MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Footloose, 54, Vanya on 42nd Street… More

Footloose: Blu-ray
54: Blu-ray
When the first “Footloose” was released, in the middle of the enlightened 1980s, people outside the Bible Belt were shocked to learn that towns like Bomont, Utah, actually existed. How dare a town ban dancing and loud rock music? The next thing you know, integrated schools in the South would be allowed to accede to parents’ demands and outlaw integrated proms and homecoming dances. In fact, as we would learn in Paul Saltzman’s documentary, “Prom Night in Mississippi,” just such an outrage was common practice throughout the South, ever since the courts mandated the integration of public schools. Indeed, things hadn’t really advanced much in this regard since the period and place chronicled in John Waters’ original “Hairspray” – 1962 Baltimore – a comedy that assayed the confluence of dancing and intolerance. I’m not sure how the current candidates for the presidency stand on the subject of limiting such creative expression, as dictated by the Bill of Rights, but surely one or two of them, at least, could find a way to link dancing to premarital sex and abortion, if pressured by their benefactors on the religious right and other social extremists. I can’t imagine that the producers of the new “Footloose” had such questions on their minds when they decided to move the updated edition from Utah, the home base of Mitt Romney’s church, to the heart of Newt Gingrich’s Georgia. If they expect us to take the issues presented in both iterations of the movie seriously, however, the question might eventually have to be asked. After all, it’s become sport in some districts to cancel proms in the face of being forced to allow gay, lesbian and transsexual couplings.

Putting politics aside, the only things separating Craig Brewer’s faithful adaptation of Herbert Ross and Dean Pitchford’s 1984 original are time and distance. Otherwise, they’re remarkably similar. The relatives of the small-town rubes who were buffaloed into imposing a ban on dancing and rock music in Bomont, Utah, appear to have taken root in a one-horse Georgia burg, only, this time, the sourpuss pastor is played by Dennis Quaid, not John Lithgow. Gorgeous Julianne Hough plays the reverend’s rebellious daughter; Andie MacDowell, his wife; and Kenny Wormald, the dancing demon from Yankeeland. What Wormald lacks in Kevin’s Bacon’s original swagger and big-city menace, he makes up for in dancing chops and “American Idol” charm. Anyone who enjoyed the first, should find something to like in the follow-up.

Movies like “Footloose” aren’t made to please cynical farts, like me, who see in their overly simplistic conclusions popular fictions that border on urban myth.  Similarly suspicious is the fresh-faced cast, which doesn’t resemble any student body I’ve seen lately. It’s as if Dick Clark personally selected the actors and dancers. The sequel did reasonably well at the box office, even compared to Ross’ surprisingly successful version. Brewer does makes good use of his rural Georgia location and the soundtrack effectively combines rock, hip-hop, country and “Glee”-style production numbers. If there’s a larger disconnect here, it comes in the faces of Bomont’s adults – especially the African-American parents – who made to act like sheep in the face of the preacher, who acted in response to the death of his son in a terrible accident. The Blu-ray edition adds Brewer’s commentary; featurettes on the adaptation process, casting and dance choreography; deleted scenes; separate UV and DVD copies; and music videos by Blake Shelton, Big & Rich and Ella Mae Brown.

Studio 54, New York’s mecca for the beautiful people of the 1970-80s, existed on a different planet than the high school gymnasiums and boot-scooting honky-tonks of “Footloose.” As written and directed by Mark Christopher, “54” is as much a coming-of-age story for its youthful characters as a portrait of a legendary institution in the age of disco. Released in 1998, the movie featured Ryan Phillippe, Salma Hayek, Breckin Meyer, Sherry Stringfield, Heather Matarazzo, Neve Campbell, Sela Ward and Mike Myers, as celebrity wrangler Steve Rubell. The emerging actors played employees of the club, all of whom became intoxicated by the club’s glamour and proximity to fame, drugs and easy money. After Rubell taunted law-enforcement agencies over their perceived inability to shut him down, they found ways to take him up on his offer. The club’s downfall ruined some of the employees’ dreams, but finally made them better able to the craziness of adulthood. What’s missing from the Blu-ray edition of “54” is the 45 minutes of deleted material, compiled by Christopher and shown at New York’s Outfest in 2008. It expands on the promiscuity and cocaine-fueled depravity that made Studio 54 the attraction it was, while amplifying on Phillippe’s bisexuality, which was only alluded to in finished product. The Blu-ray adds the music video for “If You Could Read My Mind.” Whit Stillman’s “The Last Days of Disco” offers a different perspective on the Studio 54 phenomenon and New York’s top-end-disco craze. It’s part of a trilogy of films, with “Metropolitan” and “Barcelona,” about the neuroses and habits of New York’s preppy and post-preppy crowd. – Gary Dretzka

To Catch a Thief: Blu-ray
More than a half-century after the release of “To Catch a Thief,” it’s possible to enjoy it in ways not normally associated with an Alfred Hitchcock picture. It isn’t particularly suspenseful and it’s not at all dark. Indeed, from a distance, choosing to direct “To Catch a Thief” still could be construed as an excuse for the Hitchcocks to enjoy a few weeks on the French Riveria. As a vehicle for commercial success, the pairing of Cary Grant and Grace Kelly must have seemed to be as close to a no-brainer as there was in the mid-1950s. Adapted from David Dodge’s popular novel, it looked great and didn’t require the mind of a detective to follow. If you can’t guess the true identity of the cat burglar after a half-hour, you simply haven’t been paying close enough attention. More than anything else, John Michael Hayes’s screenplay gave Hitchcock an opportunity to tweak the bureaucrats enforcing Hollywood’s Production Code by pitting his intelligence and wit against the outdated moralizing of the industry’s bluenoses. Even with the mandatory edits, “To Catch a Thief” may be the most overtly suggestive of all of Hitchcock’s movies. The double-entendres fly by like so many bumble bees and hummingbird in the garden of retired cat burglar John Robie’s villa. All of the characters were given verbal zingers to recite, with Jesse Royce Landis, as Kelly’s mother, allowed some of the most suggestive.

As portrayed by Grant, Robie is a former cat burglar of extraordinary skill and taste, as well as a rakish hero of the Resistance. He lives well on an estate overlooking the Cote d’Azur and could lose everything if he reverted to his former ways. (After the war, criminals who joined the Resistance were given conditional amnesties.) Still, as the burglaries continue, Robie remains the chief suspect in the eyes of the law, his former cronies and Kelly’s bejeweled mother, who’s actually tickled to be targeted by such a legendary character. The wealthy widow even encourages her strong-willed daughter to consider favorably his advances. Meanwhile, a British insurance investigator senses that Robie is innocent and an imposter his using his m.o. to confuse the police. Together with a sympathetic police official, they hope to set a trap for the culprit. One of Hitchcock’s favorite plot devices is requiring a falsely charged person to track down the real offender after police have rejected his alibi. Besides being extremely funny, “To Catch a Thief” is wonderful as eye candy, thanks to Edith Head’s splendid costumes, Robert Burks’ cinematography and the splendor of France’s Alpes-Maritimes region, Cannes’ Hotel Carlton and Monaco. The Blu-ray upgrade captures all of it in fine fashion. There are several featurettes, most already made available on DVD.  They include pieces on Hitch’s skirmishes with the Production Code enforcers; the location and studio shoots; the careers and chemistry of the stars; a retrospective piece on Head’s designs; commentary; and an interactive travelogue. – Gary Dretzka

Vanya on 42nd Street: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Theater buffs will already be aware of the central conceit behind “Vanya on 42nd Street,” as will admirers of the French director Louis Malle, who died a year after the movie’s release in 1994. Everyone else is likely to be more that a wee bit confused. As explained in the informative documentary included in the Criterion Collection’s Blu-ray edition, “Vanya” began as something of an illusion. Using a new translation of “Uncle Vanya” by David Mamet, director Andre Gregory essentially blurred the lines separating practice and performance, by inviting people to watch something that looked very much like an unfinished product. He staged the “final rehearsal” of the Chekov classic in several different New York locales, some no larger than a living room. No more than a couple of dozen spectators were invited to witness “Vanya on 42nd Street” at any one time, its exclusivity making it the hottest ticket in town. Tickets couldn’t be purchased and New Yorkers are never more obsessive than when they’re denied access to a controversial event. None of the actors wore costumes and the props could have been collected from an attic or Goodwill store. Because audience members practically sat in the laps of the actors, their proximity often impacted on the reading of lines and comfort level of the cast, who weren’t restricted to a strict adherence to the stage directions.

As an invited guest, Malle was enchanted by the production. He intended his interpretation of “Vanya” to be every bit as intimate and organic as any staging of the play. In the film, though, Gregory plays the director of the production, which is set in the decaying New Amsterdam Theater, on Broadway. It reflects the general state of the family as dissected by the author. Besides Gregory, the actors include Wallace Shawn, Julianne Moore, George Gaynes, Brooke Smith, Larry Pine, Phoebe Brand, Jerry Mayer and Lynn Cohen., with Madhur Jaffrey playing the sole invited guest. Not surprisingly, perhaps, this combination of talents skillfully overcomes any initial confusion or our part, drawing us into the play by bringing the characters and their individual plights to light and life. As landowner Serybryakov’s personal doormat, Vonya (Shawn) naturally demands most of our attention. No one, however, is denied their own moments to shine. The new high-definition digital restoration, with 2.0 surround DTS-HD Master Audio, puts us as close to the actors as were those fortunate few invitees in New York. It arrives with a new documentary, “Like Life: The Making of ‘Vanya on 42nd Street,’” and a 22-page illustrated booklet, featuring essays by writer Steven Vineberg and film critic Amy Taubin. – Gary Dretzka

Like Crazy
Anyone’s who had the misfortune of being in a precarious lost-distance relationship will understand the emotions at play in “Like Crazy.” In Drake Doremus’ hands, the largely improvised story dissects a romance between a pretty young British woman, Anna (Felicity Jones), attending college in Los Angeles, and a furniture-making American classmate, Jacob (Anton Yelchin). Instead of returning home immediately after graduation, as specified in her visa, Anna decides it might be fun to stick around a couple of months and play house with her new boyfriend. After returning to her London home, she’s informed by U.S. immigration officials that this country doesn’t welcome back people who think that love trumps legalities. Anna appeals to the conscience of INS officials, hoping they’ll do for her what they wouldn’t do for a Mexican or Arab immigrant in similar circumstances. Even though Anna and Jacob commit to a marriage of legal convenience, they don’t waste much time finding other lovers to keep them warm at night. Even after watching the movie and the deleted scenes, I couldn’t understand why the lovebirds tempted fate by engaging in affairs with other people (Jennifer Lawrence, Charlie Bewley), except to acknowledge that young people today are a randy bunch and no one should be expected to go two weeks without getting laid. The intimacy of Doremus’ vision, amplified by John Guleserian’s hand-held digital camerawork, should appeal most to viewers new to the intricacies and complexity of l’amour. Unless they have children in similarly difficult situations, older viewers might find themselves wondering why Anna and Jacob don’t simply listen to her parents’ sound advice, by getting married and laying low in London until the paperwork is finished. Or, they could commit ritual suicide at the gates of the U.S. Embassy to protest immigration policy. The DVD extras add deleted scenes and commentary. – Gary Dretzka

Immortals: Blu-ray
As always, kids are advised not to use Hollywood movies as primary sources for school papers and projects. This applies especially to Tarsem Singh’s garish 3D adventure, “Immortals,” in which Mickey Rourke portrays the megalomaniacal King Hyperion. Still pissed off that the Hellenic Olympians defeated the Titans and imprisoned them inside the mountain fortress, Tartarus, Hyperion is determined lay waste to the outpost and free the mythic warriors. First, however, he must secure the Epirus Bow, which is to archery what a rocket-propelled grenade is to an M-80. If he succeeds at freeing the Titans, he will enlist them in his war to eliminate the Olympians and dominate humanity. He’s a nasty cuss, alright, perfectly suited to being played by the living gargoyle, Rourke. To combat the Hyperion scourge, Zeus enlists a gung-ho mortal, Theseus. Along the way, Theseus is introduced to Phaedra – here, an oracle – who nurses him back to health after a serious beat-down by forces loyal to Hyperion. In Singh’s vibrant imagination, the high-concept conceit informing “Immortals” is “Caravaggio Meets Fight Club.” He hoped it would remind audiences of “300,” as “done in Renaissance painting style.” As such, it doesn’t feel quite so much like a graphic novel in tone or texture. In the 2D Blu-ray version I watched, the effect strangely served to soften the impact of the extreme violence being manifest on the screen, which otherwise might have been unbearable. Almost blessedly, the blood resembles spilt paint and the dismembered body parts look like they do on large canvasses hanging on the walls of Europe’s great museums. How the splatters look on 3D, I don’t know.

Put aside for a moment the fact that this scenario doesn’t resemble any of the myths associated with the period after the Titans were defeated and held captive in Tartarus (described elsewhere as an abysmal dungeon, located below the Underworld), or the true identities of Theseus, Hyperion and Phaedra. “Immortals” isn’t meant to be any more historically or mythologically accurate than “300” or dozens of other epic sword-and-sandal dramas. It simply is what it is: highly stylized violence, wrapped around a rudimentary storyline like a burrito. Before turning to cinema, Singh made a name for himself as a director of elaborately staged music videos. He’s working at a remarkably grand scale here, inserting somewhat larger-then-life characters into vast landscapes and seemingly endless seascapes. The vistas are drawn in such a way to suggest that mere mortals are no more consequential to the gods than ants on a picnic table. “Immortals,” which didn’t impress many critics, did far better at the international box office than in the U.S. If parents don’t mind their teenage kids being drenched in make-believe blood, “Immortals” should find a ready market for the Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D edition. Young adults probably won’t be immersed in it the muck here than they already are in their hyper-violent computer games. It would be nice to think, though, that “Immortals” may encourage one or two of them to read up on Greek mythology. Many centuries ago, the stories explained the human condition to emerging civilizations as well as any book, with the possible exception of the bible. The Blu-ray arrives with the featurettes, “It’s No Myth” and “Caravaggio Meets Fight Club: Tarsem’s Vision,” deleted scenes, an alternate opening, a pair of alternate endings and the “Immortals: Gods & Heroes” graphic novel. — Gary Dretzka

Where the Dead Go to Die: Blu-ray
House of Flesh Mannequins
The Pack
Watching “Where the Dead Go to Die,” I flashed on the underground comix of the 1960-70s and wondered how such outré artists as S. Clay Wilson, R. Crumb, Robert Williams, Spain Rodriguez, Victor Moscoso, Rick Griffin and other members of the psychedelic school might have exploited the digital tools available to artists today. For the most part, they were confined to the analog world of ink-on-paper and poster art. Today, computers perform as much of the grunt work as the artists once were required to do. Jimmy ScreamerClauz’s “Where the Dead Go to Die” clearly was informed by the work of the grand old men of the psychedelic school, several of whom are still productive. In his determination to set his animated feature in the darkest of all dark places, ScreamerClauz pushes an envelope I’m not even sure exists anymore. Outlets for such depictions of grotesque psycho-sexual and hyper-violent behavior no longer are limited to headshops and underground newspapers, both of which were frequent targets of police harassment and moral outrage. The Internet bypasses both channels of interference. Moreover, the costs associated with making indie movies have decreased to point where kids can borrow from their First Communion and Bar Mitzvah funds to launch careers that could lead directly to Hollywood. The horror genre has reached a point in its evolution where do-it-yourselfers can afford the same special-effects techniques once available only to the pros, and let their sick little imaginations run roughshod on all previous notions of good taste. It takes a lot more than a butcher knife and mummified mom in a rocking chair to scare today’s kids.

The animated feature, “Where the Dead Go to Die,” is unique among most of the other DIY titles in that it is consistently interesting to watch and the artwork is as intricate as it clever. Fittingly, too, the images and ideas are often as shocking as anything in a live-action genre flick. Anytime vulnerable children are added to the mix of a horror film, the stakes are raised accordingly. Here, the narrative revolves around a group of troubled kids living in the same neighborhood. Labby, a talking dog from hell, arrives out of nowhere to help them deal with their perverted parents and other disgusting adults. With Labby’s assistance, the kids become time-travelers and dimension jumpers. Among the more familiar voicing talents are Ruby Larocca, Brian Slagle, Joey Smack, Linnea Quigley and Devanny Pinn, all veterans of the horror-porn game. “Where the Dead Go to Die” doesn’t always work, or even make a lot of sense. It is memorable, however. Now, if only someone would make a movie adapted from Wilson’s epochal “Captain Pissgums & His Pervert Pirates,” we could finally put the ’60s to bed.

Domiziano Cristopharo’s debut feature, “House of the Flesh Mannequins,” feels very much like the work of a recent film-school graduate attempting to make a movie whose influences, motivations and references will be parsed by connoisseurs of slasher flicks. Domiziano Arcangeli plays Sebastian, an artist, filmmaker and photographer, whose specialty is recording the final positions of victims of automobile accidents and violence. He does this at the behest of a sleazy magazine-stand operator, who sells the photos to death-fetishists. Sebastian doesn’t seem to enjoy his work much or respect himself for getting involved with such scuzzballs. What he does enjoy is eavesdropping and spying on a pretty young neighbor, Sarah (Irena A. Hoffman). Once they connect, the movie takes a turn for the truly bizarre and unnerving. Viewers are taken on a tour of an underworld populated with sadists, masochists, body modifiers and torture freaks. What happens in the S&M dungeons in many cases is real, performed by actual fetishists. Cristopharo seems to making a point about fake and manufactured violence and the media’s willingness to confuse the two to sell tickets and boost ratings. He asks us to measure how far we would go to find out makes a friend, neighbor or stranger tick. “Flesh Mannequins” isn’t an easy picture to watch, even for those with strong stomachs. Interestingly, the most disturbing moments come in watching real people act out their tortuous desires.

As tired as I am of watching movies in which displays of zombies’ voracious appetites for human flesh compensate for holes in the plot, I have to admit that new angles continue to be explored. From France, “The Pack” opens in a relatively conventional way, with a young woman picking up a hitchhiker in the middle of nowhere. When they arrive at his destination, a remote inn, they’re rescued from being raped by bikers through the intervention of the proprietor. Charlotte is only allowed to count her blessings so long, before her passenger disappears and she’s knocked out and locked in a cage by the sadistic old lady. And, she’s not alone. The bad craziness happens at night, when an unfortunate prisoner or two are strung up outside, seemingly to be used as bait for the nightly parade of undead victims of a long-ago mine disaster. Instead of being summarily executed by the owner, the zombies are allowed to gorge themselves on the bodies, before shuffling to the porch, where she pats them on the head and comforts them. I didn’t see that one coming. The rest of “The Pack” is taken up with Charlotte’s attempts to escape and an inquisitive investigator’s insistence on explaining her disappearance.

There is a scene very early in “Wound,” an exceedingly strange movie from New Zealand, in which a pretty young woman exacts revenge on her sexually abusive father in the most appropriate way possible. Normally, the graphic nature of the act would be nearly impossible for any man in the audience to watch. The appendage is so clearly a prosthetic, however, that the scene can be endured without too much emotional scarring on the audience’s part. That it isn’t even the most unsettling scene in the movie should tell you how truly creepy “Wound” is. Susan soon will have another visitor, who will test her sanity even further.  Tanya is the daughter Susan gave up, believing she was dead, at birth. Given that it’s likely Tanya owes her existence to the incestuous relationship between father and daughter – however forced – the memories she dredges up for Susan are nearly unbearable. It’s when a giant pig-like fellow suddenly appears in an S&M club visited by both women that things get really weird, however. By employing a variety of lenses, writer/director David Blyth establishes an ominous tone early on and maintains it throughout the rest of the movie. “Wound” is only for those who like their horror with a side order of psycho-sexual menace. The DVD comes with a pair of music videos and “Circadian Rhythms,” Blyth’s first short film, made in 1976. – Gary Dretzka

High Road: Blu-ray
Matt Walsh’s “High Road” opens with the promise of being just another undernourished stoner flick. After about 15 minutes of expository buildup, though, it becomes apparent that a different sensibility is at work here. Walsh is a founding member of the Upright Citizens Brigade comedy troupe and he’s gathered veterans of other such companies to execute what is largely a feature-length experiment in improvisation. In the aftermath of a failed drug deal, band breakup and a bad romantic breakup, a dozen characters scramble up the coast from L.A. to Oakland. Each is looking for something resembling a family or is attempting to protect the one they already have. Once they all hit the road, “High Road” could easily be taken for a “It’s a Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World” homage. While it doesn’t measure up to that landmark comedy, it does provide plenty of laughs along the way. Among its stars are James F. Pumphrey, “SNL” regulars Abby Elliott and Horatio Sanz, Ed Helms, Dylan O’Brien, Zach Woods, Matt L. Jones and Lizzy Caplan. Fans of such shows as “Reno 911!,”  “Party Down,” “Onion News Network” and “Funny or Die” are likely to get a lot more out of “High Road” than anyone else. – Gary Dretzka

Wyatt Earp’s Revenge
That known commodities Trace Adkins and Val Kilmer share top billing on the jacket of “Wyatt Earp’s Revenge” with largely unknown Shawn Roberts and Matt Dallas should come as no surprise to anyone familiar with how such projects get made and distributed. That their combined screen time doesn’t amount to much more than a “special guest performance” is also standard operating procedure. The discrepancy wouldn’t matter much if the movie was noteworthy apart from Adkins and Kilmer’s presence, but it isn’t. Kilmer’s responsibility is to look over-the-hill and overweight, while introducing the film’s key plot twists in flashbacks. I can’t even remember what Adkins was assigned to do. Essentially, the story revolves around a manhunt for a gang of dangerous hombres, with the end result being that Earp and his mates are awarded specially made guns, including the famed Buntline Special. For the record, Roberts plays the young Wyatt Earp and Dallas portrays Bat Masterson. – Gary Dretzka

What Goes Around Comes Around
DVD representations of David E. Talbert’s plays – shot on stage, before a live audience – are being released on almost a monthly basis. They all resemble each other in the same way as do the creations of Tyler Perry and, yes, Neil Simon. Unlike Perry’s productions, Talbert’s are consciously racy and genuinely ribald; unlike Simon’s plays, the road to true romance leads not through a psychiatrist’s office, but that of a minister. Normally, Talbert’s material wouldn’t be my cup of tea. In the course of reviewing the DVDs, however, I’ve found them to be strangely entertaining. “What Goes Around Comes Around” is typical of the productions I’ve seen. Tyree Jackson (Wesley Jonathan) is a playa’, who thinks nothing of inviting his hootchie-mommas to the home he shares with his girlfriend, Desirae Baxter (Reagan Gomez), when she’s at work. Once discovered, Desirae and her friends devise a plan that acknowledges the play’s title. Also typically, it’s Talbert’s supporting cast that is accorded the best comic material. Much of it is broad to the point of slapstick, but it’s a formula that’s worked on the chitlin’ circuit for decades. Also appearing are comics Tony Rock (“All of Us”), Lavell Crawford (“Shaq’s Comedy All-Stars”) and film and television stars BeBe Drake (“Martin”) and Tico Wells (“Five Heartbeats”). – Gary Dretzka

Busting Out
This documentary explores the western world’s often-contradictory obsession with women’s breasts. On the one hand, they’re admired for their size, shape, texture and ability to cause men of all ages to break into a cold sweat. On the other, they illicit fear and disgust in people – some, anyway – when exposed, ever so slightly, in public to nurse babies. One U.S. attorney general was so unnerved by the possibility that he might be photographed in front of the breast of a Grecian statue he spent $8,000 in taxpayer money to have it re-robed. In parts of the world where butts, thighs and feet are worshipped, an unexposed breast wouldn’t raise an eyebrow. To each his own fetish, apparently.  Directors Francine Strickwerda and Laurel Spellman have other things on the minds here, though. They include delving into the mind of an impressionable girl who, as an adult, recalls how her mother’s death to breast cancer caused her to fear her own blossoming “boobs of doom.” That girl grew up to be the co-director, Strickwerda. Even though it was released in 2004, “Busting Out” reveals none of the stylistic flairs that have accompanied documentaries over the course of the last 30 years. It may look old-fashioned, but the message remains the same: women and girls have as much to fear from the Neanderthals who exploit women’s breasts and contraceptives to sell ads on their radio shows – Tom Leykis and Rush Limbaugh, among others – than breast cancer, when detected in time to do something about it. “Busting Out” is a movie that girls facing puberty would benefit from seeing more than their moms, who already have a good idea of the double standards faced by women living in the real world. – Gary Dretzka

Blade of Kings
Ardent admirers of Hong Kong-style martial-arts films, especially those crossed with Chinese historical epics, should recognize “Blade of Kings” as “The Twins Effect II.” Just as well, because the first “Twins Effect” involves contemporary vampires and the “sequel” is set in feudal China in a fictional province, Huadu, where “Amazons” dominate men. The Amazons aren’t particularly Amazonian in a physical way, but in every other sense they’re in control. They trade in male slaves (a.k.a., dumbbells), who also double as breeding agents, and can kick any man’s ass. Things appear to be going normally, until the point where the Amazon empress takes a fancy to an acrobat in a circus on the outskirts of the capital. The young man, Charcoal Head (Jaycee Chan), and his brother, Blockhead (Wilson Chen) — one of whom is of royal blood, as well — are on a mission to track down an Excalibur-like treasure located on a stone map given them as boys. Along the way, they are joined by 13th Young Master and Blue Bird (Charlene Choi, Gillian Chung). Meanwhile, General Lone (a.k.a., Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon) is preparing an offensive to topple to Amazon regime and restore traditional male rule. It’s all very silly, really, but in a good way. The wire-work is exceptional, as are the costumes and chemistry between the actors, several of whom appeared in the original “Twins Effect” (Choi, Chung, Edison Chen, Jackie Chan). More to the point, the appearance of so many young performers and pop stars indicates that Chinese filmmakers are as obsessed with attracting teenagers to their movies as American studio executives. The Blu-ray arrives with making-of featurettes and interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Jeremy Fink & the Meaning of Life
Adapted from a popular children’s book by Wendy Mass, “Jeremy Fink & the Meaning of Life” is exactly the kind of movie no distributor knows what to do with anymore. A few decades ago, it might have found an audience of ’tweeners and young teens, looking for clues as to what being a teenager might entail. Today, of course, 10-year-olds feel dissed whenever they aren’t allowed to see a R-rated movie. Locating and exploiting the pre-pubescent demographic has become as difficult as attempting to monetize the Internet. Here, 12-year-old Jeremy Fink receives a wooden box with the words “the meaning of life etched” onto it and instructions to open it before his 13th birthday. It has four locks and Jeremy is given no keys. Along with his friend, Lizzy, he embarks on something of a scavenger hunt to find the clues necessary to locate the keys. One by the one, the clues bring them closer to the meaning of life. Before long, the mission takes on all the appearances of a tick-tock mystery. While it’s fun and colorful, Tamer Halpern’s urban adventure is probably too close to what’s already available on cable to have made a dent at the megaplex. The scale is just fine on DVD, though. Among the adult stars are Joe Pantoliano and Mira Sorvino, while Maxwell Beer and Ryan Simpkins represent the younger generation. – Gary Dretzka

Tooth Fairy 2
Its popularity based primarily on a sight gag – Dwayne “Rock” Johnson in a pink tutu – “Tooth Fairy” did well enough at the box office to warrant a DVD-original sequel. Alas, none of the assets from that picture — writers Babaloo Mandel and Lowell Ganz, veteran director Michael Lembeck, stars Ashley Judd, Billy Crystal, Stephen Merchant, Julie Andrews and Seth MacFarlane – made the trip. In “Tooth Fairy 2,” the main and only worthwhile attraction is Larry the Cable Guy in a pink tutu, which, while undoubtedly funny, isn’t sufficient cause for anyone older than 10 to invest precious time in it. He plays the boyfriend of a pretty pre-school teacher (Erin Beute) and someone who takes extraordinary pride in his bowling skills. When his obsession causes a schism in their relationship, he attempts to make good by volunteering at the school, where he inadvertently convinces one of the boys that the whole tooth-fairy deal is a hoax. It isn’t, of course, and Larry pays the price for his lack of faith. There’s another complication, but, suffice it to say, the sight of Larry in the arms of a young and beautiful teacher, is almost as a crazy as watching him take orders from a winged 12-year-old. In addition to some advice on achieving sound oral health, the movie contains several plugs for MoonPie, the official dessert of the American South. – Gary Dretzka

The David Susskind Show: How to Be a Jewish Son
The second addition to the series of episodes from “The David Susskind Show” – Jerry Lewis was the guest in the first – proves once again how much better talk shows once were. Ostensibly, “How to Be a Jewish Son” was the topic of the evening. It could just as easily have been, “How Does It Feel to Play Second Banana to Mel Brooks?” In 1970, Brooks wasn’t the known quantity he would become after the release of “Blazing Saddles” and “Young Frankenstein,” a couple of years later. “The Producers” had been released in 1968 and his adaptation of “Twelve Chairs” was about to open. Also on the panel were comedian David Steinberg, actor George Segal, writer Dan Greenburg and a couple of guys who barely even attempted to get a word in edgewise. As moderator, Susskind might as well have been trying to wrangle a herd of cats. None of the panelists offered insights that couldn’t also be attributed to the sons of Italian, Irish or Sudanese mothers, but that’s far from the point here. It’s about wringing laughs – lots of ’em – from a clichéd subject. – Gary Dretzka

The biggest problem I have with such faith-based entertainments as “Decision” and “WWJD: What Would Jesus Do?” – produced and directed by the same team of filmmakers – is that they purposefully confuse Christian values for values associated with good people of all backgrounds. Certainly, one needn’t have memorized the New Testament to buy into the Golden Rule and the basic ethical and moral tenets espoused by Jesus Christ. An understanding of the bible is a swell thing to possess, but atheists can be just as honorable as the Christians who wear their beliefs on their sleeves. Conversely, the least Christian of Americans are those pray-for-pay televangelists who Jesus would have kicked out of the temple along with the money changers. In “Decision,” Michael Rosenbaum plays a teenager, Jackson, traumatized by the death of his firefighter father in an accident that also claimed the life of a local woman. For some reason, Jackson becomes the target of bullies at school. He acts out his outrage at home and in the classroom, causing him to be left back a grade. His pregnant mother, Ilene (Natalie Grant), has been left destitute by her husband’s accident and Jackson’s behavior makes her situation even more difficult to handle. Finally, she contacts her father, Wyatt (Rusty Whitener), from whom she’s been estranged since she ran away from home with Jackson’s father. The old fart agrees, but on the condition the boy abides by his rules, which seem draconian to Jackson, but are standard-operating-procedure for most farm kids. After some initial give-and-take, Jackson becomes a productive farmhand and ardent reader of the bible, as does his mom back home. The boy isn’t able to fully appreciate Wyatt’s constant references to scripture until both of them are put to the test on a hunting trip. When disaster strikes, we’re led to believe that Jackson’s unselfish behavior is solely the result of bible studies. In the hands of director Thomas Makowski and writer/producer Kevan Otto, “Decision” is both overly simplistic and entirely predictable. It’s difficult for me to believe that this sort of one-size-fits-all proselytizing is what America’s Christian community demands. If so, it’s worth noting at least that production values have improved steadily in the past few years. The DVD comes with a rudimentary study guide. – Gary Dretzka

Released in 1980, the feminist drama “Menschenfrauen” (“Humanwoman”) feels even more prehistoric than it is. That men are dogs and women are crazy to believe their lies is a premise already mined successfully in such contemporaneous American films as “An Unmarried Woman,” “The Stepford Wives,” “Diary of a Mad Housewife,” “A Woman Under the Influence,” “Alice Doesn’t Live Here Anymore,” “Nine to Five” and “3 Women.” In Austrian director and video artist Valie Export’s film, the male-chauvinist antagonist is Franz, a journalist who could pass for a cousin of porn star John Holmes. He has a wife and three mistresses, all of whom he strings along with empty promises and outright lies. Apparently, he’s enough of a stud to keep them from coming back for more. Thirty years ago, in Europe, Franz might have been able to pull off such a ruse, but, today, he resembles a caricature of a cliché. Export introduces us to the women in dream sequences, which suggest how they might have found in Franz an alternative to the hellish conditions at home. In one truly horrific sequence, a waitress is required by the government to pay the alimony owed by her slacker son to his former wife. The diversion in income causes her worthless husband to beat her in front of the young man, who does nothing to stop the injustice. Compared to these men, Franz is an angel from heaven. Neither does Franz feel any obligation to the two women he impregnates. “Menschenfrauen” is pretty bleak, but that shouldn’t scare off fans of German New Wave and the films of John Cassavetes. – Gary Dretzka

Black Briefs
Launched in 2005, Guest House Films specializes in telling “unique stories that usually cannot be found in other productions.” It is joined in this regard by such purveyors of quality “gueer cinema” offerings as TLA Releasing, Strand Releasing, Breaking Glass Pictures’ QC Cinema and the venerable Wolfe Video. Guest House’s “Black Briefs” is a collection of six award-winning short films, with decidedly dark themes and interesting twists. They include Hong Khaou’s “Spring,” Greg Ivan Smith’s “Remission,” Camille Carida’s “The Back Room,”

Lalo Vasquez’ “Promise,” Jack Plotnick and Jim Hansen’s “Video Night” and Christopher Banks’ “Communication,” which range in length from 6 to 20 minutes. None is particularly graphic sexually. – Gary Dretzka

Michael Schenker/Public Image Limited/Roy Buchanan/Ian Hunter: Rockpalast
A mainstay of German television since 1974, “Rockpalast” has showcased hundreds of the world’s top rock, pop and blues groups in performance. MVD Visuals has more than 40 of those concerts on its roster of DVD releases. Because of the age of some of the shows and use of recording equipment that may have been state-of-the-art at the time, but no longer is, the concerts aren’t nearly as easy on the eyes as, say, the “Soundstage” concerts available through Image Entertainment. The audio presentation isn’t bad at all. The latest batch includes concerts from the early 1980s. The featured entertainers include German metal heroes Michael Schenker Group; Public Image Limited, with a post-Sex Pistols Johnny “Rotten” Lydon; American guitar god Roy Buchanan, whose set list included “Green Onions,” “Walk, Don’t Run” and “Foxy Lady”; and glam-rock pioneer Ian Hunter, with ace guitarist Mick Ronson. Needless to say, the German audiences were stoked and ready to party. – Gary Dretzka

NFL Super Bowl XLVI Champions: 2011 New York Giants: Blu-ray
In what must be considered one of the greatest comebacks in NFL history, the 2011 New York Giants overcame a bad case of mediocrity just in time to make a run for the playoffs. Its journey from the outhouse to the penthouse began after overcoming a four-game losing streak, which wiped out a 6-2 start and inspired demands for head coach Tom Coughlin’s ouster. Their December streak extended from the beginning of December through the Super Bowl, where the Giants upset the New England Patriots. As is usually the case with such NFL Films productions, “NFL Super Bowl XLVI Champions” covers the game and events leading up to it like a blanket. In addition to sparkling goalpost-to-goalpost coverage of the game, the Blu-ray package includes highlights of the Super Bowl Media Day and post-game ceremonies; the communications between coaches and players who were “wired for sound”; NFL “Shots of the Year”; and featurettes on Eli Manning, “Back to the Future,” “The Receiving Giants” and “Catching Up With David Tyree.” – Gary Dretzka

The Lion King 1½ Special Edition: Blu-ray
The Lion King II: Simba’s Pride Special Edition: Blu-ray
Last October, when “The Lion King: Diamond Edition” was released in Blu-ray and Blu-ray 3D, ravenous fans also were tantalized by a special super-duper “Lincoln King Trilogy.” The eight-disc set contained Blu-ray and DVD editions of the direct-to-video sequels, as well as Blu-ray, Blu-ray 3D, DVD and digital copies of the original, along with bonus features. How anyone could possibly utilize all of these iterations of the same thing is beyond me. At full retail, it would have set consumers back an even $100. Considering that full retail for the sequels, in Blu-ray, goes for a sliver less than $40 a piece, that price represents something of a bargain. No one needs to pay full retail anymore, of course, but you get the picture. The “Special Edition” of “The Lion King 1½ adds deleted scenes, “Timon and Pumbaa’s Vacation Safari,” “Timon: Behind the Legend,” Before the Beginning: The Making of ‘The Lion King 1½’” and a music video. “The Lion King 2: Simba’s Pride” includes “Timon and Pumbaa’s Insectapedia,” the animated short “One by One,” “Proud of Simba’s Pride,” “Timon and Pumbaa,” “Find Out Why” and a music video. – Gary Dretzka

MI-5: 10
Dalziel & Pascoe: Season Five
Judge John Deed: Season Five
The great thing about British drama series is that the actors don’t look as if they’ve stepped out of the pages of a Nordstrom’s catalog or Hollywood nightclub. Neither do the actors in medical series look as if they are old enough to have finished medical school, let alone be handed a scalpel with which to slice open a patient. As is evident in the BBC collections released on DVD this week, Brits come in different sizes, shapes, colors and ages. Some of them are outright unattractive, a sin against nature rarely committed on American network television.  Being something north of 30, myself, I enjoy seeing people who look like me in the shows I watch. Even after 10 years, “MI-5” (a.k.a., “Spooks”) can be counted among the best television dramas in the English-speaking world. The agency is in charge of domestic intelligence in the U.K., which means that bad trouble arrives on its doorstep on a weekly basis. Fortunately, the country’s intelligence-gathering infrastructure is second to none, thanks primarily to a CCTV system many Americans would consider overly intrusive. Director Harry Pearce (Peter Firth) has been in charge of the agency for the entirety of the series, 21 episodes longer than the character with the next longest tenure. He’s tough as the average British beefsteak and, as we’ve learned in the last two seasons, is carrying more baggage on his conscience than any man should bear. The 10th stanza reveals the one secret that’s been eating at him for nearly 30 years. It’s a fascinating arc, primarily because the cast is mostly new and several of the agency’s deepest cracks are showing. Also put to the test is Harry and Ruth’s teasingly romantic relationship. Toss in several Jihadists, a home-grown bomber, rogue KGB agents, devious CIA types and a murdered MI-5 analyst, and you have a doozy of a possibly final season. The DVD comes with a retrospective on Pearce’s career and top-10 episode list, as chosen by cast and crew.

The dark and unforgiving police drama “Dalziel and Pascoe” ran on the BBC from 1996 to 2007. It would be familiar to American audiences in that it features a blustery, intuitive and only occasionally likeable lead detective and his partner and roommate, who’s young, handsome and tends to go by the book. “Season Five” opens with the reappearance, after 19 years, of a kidnap victim believed to be long dead. It was case that Dalziel (Warren Clarke) closed years earlier, after a suspect confessed to the crime and was incarcerated for it. Now, he’s required to defend his investigation and make new enemies. Fans have seen many now-familiar actors begin their careers in cameos and guest-star roles on “D&P.” In the opener here, look for Richard Coyle (“Coupling”), Nikola Walker (MI-5”) and Pippa Haywood (“Green Wing”).
Martin Shaw plays the title character in “Judge John Deed,” another very good BBC legal drama that will have American viewers wondering why the principles in British courtrooms wear those silly wigs. Deed is the kind of judge who doesn’t automatically accept plea deals and has a healthy disregard for anonymous government witnesses. Unlike American judges, too, he’s able to ask questions that lawyers forget to mention. His overly melodramatic personal life, in and out of chambers, sometimes gets in the way of story flow, but it adds an interesting chink to his armor. – Gary Dretzka

PBS: America Goes to War: World War II
Nature: Ocean Giants
Nature: Fortress of the Bears: Blu-ray
It didn’t take long for Americans to tune out coverage of the nearly simultaneous wars in Afghanistan and Iraq, thanks in no small part to an easily distracted media. Today, even as American soldiers continue to die in combat, there are only a few outward indications here that a war is going on in a country far away. PBS’ excellent documentary series, “America Goes to War,” was made several decades ago, but still resonates today. Hosted by journalist Eric Sevareid, it describes how Americans reacted both to the outbreak of war in Europe and Asia, and the drive to conserve resources ranging from nylon stockings to gasoline. The point is made that this country was as unprepared for war, as it was for the peace that followed. Both times, it was the sacrifices and hard work of the civilian population, along with the heroics of those in combat, that pulled us through. Subsequent wars have required little, if any sacrifice on the part of civilians – other than throwing good tax dollars after bad – and even less from a media desperate to monetize coverage. As anyone who lived through World War II can easily recall, citizens rallied voluntarily and often at great cost to their pre-war lifestyles. It partially explains why the reaction to the announcement of war’s end was so exuberant on the home front. “America Goes to War” doesn’t overlook the controversies of the day, including the institutionalized racism abided by the Pentagon and White House and the role played by women at home and near combat. (Black nurses were only allowed to treat black soldiers, at least until their services were required in whites-only hospitals.) “America Goes to War” is the kind of documentary series that can and should be enjoyed by grandparents, parents and kids, all of whom have had to deal with wars of their own.

The “Nature” series “Ocean Giants” provides unprecedented access to whales and dolphins of all sizes, not just XXL. Underwater cinematographers Doug Allan (“Planet Earth”) and Didier Noirot (“Oceans”) swam, dived and broke bread with the cetaceans in their various natural habitats. What distinguishes “Ocean Giants” from other such documentaries is the footage captured of the whales’ mating habits. Without going into great detail, it’s fascinating in all the usual ways, as well as a couple that border on animal pornography. I’ve never seen anything like it before, anyway. Their cameras also were able to capture the feeding practices of cetaceans, ranging from Amazon River dolphins to great blue whales, solving a mystery or two along the way. Given the migratory patterns of the whales, “Ocean Giants” also serves well as a travelogue. The humpbacks even orchestrate a concert for the eavesdroppers.

A “Nature” camera crew also spent months at a time in Tongass National Forest, located on Admiralty Island in Southeast Alaska. It is populated with an estimated 1,700 brown bears, all of whom have been doing the same things, in the same ways, as their ancestors had for countless centuries. I’m not sure what the reporters were expecting to find there, but it was their great good luck to be on Admiralty in the year an El Nino system caused drought and a shift in the salmon migration that impacted bears and local fishermen, both of whom depend on the fish for their sustenance. “Fortress of the Bears” is full of terrific cinematography and scenes only biologists and other specialists will witness in the wild. – Gary Dretzka

Happily Divorced: Season One
Transformers Prime: Complete First Season: Blu-ray
Sitcom premises don’t hit much closer to home than the one that informs TV Land’s “Happily Divorced.” It stars Fran Descher as a Los Angeles florist, Fran, who learns after 18 years of marriage that her husband of 18 years (John Michael Higgins) is gay. Instead of kicking him out of the house and splitting their assets, Fran allows the struggling real-estate salesman to stay in a separate wing, while she juggles her work and dating. The story was inspired by Descher’s own relationship with ex-husband Peter Marc Jacobson, who reportedly exited the closet after their divorce, but remains business partners and friends with her. Higgins, known primarily for his hilarious roles in Christopher Guest’s mockumentaries, has played several gay characters and is his usual funny self here. Given TV Land’s demographic, it comes as no surprise that most of comedy derives from Descher’s suddenly-single status, instead their mutual searches for male companionship. Higgins’ free time is mostly spent playing mother hen to his ex-wife and interfering with her new life. It would nice if he was given a boyfriend of his own, but no one’s holding their breath on that score. Fans of Descher and Higgins will be able to tolerate the stale gags and 1970s-sitcom framework better than other viewers, who, unlike TV execs, are ready to accept the fact that homosexual characters enjoy sex, too. The show co-stars Tichina Arnold, Rita Moreno, Robert Walden and Valente Rodriguez.

The animated TV series “Transformers Prime” owes less to the live-action blockbusters than storylines advanced in ancillary video games and novels. As such, it probably provides a more satisfying experience for fans not all that interested in the romantic affairs of Sam Whitwicky (Shia LeBeouf) and director Michael Bay’s other embellishments. There have been several other spinoffs from the original video game and “Transformers: The Movie” (1986), each one more technologically advanced than the last. Among the constants that have remained throughout are the voice acting of Peter Cullen (Optimus Prime) and Frank Welker (Megatron). For many years, the Autobots have managed to avoid detection and the risk of escalating their war with the Decepticons to disastrous proportions. Here, they’re assisted by three young human allies (Jack, Miko and Raf) and Special Agent Bill Fowler (Ernie Hudson). The Blu-ray edition looks excellent and contains a 96-page “Transformers: Prime” prequel graphic novel. – 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