MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Future Weather
In Jenny Deller’s impressive debut feature, “Future Weather,” bright newcomer Perla Haney-Jardine plays a 13-year-old loner so obsessed with global warming, pesticides and pollution that everything else in her life is secondary. She’s as petrified of what the future may hold for her generation as her grandmother (Amy Madigan) must have been by the possibility of nuclear war, a half-century ago. As passionate an environmentalist as she is, however, Lauderee has personal problems that are far more immediate. For one thing, Lauderee’s white-trash mother – for lack of a more precise term – has taken a powder from the remote double-wide trailer they share, along with the occasional drunken boyfriend. All Mom left behind was $50 and a note promising she’d be back for the girl as soon as she strikes gold as a makeup artist to the stars, in Hollywood. Lauderee decides to tough it out on her own for a while, but her hard-boiled grandma puts an end to that experiment in self-sufficiency after she gets caught shoplifting. It’s just as well, because the girl is so pre-occupied with a science project, she might be starving and not even known it. Lauderee gets more bad news when her grandma agrees to move to Florida with her boyfriend, Ed (William Sadler), who offers her a dozen good reasons why an aspiring scientist might enjoy living in the Sunshine State. That only serves to complicate things further, because it would mean giving up on the project, her mom’s empty promise and the attention of her extremely concerned teacher (Lilly Taylor).

While Deller’s story and direction keep us guessing throughout the indie’s 100-minute length, it’s Haney-Jardine’s gritty performance that’s unforgettable in “Future Weather.” There are times when Lauduree’s treatment of her grandmother, her boyfriend and teacher is so single-minded and stubborn that she risks alienating viewers who sense she isn’t nearly as smart as she thinks she is. That’s what separates “Future Weather” from 95 percent of the other films with teenage protagonists. And, yes, I do think it’s fair to compare Haney-Jardine’s performance her to Jennifer Lawrence’s in the decidedly more ferocious “Winter’s Bone.” I’ve seen “Future Weather” described as a coming-of-age drama, but I don’t think Deller intended for Lauderee to skip puberty entirely on the way to adulthood. I’d be very surprised if teens and ’tweens couldn’t find a little bit of themselves in her. – Gary Dretzka

Save the Date
Not Suitable for Children: Blu-ray

If it’s politically incorrect to dismiss films targeted specifically at girls and women in the 16-to-34 demographic as “chick flicks,” why isn’t the decidedly anti-intellectual approach to selling “popcorn,” comic-book and gross-out movies to teenage boys not considered degrading, as well? Perhaps, it’s because you can’t slander the guilty. By finding common ground, however accidentally, some filmmakers have redefined what it means to be a “date movie.” Among the recent titles that qualify are “Bridesmaids” and “The Hangover” — but not “Bachelorette” and “The Hangover Part II” — “Silver Linings Playbook,” “Crazy Stupid Love,” “The Hunger Games” and one or two of the “Twilight” episodes, at least. Any woman who wants to test the loyalty and patience of her male friend couldn’t find a better challenge than to ask him to sit through “Save the Date,” without dozing off or cracking wise every three or four minutes. This isn’t to say that many women won’t be similarly turned off by “Save the Date,” but the mere presence of Lizzy Caplan (“Party Down”) and Alison Brie (“Community”) might present sufficient cause for a rental on 2-for-1 day. They play sisters, one of whom is getting married and the other moving in with her musician boyfriend. Since there’s nothing noticeably wrong with either relationship, on or below the surface, director Michael Mohan and his two male co-writers (Jeffrey Brown, Egan Reich) were required to find stupid ways to test the strength of their bonds. Sarah’s a fiercely neurotic sketch artist, while Beth is driving her fiancé nuts with plans for the wedding. After Sarah scares away her seemingly perfect boyfriend, Mohan gives her another to torment. It takes Beth’s seemingly perfect guy a while to figure out how painful his nuptials are likely to be, but, when he does, Beth can’t find much sympathy for him. The filmmakers throw in a couple of surprises toward the end of “Save the Date,” but they’re very poorly choreographed and not at all funny.

How many movies have we seen in which a woman realizes that the time on her biological clock is ticking down and she hasn’t bothered to find the right man to father her child? Plenty, and now we’re seeing movies in which gay men and lesbians go to outlandish lengths to choose the right person to supply a womb or sperm to accommodate their desire for children. The male equivalent of this dilemma surfaces in the Aussie export, “Not Suitable for Children.” Its hook, alone, would be enough to make some men swear off going to the multiplex for years. When we meet Jonah (Ryan Kwanten), he’s in the business of throwing parties for Sydney’s yuppie crowd in a residence that wouldn’t be out of place in New Orleans’ Garden District. He’s making lots of money and enjoying not being attached to any one woman. That contentment changes dramatically when a young lady, in the course of pleasuring Jonah, discovers a lump on a testicle. Wisely, he rushes to see a specialist, who lays out for him a good-news/bad-news scenario that most men would seize on and act accordingly. While testicular cancer has a high survival rate, if detected early, the radiation treatment almost certainly would make him sterile. The doctor also advises that surgery be scheduled as soon as possible. After checking out a bank to deposit his sperm, Jonah’s led to believe that his swimmers aren’t good candidates for freezing. Unwisely, Jonah asks the doctor for a month’s reprise to impregnate any one of several old lovers, friends or strangers. It’s a risk he’s willing to take. The rest of “Not Suitable for Children” is comprised of a series of heightened expectations, dashed optimism and dopey melodrama. Fans of “True Blood” will recognize Kwanten as Jason Stackhouse and, while cute, he is too much of a cipher here to ensure he’d be any child’s idea of a good father. Sarah Snook and Ryan Corr do well in supporting roles. The Blu-ray adds interviews and a making-of featurettes. – Gary Dretzka

Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System: Criterion Collection: Blu-ray
Among the many great things about living in the age of DVD/Blu-ray expansion is discovering artists from other countries whose work failed to make it to the U.S. upon its original release or was shown only at a niche festival or in New York. Before the Criterion Collection release of “The Human Condition,” in 2009, I was unaware of Masaki Kobayashi’s place in the Pantheon of Japanese cinema or how his personal history as a conscripted pacifist and P.O.W. in World War II informed his epic three-part adaptation of Junpei Gomikawa’s novel. He’s also recognized as a master of samurai (“Hara-Kiri”) and supernatural (“Kwaidan”) movies. Newly arrived in Blu-ray are four lesser-known titles, as part of Criterion’s essential “Eclipse Series” (“a selection of lost, forgotten, or overshadowed classics in simple, affordable multi-disc editions”). Where “Human Condition” was overtly anti-war and anti-totalitarian – without also being polemical – the movies included in “Eclipse Series 38: Masaki Kobayashi Against the System” raged against the machines that controlled Japanese life in the post-war, pre-boom era. In several key ways, they echo the neo-realism of Italian movies made slightly earlier. At a time when the country’s ruling establishment would have preferred its filmmakers forget that World War II ever happened, Kobayashi’s movies reflected its many identity crises, moral corruption and the impact of the U.S. military occupation.

Made in 1953, “The Thick-Walled Room” picked the scab that had formed over the issue of Japanese soldiers executed, convicted or being held for trial for crimes against humanity in the war. It was one of the first Japanese films to deal directly with such wartime issues, but, more to the point, it asked why some of the prisoners were being punished for obeying the orders of officers whose social status allowed them to walk free. “Thick-Walled Room” was adapted from the diaries of actual prisoners and they only make the narrative that much more dramatic. Some even reference the start of the Korean War and the United States’ role in it. Rather than make cuts requested by Japanese censors to appease American interests, Kobayashi held the film from release for four years.

Baseball has been a longtime passion in Japan and even before American teams began scouting players there, the stakes in the recruitment game were extremely high. Made in 1956, “I Will Buy You” describes the corrupt practices of agents, scouts and team executives in the wooing of a star collegiate player. It tells a story about the sad state of amateur athletics that could have been made in the U.S. at any time in the past 50-60 years, but wasn’t. In addition to the obvious implications of such quasi-legal practices, “I Will Buy You” demonstrates how corruption spreads like cancer from the agents to the players and, beyond them, to family, friends and community boosters.

Black River” (1957) describes another virulent strain of cancer spreading through postwar Japan, especially in the slums and entertainment districts surrounding American bases. Poverty was so prevalent, especially among women whose fathers, husbands and sons were killed in the war, many turned to prostitution to provide for themselves, their children and aged relatives. Sensing an opportunity to exploit both American troops and impoverished women, men who came of age after the war turned to pimping and the black market. Without focusing directly on the Yanks’ role in this vicious cycle, Kobayashi describes how financial necessity damaged even the most innocent of Japanese flowers.

After finishing the “Human Condition” trilogy and “Hara-Kiri,” Kobayashi returned to a more contemporary setting, but one gripped in the same time-honored tradition of unfettered greed. Adapted from a Norio Nanjo novel, “The Inheritance” describes what happens when a wealthy business executive not only informs his immediate family and business associates that he has terminal cancer, but that he also wants them to find his three illegitimate children, so as to divide his fortune among them. In the blink of eye, the people he entrusts with the mission already are figuring out ways to take advantage of the situation for personal or corporate gain. Only one of the associates proceeds with integrity, but which one? “The Inheritance” feels very much like a movie Hitchcock might have made, with the exception that the executive’s entourage represents an entire stratum of middle-class scavengers growing up in the wake of the country’s startling economic recovery. – Gary Dretzka

At the Gate of the Ghost: Blu-ray
From 16th Century Thailand arrives this imaginative adaptation of the Japanese classic, “Rashomon,” in which the facts of serious crime are recounted from the differing points of view of several witnesses. Among the overriding themes of M.L. Pundhevanop Dhewakul’s “At the Gate of the Ghost” are certain precepts of Buddhist philosophy. Here, a young monk becomes deeply disturbed by conflicting testimony he hears at the trial of an infamous bandit accused of killing a prominent warlord. Clearly, the witnesses are afraid of saying anything that might get them in trouble, as well, so the truth must lie somewhere in between the recollections. Among those testifying are the bandit; the warlord’s concubine, who also may have been raped; a shaman, who attempts to visualize the crime; and an elderly man. The monk, who’s so shaken he begins to re-consider his vocation, decides to seek his father’s counsel. Along the way, he finds himself in the company of one of the witnesses and a rather strange fellow who minds a labyrinthine cave where people drop off dead bodies and unwanted children. It’s here that the stories of the crime are retold, again, from the different points of view, but more honestly. It’s a fascinating way to showcase the universality of “Rashomon,” beautifully staged in a distinctly Thai tradition and Buddhist sensibility. – Gary Dretzka

Dragon: Blu-ray
I don’t know what, if any western movies might have influenced Peter Chan and frequent collaborator Oi Wah Lam in the creation of their fascinating martial-arts mystery, “Dragon” (a.k.a., “Wu Xia”). One uncharacteristic presence here is police detective Xu Bai-jiu (Takeshi Kaneshiro), whose methodology is taken straight from Sherlock Holmes’ playbook. The other surely would be David Cronenberg’s “A History of Violence,” in which a heroic act by a mild-mannered citizen attracts attention from past compatriots in organized crime. In fact, that’s exactly what happens in “Dragon,” too. In 1917, Liu Jin-xi (Donnie Yen) is a village craftsman whose quiet life is undone after he single-handedly prevents two notorious gangsters from robbing the local general store. What draws attention to him from the detective is the martial-arts punch he used to kill the nearly indestructible villain. It is only taught by a single master, whose 72 Demons clan is feared throughout Yunnan province. Although Jin-xi is much admired for his courage and good works in the village, the detective hopes to link him to a grisly murder that occurred years earlier. If he can do that, the news would be welcomed by the vicious warlord of 72 Demons. His son has been missing since the murder and the warlord wants him to return to the clan. Married and a father, Jin-xi knows he will have to fight, once again, to maintain his freedom.

Chan combines all of the disparate elements into an entirely satisfying story, easily accessible to martial-arts enthusiasts and newcomers, alike. The re-creation of the village is expertly done, as are the costumes and fighting scenes. The detective, who believes he’s doing the right thing by dredging up an old crime, finally is given moral quandaries of his own with which to deal. Chan, a student of John Woo, is one of the top directors working in Hong Kong and China and he has the box-office receipts to prove it. Anyone who enjoys “Dragon” can find plenty of other Chan titles to peruse. – Gary Dretzka

Fans of horror/slasher/teens-in-jeopardy flicks might find something to like in “Escapee,” an otherwise familiar story about a psycho-killer who escapes from a high-security prison for the criminally insane and picks up where he left off before being captured. In the case of Jose Canseco look-alike Jaxon (Dominick Purcell), this means stringing up pretty young women and skinning them like squirrels. Earlier in the day that he escapes from the hospital, Jaxon encountered a class of high school students as he was being led to his cell. One of the girls looks like his murdered wife and this causes him to briefly flip out. It also inspires him to escape, eliminating as many guards and innocent bystanders as necessary to find the girl, Abby (Christine Evangelista), whose parents are home and is killing time doing homework with friends sitting around in their underwear. Meanwhile, a storm is raging outside the Louisiana town and a manhunt is being conducted by Faith Ford, wife of writer/director Campion Murphy. The most effective things about “Escapee” are the special sound effects and the lighting that creates shadows that look like fiends peeking through windows. The DVD adds interviews and making-of material. – Gary Dretzka

State of Emergency
Turner Clay’s minimalist approach to the much-dreaded zombie apocalypse benefits greatly by limiting the number of flesh-eating demons chasing the protagonists and focusing on the psychological emptiness of wide-open spaces. After an explosion unleashes the products of a military bio-weapons plant in a rural countryside, undead victims of the poison begin popping up like deer in a field of tall grass. A small handful of unaffected humans gather in a huge unused warehouse, from which they can pick off the odd zombie and plot their survival. They know that the entire area hasn’t been wiped out, because they can see military planes and helicopters, flying over the warehouse, occasionally dropping boxes of emergency supplies. It is during one of the sojourns to recover the supplies that a survivor exposes himself to attack and possible contamination. Things get nastier, but “State of Emergency” avoids the overkill and splatter that usually accompanies such movies. It’s a welcome change. – Gary Dretzka

Ringo at the Ryman
If memory serves, Ringo Starr was the first of the Beatles to embrace country-western music and invest his interest in Nashville in his songs, including a cover of Buck Owens’ “Act Naturally.” It’s fitting, then, that he spends one of his birthdays, at least, on the hallowed stage of the Ryman Auditorium, making music and pleasing fans. Ringo has continued to work since the breakup of the band, not because he needs the money, but because he’s having a blast doing it. Lately, his tours have included the All-Star Band, with a slightly different makeup of musicians each time.
Ringo at the Ryman” was filmed on July 7, 2012, in Nashville. The ensemble was comprised of such fine players as Steve Lukather (Toto), Richard Page (Mr. Mister), Mark Rivera (Billy Joel), Gregg Rollie (Journey, Santana), Todd Rundgren and Gregg Bissonette. Making cameos were daughter Lucy, Joe Walsh, Brendan Benson, Kix Brooks, Gary Burr, Vince Gil, Brad Paisley, Felix Cavaliere and Richard Marx. The set list was comprised largely of Ringo’s hits, with and without the Beatles, and songs made popular by band members, such as “Roseanna,” “Black Magic Woman,” “Kyrie Elaison” and “Bang the Drum All Day.” It’s a lot of fun. – Gary Dretzka

One Day on Earth
Disneynature: Wings of Life
Pedal-Driven: A Bikeumentary

I don’t know if the 26-year-old coffee-table book, “A Day in the Life of America,” inspired “One Day on Earth” more than, say, Edward Steichen and Carl Sandburg’s 1955 best-seller, “The Family of Man,” or Kyle Ruddick came up with the idea independently. As the title suggests, Ruddick’s conceit involves charting the cycle of life over the 24 period of October 10, 2010, from the vantage point of people living in every single country on Earth and the Space Station. I will admit to not knowing that two of the countries mentioned, at least, even existed. Because the myriad things that happen every day on our planet are constantly changing and endlessly fascinating, “One Day on Earth” can’t help but be interesting. What it lacks, however, are many surprises. Compiled from over 3,000 hours of footage, it shows people doing chores, going to work, playing, singing, having babies, dying, collecting trash and attempting to find and afford potable water. For me, the most remarkable sequence involves a young bride, in Kosovo, who’s having her face decorated in advance of being married, in the rite of “beautifying brides on their wedding day.” The elaborate face decorations and frilly gown make kabuki makeup and dress seem primitive, by comparison. While including so many images from American locations is only to be expected. What I don’t get is why there are so many from a military parade in North Korea. Maybe Ruddick is on to something, there.

The latest addition to the “Disneynature” series is “Wings of Life,” a spectacularly photographed documentary about our fragile dependency on bees, butterflies, birds and bats, and their dependency on blossoming vegetation. Louis Schwartzberg’s film originally was called “Pollen,” which shifts the emphasis of the story a tad, from the magic dust to the carriers of the magic dust. Perhaps, that’s because of the ongoing mystery surrounding the disappearance of bees not only from their natural habitat, but also from the commercial hives that are trucked from orchard to orchard. It’s a cause of real concern for all of us. Most of the message delivered in “Wings of Life” has been disseminated already, but what’s terrific here is the cinematography which captures the gathering of pollen and flight at speeds unseen in previous documentaries. In Blu-ray, it’s practically miraculous.

Pedal-Driven: A Bikeumentary” may look like a documentary and sound like a documentary, but it quacks like propaganda. Without laying all of its cards out on the table up front, it argues that “mountain bikers” have an inalienable right to cut paths through federal land, so they can get their rocks off speeding around some the Pacific Northwest’s most pristine slopes and countryside. And, maybe they do. “Pedal-Driven” also stipulates that mountain bikers are natural-born environmentalists, whose interests square with those who prefer to maintain wilderness as wilderness. The kind of trails the “freeriders” say they advocate are largely unobtrusive and absent major threats to the mountain ecology. And, maybe, they are. Writer/documentary Jamie Howell lets the bikers do most of the talking here, while also adding commentary by Park Service rangers and non-profits that already have built trails in parks. I’m all for letting thrill-seekers enjoy their sports on federal land, under certain restrictions. What’s missing from the documentary, though, is any discussion of recovering money from permits and fees; insurance considerations in such a risky activity; limiting the trails to those at certain age or proficiency levels; proper supervision and maintenance; and the potential for an overpopulation of such public sites. While it’s easy to draw a line between bikers of the motorized and foot-driven variety, who’s to say if bikers or horse riders have more right to the public? True, a scenario is presented in which speeding bikers are on the same thin trail as a horse and rider. The likely solution is so unlikely as to be laughable: bikers would be so interested in meeting a fellow outdoors enthusiast that they would stop their ride and engage the rider in conversation. Sure, and skiers and boarders amicably share the same slopes in winter. All sarcasm aside, “Pedal-Driven” offers a sound foundation for further discussion and debate and the scenery is gorgeous. It’s no wonder that mountain bikers want to play there, instead of freeway underpasses. – Gary Dretzka

Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens
Cartoon Network is taking full advantage of the newest big gun in its arsenal, by extending the franchise into feature-length movies and creating toys to coincide with their launch. In Asia, the Middle East and South Africa fans were invited to compete for special voice-over parts in the series, VIP treatment at the premiere, branded clothing and toys. “Ben 10: Destroy All Aliens” debuted here in March 2012 and already has been released through iTunes and PlayStation stores. To make the release of the DVD sufficiently special to attract newcomers and repeat viewers, alike, the producers have added two hours of special features to the movie, with behind-the-scenes featurettes, original artwork and commentaries. In it, 10-year-old Ben Tennyson is back from summer vacation and chomping at the bit to join the Total Alien Immersion Training Program. In doing so, he risks never returning to human form and becoming a target for unseen evil. – 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