MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Warriors of Rainbow, Full Metal Jacket, Bunny Game, Scalene, Ladda Land, High Fidelity, Zombies …

Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale
The most important thing for American audiences to know about “Warriors of the Rainbow: Seediq Bale” is that it comes with the imprimatur of the great Hong Kong action director, John Woo. Although his presence can’t guarantee a positive reaction, it gives us more reason for optimism than the usual stuff found on a DVD cover. I found it to be immensely entertaining, but recommend potential viewers to take a minute beforehand to read the Wikipedia entry on the history of Taiwan. That’s because “Warriors of the Rainbow” is based on events most viewers – even those whose roots extend to the much disputed island – have no idea existed. For reasons that bear more on geophysical phenomenon than politics, Taiwan was home to a thriving, undiluted indigenous culture until as late as the early 1930s. The mountainous interior and rain forests were roughly divided into hunting grounds claimed by as many as 14 distinct clans, none of which liked each other much. Still, as long as the natives minded their own business and refrained from decapitating the immigrant Chinese who populated the villages on the shoreline, no one in authority bothered them much. It wasn’t until the Japanese took control of the island, after the first Sino-Japanese War, that things took a turn for the worst in the interior. Like any imperialist nation in the colonial era, Japan saw much to plunder in its new property. Taiwan’s rain forests represented a bounty in unexploited timber and mineral wealth. Instead of treating the indigenous people with respect, they officially dubbed them “savages” and forced captured tribesmen to work for wages sufficient only for buying enough rice wine to keep them docile. It is against this background that “Warriors of the Rainbow” takes place.

Like the Apache and the Sioux, the mountain aboriginals not only were great hunters, they also were ferocious guerrilla warriors who assumed that dying with honor in combat assured them a reunion in the afterlife with their ancestors. In fact, heaven was only a short rainbow’s glide away from their temporary quarters on Earth.  So, in effect, they had nothing to lose by taking on the Japanese, whose arsenal by this time included automatic weapons, artillery, airplanes, grenades, mortars and gas bombs. The natives preferred cutting off the heads of their enemies, with one swift slice and without making a sound. Against overwhelming force, however, they would condescend to use stolen rifles and machine guns. Japanese attempts to assimilate the clans were thwarted by the arrogance of police officials and disrespect shown laborers, as well as an insistence that even the ones who agree to blend in were savages. In 1930, Seediq leader Mouna Rudo (Lin Ching-Tai) forged a coalition with other clan leaders and plotted a rebellion against the Japanese that would take the police and army by surprise. The revolt was staged by some 300 clansmen against a virtually unlimited supply of Japanese soldiers, so any success would have to be regarded as a Pyrrhic. Not being a country known to hold back on reprisals for such effrontery, Japan made every effort to annihilate the clans that didn’t capitulate to them. (Being ancient enemies, some found it impossible to join forces for the common good or to meet their ancestors prematurely somewhere over the rainbow.)

“Warriors of the Rainbow” is reputed to be the most expensive Taiwanese film ever made, and every NT$ is visible on the screen. The scenery is spectacular and the action scenes are as exciting as any I’ve seen in any American movie that isn’t dominated by comic-book superheroes or CGI action. Indeed, apart from the special-makeup effects employed to assure that the head-hunting is limited to prosthetic necks, the fight scenes look extremely realistic. Close attention has been paid, as well, to the aboriginal culture and roles played by women and children at all strata of society. If Hollywood hadn’t insisted on pursing its juvenile Cowboys-vs.-Indians approach to the history of the American west, our government’s continued disrespect for the Native American population might not have been tolerated by God-fearing immigrants. Now that the some tribes own casinos, however, the conquerors have been allowed to ignore the poverty that still haunts the reservations. (Once Internet gambling is legalized, many Indian casinos will die on the vine, taking the funds needed for infrastructure, education and health with them.)  Anyone impressed by “Warriors of the Rainbow” is strongly advised to sample the bonus material, which adds interviews with Wei Te-Sheng and producer John Woo; background information on the story; and several making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka

Full Metal Jacket: 25th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
When Stanley Kubrick’s “Full Metal Jacket” was released in 1987, the long shadow of the Vietnam War still held the U.S. in its grip. Naturally, the perception that the movie was inspired by and about Vietnam was widespread and largely went unquestioned. Viewed from the distance of another couple of decades, 9/11 and several foreign wars, however, it’s clear that Kubrick was looking forward instead of backward. Based on what he gleaned from his research, he knew that the next generation of soldiers, especially those drawn to an all-volunteer army or Marine Corps, would be expected to fight and kill without questioning the legality or morality of the next war or be swayed by anti-war protests back home. In large part, that’s exactly what’s happened in Iraq and Afghanistan. Dissension and outright mutiny were very much a part of our Vietnam experience, primarily among draftees, who had every reason to believe that they’d gotten the shaft. With the exception of Joker’s peace button, resistance to the war among the troops in “Full Metal Jacket” is pretty much invisible. In fairness, though, the devastating effects of the Tet offensive had yet to be calculated and Americans in and out of uniform were still willing to believe the lies fed to them by the Pentagon and White House.

The message delivered in the first half of “Full Metal Jacket” is the more prescient one. Marine brass and seasoned drill instructors knew even then that, all gung-ho patriotism aside, Americans fresh out of high school or college couldn’t be turned into killers overnight. The de-humanization process begins with the ritual shedding of facial hair and continues under the tutelage of hardened combat veterans like Gunnery Sergeant Hartman – played with uncommon relish by former drill instructor R. Lee Ermey – who treats everyone the same way, like shit. By allotting nicknames to the recruits and delivering foul-mouthed soliloquies – shocking even members of Kubrick’s creative team – Hartman effectively turned the men into cogs in a killing machine. Their individual personalities and leadership qualities would emerge in due course, but, by the time they do, the nicknames will have held and they’d see themselves as Marines, above all. (Contrast these men to those we met in “Apocalypse Now.”) In effect, then, Private Gomer Pyle’s insurrection at the end of the first half was the exception that proved the rule. Once he “got with the program,” Pyle was an equal among equals. When his inner devil emerged, Pyle’s inability to distinguish between friend and foe became unacceptable.

In the second half of “Full Metal Jacket,” everything that happened in the first half begins to make sense. With the exception of Joker and Rafterman, who, as reporters and photographers have avoided most of “the shit,” the Marines have gotten down to the business at hand. Even after experiencing combat in the attack on the compound, the journalists are itching to put their training to the test on the front lines. The Marines attempting to recapture Hue all have the “thousand-mile stare” and react instinctually to threats to their well-being. In his interview with a TV crew covering the fight, Rafterman is the only person who believes the war is about bringing freedom and democracy to Vietnam. Joker has yet to lose his natural tendency to wise-crack his way through stressful situations. Everyone else accepts the reality of their being in Vietnam to kill or be killed. Perhaps, if Pyle hadn’t killed himself, he might have ended up like the machine-gunner in the helicopter, who shocked the reporters with his laissez-faire attitude toward killing anything that moved, laughing uncontrollably while doing it and keeping score. At least two previous Blu-ray editions of “Full Metal Jacket” have already been released, to varying degrees of acceptance by fans and techies. The “25th Anniversary Edition” retains the already sufficiently upgraded hi-def version and adds the fascinating documentary “Stanley Kubrick’s Boxes.” It chronicles director Jon Ronson’s attempt to peruse and catalog hundreds of cartons full of archival material Kubrick left behind when he died. Some of it is so minute as to call the master’s obsessive behavior into question. There’s also the featurette, “Between Good and Evil,” in which cast members discuss the experience of working for Kubrick. The commentary track contains material recorded separately and absent several key players. – Gary Dretzka

One of the highlights of last year’s Emmy Award ceremony was the bestowing of a Best Supporting Actress trophy to Margo Martindale for her unforgettable portrayal of the matriarch of a hillbilly crime family in “Justice.” As is observed whenever a veteran character actor is rewarded for her work in the role of a lifetime, “It was well-deserved and long overdue.” In “Scalene,” Martindale turns in another award-quality performance, this time as the mother of a young man, Jacob (Adam Scarimbolo), with the kind of brain damage that demands almost constant one-on-one attention. Moreover, he hasn’t spoken a word to anyone since being injured in a glue-sniffing experiment in high school and he might be deaf.  I don’t think the one-man-band filmmaker, Zack Parker (“Quench”), chose the title to demonstrate that he’s hipper than thou, although he very well may be. Anyone who paid attention during their geometry classes might recall that a scalene triangle is one formed by three unequal lines, as is Parker’s perceptual thriller. Unlike “Rashomon,” which is more equilateral, “Scalene” presents its different points of view in non-linear fashion, without offering equal time to each one.

In “Scalene,” we are given every reason to believe that Jacob’s caretaker has been raped and the traumatized 26-year-old is the perpetrator. His mother, Janice, doesn’t believe that he’s capable of such an attack, but we’ve also been shown that she’s capable of responding violently to bad news. Before the incident, Janice had become increasingly more frustrated by the fact that her son’s neurological disorder was causing potential boyfriends to disappear, just as the boy’s had years earlier. To remedy this, she hires a conscientious college student, Paige (Hannah Hall), to hang out with Jacob. Paige comes to believe that Janice is abusing Jacob physically, but, without proof, is reluctant to call police. For his part, Jacob can’t understand why people continue to do things to him that cause emotional and physical pain. Eventually, all of our assumptions are put to the test. Parker wears his debt to Alfred Hitchcock on his sleeve, with early references to “Vertigo” and trademark Bernard Herrmann compositions. He has a long way to go, however, before more valid comparison can be made. Still, considering that “Scalene” was made for $150,000, it certainly earned its Best Picture Award at the 2011 Dances With Films festival. The DVD adds background material, interviews and material shot at the festival.

Judging from the reception “Girlfriend” received at film festivals, it is a movie that appeals far more to audiences than to the pundits required to sift through a hill of rocks to find a couple of gems. Ten years ago, the critics might have been more in tune with viewers, but, today, stories about people with physical and learning disabilities no longer earn brownie points for good intentions and fine acting. Fragile dramas, such as Justin Lerner’s feature debut, “Girlfriend,” must offer something more than a star with Down syndrome to warm the hearts of cold-blooded critics. Set in a working-class town in the boonies, “Girlfriend” describes the coming of age of Evan (Evan Sneider), a young man who is given an opportunity to fulfill his dream of courting his high school crush object. He has Down syndrome, but it hasn’t stopped him from making friends or working alongside his mother (Amanda Plummer) at a local restaurant. Shannon Woodward (“Raising Hope”) plays Candy, a single mother who’s led two unworthy suitors to believe they’ve fathered her son. She’s about to be thrown out of the house she shares with the boy when Evan rides to her rescue. In the wake of his mother’s unexpected death, he has inherited a pile of money from her inheritance. Instead of putting it in a bank, as advised, he hands a large portion of it over to Candy. In return, she agrees to let him watch her take a bath. In Evan’s ever-optimistic mind, this makes him one of her boyfriends. It also turns him into a potential target for extortion by Candy’s actual boyfriend (Jackson Rathbone, “The Twilight Saga”), a handsome cad whose only attributes would appear to be his pickup truck and a swell cowboy hat.  He easily extracts information from Evan about the true paternity of her son and steals the money given to her to avoid eviction. Evan’s gullibility is easily forgiven, but, when her son disappears one afternoon, Candy automatically suspects Evan of committing a ghastly crime. The resolution of the incident leads to a sweet, if decidedly unusual happy ending for Evan and Candy, if you catch my drift. Both of the lead actors are very good, as is Plummer in the short-lived role of a woman with more problems than she can handle. – Gary Dretzka

The Bunny Game: Blu-ray
Imagine the most frighteningly realistic slasher or torture-porn movie you’ve ever seen and then try to recall the exact point at which the director lifted the pedal off the metal, finally relieving all of your anxiety and fear. No matter how much one knows, going in, about special makeup effects, it’s difficult not to empathize with the victim and imagine how it might feel to be attacked by a lunatic with a nail gun or have your teeth extracted with a pliers. While a really good horror movie can induce nightmares, it’s a sure bet that none of the actors suffered permanent physical or emotional scars or missed much sleep over what happened to their characters. “The Bunny Game” offers no such assurances. It’s the closest thing I’ve seen to a snuff film and it left me wondering about the motives of the filmmaker and the well-being of his star, Rodleen Getsic, who makes the pain inflicted on her character palpable. She plays a cocaine-addicted prostitute who services men on the low end of the food chain, mostly to satisfy her lust for the white powder. Bunny doesn’t appear to have any other expensive tastes and she isn’t on the stroll to finance her dream of graduating from college. In Getsic’s hands, Bunny is the most credible movie prostitute since Jennifer Jason Leigh played Tralala in “Last Exit to Brooklyn.” Perhaps, more so, because Leigh wasn’t required to give anyone a blowjob — once in a shitty room in L.A.’s warehouse district and, again, next to a dumpster in an alley – crawl on her knees through the desert at the end of a leash or be branded by a sociopathic truck driver. What you see in “The Bunny Game” is pretty much what Getsic got. As co-writer, she claims most of what we see was drawn from memory and, anyway, writer/director Adam Rehmeier probably couldn’t afford a makeup artist or prosthetics specialist. “The Bunny Game” is what torture-porn looks like when it isn’t intended to titillate or entertain audiences, simply horrify them. By comparison, everything else is kids’ stuff.

Like to many prostitutes whose bodies are found buried in shallow graves or discarded by the side of a country road, Bunny makes the mistake of trusting one trick too many. Because there isn’t much she wouldn’t do for a bindle of blow, she willing climbs into the cab of a semi with a driver who resembles half of the wrestlers on the WWE dance card. Contrary to genre tradition, the protagonist never is given an opportunity to escape the clutches of the fiend, let alone avenge his brutality, or rescue other poor souls being held captive in his dungeon. Instead, after getting high and going down on him, Hog (Jeff Renfro) puts her in a choke hold that knocks her unconscious. My initial thought was that he snapped her neck and was going to spend a few hours playing with her corpse before heading off into the desert and finding another victim. Instead, Hog parks his rig in automobile graveyard off the Interstate, sniffs some glue or ether, and chains her up in the empty trailer. He begins torturing her even before she’s awakened from her stupor and doesn’t let up for what seems like an eternity. As if that weren’t sufficient inducement for nausea, Rehmeier intersperses these scenes with those of another woman being tortured, this time in the basement of his home. Because “The Bunny Game” was shot in black-and-white, its impact is that of a tape put into evidence in the trial of a sexual deviant or serial rapist. Without any actual story to relieve our horror, we’re pretty much left to wonder how much of this stuff she/we can take.

If the movie weren’t frightening enough, the making-of featurette proved to be the icing on the cake for me. Apparently, “The Bunny Game” was largely inspired by things that happened to Getsic in real life, including being abducted. Likewise, Renfro is an actual over-the-road trucker, who very much looks the part of a guy who could go coast-to-coast nourished only by coffee, crystal meth and the occasional convenience-store hotdog. In his interview, Renfro says that he’s met a lot of pretty strange people on the road and nothing in the movie surprised him. For additional verisimilitude, Rehmeier shot in some of the grimmer streets and alleys of the City of Angels, including one that stunk of excrement and a hotel room with blood on the ceiling from a recent suicide. He dispensed with even the semblance of skeleton crew early on, so as to navigate in tight spaces with maximum flexibility. But it’s Getsic’s performance – scratch that, ordeal – that has to be seen to be believed. My advice for those new to torture-porn and modern horror, if you couldn’t make it through “Henry: Portrait of a Serial Killer,” there’s no chance in hell you’ll sit through “The Bunny Game.” Caveat emptor, applies. – Gary Dretzka

Steve Niles’ Remains: Blu-ray
Zombie Undead
If there’s anything to be learned from these two movies, it’s that a zombie apocalypse can be triggered by nuclear bombs. I wasn’t aware that this was possible, but, apparently, it is. Otherwise, there’s very little difference between the undead, as portrayed in a hundred other zombie flicks, and the ones who shuffle their way through “Remains” and “Zombie Undead.” Based on the IDW Publishing graphic novel written by Steve Niles (“30 Days of Night”), “Remains” is by far the more entertaining movie. Although the thriller doesn’t break any new ground – what could? – it’s often quite funny and director Colin Theys’ team did a nice job turning a Connecticut hotel into a passable Reno casino. The idea here, of course, is that the radioactivity from a nearby nuclear accident has instantly transformed almost everyone in town into a zombie. The only exceptions are a handful of people who managed to be in an underground storage locker or similarly isolated location at the time of ignition. One old lady remains in front of the same slot machine she was at before the blast, and she’s only stopped from biting the same cocktail waitress who served her a drink earlier when someone impales her on the leg of her walker. It’s that kind of movie. “Remains” stars Grant Bowler (“True Blood”), Lance Reddick (“The Wire”), Tawny Cypress (“Heroes”) and Evalena Marie (“Exhumed”).

In the redundantly titled “Zombie Undead,” a terrorist detonates a dirty bomb in the heart of London, resulting in everyone turning into a flesh eater. It must have happened after the Opening Ceremony of the Olympics, because NBC has yet to show the results of the 10,000-meter shuffle or synchronized chewing competition. Most of the action takes place in a hospital that doubles as a fallout shelter, but quickly is being taken over by zombies. Again, it becomes incumbent on a handful of survivors to battle the horde of deformed freaks, while also looking for relatives that were stashed there before the blast. The facility is too large to induce claustrophobia in viewers and a shift to the rural countryside seems as unlikely as the change of scenery is welcome. The appeal here is largely to zombie completists. – Gary Dretzka

The Hunt
The only thing I know about “The Hunt” is what I saw on the small screen and read on the box. It begs the question, “If you can’t find a movie on, does it really exist?” At first, second and third glance, Thomas Szczepanski’s survival thriller appears to be a composite of several manhunt and bow-and-arrow movies, including “Hunger Games,” “Battle Royale,” “The Condemned” and “Robin Hood.” This means that the game that’s afoot in “The Hunt” is of the human variety. Perfect strangers are abducted from the streets of a French city (I think) and taken to a villa in the middle of the woods, not unlike the one in “Eyes Wide Shut.” Before being pursued by rich people in ninja outfits, the targets of the hunt have their tongues spliced, presumably so they can’t talk their way out of being murdered. While following a lead in a completely different investigation, a reporter for a salacious tabloid magazine steals an invitation to the hunt and buy-in money needed to participate. Completely ignorant of what’s expected of him, the reporter quickly figures out that he has to kill innocent human prey or become a target, himself. An S&M mistress figures in the narrative, but mostly to add some eye candy to the proceedings. Because the hunters remain anonymous, it’s difficult to focus on any character except the reporter, and he’s a dope. – Gary Dretzka

Ladda Land
Every so often, a movie from Thailand finds its way to the beaches of Cannes or shores of the U.S., garnering praise among arthouse and horror-genre buffs for its raw energy and sheer audacity, but not much in the way of box-office revenues. More often than not, a ghost is involved. Sopon Sukdapisit’s “Ladda Land” plays very close to western genre conventions, while also remaining demonstrably pan-Asian. Because the unobtrusive dubbing allows viewers to focus on the action, instead of the subtitles, no one can complain about the extra work. Thee is a salesman for an expanding Thai pharmaceutical firm and, as such, is hailed as a model employee and example for other employees. The boss seems especially impressed by the fact that Thee had decided to mortgage himself up the wazoo to afford a townhouse in an upscale suburban development. So, too, are his wife, Parn, and their young son. A daughter has reached the age where Thee would have to bring Justin Bieber home for dinner to impress her. Still, everything seems pretty idyllic in Ladda Land.

The first sign of trouble comes when word spreads through the community of the murder of Burmese maid in the home of an absentee owner. The second sign is when a neighbor’s black cat drops a welcome-home gift on Thee’s driveway and he steps in it on his way to work. The neighbor apologizes profusely, then orders his wife to scrap every bit of poop off the driveway and Thee’s shoe. Clearly, there’s trouble in paradise. Before long, the daughter makes friends with kids who enjoy staying up late and creeping through unoccupied houses. Naturally, the teens encounter evil spirits in the house where the murder occurred. At least one of them follows her home, where it does its best to unhinge the entire family. Further compounding Thee’s agony is a mother-in-law who despises him and receiving clear indications that the business was built on a foundation of playing cards. Part of the horror that informs “Ladda Land” is observing how much interplay there is between the business and spirit worlds. Watching Thee’s life collapse around him is as sad and frightening as anything the ghosts can dish out. In an American movie, we’d probably be informed somewhere down the road that the subdivision was built on an ancient graveyard or portal to hell. Here, though, other devils are at play.  The only problem I can see with “Ladda Land” is that, at 123 minutes, it feels a quarter-hour too long. Otherwise, genre enthusiasts should get a kick out of it. – Gary Dretzka

High Fidelity/Gross Pointe Blank: Blu-ray
Romy & Michele’s High School Reunion: 15th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
The Preacher’s Wife: Blu-ray
Adventures in Babysitting: 25th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
If there’s anything the movies in the latest bunch of Blu-ray titles released by Disney share, it’s the attention paid to their musical soundtracks, which are dominated by rock, gospel, soul, blues and pop hits. Instead of being chosen to complement a traditional soundtrack, the songs propelled the narrative and, in some case, kept things from coming to a grinding halt. Moreover, they provided the studios with alternative revenue streams and additional marketing tools. It wasn’t unusual for a soundtrack album to make more money than the movie itself, a fact that didn’t go unnoticed by record labels and copyright holders. Today, the cost of licensing some classics not only has soared into the stratosphere, but disagreements over post-release rights have also held up the release of many DVD and videos.

Directed by Stephen Frears and adopted from a book by Nick Hornby, “High Fidelity” is the most self-consciously hip rom-com in the bunch. It also features the most diverse range of songs. In it, a 33-year-old John Cusack plays a nearly insufferable music nerd, who creates lists of everything from his favorite songs to his most ill-advised romances. His Rob Gordon is the kind of purist who would break up with a woman if she preferred the version of a popular song he thought was inferior to someone else’s version. Likewise, his salesmen (Jack Black, Todd Louiso) would rather not sell an album to a customer if he wanted it for the wrong reason or enjoyed its schmaltziest cut. It’s through this prism that “High Fidelity” examines Gordon’s propensity to screw up relationships with women played by Catherine Zeta-Jones, Iben Hjejle, Lisa Bonet, Lily Taylor, Joelle Carter and Natasha Gregson-Wagner, all of whom are world-class babes. Cusack’s Chicago roots can be seen threading their way through all aspects of “High Fidelity,” from the T-shirts worn by the characters to the posters and leaflets in his store. It would easily make my top-five list of Chicago-centric movies.  And, yes, the soundtrack is a terrific blend of indie selections, current pop hits and classics.

Cusack and his wonderfully gifted sister, Joan, can also be seen in “Grosse Point Blank,” a neo-noir romantic thriller that also stars Minnie Driver, Dan Aykroyd, Alan Arkin, Hank Azaria and John’s booger-buddy, Jeremy Piven. In it, Cusack plays a hitman whose latest assignment coincides with the 10th anniversary of his high school graduation in the ritzy Detroit suburb. As reluctant as he is to attend the dance, the hitman is anxious to re-connect with the woman (Driver) he stood up on the night of their prom. The soundtrack benefits from the fact that she’s a deejay at the local FM rock station and their tastes still coincide. The closer Cusack gets to his intended prey, the more opportunity there is for his destruction by rival assassins and government spooks. George Armitage keeps “Grosse Point Blank” moving in a forwardly direction throughout, mixing tension, romance and comedy in equal measure.

Director David Mirkin came to “Romy & Michelle’s High School Reunion” after spending the previous decade helming TV comedies and sitcoms. It shows. You can almost tell where the commercials would go if the movie ended up on television, instead of the multiplex. That said, however, the chemistry between Lisa Kudrow and Mira Sorvino remains delightfully palpable. They play the blond ditzoids whose lives, 10 years later, still revolve around discos, shopping and hair appointments. Romy and Michelle have always shared an inflated opinion of themselves, even as they endured the cruel jokes played on them by girls in the cool clique. In the ensuing decade, the disco dollies would blossom into the kind of hotties whose sense of fashion continued to be dictated by “Charlie’s Angels” and who gravitated to guys who treated them with the same disdain as their high school nemeses. The reunion offers them an opportunity to redeem themselves in the eyes of their classmates, but they blow it by inventing a story so outlandish the dimwits in the clique see through it immediately. The soundtrack overflows with such hits from the disco era as “Footloose,” “Staying Alive,” “Y.M.C.A.,” “She Blinded Me With Science” and “We Got the Beat.” Alan Cumming and Janeane Garafalo are good as the dweebs who make it big in the adult world, while Camryn Mannheim plays the girl who’s still looked down upon by everyone, even Romy and Michelle.

Chris Columbus’ 25-year-old “Adventures in Babysitting” still retains much of its charm. It is one of several teen-oriented movies set in greater Chicago during the 1980s – the John Hughes films, “Risky Business,” “Class,” “Lucas” — and its soundtrack is distinguished by some terrific home-grown blues selections. In it, Elisabeth Shue is babysitting a disparate collection of North Shore kids, when she receives a call from a friend pleading to be rescued from a bus station downtown. Unable to refuse, she bundles up the gang, hops in the family car and embarks on an excellent misadventure, if you will. If that description reminds you of last year’s “The Sitter,” well, so be it.

In Penny Marshall’s “urban” remake of the classic Christmas movie, “The Bishop’s Wife,” Denzel Washington steps in for Cary Grant, an angel assigned by the deity to repair the marriage of a pre-occupied pastor (Courtney B. Vance) and his longtime love (Whitney Houston), characters originally played by David Niven and Loretta Young. Fifteen years ago, the presence of Washington and Houston in the same movie was sufficient reason for audiences to come to Jesus, if only for two hours. (She later confessed to Mother Oprah that she was stoned on pot and cocaine for most of the production.) If “The Preacher’s Wife” remains a bit squishy around the edges, it’s redeemed by more than a dozen songs performed by Houston, some with the backing the movie’s Nativity Choir and Shirley Cesar and the Georgia Mass Choir. When the preacher’s wife steps out with Washington, Marshall also finds room some decidedly non-gospel singing by Houston.

Not all of the Blu-ray editions come with bonus features. The hi-def upgrade definitely is noticeable, however. – Gary Dretzka

Clue: the Movie: Blu-ray
The murder-mystery board game, Clue, is premised on the likelihood that contestants won’t be able to pinpoint the culprit, victim, weapon and location of the crime on their first, second or third guess. Otherwise, what would be the point of playing? As with any board game, most of the fun derives from the interaction between players and disappointment of failing to outguess them. This interactivity would necessarily be missing from any movie based on the game, as would the possibility that a new game could be played immediately after the last one. “Clue: the Movie” attempted to get around the one-size-fits-all dilemma by offering three different endings to exhibitors, who could advertise which version – A, B or C – was playing where. Ideally, fans would pay to see all three of the alternative endings. Fat chance of that happening, however. Today, of course, it’s possible to play classic board games, including Clue, on tablets, phones and the Internet, even as an advanced form of Solitaire. The new Blu-ray edition of the movie offers the next best solution by allowing viewers to choose between all three endings and a longer, combined version. The actors playing the iconic characters spend way too much time screaming, scrambling and insulting each other for my taste, but it certainly isn’t the worst way one could choose to kill 94 minutes. The cast includes several familiar B-list actors who’ve spent the bulk of their career bouncing between film, TV and stage assignments. They include Tim Curry, Christopher Lloyd, Eileen Brennan, the late Madeline Kahn, Michael McKean, Martin Mull, Colleen Camp and Lesley Ann Warren. – Gary Dretzka

The Decade You Were Born
Before the Internet reduced the distance between nostalgia and overfamiliarity to almost nothing, a surefire hit birthday gift could be found in novelty shops that stocked seemingly endless supplies of pre-read Life magazines or frame-ready front pages from the New York Times collection. Mill Creek Entertainment offers another alternative with its collection of “The Decade You Were Born” DVDs, each of which contains more than four hours’ worth of archival material representing 10 years’ worth of history. For better or worse, these media artifacts are what shaped several generations of Americans, whether they were presented as news, propaganda, entertainment or advertising. In many ways, the commercials tell us more about how we lived – or Madison Avenue spinmeisters wanted us to live – than coverage of breaking stories. In the commercials of the 1950s, minorities simply didn’t exist and any husband who couldn’t afford to buy a station wagon or Osterizer for the stay-at-home missus probably was a closet pinko. The narrative may be dubious, at times, it’s the images that sell the product … just like cigarettes.The individual releases range from the 1940s to the 1980s and include such bonus material as an interactive timeline, a complete feature film and TV episode (nothing special), five commercials and five movie trailers. Fortunately, if the giftee was born on the cusp of decades, the $10 price tag makes a double purchase affordable. – Gary Dretzka

Jesse Stone: Benefit of a Doubt
The Rookies: The Complete Second Season
Squidbillies: Volume Five
POV: Up Heartbreak Hill
It’s no secret that Tom Selleck is one of most popular, if not most versatile actors in the history of the television medium. There’s something about him that you can’t help but like, even when the material isn’t up to what we consider to be his best work. The “Jesse Stone” series of made-for-CBS movies, inspired by a Robert B. Parker novel, is an example of what can happen when a franchise is being powered by the sheer charisma of an actor. “Jesse Stone: Benefit of a Doubt” is the latest and, perhaps, final chapter in the eight-title franchise. After the murder of the sheriff who replaced him when he was forced to retire by the powers that be in Paradise, Massachusetts, Stone agrees to re-assume the position and investigate the case.  It means that Stone spends an inordinate amount of time answering two questions: “Does that PPD cap mean you’re chief, again?” and “Didn’t you’d tell me you didn’t like him?,” in reference to one of the two dead men. The answers essentially boil down to, “I guess,” and “I don’t remember saying that.” The ex-LAPD detective continues to brood, drink, chase younger women and expend more emotional energy on Reggie, the dog, than anyone else in the movie. As the clues begin to lead in the direction of a conclusion that’s predictable, if not obvious, the door is left open for sequel. Whether Selleck will pass through it again is anyone’s guess.

It has taken five years and an entirely different distributor – Shout! Factory – for the second season of “The Rookies” to make its way from the shelves at Sony to the DVD marketplace. Apparently, there hadn’t been enough interest in another stanza to justify the expense of compiling the package. Being smaller and lighter on their feet, the folks at Shout ! Factory enjoy taking in such orphans and proving they’re worth something. The second season of episodes from producers Aaron Spelling and Leonard Goldberg stick pretty close to the template used in the pilot and freshman year. If anything, Nurse Jill is put in jeopardy more often and, therefore, Kate Jackson gets better exposure. Among the season’s guest stars are John Saxon, Don Johnson, Nick Nolte, Strother Martin, John Travolta, Brad Davis, Scott Jacoby, Joseph Campanella, Claude Akins, Joan Blondell, Pat Harrington, James Olson, Mark Slade, Jim Nabors, Richard Hatch, Leif Erickson, Sissy Spacek, Tyne Daly, Bridgette Hanley and Anthony Zerbe.

You never know who or what is going to turn up on “Adult Swim.” “Squidbillies: Volume 5” offers ample proof that just when you think things have gotten too weird on the cable channel, something even more bizarre probably is right around the corner. “Squidbillies” follows the antics of the anti-social Cuyler family of endangered Appalachian mud squids. Federally protected from being hunted or killed, they’re free to raise all the havoc they can. Not even George Jones and Billy Joe Shaver could resist lending their voices to the soundtrack of this trailer-trash revival meeting in Season 5. There’s nothing remotely correct about what happens in “Squidbillies,” politically or otherwise, and that’s its appeal. The DVD set adds plenty of behind-the-scenes material, including recording sessions, animation, character development and interviews.

The PBS documentary series “POV” routinely takes viewers to places they’ve never been and aren’t likely to go. In “Up Heartbreak Hill,” director Erica Scharf describes how difficult it is for ambitious and talented young Native Americans to succeed in the world outside the rez, yet maintain direct links to their cultural heritage and family. Navajo teens Thomas, Tamara and Gabby have been accorded opportunities available to few of their classmates in high school. Of course, they also open the door to failure and disappointment. Tribal elders would love for the best and the brightest to succeed in school, then return home to share what they learned with their friends, families and neighbors. It’s a pipe dream shared with the leaders of countries, such as India and Pakistan, who send their most promising students to the U.S., Canada and Europe, then lose them to the promise of better pay and conditions. – Gary Dretzka

After the Wizard
The Smurfs and the Magic Flute
Winx Club: Secret of the Lost Kingdom Movie
A rite of passage shared by all American children is to sit through “Wizard of Oz” without covering their eyes or running out of the room when the winged monkeys take flight from the castle of the Wicked Witch of the West. “After the Wizard” isn’t at all scary, but kids who’ve passed the first test should get a kick out of seeing what might have happened had the story continued after Dorothy’s return to Earth. In this Dove-approved movie, a tweener living in a Kansas orphanage is so infatuated with the “Wizard of Oz” that she imagines herself to be Dorothy. This brands her as a problem child. Things begin to get interesting, however, when the Tinman and Scarecrow decide they need Dorothy’s advice to solve a problem in Oz. Because of a spasm in the time-space continuum, their balloon lands in New York, years after L. Frank’s Baum’s novel was published and it’s assumed that Dorothy was a figment of his imagination. They succeed in reaching Kansas, by train and bus, after trading some giant emeralds for dollars. (They don’t seem to mind being ripped off by the exchange rate.) After connecting with the faux Dorothy, she asks them to locate a stray dog that looks very much like Toto. “After the Wizard” isn’t particularly well made or convincingly acted, but young viewers shouldn’t notice the difference.

I hadn’t thought about the Smurfs in such a long time that, when I received a DVD copy of “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute,” I actually recalled it as being a product of Japanimation and a conspiracy between producers and toy manufacturers. Apparently, I was confusing the Smurfs with Pokemon and the Mario Brothers, because the little blue beings were born in a Belgian comic strip in 1958 and the movie was first shown here in 1983. It was seven years after “The Smurfs and the Magic Flute” first was released in Europe and two years after the Hanna-Barbera cartoon adaptation was launched here. The rest, as they say, is history. The movie involves the theft of a flute Court Jester Peewit hopes will make everyone dance. When it’s stolen, Smurf Nation rallies to recover the flute, which McCreep intends to use to steal gold reserves. The DVD edition adds features on Smurf history, an image gallery, glossary, a character guide and making-of piece.

Like the Smurfs, Nickelodeon’s “Winx Club” began its media life several years ago in a country other than Japan. It’s taken five years for the feature-length “Secret of the Lost Kingdom” to make its way from Italy and the Cannes media market to the U.S. The plot behind the CGI-animated story is far too complicated to explain here, but, suffice it to say, it involves pixies, fairies and a threat to an enchanted kingdom, Fans will note that the movie picks up where the events of the first three TV seasons left off. The DVD set adds seven bonus episodes. — 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