MCN Columnists
Gary Dretzka

By Gary Dretzka

The DVD Wrapup

JFK 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition: Blu-ray
American Experience: JFK: Like No Other
Secrets of the Dead: JFK, One PM Central Standard Time
JFK: A New World Order
All the President’s Men: Blu-ray
I doubt if anything new about the assassination of President John F. Kennedy will be revealed in the run-up to the 50th anniversary next week, but, if any co-conspirators do come forward, it’s likely that Oprah will try to elicit a tear or two from them or, perhaps, convince Marina Oswald to come out of solitude for the occasion. Or, maybe, a long-held secret will be revealed during half-time of the Thanksgiving football games. That would be perfect, I think. True JFK obsessives don’t have to wait until the Macy’s parade is over to get their fill of the anniversary minutiae, though. Warners’ “JFK 50 Year Commemorative Ultimate Collector’s Edition” may have an unwieldy title, but the box set contains as wide a variety on the subject as anyone is likely to find on television or anywhere else. Those of us who continue to doubt the single-gunman theory can turn here to the director’s cut of “JFK,” with or without commentary by Oliver Stone, who also produced “Beyond JFK: The Question of Conspiracy,” as well as deleted/extended scenes and an alternate ending. Those who would prefer to recall the late president’s heroism in World War II will find here, for the first time on DVD, “PT 109.” With Cliff Robertson at the helm of the vessel, it recounts the future president’s now-legendary wartime exploits in the South Pacific. Kennedy’s political triumphs and challenges are chronicled in a pair of documentaries, the all-new “JFK Remembered: 50 Years Later” and re-mastered 1964 “John F. Kennedy: Years of Lightning, Day of Drums,” with excerpts from many of his speeches, as well as footage of his swearing in and inaugural address.

Given the reluctance of America’s best and brightest to run for public office, we’ve been stuck with politicians lacking in most of the attributes once associated with leadership. For all of his well-known faults, Kennedy was a leader. His administration may have stumbled out of the gate, but, in the year before his death, he had regained his stride. Instead of leadership, we now are stuck with a Congress less interested in governing and compromise than staging moronic filibusters, cutting economic relief for poor people and appearing on Fox News. Americans born after the wave of assassinations in the 1960s must wonder what it was about John F. Kennedy that made different from the many bozos and hacks who’ve followed him in the offices he once held. The special 240-minute “American Experience” presentation, “JFK: Like No Other,” sweeps the leaves off of his familial and political roots, while also taking viewers on a journey from his schoolboy days to the White House. Along the way, the producers attempt to separate myth from reality, and clear the air on everything from his father’s role in molding a president, to his true political legacy. The episodes are fascinating, especially in their revelations about JFK’s poor health and early days in Washington as a wet-behind-the-ears congressman. Kennedy was no saint and he wasn’t immune from the evils of selling himself as a product or brand. Watching “JFK,” though, one can’t help but wonder why this country no longer aspires to greatness. If nothing else, the archival newsreel footage and home movies — as well as interviews with a wide range of observers – once again leaves us wondering how the world might have changed, if only Kennedy had somehow survived the shooting in Dallas.

The special two-hour episode of PBS’ “Secrets of the Dead” series, “JFK: One PM Central Standard Time,” takes a tight-focus look on the assassination, by studying the activity in the CBS newsroom from the moment the President was shot until Walter Cronkite’s emotional pronouncement of his death. It was at 1 p.m. CST, on November 22, 1963, that President Kennedy was declared dead at Parkland Hospital. Nothing about what happened on that day was neat and tidy. The chaos of the first 108 minutes after the shooting is reflected from several points of view. It is narrated by George Clooney.

Anyone looking for widespread conspiracy theories in Mill Creek’s “JFK: A New World Order,” is likely to be sorely disappointed. Although the single-shooter debate continues apace, “A New World Order” isn’t linked to the paranoid wet dreams of the New World Order crowd. Essentially, it provides a made-to-order eight-part mini-series look at all things Kennedy for consumption by a broad audience spectrum. While it lacks much of the sophistication of “JFK: Like No Other,” “A New World Order” uses the same methodology in creating a full portrait of Kennedy’s life and times.

Three tragedies play out in the new Blu-ray edition of “All the President’s Men.” One unfolds during the course of the movie, itself, and the others in the new documentary, “All the President’s Men Revisited.” If ever there were an American politician who could have been invented by William Shakespeare, it was President Richard M. Nixon. We know all too well the tragedy — as defined in literature, anyway — behind the downfall of a man who defined the term, “hubris.” Alan J. Pakula’s exciting political thriller is just as interested in how a a young pair of polar-opposite journalists kept digging until they hit pay dirt, turning a good story into something monumental. For his part, Nixon was a man who clawed his way to the presidency and doesn’t now seem nearly as evil as he once was portrayed to be. The question remains: with a second term firmly in his grasp, why did he risk everything by approving plans for an end run around the political process. In “All the President’s Men Revisited,” too, we are reminded of the power of the printed word and the necessity for preserving a vital and free press. The tragedy that continues to unfold in newsrooms across the U.S. has, with rare exceptions, left newspapers unable to meet their First Amendment obligations. If a story of the same magnitude were to happen today, it’s entirely likely that newspapers wouldn’t have the manpower or inclination to cover it as well as the Washington Post did Watergate. It’s also likely that the issue would be so clouded in Internet fog as to be indecipherable. In the third tragedy, we witness how Democrats and Republicans worked together for the common good of the country and how a Supreme Court comprised of Republican and Democratic appointees spoke with a single voice on extremely important questions. Today, of course, Congress is too divided along partisan lines to accomplish anything of substance and Supreme Court justices base their decisions on ideological beliefs outside the law. Those are the lessons to be learned from repeat viewings of “All the President’s Men.” The documentary includes interviews with many of the living participants in Watergate coverage and the congressional hearings, as well as younger voices to add generational perspective. – Gary Dretzka

Man of Steel: Blu-ray
Ever since Superman first arrived on the scene in 1938, he’s proven to be a man for his times. His powers would evolve with the popularity of his comics, as did his backstory. His appeal wasn’t limited to DC comics, of course. It, too, fed off of every new technological leap forward in his lifetime. A newspaper strip followed close on the heels of the comic book, with a radio show and ancillary products preceding the introduction of cartoons, a live-action movie serial and, in 1951, the beloved TV show, starring George Reeves. Because none of the great supervillains appeared on the television series, Superman was able to focus on crime, espionage and playing mind games with Lois Lane and Jimmy Olsen. Special effects were mostly limited to leaping out of windows in tall buildings and “flying” into winds created by giant fans. Superman’s costume was laughable, but, given the limits of early television, not completely absurd. The modern “Superman” era began with the first Richard Donner/Christopher Reeves collaboration, which would cost more to make than “Jaws” and “Star Wars” combined. As the franchise marched forward, so, too, did the race to create ever more amazing special effects and set designs. Tin toys, polyester capes and spinoff comics would give way, as well, to video games, new TV series and a separate lines of direct-to-VHS movies.

The $215-million price tag on Zach Snyder’s “Man of Steel” was on a par with Bryan Singer’s 2006 “Superman Returns.” Snyder and co-writer David Goyer’s story revisits the character’s origin story, so wondrously depicted in Donner’s films. The destruction of the planet Krypton plays bigger than ever before, while young Clark’s growing pains are given added emotional depth. (Here, he’s played by Henry Cavill, Dylan Strawberry and Cooper Timberline. It’s heartening to watch Clark come to grips with his sometimes frightful superpowers, under the guidance of Martha and Jonathan Kent (Diane Lane, Kevin Costner). When Clark inadvertently triggers a device given him by his birth father (Russell Crowe), it draws the attention of the Kryptonian fascist General Zog and his warrior companion, Faora-Ul (Michael Shannon, Antje Traue). Zog had led a coup against the ruling council, but was banished to the Phantom Zone after killing Superman’s father. After the depleted planet explodes, Zog is released from captivity, He vows to track down Kal-El, the son of his nemesis, and extract the genetic codex implanted in his cells. The rouge Kryptonians are very powerful and credibly frightening, especially in their body armor and breathing apparatus.

After the death of Clark’s adoptive father, he wanders the countryside doing odd jobs and perfecting his ability to slip away unnoticed when someone needs saving. When a Kryptonian scout ship is discovered embedded in a glacier, Clark is given the opportunity to communicate with the dead Jor-El and learn about his hopes for his son’s destiny. It’s here that reporter Lois Lane (Amy Adams) discovers that Clark isn’t like other boys raised in Smallville, USA, and she threatens to blow his cover. Fortunately, her editor, Perry White (Laurence Fishburne), decides that it’s too far-fetched for publication. Undaunted, Lois decides to trace Clark’s roots back to Smallville. From here on in, Snyder ratchets up the action sequences to the point where they’re just as noisy and preposterous – albeit, well-performed before acres of green-screen backgrounds and miles of wire — as any found in competing superhero franchises. Fans and young newcomers, alike, should find “Man of Steel” to be sufficiently entertaining to take another look at it in Blu-ray 2D or 3D, while awaiting the already announced “Batman vs. Superman,” with Cavill and Ben Affleck in the lead roles. The Blu-ray package adds the 26-minute featurettes, “Strong Characters, Legendary Roles” and “All Out Action”; “Krypton Decoded,” with Sprayberry commenting on the visual-effects sequence of the destruction of Krypton; an animated short commemorating Superman’s 75th anniversary; “New Zealand: Home to Middle Earth,” a teaser for the “Hobbit” trilogy; and a second disc that contains “Journey of Discovery: Creating Man of Steel,” a feature-length commentary in the feature film is presented again, with interstitial interviews and background featurettes, and quasi-documentary, “Planet Krypton.” – Gary Dretzka

Turbo: Blu-ray 2D/3D
From DreamWorks Animation comes this modern-day take on the fable of the Tortoise and the Hare. Standing in for the tortoise in “Turbo” is a need-for-speed garden snail, Theo (a.k.a., Turbo), whose ambition in life is to compete against his hero, Guy Gagné, five-time winner of the Indianapolis 500. It takes a freak accident to provide Turbo with the wherewithal to realize his dream. It also takes money, for which he turns to Tito, co-owner of a taco truck who senses an opportunity to attract customers by staging snail races. At this point, even if the resemblance between “Turbo” and “Cars” is entirely coincidental, it’s impossible to ignore. Kids probably won’t mind the similarities between the two animated features, no many how many times they’ve watched their “Cars” DVD. For its part, “Turbo” is funny, fast, loud, bright and shiny enough to hold viewers’ attention for a couple of hours. The Blu-ray 2D/3D offers a deleted scene in hand-drawn form; “Smoove Move’s Music Maker,” with music videos featuring songs from the film; “Team Turbo: Tricked Out,” on the creation of the snail’s shell attachments; “The Race,” in which director David Soren provides an introduction for a storyboard sequence that eventually did make it into the film; the interactive, ”Shell Creator” and “Be an Artist!,” which allow kids to design their own shells and racers; and “Champions Corner,” where host Paul Page interviews Turbo one-on-one; and a digital copy. The lively soundtrack features songs by Snoop Dogg, Run-D.M.C., Tom Jones. Pit Bull, House of Pain, the Jackson 5, Survivor and Ozomatli. The voicing cast includes Ryan Reynolds, Paul Giamatti, Michael Peña, Snoop Dogg, Maya Rudolph, Michelle Rodriguez and Samuel L. Jackson. – Gary Dretzka

Ambushed: Blu-ray
Dark Angel: Blu-ray
If anyone ever decides to make a biopic about Dolph Lundgren, who would be better choice to play him than Green Bay Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III? Both men look as if they were carved out of the same chunk of granite and are just as hard to crack. Just wondering, that’s all. I also wonder if anyone’s had more fun making movies than the 6-foot-5 Swede, whose first two films were “A View to a Kill” and “Rocky IV.” In “Ambushed,” the latest in a long line of made-for-DVD pictures, he plays an honorable law-enforcer, trapped in a world of corruption and sinister crooks. Lundgren’s DEA agent Maxwell doesn’t always feel the need to play by the rules established by his ass-covering bosses and has the reprimands in his file to prove it. When a lucrative cocaine-smuggling operation run by Vincent Camastra (Vinnie Jones) moves into Los Angeles, a pair of ambitious punks (Gianni Capaldi, Daniel Bonjour) decides to move up the ladder by killing two of Camastra’s men. Maxwell and his comically cautious partner (Michael Rivera). There’s also a dirty cop, played by rough-tough Randy Couture. So far, the bad guys outnumber the good guys 4 to 2, which, as any Lundgren fan knows, are pretty safe odds for the DEA team. Director Giorgio Serafini has work with Lundgren and other action stars previously, so he knows not to waste too much with extraneous baloney.

Much more interesting is the 1991 “Dark Angel” (a.k.a., “I Come in Peace”), which combines a silly sci-fi through-line with action-Jackson police work. Here, Lundgren plays detective Jack Caine, who’s reluctantly assigned a case dealing with narcotics, murder and really long surgical needles. His partner has just been killed in a sting gone bad and he’s looking for revenge against the most likely culprit, Victor Manning (Sherman Howard). After consulting with some of his low-life snitches and dealers, Caine begins to think that something otherworldly is going on in Houston. A weapon left behind at the scene of one of the murders appears to have a life of its own, while the murder victims appear to have been perforated and sucked dry of sucked dry of endorphins. One of the snitches (Michael J. Pollard) describes the killer as a giant Martian, which, of course, sounds to Caine like the ravings of a dope-deprived junkie. In fact, it turns out to be an accurate description. An alien creature injects the victims with a lethal dose of heroin, before using a long needle to extract endorphins out of the bodies. The endorphins are then turned into drugs that are desperately needed on his home planet. If successful, humans could be harvested like so many deer and killed for their bodily fluids. Caine is required to accept a straight-arrow FBI agent (Brian Benben) as his partner and former girlfriend, while city coroner Betsy Brantley also is called upon for advice. It’s a truly goofy movie, but not without its charms. Lundren was 33 when he made “Dark Angel” and his career as a leading man was only just beginning. – Gary Dretzka

Ip Man: The Final Fight: Blu-ray
Ip Man, best known for training Bruce Lee and introducing Wing Chun to China, is one of the great action characters in the movies. His story only began to leak out nearly 40 years after his death, in Hong Kong, but it’s practically become a cottage industry since 2008, with two concurrent trilogies, a TV series and Wong Kar-wai’s extremely well-received 2014 Oscar hopeful, “The Grandmaster.” In the third installment of Well Go USA Entertainment’s “Ip Man” trilogy, “The Final Fight,” the Wing Chun legend has moved to post-war, post-revolution Hong Kong, where he hopes to spend the rest of his days in comfort, surrounded by family and former students. Comfort is in short supply on the island, where the British are attempting to hold on to their colonial outpost; the communists have taken hold in mainland China; and the local triads are gathering strength in numbers. While still important to the Brits as a center for trade, Hong Kong has a long way to go before becoming one of the world’s premier destinations for business and tourism. Among the island’s martial-arts elite, competition between rival schools is becoming a real problem, as well. Once recognized in his new home, Ip Man is talked into once again opening a school of his own. Once wealthy, now poor, Ip Man relies on the kindness of others. He sets up shop on the roof of a social club, so as to keep Wing Chun a viable alternative to the less subtle forms of kung fu and street fighting. In nimble hands/feet/elbows/knees of such actors as Donnie Yen, To Yu-hang, Tony Leung Chiu Wai and, here, Anthony Wong Chau-Sang, it is a surprisingly graceful and subtly effective martial art. The confrontations between schools and gangs are staged almost to the point of comparison to Baz Luhrman’s set pieces, but they’re extremely fun to watch. The Lion Dance face-off is brilliantly executed. Director Herman Yau even throws in an entertaining character cameo of Bruce Lee, before and after stardom. Even if “Grandmaster” does take the Foreign Language prize, I doubt we’ve seen the last of Ip Man. – Gary Dretzka

The Great Hip Hop Hoax
By all rights, Pablo Ferro should have been awarded several Oscars by now. His brilliant title and montage sequences have appeared in 12 features that have gone on to win Academy Awards, but no one at the Wilshire Boulevard headquarters has yet seen fit to honor the creators of such essential pieces of the cinematic puzzle. The best of them are the equal, at least, of the animated and live-action shorts that are nominated, and many are better than the movies to which they’re attached. Ferro’s early work can be found on such landmark films as “Dr. Strangelove,” “The Thomas Crown Affair,” “Midnight Cowboy,” “Harold and Maude,” “A Clockwork Orange” and “Being There.” His most recent title sequences were for “Larry Crowne” and “Men in Black 3.” Richard Goldgewicht’s enchanting bio-doc chronicles Ferro’s journey from pre-revolution Cuba to Madison Avenue and, beyond that, to Tinsel Town, where he was presented with a myriad of opportunities and temptations. The film employs several of the same graphic devices and animation techniques popularized by Ferro, in addition to interviews with Jonathan Demme, Angelica Huston, Norman Jewison, Leonard Maltin, Haskell Wexler, Andy Garcia and Richard Benjamin. Praise from the late Stanley Kubrick and Hal Ashby also is duly noted. It is narrated by Jeff Bridges. Many documentarians would find the task of competing with the genius of their subject daunting. In “Pablo,” Goldgewicht not only honors Ferro’s body of work, but he also gives movie lovers a reason to revisit several of the most significant films openings of the last 50 years. The DVD adds deleted scenes, an animated trailer, “Who is Pablo Ferro?” promo, “A Brief Lesson in the History of Trailers” and “A Brief Lesson in the History of René Magritte.”

The music industry has perpetrated so many hoaxes on the American record-buying public – not to mention, bilking consumers out of their hard-earned money – it’s sometimes fun to watch the weasels get trapped by someone more cunning than they are. Jeanie Finlay’s “The Great Hip Hop Hoax” describes how a pair of white Scottish rappers, known as the Proclaimers, reimagined themselves as the California hip-hop duo Silibil n’ Brains. In doing so, they became a sensation in the London club scene and attracted the attention of Sony UK executives, searching high and low for the next Eminem and Beastie Boys. Billy Boyd and Gavin Bain would be handed a check for 250,000 pounds, which, of course, they eventually pissed away on the accoutrements of rock-’n’-roll fame. “The Great Hip Hop Hoax” is less a cautionary tale than a miniature portrait of a desperate industry in decline. In fact, if it weren’t for a downward blip in business at Sony, during which the boys were dropped from the label, the hoax might have gone on for another three years. After breaking up for a while, Silibil n’ Brains has recently released a pair of EPs and made its tres-cool T-shirts available on its website. – Gary Dretzka

Black Devil Doll From Hell /Tales From The Quadead Zone: Boxset
As Night Falls
The do-it-yourself movement in independent filmmaking is distinguished, if you will, by bargain-basement production values, questionable scripts and amateur-level acting. No matter how much money the filmmakers are able to scrape up from friends, family and credit-card companies, their movies mostly look as if they were made to qualify for a merit badge. What they lack in polish, however, they more than make up for in ambition and the enthusiasm invested in them by the cast and crew. Ten years ago, most DIY products wouldn’t have had a chance in hell of finding exposure outside of a close circle of friends. Although he probably didn’t know the difference between DIY and AFI, part-time Chicago contractor Chester Novell Turner made two pictures in the mid-1980s – “Black Devil Doll From Hell” and “Tales From the Quadead Zone” – that would demonstrate just how much could be accomplished with a camcorder and a couple of crazy ideas. More than a quarter-century later, both of the movies have attained something resembling cult status among fans of horror curiosities. After attempting to sell VHS cassettes of the films to video-store owners in Chicago and Alabama, Turner practically disappeared from view and, in some circles, was presumed dead. The legend survived the greatly exaggerated pronouncement of his passing.

A couple of years before “Child’s Play” turned the evil redhead Chucky into a box-office hero, the far more crudely made “Black Devil Doll From Hell” issued the same warning about malevolent dolls. In it, a bible-banging Christian woman, Helen Black (Shirley L. Jones), brings home a large brown-skinned doll – modeled after Rick James — that might once have served as a ventriloquist’s dummy. It doesn’t take long before Helen recognizes her mistake. After overhearing a conversation between Helen and a friend, regarding her well-guarded virginity, the doll takes it upon himself not only to de-flower the church lady, but introduce her to the wonders of orgasmic ecstasy. That’s as good as it gets, however. Things take a nastier turn and it isn’t pretty. Twenty years later, amidst rumors of Turner’s death, another African-American filmmaker remade “Black Devil Doll From Hell” as “Black Devil Doll.” That same year, the movie was referenced in “The Cinema Snob,” a review show that found worldwide distribution via YouTube.

The title, “Tales From the Quadead Zone,” refers to the book Shirley L. Jones’ reads to the ghost of her dead son, who’s little more than an overexposed yellow smudge on a chair in the family home. There are two other stories in the anthology, one more disgusting – in a good way – than the other. The Massacre Video set offers some very amusing commentary with Turner and Jones; a making-of featurette, “Return to the Quadead Zone”; a heavily edited Hollywood Home Theater version of “Black Devil Doll From Hell”; a stills gallery; and some crazy trailers for other Massacre titles. There wasn’t much the company could do in the way of cleaning up the films, as they were cut from Turner’s VHS “masters,” but it’s still watchable. I shudder to think what Turner could have done if someone had given him a grant to make more pictures or a scholarship to the Sundance Institute.

As Night Falls,” from aspiring horror auteur Joe Davison, wouldn’t qualify as DIY if only because someone at the controls could afford to hire genre goddesses Debbie Rochon (“Screech of the Decapitated”) and Raine Brown (“Kung Fu and Titties”). Otherwise, it contains nothing fans haven’t seen a dozen times. As the movie opens, 10-year-old Amelia is murdered by her demented parents and left in a shallow grave. Flash forward several decades and a redheaded hottie (Deneen Melody) and her much young sister are minding the same haunted house, while mom is away on a job. A onetime boyfriend decides to throw a party there, with his fellow musicians and groupies. Oh, yeah, party crashers would include the zombie incarnations of the evil child killers, along with the ghost of their 10-year-old victim. As nasty as she looks, the girl manifests herself to warn the partygoers of the mayhem to come. And, yes, it’s bloody. Blessedly, “As Night Falls” is short, as well. – Gary Dretzka

4 Action Packed Movie Marathon
4 All Night Horror Marathon
The folks at Shout!Factory appear to have an endless inventory of movies that most Baby Boomer audiences haven’t seen since their last visit to the local drive-in theater, decades ago. Too tame to qualify as grindhouse, but nowhere near good enough to stand on their own at the box office, the titles sent out monthly in “Marathon” packages recall the warm nights of summer, when triple- and quadruple-features weren’t at all unusual. This month’s mail brought packages that include such imminently forgettable pictures as “Bamboo Gods & Iron Men,” “Bulletproof,” “Trackdown” and “Scorchy,” in one four-pack, and, in the other, ”What’s the Matter With Helen?,” “The Godsend,” “The Vagrant” and “The Outing” (a.k.a., “The Lamp”). While hardly memorable on their own merits, almost all of the films feature stars who have either seen or have yet to see better days. They include Gary Busey, Henry Silva, Darlanne Fluegel, Erik Estrada, Cathy Lee Crosby, Connie Stevens, William Smith, Bill Paxton, Michael Ironside and, in “What’s the Matter With Helen?,” Debbie Reynolds, Shelley Winters and Dennis Weaver. At $9.99, they’re cheaper than a night at the multiplex and, perhaps, more entertaining. – Gary Dretzka

The Message: The Story of Islam/Lion of the Desert: Blu-ray
The Attack: Blu-ray
The Citizen
Several convincing books and essays have been written about the negative stereotyping of Arabs in Hollywood. Given the scarcity of films with accurate portrayals of Middle Eastern history and the significant roles played by Muslim men and women around the world, it’s probably just as well that more features aren’t made on the subject. “Lawrence of Arabia” is as close as most of us have come to an understanding of the dynamics that shaped Saudi Arabia and its neighbor states. Even then, however, of all the primary characters, only Omar Sharif had ties to the region and he wasn’t the first, second or third choice for the composite role of Sharif Ali. In the period following 9/11, there were plenty of roles for terrorists, militants and extremists, but the actors themselves remained largely anonymous. Recently, though, movies made by independent and foreign filmmakers have found traction in DVD and Blu-ray marketplace. If most of them appear to be painted in shades of gray, well, it’s better than putting false colors on such a bleak situation. Finding four representative movies in this month’s stack of DVDs borders on the miraculous.

If, in 1977 and 1981, Moustapha Akkad’s excellent historical epics, “The Message: The Story of Islam” and “Lion of the Desert,” had found any kind of an audience here, the studios might not have become so reluctant to showcase action-adventures with Arab themes. While endorsed by the University of Al-Azhar, in Cairo, and Lebanon’s High Islamic Congress of the Shiat, “The Message,” was banned by other Muslim sects. When an African-American offshoot of the Hanafi sect took over three buildings in Washington, D.C., in 1977, one of the group’s demands was to destroy all copies of “The Message.” They believed that Anthony Quinn was cast as Mohammad, but, in fact, it was as his uncle and most the story was told through him. The prophet was neither seen nor heard in the movie, although his presence was implied through narrative devices. It did OK outside the U.S., but media coverage of the bloody siege doused any possibility of the movie finding distribution here. Akkad actually made two versions of “The Message.” One was shot in English, with a cast familiar to western audiences, while the other was in Arabic and featured Middle Eastern favorites. The producer/director pulled out all the stops on the production, staging elaborate fight scenes and hiring composer Maurice Jarre and costume designer Phyllis Dalton, both of whom worked previously on “Lawrence of Arabia.” When Akkad ran out of money, Muammar Gaddafi agreed to finance the film and provide locations for the shoot.

Equally ambitious but nowhere near as controversial, “Lion of the Desert” describes the last year of the resistance against Italian colonists by military leader Omar Mukhtar and his overmatched Bedouin fighters. Mukhtar had been a thorn in Italy’s side for most of the last 20 years and, finally, Mussolini ordered General Rodolfo Graziani to crush the rebellion. Throughout much of the movie, the Bedouins are able to neutralize Graziani’s armor with guerrilla attacks on horseback. Backed by planes, as well as tanks, the Italians would prove dominant, even managing to capture Mukhtar. Quinn returns here as the aging Bedouin leader. “Lion of the Desert” is the kind of wartime adventure that should have found an audience here, but tanked around the world. Because the Italian army was shown in such a bad light, it was banned for broadcast on television until on June 11, 2009, during the official visit to Italy by Gaddafi, who pinned a photo of Mukhtar on his uniform.

Set in Tel Aviv and the West Bank, Ziad Doueiri’s heart-breaking drama, “The Attack,” goes a long way toward helping us understand what it must be like for Israelis and Palestinians who value peace, but feel stalemated by the sad realities of life. Based on a novel by Algerian writer Yasmina Khadra, it opens as an Israeli Palestinian surgeon, Amin Jaafari (Ali Suliman), is about to receive a prestigious humanitarian award in Tel Aviv. His Palestinian Christian wife, Sihem (Evgenia Dodena), has opted out of attending the ceremony, citing important family business in Nablus. Amin and Sihem are fully assimilated into Tel Aviv society, with many Jewish friends and easy access to the finer things in life. The next day, an attack by a suicide bomber leaves 19 dead. Amin is directly involved in his hospital’s effort to save as many lives as possible, even as one victim demands that he not be treated by a Palestinian surgeon, no matter how skillful. When Amin is called back to the hospital after an exhaustive day in the surgical theater, he’s asked to identify the mutilated body of the bomber. The Israeli security police know full well that the woman lying on a slab in the morgue is Sihem, but they want to study Amin’s immediate reaction to the disclosure. No matter how much the surgeon denies knowing anything about the bombing or why his wife would be involved – and it’s easy to assume he’s telling the truth – he’s grilled by the police and thrown into a dungeon-like cell, where’s he’s psychologically abused for six months. Just as suddenly, Amin is released. In the meantime, his home has been ransacked and he’s lost the trust of some, if not all of his friends and fellow doctors.

In case anyone is wondering if that summary qualifies as a spoiler, it doesn’t. It’s only the beginning of a complicated thriller, which combines crushed beliefs with political intrigue. Once Amin accepts the reality of his wife’s deed, based on a letter he finds after he returns home, he can’t rest until he understands why she carried out the bombing; when and how she might have been persuaded to even consider such an evil deed; and who facilitated the act. Absent the release of the kind of video tape that usually follows such suicide attacks, the Israeli police are determined to find answers to the same questions. Finally, Amin decides to go to Nablus to learn more about his wife of 15 years and how he could have missed any changes in her personality. At first, he’s greeted with a wall of silence as thick as the walls of the prison cell he only recently left and militants as keen for him to leave the embattled city as some Israelis were for him to leave Tel Aviv. In 2002, the city had suffered heavy damage and casualties at the hands IDF forces looking to punish residents for harboring and providing potential suicide bombers. They also rushed to kill as many of the Fatah and Hamas insurgents as possible before a ceasefire could be called. Even when Amir does get most of question answered, however, he still must decide what to do with the rest of his life. The bonus features include an interview with Doueiri, who’s worked on several Tarantino projects; a photo Gallery; and English subtitles for the Arabic and Hebrew dialogue. Despite’s Doueiri’s even-handed adaptation, “The Attack” was banned from exhibition by most Arab countries for being shot in Israel … or some other dumb-ass reason.

Sam Kadi’s first feature, “The Citizen,” takes place in New York on the eve of the 9/11 attacks. The popular Egyptian actor Khaled El Nabawy plays Ibrahim Jarra, a Syrian native who’s found work throughout the Middle East as an automobile mechanic. By winning the Green Card “lottery,” he was invited to live, work and potentially apply for citizenship in the country of his dreams. His timing couldn’t possibly have been worse, of course. Within hours, Ibrahim would effectively become persona non grata in the U.S. Worse, the cousin with whom he expected to stay has taken a powder and become a suspect in the planning of the hijacking. Even when he manages to befriend an Indian shopkeeper and land a minimum-wage job, Ibrahim feels the wrath of Americans who associate any olive-skinned person with the tragic events of 9/11. Because of his cousin’s disappearance, he’s seized by American security forces and held for months without being charged or allowed to seek counsel. Determined to persevere, Ibrahim once again must begin the Sisyphean task of becoming a citizen. Kadi has strewn the path with enough potholes, IEDs and detours to discourage anyone to emigrate, led alone seek membership in one of the world’s least exclusive clubs. Just when the sun begins to peek through the clouds, a veritable Hurricane Sandy of bigotry, intolerance and government resistance sends him reeling backwards. Kadi also provides his protagonist with just enough hope to keep his dream alive. It reminds of us of what makes this country so desirable for foreigners and precious to citizens. A composite on fact-based anecdotes and newspaper headlines, “The Citizen” almost qualifies as an urban legend. Neither does Kadi yet possess the skills and agility to prevent the narrative from avoiding the hazards in the road. That said, however, “The Citizen” is a movie that easily could be shown as part of any high school civics course to remind students of what this country means to people around the world, or used to before we decided to be the protectors of corporations, tinhorn despots and corrupt politicians who crush the dreams of their citizenry for personal gain. – Gary Dretzka

The Fall: Series 1
Farscape: The Complete Series: Blu-ray
NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians: Volume 1
Ben 10: Omniverse, Vol. 3: Aliens at War
Fans of Helen Mirren’s Detective Superintendent Jane Tennison, in the “Prime Suspect” series, should do themselves a favor by picking up the fine BBC crime thriller, “The Fall.” In the five-part mini-series, Gillian Anderson (“The X-Files”) plays a British police detective summoned to Belfast to solve a high-profile murder. Although Tennison and Stella Gibson share certain physical and personality traits, as well as an unwavering devotion to duty, Anderson’s character is very much her own woman. Among other things, she’s been intentionally drawn as a woman not afraid to entice men with her smoldering sexuality, which is barely contained in more or less conventional work attire. If her self-confidence occasionally borders on arrogance, her first instinct is to be a team player. There’s no whining among the boyos when the outsider was introduced to the squad and, for that, she can thank Tennison, as well. Here, she’s called to Northern Ireland as a forensics expert in a murder case she quickly deduces is the work of serial killer. Belfast being Belfast, though, random murders can look as if they were part of a greater crime. The narrative conceit allows viewers to follow the movements of the killer and investigators simultaneously, with other story threads woven into that texture. Almost from Minute One, we know that the killer’s daytime job is counseling people attempting to cope with grief and he leads a relatively normal home life, except for the fact that his daughter appears to have nightmares related to her dad’s killings. I suppose that it’s worth mentioning the killer is played by Jamie Dornan, who was recently cast as Christian, in “Fifty Shades of Grey,” and Archie Punjabi (“The Good Wife”) plays a medical examiner. The good news is that the show’s second season already is on the drawing boards.

I completely missed “Farscape” during its initial 1999-2003 run on the Sci-Fi Channel. I didn’t know that it was created by Jim Henson Productions for Australian television or that it was rescued from cancellation by the protests of rabidly loyal fans. Fortuitously, for those of us who missed the spacecraft Moya on its first voyage, the series has been revived by the 3-month-old Pivot channel – targeted at “millennials” – and Cinedigm has just released “Farscape: The Complete Series” in a lavish “15th Anniversary Edition.” (Bingers should reserve 4,136 minutes of free time to get through the entire package.) The series opened with contemporary American astronaut and test pilot John Crichton (Ben Browder) flying too close to the entrance of a wormhole and getting sucked to the far reaches of the universe. Once there, he encounters a diverse ensemble of characters attempting to escape the clutches of the evil Peacekeepers. They live inside a giant space-roaming creature, Moya, and pick up the occasional escapee and hitchhiker. It would be difficult to identify the characters as anything but the creations of the Henson Creature Shop. While the show references a half-dozen classic sci-fi films and TV shows, the story arcs are unique to the series. The bonus package is comprised material previously offered in a set from A&E. The new stuff is pretty much limited to custom art inserts for each of the multi-disc cases and an exclusive “graphic novel,” by Ramon Perez. Ported over are 20 commentaries with several different cast members, director Rockne S. O’Bannon and Brian Henson; dozens of deleted scenes, making-of and background featurettes, interviews and retrospectives. The Blu-ray does what it can with the degraded visuals, but the sound has been enhanced in the transition. The set still doesn’t include “The Peacekeeper Wars,” a mini-series made by Henson to tie up loose ends from the abrupt cancellation, which caused the series to end on a cliffhanger. The graphic novel stands in its place.

With such sensitive issues as concussions, bullying, expansion and off-field misconduct with which to deal on a daily basis, it must have been difficult for the geniuses at the NFL to find the time to create a hybrid series for Nickelodeon – “NFL Rush Zone: Season of the Guardians” — using animation and live-action sequences. The better question might be, Is the National Football League so desperate for fresh eyes and jersey sales that it needs kids to think that their favorite players fight aliens in their spare time? They do this to prevent the aliens from hijacking the power and energy created by something called the Megacore, shards of which of can be found inside each of the league’s 32 stadiums. The Guardians is a group of kid superheroes, six of whom will suit up for their favorite teams to fight evil.

Cartoon Network’s “Ben 10 Omniverse” series defies easy summarization. Between the vast number of characters, time-shifting and different locations, I lost track after the first episode. Nonetheless, kids have kept the show and a line of merchandise going for several years, now, so it must make sense to them, anyway. The double-disc “Ben 10: Omniverse, Vol. 3: Aliens at War” contains 10 episodes from the series’ first season, plus “Alien Reveal” and “Alien Database” bonus features. – Gary Dretzka

Oui, Girls
Schoolgirl Report Vol. 11: Trying Beats Studying
The latest additions to Impulse Pictures’ collection of vintage soft- and hard-corn porn are Fred J. Lincoln’s “Oui, Girls” and the 11th entry in the “Schoolgirl Report” series, “Trying Beats Studying.” As far as I can tell, the closest any of the men and women here come to anything French is the French toast they had for breakfast or French fries that came with the burgers at McDonald’s. So, the “Oui” probably stands for the “girls” willingness to have sex with men who aren’t their equal in the looks department. It is representative though, of a period in the genre – roughly between “Deep Throat” and “gonzo” videos of the 1990s – when some filmmakers told stories that led to sex scenes and the actors tried to make it look as if they might have tried out for a play in high school, at least. Here, Barbara and Nick (Anna Ventura, Paul Thomas) go undercover at a swinger’s retreat to investigate a murder. After having sex with each other, the PI’s sleep with everyone else at the Circle S singles ranch to uncover clues. Horror buffs might remember Lincoln as Weasel in Wes Craven’s “The Last House on the Left” and he acts as well as directs here. The most noteworthy things about “Oui, Girls” might be the youthful beauty of actresses Ventura, Sharon Kane and Tiffany Clark, and some dramatic shots of the northern California coastlines.

In the latest DVD installment of the German faux-documentary series, “Schoolgirl Reports,” the phony social scientists offer their wisdom on what can be done to protect vulnerable young people in 1970s. The problem in “Trying Beats Studying” is the disparity between the stories told by the victims and perpetrators. The mood shifts from comic to cautionary with the snap of a finger. Unlike “Oui, Girls,” though, the sex in “Schoolgirls Reports” is pretty tame and limited to non-gynecological nudity. – Gary Dretzka

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One Response to “The DVD Wrapup”

  1. Georgann Gipson says:

    This is a really good idea. A lot of students from my school go to Burning Man or Afterburn or PreHeat and some of their stories are sometimes discouraging about how some people aren’t getting into the sense of community that Burning Man is supposed to reflect, so I think this is a nice idea and a good way to help people open up through common and personal experiences.


Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More

rohit aggarwal on: The DVD Wrapup: Ophelia, Ambition, Werewolf in Girls' Dorm, Byleth, Humble Pie, Good Omens, Yellowstone …More on: The DVD Wrapup: Diamonds of the Night, School of Life, Red Room, Witch/Hagazussa, Tito & the Birds, Keoma, Andre’s Gospel, Noir

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

Gary Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

GDA on: The DVD Wrapup: Bumblebee, Ginsburg, Buster, Silent Voice, Nazi Junkies, Prisoner, Golden Vampires, Highway Rat, Terra Formars, No Alternative … More

Larry K on: The DVD Wrapup: Sleep With Anger, Ralph Wrecks Internet, Liz & Blue Bird, Hannah Grace, Unseen, Jupiter's Moon, Legally Blonde, Willard, Bang … More

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gwehan on: The DVD Wrapup: Shoplifters, Front Runner, Nobody’s Fool, Peppermint Soda, Haunted Hospital, Valentine, Possum, Mermaid, Guilty, Antonio Lopez, 4 Weddings … More

Gary J Dretzka on: The DVD Wrapup: Peppermint, Wild Boys, Un Traductor, Await Instructions, Lizzie, Coby, Afghan Love Story, Elizabeth Harvest, Brutal, Holiday Horror, Sound & Fury … More

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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