MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Jaws, Hunger Games, Dardennes, Kill List, more…

Jaws: Blu-ray
News reports of shark sightings and bitings pick up every time a new addition to the “Jaws” franchise is about to be released and, like clockwork, the critters didn’t disappoint the media last week. They’ve occurred with such frequency over the course of the last 37 years as to be attributed to the marketing stealth of Universal’s publicity team. As if. Steven Spielberg’s summer blockbuster has inspired several other gigantic fish stories – as well as trivia and factoids that sound too good to be true, but are — most of which are examined in the sparkling new Blu-ray from Universal’s centennial collection. The marketing campaign, alone, could fill a chapter in a history of the American cinema. In addition to being a movie that bridged all demographic quadrants, “Jaws” changed forever the way studios would sell potential summer blockbusters to the public. Besides introducing the “tent pole” strategy, the campaign was largely supported by television advertising and simultaneous release on 409 screens. It would have been twice that number if Universal boss Lew Wasserman hadn’t decided to cut back on original plans, so has to ensure lines outside each theater. Was it the marketing that sold “Jaws” or the buzz generated from early screenings, reviews and trailers and the anticipation that came with seeing Peter Benchley’s best-seller brought to life? No matter, because the movie gods had already decreed that Spielberg would direct the first movie to cross the $100-million barrier, thus granting him carte-blanche status for life.

Just as important in some circles, the movie’s amazing success allowed distributors to alter the time-honored formula that determined how much of the box-office bounty was returned to studio coffers. Instead of a 50/50 split, distributors could demand 90/10 for the first one or two weeks, with the percentage changing only after most of the money was sucked from the rubes. Distributors would assume most of the advertising and marketing expenses, but the shift forced theater owners to jack up concessions prices to survive. (Popcorn and pop revenues couldn’t rescue exhibitors from a 90/10 bomb, however.) By the time “Star Wars” rolled into town, distributors also had begun to demand money in advance from chains to ensure exclusivity rights, in effect pushing indies to the brink of financial disaster. The late-May release of new record-holder “Star Wars” ultimately led to the current practice of pushing up the start of summer season to mid-spring and avoiding the simultaneous release of potential blockbusters. On the downside, the success of “Jaws” would usher in the era of the unnecessary sequel and even more unnecessary prequel and parody. Judging from the recent premiere of “Jersey Shore Shark Attack” on Syfy, we’re still there.

Despite the many spinoffs, ripoffs, sequels and 25 years of “Shark Week” programming on Discovery, “Jaws” remains a welcome addition to the summer Blu-ray bounty. An exacting audio-visual makeover and digital remastering make the movie look and sound as fresh as it was in 1975 and far better than previous video iterations. As any certified classic should, the Blu-ray edition retains the qualities that made it special from Day One. Even though I knew it was coming, I was startled by the mangled head of the fisherman when it presented itself to Richard Dreyfuss’ Hooper, who’s examining a shipwreck for evidence of a shark attack. The story Robert Shaw tells about surviving the Japanese attack on the USS Indianapolis in shark-infested waters had only recently been de-classified and qualified as news to most viewers. (These included a victim’s mother, who never was told how her son died.) Dreyfuss’ early concern for the well-being of the shark population reminds us that these ancient creatures continue to be slaughtered, simply for the commercial value of their fins. The offshore presence of a single Great White or swarm of lesser predators still prompts the media to pull out stock footage of “Jaws.” It demonstrates just how deeply the larger-than-life Spielbergian tale – it began as an undisguised homage to “Moby Dick” – is etched into the American psyche. The Blu-ray package includes a digital UltraViolet copy of “Jaws”; deleted scenes and outtakes; all-new documentaries, “The Shark Is Still Working” and “Jaws: The Restoration”; the vintage “The Making of ‘Jaws’”; original marketing material and a discussion of the release strategy; and an insider’s look at life on the set of “Jaws.” All are interesting, at least, even if key participants – including author Peter Benchley – pull their punches in describing the near-chaos that surrounded the production. Another interesting addition is material gathered during a recent return to Martha’s Vineyard for Jaws Fest. Amity Island hasn’t changed a bit, while some of the actors, extras and locations still retain their value as tourist attractions. – Gary Dretzka

The Hunger Games: Blu-ray
I waited for “The Hunger Games” to arrive in DVD and Blu-ray to discover for myself what all the fuss was about, without standing in line or selling my car to afford popcorn and pop. No longer having a teenager living at home, I was singularly unaware of the existence of Suzanne Collins and the huge popularity of her novels. If I had attended a pre-release screening, I probably would have come away from it thinking the movie was another one-off tale of survival in a dystopian, post-apocalyptic culture, with feminist overtones. And, yes, it is all of that and a box of Raisinettes. Given the time to pay closer attention to the details, though, I could see that “Hunger Games” also is informed by Greek mythology, the bread-and-circuses politics of ancient Rome, Shakespeare’s “Coriolanus,” the Great Depression, the novels of George Orwell, our misadventures in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan, and such reality-based shows as “Survivor.” I think it unlikely that Collins was directly influenced by Kinji Fukasaku’s “Battle Royale” and “Battle Royale II” – as they weren’t shown widely here until the DVD release – but I’ll bet the filmmakers studied it. Clearly, too, it was shot to accommodate as many as three sequels, one of which would be cut in two pieces, a la “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows.” Nothing in “Hunger Games” seemed cynically rendered, though, and I mostly enjoyed it. If I were a teenager or much younger adult, blissfully unaware of the several dozen survivalist thrillers that preceded it, “Hunger Games” probably would have grabbed me even more than it did. I credit that to the attractive young cast and the wild makeup and set designs.

In brief, the participants in “Hunger Games” – one boy, one girl – are chosen from each of 12 districts that comprise, Panem, the nation-state built on the ruins of what once was North America. Characters played by Jennifer Lawrence and Josh Hutcherson represent the poorest district and, although they don’t look it, are supposed to be weakened by malnutrition and hard labor. They will compete in the blood sport known as Hunger Games, which only allows for one survivor out of 24 contestants. It’s nationally televised from the Capitol, a metropolis that’s both ancient and futuristic in design, and, like “Survivor,” the producers manipulate the game for maximum “entertainment” value. The more prosperous the district, the more likely it is that its representatives have undergone formal training. By contrast, Katniss Everdeen (Lawrence) is a master archer who dines on the squirrels she can’t sell to merchants in District 12. Peeta (Hutcherson) is the son of a baker, who’s become muscular from toting bags of flour around the family store. He’s admired Katniss from afar and dreads the thought of anyone causing her harm. She isn’t that keen about killing other contestants, either, but put herself in harm’s way when the name of her younger, far more fragile sister was picked in the lottery. Fortunately, Katniss has already absorbed many of the survival skills necessary to avoid being killed in the first day of the hunt. A good listener and quick study, she also benefits from the tips she receives from her mentors (Woody Harrelson, Lenny Kravitz). Unlike a stand-alone survival story such as “Lord of the Flies,” all of the action here inevitably leads to an ending that will serve as the beginning of the first sequel, “Catching Fire,” when Katniss’ chutzpah will be put to the test by the same Capitol politicians she managed to outsmart in Chapter One. The movie was written to accommodate an on-screen romance, which will be continued down the road, as well.

Fans of the novels seem to have embraced the first installment of “Hunger Games.” It’s possible that newcomers to the fantasy could feel manipulated by the obvious setups for the sequels. There’s no questioning the quality of the Blu-ray presentation, however, as it captures nicely both the outdoors scenes – filmed on location in North Carolina — and those shot in front of a green screen. A second disc contains the special features, of which I’m of a mixed mind. The featurettes, “Game Maker: Suzanne Collins and the ‘Hunger Games’ Phenomenon” and “The World Is Watching: Making ‘The Hunger Games,’” while interesting, are dominated by the oversize egos of Ross and the producers. They laud the absent Collins, of course, but constantly remind us of their many essential contributions and revisions to the source material. In “Letters From the Rose Garden,” Donald Sutherland – who plays the president of Panem — reads the beyond-gushy letter he sent to Ross after reading the script and considering his character. He compares the script to “Paths of Glory,” which, by any stretch of the imagination, it’s not. “Controlling the Games” is a shorter look at the event’s futuristic headquarters; “A Conversation With Gary Ross and Elvis Mitchell” and “Preparing for The Games: A Director’s Process” give the writer/director more time to promote himself; “Propaganda Film” is a faux PSA narrated by Sutherland, which explains the genesis of the games; and there’s a marketing “archive.” Techies should appreciate the Metabeam Smart Remote, BD Touch and DTS-HD Master Audio Sound Check. Ironically, for all the time Ross spends offering self-aggrandizing observations, he will be conspicuously absent from the director’s chair in the sequels. – Gary Dretzka

La promesse: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Rosetta: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Few hometowns have provided as large a canvass for a filmmaker as that offered Luc and Jean-Pierre Dardenne by the industrial city of Seraing, Belgium. Then, again, few filmmakers have found as many different corners of a particular city to survey in such physical and emotional detail as the Dardennes have with the Walloon municipality. It served them extremely well, early on, as fodder for documentaries and continues to inform their theatrical titles, which resemble documentaries. Despite the prosperity and conspicuous consumption that characterized the 1980s and 1990s in Europe and the United States, the people we met in “La promesse” and “Rosetta” upon their release in 1996 and 1999 reminded us folks struggling in the American Rust Belt. The same market forces that caused the elimination of so many jobs here were simultaneously impacting Europe’s blue-collar workforce. They included the illegal immigration and recruitment of foreign workers and the loss of employment due to decreased consumer spending.

In “La promesse,” the Dardennes’ first theatrical film to draw wide notice outside Belgium, a father’s brutal treatment of the illegal immigrants housed in his disheveled apartment building finally builds to the point where his son turns against him. At first, 15-year-old Igor (Jérémie Rénier) is perfectly willing to participate in the scams and schemes perpetrated by the father, Roger (Olivier Gourmet). He loves the old man and, for all intents and purposes, they’re two peas in a pod. Igor begins to change his tune only after one of the men working for peanuts on a building owned by his father accidentally falls from a scaffold to his death. With his last breath, the man pleads with Igor to watch over his wife and child, recently arrived from Burkina Faso, in his absence. It is a pledge Igor takes very seriously and eventually leads to evidence of Roger’s complicity in crime and immoral behavior. Beating the boy for giving the widow money to pay off her “missing” husband’s gambling debt severely damages Roger’s ability to maintain his rapport with Igor. If the woman is able to convince police to investigate, Roger’s livelihood and freedom could disappear overnight. This creates a situation in which Igor is forced to make choices no son should be required to do. The Dardennes’ camera follows Igor, sometimes at breakneck speed, as he goes about his daily activities and co-exist as a teenage boy in an adult world.

The Dardennes also maintain a tight focus on the protagonist of “Rosetta,” a young woman who not only can’t seem to catch a break in life, but also is her own worst enemy. At her trailer-park home, Rosetta is fighting a losing battle against her self-destructive mother and the men hoping to trade booze for sex. At work, despite a good record, she is the first person to be laid off whenever business lags or the boss’ son needs a job. Rosetta’s willing to work for wages that match those given to less capable people and immigrants, but is turned away. Few business owners in town trust the motives of a young white woman willing to work for slave wages. As the Dardennes explain in an interview, Rosetta (Emelie Dequenne) lives to work and can’t contain her misery when she’s idle. Scrupulously honest, she’s even willing to rat out a fellow employee, who’s helped her in several ways, when she discovers that his moonlighting job conflicts with her boss’ interests. It’s her last resort for getting her job back and she doesn’t feel bad about doing it. This creates a dilemma for viewers, who sympathize with Rosetta’s plight but don’t particularly admire her methods. If Americans can’t relate to what Rosetta is experiencing, they aren’t paying attention to the news.

The Criterion Collection Blu-ray benefits from a restored high-definition digital transfer, supervised by the Dardennes’ regular cinematographer Alain Marcoen. It also includes a 2012 conversation between critic Scott Foundas and the filmmakers; new interviews with Dequenne and “La promesse” stars Jeremie Renier and Olivier Gourmet; a new English subtitle translation; and a booklet with an essay by critic Kent Jones. – Gary Dretzka

Jay & Silent Bob Get Old: Tea Bagging in the UK
Ever since their film debut in the 1994 indie sensation, “Clerks,” the comedy team of Jay & Silent Bob have been nearly inseparable. As such, the fictional characters (a.k.a., Jason Mewes and Kevin Smith) have served as role models for millions of underachievers, slackers and potheads around the world. And, why not? They’ve lasted eight years longer than Jerry Lewis and Dean Martin and regularly sell out auditoriums on their tours. Moreover, Mewes has managed to lift a rather large monkey off of his back and Smith looks as if he’s sufficiently slim and trim to be allowed on Southwest flights, without buying a second ticket. When they get together as Jay and Silent Bob, on tour, they sit at a table, exchanging views and anecdotes about getting high, getting laid and other weird scenes along their road to success. I suspected the British audiences that gathered for the three shows captured in “Jay & Silent Bob Get Old: Tea Bagging in the UK” would be a tad more discriminating than the ones that flock to their appearances here. I was wrong. Hard-core fans, those who haven’t already caught the lads’ podcasts and pay-per-view shows, anyway, should enjoy the new DVD very much. Others should acquaintant themselves with “Clerks,” “Mallrats,” “Chasing Amy,” “Dogma” and “Jay & Silent Bob Strike Back” before sinking their teeth into “Teabagging in the UK.” – Gary Dretzka

Kill List
Breathless: Blu-ray
British writer/director Ben Wheatley made a bit of a splash here, in 2010, with “Down Terrace,” a darkly comic story about a Brighton crime family struggling to stay afloat. He also directed more than a dozen episodes of the hilarious slacker sitcom, “Ideal,” for the BBC. “Kill List” is a graphically violent crime thriller, in which a pair of hitmen work their way down a list of people they’ve been assigned to murder. Apparently, the more depraved of the two, Jay (Neil Maskell), did some wet work for the Brit government, but his last trip to Kiev was something of a disaster. He’s spent the last year vegging out at his suburban home, driving his lovely wife with his sour disposition. Sensing that Jay is about to come apart at the seams, Gal (Michael Smiley) talks Jay into getting back in the game. A newborn enthusiasm for killing puts both men in the crosshairs of the evil men who call the shots. Lest viewers get too complacent, though, Wheatley steers “Kill List” in a completely different direction. That it takes the movie into territory previously mined in “The Wicker Man” is all I’m going to say about what happens in the final two reels. It’s pretty astonishing, though, and not for the squeamish.

What would possess an unsung writer/director to borrow the title of one of the cinema world’s most influential crime movies – and a pretty good American remake – and attach it to a movie that has direct-to-video written all over it? It isn’t that “Breathless” is a bad film, because it isn’t. It’s just that the title immediately conjures visions of Jean-Luc Godard’s 1960 classic –starring Jean-Paul Belmondo and Jean Seberg – as well as Jim McBride’s 1983 remake and the Jerry Lee Lewis song that inspires Richard Gere to take suicidal risks in it. Jesse Baget’s “Breathless” is a mildly entertaining black comedy, in which a gorgeous, if slightly over-the-hill Texas trailer dweller, Lorna (Gina Gershon), becomes a suspect in both a bank robbery and the murder of her good-for-nothing husband, Dale (Val Kilmer). Lorna suspects Dale of pulling off a $100,000 haul and stashing it in their remote trailer, with no intention of sharing it. To get him to admit to the crime, she enlists the help of her dimestore-sexpot friend, Tiny (Kelli Giddish). Before they can get him to talk, however, Lorna drills Dale with a seemingly errant bullet. Their attempt to dispose of the body is partially thwarted by a suspicious cop (Ray Liotta), who’s required to spend most of the movie cooling his heels at the entrance of the property, while waiting for a search warrant. There’s also an unkempt private eye (Richard Riehle), who crawls in through the bedroom window and already has much of the mystery figured out. It’s the location of the money that’s kept him guessing. The PI has been given most of the script’s best lines and benefits from a likeness to M. Emmet Walsh in “Blood Simple.” The special features add commentary with writer/director Baget and producer Christine Holder, as well as a behind-the-scenes featurette. — Gary Dretzka

Juan of the Dead
Girls Gone Dead: Unrated and Exposed Edition
Father’s Day: Limited Edition: Blu-ray
Every so often, a zombie movie will arrive out of nowhere and leave you with the feeling that the sub-genre might have some real life left in it, after all. Like Edgar Wright’s delightfully fresh “Shaun of the Dead,” Alejandro Brugues’ “Juan of the Dead” is more interested in entertaining audiences than showcasing new methods of killing the undead and adding to their arsenal of silly walks. First and foremost, “Juan of the Dead” was shot in Cuba, a country not known for its output of genre pictures and freedom of expression. With its decaying architecture and inescapable proclamations of political rhetoric, Havana already is one of the world’s capitals of undead culture. Indeed, it takes the protagonists several days to figure out that the bodies they see shuffling around the streets of their neighborhood aren’t actual human beings. (The same gag informed “Shaun of the Dead.”) Soon enough, the sheer number of zombies convinces them to take action.

As played by Alexis Diaz de Villegas, Juan is a fisherman too lazy to bother attempting to make the 90-mile passage to Florida and starting over on a new life. For Juan and his motley crew of pals, residing in the communist worker’s paradise is akin to attending daily AA meetings and relapsing after each one. When they aren’t fishing, drinking or screwing other men’s wives, they’re required to attend block meetings and watch news reports blaming Yankee imperialists for all of the island’s problems. Indeed, the newsreader isn’t at all reluctant to spread the official government opinion that the “flu” affecting residents is being spread by dissidents in league with the CIA. It causes one of the zombie hunters to refer to his prey only as “dissidents.” Their brainstorm business promises customers that any zombie-infestation problem can be eliminated with one phone call to Juan of the Dead. Even as the newsreader is assuring citizens that the plague is over, the zombie population is growing to the point where only the craziest of hunters will attempt clearing them out. Certain genre conventions apply in any zombie movie, but Havana is such a rich setting for horror that even the clichés feel new. A question not addressed in the making-of featurette is how Brugues and his team managed to stay out of jail for their effrontery.

Girls Gone Dead” is an almost shockingly lame parody of slasher films, in which overweight porn star Ron Jeremy, Iron Maiden’s Nicko McBrain and Howard Stern regulars Beetlejuice and Sal the Stockbroker are required to fill the vacuum left by the absence of a competent director and writer. A horror parody of Joe Francis and his “Girls Gone Wild” empire could be fun to watch, but “Girls Gone Dead” isn’t the one. No sooner does a group of college girls arrive at their Florida destination than a purple-clad stalker, wielding a medieval weapon begins killing them. The killer also targets the “Crazy Girls Unlimited” production team. Why? Clearly, it has something to do with the bible-bangers we meet early in the film and who then quickly disappear. When the fake blood isn’t flowing, fans of cheap and dirty T&A can get their kicks by starring at the ladies. Anyone who makes it through the feature may want to stay tuned for the bonus material, which includes five behind-the-scenes featurettes; the same number of music videos; fake commercials for Crazy Girls Unlimited; deleted scenes; and interviews.

As befits any movie that aspires to becoming a classic, Troma has made its latest slasher epic, “Father’s Day,” available in a super-duper four-disc limited and numbered Blu-ray edition. Years earlier, as the story goes, Ahab (Adam Brooks) convinced himself that he had avenged the brutal rape, murder, dismemberment and digestion of his father, by killing a vicious monster named Chris Fuchman. When new murders bearing the same M.O. begin to occur, Ahab is solicited by a street hustler, Twink, and a priest. Together, they hunt the killer, but not without killing some people on the way. Then, Satan makes a cameo appearance. If it doesn’t make a lot of sense, at least there’s plenty of Troma-tastic violence and gore to keep fans happy. The company’s impresario, Lloyd Kaufman, reportedly staked the Canadian filmmaking/acting troupe Astron-6 to a $10,000 bequest to make a movie based on a fake trailer they’d made. The set also includes deleted scenes, Astron-6 shorts, making-of and behind-the-scenes featurettes, a slide show, soundtrack EP CD and marketing material. – Gary Dretzka

Paradise Lost 3: Purgatory
In the rush to clear and prosecute notorious cases, representatives of the law-enforcement establishment have been known to take shortcuts they hope will lead to convictions, if not the truth. Defense lawyers play fast and loose with the facts, as well, but that’s what we expect of them. Given that human beings comprise American juries, not lie-detector machines, justice is an inexact science, at best. In the case of the so-called West Memphis Three, chronicled in the “Paradise Lost” documentary trilogy, what’s most dispiriting is the willingness of the judiciary to ignore newly uncovered facts and refuse to rehear cases likely to be reversed. In the case of accused child-killers and Satanists Damien Echols, Jason Baldwin and Jessie Misskelley, it took 18 years and the tireless efforts of filmmakers Joe Berlinger and Bruce Sinofsky – along with private citizens who doubted their guilt – for something approximating justice to prevail. The fact that the real killer(s) likely remain at large and breathing free air reveals an aspect of the system that qualifies as a legitimate flaw. In Arkansas and other states, it’s the responsibility of the judges who presided over the original case to determine if enough new scientific evidence has been uncovered – or reports of police and prosecutorial misconduct authenticated — to warrant a new trial. Unlike DNA evidence, a simple recantation of testimony usually isn’t enough to reverse a decision. The rub, of course, is that too many judges take it personally when the adjudication of the cases before them is tested and routinely side with the prosecutors and police. After all, the presumption of innocence no longer applies. That re-trials can be expensive, time-consuming, similarly inconclusive and emotionally jarring on everyone involved also must be taken into consideration.

Berlinger and Sinofsky were drawn to the case of “the child murders at Robin Hood Hills” was the likelihood that the West Memphis Three not only were guilty in the hideous crimes, but also were inspired by Satanic mischief and heavy-metal music. As time went by, however, they determined that the teenagers had been railroaded and set out to prove it in two subsequent films. They attracted the attention of such high-profile celebrities as Eddie Vedder, Johnny Depp and the Dixie Chicks, whose presence sparked the interest of media outlets that already had put the case to bed. The access accorded the filmmakers was remarkable, even from two men who were likely candidates themselves. “Paradise Lost 3” is a remarkable document, at once uplifting, frustrating and depressing. Indeed, even after it became clear that the men had been robbed of their freedom for nearly two decades, the state demanded that they plead guilty to one murder – while also being allowed to declare their innocence to all three – before they would be allowed to leave prison (and, in one case, Death Row) and get on with their lives. The only other option given them was the right to a retrial, which could take years and result in another conviction or retrial. In the meantime, they’d have to remain in prison. How could this be fair, when even an inadvertent parole violation or misdemeanor could result in a return to the slammer? Meanwhile, the admission of guilt absolves the state in any potential lawsuit. The DVD adds follow-up material, including from press conferences held to promote the documentary. – Gary Dretzka

Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth
The Beatles: Their Golden Age
The Fresh Beat Band: The Wizard of Song
Now that the London edition of the Olympic Games is in our rear-view mirrors, two new non-fiction films might be of interest to young viewers. I was astounded by the lack of coverage of boxing, which can be explained by the fact that no American men were contenders and the successful women were relegated to CNBC. (Was the network too squeamish to show our gold-medal winner, Claressa Shields, and Irish phenom, Katie Taylor, duke it out with other women?) Narrated by the late Bert Sugar, “Ali: The Man, the Moves, the Mouth” not only reminds us of the heavyweight champ’s pride over winning a gold medal, but also that most of his greatest foes also had participated in the Olympics. Even if there isn’t much that’s new here, the 60-minute film serves well as primer for young people who know Ali as a celebrity, without having watched his evolution as a boxer. It’s always fun to watch Ali in his prime, in and out of the ring.

If it weren’t for the contributions of the Beatles to Brit culture, the Opening and Closing ceremonies wouldn’t have been nearly as entertaining or relevant to viewers in the increasingly less desirable Baby Boomer demographic. In “The Beatles: Their Golden Age” publisher, author and former veterinarian Les Krantz documents the Fab Four’s amazing career trajectory through archival, public-domain clips and newsreel material, some of which qualify as rarely seen. Naturally, though, licensing fees preclude the showing of concert material and only bits and pieces from the marketing material for their movies. Again, it’s fun to monitor the band’s changes and relive the hysteria that followed their every move. Otherwise, there isn’t much here that diehard fans haven’t already perused.

I might have saved myself some time if I’d known about Nickelodeon and Nick Jr.’s musical-adventure series, “The Fresh Beat Band: The Wizard of Song,” before I reviewed the live-action feature, “After the Wizard.” When band member Marina gets swept up into a windstorm, she lands in Oz. Like Dorothy, she befriends a Scarecrow, a Tin Woman and a Lion, who lead her to the Wizard of Song. Maybe, he can point her to the way home. The 46-minute episode aired last January. – Gary Dretzka

Glee: The Complete Third Season: Blu-ray
Community: The Complete Third Season
Hallmark: Lake Effects
It took a while, but, once everyone got over the fact that Kurt is gay, the producers and writers of “Glee” finally were able to steer Season 3 in the direction of the Nationals, Graduation Day, life after high school and relieving key characters, including Kurt and Rachel, of their virginity. Also percolating just below the surface was the necessity of finding new members of New Directions to fill the shoes of the world’s oldest teenagers. (Vanessa Lengies, the actor playing newcomer Sugar Motta, just turned 27.) “Glee: The Complete Third Season” provides the perfect remedy for those of us who wavered in our devotion to the Fox series in its third stanza. The fast-forward button allows for easy navigation through and around the increasingly more eccentric storylines, snit-fits and musical set pieces. There were so many strange and unlikely things going on at McKinley High last season that it boggled the mind. Among them are the return of Rachel’s mom (Idina Menzel), with Puck and Quinn’s toddler in tow; Sue’s destructive run for Congress; the near tragedy of Chang getting an A-, an “Asian F,” in math; the Gleek’s Michael Jackson salute; leprechauns and unicorns roaming the WMHS hallways; and the return of Sam Evans. The Blu-ray arrives with a newly replenished “Jukebox”; “Glee Under the Stars”; the deleted number, “Santa Baby”; “Meet the Newbies”; and “Ask Sue: World Domination Blog.”

There’s no more offbeat and unpredictable sitcom on broadcast television then NBC’s “Community,” which often crosses the border from hip to too cool for school. Its often snarky approach to satirizing nerd culture and life, in general, isn’t easy to digest for audiences inclined to react only after a laugh track tells them how to do so. I love it. To recoup, “Community” chronicles the on-campus life of a wildly diverse group of community-college students in Colorado. They met three years ago as members of a study group, but quickly evolved into a family of lovable misfits. The eccentricities that appeal to the sitcom’s core audience also limited its reach, however, and this caused the pinheads at NBC to prematurely declare it dead. After putting the show on a mid-season hiatus, loyal viewers and critics launched a save-“Community” campaign. It worked to the extent that all remaining episodes of the show eventually aired and it’s been accorded a fourth season. The downside came in the announcement that series creator Dan Harmon would be sacrificed to the network gods and other members of the creative team would be leaving with him. Season 3 was noteworthy for its many theme episodes and mini-arcs, as well as the introduction of John Goodman as Greendale’s new vice dean. The complete-season DVD adds commentary on several tracks and some deleted scenes.

Hallmark and Anchor Bay are giving a big push to the made-for-cable movie, “Lake Effects,” which, while family friendly, will appeal primarily to the Lifetime audience of young women and their moms. This isn’t to say that men will be bored to death while watching the family-in-crisis flick – the male characters aren’t total wimps – but it’s the women who drive the drama and make all of the key decisions. With the untimely death of her outdoorsman husband, Jane Seymour’s Vivian faces a financial crisis that involves the legal, if thoroughly unethical foreclosure of her gorgeous lake home. She’s brightened by the arrival of her lawyer daughter (Scottie Thomson) for the funeral, but is dismayed by her desire to get back to L.A. a.s.a.p. She can’t even be bothered with turning off her cellphone during her dad’s Viking rites. Her sister (Madeline Zima) is a local art student who never left home and doesn’t seem to have experienced much in the way of sexual passion. Before long, though, the lawyer reconnects with an old beau, who’s the polar opposite of her fiancé, and the teacher finds love in an unexpected place. While Mom is perfectly willing to accept the reality of losing her home and moving to Arizona, her daughter smells the same rat that’s been running around after the collapse of the housing market everywhere. The process serves to humanize the lawyer daughter and brighten the lives of everyone except her fiancé. That much could have been predicted 20 minutes into the movie. The writing and acting’s serviceable enough, but what really sells the movie is its gorgeous rural Virginia location. The making-of featurette describes how the residents of Moneta, Va., rallied behind the production. – Gary Dretzka

A&E: Dance Moms: Season One
History: American Pickers: Volume Four
History: Pawn Stars: Volume Five
History: Titanic: 100 Years in 3D
Biography: Barack Obama
One of the positive aspects of watching reality-based programming is coming to the realization — maybe for the first time — that there are crazier people out there than your nuttiest relative and some who are far more despicable than the neighbor who encourages his dog to poop on your lawn. They’re everywhere and they’re absolutely frightening. No more so than on A&E’s “Dance Moms,” which is to tweeners what “Toddlers & Tiaras” is to the kindergarten crowd and “Dallas Divas & Daughters” is to aspiring debutantes. Forget for a minute, if you can, that no girl who has yet to reach puberty ought to obsess over makeup and dance routines that wouldn’t be out of place at the Spearmint Rhino. The greater question is why any parent would volunteer to show their worst sides to viewers, week after week, even if they’re paid for the experience. The children are often mature than the moms, which wouldn’t be difficult, but they, too, have their moments. How they’ll act when they have children of their own may never be known. Lifetime’s “Dance Moms” is set in and around Pittsburgh’s Abby Lee Dance Company, which routinely turns out champion dancers. Instructor Abby Lee Miller is Vince Lombardi in stretch pants. In addition to barking and berating the students, she isn’t reluctant to go toe to toe with the moms, all of whom think their daughters are the second coming of Juliet Prowse and Ann Reinking. They could be someday, but they aren’t right now. As nuts as the moms are – one even demands of her seriously injured daughter that she suck it up and compete, like professional athletes — Abby trumps them all by putting the little angels in skimpy costumes they won’t be able to fill out for six or seven years. Even the moms are shocked by the outfits and gyrations. Still, if no one watched these shows, they wouldn’t be renewed season after season. Everyone loves a good horror show.

History’s “American Pickers” is substantially more relatable to those of us who can’t afford lessons at a prestige dance studio and transportation to weekly competitions in all corners of the country. Anyone who owns a car with a large trunk can do the same things as hosts Mike Wolfe and Frank Fritz, who mine for antique gold in the places most people store the stuff they can’t bear to throw away or put on Craig’s List. (We not talking about the mountains of garbage accumulated by the sickos in “Hoarders,” but normally messy Americans.) In the “Volume 4” edition, which, inexplicably, is comprised of shows from Season 2, the hosts begin their trek at the International Clown Hall of Fame, in Wisconsin, and take the circuitous scenic route to southern California.

Most pawn shops look dark and depressing. By comparison, the Harrison family’s shop, in Las Vegas, could be confused with Harrods or Nordstrom’s. Gold and Silver Pawn is bright, spotless and often bustling with activity. Nonetheless, who knew? I wouldn’t be surprised to learn that some of the primo items brought in for sale on “Pawn Stars” were found originally by Mike and Frank in “American Pickers” and given to ringers hired by the show. How else to explain the presence of a 31-ton car-crushing Robosaurus, a midget submarine and a 1936 Rolex watch once owned by Bernie Madoff. Haven’t the customers heard of eBay and Craig’s List? No matter, much of the show’s allure comes from the appraisals made by professionals brought in for their expert opinions. Even when the sellers go home disappointed, they seem happy to be taken seriously and appearing on TV. I’d love to know, however, what some of the items purchased by the Harrisons fetched when put up for sale.

Five months after the centennial of the sinking of the Titanic, the icebergs just keep on coming. The latest addition to the video library is “Titanic: 100 Years in 3D.” The title says it all. It chronicles a 2010 expedition sponsored by Woods Hole Oceanographic Institute and RMS Titanic Inc., during which the entire wreck site was mapped, using high-resolution optical video, sonar, acoustic imaging, 3D HD video and acoustic modeling. In addition to the ship itself, stories connecting the passenger to recovered artifacts are told. Enough already, though. (Also compatible on Blu-ray.)

Biography’s biodoc “Barack Obama” recalls for the one or two people who don’t already know it, how a self-described “skinny kid with a funny name” made the unlikely climb from star speaker at the 2004 Democratic National Convention to President of the United States in four short years. It wasn’t easy, by any stretch of the imagination, but he got a lot of help. In any case, the primary audience for “Barack Obama” is the people too young to have cast a ballot in 2008. It includes new interviews with friends and family members, as well as previously unreleased footage of Obama’s campaign and victory. – Gary Dretzka

Astonishing X-Men: Torn
The latest release in Shout! Factory’s series of material from the Marvel Knights franchise is “Astonishing X-Men,” yet another stylish collaboration between Joss Whedon and John Cassaday. “Torn” picks up where previous arcs, “Gifted” and “Dangerous,” left off. While the video translation of the graphic novel remains faithful to the “Astonishing X-Man” adventures on a frame-by-frame basis, it’s the brilliancy of the colors that sells the DVD. In “Torn,” Emma Frost’s erratic behavior is having an adverse effect on the X-Men, who now have the new Hellfire Club with which to cope. Newcomers to the series are encouraged to begin with “Gifted” and “Dangerous” and other X-Men material before jumping head-first into the deep end with “Torn” and the upcoming “Unstoppable.” – Gary Dretzka

100 Greatest Comedy Classics Box
100 Greatest Western Classics Box
Anyone who’s ever wanted to create his own personal cable channel could start by purchasing the compilations of comedies, Westerns, sci-fi, family, horror and mystery titles, as well as collections of vintage commercials and cartoons, distributed by Mill Creek. Not all of the public-domain titles are classics or even close to being the cream of a studio’s crop; they’re definitely not in pristine condition; and most of the actors, no matter how famous, weren’t close to their prime when the movies were shot. One the other hand, they come in sets ranging from 100 to 1,001 selections and the prices, from $10 to $45. You could pretend to be TMC host Robert Osborne, by introducing each selection, and bring in guest commentators from the neighborhood. If you haven’t bought a new TV in the last 15 years, the quality of the audio-visual presentation won’t matter.

The newest additions to the Mill Creek inventory are “100 Greatest Comedy Classics” and “100 Greatest Western Classics,” the latter combining Mill Creek’s previous “Western” and “Gunslinger” 50-packs. There’s no need to run down the names of the stars of the pictures, because all the great ones are represented, even those of the spaghetti persuasion. The 100-title comedy package combines the earlier “Comedy Kings” and “Comedy Classics” 50-packs. The actors here include many well-known dramatic actors cast in comedic roles. It’s difficult not to find some small gem buried deep inside even the most mediocre of these titles. – Gary Dretzka

The Magic School Bus: The Complete Series
In the mid-1990s, “The Magic School Bus” was one of the most popular series for school-age children on the PBS Kids block. It was adapted by Scholastic Studios from a series of books, by Bruce Degen and Joanna Cole, which were intended to blend educational material, kid-pleasing entertainment and a cohesive throughline. Even after the animated science-adventure was canceled, reruns of the 52-episode series continued on several different commercial networks, including Fox, TLC, Qubo, Discovery Kids and NBC. The new eight-disc compilation contains all 52 episodes of the Emmy-winning series. It also offers a parent’s guide, with a list of episodes, topics and guest stars, and a kids’ guide, with experiments, activities, facts and notes. It can be enjoyed in English and Spanish. – 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