MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Down the Shore
The mysteries of movie distribution continue to baffle me. “Down the Shore,” a compelling and thoroughly unpretentious indie drama, apparently has been sitting on someone’s shelf since it began its life on the festival circuit in January 2011. In it, James Gandolfini plays a character not terribly unlike Tony Soprano, if he had been born something other than Italian in mob-run New Jersey. Bailey operates a kiddie amusement park that he inherited from his father. It sits on land leased from his longtime best friend, Wiley (Joseph Pope), who’s married to another close childhood friend, Mary (Famke Janssen). Together, they’ve struggled to raise a son, Martin (John Magaro), with serious learning disabilities. The park is open for business, but with summer still months away, Bailey and Wiley waste entirely too much time at the local gin mills, inventing conspiracy theories and reliving the distant past. Life for the three friends might have gone on like this for years, if it weren’t for the unexpected arrival of a stranger, Jacques (Edoardo Costa), who claims to have married Bailey’s sister, recently deceased, while she was touring Europe. Not only was Bailey unaware of his sister’s death and marriage, but that she left Jacques her share of the family abode in her will. Imagine how Tony Soprano might have reacted to such news and you’ll know exactly how Bailey greeted Jacques. If it weren’t for Mary’s kindness and the newcomer’s instant rapport with Martin, they’d still be finding pieces of him under the pier. Instead, director Harold Guskin and writer Sandra Jennings found more satisfying ways to advance the drama and unravel the trio’s deep, dark secrets. The actors all contribute compelling performances to the mix.

Normally, movies like “Down the Shore” are left to sink or swim on the festival circuit, before being accorded a limited arthouse run or a one-way ticket to the DVD and cable marketplace. It finally opened last Friday in a couple of theaters, receiving some good-to-decent reviews, but nothing strong enough to prompt adults to co-mingle with fans of “Evil Dead” and “G.I. Joe.” “Down the Shore” couldn’t have cost much to make – the actors probably cut the producers a break – so it’s possible that it might make some money down the road. So, what happened? New Jersey’s beach communities have become so identified with Snooki and Jwoww, by now, that all movies shot within view of a boardwalk have been tarred with the inconsequentiality of “Jersey Shore.” (No matter that Keansburg and Seaside Heights, New Jersey, are quite different places.) It’s also possible that Hurricane Sandy somehow impacted negatively on distribution and marketing plans. Have Gandolfini’s 15-minutes of fame expired? Such vagaries have become part and parcel of the indie distribution game. In any case, Gandolfini’s intense performance here should please fans of “The Sopranos,” as well as viewers simply looking for good drama. First-time director Guskin has distinguished himself as an acting and dialogue coach, and it appears as if he’s also picked up something about direction along the way. Even if “Down the Shore” was never destined to hit the megaplex circuit, it fits the small screen pretty well and warrants the attention of viewers looking for a good story well told. – Gary Dretzka

Into the Cold: A Journey of the Soul
By now, movies that chronicle extraordinary feats of physical strength, endurance, perseverance and courage are practically a dime a dozen. Hollywood once feasted on them, but audiences have begun to show their weariness with superhuman accomplishments, unless they’re performed by comic-book characters. Danny Boyle’s “127 Hours,” a terrifically exciting movie about one adventuresome outdoorsman’s brush with death, barely made back its $18-million nut at the box office. This, despite it receiving six Academy Award nominations, including those for Best Actor, Best Picture and Best Writing. Anticipating this sort of collective ennui, perhaps, many explorers, daredevils and extreme athletes have begun to document their own accomplishments and writing books that might support them. The introduction of featherweight, hand- or helmet-held cameras and other digital recording equipment has begun a revolution in the world of action-oriented documentaries. Conveniently, general audiences have begun to warm to non-fiction films, especially in their DVD and Blu-ray iterations. (Heck, there’s even a small-screen market for docs originally made for IMAX.) In “Into the Cold,” we not only watch Sebastian Copeland and Keith Heger cross 400 miles of ice on their way to the magnetic North Pole, but also learn how difficult such a task might be if attempted on skis and snowshoes. For 35 frigid days, they dragged 200-lb. sleds laden with gear and provisions behind them, without the benefit of dogs or Skidoos. The problem is that so much time has already been spent watching the duo prepare and rehearse for the centennial of the first successful mission, reaching their destination borders on the anti-climactic.

The total experience might have been more satisfying if exhibitors had been able to lower temperatures in their theaters to anywhere from minus-30 to minus-50 degrees Faherenheit, in order to replicate the conditions that confronted Copeland and Heger. In this way, the 85-minute film would have been a test of endurance for the audience, too. As it is, the most compelling reason to pick up a copy of “Into the Cold” can be found on the periphery of the expedition. In addition to observing the centennial, writer/director Copeland argues that the effects of global warming could prohibit other any other such missions from being attempted, unless the trekkers bring along flippers and a kayak. That’s how quickly the ice pack is melting, he says. At places where we normally would expect to see solid ice, there instead were wide fissures between floes and unstable surfaces. We aren’t asked to take Copeland’s word for it, however, because we’re also introduced to Inuit hunters who’ve been required to expand their range and search harder for fewer polar bears, seals and walruses. In fact, “Into the Cold” would have benefitted from more threats to Copeland and Heger, including those from starving bears. They make it look too easy. When one of them falls into the water, we empathize with his ordeal but aren’t allowed to witness how he was able to avoid hyperthermia.

Considering that the promotional material for “Into the Cold” is quick to point out that Copeland used a HD camera to capture the adventure, it’s surprising that the documentary isn’t being released in Blu-ray. Vast empty icescapes look brilliant in hi-def, with or without bears. This isn’t said to dissuade anyone from watching “Into the Cold,” only to discourage heightened expectations. It says important things about the risks facing our environment and the grit of two determined young men who demand perfection from themselves and, in this case, achieve it. – Gary Dretzka

The Phantom Father
We’ve seen plenty of movies about first- and second-generation Americans going back to the Old Country – a term not frequently used these days – to uncover familial roots buried by war, poverty, forced relocation, tyranny and ambition. At one time, the Old Country was pretty much limited to Europe, from whose ports most immigrants departed before and immediately after the world wars. That generalization no longer applies, of course. “The Phantom Father” describes one Jewish-American man’s quest to learn more about his father and grandfather, who left a much-disputed corner of Romania long before it was taken over first by the Soviet Union, then Germany, the U.S.S.R., again, and finally split between the Ukraine and Romania. After arriving in Chicago’s West Side, Professor Robert Traum’s relatives became involved in organized crime, which was one way the city’s Jewish immigrants got by between the wars. Traum (Marcelle Iures) is nearing retirement age and only carries a few letters, photographs and a single name that might connect his family to anyone left in Bucovina. The name belongs to an elderly traveling projectionist, Sami, who once ran the local cinema but had his business taken away from him by the city’s corrupt mayor. In league with Ukrainian gangsters, he wants to turn the property into a multipurpose mall.

Traum is an affable fellow, who doesn’t speak Romanian and isn’t familiar with the locals’ susceptibility to rumors, ancient prejudices, superstitions and gossip, especially in the rural villages. On one of his stops, Sami’s name rings a bell with an expert in Jewish history in eastern Romania. She’s heard of the roving projectionist and volunteers to join the professor in his quest, if only to get away from her nagging boyfriend, Alex (Mimi Branescu). It takes her a while to connect with Traum on a personal level and, when she does, it’s because of a common affection for Supertramp’s “Breakfast in America.” Even before they reach Bucovina, Traum senses that he’s entered an entirely different world than the one he left in Bucharest. Tanya and, later, Sami convince him that it’s better to go with the flow, rather than wait for the locals to adjust to him. Viewers, too, are advised to adjust their expectations about recent Romanian cinema and simply take Lucian Georgescu’s disparate conceits as they come. “The Phantom Father” evolves from black dramedy to buddy film and, finally, romantic fantasy. Filmed largely in and around Sibiu and Braila, the mountainous terrain offers much to enjoy, besides the story. “Phantom Father” was adapted from a story by Barry Gifford, who makes a short appearance in the film, while Sami is based on an actual travelling projectionist and keeper to the keys of the local synagogue he met while travelling through Bucovina with Georgescu. – Gary Dretzka

Gate of Hell: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
No less an expert than Martin Scorsese has called Teinosuke Kinugasa’s 1953 drama “Gate of Hell” one of the 10 most beautiful color films ever made. It won Grand Prize at Cannes; Oscars for Best Foreign Language Film and Best Costume Design; and several top critics’ awards. Although it features less action than most other feudal-period movies from Japan, “Gate of Hell” tells a story that could be traced back to the ancient Greek theater. After being released in VHS in 1999, it’s only now being given a proper re-launch in completely restored DVD and Blu-ray editions. And, yes, it’s an inarguably beautiful movie. “Gate of Hell” tells the story of a 12th Century samurai, who, with the help of a lady-in-waiting, caused a diversion that allowed the royal family time to escape from a rebellion. The coup fails and the lord grants the samurai a single request, which is to marry the woman who joined him in the ruse. Unfortunately, the woman already is married to one of the lord’s most-trusted guards, and neither of them is eager to end the marriage. When the samurai insists on her hand, as promised, the seeds of tragedy are sewn. It’s simple and well told. The most impressive thing about “Gate of Hell” on Blu-ray, though, is color cinematography, which is so brilliant that it looks as if the images might have just exited the vats of chemicals at Technicolor. The costumes, especially, benefit from the upgrade. They’re worth the price of a rental, alone. The Blu-ray adds only a booklet with an essay by film historian Stephen Prince. – Gary Dretzka

Hong Kong Confidential
Anyone expecting to find in “Hong Kong Confidential” the slam-bang action of a Jackie Chan or Jet Li martial-arts epic will be sorely disappointed. Neither is the movie populated with corrupt cops and gangsters. Instead, it is the kind of enigmatic, bi-cultural romance one might have expected from Jim Jarmusch, and not because the protagonist’s hair is bleached white. Paul is an Englishman with no set roots or apparent lack of money. He’s just arrived in Hong Kong to study massage therapy, something he’s done in several other Asian cities. He doesn’t, however, reveal everything to his instructors, who treat him as if he were just another gringo goofball. Neither are they aware that he understands enough Chinese to know what they’re saying about him. A curious young woman arrives at the school within days of Paul, but, unlike him, she is pushy and headstrong. Jasmin is from the mainland and has some tangential connection with the middle-age co-owner, Amaya (Kaori Momoi). “Hong Kong Confidential” originally went by the more apt title of “Amaya,” because it’s her character that affects the most change during the course of the movie and is most influenced by the new arrivals. Their outlooks on life, love and identity inspire her to look beyond her cramped middle-class world and passionless marriage. Three other primary characters cross paths in “Hong Kong Confidential,” and their stories also are compelling. Latvian writer/director Maris Martinson might be the busiest filmmaker in the Baltic States, as, since the split from the U.S.S.R., he has kept busy writing, directing and producing movies, television series, music videos and commercials. The DVD includes a video with a song from the movie. – Gary Dretzka

The Sorcerer and the White Snake: Blu-ray
Woochi the Demon Slayer
Deadball: Blu-ray
I’d love to see the reactions on the faces of American kids corralled into watching “The Sorcerer and the White Snake” in a cozy screening room. A vast departure from the Japanese anime that children here began to embrace in the 1980s, Tony Ching Siu-tung’s CGI-heavy fantasy tickles the imagination by combining an ancient Chinese folk tale, Buddhist teachings, supernatural creatures and over-the-top action. Jet Li stars as a sorcerer monk, Fahai, who, upon entering the gates of a magical new city, warns his enchanted-dog companion, “Don’t believe everything you see.” Fahai is an expert in seeing through the disguises of demons and engaging them in combat. Here, he has his work cut for him. Early on, we’re introduced to a sibling pair of 1,000-year-old snake demons — one white, one green, both quite long — who have quite different feelings about the humans in their midst. After the white snake, Susu (Eva Huang), rescues the gentle herbalist Xu Xian (Raymond Lam) from drowning, she takes human form and they fall in love. She even is able to use her mystical knowledge to help Xu Xian prepare potions. Unable to leave well enough alone, Fahai causes a revolt by identifying the demons and attempting to banish them. It provides the film’s primary action sequences, but they are less interesting than the backgrounds and CGI work. “Sorcerer and the White Snake” goes in some other bizarre directions, as well, introducing animal characters from the Disney catalogue and songs in unexpected places. Adults likely would find the wild mix of styles and characters too far-fetched, but kids, I think, will see something wondrous in the fantasy. For once, the English dubbing is pretty good, too. (I think I heard the ubiquitous voice of Patrick Warburton in there somewhere.)

Conversely, “Woochi the Demon Slayer” is a wildly inventive time-travel fantasy from Korea, also based on a folk tale, that should appeal most to those viewers who can’t get their fill of wuxia action. Woochi is a brash Tao wizard from the Chosun Dynasty whose lack of discipline seriously impinges on his master’s ability to protect a magical pipe from evil goblins. Without it, the goblins could take back their kingdom and spread mayhem. Woochi is blamed for the death of his master at the hands of a sinister magician and punished by three inept deities to being sealed in scrolls forever. The trio reappears 500 years later, at another time when demons threaten civilization. They recognize the scroll in an art gallery and conspire to conjure his spirit to reappear. Wham, bam, alakazam and Woochi is summoned to present-day Seoul, along with several other demons from the past. Besides battling the evil time-tourists, Woochi uses the occasion to track down the most current incarnation of his former lover. At 136 minutes, “Woochi” overstays its welcome by about a half-hour, but it definitely keeps moving right along with crazy plot twists and wild action. The humor translates pretty well, too.

Sushi Typhoon is to Japanese action and horror films what Troma is to blood-drenched American genre flicks. The latest hallowed institution to fall to the studio’s ax is baseball. “Deadball” takes the most violent elements of “Rollerball” and combines them with the sadism of “Ilsa: She Wolf of the SS,” the rabid loyalty of Japanese fans and various characters from “Major League.” If you can imagine baseball as a blood sport, it would look a lot like “Deadball.” Co-writer/director Yudai Yamaguchi tackled the same subject a decade ago in “Battlefield Baseball,” in which the game is played to the death, even if one of the teams is comprised of zombies. Here, Yamaguchi opens with a scene that could have been borrowed from “Field of Dreams.” A boy is playing catch with his father in an open field, but when the old man demands a little more pepper on the ball, the boy responds with a fastball that could punch a hole in a concrete wall. After this, young Jubeh would swear off baseball and focus on becoming the best juvenile delinquent he could be. He ends up in the Pterodactyl Juvenile Reformatory, which is supervised by Headmistress Ishihara, the granddaughter of a Nazi collaborator. She demands of Jubeh that he join the national tournament or be responsible for the death of his cellmate. The game pits the Pterodactyl Gauntlet against the Psycho Butcher Girls of St. Black Dahlia High School and it could hardly be more insane. Anyone whose idea of a good time is listening to the dulcet tones of Vin Scully announcing a double-header on a sunny afternoon in spring probably ought to avoid “Deadball.” The Blu-ray arrives with a spinoff short, making-of featurettes and cast interviews. – Gary Dretzka

Fold Crumple Crush: The Art of El Anatsui
Currently on display at the Brooklyn Museum, the work of Ghanaian artist El Anatsui demands to be viewed from several different angles and at distances ranging from across-the-room to inches-away. From afar, the monumental installations look as if they’re giant tapestries or rugs, informed by many of the same colors and patterns commonly found on the clothing worn by West Africans. In the mid-distance, the shimmering platelets of found material create a look that mimics the paintings of Austrian painter Gustav Klimt. It’s when viewed up-close, however, that viewers can appreciate both the precision of Anatsui’s hand-made sculptures and the complexity of his vision. I’m not an expert on art, but it seems to me that his creations locate the crossroads where African folk art intersects with Modernism and other 20th Century movements. In layman’s terms, they are nothing short of a feast for the eyes. “Fold Crumble Crush: The Art of El Anatsui” describes the process of creation, from the discovery of bottle caps and other objects on the side of a road; through the weaving of intricately manufactured squares and rectangles; and on to the installation of pieces, some of which rival the size of a Jumbotron. This is what should appeal most to general audiences. Not only does Anatsui work with commonly found objects, but he does so in collaboration with young men and women whose only exposure to contemporary art may be the piece on which they’re presently working. The documentary doesn’t suggest that anyone with a trace of imagination could achieve what Anatsui’s been able to accomplish, because there’s no questioning the degree-of-difficulty involved. It does demonstrate, however, that great art can be made with materials other than paint, canvas and brushes, and in places other than Paris and New York. – Gary Dretzka

A Whisper to a Roar
We Are Egypt
Love Free or Die
At a time when only 57.5 percent of all eligible voters bothered to submit a ballot in one of the most contentious presidential races in American history, people around the world were putting their lives on the line for the privilege of standing in long lines to vote. Typically, when given the opportunity to participate in elections that aren’t rigged from the start, people recently freed from tyranny wouldn’t think of not exercising their right to make their preferences known. Even so, several prominent democracies have instituted compulsory voting as a way to trump apathy and lethargy. (In Chicago, it’s widely believed that dead people vote early and often in some precincts.) Ben Moses’ occasionally disturbing, if ultimately inspirational documentary, “A Whisper to a Roar,” doesn’t soft-peddle the dangers of challenging the status quo in countries where sham elections and corruption are standard operating procedure. In the Ukraine, we listen to former president Viktor Yushchenko describe the experience of being poisoned with dioxin for daring to challenge the entrenched incumbent. Oliver Stone and Sean Penn may have thought Hugo Chavez was the bee’s knees, but Moses was able to document the abuses that followed his evolution from reformer to despot. The documentary also takes us to Zimbabwe, Malaysia and pre-Arab Spring Egypt. The segments are interwoven to demonstrate how pro-democracy movements around the world are similar to each other, while taking into account the cultural and political peculiarities that make them unique. What the film doesn’t do is suggest that, once established, democracies will endure against the many threats to freedom.

We Are Egypt” tightens the focus specifically to the popular uprising that toppled President Hosni Mubarak, a career military officer who embraced democracy once in office, but abused his leadership position to remain in charge. In a very real sense, the protestors knew that by going after Mubarak, they were forcing the U.S. to turn against a longtime ally and take a stand against totalitarianism. Pro-democracy crusaders also were acutely aware of the deep divisions in the April 6 Youth Movement that potentially could result in chaos or merely trading a secular dictatorship for one based on dubious religious tenets. Director Lillie Paquette was able to tap into the ferment among students and other young people in the year leading up to protests that toppled Mubarak. If the demonstrations appeared on television to have sprung up like mushrooms after a rain, “We Are Egypt” corrects us of this misconception. Leaders of the movement had been organizing below the radar since 2008. Three years later, Mubarak and his minions provided all the ammunition the reformers would need to incite popular support and avoid a national bloodbath.

Love Free or Die” chronicles a far different, if similarly contentious revolt, this time within a hidebound Anglican/Episcopalian hierarchy wary of change. More to the point, Gene Robinson’s battle against the entrenched establishment was based on theological belief and doctrine, not corruption and torture. In 2003, the New Hampshire cleric became the first openly gay bishop in the American church. It caused quite a disturbance among the 80 million people who belong to the denomination. The Anglican Church isn’t unique among the world’s religions to take a stand against the ordination of gays and lesbians and blessing same-sex marriages. Robinson came to international prominence after the Archbishop of Canterbury felt it necessary to condemn his ordination and when he replaced Pastor Rick Warren at Barack Obama’s inauguration. Macky Alston’s documentary chronicles Robinson’s mission from displays of domestic bliss at his New Hampshire church and residence; through battles fought among his fellow bishops in England and southern California; and, finally, to his own marriage to his longtime live-in partner. In 2008, even though he wasn’t allowed to participate in the Anglican Communion’s decennial conclave in Lambeth, England, he made the journey and lobbied for his causes to no avail. His voice was heard by plenty of folks who love their church, but reject some of its policies. At the subsequent American convention, Robinson was able to have his opinions aired before the entire conclave. Aware, perhaps, that the legalization of same-sex couplings is inevitable, on a state-by-state basis, American clerics were far more willing to listen to arguments for sanctifying them. Still, a close vote was expected. The fence-sitters knew that, worst case, what happened there might lead to civil war among the Anglican community. “Love Free or Die” shows what one man can do against huge odds and hundreds of years of rigid adherence to principles everyone swears were dictated by God. For now, though, the ball’s in the court of the Supremes. – Gary Dretzka

Crush: Blu-ray
When all signs point to a single oddball character being the perpetrator of mayhem in a genre thriller or a show as dependent on red herrings as “Law & Order,” it’s a safe bet that the truth lies elsewhere … or, maybe not, depending on the ingenuity of the creative team. Although the backers of “Crush” are pushing the “Fatal Attraction”-for-teens angle, I think it can stand on its own merits as a hottie whodunit. In Malik Bader’s second feature, a studly soccer star, Scott (Lucas Till), is having a heck of a time balancing school, sports and his suddenly active libido. When Scott starts getting mash notes from a secret admirer, there’s any number of suspects among his school’s female population and a few guys, too. He’s confused, as well, by sexual advances made by his longtime platonic girlfriend, Jules (Sarah Bolger), who seemingly can’t wait another minute to upgrade their relationship status. The new girl in school, Bess (Crystal Reed), is a mousy Goth who barely registers on the Richter scale. A semi-creepy teammate is always lurking in the background during workouts and his super-sexy English teacher, Mrs. Brown (Camille Guaty), appears to be giving Scott more attention than is usually accorded the jocks in her classes. In addition to those crushes, Scott’s father appears to have one on a young women working at his restaurant, where Bess also works and Jules and Mrs. Brown frequent. Cracks in Scott’s idyllic life begin to show when he breaks a leg and it threatens his scholarship. Anxious to get back in shape, he hits the weight room and the running paths, only to be caught in harm’s way when his invisible nemesis decides to strike again. Harmful “accidents” also begin to strike people in his orbit. Only one candidate stands out from the crowd as “Crush” draws closer to its end, and naturally it’s the obsessive, Bess. There’s no good reason to spoil the suspense, here, except to advise viewers to reserve judgment. There are holes in the narrative large enough to accommodate a parade of elephants, but teens are likely to forgive them, if only because of the attractiveness of the actors. – Gary Dretzka

The Kitchen
Sexy Evil Genius

Is there anything worse than listening to drunken yuppies whine about their problems at a birthday party? In real life, yes; in the movies, probably not. In the ensemble dramedy “The Kitchen,” Laura Prepon plays the birthday girl on her 30th go-round on Earth. Jennifer isn’t exactly in the right mood for a hoedown, however, as she’s just discovered that her live-in boyfriend is schtupping everyone in town, including several of her closest friends. She’s also embarking on a commercial enterprise that’s almost certain to fail. Her sister, Penny (Dreama Walker), has broadcast her plans to have an abortion in the next week, a fact that doesn’t seem to dampen the festivities one bit. Nearly a dozen other characters pop in and out of their home’s kitchen – the main stage, here – offering their opinions on one thing or another and generally making Jennifer’s party even more of a downer for the hostess. Now, it’s entirely possible that guests in other rooms of the house are having a blast, but director Ishai Setton has wisely decided to limit the dramedy to a single location. And, of course, the kitchen at any party tends to be at the crossroads of all activity. The more drunken the guests are, however, the less valuable are their contributions to the overlying drama. I suspect, though, that most people under 18 and over 30 won’t find much in “The Kitchen” to hold their attention for long. Some of the gags work OK, and the cast is full of attractive people, but being attractive doesn’t make them interesting.

Most of what happens in “Sexy Evil Genius” takes place in a single room, as well, and likewise is populated with yuppies who think they’re more fascinating than they actually are. In his first feature, director Shawn Piller borrows a trope that’s at least as old as Agatha Christie’s “And Then There Were None.” Here, an ex-con named Nikki (Katee Sackhoff) invites several ex-lovers to a bar in downtown L.A. for a reason none of them can guess. Nikki had been convicted of murdering her last boyfriend, so it seems odd that these seemingly intelligent young people would agree to accept her invitation. (Michelle Trachtenberg, Seth Green, Anthony Michael Hall, Harold Perrineau, Nora Kirkpatrick and William Baldwin fill out the cast.) The first part of the movie is taken up with the invited guests discussing their relationship with Nikki and guessing why they’ve been called together. In the second half, Nikki arrives with her new, older boyfriend and she’s able to plant all sorts of wicked seeds in their minds. Finally, “Sexy Evil Genius” feels more like an exercise at acting school than a plot-driven movie. – Gary Dretzka

Craig Shoemaker: Daditude
I find it interesting that Craig Shoemaker’s comedy special, “Daditude,” would follow by 11 years the comic’s one-man show, “Who’s Your Daddy?,” which was about growing up without a father. Shoemaker’s a funny guy and has no problem finding things about parenthood that resonate with his audience, most of whom stopped sowing their wild oats when the first baby arrived. He clearly loves being a dad and participating in his kids activities, but they also have provided him with a wealth of material. In fact, it probably would fill a season’s worth of episodes on a network sitcom, if anyone gave him another opportunity. My sense of the evening’s performance tells me that most people in the audience weren’t nearly as interested in hearing about the comic’s kids as they were to learn what Shoemaker’s trademark character, the Lovemaster, has been up to since the last tour. And, he doesn’t disappoint. Stopping on a dime, he becomes the Lovemaster in all of his raunchy glory and ballsy braggadocio. The audience couldn’t be happier. – Gary Dretzka

Hallmark: Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts
Despite all evidence to the contrary, new Westerns are still being made and shown, primarily on channels most people have yet to discover. Hallmark, a network with a large and loyal following, has built a franchise around Circuit Judge John Goodnight. In the hands of Luke Perry, Goodnight is the unlikeliest of legal arbiters. Usually, he’s more unkempt than the crooks who stand before him and the banging of his gavel often proves too overwhelming for his chronic hangover to bear. His personality combines the more rakish elements of Judge Roy Bean and Brett Maverick. In “Goodnight for Justice: Queen of Hearts,” he falls prey to the attentions of a beautiful con-woman, Lucy (Katherine Isabelle), who’s wanted in three states for cleaning out perspective lovers and other saps. Her skills at poker are second-to-none, as well. Goodnight comes across Lucy as her stagecoach is being attacked by a gang led by a jilted suitor (Rick Schroder) and his trusted Indian companion. The judge has no way of knowing that there’s a price on her head and chases away the desperadoes he doesn’t shoot. Lucy convinces him that she’s a good girl, just passing through the Wild West on her way to her daddy’s mine. It takes a while for the judge to figure out why Lucy is being pursued so vigorously, but, when he does, it’s too late because he’s already smitten. Unless one is expecting a signature Clint Eastwood or John Ford Western, “Queen of Hearts” is a perfectly acceptable alternative. The Canadian locations are gorgeous and Perry keeps things light. – Gary Dretzka

JJ Grey: Brighter Days
Before watching the concert DVD, “JJ Grey: Brighter Days,” I was unaware of the popularity of singer/songwriter JJ Grey or the existence of his band, Mofro. It’s not that I don’t get around much, anymore, just that the band probably has been hovering just below the level of stardom for a long time, waiting to become a household name. Grey is raspy-voiced singer, who once upon a time might have been labeled a blue-eyed soul singer. Like Joe Cocker, in his Mad Dogs & Englishmen phase, Grey positions his microphone several feet in front of Mofro, as if to say, “I’m the star of the show and, although I love these musicians dearly, it’s my songs you’ve come to hear.” As a unit, though, the ensemble delivers a powerful punch. When he isn’t delivering sultry love songs or stretched-to-the-breaking-point R&B jams, Grey sings a lot about his Southern roots and good-ol’-boy attitude toward life. It’s nothing we haven’t heard before from Lynyrd Skynyrd or Hank Jr., but the addition of a band that includes drums, saxophones, an organ, trumpet, bass and guitar adds another dimension to the swamp-rock foundation. Grey’s music also borrows from gospel, old-school R&B, Dave Matthews Band, Memphis funk and country-rock. The concert material on the DVD is supplemented with interviews and a tour of the north Florida swamps around which Grey was raised. – Gary Dretzka

Buried in a crypt for some 40 years, somewhere in the wilds of British Columbia, the rarely, if ever projected Canadian sexploitation flick, “Sexcula,” has been resurrected by the grave diggers at Impulse Pictures. Apparently, the movie was intended to be a sexy parody of the classic Universal horror titles, but “Deep Throat” had just opened the door to harder stuff. By comparison to “Sexcula,” though, Gerard Damiano’s landmark movie looks like “Romeo and Juliet.” In it, a modern couple moves into a rundown family estate, which, according to a diary found on the property, once served as a laboratory for Grandma Fallatingstein, a mad scientist interested in creating a sex-monster to service her needs … down there. Sadly, Frank the Monster can’t perform as intended, so Doctor Fallatingstein creates a female sex-monster to help him find the proper orifice to fill. When that fails, as well, the scientist enlists a local working girl, Countess Sexcula, to do everything in her power to wind Frank’s clock. There’s more, but why spoil the fun? While “Sexcula” bears a resemblance to Italian giallo and Hammer horror – far more than any Universal title – what it reminded me of most was the “SCTV” parody, “Monster Chiller Horror Theater,” starring Count Floyd (Joe Flaherty), Bruno (Eugene Levy) and Doctor Tongue (John Candy). One of the movies shown was “Dr. Tongue’s 3D House of Stewardesses,” which also holds up well next to “Sexcula.” In her only appearance on film, Marilyn Chambers look-alike Debbie Collins played both Countess Sexcula and the female half of the modern couple. It’s difficult to find talent like that, anymore. – 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