MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Contagion, Brighton Rock, The Guard, Tokyo Drifter, Don’t Know How She Does It, Santa Mesa, Glad My Mother Is Alive, X: The Unheard Music, Justified …

Contagion: Blu-ray
If the cast and creative team behind “Contagion” were a baseball team, it would be the New York Yankees. It would be managed by Academy Award-winner Steven Soderbergh and feature a lineup that includes such Oscar- and BAFTA-level talent as Gwyneth Paltrow, Matt Damon, Jude Law, Laurence Fishburne, Kate Winslet, Jennifer Ehle, Marion Cotillard, Elliott Gould, John Hawkes, writer Scott Z. Burns and editor Stephen Mirrione. It would look classy on the field and capture the attention of the media off of it. And, yet, just as the Bronx Bombers no longer are a mortal lock to make the World Series each October, “Contagion” fell short of blockbuster status when it was released just after Labor Day. Enthusiastic reviews notwithstanding, “Contagion” will have to go into extra innings on DVD and Blu-ray to make the kind of profits expected of it by the box-office swamis. As compelling a thriller as it is, it basically did the same business as Wolfgang Petersen’s “Outbreak” had in 1995. In the meantime had come “Pandemic,” “[REC]” and “[REC]2,” “Quarantine” and “Quarantine 2,” two other movies entitled “Contagion,” “Resident Evil,” “Twelve Monkeys,” “Fatal Contact: Bird Flu in America,” several PBS documentaries on virus-driven epidemics and a dozen other dystopian dramas. The subject was pretty well exhausted, methinks.

“Contagion” does an excellent tracking the spread of a previously unknown flu-like disease from a party in Hong Kong – attended by Paltrow’s soon-to-die character – to America and other destinations for flights arriving from China. It isn’t long before other seemingly unrelated people begin to sneeze, sweat profusely and die in the streets of cities, large and small, around the planet. When it becomes clear that the deaths are connected to something other than a terrorist attack or bad oysters, and Soderbergh encourages his audience to join the scientists in the guessing game. They’re working feverishly to connect the dots, even as the virus is outpacing their efforts to collect specimens, interview survivors and study surveillance videos. Meanwhile, in the streets, fear and frustration have evolved into panic, despair and rumor-mongering. When the scientists finally turn the corner on a treatment, the mass-immunization process raises new questions and fears.

Ironically, “Contagion” shares several things in common with the star-studded disaster movies popularized by Irwin Allen in the 1970s, including “The Poseidon Adventure,” “The Towering Inferno” and “The Swarm.” At some point, all of the characters’ disparate paths are made to cross. Damon, for example, is somehow immune to the disease that kills his wife (Paltrow) and son, and threatens their daughter. As human lab rats, they’re poked and prodded by virologists from the Centers for Disease Control and other agencies. Upon his release, he finds himself surrounded by looters and people desperate to acquire the vaccine. (He’s also required to play Bad Dad when the teenage daughter attempts to make contact with her unimmunized boyfriend.) The movie also demonstrates how potentially dangerous Internet-based speculation and rumor-mongering spreads at approximately the same pace as the killer virus. Law plays an investigative reporter whose blog is must reading for conspiracy freaks, but dismissed by scientists, politicians and public-health officials. Once it’s established that he might actually be onto something important, Soderbergh demands that we question the reporter’s ethics … and, by extension, those of all Internet activists. Critics have compared the interlacing of differently textured storylines in “Contagion” to what happens in Soderberg’s “Traffic,” but the conceit is at least as old as “Grand Hotel.” The Blu-ray edition includes the featurettes “Contagion: How a Virus Changes the World,” “The Reality of Contagion” and “The Contagion Detectives,” as well as instant streaming with UltraViolet Digital Copy. – Gary Dretzka

Brighton Rock
The Guard

Despite the estimable presence of Helen Mirren, John Hurt and Andy Serkis in key supporting roles, fine work by fresh faces Sam Riley and Andrea Riseborough in the lead parts, and a distinguished pedigree, “Brighton Rock” barely made a dent at the domestic box office in limited release. Rowan Joffe’s debut feature updates the setting of Graham Greene’s ultra-dark crime novel from pre-war Brighton Beach to 1964, when violent clashes between the Mods and Rockers terrorized several seaside communities. The sinister character of Pinkie Brown, the antagonist of the book and the 1947 film based on it, famously was captured by a 24-year-old Richard Attenborough. As the movie opens, Pinkie is a young thug on the verge of making the biggest mistake in his young life. In avenging the death of his criminal mentor, he ignores the usual gangland protocol and simply assumes he’s free to bludgeon the assailant’s head to a gooey pulp in a confrontation under the landmark pier. Even before the man’s blood has begun to soak into the sand, however, Pinkie foresees a possible date with the hangman and almost certain damnation in hell. Instead of seeking refuge in some less visible city, the hot-headed moron attempts to eliminate everyone who conceivably could steer police in his direction or threaten his physical well-being. Riseborough portrays the mousey waitress who was photographed alongside the soon-to-be-dead gangster and Pinkie’s boss, who knows better than to act rashly in such situations. He orders Pinkie to find and destroy the photograph, while also ensuring the waitress will remain silent. Instead of following his basic instincts and simply making the waifish teen disappear, Pinkie sadistically exploits her infatuation with him. Like Rose, we’re fooled into thinking he might be attracted to her, as well.

Knowing Rose is a religious girl, Pinkie comes to believe she’ll be overcome with guilt when she learns that her new boyfriend and his boss conspired to kill a man. Again, instead of finding a logical solution, he marries Rose and demands she obey his every command.  Like Holly, in “Badlands,” the girl sees in the outlaw an opportunity to break out of her shell and blossom as a woman not unlike her well-traveled boss and protector, Ida (Mirren). In her time, however, Ida has seen dozens of Pinkies crash and burn in their pursuit of fame and illicit wealth. She counsels Rose against buying into the ruse and steering clear of Pinkie. Failing that, Ida enlists the aid of former criminal associates to eliminate the threat to everyone posed by the increasingly paranoid and blood-thirsty Pinkie. The final confrontation between the forces of darkness and light (relatively speaking, of course) is absolutely chilling.

A convert to Catholicism, Greene often tested his characters beliefs. As in “Brighten Rock,” they wrestled with guilt, disillusionment, moral ambiguity and faith. While the film adaptations played down this aspect of Greene’s work, writer/director Joffe couldn’t the hanging the odd crucifix and painting of the Blessed Virgin or Jesus Christ to walls on his sets. By introducing the Mods and Rockers to the drama, Joffe not only is framing the movie’s cultural milieu, but he also is forecasting the corruption of values that would soon shake England out of its post-war sleep. The code adhered to by old-school gangsters would be rendered meaningless in the pursuit of greed and great power and no young woman would have an excuse for being as naïve and passive as Rose. “Brighton Rock” also reminded me of such terrific pre-Guy Ritchie entertainments as “The Krays,”  “The Italian Job,”  “Get Carter,” “The Long Good Friday” (also co-starring Mirren) and “Mona Lisa” (partially set in Brighton), all of which relied more on story and character development, than clever dialogue, hyper-violence and a bombastic soundtrack. If “Brighton Rock” didn’t get a fair shot in the U.S., it’s probably because distributors deemed it to be too dark and seemingly amoral to satisfy squishy American tastes. Fans of complex gangster movies and Brit fiction – straight razors, too – shouldn’t be disappointed, though. The DVD includes several interviews and making-of material.

From Ireland, “The Guard” is a crime thriller that’s as darkly funny as it is exciting. It stars Brendan Gleeson as a not terribly dedicated Connemara cop, Sergeant Gerry Boyle, who, without warning or provocation, finds himself waist-deep in a criminal enterprise involving big-time drug traffickers, corrupt Galway police officials, the FBI and Irish drug-enforcement agencies. Boyle may be lazy, crass and a frequenter of prostitutes, but he knows his constituency and what residents will and won’t accept as proper behavior for a policeman. Very soon after Boyle and his bright new deputy are made aware of a ritualistic murder in his bailiwick, he is surprised by the unexpected appearance of FBI agent Wendell Everett (Don Cheadle). Finding an African-American anything in such an out-of-the-way burg would raise suspicions among the populace. That Everett is an impeccably dressed and highly motivated American, in an otherwise rough-and-tumble seaside community, makes no sense at all. In fact, Everett is in Connemara to intercept the delivery of a half-billion-dollar shipment of cocaine in an imprecisely drawn location. He expects the usual amount of resistance from local officials – even the natural curiosity and occasional gag that goes with being black in a lily-white environment — but is shocked by Boyle’s goofy behavior, racial digs, crude jokes and the complete indifference of the locals to drug trafficking on their shores. It would have been easy for freshman writer-director John Michael McDonagh to let “The Guard” play out as if it were a Gallic “48 HRS” or “Lethal Weapon.” Instead, both characters are wary of each other throughout most of the movie, and the inevitable friendship is allowed to develop without sacrificing plot, pace or credulity. It’s a first-rate entertainment that some critics have added to their top-10 lists for 2011. – Gary Dretzka

Tokyo Drifter: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Seijun Suzuki’s wildly stylistic and very goofy “Tokyo Drifter” is the second of the director’s mid-’60s gangster flicks to be released by Criterion in Blu-ray. Unlike the status-conscious hitman in “Branded to Kill,” Tetsuya Watari’s “Phoenix Tetsu” is desperately trying to cut his ties to a criminal underworld that’s comprised of guys who resemble the Blues Brothers and think nothing of killing anyone who gets in the way of their boss’ business. Tetsu is especially disturbed by the breakdown of ethics within the yakuza hierarchy. In their eyes, however, he remains a formidable enemy and good luck charm to the bosses in his debt. By remaining true to his own code of honor, Tetsu resembles the habitually cool gangsters that populated French noir in the 1950s-60s and pre-code American crooks. Even more than Criterion’s earlier DVD of “Tokyo Drifter,” the Blu-ray edition succinctly captures Suzuki’s radical visual conceits, especially in the nightclub scenes, where cheesy psychedelia, torchy cabaret atmospherics and a jazzy score compete for our attention. When the action moves to Japan’s northern provinces, Suzuki neatly exploits the wintery textures and colors. From a distance of more than 40 years, “Tokyo Drifter” is nothing if not campy. It’s easy to see how American admirers of foreign films — used to Jean-Paul Belmondo, Alain Delon and Jean Gabin – might have considered Suzuki’s films to be the cinematic equivalent to “Godzilla.” Indeed, Suzuki’s revolutionary production designs, splashy color palette and unique characterizations so infuriated his bosses that he was fired from his position at one of the country’s largest studios. Today, however, they simply look inspired. The Blu-ray package adds a new interview with Suzuki and his AD, Masami Kuzuu, and an interview with Suzuki from 1997, as well as a booklet with an essay by critic Howard Hampton. – Gary Dretzka

I Don’t Know How She Does It: Blu-ray
Serendipity: Blu-ray
She’s All That: Blu-ray

It hardly qualifies as news that women still sometimes find it difficult to balance careers and family life. In “I Don’t Know How She Does It,” it hardly qualifies as entertainment, either. In Douglas McGrath’s thinly drawn adaptation of Allison Pearson’s best-selling novel, Sarah Jessica Parker plays Kate Reddy, a business executive about to break the glass ceiling as a much-in-demand financial adviser. She lives in Boston with her less-successful architect husband (Greg Kinnear) and their two young children, all of whom will soon have to deal with a mostly absentee wife and mom. Kate is an obsessive list-maker, “juggler” and “multi-tasker.” Her new assignment takes her to New York, where she’ll devise strategies with a widely admired executive, played by Pierce Brosnan. The question isn’t so much whether Kate can compete with the big boys – we assume she can – but whether or not she’ll dump her increasingly frazzled husband and replace him with the charming Brit. While Brosnan’s Jack Abelhammer certainly wouldn’t mind combining business and pleasure, it never seems likely that Kate will take the bait. Although Jack and Kate are suited to each other, McGrath dials the sexual tension down to simmer and never brings it back to boil. Meanwhile, as could be expected, a medical calamity happens to one of the kids and it causes Kate to readjust her priorities. Both of the men in her life retain their dignity and she isn’t required to give up any of her previous career initiatives. And, yes, her post-feminist dilemma plays out in exactly that dull a manner.

That said, Parker’s fans likely will find something to enjoy in “I Don’t Know How She Does It.” She nimbly balances Kate’s energy and angst, while always looking pretty snazzy. Brosnan, Kinnear, Seth Meyers and Kelsey Grammer, as her boss, have no trouble walking through their parts; Olivia Munn, as Kate’s assistant, won’t make anyone forget Joan Cusack, in “Working Girl”; and Christina Hendricks, as Kate’s best friend, is allowed to look gorgeous without also displaying the rack that’s made her one of the leading lights of “Mad Men.” The best Blu-ray feature is an interview with the author, in which she doesn’t seem to mind having had some of her book’s teeth extracted.

Speaking of clichés, “Serendipity” is a weightless rom-com in which John Cusack and Kate Beckinsale meet cute – twice — no doubt causing countless teenagers to believe fairy tales can come true. Five years after their first romantic encounter — they met shopping for gloves intended for their partners — Sara and Jonathan feel the need to reconnect, at least to see if they’re making a mistake by getting married to other people.  Cusack and Beckinsale don’t spend all that much time on screen together, which was probably OK with them. “Serendipity” is only for diehard fans. The Blu-ray comes with plenty of making-of material and commentary with director Peter Chelsom, deleted scenes and storyboard comparisons.

She’s All That” is a teen-centric re-working of the old “Pygmalion”/
“My Fair Lady” formula with plenty of “The Ugly Duckling” thrown in for good measure. After losing his super-swell girlfriend to a MTV personality, hot-shot Zack Siler (Freddie Prinze Jr.) accepts his friends’ bet that he can’t turn geeky Laney Boggs (Rachael Leigh Cook) into the school’s prom queen.  You wouldn’t care to make the same bet, would you? Love blossoms, of course, but the writers make it as difficult as they can for destiny’s duo to get there. The Blu-ray adds commentary with director Robert Iscove and a music video by Six Pence None the Richer. – Gary Dretzka

I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive
Santa Mesa

In Claude and Nathan Miller’s emotionally charged drama, “I’m Glad My Mother Is Alive,” a troubled young man re-connects with the woman who gave him up for adoption when he was 5 years old and is mostly ambivalent to his re-appearance at 20. Unlike his younger brother, Thomas has vague memories of being turned over to the man and woman who would raise them and suffer through the tirades that grew in intensity as his obsession with his birth mother intensified. Thomas isn’t a bad boy, but he has been traumatized by the experience. Likewise, his adoptive parents are nice people, but their lives have become a roller-coaster ride. The tranquility of life at home is based solely on Thomas’ conflicting moods and unjustified feelings of guilt. Shadowy memories of life with his irresponsible birth mother, Julie, have haunted him from an early age. Indeed, even after managing to discover Julie’s identity and whereabouts, he can’t bring himself to say more than a couple of words to her, before running away. For her part, Julie both welcomes and resents Thomas’ reappearance a couple of years later. Slowly, though, he insinuates himself into her life and that of his stepbrother, who is about the same age now as Thomas was when he was abandoned. The real trouble begins when he senses that his stepbrother might be facing the same fate. “Alive” benefits greatly from terrific performances by Vincent Rottiers, as Thomas, and Sophie Cattani and Christine Citti, as his mothers. It’s also worth knowing that the movie is based on actual events.

Ron Morales’ debut feature, “Santa Mesa,” is another powerful depiction of the emotional journey some adoptees face on the way to adulthood. Hector is an agreeable 12-year-old boy transplanted from the United States to a hard-scrabble neighborhood in the Philippines, after the death of his mother in an accident. He’s required to live with a grandmother he’s never met and whose language he can’t understand. Hector’s vulnerability causes him to connect with a group of kids who are already on their way to a life of crime. A bungled burglary results in Hector becoming indebted to a photographer, who will temporarily play the role of a father figure. The hobby allows Hector to believe he can survive in this strange new world and contribute to the well-being of others. If “Santa Mesa” relies a bit too much on coincidence to advance the narrative, they circumstances dictate a certain suspension of disbelief. The Manila setting is fresh and the acting is very good, especially that of newcomer Jacob Shalov. Melissa Leo lends her name to the production, but isn’t on the screen very long. – Gary Dretzka

Don’t Let Him In
Removal: Blu-ray

Although the title, “Don’t Let Him In,” suggests that the movie we’re about to see will be full of polite vampires and people conversant in undead etiquette, it is instead a rare British slasher flick. Writer/director Kelly Smith appears to have dedicated himself to creating an American-style gorefest, appropriately set in a remote cabin in the woods and populated with characters who think posted warnings about serial-killer activity don’t apply to them. What keeps “Don’t Let Him In” from drowning in genre clichés is the likelihood that at least two killers are on the loose and both have been given access to the same cabin. And, while it isn’t difficult to figure out who the bad guys are, it isn’t easy to predict when and how they will strike next. When they do, however, the blood flows as freely as beer at a tailgate party outside Lambeau Field. The killer known to the locals is famous for chopping off the limbs of humans and hanging them on the limbs of trees. The other murderer is less inventive. The odd thing is that the city slickers who elect to stay in the cabin overnight aren’t at all likable and, therefore, we don’t miss them much when they get snuffed out. Smith has a nice touch with atmospherics and the forest is plenty spooky. Even Saddam Hussein might have vetoed seeking refuge in the primary killer’s spider hole. The making-of featurette is interesting, even though it’s nearly as long as the movie, itself, and the director takes himself way too seriously.

“Removal” is a creepy little thriller, during which it’s never clear exactly if the lead character – an employee of a cleaning service – is hallucinating or actually neck deep in blood and gore. Cole’s never been the same since he witnessed the suicide of a friend who had just killed his family. After being released from the funny farm, Cole dedicates himself to earning the kind of money needed to impress his estranged wife. It means having to work interminably long shifts and accepting a job at a mansion owned by a cold-blooded psycho, who, by all indications, has just murdered his wife. Not having taken his medicine in a few days, the thoroughly exhausted carpet cleaner has begun experiencing horrific flashbacks and blurring the lines between reality and paranoia. Mark Kelly is very good as the freaked-out Cole, but it’s Oz Perkins who does an outstanding imitation of Anthony Perkins in “Psycho.” As low-budget thrillers go, both of these movies qualify as over-achievers. – Gary Dretzka

Final Destination 5: Blu-ray
Shark Night: Blu-ray
Ice Quake: Blu-ray

In the world of horror, it’s next to impossible to kill off a popular franchise, such as “Final Destination.” When all forward progress has been halted, the producers can always slip into reverse and pull a prequel out of their butt, thus advancing the series by going backwards. “FD 5” is set in the late 1990s, just before the release of the first “FD,” and a decade before the release of “FD4,” which we were led to believe was the final “Final Destination.” The enigmatic coroner, Bludworth, returns to the series to explain to the doomed characters that it’s impossible to cheat death simply by avoiding it once or twice. He’s introduced at the funeral of co-workers killed in a catastrophic bridge collapse, which serves as the movie’s first and best set piece. One of the passengers in a bus headed to a company retreat had envisioned the collapse right down to the impalements and crushed bodies. After awaking with a start, Sam realizes that the bus has only now reached the bridge and is in the same position it was when the road began to crumble in his dream. This time, he’s more successful at alerting his co-workers and getting more of them to safety than he was able to previously. Just when the survivors are feeling good about their chances of someday collecting Social Security, Bludworth’s warning begins to ring true. As usual, the deaths are designed to be as gory and disturbing as possible, especially when viewed in 3D. Besides the intricately choreographed bridge collapse, “FD5” features an exciting midair plane disaster and other stomach-churning “accidents.” Given the convenient placement of fans blades and other sharp objects, fans will be able to foretell scenes of unspeakable horror with the same accuracy as the most clairvoyant of characters. It spoils any notion of spontaneity but gives the punters their money’s worth. The Blu-ray edition adds alternate death scenes, a making-of featurette that explains how the green-screen set pieces were created and side-by-side comparisons of visual-effects sequences.

Rated PG-13, “Shark Night” (a.k.a., “Shark Night 3D”) is built from the same template as such killer-animal flicks as “Piranha,” “Alligator,” “Lake Placid,” “Barracuda,” “Humanoids From the Deep” and, of course, the many sequels to those creature features. A group of college students decide to enjoy a few days off from school at a vacation home owned by the family of one of the girls. It’s located on a large, secluded lake in southern Louisiana. Before hopping on the motorboat that will transport them to the remote location, the students are confronted by a pair of belligerent local yokels, who will keep reappearing throughout the movie. No sooner do the students reach the cabin and begin entertaining themselves with various aquatic activities than critters we know to be sharks begin picking them off one by one. What, you ask, are sharks doing in a fresh-water lake? That’s for the filmmakers to know and very patient viewers to find out. It’s easy to figure out where the 3D effects would have appeared in “Shark Night,” if the distributors had elected to release the stereoscopic version. Nothing, though, could have turned the movie into something in the same league as the Corman classics or even “Piranha 3D,” which, at least, had the whimsy to add porn divas to the fishes’ menu. Indeed, there’s precious little skin here and the gore is inexplicably tame and predictable. While not nearly as crazy as some of Corman’s work for Syfy, “Shark Night” could easily find a home there. The Blu-ray arrives with a “Shark Attack Kill Machine!,” which allows viewers to skip ahead to the bloody bits; a profile of director David R. Ellis (“Snakes on a Plane” and two “Final Destination” installments; and the featurettes, “Shark Night’s Survival Guide” and “Fake Sharks, Real Scares.”

Ice Quake” is a fairly typical Syfy channel product in that a decent world-in-peril conceit isn’t supported by a budget that can make it look plausible. Apparently, a massive ice shelf has collapsed in Russia, causing earthquake-like shock waves to ripple through the entire polar region. Among other dire ramifications, huge geysers, fissures and avalanches are being recorded and methane is leaking through the permafrost, threatening to blow up the planet. An attractive cast, which includes Brendan Fehr and Victor Garber, is called upon to marshal their resources to save the Earth from an obnoxiously smelly demise. The British Columbia setting helps make “Ice Quake” easy on the eyes, if not the brain, and, if nothing else, productions like these keep Canadian actors gainfully employed. The Blu-ray includes a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

Set exclusively in the garage of a Los Angeles limousine service, “Dispatch” feels as if it might have been written for the stage and expanded to fit the dimensions of a vanity project for the screen. Steven Sprung and Michael Bershad do the heavy lifting in this Hollywood morality play. Bershad plays a screenwriter who has enjoyed success in the past, but refuses to take on the kind of lucrative assignments he feels are beneath him. Instead, he’s taken on the role of dispatcher at the limo company. Trouble is, he’s in the middle of a painful divorce and needs a chuck of money to make things right. A degenerate gambler, as well, he senses an opportunity when an old acquaintance – a cocky chauffeur, named Killer – returns to work, dropping hints about a sure-fire restaurant investment. Instead, it’s anything but a guaranteed success and Killer ain’t what he appears to be. “Dispatch” probably would be more effective if viewed in a non-equity production at a small theater. As a DVD rental, it isn’t a bad investment, either. – Gary Dretzka

Cast Me If You Dare
This amusing Japanese confection involves an actor who specializes in supporting roles and commercials, but can’t seem to escape from the shadow of his highly respected playwright father. As such, Hiroshi is a droopy fellow who rarely smiles and often is mistaken for other people, including wanted criminals. In addition to the ensuing comedy of errors, Hiroshi becomes the object of desire for a sweet aspiring actress, who’s as impressed with his credits as those of his father. Instead of embracing Aya’s advances, Hiroshi pushes her away from him. Eventually, the physical opposites attract, but it takes a large dollop of slapstick comedy before they do. “Cast Me If You Dare” is the kind of movie that grows on you. – Gary Dretzka

The Fat Boy Chronicles
Inspired by a true story and adapted from a book by Diane Lang and Michael Buchanan, who also wrote the screenplay, “The Fat Boy Chronicles” is a surprisingly entertaining story about a kid who overcomes huge obstacles in his struggle to be accepted by his high school classmates. Although not morbidly obese, Jimmy (Christopher Rivera) is well on his way to an early heart attack. He’s bullied unmercifully by the jock elite at his school and played for a sucker by some of the “popular” girls. Nevertheless, he dedicates himself to losing weight and finding a niche that fits his friendly personality. It isn’t easy, of course, but he finds support in the company of an outcast boy with an alcoholic father and the school’s resident “emo/goth chick.”

Being a Dove-approved family film, “Fat Boy Chronicles” affords Jimmy the backing of understanding parents and the comfort of Sunday church services. The writers also put him in contact with adults who’ve either been victims of bullying, themselves, or have overcome some kind of social handicap. Watching Jimmy pick himself up by his own bootstraps is inspirational and heart-warming. Thirty years ago, a movie like this might have found a home on network TV as an “Afterschool Special.” Today, I don’t see any reason why a kids-oriented cable channel wouldn’t find a home for “Fat Boy Chronicles” on its schedule. The DVD adds interviews with the stars and some background on the national campaign to make adults aware of the bullying crisis in schools. – Gary Dretzka

X: The Unheard Music: The Silver Edition
Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers: Live: Blu-ray
Chris Isaak: Live/Greatest Hits: Live: Blu-ray
Ringo Starr and the Roundheads: Live: Blu-ray

The title, “X: The Unheard Music,” refers not only to the band’s tough road to relative stardom, but also to the struggle of all L.A. underground and punk groups in the late 1970s simply to be heard. As crazy as it might seem in 2012, the club scene in Los Angeles was practically non-existent outside the mainstream venues; AM and FM radio both sucked; major labels and their handmaidens at MTV were completely risk-averse; and CDs, the Internet, iPods and satellite radio weren’t even at the pipedream stage. The Ramones and Sex Pistols had already established a beachhead in New York and London, and the media simply didn’t know what to make of them. Punk rock was being played in Los Angeles and Orange County, but only a few adventurous media outlets paid any attention to it. That would change in due course and the music industry would tie itself up in knots trying to recover. W.T. Morgan’s “X: The Unheard Music” was released about five years after Penelope Spheeris’ 1981″The Decline of Western Civilization” introduced the world to some of the L.A. punk bands mentioned in the X song, “I Must Not Think Bad Thoughts” (“We’re the last American band to be played on the radio …”). As much a visual essay on life in a steadily decaying Los Angeles, as it is a performance film, the documentary took five years to complete. In Blu-ray, it looks and sounds terrific, while the music and message aren’t at all dated. The same baloney spieled by the radio and music executives interviewed 25 years ago applies to the industry in 2012, except that today’s listeners have many more recording and playback options and availability to emerging artists via You Tube is unlimited. The execs’ attitudes also help explain why music lovers today aren’t at all sympathetic to the labels’ complaints about sagging profits and fierce competition from new-media outlets. The Silver Edition package includes lots of music, fresh interviews, a “dialogue” with John Doe and Exene Cervenka, a songbook and live outtake of “Some Other Time.”

I don’t think X ever performed on “Soundstage,” but plenty of other excellent groups were represented on the live-performance series. The concerts look especially vibrant on Blu-ray, if only because the PBS technicians have always been way ahead of the curve when it comes to hi-def. The latest group of releases showcases Tom Petty & the Hearbreakers, Chris Isaak and Ringo Starr, who pretty much stick to their big hits and a handful of surprise songs. Petty strays into unknown territory a bit more than Isaak and Starr, with some blues and country standards, but there’s plenty of familiar stuff, too. Isaak displays a warm and funny stage presence and includes several acoustic songs in the two concerts included in the Blu-ray package. Raul Malo also appears on the disc. Ringo and the Roundheads perform such Beatles and post-Beatles classics as “It Don’t Come Easy,” “Octopus’ Garden,” “Choose Love,” “I Wanna Be Your Man,” “Don’t Pass Me By,” “Photograph,” “Back Off Boogaloo,” “Yellow Submarine,” “Act Naturally” and “With A Little Help From My Friends” The former Mr. Starkey still is enjoying a surprisingly fruitful musical career. – Gary Dretzka

In the Name of the King 2: Two Worlds: Blu-ray
Infamous director Uwe Boll returns to the wonderful world of swords and sorcery in this sequel to the 2006 dud, “In the Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale,” which was based on the role-playing video game, “Dungeon Siege.” Box-office results didn’t warrant a sequel, especially considering the $60-million budget and a cast that probably didn’t work for peanuts. The fact that the subsequent DVD and Blu-ray releases of the original out-performed the theatrical release probably inspired the producers to risk this straight-to-video sequel at approximately a tenth of the cost and with only one truly recognizable star, Dolph Lundgren.  He plays a Granger, a former Special Forces soldier who is transported back to a time when sorcerers and dragons competed with knights and kings for supremacy. No dummies, the royals seem perfectly content to let the time-traveler handle the Dark Ones for them. “Two Worlds” has been sent out with an “R” rating, for violence, which isn’t nearly the handicap in DVD as it is in a theatrical release. The Blu-ray arrives with commentary by Boll and writer Michael Nachoff (“Bloodrayne: The Third Reich”) and featurettes on the writing process and production. – Gary Dretzka

Justified: The Complete Second Season
Archer: The Complete Season Two
Spongebob Squarepants: Spongebob’s Frozen Face-Off
Dora Loves Boots

A survey of this year’s top-10 lists compiled by television critics would find the FX series “Justified” close to the top of the heap. With only two seasons under its belt, “Justified” has become one of the most anxiously awaited shows on the tube. It also has the distinction of being honored with a Peabody Award, several Emmy nominations and a much-deserved win for veteran character actor Margo Martindale. She played the sociopathic matriarch of the Crowder crime family, which initiated must of the mayhem in the show’s second season. You can see what all the fuss is about in “Justified: The Complete Second Season,” which is comprised of 547 minutes of creatively violent action, along with a set visit, outtakes and “Clans, Feuds and Apple Pie.” For the uninitiated, “Justified” is a spinoff of the Elmore Leonard short story, “Fire in the Hole,” and is as representative of the master’s prose as any movie adapted from a Leonard novel. Timothy Olyphant plays Raylan Givens, a young U.S. Marshal whose reputation for being quick on the trigger has been fairly earned and deemed perfectly legal by authorities. Even so, he was shipped for his own protection from Miami to his childhood home of Harlan County, Kentucky, which is crawling with in-bred hillbilly hoodlums, many of whom went to school with or played sports opposite Givens. In Season 2, Givens also was required to deal directly with the many failings of his outlaw dad.

FX also is home base for the animated espionage comedy, “Archer,” soon to enter the second half of its third season. Deliberately irreverent, the characters resemble familiar genre archetypes from nearly 50 years’ worth of spy movies, from 007 to OSS 117. The best part, perhaps, is the many references to the characters’ sexual history, inner-office intrigue and dialogue laced with raunchy innuendo.  Dubbed the “world’s most dangerous spy,” Sterling Archer often is more of menace to himself than the villains he pursues. In the second stanza, he also battled daddy issues.  The Blu-ray comes with “Archersaurus: Self Extinction,” a mini-episode in which Archer is transmogrified into a velociraptor; “Ask Archer,” in which he answers viewers’ questions; “Semper Fi,” which acknowledges the soldiers of Able Company, serving in Afghanistan; “L’espion Mal Fait,” a kooky role-reversal short; and “ISIS Infiltrates Comic-Con.”

The latest collection of SpongeBob SquarePants episodes opens with a nod to winter in “Frozen Face-Off.” In it, the residents of Bikini Bottom participate in a worm-sled race to the South Pole. Other episodes take on more familiar issues, such as SpongeBob learning to drive and his hoarding fetish. The DVD also includes bonus episodes. In “Dora Loves Boots,” the show’s star helps the red-booted monkey learn how to ride a bike, plan for a visit to the Rainforest Campground, adjust to bouncy new boots and reverse a magic spell that turns him into a chicken. – Gary Dretzka

Greatest Super Bowl Moments
It would be easier to shut off the flow of water to Niagara Falls than to keep NFL Films from re-purposing its vast inventory of Super Bowl and playoffs footage in the run-up to the Big Game. What are we up to now, 45? It’s been a while since producers of the “Greatest Super Bowl Moments” series have been required to pad or use filler to come up with 156 minutes of exciting action and still-vivid memories. More often than not, the games have provided plenty of noteworthy moments, drama and inspired decision-making. What we’ve yet to see from NFL Films is “Greatest Moments in Pro Bowl History.” Given the patty-cake guidelines for the annual event – now inexplicably held the weekend before the Super Bowl – it isn’t likely we ever will. – Gary Dretzka

The Last Lions
Lions aren’t exactly underrepresented in the world of nature documentaries. Fortunately, though, the undeniable majesty and sheer presence of these and other big cats – as photographed in the wild – flies in the face of the dictum, “If you’ve seen one, you’ve seen them all.” National Geographic and Dereck Joubert’s latest examination of life in Africa uses one startling statistic, along with 88 minutes of often spectacular cinematography, to justify its inclusion in the genre. It’s estimated here that Africa’s lion population has decreased from almost a half-million 50 years ago, to around 20,000 today. That’s fewer than the number of protected elephants extant on the continent. As one of Africa’s greatest tourist attractions, the loss of more lions not only could spell an economic calamity in places like Botswana – seen here – it also could pose the kinds of problems caused when an animal at the top of the food chain disappears. Beyond that staggering statistic, though, “The Last Lions” represents several years’ worth of dedication by Joubert in the field. As we have learned in other documentaries, lions faces dangers of their own, not the least of which are crocodiles and animals that stand up to them in mortal combat. If Jeremy Irons’ narration sometimes comes off as a tad cloying at times, it’s easy enough to turn down the sound and overlay the “Born Free” soundtrack over the splendid hi-def visuals. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: Contagion, Brighton Rock, The Guard, Tokyo Drifter, Don’t Know How She Does It, Santa Mesa, Glad My Mother Is Alive, X: The Unheard Music, Justified …”

  1. Joan Fritts says:

    Don’t you think Alain Delon’s Le Samourai was based on Tokyo Drifter? A lot of similarities in both films.


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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