new version has undergone a hi-def digital restoration, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It is introduced by Renoir; features commentary by film scholar and Renoir’s friend, Alexander Sesonske, as read by filmmaker Peter Bogdanovich; a comparative analysis of the movie’s two endings; a documentary comparing the 106-minute re-edit with Renoir’s original script; scene analysis by Renoir historian Chris Faulkner; excerpts from a 1966 French television program by filmmaker Jacques Rivette; Part One of a two-part 1993 BBC documentary by David Thompson; a video essay about the film’s production, release and 1959 reconstruction; a 1965 interview from a French television series, in which Jean Gaborit and Jacques Durand discuss their reconstruction and rerelease of the film; interviews with set designer Max Douy, Renoir’s son, Alain and actress Mila Parély; and a booklet featuring writings by Renoir, François Truffaut, Henri Cartier-Bresson and Bertrand Tavernier; an essay by Sesonske; and tributes to the film and Renoir by J. Hoberman, Kent Jones, Paul Schrader, Wim Wenders, Robert Altman, and others

Now that the latest “trial of the century” has reached its conclusion and theoretically, at least, Michael Jackson can rest in peace, it may be the ideal time to revisit Sidney Lumet’s intense jury-room drama, “12 Angry Men.” Made in 1957, Lumet’s directorial debut followed both the television and Broadway productions of Reginald Rose’s teleplay. It takes place, of course, during the course of deliberations in a murder case. All we in the audience know about it, really, is what can be gleaned in the arguments between jurors seeking a unanimous decision. One by one, the men are asked to search their souls for any sign of reasonable doubt or absolute certainty. The cast in the 1957 theatrical film includes Martin Balsam, Lee J. Cobb, E.G. Marshall, Jack Klugman, Jack Warden, Henry Fonda and Ed Begley, of which only Fonda and Begley already were household names. It’s truly an actor’s showcase. The Criterion Blu-ray has been restored to hi-def digitally, with an uncompressed monaural soundtrack. It also comes with Frank Schaffner’s 1955 television version, with an introduction by Ron Simon, director of the Paley Center for Media Studies; the video essay,“‘12 Angry Men’: From Television to the Big Screen,” which compares both of these editions; archival interviews with Lumet; new interviews with writer Walter Bernstein, Reginald Rose, cinematographer John Bailey; “Tragedy in a Temporary Town ,” a 1956 teleplay directed by Lumet and written by Rose; the original theatrical trailer; and a booklet featuring an essay by writer and law professor Thane Rosenbaum. – Gary Dretzka

The Cycle
Released just before the Islamist revolution in Iran and fall of the shah, “The Cycle” paints a portrait of top-down corruption and engrained cynicism that’s almost unimaginable. Saeed Kangarani plays a handsome, if dirt-poor teenager who accompanies his desperately sick father to Tehran for medical care. The men huddle in the streets outside a hospital at night, without any real hope of being seen by a doctor. Almost miraculously, they connect with a crooked doctor who pays homeless men and women for their blood, no questions asked. He sells it back to the hospital at a huge profit. The doctor takes a shine to the young man, Ali, whose good looks and easy demeanor make him a perfect front for a black-market operation. Meanwhile, he also ingratiates himself with a nurse at the hospital, who has friends also in need of cheap labor and a shrewd mind. Before long, Ali has made a lucrative niche for himself in the illegal blood trade and has stopped worrying much if it’s safe. Everyone in the pecking order, right up to the shah, had a taste for quick and relatively easy money in the 1970s and, of course, that hunger demanded to be fed. By 1980, the party was over and a different breed of criminal took control of Iran. It’s a fascinating movie, made by one of the leading lights of the Iranian New Wave, Dariush Mehrjui. “The Cycle” was banned from view at the behest of Iranian medical officials for three years. Mehrjui’s was among the throngs of people demanding change in Tehran and an early supporter of the revolution. His faith in the new regime would be short-lived, however. – Gary Dretzka

Whitechapel: The Ripper Returns
In the original, British version of “Prime Suspect,” Jane Tennison spent two seasons, at least, proving to her male colleagues that she, first, was up to the task of being a DCI and, next, that she was capable of being detective superintendent. It was as much a part of the show as the murders being solved. Kyra Sedgwick’s Deputy Chief Brenda Leigh Johnson faced the same hostility in “The Closer.” It goes with the territory. In the recent ITV/BBC America mini-series “Whitechapel,” Rupert Penry-Jones (MI-5) is assigned the role of Joseph Chandler, an outsider clouted into the position of superintendent by colleagues at Scotland Yard. Called to the scene of his first murder, Chandler arrives wearing the tuxedo he was in while being toasted on his promotion at some posh London club. It made a bad first impression on the slovenly group of detectives who would report to him in the coming weeks on a sensational case. To say they put their new boss through the ringer is an understatement. The question at the heart of the three part mini-series is whether, given today’s technology and forensics science, modern London cops could do something their forebears on the force couldn’t accomplish in the 1880s: identify and catch Jack the Ripper. Although his detectives are too cynical to believe there’s a copycat killer loose in London, Chandler is willing to give a so-called Ripperologist the benefit of a doubt. Steve Pemberton is wonderful as the obsessive historian who’s written a book on the subject, has a website dedicated to Jack the Ripper and gives crime-scene tours to tourists. Although he qualifies as a person of interest, himself, Edward Buchan convinces Chandler not to depend entirely on modern forensics, CCTV and DNA. His belief is that a copycat killer would rely entirely on archival reports and photographs, period clothing and historic maps. Could the Ripper escape justice twice, 130 years removed from the last known murder? Tune in and stay for the making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Smallville: The Complete Series
Look: Season 1
Hot in Cleveland: Season Two
The Girls Next Door: The Complete Series

After some initial reluctance to enter the superhero arena, programming executives at Warner Bros. Television and The WB network realized that the bottle they were handed on October 17, 2001, contained the lightening captured the night before, upon the debut of “Smallville.” The series, which would go on to enjoy a 10-year run, had just become the network’s highest-rated debut, with 8.4 million viewers. Moreover, while finishing first in the 12–34 demographic, the premiere also broke The WB record in the even more lucrative bracket reserved for adults age 18–34. That’s the television equivalent of a rookie slugger, playing for an expansion team, hitting a grand-slam home run on his first at-bat. Clearly, even as Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster’s comic-book creation, Superman, continued its reign as one of the most successful entertainment franchises in history – subsequently spawning a newspaper comic strip, radio and movie serials, cartoon shorts, a landmark live-action television show, a Broadway musical, five mega-budget feature films, several more animated and live-action TV series, novels and a not terribly impressive video game — there was still plenty of room left for origin story, “Smallville.” Alfred Gough and Miles Millar’s action-packed and sneaky-sexy adaptation arrived at a most opportune time. With Tom Welling playing a young, buff, chivalrous, capeless and flightless Clark Kent, “Smallville” could be positioned alongside The WB’s teen-skewing hits “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” “Felicity,” “Charmed” and “Dawson’s Creek.” Dynamic visual and audio effects had become affordable for television producers, as did the British Columbia locations. A rocking soundtrack put the cherry on top of the sundae.

Just in time for what would have been Christmas on Krypton, Warner Home Video has released “Smallville: The Complete Series” on DVD and “Smallville: The Complete Tenth Season” on DVD and Blu-ray. For newcomers, the series encompasses Superman’s earthly progression from the newly arrived baby Kal-El to Clark Kent’s emergence as a superhero finally capable of flight. Unlike George Reeves, who mostly saved Metropolis from crooks and gangsters, Welling would be called upon to battle myriad supervillains. The character and narrative structure would evolve through the 10-year stretch, but the origin myth continued to progress in a logical way. (I’m still not sure when Clark would make his first trip to the optometrist, however.) Fans should brace themselves before they attempt to lift the complete-series box, as its 62 discs contain all 218 episodes of the hourlong series (minus commercials); more than five hours of newly added special features, including a 90-minute series retrospective; new interviews; the unaired 1961 “Superboy” pilot; an episode guide, with production art and behind-the-scenes photos; coverage of the 2010 Comic Con panel; and an exclusive issue of the Daily Planet, created by DC Comics. If that weren’t sufficient cause for celebration, the package also includes more than 100 hours of featurettes from the a la carte editions. That’s a lot of stuff. The 10th-season Blu-ray adds commentaries, deleted scenes, featurettes on “A Smallville Homecoming” and “The Son Becomes the Father” episodes, and “How Do We Do” music video.

Adapted from Adam Rifkin’s movie of the same title, “Look” was a Showtime series based on the theory that something worth watching always is being recorded by and transmitted from the 40 million surveillance cameras installed in American stores, schools, dressing rooms, gas stations and neighborhoods. The digital image could be as mundane as a fat shopper picking his nose, as hideous as a cocaine-amped MILF getting her butt waxed, as disgusting as a bum barfing on the floor of a convenience store, as provocative as a study-hall beaver-shot, as goofy as maintenance workers skateboarding in the empty aisles of a mall after midnight and as shocking as watching a woman being attacked in a parking lot while the security guard is asleep. Some of the people we meet are aware of the presence of cameras, while others don’t realize they’re being surveilled until they see themselves doing something embarrassing on YouTube … repeatedly and from differently placed cameras. Throughout the course of the nearly six-hour presentation, the lives of the characters intersect and impact on each other.

What do “Hot in Cleveland” and “The Girls Next Door” have in common, beyond the fact both shows star women? If “Hot in Cleveland” lasts another 20 years, or is revived for a new generation of viewers, it’s entirely possible that Valerie Bertinelli, Wendie Malick, Jane Leeves and Betty White could be replaced by Holly, Bridget, Kendra, Crystal, Karissa and Kristina as the cougars in residence. I can’t imagine the gags and sitcom setups needing much in the way of freshening and, maybe, in the meantime, Hef’s ladies might have learned how to act. TV Land’s “Hot in Cleveland” probably would have been an easy fit on network television 20 years ago, but the only actors getting those roles these days are skinny, blond and look good in a mini-skirt. (Melissa McCarthy being the exception that proves the rule.) The second-season DVD package includes all 22episodes, an appearance by Susan Lucci, a cast visit to Cleveland and the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, making-of material, interviews, the pilot and first episode of TVLand’s new “The Exes” and an extended Betty “Benderover” blooper.

Given Hugh Hefner’s recent detour on the way to the altar, it’s unlikely a seventh season “The Girls Next Door” will appear any time soon, and probably not on E! That’s unless, of course, the Kardashian bimbos move in to the mansion and agree to give him a tumble every now and again. Until then, fans of the show will have to settle for the 2,100 minutes of material collected in the “Complete Series” edition, which also includes one season with “the twins” and the ungrateful hussy who unceremoniously dumped her sugar daddy. Meanwhile, Kendra, Holly and to a lesser degree Bridget have found an afterlife in television series of their own. – Gary Dretzka

NFL: Green Bay Packers: Road to XLV
I grew up in Wisconsin and continue to live and die with the fortunes of the Green Bay Packers. I can easily recall the great teams of the 1960s, whose exploits led to the city being branded Titletown USA, even during the 30 lean years that followed. Back then, the players all wore black football shoes with long cleats – the exception being Billy “White Shoes” Johnson – and end-zone celebrations were limited to pats on the back and handshakes. Green Bay was a speck on the map then and it’s not any bigger today. And, yet, every seat in Lambeau Field has had a fanny on it for every game since Vince Lombardi made the city famous for something other than its proximity to scenic Door County and being home to Schneider National, the largest privately owned truck fleet in the country. Last season, when the Packers began their run for the Super Bowl championship, few people gave the team much of a chance to succeed. As the wildcard selection in its division, the Packers wouldn’t play even one game in front of friendly fans on Lambeau’s famously frozen tundra. The team also would be required to play one additional playoff game to those contested by the favorites. They won all of those games in convincing fashion and have kept on winning throughout the 2011 season. Credit for that belongs to the emergence of Aaron Rodgers as one of the premiere quarterbacks in the NFL and general manager Ted Thompson’s ability to find players capable of filling the many holes left by season-ending injuries to key players.

All of those memories are recalled, almost ad nauseam, in “Road to XLV,” from Vivendi and NFL Films. The many factoids about football in Green Bay and Wisconsin filled the gaps between plays and commercials during the NFC Wildcard Playoffs, NFL Division Playoffs, NFC Championship Game and Super Bowl. All of those games are included in the “Post-Season Collector’s Edition.” In two months, we’ll know which team will carry home the Lombardi Trophy. No matter who wins, however, a “Road to XLVI” is sure to follow. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: Our Idiot Brother, Cave of Forgotten Dreams, Radioactive Wolves, Another Earth, The Future, The Art of Getting By, Horror Express, Rules of the Game, Smallville …”

  1. Aimee Vara says:

    This is one awesome blog post.Much thanks again. Great.


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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