MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Oranges & Sunshine, Bullhead, Spalding Gray, Deliverance … More

Oranges and Sunshine: Blu-ray
Compassion fatigue is a condition generally ascribed to relief workers and other people who work with victims of disasters and trauma victims. It’s also been applied to the many kind and generous people solicited for donations every time there’s a devastating earthquake, tsunami, flood, hurricane, tornado, oil spill, fire or genocidal war. If it’s gotten harder to wring contributions from these chronically empathetic folks, sometimes it has less to do with the repeated calls for donations than the feeling of hopelessness that comes from knowing that no amount of money will be able to cure the ills of humanity. As they begrudgingly pick up their checkbooks for the umpteenth time, you can almost hear them asking, “Next time, why don’t you call someone in Russia or Dubai?” Judging from the diminishing number of theatrical films produced to dramatize the horror and acts of heroism that frequently accompany such tragedies, moviegoers also have begun to suffer from “secondary traumatic stress disorder.” And, when they are, these pictures rarely make it to the local megaplex. “Oranges and Sunshine” is just such a movie.
Despite a highly compelling story and knockout performance by Emily Watson, Jim Loach’s film played long enough in a handful of American cities to collect some nice quotes for the DVD release, eight months later. Distributors are exceedingly gun-shy these days, so, I guess, it counts as a small blessing that “O&S” was seen here at all. The good news is that the events dramatized have already been exposed, apologizes have been made and compensation for past misdeeds are somewhere in the pipeline. As such, “O&S” is less a call to action than a cautionary tale, long untold. Watson plays Margaret Humphreys, the Nottingham social walker who blew the whistle on one of the most chilling examples of government-sanctioned child abuse in memory. Humphreys was tipped to the forced deportation of thousands of British children, post-World War II, in a letter from a woman in Australia, seeking help tracing her parents in England. She claimed to have been shipped from England, where she had been entrusted to the care of child-welfare agencies, to a children’s home Down Under. Humphrey not only was able to locate the woman’s mother, who never was informed of her daughter’s fate, but she also uncovered a child-migration scheme in which thousands of other children were deported to Commonwealth nations. Many of the children were told that their parents were dead. Most parents were led to believe their kids had been adopted and were out of reach. Instead, many of the 10,000 children who were deported to Australia – especially the boys – were handed over to religious organizations. Among these were the Roman Catholic priests of the Congregation of Christian Brothers, who felt entitled to treat the kids under their supervision as free labor and candidates for random physical and emotional abuse. (The Brits benefitted, in return, by not having to pay for the children’s care in government-run orphanages.)

Publicity accorded Humphrey’s trans-continental mission to expose the policy and reunite families resulted in the establishment of the Child Migrants Trust and elicited apologies from government leaders in England and Australia. What’s left unstated in the movie was the motivation of the Australian government, which, historically, has kept its doors open for “good white stock” to bolster its official Aboriginal assimilation policy. Since 1869, at least, Aboriginal and half-caste children were taken from their parents and placed in institutions and church missions, so the precedent had already been set. The plight of “stolen generations” children was addressed in Phillip Noyce’s drama “Rabbit-Proof Fence” and musically, in “Bran Nue Dae.” Audiences unfamiliar with the resettlement policy were stunned by its callous disregard for the rights and feelings of indigenous parents and the efforts of politicians to dilute the bloodlines of the Aboriginal population.

By the time “O&S” was released, every new revelation about the use of forced labor and abuse of children by Catholic priests and nuns in America, the UK and Ireland had the same impact as another chuck of coal being carried to Newcastle. Among other things, it was revealed in “The Magdalene Sisters” and “Sex in a Cold Climate” how hundreds of Irish girls, considered by the Church to be of poor moral character, were forced to slave in laundries run by nuns of the Magdalene order and beaten for little provocation. The American documentaries “Deliver Us From Evil” and “Twist of Faith” described the lengths the Church would go to protect priest from prosecution and cover-up allegations of abuse. Meanwhile, other documentaries and theatrical films chronicled the horrors of wars in the Sudan, Congo, Uganda and Rwanda. Before of the end of the 2012 presidential campaign, it’s also likely we’ll be inundated by reports about the Mormon Church’s poor treatment of Native Americans and policy of baptizing deceased non-Mormons, often against the wishes and knowledge of their relatives. It’s no wonder audiences flock to such escapist fare as “The Avengers” and “Keeping Up With the Kardashians.”

Even so, Watson’s compassionate performance in “O&S” is sufficient reason to recommend the DVD. The individual stories of the deported children may be heartbreaking, but we know going in that Humphrey’s arduous search for the truth has already borne fruit. Loach’s film demands nothing more of its audience than eyes, ears and hearts. It arrives with additional background and making-of material, including interviews with cast, crew, Loach and writer Rona Munro. – Gary Dretzka

A Thousand Words: Blu-ray
Although kids might not be able to grasp the importance of the Bodhi tree to Buddhists, there’s nothing in the Eddie Murphy vehicle “A Thousand Words” that they shouldn’t enjoy. It might also satisfy adults who were attracted to Jim Carrey’s “Liar, Liar,” Adam Sandler’s “Click” and earlier minor-key Murphy comedies, such as “Boomerang,” “Norbit,” “Meet Dave” and “Imagine That.” In the wacky world of big-budget Hollywood comedy, Murphy vs. Tree probably sounded like a no-brainer. In it, he plays high-powered literary agent Jack McCall, who, after stretching the truth while negotiating with a New Age guru, is cursed to experience the same traumas as the Bodhi tree that miraculously appears in his backyard. (It was under a sacred fig tree in Bodh Gaya, India, that Siddartha Gautama achieved enlightenment, a.k.a., bodhi, in the 4th Century BC.) Like the tree, McCall feels the effects of watering, the spraying of a pesticide, an ax chop and the loss of a single leaf out of a thousand. In fact, he’s informed, a lead will fall every time he utters a word. When the tree runs out of leaves, he’ll die.

This comes as very bad news to McCall, who’s known for his bombastic pitches and the verbal abuse he heaps on his assistants. Now forced to remain silent, he’s limited to pantomime, facial gestures and slapstick to make his points to clients, associates and family members already frustrated by his devotion to his job. To maintain his clientele and woo new business, McCall must learn to trust his assistants’ ability to convey his messages and help him keep his own job. The less easy it is for McCall to remain silent, the more opportunity there is for Murphy to exhibit his gift for physical comedy. If only former “SNL” writer Steve Koren had given him something more substantial with which to work, “A Thousand Words” might have been a picture worth just that. Murphy rarely looks as if he’s simply phoning in his performance, even when he must suspect the material is weak, so his fans might find things here to like. It arrives with 11 deleted scenes and an alternate ending. – Gary Dretzka

Bullhead: Blu-ray
Americans have learned a lot about steroids and other performance-enhancing substances over the last dozen or so years. Some of our most visible athletes, we’ve been told, have benefited mightily from their use and given them an unfair advantage. Consumers have also been alerted to the possibility that the food they buy has been genetically altered or “juiced” with growth hormones, steroids and other artificial substances. Documentaries and news reports have addressed the effects of steroids on body-builders, pro wrestlers and football players who go from 185 to 250 over the course of a summer vacation. Even so, Americans love winners, not losers, and they’ll happily postpone judgment on a freak of nature if he helps their favorite team win a pennant. The ferocious Belgian export, “Bullhead,” has a lot to say about steroid abuse and the illegal trafficking of PEDs, but it has nothing to do with sports.

In his impressive debut feature, Michaël R. Roskam not only uses steroid smuggling as a device to advance the plot, but his protagonist is addicted to them physically and psychologically, as well. After cattle farmer Jacky Vanmarsenille (Mattias Schoenaerts) injects his animals with banned substances, so as to muscle them up for sale, he siphons a bit off for his personal use. We know the government takes such cheating seriously, because its regulators test cattle at auctions for signs of it. Early in the story, a drug agent is murdered by suspected traffickers and everyone up and down the food chain is made uptight by the increased scrutiny. Jacky’s experience with steroids and hormones goes much deeper than everyone else. Years before, he and a friend witnessed an older boy and his cronies perform something resembling a circle-jerk, after passing around some skin mags. After they’re caught peeking through some bushes, Jacky is punished in the worst possible way a male can be, short of death. If you get my drift, you may already know that one way a victim of such a beating can preserve a semblance of his maleness is to ingest steroids and testosterone supplements. In addition to causing him to bulk up like Hulk Hogan, Jacky is subject to frightening episodes of ’roid rage.

Roskam’s narrative follows parallel investigations, both involving Jacky, and they each require the viewer’s strict attention. Contrary to the specific instructions of the killers – spoken in Flemish, but misinterpreted in Walloon — a pair of car thieves decides not to destroy the agent’s BMW, as ordered. They merely change the car’s fancy tires and rims, which they sell to Jacky’s brother for a pittance. One seemingly minor piece of evidence leads to several more important ones and an unsuspecting Jacky becomes the primary suspect. In the other throughline, Jacky runs into a girl from his distant past who knows exactly what happened to him and where the perpetrator of the beating can be found.  At first, she doesn’t recognize the connection between them, but, when she snaps to it, her reaction only serves to infuriate Jacky. It’s at this point that the parallel searches come together, and it isn’t pretty. “Bullhead” reminds me of other recent imports, in which we’re introduced to really violent men, but aren’t expected to fully buy into their criminal charisma: “A Prophet,” “Gomorrah,” “Animal Kingdom,” “Mesrine,” “Bronson” and the “Pusher” trilogy. The only person I could imagine replicating Schoenaerts’ performance in any American re-make is Mike Tyson, who looks the part and probably could understand Jacky’s rage.  – Gary Dretzka

And Everything Is Going Fine: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Gray’s Anatomy: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Watching monologist Spalding Gray in performance was an experience unlike any other in the theater. Tall, thin and movie-star handsome, Gray would sit behind a non-descript wooden table in his trademark flannel shirt and command our attention with stories that were as self-revelatory as they were entertaining. It was as if he was allowing us to tap into his photographic memory and experience the extraordinary events in his life through his eyes. Details some of us might dismiss as minutiae merged eventually with recollections so intimate they caused us to simultaneously laugh and blush with shared recognition. His self-effacing approach reduced the distance between the artist and audience to width of his desk. Gray was so unabashedly candid about the events that shaped him that it was possible to imagine ourselves eavesdropping on a discussion in his psychotherapist’s office. Finally, though, we were left wondering how anyone as neurotic and self-aware as he is could endure waking up anywhere in the world, where people didn’t take life quite as personally as he did. His death, by suicide, appeared to confirm our suspicion that humor rarely can shield anyone from their demons.

Among the things Gray shared with other great American monologists — from to Will Rogers and Jean Shepherd, to Calvin Trillin and David Sedaris – is a command of the language that, when combined with an actor’s sense of timing, can be awe-inspiring. Born in 1941, into a well-to-do WASP family in Rhode Island, Gray had many things in common with the Baby Boomers who came of age in the 1960s. They included a fear of being drafted into Vietnam War; a willingness to experiment with psychedelics and abuse marijuana and alcohol; a mistrust of traditional medicine, partially based on his Christian Science background and the kooky logic of New Age therapists; and willing participation in the various sexual and political liberation movements of the time. Like his mother before him, Gray wrestled with clinical depression – compounded by serious injuries suffered in an automobile accident while in Ireland — and committed suicide, apparently by jumping off the Staten Island Ferry, in 2004.

The Criterion Collection has released Steven Soderbergh’s biographical “And Everything Is Going Fine,” along with his impressionistic take on the performance piece, “Gray’s Anatomy,” in splendid hi-def packages. In the increasingly frenetic “Gray’s Anatomy,” the author describes how he reacted to the possibility he could lose the use of his left eye, due to a “macular pucker,” and the lengths he went to avoid traditional treatment. Rather than accept the reality that he likely would require microscopic surgery to repair the damage, Gray sought the advice of a Christian Scientist practitioner, Native American shaman, eye nutritionist and Filipino psychic surgeon. Eventually, he underwent the surgery, which created even opportunities for fear, reflection and hilarity. To dramatize Gray’s wild journey in a cinematic way, Soderbergh tweaked the author’s studied pacing and innate theatricality – however stagebound — by adding sets and backgrounds that located his subject in something approximating the real world. His inventive deployment of lighting and camera angles occasionally reminded me of Terry Gilliam’s hallucinogenic adaptation of “Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas.” The Blu-ray adds revealing new interviews with Soderbergh and co-writer/ex-wife Renee Shafransky; “A Personal History of the American Theater,” another hilariously off-point monologue; and a booklet, with an essay by critic Amy Taubin.

Released in 2010, “And Everything Is Going Fine” is comprised of bits of material from Gray’s one-man shows, interviews, home movies and other biographical material. Less bio-doc than what Soderbergh hoped would be seen as a “final monologue,” it is at once hilarious and heart-breaking. Most affecting is a backyard interview conducted with Gray, in which the impact of the car accident literally can be read on his face. While he’s talking, somewhere in the neighborhood, a dog begins howling in regular intervals. Gray’s reaction suggests these “lamentations” are messages from the afterworld, anticipating his imminent arrival. The Blu-ray adds a making-of featurette; a revival performance of “Sex and Death to the Age 14,” his first monologue; and a booklet,with an essay by Nell Casey. The high-definition digital transfers were supervised Soderbergh. – Gary Dretzka

The Decoy Bride: Blu-ray
Sheree Folkson’s first widely distributed film arrives after she spent two decades laboring in the fields of the BBC and other UK television-production companies. It benefits from an excellent cast and the beautiful scenery of the Isle of Man and the Caerlaverock Castle, in southwestern Scotland. Otherwise, it’s the standard-issue Brit and American rom-com in which plans for a marriage go awry, but, ultimately, the right gal ends up with the right guy. The characters are kooky in a recognizably British sort of way, without also being obnoxious, and no one gets hurt in the dissembling of the weddin. In “The Decoy Bride,” a beautiful and famous film star, Laura (Alice Eve), is getting married to a popular author, James (David Tennant), and they’re determined not to have it spoiled by the paparazzi, one of whom is a master of disguises. After their wedding planners discover an abandoned castle on a distant Scottish island, it, too, becomes a magnet for the horde of photographers. (No, I don’t know why the couple doesn’t sell the rights to their wedding pictures to the highest bidder and donate the money to charity or jeweler of their choice, as is done in the U.S.) The planners hurriedly conceive a plan in which a local girl, the unlucky-in-love Katie (Kelly MacDonald), pretends to marry James in the village church. Theoretically, then, after the photographers leave to file their photos, Laura would arrive at the church in all her glory for the actual nuptials.

Naturally, things don’t go as planned. Not only do the paparazzi spoil the scheme by refusing to buy into the ruse, but enough of the faux ceremony is performed to qualify as an actual marriage. In the course of escaping the rabble, it dawns on James and Katie that they truly were meant for each other. They go pretty far out of their way to deny such a possibility, but their hesitancy only serves to add to the intrigue. Typically, the highly photogenic and much-in-demand Laura would have been given some character flaw to make us predisposed to encourage James and Katie’s liaison, but she isn’t really such a bad lassie. This departure from stereotype allows for something of a highly welcome surprise ending. The Blu-ray edition of “Decoy Bride” takes full advantage of the lush green settings and alternately blue and rainy skies. It adds several interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Wrath of the Titans: Blu-ray
Thirty years after special-effects wizard Ray Harryhausen made “Clash of the Titans” his swan song, a new generation of filmgoers has been introduced to Greek mythology through a CGI-enhanced remake of the 1981 fantasy/adventure and a sequel, “Wrath of the Titans.” Having grown up on analog effects and stop-action photography, I’m inclined to favor Harryhausen’s magic over that conjured by anonymous computer jockeys. I can see, however, where kids born in the digital age would find his creations to be irredeemably quaint and not worth the effort it would take to walk to the nearest Blockbuster to sample. (I wasn’t that overwhelmed by the ape in the original “King Kong,” myself, on first viewing.) If the new iterations of the “Titans” epics inspire anyone to look back at the originals, then so much the better. There isn’t much to say about “Wrath” that hasn’t already been ascribed to “Clash.” Both movies respect the mythology that inspired the scripts and Sam Worthington, Liam Neeson, Danny Huston and Ralph Fiennes remain appropriately godlike in appearance and demeanor. Newcomers include Edgar Rodriguez, as Ares; Rosamund Pike, as Andromeda; Bill Nighy, as Hephaestus; Freddy Drabble, as Apollo; and Kathryn Carpenter, as Athena. Reportedly, “Wrath” looks better much better stereoscopically than “Clash,” which was hastily converted to 3D to exploit the fad and drew some criticism from purists.

In “Wrath,” Zeus (Neeson) demands of the demigod Perseus (Worthington) that he interrupt the time he’s spending with his son at a fishing village, after taking out the gorgon Medusa and Kraken. Zeus fears that his immortality is being threatened by his own father, Chronos, a first-generation Titan who’s imprisoned in Tartarus, and the decline in the number of humans praying to him. It leaves an opening for Hades (Fiennes) to conspire with Ares to capture Zeus and unleash the Titans on Earth. Perseus recruits the warrior queen Andromeda, Poseidon’s demigod son, Argenor and fallen god Hephaestus in the battle to rescue Zeus and keep the Titans in Tartarus. There are, of course, flying horses, volcanic monsters, multi-headed beasts and staggeringly majestic combat zones. Apart from some deleted scenes, most of the Blu-ray features can only be found in Maximum Movie Mode, where the mythology is explained and other making-of material is presented. The MMM’s Focus Point segments include “Battling the Chimera,” “Agenor: The Other Demi-God,” “The Cyclops Fight,” “Prison of the Titans,” “Minotaur: The Human Nightmare,” “The Heavens Raise Hell on Earth,” “Who Are the Titans?,” “Hephaestus: God of Fire,” “Lost in Tartarus’ Labyrinth” and “Creatures of the Titans.” – Gary Dretzka

Deliverance: 40th Anniversary: Blu-ray
Even at the ripe old age of 40, John Boorman’s Darwinian adventure, “Deliverance,” is as thrilling and entertaining as it was when it became a blockbuster hit in 1972. It’s the rare movie that can be enjoyed as much by mainstream audiences and violence freaks, as those who demand some intellectual seasoning in their popcorn. At its most basic level, “Deliverance” is a story about four city slickers who bite off more than they can chew while paddling their canoes down one of the last free-flowing rivers in the South. In addition to the white-water rapids and giant boulders of the fictional Cahulawassee River, in northern Georgia, the characters are required to fend off predatory hillbillies and split the difference between what they owe the American justice system and their consciences. On a more elevated level, however, “Deliverance” demands that we re-assess man’s place on the evolutionary ladder and determine for ourselves how wise it is to put our needs ahead of those of Mother Nature. Likewise, we’re asked, are the urban professionals represented by Burt Reynolds, Ronny Cox, Jon Voight and Ned Beatty more evolved than the mountain folks they encounter at various stages of their journey? Under certain extreme circumstances, does the law of the jungle supersede the law of man? As the waters of the wild river begin backing up at the newly constructed hydroelectric dam — flooding entire towns and scenic wonders behind it — we can’t help but wonder, as well, how long the sins and secrets of the past can remain hidden.

“Deliverance” contains several unforgettable set pieces. The guitar-banjo duet, played for all its worth by Cox and the supposedly inbred picker, Lonnie (Billy Redden), is as enchanting today as it was 40 years ago. The “squeal like a pig” rape scene remains creepy in the extreme, as does Voight’s nightmarish vision. What I’d forgotten was the reversal of roles experienced by the characters after Reynold’s alpha-male archer is put out of commission by a broken bone. If the far less assertive Voight and Beatty hadn’t stepped up to the plate, none of the men might have reached their destination. The 40th anniversary Blu-ray presentation is in pretty much the same fine shape as it was in its previous hi-def iteration, while the audio is truly enhanced by the new DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track. Also new, is a good-ol’-boy roundtable discussion between the now-old pros for whom “Deliverance” represented a significant boost to their movie careers, as well as a significant test of endurance. It is great fun to watch and informative, as well. A previous interview with the principles and Boorman, as well as a making-of featurette and commentary, also are included. – Gary Dretzka

Best Laid Plans: Blu-ray
As the title suggests, David Blair’s “Best Laid Plans” is a contemporary reworking of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men,” only, this time, set in the criminal underworld of Nottingham, England. The similarity between the two works is pretty much limited to the lead characters, Danny (Stephen Graham) and Joseph (Adewale Akinnuoye-Agbaje), one of whom is a low-level gangster and the other a giant of a man with the mental age of 7. Joseph is gentle soul, largely dependent on Danny for his food and lodging. He also is capable of taking out a man his size with a single punch, a skill Danny abuses when he’s required to pay back a debt owed his boss, Curtis (David O’Hara). Although Joseph barely knows what to do with his fists, Danny cons him into participating in a series of underground cage fights. It is only after Joseph is beat nearly to a pulp that Danny will give him the cue to fight back, which he does with brutal ferocity. At the same time as Curtis decides to exploit the fighter for his own financial gain, Joseph falls for a young woman who’s only slightly more capable of taking care of herself than he is.

The stiffer the competition he faces, the more difficult it is for Joseph to recover fully from the beatings he takes. Danny senses as much, but is powerless against Curtis’ demands. Meanwhile, after witnessing Danny and his call-girl lover (Emma Stansfield) in flagrante delicto, Joseph tries the same thing with his girlfriend (Maxine Peake), but with far less positive results because neither of them knows what they’re doing or why they’re doing it. Although what happens next is reasonably predictable, the ending comes as a bit of a surprise. Blair’s direction nicely captures the gritty gangster milieu, especially the dimly lit basements and lofts where much of the story unfolds. Graham and O’Hara are entirely credible as criminals at opposite ends of their profession, as is Akinnuoye-Agbaje in a role that could turn maudlin in a heartbeat. As is usually the case with British crime dramas, most American viewers would benefit from optional subtitles. – Gary Dretzka

Father’s Day
All Dark Places
Movies in which the protagonist is named Ahab usually demand more from the audience than they give back in return. Anyone can tell a story about a madman’s quest for revenge against an elusive nemesis, however gigantic and white it might be, but that necessarily doesn’t mean we’ll buy into the conceit. In the mythical land of Troma, however, the leviathan Moby-Dick can take many forms, including that of the legendary serial rapist and murderer Chris Fuchman, a.k.a. the Father’s Day Killer. Once believed to have been killed by Ahab, the son of one of Fuchman’s victims, he seemingly has escaped the cages of hell to rape, dismember, cannibalize and set on fire men whose only crime seemingly is their fathering of children. Could it be that the one-eyed Ahab killed the wrong man and was sent to prison for no good reason? Sure, why not? Once released, Ahab is determined to discover the truth, even if it means finding Fuchman and killing him again. To this end, Ahab is joined by the rent-boy, Twink; a priest blinded by the same fiend; and his sister, who, of course, is a stripper. It would be difficult to explain with any degree of accuracy what happens after the first couple of murders in “Father’s Day,” except to point out that Ahab’s path is littered with much gore and depravity, even by Troma standards. Some of it, though, is quite funny, as well. Guys may be relieved to learn that the many anal rapes are balanced by several sets of bare breasts. Lloyd Kaufman makes a cameo appearance as God and Satan. Apparently, “Father’s Day” became a reality after Winnipeg’s Alpha 6 performance troupe was granted $10,000 to expand on a teaser trailer. Clearly, every penny of that vast sum can be seen on screen. The Blu-ray package adds deleted scene, special-effects featurettes, Astron-6 shorts, behind-the-scenes; Kaufman and Tromatic intros; and a soundtrack EP CD.

In “All Dark Places,” the antagonist is that scariest of all scary characters, a depraved clown. The fiend lives in the closet of a home soon to experience the reunion of a rock-guitarist/investment-councilor, Christian, and his estranged wife and son. It isn’t made crystal clear as to what caused the split, but seemingly the man has agreed to spend more time at home and quit stuffing powder up his nose. Christian means well, but can’t quite pull it off. When everyone else in the house is asleep, a friend comes over to jam, plan investment scams and get torched. As therapy, Mom and Dad also go on an acid trip together. When was the last time you saw that? The higher Christian gets, the more often the clown comes out to scare the crap out of him. “All Dark Places” should please fans of evil-clown thrillers, but, otherwise, it’s something first-time director Nicholas Reiner probably had to get out of his system. – Gary Dretzka

Damages: The Complete Fourth Season
Law & Order: The Seventh Year
Dora the Explorer: Dora’s Rescue in Mermaid Kingdom
It says a lot about the American entertainment industry that it requires a divining rod each week to locate one of the best dramatic series on television, starring one of the world’s finest actors. After three years on FX, “Damages” was rescued from ratings oblivion by DirecTV and its Audience network. This meant that admirers of the killer-queen lawyer, Patty Hewes (Glenn Close), only could find her by subscribing to the satellite-delivery service. Blessedly, Sony Pictures Television has made all four seasons available on DVD. In Season 4, her former assistant and occasional nemesis, Ellen Parsons (Rose Byrne), takes an office at Hewes & Associates to pursue her own lawsuit against military-contractor High Star Security and its CEO, Howard Erickson (John Goodwin). Typically, the 10-episode story is told in flashbacks, flash-forwards and present-day sequences, and it’s impossible to tell when Patty is being helpful or setting a cruel trap for Ellen. The case is handed to Ellen by an old high school flame and ex-marine, Chris Sanchez (Chris Messina), who participated in a terribly traumatic hostage extraction, in which four of his men were killed. Because no one will take credit for ordering the top-secret mission, High Star decided against reimbursing the widows of the mercenaries. Now, they want justice. After Erickson learns of Sanchez’ meeting with Ellen, he and a rogue CIA agent conspire to shut him up. It’s exciting stuff and well worth the effort of picking up the DVD package, which comes with deleted scenes, interviews, a Patty Hewes profile and bloopers. I watched the whole season in two sittings.

A similar thing happened to one of TV’s best police-procedurals, “Law & Order: Criminal Intent,” which, for its final four seasons, had fans scratching their heads as to where and when they might find on any given week. Network executives continually pretend to be perplexed by the dwindling of its natural audiences and lack of loyalty shown to series it spends lots of money to produce, but, really, it’s their own damn fault. They assume, “If we show it, they will come,” then go out of their way to time-shift it to death. “L&O: CI” began its 10-year run Sunday nights on NBC, where it frequently ranked among the top-20 shows. In the 2006-07 season, it was moved to Tuesday nights, where it sank to the 59th position. The next year, the show moved to the network’s USA subsidiary, with reruns to be shared on the parent. It bounced between Tuesday and Sunday debuts for the rest of its time on USA, without the benefit of much marketing support. To describe the show’s demise merely as a shame is to ignore the insulting way NBC executives treated the show and its fans. The seventh-year package is comprised of all 22 episodes.  The cast lineup included Kathryn Erbe, Vincent D’Onofrio, Eric Bogosian, Chris Noth and Julianne Nicholson. The highlight of the season might have come when Goran went undercover at mental hospital, where he blended in extremely well.

The next collection of episodes from Nickelodeon’s wildly successful “Dora the Explorer” multimedia franchise includes the special video presentation, “Dora’s Rescue in Mermaid Kingdom,” and bonus episodes “Benny the Castaway” and “Dora’s Moonlight Adventure.” In the title piece, Dora and Boots turn into sea creatures to help a lost mermaid return to her mother. – Gary Dretzka

Nixon/Billy Bathgate/Blaze
Life With Mickey/Swing Vote/Father Hood
Green Card/Hope Springs/Mumford
The Miracle Match/White Squall/Prefontaine
A Simple Twist of Fate/… First Do No Harm/Unstrung Heroes
Kazaam/Holy Man/Spaced Invaders
Mr. Destiny/Hello Again/Taking Care of Business
The Crew/Oscar/Big Trouble
Deceived/SOS: Summer of Sam/The Rich Man’s Wife
Mr. Wrong/Born Yesterday/Two Much
D.O.A./Playing God/Color of Night
Mill Creek Entertainment describes itself as being “the industry’s leading provider of value DVD compilations with millions of units sold through major retailers across North America, online resellers, national catalogs, direct response marketers and premium marketers.” In the past, I’ve written about genre collections from Mill Creek that squeeze as many as 100 titles in a bargain-priced box. They movies aren’t always in pristine condition, but they’re rarely less of watchable. Ditto, the selections: some are borderline classics, while others are of marginal interest, except to completists and fans of the stars. This week, however, the company has released triple-feature packages of movies released in the not-so-distant past by Walt Disney Video and other family companies. As listed above, the movies feature the work of A-list actors and prominent directors and writers. And, the sub-$10 price is right for folks who prefer to own their movies, instead of renting them. Among the standouts are Ridley Scott’s “White Squall,” with Jeff Bridges; Steve James’ “Prefontaine,” with Jared Leto as the maverick track star; the director’s cut of Oliver Stone’s “Nixon”; Dustin Hoffman’s gangster turn in “Billy Bathgate”; Paul Newman’s take on Hughie Long and his stripper girlfriend, “Blaze”; Lawrence Kasdan’s offbeat comedy, “Mumford”; and “Unstrung Heroes,” the Diane Keaton comedy with Andie MacDowell, John Turturro and Michael Richards.

Also new from Mill Creek this week are Blu-ray editions of the underwater documentary series, “Shark Divers” and the aerial environmental series, “Earth From Above: Food and Wildlife Conservation.” Adults who were kids in the early 1980s might want to turn their children on to “He-Man and the Masters of the Universe: The Best of Season 1 and Season 2,” which mines the top 20 episodes, out of 130, from the show’s first two seasons. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: Oranges & Sunshine, Bullhead, Spalding Gray, Deliverance … More”

  1. Jimmy says:

    I just hate when TV stations ruin shows by changing their times around so much, and you’re right, Law & Order: Criminal Intent is one such show. Kathryn Erbe is so great…I just watched her newest film, called “The Love Guide.” It also stars Parker Posey, another favorite of mine. They are HILARIOUS in it! It’s currently on iTunes and OnDemand…everyone should check it out! Here’s the trailer


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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