MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

Gangster Squad: Blu-ray
More “Mulholland Falls” than “L.A. Confidential” or “Bugsy,” Ruben Fleischer’s machine-gun opera “Gangster Squad” is stylish enough to appeal to fans of the all-star cast members, but takes far too many liberties with the facts to satisfy genre purists. Adding to the familiarity of the story is the presence of Nick Nolte as the LAPD’s unorthodox Chief William H. Parker, who began his tenure as a reformist, but died, 16 years later, defending his department against institutionalized racism and brutality. In “Mulholland Falls,” Nolte played a member of the police department’s notorious Hat Squad, a select unit of hard-ass detectives not unlike Fleischer’s Gangster Squad. Although gangster Mickey Cohen (Sean Penn) doesn’t appear in “Mulholland Falls” by name, his greasy fingerprints are all over both movies. Chief Parker and Cohen became mortal enemies in the same post-war period, with the ruthless crime boss not taking kindly to the notion that cops could throw out the rule book in their dogged pursuit of his own illegal activities. That’s exactly how Parker went after Cohen’s rackets and allies in various Los Angeles County courthouses, newsrooms and cop shops, however.

In reality and the movies, the elite squads were populated by battle-tested World War II veterans, whose patriotism extended to the honesty and diligence required of the job. In Cohen, the cops saw an enemy only slightly less sinister than Hitler or Tojo, or so the story goes. The coppers here are likeably portrayed by Josh Brolin, Ryan Gosling, Anthony Mackie, Michael Peña, Giovanni Ribisi and Robert Patrick, while Emma Stone plays the dame who shares Cohen and Gosling’s attentions. For all of its noir touches, tough talk and witty banter, “Gangster Squad” frequently looks more like a series of outtakes from “The Untouchables” than a story about how the LAPD neutered Cohen and kept the East Coast and Midwest gangs from gaining a foothold in Southern California. To get a more factual take on Cohen, viewers will want to check out the various background featurettes included in the Blu-ray package. Not surprisingly, perhaps, the most recommendable qualities of “Gangster Squad” lie with the cinematography (Dion Beebe), production design (Maher Ahmad) and costume design (Mary Zophres), all of which contribute mightily to period authenticity. If “Gangster Squad” didn’t make quite the splash the combined talents of its cast might have warranted, it’s because the Aurora multiplex massacre occurred while a trailer for the film showed gangsters shooting tommy guns through a projection screen. It was immediately pulled and a scene had to be reshot, necessitating a new release date.

Django Unchained: Blu-ray
One needn’t have been familiar with the 1966 Spaghetti Western classic “Django” to have thoroughly enjoyed – or, at least, admired – Quentin Tarantino’s violent crowd-pleaser, “Django Unchained,” in its theatrical release. Franco Nero’s portrayal of a coffin-dragging gunman caught between rival gangs on the U.S.-Mexican border would be unforgettable, even if Sergio Corbucci’s film wasn’t also so terrifically entertaining. In Italy, the Django character was deemed so iconic – yes, that overused, if entirely appropriate adjective, again – that similarly named desperadoes appeared in a couple dozen other Westerns, with and without the coffin. It’s entirely appropriate, then, that one of the sub-genre’s most ardent proponents would borrow the character’s name when he got around to making his own Spaghetti Western. Given 165 minutes of screen time, a 130-day shooting schedule and $100 million of someone else’s money, Tarantino was able to create the movie he’s been dreaming of making for a quarter-century. It would have taken him almost the same amount of time to come up with the many references, homages, sight and audio gags that appear throughout the movie. By setting most of “Django” in the pre-war American South – he calls it a “Southern” – Tarantino was able to tackle two much-cherished sub-genres with one monumental leap of faith. In Jamie Foxx, he not only had a protagonist who wouldn’t have been out of place alongside Woody Strode in Spaghetti Land, but in any of the Blaxploitation revenge epics of the 1970s. (If Fred Williamson’s “Nigger Charley” trilogy bears the closest resemblance to “Django” in tone, it’s worth recalling that such prominent African-American actor/athletes as Fred Williamson, Jim Brown, Rafer Johnson, Yaphet Kotto, D’Urville Martin, Don Pedro Colley, Max Julien, Robert DoQui, Lincoln Kilpatrick, Richard Pryor, Bill Cosby, Sidney Poitier, Harry Belafonte, Denise Nicholas and Lola Falana found paydays as black cowboys and cowgirls.)

Here, of course, escaped slave Django is joined in his mission to be reunited with his wife, Broomhilda von Schaft (Kerry Washington), by the cold-blooded German bounty hunter, Dr. King Schultz (Christoph Waltz). Always a threat to run away from whoever owns her, Broomhilda has most recently been purchased by the diabolical plantation owner, Calvin Candie (Leonardo DiCaprio). Schultz drives around the Wild West on a wagon with a giant bobbling tooth attached to its top. He isn’t a dentist, but the ruse tends to confuse the local yokels, who may or may not be aware that men with bounties on their heads live among them. Under the doctor’s tutelage, Django becomes a crack shot and impressive figure on a horse. It’s a sight that unsettles racist whites almost as much as the six-shooters on his belt. With the money they make shooting desperadoes – if they’re wanted “dead or alive, why sweat the travelling expenses? – Django and Schultz intend to make Candie a deal he can’t refuse on Broomhilda. They pretend to be interested primarily in buying “Mandingo fighters” for exhibition in Europe, a pursuit that appeals to Candie’s perverse world view. (He considers himself to be a Francophile, but is too lazy to learn French.) There’s no point in revealing much else beyond that setup, except to remind those who haven’t seen “Unchained” that it’s extremely violent and almost unbelievably profane, while also being wildly funny in the darkest sort of way possible.

Naturally, quite a fuss has been made over Tarantino’s frequent use of the n-word here – 120, at last count – and, after a while, it becomes more tiresome than shocking. For my money, though, I found it a bit more disturbing that Candie’s trusted black servant, Stephen (Samuel L. Jackson), is as loathsome as any of the grotesquely drawn rednecks. If a poll were taken among viewers as to the characters they’d most like to see suffer a violent death, it would be a tossup between the Uncle Ben look-alike and Candie. “Django Unchained” is a superbly crafted movie that looks and sounds smashing in Blu-ray. The landscapes and sunsets are uniformly lovely, whether they were captured in Wyoming, Lone Pine or Louisiana. Among the extras are backgrounders on the late production designer, J. Michael Riva; the horses and stunts; and costume designer Sharen Davis. (I suspect a more expansive edition will arrive by Christmas.) Fans of “Unchained” are encouraged to seek out the recently released Blu-ray edition of “Django” and “Skin Game,” a 1971 comedy starring James Garner and Lou Gossett, in roles not dissimilar to Django and Dr. Schultz.

Pawn: Blu-ray
The story arc on “The Shield,” featuring Michael Chiklis and Forest Whitaker, provided some of the FX series’ most tempestuous moments. Both actors can be scary good when the right material is presented them and they went toe-to-toe throughout Season 5. While nothing in “Pawn” compares with what happened weekly in “The Shield,” their presence, alone, gives viewers a reason to pop for a rental of the ensemble thriller. The movie opens with a cop (Whitaker) strolling into an all-night diner in Hartford, Connecticut, for his nightly fix of coffee and a game of chess with the man behind the counter. It takes a few minutes for him to notice that no one in the joint is acting normally and it’s likely that he’s interrupted a robbery. One thing leads to another and a Cockney creep (Chiklis) steps out from the shadows brandishing a gun, precipitating another series of events, not all of which are recalled in the same way. The remaining 80-some minutes of “Pawn” are taken up with 1) explaining what the crooks are after in the diner’s secret safe and 2) understanding why one witness’ point-of-view is so different than another’s version of the story. So far, so “Rashomon.” Before turning completely Japanese, however, director David Armstrong (DP on the “Saw” franchise) and writer Jay Anthony White (“Project 313”) toss several more ingredients into the mix, advancing the narrative beyond mere remake status. In fact, once the camera finds its way outside the confines of the diner, all bets are off as to what’s really happening.

If “Pawn” lacks the narrative heft it would have taken to find theatrical distribution, it can stand on its own in the straight-to-video and VOD marketplaces. In addition to Chiklis and Whitaker, the cast includes Stephen Lang, Common, Nikki Reed, Jessica Szohr and Ray Liotta, all of whom are game for what certainly was a dubious commercial proposition. The generic urban diner provides a solid stage for the suspense that surrounds the whys and wherefores of the crime in progress and, at 88 minutes, “Pawn” doesn’t outstay its welcome. The Blu-ray arrives with a making-of featurette.

It’s in the Blood
Nearly 73, Lance Henriksen still commands the attention of fans of horror, sci-fi and supernatural thrillers. Too often, lately, all this one-off actor has been required to do is show up on the set and reprise one of his many characters. “It’s in the Blood” is a movie that plays to his strong points as a character actor, while also giving him an opportunity to show off a bit in a lead role. As bloggers on the horror circuit have pointed out, “It’s in the Blood” doesn’t easily fit most genre boundaries and that probably is OK with Henriksen. For lack of a better adjective, though, Scooter Downey’s debut easily qualifies as “creepy.” Henriksen plays Russell, a hard-scrabble outdoorsman whose relationship with his teenage son, October (co-writer Sean Elliot), has been strained ever since a traumatic event somewhere in the near past. Before Russell and October have an opportunity to work out their differences, though, they head out for the sticks on a hunting trip. The mere presence of guns and knives in such an already foreboding environment ratchets-up the psychological tension without adding any fat to the mix. As their trek continues, though, it becomes clear there’s something frightening lurking in the forest and ground fog enveloping them. October’s ultimate test of manhood comes when Russell seriously fractures his leg and he’s required not only to save his father’s life, but also protect him from the boogeymen in the mist. Fans of horror and suspense should enjoy “It’s in the Blood,” as much for its willingness to both blur genre boundaries as for its performances and scenery.

Cold Prey II
The Norwegian horror franchise, “Cold Prey,” combines slasher conceits of the “Halloween” variety with the frigid mountain setting of “The Shining.” In the original, snowboarders take shelter inside an abandoned mountain lodge, which is cold but protective. One of them is nursing a broken leg and without proper communications equipment, the young people become an easy target for the ax-wielding lunatic already in residence. “Cold Prey II” picks up where “Cold Prey” left off, with a dazed survivor wandering along an icy highway, toting a bloody pick in her grasp. Once the young woman is able to come to grips with her situation, she points police in the direction of the lodge and the board-stiff corpses she left behind her. They’re taken to the morgue in a rural hospital, which is operating with a skeleton crew before it is to be closed for lack of revenues. It takes a while for the bodies to defrost and, in that time, it becomes clear there’s an extra body on the slabs, in addition to the snowboarders. The surviving victim tries to inform her doctors and police of the blunder – she believes, after all, she had eliminated the undead fiend in the first movie – but they simply assume she’s insane. Surely, you can guess the rest of the story. If “Cold Prey II” sounds overly familiar, it benefits greatly from the taut, claustrophobic direction of Mats Stenberg, who took the helm from Roar Uthaug. Then, there’s the magnificent natural beauty of Jotunheimen National Park and frigid temperatures capable of making viewers shiver in absentia. “Cold Prey 3,” which follows the same formula, has already been released in Europe.

Electric Button: Moon & Cherry
When the brightest practitioners of emerging cinemas begin to rest on their laurels and resist courting controversy, you can count on upstart Japanese filmmakers to ratchet up the craziness and set new standards for gratuitous sex and violence. I say that with all due respect for artists whose only concession to good taste – and the peculiarities of Japanese censors — is avoiding pubic hair and genitalia. Released in 2004, but ignored in markets where sex is treated with the same sanctity as brain surgery and prayer vigils, Yuki Tanada’s debut feature “Electric Button: Moon & Cherry” is an extension of two time-honored Japanese sub-genres, pinku eiga and roman porno. That Tanada is a filmmaker of the female persuasion only added to the potential for a fresh take on conventions dictated by the male-dominated profession. In “Electric Button,” the protagonist and first-person narrator is a timid university freshman, Tadokoro, who’s been encouraged to join a literary club dedicated to erotic writing. With the exception of one brash and hyperactive young woman, the members of Electric Button are an odd lot of pervs and misfits, some of whom already are on to Mayama’s game. The fun begins when Mayama discovers the new kid in class and calls his bluff on some mild sexual braggadocio. Their sexual encounters, which are dictated on her terms, help her overcome a persistent writer’s block. Mayama is the rare woman in Japanese genre flicks allowed to have more fun in the sack than a man, and, at first, Takokoro doesn’t mind being manipulated and exploited by his classmate. It’s when she starts hiring hookers and S&M specialists for him, as research, that the poor sap begins to feel exploited. “Electric Button” is a lot of fun, but no one should confuse it for a Rock Hudson/Doris Day rom-com.

God’s Country
In contemporary faith-based movies, it’s safe to assume that a religious miracle will happen when all other means to a solution have been exhausted. Otherwise, why bother? Like the U.S. Cavalry and Lone Ranger, God arrives in the nick of time to save poor wretches like us with his amazing grace. If Satan doesn’t always make an appearance in such “family friendly” fare, it’s only because his very presence defines what it means to be a buzz kill. In less-observant fare, the devil is given his due for being a hail-and-hearty party animal, if nothing else. “God’s Country” is interesting because it equates predatory capitalism with being on the wrong side of the deity, a notion that flies in the face of everything we know about televangelists and mega-congregations with budgets that exceed the GNP of most developing nations. As portrayed by Jenn Gotzon, Meghan Doherty is an ambitious and hyper-aggressive young business executive at an amoral Los Angeles land-development firm. We know she’s in need of divine intervention because she drives a red Ferrari and favors revealing clothing. Meghan’s firm is trying to bulldoze a deal that would turn a Christian youth mission in the Mojave Desert, God’s Country, into a multi-use resort financed by Japanese interests. God’s Country doesn’t have the money to continue its mission and she drives her sports car over miles of rocks and potholes to make the pastor a deal he can’t refuse. Instead, pastor Eden Graham (Michael Toland) makes her a proposition: spend a week at God’s Country, absorbing the mission’s Gospel, and he’ll sign on the dotted line. What Eden understands and Meghan doesn’t is that God knows what’s best for her and it isn’t another Ferrari. It allows Eden the time to get her right with Jesus, without also resorting to the hard sell. “God’s Country” is well made, considering its budget, and the scenery is pretty swell. It comes with a teaching guide.

K-11: Blu-ray
It’s important to know going into Jules Stewart and Jared Kurt’s prison nightmare, “K-11,” that the title derives from an actual segregated unit at the Los Angeles County Jail, where gay, bisexual or transgender inmates can choose to live outside of the general population. Many of them already have been diagnosed with HIV, while others only became aware of their condition upon arrival and testing at the jail. It should not, however, be seen as an AIDS ghetto, as residence there is voluntary. If the K-11 facility at the Twin Towers Correctional Facility is anything like the one depicted in the movie, it would be as infamous as Attica, Alcatraz and the Black Hole of Calcutta in their heydays. Not only are the inmates in control of the institution, but also, when they’re not sodomizing the weaker prisoners or ignoring beatings and rapes, the guards are dealing and doing as much dope as those awaiting trial. Moreover, the prisoners run the gamut from cross-dressers, sissy boys and transsexuals, to violent child molesters and killers. I doubt that such a mélange of characters would be allowed the freedom to intermingle without guards assuring the safety of the meek and unprotected inmates.

Inexplicably, straight music producer Raymond Saxx Jr. (Goran Visnjic) is shipped directly to K-11 after being picked up in the murder of a rival. On the outside, he gets his kicks by mixing cocaine, heroin and vodka, then blacking out on street corners. Inside, he’s woefully overmatched by the vicious tranny that runs the unit (Kate Del Castillo, who’s every inch a woman). Saxx must find a way to survive in this jungle or become part of the prison food chain. “K-11” is ridiculous, of course, even if it’s doubtful Stewart (mother of Kristen) would see it that way. At best, there’s some cult value in the presence of Tommy “Tiny” Lister, Jason Mewes, Portia Doubleday and D.B. Sweeney, as the vile guard. Del Castillo is fine as the bossy tramp, Mousey, but, by all rights, the role probably should have gone to a male actor (think, William Hurt in “Kiss of the Spider Woman”). The Blu-ray package includes cast interviews, behind-the-scenes featurettes, commentary with Stewart and producer Tom Wright, and a music video.

The Central Park Five: Blu-ray
Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?: Blu-ray

What both of these fine documentaries share with last week’s coverage of the manhunt for the Boston Marathon bombers is undeniable evidence of how politicians and the media exploit tragedy for their own interests and profits, while also arguing that they’re serving the public. In the rush to be the first outlet to announce the names of the terrorists to the world and report their capture, much demonstrably untrue information was spread and later recanted. In their own rush to condemn the bombers, politicians made statements designed to enflame the public and push their own bigoted agendas. Although it appears likely that the Chechen brothers were the perpetrators of the horror, probably acting alone, it’s also likely that the rabble-rousing will continue until a verdict is reached and the maximum penalty is administered. “The Central Park Five” and “Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?” describe similarly hysteric reactions to crimes that outraged America and brought out the worst in the media and politicians.

When, in 1989, a white woman jogger was brutally raped and beaten in Central Park, there was so much pressure on the police to put someone behind bars that they felt it necessary to cut corners simply to save face, not that they needed any further incentive. Conveniently, on the same night as the attack, a large pack of black and Hispanic teens had swept through the northern section of the park, terrorizing pedestrians and vandalizing property. Among those arrested were five teenagers, who, as black and Latino, would have fit the description of any criminal in upper Manhattan. As the interviews included in “The Central Park Five” attest, the boys were denied basic rights and lied to about their status as suspects. Exhausted and frightened, they signed false confessions and immediately were trotted out before the media as the worst people on earth. They believed that the city’s case would be sunk by lack of evidence – of which there wasn’t any – and the ability of a jury to see through the sham. Those men and women, however, believed the confessions and ignored everything else, including unmatched DNA. The fact of their innocence wouldn’t be acknowledged until all five had served their full terms and the true perpetrator, who should have been on top of the NYPD’s list of suspects on Day One, admitted the atrocity. Even 10 years after the five men were fully exonerated, police and city officials continue to drag their heels on making reparations to the Central Park Five. They’ve even tried to subpoena every single piece of footage taken by documentarians Ken Burns, Susan Burns and David McMahon, hoping to find a loophole through which they can jump. The filmmakers recount the entire process, from the “wilding” that preceded the attack on the jogger, who’s successfully weathered her own storm, to the release of the men from prison. Interviews with those men and others with distinct memories of the prosecution inform the film, as do the police tapes taken of the shell-shocked youths. The Blu-ray adds several making-of and background featurettes.

Who Killed Lindbergh’s Baby?” chronicles the investigation into the 1932 kidnaping and death of Charles Lindbergh’s toddler son from his bedroom in the family estate in New Jersey. It was the Crime of the Century that led ineffably to the Trial of the Century, a title it held until the Manson Family and O.J. Simpson came along to make claims of their own to the titles. Negotiations with the kidnappers stretched out for weeks, but, when the baby’s dead body was found in the woods near the estate, the pressure to find the killer became even more intense. Solid circumstantial evidence would lead investigators to the German immigrant, Bruno Richard Hauptmann, but not explain other key elements of the crime, including how a single person would have dared pull off such a complicated piece of business. Four years later, without an apology or confession, Hauptmann would be executed for the crime. The problem was, of course, that Hauptmann almost certainly couldn’t have acted alone and, by killing him, the truth never was revealed. It did, however, spark a cottage industry in books and films about the case. The researchers interviewed here argue several possibilities, ranging from feasible to the unthinkable.

Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope

Given that most documentaries involving Catholic priests necessarily focus on abuses of their power and efforts by Church hierarchy to keep the lid on the scandals, it’s refreshing to find a film about one who understands what Jesus might have done in the same circumstances as his. Father Greg Boyle, a white Jesuit, has spent the last quarter-century providing hope and opening doors for former gang-bangers who truly want to straighten out their lives. Through Boyle’s tireless efforts, Homeboy Industries has become a visible thread in the fabric of Los Angeles, first providing baked goods, salsa and tortilla chips to stores and, then, opening stores and restaurants in high-volume locations. Behind the scenes, however, Homeboy Industries offers training in anger management, domestic violence, yoga, spiritual development, parenting, substance abuse, budgeting, art and other areas of self-development for vulnerable youths. Also offered are mental health counseling, tattoo removal, legal services, job development and case management. While the most attention grabbing of these resources, the tattoo-removal program may be the most practical, as well. It’s tough to make a positive first impression on employers who can’t get past highly visible prison and gang tattoos that mark a young man or woman as undesirable. “G-Dog” was directed by Freida Lee Mock, whose documentary “Maya Lin: A Strong Clear Vision” took home an Oscar as the Best Documentary of 1993. Boyle is a wonderfully charismatic subject, but it’s the enthusiasm and dedication he instills in others that sells the picture. Anyone who believes that gang members are beyond rehabilitation really out to pick up a copy of “G-Dog” and see the difference one good man can make to the lives of people much of society has forsaken.

It’s been 27 years since the Space Shuttle Challenger disintegrated above the Atlantic Ocean, 73 seconds after lifting off from Cape Canaveral, leaving all seven of the crew members dead. Images of the explosion are as haunting today as they were on the day they were shown live on national TV. Seventeen years later, seven more astronauts perished after the Space Shuttle Columbia came apart over Texas on its final descent home. No similarly indelible images of the tragedy were broadcast because it happened over a sparsely populated part of the country, during the radio-silence period. An exhaustive search was conducted to collect pieces of the vehicle for re-assembly and find bodies of the astronauts for burial. While many Americans had already begun to question the efficacy of the space program, countries that were contributing to the joint missions remained enthusiastic about it. I’m sure that most Americans remain unaware that one of the victims in the Columbia disaster was Israeli fighter pilot Ilan Ramon, the son of Holocaust survivors and someone whose mission included reminding people of the resilience of the Jewish people. “Space Shuttle Columbia: Mission of Hope” tells his story. Ramon is portrayed as a well-liked ambassador of Israel and a believer in the ability of people to cross cultural borders in the pursuit of scientific discovery. His personal “mission within the mission” was to carry into space a miniature Torah scroll that survived the Holocaust and once belonged to Israel’s lead aerospace scientist, Joachim Joseph. Quite a bit of time in the film is devoted, as well, to chronicling the scroll’s path from the Nazi concentration camp Bergen-Belsen to the flight deck of Columbia.

Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop
Brick and Mortar and Love

I wonder if the promoters of last Saturday’s Record Store Day were cognizant of the fact that April 20 also is the day designated by stoners worldwide to honor all things related to marijuana consumption. If any two things went together like a horse and carriage, it’s music and pot smoking. I’m sure that the distributers of “Last Shop Standing: The Rise, Fall and Rebirth of the Independent Record Shop” and “Brick and Mortar and Love” consciously timed their video releases to Record Store Day. The national smoke-out, probably not so much. Both chronicle the history of indie stores, which, along with FM radio, brought unprogramed rock ’n’ roll to masses in the 1960-70s, only to overlooked and dismissed in the digital era. The so-called “vinyl revolution” has regenerated one segment of the music business, even as technology conspires to crush everything else. Indeed, that’s exactly what happened to the Louisville store profiled in “Brick and Mortar and Love,” which was an integral part of the city’s scene … until it’s wasn’t. “Last Shop Standing” takes a more anglophilic approach to the subject, adding testimony by Billy Bragg, Paul Weller and Johnny Marr. Anyone who frequents indie stores, or is a fan of “High Fidelity,” already knows that the success of such businesses depends on knowledgeable personnel, vast selection, listening stations, in-store concerts and an invitation to linger for hours. The deserve our support and attention.

PBS: Mr. Selfridge
Maverick: The Complete Second Season
A Haunting: The 2012 Season

The current attraction on PBS’ “Masterpiece Classic” is a mini-series set roughly in the same time period as “Downton Abbey” and “Upstairs/Downstairs,” but with a decidedly more middle-class inclination. It tells the story of American retailer Harry Selfridge’s dream of building a department store on the wrong end of London’s Oxford Street and modeling it after similar establishments in Chicago and Paris. Instead of hiding the merchandise in shelves and dictating what m’lord and m’lady should wear, it was Selfridge’s idea – not at all original, perhaps – to showcase the goods and let fashion dictate what will be worn. Around such a straightforward notion, Andrew Davies has imagined an extended mini-series that is less about business than shenanigans, which is OK with me. As such, “Mr. Selfridge” is the sherbet between the courses at “Masterpiece Classic.” Jeremy Piven wouldn’t have been most people’s first choice to play the cocky Yank, who sensed that women everywhere were chomping at the bit to be taken seriously as consumers. While there’s something a bit too contemporary about Piven’s approach to the role, it’s possible that British fans of “Entourage” consider him to be the quintessential American businessman. A second season has already be ordered. When Piven’s performance falters, the slack is picked up by such estimable actors as Frances O’Connor (“Madame Bovary”), Aisling Loftus (“Page Eight”), Zoe Tapper (“Zen”), Amanda Abbington (“Case Histories”) and Samuel West (“Any Human Heart”). As a background for melodrama, ambition and scandal, Selfridge’s provides as appropriate a setting as any Grand Hotel, ocean liner, resort or airport. It was based on the book “Shopping, Seduction and Mr. Selfridge,” by Lindy Woodhead. The Blu-ray contains the original British version of the mini-series.

It’s been 11 months since Warner Home Video made the first season of “Maverick” available on DVD, so, by now, even the most distracted of viewers should have gotten through the 1,350-minute package. Bingers surely would have inhaled the episodes over the long Memorial Day weekend. I can’t think of many better alternatives to going on a picnic or climbing a mountain than “Maverick.” Although the show does occasionally show its age, there aren’t many characters today who can match Bret and Bart for their roguish humor, natural charisma and ability to talk their way out of serious trouble. Neither did it matter much to the writers that the Mavericks could be found in a desert West saloon one episode and a Mississippi riverboat the next, always in the company of a great-looking woman. Being the sharpest-dressed guy within three states certainly didn’t hurt Bret’s chances with the ladies, either. The DVDs look pretty good, too.

The Discovery Channel’s supernatural anthology series, “A Haunting,” desperately wants us to believe that the stories being re-enacted each week have a basis in fact and eyewitness accounts aren’t simply the product of some loon’s twisted imagination. By now, fans of reality-based entertainment know when to go along with something that smells kind of funny and when nothing less than a complete suspension of disbelief is required to enjoy a show. What’s crazy about the people we meet in “A Haunting” is their willingness to remain in a basement or bedroom, when all evidence to the contrary is telling them to split immediately and set their house on fire behind them. In one episode, it becomes obvious to family members that they’ve moved into the wrong house when ghosts, demons and angels visit them at night, sometimes making a racket or breaking things. When they approach a priest to inquire about an exorcism, he advices them to go home and not listen to the noises, because, after a hundred years, the floorboards and foundation probably are still settling. It’s the religious equivalent of a doctor saying, “Take a couple aspirin and call me after you’ve turned blue.” The alternative, of course, would be to not have any more series about paranormal activity and how much fun would that be?

Marvel Knights: InHumans
It’s gotten to the point where you can’t tell the difference between the myriad Marvel mutants without a scorecard. There simply are too many to keep track of by simple memorization. Just when I had become familiar with the mutants in the “X-Men” franchise, “Marvel Knights: InHumans” arrives with a whole new collection of genetic freaks with powers that are even more earth-shattering and uncontrollable. The InHumans of the Terrigan Mists aren’t new to the Marvel universe, but they’re finally getting their time in the video sun. Here, they’re called upon to protect the kingdom of Attilan and its royal family from foreign invaders and turncoats within their own ranks. The motion comic has a dark and foreboding look that’s consistent with the BDSM tone of the stories.

A Car’s Life 3: The Royal Heist
I don’t know how the makers of the animated straight-to-video series, “A Car’s Life,” have avoided a full-scale assault by the notoriously litigious legal department at Disney/Pixar, but I’m guessing that no one at the Mouse House wants to call attention to a franchise that offers so little competition for their superior products. The four-tired characters bear more than a passing resemblance to those who star in the “Cars” franchise, but the similarities end there. As any viewer older than 5 could see without prompting or prodding, the “Car’s Life” cars are to the “Cars” cars what the Aflac duck is to Donald Duck. Still, Disney’s sicced its lawyers on copy cats far less threatening than these guys. Fact is, it’s almost impossible to find anyone on the Internet who’s paid much attention to the three “Car’s Life” installments, except to lambast them for being inferior to “Cars.” Clearly, too, it’s a safe bet that no kid is going to be so impressed by “A Car’s Life 3: The Royal Heist” that he or she would pass up the opportunity to see a third big-screen installment of “Cars,” purchase a branded toy or video game, or visit the new Cars Land attraction at Disney’s California Adventure. For the record, “The Royal Heist” describes what occurs when a limousine belonging to a queen arrives in Greasy Springs to attend a charity drag race. Sure enough, the protagonist of the series, the red sports car Sparky, manages to take his eyes off the limo long enough for the crown jewels to be stolen. The Dove-approved film doesn’t have a voicing cast that would be recognizable to anyone outside Spark Plug Entertainment.

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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