MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup: Quick, My Sucky Teen Romance, High School, Touchback … More

My Sucky Teen Romance: Blu-ray
There are no larger targets for parody than the conventions that attract obsessive fans of sci-fi, horror and comic-books. Trekkies were the first to find comfort the numbers of like-minded people drawn to such events, but other fanatic fans soon followed suit. Planners of the first official “Star Trek” convention, in 1972, expected about 500 fanatics to find their way to New York’s Hotel Pennsylvania. Instead, more than 3,000 Trekkies showed up to hear Gene Roddenberry and Isaac Asimov and survey two tons of NASA artifacts. After that, of course, came “le deluge.” As juicy a target as Trekkies and other cultists have become, however, the parodies have been relatively gentle and supportive. I’m guessing this has something to do with the fact that so many filmmakers easily qualified as geeks in high school and college and have been laughing all the way to the bank since then.

The career of 19-year-old genre wunderkind Emily Hagins provides ample evidence to support just such a theory. By the time Emily was 11, she already had produced several horror shorts and written a script for her feature debut, “Pathogen.” Her third feature, “My Sucky Teen Romance,” is set during a local SpaceCON convention, where several of the attendees actually are teen vampires. Far less a parody of the convention scene than a smart and funny exploration of teen angst, “My Sucky Teen Romance” uses the media’s current fixation on vampires to dramatize one 17-year-old girl’s struggle with forbidden love. In fact, being a vampire is almost incidental to the Austin resident’s story about growing up geeky and digging it. Her many references to vampire tropes, trivia and genre history only make “MSTR” that much more appealing. It has some gory moments, but nothing that would frighten a 10-year-old.

Hagins seems dedicated to portraying teenagers, in all their awkwardness, as just that … kids. They don’t look at all like the twentysomethings who play teenagers in “Glee” and “Gossip Girl.” The closest touchstone movie to it is Terry Zwigoff’s “Ghost World,” to which “MSTR” compares favorably. The Blu-ray includes a nice making-up featurette, a deleted scene, bloopers and a short film, “Cupcake.” Hagins’ decision to cast professional Austin-ite and notorious fanboy Harry Knowles as a SpaceCON panelist only adds to the movie geek quotient. – Gary Dretzka

High School: Blu-ray
The guiding principle behind most stoner comedies – especially those destined for a straight-to-DVD launch — is to spend money on an actor or singer notorious for public consumption of dope and put the expository material in the script in the first 30 minutes. After that point, viewers probably will be too high to appreciate any of what passes for witty repartee and clever gags. Why waste good material when all it takes to get viewers laughing uproariously is a monkey with a bong or a talking squirrel? When in doubt, cast Snoop Dogg in a prominent role, add a shower scene or have the characters answer all questions with, “Blow me, dickwad.” We’re not talking about Shakespeare here, folks, even if fans of the genre often behave like groundlings. The artwork on the cover of “High School” makes it abundantly clear that lots of teenagers will spend the next 90 minutes putting the “high” in high school. Also prominent are the names of Oscar-winning actor Adrien Brody, Emmy-winning actor Michael Chiklis, rising star Colin Hanks and some young actors I heard are pretty good. How bad could it be? I still don’t know, because I wasn’t wasted.

The entry-point gag in “High School” involves likely class valedictorian Henry Burke (Matt Bush), who chooses the wrong day to acquaint himself with chronic. Tomorrow, he learns, the school’s principal (Chiklis) has scheduled mandatory drug tests for all students. If he flunks the test, Henry could be demoted to class shmuck and lose his ride to MIT. Instead of calling in a bomb scare as kids in his parents’ generation might have done, Henry and an oft-stoned buddy, Breaux (Sean Marquette), elect to steal enough high-powered dope from a local dealer (Brody) to dose the whole school. The surest delivery system, they reckon, would be the hundreds of delicious brownies they’ll donate to the school bake sale. If everyone’s drug test comes up positive, it’s likely that all of the results will be thrown out and by the time new ones can scheduled, his urine will be free of drugs. Genius, right?

In fact, the flakey plan works like a charm, stoning everyone from the cheerleading squad to the vice principal. The stuff the boys stole is so potent that it’s practically psychedelic. And, here’s where the 30-minute rule kicks in. The students and teachers get so high, they’re practically catatonic. It takes an inordinate amount of time for them to come up with the non sequiturs, ass-backward logic and goofy revelations that distinguish conversations between people who are completely whacked out on drugs. Much of it I found to be quite funny, if not easily translatable for the consumption of straight audiences. It was almost as if the filmmakers threw away the script, got everyone stoned and told the actors to improvise from experience. Brody’s confrontation with the principal is funny, if only because his drug dealer is in full rasta regalia and Chiklis resembles Chris Farley after one of his more strenuous “SNL” sketches. Anyone who sees the award-winning actors’ names on the box and anticipates another “The Pianist” or “The Shield” would be well-advised to consider another title. The Blu-ray adds a few deleted scenes. – Gary Dretzka

Quick: Blu-ray
Although the nearly always hysterical characters in the Korean motorcycle thriller, “Quick,” make Jerry Lewis seem withdrawn, they can be forgiven because someone has planted a bomb in their helmet and is threatening to blow them up. I’ll go out on a limb here and suggest that the producers intended for “Quick” to be the Asian response to “Speed,” the 1994 runaway-bus thriller starring Keanu Reeves and Sandra Bullock. The unseen force controlling the action here is working with more firepower than the monster in “Speed” and the humor is significantly broader, but the idea is the same. The chase begins when motorbike messenger is assigned to do something for a cute singer in a poppy girl group. When she makes the mistake of trying his helmet on for size, a countdown mechanism is automatically triggered and the time left for detonation becomes visible in the wind shield. Removing the helmet would instantaneously trigger the bomb and the anonymous caller also warns against the pair separating by more than 10 feet. In fact, it’s only one of several such devices that pepper the messenger’s route. The setup is pretty simple, but director Cho Beom-gu loves to see things blow up real good, especially in crowded urban streets, shopping malls and trains. I can’t imagine American action junkies not enjoying “Quick,” especially since the subtitles are practically superfluous. There’s plenty of making-of and special-effects information included in the supplementary material. – Gary Dretzka

White Vengeance: Blu-ray
In such epic historical entertainments from China as “White Vengeance,” it would be next to impossible for most western viewers to separate the facts from the invention. We still debate what happened at the OK Corral and Little Big Horn. Action specialist Daniel Lee’s military and political drama, “White Vengeance,” is set at the fall of the Qin Dynasty, which only was in power from 221 to 207 BC. Though the emperor’s reign was short, the changes and reforms he implanted would impact Chinese life for many years. A cursory perusal of the Internet tells me that “White Vengeance” is close enough to accurate for us not to sweat the details and such elaborately staged events as the sword dance at the Hongmen Banquet actually did occur. Still, most of what westerners know about Chinese history – from books, lore and movies – could be cut from whole cloth and we’d want it to be true, at least. We know that Sun Tzu’s “The Art of War” was compiled during the same period, so it makes sense that the great warriors we meet in “White Vengeance” would engage in long discussions about strategy and philosophy, instead of rushing into war for the sake of creating exciting cinema. In fact, the greatest glory is reserved for those leaders who convince their enemy to surrender without a fight. Some disputes are settled over the board game, weiqi (a.k.a., Go), as well.

Lee forgoes much of the usual expository narrative we get in such epics, so it would pay to bone up on the period before jumping into “White Vengeance” with both feet. Basically, though, the story is about a time of great change in China, when sworn brothers in arms, Liu Bang and Xiang Yu, are pitted against each other in pursuit of the title of Lord Qin and leadership of the emerging Han Dynasty. The fighting scenes are as exciting as they usually are in such movies, while the costume and set design work also are splendid. The Blu-ray extras add a long behind-the-scenes featurette and interviews with cast and crew. – Gary Dretzka

Jersey Shore Shark Attack: Blu-ray
Jersey Shore: Season Five: Uncensored
Piranha 3DD: Blu-ray
The English poet who first observed that “all things come to those who wait” couldn’t possibly have imagined it would someday apply to a niche cable-television network specializing in science fiction and horror. That phrase came immediately to mind when watching the surprisingly funny Syfy original movie, “Jersey Shore Shark Attack.” Normally, the only funny things about these cut-rate rip-offs of Roger Corman’s greatest hits are the titles and mutated monsters. “JSSA” not only is a surprisingly accurate parody of MTV’s “Jersey Shore” — a long-running reality show that’s become a parody of itself — but it also does justice to “Jaws” and 25 years of Shark Week programming on Discovery. The significant differences between the setup here and the plot of “Jaws” is in its blue-collar Jersey setting and the reason behind the attacks by albino bull sharks, which is right out of the Corman playbook.

Greedy developers are turning the ocean-side city and amusement park into a ritzy resort for seasonal traffic and the vibrations from the heavy equipment have awoken the creatures from an almost century-long dormancy. After exhausting all other alternatives, the police chief agrees to let the faux Guidos and Guidettes make an attempt to save the July 4 holiday for local businesses. The actors appear to be so familiar with the characters they’re lampooning that they could do it in their sleep. The cast of mostly fresh-faced young actors is supplemented by such familiar old-timers as Paul Sorvino, William Atherton, Jack Scalia, Tony “Paulie Walnuts” Sirico and Joey Fatone, who has the singular honor of being snatched from the stage by a giant leaping shark. Syfy regulars know that monster antagonists often perform such impressive acrobatic feats. “JSSA” may not be in the same league as such world-class parodies as “Airplane!” and “Blazing Saddles,” but it’s the closest Syfy has come to a crowd-pleasing original movie. The Blu-ray edition comes with a making-of featurette.

What is it about the word, “uncensored,” that is so difficult for the folks at MTV to grasp? Even though the censors have given a pass to the vulgar language in “Jersey Shore: Season Five: Uncensored,” it only takes five minutes to spot the first digitized blur of an up-skirt shot at a disco. It may seem like a small thing to less-perverted fans, but those of us who care about the English language find it difficult to get past such miscarriages of grammatical justice. Otherwise, it’s mostly the same old stuff that’s made the show such a strange pop phenomenon. It takes the stars about three minutes to get past their jet lag from the trip home from Italy to head for their favorite barbers, tanning facilities and exfoliators to get back in shape for whatever it is they do. That is, besides eating with their fingers and sleeping in their clothes. And, that’s just the guys. MTV has just announced that the current season will be the last for “Jersey Shore.” In six months, the void probably will be filled with a show starring Snooki’s newly born son, Lorenzo. The bonus features add episodes of “After Hour,” confessionals, deleted scenes, interviews and the reunion special.

If you’re planning on making a parody of an exploitation picture that didn’t take itself all that seriously to begin with, it would be wise to hand the reins over to someone who knows the difference between funny and stupid. I know that we’re discussing a straight-to-DVD product here, but any picture in which David Hasselhoff is given the best lines and asked to carry the final half-hour by playing himself is one that is asking for trouble. At one point in “Piranha 3DD,” a boy approaches the lifeguard stand, where Hasselhoff grills him about “Knight Rider,” “Baywatch” and other of his credits. The tyke admits to not having a clue as to who he is or what he’s done. I think that’s movie’s biggest problem, right there. No one outside of L.A., Las Vegas and certain quarters of Germany give a good crap about the Hoff. The same goes for Gary Busey’s cameo in the opening sequence.

In “3DD,” the prehistoric piranhas make their way from one part of Lake Victoria to the other, where the owner of a water park has decided to divide it in half, one only for adults. The 3D boobies are interesting to watch for a while, but they’re too quickly overshadowed by the orifice-seeking fish. When this happens, the line between parody and splatter completely disappears. Ving Rhames is wheeled in for a few quick laughs, before director John Gulager (“Feast”) hands the baton off to the Hoff. It’s possible that the Blu-ray 3D effects helped make “3DD” a more entertaining movie, but, not having a compatible set, I couldn’t vouch for that. The Blu-ray bonus material includes a few things fans of the franchise might enjoy, but they’re mostly dumb and self-serving. An unrelated short featuring John McEnroe is the best thing in the three-disc package. – Gary Dretzka

Mother’s Day: Blu-ray
Sometimes it is fun to go back and read the reviews of movies that stirred controversy and outrage movies when they were released. When “Mother’s Day” slithered into theaters, 32 years ago, Roger Ebert demonstrated his disgust with mindless splatter and slasher films by refusing to give it a single whole or half star. While he certainly wasn’t alone in his opinion, it wasn’t universally shared, either. In one of the new Blu-ray’s bonus features, no less a force in the horror genre than Eli Roth practically credits “Mother’s Day” with the genesis of his entire career, which includes such pivotal titles as “Hostel” and “Cabin Fever.” Splatter flicks haven’t gone away and neither have critics willing to denounce them. The difference between then and now is the emergence of niche websites and blogs dedicated to such genre fare. Their criteria are far different than those of mainstream critics, whose opinions are read by a cross-section of readers. One writer’s atrocity is another one’s slice of cherry pie. “Mother’s Day” remains a tough film to watch, especially to those of us who don’t see much to enjoy in simulated scenes of rape and dismemberment. It’s also easy to see how Charles Kaufman and Warren Leight’s movie might have influenced the next generation of genre specialists, including those responsible for Troma’s less-demented remake starring Rebecca De Mornay. The original only set its producers back to the tune of $150,000, while the remake cost $11 million. The premise to both movies is that several hideous crimes are committed by criminally insane young men to impress their mother, who is a dyed-in-the-wool sadist. In the 1980 version, everything is done with an eye toward being as offensive as possible, while also telling something of a story. In it, three longtime friends hope to revisit the good old days by spending a weekend communing with nature in the woods. Even before they’re able to take off their clothes to go skinny-dipping, the mamma’s boys cut off the head of their male companion. Things get worse, of course, before the women figure out a way to fight back. Inadvertently, perhaps, Kaufman and Leight were creating a template that would shape Troma products for years to come. For my taste, or lack thereof, the best thing about “Mother’s Day” is the performance of Broadway, radio and early-television veteran Beatrice Pons, who’s best-remembered for her recurring roles on “The Phil Silvers Show” and “Car 54, Where Are You?” She lent “Mother’s Day” an air of dignity – well disguised as it may have been – it didn’t deserve and viewers probably didn’t notice. – Gary Dretzka

Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection: Blu-ray
Friday, fans of the “Harry Potter” franchise will have their loyalty put to the ultimate test, along with the limits of their bank accounts, with the release of “Harry Potter Wizard’s Collection.” The 31-disc limited-edition package arrives with an MSRP of $499. (Heavily discounted collections are already available.) In addition to Blu-ray, DVD and UltraViolet Digital Copy editions of all eight films – Blu-ray 3D editions of both “Deathly Hallows” installments and extended versions of “Sorcerer’s Stone” and “Chamber of Secrets” — the collector’s set adds more than 37 hours of special features. They include all previously released materials and more than 10 hours of new-to-disc bonus content, as well as five hours of never-before-seen material.

No need to rehash what made the movies so wonderful. Anyone willing to shell out the dough for the “Wizard’s Collection” already has them memorized. So, what about the new stuff and other bonus material? The 48-page “Harry Potter Catalogue of Artefacts,” by former HP graphic designers Eduardo Lima, Miraphora Mina and Lauren Wakefield reminds us of the many props designed in “shadow boxes”; nearly four hours long, “The Harry Potters You Never Met” demonstrates how stunts from the films were performed and reveals the “tricks” that contributed to the creation of the major set pieces; and, also from MinaLima Design, a 32-page book “Label Collection,” filled with images of imaginatively designed labels from prop potions, memory vials, Honeydukes and Wheasley’s Wheezes. The “Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 1” bonus disc adds the all-new “Creating the World of Harry Potter, Part 7: Story,” whole “HPATDH: 2” contains “Creating the World of Harry Potter, Part. 8: Growing Up” and the extended “A Conversation with JK Rowling and Daniel Radcliffe.” – Gary Dretzka

8:46: Never Forget
As we approach the 11th anniversary of the terrorist attacks on 9/11, at least one new film is being released to remind us of the human side of tragedy, not that it’s began forgotten by anyone. It does this by introducing us to victims and survivors in the hours before the planes hit the WTC and, again, in the minutes before the towers collapsed. “8:46: Never Forget” doesn’t relate any stories we haven’t already heard – indeed, the characters are fictional – so it’s important to remember that it was produced to benefit the actual families of people who died that day. Writer/director/actor Jennifer Gargano’s heart clearly is in the right place. Because she focuses so tightly on the average, everyday people impacted by the terrorist attack, she forgoes stories of heroism. The idea here is to push the not-at-all-subliminal message, “We Will Never Forget” … as if we possibly could. Proceeds from “8:46” will be directed to the non-profit organization, Tuesday’s Children. – Gary Dretzka

David E. Talbert Presents: Suddenly Single
One of the things I like about the movies written, directed and produced by David E. Talbert is that he takes the time to welcome his audience to his movies and give them backstage tours when they’re over, sometimes with his wife and collaborator, Lyn. Even if the none-to-subtle melodramas aren’t brewed to be my cup of tea, I admire his generosity. Shot before a live audience, “Suddenly Single” is another fable involving black families in crisis and marriages torn apart by conditions beyond the wife’s control. Even if Talbert’s productions tackle adult themes with humor and compassion, he respects the fact that his fans are both traditionally religious and smart enough to see how things happen in the real world. Here, we meet Samantha Stone (Garcelle Beauvais) as she prepares to move to her dream home with her husband, Sylvester (Isaiah Washington), the man she’s loved since high school. Just as Samantha’s about to tape up the last box, however, Sylvester announces that he’s fallen in love with another woman, Brittany (code for “white woman”), and he’s leaving her high and dry … well, almost. It’s clear that the audience approves of the way the cad gets his comeuppance. And, yes, it involves a totally buff black man – their son’s basketball coach – to whom Samantha is introduced to when her husband splits. Even though the humor and pathos are as broad as a barn, “Suddenly Single” is the most entertaining Talbert release I’ve seen. – Gary Dretzka

Ballplayer: Pelotero
Baseball’s Greatest Games: San Francisco Giants’ First Perfect Game
Anyone who was impressed by the 2008 sports drama “Sugar” should make a beeline to the local video emporium to find the similarly themed documentary, “Ballplayer: Pelotero.” Both take us to the same baseball schools that serve as feeders for Major League teams hoping to sign prospects from the Dominican Republic. In “Sugar,” after the signees were shown stumbling over some rudimentary English phrases, we followed the fictional Miguel Sanchez to Iowa, where things get crazy. In “Ballplayer,” the camera stays in the Dominican, following two prospects whose ages are in dispute by MLB officials … a.k.a., the plantation owners. The ordeal these teenagers endure would never have been permitted if the kids grew up in the U.S. and attended schools here. Sadly, potential stars in the Dominican attend baseball schools as they approach 16, knowing they can provide the only escape route from poverty. Someday, maybe sooner than later, you may hear the names, Jean Carlos Batista and Miguel Angel Sano, on baseball broadcasts or called out as they step up to the plate … maybe not. If they do make “the show,” “Ballplayer” will serve as a reminder to a time when the MLB conspired with demonstrably corrupt team agents to impede their success and rob them of money. Directed by Ross Finkel, Trevor Martin and Jonathan Paley, the film opens on a deceptively positive high, then, unexpectedly, turns the corner on the depressing chicanery, before ending on the uptick. Comparisons to Kartemquin’s “Hoop Dreams” are inevitable and warranted.

Just as we’ve had the season of the juiced home run and the asterisk-home-run record, the season of stolen bases and various strike seasons, 2012 already has become the season of the perfect game. For those not keeping score at home, to achieve a perfecto a pitcher must shut down all of the opposition’s 27 batters, in order, and without the benefit of a double-play or picking off a runner who’s reached base on an error or walk. Until the beginning of the current season, pitching a no-no was as rare a feat as catching a foul ball with a full cup of beer. Already this year there have been three. On June 13, against the Houston Astros, Matt Cain became the first pitcher in the Giants’ storied history to throw a perfect game. His 14-strikeout gem matched that of the Dodger’s Sandy Koufax, on September 9, 1965. In addition to the game, the Major League Baseball presentation, “Baseball’s Greatest Games,” allows fans to watch the television broadcast and listen to the Giants Radio Network announcers. – Gary Dretzka

Touchback: Blu-ray
Despite the many sports clichés that inform Don Handfield’s football drama, “Touchback,” it never feels handcuffed by stereotypes or guided by the rules that govern such inspirational fare. Just when you think it’s going down one overly familiar road, it takes a detour. The destination is the same, but the path to get there is refreshingly different. “Touchback” opens by introducing us to a young farmer about to lose his soybean farm to the banks. People remember him most as the hard-nosed quarterback who led a team of farm boys to an unlikely championship against an Ohio prep powerhouse. After being injured in that game, Scott Murphy (Brian Presley) lost his opportunity to star at Ohio State and make a fortune as a pro. Just as he’s about to end it all, however, Scott is given a chance to go back in time and change his fortunes. To tell that story, Handfield has borrowed bits and pieces from such kindred movies as “It’s a Wonderful Life,” “Peggy Sue Gets Married,” “Back to the Future” and, in an obvious visual reference, “Field of Dreams.” Instead of strolling through the pearly gates, Scott is dumbfounded to find himself walking into his former high school the week before the championship game. Instead of being the macho prick his roughneck buddies recognize, Scott is a mature and chastened young gentleman. His girlfriend (Sarah Wright) is the prototypical blond cheerleader, whose odds of getting pregnant before Scott enters the NFL draft are prohibitively high. Instead of giving himself wholeheartedly to the cheerleader, he recognizes the band-geek girl (Melanie Lynskey) he would marry in real life and raise a family. She can’t believe her good luck and, thinking she’s being set up for a joke, resists his advances for as long as possible. Kurt Russell plays the team’s coach, who, contrary to stereotype, is not a fire-breathing fascist or someone who wants to ride the boy’s coattails to a job with OSU. No need to spoil the ending, except to say that it’s fresh, heart-warming and beautifully shot. Anyone who loves sports movies should give “Touchback” a shot. – Gary Dretzka

David Bowie: The Calm Before the Storm
In this “In Review” selection from Britain’s Sexy Intellectual catalog, David Bowie’s first steps toward superstardom are chronicled and evaluated by critics, musicians and producers who’ve witnessed his many career choices. “The Calm Before the Storm” opens with a look at his early, formative years as a rocker clearly influenced by folk, R&B and Music Hall, but with no real identity of his own. It winds up in 1971, after “Space Oddity,” “Man Who Sold the World” and “Hunky Dory” hit the charts. These albums elevated Bowie’s career from being an interesting newcomer to as influential and imitated a performer as there’s been in rock history. If it weren’t for Bowie and the risks he took – continuing into the Ziggy Stardust era and beyond — it’s entirely possible that Boy George, Madonna and Lady Gaga might not have had the courage to be as provocative and outrageous as they became. Conversely, if it weren’t for Liberace, Little Richard, Elvis and Mick Jagger, Bowie would have been required to cut himself out of whole cloth. Neither would androgyny win acceptance as a powerful fashion and lifestyle statement. Today, teenagers are still discovering the many Bowie incarnations and buying his CDs as if he were something very new and different. In fact, he’s been new and different for most of the last 45 years. The discussions and assessments in “Calm Before the Storm” are knowledgeable and not the least bit pompous or condescending. – Gary Dretzka

The Guest House
If there’s a point to this anemic lesbian drama, I’m not at all sure what it is. “The Guest House” isn’t steamy enough to qualify as erotica, but the chemistry between Ruth Reynolds and Madeline Merritt is the only thing keeps us interested for most of the movie’s 83 minutes. Reynolds plays an 18-year-old Goth gal who’s in the process of breaking up with her dickhead Goth boyfriend when she meets the recent college grad played by Merritt. She’s been hired by the younger woman’s father – also a dickhead – who “grounds” her for no apparent reason. This gives her plenty of time to make friends with Amy, who was invited to stay in the guest house so the old man can have easy access to her when he comes back from a business trip. Instead, all too conveniently, Rachel convinces Amy to sample Sapphic pleasures and they’re off to the races. When daddy comes home he finds them in bed and pitches a fit. Seemingly, the thought of having to share his mistress with his daughter — and vice versa – only works in hard-core porn. Her bliss abruptly disturbed, Amy is left wondering what hit her.

That’s pretty much it, except for some nice musical interludes from Rachel. There’s a tricky ending, but why spoil it? In “The Guest House,” everything happens far too quickly and for reasons that haven’t been valid since 1959. Nonetheless, if you’re a fan of the actors, you’ll appreciate the rather tame sex scenes, at least. – Gary Dretzka

Game of Life
After “Crash” stunned Hollywood movers and shakers by winning the Best Picture Oscar at the 2006 Academy Award ceremony – prompting comparisons to “Magnolia” and several of Robert Altman’s best movies – the floodgates opened to other ensemble dramas with interwoven storylines. Few of them received exposure outside the festival and straight-to-DVD marketplace – “American Gun” and “Powder Blue” come to mind – despite some interesting casting and nearly identical posters. In 2007, prolific B-movie writer/director/producer Joseph Merli contributed “Game of Life” (a.k.a., “Oranges”) to the glut and it’s only now being made available on DVD. Although it tugs the viewer’s heart in all of the right places and some of the acting is pretty good, “Game of Life” wants us to accept coincidences and relationships that wouldn’t be credible, even in Los Angeles. I believe this because, in the first five minutes, we’re told that a character played by Tom Arnold is married, if shakily to a lingerie designer played by Heather Locklear, in all her MILF glory. Give me a break. The other members of the racially and economically diverse cast are experiencing one crisis or another, and not all of them are going to survive their ordeals. This time, the common denominator is a soccer team comprised, in large part, of the sons of the primary characters. Needless to say, the kids have serious problems of their own with which to deal. Besides Arnold and Locklear, the cast includes Tom Sizemore, Jill Hennessy, Richard T. Jones, Beverly D’Angelo, Orson Bean, Marina Sirtis and Ruth Livier (“Revenge of the Bimbot Zombie Killers”). – Gary Dretzka

The Hand That Rocks the Cradle: Blu-ray
Hocus Pocus: Blu-ray
Cold Creek Manner: Blu-ray
The titles in this month’s package of new Blu-ray releases from the Disney library share one thing in common, at least. Their directors were selected from the top shelf of their profession. Five years before “L.A. Confidential” would become a cross-generational hit and be accorded huge critical success, Curtis Hanson directed the taut psychological thriller, “The Hand That Rocks the Cradle.” In it, Rebecca De Mornay plays a nanny who devotes herself to destroying the life and serenity of Clair, the woman (Annabella Sciorra) she blames for her husband’s suicide and the miscarriage of their child. The nanny does this by ingratiating herself with the husband and 5-year-old daughter, even going so far as to breast feed the baby, so he’s never hungry when Claire returns from work and is ready to feed him. By the time Claire figures out what’s been happening behind her back, everyone around her is convinced she’s going nuts.

Before directing the spooky Halloween-theme comedy, “Hocus Pocus,” in 1993, Kenny Ortega was primarily known for overseeing Cher’s Heart of Stone Tour and Michael Jackson’s Dangerous World Tour. (He also was a founding member of the Tubes.) Among the movies and television shows he choreographed were “Dirty Dancing,” “Newsies,” “Pretty in Pink” and “Ferris Bueller’s Day Off.” He would go on to choreograph and direct the “High School Musical” trilogy, “The Cheetah Girls 2,” the XIX Winter Olympics’ Opening Ceremony and the Hannah Montana/Miley Cyrus tour. In “Hocus Pocus,” a Salem teenager named Max accidentally resurrects three sister witches whose spirits survived the witch trials. Three hundred years later, they pick up where they left off in the mischief department. Bette Midler, Sarah Jessica Parker and Kathy Najimy star as the Sanderson Sisters, alongside Omri Katz, Thora Birch and Vinessa Shaw.

Before directing “Cold Creek Manor,” Mike Figgis had garnered two Academy Award nominations for “Leaving Las Vegas” and a Palme d’Or for “The Browning Version.” His willingness to take huge risks thematically and structurally hasn’t always paid off at the box office, but he remains a formidable artist. The Touchstone Pictures thriller re-tells the familiar story of city folks who try to make the transition to country living, but don’t anticipate having to share their new digs with reminders of its past owners and their secrets. The stellar cast includes Dennis Quaid, Sharon Stone, Stephen Dorff, Juliette Lewis, 13-year-old Kristen Stewart and Christopher Plummer.

The scheduled release of the creature-feature “Arachnophobia,” directed by the prolific and much-honored producer Frank Marshall, has been pushed back to September 25. – Gary Dretzka

R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour: The Series: Volume One/Two
For the last 20 years or so, R.L. Stine’s name has been as synonymous with the children’s-horror and supernatural-thriller genres as Alfred Hitchcock and Stephen King were for fans of the horror and psycho-terror in their parents’ and grandparents’ generations. Although his profile isn’t nearly as recognizable as Hitchcock’s was and he doesn’t share his musings in Entertainment Weekly, like King, Stine’s literary brand is every bit as recognizable. Few writers sold more books in the 1990s in any genre. He created “Eureeka’s Castle” for the Nick Jr. cable channel and “Goosebumps” for Fox Kids, in addition to adding video gaming, amusement-park attractions and new and spinoff series to his repertoire. “R.L. Stine’s The Haunting Hour” is a Canadian/American co-production that airs here on the Hub network (formerly Discovery Kids.) The half-hour anthology series features performances by some of the brightest young actors working in TV and themes that demand they reflect a contemporary teenager’s point of view. The shows do raise goosebumps, while proving that today’s kid actors can scream with the best of the scream queens. Newly available on DVD are episodes from the first two seasons. A third is in production. – 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