MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Hello, Dolly!: Blu-ray
Yes, it’s nice to see Dolly back where she belongs … this time in Blu-ray. The transfer from Todd-AO’s original 65mm print looks great – the Fourteenth Street Associate Parade and Harmonia Gardens scenes really stand out – while the audio presentation is crisp and dynamic. But, of course, what you really want to know is how the 27-year-old Barbra Streisand looks in hi-def as matchmaker Dolly Levi. The answer: marvelous, especially with Irene Sharaff’s wonderfully colorful wardrobe at her disposal. As Dolly’s prime target for marriage, Walter Matthau, looks elegantly rumpled throughout, even in tails. Despite some controversy at the time, I don’t think Streisand’s performance made anyone forget that Carol Channing originated the role on Broadway. Her name will forever be synonymous with the title of Jerry Herman and Michael Stewart’s adaptation of Thornton Wilder’s “The Merchant of Yonkers.” Beyond that, Twentieth Century Fox’s 1969 re-imagining of “Hello, Dolly!” is anything but a carbon copy of the Broadway show. It didn’t set the world on fire at the box-office, as expected by the studio, but its afterlife on video has been pretty sound. The biggest problem it had, I think, is a cast that included too many actors/dancers/singers that movie audiences simply didn’t recognize – young Michael Crawford and Tommy Tune, among them – and the idyllic turn-of-the-century setting didn’t square with countercultural beliefs in the rebellious 1960s. That’s all in the past, however. The movie holds up as an entertaining way to spend a night at home, with microwave popcorn and surround speakers. The Blu-ray reprises the 1969 making-of featurette and adds a piece on director Gene Kelly. Along with Michael Kidd’s acrobatic choreography, Louis Armstrong’s presence in the title number remains a wonderful reminder of that great musician’s radiant smile and charisma.

Lincoln: Blu-ray
I wonder how many people walked away from the megaplex showing “Lincoln” last November, thinking less about our 16th president’s great achievement than the damage done to our democracy in the 150 years since then. If Abraham Lincoln could wring a compromise of the magnitude of the 13th Amendment out of a deeply divided Congress, why can’t today’s crop of congressional bozos agree to compromise on anything besides raising their salaries? Sadly, then and now, the answer probably lies in knowing the price it takes to buy or rent a vote from an elected official. Today, even the hint of compromise, will be used by talk-show hosts and Fox News producers to destroy a politician’s career. The script’s close attention to the shenanigans used by proponents of the 13th Amendment, as well as those employed by the opposition, provides quite a lesson in how democracy isn’t supposed to work.

Steven Spielberg’s decision to focus on the last four months of Lincoln’s presidency, instead of his amazing rise to prominence in Illinois and beyond, allowed him to pack a lot of drama into a surprisingly tight 150-minute package. Tony Kushner’s screenplay not only was informed by the rhetoric and strategizing surrounding the amendment, but it also found room to highlight the contributions of precisely drawn supporting players in the drama. Normally, such multi-dimensional depictions can only be achieved in the mini-series format. Daniel Day-Lewis’ stunning portrayal of Lincoln showed us a man who acted on principle, but wasn’t afraid to change his positions on important issues when they stopped making sense to him. The performance also captured Lincoln’s sense of humor, humanity and weariness of carrying such a heavy load. Day-Lewis was rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar, while Sally Field and Tommy Lee Jones received nominations for their fine work. Those performances, alongside those by David Strathairn, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, James Spader, Hal Holbrook, John Hawkes, Jackie Earle Haley, John Hawkes, Bruce McGill, Tim Blake Nelson and others, exemplified what ensemble acting should be, given time and talent. The “Lincoln” team also competed in the categories designated for best picture, cinematography, costume design, directing, editing, music, sound mixing and writing based on material previously produced or published.

Spielberg and Kushner, working from a blueprint drawn by historian Doris Kearns Godwin, left plenty of room, as well, for spirited post-theater debate among those who just watched the movie. That almost never happens anymore, except in post-mortems limited to such adjectives as “awesome,” “cool” and “sucked.” Anyone looking to purchase “Lincoln” ought to be aware that the DVD/Blu-ray combo contains only the short making-of featurettes, “The Journey to ‘Lincoln’” and “A Historic Tapestry: Richmond, Virginia.” The four-disc BD/DVD/digital package adds 80 more minutes of making-of and background material. Depending on where one looks on the Internet, the difference in price ranges from $5 to $0. They vary even more when it comes to the DVD-only package.

The Bible: The Epic Miniseries: Blu-ray
It didn’t take long for the surprise hit mini-series, “The Bible: The Epic Mini-Series,” to make its way from the History Channel to DVD/Blu-ray: two days. That practically defines what it means to strike while the iron is hot. Having just received the Blu-ray edition, I’ve only managed to get through the first half of the 10-part mini-series. Based on what I’ve seen so far, another round of binge viewing is in order. And, yes, I’m surprised that it’s managed to captivate me as much as it has millions of other American viewers. I doubt if I was alone in assuming beforehand that “The Bible” would pander to the Republican wing of the born-again Christian demographic. I envisioned watered-down dramatizations of traditional bible stories and toothless portrayals of the men of the Old Testament who didn’t seem to mind slaughtering countless men, women and children for a chunk of arid land God willed to them, instead of parcels in, say, Boca Raton or Aspen. Credit goes to executive producers Roma Downey and Mark Burnett for constructing a mini-series that captures the essence of the Book, adding plenty of action to satisfy those looking for some biblical bloodshed, a smattering of romance and characterizations that avoid most Hollywood and Sunday school clichés. Genesis also includes some decent special-effects work, considering that the budget must have been fairly tight. The Moroccan locations were well chosen and the designs of the costumes and armaments seem historically credible. I suggest that parents not attempt to use “The Bible” as a substitute for a babysitter, as the rougher material falls somewhere between PG and PG-13. Kids will have plenty of questions that will require parental guidance, including why the leaders of Egypt, Persia and Babylon wore so much makeup. The new DVD/Blu-ray package adds material that was edited out of the History Channel version, as well as a half-dozen backgrounders and making-of featurettes.

John Dies in the End: Blu-ray
Stitches: Blu-ray
Tormented: 2D/3D

If any horror movie aspired to cult status, it’s “John Dies in the End.” Far too freaky, even for most genre aficionados, Don Coscarelli’s psycho-thriller was adapted from a comic-book novel of the same title by David Wong (a.k.a., Jason Pargin). It was first published online in 2001 as a webserial, then a few years later as an edited manuscript and paperback book. Before the online version was pulled from circulation in 2008, more than 70,000 people had already read it. Coscarelli optioned the book after it was pointed out to it by an Amazon “robot,” based on his interest in zombie books. Coscarelli, of course, had already established his cult-horror credentials with the “Phantasm” series and “Bubba Ho-Tep.” “John Dies in the End” defies easy encapsulation, except to suggest that the authors have been inspired by William Burroughs and David Cronenberg’s “Naked Lunch,” Franz Kafka’s “The Metamorphosis,” Bram Stoker and Ken Russell’s “The Lair of the White Worm” and Frank Herbert and David Lynch’s “Dune.” The trigger for all the bad craziness that occurs here is the street drug Soy Sauce, which causes shape-shifting, hallucinations, delusional behavior and astral projection. The protagonists are slackers John and Don, who are infected with “the phenomenon” early in the picture and rarely have a solid fix on what’s happening to them, except that it involves ingested insects and inter-plane communications. As producer and co-star, Paul Giamatti’s mere presence legitimizes everything about “John Dies in the End.” It’s the special-effects team that really rules, though. It’s very trippy stuff, indeed. The Blu-ray package adds commentary with Coscarelli, co-stars Chase Williamson and Rob Mayes and producer Brad Baruh; deleted scenes; casting sessions; a pair of making-of featurettes; and a Fangoria interview with Giamatti.

You’ve got to hand it to any filmmaker who can add something new to a horror subgenre as familiar as the killer-clown flick. In “Stitches,” the kudos are reserved for director/co-writer Conor McMahon (“Dead Meat”) and British comedian Ross Nobel. Stitches is a self-loathing clown, who especially hates performing before children (the “little bastards”) so jaded about birthday-party entertainers that they know what trick he’s going to perform even before he does, After one of the kids sabotage a trick, Stitches accidentally stumbles headfirst into the knife compartment of an open dish washer, dying a horrible death. Ten years later, the same birthday boy is hosting the kind of party teenagers flock to when mom and dad are out of town for a long weekend. After an invitation magically lands on Stitches’ grave, he comes to life to avenge his death. In Nobel’s hands, Stitches is much funnier dead than he ever was when he was alive. Somehow, he remembers the faces of all the kids who taunted him at the birthday party and seeks them out for special, clown-specific punishment with imaginative disembowelments and creative torture. Despite the carnage, McMahon manages to keep “Stitches” from becoming morbid or dependent on sound effects. The Blu-ray comes with bloopers, a making-of featurette and commentary.

There are few things as scary as the nightmares of a child. Japanese horror specialists have been playing Freud since the 1990s, not only by interpreting the dreams of their young characters, but also inducing nightmares in audience members. Few directors are more convincing than Takashi Shimizu, who’s also given us the “Grudge” series and “Shock Labyrinth,” the first Japanese feature film to be made in 3D. Without admitting as much on its cover, “Tormented” is a sequel to “Shock Labyrinth.” Imagine if Salvador Dali had illustrated an edition of “Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland” and you’ll have a pretty good idea of what Shimizu was going for in both pictures. “Tormented” opens at an elementary school that has a rabbit pen in its play area. Daigo, a mute little boy, spots a seriously injured bunny in the enclosure and kills it with a rock to put it out of its misery. His older step-sister, Kiriko, works at the school as a librarian and witnesses both the killing of the rabbit and the bullying Daigo endures afterwards. In an effort to lift her brother’s spirits, Kiriko takes him to a movie matinee. Unfortunately, the theater is showing “Shock Labyrinth 3D.” At the point in the movie where a stuffed rabbit appears to float off-screen, Daigo is able to grab the 3D image and stash it away. Before long, he has hallucinations of a giant white rabbit, which takes his hand and leads him to the same amusement park that inspired Shimizu to create “Shock Labyrinth” in the first place. When they return to the theater to return the blush doll to the 3D gods, Daigo literally disappears into the screen. Things get even creepier after their father, a fantasy artist, figures out what’s happening and stumbles down the rabbit hole, as well. Despite the giant rabbit, “Tormentor” definitely isn’t suited for the kiddies.

The knuckleball is the court jester of baseball. When a knuckleball hurler is “on” and the wind is right, it can be the most effective of pitches and a delight to watch. When he’s off, it can result in disaster. Either way, the knuckleball can humble even the most dominant of hitters and make All-Star catchers look like Little Leaguers. Some players can’t even imagine being struck out by a ball that’s only traveling 55 or 60 mph and has no specific trajectory. As one player observes in this entertaining baseball documentary, a knuckleball specialist must possess “the fingernails of a safe-cracker and the mind of a Zen master.” Cy Young-winner R.A. Dickey suggests, “For a knuckleball pitcher to make the majors, it almost takes a miracle.” For “Knuckleball,” filmmakers Ricki Stern and Annie Sundberg (“The Devil Came on Horseback,” “Joan Rivers: A Piece of Work”) followed 44-year-old Tim Wakefield’s pursuit of his 200th victory and the 37-year-old Dickey’s quest to prove that his successful 2010 campaign – the first in 18 years — wasn’t a fluke. At the time, the Mets’ Dickey and Boston’s Wakefield were the only knuckleballers in the majors. In 2013, he’s the only one and he’s been traded to Toronto. Baseball fanatics can probably rattle off the names and stats of the noteworthy knuckleballers who’ve played in the last 40 or 50 years. The mediocre ones never last and there’s only been a handful of good ones: Dickey, Wakefield, Charlie Hough, Wilbur Wood, Jim Bouton, Tom Candiotti and the brothers, Joe and Phil Niekro. It’s a pitch can that elongate a career or end it very quickly. The idea is to minimize the ball’s movement as it slowly dances its way to the plate and let physics do the rest. Sounds easy, but it isn’t. The documentary adds nearly two hours of featurettes and extended interviews.

The Sweeney: Blu-ray
I think that a strong case could be made for the theory that crooks are accorded most of the good lines, cool cars, sexy dames and swell clothes in crime movies, while the opposite is true on television. The cop protagonists of “Dirty Harry” and “French Connection” acted with disdain for the law, but reverence for getting bad guys off the street (or planet). On TV, cops aren’t allowed to ignore the law for very long, because the conceit tends to wear thin after a season or two. Andy Sipowicz, of “NYPD Blue,” is the prime example of a borderline cop whose career was lengthened by the producers’ decision to give him an unlikely girlfriend and a son who needed TLC. Otherwise, we expect our police officers to be white knights. The Brits have never minded tinkering with the balance, though. Launched in 1975, “The Sweeney” made heroes out of members of a special department at Scotland Yard responsible for dealing with armed criminals and major heists involving outlaw gangs. They were given broad leeway in their efforts to anticipate robberies and keep the worst scum off the streets. For reasons known mostly to experts in Cockney slang, the unit was known as the Flying Squad (Sweeney Todd = Flying Squad). Even after an absence of 35 years, “The Sweeney” was deemed sufficiently popular to warrant a one-off movie, with the estimable Ray Winstone playing lead detective Jack Regan and newcomer Ben Drew (a.k.a., rapper Plan B) as his loyal protégé, George Carter. Despite the squad’s impressive success rate, its methodology has become something of an embarrassment to the big shots in the London Police Department.

“The Sweeney” opens with an exciting raid with lots of shooting, but hardly any way to distinguish between the cops and robbers. A newly installed chief inspector reveals the chip on his shoulder early on, by grilling Regan on missing gold bars. If the DCI had been aware of the affair Regan was carrying on with his wife, also on the Flying Squad, he might have had a larger beef with the detective. Before that can happen, though, masked bandits blow a safe at a jewelry store, stealing a fortune in gems and killing a woman customer on their way out. Regan recognizes the m.o. of a long dormant criminal, but his alibi holds up even after much unorthodox interrogation. The torture didn’t go completely to waste, however, because, while it ruled out one bad guy, the investigators were able to find the needle in a haystack that leads to a gang of former Eastern European paramilitaries using their skills to rob banks. Once that is established, all that’s left is a long, exquisitely choreographed chase through the streets of London and, even, a shootout inside the library of the Royal College of Surgeons. It’s pretty entertaining, especially, I suspect, for those familiar with the original series. The Blu-ray supplements include commentary and several making-of featurettes, including one explaining how the shootout in Trafalgar Square was accomplished and another describing the contributions of the “Top Gear” gang to the car-chase scenes.

Any movie that stars Dennis Haysbert, Common, Danny Glover, Charles S. Dutton, Lonette McKee and Meagan Good demands attention and not just among “urban” viewers. Instead, “LUV” was shown at a handful of festivals, including Sundance, before being accorded a very limited release in January. Most indies don’t even get that much respect. “LUV” is the story of 11-year-old Woody (Michael Rainey Jr.), whose coming-of-age moment unexpectedly arrives during a tour of Baltimore with his OG uncle, Vincent (Common), fresh off an eight-year bit in stir. Woody reveres Vincent, if only because he represents the only father figure in his young life. Things start out on an optimistic note, with Vincent buying a grown-man’s suit for his nephew. Together, they visit a bank to apply for a loan to open a restaurant business in an abandoned warehouse. When his application is unceremoniously rejected, Vincent turns to a former associate for the loan, but it would come with strings attached. Thoroughly perplexed, he decides this would be a good time to introduce Woody to life in the streets. With the boy’s mother off smoking crack in North Carolina and his grandmother about to take a powder on him, Woody isn’t likely to be able to afford his parochial-school education or to grow up in a stable environment. Vincent understands this and takes it upon himself to give the boy an education in thug life. Things go downhill, of course, after one or more of his former buddies decide that Vincent got released too early to be trusted. The biggest shame, however, is that Woody’s a good student, in and out of school, and learns the game too quickly.

Despite a story that begs credulity towards its end, “LUV” has a lot of good things going for it. The acting is excellent and it moves at a steady pace to an always uncertain finish. It’s Baltimore, though, that radiates through all of the crime and despair here. As we saw in David Simon’s Baltimore trilogy, “Homicide: Life in the Street,” “The Corner” and “The Wire,” while the city is a Petrie dish for felonious acts, its unique flavor and traditions make it a terrific setting for serious drama. Co-writer/director Sheldon Candis is a talented filmmaker, who deserves another shot at the big time.

Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War
Nova: Rise of the Drones

So much has changed in the way we conduct war since 1975, when the North Vietnamese Army marched into Saigon, anyone born since that momentous occasion can be excused if they lump it together with World War I, World War II and Korea as ancient history. No one who lived through that tumultuous period, however, will ever forget what happened in Southwest Asia between 1963 and 1975 and how it changed our country. Made in 1980, “Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War” is an exhaustive documentary that reminds us that America’s involvement in the country began during WWII, when we worked together with the Viet Minh against Japan, but turned against them in their war for independence with France. Neither did we force South Vietnam to honor the 1954 Geneva Accord, which set a deadline for elections two years later for the unification of Vietnam. Leaders of South Vietnam assumed that Ho Chi Minh would have been elected premier and put the kibosh on the vote. Instead, Ike sent advisers to South Vietnam to work with its army. Twenty years and 58,220 American lives later, the inevitable reunification of the country was fait accompli. This past January, the first Starbucks opened in Ho Chi Minh City, with the first McDonald’s expected within two years. Because of the proliferation of western and Japanese interests in the cities, it’s possible that some Vietnamese children now assume the United States won the war. That’s why the latest update of “Vietnam: The Ten Thousand Day War,” on DVD, is a valuable document. The 13-episode documentary was written by veteran war correspondent Peter Arnett and narrated by actor Richard Basehart. It covers every aspect of the war imaginable, including the political front in Washington and escalation of antiwar sentiment in the U.S., among our troops and around the world. The polish put on the new edition was very effective.

While there’s no way to know what kind of impact unmanned aircraft might have had on the disposition of the Vietnam War, it’s clear that our much-vaunted heat- and motion-sensing technology was incapable of shutting down the Ho Chi Minh Trail. Drones wouldn’t have been able to drop countless tons of bombs over a target, either. Drones give new meaning to “search and destroy,” a strategy devised specifically for the Vietnam conflict. Instead of using squads of men to identify Viet Cong and destroy their supply routes, our ability to track down Al Qaeda leaders was enhanced through the use of unmanned aircraft over Iraq, Afghanistan, Pakistan and Yemen. The fascinating “Nova” episode, “Rise of the Drones,” reveals many amazing things about our program, which historically has been pushed by the discoveries of hobbyists. U.S. Senator Rand Paul is on hand to warn about the proliferation of drones in the hands of private citizens and law-enforcement agencies whose definition of privacy rights don’t often jibe with that of the Constitution. “Rise of the Drones” looks backwards and forward in time, leaving several key questions unanswered, including those labeled “top secret.” As usual, though, human pilots on the ground tend to sound far too giddy when blowing targets sky high. What we don’t hear are actual voices of the pilots and intelligence officers when they realize that the caravan they just vaporized carried mostly women and children and no terrorists. That part remains classified.

Frontline: The Untouchables
American Masters: Phillip Roth: Unmasked
Route 66: The Complete Fourth Season
Nature: Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo
Nova: Ancient Computer
If tens of thousands of American leftists, progressives and liberals – real liberals, not Republican boogeymen – held their noses before voting for Barack Obama last November, it’s because of his administration’s failure to bring charges against any Wall Street banker for his role in the market crash. While his attorney general focused on legal marijuana operations, hundreds of executives continued to skate. Fortunately for the President, Mitt Romney probably would have been even more lenient on capitalist criminals. In any case, journalists pretty much ignored the question in the debates. Reporters for “Frontline: The Untouchables” interviewed dozens of low- to mid-level “due-diligence investigators” and mortgage executives who described what they saw in advance of the collapse and what happened when they tried to warn their superiors. The answers: plenty and nothing, in that order. Four months after Obama took office, he pledged human and financial resources to a widespread investigation into fraud. Perhaps, he should have substituted “being naughty” for “fraud,” because that very specific crime was deemed too complicated to prosecute by law-enforcement officials. “These are hard cases to win,” argue several people interviewed here, explaining the reluctance on the part of administration officials to pull the trigger. No one wanted to risk losing a case. You can almost see the noses of bankers and government flunkies grow as they testify before congressional panels, though. “The Untouchables” is as depressing a document as we’re likely to see on the subject, but, hey, you knew that already.

Still best known for his unintentionally scandalous, if still hilarious “Portnoy’s Complaint,” Phillip Roth remains one of America’s most influential and challenging novelists. In the “American Masters” episode “Phillip Roth: Unmasked,” the author looks back candidly at his life and work, reads from his novels and describes what’s made him tick for the last 50-plus years. Loyal readers have already gleaned such things from his books, as they have reflected his thoughts, deeds, fears and hopes as he experienced throughout his time on Earth. And, yes, Roth is open to questions about the sexuality in his novels, thoughts of suicide and literary impotence, and being pigeon-holed as a Jewish writer. “Unmasked” is a quiet documentary, bordering on the contemplative, as befits the life he lives at his rural estate. It could be shown at workshops or college writing classes and everyone, including the instructor, would benefit.

During the fourth and final season of “Route 66,” George Maharis was long gone and Glenn Colbert was getting comfortable in the bucket seats of the Corvette he shared with Tod Stiles (Martin Milner). Lincoln Case is an army veteran with a much darker personality than his predecessor, Buz Murdock. The episodes in which he’s featured also have a sharper edge. The lads spend a bit more time than usual in Maine, where Joan Crawford plugs Poland Springs water and Linc lands a job with a cranky lobsterman and his bitter son (William Shatner). Among the other guest stars are Jack Warden, Diane Baker, Tammy Grimes, Stefanie Powers, Jessica Walter, James Coburn, Soapy Sales and Lois Smith. The series concluded in Tampa with the two-part episode “Where There’s a Will, There’s a Way,” with Barbara Eden. In 1964, it was rare for a series to wrap itself up with a special two-part episode, writing by co-creator Stirling Silliphant.

There could hardly be a more scenic location than Canada’s Wood Buffalo National Park for a story of survival that’s been going on since before there was a Canada or even a Native Canadian, for that matter. No two animal warriors have been more suitably matched than the gray wolves and American bison that have been fighting extinction as well as hunger in recent centuries. Here, we’re given a bird’s-eye view of the hoof-to-paw warfare that goes on whether there’s someone there to film it or not. There are times when the filmmakers approach the drama and intensity of a heavyweight title fight, in which the opponents bring far different strengths and reserves to the ring. “Cold Warriors: Wolves and Buffalo” is, at once, exciting, beautiful and horrifying.

The Mediterranean continues to yield the secrets of the men who once sailed its waters, but didn’t quite make it home to profit from their quests. Sculptures, coins, jugs that carried wine and oil, pottery and mysterious objects are still being found in places likely and unlikely. The “Nova” episode “Ancient Computer” tells the story of a 2,000-year-old metallic device, found by sponge divers among other treasures on what remains of the Antikythera after sinking in a storm. After much conjecture and investigation, mathematicians and astronomers discovered that the Antikythera mechanism’s many fused wheels and gears once predicted eclipses, movements of the planets and other heavenly events important to navigators … a mini-planetarium, if you will. Historians would trace the geared instrument to the workshop of Archimedes, in Syracuse, then, a few centuries later, the science behind it would move east, to the Byzantine and Arab empires. The Moors brought it back west, to Spain, but in the form of a clock. Some of the science explored here is tough going for non-academics, but the basic information and history come together pretty well.

Earth’s Final Hours: Blu-ray
The less one questions the science in a Syfy movie, the more likely it is that they’ll find something there to kill some time. “Earth’s Final Hours” may not be any more believable than previous efforts, but, at least, it alerted me to the presence of “white holes” in the universe. Apparently, they are the opposite of black holes, in that they can emit dense matter, instead of sucking it into the void. Or, something like that. Here, a mad scientist is killed when struck by space debris that is so dense and heavy it can impact Earth in the Pacific Northwest and exit somewhere in Australia. Cool-looking radiation storms signal the arrival of these outbursts from the white hole, which could alter the Earth’s rotation to something resembling that of the moon. Two disgraced researchers predicted that such a thing was possible 20 years earlier, but die premature deaths in “Earth’s Final Hours.” Government toadies can’t seem to decide whether or not to admit their mistake, by accepting the disputed theory, or simply killing everyone – a teenager, his dad, two hot babes, some Men in Black – who’s trying to prevent disaster. Either way, it’s a lose-lose situation for the planet. If the action and dialogue are about par for made-for-cable sci-fi movies, the special effects are above average. Thank God, for sexy astrophysicists.

Charlie: A Toy Story
Established in 2009, Engine 15 Media Group specializes in so-called family films that appeal to boys and girls in ’tween and pre-’tween demographic. Considering that every 10-year-old in the United States expects to be treated as if he or she is 16, it’s a market that resists easy exploitation by Hollywood. Engine 15’s films tend to feature kids and their pets – dogs, especially – who work in tandem to solve problems large and small. The latest, “Charlie: A Toy Story,” requires 10-year-old Caden and his best friend Charlie, a golden retriever, not only to save the family business from sabotage, but also to preserve his parents’ marriage. Mom has gotten tired of Dad’s flakey whims and irresponsible behavior and decides to give him some room to work out his issues. In the course of bullying Caden, a pair of neighborhood ne’er-do-wells gets wind of the latest invention by his father. The bullies hope to steal the blueprints and give them to the owner of a chain of big-box stores. Charlie and Caden make a pretty cute team and “Charlie: A Toy Story” – how did they get that title past Disney? – is competently produced on what must have been a limited budget.

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup”

  1. j says:

    Philip Roth. One “L”.


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Quote Unquotesee all »

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