MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

The East: Blu-ray
Based solely on her drop-dead good looks, shiny blonde hair and ability to dominate the screen whenever the camera is pointed in her direction, 31-year-old Brit Marling probably could have her pick of television sitcoms and Hollywood rom-coms. Like Greta Gerwig, who emerged from the ranks of the mumblecore movement, though, she exudes a palpable aura of intelligence that prevents casting directors from steering her toward playing “dumb blond” characters or women whose only goal in life is to avoid being stood up at the altar. (There are enough of those wandering the streets of Hollywood, anyway.) Apart from a semi-glam role in “Arbitrage,” as Richard Gere’s daughter, Marling has chosen to write her way onto the screen. Surely, Alfred Hitchcock would have been able to harness her inherited Nordic beauty, striking physique and icy sensuality for a couple of hours, but, these days, even Grace Kelly, Kim Novak, Ingrid Bergman, Janet Leigh, Eva Marie Saint and Tippi Hedren would be hard-pressed to find suitable work. With only a half-dozen prominent roles on her resume, the onetime Goldman Sachs intern already exudes the intelligence and maturity of Catherine Deneuve and Susan Sarandon at mid-career. If you haven’t yet heard of Marling, it isn’t because the reporters at “ET” and “TMZ” have been shirking their responsibility as pop-culture-vultures. Marling has chosen to maintain a low profile as a collaborator and muse for indie writer/directors Zal Batmanglij (“Sound of My Voice”) and Mike Cahill (“Another Earth”), whose films are too issue-oriented and challenging for mainstream appeal. She’s the real deal, folks.

Marling co-wrote and stars in the strangely compelling anti-terrorist thriller, “The East,” which was co-produced by Ridley and Tony Scott and directed by Batmanglij. She plays Sarah Moss, an idealistic new recruit at an elite private intelligence firm. In our post-9/11 world, it’s exactly the kind of place that’s profited from corporate paranoia and the government’s willingness to entrust freelancers with duties once handled by the CIA, FBI and NSA … and we all know how that’s turned out. Instead of protecting industrial secrets and sussing out corruption, the company is attempting to infiltrate and subvert a band of eco-terrorists modeled after the Animal Liberation Front and the Earth Liberation Front. Although, in reality, the movement has become largely irrelevant, the company’s director (Patricia Clarkson) is anxious to convince her clients of the continued threat to officially sanctioned corporate shenanigans. Sarah is a true believer in the fight being waged by the government and multinational corporations against “anarchists” who would balance the scales of justice with eye-for-an-eye attacks. Here, the targets include conglomerates whose oil leaks kill defenseless animals, birds and fish, as well as pharmaceutical firms that knowingly sell harmful products to civilian and military interests. Sarah is able to infiltrate “The East” by dressing down to the point where she’s only average-pretty, hopping boxcars for transportation and eating discarded food, as is advocated by members of the “freeganism” movement. The radicals are prominently white, highly educated, extremely clever and totally focused on their missions.

Unlike the left-wing and anti-war agitators previously depicted in Hollywood films, these folks aren’t also obsessed with “free love,” drugs or random violence. This isn’t to say that they don’t practice goofy rituals of their own, just that Batmanglig and Marling’s screenplay takes them seriously as activists and individuals. Among other things, Sarah is allowed to maintain her basic convictions, even as she grows fond of the participants and begins to sympathize with their beliefs, if not their tactics. Besides the ever-formidable Clarkson, the cast includes Alexander Skarsgard, Ellen Page, Toby Kebbell, Shiloh Fernandez, Julia Ormond, Jamey Sheridan and Jason Ritter. They’re all very good here. Batmanglij maintains an even pace throughout most of “The East,” hitting the accelerator only towards the two-thirds mark. By splitting the narrative’s setting between the thickets of rural America and slick office buildings of corporate America, he also draws a line in the sand for his well-bred characters. The filmmakers also pose a question for viewers: is it morally acceptable for dedicated individuals to punish corporate executives, when our judicial system gives them a free pass? Similarly testing questions are asked of us by Marling in “Another World” and “Sound of My Voice.” The Blu-ray package adds a few deleted scenes; six short making-of featurettes and discussion points; and a Q&A moderated by journalist Malcolm Gladwell, at the film’s New York premiere. – Gary Dretzka

Gimme the Loot
The We and the I
These modestly budgeted and vastly under-screened indie dramedies — both of which overflow with fresh faces and natural talent — accomplish something that has eluded even the most experienced and celebrated chroniclers of growing up black, poor and untarnished by despair in New York City. While the teenagers in “Gimme the Loot” and “The We and the I” are absent parental control and guardianship, the plot doesn’t revolve around how they handle such freedom or dilemmas that can be traced to easy access to drugs, booze or clandestine sex. Neither do all of their daytime activities lead inevitably to the nighttime anarchy of “House Party” or “Project X.” This isn’t to say, however, that the filmmakers weren’t influenced by Spike Lee, Reginald Hudlin or, perhaps, John Hughes, because it would be difficult to find anyone under 40 who hasn’t enjoyed their movies. Unlike those artists’ products, these films reflect more of a slice-of-life approach.

In Adam Leon’s “Gimme the Loot,” we are asked to join a pair of graffiti artists – or, more precisely, taggers – in their quest to leave an indelible mark on New York, without firing a shot in anger or buying a building upon which they could be immortalized in neon. Tashiana Washington and Ty Hickson play best pals and fellow graffiti “writers” Sofia and Malcolm. When the movie opens, Sofia and Malcolm already are friends with a common goal: to “bomb the apple.” As the legend goes, no tagger has been able to spray-paint his or her personal logo on the enormous apple that rises up from the center-field stands at Shea Stadium, whenever a Mets player hits a home run. The old stadium is about to be razed, so precious little time is left to accomplish the feat. Apparently, Shea is a tougher nut to crack than the city’s railroad yards, bridges and billboards, because the only way to access the ballpark is by bribing a security guard. The toll is $500, but it might as well be $50,000 for the degree of difficulty involved in raising the money. Only someone supremely confident in their street savvy would even attempt such a thing, and Ty is already working with several strikes against him. An encounter with a wealthy young white woman, desperate to score some marijuana, offers Ty some reason for optimism, but that door shuts pretty quickly on him. Leon assembled a large cast of inexperienced actors for his $165,000 debut project and it would be difficult to find anything that more money would improve. The musical soundtrack is good, but never threatens to dominate the narrative, and, even at 81 minutes, “Gimme the Loot” never feels rushed or incomplete. It’s simply a portrait of city life most of us would never see, otherwise.

The second half of our Big Apple double-feature, “The We and the I,” has several things in common with “Gimme the Loot.” They include a cast of unknown actors – here, of the amateur variety – an urban backdrop undiluted by set designers and a super low budget. “The We and the I” takes place on a school bus that’s ferrying South Bronx teenagers home from their last day at school before summer vacation. The kids are all black or of a mixed-race background and, even if they’ve shared the same bus route all year long, they are by no means homogenized. Facing a break of nearly three months, they’re more spirited than usual and this occasionally results in temperamental outbursts. That’s not what the movie is about, either. Viewers aware of Gondry’s reputation as an experimental filmmaker are at a distinct disadvantage going into the picture because we keep waiting for something out of the ordinary to happen. His fingerprints are only occasionally visible and they show up outside the context of the ride home. Gondry was inspired to create “The We and the I” after listening to the stories told by Bronx teenagers enrolled in “The Point,” a program designed to provide them exposure to arts and activism. Gondry’s trademark playfulness shines through only when he allows a passenger’s imagination to take flight and in the winnowing process as the number of students hits two. (The bus driver plays a key role, as well, but primarily as a parental stand-in and tool to accelerate the narrative.) “The We and the I” clearly wasn’t made in anticipation of wide commercial appeal, but I can’t imagine any teenager, educator or observer of big-city mores not finding something entertaining in it. – Gary Dretzka

Iron Man III 3: Blu-ray
The third installment in the “Iron Man” series made more than $1.2 billion at the international box office, roughly $400 million of that total courtesy of U.S. audiences. If Disney elected to open it in foreign markets almost two weeks ahead of its release to avoid possibly negative reviews from grumpy American critics, it needn’t have worried. They were in the sequel’s corner as much as any geeked-out fan of the Marvel collection. (And, yes, there were a few detractors among the faithful, as well.) That’s a backwards way of saying, “Iron Man III” is going to kill in DVD, Blu-ray 2D and Blu-ray 3D no matter what anyone with access to an Internet review site has to add to the discussion. Despite having gotten my fill of comic-book superheroes with “The Avengers” – of which “IMIII” is merely an extension — I was completely won over by Robert Downey Jr.’s delightful screen presence here, the evolution of Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts from damsel-in-distress to hard-ass defender of liberty and the introduction of budding star Ty Simpkins. Watching Ben Kingsley devour the scenery as the media-savvy terrorist, Mandarin, also is a blast to watch. After saving the world in “IMII,” Tony Stark attempts to enjoy a well-earned hiatus in his Malibu pad. All hell breaks loose when it comes under attack by helicopters wielding Sidewinder missiles. Like a turtle removed from its shell, Stark is forced to go into battle without the benefit of body armor. He’s also required to deal with a new rival, Aldrich Killian (Guy Pearce), whose bitterness over rebuffs by Stark and Potts fuels the acceleration of a plot involving his Extremis virus. Frankly, I lost track of the storyline when the different iron suits began to blur my eyes and I had to refer to to get on the right path.

I was pulled back into the action during a terrific set piece involving an attack on Air Force One and Tony’s encounter with the inventive youngster from Tennessee, Harley Keener. At first, Tony appears to brush the kid off with some rude wisecracks, but his contributions clearly will be put to better use later in the story. For celebrated screenwriter and second-time director Shane Blake, “IMIII” represents a successful return to the big screen after an eight-year absence. He co-authored the script with freshman scribe Drew Pearce. Hollywood can never get enough action specialists, one supposes. I haven’t seen the Blu-ray 3D edition, but, because “IMIII” wasn’t shot with the format in mind, viewers shouldn’t to expect the same impressive audio/video presentation as the Blu-ray 2D. The bonus package includes Black and Pearce’s commentary; deleted and extended scenes; a gag reel; a preview of “Thor: The Dark World”; a behind-the-scenes featurette; a “deconstruction” of the Air Force One sequence and a labor-intensive second-screen experience. Best of all is the Marvel One-Shot short film, “Agent Carter,” in which Hayley Atwell plays Steve Rogers/Captain America’s wartime flame and gung-ho novice, Peggy Carter. – Gary Dretzka

Room 237
V/H/S 2: Blu-ray
When done right, a DVD’s commentary track should answer most of the questions a viewer has about the movie they’ve just watched or re-watched. Too often, though, the commentators skip the details and stick to amusing anecdotes and information we could glean from a press release on the movie’s website. “Room 237” is a documentary that unspools very much like any unauthorized commentary track might. In addition to being more than a little bit nutty, Rodney Ascher’s thought-provoking conceit is conversational, inviting and loaded with Kubrick trivia. The title not only refers to the mysterious hotel room in Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of Stephen King’s novel, “The Shining,” but tangentially with Kubrick and King’s preoccupation with numerical permutations. It’s well known that King wasn’t a fan of the movie. In his opinion, Kubrick strayed too far from the story and its mythology, while ignoring King’s attempts to restrain his him. (Could the author have expected the leopard to change his spots?) Along with more than a few readers, King was much happier with the 1997 mini-series of the same title.

Well after “The Shining” found traction among audiences and critics, Kubrick obsessives found the time to wonder why he tinkered with so many key elements of the novel and inserted as many seemingly unrelated angles as he did. These included an anti-Semitic version of “The Three Little Pigs” cartoon, Nazi typewriters, the genocide of Native Americans and things that normally would be dismissed as mistakes in continuity. Ascher also revisits a theory that forwards the idea Kubrick staged the moon landing for NASA. More ambitious theorists are encouraged to somehow project a backwards rendition of “The Shining” over a screen playing the movie as it is supposed to be seen. You won’t believe who Jack Nicholson morphs into at one point in the movie. If the director hadn’t been such a mysterious fellow and “The Shining” hadn’t scored at the box-office, “Room 237” would be given the same weight as 40-year-old rumors about Paul McCartney dying before the release of the “Abbey Road” album. At 102 minutes, however, the documentary begs comparison to unofficial investigations into the JFK assassination. If “Room 237” is weighted in favor of the existence of a grand, overreaching ego trip, Ascher had the decency to add a panel discussion in which all sides of the issue are represented, defended or lampooned. None of this should deter newcomers from sampling “The Shining” or, for that matter, the novel and mini-series. The movie is perfectly fine the way it is. There’s also commentary, the “Secrets of ‘The Shining’” panel discussion from the First Annual Stanley Film Festival, 11 deleted interviews, a featurette on the music and a discussion on the poster design with Artist Aled Lewis.

Snowbound hotels and abandoned houses are scary enough, without the added intrigue of video-cassettes left behind in the wake of one heinous crime or another. “V/H/S/2” extends what is essentially an emerging straight-to-DVD franchise. Both opened in a handful of theaters, but anthology series have traditionally worked better on the smaller screen. Here, private investigators break into an empty house and, instead of finding a missing student, discover a cache of VHS tapes. Each contains found footage of a horrible event, typically involving paranormal circumstances. Could they be linked to the young man’s disappearance? Except for the excessive deployment of jump-scares and eardrum-shattering noise, “Phase 1 Clinical Trials,” might very well have been inspired by the ghosts in “The Shining.” It was directed by Adam Wingard and written by Simon Barrett, collaborators on “You’re Next” and the “Q” segment of “The ABCs of Death.” Among the other contributors are Jason Eisener (“Hobo With a Shotgun”), Gareth Evans (“The Raid”), Gregg Hale and Eduardo Sanchez (“Blair Witch”) and Jamie Nash (“Lovely Molly”). – Gary Dretzka

Unfinished Song
There are three very good reasons to pick up a copy of “Unfinished Song” and their faces all appear prominently on the cover of the DVD: Terence Stamp, Vanessa Redgrave and Gemma Arterton. Otherwise, your enjoyment of Paul Andrew Williams’ two-hankie musical dramedy will depend on how willing one is to be manipulated by old Brits refusing to go gentle into that good night. Stamp plays Arthur Harris, a grumpy pensioner whose wife, Marion, is only able to endure the final stages of a terminal illness in the company of the men and women in her choral group. The senior ensemble is directed by Arterton’s character, Elizabeth, whose upbeat personality is contagious. When Marion does pass over, Harris is left with a void in his heart that he won’t let his estranged son and granddaughter to fill. If you’re guessing that Elizabeth will attempt to chip away at Arthur’s thick crust and convince him to find a reason to go on living, give yourself an “A” in Film Tropes 101. If you’re also willing to bet that his recovery will somehow include finding his singing voice, add a “plus” to that mark. No matter how obvious that scenario is, “Unfinished Song” (a.k.a., “Song for Marion”) has a couple of other neat tricks up its sleeve. I don’t want to ghettoize such movies, but, clearly, Williams is targeting the same disenfranchised viewers who embraced “Quartet,” “The Best Exotic Marigold Hotel,” “How About You?,” “All Together,” “My Afternoons With Margueritte” and “Is Anybody There?” Despite the presence of highly recognizable actors, none of these films was made specifically for American audiences … unless they still read books and newspapers, and their favorite cable channel is TMC. – Gary Dretzka

Augustine: Blu-ray
This weekend, the Showtime network debuts its much anticipated mini-series, “Masters of Sex.” It describes how research conducted by Dr. William Masters and Virginia Johnson in the 1950s-60s led to an understanding of human sexual response and sexual dysfunction. Anyone who wants to know how far we’ve come in the last 140 years need only pick up a copy of the French rom-dram “Augustine,” or, for that matter, “Hysteria,” “A Dangerous Method” and “The Road to Wellville.” (And, even after all that time, how many men still couldn’t find a woman’s clitoris with a road map?) Alice Winocour’s film is based on the work of Dr. Jean-Martin Charcot, known in Belle Epoque Paris as the “Napoleon of neuroses.” Among Charcot’s many areas of interest was the condition then popularly known as hysteria and if it might be recognized and treated through hypnotherapy. In some cultures, such seizures were linked to demonic possession and the only permanent cure was exorcism or execution. This was because the victims often clutched their breasts and genitalia during their convulsions. Charcot’s stated reason for pursuing a cure was to put an end to such prejudice and persecution. One way to do so was to convince the medical community that hysteria had been misdiagnosed all along. This is what Charcot told his patient, Augustine, when she balked at being put on display, naked, before galleries of curious doctors.

French singing sensation, Soko, plays the 19-year-old kitchen maid, who comes to Charcot’s attention after suffering a seizure while serving dinner to her employer’s guests. It leaves her partially paralyzed and with one eyelid permanently shut. Charcot pokes and prods Augustine in an attempt to localize the problem, but, it isn’t until he hypnotizes her and induces an attack that he is able to formulate a theory. Reading the pain on her face tells us a different story. Part of Winocour’s premise here is that the “peep-show” atmosphere was nearly as hurtful to the doctor’s patients as the seizures and paralysis, not that it will come as any relief to them now. It was, however, considered to be an evil necessary for the advance of his science, facilities and financial well-being. By the time Augustine begins to feel relief from the paralysis, she’s fallen in love with the married Charcot. For his part, the doctor is attracted to something primal in Augustie. Soko and Vincent Lindon turn in masterful performances in the sometimes agonizing roles of doctor and patient.

The only thing that bothered me about “Augustine” was the distinct lack of orgasmic pleasure on display during the girl’s seizures, which leave her twisted like a pretzel. Other patients bear witness to the curative powers of sexual release, but Augustine only looks miserable. It wouldn’t be the first or last time a woman would be disappointed by a man who’s in a position to manipulate her genitalia. The Blu-ray includes archival photographs of the real-life Augustine and other patients at Charcot’s hospital; Q&A interviews with Soko and Winocour; two of Soko’s music videos; and, best of all, two wonderful shorts by the writer/director. – Gary Dretzka

John Carpenter’s Prince of Darkness: Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
Halloween: 35th Anniversary Edition: Blu-ray
Psycho II/Psycho III: Collector’s Editions: Blu-ray
Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of ‘Friday the 13th’
A lot of interesting ideas are explored in John Carpenter’s underappreciated 1987 genre thriller, “Prince of Darkness.” Not the least of them involves the biblically prophesized showdown between the forces of good and evil and whether modern science might play a role in its outcome. That the question is posed within the fuzzy parameters of a quintessential B-movie format only makes it that much more accessible to the rank-and-file audience. Here, the Dark Lord has been laying low for hundreds of years in a large cylinder — full to the brim with green goop — in the basement of an inner-city church. How it got there is pretty much beside the point. We learn of its existence after an elderly priest is found dead, clutching an ornate silver box that contains a key. Apparently, the priest was about to reveal to Church officials the existence of the cylinder and it contained. Donald Pleasence plays a priest who’s summoned to the abandoned church and school to determine what, if anything, the late cleric’s undelivered proclamation might have revealed. Unwilling to entrust the future of the world to the power of the Eucharist, alone, Pleasance’s “Priest” invites Professor Birack (Victor Wong) and his team of theoretical-physics students to join him in the investigation. As they move their computers and sensors into the school’s empty classrooms, Satan’s minions gather across from the church in the guise of disheveled vagrants. Among them is a street prophet played by Alice Cooper. No shit. As ludicrous as the events depicted in “Prince of Darkness” are, at times, it’s as unpretentiously entertaining as anything currently gathering dust video stores. The Blu-ray presentation also works to the benefit of Carpenter’s 25-year-old special effects. The package includes “Sympathy for the Devil: An Interview with John Carpenter”; “Alice at the Apocalypse,” an amusing interview with the outrageous singer; “The Messenger,” an all-new interview with actor and special-visual-effects supervisor Robert Grasmere; and “Hell on Earth,” a look at the film’s score with co-composer (with Carpenter) Alan Howarth; an alternate opening from TV version; “Horror’s Hallowed Ground,” a locations tour with Shout’s resident guide, Sean Clark; a Q&A “Easter egg” from 2012’s Screamfest; and commentary with Carpenter and actor Peter Jason.

If ever a film needed no introduction, it’s Carpenter’s landmark slasher film, “Halloween,” which is newly available in a snazzy “35th Anniversary Edition.” Coincidentally, Pleasance also plays a key role here, as the doctor who wants to bring demented sister-killer Michael Myers back to the institution from which he’s just escaped. It is, of course, better known as the picture that made a star, if not yet an object of lustful desire of Jamie Lee Curtis. The Blu-ray arrives in a special “digibook” package, with an embossed cover, foil accents and an attached booklet, featuring 20 pages of photos and an essay about the film. More to the point of such re-releases, it benefits greatly from a much-needed HD upgrade, overseen by the techies at Anchor Bay. Other newly created bonus features include commentary with writer/director Carpenter and Curtis and “The Night She Came Home,” a documentary-style piece showing what happens when geek-goddess Curtis attends a fan convention. The “vintage” add-ons are “On Location: 25 Years Later,” marketing material and footage from the sanitized TV version.

Among the many unwritten rules of filmmaking in Hollywood is, “Always mess with success.” It encourages studios and producers to milk every dollar they can from brand-new series. It applies as much to such gold-plated characters as James Bond, Bruce Wayne, Clark Kent and Vin Diesel’s Dominic Toretto, as to such floundering genre series, “Final Destination,” “Resident Evil” and “Saw”; lazy sequels to “The Hangover” and “Meet the Parents”; the increasingly tired “Die Hard” and “Underworld” titles; and even “Indiana Jones,” “Pirates of the Caribbean” and “Men in Black,” whose most-recent performances were inflated by overseas receipts and DVD/Blu-ray revenues. Although the pursuit of franchise success is as old as “The Thin Man,” “Andy Hardy,” Inspector Clouseau and Sergio Leone’s “Dollar Trilogy,” it didn’t become institutionalized until the mid-1970s, with Francis Ford Coppola’s prequel/sequel to “The Godfather” and John Frankenheimer’s follow-up to William Friedkin’s “French Connection.” It wasn’t enough for Coppola to be canonized for the critical and commercial success of “The Godfather Part II.” He reinvented how business would be done in Hollywood by the chronological reassembling of “Part I” and “Part II” for television, using deleted footage and editing out the naughty bits. The ratings success of NBC’s “Godfather Saga” inspired Paramount to order a re-edit of the re-edit, “The Godfather Epic,” for the less-censorial video-cassette and LaserDisc market. After the 1992 release of “The Godfather Part III,” the process would begin again, inspiring even more collections in DVD and Blu-ray. Ditto, for the afterlife of “Apocalypse Now.”

It wasn’t until the early 1980s that Universal decided to risk tarnishing the reputation of one its most cherished titles – and theme park attractions – by green-lighting a sequel to Alfred Hitchcock’s “Psycho.” Studio executives considered releasing “Psycho II” direct-to-video, but took a chance on a theatrical run, anyway. Fortuitously, Anthony Perkins was game for a remake and, after 23 years, it was probably time for Norman Bates to be released from the hospital for the criminally insane. Naturally, he returns to the Bates Motel, where he’ll face the vengeful wrath of Vera Miles, once again playing the sister of Janet Leigh’s unfortunate Marion Crane. The picture was greeted by surprisingly positive reviews and box-office returns sufficiently large to inspire a “Psycho III” and, a few years later, the prequel, “Psycho IV: The Beginning,” again with Perkins on board. “PIII” picks up a month after the events described in “PII,” which starred Meg Tilly, Robert Loggia and Dennis Franz. In “PIII,” made with Perkins at the helm, Norman is allowed a girlfriend (Diana Swarwid). Jeff Fahey plays a mysterious drifter and Roberta Maxwell is a nosy reporter investigating how such fiends as Bates win parole. (Hint: blame Ronald Reagan for cutting funds to mental-health facilities.) When someone dressed like Mommy Dearest goes on a killing spree, guess who the cops make the primary suspect. The movie didn’t make nearly as much money as its predecessors — in 2013-equivalent dollars, anyway — but it probably didn’t cost a lot to produce, either. If anything, though, it received better notices than “PII.” Shout!Factory’s “Collector’s Edition” packages come loaded with interviews, both vintage and fresh; new commentary with screenwriters Tom Holland and Charles Edward Pogue; and the reflections of body-double Brinke Stevens and effects creator Michael Westmore. “PIV” didn’t go anywhere, unless one considers A&E’s “Bates Motel” to be the prequel series Universal intended to produce in the early 1990s. It’s a good thing, the studio waited 20 years. The show has been renewed for a second season, beginning in 2014.

In Warner/Paramount’s recently released “Friday the 13th: The Complete Collection,” an excerpt from the print edition of the definitive “Crystal Lake Memories: The Complete History of ‘Friday the 13th,’” was included in the package. Fans who haven’t gotten their fill of Jason Voorhees – or have just finished binging – can now pick up the 400-minute-long documentary version. Narrated by Corey Feldman, it traces the franchise from its humble beginnings in 1980 at a New Jersey summer camp to the blockbuster release of its 2009 “reboot.” The four-disc set includes hundreds of rare and never-before-seen photographs, film clips, outtakes, archival documents, conceptual art and behind-the-scenes footage. There also are interviews with more than 150 cast and crew members, spanning all twelve films and the television series. – Gary Dretzka

A Letter to Three Wives: Blu-ray
Joseph L. Mankiewicz walked away from the 1950 Academy Awards ceremony with Best Director and Best Writing/Screenplay honors for “A Letter to Three Wives,” losing a Best Picture statuette to “All the King’s Men.” A witty rom-com, with a whodunit thrown in for good measure, it stars Ann Sothern, Linda Darnell and Jeanne Crain as small-town wives, who waste much of their free time gossiping at the local country club. It isn’t until they receive a letter from an absent fourth friend that they begin doubting the strength of their marriages. Addy claims she’s having an affair with one of the ladies’ husbands, but doesn’t identify the cheater. Instead of hiring a private detective to investigate, Deborah, Lora Mae and Rita burn calories fretting about the rumor. Meanwhile, Addy adds fuel to the fire by sending gifts and letters to the men, making sure the women see them, as well. Unaware of the first letter, the men dismiss the gifts as mere signs of friendship. The wives, of course, know better. Mankiewicz encourages viewers to participate in the guessing game, but only leaves us with the barest of clues. We aren’t even shown a portrait of Addy. The sharp and leading dialogue is what keeps “A Letter to Three Wives” from looking like an antique … that, and the fine digital transfer. The Blu-ray adds commentary with Kenneth Geist, Cheryl Lower and Christopher Mankiewicz, a 45-minute “Biography” segment on Darnell and a short clip from Fox Movietone News on the 22nd Academy Awards ceremony. Thirty-four years later, porn purveyor VCA would release “Alexandra,” an unusually well-conceived homage – not to be confused with the now-popular XXX parodies of hit titles — to “A Letter to Three Wives.” While I’m not suggesting that many readers could benefit from comparing the two pictures in the privacy of their own home, anyone looking for a novel reason to sample vintage porn might want to give it a look. – Gary Dretzka

Fill the Void
One of the basic tenets of life in the United States is that all Americans have the right to practice their faith without interference from the government or people who would prefer not to see certain religious beliefs flourish. Even so, in 1878, the U.S. Supreme Court unanimously ruled that plural marriage, as practiced by many members of the Mormon Church, was not protected by the Constitution. In 1994, American Indian Religious Freedom Act overrode efforts by states – approved by the Supreme Court – to deny the Native American Church the freedom to use peyote in rituals that pre-date the Constitution. The borders grow fuzzier when discussing the imposition of religious or cultural rites on children by their parents or religious leaders. What does it say about our country that, by re-classifying female circumcision as “female genital mutilation” or “female genital cutting,” parental discretion can be criminalized, while the male- circumcision rite is protected by law? The court will have to cross that bridge someday soon. Starting with the re-emergence of Christian fundamentalism as a political force during the Reagan presidency and compounded by increased media scrutiny of male-dominated, faith-based communities — from Williamsburg to Kabul, Waco to the Vatican — the whole notion of freedom of choice for children and women has been thrown open to question. After watching Israeli director Rama Burshtein’s exquisitely crafted and heart-wrenching family drama, “Fill the Void,” I was left with more of those sorts of questions than answers.

The film is set in a tight ultra-Orthodox community in Tel Aviv, where one Hasidic family’s way of life is about to be shaken to the core. The oldest daughter, Esther, is nine months into her first pregnancy, when, with warning, disaster strikes. After collapsing in her bedroom, Esther is rushed to the hospital, where, after delivering a son, she dies. The entire community is devastated by the tragedy, even if it can be attributed to God’s will. In the cruelest of all possible coincidences and over the course of single afternoon, her husband, Yochay, will be required to participate in the burial of Esther and celebrate the circumcision of his newborn child. Tradition dictates that mourning will soon take a backseat to finding a second wife for the handsome and virile Yochay. The most likely suitor is a woman Yochay’s known for most of his life, but hasn’t seen in many years. The problem is that she lives in Belgium and even the possibility of losing her grandson, so soon after her daughter’s death, drives Esther’s mother into a frenzy of grief. Yochay may sympathize with his mother-in-law’s dilemma, but he also understands what’s expected of him as a father and man of faith. In desperation, his mother-in-law comes up a compromise that would sound as if it were inspired by King Solomon, if only it didn’t threaten to ruin the life of Esther’s18-year-old sister, Shira. Without seeking anyone’s guidance, except the boss rabbi, the woman offers her daughter’s hand in marriage to Yochay. For all sorts of reasons, the only person who considers this to be a win-win proposal is the Shira’s mother.

Although Shira (Hadas Yaron) hasn’t spent her formative years watching MTV Israel or reading fashion magazine and planning where she’ll go to college, like her peers in the secular world, she’s nowhere ready to become a mother and wife. She wants to have some say, at least, in choosing a husband and would appreciate having a nine-month headstart on preparing for parenthood. The role of a wife in a Hasidic household is limited to what is expected of her by her husband and religious tradition. Shira isn’t averse to entering such a life, but not if it means sharing the bed of her sister’s husband. She would prefer her husband to be every bit as awkwardly virginal as she is on her wedding night. The prospect of breaking her mother’s heart also feels her with dread.

Burshtein’s parallel conceit in “Fill the Void” is maintaining the integrity of the decision-making process, without putting the weight of her own fingers on the scale. The American-born writer/director doesn’t factor into the debate any of the considerations she knows would be relevant to women and teenage girls outside the Hasidic community. While she doesn’t excoriate the second-class status of the women we meet here, neither does she ignore it. Burshtein lays out the facts as she sees them and allows us to eavesdrop on the process of coming up with a solution, good or bad. These aren’t people we would have met anywhere else and she would prefer us not to prejudge them based on ignorance and unfamiliarity with the environment. As Burshtein explains in a Q&A interview included in the bonus package, it’s a small miracle she was able to tell this story in any sort of authoritative way. The Hasidim are notoriously camera-shy and suspicious of media coverage. (Anyone who saw Boaz Yakin’s ridiculous “A Price Above Rubies” would immediately sympathize with their stance.) The celebrations and rituals shown in the movie feel entirely authentic and non-rehearsed. One is left to wonder, though, if the women we meet in “Fill the Void” might be assaulted if they attempted to pray at the Western Wall or if they would even dare try. – Gary Dretzka

In the House: Blu-ray
Nothing excites a teacher more than finding a student who truly wants to excel and, with tutelage, could become the one in a million who goes on to achieve something great. In Francois Ozon’s smart and only slightly creepy “In the House,” a dyspeptic literature teacher with the unlikely name of Germain Germain discovers a cocky16-year-old who appears to possess just such a gift. In his nightly perusal of essays assigned to a class of typically bored teenagers, Germain (Fabrice Luchini) is struck by the precise description of a sexy MILF (Emmanuelle Seigner) the boy, Claude (Ernst Umhauer), encounters at the home of one of his friends. Germain is so impressed that he reads the passage to his wife, Jeanne (Kristin Scott Thomas), to see if she agrees with his assessment of the boy’s talent. She’s likewise surprised by the fact that the boy ends each chapter with, “To Be Continued.” Germain critiques Claude’s essay, while also encouraging him to live up to his promise of continuing the story. Claude decides that the best way to spy on the gorgeous housewife is to volunteer to help his somewhat nerdy friend with their math assignment. When the boy comes home with an “A,” Claude practically is invited to become one of the family. In fact,