MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Three Stooges, Margaret, Metropolitan, Institute Benjamenta, Footnote… More

The Three Stooges: The Movie: Blu-ray
Although the plot of the Farrelly brothers’ tribute to the Three Stooges appears to have been lifted directly from “The Blues Brothers,” the comparison pretty much ends there. Besides not being nearly as hilarious, musical or totemic as John Landis’ epic comedy, it strangely lacks the certain undefinable something that caused several generations of women and girls to turn away from the black-and-white shorts in disgust. There’s plenty of nostalgia-inducing slapstick in “The Three Stooges” – much of it very funny – but by putting Moe, Larry and Curly into a position where they might be perceived as heroic, the Farrellys gave them a personality makeover longtime fans never desired and will only make newcomers wonder what all the fuss is about. In fact, as befits the PG-rating, they’re downright cuddly. As disconcerting, by adding color and expanding the visual experience, it’s easy to see how the undeniably game actors (Chris Diamantopoulos, Sean Hayes, Will Sasso) are able to pull their punches and avoid permanent injury. “The Three Stooges” fits far more comfortably in the Farrelly canon – “Dumb, Dumber, Dumbest,” if you will – than the memory banks of Stooges fans who never tire of watching the ancient shorts. This isn’t the fault of the actors – who stepped in for the originally cast Sean Penn, Jim Carrey and Benicio Del Toro — as they make perfectly reasonable facsimiles of the Stooges and have no trouble repeating the hand gestures, wisecracks and “nyuck, nyuck, nyuck” shtick. I would have enjoyed seeing them tackle “Niagara Falls” and “Swinging the Alphabet,” skits that will live forever on the Internet.

After giving us the origin story of the Stooges, the Farrellys bring us up to date by devising a scenario in which the unadoptable boys – now, incorrigible young men – are required to raise the money necessary to save the orphanage from foreclosure. It not only allows for the usual chaos and confusion that arises from any encounter between the Stooges and normal folks, but also a send-up of reality TV shows and other pop-cultural touchstones. Their search for money reunites them with various people from their childhood, not all of whom have the best interests of the orphanage at heart. Viewers will recognize Jane Lynch, Jennifer Hudson, Kate Hudson and Larry David as nuns at the orphanage. (David’s Sister Mary-Mengele wears out her welcome rather quickly.) The cast members of “Jersey Shore” don’t embarrass themselves – if such a thing were even possible – and Sofia Vergara and Lin Shaye (Nurse Crotchet) add their own brand of special sauce to the proceedings. “Three Stooges” is rated PG, so parents need not fear much in the way of unusually gratuitous slapstick violence or the nuns-in-sexy-swimsuits shots promoted in the commercials and trailers. In another amusing touch, actors impersonating the Farrellys deliver a warning to the kiddies against attempting the violent gags and pratfalls at home. (When the shorts became a television staple in the late-1950s and early-1960s, Moe similarly was called upon to stem the epidemic of eye-gouges and hammer attacks.) The Blu-ray adds a making-of feature, explaining how the stunts are accomplished and the essential role played by sound-effects specialists. There’s also a history of the Stooges; deleted and extended scenes; a slapstick mash-up; and screen tests. Anyone who wants to see the real deal ought to check out Sony’s DVD compilations, which have been digitally upgraded and make great bonding gifts for all generations of males in your family. — Gary Dretzka

Margaret: Blu-ray
Typically, movies with a gestation period of more than five years bear the fingerprints of far too many studio meddlers and investors hoping to return a dime on the dollars they put into the project. Some have been edited and re-edited to the point where they’re unrecognizable from the concept originally green-lit and are disowned by their parents. By the time they’re accorded a limited release, more lawyers have seen the movie than critics. “Margaret” has just such a backstory. Without going into much tiresome detail, Kenneth Lonergan’s long-anticipated follow-up to “You Can Count on Me” was first scheduled for release in 2007. Lawyers became involved in the post-production process when the director couldn’t bring the drama in at the agreed-upon length or in the shape anyone wanted it to be. Finally, Martin Scorsese and Thelma Schoonmaker were reportedly enlisted to edit the theatrical version – it shows, I think – with Fox Searchlight agreeing to allow Lonergan to put his stamp on the final product. At 150 minutes, though, “Margaret” never really had a fighting chance at commercial viability. Shown only on a dozen or so arthouse screens, its most likely avenue for success ultimately would be determined by DVD and Blu-ray enthusiasts. On Blu-ray, both the theatrical cut and extended, three-hour version now are available.

“Margaret” is exactly the kind of nearly extinct movie that demands discussion after watching it with a date or friends… and not in Internet chatrooms or blogs. The characters are easily identifiable as upper-middle-class New Yorkers, whose neuroses frequently render them incapable of functioning outside their apartments and jobs. Only one person is truly likable here and he ends up getting trampled by the egos of the three key women characters. When the movie began production, in 2005, Anna Paquin still looked young enough to pass for a 17-year-old student at a private high school in Manhattan. Lisa is a fairly typical teenager, in that she’s constantly at odds with her mother, ignores her younger brother, is anxious to be deflowered (if not by her caring boyfriend) and is an uninspired student who doesn’t see any problem with cheating on assignments. Her mother, Joan (J. Smith-Cameron), is an emotionally fragile off-Broadway actress about to experience her first taste of success. Her father is a deeply unhappy writer, living in a beachfront home in L.A., with his new family. Distance has allowed him to come off as the good guy in all major clashes between mother and daughter. There’s nothing unusual in any of this.

One day, in anticipation of a New Mexico retreat with her dad, Lisa goes on a shopping excursion to find a cowboy hat on the Upper East Side. When she notices a bus driver, Maretti (Mark Ruffalo), sporting a 10-gallon chapeau, she attempts to get his attention by waving and pounding on the moving vehicle’s door. It’s distracting enough to cause him to miss a red light and run smack dab into a pedestrian (Allison Janney) crossing the street. In the few minutes it takes for the woman to die, Lisa comes to believe she’s bonded forever with the woman. Inexplicably, she decides not to tell police detectives about the red light and her role in the incident. As her deception begins to gnaw on her conscience, Lisa quickly evolves into someone unrecognizable to her friends, family and teachers. She’s confrontational, where she used to be passive, and anxious to abandon all trappings of youth (hence the rush to get laid, which coincides with experimentation with cocaine). Moreover, Lisa finally decides to seek “justice” for the victim of the accident by suing the transit authority and attempting to get the driver fired. She does this in collusion with the woman’s best friend in New York, Emily (Jeannie Berlin), and her only known relative, who lives in Arizona and didn’t care much for her cousin. She does, however, like the sound of collecting $350,000 in damages and insinuates herself in the negotiations with the MTA. Lisa begins to see in Emily a surrogate mother, especially since they tend to agree with each other and Joan has begun trying to recover what’s left of her love life by dating a generous and caring opera lover (Jean Reno).

That’s a lot of baggage for one movie to carry, even in its three-hour director’s cut version. And, it doesn’t even take into account the crush she has on a cautiously wary and decidedly Midwestern teacher-confidante (Matt Damon) and bizarre encounters with English teacher (Matthew Broderick), who introduces her to the Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, from whence the title derives. If I had a nutshell and cared to stuff the movie’s plot into it, I’d say that “Margaret” tells the story of a teenage girl who demands the right to grow up too soon, but is hugely disappointed when she discovers the compromises and accommodations required of adults. She savors the bitter taste of revenge served cold on Maretti, but is reviled by the other parties in the suit when, for the sake of expediency, they agree to spare the transit company and driver in the settlement. Neither is she at all pleased by the realization that her dad may be a selfish prick and her mom probably isn’t a monster.

The acting in “Margaret” is uniformly excellent and the characterizations appear spot-on. It’s a shame Academy voters ignored the fine performances. What distinguishes the drama most, however, is the depiction of a New York that goes about its business no matter how great the demands of a single teenage girl. That, too, amounts to a splash of cold water to an impressionable teen. Polish cinematographer Ryszard Lenczewski captures Manhattan with much the same clarity as Gordon Willis, in “Manhattan,” “Annie Hall,” “The Godfather” and “Bright Lights, Big City.” The movie’s length and controversial past don’t allow for much in the way of supplemental features. – Gary Dretzka

Metropolitan: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
One thing all good movies do is introduce us to places and people they never knew existed or, maybe, failed to notice when they were on the way to someplace else. Like Martin Scorsese, in “Mean Streets,” and Woody Allen, in “Manhattan,” Whit Stillman’s precisely observed and delightfully sly comedy of manners, “Metropolitan,” shines a light on a corner of New York rarely visited on film, at least in the previous half-century. Made in 1990, it chronicles how a small group of adolescent preppies spend their Christmas vacation, absent their filthy-rich absentee parents and left to their own devices in Park Avenue apartments. Like the aspiring socialites of “Gossip Girl,” they have easy access to booze and high-class parties, and tend to act like the insufferable adults their parents became after attending Ivy League colleges. The male characters we meet in “Metropolitan” routinely wear suits or tuxedoes, even the occasional top hat, white tie and tails. When the girls aren’t in ball gowns, they favor conservative sweaters, pearls and low-heeled shoes. They appear to care desperately about such things as debutante balls, their educations, social taboos and how they’re perceived in the world. They can quote from Jane Austen and Lionel Trilling, play bridge and know where to find affordable used tuxedos. They don’t seem at interested in popular tastes. In another time in American history, simply being the children and grandchildren of the “urban haute bourgeoisie” would have entitled them to expect invitations to Jay Gatsby’s parties and to dance alongside Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers.

Stillman, who’s the opposite of prolific, would revisit these and other upper-crust characters in “Last Days of Disco” and “Barcelona,” movies that also emphasize smart dialogue (“playing strip poker with an exhibitionist somehow takes the challenge out of it,” one dryly observes”) over glitz, action and cheap sex. The comedy comes in observing how little attention the kids pay to the world outside their dormitories, classrooms and penthouses and how desperately they want to maintain the status quo, as defined by their parents. If they would look freakish, today, alongside their social peers on “Gossip Girl,” it’s only because flaunting inherited wealth and entitlement once was considered gauche and unattractive, even in Manhattan, and preppy their fashions look hopelessly quaint. It also might have something to do with Stillman’s casting of unknown, untested actors, of whom only a small handful would go on to enjoy substantial careers in the movies or television. This lack of experience only adds to the movie’s credibility. The Criterion Collection edition features a restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by the director; commentary with Stillman, editor Christopher Tellefsen and some of the actors; outtakes and alternate casting (Troma’s Lloyd Kaufman), with commentary by Stillman; optional English subtitles for the deaf and hard of hearing; and a booklet featuring an essay by critic Luc Sante. – Gary Dretzka

Black Butterflies
The Deep Blue Sea: Blu-ray
Before watching Paula van der Oest’s passionate biopic of the South African poet Ingrid Jonker, I had no idea who she was or why I should care about her work. Upon further review, I learned that Nelson Mandela specifically drew attention to her poem, “The Child (Who Was Shot Dead by Soldiers at Nyanga),” in Afrikaans, during his address at the opening of the first democratic parliament on May 24, 1994. Nearly 30 years after her death, by suicide, he read, “The time will come when our nation will honor the memory of those who gave us the right to assert with pride that we are South Africans, that we are Africans and citizens of the world. The certainties that come with age tell me that among these we shall find an Afrikaner woman. … Her name is Ingrid Jonker.” If her work is good enough for Nelson Mandela, who am I to resist a movie whose sad ending I already know and dread? More than anything else, “Black Butterflies” describes a woman whose soul was torn in pieces by the political and personal realities of Apartheid — her father served as chief censor of arts, publication and entertainment – and her free-spirited nature. As portrayed here by Carice van Houten (“Black Book”), Jonker could have served as the model for her country’s first flower child. Before moving in with her father as a teenager, she lived on a farm outside Cape Town, where, apparently to her father’s great dismay, she was taught not to hate blacks and resisted wearing shoes. She had been writing publishable poetry several years before getting married, in 1956, moving to Johannesburg and having a daughter. After their divorce, three years later, Jonker took to running with a literary crowd that, we’re shown, enjoyed beach parties, jazz and bed-hopping. If her life in one of the world’s most beautiful provinces is made to seem idyllic, it’s also possible to recognize the roots of madness in her behavior and choices. Not surprisingly, the first sign of trouble comes when she chooses to fall in love with married writers, Jack Cope and Andre Brink, both of whom lead her to believe they’ll seek divorces and marry her. Possessed of an explosive temper, Jonker spends much time moving back and forth from her father’s home, to cheap hotels and back to the beach, dragging her daughter with her as she goes.

The soap-opera aspect of Jonker’s life wears thin after a while, of course, as do the arguments she has with her cold and brutally outspoken father. When she witnesses the death of the child during a protest against Apartheid, she writes the poem that will raise her profile beyond the borders of South Africa and take her to the capitals of Europe. (When she convinced her father to read it, he ripped it into pieces.) By this time, however, she’d already endured a one painful and illegal abortion, experienced electroshock therapy at a mental hospital and was well past the border line of alcoholism. Finally, on a stormy night in July 1965, she walked into the sea and drowned. Even then, her father couldn’t find anything kind to say about her. Van Houten, a wonderful Dutch actor, delivers a powerful portrayal of the poet. Rutger Hauer, as her thoroughly contemptible father, is chilling. Likewise, Liam Cunningham is excellent as Cole, Jonker’s lover and, later, administrator of her literary estate. The DVD adds interviews and background material.

Rachel Weisz is exactly the right age to play Hester Collyer, the sexually enflamed protagonist of Terence Davies’ adaptation of Terence Rattigan’s achingly romantic drama, “The Deep Blue Sea.” So, was Vivien Leigh, who played Hester opposite Kenneth More in the 1955 movie. (On stage, the character was portrayed by the slightly older Peggy Ashcroft and Margaret Sullavan.) The difference between Weisz and the other women is that Weisz tends to play 10 years younger than her middle-age characters and she isn’t required to wear the period-appropriate hairdo a woman married to an older judge, Sir William Collyer (Simon Russell Beale, looking older than his 51 years), would in post-war England. More to the point, Weisz doesn’t look anything like a woman who, in her early 40s, had yet to experience an orgasm. Her sexually awakening was sparked by Freddie Page (Tom Hiddleston), a former Royal Air Force ace and devil-may-care playboy, who hasn’t been the same since the end of World War II. If Hester can’t get enough of Freddie, the much younger man has no trouble keeping himself amused in bars and at golf courses and racetracks. Sir William would be perfectly willing to take back his wife, but Hester’s come to like the taste of forbidden fruit and a peaceful upper-middle-class environment – supervised by her disagreeable mother-in-law – no longer fits her lifestyle. Sadly, her inability to satisfy Freddie’s every need – no woman could, really – causes her self-esteem to plummet. Naturally, then, the only thing for a woman to do is attempt suicide. Physical considerations aside, Weisz does a fine job as Hester, as do Hiddleston and Beale. The Blu-ray adds commentary, an interview with Davies and a backgrounder. – Gary Dretzka

Nominated for an Oscar in the Best Foreign Language Film category, “Footnote,” effectively validates the acidic observation of educator William Stanley Sayre: “Academic politics is the most vicious and bitter form of politics, because the stakes are so low.” They do, however, add plenty of zest to a drama that might have turned out hopelessly cerebral and stifling. Everything that happens in the Israeli import is the result of a mistake made by a lowly peon at an august academic institution. Normally, the misunderstanding would be diffused with an apology and good laugh. Here, however, it cuts directly to a malignancy that already threatens to destroy an extremely accomplished family. Eliezer Shkolnik (Shlomo Bar Aba) is a no-nonsense professor of Talmudic studies at Jerusalem’s Hebrew University. He takes a strictly scientific approach to philology, a discipline that’s required him to keep his nose buried in microfiche and ancient documents for his entire career. His ornery demeanor can be attributed to having the fruit of his labors drained by an accidental discovery made by a detestable colleague months before the revelation of his own findings. In a relative heartbeat, 30 years of research began to circle the drain.

Instead of directing all of his resentment at the scholar who made him little more than a footnote in the history of Talmudic studies, Eliezer takes it out on his son, Uriel (Lior Ashkenazi), whose work is infinitely more accessible to students, journalists and history buffs. The toxicity of the old man’s attitude is palpable, even when he should be basking in the reflected glory of an award ceremony for his son. That’s nothing compared to what happens soon thereafter, when Eliezer is mistakenly notified by the assistant that he’s finally been accorded the most prestigious honor anyone in his field can receive. His mood brightens as they storm clouds that been hovering over his head for years begin to dissipate. Unfortunately for everyone involved, the actual recipient of the prize is his son. Uriel understands only too well that such a reversal of fortune would likely drive his father into a funk so deep, he’d never recover. As much as Uriel would love to accept the prize, he dedicates himself to convincing the committee to let sleeping dogs lie and give his dad the prize he probably deserves, anyway.

As the day of the ceremony nears, Eliezer allows himself the rare satisfaction of being interviewed for a major Israeli magazine. In his dedication to the “truth,” however, he disparages his son’s research by denigrating his methodology and the people who find it worthwhile. This is the kind of baloney Uriel has been putting up with for years, and, after working so hard to reverse the committee’s decision, it’s the last straw. He takes his unhappiness out on his own teenage son, who’s yet to make up his mind on a career path and, therefore, is deemed worthy of his contempt. Uriel also alienates his wife, by reducing her role in the household to simply “being the mother.” Things lighten up towards the very end of “Footnote,” but the damage has been done. Movies like this don’t come along very often, so, for those interested in academic catfights, it’s well worth catching. The DVD arrives with a Q&A with American-born writer-director Joseph Cedar, interviews, commentary and a piece on the film’s music, which is impressive, indeed. – Gary Dretzka

Brake: Blu-ray
As the movie opens, it becomes clear almost immediately that Stephen Dorff’s character is trapped in a box the size of coffin and isn’t getting out any time soon. It takes almost all of the next 90 minutes of “Brake,” however, to understand who Dorff is supposed to be, where he is and how he wound up in such straits. Director Gabe Torres and writer Timothy Mannion clearly are in no hurry to enlighten viewers, who’ll get the answers to their questions as the filmmakers see fit. Without giving away the store, though, it’s safe to reveal ahead of time that Dorff’s character is a Secret Service agent who’s been abducted by terrorists. They assume he’s privy to information that holds the key to the success of their mission and appreciate the fact that he won’t cough up information voluntarily or without great pain administered to him. Most of the nasty stuff comes in the form of head games involving a timing device that threatens disaster whenever the countdown closes in on zero. Inexplicably, he’s also given access to a cellphone and two-radio that connects him to another federal employee abducted and trapped in a box. Depending on one’s willingness to be thoroughly manipulated by the filmmakers, “Brake” is a reasonably clever and unpredictable thriller of the claustrophobic persuasion. It also features a nice double-barreled ending. The Blu-ray comes with an informative making-of featurette and interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Institute Benjamenta
For anyone unfamiliar with the Quay Brothers’ work – which, even for buffs, qualifies as an acquired taste — any description of “Institute Benjamenta” would be woefully inadequate. I’ll give it a shot, anyway. Based on a 1909 novel by the brilliant, if frequently institutionalized Swiss writer Robert Walser, the very strange “Institute Benjamenta” reminds me of what a remake of F.W. Murnau’s “Nosferatu” might look like if it were directed by David Lynch. Although it was made in 1995, the look and tone of the movie harkens back to the height of the German-Expressionist period, and the characters could hardly be any creepier. Walser’s inspiration for the source book, “Jakob von Gunten,” and others, can be traced to a course he was required to take in order to become a servant at the castle of Dambrau in Upper Selisia. Among other things Walser took away from the experience, apparently, was the mind-numbing repetition of exercises and procedures required of students destined to be mere cogs in a larger machine. In the Quays’ hands, the banality of the lessons is stretched to include synchronized swaying, chanting exercises and drawing circles on floors.

When he arrives at doors of the institute, Jakob (Mark Rylance) is challenged through a peephole by a monkey sitting on the shoulders of Johannes Benjamenta. Jakob (Gottfried John) runs the school, seemingly for his own amusement, with his similarly strange and wistful sister, Lisa (Alice Krige). The only lessons being learned here, it seems, are the attributes of monotonous repetition and other skills that might be useful to working-class drones. The monkey appears to be the only thing operating with some semblance of free will.

“Instituta Benjamenta” represents the Quays’ first foray into feature films. Born near Philadelphia and educated at London’s Royal Academy of the Arts, identical twins Stephen and Timothy began their careers working on commercials, music videos (Peter Gabriel’s “Sledgehammer”) and short films, most employing puppet animation. Their other feature is “The Piano Tuner of Earthquakes,” which also was co-written by Alan Passes and whose characters are little more than automatons. The handsome HD restoration was supervised by the directors and enhanced for widescreen viewing. It includes the hypnotic 2007 short, “Eurydice, She So Beloved,” behind-the-scenes footage and the original theatrical trailer. – Gary Dretzka

On the Inside: Blu-ray
The less one expects from the virtually straight-to-video “On the Inside,” a frequently entertaining prison movie, the more impressed they’ll be by its small surprises. Nick Stahl (“Carnivale”) plays Allen, a college professor who goes postal on a young man he believes to have raped his girlfriend. Unfortunately for everyone concerned, he kills the wrong guy. The savagery of the attack must have convinced the judge that he was criminally insane, because that’s the kind of facility to which he’s sent. Early in his stay there, he’s taunted by a fellow prisoner, who’s truly evil, and attempts to befriend a guy who seems to be auditioning for the role of Lennie in an amateur production of “Of Mice and Men.” Because of Allen’s generally positive outlook on his incarceration, he’s assigned to an experimental socialization program. It’s here that he befriends the bi-polar bombshell, Mia (Olivia Wilde). The guards aren’t particularly brutal, but this doesn’t stop Allen’s tormentor from staging a bloody attempt at a prison break. Curiously, Allen and Mia miss most of the action, because they’re swapping hooch and hugs in an area temporarily out of harm’s way. Naturally, as “On the Inside” nears its climax, there’s a showdown between relative good and absolute evil. Stahl, who’s experienced troubles of his own lately, is good as the brooding convict, while Wilde balances beauty and bi-polarity in convincing fashion. The Blu-ray adds commentary. – Gary Dretzka

My Way: Blu-ray
Sector 7”: 3D/2D Blu-ray
American critics weren’t kind to the Korean WWII movie, “My Way,” when it opened in a handful of theaters here in spring. I guess they felt a responsibility to compare it to every modern war picture, from “Paths of Glory” to “Finding Private Ryan,” no matter the financial or cinematic context into which this pan-Asian effort might fit. It isn’t easy to make even a reasonably exciting wartime action film on a budget of $24 million and I think “My Way” makes very good use of its limited resources. It deserved a critical break. Directed and co-written by Kang Je-gyu (“Brotherhood of War”), “My Way” effectively takes a footnote in history and builds enough of a story around it to support an epic movie. The inspiration came from a photograph taken in the aftermath of the D-Day landing, showing a Korean POW in the uniform of the German Wehrmacht. As far as I can tell, no one knows who the soldiers were or what happened to them after the war. What we do know is that, in a last-ditch effort to survive, POWs and conscripts from other Nazi-held territories agreed to don enemy uniforms and be moved to possible invasion sites to construct seawalls and other defenses. By June 6, 1944, Hitler was willing to gamble that these non-Arayans would fill the vacuum left by German forces needed on the eastern front. He knew that Allied soldiers weren’t likely cut them any more breaks than any other man aiming a machine gun at them. Given the choice between life and death, the Koreans and other conscripts would fight before being given the opportunity to surrender. In any case, the Korean POWs already had been forced to fight for the Japanese, Soviet Red Army and now the Germans. Each time, there was a man with a gun at their backs, demanding they march on for the greater glory of a country not their own.

Kang connects the dots by constructing a backstory in which a pair of marathon runners – one a poor Korean, the other the son of an officer in Japan’s Occupation forces – find their lives intertwined at nearly every turn. They compete against each other in Olympics qualifying races – fixed to favor the Japanese runner – fight the Soviets at the Battle of Nomonhan, share ramshackle barracks in a Siberian POW camp, face German machine-gun fire in a suicide assault near Moscow and finally are captured by the Germans and sent to Normandy. Even if these men ultimately would be forced by circumstances to find common ground, they weren’t friends by any stretch of the imagination. The Japanese were feared and hated by the Koreans, just as the Germans were reviled by the Russians and vice versa. For them to win each other’s respect, it would take tests of strength, endurance and humiliation few novelists would dare invent. The battle sequences are extremely well done, given the budget, and it’s easy to feel the pain of being insulted, tortured and forced to bear arms in battles not of their making. The Blu-ray adds making-of material, interviews and an English-dub version.

Unless you are one of fortunate few who can afford HD3D appliances, it won’t mean much to learn that “Sector 7” is purported to be South Korea’s first 3D live-action thriller. (I think “Shock Labyrinth” actually holds that distinction.) Although there’s nothing in “Sector 7” that would prompt me to run out and buy a new set, it can hold its own with movies in which humans and slimy creatures are required to occupy the same tight quarters. The title refers to a deep-water oil-drilling site in waters claimed at various time by both Korea and Japan. If it is, in fact, rich with black gold, no one working on the derrick has yet to tap into the mother lode. Instead, they’ve managed to incubate a monster that looks as if its mother was a sea lion and its father was a lamprey eel or prawn. What distinguishes “Sector 7” from other imported creature-features is its expensive look and quality of the actors, led by Ha Ji-won (“Closer to Heaven”), who plays the chief honcho on the derrick and heroine. And, yes, it is noteworthy that a woman was chosen to play the protagonist in such a genre film. Things get wilder as “Sector 7” reaches its climax, which is as it should be. The Blu-ray features include a making-of piece and interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Budz House
If all I knew about marijuana came from slacker/stoner movies, such as “Budz House,” I’d probably be against the legalization of marijuana, too. I guess the same could have been said about Cheech & Chong in their heyday, but, at least, they weren’t too stoned to confuse lazy filmmaking and relying on clichés with being funny. I suspect that director Cameron Casey and writer Marvin Watkins were too high on chronic, themselves, to know the difference or care much that they don’t. For what it’s worth, however, the pot ingested in vast quantities by C&C probably was a tenth as strong as the reefer (there’s a word that dates me) grown and smoked by the characters here. But, it isn’t the marijuana gags that killed “Budz House” for me. It was, first, the implied image of a 300-pound guy clogging the toilet after a leisurely dump, and, second, having to watch a plumber attempt to fix the mess with his bare hands.

Just for the record, mayhem ensues after Bud Howard (Wesley Jonathan) and his stoner pals discover a misplaced Hefty Bag full of grade-A “kush” and, instead of returning it to its rightful gangsta owner, smoke as much of it as they can. By the time they realize their mistake, the pot’s gone up in smoke and they owe a guy named “One Punch” a big chunk of money. Fortuitously, the plumber discovers that other thing clogging the pipes are the pot plants hidden in the cabinet under the sink. Unbeknownst to Bud, they’ve been fertilized by the raw sewage overflowing from the broken toilet bowl and acquired an unusually high potency. So, to avoid being killed by either of the two gang chieftains on their tails, the boys decide to sell enough of it to satisfy their debt and have some left over to smoke. That always works. Besides drawing comic books, Bud also is allowing himself to be seduced by one of the gangstas’ horny girlfriends. As if that weren’t enough, there are subplots involving one of Bud’s friends and a transvestite and his sister’s desire to win some kind of a booty-bouncing contest on the Internet. The funniest part of “Budz House” comes in a bonus feature, during which Faizon Love delivers a lengthy comic monologue. – Gary Dretzka

Meeting Evil
As near as I can tell, the dark psychological thriller “Meeting Evil” played in exactly one theater, perhaps, for only for one night. It’s reported box-office return was $181. Actually, the picture opened a month earlier on a VOD service, but, who’s counting? I’ve seen a lot of movies that would have had a difficult time bringing in even that much money in a theatrical run, but none starring Samuel L. Jackson and/or Luke Wilson. Maybe I missed something here, but I found “Meeting Evil” – adapted by Chris Fisher from a Thomas Berger novel – to be reasonably gripping and unpredictable. Even if Jackson and Wilson are playing characters we’ve met several times previously … $181? Wilson plays a poor schmo, John, who, on the day he loses his job, meets a mysterious stranger, Richie (Jackson), who needs help with his car and promises to fix all his problems. After Richie invites John to join him on a road trip to places unknown, all sorts of disturbing things begin to happen, including a string of grotesque murders. Because Richie disappears at inopportune times for John, it’s possible to wonder if the stranger might not be a figment of his imagination and facilitator of subliminal impulses. When the police catch up with John, who’s unilaterally decided to end their excursion, they begin to wonder the same thing. Suffice it to say, we haven’t seen or heard the last of Richie. The ending surprised me and I suspect it will satisfy other fans of the actors. Leslie Bibb also plays a key role as John’s increasingly impatient wife. – Gary Dretzka

The Tested
The adjective “gritty” is loosely attached to almost any movie in which life in the streets of major cities is portrayed as realistically as possible, given the limitations of indie budgets, hand-held cameras and tight shooting schedules. On television, it can mean that graffiti has been added to the sets or left on the sides of buildings, as is. Russell Costanzo’s anything-but-slick urban drama, “The Tested,” is one movie that actually deserves to have “gritty” attached to it. I may not be able to vouch for the validity of the tragedy at the heart of the story, but there’s no denying how authentic it looks and feels. “The Tested” is set in the aftermath of a police shooting that claimed the life of an unarmed teen and left the cop, the boy’s mother and his brother severely damaged emotionally. In the year it’s taken for the cop (Armando Riesco) to be cleared and sober up, the victim’s mother and brother (Aunjanue Ellis, Michael Morris Jr.) have existed in a netherworld of poverty, gang violence, false hopes and broken promises, and a desperate yearning for revenge. The cop holds steady, until he runs into the boy’s mother in a liquor store and falls off the wagon. His desire for redemption is palpable. If he can find it, perhaps the mom and brother can go on with their lives, as well. That, however, is a big “if.” As rough around the edges as it is, “The Tested” delivers a powerful punch for writer/director Costanzo in his first feature. In its rough-cut version, it was chosen to participate in the 2009 Narrative Independent Filmmaker Lab & Independent Film Week, in New York City, and probably benefitted greatly from that experience. Rounding out the excellent cast are Frank Vincent (“Goodfellas”), Annie Parisse (“Law & Order) and Nathan Corbett (“The Wire”).  – Gary Dretzka

Dreams From My Real Father: A Story of Reds and Deception
In his new faux documentary, disgruntled ex-hippie Joel Gilbert attempts to make the case for President Obama lying about the identity of his real father by literally offering an alternative reading of “Dreams From My Father.” As the filmmaker’s theory goes, instead of being born to onetime Kenyan goat-herder Barack Obama Sr. and Stanley Ann Dunham, the future POTUS’ birth father was American poet, journalist, poet, political and labor organizer and card-carrying commie, Frank Marshall Davis. The President has never denied the presence of Davis in his life as a mentor, of sorts, but Gilbert wants us to believe that the beliefs of the long-dead man still influence his each and every decision, as if he was a character in “The Manchurian Candidate.” Oddly enough, Gilbert’s creation myth contradicts the “birther” argument that was Obama was born in Kenya and, therefore, isn’t eligible to be President. Because Davis was an American citizen, it wouldn’t matter where Obama was born. That argument doesn’t sit well with die-hard birthers, like Donald Trump, Sheriff Joe Arpaio and thousands of other people with nothing better to do with their lives than to torture us with their hallucinations. Gilbert thinks it’s more important to focus on Obama’s Marxist DNA. Like everything else in this pitiful documentary, which already has found traction on the Internet, the grains of sands upon which he builds his case for America’s first commie commander-in-chief are easily washed away by the truth. If Obama is carrying out a Marxist agenda, he’s doing a piss-poor job of it. In fact, most of the decisions he’s made in his first four years in the White House have angered dyed-in-the-wool leftists – as opposed to liberal Democrats and TV pundits — as much as they have conservatives. His financial advisers helped rescue Wall Street from collapse and kept bankers out of prison; he hasn’t lifted the ridiculous economic blockade of Cuba; his attorney general continues to target legal marijuana dispensaries and growers; he and his wife are extremely wealthy; he hasn’t ended the war in Afghanistan or stood up to oil cartels; and the Pentagon still is in bed with Halliburton, Academi (formerly Blackwater) and other war-profiteers. That’s some Marxist agenda.

In fact, the person pretending to read from “Dreams From My Real Father” in the documentary reminds me more of Jeff Foxworthy than a 34-year-old Barack Obama. Instead of “You might be a redneck, if …” jokes, Gilbert’s narrator might as well be saying, “You might be a Marxist, if …” By using the laws of flaky logic and hysterical conjecture, he appears to be arguing, “You might be a Marxist if: one of your parents is African-American; one of your parents is poet/photographer/journalist/activist; one of your parents is white and is friends with an African-American poet/photographer/journalist/activist; you attended a school named after Abraham Lincoln (as did Davis); you’ve ever joined a union or participated in a strike; doubted that bankers and Republicans had your best interests in mind; know the difference between Karl Marx and Zeppo Marx; don’t believe that the medical and insurance industries always have your best interests at heart; are friends with Bill Ayres, Bernadine Dohrn, Bill Ayres’ capitalist-tool father, David Axelrod or anyone who went to college in the 1960s; you smoked pot or partied hardy in college; have personally benefitted from affirmative-action programs; are related to someone who may have posed nude for a photographer; don’t believe everything you hear on talk radio; have ever read or listened to the words of Malcolm X, Martin Luther King Jr. and Reverend Jeremiah Wright; didn’t refuse to read ‘The Communist Manifesto,’ when it was assigned by your high-school history teacher; or if you believe that the Bill of Rights should apply to anyone darker than white.” That’s the extent of the scholarship in “Dreams From My Real Father.”

The point is, though, even if everything Gilbert says were to be proven true and Davis is Obama’s real father, what difference would it make?  If, as POTUS, Obama continues to act more like a moderate Republican than anyone left of, say, Charlie Rose, it won’t bring about a rebellion by the proletariat or unemployed workers. He can’t get anything remotely progressive through Congress, anyway. Better that Gilbert focus on Mitt Romney, who, besides being someone willing to sell the assets of this country to multinational corporations and predatory capitalists, could move to Mexico tomorrow and be granted citizenship by the same government that provided refuge for his grandparents and other members of a well-known polygamous cult. If he wins, American men could be required to marry more than one woman, father dozens of children and voluntarily give up their jobs, so they can be outsourced to any country where workers are paid less than a dollar a day. American women would have to get used to those sister-wife hairdos; be required to share child-custody rights with the men who raped them; and crawl back under the glass ceiling. You see, liberals can make up crazy shit and put it on the Internet, too. – Gary Dretzka

Children’s Hospital: The Complete Third Season
Nature: Cracking the Koala Code: Blu-ray
BBC: Michael Wood’s Story of England
Between 9 p.m. and 6 a.m., on the cable space normally devoted to Cartoon Network programming, Adult Swim attracts a wide demographic of viewers attracted to grown-up animation and comedy shows. It’s here that you’ll find one of the most thoroughly irreverent – and funny – shows on any television platform. Populated with familiar-looking veterans of sitcoms, improv- and sketch-comedy troupes and commercials, “Children’s Hospital” skewers the conventions and clichés of medical dramas in bite-size segments. I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that the show was inspired by the similarly irreverent “Soapdish,” which, 25 years ago, sent up TV soap operas and doctor shows. On “Children’s Hospital,” the patients often are as twisted as the medical staff, which includes all manner of misfits, miscreants and fetishists. Show creator Rob Corddry stars with series regulars Malin Akerman, Lake Bell, Erinn Hayes, Rob Huebel, Ken Marino, Megan Mullally and Henry Winkler. There are plenty of drop-ins, as well, by recognizable stars. The DVD includes all 14 episodes from Season Three.

I was struck by how similar “Cracking the Koala Code” is to another recent “Nature” episode, “Raccoon Nation.” Just as raccoons have become as common a presence in America suburbia as ice-cream trucks and skate-boarders, super-cute koalas have become ubiquitous presences in some Australian communities. Encroaching urbanization is to blame for both phenomena. As the suburban housing intrudes on traditional habitats, these clever animals have adapted to traffic, pets, pedestrians and bicyclists, all in the pursuit of food. Just as in “Raccoon Nation,” the researchers here have tagged resident animals and following them via GPS as they go about their daily rounds, avoiding scraps with tougher animals and staking their own territory. We also learn how the koalas communicate with each other and perform their pro-creation rituals. The animals are protected from untoward contact with human beings, but must combat other more virulent ills, including venereal disease. It’s a fascinating show the whole family can enjoy.

By this time next week, we’ll all be knee-deep in up-close-and-personal stories about life in England, especially in places designated as venues for Olympics activities. BBC host Michael Wood, who never stays in one place for very long, has been exploring fascinating places around England and the rest of the world for a long time. In his “Story of England” mini-series, he examines the long history of the country through the perspective of one place – the village of Kibworth, Leicestershire – that’s located at the geographical and historical center of England. Kibworth and its many generations of residents have endured the Roman, Saxon and Viking invasions, Norman Conquest, Black Death, Civil War and bombings in World War II. It also played a key role in the Industrial Revolution, and was even bombed in World War II. Conveniently, much of the archaeology, landscape, language and DNA remain, near and above the surface of the rolling landscape. The two-disc set includes 353 minutes of educative entertainment. – Gary Dretzka

Los Angeles Kings: Stanley Cup 2012 Champions: Blu-ray
It took the Los Angeles Kings 45 years to be crowned NHL champions and be awarded one of the most prized trophies in professional sports, the Stanley Cup. Compared to the regular season, the playoffs practically were a cakewalk for the eighth-seeded team. This officially sanctioned Blu-ray serves a reminder of the roller-coaster ride that was the regular season, as well as the heady moments from the playoffs. It overflows with featurettes, interviews, marketing material and locker-room visits. It also adds material from the celebrations and victory parade. – 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