MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Klown, Avengers, American Horror Story … More

Klown: Blu-ray
No sooner has Frank mentioned to an acquaintance over drinks, “If I had wanted kids around, I’d have worked in a kindergarten,” than he’s accidentally informed by the family doctor that his longtime girlfriend, Mia, is pregnant. She has been hiding the news from him because she isn’t at all sure that he’s sufficiently mature to be a parent. Nonplussed, Frank decides to prove to Mia that he not only is capable of being a good father, but also that his discomfort with being around children can be cured. Still, Mia isn’t convinced. So, one day, instead of driving her nephew to his grandparents’ home for a weekend visit, Frank decides to take the boy, Bo, on a long-planned canoe excursion with his friend, Casper. This comes as bad news for Casper, who waits all year long for the annual “tour de pussy” and has planned to visit a legendary brothel in the countryside. He fears that a pre-pubescent 12-year-old would spoil the fun. He’s only half right. Bo’s at that delicate stage in a boy’s life when he’s open to ridicule if the transition to manhood is delayed and his pubic area is as bald as a billiards ball. Neither does it help Bo’s confidence any that he’s never mastered the art of peeing standing up, like other boys. Easing his nephew’s anxiety is just one of many tests Frank will fail on the canoe trip.

Because “Klown” is the product of a country, Denmark, that isn’t afraid of portraying the sexual maturation process in an honest and occasionally comedic way, director Mikkel Norgaard can have his cake and reserve a large slice of it for viewers, too. The fact is, while Bo’s condition is temporary, Frank and Casper’s immaturity is chronic. After making fools of themselves with a gaggle of pretty teenage girls and a roly-poly Good Samaritan, the men invest in some blackmail insurance to ensure Bo’s silence. This plan fails even more miserably. It simply wouldn’t be right to describe how that happens, precisely, or how the men’s asses are saved in the end. “Klown” overflows with delightful surprises – including some hilariously filthy dialogue from mischievous senior-citizens – too clever to spoil.

Apparently, the characters played by Frank Hvam and Casper Christensen are quite familiar to Danish TV viewers. “Klown” is an theatrical extension of a popular sitcom that could only run here on HBO or Showtme. One of the episodes, written by Lars Von Trier, is included in the Blu-ray bonus package, along with commentary with the director and stars; three making-of featurettes; outtakes; deleted scenes; and a photo booklet. Don’t miss this one. – Gary Dretzka

Marvel’s The Avengers: Blu-ray
Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, Part 1: Blu-ray
Resident Evil: Damnation
For comic books and the movies inspired by them to serve a greater service to mankind than keeping idle minds occupied, they must trigger the imaginations of young people who live in a society where individualism is encouraged but conformity is rewarded. If mere mortals felt sufficiently empowered to prevent evil from sprouting in our soil, there would be no need for superheroes. At the moment, though, even a cameo appearance by a Captain America or Iron Man at the White House would go a long way toward easing fears of imminent global apocalypse. I have no way of knowing how many kids’ imaginations may have been sparked while watching “The Avengers,” but in the 70-some years Marvel Comics have been published – under one banner or another – countless readers have been taught to recognize the difference between good and evil and encouraged to serve the greater good. As we’ve learned, however, not all comic-book heroes and comic-book movies are created equal. There’s a huge difference in quality between “Marvel’s The Avengers” and “The Dark Knight Rises/Returns” and everything else.

For those of you who may have been vacationing in Afghanistan last spring, “The Avengers” was released in May to excellent reviews and went on to gross nearly $1.5 billion worldwide. The title refers to the crime-fighting collective comprised of Iron Man (Robert Downey Jr.), Thor (Chris Hemsworth), Captain America (Chris Evans), Hulk (Mark Ruffalo), Black Widow (Scarlett Johansson) and Hawkeye (Jeremy Renner). They operate at the behest of S.H.I.E.L.D. world-government commander Nick Fury (Samuel L. Jackson) and trusted aide, Agent Coulson (Clark Gregg). The Avengers are re-assembled here when Loki, the disgraced villain and brother of Thor, comes to Earth to retrieve the Tesseract, a blue-glowing energy cube that could set him apart from every other supervillain in the universe. In doing so, writer/director/fanboy Joss Whedon has created a movie that is greater than the sum of all previously released movies featuring the individual Avengers. The characters retain their superpowers and character traits – Iron Man is the same wise-cracking billionaire he always was – but aren’t required to fill two hours of screen time with CGI acrobatics and muscle-flexing. Loki’s forces are drawn to same scale, with wonderfully rendered flying fortresses and formidable skills. The final battle, on and above the streets of Manhattan, adds the personality missing in last year’s destruction of Chicago in “Transformers: Dark of the Moon.”

For once, a $250-million budget seems reasonable. I can only assume it looks pretty amazing in 3D, too. The Blu-ray package adds Whedon’s entertaining commentary; “The Avengers Initiative: A Marvel Second Screen Experience,” which allows viewers to remotely access a S.H.I.E.L.D. database; “Marvel One-Shot: Item 47,” a direct-to-video short in Jesse Bradford and Lizzy Caplan play thieves who stumble upon a piece of extraterrestrial gadgetry; a gag reel; deleted and extended scenes, including an alternate opening and ending; background featurettes “A Visual Journey” and “Assembling the Ultimate Team”; and a Soundgarden music video, “Live to Rise.”

In the darkly animated feature, “Batman: The Dark Knight Returns,” Bruce Wayne (voiced by Peter Weller) is forced to come out of retirement by the anarchic antics of teenage Mutants ravaging Gotham City. He’s 55, which is old even for superheroes, and has recruited a young female Robin (Ariel Winter) to help him understand the new generation of villains. Compared to them, Joker and Two-Face are pussycats. “The Dark Knight” is closely based on the futuristic 1986 graphic novel by Frank Miller and, of course, characters invented by Bob Kane. In “Part 2,” due next year, Batman will be pitted against former ally Superman.

If Capcom’s “Resident Evil”/“Biohazard” franchise were a publically traded corporation, someone in the Justice Department’s Antitrust Department might be investigating if the multiplatform brand has violated the law. This thought sprang from my confusion over the nearly simultaneous release this month of “Resident Evil: Retribution,” currently in theaters, and the DVD “Resident Evil: Damnation,” as well as next week’s release of video-games “Resident Evil 6,” “RE6/Anthology” and “RE6/Archives.” Fans already know that Paul W.S. Anderson’s wildly popular live-action series – which isn’t necessarily tethered to the hit video game – is in its fifth iteration, with geek-bait Milla Jovovich reprising her role as bad-ass Alice each time. In the CGI-generated “Damnation,” Courtenay Taylor voices the equally sensuous Ada Wong, a free-agent spy who prefers Manolo Blahnik pumps to combat boots. Here, Wong’s pet project – U.S. agent Matthew Mercer (Leon S. Kennedy) — goes off the reservation in Eastern Europe to verify rumors that Bio-Organic Weapons are being used in a civil war. They are. Followers of “R.E.” movies, video games, novelizations, comics and merchandise should enjoy “Damnation,” as well, if only for the wonderfully lethal catfight between Wong and nationalist leader Svetlana Belikova. Oh, yeah, don’t forget to visit the Biohazard Cafe & Grill S.T.A.R.S. the next time you’re in Tokyo. It sounds yummy. – Gary Dretzka

I don’t know how many actors, besides Audrey Tautou, could pull off the role of Natalie in the touching, if dangerously fragile French rom-com, “Delicacy.” Although Natalie is a successful business executive, with several employees reporting to her, she has been rendered nearly comatose by the unexpected death of her husband in a traffic accident. In the three years since his death, Natalie has done nothing but keep her nose to the grindstone at work and inert at home. More impishly cute than classically beautiful, Natalie has spent some of her time, at least, brushing off the advances of her boorish boss. One night, after a promotion, he convinces her to join him for a celebratory cocktail. When he makes his move on the walk home, she averts it with a ferociousness we hadn’t seen in her. Even so, Natalie is too valuable an asset to be fired for giving the married man his just dessert. The next morning, Natalie does something else that’s completely unexpected. When a tall, shy and gawky employee comes into her office to update her on the progress of project, she gets up from behind her desk and gives him a passionate kiss.

While it’s clear to viewers that it’s some kind of delayed reaction from the night before, the gawky Swede, Markus (François Damiens), is overwhelmed with feelings of joy and hope. The next day, though, Natalie deflates Markus’ balloon by showing no memory of the kiss. She doesn’t outright reject Markus, but it’s clear to her that the kiss was a one-off. When her jealous boss threatens to transfer Markus to his native Sweden, with a raise, it triggers something in her subconscious that says it’s time to get her life together and rejoin the rest of the world. It takes a while for the inevitable to happen, but, when it does, co-directors David and Stephane Foenkinos find a way to make it magical, and it’s probably the closest thing to a return to “Amelie” as Tautou’s fans are likely to get. There are times in “Delicacy” – adapted from a best-selling novel by David Foenkinos –when Natalie seems to belong in the catbird seat at a major company, but, more often, the gorgeous 5-foot-3 (almost always in flats) actor looks plain and mousy, as unaware of the world outside her emotional cocoon as a recent escapee from a convent. It’s quite a trick for Tautou, a highly recognizable international star who rarely plays vulnerable women, anymore. The Blu-ray adds a long and casually delivered making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

FDR: American Badass
Strippers vs. Werewolves: Blu-ray
Strip Mahjong: Battle Royale
Vampire Dog
Even though “Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter” laid an egg the size of Transylvania in theaters this summer, it would be nice to think that all movies about presidential superheroes wouldn’t be tarred with its lack of success. “FDR: American Badass,” for example, is one terrific comedy and deserves to be seen by anyone who loved “Airplane!,” “I’m Gonna Git You Sucka” and any of the parodies that followed in their long wake. For one thing, the cast is extremely talented and fully engaged in the conceit: Barry Bostwick is terrific as F.D.R.; Lin Shaye was an inspired choice for Eleanor Roosevelt; Bruce McGill plays the president’s trusted aide, Louis; Ray Wise is Douglas MacArthur; Kevin Sorbo, as Abraham Lincoln; Paul Willson, as Winston Churchill; and Paul Ben-Victor, as Mussolini.

As the movie opens, then-Governor Roosevelt is attacked by a werewolf on a hunting trip – someone forgot to put silver bullets in his rifle – and he contactx polio from the spattered blood. Eleanor is repulsed by his shriveled legs, but FDR is inspired by a boy in a wheelchair to persevere. Meanwhile, Louis learns that the werewolf lying in the morgue has a swastika tattooed on its hairy chest. Years later, as POTUS, Roosevelt will be tested by full-blown werewolves: Hitler, Mussolini and Hirohito. I wasn’t a huge fan of Garrett Brawith and Ross Patterson’s previous collaboration, “Poolboy: Drowning Out the Fury,” but “American Bad Ass” is a direct hit. It’s worth knowing beforehand, however, that much of the R-rated humor derives from dialogue that is unabashedly politically incorrect. Here, that’s a very good thing.

The easiest and best way to describe the Brit import, “Strippers vs. Werewolves,” is that it’s the best Roger Corman movie anyone not named Corman has produced in the last 20 years. Back in the day, it would have appeared on the bill at every drive-in theater from San Diego to Bangor, Maine, and might even have been held over for a weekend or two. Besides the title characters, “Strippers vs. Werewolves” has everything anyone could want in an exploitation flick: blood, guts, nudity, Robert Englund, Cockney thugs, a stripper engaged to be married to a werewolf, direct references to past genre classics and a lively sense of humor. As the movie opens, a stripper is giving a gangster a lap dance. He gets so worked up by her moves that he can’t contain his identity as a werewolf. Frightened to her core, the stripper grabs a silver pen from her faux uniform – a nurse’s outfit, if I recall correctly – and jabs him in the eye, killing him. The werewolves in genre-specialist Jonathan Glendening’s movie hold a place in society similarly to those in “True Blood.” They co-exist uneasily with humans, until a full moon gets their juices flowing. When they finally notice that the leader of the gang is missing and presumably has been made to disappear by the dancers in his favorite club, the battle is on. How much simpler can genre filmmaking be? The Blu-ray adds the producer’s commentary and a behind-the-scenes featurette.

If there’s a drive-in theater in hell, “Strip Mahjong: Battle Royal” is on the eternal triple-bill. Even as an extension of the Japanese “pink” sub-genre, it will be incomprehensible to anyone to anyone in the west who isn’t conversant in the ancient tiles game. Those who do know how to play mahjong probably wouldn’t dignify the movie’s premise by watching it. As the title suggests, however, there’s plenty of topless gaming. The jist of the non-story is that there is a show on Japanese cable-TV in which four Japanese women are grabbed off the street – some have vague connections to degenerate mahjong gamblers – and forced to play the game as if their lives depended on it, which they do. Before they go broke, however, the losers in each round are required to remove articles of clothing. While this is OK in a voyeuristic sort of way — in true Japanese tradition, glimpses of pubic hair are avoided — the scenes in which rape is simulated to extract confessions are no fun at all to watch. As is typical in these sorts of “Battle Royale” movies, there’s an annoying announcer with whom to contend and his lovely, if clichéd female assistant. In fact, all of the women here are shrill characterizations of the kind of Japanese teenagers who incessantly giggle or squeal, instead of converse in any known language. It’s possible that the mahjong action is genuinely exciting, but I wouldn’t know. This one’s only for Japanese genre completists.

Now that vampires have insinuated themselves into the bloodstream of American pop culture, it shouldn’t surprise anyone that the Dove Foundation has given its seal of approval to a ’tweener comedy titled, “Vampire Dog.” There was a time, not so long ago, that positive images of supernatural demons were discouraged by bible-bangers and fundamentalists of all stripes. Here, the undead superdog is a wisecracking cutie-pie. A boy living in a stereotypical suburban community inherits a 600-year-old dog, Fang, from his Carpathian grandfather. It doesn’t take long for Ace (Collin MacKechnie) to figure out that Fang not only can talk (in Norm MacDonald’s voice) but is as uncomfortable in his new digs as he is in his new school … Lugosi Public School. Neither does Fang escape the attention of an anti-aging researcher, Dr. Warhol (Amy Matysio), who wants to extract a sample of the dog’s DNA and create a miracle drug for profit. First-time director Geoff Anderson’s background is in special effects, which allows him to invest some vampire cred into Fang, whose addiction is to cherry-flavored Jello and jam, not blood. Kids too young to be addicted to “Vampire Diaries” and “True Blood” should enjoy the cute story. – Gary Dretzka

It’s difficult to imagine how John Malkovich, John Goodman and Dana Delaney found themselves in Bob Meyer’s adaptation of his own coming-of-age stage drama, “Drunkboat.” Meyer and Malkovich are longtime friends, but a star’s commitment to a pal’s predictably doomed feature film doesn’t explain the presence of the other two headliners. It’s entirely possible, of course, that what made sense in the script simply was lost in the translation to the screen. In any case, if it weren’t for the game performances of Malkovich and Goodman – Delaney’s role is little more than a cameo – there would be no reason to adapt it, let alone for anyone to rent the DVD. Those performances, however, are reason enough for fans to give “Drunkboat” a shot.

Although the timeline is murky, Malkovich plays the alcoholic Uncle Mort, who’s witnessed something sufficiently harrowing to scare him sober. He can barely remember the circumstances, though, when he shows up one day in front of his sister’s suburban Chicago home. Delaney is reluctant to invite him into the house, but her 16-year-old sees in the coot an opportunity to escape forever, as did his older brother. To do so, he wants to buy a boat from a shady dealer, Mr. Fletcher (John Goodman), who uses plaster of Paris to fix leaks. Not surprisingly, Mom refuses to sign the papers. Hoping to connect with a blind date in another town, she entrusts the Abe (Jacob Zachar) to the care of Mort. Abe doesn’t quite buy Mort’s reformation and expects he will serve as a surrogate signatory for Mom. When Mr. Fletcher shows up with the boat, which wouldn’t last five minutes on Lake Michigan, Mort surprises everyone by doing the responsible thing. Abe and Mr. Fletcher then silently conspire to rob Mort of his sobriety. The final act is too far-fetched to be believed, but, considering the autobiographical nature of the story, it may have some basis in fact.

Almost every male playwright who came of age in the last 30 years in Chicago has been influenced in some way by David Mamet and such rough-and-ready theater companies as Steppenwolf, Remains and the Organic Theater. Meyer’s play was written in 1985 – the heyday of off-Loop theater – which explains the movie’s rough edges and period trimmings. Malkovich and Goodman fit theirs character like well-worn leather gloves and deliver compelling performances. Even so, Meyers probably wasn’t right guy to interpret his own material. “Drunkboat” has been sitting on a shelf for two years, in search of a distributer willing to take a chance on it. Fans of the lead actors, at least, might be willing to forgive Meyer his lost opportunity. – Gary Dretzka

388 Arletta Avenue
While it’s perfectly OK to withhold key pieces of information from viewers when establishing a narrative, it’s difficult to get anyone to care about characters about whom we know next to nothing. That’s especially true in cyber-stalking movies, such as “388 Arletta Avenue,” in which the audience’s only access to the characters is from the point of view of cameras hidden throughout the protagonist’s home, inside his car and carried by the antagonist. Nick Stahl plays James, a graphic designer who’s being tortured systematically by the cyber-stalker, who has somehow gained remarkable access to the large suburban house he shares with his wife, Amy (Mia Kirshner). We feel sorry for the couple when Amy disappears, but it isn’t as if we actually know much about them. It’s to the credit of writer/director Randall Cole that we stick with “388 Arletta Avenue” until the bitter end. Credit also belongs to sound editors David McCallum and David Rose for the many audio tricks that will keep DVD renters on the edge of their seats throughout the movie. They’re scarier than the stalker, who remains a cypher for the movie’s 87-minute length. The bonus interviews explain how the hidden cameras that were used to shot the movie were deployed. – Gary Dretzka

Sleepness Night
Snowman’s Land
From France, of all places, comes a nonstop action picture that should have no problem pleasing American fans of “Drive,” “Taken” and any number of Bruce Willis and Mel Gibson thrillers. In fact, I wouldn’t be at all surprised to learn that “Sleepness Night” is being remade, in English, even as I’m writing this review. As the movie opens, a pair of guys in balaclavas is preparing to stop a Corsican mobster’s car and steal a gym bag full of either heroin or cocaine destined for a Turkish gang. The robbery doesn’t go quite as planned, but they get the drugs, anyway. As it turns out, however, the two guys are cops and the head of the Corsican syndicate somehow knows it. He orders his underlings to kidnap the teenage son of one of the cops and hold him for ransom, in return for the bag. In Europe, Corsicans enjoy their reputation for bad-ass criminality and the Turks aren’t far behind them on the pecking order, so Vincent (Tomer Sisley) knows the boy is in real danger. When Vincent agrees to trade the drugs for the teen, he isn’t aware that other cops in the department are desperate to keep the bag and make a fortune for themselves. That much information is delivered to viewers in the first 10 minutes of “Sleepless Night.” The rest of the action takes place in a trendy nightclub owned by the Corsicans. It’s triggered by a double-cross in which a female cop following Vincent guesses correctly that he wouldn’t be dumb enough to turn over the cache before his son is within his grasp, and he’s likely to take only one bag with him to the meeting. She finds the bag in the false ceiling of the men’s room and, naturally, stashes her discovery above the toilets in the ladies room. Unbeknownst to her, another cop – one even dirtier than she believes Vincent to be – steals the bag and stashes it somewhere else. From this point on, “Sleepness Night” becomes a wild chase throughout the length, breadth and depth of the nightclub, which has multiple bars, salons, restaurants, a billiards room, offices, a large kitchen and hidden tunnels. All come into play when Vincent learns of the triple-cross and must come up with the real stuff he assumes is still hidden in the nightclub, as is his son. Within minutes, the cop is being chased through the club not only by the Corsicans but the Turks and fellow cops.

Sisley, who began his career as a standup comic, has already proven that he can play action parts. Although the two unfortunately titled “Largo Winch” films — he played the comic books’ hero — bombed miserably in the U.S., the blame couldn’t be pinned on him. He’s good in “Sleepness Night” as both a pissed-off cop and desperate father. Co-writer/director Frederic Jardin even allows room for some comedy, especially in the scenes set in the kitchen, which is staffed largely by illegal immigrants. The DVD adds an interview with the movie’s cast.

In the character-driven German crime story, “Snowman’s Land,” the crooks are as colorfully eccentric as any we’ve met in the post-Tarantino age. The most interesting element, though, is the violence itself. As far as I can tell, there is no story to Tomasz Thomson’s film. There’s plenty of innovative bloodshed in it, though, and lots of swell atmosphere. I don’t know where it was shot, but it looks a lot like the Carpathians in winter. The primary human character is a disheveled professional hitman, who botched an assignment and is ordered to leave town to avoid the heat. Until things cool down, Walter (Jurgen Ribmann) is sent to the mountains, where he and an old friend, Mickey, will guard the chalet of another crime boss, Berger (Reiner Schone). Together, Walter and Mickey make a real Mutt & Jeff team. Walter is old-school goon, who prefers not to draw attention to himself, while Mickey is a party-hardy hustler. They’re greeted at the chalet by Berger’s lover, a pill peddler and unabashed sybarite, appropriately named Sibyll (Eva-Katrin Hermann). After her nightly run, Sibyll returns home in a frisky mood. Although Walter knows she’s up to no good, Mickey takes the bait and Sibyll ends up dead.

When Berger finally returns to the chalet, with his Russian henchman, Kazik (Walera Kanischtscheff) carrying a dead wild boar over his shoulders, the first person he wants to see is Sibyll. After a while, he begins to believe that she was kidnapped and Walter and Mickey are to blame. To get them to confess, he and Kazik take turns beating the crap out of the newcomers, who know that the consequences of telling the truth could be even worse than a thrashing. The only funny thing that happens in this otherwise grisly sequence is watching Kazik’s face when he slams his fist into the side of Mickey’s head. What we know and he doesn’t is that Mickey’s skull contains a large metal plate. The gag is reprised later – when the truth about Sibyll emerges — with decidedly different results. As far as the plot goes, though, the only question that remains is who’s going to leave the chalet on his own two feet and how. At a brisk 95 minutes, the absence of a narrative is hardly noticed. “Snowman’s Land” adds a making-of featurette. – Gary Dretzka

In the Eyes of the Killer
Anyone who’s spent the last 22 years of their lives waiting for Louis and Costas Mandylor to appear together in a feature film now can die easy. The Greek-Australian brothers appear in “In the Eyes of the Killer,” a relatively predictable thriller about a blind criminology professor, who, in an experimental procedure, is given the eyes of an executed murderer. It almost goes without saying that, before long, the newly sighted professor, Jack (Louis Mandylor), begins to see things only the killer would recognize. They come to him in the form of lightning-quick flashbacks of gory crime scenes and murders. An alcoholic congressman played by Costas shows up about halfway through the movie — with a bad attitude and a buxom babe — at the same island resort as Jack and his newlywed wife, Gwen (Gwendolyn Edwards). By this time, Jack has begun to exhibit anti-social habits that are especially vexing to Gwen. They do, however, play right into the somewhat soiled hands of their new friends. “In the Eyes of the Killer” wasn’t original enough to demand a theatrical release and there’s too much nudity for non-premium cable outlets. That leaves the straight-to-DVD marketplace, where, after the clichés fade away and a veritable bloodbath begins, the movie fits just fine. – Gary Dretzka

The Man From Beijng
To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey
Over on PBS, the third series of English-language adaptations of Henning Mankell’s “Wallander,” starring Kenneth Branagh, is wrapping up its run on “Masterpiece Mystery!” If you haven’t already watched or recorded it, there’s probably still time to catch at least one of the stories. The first two series are available on DVD, as are the complete Swedish-language compilations. It’s worth the effort to find them. Newly available on DVD is the original two-part mini-series based on Mankell’s “The Man From Beijing.” It is a very different kettle of lutfisk thematically, but similarly engrossing. As the title might suggest, the international thriller sometimes suffers from narrative dissociation and the curious decision to have all characters – Scandinavian, Chinese, American – converse in Swedish. Again, your patience will be rewarded. The story opens with the discovery of a ghastly mass-murder on a farm complex in rural Hudiksvall. Eighteen members of the Andren family have been chopped apart by someone wielding a sharp blade. There are two survivors, but they mostly provide the baffled police with convenient suspects to serve the voracious appetite of the media.

Suddenly, though, the scene shifts abruptly to Beijing, where a man is about to be executed for corruption perpetrated in the name of his boss, who’s too powerful to convict. Afterward, the smug businessman is berated by his sister for putting their family’s honor at stake and choosing laissez-faire capitalism over the Communist Party’s core beliefs. Then, just as abruptly, we’re back in Sweden and the offices of a judge, Brigitta (Suzanne von Borsody), who, along with her estranged husband (Michael Nyqvist), represent the last of the Andren line. As the local police rush to frame the wrong suspects, Brigitta discovers family letters and photos that indicate someone’s been waiting 150 years to avenge the deaths of Chinese ancestors working in the United States on the transcontinental railroad. The suspicion is confirmed when police in Reno inform her of the killings of several more Andrens at the hands of a sword-wielding assassin. Sensing that the only thing likely to satisfy the killer is the murder of the final two Andrens, Brigitta begins her own investigation. After barely surviving an attack, the judge not only learns the identity of the killer, but that he’s already split for Beijing, which is where she heads next. Being a stranger in a strange land, her appearance draws the attention of state authorities and, yes, the brother and sister we met earlier. Unlike the investigations in “Wallander,” the pieces of Brigitta’s puzzle fall together all too conveniently. Even so, the film’s pace continues to accelerate throughout its three-hour length and we willingly suspend our disbelief.

It wasn’t so long ago that Asian actors were as visible on American screens and stages as pandas in zoos outside China. The very few exceptions were required to play subservient roles to Caucasian actors, occasionally in Asian drag. “To Whom It May Concern: Ka Shen’s Journey” describes how a freckly Eurasian teenager from Hong Kong helped break the ice of institutional racism in Hollywood and on Broadway. Classically trained at the Royal Ballet School, in London, Nancy Kwan was discovered by producer Ray Stark and became an international star playing non-cliché roles in “The World of Suzie Wong” and “Flower Drum Song.” For a little while, anyway, she was as hot a commodity as there was on the planet. When screenwriters and playwrights ran out of ideas for material requiring Asian actors – even those who could pass for Natalie Wood – Kwan’s career hit a doldrums. In 1970, she moved back to Hong Kong to care for her ill father. Kwan would play action parts in Southeast Asia until 1980, when she moved to Los Angeles, where she accepted a relative handful of roles over the next 30 years and promoted the hiring of actors with Asian roots.

Brian Jamieson’s insightful biopic frames Kwan’s career within the context of her appearance at the Hong Kong Ballet’s adaptation of “The World of Suzie Wong.” We learn more about her in on-location interviews at Angkor Wat, vintage film clips, screen tests and home movies. “To Whom It May Concern” also spends a great deal of time recalling the deaths to AIDS of Kwan’s actor son and his wife, and her determination to commemorate their lives as an activist. Maybe change was inevitable, but Kwan’s efforts to convince casting directors to hire Asian-American and Pacific Rim actors have found traction. Movies from China, Korea, Japan and Thailand have found a home in arthouses and video stores, as well. The DVD adds a photo gallery and original watercolor art gallery of images from the documentary. – Gary Dretzka

Bob Dylan and the Band: Down in the Flood
Just Around the Corner: The Bob Benjamin Story
When Bob Dylan was injured in a 1966 motorcycle accident, between tours, near his Woodstock home, it precipitated a storm of rumors even more intense than the “Paul McCartney is dead” insanity. If the accident had happened today, several hundred paparazzi would have descended on the town immediately after hearing the first rumor and “TMZ” would have moved its entire operation to Upstate New York. In 1966, though, the first issue of Rolling Stone had yet to be published and the mainstream media were still struggling to figure out why all the folkies were upset that he’d “gone electric.” Fans fretted as concert tours were canceled and new records stopped coming. Others believed he was dead, comatose or tragically disfigured. When finally, in December 1967, his “John Wilson Harding” was released, its Nashville roots and biblical references would cause listeners to panic even more. Like the still-incensed folkies and radicals, fans of “electric Dylan” didn’t know quite what to make of the new change in direction, which included a return to acoustics.

Among the rumors that managed to slip through the cone of silence were reports of private sessions Dylan was conducting in Woodstock with his backup band, the Hawks, soon to be known as the Band. This rumor, along with speculation about “basement tapes,” turned out to be true. Rock mavens assumed incorrectly that any new album would, in fact, be comprised of session tapes. Instead, the sessions provided the foundation for the Band’s debut album, “Music From Big Pink,” which featured several songs written by Dylan, whose head, at least, was already in Nashville with the city’s best session musicians. (Eight years later, after bootleg copies of “Basement Tapes” began popping up, Dylan and his slippery manager, Albert Grossman, agreed to release an arguably bogus album that satisfied no one.) Their collaborations wouldn’t continue, primarily because the Band wanted to forge its own path to the charts.

Bob Dylan and the Band: Down in the Flood” goes on to chronicle what happened to both parties between the release of “Music From Big Pink” and the “The Last Waltz” concerts, which effectively put an end to the Band’s long run. It features new interviews with Garth Hudson; producer John Simon; the Hawks’ 1966 tour drummer, Mickey Jones; the Hawk’s founder, Ronnie Hawkins; Dylan guitarist, Charlie McCoy; Band biographer Barney Hoskyns; “Basement Tapes” archivist, Sid Griffin, Isis magazine’s Derek Barker; and Rolling Stone’s Anthony De Curtis. Dylan obsessives will want this DVD in their collection.

I can’t imagine many people outside New Jersey being familiar with Bob Benjamin or the Jersey-based Light of Day Foundation, which he helped found after being diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease at 38. As a fan, journalist and rock promoter, Benjamin’s passion was the music that emanated from the Jersey Shore, before and after the explosive rise of Bruce Springsteen. Benjamin, musician Joe D’Urso and former Asbury Juke Tony Pallagrosi have since worked tirelessly for the foundation, whose funds come primarily from benefit concerts staged around the world in the interest of finding a cure for Parkinson’s. Likewise, proceeds from “Just Around the Corner” will go to the foundation. The DVD contains much fine music and the imprimatur of Michael J. Fox. – Gary Dretzka

Del Shores’ Sordid Confessions
Twisted Romance
Del Shores is a successful television writer (“Sordid Lives,” “Queer as Folk,” “Dharma and Greg”) who specializes in shows that have decidedly offbeat characters and a kinky streak you can cut with a butter knife. Being gay and a native Texan, Shores doesn’t have to reach very far for material. In his follow-up to last year’s “My Sordid Life,” Shores expands on how his life as a gay man is going, so far. Well, for one thing, he has the rare distinction of being divorced from a woman and a man. “Sordid Confessions” is full of funny stories about how things have changed since he got re-married, re-divorced and re-entered the singles scene. One involves dating a man with a “perpendicular dick” and, yes, he does describe how fellatio might be difficult in such a situation. Another large section of the film is dedicated to people and things he hates or freak him out, including midgets, fat homeless men, “QAF” co-star Randy Harrison, former “SNL” cast member Victoria Jackson and self-righteous letter writers. Suddenly, Shores has turned into the gay Andrew “Dice” Clay, even using the C-word for emphasis. You can imagine how this might sound coming from a comedian, who, from a distance, could pass for John Denver. The DVD adds a behind-the-scenes featurette, audience interviews and footage of the cover photo shoot.

Also from Breaking Glass Pictures’ QC collection comes Jose Campusano’s dark drama, “Twisted Romance.” Set in a shabby neighborhood on the outskirts of Buenos Aires, it describes the coming-of-sexual-age of a bored young man, Roberto. One day, after spying his mother and sister service a couple of bozos at home, he decides to find a less compromised place to live. He allows himself to be picked up by a 50-something man, whose “look” appears to have been inspired by the “hair bands” of the 1970s. Before meeting Raul, most of what Roberto knew about being gay seemingly was what could be gleaned in TV sitcoms and other 21st Century clichés. Raul would introduce to him an earlier, less enlightened period in history, when self-loathing homosexuals took out their shame and hostility on young prey, in short and violent encounters. He hurts Roberto in their first coupling, but not so much as to convince the boy to leave. All he asks is for Raul to be more considerate of his feelings and for him to agree occasionally to be the “bottom.” Before long, they do reach common ground and Roberto’s mother and sister take to Raul, as well. The older man’s dark side reveals itself again when Roberto meets a Spaniard his age and he’s spied leaving their home. Raul’s anger is amplified by being refused meetings with his young daughter and money problems that lead him to burn a teenage who entrusts him with cash to buy drugs. Things get even more complicated, but in ways that make sense within the context of the story. “Twisted Romance,” then, is both a throwback to an earlier period in gay history and a story in which the characters run headlong into the walls built around them. It’s interesting, but primarily for niche audiences. – Gary Dretzka

Paul Rodriguez: Just for the Record
Although Paul Rodriguez looks younger than 57 in “Just for the Record,” the cane in his hand serves as a reminder that he’s one of the grand old men of the comedy circuit. The same men and women who helped launch the comedy-club revolution of the 1980s are getting to the point in their career where Buddy Hackett, Milton Berle, George Burns and Bob Hope were when Johnny Carson moved “The Tonight Show” to Los Angeles, 40 years ago, and the guest list always seemed to include one comic who started out in vaudeville. Had they lived, Richard Pryor would be turning 72 in December and Freddie Prinze would be 58. Steve Martin is 67. Standup comedy was nearly dead around the time Rodriguez and his peers made their mark on fledgling HBO and L.A.’s Comedy Store. He became one of very few Hispanic comedians getting work at a time when comedy clubs were blooming in every major city. “Just for the Record” is Rodriguez’s first one-man theatrical show. Far less a standup routine than a memoir, it recalls his early years as the son of migrant workers from Mexico and, soon, a Hispanic in mostly black Compton. From there, it was the military, college on the G.I. bill and a detour from the road to law school into a job parking cars at the Comedy Store. He also reminisces about some of the stars he met on his way to the top. His timing couldn’t have been better. “Just for the Record” is a heartfelt and often very funny presentation by a comedian who’s long been taken for granted and criticized for being too soft. – Gary Dretzka

Arachnophobia: Blu-ray
A joint venture between Steven Spielberg’s Amblin Entertainment and Disney’s fledgling Hollywood Pictures, “Arachnophobia” may not have been the first thriller in which the antagonists were spiders or tarantulas, but it almost certainly was the most expensive to date. Amblin wasn’t making small pictures anymore and Disney needed a banner under which it could produce pictures aimed for the PG-13 crowd. “Arachnophobia” filled the bill nicely, even if its storyline was straight out of the genre playbook. The movie opens in the Venezuelan rain forest, where a previously unknown type of spider is killing villagers. After hitching a ride to the United States in a casket, one of the spiders escapes detection and is able to cross-breed with critters here. The offspring are real killers and, of course, they find their way into the house recently purchased by an arachnophobic doctor looking for some peace and quiet in the country. What separated “Arachnophobia” from previous spider chillers – “Tarantula,” “Kingdom of the Spiders” (William Shatner!) – was its $31-million budget, such versatile actors as Jeff Daniels, John Goodman and Julian Sands, and uber-producer Frank Marshall, who was taking his first shot at directing features. Horror buffs weren’t terribly impressed by the results, but it made plenty of money and proved that the world wouldn’t end if PG-13 and Disney were used in the same sentence. The Blu-ray adds featurettes on the production and Marshall, as well as more material from Venezuela. – Gary Dretzka

The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites
Among the many things missing on prime-time television these days are the old-fashioned variety shows, which, each week, mixed comedy, music, dance, popular stars and a stock company of sidekicks, around which the hosts could work their magic. For many years, Ed Sullivan hosted the most popular variety show on the air. In addition to presenting Elvis Presley and the Beatles to mainstream America, Sullivan featured a steady stream of entertainers representing the best of their respective discipline. One a single show, it wouldn’t be uncommon for a the world’s greatest tenor to be followed by the world’s most talented plate-spinner, a puppet theater, an animal act and a world-class comedian passing through New York on his way to Miami, Las Vegas or the Catskills. When Sullivan left television, dozens of entertainment specialists, Broadway shows and touring companies lost their primary publicity source. Some ended up in Vegas, Branson and on the cruise ship circuit, while others simply disappeared. Then came the era of the flash-in-the-pan host, including such passing fancies as the Captain & Tennille, John Davidson, Mac Davis, Bobby Goldsboro, Rod Hull & Emo, Barbara Mandrell, Tony Orlando & Dawn and Lynda Carter. There were many more, but none of them could hold a candle to Sullivan, Jackie Gleason, Dinah Shore, Perry Como, Dean Martin, Sonny and Cher or even the Muppets. Now, there’s only “Sabado Gigante. The afternoon and late-night talk shows have picked up the slack somewhat, but guests are mostly limited to bands, actors and comics that appeal to the 18-to-34 demographic or are pitching a new movie.

Watch even a half-hour of the episodes included in Time Life’s six-disc “The Carol Burnett Show: Carol’s Favorites” and you’ll know what made her different from any host before or after her 11-year tenure on CBS. As complete an entertainer as she was, the Hollywood High School graduate maintained a repertory company of gifted comic actors, not unlike those who surrounded Sid Caesar in his heyday. In Harvey Korman, Vicki Lawrence, Lyle Waggoner and Tim Conway, Burnett had a troupe capable of turning an idea into a sketch overnight and contributing songs and dance routines whenever necessary. The skits ranged from recurring character pieces (“Mrs. Wiggins,” “The Charwoman”), slapstick with Conway and Korman and parodies of popular movies and TV shows (“As the Stomach Turns,” “Went With the Wind”). These were interspersed with formally choreographed dance and musical interludes, chats with guests and a weekly Q&A with the audience. Today, these elements would be considered square as hell, but the personal touch is exactly what’s missing on prime-time television. (Watch Ellen DeGeneres’ afternoon show and you’ll see how much she owes to Burnett and how well the audience responds.) “Carol’s Favorites” is part of a larger Burnett initiative by Time Life, but there’s already enough here to keep fans laughing for weeks. The material on the discs looks and sounds as good as it ever will and probably of better quality than color TV permitted in 1960s. The full set contains 18 complete, unedited episodes, some introduced by Burnett and other regulars. Also available are “The Best of the Carol Burnett Show” in one- and two-disc packages; and the 20-DVD boxed set, The Carol Burnett Show Ultimate Collection,” with 50 episodes and more than 10 hours of never-before-seen bonus features. “Carol’s Favorites” adds three hours of extras, including a history of the show, cast reunion, interviews, the “Dentist” skit and Carol performing her famous Tarzan yell for the first time, on “The Garry Moore Show.” – Gary Dretzka

American Horror Story: Blu-ray
Key & Peele: Season 1
Portlandia: Season Two
Gossip Girl: The Complete Fifth Season
Family Guy: Volume Ten
Imagine buying a house in which both the Manson and Addams families once lived, then having to deal with their spirits on a daily basis. That, in a nutshell, is a synopsis of FX’s “American Horror Story.” It is into just such a house that the Harmons move after leaving Boston to escape memories of a miscarriage and infidelity. If it weren’t haunted, the home (the 1908 Rosenheim Mansion) would have been an exceptional bargain. As it is, however, it’s a nightmare of ever crazier visions, graphic violence, psycho-sexual perversion and time-shifting ghosts. The mansion is so notorious it’s even referred to by ghoulish crime-tour guides as the Murder House. Adding to the bad vibes are the psychiatric patients drawn to Dr. Ben Harmon’s (Dylan McDermott) office in the house. The candles on the cupcake, though, are the busybody neighbors played by Jessica Lange and Jamie Brewer, who pop up at the most inconvenient times for the fragile Vivien Harmon (Connie Britton). Each episode of the 12-episode series, which was created by Ryan Murphy and Brad Falchuk (“Nip/Tuck,” “Glee”) opens with depictions of killings that occurred years earlier in the Murder House and continue to resonate within the walls. The Blu-ray set adds commentary on the pilot episode, a visit to the mansion by Eternal Darkness Tours of Hollywood and four behind-the-scenes featurettes.

Anyone who misses the irreverent sketch comedy popularized on “In Living Color,” “Chappelle’s Show” and “MADtv” ought to check out “Key & Peele,” which begins its second season on Comedy Channel this week. It stars Keegan-Michael Key and Jordan Peele, whose collective resume include stints with “MADtv,” “Reno 911,” “Childrens Hospital” and the Second City troupe. If that doesn’t say, “funny,” nothing does. Among the characters to look for in the new Blu-ray collection and on Comedy Central are Barack Obama (Peele) and his anger translator, Luther (Key), who says the things the President would say if the black half of his personality was the dominant side. Reportedly, Peele was in line to portray Obama on “Saturday Night Life,” before the writer’s strike put those plans on hold and he joined the gang at “MADtv.” The Blu-ray adds more from Luther, outtakes, interviews, commentaries and “Live at South Beach Comedy Festival.”

When Dish dropped channels owned by AMC earlier the summer, the most immediate victims were fans of IFC’s original comedy series, “Portlandia,” whose season was cut short by the action. It was a cruel blow, indeed. Unlike “Key & Peele,” “Portlandia” is mostly shot on location in and around Oregon’s largest and most politically correct city. Written by and starring Fred Armisen (“SNL”) and Carrie Brownstein (the Sleater-Kinney band), it parodies the hipper-than-thou post-hippie residents of Portland who are notoriously obsessed with being green, vegan, mellow and in tune with their spiritual side. They mistrust people they consider to be square, mainstream, opponents of non-motorized transportation and intolerant of New Age theories. If there ever was a show Republicans could enjoy unreservedly – while completely missing the point – it would be “Portlandia.” I’m not a big fan of Armisen on “Saturday Night Live,” but here, in league with Brownstein, he nails practically every offbeat character they create. Like all Oscilloscope products, the Blu-ray package is environmentally safe and the features include elongated and deleted scenes, and some funny making-of material.

Season Five of “Gossip Girl” opens with Serena in L.A., working temporarily as a production assistant on a movie that probably could have done just as well without her help. Chuck and Nate take a break in Tinseltown from their cross-country tour, as well. At a swank party, Nate encounters a glamorous cougar (Elizabeth Hurley) and Chuck bonds with stunt woman Zoe Bell. Meanwhile, back in Gotham, a pregnant Blair is preparing for her marriage to Prince Louis, scheduled for Episode 100. Unlike every other up-and-coming novelist, Dan is trying to prevent his roman-a-clef from being published. Things only get more complicated from there. Thank goodness, Season Six will put the show out of our misery. The DVD set adds “Gossip Girl Turns 100!,” “5 Years of Iconic Style,” a gag reel and unaired scenes.

The thing for collectors of “Family Guy” DVDs to know is that “Volume 10” opens with “Halloween on Spooner Street,” from Season Nine, and ends with “Foreign Affairs,” the same season’s penultimate episode. And, no, I can’t explain why that’s the case. The three-disc set adds deleted and extended scenes, several scene animatics and commentaries, and “Adam West Star Ceremony.” The dialogue is uncensored. – Gary Dretzka

American Masters: The Day Carl Sandburg Died
PBS: I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful
The Inner Game: Golf/Tennis
PBS’ “The Day Carl Sandburg Died” recalls the incomparable American poet/journalist/historian/musician whose radical beliefs and personal activism were ignored by generations of English teachers trying to sell poetry to students who’d rather be napping. This “American Masters” presentation reminds us of the man behind words and the events he witnessed that shook him to the core. The students who paid attention to Sandburg’s words in class could visualize an America very different than the one promoted by politicians and chambers of commerce. He wrote the poetry at a time when everything seemed possible for people who worked for a living, but, in fact, the road to success and happiness required paying a stiff toll. “The Day Carl Sandburg Died” should be shown in high school English classes before a single word of poetry is taught. That it’s enjoying a resurgence in popularity among the poetry-jam crowd is very good news, indeed.

With another season of “Treme” having just begun on HBO, it’s a good time to recall the real, on-going horror that is post-Katrina New Orleans, especially the Lower 9th Ward. “I’m Carolyn Parker: The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful” is told through the point of view of the last resident to leave and first to return to the devastated community. In doing so, Parker became one of the only residents left to represent the 9th Ward at public hearings held to discuss reclamation efforts. She tells city, state and federal officials that she doesn’t want to live in a trailer or another city. Parker demanded she be allowed to live in the house in which she’s resided ever since a time when “all my neighbors were white” and worship in the same Roman Catholic Church she attended before the flood. It also was important to her that her former neighbors be encouraged to the return to the ward to live something resembling normal life. “Normal,” of course, is a relative term in New Orleans. When it came to rebuilding the wards, “normal” meant being approached by contractors who would lie about being licensed and were given a pass because they had paid off someone for the privilege of doing so. It also means that only the squeakiest wheel gets the grease, and that’s what Parker became. Her commitment attracted no less a filmmaker than Jonathan Demme to tell her story and that of her community. He made 21 visits to the Lower 9th in five years to keep track of the progress of this “ordinary” woman.

For those amateur athletes who believe that the cure for a weak backhand or shaky putter can be found in the mind, there’s newly updated editions of PBS’ “The Inner Game: Tennis” and “The Inner Game: Golf.” In them, author Tim Gallwey coaches a celebrity in the techniques of the so-called Inner Game as applied to their sport. Among the questions Gallwey attempts to answer: how does one maintain concentration under pressure?; how to avoid the mental and physical tensions that can sabotage any shot, from the simplest putt to a demanding drive; and how to quiet the negativity that often bubbles up at the most crucial times. For the time being, anyway, the easiest place to find these DVDs during Pledge Month is on the websites of your local PBS station. – Gary Dretzka

London 2012: Games of the XXX Olympiad: Blu-ray
Ever since the tragic terrorist attack that marred the 1972 Summer Olympics, too much of the early speculation surrounding each new Games involves security measures, not sports. This was certainly true in the advance of the XXX Olympiad in London, long a target for extremists. Blessedly, apart from some early concern over traffic congestion, the event went on as planned. It was full of great performances by world-class athletes and there were plenty of surprises, as well. Less than two months after the gala Closing Ceremony comes NBC’s “London 2012: Games of the XXX Olympiad,” in Blu-ray and SD editions. Just as the network’s coverage rankled almost everyone committed to watching as many hours of competition as possible, “London 2012” isn’t likely to satisfy anyone, either. For one thing, it doesn’t include the Closing Ceremony, which was truncated to accommodate a preview of a new NBC sitcom. The disgraceful decision eliminated several important musical presentations plugged in advance. The Blu-ray package is comprised of two discs – sold individually in the SD versions – one of which is a compilation of highlights and the other, coverage of the swimming and gymnastics events, as well as select moments from the track-and-field and, of course, the women’s beach volleyball contests. – Gary Dretzka

Yoga Is: A Transformational Journey
Occupy Unmasked
If any industry is likely to survive unscathed during the continuing economic doldrums, it’s the physical- and spiritual-wellness racket. There now seem to be as many yoga facilities sprouting up in strip malls and dance-rehearsal spaces as there were karate dojos in the 1990s. Suzanne Bryant is a former harried journalist (“60 Minutes”) who discovered the ancient practice just as her job was robbing her of her free time and sanity. Desperately in need of a transformation, the New Yorker split to California to get a master’s degree in spiritual psychology and nutrition. To become a teacher, she enrolled in a 500-hour training regimen with Alan Finger, who practices Ishta Yoga. Two years later, she was ready to commit herself to changing the world through yoga. For “Yoga Is,” Bryant traveled to India and throughout the U.S. to interview teachers and other facilitators of true happiness. No self-help DVD is complete without a celebrity or two and, here, they include producer Russell Simmons, musician Michael Franti and super-duper model Christy Turlington-Burns. And, yes, she looks kind of hot in a leotard.

Just as ’60s-era leftists imagined seeing FBI agents behind every tree and mailbox – we’ve subsequently learned their paranoia might have been justified – the late right-wing fantasist Andrew Breitbart was haunted by visions of liberal slogans spelled out in his alphabet soup. “Occupy Unmasked” arrives in the wake of the first anniversary of the Occupy Wall Street movement. Before his untimely death last March 1, Breitbart and fellow paranoids Brandon Darby, David Horowitz, Pam Keys, Anita Moncrief, Mandy Nagy and Lee Stranahan felt it necessary to alert the world to the fact that Occupy outposts weren’t the latter-day Woodstocks the media made them out to be. Instead, according to the message of this DVD, the camps also harbored homeless people, petty criminals, bongo players and anarchists, as well as well-meaning, if misinformed liberals. Yikes … someone call a cop. Actually, civic leaders did just that, eliminating any threat to domestic peace and free-market economics, once and for all. As was adequately demonstrated on September 17, the Occupy movement either no longer exists or it has transformed itself into organization more interested in education than killing time in sleeping bags and sharing Port-o-Potties with conspiracy theorists. The documentary was written and directed by Stephen K. Bannon (“Generation Zero”). – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup: Klown, Avengers, American Horror Story … More”

  1. Tena Illian says:

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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